Leadership in fast changing environment

GIVEN the current volatility in the Zimbabwean business environment currently, the need to introspect on ideal strategies of running a business has never been more compelling.

Robert Mandeya

While leadership is not management and management is not leadership, it is important to closely explore the link between the two so as to appreciate the importance and “complementality” of the two personal dimensions in dealing with current volatile business environment.
Like John Kotter, professor of business at the Harvard Business School at the time observes:

“Leadership is different from management, but not for the reasons most people think. It has nothing to do with having charisma or other exotic personality traits. It is not the province of the chosen few. Nor is leadership necessarily better than management or a replacement for it. Both are necessary for success in a complex and volatile business environment.”

However, leadership is the first creation while management is the second creation. What it means is, leadership deals with the top line where as management is a bottom-line focus. Simply put, leadership concerns its self with “what are the things I want to accomplish?”

whilst management is preoccupied with the “how can I best accomplish certain things?” In the words of Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis; “Leadership is doing the right things and management is doing things right.”

The point is further amplified by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 habits of Highly Effective People; “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Taking from these observations, it means leadership is about initiating and coping with change, which is now a vital factor given the significant and frequent changes in technology, competition, regulations, changing consumer demands and economic instability.

At this instance, let us take management as a situation consisting a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes.

In this scenario, they are the producers, the problem solvers, who are cutting through the undergrowth- clearing out. The managers are behind them, sharpening their “machetes” by writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programmes, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and compensation programmes for the machete wielders.

In the case alluded to, the leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”
But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? “Shut up! We are making progress.”

As individuals, groups, and businesses, we are often so busy cutting through the undergrowth not realising at times that we are in the wrong jungle. Therefore, the rapidly changing environment in which we find ourselves now makes effective leadership more critical than it has ever been.

In Zimbabwe, we are more in need of a vision or destination and a compass (a set of principles or directions) and less in need of a road map. We are in a situation where we do not know what the terrain ahead will be like or what we will need to go through it; much now depends on our judgement as and when the situation arise.

What is needed is that inner compass which will always give us direction. Effectiveness in business no longer solely depends on how much effort we expend, but on whether or not the effort we put is applied in the right jungle. The metamorphosis, taking place in almost every industry and profession, demands leadership first and management second.

In business, the market is changing so rapidly that many products and services that successfully met consumer tastes and needs a few years ago are obsolete today.

In Zimbabwe today, the products which were almost a basic necessity in the yester-year are almost like luxuries today as the liquidity crunch bites the consumer. The spending patterns of people have completely changed.

Proactive powerful leadership must constantly monitor environmental change, particularly customer buying habits and motives, and provide the force necessary to organise resources in the right direction. If industries do not monitor the environment, including their own work teams, and exercise the creative leadership to keep headed in the right direction, no amount of management expertise can serve them from failing.

Efficient management without effective leadership is, as one individual has phrased it: “like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.” No management success can compensate for failure in leadership.

It goes without saying that most of us are caught up in a management paradigm when in fact we are supposed to provide leadership. We are so deep into management, pre-occupied by day to day pressing challenges of logistics and other urgent matters.

If today you look at your role as the chairman or director, you will realise that you are not into leadership but deep into management issues.

Increasing change in organisation’s environment implies a need for creating a leadership culture. Often too, at family level, parents are also trapped in the management paradigm, thinking of control, efficiency and rules instead of direction, purpose, and family feeling. Thus leadership is even more lacking in our personal lives.

We are into managing with efficiency, setting and achieving goals before we have even clarified our values.

Individuals who wish to be successful in creating change need to be aware of how the complementary skills of management and leadership interrelate. Both are necessary but whereas management is about coping with complex issues, leadership is about coping with change.

Robert Mandeya is a training and communication in management advisor. Email: mandeyarobert@yahoo.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com. The views contained herein are personal views.

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