Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Matter of Balance

The power of language intrigues me. I participate in a group of people much smarter than I am in trying to re-shape how we define words and their context and the effect that has on perception and understanding. I find it plays an enormous role in many applications, but the place that intrigues me the most is in the arena of leadership.

As many of you know I am an enormous proponent of engagement as a cultural norm. I feel that organizations where the inter linked relationships are based on shared values, respect, and a common vision and goals will always be more successful than a transaction based relationship. I also differentiate true engagement; which involves employees, customers, and shareholders, from engagement models that focus exclusively on "loyal" customers.

The Sotomayor nomination has created an interesting debate regarding the appropriateness of empathy in the judiciary. Should a jurist consider context and circumstances in rendering a decision or merely the "facts"?

I used that as the basis for a question I posed on LinkedIn as to the appropriateness of empathy not only in the judicial system , but to the essence of leadership. Is empathy an essential or at least important characteristic in effective leadership? The vast majority of the responders agreed that it is, but there was some dissent arguing that empathy can cause decisions to be made on the basis of emotion or disparate consideration for the interests of one "stakeholder" group over another.

I think we are finding much about our "objective" models that are based exclusively upon numbers and singular shareholder groups is flawed. I mentioned in a previous blog that Bill George of Harvard stated that a possible positive outcome of the current crisis is a new "balanced" model. Even more recently Richard Rumelt of UCLA mentioned in an interview with McKinsey that much of our current circumstance was based on reliance exclusively or primarily on short term "numbers" and indices that don't tell the whole story.

Another interesting debate is whether or not organizations should focus their efforts on shareholder satisfaction or stakeholder satisfaction. As you might suspect my perception is that organization who focus exclusively on shareholder value rarely maintain sustained success. I would submit that much of our current financial crisis is predicated on focusing on the value to the shareholder as represented by stock price to the exclusion of other stakeholder values. I have seen debates on LinkedIn and other venues insisting that shareholder value is the primary or exclusive measure of organizational success, but if you ignore or minimize the interests of the other stakeholder groups how do you stay in business?

In the past week I had a great conversation with a colleague who is trying to "re-invent" the practice of human resources management. Like me she is concerned that HR has become overly concerned with policy and procedure and systems rather than "people". We want to ignore or minimize the human element. Organizations are staffed by people.

I have another colleague who works in the area of trust. She has become frustrated occasionally with potential clients who don't particularly value strategies and systems to build and sustain trust with their customers, suppliers, or employees. They are not sure they can track a direct correlation to the bottom line. Hmm, sounds like a shareholder versus stakeholder issue.

Yet another colleague has designed a management system she calls KindExcellence(TM). Her belief (and I share it) is that kindness and excellence are not a polarity, but rather an axis. You need both to operate as an effective leader.

In my model responsibility and respect form a similar axis. If you allow someone to perform in a manner that doesn't live up to your expectations or their capabilities is that truly a respected based relationship?

I guess at the end of the day I agree with Margaret Wheatley that the most powerful force in organizational systems is relationships. These other elements are important as long as they are kept in "balance".

I think I will continue to endeavor to manage "whole people" and to include empathy in my decision making model. I particularly like the way a Buddhist philosopher put it in a quote a colleague shared with me.

"A person who cannot genuinely empathize with others can never excel as a leader. So much of what ails society today is the result of too many people in leadership positions who do not or cannot identify with the plight of their fellow men and women. It is in enduring pain and struggles that the earth of our humanity is cultivated. And it is from this earth that a capacity to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of others blossoms." - Daisaku Ikeda.

I think that sounds like balance......

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Blogger MBUintelligence said...

Brilliant my friend!

June 8, 2009 2:13 PM  

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