Sunday, 27 May 2012

Personal Philosophy, Covenantal Relationships and Leadership

So many books have been written about leadership that it is natural to feel bewildered.Some books have long staying power, and have influenced the thought and literature on leadership in a big way .Two such books are The Art of Leadership by Max De Pree and On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis.While I found both the books outstanding I felt that it would be worth my time and would add to my understanding if I compare the two books .It was a difficult but very interesting and fruitful exercise , and here I intend to share the results.I wanted to compare the two books because I wanted to see what common things they say about leadership and which book says it more eloquently , clearly and precisely .
The first thing that struck me was the difference in the background of two authors .While Max De Pree is a practicing businessman and a writer , Warren Bennis is essentially a teacher , researcher and a prolific writer.Max De Pree in 1980 became the CEO of a company founded in 1923 called Herman Miller Inc., manufacturing office furniture.He served in that capacity till 1987, and was a member of Board of Directors till 1995.Leadership is an Art , was first published in 1987 by Michigan State University Press.It was published as a currency book by Doubleday in 1989.Warren Bennis is a Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of South California.He also served as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Public leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government .He has written or edited 30 books , which have been translated into 21 languages.On Becoming a Leader was first published in 1989, two years after Leadership is an Art was published.
Both the books have had a staying power and are being read even today by those who are interested in Leadership.Bennis has profiled close to 30 leaders in his book , has included extensive quotes, stories and anecdotes while Max De Pree has quoted very few leaders and writers.I found that Warren Bennis has quoted twice in On Becoming a Leader from Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree.To my mind , these are the best two passages in Leadership is an Art .Warren Bennis first quotes Max De Pree (On becoming Leader;August 2003 edition;Indian reprint by Magna Publishers;Page162):"The best people working for organizations are like volunteers.Since they could probably find good jobs in any number of groups, they choose to work somewhere for reasons less tangible than salary or position.Volunteers donot need contracts , they need covenants . . Covenantal relationships induce freedom , not paralysis.A covenantal relationship rests on shared commitment to ideas, to issues, to values , to goals, and to management process.Words such as love ,warmth, personal chemistry, are certainly pertinent.Covenantal relationships . . . . fill deep needs and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling" .Bennis calls these relationships as "leading through voice"
At another place (On becoming Leader;August 2003 edition;Indian reprint by Magna Publishers;Page192)Warren Bennis quotes Max De Pree in "Leadership is an Art" as follows;"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.The last is to say thank you .In between , the leader is a servant".In his own words , Warren Bennis says that leaders manage the dream.
While Warren Bennis tells us a lot of stories , anecdotes and quotes , and some of these are illuminating, he is fuzzy and cluttered at times .Max De Pree , on the other hand is more focused and gives some very important and practical insights.
I find his following insights worth emulating :
1.Covenanted relationships, giving space, and communication
2.Completeness and personal philosophy.
3.Performance Review
5Service to community
1.Covenanted relationships, giving space, and communication
A very impressive and insightful concept has been given by Max de Pree about relationships .in this , he scores over warren bennis .This is about the concept of covenanted relationships.Max De Pree says that broadly , there are two types of relationships in any organization .These are mainly contractual relationships , which are generally found in most of organizations.Contractual relationships tend to be legal and are based on reciprocity.A legal contract almost always breaks down under the pressure of conflict or change.It does not motivate us to reach our potential and fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities.Contractual relationships , therefore , create an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity.In a way , it paralyzes men's noblest impulses.
The best people working in an organization are like volunteers. Since they could find job in any number of organizations ,they choose to work for reasons less tangible than salary or position .Such volunteers need something more than contracts .They need covenants.Both contractual and covenantal relationships are commitments .But covenantal relationships enable work to have meaning to fill deep needs and to be fulfilling.They make possible relationships that can manage conflict and change.A covenantal relationship rests on shared commitment to ideas, to issues , to values, to goals and to decision making processes Words such as love , warmth, personal chemistry are certainly pertinent.Covenantal relationships are open to influence.Covenantal relationships reflect unity , grace and poise.They are an expression of the sacred nature of relationship.
True covenants are , however , risky because they require us to be abandoned to the talents and skills of others and therefore to be vulnerable.The same risks as one has when falling in love.In this way , covenantal relationships tolerate risks and forgive errors.Participative decision making based on covenantal relationships is the best decision making process.we should seek to develop covenantal relationships as we seek to such a situation , organization becomes a group of people working intimately with a covenantal relationship.
Giving Space:
Leaders give others the gift of space, space in both the personal and the corporate sense, space to be what one can be.
leaders need to have good communication .Good communication is one which forces you to think .Dishonest and careless communication tells us as much about the people involved as it does about anything else.Communication is an ethical question .Good communication means a respect for individuals.
2.Completeness and personal philosophy:
We often mistake a part for the whole .Incomplete ideas are viewed as complete.Relationships are considered well formed when they are insufficiently formed.Values are taken for final statements when in fact , they are only beginnings.This gives a twisted view of the whole picture.A leader always works for completeness and elegance., trying to be his or her best.Contracts are only a small part of relationships .A complete relationship needs a covenant.
3.Performance Review:
A leader should think through his assumptions about human nature and have a well developed system of beliefs and philosophy and a well developed system of measurement of performance.
Every leader must review the performance of the people he or she leads.Max gives us a list of questions or requests that he sends to each senior manager , much before the performance review.It is important to see some of the requests:
1.Brief self assessment against annual plan indicating the most important achievement.
2.Personal management philosophy and personal plan for continuing education and development for the coming year.
3.Ways to approach personal accountability for the future of the corporation and our joint accountability for your future career.
4.Your thoughts on team building at senior level.
5.Your thoughts on our competition and our possible response to it.
6.Your role in the transmission of corporate culture.
7.Plan to devote more time on strategy , values, participation , continuity and team building.
8.Five key projects /goals of the organization and how Top leader can help or support.
9.What are the three signals of entropy or impending deterioration you see at the organization?
10.Who are your three high potential persons and what will you do in the coming year to develop them?
11.What are the three significant areas in the company where you feel you can make a contribution but can not get a hearing?
12.If you were at the Top , which one key area would you focus on?
Max De Pree gives us a unique system of performance review of the people as well as the processes.
Leadership does not seek to control but to liberate people.
Max De Pree says that leaders understand the diversity of people's gifts , talents and skills.People bring to the organization a great variety of gifts.The art of leadership lies in polishing , liberating and enabling those gifts.On diversity , Max De Pree says:"A Whale is as unique as a Cactus.But don't ask a Whale to survive Death valley.We all have special gifts.Where we use them and how , determines whether we actually complete something ."
5.Service to community:
Leadership , according to Max De Pree , lies in serving .It is a concept of owing certain things to the organization.It is a way of thinking about stewardship as contrasted with ownership.Max De Pree quotes Robert Greenleaf's book Servant Leadership:,"Love is an undefinable term, and its manifestations are both subtle and infinite."It has only one "absolute condition:unlimited liability!As son as one's liability for another is qualified to any degree, love is diminished by that much."(Servant leadership,New York:Paulist Press,1977,p.38).
Max De Pree has emphasized the importance of mentoring .He says that mentoring is one of the chief duties of any leader.Being a mentor is both challenging and rewarding.A good mentor is required to take the time to learn a good deal about his or her mentorees' worlds.True leader enables his or her followers to realize their full potential.
Against these eight major points that Max De Pree brings on table, the most important points that Warren Bennis drives home are:
1.Self Mastery, completeness and personal philosophy.
2.Getting People on Your Side;Covenanted relationships.(Courtesy :Max De Pree)
1.Self Mastery, Completeness and Personal philosophy:
Bennis says that leaders must have self knowledge and clear personal goals.His list of leadership qualities is long and fuzzy."Free expression is the essence of leadership".Becoming a leader is a spiritual journey and involves self mastery.Bennis says:"So the point is not to become a leader.The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely-all your skills,gifts, and energies-in order to make your vision manifest.You must withhold nothing.You must , in sum , become the person you started out to be, and enjoy the process of becoming. . . .So strike hard, try everything, do everything, render everything, and become the person you are capable of being".Bennis quotes Jim Burke:"Also , I've always felt that society lacks philosophers.We ought to have people who dedicate their lives just to thinking.We have plenty of economists, and we have all the sciences covered, but only a handful of thinkers.So may be that makes me reflective .But I also think of myself as an activist ."
Warren Bennis does not say much about Performance Review ,Service to community,and Mentoring others.
In terms of practically useful insights , I rate Leadership is an Art much higher than On Becoming a Leader .Among other things , it succeeds in telling us the importance of having covenanted relationships , personal philosophy and performance review system ,for a leader to be effective However , the chief attraction of On Becoming a Leader is that it draws our attention to the magical , multidimensional and fascinating world of leadership, and inspires us to read further , never stop learning and being an activist at the same time .