Sunday, July 07, 2013

Is it success that corrupts, not power?

Holding organisations together when all is going well is not an easy task.  When all is going well you can inadvertently wander away from core business. Success bring a certain amount of freedom to explore, and can lead to complacency and slowness to respond to circumstances. Success is not often something for which we prepare. 

It is in that context that we can ask:

Why have so many seemingly successful companies failed in recent years?  Why is there widespread anxiety over company/organisational leadership?  Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their political leadership?
Is it a lack of preparedness?  Is it an inability to cope with success?  Have we even thought about what success is?
The following examines some issues relating to responsibility, ethics and power in leadership.  I have drawn on some older material to help my reflection, and suggest that we seldom consider how we should prepare for success as a precursor to good performance.  None of this is new, but has it been forgotten?
Leadership has been described as a serious meddling in the lives of others (De Pree, 1991:7).  This implies that leadership embodies a responsibility of leaders for, or toward, those who are led. 
Yet a common scenario in modern business (since the late 1980s) is:
... good, respected and successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.  (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:266).
An Australian newspaper article from that time (Barker, 1995:14) reported that a concern for ethics in business is:
... a response to what is now called “ the excesses of the eighties” - the economic damage done to the nation and individuals by greedy, irresponsible and often corrupt business people who were feted as national heroes.
Ethics in management is a significant theme in the recent.  But why is it that leaders get caught up in a downward spiral of unethical decisions?
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:266-267) seek to:
... debunk the notion that ethical failure of our leaders is largely due to lack of principle and/or the tough competitive climate of the 80s and 90s. (Equally, we could say the same for the more recent past)  Rather, we would like to suggest that many of the violations we have witnessed in recent years are the result of success and lack of preparedness in dealing with personal and organisational success.
Other evidence (Barker, 1995; LaBier ,1986) supports this contention that little attention is placed on preparing people to deal with the trials and dilemmas associated with success in modern society.  As success is the goal of every leader (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:270) it is surprising that it does not rate more significance in management and leadership literature.
The biblical story of David and Bathsheba is used to outline four potential by-products of success:
·      lose of strategic focus;
·      privileged access;
·      control of resources;
·      inflated belief in personal ability to control outcomes.
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:267-269) write that “... the good and successful King David of Israel, believing he could cover up his impropriety, took Bathsheba to his bed while her husband was off in battle.” 
David is not where he is supposed to be (loss of strategic focus), he “delegated, then ignored what was happening”.  David had time on his hands, and a viewing position atop the palace roof to view Bathsheba at bath (privileged access).  David then manipulates the situations (controls resources, and tries to control outcomes) sleeps with Bathsheba who falls pregnant, brings her husband in from battle in the hope he will sleep with his wife and cover-up David’s impropriety, and eventually causes the husband to be killed.  The manipulation is exposed.  “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power, and control over power, he could cover up”.
When kept within reason, privileged access and control of resources are positive and justified requisites for success.  Privileged access is “essential for comprehensive strategic vision” and control of resources is “necessary for the execution of strategy” (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:269).  Loss of strategic focus and inflated belief in personal ability are essentially negative (see Table 3)
Table 3:  Possible outcome experienced by successful leaders
Positive/Benefit
Negative/Disadvantage
Personal
Level
Privileged Access
Position
Influence
Status
Rewards/Perks
Recognition
Latitude
Associations
Access
Inflated Belief in Personal Ability
Emotionally Expansive
Unbalanced Personal Life
Inflated Ego
Isolation
Stress
Transference
Emptiness
Fear of Failure
Organisational
Level
Control of Resources
No Direct Supervision
Ability to Influence
Ability to set Agenda
Control over Decision Making
Loss of Strategic Focus
Organisation on Autopilot
Delegation without Supervision
Strategic Complacency
Neglect of Strategy
                                                                                (Source: Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993: 270)
The benefits of success to the leader and the organisation are obvious.  Less readily apparent is the personal “dark side” of success which revolves largely around three psychological issues outlined by Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:270-271).  These are:
·      Climbing the success ladder exposes leaders to negative attitudes and behaviours.  There may not be apparent, but nonetheless come with the territory of successful leadership.  Negatives that could be reinforced include unbalanced personal lives, a loss of touch with reality and an inflated sense of personal ability.
·      Leaders may become emotionally expansive - “their appetite for success, thrills, gratification, and control becomes insatiable”.  They can lose the ability to be satisfied.  They can become personally isolated and lack intimacy with family and friends, losing a valuable source of personal balance.  They “literally lose touch with reality”.
·      Other factors include stress, fear of failure and the “emptiness syndrome” (“Is this all there is to success?”)  An inflated sense of ego can lead to abrasiveness, close-mindedness and disrespect.
Success does not necessarily lead to undesired behaviour as Ludwig and Longenecker (1991:271) are careful to record:
We are not suggesting that all successful leaders fall prey to these negatives that are frequently associated with success, but rather want to make the case that success can bring with it some very negative emotional baggage.
However, it is useful to recognise the seven lessons from David’s experience (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1991:271) provide a useful framework for reflection:
  •  Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organisation’s short-term and long-term success.  This can't happen if they aren't where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.
  • There will always be temptations that come in a variety of shapes and forms that will tempt leaders to make decisions they know they shouldn't make.  With success will come additional ethical trials.  
  • Perpetrating an unethical act is a personal, conscious choice on the part of the leader that frequently places a greater emphasis on personal gratification rather than on the organisation’s needs.
  • It is difficult if not impossible to partake in unethical behaviour without implicating and/or involving others in the organisation
  • Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organisational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.
  • Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behaviour.
  • Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organisation, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.”
The important lessons for Ludwig and Longenecker (1992:272) is for leaders to recognise it could happen to them, and to be aware that:
Ethical leadership is simply part of good leadership and requires focus, the appropriate use of resources, trust, effective decision making, and provision of model behaviour that is worth following.  Once it is lost it is difficult if not impossible to regain.
Further Reading
Barker G (1995)  The glove that tempers the iron fist.  The Australian Financial Review Magazine. July. pp.14-21
Burdett  J O (1991)  What is empowerment anyway?  Journal of European Industrial Training. 15(6):23-30
De Pree M O (1989)  Leadership is an Art.   Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
Eisler R (1995)  From domination to partnership: The hidden subtext for organisation change.  Training & Development 49(2):32-39
LaBier D (1986)  Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
Ludwig D C and Longenecker C O (1993)  The Bathsheba syndrome: the ethical failure of successful leaders. Journal of Business Ethics 12(4):265-273
Peace W H (1991)  The hard work of being a soft manager.  Harvard Business Review. 69(6):40-42,46-47

Monday, July 01, 2013

Six Enemies of Strategic Planning...and six ways to face them


Strategy development can be a baffling process, and poor strategy is almost impossible to execute. Kaufman gives some useful hints about what to avoid and how to avoid them.  Six ideas that can be used as tools to check how you are doing!


  1. A focus on means rather than ends.  Overcome this enemy by turning it on its head.  Look at the WHAT and not the HOW.

  1. The failure to recognise the three levels of results:  micro (individual), macro (organisational) and mega (societal).  Overcome this by understanding the distinctions among the three levels and linking them together.

  1. Written objectives that give destination without supplying precise criteria for knowing when you have arrived.  Overcome this enemy by preparing objectives that include measures of success.

  1. Needs that are defines as gaps in resources or methods (means).  Overcome this enemy by defining needs as gaps in results (ends), rather than rushing into premature solutions to ill-defined problems.

  1. A mission that is practical, real world, do-able, and achievable, without being focused on a vision.  Overcome this enemy by defining an ideal vision.

  1. Reliance on plans that are comfortable and acceptable.  Overcome this enemy by pushing out of comfort zones and looking at where you should be, not just where you feel comfortable.

From Kaufman R (1992)  6 steps to strategic success.  Training & Development  46(5):107-112