Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

Balancing two extremes PDF Print

Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
August, 2012

“The line between firmness and harshness, between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and [rigidity] - is a fine one.  It is difficult to define, but those of us who are professionals and also have accepted as a career the leadership of men, must find that line.”

General Melvin Zais, US Army

Much of the literature on change and transformation talks about maximizing employee and stakeholder participation through engagement. While this is true, it is necessary to bear in mind some important caveats. In certain circumstances or times – invariably in urgent or crisis situations – leaders have to lead, and people simply have to do what they are told and follow orders. The fundamental point is to know exactly when to direct, and when to dialogue. This calls for balancing the two extremes of leadership styles – the ‘telling’ versus the empowered approaches.

In a recent team engagement session I conducted for an oil and gas company, its CFO shared the following illuminating piece. It was an extract from an article by General Melvin Zais of the US army:

"The day I assumed command of this division I enjoined the leaders to take care of their men. I have reiterated this statement many times since then. Even so, I again find it necessary to call this matter to your attention. Taking care of your men includes food, shelter, pay, clothing, mail and recreation, but even more important is your attitude.

  • You cannot expect a soldier to be a proud soldier if you humiliate him.
  • You cannot expect him to be brave if you abuse him.
  • You cannot expect him to be strong if you break him.
  • You cannot ask for respect and obedience and willingness to assault hot landing zones, climb up back-breaking ridges or destroy dug-in emplacements if your soldier has not been treated with the respect and dignity which fosters unit spirit and personal pride.

The line between firmness and harshness, between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and [rigidity] - is a fine one.  It is difficult to define, but those of us who are professionals and also have accepted as a career the leadership of men, must find that line.  It is because judgements and people and human relationships are involved in leadership that only men can lead men, and not computers.

I enjoin you to be ever alert to the pitfalls of too much authority.  For the very junior leader beware that you do not fall in the category of the little man with a little job and with a big head.  In essence, be considerate.  Treat your subordinates right and they will literally die for you".

One thing is clear, that both the directive and empowering styles of leadership are appropriate in change management – but in different contexts, and for different reasons and purposes. It is accepted the world over that embracing change is absolutely vital for the success of all organizations. Yet, why is it that change programs often fail to meet desired goals? Need for research into the success factors and causes of failure in change programs has never been greater.

Happily, most new ideas and trends in change management are not rocket science. However, they merit serious consideration as we grapple with the demands posed by the 21st century. N. Machiavelli captures the essence of the challenge thus: “There is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to be a leader in the introduction of changes. For he, who innovates, will have for enemies all those who are well off under the old order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”

Nature abhors status quo. Change has been with us since the beginning of time and will endure. The least we can do is to keep ourselves abreast with the unfolding realities in our business and socio-economic environment and adapt accordingly, or simply perish. Ideally, we should be able to read the trends in our respective industries and markets and try to stay ahead of the game.

How individuals and organizations respond to the challenges of sustaining growth will vary significantly. For example, a small organization may want to expand into new markets by opening a local sales office overseas as part of its strategy. On the other hand, a large multinational may decide to centralize or consolidate certain operations into a single location. Some may want to switch from a national brand and attempt to create a single global brand, while others may favor creation of global business units with regional operations. Such strategic considerations will involve plenty of management time gathering and analyzing relevant data; considering the pros and cons of each alternative; and working out ways that will make the needed organization-wide changes effective.

Competitive pressures, organizational life-cycle, internal succession, technology, geo-politics, regulation & deregulation, and market expectations continue to be dynamic, forcing organizations to continuously renew and revitalize themselves. This requires constant unlearning and re-learning – something most managers understand at an intellectual level, but have difficulty practicing in real life.

In one of your future meetings, ask your managers, “Do people need to change?” Invariably all hands will go up, signifying a resounding “Yes”! Then ask a follow-up question, “Do you need to change?” And notice the pause and silence, before hands go up slowly and reluctantly. It’s easy to point fingers at others. It’s high time we learned to look within ourselves.

“Things” change only if people change. And people only change if they see the world differently. This implies the need for continuous personal development. The essential truth is that you cannot force people to change; they have to want to change.

In light of the above, the challenge for leadership in organizations is to take their people through some form of an interactive process that enables them to understand what is happening within and around their organization. This helps them to draw their own conclusions about the implications and options in change. Such programs need to take place at all levels – those of the individual, team and the organization.

Everyone needs to get involved and engaged in the debate about future directions and change. Through such an approach we mobilize energy for change through joint diagnosis of business problems and collective search for possible solutions. Organizations like United Energy Pakistan, Engro Corp and Karachi Electric Supply Co (KESC), and many others, are successfully managing change by following such a participative strategy. The good news is that major local companies in Pakistan are also joining the foray.

We need to keep in mind a growing social trend worldwide, that of the increasing importance and power of the individuals. The implications for change are profound. In every area of change, there is an increasing awareness of the need to treat people as individuals - understanding, respecting, valuing and working within the sphere of the individual. This requires considerable amounts of time for understanding, planning, tolerance, and flexibility. We need to get wiser at change by understanding its complexities and subtleties, and adopt more practical and relevant approaches to it.

In other words, we need to consider an integrative approach. It makes sense, but produces some difficult choices for those charged with bringing change. There are strong, positive benefits for organizations that adopt a broader approach. However, the downside is the amount of discussion and debate that is required to consolidate differing views and perspectives on issues.

By the balancing the two extremes we can not only create a buy-in of all key stakeholders, but can also drastically reduce the time to implement agreed plans and strategies as there will be much less resistance and fewer surprises during execution.


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No matter how big your organization gets, continue to empower your people at every level to deliver. Only this way will size lead to advantage.

It is always useful to explore the history of any company to understand how they got to being what they are today. Corporate success usually follows some combination of visionary entrepreneurship and luck. When companies acquire early successes and achieve a dominant position in some market or markets they become profitable and usually follow a steep growth trajectory in their early years.


With the passage of time, however, pressures on managers come mostly from inside the firm. Building and staffing a bureaucracy that can cope with growth is the biggest challenge. External constituencies are neglected. The firm needs, hires, and promotes managers, not leaders, to cope with the growing bureaucracy. Top managers allow these people, not leaders, to become executives. Sometimes top management actively prevents leaders from becoming senior executives. Managers begin to believe that they are the best and that idiosyncratic traditions are superior. They tend to become increasingly arrogant and aloof. The problem is compounded when top management does nothing to stop this trend and often ends up exacerbating it.


A strong, insular and conceited culture develops. Managers fail to acknowledge the value of customers and other key stakeholders. They behave in an inward-looking, sometimes political fashion and fail to acknowledge the value of leadership and the talent available at all levels that can provide it. They tend to stifle initiative and innovation. They behave in centralized and authoritative ways.


Consequently, as organizations grow, whether in terms of sales, number of employees, range of products and services, market share, or whatever, they start to lose the advantage they once had. According to John Naisbitt in the book Rethinking the Future “it is the small companies who are creating the global economy, not the Fortune 500. And these days a small company can be as small as one person.” In his book, Megatrends 2000 he gave the example of his neighbors Linde and Lito who have a publishing company called Western Eye Press. He continues, “It’s just two people and they publish wonderful photographic and guide books. They create them on Macintosh computers in their basement in Telluride. They printout the camera-ready pages on their own high resolution laser printer. Then they FedEx’ed these pages to Seoul, South Korea, and the printer there manufactures their books and ships them to distributors all over the world. Western Eye Press is a key player in the global economy and its just two people on this little mountain perch in Colorado.”
Large corporations and global conglomerates, if not careful, end up becoming highly bureaucratic, over-managed, rule-driven and inflexible by virtue of their size. In this day and age of cyberspace and nanotechnology, fetish with size of a business can become an impediment. This is particularly true for organizations that have grown significantly in scale in terms of revenues and market share. Organizations like Citibank have lost touch with their core constituents. It  may be a major player with a strong brand image, but customers interacting with its frontline employees are often disappointed by their state of helplessness in resolving routine problems. This could be on account of slavish adherence to archaic procedures. Often, individual contributors in big companies don’t take the initiative needed to listen and understand customer requirements with the intent to ultimately delighting them. There is a lot to be said for systems and processes, but if they are not customer oriented and responsive, the game is as good as lost.  
Quality can now be replicated anywhere in the world. China is leading the way in this respect. With the falling of trade barriers and dropping of quotas, the Chinese have taken their global market share in textiles from 16% to over 50% in less than a decade. In recent years, the Pakistan market has been flooded with Chinese products (mostly electronic, light engineering) that are low priced and in much demand.
We no longer live in a world of big mainframes. We live in a world where the real power is large networks – a lot of individuals connected together – Facebook & Twitter are pointing the way. A network does not have any headquarters. Chinese excel in this field and have spread their global business through this means. Naisbitt cites Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) as a great example of a huge company that thrives and grows through networking. He quotes Percy Barnevik (Former CEO at ABB) as having said, “We grow all the time, but we also shrink all the time.” As the network gets larger, the nodes get smaller. 
So, no matter how big your company gets, continue to excel by empowering your people at every level to deliver. Building agility and responsiveness is the key.