Tag Archives: Leadership

Grow Wisdom, Organically

Succession planning is a perennial concern in the ranks of executives, and rightly so. The wave of boomers retiring was slowed by the seven-year downturn, but we have now emerged from the great recession. Though many people have not fully recovered, the reprieve can’t last forever.

Succession Planning = Growing Wisdom

The purpose of succession planning is to nurture wisdom so future leaders, at all levels, will be competent to make good decisions. Now that information is ubiquitous (and overwhelming), knowledge is not THE differentiator for effective decision-making that it once was. Today, we need wise people who define problems cogently, work collaboratively, and find creative solutions.

That begs the question, how do we “grow” wise, creative, collaborative people? Is there a program for that?

Yes. There are many, but none can replace the “real thing.”

Organic Growth

Formal programs are often poor institutional replacements for organic relationships and processes. Sure, mentoring programs, annual nine-box reviews, and competency-based training programs are beneficial. In fact, I make my living helping clients with these very programs, but they are only supplements to the natural and organic dynamics of teams.  Supplements do very little when the soil itself is depleted.

Wisdom is learned most effectively from organic processes like:

  • Experience Solving Problems – including successes and failures,
  • Story Telling – hearing tales of yore from the elders,
  • Imagining – dreaming up ideas for what might work,
  • Reflection – personally and in teams, and
  • it is increased exponentially from feedback.

But who has time for story-telling, imagination, and reflection? Todays’ technology-infused marketplace requires pragmatism and fast action. Without continual learning, however, action solves yesterday’s problems, and people quickly grow obsolete.

Sustainable success requires business processes designed for action and learning.

Co-Generation

What if your work methods were co-generational? What if work processes could create and distribute both “product” and wisdom? It is not only possible; it is a reality for many companies. Here are six ways to make it your reality:

1. Design Jobs for Teams
Many jobs provide liberal amounts of autonomy, which, not coincidentally, is highly prized by Gen Xers. There is much to be said about the motivational power of autonomy, but it can also hinder the learning that comes from diversity. The power of autonomy is the amount of input and control released to people. Instead of releasing control to individuals, release control to teams. Then, require them to make decisions together. For example, you could make the team unit rather than the individual responsible and accountable for sales, delivery, and service. To ensure it sticks, reward performance based on both individual and team results.

2. Multi-level Working Teams
With all the talk about diversity, I don’t iStock_000024087384Smallhear much discussion of experience as an important facet of diversity. If you want “junior” people to learn, they have to be in on the action where they get experience and can rub elbows with the experts. Novices learn by exchanging ideas with more experienced people while they work – not by being told what to do or by watching from afar.

3. Player Coaches
First-line supervisors are commonly working supervisors. It is less common for mid and senior-level leaders to sit down and think-through problems with staff. While often rusty in technical matters, experienced leaders have perspective, problem-solving approaches, and social awareness. In other words, they have wisdom, and it’s their responsibility to share it. Leaders can be player coaches by joining teams as working members, conducting round-table discussions, participating in training program, and teaching leadership courses.

4. Safe Team Meetings
Meetings are like liver. Hardly anyone likes them, but they contain essential minerals. Just like liver, if you don’t prepare well and tend to the climate, meetings leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Meetings should be a safe place for communicating and solving work problems. Take team meetings seriously: meet regularly, prepare, bring problems to the forefront, enforce the ground rules, and listen.

5. Dialogue without Decision
This is a serious discussion of issues with the intent to explore and understand that is separate from decision-making and action planning. For many people, the urge to decide and act is compelling; anything else feels like a waste of time. Engaging in Dialogue without Decision is a deliberate business process that recognizes learning, knowledge, and wisdom as valuable inputs and outputs of work. When you conduct Dialogue without Decision Meetings, you help establish learning, listening, and critical thinking as core company values.

6. Post-mortem Sessions
Debriefs, post-action reviews and post-mortem sessions are “common” among best-in-class companies. But their value depends largely upon how you conduct them. To get maximum learning from these sessions, focus the conversation on “what we noticed” and “how we interpreted it” rather than “what we did.” This will uncover and test the veracity of your guiding theories. The learning that results will improve the speed and quality of future decisions.

Go Organic

Succession Planning will remain a perennial concern as long as executives rely on programs like knowledge management systems, succession planning, and leadership training as their main developmental tools. Leaders will find they get better results using co-generational work processes, which derive learning from the work experience and from social interactions that encourage story-telling, imagining, and reflection. You may believe that you can’t afford such fanciful whims, but that is just your imagination.

My Fianceé is Engaged, But I’m Not!

Although organizations consistently talk-up employee engagement, we know that only three in ten employees are engaged. That leaves another seven in ten people withholding the best of their energy, ideas, and talent from their employer. This trend persists despite the commonplace knowledge that engaged workers produce more, are happier, and drive profitability skyward.

I think I know one big reason why…

It’s because (some) managers talk like they want a fianceé but act like they are unwilling to be engaged to her! They want, even expect, employees to give their all, but they don’t make a reciprocal investment! Just think about it. What do engaged lovers do and engaged employees do?

Engaged lover Engaged employee
  • gives her all
  • focuses her attention on the relationship
  • put her partner’s interests first
  • make plans for the future with her man
  • spends a lot of time with her man
  • goes over and above what is required
  • applies talents, time, energy on work
  • is mission focused
  • pursues the organization’s long-term interest
  • spends spare time on work

Reciprocation Required

An engaged lover expects her partner to reciprocate. When he does, they remain engaged. An engaged employee wants, and needs, the reciprocity from their manager—the person who represents the company to him/her. But when that doesn’t happen, she will “fall-out” of engagement. It’s a perfectly reasonable and healthy response, don’t you think?

Boundaries Keep us Healthy

Healthy people have boundaries—they don’t over-invest in people that don’t give back. In contrast, it’s unhealthy and unreasonable for a manager to expect employees to engage at work without engaging them personally.

Employees give more than they have to when they:

  • are connected with other people doing important work,
  • are free to use their talents creatively,
  • feel appreciated by people who are important to them,
  • know that they are making progress, and
  • are being challenged to learn and grow.

The Manager’s Job

The most significant relationship an employee has in the workplace is with his manager. Approval and appreciation from the boss is five times more important than from peers. As important as peers are, it’s the boss’s job to:

  • connect people using their talents for the same cause,
  • communicate genuine & personal appreciation,
  • ensure that people make progress and can see it, and
  • stretch people beyond themselves.

This all takes time, thought, and energy, which many managers don’t have because they are busy preparing reports, reading emails, and responding to their boss, etc. In other words, managers are often engaged to people and things that take a higher priority than their team members. (We have a name for that in marriage—it’s called cheating.) And if that is the case, who is engaging team members? No one, that’s who.

Is it any wonder that 70% of people are not engaged at work?

Managers Embody Company Culture

To be fair, we can’t “lay all the blame” on managers, because it truly is a culture thing. Managers are the face of the company to the employee, and I speak of them here as representatives of the company. More than anyone, managers do what is expected of them. They fulfill the priorities of their bosses. Their bosses do the same, and on and on. It’s a conspiracy of company culture—the values, beliefs, and habits shared by people in an organization.

But…it’s people who invent, obey, and enforce culture.

And…if we invent culture, then we can reinvent it.

And…if we can reinvent, then someone—a leader—must get it started.

What if, you decided right now to be the fiancé to your fianceé. What if you decided to stop cheating and engage the people on your team? How would you do that?

Three Things Managers Say… but leaders don’t

I believe what people say. More than that, I believe the attitudes they express knowingly or unknowingly. When I enter an organization, I pay close attention to what managers say, and I have learned some of the telltale messages of managers who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Among the worst messages are those that shutdown communication. When communication is blocked, trust erodes and decisions go uninformed. After that, little else matters.

Some of the worst messages I hear are:

I don’t have time for this…
Wow, what a statement! It doesn’t much matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of another person. But, what usually follows is the dismissal of thoughtful a) consideration of person-centered concerns or b) exploration of the deeper issues involved in a decision. So what the person is actually saying is: I don’t have the patience to even consider this mamby, pamby drivel you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t.

MonkeysI am the only one who…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Managers who think they are only ones who work hard, get it, or care, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people around us. When we spend time with them, however, we often learn that they are with us in spirit, but that they express their passions differently than us.

Why don’t you just do what I tell you to do?
     …It would make my life easier.
    …Then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.
If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders edify others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or to build a new shared understanding together. In other words, we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.

Let’s face it, a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. That makes us normal people. If we want to engage hearts, shape minds, and move people to action in service of our goals however, we need to guard our hearts from arrogance. High-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted, and undermined. If you find yourself in in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.

What do you want to do about it?

The Zombie Chronicles

In my last post I shared four things you can do to create a zombie workforce. If you have a tribe of zombies but would rather have a team of zealots, this post is for you. Never fear; it can be done – there are a few things you can do to transform the most listless employees into motivated, engaged employees. But I warn you, patience is required since the transition back to life can take a while.

Part 2: From Zombies to Zealots

 

Promote Emotionally Intelligent People into Leadership

Leadership is all about influencing people. To do that you must first master your own demons and have empathy for other people. With that strong foundation a person is able to motivate him/herself as well as navigate the turbulent waters of others’ emotions and the politics of moving teams. Spotting emotionally intelligent people in your organization isn’t usually difficult. Here are a few signs of such people. They:

  • express their feelings – productively,
  • recover from let-downs relatively quickly,
  • listen intently to others,
  • attract people to themselves,
  • confront conflict directly,
  • find ways to use talents, and.
  • are adaptable.

Spotting emotionally intelligent job applicants is more difficult, but it can be done with the aid of well-structured job interviews combined with personality assessments. Though this requires support from a professional, the return on your investment is well worth the up-front cost.

Drive Progress

Nothing motivates a person as much as achieving something worthwhile, and sometimes anything whatsoever can be good enough to make a person’s day!  Sports fans know this:  a big play can ignite a team with a fresh “zealotry” and turn a certain defeat into victory. The keys to progress are:

  • a clear goal,
  • a clear path for achieving the goal,
  • competence, and
  • persistence.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that progress is sometimes a matter of perspective and that persistence can be manufactured. Saying “we are already one-quarter there” encourages whereas saying “we have a long way to go” overwhelms. Strategies for persistence can be taught, and rewarding people for small accomplishments keeps them chugging along. No one can jump over a tall building in a single bound, but most everyone can walk to the top (and back) step by step. The emotionally intelligent leader encourages people to take one step at a time and cheers when they complete each flight of stairs.

Make Work Meaningful

Live people have a relentless desire to matter – to do things that make a difference to others.

Zealots will tell you that they are doing important work – work that helps people, creates value, and contributes to society. But they don’t stop there. Zealots will also tell you how they are using their talents, how they are challenged to solve problems, and how they are learning. Cynics will tell you that you have to hire people like this and that you can’t manufacture them, but they are wrong.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to design jobs that challenge people and to continually communicate the importance of each person’s role. It’s true: many jobs can become mundane over time. Knowing this, some wise leaders at GE introduced manufacturing employees to their customers and showed them the ultimate outcome of their labor. Without realizing the meaning of their work, people easily succumb to the daily trials it entails. They also lose focus, make poor decisions, and their energy seeps out of them. Finally, quality fails to remain important when people do not see the purpose in their work.

Feedback

Feedback has the power to give people much of what they need to thrive. It’s the breakfast of champions. In fact, it has so many essential vitamins that it alone may have the power to transform a zombie into a zealot. The power comes from communicating:

  • what actually matters to you,
  • how to perform successfully,
  • that you care about the person’s success,
  • interest and approval, and
  • connection.

Silence communicates just the opposite. It’s not necessary for leaders to provide all of the feedback a healthy zealot needs. Instead, the leader’s job is to ensure the zealot gets what he needs. This is done by building feedback loops into the workflow so people get timely feedback on the outcomes of their efforts. These days, surgeons monitor patients’ vital signs as they operate, but that wasn’t always the case. As a result of the timely feedback surgeons get, more patients stick around to express their approval to surgeons for a job well done. That’s a good thing because I am sure surgeons prefer zealous recommendations to raids by vengeful zombies.

~~~

I am continually changing the TV channel to protect my children from images of horrifying zombies. If you share my aversion, perhaps we could work together to grow the population of zealots. It’s not complicated work, but it does take a measure of courage and mindfulness to promote emotionally intelligent leaders, drive progress, make work meaningful, and give people useful feedback. Will you join me in this effort?

The Zombie Chronicles

Zombies are all the rage these days. They are all over the movies, TV, and video games. This macabre fascination disturbs me, but at last I think I have uncovered the source of this unholy preoccupation.  Could it be that the battles acted out on the screen provide people some hope for overcoming the zombies growing within?  I’ve met many people who are losing this battle–and I have seen organizations unwittingly drive their employees into the zombie zone.

I have never had a client who actually instructed their employees to wander aimlessly around the office, respond listlessly, and turn out lackluster work products.  I have, however, worked with several who encouraged it, and one or two who seemed to have designed their organizations to make armies of zombie clones.

So, for the benefit of those who want to transform their zealous employees into zombies, and for those who want to revive the zealots buried inside their zombies, I’ve come up with a few of the best ways to foster the transformation.  In this post, I will share how you can turn your zealous employees into zombies.  Next time, I will let you know how to revive Zombies to their natural God given state – zealousness.

Part 1: From Zealots to Zombies

 

Let Tyrant Bosses Roam Freely

When I visit underperforming organizations, I frequently encounter a tyrant boss.  Tyrants often:

  • Pressure their employees to meet high, vague and poorly understood performance standards.
  • Behave as though their ideas are superior and that others “don’t quite get it.”
  • Use their power to punish people who don’t bow to them.

These managers press people to perform but are dumb-stricken when asked to define their standard or to show employees how to achieve the desired results themselves.  These things, they believe, are self-evident to competent people.

Block Progress

It’s depressing to work without seeing any progress. Imagine giving a broom to a custodian in the Sahara desert and then ordering up a sandstorm.  Now transfer that idea to your workplace. If you are having a hard time imagining how to do it, let me share a few techniques I have seen:

  • Change your priorities on a regular basis.
  • Make everything a top priority.
  • Talk about improving, but don’t invest the time and resources.
  • Set goals that can’t be met.
  • Make yourself unavailable to answer questions.

Make Work Seem Completely Meaningless

Require people to do things that have no apparent importance to them. For example, make them enter codes into a computer but don’t let them know what the code means, how it’s used, or how it will impact the bottom line.

If you can convey that their brains are unnecessary, you will do even better in your quest to turn zealous employees into zombies by saying things like:

  • You’re not paid to think.
  • That is above your pay grade.
  • It’s technical.

Give them the Silent Treatment

Never go out of your way to let someone know what you think about them. If you do, they might get the impression that you care!  If you show interest in a person’s work, they may start believing the two of you are somehow connected in accomplishing something important.  Besides, if you give feedback, they would certainly be able to accomplish something, and that violates the “no progress rule.”

So that’s it! If you follow this advice, you will have your own personal tribe of zombies. You will know that you have arrived when you hear them groan these things like:

  • I just work here.
  • The only reason I work is for the paycheck.
  • I just do what I am told to do.
  • It doesn’t matter what we do; nothing changes.

 

 

The Campaign for Accountability in Healthcare

Johns Hopkins’ physician Marty Makary is campaigning to make healthcare safer – and cheaper – by publishing healthcare outcomes for all to see. His new book, Unaccountable, is sure to be a clarion call for true healthcare reform – as opposed to the partisan bickering we hear on a daily basis. We should all be grateful for him and his tremendous work in this area.

The Accountability Dance

The call for reform is simple and clear. Transparency and accountability are critical for true and positive change, yet people rarely embrace accountability – especially people in positions of power. Accountability “occurs” under two conditions: either it is imposed forcibly by another, or one willingly offers (submits) to it.

It takes a lot for people, and organizations, to reach the point where they are willing to impose accountability on someone they know. The concern for harmony, draw of money, focus on short term goals, and an inner fear of hypocrisy are all overwhelming forces that drive people away from it. It takes courage.

Under what conditions will a person voluntarily submit to accountability? People submit to accountability when:

  • the authority has the person’s personal interests at heart
  • the authority is just and fair in administering consequences
  • they share a common and compelling goal or value
  • there is opportunity to learn from or redeem the situation

Absent these conditions, people squirm out of personal ownership for their gaffes, and they deflect responsibility for their behavior.  Absent these conditions in healthcare we will find doctors and hospitals fudging their numbers – thus thwarting the goal of better care.

Solutions?

I wonder just how we can create a system which conforms to these conditions. And if we do, there is still much more work to be done. In healthcare, we need the kind of management innovation Gary Hamel discusses in The Future of Management. It’s a tall order, and it will take the combined efforts of many, many people. But I am ready and eager for the challenge. How about you?