As part of my participation at the Canadian Business Magazine’s 2013 Leadership Forum in November, I had the pleasure of engaging in a fantastic interview with Richard Warnica , during which, we talk about the vitality of middle management, the importance of followership, and Canada’s business marketplace/brand.
Reflect for a moment on how much money organizations, of all sizes, are spending each year on recruiting external talent through head hunters and/or employment agencies. Think about it. The very same organizations who have done such a poor job of identifying, developing and managing their own talent base, in a failed attempt to ensure access to a steady stream of qualified human capital, go outside and pay good money to identify able bodied outsiders. To make matters worse, those outsiders then get added into the same talent pool we know, by experience, is not being properly developed or managed in the first place, and so the cycle repeats itself, ad infinitum. It’s lunacy!
The right people to develop, though, are those who think differently:
Most of the business leaders we have produced since the end of WWII have had a belief and a grounding in the principles of incrementalism and process efficiency. They grew up as managers and then became leaders by invoking the tightly constraining economic principles of control, zero defects and narrow tolerances. They emphasized the science of management and believed good strategic planning would produce superior, recurring results. Their narrow perspective and intellectual naiveté, suggested that wise men could create a strategic plan created scientifically on a foundation of facts and precedents, and that their superior blueprints need only then be executed.
Canada occupies a unique space in the minds of people around the world. We enjoy a positive, fresh and fair image on the international stage, quite distinct from the brash bravado of the Americans, the taciturn reserve of the British, the mystical secrecy of the Japanese and the stiff formality of the Germans. This image, our national “brand”, should provide us a natural advantage when it comes to applying transformational leadership techniques to help boost our global business profile, accelerate our global growth and leverage our brand internationally.
In order to meet the new and much higher demands of a more discerning global clientele, we need to embrace a very special group of people inside our organizations. The external conditions require us to develop truly talented people like never before, in order to help us create the products, services and experiences customers crave and will pay for. These are not the typical hard working, loyal employees of the past who, in exchange for a promise of job security and lifetime employment, were content to follow orders, comply with standard operating procedures and not complain about the physical and mental drudgery of their job. Instead, the people we need now are wired just a little differently. These are people who, by conventional standards and past definitions, are more than a little unusual. In fact, in the minds of some, they may even be odd balls, lunatics and heretics because they challenge convention and think in novel ways.
We have all been caught, at one time or another, in the grip of our own self-righteous and self-serving behaviour. It’s part of the human condition. While we can forgive mild forms of occasional bravado and a temporarily exaggerated ego when the outcome or circumstance is not all that important and the behaviour is infrequent, it becomes a huge problem when it becomes the habitual tendency of the senior leader. Even though ego can occasionally be a virtue if it allows us to gain the courage to break out of a rut or a bad situation, in the case of transformational leadership, recidivist behaviour of this type can be fatal and cannot be tolerated.
Despite the critical nature of their role as connectors, middle managers continue to receive far too little attention and are often among the most disconnected and disempowered employees in any organization. You can tell you have a challenge with this community when you walk the halls, tour the floor or visit the cubicles and notice lack of eye contact and a low level of vitality. Middle managers who are heads down and hiding from those above and below are not likely to be driving high performance. Organizations and their senior leaders need to change the way they view, manage and communicate with this vital constituency, and that begins with understanding the performance benefits that can be gained from releasing this bottled-up reservoir of underutilized capability and engaging it in the transformation process.