September 20, 2017

Do you give yourself the leadership you need?

Man thinkingIt’s commonly said that a leader is best to give their team the leadership they need, rather than the leadership they want.

In other words…

The leader needs to be somewhat demanding at times. Otherwise, the team is inclined to be too comfortable and perform below its potential.

It follows, therefore…

That if you work for yourself; are your own boss; or even just have a great deal of autonomy…

You also need to give yourself the leadership you need, rather than the leadership you want.

You are your own leader after all. No one else is.

If you want to perform at your best, how demanding of yourself do you need to be?

And how do you make sure that happens?

One way is to get some help and make yourself accountable to someone else.

The unchanging nature of leadership

Admiral Horatio NelsonWe’re so accustomed to ever-present change and the need to lead ourselves and others through challenging times, we’re inclined to think leadership itself is a changing field. I am anyway, or I was.

Actually, of course, it’s really the one constant…

I mean leadership in the sense of contributing something to help shape the future, or more literally, “stepping ahead.”

The nature of leading is a timeless quality, resting partly on skill, partly on personal presence, and partly on inner belief and sense of purpose, and more besides—an art much more than a science, and so somewhat elusive.

Our individual knowledge of leadership, of course, changes as we learn and grow.

And yet the nature of leadership probably stays the same, and so a very worthwhile investment.

Sometimes people talk about different styles of leadership. I’m not so sure. I believe all of these styles (or most of them) are part of the range of the best leaders—the ones with the most flexibility. Ultimately leadership encompasses them all.

Are we talking about the same thing?

Informal meetingThe conversation seems to go round in circles. Actually, it would be more accurate to say it meanders all over the place. The participants do seem to be talking about one subject though. After all, they’re using the same words.

But they’re not talking about the same thing at all.

And so the conversation doesn’t make much sense and the result is a fog.

The reason is, of course, words mean different things to different people, and they automatically attach the meaning they know to what’s said. All these different meanings have their place, to be fair, but we need to make clear which one we have in mind.

Take “leadership”, for example—one of the most talked about themes in the world today. Unfortunately, also one of the words interpreted in many different ways, such as…

Going first
The individuals in charge of an organisation
Politicians
The exercise of authority
Management
Taking the initiative in a team
Contributing something to shape the future
Stepping ahead or across
Setting an example

That’s just a few of the possible interpretations. The problem is we may not realise how different our understanding can be.

In another example, we tend to talk about measures and targets interchangeably as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. Measures help us learn about a process, and generally are helpful. Targets, on the other hand, are much more controversial. Do they lead to the desired outcomes or do they make them less likely? Talk in a muddled way about targets and measures without distinguishing between them and we have little hope of making progress.

This all seems rather obvious, but public gathering after public gathering shows we still make the mistake.

It’s wise to assume our words have a wider range of meanings than we realise and state the one we mean (as well as our respect for the rest).

If you want a fruitful conversation; take time to make clear what you’re talking about.

Otherwise, make plans for fog.

How unconscious is your leadership?

Two doctors talkingWe tend to think of leadership as something we do consciously. In fact, it’s not really like that at all.

After all…

As ground-breaking doctor and hypno-therapist, Milton Erickson said “what you don’t realise is your life is mostly unconsciously determined,” meaning we live much of our lives on autopilot. Research says about 90% of what we do, we do unconsciously. If that applies to life in general, then it must apply to us when we are in a leadership role too, and not just to us but to those we lead as well.

You could also say, for that reason, your people will do as you do, rather than what you say, or even, they will be as you are. In other words, the predominant leadership effect is people unconsciously modelling themselves on your unconsciously expressed values and behaviors. That’s if they pay attention at all, of course.

So…

If ever there was an argument for the authenticity of walking the talk, perhaps that’s it. The only way to ensure we lead unconsciously in the way we intend is to be thoroughly authentic.

Ever wonder why some discussions go round in circles?

Three in discussion… and what to do about it?

You’ll have been there, I’m sure… The conversation waxes and wanes, ranges about, goes round and round, without anybody ever seeming to “nail” the issue. Nobody falls out, but they never quite seem to line up either.

Why is that?

There could be lots of reasons, but one of them is very common…

That’s the use of oh-so-familiar, seemingly very normal, totally acceptable abstract nouns like integrity, empowerment, engagement, mediation, globalization, manipulation, trust, leadership and so on—all activities with the verbs taken out.

Any conversation that builds on words like these is bound to be dissatisfying. It’ll seem inoffensive probably, but it won’t add much value either.

You see, the trouble is…

Every single person understands these words differently, so as we converse using them, nobody’s talking about exactly the same thing, and so the reality is, we’re trying to nail the proverbial jelly.

What’s to do?

To straighten it all out, we need to put the verbs back in and express the nominalizations, as they’re called, as behaviors. For example, “integrity” might be “always being and acting true to what you say.”

But you thought “integrity” meant something else?

Well exactly, that’s the point.

Until we nail “integrity” down as some observable behaviors, we’ll go round in circles trying to promote it.

Switch on to these abstract nouns and you’ll see this fog is everywhere.

Do you notice? It’s a big deal.

More detail in my book of course, available here http://amzn.to/ouLZgs (US) or http://amzn.to/vAaZMl (UK).

Or you could ask me to speak at your event or guest on your program.

The head or the heart, where do you start?

Three people in a meeting, two shaking handsProgress on anything challenging typically needs a balance of head and heart perspectives; some emotional intelligence alongside the logic and rationale of the numbers and the processes. Neither on their own will be sufficient.

But where to start? Where to meet the other people involved?

With the head stuff, or the heart stuff?

With professional and business people brought up to “use their heads,” it often seems to make sense to meet them in that left-brain place that is so familiar, and then lead them to an emotional perspective once a level of trust is established.

With other individuals, less conditioned to be “professional”, beginning right from the heart might well work better. Or maybe that’s better in every case.

Does it depend on the context? The same individual in different circumstances might respond differently.

Perhaps the key is to connect with the person, one way or another, starting where they’re most comfortable, and then lead them to the other.

What do you think? Where do you begin—in your head or in your heart? It makes a difference.

Does personal mastery make a leader inspirational?

Admiral Horatio NelsonI lately set up a new discussion group on LinkedIn called “Personal Mastery for the Inspirational Leader.” You can join the group here.

Well, that’s not the while truth. The group began as “Personal Mastery for the Resourceful Leader” then I thought… Should the word be “resourceful” or “inspirational”?

A key part of personal mastery is having the courage and strength of belief to follow an inner sense of direction, to be “in spirit.” With that in mind, the key question around the name is…

Does personal mastery make a leader inspirational?

For me the answer to that is emphatically “yes.” In fact, I notice it chokes me up to think of it like that – a sure sign of being on the right track, in my experience.

“Inspirational” does literally mean to be “in spirit.”

So I changed the title to…

“Personal Mastery for the Inspirational Leader”

But what about you…

Which word speaks to you the most and why – “resourceful” or “inspirational”?

Bullying in the workplace – often due to weak relationship skills?

The onlookers hold their breath…

Frank has worked in the organization for years. He’s just queried the young, new manager’s request to undertake a task in a particular way. Frank doesn’t think it’s the most effective approach. In fact, he doubts it’ll work at all. The rest of the team knows there’s going to be an explosion and every one of them is suddenly engrossed in something else entirely.

The manager practically screams at Frank, “Do what I say or I’ll have you fired!” Frank controls himself with difficulty and sets off to do as he is bid, telling himself that’s the last time he’ll try and keep the boss out of trouble. Who was right? Who knows?

We’ve probably all seen it – perhaps even been guilty of it ourselves – shouting at somebody to get something done when we can’t cope with their reactions to what we say.

We call this bullying, usually.

Interventions tend to focus on eliminating the behavior, but that’s generally not an effective approach. We need to displace the problem behavior with something that is wanted instead.

As Robert Dilts says in one of his books, it’s better to respond to the positive intention behind a behavior rather than the behavior itself. The positive intention of the “bully” is usually to achieve an outcome that is wanted by all or at least most, but they don’t have the ability to handle relationships in a resourceful enough way in extreme situations. Few set out for work planning who they’ll be unpleasant to today. The problem stems from a lack of skill in dealing with people.

So to eliminate bullying, work on relationship skills, would be my suggestion.

What about you? How do you deal with bullying behavior in your organization? How many perpetrators are just simply uncaring and how many “lose it” because they run out of skills to deal with challenges resourcefully?

(May you outwit the bully wherever he or she may be found.)

Is individual learning enough to deliver organizational learning?

You’ve heard it before. You might even have said it yourself…

“Training doesn’t work.”

or

“When I get back to the workplace, I find it very hard to apply what I’ve learned.”

These can be opposite sides of the same coin – a disconnect between individual learning and organizational learning.

The thing is…

We can train as many individuals as we like in new skills, but if the organization doesn’t learn anything, the organization’s overall behavior and performance won’t change.

So what has to happen for an organization to learn?

Peter Senge, a leading authority in this area, would say there needs to be a shared vision of a compelling future; shared models and understanding of how things work; unbiased dialogue; an understanding of the systemic and dynamic nature of things (in which cause and effect may be separated in both time and space); and personal acceptance of both responsibility for outcomes and the need to improve personal performance, which he calls “personal mastery”.

In balder terms, the leaders of the organization need to go on a learning journey together and take a critical mass of the workforce along with them.

Peter’s prescription shows why “gaming” the system can be so damaging to progress because it makes learning by the organization and the wider enterprise impossible. His conditions are not met when players manipulate things for their own ends. Examples are all around.

He also says that the key enabler of the conditions for organizational learning is the quality of the relationships amongst the participants.

So you might like this reminder…

Take care to distinguish between individual learning and organizational learning. If you want the latter to occur, you might need to deliver more than just the former.

And you might like to apply your skill in relationships to the organizational learning on which we all depend.

How strong is the connection between individual learning and organizational learning in your world?

Is our instinctive, defensive response to competition the right one?

When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.

This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.

But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?

Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.

Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?

One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.

We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.

We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.

Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?

How do you respond to competition?