Implementing Leader-Leader

Let’s say you want to move your organization toward leader-leader practices, what can you do?

It starts with getting clear on how the organization creates excellence. This parallels an approach at business schools where they analyze where profit is created in the organization (profit centers). I like focusing on “excellence centers” better than profit centers because focusing on excellence is more aspirational than focusing on profit is. It tends to create longer term perspectives and avoids some of the short term detrimental effects when focusing solely on profits. With excellence, profits will follow.

Where is excellence typically created? Depends upon the business but we find it is created at interfaces: interfaces with customers and interfaces with nature. It could be created in the R&D section, it could be the front desk staff at a hotel. On the submarine, I always felt that excellence was created at the interface between the crew and the ship itself — those operators who pulled the switches and buttons. The chiefs assisted in that excellence by making sure they were operating properly. The officers made sure that the operations we engaged in were the appropriate ones.

One risk of this approach is that some groups aren’t perceived as creating excellence. If so, why do we have them? An alternative is to ask “how” each group supports the organization’s attempt to create excellence. This also requires organizations to understand what it is they do, what “excellence” is and how to achieve it.

Achieving excellence is a better objective than avoiding mistakes, which is the focus of management programs such as lean-six sigma and TQL. Reducing errors is an important component of achieving excellence, but it generally does not serve well as the motivating force for the people in the organization.

Once we understand where excellence is created or how it is created, the next step is to align the three legs of the leader-leader structure appropriately. These are control, competence, and clarity.

Let’s focus on control because that is most easily understood as “empowerment.” We will see that empowerment by itself is not a complete leadership program unless it is coupled with competence and clarity.

The idea is to define what information and decision authorities are needed by those creating excellence and provide them. Generally, management processes approach this by mapping the information to the existing decision makers. What I try to do is tease out where the information lives and map the needed decisions to those with the information. In this sense, we are mapping decision authority to where the information lives. There are group brainstorming techniques to help the organization achieve this.

It usually results that we discover barriers to giving authority to these people. In general, these fall into one of the two categories: I don’t trust them to make good decisions because either (1) they don’t know what they are doing or (2) they don’t know what we are really trying to achieve here. These two groups of barriers are overcome through either competence or clarity

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