Why I disagree with McKinsey Quarterly’s Article “Decoding Leadership”
Leadership is less about acquiring knowledge and more about opening up to the wisdom of our body, heart, mind and soul.
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A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly „Decoding leadership: What really matters“ by Claudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan, reported „that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness“. According to the authors, “new research suggests that the secret to developing effective leaders is to encourage four types of behavior:
- Solving problems effectively.
- Operating with a strong results orientation.
- Seeking different perspectives.
- Supporting others.”
The authors claim that their “research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start.”
I don‘t know any business executive that would disagree how important these behaviors are for any manager, and I certainly relate to those in my own practice as a manager. For that reason I was ready to share the findings of McKinsey Quarterly’s article with others across social media when something dawned on me.
Excessive focus on the first two without elaborating on the “why” and “how” could push managers even further into the modern management disease, which the Presencing Institute defines as “absencing“. (Check my article Corporate Evolution from the Inside Out for more information on that).
While these four qualities are crucial, they by far do not represent the main qualities leaders need today to successfully lead organizations in the 21st Century.
Here is why.
First, I believe that the article is referring to the behaviors we have been expecting from managers rather than leaders. There is much debate about the difference between those, but the easiest way to put it is that management is about managing processes and projects, leadership is about leading people. Leadership is mostly about transformation while management is about efficiency, and implementation. Going back to the four behaviors the article defines- they are mostly about the latter- efficiency and implementation.
According to me, organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, which prioritize only these four areas will be up for a surprise. And I don’t mean a good one.
Today, to be effective organizational leaders, we need to be effective both as managers and as leaders. However, by far, the more crucial for organizational success and the much more difficult to master is leadership. The journey from being a great expert to becoming a great manager is difficult but manageable. The journey from being a great manager to becoming a great leader is much more bumpy, ambiguous, and full of a lot of and not always easy self-reflection, requiring us to foster self-awareness and the ability to be fully present, expecting us to open our minds and our hearts, and to nurture our spirit. I called that the journey to MAGNANIMITY.
Despite my firm belief in the above, I was left in doubt for a while humbled by the reputation of McKinsey Quarterly and the authors of the article. How could they be wrong?
Here is how.
First, I realized that all the research proved is that the teams typically displayed 4 of the chosen 20 possible types of behavior. They did not study other behaviors and competences these teams have.
Second, most similar research is bias of our historic knowledge and perceptions of what organizations need. However, the times we live in offer unprecedented challenges that require us to tap into completely new aspects of our human potential.
Third, many successful organizations today are successful because of specific market reasons, the presence of great managers and not necessarily the presence of great leaders. They can still get away with that. However, such organizations are up for serious challenges as 21stCentury continues to unfold because the times and the people call for a new way of doing business. That’s for sure. The only question therefore is which organizations would get there early and which too late.
How I Decode Leadership or What Does it Take to be an Effective Leader Today?
The definition I have accepted as my own in terms of what it takes to be an effective and successful leader today follows the definition of John Mackey, co-CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market. Leaders today need “analytical, spiritual, emotional, and systems intelligence. Analytical intelligence is what we teach in schools.” Emotional, mental and spiritual intelligence is about becoming aware of our own needs and successfully fostering the evolution of our consciousness. Systems intelligence — and I add to that also cultural and collective intelligence — are about our ability to understand how systems are intended to work as opposed to how they currently work, as well as how we as individuals can foster their evolution.
The 20 behaviors identified in the article in McKinsey Quarterly predominantly relate to our analytical intelligence with a few of them touching upon other areas. All of them are important but they are predominantly focused on management and only touch upon leadership.
Leadership starts with mastering Self-Leadership. That is less about acquiring knowledge and more about opening up to the wisdom of our body, heart, mind and soul through the right life and learning experiences. It involves Bringing in Balance — Eliminating Hindrances — Unleashing Creativity & Passion — Fostering Learning — Building Resilience — Nurturing Your Spirit — Striving for Mastery. Read “21 Wellsprings of Self-Leadership” to see what each of these areas includes.