Blog Articles

Leadership is not what you thought it was - August 2011

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood areas of business today; often resulting in poor leadership & management skills and demotivated & unproductive employees. So we thought it was about time to disspell some of those leadership myths and present you with some more helpful insights into what makes a good leader.

Nature versus nurture

Humans are impacted by both their genes and their environment. However, most nurture impact occurs during an individual’s formative years. By the time a person starts work, their main characteristics are embedded and the impact of workplace ‘nurture’ is relatively marginal.

Emergent leadership

Natural leaders will ‘emerge’ in all human groups who interact together.  BUT these natural leaders are associated with their specific groups: move a strong natural leader from one group to another and the continuation of natural leadership is a lottery.

Less than 20% of managers are strong, effective, change-positive ‘natural leaders’

Although on average about 40% of managers have some natural leadership credentials (in terms of influencing some colleagues and being at least open-minded on change), a more rigorous assessment (strongly influential and change-positive by nature) brings this figure down to less than 20%.

The great leadership training flaw

Transferring the skills and behaviours of successful (normally senior level) leaders to others through ‘leadership’ training has a very mixed track record.  The fundamental flaw is that (mostly) the wrong people are being trained!

The most effective leadership of people occurs where strong ‘natural leaders’ are also in relevant formal leadership. Where this happens, both performance and staff morale almost always rise, even during stressful periods of profound change, including downsizing.

The most consistently effective innovation occurs when individuals with different skills and knowledge work together across organisational boundaries (both internally and externally). Although formal mechanisms can provide a useful focus (such as a new product requirement or a specific problem to be solved), the key ingredient is almost always activating relevant inter-personal (largely informal) networks.

In the real world of work, consistently effective leadership is ‘networked’ with three key elements: innovation,  judgement and implementation. Only one of these three elements – judgement - is dominated by formal managers.  The other two elements are dominated by ‘natural leaders’ and informal networks.



Agile working - June 2011

How flexible thinking and agile working can improve your business

When people discuss agile and flexible working, instinctively the focus is on flexible hours, hot desking or home working. This leads us to ask if we have a real understanding of the terminology. So what is ‘agile working’? And how does it differ from ‘flexible working’ and other terms often encompassed by the phrase ‘new ways of working’.

The RICS published a very interesting paper on Agile Working, which certainly gives plenty of thought to what agile working isn’t and what agility is, with some great examples. But it’s difficult to extract a succinct definition of agile working. Another interesting read is the FM World article Test of Agility, which summarises BT’s thinking and experience on the subject. For BT, flexible working is first generation thinking, while agile working is the new paradigm, ‘a transformational tool’ that’s the cornerstone of their property and people strategy, providing gains on cost, personnel productivity and sustainability.

One of the more straightforward and memorable descriptors is ‘Martini’ working (for those old enough to remember the ad slogan): ‘any time, any place, anywhere’. Most definitions of flexible working follow this tagline. But this is 2 dimensional, and ‘new ways of working’ these days must be multi-dimensional - not just limited to doing the same work in the same way at a different time and place. Agile working, on the other hand, incorporates time and place flexibility, but also involves doing work differently – it is transformational. Indeed one organisation (Tameside MBC) has named their programme ‘Working Differently’.

Agile working is not new, but it is a new way of working. It can certainly be included under the umbrella term ‘smart working’, which is about using the benefits gained from changing work practices, deploying new technologies and creating new working environments. Behind the dissemination of new ways of working is progressive improvement in mobile, wireless and fixed line technology and related investments in fibre, bandwidth, server capacity, cloud computing and convergence. In fact the network is increasingly seen as the place of work with the consequent rise of people working in the ‘clouds’ or virtual world.

You may ask where terms like ‘home working’ and ‘mobile working’ feature. These are essentially classed as workstyles, which relate to the place or location description in the concepts of agile and flexible working. ‘Hot desking’ and ‘Touchdown’ are other well used terms which are specific work settings in office workplaces.

One of the reasons agile working is difficult to pin down, is that it’s not prescriptive – there is no one size fits all. It has common themes, but is essentially individual and involves choice in the how, what, where and when of working.  My definition of agile working was aired at the CoreNet Global Conference in Brussels September 2009:

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together, to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).

Whatever the arguments over definition and terminology, the goal of agile working is to create more flexible, responsive, efficient and effective organisations that are based on more balanced, motivated, innovative and productive teams and individuals. These are essential ingredients in surviving and thriving in the current economically challenged world.

This article was written by Paul Allsopp of The Agile Organisation


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