Values and Leadership

29 Mar

I completed reading an excellent book ‘Catalyst’ by Chandramouli Venkatesan a few months back and have been thinking deeply about the VML equation of leadership impact mentioned in the book which is as below:

 Leadership Impact = function [(content + position) * values]

In a nutshell, the leadership influence an individual can make at a certain level is a function of the content someone brings to the table, the level of seniority/influence the individual has within the ecosystem, and his/her values. The interesting component of the equation is the multiplicative nature of the values in the equation i.e. if as a leader your value system amounts to zilch, then the content and position do not matter in the longer run.

As per the author, if you work long enough, positions usually come by and given the number of years folks spend in a particular trade, folks are smart enough to develop meaningful content. The real differentiator then on the leadership impact comes from values the leaders live by and propagate within their teams.

There is a profound truth in this simple equation which is much more visible within the organization than leaders think. Every interaction a leader has with juniors, peers, seniors during the day is an opportunity to assert what you care about and how value driven you are. Consider the following practical situations which span out in a corporate environment and show what you care about:

• A leader berating a peer manager in front of a junior team member just as a passing remark.(The other leaders are not  competent enough!)
• A manager competing openly with his/her peers to get more visibility/recognition for himself/his team. (Winning is important!)
• A manger asking his/her team members not to share information about the work being done within the team so that the credit does not get shared. (Don’t share too much – who gets the credit is important !)
• A leader being too worried about his image to the outside world than taking care of the team which work too hard to make him look good.(Upward management wins the day, results matter – not how they are achieved!)
The harsh truth for a leader in all above scenarios is that the ecosystem around you is much more observant about the values you are exhibiting and forming opinions about you much more than you think. The bigger impact is the next layer of upcoming leaders learning those behaviors from you and assuming that it is fin to get away with these behaviors in the organization and still grow to senior levels.

In an ideal world, the senior most leaders in the organization should own these challenges and make sure that there are enough listening posts formal or informal to get the warning signs and take corrective actions else there is a deep damage being done somewhere which you will not see unless it is too late. The irony is that while the senior leadership may be blind to some of these warning signs, the broader organization sees them day in day out and unfortunately they do not have any authority to do anything about it!

The most successful organizations pay a lot of attention to these softer aspects of organization building and have checks and balances in place to build world-class leadership teams. A case in point being Pixar which has delivered box office hit movies one after the other. The senior leaders thought through really hard about building a winning culture where the focus was to build world class movies and build a culture which outlived the founders. I am currently reading ‘Creativity Inc’ by Edwin Catmull president of Pixar animation which gives a fascinating account of how they went about building such a culture – more of it in the next blog!

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