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Smart leaders communicate

By ______________________

“To get things done, you need allies in the organization.”

–   Scott Sleyster

President of Guaranteed Products

Prudential Insurance Company of America

BACKGROUND:  Real-life vignette

            As an assistant professor, Mr. Clarkson is a leader in the classroom.  He has been teaching college students for almost nine years.   He was also a leader when he was appointed as the program coordinator who was in-charge of student affairs and curriculum development in the department.

            From being a faculty, he held a position for a couple of years.  For him, holding such a position was a kind of promotion so he was very eager to carry out his duties.

            Two years had passed.  At the end of the term, he noticed he just “ruined” his career.  He hasn’t written any research and he failed to carry out community service.  He said he became too busy attending to students’ needs.  He thought then that he needed another pair of hands like a student assistant who could help him in the office.  However, the administration viewed his situation differently.  After being a coordinator for two years, he lost his position not because he was incompetent but because the administration thought his function was just a redundancy.  The college

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decided that it didn’t need a program coordinator so he went back to being a regular faculty member.

            The management decision made Mr. Clarkson lose his morale and his loyalty to the university.   Mr. Clarkson was wrong when he thought his role was important to the university.  It was difficult for him to face the truth:  That the college finds his position worthless.

            This incident instantly changed Mr. Clarkson.  He started to have a consistent record of tardiness.  He got all chances to be absent.  He started not to comply with the rules.  He deliberately did nothing to involve himself in any discussion in the faculty room or in the college.  He stopped cooperating.  His papers were submitted late.  He complied only because he was not yet prepared to lose his job.  He practically did nothing more than teaching.  He admitted though that he didn’t change his teaching style and he didn’t lose his interest in teaching his students.  In fact, he still got an excellent rating in the student evaluation.  The students still loved him although his colleagues found him weird for not saying a single thing in the faculty room.

            Mr. Clarkson is a promising college professor:  excellent in teaching, very good in communication, highly skilled in research, creative in course activities, and genius in writing.

            Mr. Clarkson was once a leader.  Now, his colleagues consider him a hard-headed faculty.  At this point, Mr. Clarkson needs a leader who could make him regain his morale and self-esteem.

            Mr. Clarkson is only one but who knows, there might be many Mr. Clarksons who may just be waiting for a leader who understands and who can change their fate.

            What I couldn’t forget was Mr. Clarkson’s final words about his fate:  I never knew a job could break a heart.  At present, Mr. Clarkson is focused on part-time commitments like holding tutorial classes outside the college.  Needless to say, he could no longer do what the university expects of him which are honesty, efficiency, loyalty and performance.

THE REAL PROBLEM:

            Based on his situations, it appears that the administration and Mr Clarkson have different perspectives on the need for a coordinator.  If the other staffs are correct, all the coordinators in the college lost their posts because the school is cutting on expenses.  The real issue here is the lack of clear communication between Mr. Clarkson and the dean of the college.    The college, as I see it, failed to articulate the need to remove coordinator position in the organizational structure.

            Looking closer at what happened to Mr. Clarkson, it suggests that a simple miscommunication could complicate how the employee feels which eventually produces substandard performance on the part of the employee.

MY ASSESSMENT:

            As a student of COM 461 or Communication in Leadership, meeting Mr. Clarkson was like opening my eyes to the reality in the workplace.  Whoever said that “an organization is only as good as its  weakest member,” is wrong.  The way I understand it, based on my readings on the modules and textbook, the statement should be “the organization is only as good as its leader.”  It’s not the member that spells the difference in any organization, but the leader himself.  It is the leader who can make or break the organization.

            Mr. Clarkson was a living proof that Mr. Gordon Bethune, the CEO and Chairman of the board of Continental Airlines, Inc., was indeed right when he said:

                        If you take someone for granted, or treat them like they have

                        less value than someone else, they’ll go to extraordinary

                        lengths to show you you’re wrong (DuBrin, 2004, p. 259).

A LEADER’S INSTINCT

            It was easy to advise Mr. Clarkson to just resign and find another job where he would be appreciated the way he wanted to.  However, I realized that giving up on Mr. Clarkson was like saying he was hopeless.

            A leader in me was saying that I could make a difference in his life through the leadership skills I’ve learned from my course.

            As a budding leader, I surmise that I need a lot of lessons on motivating and coaching skills and on influence tactics in order to deal with this kind of person.  Despite what happened to Mr. Clarkson, I would opt to keep him in the organization for I have no doubt that what he feels right now would also fade.  He just needs moral support and motivation in order to get back what he lost.  Since he seems so emotional right now, the best way to deal with him is to use appeal to emotions.  He needs a leader who can motivate and inspire, not a leader who dictates what needs to be done.  In order to motivate him, I need to switch to the emotional mode and try to wear his hats.  Wearing his hats would mean knowing his values, motives and goals which could help me in figuring out how to make him become productive again.  Only by wearing his hats will I be able to have a power to influence him.

            As the leader, I am tasked to change his behavior and his attitude in order to guarantee that he will contribute significantly to the goals of the company.  In this case, I only want commitment from this person, not merely compliance, and definitely not resistance.  In his situation right now, it is easy for him to resist and say NO so I will make my communication content more personalized by learning about what exactly happened to him and making him feel that I do understand.

THE SOLUTION

            It may sound ridiculous saving one man in an organization.  This is like saving-the- lost-sheep story in the bible.  If one employee will go, then, the whole would not be complete.  No one, in any organization, should be left behind.

            The first step to winning his trust back is to involve him in team building activities.  With the activities prepared, Mr Clarkson would surely find his own niche in the organization.  The team building activities is just like a “trigger” for him that could make him feel that he is actually working with a team, not working on his own in the college.  Perhaps, Mr. Clarkson just needs to feel the presence of those who make up the team.  As emphasized in the article, a team is never the same with a group.  In fact, a group may not be team but a team is definitely considered a group (DuBrin, 2004, p. 259).  Being with a team allows him to socialize and share activities with his colleagues.

THE PROBLEM MAY BE THE SYMPTOM

            As a leader, my effort should not end the moment Mr. Clarkson redeems himself in the workplace.  Seeing him feeling better and more confident should not signal the end of my effort to help in making the organization work better.

            Sometimes, what seems to be a problem to us may not what it seems to be.  Mr. Clarkson’s case may be a symptom, and not really a problem.  The misunderstanding between him and the higher-ups is a sign of an unhealthy relationship between the authorities and the employees.

            This unhealthy relationship may cause the employee to feel devalued and unappreciated.  The company might be using inappropriate and even unethical influence tactics.  Knowing that Mr. Clarkson works in a university and that he is professional, it should be assumed that the faculty and staff are treated as thinking individuals who are capable of distinguishing between what is good for them and what could help in attaining company goals.  This implies that there is no need for the administration to resort to negative tactics to influence the staff.

THE LEADERSHIP STYLE THAT WORKS FOR AN ACADEMIC COMMUNITY

            The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model is the most effective model to follow when dealing with diverse population.  This model includes task behavior and relationship behavior.

            The task behavior is “the extent to which the leader spells out the duties and responsibilities of an individual or group” while the relationship behavior is “the extent to which the leader engages in two-way or multi-way communication” (DuBrin, 2004, p. 144). Relationship behavior also includes coaching, providing encouragement and listening (DuBrin, 2004, p. 144).  Being a leader is not just telling the subordinates what they need to do.  Leadership is about relating with them and feeling the way they do, if necessary.  Here’s a simple quadrant that explains the model.

HIGH RELATIONSHIP

LOW TASK

HIGH RELATIONSHIP

HIGH TASK

LOW RELATIONSHIP

LOW TASK

LOW RELATIONSHIP

HIGH TASK
DuBrin, A. J. (2004).  Leadership:  Research findings, practice and skills,

                                                                                                              New York:  Houghton-Mifflin.

The Situational Leadership Model

            Based on the quadrant, leading in an academic community requires variations in the use of these styles.  One style may work for the Mr Clarkson’s type while another style may not.  For Mr. Clarkson who has the skill and talent but just lost the drive to deliberately contribute to the success of the company, the best leadership style to use is HIGH RELATIONSHIP-HIGH TASK.  I’m giving him directives but I will make it sound so encouraging and centered on him, instead of centered on the benefits that the organization or the university will get from the task given.  Doing this won’t be too hard on my part, being a leader, knowing that I am more inclined to using team leadership than solo leadership.  First of all, I am happier when I see my subordinates excel and later attributing the success to the whole team.  I am not going to enjoy bragging about what I can do for the organization and later claim that I am the reason for the success of the team.  I don’t really like the idea of getting credits for something I didn’t really work for.    I’d rather be on the side trying to guide and encourage my subordinates to excel.  With these insights on my preferred leadership style, it would follow that the outcome that I will get depends on the influence tactics which will, in turn, be dependent on my own traits, my behavior and the situation itself (DuBrin, 2004, p. 232).

– E  N D –

REFERENCE:

DuBrin, A. J. (2004).  Leadership:  Research findings, practice and skills,

            New York:  Houghton-Mifflin.

 

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