Nearly 30 years ago, What Leaders Really Do (May need HBR subscription to view fully) was written by John P. Kotter for the Harvard Business Review. This makes it far from the “latest and greatest” information available to us, but that does not diminish the impact it can have.

The article discusses the difference between management and leadership. Management relates to the planning and predictable nature of daily tasks. It means finding the right people for the job and executing effective problem-solving. Leadership is the creation of a vision of what the company ought to be and finding people which align with said vision. It means creating a level of credibility and motivation within each employee to get them to believe in the vision.

Two concepts stood out to me from the article, motivating the employees and decentralized organization. The article talks about leadership including the process of motivating people but it does not go into how to accomplish this. I would offer motivation needs to be a multi-faceted approach. At RAWR, we work with organizations and their approach to motivation based on Achievement Goal Theory, Self-determination Theory, and Attribution Theory. This means creating an environment where people are focused on improving their own abilities and making goals geared towards their improvement. The goals they make should be based on their core values. Finally, daily, there are successes and failures that occur. Attributing the successes as something that can be repeatable and the failures as something that is isolated and changeable can lead to more motivation.

The concept of decentralization stood out as well. A few years ago, I had read two books which were recommended to me, The Starfish and the Spider and One from Many. The first showing various companies with such practices and the effectiveness it enabled. The latter was about the formation of Visa, the credit card company we use but may not know much about. A common premise is that to have fast progress, decentralization should occur.

A decentralized system gives more power to individuals, allowing for faster decisions and actions. Most of us have experienced situations where some level of management or the organization is stifling because things need to go through bureaucratic processes. These processes can be a form of handcuffs, slowing the progress. At first, decentralization may seem worrisome, but it is important to realize that even under such a system, help and guidance can be provided on a continued basis, allowing for growth and sustainability.

Throughout this blog, there have been a few resources discussed and the citations are below. Something to consider when coming across any resource, whether it is new, 30 years old, or much older, is identifying how it connects to other resources. Taking this analytical approach can help you process the information and make sense of it for yourself.

Here are citations for reference:

Brafman, O., & Beckstrom, R. A. (2006). The starfish and the spider: The unstoppable power of leaderless organizations. Penguin.

Duda, J. L., & Nicholls, J. G. (1992). Dimensions of achievement motivation in schoolwork and sport. Journal of educational psychology84(3), 290.

Hock, D. (2009). One from many: Visa and the rise of chaordic organization. ReadHowYouWant. com.

Kotter, J. P. (2001). What leaders really do (pp. 85-96). Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist55(1), 68.

Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological review92(4), 548.


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