by Andrea Charman

The evolution of leadership style

When we think of leaders, we have traditionally considered the heroic leader, who is associated with the military model, with its hierarchical structure and command-and-control ethos. This model has come under challenge as we move to a complex 21st century people-centric environment, where group and team performance are critical to success.

The drawbacks of top-down change

Research shows that change from the top to meet today’s circumstances rarely works. Top-down change programmes characteristically become stalled somewhere down the line. We need to ask why this should be so? It is often not a reflection on the abilities of those in the lead, but rather a question of style and approach. There is often a lack of sensitivity to the need to engage others, to co-consult and to provide a forum where stakeholders can express their views, aspirations and fears.

Top management in change initiatives has historically focused more on allocating resources and making strategic decisions than on changing the behaviours (and often, therefore, the skills) and attitudes of large numbers of people. The emphasis was always on smart decisions at the top, not on broad-based people initiatives at the bottom. The people agenda was often missed.

Maybe it’s a question of capturing the hearts and emotions as well as the minds of those who can turn a change initiative into a new reality.

These ideas are not new and have their origins a number of decades ago in the work of people such as Peter Drucker, Edwards Deming and Mary Parker Follett. Today’s change leaders are rediscovering the principles of these thinkers: namely, that a successful business is both a social and an economic entity and must be led as such.

Left-brain thinking

It seems to me that business leaders have much more in common with artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers than they do with managers.

Konosuke Matsushita

Many traditional top executives who are quoted as success stories in a variety of sectors of organisational life are typically what could be called left-brain focused. What does this mean? Well, logical, linear, analytical, sequential and quantitative are words that come to mind; they used cognitive skills to deliver ‘expert’ solutions.

Many of these leaders reached their positions by serving in a series of management roles. They moved up within the organisational world by delivering cost revenue and earnings results. They operated from positional power; the pace of life and the psychological contract provided the space for command and control.

The shift from an IQ to an EQ model

We need to ask if this type of career path and set of capabilities is fit for purpose today. Research shows that a large number of really ‘brainy’ people somehow fail to make a success of their lives. Today, in a world of increased complexity, where everything is too complex for the individual to succeed alone, and where multiple stakeholder environments are the norm, IQ is not enough. We need to consider intelligence beyond the traditional IQ model to find some of the answers.

The CARE model

The CARE Model sums up what is required to succeed at a high level:

  • Cognitive skills – the capacity to think clearly and analyse problems
  • Action skills – the ability to get things done, to motivate, to communicate and to transfer ownership to other contributor
  • Relationship skills – social skills, building trust, developing others, engaging people at an emotional level
  • Expert skills – technical skills; job-related knowledge.

In the leadership model of an industrial economy – the rational, problem-solving, knowledge-based, top-down leadership model, discussed above – perhaps it is the R that is missing.

The Real Change Leader

Each knew his role

Each knew his reward

Together they made music

They moved harmonious mountains

Egyptian text, 2007 BC

The 21st century model of the effective leader who can make things happen has been referred to as an RCL, a Real Change Leader – someone who believes in ‘the gospel of getting the most out of everyone.’ Jon Katzenbach, in his book, Real Change Leaders (publishers Times Business, New York 1995), proposes that the right brain of an RCL is continually working alongside the left, as they put huge emphasis on emotions, feelings and passion, as well as analysis of the facts.

In days gone by, leadership might have been about conducting a symphony orchestra. Each player had a role and played when called upon to do so by the leader.

Today, leadership effectiveness is more about jazz than symphonies; we might say it is about improvisation, flexibility and responding appropriately ‘in the moment’. Players come in and contribute as and when required. The lead musician needs to engage players to offer their energy and skills to optimum collective effect.

The most important lesson: think horizontally. The world is moving from a place where value was created in vertical silos of command and control to a world where value is increasingly going to be created by how you connect and collaborate – how you synthesise this with that.

Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat