Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leader or Celebrity

Common belief suggests that the test of whether you’re a leader or not is to see if anyone is following you. If no-one is following you then you are not leading anything or anyone.

The problem with this, is that many people consider themselves great leaders because they have a lot of followers. One characteristic does not necesarily follow the other. A rock star or celebrity can have crowds of people swarming after them, crooning, screaming and wanting to emulate them. Whilst some may use their status to further a cause does that status make them leaders?

Our current culture however has subtly sent the message out that to be a good leader you have to be popular. To be popular you have to be engaging, entertaining, make people feel good etc. I am surrounded by people in positions of leadership who have assumed those roles by popularity not by any true vision, passion, purpose or courage but simply by the fact that they have made themselves popular and asume that because they are popular they are a leader.

How many leaders are actually struggling to find passion, direction and purpose because they have focussed their energy in their ability to entertain. Maybe you once had a purpose and passion but are you dancing to the expectations of the audience, keeping the ticket sales up and the auditorium full. Ask yourself then whether you are really leading or performing. 

People through the ages that have lead ideas, nations or even just small enterprises that have changed the course of history have not cared whether there was a crowd that followed. They have been true to what they honestly believed was right and the vision they had, even at their own peril. They have stepped into spaces that have been unpopular and have even disturbed the norm.

Its that courage and sense of purpose that drew people with them. Its not something they engineered.

In an age where social media and political correctness also instills a notion that you have to have lots of friends or “likes” to be recognised, any provocative input is simply to get a response to achieve this.

Many people that have influenced our world have made themselves vulnerable and expressed the loneliness of forging beyond the accepted norm.

To “lead” means your going somewhere. Are you really leading people to a destination? Does your destination exclude your own popularity? Are you basing your "success" on the number of people around you? Are the people following you just fans?

Are you using them or are they using you?

Are you just a celebrity?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You can't handle the truth

Most of us know the movie where Jack Nicholson glares at Tom Cruise in a military court and yells “you want the truth… can’t handle the truth!!

The fact is that the character played by Jack Nicholson was the one who couldn’t handle the truth! What he couldn’t handle was his own truth being exposed back at him and his reaction was actually defensive even though it was accusatory. How often have we gone down a path, progressed a project or made a choice and not too far down the road we realise that maybe it was a bit flawed. The last thing we want at that stage is someone coming along and pointing that out to us isn’t it.

Continuously I see key leaders and executives pushing on with a program, project or line that is fundamentally flawed however they will pursue it through to its conclusion. Why? Because they live in fear of looking foolish. Is it because we all actually “cant handle the truth”? We all want to be told the truth ..... Don’t we? Yet we continually tell people what we think “they want to hear” rather than the truth? Naaah your not fat you look great!

We sanitise our reports because we need to show our superiors we have it under control and, don’t go to your boss with problems only solutions etc. These subtle messages become implanted in our heads and are further influenced by a culture and training that says success is measured by your achievements and completing projects “on time” and “on budget”. This thinking provides little safe space for team members to be able to identify, shut down or challenge anything. We have been taught to put aside our fears and to move forward in uncertainty however we have not supported the need to also stop!

Do we have the courage to be proactive in stating that we need to change and reverse our decisions or admit that we got it wrong (even if it was so long ago) or are we inadvertently creating fear in those around us in light or our own fear. Jack Nicholson - “You can’t handle the truth”.

What would really happen if you front the Boss, Director, Board or Minister and say “I recommend that we “pause” this project until we can confidently confirm it will deliver what we thought it would before we lose any more money or commit any more resources” OR “given the information and signs that I now observe I would like to change my recommendation on this matter”.

Remember the story about the Emperor with no clothes. Most people can see the truth. But who can really handle it?

Are you running a business, project or program that you know is flawed but are continuing purely out of fear? Are you being driven by politics (internal or external)?

Have a look at the real outcome and be prepared to challenge OR be challenged on what you’re doing.
Interestingly enough the title of the movie was "A few good men". Maybe we need a few more.

Can you handle the truth?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Turning Right

I've spent a fair amount of time driving on the wrong side of the road. This is not because I am a lunatic destined for destruction but simply the fact that driving in the USA is the reverse to Australia.

Whilst I do not find this difficult on the surface it became very evident that my brain was doing some significant gymnastics in the background that often mirrors our behaviour in personal and business life.

Firstly, due to my unfamiliarity to the various regions I was consistently using a GPS to get me to the locations I needed to go. The guidance voice would tell me to turn right but the first reaction that I had was to turn left. Why was this? Because my learned behaviour told me that to do a right hand turn in Australia I needed to move to the centre line and negotiate crossing over the oncoming traffic. This of course was on my left hand side now so my brain was continuing its task of translating the information and reversing it even though it didn't need to. Therefore an instruction to turn right must mean turn left? A learned paradigm!

The instruction was simple and needed no interpretation but because my brain was translating all the other roads aspects in the background it naturally took this instruction and translated it too.

The second thing that was happening was even when I knew I had to head east, my first inclination was to turn west. By now your thinking I have a serious problem but my natural compass was being screwed up because I was now in the northern hemisphere and the sun was now in the wrong part of the sky.

Now if I had all the time in the world and didn't care where I ended up this would not be a problem, (except for the people behind me in the traffic) but sitting here safely off the road sipping my Starbucks coffee I can see a parallel in how we subconsciously do similar when we interpret things in everyday life.

The learned behaviour becomes the norm, and when new advice or instructions are introduced, we translate it into the learned environment that we are used to or currently dealing with. This can often end up with disastrous outcomes or significant conflict (not unlike the drivers behind me).

Our environment is continually changing and unless we make a conscious act of stepping back and looking at what is being shown to us in a literal sense we may be at risk of inadvertently doing the learned paradigm translation into our organisational strategies and missing the essential insight or instruction. Why so many people and organisations miss the essential turns in life is because they are using the same learned translation for everything they come across without clarifying the origin and language of the message.

I recently presented to a group of business managers preparing for their annual planning cycle. When given some advice on a different way of approaching their planning it became obvious that many of the people were translating the instruction into their respective learned paradigms. This of course was totally unnecessary and confused the whole process.
Something very simple (like “turn right”) now became a complex series of unnecessary manoeuvres.

How often do we even actively ignore essential indicators, advice or warnings due to our learned translation or paradigm? Any wonder we don’t achieve our objective or take so long reaching our destination.

Give both yourself and the other drivers on the road a better chance of reaching the desired destination and check whether your "Turning Right".