Episode 24 — Leadership

helpinghandChris and Jeff discuss leadership issues with Jim Stroup, author and management consultant, in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Jeff and Chris didn’t receive much leadership training in their engineering classes. Jeff picked up his knowledge on the job, while Chris benefited from some training in high school, and a program offered by his college fraternity.
  • Engineers tend to feel that leadership activities are not a core part of their duties, even though they spend a lot of time collaborating with, and overseeing the work of, others.
  • Our guest is Jim Stroup, author of the book Managing Leadership.
  • Having spent a good portion of his adult life in the U.S. Marines, Jim has been exposed to a wide range of leadership issues, and he moved into management consulting after retiring from the military.
  • Jim’s book makes the case that true leadership emerges from the individuals within an organization, rather than being handed down from the top of the organization.
  • When working with executives, Jim finds that initial problem statements rarely capture the core issues that need to be addressed. Does this sound like an engineering assignment you’ve recently faced?
  • Stories of “hero” leaders, with mythical powers, are promoted in the media, as it makes for a more dramatic narrative than describing how hundreds of nameless employees may have toiled away for years making the organization a success.
  • Individual leadership is the notion that leadership descends through the organization, emanating from a single person. Our guest finds this an untenable concept, as significant leadership capabilities are found at every level of an organization.
  • One of the best examples of an individual leader is Steve Jobs of Apple Inc., as he took action to create a new company and new products, and as an owner had the authority to do so.
  • Unfortunately, many “charismatic” leaders take on roles of authority that are not theirs to exert.
  • Leadership promotes forward movement, causing resources to centralize around an objective, and to advance the realization of that objective.
  • Jim observes that organizational leadership naturally occurs when a group of individuals collaborate for a common purpose.
  • The notion of an “individual leader” got its start in the 1970s and 1980s; organizational executives were simply thought of as managers before that time.
  • It’s often difficult for executives to communicate freely with individuals throughout an organization; intermediaries often impose themselves to make sure that an executive is only exposed to well-run aspects of the operation.
  • Our guest suggests that solving your boss’s problems is a good way to establish the proper leadership/management relationship.
  • Organizations don’t always need to be flat; but they should always be effective. Leadership skills can be exhibited in both flat and hierarchical institutions.
  • A hospital is a great example of a self-organizing alliance, with health practitioners from various fields joining together to address the particular needs of each patient.
  • Managers can delegate authority to get things done, but cannot delegate responsibility for the actions of their subordinates.
  • Mary Parker Follett, an early management consultant, was one of the first to make the distinction between authority and responsibility in an organization.
  • Jim makes the point that managers can allow leadership functions to performed by subordinates. While managers retain the responsibility for leadership taking place, it is not incumbent on them to perform those functions themselves.
  • Managers do, however, have to make decisions. While it is beneficial to gather input from the ranks, it is the manager’s job to decide on which path to take toward meeting the organization’s objectives.
  • Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has challenged anyone to prove that any CEO has done anything that changed the direction of any organization by a single degree.
  • Jim’s advice to young managers: Individuals want to contribute to the progress of your organization. Find ways to facilitate their ability to effectively and efficiently do their jobs.
  • Jim Stroup has a website and blog at ManagingLeadership.com. He can also be found on Twitter as @jimstroup.

Thanks to GrowWear for the photo titled “Leadership.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson