The need for effective leadership has never been greater than the modern times, especially since the last lap of 20th century, when, due to the advent of globalization, the trade and commerce started experiencing the emergence of a new capital called human capital.
Understandably, human capital is dynamic and thus needs extreme care and proper guidance – therefore these two factors influenced the researchers to find appropriate leadership solution to meet the change effectively. The book in discussion, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, published in 1985, too, explores the new demand-set for the leaders of the organizations, and makes its mark by virtue of its insight, where it identifies the areas that can be instrumental to deal effectively with the complexity of the new situation. The authors went through an exhaustive study of 90 acclaimed leaders, before identifying four areas that have proved to be hallmark of effective leadership behavior.
The authors have earmarked them as strategies like below:
1. Strategy I: Attention through vision.
2. Strategy II: Meaning through communication.
3. Strategy III: Trust through positioning
4. Strategy IV: The deployment of self through positive self-regard and the Wallenda factor.
The book chooses to discuss above strategies from two points of view, where it takes the perspective of the leader as an individual with certain qualities that help him to become an effective leader and from the perspective of applying those strategies to build an effective organization.
Strategy I: Attention through vision: Armed with studies on the leaders, this book embeds vision with the efficacy of leadership right at the beginning, as it identifies this quality as one of the primary element of effective leadership, where the leaders can see the forest in a tree and systematically approach to unearth their dream, and where the entire process becomes “realistic, credible and attractive future” for their organizations. As for example, it was the vision of John Kennedy to set human foot on the moon by 1970 had made such a mission realistic, credible and attractive for the future.
From the perspective of transformative leadership, this is an invaluable element, as here the leader has to go beyond the traditional pattern of transactional leadership which confines itself within the ghetto of workplace with its give and take relationship.
Strategy II: Meaning through Communication: This strategy emphasizes on the importance of the interpreting the vision to the followers in the best possible manner to achieve the desired outcome, as it observes that the “management of meaning and the mastery of communication are essential for effective leadership”. This book considers this as a comprehensive package of knowledge comprising elements like facts and methods, besides all possible ways of expression. The authors view the organizational process of transferring vision into the followers as “social architecture”, which would carry forward a shared interpretation of the vision and mission of the organizations, besides garnering commitment from the followers.
The instance of Roger Smith at GM might explain the issue a bit further, where Smith took his 900 top executives on a five-day retreat to discuss the company’s vision that contained a short mission statement and a set of eight objectives, and which apparently looked like an extended holiday to others. However, from Smith’s point of view it was necessary to align each of those 900 minds towards company vision and to convert them into a unified power of commitment toward the development of the company.
For the transformational leaders, this has to be an integral part of their activity, as they’re out to achieve bigger tasks and thus they need to explain more to their followers about their vision, which in the end comes full circle with the rise of each follower to the same rank of leader. For that matter transformational leaders can even take clues from the legendary leaders like Lord Buddha or Holy Christ, who would use life-lessons/fables to interpret visions hidden in such fables.
Strategy III: Trust through Positioning : Trust, the indefinable yet ever realizable element in any kind of relationship, makes its mark as the third strategy in this book. It thus focuses on the importance of establishing trust through positioning, i.e., through actions that would generate trust among the followers. It cites two reasons like “organizational integrity” and “constancy” to substantiate its concept.
To explain organizational integrity, the book brings in the work of Elliot Jaques, M.D., in the discussion, and goes on to explain that organizations have four faces like “manifest organization”, the one that can be found in the organization charts, “assumed” organization, the one perceived by its members, “extant” organization, the one that appears after investigation, and “requisite” organization, the one which it should be to align itself with the reality of its environment.
While the element like persistence is always important in any endeavor, this book adds dimension to that perception by highlighting its significance in the process of garnering trust through positioning.
Besides these, the authors packed more punch in strategy number three by explaining the importance of achieving “learning organization” status in the process of positioning, while distinguishing two kinds of learning, viz., “maintenance” learning and “innovative” learning, where the former would deal with the knowledge that is already known and the later would take charge of unknown, futuristic situations. It underpins leaders’ responsibility to enhance the capability of innovative learning in their organizations.
Transformational leaders should find this strategy as their great chance to convince their followers through their actions that they truly want to empower the followers and that idea is a fixed idea. While transactional leaders can do even without having deeper levels of trust with followers (as they can settle the issue of relationship with extrinsic rewards like money or other tangible benefits), transformational leaders have to have a close bond of trust with their followers, as that would work like the very foundation of task undertaken by them – to empower the followers to attain highest degree of joy and happiness in their lives.
Strategy IV: The deployment of self through positive self-regard and the Wallenda factor: Leadership thrives on constant introspection and attempt at further development of self, and this book does a world of good by providing a thoroughly substantiated fact all successful leaders is driven by self-belief and are lifelong learners, while caring their strengths and working on their weaknesses without any ego hassle, and this attitude is fairly responsible in imbibing positive self-regard in their employees. This is a logical outcome, as the leaders who recognize the significance of self-development in their lives would also be caring about the same in the lives of their followers and would show such care through recognizing their strengths and helping them to overcome their weaknesses.
For aspiring transformational leaders, this serves a wonderful reminder, as this style of leadership has to keep on transforming itself if it wants to transform others – here it is more of a case like practicing before preaching.
The authors used the instance of Karl Wallenda, to raise the aspiring leaders’ understanding on the power of thought. Wallenda, the great tightrope aerialist, who fell to his death while traversing a 75-foot high wire in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had never accommodated any thought except “winning” each of his death-defying stints, barring the last one, where according his wife, for the first time he focused on the thought like “not to fail” and thereby defocused himself and eventually fell to death.
Seen from the perspective of transformative leadership, Wallenda factor is a morale booster for it, as it inspires them with the idea that however big the task is, humans are but the product of their thoughts – what they think, they become. Considering the huge responsibility of the transformational leaders, instances like this would surely enhance their spirit with the thought that braves never fail, even in their death, as their legacy lives on.
In all, the strategies mentioned in this book will live on – as they deal with elements that are as modern as the present day and as important as oxygen.