About Me

"I am a family physician and public health specialist, and have lived and worked in Africa, Asia and North America. I am passionate about health-care development and am a co-founder and director of Healtheon Asia.

This is a collection of my thoughts, travels and things I can't otherwise classify."
- Dr Armid Azadeh

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Personal leadership philosophy

During my Public Health studies at Hopkins I concentrated on Health Leadership and Management and found The Foundations of Leadership to be my most enjoyable course. This was my final paper reflecting my leadership philosophy which is bound to evolve as I do.

The Collins English Dictionary defines a leader as “a person who rules, guides, or inspires others”, or simply as the “head”.1 Assuming a role of leadership may be considered both a privilege and an honor, but is also invariably a tremendous responsibility. In exploring leadership in terms of the innate qualities required, role of leadership and core values that should be engendered, and skills essential for successful practice, an amalgamation of various theories and philosophies as well as some personal insights have been utilized for the purposes of this paper. Specific leadership theories such as “great man”, trait or contingency theories were not specifically evaluated.

Innate qualities
The nature versus nurture debate regarding personal qualities of leaders is suitable to be delved into at this stage. The notion that great leaders are born rather than made may have some substance to it, as certain qualities felt to be essential to success in the role of leadership may not be easily acquired, if at all, during the course of one’s life. An essay by Robert Greenleaf, in 1969, first described the term “servant as leader”, which was later further developed in his book “Servant Leadership”. The qualities or characteristics described by Robert Greenleaf included listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community.2 In essence these qualities are essential for this practical philosophy that supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions.

These basic concepts and qualities of a servant leader were expounded upon by Kathleen Patterson, where “the servant leader (a) demonstrates agapao love, (b) acts with humility, (c) is altruistic, (d) is visionary for the followers, (e) is trusting, (f) empowers followers, and (g) is serving.”3 The cornerstone of this model is agapao love, a Greek word, which according to Bruce Winston, “refers to a moral love, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason”.4 An interesting paper by Jane Waddell, posits that the introvert’s ability to listen more than to speak is more compatible with servant leadership and as such introverts are furthermore “more likely to be perceived as being a servant leader by their followers”.5 Thequalities engendered by the concept of Servant Leadership are similar to the qualities of a Level-5 leader, a term originally coined by Jim Collins. “The most powerful transformative executives possess a paradoxical mixture of personal humility and professional will. They are timid and ferocious. Shy and fearless. They are rare – and unstoppable.”6 These qualities for the most part are not something that one can necessarily develop. They may not be something that you are genetically born with either, but through your upbringing and early life experiences, as your personality and values are formed, these qualities begin to define you.

Research by David Rooke and William Torbert suggested that “leaders are made, not born, and how they develop is critical for organizational change.”7 They defined 7 “action logic” ways of leading: Opportunist – wins any way possible (5%); Diplomat – avoids overt conflict (12%); Expert – rules by logic and expertise (38%); Achiever – meets strategic goals (30%); Individualist – interweaves competing personal and company action logics (10%); Strategist – generates organizational and personal transformation (4%); Alchemist – generates social transformations (1%).7

An important aspect of these qualities with regards to success in leadership is that they need to be authentic. In a paper by Bill George et al, the authors interviewed 125 leaders and analyzed 3000 pages of transcripts in an attempt to define the profile of an ideal leader. Their findings and conclusions rejected the notion of successful leaders having to be born with specific characteristics or traits, but rather that authentic leaders “reported that their motivation came from a difficult experience in their lives”.8 In becoming an authentic leader or person per se, one needs to begin to understand one’s personal self. “IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”9 Understanding oneself, or self-awareness, is the first component of emotional intelligence. The next four components, as described by Daniel Goleman, include self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. “Scientific inquiry strongly suggests that there is a genetic component to emotional intelligence.”8 With strong support to both sides of the debate regarding whether leaders are born or made, it appears that the answer may be a balance of both. Emotional intelligence does however appear to be of extreme importance in the mix of qualities, alluded to initially, that successful leadership requires, in that nearly 90% of the difference in the profiles of leaders analyzed by Goleman, in terms of success, was attributable to emotional intelligence rather than cognitive abilities.8

Role of Leadership
According to John Kotter, “leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action”.10 The distinction between leadership and management is a useful one in that it allows us to gain a better understanding of leadership and causes us to reflect on our personal roles as leaders, to critically ask ourselves whether we are really leading. A key distinction between the two has been elaborated upon by Jim Clemmer, where “we manage things and lead people”11 and by Joel Barker, where “managers manage within paradigms, leaders lead between paradigms”.12 While leadership is a necessary facet of management, the distinction is however apparent. A favored quote from Warren Bennis illustrates this point: “Management is getting people to do what needs to be done. Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done. Managers push. Leaders pull. Managers command. Leaders communicate."13

The responsibility of a leader to inspire, guide and facilitate the professional growth of employees is one that cannot be overstated. The Pygmalion effect has long been recognized where “a manager’s expectations are the key to a subordinate’s performance and development”.14 A paper by Douglas Ready and Jay Conger explored the demographic shifts in the talent pool and existing talent development strategies currently employed in organizations, concluding that despite the wealth of knowledge and investment, virtually all companies examined felt incapable of filling strategic management roles. “Leaders have long said that people are their companies’ most important assets, but making the most of them has acquired a new urgency.”15 Of particular interest in this paper was the finding that the element missing from most talent development programs was passion and vitality. The authors subsequently proposed suggested measures that companies could take to build it into their cultures.

There are a myriad quotes regarding the role of leadership, which help define it further, but in my opinion, the essence of the role of the leader is to create and/or maintain the vision of the organization to create a sense of purpose, communicate it and empower individuals to embrace that vision and to uphold guiding values, while perpetually fostering individual and organizational growth and innovation.

The role of the leader in engendering creativity in today’s innovation driven global economy was explored by Amabile and Khaire, and five practices recommended: tap ideas from all ranks; open your company to diverse perspectives; protect creative persons from bureaucracy; know when to impose controls and when not to; create a filtering system.16 Peter Drucker argues that innovation rarely springs forth from moments of inspiration, but rather arises from disciplined analysis of opportunities that arise. He names seven practical situations that account for the majority of innovation opportunities: unexpected occurrences; incongruities; process needs; industry and market changes; demographic changes; changes in perception; new knowledge.17

Practicing Leadership
The practice of leadership may be considered to be similar to the practice of medicine, with “practice” being the operative word. Many regard medicine to be an art, requiring practice in improvement endeavors. It is not an exact science, and as such there is no formula for success. Should you wish to maintain your personal health, you would employ such best practices as regular exercise, healthy diet, and stress minimization for example, yet ultimate health would not be guaranteed. The notions of best health practices themselves have changed over time. Moderation in all things is the general philosophy I’ve favored in maintaining health and similarly to leadership practice, where employing best practices seeks to ensure the best chance for success and continuous improvement requires practice.

Creating the ideal balance of professional and personal life may be a life-long endeavor but “taking smart steps to integrate work, home, community, and self will make you a more productive leader and a more fulfilled person.”18 Stewart Friedman suggests designing relatively simple experiments that will produce benefits in all four domains, being work, home, community, and self. Ultimately he concludes itʼs about creating sustainable change that benefits you and the most important people in your life.

The job of leaders is “no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization.”19 Deborah Ancona et al argue further that the sooner a leader stops trying to be all things to all people (the ideal leader) and recognizes their limitations, the sooner they will be able to rely on others to complement their missing skills to the benefit of the organization ultimately. Having the ability to self reflect and understand one’s shortcomings is a general thread of thought presented throughout this paper, from qualities of humility, through “authentic leadership”, to the notion that the “best CEOs master the ability to reset their goals and reinvigorate their agendas every few years”.20 The ability to bring oneself to account regularly in order to recognize when something is failing, accept responsibility for the failure, analyze and understand that a reinvention is required, and finally to decide and take action is vital to ensure continuous improvement and to prevent stagnation.

Historically leadership has always relied upon a single individual, from kings and rulers of countries to CEOs of large organizations. These inherent imperfections of an individual leads to a concluding thought that perhaps the world needs to undergo a paradigm shift of sorts where reliance upon the judgment and sanity (thinking of some despots currently ruling countries around the world) of an individual becomes the exception rather than the norm. Collaborative leadership is an emerging theory of management practice, which centers around a leader recognizing that the skills and attributes required for solution to a problem lies across organizational boundaries.21

The proposed shift goes beyond this concept to one where no single individual has absolute power, but power is given to an elected/appointed group of individuals. Collective decision-making would potentially prevent grave mistakes in addition to protecting the organization/country from abuses of power. As with any system, there are potential weaknesses, such as the fact that collective decision-making would potentially take longer and be impractical where rapid decisions are needed. As such one would reserve non-programmed decisions to the larger collection, assigning programmed decisions to individuals. Under this model of leadership or governance, persons would only be able to assume their position of “leadership” within the group context and not as individuals, unless tasked as such by the collective decision-making group. How these thoughts shape my personal leadership style and future endeavors remains to be seen as they continually develop through ongoing practice, self-reflection, and correction.

1 Collins English Dictionary – English Definition and Thesaurus. 5th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. 
2 Robert K. Greenleaf. Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Paulist
Press, New York, NJ. 1977 (2002 reprint). 
3 Kathleen Patterson. Servant leadership: A theoretical model. Doctoral dissertation, Regent University (UMI No.
3082719). 2003. 
4 Bruce E. Winston. Be a leader for God’s sake. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University School of Leadership
Studies. 2002. 
5 Jane Waddell. Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent
University School of Leadership Studies. 2006. 
6 Jim Collins. Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Harvard Business Review. 2001. 
7 David Rooke, William R. Torbert. Seven Transformations of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. 2005. 
8 Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean, Diana Mayer. Discovering Your Authentic Leadership. Harvard
Business Review. 2007. 
9 Daniel Goleman. What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review. 1998. 
10 John P. Kotter. John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review. 1999. 
11 Jim Clemmer. Management vs Leadership. The Clemmer Group. Available at www.jimclemmer.com, accessed
December 2009. 
12 Joel A. Barker. Future Edge – Discovering the New Paradigms of Success. William Morrow Publishers. 1992. 
13 Warren G. Bennis. Leading Change: The Leader as the Chief Transformational Officer. In J. Renesch (Ed.),
Leadership in a New Era: Visionary Approaches to the Biggest Crisis of Our Time (pp 102-110). San
Francisco: New Leaders Press. 1994. 
14 J. Sterling Livingston. Pygmalian in Management. Harvard Business Review. 1988. 
15 Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger. Make Your Company a Talent Factory – Stop Losing Out On Lucrative
Business Opportunities Because You Don’t Have The Talent To Develop Them. Harvard Business Review.
16 Teresa M. Amabile, Mukti Khaire. Creativity and the Role of the Leader. Harvard Business Review. 2008. 
17 Peter F. Drucker. The Discipline of Innovation. Harvard Business Review. 1985. 
18 Stewart D. Friedman. Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. Harvard Business Review. 2008. 
19 Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, Peter M. Senge. In Praise of the Incomplete
Leader. Harvard Business Review. 2007. 
20 David A. Nadler. The CEO’s Second Act. Harvard Business Review. 2007. 
21 David Archer, Alex Cameron. Collaborative Leadership: How to Succeed in an Interconnected World.
Butterworth Heinemann Publishing. 2009.

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