Can training, culture replace leadership?


Leadership is mostly about interpersonal skills--knowing how to build relationships and knowing how to communicate effectively. But is this still true with a highly dispersed, global workforce?

As work becomes more far-flung across organizations, geographies and technologies, leadership could be equally about facilitating strategy--knowing how to hire and train the right people, identify useful technologies and focus work on tasks and goals, suggests Terri Griffith, professor of management at Santa Clara University.

When face-to-face interaction occurs less often, clear and meaningful tasks, objectives and technologies can serve as substitutes for interpersonal leadership, Griffith argues in a post at Harvard Business Review.

Griffin points to Nucor, the largest steel manufacturer in the United States, as an example where company culture and workforce skills supplement interpersonal leadership. Nucor has more than 22,000 employees and just five layers of management. The way the company hires, trains and rewards employees creates a culture of self-motivation that relies less on interpersonal leadership.

Technology creates more opportunities for "leadership substitutes" by providing transparency and direction, Griffith writes. By making information and insights more widely available, it can help employees do a better job at leading themselves.

Fierce's Take: Good training and good technologies are vital in a workforce in which management has limited face time with employees. In an increasingly dispersed work environment, leaders certainly need supplements to bolster their interpersonal skills. But it's a mistake to think of these supplements as substitutes. Company culture and good training regimes help employees help themselves, but the tenor of that culture and training is set and sustained by the people in leadership. Unless the workforce is made up of robots, interpersonal leadership is essential in leading workers to lead themselves.

For more:
- see Terri Griffith's article at Harvard Business Review

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