Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Leadership (R)evolution

The role of vision and values in organisational leadership ...

The levels of business consciousness in today’s corporate world have increased manifold and hence many business practices have undergone a dramatic change. It is now time for the survival of the wisest as against the survival of the fittest. Wisdom being in short supply, organisations are forced to resort to a vision-values approach in order to stay ahead of competition.

With corporate scandals happening on a large scale, people have identified a scarcity for the right models these days. Not every CEO is a perfect leader. The corporate world has woken up to the realisation that survival is possible only when it moulds itself to the demands of a constantly transforming world in a universally acceptable way.

This is the era of leadership (r)evolution, characterised by change and nerve-racking challenges. In such times, leaders must be able to navigate their organisations through all the complexities and competition that has given rise to a sense of misplaced hurry. As many leaders have rightly observed, the only way to survive is to handle challenges when values are threatened and vision is hazy.

The basics revisited

Vision and values guide organisations comfortably through unchartered territories. Says Dr. Sampath, “Vision is the ability to think or plan the future powerfully, with great imagination or wisdom, while values are the beliefs we hold within ourselves that governs our behaviour in any given context”. Maintaining focus on vision and understanding values in order to achieve vision are the key determinants of good leadership and therefore organisational success. It is highly essential to match individual values to organisational values. It needs to be emphasised however, that there is a fundamental discrepancy between the individual’s ‘cherished’ values and ‘lived’ values that must be bridged.

“Vision without values is risky and values without vision leads to nowhere, and vision with values is evolution”. Organisation decision-making rests to a large extent on clarity of vision and values. If a leader finds making an important decision difficult, then it is certain that either the vision, or values, or both were unclear.

Though a comfortable blend of vision and values is not always realistic, every leader must instil a vision in the organisation and values that drive their followers to achieve the vision. Like the unity of purpose is void without a vision, there is no meaningful progress in the lack of values.

The chasms

George Bernard Shaw has said, “A reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him while an unreasonable man adapts the surrounding conditions to himself”. Therefore, an individual’s success is dependent on whether he is a ‘Master of Circumstances’ or ‘Victim of Circumstances’. Comprehension of interdependency of values helps one understand the behaviour of an individual.

There is a dire need for the integration of the ‘being’ and ‘knowing’ stages of an individual. Organisational evolution is possible only with an efficient integration of the two. The larger the gap at the top level, the hazier the leadership direction becomes. The three gaps give rise to values conflict. Fundamentally, the common denominator in all levels of gaps is the difference between ‘what I perceive’ and ‘what is’. However, every organisation almost witnesses all these three chasms between:

‘Who I want to be’ and ‘Who I am’
‘Who I am’ and ‘How I want people around to experience me’
‘How I want people around to experience me’ and ‘What is expected of me’
These gaps begin to close when there is a deep understanding that the root of conflicts lies in a commitment not honoured, an idea unrealised and an opportunity lost.

Conflict experienced

What should change in an organisation and what should not? This is a question that has been bothering organisations ever since the change bug has affected it. The need of the hour is to distinguish between the timeless core values and demonstrating them in a contemporary way with a flexibility level that retains the essence of values in the organisation.

Even organisations that claim to be visionary restrict their vision to certain functions and aspects only. Also, conflicts that seem obvious at a later date would have been unapparent to the leadership earlier. For instance, in Enron’s case, as management experts say, “Enron failed to realise that its core values should never change while its operating practices should never cease to change”. Simply stated, organisations must never compromise their values to achieve their vision. The missing factor here is the alignment of the vision and values as also the misalignment between individual values and organisational values. Leaders must encourage their followers to develop loyalty and commitment two virtues absolutely essential to adopt organisational vision as their own and make efforts to achieve that with value-driven objectives.

Misalignment between vision and values is often one of the main reasons for the downfall of organisations. It could also lead to complications and give rise to conflicts. The primary role and most onerous task of effective leadership is to “reassemble the vision and reconstruct the value structure so that they are in agreement”.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic. I especially enjoy your comment, "Misalignment between vision and values is often one of the main reasons for the downfall of organisations." I'm currently exploring many of these topics myself. I would add that vision and values are important, but organizations must make them more tangible. Sometimes 'vision' can be hard to 'see'. Corporations must make them part of everyday life.

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