Top-Down Leadership Doesn’t Always Work in Today’s Complex World

There’s no single definition of leadership. Whether they opt to emulate Sun Tzu or Steve Jobs, project professionals should assess their teams and organizations to carve out their own leadership strategies, plenary speaker Andy Craggs told project professionals at the PMI®Global Congress 2012 — EMEA in Marseille, France.

Mr. Craggs, a global business consultant at The Learning Partnership, dubbed today’s business world as VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

As a result, the top-down, individual-driven leadership style prevalent 10 years ago is no longer as effective. Instead, leadership must happen at four levels: society, organization, group and individual.

That means leaders must cross boundaries to encourage interdependence, collaboration and innovation among three types of people:

  • Conservers tend to be reliable, promoting the organization’s underlying system and values while striving for constant improvement.
  • Pragmatists build cooperation and gather input from as many sources as possible to seek common ground.
  • Originators have long-range vision and seek to lead via new approaches and systems.

Mr. Craggs emphasized to the attendees that they must tailor their message to their audience, as each of the three groups will react differently.

Drawing on his time working with Disney and Apple, Mr. Craggs demonstrated how different leadership styles can be effective in the proper context.

At Disney, the bulk of activity takes place in the operations sector, with the focus on protecting intellectual property and the brand. In the modern VUCA world, though, Disney’s top-down leadership doesn’t always work. Although the company did enjoy a record box office debut for its movie The Avengers, it has struggled to compete in the application and video game development fields.

Apple takes the opposite approach. The organization’s leadership, being more agile and connected across the organization, is more responsive to market changes — which has allowed it to thrive.

Mr. Cragg concluded his presentation by identifying three types of organizational leadership cultures:

  • Dependent: A top-down, hierarchical structure that can be effective in very large, siloed organizations, like Disney
  • Independent: Characteristic of organizations with specialized but not necessarily connected functions, such as Apple
  • Interdependent: Typically function with agile, interconnected networks within the organization, a style common at companies like Twitter

By knowing the characteristics of themselves, those around them and their organizations, project professionals can tailor their leadership approach to maximize their chances of success.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

Article source: http://blogs.pmi.org/blog/voices_on_project_management/2012/05/top-down-leadership-doesnt-alw.html

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