Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Hire more oddballs and learn how to herd cats with different colored headwear

In a previous post I posed three questions that one should ask before trying to make change happen in an organization:

“1) Who is successful or who thrives? Who fails?”

But beyond making change happens, what happens if a group’s make up becomes dominated by the same kinds of people? When a culture starts to dominate a group’s thinking, people in the group start to echo each other. Groups start hiring more people that think or behave just like they do. Whether they form a culture of doers and followers or a culture of collaboration, the impulse to regularly hire for fit can result in homogeneity or sameness. It’s been argued that highly uniform cultures can lead to stagnation. Diverse cultures on the other hand  potentially promote sharing of ideas, innovation, and change.

Has your workplaced hired itself into a "Stepford" culture?

Has your workplace hired itself into a “Stepford” culture?

According to Martin Davidson, companies need to break this habit of building cultures of sameness and hire more “weirdos.” His chief argument is that it’s the odd-duck who potentially contributes to finding the best innovative ideas or solutions. But it’s the manager’s role to ‘harness’ that weirdness and creativity to provide or bring value to the company’s goals.  As he notes:

The key for leaders is to figure out how to support weird people so that they create—not destroy—value for the company. Some of these people have stifled their offbeat creativity out of social fear, camouflaging their true selves because they think it’s not appropriate at work to be as they really are.

Hiring the right kind of weirdos is harder that it seems. Obviously, if managers/leaders have been so dialed into identifying and selecting ‘normals’, then how could they identify a helpful weirdo? As Davidson notes, it’s important for the leadership and hiring groups to understand where their own weaknesses lie. Taking an organizational self-assessment can provide a baseline. If you have more planners and doers in your group, perhaps you need to hire or grow more strategists. If you have more big idea people maybe you need more logistically minded individuals.

Also, ability to communicate effectively despite one’s weirdness is still a necessity in any eligible job candidate. Though if someone is challenged with communicating effectively, it is possible to learn as long as one demonstrates the willingness and capacity to do so. Also, as Davidson hints, communication style differences can also be mitigated by managers and project leads who are savvy at building collaborative bridges and trust within diverse teams. So hiring and promoting managers for their ability and potential to get various work styles to jive in harmony should be considered when reviewing candidates. For groups with highly proactive employees regardless of their talents, an introverted leader is an ideal manager because introverts often allow these highly proactive and talented individuals to contribute and share before diving in and solving problems for them like an extroverted manager might. Extroverted managers impulse to lead by throwing out solutions can stifle and frustrate employees or event prevent developing their capacity for independent proactive problem solving.

Extroverted managers are needed, but with employees or workforces that look solely to leadership for direction or cues for action. My father-in-law likes to refer to them as employees “with a strong back and weak mind.” This type of work culture might not be useful in situations where people need to think quickly and not require their boss for guidance on decisions. For example, teams that rapidly develop solutions or innovation for example, can do better with a leader who lets them solve problems on their own.

So now I have my diverse dream team? How do I get them to work with each other effectively?

In addition to hiring for a diversity of ideas, or behaviors and personalities, once you’ve got a diverse team you need to manage them effectively. Without guidance & trust a diversity of work styles and personalities leads to conflicts and disagreements. This year I observed a training that highlighted Edward de Bono’s Six Hat thinking as a method of promoting different voices in problem solving and collaboration.

The Six Hats encourages a structured discussion/exchange between different styles of thinking from the innovator, the planner, the data collector/analyst, the optimist, the empath, and the skeptic.  This choreographed exchange is designed to promote a balanced approach to working cooperatively to accomplish goals. The process leverages different styles of thinking and viewpoints to come up with solid and viable solutions and processes.

It’s important to note that building trust between all team members is key to achieving success with diverse teams. As many experienced managers know, this is easier said than done.  Establishing trust takes time and real NOT artificially or forced situations such as that uncomfortable team building exercise or roleplaying activity. In the meantime while teams learn how to work with each other effectively, leadership must constantly orient team members to their common goals to promote working collaboratively to reach their aims.

Coming up next… examination of examples of collaborative leadership approaches and how they can help build successful teams in a workplace that demands rapid change.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the "Island of Misfit Toys." It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the “Island of Misfit Toys.” It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Additional Reading:

Looking at decision making from all points of view

The case for recruiting weirdos

Six steps for avoiding group think on your team 

Hire the quiet neurotic not the impressive extrovert

Everything you need to know about the introverted leader

The wrong way to assess culture before attempting change

Let me preface this post with a confession about my fan love for classic Sci Fi films.

The story of George Taylor from Planet of the Apes. tells us how underestimating or judging a culture at face value can lead to missteps and frustration when it comes to being an agent for change. Near the beginn
ing of the film, George was convinced that he could take over the planet, because the first sentient beings he encountered were primitive & “simple.” As he sardonically cracks:

Taylor makes an assumption without knowing who is truly in control of the planet & it's culture

Taylor makes an assumption without knowing who is truly in control of the planet & its culture

Alas, poor George ends up finding himself in this situation.

Taylor2

Then ultimately coming to this conclusion:

Taylor3

Of course at moment George made his initial assessment, he didn’t know what he was truly dealing with.

Making assumptions about the culture of the organization you when you’re attempting any change effort can result in the worst sort of initiative sabotage. It’s important that we instead really understand the culture of the groups we are working with and then plan accordingly.

Continue reading ‘The wrong way to assess culture before attempting change’

Looking at a Shogun’s Leadership/Partnership Lessons from a 21st Century Lens

21st Century advice: Freedom of Speech  at Work Requires Partnership from Both Ends

I have been sitting on this blog post for some time now. And now with the summer coming to the end, I finally find some time to finish it. After working in training and development for over 15 years, I’ve been exposed to a lot of leadership development programs. And some programs really emphasize the importance of an open door policy, but it’s not always possible to exercise it without willingness and buy in on the part of leadership. On the other hand, people who follow need to realize that the open door is a gift that should be used wisely.

Leaders should have a truly open door and be prepared to hear the good with the bad

One of my favorite stories from Japanese history is a simple story about listening and leadership…

One day while walking through his palace grounds with a retainer, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu met a low level soldier from the ranks. The soldier had a comment to say on his regiment. When the man had finished and walked away, Ieyasu’s retainer commented with shock, “What a waste of time. How dare he address you on such a petty and insignificant manner.”

The Shogun remarked frankly:

“It took a great deal of courage for that man to approach me. If I did not listen to him, he might not ever do it again.”

 IeyasuTokugawaShogun

Tokugawa Ieyasu – Japanese Shogun who helped unite feudal Japan

With the simple gesture of listening, Tokugawa sent a message to all of his followers low and high, that they could be heard. They could speak up (within reason, of course). The most practical reasoning for this was if he had no true visibility to the workings of his court, he would not be able to guide and manage them effectively. He was probably savvy enough to recognize that his ability to lead effectively could be impeded by courtiers seeking to pander to curry favor.

In hierarchical structures and cultures of leadership that are top down, a truly open dialogue is painfully difficult if not impossible.

Followers to Leaders: don’t treat us like we’re still in middle school. Encourage an open dialogue with us

When I taught middle school students, every year I encountered at least one student who would express their dissatisfaction with rules or my decisions as a teacher aloud. I met one or two who insisted that in expressing their dissent they were expressing their freedom of speech.

Engaging in this kind of argument with anyone let alone a young person who’s testing the boundaries around them can seem like a sticky wicket. I’ve met teachers who avoid giving their students choices simply because of this fact.

I get this sense from many people in leadership positions regardless of their level or profession that there is a hesitancy to allow people to speak freely because they fear the result of this freedom, namely disagreement and even expression of dislike and resentment. This is old school leadership that can be defined by that phrase: “It’s my way or the highway” or the “buck stops here.” In the age or rapid market changes due to technology this management mechanism is too slow and inefficient to allow for the innovation and change needed to keep up and excel the market demands. Collaborative leadership should replace the old school top down model.

21st Century Advice: Don’t fear an open dialogue with people at all levels. Embrace it.

However, if we operate with the fear that people will revolt if we give them too much lee-way in expressing their feelings and opinions, then we gain our ability to control and dictate but loose our ability to lead and influence. The first option allows us to have our own way, the second makes allows those we lead to become self-sufficient and make their own decisions or act freely and efficiently to achieve the whole organization’s goals.

Leaders to Followers: use the opportunity to speak to share the issues and work with constructive solutions to solve them

But there should still be implicit rules of partnership built in any dialogue between leadership and workers and the focus must really be upon collaboration to make the organization’s goals and mission possible.

21st Century Advice: Align yourself with your company’s mission and goals,
but also find where you bring value and express this.

For those of us who are exercising our “Freedom of Speech” with our leadership, it’s important to not only be fully appreciative of the opportunity to do so, it’s good to be mindful of how we’re framing our words.

  • Are they thoughtful?
  • Are they constructive?
  • Are they forward thinking? Not focused on what happened or how things are with the past but defined by new possibilities for the future.
  • How can we help drive achievement of the organizations success? How can we be an asset?

Additional Reading & Resources:

How traditional leadership structures can destroy creativity and innovation:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140707105756-681714-13-ways-to-destroy-creativity-and-innovation

Ieyasu Tokugawa quotes:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/tokugawa_ieyasu.html

The Patience of Ieyasu Tokugawa:
http://hanofharmony.com/the-patience-of-tokugawa-ieyasu/

Traditional leadership just won’t do – we need collaborative leaders

Traditional leadership just isn’t going to cut it anymore if we want to build a collaborative and engaged workforce that generates winning ideas that will help us find innovative solutions to achieving affordability while staying ahead of our competition.  We need to re-examine how we lead our people.

A few differences between the leaders of the past versus the ones needed today and tomorrow:

  • Traditional leaders tend to hoard information while collaborative leaders embrace transparency & openly share knowledge – Under a collaborative manager, staff get answers and can build solutions faster without having to always ask for information.
  • Traditional leaders drive or lead in offering solutions to their team while collaborative leaders encourage suggestions and ideas from their team – Collaborative leaders sit back and listen and encourage creative solutions from their people. They don’t always drive the solutions or discussion and create a “Yes” culture. More, they trust their people (whom they’ve selected, hired, or developed) to bring the best solutions to the table.
  • Traditional leaders fight fires and focus on symptoms while collaborative ones seek to uncover the root causes of issues – Collaborative leaders are often asking “why?” They also encourage their staff to as why &  find the causes of issues or innovate better and more efficient processes. Traditional ones often are resigned to work with the systems and environment as the are and NOT challenge them.

 

Read more about the differences between traditional & collaborative leadership  – Differences between Traditional & Collaborative Leaders

The Leadership Secret that will Help You Super Charge Your Team – How honing your Emotional Intelligence can help you manage and build a team that’s positive and collaborative.

Image from Innocentive

TraditionalvsCollaborative

You’ve got diamonds in the rough, you just have to look for them

Sorry for the long hiatus from my blog life.

Wow, that’s an understatement, at almost 10 months with no writing or sharing.  I hope to be more attentive to this blog in the near future. It’s been too long.

Since I have been fascinated with the idea of the odd man out in corporate culture since I started working there over 15 years ago, I started crafting a story/presentation on the value of “Outliers & Misfits” within a corporate setting.

If you’re to summarize the message in three lines it would be this:

  • If you’re a CEO, manager, or leader, learn how to appreciate the value that these outliers can bring to your company or organization. Learn how to engage or entertain alternative perspectives.
  • Understand that their misfit energy & ideas should be channeled according to your business goals, and learn how to do so.
  • If you’re an outlier or misfit, then learn how to communicate clearly so that your ideas align with organization goals. And don’t forget to find a champion.

 

 

Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK - you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information - no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

What Does the Ideal Virtual Workforce Look Like?

I was talking to my manager the other day about writing some sort of article that highlights the skills and talent needed to manage a virtual team. Last year I was able to briefly describe the ideal virtual employee. I decided to come up with characteristics for both virtual managers and virtual employees.  This is what I came up with so far… I’m still working on it.

Ideal Virtual Workforce

Click on the image to view the full sized mind map

I based the qualities and behaviors of managers on several of the managers I’ve had in the past whom I felt to be highly effective. In a nutshell, I really liked/like working for these people and I’d pick up another job with them in a heartbeat if it was available.

Honestly, I feel that the first thing an effective manager of a virtual team does is hire ‘the right people.’  In a sense, half the chore of managing a team is done once they’ve hired the correct type of person. This isn’t easy, because good employees are often hard to come by, and I speak from my own experience on hiring panels in a corporate workplace. Often interviewees have been coached to “talk the talk,” and a hiring manager needs to be able to see through this. A good virtual manager will probe employees to see if they can truly demonstrate the qualities and behaviors of the “ideal virtual employee.”  Moreover, a virtual manager will request and thoroughly review a portfolio of the prospective hiree’s past work before the actual interview. They will aslo ask pointed questions about how the interviewee accomplished or made these portfolio items.

To be honest, when I enter an interview, I actually look for the behaviors I described above in the hiring manager.  I want to know that the person who’s leading me is capable of managing me and the whole team effectively. There’s nothing worse that being hired into an extremely dysfunctional team. I’ve often thought of scripting scenarios that take the best moments from interviews I’ve had with managers.  I’ve even thought of taking the best coaching moments I’ve experienced and sharing them.  So many of us have in the past worked for or currently work with poor managers, sometimes It’s good to know that there are good ones out there. While the economy is bad right now and many people might be willing to put up with working in a dysfunctional workplace, it’s still important to hire good managers (virtual or not) who encourage productive innovation. Innovation and the ability to change and adapt readily is what helps companies survive in succeed in trying times.

Addendum… thanks to Twitter, I’ve found a number of interesting articles on virtual workers:


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