leadership

Make Peace with Hierarchies

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haniahDespite all the talk about the strength of peer networks and the new technological utopia in which increased connectivity yields instant equality, power is still often a zero-sum game. In fact, getting organisations to do away with hierarchies is proving to be next to impossible. Notwithstanding the rich example provided by Morning Star and millions of books that call for employee empowerment, shared power arrangements remain extremely rare. On the other hand, for all its enemies, hierarchy is amazingly resilient.

Why do hierarchies persist? In 1832, as Charles Darwin travelled through Tierra del Fuego on the southernmost tip of South America, he came across a series of native tribes whose living conditions he described as ‘‘wretched.’’ He blamed their conditions directly on lack of power structures: ‘‘The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilization. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved.”[i] Since he made that assertion over 180 years ago, numerous social scientists have similarly argued that hierarchies are necessary. In fact, many theorists have even argued that hierarchies are inevitable as they stem from our evolutionary roots. In other words, if different forms of organisation were more beneficial, groups would have successfully adopted them long ago.[ii]

Hierarchy has evolved to be the most dominant form of social organisation because it works. All those structures and roles serve a purpose. At its most basic level, the invisible hand of hierarchy helps people know who does what, when and how, and promotes efficient interactions by setting clear expectations and role clarity. Hierarchy also offers purely psychological benefits. Research indicates that perceptions of our rank and status in hierarchies are extremely important to us. In his book The Status Syndrome, Michael Marmot details how closely status is aligned with longevity and good health. Status even surpasses education and income, two factors that usually determine how healthy an individual can be throughout their life. An indicator of this is when Zappos gave the choice of embracing holacracy or taking a buyout, almost 210 of its 1,500 employees took redundancy rather than relinquish their hard-won management rank and the status that accompanies it.[iii]

Whilst it seems hierarchies are inevitable and here to stay, there is no doubt that they can sometimes be dysfunctional. The way forward therefore, is to reap the benefits of hierarchy while at the same time mitigating its negatives. At our recent Future of Work (FoW) Masterclass on Power and Leadership, we asked our participants the following four key questions in order to help them assess and future-proof their organisations’ power structures:

Does power inhibit voice? The vast literature on voice has underscored the reluctance of employees lower in hierarchy to communicate with their bosses. Laboratory research on groups also illustrates a similar pattern; participants temporarily assigned a low-power position tend to voice their opinions less, even though the hierarchy was just constructed moments before. How does your organisation create a psychologically safe environment for all employees to voice their opinions and ideas?

Does power have legitimacy? To ensure legitimacy of power, formal rank and competency must always align. However, people have been shown to rise to power for reasons other than competence. For example, research indicates that we are more likely to select leaders according to their sex, age and physical attractiveness than competence. In this context, it is interesting to note that there are fewer S&P 1500 companies led by women than S&P 1500 companies led by men named John. And John is more successful if he has a deep voice, a large signature and superior golf game.[iv] How does your organisation ensure that power has legitimacy?

How do leaders cope with power? Hierarchies will harm collective success when the possession of power induces leaders to be disinhibited and less sensitive to others’ needs. A significant body of empirical research demonstrates that there is a little bit of ‘Trump’ in all powerful people. In other words, powerful people are more inclined to be rude, to lie and cheat.[v] How does your organisation help leaders to cope with this dark side of power?

What is the effect on the powerless? Profound insights from neuroscience have brought to attention the multi-dimensional effect of powerlessness on employees. For example, lack of power has been shown to have negative consequences on employee well-being, motivation and even cognition. These findings should not really surprise you. Not being able to control your environment produces feelings of helplessness and stress, and study after study has documented that stress can harm your health and well-being. How does your organisation give employees opportunities to feel powerful, so that they do not suffer the consequences associated with powerlessness?

By understanding and answering these questions, organisations can create hierarchies that lead to victory with the fewest causalities along the way. The key lesson is that the future of power lies in making peace with hierarchies and learning how to empower employees without dismantling power structures.

[i] Darwin, C. (1906). The voyage of the Beagle (No. 104). JM Dent & sons.

[ii] Anderson, C., & Brown, C. E. (2010). The functions and dysfunctions of hierarchy. Research in organisational behavior, 30, 55-89.

[iii] Monarth, H. (2014). A company without job titles will still have hierarchies. Harvard Business Review.

[iv] Sebenius, A. (2016). CEOs Behaving Badly. The Atlantic

[v] The Trump in Every Leader. (5 September 2015). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com

 

Collaboration: strength in synergies

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Guest blogger John Milne of Leadership Down Under rounds up our series of collaboration-themed articles by sharing his advice for successful collaboration. 

Collaboration sees multi disciplinary teams formed across countries and corporations to make projects happen on time and within budget. The idea is to harness the suite of experience, skills and knowledge of each team member to achieve shared goals, solve complex problems and create new products or services. Choosing the right mix takes study and judgement from leaders and managers. Use the common wisdom model.

#Technical competence means the person knows what they are talking about.

A thorough knowledge of your field of operation adds to productivity and enhances your credibility. Be at the cutting edge by contacting thought leaders and achievers worldwide.

#Strong, honest people will earn trust and respect from team members and from clients.

Definite, reliable people draw business, earn promotion and add value to their workplace. By keeping your promises every time you will have the hallmark of a special talent. Even amongst, professionals keeping promises is a challenge. It is rare. Move beyond excuses to results. Strength of mind and purpose focuses energy and channels activities.

#Commitment to your own work, your team, your company will inspire confidence.

Leaders and managers who have the well being of their staff in mind as well as efficiency produce better results through team and individual performances. Be alert to pressure points, deadlines, crises, dangers and opportunities.

#Being active and giving in social media contacts and in social interaction reaps rewards.

Just as morale is built one brick at a time, so networking takes time, focus and persistence. Blogs, Linked In, Twitter and each new platform can introduce you and your services or products to amazing new markets. Be careful to give freely and wisely in these crowded market places. Collaborations can happen through this reaching out enterprise.

# Show professional respect due to master practitioners. Jealousy and selfishness in one can sap the good work of many in each team. Get over it. Have a realistic appreciation of your own and other team member’s suite of skills. Foster interplay of ideas.

When you respect the ideas of people from all positions, you can chart a more certain path for your organisation, school or business.

Working together can be fun and fruitful. It can bring the best out of people. Start today!

5 Trends to Watch in 2014

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By Lynda Gratton
The start of a new year is a natural point for thinking ahead and planning for the future.  Just before 2013 ended, I sat down for an interview with the BBC’s Peter Day, continuing a conversation he and I have been having for over 20 years.  During the interview I talked not only about the changes I’ve observed since he and I last spoke, but also about the five trends I see emerging in 2014 and beyond.

The shade of your future depends on where you are

Something that has become abundantly clear in recent years is that whether your future seems bright or dim depends on where you live. Young people in Europe, for example, are facing an extremely tough time and face the prospect of being less prosperous than their parents generation. But for their counterparts in India or China, expectations are entirely different, with many of them looking forward to a higher income than their parents.

It’s my belief that the youth unemployment we see affecting many countries is structural not cyclical. The past few years have been marked by the hollowing out of work, by which I mean that the  middle-skilled jobs traditionally taken on by graduates have been outsourced or being replaced by technology, leaving only low-skilled jobs or  high-skilled jobs which require more experience and education than the average twentysomething has to offer. This can leave young people adrift, without that very first job role from which to move upwards.

Online education

One major game-changer which I see having a huge impact in 2014 is online education. Online courses are becoming widely available – and they are revolutionising the scope of what people can aspire to. Suddenly, people all over the world are enrolling on courses that were previously only available to affluent individuals in specific locations. I saw a living example of the impact this is having at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2013.  There I watched a panel with Bill Gates, the head of Stanford, the head of MIT – and a 13 year-old Pakistani girl. If you’re wondering why this girl was invited to join these eminent figures, the reason is simple: this young teenager came top in Stanford’s online examinations. This struck me as an outstanding example of how the world is changing: here is a girl who even five years ago would have had no opportunity to leave Lahore, but thanks to a world-class university putting its courses and examinations online, she has the world at her feet. There is no doubt that this will create huge competition for young people in the West.

Quotas for women?

It’s astounding to think that while 50% of graduates are women and 30% of managers are women, only 10% of business leaders are women. For someone who thought that the glass ceiling was about to shatter 20 years ago, this is extremely disappointing. Despite all our hopes to see more women at the top of leading organisations, the speed of change has been glacial. It seems that large organisations remain hierarchical, bureaucratic and have a tendency to pay lip service to the concept of having women in the boardroom. Frequently, they are not places where women feel comfortable holding senior positions. One solution that has been put forward is that of female quotas, but this is an issue which divides opinion amongst senior women. For my part, I’m on the side that thinks quotas are a good thing. The way I see it, if you are in a situation where nothing seems to be moving, a shock is what’s needed.

The business side of social media

I also think we’ll start to see organisations using social media within their businesses as elegantly as people use it in their everyday lives. A trend that has emerged in the last year or two is that there is technology that connects every single person in an organisation in a very sophisticated way. For example, I’ve seen this happening at Tata Consulting Services, a business that employs over 150,000 people under 24 and connects them to each other using social media. The result of this is that people naturally form communities to get things done, to discuss ideas, and to have fun. Since their Knome platform was launched, TCS employees have formed themselves into 3,500 communities. My team at the Hot Spots Movement helps companies do this in a more targeted fashion with their FoWlab jams: facilitated online conversations which companies can use to engage their employees on issues as diverse as brand values, job design and meaningful work.  I see this becoming a model that many other companies will follow. 2014 promises to bring some interesting organisational changes led by technology, particularly the kind that allows people to communicate on a many-to-many basis. This kind of communication model will have a huge impact on how people work together – and on the role of leaders.  In fact, it has the potential to change the very nature of what we call leadership. After all, if information is flowing easily and horizontally – what does a leader do?

Reconsidering trust

Both online education and social information sharing rely enormously on trust – something that will prove challenging for some. For those of us who are Baby Boomers or from Gen X, building trust has always been based on face-to-face interaction – and building trust in a virtual environment can prove challenging. People from younger generations, on the other hand, have grown up working online and playing games virtually, which gives them the advantage of being able to develop trust easily without the need for face-to-face contact. A workforce is emerging where humans can build trust in a virtual environment and this promises to revolutionise how information is shared and how knowledge and expertise flow within organisations.

Three Tips for Today’s Leaders

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By Lynda Gratton

As a business professor, I’m often asked about the nature of leadership today. When I think about what it means to be a leader right now, the first thing that comes to mind is complexity: today, leadership means being prepared to deal with many stakeholders – from  NGOs that are becoming more voracious in their demands to followers who are increasingly emboldened.

This situation is not only complex, but also tough to navigate – particularly in a world that is increasingly transparent and connected. However, there are still things leaders can do to smooth the process – let me share three of them with you.

  • Keep your eyes wide open More than 15 years ago my colleague Sumantra Ghoshal and I wrote business cases on three companies that were at that time leaders in their field: BP, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nokia. In one way or another, and for rather different reasons, all of these companies have since struggled. So my first observation is that in an ever more complex world, a company and its leaders are subject to continuous de-stabilizing forces. Being vigilant and observant about the nature and velocity of these forces is crucial. In complex times leaders do not believe the hype that surrounds them – they keep their eyes wide open to the reality of their world.
  • Find the balance between being authentic and being a custodian The debate about leadership authenticity is an important counter balance to earlier notions of hierarchical and role based leaders. Rather than following a narrow description of what a leader is – individuals are asked to be themselves, to be authentic and by doing so to bring more of themselves to work. I believe this is an important antidote to old style leadership. However, in an organization that is becoming ever more complex, being faced with a group of leaders all of whom are idiosyncratic in their authenticity, could become confusing and distracting for those that follow. Over dinner we talked about Steve Jobs, who was indeed idiosyncratically authentic, but was also engaged in founding what would become one of the world’s great companies. For many leaders, their role is less as a founder and more as a custodian who is capable of growing and passing on to future generations of employees and shareholders the value that past generations has created. So yes, be authentic to oneself – but not so idiosyncratic that those that follow need a ‘rule book’ on how to engage with leaders. The world is complex enough without this further variable to be considered.
  • Remember: it’s all about teams Thinking back to the cases mentioned earlier, I believe that if there is one underlying factor that accounts for the problems encountered by BP, RBS and Nokia it is their failure to build diverse, highly collaborative leadership teams. At RBS, CEO Fred Goodwin isolated himself from his colleagues, failed to listen to others and behaved in an increasingly idiosyncratic manner. At Nokia, the senior leadership team was for a long time extraordinarily homogenous (mostly men, mostly from Finland, mostly software engineers, mostly educated in Helsinki) and so failed to spot the rapid consumer developments in the Asian markets, or indeed the accelerating technological and design developments in Silicon Valley. At BP, the difficulties the leadership team had to integrate the US assets and build close collaboration with those that ran the US acquisitions was one reason why safety standards never became globally embedded. Simply put, as the world becomes more complex, so it becomes ever more crucial to put together leadership teams who have sufficient diversity to see beyond the hubris and myopia, and sufficient collegiality to work collaboratively with each other even when under stress.

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