What Kind of Leader Are You?

There are three types of leaders. Each is successful in a different context, says Dr. Michael Maccoby, a renowned business advisor who is both an organizational psychologist and anthropologist. And you need all three on your organization’s top management team.

Drawing on nearly five decades of research and experience in both government and the private sector, Dr. Maccoby has developed several key insights on the aspects of leadership needed to transform knowledge-service bureaucracies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, into collaborative learning organizations.  Gear Running - jscreationzs

What Is Leadership?  Maccoby says that leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led, and that it is always exercised in a context: “In one context, someone may be a leader and not so in another context.” He also observes that leadership – unlike management — cannot be delegated.  “If people follow you because they want to follow you, you cannot hand that relationship over to someone else.”

He says that the three inherent qualities of a leader are: (1) to have a purpose, (2) to have a passion for this purpose, and (3) to have courage.  Examples in government today include John Koskinen, who is leading the turnaround of the Internal Revenue Service, and Penney Pritzker, who leads the Department of Commerce.  Both have clarified for their organizations what needs to  be done and why.

The rest of “leadership” can be taught, he says.  In contrast, management is the execution of functions and processes.  It is something that can be delegated, and training for management skills is worthwhile.

Three Types of Leaders.  Maccoby notes there are different kinds of leaders, each for different contexts:

  • Strategic leaders help define purpose, vision, and values of their organizations, and look for patterns and partners.  For example, with the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has refocused the agency’s mission on deep space exploration.  “When we talk about going to Mars and going to deep space, we’re no longer talking merely about exploration. We’re talking about pioneering—about setting up habitats where humans can live for long periods of time. Much of this research is being conducted on the ISS,” declares Bolden.
  • Operational leaders are key to the design and maintenance of organizational processes.  They help improve productivity and cut costs.  For example, Ellen Herbst, Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary of Administration within the US Department of Commerce leads many critical mission support functions within the Department.  Amongst other duties, Herbst is also the department’s point person overseeing the multi-year renovation project of the Commerce Headquarters building, the Herbert Hoover renovation project, a rather massive 13 year billion dollar undertaking. According to Herbst, “this project has given the department an opportunity to think about how we should work and how we can make this building built in 1930 a more 21st century workspace.”
  • Network leaders may have no formal leadership role in their organization but are key to connecting experts across disciplines, organizations, and regions. For example, Kshemendra Paul is the Program Manager for the “Information Sharing Environment” in the Intelligence Community.  Though he is not in the chain of command, his specific responsibilities as program manager are to plan for and oversee the agency-based build-out and management of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).  ISE is intended to be the information fabric enabling whole-of-government responses to national security and public safety challenges that face our nation. Paul employs a “top-down, a bottom-up, and an outside-in approach” to engage and network with all the critical stakeholders that comprise the ISE.

Maccoby says these different kinds of leaders require different skills and personalities, but that successful knowledge organizations need all three types and they need to be able to work together in a creative partnership: “In any context, strategic, operational, and network leaders need to interact to develop a shared purpose and the products, practical values, and processes necessary to achieve that purpose.”

Leadership Depends on Followers.  But Maccoby notes: “Leadership effectiveness also depends on the attitudes of followers.”  If employees are not engaged in their work, then terrific strategic, operational, and network leaders will not matter.  Employee engagement is especially important when there are large-scale changes occurring in the workplace.  For example, in the federal government this includes changes and uncertainties being driven by funding cuts and the delays in reauthorizing programs such as the Ex-Im Bank and Highway Trust Fund.

Maccoby says:  “The challenge for leaders is to engage people’s internally driven motivation, the intrinsic motivation to work and contribute. . . . [organizations] with many employees who are engaged in their work are more successful than those with fewer engaged employees, but only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged” However, more workers are engaged in the US –30 percent – than elsewhere in the world.  Nevertheless, “they will be engaged and motivated only when work is meaningful, connected to their skills and motivational values, and rewarded fairly.”

In part, this is why the White House is responding so seriously to the declining scores on the federal employee viewpoint survey.  After several years of decline, the White House in December issued a directive to agencies to improve employee engagement in their work by using management routines and tools such as designating a senior accountable official and tracking quarterly progress on “actions to enhance organizational culture and employee engagement.”

But directives can only go so far.  Leaders need to create trust within the workforce, as well.

Creating Trust Via a Leadership Philosophy.  Maccoby says:  “A leadership philosophy that is communicated and practiced throughout an organization can create trust and give meaning to work.”    He says that: “Effective leaders of change communicate and practice a philosophy that shapes organizational culture and determines how decisions are made about products, people, processes, customers, and communities. . . . a leadership philosophy should define the purpose of an organization, the values essential to achieve that purpose, and the way results will  be measured.”

Most importantly, though, leaders have to develop and communicate a philosophy that will determine the organization culture. Their philosophy should reflect the purpose of the organization, the ethical and moral reasoning behind key decisions made, the values needed to achieve the purpose, and how goals and results are defined – that are consistent with these purposes and values.

“Without trust, people in organizations work for themselves, not for the organization and its stakeholders. . . . To build trust, leaders need to do the following:

  • communicate a philosophy and practice the values
  • They follow through.  They do what they promise.
  • They explain what they won’t do and why they won’t do it.
  • They don’t blame people for mistakes, but create a dialogue about the reasons for the mistake and what can be done to avoid future mistakes.
  • They listen and act on what they hear.  They institute processes to facilitate ideas, and they recognize contributions from others; they give credit.
  • They work at understanding the people they lead.”

All three types of leaders need to incorporate these into their daily rhythm.  How many of these actions have you or your leaders taken?

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Note:  Are you looking for an interesting summer read?  Michael Maccoby’s new book, “Strategic Intelligence:  Conceptual Tools for Leading Change,” is to be released in the U.S. in August by Oxford University Press. Dr. Maccoby has devoted his career to improving the operations of large organizations in the public, private, and non-profit sectors across 36 countries.  His book is based on insights from his experience, ranging from HP, the Mayo Clinic, and AT&T — to the National Park Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and Department of Energy.

IBM Center for The Business of Government

Graphic Credit:  Courtesy of jscreationzs via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Mark Hammer

As always, John, a nicely-written and thought-provoking piece.
The thoughts it provokes in me are that there are two basic functions of leaders: those functions in relation to the workforce of peers and subordinates that follow them, and those functions related to their decision-making. Leading is neither a decision-less nor a follower-less role.
The two are dissociable, but strongly interwoven. Everybody else in the organization needs to have a sense of *what* to do, *how* to do it, and *why* to do it. Maccoby appears to link all of this to the notion of trust. It is an established and deserved trust in leadership that legitimizes the what, how, and why for organization members. The ideal leader does not need to either instruct or compel employees; they simply point the way, and the organization willingly and enthusiastically follows. Their actions are autonomous but productively linked. A leader can help to identify a direction, and motivation, that clarifies all of that for all stakeholders; sometimes by establishing incentives, but not necessarily via that means.
At the same time, part of their role is to make decisions that can facilitate all of that. Those decisions can’t always be made with ONLY all of that in mind, but they always need to find at least some space to fit in all of that.
As always, I put in a plug for Larry Terry’s book “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies”, in which he points out the vital role that making decisions, and establishing processes and direction that “conserve” the identity of the institution, play in supporting the work it does. Within the public sector, we need to always remember that we do not paddle our oars in insular fashion, or against the nation. We paddle with the nation we serve. As such, the leader makes the sorts of decisions, and sets the sort of direction, that aligns the members of the organization with the nation it serves. Both the people who do the work, and the people it serves, have to feel it’s the right sort of work to be doing.

richard regan

I continue to be amazed at the attention given to NASA in the GovLoop space whether it as the best place to work, the most engaged federal agency or a model for strategic leadership. According to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management, males make up 64.7% of the NASA workforce and whites constitute 73.7% of NASA employees. I guess the message GovLoop wants the world to know is you can be the best in your class by being a white, male biased institution.