The Leadership Experience: From Individual Success to Organization Significance

The Leadership Experience: From Individual Success to Organization Significance

by Gregg Thompson

Gregg Thompson and Ron Crossland, executives from Bluepoint Leadership (formerly the Tom Peters Co.), introduce the newest title in the Bluepoint Leadership series. The Leadership Experience is an advanced discussion of the necessity for leaders to move beyond personal success and create a culture of true collaboration with colleagues and customers in order for a…  See more details below


Gregg Thompson and Ron Crossland, executives from Bluepoint Leadership (formerly the Tom Peters Co.), introduce the newest title in the Bluepoint Leadership series. The Leadership Experience is an advanced discussion of the necessity for leaders to move beyond personal success and create a culture of true collaboration with colleagues and customers in order for a business organization to compete in the 21st century.For MBAs, middle and upper management, and entrepreneurs alike, Gregg and Ron's findings on this subject are both surprising and compelling. The territory covered in The Leadership Experience extends far beyond the typical leadership book's motivational platitudes delivering research and empirical evidence that will guide you through the not so commonsense world of leadership in management. No one knows the subject better than Gregg and Ron, this book contains invaluable information for today's business leadership.

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Select Books, Incorporated
Publication date:
Bluepoint Leadership Books
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6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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From Individual Success to Organization Significance

SelectBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2007

Ron Crossland and Gregg Thompson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59079-122-6

Chapter One The Four Labors of Leaders

IN 2005, at the beginning of a yearlong leadership development process at BellSouth (now AT&T), Ron Frieson, president of the company's Georgia operations, attended the opening session to give a short talk and engage in some candid dialogue. Frieson is a dynamic, eloquent, and experienced executive, and his opening comments commemorate the fact that the participants have just crossed an important, often intangible, line of leadership responsibility: "For years during your career, you have often wondered what in the world was going on and at times you have simply scratched your heads, made a vague gesture upward, and remarked, 'I hope they know what they are doing.' Today you can no longer enjoy this privilege, for you have become they."

Frieson's admonition that these experienced managers have entered into some of the highest levels of management responsibility and must now serve in a much more organizational leadership role than they ever have is delivered in an upbeat but serious manner. He emphasizes the fact that the boundary they have crossed has placed them in the hot seat of the "they," and that as senior organizational leaders, their perspectives will never be the same.

This passage from individual leader to organizational leader-from "this is my group" to "this is the corporation, city, nation, foundation, school, unit, ideology, or way of life I have chosen to lead"-doesn't just occur at some final rung on the hierarchical climb. The tension between individual and organizational leadership exists to some degree at all levels of leadership responsibility. And this tension creates both a barrier and an opportunity for individual leaders to integrate their individual, personal leadership abilities with their organizational or systemic leadership abilities. This book addresses what is involved in increasing the scope of leadership responsibility and integrating various levels of leadership demands as responsibility increases.

Leadership ability is abundant, but its perfection is rare. Nearly every person has led something at some time. We know because whenever we ask participants of any group to describe any significant leadership periods they've experienced over the course of their lives, they seem to easily and quickly recount them.

Episodic, temporary, project-oriented leadership has never been difficult to observe. Acting as an individual leader is very common, and the lessons from these episodes have a striking degree of similarity. Organizational leadership, however, is more difficult to observe and has far fewer examples. Although both oral and written histories have heralded the great deeds of organizational leaders, generally the emphasis in these stories has been upon the individual. From the agricultural aristocracy of the Sumer delta to the technologically adept of Silicon Valley, humans have strained to sift the notions of organizational leadership from the deeds of the individual leader. Leaders of Sumerian theocratic city-states used the word lugal as their term for king. Some lugals enjoyed kingship for the sake of having personal power. Some had as their major concern the general welfare of the city-state. During the twenty-fourth century b.c.e., near the end of the Old Sumerian period, a man by the name of Urukagina declared himself lugal of Lagash "and ended the rule of priests and 'powerful men,' each of whom, he claimed, was guilty of acting 'for his own benefit.'"

Urukagina enacted laws concerning usury, theft, property disputes, and murder. He encouraged many freedoms that were unknown before his consolidation, such as supporting widows and orphans, and sought to ensure a positive future for all who lived in his lands. Some historians suggest that his code in particular supported women's issues to a greater degree than did the later, more famous codes of Hammurabi, Lipit Ishtar, or others associated with Assyrian or Babylonian governments.

Under Urukagina's rule, Lagash was prosperous and thus became an appealing takeover target. Eventually, Lagash was annexed by Lugal-Zage-Si, who consolidated it into his own lands to create a Sumerian empire. Sargon I, a Semitic ruler from Akkad, an ancient city located roughly halfway between Baghdad and Fallujah, conquered this Sumerian empire along with those operating out of Ur and Umman. Historians suggest that Sargon I was the first leader to consolidate a multiethnic society or empire. Records indicate that he "did not sleep in his efforts to promote prosperity and that in this new free enterprise economy trade moved as freely 'as the Tigris where it flows into the sea, ... all lands lie in peace, their inhabitants prosperous and contented.'" Text evidence suggests that Urukagina and Sargon I were admired both as individual or personal leaders and for the quality of their organizational leadership skills. Political scientists might consider them as being effective statesmen, not just beloved, or perhaps feared, politicians.

The reforms initiated by these two leaders helped promote a prosperous society-one that invented the potter's wheel and used wheel technology in several applications. In addition, Sumerian cuneiform was used largely by these political leaders to maintain an accurate commercial accounting and appears to predate Egyptian hieroglyphics. These societies engaged in astronomy, and their division of time into sixty-minute and sixty-second periods is still in use today. They grew Emmer wheat and barley with sophistication for their age, and were perhaps the first Asians to raise sheep and cattle on a grand scale.

The organizational concerns of these early leaders are echoed by leaders at financial services giant Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo isn't just concerned about financial success, but the company also strives to be a premier provider of services and one of the great places to work in America. Financial results, customer focus, and engaging a workforce might constitute a triple crown of visionary appeal in this modern age, but CEO Richard Kovacevich doesn't allow this sound bite to be swallowed without inspiring amplification. On the company's Web site he clarifies and imbues each point of the corporate vision with distinctive ideas; for example: "We'll promote the economic advancement of everyone in our communities, including those not yet able to be economically self-sufficient, who have yet to share fully in the prosperity of our extraordinary country. We'll be known as an active community leader in economic development, in services that promote economic self-sufficiency, education, social services and the arts."

Another executive who is driven by the ideals of creating a great workplace and a workplace that gives back to the community is Cisco CEO John Chambers. Since its inception, and despite its difficulties over time, Cisco has made significant contributions to the community. The company's vision includes statements about the future welfare of workers, companies, and countries. Chambers declares, "I truly believe that the Internet and education are the two great equalizers in life, leveling the playing field for people, companies, and countries worldwide. By providing greater access to educational opportunities through the Internet, students are able to learn more. Workers have greater access to e-learning opportunities to enhance and increase their skills. And companies and schools can decrease costs by utilizing technology for greater productivity."

In an interview with BusinessWeek's computer editor, Peter Barrows, Chambers related how giving back creates a reputation that precedes growth: "I know that has helped us in terms of international expansion. One top government official told me that 'one of the reasons you'll be successful here is that you give something back.'"

These brief examples shed light on a repeated historical reality: lasting leadership is experienced not just by the individual leadership efforts of a great person, but also by the lasting impact of the organizational system that is created through organizational leadership efforts. Studying the personalities of Sargon I, Qin Shi Huangdi, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, George Washington, and other famous leaders, it's easy to see that it is not simply their personal leadership abilities that immortalizes them, but also their organizational leadership legacies. From athletics to art, music to medicine, education to e-commerce, or performance arts to politics, there are many people who aspire to and achieve varying levels of excellence. In terms of personal leadership, most of these people make a contribution. Many of them make a difference in organizational ability. But fewer make a difference in both arenas. So although the qualities of personal leadership seem to be abundant, we suggest that sustained organizational leadership is somewhat rarer and more difficult to attain.

Defining, explaining, measuring, and understanding leadership has consumed decades of time, generated millions of data points, spawned a glut of theories, and created an industry of leadership development. Over the past ten years, however, it seems that repeated inquiries into what leadership is and how leaders lead has resulted in mere rumination. The competencies of leadership are no longer arcane mysteries to be explored. Each time we excavate this territory, we find the same basic story recast in a local dialect.

We have asked hundreds of experienced leaders to draw a schematic, diagram, or model of their personal leadership view. The results we have seen confirm this hypothesis: nearly everyone has learned a remarkably similar model of leadership. We believe the reason for this is that most of the leadership training, writing, and development in the world matches most people's personal experience of leadership. In fact, most leadership models are based upon observed leadership behavior. Therefore, modern corporate managers have created a sort of collective general understanding of what leadership is and what leaders do. However, there is not much new in leadership research. Any new study simply confirms what we already know or amplifies one particular aspect of leadership ability, such as vision, strategy, engagement, emotional maturity, presence, or any other popular leadership dimension.

One subject of ongoing research on leadership that particularly piques interest and controversy involves genetics. The jury is still out, and may remain out for some time, but serious researchers are not ignoring the data pouring in from the field of genetic/environmental interactions. For decades the idea of genetic predisposition easily tripped the "social Darwinism" reflex. Today most fully informed researchers have abandoned the nature-versus-nurture reasoning and have replaced it with one that considers the cooperative, dynamic interaction of environment and genetic operations. Some have altered the debate from nature versus nurture to nature via nurture. Others are skirting the schism created by a nature/nurture dichotomy and are attempting to look at the question through an adaptive systems view. Our understanding of how biological and environmental factors affect one another is increasing, and in the future we may be able to more fully understand how the constant lifetime interaction of a variety of experiences and the flexibility of genes to prepare and respond to these experiences shed light upon all components of the human condition, including leadership abilities.

If you review the content of the major models or theoretical descriptions of leadership, and then compare them with the extensive catalog of leadership research and cast an inquiring eye over the history of leadership, a remarkable but understandable pattern emerges: regardless of culture, epoch, or practitioner, there seem to be four unchanging, timeless labors that leaders encounter and engage. These four labors constitute an enduring meta-model of leadership, a model that acts as a structure for examining most of the hard-won research evidence on leadership. We use this meta-model to trace and present the four most consistent properties of the models we have observed, the most consistently studied and verifiable leadership components reviewed in scholarly literature, and the testing of this model with other learned leadership practitioners. This model will also serve to reveal the tensions between individual and organizational leadership that beleaguer and test modern leaders.

To place this model in context, however, we provide an overview of the evolution of leadership thought and research over the past century. Showing how leadership research has evolved allows us to focus this wide dispersion of light into a high-intensity beam of understanding about a subject that has already been studied to death yet continues to enthrall.

Leadership Science

Leadership science has a fascinating history, full of eccentric researchers, noble experiments, unexpected results, serendipitous events, superbly and poorly constructed theories, and contrary views. From personality or character trait theories to humanistic, psychoanalytic, or behavioral approaches, most research from 1920 to the 1970s revolved around personal theories of leadership. Most of the research concerned the person in the most senior leadership role or individuals of renowned stature-the great leaders. During this time, which we call the transactional period of leadership, the typical organization had a hierarchical structure. Increasing production was the primary organizational goal, and leadership was studied in terms of personal traits and the exchanges between leader and follower.

In 1978 James MacGregor Burns, a historian and a student of political science and leadership, popularized a phrase in his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, Leadership, that labeled the direction of leadership inquiry: "Such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, as in the case of transactional leadership, become fused ... thus it has a transforming effect on both." Transformational leadership became the hottest word in the leadership lexicon, and this passage was one of the most frequently quoted from Burns's work.

The transformational leadership era focused on the deeper meaning of leadership or the transforming effects between leader and follower when they work toward mutually inspiring goals. This era began to look at the leadership-at-all-levels phenomenon and concluded that leadership episodes, or leadership actions, were abundant and cumulative. The period also saw a change in organizational structure from hierarchy to matrix. Leadership research focused on competencies (behaviors) rather than traits (personal characteristics), and the leading issue was empowerment rather than exchanges. Concerns about quality eclipsed those of production as the supreme organizational competitive advantage. This combination of factors dominated the minds of leaders and became both the melody and harmony lines for those composing leadership development scores.

Since the late 1990s, however, the rise of globalization turned the business world's attention to the complexities of global leadership. Leaders of multinational, and even local, companies became attentive to the effects of globalization, and a shift in emphasis occurred. The concept of engaging workers transcended the idea of merely empowering them as the key organizational issue. Matrix organizations gave way to the idea of networked organizations as work increasingly became dispersed over multiple time zones and cultures. Quality had erected a new barrier to entry into business, but these issues were by and large tamed to a degree that no longer allowed quality alone to provide advantage. Today, having achieved a sufficient level of parity between production and quality, the most promising competitive arena is distinction. Distinction is sought through design, innovation, brand loyalty, and other means.


Excerpted from THE LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE by RON CROSSLAND GREGG THOMPSON Copyright © 2007 by Ron Crossland and Gregg Thompson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Gregg Thompson is President of Bluepoint Leadership Development. He has extensive experience as a business leader, operations manager, executive coach, trainer and management consultant. He holds a Master of Organizational Development degree from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.Susanne Biro is the Director of Coaching at Bluepoint Leadership Development. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Ron Crossland has worked with talent from the boiler room to the boardroom, experience that has taught him that regardless of position, individuals' work matters. He has helped individuals, teams and organizations develop better leaders, forge better internal and external relationships, and inspire greater performance. Ron is Chariman of Bluepoint Leadership.Sadly, Boyd Clarke passed away from cancer in 2006.

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