In today’s fast paced business environment, leaders understand the need for organizations to become more innovative. This understanding comes with the realization that command and control leadership has to be replaced by delegating power and allocating resources to the lower ranks in the organizational hierarchy. No specific leadership style or approach has emerged as yet to fulfill this need because leaders fear that delegation of power will lead to disruption within the organization.
In the article titled “Nimble Leadership”, the authors have tried to resolve this dilemma by studying two organizations in-depth, which have been around for a long time and have managed to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit to enable first-class innovation capability, namely, W.L. Gore & Associates and Xerox’s R&D company.
Research showed that these organizations possessed similar processes and behaviors synonymous to ‘agile’ organizations: multi-disciplinary teams, initiative to experiment etc; however, leadership patterns differed in each case. Firstly, three leadership types were identified: Entrepreneurial leaders, Enabling Leaders and Architecting leaders. Secondly, it was observed that both companies share the belief that leadership should rest with whoever is best positioned to exercise it.
These qualities have allowed the two organizations to become self managing to a great extent. Employees, define and chose their own assignments, conceive new products and services and resources are given to attractive projects while unpopular projects are discarded in this mechanism. Further, this system puts all doubts regarding chaos to rest as it balances freedom and control on its own.
In light of self managing organizations, attributes of the three types of leadership can be understood more elaborately:
- Entrepreneurial leaders – found at lower levels of the hierarchy, focused on creating customer values through new products and services. They sense and seize opportunities, press for resources for their projects and persuade colleagues to join their projects. Entrepreneurial leaders exhibit self confidence, initiative, strategic mindset and ability to attract others to join their vision.
- Enabling Leaders – concentrated in the middle tier. They ensure that entrepreneurs have the required information and resources. Their focus is on helping the project leaders develop professionally, connecting them with others and keeping in touch with larger business shifts. The skills they possess include coaching and development, collaborating/ connecting, and communicating.
- Architecting leaders – are located at the top of the organizational hierarchy to monitor the bottom tiers of leaders. Their focus is on the ‘Big Picture’, they analyze the external opportunities and threats and internal business operations and environments and recommend likewise changes in organizational culture, structure and resources.
Along with these three different leadership styles, these organizations have three characteristics which make them successful, Distributed leadership, Power of the many i.e. manifested through collaboration and collective decision making and finally Processes that balance freedom and control. These characteristics, coupled with the three types of leadership exhibited at each management tier, ensure:
- Power distribution throughout the organization,
- Employee autonomy to choose and pursue projects of interest,
- Leadership development at early stages,
- Strong networking within as well as outside the organization and
- Shared value system to ensure that investment decisions are aligned with organizational priorities.
In conclusion, the collection of the leadership styles, the above characteristics and work culture enable Nimble Leadership, which is a solution to the dilemma of power delegation without causing disorganization. This type of leadership has people throughout the organization involved in environmental scanning, talking to customers and acting on what they learn, the whole organization is therefore, nimble and capable to move in new directions.
Ancona, Deborah, et al. “Nimble Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, 14 Aug. 2019, hbr.org/2019/07/nimble-leadership.
– Written for LEADIN