I am a long way from becoming a good leader. It will take years before I can become an exceptional leader. But this is my dream, to become the best that I could ever be when it comes to leadership and the ability to build an organization from scratch. I am not going to be contented with building a business from nothing but it is part of my life’s goal to create something that can be sustained for a very long time.
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In addition, I want that organization to be something of a force in the social realm, meaning that it is not only in existence to make money but to help build a better world. I know that my contribution may be insignificant compared to giant companies out there but I believe that I can inspire others to do the same thing. And collectively it can be a force to be reckoned with.
So far my experience with good leadership is working under a person who is conscious of the need for constant improvement. My employers in the past had given me an idea of what a good leader should be. I also have an experience with a boss that does not seem to understand principles of leadership. HE may have known intellectually but his heart was not sold out to the idea of transforming himself to become an exceptional leader.
As a result the organization that he built continues to stagnate. I learned from a bad leader as well as from good ones. Aside from my desire to become a good leader and learn how to become there are a couple of issues that are shaping my worldview. These issues are powerful because I believe that it is affecting the political and social environment.
One is the issue regarding a “flat world” and the second one pertains to the influx of cheap and yet low-quality products. These two issues are related and when these are combined the impact can be disastrous to those who enjoyed a certain lifestyle and one day find out that Asian products have changed the way business is being done.
These are critical issues and I believe that universities and other learning institutions must take a closer look at the consequences of radical changes in the business world. Take for instance the idea that the world is going to be “flattened.” This is of course a metaphor used to describe the increasing equality between highly industrialized nations and those that can be found in Asia.
Consider the assertion that in the past China was no match to the United States and the United Kingdom when it comes to international trade. But today this statement no longer holds true. In the not so distant past South Korea was just a consumer of American and European made products. After the Korean War, this country was utterly dependent to Western powers and their benevolence when it comes to economic aid.
But today it is common to see Korean made cars plying the streets of Europe and United States. Samsung is an instantly recognizable brand. If these things are not enough there has been a new phenomenon that has bothered many and in fact it is the root cause of the creation of the term “flat world” and it is none other than the transfer of jobs overseas.
This can be as simple as building cheaper factories in countries with cheap labor and therefore increasing the profit margin. However, it can also be as complicated as setting up business outsourcing facilities in countries like India. This has threatened not only blue collar workers but even professionals such as accountants and computer programmers. It is now possible to ask equally talented workers abroad to complete a project at half the cost.
These issues are currently shaping my worldview. However, I will not be threatened by it, instead I will use it to motivate me to become better. It is also a form of a guide for me giving me a map as to what is happening to the world. It will also give me an idea as to the need for greater improvements in learning as well as skills in order to compete globally.
Life Goal and Strategy
My life goal is to become an exceptional leader, able to lead men and women and perform great works of service for mankind. I am thinking of Steve Jobs and the revolutionary products that came out because of his vision and leadership. I am thinking about business leaders like Ford and Welch that transformed the way people live because of their contributions to society.
I am also thinking of philanthropists and leaders of charitable institutions that worked hard to make this planet a better world. All these things can be achieved if I put myself to a process of continuous learning. It is impossible to achieve these goals without setting up lofty goals and to adhere to standards that mediocre performers do not pay attention to.
In this regard I will strive to continually understand the principles of total quality management as exemplified by companies that earned the right to receive the Malcolm Baldrige Award. I also made the commitment to know more about just-in-time inventory and lean management systems. These are strategies employed by successful Japanese firms and the core value is to eliminate waste.
Finally, I would make it one of my priorities to learn more about corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investing. My strategy can be simplified and label it continuous learning. There is a need to bring myself to different settings in order to meet different types of people.
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My short term goal is to find a mentor that can help me understand leadership principles and teaching it form the point of view of an expert who had experienced these principles and not just being familiar with them in an academic setting. It is important to continue observing the behavior and tendencies of highly successful people. I find on other way to achieve this than to work in a publicly traded company. I need to observe how a leader reacts to pressure coming from shareholders and external forces.
An effective leader is a good communicator. An effective leader understands the importance of people skills. An effective leader is knowledgeable about leadership principles. However, almost every leader is aware of these things. But I am not just interested in becoming an average business leader, I want to attempt something that can be considered as impossible judging from my current state.
Therefore, I need to change my view of effective leadership to mean those who are highly successful and considered as leaders in their respective industry. I now believe that an effective leader is someone who understands the motivation behind the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award.
There are so many things that can be said about effectiveness in leadership but by focusing on the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award an aspiring leader encounters a set of principles that can guide him or her to becoming one. Thus, an overview of the said award immediately reveals a level of standard that enable the person to strive for something higher, something that mediocre leadership can never even consider.
By the way, Malcolm Baldrige is a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. He was a part of the Reagan Administration that made an impact to the United States economy in the 1980s. Even before the term “globalization” became a part of popular culture and the implications known to many Westerners, Malcolm Baldrige and like-minded men were the first to recognize that the dominance of the United States was no longer assured in the long run.
After World War II, the military and economic strength of the United States was without equal. This has prompted many to consider this country as a superpower. Furthermore, U.S. based businesses and other organizations were leading the pack in creating products and services that can only be described as cutting-edge.
But the persistence of its major competitors to take a slice of the market led to the development of management strategies and leadership techniques that allowed them to inch their way back into the winner’s circle. As a result American dominance in product and process quality waned.
Part of the remedy was for the Federal government to make deliberate steps in order to provide incentives. The purpose was to keep in mind the following goals. First, there is a need to promote awareness when it comes to the importance of quality and how to improve the quality of products and services for the sake of the national economy.
Secondly, there is a need recognize those organization that made calculated steps in order to transform the way they do things. And as a result of that process they were able to offer something that had made an impact in American society. Finally, the Federal government found a way to reward those who are willing to share best practices among U.S.-based organizations.
This is the kind of mindset that I want to dwell into. I want to think that an effective leader is someone who is thinking of these things. Another way to understand effective leadership is to study the leaders of organizations that won the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award. By looking at the names of the organizations it is easy to see the link to their brand and the kind of products that they produce and how this has changed the way people live.
It is truly the mark of an effective leader and his organization. In 1988 it was Motorola that won the award, in the category of large manufacturing. In 1990 there were three prominent names in the industry that received the award and these are: Cadillac Motor Car Division; IBM Rochester; and FedEx. Two years later it was Texas Instruments, AT&T Universal Card and AT&T Bell Transmission Systems.
The beauty of studying the Malcolm Baldrige Award helps the leader understand the key areas that require focus. Thus, the aspiring leader is not going to study only one aspect and fail to devote time to master other key components of leadership skills. The following are the areas that the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award is keen to measure and observe:
- Strategic Planning
- Customer and Market Focus
- Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
- Human Resources Focus
- Process Management
Aside from looking at the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award it is also important to look at the example of leaders. One of the most exemplary models of great leadership skills is Michael Dell who built a company from scratch. Consider that he created a business from his dorm room. In that tiny space he started building a system of manufacturing and delivery that would become one of the biggest and most respected companies in the planet.
It is hard to find a place where no one recognizes the brand name Dell. I always think about Dell every time I mention the idea that something great can be developed from humble means. It is indeed possible to grow a business without having the necessary resources enough to create a big company. There is no need to take out a loan that is difficult to pay back.
A wise leader knows how to maximize every single piece of resource available to him. Michael Dell is also an example of how an imperfect leader can learn from his mistakes. He was not an expert about computers but he was willing to learn. He was willing to adapt to the forces of a changing world that continually shaped his time and his surroundings. He sought the help of others.
By doing so he expanded his knowledge about the business world. He understood supply chain management and everything else needed to make sure that a revolutionary system of manufacturing and delivery of goods would work.
Globalization and Socially Responsible Investing
There are certain issues that I am concerned about. I briefly discussed on the idea of globalization that it has created a “flat world” and that it has transformed the idea of competition between two nations. In the past the United States and other European countries continued to believe that their economic dominance will never end. They experienced a rude awakening in the latter part of the 20th century when China and India surged ahead and were able to sell products that are cheap and therefore priced competitively in the market.
Aside from the globalization and the rise of business outsourcing companies, globalization enabled companies to grow as powerful and as wealthy as a geopolitical nation. This means that a company like Microsoft or General Electric can be as powerful and influential as country. It can enter a certain location and exploit natural resources without thinking of the consequences of their actions and its effect on the lives of future generations of people.
It is therefore important not only think about how to build a company but also to consider how it can be sustained. And how it must be managed in order to create products and services that can change the lives of people for the better, not something that would become a source of grief.
Globalization has broken down borders and this means that products that used to have taken longer to enter a country have now become routine. In recent headlines one can read tainted products from China. These are not just poorly-made products, these are products that could harm people and deal a serious blow to their health. How was this possible? It is the result of a vicious cycle.
There is great demand for cheap products and therefore Chinese companies are pressured to keep their prices low. In the process the supply chain management aspect of the business is no longer an important component of the whole process. These things become secondary to profit. There are different ways to deal with the tendency of organizations to focus on profits and create short cuts to achieve their goal of making money rather than the responsibility of providing quality goods and services.
One way to do it is to boycott the said companies and not patronize their products and services. But this is something that is difficult to do because it requires a great deal of organization and coordination. It would be difficult for an individual to rally others and protest against a company. But an individual can still make a difference and this can be done by those who have funds to invest on a publicly traded company.
More and more people are becoming aware that it is not only important to make money but to help in creating a better world for the present and future generations of people. Thus, there are those who tried to understand how to invest on companies that had shown its commitment to the various stakeholders. There are those who are investing based on the capability of the company to give back to the community. This practice is known as socially responsible investing.
Investors are aware that corporate leaders are sometimes unable to listen to the voice of complaint. They are unwilling to change their ways based on the suggestions of customers and other concerned citizens. But there is one way to make them sit up and notice and that is to pull out the money invested in these companies and re-invest it in other companies that have shown signs of social responsibility.
I can personally contribute to solving the negative impact of globalization and multinational companies that are not mindful of how they have exploited the people and natural resources of a particular area, by learning how they are doing things and informing other people about these practices. If I have the money to invest in publicly traded companies then I must study which ones had shown signs of corporate social responsibility. This is the company that I will invest my money into.
Lessons from Case Studies
The case study regarding the rise and fall of Xerox has created a great impact in me because it shows that the most successful companies can go bankrupt in a few months if the leaders fail to understand the importance of diversity and flexibility. Xerox failed to diversify because its leadership grew complacent to their overwhelming success.
When it comes to the case study concerning Motorola, the lesson learned is the need to make employees feel that they have the freedom to suggest their ideas and to experiment. It is only by creating this atmosphere can innovation become part of the culture of the organization.
Without innovation a company begins to stagnate. Once a company could no longer provide innovative products and services then its competitors can take over. When this happens it will not take long before a company begins to deteriorate, lose market share, and then go bankrupt. Xerox lost money because it can no longer provide cutting-edge technology to its customers.
I also understood the importance of building the correct environment wherein leaders thrive. It is not enough to develop manuals, rules and standards that leaders can use to develop a profitable organization. A successful company and the existence of effective leadership is a by-product of culture. A culture must be established first. It is the culture that dictates the behavior of the people and the leaders.
It is also important to build and not to control. In the case of Xerox, its corporate leaders learned fear at the height of its success. They became defensive minded. As a result they wanted to micro-manage everything. Thus, there was a high level of control instead of the spontaneity and innovation-mindset common in fast-growing firms.
It has been advocated that leaders must learn to think outside the box. This is easier said than done. This is easier said by academicians who had nothing to lose. But for a businessman who is about to lose hundreds of millions of dollars it understandable why they are defensive minded first before they venture into more risky deals. This is a major concern when a company begins to make money.
These organizations are no longer willing to lose a part of their investment in order to create something big. Most of the time this attitude is evident only to those who are just starting to grow their company, not to those with a well-established system. I also realized the importance of business ethics especially when it comes to large corporations.
The case of Enron and WordCom are just a few when it comes to the utter disregard for business ethics. The leaders of these organizations forgot that they do not exist to simply make money. They were responsible for the investments made by shareholders. They were responsible to their employees. But they gambled everything for the chance to increase their revenue.
Without a clear understanding of business ethics a leader may spend a great deal of time, energy, and money to build something and yet he is unable to hold on to it. The leaders at these bankrupt companies did not only suffer humiliation when they lost everything that they gave their lives for, they also were incarcerated. Thus, they did not only lose money, they also lost their reputation and their freedom.
Interpersonal differences must be managed especially when it come to creative solutions to problems. If a leader is unable to consider the ideas of his subordinates then time will come when everyone will simply accept what the leader said even if his ideas are plainly wrong. It is important to allow others to voice out their opinions.
Interpersonal differences can become so contentious that a company will lose some of its key leaders and top talent because they are unable to make the necessary compromise. I remember the story of Steve Jobs who was forced out of the company that he built from nothing. Imagine the level of inflexibility exhibited by those in leadership who could not allow a maverick like Steve Jobs to operate and bring their company to next level.
Interpersonal differences can be the result of a narrow worldview. It can also be the result of the need to adhere to a specific standard or traditions even if these things are no longer applicable in a real-world setting. Sony continued to rely on their colored TV sets when its competitors were already building flat screen TVs. Xerox refused to change even if their patents were already expiring and other companies are already copying the technology that they built their business on.
Interpersonal differences are common especially in a successful organization that can attract strong personalities. It is difficult to find a person of great courage and skill and not stubbornly cling to his ideas and beliefs. Consider Michael Dell when people tried to tell him that his ideas would not work. It is difficult to imagine him backing down and accept what his critics had to say. It is difficult to imagine Bill Gates backing down from a challenge. He could have wilted against the criticism that there is no way that he could have defeated IBM.
Self-assessment and Needed Improvements
I still need to learn more about leadership especially when it comes to management techniques such as lean-management systems and just-in-time inventory. I have heard about these concepts but in discussing globalization and the problems that it brings I cannot immediately relate management techniques to these ideas. I need to know how an effective leaders use these concepts to build a more streamlined organization.
Aside from reading books, it is important to read and analyze case studies. Case studies are different from news articles and information given in a simple narrative style. A case study forces the reader to look at the leadership and management principles involved. A case study looks at the problem and the solution. As a result the mind is trained to think rather than to absorb more information.
I also realized that a leader is not only an expert when it comes to an overall view of the company; an effective leader is someone who is intimate with details. It is impossible for the leader to know everything but it is inexcusable for a leader not to know the basic workings of a company. Problems when it comes to accountability and illegal practices can be nipped in the bud if the leader is aware of the details.
He has to find a way to know more about the inner-workings of a company and not just delegate everything. For so many years some of the top leaders of Enron and WordCom were unaware that their finance officers and other key players were manipulating accounting data just to satisfy the clamor for more profit. It is what is known as command-responsibility, the leader is responsible for everything that happens under his watch.
He must find a way to monitor what is happening. There are some things that he cannot delegate. It is a common problem in most organizations that when a healthy profit margin was already achieved, there is a tendency to become complacent. There is a need to keep things sharp and to always have the motivation to go to the next level.
In this regard it must be part of the corporate culture to develop the need to continually transform the organization. The moment that there is stagnation among the company, certain leaders must be given the task to re-invigorate the company. Thus, the CEO and other corporate leaders must invest in this endeavor. Resources must be released for this purpose.
This course is an important part of my quest to learn more about leadership. This course has provided me the ability to build a much better map towards my goal. In the past I thought that my determination to become an exceptional leader is enough. But by going through this course I realized that it is not enough to simply read and study. It is not enough to simply gather information. There is a need to process this information.
More importantly it is important to look at issues and then the solutions. It is not enough to simply criticize the weakness of a leader and organization. It is also imperative to formulate solutions. A leader is not part of the group that continually complains and fault-finders. A leader is solution provider. The mark of a true leader is not to bring people down to the pits of despair. An effective leader shows the way how to conquer and overcome their problems.
An effective leader is a valuable commodity. Great leaders are in short supply. But I discovered the reason why. There is no effective way to develop leaders. I realized that it must be a deliberate plan. An organization cannot simply wish for the right leader to come along. An organization must train their people to develop them into effective leaders.
An effective leader does not wish for a capable protégé that he will train to handle the task of leadership when he has retired. An effective leader is a mentor that continues to teach and train others who would love to follow in his footsteps. The absence of an effective leader can lead to problems as disastrous as Enron, WorldCom and other companies that changed the world in a negative way.