If you want to soar high like a condor, you have got to have your feet planted firmly on the ground. That is what the Peruvians say and the words that Alisa Miniotaitė, PhD and expert in management and leadership, lives by. The founder of ALISA MANAGEMENT LABORATORY, a company operating in the Baltic states, admits that the organisation grows together with its leader, and human resources are becoming one of the burning organisational issues these days; and that is why leadership investigators hurry to the rescue of management practitioners: how can we reveal and engage every individual, turning them into an active team player?
WHAT ARE THE PREVALENT LEADERSHIP TRENDS ON THE GLOBAL SCALE?
Leadership has never been as horizontal as it is today. That’s right – horizontal, engaging leadership is currently all the rage. Distributed and shared leadership, when the leader shares the leadership and responsibility with the others, is becoming a prevalent trend in the world. How can I share leadership across all stages as a manager and a leader: is it through delegation, engaging members into solving problems, generating ideas, formulating goals? This is considered to be the most progressive type of leadership today. Because it grows followers, it grows employees. Essentially, we all want to be engaged, create sense, and do something meaningful.
Another popular branch of leadership is authentic leadership. That is leadership based on self-knowledge and behaviour that knowledge determines. It means being yourself. The big idea is that every leader must know themselves very well and be authentic in interacting with the followers. An authentic leader knows their emotions, strengths and weaknesses, values, and priorities, and can be predictable. This leader–follower relationship builds trust, the follower feels safe.
Another broadly recognised school of leadership is servant leadership. In this case, the leader also acts like the moderator of change. These are the youngest types of leadership today.
ARE EMPLOYEES PREPARED TO SHARE LEADERSHIP WITH THEIR SUPERVISOR?
The success of shared leadership within the organisation is down to three factors. First, it is the level of maturity of the leader: how much do I want and am prepared to share my leadership? In management training, managers sometimes say: ‘no, I am not sharing because those young sharks will carry me away quickly’. Second: how much are the followers or employees prepared to take on the leader’s role? And the third factor is the maturity, or culture, of the organisation, which means the depth of the tradition to share leadership within the organisation.
If an employee has never stopped to think, has never assumed and never wanted to assume the leader’s role, they might find it difficult to take it on when the leader starts sharing it. Shared leadership works best when you first engage your employees in a discussion of how can leadership be shared in the organisation. Managers sometimes ask me: ‘what is best for employees?’ We often forget that it is the employees that we should ask what is best for them.
HOW ARE GLOBAL GEOGRAPHICAL, DEMOGRAPHICAL, POLITICAL CHANGES DRIVING CHANGE IN LEADERS?
As I already mentioned, shared leadership today is considered to be cutting-edge, but then I remembered the US President Donald Trump who cannot be said to be either a shared or servant leader. Instead, he is a charismatic and rather ‘vertical’ leader. Just like states and organisations are different, so do leaders differ as well. Still, admittedly, management and leadership in knowledge organisations, their business grounded on generating knowledge (a most successful type of organisation right now), must really be horizontal. The heads of such organisations are quite frank to admit it, saying that vertical management simply does not work anymore. In a production company where many of the employees are workers, leadership and management may assume a rather vertical aspect. So, every organisation and every leader finds their touch, and scientists approach organisations to see what works best in one context or another.
IT IS OK TO EXPECT AN EMPLOYEE TO BE LOYAL. DOES THE SUPERVISOR HAVE TO BE LOYAL TO THEIR EMPLOYEES AS WELL?
Every organisation has its ups and downs. We want employees to be loyal to their supervisors and organisations. So can an employee have his or her ups and downs. There are times when life is treating you right. And sometimes we just lose our motivation or make a mistake. The question is how forgiving we can be towards an employee. Every manager finds their own solution and their touch.
Some organisations have zero loyalty to their people: if you are not good for us, then it’s a goodbye. And I am not talking about shopping centres here. A recent case involving the US company Netflix shows that even an organisation that is completely based on knowledge can adopt a ‘hard’ approach, which says: ‘we agree to work to win. We need the best competences and we do not have any time to waste while you’re adapting, because we can be out of the competition.’ It is perfectly understandable in the US market as they have a load of employees. And if you pull something like that in Lithuania’s IT sector, you are risking to lose your people.
At the other end of the scale, we have excessive loyalty of the supervisor: ‘I can wait for you to get better, get a divorce, or get some other calamity in your life, I can wait for you to recover your motivation, I am with you, just tell me what you need.’ Both types of organisations are often critiqued. The truth is somewhere around the middle. Certain loyalty from the supervisor really is important. The employee has to feel secure. I believe that this is how true partnerships are forged. The family does equal business relationship, but let’s imagine your spouse telling you: ‘you’ve hit a rough spot, I’m off to look for someone who is doing better.’ I therefore believe that the organisation has to be loyal to its people.
WHY IS SELF-REALISATION IMPORTANT TO THE MANAGER? HOW DOES IT AFFECT THE ORGANISATION?
The idea of self-realisation was born out of humanistic psychology. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers have argued that people tend to grow. We realise ourselves, our potencies, when we evolve from an acorn to become a mighty oak. As Nietzsche put it: ‘become what you are’. The meaning of life is to realise your ‘life project’. Many, but not all people find it important. If self-actualisation seems important to our employees, depriving the employee of this opportunity, they will be hungry, will not satisfy their ultimate craving, and will be programmed to leave.
If the manager fails to realise himself, he is an unhappy manager, his flame is burning low. After all, even managers themselves say that the most important thing is finding a place in the organisation for every employee – a place where they fit in to do the job they are born to do. The same applies to managers.
A PART OF YOUR DOCTORAL DISSERTATION ON AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP WAS WRITTEN IN NORWAY. WHAT DID YOU NOTICE ABOUT SCANDINAVIAN LEADERSHIP?
The Scandinavians are very rational and find transparency very important. A survey done in Western European countries asked the respondents the question of which characteristics they found the most important in a manager. These are the ability to look forward, as well as equity and integrity. I would really stress that these are the top priorities in Scandinavia. The equity and integrity requirement for the manager is very high. And so is the ability to look forwards. Especially in Norway, for Norwegians know that their natural resources are limited and they love to take care of their future. Relatable to social immaturity, charismatic leadership has little space in Scandinavia. Charismatic leadership best takes root, sprouts, and comes into leaf where people need a messiah, a saviour to descend from heaven and solve their problems. It is criticised for being short-lived, unable to generate sustainable change, and rather manipulative, what with the leader manipulating their followers. Most importantly, charismatic leadership connects with immature organisation or immature followers.
Sometimes when I work with political parties politicians ask me: ‘How do you define immature followers?’ Their defining feature is the inability to assume responsibility for their actions: ‘I do not feel like I am the master and governor of my life, I need for someone to come and pout my life in order for me – grant me a bigger allowance, find me a job.’ That is why such segments of the population are the first to welcome and recognise charismatic leaders.
YOUR CONSULTANCY COMPANY ALISA MANAGEMENT LABORATORY WORKS ACROSS THE THREE BALTIC STATES. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ONE ANOTHER?
Lithuanians can teach you to be diligent, Latvians to be friendly, Estonians to be smart. When talking to the candidates during recruitment interviews, Estonians do seem to be concerned to have a ‘smart’ organisation. It means the organisation has to be evolving, technologically advanced, and have good, effective, and well thought-through solutions. They come and say: ‘this organisation is not changing, I do not want to work here’. You only have to step inside Tallinn Airport to see smart solutions around you. Estonians really are crazy about technology and technological solutions that make life easier.
WHAT SHOULD LEADERS KNOW TO BE ABLE TO WORK WELL WITH THE X, Y, Z, AND OTHER GENERATIONS AT THE SAME TIME?
I mentioned one trend of leadership, saying that it was horizontal. Another clear-cut trend is that leadership is personalised. A leader must be able to establish a rapport with every person. We cannot escape that. Everyone is different. It is really important for a leader to see every person as a personality and to forge a unique relationship with everyone. That is why today they are saying that an efficient supervisor cannot have more than 12 direct subordinates. This is how many unique relationships, bond we can maintain.
Personalisation is all around us. Take marketing – we all receive personalised offers based on the history of our browsing the Internet and social networks. Managing or working with human resources is also becoming personalised. Motivational measures or incentives are personalised to suit individual needs: someone may want a gym membership, someone else some days off or additional insurance. And the leader, too, must see every person and their needs.
Of course, we can predict what a specific individual finds the most important based on segments as well. For instance, people advanced in years are concerned about insurance, social security, the loyalty of their organisation. Whereas young people prioritise career opportunities, salary, recognition and appreciation of their being ‘unique and valuable’. We can rely on these trends to decide what a person needs, but it would be best if we asked the employee what they find important to establish a unique relationship with every personality within our organisation.
The young generation is very rational. It is a generation that will approach challenges differently. The amount of knowledge and information in the world is growing at an astronomical rate, and competences are becoming the number-one thing.
IS TRUE LEADERSHIP ABOUT HOW A PERSON BEHAVES WHEN NO ONE IS THERE TO SEE THEM?
In fact, we could use the metaphor about the good and the bad leader here. When the team is doing well, the good leader will look through the window at the team and be thankful to them, and when the team is failing, he will look in the mirror and ask himself what he did wrong and what he can do better. Whereas the bad leader will wag his finger and reprimand the team when they are underperforming, and will praise himself for doing a good job when the team is making success.
When it comes to the invisible side of the leader, the important thing is this: my words and actions mirror my thought. But the leader is a human being first and foremost, and I therefore will say this as a joke: a bad leader is a leader who did not get enough sleep. Getting one’s strength back and resting is important. We are good when we are healthy, when our minds are healthy. And, of course, looking in the mirror and asking yourself: What is important to me, what do I want? has never hurt anybody.
IN YOUR PROJECT I AM ENTERING THE JOB MARKET YOU INTERVIEW MANY EMPLOYEES AND HELP THEM FIND THEIR PLACE IN THE LABOUR MARKET. WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN OBSERVATIONS?
It is really important indeed that supervisors should be able to put themselves into the employee’s shoes, and that employees should be capable of looking at the organisation from the manager’s perspective and to understand its needs and challenges. If we really want to win, we have to set our goals together with our employees. That will engage them. They will find it meaningful. They will give the job all of their heart. That way we will be able to win together. We can achieve this by asking the employee: What do you want to achieve in this organisation? What type of organisational goal would inspire and motivate you?
It used to seem once that an employee can be adjusted, fine-tuned, pulled up to the company’s objectives, but during my career I have eventually come to realise that employees want the same things as their company. They want to win and work in an organisation that has a bright future. When they speak about their goals, employees are usually more demanding than their supervisors (managers appear to be the bigger realists here). All you have to do is harness the power of the employees’ dreams and set sail for the goal.
HOW DO YOUR PROTECT YOURSELF FROM IMITATING WORK THAT YOU MENTIONED EARLIER?
I always ask myself: Was the time really used right? If an employee wants to attend training that I can see generates zero value, I will ask them: ‘What are you bringing to the workplace? What competences will the training give you and how will it help you work and perform better?’ The immediate answer that follows is that ‘it will not help in any way, I will waste my time.’
Everything takes space. If I am doing something unproductive, it means I am not doing anything productive that would generate value. I am forever checking myself if I am generating any value with what I am doing that moment. And I encourage employees to do the same.
Another important thing is the commitment to complete your assignments on time and to achieve your weekly and monthly goals. If we fail to achieve our weekly goals by accomplishing all of our work, we automatically carry it over to the next week. If you delegate a task and it is performed on time, it means that the job is done, we have plenty of space to take on new jobs and to create more. But if the job is not done on time, it means we have to backtrack and ask: What is going on, why is it not done?, we have to re-establish an understanding where we are and spend time to finish the work. That is the main thing that is holding us back. Instead of being able to do what is new and useful, to create new products, implement ideas, generate value, we trudge along doing old work. That is a big flaw with organisations and people do not even stop to think how much time is wasted because of unfinished work. I try to weed this thing out of my organisation as much as possible. I do my best to finish my weekly assignments whatever it takes. I am forever questioning if we are spending our time in a way that has any value.
I think that the supervisor’s example is key. I share a lot with my people. I encourage them to think, to look for ideas. In difficult situations, I tell my employees: let’s put our heads together to find the best solution. In this case, the most important thing really is to put employees in action by asking them, engaging them, offering a lot of good feedback, allowing them to express themselves. Of course, all this will be done after you identify a common goal, which will motivate the employees.
I was walking my dog on the riverbank once, thinking: ‘Really, what is the most important thing to an employee? What is that fundamental feeling, what do employees want from a leader?’ And the answer came: they want a sense of security. What the sense of security means to a person that the organisation where I work has promise, it really has a future, it will not vanish and I will not vanish with it, I will not have to look for a new job, I will achieve many things in this organisation. In the end, what matters to the organisation appears to matter to its employees, as well.
The interview was first published in “Life” magazine by Mandatum Life