Leading Through UncertaintyLeading Through Uncertainty, Ray Davis writes, “Effective leadership is motivating, and it can and should be the energy that propels a company through inevitable waves of change. Poor leadership can lead to disaster and has sunk more than a few companies and governments alike.”
Davis divides the book into three parts: leading yourself, leading your organization, and leading the way. He shares the ideas that have allowed Umpqua Bank—the West Coast’s largest independent community bank—to emerge from the economic crisis even stronger than before. The problem some will have with the book is that it requires a secure leader. A leader that can set his or her ego aside. And a leader that truly cares about their people, their organization and the people they affect.
Leading through uncertainty means leading with the truth. People can handle the truth. “The negative energy created by worrying is replaced with positive, productive actions and attitudes.” Of course, some leaders are afraid of the truth because it incriminates them and exposes their weaknesses.
Davis says, “I always tell our people that they’re entitled to get answers to every question they have. I let them know I’m not going to defend myself when it comes to their questions, but I will explain what’s going on. I also tell them that while they’re entitled to answers to every question, that doesn’t mean they are going to like the answers.”
Being truthful means acknowledging the problem. Saying peace when there is no peace—saying everything is fine when it isn’t—is only whitewashing that will erode trust and peace.
You must have a firm foundation in the basics, says Davis, and then walk the walk and talk the talk. We’re all busy but listening is essential. “I think it is a mistake for people in my position not to make themselves available to their customers, their people, and the community at large.” When you don’t have all the answers, listening goes a long way.
Leaders don’t lead in a vacuum. Secure leaders reach out to others. They give them the ability to provide constructive criticism which is hugely valuable of and by itself but it also serves to motivate and keep people involved in the process. “How else can a company get better if it’s not willing to listen to constructive criticism, if it’s not willing to listen to what it’s not doing as well as it could? If you’re not willing to listen, you’re not going to improve and you’re not going to grow.”
Great leadership begins with us. “I believe this starts with an introspective and honest inventory—first of yourself and then of your organization. Companies regularly evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to make sure they are focused on the right issues. I wonder, however, how many leaders do the same evaluation on themselves. I recommend this as a good starting point.”
Of Related Interest:
President and CEO = Head of Support
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5 Steps to Thinking in New BoxesThinking outside-the-box is a useful metaphor for thinking creatively or trying to get out of a rut. But practically speaking, it’s not going to happen. Your brain just doesn’t work that way. Your brain needs boxes. You can’t think without them. We create and use mental boxes to organize and use what we know.
The reality is, getting out of one box means getting into another. Thinking outside-the-box really means finding a new box. A new box with different assumptions, prejudices, beliefs and parameters. A different box will give you different answers because it forces you to ask different questions.
Thinking in New Boxes, authors Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny say that the improved solution will be found in a new box. Here’s the key thought: “Since your brain needs models or boxes to think, the key to being creative in practical ways, to managing change during these times of such uncertainty, is to first try to understand your existing boxes to a greater degree, and then attack any situation or issue by developing a range of new boxes. You can then carefully choose which box(es) to use, even as you embrace the ambiguity inherent in doing so.”
Based on how the human mind actually thinks and reasons, the authors have developed a five-step approach to thinking in new boxes:
Step 1: Doubt Everything
All of your ideas, even the most successful, are hypotheses within you—and not set in stone. “Step one of our process involves acknowledging the seductive comfort of the boxes you’re using now.” It’s understanding that the way you have been pre-wired may be curtailing your ability to develop new perceptions.
Step 2: Probe the Possible
Reexamine the world in front of you with vigor, diligence, and refreshed self-awareness. Use prospective thinking “Prospective thinking means taking a more expansive, long-term view of things, staying open to all sorts of possibilities, and doing your best to stay fully aware of what is happening both within and outside your organization or your immediate environment.”
Step 3: Diverge
In step 3 you will try to create as many new models, concepts, hypotheses, and ways of thinking as you can. “Divergence is about not only permitting but actively encouraging the expression of diverse and sometimes wildly opposing ideas, beliefs, opinions, and visions, including those that are unpopular, unattractive, or unconventional, even those that seem misguided, reactionary, or downright absurd. But, we cannot stress enough, you should always begin divergence armed with a carefully framed question that you will then, instead, work to answer.”
Step 4: Converge
In this step we evaluate our ideas, choose the most promising among them, and then zero in on which should be implemented, or in what order you think they should be pursued. “Convergence is about beginning to translate ideas into reality rather than simply trying to give birth to more and more ideas; it is about prioritizing decisions so that you can act on your best ideas.”
Step 5: Reevaluate Relentlessly
No good idea remains good forever. “To be successful, it is imperative to create one new box after another, embracing change, and knowing when it’s time to discard one box and replace it with another.” As the world changes, we will need to change. We will need new boxes.
Thinking in new boxes is first about being aware of the box you’re in and why you’re in it. The reason many find it difficult to change – to move to a new box – is because they don’t know why they think and do what they do. Once you do, it’s easier to see where you need to go and what you need to do.
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Why We Need Strangers
We need strangers. “These strangers,” writes Alan Gregerman in The Necessity of Strangers, “whom we quickly choose to ignore or form an opinion about, are the people who force us out of our comfort zones and challenge us to question the knowledge, belief, and habits we hold dear.”
Gregerman asks, “What if strangers are actually, in many ways, more important than friends?” Interesting question.
There are two issues here. “First, most of us just don’t have enough friends or a diverse enough set of them to give us the breadth of insight and perspectives we need to continually stretch our thinking and to grow. And second, the exact reasons why we count on friends are the same reasons that their input may not be ideal for our efforts to stretch and grow.”
Maybe it’s not who you know but who you could know that will determine your success and growth.
While we tend to be adverse to outsider's thinking, our real aversions, says Gregerman, “should be to see our own thinking as the only way to move forward. The real trick is to “pick the right strangers with ties to what we hope to accomplish and then ask them the right questions.”
Gregerman suggests that 99% of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had.
New employees are a great source of fresh ideas, but we tend to quickly shape them into the way we do things. “They arrive filled with different ideas and fresh perspectives based on a new and different set of work and life experiences—ideas, perspectives, and experiences that might actually make us more efficient, effective, innovative, customer-focused, and successful if we were willing to listen.”
If we don’t focus on the strange but instead focus on the different that we could tap into, we might grow in ways we never imagined. “Everyone matters. And that’s an idea that leaders must convey.”
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The Business of Belief
"Belief has been a most powerful component of human nature that has somewhat been neglected," says Peter Halligan, a psychologist at Cardiff University. "But it has been capitalized on by marketing agents, politics and religion for the best part of two millennia."The Business of Belief.
For leaders and organization, belief is the issue. It is at the core of who we are, why we do what we do, or approach to change, and how we lead. "If you want to change the world, if you want to change your world, if you want to succeed at work, in the marketplace, or in any other social endeavor or organization, belief is your Holy Grail" writes Asacker.
Beliefs are nothing more than working assumptions. Belief may or may not be true or even rational. But belief is at the heart of making your leadership work.
We fight for choice and fight wars to protect choice, but we don't always live with choice, we more often live with our own self-imposed dogma. "Choice is liberating, and belief flourishes with the freedom to choose. But every choice also chains us, because it rejects a world brimming with competing opinions and possibilities. Our believing minds simply cannot function while brooding over all of those chains. The psychic strain would paralyze us. And so we ignore them."
We want control over our world. And that desire impacts how we operate in the world. "If we believe we know what's happening around us, especially the near term future and general direction, we feel safe. That's why we resist change and want our agendas and ideologies to prevail."
This is where, I believe leadership comes in. And Asacker addresses that in part two:
Those skilled at motivating people to cross a new bridge to change their beliefs and behavior, are not trying to cajole or manipulate them against their will. Rather, they seek to guide them to a new destination, a transformed way of feeling, thinking and acting that's aligned with their personal desires and values.To paraphrase industrial designer Dieter Rams, good leaders "must have an intuition for the reality in which people live." It's one of the reasons that self-centered leaders struggle. Great leaders, as Asacker writes, must design new beliefs. "Creating belief is about affect before effect. It's about finding people who want to believe and making them feel comfortable." It's about making it ours.
And this is key: "Making it ours is not giving us control of the ship. Rather, it's connecting the voyage—especially the questions, highlights and successes—to our desires and choices." That's leadership.
In part three, Asacker turns to what we can do personally to understand and manage our own beliefs. He issues this challenge:
Face it: We are either breaking out of our spirit-sucking routines and breaking through to new insights and experiences, or we are breaking down. So when the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone arrives, and it definitely will come, take it. Say no to the sure thing and say yes to a creative challenge. Say no to short-term, comfort producing activities, and say yes to fear, passion and leadership.I've only scratched the surface here. The Business of Belief is full of thought provoking ideas and statements that will make you think. Perhaps I should say they will distract you. "Distractions and difficulties turn on our thinking mind, which undermines belief by overriding our instincts." May you be distracted.
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Change with ConfidenceChange with Confidence by Phil Buckley is a great handbook for working through a big change project. The book is organized around 50 critical and practical questions change leaders ask.
The examples provided throughout the book mostly reflect his experience as co-lead in the global integration of Kraft and Cadbury. I think that this is some of the hardest change to lead because you are not just merging systems and processes but different organizational cultures. He reflects on the critical issues and the analysis is quite helpful.
Buckley's approach is people-centered and emphasizes the responsibility of change and organizational leaders. Not surprisingly, the first question considered is "What do I bring to the project?" Knowing the answer helps you bring confidence and resolve to the change project.
Many change leaders don't realize that the people who must adopt the changes are the ones who control the long-term success of the project, and if they don't take on new ways of working (and stick with them), the project will ultimately fail and most benefits will be lost. Therefore, the best strategy for ensuring success is to work with people and make sure they have everything they need—including respect, encouragement, information, tools, and the opportunity to shape the change to fit their environment.Importantly, Buckley also deals with questions such as, "How do I manage my day job, change project and life?" Not only will change projects test you as a leader in both your abilities and self control, they will eat up as much time as you give it. "A reasonable life balance will help you stay focused on all of your priorities."
This book can help any change project from beginning to end and help you grow as a leader in the process.
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Remember, It Was Once Someone’s Good IdeaMany, if not most good ideas are not good forever. Over time they lose the luster they once had. They become irrelevant and ineffective.
The universal danger we all face, is that we get so comfortable with what we do that never recognize that moment when it no longer serves the why. So it is good to periodically take a look at why we do what we do. But it is important to remember that they were once good ideas. Someone once fought to get the idea implemented that you are now trying to change.
When we want to change the status quo, we need to approach it from the knowledge that someone had a good reason to make the decision they made. We should honor that. If we approach it in a way that is adversarial, judgmental or dismissive, we diminish and dishonor ourselves and others.
When advocating a change, we need to be sure we are informed with the thinking behind the decisions of those that have come before us. When we do, we demonstrate that we are:
Reasonable. We see the value in taking advantage of the experience of others.
Rational. We are not seeking change for change sake.
Respectful. We value the opinions of others. It’s not just about us.
People are more likely to look at your vision if they know that you have first taken the time to understand theirs. It promotes trust and creates a connection from which to lead.
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5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do WellTaking Smart Risks, isn’t really about making your next risky decision smarter or safer; it’s about pushing all of your choices to be riskier, but smarter on a daily basis.
We tend to view our choices as risky or safe. Safe is good while risky is well, risky. You’re taking a chance with a risky choice; it could lead to ruin. Sundheim says that view doesn’t capture the essence of what taking a risk is all about. Taking a risk is “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” It’s really the reason we would consider taking a risk rather than just playing it safe. It’s not an either/or proposition—safe or risky. But because we perceive it that way, we tend to do all we can to avoid risk and stay in our comfort zone.
Sundheim lists five common dangers of playing it safe for too long:
• You don’t win.
• You don’t grow.
• You don’t create.
• You lose confidence.
• You don’t feel alive.
Are you caught in the comfort zone? Here’s a thought we can all relate to:
Being caught in the comfort zone doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around doing nothing. It’s more nuanced than that. You could be making progress, but not quickly enough. You could be taking chances, but not boldly enough. You could be going out on a limb, but not far enough, and the extra push is what will make a difference.What Sundheim is advocating is a change in our mindset regarding risk. Rather than perceiving risk as negative (“Things may not be perfect now, but they’re not all that bad. If I make a move, things could end up worse. I’d better not risk it.”), we should view it as a balanced focus on both the downside of taking risks and not taking risks (“I’ll regret it if I don’t pursue this thing. I’ve got to find some smart ways to take risks to move it forward.”). A limiting mindset versus a liberating mindset.
The shift from limiting to liberating is “a move from needing total security before moving forward to understanding that you can’t have total security before moving forward.” Between safe and risky is the smart-risk zone.
Smart risk takers consistently do five things well to disrisk whatever they’re up to:
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Why We Find it Hard to Change Our BehaviorWe know every behavior begins with a thought. So if we want to have lasting change, the beginning point has to be our thinking.
Behavioral change is only surface change if we don’t first change the thinking behind those behaviors. And it won’t stick. It will keep coming out in so many ways we won’t be able to keep up with it because we haven’t changed the thinking behind it.
When we look at our behavior we have to understand that there is a thought going on in our heads that is tripping us up. And we have to change that first. Or we’re working on the wrong thing.
The question becomes, “What thoughts do I need to change to make my behavior change?” New behavior will automatically follow a change in thinking. One right thought can correct a lot of bad behavior.
What am I thinking that isn’t allowing me to see things as I should? As human beings, we latch on to certain ideas and assumptions and they blind us from seeing other options and responses to what life throws at us. We get ideas in our head that can literally block us from seeing other perspectives.
Change doesn’t happen in a moment. We’ve had these patterns of thinking and behavior for a lot of years. We have to unlearn some behaviors and then learn and put into practice the new thinking and resulting behaviors. And it just takes time.
It’s right thinking over time that brings about lasting change. It’s a process. It’s a long history of repeated behaviors in the same direction that builds character.
We have to wake up every day and know that we have a tendency—not just because of our life experiences, but also because of the way that we have chosen to respond to them—to repeat a certain set of behaviors over and over again. We’ve got to remember that and change the thinking that supports these behaviors.
We’ve got a lot of set patterns in our heads that we want to return to, that we have become comfortable with, that we can justify, that we can blame on something someone else did.
That’s why we have to make a point of reflecting on our behaviors and on the impact we have on the people around us. And learn from it. And then go to work on the thinking behind the behaviors we want to change.
It’s not what you do that needs to change, it’s what you think that needs to change.
First change your thinking. The behavior will follow. It all starts with a thought.
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The Four Leadership Traits of Highly Collaborative LeadersCollaboration taps in to a broader pool of ideas. It maximizes the talents and abilities of your people. An inclusive culture is more flexible and adaptable. People are highly motivated, work harder and are more creative.
However, collaboration isn’t something you can put on. For it to work you have to believe in it. You can’t order it. Collaboration begins at the top. If leaders model it, others will too. Collaboration isn’t technique. It’s culture.
If a leader believes that everything rises and falls on their talent and ability, and resources are for their sole use, collaboration is DOA. Moreover, it severely limits the organization.
Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese report in The Collaboration Imperative, that there are four leadership traits of highly collaborative leaders:
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Resilience: How We Can Learn to Bounce Forward
The goal of resiliency is not necessarily to bounce back, but to bounce forward. It is the ability to maintain your purpose even while adapting your methods.
“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can at least learn to build better boats,” write Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience. “We can design—and redesign—organizations, institutions, and systems to better absorb disruption, operate under a wider variety of conditions, and shift more fluidly from one circumstance to the next.”
Resilience-thinking is not the same thing as being in a defensive mode. It’s engaging the world in a different way. They discuss tight feedback loops, dynamic reorganization, built-in countermechanisms, decoupling, diversity, modularity, simplicity, swarming, and clustering, as proactive ways to encourage resilience. They don’t give check-lists or quick fixes (indeed, there are none) so you’ll have to think about the ideas they offer. Most of the ideas are quite useful in principle on a personal level.
Interestingly—but not surprising—they found that resilient communities had a special type of leader: a translational leader. “These leaders demonstrated an uncanny ability to knit together different constituencies and institutions—brokering relationships and transactions across different levels of political, economic, and social organization.” They were leading from the middle out.
Translational leaders do not dispense with hierarchies; they recognize and respect their power. Instead, standing at the intersection of many constituencies, translational leaders knit together social networks that complement hierarchical power structures. Rooted in a spirit of respect and inclusion, these complementary connections ensure that when disruption strikes, all parts of the social system are invested, linked, and can talk to one another.It sounds like they have a high degree of emotional intelligence or ego-control. That necessitates a leader that is reflective and operates from strength rather than weakness; a grounded mindful leader.
Many of the lessons learned from the disruptions discussed in the book boil down to adhocracy, say the authors. Adhocracy is adaptive, creative, flexible and non-permanent organizational style. “In the digital age, an adhocracy can be put together in a plug-and-play, Lego-like way, well suited in fast-moving, fluid circumstances where you don’t know what you’ll need next. If it were a musical genre, adhocracy would be jazz.” (Robert Waterman on Adhocracy.)
They caution: “When systems are structurally overconnected … or when interventions are bureaucratically imposed on communities rather than developed with them, there is no space for adhocracy to germinate.” Of course formal organizations have a role to play. “But when we focus too strongly on them as the sole actors in response to a disruption, we don’t just ignore, but can actually smother the opportunities for these kinds of successful, improvisational approaches to emerge.”
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Adaptability: The Art of Winning In An Age of UncertaintyMax McKeown accurately argues in Unshrink that our beliefs have shrunk us. They have limited our responses. And it profoundly affects our ability to adapt.
Adaptability is a book about how people adapt. It is about how to win more often. “In the future,” writes author Max McKeown, “you can try to maintain what you already have, or you can attempt to transcend the constraints of your situation.”
Of course, to begin, you have to recognize the need to adapt. That’s not always as easy as it sounds mainly because we have to admit that something isn’t right. You have to understand what’s going on. Enthusiastic ignorance often rules the day. And so as, McKeown points out, “stupid survives until smart succeeds.” Knowing the rules and when to break them is essential to successful adaptability.
If you find a system failing, then you have also found a system that is failing to adapt. You need to discover, first, what adaptations are needed for the system to succeed. Second, you should understand what has stopped the system from adapting successfully. And third, you should find out how to free the people in the system to make the necessary adaptations.Once you recognize the need to adapt, you need to understand what adaptation is required. In times of great uncertainty, we need the knowledge creators, the radical and the rebels. “When times are easy, almost anyone can look effective….When choices seem obvious, unimaginative leaders may be rewarded for making the obvious choices even when they know they’re the wrong choices.”
Leaders too, need to release its stranglehold on what is considered acceptable and unacceptable thought. Effective adaptation will not happen when there is a dominance of a couple of people over the way everyone else is allowed to think and act.
It is important to not only identify what needs to be done, but to keep on learning until you get it right. Something to think about:
Most people lock on to a particular course of action, they make their minds up early and fail to adapt to evidence that their choices are wrong. As a result, only a small portion of most people’s experiences lead to new learning.Finally, you need to actually make the changes necessary to adapt. “The most successfully adaptive companies are those that never grow up.” It is rare to find leaders that are comfortable with “learning what is necessary from the people who do the work and know the answers.” McKeown rightly observes that being all knowing is not a human quality.
When attempting to adapt, “it is very tempting to try to remake a new situation to match an old situation.” We tend to continue to do what we already know.
“In adaptive terms, if you are still in the game, then it’s always the beginning.” This is a critical mindset for successful adaptation. “You can imaginatively rethink your actions so that wherever you are becomes the best place to start.”
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The Pivot Point of Organizational Change
In The Pivot Point, authors Victoria and James Grady ask, “What if this is not a ‘resistance’ problem for which the organization must engineer a solution, but a deeper ‘people’ problem that the organization must first learn to understand and respect?”
Perhaps the problem is less about resistance to change and more about attachment to some thing.
Change involves destruction and insecurity. You have to give up something to create something new. It’s the nature of change. Sometimes it is very hard to give up that thing. It creates anxiety, frustration and insecurity. “We form attachments to objects unique to our organizational environment and we lean on them for support.” What we react to is our loss of attachment.
The essence of the problem is not resisting change per se, but resisting the distress inherent in somehow losing the objects that we attach to or lean on in our work environment. These objects can be people, systems, places, things, or even abstract concepts such as ideas or environments—anything that provides us with a sense of “attachment” to the organization.If this is the case, then the challenge is to identify those attachments and the impact the proposed change will have on them, and design a solution around them—introducing changes will maintaining healthy attachments. The authors refer to this as the Pivot Point of organizational change success: “when we recognize the significance of our individual reaction to organizational change, take appropriate steps to support healthy attachment behaviors, and make use of current information to optimize the situation for all concerned.”
The authors suggest that “to mitigate the negative effects of losing our sense of stability, one way an organization can ease the transition of a change initiative is to look for a generic substitute to replace the lost object until a new sense of stability is restored. Those replacements could be “a leader, a favored object, a method of communication, a continuing education series, a technology, a colleague, a culture, or any combination of these items.”
They also present other methodologies to prevent or modify symptoms before or as they are developing. It is possible to discover which symptoms are most likely to escalate, allowing you to implement a strategy to mitigate these symptoms before you ever begin your organizational change initiative.
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Why are Organizations Slow to Respond?Organizations are only human.
Organizations share many characteristics with the people that populate them. Organizations are born, they mature, they age, and they die. The life expectancy of most is about 15 years and only 5% last longer than 50 years.
Occasionally, some organizations resist these all too human tendencies and thrive. They continually reinvent themselves. They confront rigidity. They become serial innovators.
We create over time, our own and our organization’s rigidities. Individually, we develop rigidities in the form of biases, lack of self-confidence, and habits. The human mind is quite adept at this in order to create efficiencies. We can only process so much. Organizationally, we create rigidities like structures, performance management and reward systems, supporting cultures and capabilities that while necessary to some degree, often prevent us from adapting rapidly. Worse still, we add complexities to existing structures, processes, values and norms, without ever rethinking and possibly eliminating obsolete ideas and procedures. All of this can cause entropy and our demise.
Rigidities are not going to go away, but we can learn to manage them better. Feser says that organizations that want to become serial innovators must do the following:
If company leaders do not accept challenge and diverging views, neither will the organization.After all, organizations are only human.
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Innovation Creates UncertaintyWe don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable.
We want innovation. We like creativity. It’s engaging.
But innovation creates uncertainty. So while we say we want creativity and innovation we often reject it because it is new, different and risky. It takes us to places that we are not familiar with and places where we don’t have all the answers. The irony is that while we say we like innovation we develop a deep bias against it.
Interestingly, a recent study from Cornell University states that “Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.” In other words, our aversion to uncertainty means we find it difficult to even recognize a creative idea when we see it, focused as we are on removing the risky, uncomfortable strain on the status quo.
Consequently, new ideas are often rejected out-of-hand in favor of the tried and trusted at times when we need new ideas the most. This resistance is so strong at times that even supporting objective evidence may not help break down barriers.
The study concludes, “Our results show that regardless of how open minded people are, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty, or feel uncertain generally, this may bring negative associations with creativity to mind which result in lower evaluations of a creative idea.”
If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
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4 Lessons from the Toyota Crisis“Crisis response must start by building a strong culture long before the crisis hits,” say Jeffrey Liker and Tim Ogden, authors of Toyota Under Fire.
Turning crisis into opportunity is all about culture. It’s not about PR strategies, or charismatic leadership, or vision, or any specific action by any individual. It’s not about policies or procedures or risk mitigation processes. It’s about the actions that have been programmed into the individuals and teams that make up a company before the crisis starts.The accident in August 2009 that took the lives of four people in a runaway Lexus brought national attention to Toyota. Fueled by innuendo and speculation by Congress and some media, it escalated into something it was not. Toyota Under Fire deals with not only the massive recall of 2009-2010, but also Toyota’s response to the oil crisis and recession. Toyota’s response has not been typical, but it does follow the Toyota Way. It is a reflection of their culture. That way includes what is probably Toyota’s “greatest contribution to the world as a model of real continuous improvement” at and by all levels in the organization. Liker and Ogden describe the Toyota Way as:
Face challenges with a clear head and positive energy. Hold fast to your core values and your vision for the company. Always start with the customer. Understand the problems that you face by analyzing the facts, including your own failings, and understanding the root causes. Thoroughly consider alternative solutions, then pick a path, develop a detailed plan, and execute with discipline and energy.“You do not turn a culture off and on again like a light switch.” Culture—like character—is built over decades of living your values in the real world. And then in a crisis, when you really need it, it is there to carry you through. The authors isolated four lessons for dealing with a crisis:
Lesson 2: A Culture of Responsibility Will Always Beat a Culture of Finger-Pointing. Common sense? Yes, but the question is how far do you go in accepting responsibility? What if the factors were beyond your control? The answer illuminates an important nuance in understanding Toyota’s culture of responsibility and problem solving. “There is no value to the Five Whys [belief that you have to ask why at least five times] if you stop when you find a problem that is outside of your control. There will always be factors outside of your control. When you reach a cause that is outside of your control, the next why is to ask why you didn’t take into account forces outside of your control—either by finding an alternative approach or by building in flexibility to adjust to those forces.”
Lesson 3: Even the Best Culture Develops Weaknesses. The greatest threat to a culture of continuous improvement is success. “To survive the weaknesses that inevitably develop, a corporate culture has to have clear and objective standards, codified in such a way that self-correction is possible. Having a culture that recognizes a loss of direction is absolutely critical to long-term survival.”
Lesson 4: Globalizing Culture Means a Constant Balancing Act. The clarity of Toyota’s culture and values is essential to growing the culture in every employee. And there is a balance to strike—balance between centralized and decentralized, local and global—that is not easy. “There is an inherent demand here that especially the people who are at the margins, at the periphery of the organization, be deeply steeped in the culture, and that they are to be trusted to make decisions because they are at the gemba.” One of the root causes of the crisis they identified was centralized decision making. They will now pursue a regionalization strategy which will require trusting the leaders they have trained to maintain the culture.
Toyota Under Fire is an in-depth look at the value of having a strong culture that can serve you when things go south. The discussions explaining the reasoning behind why Toyota does what it does were very helpful. They demonstrate that the most important decisions are the ones made before the crisis. And then when the crisis hits, return to basics. Go deeper and wider.
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Got Drama?You can’t stop The Drama. There will always be drama.
Stop Workplace Drama. “The amount of time you stay in the drama—and the effort you put toward it—is the problem. Complaints, excuses, and regrets only serve to keep the drama alive.” Your drama—what you add to The Drama—is the problem.
Chism defines drama as “any obstacle to your peace and prosperity.” Drama is the result of not recognizing or taking care of the little signs of bigger problems when they first presented themselves. At the core of drama you will find one of three common elements (if not all three): a lack of clarity, a relationship issue, and/or resistance. So, says Chism, when you experience drama you need to ask yourself three questions:
1. Where am I unclear?
2. What is my relationship issue?
3. What am I resisting?
Chism presents eight principles for dealing with drama, but “lack of clarity” struck me as the most common and excuse-laden trap there is. Too often this is where we get stuck.
When we first set a goal we’re clear. In her terms, “we see the island.” But between here and there the process become difficult and someone on your team becomes unhappy, and, “instead of focusing on the island we are trying to reach, we’re now concentrating on pleasing the one person who is upset. Our focus has shifted because we became confused about our number one priority.” And the fog rolls in.
“Any type of discord, abuse, confusion, or game-playing always boils down to a lack of clarity.” A loss of focus.
Sometimes we create drama because we want something on our terms. We imagine that we can’t do something because we can’t do it the way we think it should be done—our way. Chism relates a clarifying example of this with the recently divorced Joe who is having visitation issues with his ex-wife Patty. She’s not letting him do what he wants in the way that he wants.
Many people get stuck in the drama of what should or shouldn’t be. Yes, you can fight that battle, if winning a battle is what you want. But again, in order to clear the fog and help Joe get clarity, I asked, “If there are two islands you can go to, and one means winning a battle with your wife and the other island is getting to see your kids and be a father to them—then which island would you choose?”This kind of dynamic plays out every day in our business and personal lives. When we are not clear about what we want, what our values are, what we are committed to, it is easy to lose our focus, to drift off course.
Solution: Clear the fog.
Chism has written a good-natured and practical book that will change your thinking and in the process help you to control the drama in both your personal and professional life. As leaders, we have the responsibility to be very clear with ourselves and our team so that we don’t get pulled into negativity, gossip, power plays, resistance and … drama. Chism suggests asking the following questions:
What are my top 10 principle-based values?
What areas of my life or business are in the fog?
What are some of the distractions that take me off course?
Where do I get stuck?
Where can I improve as a leader?
What drama do I see on a daily basis in the workplace?
What drama do I see in my personal life?
Where am I avoiding or procrastinating?
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A Case for Reconsidering the Way We’ve Always Done ItA society that doesn’t train their children to think critically, to be aware of those around them, and to serve, must create more rules and regulations than can be accounted for. There will never be enough rules—there are too many variables—especially when people begin to direct their creativity in dysfunctional ways.
The challenge is to develop sound minds. As Kant determined, a person with a sound mind is one that can think for oneself, is able to place oneself in the place and viewpoint of others, and can think consistently and coherently. But it‘s easier, in the short term, to create rules. And we pay a price.
To be sure, I am not advocating anarchy—we absolutely must have rules—and some rules unquestionably make possible the learning process, but when the rules we have in place reflect our lack of engagement, they become disrespectful and de-motivating. It’s easier to lay down the law or set up a checklist than it is to explain the why; to communicate where we’re headed with this idea. From time to time, it is good to think about the rules we have created (or have had handed down to us), that are impeding progress, relevance, imagination and growth both for ourselves and others. Here are a few thoughts to guide that process:
I am a big advocate of tradition, but when “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s how I learned to do it” gets in the way of relevance or growth, we need to take a step back and reconsider our stand. What we have done may have served us well in a particular place and time, but may only be an irritation here and now.
Rules can reveal a lack of trust. “I don’t trust you to be as smart—considerate or creative—as I am.” And they never will be if not given the chance.
As leaders, we need to be aware of where we are blanketing people with rules and procedures that do nothing more than to serve us and not the people it is our intention to serve. We need to consider that perhaps we have implemented rules to create a comfort zone for ourselves. A world where people act and think like we do. A world of clones. A world on autopilot that requires less of us.
Often our need for rules and procedures is just masking our fear of the unknown. Our attempt to manage a world that is changing faster than we are learning. No leader can do it on their own and rules are no substitute for not trusting, growing and building relationships with people. Where are we hiding behind rules?
Rules, for the most part, do not leverage other people’s strengths and thinking, they mostly mirror our own. Given the chance, people will surprise us with new, different, and better ways to push our agenda forward.
How to Use Social Media to Drive Social ChangeSocial Media. Nobody really understands it, but we know it’s important. How can we use it to influence others? How can we use it to do some good? The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, is a playbook on how to use social media to achieve a single, focused, concrete goal.
They use the metaphor of the dragonfly—“the only insect able to propel itself in any direction—with tremendous speed and force—when its four wings are working in concert.” The Dragonfly Effect relies on four distinct wings that when working together, achieve remarkable results. They are:
Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal. Goals must be humanistic or based on an understanding of your audience, actionable, testable, clear and meaningful.
Striking the right balance between visionary and realistic goals is key to maintaining focus….To achieve balance, break the goal down into parts: a single long-term macro goal and a number of short-term process goals, or micro goals.Grab Attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise of social media with something personal, unexpected, visceral, and visual.
What is the most important message you want to leave your audience with—and why should they care?Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering the audience to care enough to want to do something themselves.
Engage is arguably the most challenging of the four wings, because love occurs infrequently, and engaging others is more of an art than a science….If you can’t engage them emotionally, they won’t be swayed.Take Action: Enable and empower others to take action. To make action easy, you must prototype, deploy, and continuously tweak tools, templates, and programs designed to move audience members from being customers to becoming team members—in other words, furthering the cause and the change beyond themselves. What you’re asking people to do must be easy, fun, tailored and open.
What you are asking of people must be highly focused, absolutely specific, and oriented to action, so as to avoid overwhelming your audience.The Dragonfly Effect is a good model to show how technology can support real world missions. The Dragonfly Effect shouldn’t be thought of as just a social media framework; the specific and practical principles behind the model will not only help you make an impact through social media, but in the real world too.
The Dragonfly Effect Model Review:
Are Your Goals HARD Enough?According to research by John C. Norcross, a clinical psychologist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, only about 45 percent of the subjects managed to stick to their resolutions after six months, and, after a year, that number declines to around ten percent. It’s as Oscar Wilde wrote: "A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.''
The problem, says Leadership IQ CEO Mark Murphy, is that we are trying to execute goals we don’t really care about. The kinds of goals that lead to success “stimulate the brain in profoundly different ways than the goals most people set. In nearly all cases where greatness is achieved, it’s the goal that drives motivation and discipline—not the other way around.”
Hard Goals that in a recent study of over 4000 workers, only 15 percent of them believed that their goals for this year were going to help them achieve great things. And only 13 percent thought their goals would help them maximize their full potential. The solution, says Murphy, is to create H.A.R.D. goals—targets that are:
Heartfelt—you’ve got to have an emotional attachment to your goal; it has to scratch an existential itch; you have to develop a heartfelt connection to the payoff.
Animated—goals need to be motivated by a vision, picture or movie that plays over and over in your mind.
Required—it needs to feel so urgent and necessary that you have no other choice but to start acting on them right here, right now. You need to place more value on the future than you do the present.
Difficult—goals need to drag you out of your comfort zone, activating your senses and attention.
Every goal you set needs to pass these four tests. (Take the HARD Goals Quiz designed to help you assess the quality of your goals.) Murphy devotes a chapter to each of these four tests. “The overwhelming majority of human beings have tremendous untapped potential but there’s nothing pushing them to access it. Setting goals that are difficult helps unleash the depth of that potential.”
Especially helpful is the chapter on the Required part of HARD goals and the need to “alter your view and value of future payoffs so they become more attractive than what the status quo is offering today. You can intentionally move some of the immediate costs of your goal into the future in order to sync up the costs and benefits. Or, conversely, you can bring some of your goal’s future benefits into the present. Both will make your goal look a whole lot more attractive and amp up your urgency to get going on it now.”
Inevitably you ask, “Where do I begin once I have my HARD goal?” Murphy suggests you work backwards. First determine the timeframe for your goal—say a year. Then cut it in half and ask, “What must I have accomplished at the six-month mark in order to know that I’m on track to achieve the full HARD Goal?” Then cut that in half and ask, “What must I have accomplished at the three-month mark in order to know that I’m on track to achieve all of my six-month targets?”Continue to cut the time in half until you get to one week and then ask yourself, “What must have I have accomplished today in order to know that I’m on track to achieve all of my one-week targets?
Breaking your HARD Goal down into identifiable steps will first, show you exactly where to start. “Second, it monitors and keeps you on track to achieve your HARD Goal (and intensify your efforts where necessary). And third, this exercise shows you that every single day needs to contain some activity in pursuit of your HARD Goal.”
Try it this coming year!
Do Your Goals Look Like a Variation of What You’ve Always Done?
Buy Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be at the LeaderShop
The Reality-Based Leader’s ManifestoReality-Based Leadership. “We are living and working in dramatic and demanding times, but that is not our biggest problem. The source of our pain is the absence of great leadership that is based in reality. …The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances, the leader who engages hearts and minds.” To that end, she offers the Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto:
Getting Ideas to FlowCharles Landry is the founder of Comedia, and works to help cities to be more "creative for the world" so that the energies of individuals and companies can be brought into alignment with their global responsibilities. He recently told Sally Helgesen that his experience has taught him that “the single biggest problem in the world is not finding great ideas but getting great ideas to move, to flow.”
Getting stuck is an issue we face both individually and organizationally. At its core, it’s a thinking problem and is often self-inflicted. Creating the right kind of movement and in the right direction begins with re-thinking our view of reality. If we keep applying the same patterns of thinking even after they have been shown to be counterproductive we skew our perception of even everyday life situations and block the flow of growth, ideas and influence. Here are some common areas we need to rethink to get ideas to flow:
Re-think complexity. We create complexity by over-analyzing our situation; creating issues where there are none; forgetting our purpose. Complexity obscures the issues. Keep the issues as uncluttered as possible. Often an outsider can see the situation and the real issues more clearly than you can. Try asking, “Am I making this a bigger problem than it is because of fear, insecurity or lack of knowledge?” “Is this really a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?” Stick to what needs to be addressed. Complexity can lead to procrastination.
Re-think systems. Trying to create a new vision without addressing old systems is at best counterproductive. Tenaciously grasping the old ways of doing things just because that is what you have always done, can stop the flow of ideas and innovative solutions and lead to hopelessness. If you are experiencing a chronic lack of movement, a resistance to change or lack of compliance to your “really good idea,” you probably have a system in place that discourages the very behavior you seek. A system should reward the behavior you want. What systems are getting in your way?
Re-think ego. Our ego frequently keeps us from exploring new ideas. We get so invested in what we have done that we can’t get out of our own way. We keep retrying to work the old and deceive ourselves into thinking we’re making progress when all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Sometime we need to set aside our ego and simply abandon what isn’t working and start over with a better design.
Re-think boundaries. Think bigger. Think interdisciplinary. Growth often involves blurring boundaries to open your mind to new possibilities. What principles outside of your world of experience could expand the possibilities for your idea?
Re-think reactions. Repetitive reactions are the result of ingrained patterns of thinking that we have hard-wired into our brains long ago. Take the time to reflect on why you think the way you do; why you do what you do. Default patterns of thinking lead to more of the same. Ask yourself, “Is this working for me?” Think about the unspoken.
Re-think failure. If you’re afraid of being wrong, embarrassed by failure or paralyzed by insecurity, you will never find the solutions that lead to meaningful growth. Failure provides the nutrients for growth when we respond to them positively. Keep failure in perspective, it’s a regular part of life. You can’t avoid them so learn to work with them. Failures help you to raise the bar and reorient your thinking to possibilities and new ways of thinking.
Re-think success. Know what success looks like. How will you know when you have arrived? Muddy expectations lead to exhaustion and defeat before you even get started. Praise short-term accomplishments to appeal to your heart and not just your head. It will keep your ideas moving along.
The Five Accountabilities You Need to Implement NowNo More Excuses by Sam Silverstein is about expanding your accountability zone. To do that it means “reaching the point in your life where you can say, ‘No More Excuses! I’m not going to make excuses, and I’m not going to buy excuses.’” Excuses only legitimize the past, ignore the present, and eliminate the future.
Silverstein’s book is built around The Five Accountabilities he has developed to help you—in a practical way—to move beyond the excuse; to make accountability a way of life for you personally and part of your organization’s culture. The five accountabilities are:
Doing the Right Things. Begin by identifying your strategic intent. What are you trying to accomplish and by when? We are accountable for understanding and identifying our strategic intent—and the activities that support it.
Mt. Everest climber Ronnie Muhl, told Sam: “You get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘If my life depended on the next action I took, how differently would I perform that action?’ —because doing the wrong thing can have massive consequences.”Managing Your Space. We are accountable to create the new space we need to grow and innovate in our own lives, which sometimes means taking space from something else that we’re doing. “Force of habit prevents us from giving ourselves the physical, mental, financial, or emotional space necessary to shake things up a little bit and put something new in our lives—something that could provide growth and improvement.”
David Silverstein, CEO of the Breakthrough Management Group International, told Sam, “You have to be willing to cannibalize your own business in order to grow.”Managing the Process. We are accountable for creatively making progress toward whatever it is we are trying to make happen even when we hit an obstacle. It means not throwing up our hands and saying, “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.”
Kenneth Evans, Dean of Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma told Sam, “The real problem with the way that some people look at accountability is that oftentimes it’s layered into a notion of a rigid set of expectations and performance parameters, and frankly, you can get into very deep trouble if that’s your mantra. How you react to changing events is important as well.”Establishing the Right Expectations. We are accountable for establishing the right expectations, that reflect our values, that are properly benchmarked, and are a bit of a stretch.
Clothier Elim Chew, spoke to Sam about the leading from where you are at his company 77th Street, “The people who accept responsibility for, say, 10 things that are part of their job description and then accept personal accountability for five more things all on their own are the ones who are more likely to get the bigger bonuses and bigger raises in this company. They’re the ones who may end up running a business of their own someday.”Contributing to Your Relationships. The success or failure of our relationships depends entirely on the contributions we make. We are accountable for giving to our relationships—without keeping track. “In fact, the quickest way to kill a relationship is to start keeping track of all the reasons it’s not your turn to give to it and support it.” Sam adds, “We should constantly be looking for ways to invest in the relationship and enhance the value of the relationship over time.” Sam says, “Building relationships is about choices, and the choices should always be based on your values. To get a fix on your values, ask yourself: How can I best serve this relationship in the short term and the long term?”
Brian Martin, CEO and founder of Brand Connections, talked to Sam about managing emotions. He said, “I have asked every single person I’ve hired two questions: ‘First, what is most important for you to feel professionally, every day? And second, what’s most important for you to avoid feeling? What would you really rather not go through, not have to replay with your spouse at the end of the day, when that person asks how your day went?’ I keep the answers on file, and I look at those answers every week when I do my own planning.”Free tools and exercises are available at SamSilverstein.com to help you implement the Five Accountabilities. “If you want to build an organization that achieves its goals and beats the competition, it’s time for No More Excuses.”
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
“Logic only gives a man what he needs,” wrote Tom Robbins, “magic gives him what he wants.” Logic tells what we know to do; emotion is the magic that explains why we do what we do. Logic may direct, but emotion runs the show. Logic says what needs to be done. Emotion gets it done.
The brothers Heath—Chip and Dan—explain in Switch why we must and how we get hearts and minds—emotion and logic—to work together.
They resurrect Jonathan Haidt’s great metaphor for the dynamic between emotion and logic. Our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely over matched.” And we all experience this problem—even daily perhaps.
It seems like the Elephant may be all bad: lazy, skittish and seeks instant gratification over long-term gain. “Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.” But the Rider has issues too: overanalyzing and over-thinking things, the tendency towards a problem-focus instead of a solution-focus, and the proclivity to complain than praise. We have to learn to deal with both. As leaders we need to speak to both the Rider and the Elephant.
They begin by illuminating three key observations about change that lead us to three things we must do to make change happen:
First, what looks like a problem is often a situation problem. We often overlook the situational forces that shape our and other people’s behavior. There are things we can do to make the change easier and remove some of the friction. We can shape the Path. When it comes to changing behaviors, “environmental tweaks beat self control every time.”
Second, what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Self-control is an exhaustible resource. They explain, “When people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control. And when people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make be change.” We need to motivate the Elephant.
Third, what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. The Rider is “a navel-gazer, an analyzer, a wheel-spinner. If the Rider isn’t sure exactly what direction to go, he tends to lead the Elephant in circles.” Often we state outcomes with little mention of what exactly you want people to do. What exactly does that outcome mean in terms of what I should do now? What do you want me to do this minute? Speak to the solution. We need to direct the Rider.
Trying to understand why people don’t change or aren’t supporting your change isn’t always easy. “Is it because they don’t understand or because they’re not enthused? Do you need an Elephant appeal or a Rider appeal?”
“Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who’s drowning. The solution doesn’t match the problem.”
The brothers Heath uncover methods and thinking to help you to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant and shape the Path. Their memorable examples and research findings clearly illuminate the methodology. The insights will resonate with you and hopefully change your approach to change and make it easier.
Switch is an important [required] book for anyone wanting to understand change and constructively deal with the issues we confront when staring down the need to make a change. Read it, grow and deliver.
Leading in Turbulent TimesI think Victor Fung of the Li and Fung Group (the Chinese multinational founded in Guangzhou in 1906) summed up well the sense of the kind of change we face today:
A lot of people say, hey, this is a once in a century type of problem. We haven’t had anything like this since the 1930s. You hear all these statements, and they seem to imply that this is once in a lifetime, after I get through this one, boy, am I glad I will never have to face this again. But I’m not so sure. I think we are seeing both the compression of cycle time – how quickly the cycles come and go – and also the amplitude of the swings getting more and more severe. The world has fundamentally changed.
Leading in Turbulent Times the lessons learned from over thirty CEOs, Chairmen and other senior executives who are prevailing in spite of a challenging environment. It’s a valuable look at how some frontline leaders are finding the right balance between seizing the opportunities as they present themselves and managing the accompanying risk.
Rather than typical conversations focused on financial matters, Kelly and Hayes found that three strong messages emerged from their interviews:
Passion Rules – these leaders are driven by a real passion for their business, their organization and the people they work with.
Hard Times Call for a Mastery of Soft Skills - especially communication but also empathy, mentoring and coaching. (“This is a timely reminder that cost control is a business basic, but extracting great performance from people is always based on more complex and subtle motivational tools than pure fear.”) A CEO in Germany observed that whenever a leader talks about change, employees always expect the worse. Learning to motivate and engage people in spite of the crisis becomes critical.
Think Long Term – these leaders refuse to bow under immediate pressure. They use short-term pressures to harden their focus on long-term objectives.
Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan says, “We need to be much more flat, creating a collegial team-based leadership style so that you can leverage a lot more of people’s intellects and capabilities and make them participate in decision making.” This requires a level of social skills that hasn’t been demanded of leaders in the recent past and so I imagine this necessitates a lot of learning-as-we-go. At the same time we have a more educated workforce that brings with it other issues that require fresh approaches. Henry Fernabdez, CEO of MSCI Barra observed, “They figure things out very quickly. They tend to be more open to change but, on the other hand, they’re smart and can become cynical and harder to change.” As a result, the job of leadership is changing.
Through revealing and personal interviews, Kelly and Hayes have analyzed the current situation beginning with how to recognize the early signals, mobilizing people to act, navigating a new course, preventing "mutinies" by engaging the resistors, and learning to be flexible in the face of the unpredictable.
To live in these turbulent conditions requires that you dig deep. Leaders need to develop and constantly improve; a deeper self-knowledge; new perspectives. As they note, this isn’t easy. “It is a bit like trying to get fit when you are in the middle of a title fight.” A positive mental attitude is critical says Mark Frissora of Hertz:
The shadow of a leader is huge so it is very important that we walk out of this room with smiles on our faces, and talk about the opportunities. We need discipline, but at the same time we need to make sure that we always put a positive frame of reference on everything we’re doing.
Leaders Change MindsRosabeth Moss Kanter (Evolve!/2001) likens the constant change happening today to the croquet game in Alice in Wonderland, a game in which “nothing remains stable for very long, because everything is alive and changing.” Robert Kriegel adds, “Not only is everything changing, but everything exists in relationship to something else that is changing." He suggests, "If you or your products don't grow, improve and evolve, as in nature—they (and you) will face extinction.” Faced with this understanding we quite often either freeze and do nothing or go into a frenzy and begin to change everything.
Certainly, change must become a part of our orientation. However, the changes must be calculated changes and not a reaction to perceived pressures or change based on the shallow "new-is-better" mind-set. As part of our ongoing maintenance (and it should be ongoing)—personally and organizationally—we must take a look at what should not be changed (and some things shouldn't) and what might, could or should be changed. Core values don't change, but methods (approaches) often do. If these things are not considered in advance, the tendency will be to make rash and impulsive moves from one ditch to the other when the pressure to change begins to loom over us.
Change has become the mantra for leaders. We often feel the need to move into a situation and shake it up … because then we’re really leading. And if we are not careful we can get into a change for change’s sake mindset. If something doesn’t change we aren’t doing our job. But we must remember that when talking about change in a leadership context, we are talking about changing people—their minds—and situations only indirectly. Leaders change conditions through people.
Sometimes the change we need is to get people to hold on—to stay the course—when they would feel like giving up, changing direction or abandoning the mission. Sometimes the status quo is exactly what is called for and changing people’s minds and perspectives to see that need, is the leader’s task.
Sometimes the change we need may indeed look on the outside, like no change at all. But it is change just the same. Sometimes our yardstick is not how different it looks, but how consistent it is. That takes a lot of changing.
Culture Eats Strategy
You’re so busy grasping technology in one hand and science in the other, you have no hand left to grasp what’s really important. It’s the human spirit, that’s the challenge, that’s the voice, that’s the expedition.Transforming Your Leadership Culture, authors John McGuire and Gary Rhodes write, “Organizational culture holds your organization’s aspirations and the spirit of the place. Its beliefs and values define the organization’s core.” To illustrate how endemic the force of belief is within a culture, they relate the following example:
Mike, a vice president at National Bank, a prestigious financial organization, tells the story of what came out of an all-day meeting of a group of vice presidents at headquarters: “We brought in VPs and directors from all our locations. We needed to use the largest conference room in the building and had to get special permission to do so.”“Change won’t take hold in operations without change in culture to back it up” say McGuire and Rhodes. Understanding organizational culture, why it persists, how to change it, and where that change begins is the subject of their book. What beliefs are undermining your change efforts?
You Can’t Order Change: Making Ethics and Compliance a Clear Competitive AdvantageWhen Jim McNerney became CEO of Boeing in 2005, change wasn’t an option. It was mandated. In 2005 Boeing was facing investigations into illegal business practices, there was the sex scandal, revenue was down, and key people were jumping ship. In short, it wasn’t the place to work.
But even when everyone agrees that change is necessary – even vital – it doesn’t come easy. It still has to be approached in a careful and respectful way. You Can’t Order Change, by Peter Cohan, is about how McNerney brought about that change in Boeing. How he cleaned up the mess and changed the culture and revitalized the organization.
Probably the biggest task that faced him was the quagmire created by years of costly ethical problems. He had to settle a lawsuit with the government and create a culture of ethics and compliance. This has to be done by example and system changes that encourage ethical behavior and compliance.
He said in Boeing Frontiers, “I plan to make leadership development a focus across the company because I believe that as we strengthen our leadership capacities, we can have a positive impact on the company's overall performance. As I've said before, better leaders make better companies. And effective leadership, at all levels of an organization, is based on a foundation of trust, integrity and escape-free compliance. As we turn up the gain in leadership-development training, we will embed in it an equal emphasis on how leaders can lead with ethics and integrity.”
Cohan writes that McNerney made sure that ethics wasn’t a passing fad, but a value that had teeth in it. If the leaders of the organization “have not been behaving in a way that’s consistent with Boeing’s values, he expects them to change their behavior. And if they don’t meet McNerney’s expectations, they lose their leadership roles.”
Step one for McNerney, of course, is getting the leaders to act ethically; to set he example. Cohan cites this statement from McNerney:
We also realize it all starts with leadership. If an organization’s leaders don’t model, encourage, expect and reward the right behaviors, why should anyone else in that organization exhibit those behaviors? Companies have to take the hugely important step of driving ethics and compliance through their core leadership and Human Resources processes. This must be … and must be seen to be … a central part of the whole system of training and developing leaders and of the whole process of evaluating and promoting people. This is the key.”Critical also to this change is a system that supports and rewards people for getting results ethically and gets rid of people who don’t. Cohan writes, “McNerney let people know that he wanted them to discuss problems and not bury them.” If people didn’t talk about ethics and compliance, he would bring it up. “Ultimately, McNerney want to avoid surprises about ethical problems that originate at lower levels. I know and you know … that one of the absolute perquisites for success in ethics and compliance is the belief that it is OK for people to question what happens around them.”
McNerney’s methods and approach to change have gotten him dramatic results and they are worth studying.
A Downturn Provides the Ideal Opportunity to Force Hard ChoicesLondon Business School professor Donald Sull writes in today’s Financial Times that we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by the economic downturn:
Major change efforts are difficult in the best of times, and many executives worry that a downturn will halt future progress or reverse any gains made to date. Indeed, in a downturn, managers too often scurry from fighting one fire to the next and thereby lose sight of the longer transformation effort.
Maybe What You Need is a Little DisruptionHow Disruption Brought Order, calls it Disruption. Disruption is “breaking with the status quo, refusing given wisdom, and finding unexpected solutions. We believe that the best way to help our clients grow their businesses is most often through strategies that involve rupture.”
In describing marketing campaigns for Nissan (Shift), Adidas (Impossible is Nothing), Apple (Think Different), and others, he shows how Disruption asks the public to see the brand in a new light and thereby refresh, transform and reinvent it. But, it’s not limited to marketing and advertising. It as application to both your business and your thinking.
“If you change nothing within a company you are sure to fail. As you also will if you try to change everything. The key to success lies within your ability to determine the fine line between what must change and what you must not.
Fiona Clancy, the TWBA Disruption Director, summaries it this way:
• Being endlessly curious
• Keeping an open mind
• Looking for new beginnings with larger futures
• Anticipating the future without fully expecting it
• Accelerating change to your clients advantage
• Recognizing patterns of success and building on them
• Being creative ahead of the usual agency creative process (Creative is not a department.)
• Turning intuition into a discipline, but without devaluing intuition
• Gaining stability from going somewhere fast
• Being in control rather than controlling
• Anticipating change rather than defending against it
• Questioning the way things are: imagining the way things could be
Disruption Is Not:
• Change for change’s sake
• Upsetting the client’s organization
• A particular creative style
• Throwing away the past
• Being deliberately wacky
• Limited to advertising
An Interview With John Kotter on Urgency
John P. Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School, is widely regarded as the world's foremost authority on leadership and change. His is the premier voice on how the best organizations actually "do" change. In his newest work, A Sense of Urgency, Kotter shows what a true sense of urgency in an organization really is, why it is becoming an exceptionally important asset, and how it can be created and sustained within organizations.
LeadingBlog: Behind urgency seems to be this tension between where you often begin—fear—and then moving on from there to something more positive. It seems like the quickest way to engage people’s emotions is through fear and anger. But as you state in your book “fear and anger can kill hope and stop the growth of a true sense of urgency.” Is it realistic to think that fear and/or anger will completely disappear? Or that we would even want it to?
John Kotter: First of all there are ways to grab people without fear and anger. You can move a complacent group out of complacency without the fear and anger; without hitting them on the top of the head or without jumping out of a closet with a gorilla suit on. But having said that, in some situations that can be effective.
The issue is precisely the issue that you raised—some people think that once you’ve got that, you’ve got it. You drive them off their burning platform or whatever with a flaming whip. The reality is it doesn’t work well. Because if you’re trying to get action going—especially if it’s new action and if it’s dealing with an increasingly fast moving world—fear ultimately drives people to be self-protective, they hide underneath their desks so to speak. Fear turns to anger easily because they’re mad that somebody is scaring them to death. Mad people go and look for grenades and guns. None of that helps. And so when you find people who are trying to, for example, drive a group out of complacency into a state of real urgency to where they can start making something happen, if indeed step one is shaking them up in that negative sense, they use that only as kind of a wake-up. It’s a jarring alarm clock that sets a foot out of bed—almost trembling because you wonder if the bomb is going to hit or something. But as quickly as possible they start using methods, if you will, to turn those emotions into a kind of positive determination to deal with the very real problems or sometimes opportunities that they had not been dealing with. It’s possible. If you don’t do it, you just get the fear and anger going and you don’t get anywhere. And worse case, it snaps back at you. You know, the people are so angry they burn down your own castle.
LB: Obviously you can't create an environment where every day is a fire drill. And there is the notion than if everything is urgent then nothing is really urgent. How do you counteract that perception?
JK: Your “everyday is a fire drill” comes close to what I call false urgency; which isn’t urgency. False urgency again is very much driven more by fear and anger than anything else. It’s activity not productivity. It’s racing out of the fire house whether there’s a fire or not. Everyday it’s meeting, meeting, meeting—PowerPoint, PowerPoint, PowerPoint—until we’re all so stressed out and exhausted that who can be urgent about anything. If you’re kind of crawling home with your tongue down and stress level at 10—that’s clearly not what organizations need these days.
Real urgency is at the intellectual level it's a grasp that there are huge opportunities in the hazards out there, not just your department or outside your office but outside the organization. And more importantly its that kind of emotional, gut-level determination that you’re going to grab stuff and win and do it now. It’s kind of “I’m going to get up every single day and on these very real, big issues that are out there, (not some trivial little junk that surrounds my political arena) I’m going to accomplish something today and make us collectively win.” And that leads just naturally to a hyper alert behavior. It leads to just faster movement. It leads people because they care so much about winning and doing it now, that if they start becoming overloaded they don’t just stress out and pass out—they care too much. They know that that isn’t going to accomplish anything so they start looking at their agendas and getting rid of the junk that clogs almost all of our appointment calendars or delegating it (if they are in senior positions) so they’ve got the time to deal with it without being exhausted. If you are really determined to make an organization win there is no way you going to win by playing parochial politics—it might help your career a little bit (and some people of course, do that) but essentially … urgency is a win
For example, my Celtics who happened to win, as we all know, the NBA championship this year. The announcers were relentless in the last game saying that the critical key was that the coach was able to get these guys not to think in terms of “Well, the probability is very high with home court advantage that we’re going to pull this off”—forget all that stuff—the idea is for us—big underline us—that there’s no way in the world that we’ll win that championship which people emotionally want, unless we get up every day prepared to win the first quarter and the second quarter and then the third quarter, then the fourth quarter. That’s the mindset. And indeed it worked for the Celtics and it works for companies too. The problem is that most companies don’t have nearly enough of that. And it gets more troublesome as the world changes faster around them.
LB: Well then the intensity varies naturally. As you said, it’s not a fire drill; it’s not reactive so automatically it varies the intensity based on what you can do that day based on the realties of the situation.
JK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And there’s nothing wrong with this mindset to get up and discover that. You’re realistic and the only thing you can do that day that kind of pushes the agenda in some significant way—not trivial way—is what you say at the end of a meeting. It’s basically a five minute little thing in a ten hour day. But you’ve found your five minutes, right? You didn’t just say, “Well there’s nothing I could do today.” And the five minutes is focusing on something that really is important and is helping you collectively win. There are going to be days like that. There are going to be other days where because of the nature of the agenda, who’s around etcetera, etcetera, almost all the day is just pounding away at some critical possibilities for dealing with these big issues. But again, if the emotional set is right—it’s this kind of grinding determination that you just going to make it win. Even in the long day, you obviously come out tired but it is with a fulfilling feeling.
LB: When people perceive that everything around them is changing, is it possible to create a sense of stability and at the same time a sense of urgency?
JK: I think to some degree, you’ve got to have some stability or very few people can handle it. Very few people can live in a tornado. And as it turns out, if you think about it, it’s not hard to do. It’s almost a perceptual thing. Because you could sit down with somebody, for example, who is saying, “This is nuts. We can’t have this much change going on.” So you say, “Alright, let’s think that one through. Let’s be very literal. What time did you get up this morning?” What does that have to do with anything?” “Just bear with me.” “OK, seven o’clock.” “What time did you get up yesterday?” “Well, around seven.” “What time did you get up the day before?” “OK nothing changed. Did you have coffee this morning?” “Yeah, so what?” “Did you have coffee yesterday morning?” “Yeah, so what?” “Nothing changed.” You can play this game—and I don’t mean a game. A game sounds negative. What you’ll describe, is for most of us, the vast majority of things we do, we did yesterday, the day before and the day before that. In other words, there’s a great stability in all of our lives. But when things start to change on a certain dimension it feels as if we’re in a tornado. And if you can help people to realize that no we’re not floating in air getting ready to be slammed into a wall. As a matter of fact this building hasn’t changed, we still walk from room to room, we’re in a very stable situation. In many, many ways it just that on a few dimensions we’re changing a lot more than we did in the past. The world it feels like “Whoa!” Stability is important, but to some degree it is a perceptual thing.
And by the way, the vast majority of things we do aren’t different. I think a lot of it is the rate of change issue. We’re used to the rate of change being x then all of a sudden it’s 4x. The body kind of likes equilibrium and so it kind of goes “Whoa!” And if you can calm it down by pointing out what’s happening. Relax. It’s mostly fable. We can handle this. We can handle this little bit of change. It just feels wild.
You can’t just give the two-minute speech I gave you and think that everything is going to be fine. But there is a way to help people to appreciate that reality that I’ve described very tersely.
LB: You keep expressing it.
JK: Yes, a lot of these things, it’s saying it again and again. You say it in a different way, and you say it again at another time, and after a while it starts to sink in.
How to Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency
What Do You Mean “Urgent Patience”?
What Do You Mean “Urgent Patience”?
An article in the September 2008 Portfolio magazine under the title Speed Kills, reports that “when Carlos Ghosn took over as CEO of Renault, he instituted a tough turnaround plan to save the company. Since then, seven workers have attempted suicide, and five have succeeded – one leaving a note that mentioned Ghosn by name.” As they admit, it may be a statistical anomaly, but it leads me to a caution that John Kotter describes in his book, A Sense of Urgency. It's termed Urgent Patience. He explains:
Because true urgency has this strong element of now, it can be easy to forget the time frame into which large changes and achievements fit. Behaving urgently to help create great twenty-first-century organizations demands patience, too, because great accomplishments—not just the activity associated with false urgency—can require years. The right attitude might be called “urgent patience.” That might sound like a self-contradictory term. It’s not. It means acting each day with a sense of urgency but having a realistic view of time. It means recognizing that five years may be needed to attain important and ambitious goals, and yet coming to work each day committed to finding every opportunity to make progress toward those goals. “Urgent patience” captures in two words a feeling and set of actions that are never seen with a false sense of urgency.
How to Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency
Leadership and change expert John Kotter finds that the number one problem organizations face when trying to execute change is creating a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, that is the first step in a series of actions needed to succeed in bringing about change.
In a time when the rate and type of change is increasing exponentially, organizations (and individuals) can not afford to get (or remain) complacent. In A Sense of Urgency, Kotter states that a true sense of urgency is rare mainly because “it is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.” More often than not, what passes as urgency is more likely a false urgency that he describes as the “unproductive flurry of behavior” built on “a platform of anxiety and anger.” True urgency is different. Is understood by the head (intellectually) but driven by the heart (emotions). It is externally focused and expressed in daily behaviors that move relentlessly toward the target, ever alert to changing conditions and weeding out superfluous activity.
Kotter offers four tactics to establish a sense of urgency in any environment:
First, bring the outside in. A “we know best” culture reduces urgency. “When people do not see external opportunities or hazards, complacency grows…. With an insufficient sense of urgency, people don’t tend to look hard enough or can’t seem to find the time to look hard enough. Or they look and do not believe their eyes, or do not wish to believe their eyes. Even if seen correctly, and in time, external change demands internal change.”
The second tactic is to behave with urgency every day. “Increasingly changing environments create a need for alertness and agility, which demands a sense of urgency that must be modeled by the boss all the time.” A few of the behaviors he details: purge and delegate, speak with passion, walk the talk.
Third, find opportunity in crises. A problem with a damage control mind-set is often eliminates an opportunity. A properly leveraged crisis can be a valuable tool to break through complacency.
And fourth, deal with the NoNos – those people that are “always ready with ten reasons why the current situation is fine, why the problems and challenges others see don’t exist, or why you need more data before acting.”
Kotter provides many examples made helpful by his insight. He extracts tips and behaviors that will guide you to developing a culture of urgency in you organization (and life).
Leading Change: Our Iceberg is Melting
Video Interview with John Kotter on The Importance of Urgency
Newswire: July 14, 2008 Facilitating Organizational Change
How To Have Just Enough AnxietyJust Enough Anxiety, he writes, “It goes something like this: Change and uncertainty make me anxious. Anxiety is bad, a sign of weakness. Therefore, I have to avoid change and uncertainty. I have to do whatever I can to avoid anxiety.”
Balance comes from a right attitude and a proper perspective. Dealing with anxiety is no different.
The success of great leaders is all about creating the right level of anxiety for growth and performance. It is their uncommon ability to create just enough tension—within themselves and their organizations—that unleashes the human energy that drives powerful leadership, accelerated growth, and winning companies.What’s wrong with having too much or too little anxiety?
RR: Too much anxiety comes from negative thinking. When we feel too much anxiety, we attack change. We become combative or controlling as we try to ease the pain we feel. Too little anxiety is grounded in contentment. When we feel too little anxiety, we avoid change. We value the status quo and believe everything will be okay as long as everything stays the same. If your company is going through tough times like a bad economy or a merger, you definitely don’t want too little anxiety.
What exactly is “just enough anxiety”?
RR: The right level of anxiety gives individuals and organizations an emotional charge that helps us thrive in an uncertain world. As we allow ourselves to experience anxiety as our natural response to change, and learn to modulate it, we’re able to live in the world as it is instead of struggling to make it what we want it to be. And as we get better at living with just enough anxiety, it becomes the energy that drives us forward, stretches us, and challenges us to be better tomorrow than we are today.
How can leaders manage anxiety instead of letting it manage them?
RR: It starts with self awareness. Leaders who understand what makes them anxious are better able to increase or decrease their anxiety, as needed to create just enough. But, more than that, it has to do with how they relate to change and uncertainty. By admitting what they can and can’t control, they’re able to take charge of their lives while remaining open to the unexpected. They’re at home in uncharted territory. Instead of seeing anxiety as the enemy, they recognize it as their natural companion on the path of change.
Rosen has placed on his web site a questionnaire to help you determine if you are a Just Enough Anxiety Leader.
Download a PDF of chapter 1: It's Time To Evolve
Insultants WantedThe Breakthrough Company, calls these straight-shooters insultants (inside consultants). He describes them as those people “willing to ask the tough questions that cause a company to think critically about its fundamental assumptions. The value of insultants is that they will go to great lengths to get their companies to reevaluate a position or adapt to a changing environment.”
If you think that you welcome these people, think again. A survey showed that while 90 percent of CEOs believed that their companies regularly implemented ideas that the CEO initially didn’t like, only 60 percent of their direct reports agreed.
McFarland reports that people tend to differ to authority and rank because they feel that they must know better. “But often authority figures are wrong, and if an organization doesn’t have a strong insultant culture, errors are likely to be propagated throughout the company.”
If you feel you are an insultant, don't think you begin by charging in like a bull in a china shop. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. You are trying to make the leader successful, not trying to show how smart you are or place the spotlight on yourself. Good insultants must learn to excel at relationships based on genuine care for others. McFarland offers these tips that one would do well to heed:
Top-Down ChangeThe following comment was made regarding John Kotter’s book Our Iceberg Is Melting and the 8-steps for leading change presented in it:
”I've always interpreted John Kotter's 8 Step Change Framework as top-down. And since most top-down change fails, I've been wary of the 8 Steps.”Top-down change doesn’t fail because it is top-down. Top-down change fails – as does any kind of change – when it is not implemented properly. Hence, the need for Kotter’s eight-step change framework. “Top-Down” isn’t the problem. We need not be so afraid of it. Top-down hierarchies or approaches are common and natural in most efforts humans undertake to organize themselves. Top-down hierarchies unfortunately and incorrectly are often equated with authoritarianism. This is understandable. To be fair, it is common to find people at the top of these organizations that let their human nature get the best of them and become controlling, dictatorial or just in general, inappropriate in their relationships with those under them. But it doesn’t make the organizational concept itself bad – just poorly executed. This isn’t a structure problem, but a human one. We need leaders that are humbled by their role and not taken by it.
Certainly, change can be initiated from anywhere in an organization. A good leader knows that good ideas can be found at all layers of any organization and actively seeks them out. However, no matter who you are, when seeking to make a change, it should be remembered, that if those at the top of an organization, the leader of any group, or the designated decision maker(s), don’t see the value of the change and commit to it, the change will fail regardless of the perceived structure or where it is coming from—up or down. Even “leaderless” organizations (an authority-disguising term itself) have structure and levels of authority even if temporary or shifting.
Change happens when someone commits to a new way of doing things and leads others to do the same. There are processes, like Kotter’s 8-step program, that help one to do that. The principles apply whether one is leading top-down, up, or even among a group of friends.
Wherever you find yourself in a hierarchy, your change initiative must be communicated properly for others to receive it or act upon it. Kotter’s first step is to take the issue to the right people. At that moment you are in the driver’s seat.
Leading Change: Our Iceberg is Melting
It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen
How to Change Anything
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.The authors of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything claim that they can show you how to change anything. Well, nearly everything. They suggest that most of the time we cop out. We comfort ourselves with the Serenity Prayer and move on. Maybe it’s not the courage we lack but the skills to change the things we can.
What that means is, if you want to effect change, then while casting a vision is important (that is, what you want people to achieve), what you need to focus on is behaviors—what you specifically want people to do. If you determine the foundational behaviors upon which everything you want changed stands, and change those things, then everything else changes with it.
Here are some points to consider:
Influencer presents a model that organizes influence in to 6 general strategies and clearly explains how to make use of these strategies in your own change issues.
They write, “Ineffective influencers compensate for their weak influence repertories by putting a megaphone to the one source they’ve already put into place.” If you feel you have to turn up the volume to get people to listen, it’s not them it’s you. Work on your strategy. This book will show you how.
Influencer is brought to you by the same group that produced such great books as Crucial Confrontations and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.
When is it Time to Move On?Managing Change is a one in a series of books from the Harvard Business School Press, that presents interviews with top leaders from various fields. In chapter 12 is one such interview with CEO of GenSpring Family Offices (formerly Asset Management Advisors), Maria E. "Mel" Lagomasino.
Faced with a new merger that would change the culture of the organization, Lagomasino, then chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Private Bank, had to make a tough decision to step down at the top of her game and move on. Here are some of her thoughts on the process:
This is the toughest lesson, I think; after you devote yourself to a company and to a lifelong career, and you’ve been very successful—as I have been lucky enough to be—to be able to say, “We’ve come to the point where you need to step down.” This is the time when you have to know when to fold them.
You Can ChangeWhen we take personality tests we need to understand that they are snapshots not indictments. They are a point to grow from. It’s easy to confuse behavior and personality. Personality is reflected in behavior. But, behavior can be changed. One may be especially competitive. However, one need not be boorish or rude.
In a recent TeleForum presented by LeadingNews, Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, stated that personality testing can lead to stereotyping. To say my personality type is this and is unchangeable is wrong thinking. Executive coaches that believe that people can change are much more effective than executive coaches that do not believe people can change. This may seem like a “Duh!” moment, but it is surprising how many people talk about personality testing as though people cannot change. If you don’t believe people can change, coaching is the wrong business for you to be in.
Goldsmith commented on a common misconception surrounding the new emphasis we now see being placed in the build-on-your-strengths movement. The idea of building on your strengths is an effective life strategy but not an excuse. He stated:
The build-on-your-strengths idea makes total sense when it’s at the level of the occupation. For example, Tiger Woods should be a golfer, not a stand-up comedian. He’s building on his strengths becoming a golfer and he shouldn’t be a stand-up comedian. On the other hand, I think what happens on the build-on-your-strengths stuff, is people misinterpret it. So they would say, “Well, Tiger Woods is a great driver, so he doesn’t have to worry about putting. He can ignore his putting.” He really cannot ignore his putting. It’s part of his job. If you’re a leader and you’re great at strategy but terrible with people, you can’t just sit there; if your CEO, and say, “It doesn’t matter.” It does matter. It all matters. You can’t sit there an ignore part of your job and say “I’m not good at that therefore I have an excuse to ignore it.” All that does is reinforce a useless stereotype.While most advocates of build-on-your-strengths do not encourage that, Goldsmith is right. The idea is often misinterpreted. We must build on our strengths and minimize activities that call upon our weaknesses, but our weaknesses have to be dealt with. And that requires some behavior modification. Too often it can be taken an excuse to do-your-own-thing and not a position to grow and learn from. We can’t let ourselves fall into the trap of saying, “That’s just the way I am” because it’s hard to change. It may be the way you are, but you can be better. You can grow if you decide to. As a leader you have an obligation to.
Mark Sanborn said in a recent interview that he thinks most of us “sell ourselves short in terms of the impact that we can have in the world or in the marketplace, or in our homes and communities. We all have the opportunity, and maybe to a degree, an obligation, to take whatever talents we've been given and develop them to the fullest, so that we can more positively benefit and contribute to others.”
Rick Warren: 5 Steps to Leading Change
In a Christianity Today Leadership Journal interview with Rick Warren, he made some observations about renewal and change that apply to any organization (and really individual change as well). He has found that we go through five renewals and typically in the following order:
1. Personal Renewal This gets at a renewal of the heart—knowing yourself and getting your values, priorities and purpose straight. The first step of any leader is to first get themselves right. Of course, this is a lifelong cyclical process. You never get it right and move on. It should happen concurrently with everything else you do in your life.
2. Relational Renewal Warren says, “It’s loving your neighbor as yourself.” A leader can’t lead unless they has a solid, honest relationship with their people. Getting your attitude right about other people—how you value and respect others—is foundational to effectively leading others. It comes out in many ways and will affect how people react to your message.
3. Purpose Renewal What am I supposed to be doing? Where are we going? We are not here just for ourselves. “We have work to do.”
4. Structural Renewal Warren says, “You can’t put new wine in old wine skins. I once asked Peter Drucker, who was my mentor for over 20 years, ‘How often do you have to change the structure in a rapidly growing organization?’ He said about every 40 percent growth. (Now, since that time, I’ve heard him use two other numbers, so I think he was just making it up.) But the point is that structural renewal happens pretty often.” To sustain change you need to structure everything you do so as to guide your behavior to be in alignment with your values, attitudes about other people, and you purpose; why you do what you do.
5. Cultural Renewal The first four renewals eventually become the catalyst to make the change or renewal part of our thinking and thus our behavior. We become what we say we are.
History Speaks on Change and InnovationThe legendary historians Will and Ariel Durant distilled the lessons of thousands of years of history to give us this balanced conclusion regarding change:
Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace.
No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.
So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it—perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race. It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old; out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.
Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the old. How do you know when to embrace the new?
Breaking Old HabitsAdhocracy—any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results—that we have created organizations that are resistant to change. He writes:
We’re controlled by ideas and norms that have outlived their usefulness, that are only ghosts but have as much influence on our behavior as they would if they were alive.He suggests four ways to help us break out of our comfort zones:
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Bill Gates on Turning Caring Into Action
On June 7th, Bill Gates returned to Harvard to finally collect his degree — an honorary doctorate — and to speak to the graduates about turning caring into action. He said that often we don’t do anything about inequities and problems we see in the world, not because we don’t care but because we don’t know what to do. "We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. We also can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes. If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world." Below are some edited excerpts from that speech. You can get the full text at the Harvard University Gazette or watch the video presentation (1hr 50 min in on a 2hr 26min video).
The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.
5 Leadership Lessons: Getting Unstuck
Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler is an interesting look at a chronic human problem: not being able to see the forest for the trees. There are times when we get stuck and find ourselves stewing in our own juices.
Our stuck feeling comes from our inability to get our thinking moving again. Sometimes we get hit so hard that it is hard to get our mind off of the point of impact and instead focus on our response. The decision to get on with it, frees us to rally our resources and broaden our repertoire of responses. We will, with the proper outlook, grow to a higher capacity to handle the next crisis that life throws at us.
Bulter offers these thoughts:
“When we are at am impasse, we often cannot even sense this flow [the connection we feel to the energy in our life] — or to see how close we are to a dynamic dislodging that would place us back into the energy of the moving current….When we have run aground, we sometimes fail to realize that his is a necessary crisis; without it we cannot grow, change, and — eventually — live more fully in a larger world.”
“Self-images often seem to have lives of their own, separate from our daily reality, and they exert a powerful presence that affects decisions and distorts perceptions. These distortions lead us away from the ability to pursue the work and the relationship that hold the greatest promise for fulfillment.” These self-images keep us suck.
“The problem with any mental model is that it is always operating on information from the past. In contrast, true vision is never an arrangement or rearrangement of solutions that have worked in previous circumstances, but springs from the immediacy of today….Life is always breaking our mental model…A life shock momentarily awakens something I us, and for a moment we are fully alive, with no model at all. We all want this, to be touched directly by life itself.”
“When we are at an impasse, we need new information, especially information about what is missing rather than a summary of what is already there.”
Getting unstuck ultimately comes down to a choice. Our lives do not change without action. “The only way forward is to bring our whole person into the tension of the choice. The temptation when experiencing the tensions of a difficult choice is to seek a quick compromise, to find some middle ground that seems to offer some of the best of the conflicting pole. This rarely works and rarely satisfies.”
Butler offers some practical ways to get ourselves thinking again through practicing free attention and some healthy ways of looking at crisis in our life. His One Hundred Jobs Exercise presented in this book, is aimed at helping us to reexamine our outmoded mental models and identify essential work and life themes that will bring us back to our place (authentic) where we can offer our contribution.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Adaptive ChangeWhen trying to bring about a solution that requires adaptive change—a change in frame-of-reference, a change in attitudes, values and behaviors—the challenge “is to work with differences, passions, and conflicts in a way that diminishes their destructive potential and constructively harness their energy.”
In Leadership on the Line, authors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky explain, “To sustain momentum through a period of difficult change, you have to find ways to remind people of the orienting value—the positive vision—that makes the current angst worthwhile.”
“As you catalyze change, you can help ensure that you do not become a lightning rod for the conflict by making the vision more tangible, reminding people of the values they are fighting for, and showing them how the future might look. By answering, in every possible way, the “why” question, you increase people’s willingness to endure the hardships that come with the journey to a better place.”
This what Martin Luther King Jr.’s accomplished in his famous I Have a Dream speech. He painted a tangible vision when he said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
Interestingly enough, the civil rights speakers who were to speak on that day—August 28, 1963—argued amongst themselves who would speak when and for how long. King had agreed to not only speak at the end of the day, but to limit his remarks to four minutes. This would seem to have had the effect of virtually sidelining King as it was assumed that the newsmen would have to leave to prepare for the nightly news and the crowd would have thin out by then. However, the news crews and the crowds stuck around to hear King. His well-rehearsed but improvised words captivated everyone present. His four-minute limit stretched to over 16 minutes and the rest is history.
Sir John Harvey-Jones on Change
John Harvey-Jones became the legendary Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1982 and was knighted in 1985. His leadership has made him one of the most admired business leaders in the world. In his memoirs he wrote the following on change:
“The reality of change is inescapable. If we do not change the inexorable forces of economics [then] shifts in the external world will force a change upon us. One might say, under such circumstances, how much better to change before we are changed. But in real life this historical perspective is very difficult to appreciate, and we find most change uncomfortable. We cling to sets of values and conditions which we recognize and which are undemanding of our own commitment and effort. It is a fool’s paradise, just as much as the hope that somehow one can get away from civilization, or that one can put the clock back. One cannot, and indeed one should not, because while it is foolish to throw away the past, it is the future that we can affect. The ability to create and manage the future in the way that we wish is what differentiates the good manager from the bad.”
Robert Redford has focused considerable energy at bringing about change on issues that are important to him. Common sense or emotional intelligence will tell you that the best way to change things is not to charge in. You can be results-driven with out being a bull-in-a-china-shop. Consistent with what we have seen recently in Maxwell’s The 360 Degree Leader and Sanborn’s You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader, change can begin at any level.
In a Harvard Business Review article, Turning an Industry Inside Out: A Conversation with Robert Redford, he notes two approaches to change in an organization or industry: top-down and bottom-up. The former is the more difficult and the latter takes longer and requires considerable skill and patience. Some lessons he has learned over the last 20 years:
Carly Fiorina On Leading Change
Recounting her days at Lucent, Carly Fiorina writes in Tough Choices about the challenge of bringing about organizational change:
As is true whenever a new leader issues a challenge, a critical mass of the old-timers must rise to that challenge. If this fails to happen, the new leader is simply ignored. People who’ve never operated in large, complex companies are often surprised to learn that even a change agent with title and position can be effectively rendered powerless by people’s collective decision to maintain the status quo. A boss can hire and fire. A boss can reallocate people and money. A boss can measure and reward. A boss can threaten or inspire. Each of these actions and decisions will be analyzed and interpreted by an organization. Some interpretations will motivate change. But no boss, even a president or a CEO, can order people to change. No boss can force people to behave differently. People operate based on their own free will. They will make their own decisions, and in big companies those decisions are easy to hide.
Leading Change: Our Iceberg is MeltingHarvard Business School's leadership and change guru, John Kotter, has created a very useful and accessible fable for change. Our Iceberg Is Melting will appeal to people at all levels of an organization. The lessons you can draw from this book will serve you well on the job, in your family and in your community.
There is really no organization that it not faced with a changing situation. Technology and globalization are perhaps the biggest issues impacting most organizations today. The difficulties that loom for creating that change can be intimidating. Kotter weaves an eight-step process for successful change through the story. These steps can help you get your mind around the change process.
SET THE STAGE:
1. Create a sense of urgency. (not panic) “Problem. What Problem?” Take the issue to the right people.
DECIDE WHAT TO DO:
3. Develop the vision and change strategy. Change to what? Too many change initiatives might indicate that you haven’t done this step well. You’ll get change burnout and more resistance.
MAKE IT HAPPEN:
4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in.The book helps you to see change differently. The importance of emotions in the change process is emphasized. As recent discoveries about the brain have affirmed, the emotional side of how change happens can have a great impact on a successful change initiative. This is a great story and sure to generate discussion ... and change! Check it out.
The Tripping Point
Successful people lose more than the average person because they keep trying. Yet it often only takes one success to outweigh the many failures. A successful person takes smart risks. Persistence and the ability to deal with disappointment and often rejection are key characteristics for the successful person.
In an upcoming book, Success Built to Last by authors Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson, they call the inevitable stumbles or failures on the way to success, tripping points. It is these tripping points that successful people “harvest.” “Success people “think of both success and failure as feedback. The question is not whether they won or lost this round, but what they will do with the feedback.”
They explain, “The bad news is that even when you’re doing your best, if you fail at any point, you’ll get harsh reviews. Think of the last time you got good press for bad news. … For much of the journey, innovation is hard work rewarded by bad headlines.
“This is just one more reason why people hide out from pursuing their full potential to follow their dreams and serve the world. Enduringly successful people aren’t immune. They just tolerate risks, feel the fear, take the brickbats, learn from failure, and do what matters to them anyway.”
Failures are inevitable. After you deal with them you must refocus your vision, learn from the failure and make new mistakes. The important thing is to keep moving forward. Successful people “become more resolute after losing a battle they believe in because they learn from the loss—it gives them a better idea of what matters, what works, and what doesn’t."
The book is an excellent survey of how enduringly successful people have made success happen. It will be released September 12 and can be preordered now. There are a lot of great nuggets in here worth taking a look at. We’ll look a few more of them in the days ahead.
The Neuroscience of LeadershipCreating change and making
it stick is the job of leaders. Making that happen is the trick. Change in an organization happens of course, behaviorally on an individual basis. But changing behavior is hard, even for individuals, and even when new habits can mean the difference between life and death. In many studies of patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only one in nine people, on average, adopts healthier day-to-day habits.
David Rock, author of Quiet Leadership and Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles report in Strategy+Business that scientists have "gained a new, far more accurate view of human nature and behavior change because of the integration of psychology (the study of the human mind and human behavior) and neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain). As a result, researchers have found hitherto unseen neural connections in the living human brain. Advanced computer analysis of these connections has helped researchers develop an increasing body of theoretical work linking the brain (the physical organ) with the mind (the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts, and perceives)."
Several conclusions about organizational change can be drawn from the research that make the art and craft of management far more effective:
Here is the pivotal finding with important implications:
Concentrating attention on your mental experience, whether a thought, an insight, a picture in your mind’s eye, or a fear, maintains the brain state arising in association with that experience. Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain’s structure.
What does this mean on a practical level? The effect lasting change then focusing on the problem only ingrains it in the mind. Based on what we know now the focus should be on the new behavior. The process begins by painting a broad picture of the goal, without specifically identifying the changes that individuals will need to make. Then the leader should help his team to picture the new behaviors in their own minds, and in the process develop energizing new mental maps that have the potential to become hardwired circuitry. The leader would then get their team to focus their attention on their own insights, by facilitating discussions and activities that point toward the goal. After that, the job would be to regularly provide “gentle reminders” so that the new behavioral maps become the dominant pathways along which information, ideas, and energy flow. The leader also needs to catch the team when they get sidetracked and gently bring them back. The power truly is in the focus, and in the attention that is paid.
Perhaps you are thinking, “This all sounds too easy. Is the answer to all the challenges of change just to focus people on solutions instead of problems, let them come to their own answers, and keep them focused on their insights?” Apparently, that’s what the brain wants. And some of the most successful management change practices have this type of principle ingrained in them.
As Peter F. Drucker said, “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” In the knowledge economy, where people are being paid to think, and with constant change, there is more pressure than ever to improve how we learn. Perhaps these findings about the brain can start to pull back the curtain on a new world of productivity improvement: in our ability to bring about positive, lasting change in ourselves, in our families, in our workplaces, and in society itself.
Luc de Brabandere's The Forgotten Half of Change: Achieving Greater Creativity through Changes in Perception is also good in this regard.
"If it ain't broke..." Thinking Leads Nowhere
Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Evolve!/2001) likens the constant change happening today to the croquet game in Alice in Wonderland, a game in which “nothing remains stable for very long, because everything is alive and changing.” Robert Kriegel adds, “Not only is everything changing, but everything exists in relationship to something else that is changing." He suggests, "If you or your products don't grow, improve and evolve, as in nature—they (and you) will face extinction.” Faced with this understanding we quite often either freeze and do nothing or get into a frenzy and begin to change everything.
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