field notes What Type of Conductor Are You? The musical conductor is a powerful metaphor for leadership: majestically sweeping a baton to coordinate the orchestra’s playing of a transcendent symphony. Drucker, Covey, and many others have long described leadership as a conductor’s work. However, leadership often means more than simply putting one person up in front, coordinating others’ work toward achieving a vision. Is the “conductor as leader” paradigm still relevant today? Let’s break down the definition of the word conduct. Con- means “with” and -duct means “to lead.” To lead with. This definition is particularly resonant today, as companies are increasingly seeking collaborative strategies to enter new markets and compete on a global scale, while also managing the inherent risks of such strategies. According to one study, the amount of organizational value that alliances contribute is expected to rise from the current 19 percent to 47 percent in the next 5 years.1 According to another, 69 percent of companies will increase the number of their collaborative relationships with third parties over the next 3 years.2 Today’s business environment demands a shift in mind-set about leadership. Today’s leaders are not conductors of orchestras, but conductors of electricity. They connect easily with others inside and outside the organization, and attract them to their own cause. Today’s leaders act as conduits for ideas, passions, and focus points, harnessing the energy and innovative abilities of internal and external players to drive alignment and change. How Can You Become a Conductor of Electricity? Excellent interpersonal skills go a long way toward connecting diverse groups of people working to achieve a common goal, but they are by no means the only leadership competencies needed. Several skills lie at the heart of the ability to lead collaboratively: Redefine Your Organization and Cast a Wider Net Successful leaders look far beyond the boundaries of their work groups to find the talent and resources they need. In fact, senior leaders in many businesses are adopting a market mentality in order to find talent. You may be able to call upon the skills not only of direct reports but also of people up, down, across, and outside the organization, such as customers, competitors, and members of professional associations. Consider the case of the small gold-mining firm that put its geological data online and invited the public to hypothesize about where it would locate the richest lode of gold. Doing this was unheard of in the mining industry, in which geological data has always been a closely guarded secret. The firm received 77 hypotheses, not only from geologists, but also from computer scientists, mathematicians, and computer graphic artists. These hypotheses were more creative and more accurate than those of the firm’s own staff. Undertaking an investment of $500,000 U.S., the firm went on to find more than $3 billion worth of gold. The market value of the firm skyrocketed from $90 million to $10 billion. It accomplished this tremendous growth by redefining its R&D organization to include a multitude of people around the world whose education and skills matched those of the firm’s own employees.3 1 Grow. Change. Perform.
Understand That Your Perspective Is Not the Perspective The people you encounter come from groups with different purposes, perspectives, and rules. Perform a gap analysis by conversing with them, to help determine: – Differences in decision-making and planning styles, work routines, work pace, and attitudes toward risk – Differences in the type, detail, and amount of data they have access to – Differences in expectations of results Consider differences in perspectives as you develop relationships with people from different geographies or cultures.Determine and Address the “Won’t Work Factors” Up Front Before communicating with potential internal or external constituencies who can make or break your initiative, imagine what circumstances would make it unworkable, unrealistic, or unattainable for them. Proactively address realistic concerns and inoculate against irrational fears, in order to clear the way for constructive dialogue.Engage with Purpose, Meaning, and Clarity Make a clear link to an overarching goal, be it organizational or intra-organizational, from which everyone’s individual goals derive. Ask yourself, “What does it really mean?” Determine the higher order, purpose, or meaning behind what you are trying to achieve collectively, and communicate it often. Do not underestimate the importance of clarity. Leaders usually understand an inspiring goal, but they often forget that people must see the goal as clear and attainable.Pay Attention to Social Network Dynamics An organization’s culture can be controlled by as few as 5 percent of its people.4 By observing interactions, you can identify the critical few “connectors” or “hubs”—the people who know everyone (and everything). Focus your time and energy on the connectors or hubs to make the greatest impact with your initiative.These tips reflect Forum’s research into the collaborative practices of top performers.5By using these skills, leaders can share information efficiently with a broad new set of stakeholders, align themon goals, engage them purposefully, and begin to make complex decisions with them.Collaboration is playing a bigger role in companies’ strategies today. Executing the strategies will not dependon one or two maestros at the top, but rather on a distributed set of “conduits” throughout the organization—conduits leading with each other. 2 Grow. Change. Perform.
Endnotes1 Study commissioned by the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals and conducted by United Nations University, 2007.2 “Companies Without Borders: Collaborating to Compete.” An Economist intelligence report, sponsored by BT, November 2006.3 Tapscott, D., and Williams, A. D. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006.4 According to research by network expert Karen Stephenson, presented at the Leading Organizational Change and Transition Summit, Chicago, May 2007.5 “Leading Across Boundaries Research Summary,” The Forum Corporation, 2007. Authored by: Steve Barry, Consultant, Thought Leadership Forum is a global professional services firm that mobilizes people to embrace the critical strategies of their organization and accelerate results. We help senior leaders with urgent strategic agendas equip their organizations to perform, change, and grow. Our expertise is built on decades of original research; our business insight keeps companies out ahead of their markets, competitors, and customers. Harvard Business Press published Forum’s latest book Strategic Speed in 2010. For more information, visit www.forum.com. 2008 IIR Holdings, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. 3 Grow. Change. Perform.