Tag Archives: Bruce Avolio

Avolio in Australia: a powerful reminder

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management

The picture is of an empty and very long table on South bank in Melbourne. The organizers wanted to send the message that a lot of folks would go without a holiday meal if folks didn’t donate to help out. What a powerful symbol…empty table with lots and lots of seats needing to be filled.

A short trip down under reveals what it really means to ‘spit out the dummy’

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking at the Foster School and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management

Recently, I traveled to Melbourne Australia for a series of lectures and short workshops on examining the total leadership system in organizations. By total leadership system, we mean examining leadership at all levels, looking down, peer to peer sideways, and where folks are leading up measuring a broad range of leadership styles (e.g., transformational, authentic, authoritarian, ethical, etc.) within and between levels and units in organizations. By examining the total leadership system, we hope to assess all of the key leadership elements that positively contribute to organizational change and transformation.

I found that before leaving the U.S., everyone who I told about the trip smiled and said something like, ‘that’s going to be a lot of fun’ or ‘what a great place to go.’ I told my Australian colleagues that we have serious Australian envy in my country. And when I said that, I didn’t realize that on this trip to Australia that my envy would only deepen as I learned that the Australians just have the best expressions.

Being in Australia also reminded me that one could be lured into a state of lacking self-awareness about cultural differences because Australians speak English and have a lot of common interests and history in line with those of us from the U.S. When I am in other cultures where the language is different, I am more keenly aware of observing and listening to make sure I understand the cultural nuances. In Australia one can get away with that for a while, until you realize that ‘conservative’ means ‘liberal’ in Australia and vice versa.

In one of the last workshops I was doing in Australia, someone said something that got me reflecting and I must admit I laughed out loud. At one point in the workshop, one of the participants said, “That guy just spit the dummy!” You can let those comments go by, and there were several such expressions, but I decided to stop on this one and ask, “What could spitting the dummy possibly be?” I learned that a dummy is what we would call a baby’s pacifier, and when you spit the dummy, all hell breaks loose. Throughout the remainder of the day, I tried to find every possible instance to use the term, spitting the dummy, or even better, you are a dummy spitter.

So, just when you think the folks you are with are familiar, they spit the dummy and all hell breaks loose!

Leadership in Peru

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management

Recently on a trip to the Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, I was asked, “how does one lead when they are not sure where they are going?” Many might say, just watch our U.S. politicians if you want to see how! More seriously, the more dynamic environments become, the more likely leaders are going to need to lead not knowing exactly where they are headed. As I thought about this question I went back to a recent trip I had taken to Peru. Peru is one of those South American economies that is shedding its past – recent past in terms of military dictatorships – and growing at a healthy clip, at least for the more educated class in places like Lima. Peru has a rich history that dates back well before many of the world’s other well-known societies, starting with the Incas which are considered one of the modern ‘older’ civilizations. There are two civilizations that pre-dated the Incas going back at least 5,000 years.

As Peru accumulates wealth, it is now able to invest in discovering its past. It is not an overstatement to say the Inca culture, traditions, food and history are becoming an economic force in Peru. Just see Machu Picchu and you will understand what I mean. This is one of the most amazing cities built by the Incas high atop a mountain that is one of the true wonders of the world. Going to Peru and its many historical Inca sites, taught me a lot about how advanced this society was. For example, the Incas knew which foods to eat that had low cholesterol, they knew how to build structures to withstand earthquakes, and they knew how to do brain surgery. And the answer to that question posed to me in London, Ontario lies in how the Incas built buildings. They built buildings by seamlessly integrating them into the rock upon which they were built. The Incas saw mountains as sacred. Rather than dig a big hole and then build the foundation, they built the building into the existing foundation, which took more time and care, but as we can see, lasted longer. This was the case for all buildings throughout Peru, ranging from temples to residences for Inca workers.

How does the Inca foundations help me answer the Ivey question? One must build an authentic foundation for leadership on which the rest of the structure can be created. We see organizations that have no ‘firm or genuine’ foundation, no core values and therefore no solid basis to lead into an unknown future. Many times we have to go backwards in order to move forwards and answer where we are going, which in this case is into the unknown. And I promise I will avoid writing a pop book “7 glorious Inca Principles of Effective Leadership.”

Followership impacts leadership

Gerard Seijts interviewed Bruce Avolio, professor of management and executive director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking at the Foster School, about his research on leadership. Professor Seijts is executive director of the Institute for Leadership at the Ivey School of Business. In the interview he asked Prof. Avolio what are the big leadership questions that will advance the field.

According to Prof. Avolio, one major question is, “Is the source of leadership followership? If so, in what way?” He goes on to say this isn’t a topic we have delved into because we assume the source of leadership is the leader. But a key discovery in Prof. Avolio’s research is that followers who have a sense of ownership in their work, don’t let their leaders go off the cliff or in other words, make poor decisions.

He also said he can tell a lot about an organization’s leaders without ever meeting its leaders. This is because followers are a reflection of what they see in their leaders. “If followers are independent, willing to challenge, feel safe to do so, own what they are charged with, and feel a deep sense of making it right, they change the leadership lens of the organization.”

Another takeaway from this interview is Prof. Avolio’s finding that financial analysts consider a firm’s leadership when valuing a firm. They can discount a firm anywhere from 5% to 20% based on their perceptions of its leadership.

Watch the full interview.