March 23, 2014

Full Circle


‘...I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal...’ (Letter from Apostle Paul to the Galatians – 3 vs 13, NKJV)

At last! I have reached the end of this journey. It is not the final destination; rather, it is one more stop, another bend, another milestone along this long-winding road. I have enjoyed myself throughout, and I have the following lessons to carry forward:


  1. Hold yourself accountable for your decisions, and to the standards which you expect from others. As a leader, you must remain conscious of the fact that you are been constantly observed. It must never be the case of ‘do as I say, and not as I do’;

  2. Ensure that requirements and expectations are clearly spelt out - this is the only way to avoid confusion and disappointment. This may entail going into the minutiae of tasks and events, but never assume that your team/followers know what is expected of them, if you have never taken the time to tell them;

  3. Provide a supporting role to your team to enhance their professional and personal growth. As a leader, you must invest quality time in team-building;

  4. Employ the tools of feedback, debrief and reflexion to capture lessons learned and reinforce good thoughts and actions;

  5. You must be willing and able to hold fast to what you believe in, regardless of whether your views are on the side of popular opinion or not.

    Your personal growth and maturity is the key to accomplishing leadership objectives. Therefore, you must invest quality time in study, engage in non-trivial interaction with like-minded colleagues and friends, and accept that you may get it wrong, sometimes!

    Finally,

    ...Take time to think, it is the source of inner power

    ...Take time to play, it is the secret of youth

    ...Take time to read, it is the key to wisdom

    ...Take time to pray, it is the greatest power of all

    ...Take time to laugh, it is healing to the soul

    ...Take time to give, it is more blessed to give than to receive


March 10, 2014

Under Construction – 2

"Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." - Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226 A.D)


As I research and write up my PMW for the LE module, it strikes me just how much literature there is on the subject of leadership. Eminent theorists and thinkers, from the sciences to the humanities, have dedicated their lives to studying the phenomenon of leaders and leadership in an attempt to understand how it all pans out. Some writings are based on quantitative techniques and mind-boggling scientific equations and calculations, while others are humanistic and are based on the observance of human characteristics. However, within this myriad of theories and propositions, one salient factor stands out: leadership is about CHANGE.

Be it within a family unit, an institution of higher learning, a religious gathering or a multi-billion dollar corporation, the sometimes unexpressed expectation is that our leader(s) will have the foresight to engineer the change that would make things better for the common good. Change in the way we relate to one another, our perception of people of other races, cultures or ethnic backgrounds, our internal business processes, our behaviours or expectations, is the only way we can adapt and improve in relation to our constantly changing environment.

Change is difficult and complex, and the battle to institute its benefits is fought and won, sometimes, with the very high cost of the life of the change agent/leader (Galileo Galilei - Astronomy; Martin Luther King (Jnr) - Civil Rights; Mohandas 'Mahatma' Gandhi - Freedom and Equality; Jesus Christ - The Gospel of Peace and Reconciliation).

The thrust of leadership is change; as a leader you must be prepared to face the challenges and opposition that an attempt to institute change would arouse. Nothing good comes easy because human nature clings to a sense of security and the need for a 'comfort zone', where there is no need to put in the work to do things differently, or to act/think with a new vision.

There are no short-cuts to bringing about successful change; it must be a planned, consistent, oftentimes slow, process that should be understood and supported by, at least, the leader/visioner. Thus, the challenge of leadership is to establish the need for change, inspire others to buy into the vision, be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, and follow the change programme through to the end.

CAVEAT: Please accept that some things and some people may never change, no matter how noble your intentions are.

...My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of passengers on the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines air incident.

Have a great week, and be safe!


March 03, 2014

Under Construction – 1

Hey folks!

I just had another week of module lectures, and I'm really exhausted! All the lessons I started learning during the LE module gave me a new perspective on what 'leadership' is and how difficult it can be; thus, during the long-winded simulation exercise I had to 'endure' over the last week, I deeply appreciated the time-out I had during the LE module.

During this (unnecessarily) painful simulation, I found myself consciously taking the back seat in a lot of the activities, not because I wasn't motivated, but I wanted to observe human nature and human character where 'power' was involved - by 'power' I mean delegated authority to lead a task or group assignment. Unlike the teaching methods in LE, this module was fraught with power struggles, racism, and the emphasis was on cliques (where you belong). After all said and done, I came to appreciate a few salient points about leadership:

1) You don't have to be 'in charge' to lead - I still found myself being consulted on certain issues even when I consciously removed myself from the 'hotspots';

2) Leadership can be 'dirty' - by this I mean that there are people that will go out of their way to do and say hurtful and awful things to you as a leader. You have to deflect their negativity, but, under no circumstances should you accept or make excuses for their bad behaviour. As a leader, you have a duty to hold people accountable for unacceptable behaviour;

3) Pick your battles - fight the ones you are passionate about; some things (and some people) are not worth the hassle;

4) Place yourself in the company of people with whom you have mutual respect and understanding; this may not always be possible in a work/leadership setting, however, you still have the choice of association outside of this scenario.

I have just began writing up my PMW for the LE module, and I am looking forward to updating you on my findings about leadership theories. Maybe I'll be able to choose a model for myself which would guide my 'leadership' activities in the future.

Take care.


February 23, 2014

Post–Module Reflection

I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team...The greatest glory of living lies not in ever failing, but in rising every time you fall.” – Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.

The learning experience for LE 13MB02 (Leadership and Excellence) ended on a high last Friday, and I am back to my department now. It was a wonderful, inspiring adventure all the way to the end, and the lessons of those two weeks will stay with me for a long, long time.

At the end of my learning curve, and the beginning of a new one, I have the following to share with you:

Leadership is a call to service

Leadership is a higher calling in the service of mankind through the works of your hands, no matter what that job may be. Service connotes a certain humility and purity of objectives that seeks the advantage/advancement of a task, an organisation, or the life and well-being of another person other than yourself. We must never forget that it is a privilege to lead.

I had the opportunity to lead one of the module exercises, and I was handed a situation that was fraught with tension and acrimony. On completion of this task, there were both positive and negative reactions to my leadership style. Even though we were able to negotiate a compromise to the delight of ‘management’, the process eroded a certain bond that had built up between me and certain members of my team because of the ‘hat’ I had put on in a simulated professional capacity.

Should this deter us from ever volunteering to take a leading role sometime in the future? Absolutely not! However, it will pay us well to constantly remind ourselves to discharge our leadership functions with the attitude of service.

Leading ‘from behind’

After my experience of leading the simulation exercise, as described above, I discovered that more often than not the best leadership is exercised by people without positional power. While this method of leadership can involve explicit direction, its main role is that of a catalyst/shaper/finisher/motivator, and it takes guts!

For the remainder of the module week, I deliberately declined any further opportunity to be appointed as a leader for group exercises. Rather, I chose to ‘lead from behind’ – to steer the performance of a group of people from a vantage point of experience and expertise. I immediately noticed that this took the pressure of anyone feeling intimidated, and I was able to make maximum contribution on every task.

Would we always need to adopt this method? No – but, we must remind ourselves to tailor our decisions according to the situation and requirements.

Leadership & Innovation

The ability to lead outside the remit of positional power is what distinguishes people that can innovate and break free of the constraints that limit their colleagues. Innovation is about breaking the rules/thinking outside the box, and leadership is all about innovation. The rarity of true innovation is a direct result of the dearth of true leadership in most organisations and teams. This can be explained by the fact that innovation requires someone to be a rebel of sorts, to go against the ‘status quo’ or the establishment. This very characteristic is particularly frightening to holders of positional power, who may misconstrue a ‘rebel’ as a threat to the integrity of their position.

I witnessed this scenario occur repeatedly in my team, as well as some other groups, throughout the module week. Most of the appointed leaders would rather be ‘right’ and have the final word than cede that a member of their team had the answer to the problems they were meant to solve.

Should this common phenomenon deter us from bringing bright ideas to aid our teams/organisations in resolving issues? I think not.

Finally:

Leadership: Walking the talk

It’s easy to be a leader when things are going well, however, it is how we lead our teams under pressure and react in times of crises that defines us. Leadership is a tremendous responsibility but also a great honour; how we lead our teams or organisations today will shape how those team members lead in the future.

Great leaders can only succeed by becoming a role model for those who choose to follow. In other words, your personal values must align with your words, thoughts and actions. Make the effort to become a ‘great person’ - a person who is guided by wholesome ethics and principles, and in so doing you will become a great leader!

Certainly, there is a need for basic leadership skills, such as communication and negotiating skills, but these are simply the skills that bring us to the table and afford us the opportunity to develop into great leaders.


February 21, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 11

What I learnt today:

1) Promotion simply means having responsibility for people i.e. it is a recognition of your capacity to do something unique;

2) As a leader, communicate urgency NOT pressure;

3) Time is the only 'currency' we have; how we manage our time will, to a very large extent, determine our overall output.

4) VISION = DIRECTION (FOCUS) + PASSION (HARDWORK)

Personal Reflection

Our discussion this (yesterday!) morning started with the issue of vision (there) vs. status quo (here). PR was of the opinion that vision should take precedence over the assessment of our current state, and I totally agree. If you don't know where you are going, how would you know you've arrived? Also, basic human nature doesn't like change, therefore, there is a tendency for us to remain in our comfort zone simply because it's 'safe'. We must mature to the extent that we are willing to endure painful focusing, re-focusing, pruning, re-inforcing, backtracking, and so on, to effect necessary change in our lives and organisations. You never completely arrive/finish the journey, but, endeavor to enjoy the journey (mistakes, delays, detours, disappointments, joys, successes) enroute to your destination.

Aside:

We've reached the final day of lectures and I can say that I do not regret taking this module. I hope that the values this module represents will have the desired impact in my life and career.

BTW:

I still need to get more sleep! On a brighter note, the weather was fine this afternoon.


February 20, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 10 (late again!)

What I learnt today:

1) There is no correlation between a person's leadership ability and his/her chronological age;

2) If it ain't broke, don't fix it! - as a new leader in an organisation, keep your eyes and ears open, listen, obeserve and learn, don't interfere with processes that are working properly;

3) Your primary role as a leader is to create more leaders.

Personal Reflection:

Today's discussions were informative and very revealing. I was surprised to learn that the existence of unions in organisations were a clear indication of the tragic failure of leadership; but, can we ever have a workplace that is not unionised? Surely, even the leadership theorists recognise that there will always be a fraction of employees who are bent on 'milking' the system for their own selfish gain? Just a thought.

Aside:

The LE module week is almost over and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

BTW:

This is my second late entry this week - I really need more sleep!


February 19, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 9

What I learnt today (yesterday!):

1) Never be afraid to be assertive as a leader;

2) Leadership is not a popularity contest, therefore, you must be prepared to face resistance/opposition from followers/colleagues;

3) Coaching should be conducted from the point-of-view of the 'coachee'; your job as a leader is to allow your team member/follower come to the realisation of the solution(s) they seek, at their own pace. Never create an attitude of dependency in your followers.

Personal Reflection:

The in-module simulation which was conducted this afternoon was more challenging in terms of interpersonal communication, rather than the actual business problems that required solving. I find it intriguing that a group of talented, highly intelligent young people can sometimes be petty in their outlook or assessment of the intents of others. Do we really need external validation that much that we are willing to risk upsetting team harmony by making snap judgements of the intents of our colleagues? Life is (or should be) a constant rhythm of 'give-and-take'; we must be willing to make room for the opinions of others and allow their voices to be heard before we are justified in expecting the same level of consideration. As PR rightly said: 'education does not denote intelligence'.

Aside:

My experiences over the last five months have reinforced a salient lesson I learnt a long time ago, which is that no matter how well-meaning and altruistic your values are, there will always be someone/others who are governed by their bias and short-sightedness. Stand firm in your beliefs and values, but never place yourself in a position where you can be affected by their negative energy.

BTW:

I haven't been getting as much sleep as I would like, what about you?

Goodnight.


February 17, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 8

What I learnt today:

1) As a leader, be value-driven not strategy-driven;

2) Your leadership style should be dynamic and flexible - change with the times/situations/circumstances; it should not be a 'one size fits all' approach;

3) Leadership is making the choice to do the right thing (especially when no one is watching);

4) Your remit as a leader is not to solve problems, rather, it is to provide an enabling environment that challenges your team/followers to think for themselves.

Personal Reflection:

I was privileged to lead one of the in-module exercises today, and it was a good experience. At the end of the session, one important point stood out to me: to be personable and amenable in a position of leadership does not mean that you are giving away your 'power', it is simply an indication of your level of psychological security and maturity. Leaders who are secure emotionally, and otherwise, have no need to use fear and intimidation as tools of negotiation or relationship management.

Aside:

We are being groomed to be leaders within our various spheres of influence, especially in our countries of origin. It's up to us to impact our generation for the better.

BTW:

Is it weather cold(er), or is it just me??


February 16, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 7

What I learnt today:

1) A leader is the representative of a group/organisation, and should strive to be the best at what he/she does;

2) As a leader, the books you read and the company you keep will, to a large extent, determine your level of success or failure.

Personal Reflection:

FAME ≠ Leadership. You can be an outstanding leader within your sphere of influence, regardless of whether you become famous. What matters is that you discharge your functions to the best of your abilities, for the greater good.

Aside:

I am looking forward to module lectures this week; I am a bit apprehensive about them, but my colleagues in Team B1 have assured me that I'll be fine.

BTW:

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. Hmm..manic Monday tomorrow!


February 15, 2014

Leadership & Excellence – My Learning Curve – Day 6

What I learnt today:

1) Never be afraid to stand up for yourself and confront issues/people that may try to disrespect you as a leader;

2) Do not speak/act out of anger, learn to control your emotions (a lot of practice!);

3) Plans are useless, planning is indispensable - always have a contingency plan.

Personal Reflection:

The work is piling up on the MSc programme, and deadlines are becoming more frightening. Good leadership is developing the skills of prioritizing, organising and strategizing. This is the point when good time management skills will make the distinction between 'very good' and 'excellent'.

Aside:

My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the two individuals who lost their lives to the force of the storm yesterday, and all those who have had to leave their homes due to the severe weather & flooding.

Is it time for a change of leadership in the Environment Agency?

BTW:

Has anyone noticed that retailers in Leamington Spa are much nicer and courteous than the ones in Coventry?

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


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