Sunday, April 19, 2009

The leadership sandwich

This is a 'thinking aloud' kind of post. Usually, I find it difficult to do 'thinking aloud' kind of activities. My reasons (rationalizations!) for this revolve around my personality type (INTJ or 'Dominant Introverted Intuition' - in MBTI/'type dynamics' terms). Of late, I have been reading some books written by Alan Watts and I came across the the following "It is surely a kind of spiritual pride to refrain from 'thinking out loud', and to be unwilling to let a thesis appear in print until you are prepared to champion it to the death. Philosophy, like science, is a social function, for a man cannot think rightly alone, and a philosopher must publish his thought as much to learn from criticism as to contribute to the sum of wisdom." Inspired by this, I have decided to write this post.

The trigger for this post came from some of the conversations that I have been having with my son (the same guy who was the main character in my earlier post called 'Research and a three-year-old' - though he is now seven years old!). During the last academic year, he got his first taste of 'being a leader' - when he was made the 'leader' of his group/class on certain occasions/ for certain events and he has been sharing his experiences as a 'leader' - both good and bad -with me. These discussions about the 'leadership experiences' of a seven-year-old, made me remember a curious thing that I had noticed about the roles and designations - especially in IT/ITES organizations.

In these organizations, often there is a level called 'Team Leader' that appears - just above that of a Team Member - but below that of a 'Team Manager' or 'Project Manager'. Beginning with the Team Manager/Project Manager level, there are multiple levels of 'Managers'. But after these 'managerial levels', 'Leaders' (e.g. Business Leaders) again make an appearance. So we have a curious situation - we have managers 'sandwiched' by leaders. Hence the 'leadership sandwich' which forms the title of this post.

Now let me come back to the 'thinking aloud' part. I was wondering why this 'leadership sandwich' occurs. Why do we have levels/roles with the term 'Leader' in the title on both the sides of the levels/roles with the term 'Manager' in the title? Since too much have already been written about the 'Leaders Vs. Managers debate', I have no intention to get too deep into that tricky territory. But these kind of 'sandwich' situations interest me immensely - because I feel that some phenomenon similar to that of the 'U-curve' (which I have often written about and which is very close to the basic theme of this blog) might be operating here. In such cases something starts in one state - moves to the opposite state - and then comes back to the original state at a higher plane (creating a 'U' - shaped pattern). So I was wondering if 'Leadership' also follows such a 'U' - shaped pattern!

May be we can get a clue to the (leadership sandwich) puzzle if we compare the role of a Team Leader with that of a Team Manager. Typically, a Team Leader does not have formal authority (e.g. to hire, fire, evaluate and reward staff). So a Team Leader is forced to influence (get the work done) without formal authority. Team Managers (and the multiple levels of Managers above them) do have formal authority. Of course, the 'Leaders' who are at higher levels as compared to these 'Managers' also have formal authority - much more than what these 'Managers' have. But may be these senior 'Leaders' are supposed to influence (get the work done) without exercising their formal authority, though they do have a lot of formal authority. May be they are supposed to do the influencing in 'better/higher ways' (e.g. by creating an inspiring vision, by building a high performance culture etc.). So if we can say that "Team Leaders influence without formal authority because they don't have any formal authority and Business Leaders influence without formal authority because they choose not to exercise their formal authority" - then we have the description of a phenomenon that follows the U-curve - that too perfectly!

Now, let us come back to the second part of what Alan Watts said - the part which says that 'a man cannot think rightly alone and that he should publish his thought to to learn from criticism'. I have done the publishing! Over to you for your criticism!!