For Jim Fisher, leadership is "the great human puzzle." As a leader, you must thoughtfully consider how to get people to go in the direction you want with energy and enthusiasm. The professor emeritus at the Rotman School of Management says that requires thinking about yourself, the context and the people you lead.
Over the years, three main leadership models have been used. When Prof. Fisher began his career as a management trainee at Toronto-Dominion Bank in 1964, managers were strong and clear about goals and got things done by telling employees what to do without involving them in the plan.
Change seemed to start with General Electric's Jack Welch, who in his tenure as chief executive realized staff needed to know why they were doing their job. "As well as being a hard-nosed manager, he went around and explained why they had to be tough and agile and quick. He understood the importance of explaining why people are doing things," Prof. Fisher says in an interview.
Today, we have slipped into a new era where employees expect to be engaged and grow in their job. They don't want to just receive a paycheque. They want to be involved.
Our tendency is to choose an approach among those three. Prof. Fisher argues otherwise. We have to integrate them. "You have to always do all three. And they all have to be interconnected. If you don't do all three, it's suboptimal," he says.
For "managing," the name in his book given to that first era, you must plan, organize and control. To work productively, the leader must decide what needs to be done and by when; get the right people and organize them properly to achieve that plan; and keep track by measuring how effective the team is. This method is drawn from the military, but he sees it as instinctive with people he works with in education, health and social services, as well as business. "Everybody knows how to do it and that it should be done," he says.
That doesn't make it easy, but the next model is even tougher: directing. It offers a values perspective, which consultant Simon Sinek popularized in his book Start With Why. No matter how smart you are as a planner, you can't figure everything out. Over time, job descriptions will become outdated. The world is complex, so it's best if three steps are followed: People understand the vision for the organization; alignment occurs around that vision; and people are motivated to achieve the vision. The leader develops the vision, articulates it and sells it. Prof. Fisher notes that to gain that motivation, GE's Mr. Welch introduced stock options to the lower ranks of the organization rather than keeping them just for senior executives; would present instant bonuses when somebody did something outstanding; and regularly wrote thank-you notes to employees.
The third model, engaging, addresses how to get employees fiercely devoted to making the company better rather than just putting in their time at their desks. It also has three elements: Values, clarity, and involvement. Google is an example, with an overriding dedication to organizing the world's knowledge for the benefit of humankind. That's quite broad, so clarity comes with its guideline: Do no evil – to your colleagues or people beyond your organization. Involvement is encouraged by the 20-per-cent rule, allowing employees to devote one-fifth of their time to projects of their own imagination. People know that if they have an idea to make the company (and the world's knowledge) better, they have an obligation and opportunity to devote considerable time to it.
The models intermingle. So instead of just thinking of the elements for each model as separate and distinct, you need to consider how they can work together. For example, you need the plan from the first model, the vision from the second and values from the third to be aligned. When those elements don't connect, you will encounter leadership problems. Also, lack of vision and values is a common difficulty. "It takes courage to have a vision and values. It's easier to just coast from day to day," he says.
It's not the easiest of schemas to remember, with nine elements. But each of the three models are familiar to us from the workplace and leadership literature. Prof. Fisher highlights the fact they aren't competitive – we don't pick our darling or the one that seems most applicable to the situation, but must integrate all three into our leadership arsenal.