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Constructive Conflict: Advice from the Mother of Modern Management 

January 5, 2022

When we look back to the 20th Century and reflect on great leaders, whether leading nations, organizations or social movements, there’s a tendency to produce a list with mostly male names. However, when one attempts to create a list of who were the great management thinkers during this period, it becomes even more skewed towards males. Names like Peter Drucker, John Kotter, Peter Senge, John Garner, James MacGregor Burns, Robert Greenleaf, Henry Mintzberg and Warren Bennis typically come to mind. But so, too, do names like Rosebeth Moss Kanter, Sally Helgesen, and Margaret Wheatley.

The irony behind this is that the individual who is recognized as what Peter Drucker called “The Prophet of Management” was a woman: Mary Parker-Follett, who was born in 1868 and died in 1933. Because of her foresight and innovative thinking, the effects of which are still being examined today, Follett may rightly be called the Mother of Modern Management.

Unfortunately, Follett’s writings and numerous lectures were set aside for several decades. It was not until the 1990s when her writings and concepts were reinvigorated. I was introduced to her work by my advisor for my Master’s leadership thesis in the late nineties. I was amazed that someone 60-70 years previously was urging such concepts as shared (participative) leadership, constructive conflict resolution through what was called “integration,” and “power-with” opposed to “power-over.” Indeed, my Master’s thesis was on the subject of shared leadership.

Let’s hear a few passages from some of Follett’s writings and lectures. Once you read them, reflect on their relevance to today, especially whether her concepts are being practiced.

1949: (Freedom & coordination: Lectures in Business Organization)
“Some writers tell us that the leader should represent the accumulation and knowledge and experience of his particular group, but I think he should go far beyond this. It is true that the executive learns from everyone around him, but it is also true that he is far more than the depository where the wisdom of the group collects.

When leadership rises to genius it has the power of transforming, of transforming experience into power. And that is what experience is for, to be made into power. The great leader creates as well as directs power. The essence of leadership is to create control, and that is what the world needs today, control of small situations or of our world situation.

I have said that the leader must understand the situation, must see it as a whole, must see the inter-relationships of all the parts. He must do more than this. He must see the evolving situation….His wisdom, his judgement, is used, not on a situation that is stationary, but on one that is changing all the time.”

1925: (Paper first delivered to Bureau of Personnel Administration conference)
“There are three ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise and integration. Domination…is a victory of one side over the other. This is the easiest way of dealing with conflict, but not usually successful in the long run, as we can see what has happened since the War.

The second way… [is] compromise, we understand well, for it is the way we settle most of our controversies; each side gives up a little in order to have peace…or that the activity that has been interrupted by the conflict may go on. Compromise is the basis of trade union tactics….But I certainly ought not to imply that compromise is peculiarly a trade union method….

There is a way beginning now to be recognized: …when two desires are integrated, that means that a solution has been found in which both desires have found a place, that neither side has to sacrifice anything.”

Follett gives several examples of how to find integrative solutions to problems. For example, she uses a personal problem she had one day at the library. Seated in the same room with a man who wanted the window open for fresh air, Follett objected because she didn’t want cold air blowing on her. The integrative solution? They opened a window in the adjacent room. The man got his fresh air while Follett didn’t get a draft.

So here are three examples for you to find integrative solutions:

Case #1: Mr. Tuna
You work in a typical cubicle farm. Your neighbour enjoys eating tuna fish sandwiches several days a week. You’ve mentioned on a few occasions that the smell is nauseating, but he’s not getting the message. What would be an integrative solution in this case?

Case #2: Ragtime Blues
You live in a condo high-rise. During the early evening, the person next door pounds out ragtime on her piano. She’s not breaking any bylaws or condo policy. What is the integrative solution?

Case #3: He Shoots, He Scores!
You like your neighborhood where you’ve lived for many years. But there’s a problem. Every fall, the kids set up their nets on your cul de sac and play ball hockey for the next five months. You love your BMW and fringe every time you hear the slap of a stick. What’s the integrative solution with these youngsters?

Be sure to post your solutions for others to see and comment on. And sure, include any humorous solutions. If we get enough, we’ll have a contest to vote for the best one.

There you have it, folks, a few illuminating bits from an amazing woman who was far ahead of her time. What’s unfortunate is that despite so much pain and suffering through the rest of the 20th Century after Follett’s death, and during the first two decades of the 21st Century, we don’t as a society seem to have learned much.

Conflict in the workplace and communities is worse, organized labor and management continue to grab for one another’s throat, and municipal politics is as nasty as ever.

When it comes to the practice of leadership, the heroic mindset still prevails: “Do as I say, not as I do!” Role modelling is in short supply. Exceptional leadership is, as the saying goes, scarce as hens teeth.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
—Peter Drucker

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

If I Empower You, You are Still Within my Power 

December 16, 2021

Your faithful correspondent has been a long-time proponent of self-empowerment, writing extensively about its role in effective leadership. It’s something many of us have struggled with during our careers, getting locked into subservient mindsets and behaviours.

Heroic Leadership – those in positions of authority have all the answers and power – has unfortunately permeated society, and in some ways emasculated our collective ability to speak truth to power, whether it’s within organizations or how we assert our desires to elected politicians. Heroic Leadership is an anachronism in today’s society and economy, and will become a liability to organizations and governments as we proceed deeper into a very uncertain future.

We’ve become enraptured with charisma, misinterpreting it for leadership. We underestimate our own capacity for helping effect positive change within organizations, our communities, and the world at large. One glimmer of hope is Generation Y (Millennials), which has been desperately trying to exert its mark in the labour market but which was creamed by the Great Recession of 2008-09 and dealing with its fallout since. On its heels and now entering the working world is Gen Z, which is showing some positive signs of self-assertion and self-empowerment.

There is hope. The sun always rises.

Two authors and consultants who influenced my thinking in the past are Harrison Owen and the late Angeles Arrien. Both base their work on Native American spiritual teachings. Arrien’s excellent book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary serves as a guide to how we can live in greater harmony with the Earth, how we can develop better relations with one another, and how we can improve our personal leadership. Her words have helped guide me for the past three decades: Be open to outcome, not attached to it. In a world of chaotic change and turmoil, these simple yet wise words serve us well. Check out her work and especially this book.

Harrison Owen is the creator of Open Space Technology and author of several superb leadership books. In his work in Open Space Technology and through his writings, Owen talks about Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit, which help us to understand acceptance of an experience and then how to be creative with it. This approach contrasts with how we, as a society, prefer to resist change or force it in a certain direction:

1) Whoever is present are the right people,
2) Whenever it begins is the right time,

3) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened,

4) When it’s over, it’s over.

Reflect for a moment on this statement that Owen makes in his book The Spirit of Leadership: If I empower you, to some extent you are still within my power.

How often do we hear the Heroic Leadership refrain about “empowering employees.” In reality, no one can empower you; you can only empower yourself. The role of senior corporate leadership is to set the context, to create the environment where collaboration is fostered, creativity nurtured, mutual respect ingrained, vision created, leadership shared, and innovation valued.

Juxtaposed against self-empowerment, Heroic Leadership doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of positive change.

Reject Heroic Leadership; embrace self-empowerment!

It is better to know less than to know so much that it ain’t so.
—Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw, 19th Century American humorist)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Smart Leaders Play the Long Game 

December 6, 2021

We live in the age of instant gratification. We want it now as consumers—hence the exponential growth of credit since the 1960s, whether in credit cards, conditional sales contracts, automotive loans or mortgages. And when it comes to business, the mindset of short-term financial results is foremost in the minds of CEOs, board chairmen (very few are women) and shareholders. Consideration for the longer term, whether consumers or big-shot CEOs, is almost non-existent.

The sheep-like behaviour of consumers—coveting their neighbours’ or friends’ new acquisitions—is understandable to a degree. After all, we’re human beings who’ve been carefully and strategically groomed by corporations to desire more in our quest of perceived self-fulfillment and status. However, what’s somewhat bizarre and indeed irresponsible is when those people leading organizations engage in short-term thinking to attain some form of financial or ego-centric goal.

It doesn’t have to be the head of a company seeking financial results to please shareholders or credit rating agencies. It could be the leader of a not-for-profit organization who’s attempting to please her board of directors. Or it could be a deputy minister (equivalent to a secretary in the U.S. government) who is earning brownie points to downsize his department.

Your correspondent worked three decades for the Government of Canada, and during this time those in top leadership positions could earn bonus pay for cutting employees from the payroll. The problem was that as soon as a certain government (administration in U.S. terminology) achieved its downsizing cuts, the public service would then grow again. The losers from this game? Taxpayers and citizens.

Whether you’re the head of a private company (large or small) or a not-for-profit agency or a public sector department, your primary job is to look to the long-term: the horizon where nothing is certain, where obstacles and whitewater will challenge the organization along the way, and where you’ll need to be adaptable and to show resilience.

Someone who offers special insights into thinking strategically, and unfortunately who died too soon, was Stephen Covey (from a cycling accident in July 2012). Covey’s pithy messages from his numerous leadership books included one vitally important one: Begin with the end in mind (one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Applying this lesson to a corporate setting means that those at the top must create a vision of the future that enrols all employees and that establishes a path with clear goals along the way. Where does your organization want to be in, say, five years? Or ten years?

Cost-cutting (people are the low-hanging fruit) is a tactical exercise that is sometimes necessary. However, it’s hardly a strategic approach to addressing competitive issues if you’re a for-profit company. If you’re part of a not-for-profit agency or government department, cost-cutting often serves to destroy morale and hasten the exit of talent.

The message here is to align short-term tactical decisions (the typical quarter-to-quarter business approach) with long-term strategy. Unfortunately, taking a long-term view is anathema to much of North American business. Hence, the regular turbulence of sudden layoffs in companies as top executives strive to please shareholders and boards of directors.

Those who play the long game and make the effort to invest in building their organization’s resilience and adaptability to constant change are the strategic leaders of the 21st Century. Reactive 20th Century management approaches need to be deposited where they belong: in the dustbin of history.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
— Warren Buffett

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Meet FDR’s Backbone: Frances Perkins–An Extraordinary Woman Leader 

November 21, 2021

Franklin Delano Roosevelt rates as being one of America’s greatest presidents, probably in the top three. Yet he was despised by many during his ascendancy to president and during his four term tenure. And he is still reviled by right-wing conservatives and some Republicans.

FDR, of whom your corespondent is a great admirer, was an exceedingly complicated man. He most certainly had his warts, weaknesses and biases. However, he was also a visionary who understood what America needed to do during the Great Depression and as World War Two proceeded initially in the absence of the involvement of the United States.

Furthermore, FDR was probably the most effective president at initiating and sustaining action. He launched early in his presidency the Civilian Conservation Core, instituted the New Deal, and deftly handled a demanding Winston Churchill during the War. He also launched a massive infrastructure program during the Great Depression, the results of which are still critical to the country’s economy.

This all sounds great. And it is. But there’s one important omission: FDR didn’t accomplish his achievements alone. One person who served under him, and who was in effect his backbone in many ways, was a woman. Her name was Frances Perkins (April 10, 1880 – May 14, 1965).

As early as 1930 when Roosevelt was the Governor of New York, Perkins (above picture) relentlessly prodded him to support social insurance. When he took office as president in 1933, Roosevelt stalled in proceeding with social insurance because he believed that the country was not yet ready for such change. During his first Hundred Days (a concept borrowed from Napoleon), FDR argued that Perkins, as Labor Secretary, should commence an education campaign on the subject to begin laying the foundation within government and the American public. In addition, he wanted a panel of experts to study what would be involved in introducing social insurance.

Perkins accepted this approach and began a focused effort during which she raised the subject over two dozen times in Cabinet meetings during 1933, and delivered 100 speeches across America in which she touted the benefits of social insurance.

As the months proceeded through 1934 and as FDR continued to show ambivalent behaviour towards introducing social insurance, Perkins took drastic action in December of that year. At a Cabinet meeting at her home, during which the discussion became heated over whether social insurance should be run by the federal or state governments, she locked the doors to her house and disconnected the phone, stating that no one was going to leave until an agreement was reached. At 2 am a tentative agreement was finalized.

Of course, there were still many rough patches in the months afterwards. For example, it’s amazing that one of the issues that concerned Cabinet in 1935 was that an aging population would eventually contribute to a deficit in social insurance by 1980. Yes, that’s 1980, 45 years later! How often do we see politicians looking that far ahead nowadays?

Perkins was a pit bull when it came to grabbing onto an issue she believed was critical for America and then driving it forward. Hers is a fascinating story of how one woman was the impetus for a program that has served tens of millions of Americans, serving as an automatic economic stabilizer, as well as mitigating the effects of poverty among the elderly. Incidentally, it wasn’t until January 1940 that the first individual received a Social Security check, in the amount of $22.54, a Miss Ida Fuller of rural Vermont.

Frances Perkins may not be well known as an incredible leader, but she is in the ranks of other contemporaries, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Parker-Follett, seen as the Mother of Modern Management. We have a lot for which to thank Frances Perkins.

Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.
—Mary Parker Follett

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

The Best Manager, Ever: Tales from the Management Crypt 

October 28, 2021

We’ve all had good bosses, and more likely bad bosses that outnumber the former. This post is a more provocative commentary on leadership; however, it has important lessons for those people wanting to become effective, well-rounded leaders.

Your contribution is therefore important. Share your experiences of managers you’ve had: the good, the bad and the ugly. And if anyone’s brave enough, share where you’ve messed up as a manager but how you learned from the experience. And yes, yours truly made his share of mistakes as a new manager – so the kimono’s open. My sins?

When I was in my early thirties, 30 years ago, I was appointed to a management position in the area where I had worked for eight years. Yes, I knew the work technically. However, leadership, as opposed to management, is not an appointment – it is earned. Due to my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job as a manager, especially in the absence of any formal management training, I was a micro-manager.

When I gave presentations in the past on leadership I shared this experience. And when I asked the audience how many people like working for a micro-manager, surprisingly no one has ever raised their hand. Hmmmm. So that tells you something.

A few of my team mates who were younger didn’t like my style of management and figuratively slapped me on the head. I still thank them to this day, because many micro-managers – and there are lots out there – never “get it.” The result is high staff turnover, weak productivity, and the absence of creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, I got the message really fast back then. I worked 35 years before retiring and always despised micro-management. However, once I got over it when I was about 33 I became a delegator and, as I evolved as a manager, someone who believed in sharing the leadership. That is my personal leadership philosophy, and which was the subject of my masters thesis on leadership in the late nineties.

So let’s shift gears and turn to one of my heroes: Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. If there’s one leadership book you should buy, make it Mintzberg’s book entitled Managing. It’s brilliant and builds on his empirical work over 35 years. He’s one of the few really grounded authors on management and leadership. Too much of the literature over the past four decades, unfortunately, has consisted of excessively fluffy, feel-good stuff. Mintzberg, who may be perceived as a bit of a curmudgeon, is a provocative thinker and writer.

One story he recounts in a footnote in his book is that of a British CEO who refused to allow employees to walk past his office door. The result was that they had to take a set of stairs to another floor. When employees met with this CEO in his office they had to sit on a chair that was at a lower level; that way the CEO could look down upon them.

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, this guy not only got promoted but received a knighthood from the Queen! Upon his departure from the company, his advice to his successor was: a) dress properly, b) don’t smoke and c) maintain control.

The end of the story? The CEO’s successor went into his first board meeting, took off his jacket, lit a cigar and asked: “What would you like to talk about?”

Now that’s my kind of leader (minus the cigar). This new CEO was about to demolish that company’s corporate culture and build a new one.

So now it’s your turn. Share your experiences.

Companies are communities. There’s a spirit of working together. Communities are not a place where a few people allow themselves to be singled out as solely responsible for success. — Henry Mintzberg

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Are You an Authentic Leader?

October 14, 2021

I am your servant. I do not come to you as a leader, as one above others.

When you read these words did the person who uttered them come to mind? Admittedly, the world is adrift in leadership quotations. But what makes these words special is that they were said by Nelson Mandela, a man who truly suffered during the years he was incarcerated in a South African prison. Mandela was South Africa’s first black president, serving from 1994 to 1999. (He died on December 5, 2013)

What I want to talk about in this post is leadership and to pose this question, which each of us needs to answer: “Am I an authentic leader?”

We’ve heard statements that leaders are born. But then others argue that leaders can be developed. Well, how about going back in time to hear from Aristotle:

“From the moment of their birth, some are marked for subjugation, and others for command.”

Well, that may not be all that helpful, especially when the general consensus now is that leaders can be developed.

One way to look at the issue is this way: I’ve organized the debate over who possesses leadership into two types of leadership: Big L and Little L. My personal view is that only a few of us will ever have the dynamic leadership behaviours and skills to lead organizations, private, public or non-profit, large or small, or the populace of a country, state or province. Only a few of us have what it takes to be a Big L leader.

What propelled people like Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Israel’s Golda Meir (above photo), Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela to be world-class leaders? For those who are sports-minded, consider the great athletes like Bobby Orr, Billy Jean King, Wayne Gretsky or Mohammed Ali. Or how about such vocalists as Aretha Franklin, Céline Dionne or Beverly Sills?

These individuals possess an innate talent and drive that propels them to succeed. Why do some children at a very young age show an incredible skill in a certain discipline, yet other children work hard but only attain a certain level of proficiency?

To lead an organization, especially in today’s turbulent world, requires someone with unique abilities. Some of these can be learned. But there needs to be an inner drive and vision that causes that individual to want to lead others. This raises the issue of power and status, for which many people strive in their efforts to rise to the top.

So what about power?

First off, power can be an important component of effective leadership, provided it is used properly and for the right purposes. When top leaders abuse power by controlling and manipulating their subordinates, then these are not Big L leaders. They may be good managers, but when it comes to inspiring people and leading with integrity, they fall short of achieving this.

Reflect on the following quote by the late Peter Drucker, who called things as he saw them. He believed that leadership must be founded upon a constitution; otherwise, irresponsibility will result:

I am amazed that today’s prominent writers on leadership do not seem to realize that the three most charismatic leaders in all recorded history were named Hitler, Stalin and Mao. I do not believe that there are three men who did more evil and more harm. Leadership has to be grounded in responsibility. It has to be grounded in a constitution. It has to be grounded in accountability. Otherwise, it will lead to tyranny.”

Drucker was an advocate for shared leadership. He believed in employee responsibility and the need for a “self-governing community,” where individuals and teams share in many managerial activities. And this brings me to the concept of Little L leadership.

What is Little L leadership?

This is the leadership we see displayed throughout organizations and community — the day-to-day acts that people at all levels engage in. However, there are those who aren’t interested in taking on leadership roles. That’s okay. Some of them will gradually come on board, while others will continue to want to be led by their peers and managers.
This is a key point to remember when reflecting on our personal leadership styles and potentials.

It comes down to each of us being authentic in how we conduct ourselves. We need to strip off the facades we wear and own up to our weaknesses, limitations, and warts. When we’re honest and open with ourselves and others, we gain greater confidence and self-respect, plus respect from others. Be true to yourself and others will be true to you.

Here’s a personal example.

When I was in my early 30s I was promoted to manager of a team of economists. I had zero management training. Because of my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job, I became a bit of a micro manager. That was until a couple of the young economists straightened me out. It took a while but I learned to eventually let go and share the leadership with my team.

I was still the manager, but my team took a lot of initiative and consistently demonstrated leadership in their own ways. There’s no magic formula or cookie cutter approach to this. Each of us has to find our own way. In my case I had to fall on my nose a number of times.

Here are three questions you may wish to reflect on when it comes to developing your leadership skills:

1. What are my strengths and weaknesses? (Be honest with yourself)


2. What do I need to do to be more adventurous and risk-taking?


3. How can I inspire others to want to work towards a common purpose?

Here’s one piece of advice learned from personal experience: If you want to inspire others (an essential part of leadership), you need to be passionate about your cause.

Here’s a great story.

I recall watching a PBS program a few years ago that looked at the head surgeon of an emergency room in a large U.S. city. As you can imagine, an ER can be an extremely hectic and stressful place in which to work. People have to know their duties and understand the interdependency of their efforts.

What struck me most about watching this African American surgeon was his calmness in dealing with highly stressful situations in the midst of chaos. Multiple victims of car accidents and victims with gunshot wounds. As he stated to the journalist: “My staff look at me to keep it together. If I lose it, they lose it.” When his shift finished, where did go? Home? No, he went to do volunteer work with inner city Black children. For me, this guy showed exemplary leadership.

But I ask you, was this man born as a natural leader, or did he develop over time?

Each of us needs to see our personal quest for leadership as one that first starts with the discovery of who each of us really is. We need:

To know ourselves,
To hear ourselves,
To tell the truth to ourselves,
To be honest with ourselves.


Once we address these questions and reexamine our values and beliefs, we’ll be ready to move forward in our leadership journey. Sure, leadership skills can be learned. But the first step is a process in which we look inside ourselves.

This journey is a very personal and private one. We may or may not wish to share with others along the way. However, one thing needs to be clear and that is every leader must go though it.

Authors Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge) state:

You can’t elevate others to higher purposes until you’ve first elevated yourself….You can’t lead others until you’ve first led yourself through a struggle with opposing values….A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and with colleagues. Such a leader has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation.”

Finally…

Here are four excellent questions they pose to help facilitate the leadership journey:

• What are my values and beliefs on how people should operate in the organization?


• How strongly am I attached to my values and beliefs?

• How strong is my relationship with those I lead and with whom I work?


• Am I the right one to be leading at the moment?

The last question is especially important in my opinion. It gets at the heart of the shared leadership issue. Regardless of one’s “position” in the organization, there are times when one steps forward to lead and times when one steps back. As Kouzes and Posner state:

“To step out into the unknown, begin with the exploration of the inner territory. With that as a base, we can then discover and unleash the leader within us all.”

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Leading in a Post-Heroic World: Do You Have What it Takes?

October 3, 2021

Date Line: 1994, Forbes Magazine

THE NEW POST-HEROIC LEADERSHIP ”Ninety-five percent of American managers today say the right thing. Five percent actually do it.” That’s got to change.

Post-heroic leadership has gone by many names: shared leadership, participative leadership, distributed leadership, and servant leadership. The point here is that people across, up and down organizations and communities play an active role in leadership.

Positional power and authority – namely those in management positions – no longer have the monopoly on leading. The key distinction is that managers are appointed to their positions; leadership is earned. Since the late nineties, my mission has been to promote the benefits of embracing a shared, post-heroic mindset in organizations. My Master’s thesis at Royal Roads University in British Columbia was on shared leadership, entitled A Leap of Faith.

While some organizations understand the big benefits of engaging employees and actively involving them in demonstrating leadership, most unfortunately do not. And when one is in an economic downturn, the mind tends to shut out long-term, strategic thinking; the focus is on the here and now.

When an organization does embrace a shared leadership mindset, everyone accepts responsibility for the future of the organization. It’s not just a senior management responsibility. However, managers have to realize that they’re not abdicating power or responsibilities.

Post-heroic leaders are completely engaged with their followers. This type of leadership is more difficult because it’s more dynamic and requires courage by the manager. However, it’s also easier because once it’s internalized it becomes part of all managerial elements. In other words, it becomes embedded in the organization’s culture.

There are those who are cynical about Post-Heroic, or shared leadership, believing it to be a weak and ineffective form of leading. David Stauffer wrote an article in defence of Post-Heroic Leadership in the Harvard Business Review in 1998 on what he called the 10 Myths of Post-Heroic Leadership:

1.There should be little conflict at work since people want to get along well.

2. The Post-Heroic manager is a “soft” manager.

3. Collaboration is in, competition is out.

4. The post-heroic leader is a facilitator and does not make decisions.

5. A leader who makes independent decisions is acting heroically.

6. All decisions must be made through consensus.

7. Team commitment to a decision overrides its quality.

8. Only the organization’s top leader is allowed to have vision.

9. Managing as a post-heroic leader is slow and inefficient.

10. Post-heroic leadership does not produce short-term benefits.

The bottom line, over two decades ago, was that Post-Heroic Leadership delivers the results that are needed in the economy. It requires, as Stauffer put it: “…decisiveness, sangfroid, and results-oriented thinking in small measure….a leader with a solid sense of self-worth and self-confidence.” And to do this – well – means that a manager needs to have the self-confidence and self-worth to embark on this process.

If you’re in a senior management position, ask yourself this question: “Am I creating owners or dependents in my organization?” If you want people to act like it’s their business then make it their business.

So ask yourself if you’re in a position of authority: “Do I have what it takes to embrace Post-Heroic Leadership?”

And if you’re in a staff role, ask yourself: “Do I have the courage to assert myself to insist that I be taken seriously as a leader?”

You never find yourself until you face the truth. 
– Pearl Bailey

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Inter-generational Leadership: What’s Myth and What’s Reality–and Does it Matter?

September 19, 2021

The literature on inter-generational differences has been in hyper-drive for a while. Think tanks spew out analyses; book authors produce their take on the situation; bloggers convey their perspectives; and consultants beat the bushes for contracts to tell organizations how different the generations are and to instil anxiety (to secure more contracts).

Because this topic is a critical issue for society and the economy and job market, this leadership post looks at some of the commonly held myths. It also brings into the conversation what’s called the Silent Generation (those 74 to 90 years of age). The past 15 years (post-2008 financial crisis) has witnessed the decimation of the retirement plans of millions of North American workers, with the result being an increasing number of them now having to work well into their sixties, and in some cases seventies. And the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 (Covid 19) pandemic is witnessing escalating price inflation and massive increases in the costs of housing, both home ownership and renting.

Too much of the literature and news articles have concentrated on Baby Boomers (born between 1948 and 1965), Gen X (born between 1966 and 1979), and Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1997). So in reality we’re talking about a four inter-generational span, and not just Boomers and Generations X and Y (aka Millennials). But before we delve into this, let’s take a look at previous generations and how they perceived and functioned in the world. I’ll use my late dad as an illustration.

My dad emigrated to Canada from Glasgow in 1920 at the age of three. He arrived with his parents at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but grew up in Winnipeg. After completing high school he worked as an apprentice machinist in the Canadian National Railway shops. When World War II broke out he wanted to sign up, but his dad told him that he first had to complete his journeyman papers.

In 1941 he joined the Canadian Navy. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, in effect running the engine rooms on two Canadian Corvettes. These were, by the way, nasty vessels on which to work, bouncing around like corks on the ocean. And by way of interest, it was Sir Winston Churchill who was influential in naming the later sports car the Corvette.

After the War, he completed a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Manitoba (paid for by the federal government). After graduating, he continued working for CN, working his way up into a management position. Along the way, yours truly was born in 1955. What I remember of my dad while growing up in Montreal and Toronto was someone who travelled extensively, spending considerable time in Africa and South Asia as a consultant. Indeed, in 2006 at his funeral one of his former bosses said to me: “Your dad sure knew locomotives.”

In contrast to today’s very relaxed dress code in organizations, it was always a suit and spit-polish shoeshine for my dad when he went off to work. When he retired from CN in 1976 and went to work for the former Canadian Transport Commission (CTC), he was amazed at how sloppy people dressed. He found that wearing a sports jacket to work was nothing short of an abomination.

Nowadays, anything goes. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. But it does succinctly tell us about different values. When my dad was forced by CN into early retirement at age 60 he was devastated. He went on to work for the Canadian Transport Commission for another seven years before entering international consulting. He finally retired at age 72. His retirement plaque from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau acknowledged his 45 years of consecutive service with the Government of Canada.

So why am I telling you this? Because I want to illustrate how an earlier generation in North America stepped up to serve their countries and how they later went on to help build their countries’ economies. For an excellent accounting of how this generation served their nation, read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation.

The employment contract has long been broken in North America. Baby Boomers have been the ones who were nailed with this development, while Gen X (named for it being the excluded generation) has struggled to create its own identify in the presence of the Boomers’ looming shadow. It’s Gen Y that seems to have the best grasp of the four generations that the world is indeed changing, and that corporate loyalty, slavish work hours and authoritarian power are outdated traits.

What’s the biggest concern? Is it that Gen Y can’t cut the mustard? No, absolutely not. What Gen Y faces is the lingering effects of the 2009-10 Great Recession: last in, first out; not valuing what they bring to organizations; not providing coaching and mentoring. BusinessWeek several years ago labeled Gen Y the Lost Generation. And now with the emergence of Gen Z into the job market, the dynamics of a broader inter-generational workforce presents even more leadership challenges.

The meter’s ticking. However, this time the situation’s different. The emergence of new global competitors is completely changing the economic landscape. Forget the statistics that China and India have much lower percentages of their respective populations earning diplomas and degrees, compared to Europe and North America. The key here is they collectively have a population of about 2.7 billion people. It’s about absolute numbers, not percentages.

When looked at through the organizational lens, it all boils down to this:

• If there were ever a need for coaching and mentoring in the workplace, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for knowledge transfer in organizations, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for shared leadership in organizations and communities, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for embracing inter-generational differences, it is NOW.

So what’s holding us back?

Is it ego, self-delusion, or just plain stubbornness?

We either come to terms with our inter-generational differences, finding common ground and moving forward collectively, or the world will pass us by, leaving Canada and the United States in its wake. It’s our choice to make.

People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old. (Anonymous)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Back to the Future: Are You a Theory Xer or Yer? 

September 13, 2021

The leadership field—and its cousin management—has an over abundance of information, from books, periodicals, business articles, blog posts, web sites and more. Much of it is repetitive, and many prominent book authors have regurgitated their works in subsequent editions. One might conclude that similar to Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” that we’re now in the realm of what could be called The End of Leadership: that all that’s been written and said on both leadership and management has been achieved.

Perhaps in a contemporary sense, yes. However, as the world evolves so too must those in leadership and managerial positions. New ideas and concepts will always be critically important to organizations and more broadly society as new technological, geo-political and environmental challenges present themselves.

It’s informative and reflective to occasionally look back in time to earlier concepts and writings on leadership and management. This meant re-reading of some of the more substantive writers on these two inter-related fields. So let’s take a look at Douglas McGregor, who wrote the acclaimed “The Human Side of Enterprise” in 1960 (I was five years old at the time living in Battle Creek, Michigan). In this post, Theory X and Y are briefly described, followed by highlights of some of McGregor’s observations 57 years ago.

The way in which managers interact with their subordinates is based on their assumptions about human behaviour. These assumptions (mental models) begin to be formed when we’re young, and as we age our various experiences further solidify them. Organizations posses their own cultures, which are either sustained by passing down managerial assumptions and practices to new managers, or they are blown apart by new renegade CEOs who wish to recreate their organizations.

McGregor described the assumptions underlying Theory X as:

1) People have an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it

2) Because of this dislike for work, people must be ‘coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment’ to get them to perform

3) People prefer to be directed in their work, shunning responsibility and ambition

He believed that these assumptions were not a theory but in reality determined management strategy in organizations. It was about the ‘tactics’ of control and telling people what to do in order to achieve organizational objectives.

In contrast, Theory Y deals heavily with interpersonal relationships and the creation of a work environment where people are encouraged to commitment to the organization’s objectives. But to live and work in this world requires a very different set of assumptions:

1) People do not inherently dislike work, instead seeing it as a source of satisfaction, depending on the conditions

2) People will direct themselves in working towards organizational objectives, once they have committed to them

3) Committing to these objectives is directly related to the rewards associated with achieving them

4) Under the right conditions, people will not only accept responsibility but seek it out

5) People will usually exercise a high degree of creativity in attempting to solve organizational problems

6) The intellectual capacities are only being partially used in organizations

One of the more compelling sections in his book is on the climate of relationships. McGregor provides the example of a factory superintendent who was known for screaming and swearing at his men. He gives this boss the title ‘bull of the woods.’ The paradox here is that the personnel people, who were carrying out training for managers at the time, couldn’t understand why a manager who operated in this manner could still be highly respected by his staff. Sound crazy? Well, morale and productivity were at high levels in this factory.

Although the superintendent was tough it was in reality superficial. He demonstrated consistently his concern for the welfare of his staff, going so far as to helping those who needed some financial help until payday or others who had a family crisis. He was exceedingly fair in how he treated his subordinates, and in particular solidly backed them when he felt that management was not being fair. An example is when he resigned and walked out of his superior’s office when senior management would not back down on an issue. Management chased him out to the parking lot and immediately capitulated.

These actions lead to this superintendent being held in very regard by his staff, and one major consequence was strong morale and work output. However, McGregor adds that in addition to these characteristics that a manager must also have upward influence in the organization in order to achieve certain objectives.

McGregor makes another key observation, noteworthy because he’s addressing organizations in the late 1950s yet it’s highly relevant today. It’s the ‘P’ word – participation, a concept that became very popular in the nineties and which has resurfaced with Generation Y’s entry into the job market. When management uses the façade of participation to get employees to accept key decisions, and when used repeatedly, the result is cynicism and checking-out from further participatory exercises. As he states: “…[management] will lose far more than [it] had hoped to gain by ‘making them feel important.’”

McGregor’s work may seem dated in today’s service-oriented economy, combined with technology’s impact on how work is performed and where. In particular, the increased diversity of the workforce with women’s higher participation rate and people from different countries and cultures is changing the practice of managerial leadership. However, Theory X and Theory Y still provide a useful framework on which to study the intertwined fields of management and leadership.

What would you identify as the most important things that managerial leaders must attend to if they wish to be effective in their jobs?

If you consider yourself a leader, be sure to check the rearview mirror regularly to ensure you have followers. (James Taggart)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

10 Valuable Lessons for Aspiring Leaders 

September 8, 2021

The following 10 lessons are not aimed at just those who wish to move into managerial positions; they’re also for those who work as project managers, team leaders, thought leaders, relationship builders, etc. And of particular note is that those holding senior positions in organizations should reflect on these lessons.

It’s important to remember that management is an appointment to position; leadership is earned. If you have no willing followers, then you’re not a leader. You may rule through dictate and compliance as a manager, but to have a true follower-ship means enrolling others in your vision.

Here are the ten lessons. And please note that they’re not in any particular order.

1) Create and nurture a learning environment where people develop the skills and competencies that will become their toolbox for life. Don’t expect traditional loyalty to the organization. As a leader, your job is to bring out the best in people and to maximize their creativity, productivity and output.

2) Constantly walk the talk. Don’t be a cave dweller, hiding out in your office behind a closed door. And don’t just be physically visible but be present in body, mind and spirit. Oh, and park the smart phone when you’re at meetings and speaking to people.

3) Show that you really care about the people you lead and with whom you work. Don’t nickel and dime people on their work hours. If you set the right tone and climate in the workplace, you’ll see an impressive increase in people engagement, creativity and accomplishment.

4) Develop an effective BS meter, where you know fact from fiction, truth from hype. By avoiding getting swayed by organizational manipulators and by sticking to your values, people will respect you all the more.

5) Realize that organizational cultural change is not a tactical exercise in ticking off the task list. It’s about people engagement and relationships. It takes time and patience – plenty of the latter.

6) Link training and learning to job performance and when it’s needed. But it’s also necessary to take the long view: investing in people for the long-term demonstrates your commitment to them.

7) Be honest when you ask for feedback, whether from small or large groups. Bringing people together at workshops, conferences, town-halls, etc. to generate ideas and recommendations, and then to ignore them, is the ultimate act of disrespect. Honour and value people’s contributions.

8) Focus on results. Let people figure out how to do their work. Coach, but don’t smother them. Micro-management is for the insecure, and something to avoid at all costs.

9) Share the leadership. Step back when you realize that you’re not the best one to lead at the moment, regardless of how high you are in the hierarchy. Let go of your ego.

10) As a leader you’re also a change agent. Be open to outcome, not attached to it. Learn to love the unknown and the opportunities and challenges it presents. Know fear; respect it; value it; transcend it.

So there you have ten lessons for leaders at all levels. This is certainly not the definitive list of what leaders need to pay attention to, but it’s a start. It will help guide you through tumultuous times, keeping you focused, energized and centred. The last word goes to 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: “We did this to ourselves.” JT

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn