Friday, 25 September 2009

Process Leadership: The First Discipline

Processes are useful mechanisms for focusing attention on important and complex situations involving chains of activity:
  1. They help leaders and teams manage attention by offering a deliberate sequence of key steps in an appropriate order to reduce failure.
  2. They embody key lessons from the past in an accessible format.
  3. They reduce the need to reinvent the obvious with new groups and new situations.

While we probably believe that we understand what processes do for us, do we understand the necessary psychology of leadership required to make this happen?

"Process leadership" is the ability that great leaders have to manage the day-to-day tactics of getting things done while putting those tactics and tasks within larger, strategic processes that ensure that the right stuff gets done in the right way, at the right time, through adherence to an overarching, logical approach.

Process leadership is about learning how to manage the adrenaline rush that can pull you into taking over other people's jobs and destroying their confidence and capabilities by interventions that diminish them. We've all worked with bosses who were fundamentally happiest on the line taking over their subordinate managers' and leaders' work, but who were unable to step back to mentor and model the kind of behaviors that build leadership and integrity in others.

Process leadership is a form of conscious confidence developed by growing three abilities:

  • The ability to ask great questions at the right time, in the right order;
  • The ability to move into a "helicopter" perspective at the drop of a hat, consciously locating activities and priorities within a larger, process context; and
  • The ability to realize when the current approach is delivering diminishing returns or doesn't match the emerging situation, combined with the courage and confidence to say "stop" and ask for a different approach.

It is a truism that, when organizations find that they can't solve the real problem that determines their future survival, they will find a problem that they can solve without having to smash existing social relationships and change technologies, and they will work on it instead. This is a symptom of what I call "sticky" organizations--organizations with highly evolved "consent and evade" approaches to change (where top leaders agree to change and then return to their business units to block it), organizations with a history of shooting the messenger and announcing victory before the implementation can be measured.

It is not easy to overcome this entrenched behaviour of sticky organisations. We may be fortunate that in General Petraeus in Iraq, we have a recent example of a leader who, at a strategic level, is capable of managing a conscious thinking process on a complex situation; who can apply the three process leadership abilities to balance his attention around a discrete problem-solving process; and who can work this process to arrive at alternative strategies, instead of enforcing fixed solutions to an emerging context like Warner Brothers' Wile E. Coyote in his perpetual and futile pursuit of the Road Runner.

1 comment:

karim said...

Very thoughtfull post on leadership. It should be very much helpfull.

Thanks,
Karim - Mind Power