Business advisor and author
In his new book, Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform From Those Who Don’t, Ram Charan defies traditional notions about leadership. It’s no longer enough for leaders to be charismatic and courageous to be successful, he says. Instead, they need to hone their skills to address the needs of their organizations. Charan recently spoke to Workforce Management staff writer Jessica Marquez about his perspective.
Workforce Management: What is new about your perspective on leadership?
Ram Charan: In the past, most people have talked about personality when they talk about leadership. They think that leaders are born. My view is that once you are 22 or 23 years old, you have a basis of who you are, but you don’t have the skills yet to be a leader. Many leaders today are great communicators and are charismatic, but that’s not enough. If they can’t perform, they are out. To learn how to perform as a leader, they need to practice through real-life experiences.
WM: How does one "practice" leadership skills?
Charan: You practice the ability to handle diverse experiences. You move from one business to the other and develop your skills as you move along. You learn how to work in a team and how to create change.
WM: In your book, you talk about the importance of leaders understanding social systems. Why is that so important?
Charan: Most people just talk about organization and structure and designing incentive systems. Now, you can have those and they become a staple within the organizations. But the work gets done from a meshing of the parts of the organization. When people work together, that is by design a social system. Leaders need to understand these relationships and how people communicate—they need to understand the social systems. If you don’t know how they work, you can’t be successful. That’s new to the 21st century. That’s why Peter Drucker didn’t pick up on it. For him, a leader was about command and control.
WM: But in today’s environment, which focuses so much on real-time results, do CEOs really have the luxury of time to do all of that?
Charan: It’s like understanding a trade. If you have the know-how and have learned the tools to really dig into a social system, it shouldn’t take too long. Terry Semel [chairman and CEO of Yahoo] changed the social system, and now he is doing it again.
WM: So how long should CEOs give themselves to understand the social systems of the organization?
Charan: You have to diagnose the social systems in the first 90 days, and then you have to make the changes.
Workforce Management, February 12, 2007, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!