Leadership Qualities and Strategies at AT&T Inc.

Abstract

AT&T Inc. is one of the biggest telecommunication organizations in the world today. The company has been able to sustain its upward trajectory over the years through good leadership systems. The paper will do an in-depth analysis of the style of leadership that has helped the organization become successful and be able to prosper for more than the 100 years it has been in existence. The paper will start by giving a brief history of the organization and its current structure. The current situation of being charged by the federal government for selling products to non-U.S. citizens to increase profits, as well as, the issues of false marketing that happened this year will be discussed. These were major challenges the organization faced but through good leadership, the organization was able to overcome these challenges successfully. 

Keywords: Good leadership strategies, goals and objectives, and strategic management    

Leadership Qualities and Strategies at AT&T Inc.

Introduction

AT&T Inc. is a big American international conglomerate-holding organization with its headquarters in Downtown Dallas, Texas. The organization is the world’s biggest telecommunications organization, the leading supplier of fixed telephone in the United States through its AT&T Communications, and the second biggest supplier of mobile telephone services. In mid-2018, the organization became the parent company of WarnerMedia, a mass media conglomerate, which made it become the world’s leading company in media and entertainment industry in terms of revenue (Belsch & Belsch, 2016). All these portfolios have enabled the organization to be regarded as one of the major multinational organizations in the world today and rank in position 9 in the Fortune 500 rankings in the United States in terms of revenue. 

Organization Overview

AT&T was established in 1885 when Alexander Graham Bell invented and patented the telephone. The company started growing slowly as people started using the telephone as a means of communication. The management team at that time developed a network of subsidiaries across the United States and Canada and the fact that it held a government-authorized monopoly to offer telephone services, it grew tremendously making it one of the biggest organizations in the United States at the time (Belsch & Belsch, 2016). The monopoly was referred to as the Bell System. The organization was anchored on the premise of good leadership that always sought to provide the best quality services to its clients while operating in an efficient manner to ensure all its bottom line objectives are attained. This is what successive leadership at AT&T Inc. has been trying to attain. The current management team is led by Randall L. Stephenson who is the CEO and the chairman of the group. Under the leadership of Stephenson, the organization has been able to expand its presence in different continents across the globe. Today, the company has opened subsidiaries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa (Belsch & Belsch, 2016). They have partnered with other companies, which has enabled them to improve their presence in all parts of the globe.  

Current Situation—Storyline

The leadership at AT&T Inc. is currently considering coming up with strategies that can help the organization grow even further, especially in the smartphone industry. Even though the organization has historically performed exceptionally well in the fixed line phone service segment, the organization has never been able to curve a market niche for its mobile phones and more so in the smartphone segment. The smartphone industry is characterized by stiff competition by major multinational organizations such as Apple Inc., Huawei, and Samsung. These organizations have been able to capture the market in a way that other players have not been successful in challenging their dominance. However, under the leadership of Stephenson, the organization is determined to challenge the current three market leaders and be able to compete with them toe-to-toe. Different leaders in line with the capacity they hold in the organization will implement this strategy. For instance, product development leaders will be required to develop highly sophisticated smartphones that have all the good features. The marketing manager, on the other hand, will be required to come up with a comprehensive marketing strategy that can help promote these products in different markets across the globe.   

Specific Problem or Problems

Just like all business organizations, AT&T Inc. has been facing a different number of problems that have been challenging. At one time, the federal government charged the management team for acting illegally by selling its services to non-American citizens who were only interested in perpetrating crimes. This scandalous issue tainted the image of the organization to many of its stakeholders. Currently, the company has been of using false marketing strategies to dupe people into buying their products. This is not only immoral and unethical; it is an illegality that should never have occurred in the first place. The organization, through its marketing department, advertised that one of its network in the United States was fully functioning as a 5 generation. This was not the case and it was meant to fool the customers into buying its products at a higher price. AT&T was taken to court about this unethical marketing scandal. To prevent negative publicity and as a way to avoid further damage to its damage, the management team at the organization decided to settle the suit with the accusers in an out of court arrangement. 

Learning Opportunity

The aforementioned challenge, as well as, many other challenges can be considered as a learning curve where the organization takes lessons and uses these lessons and experiences to ensure that these problems never happen in the future (Broom, Lauzen, & Tucker, 2015). In the case of misleading communication strategy, the organization sought to settle the claim and issue an apology to the people involved (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 2016). Consistently, internal measures have been taken to ensure that such an ethical issue of misleading customers or any other stakeholder should never happen again at AT&T. In the marketing department, for example, it has been agreed that all major advertisements or promotional methods must be approved by a number of officers to ensure that the advertisement the department wants to release to the public reflect the services or the products being advertised or promoted (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 2016). This strategy would ensure that unscrupulous employees in the organization do not fool customers either by mistake or through deliberate actions. It is also important to mention that they hired other employees in these departments (Bennis, 2009). These employees are highly skilled and experienced and it has been agreed that it is unlikely that they could allow such a mistake to ever happen again in the organization.

Context

Technology has availed new avenues of directing businesses to leaders, with more logging in additional hours at the workplace even though they may not be physically present. Teleconferencing in particular, alongside collaborative online workspace platforms, have enabled leaders to direct business affairs remotely. With communication as its main product, AT&T has historically required its leadership to be conversant with technological applications in commercial and recreation contexts. Through the use of technology, leaders are able to influence business processes in a manner that was previously not possible. Prior to the proliferation of technology, leaders and employees under their supervision had to be physically present at a designated location for the leader to fully explicate their strategies and so forth. Today, technology has made it possible for leaders to assert their influence in every step of the business process. 

Rapidly evolving technology and shifting social perspectives continue to place an inordinate amount of pressure on business leaders. Leaders of technological conglomerates such as AT&T, for example, have to navigate today’s complex business environment characterized by high stakeholder participation and rapidly evolving business practices. Additionally, leaders today have to be cognizant of the influence of global trends, chiefly environmental concerns, and climate change-related issues. Technological interconnectivity has meant that people across the world interact, and with the emergence of platforms such as social media, business leaders have had to evolve their organization and management paradigms. Specifically, technological and sociological trends have required leaders to adopt more flexible and adaptable management paradigms. In this respect, empowering individual employees to take the initiative is a departure from the traditional hierarchical leadership style.

The modern workforce has become multinational, particularly in developed economies in North America and the European Union. The multinational workforce has compelled organization leaders to rethink the role of culture in the workplace and embrace situational style leadership (Tsui et al., 2006). Harnessing different cultural considerations to ensure a productive and conflict-free workplace environment has become a priority in organizations with employees from different cultures. Consequently, leadership in a cultural context necessitates adaptability where qualities such as fostering a common purpose, involvement, participation, and inspiration are important in encouraging a workplace supportive of employees from different cultures. 

Regulations are an important part of society. Regulations, principally those that govern organizations, are in place to preempt the exploitative and unsafe practices and promote ethical conduct. In order to sustain ethical leadership, the internalization of non-cognitive elements of morality is necessary (Subkinn & Herzog, 2016). Leadership in a regulatory context, therefore, espouses providing a clear path through the national, state, local, and industry frameworks. Therefore, effective leadership entails anticipating the impact of regulatory frameworks on policy and strategy formulation and communicating the same to the organization. Acquaintance with existing protocols enables the leader to steward the organization through the complexities arising from the evolving and complex regulatory environment.

The political context correlates with regulations in organizational leadership. In particular, a leader has to be cognizant of the implications of aspects such as environmental, labor, and local government laws on the organization’s operations. To illustrate, just as conformity to municipal zoning laws can influence the reputation of an organization in the host community, political transitions bring with them changes with significant bearing on an organization’s long term strategies. To this end, AT&T lobbies various actors to not only mitigate exposure to legal liabilities, as well as, but also ensure legislative outcomes favorable to the corporation’s operations. Besides, AT&T’s communication infrastructure and service interests mean that the organization’s operations traverse multiple regulatory jurisdictions, host communities and so forth. Consequently, social responsibility has become an important leadership aspect in organizations with operations in multiple jurisdictions.

Leadership Systems

Characteristically, organizations are resistant to change. Consequently, shifting the culture in large organizations is a time-consuming exercise with unpredictable outcomes. Responsiveness is an important aspect of leadership, predominantly at large organizations that face prolonged transitional phases such as AT&T, as it winds up its legacy innovations. Diversity of leadership styles is important in initiating and ensuring business operations are responsive to internal integration and adaptation to changing the external business environment (Tsui et al., 2006). For AT&T, a situational style has proved important in managing its present transition from its legacy communication infrastructure. In this regard, the employment of sustainability officers at the top management hierarchy continues to be a popular way of managing transitions. Leadership skills are integral to the installation and maintenance of effective organizational structures. Consequently, effective leadership systems equip leaders to empower those they lead and not merely fulfill leadership roles (Cote, 2017).  

Organizational change and Leadership Models

Reconstituting how the corporation manages its leaders and importantly, how they direct the now frequent transitional phases in technology means that the adoption of practicable paradigms is important for AT&T. Transitions not only encapsulate technologies, but they also include cultural, political, and regulatory challenges. Being able to respond to on-demand services is an example of streamlining business operations with a responsive leadership hierarchy at AT&T. Processing feedback from the market now takes less time than it did previously due to advances in communication technologies. 

Effective leadership systems recognize that in order to get value from those in positions of authority, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach to not only recruiting but importantly, training leaders. Clarifying strategy is an initial step in effective leadership. Taking cognizance of the organization’s culture, as well as, being able to determine gains towards actualizing the organization’s vision, are other aspects of effective leadership. Typically, the relationship between the top management and the rank and file employees is reciprocal, particularly given the role of technology’ in diminishing vertical hierarchies (Donovan & Benko, 2016). Meeting the organization culture’s communication needs is an integral part of effective leadership. Leaders that do not value their communication to suit context within the organization largely become ineffectual in fulfilling their mandate. Organizations with operations worldwide are increasingly taking on multicultural personnel, making it imperative for leaders to adapt their communication strategies to promote an inclusive and welcoming workplace environment (Henry, 2018). 

Ethics continue being a central issue in leadership excellence, in addition to other qualities like motivation and results-oriented performance. Subkinn and Herzog (2016) posit that leaders without a moral identity fail to productively deliver when confronted with critical ethical dilemmas (p. 249). For the reason that today’s shareholders and consumers actively engage in businesses whose products they consume, it is not enough for businesses to just do well in the markets.  Although returns on investments are still a priority, accountability has become equally important, as AT&T’s connection to Michael Cohen, a lobbyist under investigation by Congress for campaign infractions illustrate (Rauf, 2019). The investigation into Cohen is of importance because it compelled the corporation to release a more comprehensive list of its donors. The pressure to comply came from various actors, including active AT&T shareholders, demonstrating the primacy role ethics takes in today’s business practices (Rauf, 2019). 

Support for Organizational Viability.

Effective leadership also recognizes and exploits existing capacities as opposed to sourcing the same externally. Improved talent management practices have proved invaluable in harnessing the available talent pool at AT&T. In the long run, AT&T adoption of management paradigms that empower not only the leaders but also encourage rank and file employee to improve their capacities illustrate organizational adaptability are necessary (Donovan & Benko, 2016). AT&T’s approach is an example of the increasing use of sustainability teams at the top levels to manage the complexities that arise from gradual and large-scale transitions.

Transitioning to software-driven technologies means AT&T has had to restructure its operation, rendering much of its workforce redundant in the process. In addition, because the corporation’s shareholders continue seeing the value for their investment, AT&T’s leadership was compelled to find a viable solution to the operational challenges that the fast-shifting technological changes heralded. Consequently, retraining became a central focus at AT&T; as its legacy in technological evolutions render the corporation’s legacy innovation obsolete (Henry, 2018). As a result, the corporation’s leadership had to formulate a way to improve performance while mitigating human resource-related attrition and is an example of a situational leadership style (Cote, 2017). Changes are a given constant and more so in businesses that technology dominates. For this reason, AT&T has gradually transitioned from its legacy communications infrastructure to modern technology-driven solutions such as satellite services, cloud computing, and forays into online entertainment. Dynamic leadership has played a major role in maintaining the support and confidence of AT&T’s shareholders in the corporation. In particular, situational leadership has proved invaluable in reskilling employees and making a strategic acquisition.

Conclusion

From the discussion above, one can see that good leadership coupled with good strategic management leadership, have been the two main factors that have helped AT&T Inc. to become one of the most important business organizations in the world today. The company has been able to operate profitably for more than the 140 years it has been in existence, which can be said to have resulted from the good leadership foundation it was anchored on since it was incepted in 1885 (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 2016). Successive leaders have been able to offer good leadership qualities that are based on good strategic management and ethical standards to expand the organization even further. Under the leadership of Randall L. Stephenson, it is projected that the organization will continue to grow even further across different spheres of the world. 

References

Cote, R. (2017). Vision of Effective Leadership. Journal of Leadership, Accountability & Ethics, 14(4).

Donovan, J., & Benko, C. (2016, October 7). Inside AT&T’s Radical Talent Overhaul. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from Harvard Business Review website: https://hbr.org/2016/10/atts-talent-overhaul 

Henry, C. (2018). Leadership and strategy in the news. Strategy & Leadership 46(5) 54-59

Rauf, D. S. (2019, March 21). AT&T peels off layer of political spending secrecy — thanks to pushy investors and the… Retrieved from Dallas News website: https://www.dallasnews.com/business/att/2019/03/21/att-peels-offlayer-political-spending-secrecy-thanks-pushy-investors-michael-cohen-fiasco 

Strand, R. (2014). Strategic leadership of corporate responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics 123(4), 687-706.  

Subkinn, R., & Herzog, L. (2016). Internalized moral identity in ethical leadership. Journal of Business Ethics 133(2), 249-260

Tsui, A. S., Zhang, Z., Wang, H., Xin, K., & Wu, J. B. (2006). Unpacking the relationship between CEO leadership behavior and organizational culture. Leadership Quarterly 17(2), 113-117. ‌

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