Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Running the asylum

Or, who gave you the keys?

Are leaders born or made has been a debate for many years and is something that better minds than mine have weighed in on. Below are some of my thoughts on how to be a better leader of people:

Last year, as part of my slow attempt to get my PMP (Project Management Professional) certificate, I took a full day workshop on just that. It turned out to be a bit more like one of those self-help things you see folks on TV doing but it was still useful.

The guy doing the workshop asked us a question at the start. “ What do you consider to be the most important component to a successful project”. I answered that I felt it was the team. ”Wrong”. He moved on to get wrong answers from a dozen or so others until he finally said, “ the answer is you”. I think I understand what he was getting at and this can be applied to any position on a project that carries some from of leadership. YOU need to be responsible for the decisions that YOU need to make. Taking ownership of your position can be rewarding and scary. You as a leader need to stand by the choices you make and lead those around you to further the success of any given process. To do this one must not only understand the job at hand but also understand how to motivate your team.

Kurt Lewin, a German psychologist, came up with three main styles of leadership that can apply to any management position:

Authoritarian (autocratic)
This style is used when leaders tell their employees what they want done and how they want it accomplished, without getting the advice of their followers. Some of the appropriate conditions to use it are when you have all the information to solve the problem, you are short on time, and your employees are well motivated.
Some people tend to think of this style as a vehicle for yelling, using demeaning language, and leading by threats and abusing their power. This is not the authoritarian style, rather it is an abusive, unprofessional style called bossing people around. It has no place in a leader's repertoire.
The authoritarian style should normally only be used on rare occasions. If you have the time and want to gain more commitment and motivation from your employees, then you should use the participative style.

Participative (democratic)
This style involves the leader including one or more employees in the decision making process (determining what to do and how to do it). However, the leader maintains the final decision making authority. Using this style is not a sign of weakness; rather it is a sign of strength that your employees will respect.
This is normally used when you have part of the information, and your employees have other parts. Note that a leader is not expected to know everything -- this is why you employ knowledgeable and skillful employees. Using this style is of mutual benefit -- it allows them to become part of the team and allows you to make better decisions.

Delegative (free reign)
In this style, the leader allows the employees to make the decisions. However, the leader is still responsible for the decisions that are made. This is used when employees are able to analyze the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it. You cannot do everything! You must set priorities and delegate certain tasks.
This is not a style to use so that you can blame others when things go wrong; rather this is a style to be used when you fully trust and have confidence in the people below you. Do not be afraid to use it, however, use it wisely!
Ideally it is best to find a balance between these three forms depending on the social dynamics of your team. Some things to keep in mind to help decide what approach is most appropriate:
How much time is available.
Are relationships based on respect and trust or on disrespect?
Who has the information - you, your employees, or both?
How well your employees are trained and how well you know the task.
Internal conflicts.
Stress levels.
The type of task. Is it structured, unstructured, complicated, or simple?
One thing I like to keep in mind when working with teams on a show is that the process of making a film is collaborative. The input that eager and motivated team member’s give is greater than what one can or should expect. When the ingredients are right you have made magic!
A great director once said to me, after I had asked if I could make notes on his script for budget concerns, “of course! Film making is a collaborative process”. Nicholas Meyer.

Source for leadership definitions:

1 comment:

Lisa Doucet said...

Hi Rob,
I've 'grown' up in the animation industry as Ass't Director/Coordinator (17 years) and would like to take the next step up and would be interested in taking a PMP course online. Do you have any recommendations ?
Thank you in advance !
Lisa, Montreal QC