December 12, 2017

Archives for 2015

Are too many bosses “control freaks?”

Sir Brian SouterSir Brian Souter, highly successful co-founder of the Stagecoach bus group and always an entertaining speaker, made the front page of the Scottish broadsheet newspaper “The Herald” on Saturday with his conference comment that “too many large companies are run by ‘control freaks’ whose outlook affects long-term business growth.”

Absolutely right, in my view. Curious, almost, that it was news.

Except it is news that he said it because it’s not conventional wisdom.

These “emperors,” as he dubbed them, “lead to poor long-term growth as they are averse to risk and trying new ideas… Some people are terrified to do anything in case it affects their share price.”

Brian went on to suggest “the proliferation of emperors in senior roles will actually stunt the potential for faster economic growth.” (He was speaking in Scotland but clearly thinking more broadly.)

I agree. I experience the consequences of this virtually every day. The agility of larger organisations especially is a fraction of what it could be.

Control freaks shut down people. And that shuts down results. You can probably see that around you, if you look properly.

Yes, we need “governance” but we also need agility and energy and genuine, empowering leadership.

I think so anyway.

What about you? Is Sir Brian right?

Being the boss isn’t the same as leading

Three people around a computerJust because you can tell someone what to do doesn’t mean you should, or that it’s the best option.

In most situations, probably, you’ll be right—the one in the know, the one with the insight to see the correct course of action, the one with the relevant experience.

But not always…

Sometimes it’ll be one of the team who has the right idea.

And that’s where we see the difference between a boss and a leader: The “boss” asserts their authority, really in insecurity, and insists on their point of view being adopted; whereas the leader has the strength and self-confidence to accept the alternative idea—to admit they may have been wrong, even.

And that’s empowering. It encourages creativity and innovation and leads to advantage.

Over the long haul, the leader and the team will beat the boss and the subordinates.

Which are you: A boss or a leader?

Most of us need a kick up the…

Two businesspeople in slightly tense conversationNo, not that.

Most of us need a kick up the assumptions—our assumptions about what’s possible, about how things might happen, and especially about other people and our relationships with them.

We tend not to see how the assumptions we unconsciously make affect the outcome in any situation. We tend to get what we expect to get because much of what happens is really our own creation. The little actions we take tend to prompt responses that reinforce what we believe.

Often we’re reluctant to declare what our assumptions are and then allow them to be examined. The consequences might be embarrassing: It might become apparent that the premises we believe to be true and have acted upon aren’t true at all. And then more things might fall away—like all the work we’ve been focused on for the last while.

And so we keep our assumptions close. We hide them. But that’s a bad idea. We might go seriously off track without the feedback we need to stay connected to what’s real.

Then we might get a real kick up the…

First step is realising we are making assumptions.

Then we need to identify what they are and whether they really are justified.

They might not be. And then we can make progress.

It’s the orderliness of you (or your business) that matters…

Four business people in a discussion…not necessarily the orderliness of your systems.

Order around us is generally helpful and a good thing—of course it is, but at the end of the day…

What really counts is our own internal order—how organised we are in what we do and how we think and who we are.

Sometimes we need to allow a little disorder outside to have order inside.

For example, it may not be vital to have one neat and tidy task management system. What is vital is effective and, ideally, efficient completion of tasks in a sensible enough order. That might mean running several management systems in parallel and accepting the messiness that entails.

In other words…

Make sure you’re optimising the right thing.

Culturally, the assumption is orderly externals lead to orderly internals. Sometimes it’s the other way round. We need to allow for the possibility—in organisations as well as in ourselves.

And if you’re more orderly inside, you’ll create more order outside.

From where does personal presence come?

TeamWe’ve all experienced people who have a powerful presence, whether we’ve come across them individually ourselves or just observed them as public figures. Indeed, we may well have that quality to a degree—even a considerable degree—ourselves. Perhaps we might like to strengthen it, or helps others strengthen it.

Presence is a key competent of natural leadership after all—the ability to make something useful happen without necessarily having the explicit authority that might appear to be needed. It’s also a key component of influence in relationships, both personal and professional.

The question is…

What are the key ingredients of presence?

Wisdom, attention to others, inner peacefulness, the capacity to absorb input, resilience, flexibility, needlessness, the ability to sense, the capacity to care… could be some of them. Perhaps being in touch with an inner strength and an openness to go with it is the key.

And how can these ingredients be developed?

By gathering knowledge, by accepting what “is” (i.e. what is unchangeable), by owning what we manifest and, therefore, can change, by seeing clearly, by overcoming our ego and identifying with our Self, by acting with courage and belief…

What do you think? What else is needed?

The ability to convey ideas…

Mid sized audience…may be scarcer than the ability to generate the ideas themselves.

It’s conventional to think that the ability to generate novel, practical ideas is rare. That may well be true.

In fact though…

The ability to get novel, practical ideas taken up and used may be even rarer.

There’s a great deal of skill in presenting a new approach in such a way that it gets adopted – much more than we typically allow for. We need a whole range of ways of overcoming natural reluctance and scepticism and instead persuading people appropriately of the merits and possibilities of a new way of looking at things, and moreover, nurturing the relationships that smooth the path for that.

How much are you recognising the ability and investment involved in influencing people to adopt something new and unfamiliar and beneficial? Do you give the art the time it deserves?

How disruptive is too disruptive?

Group of people listeningSometime we need shaken up a bit. We get set in our ways. We fail to notice that the world has changed around us.

So a disruptive input can be good for us—what we need, even if it isn’t very comfortable at the time. No doubt we will need to settle back to some stability after the upheaval, perhaps without becoming quite so ossified next time around. Or maybe we’ll manage to institute some continuous adaptation. That would be better.

From the interventionist’s perspective, how disruptive should we be?

Probably more disruptive than feels comfortable for us.

Oddly enough, to strengthen the relationship, we might need to put it at risk.

The presence needed for transformational leadership

Two business peopleTransformational leadership i.e. leadership that truly brings out the best in people in a sustainable way requires presence, or rather being present. We need to be involved and connected.

On the other hand…

Transactional leadership that seeks to manage performance just through governance of one kind and another can be conducted in a distant, aloof manner.

In fact…

Distance and aloofness more or less guarantees that the management style can only be transactional because there is no opportunity for a community of trust to develop, and so no opportunity for selfless behaviour to build. And so not much initiative is taken.

Seems obvious when you think about it.

If you want transformation and self-organisation, you might have to live the journey too. You might have to be present—not necessarily active, but definitely present.

Are you an interpreter?

Four people speaking in front of a laptopIt’s conventional to admire the creator of novel work—the ground-breaking innovator.

In fact, much value is added in the interpretation of new ideas for familiar situations. And that’s an art too.

There’s considerable skill in sensing what a person or a group needs next—where they’re at—and delivering the right insight at the right time in the right place and in the right way—interpreting an original source and making it relevant to a person or a team or an organisation so that they act on the knowledge and achieve better results.

There can be a long chain from original research to practical application, and many important roles in between.

Perhaps you fulfil some of them…

Are you an interpreter?

If so, how do you go about your trade?

Discerning patterns, seeing what’s going on

Barely readable street signsHave you ever noticed…?

If you can just faintly hear some music being played in a noisy place… If you know the piece of music, you can make it out, whereas if you don’t, you can’t. It’s just part of the noise.

Or…

If you know what some barely visible lettering says, you can read it, whereas if you have no knowledge of what’s written, you can’t decipher it.

Similarly…

If we have some idea of the patterns of behaviour we might expect to see in a situation or an organisation, we can make sense of what’s going on, even with little information. It can even be very obvious.

We might misread things, of course: We do need to be aware of that danger. We might see what we expect to see. But knowing what patterns might arise is a good start.

Contrary to what we usually assume—and as the first two examples show—our sensory experience is actually partly created. We fill in the gaps with what we already know.

What patterns are you looking out for? And how diverse are they? Enough to cover the true span of possibilities?