Welcome All!

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Aborting the Hunt - Four Dimensions of Leadership

Leadership. To some it remains intriguing, others feel they have been swamped with theories, models, research studies, and the still growing industry of leadership books, coaches, and institutes, yet others wonder what the fuss is all about. But we probably all agree that the world of business and beyond, especially the world beyond business, is a much better world when led by great leaders, at every level and whatever model or theory you adhere to.

In 2010 Mark Bodnarczuk, Executive Director of research center for the study of organizational culture the Breckenridge Institute, wrote an article called Four Dimensions of Leadership. Two beliefs in this article, or better, in his leadership thinking, appeal to me. First, that “leadership is one of the most valuable of human activities.” A statement so true, and often not considered to its full extent. Leadership is the most valuable of human activities, I believe, in schools, in sports, in the community, in politics, in business, and not to forget, in the family.
Amidst the overwhelming industry called leadership, many still seem to be looking to and often even longing to identify the basic building blocks that define effective, outstanding leadership. I consider this at least remarkable, knowing that the world is a very diverse place, knowing that a specific context, particular circumstances, a specific culture and a specific time period are highly formative and require very different things from leaders. And they should. Why do we aim to unravel the keys to remarkable leadership? What purpose would it serve to settle for a certain set of characteristics, strengths, qualities or whatever we want to call them? We all know that the ability to envision, inspire, bring together, look beyond etc. is essential in great leadership. As Bodnarczuk discusses in his article, leaders do not operate in a vacuum. They are, instead, “embedded within specific historical contexts, business situations, and the organizational structures, systems, and culture within which people lead.” For the purpose of recruiting, growing, and nurturing leaders, it is, of course, important to know what to look for (when recruiting) and how to grow and assess leaders. No question about it. And the Breckenridge model with four interdependent dimensions of leadership, the second aspect of Bodnarczuk’s leadership thinking that appeals to me, can be useful:

  • Expertise, Experience, and Wisdom, including education, expertise, a track record of effectively leading organizations, and experience in specific industries and markets.
  • Problem Solving Ability: intellectual horsepower needed to effectively perform and deal with complexity.
  • Personality, Core Beliefs and Values, which manifests itself in behavioral and action patterns, intrinsic motivations, and which includes how a leader views himself, others, and the world around him or her.
  • Awareness of Self and Others, and anything that happens between self and others, with an intuitive knowing in the here-and-now at its core.
I think these four dimensions entail all relevant parts of leadership without being rigid and overly descriptive of what a great leader should believe, think, do, feel, accomplish. I greatly appreciate Bodnarczuk’s statement that leadership and leadership development is a “complex, interdependent process that involves a person’s natural abilities, talents, personality, and level of awareness, working together within the specific historical context and business situation in which people are embedded.” So let’s stop hunting for more models and golden tips and characteristics and let’s start doing and being the leader that we want to see in others. Step by step, through successes and through failures, with a decent scoop of common sense and courage, with an open to new perspectives, and a willingness to stumble, fall, and get up again doing things differently next time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Pleasures and Uses of Networking

Being born (and probably raised) on the shy side I’m pleased to see how I've grown to utilize and truly enjoy networking. Networking is as old as this planet but has, at the same time, evolved rapidly. You may be wondering and working to figure out how to optimize value from online social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. There are many good reasons for the increasing number of network optimization experts, LinkedIn optimizers, and experts in creating and sustaining meaningful connections.

Many articles and books advise you on how to elaborate and maximize your network and on how to improve your social capital, from accepting every invitation you get to attend a party, training, professional association or meeting to joining the social networking revolution. I do not feel the need to be repetitive or to add to the long lists of how-to. I’d like to focus, instead, on your objectives for networking and on your mindset.  

As John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, co-chairmen of the Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge, wrote in their HBR article Five Tips for Smarter Social Networking, January 2011, “to realize the networking potential, we need to become more active orchestrators of our social networks, setting the tone and drawing out others.”

But let’s start with your motives for networking. I’m happy to see that the majority of people that I meet are not just motivated by attempting to get as many leads as possible, by being most noticed, or by collecting as many business cards as they possibly can. I do meet people with these objectives, but they’re a minority and I don’t pay them much attention. My objectives for the numerous networking events I attend are:

n  Inspiration
n  Knowledge
n  Connections for collaborations with other experts
n  Resources for new groups
n  Possible leads for my business
n  New perspectives i.e. connections with non like-minded spirits

It is my conviction that effective networking requires a selfish, connecting, 'How can I be a resource to you?' mindset. This is in line with what Hagel and Brown call ‘promoting others’. The authors write: “Too often we promote ourselves and our own work when we’re networking, losing sight of how to be of value to others. If that's all you’re doing, it will quickly turn people off. If you, however, make it a habit to promote others by finding people whose work and deeds you admire and if you promote them actively, it will make them more successful and increase the desire of people to connect with you.” I am impressed with the amount of people I have met these past months who do just that. Who actively look for ways to be of service to others and I work hard to be a part of that group.

From the many tips Hagel and Brown provide for effective networking, I want to mention two that appeal to me and that I perceive to be undervalued.

1.Express more vulnerability.

“This flies in the face of much personal improvement and business school wisdom” Hagel and Brown state. “We are taught to create "personal brands" that prominently feature our strengths and carefully hide our weaknesses. But trust requires vulnerability, so if you value trust in your social network, you might want to talk about some of the really difficult problems you are wrestling with and seek advice.”

2. Provoke.

“In an effort to ‘win friends and influence people’ we often bend over backwards to see the other side and temper our own statements to avoid upsetting people. It turns out that provocation does two things: it reassures people they are seeing the real you (assuming most of us have provocative views of one sort or another) and it helps stimulate other people to generate new insights. Of course, the key is to provoke in productive ways, but provocations can be a key to strong relationships.”

This second piece of advice particularly appeals to me, with the provocative approach being one of the four foundations for my interventions as a coach, trainer, and consultant. I believe the provocative approach, if executed respectfully and in the context of a trusting relationship, to result in courageous conversations, in quicker exposure of blind spots and boxed-in-thinking, and in honest and often fresh perspectives that activate real and lasting change in beliefs, thinking patterns, choices, and therefore in results for my clients.

I’d like to highlight another often neglected use of networks, written about clearly by Larry Prusak on HBR Blog Network in November 2011. Prusak talks about “Knowledge Networks” in connection to how developing countries can benefit from other nations' accumulated knowledge about what works, for example in private sector development. Often these developing countries lack access to that knowledge and face hurdles in adapting it to their specific contexts and needs. Prusac explains that “knowledge networks are densely connected sets of people and institutions (often both public and private), gaining and sharing know-how relevant to each other's efforts around the globe. Networks can be developed consciously or arise in evolutionary fashion; either way, their value is in their production and dissemination of knowledge.” In a study that Prusac uses throughout his article, it turns out that for countries “there’s a strong positive linear relationship between connectedness and four key performance indicators: government effectiveness, regulatory quality, competitive industrial performance, and GDP per capita purchasing power parity.” The bottom line and transferrable to your and my daily networking: knowledge networking is very valuable, and it requires you to show yourself vulnerable, if that’s how you want to label ‘showing your gaps in knowledge’.  

With unemployment still high, more people than ever seem to be networking actively. This might be the perfect time to invest in growing your network and improving your social capital. One of the hottest commodities this year could well be your network. Use and elaborate it actively and remember the essential mindset and question: “How can I be an effective resource to others?”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recognition, loyalty, engagement and Valentine's Day

As I tweeted early this morning, I truly hope that you show your appreciation and care to loved ones, employees, and co-workers throughout the year, authentically, and not just today, because your calendar happens to show a certain hyped up date.

Demonstrating interest, appreciation and loyalty towards your employees, including mustering the courage and taking the time to provide them with difficult feedback that lights up blind spots and opens new perspectives, has many positive effects.

- It increases engagement, defining an engaged employee as one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work. Someone who will therefore act in a way that furthers the organization's interest. A loyal and devoted employee.

- It encourages integrity, which, as discussed in a previous post, I think consists of identity, authenticity, alignment, and accountability and results in effective, ethical, and engaging work and results.
- It increases accountability once clear expectations are set and communicated and once all parties understand and support the why and what of these expectations as well as how they will be measured and supported.
I'm sure it's clear from the above that engagement, integrity, and accountability are intertwined, as most (or all) of our world is. That's the beauty and the complexity of the world of organizational effectiveness and beyond.

In today's HBR post Bill Taylor refers to Vince Lombardi's most important principle: Love is more powerful than hate:"The love I'm speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves," Lombardi told his audiences. "Teamwork, the love that one man has for another and that he respects the dignity of another...I am not speaking of detraction. You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader...Heart power is the strength of your company."

Seems to me a perfect, powerful principle to keep in your heart and your actions on Valentine's Day and any other day of the year. Wishing you an abundance of Heart Power.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Miss D, Please Send In Someone to Blame"

Excuses for failure and excuses about your choices in life all fuel dysfunctional thinking and undesirable actions and behaviors. Making excuses instead of taking one hundred percent responsibility for your actions, your thoughts, and your goals is the hallmark of people who fail to succeed. Successful people hold themselves and others accountable.

There has always been negative press on accountability, however. “As long as you realize that I will hold you accountable for this.” This is a statement that often generates fear and an instant urge to duck and hide. The association with pressure, stress, or threat is very common when the word ‘accountable’ is being uttered because it’s often been used in a punitive way. Too often accountability turns hot when something goes wrong (which is rather late) and when people start to lay blame, point fingers, and use excuses like:
-          I didn’t have enough time
-          If we only had the resources
-          The schedule is too tight
-          That’s not my job
-          The competition outsmarted us
-          The whole economy is in trouble
-          I am too tired
-          It is too complicated
-          The pc was down etc. etc. etc.

Successful implementation of organization-wide accountability is best woven into the culture, the strategy, the processes, and the way of working (or better: being). In this case accountability:
- Breeds more mature and collaborative relationships.
Eliminates many of the unnecessary surprises.
Improves job engagement, satisfaction, and performance.

When you practice accountability, you
See it: including an honest self-appraisal and acknowledgement that you can do more, differently to get results.
Own it: accepting responsibility, which is paving the road to action.
Solve it
Do it.

And you focus on “What else can I do” rather than on “Who did this” or “Why it can’t be done.” The other side of the story shows what likely happens when there is little or no accountability: You get lazy and give up too soon, you lose confidence, you make mistakes, you ignore, deny, and cover your tail, you lose energy & enthusiasm, you take short cuts, you lose momentum, you have no support, and you are less likely to finish projects.

One definition of accountability is: Clear commitments that, in the eyes of others, have been kept. Therefore, you need to ask for feedback, you need to listen to comments, you need to discuss possible improvements, and you need to go to customers, suppliers, and colleagues and other stakeholders and actively ask: How am I doing? Former mayor Ed Koch of New York was known to introduce himself to anyone he met with: “Hey, I’m mayor Ed Koch. How am I doing?”

So accountability is a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results: to see it, own it, solve it, and do it. Accountability is about
-  Providing crystal clear expectations.
-  Constantly asking “How am I doing?”
-  Being reliable.

Creating an accountability culture is to recognize that wherever you are on the organizational chart, you encourage others to hold you accountable.

To sum it all up, accountability ...
... Begins when two or more people know about a commitment.
... Is clarity and specificity in expectations.
... Goes upstream, downstream, and sideways.
... Means you go first, no matter who you are.
... Rests with the people who lead.

I want to conclude with Polish Poet Stanislaw Lec: No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on Dealing with Change and Transitions

Change is the essence of development for individuals, for groups, and for organizations. Change is a process, not an event – it’s any situation that asks for significant adjustment by the individual, such as is the case with a new job, starting a business, marriage or divorce, a reorganization, a promotion, relocation to a different country, or the death of a loved one. Whether you are dealing with self-inflicted, desired, involuntary, or forced change, in order to embrace and manage ‘the new’ you have to be able to let go of the old, but also, to incorporate the old in the new. This takes time, focus, energy, and much more. In many cases, the biggest challenge during a transition or change process is caused by what happens in your head. Your beliefs and your thoughts about change and about new experiences to a large extent determine the outcome of the change, which means you can exert quite a bit of control over changes and transitions you’re facing.

The following thoughts on dealing with transitions and change stem from 20 years of experience in the field of training & development, coaching, and counseling in many different types of organizations, and, of course, from life, which provides us with one transition after another.

1.   Simplify

In the relatively stable economic and business environment of the last decade, the negative impact of unnecessary complex business models or change processes went almost undetected. The economic downturn, however, is challenging all that businesses do, such as how they execute their business strategy and how they deliver change. In today’s harsh, interconnected, and vastly changing business climate many organizations find themselves ill prepared to cope with the challenges they get thrown. I believe this, at least in part, to be due to models, strategies, change programs, and systems that are unnecessarily complex and thereby inflexible and ineffective. Business model simplification has gained increasing interest and should be applied to change and transition programs in order for them to be successful. It’s not just your organization - your change program and tools too need to be agile and flexible in order to adjust to rapidly changing economic, political, and business factors. If not, your business will likely suffer from overlapping management structures, from people and administrative functions that do not add value, and from poor implementation of strategy and change.

Tip: For the ‘what and how’ of business simplification I suggest you work with experienced consultants with expertise in this field. An interesting article related to this topic is posted on Harvard Business Review Blog by Chris Zook: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/02/desperately_seeking_simplicity.html

2.   Reframing

If you reframe a question, you can open up your thinking and your choices to many more possibilities than when you remain stuck in that one question or just one perspective. Some of the most interesting breakthroughs in science, technology, political negotiations, or during a crime investigation by a team of detectives come from reframing questions. Every question leads to particular lines of thinking, to a specific inquiry, and to a certain kind of research. Don’t limit yourself to just one.

Tip: Change the question and new horizons arise.

3.   Drivers Ed

Just as you don’t wake up at 16 to find you can drive a car, so it goes with dealing with change and transitions. Wanting something badly can be a great start, but without a decent plan, without awareness of all that’s at play including your own beliefs, attitudes, and choices, without consistent training, and without adjustments based on feedback, you’ll be a danger on the road and successful change will be yours to wait for. Just like some companies (or better: their leaders) cannot find the right strategic path, others have difficulty successfully executing their strategy, and yet others execute their strategy well for a while but then lose their way for many different reasons, so do people when facing challenges related to change and transitions.  

Tip: Develop a strategy for the change you’re facing. Test it, adjust it, stick to it, and search for ways to secure and sustain value.

4.   Failing upwards

Any sport is built around pushing limits. You practice, rehearse, and persevere until you reach your top and then you push that top even further.
You exercise, train, climb, and fall, and if you aren’t falling chances are high that you are not improving. When you push your sport or business forward, you are likely experiencing more failures than successes in certain stages of the transition. You can learn to carry yourself through failure with confidence and competence which enables you to manage transitions and change effectively. And if you are in a leading position, support and enable your people to reveal their challenges and problems. Most people don’t like revealing problems because they fear it makes them look weak and incompetent. Employees rather reveal their “great performance” but without accountability there will be little collaboration and growth.  Know and explore your ideological comfort zone and decide to regularly step out of it, accepting falls, bruises, and mistakes as part of the process.


Start asking questions like “Even though we are transitioning and performing well, what’s not working or can be improved in your team?” or “What is your greatest personal challenge or concern we should be addressing today?”

Just four thoughts on dealing with change and transitions. Use them to your advantage.