Professional Management and Leadership

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Introduction

Personal and professional development are integral parts of building careers and acquiring new skills for future managers and leaders. In a highly uncertain business environment, a combination of knowledge and on-the-job expertise related to managing self and others, as well as leading individuals and teams becomes crucial for organizational success. While the knowledge is primarily acquired from the past studies, formal business publications, and news reports, its application in the workplace is more complex and requires prior synthesis of information depending on the field of work. Furthermore, the application of knowledge also depends on the organizational structure, size, and formal controls, where straightforward use of single leadership or management style will be ineffective (Shin, Picken and Dess, 2017). Considerably, it is first important to evaluate personal strategic ambitions related to the future career choices and prospects to understand which leadership and management theories would support their realization. Respectively, this report further reflects on leadership and management theories identified as the most relevant for my future professional development plan, as well as analyzes the value of these theories on organizational ethics and interpersonal relationships.

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Strategic Ambitions

My personal development plan is based on the core strategic ambition to obtain the middle management role in 4 years, and senior management role in 7 years with a large company specialized in technology innovation. The ambition is based on two primary factors that are pertinent both to self-development perspective and future stance of the labor market. The first factor is my past experience as an assistant in business development department with a focus on technical equipment sales, where I was able to familiarize myself with technology market and obtain on-hand experience with market sales tactics. The experience was invaluable, since it significantly improved my soft skills in negotiation management, customer focus and centricity, as well as conflict resolution. The second factor is extensive market reorientation towards the benefits of technology in business and evolution of new roles in organizational structures, which are no longer linked to the study major and require a combination of skills and knowledge from various fields of science. For me as a future business leader, it means the importance of continuous learning and acquisition of new skills through both in-class and on-the-job training.

To realize my strategic ambitions, I see the need of applying in a management trainee program currently offered by our company for junior-level employees with past experience of 2 and more years in technical sales, innovation management, and marketing. The program lasts for two years and offers a rotational experience between various company departments, with each assignment lasting for approximately half a year. The main benefit of this program is an opportunity to explore how different organizational unit works, how job responsibilities across departments intersect, what are the potential flaws of such interactions, and what are the roles of department managers in optimizing business processes within their areas of responsibility. Furthermore, the program offers additional in-class training through case studies, role playing, development of business cases, and attending presentations provided by senior managers from other companies. The expected outcome of the traineeship is to obtain the role of department manager for one of the rotational departments, which further accelerates the opportunity to be promoted to unit manager in 2 years, and division manager in 2-3 years afterwards. Hence, such opportunity perfectly meets my career expectations and professional development perspectives.

Management Development

To evaluate the role of management theories on my personal development plan, I will further reflect on some readings from Week 1, as well as additional academic research. The one of the most influential theories is management theory by Henry Mintzberg, who grounded his theory based on the idea of breaking down management roles to simplify complex organizational concepts and therefore drive forward more efficient culture, where all members are more prone to develop their own skills and expertise. Specifically, Mintzberg (1989) admitted that despite the difference in skills and personal stance, all managers should practice interpersonal, informational, and decision-making role clusters. Among these roles, I found the figurehead role as interpersonal, the spokesperson as informational, and entrepreneur role as decision-making as the most relevant for my forthcoming traineeship engagement. In my opinion, the combination of these roles creates a stance of a trusted manager for both internal and internal stakeholders in technical sales, since it allows presenting the company in a professional manner, effectively communicate organizational vision, and inspire innovation (Mintzberg, 1989). However, future elaboration on roles within three clusters will be required through career progression as well.

Another concept that I found useful for my personal development plan is Peter Drucker’s management theory. This theoretical concept is focused on identifying the role of manual workers as those working based on well-established routines solely aimed to improve productivity, and knowledge workers as those representing the principles of entrepreneurial capitalism (Turriago-Hoyos, Thoene and Arjoon, 2016, p. 4). Drucker’s theory is primarily focused on the role of knowledge workers in organization and related managerial practices such as empowering strengths over weaknesses, people integration and alignment with organizational values and objectives, promotion of training, development, and learning, and setting transparent expectations of manager from employees and vice versa (Drucker, 2001). In my opinion, this view conceptually fits organizational expectations from future managers working in tech companies that promote innovation, since knowledge workers will take advantage of manual workers and therefore will be work autonomously rather than require permanent managerial guidance. Furthermore, as the contemporary innovation-based knowledge society develops, I anticipate that senior managers will require developing new business processes focused on the use of technology, where knowledge workers will be primary productivity units and performance enhancers.

Apart from classical management theories, I have also considered the importance of contemporary theories that bring more clarity to the role of management in developing ethical and value-based organizational relationships. Specifically, I explored the human relation theory developed by Elton Mayo, which emphasizes the importance of praise and teamwork as motivational factors for employee productivity. Beqiri, Begolli Dauti and Mazreku (2019) admitted that in human relations theory it is important to maintain daily interactions between the manager and his team, since people are more motivated by social factors such as communication and attention rather than environmental factors such as compensation or working conditions. Furthermore, I considered the equity theory, which postulates that in organizational setting it is important to maintain equal relationships regardless age, sex, race or culture, given that overall organizational diversity dynamically changed during the recent decade (Kollmann et al., 2020). Hence, in my opinion, both human relations and equity theories are important for future development based on the emerging role of cross-cultural experience exchange and open communication, where highly-diverse teams can bring more value for solving complex organizational problems.

My perspective on the future development plan from managerial stance was also inspired by in-class activities and case studies. First, it was beneficial to participate in a group task of putting Fayol’s principles of good management in order of priority for the chosen organization and observe the difference in approaches of how other team members make their own priorities (Godwin et al., 2017). In my opinion, this exercise perfectly simulates daily management practice of task setting, since it is important to work fast while being guided by a common organizational logic and importance of appropriate decision-making. Another important in-class activity was to conduct a self-assessment of delegation behavior, which helped me to understand that currently my level of leadership is more authoritarian rather than democratic and requires better development to evaluate the area of freedom to subordinates. Finally, the Special Soft Toys case study was extremely effective in identifying whether my skills as a crisis manager are effective, and whether my decision for assembling a team through strategic thinking and weighing of alternatives are feasible based on peer reviews received after completion of the case.

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Leadership Development

To evaluate the role of leadership theories for my personal development plan, I will consider further readings from the course materials, while make more focus on external research given the large number of relevant concepts. First, I have differentiated the aspects of leadership from management based on its common definition as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2010, p. 5). It means that the focus in my self-assessment should be made on people factor rather than process factor, where leadership is used to create a team and manage it, while management is used to delegate tasks, optimize internal communication processes, and manage stakeholders. Second, I considered the importance of using a combination of classic leadership theories emerged during the 19th century and modern leadership theories evolved from 1990s till nowadays. Hence, my strategy was to take a diverse perspective on leadership as a paradigm that is critical for innovative companies that will operate in a future saturated market.

The starting point for evaluating the most appropriate leadership style for my personal development is considering theoretical root causes. Academic researchers suggest that leadership research originates from the Great Man and traits theories as foundational concepts of seeing a person as a leader. The Great Man theory assumes that certain people are born to be leaders and can assume control over the group of people easier than their counterparts, especially during the critical times. Spector (2016) suggests that Great Man theory equates leadership to personality, which implies that leadership is an inherited characteristic of the individual and thus could not be behaviorally mimicked or replicated. The traits theory builds on the ideas of the Great Man theory and brings better classification of skills and merits of great leaders, suggesting that those could be used to differentiate leaders from other people (Gill, 2011). While I found these views as objective in terms personality types, I also agree with critique of both theories for considering leadership traits as being inherited rather than being learned. Hence, the usefulness of both theories for my development plan is in the importance of traits classification.

As the next step, I considered the so-called ‘contingency era’ of 19th century, when previous views on leadership as a matter of managing teams through demonstration of extraversion and self-confidence were revised through the lenses of organizational thinking. The most prominent leadership theory relevant to this period is Fiedler’s contingency theory that was first proposed back in 1964. The idea behind is that leader’s personality should be matched with specific organizational problem, where the business case is the main context where leadership effectiveness could be demonstrated (Northouse, 2010). Particularly, theory relevance for my personal development was explained by its metrics manifested through the concepts of leader-member relationships to measure group dynamics and leadership confidence, task structure required for resource assessment and availability, and position power needed to measure the ‘reward-punishment’ authority (Northouse, 2010). For me, the advantage of Fiedler’s theory is envisioning that leadership is a multifaceted construct that concerns many aspects of human behaviors and therefore requires developing personal leadership style in multiple directions. However, the theory still vaguely explains the role of leader in dynamically changing environment and therefore could not be used completely as a guideline.

Apparently, the most interesting theory that was considered for my future leadership development is transformational theory. As mentioned by Lang (2011), it emerged as a reactive vision towards the growing importance of valuing employees as core business assets, suggesting that maximization of people potential is critical to achieve sustainable business performance. Furthermore, transformational leadership paradigm suggests that customer and shareholder management should be respectively considered as second and third priorities after people development, which means that transformational leadership is majorly associated with talent acquisition and development (Sahu, Pathardikar and Kumar, 2018). Consequently, in transformational theory the role of the leader transforms from team supervision towards coaching and mentoring, where participative forms of communication, joint career planning, and individual feedback are essential parts of team collaboration.

Transformational theory was also seen as advantageous for my professional development since its concepts are actively implemented in our current workplace, where all assistants are assigned with a mentor who helps with career planning. More importantly, mentor is a person different from a manager, which helps to avoid bias in providing constructive feedback based on the performance results and calls for more open communication about both personal and work issues. Hence, in my opinion, transformational leadership also helps to create healthier organizational culture, where employees can speak openly about their problems, while leaders carefully consider their feedbacks to adjust to course of team development as required.

Moreover, I have also researched the most recent perspectives on leadership that are relevant to organizational ethics, people relationships, and principles of innovation-driven society. The most prominent is holacratic leadership, which stems from the idea of flattening traditional approach in hierarchical organizational design towards the concept of dynamic governance (Robertson, 2015). Holacracy emerges from the open circular organizational design, which attempts to humanize corporation as a living organism rather than multilevel hierarchy, where vertical reporting process is replaced with horizontally aligned autonomous groups called circles (Roelofsen et al., 2017). Considerably, holacratic leadership principles assume that there is no pre-designed organizational structure, as well as there is no strict control over the circles, which is seen as a motivation for teams in circles to arrange their work autonomously and choose their own team leader. Since holacracy principles are currently practiced by large tech companies such as Google and Apple, I believe that understanding its principles is important for my future career in tech innovation. However, major organizational transformations of a kind will likely to take more than a decade to be successfully implemented.

Finally, I would also like to reflect on the importance of Special Soft Toys case study for understanding real-life practice of being a leader and assembling a team required to deal with urgent organizational issue. While my first impression from this practical exercise was mostly related to managerial thinking, it certainly included several important leadership traits needed to address the problem effectively. For instance, after completing an exercise I realized the importance of forward thinking in assembling a team with diverse skills, since the initial perspective was to choose team members that demonstrate proactivity in problem resolution rather than suggest multiple ideas to address the issue. Considerably, our team was less confident in presenting final solution, since all team members opted for a single solution of distributing the output between facilities rather than seeking for more creative, stepwise ideas proposed by other teams. Hence, the key learning was to manage new team differently, by asking more questions, probing for alternative viewpoints, and providing feedback regarding the solution appropriateness.

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My Personal Development Plan

Based on theoretical analysis and strategic ambitions outlined previously, the objective of my personal development plan is to obtain a role of senior manager in tech innovation company within 7 years, with intermediate milestones of obtaining the roles of associate manager in 2 years, middle manager in 4 years, and senior manager in 7 years. The first milestone directly relates to the experience in my current workplace, while the following milestones might be a subject for pursuing career in a different company depending on the market situation. Table 1 summarizes main activities and career expectations based on the annual basis.

Table 1. Career development plan.

Year Activities
Year 0 To successfully enroll in management trainee program offered by my company.
Year 1 To complete rotational assignments among two departments in my organization. To develop a complete understanding of the figurehead, spokesperson, and entrepreneur managerial roles following Mintzberg’s (1989) classification. To explore the importance of knowledge workers in practice.
Year 2 To complete management trainee program and obtain the role of Associate Business Development Manager in my current workplace. To gain complete understanding of management roles following Mintzberg’s (1989) classification. To utilize human relations and equity theory through team communication and collaboration. To sense the assigned department for the transformation opportunities.
Year 3 To become a subject-matter expert in management practices within my own department. To initiate mentoring and coaching practices for supervised employees. To sense the market regarding the new opportunities and leadership practices.
Year 4 To obtain the role of Unit Manager in my current workplace or equal assignment in another organization operating in tech innovation. To further improve skills in managing teams rather than individuals based on the principles of transformational leadership and group thinking. To enroll in advanced management trainee program either sponsored by the company or provided externally (i.e. Executive MBA program).
Year 5 To initiate or participate in transformational organizational change based on the accumulated expertise (eventually considering the future stance of holacracy deployment in tech companies). To further master mentoring and coaching skills based on previous experience.
Year 6-7 To complete advanced management trainee program and obtain the role of Senior Manager

Conclusion

To summarize, my reflection on the future career perspective assumes the importance of combining the principles of management flexibility and transformational leadership. Management flexibility is primarily informed by the necessity of considering the aspects of dynamically changing business environment combined with the importance of managing human relations and equity in a workplace. For the above reason, I consider management development as a priority, since one should be used as a pillar that support leadership development. In its turn, transformational leadership is informed by the external environment and the importance of teamwork, where teams become more diverse and therefore require more efforts to be trained, guided, and supported. I also recognize the importance of combining on-the-job and off-the-job training; therefore, I consider an opportunity of further advanced training to obtain a broader business perspective on how the principles of transformational leadership are implemented in other organizations. Hence, my personal development plan also includes participation in a high-scale business transformation project after obtaining the role of middle manager. Finally, while the concept of holacracy is yet underdeveloped, I anticipate that its provisions will become more valuable in organizational management context.

Evaluation of Contribution to Simulation Game

The simulation game is based on the fictitious case of PhoneVentures, a relatively young business with high ambitions to take over the smartphone market globally. The company’s purpose is to efficiently capture the largest possible market share in chosen countries, while bearing in mind the risks and opportunities related to current market stance, competitive forces, and unpredictable market changes that emerge after each round of simulation. Highest rankings are assigned only if attuned objectives were met, which means that careful consideration of threats and opportunities in line with market trends are required prior to setting targets. Hence, the game requires to follow a management principle of setting strategy beforehand prior to making decisions related to each round of simulation (Combe, 2014). Based on the business game experience, my personal reflection is further provided to evaluate how personal management and leadership skills were demonstrated in proposed practical exercise.

Hard and Easy Aspects

The hardest aspect of the simulation game was strategy formulation. Following the idea of determining overall strategy prior to making specific decision, our team decided to invest significant time in analyzing potential market entries depending on the information provided for CZ mobile brand. Specifically, we decided that it is reasonable to consider specific cluster of countries that should be used as a first priority based on their current situation in smartphone pricing to understand how competitive landscape will eventually change during the next 10 years. The problem that I faced here is the need of further segmentation for CZ mobile pricing depending on the country cluster we attempt to enter. For instance, if CZ attempts to dominate European and US markets, it is likely that one will require to heavily compete with Apple in terms of quality and exclusivity, while remain in the premium price segment. Alternatively, of CZ aggressively enters Asian market, it should provide better quality than low-price brands such as Xiaomi and Meizu, while the overall price should be lower than in Europe or US. Hence, the price differentiation strategy was chosen as a foreign entry mode.

Another complexity was related to the appropriate choice of human resource management practices to manage CZ global expansion. Fairly, it is important to have friendly, professional, and helpful staff to ensure that the business is successful, while this task becomes more complex when it comes for the newly acquired company that seeks for aggressive expansion abroad. At this point, our team had internal conflict in deciding how much investments should be made to ensure that the staff is well-prepared, managed, and supervised during the initiative roll-out. Primarily, it was caused because of the low awareness of telecommunication industry wages in chosen countries, as well as how the newly recruited staff should be managed remotely by the headquarters. Realizing that local HR function might be unable to manage all processes as the business grows, a common decision was made to purchase Human Capital Management (HCM) system for outsourcing all supporting HR services and processes even with a high setup fee and annual licensing costs of 15,000 euros, as well as investing in onboarding and high potential development programs. However, it remained unclear whether this decision was efficient enough to increase revenues.

Apart from the aforementioned issues, the rest of the simulation game aspects for intuitively easy to comprehend. Having previous experience in sales and distribution for myself, and financial management skills among my team members, we successfully made decisions regarding management composition, choice of distributors, marketing strategy, and financial projections. After external consultation, we were also able to figure out the appropriate decisions related to product characteristics and R&D and forecast revenue growth after several rounds of simulation. It was also easier to react on new events that emerged after each simulation round, since having a price diversification strategy as guiding concept it was easier to link the event to either threat or opportunity (Mankiw, 2020). Hence, the key learning from hard and easy aspect is to spend considerable time for planning and strategy formulation rather than seek for the fast decisions that would eventually result in a business failure.

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Communication Problems and Solutions

During the completion of simulation game our team faced several communication problems. First, as briefly mentioned in the previous section, it was hard to find a common language on the final strategy and data entry mode for CZ mobile brand, given that all team members were arguing on their own preference for the target countries. Apparently, this problem was caused by different cultural and educational backgrounds, as well as relevant experience and understanding of the new product relevance for the chosen market. For instance, the major argument for avoiding aggressive market entrance in Europe was voiced simply because team members were iPhone users, who insisted on their confidence of Apple market dominance even in 10 years without actually analysing the market in terms of smartphone sales dynamics. Being a single team member who realizes that we are not actually exploring the performance of Apple, I suggested that we distribute our roles in researching the smartphone market revenues per cluster and come up with a common solution for the entry mode. It resulted into an integrated team solution with justified recommendation per market and appropriate choice of price differentiation strategy.

Second, our internal communication was mostly based on individual assumptions and beliefs, lacking constructive feedback on what should be done differently or why some specific opinion should be revised. For instance, even after coming to a common decision of market and price segmentation per country cluster, it was more like a decision that satisfies everyone rather than a balanced decision, where everyone recognizes its benefits and risks. Eventually, this drawback emerged because of cultural diversity within a team, and could have been shaped in consecutive collaborative projects. Unfortunately, it remained unresolved, since we proceeded with the simulation itself and decided that no actions are further required in terms of reviewing what already is aligned on a team level.

Third, there was an issue with communicating externally with other teams, which was best demonstrated with an example of preparing HR management strategy. Since nobody from our team have had previous practical experience in understanding the role of high potential development, HR support outsourcing, and associated risks to personnel, we initially approached this strategy part by making incorrect assumptions. However, as soon as these assumptions became overwhelming and failed to meet initial simulation instructions, there was a tenure to contact anyone from parallel team to consult on their vision of the problem. I would explain this condition as team uncertainty, where the role of project leader is to propose the next step and motivate others to be engaged and committed (Prasad and Junni, 2017). Finally, we were able to consult with our peers and perform additional web research, while this effort appeared being very time consuming and could be critical for the project success in real-life scenario.

Finally, in a retrospective, the effectiveness of team communication was obscured by the lack of abilities in task delegation and participative leadership. The successful aspect of task delegation was realized primarily because each team member volunteered to take specific part of pre-work based on previous educational background, while remained resistant if an unknown task was assigned by team leader for research and reporting (Ahammad, Glaister and Gomes, 2020). Furthermore, in communicating our viewpoints, all of us were rather straightforward, attempting to demonstrate our personal vision rather than appeal to a team vision. Specifically, it tells about a formal preference to express ideas in autocratic rather than democratic style, which could be a barrier to develop oneself as a future leader and get prepared to both managerial and leadership challenges in a workplace. My proposed solution to this problem was to consider taking notes equal to the formal meeting minutes related to the unresolved problem, research and think them through, and spend 5-10 minutes during the beginning of the next meeting to discuss them. By the time of findings presentation, this approach certainly led to better understanding of team contribution importance.

Simulation Game Results and Real Situation

While the simulation game closely simulates business planning cycle for the new market entrance and allows conducting transparent assessment of the business unit roles in product rollout, the implementation of similar idea in a real market would be different. The major area of concern is that CZ mobile expects to capture rather significant portion of smartphone market in 10 years only, while smartphone market is already well-established and highly-competitive entity that will aggressively resist the presence of new entrants with alternative customer retention strategies. Furthermore, there is little evidence on revolutionary characteristics of CZ smartphones that differentiate them from other devices already available on the market. Finally, the simulation game does not consider parallel activities initiated by other telecommunication companies that are likely to introduce their own products with similar or better designs faster than CZ brand.

With respect to the aforementioned concerns, in a real-life situation PhoneVentures should begin with extensive market research and stakeholder analysis. From the management perspective, I would suggest assembling a team of market researchers and data analysts that could collect the data from markets based on customer targeting and sensing to evaluate specific smartphone features, price segmentation per market, and evaluate the severity of competitors’ presence. Additionally, it would be reasonable to conduct qualitative analysis of secondary data by the same group of researchers to evaluate potential announcements of new telecommunication devices and technologies that would eventually disrupt market innovation. Further, it is important to create an innovation-driven team of talented individuals with high technological awareness and passion to smartphone functionality. The team should be effectively coached and trained prior to the project initiation in terms of both design and promotion to ensure that smartphone functionality brings customer value and revenues. As soon as these steps are accomplished, business planning and forecasting parts of simulation might be initiated to estimate projected losses or revenues per year, deciding whether the product is feasible to be sold in chosen markets.

Furthermore, I would explore human resource management aspect more carefully with respect to such aggressive market expansion. Since it is expected that the company will operate globally, it is a complex task to develop high-potential workforce of senior managers that will oversee business operations on a regional scale, which assumes the need of massive external recruitment (Delery and Roumpi, 2017). However, in this case there is a risk of broken cultural integrity, where the norms and values of individuals will not match one another depending on the selected geography (Barrett, 2017). Therefore, I would suggest implementing a robust talent development strategy based on the case studies of high-tech companies born from startups such as Alibaba on the one hand, and considering the effectiveness of HR processes outsourcing only for manual operations such as payroll and headcount tracking on the other hand. However, this recommendation should be linked to the market research findings summarized prior to the project initiation.

Conclusion

The simulation game was a great experience of putting knowledge into practice. From the business perspective, it has proven the importance of strategic planning prior to making logical and informed decisions regarding new market entry modes and associated complexities. From the management development position, it provided meaningful insights for resource planning and allocation, highlighted the critical role of financial forecasting, and confirmed practical advantage of developing robust business plans prior to the project or initiative rollout. Finally, from the leadership development position, it allowed experiencing interpersonal team conflict that occur during strategy brainstorming and decision making, as well as pushed towards making practical conclusions about my personal leadership and management styles. However, it also shown that in real-life scenario the approach to solving similar problems is more complex and requires more constructive efforts in team creation and market research.

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