Leadership: It's not just for BPM Anymore

Scott Francis
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On this blog, we typically discuss leadership in the context of BPM projects, initiatives, and programs.  Because BPM efforts typically cut across departmental and organizational boundaries, they also typically require an extra measure of leadership to convince people to something when they don’t report in through the chain of command. A recent article on TechCrunch by Vivek Wadhwa points out that leadership is often lacking in Silicon Valley firms as well.  This isn’t the popular refrain about startups (outside of the startup community itself) – mostly the popular coverage of startups is about swashbuckling risk-takers who conquer new ideas and disrupt industries. And then there are the stories about the unique management approaches of startups (queue the last 8 years of articles about Google). But the picture Vivek paints is one of managers who aren’t prepared for the responsibility they have on multiple fronts.  This is essentially an argument about the Peter Principle writ large: because most managers in Silicon Valley startups don’t receive any management training, they’re unlikely to be good managers.  Worse, they’re unlikely to be good leaders.  They’re getting promoted into these positions because there isn’t anyone else to do it. Vivek advocates for explicit management training.  But it is easy to get caught up in the idea that you have to get a Masters degree to learn something new.  I think the real point of management or leadership training is to get potential leaders OUT of the day-to-day grind, and IN to a setting that facilitates free thought.  When listening to leadership and management training material that has real context for a leader’s current management situation, the recipients are more likely to assimilate that knowledge into the way they think and operate. Vivek reports on research at Duke University:
The conclusion of the researchers wasn’t surprising: many high-tech companies are young, so their systems and procedures for grooming leaders aren’t well developed or firmly established. Maybe this is why so many tech companies suffer from morale problems, missed deadlines, customer-support disasters, and high turnover. And this may be one of the reasons why so many tech startups who succeed in selling their vision and raising millions in financing are just a flash in the pan.
But lest readers in bigger firms take comfort in this, there is a lesson to learn here about how we approach developing leaders within larger organizations as well.  The first thing I’d say, for BPM leads, is read this previous post on our blog.  Secondly, realize that you can foster leadership development on your team without a formal, executive-sponsored, program. It isn’t as easy, of course, because you have to take responsibility for it at a more local, personal level.  But on the other hand, your star pupil can’t be rejected from your own leadership program, but might not be included in the corporate program. Vivek appears to recommend several kinds of educational opportunities (MBAs, Executive MBA’s, and more creative programs).  We recommend something a bit simpler for many of our BPM colleagues – attend a small conference (like bpmCamp), and take time to invest in sharpening the saw.