Friday, 28 December 2012

Obstacles faced by Leaders (2.)

I wrote a blogpost on this topic in October , 2012 .It was written after I had read the book "Why Leaders Can't Lead:The Unconscious Conspiracy continues"(Warren Bennis).I had an opportunity to think through this vital , topical and important subject when Bankers Institute of Rural Development(BIRD), Lucknow invited me to address  a group of Senior Bankers on this very subject .I found that I have a lot more to say  .Also ,I had the opportunity of discussing it with three of my friends, who are esteemed leaders in their own right .I share  below some of the  thoughts I included in my address.
                                     Two most important obstacles before leaders today are related to vision.The first is lack of vision ,unclear vision , fractured vision or unstable/changing vision .This happens due to inadequate tenures and frequent changes at the top , leading to instability in vision .It is partly a result of election cycles, political appointments and changing political leadership .
                                   The second obstacle relates to inadequate sharing of vision .The investment of time and resources required in building a shared vision is not there .Most of the leaders do not realize the importance and essentiality of sharing the vision .A shared vision is different from the personal vision of leader.Peter M . Senge has adequately emphasized the need for building a shared vision in his book The Fifth Discipline , and I do not wish to stress this point again .Those who are interested are strongly advised to read  or re-read The Fifth Discipline .Apart from leader , followers have their own visions and do not want to change their vision easily ,thanks to individualism inherited by our generation .The absence of a shared vision is the biggest obstacle faced by a leader .
                                       The third obstacle faced by a  leader is their distance from the reality .Most of the leaders live in an unreal world, where they believe that a person in India(New Delhi) can live on six rupees a day.Leaders live in a world made and created by advertizing , media , Movies , fashion, technology and shopping malls.Leaders donot touch the lives of living people they want to lead.The result is a long distance/chasm  between the leader and the followers.
                                 It is debatable whether bureaucracy is always an obstacle for the leader. They have expertise and understanding but also develop entrenched interests. .But generally speaking , to begin with , bureaucracy can be an obstacle .Bureaucracy has set , laid down procedures and processes , and these are not always result oriented .Some of these are based on historical contexts and some are irrelevant and unduly complicated and dilatory , requiring reforms .In addition , bureaucracy is  divided into departments , with  narrow focus .These  organization men and women do work in silos , posing as an obstacle before a leader.
                                          Most of the leaders I talked to , complained about poor work ethics in India.It is difficult to find human resources with dedication to work , professional ethics , punctuality and integrity .There is a natural resistance to change .
                                        Many organizations are closed , and with fixed mindsets of employees.They do not look for opportunities and not open .Such organization pose  big obstacles for leaders.
                                          A leader  generally confronts workers who are demotivated and have become cynical and dis-illusioned.They do not easily trust the intentions of the leader , thereby posing a big challenge.Leaders , to have a short cut , rely excessively on extrinsic rewards and motivators.They fail to look at intrinsic sources of motivation like respect and high expectations.
                                       Most often , leaders choose their Ghostly Doubles as their core assistants .This is known as Doppelganger Phenomena.The selected assistants are from the same stock in attitudes  and ideas .This creates a band of Yesmen and Yes women around leaders , resulting in often wrong decisions .Assistants should be as diverse as possible .This diversity leads to more mature decision making .
                                        A leader faces obstacles from his colleagues and bosses as well .Colleagues may not accept his/her leadership and may feel that they are superior to the leader .Bosses also sometimes compete with the leader if she or he is more charismatic.Sometimes , bosses may have a vision or a view or values which is different from the leaders'view/vision/values .This may  prove to be a big obstacle for the leader .
                           A leader also has to face organizational politics as well as interse conflicts. and ego issues among individuals , groups and cliques.When the going gets tough , the leader begins to fear failure .As a result , the agenda for  personal survival dominates over organizational agenda.
                             A leader may suffer from a burn-out  as a result of being overwhelmed by the work load,the frustrations,the stress and the demands.As a result , the leader may no longer care.The leader must learn to recognize the signs of burnout . Another stage is that of burn-down when the leader  experiences the loss of passion or intensity or enthusiasm due to familiarity or long service.Burn-down is not as obvious as burn-out.Both are very formidable obstacle for a leader.
                                   The leader has some power . The more power he /she has the less is questioning by the followers.As  a result , the leader begins to acquire power at the expense of the greater community .There is "Know it all"attitude .The leader has a tendency to become overbearing , presumptuous, arrogant and full of hubris.There is less tolerance for constructive criticism.Humility begins to decline , and complacency takes over .The leader begins to lose the right to lead.Some leaders have an obsession with bottomlines and profits.They treat workers as tools, and care less for the customers.
                                             Often , the leader fails to live by his own rules , standards and stated value .This hypocrisy is a big obstacle faced by the leader.
                                              There is always a loneliness at the top .The leader has great difficulty in socialization .Too much familiarity and social interaction with professional colleagues and followers  can lead to problems at work place .
                               Litigation , conflicting and often ambiguous court judgements can lead to the replacement of expertise, and finally to sub-optimal decisions .Labour laws , union actions can further affect the working and decision making .Objective feedback about the performance may not be available .All these prove obstacle for  the leader.
                              The leader may have the inability to keep up with the young, emotionally ,socially ,occupationally and technologically.New technologies need technology savvy leaders.
                              In India, especially in public sector(to some extent , in private sector too),there is general lack of accountability regarding performance .There is a general inability to punish or correct for non-performance , and even for intentionally delinquent actions.Poor performers are either moved sideways or upwards, rather than being turned out of the organizations .
                                    Having listed the above , rather long list of obstacles faced by leaders , let me hasten to add that a true leader firmly believes that there is always a better way of doing every thing , and that all obstacles can be surmounted and eventually make you a better leader .