The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him
in other men the will and conviction to carry on.
Walter Lippman

Sitting in my library writing about this elusive thing called leadership, I scan the bookcase and see more than forty books on the topic: Peter Drucker, Michael Maccoby, Michael Kami, Alvin Toffler, Michael Hammer, Jack Welch, Warren Bennis, Rudy Guiliani, Noel Tichy.... Profound and very diverse interest in, and concepts of, leadership. What have I learned?

Experience lesson #1: Virtually all concepts of leadership focus on the "top-down, command and control" view of leadership and leaders. The leader is "in command", the "captain of the ship" ... the one person "in charge" of all the minions who do the work.

What is the effect of this concept of leadership on organizations and the people within them?
Top-down, command and control leadership creates and maintains organizations with the following characteristics:

  • Narrow input into problem solving and decision making
  • The "it's not my job" syndrome
  • Frustration on the part of employees
  • Limited creativity
  • Lack of personal responsibility
  • Providing suggestions most likely to please the boss
  • Apathy - no passion
  • Compliance rather than commitment.
Those who occupy formal leadership positions in the traditional, top-down, command and control organization are placed in a very difficult "box".
Leaders are expected to be the :

  • world's greatest problem solver.
  • font of all wisdom.
  • person(s) who have sole responsibility for results.
  • person who issues directives and guidance to which
    others comply.

Experience lesson #3: "People are the only sustainable competitive
advantage of an organization." Richard F. Teeerlink, CEO, Harley-Davidson, retired.

Any organization can purchase the same equipment, buildings, and materials; have the same product or service designs; create the same, clever advertising. The distinctive competency of truly successful organizations are the people within the organization. "You can tell a company by the people it keeps!"

Experience lesson #4: If motivation is defined as the drive that makes people do and act as they do, then employees are always motivated. They just may not be motivated to do what needs to be done!

Experience lesson #5: "I am convinced that employees who have the same information and understanding of that information that I have will make the same (or better) decisions that I make." Tom Gelb, Executive Vice President of Operations, Harley-Davidson, retired.

Experience lesson #6: Employees demonstrate remarkable leadership abilities outside the workplace - in homes, churches, schools, civic and community organizations. Why not at work? Perhaps, it has something to do with how they are led and managed!

Experience lesson #7: "Top down, command and control" approaches to leadership may well have worked if it were not for one fact captured so succinctly in the following quotation whose author is unknown, unfortunately, to me:

"We asked for workers, but people came instead."

"Workers" are extensions of machines; they follow orders; they only want money for their work; they are prime candidates for Tayloristic forms of work organization. "People", on the other hand, have values and needs. They are creative and can be a boundless source of creativity, organizational effectiveness and competitiveness. Experience lesson #8: We need to think about and act upon leadership in a very different way. Top down, command and control leadership is based upon dictate power - the ability to command outcomes, to give orders to get things done. Dictate power is, by its very nature, a finite commodity. In order for you to gain power, someone must give up some or his/her power.

What if we think of leadership based upon influence power rather than dictate power? Influence power - causing things to happen by influencing rather than commanding others. Influence power is infinite. To gain power, no one has to lose power.

Perhaps the most telling discussion of influence versus dictate power that I have ever heard took place during a conference at Airlie House in Warrenton, Virginia in 1978. During one of the discussions, Warren Hinks, President of Rushton Coal Mine in Pennsylvania said, "I am continually amazed at how much real power I have gained since I began giving away my traditional power. I am much more effective in getting done what I want to get done than ever in my career."

In an influence power world, some very interesting questions suggest themselves:
  • What if leadership is not a person or persons?
  • What if leadership is a process which, when properly applied, results in an environment in which people work together to achieve mutual goals because they want to; not because they have to?
  • What if the role of leadership is to create, nurture, and continuously evolve an operating environment where ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things because they are committed to and passionate about the organization?

You can't make it happen. If you could it would be by
" top down, command and control" which is what you want to change!

Changing from a top-down, command and control organization can only be accomplished by the formal leader(s) engaging the people within the organization so that they make the change - not the boss!

1. Where to start: The most effective place to start is to engage as many people as possible in supervisory, management and leadership positions within the organization in a disciplined, well facilitated process of determining where the organization needs and wants to go in the future and why. In the words of the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, "if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up some place else."

In 1987, Rich Teerlink, then CFO en route to COO and then to CEO of Harley-Davidson, was concerned about the need for dramatic and sustained change and very few within the company sensed this need. He had been telling leaders of the company of his concerns. In 1987, however, leaders were not concerned. After all they had survived a "near death" experience in the early 1980's, had beaten back Japanese imports, taken the company public and were "riding high".

Rather than continuing to "tell" them, he decided to engage organizational leaders in a process of self-discovery of the need for change. Over a period of 90 days in early 1988, more than 150 union and management leaders spent time in a disciplined and facilitated process of "envisioning" what Harley-Davidson wanted and needed to be in the future. These leaders also did their own research into current and future market conditions, demographic growth rates, competition, costs, etc.

The result, in May 1988, these 150+ leaders came together in a three-day meeting and agreed upon and committed to a "vision" for their company. This "vision" was then communicated to all employees who were asked, after they understood the "vision", for validation and suggested changes, if any. (No material changes were needed!)

2. Hunting down barriers to the vision:
Armed with a shared image of where the company needed and wanted to go and why, employees then began identifying barriers (things that were in the way) to achieving a future which all understood and to which employees, over time, became committed not because the boss told them to be, but because they were engaged in a process of self-discovery coached by the leader.

Assessing "where we are today" based upon where we said we want and need to be "tomorrow" rather than traditional measures ( last year, the other functions, competitors, etc.) dramatically reduces defensive responses and/or distortion of reality so "we don't look bad". Everyone knows "we aren't there YET"!

3. We need a plan! What barriers need to be addressed and in what order? In a traditional top-down, command and control organization, the boss or a select few experts would analyze all the data, develop a very elaborate plan and impose that plan on the organization. In the new way of working that is being created, those who have to make it work must determine the priority or sequence of things to be changed! If not, it is the same "wolf in sheep's clothing".

Some executives may suggest starting by reorganizing - changing the boxes and lines. Others may suggest changing the compensation system.

In the case of Harley-Davidson, changes to the organization came about five years after the process began. Compensation changes occurred four years after this change got underway.

Usually the ways in which communications take place will be among the first things that will need to change. Engaging people up to this point has given employees information they have never had before as well as building a strong sense of ownership and a "personal stake" in its success.

A plan, developed by those who have to make it work, must be integrated - each component must take into account every other component. " We can't do B until A has been completed." Infinitely logical!

All too often, however, plans take on the appearance of this kind of a plan:

When those who have to make it work develop the implementation plan, you can bet it will be integrated
4. Support: "People not workers" need support in their efforts to change and to make the plan happen. Support includes coaching, teaching, training, mentoring, "hand holding", reinforcement, etc. Top management and executives usually need more support than any other group!

After all, those who have attained top formal leadership positions got those positions after years of experience, usually, in top- down, command and control organizations.

Experience lesson #9: It's a journey, not a destination! Changing from a top-down, command and control organization is not easy and it is not achieved quickly. There will be many times when telling someone - do it -is so much easier. (Incidentally, even in a commitment organization, there are times when 'commands' are appropriate.)

As the inevitable 'bumps in the road' take place, keep in mind that this is a journey and a bump in the road is not a stop sign!