Saturday, January 15, 2011

Transitions, Learning and Change Management

There were several insights that made an impression on my personal and professional perspective. Some of them reflect what I already believe in and still managed to hit a nerve that allowed me to revisit my own journey.

Foundations of true leadership

The long debate for the essence and origins of leadership had taken center stage in many business books and publications. No matter what the conclusions were, not one article will fail to discuss the central characters background and personality. For indeed the core of one’s character and being defines how the leader will become.

Are leaders made or born? History suggests that leaders who have defined history itself did not just come out late in life to develop what have made them great. All the great ones have been carefully honed and trained early in life by a significant figure that have influenced their upbringing. Childhood training, experience and environment are the most significant part of the person’s formative years. Andrea Jung’s story tells us how a simple piano lesson gave the future CEO the discipline to complete the job and that the last eight minutes of the program is just as important if not more important than the first 52. That is perseverance. That built Andrea’s strong resolve to initiate, execute and deliver results for what is now one of the most profitable company’s in the world.

My humble beginnings made a big impact and contribution to my work habits. It is to my parents’ credit that I have acknowledged and learned hard work early on in my life. The values of honesty, integrity and perseverance are stronger so it seems when your family does not have more. The consequence of poverty should be perseverance not hard ships. The simple household chores that we abhor as a youth, are the important ‘on-the-job’ training that we will meet later in life. I missed the chance to thank my parents for those training hours. Now I won’t miss a chance to give the same training to my own kids.

Grafting of two different cultures

The lessons learned form the BI & D merger give us a picture of typical M&A stories. Like a new stem that is being grafted into an old trunk, both parts will try to squeeze as much nutrients from the trunk and from each other in order to survive. In the end the most dominant ‘specimen’ will survive and take on the role of dominating the whole tree. In some sad cases, the less dominant part could not take the ‘grafting’ easily and falls off the trunk before the grafting fully heals. This paints a picture of how people will resist any form of domination from a presumably co-equal species. And this is when a strong leader is needed to prescribe the right environment, the appropriate conditions and terms of the grafting period. It is in this period that both parties must clearly see who is in charge and is able to define the common ground to be shared by all stakeholders. Without a strong leader committed to bridging the differences between two different and seemingly dominant cultures, the in fighting will not stop until and unless, a stronger and more defined culture is defined and articulated by the leader.

I recall how my previous company folded into the bigger listed company that acquired us. Both management teams present a posture of dominance and superiority. Both thinking they are better than the other. As a natural consequence, less work can be done on account of varied discussion over how things can be done. Sooner than later the more dominant of the ‘species’ prevailed being the acquiring ‘species’. The leader was quick to preside and define ‘how things must be done’. Consequently, a big part of the new species’ character, form and substance was also grafted into the acquiring species. After all, there would not have been a merger if the acquiring company did not see any good character, form and substance in the new company.

As months and years progressed, it was apparent that the grafting or healing period was not complete. Many employees who rejected the system ‘fell off the trunk’ and went their way. As those that fell off constitute just a minor part of the trunk, no apparent effect can be detected. More months passed and when a ‘major trunk’ decided to fall off the tree, the significant effect was already negated by the ‘already-healed’ grafted part. Three is already one whole being.

Journey and destination of leadership

When does one’s journey start and when will it end? The module thought us or emphasized the need to return to the origin before you begin to see the destination.

And the origin dates back to one’s childhood. The early environment of family, friends, neighborhood, school, community and work defines clearly where the journey started. Each of these segments contributes to the development of one’s character, values and principles that will make up his leadership style. They are the building blocks or DNA that defines how the leader will face challenges, stresses, moments of truth and defining moments.

While the origin is important, the journey is just as important. It is where the leader further hones his talent, experience and perhaps re-defines his values that will shape his future. This is the time when school, training and the work environment play a big part. How one reacts to this segment in his development is already defined by how well his origin had made an impact on him. Needless to say, a solid foundation of good moral values, ethics and work habits will resonate in the person’s reactions to his environment.

The destination therefore is pretty much defined by the leader’s journey. Both are important as both define each other.
As I review this paper, I can’t help but revisit my own origin, my current journey and what I see as my destination. Its more clear now that the way I raise my children will define how well or bad they will define their own journey and destination. As parents, we have a serious responsibility in defining their origins. We can only do so much to influence their origin. But in the end, it is their own responsibility to define and reach their destination. Come to think therefore, we are in effect responsible for their destiny.

The same can be said with our employees. All employees are presumed to have clean intentions for the company. It is the leaders role to define those intentions and provide an environment that will translate the intentions into fruitful and productive actions.

And as the company defines and continues to re-define its destiny, the role of the leader becomes more vivid and permeated through the whole organization’s character. Employees can only perform to a point where they are lead. The leader therefore cannot afford to stand still, because he will block the road to success by doing so.

Germin G. Espino
Asian Institute of Management
Makati City, Philippines

Reflection Paper on Transitions, Learning and Change Management, May 3, 2010

Prof. Milagros Du Lagrosa, Phd

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