A Four-wheel-drive Diamond in the Rough Leadership Model

One of the cool perks of making the switch to university-based executive education is that I get to work with and learn from a lot of awesome business school professors. At the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics, we often use our own faculty; however, I do have the flexibility to partner with external instructors when appropriate.

The following guest post is from James Clawson, one of those external instructors we partner with in a program we’re doing for a global, Fortune 500 client called “Change Leadership”. See bio at end of post.

In fact, I’m thrilled to introduce a series of posts from Professor Clawson on the topics of change, which has been kind of a recent theme on Great Leadership.

I think you’ll really love Jim’s stuff – he’s one of the preeminent thinkers in the world when it comes to leadership and change, he’s insightful, inspirational, and funny, his models and advice are practical and effective, and he’s an all-around great person to work with.

A Four-wheel-drive Diamond in the Rough

Theories of leadership abound to the point of confusion. What practitioners want and need, in my experience, is a practical framework that will allow them to influence in a variety of settings and incorporate new insights and various theoretical perspectives easily. I offer such a framework below. I call it a “four-wheel-drive” model because over the past three decades it has proven to be flexible, adaptable, and easily fitted to a variety of professional and personal situations. It represents a mental map of leadership that can traverse almost any kind of leadership terrain.

Given the shape of the model, let’s call this the “diamond model of leadership.” Beginning at the top, 12 o’clock position, the first four elements are Yourself, Task at three o’clock, Others at nine o’clock, and Organization at six o’clock. See Figure 1.

Historical studies of leadership have often focused on the importance of an individual’s characteristics. No doubt how one stands, speaks, responds to others, thinks, and so forth will all contribute to one’s ability to lead others. All of these and other personal characteristics fit into the northern element of our diagram, the SELF. But personal characteristics are not the end of the leadership story. It takes more than good looks, good oration and charisma to be an effective leader.

Each of us in our variety of roles can choose to focus on virtually anything we wish. Our choices about where to focus our time, talent and energy says much about our ability to think strategically and to create objectives that others will find compelling. Or not. The Tasks ball represents all of the possible issues topics and initiatives that one might focus on. The axis connecting the Self to the Task represents “strategic thinking.” We may or may not be good at strategic thinking, and we may or may not have developed a story which we can convey to others in the hopes of leading them in a particular direction. If we have, however, done our homework and have developed a story about where we think we should be going, then one can say that the northeast axis has “formed.” In the absence of a strategic story to tell, one has little basis for attempting to lead others.

Then the challenge is, “Can I sell my story to others?” The northwest axis and the Others ball represent this issue. The Others ball represents all the characteristics of the others we are trying to convince. Like the personal characteristics of the leader, each of the others has a style, a thought process, a set of habits, and so forth. The quality of our relationship with those people, that is our ability to influence them, is represented by the northwest axis. This influence comes from a variety of sources and can be effective or ineffective.

Now, if we have learned to manage our selves and how we present ourselves, and if we have a strategic story to tell, and if we are able to sell that story to others, this is still not enough. The southern ball, Organization, represents all of the aspects of an organization. These will include hundreds and hundreds of systems including hiring systems, training systems, control systems, information systems, promotion systems, performance evaluation, and so forth. It will also include the important element of culture which some have noted will “eat strategy for breakfast.” The north-south axis then represents the ability of the leader to design organizations that will help rather than hinder one’s ability to implement the strategic story. In other words, effective leaders are also organizational architects.

The southwest axis represents the relationship between members of the organization and the organization itself. The southwest axis includes the glue that binds people to an organization. This glue is comprised of feelings of attachment between the characteristics of other individuals and the various systems that make up the organization. Sometimes this relationship will be strong and committed; other times it will be more mercenary in which the commitment is based on an exchange of pay for time and talent.

All the while the leader is learning to be more effective as an individual, developing and refining his or her strategic story, working to convince others of its efficacy and correctness, and designing the proper organizational framework in which those people can work, the world continues to change. So the southeast axis represents a connection between the organization and the array of challenges, problems, initiatives, and problems that the world presents. This southeast axis we can call “managing change.”

All of these elements, the four balls and their connective axes, comprise what I have come to believe are the essential elements of leadership. All of these take place within an environmental context that includes the financial markets, the economy, competition, labor markets, regulatory environments, and other environmental factors.

All of these elements combined them should produce results. These results can be, in my experience, best conceived as a progression of outcomes moving from intangible assets to tangible outcomes. So, for example, we can think about how our leadership impacts the people in our organization, our development of core capabilities within our organization, the satisfaction of our customers, who in turn pay us for our efforts. Clearly some of these activities (e.g. investing in our human capital) will take place within the organizational ball, yet it’s useful here to think of them also as results which create a cause-and-effect chain linking our intangible human capital to our intangible organizational capabilities to intangible customer satisfaction to tangible financial profitability.

All of these elements are outlined in the diagram in Figure 1. In future blogs, I will break down the various pieces of this diagram and explain how they work together and what the key elements are in each. In the meantime, I invite the interested reader to note that whatever theoretical perspective you may be gleaning from science, business, history or current events, the odds are you can easily find a way to connect those insights to the various pieces of this diamond model. That has certainly been the case for me over the last 30 years.

So, I offer the “Diamond Model of Leadership” to you as a broad framework which you can use to organize your learning about the nature of leadership. In the end when we speak of “leadership,” we must ask, “Leadership for what?” This question implies the issue of strategic thinking. And if we then ask ourselves, “How are we going to get from today to our strategic vision?”, then we must consider the issue of leading change. Hence, any conversation about leadership is really a conversation about “leading strategic change.” I will have more to say in future installments about key elements of leading self, strategic thinking, selling your story to others, organizational architecture, the linkages between each of these, and the cause-and-effect chain that appears in our results box. I hope you will look forward to that.

Jim Clawson Bio:
James Clawson has been a professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia since 1981. He has consulted with dozens of large and very large corporations in various parts of the globe on issues of leadership, career management, leadership development, human resource management, organizational development, and related topics.

Author of Level Three Leadership, Dr. Clawson has helped executives and managers at all levels learn how to be more effective leaders in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Dr. Clawson received degrees from Stanford University (Japanese Language and Literature with great distinction), Brigham Young University (MBA in marketing), and Harvard University Graduate School of Business (DBA Organizational Behavior). He taught for three years at the Harvard Business School before joining the Darden School. He also taught as a visiting professor at the International University of Japan in 1991.

If you’d like to discuss having Jim work with your company, please contact Dan McCarthy, at daniel dot mccarthy at unh dot edu.