This past week I went to an organization development meeting where we were discussing Gareth Morgan's paper Reflections on Images of Organization on the metaphors he uses to interpret organizations and I've also been listening to stories of people's experiences of business transformation.
Then on Saturday, a lovely hot sunny but slightly windy day, when I was on a boat trip on the River Thames my companion remembered a story she'd loved as a child: The Wind and the Sun. Do you know it? It's an Aesop's fable with a moral to it and there are various versions but most of them are on the lines of this one:
The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness. "We shall have a contest," said the Sun. Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat. "As a test of strength," said the Sun, "Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man." "It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat," bragged the Wind. The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat. Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat. The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter. Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot. "How did you do that?" said the Wind. "It was easy," said the Sun, "I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way."
Going back to the stories of transformation (people were talking about what happened in 2011 in their organization), I heard tales of 'tightening of belts', a desire to hold on to things that people felt they were losing, 'square pegs being fitted into round holes', lack of staff involvement and leadership reflection, knee jerk reactions to the (acknowledged) need to downsize and reorganize. People asked me 'What's going to be different this time around?' I heard the worry and felt their anxiety.
That's a great question – and the answer depends partly on how people are consciously led through the next transformation. And the fable helps illustrate. Here's an example of a leader who was of the north wind ilk. At the time he was described as 'the logical extreme of an executive who has no values, no honor, no loyalty, and no ethics'.
'Chainsaw' Al Dunlap was brought it to transform Sunbeam, a failing company. During his time there, Dunlap reduced the number of factories from 26 to 8, cut $225m of costs, reduced the workforce by 6,000 and cut charitable contributions. The result of his approach, far from saving a failing company, caused the share price to drop below the price it was when he took the helm with a mission to save it. He was fired from his role as CEO of Sunbeam after just less than two years in post. As a result of his efforts 'Sunbeam could never shake the taint caused by Dunlap and filed for bankruptcy in 2001 … 'Rarely does anyone express joy at another's misfortune, but Dunlap's ouster elicited unrestrained glee from many quarters. Former employees who had been victims of his legendary 'chainsaw' nearly danced in the streets of Coshatta, La., where Dunlap shuttered a plant'.
Here's another example, this one of the sun type leader:
Mark Rogers is two months [March 2014] into his role as CEO of Birmingham City Council. His role is to manage a business transformation that saves £822 million from Birmingham's budget, sells-off the flagship NEC, reduces the workforce by 1,000 jobs this year and generally to 'turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick'.
He began well by, in his first week, writing a blog on why he took on the role and has written regularly each week. Last week he wrote about leading with Birmingham City Council's values (empathy, respect and trust) saying:
'I believe passionately that it is entirely possible for a very large council such as ours to lead with its values, but previous experience tells me that, to succeed, we all need to deliver on a small number of key approaches. For starters, therefore, I expect colleagues to sign up to two key ways of working: active distributed leadership; and a positive commitment to self-awareness and courageous conversations. Active distributed leadership is all about you (and me) taking responsibility for promoting and living the values of the council. This is not someone else's business; it's ours. I can't do it all on my own. I need your support and I need you to help me ensure that the values are known and in evidence every day. And where they're not, do something about it'.
So here is someone already encouraging people to live the values, opt in and participate, and feel encouraged: 'lit up' even. Although it's very early days I heard from someone who works for the council (and has met Mark Rogers) that 'Everyone is talking about the blog and his style of management as refreshing and just what we need. Mark is going down well with people who don't subscribe to command and control as the default organisational norm. I think time will tell if he is able to cut through the organisational machine … [but] I am hopeful.'
'Sun' leaders, like Rogers, operating through positive values, involvement, role modeling and setting expectations have the qualities necessary to transform organization, They are transformational leaders, and there's a lot of organizational theory around them, for example:
Transformational leaders cause change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, transformational leadership creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders. Enacted in its authentic form, transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower's sense of identity and self to the mission and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that optimize their performance. (Mindtools has some practical tips on transformational leadership).
For an example of a long-serving transformational leader – look no further than Alan Mulally, CEO Ford Motor Company, who in 2006 was brought in to transform the organization, is still there, and has succeeded spectacularly. Here's a snippet from an interview with him. In answer to the question 'How would you describe your leadership style, he says:
At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve–—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit. It is an honor to serve. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership–—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward–—is so important, because that is what you are here for–—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone's contribution is respected, so everyone should participate. When people feel accountable and included, it is more fun. It is just more rewarding to do things in a supportive environment. … if you have consistency of purpose across your entire organization and [if] you have nurtured an environment in which people want to help each other succeed, the problem will be fixed quickly. So it is important to create a safe environment for people to have an honest dialogue, especially when things go wrong.
So, in answer to the question about 'what will be different?' about the business transformation the people I was talking with are going to experience, the answer is – it depends whether all of us in the organization are willing and able to become 'sun' style, transformational leaders – whatever our organizational level.
What are your techniques for developing transformational, 'sun' style leaders? Let me know.