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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!

1 comment:

Luke said...

Excellent story. It gives me hope for the future, both that Fiona had the courage to suggest the idea and that the group had the good sense to suggest it and make her the team leader.