Is leadership about people or getting the job done?
“Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice.” - Jim Collins, author of Level 5 Leadership, quotes Dr Ludi Beukman, HR Development Specialist at Softline VIP.
Dr Ludi Beukman, an HR Development Specialist from Softline VIP, part of the Sage Group, asks how important people should be as a consideration in your leadership decisions. “Listening to the critics of contemporary transformational and value-driven leadership theories, one often notices a concern that too much emphasis is put on the person being led and that the job or task at hand has become less important,” says Beukman.
It is true that the biggest portion of leadership development today concentrates on the people-related aspects of leader behaviour. “It looks at those things that leaders should do and emphasise, which would make most employees 'tick', seemingly instead of getting the job done,” explains Beukman. In the theory of transformational leadership, the influence of the leader's decisions and actions on the follower's natural reaction is heavily underlined, but should this always be done, even beyond the consideration of unique circumstances or the situation at hand?
Beukman poses the question of whether the choices of leaders should only be guided and dictated by what 'most employees' require and desire, or is there a need to consider the requirements of the situation as well?
“The issue could partly be analysed by asking which of the two - the task or the person - should enjoy more emphasis in selecting an appropriate leadership style. In having a closer look at many of today's widely accepted leadership principles, one realises that it is pretty much a chicken-and-egg situation. The one cannot exist without the other.
“First and foremost, one should not lose sight of the very basic reason of why we want to continuously improve the effectiveness of leadership behaviour in our organisations. It is for no other reason than to improve follower performance, in other words, getting the job done as productively as possible. So despite the fact that leadership is all about influence, the task at hand is still the bottom line. It certainly implies that unproductive and inferior efforts of subordinates do not have to be accepted or tolerated. Through effective leadership behaviour and decisions, we want to ensure that followers do deliver what is required and more.”
When we study 21st century leadership theories, it might seem at first glance that the focal point lies with the subordinate, but the principles are ultimately aimed at getting the job done. “Yet, the job still gets done through people,” says Beukman. “The one is therefore not exclusive of the other. You may be surprised to know that Jack Welsch, people guru and former CEO of General Electric, got rid of the bottom 10% of his workforce based on performance on a regular basis as part of his performance management cycle. It confirms that performance is non-negotiable, even for one of the world's most well-known exponents of principle-centred leadership.”
Can we then say that the typical theory-Y beliefs apply in any situation? “Yes we can, although the leader's choices are influenced by the unique demands of the given situation. For example, a crisis situation often calls for autocratic action or decisions. However, this does not mean that the leader suddenly develops a different set of beliefs about his or her people. It is simply a case of dealing with the situation. The reaction of the true transformational leader's followers will always be influenced and determined by what is known about the leader's values, beliefs and honest intent. Transformational or situational? The best choice is not either or, but both,” explains Beukman.
There is an abundance of proof that the collaborative principles underpinning effective and successful leadership behaviour do in fact produce what they promise in terms of increased worker satisfaction, commitment, and ultimately, productivity. “Not only are they instrumental to an organisation's drive towards continuous improvement, but I firmly believe that in the absence of these principles in our leadership practices at all levels, we will never accomplish our various visions of excellence, be it in business or service.
“I am convinced that the road to organisational excellence goes through the application of high trust and collaborative leadership principles. This road needs to meander through the competent, productive and committed efforts of people - the followers - and there are no shortcuts,” concludes Beukman.