Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Spiky leaders and spiky companies

In Meaning Inc, Gurnek Bains notes that many of the best business leaders are 'spiky': they possess incredible and distinctive strengths, but also some similarly significant limitations. Leadership development should not try to develop clones, but help people be true to themselves, and to leverage their own strengths to the maximum possible.

This conclusion is supported by Gallup's work on strengths and also many of my own projects in executive assessment and development.

However, I would build on this and suggest that the best organisations are often 'spiky' too. For example, they don't try to provide meaning through all of the seven means identified by Bains. So Semco doesn't try to provide meaning through an invigorating purpose, it is enough that it has such a strong spike within rewards and work-life balance.

The consequence of this is that HR 'best practice' has limited application. Instead, organisations need to develop 'best fit' strategies that align to a particular organisation's spike.

Different people are attracted by different organisations offering different types of meaning. For example, see Lynda Gratton's recent article in the Harvard Business Review, What It Means To Work Here, where she six different ways in which work engage different individuals:

  • Expressive legacy

  • Secure progress

  • Individual expertise and team success

  • Risk and reward

  • Flexible support

  • Low obligation and easy income.


Having a clear focus on how an organisation s going to create meaning and engage employees allows it to target the people for whom this type of meaning is important.