Substitutes and Complements for Interpersonal Leadership

My first Harvard Business Review blog post went live last Friday! Thank you to Nilofer Merchant for the recommendation to my great editor there, Sarah Green.

Here is the intro to the post:

Leadership Is More than Interpersonal Skills

Most of the 89,000 leadership books offered on Amazon.com focus on traditional interpersonal leadership: the relationships between leaders and followers. Interpersonal leadership sets up an expectation that leaders must be in dialog or at least in view of their followers. Yet this style of interaction is less likely as work stretches across locations and company boundaries as we telecommute, crowdsource, and take on joint ventures. Modern leadership may be as much about facilitating strategy through hiring, training, technology, and focused tasks and goals, as it is about face-to-face interaction. 
 
Clear and meaningful tasks, goals, and technology tools that support the organization’s direction can supplement interpersonal leadership. This is a classic topic in the management field. In the 70s, Steve Kerr and John Jermier offered that leaders do many things beyond their interpersonal relationships with their followers. Talking about the history of substitutes for leadership research, Jermier said in 1997, “[Substitutes for leadership] pointed to unobtrusive and impersonal forces such as technology and task characteristics, professional standards, and formal regulations (policies, rules and procedures).” One of their conclusions was that some people don’t even need leadership in the traditional sense, or find leadership substitutes through interactions with other workers. Hiring for employees who can model the vision of the organization through their work can substitute for interactions with formal leaders. More....
 
The comments on the HBR site highlight the complexity of leading in today's distributed work environments. They also show the importance that people place on interpersonal skills. Reader Heather Ritchie gave this comment illustrating the point:
I work on a global team. Many of the team members are 12 hours away. As a leader, that means I need to let go of a lot of day to day interaction. It also means I need to be very clear on the outcomes we are driving and the belief I have in the team to act. The importance of the latter has surprised me. Many people are used to working in an evironment where the boss checks and fronts more than they should. It errodes self belief and personal responsibility -- two key things for great performance. When people are asked to lead, have bought into goals, and encouraged to play to their strengths -- growth happens. I've found I can do much more at a distance that way.

Tools that can substitute for or complement interpersonal leadership?

What I haven't yet seen in the comments are suggestions around tools that might substitute or complement leadership. I've seen value in tools for self-monitoring (e.g., RescueTime). I suspect that teams get leadership value from anything that keeps a project's goals top of mind. Can you suggest specific tools that help leverage more traditional leadership? How are they mixed together with organizational process (e.g., performance management) and/or the kinds of skills available in the team? My colleagues and I would appreciate your examples as we continue our research on this topic.

 

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