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The Leadership Jigsaw-LBS Article_Capability Assessment and Models Ex_E.jaques

The Leadership Jigsaw-LBS Article_Capability Assessment and Models Ex_E.jaques

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Published by: John M. Read on Jan 07, 2010
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Spring 2003
The leadership jigsaw -finding the missing piece
 Russell Connor and Peter Mackenzie-Smith
Business Strategy Review, 2003, Volume 14 Issue 1, pp 59-66
Leadership cannot be summed up by a listof action points. Leadership is an activeinteraction with the world and involves bringing into being new possibilities fromwithin real constraints.
Managing constant change has been a theme for adecade or more. Dealing with discontinuous changeis a much more recent phenomenon. If tomorrow isnot the same as yesterday, what do leaders draw uponto help guide them to make wise decisions? Clearly,past experience cannot be the whole answer.Though the demands faced by leaders are becomingclearer, the essence of leadership is difficult to capture.The question of what it takes to be a good leader hasbeen the subject of much thought and research – andthe recent increase in interest coincides with the stepchanges in complexity many organisations face.
The demands of leadership
We live, lead and work in an era of contradictoryforces. The waves of change sweeping the world –including digitalisation, globalisation, demographicshifts, migration and the rapid degradation of socialand natural capital – are creating opposing tensions.You can see these any time you open a newspaper ormanagement journal: speed versus sustainability;exploration versus exploitation; global versus localways of organising; top-down versus bottom-upapproaches to leadership.While there has always been upheaval in humanhistory, there is something different about today’scircumstances. According to a recent “white paper”,
Dialog on Leadership,
from the McKinsey Society forOrganisational Learning: “The pace of change issomehow faster, the frequency and amplitude of restructuring and reforming are significantly greater,and the pathways of emerging futures seem to be lesspredictable than they were in earlier times”.These waves of change have been evident for sometime albeit the tensions are increasing as time passes.In addition, in recent years there have been hugediscontinuities in markets and social structures. Wehave seen the inflation and bursting of the dot-combubble, the collapse of global corporations (Enronbeing one example) and upward movement of shareprices give way to wild fluctuations and massivedevaluation of assets. And this is just the businessworld. No list of events marking discontinuouschange could be complete without reference toSeptember 11 2001.If we cannot look to past experience, technical know-how or acquired knowledge to determine what it takesto be a leader, then what is it that makes a difference?
Prevailing views on leadership
The following approaches have, to varying degrees,illuminated the subject of leadership:
Humanistic psychology
placed an emphasis on theleadership values such as teamwork, mutualappreciation and dialogue
Business Strategy Review
Behavioural psychology
and the competencyapproach have attempted to identify what leadersdo and how they act
Personality theories
have attempted to identifypersonality types and combinations of traits thatleaders have in common
Situational leadership
is based on the idea thatthere is not one preferred style of leadership – themost appropriate one will depend upon thesituation that needs to be faced
Emotional intelligence
suggests that genuineleaders have to be emotionally intelligent as “theycreate resonance in those they lead – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”
Comparing and contrasting “leadership” with“management”
has sought to differentiateleadership from a more general managerialcompetenceWe can best describe the way “leadership” has beentackled as butterfly catching. Researchers,management theorists and practitioners havebrandished their nets in an effort to find the genuinearticle. After netting a wide variety of species, someof which were truly attractive, they turned theirattention to finding the rarest of specimens inparticularly demanding or exotic ecosystems.Once caught, the interesting butterflies were pinnedand labelled. The differences with lesser varieties werenoted. However, having pinned, labelled and classified,the essence of leadership remained as elusive as ever.All of these approaches share a similar frame of reference. They have taken leadership as an objective“reality” and worked to identify common aspects suchas behaviours or competence. Even those approachesseeking to identify less tangible aspects, such as values,personality traits or even emotional intelligence, havetried to establish leadership “facts”.
What is missing?
There is a gap in the practice of social and managementscience. While theorists and practitioners have largelyfocused on establishing the
of leadership,
a leader has been left to the “hero” chief executives towrite about in their autobiographies. But even theydo not help us much, usually assuming that theirreaders want to hear
decisions they made ratherthan
they made them.It is difficult to describe leadership as a list of “mustdo’s”. To quote the
Dialog on Leadership
again: “Ineveryday experience we do not see what precedesleadership action – the thought processes thatgradually lead to the development of entrepreneurialideas and initiatives. We do not see the full process of coming-into-being of social action: we do not see itsdescending movement from thought and consciousnessto language, behaviour, and action. We see what wedo. We also form theories about how we do things.But we are usually unaware of the place from whichwe operate when we act”.We think we know a lot about experience but in factwe don’t. Few people are able to suspend thepreconceptions and assumptions that make up theirapproach to the world and examine the structuringand layering of experience that underlie them.The thousands of management books rarely dipbeneath the surface to reveal the real experience of 
60 Russell Connor and Peter Mackenzie-Smith
  w  w  w .   f  r  e  e   i  m  a  g  e  s .  c  o .  u   k
Spring 2003
making far-reaching decisions. This is not because theauthors just want to demonstrate success or theirproblem-solving prowess. It is rare to be able fully toarticulate the perceptual skills involved in defining andseizing opportunities. People focus on an issue,opportunity or problem without being able fully toset out or report their thought processes. It is becomingwidely accepted that people make decisions as aconsequence of an interplay between what isarticulated and what is not.
Leadership: the key concepts
The linked concepts of the “work” of leadership andcapability are useful to help gain insight into thesubject of leadership
The “work” of leadership 
One framework for looking at the structure of managerial work has been developed by Bioss(formerly the Brunel Institute of Organisation andSocial Studies), which for more than 30 years hascarried out research into what it takes to manage andlead in environments of increasing complexity. Basedon the work of Elliott Jaques, it emphasises thesignificance of time as the medium for the process of work and the criterion for its completion. Work canbe defined as the exercise of discretion withinprescribed limits (real rules and regulations) to achievea goal (objective).In these terms, time has a dual significance for work.From the point of view of prescribed limits there is anagreed time by which a task must be completed. Thediscretionary content of work is the exercise throughtime of the capacity to create sufficient “pattern andorder” on the path towards the achievement of a goal.In Jaques’ words: “Having decided how to set abouta task, and having completed it, you can never be surethat if you had decided to do it another way that youmight not have done it better or more quickly. Youjust do not know. Once a task is done it is done. If you set about to replicate the task and the conditionsunder which you did it, you are in the process of creating knowledge. However, this is not ‘work’ inthe same sense. While knowledge is one of the essentialtools of work, it is not the work itself. Knowledgealone will not see you through. In work you areconfronted by problems that have no absolutelycorrect answer. You have to use
knowledge and  judgement in interaction.”
Seeing knowledge as a tool eases people away fromthe feeling that it is their fault they do not knowenough and helps them to accept that as jobs get biggerand more complex there is a growing degree of “unknowability” in many of the situations wheredecisions must be made.Obviously some roles in organisations deal with moreuncertainty and complexity than others. Over 30 yearsago Bioss defined the types of work in terms of complexity that are carried out at various levels inorganisations. (See Figure 1.)This framework is helpful in that it can be used tomake a distinction between leadership and
leadership. All levels of work involve discretion andcertain levels of judgement and therefore it is possibleto say that everyone has the opportunity to take aleadership position in their area of responsibility.Strategic leadership involves bringing new possibilitiesinto being and is very different from leadership atlower levels of work where the focus is on resourceeffectiveness, efficiency and best practice.
The leadership jigsaw - finding the missing piece 61

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