December 12, 2017

The importance of sifting

The importance of siftingIt’s surprising what a difference it makes, thinking over our experiences and learning.

You’d imagine that if we put all that stuff into our heads the process would be automatic after that—that we could rely on our brains to process everything comprehensively; to form all the connections that there are to form; and to generate all the ideas there are to generate. After all, we’ve put it all in one pot.

In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. The “stuff” mostly just lies there.

Instead, to make the most of what we have—all that accumulated wisdom—we do need to find ways of sifting through our experiences and new things we’ve learned. We do need to do that deliberately. And we do need to create the opportunity for new patterns to emerge.

In other words, both time to reflect and some particular approach to reflection are important.

Talking things over with other people is obviously one way, especially if they have some skill in listening and questioning. Another is writing a journal. Whatever the specifics, expressing what’s inside stimulates new realisations. Particular frameworks and models and new ways of looking at things help.

It’s like we need to cross and recross the ground in different directions, connecting up the pieces in new ways, and sorting out what is most important.

In other words, we need to sift.

So much, so obvious maybe.

The question is: Are we sifting enough?

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?

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.

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?

Life’s too short…

Maze…to have such a long process.

Sometimes, we get carried away with the thoroughness of the process we put in place. Yes, we need to do a diligent job, but good enough is good enough.

Arguably, that’s one lesson of Apple’s success—implementing enough features but not every possible feature. Sometimes it’s frustrating not to have a certain option, but overall the system is more useful and more useable. Less is often more.

So…

Where might you shorten your process?

Have you really got enough time to keep it complicated?

________

My new book “The Mastery of Leadership” is now available on Amazon – “incredibly relevant and thought-provoking.”

Drop everything?

Four business people in a discussionWe need to get people’s attention from time to time…

We may well need them to accommodate what we need done, or what they need to do to give effect to what we’re offering them.

If we expect them to drop everything though, it probably isn’t going to happen.

I’ve made the mistake several times of agreeing to buy a service or product that’s been offered to me unsolicited and then found that I don’t have the capacity to follow through on the implementation.

So in change and growth, to drop everything isn’t a realistic option, and we’ll do better if we set the pace accordingly (and choose people who recognise that).

Less is sometimes more, especially in the long haul.

Can you governance your way to innovation?

GatheringIt’s the modern management obsession: “governance” and, to a degree, quite rightly so. We do need our organisations and our projects to be well-managed.

The trouble is…

Governance on its own isn’t enough to prepare an organisation for the future. We can’t legislate for innovation and adaptation. I don’t think so anyway.

Somewhere, there needs to be enough freedom to try something new, and forgiveness if it doesn’t work out first time.

And yet…

Some organisations and some leaders – or maybe it would be more accurate to say some managers – seem to think that if only they govern rigorously enough, their organisation will be adaptable and agile.

But I believe they stand in the same position as those who attempted to succeed with a Soviet-style planned economy.

A balance is required: a combination of governance and freedom. Sounds like a contradiction? Probably it is, but that’s what’s needed. And the art of a leader – perhaps as opposed to a manager – is to hold the space for that ambiguity to exist in a tolerable and stimulating way.

What do you think?

Can strong governance and adaptation co-exist? Or is governance alone enough if it’s done sufficiently effectively?

Leadership is contagious

Two doctors in discussionUnlike management, which doesn’t really spread from person to person, leadership is contagious. If one person is an effective and energetic leader, those around them are likely to pick up some of the traits too.

Management authority has to be arranged and people have to be appointed to roles.

Whereas…

Leadership authority can be developed independently of management structure and rub off from one individual to another, to be drawn on as and when circumstances require.

A good idea then to cultivate leadership skills in an organisation—they spread.

(Thanks to Geoff Crowley, Managing Director of Highland Colour Coaters, who prompted this piece.)

The fine tuning of big change

Fast yacht sailingWe tend to think that big change requires brute force and large, broad strokes.

Maybe not…

Sometimes, the bigger the change required, the more delicate the approach needs to be—the more finely attuned is the effort that will succeed.

It’s a bit like getting a sailing boat to go fast—fine adjustment is required—just the right amount of force on the controls—not too much, not too little—everything in balance; “in the groove” of the optimum.

Marketing is like that: Push too hard and you end up with less.

It’s very obvious sometimes that people in positions of authority apply too much force and end up with less result. They’re not matching their input to the natural dynamics of the system.

They’re not in the groove.

And nor is the system.

Of course…

They need to be demanding, but not beyond the ability of the team to keep up, otherwise the result is, in fact, diminished rather than increased.