Grassroots Leadership

Posted on January 30, 2016 by

Our Collective Responsibility 

Strategically Being Tactical 

“The most important thing the captain can do is to see the ship from the eyes of the crew.”
Commander D. Michael Abrashoff.  US Navy – USS BENFOLD

INTRODUCTION

The business environment has undergone dramatic transformations over the last few years. It has become much more technologically driven, which in effect has made it increasingly rapid, complex, prone to information overload, and vulnerable to disruptive change. As a result, businesses are required to operate with greater agility, adaptiveness, and ingenuity. Failing to meet these new standards entails a risk of becoming increasingly uncompetitive, inefficient, and at worst, obsolete.

There is a sense among many businesses that acquiring new technologies or adapting new processes might offer the right solutions to keeping pace with change. This helps to a certain degree, but the crux of the matter remains as something much more fundamental. The capacity to stay competitive is first and foremost a structural one. It concerns the integration of people operating at both strategic and tactical spheres; the quality of communications taking place between the two. It’s about how the space of executive decisions is bridged to the front line of action.

A business interfaces with its environment on multiple (departmental) fronts. Any breakdown in communication, interaction, and integration between leadership and its people will not only impede operational flow, it can significantly decrease company morale, speeding up the likelihood of company-wide dysfunction.

GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP is a proven doctrine whose time has come.

And it is a collective responsibility.

This article will explore this immediate proactive option for change…GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP. In other words, getting down to the front line level and taking action, or “leading from the front.” As this saying is borrowed from military example, it’s worth mentioning that in both military and business confrontations, today’s ‘front lines’ are much more fluid and mobile than their historical counterparts. With actions taking place on a multi-dimensional or in some cases non-linear scale, the need for grassroots leadership is ever more critical. This style of leadership doctrine provides support for immediate and short-term opportunities and needs while establishing long-term functionality and credibility, both of which are necessary for future success. In other words, what is being proposed here is a doctrine of strategically being tactical.

“Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy”
General George S. Patton

STRATEGIC/TACTICAL ALIGNMENT AND INTEGRATION

In the above quote, Patton suggests the importance of strategic and tactical integration, but with an emphasis on the tactical side of things. His point: the tactical side is crucial, as it is the cutting edge of front line action. Failing to address the needs or feedback of those at the front is tantamount to neglecting short- to medium-term opportunities and threats both internal and external. Failing to address the immediacy of the unfolding events and the needs required to act upon those events risks the long-term credibility or sustainability of an operation. Hence, the need for strategic/tactical alignment and integration. In short: strategically being tactical.

JUST ONE EXAMPLE

Here is an example of a financial brokerage on the brink of losing its competitive foothold in the industry. The firm’s leadership operates strictly from a top-down paradigm with a decision process that is as lengthy as its hierarchical buy-in process wide. Alignment to corporate strategy is required, but the development and implementation of tactical actions stem solely from senior management.

Here is just a snapshot of what’s being said on the front lines:

  • “Direct sales practices have proven ineffective for years. Why can’t management agree to at least give in-bound or permission-based marketing practices a try?”
  • “If 60% of all online traffic comes from mobile devices, why are we not making our site more mobile friendly?”
  • “All of our competitors are taking advantage of social media NOW. Our management doesn’t ‘get’ social media and although they are interested, they’re not moving fast enough.”
  • “Management expects us to increase sales and revenues, but our services and technologies are either outdated or too similar to all of our competitors. We have no competitive differentiation.”
  • “Every time a negative industry event takes place, we have no strategic communications staff to craft appropriate messaging; each broker responds according to his/her whim, but not all of them are good at crisis communications.”

What are the people actually saying here? From their world, will the leadership—meaning not just the individual leaders but their structure, strategy, and procedures for managerial efficiency—give them what they need NOW, to respond to emerging circumstances and work effectively in the short and medium time frame?

 

Strictly from the front line perspective, these employees are hurting. The leadership structure neither addresses their immediate needs nor their immediate frustrations. Strategically, the long term strategy will make a long term difference. But what about today?  What about ‘tactically’?  The firm will need to revisit some short term tactics.

THE GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DOCTRINE

There is nothing magical or deeply complex about this doctrine. Here’s an analogy. When you go to a doctor, s/he usually cuts to the chase and asks…. “WHERE DOES IT HURT?” Then, s/he gives you something for the immediate pain, talks about future healing, and finally its prevention. Let’s recap this: manage the immediate pain; assess symptoms to cure the illness; and suggest prevention measures.

WHERE DOES IT HURT?                

This simple concept is suggested as a foundation of the GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP doctrine. Asking where it hurts is not enough. The key to the doctrine is “showing that you have heard and doing something about it”.  Prioritizing and acting on front line issues is crucial. In other words, strategically prioritizing tactical actions will show the front lines that their concerns are being addressed. This type of behavior is fundamental to the success of the doctrine.

MORALE BOOSTING IS AN ART 

“THE ARMY IS NOT MADE UP OF PEOPLE; THE ARMY IS PEOPLE..

LIVING, BREATHING, SERVING HUMAN BEINGS.  THEY HAVE NEEDS AND DESIRES.  THEY HAVE SPIRIT AND WILL, STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES.  THEY HAVE WEAKNESSES AND FAULTS, AND THEY HAVE MEANS.  THEY ARE THE HEART OF OUR PREPAREDNESS…AND THIS PREPAREDNESS – AS A NATION AND AS AN ARMY – DEPENDS ON THE SPIRIT OF OUR SOLDIERS.  IT IS THE SPIRIT THAT GIVES THE ARMY…LIFE.  WITHOUT IT WE CANNOT SUCCEED.” General Creighton W. Abrams former US Army Chief of Staff

 An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combinedNapoleon Bonaparte 

Building or re-building morale is an art. It is not enough to leave the responsibility to individuals and teams. It has to be integrated throughout the entire culture of an organization. Starting from the top will really set the stage for the rest to observe and model. Those with the largest “circle of influence” will have the macro impact. 

It must start from the top and filter down through our leadership levels.

“Leading by example is key” 

The pivotal message here is for senior managers and executives. They alone can make an incredible difference. Again, there is no magic here. Perhaps just a priority shift recognizing the significance of the tactical to the strategic. And as in any course of change, there will be a temporary imbalance as the longer term plan adjusts to the needs of the short term.

GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP:  Some have called it “Management By Walking Around”.  Others have called it “Hands-On Leadership” or “Transformational Leadership”. Whatever you call it, this style of leadership casts the commander as role model. A role model provides meaning and challenge; s/he inspires commitment, shared vision, and encourages new approaches and thinking. In short, a commander inspires and embodies optimal performance and ingenuity.

However we describe morale building, it is paramount to the success of an organization. It is the SPIRIT of the people. And that is indispensable.

QUALITY service is a commitment that every business should make.  But that QUALITY output comes from every individual in a company. The way individuals in a company are treated, the way they are empowered, the way they are listened to will have a direct result on the quality output. The way leadership empathizes with them affects the OUTCOME of their work, quality of product or service, and customer satisfaction and perception.

PERCEPTION IS REALITY

If the people in a company believe that their leaders genuinely recognize that human assets are their most valuable assets, then a crucial part of the job is done. Perception will be the reality and a company will be on a much stronger and competitive footing.

“All I ever wanted to do in the Navy is Command a ship.  I don’t care if I ever get promoted again.  And that attitude has enabled me to do the right things for my people instead of doing the right things for my career.”  Commander D. Michael Abrashoff US Navy
(Reported as being the best Ship in the Pacific Fleet because of his leadership style.

He has since been promoted to a top post at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command)

Some employees look to leadership transfers/promotions for the wrong reasons: namely, with an overemphasis on career advancement; climbing the ladders solely for the sake of personal gain, profit, and recognition. Though this model seems overly selfish and perhaps outmoded, particularly to more progressively-minded employees and leaders, it nevertheless commonly exists in today’s business world.

Add into the mix the perception that Management is too “insulated” from reality, cynicism can breed very quickly at all levels. By taking the step to break down these perceptions, a wealth of good will and support can result. Taking this step may also enlighten those extremely motivated career minded employees: they might see the big picture benefits that a GRASSROOTS style of leadership offers. 

At the heart of the doctrine, GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP is all about doing the right things for the right reasons at the right time. What does this mean? It means doing everything to maintain an effective and healthy self-responsive organization. This requires a combined top-down and bottom-up approach. It requires leadership to maintain a considerable front line presence; one that values the input, feedback, and needs of front line employees.

Whether a business aims to create a healthier, more responsive, and empathetic work environment, enhance its communications capacity, implement a proactive and decentralized decision-to-action process, or utilize front line perception as a means of rapidly gathering and assessing real-time industry intelligence, a grassroots approach is the only way to establish this. It is what keeps a business competitively adaptive, agile, and relevant in an industry.

THE WAY AHEAD 

The starting quote really says it all…….

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THE CAPTAIN CAN DO IS TO SEE THE SHIP FROM THE EYES OF THE CREW”

Each “crew” member has leadership traits. Each crew member can develop him/herself to attain “captain” status or higher. But in terms of influence, the Senior “Captains” have the official responsibility to run the ship and set the pace. Just like a pace car in an automobile race, they can set the example for all leaders to follow.

Listening, prioritizing, and acting on those issues that matter most to the crew is paramount to the way ahead. Explaining realities, sharing the pain, and truly caring will make a difference.

  • Getting down to the front line views at all business lines;
  • Actively listening to and addressing concerns;
  • Identifying the pain points (Asking “where does it hurt?”);
  • Taking a walk in the other person’s shoes and inviting them to walk in yours;
  • Responding in a manner that shows you are listening and understand the situation;
  • Prioritizing issues both tactically and strategically;
  • Taking action at the necessary moments;
  • Being honest and transparent with openness and empathy; and
  • Inspiring through action and example.

As this article comes to its conclusion, there is one message that is at the cornerstone to GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP:

“THE LITTLE THINGS ARE REALLY THE BIG THINGS”.

What this really means is taking that extra time on what really matters most.  People are a business’ most valuable asset. Stephen Covey in his book, Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, sums it up best:

“IT IS HOW YOU TREAT THE ONE DETERMINES HOW YOU REGARD THE NINETY NINE OTHERS….BECAUSE, ULTIMATELY EVERYBODY IS A ONE”  

Our challenge is finding those “ONES” that will make the difference to us all.

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