How Leaders Improve Performance

How Leaders Improve Performance

As businesses today strive to improve their performance in the context of a world that is changing around them, leadership and organisational development are the twin approaches that are needed for success.

If you an entrepreneur, this article provides some questions to help you assess your own leadership capability, together with an exercise to help you build your skill in leadership and organisational development.

What are Leadership and Organisational Development?

Many people still do not fully differentiate between leadership and management and this makes it challenging to your develop leadership performance.

This is what Warren Bennis, one of the leading gurus in the field of leadership development, says about the difference:

The leader innovates; the manager administrates.

The leader focuses on people; the manager focuses on systems and structure.

The leader inspires; the manager controls.

The leader is his own person; the manager is a good soldier.

The leader sees the long-term; the manager sees the short-term.

The leader asks "what and why?"; the manager asks "how and when?"

The leader does the right thing; the manager does things right.

Leadership is needed where there is change, and what organisation today is not living with constant change? Leadership is the ability to create a vision and encourage others to commit their energy and creativity to that vision. Most of the traditional approaches to leadership development do not help leaders to innovate, inspire or create and share their long term vision.

But leadership is only one half of the leadership and organisational development equation.

Organisation Development (OD) is defined by Richard Beckhard, as: a planned effort, organization-wide, managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health, through planned interventions in the organization's 'processes', using behavioural science knowledge.

They key here is ‘using behavioural science knowledge’. Many people still think organisations work like machines and that providing you design it right it will produce the results you desire. However it is increasingly recognised that what is organised in an organisation is human motivation and this is much more complex than a machine, not matter how complicated the machine appears.

You probably know what it’s like when you want something doing – particularly when it’s a rush or a little different from the usual. Some people will procrastinate, find creative ways of avoiding (if only they would put this level of creativity into their work!) or do it just barely to the minimum standard needed.

So leadership and organisational development are different but related factors that influence great performance in an organisation.

Why both Leadership and Organisational Development are Important

In order to fully understand what is happening in any situation, Ken Wilber suggests that there are always four factors or, four quadrants, interacting. The first two quadrants – Individual Inner and Individual Outer relate to the development of the leader.

Individual Inner In an organisation this refers to the leader’s sense of purpose, values, thoughts and emotions, mood, intentions, and the meaning they make out of events. Our inner world is an important driver of our outer behaviours often subconsciously. While others may make assumptions about these, they cannot know anything about this internal world unless the leader tells them.

Successful leaders have a strong self belief. They know they can make a real difference in the situation they are leading. It is difficult to attract followers when you offer an uncertain way forward.

How often do you notice the beliefs, thoughts, assumptions, or feelings that you or others experience or express?

Do you ever notice when unrecognized assumptions or beliefs influence the outcome of the situation?

Individual Outer This is to do with the leader’s behaviour, habits and practices. This is about what we do and how we act in the world. It is what others observe of us and how they know us.

Increasingly leaders are expected to behave with integrity even though there have been many recent notable exceptions in the business world. Managers expect their leaders to speak their vision, be inspiring and walk their talk, for example and these are new qualities that are being called for.

Are your actions always congruent with what you say?

In a recent challenging situation, did you notice how people actually behaved, and how others responded to that behaviour?

When have you seen how other people’s behaviour has influenced the outcome of a situation?

These next two quadrants relate to development of the organisation.

Organisation Inner This has to do with a group’s social and cultural patterns. How relationships are formed, the norms that govern social interactions, and the way people communicate with each other are all aspects of this organisational inner.

It’s often called ‘the way things are done around here’ and if you are new to a group or team, you quickly find out how powerful this hidden world is if you transgress it unwritten rules or try to introduce changes.

Thinking about a recent situation in which you were the leader, what “people issues” were present in the situation? How did you and others listen, speak, and engage with other people, and how did that influence the outcome of this situation?

Organisation Outer This comprises all the systems, processes and strategies of the business. It is the observable way the company goes about its business and would include all the physical elements like building as well as systems like IT hardware and software and the technical aspects of the work.

The effects on performance can be disastrous if the network goes down or the company finds itself with competitors who have state of the art equipment or machinery.

Again, thinking about a recent event, what were the surroundings for the situation?

How did the use of tools and resources help or hinder the outcome of this situation?

In terms of leadership and organisational development, we tend to focus our attention on the individual and organisational outer – what we can see - because we believe this is what we can influence. However, increasingly leadership development is seeing the need to address the inner leader, and OD addresses the inner culture of the organisation.

Skills Building Exercise in Leadership and Organisational Development

This exercise will help you develop your ability to see the ways in which the four quadrants are present in every situation, and how each influences the outcome. It will help you identify what leadership and organisational development skills you need to hone.

Each day for two weeks, think back to one or two significant moments or interactions that you either witnessed or participated in during the day. For each, consider the following questions:

• In which quadrant did I spend most of my time, energy, and attention today? What do I do?

• Which quadrant(s) did I most neglect? What were the consequences of this?

• In which quadrant(s) did I experience breakdowns?

• What patterns am I noticing as I consider myself and my leadership in light of the four quadrants?

Mike Bell

The Wisdom Meme

© 2008


I have over 20 years experience helping leaders and organisations achieve sustainable change by engaging hearts and connecting minds. I started my practice with total quality, high performance work systems and self-managing teams at Procter and Gamble in the late 1980s. I'm a graduate of the Tavistock Institute's Advanced Organisational Consultation programme, and now combine this with integral development and indigenous wisdom tools. I design and deliver leadership coaching and development prog...

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