“Leadership works through people and culture…” – Michael McGrath, inspirational speaker, performance catalyst and change agent
Let’s take a look at a case in question in the story below to help en-flesh the quotation above:
On the 11th of February, 2010, the Economist in an article entitled: ‘Toyota – Accelerating into trouble’, reported the woes of Toyota showing the failure of the Japanese Board to spot a mechanical fault with the new Toyota Prius’ run-away acceleration and braking system. The fault lead to customer complaints and law suits that is reported to total approximately $5 billion, with Toyota having to recall approximately 8 million vehicles world wide. The overall market value loss totalled approximately $30 billion according to suggested figures. In its overall evaluation of what might have gone wrong with Toyota, the Economist highlighted a cultural issue where leadership was based on “a rigid system of seniority and hierarchy” which prevented “new ideas” from questioning “the way things worked”.
In a nutshell, what supposedly went wrong with Toyota was the fact of the existence of a culture where Toyota staff ‘on the ground’ were disconnected from their leadership, such that the over-respectability for leadership, a culture perpetuated by the leadership themselves, prevented the sharing of basic information on the goings-on ‘on the ground’ that would have gone a long way to nipping the arising problems described in the bud had their existed a culture where leadership worked in, with and through its staff.
Now, in all honesty, the aim here is not to castigate Toyota, for as a biblical quotation goes, “let him who is without ‘sin’ cast the first stone”. What has been described as the Toyota-experience, is in fact, symptomatic of what goes on in many of our organisations: a disconnect between leadership and those they ought to be leading. Note the use of the word: ‘disconnect’ – for it suggests a ‘broken-ness’ and an ‘absence of being with’ the very people being lead. So the main question here is, how does leadership get to the point whereby it can be described as ‘broken’, ‘disconnected’ and being ‘an absence’, rather than a ‘presence’ with people???
I return to the quotation: “Leadership works through people and culture” – I met Michael McGrath earlier this week, a truly inspirational man – and in discussing leadership, amongst other things, he suggested that leadership was all about the ability to connect with people’s emotions. And I think he is absolutely right! How else does a leader work through people and culture so as to inspire them to perform and be productive in the workplace environment? It is important to always remember: People are first and foremost human beings, and after that, they are workers – in that logical order – not the other way round. To this extent, leadership is about possessing the ability to speak to the heart or what I call the ‘emotional core’ of people, ‘capturing’ them, as it were, at an initial human level so as to inspire them to act professionally. This is absolutely imperative for a true leader.
In view of the above then, here are some simple but nonetheless very important questions leaders ought to ask themselves in order to inspire real change: Who are my people (or workforce)? What drives them? What are their individual needs and circumstances? What are their backgrounds, experiences and skills? How can my understanding of them as individuals assist me drive and deliver the strategic objectives of our organisation?
Asking, and importantly, developing people-focused initiatives that respond to these questions are at the heart of the professional capabilities that leaders need in order to effect real cultural change in organisations. To this extent, it is sad to realise that a good number of leadership development programs which are tasked with providing future leaders with the tools for inspiring change in people from all backgrounds, more often than not, either skirt round, or minimally addresses what I consider to be key leadership topics; ‘emotional intelligence‘, managing difference’, ‘cultural dynamics’, ‘diversity as strategy’, etc – all of which are fundamental to connecting with the ‘emotional core’ of the typical 21st century workforce so as to inject the energy, drive and the motivation needed to achieve the vision, mission and strategic objectives of the organisation.
What in effect is being strongly proposed here is that understanding people and their culture should be seen as the very first leadership priority when plotting a map for driving change in an organisation – for the resultant consequence will be the attainment of the organisational vision in, with and through the inter-connected workforce. This type of leadership described, that is able to pull all people together and connect them emotionally to their professional responsibilities, injecting in them the desire and drive to achieve key organisational objectives, is what I call inspired leadership…
At the heart of our inspired leadership philosophy, is connecting with what is in fact the diversity of people (or workforce) in the organisation – which in turn leads to the development of a culture where employees, at all levels, feel connected with their leaders, and inter-connected with the entire organisation as a consequence. This allows for any existing ‘blockages’, akin to those described in the Toyota case , to dissipate and effectively become non-existent as information known on ‘the ground’ is readily available to those at ‘the top-tier’ to manage accordingly – through simply accessing the ‘individual’ connections leadership has made in and through their people.