Does corporate culture inadvertently promote Task Leadership?

In my last blog, I touched on a topic that I have often debated within my mind. Task leadership and success definition v/s People leadership and success definition. The journey, the experiences, the outcomes, the social impact and the personal residuals are all very different.

The task oriented leaders are people who are extremely driven, who define very quantified, aggressive and medium to long term goals and ambitions, and assiduously chase them. They have elaborate project plans, milestones, scenarios, risk assessments, fail-over plans etc. They run their projects and their life in the same way – a series of well defined tasks. The tasks have to be achieved by bringing together role holders, technology etc. The human beings involved are almost expected to be humanoid robots, with clearly defined production capacity, turnaround times, predictable behavior patterns etc.  They operate on the basis of task and progress reviews. The system is somewhat punitive, ie lack of adequate progress or lack of adherence to task timelines, efforts etc is met with negative feedback, increased pressure, intimidation and many times public humiliation. The focus is always comparative and competitive. The people who participate in such projects and tasks rarely have a sense of achievement. They tend to live from task to task, avoiding the ignominy of group reprimand for relative task completion.

The people oriented leaders are driven too, but by dreams. They paint dreams that people love to chase. They set out seemingly amorphous yet very lofty ambitions that people strive to attain. They create a desire for others around them to be part of the momentum, be part of a community that is working collectively to achieve a higher order end-state. They tend to operate purely by spotting the strength in each individual that they interact or meet. They unleash the collective power of individual brilliance, by enabling the individual contribution to be always recognized in the quest of the collective ambition. They rarely review or reprimand. They continuously focus on helping people uncover their personal potential. They tend to celebrate every day and every action. They find learning moments from failures and setbacks. There is no penalty or public reprimand. The collective dream is so powerful that when individual outcomes fail to keep pace, the individuals show remarkable ownership themselves, and focus on finding ways and means to correct the situation and putting the collective team back on track.   Team members in this group appear to be on an artificial stimulant. Their capabilities seem exalted and they seem to ride a wave of invincibility.  The collective power of dreams and faith is amazing.

One of the other very significant differences in the two approaches is the time spent in conversations. It is my experience that corporate cultures encourage formal agenda driven meetings, with a focus on solving problems and trying to move ahead with decisions. However, it is also my observation, over several years of watching this process, that there is very limited collective commitment to the decisions made in such meetings. However, the people driven leadership style has multiple open conversations. The conversations tend to be without formal agenda. It allows for creative divergence and enables people to express views and opinions. These conversations are also far more regular and impromptu. In fact, it is almost like having a bunch of close friends, who stumbled into running a business together. Such groups tend to complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. They rarely need to be formally told when another team member has reached a conclusion or taken a stand. They also intuitively respect each other’s individual expertise and grant space for the same.

Its also been my experience that most large corporations recognize the lack of innovation but fail to recognize that its the strongly accountable performance culture, that leads to intimidating task leadership. They have inadvertently arrived at a destination, that is strongly operational, is command and control in approach and expects mechanical results to tasks and goals. They have promoted risk-aversion.

I recognize that we need both leadership styles to coexist and ideally, all of us should have the ability to balance the two avatars. However, people are not machines. Organizations are a community of people. In the past, the tribes defined the community culture, became kingdoms and then sovereign countries. However, in today’s world, where country boundaries are slowly disappearing, Companies are the center of culture and communities.Well that’s a topic that deserves it’s own discussion blog.

In summary, it is my realization that if individuals and organizations can facilitate an active recognition of this leadership balance and cultivate the people leaders (through a different set of outcome measures), the impact will not only be visible in their top-line & bottom-line, but will significantly enhance the organization’s lifeline of success.

I constantly reflect on my personal balance between the two styles. The people leadership style requires a significant amount of generosity. It requires a lot of inner security and emotional calmness. It requires me to let-go of a lot of control and operate on my inherent faith in people and their sub-conscious alignment to the dream.  I would love to hear from you, if you have reflected on your styles or of those who have led you.

Happy I-fluencing!! Happy Leading!!

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About ifluence

I am an eternal optimist and a very strong believer in the power of influence & belief. It has been my experience that most corporations spend disproportionate time in improving productivity of machines, processes, etc but do mere lip service to improving the real capabilities of people. I have always found that people, who feel connected, listened to and cared for genuinely, create a discontinous and disproportionate level of performance, that far outweighs any productivity increase. I am dedicating this blog to sharing my experiences and perspectives on unlocking the power of people.
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