Leading for Effectiveness

Administrating plans and executing programs to acquire, maintain and defend resources while also achieving the organization’s purpose is the very definition of effectiveness.

St. George Slaying The Dragons

Administrative leadership focuses on the traditional disciplines of management. These include such activities as implementing management plans, programs, policies and procedures that operate efficiently while and also holding people accountable.  Important leadership interactions that drive successful administrative leadership are, for example, those that drive accountability.

Although conceptually simple, interactions of this type can be extremely difficult in practice. The challenge here is to set the proper parameters for the efficacious behavior of each individual in the context of a collective effort and then to enforce these “controls”, thus holding individuals to account.  Defining effective control parameters not only requires clear thinking and unambiguous communication in the face of uncertain causality, it also requires – and when done effectively promotes – a ambient sense of fairness and procedural justice.

Accountability norms when activated and reinforced by effective control parameters become a source of normative influence in the organization. They become “how we do things around here”.  This in turn reinforces and builds momentum to actualize effective organizing while minimizing the requisite oversight and thus its associated overhead costs.

Another key interaction occurs by setting objective metrics of success or failure.  This includes carefully identifying target quantities that can be agreed upon by objectively measuring a quantity of something. This is in contrast to relying on someone’s subjective sense of achievement. Although objective measurement can of course be subject to nefarious manipulation (when accountability controls are lacking), subjective measurement is by its nature the product of political influence and is therefore intrinsically biased. Administrative leadership seeks to minimize the politicization of performance incentives.

Leadership must also maintain focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes this requires quieting voices that distract from the organization’s purpose.  This does not mean quieting someone who challenges someone else’s assumptions or who offers suggestions, ideas or alternatives. There is always a place for new ideas. But human beings are also prone to diverge toward their other individual expectations and preoccupations and can, through social interactions draw others into these diversions.  This is normal behavior, but it is also “noise” from the perspective of getting the job done. Thus leadership interactions are needed to maintain positive momentum. This can be aided through interactions which periodically dampen this noise by stepping in and giving the group a shove in its intended organizational direction.

Related to this are leadership interactions that ask people to invest more time and energy toward the purpose. Most of the time, individuals do what’s best for them. That might mean taking a long break for coffee mid morning, leaving a few minutes early in the evening,  or even spending too much time watching cat videos on YouTube while sitting at their desk. These are distractions are “frictions” which cause the organization to lose its hard won momentum. Effective organizing requires leadership to ask these individuals to do more for the organization that they might otherwise prefer. Leadership involves engaging in interactions that periodically push for more investment and for more of their time. This is needed to overcome the natural slowing down that comes from individual fiction. These interactions can be framed as a “push” with some implied threats, or it can be structured as a “pull” to activate intrinsic motivation by offering inspiration or by reinforcing each individuals personal aspirations with respect to the organization’s purpose. Although it would be nice to think that the latter is always best, sometimes the former might be the right medicine, particularly if it is delivered with just the right amount of sugary flavoring.

Finally, success breeds success, and stepping stones can be brought together as the foundation and walls of a new structure that offers members of the organization a sense of satisfaction, safety and security.  To bring all of the parts together, a plan is needed as well as a timeline that clarifies how all of these parts come together. Leadership interactions that establish specific targets and deliverables are needed to do this.

These five types of leadership interaction together define effectiveness. Each is difficult in its own right, but all are needed. And the need for them never stops. Each counters the natural forces which work against sustained organizing momentum within human interaction dynamics. Administrative leadership is thus an essential accelerating force which continually pushes forward against never ending and always changing drags on sustained effectiveness.

Jim Hazy

Founder and CEO, Leadership Science, LLC

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