All entries for March 2013

March 30, 2013

Transformational theory: the perils of oversimplification

Some studies on transformational leadership have mentioned four components, while others have used three main parts of Bass' theory.

They all describe intellectual stimulation (encouraging followers to challenge the status quo) and Individualised consideration (being supportive, mentoring, etc). The difference, however, lies in the fact that some have further broken down charisma into Idealised influence and Inspirational motivation.

Idealised influence refers to the admiration and respect transformational leaders get. On the other hand, inspirational motivation is about inspiring and instilling enthusiasm.

Personally, I prefer keeping them together and branched under charisma, as they are both interlinked to a large extent. For example, if a leader is admired and respected, he/she can better inspire the team.

There are many cases, where further elaboration can lead to confusion and in some cases, the meaning can be lost. I have learnt to be critical and now I am always suspicious when I see a theory or a model that constitutes more facets than absolutely necessary.

March 29, 2013

Transformational leadership vs Servant leadership

After reading about transformational theory and servant theory, I can't help but notice how similar they are. For example, they share many attributes such as:

Influence, Vision, Trust, Integrity, Individualized consideration, mentoring, empowerment, etc.

In essence, the only real difference between the two is their slight variation in focus. Servant leadership emphasises more on followers, while transformational leadership focuses on organizational goals.

However, one must question whether this is a strong enough reason to make a distinction between the two approaches. Why can't organizations have both objectives, i.e. to improve performance and develop employees? Indeed, many progressive companies try to simultaneously do both. In my opinion, that is probably the only real way an organization can achieve and sustain success.

March 28, 2013

Leadership: Enabler or a Driver?

During the module week, Paul said something that has stayed in my mind ever since. He pointed out that GE was successful in spite of Jack Welch rather than because of him.

This suggests that leadership is only an "enabler" and not a "driver" of increasing performance at an organization. This is in contrast to the Malcolm Baldrige Award which assumes that leadership "causes" an increase in performance and quality of processes.

Personally, I would go along with the former. I think that while having an effective leader certainly helps the cause, it is by no mean a direct indicator for organizational performance. As we know, there are many different factors that have a say, e.g. characteristics of followers, environment and just pure simple luck.

People nowadays, are quick at pointing to the leader when an organization performs well. It is the easy option..and humans want to develop simple explanations for complex organizational performance. Hence, they all come to the conclusion that "the leader must be doing something right".

Hopefully, the critical analysis skills that we are learning at MBE will help us to steer away from such errors. We should always analyze all the possible variables before attributing the success or failure of a process/ organization to any one factor.

March 27, 2013

Transformational leader: Paradox or unfair criticism?

I recently came across a journal article where it was suggested that since a transformational leader is both charismatic and intellectually stimulating, it can create tension in the organization as the two are opposing forces somehow.

However, I personally question this view. In my opinion, anyone can be charismatic as well as intellectually stimulating as a leader. In fact, I will go as far as saying that in order to be truly charismatic, one has to intellectually stimulate the workforce. Let me put this another way: Can a leader really be charismatic if his/her followers are not able to think clearly?

I'll leave that open to debate but in my opinion, this is an unfair criticism of the transformational theory.

March 26, 2013

HBR on leadership lessons to be learnt from Steve Jobs

I came across this Harvard Business Review article on "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs". It's written by Walet Isaacson, who has written biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, and I found it to be a highly captivating reading (although I don't necessarily agree with all his points).

The author argues that there are 14 points behind Jobs’s approach (I don't know why but for some reason everyone seems to prefer a list of 14 points now..maybe it's due to Deming setting the benchmark with his 14 points). Anyway, here they are:

1) Focus

2) Simplify

3) Take responsibility end to end

4) When behind, leapfrog

5) Put products before profits

6) Don’t be a slave to focus groups

7) Bend reality

8) Impute

9) Push for perfection

10) Know both the big picture and the details

11) Tolerate only “A” players (highly controversial*)

12) Engage face-to-face

13) Combine the humanities with the sciences; and finally

14 Stay hungry, stay foolish

The complete article can be accessed at:

Should we aspire to lead like Steve Jobs?

Imagine if instead of learning how to become effective leaders on LE, we were all taught how to lead the Steve Jobs way. How many of us would sign up for such a module? Since a huge proportion of people in the class own at least one apple product, I am assuming most of us would have happily taken up that module too.

Here's the thing, most of us as future leaders would be thrilled to achieve what Steve Jobs did. However, should we aspire to lead like him?

Before we can really answer that, it's worth digging up a bit and finding what he really was like as a leader. We all know he was dynamic and at times controversial. He is often praised as a larger than life leader, a sort of leader that the Great Man theory tries to explain, but does the evidence stack up? Job was certainly driven as a leader and he achieved huge successes for his company, but identifying anyone's leadership style is a complex thing. Most people would describe him as a charismatic leader, who was committed and confident to make radical changes rather than small incremental improvements. However, he was also impatient, stubborn and even cruel at times. He was definitely demanding of his maybe the servant leadership model cannot explain his type. Above all, he knew how to deliver a winning strategy and a great vision.

So the question is if we try to emulate these traits (good as well as bad ones), will we get the results that he got? In my opinion, No! There are so many other factors at play, not least the group members and the specific situation. So, we as aspiring leaders of future can certainly learn a lot from Steve Jobs, but we should be careful and not try to emulate all of it.

March 25, 2013

Comparing different leadership styles: A pointless exercise?

The trouble with so many leadership styles is how do you know which one you are? Also, since there's no reason why you can't possess more than one style, it begs the question: why even bother differentiating between different approaches?

So far in my attempt to answer the PMA question, I have come across a dozen styles or approaches already. Examples include: Trait theory, contingency theory, Transactional theory, Transformational Theory, Strategic Theory, Autocratic, democratic, etc.

Just when you think that's it..there can't possibly be anymore styles, some author comes up with a new leadership style. For example, I came across this article where the author argues that in effect, there are really only two basic types of leaders i.e. incremental leaders and disruptive leaders.

Incremental leaders are those that maintain the stability of an organization. On the other hand, disruptive leaders challenge the status quo and create major, noticeable changes. The author suggests that both types can lead to success, so essentially we are back to square one. Why should we stress ourselves in comparing them? Is is not besides the point.

After giving it some thought, I have come to the conclusion that it is nonetheless important to figure out what type of leader you are. It will help inform you how best to run your organization so that it has a positive impact on the society. At the end of the day, it is about knowing yourself and knowing what works for you.

March 23, 2013

How can leaders inspire action?

During the CBE module, we briefly came across 'the golden circle' that has a core made up of "Why" and then stems out to "How" and then eventually "What". I think that this is a great way to think about anything we do, but in particular, it is a great way for leaders to inspire action. Apple is a popular example that highlights the power of thinking in such a way. They start with the why aspect i.e. why are we here (e.g. because we believe in challenging the status quo). This helps in getting people to buy in to your core values and vision.

Similarly, as a leader, we should focus on the "why" first and foremost. Why are we leading, Why is this important to us? Why should others follow us? Why should our goals be shared by our followers?

If you get this right when leading, your followers will give their blood, sweat and tears in order to achieve the shared goals.. and after all, effective leadership is about influencing the thoughts and activities of group members in achievement of shared goals.

This is something I have experienced first hand. By getting the why bit right, everything else follows naturally. I really believe that as leaders of tomorrow, we should inspire others.. and a great way of doing just that is by conveying your beliefs, i.e. what you stand for. If you are lucky enough to have followers who share your beliefs, then that's all you can really ask for.

For those who are interested in learning more about the golden circle, I would recommend the following TedTalk delivered by Simon Sinek:

March 20, 2013

Do you need Charisma to be an effective leader?

I came across this interesting article which has sort of challenged my previous views on leadership. I used to think that effective leaders need to have charisma. It seemed almost logical considering people like Steve Jobs, for instance.

However, this article shows that this is a common misconception. Even people who are not gifted with charisma can be really effective as leaders. Furthermore, some charismatic leaders can actually hinder the progress of an organization. Take the example of Richard S. Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers and the guy who many people blame for the financial crisis. He was undoubtedly charismatic, persuasive and strong minded (labelled as "the gorilla" of Wallstreet) but he played a major part in the downfall of his corporation. This has definitely changed my views and I now don't think that a charismatic leader will necessarily outperform his/her counterpart over the long run. While you will sometimes get that one-in-a-million steve jobs type leader, you will also come across leaders with charisma and outstanding powers of persuasion, but who will still lead company in the wrong direction as they will not listen to anyone with opposing views.

The article can be accessed from:

March 11, 2013

Robust Decision Making: Some thoughts

After studying robust decision making, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of making effective decisions. I have learnt that good decision making involves putting together all the relevant information in a timely and useful manner. Sometimes, there is a need for quick decisions while other times, particularly if there are high stakes involved and time is available, one can deliberate more on the issue and assess the different alternatives. Moreover, I have learnt how bad we can sometimes be in making decisions but I have also been encouraged to see how the use of some tools can greatly assist us in the decision-making process. In addition, I now appreciate the judgement bias that exists in almost all tools much more than I used to before. However, this begs the question: How do you know if you are making a foolproof decision that guarentees good results? Can you ever be sure that your decision is going to work? I guess there will always be some uncertainty. The moment you delve into the world of probability and likelihood, you can never be certain if you have made the right call. Does this mean that making a robust decision, i.e. one that is immune and unaffected by circumstances and uncertainty, is impossible? I would leave that one open to debate, however, I would argue that it is besides the point anyway and we shouldn't be too critical of ourselves. At least, by developing an understanding of these tools and using them effectively, we can certainly increase our chances of making a decision as robust as possible.

Hence, it is important that we should not be quick to point fingers at the tools if the decision goes wrong. We should simply assess the outcome and try to analyze why the decision didn't work. It could be that we used an inappropriate tool or maybe we didn't apply it properly so it could be an error in our application of the tool.

March 2013

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