All entries for February 2013

February 27, 2013

Teamwork, Leadership and Robust Decision Making: One happy MBE family

If there's one skill that MBE enhances more than any other, it is teamwork. We are asked to work in teams and develop various presentations in every module. In particular, the leadership module and the RDM module have really highlighted some of the important aspects of teamwork.

For example, we have learnt about the imporance of being decisive..if you wait to seek consensus, then the decision will pass you by. Decisions have to be made in a timely fashion.

This is important in a professional work environment too. Within cross-functional teams it is easy to find the different disciplines pulling in slightly different directions. Therefore it is essential to a have a decision maker who will listen and is capable of understanding different views, but who is also prepared, for the sake of progressing the particular project, to make a decision, even if there is not total agreement.

I really think that it is a very useful idea to get everyone on board..one should always clarify these sort of issues with the team beforehand. Commitment from the whole team should be seeked, especially in the scenerio where their recommendation has not been selected.

While individuals may take ownership of work, it must always remain a team effort.


February 26, 2013

The cost of delayed decisions and some decision tools

Delayed decisions can be very costly for an organization. Intuitively, it is clear that they result in a shorter time-frame for executing the decision. This can significantly increase the likelihood of having a defect or an error. Poor and delayed decisions also have other associated costs in terms of wasted time, missed opportunities and the need for re-work. It can also increase the level of anxiety experienced by employees and suppliers.

Today, we learnt various different tools that can aid the decision-making process. I think that the use of appropriate tools can greatly improve a group's effectiveness in making decisions. Some of these useful tools are:

Decision Trees: They are a type of flowchart that provide a graphical representation of options, choices and the results of each option. They can be simple or fairly complex and they can incorporate probability of different events too as we saw in class today. I have never used a decision tree before today but I will definitely utilize it to help me with my decisions in the future. They are a good way to quickly sort out which options are viable and those that lead to dead ends.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: Essentially, this refers to listing down all the options, along with their respective benefits and advantages. The associated costs and disadvantages are also added to give more information to the decision-maker. This approach is also an excellent way of narrowing options down to those that are most viable.

Priority Grids: A table is created, and in the first column, the decision making criteria is listed. Each criteria is then prioritized, by filling a second column with: Very important, Important, Neutral, Unimportant and Very Unimportant (naturally, this will have a subjectivity element). Across the top, the options under consideration are listed. These options can then be rated by the group by placing a check mark beside all criteria that a specific option meets. The total number of ticks beside the Very Important and Important criteria can then be added up in the bottom row. Finally, the options with the highest totals are short-listed for selection.

There are many other tools that can be equally, if not more, effective. A good knowledge and understanding of such various methods can greatly assist organizations and individuals. Using the same analogy as "being critical about being critical", we should ideally make a well-informed decision about which decision-making tool to use given the specific situation.


February 25, 2013

Robust Decision Making: How people make bad decisions

Today was our first day on the RDM module. We were shown numerous examples which highlighted how bad humans are with their judgement and decision-making. I had come across some of these “spot the face, identify the mistake” images before, but I have not thought of them much to be honest. So in many ways, today was a reality check. In order to make robust decisions, we need to understand some of the reasons why people make bad decisions. It is particularly important for our careers as we are all striving to be in a position of responsibility. This means that naturally we would have to make decisions that will have an impact on the organization. We have to be careful and not waste the resources of the organization.

In my opinion, some of the many sure-fire ways to make a bad decision are:

1. Making decisions too soon
As we saw in class, our instincts (first reactions) are generally not reliable. Making decisions quickly can be a good thing in the case of simple examples, such as quickly leaving a building when the fire alarm goes off. However, if it is a complex problem and has many available options, a knee-jerk decision is more likely to be the wrong choice.


2. Being influenced by emotions or personal preference
We make decisions based on things or factors that are important to us. For example, if you want to buy a new motorbike, and the most important factor for you is that it has to be red, then you will ignore other useful specifications and choose the red motorbike. This type of thinking is highly subjective. Everyone will have different preferences. If this analogy is used in businesses, then a rational and an objective decision will be hard to make. Teams should try to reach a decision without with being influenced by an individual’s emotions or preference.


February 16, 2013

The Leadership Challenge: The need to manage time

In the leadership challenge today, none of the teams managed to finish the task. It was undoubtedly challenging-in every sense of the word. However, it would have really helped if leaders could have appointed someone to keep a watch on time. As we all know, organizing time well is one of the most essential parts of being an effective leader. Most things in life including work are time limited. This means that leaders have to be time-oriented. They need to have a schedule and know how to use the time of the team well in order to get the things they need done in a specific amount of hours (ideally in a democratic rather than an autocratic way..we have already seen that being democratic can be time-effective too!).

People often say, "Time went so quick". This is an illusion. Time stays..but we go on. Time does not move any faster than it has always done.

This leads me to my second point. While time (or specifically the lack of it) can be a source of pressure for leaders, they must never get flustered and overwhelmed by stress. They should have patience and allow the team to do the task to the best of their ability. Whatever is done must be done without any haste. There is an Irish saying, 'God made time, but man made haste'. Leaders must have a measure of self control and the ability to keep the ship calm in a storm. They must know what kind of targets they can achieve within a given time limit. It means two things: 1) Setting realistic goals and 2) Formulating a plan and monitoring progress. By reviewing regularly, leaders can better manage time.

Keeping track of the time is one of the primary objectives a leader has. With so many things that must be accomplished in a set number of hours, it is necessary to constantly watch the time to make sure that everything is done on schedule.


February 15, 2013

How to reflect as a leader?

I wrote about the importance of reflecting as a leader in my previous blog. That's all well and good but it is not very helpful to leaders if they don't know how to reflect effectively. This made me think deeply and so I came up with the following way for leaders to start a practice of reflection.

Essentially, it is the same as the self-assessment sheets we fill after our class exercises. Leaders should ask themselves questions.. questions about how they feel. They should write down what they think about the results they get. Moreover, they should also identify their strengths as leaders, understand their areas for improvement and recognize the things can be done differently in order to get better results.

Going a step further. A leader can for example, find a quite place where he/she will not be disturbed, take an issue that’s important to them, and ask themself the following questions:

What happened?

What was I trying to achieve?

What went well and why?

What didn’t go so well and why?

How did it affect me?

How did it affect others?

What were the consequences (positive or negative) for myself and others?

What could be done differently next time?

Would this improve the results?


By doing so, it is believed that leaders will become more self-aware. As the success of leaders is dependent on the way they think, it is important that they schedule regular time-out to reflect on how they are doing and what adjustments they might need to improve their effectiveness as leaders. It is hoped that by doing so, they will continuously improve as leaders.


Could blogging help us to be effective leaders?

I believe a leader should keep a substantial portion of his or her time unscheduled. This time should be used for REFLECTION on what you are doing as a leader, learn from your experience, and recover from your mistakes. This can also prevent the disease of 'fire-fighting'. This is becasue when we don't take the time to think through our priorities, we often end up tackling issues that are immediate or visible. It can be done pro-actively (as in before the task) or reactively (after the completion of a particular work project). A good practice I did when I led the Salvage exercise was that instead of panicking when Paul gave us the brief, I paused and tried to gather my thoughts together. This might be the reason why I came across as being calm under pressure. If a leader is stressed, then this will not have a calming effect on the followers.

This suggests that making time to reflect and think is a vital leadership practice. Hence, the practice of writing reflective blogs now can help us as future leaders, as it will then become a habit. Blogging is essentially the process of thinking about and examining what we’ve experienced, how we reacted and what changes we need to make to become more effective. Through writing 'stuff' down, we can organize our thoughts better. It will actually allow leaders to think about what happened.

In reality, very few people make a conscious effort to learn from their experience and even fewer learn from that experience. This is because reflection is not an automatic process for most people. Most of us make our way through life simply reacting to circumstances. However, to be effective leaders, we must make reflection a habit.


Hasan: A "perfect" leader? A Reflection on Salvage the Black Swan

When I raised my hand to lead the task today, I never imagined it would go this well. It's really difficult writing a reflective piece on today's exercise because normally you can write about learning points and areas for improvement. However, today despite my persistent inquiry, I did not get a single area for improvement as a leader from my teammates. It was indeed very satisfying to hear comments such as "you were brilliant, absolutely perfect" and "I want to lead in the manner that you did today". What was even more satisfying was to hear one team member comment that this was "one of the most inclusive groups I have been part of". This showed that I succeeded in ensuring that my followers enjoyed the task and felt involved. This is perhaps my biggest and most satisfying achievement of the day. Despite my followers stating that I was a perfect "leader", I still think I can develop and improve as a leader. However, in all honesty I am struggling to think of things we as a group could have done better, and so it might be more helpful to write about what I did today and understand why things went so well in the task, so that I can ensure a similar outcome in any future opportunity as a leader.

Today's task was about finding a treasure. Metaphorically speaking, my 'real' treasure from today's sesson is the skills I have improved today. I have learnt from observing other leaders in action all week, and I tried to use that learning in my role. I started off by introducing the problem in a clear and concise way. I also ensured that all team members understood what was required. This is important, as naturally some people have the tendency to stay quiet. It is amazing to see that often they are also the ones who can potentially contribute the most. By introducing the task well, we saved up on a lot of time, as there was no need for any member to go back to the briefing sheets. I stayed calm throughout the task too. This had a calming effect on the team and even with the competitive nature of the task, the pressure to deliver was minimized. I do not wish to write out all the good things I did, as the last thing I want is to jinx myself (God forbid) or worst, have someone start up a hasan khan appreciation society.

The single most useful tip I can give to my peers is to really understand the core of Paul's leadership definition.

Leadership is "the ability to influence the thoughts and activities of followers towards the achievement of a shared goal".

In my brief to the team at the start, I told them that my job as a leader is to help you guys in achieving this SHARED objective of finding the lost treasure before the other teams.

Moreover, I influenced their thoughts and activities as I kept the energy and focus high by actively involving everyone. In that sense, I made sure that we were all motivated as a team. I actively recognized their input and encouraged creative thinking by frequently saying "Good idea..nice job..well done, etc" I also assesed the skills within the team and delegated different tasks. Everyone was clear on what they were doing, and we were all pushing in the same direction. Through the feedback, I learnt that I achieved just the right mix between being democratic and being decisive. None of my teammates felt I was overpowering in any way. It showed that democratic leadership can undeniably deliver fast results too when time is of the essence.

The one thing I want everyone to take from this is that I have developed a huge proportion of these skills in these last couple of weeks studying the leadership module. It has increased my belief that you don't have to be a natural born leader. At the end of the day, it is a skill.. just like any other.


February 14, 2013

The case against competition

In our roles as leaders of the future, we might come across a few people who believe that in order to get ahead in life, you have to elbow others out of your way. Unsurprisingly, this is a very bad approach..which can have severe consequences for the individual involved and the organization. For one, they will be eventually found out and consequently, others might lose all the respect they had for that person. Also, the organization will suffer too due to this disharmony.

I just don't understand why competing with someone or some organization is necessary. You can achieve your vision and become a very good organization without having to resort to underhand tactics, in order to harm your competitor by making them appear bad.

There is a very good story..which illustrates this point brilliantly:

'Without uttering a word after entering the classroom one day, the teacher drew a line on the board and asked everyone a single question.. "Which one of you can make this line smaller without touching it?" When the students couldn't come up with a reasonable answer, they gave up and informed the teacher that it is impossible to do what he's asking them as they can only make the line smaller by erasing a portion of it. The teacher smiled and simply walked up to the board and drew an even longer line next to the previous line. Everyone realized that he had made the earlier line smaller without indeed touching it! The students learnt a valuable lesson that day (which we should all also take note of): You can get ahead in life without harming others..without hindering their reputation..and without negatively interfering with others. There is no doubt in my mind that competition diverts employees from their real objectives (such as creating value for the organization).

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Performance Appraisals and competition

Today, after our presentation on performance appraisals, there was a class discussion about competition within organizations. Fabrice's viewpoint was that it is okay as long as the competition is healthy. My response to this was that while it might work out in some circumstances, it is likely to be more harmful than good. For instance, in sports where only 11 players can play..and the rest have to make do with being on the substitutes bench..then fair enough, a healthy competition will keep everyone on their toes and they will perform at their best. However, competition (healthy or not) can often be poisonous for organizations. This is because the entire work force is active (there is no subs bench), everyone has to play their part in real time. As they all share the same organizational goals, it is suggested that co-operating with each other and harnessing each team mate's full potential is a better approach than instilling a competition within the organizations (something which Performance Appraisals are accused of doing.. with some justification too). We should all be interested in a win-win situation.


February 13, 2013

Essential characteristics– part II

In my previous blog, I have mentioned two characteristics which I believe are essential to being effective as a leader. I feel that it is my duty to write a follow-up and briefly explain the cause-effect relationship.

It is important to realize that these two traits will not make you AN EFFECTIVE LEADER (overnight or otherwise). For that, other factors need to be considered too. What I am suggesting though is that a leader cannot possibly be effective if he/she does not have these two characteristics, i.e. having a vision and effective communication. As such they are ESSENTIAL but not SUFFICIENT.


February 2013

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  • Hi Wayne, thank you for your kind words. It is really nice to know that you have enjoyed reading my … by Hasan Khan on this entry
  • Great post. I just located your blog and wished to let you know that I have certainly loved reading … by Wayne on this entry
  • Thanks Luisa, I'm glad you agree with me. by Hasan Khan on this entry
  • Hi Hasan! I really share with you the interest on doing practical tasks, I find them very useful in … by Luisa Rodriguez Qui?Ones on this entry
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