A LEADERSHIP JOURNEY. Created by SHARATH KUMAR Abstract The paper records the evolution of the author’s thinking on leadership through the course of his work involvement. Leadership is viewed as a dynamic process which consists formal and informal roles. The process is introduced as an individual recognizes opportunities and urged to answer back to evolving patterns and pledge action to enable positive change. The dynamics between formal and informal leadership structures and leadership as a state of mind are conferred.
The following paper shows a reflection on my personal journey and growing understanding of leadership based on my work experience. As I look back in time, I identify that most of my current interest in leadership and complexity has evolved. This paper archives the development of my view about leadership. Stages in the Journey Over my career I have experienced various milestones that have shaped and inclined my perspectives on leadership. Vitally I have witnessed my role as a leader as one who pronounces and puts into action a vision that inspires others to join in to an extent at least.
Along the way, the instability of resistance to that vision that has been the extreme influence on restricting my focus and ideology about leadership, as I’ve fought to overcome obstacles. Now I leadership as a dynamical distributed process among performers. I believe I have inculcated an informal methodology similar to grounded theory, as I take in information on the area concerned, formulate a theory and then test and modify that theory actively. There have been crowning events that have shaped my perspectives about leadership.
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I evoke the poignant enthusiasm of joining the company. I had been employed as Assistant Chief Information Officer multinational company. My position in the company in my opinion was a dream job – aiding in devising a long-term strategy for the growth of the business unit from a process and technology perspective. I instantly noted operational issues and developed suggestions to address them. Although, my dream was shattered as I soon I was made to realize my position and the inclination of the management team to clinch new ideas were not necessary. Organization as Organism
My first day at work struck by the oppression of meetings absorbed so much time there was no time left to do work. Employees were exasperated because they had no access to their managers for direction. Projects were not being completed in a time due to the perspective experts needed on them were unavailable due to other bookings. Organizational beliefs about alliance needed key employees that were patrons to a project indulge in discussion and decision making. Still, decision making was a tremendously slow process as it lacked clarity as to who had the decision making authority.
A group would discuss the issue because one key person was not present (being double booked in another meeting) hence, the decisions were not finalized. Line of meetings being unresolved was common. Although I was brought into a company as a change agent tasked to bring strategic change to the business unit, I realized that it was not truly the case. Interest in change was driven by the instantaneous short term demands of particular clients, executives. At this point I managed to gather a team responsible for coordinating technology linked projects.
After extensive talks with my head, the team that reported to me was handed over to someone else, and I was to report to this new head as an independent contributor. This change was an extremely difficult period for me, yet important in shaping my views of leadership. This was a period where deep reflection on my sense of identity, my values, and sense of personal integrity was brought out. I interpreted this change as the system. I will speak more about what I learnt of the change in a later section. A new major acquisition had just been signed and the focus had shifted from long-term strategy to short term integration.
After six months in the position, I moved out of the business unit to work with a larger parent company. My favorite definition of leadership relics Sun Tzu in the Art of War: “The way [of leadership] means inducing the people to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger” (Sun Tzu, 2005, p. 43). The definition recognizes the collaborative dynamic that leader and follower share– both share the benefits and risks in its pursuit. Moreover, Senge’s work presented me to systems thinking and understanding the unified wholeness of organizations.
This view was reinforced by my study of Neurolinguistic Programming and Neuro-Semantics, understanding human communications and the way in which we learn to construct our mental maps of the area. I saw conscious decisions to be freeing and challenging at the same time. This commitment was a challenging as I began to explore the process of leadership outside the hierarchical power structure that could command action by positional authority. Now as an independent contributor I found myself able to lead freely in a variety of ways, highlighting the need of influence in the contexts that I was called for.
I mentally stepped back from the situation and took a look at the business, it’s internal and external stakeholders. I would foresee the recede and flow of people as they enthused about their work, the processes of numerous departments that enabled this organism to be effective. I also realized that minor issues evolved into major problems. I witnessed that an aspect of leadership is to distinguish this ebb and drift of the organization and identify the systemic pain points – soon enough so that adequate time is available to resolve the pain points.
Often key issues remain intact solely because the situations have not reached the pain point to seize adequate attention. Partly it appeared to be an issue of prioritization; partly a problem of prevailing beliefs within the culture that impacts what employees attend to. A fundamental belief I have about leadership is that the leader is one who recognizes a potential future and asserts in motion actions that move those involved. Disequilibrium Disequilibrium is a vital situation in the dynamics of an organization, point at which the possibility for self-excelling construction of novel approaches to specific challenges to occur.
The pressures associated with disequilibrium is the point when pain thresholds reach a important point that gives an organization to be receptive to emerging possibilities. Although, there are differences in the role that leadership plays in such situations. I was one of the senior employees called to speak to the other employees after the declaration that the company was to be closed. After weeks of discussions of the positive doles of the merger, one hundred and fifty people were told of losing their jobs (a third of them, the very day! I bid everyone to come together, acknowledged that there had been a death in the family and we knew where we all stood. Also, I was able to distribute a booklet to each employee on tackling with consequences of a merger. I had prepared these booklets without awareness of what the outcome of the merger would be. After discussions with the employees post meeting, I got validation for the value of the confab in bringing about a collective sense of acceptance to the veracity we faced. They also agreed that the booklet carried a tangible sense of being cared for in the development.
There is a paradoxical dynamic to disequilibrium states. A disequilibrium state can although have the inverse effect occasioning in a resistance to transformation. In my understanding, the test of leadership is the capacity to anticipate and influence change afore the state of disequilibrium becomes serious. My sense of obscurity assisted as a motivator to securing the “merger transition” booklets prior to the settlement of the merger (It was intuited that the result may not be as favorable as had formerly been voiced by management).
As organizations operate as complex adaptive systems, the dynamics leading to disequilibrium usually exist as symptoms which could be observed and responded before the problem becomes serious. In this context, the process of (proactive) leadership shows self-regulating effect in the organization by permitting the process of self-transcending structure. Leadership as a Process Concluded by my experiences I see leadership as an ongoing process that befalls in human organizations through the interplay of formal and informal relationships. Leadership as a process is personified by actors who respond to a situation.
Therefore, the manager should be able to carry more complex thinking to issues that a subordinate may encounter, and bring value to understanding the work. Similarly, the subordinate is responsible for sharing visions about the work with his/her manager who can pass on the developments and insights further up the hierarchy. Whatever skills I may have in endorsing leadership may be totaled by ineffective structure in the system. In fact, I point the lack of an obligatory organizational structure as one if not the major inhibitions to organizational ineffectiveness within my work environment.
Leadership as a State of Mind To finish, I have come to see leadership as a state of mind. This lures originally from the work of Robert Quinn (2004), which recommends that there are certain states that act as attractors for the performer to take action that can be viewed as leadership in a particular setting. The Fundamental State of Leadership (FSL) generates the internal context that motivates the performer to respond and is replicated in interrelated attitudes, which Quinn gaps with opposing attitudes reflecting the “normal state. The FSL serves two functions: mainly by creating an attractor that boosts active behavior that aids the greater betterment of the organization. Second it gives way for the performer to be more aware of his/her perceptions and arrays of behavior. In the year of my tenure with my employer, I was aware of the requirement for a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to be able to serve the organization and needs of its customers efficiently. My suggestions met substantial confrontation with management as an earlier attempt to put in a CRM system had been unsuccessful.
I was determined in expressing this requisite – to the point that my manager expressed that if I brought the matter up again I would be left out from management meetings. And then came the day when he wanted a current clients list and found out that our current systems could not yield an accurate list. All of a sudden putting in a new system became a primacy- months after the actual recommendation. In an akin manner, as I transitioned to a role in the parent company, I piloted a research, which headed me to an awareness of the important of e-business and germaneness for the growth of the company.
I became a fervent advocate of e-business and presented several proposals to senior executives. But, my recommendations were not incorporated, mainly because senior executives did not trust that it was a feasible tool within the industry. Atypically, a few months later there is renewed concern in expanding e-business for the company. These situations reinforced for me a primary norm that the process of leadership is introduced as an actor who recognizes a specific need and makes an effort to take action, even in times of obstacles.
This shows an alignment with the core defiance described in the FSL. I end with a case study where I intentionally experienced the FSL in exercising leadership. I took part in a voluntary cross-functional team looking to enhance employee work experience. With gas prices on the hike, there was a strong curiosity in developing a strategy for telecommuting. Numerous solutions were suggested and were instantly shot down by the representative from IT as either being too expensive, too time consuming for the IT staffs, or too risky from a company’s security.
I do not terminate the importance and connotation of formal leadership structures, rather I am noting that leadership fundamentally functions as an internal response to attractors that allow self-transcending construction as an answer to a perceived reality. Inside the organizations, the interplay of actors captivating action to lead in formal or informal capabilities is dynamic and complex and outside the scope of this discussion. Note that this portrayal is not intended to reflect deleteriously on the behavior of the IT representative.
As an entity caught in the webs of loftier meaning – synchronization of the myriad of service appeals from multiple functional departments with partial resources in staff and dollars can impart a mindset that by a specific technology that had not been discussed. Despite obvious resistance from IT to propose a solution, I decide on doing my own research and found that a technology that had been conversed seemed to offer a sensible compromise on low cost, minimal IT backing, and strong enterprise security. I went back to the board with a bid to pursue this option.
This was not a job that was part of my normal work assignment, and also I could have drop the idea. Yet the internal states that fixated on serving the greater good, and sighting the opportunity that this solution could deliver served as an attractor to endure through the resistance and eventually lead to a successful outcome. Had I opted to stay within my comfort zone, the new process and organizational dynamics would not have been developed. I’ve gratified on a number of aspects of the leadership process, which I have garnered through my work experience.
In summary, I have emanated to see leadership as a dynamic process that ensues in human organizations as actors identify emerging possibilities and elect to take action. The inclination to do so is sturdily related to the actor’s internal states, and engagement of the Fundamental State of Leadership. Lastly, the efficiency of the actor may be wedged by the actor’s sphere of influence and by the actors’ formal or informal eminence and authority to act, and organizational willingness to embrace the transformation. I aspire to further develop these understandings as I linger my graduate studies.
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