Archive for November, 2013

Growing Leaders

November 24, 2013

plant

We live in a world where leadership is essential but in short supply. And, says Gary Hamel, once named the “world’s most influential business thinker” and a professor at the London Business School,  hierarchies get in the way.Regrettably, organizations and communities are not well served by pyramids. It’s because there is a lot of energy and competition spent managing up rather than collaborating.

Stalls & Lags Are Costly

In our complex world, change is constant and competition is ferocious. But, Hamel says, progress is often belated, infrequent, stalled or convulsive. Structures and cultures that rely on just a few individuals in a hierarchy take a long time to recognize both problems and opportunities. The scale of those problems and opportunities has to become huge before they secure any attention. Unfortunately, too late is often the same as failing. Concentrating lots of authority in a top few is problematic.

Structural Constipation

What minimizes the structural constipation? Build a culture that that supports those who add value, not competition for a “top spot.” In other words, create and incent a culture that rewards merit, competence, and accountability. These are fundamental features of a performance system in contrast to a political system. A performance system seeks progress; a political system seeks control.   Intentionally pushing authority and responsibility down can distribute it more broadly.

Hamel counsels:

  • Give people leadership skills that let them get things done – even when they don’t have formal, positional authority.
  • Train people to make the right kind of choices and hold them accountable for their choices.
  • Shorten the feedback cycle between decisions and rewards.
  • Seek peer-based feedback on what people really know and do.

These actions can grow our leadership capital. As challenges grow and persist, our organizations and communities desperately need more, better leaders – fast.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Truth Telling

November 17, 2013

Nicholson

When intentionally seeking candor, people often invite commentary with: “Don’t sugarcoat it.”

While you consider the risk of a reply, your mind recalls Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. His raging declaration was:“You can’t handle the truth.”

Try Truth: Kill Politics

Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, believes we can all be more effective with a little more honesty. She says the lack of politics at her current employer was a huge attraction. This translates to a practice she calls “front-stabbing.” It is a refreshing contrast to back-stabbing.  DiFebo says the culture she tries to foster is transparent: “When you have a problem with someone you just say: Look, this is the issue I have. I can get past it but what are you going to do to get past it? It just puts everything on the table and makes it so much easier to get your work done.”

Quality Reflection

Importantly, negative feedback doesn’t need to be a judgment on your skills or intellect. Simply, it can be a reaction to the quality of work. None of us does perfect work all the time. Most of us learners   want to make contributions and do better. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to provide quality reflection to peers, colleagues, and those they supervise. It helps people grow. It helps organizations perform.

Leaders Create Safe Space

So, why not foster more truth telling? It’s vital that work spaces are safe enough for candor. Leaders assure safety. It is the first step. Because denial and avoidance can be big coping strategies for us all, an environment that values facts and candor is key. Step two: try it. The truth can, indeed, set us free to help our people and organizations soar.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Climb The Ladder

November 11, 2013

skyladder

Don’t do or say anything that you’re not willing to see on the front page. It’s a dated maxim since few people read newspapers. Mostly, people read screens instead. But the  warning remains a current imperative for performance: accountability.

Years ago, I saw a model that work-culture experts used in their training. My version of it appears here. In your mind, picture personal accountability as a ladder with rungs on it. Those on the upper rungs show accountable behaviors. Those avoiding it are on the bottom rungs.

Acctarrow

A few questions can get you and colleagues engaged in important reflection. Which part of the ladder do you spend most of your time? Where do you often see others? Why are there patterns of behavior? What would encourage a higher rung for yourself? For staff, for senior executives and others?

Responsible people make hard choices every day. When faced with a tough one: think about your behavior showing up in high definition on the screen of those who most matter to your work and your life. Professionals embrace accountability. It is a huge factor in any organizations’ success. Step up to the top rungs of the ladder every day!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Behave Magnificently

November 5, 2013

 zinn

Howard Zinn was an impressive person. He was an academic historian, author and social activist. He is well known for his best-selling  book: A People’s History of the United States. The People’s History is distinct because it offers a brilliant alternate perspective – from those oppressed.

Although his parents were Jewish immigrants and factory workers with limited education, Zinn earned a doctorate from Columbia. He authored more than 20 important books and was a professor at Boston University for decades. I recently discovered a tiny slice of Zinn’s life that’s instructive.

As a tenured professor At Spelman College, Zinn was fired in 1963 for siding with students in the struggle against segregation. More than 40 years later, that same College awarded him an honorary doctorate. Zinn gave Spelman’s commencement speech in 2005, titled “Against Discouragement.” In that speech, he shared: “The lesson of history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies.”

A reflective historian, Zinn provided a panoramic view of people and their actions. He also wrote: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act.”

Undeterred by prevailing culture,  Zinn died in 2010. He was a leader who has made enduring contributions. He cultivated authenticity, resilience and meaningful work. Zinn once noted, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, slavery – have resulted not from disobedience but from obedience.” His example encourages us to intentionally challenge the status quo. Leadership has very little to do with maintaining it.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


%d bloggers like this: