Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 19, 2009

Loyalty to the organizational purpose

Last week in class, we continued our series on leadership. One concept that the professor explained that really resonated strongly with me was the idea of Purposeful Leaders and Purposeful Followers.  In my last blog post, I had wrote that it is crucial to define your company’s purpose (why you do what you do). Whether you are in government, for-profit, or not-for-profit organizations, you should always strive to define the purpose.

Once you define the purpose and your employees understand and see the purpose in their day-to-day functions, then you can create an environment where leaders and followers can have loyalty to the purpose. The radical notion that I learned in class was this:

The only thing you should be loyal to is the purpose

This is where a lot of companies stray. They create cultures of people being loyal to a person, instead of loyalty to a purpose.

As a leader:

Understand your organization’s purpose and do the right things at the opportune times to follow that purpose. Be a purposeful leader. Think of leadership as a service to that purpose and not as privilege and prestige for yourself.

As a follower:

Understand your organization’s purpose and be loyal to that purpose. Find and follow purposeful leaders who are also loyal to that purpose. If a leader is a purposeful leader, then you should follow this purposeful leader. If the leader strays from the purpose, then you as a follower should try to bring them back on-track to the purpose.

This concept is described in-depth in Ira Chaleff’s iconoclastic book – “The Courageous Follower” (which I have to add to my to-read list).   What a great concept. I’m glad I learned about it and now I can be vigilant whether I am a leader or a follower to not stray from my organization’s purpose.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 12, 2009

Your Organization’s Purpose

Tonight in class we were discussing about purpose and finding your organization’s purpose. I love how my professor, Bret Simmons, talked about it in class and on his blog. It made a lot of sense.  Not many of the students in the class knew their company’s purpose or could recite it back. I couldn’t even remember my former company’s purpose. It’s one of those things we see in the employee manual and never look back at again.

Purpose is as basic as asking

  • Why does your organization exist?
  • Why should my organization use the world’s limited resources?
  • What value is my organization creating in the world?

Purpose is one of those 30,000 ft-level views of a company. Not everyone will get it right away, but the important thing is that they can be taught and made to understand why this is the company’s purpose.

Purpose is a strong driver of behavior if your employees know your purpose, understand your purpose, and get behind your purpose. It should be short and to the point, so that your employees can remember it always and see how it is being applied to their day-to-day work.

What’s even more important about purpose is that once you define your organization’s purpose and people within understand the purpose, you can create a culture of  purposeful leaders and purposeful followers (which I’ll blog about next time).

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 12, 2009

Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at a Tire Plant

I just read a case study from Harvard Business Publishing called “The Treadway Tire Company: Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at the Lima Tire Plant.” It was a look at the factors affecting this specific attitude (job dissatisfaction) and this specific behavior (high turnover) amongst foremen at this major plant for this pseudonym tire company.


The plant had many problems, chiefly:

  • Morale and productivity were imperiled.
  • The plant was not satisfactorily developing new managers.
  • Relations between management and the union were threatened.

The newly-transferred director of HR at this plant had her job cut out for her. She made it her top priority to reversing this trend and had to have an actionable plan in to her boss after the the annual Christmas break (within a month’s time). She knew that by solving these problems, she could make the plant the number one plant in the company for productivity and lowest cost.

And contrary to what a lot of managers believer, high turnover does cost companies a lot (and not just money)!

Even though the aspect of the company presented in the case study was limited, I still think significant observations can be drawn of the the environment at play in this case.

  1. The foremen’s supervisors (the general supervisors and area supervisors) seem to be making the fundamental attribution error. That is, they seem to be attributing poor performance amongst foremen to the foremen themselves, instead of looking at systemic factors outside the control of the foremen that could be contributing more to the poor performance.
  2. This is echoed by comments made by some of the foremen, such as: “a lot of it is beyond my control, and management doesn’t seem to understand that.”
  3. There seems to be a system in place that doesn’t give foremen the proper training they need to conduct their jobs.
  4. The foremen state specifically that the lack of training is their main concern.
  5. Other concerns the foremen have are no respect from their subordinates, and lack of authority and respect for the foremen position from all.
  6. There seems to be a culture in play that seem to keep this perpetuating these problems. A major question I had is that if the general managers were almost always promoted from the foremen positions, why didn’t they take steps to make life easier for the foremen under them since they were also once in that position and knew what it was like?
  7. The training program for the foremen that the HR director was proposing should not have been cut, even with the current economic situation. It was a good way to at least start to solve this problem. It could have been restructured or more limited, but should not have been cut completely.
  8. Even though the HR director lets us know above why she wants to solve this problem, it’s not clear if these benefits were communicated to everyone at the plant. All employees should know that solving this problem will benefit them as well. Good communication and getting buy-in from the employees to  to find the root causes of this issue is important.

Finding the solutions to this mess will not be easy. I agree that more training for the foremen is the first step. It’s admirable that the HR director wants to find the root causes instead of treating just the symptoms. That’s the only way to ensure that this will not keep repeating itself.

I’m sure the in-class discussion on this case study will be enlightening as always. I’m sure others will make wonderful suggestions that we can all learn from.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Level 5 leadership

In his book, Good to Great (whose problems have been previously discussed here), Jim Collins describes a Level 5 leader.

  • Level 1 – Highly Capable Individual
    • Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.
  • Level 2 – Contributing Team Member
    • Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.
  • Level 3 – Competent Manager
    • Organizes people and resources towards effective and efficient pursuits of predetermined objectives.
  • Level 4 – Effective Leader
    • Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance and standards.
  • Level 5 – Level 5 Executive
    • Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.

According to my class textbook, leadership in organizations is the process of guiding and directing the behavior of people in the work environment. You can be a formal leader (where the authority to direct and guide others is given to you by the organization) or you can be an informal leader (where you guide the behavior of others unofficially), or be a combination of both.

The concept of Level 5 leadership seems to go along with the theory of leadership that states that managers and leaders are different (to which my textbook subscribes). Not all leadership researchers and advocates believe this though.  According to my textbook again, leaders agitate for change and new approaches, whereas managers advocate stability and the status quo. Leaders promote effectiveness whereas managers promote efficiency. There is a healthy tension there.

The concept of level 5 leadership is intriguing because it creates a ladder that leaders can aspire to climb. It shows that leadership is a learning process and that becoming a great leader takes time. I especially like the emphasis on personal humility and creating enduring greatness once you reach Level 5. But I believe that those two characteristics can be applied to any of the 5 levels – and it should.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Good leaders place themselves last

In connection to our in-class discussion on leadership, I read an article that talked about how a former Days Inn hotel chain executive who left the chain over disagreements with the owners as to what was in the best interest of the company. The article was titled “Good Leadership Requires Executives To Put Themselves Last”  from page B1 of the April 20, 2004 Wall Street Journal.

The owners were later convicted of fraud and one sentenced to an 8-year prison term. The former executive says he isn’t angry about how things turned out. “I did what I had to do even though it cost me a significant amount of money,” he says. He even fought a bought of depression because of it.

Leaders should understand that sometimes doing what is right means taking a pay-cut or losing your power and position. It involves making a decision that is higher than your personal interests. This concept is shown in the Bible in Mark 10:35-45 where Jesus’ disciples James and John had approached him earlier and asked him if they could become in effect, the second and third men, in what they perceived to be his future earthly kingdom. Jesus called his disciples together and said  “you know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave  to all.”

Being a good servant leader does not mean placing yourself last all the time, but it does mean that you consider yourself in no special esteem. There is often a greater good to be done and it may not always serve your personal interests. I think this is harder to do than just writing about it. I have never had to make such tough decisions (yet), but if I have to, it’s good to know that things will turn out all right and a greater good will have been accomplished.

Bottom Line: Doing the right thing in business does not always lead to success or riches as this case showed. You may go through hell at first but over time, doing the right thing will always make you better off.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Steven Covey on Servant Leadership

In class discussions on leadership, we read an article written by Steven Covey in Executive Excellence (1994) titled “New Wine, Old Bottles.”

Covey states that most training programs try to put new wine in old bottles. For example, they take the “new wine” concept of servant leadership and try to combine it with the old command-and-control or benevolent authoritarian approach. He says that the leader then becomes a wolf in sheep’s clothing because their basic style has not changed.

Servant leadership requires humility of character and core competency around a new skill set. To become servant leaders, Covey lists three steps that executives must take.

  1. Build relationships of trust
  2. Set up win-win performance agreements
  3. Be a source of help

In servant leadership, the leader no longer takes the position of a servant. He/she no longer directs, controls, or judges. Instead, they become a coach and resource for help.  Their whole goal is to coach and lead their team members to excellence (even if it may become greater than the leader’s).

Covey also states that servant leaders should ask four questions in mutual accountability sessions

  1. How’s it going? or what’s happening?
  2. What are you learning from this situation?
  3. What are your goals now?
  4. How can I help you?

He states that without this new mindset, servant leadership won’t work. It’s like putting new wine in old wineskins. It requires a change in mindset of managers and leaders.  It requires that managers become compassionate to the performance struggles of their employees and help them succeed.

Covey mentions that servant leadership is not soft or “touchy-feely” stuff – it takes guts to do. He also mentions that critics of servant leadership are people who want more dramatic near-term results, but servant leadership is a system that takes time to fully blossom but will yield much more stable and consistent long-term results.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Two courageous acts of leadership during war

Connected to our discussions on leadership in class, I read two WSJ articles on brave American soldiers who went against orders during WWII and the Iraq war of 2003.

The first article was about Lt. John Withers, a black soldier, who befriended a polish holocaust survivor (who they called Peewee) and gave him shelter and food and allowed him to stay with his army company. This was illegal to do at the time, and Lt. Withers could have been dishonorably discharged and lost his dreams of earning a Phd with the GI bill. However, Lt. Withers felt it was the right thing to do and a friendship blossomed. The article went on to detail their emotional reunion almost 50 years later in Hartford, CT in 2001 after Lt. Withers’ son tracked down Peewee (now Martin Weigen). These two men who had endured racism and discrimination in different forms, had formed a lasting bond during the war, and reconnected 50 years later as if they were just gone for a day.

The second article discussed the firing of Marine Colonel Joe D. Dowdy during the Iraq invasion of 2003. The colonel was dismissed from his command because of an age-old tension in warfare: men vs. mission – in which he favored his men. The Colonel was given orders from his superiors to speed through cities on the outskirts of Baghdad, however in one city, Kut, Col. Dowdy hunkered down and chose a alternate route around the city because he felt that it would imperile his division. Col. Dowdy’s superiors saw speed as paramount in the tactics for the war, but Col. Dowdy thought sacrificing everything for speed would be disastrous to his men. Colonel Dowdy had a strong history of treating his men like equals in the highly stratified Marine Corps. He had the respect and admiration of his men, from the grunts up. Colonel Dowdy’s decisions to favor his men over the mission, led to his dismissal from his post during warfare – a highly unusual thing to do in modern American warfare. It made the news during the war.

My opinions on both of these articles are mixed. I believe the first article about Lt. John Withers, and his decision to go against orders and hide the survivors was very different than the decision by Col. Dowdy to go against the orders of his superiors. The first case happened when the war was dying down and after the war, whereas the second case was in the midst of intense fire-fights during the war. Lives were not at risk in the first case, only Lt. John Withers’ career and future college goals, however in the second case, the lives of Col. Dowdy’s men and even his own life were clearly at risk. Col. Dowdy’s refusal may have saved some of the lives of his men, but his decision could have also put in danger the lives of men in other divisions who depended on Col. Dowdy arriving with speed.

I think the decision that Lt. John Withers made was a wonderful and courageous decision. In the second case, I have a hard time accepting the decision of Col. Dowdy in a time where following orders is crucial so that there is no confusion or rogue commanders. Lt. Withers did not disobey his orders during the battle, whereas Col. Dowdy did – and I think that makes the difference.  I believe that during the battle, decisions should be followed and as  the second article stated, choosing between men and mission should never be either or, but always a balance.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009


I just finished reading a Harvard Business Review case study titled “The Layoff” by Bronwyn Fryer (HBR, March 2009). It was the case of a fictitious retailing company who had to consider various layoff scenarios in a down economy.

The case highlighted the fact that layoffs are never easy. This is true for both employees and managers. I liked the way the company in this case went about making the decision. The CEO told his executive team to form groups of 2 and come up with various scenarios and their pros and cons. This encouraged all points of views and their benefits and ramifications.  The CEO also heard from a lower level manager on the dangers it could bring to company morale and how the rumors of layoffs were affecting current employees, and took all this into consideration.

Some of the various scenarios discussed are highlighted below.

  • Seniority-based Layoff (first in, first out)
    • Pros: Save on higher salaries. Older workers just “counting the hours.” Chance to get rid of the “deadwood.”
    • Cons: Possible lawsuits from allegations of age-discrimination.
  • Performance-based Layoff (lowest 10% gets cut)
    • Pros: More productive workforce.
    • Cons: Harsh office politics, cut-throat competition, ranking system requires lot of work.
  • Last in, First Out Layoff
    • Pros: don’t have to pay a lot of severance. Easy to implement. People understand that you have to work up to seniority.
    • Cons: will lose top new talent that you worked hard to recruit. Will lose younger workforce.
  • Selling business units
    • Pros: avoid employee layoffs. Refocus on core strategy and keep only those units that are a good strategic fit.
    • Cons: may unintentionally get rid of a “diamond in the rough” that could become successful later on. May lose ability to grow top-line revenue.
  • Pay cuts across the board
    • Pros: more fair, since it applies to everyone. Everyone gets a sense of the business situation and when it affects their paycheck, they take notice.
    • Cons: You can only do it a couple of times at most before you get severe pushback. Good employees may leave for competitors who offer more pay.

In the end, making these decisions are hard. This case highlighted that. I think that it is also important to look at company morale as this case mentioned. Because, after all, you can’t get the best out of people if they are in constant fear of losing their jobs. Companies should be truthful as much as possible, and try not to surprise anyone with layoffs.

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | October 29, 2009

Thoughts on Leadership

I found a great quote on leadership from reading “The Dean’s Disease” from my previous post

. . . excellent leaders are those who are self-confident enough about who they are and their values that they don’t view people as threats. In fact the best leaders I’ve ever seen are the ones who readily admit that there’s always going to be someone more talented. Not only are they not threatened by that, but the best leaders are the one’s who constantly try to surround themselves with people who are more talented than they are or complement the leader’s weaknesses.

Tony Rucci, former dean  at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Posted by: A.R. Cherian | October 29, 2009

Power – The Dean’s Disease

This is not a medical disease, but according to Arthur G. Bedeian of LSU, a psychological manifestation of the power complex that drives behavior in university deans as seen in 3 decades of firsthand observation of deans in the academic context. The article is entitled “Dean’s Disease: How the darker side of power manifests itself in the office of dean” (Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2002, Vol. 1, No. 2, 164-173).

The effects of power on behavior are widely studied and many theories have developed about it.

Some of the “metamorphic effects of power” on power holders (according to psychologists cited in the article)

  • Unknowingly become puffed up with their own importance
  • The exercise of power changes their view of themselves and others
  • Being in top power positions influences the way others relate to power holders, and this in turn affects their thinking and then behavior
  • Information increasingly filtered out so that only viewpoints that agree with theirs is heard
  • Like to surround themselves with “doppelgangers” (carbon copies) who tell them what they like to hear (groupthink)
  • Live in an echo chamber that shields them from reality
  • Expresses irritation when views are challenged
  • For the power hungry, admiration becomes a drug
  • Having acquired a “taste for power,” the pursuit of power becomes an end in itself. New values and procedures emerge from this
  • Direct reports are seen as objects of manipulation with a secondary claim on rights and privileges. This occurs because it is easier to be callous about others’ appetitive needs, and even exploit or drop them when they no longer serve a purpose, if social contact and emotional involvement have been minimized (Kets de Vries, 1989)

Bedeian’s profile of deans bit by this bug:

  • Not exempt from the power complex
  • The role of dean actually magnifies the consequences
  • Stems from lack of objective and immediate measures of performance and the ability to hold officer for many years without confrontations

“If faculty wish to stay in the “inner circle” they will take care not to ruffle any decanal feathers and only communicate views that reflect the superiority of their dean’s ideas.”

  • Comfortable being surrounded by those who do not contradict their opinions or ideas
  • The echo chamber effect, leads to false illusion that everything is rosy inside their division or college
  • Most professors (especially nontenured) will not challenge the dean due to the privileges and rewards gained from being in the dean’s inner circle
  • Have an inflated sense of self – they believe they are really as gifted and intelligent as others tell them they are
  • Expresses irritation (usually ferociously) when views are challenged or new colleagues challenge the status-quo of way things are done
  • You can judge the quality of a dean by the quality of the people he surrounds himself with

Wow. The article had rather scathing comments about deans. I must say that it took the author some guts to write such a provocative piece. I kept thinking that he must have some real war stories apart from the few he mentioned that has led him to these conclusions. In an amusing way, it seems like something a professor would write on his way out the door.

Nevertheless, I love people who take a stand and speak out with courage. I hope many deans read it and examine their own behaviors. A rather interesting read. Check it out. The author also writes ways to prevent the “disease” or minimize its effects and a great check-list of questions deans should ask themselves at the end.

I’m very interested in the effects of power. Many of the symptoms of the “dean’s disease” is also applicable to CEOs and other managers. Watch out for the metamorphic effects in your own life and career. It may be harder to control than you think. But taking on that struggle is always a good thing.

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