Friday, April 04, 2008

Leadership - the art of self redundancy

Knowledge is power - right ?
A colleague asked me this question today (in different words). "Krishnan - I have spent years picking up these skills. What happens to the time I spent if others learn it easily ?". One question which immediately throws the spotlight on the leaders role in teaching.
The wikipedia entry for leadership has an interesting spin - "One of the differentiating factors between Management and Leadership is the ability or even necessity to inspire." I disagree - In my opinion there can be no management without leadership - lets look at why this is so.
In professional lives there are two kinds of roles - clerical and managerial. A clerical role (whether blue or white collar) involves the diligent execution of a repetitive task ad nauseum. These are the roles technology / any form of optimisation threatens - witness the rise of the Union. A Managerial role by definition therefore has to do with unanticipated, higher risk, "grey zone" tasks - requiring specific skill development and the application of intellect. Assuming most human beings are born with largely similar intellectual capability - the role adopted depends on choice. Why do we choose one over the other ?
To me - roles requiring the application of intellect are "scaleable" roles. The individual grows as they perform this. Such roles would typically be chosen due to an individual's desire for scaleability - in designation, function and remuneration. As a consequence, managerial roles are played by people who desire to move on and grow. But hang on a minute !! - was'nt this role being played by an individual precisely because they had developed specific skills and intellectual capability. In which case - how will the organisation allow the individual to scale ?
Which brings me back to the interconnectedness between Management and Leadership. The two go hand in hand. A Manager's aspirations cannot be met if he does not become a leader. So what does being a leader entail ?
Purely from the self interest of the manager - the key leadership trait required is the ability to replicate skill and knowledge in the team the manager leads. This has two implications - recruiting the kind of people who can absorb this, and training and mentoring to bring them upto speed. Lets take these issues individually.
Recruiting - I always look for scaleable people by default. There are 5 things I see in such people which set them apart. They are passionate about things they have already done (easy to check). They have already demonstrated the acquisition of some unique knowledge and skill (however small) in what they have done in the past. They have a clear point of view of what they wish to do in my organisation (though this may be wrong - its about having it, not about being right). They are direct and do not obfuscate - what they do not know they say they do not know; because they are strengthened by the other things they do know. Finally, they ask questions - of the interviewer, during the interview. A questioning mind is a scaleable mind.
Training and Mentoring - I think you need to do this at three levels. First - as a leader, share your own unique skills and knowledge. Do not just share - drill it into the teams head. They need to be as good as you. Second - focus significantly on the individual's strengths and have extremely high expectations from it. While on one hand communicating your abilities - demand and keep demanding new abilities from the team member. Third - drive the individual to self learn / think on their weakness. Our weaknesses are usually best sorted through self intervention. This is also where training / talent transformation programmes from the organisation itself become important - with the individual exercising the choice to participate and attend. Allow this freedom.
Voila ! - Not only are you replaced. It's with a better model.


Blogger Hanu said...

I like the point of self-redundancy. A person can not grow professionally if he does not allow himself to be replaced. If we focus less on protecting our turf and a little more on growing our skill and knowledge base for the next level, it will not only fuel the organization's growth but also do away with time wasted on insecurity...

1:57 AM  
Blogger Krishnan said...

Thats true Hanu. But the key thing is - its not a threat. It is an opportunity when you work towards self redundancy.

3:41 AM  
Blogger Jitu said...

I really enjoyed reading this; however, what role do you think organizational culture plays in this process?

Jitu, Oxford

10:27 AM  

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