Saturday, November 27, 2010

Performance and Leadership Success

Sometimes I think leaders need to sit down and read a good book on how to lead. In many of our work places leaders perform below the expected moral level. There are different explanations for their poor performances.

It could also be that they struggle with understanding themselves as leaders who lead through service, moral intelligence, and with clear achievable goals.

It could be that their appointment in the first place was anything, but rigged with fraud, nepotism, and misjudgment of their true character.

A leader is someone who must understand the importance of team work and must maintain an attitude of respect for every member of the team. A leader is someone who consolidates the productive spirit of the team rather than someone who divides and rule. A leader works with the team, not against the team in a company or organization.

In their book Moral Intelligence: Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success, Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel explain what an effective leadership is: “the best leaders are not the charismatic or heroic types lionized in years past. According to the latest research, they are ‘quiet leaders’ who accomplish great things modestly and without fanfare. Leaders at the perennially great companies all share a common trait—humility. They inspire high performance in others through their sensitivity to their followers’ needs. The best leaders think “we,” not “I.” They are, quite simply good people who consistently tap into their inborn disposition to be moral. They follow a moral compass—even when it’s tempting not to.”

A long-time friend of mine explained to me that he had left the school he was teaching in because he could not work with the headmaster and his close associates. According to my friend, the headmaster had, since his appointment, become insensitive to the views and needs of the teachers of the school. To maintain power and control the headmaster replaced subject heads of department with junior staff members who know nothing about the institutional history or the culture on which the reputation of the school was built on. Many of the replacements were teachers who accepted the imposing figure without being critical of the decisions deployed by the headmaster. The result of these decisions saw complete breakdown of cooperation and collegiality among staff. The values they held as a team no longer mattered. The headmaster’s preposterous attitude and lack of leadership qualities forced my friend to resign.

There must be a moral compass to guide a leader to achieve the desired outcomes as envisioned in the strategic plans and goals set in the beginning of their leadership. Without such a master plan, leaders tend to go astray, become aimless, and appear ruthless in their deployment of power to achieve total control. Such leadership is undemocratic. What it does reinforce is a master -servant relationship to the detriment of the cooperative spirit and morale of the work force.

Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel explain that leadership power is a double-edged sword. “Certainly, you can use power to accomplish worthy goals through others that you could not reach on your own. But there is something about power that makes it potentially dangerous as it can be helpful. Power is addictive. Using power activates brain chemicals called endorphins that create a highly enjoyable physiological state. Power can provide pleasure much like the satisfaction offered by food, sex, or vigorous physical exercise. Most people in formal leadership positions value power. But some leaders crave it. It is easy to get accustomed to the perks of the leadership role.”

Before anyone in leadership position gets carried away a reminder is in order. The power to lead is both manifests in the organizational structure and those who follow a leader. Lennick and Kiel remind us that “leadership power is not just asserted by the leader—it is given to leaders by followers. Followers allow leaders to be powerful. Because leaders have power, followers are careful about how they present information to their leaders.”

“Research has demonstrated that the higher one goes in an organization, the more distorted the information they receive. Followers provide information that they believe leaders want to hear and censor information they fear would upset or anger leaders. The more heavy-handed a leader is in his or her use of power, the more distorted the information they are given. But even benevolent leaders who are careful in their use of power have trouble establishing accurate communication channels because followers’ strong tendency to defer to the leader’s position power, independent of the leader’s actual behavior.”

Leaders need to understand such power dynamics in order for them to lead a proactive and cooperative work force. Without doing so leaders tend to hide behind the deployment of power without needing to worry about the negative consequences of its impact.

The caution issued by Lennick and Kiel is that if leaders continue along this path then they can achieve negative results: “When leaders make mistakes, it is difficult for followers to tell them so. Many organizational cultures discourage interpersonal feedback, even among peers, so imagine how reluctant most followers would be to openly criticize the actions of someone with great power. This leaves most senior leaders operating in a feedback void. Their accomplishments might be praised, but their personal flaws are not brought to their attention.”

“The absence of appropriate negative feedback,” continues Lennick and Kiel, “about our leadership behavior can leave us with the mistaken notion that we are far better leaders than we really are. Without accurate information about the business and about our own capacities, we are at risk making a big mistake that can lead to a devastating business outcome. Workaholism can reflect a subtle abuse of power. When you insist on doing everything yourself rather than delegating work, you deprive others of opportunities for development and their own share of power.”

Lennick and Kiel are right. Use power with caution: “Leverage your power to accomplish morally positive goals that also produce higher business performance.”


  1. Dear Steven,

    I read with interest your article Friday Nov 26. and i wondered to myself what would have happened if in the last election we had actually voted people that had these qualities?

    I am a young (well not quite young, 27) secondary school teacher at Jubilee catholic secondary school and i teach a new subject called personal development. I talk to my grade 9/10 students abot a variety of issues one of the most interesting being on teh political scenario in PNG. Now one of the things that my students are continuously drilled on is their attitude and concept of ownership. Attitudes obviously need to be changed now inorder to progress well in life and the concept of ownership in the sense of caring and knowing that you are responsible for either an object or ideal.

    It amazes me that our leaders have made so many promises (which is probably normal under extreme stress e.g. election campaigning) but yet have lost that concept of responsibility and ownership. It is true that if your boss does certain things that you don't agree with, you either talk about and get fired (or resign) or you don't say anything at all and then get pushed around easily. Have you thought that perhaps it is also a cultural thing? traditionally when a chief or village elder spoke it was accepted as the whole truth and nothing but... well i think that that might be the case, especially when our leaders seem to get away with so many decisions that affect a whole lot of people and yet the one's closest to, don't seem to say a word.

    when i first started teaching, I used to be the same. Now however as i have gotten more matured i have found that decisions need to be made after considering both sides of the same coin.This I believe allows for better feedback.

    anyway going back to leaders. I believe you were referring to our political leaders although i am not 100% sure but im going to assume it anyway. here is a question that i would pose to you. do you think that if our leaders were better educated they would make better decisions? and i don't mean educated after they get into parliament, i mean actually making it to university or further than that. the reason being, every election you have farmers and village counsellors standing for votes and making speeches. I know that in some cultures of PNG, we identify leaders by the manner in which they talk. true perhaps. but the thing is when you speak are you really saying the right thing or are you just saying the things that people want to hear?

    I have done a number of speeches at teacher inservices on the outcomes based reforms and believe me at times i have been widely criticized for spreading government propaganda. I have laughed at times because all i have done is accepted what was given to me and tried to show others how they can adapt it to what they are doing at their own schools. the thing is when i spoke at times, i did not say what they wanted to hear, but really what they didnt. perhaps i was wrong, hopefully i was right.

    i wish i was a leader...

    yours faithfully,

    jeremy H.Mogi- teacher

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