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LeadershipNow 140: March 2014 Compilation


twitter Here are a selection of tweets from March 2014 that you might have missed:
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:04 PM
| Comments (0) | LeadershipNow 140


Asking a More Beautiful Question

If our questions are so unimaginative and predictable that Google can guess what we’re asking before we’re even three words in, says Warren Berger, then we aren’t asking the right questions.

“It’s the questions Google cannot easily anticipate or even answer that we should be asking. Asking the right questions helps us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to achieve our goals.”

We are drowning in answers. What we need today are good questions. In times of great change, doubt is the norm, so good questions, not answers, have the edge. John Seely Brown says, “If you don’t have a disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things—then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

Beautiful Question
In A More Beautiful Question, Berger shows how the most powerful forces for igniting change is the question. Example after example demonstrate how often off-beat “why” questions were at the foundation of many innovations. But he cautions, “Just asking why without taking any action may be the source of stimulating thought or conversation, but it is not likely to produce change.” He suggests the following sequence: Why? What If? and How? It brings some order to an otherwise chaotic an unpredictable process.

We must even question the questions. Neurologist Robert Burton says we should step back and inquire, “Why did I come up with that question? Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Finding that one big beautiful question for you is not easy. It is a process—a way of looking at life. “You don’t have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say, I’m going to venture forth in the word with my question and see what I find. As you do this, you’re in a strong position to build ideas and attract support. Because, whereas people are more likely to ignore or challenge you when you come at them with answers, they almost can’t resist advising or helping you to answer a great question.

Live the questions.

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(A More Beautiful Question has more than enough examples of questions that led to great ideas to fire up your brain. Interestingly enough, in place of a standard index, he has an Index of Questions.)

• Why do kids ask so many questions—and more importantly, why do they stop? (p.39-70)
• Considering that today’s schools were built on an industrial model, is it possible they were actually designed to squelch questioning? (p. 4-60)
• Should businesses replace mission statements with “mission questions”? (p. 162-165)
• How do the most innovative companies foster a “culture of inquiry”—and how can any business or organization do likewise? (165-174)
• What has worked for me before—and how can I bring more of that into my life now? (p. 193-194)
• Can I use productive “small failures” as a means of avoiding devastating “big failures”? (p. 199-202)
• Why did George Carlin see things the rest of us missed? (p. 39-40)

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. What is yours?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:43 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


How to Avoid One-Dimensional Thinking

Dead EndWhat undermines far too many leaders is that they don’t want feedback; they don’t like to be or feel they should be questioned. Unfortunately, this position takes them out of “leading” and into their own heads. They become focused on their own one-dimensional thoughts and agenda.

As human beings, we easily deceive ourselves in ways that are completely unknown to us. To lead well we must encourage feedback. In The Moment of Clarity, authors Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen state, “As a leader you cannot be sure that you are always making the right interpretations or know the right path.” They recommend creating a “brain trust” of advisors that in include the following three kinds of people:
  1. Reconfigurators. These people are “great at spotting new opportunities and inspiring the company with fresh ideas.” They have the “ability to sense ideas, insights, and practices that are not on the company’s radar and to redefine them as business opportunities.”
  2. Articulators. These people are “excellent in translating new thinking into the practical, everyday activities of the company.”
  3. Conservators. These people focus on “maintaining the operation of the company.” While these people may be skeptical of too much change, “they are fast at understanding when change is inevitable and will help diffuse the fresh ideas of the reconfigurators to the mainstream of the organization.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:33 PM
| Comments (0) | Teamwork


The Moment of Clarity

In a time of turbulence and uncertainty finding clarity and direction is the job of the leader. To make this happen, authors Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen argue in The Moment of Clarity, we more often than not rely upon traditional, hypothesis driven, quantitative, and linear, decision making. This works well when there is a well-established relationship between cause and effect. But creating and seeing ahead into unchartered territory require a different kind of leadership skill: sensemaking.

While still clear on goals and priorities, sensemaking requires “the ability to lead open-ended discovery, to sense both soft and hard data, to use your judgment skills, to connect the dots, and to see the big picture in a vast ocean of sometimes conflicting data.”
When it comes to cultural shifts, the use of hypothesis based on past examples will give us false sense of confidence, sending us astray into unknown waters with the wrong map.
Sensemaking leaders have three fundamental characteristics:
  1. Sensemakers care deeply about the products and services they make and the meaning that these offerings create for people.
  2. Sensemakers have a strong perspective on their business—a perspective that stretches beyond the current time horizon and the current company boundaries.
  3. Sensemakers are good at connecting different worlds inside the company. An organization should have a diverse set of skills to understand the big idea, translate it into action, and maintain the operation.
The key takeaway from the book is this: getting people right is the key to taking your business out of a fog. We base our business decisions on the assumption that human beings are aware of our decisions and base them on rational thinking and predefined, immutable preferences. When in fact, many of people’s choices are made below their threshold of awareness. Many are based on mood and social interests. Yet we think that “if we only ask the right questions, design the right algorithms, analyze the right data set, then we will truly understand why our consumers behave the way they do.”

Sensemaking provides a way to makes decisions based on understanding people as they are.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Lessons on Team Performance from Elite U.S. Military Units

James Murphy says American business has an execution problem. Why? Because we make things complex. “Complexity is the mortal enemy of good execution.” We tend to combat complexity with even more complexity. Simplicity is the SEALs answer to a complex world.

In Courage to Execute, Murphy walks us through a simple process used by America’s elite military units that will improve an organization’s ability to execute and achieve goals. “Their courage, confidence, and capabilities stem from a relentless, time-proven process of conditioning, training, planning, executing, and improving.”

Soldiers morph into Rangers—individuals into teams—when they get a sense of who they are and what they’re a part of. “Together, the army’s core values and the Ranger Creed create a unique organizational identity that breeds unit and trust. This is the glue that holds everything together.” Successful organizations are able to focus and execute according to purpose. “Principles are like cardinal rules so important to you organization that they should never be broken. They are things you always do or never do. They are your guardrails.”

To align everyone in your organization create and pursue a common high definition destination. “Think exclusively in high definition and create a specific, detailed, granular, crystal-clear picture of what you’ll look like and how you’ll be operating when your organization reaches its intended future destination.” Keep in mind, “General ideas lead to general execution, and that get’s sloppy.”

When you plan your “mission” ask, is it clear? Is it measureable? Is it achievable? Does it align with your high definition destination? Every plan should be run by a red-team. “Red teams play the role of adversary.” They “identify potential risks, holes, or contingencies that the original group may have overlooked.”

Once you begin to execute, “never let yourself or your team lose sight of where you are relative to your objective and your threats.” Utilize checklists and cross-checks to help avoid task saturation. The moment you have too much to do or resources to do it, you lose focus on the most important thing. “When people become task saturated, they either quit, compartmentalize, or channel. In each case, their performance deteriorates rapidly. Quitters stop working or stop being productive. Those who compartmentalize appear busy but focus on tasks that accomplish little. Most of us, however, channel our focus onto one thing and ignore the rest. None of these behaviors lead to a good outcome.”

Murphy says debriefing is the essence of teamwork. “Organizations that don’t debrief often equate failure with retribution or negative consequences.” (And often for good reason.) But it is an opportunity to improve and to see if something systemic might have caused the problem. Murphy advocates the STEALTH debrief: Set the time, Tone, Execution versus objectives, Analyze execution, Lessons learned, Transfer lessons learned and end on a High note.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:30 PM
| Comments (0) | Teamwork


Quick and Nimble: A Leadership Companion

Adam Bryant has put together a great leadership companion with Quick and Nimble. There’s great advice on a wide range of leadership issues from Why Culture Matters to Alone at the Top. Here are several:

Why Culture Matters: A successful culture is like a green house where people and ideas can flourish—where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better way to serve customers.

A Simple Plan: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the thirteen thousand people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.” (David Barger, the CEO of JetBlue)

“We’re not a transparent culture so that we can be cool and it’s not about an open environment, because that’s not what makes a company transparent. It’s more around the fact that everyone needs to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. So we want everyone to understand our objectives and make that available to everyone as we’re evolving, so that people aren’t guessing and they’re not internally focused, because that’s one of the obstacles that a lot of companies fall into.” (Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics)

Rules of the Road: “Ideas can come from anywhere. There are no titles around an idea. As the CEO, I’m the chief editor of the company, but I want the idea to come from anybody. There’s no bureaucracy around an idea. In fact, bureaucracy around an idea is the death of an organization. I tell people all the time: If you have a great idea, and you’re passionate about it, and it makes sense, and you can’t get your boss to hear your idea, then you should leave. That’s not an organization that you’re going to thrive in.” (Steve Stoute, Translation LLC and Carol’s Daughter)

A Little Respect: “By definition if there’s leadership, it means there are followers, and you’re only as good as your followers. I believe the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold in them. It’s not how much they respect you that is most important. It’s actually how much you respect them. It’s everything.” (Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO DreamWorks Animation)

Play it Again and Again: “No matter how smart the people are that you are communicating to, the more of them there are, the dumber the collective gets. As the audience gets bigger and bigger, the bullet-point list has to be shorter and shorter, and the messages have to be simpler and simpler.” (Marcus Ryu, Guidewire)

Surfacing Problems: “I always ask, ‘Tell me one thing you really like about the company and one thing that frustrates you about the company.’ I always come out with at least one thing that is eye-opening.” (Ken Rees, CEO of Think Finance)

School Never Ends: “It’s about keeping them marketable. I encourage people: ‘Go out and find out what the market bears. You should do that and then come back and help me figure out what you need in your development that you’re not getting, because we owe that to you.’ I’ve been told by my associates that’s a countercultural approach to leadership: ‘You’re telling me to go look for another job?’ But my point is that I should be able to re-recruit them. I should be able to get them convinced that his is the best opportunity for them.” (Linda Heasley, former CEO of The Limited)

Alone at the Top: “Pacing is really important in an organization. I have in the past tended to overestimate the amount of change I can effect in the short run and then not fully appreciate the change I can effect in the long run. And so I’ve learned that it’s critical to think carefully about the pace of change, and it’s something that I’ve learned the hard way. it’s important to manage that carefully, because it’s not just about the pace of change that certain people in the company can manage. It's about the pace of change that the company as a whole can manage. You can push and push and nothing seems to happen, and then suddenly it takes off and you’re sort of running to catch up.” (Harry West, Continuum)

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:48 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


First Look: Leadership Books for March 2014

Here's a look at some of the best leadership books to be released in March.

  Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits by Jeremy Eden and Terri Long
  A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger
  Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
  Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact by Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie
  The Idea-Driven Organization: Unlocking the Power in Bottom-Up Ideas by Alan G Robinson and Dean M Schroeder

Low-Hanging Fruit Beautiful Question Feedback Centered Leadership Idea-Driven Organization

For bulk orders call 1-800-423-8273

discounted books

Build your leadership library with these specials on over 120 titles. All titles are at least 40% off the list price and are available only in limited quantities.

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“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of the past centuries.”
— Descartes

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:23 AM
| Comments (0) | Books



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