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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 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.

December 07, 2010


Wow, its been a long while since my last blog entry. Let me first explain. Over the past many weeks my free time has been somewhat limited. Infact, that is an understatement in every sense of the word. While juggling Module weeks, projects, PMA work, society responsibilities, paid work, and illness, exhaustion has more than got the better the better of me. Now i'm slowly managing to get back on top of everything, and so have I come back to the world of blogging.

Todays entry is regarding my PMA. While i've spent awhile researching, gathering information and planning how i will put this into the context of the question, i am now in the process of putting pen to paper (so to speak). The more I go about typing up my PMA, the more I realise the interconnected nature of the topic. With As far as my interpretation of the literature goes, application of profound knowledge is a key aspect of transformation into a learning organisation. Every process put in place to facilitate the transformation requires a systemic understanding of the organisation to ensure the methods and processes used are appropriate. This is where profound knowledge really shows the connection. A learning strategy cannot be put in place without knowing how employees will react (knowledge of psychology), knowing how people aquire knowledge (theory of knowledge), what systems are needed to faciliate learning (system thinking) and finally are the improvements from learning due to development of skills or was there some other reason (knowledge of variation). Every literary source I have used thusfar has mentioned the importance of understanding how organisational learning will affect people, the cultural change that underlines it, and the knowledge of the processes needed, so to me it seems they all link with SoPK. Application of profound knowledge is a crucial process that forms the foundations of any learning strategy that is to be applied to drive towards the creation of a learning organisation.

November 17, 2010

Welcoming the World of Six Sigma

Well, I have to admit that my entries of late have been sparse. Infact, sparse is most probably an understatement. There is a very good reason for this though. Long days of study mixed with the occasional even longer day of necessary paid work has left me with little time for blogging. This has, however, given me time to gather my thoughts about the past few days.

We have recently started our module of PIUSS, or Process Improvement using Six Sigma for my few readers who aren't familiar with MBE acronyms.

The question we started with is "what is six sigma?". Our introduction to the topic, compounded with some excellent elearning exercises run by PMI (Project Management Institute) answered this for us. While at thge beginning, the idea of six sigma as a tool for improvement seemed quite vague, our understanding developed through the excercises and we quickly became aware that rather than a set method of process improvement, six sigma provided a toolbox (a rather large one at that) from which a variety of tool could be used within a structured systematic approach to improving a process that is suited to the organisation. In terms of six sigma, improvement is encapsulated by the ideas of reducing variation within a process and thus stabilising the process, and reducing costs of the process. The elearning excercises put all this into perspective by demonstrating six sigma implementation within a set example, showing the various stages of the improvement cycle (DMAIC) and the tools used for each step. We were introduced to project charters, SIPOC charts, SPC charts, histograms, fishbone diagrams, and many many more.

Putting our knew found knowledge to the test, the week so far comprised of the simple enough exercise of the creation of a process to build mecano airplanes. 14 stages of the process, 7 operators, 1 plane, lead time of above 5 minutes per plane. Simple production line. But could we improve this? Time for bring in Six Sigma. The next day I can only describe as chaotic semi organised fun! Despite the tools and processes being fresh in our minds, it became apparent that introducing improvement even in such a "simple" process was a challenge. Our first challenge was a lack of direction. Despite being part of a group of strong willed and intelligent people, nobody jumped forward as leader. In part i think this was down to using the terminology of "leader". To me it seemed nobody wanted to take this title that can be seen to infer a higher hierarchal importance than other team members. Despite this problem, we trudged on. Facing challenges of communication after splitting into 2 teams to address seperate problems,  challenges of time management with too long spent idly discussing, and challanges of bad organisation in test runs. Despite all this, when the time came we managed to demonstrate an improvement on the original process! For me this showed that the tools of six sigma can be very affected, even in situation where many challenges are faced and the process of improvement does not run smoothly. This exercise also made it apparent that the socio-emotional links within the team are crucial. Solving these psychological problems of team integration and communication would have given a vastly improved results.

Moral of this story for me: People. People are vital to any process. Ensuring an environment in which socio-emotional barriers to an improvement process are minised will greatly increase its chances of success.

November 06, 2010


As I was driving home from work today I started thinking. Thinking intellectual thoughts after a 13.5 hour shift may be a crazy idea, but i actually did!

My thoughts started off with wondering how much the place I work could be improved by providing adequate training to staff, and not have a constant influx of new agency workers who will largely only work there once or twice. This stream of thought led me onto thinking back on my reading about organisational learning, and then the literature i'm currently going through about continuous improvement and this is what tonights blopic is (blog topic. yes, i know blopic isn't actually a word, but I like it) Hence the blog title ciol (Continuous Improvement & Organisational Learning)

When considering organisational learning, the literature we covered in our group went through alot about  instigating cultural change, ways to incorporate learning into an organisation, the systems that would be needed, the methods by which learning can be accomplished. Some literary sources also went into details about what learning should be undertaken.

Looking into continuous improvement, I've read lots about the implementation of continuous improvement in an organisation. Seeing area of improvement within a process or systems, defining what is to be improved, finding a solution, implementing the change and analysing the results.

But where do we learn from or find methods of improving a system? Models that are related to management mention a variety of factors within the system. Its seems to me that learning and finding improvements can come from any factor that makes up the system of the organisation. These include, but are not limited to the people, processes, environment (including customers, competitors, suppliers and society) and results. But where is the line drawn for sources of learning?

When considering the environment, do organisations that are about to undergo a change take into account the actions of competitors and their resulting successes or failures from a similar change... Definitely. Taking this further, can an organisation learn from the actions of firms of the past, or do the differentiated conditions of seperate time spans makes nulify similarities of situation? Consider a firm seeking means to improve a process in a country where industrialisation is underway. Can this firm look at past firms from countries that have already industrialised when implementing change? Or does the difference in eras mean that methods learnt from past firms actions would be irrelevant in todays world? How far in the past can you look into before knowledge and methods of improvements become too outdated to be put into use? On his blog, one of my colleagues even talked about some ideas within excellence models that have been mentioned in ancient philosophy. Should we... or can we even go back that far when considering sources that will be learnt from? Does it depend on the firm, or is there a cut off point for useful information. Where do we draw the line, if we can even say a line should be drawn? This may be something that the more I read, the more I will gather snippets of information about. But then again, in my reading I haven't seen much that strays from "what" and "how" to learn/improve, into the realms of "when to learn from".

If anyone has any thoughts about this, or has come across an interesting book/journal/whatever please share!

November 04, 2010

Apathy and Lathargy

" It's what makes you 'That Guy' "

This line from a film came into my mind yesterday. Some of you may recognise it, some of you may not. Its from a the latest of the Die Hard film.

This came to my mind from the apathy I witnessed last night in a very unexpected place. It was my first engagement representing my course as SSLC rep and turning up at the meeting I expected everyone to be eager to take responsibility and get involved. It seems that wasn't exactly the case. While people did want to contribute to the discussions at hand, the responsibilities of chair and secretary were not sought after. In fact, it seemed these positions were appointed by virtue of myself, and one other, taking the roles despite our already staggering number of responsibilities because nobody else would. This brings me onto the quote. What makes an individual that guy. The willingness to do what is necessary, regardless of the challenges involved, the absense of apathy to get involved, and the lack of lathargy to make it happen. That is what makes you that guy! These traits are ones that I am proud to say I have readily observed in all my colleagues on MBE. If something needs doing, there are always individuals that will take the task head on. Being "that guy" demonstrates the qualities needed to take on the challenge of leadership and be one of the people shaping the future. I believe that everybody I know on MBE, had they been there would have done the same, taken the responsibility to do what is needed. Being surrounded by people who are all "that guy" definitely makes for a fun working environment.

November 01, 2010


ep·ic  [ep-ik] –adjective Also, ep·i·cal.

1. Of, constituting, having to do with, or suggestive of a literary epic: an epic poem.
2. Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size
3. Heroic and impressive in quality:

This one little word sums up my last week in more ways than one, and because of this my entry today will be an epic (in literary terms) because a quick post will not do the week justice. For me, the CBE module was indeed impressive in quality and surpassed the usual (comparing module standards of my academic life to date) far beyond my expectations. It wasn't until the final few days that it hit me how much we, as a class, have actually learned directly and passively during the previous weeks.

I'll give some examples. Our last seminar, a few questions on leadership lead into a heated and very much indepth discussion about leadership styles, morales, values. What is considered an effective style of leadership is a good question. Does the authority of an autocratic leader having absolute control motivate? Is a leader that leads by example better for morale? Is a democratic approach allowing input from everyone a better way to create an environment of high efficiency and creativity? Or can a more laissez-faire approach provide individuals with the drive to achieve by empowering them and giving them greater responsibility? Personally, i don't believe a leader should be restricted to any of these styles. I think what makes a leader is the ability to adapt, to be flexible and knowledgable enough to see the best approach any situation may require and to behave accordingly. No two situations are the same and a leader must be able to adapt as required.

But what role do values and morales play? Can a leader be "corrupted". We debated this to great extent, with opinions often at polar opposits to each other. On the one hand, it was argued that the only way to proceed in life is through a steadfast resolve to never succomb to moraly dubious actions to maintain ones dignity. That the ends will never justify the means. While on the other hand it was argued that sometimes corruption is a way of life, that the only method to achieve any end is through actions that may be considered questionable. This stream of thought considered that sometimes the ends do indeed justify the means. Personally, I sided with the latter. While the ideology that the ends never justify the means is the epitome of ideologies in a perfect world, I think that the flawed nature of our world means that the this cannot always be applied. I believe situations do exist whereby what people may consider a questionable action such as accepting or offering bribery is indeed the only option to achieve a desired result. For example, in a country where bribery is common place, an individual may desire to build a hospital that will improve social welfare, but the political system means that to be granted permissions a bribe must be offered. For me, not doing everything in my power to ensure the permissions are granted would mean a failing of my values, the ends here would justify the means. This is a very tricky topic however, does this put an individual on the path to complete corruption, or would such an assumption be a cruel stereotype that all individuals do no have the morale fibre to know when they will be going against what they believe in. For me, such actions will not guarentee the complete corruption of an individual.

Now, moving on to something different. Learning. How much have we been learning? The last presentations of the week enlightened me to the extent that which I have personally leart from my personal reading, and from my colleagues. I did not think I was as knowledgable about this presentation as the previous ones, I felt in some way unprepared. But once I started talking, it all made sense. As questions were asked at the end, I was able to participate in answering these question in an informed manner! For me, this showed that we have learnt far more this week that we are actually aware of and filled me with confidence that in the coming weeks, I will be able to apply this knowledge to my PMA.

As for the end of the week, once again, epic. The first MBE social gathering went off smoothly and I was amazed with the turnout. Seeing everybody together and enjoying themselves demonstrated the comradery present within our course. It made me thankful to be part of such a dynamic group that works so well together. We are all on this journey to excellence together.

October 27, 2010

Profound Knowledge… in daily life?

Demings idea of Profound knowledge involves 4 factors relating to knowledge.

1. Appreciation of a system

2. Knowledge about variation

3. Theory of knowledge

4. Knowledge of psychology

How do these fit into daily life though? Do they all even apply to any aspect of our daily living? Well, for me this is a purely subjective matter. Everyone may interpret if and how these do factors come up during our to day lives. Well, for my view on this I will not start at the beginning, but conversly start at number 4. I believe this is the easiest aspect of profound knowledge to apply to our daily lives. Knowledge of psychology... Think about it... Is this not present in how we interact with everybody we speak to? We behave in a manner fitting to the company we are in. In other words, we act appropriately. This implies we have enough knowledge of (or at least an intuitive understanding of) the psychology of those around us to behave appropriately.

Now moving onto point 3. Theory of Knowledge. For me, this applies to our understanding of what constitutes knowledge. How we learn and our methods in acquiring knowledge. In essance our knowledge of the most efficient way to learn for ourselves.

As for point 2, for me this relates to individuals having awareness that things change. An example in my life, traffic. I know that if I leave my house at 7:50am to get to uni, with average traffic I can arrive, park and be in the IMC by approximately 8:40. But I know that this can vary. If for example, there is no traffic, I can be at uni by 8:20. However it may be that traffic is above the norm, which could delay me by up to an hour as has happened in the past meaning I arrive at 9:40 and am late for everything! My knowledge of this variation means that I can plan ahead and leave earlier, avoiding possible traffic problems and guaranteeing my timely arrival! Knowledge of variation for me is definitely a useful concept.

Finally, I get to point 1. Why did I leave this till last? Simple. My understanding of how this may fit into daily life is more vague than the other points. Appreciation of a system. In relation to our day to day lives, for me this implies knowledge about how any system we deal with works. For example, the library. I know that system and understand the process by which I use it. I enter, search for a books, find it, check it out. I know this system. Again, using sports facilities. I know that to go climbing I need to only go to reception, check in, and climb. I have knowledge on how this system works and can make use of it effectively. While this is my interpretation of the day to day relavance of point 1, I believe that the idea itself is much more complex than this and that my interpretation of it has somewhat oversimplified the ideas behind it...

What say you all? Am I the only one who struggles to see a deeper meaning of appreciation of knowledge in day to day living? Or can anyone shed some light and possibly a deeper understanding of this concept in daily life?

The path to excellence…

We all agree Excellence is a fairly good target for any organisation to be aiming for. During the last few weeks we have also gone over methods on how an organisation can work towards achieving this concept of excellence. When it comes to what excellence actually is, the EFQM handbook of 2010 tells us that excellence is achieved through good results in people, customers and societies perceptions on the organisation, performance is those criteris as well as key performance indicators of the organisation itself. These perceptions and performance indicators encompass a large variety of factors that are quite easily found via this EFQM handbook, or any literature that discusses the model to any degree of depth. But how can these methods actually be monitored?

The performace indicators manifest themselves in the form of quantitave data. In most modern business environments, quantitative data is relatively easy to access. IT systems record data regarding nearly all aspects of quantitative information on a daily basic. To monitor and make sense of this information, this information can be aggregated, analysed and presented in a way that details the progress of performance indicators. Data could be represented in tabular form, graphically, or any other means that an organisation finds appropriate and effective to monitor performance.

Qualitive data become a trickier issue when it comes to monitor performance. Qualitative data, such as consumer perspectives on the organisation, or employee satisfaction, must be gathered in a social survey of some sort. The means by which the survey is delivered and collected is variable, but the requirement of a survey is essential to gather such data. Once this is collected, interpreting vast amounts of such data and compiling it into a form that easily displays performance in these areas is also another matter that must be considered. Depending on the amount of information gathered in such a survey, simple graphical representation of information (for example, if a pie chart) becomes a more complex issue that in my opinion, cannot be faced until you actually have the information and can evaluate the most effective and informative way of analysing it.

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