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 / First Quarter 2002 / Issue 26(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Human(e) Factor: Nurturing a Leadership Culture

  • Identification of cultural values.
  • Broad-based education and training targeted at creating competent generalists among the management team.
  • Communication programs that allow top management to carry the vision to internal and external constituencies.

To make all three points move from planning to execution, and then to make the corporate culture part of the day-to-day mind-set of management, requires a new set of nontraditional leadership skills. A German communications specialist with a strong political background talks about the educational qualifications of top managers: “I am strongly convinced that there will be bank directors who have studied archaeology. The two fields share some key needs: the ability to communicate; skills in managing complex situations; a facility in mastering languages; and making the best use of computer sciences. I do not, however, believe that universities can teach all the skills you need to succeed in our new digital society. That learning must happen on the job.”

Open Communication
The speed of corporate change forces managers to make fast decisions. How well those decisions are communicated can determine their long-term effectiveness. Fast decisions have a much better chance of being right if the relevant information lands on the table (or, to be more exact, on the computer screen) of those people who need to know it when they need to know it.

Knowledge management and competence networks are invaluable managerial tools that are indispensable in managing change. Naturally, a capability for well-organized communication is especially critical during delicate phases of mergers, acquisitions, and takeovers. But even in times of less corporate stress and sensitivity, smart communications are every bit as important. In decentralized structures and networks, employee information demands have changed considerably, and executive teams must pay attention to these new requirements. That, of course, is easier when the message is good news. But open communications must continue even when the news is painful. The advantage of full disclosure is that the afflicted are better able to cope with adversity if they are openly informed about their status, about what must be done.

As a globally active company that bridges five continents, histories, and cultures, DaimlerChrysler has identified communication as a central leadership and motivation instrument for its 420,000 employees on five continents. A corporate TV program is delivered in seven languages at 452 locations. The daily 20-minute show includes topical news and features. At 260 locations, additional local text pages are offered via TV. DaimlerChrysler recognizes that leadership must use modern media as information-distribution channels. But the vehicle is only one part of communicating. Sophisticated delivery is no substitute for personalized thoughts and the messages.

Sometimes complete honesty is not possible, despite the best intentions. Corporate law in most democracies restricts information flow during extraordinary business circumstances. Indeed, in many merger and crisis situations, law requires management to remain quiet. But in enterprises where the culture is not directed to the common good, some second- and third-tier staff members may not pay close attention to the confidentiality regulations. Their agenda is much more personal: They think that informing the media first will give them an advantage in turning public opinion against an inimical management. The bigger the company, the less it can leave the path of clear value orientation, strict loyalty to principles, and thorough compliance with legislation.

Aside from the demands of specific critical situations, communication is indispensable as a leadership instrument. The message is simple: Managers who want to reduce internal dissonance must not shut themselves off. They must seek out face-to-face discussions with all kinds of internal employees and external associates. Delivery of humaneness — of compassion, kindness, sensitivity, and benevolence — is a powerful tool.

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  1. James M. Citrin and Thomas J. Neff, “Digital Leadership,” s+b, First Quarter 2000; Click here.
  2. Bruce A. Pasternack, “Leadership: Dreamers with Deadlines,” s+b, Fourth Quarter 2001; Click here.
  3. Bruce A. Pasternack, Thomas D. Williams, and Paul F. Anderson, “Beyond the Cult of the CEO: Building Institutional Leadership,” s+b, First Quarter 2001; Click here.
  4. James O’Toole, Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom (Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, 1995)
  5. Bruce A. Pasternack and Albert J. Viscio, The Centerless Corporation: A New Model for Transforming Your Organization for Growth and Profit (Simon & Schuster, 1998)
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