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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Collecting Leadership Skills – Authorities Speaking

Lists with characteristics and skills of great, effective leaders abound, I looked for authorities in the field who emphasize aspects of leadership that too often seem to go under emphasized. It’s a personal selection, and could easily have contained other experts and characteristics. I consider the following five crucial to effectively leading groups and organizations, even though it is not an all-inclusive list.  

1.    Integrating different mindsets

“The Five Minds of a Manager” by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg tells us that the following need to be combined: The reflective mind-set, the analytical mind-set, the worldly mind-set, the collaborative mind-set, and the action mind-set. This is far from an easy task, but it starts with awareness of the importance of these mindsets, with awareness of how you function on these five mind sets, with soliciting feedback from others, and last and most crucial: with consistently working to choose the right mindset and persistently working to improve. In my experience, when the going gets tough, too many leaders have difficulty with the collaborative and the reflective mind-set: They retreat in their trenches, go in to self-defense mode, and the level of suspicion and the amount of ego-centered perspectives and decisions rockets sky high. Be aware!

2.    The Power of Play

Play. What can I say? It inspires creativity, it is a state of mind. My earlier post titled Let’s Play, on May 18, 2011 is inspired by Stuart Brown’s Minneapolis lecture and on his book on the importance of play. Same thing here.

Creativity requires playfulness. To innovate and to solve complicated problems you must play with things, words, ideas, and people. You also need the ability to maintain a sense of humor and to see the contradictions in life as exciting challenges. Everyone is capable of using his imagination but in the world of business, the focus tends to be on the so-called objective reality and on analytical skills. Dreams, fantasies, and imagination seem to be devaluated outside the world of art, design, and children. Fundamental to a reluctance to play is a fear of appearing irrational, emotional, silly, or out of control. What a shame, it’s so rich and promising. Some ways to increase your ‘playfulness’: ask ‘ What if…’, turn things upside down, literally, watch animals and nature, and associate freely.

If we stop playing our behavior becomes fixed, we limit our perspectives and our choices, and we take the fun and humor out of life.

3.    Fanatic Discipline

Morten T. Hansen is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and at INSEAD, France. He is the author of Collaboration and coauthor of Great by Choice (with Jim Collins).
Hansen discusses discipline in “Three Leadership Skills That Count”, HBR blog post of October 20, 2011. Discipline can mean many things — working hard, following rules, being obedient, and so on. Hansen refers to something else: The best-performing leaders in his study “exhibited discipline as consistency of action — consistency with values, long-term goals, and performance standards; consistency of method; and consistency over time. It involves rejecting conventional wisdom, hype, and the madness of crowds — essentially being a nonconformist. In difficult, unpredictable times I think it is exactly this consistency with values and long-term goals that is often difficult to maintain for leaders but so important.”

4.    Filters and perspectives
“Breaking through your filters” by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown (HBR Blog Network October 10, 2011) discusses a topic I have emphasized repeatedly in earlier posts: perspectives and filters. Hagel and Brown state: “It is no surprise that we instinctively seek out those who share our interests. This is especially true in times of increasing pressure and uncertainty. We have an understandable tendency in such times to seek out the familiar and comfortable as a buffer against the unforeseen changes around us. In so doing we can inadvertently put ourselves in a cage of similarity that narrows our peripheral vision of the world and our options. The result? We may be even more vulnerable to being blindsided by events and trends coming at us from new and unusual directions.” This needs no further explanation. Make sure you step out of your framework and stay away from that windowless cage.

5.    Self-control
The last aspect of leadership that I have chosen for this post is something we talk to about our children so often: self-control. I perceive it to be a crucial factor for anyone to focus on, let alone if you’re in a leading position, influencing others, modeling what you want to see in others. Tony Schwartz on HBR Blog Network (September 13, 2011) in “Self-Control”: Self control is the ability to say no, in the face of temptation, and to take sustained action, despite the difficulty of a given challenge. At its heart, self-control requires the ability to delay gratification. More commonly, it's called discipline, or will. Without self-control, we can hardly accomplish anything of enduring value. And we rarely pay much attention to it. Energy is the fuel for self-control. We each have one reservoir of energy to get things done. Each act that requires self-control progressively depletes this energy reservoir, whether it's when you use it to resist a piece of cake, or focus single-mindedly on a difficult problem, or stay calm when you feel provoked.”

Even though self-control and discipline could be considered one and the same thing it might be obvious from the pieces I have chosen that these authors take different and complimentary perspectives.

Wishing you wisdom, discipline, self-control, fun and multiple perspectives while constantly working to improve as a leader. With many thanks to the valuable insights of Gosling, Mintzberg, Stuart Brown, Hansen, Hagel, Seely Brown, and Schwartz.

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