Resolving The Leadership Paradox:The Doctors Dialogue
by Michael Maccoby
Published in: Research Technology Management, Vol. 39, No. 3 May-June, 1996 pp. 57-59.
The question I am most often asked by leaders of knowledge based companies is:
How can I get these people to change?" These people include direct reports as
well as the rest of the organization. When I question leaders about what they have
tried to do and why change is so difficult, they almost invariably say something
like: "I've explained our problems and the need to change, but I don't want to be
a dictator. You can't just order these experts to change. If I do that, I'll lose
The organizations I work with a research laboratory, a medical
center, financial institutions, engineering and telecommunications companies
depend on high level knowledge workers, people with specialized expertise. The
higher they have risen in the organization, the more certain are these experts that
they know what needs to be done to be successful. Many of them think of
administrators as a burdensome cost rather than a value added.
However, knowledge intensive organizations must adapt to dramatic changes in
the business environment. What succeeded in the past may no longer work. The
researcher who used to throw an invention over the wall without worrying about
its application must now focus on adding value for a customer. Otherwise, the
customer will throw the invention back. Traditional approaches to problem
solving are being challenged by lower cost alternatives. Customers who once
bought products now demand partnerships with their suppliers. Leaders must
guide knowledge workers out of their comfort zones and stimulate them to
innovate together while breaking down the bureaucratic barriers that impede
making full use of organizational competencies.
The leadership paradox is that strong leaders are needed, but they cannot
command change in the hearts and minds of knowledge workers. To resolve the
paradox, they must become strong leaders who people want to follow.
Four Styles of Leadership
In Why Work? I describe four styles of leadership in terms of the relationship between the leader and led. These styles are presented in a two-by-two chart. One
dimension of this chart is the motivation of the leader which can either be for
personal power or the common good. The other dimension is the motivation of
the led who may either want to follow or else feel they have to follow the leader.
In other words, they may either be motivated by a belief in the leader's message
or by fear of the leader. (see illustration)
Organizational leaders who are motivated by the common good not only reject
the role of the dictator who rules by fear; they also recognize that demagogues
who seduce followers with false promises cannot maintain the trust essential for
cooperation. Ideally, they would like to be democrats who can count on full
participation in the change process. But first they must convince key people that
change is necessary.To do this, leaders must become organizational doctors in
two meanings of the term: physician and teacher. This means diagnosing the
organizational illness and communicating the urgency about treating it. And as
teachers, they must facilitate a process of organizational learning about what it
takes to succeed, what it takes to adapt the organization to the business
Develop a Learning Process
The role of doctor is a new one
for many leaders. They need help in developing a learning process for themselves
and the organization. The following advice for leaders integrates lessons I have
learned by working with leaders of change and by applying theories of other
consultants such as Russell Ackoff, Michel Crozier, Chris Argyris and Don
Begin with your direct reports, the leadership team. Clarify the pressures to
change: customer demands, competition, costs. Create an open dialogue.
Encourage questioning and conflicting views. Use data to resolve differences.
Benchmark other organizations. Gain agreement about the compelling reasons for
change. In practice, some teammembers will be more motivated to change than
others. Some may assent to the need for change, but silently hold a theory that
change means return to the "good old days when professionals ran things and we
did not have so many administrative types around."
Invite the team to express their theories about what needs to be done. These
theories should be questioned in the light of results. This is what Argyris and
Schön call double loop learning.
Single loop learning has to do with feedback from results to modify practice, while double loop learning has to do with reflecting on the theory when the results do not meet expectations. Here is an example. Here is an example:
Many managers at ABB of Canada believed they could sell more products by improving
quality and cutting costs. When this did not produce expected results, their first
reaction was single loop "learning", to work harder on improving product quality
and lowering costs. However, they were encouraged to question the theory and
interview with some of their largest customers. These customers challenged the
theory. They were ready to make buying decisions, not merely on the basis of the
quality and cost of individual products, but on the basis of a larger relationship.
They were responsive to the idea of a strategic partnership in which ABB would
provide not only products but also knowledge. They wanted help in solving their
problems, increasing their productivity and meeting new competitive and
regulatory challenges. In return, ABB could become sole source provider of their
power and automation needs. When ABB managers learned this, they were
compelled to revise their theory.
Once the leadership team agrees on a new theory, translate it into strategy and
practice. Managers may need to redesign the organization to support the new
strategy, by attending to the alignment of structure, systems, processes,
measurements, skills, rewards, management style and shared values. For ABB of
Canada, the partnership strategy required a new account management structure
with new skills. Account managers needed to develop trusting relationships both
with customer companies and across ABB business units and divisions. They
needed to facilitate teamwork across functions and business units. They needed
understand the customer's strategy and business environment. (See "Building
Trust in Alliances", Michael F. Wolff. RTM May-June 1994. pp 12-15.) The
account managers also needed new information systems to keep track of products,
customer information and financial measurements.
To make these partnerships
function, all managers had to sign on to shared values of teamwork and meeting
commitments. At ABB of Canada, the process of designing an ideal
organizational system was led by Paul Kefalas, the president and CEO and Borje
Fredriksson who heads the account management organization. However, about 50
senior managers (general managers and above) participated in the design process
and worked on strategies for closing the gaps between the ideal and present
organizations. All of these managers needed to understand the reason for change
and be able to explain them to their organizations.
Establish an interactive process to implement change and facilitate
organizational learning. All parts of the organization - divisions, departments and
business units - need to determine what the ideal design means to them. What are
the gaps between their current practice and the new design? How do they propose
to close these gaps? What resources are required? The doctor-leader should
participate in this process, by emphasizing the new business logic and responding
to interpretations and proposals.
Interactive design is difficult for many managers
to understand. They are used to either direction or delegation, orders or
autonomy. An interactive process is neither. It is a dialogue. The change process
will benefit from wide participation, shared knowledge. But leadership has
overall responsibility for strategy and values. A design by one group may
suboptimize efficiency. An example might be an information system that is
incompatible with other systems or rewards for one group that are considered
inequitable by the rest of the organization.
As people and the organization begins to change, collect and make use a good
stories. We learn how to behave by combining principles and stories. The Bible
teaches this way by combining, for example, the sermon on the mount with
stories of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.
Become a role model. Like a good doctor, keep learning. Demonstrate that you
are a synthesizer or better yet a humanizer rather than merely an analyzer or
energizer (see M. Maccoby, Raising the level of Management Thinking, by participating in the interactive dialogue and
defining part of your work as the development of people and teams.
reported in other RTM articles how Goran Collert of Swedbank, Goran Lindahl
of ABB, Barry Horowitz and Jack Fearnsides of the MITRE Corporation, and
Bjorn Mattsson of Cultor modeled openness and interactive design. (See: "Human
Engineering Leads to Operation Principles for Global Management". RTM,
Sept.-Oct. 1995. pp.58-60 and "Teams Need Open Leaders" RTM Vol. 38 No. 1
January-February, 1995. pp. 57-59.) By meeting customers and encouraging
innovation, they also modeled a commitment to learning and change.
The resolution of the leadership paradox requires leadership not by brute force,
but by intellectual power and conviction, persuasion, interactive dialogue, and
continual learning. It requires confidence and engagement. In the process of
leading change, managers learn that the soft factors are often harder than the so
called hard factors of structure and systems. They discover that the human side,
the different ways people process information, their values and attitudes, can
either facilitate or block learning. They find out which teammembers are with
them and which are not. And they discover that they need to use their own
emotions wisely both to maintain their enthusiasm and move others.
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