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Everything I thought I new about leadership is wrong – Fast Company – Sinsath Shameer

by on October 15, 2007

“Everything I thought I new about leadership is wrong!” This is a very humble statement made by the person who at the time of writing this article had worked being the President and vice chairman of EDS for many years.

People and their expectations from their job are changing and organizations’ should change along with it. More and more people are passionate about an organizations’ social responsibility and what an organizations’ stand is on a particular social issue; which can range from their views on diversity at work place, treating minorities to their efforts in reducing poverty around the globe. This is a micro trend that has been developed over a couple of years and organizations have been evolving to be in par with the current situation.

In the current scenario would it work to be a dictator leader? Mort Meyerson had this revelation after he left EDS and how the company though was very successful financially, but had done very little to uplift the lives of its employees. The organization had put too much pressure on the employees to increase their productivity in return for monetary gains and this had a very diverse effect on their personal and family lives.
So at Perot systems he didn’t want to heed this self destructive behavior of the organization where the best people wouldn’t want to work for the company and initiated some reform measures that included revamping the organizations’ culture into a more employee friendly one, providing training to the top leaders and also making those with abusive behaviors who couldn’t change their attitude by making them leave the company.
Finally after lot of change management efforts they were able to build a company that not only focused on economic and day-to-day business, but also concerned themselves with the well being of its employees and customers.

It’s been an age old idea that work is not the place where people bring their emotional problems. The idea has been changing now in some organizations and at the new reformed Perot Systems, employees where recognized as emotional beings with real personal issues. They were encouraged to work with their emotions and not against it. This a great thought considering the fact that people have real problems and it makes their life much easy to be able to work in a company that recognizes and supports the fact that they have a life outside work. This kind of culture has been successfully implemented in companies like Starbucks which has a high employee satisfaction rate and a very low turn over ratio.

The writer then talks about how the leadership has changed with the new organizational culture and how this change is for the betterment of the company. He moved from more of a dictator leader to a servant leader who puts the interest of the team and the company above any self interest. It’s about bringing the right people on the team, nurturing relationships and encouraging its people to grow and flourish in the organization. It’s not about pushing ones ideas over others but listening to their expert opinions and giving them a little autonomy over the way.

The writer argues that a leader as being someone who guides the team, but not who makes decisions for them. This is one aspect of the writer’s point that I couldn’t quite agree upon. A leader should be someone that people want to look up to; it’s someone you want to believe who makes the best judgment calls. So when people come with a difficult situation, it’s the job of the leader to help them make the right choice based on all the information available. It’s true that it’s not possible for a person to know everything, but with the right advisors and with the right people on the team, a leader should be making the ultimate decision call during a crisis rather than telling the employees that it’s not his job to make decisions for them. This will make the leader more respectful among the employees and as someone whom they could rely on during a difficult situation.
Mort Meyerson then moved on become a leader who is accessible all the time and through anyone in the company. This seems to be a nice notion as it shows that the company chief cares for even the people in the lower levels and it reinforces the original idea of having a culture that cares for its people. On the downside, it’s the responsibility of the employees to make sure that the leader is not swamped with unimportant requests and this is something to be considered as to how it can be achieved.

The leaders today have to be genuine; they should be able to understand psychology and understand themselves. It is not possible to manipulate and lead the team without showing compassion for their employees, customers and everything associated with the organization. The idea of being a servant leader seems to be idealized by the writer, but how feasible it is in today’s organization? With the ever changing and innovative organizations where new directions are constantly sought, it is not possible to make everyone happy. The organization wants someone who not only coaches the team, but also is rigid and gives orders when needed. So some balance should be sought on being nice to the people and being someone who can make great judgment calls irrespective of how uncomfortable it’s going to make some people during the hour of crisis.

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