Ragland Thomas G
Vice President – Global Organization Development & Strategy
Institute of Organization Development
“Leadership development experts used to say, “Past track record predicts future success.” In the future, we will likely say, “Past track record is only a valid predictor of future success if the past looks anything like the future.” These are the words of Ian Ziskin, President & Founder of EXec EXel Group in his article on Developing the Next Generation of Leaders. How true! Hyper Competition, Globalization, Disruptive Innovation, Multiple Generations, Constant Dynamic Change and more are coming together to change the Leadership landscape and are calling for new approaches to help Leaders retain their edge and achieve excellence. So what can help Leaders to be effective in this dynamic environment?
In the words of Dr.Bruce Avolio, Professor of Management, Foster School of Business, “Leadership is not a role, it’s a process involving how an individual or a group influences others toward a particular goal or objective.” The reference to Leadership as a process got me thinking about the relationship between Leadership & Process Consulting and I believe that OD Process Consulting has several pearls of wisdom to help leaders drive results and improve their leadership capability in this dynamic business environment. Let me share a few key Process Consulting principles for everyone who wants to become an effective Leader.
Working with Process Events
Matt Minahan uses the metaphor of the Iceberg to help understand content and process in groups and says, “Above the water line is what is visible to all and it is what we are trained to see. The content of a group’s work is typically organized around tasks, events, products, meetings and conversations of the group …. Harder to see is what is below the water line, the process variables, which we are not trained to see.” The difficult job for the leader is to be able to work with the invisible process events in the team and facilitate them in the right direction. This means that the leader should be able to see the process events that occur in the team around processes like communication, decision making, interpersonal relationships and performance. As a Leader I have realized that if these processes work right then goal accomplishment becomes easier. But these pose the biggest challenges for the leader and if the leader is able to adopt a process consulting view and work with the process events, then they will be able to increase their leadership effectiveness.
Looking at members as Clients
Edgar Schein states that Process Consultation is “the creation of a relationship that permits the client to perceive, understand and act on the process events that occurs in internal and external environments in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.”How will it be if the Leader looks at his/her team members as clients? If that happens, a few key transformations will happen, 1. The voice & views of the team member gets amplified. As leaders when we want the team members to speak their mind, this approach of treating them as clients and looking at how to improve situations as defined by them will open up the teams, create an empowered space and give voice to them. 2. Helping the team members to “perceive, understand and act on the process events” is powerful in that it transforms the leader to being a “Helper” and helping the team members to increase their awareness and actions on the process events.
Being a Helper
Always trying to be helpful to the team will make the Leader a true leader of people and the key point to note is to be mindful of the intentions while helping. This brings in the shade of servant leadership and when I reflect on this I believe that the mission of a leader is to help the people and when people come to the leader they should go back with solutions. My most memorable leaders were those who helped me at the right time and whenever I went to them I came back wiser or better. But the important takeaway is while they go back with the solution the leader should ensure that the people own the problem and the solution. The foundation for this will be for the Leader to be Humble. A study by Catalyst has listed Humility as one of the four Leadership Attributes that link to Inclusion in the workplace. Their definition of Humility is “You admit mistakes; you accept and learn from criticism and different points of view; you seek contributions of others to overcome limitations.” This is also a critical need at a time when our workplaces have transitioned to having multiple generations at work.
Knowing our Ignorance
This is about the Leader’s understanding of “what is known, what is assumed and what is not known” and approaching every interaction with the intention of learning and knowing that there is something that the leader may be ignorant about. It is about the Leader knowing what he/she is ignorant of and being open about that with the team. This will help the leader to be genuine and help to learn more from others. In my mind learning can come from anyone, regardless of their age or rank or education. If the leader is focussed on learning and knows what the gap is then learning happens. This is also about starting from the step of Conscious incompetence and learning to move to conscious competence.
Everything in an Intervention
When someone becomes a Leader, it’s clear that we are being looked up to for examples. In the words of Albert Schweitzer “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Leaders should view each of their actions as an intervention and this will help them to be mindful of their actions with the awareness of its impact on the members and the environment.
Sharing the Problem
Role modelling openness and sharing the problem with the team increases empowerment and involvement of the team. It also helps the leader to be open and share with the team. While the Process Consulting principle says that we do this when in doubt, I would say as a leader its best to share the problem openly with the team and also say “I don’t know how to solve the problem.” This can be a difficult thing to do as we want to establish ourselves as experts but a powerful thing to do as we become open and trigger the team to jump in with their support.
Edgar Schein talks about the need of Practitioners to take advantage of Teachable moments which can be a “process observation or piece of feedback” focused on providing insight on their behaviour to the individual or group. According to him it’s also about taking appropriate risks and going with the flow and should be done in the leader’s best judgement. The approach of Teachable Moments is powerful in that it becomes the most opportune time to coach and develop self and team members in a flow, as long as timing is correct.
Every Error, an Opportunity
The Process Consulting mindset in a leader helps to look at every event as a source of data and it’s about looking at every error as an opportunity for learning and avoiding being defensive and being guilty. It’s also about staying in touch with the current reality and using the data from each interaction to understand more about the client or the system. In the past we have seen organizations going through severe challenges that impact their branding and future. If the Leaders had been open to looking at every event/error as an opportunity, the big challenges could have been avoided.
At a time when the heroic models of Leadership are showing their weaknesses, it is now time for the Humble Leader who leverages Process Consulting to facilitate the process events and the people towards the aspired goal. It is time for Leaders to imbibe the principle of Process Consulting and go with the flow to transform each event/each individual to a significant event/individual for themselves and for the organization.