Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Linda A. Hill on Leadership

Where Will We Find Tomorrow's Leaders?
By: Hemp, Paul,
Harvard Business Review,
Jan 2008, Vol. 86, Issue 1

Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, has looked at leadership from many perspectives. In the early 1990s, she led the development of Harvard's required MBA course on leadership. Her research into the challenges faced by first-time managers resulted in the book Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership (Harvard Business School Press, second edition, 2003).

Leadership is about making emotional connections to motivate and inspire people, and our effectiveness at doing this has strong cultural overtones.

What other leadership approaches have you seen in emerging economies?

I've been especially interested in what I've seen at HCL Technologies, an Indian information technology company, which has been described as having the world's most modern management. The first tenet of HCL's change strategy is called, somewhat provocatively, Employee First, Customer Second. The aim is to attract the very best talent - a tall order in the competitive Indian labor market but crucial for the company's growth - and empower employees to take the lead in coming up with innovative ways to create value for customers. This distributed leadership model is based on communities of interest: tight-knit groups that pull together people from various functions and locations. Each community comes up with new ideas and then competes with the other groups for funding in HCL's internal market. According to HCL president Vineet Nayar, the strategy - which is supported by the savvy use of social-networking technology - will have succeeded when it "destroys the office of the president." That is, as the communities of interest evolve, the leaders of the groups will begin to share leadership of the company with Vineet.

"Leading from behind?"

I was reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. At the time, I was working on an article about leadership in the twenty-first century, and I came across a passage in which Mandela recalls how a leader of his tribe talked about leadership: "A leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

To me, this take on the shepherd image embodies the kind of leader we increasingly need: someone who understands how to create a context or culture in which other people are willing and able to lead. This image of the shepherd behind his flock is an acknowledgment that leadership is a collective activity in which different people at different times - depending on their strengths, or "nimbleness" - come forward to move the group in the direction it needs to go.

Could you say that the shepherd knows the ultimate destination but leaves it to individuals in the flock to determine how to get there?
That's one way to put it.

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