Unleashing the Potential
As researcher and educator of management, and former practitioner and technology executive, I believe there is tremendous untapped potential in every organization. It is the leadership potential at the bottom of the organization. When companies will learn how to unleash this potential, an outstanding thing would happen.
The potential is rooted in the intelligence, motivation, creativity, and leadership skills that exist at the bottom and is often neglected. The hierarchical structure of medium and large-size corporations is preventing us from effectively using this energy and intelligence. Top-level business managers are typically making the strategic decisions, and (even highly professional and educated) people at the bottom are supposed to execute these decisions without asking questions…
There is no need to abandon existing structures, just to pay more attention to the lower levels of team leaders and team members. They often have great ideas and wonderful solutions; but we usually don’t seek them out and their ideas are getting lost in daily operations and next delivery milestones. Ironically, we have learned to tap the power of crowds in marketing and open innovation, when thousands of people around the Globe are solving company problems posted on the Internet. Why can’t we do the same inside a company?
Let me clarify – I am not just talking about the well-known concept of empowerment, where we let people design how they do their own work. What I mean is giving people a bigger say in shaping strategy and future business decisions based on their knowledge, technical expertise and hands-on information, all readily available. The outcome? Business results will be faster and better; and employees truly motivated and happier.
My vision is to help make this happen faster. I don’t believe it will happen on its own, or just by recognizing the potential. We must turn this into organizational policies and give people the tools to perform bigger jobs by wearing bigger hats. That means, requiring people to think through the strategic decisions made at the top and offer improvements and better solutions, or come up with new business ideas of their own. Additionally, they should offer adjustments in initial strategic decisions based on progress and the dynamic changes that are happening in markets and technologies. Finally, and perhaps most important, we would request them to be responsible for final results, (while accountability still stays at the top). Not only will we get better process outcomes, but also more motivated people and much better business performance.
Project Management and Innovation
This vision is not just in theory. In the world of projects and project management, we are in the process of changing the paradigm. The existing mindset assumes that strategic decisions are only made at the executive level, while lower level project teams must execute this strategy as prescribed. According to the new paradigm, project selection and initial directions would still come from the top, but that would just be the first step. In the next step, project managers and their teams are given the tools to examine this strategy, study it, rework it, and clarify it in their own words so that each team member understands, agrees, and buys into it. More important, based on their intelligence, technical knowledge and experience project teams are expected to look constantly for better ways to make it work for improved business results and highest success in the market.
We call this system Strategic Project Leadership® (SPL). The SPL Way is inspiring project managers to be the business leaders of their projects, and is giving them the tools to do that! In this world their teams are also more engaged. They are relentlessly pursuing the creation of competitive advantage and better customer value.
Finally, we see innovation as part of a project management. Since ideas cannot get to market without projects, and since every project is based on some idea, SPL is designed to merge these two disciplines into one model. In this way we expect people to use more than just technical expertise. We see them as champions of business innovation. Ironically, there is nothing new here. We are only formalizing the process and giving it the right tools. In fact, in the past, some of the best business ideas came from technical people who used their technical skills to recognize business opportunities without any guidance from the top. The most famous example perhaps, is the microprocessor chip, which was invented inadvertently by a group of engineers at Intel, and eventually changed the world.
Management and Leadership Education
Management is a combination of science and art. It is pretty easy to teach the science part, which involved tools, frameworks, applications, and processes. But what distinguishes great leaders is the art part. It is the personal way in which leaders perform, communicate, motivate and inspire people. Yet, it is very difficult to teach it. You cannot learn leadership by looking at other managers or reading books about great leaders like Churchill. Can you lead like Churchill? While interesting and entertaining, each book is just a story, which you can hardly adopt to your own situation.
I see management education as a self-learning process, which educators could only direct and encourage. I believe there are three principles for stimulating the learning process:
There’s no substitute for common sense. No matter what the theory says or the books teach, everything you do must make sense; indeed, “you don’t need an education to use your brain.” Teachers cannot do much here, but offer common sense observations and encourage students to come up and develop their own statements. Eventually, managers should adopt their individual list of common sense principles that fit their style and personality.
There is nothing as practical as a good theory. I believe case studies alone are insufficient for teaching management. Without the theory, it stays a specific situation. The theory is needed to generalize and explain the organizational world and the relationships within it. Theory explains situations and demonstrates though well-selected appropriate cases how to use theory, and how to apply such theory to the student’s own situation. Therefore, as scholars, I believe we need to develop more theory, which will turn the art of management into more science – I greatly believe it is possible.
Seeing the big picture. We must present management and leadership as an integrative system. Teaching individual disciplines is helpful, but it is never enough. You must combine strategy, planning, economy, people, leadership, organizational structures, and many others into integrated problems and frameworks. To understand their job, people must be able to comprehend their own situation and apply the system approach to their own environment.
Finally, a word about leadership: Are leaders born or made? Well, nobody is born a leader, but many people possess certain qualities that prepare them to lead later in life – you must have integrity, character, and motivation. From there on, you have to develop yourself as a leader. Since there is no best way to lead, leaders need to develop their own style and own principles.
Leaders must know how to inspire, make people proud, and articulate a compelling vision for their organizations. They should not see themselves as being at the top of the pyramid; rather, they must see themselves at the bottom, carrying the organization on their back. They are serving their organizations by providing services of leadership, decision-making, and inspiration. And notably, the best leaders of all are humble. It is never about themselves, only about their organizations and their people.