Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Emergent or Manufactured Leadership

A whole industry exists in the delivery of "leadership" seminars, training, workshops and courses. Somehow it seems to be the view that if we consistently bathe in the qualities, quotes and examples of recognized leaders then some of the behaviours and values may rub off. Whilst this will always provide a level of professional development, we are really only developing management to be more effective in what they do and instil a sense of confidence and purpose.

Many organisations have re-labelled "management" to "leadership" as if by simply changing the title it will change the attributes of the role. This is essentially "positional" or "manufactured" leadership. Do we really expect to have an organization full of "leaders" anyway when most of what organizations do is administer and manage? We also see schools promoting themselves on the basis of creating tomorrow’s leaders. Firstly what does that mean, and is this now a preferred career vocation and the only one to aspire to?

A similar example of labelling is where the term "hero" is used to describe actions and people who have essentially done nothing more than their job. Whilst not denouncing the value of the role, is an ambulance officer, doctor or fire-fighter really a "hero" for saving someone’s life, when that's what they do every day for a job? Maybe schools should promote themselves by saying "we create tomorrow’s heroes"?

Have we similarly corrupted over time the reference to "leadership" and "leaders".

We also set the premise that because I have a degree or attended a course in "leadership" then I am one. People now set their career plan to work through the organisation using aspirational "leadership behaviour" which is essentially people or behaviour management.

Are we creating a breed of "positional leaders" who may know the process but may very well lack the attributes that the organisation needs in key roles and then wonder why we fail to move forward and make the step change we need?

Have we lost sight of those who would lead by their pure wiring rather than grooming? Those who "have a vision" rather than invent one? Those who have courage and insight rather than manipulate and manufacture the space around them? Those who by their simple presence invoke calm, confidence and respect?

Many current "positional leaders" might really find it rather challenging if their people started to demonstrate the emergent qualities and behaviours being put forward as leadership traits.

Emergent leaders will have a vision. They may not sell it. They may not even drive it. They won't tell you of their leadership ability nor will they cite their recent qualifications. They will not be self-seeking, but of a cause and drive that is bigger than themselves. These men and women have through history, emerged from some unlikely places and positions and if you are not aware, you may miss them in the noise of the manufactured ones.

Our disappointment with organisational leadership is potentially of our own making. For it is because of our "manufactured" and positional approach that we limit the quality of what we have to our own limitations and what we ourselves allow. We can see examples of this in current politics, where we can readily see "career" leaders unlike those who may have “emerged” and led the world through difficult periods of history.

The qualities we really seek will challenges our own positions and make us uncomfortable. Are we prepared for that? Are we ourselves in "manufactured" or positional leadership and struggling to find a vision. Are we trying maintain our own position and inadvertently stopping the “emergent” leader from moving us to the next level?

Are we able to see them?
Will we let them in?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


A notion of, everything that pleases us is correct and what bothers us is wrong stems from our "gut feel", which we often use to make many of our decisions.

Whilst this can often provide a reasonable warning indicator of danger it can also subtly affect the way we interpret many challenges that are put to us by others. 

This one premise can also be the most debilitating belief for an organisation and for individuals. The belief that an undisturbed state is preferred, and anyone or anything that introduces disturbance amounts to dissension basically makes us unable to hear anything that should "disturb" us. It makes us blind to opportunities. It will limit our innovation. It will affect any motivation to improve, or even stop what we are doing.

Whilst we might have various opinions of the story of the Titanic, do we inadvertently recreate a similar environment  in our workplace or at home. Whilst we may readily criticize the Captain for not taking heed of the warnings that were put to him, do we also prefer an undisturbed state with no challenges? 

Do we want our people to be compliant with our way of thinking? Do we get annoyed when the people around us put a different view which has the potential to cripple our plans or objectives? Are we actually dis-empowering our people to actively engage with improving our state? I wonder what the lookout at the front of the Titanic was thinking when he notified the bridge to his observations. What about the sonar operator. Were they made to feel small, did the Captain "value" their input or concern?

I have often watched employees and members of organisations put forward "unpopular" views or make hard decisions which resulted in "disturbance" only to be shut down or left out in the cold for the sake of a peaceful existence. 

Organisational leaders in fact should encourage their people to confront the norm or challenge decisions. This is the real test to the validity of the proposed action or direction and tests it for endurance and purpose. It will also strengthen the relationship within the team environment. People will feel valued and know that they are able to value add and test decisions. They will have confidence that what is being proposed can be argued, and supported and will have its best chance of producing the desired outcome. Disturbance should not be a threat to you. It should be your greatest asset.

Written on a popular t-shirt are the words 
Do not "disturb" 
I am already "disturbed" 

Why not a sign on your door that says
"Disturb me"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Empty Wrapper

We have probably all heard the response "same stuff different day" when someone has been asked how things are going. This same response may be applied when we have a look at the marketplace and its effect on us.

Organisations and institutions are continuously trying to differentiate themselves so as to attract, retain or convince the customer that what they have to offer is different or has that secret "element" that will make the difference.

Most of what is achieved or offered however is only incremental change at the best. Very little development or brainstorming ever achieves any fundamental change to the way things operate or services are delivered. That’s because most of us are not prepared to "disturb" the comfort zone. The consequence of this is that buyers and seekers of "things different" are becoming increasingly disillusioned and less inclined to respond to the variations offered which means that any "real" breakthroughs or achievements are lost in the noise.

Now in short supply of any real innovation, have we now shifted our focus to "loyalty" rather than real product development? We spoon feed the market with tantalising tit bits without giving anything of substance. The appearance is that the provider is "leading" the market with continual development when in reality they are just drip feeding the market with average level new options. Options which are actually in themselves nothing new, they were just (deliberately) missing from the original model.

The aspect of branding or "wrapping" is also evident in the car parts industry. The same part will have several different codes depending on what car you are putting it in and essentially this will come with the different price. same factory, same part, same everything but we will pay a different price for it because of the label and some idea that it must be different and therefore warrants the buyers loyalty. What’s occurring is a the propagation of a belief in something with very shallow value.

There are however some examples of doing exactly the opposite and even passionately maintaining the "core purpose" or "original product" at the expense of being "outdated" by other advanced competition, One of these is Harley Davidson. It was a conscious decision on the part of that company to stay with their clear mission and purpose from the start with almost no product change, and it has proved out.

Several things emerge here. Whether we are driving a business or looking at our personal approach, do we really know what our core business or original purpose is, or has it. or us, lost our way in the noise?

In our pursuit of bigger, brighter, fresher, have we lost sight of the true and original product? Do we understand our purpose? Have we missed the real "fundamental" insight, change or innovation that is required or possible and inadvertently settled for mediocrity?

How much do we contribute to the shallow offerings being made? Is our whole kudos or existence built on this? How much is image underpinning who we are?

Whilst it’s important to keep our lives fresh, and maintain and update our environment we need to consciously be aware of not losing sight of the core essentials and purpose. What is our objective and what does it provide? What is the real fundamental or enduring change that will make the difference? That may even be getting back to basics. By continually accepting or promoting cosmetics we may just be encouraging an offering of mediocrity and be left holding a wrapper.

Are we chasing a quick fix that will change with the next fashion offer?

Is it just the same stuff, different label? Or does the wrapper contain any stuff at all?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The importance of getting it wrong

Whilst the credo, "admitting failure is the first sign of weakness" is supposed to encourage perseverance, it also sends a subtle message that "failure is a weakness" and admitting it is worse.

Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and countless other very bright people that have been recognized for "getting it right" actually "got it so wrong" so many times, and I am sure were also ridiculed for it at the time. When asked about the basis of their success however they sighted this on the number of failures that directed them to the one that worked.

Getting it wrong is so important. It's not a failure, and understanding this fact will form a critical part of our success.

I assembled some critical components on my car recently and found that although everything looked "right" it just wasn't. Now I had done this sort of thing on countless occasions on my previous cars so what could be so wrong. I had undertaken the job the way I'd always done it and had always "got it right" but this particular car had a subtle difference (and for good reason) that I didn't realise till I had "got it wrong". The designer had incorporated a very specific element which differed from others. 

I could have continued on with the thought that all was well. The car would have continued on for a little while until a critical moment arose that depended on this one aspect. It would have all gone wrong at that point.

Some leaders and managers however inadvertently operate on a similar assumption. They run on the basis of a process that has been handed to them. 

This may be a learned paradigm that they operated with in another environment or one that came with the organisation. The failings in this thinking become quickly apparent though when difficulties arise. What seemed "right" in one circumstance is very "wrong" in another, such as a change in politics, economic down turn, market changes or even natural events. In these circumstances it’s important to know how things do work, what doesn't work, and why.

Organisational leaders that have theoretical knowledge or have inherited success usually do not understand how the first dollar, approach or product was created and why. They fail to have the understanding or experience of what didn't work which would allow them to use that knowledge to work through a solution and match it to a particular issue. 

Furthermore, modelling ourselves on people who seem to "get it right" without including the "getting it wrong" knowledge will eventually leave you quite shallow and wanting when the environment changes. Simply look at the share market and effect of the GFC.

Of course we don't want to get it wrong when our life depends on it or in critical situations. We have all seen the outcomes in those situations. It is probably why people and organisations are actively fearful of getting it wrong or even admitting it, however they probably only get it right themselves because somebody else got it wrong first. 

We need to provide the safe space therefore to "get it wrong". For our children, our employees and ourselves as we will only develop, invent, explore and drive forward when we understand the importance of "getting it wrong".

Have you really tested it? Have you encouraged the people around you to challenge it, break it pull it apart?

Are you prepared to get it wrong?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

When no-one is looking

How many meetings have we been to where there is general agreement in the room to a particular direction or intent however their behavior beyond that signifies otherwise.

The standard response for leaders and organisations in developing their mission is to include a "values & behaviors" statement as part of the Corporate Strategy. Much effort is placed on this aspect to train, encourage and even mandate that members of the organisation conform to the desired behavior thinking this will achieve the desired result or communicate to stakeholders the image they want to portray.

The problem with this is that behaviors are not an input to an outcome. They are an outworking of a "belief" or what we "value". What we believe invokes our behaviour. If we believe that our work colleague is only out for themselves or if we work long hours then I will be highly regarded, then our behavior will reflect this no matter what my corporate strategy statement says. I may comply in public but my general energy will be applied differently in private.

If we expect our organisations to truly thrive and work effectively then we need to address and understand what we ourselves "believe".

CEO's and leaders often enter an organisation with a view to "stamp" their DNA on it, assuming also that the people in the organisation also need "fixing". Much energy is put into a new "Vision" and trying to change behavior because they want people "on-board" with a fresh "strategy" or "mission statement" without first exploring what people "believe" or "value". The first mistake here is that the leaders "belief" assumption is that a fresh "statement" will "fix" the problems.

I often told my teenage children you are what you think, say and behave "when no-one is looking".

What we "value" will be very evident in what we put around us. This includes what we wear, who we wear it around, what we drive and the subconscious behavior we demonstrate. Do we have people come to us or do we go to them. do we want people on our terms or do we enter their environment.
What is the last thing you would throw overboard or cling to if your life depended on it? That's what you value. Even if you would like to think otherwise.

We will often try to manufacture a behavioral facade to achieve an organisations mission. Behavior can't be manufactured however, and if you are a leader it is what you "believe" and "value" that truly will drive or block the organisation. If you want your people to "get on board" take a look at how you "behave" and what you "value" when no-one is looking". Do you really "value" your people or are you using them to drive your own mission. You may not see it, but they do and it may be the core blocker to why you struggle to get them "on-board".

Rather than driving the behaviors, focus on the core "beliefs". Your own may be skewed, so put those on the table first. Be honest with what goes on in your own head "when no-one is looking". Is it the status, the corner office, the promotion, the proof to family or a mentor that you are somebody, or the result of your own struggle?

You might find you don't need a statement or contract for everyone to adhere to because it will be a natural outcome of a healthy core belief.

How do you think, what do you say and how do you behave "when no-one is looking".

If you put those on your mission statement how would they look?
Because that's what you believe.