|What we expect from our bosses|
Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
I have seen many examples of business leaders who failed to adapt themselves to the demands of their context – internal and external. They were rigid in their thinking and victims of their habits. They could only give orders and never encouraged dissent.
We want our bosses to perform wonders as managers and leaders. Our overwhelming wish list includes a variety of skills and competencies that we feel our leaders should possess and demonstrate. Not only should they be technically sound in areas like marketing, supply chain, manufacturing, resource allocation, finance etc., but they must also be competent in strategy, execution, persuasion, negotiation, listening, speaking and writing. At times, expectations run even higher i.e., they should express vision, passion, sensitivity and live by ethical standards and show commitment. As though all this wasn’t enough, subordinates demand a caring attitude, a healthy dose of humility and a hand of friendship as well!!
It is only natural to have such high expectations from our bosses, but it would be useful to temper these with a healthy dose of realism and self-reflection. Bosses with such a wide repertoire of skills and competencies are very rare. They are definitely not super human. Indeed, they are as fallible as the rest of us.
And for this reason it is advisable to surround yourself with talent by building a strong team based on the strengths of individuals who comprise them.
The job of CEOs is rich in challenges and full of infinite possibilities. This entails them taking responsibility for their day-to-day decisions and actions which have immediate and long-term consequences. Studies of how senior executives lead shows that bosses must have a clear philosophy about how they can make a difference and add value to their organizations. Their strategic intent must be known and understood by their constituents.
Bosses need to continuously strengthen and polish their act. Here, I would like to highlight the power of flexibility that you can deploy in your thinking in order to adapt yourself personally and strategically to different people and situations you face. Having a clear philosophy of your own is a good starting point. It will help you determine the different ways in which you can help frame policy, engage in strategic planning and determine what to delegate and to whom. Your thinking will also guide the selection of your leadership style which is according to the needs of your organization and individuals you lead, and not one that is your dependent on your natural instinct alone.
There are a number of methods you can consider in developing your own outlook. Here are a few:
The ‘big thinking’ method: Big thinking comes in handy when your organization needs a change in direction in light of the changing market dynamics. The core components of your job include, 1) strategic steering; 2) managing human relations; and 3) operations. Mediocrity arises when you lose your focus and spend most of your time in ‘operational matters’, mostly engaged in ‘fire-fighting’ and in being reactive, when strategy formulation is of the essence. The higher up you are in the organizational ladder, the more time you need to devote to strategic thinking. This means looking ahead with a keen eye on the opportunities and threats prevalent in your business, social and political environment, while being acutely aware of your organizations’ strengths and weaknesses. To give more time to strategic thinking you need to delegate more. This will free your time and will enable you to look ahead with greater confidence and clarity. You therefore must ensure that competent people are on board to take care of the day-to-day operations of the business at every level.
The ‘people-centric’ method: Here your emphasis will be more on the people who are closer to the market realities in their autonomous business units. Your belief will be that such individuals and teams are better able to contribute to strategy formulation. Your philosophy here could be guided by the ideal of ‘leadership at all levels’. This will entail you spending bulk of your time aligning human energies through frequent interactions across functions and vertically – top-down and bottom-up.
The capability method: In considering this approach, you will be driven by the need to strengthen a particular set of capabilities throughout your organization to attain a competitive advantage. Your focus of activities will be on driving home the message of continuous bottom-up improvement (Kaizen) and frequent meetings with technical experts and customers. You will spend time ensuring that appropriate systems and procedures are designed and implemented. Training of people in the selected skills and competencies will be another priority item on your agenda.
The ‘standardization’ method: If your organization needs to offer its customers a uniform and predictable experience, then standardization will be advisable. You will need to create, communicate and oversee control mechanisms covering financial, quality and cultural parameters of your organization. In this scenario, you will find yourself spending more time in dealing with periodic monitoring and evaluation of activities, attending to missed deadlines and areas of non-compliance. In such a climate, you will be more inclined to promote people from within the system, rather than risk lateral entries.
The ‘change’ method: Here your focus will not be as much on how to reach a desired vision, but on the process that will get you there. Innovation will be your rallying cry. You will expect people to be comfortable with ambiguity and chaos that are a necessary part of any change effort. You will find yourself making speeches, motivating people and attending meetings with colleagues and key stakeholders. Seniority will not matter much to you. Instead you will be looking for passion, energy and openness in people around you.
None of these methods can work in isolation. There are overlaps. However, you need to have a dominant philosophy and strategic intent reflective of your particular context and challenge. Your choice of method should not be based on your personal level of comfort, but on what will strengthen your organization in your specific industry and in its market environment.
To survive and thrive as a leader, make flexibility in your thinking a key element in your repertoire, before it’s too late. I have seen many examples of bosses who failed to adapt themselves to the demands of their context. They were rigid in their thinking and victims of their habits. They could only give orders and never encouraged dissent. They did not entertain alternative perspectives with ease.