Probably the first people to think about how to develop leadership
for their world were the Romans. In Rome they trained people in
all the arts and skills necessary to be an effective proconsul in
a far-distant province. Then, essentially, they sent the new proconsul
over the hill or out on a boat and waited for news of the results
of his reign.
The British adapted that model effectively in preparing people
to send out to their empire, vaster in geography than the Romans,
but tied together with more rapid forms of communication. And the
British model became the model for training civil servants everywhere.
In most of the industrialized world, the basic model that we use
for leadership is based on a command and control idea that the Romans
developed based on what worked in their army.
That model has served effectively and it has served well, but the
world is changing.
A 1997 study by Gallup and San Jose State University found that
Fortune 1000 workers received an average of 178 emails per day.
For two thirds of those workers, email is the preferred tool for
internal communications. We use a variety of tools to help stay
in touch, in fact. The study identified a range that includes mail,
voicemail, email, fax and phone and found that 71% of workers use
at least two of these while 16% use four or more.
There are other forces at work, too. Waves of downsizing and re-engineering
have moved millions of folks out of corporate offices, only to be
re-hired as consultants or vendors. They work outside the main company
offices, but are linked by email, phone and other technologies.
Those "outsized" workers join an increasing number of
telecommuters. Telecommute America counts 11 million of them, and
Olsten Temporary Services says that more than half of major US corporations
now allow some telecommuting.
Oh, yes, and let's not forget the vendors and customers who have
access to corporate extranets, or who join the network mix by means
of electronic mail.
This new world demands that we take a new look at how we do leadership
and how we prepare leaders to be effective. We need to see what
it is that leaders do, how thats affected by overall trends
in leadership and management, and how the Net and Web especially
create new problems and opportunities for leaders everywhere. Then
we need to make a stab at sorting out what all of that means.
First, though, lets make a brief side trip to my underlying
beliefs about leadership.
My first key belief is that leadership is not restricted to the
top of the organization. Even in a command and control model, I
dont think it ever was. In every organization Ive ever
been associated with, and every one that Ive read about, there
were formal and informal leaders at all levels. What exactly is
The literature in the last 20 years has seemed to make a clearer
distinction between supervisors, managers, and leaders. Often the
refrain is, "we need more leaders and less managers."
That misses the point. Its not that people are or are not
"leaders." Its that they have some leadership work
to do in whatever job they happen to be in or whatever situation
they happen to be in at the time.
The research on groups and leadership and management points to
three specific kinds of roles for anyone whos responsible
for a group and its performance.
That being responsible for a group and its performance is the key
thing that separates people with leadership responsibility from
those who are individual contributors. Its not better or worse
to be a leader or an individual contributor. Some folks are suited
for hunkering down and doing the work that they do exceptionally
well, and passing that product on to others. They may work collaboratively
with others. The thing that makes them individual contributors,
however, is that they are not responsible for the performance of
When that happens, when a person becomes responsible for the performance
of a group, then the person has three kinds of work to do.
One of those kinds of work is supervision. Supervision deals with
tasks and individuals. You are doing supervisory work when you counsel
someone who works for you about a performance problem, or when you
work in a training mode or coaching mode to help that person develop
skills or work more effectively.
In addition to supervision, there is work that relates to management.
Management work is about groups and priorities. When youre
doing management work, youre concerned with scheduling and
budgets, and other balancing acts. Youre concerned with achieving
short-term goals through the group. That makes you responsible for
how that group works together and the interpersonal issues that
make them effective or ineffective.
Leadership work is about purpose and change. When youre doing
leadership work youre concerned with why you and your group
are here, what youre doing, why, and youre concerned
with how that will change over time.
Everyone who has group responsibility does al three of these kinds
of work. The mix varies from job to job and situation to situation.
It varies up and down the hierarchical pyramid. Folks at the top
of the pyramid tend to have more leadership work to do and less
supervision, but they have some of both along with a bit of management
Folks at the very bottom of the hierarchical pyramid, first-line
supervisors, have lots of supervision work to do, but also do management
and leadership work.
Top of page
What is Leadership Work?
Leadership work involves three clusters of tasks. Leaders establish
direction and purpose, communicate that direction and purpose, and
maintain the thrust of the group.
Establishing direction and purpose is "the vision thing."
In stable organizations within stable industries, this is more about
reviewing purpose than it is about establishing direction. In more
volatile environments, leaders need to work hard at establishing
both direction and purpose for their groups. Thats true whether
youre at the CEO level or the newest supervisor on a production
line. In both situations your leadership work involves establishing
the purpose and establishing how your groups performance and behavior
needs to change in order to be most effective. To do that effectively
you need to be aware of the environment and its key forces. You
need to know how the environment is changing.
When youre doing leadership work, one of the things you need
to do is to be able to establish effective purpose and define effective
direction. You job doesnt end there, however.
You also need to communicate what that purpose and direction are.
In order to do that effectively, you and other leaders need to understand
the communication tools you have available and how you can use them
Some of the most effective writing on this over the last several
years has been done by Harvard professor John Kotter. I remember
how excited I was reading his first major work, "The General
Managers". I particular loved how Kotter zeroed in on the ways
that effective general managers use occasional incidents and chance
encounters to communicate effectively.
On the one hand, that was different than everything Id read
about effective time management and formal communications channels.
On the other, and this was what was exciting, Kotters book
effectively described what I saw effective general managers doing.
Communicating is not enough. Theres also the need to maintain
thrust. If you want to use the "M word" motivation
thats OK. But the leadership role involves understanding
the things that happen to your group and exhorting, informing, adapting,
and supporting the performance necessary to deal with a changing
The environment issue is important. The key change thats
been going on for us in the last several years as networks have
become more important is the change in the environment in which
leadership happens. But theres another change that works with
the technology. Thats the overall change in the way we look
at and think about organizations.
Top of page
Thinking About Organizations in the New World
For a couple of thousand years, the basic model on which we built
our organizations has been the one developed by the Romans when
they put their armies together. To anyone who has read Caesars
Gaelic Campaigns, the structure of most modern organizations is
an old, familiar one. The models endured for so many years for a
simple reason: It works.
Whats happening in organizations is a lot like whats
happened over the last 20 years in the way we think about systems
generally. For years our mathematical and intellectual models of
how systems work were based on a kind of mathematics called linear
equations. In their simplest form, linear equations have a few simple
variables and tell you that the result goes up or down when X or
Y goes up or down. Its a little bit more complex than that,
but not much.
One of the reasons that those were our dominant models was that
that was the level of mathematics that we had the power to compute.
We could understand another kind of mathematics, non-linear equations,
but they were almost impossible to handle with manual calculators
and the computing power wasnt there to effectively model the
systems we saw.
It was actually a case of the old saw that "if the only tool
you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." We
use simple models because we have the tools to handle simple models.
Since the models work, there wasnt much need to look for other
But almost every person whos thought about how organizations
work has come to the conclusion that linear models dont work.
We just never said that. I can remember being a young manager and
studying quantitative methods. The problem I had when I took those
equations back to the workplace is that the target always seemed
to be moving around. One or another of the variables looked different
every time I tried to compute or plan.
You hear that in almost every organization that tries to set goals
or prepare budgets. We get around that by creating "scenarios."
In this sense that means best-case, worst-case, and most likely.
In the late 60s and early 70s, scientists began to
look at non-linear systems. Those systems are far more complex than
linear systems and we could look at them because we suddenly had
the computing power to be able to do so. Thats where the talk
of chaos theory and complexity theory come from.
Those concepts have affected the way we think about organizations.
The old model we had, based on what the Romans started, was a simple,
linear, hierarchical, and mechanical one. We put the people at the
top of the organization who had the most knowledge that could spread
across a variety of areas. That worked because we didnt have
the methods to spread information around.
We created functional channels, what have been called stove-pipe
organizations, to move information up and down and across to other
stove pipes and down those as well. We did that because we did not
have the means to move the information more effectively, quickly,
and cost effectively.
We also structured our organizational thinking on the model thats
been dominant since the late 19th century the
engineering model. We talked, in fact, about organizations as "finely-oiled
machines." We used terms like "gears meshing" and
"designing effective organizations." We did that because
its the model that worked and it worked well with the concepts
As we borrowed things from science and as our environment has changed,
we started to think about organizations differently. Were
starting to see organizations as a variety of organisms. An organism
is a living thing thats part of a community or organisms.
That thinking sees organizations as more complex, dynamic, and interactive
than the older, more rigid, hierarchical vision.
That vision also interacts with the environment where networking
and communications technology have become readily available, inexpensive,
and easy to use.
This becomes a bit of a chicken and egg debate. Is it the networking
and communication technologies that foster the kind of communication
that change the organization? Or, do we change the organization
by putting in the technology? And it seems, that the answer to both
of those is, "yes."
Top of page
Taking a Look at the Net and the Web
The Net and the Web are not just the Internet and the World Wide
Web. They also include technologies like telephone and fax and electronic
broadcast. They are all of the ways that we become connected with
other people. Over the last two centuries, and especially within
the last 20 years, communication has developed a broader reach,
greater speed, and easier access.
That the way we communicate and share information, data, and knowledge
is nothing new. The Romans knew that when they sent their proconsuls
over the hill. People in the late 18th century knew that
when they communicated by letters. And 19th century people
understood things differently when they could send trains rocketing
across the continent.
Telephone and radio didnt only provide a neat way to talk
to each other, they changed the fundamental nature of how we worked
in our individual lives and in our organizations. The Net and the
Web are doing the same thing today.
There are three basic sets of tools that people doing leadership
work need to use to be effective in todays world. Theyre
electronic mail, collaborative applications, and hyperlinking (the
Electronic mail is the most pervasive of the basic Net technologies.
Its the one that people are most likely to use and the one
theyre most likely to rate at the top of their effectiveness
list. To do leadership work effectively today, you need to know
about how to use electronic mail effectively.
One problem with learning to use email effectively is that most
folks seem to think you don't need to. Email just looks so easy.
There are some things to keep in mind though.
Make sure you're clearly identified. If you have an alias or nickname
that goes with your mail address, make sure it's descriptive so
folks know that mail is from you.
Learn the art of writing effective subject headers. The more specific
your headers are, the more likely your messages are to be read and
generate the action you want.
Put the important stuff at the top. Studies tell us that email
users don't scroll down unless they see a compelling reason to do
so. That means that your important content (or an indication that
something important is farther down) needs to be in the first 10
lines or so of your message.
Use your signature line to give important contact and other information.
Include your phone number and email address at a minimum. Remember
that over half the email that is read is printed out. Make sure
folks can contact you even if all they have is a printout of your
Once you've mastered individual email, pay attention to using it
for group work. Encourage folks to use email to share good news
and bad, questions and solutions. Use email to a group to broadcast
praise for an individual.
One of the most effective examples of this sharing is happening
at Quaker Oats. There, a daily email, dubbed "Oatmail"
conveys important information to everyone who's connected. Quaker
Oats folks can also ask questions of top management via email. Some
of those are answered in the public email newsletter.
Email is also the way that many leaders keep up with current events.
Electronic, email based newsletters have become an essential way
to gather information and news.
Top of page
Push technology applications (that delivers news to the desktop)
like PointCast are a sophisticated variation on basis news delivery
that combines both email and web technology.
Remember that your public website is also a communications tool.
Your own people will be checking it out, especially in times of
crisis or uncertainty. When IBM announced that it was purchasing
Lotus, people from both companies jumped on the web to check things
out. In the first several hours after the public announcement, 80%
of the visitors to the IBM website were from Lotus or IBM.
Weve also developed a number of what I call collaborative
applications over the last few years. Sometimes those are referred
to as groupware, sometimes theyre just the simple administrative
support systems that ride the network, making it possible, for example,
to check several peoples schedules simultaneously to select
a meeting time.
Groupware applications do three things. They let members of a workgroup
share a common body of data or information. They allow members to
track workflow. And, perhaps most powerfully, groupware allows members
of a group to work together on a joint project.
Some of the more sophisticated applications handle scheduling and
workflow over internal networks, but they're only the tip of the
iceberg. Contact and information managers such as Microsoft Outlook,
Day-Timer, Sidekick and others now routinely allow joint scheduling
of meetings over a network.
New products such as Wintronix communications suite allow folks
to use a common whiteboard over either a public or private net.
And links between email and pagers can alert folks when something
important comes up that requires their presence.
And there's the old warhorse of collaborative applications: Lotus
Notes. It's been in use for years by companies like Texas Instruments
who credit some spectacular savings to the Best Practices sharing
process that uses Lotus Notes as a platform. Recent updates to Lotus
Notes have made it easier to use over corporate intranets and the
Increasingly the communications lifeblood of organizations flows
over networks using communications and collaborative software, but
there's another technology that helps all of this happens more effectively.
Hyperlinking, especially hyperlinking over a network has
given us new and more effective ways to link information.
Ive chose to use hyperlinking, rather than World Wide Web,
as the key descriptor here. The World Wide Web is one application
of hyperlinking. It's an important application to be sure. The effective
leader in the Digital World certainly uses the Web as a way to find
the information that is the stuff from with vision and direction
Hyperlinks on the Web combined with personal news services are
powerful ways that leaders can sift through the mass of information
and news and data and find the important stuff. Personal news agents
are an emerging technology that will do this even more effectively.
But hyperlinks are not limited to the Web. We can set up hyperlinks
within documents sitting on a single computer. Why is hyperlinking
Hyperlinking is powerful because it enables individuals to use
information in a way that is intuitive, comfortable, and effective.
Thats because hyperlinking mimics the way the brain works.
The human brain has been described as, "natures connection-making
engine." Its impossible for you to sit in one place and
listen to a speaker, or even read an article without having your
mind jump off from different points to ponder, speculate, and investigate.
Well designed hyperlinks help you do that more effectively. When
you put those hyperlinks on an internal or external network system,
the power increases exponentially. Think of links as a way to really
empower people, by giving them the ability to make informed decisions
by connecting them to information and to each other easily and naturally.
Top of page
A Living Example: Marshall Industries
There's probably no comprehensive, perfect example out there of
an organization using all the tools and being dramatically effective.
The issue of Leadership itself is too complex for that and the environment
is changing too fast. But it pays to take a few moments and look
at a company who has integrated Networked World thinking into its
leadership and strategy.
The company is Marshall Industries.
According to Vice President, Bob Edelman, the story has to begin
with the business and has to begin back before the Internet and
World Wide Web were an important part of anybody's thinking. That's
because one dominant characteristic of Marshall's view of its own
Network is that it is enterprise wide and strategic.
So, let's let the story begin around 1990. At that point, Chairman,
Gordon Marshall and new CEO, Rob Rodin were confronted with a business
problem that many have faced. The problem was pretty simple. While
Marshall had been successful for years, it was successful in an
industry that was beginning to change radically.
Marshall Industries is a $1 billion plus distributor of industrial
electronics based in El Monte, California. Its part of the
semiconductor business. In 1990 that business, which had been in
high growth mode, was beginning to mature. Industry margins were
dropping adding pressure to reduce costs.
At the same time, Marshall Industries was what Edelman calls, "sub-optimized."
It was made up of lots of different pieces, but the pieces often
worked quite independently. Warehousing had its own concerns, as
did the field sales force. And the folks who handled administrative
operations had goals that sometimes conflicted with both.
Just like in lots of businesses, what often happened was that the
people in the individual specialties cranked up their efforts for
their own best interest at the expense of other interests and perhaps
the interest of the entire company. As Edelman points out, it was
a perfectly rational system.
"We would want them to do one thing, say, concentrate on a
particular product line," says Edelman. "But folks would
look around and realize that they would make more money, or get
more praise if they did something else. So they followed their best
So, Marshall and Rodin took a look around for an answer. But it
wasn't the Internet or any other net, not yet. There were leadership
issues that needed to be addressed first.
Like many other businesses, Marshall Industries took a look at
Deming's Quality Principles for improving both quality and innovation.
They decided that was the place to start because that would make
a major change in the company.
The first step was education. People who worked for Marshall across
a range of functions were educated in the Deming principles. But
that wasn't enough.
Step number two was to modify the compensation program. At that
time Marshall was like most industrial distributors. Compensation
programs tended to reward effort in narrow spheres and large commission
rates on the sales end tended to warp things in a particular direction.
The compensation program that Marshall put in place in 1992 is still
around today. It simply pays people by means of salary and a sharing
of corporate results.
That allows people to concentrate on the customer and on making
good business decisions. Its s part of what Edelman describes
as a need to align the company structurally with its purpose.
The result of the quality principles and the change in the compensation
program was that people began to make good business decisions. They
made those decisions in a variety of places, in Human Resources,
and Operations. They made those with an enterprise-wide-type perspective
(including both people and technology) and it's here that the net
begins to kick in.
That's because as decision making began to align, the information
flows became more important. And it appeared that this net technology
would provide some of the answers for helping Marshall work the
way they felt they should.
It was 1993 and the Internet was not yet on the cover of Time Magazine.
Sure, folks were emailing back and forth and several businesses
were connected. But this was not a big interest yet. The folks at
Marshall Industries decided, though, in early 1994 that this Internet
was going to be a business-changing event in which they must participate
if they were to be more effective.
That decision was a "vision" and it outlined the direction
To be strategic, all of this needed to tie back to business purpose,
to the need to reduce costs and increase efficiencies and make sales
more effectively. The outreach side of that was one of the very
first corporate websites in July of 1994.
It wasn't the first time Marshall had been technologically innovative.
The company had been using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for
over 10 years. But EDI is a technology that presupposes that there's
already a strong relationship between parties. It doesn't allow
for anything spontaneous or for investigation, and it only really
increases efficiency in one or two parts of the business.
EDI didn't (by itself) fit the vision that the Net would be important
for the total business. The idea behind Marshall's first website
and everything since, according to Edelman, was "electronic
commerce in its broadest sense. Not just selling, but creating intimacy
with the customer." And sharing information internally.
That search for intimacy and a broad look at commerce began almost
immediately with serious and continuing efforts to get information
back from the people who visited the site. "We saw right away
that we didn't want people to just get information from us,"
says Edelman. "We wanted them to interact with us so that we
learn things about them and they learn things about us."
That led to various technological ways for visitors to tell Marshall
what they thought. They could share suggestions, make requests,
give reactions. It also led to some of the first focus groups very
early in the process to find out what purchasing agents and engineers
wanted from a supplier like Marshall.
Top of page
What was learned from those focus groups has become a driver for
changes in the design of the site and for the development of new
services and ways to communicate.
In the beginning the site had product information only. Then more
In 1994 Marshall began integrating databases with its Web technology
to provide custom solutions and active notification. By 1995, Marshall
was beginning to offer the news services that would ultimately become
the Education, News and Entertainment Network.
By the end of 1995, Marshall was providing a broad array of information
in dynamic form to its customers as well as news and information
to the industry at large. It was taking orders and responding to
inquiries using Net technology. Internal systems worked well inside
the company. It still wasn't enough.
Bob Edelman again: "What we had was fine for spontaneous users
and for regular visitors, but strong business partners need more
than that. That's why in early 1996 we began looking at an Extranet."
Edelman is quick to point out that all of this was driven by the
original strategic vision and normal business purposes - the need
to reduce cycle times, to provide quick response to competitive
initiatives, and to link information inside the company with key
partners along the supply chain.
An Intranet was already in place for employees where they could
gather information for commercial purposes, but also get training
on a variety of issues including human resource and personal growth
items. It was time for an Extranet to link the strong business partners
and the internal people together, and for even more innovative uses
of the technology. One key area of communication is training.
Marshall's Net seminars help meet goals of education, training,
and communication from a studio in El Monte. The company can offer
audio and video as well as pure information based on customer needs.
The seminars were originally offered only to Marshall employees,
but were soon expanded based on customer interest.
Edelman is quick to point out that "customer" in this
sense is the broadest definition. It includes customers both inside
and outside the company and people who may be customers for information
but not necessarily, yet, for products.
The method of delivery is constantly improving. Marshall has recently
discovered that more than 50% of the users of its training facility
are coming in on lines of 56 kb or better. That allows a degree
of use of multi media that would not be possible if their connections
were of lower quality.
Marshall has used its net to train suppliers, employees, customers,
and others. Thats part of the normal course of doing business
and making yourself the supplier of choice. But theyve become
so good at it, and gotten so many requests, that Marshall starting
to offer training services outside its normal supply chain through
its ENEN subsidiary.
All in all, Marshall Industries has done an excellent job of establishing
direction and purpose, communicating the vision, and maintaining
thrust. They've seen the Networked World as an opportunity-riddled
environment and also as a way to achieve corporate goals.
That's what leadership is all about. In the Networked World, the
tools may be different, the environment and direction may change,
but the basic work of leadership remains the same. It is an opportunity
and a challenge.
To seize the opportunities, learn how to gather the information
that helps establish your vision. Learn to use the network tools
to communicate and maintain thrust. And keep growing and changing
along with this exciting environment.
Top of page