Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Carly Fiorina. What do these names have in common? An easy one - they are all CEO's of major global corporations. They are businessmen, and women, at the tops of their professions, leaders of the international business community. But how did they get there? How did they achieve so much? How did they build organizations that are at once creative, competitive, and most important of all...profitable?
Business leadership is both a science and an art. Yes, there are successful executives who just seem to be born with the knack, just as there are painters who seem to have been born with a brush in their hand, and great musicians who were composing before they could walk. But, we can't all be Mozarts, most of us must observe, study, and practice the techniques of success. Business is a skill, and like any other skill, its secrets can be learned.
First off, however, we must take a look at what exactly constitutes this elusive concept we call "leadership." What exactly is a leader?
Maddock and Fulton give an excellent overview of the many, diverse qualities that make a good leader. These characteristics are not static. They are proactive, responding to changes in time and place. Adaptability, integrity, and understanding may each be desirable traits depending upon the circumstances. Different situations call for different personality skills, but there are two constants that are found in every great leader, and these are charisma and motivation. Every good leader must be able to attract a following, and every good leader must be able to motivate his followers. This is true not only of the business world, but also of politics, education, society - in every place and in every activity that brings groups of people together. Napoleon inspired his troops to victory. Mahatma Gandhi led the people of India to freedom. Britney gets all the kids up on their feet. Leadership comes in many forms, and leaders all have their own style, but in the end they all accomplish the same thing - they inspire others to follow.
Of course, good old-fashioned ethics cannot be ignored. Ciulla offers an excellent discussion of the importance of ethical leadership. While business and ethics may not often seem to have gone hand and hand, today, more than ever, a good leader must pay attention to the moral side of leadership. An upright executive inspires both those who work under him, and those who are the ultimate judges of his success - his clients and stockholders. To make her point, Ciulla quotes the great Greek historian Theucydides:
Those who really deserve praise are the people who, while human enough to enjoy power, nevertheless pay more attention to justice than they are compelled to do by their situation."
Power should always be tempered by justice, compassion, and moderation.
Still, there is a third aspect of leadership that must be understood. A great leader not only inspires his followers, and sets them a good example, but a great leader also knows how to make decisions. Successful executives such as Carly Fiorina are able to optimize their resources. They know how to manage personnel, budget their time, work within available funds, and most significantly of all, they understand how to plan for the future. A good leader has the experience and the foresight to determine what will work and what won't, thus avoiding future problems. Guion discusses the essential steps to formulating a viable business strategy. Once these are mastered, the basic definition of what constitutes a good leader becomes clear. As Thomas A. Edison once said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." We could rephrase that as,
Leadership is one part inspiration, one part ethics, and one part planning."
And now that we know what qualities make a good leader, we can begin to examine the dynamics of leadership. A leader understands how to work with people. She observes how others work and interact. She realizes the importance of keeping open the lines of communication, and making her instructions clear and easily intelligible. There are many techniques for observing this worker dynamic. Hare and Hare describe a method called SYMLOG or Systematic Multiple Level Observation of Groups.
SYMLOG is a theory of personality and group dynamics that is integrated with a set of practical methods for measuring and changing behavior and values in groups and organizations in a democratic way. Norms of effective behavior and values, derived from ratings made by managers of organizations, are used as criteria for indicating the changes that may be necessary so that leaders and members can bring about desirable changes in group performance." 4
The importance of the group is further underscored by Parks and Sanna. An accomplished leader must possess a thorough comprehension of the mechanics of worker interaction. How do they form? How do they stay together? What is it like to be a member of a group? A manager is not merely a leader; he is also a member of a team. Learning how to be a good leader means learning how to work with others. Listening, observing, and reacting are the indispensable tools of the leader.
Of course, in today's global high-tech economy, a group can be much more than a collection of people in one room, a bunch of executives sitting around a conference table. E-mail and the Internet connect businesspeople all over the planet. The stockbroker in Tokyo can teleconference with his counterparts on Wall Street, while his bosses discuss prices in real-time with London's City hotshots.
As Hargrove quotes Steve Case on Millennium Eve, "We are witnessing the beginning of what will probably be known as the Internet century." Nothing has so transformed the world of business as the Internet revolution. No leader who does not understand the intricacies of the E-marketplace will have much of a chance on the global, or even the local stage. We are fast approaching the age of the paperless office. The Internet has its own conventions and etiquette, its own techniques and secrets. The ability to master the Internet is the final test of the business leader.
Contrarily, the inability to master the above techniques is what marks the follower. Pfeffer identifies five behavioral models:
The economic model
The social model
The retrospectively rational model
The moral model
The cognitive, interpretive model
He also states that while there is considerable overlap between the traits shared by both leaders and followers, there are certain noticeable differences. However, these differences may vary with time and place, just a leader's ideal personal characteristics may vary according to time and place. A leader is a person who can engender desired actions in others, thus a follower can be expected, Pfeffer presents the case, to respond to a leader's guidance in different ways depending on whether the leader is charismatic or non-charismatic, and depending upon what sort of reward he expects to receive. Such a reward can be monetary, or it can be one of a change in status, or it can even be a personal feeling of satisfaction over having accomplished a socially desirable goal.
Henderson makes another interesting point in regard to the follower, that he must be loyal and dedicated, because no matter how well-equipped and well-trained the leader, ultimately all workers bear the responsibility for success.
A follower is thus not simply a person who does not lead - in that case we would include loud, disgruntled employees among the corporate leaders - rather, he is an employee who contributes to the company by following the directions of management and giving his all to the enterprise.
Interestingly enough, it is from the point-of-view of the follower that the leader is most important. Large corporations, in particular, have been criticized for placing too much emphasis on the bottom line, and too little emphasis on good business practice. The good and ill effects of corporate culture, or "groupthink," are major themes in Sims. Leaders set the tone of a corporate culture. Bad leaders send a message that unethical acts, or shortcuts are perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, good leaders guide their employees along the path of growth and improvement. Gilley and Cunich stress the importance of corporate organization and leadership in developing a lifelong learning curve. If a company sets a good example, its workers will not only always be driven to do their best, but they will always be learning and adapting. Adaptation - that is the key in today's fast paced global environment. And the corporate body must be conditioned to adapt. The leader is all-important.
However, once one understands all the qualities of a good leader, as well as the different ways in which leadership can be learned, and also the respective roles of leader and follower, it is necessary to take a look at the specific methods used to produce new leaders.
Mentoring and grooming, formal classroom instruction, and on-the-job training all have their place…