LEVEL 5 LEADERSHIP
THE KNOWING-DOING GAP
“I can’t imagine better news in the morning. Every other result of business flows from having a workplace that is brimfull of people who get out of bed and want to get to work,” tweeted Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of Mahindra Group.
He was referring to some of his group companies that featured in the annual study of best workplaces by The Economic Times and Great Place to Work® in India.
Great workplaces are great organisations. In fact, many companies profiled by author Jim Collins and collaborators in bestsellers like Good to Great, Great by Choice and Built to Last, have also featured great workplaces recognised by Great Place to Work.
So what do leaders do differently in great workplaces?
Imagine an important meeting with all the department heads, which is chaired by the CEO. Suddenly, he receives a phone call. “I have to go out urgently for 45 minutes. This meeting is important. Please continue until I’m back,” he says.
What happens in the room when the CEO leaves? Does the meeting continue as usual or lose direction? Do you sense a palpable change in the air? Are people joking or jockeying for power?
Well, this depends on the culture of the organisation.
In their Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog, authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss talk about how culture takes over when the CEO leaves the room, and how creating and managing that culture is one of the most important jobs for the chief executive.
Jim Collins identified many great corporations that have sustained themselves over the years such as 3M, American Express, Disney, HP, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Sony, Walmart and so on. But do you remember the names of their CEOs?
Collins explains that you may not remember their names because of ‘Level 5 Leadership’: “The good to great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”
Great workplaces are great organisations that create cultures based on high trust that leads to sustained business results. The CEO is not only building the right culture; he or she is personifying that culture too.
So what obstructs the process of culture becoming the CEO?
It’s unlikely that there are CEOs who don’t want to create a great place to work – one where high trust results in sustained high performance. The answer lies in what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton call the ‘knowing-doing’ gap.
It’s interesting that two statements in the employee experience survey conducted by Great Place to Work have consistently been identified as key drivers of overall employee perceptions. They are ‘Management delivers on their promises’ and ‘Management’s actions match its words.’
Level 5 leaders don’t use every interaction as an opportunity to build their image. They would rather use every interaction as an opportunity to build trust.
As Robert Levering, the cofounder of Great Place to Work Institute, says: “The constant replenishing of trust reservoirs is the single most distinguishing characteristic of great workplaces.”