Friday, September 28, 2012

Immersive leadership: My Thoughts on effective way to manage

Most of us would have experienced leaders who do not have grasp of what is happening in their teams. Often such leaders would be second level or higher level managers. Usually team leads or first level managers would physically be around their teams. The manager who is either at second level or higher would try to distance himself from the Individual contributors But the main trait of such managers is that they primarily depend on impersonal methods such as reports, memos or analytical tools.


The problem with reports and memos or analytical tools is that they filter out great deal of details that are subtle and unstructured. These methods are by nature designed to capture stable information, i.e. one may not be able to write in a report that I could be wrong and I feel that a particular person is incapable. Such judgment requires observation of many instances. Personal involvement allows capturing of subtle details and reach conclusion gradually.


Based on my experience and reflections, I have formulated leadership concept known as immersive leadership. Immersive leadership is about leaders staying in touch with their environment. I have been influenced by two Indian historical figures. One was Mahatma Gandhi and another was Mughal emperor Akbar.


Gandhi could have been the best example of an immersive leader. Gandhi had means to live a comfortable life but he chose to live like a monk. Many of his contemporary leaders lived relatively better lives. But Gandhi decided to live among ordinary Indians and adopted their way of life. So he wore self woven loin cloth and lived a modest life in a hut. In my view, This life provided him 3 strengths. First,  He didn't have to worry about arranging for means of livelihood so he could focus what he wanted to do. Second, he could understand their aspirations as he stayed among them. And third, since he appeared similar to ordinary Indians, he could influence the masses.


Akbar also kept himself immersed among Indian populous. At that time most of Mughal rulers stayed aloof from native Indians. Akbar Choose to break away from that tradition and held regular meetings with scholars of different religions and he stayed in touch with citizen. Another way for Akbar to stay connected with the populous was that he move around in cities in disguise. He realized that many of the policies of Mughal rule caused undue hardships for his citizens and so he modified them. Akbar is considered founder of modern India and during and after 100 years of his rule India was prosperous.


I believe the following 7 things are required in order to be an immersive leader.


1.       commitment to seek truth: Unless leaders do not understand the reality, their actions could be misguided. Reality is shrouded under many layers and discovering it requires commitment. It is easy to mistake opinion as reality. For example, everyone once thought earth is the center of the universe and it took many lives to change that opinion. History is replete with similar other examples. To avoid such problems, leaders must think critically and promote critical thinking in their organizations. Besides critical thinking, leaders should also understand human psychology. Psychology helps leaders to gain in cite into potential pitfalls in our thinking or others thinking.


2.       Commitment to the cause or organization: while we examine our beliefs, we should also be committed to our goals or objectives. without commitment one may find it difficult to get enough energy to stay engaged because obstacles can drain our energy if we are not grounded. And healthy commitment comes by examining what type of person we are and what we value.


3.       Know yourself: In order to understand what we are and what we want, we need to be self aware. Just like truth, self knowledge also does not reveal itself easily. There are many beliefs about ourselves that if refuted, would make us uncomfortable, and to avoid such a feeling our mind decides to ignore such thoughts. Also there are a few biases such as self serving bias and disconfirmation bias that keep us away from learning about ourselves. Self serving bias is our tendency to view our own actions more positively than that of others. In short, developing a capacity for disciplined and honest self-reflection( refer to Avolio) must be developed in order to be an immersive leader.


4.       Develop Willpower: It takes a lot of willpower to stay on a path chosen. In any thing we do, there are distraction like calls of sirens to waver us from our path. According to latest scientific research, Willpower is like muscle. Like a muscle, it can be developed over time with practice and like a muscle, it also gets depleted with use in the short term. So practicing willpower helps to develop it.


5.       Develop Empathy: working effectively with others requires the leaders to understand about others inner lives. This understanding provides clue to the thoughts or feelings of the constituents. Empathy can be developed by regular exposure to others perspectives. Such perspective can be gained through autobiographic  accounts of others.


6.       Communicate effectively: leaders learn about other persons through empathy but they must know how to express their own perspective effectively. Effective communication depends on leader's ability to understand the other persons perspective and leader's skill in coaching.


7.       Shared Vision: Through empathy and communication a Leader becomes fulcrum around whom shared vision develops. Without buy-in, leaders can not get anything done. So leaders develop communication highway with the constituents.


In order to practice immersive leadership, a manager in an organization could practice what is known as management by walking around. Another way could be to also observe how his or her direct reports who are also managers interact with their direct reports. But the most important thing is intention to observe, various techniques are not that important.


I think one barrier in immersive behavior is appearing to be working. Management by walking around means that you are not at your desk and appearing to be not working. Most of the people in organization always appear working even if they don't really have some work.


Another barrier is lack of open mindedness. We all want to be sure about what we think, and with some maturity there are not that many unresolved issues. But that is true for others as well. If I speak as if my word is final, then others feel that I don't value them and their ideas. Perhaps one way to resolve this problem is to believe there are multiple stories about the same issue, and my story is valid and so is the story of others. The idea of single story and multiple stories came from Chimamanda Adichie's ted talk: The danger of a single story. According to her, everyone has multiple stories and we should not form an opinion about others based on single story. I believe every situation also has multiple stories, so try not to believe that there is one universal reality.


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