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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Leadership 12

Luke Schubert, Adelaide, Australia asks:
“Have you mentioned servant leadership in this series yet? That's a concept that interests me. Listening to others is a fundamental part of authentic leadership IMHO.”

In further conversations Luke said, “If I remember correctly, servant leadership starts with serving - working out what the needs of others are and how to meet them. Similar to the Alignment protocol [from the Core Protocols] though maybe from a different angle. Perhaps the motivation is different from conventional leadership as well. I was thinking that it lined up with Authentic Leadership as you described it in a few ways but hadn't thought about specifics.”

Thanks Luke (beauty, mate)!

Since, for Christians Jesus is the exemplary Servant-Leader, the Christmas season seemed a good time to get to this question.

Luke and I both went off to research more on this topic and met at the same places from which I have extracts below.

Before we even get to them it's important to distinguish between what I'll call “assigned” or “conferred” leadership – as a CEO or prime minister or boss – and Authentic Leadership as previously discussed – where any one can adopt leadership behaviours based on passion and taking responsibility.

The distinction between them is important to better understanding the notion of Servant-Leadership. One way to clarify the distinction is to see the “assigned” leader as a structural position – a job – where one may or may not exhibit leadership behaviours. I think this is often the cause of confusion between the descriptors “leader” and “manager” and their actions. The positions and behaviours of leaders and managers get muddled in many discussions, blogs, and instances of expectations not met.

I've covered this before in prior blogs; however, the key point is that a position alone does not guarantee, nor does it prevent, the desired behaviours. The concept of a role taken on being a different thing than a position or job assigned is at the heart of keeping the words, and hence the thinking, straight. Using that foundation, one can more readily see how Authentic Leadership is about a role assumed and behaviours demonstrated rather than a title or position conferred.

So a management position is different from a leadership position, and a person in either, or neither, position may demonstrate leadership behaviours.

And all of this preamble plays into what Luke and I found on servant leadership.

At Luke found:
The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions' (Addressing the motivation of leaders ...)
Here the extract is differentiating between one aspiring to lead through a desire to serve (adopting a role) and one who is “leader first” (by virtue of their position).

Luke continues:
“Maybe the connection between this and authentic leadership as you define it is that they're both "emergent and spontaneous" - not formal or authoritarian. Perhaps servant leadership addresses a different aspect of leadership, more the emotional and social side ... (Which I think the Core Protocols also address)”

And, yes, the adoption of the leadership role is emergent – not formalized – because I have inserted the word “role”. As to the emotional and social side, more later.

Turning to Wikipedia, I found at
The modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 with his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which he coined the terms “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.”

The general concept is ancient. Chanakya wrote, in the 4th century B.C., in his book Arthashastra:

“the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
This matches a teaching from Laozi (Lao-tzu) in the Dao (Tao):
The ideal ruler restrains his desires, doesn't codify his own subjective standards of right and wrong, and treats all people with goodness and sincerity*
Aha! The wisdom of history pokes its head up. Time to turn to my coach, soul-mate, and historian, Vickie. And that generated a conversation that sharpened my thinking, provided more insights, and will start my next blog as we continue on Servant-Leadership.

*The Tao Speaks translated by Brian Bruya, Doubleday, New York (1995)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leadership 11

A comment from last week's blog “Leadership 10” from Pixie Stevenson,
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?

What I meant in my last comment is that leadership is also a part of the organic, evolutionary, and every expanding process of life.

Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
Pixie; thanks again for your comment – let's continue the discussion. :)
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?”
I believe we need both, and realistically it is unlikely that those in formal leadership positions would simply fade away. Nor should they. What I am advocating is that formal leaders recognize, and take advantage of, is the phenomenon of emergent and spontaneous leadership. That can occur
  • by recognizing their own passion and responsibility that might be part of their formal assignment – why they are in their current leadership assignment – or might be in addition to their formal assignment, and / or
  • by relinquishing their presumed need or task of maintaining control and being charge and letting someone else's passion and responsibility for action take over
The key is to allow both to operate as required to get the job done; i.e. move toward the shared vision.
“Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
I'm not qualified to speak to historical cycles; however, others have written, for example, about forms of “tribal” behaviour, and self organizing systems where leadership occurs outside of our commonly held model of organizational strata. The message here again is that while a hierarchical structure continually evolves to determine the “pecking order” - the formal leader being the one currently most dominant – that structure co-exists with spontaneous leadership emerging from any member. And the hierarchical structure is also fluid over time as the dominance of any individual ascends and wanes.

It may be that our current dependence upon the formal leader model is a carry over from the World Wars. To mobilize and direct armies, materials production, and countries, formal leaders were needed to provide clarity of purpose, consistency of message, a rallying point for focused effort. We sought out those who would carry us forward up the hill, or over the cliff, in a very directive, black and white, manner.

Similarly today, we look for those who offer to lead us out of the quagmire of difficult, unsolved problems. That makes it easier for us: follow the strong formal leader and sidestep our responsibility. If their solution works, we win by tagging along, and if not then push them aside and look for the next hopeful candidate.

So, in my view, today's focus and dependence upon the formal leader is a carry over from the recent past. Or more precisely, we have experienced success and comfort with that model and so continue to endorse it. And because we gravitate to the simple answer, the short version of the story, the sound-bite, we ignore the authentic leadership that was happening simultaneously through that history. The formal leaders – Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin – were the rallying points, but they engaged others who emerged according to their passions and desire to exercise their responsibilities.

It seems to me that both models were operational then, and continue to be today. The challenge for us is the mind shift from an exclusive “either / or” perspective to an “inclusive” perspective where both models are necessary and co-exist. And instead of the “hero worship” of the formal leader as saviour, we recognize that the norm, the natural or default model has been, and should continue to be, authentic leadership through passion and responsibility.

But, darn it! - that requires work and engagement on our part. We can't just simply leave leadership to others to do it for us. We can't just hide in our cubbyholes, and daily routines.

We have to think, expend energy, act.

We have to determine our passion and take responsibility.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leadership 10

A comment from last week's blog “Leadership 9” from Pixie Stevenson,
“Great post, Paul! My take on it is that leadership (life) is organic which to me is not mechanistic. Is that what you're saying?”
Pixie; thanks for your comment!

My answer is: Sorta. Kinda. Maybe. Perhaps. :) I'm not sure what you mean by "leadership (life)".

Certainly life itself is organic. Leadership may or may not be.

The FORMAL LEADER strives be in control and operate in a systematic way: inputs transformed into outputs by procedural activities. This person is leading by virtue of their appointment – by themselves, or conferred – to a particular position in the chain of command. In their thinking and behaviour they strive to fulfill a notion of the leader who is instrumental for success, who can't be absent, who should not make mistakes, who can't be surprised, who can't be vulnerable, without their part of the world – their business, their department, their family – falling apart.
Because they view their part of the universe as a system, then certain inputs – events, transactions, people types, etc. - can be dealt with by the appropriate activity. These inputs become “problems” that can be “solved” by the smart leadership action. In this manner the FORMAL LEADER can regain control of the system, after any disturbance, by the right move, the correct application of expertise, charisma, power, intimidation...

AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP as described by Harrison Owen, and fostered by the Shambhala Institute, and taught by the McCarthy teamwork BootCamp is not procedural, nor founded in organizational authority, but emergent and so spontaneous.
Realizing that life – and organizations – are organic, with spontaneous connections and interplay, with surprises, apparent chaos, etc. working, perhaps invisibly, with, around, underneath the formally defined structure, provides a different perspective. This perspective doesn't have to completely replace the systemic view, in my opinion, but does need to become our default, or instinctive view, in spite of all prior organizational training and conditioning.

Harrison Owen describes beautifully the confusion and consternation possible among those brought up in the framework of the Whole System Hoax when confronted with Open Space Technology (OST) leading to authentic leadership. The freewheeling, self organizing that occurs in OST just goes completely against the grain for us nurtured in command and control, firm directive behaviour, keeping the ducks in a row even when doing something as gooey as “facilitating”.

In our systematic world we may stretch our minds and take the risk of assembling a team – carefully picked, mind you – to allow some brainstorming – bounded, of course – toward a solution - already identified by the boss. But, dang, even then it could get tricky and get out of control, er... out of hand, I mean... unproductive! Someone may start going off on a tangent to our well prepared session. And what if the boss – the FORMAL LEADER – doesn't like the results? That team is now history, and our facilitator's certificate is in the dumpster.

But in an OST environment there are just four nonsensical principles and one law – and then it's everyone for themselves. Authentic leadership simply emerges. YIKES!

Of course, just like so many great ideas and experiences, if you only read about them it doesn't seem reasonable that some useful outcome can result. OST, BootCamp, etc. sound good, make interesting reading, appeal to our intellect. Aircraft and bumblebees are fascinating concepts, but they won't really fly.

But as my wise friend and associate George Abbot during my Xerox life shared with me: A mind is like a parachute – it works best when it's open.
Or even: don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

If, after 20 years of OST, 15 years of Stuart Kauffman's insight into self-organizing systems, as many years of the Core Protocols developed in teamwork BootCamps,... if we haven't yet heard of, learned about, digested, implemented, practiced Authentic Leadership, what will it take to do so?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Leadership 9

Here's a crackerjack job description of The Leader (or more precisely The Formal Leader) as provided by Harrison Owen in his book Wave Rider (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008)
  • "deals easily with massive diversity
  • comprehends mind-bending complexity
  • works simultaneously on multiple levels
  • rises above chaos, confusion, and conflict
  • tolerates tidal waves of change
  • never loses their cool
  • always in control
  • mixes all of the above to produce wholeness, health, and harmony"
Why this over-the-top description is “Mission Impossible”, even without the hyperbole, is nicely revealed as Harrison Owen works through the implications for leadership when we are knocked off track by some of the common organizational muddy thinking, such as:
  • defining every business issue as a problem we can fix
  • dealing with the unintended consequences of our fixes
  • the Closed System Hoax
  • the Whole Systems approach
  • Process Re-Engineering
  • we can control everything that is moving
If we hang onto these models and paradigms, and our common approaches to deal with them, then we truly need the Mission Impossible Leader.

But, of course, this leads us to the reductio ad absurdem dead end. There is no such Leader, and if anyone claims that they are – well, shame on you for paying any attention to them.

Happily, Harrison shares an alternative with us he has seen in action over the years of observing his brain child in operation – Open Space Technology. He has observed exactly what we have seen in our teamwork development BootCamps (ref. Leadership 1 blog, January 2009). That is, “Authentic Leadership”.

In other words, the Formal Leader (someone in charge due to their title, job grade, or the organization chart) is absent, and not only not needed but actually an impediment to productive results. But other leaders emerge as required to provide “the stimulus, direction, and focus for useful activity”.

And this type of leadership appears due to
“... Passion and Responsibility. Or more precisely, Leadership emerges from the confluence of Passion and Responsibility.”
“... passion united with responsibility create the needed sense of direction and focus that can get the job done. That is Leadership.”
How interesting that in his 20 years of observation of high performing groups he has seen the same emergent properties as we see in teamwork BootCamps. Even more delightful, Harrison recognizes these emergent properties as similar to those noted by Stuart Kauffman dealing with questions on the origin of life in his study of self-organizing biological systems. (At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995)

How scary that we still cling to notions of the organization as a mechanistic system, and Leaders being in charge in a command and control model.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leadership 8

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away... er... at least a long time ago, not so far away, in this blog actually, we were writing about Leadership.

The closing entry, before we launched into a discussion on Management, asked you to submit your stories on Leadership.

I asked you to let me know by Comment on this blog the answer to “Who do you perceive as a leader and why?”.

Luke Schubert of Adelaide, Southern Australia commented with his examples of great leadership. I have chosen his entry to post now, after a summer hiatus from this blog, to get back to the Leadership question, and start with some popular examples of what people consider Leadership.

Luke's reply was also the most significant one received. I can say that with total assurance because it was the ONLY one. :) That is an indication that:
  • Leadership is an uncertain, undefinable thing, or
  • good, lasting, examples are hard to find, or
  • many are not brave enough to voice an opinion, or
  • there are very few who follow this blog!
Here are Luke's comments from last February:
“One of my favourite leaders is Vaclav Havel, poet, dissident and then president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. Some quotes:

"We introduced a new model of behavior: don't get involved in diffuse general ideological polemics with the center, to whom numerous concrete causes are always being sacrificed; fight "only" for those concrete causes, and be prepared to fight for them unswervingly, to the end. In other words, don't get mixed up in backroom wheeling and dealing, but play an open game." - from Disturbing the Peace

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." - Letter to the downthrown Czechoslovak Communist Party chairman Alexander Dubcek (August 1969)

(both sourced from Wikiquote”

Luke continued with thoughts on charities, probably in reaction to my appeal to help support the leadership actions taken by the Deep Griha Society in India. (
“Two of my favourite charities are Kiva (one of the founders, Matt Flannery, is a software developer who's created a P2P lending charity with explosive growth) and AcumenFund (led by Jacqueline Novogratz) which has been investing in building developments in Pakistan, amongst other things. And then there's Forge ( which was much discussed on blogs recently after its founder went public with just how much financial trouble it was in ...”
Thank you, Luke for your response!

The great thing about blogs is that it is never too late to
  • find new and interesting ones,
  • backtrack through old entries,
  • add comments and thoughts.
Accordingly, if you have some examples of Leadership, some thoughts, or questions about previous blogs posted here, please submit them - night or day.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Management 10

Q: Hey, I had a look at to see what I could find on Business Coaching. I didn't realize that coaching was such a big thing.

A: How do you mean?

Q: Well there are certification bodies, and many specialties for coaches, and just a lot going on in that world, all over the world.

A: That's right. There's lots of help available once you start to look for it. And asking for help doesn't mean one is not smart or capable – actually the opposite. The most successful folks are those who have gotten help: hired competent people to support them, taken training, engaged coaches and consultants whenever needed.

Q: OK; but we didn't talk about cost. Aren't coaches and consultants expensive?

A: Not nearly as much as lawyers and plumbers! :)
But seriously, expensive consultants may get the financial press, but like everything else, one gets what one pays for. For example some of the most expensive coaches and consultants only take payment when the client declares the coaching to be successful.
And in general, while an hourly or daily rate might appear high, that has to cover all the learning, preparation, certification, business operations, etc. time that is not on the bill. So if it took 8 hours to prepare and deliver a 1 hour session, the achieved income is at the rate of 1/9 of what is billed. Believe me, it would be so deliciously wonderful, if consultants earned their published rate throughout a whole week or month.

Q: That sounded pretty personal. :)

A: OK – got me.
Unfortunately, the perceived high cost versus return is often a factor in the “easy”, but dumb, budget cuts that we talked about last time. The good news is that people who have been smart enough to use a coach or consultant – and some can provide both services – know the return is worth it. There are many studies that show results like:
"PWC Global Survey of Coaching Clients Reveals Median 7X ROI
  • 86 percent of companies that use or have used coaching report at least a 100 percent return on their initial investment
  • 82.7 percent, of individuals who have experienced professional coaching report being "very satisfied".
Q: Neat! Those are great stats.
What other ways are there for me to learn to become a good manager?

A: One is finding a good mentor in your own organization. This is kind of like having an assistant coach to whom you can turn for questions and advice who is close by and knows the organization well and the players involved.

Q: It's interesting that you used the term “assistant coach” - why?

A: Because a professional coach is well trained, certified by an independent body, follows a particular approach or model that has been proven to be successful over time.
A mentor is more like a good friend. They may be wise, insightful, friendly, have the best intentions, but there is no assurance of a professional approach. They are making it up as they go along.

Q: OK – so it's back to “you get what you pay for”?

A: Exactly. Having a good mentor is very helpful, if only as a sounding board for your concerns, ideas, issues.
If you are feeling sick, your grandmother can provide some really good chicken soup which picks you right up, or you can go to your doctor for a more complete, systematic check up. Both have their place, both can get results, one is just more thorough with an assurance of longer term benefit.

Q: So, if I'm trying to become a good manager, what do you recommend?

A: Pay attention to all of these aspects – research & training, clarity of your role and expectations, practice, and asking for help.
We've covered the principles of managing – the key elements, the need to be clear with your manager what he or she is asking of you, the benefit of practicing the elements and learning from your mistakes, and the importance of asking your own manager for help on how you are doing, and help in improving through mentoring, or a coach.

Q: And are there some essentials that are not to be missed?

A: Understanding yourself and your own values, and being open and curious. Connecting, communicating continuously, including asking for help allows you to be investigative and adaptive, and to be understood.
Managing is a people activity, and so requires connecting well with people – understanding and being understood. The foundation is fundamentally good two way communications, starting with good listening – truly hearing the other person.
Management decisions directly affect the people being managed, so it is critical to know and appreciate how they are going to be affected, and that comes from understanding them and their perspective.
Asking for help enables those conversations, builds those connections and relationships, that provides you that knowledge.

Q: So is there a way I can work on connecting and asking for help?

A: Absolutely! Check out the Core Protocols at, and attend a BootCamp to build your skills.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Management 9

Q: So you always manage to divert from my question to make your own point, or to ask me a question in reply.

A: And what's wrong with that? :)

Q: Stop kidding around! The question on the table is “How does a Manager get to know about all the management stuff we have talked about”?
By the way – where have you been?

A: Now who's digressing? But thanks for asking. I've been taking a little R&R with my sweetie and recovering from a strained back – this property management stuff is hard on a desk jockey.
Back to your question:
The fact that you have to ask is an example of an issue we see regularly. Management Training just doesn't seem to be a standard item in organizations any more.

Q: For sure! I think our budget for all training has been cut back considerably over the years.

A: I'm afraid so. Things like training, coaching, consulting regularly get cut back in, or out of, budgets whenever spending is constrained. Unfortunately, there is always someone with a sharp pencil, or spreadsheet, that can make a name for themselves by finding short term savings.

Q: Yeah; but the argument always is that we need to focus on our core business, our “core competencies”, and these extras get cut.

A: Well; that's just one more aspect of short term thinking. Training, coaching, and consulting build core competencies and provide efficiencies and effectiveness to make the business more profitable. Cutting these things out once saves money – once, in this budget. That's just poor planning, staffing, and controlling.

Q: Hey! I remember those items – they're part of the management activities list. So you are saying those cuts are poor management?

A: They are unless all other options for immediate cost savings have been exhausted, like capturing the salary of the one-time-savings hero.
It really comes down to how do Managers make these decisions. And typically cutting training, coaching, consulting look like good decisions because the longer term isn't considered, or the return on investing in these items isn't known or seems to be too hard to figure out.

Q: Are you on your soapbox again?

A: Probably; but it is relevant. How does an organization prepare and develop for the future without training, coaching, and consulting? If the machinery isn't oiled today, it won't run tomorrow.
Managers get to know the fundamentals of their jobs through being taught, and then doing. The path to lots of good decisions is littered with lots of bad. Remember that the goal to start with is simply make more good ones than the others.

Q: I'm hearing that training is the start, and the doing part – including making mistakes – is next.

A: Right, just like most things. Management can be taught; good management takes practice; really good management requires great people skills that not everyone has.
So once the initial training is done, and mistakes are being made, then coaching can make a huge difference in tuning skills and adapting from lessons learned.

Q: OK; training is clear, but I'm not familiar with this “coaching” idea. You mean like a sports team coach?

A: Perhaps a better analogy is a personal fitness trainer. Only a business coach is your personal business skills trainer. And, of course, one of the business skills is management.

Q: Neat; so a coach works with you on a regular basis?

A: As often as you wish, usually on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. That way issues that the coach can help with are current, the mistakes made and lessons learned are fresh, and an effective flow is maintained for progress. The best are certified as coaches, have solid personal experience and background in the area, and so can be extremely valuable and focused on their client – you! :)

Q: And what do I get out of this?

A: Well, anything you wish. Imagine that any time you had a question about your management role, situations with employees, tough decisions, the “office politics” stuff, etc. you could reach an expert with suggestions, approaches, reminders, etc.

Q: Sounds like a real time management support life line!

A: Yeah! Cool, eh?
Why don't you, for next time, do a little research on Business Coaching. A great place to start is

Q: Jeez; homework again?

A: Yup. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Management 8

Q: So how are we going to ask my manager what he means when he asks me to “lead the group”?

A: Why don't we do a little role play?

Q: Jeez, here you go again with the roles thing. Is this going to hurt?

A: Only if you don't want to play your Manager.

Q: Do I get his salary too?
But really, how do I know what he's thinking? Not knowing that is what got us here.

A: Sure; but we can try some different possibilities and see how things work out. You be him, and I'll be you. Here we go:
Hey, thanks for asking me to “lead the group”! I'm always up for a new challenge and appreciate your faith in me.

Q: Whoa! That's already too much sucking up – let's get serious. I would never say that!

A: Hmmm; too bad. If you don't show some sort of appreciation then you shouldn't expect to be asked again. And if you really don't want the challenge then you should say so right away.
Anyway, my next question (as you) to you (as your manager) is:
What exactly would you like me to do to lead the group?

Q: But this is the problem with this playing roles thing: I don't know what he – er, me – wants.

A: You are having a bad day, aren't you. Will you imagine what he might say? There's lots of choices – just start with one.

Q: OK.
I want you to take charge of the group to get this project completed on time. And under budget. And make me look good, too.

A: Good one! Now you're in the spirit of this. And then I say:
Completed on time, under budget – anything else?

Q: Er... not right now. I'll probably dream up some other stuff in a while.

A: OK. Is this a formal appointment, that is a change in job?

Q: Uh... No, I'd like you to try it out, see how you do, see if you've got the right stuff, show us what you've got, carry the ball down the field and make the big slapshot, go for gold!

A: (Easy tiger, don't get crazy on me.)
Alright. What are my boundaries? For example, am I supervising the work, or managing the group?

Q: How about you manage the group?

A: Got it; that means to me that I will be doing your functions of
  • planning
  • organizing
  • staffing
  • directing, and
  • controlling
for the people in my workgroup. Do you agree on that?

Q: (Ooooh. You just pulled the Manager's essentials out – cute. Now I see why those are good to know. So how do I play that shot?)

A: (Great observation – that is why they are good to know! And for your reply, imagine what your manager would say)

Q: Ah, well... er... not staffing. You can't hire or fire people because we're just trying this out.

A: OK. So if the project needs more people to be done on time, I need to come to you for your help on that?

Q: Uh... sure (I think) (This making manager's decisions is getting tricky – what if I mess up?)

A: (Yeah, interesting isn't it? If it makes you feel better it's OK to be wrong. Your boss will usually be happy if you at least get things right more often than you are wrong. Actually, the most important question is what you do when you are wrong.
For our role play you can be as right or as wrong as you like. We can always rewind and try again.)

Q: (Good! This is kinda neat being able to see things from the other side. I guess all that management office politics I complained about before was out of line.
Let's keep going.)

A: So far I understand you want me to manage the group but without authority for staffing. That means I am accountable for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling – right?

Q: Sounds fine.

A: OK. Then I can re-plan the project? Re-organize people's assignments? Direct their daily work tasks? Measure their results to control their productivity and quality?

Q: Uncle! Stop. Can I be someone else now? I don't know how to answer all those questions. How does my manager know?

A: Fine – we can stop. I think you got a sense of how this might play out.
The key is knowing the definitions – the essential elements – of the manager's job and recognizing that words like “leading”, “supervising”, “directing” need explanation.
The best thing one can do is ask: “What exactly do you mean when you say...”, and to not make assumptions. That's why we have spent so much time on the words and the details – there's just too much at stake for confusion.

Q: Yeah, and you really nailed me with your questions. I was feeling really pinned down.

A: Exactly. When you have thought about the essentials, and you have a list handy, then you are better able to ask the strong questions that clarify the requirements and the boundaries.
It's often most helpful to ask what is not included – what are the exceptions. For example, the staffing element in our role play.

Q: OK. I know you are a big fan of Ask for Help, and I can see why. And why you like to be clear on the words used.
But you didn't answer the question about how does a manager get to know this stuff?

A: Right. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Management 7

Q: So we were talking about things that were part of job descriptions – the essentials – and then you added this “roles” thing. Why do you keep making this complicated?

A: Well, it's actually simpler when you can keep the bits and pieces clear.
It's important to know what the minimum requirements of a job are – the outcomes of that position for which one is hired and paid. But we all quickly realize that there is much more to a job than that. We end up doing all kinds of things that weren't covered in the hiring interview or the position description.

Q: Ha! Tell me about it. And so?

A: Well, we need to meet our job description requirements to get paid. And we need to fulfill many roles to get the job done and be successful. Some seem to naturally be part of the job and others are opportunities to try something new, based on our manager's requests or our own initiative. We often talk about wearing a variety of different hats.
The job description requirements are normally word-smithed to be clear and exact; the roles are much more informal and based on tribal knowledge and experience.
For example: from a job description perspective, “directing” is more precise than “leading” for a management job. Leaders (as a job) determine which forest to manage, Managers direct their staff to which trees need to be harvested.

Q: That seems to be a scope or big picture vs. smaller picture question.

A: Exactly.
And also, as our teamwork sessions keep showing, leadership is not restricted to a particular job and can be done by anyone. So while Leaders need to demonstrate leadership regularly, as part of their job, anyone can, and should, demonstrate leadership when they have the best idea.

Q: Well at least we're getting back to the leadership question. But why are you concerned about job descriptions vs. roles?

A: The job description concept is simply a way to describe the essentials required in a job – the minimum set of activities for a given role. Our summary for a Manager is:
  • planning
  • organizing
  • staffing
  • directing, and
  • controlling
These are the things that a Manager must do at the very least (their job description). These aren't in your job description, and they aren't differentiators in a Leaders job description.

Q: But surely some, or all, of these activities are done by the Leaders – the senior management or whoever you mean.

A: Yes they do in their role as Managers of others. It's when we don't recognize the roles people are playing – which hat they have on – that we get these things muddled up.
That is why it is best to think of the role each person is playing at a given moment to recognize what activities they should be doing to fulfill that role well.

Q: And roles are different than jobs?

A: For sure. Your job is a description of what you are hired to do – the results expected – and the skills and knowledge required to get the results. To get that job done you may play many roles including manager executing management activities (even with your manager), and leading when you have the best idea in your team or workgroup.
One way to look at it is:
  • you have to do your job to get paid;
  • the various roles you can play to do your job - get it done faster, smarter, with higher quality, with more value, etc. - make you a more valuable employee.
Q: So if I am just fulfilling my job requirements, that's my job, and if I need to exercise some management skills with my peers or my manager then at that moment I am acting in the role of a manager?

A: Sure. For small work transactions you may just describe it as exercising some management skills or activities, but for more extended time periods – for example, when your manager is away on vacation – you would say you are filling that role on their behalf.

Q: Got it; but again why are we fussing with all this definitions and categorization stuff?

A: Because, in my opinion, based on how people write about this and discuss it, we easily get messed up and off track. We think we understand and then realize it was all about something else.
For example: when the manager of a group asks you to “lead the group” what does that really mean?
Often it is assumed to mean “be in charge”, “provide direction”, “organize the work”, etc.

Q: Yeah; that seems OK to me.

A: So now you are being asked to “lead the group”, is that a new job? Are you now the group's Supervisor? Team Lead? Manager?. In other words is that a job assignment or a role?
And what responsibility, accountability, authority do you have?

Q: I don't know; I just get to come in late and put my feet up! Just kidding.
More likely I get to deal with all the problems.

A: Right. You would usually end up with more questions in your mind than answers. And not about the work itself, but about the people stuff. What are your boundaries? How directive can you be? What do you do to lead?

Q: Hey; didn't we agree already that anyone on the team should be able to lead when they have the best idea?

A: Yes!
So what does your manager want when he tells you to “lead the group”?

Q: Beats me.

A: Me too! When we get together again let's ask him. :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Management 6

Q: Hey there; where have you been?

A: Hi. I was away doing a little informal family management – the “herding cats” and “leading from behind” stuff

Q: Hmmm. I'm afraid to ask.
Anyway, I did my homework and looked up the golden rule in “The One Minute Manager”*. Pretty cute.

A: And it said?

Q: The one with the gold makes all the rules.

A: Right. And that's also part of why your boss is your best customer.

Q: Alright – I've been waiting to get back to this one! What the heck do you mean?
How does my boss also get to be my customer? He doesn't buy any product that our company produces.

A: Well that is only one way to define “customer”.
A more generic way is to see everything we do as a chain of activities. I do something for you, you add work or value to it and pass it on. At each step, each person is, momentarily at least, the supplier and the next person in the chain is their customer.
You and I have the discussion in this blog (suppliers) and someone reads it (customer), then they tell a friend (now they switch to being a supplier) and the friend is their customer. And so on.

Q: Do you mean that in all the work I do I am the supplier to my manager?

A: Overall, yes. Another way to see it is to ask: Who cares about the quality of your work?

Q: Well, I guess that would be my manager. And also the next person in the production chain according to your description before.

A: Exactly. So if you want to get paid (golden rule) you would want to follow your manager's rules, and if you want to continue to get paid you would treat your boss as your best customer.

Q: So what does that really mean – a lot of sucking up?

A: Well, imagine yourself as a one person retail operation. Your manager comes into your store now and then and you want to maximize your revenue from him to stay in business. Sucking up probably wouldn't be productive, but paying attention to what he wants, understanding his requirements, suggesting good ideas, providing the items that meet his requirements, providing better quality and value than he expects, and so on would help.
When you are the customer, what does it take to have you come back and buy more?

Q: OK, fine. But sometimes he doesn't really know what he wants, or his expectations are way out of line.

A: Then you have to help him, just like you would in your store. You have to manage him.

Q: Whoa! Stop! Now you have me managing my manager?

A: In a way. You can at least guide, provide information, teach where necessary.
Let's step back and review management activities that we talked about before, and see if there are ones you can exercise with your manager. These were:
  • hiring, supervising, measuring, and maintaining or promoting or firing

A more comprehensive list from Wikipedia** is:
  • "planning, organizing, leading, co-ordinating, controlling, staffing, motivating

[And these come together as:]
  • Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal."

Q: It seems that there is a lot of different items – isn't there just one good list?

A: Unfortunately no. There's lots of variance of opinion between “experts”; however, some of it is wording. For example: staffing covers hiring, promoting, and firing; controlling covers co-ordinating, supervising, measuring, and maintaining; again, all depending on the level of precision you need.
But there are some areas where some interesting shifts in perspective have occurred lately.

Q: Such as?

A: Notice in the last “definition” the wording is “leading or directing”.
Leadership has become such an enigma and area of research lately that people, myself included, like to reserve “leading” as a special word.

Q: But isn't that just splitting hairs?

A: I agree it can seem like that. But if you remember our previous discussion about precision, then the implications of the word used become important.
For example: does a Manager lead or direct?

Q: Well, if there really is a difference, shouldn't they do both?

A: Yes! But perhaps not for the reasons you expect.
In a job requirements sense – the job description if you will – managers have to direct their employees. That's required. But everyone should lead when they have the opportunity.
If you are the Leader, however, you should always be ready and capable of leading. That's a Leader's job requirement.
It might be easier if we separate job requirements/job descriptions from the roles each of us play.

Q: I knew you could complicate this further! Can we have a break and get into this "roles" idea later?

A: Sure. :)

* Kenneth H. Blanchard, Morrow, 1982

Monday, March 30, 2009

Management 5

Q: Alright; I've reviewed all of our discussion so far and I admit I am feeling a little better about my Manager now. I do see that he did some good things in my situation.
I also realize that my criteria for “good management” aren't necessarily the ones his boss uses.
But what is this stuff about him being my “best customer”?

A: Well, before we get there I'll leave you with a little research: What is the Golden Rule as expressed in “The One Minute Manager”?

Q: Geez, I have to do some extra work? I thought I was going to get to ask all the questions and have you supply the answers.

A: Hmmm... If you think that learning doesn't involve work we have bigger problems than this discussion.
But anyway, there's some other loose ends to tidy up. One was your concern about what your Manager would do with a new employee who needed more help than you.

Q: Right! You dodged that one conveniently.

A: As you like; however, it's usually better to understand the optimum or normal path before we get into exceptions that require even more managerial skill.
Such as firing an employee.

Q: Hold on! How did we get to having to let some one go? We're only talking about a new employee.

A: Yes; but let's look at some more aspects of “executive, administrative, and supervisory direction”.
It's pretty clear that you expect your Manager to provide some contribution to you and your group producing their result. And you expect that your Manager will therefore help a new employee who is struggling.

Q: Right...

A: So it's reasonably straight forward in most organizations to arrange for help – training, mentoring, coaching, etc. - for an employee who needs it. That might even be provided directly by the Manager. At the very least it is initiated by him.
But how long should a Manager wait for a poorly performing employee to become effective?

Q: I don't know. That's his concern.

A: Is it? What happens in a group that includes a poor performer?

Q: Well, we all have to pick up the slack, and if there's time, try to help that person out.

A: So it does become a problem for you too – if we only look at the extra work involved (ignoring missed deadlines, effect on performance bonuses, quality, reputation, your personal life, stress in the group, etc.).
Pretty soon your Manager's boss is noticing that the group's results are suffering. Hopefully, before then, your Manager is acting to deal with this and has already alerted her and the Human Resources department.
And what would you like the Manager to do?

Q: Fix the problem, but without throwing that person out on the street.

A: And that's what a good Manager wants too. But if the “happy” solutions don't work out, he has to be prepared to let that employee go.
The Manager's job includes trying to find a productive solution – e.g. another job suitable for that employee. That's some of the “office politics” you noticed before. But at the end of the story, everyone's job – yours and mine – is a fair exchange of work-to-results for money. And if the results aren't there for the money paid to the employee, then the contract is in default.

Q: Whoa; I'm not liking where this is going.

A: Right – this isn't a happy time for anyone involved. And in a professional organization with professional Managers this situation is taken very seriously and requires all possible due diligence to get the employee's performance back on track.
Nevertheless, as explained beautifully in “Good to Great” every company needs the right employees “on the bus”. If there is a mis-match in performance, values, vision, etc. then some employees should not be on the bus. Some will realize that for themselves; some will need Management intervention.

Q: So we are just going to dump people who can't cut it?

A: Ideally Managers hire people who can perform well in several jobs, or who are trainable, or can be coached, mentored, and advised as necessary. Firing someone is a last resort and represents a failure, often in the hiring process.
But in a professional organization this isn't dumping people over the side of boat to the sharks. There should be support for those people to find a different bus going where they wish to go.
If the situation is actually very ugly, then there are other factors and variables at work that we can't solve here.

Q: Great. I'm suitably depressed now. How did we end up here?

A: By realizing some fundamentals about a Manager's job. That it includes the “life-cycle” of hiring, supervising, measuring, and maintaining or promoting or firing. It is acting on behalf of the company owner(s). It's about the “Golden Rule”. It's being your best customer.

Q: Oh, yeah! We didn't get back to that idea.

A: So do your research, and we'll continue next week. :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Management 4

Q: As I recall, you were suggesting that we need to start at the beginning of the story?

A: That's right. If we are going to discuss “Management” we need to know what we are actually talking about.

Q: I feel some definitions coming at me.

A: Right. Let's see what some sources have to say.

Q: Is this going to take long?

A: That depends on you. :)
Here's the first one: Among Webster's offerings for Management: “the judicious use of means to accomplish an end” (1).
And for Manager: “to handle or direct with a degree of skill” (2)
and “to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction” (3).

Q: So?

A: Well, for starters, your bozo Manager in our previous discussions seems to have fulfilled definition (1) - “the judicious use of means to accomplish an end”. Whether you perceive his contribution or not, he used the means – you – to accomplish an end – you produced your results.

Q: But he didn't contribute – he didn't help me at all.

A: Agreed, but he didn't need to did he? In effect he used definition (2) - “to handle or direct with a degree of skill”, with you as a capable employee. That is he handled you with skill by staying out of your way and letting you produce.

Q: But he didn't lead at all, and spent his time playing office politics.

A: OK. Will you give me an example of his “office politics”?

Q: Sure; he was constantly in meetings with the other managers negotiating priorities, and tasks, and who was going to do what, and generally sucking up.

A: Good; that sounds a lot like definition (3) - “to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction”. “Executive” direction is about executing – getting tasks done. That requires working out and understanding priorities, and who is going to be involved. “Supervisory” direction is about arranging to have those “who”s – like you - actually do the tasks.
I do agree that “generally sucking up” isn't in the dictionary definition. :)

Q: So you are telling me that according to the definitions my Manager was actually doing his job?

A: Yup.

Q: But that just can't be right. Where's the leadership? Where's the getting involved and helping get the tasks done? I didn't see him contribute at all!

A: Right.
Based on your criteria he did a damn fine job – as a Manager. The definitions so far haven't mentioned leadership, or getting involved in your tasks.
And let's be clear about the record for your scenario. You said “I knew my job, I knew my objectives, I knew my boundaries, I knew how to get things done and I did them.” How did you know your job?

Q: Well, I was hired with the knowledge and skills I needed.

A: And who hired you, and checked that you had the knowledge and skills?

Q: My Manager and the Human Resources assistant with the skill tests and new hire paperwork.

A: And how did you know your objectives, and boundaries?

Q: They were part of the job description and my performance objectives documents.

A: Good! Definitely a better start than I've seen in a lot of companies.
How did you know “how to get things done”?

Q: I figured out who the important people were who knew the operation and the inside tips.

A: Excellent! Did anyone help make sure you got your job description, performance objectives, introduced you to key people with experience?

Q: OK, OK. Don't rub it in; my Manager set things up for me. But then I was on my own!

A: And it worked out fine from what you said before.

Q: But surely there's more to managing than what I saw him do for me.

A: Yup. There's lots, but before we get to that let me ask you something. How do you feel about your Manager now?

Q: Well I'm not about to give him a big hug if that's what you mean.

A: That's fine. There's probably some Human Resources policy about that. :)
Besides you don't even have to like him – just respect him by believing he is a smart, rational human being like you until you have solid data to the contrary. After all he is your best customer.

Q: Whoa! You might have wrangled me into accepting he's not as big a bozo as I thought, and in fact, according to you, did the right things for me. But my “best customer”? Now you are talking like the bozo. How can my boss be my customer?

A: Let's find out next week. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Management 3

Q: OK, let's try this again.

A: Good. Glad you are back - suggesting a break was a super idea.

Q: Yeah; better than punching you in the nose. So, we were talking about working for a bozo.

A: Yes; however “bozo” is somewhat imprecise and loaded term. Is it alright that we describe him as appearing to be incompetent because you didn't see the behaviour you wanted to see?

Q: Sure. I know you know what I mean, but your insistence on wording must have a reason so I'll play.

A: Good, because I chose my words carefully. I picked “appearing”, “incompetent”, “behaviour”, and “you”. First of all, I do sincerely appreciate that your boss in your example did appear to be incompetent to you. We've all experienced someone doing something that looked strange, unreasonable, unproductive right through to downright ugly.

Now in this scenario, You are seeing Behaviour that Appears Incompetent. To sort this out it would be ideal to know if it is only You (or everyone?), that sees Behaviour (consistently based on values and intent?) that Appears (or truly is according to the organization?) Incompetent (or just unexpected or unacceptable to you?).

Q: Jeez, you are picky. But I do get the point – there are a lot of variables at play.

A: Exactly, and you can see that we have just identified a few. Let's agree that a reasonable employee, such as yourself, thinks your manager is useless (another very precise term. :) )

If we look at those situations, in an organization, logically and objectively we can determine that a) this manager's boss is blind or unresponsive to this person's apparent incompetent behaviour, or that b) the manager's boss believes, or at some time believed, this person to be worth keeping in the company's employ.
Another possibility is that the boss herself is having a moment of temporary insanity, or has just used up her competence quota; however, either of these can still be covered in a) or b).

Q: Great, so both my manager and his boss are bozos?

A: Yes! - OR - our perception of the situation isn't accurate. Objectively we would both have to agree that it is probably the latter. We may not like what we see but the manager's boss must be OK with things, or if she isn't then hopefully is working to rectify the situation.
Either way, let's be careful we aren't making some bad assumptions. And even if we are correct temporarily, or permanently, let's get some facts before judging.

Q: Fine, I get your point – I shouldn't jump to concussions. So let's talk about the scenario where all my peers agree; that is it's not just my opinion.

A: Good. Do we have facts from anyone out there or is this still a group opinion? And before we argue over what's a fact and what isn't, let's just consider this. If your manager is a problem (we haven't uncovered what this problem is yet) it is his manager who has to get the facts, determine what the problem is and solve it. Ideally, that manager will do a great job and ask for your input.
But that won't be happening if your manager's boss is getting what she wants, no matter what you and I think about the situation.

Q: So we are stuck – that's just dandy!

A: Well, yes we are stuck, but not the way you think. We are stuck with common misconceptions about what “Management” is, and how it works, and where we fit in as employees.

Q: Ouch. That says that my opinion of my bozo boss is a misconception?

A: Not your opinion – that is what it is – but the cause of your opinion. Until we've been a “Manager”, or studied “Management” from those who have, it's really easy to misunderstand. It's just like every other skill or profession: if we aren't a trained pilot we don't know how to fly the plane. We can criticize a bumpy flight, but we can't be certain we could do better.

Q: This sounds like a “walk in the other person's shoes” moral.

A: Exactly.

Q: So how do we get past that obstacle?

A: Well one way is to start at the beginning of the story and see how we got to situations like you've experienced. Let's do that next week.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Management 2

Q: So here we are again talking about “Management”, and you owe us an explanation about your use of quotation marks around such terms from last week.

A: You're right. My intent was to indicate a general use of the terms, covering a wide spectrum of meanings, until we have a chance in this discussion to be more precise.

Q: What's this concern with being precise?

A: It's more like an obsession about communication. Clear communication is tough enough when we speak the same language and have similar interests. It's even more challenging when we aren't careful about our choice of words and that leads to mis-understanding. So my goal is to be as precise as I can about words, critical ones at least, that are important to the point. Let's call them key words.

Q: And there isn't enough precision?

A: Generally no. For example: we talk about leading a group of people, supervising a group, managing a group, etc. often interchangeably. That's OK when it doesn't change the point of the message – the understanding. It's fine when we are being general and don't need to make a distinction.
But it hinders us when we are trying to be clear about differences, getting at specifics, or looking for improvement opportunities. In these instances, the words are important otherwise our resulting learning and actions are inappropriate, and we end up with a mess.

Q: Alright; I guess I am OK with that. Now, can we get on with it?

A: You're asking the questions. :)

Q: Fine. Let's jump into the deep end. We've all worked for “Managers” who seemed to be bozos who couldn't lead their way out of a paper bag and spent all their time playing office politics. What's that all about? What use are they?

A: Well, first of all, thanks for using quotation marks to make your question general and applicable to a large number of situations. Nevertheless, I am going to ask you for more precision: What is your problem with that situation?

Q: You can't be serious! Clearly that's a problem – they are incompetent.

A: Perhaps they are, but we don't have that data yet. Let me ask you a question: As someone working for that kind of Manager how did you do?

Q: Well, I was fine. I mean: I knew my job, I knew my objectives, I knew my boundaries, I knew how to get things done and I did them. But what if I was a new employee or new to the group, then what?

A: OK; then as far as you getting the right results there wasn't a problem, right? So, if I were to judge your Manager on that basis I would say he did the job required; i.e. your Manager had you produce the right results.

Q: Come on! The guy was a bozo and had nothing to do with me getting the results I did – I did everything for myself.

A: Then it sounds like you were the ideal employee and your Manager let you get on with being successful. And so the problem is...?

Q: OK. So, first you try to flatter me, and then you ignore the other part to my question, and now you are trying to make me look silly.

A: And perhaps you are getting just a tiny bit emotional. That's good; humans are supposed to be emotional even at work. If I may, I want to talk more about the data here first, and deal with the emotion later.

Q: No way! Now you are being condescending and I'm getting angry. And being emotional at work is unprofessional and unproductive, everyone knows that!!

A: Alright. I understand that you feel like I was trying to flatter you, and I sounded condescending. I did indeed bypass part of your concern relating to new employees. I'm sorry my approach is annoying you.
I absolutely agree that it is commonly accepted that emotions in the workplace are unprofessional. Would it be alright if I explained myself a little before we continue?

Q: Hmmm... I think I need a break.

A: We can do that; and reconvene next week?

Q: OK.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Management 1

First of all:
My thanks go out to Luke Schubert of Adelaide, Southern Australia for commenting on this blog with his examples of great leadership. If you have been paying attention to international news you know that Australia has been going through an extensive drought, leading to huge wildfires. It's been hotter than, well... Australia... in the summer time - which is 40+ Celsius right now.
Luke and his family, including two youngsters, haven't been able to sleep properly in the heat. Nevertheless, he has been making time to participate in the on-line BootCamp / ResultsCamp that is underway, doing his regular day job, his dad stuff, and passed on his examples in the Comments to last week's blog. Thanks Luke – Beauty mate!

My intent is to collect such stories and add them to the leadership articles in the near future.

I was alerted last week via Twitter ( of a blog by “RandsinRepose” ( on management (“A Disclosure”). Specifically it is about the situation of successful “specialist” being asked to lead his team and become their manager. It was very interesting reading about the dilemmas, anomalies, and other upsets in the work life of a new “manager”. (The quotation marks will be explained in a moment.)

And that got my sweetheart Vickie and I into another great discussion, this time about “Management”.

Since she is a business coach (, as well as my consulting and training partner, and focuses on the Generation Y (also known as Millennials) cohort moving into management assignments, and has her own experiences dealing with Boomer Generation managers, we just had the best time exploring the whole “management” thing.

Once we had solved world hunger in that discussion, we agreed that it seemed that the “Great Forgetting”, that Daniel Quinn describes in “Ishmael” and his other books on the nature of our Taker culture, has happened with respect to the general understanding, or the lack of understanding, on “Management”. It appears that the basics of “Management” aren't taught, heard, or absorbed in organizations these days, and in our consulting lives, Vickie and I run into examples of this regularly.

Further; the distinctions between leadership and management are unclear, so why not jump into the “Management” water as well as talk about leadership in this blog?

So at the risk of sounding like the Four Yorkshiremen “dreamin' of living in a corridor” (luxury!) who believe the youngsters these days don't appreciate how good they have it, I thought some fun with “Management” might be in order. (Thanks Monty Python)

Question: So, Mr. Reeves, I take it that you feel there is a gap in understanding in what “Management” is all about?

Answer: Very perceptive! I keep running into confusion, mis-understanding, and general belly-aching about it.

Q: And you are just the Saviour to lead us all out of this wilderness?

A: Of course.

Q: How modest!

A: Think nothing of it. Just show up again next week after I have compiled my extensive knowledge and experience into a few thousand pages of notes.

Q: Wait a second – you haven't explained your use of quotation marks above around “manager and “Management”.

A: You're right.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leadership 7

A quick update on the inaugural event of Friends of Deep Griha, Canada, held at Central United Church, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia last week:
  • about twice as many attendees at the pot-luck lunch as expected (nothing like food to get people's attention)
  • a lot more money collected than imagined, with the result that
  • 270 toddlers will have nutritional supplements of eggs and milk for a whole month in Deep Griha's care!
It is astonishing how a little goes a long way, and how directly one can make a difference not just in one child's life but in a lot of lives.

Thanks to all who attended, and the even larger number who contributed!

And now back to our sponsor.... :)
Please comment with your stories about leaders you have experienced, as suggested in Leadership Article 6.
If you have had trouble getting through the security screens, infrared sensors, and bulky, imposing guards to post a comment, please try again. Thanks!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Leadership 6

So what's left to talk about regarding Leadership?

Only tons...

But why don't we take a pause to hear about your stories.

Let me know by Comment on this blog the answer to “Who do you perceive as a leader and why?”.

Share with us all your stories about leadership, and I will collect them and post them in future blogs.

As Jimmy Durante? used to say: “Keep those cards and letters comin'!”


Sunday, February 8th. is the inaugural fund raiser by the Friends of Deep Griha Canada with an awareness pot-luck Indian lunch at Central United Church in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Help support the leadership actions taken by the Deep Griha Society in Pune, India.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Leadership 5

Let's summarize the concepts we have accumulated so far in this series on Leadership:
  • a vision
  • the best idea moving toward that vision
  • a leader proposing that idea
  • a cohesive group wanting to follow that idea
Some of a leader's attributes: Inspiration, Courage, Patience, Respect, Decisiveness, Firmness, and Connection with the individuals in their group.

A test for leadership:
  • Followers = Leadership happening
  • No followers = no Leadership happening.
Characteristics of a group and it's leader:
  • a symbiotic relationship, mutual influence, agency
  • a cohesive group – a social identity – ideally using tested and proven interpersonal tools to share information, make decisions, resolve conflict, etc.
  • a transformational process creating the group, determining its identity, developing these individual and group visions
  • again ideally, the opportunity for any individual at any point in time take leadership of a team by means of the team's acceptance of that individual's idea for moving the team forward - that leadership possibly being momentary or lasting as long as it takes for the team to achieve their vision
Finally; a modification of the definition of leader to: one who has willing followers.

Which leads us to some other notions to address, such as authority vs. power.

If one of the “proofs” of seeing leadership is to also see followers, what about situations where people are forced to follow?

We see lots of projects in the software industry become “forced marches” and some so dire they become “death marches”. Usually no programmers die, thankfully, no matter how poor their programming or teamwork, although some project managers contemplate homicide followed by harakiri.

In these cases, are we seeing leadership?

Hence the more precise way of describing followers by adding the adjective “willing”. If the person heading up a group has to resort to coercion or some other form of power – typically fear – then should we say that person is demonstrating leadership? I believe a consensus would say no. People forced to follow the person in charge in any situation would not be considered willing followers and hence the person in charge would not be considered leading.

Can we then make a distinction between power and the use of power in the sense of force, and authority?

If, as we see regularly in our teamwork retreats called BootCamp or ResultsCamp, the team (our cohesive social group above) willingly follows the current “best idea”, and in effect the proposer of that idea, then we can say the team confers authority of leadership upon that proposer. On the strength of that idea, and the team's understanding that to continue to progress toward their vision they need to act on the current “best idea”, authority to lead automatically flows to the proposer of that idea. Or even more accurately, leadership authority flows to those who begin action on that idea.

What we see then in our Camps is the following proven scenario:
  • the team members develop their individual visions of their futures
  • this impetus leads to the team readily developing a team vision
  • the agreed and accepted stance of the team becomes a bias toward action to enact that vision
  • this bias for action leads to the development of, and proposals to, the team, of ideas to move toward that vision – the elements of enactment
  • the act of proposing an idea, and the team's acceptance of it, causes emergent leadership by the proposer, and then by those who act with authority to make that idea so
The results are:
  • leadership emerging from any team member at any moment
  • the team conferring authority on these emergent leaders to move forward decisively based on action towards results
  • this leadership lasting as long as progress is made, results are achieved, and the next “best idea” appears
None of this contradicts what we have learned so far. And it does make a very exciting and promising experience. Because exactly what we need right now is leaders like President Obama of the United States to not only propose ideas, but to seek out those of us who will act. Clearly no one individual can accomplish all the change needed, nor do they necessarily know what the current “best idea” is. But together we can all find ideas, and act on them – locally, municipally, provincially, and nationally - as emergent leaders.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Leadership 4

Continuing from last week with Dr. Reicher and associates's work (all text in quotes is from their paper*):
“There is a truth here which is so obvious that it is easy to overlook. Leadership is not simply a matter of leaders, or even of leaders and followers. Rather it has to do with the relationship between leaders and followers within a social group (Haslam, 2001; van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003b; Sherif, 1962, p.17).”

This matches our experience from BootCamp / ResultsCamp. The experience of the team prior to Fiona's proposal (Leadership Article 1) was to build that social group. What preceded the team's capacity to really listen to her proposal and then act on it was the work each had done developing connection. That was accomplished through the mechanics of generating a shared vision – shared between the group members and guiding their actions and interactions.

And further:
“... any consideration of leader and follower agency must consider their inter-relationship within the group. This notion of leadership as a group process is the starting point for the social identity approach to leadership...”

Again, we regularly see in ResultsCamp the capability within the group for various leaders to emerge at any point based on the best idea proposed at that point.

Dr. Reicher's paper continues to develop three important elements:
  • the group (and the leader) share attributes or an identity which makes them a group, and this binds group members including the leader
  • in fact, a leader can provide the definition and shape the group.
  • leaders distinguish themselves not only by words but also by structures that fulfill the vision and the words
And then states:
“The critical insight is that leadership is a transformational process. It involves changes in the self-understanding of people and also in the nature of the social world. Indeed, one of the insights to come out of our analysis is that these two forms of change are interdependent since identities are models of how the world is and of how it should be.”

“Effective leadership is about supplying a vision, creating social power and directing that power so as to realize that vision.”

So here is this critical notion of vision again. Is this expressed as our mission, that is to say, what we are intending to do? Or is it possibly our goal, our objectives, our targets?

The ResultsCamp vision is the picture of what we want the world and ourselves to look like in the future. Because the ResultsCamp team members determine first of all their own personal visions – what they want their future life to be – they can then determine a team vision and see readily how they as individuals can support that vision and each other to realize that vision.

Given all this what do we now have?
  • team members with their own personal visions
  • a team vision each individual has helped develop and can support with their own personal futures
  • a cohesive group – a social identity – using tested and proven interpersonal tools to share information, make decisions, resolve conflict, etc. (the Core Protocols)
  • a transformational process – participation in the ResultsCamp – which is creating the team, determining its identity, developing these individual and team visions
and possibly most interesting
  • the opportunity for any individual at any point in time take leadership of the group by means of the team's acceptance of that individual's idea for moving the team forward - that leadership possibly being momentary or lasting as long as it takes for the team to achieve their vision

However, there is still the “unreal” world after ResultsCamp and the following warning from Dr. Reicher:
“Of course, to argue that leadership need not diminish the agency of followers (and may in fact enable it) is not to deny that there are forms of leadership which do attempt to do so. Far from encouraging an open debate about who we are and how we should act, some leaders may indeed try to essentialize their constructions, to present them as the only possible versions of who we are and to brook no debate. The extreme to which we referred above, where the leader constructs him- or herself as the embodiment of the ingroup, leads to a situation where anything the leader says or does by definition encapsulates the group identity and anyone who opposes the leader by definition becomes an opponent of the group. Where, on top of that, a sense of pervasive threat is created such that the ingroup appears to be in danger of destruction by imagined enemies, then extreme measures to quell dissent can be justified in the interests of self-defense.

Such strategies, of course, are commonly found in undemocratic and dictatorial regimes (Reicher & Hopkins, 2003; see also Koonz, 2003, Overy, 2004). Our concern is that if one presupposes that leadership takes away the agency of followers then one fails to address the conditions under which tyrannical leadership thrives (Haslam & Reicher, 2005). This lessens our ability to promote open and democratic leadership and to defend against autocracy. In this way, the danger is not that the traditional opposition between leaders and followers is valid in theory but rather that — partly through a faulty theoretical analysis — it may become true in practice.”

So this warning brings us back to the dangers of leaders posturing as representing groups that they do not, not allowing the group to bring forward their best ideas, to the extreme of outright opposition between the leader and the group.

While I agree that tyrants and despots exist, and analysis needs to include this possibility, I conclude this week with a modification of the definition of leader: one who has willing followers.

*Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. Reicher, Haslam, Hopkins (2005)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leadership 3

Last fall I was driving into Halifax, about an hour away. Often, when driving alone, I take a handful of CDs in the car and catch up on old favourites. But this time I turned on the Canadian national icon - after the beaver, and the red and white maple leaf flag – the CBC. That's the Canadian national radio Broadcasting network Corporation, for all non-Canadians. It's patterned after the model of the BBC in the United Kingdom – a government funded national radio and television link which provides a cultural connectedness across the country. Where anyone goes in Canada there are woods and rocks, Tim Horton's coffee, and the CBC.

And similar to the BBC, and NPR in the United States, the CBC isn't hampered by directives and prejudices from advertisers because there aren't any. (Advertisers, that is: we still have the other stuff.) So the programming is wide open; eclectic, musical variety, talk variety, world and local news; something for everyone including those who like to THINK.

This particular morning the interview program on had a variety of topical items including, you guessed it, perked up my ears right away – Leadership. The first interview I caught was with someone who couldn't seem to keep up with the questions and sounded very uncertain of their material. All very “sketchy” and destined for obscurity. But the next speaker caught my attention immediately and with his opening remark about leadership I almost drove off the road!

Dr. Stephen Reicher, Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St. Andrew's, Scotland (founded 1413! - the University, not psychology), began his description of leadership in the interview with an statement so obvious and fundamental that we usually overlook it: A leader must have followers.

An “AHA” moment – A Whack on the Side of the Head (Thanks, Roger von Oech). Here I am, the Results guy, and here is a Results based litmus test: Followers = Leadership happening / no Followers = no Leadership happening.

As noted in the latest Twitter “LeadershipTips”: “The only test of leadership is that somebody follows. - Robert K. Greenleaf”

It's so obvious we don't normally mention it. And worse from an evidence based approach, we focus on things like the attributes of a leader. What must a leader have to lead? How about:
  • charisma
  • courage
  • boldness
  • chemistry
  • ...
  • nice hair
  • trendy clothes
  • television presence
You can see how the attributes quest can easily spiral away into silliness.

That is not to say these characteristics aren't important, and perhaps necessary. Nevertheless, the quest to manufacture leadership in a finishing factory isn't one certain to produce useful results. Yes, I do believe still in Principle Centered Leadership (Stephen R Covey). (Do I need to change my name to Stephen also?). Covey points out the need for:
  • a Moral Compass
  • clear communications
  • empowerment
  • a total quality approach
Let's call those, and others, foundational attributes. These can be used, according to Covey, in a hierarchy of focus:
  • meta leadership – vision and stewardship
  • macro leadership – strategic goals, structure, systems and processes
  • micro leadership – relationships, emotional bank accounts with the potential followers
Nevertheless, a donkey having been through the car wash is still a donkey (Thanks, Carmen.)

Following up with Dr. Reicher, I received from him the “academic” paper* he and his associates have published in the Leadership Quarterly, and an article in Scientific American August / September 2007.

The academic paper refers to a history of determining leadership attributes:
  • Carlyle, 1840 – speaking on the “great man”
  • Mill, 1975 - “ the genius whose pleasures are of a higher order than... animalistic gratifications”
  • Nietzsche, 1977 [sic] - “‘superman’, who would let nothing... stop him satisfying his appetites”
  • Le Bon, 1895/1947 - “the hypnotic crowd leader”
  • Weber, 1921, 1947 - “charisma”; and the “inexorable advance of instrumental rationality (zweckrationalitat) and institutional routine”
“Which lead us to the three phases of research into leadership:
  • a search for the distinctive intellectual and social characteristics [not very satisfying]
  • thinking that leadership is a contingent product of both personal and situational factors [mixed support]
  • attempts to rediscover some of the ‘magic’ that is missing from recipe-like contingency models, [through] a rediscovery of Weber’s concept of charismatic leadership”
This last phase gets us close to “leadership... seen as 'the process of being perceived by others as a leader' ”

Stephen Reicher and his associates then propose in their paper that “the agency of leaders and followers does not constitute a zero-sum game. Rather, in line with a social identity approach to leadership (e.g., Haslam, 2001; van Knippenberg & Hogg, 2003a; Reicher & Hopkins, 1996a; Turner, 1991), we consider them to be interdependent in such a way that leaders and followers both actively rely on each other to create the conditions under which mutual influence is possible.”

A symbiotic relationship, mutual influence, agency. Let's chew on these words until next week.

*Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. Reicher, Haslam, Hopkins (2005)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Leadership 2

Dr. Neela Onawale gazed across her solid old desk at Vickie and I with her usual implacable look and started to explain. As the founder, director, operations manager, and lightening rod for the Deep Griha Society ( she just didn't have the time after all to attend BootCamp.

Luckily Vickie and I were not surprised by her statement. We had heard this before from other Chief Executives and senior managers. Luckily we had also somewhat recovered from the marathon of flying from Halifax to Montreal to Zurich to Mombai over some 22 hours, and then the hair-raising midnight ride from the madness of Mombai roads to the chaos of Pune, India. During that ride my daughter, Allison, who had managed to organize this teamwork session, brought us up to date on the latest wrinkles including her concerns that some of the key people may not attend after all.

Just having Dr. Onawale, as she is respectfully addressed by her staff, find time to see us turned out to be a big deal. She was sharing her office space with two consultants and working out organizational changes to be presented to, and approved by, her board. Additionally, Neela has always been involved in all the daily operations of Deep Griha because she started the Society single handed as a young medical doctor responding to the needs of the thousands? in the Tadiwala slum. So her door is never closed, and there is a constant round of heads popping in and out like jacks-in-a-box to see if she is free.

Now with us comfortably seated in the chairs of honour in front of her desk, the chai and lemonade graciously offered, Neela began to explain. We learned how over 30 years ago she began providing medical services to mothers and young children, then food programs, then educational programs, then adult learning, and on and on. Each development responded to the need underlying the visible issue. Each was designed to empower the beneficiary. Each required staff, space, equipment, planning, pleading, and good luck to build the social support fabric. And all funded by donations.

We could see the fatigue of all these years of lonely effort on her face. And we could also see the results: a multi-story concrete building right on Tadiwala Road at the main entry to that slum area, every nook and cranny of space utilized for medical assessments, schooling, skills development, daycare, cooking and feeding, and the newest, most urgent work of HIV/AIDS awareness and care. She recently had returned from a tiring fund raising trip to the United States and now had critical organizational decisions and proposals to make to keep all this moving. She hoped we would understand and not be offended.

I looked at Vickie for support, drew in a large breath, and responded with the reasons why Neela should find a way to attend.

During the closing ceremonies of that retreat, Vickie and I saw again how BootCamp just works. And we had seen why Neela is such an excellent leader.

We saw:
  • Courage – throughout her life, her story of Deep Griha, and immediately as she overcame her fear of taking yet another week away from the helm
  • Patience – we watched her deal with all the interruptions, and our plea for her to attend BootCamp without an off-hand dismissal; each business issue brought to her during BootCamp was handled in due course without interrupting BootCamp
  • Respect – no staff member, consultant, visitor was a bother or a burden; each person was accepted on their own merits; all BootCamp participants of any caste or background were treated as equals
  • Decisiveness – having heard the rationale, the arguments for or against, Neela made her decisions and stuck with them in spite of other's emotional or irrational reactions
  • Firmness – Neela dealt with all storms with resolve to stick by her decisions without wavering
  • Connection – she demonstrated repeatedly a strong relationship with her staff of caring and understanding throughout BootCamp and in her office
  • Vision – her dreams for Deep Griha's beneficiaries inspire everyone she meets; they can picture the great results she is striving for

As you can gather, Neela delighted in BootCamp, and we delighted in her.

Next week, some of the academic research into Leadership, OR something on IT Service Management. Would you like to choose?