How can leaders achieve more with less?

How can leaders achieve more with less?
By Mike Toten on 15 February 2017 What is the real purpose of being in business? To achieve more with less, according to well-known management theorist Buckminster Fuller. This  topic was discussed at recent interactive seminar conducted by management consultants Integrity and Values.

CEO Jennifer Elliott asked the audience to discuss what is the purpose of being in business. Answers included: to create value, to change the world in some way, collaboration (collective experience is greater than the sum of its individual parts) and to fulfil a need. But she argued that none of those is actually a purpose.

To illustrate the meaning of doing more with less, she cited the development of mobile communication devices. They have become smaller, cheaper and much more versatile and capable, their use is now almost universal, and all these improvements are continuing to evolve. The internet may be an example of ultimate progress – as nobody actually “owns” it, it can now be regarded as an example of achieving more with nothing.

Elliott quoted again from Fuller to describe the purpose as “ephemeralisation”. This denotes the acceleration of efficiencies to continually achieve more with less, for example better service with fewer resources.

Why many leaders achieve the reverse – less with more

Elliott then asked the audience for examples of how leaders frequently achieve less with more.

Suggestions included: micromanagement, inefficient use of time (eg check emails too often), failing to use the full capacity and capability of technology, and repeating mistakes without learning from them.

Many leaders end up doing less with more because they lack courage to make hard but necessary decisions and, out of fear, focus on protecting their own positions.

Elliott suggested that once organisations reach about 150 to 200 employees, inefficiencies (eg “centralisation”) begin to mount up.

What are the most crucial behaviours for leaders?

Audience answers to the above question included:
  • listening
  • empathy – which must be clearly distinguished from sympathy. For example, empathy may sometimes require “tough love”, but sympathy often results in simply giving in to demands
  • leading by example
  • integrity
  • courage – this requires holding people accountable and not letting them get away with things, so “courageous conversations” should not be avoided
  • long-term thinking
  • good communication
  • having a passion for their vision
  • having a strategy to implement the vision, and
  • relying on vision to put the right people in the right roles.
Elliott recommended that leaders and HR analyse where on the above list they appear to be “stuck”. It will indicate which of the important conversations they are not having.

Doing things right and doing the right things

Leaders need to do the right things even if they are unpopular for it, for example saying “no” or being brutally honest when necessary. The alternative of doing or saying the wrong things in order to be liked or to “avoid trouble” will backfire eventually. The greatest pain will come from the people who were disappointed by the lack of leadership.

Dealing with 'reluctant leaders'

A reluctant leader is someone who is put into a leadership role when he/she really didn’t want it. A common example is promoting someone with technical expertise but little people management skill or experience. A common feature of such a leader is kneejerk responses to please or pacify people or extinguish the immediate “bushfire”.

If a leader is reluctant, an informal leader will usually take over, but never admit to the role. That person will use office politics and his/her power and influence to undermine the “official” leader.

The challenge is to identify the informal leaders, have frank conversations with them, and try to get them on board (eg with the vision). For example, they commonly use language like “people are saying...” or “everyone thinks that...”. They can be challenged by asking “Which people?” or “Everyone? Really?”.

Further information

Further information about this event is available from Integrity and Values


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