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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.”

Accordingly:
“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.”

Hmmm.
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 (www.deepgriha.org) 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?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Leadership Article 1

On a hot, muggy, August afternoon in 2005 a group of twenty or so people were sitting and standing in group around one of their work tables. Inside the Community Centre in the small town of Duncan, Oklahoma, this group were protected from the heat and pending tornadoes but not from their tiredness, frustration, confusion and lack of energy. They were stuck. Their momentum on their team assignment had slowed, wobbled, and fallen to the ground over the last hour. The promise of that morning's ideas for their project had waned and those ideas just weren't as useful as they had seemed.

Luckily, in this group of seasoned corporate employees, some with Doctorate degrees in Engineering or thirty years of experience solving extremely difficult well-drilling problems across the world, or both, was an eleven year old girl. She wasn't a child prodigy or some mistake by the Human Resources department. She wasn't even known to the others two days ago. But she was part of their team. They had all come together the previous Sunday evening to spend a week learning and practicing the best behaviours known for successful teamwork results.

As I entered the room for a “curiosity walkabout”, Fiona stood up in the group, with that look of tired resignation that teenagers perfect as they are not listened to time and time again, and made a suggestion. As she spoke she just looked at the table so she wouldn't have to immediately deal with looks of rejection from the mixture of adults, some approaching retirement. One of her more present teammates asked her to clarify her thoughts in proposal form nudging Fiona toward the Decider Protocol they had learned. Fiona restated her idea: “I propose that we... “. There was a pregnant silence, then smiles, then people sitting up and moving closer to each other, then the required response to a Decider – here a mixture of approval and support indicated, but no “thumbs down”. Fiona smiled, they smiled, Fiona declared the proposal accepted, and the team immediately started to move forward again to implement her new idea. They were re-energized by the best idea available at that moment – Fiona's idea – and Fiona became the team leader as they sprung into action.

What had just happened?

This group had validated again that leadership doesn't necessarily depend upon charisma, charm, age, wisdom, experience, or size. It doesn't have to come from an organization chart, a long history of work experience in an organization or a group.

Leadership can come from anywhere and anyone within a cohesive group that recognizes and respects each member, stays open to ideas from any source, and manages their egos, old habits, and prejudices. A group that understands and exercises the meritocracy of ideas can be open to an infinity of possibilities.

We don't have to wait for the boss, the loudest speaker, the eldest with the most experience. No one can predict when the next best idea will surface or who will have it. Of course, in any group some may appear to be, and act as, the wisest or most creative, but they don't have exclusive rights on good ideas. And so often the strangest thoughts at one moment become the most valuable the next. As my daughter Allison quotes Einstein in her email signature: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

A leader, in my opinion, doesn't need absurd ideas necessarily, just ones that the group agrees moves them positively forward toward their vision. But often the “absurd” or “scary” ones turn out to be the most useful and energizing.

What have I seen so far?

  • a vision
  • the best idea moving toward that vision
  • a leader proposing that idea
  • a cohesive group wanting to follow
More to come next week!