A lesson on leadership—from Venezuela with love

During my recent seminar on “influencing” for 240 managers and entrepreneurs in South America, one issue participants shared with me was the “leadership vacuum.” Local executives, who reach seniority, want to leave Venezuela because of the difficulty of doing business there, and outsiders resist being posted in the country for the same reason. As a result, companies have difficulty filling their top country-level spots.

Caracas, Venezuela. Photo courtesy of Jérémy Pierot.

I’ve heard that Venezuela took a turn 11 years ago when its free democracy eroded into a culture of corruption. The pendulum swung too far and is now correcting itself to an equal extreme. The government sector has multiplied while the private sector has eroded.

But as my taxi races through the city’s arteries, past massive building, framed by mountains, I appreciate the potential of the country. This is one of the largest in Latin America. It has infrastructure, order and massive resources. It is struggling between two paths: the current one influenced by Cuba and, it is rumored, Iran, and the pro-business, pro-Western one. The second path has a large but uncoordinated mass of Venezuelans who are trying to lug their country into a new era.

Perhaps the lesson here is that context matters. It is not enough to have people who value creativity and ingenuity. If they cannot also build an organizational structure that protects these freedoms, if democracy or autocracy leads power into the firm grasp of a few, the pendulum will swing erratically between the two, perhaps never resting at balance.

What can we learn from Venezuela? Maybe it’s a question about leadership tactics and corporate culture. Ask yourself the questions below to see how you can find a balance between confidently guiding your organization or people while still encouraging innovative strategic thinking.

1. Can I delegate or am I a micro-manager?

2. How do my employees see me—as a friend, tyrant or something in between?

3. Is my presence as an authority figure diminishing my staff’s creativity?

4. Am I too friendly with my staff, causing them to be unresponsive or mildly disrespectful?

5. Is there a way to set up boundary-free brainstorming to alleviate the fear of being honest and sharing off-the-wall ideas?

6. Could outside activities bond my employees to each other and to me?

Kaihan Krippendorf (www.kaihan.net), a founding Fellow of the Center for Leadership and an adjunct professor in the College of Business Administration, is the author of Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile and The Way of Innovation. This article was originally written as an entry for his FastCompany.com blog “The Outthinker: Mavericks that Out Innovate the Competition.” The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of either FIU or the College of Business Administration.

View all articles by Kaihan Krippendorff.

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