All 12 entries tagged Leadership

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April 13, 2011

Situationally–aware leaders, and the reason I'm always late.

Yesterday's session made me feel a little uneasy about being a leader in the future. We all saw some of the terrible things that happened when people are not properly aware of their surroundings, and the bad decisions or poor judgement that this can result in. Obviously, these people are responsible for their own actions. However, we also discussed that leaders hold a great level of responsibility for the working environment they create. If the team fails from a business perspective, that is likely to be down to them to some degree. But, imagine if you were a leader, and someone working for you died on the job. How terrible would you feel? How scary a thought is that. That makes me question whether I want the responsibility of leadership. I know it's an extreme case, but we saw over and over again that these things can happen. What are your thoughts on this? I'm really curious.

Also, we spoke about the errors people can make, relating to: information gathering, interpretation, and anticipation. I wanted to apply this to myself, and decided to analyse why I am so often late by just a few minutes. There are probably a lot of reasons, and this is likely just a simplification, using this model, but I figure it's worth a shot! Is it about gathering of information? No, I don't think so - I'm quite organised, and I pretty much always know what time I am meant to be somewhere, or what time the train leaves, etc. Is it about interpretation? Well, no I don't think so, I always think about what I have to do, how it all fits together, what time I have to leave in order to be somewhere, etc. I think my problem is anticipation - not just for this, but for a lot of errors I make, I tend to be an optimist, and rarely think about the worse case scenario. This results in leaving things to the last minute, assuming things will take the minimum amount of time that they could, not being able to think ahead about sources of so-called 'randomness' in my day, like stopping to talk to someone on the street, or getting an important email, or the air in my bike wheels being low and requiring pumping, etc.

So why am I unable to learn this? To understand the upper and lower limits properly, rather than just assuming the lower limits will apply to me. I think it comes down to poor judgement, and there are perhaps a lot of different internal biases I can use to explain. For example, the representativeness heuristic - I don't seem to understand the underlying statistics, and always assume that lower limits apply to me. This could be due to overconfidence bias. I also seem to have a short memory when it comes to being late - I think that I'll learn, it won't happen again, and I make the same old estimates about how long things take. This is anchoring at play. And why don't I ever learn? Perhaps it is the curse of knowledge - maybe I tend to think looking back that it was a simple certain reason, that I won't make the mistake again, and that I don't need to change approach. Hopefully, developing this thought on the blog will help...

Linking back to leaders and situational awareness - I think that bias can play a part in all three types of error. I have only shown the ones that apply to me, and for anticipation at that.

April 09, 2011

It's just too big! I'm going to be selfish.

I'm not the first person to say it, and I doubt I'll be the last, but the field of leadership theory is just too huge! Much like KBAM, the challenge is to work out what is useful, relevant, or important, and ignore the rest. It's making this the toughest PMA to date, because it's just so open-ended that you end up feeling lost unless you have a really good ability to focus (I think I don't!). I know that this is meant to be representative of reality, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Unless, the purpose is to realise that we will always be confused and lost, and we'd better get used to dealing with it?! 

Also, it makes me think about my role in the PMA as a leadership coach. How can I coach anyone on anything, if I have so little experience with it. It is at times difficult to remember that we are also playing the role of the CEO and Director being coached in all this, and perhaps it is fair to say that their character and background are the ones that we are more easily able to identify with. With that in mind, the theories that I selected to help them improve were also the ones that I felt I most wanted to apply to myself, which is why I chose the likes of creative, strategic, transformational and servant leadership to work on. I think being selfish here is justified ;-)

I also came across this quote from Warren Bennis, which perhaps because of my musical background, I really like: 

"I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don't think that's quite it; it's more like jazz. There is more improvisation."

That sums it up for me perfectly.

March 29, 2011

It feels different this time…

Group work for the KBAM project has begun... and it is daunting. Asset management is HUGE! Knowledge management is also a vast topic, but I haven't quite got there yet ;-) Of course, we know that this is like a PMA; with 40 hours each (so, 200 as a group), you can only go to a certain level of depth. It is clear though, that you could easily make a full-time job out of any of the aspects we have discussed briefly today.

As for the task itself, well I think I have a bit of a Leadership hangover. Volunteering for leadership of this task may prove to be a great decision, it may prove to be a bad one if I can't cope with everything and let the team down. That is unlikely - I think I am stronger than that, but something about this module feels different to previous ones. I don't know what it is. Perhaps the positional power that comes with the task, and has my team members looking to me for direction (which I like), or perhaps it's the extra responsibility I feel for the overall outcomes that we have to deliver in a few weeks (which I also like, and in fact, I thrive on). Perhaps it is the fact that the scope of the task is just so much greater than anything else we have come across on this journey to critical autonomy. By the way, with this task, and how most of us have dealt with such an open-ended, real-life parallel, situation, it is clear that we are well on our way to having developed this responsibility. I'm reminded of what Paul told us yesterday - last year, this is where the students found everything coming together.

So far, it is going well. We have discussed the background of our company, and almost all of us have now directed ourselves to areas of interest, for further work. We have briefed each other on our achievements, and we seem to have developed a good working structure - I think this will be of great benefit to us as time elapses. I'm relaltively pleased with my role in that so far - I learned a lot from LE, and am trying to put it into practice. I've made a point of planning our time, short and long-term, and I've done my best to make sure everyone understands what we have to do (vision), and is happy about how we are going about it, through asserting my timings, but giving everyone the freedom to work in a way that is best for them. 

I am also really pleased with our team - it is solid, we have a good work-ethic, and I already feel confident that we will be pleased with the effort we've put in, and the results we've achieved, when the time comes to self-assess.

One thing I have really been trying to push is our wiki-usage. I think, this task, there is no way we can be successful without excellent knowledge management of our own. There is just too much information to handle otherwise. And the irony of the challenge is not lost on me; we only have to communicate and keep control of this vast amount of information for three weeks. Real organisations have to do it for as long as they plan to operate... and there is a lot more at stake there too!

February 25, 2011

Learning leadership lessons

I am a little sad that the module is over, it was truly one of the most rewarding periods of study I have ever attempted :-) Of course, I know that nothing is really over. I will continue to learn about leadership for the rest of my life, the PMA will just be the next major step. I say major, because I am conscious that leadership is really just about engaging with people about ideas that you have, and I will have many, many opportunities to do that in the next six weeks, for sure!

I just decided to self-assess my performance as a leader during the last week, and was quite surprised by the results. By my count, we attempted five team exercises/simulations. I put myself forward as a potential leader four times, which quite coincidentally, all happened to be occasions when there were elements of competition between teams. Of these four (so not including 'Coffee Time' which was hugely valuable in itself), I was given the opportunity to lead three times. Of the three I lead, my team performed best twice, and second best once. On the other occasion, when I was a (proactive! :P) follower, my team also performed best, to the point that we became the first team in the history of Paul's experience with the exercise (which I assume goes back at least 5-10 years) to actually successfully complete. I could go on, but this already sounds quite crass and self-congratulatory to the point that people might start to hate my cocky attitude (:P), so I'll leave it with this: I didn't realise that I had that in me.

It could quite easily have been a fluke, and it might well reflect the fact that I was lucky to work with the people I did, because everyone always worked together quite well. But I won't deny that it gives me a huge amount of confidence in myself. I never really felt before, like I was capable of just jumping into any situation, knowing I'd be able to deal with it.

To introduce a problem to a team. To set my vision of what to achieve. To decide things together and not jump all over people's creativity, but also to know when to push my assertiveness more in the interest of the shared goals. To manage resources and time effectively. To try and coach people rather than tell them things they could/should do. To actively listen to others and put their suggestions into practice for the benefit of the team. To manage information quickly, and make decisions that reflect the best course of action. To put mistakes behind you before they drag morale down. To know when to refocus resources if a decision has not panned out the way you hoped.

Etc, etc, etc. These are just a few of my lessons learned, I know that I will be able to add to this list ad. infinitum

February 23, 2011

Welcome to Hai Pong Inn

I feel like I'm starting to get it now, regarding leadership. I am getting a sense of what works and what doesn't and why, and we are only two days into this module week. I can't wait to see how much more I am able to get out of this fascinating period of learning (study would be the wrong word).

I will put this down partly to really wanting to get better at this. Today, I felt terrible - I was so tired. When Paul said some of would need to volunteer after lunch, I was very tempted to sit back and let someone else have a go. Particularly because I have had a few chances to be leader already, and it would have been fairer at least. Over lunch, I reminded myself about why I am doing this module - it was not really about sitting back.

So, I put myself forward. And I am so glad I did. I enjoyed the simulation immensely, the time flew by, and my team worked together fantastically to create a great outcome that we could all be proud of. I put into practice learning points from previous sessions such as being more assertive, outlining a clear vision for everyone to strive towards from the beginning, and made sure to manage the time well. As ever, there was room for improvement, and I learned from today that some of my team members would have preferred me to take a riskier approach for higher gains. With hindsight, I see their point, but I'm also quite happy with my incremental, sustainable, and balanced approach, that created greater returns year on year, and ingrained a way of working in the team that was positive, structured, and a joy to be a part of.

I hope I am as lucky in the future; the ability of my team to become something more than their collective parts and double the occupancy rates, while increasing the operating profit sevenfold in a 1.5 year period was quite remarkable, and but for one other team, would have been the best result by any team in the history of that simulation in MBE. That is performance to be proud of.

So, I know that I will never stop becoming a better leader, with every experience I can build on. But I'm starting to see it in slower motion, much like Paul's analogy of Rafa Nadal, and you can all be sure I will volunteer myself as a leader as often as I get the opportunity to.

February 21, 2011

I'd make a terrible dictator, and other revelations.

Wow! Good first day of the module week. I thought it had been quite a short day, but upon reflection of each of the sessions now, I'm almost shocked at how many things I learned. I'm enjoying this module a lot so far, I hope it continues in the same vein...

One of the first lessons was a private one. It transpires that I can't be an autocratic type leader! This wasn't much use to the rest of the class (I'm sorry everybody), but no matter how I tried to make myself take complete control and stamp my authority on all the situations I was meant to, in many cases, something internal overrode this requirement, and I went back to the way I naturally am: participative and democratic. I couldn't change, even if it was just a temporary act. I have a theory about this further down. I later asked the question "what if someone finds is hard to use their positional power?" (assuming all other engagement tactics have failed, and in which case it's not positional power really, but just authority). The question was passed around a bit, which annoyed me because I was really hoping someone would come up with something, as the problem had plagued me when I failed as an autocrat. Eventually, James stepped forward, and stunned me with the thought that if someone couldn't use that power, it was probably due to weak strength of character! I really appreciated this insight (so thanks James!), because I've always considered myself to have a strong character, but this made me realise that in this department, I need to find it in myself to be tougher when the situation requires. I know I'm on the right track here, because earlier, the group had given me assertiveness as an area for improvement. Very revealing...

The seminar followed, and it came out that really, whether it comes to managing strong types, or your leader, it's all about engagement. Sure, in the latter case, there may be some risk attached, and you have to weigh potential consequences, and make a difficult and painful decision sometimes, but I suppose if being a leader was easy, everybody would be able to do it. If you can't engage, after many repeated attempts, eventually there may have to be a confrontation, and as a strong person and leader yourself, you need to be ready to stand your ground, own the situation, and be ready for what may happen. What you can't expect to do, is change someone's personality! I think THIS had been my problem earlier in the day: being an autocrat was just too at odds with who I am. And I was always a rubbish actor ;-)

The afternoon gave me first real experience of followership, in a while. Too often in this course (and in my wider life of the last few years), I feel I become a leader by default. People will look to me to take charge sometimes, and won't step forward themselves. Of course, I like being a leader, and none of this is a bad thing (or an indictment of any of my colleagues). I guess it means I must be at least decent at it, but it does also mean that I rarely sit back and experience someone else leading me, which is also nice sometimes :-) Anyway, to be honest, we gave Fani hell! She didn't make it easy for herself to begin with, but with time, she was able to take a step back and achieve a compromise with us all. She did well, and I know she was able to take a lot away from it (particularly when it comes to managing what information everyone has and actively listening to her followers), which is great!

What techniques are there for managing cultural and organizational diversity?

As the world becomes a smaller place, and we find ourselves working with different people from all walks of life, this becomes an increasingly important topic. I couldn't find any techniques as such, but the most important underlying theme was to do with effective communication. People from different cultural/organisational backgrounds will obviously have different ways of doing things, due to varying standards, expectations or norms.

The best way to combat any difficulties that might arise from this is to make sure that people understand each other. Effective communication crosses the boundaries, and help people to empathise with the position of others, and why certain things are important to certain people.

An inclusive environment also helps. People who feel welcome to be themselves are likely to be happier than those forced to live a lie. This may require an open mind on the part of a manager, along with a readiness to compromise and be adaptable to the needs of different types of people.

Brownell (2003) felt that self-monitoring, empathy, and strategic-decision making are important. The first is the awareness one has of how their behaviour affects others, and their willingness to change this based on the impact. The second is the ability of those on the end of communication to go beyond the spoken words to understand what is really meant, based on the communicator's background (feelings, values, assumptions and needs). The last relates to which channels of communication are used, and why. Certain ones will work better on/for certain people. 

Mor Barak (2010) agrees with many of these themes. She also adds that managers should use their knowledge of cultural differences to aid their understanding of what helps facilitate effective communication, and what can create barriers to it.

Brownell, Judi (2003). Developing Receiver-Centered Communication in Diverse Organizations. Listening Professional, 2(1), 5-25

Mor Barak, Michalle E. (2010). Managing Diversity:Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. Sage

How do you manage people with strong personalities?

Well, the first thing that strikes me about this topic, is that working with people who have strong personalities is not necessarily a bad thing. From the context of leadership, it can actually be a very good thing, particularly if they share your vision and ideals.

From my own experience, and some quick research, I think there are some do's and don'ts regarding managing or leading a strong personality types. These are in no way exhaustive, or necessarily applicable to all situations:

Don't - 

  • Expect them to change, or think you can change them. Their personality is who they are, and any attempts you make will probably cause resentment on their part. 
  • Try to take the moral highground on an issue - it often leads to the other person getting defensive, making them unlikely or unwilling to cooperate with you later.
  • Make assumptions about why they act a certain way.
  • Try to control them, or show who's boss with displays of power, whether aggressively, or passively by making demeaning remarks to them or others about them. That shows weakness and insecurity.

Do - 

  • Manage your own emotions first of all. Understanding why you feel a certain way is important. Also, taking the time to make sure you are calm means you will act in a rational way. Instant, emotional responses are often destructive and uncontrolled.
  • Target the specific behaviours that you have a problem with. This is not the same as trying to redefine their personality. Addressing things like this in an open, honest, direct, but non-confrontational or blaming way (with reasons for why they are detrimental if possible) leads to positive results.
  • Get them focused on the goals that matter to you, by showing especially how they themselves might benefit. Strong personality types are often strongly goal-oriented, and so really motivated by new ideas and challenges.
  • Show strength and confidence, through assertiveness, body language, speech and tone of voice. People respond instinctively to these alpha characteristics, providing they appear natural rather than forced or over-the-top.
  • Stand your ground when you have made up your mind and don't back down easily.
  • But, always be open to suggestions, and ready to act on them. It conveys respect for their opinion, and by extension, them.
  • Praise them publicly, but only when they have done something that warrants this and they know it's not false.
  • Avoid or downplay conflict.

February 17, 2011

The surprising science of motivation

I decided to write about motivation today, after watching this video, during my break from doing research on the same subject! This is particularly relevant to performance appraisal, and the mini-project we're working on regarding it. You should watch it before you read on.

So, the speaker presents the case for intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, and in a powerful, convincing way. Carrot and stick (reward and punishment) motivators just don't work, at least for the majority of tasks. The reason for this is the kinds of things we do now require THINKING, not just mechanistic, zombie-like, ability. He says it best at 6:30, financial incentives might work, but only if the problem to solve is 'for dummies'! It doesn't work.


What I don't get, is if the science is quite clearly there, why do organisations and managers continually try to go the other way? It's been repeatedly proven, around the world, in all kinds of situations, that pay-for-performance actually achieves a NEGATIVE effect, and yet, this news seems not to have made it up to senior management in most companies.

Knowledge is not being made use of; in fact, it is being actively ignored to the detriment of excellence. Deming is turning in his grave...

I haven't gone into what does work here, but the video covers it pretty well I feel. I'm thankful for companies/leaders who learn and then think, like Google, Atlassian, Semco, or the likes of Vineet Nayar.

February 09, 2011

It can't be taught, but you're not born with it either!

I'm talking about leadership of course ;-) I think most of us on MBE agree that you can't teach it, it's experiential as Paul said. Reading back through some of the other blogs, I see some people feel that it is some kind of innate quality you are either born with or not. I completely disagree! I think the truth is somewhere in the Nature vs Nurture argument that Kieran brought to the fore, which is an argument worth having. 

Let us assume for a minute, that you're not born with it, and it can't be taught. How the hell are you supposed to get it, or be it?! Well, just because it can't be taught, that's not to say it can't be learned... It goes back to experiential learning, i.e. learning from experiences. Nobody is born, and then starts showing other babies how to stand and walk, or say their first word. These things are picked up from our very first leaders - our parents, and others who care for us as infants. You can't lead without first being lead. If you will agree that nobody is born with knowledge or innate understanding of the universe, then it follows that you must learn things in order for people to consider you to be someone worth following. And if you know nothing when you are born, what is it that makes you a leader? Sure, there are some genetic traits and characteristics that might predispose you towards leading, but in the end, we are all nothing but the sum of our experiences. As Awal says, leadership is all about the ability to learn from any situation and implement your learning. And so, we arrive back at PDSA! Hehe! My theory is that great leaders can probably do this better than most. 

I wish I had more time to develop this, maybe you guys can help me if you find the time...

To finish, here is my personal definition of leadership, refined from the one that my group collectively created. I'm settling on it for now, but I expect it will change as I do. But for now, it is right, because it is right for ME!

"The art of forming a vision and influencing others towards sharing it, such that they think and act to help make it a reality."

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