Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Leaders and Dealers: Learning to Develop, and Developing to Learn!

In English language, by virtue of use as well as by perceptions of communicators, certain words tend to acquire meanings beyond what they originally were signifying. It would be semantically interesting and intriguing if such words are made up of a common set of letters, formed in different ways. Such triviality apart, the words ‘Leader’ and ‘Dealer’ represent two words that are derived from the same set of letters but become ‘leader’ and ‘dealer’, depending on where the two letters ‘l’ and ‘d’ are placed. More importantly, the word ‘leader’ gets appreciated by most people in a very rarefied meaning signifying high position, high power and high visibility, engaging in transformative endeavours while the word ‘dealer’ gets seen in a transactional sense, signifying an obsequious approach to carry out one’s bidding (real or assumed), often in a surreptitious manner.  

As with several other semantic or communication fallacies, both perceptions represent incorrect pictures and interpretations of the reality. Leaders, in common perception, are vested with the attributes, responsibilities and accountabilities summarised above but not all those who are so vested tend to be leaders, in the real sense of the term. Probably this is one reason why all organizations, businesses and states are not equally successful, and some even end up being adverse for others. Dealers, in common perception, are seen as entities and persons who are not creative beyond acting as agents for someone else, making a livelihood out of others’ need to buy and sell. Typically, corporations designing, manufacturing and marketing products tend to be leaders, and their frontend dealers tend to be followers. While dealers do act as per the manufacturers’ or buyers’ bidding, they actually represent the most important bridge between the supply and demand sides of an industrial economy,

Broad canvas

One may postulate that leaders and dealers would live up to the core distilled meanings of their terms depending on their competencies, skill-sets and resources. More importantly, however, they would achieve their full potential depending on how they see their representativeness with reference to their structural positions. If leaders see their representativeness in a narrow way, they fail to reflect leadership in letter and spirit. In a democracy, for example, leaders represent their people. This does not mean that they can do all the things to all the people. They would, for example, need to (i) generate options, make choices and set priorities, (ii) incentivize as well as regulate the rich to promote growth with equity, and (iii) subsidize as well as mobilize the poor to enable prosperity with sustainability. The same would apply with respect to organizations and businesses. If they see their responsibilities aligned to only one class of stakeholders or only to hierarchy, the true leadership potential would not be felt by the organizations and businesses they run. 
The same is the case with dealers. If they see themselves as mere representatives to sell products, providing prescribed floor space and people to help buy-sell transactions, they just become proxies to sellers and buyers. If, on the other hand, they see themselves as an important connect between the product and customer as well as between the customer and manufacturer, they can expand the envelope for all the stakeholders. This is one reason why front-ranking companies would like to operate their own chain of experience stores to impact customer-product-manufacturer triage more insightfully. Even in the very commoditized sense of a dealer doing something at someone else’s bidding (say, as a lobbyist), there could be opportunities to enhance one’s own as well as others’ awareness through a process of expanding the envelope of accountability to the broader cause and the wider society.  There are many cases where what seems to be for sectarian or individual good, in fact, turns out to be a catalyst for more effective public policy.

Short cuts

Although the core theory of excellence, whether for leaders or dealers, is so common and so simple to appreciate, not many would adhere to the theory in full and with passion. The human brain is genetically wired to a reward-effort principle. While individual variations due to education and upbringing do exist, the core human theme is to exert less to profit more. This makes leaders to focus on their most important stakeholder for maximal engagement, with only sporadic engagement with other stakeholders, that too in a manner of alignment with the need satisfaction of the primary stakeholder.  Leaders in large manufacturing organizations may, for example, personally engage with large investors continuously for support through business cycles while asking other lower level executives to ‘deal’ with other ‘less important’ stakeholders, including small investors. Leaders heading E Commerce forms may engage feverishly with markets and customers, almost to the point of self-aggrandisement through counts of clicks while ‘dealing’ only sporadically and opportunistically with other classes, including investors.

Dealers may see themselves as sellers of goods to, and collectors of cash from, customers, in which case they focus heavily on the company and the product. The huge advertisements by (or for) the dealers of high-end smart phones or luxury cars are examples of capturing customers at any cost, literally and figuratively. Similarly, if the dealers are viewed as buffers to hold inventories and smoothen sales cycles, they may never raise to the full potential of discovering and conveying visible and invisible signals from the marketplace to the manufacturers. On the other hand, if dealers find themselves accountable to a wider spectrum of market-product-corporate connectivity, the principles of engagement would be entirely different. The dealerships would then be as intellectually endowed and as structurally elegant as large organizations tend to be, making market research organizations in corporations or through outsourcing redundant. A firm is what it sees itself in terms of its boundaries; so would be a leader or dealer, in terms of the boundaries and limits set for oneself.

L D  

This blog post observed in the beginning that the difference between a leader and a dealer pertains to how the letters ‘l’ and ‘d’ are placed. We have reviewed above that a leader can bring oneself down to the level of a dealer (as colloquially understood) and a dealer can elevate himself to the level of a leader (as intellectually appreciated). By a coincidence, the letters ‘l’ and ‘d’ do matter in the journey of elevation; ‘l’ signifying learning and ‘d’ denoting development. Learning and development constitute a virtuous interlocked circle. That learning is required to develop oneself is rather easily understood. However, that one has to develop oneself to be in a frame of mind to continuously learn at all stages of life is less easily understood. Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge and absorbing it. Development is the process of applying knowledge into sustainable positive behaviours and practices. Learning makes the individual knowledgeable but development makes one impactful for his or her ecosystem. Learning requires a focused and targeted mind-set that is milestone driven but development demands a broader personality outlook that applies individual learning to team or social betterment.

It is quite possible, therefore, that people may be eager to learn but quite diffident to develop. An individual or entity, learning to develop as well as developing to learn has the greatest potential to develop a leadership bench that is both large and deep. It is immaterial whether one is a leader or dealer to benefit from this approach. The key metric for learning and development should be in terms of the development impact that the learning processes provide and the incremental learnings that are motivated by the developmental approach. More than learning, development needs continuous reinforcement from one’s own inner self as well as from peers and the broader organization. As one ages biologically, development requires less of knowledge acquisition and more of wisdom and statesmanship. In a simple, but not necessarily universal, algorithmic approach, learning peaks through the teens till the early career while development peaks through the mid-career till the end of the active career. The greater the biological overlap between learning and development, the greater would be the natural progression of leadership.

Big data

A revolution has already begun to sweep the industrial system, with technology recording in real time, through sophisticated sensors, the performance of various industrial systems. Giant corporations such as GE are gearing up to the critical importance of data capture and analytics, for the next wave of digital industrialization. It is evident that in a similar fashion, human interactions lend themselves to countless signal interfaces which provide valuable inputs to the participants in their self-active and interactive processes. Unfortunately, however, humans seem to be becoming more robotic than robots themselves even as technology, invented by humans, is enabling robots capable of signal recognising and signal processing. The emphasis in human interactions tends to be more in terms of conveying the message rather than absorbing the response at every relevant stage.

True learning and development occurs when human minds are receptive and perceptive enough to apply the principles of big data analytics to human interactions. Big data as a concept is relevant for leaders or dealers equally. There are very interesting cases in certain industries (for example, automobiles, food chains and white goods) where dealers have been very progressive and could share industry leadership with the end-product manufacturers. There are also industries in which progressive dealers (for example, electronics, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals) went on to evolve into end-product manufacture itself. Essentially, it is not a question of where one originally chose or was ordained to start the journey but is a matter of how they all through their journey learnt to develop and developed to learn, in terms of themselves and others!

Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 21, 2015


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