Money Matters

Relevance in leadership

By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 06, 24

Perhaps for any relationship to be enduring it has to be built upon the edifice of relevance. In fact, in almost every single human interaction, the element of relevance is critical. The lack of relevance undermines the sustainability of any relationship.

Relevance in leadership

Perhaps for any relationship to be enduring it has to be built upon the edifice of relevance. In fact, in almost every single human interaction, the element of relevance is critical. The lack of relevance undermines the sustainability of any relationship.

Relevance is an essential feature of an idea — it leads to a better understanding of the issue, as it may relate to both individuals and institutions. What is not of concern must be best left or ignored.

The vision of the organization must be relevant to both the dynamics of the current market conditions as well as to the demands of the specific industry the entity is operating within.

From vision, directed and adopted by the board of directors, flows action plans that must align with the corporate purpose. The action plan becomes the relevant blueprint for developing policies and procedures. The human capital deployed to achieve the action plans, with the adoption of the necessary policies and procedures, must find their own job descriptions to be in step with the vision of the organization. The chain of relevance has to be developed, consistently maintained and pursued without let-up. Any imbalances between the work assigned and the vision will most likely lay any semblance between the relevance of purpose and action of the workplace.

Relevance is housed in logic. A captain of an ocean-going vessel has no relevance to the captain of an aircraft, if the subject at hand, is to determine the ideal limit of knots that the vessel must cruise at. Knowledge, skill and talent must remain the basis for giving/ taking assignments. The philosophy of putting square pegs in round holes is always doomed to failure because the element of relevance is absent in such approaches. Getting a cardiologist to examine a patient who is complaining of skeletal issues is essentially a story of misplaced understanding about the role of doctors versus specialists. A specialist has specific relevance.

The relevance of work or, more broadly, of corporate objectives to the everyday grind is of critical importance. Without relevance, the exercise of getting each employee on their respective stations will serve no meaningful purpose. Those managers who can relate their objectives to a higher purpose and meaning are always able to motivate their teams better. A sense of objective to be achieved has also to be shared and explained, even to a soldier at war. Failure to do so can trigger an outright refusal to obey the command.

Parents’ interest in their offspring; a teacher’s dedication to students; religious sermons, social standards, etc, all have to be of relevance. Without this, there cannot be any enduring relationship.

A leader must however keep a very clear distinction between selfishness/self-interest vis a vis the relevance of the relationship with his/her followers. A team with a common objective (point of relevance between them) of winning the game is not the same when the individual player has little or no interest in the common goal. Such a player may be extremely motivated to excel and exhibit personal performance. Such seek eminence for themselves and not the glory of the team. Consequently, over a period of time, the relevance of staying as a well-knit team dissipates. The current Pakistan cricket team is a case in point.

In corporate and business houses the story is similar. Disengagement from the point of relevance leads to their decline. This disassociation, unfortunately, is like a cancerous growth. It keeps gnawing away and emerges to hurt in the fourth stage, at which point, corrective measures do not help revival.

In business organizations, individuals are called upon to perform and if they deliver, they are lauded. In the case of subpar performance, they are viewed negatively. The possibility of moving away from the pivot of relevance, due to the measures of the leader/ manager, are grossly overlooked whilst evaluating performance.

In the sphere of scientific management theories, the concept of relevance is about one subject being connected to another subject in a manner that makes it useful to consider the second subject, even before considering the first. This implies that if the element of relevance does not exist between two individuals, institutions, societies, companies or countries, the relationship will be fragile. For any sustainability in a relationship, the presence of relevance is a significant gluing factor. There has to be a common binding factor between teammates.

To find relevance in a relationship, the commonality of thought and destination in mind must be explored. This needs to be followed up by action to filter out the irrelevant and extraneous factors. Supervisors/ managers must regularly ask themselves: why do I do what I do? In finding the answers, the connection with the major purpose must be clearly established.

The human brain is extremely clever and intelligent. When faced with a situation, demanding immediate action/reaction, it starts to rely heavily upon its ability to find relevance. To do so, it intervenes only when the relevant factor is clearly established.

To achieve successful levels of efficiency, managers must jettison all elements of irrelevance which, if left unattended, can undermine performance. The consumption of time on the irrelevant and unimportant creates demand upon available time. Consequently, all attempts to operate at optimum levels are lost due to wasting limited time.

Management gurus relate relevance to the cognitive effects a stimulus has only if it is directly relevant. A lion prowling on your lawn gives an immediate and enhanced cognitive effect as opposed to a robin. Relevance and cognitive effects are directly proportional to each other.

In simpler terms, relevance relates to having a purpose and meaning to either a person or subject. To remain relevant in present times, organizations often have to rid themselves of outdated thinking, processes, policies, procedures, products and services. A separate photocopier, a camera, a computer, a calculator, etc have become irrelevant due to progress in technology. The related organizations have either altered business strategies or have pulled the shutters down. Failure to do so normally results in the institution becoming irrelevant in the dynamic marketplace. Individuals, institutions, societies and countries must never lose sight of remaining relevant.

The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist.