Sometimes the mood to write about life and our work overtakes us. Hence this collection of short articles on various topics. We trust that you enjoy the read and that you might even find some of the ideas useful.
Choices r us!
Anyone who has reflected on their life – with an appropriate sense of personal responsibility – will recognise that it is their choices, in any moment, that have given them their best – and worst – results. We can live a life of blaming others or making excuses for our failings but that’s simply being in denial. The alternative is to take ownership of our choices; to be prepared to be held accountable and to feel a great sense of responsibility for what happens in our lives.
It’s choices that add or destroy value.
Let’s apply that simple premise to business. Let’s use a business term for ‘choices – let’s call them decisions. Now, it’s decisions that add or destroy value in your business.
That’s what companies hire and pay people to do in fact. We are paid to add value and we do that via our decisions. However, there are many times when we make decisions that actually destroy value. Sometimes;, if you’re in a high enough role, you can destroy Billions of Dollars in value!
Even at lower levels though, we can destroy lots of value. One person’s choice in a given moment can lead to injury or death or equipment damage or the loss of a customer or the lowering of morale of a colleague…
I’m sure you get the idea.
Well, if all of the above is true then there are serious implications for how we should think about the work of leaders and how we should design our organisations. In simple terms, the challenge is:
“How do I set my people up to succeed in making the best decision in every moment?”
The work of leaders is to set their people up to make good (value adding) decisions
Provide them with clear context, clarity of role accountabilities, support them with coaching, encourage them. Be a role model!
Plus a couple of other things…
What if the foundation of being a successful front-line leader could be broken down into just 5 questions? Try these on for size:
1. Are my people working safely? (making safe choices) How do I know? What have I put into place that guarantees that they are working safely?
2. Are my people working productively? How would they know? What knowledge and tools have I given them to let them manage their productivity? How do I know that they are using them?
3. Are my people fully engaged in their work? (physically and psychologically) What am I doing to check that they are in the best ‘state’ as they go into the workplace?
4. Am I setting the best example for my people?
5. Am I working at the right level? Am I anticipating the critical issues within my role? Am I anticipating my boss’ and my boss’ boss’ needs? Am I anticipating my people’s needs and putting in place actions to meet them?
There can be no doubt that a leader who has robust, positive answers to each of the 5 questions (and associated sub-levels of question) will be doing a very good job in any industry. The trick though, is to be rigorous in working out the answers – applying the brain power and discipline to do better than vague, hopeful answers. It’s worth putting some time into!
Next time you’re coaching one of your Supervisors or Managers, try the 5 questions on them. Try them on yourself! Be gentle of course 🙂
Have you ever felt frustration in watching leaders who won’t or can’t seem to ‘step up’ and lead? Have you ever found yourself watching someone making a decision and have you cringed and wondered ‘why are they doing that in that way?’
Have you been one of those leaders?
Imagine how much value could be generated if your organisation had consistently excellent leadership and management at all levels. People who knew how to take charge, who could engage others to follow them with loyalty and who consistently anticipated and thought through critical issues and made value adding decisions. People who knew how to set their people up for success and did the work required to maintain those conditions for success.
Leaders who knew how to create a true culture of accountability!
WHAT WOULD THAT BE WORTH TO YOU?
Over the past twenty five years or so I have had the privilege of working with and learning from some very capable people – many of whom are linked on this site. From my time as a RAAF Officer in the late 80s, where I was given some pretty solid leadership development opportunities and my first chance to design leadership development systems, I have been exposed to many outstanding leaders and have played a role in working to develop leadership capability in many industries and in many parts of the world.
When you invest in leadership development, do you attempt to define and measure the return on investment or do you just hope that it adds value?
During that time I reckon that the most common frustration of senior managers is when they feel that they have invested in developing leaders only to find that ‘they won’t step up and lead’. I have a few thoughts about why that might be so and I’m going to share them here. I hope that you’ll enjoy the read and might even be prepared to contribute to testing my thinking so that together we can learn from the process.
What goes wrong?
The answer to that question is, of course, somewhat complex but there are several general errors that are made, none of which are surprising really. They include:
- Poor selection for leadership roles – do they have the aptitude and desire to lead?
- Lack of clarity of expectations for leadership role holders – what does leadership mean? How do they add value?
- Lack of coaching support for developing leaders and for experienced leaders for that matter
- Leadership programs that fail to adequately address beliefs as drivers of behaviour – do we understand the nature of behaviour change and the challenges of stepping up to lead?
- Missing the opportunity to embed measurable workplace improvement ‘projects’ in your leadership programs
- Failure to attend to detail in program follow-up. We don’t take actions back into the workplace
- Organisational systems and structures that inhibit or in some cases punish leaders who step up
- Recognition systems that reward leadership and people work (not just technical work), a structure that ensures opportunity and mentoring.
In order to test that list ask yourself “if we had rigorous selection processes, real clarity of expectations, belief-focused leadership programs, strong coaching following the programs and supportive structures and systems – how different might our leaders be?”
WHAT ELSE WOULD IT TAKE?
Given that there’s probably no news in the paragraphs above (most of you recognise these elements – right?) then what’s missing?
Possibly it’s the mindful intention to apply the discipline required to think through the requirements and then to commit to a thorough approach. Many organisations tend to use hope as a methodology when dealing with such complex situations – we have a bit of a go at it and then hope for the best with lines like “If they’re any good they will work it out” or “I didn’t get told how to do it, why should anyone else? “
HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO PONDER:
· Has your organisation developed a crystal clear set of expectations of managerial leaders? Have you really thought about what you want them to do and how?
· Is that set of expectations effectively and consistently used to drive recruitment and selection for leadership roles?
· Do you run effective, transformational, leadership development programs for managers? Are they designed based on a sound, tailored leadership framework and do they deliver measurable projects and sustainable behaviour change?
· Do you actively and consistently coach leaders in their roles?
· Are your good leaders effectively recognised and rewarded? Are your ineffective leaders coached or removed from their roles?
· Do your managerial leaders have authorities that match their accountabilities? Is decision making encouraged at the right level?
You will, in my experience, be in very rare company if you answer each question in the affirmative.
The organisation design shapes the environment in which people attempt to do the right thing. That environment can, in turn, shape one’s beliefs about what’s really necessary and what’s actually possible.
Unfortunately, many organisations create a space that discourages or, at the very least, doesn’t reward the right choices. I’m probably not describing your company here but in many companies the organisation design actually creates barriers and confusion and tends to reward people who play politics rather than those who make value adding decisions.
I often find myself wondering what people think about when they are ‘designing’ or restructuring an organisation? Do they ask themselves what outcomes their design is meant to produce or do they simply repeat the patterns they have experienced in the past or follow some ‘rules’ that someone described many years ago? Or do they just try to recruit clever people and then hope that they sort it out?
Please comment on this if you feel so inclined but I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a group who has properly asked that question of themselves; “What outcomes do we want this design to provide for us?” (apart from the usual cost savings/head count when we get desperate of course)
HERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT OUR ORGANISATION DESIGN SHOULD DO FOR US
It should create a space (physical and psychological) that facilitates connections. And those connections should make information flow where it needs to go in the most useful form and at the right time. Information is the life blood (the basis of value adding decisions) of all organisations is it not?
The design should create clarity of purpose and of which roles do what, how well and when. It should specify the types of people we want – their values and their capability – and the roles into which we’ll place them. The old fashioned term for this component is ‘structure’ – a highly underrated aspect of organisation design.
Imagine if you had a structure where everyone knew, with real clarity, what they were accountable for and that they had the authority to make the necessary decisions to deliver on that accountability.
The design should also articulate the essential organisational systems and how those systems interact with one another and with the people such that work gets done to the highest possible standard.
Finally, the design should consider the leadership requirements of the organisation. Given the structure we have designed and the systems that make things tick; what type of leadership is needed to make people feel valued and valuable?
As I get older – rapidly it seems 🙂 – I find more and more that the performance of large groups is very much shaped by structure. It’s entirely possible that if we get the design (structure) right our people will better be able to manage themselves to do the right work!
BEING OFFENDED IS A PERMANENT POSSIBILITY
I remember, a few decades ago when I was an apprentice facilitator, being taught that ‘being offended is a permanent possibility’. As facilitators, we became painfully aware of the importance of our own reactions to what happens within our groups. We were encouraged to own our own reactions and, as far as possible, to keep them out of the way of our participants. The processes we were engaged in were not for our benefit after all.
More recently, as I attempt to keep up with the findings of neuroscience and what that might tell us about ourselves I am taken back to the ‘being offended…’ comment. I often comment in my programs to the effect that I reckon I’m the master of unintentional offence. I know I can offend people without even trying!
I know for sure that my ‘being offended triggers’ remain very touchy and it’s a matter of constant awareness and discipline (and courageous help from others around me) to keep them in check. Or maybe I’m deluding myself that I manage that. Sigh!
So, what can one do?
Well, there are endless amounts of useful stuff published on this. Ever since philosophy was born (and long before that I guess) we have been working on this. I’m simply going to offer what could be a useful starting point for this potentially endless journey.
Success comes when three things overlap – our intention, our attention and our skills (flexibility).
So, start with intention. Make a commitment to overcome this pattern in your life. That might seem to be a big ask so remember to be kind to yourself as you go! It’s easy to beat ourselves up when we mess up.
Pay attention to, and take ownership of, your own tendency to become offended and incrementally become less likely to react badly. Don’t let yourself blame others for ‘offending you’.
Pay attention to, and take ownership of, your own ability to trigger offence in others. Be mindful of what you say and do. Don’t let yourself blame others for becoming offended.
Notice the ‘stories’ you make up about people and about situations. Do the stories help you or hinder you? Edit them to make them useful. They are, after all, your stories so you can rescript them as you wish.
Be a work in progress. Develop skills and flexibility in managing yourself and in responding to others.
Do not allow yourself – ever – to attack, label or shame another person. Our brains are wired to react badly to social isolation. Being labelled, humiliated or attacked kicks off some very nasty chemical releases in our bodies. (it’s the same circuitry as fear and pain!)
So, try not to be the cause of such chemical releases in those around you.
There’s a lovely Sufi (I think) saying about this:
“Before you speak, let your words pass through these three gates:
At the first gate ask yourself, “is it true?”
At the second, ask yourself “is it necessary?”
At the third, ask yourself “is it kind?”
We can’t really go wrong if we apply that wisdom. Although people can still be offended by intended kindness – weird aren’t we.
FINAL NOTE – THE EXTREME END OF BEING OFFENDED.
Look around. Humans – who are supposed to be smart, social animals with the ability to learn from our history continue to go to war and to commit genocide. How is this possible?
Well apparently it starts with a process of dehumanising (via attacking, invalidating and labelling) a group of others and when the leaders of a country run a campaign of dehumanisation we get tragic consequences – racism, segregation – everything, including genocide, becomes possible.
Think of the labels we hear being used in our own country and around the world. Consider the impact of any type of dehumanisation. We can be better than that.
P.S. And I’m not just talking about political correctness
Two great reference points:
- Television series “The Brain” by David Eagleman. Recently on SBS.
- Anything by Brene Brown. Author of “Daring Greatly”
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE COULD BE DISTURBING!
Integrity: Not breaking your own rules…
“So I turned myself to face me, but I’ve never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker. I’m much too fast to take that test!”
David Bowie: Changes
I must be getting old. I find myself reflecting on my work over the past couple or three decades and I notice some common threads. At the moment I’m revisiting the notion that everything comes down to integrity.
Integrity (from the latin integer – meaning wholeness) can be defined as “being true to self – in thought, word and deed”; acting according to one’s stated beliefs and principles.
In much of my work I find that my clients usually know what they could and should be doing, they are simply failing consistently to act in accordance with their own values and stated intentions.
Often what I end up being engaged to do (not always explicitly) is to be an external source of conscience; to clarify and then remind people of what we believe is important. (wouldn’t it be good sometimes if you could sack your conscience like it was just another consultant :))
And of course, my biggest struggle in working with them to add value is how to maintain my own integrity and not to weaken and collude. (I am just another consultant after all)
What’s that you say? “You’re a genius Roger – you’ve cracked the code!” I reckon everyone, at some stage in life, bumps into this notion so there have been millions before me I’m afraid.
The problem with ‘cracking this code’ as you put it is that doing the work on our own integrity seems to be one of the most unpleasant and disturbing process we might choose to undertake. It’s gut wrenching and probably to be avoided at any cost.
So if you think it matters, ask yourself: “How is my integrity going? Am I a meticulous keeper of my word? Do I always behave according to my own values or do I sometimes trade them off for something“
Then listen to the excuses you find yourself making. Or is that just me?
I did warn you that this might be disturbing.
How much integrity is enough? Is it OK to hold back or to distort some truth to avoid creating offence or conflict? Is it OK not to do as I say under some circumstances?
What do you think? What’s the cost?