Posts Tagged ‘errors’

Crisis, Allies & Trust

June 20, 2011

Just three  months ago, Japan experienced unprecedented damage from an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. These three catastrophic events created enormous upheaval with many deaths and huge challenges for leaders in all sectors.

 Black Out Conditions

Japanese  Prime Minister  Kan  became wildly popular 20 years ago for  his ethics and mission focus.  As health minister he  exposed his own ministry’s use of HIV  tainted blood which caused illness and death. This corruption was  long known by others but conveniently ignored. A savvy man, for sure, but in the recent crisis, analysts now say  he was “acting in  near black-out conditions.”  Fortunately, Kan’s work history, his instincts and a handful of trusted co-workers  helped him navigate. During the  crisis and long after, the thick politics between primary stakeholders in the drama have been  obstructions.

In hindsight, deep mistrust was a key factor in this situation. It added delay when urgency was vital, and it cost credibility with both citizens and nations alike. Because Kan could not rely on people in key positions the severe implications from multiple disasters was not obvious for many days. In addition, advisers in important roles were unaware of the resources available to them. The right information was not shared quickly.

Find Capable , Ethical Allies

In an important confluence of events, the plant manager at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant bucked the system.  Despite the pressure of crisis, Mr. Yoshida, who had built a reputation for ethical choices and capable behavior, acted  fast. He allowed seawater to cool the nuclear core and defied orders  from his employer. Experts say this decision almost certainly prevented far more damage.  A day after the tsunami, Prime Minister Kan took a trip to the nuclear plant. Kan met Yoshida and was impressed by his candor. The Prime Minister recognized an ally who would “do the right thing” and was highly capable.

The bold moves of a few thoughtful people  in  the  Japanese crisis offer important leadership examples. It reminds us that credibility is tested in small ways  — daily. People are watching. They see patterns of behaviors. Dishonesty, avoidance, denial are errors that could derail your objectives. Display trustworthiness through transparency, facts, and  thoughtful analysis. Acknowledge mistakes. It underscores your credibility and creates essential trust.

Trust & Mission-Focus

Suspicion is not a hospitable environment for high performance. It can (and does) dramatically affect decisions. Quality information and consistent credible actions contribute to trust. Acting consistently on shared values offers encouragement. It shows a commitment to common good, mission, and to ideals that are bigger than self. Do all you can to squash petty politics for efforts on the “right work.” In the midst of the routine or calamity, build trust and keep a mission focus. These are a welcome refuge for your colleagues.

If you’re hoping people will follow you – act in worthy ways.

 –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author &  W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow.See:: www.pwkinc.com

A Leadership Checklist

January 3, 2011

A big income or job title does not magically confer leadership, neither does elected office or a governance appointment. Responding to and creating change is the work of leaders. Social complexity, power dynamics, emerging knowledge, and technology combined with urgent needs create a context where effective leadership is an increasingly difficult assignment.

Leadership development, from unskilled to masterful, reflects a process of maturation. Anyone can get “stuck” at any time. It’s also true some people lead better in some situations than others. However, a fast way forward is an explicit checklist to review as you lead.

Here are seven gentle reminders to do (along with a bit of the counter-factual don’t) that will help you be more effective.

1. Specify Clear Purpose(s).
Defining purpose is integrally linked with setting direction. It is the why of where we are going. Big ideas like excellence, capacity, quality of life, and performance can be manipulated and interpreted in many ways.   Be crystal clear about your intended outcomes.  Specify what result(s) you are after and how success is defined. This enables others to engage in shared work, too.  Don’t offer a confused agenda.  It’s problematic and will continue to plague the work. Beware of substituting a declared purpose, however compelling, for strategy. They’re not interchangeable.

 
2. Seek Visual Acuity.
Constant discovery is an ally. Asking questions and uncovering perspective, facts, and experiences are essential to correcting and improving your sight. The people and organizations that are most “dangerous” are those that insist on being blind about their blind spots. Most political contexts encourage people to share just the “story” you want to hear. Don’t pursue “ blind insistence.” Most of us want to be “right” and like our own (or other) mental models that affirm. Without exception, though, we all have issues or items we can’t see…We also may have some we don’t want to see. Co-option is a common way to ensure cover and conformity.

3. Keep Open Ears (Heart & Mind).
Listening skills are vital to a capable leader. Be sure you listen – inside and outside the organization, committee or task force. Use your ears, heart and mind in listening. Seek out ethical, experienced people who are willing to be candid with you. Any group you lead has foibles, flaws, preferences, comforts and agendas. Talent is comprised of competencies and attributes. Assemble the best you can on both dimensions. Tolerating unethical behavior is a huge error – even great skills never compensate for it. Don’t allow deafness to be an elective disability. Choosing not to hear critique, alternative view point, or considering better, different expertise is foolish.

4. Choose Risks.
Any decision has risk to it. Calculated and intentional risk is essential to creating change. Understand who is helped and hurt by your choices and why. Take responsibility for movement and progress. Site an ambitious new possibility and articulate its benefits. Choose improvement and change. Don’t avoid decisions. It’s irresponsible. Keeping the status quo is inconsistent with leading.

5. Engage Your Conscience.
Leaders interact in a social context. This means they are both in front of and behind others. Humans, like most animals, instinctively prefer the “cover” of a group. Far too often being “in” is better than out – even when “in” is wrong. Use a moral compass that serves the common good. Persuade others why self interest is just far too small an agenda. Be conscious of your own motives and that of others. Don’t ignore values like justice, candor, integrity, compassion and sustainability. Social conformity is how political cultures thrive and block change. It’s why bullying and corruption are far too common.

6. Acknowledge Errors.
Most days most people make errors. They can be simple and unintended or not. Whether a poor word choice, the tone of voice, a decision about strategy, resource allocation, or staff selection — we all make errors. Assumptions get all of us in “trouble.” Although slightly different, misunderstandings can happen easily. Build reflective skills to recognize and quickly correct errors.  Don’t avoid disclosure and authentic apologies. They are important to credibility. Sharing your vulnerabilities and flaws are critical to trust.

 
7. Pursue Learning Daily.
Our own willingness to learn (and change) affects the potential to lead others. Learning is a high standard.  Human development requires a complex chain from new awareness, to knowledge, skills and different actions.  Identify your own “learning agenda,” then pursue it with vigor. Without explicit attention and commitment, learning won’t happen.  Routinely seek constructive feedback from “critical” friends and colleagues. Be sure there are people near you who care enough (about you/your work) to provide far more than praise. Don’t let current habits and ego prevail. You’re not growing if you’re not learning.

Leading change isn’t easy.
Start this year with a handy to-do checklist and beware of the don’ts!

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more, see: www.pwkinc.com


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