Consultative Leadership… Balancing the scales of effective business practice and creativity!!

From the days of Grace Hopper coining the phrase “Software Bug” to Apple’s OSX 11 release just last month, there is a litany of success stories in business with software at its heart!

The real fun starts in tech companies when you seek to understand who is responsible for that success story. The Marketing guys, the Business Development guys and/or the Finance & Accounting guys will claim the success as their own! Now if you are confused like me, head down to the Engineering Department and hear it’s all thanks to them… right? Sounds good to me but as Bob Harrington said “You never become a howling success by just howling”.

Jeez… thanks Bob!! You just torpedoed my software battleship by shining a light on how collaboration, not competition is the key to a great software story! So, if collaboration is key to success, why do so many overlook it in favour of the status quo? After seeing this example many times in practice as a manager, I can say it’s ultimately down to the perceived value placed upon creative ability and its place in the organisation. Too often, companies extract rather than enable creativity from employees, which overlooks engagement, collaboration and a cultural respect for their role. For creative personalities especially highly skilled ones, these are some of the core attributes sought after in order to be happy and fulfilled in their working lives.

So, does all of that matter? We all have our opinions but based on my past career experience totalling 15 years I can surmise that it really does! Business practice sets process in place for people to follow that in theory propels the business forwards towards its goals. Such a functional approach in management practice is fine for certain areas, but its blanket application crushes creativity in roles that require it.

So if a company wants to enable creativity in their organisation, where does it start? For starters, senior management have to be very serious about company culture, management practice and where they are in relation to the two.

So bearing that in mind, here is the ultimate “how to” management challenge:

To move from this:

Dictatorial Leadership Practices -> Hierarchical Management Structure -> Hierarchical/Dictatorial Company Culture (i.e. Process -> People -> Product)

To this:

Consultative Leadership Practices -> Hierarchical/Flat Management Structure -> Clan/Adhocracy Company Culture (i.e. People -> Process -> Product)

It’s a tough change management proposition when you break it down for sure! The idea that no one person or function is the rock star of the company is key to success! Product development should see all disciplines enjoy the same respect for their contributions keeping rock stars humble and elevating the culturally downtrodden to a mutually acceptable plateau of respect, collaboration and coordination.

It takes a lot of proactive leadership to achieve this state. However, when implemented from the very top management level downwards, it sets the scene and tone for people to be engaged in their roles. When putting people before process and technology, it’s important to place the all the team regardless of discipline in the role of success maker for the company. Leaders need to be trained on what constitutes the company’s consultative leadership practices, including:

Employee Engagement – This should include attitude, approach and engagement with leaders seeking out feedback from team members along with a consistent approach to management of employee relations

Problem Solving – Employee engagement via individual and group sessions to achieve input and buy into common goals set by the leader. The team rather than any one person should own the solution.

Communication – Hardest of all, two way communication requires a structured approach to presenting goals, problems and issues in a manner that explicitly requires input from the team in formulating a solution. The group process should ensure all team members contribute, rather then be led by social leaders ‘speaking up for the others’. Checking egos at the door must be implemented to achieve the right balance of communication.

Corrective Action – A consultative leader will enact a compliant and forthright corrective procedure that is documented in terms of a one to ones where the breaching behaviour is explored and corrective action is agreed upon. The prospect of disciplinary action should be raised in the same meeting as they are outside the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

Consistency – All leaders at all levels need to be practicing the same company brand of consultative leadership at all times. An ambitious leader looking to “get ahead” at the expense of his or her peers will do more damage to morale and productivity over time then the employee trying to get around the authority of a compliant consultative leader.

Trust – The goal of consultative leadership is to provide a structured environment where space is made to create and push the company forward. If genuinely implemented by line leaders, a level of trust will follow that creates stability and longevity for the company based on its people valued as people, rather then a sharp elbowed commodity that too often exists today!

Consultative Leadership provides space to create, delivers trust via understanding and engagement; yet keeps the team focused on the roles they play in achieving the company vision they all have bought into. Effectively delivered and practiced, it increases creativity, productivity and places all employees in the plot as success makers in their company’s story!

You can see more from John at his article list at Irish Tech News

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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