Current affairs

Jorge López Cifre, Professor EAE Business School

Tuesday, 14 de February, 2017

Society has changed, that is beyond dispute, and the fact that this change has affected the nature of work is a direct consequence of that. When the 4th Industrial Revolution takes place, half of the people will be out of a job because they will have been replaced by machines and artificial intelligence.

The structures are going to change, particularly in business, and the relationship between people as a result. This was how the conference entitled ‘Managing High-Performance Teams’ began, a new edition of the Focused Programs, headed by the lecturer Jorge López Cifre, Professor of Economics.

Against the backdrop of this change in relations and production forces, creativity will remain the exclusive asset of mankind, at least for the moment. It is in this area that, as López Cifre insists, people are going to be fundamental and people management and leadership will be two essential skills.

Normally, a leader has to learn from another leader, “nobody can be something that they have never heard of”, argues López Cifre. In its most primitive interpretation, it was thought that a leader, or the art of leadership, was a matter of “being somebody whose role is to be served and, in reality, the leader is there to serve their group. The goal of a leader is for their group to function properly”. So, when it comes to teaching leadership, the future leader must be taught to be responsible, to value the people under their command and, obviously, to teach the team to work together rather than alongside each other, thereby ensuring that a team member on their own does not throw in the towel, “because if one gives up, everybody does”.

One aspect of this change that López Cifre highlights is that incentives do not work in this brave new world. What we can observe in new companies, is that people need to feel that their work is worth something. At the moment, productivity is rising. People must feel that what they are doing is useful”, he explains. It is in this respect that the role of the leader becomes strategic.

With respect to the characteristics required of a leader, López Cifre gives a few tips: “We are usually more willing to follow people who are more reliable. A leader is the person who, when the way forward is not clear, suggests a path to us”.

A leader must be committed to the group and, as such, must be at the forefront. “If the leader is not in front of the people, they are not going to be committed. Leadership is not just a title”, explains the Professor of Economics, who is also an expert in negotiation and the management of extremely complex conflicts.

Another important characteristic is being open to knowing everything that is going on, the bad news as well as the good. This is a direct result of there being a minimum degree of trust. “When you have a group of people, we have to teach them to trust each other. To do so, there are group dynamics based on trust games, activities to enable people who do not know each other at all to achieve a level of trust between them and, if they know each other already, to enable them to see each other in a better light”, he adds.

With Master programs, such as those run at EAE Business School, the methodology that is followed implicitly involves not only learning how to work in a team but also how to adopt the role of leader when successfully undertaking the evaluations and the Master’s Thesis itself. “We make them work in teams. At least one of them has to assume the role of leader in order for this to work. They also have to do the Master’s Thesis. The students are often randomly assigned a group, which forces them to work with people that they have not chosen to work with and they have to resolve problems that may arise for a leader, in order for them to be able to present their Master’s Thesis”, explains López Cifre.

A leader does not need to know everything, but they must direct and coordinate the team, valuing the relationships and living by their values. They set the group’s direction clearly and assign roles. In addition, according to López Cifre, a leader must facilitate the effective flow of information within the group. “When things are going well, the leader must make sure everyone knows it and give credit where credit is due. And when things are going badly and reprimands are needs, they must also be sure to communicate this, but in this case in private”.

This shift in the conceptualization of leadership and a leader is accompanied by a change in the system of management, “ordering and commanding is no longer useful”. As a replacement, but still a long way from becoming a fully accessible reality applicable to all types of organizations, we have holacracy, a management system in which the roles are defined based on the work and not the people, updating regularly and with people taking on various roles. In this system, authority is distributed to teams and roles, while the decisions are made locally. With a common goal, each team organizes itself and the right to veto initiatives is when “what you are doing has a negative impact on me”. 

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