Formal authority has limited power in today's world when you need a lot of talented people to get the work done
Leadership is a craft that you need to constantly work on, so it is difficult to pin point when one becomes a leader
While most leaders make the mistake of starting with ‘managing others’, they need to reverse the cycle and start with ‘managing themselves’ and then look outward to create value through an effective team, emphasizes Linda A. Hill, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration and Faculty Chair, Leadership Initiative, Harvard Business School
What was your inspiration to write Being the Boss?
In my role as Faculty Chair of Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, I have worked with many well-intentioned, high potential MBAs and executives, who have failed to fulfil their career or organizational ambitions despite their obvious talents.
My co-author Kent Lineback and I decided to write ‘Being the Boss’ to combine his practical knowledge and my academic experience on this topic to try to bring some answers to many leaders who often struggle to be a great boss.
How is your work different from the million other works on leadership already published?
Being the Boss is actually a tool that leaders can use this to think about not only what they are doing on a daily basis but it can also help them look at how they can develop themselves no matter where they are in their journey of becoming a great leader. We have created a platform that will allow people to use e-learning tools and applications in real time on-the-job and learn to be a better boss.
Was it a conscious decision to use the word ‘boss’? Why?
Well, some thought we should call it something else as ‘boss’ has become an unattractive word for many in our current age of employee empowerment. But we are comfortable with calling it ‘Being the Boss’ because everyone clearly understands what a boss is. In contrast, ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ are words that have different meanings to people across the world. But we all know that a boss is someone who has formal authority - our book is about the fundamentals of what it takes to become a great boss in today’s global economy. Our focus is that in managing yourself do not get too hung up on ‘Being the Boss’ as formal authority has limited power in today’s world when you need a lot of talented people to get the work done. We stress upon how one can build a caring relationship which is not based on friendship or formal authority, but based on mutual trust, to get the work done.
What are the three imperatives in becoming a great boss?
Becoming a boss today is harder than it used to be. To be competitive, business must have the right strategy and be able to execute those strategies, adapt and even change the strategy when required. We live in a dynamic world where innovation has become a necessity. So there is a need to develop organizations that has the talent who can do all of this, and this is harder.
The three imperatives thrive on the context that leadership is about using yourself as an instrument to get things done. The first imperative is about managing yourself - because you are using you (and all of who you are) to get things done in the organization. Leadership is about an emotional connection, and about connecting to you authentically, to get things done. The second imperative is managing your network - managing the relationship of people over whom you do not have a formal authority, such as your boss (and you have many bosses now a days), peers etc because in today’s age if you want to innovate and work globally, you need to work horizontally. It is essential to be able to build peer relationships to ensure that your team has the right resources and expectations. Managing the network becomes critical in global companies that must innovate and execute seamlessly to deliver to the customer. And the third imperative is managing your team. Unfortunately most leaders make the mistake of starting on this as being the first imperative. But if you want to be a great boss, you need to start from yourself and then look outward to see how you can create value, and then think of how to create a very effective team.
How will these three imperatives help in making an organization great?
This is an integrative approach. You are at the heart of it while managing yourself, the network and the teams. If you are not paying attention to all three, you are not going make the impact. For example, while working in a lot of IT companies in India, we have heard many people say that their job is to get the results or get the job done, and in some ways underneath, what they are saying is that I could do my job only if the people would go away! And frankly that is not true, because people are your job.
You have to figure out how to create the right context or conditions for the success of your team and that means weaving a web of influence with those over whom you do not have formal authority (bosses and peers). If you focus on just the task, you only address the technical and functional piece of your job, while as the boss your job is to make sure you have the right system in place which meets the expectations of your team, and build the culture that your team requires to be effective. There must be a balance, but too often we see people focus either too much on the task or on their own team, and therefore they end up setting the wrong priorities for their team.
Does the concept of leadership have any cultural implication?
The 3 imperatives are universal, and explain what you need to do if you want to be a great manager. But how you can effectively meet the imperatives will need to be adapted to fit your particular culture. In India there are many sub-cultures so how you interact in a particular setting will depend on the particular culture in that region. Its effectiveness will depend on how you adapt the framework appropriately to the culture, so you need to take the time to empathize with the person in front of you and understand that who they are culturally is a part of who they are and you need to adapt yourself to them to some extent.
How and when does one become a leader?
You have to teach yourself to be a leader - leaders are not born, they are made. But no one can teach you how to lead and you have to do that yourself. So how long it will take will depend on how much you are willing to do. It is not something you can do overnight, it takes years to become a great leader. And just because you are a great leader in one context does not mean you will be a great leader in another. You might know how to lead in tough times but you might not know how to lead in good time. Leadership is a craft that you need to constantly work on, so it is difficult to pin point when one becomes a leader.
How can you assess whether or not you are a good leader?
Fundamentally, you cannot know that unless you have feedback to see if your impact is truly matching your intent. The three criteria that you should take note of while assessing that are, assess how the group is performing; check how satisfied the people in the group are, and gauge the capacity of the group to grow and develop together. Two questions that I usually ask people to think about – how do people experience you and how do they experience themselves when they are with you? Are the emotions they report positive and energizing? If the answer is affirmative, I would say you have become a very good leader. One definition of leadership I particularly love came from an executive I once worked with which explains this perfectly. He said, ‘the art of leadership is creating a world that people want to belong to’.
What is your advice to the many Indian entrepreneurs who often begin their business on a big idea that clicks but are not able to sustain it?
The problem is that they often think that it is their technical expertise that will carry their business. People need to be T-shaped – while they need have deep expertise on something, they should also be able to visualize the big picture about the organization and be able to collaborate across the organization. In building an organization, you are the social architect who needs to develop people across levels to make the right impact. So you might have a great idea but you have to be able to execute the idea through your people in growing revenue and managing costs.
How much of the prescriptions you provide other leaders, do you use yourself?
Well not enough, but this has helped me understand what I enjoy doing. There is so much leadership potential out there and as my co-author from the innovation book rightly said ‘everybody has a slice of genius’. I am quite comfortable with the confusion and do not mind if things are unstructured. A lot of times, I have found my MBA students look worried when they first have me as a professor because I rarely tell them what I think or provide takeaways in my class. Instead, I would ask one of the students to do the final summaries of what we have learned together to encourage personal responsibility for learning and peer coaching. And I have never been disappointed; in fact I am often blown away by their presentations, how thorough and insightful they are. Their preparation for takeaways is so extensive.
I also take the opportunity to visit and write cases and articles about my students once they finish school and return to work. I rely on them to coach me on new things and let me see things from their perspective. I suspect I have learned more from them than they have from me. It is indeed a privilege to be a professor.