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From Competence To Excellence

Wilf Jarvis on the Characteristics of Outstanding Managers

How can competent managers become excellent leaders? Are leaders born or made? Do most of us have potential which, if released, shaped and nurtured, could transform us into outstanding leaders?

For more than 50 years Wilfred Jarvis, an Australian behavioral scientist, has been seeking evidence to help him answer such questions. He believes he has identified many universal truths about leadership, applicable to all societies, with people from all occupations and professions and in every kind of organization. This information was used by him to establish the relationships and techniques of Four Quadrant Leadership. He teaches those principles and practices in many countries around the world.

Research evidence gathered by Jarvis shows that many managers are not regarded as leaders by the people who report to them. Reflecting on these facts he says, "That information stimulates my research for the personal and professional credentials which distinguish true leaders from normal managers, I add the qualification 'true' because the label 'leader' is commonly awarded to anybody who has a position of power."

"One outstanding trait of true leaders is their readiness to accept and deal with the truth even when it includes criticisms of their own decisions and actions. This habit guarantees them a very valuable advantage. Their people tell them the truth because they have learned that honesty is really the best policy."

"I have hundreds of anecdotes from employees who suffered penalties for bringing unpleasant tidings to powerful people in their organizations," says Jarvis. "Sometimes I have met a similar fate as a consultant, after reporting unattractive survey results to senior executives who preferred blissful ignorance to confrontations with uncomfortable facts."

Jarvis has studied hundreds of organizations. These experiences have led him to conclude that in normal organizations, people's ascent to great status and power is primarily determined by their technical skills, their separate achievements and their readiness to mimic the behavior of those who outrank them. They are not required to demonstrate proficiency in the techniques and relationships of effective leadership before being promoted.

He says there are numerous factors which negatively affect a normal manager's endeavors to achieve excellence in leadership. He believes that the following are particularly important:

  1. The widespread obsession with the immediate bottom line. A week is now a long time in both politics and business. Knowing that they will be judged by the joys or calamities listed in tomorrow's print-out, countless executives have no incentive to strive to become leaders. Measurable payoffs for leadership skills may be months or years away. Organizational chiefs who cultivate colonies of short-sighted managers do not nurture far-sighted leaders.

  2. Changes in social and organizational values have persuaded ever greater numbers of executives to view employees primarily as commodities in a company's inventory. These trends are powerfully illustrated in new management vocabularies. People have become human resources. We use glib jargon about redundancies, retrenchments, downsizing, rightsizing, restructuring, shedding labor, merging, takeovers and many other modern management customs to disguise the unwelcome fact that human beings are being personally affected by our decisions and actions. When people are perceived as things, leaders are not required. Things are best controlled by engineers, accountants, auditors, administrators and electronic data processors. Only people need leaders.

  3. People born during the last 30 years have been far more difficult to manage and lead than earlier generations of employees. Problems caused by their changed attitudes to work, authority, rights and obligations, and careers have generated floods of temporary panaceas in countless normal organizations.

    These epidemics of fads, fashions and 'flavors of the month' have been particularly virulent in the Western world. Hosts of new gimmicks have appeared and vanished, leaving their victims more cynical and less committed, with diminishing morale and loyalty.

  4. In every organization, each manager's record in managing things is carefully monitored. Failure in this responsibility usually brings serious penalties. But few companies have reliable procedures for evaluating a manager's skills in leading people.

But Jarvis has been delighted to find that many contemporary managers are superb leaders. Their people willingly form strong teams around them, inspired to work together in expressing common values and questing towards cherished goals which cannot be achieved unless they cooperate persistently with each other and their leaders.

Convinced that the establishment and maintenance of substantial, enduring values and leadership practices in organizations depend mostly on the CEO and senior executives, he has concluded that no enduring progress can be achieved in reducing chronic organizational problems and emphasizing leadership unless people at the top begin the revolution by altering their own behavior, before they ask subordinates to alter theirs.

He says, "Tribal elders shape and reinforce ethos. By their own actions they set the standards and priorities for all employees."

Jarvis designed the system he calls Four Quadrant Leadership after almost four decades of research. During the several decades since he left the academic world he has had constant opportunity to evaluate the benefits gained by organizations whose CEOs and senior executives establish Four Quadrant Leadership as a theme in their ethos.

He comments, "Four Quadrant Leadership clearly specifies the credentials of effective leaders and the nature of the constant relationships they must establish and maintain with the people under their control. It requires leaders to be skilled in evaluating their people's productive skills and constructive energies for each task, and in using that information when determining the levels of authority and responsibility they will give them."

Many beneficial improvements are soon obvious in all work groups where Four Quadrant Leadership is systematically practiced. Wilf's research has shown that these include:

  • More precise definitions of task and authorities

  • Marked improvements in relationships

  • Higher levels of trust and cooperation

  • Increased speed and accuracy in communications

  • Reductions in inter-personal and inter-functional conflicts

  • Stronger work teams

  • Measurable gains in productivity, quality and profits

Four Quadrant Leadership is based on timeless unchanging truths which are as relevant now as in any past era. When these principles are consistently applied, competent managers can become excellent leaders.


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