Many leaders may be imaginary, but the pain, problems and privation they cause to people, productivity and profit are all too real!
In part one of the two-part series, I compared the profile of Imaginary Leaders to that of Real Leaders—a distinction with a profound difference—and introduced what I consider to be the top three practices of Imaginary Leaders:
- The persecution of people by proxy
- The persecution of productivity by process
- The persecution of profit by policy
Now I want to spend some time breaking these down a bit, so they’ll be easier to spot for Real Leaders and those who endeavor to make the transformation to Real Leadership.
Persecution of People by Proxy
A “proxy” has the authority or power to act as a substitute and, in this case, it is the Imaginary Leader playing the part. It could also be the Manager who confuses his roles and supplants Real Leadership with Managership. In either case, the persecution of people occurs when their:
Personal strategies related to aspirations and conduct
Interpersonal strategies related to one-on-one interactions with others
And organizational strategies related to using systems, structures and resources to influence the thinking, behavior and performance of others actually promote a defensive/unadaptive operating culture.
I’ve written elsewhere about these types of unhealthy cultures and the damaging effects they have, so I won’t go into detail here other than to reinforce the idea that they devastate people through the Leadership-Culture-Performance Connection.
Below are a few of the more popular punishing practices that emerge in a cause-effect layout, along some ideas on alternatives for your consideration:
- Withholding information from someone who could learn, change and grow from it or could actually fix/ improve the system as a result of having it.
- Effect: “An individual without information can’t take responsibility. An individual with information can’t help but take responsibility.” – Jan Carlzon
- Alternative: Follow Meg Wheatley’s advice in Leadership and the New Science: “…create much freer access to it….everybody needs information to do their work….it is no wonder that employees site poor communication as one of their greatest problems. People know it is critical to their ability to do good work. They know when they are starving.”
- Using fear to manipulate performance (e.g., annual performance/ merit review, management by numbers/ objectives, as well as outright threats, intimidation, bullying, etc.) or allowing fear to be propagated by others.
- Effect: Personally, fear is an extremely limiting emotion. According to Dwoskin in The Sedona Method (Chapter 3), it is just above Apathy and Grief in the hierarchy of suppressed emotions, limiting our energy to the point it is mostly painful. Organizationally, it creates loss from “…an inability to serve the best interests of the company through necessity to satisfy specified rules, or…a quota” and “…where there is fear, there will be wrong figures.” – Deming, Out of the Crisis (Chapter 8).
- Alternative: Deming suggests driving out fear (Point # 8 of 14, Chapter 2) through embracing new knowledge—to discover by calculation whether performance deviations are out of control with respect to other conditions—for improving the system and also eliminating annual performance appraisals/ merit reviews (Deadly Disease #3, Chapter 3).
- Applying extrinsic motivators, otherwise known as reward and reprimand or “carrots and sticks.”
- Effect: Destroys intrinsic motivation and any value in the work itself, as well as pride and joy in workmanship.
- Alternative: Commit to removing the demotivators (e.g., micro-managing the down-line, telling them that their “job is to make you look good” and holding them accountable for things they can’t control) and barriers to successful work that exist. Use the Deming/ Scholtes-style of MBWA—not just walking around, but knowing what questions to ask and stopping long enough to talk to the right people and get the right answers (e.g., Genchi Genbutsu or Gemba)—as a strategy for finding out what those demotivators are. This “go and see at the real place” approach will provide feedback from the voice of the customer (i.e., the employees) and the voice of the system (i.e., the process) that will invariably require something the leader must work on improving, whether related to him/her self or the system.
Stop and ask yourself this:
To what extent am I relying on these strategies as part of my personal leadership platform?”
Then yield to an awareness that produces learning, acceptance that produces change, action that produces growth and achievement that produces new levels of Real Leadership.
Persecution of Productivity by Process
The persecution of productivity (and I include quality and competitive position in my use of the term) occurs when Imaginary Leadership doesn’t understand the work that they or their down-line are responsible for and, as a result, can’t do much of anything to measure or improve performance.
Deming once quipped:
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”
He also said in The New Economics:
We should work on our process, not the outcome of our processes.”
The Heart of Quality
As Scholtes taught in principle number two of his six Principles at the Heart of Quality:
Leaders must understand their systems, processes and methods in terms of capability and variation. Data gathered on the variation of systems and processes over time will help leaders understand the characteristics of work performance in their organization.
When managers don’t understand the variation inherent in their systems and processes, they make themselves vulnerable to some serious problems:
- They miss trends where there are trends.
- They see trends where there are none.
- They attribute to employees–individually or collectively–problems that are inherent in the system and that will continue regardless of which employees are doing the work.
- They won’t understand past performance or be able to predict future performance.”
But how many leaders today still don’t understand processes—not to mention the system; what Deming defined as “a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system—or, if they do, still focus more on process outcomes (results) than on the process (effort) itself?
This isn’t a hard question to answer. Just check to see how many of your current metrics are defined around outputs vs process or inputs. Better yet, just think about where you spend most of your time.
Is it truly on understanding characteristics of work performance like variation around materials, methods, equipment/ machinery built into the end-to-end process or on trying to improve certain outcomes of a sub-process (usually by focusing on the attentiveness, carefulness and speed of individual workers) that you know “the boss” is going to ask about?
Deming would again suggest that this invariably leads to optimizing the sub-system at the expense of the total overall system.
Persecution of Profit by Policy
This may seem harsh, but research and reality suggest that, as mission and operating philosophy (e.g., goals, strategies and policies) emerge as part of any organizations maturation and development process, ways of people relating to each other and their work are collated into a comprehensive framework of “the way to do things,” and much of that operating philosophy is not conducive to improving financial performance.
The persecution of profit occurs when Imaginary Leadership continues to deploy policies that constrain organizational value-creation for customers, whether related to innovation, quality/ service, speed or cost.
These include policies that are intended to govern/ control who, what, where, when, why, how and how much a company purchases in products/ services, attracts/ trains/ retains talent, measures/ improves performance, et al., and the outcomes typically effected include things like teamwork, turnover, earnings/ sales volatility and net profit after taxes (NPAT).
For what to do instead, I’ll simply refer the reader to an article on The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog by John Hunter: Nobody Gives a Hoot about Profit, which includes an incredible video with Dr. Russell Ackoff about Values, Leadership and Implementing the Deming Philosophy.
Ending the Practices of Persecution
It is not going to be easy, but it is worthwhile. It starts with changing your point of view and I’d refer the reader back to Continual Improvement (CI) in part one of the two-part series. This commitment to transformation must come from you, personally…there is nothing anyone else can do.
Personal transformation can’t occur without your permission. It is a choice, and herein lies a danger that both Deming and Drucker pointed out. It is not mandatory. No one has to change. Survival is, and always will be, optional.
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