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US Consultant Champions Lange's Style


WEDNESDAY September 20, 1995
The Dominion, Wellington, New Zealand
By Anna Smith

BUSINESS executives in search of a leadership style to take them into the next century may need to look no further than David Lange.

The former prime minister shows at least two attributes no new-age leader should be without, a visiting consultant from the United States says.

Kelly Gerling met Mr Lange last week when he was in Wellington to speak to business leaders.

He says the man responsible for New Zealand's nuclear-free stance in the 1980s shows integrity and vision.

"I saw him [in the 1980s] as a leader who stood by his principles and values, and the desires of his people, even when the consequences of doing so for foreign policy were quite significant and potentially quite dangerous," he said.

Dr Gerling says he does now know Mr Lange well enough to say whether he embodies other attributes characteristic of new-style leaders.

"[But] I believe he is a good example of someone who can see into the future and can see multiple, complex phenomena, synthesize them and come up with a course of action. I believe that integrity and visionary capabilities are two areas in which he has notable strengths."

The other attributes that mark out the new-age leader are logical thinking, objectivity and empathy.

To add up to "values-based leadership," Dr Gerling's prescription for 21st-century business, they must be held in balance. Too much integrity without enough empathy and you will be seen as arrogant. Get it out of balance the other way round and you will be a pushover in negotiations.

If you walk into a company and find a sense of community and people talking about fulfillment, chances are there is a values-based leader at work. If all you hear is negative gossip and whinging it is likely people feel their values have been violated - they are upset and revengeful, a "victim cycle" is at work.

Dr Gerling, founder of research and consulting group The Leadership Project in Kansas City, says the baby-boomers occupying today's leadership positions are kicking over the traces of their predecessors.

They no longer believe the sole purpose of a business is to make money for its owners. Nor do they see employees as cogs in a money-making machine.

"They have a different feeling of what's important, a greater sense of social responsibility," he said. They also had a sense of doom that could engulf the world in the next century if changes were not made, he said.

He acknowledges this sounds "large and philosophical" but cites business standards such as the criteria for the Malcolm Baldrige quality awards.

"Even there . . . they clearly state that a business has a purpose of serving multiple stakeholders."

By that he means not only shareholders, as in a traditional company, but employees, customers, suppliers, the community in which a business operates, future generations that will be affected by today's business decisions, and the environment.

Learning to become a values-based leader is easier than learning a good golf swing, Dr Gerling says. But it still takes hours of training and development, and several years of applying the new patterns of behaviour.

As part of his research, Dr Gerling has put a range of leaders under the spotlight. He names two who, he says, display the attributes he promotes.

One, Ewing Kauffman, founded Marion Laboratories which is now part of the recently merged Hoechst Marion Roussel pharmaceutical company. When he died in 1993 he gave US $1 billion to a foundation he set up to improve society.

Dr Gerling's other hero is John Wooden, who coached basketball at the University of California in Los Angeles till the 1970s.

"He had profound respect from the public, the university and I think it's because he embodied many very effective patterns of thinking," Dr Gerling said.

Though he was known as the best coach of team sports in American history, simply by wins, he also had wisdom. "There's a difference between some success in winning and the kind of wisdom that ends up in the fulfilment of values on the part of the stakeholders."

If business leaders ignore values - their own and those of their employees and other stakeholders - their organisations will lack trust. As a result, people will look for dependability in their job descriptions and will be unwilling to have them changed, Dr Gerling says. "On the other hand, if there's an abundance of organisational values - felt, lived, expressed in a company - then people feel that their relationships, their place in the organisation is predictable and dependable.

"And they're willing to undergo changes in their job description because they're a member of the community," he said.

"Trust allows flexibility of work. That allows the changing, evolving, metamorphosing and mutating that companies require in order to survive in a changing environment."

On top of a PhD in clinical psychology and Master of Arts degree in human relations, Dr Gerling also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental resources. Many of his metaphors for what businesses need to do are drawn from the natural world.

For instance, he says organisations sometimes need to create cocoons to allow metamorphosis to take place.

"I believe leadership development is analogous to organisations building occasional cocoons while they keep their businesses going," he said.

"These patterns of leadership facilitate a climate and a culture where change can occur."

On a wider scale, if businesses fail to take account of people's values they will face an unparallelled environmental crisis in the 21st century, Dr Gerling says. "We have an opportunity to make a change, as opposed to being lemmings that march off the cliff."

Reprinted by permission, © 1995 The Dominion, all rights reserved. This article is reprinted for informational purposes only and is not intended as an endorsement, implied or otherwise, by The Dominion or its employees of any product, service, position or person.

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