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Test your leadership skills


Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 2/2020 vom 19.02.2020

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BUSINESS SKILLS SERIES: LEADERSHIP

MANY PEOPLE CLAIM THEY DO NOT LEAD BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE A LEADERSHIP TITLE ON THEIR BUSINESS CARD

Over the past nine issues of Business Spotlight, we have looked at different aspects of leadership, including change management, culture, ethics, motivation and performance. In this ...

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... final article of the series, we invite you to reflect on the meaning and practice of leadership in the modern world, to examine your own assumptions and behaviours, and to identify ways in which you can become a better leader.

Read the summary of each topic below and look at the questions that follow, circling the answer that you think is correct. Then check your answers on pages 43–44 and give yourself one point for each correct answer. Also, read the comments on how you can improve the way you lead.

1. Defining leadership (BS 1/2019)

Deciding what people should do together, and defining how and why it should be done, are acts of leadership. As such, leadership is an essential aspect of business, and of life more generally. Curiously, however, many people claim that they do not lead, simply because they don’t have a leadership title on their business card. Yet, having influence over other human beings is a necessary component of life and cannot be avoided. Put bluntly, you cannot not lead. The question is simply how consciously and actively — and how well — you decide to exercise your potential to lead.

QUESTIONS

A. What is good leadership today?
1. Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people.
2. Leadership is about achieving results.
3. Leadership is situational. How you should lead will depend to a large degree on the situation.
4. Leadership is about managing the digital transformation.

B. What do leaders think is the most important competence for leaders?
1. empathy
2. humility
3. confidence
4. commitment to ethics

C. Which qualities do agile leaders focus on, in contrast to more traditional leaders?
1. speed, continuous improvement, customer focus
2. planning, risk management and control
3. creativity, imagination and flexibility
4. communication, collaboration and asking questions

D. What is the best way to lead a multicultural team?
1. Be authentic, honest and direct.
2. Focus on listening.
3. Discuss and align leadership expectations with everyone.
4. Use your authority to define clear rules.

Leadership: multiple challenges


2. The challenges of change (BS 2/2019)

In recent years, the vocabulary of “change” has given way to the vocabulary of “transformation”. But regardless of whether we talk of change or transformation, many people experience a reality of almost continuous disruption at work. So, in a dynamically changing environment, where technical innovation not only enriches but also threatens to undermine established business models, it is vital to engage with the phenomenon of change, to understand the different ways in which people might respond to it and to develop the skills that can help you to lead yourself and others through the experience.

QUESTIONS

A. How important is it to understand the strategic drivers of change for your organization?
1. Extremely important. Understanding the big picture is vital.
2. Moderately important. It is useful, but it may not help you manage change in your team.
3. Not very important. It is more important to focus on specific changes affecting your team.
4. Not at all important. Strategy jargon is useless when it comes to engaging people in times of change.

B. What are the typical stages of change that people experience?
1. denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance
2. excitement, optimism, engagement, competence
3. worry, pessimism, anxiety, hopelessness
4. confusion, defence, exploration, discovery

C. Which attribute is key to helping people overcome their initial resistance to change?
1. assertiveness
2. resilience
3. confidence
4. empathy

D. How useful are consultants in driving change in organizations?
1. Vital. It’s impossible to achieve effective change without external help.
2. Useful. They can provide different perspectives and can help to mediate conflict.
3. Not very. External consultants often create confusion in the change process.
4. Not at all. Consultants generally create chaos.

3. Creating a healthy culture (BS 3/2019)

“Culture” is a complex term that academics continue to debate and disagree about. Yet business professionals all too often use the term “culture” in a simplistic manner to talk about differences supposedly related to national culture. They then use these “differences” to explain conflicts in their teams and performance issues in their projects or simply to describe their frustrations at the “peculiar” habits of individuals. Using culture in this way is problematic. Explaining complex individual behaviour by means of a national generalization often involves unhelpful stereotypes. It usually overlooks other, more important, basic factors, such as the professional skills of the individual, their role or their high workload, all of which can play a key role in the “failure” of an individual to deliver or to collaborate according to expectations in an international team.

QUESTIONS

A. What is the first step to building a healthy culture in a diverse international team?
1. Creating a clear team mission.
2. Having experts on the team.
3. Building relationships.
4. Clarifying salaries and bonuses.B. What is the best way to handle serious work-style differences in an international team?
1. To do intercultural training focusing on national cultural differences.
2. To ignore the differences. They will usually resolve themselves.
3. To encourage team members to discuss differences informally and in a positive way.
4. To help team members to define their own team culture. C. What is the most important competence for dealing with diversity?
1. technical experience
2. time-management skills
3. a positive mindset
4. communicating your message clearly D. What should you do if you feel an international leader is micromanaging you?
1. Be flexible and accept their leadership style.
2. Insist on more freedom.
3. Complain to your colleagues.
4. Question your own interpretation of “micromanagement”.

Facts and people: leadership challenges


4. Leading ethically (BS 4/2019)

Business ethics have traditionally not been seen as a core driver for modern corporations. Much more familiar have been the mantras of growth and profitability. Yet, the importance of shareholder value is increasingly being challenged by notions such as stakeholder value and higher purposes. Companies are now being judged by the extent to which they make a positive impact on society, help to sustain the environment, drive diversity and inclusion, and even support democracy. Leaders need to engage with ethics, understand their scope and choices, and become more conscious of the consequences of their actions in the minds of customers, who are increasingly interested in the moral outcomes of organizational activities.

QUESTIONS

A. Does behaving ethically mean that leaders should make people happy?
1. Absolutely. Making people unhappy is not acceptable.
2. Partly agree. Making people as happy as possible is the job of a good leader.
3. Mostly disagree. Leaders are paid to deliver results, not to make people happy.
4. Totally disagree. Stretching people out of their comfort zone is essential to leadership.

B. Which of these statements best describes the role of honesty in leadership?
1. If a leader lies, they are no longer a leader.
2. Leaders are not always able to share all information, and often have to manage the truth.
3. The art of leadership is understanding when to lie and when to tell the truth.
4. Human beings are never fully honest. Lying is part of life, professionally and privately.

C. Which of the following is a great way for leaders to test their ethical values?
1. Recruit different people to their team to ensure diversity of opinion and perspective.
2. Reflect deeply and regularly on what they do and why they do it.
3. Go to a psychotherapist from time to time.
4. Take a course in compliance.

D. How ethical is it to blame and criticize colleagues?
1. Very. Giving honest and open feedback means being honest.
2. Partly. Driving performance involves feedback, but it needs to be respectful.
3. Not very. Hurting someone’s feelings is equivalent to hurting them physically.
4. Not at all. Being negative towards others is simply not acceptable for leaders.

5. Motivating people (BS 5/2019)

One of the most frequent questions leaders ask in training courses is: “How do I motivate my people to perform better?” Discovering reliable ways to ensure that individuals and teams deliver the results they are supposed to … is a key leadership challenge. Yet the notion that there are somehow secret techniques to motivate others may be a false hope. Motivation may be less an extrinsic phenomenon, and more an intrinsic one. The aim of leaders may be less about pushing people to success, and more about activating their inner resources to enable them to discover ways to fulfil their own motivations — and so perform to high standards in their specific tasks.

QUESTIONS

A. Compared to other, similar organizations, companies with motivated employees do what?
1. Outperform them significantly.
2. Perform slightly better.
3. Perform slightly worse.
4. Perform exactly the same.

B. What is the best way to assess the underlying motivation(s) of others?
1. Listen to their underlying needs.
2. Profile them psychologically.
3. Observe their performance.
4. Challenge them regularly to perform better.

C. If an employee says, “It’s not my job”, what does this probably mean?
1. They don’t want to help others.
2. They don’t want to take on more responsibilities.
3. They like to have a clear sense of their own responsibilities.
4. They lack confidence in their ability to perform other tasks.

D. A leader who is often absent and invisible probably…
1. has too much to do.
2. does not believe that motivating their team is important.
3. trusts their team and believes that showing trust is the best form of motivation.
4. lacks feedback skills.

6. Taking decisions (BS 6/2019)

The fact that we live in an age of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is often cited in management articles and blogs. What is less discussed is the challenge this brings to bear on a central leadership activity — decision-making. If we can’t truly know our environment and are surrounded not only by “known unknowns” but also by “unknown unknowns”, how is it possible to take a decision at all with any confidence? Is leadership descending into a form of gambling on uncertain outcomes? Leaders need to reflect longer and harder on the nature of decision-making, its limitations in the modern world and the reality that being right has become increasingly difficult.

QUESTIONS

A. Do you agree that the decisions of leaders determine what gets done and how it gets done?
1. Absolutely right. Leaders drive results.
2. Agree mostly. However, leaders act within complex organizational and economic systems, so they are not in full control of outcomes.
3. Disagree mostly. Leaders have little influence in a VUCA world.
4. Disagree totally. Everyone is responsible for deciding what happens, not just leaders.

B. How would you describe people who take decisions effectively?
1. They are generally very focused on their own roles and on achieving results.
2. They align their decisions with others in the organization before finally deciding.
3. They are bold and courageous.
4. They take time to consider and reflect.

C. What are the best decisions based on?
1. data
2. feelings
3. data and feelings
4. data and feelings and doubt

D. When taking decisions in diverse teams, what is it vital to do?
1. Provide enough time to hear everyone’s opinions.
2. Use the most experienced members of the team to guide the decisions being taken.
3. Follow clear decision-making processes.
4. Be ready to take full accountability for what is decided.

LEADERS NEED TO REFLECT LONGER AND HARDER ON DECISIONS

All for one: good leaders promote excellent teamwork


7. Promoting performance (BS 7/2019)

The more senior leaders get, the more important it is that they manage others’ performance rather than their own. It may seem curious, but it’s actually simple mathematics. If you lead 200 people, their sum performance is more important than that of one senior leader. Therefore, understanding how to cultivate and sustain a high-performing team environment becomes more vital for senior executives than their own stellar output. In fact, leading others becomes the core output of effective leaders.

QUESTIONS

A. What qualities do high-performing leaders need?
1. They must be experts and highly experienced in a specific business sector.
2. They need to delegate frequently.
3. They must ensure that people in their teams and departments perform well.
4. They should work longer hours than their team members.

B. To help people perform to a high standard, what should leaders do?
1. Give excellent feedback.
2. Clarify people’s roles and responsibilities.
3. Give financial bonuses.
4. Provide the best training courses available on the market.

C. If leaders want to coach others to perform to a high standard, what should they do?
1. Tell people what to do and ensure they do it.
2. Use questions to help people take more responsibility and accountability.
3. Do regular team-building.
4. Be a role model.

D. Do you agree that leaders need to discipline underperforming team members with clear sanctions?
1. Agree totally. People need to understand what happens if they don’t deliver.
2. Agree partly. It’s important to show sympathy when people miss deadlines.
3. Disagree mostly. Giving feedback is a better tool than using discipline.
4. Disagree totally. Punishing people with sanctions will demotivate people.

8. Building trust (BS 8/2019)

Trust is a curious leadership phenomenon and difficult even to define. It is paradoxically both an outcome and a starting point for high performance. It is difficult to achieve trust if one withholds it for too long at the beginning of a process of collaboration. Who’s going to trust you if you don’t trust them? Yet, if you trust others too early, you risk failure. So, it’s really a balancing act. The key to developing trust is to accept some level of risk — making oneself vulnerable to, and dependent on, other people. Letting go is essential in order to free leaders from time-consuming supervision, so that they can spend their valuable and expert time on more strategic matters. That’s the quid pro quo. We all know it makes sense, yet learning to use trust as a tool is a challenging process, not least because success depends not only on our willingness to open ourselves up to risk, but the capability of others to complete the tasks that we entrust them with. Curiously, it seems that we may never be able to totally trust the notion of trust as a leadership tool.

QUESTIONS

A. What are the three main drivers of trust?
1. authority, salary and reputation
2. competence, experience and age
3. focus, track record and international experience
4. credibility, intimacy and reliability

B. As a leader, which people is it important not to trust blindly?
1. Those we do not like.
2. Those we do not know.
3. Those who we are not sure can perform well.
4. Those who have let us down in the past.

C. How should leaders regard a person who promises to deliver and then fails to do so?
1. They should not be trusted again.
2. They are a risk that needs to be managed carefully.
3. They are probably unreliable.
4. They should be given a second chance.

D. How should leaders regard conflict?
1. As the best way to destroy trust.
2. As a possible signal of trust.
3. As a sign that people don’t trust each other.
4. As an opportunity to do team-building.

9. Sharing leadership (BS 1/2020)

Modern approaches to leadership focus far less on leaders than in the past. Rather, it’s leadership — the establishment of a common sense of direction with a common commitment to act in a specific way — that is important. This is a process that involves lots of people, many conversations, multiple influencers and, ultimately, multiple followers. These people are all co-dependent, even changing roles during discussions and collaboration. This approach to understanding the organizational life of leadership is both more realistic and also more engaging. The younger workforce, particularly, does not want to be led, but desires to participate in leadership, without all the expertise and experience normally associated with that privilege. Add in a matrix structure — where “dotted lines” of informal authority seem as important as the “solid lines” attached to formal leaders — and shared leadership emerges as the critical success factor for organizations.

QUESTIONS

A. The best form of shared leadership in a team will arise in which circumstances?
1. When everyone has the same mindset.
2. When everyone has a different mindset.
3. When everyone agrees.
4. When no one agrees.

B. What is a great way to support shared leadership when leading a virtual team?
1. Delegate leadership tasks to team members to encourage a leader mentality.
2. Use videoconferences frequently to stay in touch with people.
3. Take decisions only when everyone agrees.
4. Appoint more than one deputy.

C. Why is “psychological safety” so important for shared leadership?
1. Because it makes people relax.
2. Because people can focus more effectively.
3. Because it prevents mental health problems.
4. Because it encourages everyone to speak up and take accountability.

D. What should leaders do to inspire shared leadership among leaders of other teams?
1. Give a presentation about shared leadership.
2. Suggest that you exchange team members to create a mutual learning process.
3. Ask others to involve you in their decisionmaking processes.
4. Make clear to others your desire to collaborate, and then live out your plan.

THE KEY TO DEVELOPING TRUST IS TO ACCEPT SOME LEVEL OF RISK

An absent leader: will the team still function well?


Answers and feedback

The following are not scientifically validated answers but represent primarily the opinion of the author based on his experience as an international leadership coach and trainer. Score one point for every correct answer, giving a possible total of 36 points.

1. Defining leadership
A–3 It is extremely difficult to define universal qualities of leadership that are relevant in all contexts. What counts as “good” leadership depends very much on the demands of a specific situation.
B–4 According to an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2010 called “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders around the World”, a commitment to ethics is rated by leaders today as the most important competence.
C–1 Agile practitioners focus on a number of dimensions of practice, three of which are central: speed, continuous improvement and customer focus.
D–3 When it comes to international leadership, although listening and authenticity are important, the collaborative co-creation of the rules of engagement, involving all members of a team, can be seen as best practice.

2. The challenges of change
A–1 Although many leaders fail to communicate the logic of important change initiatives, understanding the strategic drivers in terms of market realities is nevertheless important for all employees. This can help to overcome resistance to what might be seen as unnecessary change.
B–1 The classic stages of change — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — are derived from a model based on bereavement. Although questioned by many today, the framework is a useful starting point for thinking about howngs.
D–2 The perceived value of consultants is very mixed. For many, consultants make change more problematic due to their use of models and ideas unrelated to their client’s organization. However, their external perspective can bring valuable insights to organizations looking to escape their own history.

3. Creating a healthy culture
A–3 Respectful and trusting relationships lie at the heart of any healthy culture — be it of a team, a department or an organization. Although business professionals often neglect the value of positive relationships, they are a central pillar of culture.
B–4 Intercultural training is a common way for leaders to attempt to develop a team culture. However, this often leads to the presentation of inaccurate stereotypes. Enabling teams to build their own unique culture is more empowering and can create a deeper commitment to act in a constructive manner towards other colleagues.
C–3 Human behaviour derives from attitudes and assumptions. If these are positive, then collaborative behaviours will flourish and enable diversity to become an advantage for the team, not a liability.
D–4 Many professionals complain about leaders micromanaging their teams. In reality, this perception is often a misunderstanding of a leader’s positive intention to support a team member. If you feel micromanaged, challenge that perception, and engage with your leader to discover the real motivation behind the behaviour.

4. Leading ethically
A–D Happiness is not a simple objective for leaders who wish to “push” people to perform and challenge people to develop. Stretching people may occasionally make them feel uncomfortable, but that is a positive outcome linked to learning.
B–2 With respect to honesty, senior leaders often have access to privileged information, for which they need to sign a non-disclosure agreement, even towards their own employees. Confidentiality is part of leadership.
C–1 One of the great failings of many leaders is to recruit people too similar to themselves, which means their values and perspectives remain largely unchallenged. Recruiting a diverse set of talents is a great way to ensure one’s own values are tested regularly.
D–4 Being negative to others — blaming and criticizing them — is common, but it is the antithesis of leadership. Remember that, if you blame others, you diminish your reputation in their eyes.

5. Motivating people
A–1 According to a Gallup poll of 2012, companies with highly motivated employees significantly outperform similar companies with average levels of motivation.
B–1 Motivation is invisible to the naked eye. Other than using an expert to profile underlying personality traits, which is increasingly regarded as old-fashioned and reliant on outmoded concepts of personality, the simplest method to determine motivation(s) is careful listening, and using “why”-questions to uncover underlying beliefs and needs.
C–3 Employees who refuse to help others are seldom motivated by malevolence. They are usually individuals who like clarity of their own role and who believe that it is more efficient if individuals focus on their own role rather than collaborating “fuzzily” with others.
D–3 Leaders who are absent, although often criticized by team members for a lack of care, may actually be showing a strong sense of trust and care by not interfering with the activities of team members.

6. Taking decisions
A–2 The vast majority of leadership literature suggests that leaders have a significant and single influence on the reality around them. The reality is somewhat different in organizational situations where there are multiple stakeholders and often an ambiguous distribution of power. Groups of individuals acting together can determine change, but it is always influenced by larger external factors beyond human control.
B–2 Effective decisions — ones that are creative, sustainable and likely to engage broad commitment — require a broad alignment among interested parties.
C–4 Taking good decisions involves considering facts, showing sensitivity to the perceptions and emotions of those involved, and demonstrating a healthy level of openness to hear others’ views. This requires humility and the ability to consider that one’s own views on a topic may be wrong.
D–1 In the end, time is required to hear the full range of diverse opinions on complex topics.

7. Promoting performance
A–3 Senior leadership is not about personal performance and output. The focus should be on maximizing the output among the largest number of people under one’s leadership.
B–2 People perform best when given a clear framework within which to perform. Without a clear framework, people may invest energy in the wrong areas, or go too deeply into the right areas. Clarity about one’s role is fundamental to performance.
C–2 Coaching, a modern leadership process, is based on asking questions and not advising.
D–1 The opposite of performance is underperformance, which must have consequences. If team members see a colleague not performing well, without clear sanctions from the team leader, then the leader’s messages to inspire greater commitment or more effort will lack credibility.

8. Building trust
A–4 The “trust equation” lists credibility, intimacy and reliability as key factors in the formation of trust.
B–3 While many commentators focus on the emotional side of trust, it is vital to bear in mind the role that competence plays in building trust. If we are not confident in the ability of an individual to perform a task, then it would be foolish to trust them, whatever the personal relationship involved.
C–2 Trust is thrown away too quickly by many business professionals who fail to appreciate that, when a person fails to deliver on a promise, it may simply be due to unforeseen additional tasks rather than a lazy character. View non-delivery on a promise as a risk to manage, not as a reason to withdraw trust.
D–2 Paradoxically, conflict may be a signal of trust. Those who feel comfortable with others, and who have a certain level of trust, are often more willing to be honest and open with them — and possibly even confrontational — than with those to whom they are less committed.

9. Sharing leadership
A–2 Research shows that diverse teams, if well managed, can outperform homogeneous teams. Different mindsets are an asset that can generate creative thinking and positive outcomes under shared leadership.
B–1 Virtual teams struggle to establish a collaborative approach because individual team members seldom see each other and may focus more on local tasks than international team duties. Those leading effective remote teams often identify a local champion who can act as an ambassador and motivator for the official team leader on a daily basis, to keep people focused on virtual team objectives.
C–4 Google invented the notion of “psychological safety” and indicated that it was essential in order to avoid fearful silence and enable the open flow of ideas and commitment — in other words, “shared leadership”.
D–4 Inspiring a culture of shared leadership is the goal of many progressive leaders. However, it is not something that can be inspired via communication. It needs to be lived out and proved, by taking the first step by sharing information, resources, ideas, etc. This will then inspire reciprocity in others and deliver mutual commitment and benefit.

A key success factor for leaders: understanding diverse reactions


How to continue learning about leadership

Leadership has evolved over the centuries, meaning different things to different groups of people. Currently, the trend is to see success as deriving from many people collaborating openly across organizational boundaries in flexible ways, rather than through the exercise of authority in hierarchical organizations led by individuals with extraordinary qualities.

In the end, there is no simple answer to the question “What is good leadership?” But effective leaders, achieving results in a sustainable way in many different roles, are likely to be those who adapt their style to the specific context and task, and to the skills, perceptions and motivations of everyone involved.

Continuous and robust feedback is essential to allow an ongoing calibration of style to context. So, if effective leadership is your goal, keep asking for and giving feedback. By continuously learning, you will enable continuous improvement. Leadership is learning. And learning is leadership.

BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates (www.york-associates.co.uk) and author of many business English books. Contact: bob.dignen@york-associates.co.uk

AUDIO + PLUS

You can try our exercises on this topic on Business Spotlight Audio as well as in our exercise booklet, Business Spotlight Plus. To order, go to www.aboshop.spotlight-verlag.de

HOW DID YOU DO?

28–36: Exceptional leadership potential. It is likely that you are up to date with the latest leadership thinking and that you are doing more than just working hard to implement it in your own team. You are probably also encouraging others to engage with shared leadership to support success in your organization.

20–27: Good leadership. You are probably still wedded to older notions of leadership in some respects, and possibly still too focused on your own performance rather than on driving the performance of others. Consider reading more on the topic of shared leadership to get ideas on how to develop a more inclusive approach to team leadership that realizes the power of diversity.

0–19: Developing leadership. You are developing your skills and can look forward to a steep learning curve in the fundamentals of leadership, such as motivation, trust, performance management, etc. Remain open to new ideas that will challenge many of your assumptions and you can progress quickly to a more advanced level of leadership. This will help you make a strong impact in your organization.


Illustration: Yann Bastard

Illustrationen: Yann Bastard

Illustrationen: Yann Bastard

Illustration: Yann Bastard

Illustration: Yann Bastard; Foto: privat