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What is leadership and does it matter?

What is leadership and does it matter?

Leadership describes a dynamic relationship between people in an organisation. It is not a one-way process as the popular press would have us believe and is strongly associated with other organisation factors such as power and culture. Most people prefer to attribute organisational success (or failure as in the banks) in terms of the actions of powerful leaders compared to external forces such as the environment over which we have little control. However the situation is more complex than this as the environment itself is shaped by the actions of leaders operating within all forms and scales of organisations.

How to define leadership

Leadership exists when a person exercises influence over others in an organisation and sets the everyday action and direction an organisation takes. To be effective a leader must understand the context in which she operates as well as the relationships between herself and the people who are led. Leadership is not a characteristic of an individual in isolation – leadership exists in the duality between leaders and followers.

Researchers and consultants have been trying various forms of definition of what constitutes and makes up a good leader and here are just a few.

* A Trait based view of leadership focuses on the make up of the leader in terms of general intelligence, intellectual ability or sociability.
* A Style perspective looks at what a leader does in terms of interaction with others inside and outside the organisation.
* Task oriented leadership approaches review how leaders organise the task – the scheduling and planning of resources and finance for example.
* Situational leadership was once a popular approach and is an extension of a contextual leadership style and meant that leaders have to adapt their style to the prevalent context and actual situation of the specific task.
* People oriented leaders busy themselves with the creation of environment conducive for action.
* Transformational leadership are those who transcend or seek to change the parameters of the situation – in vogue as it suits the aspirational managers and consultants buzzing around large corporations at the moment.

Participative in forms of leadership may be dependent on the context of the organisation with some professional groups such as teachers expecting to have their opinions polled and considered as do care workers. However when we look at the evidence for which of these above styles are more effective – actually there isn’t any – there is simply no clear evidence that any of these popular management styles are stronger. And whether leaders make any difference to organisational success is far from proved. There is also little evidence to decide whether any of the factors that make up so-called leaders are innate (leaders born) or acquired (made) and it may be that leadership is a happenstance and the attributes of a good leader are constructed in hindsight.

What we can say is that to be effective a leader must account for the complex societal context she operates within and be adept at managing the relationships between herself and the people she leads. The ability and capacity to articulate a change and to construct a vision are the more value laden aspects of leadership and are important parts of the job description.

Leadership is very popular at the moment especially in the public sector where all sorts of leadership development programmes are being launched. No-one it seems wants to be just a manager any more – we all need to be leaders. But this is a false dichotomy in part as we need people in organisations that can run them and pick up the mess after the charismatic leaders have been moved on or pensioned off. ‘Managership’ is just as important as ‘Leadership’ perhaps more so but as a closing point you can be a leader without being a manager but to be an effective manager you probably do need to be a good leader.

Royston

Planning to achieve business benefits from Outsourcing essential – free ebook on BizFace

Why is Business Benefits Planning Essential

Benefits planning aims to deliver the benefits promised in the business case and ensures they are actually realised. Many projects although they complete successfully in project management terms fail to deliver any of the initial benefits that launched the initiative. I have seen countless examples of project teams and managers congratulating themselves with the success of the project, ‘how well it went’, ‘all the deliverables done’ and so forth – but with not one penny piece of value delivered for the organisation.

I have sat on project boards to go through the business case and been confronted many times with promises of 25% cost reductions or increased production that if taken in the round with all the other things on the go would mean we get a product that costs nothing to make and sell for millions by the millions – forgive me if I am cynical. The failure of many projects to actually deliver any benefit in real terms in part explains the reluctance to give the go-ahead for new projects. Senior management are getting (more cynical) about the benefits and are getting fed up with being confronted with yet another initiative that promises hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, increased revenue or more customers for example but actually delivers nothing. We have low expectations from any activity and even of the ability of projects to pay for the outlay and our expectations are being met.

Cynicism borne of the experience of hundreds of pleadings from staffers that have come to naught and project’s launched that have promised benefits that in the end have failed to come up with the goods. Evidence show’s that the majority of projects (well over 60%) in such diverse areas as IT, Outsourcing and BPR fail to deliver any discernable improvement. I have found no Outsourcing project that has delivered anything of value – the only exception being when they closed half the department and we got half the service.

In projects I supervise I always fall back on the six faithful servants:

  • What benefits are being suggested and what is the scale and scope being promised and does it look reasonable?
  • Why do we need these benefits – what is the driver at this point in time?
  • Where will the benefits be realised in what department specifically?
  • When will the benefits be achieved? Remember back to the discounted cash flow exercises we did at business school – a benefit ten years away of four pence halfpenny is worth nothing.
  • Who is responsible for achieving the benefits? What department and the manager by name? I also ask if she knows that she will be responsible for achieving these benefits.
  • How will these benefits be released – what has to happen? For example if we have to cut staff this can take a lot of time and be difficult to achieve.

It should not be forgotten that the whole purpose of a project or initiative is to deliver something of value and if this does not occur then the project has failed completely. So now’s the time for a realistic appraisal of where we are. In any assessment of a business activity the expected outcome in terms of cash benefit forms the core of the go no-go decision. Managers must be more critical and evaluate for sure but just as important is to make sure a process is in place that will deliver the outcomes expected. It is simply not good enough to sit back and hope that a new IT system can bring in the money – it has to be planned for and people have to take on their responsibilities starting at the top – they are the ones who are in the end responsible for the money being delivered. I have put together an e-book explaining how to put together a benefits planning process that’s available to download for free on my forum – take a look at least we get some way along the road to delivering value for our organisations.

Free ebook on BizFace: Business Benefits Planning