Does Leadership create Success?
By Dr. Andy Schell, CPA
All Rights Reserved,© Copyright 2021
Published December 5th, 2020
Leader, Manager, and Coach
A discussion of leadership is often over-analyzed and misunderstood. In academic circles, the term "leader" and "manager" are segmented and precisely defined as unique terms. Scholars would say that Leadership is the ability to inspire others to action, while Management is the ability to coordinate others' activities. Rarely are these two functions disconnected. Leaders manage, and managers lead.
There are specific skills associated with Leadership. A leader must be able to inspire. To be inspirational, a leader must be trusted. To be trusted, a leader must listen to the staff, understand the staff's comments, and then authentically engage with the staff. The quandary surfaces as the "traits of a natural" leader often do not support effective listening or authentic engagement. A manager must be organized and have the ability to orchestrate the staff's activities to complete the objectives. A manager must generally understand the staff's functional role to direct the outcome effectively. The quandary surfaces as managerial knowledge may fail if functional knowledge is not sufficiently present.
Although there are several common traits between a leader and a manager, it is possible for a manager to be a leader and for a leader to be a manager. In a business setting, a successful leader-manager likely can address all of the requirements of both functions. Another title for a position that accomplishes both leader-manager functions is a coach. In many respects, a coach is a more accurate description of the leader-manager position, given that a coach inspires, listens, organizes, and orchestrates the team's activities to achieve success.
The coach of a sports team will create a strategy to enable the team’s victory. A sports team's strategy elements are similar to a business and include the team's vision, mission values, capability assessment of each function, and an analysis of its competitive strengths and weaknesses. Given this information, the sports team coach will identify the structure best suited to win the game. When applied to a business, the leader-manager will identify the strategy to best accomplish the group's near-term objective. An objective could be to increase sales volume by 10%, produce financial results in 15 days, add five new branches, or launch a new division.
The coach skill set is typically required for an individual to be effective in a C-Level business position. Any person that possesses the complete skill set of a coach is likely to drive progress for a group of employees. In business, 6 elements are exhibited by successful teams. A team or group of employees is likely to complete the objective successfully when they embrace the following 6 elements, including Purpose, Priority, Duties, Communication, Dynamics, and Measurement of Success. Academic research has demonstrated the importance of each of these components.
Purpose defines the group's existence and creates the group member's shared sense of "why" aligned with a firm's vision and mission.
Priority identifies the order by which the group's tasks are organized. The sequencing of the events is of critical importance to ensure group success. It is important to roll up the window before driving into the car wash. While this example seems obvious, it magnifies the importance of defined order and attention to the sequence of tasks to drive success.
Duties include the division of labor and the decision structure for the group. The division of labor is related to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the group's members and is the basis on which the member's tasks are assigned. Given that the task assignments are based on member competency, if necessary and based on progress measurement, task assignments may be reallocated to other group members, or group members may receive additional training. The division of labor will also identify an organizational structure and create the basis for decision-making, which may follow assigned authority lines.
Communication relates to the communication protocol, communication frequency, and how conflict is explored and resolved. The communication protocol identifies how and in what form, or multiple forms, communication will occur. Frequency explores the periods between communication events. It could be that communication is perpetual, or daily, or weekly, depending upon the circumstance. A group of people will face conflict because all people are unique with different personalities. The difference among people is to be leveraged and celebrated to identify creative solutions to complex problems. Within these differences, conflict may arise. Conflict alone is not destructive. Conflict is part of being human. How conflict is resolved is the critical variable. The identification of and how the resolution of conflict occurs is an essential component of a successful project.
Dynamics extends upon the uniqueness of a group of people. Every person is different such that every group of people is unique. How the group is diverse must be explored. People have feelings, unique personalities, and various degrees of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Identifying the interpersonal behavioral dynamics is essential to create bi-direction appreciation among participants and Leader/Manager/ Coach. The exploration of the group's behavioral dynamic will result in group norms that build cohesiveness among the group.
During this formative process, when a group's norms are created, if an oppressive personality type is present, it should be overtly restrained to allow any timid personality types to form a transparent connection among the team. A group could be a project team or a department within a company, or a sports team. These principles are universal and transferrable. During the normative formation process, the team learns to tell the Leader the truth. Sometimes teams conclude that transparency is dangerous. Two key variables impact the formation of truth-telling. The first occurs if the leader has a narcissistic personality type that impedes the ability to listen well, such that, there is no result from the information exchange. The other situation occurs when a controlling leader "shoots the messenger" by some retaliatory means because they believe that any type of bad information is not accepted. Both of these circumstances occur at the opposite ends of the leader personality trait spectrum, and both frequently result in catastrophe. This dynamic interaction between the leader and the group contributes to communication ineffectiveness in all forms. A well-structured, agenda-driven meeting where bi-directional dialogue occurs is a sign of a healthy group.
Measurement of Success means knowing when to stop. Success means the purpose has been fulfilled. It is essential to identify the completion point when the group's purpose is formed to determine the path forward. When the purpose is fulfilled, the group is successful. Another element within the framework of success is knowing how good is good enough. While the group's success post-mortem is useful for identifying how to improve the subsequent processes, it is also important to celebrate the completion of the task and the group's success. The "how'd we do" assessment is an opportunity to provide feedback across the group to help improve the subsequent result. This is also a time to identify training opportunities as all group members perpetually enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities. The concept of Kaizen, or continual improvement, is essential here to protect success.
The role of a leader-manager is essential to drive success, but rarely will competent management overcome a failed strategy. Similarly, a great strategy can be diminished by poor leadership. The combination of a well-reasoned strategy implemented by a proficient leader-manager will frequently result in success.
Organizational purpose drives the organizational structure and the balance of the leader/manager's role. As a contrasting example, what do the nuclear plant technician and a bank teller have in common? They are both within a highly controlled, hierarchical design because of the risk of being wrong. At the opposite end of the spectrum, what does a Google developer and an NFL Quarterback have in common? They are both parts of a horizontal team where there is a significant degree of autonomy to address circumstances. The leader-manager dynamic must adapt depending upon the high control vs. low control organization structure. The leader-manager must adapt to meet the employee's needs with the organization's design.
Frequently, the leader/manager's personality impacts their ability to be adaptive. If a gregarious and encouraging leader possesses egomaniacal narcissism, they may be challenged to focus on details. Organizational designs that are structured to support a low level of control are frequently supported by the gregarious personality type. In contrast, an introverted and highly detailed leader is likely to exceed in a highly structured environment at a nuclear reactor. This same leader is unlikely to do well managing a sales force.
Strategy vs Culture: The Leader's Impact
If an organization has a well-defined strategy that includes a detailed vision, mission, values, culture, and a well-structured list of objectives, the Leader's personality is likely to have a less impactful presence. In most cases, it is possible to teach a quiet person to act outgoing. Behavioral research concluded that it is more often problematic to teach an egomaniacal narcissist to pay attention to others or be attentive to details.
In all the discussions about group structure and group dynamics, it is crucial not to be fooled by sales speak and hyperbole. Don't drink the cool aid without validating the truth. Don't be fooled by a false premise through faulty inductive reasoning. (See Dr. Schell's article about decision making) Always focus on setting a path that is based on fact and reason. Every business must create value when delivering a product or service to a customer. The leader/manager must honestly validate the firm's value proposition.
The leader/manager must also understand the financial dynamics associated with their office's performance. The typical GAAP-based presentation of financial results is likely difficult to decipher without advanced training in financial accounting. It is likely that the inclusion of charts and graphs will increase the understandability of the presented information. To enable the leader/manager to lead their office effectively, the finance department should consider incorporating financial result detail in a presentation format that is easy for the leader/manager to understand, who does not have a degree in accounting. Just because GAAP requires complicated reports for external shareholders does not limit internal management reports from being simplified to enable understandability.
© Copyright by Dr. Andy Schell, 2020
Authors Note –
It is interesting to observe the importance of communication and interpersonal dynamics when examining successful teams. Far too often, activities fail because of poor communication and a weak understanding of behavioral and organizational dynamics. Communication is more than posting a sales goal. A leader with a dynamic personality may be adept at one-way communication but not possess the ability to listen. Communication requires authentic interaction among managers and employees to develop a shared alignment, trust, and unified commitment to accomplish the goal.
Dr. Andy Schell, DBA (Ph.D.), MSML, MBA, CPA/CFF, CMB
Dr. Schell is CEO, Managing Partner, and Co-Founder of Mortgage Banking Solutions and MBS Financial Services ("MBS"), based in Austin, Texas. Dr. Schell is known for his ability to turn "vision into reality" and "chaos into order" as he finds creative solutions to the challenges his clients face addressing Revenue Stability, Technology Enhancement, Financial Management, and Workflow Efficiency. He has 4 decades of experience as a leader / manager / coach directing the activity of both small and large groups of employees including mortgage lending activity at Bank of America. His leadership knowledge extends from his hands-on experience and his academic training in his MBA, his master's degree in leadership, and his doctoral work to examine employee dynamics given leader stimulus.
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