March 18, 2011

Moving On

Right, then. Catching up on my thoughts slowly. I never realised decision making could become such a complex task involving such a variety of methods. Honestly, I also didn't think that so many tools were needed just to make decisions when we first went over them.

I know the need for moving from system 1 thinking to system 2 thinking is important, and that bias must be avoided. But really... soooo many complex toold and methodologies?

Quick catch-up for those that haven head the terms of systems 1/system 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is intuitive thinking, the quick and almost instinctive initial responses based on emotions. System 2 thinking is a more systematic approach to thinking based on slow, careful and logical though processes.

We covered tools such as simple grid analysis, decision trees, ahp, pairwise comparison, pareto, simulations, pmi, and more... Still too many in my book, but yet they all seem to have a useful purpose. This personal contradiction is probably due to the fact I haven't been in a situation yet where a decision is complex enough to warrant such depth of thought that is provided by some of these tools. At least thats what I thought at first. After thinking about them for awhile I realised that I, and probably every else who faces decisions daily, will to a certain degree carry out cognitive processes similar to those presented in the tools when considering simple choices. I'm give an example. Fast food. For me I'm at times faced by the hard choice of McDonalds or Burger King and now that I think about it, my choice has always been determined by a going through a quick grid comparison to decide. Decided which has the best burger, the best fries, the cheapest food, and then giving each of those a weight depending on my current situation (do i crave a burger, am i after masses of fries, or am I broke again) to make a final choice. Thinking about this was like a mini moment of realisation that actually, too many decision tools or methodologies was a silly thought and even subcontiously we can already be using them on a day to day basis, let alone when approaching more complex decisions.

Continued reflections – Do you see what you want to see?

Further to my comments on bias, and finding confirmation of something one knows. Here is a fanctastic video that we were shown on the first day of this module I just had to share. Something that for many really emphasised the point of only seeing what you want to see.

March 17, 2011

A world of belated bias

I have unfortunately been neglecting my blogging once more. Times have filled with much work, some illness, and some being out of the county. This has led to a yet again unfortunate situation of a backlog of thoughts of our week and a halfs worth of work during our decision making module. These include a shocking realisation of how biased most decisions we make are, the many errors in judgement that again we may unknowingly make due to lack od due dilegence, the ridiculously complex methods to ensure our decisions are fully informed, my new found love for decision trees, and last but not least the difficulty in assigning value to judgements for decision tools!

But right now I shall start as is appropriate at the very beginning. Bias.

Our first day of lectures in this module was a revealing day. Through various example and simple quizzes we saw just how easy it was for us all to make make decisions, or guesses, based on complete bias. So many forms of bias exist and I think I'm guilty of most of them. While bias should be avoided when possible, I have to say I'm not over fussed about some of the biasses I usually have and it's unlikely I can rid bias out my life that easily. One major bias I must work to avoid however seems to be that of the confirmation trap. This is something I have unfortunately succumb to often and it has a deep impact on my ability to produce good pieces of work. The confirmation trap for those unaware of it is a bias that involves the search to validify and confirm a decision of choice we make and avoid any evidence that may suggest its falicy. For assignments this has a profound impact. A well thought analysis must examine all views, opnions and theories on a subject matter. If this bias exists however a very skwed view is presented and the analysis becomes weaks. I fear I am frequently guilty of this and must rid myself of this habbit. Its gonna be tough to do, but then again nothing worth doing is easy!

February 17, 2011

Aye aye capt'n.

Captains Log
Date: September 02.

So here we are, on the coastal port of Nira and preparing to set off and seek our fortune which lies in wait below the shimmering waves. We have everything we need and nothing can stand between us and our glorious future as treasure hunters! We have our team, we have our map, we have our instructions, and we have our treasure data! Let the adventure begin.

Captains Log
Date: September 07.

Arrrr... planning be a cruel mistress. Tis true the saying "fail to plan, plan to fail". Our initial lack of direction and planning completely threw us off course. Only after taking a step back, starting over, and looking at our challenge step by step coupled with the information at our disposal were we able to actually figure out what were we doing. It really drills in how important it is to take the time to understand what you're doing before rushing in guns blazing. As leaders, rash such decisions are questionable. Not only does it create confusion if you don't know the direction, but it also prevents progress.

Captains Log
Date: September 08.

And so our tasks on the high seas begin. As we set sail below the waves in our mighty submesible towards grid reference J5 we face many challenges including a profitability analysis! Team work is key. With laissez-faire management at the helm multiple emergent leaders appear, and yet the closenit crew of our submersible work effectively together to achieve the task at hand. People naturally begin to take roles within the team so that the whole team becomes a fully functionning system with each part working towards our common goal. What drives us? Could be the competition, could be the reward of an early finish. But mainly, it seems the intrinsic desire of everyone to see the task complete. We all genuinly wanted to finish and were driven to achieve together. The natural creation of shared goals and visions for me just demonstrates how the creation of an effective team become a motivational force in itself, and that through this the team works towards a shared vision even when one hasn't been given to them.

Captains Log
Date: September 16.

So far so good. Our tasks have lead us to the wreck. Gold ahoy! We found our treasure! Cleverly hidden in the sick bay of the sunken wreck, in a secret compatment behind the medicine cabinet. It may take us time to carry our vast fortune onto our tini submersible, but thanks to tardis like technology in its design we should have no problem.

Captains Log
Date: September 21.

As we leave the now empty wreck, our submersible loaded with riches we set off, ready to face our tasks on the way back to port. But alas, the tasks unfortunately get the better of us. Our successfull delegation of tasks at first seems to be working but then disaster strikes. We misread a question. We begin to stray off course. A simple mis interpretation of a question leads us to a wrong answer. And the most we try to understand where we went wrong, the less we actually read the question, and the more we attempt to answer what we thought the question asked! A simple misunderstanding leads to a continuing spiral of confusion. So many times people say when things begin to overwhelm you, take a deep breath, step back and start over. But as we realised, in the heat of the moment this is easier said than done. Once stuck in the mindset of "there can't be any other way" you continue in manner. A learning point for us all I think. Getting lost in the heat and panic of the moment leads to ever worse results and performance. I think this is true for assignments as well. If panic sets in, whether from deadlines or lack of understanding, continuing without break starts becoming less and less productive, until progress just stops!

Captains Log
Date: September 26.

Abandon ship! Abandon ship! As the timer runs out and our game ends, in our fully laden submersible we realise the safe shores of nira are just too far away! The light on the fuel gauge begins to flash. We know that we will never make it shore. The crew stares at the treasures one last time before darting to the escape pod. The fuel gauge light slowly stops flashing, the submersible goes dark and starts to slowly drift towards the ocean floor. As our escape pod rises to the surface, we watch our fortune fade into the darkness. Lost forever. Or at least until the next Leadership and Excellence module is run and another daring crew sets off in search gold and glory. For now, we must reside ourselves to the fact that lunch time is upon us and the common room beckons us with hot chocolate and coffee.

February 16, 2011

Leadership and Coaching

Provided that effective leaders exists in an organisation and employees have no fear about consultations with those in positions of leadership, leaders are considered as the go to guy when things go wrong or help in any form is needed. Being a good leader does not necessarily make an individual a good leader though and when providing guidance and coaching to people, a multitude of problems can be created. So when we are required to provide guidance and coaching to others, how do we ensure that this coaching we provide as leaders is effective and constructive? This was the question we discussed today in lectures.

Many many ideas of what is required to provide effective coaching were discussed but it boiled down to this. Effective coaching requires a leader to provide: guidance, focus, support, planning, empowerment.

In other words, when coaching others a leader should listen to the problem and  lead the individual into their own solution by prompting them with the right questions. By doing this, a leader should not have to provide the individual with a solution since the individual will solve the problem themselves. This method empowers individuals, gives them confidence in their own abilities, create trust between leadership and employees, prevents leadership appearing dictatorial by imposing their own problem solutions, and prevents the need for the leadership to be an expert in all of the activities of their followers.

When you think about it... this reeeeaaally makes alot of sense. I mean, it even makes the leaders life easier because they don't actually have to know the answers all the time! I personally experienced this today during a role play exercise where I was coaching a colleague. Despite have no knowledge of the problem I managed to help guide him to create his own solution to the problem. This was without a doubt a eureka moment. While I've often given guidance to individuals in the past, I'd always been knowledgeable in the topic where I was helping them. I'd never really considered before that you could effectively coach someone without being knowledgeable in the topic but today really drummed in the effectiveness in all coaching situations of this method of guidance. Coaching in this style becomes a win-win for the coach and coachee I say. Surely everybody in a position of coaching would already know how much sense it makes and employ this tactic, it just wouldn't make any sense not to. And yet they don't! Crazy isn't it?

How many times in your lives have you attended coaching/training/guidance/whatever sessions for whatever reason and all that happened was that you were talked at, not with, and told the solutions to something by somebody who doesn't know anything about it!!! The number of times I've discussed an issue with managers, guidance counsellors, and the like where all that has happened is they have told me their pre-subscribed solution to a generic problem that is not only inapplicable, but completely uninformative. Yes there have been times where I have been genuinly helped through these means, but why has this been so rare? I understand that change is at times difficult to accept, so changing stlyes of coaching may be equally difficult for leaders. But then again, in a position of leadership where coaching is requisit, shouldn't the very idea that people will always come to you with different problems mean you should not be averse to change since you will constantly have to be developing new solutions to new problems?

February 11, 2011

Does altruism exist?

Writing about empathy or selfishness??? from Thomas's blog

Note to my fellow MBE colleagues, this is not an MBE related blog. This my friends, is just some of my thoughts that a colleagues blog about leadershp and motivation inspired me towards. He was discussing whether or not leaders show care and concern for their followers because they genuinly care about their followers well being or because they expect to see personal benefit and gain through their actions?

This reminded me of a conversation I had with friends awhile back about altruism. For those that haven't come across that term yet altruism is:

"Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness."

Our debate was whether or not altruism actually exists. Strange discussion isn't it? Asking whether or not some people can and do actually act selfless. "Of course they do!" was my enthusiastic reply to them. It's a question of morales and values. There are people who have a resounding belief that doing whats right is more important than personal consequence. Societal and welfare concerns are of great importance to many people. Just look at those who participate in volunteering and charity. Giving up their time for the well being of others and expecting nothing for it in return.

But do they actually get nothing from it in return? Starting with the volunteer example is probably easiest. As someone with many years of experience in being a volunteering event coordinator my honest answer is for many people who have participated in my events, their motivations were less than altruistic. Participation in such events gave them tangible evidence (certificates, thank you notes, etc...) to demonstrate they are a "well rounded individual who cares for the community". A great thing to add on their CV that puts them 1 point ahead in the game of life. While this may be an easy argument against altruism, lets go slightly further. Once again, take an example who gives up free time and money to help other, but this time doesn't receive anything for it and has no motivation to use their actions for any personal benefit in furthering careers, etc... They do it solely for self fulfillment and their desire to help others. But there-in lies a dilema. If morales and beliefs cause an individual to act altruisticly, by untaking these actions you could say they are attaining inner peace. A sense of self-fulfillment by following their beliefs. So are their actions completely selfless? Are they actually acting in their own personal interests because they know that by helping others, they themselves will benefit by gaining a sense of well being.

This type of behvaiour can actually be seen everywhere in life. Acts of claimed altruism are also frequently demonstrating by large organisations, celebrities, and governments in order to achieve prestige and show that they "care". Take for example the farce I like to call children in need, run each year in the UK. Don't get me wrong, I have supported countless charities over the years and I fully support the cause, but I find the whole "celebrity performances" and show a complete and utter demonstration of fake altruism. In 2010 the event raised £18,098,199. A nice big sum you think right? But consider this, Tom Jones (who performed that year) alone has a net worth of £96million. And with 20+ acts, between them the total amount raised is pocket money to these celebrities. And yet year on year they guilt the country in giving more and more. When they could easily donate and double the sums raised between them without denting their bank balance they don't, and continue to fluant the image of altruistic celebrities. I count rant more about this, but I won't for now. For me it does however demonstrate perfectly the fake altruism than can be witnessed eveywhere on a daily basis.

For me, this was a fascinating argument. My ideas of altruism are very blurred and I find it hard to believe that true altruism exists in this world. To me, quasi-altruism seems an easier concept to accept because can self-fulfillment through selflessness be deemed true altruism?

February 10, 2011

What is Leadership?

Over the last few days, our lectures have involved many many discussion on what leadership means and who is a leader, which strangely enough for a Leadership and Excellence module isn't actually very surprising. What is surprising though is the depths this topic can actually reach.

The idea of what is leadership is a huge question. In our studies, we looked at a matrix analysis of 20 different definitions of leadershp from various people. Every single defintion was different, but what was quite surprising for us was the main currents of thought that prevailed in the majority of definitions.

  • "Art or process of influencing or mobilising the activities or thoughts"
  • "Relationship between leader and: others, followers or group"
  • "Achievement of purpose or goals."

The three concepts were present in the majority of definitions of leadership. Just think about that for a moment. Creating a shared goal that people want to achieve on their own accord is not considered an important aspect of leadership by the definitions that were expressed.
Furthermore use of the term influencing. I can't help but frown on this word because of its vagueness. How do we influence? Do we influence with the carrot or the stick? Or just by creating a desire to undergo a task. This word for me is too open to interpretation. Can a  tyrant who rules and influences by fear alone actually be considered a leader? Is somebody who makes people work just enough to achieve a task by throwing money at them really a leader? Or is a leader a person who makes people want to do something because they believe in it.
This bring me onto my next issue... The inspiration of voluntary effort is not considered to be of importance. How can this be possible? A good leader for me will make people want to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Could it be the corruption of morales has lead to hazziness in what people think it takes to be a leader? I fear yes. But hope still lives. By listening to our group discussions on leadership I see light. I see a generation that is considering what exactly it takes to be a leader, and that sees leadership is more than just managing people.

February 09, 2011

Is it all Leadership?

Imagine an individual in a position of power, lets for for example a someone running a branch of a large business. Every day they make decisions about the business and direct its operations.

In their position they have:

  • Authority
  • Power
  • Control
  • Influence

But does this mean they are necesarily a leader? I would argue that no, it doesn't.
Some people discuss the ideas of management and leadership as flip sides of the same coin but I can't accept this thinking. While both have the power to control the direction of an organisation, for me a manager and leader are two different individuals.

For me, a leader inspires other to follow. A leader should not have to exert direct authority, but should be able motivate individuals to act towards a common shared vision. A leader should be able to create a situation in which people are intrinsically motivated. They do not follow the leader because they have to, but because they want to.

My view of managers on the other hand is that they do not lead, they dictate. A manager will not create a shared vision and bring people together toward a common goal. They will instruct pople of what to do and how to do it. They do not inspire people to follow them of their own accord.

Personally, I think this distinction is very important because the synergy a leader can bring about through motivation towards a shared vision will outshine the "just enough" attitude that managers would bring about in their employees.

February 08, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

Over the last few days, one question has come up on many occasions during my lectures and dicussions.

"Can leadership be taught?"

For me, this comes down to the age old question of nature vs nurture. Are we born with qualities that make us proficient in a certain role? Or do we develop these characteristics and qualities during the course of our life?

In the context of leadership, I see one side of the argument as our nature that makes us a good leader. Qualities such as charisma, confidence, good communication skills, and integrity, that for many define what makes a good leader may be considered as traits that one is born with. The desire and ability to lead are inherent properties of you as an individual that will direct how you behave and what you do throughout your life. In essense, the traits you are born with define who you are. This stream of through leads to the idea that not everyone can be a leader because leaders are not created, leaders are born.

On the other hand, the idea of nurture leading to the creation of a good leader means that anybody could potentially be a leader. The ability to lead is gained nurtune, as individuals grow, their ability to lead other develops through training, experience, and personal development. This could be said to be by choice as an individual puts themself in situations in which they acquire leadership skills; or even by necessity if an individual is put by others into a situation in which they must take control, during the process of which they develop their abilities to lead. The idea of leadership through nurture is that leadership skills are acquired, so rather than a leader being born, a leader is created.

Any example of a good leader could be argued to be the result of nature, or nurture, depending on an individuals point of view. Take for example someone considered as an iconic leader in history, Alexander the Great. Some may attribute his conquests to the fact that he was born a natural leader and inspired others to follow him. It may also be said that his upbringing gave him the vision and experience needed to inspire others to follow him.

My personal view on the nature vs nurture argument is no so straight forward. I argue that both play a role. I see nurture as the opportunity to become a leader. Nurture gives you a path to follow that will move you towards becoming who you wish to be, a path on which you can develop you skills and gain the characteristics that will help you become a leader whose vision will inspire others to follow. Nurture is only a path however. Nature is what will define whether you follow this path of not. Is an individual born with the desire and drive to achieve all they can achieve, or will they stray from the path and not make the most of every opportunity. For me, this is why the nature vs nurture argument seems slightly too black and white, and the question of "can leadership be taught" has a rather ambiguous answer of possibly. While some are born with the desire and characteristics that make the path to leadership easier, if you are born with the desire and drive to lead then the ability to lead can be learnt.

January 10, 2011

The Big and not so red Button

Once more an incalculable amount of time has passed between my blog entries. (Well, not exactly incalculable, if you've spotted the date of my last entry). The reason? Work, work and more work. Removing time consumed by the return of swine flu to my household, and time to recover from term 1 exhaustion halved my holiday time, so all remaining time was allocated to either paid work or assignments, leaving little time for internet activities such as blogging.

But enough about how time is such a hard thing to come by and onto the min topic of my blog. My recently submitted PMA. Its seems that every time a PMA is finished, the joy of pushing that big and not so red button is immense. Not only does it signify that the completion of hours and hours of effort, but it is also a button that makes you reflect about everything you've learnt throughout the module and PMA work as you quickly think over everything you just submitted wondering wht else you could have done.

For me, my lasted submission was that of my Six Sigma project. My chosen quastion: Improving the design of a paper air plane. Up till now, I have never once though how much thought and effort could be put into something so simple as making paper airplanes. From the early stages of designing my taguchi experiment to undertake, to making the planes and analysing the results, every step of the way made me think about what I'm doing, why, and how. Why choose an angled wing? why change the wing size? why include noise factors? How should I test them? How do I ensure accuracy? How do I interpret the results? What do the signal response tables show? There was so much to consider at every stage, I never would have guessed that so much could be learnt from n exercise so simple at a first glance.

After pressing that Big submit button I realised that I had learnt more than I expected during this PMA, and that practical approach of this topic meant not only was I able to learn about six sigma tools, but actually putting some of them into use made me understand them. Never have I ever spent so much time on paper air planes, and never hve I ever expected to learn so much from them.

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