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Leaders, life-cycles and performance

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leadership 1When it comes to achieving the best results, we often strive to perform with utmost efficiency. As such, for many individuals, these two concepts are interchangeable. But on whose shoulders does the burdens of performance and efficiency rest? On the employee’s or on the manager’s?

For quite some time, the general solution was to make it an even relationship, in which both of the aforementioned parties split the task. But in the eyes of a few, leaders tend to take the lion’s share, due to their enhanced influence over the life cycles of a company. This should not be taken as an affront by the former. Employees are a big part of the whole, but we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the effort of the manager, administrator, director and so forth. This was especially emphasized in Lawrence M. Miller’s 1989 work, From Barbarians to Bureaucrats, and mentioned in Richard L. Daft’s 1992 piece, Organizational Theory and Design.   Both of these books explore the organizational life cycles of various companies, detailing on how to deal with the intricacies of each cycle, in order to obtain maximum performance. Most often than not, a company goes through the same steps – birth, youth, midlife, maturity and, in some unfortunate cases, decline. In Miller’s opinion, each step is led by a different leader, with his own mindset.
  • At birth, the company is managed by a Prophet, who is a visionary. For him, performance means simply getting started as soon as possible.
  • When it reaches its youth, Barbarians, Builders and Explorers take hold, craving for new ideas, new markets. Profits arise and focus shifts less on revving the engine and more on how it performs. Performance here equals planning and building a clear structure.
  • Upon hitting midlife, these aforementioned types converge as one – the Administrator, whose focus is on maximizing performance and efficiency via fact-based research and in-depth market studies, making full use of profit.
  • As it matures, the company tends to acquire more and more physical, financial and social capital, paving the way for the Bureaucrat. When we speak of performance in this case, we mean an even greater focus on efficiency and cost-cutting, a bit less on clients, new products or markets and a somewhat overly organized structure rears its head.
Miller also mentions two other types of leaders, one which has nothing to do with performance (the Aristocrat) and one which is the ideal type (the Synergist), balancing social, economic and physical performance/output. A brief description of the latter ensues below, as the former has no relevance to this topic. leader 1

The Synergist is what Miller sees as being the ideal type of leader. He is “a leader who has escaped his or her own conditioned tendencies toward one style and incorporated, appreciated and unified each of the styles of leadership on the life-cycle curve.” He is described as having great spirit, specialized competence, a clear purpose, creativity, being an efficient administrator and understanding basic concepts such as planned urgency, making on-the-spot decisions, leading through unity and diversity (of people and ideas) and responding to challenges with appropriate answers.

These are the traits which are required of company leaders in order to ensure maximum business performance and it is a very compelling argument for success.

Although different from Miller’s approach, Daft offers us a similar life-cycle curve, with companies going from birth, to youth, midlife and maturity. Size changes, going from small to medium, large and very large; it passes from a non-bureaucratic stage to a heavily bureaucratic one, as time goes by; division of labor becomes more and more structured, centralization as well – from a one-person rule to a top-heavy management. Formalization and administrative intensity go hand in hand: the greater the company, the more formal its administration becomes. Internal systems of budget planning and control and HR coordination teams spawn, trying to counter and break down the massive administrative behemoth which has taken residence in the company.

Now, one can infer from the above lines that leadership and an astute understanding of organizational life-cycles make up a solid combination for performance management. As mentioned earlier, the employees are the heart, veins and arteries of the company; they power it through the years and any hardships. At the same time, leaders are the central nervous system; without a clear comprehension of what they are supposed to achieve and what effects their decisions are enacting on the company’s well-being, the fruits of performance will not be reaped.

Performance management is a much more complex topic than most people give it credit for, and more often than not, most of it has to do with decisions undertaken by managers, directors etc. Raising or cutting salaries, expanding its customer base, reaching out for new products, markets or alliances – these all stem from leadership. If it does not have a clear understanding of its goal, objectives, identity and standing, the company will run with its blinders on and performance – no matter how great the effort, will still elude it.

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