Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vision and Leadership

There is this book I just read called “Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening” by Roger Neirenberg. The book was written in a narrative format and follows a man charged with reversing the downward slide of their company's profits. Not knowing why his leadership style wasn't working on the people who worked under him, he sits in during the rehearsals of an orchestra whose conductor seems to motivate and drive the artists effectively.

One of the most important things I got from this book is this: "The most important thing a leader can bring his organization is a vision that his followers would want to bring life to."

What the author is saying here is that, an organization is more creative and dynamic and effective when its focus is not on the leader, but on the shared vision. I agree to this view on leadership, especially for companies in the creative industry. It is more common for leaders to be used to just being the boss, expecting that their people would follow whatever they say. And while that may seem effective, it kills something in their people. As the author put it, by making one's feedback supreme, a leader actually renders his people more passive.

The Vision
For a leader's people to follow a vision, it has to be strong. According to the author, a strong vision can lead people away from focusing on their part alone toward being aware of the whole. They have to know that they are part of something bigger than them. And the vision has to be grand enough to move and make people feel challenged.

Surrendering Control
For a vision to be shared, members of an organization have to feel that the work is as much theirs as it is their leader's. To achieve that, the author suggests that the leader let go of some control. For many leaders nowadays, myself included, letting go of control is not an easy thing. What if the employee doesn't perform well? What if his output is not the style the client is expecting? What if he doesn't finish on time?

There are so many worries in our minds. But I've been there, and done that. For the longest time, I controlled everything. I was breathing down their necks, so to speak, and my people were on edge. But when I let go of some control, and allowed them to put in their ideas into the work and gave them more freedom to be creative, the work finished faster and better. And now, when there are problems, they would be the ones to volunteer the solutions. So, I really think surrendering some control, though scary, is a beneficial thing for an organization in many instances. But of course, there would be some instances when a tight grip on everything is better for the organization at that particular point in time. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, members of the organization would want to see how their leaders want things done first. So for the first few months, while they're studying the attitude and direction of their leader, it could be more beneficial for them to be told exactly what the leader wants. But after that, once they've found their boundaries, it is good to let them explore some problems with their own creativity. It shows that the leader trusts them enough not to be hovering behind them all the time.

Feedback
Feedback is very important in an organization. But how does one give feedback? The author says that, as leaders, we have the authority to appoint one's self as the fountainhead, the sole source of judgment. But this was something he discouraged. In the book, the Maestro, instead of telling the orchestra that they were too loud, told them to focus on the soft playing of the clarinet, to let it be heard for its beauty.

There is a bit of transparency that comes in here. Instead of just giving them an order to do a particular step in the process, the conductor shows them what he wants to achieve. Again, doing it this way, I believe, is a better approach. If a leader's people know what exactly the leader wishes to achieve, it is easier for them to follow. For one, they know why they're doing it. And secondly, they can adjust what needs to be adjusted to the level that is required by what the leader wants to attain.

In my experience with my company, I've observed that people feel more secure when they know exactly what the leader wants, they know what exactly the steps to do it are, and they know exactly if they did a good job or not.

Machine vs Organism
It is not an uncommon picture to see an organization as a clock. Each member of the organization would be cogs and gears, working in unison to make the clock move. But the author presents the organization in his book as a living breathing organism and not as an unfeeling mechanical thing. In the book, the author presents the idea of “the flow.”

Sometimes, for some leaders, it is easy to extract the feelings from the work and be like the clock. The problem with an organization being like a clock is, though it may seem efficient, is that people are more concerned in just doing well in his own department without considering the rest of the organization. If they just trust the system and do their work well, then everything will work well. But we forget that the members of the organization are humans. Sometimes, certain tasks take us longer to execute. Sometimes, problems at home prevent us from giving the work our best. And going with the clock approach makes us inflexible and, sometimes, uncaring.

If, however, we see the system as a living breathing organism, considering its strengths and weaknesses and listening or being aware of each member's humanity, then we can adapt and help each individual to fulfill his tasks.

In Conclusion
In conclusion, I think an organization is a living breathing organism, and the role of the leader is to provide the vision to incite people to act and move the organization forward. It is not a rule-based thing where, if I do this, this will certainly happen. There is no right or wrong in leadership styles, and the effectivity of the leadership style is dependent on the circumstances and the make-up of the organization.

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