The Age Of Enlightenment

The Age Of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was a period of Western civilization from the early 1600s to the late 1700s in which individual reason and analysis emerged in preference to entrenched societal institutions representing authority. Literacy, skepticism, and science became popular and revered. The age that preceded it, the Dark Ages, was a period of intellectual and cultural decline, and where traditional social institutions held authority over the masses.

What Age are we in when it comes to leadership? Are we in an Age of Enlightenment, or are we in the Dark Ages? How would we know? What evidence exists to inform us of the nature of leadership in 2015?

People well-versed in Lean management would say that organizations using batch-and-queue to process material and information is in the Dark Ages. Leaders support batch-and-queue processing by their acceptance of it and behave in ways that reflect that processing method (blame people for problems, etc.). Consequently, leaders must also be in the Dark Age. Since the great majority of organizations use batch-and-queue processing, and their leaders behave in ways that reflect that processing method, it would appear that, overall, leadership today is in the Dark Age. It has been this way for a long time.

This leads to some important questions: How do we exit the Dark Age of leadership and enter into the Age of Leadership Enlightenment? How can literacy, skepticism, and science, enter the realm of leadership, and how do we come to revere this new perspective? How do we get people to think of leadership as a service (LaaS), and recognize the pressing need to improve service quality and effectiveness.

One thing that has proven ineffective is the near 100-year effort to get leaders to improve their behaviors. There is abundant empirical evidence that, while helpful for some (<5 percent), the majority of leaders don’t actually care about their behaviors as an indicator of leadership effectiveness. They value other indicators, most often those related to money and people’s ability to get things done. That means we need to make a connection between money, execution, and something else that leaders value. The thing that leaders value and that we can connect to is time, for two reasons: 1) Time and money are often related and 2) Leaders are concerned about matters related to time such as: time to market, time to complete a project, time to satisfy customer demand, etc. Leaders place a high value on execution – getting things done.

We will remain in the Dark Ages if our conceptualization of leadership remains the same, and if our solution, improved behaviors, also remains the same. But, I do not think this is destiny. Rather, leadership can enter an Age of Enlightenment if the conceptualization of leadership changes from behaviors – the traditional psychology and organizational development view that has long been in authority – to time and information flow. This new conceptualization is expressed by the simple equation: Leadership = di/dt. Another way of stating this equation is: Leadership = Information Flow.

lpe_metricNext, one must ask: “What impedes and blocks information flow?” The biggest contributor to blocked information flow is the errors that leaders make. They don’t make these errors because they are bad people. They make errors because they do not understand the work that they do in the level of detail necessary to avoid making errors. Leaders do not understand their work as processes – repetitive processes – which, if closely examined, will reveal many errors whose effect is to impede and block information flow.

How many errors can experienced leaders make? It turns out they can make lots of errors, often in rapid succession in the 15 leadership processes that most leaders are engaged in on a more-or-less daily basis. Within each leadership processes is the possibility of at least two dozen specific errors. That means there are more than 350 errors that each leader can make. It also means there are more than 350 opportunities for improvement using various simple yet effective means. But, improvement is not possible if leaders remain under the illusion that their work is error-free.

What is the effect of all these leadership process errors? It cannot be good for employees. It will be bad for customers, as well as suppliers. If it is not good for employees, customers, and suppliers, then what are the chances it is good for investors? The health of the company will surely suffer, resulting in a decline in enterprise value and perhaps eventual bankruptcy, which would be bad for the community. Therefore, the need to reduce and eliminate leadership process errors should be obvious.

Conceptualizing leadership as information flow, leadership as processes, and understanding leadership errors brings us forward into the Age of Leadership Enlightenment because they can be affected by individual reason and analysis. This puts leadership on a scientific basis where effects (blocked information flow, poor decision-making, ineffective problem-solving, etc.) can be attributed to causes that we can easily identify and correct. It does not ignore the need for leaders to behave in ways that respect people, etc. The two conceptualizations are related and complimentary to one another. The equation Leadership = di/dt evolved over a period of 20 years beginning with my early conceptualization of effective leadership as being the result of “Lean Behaviors.”

This new conceptualization of leadership and simple methods to improve leadership is described in my new book, Speed Leadership: A Better Way To Lead In Rapidly Changing Times. I hope you will read it, learn from it, and put it into practice.

By: Bob Emiliani
Posted: August 17, 2015, 1:14 pm

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