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Organizational Health and Performance: Beyond Performance 2.0

Beyond Performance 2

PERHAPS it goes without saying, but a healthy organization will achieve more than an organization that is too sick to support your goals. So, any change effort will be more successful when you focus on both performance and health.

Considering that most change efforts only succeed 30% of the time, Scott Keller and Bill Schaninger (both McKinsey partners) put forth a change model to increase the odds of success (upwards of 79% of the time) in Beyond Performance 2.0.

Successful change efforts are increased when we place equal emphasis on both performance and health-related efforts. The authors define performance as “what an enterprise does to deliver improved results for its stakeholders in financial and operational terms. Health is about the how. “Health is how effectively an organization works together in pursuit of a common goal. A more memorable way to think about health-related actions is that they are those that improve how an organization internally aligns itself, executes with excellence, and renews itself to sustainably achieve performance aspirations in its ever-changing external environment.”

Beyond Performance

An overemphasis on performance often causes a negative impact on organizational health leading to catastrophic failures in performance. We need t look no further than Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” scandal in 2015. Poor organizational health lead to cutting corners and rule-breaking. Samsung’s 2016 Galaxy Note 7 smartphone recall was attributed to its “deeply entrenched culture of urgency.” An equal focus on health would have mitigated these issues.

An emphasis on both performance and health can be mace part of the change process by applying what they call the Five Frames of Performance and Health. The framework revolves around five questions:

  • Aspire. Where do we want to go?
  • Assess. How ready are we to go there?
  • Architect. What must we do to get there?
  • Act. How do we manage the journey?
  • Advance. How do we continue to improve?

Each of these questions is addressed in the framework for performance and health. These are the five frameworks for performance:

  • Aspire: Strategic objectives. Create a compelling long-term change vision, set midterm aspirations along the path, and guard against biases in the process.
  • Assess: Skill-set requirements. Forecast demand for skills and understand skill “supply” dynamics, and then identify how any gaps will be closed.
  • Architect: Bankable plan. Define the portfolio of initiatives to deliver on your strategic objectives and meet your skill requirements; then sequence your actions and reallocate resources accordingly.
  • Act: Ownership model. Establish strong governance, decide how to scale your change initiatives, monitor their progress, and dynamically adjust as plans are implemented.
  • Advance: Learning infrastructure. Institutionalize processes and expertise to enable knowledge sharing, continuous improvement, and continuous learning to characterize the day-to-day workings of the organization going forward.

Here are the five frameworks for health:

  • Aspire: Health goals. Objectively check your organization’s health, choose where to be exceptional, and target areas that need immediate improvement.
  • Assess: Mindset shifts. Pinpoint helping and hindering behaviors for priority health areas, explore the underlying mindset drivers of these behaviors, and name and reframe the critical few “ root-cause” mindsets.
  • Architect: Influence levers. Use four levers to reshape the work environment: role modeling, understanding and conviction, reinforcement mechanisms, and confidence-building efforts. Then ensure that performance initiatives are engineered to promote the necessary mindset and behavioral shifts.
  • Act: Generation of energy. Mobilize influence leaders, make the change personal for a critical mass of leaders, and maintain high-impact, two-way communications.
  • Advance: Leadership placement. Prioritize ongoing roles by their potential to create value, match the most important ones to the best talent, and operationalize the talent match process to ensure it’s regularly revisited.

Beyond Performance

What makes this all work is being intentional about both issues at the same time. They work with each other to bring you lasting change. The better the health of the organization the better your performance, and as your performance improves, it boosts your organizational health. The relationship is dynamic and not linear. As you move forward, plans change, conditions change, and assumptions are challenged. When this happens, you simply go back to, for example, the Assess question, “How ready are we to go there?” and make adjustments as necessary.

An added benefit of this framework is that as you reach your goals, the organization learns and applies those learnings increasing the organization’s capacity for renewal. It moves you out of static thinking and into a learning mindset. And while our environment is continually changing, we have control over organizational health and therefore, can reap the increased adaptability it brings in spite of our circumstances.

Gary Hamel put it well in his forward to our first addition, “Beyond Performance is far more than a guide to leading a successful change program. It’s a manifesto for a new way of thinking about [how] organizations … become, fundamentally, pro-change.” It’s not just about getting ahead; it’s about staying ahead.

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Theory U Our Iceberg is Melting

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:15 AM
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Helping People Change

Helping People Change

MOST OF US want to help people. And typically, we go about it by trying to correct a problem. We focus on what we think they should be doing. Makes sense. To us. But it frequently does not create sustainable change in the other person.

Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten suggest a different approach in Helping People Change. Instead of coaching people for compliance, we should be coaching with compassion.

The conventional view of coaching is that it is an activity where, “based on your experience, expertise, or authority, you advise individuals on what they should do and how they should do it. While there may be time and place for it, this type of coaching for compliance is unlikely to lead to sustained behavioral change.” When people change out of obligation, they often lack the inner motivation they need to sustain that change. For people to changes in ways that stick, that change has to connect with their passion and core values. To do that, you need to coach with compassion.

Coaching with compassion is how we help a person frame the situation or opportunity in the context of who she wants to be as a person and what she would like to achieve in her ideal future. Such broad framing helps the person draw on the inner resources most likely to enable her to learn, change, or grow in the meaningful and sustained ways as she works through that situation, whatever it may be.

The PEA Versus the NEA

Coaching for compliance leads to a defensive response in the person being coached. They shut down and rather than learning or changing, they enter survival mode or what they term the zone of the negative emotional attractor (NEA). This is in contrast to coaching with compassion which elicits positive emotions as it focuses on a vision of a desired future state and strengths rather than weaknesses. This zone is called the positive emotional attractor (PEA). In this state, the person is relaxed and open, and new neural pathways form in the brain “paving the way for new learning, and sustained behavioral change to occur.”

For sustained learning to occur, it is important that coaches manage the emotional flow of the coaching process. This means being able to both read and influence the emotions the person is experiencing. Getting people into a PEA state begins by asking the right questions. Questions that “discover their views of the word, their situation, and how they feel.” “Our mistake is in thinking—often assuming—that we can see what the other person should do to lead to a better life, be more productive, or learn more.” When we focus on the wrong things as a coach, we essentially block change. (Chapter 4 is the game-changer in this regard.)

Three Cornerstones of Coaching

Building a good relationship with the person you are coaching requires the right mindset. “First, believe that individual change is a process, not an event.” Change doesn’t happen overnight. We need to make room for mistakes, feedback, and more practice.

Second, consider your approach to coaching as a chance to mine for gold, not dig for dirt.” We need to connect with people’s strengths and their desired outcomes. At one time, Andrew Carnegie had 43 millionaires working for him. Carnegie was asked, "How did you develop these men to become so valuable to you that you have paid them this much money?" Carnegie replied that people are developed the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold, but one doesn't go into the mine looking for dirt—one goes in looking for the gold.

Third, consider that the agenda for the conversation should come from the person being coached.” While the coach manages the process, “the fundamental reason for the process is to help the other person—not the coach to share his advice or experience.” It means listening more. This quote from gestalt psychotherapist Robert Lee is worth repeating every time we begin to work with others: “Our assumptions and stereotypes create filters for how we hear people. We don’t hear others from the place of who they are. We hear them through the filter of who we think they are.”

When we coach for problem identification and problem-solving—as seems to make the most sense—we risk having the process becoming bogged down in negative emotions. “A problem-focused approach may seem efficient, but it ignores the fact that thinking about and arousing feelings about problems activates the NEA, which in turn can close a person’s imagination to new ideas and possibilities. Recognizing that a problem exists is quite different from spending a lot of time thinking and talking about it.”

This book is invaluable not only for coaches but for leaders of all kinds—managers, parents, health care professionals pastors, and anyone who works with to guide others through life changes. The primary theme stressed throughout this book “is using personal vision to evoke positive emotions—essentially, to begin with the end in mind, thereby setting up the connections in the brain and emotions that will help us pave the road to the desired end.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:44 AM
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Cascades: 6 Principles for Creating Transformational Change


THE NATURE OF POWER has shifted from top-down to the center of networks. Networks are key to understanding how to create transformational change. As Niall Ferguson observed in The Square and the Tower, “Often the biggest changes in history are the achievements of thinly documented, informally organized groups of people.”

In Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, Greg Satell reveals how to start and sustain large-scale change and harness the power of cascades—small groups that are loosely connected but united by a common purpose. It is an insightful book with engaging examples of what has worked and what hasn’t.

Forced change is not sustainable. “The role of leaders,” Satell writes, “is no longer to coerce action, but to inspire and empower belief.”

He begins by explaining how small groups work and why. “Information spreads not through best friends but casual acquaintances.” It’s not connecting with the “influentials” because “change is a matter of networks and not nodes.”

Satell explains the Threshold Model of collective behavior. As we all have different thresholds of conformity based on our on personal characteristics, there are varying thresholds of resistance in any group. For a trigger to spread it would depend on the distribution of resistance thresholds in a group. A person with a 0% threshold would throw the first rock, but if the rest of the group were of a higher resistance threshold, say 40%+, that would be the end of it.

For a cascade to form, you need connections to higher threshold groups. “That’s a challenge because it means that you cannot only seek out the like-minded, you must also bring in the unconvinced, the skeptical, and the oblivious. If the desire to change remains with the zealots, it won’t go anywhere.”

Satell distills from the lessons of history six principles for creating transformative change. He explains how each step “represents a crossroads where you will be tempted to make a point, but if you really want to make change happen, you will have to refocus your efforts on making a difference through building common ground.”

1. Identify a Keystone Change

It starts with a grievance. “Yet to succeed, you must go beyond grievance to identify an affirmative vision for what you would like to be different and then identify a single, fundamental change that will bring that vision about.” For Gandhi it was salt. For Paul O’Neill of Alcoa, it was safety.

The alternative you present must be better not just for the believers but for those outside the early adopter group. Speak to the common values to those outside your group. “The only way to win is to build a bond of trust that supersedes the economics of utility.”

The keystone is critical. It’s not a matter of giving everyone something to create a majority of support. The keystone is a “fundamental issue that encapsulates the value of the mission—a keystone change that is concrete and tangible, unite the efforts of multiple stakeholders, and paves the way for greater change.” For Gandhi, the Salt Law was a grievance shared by everyone, and everyone could easily participate. It was only a matter of time for the dominos to fall.

You must create a clear sense of purpose. “A lack of a clear purpose can hobble one almost before it starts.” The problem with the Occupy movement it that they fell in love with their own slogans and were never able to move past them.

2. Make a Plan

Start with where you want to end up and figure out how to get there. Understand where the resistance comes from and ask how they can be convinced that this change is in their best interest or at least not worth fighting against. Who do you need to win over?

While victory does not require you to win over all of those who resist change, you do need to erode the support of your opposition. …That’s why plans that are focused solely on rallying the faithful are doomed to fail. The only thing you accomplish is to harden the support of those who oppose your vision of change. Nobody wants to lose, but everybody wants a better tomorrow.

But above all, you are clear and everybody knows where you stand. A struggle for change is not a debate. You don’t have to win every argument. What you do need to do is to win support from those who don’t necessarily agree with you from the start.

3. Build a Network of Small Groups

Change does not happen alone. Often a single leader looms large like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King, but they are just part of a deep network of groups that have been built up over time. They were masters of creating networks.

To build a movement, you need a network of small groups linked together by a common purpose. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter didn’t gain traction because “in their quest to upend the establishment, they shunned any ties to existing institutions. Instead of puling in Pillars of Support, they actively pushed them away.” They didn’t allow others to connect to them. This is a key insight:

To gain power, nascent movements must work to position themselves in the center of the networks around them. This has nothing to do with ideology. Many movements, including the struggles for independence in India and South Africa, and more recently, the LGBT movement, took what would once have been considered extreme positions. Yet by continually making new connections, they were able to shift the center of the networks and gain influence.

In a nutshell:

To grow, you have to connect, and the more you connect, the more central you become. The more central you become, the more power you have. And with enough power, you can bring change about.

4. Indoctrinate Genomes of Values

You must stand for something. And these values must be communicated by and lived out through the behavior of the leadership. All adherents to the movement must internalize these values so that they become second nature to them. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to toss them aside and respond inconsistently. “It feels good to reply to a snarky social media post with one that tops it. Yet the second you respond in the moment, you risk all of the work that has come before.”

The following comment as told to Satell by Irving Wladawsky-Berger who retired from IBM in May of 2007, illustrates the need to understand what your value actually is. He recalls:

At IBM we had lost sight of our values. For example, there was a long tradition of IBM executives dressing formally in a suit and tie. Yet that wasn’t a value, it was an early manifestation of a value. In the early days, many of IBM’s customers were banks, so IBM’s salespeople dressed to reflect their customers. So, the value was to be close to customers. Lou [Gerstner] reminded us of that, and we realized that if our customers now wore khakis, it was okay for IBMers to also wear khakis.

How many manifestations of values do we treat as values in our organizations?

5. Create Platforms for Participation, Mobilization, and Connection

A successful movement makes it easy for people to participate. The bar to entry is low. A nonviolent uprising invites more participation. “Unsuccessful movements rally the faithful and demonize those who don’t share their ideas or their commitment. They make their point but fail to make a difference.

Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders political campaign made this mistake. “Instead of reaching out, they seemed to revel in sticking their fingers in the eyes of potential allies, because to them only the most pure of heart belonged. Any deviation from strict doctrine was apostacy. That may rile up the most faithful supporters, but it alienates the rest of the Spectrum of Allies, and by limiting participation, greatly reduces the likelihood of success.”

6. Survive Victory

It is common for change movements to fall apart after the objective has been met. Leaving the battle behind and learning to govern becomes key. “successful movements survive victory by staying true to their values even after the initial triumph.” As Gandhi remarked, we have to be the change.

“It’s always easier to act in the moment or to prioritize an immediate need or desire than it is to sustain discipline and live up to the values you profess to believe in.” (Scott Cochrane provides a great example of that on his blog.)

Maintenance comes after the victory. We must think about what comes next. “We are so focused on beating our opponents into submission that we fail to realize that they will eventually rise up again, learn the lessons of their failure, and return to fight with renewed vigor. That’s why we so often succeed in making our point, but fail to make a difference.”

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Grassroots Change MLK and Adaptive Change

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:07 AM
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How to Use Discomfort to Drive High-Performance

The Coaching Effect

IT SHOULD go without saying that coaching as opposed to just managing people, is the key to developing high-performance organizations and teams. Leaders must be coaches.

Any growth but especially growth leading to high-performance requires a degree of discomfort. It is the job of the coach to maintain a healthy discomfort for those on their team. In The Coaching Effect, Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth have created the Growth Rings model to show why exponential and sustained growth only occurs in a state of discomfort.

Growth Rings

The Growth Rings illustrate differing environments that exist in our world and how they either promote or hinder growth. Each ring encompasses one of four primary environments: Stagnation, Order, Complexity, and Chaos.

These primary environments could represent one’s dorm room, home, place of work, government, sports team, nature, and especially one’s body and mind.

Stagnation is a low-performing or low/no growth environment. “Stagnation is a situation in which people may need to follow too many steps, get someone else’s permission, or deal with minutia that stifles creativity, independent thought, or action.”

Chaos is the opposite of stagnation but is also characterized by low performance and low growth. This can be a temporary state and brought on by external forces. Chaos is characterized by uncertainty and a lack of control.

Order is the state we naturally gravitate to as it is the most comfortable. It is characterized by predictability and while in certain circumstances that can be desirable, it can also be catastrophic. Order doesn’t engender growth.

Complexity creates growth. When you change what you input into an environment, you trigger Complexity. The discomfort introduced by Complexity brings growth. You can’t permanently exist in this state because you need a degree of order. The job of a coach is to how and when to introduce Complexity for individuals and teams.

To define what a coach does, the authors introduced the Coaching Performance Equation:

Relationship + Order + Complexity = Performance

Obviously you introduce Complexity to Order because you want to achieve a certain level of performance. Healthy growth occurs when there is a proper blend of both Order and Complexity. The strength of your Relationships is critical because trust is essential to influencing others. “Relationships provide the foundation that allows coached to create more Order and Complexity, whichever is needed at a given time, in a healthy manner.”

Developing a trusting Relationship allows you to know what creates Order and Complexity for each member on your team, because Order to one may be Complexity to another. And great coaches know what unique buttons to push or levers to pull for each of their team members.

Of all the activities a coach can engage in, the authors found that these four are the most important in terms of obtaining results:

1. One-to-One Meetings: “Proactive, consistent ono-to-one meetings are necessary to generate trust, communication, and accountability with team members.” And probably the most important coaching tool. Certainly, a lack of coaching negatively affects the performance of a team, but so does too much. More is not always better. Their research shows that the best performing coaches had meetings very two or more weeks.

2. Team Meetings: Boring comes to mind. Rather than talking the whole time, this is s a good opportunity to listen and let the team members share ideas with each other. “Team members want information, ideas, and training so they can do their jobs better.”

3. Performance Feedback: Good feedback is a gift. Providing good feedback is a skill that coaches must develop. The foundation of good feedback is trust. It needs to be clear, positive, timely, and specific. Describe rather than evaluate. “If we could offer only one piece of advice to coaches who want to improve their feedback, it would be to ask more questions.”

4. Career-Development Plans: This is often overlooked but one of the most important activities to team members. This is not necessarily about promotions. “Instead, you, your team, and your organization must think of career development as a way to help people grow and develop their skills and experiences for whatever their current and future goals may be.”

You may have noticed that this requires a big time commitment and is probably the main reason most leaders avoid good high-performance coaching. They like the result but don’t feel they can take the time. In many ways it comes down to the fact that we like Order. But introducing good coaching, while it adds Complexity, brings desired results more than anything else a leader could do.

The authors begin the book by asking, what does it feel like to be coached by you? They conclude by asking, what should it feel like to be coached by you?

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Leader as Coach 7 Coaching Skills

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Return On Courage

Return On Courage

COURAGE is what gets you from here to there. But it’s not courage or risk. It’s courage and risk. They work together. “Those who are risk-averse are inadvertently courage-adverse,” says Ryan Berman author of Return on Courage.

It is a balancing act. “If courage is the accelerator, then risk is the brake pedal. You need them both to drive a car, but you can’t press them at the same time or the car won’t work.” So how hard should you hit the gas? How important is it that you change?

Why courage? Why now?

Because companies are perishing at an alarming rate. Fifty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 are now extinct. This is due primarily because the market has changed and we are afraid to do what we need to do to change with it. Qualcomm’s Roger Martin told Berman, “Everybody who’s involved in trying to resurrect what existed before, those people die…. You have to stop doing the thing that right now is making you a ton of money. You have to start shifting, and that pts the current income a risk.” And that takes courage — a lot of it.

What is Courage?

Berman defines courage as acquiring knowledge, building faith, and taking action. All three elements have to be present for there to be courage. Knowledge and faith without action is paralysis. Having faith and taking action without proper knowledge is reckless. Acquiring knowledge and then taking action is just not enough; it’s playing it safe.

Courage is a daily decision that anyone can develop more of. It’s not a reckless action done without thinking because courage should always begin with knowledge.

Central Courage System

What we need is a Central Courage System. “The Central Courage System is a process that your team can repeatedly turn to for guidance. Once it has been established and implemented, you can lead with your system’s values, purpose, and point of view. The Central Courage System teaches us how to make bold, swift decisions.”

The Central Courage System is represented by the acronym P.R.I.C.E.: Prioritize through Values, Rally Believers, Identify Fears, Commit to a Purpose, Execute your Action.

Return On Courage

Prioritize Through Values

Determine and then prioritize the values that matter most to you and your organization. And then by living these values, they become your organization’s “best friend, something your team can rely on during every decision and offering regarding your business.” Courageous decisions are easier when you have prioritized your values.

Rally Believers

The job of leaders is to create believers. “To do this, you must surround yourself with others who rightfully buy in to the values, purpose, offerings, and people of the organization.” Respecting your team, positive reinforcement, repeating and living your message helps to build believers.

Identify Fears

“Fear chokes us up and holds us back. Fear shackles us to the status quo where we feel secure and convinces us to avoid controversial action and hard conversations. Fear fuels paralysis and empowers unwanted procrastination.” So we have to address our fears head on—our industry fears, product fears, service fears, perception fears, and our personal fears. Author Brian Krans wrote, “Fear is the thief of dreams.”

Commit to a Purpose

Your purpose is your reason for existing. “To pick a purpose is to make a choice. What is your brand willing to commit to or sacrifice to make sure your purpose succeeds?” A worthy purpose must be truthful, purposeful (Not a call to action, but a call for action), emotional, and differential.

Execute Your Action

Without taking action, you, of course, go nowhere. When executing, you are either executing on a new offering or a new message. Either way, your mission “is to give people just enough information on your product or idea that they will persuade themselves.”

Return on courage is the ultimate return on investment.

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Blowing Past Our Limits Unsafe Thinking

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:04 PM
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That’s Not How We Do It Here!

That’s Not How We Do It Here


USINESS FABLES are not meant to provide great fiction, but to place lessons in a context that make them easier to relate to. And John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber’s That’s Not How We Do It Here! does just that.

It is the story of Nadia bright and adventurous meerkat who is part of a mature clan with over 150 members. This well-managed clan has done well to date but is now faced with unprecedented problems that challenge their once reliable rules and procedures.

Unable to be heard in her clan, Nadia ventures out to see how other clans are dealing with the changes. She finds partial answers in the approach a smaller, loosely organized clan. Returning to her own clan, she figures out how to combine the best of both worlds—a large, disciplined, well-managed clan and that of a small, informal, inspiring clan.

The story parallels the evolution of organizations of all types as they grow and mature. As illustrated in the chart below, most organizations begin by taking the approach in upper left corner (almost by definition). While a bit chaotic, they are curious, adaptable, and energetic. They are learning.

But once success comes they nearly always move into the upper right quadrant. They begin to cope with their size by cementing in systems, structures and policies, that inadvertently kill speed, agility and innovation. New ideas are often greeted with, “That’s not how we do things around here.” If they persist in this approach, they quickly fall into the lower right corner, becoming complacent, rigid, and slow. The very talent they need to stay relevant and responsive to their changing environment begins to leave. If dramatic change comes their way, they are doomed.

Not How Chart

The answer isn’t to move back to the upper left corner. The answer is to combine the two by changing the way the organization is led.

The authors suggest that leader begin by creating a sense of urgency around a clear opportunity and mission. Add to that a network-like system that spans silos and layers of hierarchy. These become entrepreneurial units that rekindle a sense of curiosity and learning. Contrary to the nature of a mature organization, much of this is dependent on the leadership’s willingness to communicate and embrace and nurture new ideas.

Faced with the environment we are all in, we can no longer comfortably lead the well-managed, calcified organization to its doom.

8 Steps Change

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Kotter on Urgency Our Iceberg is Melting

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:24 AM
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Getting Real About the Monsters Under the Bed

j Millar

Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

I once had a conversation with a neighbor who admitted, matter-of-factly, that she really doesn’t like change. This preference shapes her decisions, and her life, in countless ways.

Now, I can intellectualize a desire to hold on to the status quo. But I don’t really get it. No matter how good things are, our lives can always be better. So why not strive for more: in our work, our relationships, our families, our communities? Not to be greedy, but to live life to its fullest, and to make our world a little better.

Ultimately, I suspect the fear of change is really a fear of uncertainty. A nagging sense that the benefits of change might not justify the potential risks. Shakespeare describes this human condition well, as he so often does: “Our doubts are traitors/And make us lose the good we oft might win/By fearing to attempt.” [Measure for Measure, I:4]

Children crave the comfort of certainty. Yet the promise of certainty is irrational, and a little dishonest. As Voltaire noted, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” We assure our children that there are no monsters under the bed, but how can we really know? Do we even know what monsters look like? False certainty may feel like a white lie, but it’s a lie nonetheless.

The political discourse of late has become fixated on certainty, and it’s discouraging. “The problem is with the Mexicans, or the Muslims, or the banks, or the police, or the pharmaceutical companies.” We know in our hearts that simple, certain solutions are both incomplete and intellectually dishonest: “If we make these changes, then the monsters won’t hide under the [proverbial] bed.” Certainty may get votes, but it isn’t leadership. We aren’t children.

Where is the courage—on either side of the political aisle—to admit that the world is complex? That we rarely understand the relationship between cause and effect? Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum wrote an excellent book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which should be required reading for all business and political leaders. Not because it paints a clear picture of the future. Rather, because it so clearly describes an amazing, uncertain future, full of both opportunity and peril. And because it raises critical questions that aren’t getting nearly enough attention—in the halls of Congress or the conference rooms of corporate America.

As Schwab argued: “The fourth industrial revolution is not only changing what we do but also who we are. The impact it will have on us as individuals is manifold, affecting our identity and its many related facets – our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills. It will influence how we meet people and nurture relationships, the hierarchies upon which we depend, our health, and maybe sooner than we think, it could lead to forms of human augmentation that cause us to question the very nature of human existence. Such changes elicit excitement and fear as we move at unprecedented speed.”

Surely, we all need to get more comfortable with ambiguity. We can scarcely understand the present, and we have yet to invent a crystal ball that sees into the future. Change is scary, but so is standing still. As Bono sang in U2’s (underrated) song, Summer Rain: “When you stop taking chances you'll stay where you sit/You won't live any longer but it'll feel like it.”

I have bad news for my neighbor. Change is not just coming; it’s already here. And it’s going to accelerate. More than ever, corporate and political leaders need to get real. They need to acknowledge complexity, work together to confront difficult questions, and offer an honest, thoughtful assessment of risks and opportunities as they chart a path into an uncertain future.

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Leading Forum
This post is by James Millar is the author of Building Bridges: The Case for Executive Peer Networks. He is the founder of SkyBridge Associates, a company that designs, creates, and leads the executive peer networks that leaders need to build authentic relationships and share valuable insights. He is former director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School.

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Cracking Complexity Seek Out Ambiguity

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:30 AM
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The Essentials of Theory U

Theory U

E LIVE IN A TIME of massive disruptions. It is a common reaction to this change to organize, reward, and promote, selfishness. Leaders and other change makers feel stuck—unable to redirect the course of events in any significant and constructive way. We are, in Otto Scharmer’s words, “collectively creating results that (almost) nobody wants.”

Part of the problem is the way we approach what we “know” and do. We need a new way of seeing, learning, and doing. This is what Otto Scharmer hopes to do with Theory U.

With Theory U, Otto Scharmer has taken well-known ideas and combined them in a profound way. He asks, “How do we learn from the future as it emerges?”

In The Essentials of Theory U, Scharmer takes the ideas first presented in Theory U over ten years ago, and made them more accessible.

Theory U begins with our blind spot. We see the world the way we are. We create the world we live in. Action comes into the world from what is going on inside of us. Scharmer says, “I pay attention this way, therefore it emerges that way.”

So we begin to understand Theory U with the blind spot. Too often we don’t factor in our interior condition. “We can see what we do (results). We can see how we do it (process). But we usually are not aware of the who: the inner place or source from which we operate.” That is our blind spot: the place from which our attention and our intentions originate—our source.

The question for leaders is “How does our blind spot show up in our leadership?” What I give attention to, what I notice, what I act on, is a function of my interior condition. This of course, affects how and what we learn and thus what we can apply to any given situation.

Typically, we learn from the experiences of the past, but because or most issues, responding with what we have learned is not going to be enough, Scharmer suggests that we work to learn from the future as it emerges. He calls this presencing.

We can engage in the moment in two ways. One is the present moment that “is basically and extension of the past. The present moment is shaped by what has been. The second is a quality of the present moment that functions as a gateway to a field of future possibilities. The present moment is shaped by what is wanting to emerge. That quality of time, if connected to, operates from [pre-sensing] the highest future potential.”

In times like ours, it is this second presencing quality of the present that matters most because “without that connection we tend to end up as victims rather than co-shapers of disruption.”

How can we begin to presence as individuals, organizations, and as a society?

Theory U is a way of making a system (or an individual) sense and see itself. The core process can be seen in the diagram below. Looking at the bottom “U” Scharmer describes each of the seven ways of attending to and co-shaping the world:

Downloading is business as usual. Repeating the same old patterns of thought. In this state, “the world is frozen by our old mental habits and past experiences; nothing new enters our minds.

Seeing is when we suspend our habitual judgment and wake up with fresh eyes. As we suspend we have to tolerate that nothing is happening. Staying with it is the key.

Sensing is the “moment we redirect our attention from objects to source.” Our perceptions widen and deepen. “The boundary between observer and observed opens up.” We begin to see the from a perspective that includes ourselves. The system begins to see itself.

Presencing is when we let go of the old and connect to the surrounding sphere of future potential. “The boundary between observer and observed collapses into a space for the future to emerge.” We are connecting to the deepest source—the interior condition from which we operate. Our purpose. Seeing from the whole. We must be willing to drop everything that is not essential. “Crossing the threshold means to be willing to let go. TO let go of old patterns, assumptions, and even our old ‘ego-self.’ Only then is it possible to step into our dormant potential, our emerging ‘Self.’”

Crystallizing is when we begin to envision the future that seeks to emerge from a deep connection to the source. “Envisioning happens from the field of the future (rather than from our ego).

Prototyping is exploring the future by doing. Bringing the new into reality by improvising and linking the intelligence of the head, heart, and hands.

Performing by embodying the new from the context of the larger eco-system—the whole. Embedding the new through new practices, processes, and infrastructures while maintaining a connection to the source.

The inverted view on the top of the chart is about destruction rather than creation. It is the result of closed will, heart and mind—fear, hate, and prejudice. Rather than experiencing presencing after downloading, we begin to deny or silence other views out of prejudice, we entrench, manipulate, bully and eventually destroy.

Scharmer says “leadership is the capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate.” So that the primary job of leadership is to help people discover the power of seeing and seeing together.

Theory U is about change. When you as a change maker begin to see what you didn’t see before and at the same time, see your own part in maintaining and defending to past patterns and thinking, real change can begin to occur. “The key leverage point for transformational change starts with attending to how you as a change maker relate to the system that you want to change and to the system that you want to give birth to.”

For Scharmer, understanding change, boils down to this: “The quality of results achieved by any system is a function of the quality of awareness that people in these systems operate from. In three words: Form follows consciousness.

Theory U

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:39 AM
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6 Characteristics of Type R People

Type R


E SEE THE EFFECTS of turbulent change all around us on individuals and organizations. Some people seem to be able to rise to the occasion while others fold in the face of it. Most of us don’t have a choice but to meet what the world throws at us head-on.

Ama and Stephanie Marston describe what is needed to leverage change and hardship into opportunity as individuals and organizations and carry that progress into the world in the form of a contribution to the greater good in Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World.

Those who flourish in this world don't just have resilience, they have Transformative Resilience: the ability to learn, grow, and spring forward. These are people they refer to as Type Rs.

Transformative Resilience frames challenge as an opportunity rather than a problem. It leads to new approaches and questions about how to best address an issue. It asks, What other doors might open for me? What other things might I do? What changes do I need to make? It isn’t simply what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens that has the greatest effect on the trajectory of our lives after adversity.

The world is uncertain, but the “certainty we seek is that we have the inner resources to transcend our challenges and in fact be transformed by them.” Having the Type R mindset and characteristics act as a shock absorber that enables people and organizations to cope with the day-to-day stress as well as the seismic events.”

Regardless of our age or background, if we think of ourselves as adaptable, confident, robust, and able to continue to grow, we will spring forward from stress and challenges in our lives.

The Marston’s have found six characteristics that reinforce and interact with one another that will help individuals and organizations to cultivate Transformative Resilience. Each one of these six characteristics can be developed and strengthened over time and when thoughtfully engaged, will take us to the opportunity beyond the challenge.

1. Adaptability

Adaptability is the tension between “knowing when to hold firm and when to accept the changing world around us and alter our outlook, goals, and plans.” As our world becomes more uncertain, we tend to look back to the good-ol’-days for support, but this can make us resistant to change. Knowing what you can and cannot change and when to adapt and reframe to find positive outcomes, is a critical skill in today’s world.

2. Healthy Relationship to Control

Closely linked to adaptability is having a healthy relationship to control. This involves having a strong sense of when to exercise control, when to persevere, and when to let go. While believing that everything is outside of our control and nothing that we do matters is unhealthy as it causes us to stagnate, believing that we alone are responsible for what happens to us is only healthy to a point. An extreme internal locus of control can cause us to take on “too much responsibility for ourselves and the world around us” causing undue stress and difficulty “because it doesn’t take into account eternal factors” and cause us to be overly rigid.

Type Rs learn to “assess what’s within their sphere of influence and what’s not. They realize that strength isn’t always determined by triumph over the outside world but sometimes by changing our inner world.”

3. Continual Learning

An important factor in continual learning is knowing yourself and reflecting on the situations you encounter so that you can extract the all the lessons you can to better prepare you for future challenges. Type Rs should always be aware of what is going on in their world so that they can learn and adapt in anticipation of coming challenges rather than having to react to them. Curiosity “is vital to adaptability and intellectual growth, and it motivates ongoing learning and forward motion.”

4. Sense of Purpose

Having a sense of purpose is your north star. Regardless of the uncertainty and indecision around you, a sense of purpose grounds you with values to keep you on course and set a direction. It also provides you with the means to find meaning in whatever you are going through.

Along with the other Type R characteristics, a sense of purpose helps to inspire others through the way we approach each situation. “Type Rs maintain a vision of what truly matters, what their lives and their work are about, and what they want it to be. A sense of purpose provides a buffer against obstacles; a person or group with a strong sense of purpose can more easily remain engaged and satisfied with life or work even while experiencing challenges.”

5. Leveraging Support

Don’t go it alone. The Marston’s write that “One of the biggest obstacles to growing from adversity is the sense of being alone.” It is important for building resilience that we have a strong network of people we can count on both personally and professionally. They provide a safety net and a sense of security. They also help to give you time to reflect, create perspective, and think about the challenges you face. “Many of our successes might rise and fall with our ability to leverage support.”

6. Active Engagement

Transformative Resilience “takes place when the Type R mindset and its various characteristics and skill are combined with forward motion.” Along with a healthy relationship to control, staying engaged is believing that no matter what happens you have what it takes to deal with the changing and often challenging circumstances in your life. This also means being proactive and confronting the issues rather than avoiding them.

Knowing that you have the inner resources to stay engaged helps you to slow down and respond rather than reacting. While challenges are stressful, “research shows that those who focus on the challenging dimension of a stressful circumstance, rather than seeing it as a threat, experience a different form of stress.” This is because, “their fear reaction is suppressed and instead a response linked to hormones and parts of the brain associated with positive emotions and learning are triggered, thus encouraging engagement.”

Type R

What’s Your Type R Quotient? Take the Type R assessment.

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Crystal Ball Antifragile

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Jeffrey Immelt's 7 Lessons on How to Lead Through Massive Changes



EFFREY IMMELT took over General Electric from Jack Welch at a time of increasing instability. He says, "The task of the CEO has never been as difficult as it is today. In that vein, my story is one of progress versus perfection. The outcomes of my decisions will play out over decades, but we never feared taking big steps to create long-term value."

In an article from the September–October 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, How I Remade GE, Jeffrey Immelt shares seven lessons he learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Be disciplined and focused. "You need a point of view. Your initiatives should be interconnected—and it's the leader's job to connect the dots for everyone in the organization."

A point of view can take you somewhere. It allows others to get on board and contribute in ways that support that point of view. As leaders, we must communicate how each part contributes to the whole. Change should be holistic. It creates focus and passion.

Lesson 2: Be curious and reflective. "You have to go through a period of rewiring your brain—getting yourself to the point of profoundly believing that the world is changing and that the survival of your company depends on either anticipating the change or being in the vanguard of those reacting to it."

To drive lasting change, you must be firmly anchored in what they believe. With most change, you can expect criticism. Today more than ever, the sources of resistance are more numerous and varied. Knowing your own values and beliefs are the source of courage you will need to weather any pushback. You have to see change as vital—life or death. And you are focused on your core beliefs and values and communicate them clearly, you are less likely to be distorted from the primary objective.

Lesson Three: Get people to see the need for change as existential. "Every time we drove a big change, I treated it as if it were life or death. If you can instill that psychology in your management group, you can get transformation."

Our world is never static. We are often confronted with the need for change or slow death. It's change or die. But it has to be communicated to the point to where what you as the leader have come to understand, is understood by everyone in the organization or to those you wish to see change happen. The goal is to give up control to allow the change to be internalized in them.

Lesson Four: Be all in. "Half measures are death for big companies because people can smell lack of commitment. When you undertake a transformation, you should be prepared to go all the way to the end. You've got to be all in. You've got to be willing to plop down money and people."

Where you focus your resources communicates a lot about what is important to you.

Lesson Five: Be resilient. "I subscribe to the words of the great philosopher Mike Tyson, who said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.' It is so difficult to predict events. It is difficult to sustain transformation during tough times, but it's the only way to create a better future."

You need flexibility of action and resiliency of character. The kind of change Immelt is talking about here is not incremental change. It's deeper than that and you little control over outcomes. It means facing uncertainty and letting go of control and adapting to guide your organization to the primary objective. You have to take the long view. Nothing will turn out exactly the way you plan it.

Lesson Six: Listen and act at the same time. "You need to allow new thoughts to constantly come in, and you need to be open to the reality that your organization will have to pivot when it learns something new, while still having the courage to push people forward."

Leaders must listen to those they lead if only because they firmly believe that their welfare is the goal. It's a sign of respect. And respect builds trust. When change is built on the needs of those you lead, it becomes their change too.

Lesson Seven: Embrace new kinds of talent, a new culture, and new ways of doing things.

Leaders must become not merely leaders of followers, but leaders of leaders. Ultimately a leader has to love his or her followers as much as they love the change they want implemented. As leaders we are necessary, but alone, we are insufficient. To create an adaptable culture, you need adaptable leaders.

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Robert Iger Leadership Lessons Our Iceberg is Melting

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Conflict without Casualties

Conflict without Casualties


ONFLICT is everywhere. Conflict at the most basic level is simply a gap between what we want and what we are experiencing at any given point in time.

Conflict is energy, and can be used in positive or negative ways. Negative conflict becomes drama, and it is costly to companies, teams and relationships at all levels. In fact, according to a Gallup Poll, negative conflict drains the U.S. economy by about $350 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted energy.

In Conflict without Casualties, author Nate Regier believes that the misuse of conflict energy is the biggest crisis facing our world, and that we haven’t even begun to harness the creative potential of conflict. When people embrace the fullest meaning of compassion as a process of “struggling with” others in creative conflict, they can transform lives, companies, and the world.

It is understandable that we try to avoid conflict considering all of the drama and negative fallout that always seems to accompany it. But Regier says if we use conflict correctly, we can use it to create. “Eliminating the casualties of conflict cannot happen by repressing the conflict and just ‘being nice.’ It happens by stewarding the energy inherent in conflict to make something positive, even amazing.” That seems like a tall order, but it makes sense.

Compassionate Accountability

The way forward is to practice Compassionate Accountability. Compassionate Accountability is a method for resisting the negative pull of drama—“I gotta win.” Negative conflict becomes drama. “Drama is the mismanaging of the energy of conflict. It diverts energy towards the pursuit of self-justification, one of the strongest human urges and the one that almost always gets us into trouble.” (Chapter 2 on drama is one of the clearest discussions of drama I’ve read.)

To be compassionate is to struggle alongside with others; to struggle with instead of against. “Compassion is the result of people taking ownership of their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and choosing to spend the energy of conflict pursuing effective solutions that preserve the dignity of all involved. Compassion is more than care and concern for others. It’s about the willingness to get in the trenches and struggle together as an equal with others.

Compassion CycleCompassionate Accountability is based on three skills:

Openness is a state of non-judgmental receptivity to your own and others’ experiences. Openness is the healthy alternative to the Victim response that is a part of most drama. It also involves transparency, courage with self and others, self-awareness, empathy, confidence in one’s own adequacy, and a willingness to own and disclose emotions. Openness involves empathy (understanding others), validation (affirming others), and disclosure (sharing with others).

If Openness reveals the real issues, motives, and emotions in our lives, then resourcefulness is the ability to problem-solve to satisfy those motives and address the issues. When there’s conflict, Openness is where we discover and affirm how the gap between what we want and what we’re experiencing is affecting us. Resourcefulness is the ability to understand the gap and figure out what to do about it. It requires the abandonment of the ego in order to gather ideas and opinions, analyze what has worked in the past, and leverage personal strengths.

Persistence is all about seeing things through with integrity, humility, and respect. It’s accountability. It means setting boundaries, reinforcing non-negotiables, and accepting responsibility for your own behaviors. “Compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. Accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Blending the two is the essence of leadership.”

These three skills are a process that starts at Open, moves to Resourceful, and finally to Persistence. They are three interdependent ways of feeling, thinking, and acting that work productively together.

When Regier’s model is placed inside the Drama Triangle (developed by Steven Karpman), the author creates a useful visual for understanding where we often end up if we don’t intentionally stay the Compassionate Accountability course.

Regier writes: “Drama inevitably pushes us into corners, where we cling to distorted worldviews that compel us to do the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Compassion, on the other hand, keeps us moving, searching, nimble, effective, and capable of adapting to change.” It also keep us from being mired inside our own head and thus limiting our responses and our ability to reframe the conflict. We get stuck.


It would seem that if you stop at Persistence then you become stagnant and eventually irrelevant. A state of non-judgmental receptivity would seem to go hand-in-hand with progress, the inevitability of change, and the understanding of others. “As a species, human beings seem to have a very difficult time returning to Openness in order to keep the cycle going. We take up residence at Persistence, which inevitably morphs into Persecutor as we fight to protect what we’ve built and save ourselves from the consequences of our own creation.”

He adds, “Each point on the Compassion Cycle has a purpose. When that purpose is fulfilled, it’s time to move. Lingering after the purpose has been achieved is a recipe for stagnation and drama.”

If you want to end the drama in your life or organization then you have to replace it with something else. Compassionate Accountability is the cure. Regier concludes the book with a section devoted to implementing this concept into everything you do. A very useful user’s manual.

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No Ego The Good Fight

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Why You Want to Change TO Something

Change To Something

WHEN we encounter something that needs changing we tend to view it as a “freedom from” problem. In other words, what can I do to get rid of the obstacles or constraints that are impeding progress?

When thinking about change we should look at “freedom to” solutions. Both approaches lead to freedom but “freedom from” is a negative freedom and can lead to new problems. It’s like replacing a negative with nothing. "Freedom to" is a positive freedom.

Freedom to Change
Michael Fullan writes in Freedom to Change that most people think that is all their obstacles to change were removed they’d be better off. But evidence suggests that you would have new and more difficult challenges to face like anxiety, isolation, and doubt. “Freedom From” does not consider the changes that liberation requires for success. For instance, what do I do with my new found freedoms?

Fullan says that goal is not to be free and alone but to be free with others. It is the difference between being reactive and proactive. To do that he suggests four factors for maximizing freedom to change that integrate and manage the tensions inherent in individual and group dynamics:

Autonomy and Cooperation: “Being our own person and being connected,” says Fullan, “is the core tension and challenge of living meaningfully.” We need both autonomy and cooperation. It’s not a choice. Organizations can give more autonomy in exchange for commitments to cooperate.

Feedback: Between acceptance of others and learning choose learning. “Within strong collaborative cultures, an enormous amount of feedback occurs naturally through daily focused interactions.” Feedback can be a powerful tool for positive “freedom to” change if seen properly. Fullan advises us to be a learner under all circumstances.

Accountability: External accountability schemes do not work because they tell us that the system is not performing, but not how to fix the situation. Dislodging top-down accountability is extremely difficult but by building widespread internal accountability, it actually furthers the organizational goals. “The more internal accountability thrives, the greater the responsiveness to external requirements, and the less the external body has to do—there’s less need to resort to carrots and sticks to incite the system to act responsibly.” In the “freedom to” world, you need to connect with others—especially peers. “It is in your own self-interest to promote a greater accountability with those around you.”

Diffusion (by interacting more widely): Lead from the middle. “Work with peers to strengthen the middle, get more done, and become better partners upwards and downwards.” Loosen up hierarchical structure so that they are more amenable to individual and small-group initiative.

Developing the “freedom to” capacity to take advantage of the new possibilities will be the hardest art. It’s always comparatively easier to get rid of old shackles than it is to take advantage of new freedoms.”

Fullan writes, “Genuine independence can only be achieved by the connected individual.”

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You Can Change Learning Is the Work

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6 Skills You Need to Win the Long Game

Winning the Long Game

BRIAN DODD says he doesn’t like meetings but he loves strategy sessions because they are about movement and focus on accomplishment, not activity. They “make you glad you are a leader.” I presume he would agree with authors Steven Krupp and Paul Schoemaker. They say the number one business challenge for winning the long game is for leaders to become more strategic.

In Winning the Long Game they write that “In times of crisis and change, when people are confused about what to do, ordinary leadership must rise to the level of strategic leadership.” The trick is to deliver short-term results while securing long-term viability. Especially in uncertain times, “companies must tilt more toward strategic leadership than toward operational excellence.”

Strategic leaders need two perspectives: outside in and future back. Outside in means that a “strategic leader starts with the external marketplace when addressing problems, without getting wrapped up by internal organizational issues.” Future back means that when playing the long game strategic leaders use their long-term vision to guide their short-term decisions in a flexible way.

Strategic leadership If strategic leaders are to thrive and play the long game they need six elements critical for effective strategic leadership: Anticipate, Challenge, Interpret, Decide, Align and Learn. Mastering just a few of these skills is not enough. “The more uncertain the environment becomes, the more a leader needs these six disciplines in combination because they possess self-reinforcing qualities when deployed as an interdependent leadership system.”

Anticipate: Strategic leaders are constantly vigilant, honing their ability to anticipate by scanning the environment for signals of change. They develop and maintain an external mindset. How quickly do you spot ambiguous threats and opportunities on the periphery of your business? (Chapter 1: Elon Musk)

“Once a company becomes the master of its own universe, seeing new developments in adjacent markets becomes harder.

The paradox is that the more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in winning the long game.”

Challenge: Strategic leaders question the status quo. Pope Francis is listening to new voices and deliberately bypassing old channels of communication. Open a window to let in fresh air and look in the mirror. Are you comfortable with conflicting views and differences in opinion? How often do you question your own and other people’s assumptions? (Chapter 2: Sir Richard Branson, Pope Francis)

Opening the window is the practice of promulgating outside perspectives to see complex issues in context. Looking in the mirror is the practice of deep self-reflection, whereby leaders confront outmoded beliefs, faulty assumptions, and stubbornness in themselves and others.”

Interpret: Strategic leaders amplify signals and connect multiple data points in new and insightful ways to make sense of complex, ambiguous situations. Can you pick up on signals to distinguish anomalies from leading indicators of change? What are you not seeing or hearing? We begin by recognizing the facts and then “re-cognizing,” or rethinking, them to expose their hidden implications. (Chapter 3: Charles O. Holliday Jr.)

“Leaders get blindsided not so much because they aren’t receiving signals but because they aren’t exploring alternative interpretations, or they get locked into one piece of the puzzle.”

Decide: Strategic leaders seek multiple options to ensure flexible decision-making. They don’t get prematurely locked into simplistic yes/no choices. How often and how quickly must you make tough calls with incomplete information? (Chapter 4: Angela Merkel, Laurence Golborne)

“Exploring options means having the wisdom, cool-headedness, and perspective to consider all of the alternatives available. Showing courage means demonstrating the fortitude to commit to the right solution and, if that solution proves ineffective, critically stepping back to reconsider.”

Align: Strategic leaders engage stakeholders to understand change readiness, manage differences and create buy-in. They are adept at finding common ground. This requires active outreach. Good communication is key. Do you regularly engage your managers’ direct reports in decisions that affect their work? Where do you stand with the people you need to influence? (Chapter 5: Alex Ferguson)

“There is an interconnectedness now in problems—and this changes the issues. You need to have more people involved with the decision making, leaving the leader less in control of the situation.”

Learn: Strategic leaders continuously reflect on successes and failures to improve performance and decision-making. I like this chapter title: My Gift Was Not Knowing. It sums it up well. A quarter of a century after the publication of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, “the learning organization still does not have much of a foothold in the business world, despite skyrocketing uncertainty.” When was the last time you admitted you were wrong—in public? (Chapter 6: Reed Hastings, Sara Blakely)

“Leaders must make their moves when the future is still ambiguous. If an organization is continually learning, then everyone is primed for change and ready to move in a different direction each day.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:27 PM
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10 Rules for Future-Proofing Yourself

The most common problem that modern professionals face is a lack of risk tolerance and a resistance to change.

Make Change Work
Scott Steinberg writes in Make Change Work for You, Scott Steinberg offers ten rules that successful people follow to future-proof themselves. But underlying it all is how we deal with fear. We need to find a quick way to neutralize its negative influences, find courage, and take positive action. He suggests we try the FEAR problem-solving method:

Focus: When you see a problem, study it closely until you’re sure you are seeing it objectively.
Engage: Intelligently respond to a problem with a solution, create an action plan and put it in motion.
Assess: Study the responses you get. If you are not on track, rethink the solution, rethink the audience, or rethink the way you’ve positioned yourself and your brand.
React: Having learned from the experience, adjust your tactic accordingly. Keep tweaking it until you find success.

The ten rules with Steinberg’s insights:

Rule 1: Be Courageous
Inflate your willingness to act. You don’t have to be without fear to succeed; just relentlessly practical. Fear only has power over us when we allow it to go unchecked or fail to correctly interpret the signals it’s presenting.

Rule 2: Make Fear Your Friend
Train yourself to review not to react. Instead of worrying about fear, worry about how you can capitalize on it to drive more positive outcomes. Fear alerts us to potential problems, drives growth, prompts us to make changes, fights complacency, keeps us nimble, makes us creative and provides a sense of urgency.

Rule 3: Turn Anxiety and Paranoia into Awareness
Leverage your paranoia to become more proactive. Use your anxiety to help you to be acutely aware of the world around you and potential problems and opportunities. Don’t let it cause you to freeze up. Use it to stay fresh.

Rule 4: Transform Failure into Success
The more you push past your barriers, the greater the rewards you’ll reap that lie beyond because they’ll be more uncommon and hold more value as a result. If you learn to push past the fear of failure, you can capitalize on areas of opportunity others have abandoned to create winning breakthroughs and create ongoing relevance on an infinite scale.

Rule 5: Master the Art of Improvisation
While conditions and events encountered may appear chaotic, irrational, and unpredictable from the inside, when viewed from a distance they are often the exact opposite. It’s not about being smarter or more experienced, it’s about being savvier or more resourceful. As a result, traits such as cleverness, practicality, and leadership are becoming far greater arbiters of success than abilities or accolades.

Rule 6: Play the Odds
Once you know the odds, make smarter and smaller bets. The more opportunities you have to win, the greater your chances of winning. Gamblers, risk takers, and forward thinkers—today’s mavericks—understand the importance of making safe bets. But they also realize that big wins come from playing the long shots a=that smaller, smarter wagers subsidize.

Rule 7: Experiment Constantly
Constantly tinker with ways to expand your horizons, grow your skill set, and disrupt your career or your organization. Work to expand your comfort zone. It’s all a work in progress.

Rule 8: Pick Your Battles
To stack the odds in your favor, pick and choose your battles. It’s a constant process of assessment and reassessment.

Rule 9: Keep Forging Ahead
Be proactive and keep moving. The secret to getting ahead is to start to embrace the new ideas, projects, and activities that most rapidly or profoundly enhance your learning, capabilities, and connections and provide more pronounced opportunities to innovate, differentiate, and expand your horizons.

Rule 10: Stay Relevant
If you want to stay relevant you’ll have to keep course correcting. If you lose relevancy, you’ll lose value. Create a list of action steps that bridges the present and the future. Always be creating worth.

Steinberg concludes, “Being future-proof means being flexible, greeting change, and innovating your way out of problems by training yourself to put fear on the backburner, make decisions under duress, and make the most of the tools and resources available.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:38 PM
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quickpoint: Strategy and Leadership

Leading Blog quickpoint When confronted by “unusual uncertainty” as Ben Bernanke put it, leaders need to be able to think and act adaptively. It’s jazzstrategic improvisation. Professor David Teece of University of California Berkeley Hass School of Business shares this in the foreword of Winning the Long Game:
A firm’s dynamic capabilities rest on two pillars: (1) the vision and leadership skills of managers, and (2) the cohesion and flexibility of the organization as a whole. Leaders must fashion sound strategies for the enterprise, and the organization itself must be agile enough to adapt as required. An organization’s culture and values are much slower and more difficult to change than its structure or processes, and can hamstring even an excellent strategy if its leaders cannot show the way forward.

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Of Related Interest:
  Leadership as Provocative Competence
  Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:45 PM
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The Moment You Can’t Ignore

Moment You Can’t Ignore

A LEADER once told me, “We’re stuck.” It was an un-ignorable moment that reflected a cultural issue within the organization. In this case, it hinged around a destructive, persistent, self-perpetuating organizational belief about what leadership should look like that had plagued it for decades.

Un-ignorable moments, write authors Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld, “typically occur when an organization is teetering on the brink of a cultural shift.” They share four characteristics: they are public in nature, they are irreversible, they are systemic, and they challenge the identity of the organization.

What makes an un-ignorable moment so powerful is that the clash of cultural expectations doesn’t stop with the individuals engaged in the incident. Because identity is formed in part through group memberships, the moment calls into question the identity of the entire group—not just the identities of the people directly involved. It often shakes up the groups involved in ways that call into question why they work the way they do, and this can be very disturbing.

Being stuck is not an entirely bad thing if you can use it to propel you forward. But of course it takes a secure and selfless leader. The challenge is “not to tamp the energy down but to draw it out and channel it.” It helps if you think of it this way: “The tensions and bottlenecks inside your organization can act as a source of creative energy. This is often not the case with places in the organization where everything is running smoothly, everyone feels comfortable, and there are no tensions or pressures. Those places rarely stir up change.” And therefore they don’t grow.

When you feel unsettled it is a good sign that something new and interesting may be happening. Listening becomes a key quality. If you lack it as a leader you will miss it and the price you pay may be your own irrelevance. The authors encourage us to look within the organization itself for answers. “Where does the solution already exist? Where is the future already happening in your organization right now?”

To successfully lead through a cultural shift, leaders need to command and collaborate. But not a command style that displays a “dictatorial disregard for the capabilities of others,” but “by creating a commanding presence and a commitment to developing the capabilities of others throughout the organization.” They recommend you focus on two central tasks: “protect the organization by keeping it within its safety zone during times of cultural transition, and guide and direct the organization as a conductor artfully leads an orchestra.”

The Moment You Can’t Ignore helps us to look at those things we often don’t want to address if organizational success is our primary focus. O’Connor and Dornfield note that “Culture is not the solution to every challenge, but it is the source material from which solutions can be drawn.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:45 PM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Opportunity and Risk are Soul Mates

5 Leadership Lessons

The Risk Advantage by Tom Panaggio is designed as a guide for those who are contemplating an entrepreneurial pursuit, are already engaged in building a business, or are currently working for someone else and want to inject their entrepreneurial ideas and attitude. “Those who understand where risk belongs in their lives,” says Panaggio, “will ultimately be successful.”

1  When failure occurs, it’s natural to say, “We made a bad decision.” But what you need to do is ask yourself this question: Was it a bad decision or simply a bad outcome? A decision is a choice you make. Without the benefit of clairvoyance, you base that choice on timely information. It would be unfortunate to measure the decision’s value based solely on outcomes. If we only accept the value of favorable outcomes, then we limit our ability to take risks, and forward progress stops.

The reality is that important decisions made by intelligent people having the best information and intentions could still result in an undesirable outcome. Leaders make decisions to determine the company’s direction. Promoting the proactive nature of decision making is the objective because in an environment where there is decision paralysis, forward motion ceases, and that is bad outcome.

2  Go for clarity, not certainty. The idea of clarity pertains more to the direction you want your business to be moving rather than the degree of detail and the language you use.

3  I have heard all the “If I had” excuses over the years. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is based on false reality, because the road to success is through action, not tools or accessories. While tools, technology, and accessories might be helpful, they do not guarantee success. Effort guarantees success—you have to keep your foot on the accelerator longer and more often than your competitor.

4  Opportunities are not only an advantageous circumstance but also chances to correct, rectify, or prioritize a situation that needs attention. Besides forgoing an opportunity for success because we are waiting for ideal conditions, many business leaders fail to solve problems or correct mistakes because, in their minds, the timing wasn’t right. Opportunities are not one-time occurrences; they are continuous events that present themselves throughout our entire journey.

5  Hoping that something will change to improve your situation will result in defeat, the end of your dream. As a leader, your example of enthusiastically seeking opportunity to execute, improve and deliver results will be the beacon that guides all who follow you.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:52 PM
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Make Change Work

“People want to be led through change, not managed through it,” says Randy Pennington. Processes are an important left-brain activity, but people want to be led into the unknown which is a right-brain and often messy activity.
Change leadership is a decidedly right-brained activity. When it comes to people, the shortest distance between two points isn’t necessarily a straight line. It is often a stroll or two around the block.
And that takes real leadership.

Change Leadership
Make Change Work by Randy Pennington is a change handbook informed by a good grasp of human nature. In other words, it is extremely helpful in implementing change in the real world with real people.

Pennington presents the well-reasoned, tactical side of change while incorporating the emotional—“it depends”—side of change leadership. It’s the human side that Pennington weaves in so well – and so clearly – that makes the tactics work. His approach helps you to understand what you are doing “big-picture” when trying to implement any change personally or organizationally. In that regard it is an invaluable book for anyone at any level.

Pennington deals with six fundamental principles that make it difficult for people and organizations to change:
  1. The ability to change is based on readiness. Intellectual understanding is not the same as emotional readiness. “Change agents have a unique ability to put a crisis into perspective while creating a sense of hope about the future.” It’s important to remember, “lasting change based on the immediacy of a crises is difficult to maintain.”
  2. Past experience influences perception, and perception influences every aspect of the change process. “Effective leaders help others understand and unload the negative stuff in their baggage to connect and engage them to actively participate in the change.”
  3. Adapting to change is really about managing disrupted expectations. The larger the disruption, the more challenging the task.
  4. Change always comes with a cost, even if the change was positive and you participated. Resistance is natural. “If there is no resistance there is no change….Pushing back against resistance creates barriers. Using questions to pull the resistance out provides opportunity to create context.”
  5. We live in a state of perpetual transition that prevents us from anchoring changes. “It isn’t the change that do you in, it’s the transitions,” wrote William Bridges. The idea of starting and ending change still works on some level, but more and more of the changes you are being asked to lead are continuous and never ending, says Pennington.
  6. Focusing on change management rather than change leadership places the focus on the process not people.
Pennington writes, "There is an adage that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. That happens because most of us are not very good at thinking clearly about the opportunities presented by change."

DodoWhy did Pennington choose the dodo bird on the front cover of his book? It’s instructive. Pennington says that to win at change leadership we need to embrace the coyote and run from becoming a dodo. The dodo birds never had a chance in a changing world. They:
  • Grew up in a stable, secure environment with no need to worry about predators or outside danger.
  • Lost the ability to expand its reach because of comfort and complacency.
  • Had no ability to distinguish predators from friends.
  • Lost or never developed the ability to adapt quickly to changing opportunities or threats (primary or secondary).
  • Never saw change coming or anticipated a different possible future, leaving itself with no time to adapt.
On the other hand, coyotes are known as:
  • Being opportunistic problem solvers with the willingness to adapt.
  • Possessing excellent vision and sense of smell.
  • Being speedy.
  • Valuing strong family groups that take care of their young.
  • Being versatile and willing to work alone, in teams, and even with other animals to succeed.
The dodo bird is extinct because it was perfectly suited to thrive in a world that ceased to exist when humans entered the picture. Coyotes, on the other hand, have flourished in a world where there are constant threats to its very survival because they continually adapt. Which one are you?

Leaders who can make change work will be in constant demand. Make Change Work is about how to lead change, not manage it. Excellent material.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:30 PM
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The Problem of More: Scaling Up Excellence

Scaling Up Excellence

HOW DO YOU scale up excellence? How do you spread constructive beliefs and behavior from the few to the many?

Scaling Up
Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao tackle these questions in Scaling Up Excellence. What they found is that it simply isn’t a matter of just running up the numbers by replicating the same old magic again and again. In fact, they write, “Scaling well hinges on making the right trade-offs between mandating that new people and places become perfect clones of some original model versus encouraging local variation, experimentation, and customization. Something they refer to as the Catholic approach versus the Buddhist approach.

Scaling up can be is messy because it is unpredictable. It’s never clean and well-run. But the best leaders revel in these inevitable moments and months of messiness.

The process requires the mindset of a marathon. It’s like building a bridge as you walk on it. It requires faith and perseverance.

Scaling is akin to running a long race where you don’t know the right path, often what seems like the right path turns out to be the wrong one, and you don’t know how long the race will last, where or how it will end, or where the finish line is located….[And yet] plenty of people and teams find ways to master this mess, take satisfaction in their daily accomplishments, and take pride in spreading constructive beliefs and behaviors far and wide.

The book is centered on seven mantras of scaling up excellence. They serve as signals as to whether your scaling is going well or badly. Here are the mantras and how Sutton and Rao define them:

Spread a Mindset, Not Just a Footprint
Scaling unfolds with less friction and more consistency when the people propelling it agree on what is right and wrong—and on what to pay attention to and what to ignore. It requires relentless vigilance. It requires stating the beliefs and living the behavior, and then do so again and again. Key point: When people get smug, operate on autopilot, take shortcuts, and chose the path of least resistance too often, they lose sight of the essence of their excellence. In their lust to run up the numbers and plaster their logo on as many people, places, and things as possible, the temptation to accept mediocrity—or worse—often proves irresistible.

Engage All the Senses
Mindsets are spread and sustained by subtle cues that activate all the senses. Our beliefs and behaviors are bolstered—and undermined—by the colors and kinds of images we see, the sounds we hear, the smells we encounter, the things we taste, and the objects we touch. We are influenced by the voice tone and facial expressions that accompany the words people say, whether they look us in the eye, their posture, and many more seemingly inconsequential and irrelevant cues in the world around us.

Link Short-Term Realities to Long-Term Dreams
Make sure that short-term stuff gets done and done well, while simultaneously never losing sight of the big picture. Scaling requires the wherewithal to hound yourself and others with questions about what it takes to link to the never-ending now—the perpetual present tense that every person is trapped in—to the sweet dreams you hope to realize later. “Let’s not decide based on what is best now, let’s decide based on what will be best in two or three years.”

Accelerate Accountability
The trick—and it is a difficult trick—is to design a system where this tug of responsibility is constant, strong, and embraced by everyone, and where slackers, energy sucker, and selfish soloists have no place to hide.

When scaling goes bad, three elements are usually present: Illusion, Impatience, and Incompetence. Decision makers think this is going to be far easier than the facts warrant; they are quick to rush the rollout thinking that when they are ready everyone is ready; and they frankly don’t know what they are doing. A related hallmark is that decision-makers don’t recognize when they are on the verge of subjecting victims (and themselves) to overwhelming mental load, distress, and turmoil.

Scaling Requires Both Addition and Subtraction
Strategic subtraction clears the way for people to focus on doing the right things. As organizations grow larger and older, as the footprint of a program expands, and as the consequences of past actions accumulate, once useful but now unnecessary role, rules, rituals, red tape, products, and services build up like barnacles on a ship; to make way for excellence to spread, these sources of unnecessary friction must be removed. Scaling isn’t just a problem of more, it’s a problem of less too.

Slow Down to Scale Faster—and Better—Down the Road
Mastering “the black art of scaling a human organization” requires learning when and how to shift gears from fast to slow ways of thinking.

A few other thoughts to consider when considering a scaling an idea or initiative is to conduct a premortem. Ask participants to imagine that it is a year from now. What success or failure has occurred? Was it a good idea? Are we happy living in the world we’ve built? “Looking back from the future helps people bridge short-term and long-term thinking—a hallmark of successful scaling.”

While excitement may be there in the beginning, it will soon wear off if steps are not taken to live it. “Although creating enthusiasm and spreading awareness about new beliefs, behaviors, and initiatives are useful first steps for mobilizing a mindset, they aren’t enough. People have to live it or it won’t stick.

Along the way, you need to continue to evaluate your beliefs and mindsets. “You should never stop asking whether the time is ripe to cast them aside.” As part of this approach, it is important to remember that “although more roles and processes are needed as organizations and projects expand, skilled leaders wield their power to eliminate needless friction and complexity—not burden employees with ‘rules, tools and fools’ that make it tougher to do their jobs and waste money and talent.”

While scaling is often thought of in terms of growing a company, it is also about spreading an idea. Scaling Up Excellence is an excellent guide on both counts.

As we grow, how do I build on what worked without being undone by my own success? Scaling Up Excellence deals with the issues of spreading ideas and duplicating success that every leader faces. Sutton and Rao offer valuable insights for your consideration.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:48 PM
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Overcoming the Problem of Willpower

Overcoming the Problem of Willpower

OUR WILLPOWER is simply outmatched by our habits and attitudes. The solution says Caroline Arnold in Small Move, Big Change, is translate your goal into microresolutions—small but meaningful behavioral changes.

Instead of commanding yourself to be an organized person or lose weight through willpower—to be what you are not—the idea is to define explicit actions to practice, one by one, until you begin to do what an organized or fit person does automatically. “Microresolutions focus on doing, not being. Being different follows, rather than precedes, deliberate action.”

The more change we impose on ourselves, the more resistance we must overcome. And yet we nearly always shoot for an instant transformation, resolving to be slim, to be neat, to be on time. Such wannabe resolutions require changing scores of behaviors and put us broadly at war with autopilot.

The intense focus of a microresolution helps expose our veiled mindset and the subtle interplay among habits, attitudes, and values that block progress. Like a scientific experiment that alters a single variable at a time in order to precisely observe cause and effect, the single-minded focus of a microresolution exposes the source of our resistance to change. Once identified, a negative mindset can be addressed, undone, even turned in support of our objectives.

Arnold’s microresolution system is organized into seven rules:

Rule 1: A microresolution is easy. The easier it is, the less you’ll be tempted to talk yourself out of it. Rather than resolving to walk to work every day, an easy microresolution would be to walk to work one day a week.

Rule 2: A microresolution is an explicit and measurable action. Your resolution must focus on a specific change of behavior, not a result than can be achieved in multiple ways. Rather than say “eliminate 100 calories a day,” a microresolution to cut a habitual afternoon snack of a candy bar in half is an explicit and measureable action.

Rule 3: A microresolution pays off up front. To “lose twenty pounds by summer” does not have an immediate benefit. “Stop eating after 8:00 pm” does.

Rule 4: A microresolution is personal. Finding the most effective resolution requires careful self-examination.

Rule 5: A microresolution resonates. It’s positive rather than negative. Instead of “I resolve not to be defensive when receiving feedback,” you might reframe it as, “I will listen, acknowledge, and give thoughtful consideration to feedback.”

Rule 6: A microresolution fires on cue. Establishing a strong link between an action and its cue is essential for making a new behavior automatic, and a careful framing overall will help you nail your resolution and make practicing it more enjoyable.

Rule 7: Make microresolutions just two at a time. Limiting your resolutions ensures that you have the attention and endurance to stick with a behavioral shift until it becomes autopilot.

“The art of self-improvement is not about perfection but about priorities,” write Arnold. In part two, Arnold applies these rules to specific areas of self-improvement such as sleep, fitness, diet, clutter, and relationships. Small Move, Big Change is engaging to read and easy to relate to. It will help you overcome the willpower problem and make progress with any changes you’re faced with.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:30 PM
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2 Ways Organizations Obstruct Insights

We all want insights—the new thinking that “shift us to a new story, a new set of beliefs that are more accurate, more comprehensive, and more useful.” But we often don’t want the disruption they bring because insights have the power to change how we act, think and feel.

In Seeing What Others Don’t, author Gary Klein says that organizations stifle insights because we value predictability and crave perfection.

We fall into the predictability trap because we are “so captured by the lure of predictability” that we make it too high a priority. In short, we like the status quo. Managing people is easier when we know what we are doing and we are doing it in a certain way. Insights can change how we relate to each other and that creates the unexpected. “Insight is the opposite of predictable.”

Organizations don’t like errors and try to eradicate them. Mistake-free performance helps keep things on track and running smoothly. “It’s much easier and less frustrating to manage by reducing errors than to try to boost insights. You know how to spot errors. You don’t know how to encourage insights other than hanging inspirational posters on the walls.” Even though insights can improve on perfection, perfection gets the job done. Why rock the boat?

"In well-ordered situations, with clear goals and standards and stable conditions, the pursuit of perfection makes sense. But not when we face complex and chaotic conditions, with standards that keep evolving.”

“The actions we take to reduce errors and uncertainty can get in the way of insights. Therefore, organizations are faced with a balancing act. Too often they become imbalanced and overemphasize … reducing errors and uncertainty.” To increase certainty and reduce errors we tend to:
  • Impose higher standards
  • Increase controls
  • Document all sources
  • Identify assumptions
  • Increase the number of reviews
  • Justify conclusions with greater rigor
  • Rely on checklists and procedures
  • Increase the precision of schedules
All of these have benefits to organizations and individuals, but the problem arises when they are pursued with so much zeal that they interfere with insights. They can squelch thinking and reflection and lead to robotic behavior.

Insights are dis-organizing, but we need them to stay relevant and grow.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:43 PM
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Leading Through Uncertainty

Ray Davis
In times of great uncertainty, we must be leaders. In Leading 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.”

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Of Related Interest:
  President and CEO = Head of Support

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:22 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Leadership


5 Steps to Thinking in New Boxes

Asking a More Beautiful Question

THINKING 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.

In 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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Thinking


Why We Need Strangers

Why We Need Strangers

PART of the reason we get stuck and part of the reason we lack the feedback we need is that we are surrounded by the familiar. The familiar that continuously reminds us that we are doing the best we can and that we are doing it right. We are mired in the familiar when what we need is the strange.

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.”

The Necessity of Strangers is an excellent analysis on why we need to seek out the new and different. Gregerman suggests ways we might do this on a daily basis. When it comes to hiring, collaboration, and managing, most organizations reward “group think” in the name of strengthening their culture. When in fact, the opposite is what unlocks potential and leads to breakthrough ideas.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:42 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Human Resources , Leadership


The Business of Belief

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."

Business of Belief
TOM ASACKER reveals the role of belief in leadership in 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.

Effective leaders know that the first essential step to changing people's behavior is to understand their perspectives and embrace their desires and beliefs. Everything else flows naturally from there.

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.

In The Business of Belief, Tom Asacker describes the job of leadership from the perspective of beliefs—yours and theirs. It's a critical message that every leader should read. For more insights, follow him on Twitter: @tomasacker

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:14 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Leadership


Change with Confidence

Change 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.

Buckley writes:
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.

If leaders don't change first, the people actually being asked to do the heavy lifting won't either. I have seen change leaders attempt to force changes through fear and threats. This might work in the short run but always fails over time. A forced change loses steam as soon as the pressure is removed.
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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:50 PM
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Remember, It Was Once Someone’s Good Idea

Remember It Was Once Someone’s Good Idea

MANY, 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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:56 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Communication , Problem Solving


5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do Well

Smart Risk Takers

Doug Sundheim’s book, Taking 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.

Smart Risk Zone 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:

  1. Find something worth fighting for. It is what all smart risks have in common. It must be simple, stir emotion, lend itself to a story or narrative, and inspire action.
  2. See the future now. Ask questions, understand concerns, test the concept behind your ideas, and predict as many fail points in advance that you can. Have an open, honest conversation with trusted people around you to determine what is the worst that could really happen.
  3. Act fast, learn fast. Start before you know where to start, fail early, often, and smart—build learning into everything, and stay humble. Accept that you have to live with failure—since it is an inevitable by-product of taking risks, even smart risks. Failing smart is the best way to learn.
  4. Communicate powerfully. Expect communication to break down and plan accordingly. Share thought processes, meet regularly, and don’t avoid difficult conversations.
  5. Create a smart-risk culture. Define a smart failure—the acceptable boundaries within which it is okay to fail. Reward both the successes and these smart failures.

Communication is a critical element of each of these stages. “At every stage of any risk, improving the way in which you discuss thoughts, plans, and actions is the single most effective way to derisk the risk, that is, to make it smart.”

Taking Smart Risks makes a solid case for and gives the methodology to push ourselves and our organizations out of our comfort zone to achieve growth, innovation, results, and satisfaction. Importantly, it also a book about how to live with the inevitable failures that are part of a meaningful life.

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Fail More Embracing The Dip

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:34 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Communication , Creativity & Innovation , Management , Problem Solving , Thinking


Why We Find it Hard to Change Our Behavior

Why We Find it Hard to Change Our Behavior

WE 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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:13 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Personal Development , Thinking


The Four Leadership Traits of Highly Collaborative Leaders

Highly Collaborative Leaders

COLLABORATION 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:

  1. They focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive aggressiveness. Leaders do what they say they will do and don’t take disagreements personally.
  2. They relentlessly pursue transparent decision making. “There’s a direct relationship between the agility and resilience of a team and the transparency of its decision-making process. When you’re open and transparent about the answers to three questions — who made the decision, who is accountable for the outcomes of the decision, and is that accountability real — people in organizations spend far less time questioning how or why a decision was made.” Being mysterious about decisions doesn’t make a leader more powerful. It is an illusion.
  3. They view resources as instruments of action, not as possessions. Collaboration is attainable only if you are willing to share resources as well. “The more transparent the environment, the more willing leaders will be to share resources in support of the shared goals of the entire business, and the harder it will be for resisters to hoard them.”
  4. They codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards. When collaborative behaviors are “codified into an end-to-end system across your organization, the greater the odds of collaboration succeeding when you’re not there to reinforce cultural norms. As you define the decision paths of your organization and build a common vocabulary to make those decision paths as transparent as possible, take the time to establish clear parameters. Who gets to make decisions? Are all decisions tied to funding? These are the types of questions to which everyone must know the answers.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:43 AM
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Resilience: How We Can Learn to Bounce Forward

Bounce Forward

ALL OF US will be tested from time to time on our ability to adapt—on our resilience.

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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Crystal Ball LeadingViews Resilience

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:22 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Teamwork


Adaptability: The Art of Winning In An Age of Uncertainty

Max 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.”

Adaptive intelligence is the ability to perceive how well a behavior fits in with a particular circumstance. It’s about fit. These ideas also have implications for our relationships as well. Failing relationships may be seen as a failure to adapt to the presence of another person. Sometimes that's called self-centeredness.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:29 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business , Management , Personal Development


The Pivot Point of Organizational Change

We know that the vast majority of organizational change initiatives fail. Why? The general answer is our resistance to change. But what if it’s something else?

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.

The Pivot Point helps us to understand our natural reaction when our stability is shaken by change. The key to successful change is managing people’s reaction to instability created by change.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:28 PM
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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.

They begin with an innovative idea—even developing beyond all expectations—but eventually they begin to show signs of aging. Claudio Feser writes in Serial Innovators, “Some firms become blinded by success and begin to resist external views and challenges. Some are locked into mental models and become driven by habits. Some lose the sense of purpose that pervaded them in the early days. Some become bureaucratic. Some have processes and incentive systems that have put them on an autopilot, leading in a dangerous direction. Some develop dysfunctional organizational cultures.”

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:
  1. Cultivate the organizations members’ desire to make a difference.
  2. Build a team of learners at the top.
  3. Frame the organization’s vision and strategy positively.
  4. Build on self-managed performance cells.
  5. Promote the organization’s members’ drive to perform and grow.
  6. Invest in capabilities to quickly develop new assets and skills.
  7. Cultivate a culture that fosters execution and promotes challenge.
Again, it is a leadership issue with a leadership solution.
If company leaders do not accept challenge and diverging views, neither will the organization.

If company leaders do not show self-confidence, do not have a positive mindset, and do not role-model resilience, the organization will not develop the confidence to adapt to ever-changing and dynamic markets.

If company leaders do not change their behavior when confronted with new situations, the company will run on autopilot.

If company leaders do not clearly define the structure of the organization and fight organizational complexity, complexity will creep throughout the organization.

If company leaders do not thoughtfully review and reward performance, behaviors fostering collaboration and innovation will become rare and–over time—disappear.
After all, organizations are only human.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:11 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Management


Innovation Creates Uncertainty

We 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.

Innovation creates uncertainty. Creativity changes the status quo, but if we want to grow and develop we have to get comfortable with the unknown and accept reasonable risk. Our fear of uncertainty can cause us to reject new ideas just because they are new.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:58 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation


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 1: Your Crisis Response Started Yesterday. What a company does isn’t likely to change much when a crisis strikes or for any length of time. “They are driven by culture, and culture simply can’t be changed quickly, even in a crisis…. Therefore, the chief questions to ask yourself about how your company will respond in a crisis are not contingency plans and policies, but about your culture and your people. Have you created a culture that rewards transparency and accepts responsibility for mistakes? Have you created a culture that encourages people to take on challenges and strive for improvement? Have you created a culture that values people and invests in their capabilities? Have you created a culture that prioritizes the long term?”

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 [the 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—the 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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Forged In Crisis Remains of the Day

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business , Leadership , Management , Problem Solving , Teamwork


Got Drama?

Stop Workplace Drama

YOU can’t stop The Drama. There will always be drama.

But that’s not the problem says Marlene Chism, author of 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 becomes 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?”

He said, “Seeing my kids, but…”

I said, “No buts. Are you willing to drive to Illinois several times a year and spend quality time with your kids, even if Patty does nothing more than cooperate?”

Joe said, “Yes.”

It’s never as difficult as we make it when we get clear on what we can control and what we are committed to.. The point here is that clarity may or not change Joe’s ex-wife. Joe will struggle if that is his motive or intention. However, Joe’s clarity will give him the essence of what he really wants. If he is able to let go of distractions and not get stuck on the rocks that lie between him and his final goal.

Do you see that while this kind of clarity may not change all the drama, it will give you peace and free up your energy for more productive endeavors?

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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:00 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Change , Communication , General Business , Human Resources , Management , Personal Development , Teamwork , Vision


A Case for Reconsidering the Way We’ve Always Done It

A 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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Education , Human Resources , Leadership Development , Thinking


How to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change

Dragonfly EffectSocial 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 final goal is not just to get 100,000 people into your group; rather, now that you have the attention of 100,000 members, your goal is to inspire and enable your group to take action. In moving forward, you must be cognizant of where the true power of social technology lies: not in the technology itself but in the people who use it. Movements that begin online must be backed by real-life action; otherwise there is no point.
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.

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The Dragonfly Effect Model Review:
  • One Goal / Single Outcome
  • What is Your Headline?
  • What is Your Story?
  • What Can Someone Do?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:53 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business


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
He reports in 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!

Related Interest:
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

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:02 AM
| Comments (0) | Change


The Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto

Reality-Based Leaders Manifesto

“If you believe that leadership is tougher today than it was in the past, you’re not alone,” writes Cy Wakeman, author of Reality-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:

  1. Refuse to argue with reality
  2. Greet change with a simple “Good to know”; defense is an act of war
  3. Depersonalize feedback—whatever the source
  4. Let go of our need for love, approval, and appreciation at work so we can focus on the goals of our organization and not on satisfying our egos
  5. Are very careful about what we think we know for sure
  6. Ask ourselves, “What is the next right thing I can do to add the most value?”
  7. Ask others, “How can I help?” instead of judging and blaming
  8. Work to find the opportunity in every challenge
  9. Work harder at being happy than at being right
  10. Work with the willing
  11. Lead first, manage second
  12. Value action over opinion

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Argue With Reality 5 Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:07 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Leadership , Thinking


Getting Ideas to Flow

Getting Ideas to Flow

Charles 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. Sometimes 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.

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Creative Construction Creativity Inc

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:16 PM
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The Five Accountabilities You Need to Implement Now

No 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.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:56 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Change , Ethics , Personal Development


Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

It is not unusual for organizations (individuals) to fall short of the outcomes to which they aspired within the time allotted for that change. The biggest obstacle is getting people at all levels committed to the change. Commitment requires both hearts and minds. The problem is hearts and minds often have different agendas.

“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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:06 AM
| Comments (0) | Change


Leading in Turbulent Times

Leading In Turbulent Times

I 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.

I think we all understand that this type of change requires a special kind of leadership. Kevin Kelly and Gary Hayes have collected in 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 haven’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.

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Leadership in Turbulent Times Forged In Crisis

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:14 PM
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Leaders Change Minds

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 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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:46 AM
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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.
—John Travolta as George Malley in the film Phenomenon
Transforming Your Leadership Culture
To create transformation change in an organization you need to change the culture. This may seem to go without saying, but we often try to make changes without changing the underlying belief systems. Belief systems drive behavior. In 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.”

At National Bank, “permission” wasn’t simply an issue of scheduling. The large conference room was located on the top floor of the building and used exclusively by senior executives, not by vice presidents. The vice president and director offices were on the floors below; lower-ranked employees were lower still, filling in the middle floors; the ground level housed administrative and support operations. The furnishings in the building changed by floor too. The top floor featured leather chairs, high-quality wood desks and tables, artwork, and attractive kitchen and washroom facilities. Below that level, floors housed progressively less expensive furnishings.

The night before the meeting, Mike was working late in his office finishing up his presentation: “A couple guys from our maintenance staff kept walking past my office with chairs from the meeting room down the hall. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I arrived on the top floor for our big meeting. The maintenance staff had replaced all the leather chairs from our floor.”

Here the power of the culture reveals itself: no one had told the maintenance staff to trade out the chairs. There was no policy or precedent for doing so. The maintenance crew made its own decision, based on its understanding that certain chairs went with certain levels of status. Without question, they simply followed the cultural norm. The cultural authority and trappings of status were so embedded in the organization that it didn’t even occur to them that vice presidents might sit in executive chairs while meeting on the executive floor.
“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?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:37 PM
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You Can’t Order Change: Making Ethics and Compliance a Clear Competitive Advantage

When 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.
You Can’t Order Change

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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:35 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Ethics , Human Resources , Management


A Downturn Provides the Ideal Opportunity to Force Hard Choices

Downturn Provides the Ideal Opportunity

LONDON 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.

Large-scale change initiatives typically require eight to 10 years to complete and often run out of steam along the way. Downturns provide an ideal opportunity to re-invigorate an ongoing transformation. Managers can harness a downturn to renew a sense of urgency, justify unpopular decisions and overcome complacency or resistance to change.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:29 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business


Maybe What You Need is a Little Disruption

Disruption Brought Order

How Disruption Brought Order
IN TIMES LIKE THIS we need to rethink what we are doing. Hit the reset button. Jean-Marie Dru’s prescription may be just the thing you need. Dru is the President and CEO of TWBA/Worldwide and author of How 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 has 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:

Disruption Is:

• 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 client's 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

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Simple Sabotage Disrupt You

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:01 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Marketing


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 “every day 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 firehouse whether there’s a fire or not. Every day 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 realities 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.

A Sense of Urgency

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.

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Urgent Patience Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:10 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Interviews


What Do You Mean “Urgent Patience”?

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:

Behaving urgently does not mean constantly running around. Screaming “Faster-faster,” creating too much stress for others, and then becoming frustrated when no one else completes every goal tomorrow. That is false urgency. People who understand the basics—a faster-moving world, the need for more urgency—fall into the false-urgency trap far too often.

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.

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Kotter on Urgency Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:38 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Management


How to Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency

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 it 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.”

A Sense of Urgency
Your greatest tool for maintaining urgency is the knowledge that “urgency leads to success leads to complacency.” Keeping up the urgency to stay the course to a long-term goal or to maintain a high level of performance in the face of short-term gains requires a conscious reworking of the four tactics again and again. “Acting Urgently is the tactic that creates results quickly. The other three tactics can all be started immediately, but will take time.”

Kotter provides many examples made helpful by his insight. He extracts tips and behaviors that will guide you in developing a culture of urgency in your organization (and life).

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Kotter on Urgency Our Iceberg is Melting

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:34 PM
| Comments (0) | Change


Newswire: July 14, 2008 Facilitating Organizational Change

    TomMendozaTom Mendoza, vice chairman of NetApp, a storage and data management solutions provider, talked to The Economic Times about facilitating organizational change.
  • Change Is All About Leadership and Communication
    The Economic Times

    Mendoza contends that, “Organizations are usually resistant to change because they don't have a perspective on why they need to change or what the benefits of change are (or the risks of not changing). Change is all about leadership and communication and often needs new individuals in key areas to lead it.

    “A key to successful change is communication and recognition. Assuming that employees have pride in the organization and want to see it succeed, change can be continually implemented. Most successful change involves people at multiple levels being involved in the planning and communication process.

    ”The benefits of the change should be measured and shared along with the recognition of people and groups who have done the most to achieve the results.”

    More than technology, “The human element dwarfs others when discussing change. Leadership, communication and recognition throughout the process are essential for changing behavior.”

    You can find the complete interview at The Economic Times.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:59 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , NewsWire


How To Troubleshoot Change

In Managing Complex Change, Delores Ambrose presented a matrix for creating a strategy for change and for evaluating change initiatives. It can be useful in identifying the reactions people are having to the change process and to understand why those reactions occurred. From there, one can consider what will need to be done to get a derailed change strategy back on track. The basic idea is as follows:

It begins with vision – a compelling future state. It provides direction and a sense of unity in a group. Without it, people are likely to feel confused.

Change requires that people move into new territory, but if they don’t feel that they have the necessary skills to effectively carry out their part, they will more than likely experience anxiety. Additionally, if there is no incentive, if people don’t see the value of the change – what’s in it for them – they are bound to be resistant to it. Incentives, while giving a rational for change, also help to build consensus.

Resources are those things that people feel they will need to carry out a change initiative. They could be physical or emotional resources. Without them they are likely to feel frustrated.

Finally, without a clear action plan, people will experience false starts – a sense of being on a treadmill, not really being able to get any traction.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:01 AM
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How To Have Just Enough Anxiety

Just Enough Anxiety

Just Enough Anxiety
Robert Rosen has written an excellent book on an issue we all deal with—anxiety. It’s not a bad thing, but “if you let it overwhelm you, it will turn to panic. If you deny or run from it, you will become complacent.” Rosen believes that our problem in dealing with anxiety stems from faulty thinking. In Just 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.
Just Enough Anxiety

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Grounded Lack of Awareness

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:30 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Change , Personal Development , Thinking


Insultants Wanted

Breakthrough Company
We need people who will tell us like it is in the right way. Often we don’t like to hear what they have to say but we should never discourage them. Frequently, leaders are the last to know. Keith McFarland author of The 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:
  • Be Empathetic. Yours isn’t the only point of view. Understand where others are coming from.
  • Don’t Attack. Finger pointing is not acceptable. “The most powerful tool in the insultant’s arsenal is the question—and knowing how to ask the right question at the right time.”
  • Don’t Triangulate. “Most people find talking behind someone’s back to be insulting—so effective insultants avoid it at all costs.”
  • Don’t Kid Yourself—Your Real Motivation Will Be Obvious. “If you mean to embarrass, demean, or criticize another person, while you might succeed in that goal, you will have unnecessarily sacrificed any opportunity you had to contribute change.”
  • Be a Grown-Up. “An insultant’s job is to make sure an issue gets a thorough vetting, not to convince everyone to see the world his or her way.”
  • Be Assertive and Persistent. “Not everyone will be receptive to the hard truth, so an insultant must be both assertive and persistent, returning to the issue as often as he or she thinks is necessary to get the point across.
As a leader, you gain nothing by not knowing what people are thinking. People with ideas and challenges to your way of doing things are not necessarily being insubordinate. They are practicing leadership. Leaders can encourage a candid environment be celebrating productive failure, involving people enough in the issues that they can make intelligent contributions, focusing on both employees and customers that have left the company, and using humor to encourage frankness and trust.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:47 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Change , Leadership Development , Management , Problem Solving


Top-Down Change

The 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.

See also:
  Leading Change: Our Iceberg is Melting
  It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:23 PM
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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.
—Reinhold Niebuhr
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.

The authors set about to do just that. “If you want to change the world, you eventually have to change how people behave. And if you want to change how they behave, you have to first change how they think.” The key idea is this: “A few behaviors change drive a lot of change.”

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:
  • “People choose their behaviors based on what they think will happen to them as a result. If you want to change behavior, any behavior you have to change maps of cause and effect.”
  • “When it comes to resistant problems, verbal persuasion rarely works. Verbal persuasion often comes across as an attack. People aren’t about to give up what gives them intense pleasure or what constitutes an important window into their view of self simply because of a well-turned phrase.” Instead, “come up with innovative ways to create personal experiences. Nothing changes a mind like the cold, hard world hitting it with actual real-life data.”
  • “Stories can create touching moments that help people view he world in new ways.” Why? “Because stories help individuals transport themselves away from the role of listener who is rigorously applying rules of logic, analysis, and criticism and into the story itself.”
There is more than one way to influence and if you are only using one of them as a matter of habit, it may explain why you are having difficulty bringing complex and resistant problems to a solution. There are six sources of influence that drive our behavior divided between two domains—motivation and ability. They reason, “Virtually all forces that have impact on human behavior work on only two mental maps—not two thousand, just two. At the end of the day a person asks, ‘Can I do what’s required?’ and ‘Will it be worth it?’

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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:53 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Change , Motivation


When is it Time to Move On?

Managing Change
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.

For me, I think the big lesson here is that no matter how great the title is, how great the company is, how long you’ve been there, or how much you enjoyed the run, there are points in time—particularly cultural points in time—when you need to step back and reassess, and ask, “Is this what I want tot do for the next X number of years, and do I have a cultural fit?” And understand that even though it may have this—the company may have the same name it had before—the culture might not be the same as it was before. It’s time to step down and start anew.

I think at the end of the day, when your values and how you like to work are totally simpatico with the values and the culture of the organization you work in, you have a very high probability of success, because in a sense you’re swimming in your own element. If, in fact you have a disconnect between the two—and again, it’s not about better or worse, or good or bad; it’s just about different—then you really have to step back and ask, “What does this really mean, and do I want to put a stop to it here? Is it the time to fold them and move on and reinvent yourself?” And that’s what I did.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:04 AM
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You Can Change!

You Can Change

WHEN 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.”

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Strengths Not To Be Indulged Changing Your Nature

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:20 AM
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Rick Warren: 5 Steps to Leading Change

rick warren
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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:09 AM
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History Speaks on Change and Innovation

History Speaks on Change and Innovation

THE 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.
Library of Alexandria
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.

The tension between the old and the new produces thoughtfulness, encourages creativity, and develops understanding. Good innovations come with an understanding of the past. We should respect the past but never allow it tyranny over the new. If we are quick to dismiss the past, how do we know when to embrace the new?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:37 AM
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Breaking Old Habits

Robert Waterman, Jr. tells us in his book Adhocracy—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.

Habit haunts us even when we ought to know better. Stress—the kind produced by rapid change—seems to make us revert to mindless, programmed behavior. Maybe we’re just fearful of change and failure, for even when we know a situation cries out for adhocracy, we often chose the old, familiar path.

Many habits are useful; we wouldn’t be able to get through the day without them. Habit in general is comforting. But how do we break those habits that have outlived their usefulness?
He suggests four ways to help us break out of our comfort zones:
  1. Make a public commitment to change
  2. Take at least one small step in the new direction as soon as possible
  3. Go cold turkey; no lapses allowed
  4. Build in tremendous positive reinforcement for the new behavior, and don’t slow down long enough to let old habits sneak back

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:41 AM
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Bill Gates on Turning Caring Into Action

Bill Gates TurningCaringIntoAction

Bill Gates
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 below.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.

To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps.

If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution.

Cutting through complexity to find a solution runs through four predictable stages: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have — whether it’s something sophisticated, like a drug, or something simpler, like a bednet.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

Sixty years ago, George Marshall came to this commencement and announced a plan to assist the nations of post-war Europe. He said: “I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. It is virtually impossible at this distance to grasp at all the real significance of the situation.”

Thirty years after Marshall made his address, as my class graduated without me, technology was emerging that would make the world smaller, more open, more visible, less distant.

In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal. But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them.

Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:28 AM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Getting Unstuck

5 Leadership Lessons
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:

1  “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.”

2  “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.

3  “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.”

4  “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.”

5  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.”
Getting Unstuck

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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:06 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Change , Five Lessons


Martin Luther King Jr. and Adaptive Change

MLK Change


HEN 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.”

MLK I have a Dream

“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.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 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. MLK March 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.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:11 AM
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Sir John Harvey-Jones on Change

John Harvey-Jones
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.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:30 AM
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Grassroots Change

Grassroots Change

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 without being a bull-in-a-china-shop. 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:

  • "Corporate powers that be aren't going to be interested in the fruits of your labor and passion unless you are adept at understanding their agenda and speaking their language."
  • Direct confrontation can backfire. You can’t be forceful, loud, confrontational, or declarative. You have to sell what you have on their terms.
  • A better way to change a system is to work through it as a bottom-up insider, quietly chipping away at standard operating procedures, creating small opportunities to do what you really want to do, until you achieve a real success. Then you can break out your agenda in a larger way. You have to work behind the scenes
  • Building credibility is essential. Once you have earned credibility and are in a position to get what you want, you need to strike a series of devil’s bargains. To horse-trade with the devil, you have to look him squarely in the eye and make the right demands for him. Then you need to be prepared to "horse-trade with the devil" by trading "a sure thing for the right to experiment."
  • Incremental change has higher potential for success.
  • Timing is critical. Development in the industry or in the business can open or close doors for opportunity for change.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:47 AM
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Carly Fiorina On Leading Change

Fiornia-Tough Choices
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.

Leadership is about making a positive difference, and anyone, from any position, can choose to lead.

People don’t want to be mediocre; they’re just sometimes afraid they can’t be any better, or that it won’t make any difference even if they are.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:18 AM
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Leading Change: Our Iceberg is Melting



ARVARD 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 is 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.


1. Create a sense of urgency. (not panic) “Problem. What Problem?” Take the issue to the right people.
2. Pull together the guiding team. This team must be strong enough to guide the change—leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills and a sense of urgency. If you look at the companies that are good at initiating a major change, increasingly you'll find that it doesn’t work if the top few try to do all the heavy lifting.


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.


4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in.
5. Empower others to act. Remove barriers so that people can act on the new direction. Get the “junk” out of the way to get the momentum. Empowerment, but not a free-for-all—competent training may be called for.
6. Produce short-term wins. It’s critical because you always have skeptics. Tangible success will help to drain the power from these people and bring them on board.
7. Don’t let up. Even after the win, keep up the pressure to keep the momentum going. Be relentless until you reach the end goal.
8. Create a new culture. Make sure that it sticks—internalized.

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.


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Kotter on Urgency Thats Not How We Do It Here

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:48 AM
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The Tripping Point

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 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.” Successful 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."

They interviewed, among hundreds of others, retired Stanford professor James G. March who added this, “Short-term reality is an insult to the vision. You have to be self-delusional to create change—it’s a useful craziness guided or founded on your clear identity and knowing what you must do.”

The book is an excellent survey of how enduringly successful people have made success happen. There are a lot of great nuggets in here worth taking a look at. We’ll look at a few more of them in the days ahead.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:06 AM
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The Neuroscience of Leadership

Neuroscience of Leadership

CREATING 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:

  • Change is pain. Organizational change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort.
  • Behaviorism doesn’t work. Change efforts based on incentive and threat (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.
  • Humanism is overrated. In practice, the conventional empathic approach of connection and persuasion doesn’t sufficiently engage people.
  • Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
  • Expectation shapes reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.
  • Attention density shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal evolution.

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.

Cognitive scientists have known for 20 years that the brain is capable of significant internal change in response to environmental changes, a dramatic finding when it was first made. We now also know that the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus.

Attention continually reshapes the patterns of the brain. Among the implications: People who practice a specialty every day literally think differently, through different sets of connections, than do people who don’t practice the specialty. In business, professionals in different functions — finance, operations, legal, research and development, marketing, design, and human resources — have physiological differences that prevent them from seeing the world the same way.

What does this mean on a practical level? 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.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:24 AM
| Comments (0) | Change


“If it ain't broke...” Thinking Leads Nowhere

If It Aint Broke Thinking

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.

Certainly, change must become a part of our orientation. It’s difficult to be a leader today without that 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 be or could 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.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:12 AM
| Comments (0) | Change




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