Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Connected and Committed Leader - a review

The Connected and Committed Leader is written by Laura Lopez, a former vice president of marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. It is a book that argues that leadership style in our large corporations is devoid of heart and true human connection.

I think many of us have had experience with the people in power in large organisations. Who hasn't had to negotiate with the bank or the power company at some stage? You know how lacking in compassion they are, all tied up with regulations and browbeaten by someone even more senior than themselves. As a parent our loyalties are divided between the needs of our families and those of a usually heartless workplace, especially in larger organisations. There is little human connection showing at all.

Laura says that for organisations to remain viable into the future they need to change their attitude towards leadership. She believes that people will need to lead rather than manage though traditional management has been the other way around. She defines a leader as "a person followed voluntarily by others". This conflicts with many management theories which tend to promote directing and controlling behaviours rather than guiding and encouraging. She argues that these theories are outdated and that because the expectations of this new generation of employees has changed, the skills required to lead them need to be changed too.

I remember a leader that I looked up to and would have followed anywhere. She was clever and efficient. She knew how to get the job done, but she was also one of us. We knew when she became an auntie. We knew when she bought a new car. We knew when she was going to apply for a job. She was very successful and rose to the highest level a woman had ever achieved in our corporation. I came to work for her a year or so later and could not recognise her at all. She did not talk to anyone other than to hand down work. She didn't see anyone from the office outside of work. She did not look happy although she was highly successful. Needless to say people did not want to work for her for very long. The staff turnover in her area was incredible. People want to contribute, not just shuffle papers. She was a great manager, but a lousy leader.

Laura was a manager in that same 'old school' variety where she focused primarily on results. What changed her? She became a mother for the first time as she and her husband adopted a child. She saw that the behaviours she was using at home could be equally well applied at work.

The book is full of personal anecdotes and as you read them it is easy to see why she recognised the need for a new leadership style. As she began to talk to her staff about her new life she became more real to them. They began to know her and understand her. They began to talk to her, too. They built up a level of trust which encouraged Laura to loosen the reins. Suddenly the employees were able to create, to suggest strategies and to fully commit to their work. "When we let others see the truth in us, then we have more integrity and others are willing to trust is more." Her people were free to speak and confident of being listened to.

The techniques that we all use when dealing with small children are equally useful in a leadership role. We let children experiment so they learn, try new things so they grow, guide them when they are making choices, support them when they are unsure and pick them up when they fall. We consider their needs while still making sure that we get where we have to go. These behaviours are just what is needed to create a connected and committed workforce.

Isn't it about time that someone at a senior level realised this? Organisations lose so many people because they won't cater for their needs. How many parents have had to quit work to stay with their little ones because they can't do both roles well? How many times, though, have we heard that the most loyal employees are the ones whose needs have been accommodated by the workplace? For parents considering a return to the workplace, this change will certainly give you hope.

Neither Laura or I are suggesting that sensible boundaries are removed. Business is business, after all, but in order to create a fully functioning and strong business for years to come there needs to be more balance. "Much like we need men and women to make the world go 'round, we also need the head and the heart applied in business. Being too skewed to one extreme is detrimental to the whole."

Laura has also formulated seven essential leadership insights which are a combination of beliefs and behaviours:

1. Believe and let go

2. Be curious and see everyone

3. Be receptive and yield

4. Be real and serve.

5. Be humble and keep your ego in check

6. Be consistent and clear

7. Be vulnerable and give of yourself.

To find out more about the insights and the new, balanced approach to leadership then read the book. It is available from Amazon as well as Laura's site.