Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

Available at: www.kzr.co

The ultimate responsibility PDF Print

Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
November, 2012

Developing future leaders is the ultimate responsibility of a leader, whether s/he happens to be in a corporation, a voluntary organization or in government. This is how societies and organizations have evolved and developed through the ages.

It helps us to know and ardently believe that leaders are made, not born. You can argue all you like about this point, but in the end it will always be a question of how effective an individual has been in achieving goals in a particular set of circumstances, particularly where there were plenty of constraints, and tough choices needed to be made. No one who wishes to lead a life of purpose is exempt from being result-oriented. However, whether someone chooses to assume the ultimate responsibility of leadership or not is another matter.

Developing future leaders is the ultimate responsibility of a leader, whether s/he happens to be in a corporation or in government. This is how societies and organizations have evolved and developed through the ages. Lee Iacocca[1] amplifies this idea succinctly, “The job of a leader is to accomplish goals that advance the common good. Anyone can take up space. Here’s is the test of a leader: When he leaves office, we should be better off than when he started. It’s that simple.”

The field of leadership is wide open and anyone wanting to make a difference can claim it. It is well known that leadership is not only the top position in any organization or in government; it is expressed in families; in classrooms; in sports; in politics; in farms; in arts; and at every level in the corporate environment, indeed in all fields of human endeavor. This fact provides us with a huge opportunity to identify and develop talent around us. 

Developing people involves coaching and/or mentoring. However, it is important for you to know the difference. Coaching is primarily about helping people see and do things differently in a given set of tasks – whether in sports or business. It is usually focused on improving skills that are needed for the job at hand. The immediate boss is normally the coach. Whereas mentoring deals with the development of the ‘whole’ person. It is about investing in human potential where its major significance and relevance is to the organization and the protégé. A mentor need not be the immediate boss, but someone high up in the organization that a potential protégé trusts, can easily relate to, admires and would like to learn from. This is one reason why formal mentoring programs do not work as protégés are usually assigned to mentors. Attempts to match mentor to protégé may not always yield the right ‘fit’.

If done right, mentoring offers you a way to have an enduring positive impact as a leader. It enables you to consciously contribute towards building leadership in your organization and/or community for the coming times. This is how you can move your organization away from a personality-driven culture towards a more institutionalized way of working, where principles, rather than personalities, guide policies, processes, everyday decisions and actions at all levels.  

To be effective as a mentor you need to keep reminding yourself that everyone around you is potentially a leader. Even though this is true, not everyone is equally keen to develop to the standards you seek. Therefore, your key challenge will lie in devoting your time on people who are genuinely interested and are committed to grow and contribute and indeed, also want to learn from you! This takes generosity of heart, plenty of patience and a deep-seated love for people.

Ram Charan[2], a renowned author and consultant who taught management at Harvard, informs us that “in 2005, a $20 billion company underwent a major reorganization, and one of the senior executives approached the CEO to tell him a portion of the executive's new job really should belong to someone else.”

“What was he thinking? He was in a horse race to succeed the CEO and already had the smallest scope of all his peers and fellow contenders for the top job. Under those circumstances, many leaders would try to expand their span of control. But he believed the organization would work better if certain areas went to someone else.”

“This leader was not naïve or un-ambitious. It's just that he truly wanted the business to succeed. Of course he hoped that his thinking would be recognized and appreciated. When his boss and the board get close to the succession decision, no doubt they'll remember that this person revealed he's not a greedy empire builder.”

“Caring about the good of the organization can mean ceding a portion of your span of control, voluntarily agreeing to cut back on projects in order to meet a budget goal, or sharing part of your leadership responsibilities with an up-and-coming leader who needs a development opportunity.”

“It might also mean giving up valued team members who would better serve the organization in a different capacity. In today's global organization, letting go of good people is almost an imperative.”

Are you willing to let go some of the powers you enjoy? Let’s explore mentoring more deeply. The Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide." Think about it. If you are not perceived in this way by aspiring leaders in your organization or family, it’s pointless for you to pursue mentoring, unless, you are prepared to take the bold steps needed to improve your image.

According to Encarta Dictionary, the word men’tor (noun) means a teacher and protector of Telemachus. in Homer’s Odyssey, the friend whom Odysseus left in charge of the household while he was at Troy and who was the teacher and protector of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. A mentor is also described as an experienced adviser and supporter, somebody, usually older and more experienced, who provides advice and support to, and watches over and fosters the progress of, a younger, less experienced person.

As you may have gathered by now, leaders like you can use mentoring as a tool in your organizations to nurture and grow your people. Whether you elect to use this tool formally or informally, the process involves the protégés observing, questioning, and exploring, while you as mentors demonstrate, explain and model desired behaviors.

As a mentor you can ensure learning takes place through methods such as profiling experiences, modeling and advising. You can share your "how to do it so it achieves desired outcomes" stories. You can also include experiences of your failure/s, ie., "how I made that mistake and what I learned from it". Both types of stories are powerful lessons that provide valuable opportunities for analyzing individual and organizational realities.

It will soon become evident to you that mentoring is a kind of a joint venture – a partnership - between you and your protégé. It’s a two-way process and needs an open flow of communication between both parties. Your protégé must be as eager and willing as you are in the learning process. In this context, personal scenarios and anecdotes offer valuable insights. You can end up becoming a ‘learning leader’ when you talk about yourself and your experiences candidly to establish a rapport with your mentees. Your frank, open and honest sharing of personal events in your life will be reciprocated by your protégé. And when this happens, its time for you to listen intently and empathetically.   

Through mentoring you can trigger the spirit of continuous learning in the protégé and indeed, in yourself! Learning will cease to be just an event, or even a string of discrete events. Instead it will become the synthesis of deep reflection and analysis of ongoing experiences and observations.

In your desire to guide, it is vital for you to resist the temptation to keep telling your protégé what to do. Instead, facilitate the process through questioning that will help the protégé find his/her own directions and strategies. A client of mine regularly used a tool he called “19Qs” when commencing a mentoring relationship. “19Qs” refer to the following 19 questions he had formulated

  1. What is success?
  2. Where did you learn this definition of success?
  3. Why do you want to be successful?
  4. What is failure?
  5. Is failure the end of the world? If not, why not? And if yes, why?
  6. What has life taught you so far?
  7. What do you understand by ‘hope’?
  8. What leads people to ‘despair’ and how can one recover from it?
  9. Is being confused good or bad? Explain your view.
  10. Who has been your best teacher? Give example/s.
  11. Why do some people succeed and others fail? Describe with examples.
  12. Are you powerful or weak in relation to your work and home environment? Explain.
  13. Are you breakable or unbreakable? Comment.
  14. Can you become what you want to be? If yes, how? If not, why not?
  15. Do you agree that your actions produce the results you get? If yes, then to improve your results in life, what must you change?
  16. Do you agree that thoughts lead to actions? If yes, then to improve actions, what must you change and how?
  17. Can you improve your life without changing yourself? If no, what must you change in yourself? 
  18. Do you love yourself? If so, why? If not, why not?
  19. Can anyone help you? Who do you think can and how? Please elaborate.

Answers to such questions will help you compare your perspectives with those of your protégé’s. A constructive and mutually rewarding relationship can bloom thereafter.

Responsibility for learning needs to be shared between you and your mentee, regardless of the facilities, the subject matter, the timing, and all other variables. A meaningful mentoring experience begins with setting and agreeing an explicit contract for learning around which you, your protégés, and their respective line managers are aligned.

If you are not developing leaders for tomorrow you are missing the point. 

[1] Where Have All The Leaders Gone? By Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney. Scribner, 2007. p.23

[2] What every company should know. An article by Ram Charan that appeared on Yahoo Business – Dec 7, 2006.


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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.