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วันที่: 2012-05-17

Coach Talk Column: Taking leadership to the next level
Khun Puri is CEO of a multinational company involved in Thailand's fast-moving consumer-goods business. We've already had a few coaching sessions and today was our final meeting. We met to review our coaching objectives and achievements.

Khun Puri is a smart young Thai CEO. This actually is his first assignment in the top position at an organisation and he is reasonably well-accepted so far.

After having reviewed the 360-degree feedback report to ensure all key points had been covered, he asked me for feedback.

"Khun Apiwut, one of my coaching objectives was to improve my leadership. Based on your observations during our coaching sessions, was there anything else I should improve to be a good leader?"

"Khun Puri, to be honest, although we had many sessions together, I have not seen the complete picture of you as a leader. Good leadership is not judged by people skills alone; your technical knowledge and job performance are also important, but I have had very limited exposure to these. Therefore, it's hard to tell whether you are a good one yet."

"I understood and only wanted to ask if there was anything else I can do to improve my leadership."

"Well, I can't tell you exactly what you have to do, but I can tell you what a good leader looks like; then, you tell me where you are and what you need to do to get to the top of the list. Would that be okay?"

"Oh, certainly. Why not?"

Then I explained to him the concept of five-level leadership based on research done by former Gallup senior researcher Jim Collins, which became a best-seller reprinted article of Harvard Business Review.

Level 1 leadership: a highly capable individual who makes productive contributions to the team through talent, knowledge, skills and work habits. This kind of leader is a "superwoman" who tends to do everything herself; she is the centre of the universe. If she disappeared tomorrow, the team wouldn't survive.

Level 2 leadership: a contributing team member who works effectively with his team members and contributes to the achievement of a team's objectives. He tends to work hand-in-hand with his subordinates on the shop-floor level. We almost cannot distinguish the leader from his followers, because he blends in with the rest of the team perfectly. If he disappeared tomorrow, the team would still survive.

Level 3 leadership: a competent manager who organises people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives. The strength of this leader is that if you give her a very clear vision and expectation, she will be able to work with her team to deliver good results. However, she will not be as successful working without direction and guidance. She tends to be a good manager rather than a visionary leader.

Level 4 leadership: an effective leader who catalyses commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards. The leader decides on direction and then gets people to implement his vision. He is known as a charismatic, strong and tough-to-work-with leader who is both hard on people and targets.

Level 5 leadership: an executive who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Instead of promoting her own visions, the leader gets her best people together and grills them with penetrating questions to draw new strategies out of them. She is known as a leader who is hard on numbers and soft on people.

"Very interesting! But I am not sure if I can see a clear distinction between levels 4 and 5. Do you have any examples?" Khun Puri asked.

"Sure! Actually, there are some significant differences between a level-4 leader and a level-5 one. A level-5 leader is highly ambitious for the success of his company. He wants his company to succeed irrespective of his presence at the helm. For example, Sam Walton - the founder of Walmart - a level-5 leader, had a unique and charismatic personality. When he was suffering from cancer in 1992, everybody wondered what would happen to Wal-Mart once Sam Walton was gone. But Sam Walton wanted to prove that his company is bigger than himself. He wanted to show that the company would be equally successful even if a charismatic leader like him did not head it. He chose David Gloss, who was non-charismatic, to succeed him. The company continues to be great even after its founder is dead.

"On the other hand, a level-4 leader does not bother much about the greatness of the company once he is gone. Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Ford Motor and Chrysler, for example, can be considered a level-4 leader. A level-4 leader ensures high-level performance during his reign, but hardly cares about the future performance of the organisation in his absence. A level-4 leader is often more bothered about his greatness than his company's greatness."

"Thank you for the clarification. I have a clear understanding. In my experience, I have worked with all of these types of leaders. No matter what level they were, some of them were still successful," said Khun Puri.

"Oh sure, they all can be successful, depending on how you define 'success'!" I replied.

"I agree. Do people need to climb up the ladder to achieve level 5?"

"No, individuals do not need to proceed sequentially through each level of the hierarchy to reach the top, but to be a full-fledged level-5 leader requires the capabilities of all the lower levels, plus the special characteristics of level 5," I explained.

"I see."

"Now, let's go back to your question. Which level do you think you are and what do you need to work on to be a good leader?" I challenged him.

"To be honest, I think I might be at level 4 or 4.5, but for sure, not yet at level 5. I used to work for a level-5 leader - my former boss. I know now that I should look up to and learn from him," he said, honestly evaluating his leadership level.

"Great! I believe you will become one of the level-5 leaders some time in very near future."

"Time will tell," Khun Puri said to conclude the conversation.

Apiwut Pimolsaengsuriya is executive director of Orchid Slingshot and a certified executive coach from International Coach Federation (ICF). Write to him at apiwut@riverorchid.com.