Easy does it Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it can be easy to compromise long-term goals in order to meet short-term objectives. Such a strategy, however, can mortgage the future of a business. Slow leadership is a movement that focuses on long-term needs to increase value and provide a stable basis for growth.

“To benefit from slow leadership ideas, all an organization needs to do is stop following the herd and start taking the time to work out what is truly advantageous in the long run,” says Andre van Niekerk, dean of the School of Business at Woodbury University.

Smart Business spoke with van Niekerk about slow leadership, why the movement has gained traction in the corporate community and how it benefits employers as well as employees.

How did you become familiar with the practice of slow leadership?

As dean of a school of business, my opinion is often solicited about management styles. Such a discussion, sooner or later, circles around to organizations, their leaders, and observed successes and/or failures of both. It is a complex subject because leadership styles are uniquely tied to individual personality, behavior and corporate culture. Therefore, what may work for one person in a given circumstance may be a complete failure for another in the same setting.

Regardless, what has struck me over the years is the frenetic pace at which corporations seem to run and how those in leadership positions either add to this ‘go-for-broke’ speed, or bring a calming influence to temper decision-making into a more manageable and meaningful process. My conversations with Adrian Savage have brought me to investigate and apply some of the basic principles of this movement in modern management.

What are the fundamental principles behind slow leadership?

That the best way to gain full satisfaction from all aspects of working life is to slow down, think carefully about what you want and how you think that you can get it, and realize that work is merely part of life — not all of it. Good leadership takes time, thought, intelligence, attention and wisdom. This approach rejects instant answers, outdated management dogma, and all the trappings of the macho-style, over-simplistic, ‘grab–n-go’ management that is also called ‘hamburger management.’

What is the genesis of slow leadership?

The other ‘slow’ movements around the world, such as ‘slow food,’ all had one thing in common: the belief that living well called for slowing down and thinking carefully about what really matters. This applied just as much to work and leadership, where too many people were throwing themselves headlong into approaches that simply didn’t work.

In considering the problems of business today, the more it became clear that problems came from rushed, ill-considered actions.

Why has this movement gained traction in the corporate community?

It is clear that many people are disillusioned and frustrated with conventional approaches to work. They clearly see that such actions aren’t working to most people’s advantage, but they aren’t sure what other options might be better. The slow leadership Web site http://www.slowleader-ship.org provides a forum where such alternatives can be discussed and considered.

How can applying slow leadership benefit employers as well as employees?

In Savage’s new book ‘Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization,’ applying the principles of slow leadership actually increases productivity by removing the waste caused by rushing into flawed actions, helping people to think things through, avoiding many obvious problems, and providing a work force that is always in the right state to utilize maximum creativity.

Trying to beat the competition by continually cutting costs and forcing longer hours is bound to be subject to the laws of diminishing returns. Only creativity has no boundaries as the source of competitive advantage. An additional — and equally important — benefit is lowering losses of key staff. Employers cannot assume that staff will continually put up with poor management.

How can management incorporate the principles of slow leadership while still meeting financial objectives?

Slow leadership takes a hard look at current management styles and finds them wanting — mostly because they were conceived many years ago when the working environment was totally different than today. It also recognizes that chasing short-term gain is very often the best way to ensure long-term pain.

Toyota has been following the principle of slow leadership for years, and the results are spectacular. No one would suggest that its managers have ignored financial objectives, but they have also been consistently creative and willing to question every management sacred cow in the pursuit of a way of working that combines corporate success with individual satisfaction.

ANDRE VAN NIEKERK is dean of the School of Business at Woodbury University. Reach him at (818) 252-5284 or andre.vanniekerk@woodbury.edu.