As scandals erode confidence in corporate executives and a sluggish world economy depresses revenues and profits, it is clear that the world of business faces major challenges and a new environment. At such a time, a new approach to leadership is critical, according to Stewart D. Friedman, a management professor at Wharton who recently returned from a two-year stint as director of Ford Motor Company’s Leadership Development Center. This approach, which he calls “total leadership,” must aim at generating faster and more agile means to achieve better business results. That can only happen, he says, if business leaders are authentic, have integrity, and are creative about how they deal with their work, their family lives, and their relations with their communities. Another version of Friedman’s article is forthcoming in the Financial Times.
It’s a new era for leadership in business. Emerging economic, social, and cultural pressures demand that business leaders at all levels in an organization find better ways to align their leadership vision, core values, and everyday actions to produce needed, valued results at work as well as at home, in the community, and for themselves.
This article is about developing total leadership, an approach designed to meet today’s challenges. It is similar to traditional leadership models for business in its focus on concepts and tools for increasing performance. It differs in its emphasis on the whole person and the goal of leveraging synergies across the domains of life – traditionally seen as conflicting – which can, with a shift in mindset and the development of new skills, become allies in producing results that matter.
Success in the new world of business requires us to see leadership and life as pieces of the same puzzle. The total leadership approach is a guide for how to integrate work, home, community, and self to both increase business results and enrich lives. The powerful combination of increased authenticity (being real), integrity (being whole), and creativity (being innovative) drive performance towards achieving goals at work and in all domains of life.
Facing the challenges of a new business environment
Consider these trends:
· Despite the current recession, labor market dynamics and competitive pressures continue to point to the importance of winning the war for talent. Firms that are best able to capitalize on their human assets will gain competitive advantages.
· Workforce values have changed. New entrants and experienced business professionals are seeking opportunities to have both a full life and meaningful work. There is less willingness to trade the former for the latter.
· Organizations are less hierarchical now. Broader spans of control mean employees make more decisions. No longer is business leadership limited to top executives; it happens at all levels.
· New forms of organization such as alliances and partnerships – some spanning regional and national boundaries – force leaders to deal with ambiguous relationships and diverse interests among various stakeholders.
· The credibility of corporate leaders is low in the wake of management scandals, leading to calls for integrity and social responsibility.
· Working parents need new resources and support to care well for their children. Baby boomers approaching retirement require new forms of assistance to care for their parents and themselves.
· In the post 9/11 world there is renewed interest in making substantial contributions to society, in healing the world, and in making every day count.
Then there’s the Internet. In these extraordinary times not a day goes by when one does not hear or read about a new discovery, invention, or business initiative that will ultimately affect all of our lives. New media are transforming virtually every aspect of human action, requiring new skills for navigating what is now a 24/7 world in which one can work anytime, anywhere. Ours is the first generation for whom the choice of when, where, and how to do work is not determined by the forces of nature. Our choices are internal as we struggle to find the best means of determining when, where, and how to meet the demands of stakeholders in all domains of our lives.
Capitalizing on the opportunity for greater flexibility and control over time and space means learning how to manage boundaries across life domains, remaining accessible and psychologically focused while building trust and support for getting important things done. Boundaries across life domains are becoming more permeable and flexible, with employees working remotely, for example, interacting from their homes with colleagues and clients in real-time or asynchronously through instant messaging or email. And they have new tools for continually learning through e-courses and interactive virtual seminars. Leadership must take all this into account and evaluate performance based on results and not on so-called face time.
A new kind of leadership
What sort of leadership is needed to meet this bewildering array of unprecedented challenges? Leaders at all levels now have to leverage resources (i.e., financial, human, and social capital; technology; and new business models) to gain synergies across diverse stakeholder domains. The discipline of total leadership generates a faster, more agile means to achieve superior business results in the global, anytime/anywhere economy. It de-emphasizes face time and focuses instead on initiating innovation both within and across life domains to produce better results in all of them.
Business results include increased motivation and commitment, greater efficiencies in work processes, reduced cycle times, lower costs, and enhanced customer impact through both explicit emphasis on performance across the value chain and more active engagement in home and community life. With employees having more control in arranging their life circumstances there is greater attraction and retention of top talent. Alignment of values and actions produces more ethically informed action, stronger and more caring connections to community, and reduced burnout and stress from poorly managed connections between work and other aspects of life.
That’s the good news, the opportunity. As pioneers on a new business frontier, the task at hand is no less than transforming the meaning of work in our lives and in our world. It boils down to being real, being whole, and being creative – then enabling those around you to do the same.
Authenticity (or being real) arises when leaders behave in ways that are consistent with their core values. Leaders must define and articulate a vision that embraces the diverse values and lifestyles of all employees. Their everyday actions must fit with not only their personal values but also with the core values of the business. They must delegate to cultivate trust, build on strengths, and increase commitment to shared goals through genuine dialogue with key stakeholders, the people about whom they care most, in all life domains.
Integrity (or being whole ) arises when the different aspects of life fit together coherently and consistently. How do leaders achieve this? They must take responsibility for capturing synergies across all aspects of their lives — at work, at home, in the community, and in themselves (their health, spiritual growth, and leisure). They must align the interests of different stakeholders in the pursuit of collective goals as well as set, maintain, and respect the boundaries that enable value to be created at work and in other aspects of their lives. And they must invest in social capital to nurture networks and partnerships that provide the support needed for achieving results that matter.
Creativity (or being innovative) arises when leaders question traditional assumptions and continually experiment with how things are done, courageously embracing and initiating change. They need to re-think the means by which work gets done in ways that force a results-driven focus and provide flexibility with choice in how, when, and where work gets done. They must experiment with new work methods and communications tools to better meet performance expectations. They must reduce reliance on traditional work methods, such as face time and co-location of resources, while using them more wisely to build trust when needed and, at the same time, taking advantage of the flexibility and control afforded by virtual media.
Take the case of Jack Smith, an IT executive at a large manufacturing firm. As a result of his investment of time and energy in a total leadership program, he initiated a set of innovations in his work and personal life that improved his ability to get important things done. He now works smarter and more flexibly, leverages technology more effectively, and is continually experimenting with better ways to align his everyday actions with his core values and with those of his business — and he insists that his employees do the same. The results have been substantial, as key stakeholders at work, at home, and in the community have reported greater satisfaction with his performance. He recently reported, almost two years after completing the program, the most long-lasting impact: He thinks and feels differently about how his work fits with the kind of leader he wants to be in all aspects of his life. He experiences a greater sense of authenticity and integrity. Not only has his mindset shifted, he also has greater confidence in his abilities as a leader to drive change for improved performance for his organization, for the important people in his life, and for himself. The rest of this article describes how companies can make this happen.
Developing total leadership
Total leadership starts with your life as a whole: Your life at work, your life at home, your life in the community, and your personal development. This approach recognizes that the expectations of people who are involved with you in each of these domains can and do affect results in other domains. The needs of multiple domains are usually experienced as antagonistic and conflicting. Yet there are opportunities for common benefits across all areas, which can be tapped by clarifying what’s important, recognizing and supporting the whole person, and continually experimenting with methods. Total leadership focuses on leveraging these synergies by taking a systematic approach to creating harmony between life’s domains and enhancing performance in all of them — to be a better leader in all aspects of life.
The total leadership approach aims to improve performance and to build authenticity, integrity, and creativity. We now know that one of the primary means by which we develop leadership capacity is by undertaking challenging experiences in the context of assessment and coaching support. Participants in a total leadership program design and implement innovations in how, when and where things get done, coupled with assessment and support from a network of coaches. They learn to think in new and creative ways by adopting an experimental mindset and they acquire new skills for demonstrably improving results at work, at home, in the community, and for themselves.
Learning by Doing: Assessment, Analysis, Action
Developing total leadership is not just an academic exercise. It involves learning from experience through assessment, analysis, and action. The program can be conducted in any kind of organization and scaled to meet its financial requirements. It usually runs for a four-month period, during which participants first learn the key principles. They then carry out self-assessments and analyze them. They work with peers and coaches in a community of practice – both in face-to-face and virtual contact – that builds support and enhances both commitment and accountability. They initiate dialogues with key stakeholders in all life domains, conduct experiments designed to improve results in all parts of life, gather data on progress, reflect on leadership lessons learned, and finally teach these lessons to others. Time is required for instructional and coaching sessions – ideally, three three-day sessions each separated by six weeks – but the main efforts occur in the course of daily life between these sessions and thereafter.
The process starts with participants becoming familiar with three key principles and how they drive performance and results:
· Clarify what’s important — authenticity, being real
· Recognize and support the whole person – integrity, being whole
· Continually experiment with how things are done – creativity, being innovative
Participants acquire an understanding of these principles by analyzing cases drawn from the real-life experiences of past participants, those of both practicing business professionals and business students. They then undertake a set of diagnostic assessments designed to increase self-awareness; enhance understanding of the expectations of key stakeholders in the four life domains and how they interact with their stakeholders; and prepare them to initiate innovations in how, when, and where they get things done. The goals of these experiments are to increase business results, enrich lives, adopt a new mindset about the meaning of work in their lives, and learn new skills for meeting their leadership challenges.
The total leadership approach is about driving performance and improving results. It is what makes this a leadership approach and not a “work/life balance” philosophy. Further, it is not based on an either/or, zero-sum mentality in which success in one area of life can only be achieved at the cost of failure in another. And it is not an entitlement for workers. Total leadership focuses on achieving mutual gains. The operating assumption is that if participants do not improve business results as a consequence of their creative efforts to increase their total leadership capacity then the program will have failed.
Setting the Stage for Innovative Action: Assessment and Analysis
The initial assessments help to clarify what is important. Participants write a personal vision of the kind of leader they want to become and the contributions they aim to make in the four major domains of their lives; at work, at home, in the community, and in themselves. They then assess the relative importance of each area, the amount of time and energy devoted to each, and their current level of satisfaction with performance in each. Finally, they produce a domain map, a graphic representation of the extent to which values and actions in the four domains are compatible (shown as four circles, drawn by participants, overlapping to the degree the domains are seen as aligned with each other).
From this first set of assessments, and analyses and discussions with coaches about them, participants gain insights such as these:
· Good leaders understand their own values and leadership priorities very clearly and continually adjust them as they mature and as conditions change.
· Clarifying what is important helps leaders identify where the biggest gaps are in their lives and in the lives of people who matter most to them.
· Prioritizing what is important allows leaders to create realistic and targeted action plans for narrowing the gap between their current and desired performance and results at work, at home, in the community, and for themselves.
· There is a difference between physical and psychological presence; that is, one can be physically present but mentally focused elsewhere.
· Leaders who are clear about how to manage the permeability of boundaries among and between domains are more satisfied and effective than those who are not.
· Understanding specific goals for increased performance in each domain and how actions in one domain affect other domains is central to achieving greater authenticity and integrity.
The next set of assessments focuses on key stakeholders – the people who are most important at work, at home, and in the community. The fourth stakeholder domain is the self. These assessments help participants understand the importance of recognizing and supporting the whole person. Participants identify the expectations of stakeholders from each life domain: performance expectations that your stakeholders have of you and, in turn, what you expect and need from your stakeholders. A stakeholder map shows the extent to which expectations in the four domains are currently being met and, for each stakeholder and for each domain, where there are gaps between current and desired performance.
From this set of diagnostic assessments and analyses, and coaching sessions about them, participants gain such important insights as the following:
· By recognizing and supporting the whole person, leaders can leverage assets and resources from one domain to achieve results in other domains.
· Total leaders respect boundaries between life domains and realize the potential for increased performance in setting and maintaining these boundaries.
· Dialogues with stakeholders are needed to clarify and negotiate performance expectations, and to design innovative ways to meet them.
· It is possible to close performance gaps in one domain by creating value in other domains (e.g., being a better father makes me a better boss; investments in community might yield greater contributions to the business; a healthier lifestyle might produce more energy for work).
Most business professionals find themselves trapped by the demands imposed by enormous amount of information surrounding them 24 hours a day. The next assessment helps participants see how they can navigate the virtual world more intelligently by leveraging new media (electronic tools such as e-mail, voice-mail, instant messaging, and other means of virtual collaboration) to achieve better performance in all domains of life. Patterns of interaction are assessed to show participants how different forms of communication such as face-to-face, virtual synchronous (shifting place but not time, as with phone, videoconference, instant messaging), and virtual asynchronous (shifting place and time, as with voicemail and email) can be used creatively to better meet stakeholder expectations. The insights generated from this assessment and analysis include:
· Creative use of new media enables flexibility and control over where, when, and how work gets done and this can lead to improved results and stronger connections with key stakeholders in all domains.
· It is possible to learn how to avoid being swamped by the flood of information that arrives at a torrid pace in the virtual world. Used wisely, rapidly, and skillfully, electronic tools can help achieve valued results and need not be experienced as extra pressure to respond immediately.
· Smart leaders have a working knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of communication and of how to use appropriate media. There are occasions, for example, when face-to-face communication can be replaced by virtual (as when trust has been already established) and other times when face-to-face is irreplaceable (as when emotions are likely to run high).
· Practice and discipline are needed to learn how to stay focused while moving rapidly and diplomatically from one domain to another; that is, to develop the skill of ”interruptability,” which allows for switching attention among stakeholders with grace and speed.
The last assessments focus on the aspects of the self on which many participants seek improvement: gaining spiritual alignment, achieving physical and emotional health, and purposeful use of relaxation and leisure to increase business results and enrich lives. This includes an analysis of how emotional, spiritual, and physical health affect our sense of authenticity, our integrity, and our ability to achieve leadership goals at work, at home, and in the community. Diagnostic tools on nutrition and physical activity describe the benefits of a good diet; appropriate caloric intake; and cardiovascular, strength and heart-rate training. Also included are tools for how to create and maintain a successful health plan.
Initiating action to increase business results and enrich lives
To this point, participants have been guided through an interpretation of their self-assessments to identify how they can design experiments to achieve better results by taking actions that improve performance in more than one domain; that allow for greater flexibility and control over how, when, and where work gets done; and that increase the sense of authenticity and integrity in their lives. Next they design innovations for mobilizing resources to create change, enacting the third principle – continually experiment with how things get done. Participants now are ready to explore systematically a range of potential solutions to improve relationships with key stakeholders and allow for mutual satisfaction of expectations in the domains of work, home, community and self.
The focus at this stage is on action. Implementation challenges are addressed in conversation and feedback from coaches. Following extensive preparation, the first action step involves conducting dialogues with all key stakeholders to clarify and negotiate expectations. Then, through hands-on training, benchmarking, readings, lectures, and stories from past participants and other business leaders, participants learn new concepts and tools for ethically and courageously driving change to achieve performance goals. Issues such as the following become targets for learning and action:
· Experimenting requires innovative thinking about how goals are achieved at work, at home, in the community, and for your self.
· Small experiments (pilots or innovations) are useful for introducing new thinking about how goals are achieved and for gaining legitimacy for broader initiatives.
· Increasing social capital — networks of support – is needed to achieve cross-domain synergies.
· To align stakeholder expectations both within and across domains leaders must be politically astute negotiators.
· Leadership involves improving the capacity of people around you to achieve their goals with greater authenticity, integrity, and creativity in their lives.
Participants give and receive coaching for how to design useful experiments and refine action plans for initiating innovations. An important part of this phase is to ensure that appropriate metrics are established for tracking progress, and not just at work (such as better relationships with family members, greater contributions to community and society, and improved health) to gather data on experiments. This feedback provides updates and maximizes the potential for learning leadership lessons. Experiments are opportunities to try new approaches, to develop small wins on the path towards the vision of the kind of leader you want to become. While performance gains in all domains are expected, ultimately, in this leadership development process, the only failure is the failure to learn.
Finally, participants develop a greater appreciation for the role of leaders as agents for cultural transformation. They use lessons learned from their experiments to teach and develop others in their organizations and with stakeholders in other domains of their lives. They craft stories to convey the essence of their leadership journey through this process and, in telling them, become part of a grassroots movement in their organizations, disseminating useful knowledge for how to improve performance with authenticity, integrity, and creativity.
The total leadership approach works because innovative ideas for improving performance are generated and implemented by people seeking to achieve greater authenticity, integrity, and creativity in their lives. It is not a matter of going along with the latest top-down-driven corporate program for reducing cost, increasing productivity, and enhancing quality of life. Participants are given an opportunity to develop a new leadership mindset and new tools for mobilizing resources towards valued aims. They are in charge of the design and implementation. The result is very strong commitment and follow-through because participants are passionately involved in driving change towards goals that matter to them and to the important people in their lives.
In one company’s total leadership program that included 35 high-potential managers from a number of different countries, the following financial results were obtained and verified by finance managers in participants’ respective business units:
· Cost reductions: $1.5 M
· Cost avoidance: $4.3 M
· New revenue: $0.7 M
· Productivity gains: $0.5 M
In addition to these returns on their investments in developing their total leadership capacity, participants reported improvements in customer and employee relationships. And they described with expressed emotion real changes with stakeholders at home and in the community, as well as enhanced health, spiritual growth, and better use of leisure time.
Perhaps most important, virtually all participants reported substantial changes in how they thought and felt about work and its meaning in their lives. They developed new realizations about the value of both an experimental mindset and new skills for enhancing performance with authenticity, integrity, and creativity. The lessons they learned were deepened and broadened when they took up the challenge of teaching others both as coaches to future participants and in telling the stories of their leadership journey to others in their organizations and in other domains of their lives.
Similar results have been obtained in other business settings and with both undergraduate and MBA students. Like all leadership development and change initiatives, success depends on tailoring the design to fit the needs of the target population, and the total leadership approach is no different. It provides a structure for learning and improving performance that only works if applied carefully in accounting for the needs of each individual and business.
Most business leaders have some of the required knowledge and skills to meet today’s challenges. Yet all will need to develop their total leadership capacity to stay ahead of the competition in the rapidly evolving business environment of the 21st century.