With increasing pressure on corporate leadership to deliver value to shareholders, customers, and employees, the quick fix approach taken today is finding external leaders who can lead companies to the “Promised Land”.
In line with this, many major corporations’ shareholders look for leaders who can “produce magic” or “move mountains”, and are willing to offer tremendously attractive pay and benefit packages to entice these persons who they believe fit the bill.
Unfortunately, leaders of this ability are scarce with many “pretenders” – witnessed by the lack of consistent long-term corporate success stories.
This has led to numerous parties questioning whether the current selection of corporate leaders has really delivered the value for the compensation they have received.
The focus of hiring all-knowing, powerful and get it done “Messiah”-type leaders has caused dire consequences.
The most costly consequences are a lack of corporate governance and creation of high-risk, innovative products and services which have led to the downfall of huge companies like Enron, Lehman Brothers, etc.
There have been a few success stories like Jack Welch and Steve Jobs who have been recognized as individuals that were instrumental in successfully leading their companies.
However, there are many more failures than success stories, so corporate success cannot easily be replicated by hiring “talented and prominent” leaders.
The Secret Recipe
There have been many discussions, arguments, and counter-arguments to try and unveil the “Secret Recipe” behind a best leadership approach or model.
The evolution of huge, high-technology industries has pushed the argument that the ideal leader be technically inclined and business savvy enough to keep abreast of and counter rapid technological changes.
However, what we notice is the survival of many hi-tech companies being constantly under threat, no matter how technically competent their leaders are.
A notable exception is everyone’s fascination with how Steve Jobs turned around and made Apple successful.
Comments on Steve Jobs’ leadership have been diverse, even to the extent of being on opposite sides of the spectrum. There have been feelings of disgust, idolation, and even cult status.
The conclusion was either you loved him or you hated him. Thus making it difficult to determine the leadership “secret recipe” for corporate success.
Having worked over 28 years with world-class multinational (MNC) and huge government-linked companies (GLC) in Malaysia, I personally believe the current leadership approach in many companies is still very much flawed and lacks professionalism.
Researching plus recounting personal experience, the following are shortcomings I have noticed happening in many companies all over the globe:
1. Companies do not have a good talent development and succession planning programme. Thus if a top talent at leadership level leaves, the majority replace via recruitment of an external candidate.
External candidates assuming leadership positions have no emotional attachments to the company. So they are much less sensitive to the employees and the work environment. The majority of the time, these leaders have very low employee engagement.
3. The company itself is not sure what leadership skills, knowledge, and competencies it requires for its existing leaders and any new incoming leaders they wish to hire to drive company success.
4. Despite getting employee feedback on leadership & management, the company does not listen, and makes the same mistakes repeatedly.
5. Many leaders have been chosen based on “who you know” and not “what you know”.
6. Leaders please only their bosses, and also appear only accountable to them (managing upwards), but not to the many employees and team members who work and deliver for them.
7. Leaders are made predominantly responsible to deliver “numbers”, thus the sales turnover or revenue is their major performance measure of success. Other performance measures involving the quality and effectiveness of people leadership and management are either very minor or even excluded.
The growing employees’ dissatisfaction with leadership is hardly noted nor recognized internally within companies, but has increasingly been quoted as the major contributor to huge employee turnover.
8. Many leaders chosen know and practice only one leadership style i.e. authoritarian type and commanding style, which have been proven to be ineffective in a knowledge-based environment, stifling creativity and innovation.
9. Office politics are often perpetuated by “less than capable” leaders in organizations to instill allegiance, loyalty and compliance to them.
Employees that do not subscribe to the prevailing political requirements are intentionally managed out or forced to leave.
To arrive at the model leadership practice, addressing the above shortcomings would be a starting point.
We also need to take a look at and understand the definition of a leader, which is “a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal”.
Therefore, the emphasis in the leadership attraction, motivation, and retention process is really to find or develop a person who has superior ability in influencing people in getting things done.
Someone who is individualistic, egoistic and with self-vested interest will not fit the leadership mold.
In a study/survey done and feedback compiled by the Santa Clara University and Tom Peters Group, the following were identified as Traits of a Good Leader:
My argument is simple: If the existing common corporate approach is to source for external leadership talent, how would the company be able to verify that the new leaders hired had exhibited the above traits before they were hired?
Clarity would only be evident if the company observed internal candidates over time, and addressed any gaps identified by investing in the development of that person.
This was the “success” formula applied at General Electrics when Jack Welch groomed 3 successors with one subsequently taking over when he retired.
Companies must understand and define their own leadership requirements, then create a talent pipeline that produces the leaders they want in the mold that best suits what they need.
An effective, strategic and business aligned Learning and Development function is critical for this leadership approach to happen.
How Can The Short Comings of “Quick Fix” Leadership Be Resolved?
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