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Defining Leadership

Organisational Ecology and Strategic Leadership

Per Christensen asked:

An organisation’s basic philosophy is more important to its result than technological and/ or economic resources, organisational structure, innovation and choice of time. Thomas Watson Jr.

This article contains no information about technological trends, economical predictions or market analyses. It lays out five principle insights into how and why any enterprise in the world today should practise Strategic Leadership internally in the organisation.

Both strategy and leadership are today a matter of course. How comes, then, that so very few enterprises do actually practise Strategic Leadership? The reasons are many. Top managers want to keep all ways open, not being bound to follow previously decided paths. They want to keep flexibility. Sometimes they have hidden agendas that would surface if strategy was overtly formulated. In some cases middle management hides from strategy and leadership because they want to have the liberty to side with the top one day, the bottom the other – even on the same topic. Leadership is dangerous, many managers seem to feel. One sticks one’s neck out, and it might be cut off. Strategic decisions might be unpopular. Ore one’s incompetence as strategic leader might become evident. Sometimes processes as those presented here are avoided simply because they take time. There are so many good reasons – and many of them are respectable and sensible.

No-strategy and no-leadership may be OK on a dreamy pacific island. However, in an environment with ever faster changing technology, markets and international politics, and with an ever stronger competition long term survival depends on strategy and leadership. The competitively able enterprises of today and tomorrow are lean, delayered, decentralised, delegated and flexible. Such enterprises have strategy, it is known, owned and practised by more than a CEO and leadership is practised at all management levels.

Strategic Leadership is based on five insights into the essence of organisations. These insights are here formulated as principles:

Within the ecosystem, all components are dependant on other components for their very existence. Individuals and groups within an organisation are mutually dependant on each other and have superior common interests.

Whenever destructive conflicts appear on the scene, the main reason is that the ‘parties’ involved are not aware that they are parts of a system on which they all depend. Usually there is a lack of common goals is such situations. Strategy contains the common goals, identity and ethics. Without strategy, the organisation is fragmented into departments, professional groups and working groups without co-operation or synergy.

Individuals and/ or groups of people defend their territory against intruders, and hierarchical positions against rivals.

There is no doubt that man is territorial. Without strategy, no common territory is defined. Then individuals and groups define their own territory, which is defended and given superiority, even over the interests of the company. Motivation to perform for the company diminishes, motivation to fight for one’s own or one’s own group’s interests (against other’s in the company) increase.

Man is also hierarchical. Without obvious leadership, a lasting struggle to establish the missing hierarchy starts off. This is wrongly often understood as expressions of a power need. This struggle is most often superfluous. A clear-cut hierarchy based on Strategic Leadership is the necessary first step to prevent ‘power struggles’.

For all systems and organisations there is a theoretical optimum degree of openness:

– Closed systems and monocultures degenerate and/ or die out

– Totally exposed systems lose integrity, identity and focus

Free flow of information, and free discussion between organisational levels and lines is a necessity. No single person can be the informed specialist of everything in today’s complex world. Strategic Leadership ensures that this exchange of knowledge and opinion happens. The organisation should be a truly open system internally – and of course externally.

A system that is very open runs the risk of losing integrity, identity and focus. That is exactly another contribution from Strategic Leadership: a strategy that is owned by all hands implies integrity, identity and focus.

The effect of influences to the ecosystem and upon organisations is dependant on:

– The content of the influence

– The context

– The order in which the influences come

– The stage of development of the system

The fruitful ongoing process of Strategic Leadership should be strictly led and follow certain patterns. Unless this is taken seriously, the situation could turn to the worse. Power struggles, bureaucracy, de-motivation and wasted time could result. Content, context, syntax and the developmental stage of the system must be regarded.

Ecosystems and organisations are governed by feedback.

The strategically led company depends, as we said, on free flows of information and opinion. The company is a complex, self-organising and self-correcting system. Any breach in feedback loops is a threat to the company. Feedback should be encouraged, and it should be seen as a matter of course, and an obvious duty of any employee. Feedback is encouraged and put to system in Strategic Leadership.

We see then, that Strategic Leadership has a theoretical basis. This will be further detailed throughout this booklet. Empirical knowledge also strongly supports the necessity of Strategic Leadership. The studies of successful enterprises in the eighties and nineties show that values and strategic goals are deeply rooted in the corporate culture of those enterprises, and that their managers practise more active leadership than mere administrative management.

Excerpt of eBook – Organisational Ecology and Strategic Leadership

By Per A Christensen w/Jon Lund Hansen

Christensen eBooks

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