Saturday, October 31, 2009


Close your eyes, and think about leadership. What comes to mind is the tern charisma and names like Ben-Gurion, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jeff Walsh, Rudy Giuliani, Lee Kuan Yew and many others. The impression is of something beyond reach. Not people like us; we are people and perhaps managers; they are leaders.

Peter Drucker, in his book, "Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond " (1992), discusses the importance of leadership to organizations. James Surowiecki, in his book "The Wisdom of Crowds" (2004) came to the same conclusion. Managers, so he claims, turned during the nineties to leaders, or even to superstars. Think about this name list and what became of them. Most managers failed in other organizations, after leaving the one that they excelled at. Political managers were not re-elected or ended their lives in solitude.
Reading this Drucker book reveals that despite the title about leadership, the book is actually about economics, people, products, marketing, managing and organizations. In the few pages dealing with leadership as we know it, Drucker writes about lack of managers charisma and about charisma as a curse for managers.
Heifetz and Linsky wrote an interesting book about leadership ("Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading", 2002) and they, like Drucker, shatter the leadership myth. What is leadership? It is the activity of leading a group through change.
As I write this, I feel this post is different. I quote a lot of others, instead of talking about myself. And, indeed, compared to giantss like Drucker and the others, I am humbled.
Am I a leader? If we take Drucker, Hefez and Vlinsky and remove charisma. Then I can say I am a leader, a change leader. I lead change in the perception of knowledge management in Israel, and about its professional implementation. I am not alone in this process, but I have done my share: in developing methodology, teaching it through seminars, articles, newspaper and portal, and by actually implementing it in many organizations.
I lead my firm. I move it forward to success and to stay in the lead.
In other areas I am not a leader. I am satisfied with what I have.
Of all the things I read and learned about leadership, I find some to be most important:
First, the understanding that leadership involves sharing. Despite the "lone rider" impression of the leader, lack of emotional and practical support will make change management very difficult; It would make leading people more difficult.
This item is first for a reason. It is not trivial and I don't want to create the impression I wrote it just because it is "the right thing to say". If we fail to understand we are part of a partnership, we lose twice: We will fail in business and it will be easier to fall into the arrogance pit.
Belief in the cause is important. Leaders lead non trivial changes; If he change was simple, it would have happened by itself. The leader must have fate, willingness and motivation. Belief about the cause, belief about the way, belief about his own willingness to lead the change and belief about his ability to do so.
It is important to understand that leading change is not a "9 to 5" day job. Leading change requires total 24 by 7 dedication. We must be willing to put all of our time and energy into the organization and the change we are leading. It has a price tag. The price is spare time, quality family time. There are no free lunches, and we must be aware of that.
It is important to know proper change leading methodologies. We won't get into details. I wrote a specific post, and even there could not cover the topic. Some people have good intuition and can lead change without proper study but for most of us, success in leading change can be improved by learning.
Last but not least – setting an example is important. We must set an example of hard work, proper conduct, set an example by implementing what we require of others. Leaders who fail in exercising their own teachings will not have long-term followers. As Lincoln said "You can't cheat all the people all the time (in all matters)".
In the Bible we read about different leaders. It is interesting to see some negative details about the great leaders, even though the Bible is very poor in details. The best example is David. A great king, conqueror and believer. Along side these characteristics, the Bible tells of his improper behavior towards Bat-Sheba. Some scholars try to explain David's behavior, and insist he did not sin. I prefer others who say he erred and sinned. I think the Bible tried to show leaders as flesh and blood, capable of mistakes, in order to make it easier for us. So that we understand, leaders are not far from us. We can be leaders as well, even if we have our faults. Each s us managers can be a leader. We must want this. We must be determined and not despair in spite of resistance (and there will be resistance). We must be wise in our leadership.
We must be 21th century managers.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


Kyuzo Mifune is one of Judo's experts (after Jigoro Kano, Judos founder). When asked about Judos essence, Mifune said: "Judo rests on flexible action of mind and body. The word flexible however never means weakness but something more like adaptability and open-mindedness".
Like in many other management topics, we can learn about flexibility from the art of Judo. I think an organization that offers flexibility to its employees has a great advantage. In fact it seems to me to be one of the important aspects of working in an organization. An employee who experienced a flexible organization will have a hard time in a more rigid workplace.
In this post, part of a blog about managing employees, I'll concentrate on flexibility toward our subordinates. There are other aspects of organization flexibility. An organization that easily adjusts to market trends, for example, will succeed. But, as I stated, this will not be the subject of this blog, and I will focus on flexibility in managing employees.

Why is flexibility important?
Operational flexibility makes employees' life easier. It reduces vacation time spent on everyday chores, and increases effective work time even if the employee is a parent to little kids and has to leave work early. More than that, operational flexibility enables employee evolution. It helps managers answer different employee ambitions, as well as their unique needs as employees and human beings. The result is improved organizational achievement as well as better employee development toward his or her goals. Most important, flexibility leads to better employee satisfaction, and this in itself is part of their promotion.

How can flexibility take place?
Operational flexibility can mean flexibility in the place of work (such as part time work from home); the time of work (night time, morning hours); flexibility in authorizing special expenses (such as return of money when receipts were lost); flexibility in using vacation days and allowing leave without pay, etc.
Managerial flexibility can mean flexibility in the level of control over each employee; flexibility in the training program assigned to each employee; flexibility in employees' career building path; flexibility in job description. The list is endless.
Every organization needs to be flexible according to its abilities. There are some areas where a big organization can be more flexible, such as defining many education programs and allowing employees to choose between them. In other areas, small organizations find it easier to be flexible, since the chain of command is shorter and the bureaucracy can be reduced. The meaning of this is that there are no winners and loses. Every manager in every organization must understand the potential for flexibility and exploit it as best they can.

Where must we refrain from flexibility?
Like in any other aspect, too much flexibility can damage. I try to put three limits to flexibility:
Don't be flexible when there is a chance to break the law (work hours report for a public organization);
Don't be flexible as an excuse to giving up on our principles;
And don't be flexible when it can be interpreted as favoring some employees at the expense of others that were not treated in a flexible manner.
How do you know when to be flexible and how not to cross the line? I don't have a concrete answer. Who said life is easy?

Above all, flexibility implies that we trust our employees. Do not worry: even if some will misuse this trust, most will repay out trust and flexibility in kind.
It is worth it.


to the Hebrew version