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Achieving Meaning during Chaos and Hardship

March 8, 2015
Chaos Scientists see chaos as essential for organisms to renew and revitalize themselves. The same is true of organizations. When people go through a very difficult period, they emerge stronger and with a greater sense of purpose. And in the process their personal leadership capacity grows and strengthens.

Margaret Wheatley believes that organizations must learn to work with chaos because it’s a powerful, creative force, one that produces new levels of understanding and personal growth.

Many people experience great difficulty in coping with the uncertainties of rapid organizational change. They feel lost and adrift as their coworkers leave the organization, as technology exerts its tremendous impact on how work is done, and as their own futures are cast in doubt.

But why is it that some people are able to create meaning in their work during organizational chaos while others flounder?

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote that meaning saved many lives in the concentration camps during World War Two. People can withstand tremendous hardships if they search for meaning. One’s attitude towards a situation is the one thing that cannot be taken away. Here are excerpts from Frankl’s book, which illustrate the phases the prisoners went though.

Desert The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others. From personal convictions which will be mentioned later, I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run into the wire.” This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide–touching the electronically charged barbed-wire fence. There was little point in committing suicide, since, for the average inmate, life expectation, calculating objectively and counting all likely chances, was very poor. …The prisoner of Auschwitz, in the first phase of shock, did not fear death. Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days– after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide….

Apathy, the blunting of emotions and the feeling that one could not care anymore, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell.

As time progressed in the concentration camp, Frankl’s insights grew:

The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future–his future– was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. …He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him anymore.

From his experiences in a concentration camp, Frankl came to realize that the individual does have a choice of action, even when faced with what appears to be overwhelming odds. As he states: Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

Guy with Steam from Ears Margaret Wheatley discovered this phenomenon herself during her work with organizations that were experiencing massive change. Some employees realized that the only way they could continue to exist in such an environment was to seek out personal meaning in their work. In other organizations, Wheatley found that the senior leaders went to great lengths to explain to employees the difficulties ahead and why they were occurring.

Being honest and open with these employees helped them through these difficult periods. She explains meaning as being “a point of reference…. As long as we keep purpose in focus in both our organizational and private lives, we are able to wander through the realms of chaos, make decisions about what actions will be consistent without purpose, and emerge with a discernible pattern or shape to our lives.”

People quickly see through superficial attempts by management to get employees on side. They realize at the start or soon afterwards that the purpose is self-centered. When people resist or display apathy, their eyebrows rise. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and as Wheatley asserts: “Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives.”

Reflect on the following wise words:

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.

The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.
John W. Gardner

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Creating Win-Win through Interpersonal Leadership

March 1, 2015
Happy Business Team How often have you felt that you’ve been in a win-lose situation at work, and where you were on the losing end?

Wow, more hands than expected shot up.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, to be blunt, it’s a pretty dumb concept for profit-driven companies to allow managers and leaders to operate in that manner. And if you’re working in the public or not-for-profit sectors, shame on you for even thinking of acting this way.

Whether you’re part of an organization that’s directly or indirectly serving customers or citizens, your focus should–and must–be on creating win-win solutions.

Your correspondent could never figure out during his three decades with the Government of Canada why so many of those in leadership positions, from middle managers to those at the top of the management pyramid, seemed to hold Joe and Sally Taxpayer in contempt.

There will always be games-playing and the race-to-the-top manipulations inherent in any organization, public or private. However, one of the roles of top management is to ensure that ethical behaviors are followed, that ALL employees share in the corporate vision, and that those entrusted with managerial responsibilities strive to focus their staff and teams on the needs and expectations of customers and citizens.

People Slapping HandsOne startling revelation for those in management is that being a manager is in effect an appointment to position. Leadership is a completely different ball of wax. To be a real leader requires you to have earned a followership. Only when you’ve achieved the state where your staff or team share in your values and vision (where you want to take them) can you emphatically claim to be a leader. Otherwise, you’re dictating your demands through employee compliance versus enrolment. Compliance is a tantamount to a managerial function; enrolment is about leadership.

To be a Win-Win leader means that you’ve yielded to the greater force of inter-personal leadership, where you’ve accepted that people as a collective through your shared leadership can accomplish much, much more.

In the process everyone is excited, motivated and self-initiated, sparking them to step up to contribute their ideas.

Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.

John Maxwell

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Leadership and the Responsible Use of Power

February 23, 2015
Shoe Steeping on Man The most effective leaders appear to exhibit a degree of versatility and flexibility that enables them to adapt their behavior to the changing and contradictory demands made on them. (The Leadership Handbook, Ralph Stogdill)

It’s one thing for a leader to recognize the styles she should use with her team to coincide with their unique needs and situations; it’s quite another for a leader to actually apply these styles simultaneously and appropriately. Take a moment to check out this post on situational leadership for additional information.

As well as being able to assess their leadership behavior and its impact on others, leaders must also carefully look at how they maintain and use power. To influence the behavior of others, a leader must first understand the effect that power has on leadership styles. It’s not a matter of how much power a leader has but rather how effectively a leader uses it. While leadership is about the process of influencing people, power can be described as a leader’s influence potential.

Those in positions of influence sometimes have difficulty distinguishing the right and wrong uses of power. In these situations, people view their managers as being control freaks who don’t wish to share power but who in the same breath talk about “empowering” their staff, yet in the end fail to align their words with their actions.

Obey The notion of control in these circumstances is really an illusion. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal in their book Leading with Soul put it this way about sharing power: “It’s seductive because it gives the feeling of power. Something to hold on to. So it becomes addictive. It’s hard to give up even when it’s not working. You can’t start a journey until you let go of habits holding you back.”

In exercising power a leader actually uses two types: positional power and personal power. The former is viewed by some to be derived from a manager’s position (read perceived status) in the organization. Positional power flows down the organization in the form of increased responsibility and delegation. A manager who’s seen by senior management as not being a good leader may have some of her responsibilities removed.

Personal power, on the other hand, is the degree to which employees share in their leader’s vision. This loyalty creates a followership, which is where a leader’s personal power is generated. It’s also important to remember that a leader’s personal power can be removed easily by her followers should she betray the trust she has earned.

Remember this: Management is an appointment to position. Leadership must be earned.

In short, positional power comes from above, reflecting the degree to which a leader is able to reward and discipline her staff. Personal power, conversely, comes from below, founded upon the level of trust between a leader and her people.

Niccolò Machiavelli, in his 16th century treatise The Prince, posed the question: is it better for a leader to be feared or loved by his followers? One could answer that it’s desirable to be both feared and loved. Machiavelli believed, however, that because it’s difficult to unite them in one person, it’s better to be feared than loved. However, he noted that a leader should inspire fear in a manner that avoids hatred because he can sustain his leadership if feared by his followers but not if he’s hated.

Woman Holding Globe Applying this concept to organizations today means that leaders must learn how to distinguish between their roles as supervisor and friend. Leaders must often have to put aside a friendship to gain an employee’s respect in order to help his development and growth over the long-term.

The relationship between achieving personal power (having rejected the pursuit of positional power) and earning the respect of one’s team members, as well as peers, is in effect an intertwined process. Machiavelli’s premise is tantamount to employing positional power as the means to creating respect among one’s so-called followers. But this is an illusion, a house of cards of leadership by fiat.

A case in point is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who while having achieved, however briefly, huge popularity among Russians, is at the time of writing this post imminently on his way down. Putin never earned the respect of Russians, but manipulated, intimidated and lied to them. Putin rules by fear.

Consider these words from Machiavelli, which President Putin may wish to have considered several years ago:
“A prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether good or evil, shall make him change; because if the necessity for this comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures; and mild ones will not help you, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.”

Trust is the glue that holds organizations together. Without trust, an organization will never achieve its potential because its employees are not reaching their full effectiveness. The biggest challenge, therefore, that the individual who wants to become an effective leader faces is practicing transparency of actions and aligning these with one’s words.

This is where reciprocal trust and personal power reside, and where the journey to enrolling others in your vision begins.

Trust is something that happens within people only when it is created between people.

Chip R. Bell

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What Can Situational Leadership Teach Us?

February 15, 2015
Sit Lead 1 Leadership = Influence

Leadership can be viewed as a process of influencing people. That’s no big revelation. However, the challenge arises when a leader wants to motivate her team or assist in their professional development and she must determine which leadership style to use. Ken Blanchard, defined leadership style as “… the pattern of behaviors you use when you are trying to influence the behavior of others as perceived by them.” How you perceive yourself as a leader is one thing; what really counts is how others perceive you.

Both perceptions must coincide if your efforts to lead people are to succeed. For example, a manager whose personal perception is one of being a people person may conflict with how others see her: that of being an impatient and controlling task master.

The key point here is for leaders to develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, in particular their preferred modes of working with others. Understanding yourself is an essential step along the path of becoming a successful leader.

Developing a strong self-awareness will in turn enable a leader to adjust quickly to the necessary leadership style in a given situation. In reality, a leader may use several styles during the course of a day as she interacts with her team on a variety of issues.

situational-leadership-model The Four Leadership Styles

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey were the first to develop a model on situational leadership. Their article Life Cycle Theory of Leadership appeared in Training and Development Journal in 1961. Yes, now going on 54 years ago. Click here for a 1996 article where the two authors revisit their model”. Blanchard later updated the model to what he called the SLII. It’s this revised model that is the focus of this post (as shown in the image above).

Four basic leadership styles reflect different combinations of the traditional supportive and directive approaches to managing people. The four styles are represented on a four quadrant graph. Each style consists of three elements:
1) the degree of direction given by the manager,
2) the degree of support given by the manager,
3) the degree of involvement the employee is given.

Directive behavior is defined as the degree of one-way communication from the manager to the employee. In this case, the manager instructs the employee on his role, how to do his work, when and where to do it, etc. Three words that Blanchard uses to sum up this behavior are structure, control, supervise.

Supportive Behavior is the degree of two-way communication between the manager and the employee. In this instance, the manager actively listens, provides encouragement and includes the employee in decision-making. Three words that can be used here are praise, listen facilitate.

As the leadership styles in the above graph illustrate, a managerial leader operating in a directing (S1) style is using a strong directing behavior, combined with weak supporting behavior. Tight supervision is the norm in this situation.

In contrast, a delegating (S4) style reflects both low support and low directive behaviors. Here, the manager hands off responsibility to the employee, who in turn decides how to accomplish his objectives.

In between these two extremes lie the S2 and S3 styles. In a coaching (S2) style, the manager uses both high directing and supportive behaviors. The manager listens to the employee’s ideas and suggestions but retains control over making decisions. A supporting (S3) style involves low directive behavior combined with high support. Here, the manager listens attentively, offering assistance with problem-solving. However, the employee assumes greater control over decision-making.

There are numerous variables that affect how a leader operates with her people. They include the skill levels, work experience and expectations of the leader’s employees; deadlines; organizational culture (how work is done: teams versus individuals) and conflicting demands.

Sit Lead 2 The Four Developmental Levels

To make his adapted model more dynamic Blanchard uses the concept of development level, which represents the degree of direction, or support, a manager needs to give to her team members. The following four levels connect to lanchard’s four quadrant graph, allowing the manager to determine the appropriate style to use. The four levels represent different combinations of competence and commitment.

D1 is a low level of development, reflecting low competence and high commitment on the employee’s part.

D2 is low to moderate level, in which the employee shows some competence yet low commitment.

D3 us a moderate to high level, representing high competence but variable commitment.

D4 is a high level, indicating both high competence and commitment.

The above graph shows the four development levels beneath the leadership style graph. As the employee’s development increases, his competence rises while commitment fluctuates. This is typical of someone taking on a new job or responsibilities. The employee is initially gung-ho, although lacking all of the necessary skills. His enthusiasm tapes off as he acquires more skill (D2). If the employee receives some assistance (coaching) from his manager, then he’s able to move out of this stage of self-doubt and on to D3 level.

Sit Lead 4 To move the individual beyond D3, at which point there’s still some insecurity, the manager must provide a supporting atmosphere. If this is done properly, the employee can then transcend to level D4 and become a high performer. The key is for the manager to recognize where the employee is in terms of skills, experience, expectations and needs in the context of the task to be done.

For example, an employee may be a high performer, working in a delegating style (S4). However, the manager assigns him a project in an area in which she knows little. The manager must therefore adapt her leadership style to match the employee’s needs. This may mean initially using a directing (S1) style or perhaps a coaching (S2) style.

As the graph illustrates, the four development levels line up with the appropriate leadership style. Blanchard emphasizes that one mustn’t see the development level as a global concept but rather as a task-specific concept. People are at different levels of development, depending on the tasks or projects they’re working on. The interaction between the four leadership styles and development levels is summarized below.

Directing is used for low development: Close supervision, in which the manager is clear on her expectations and monitors the employee’s progress, is the appropriate style to use for someone who’s new to the task to be completed.

Coaching is used for low to moderate development: The manager uses fairly close supervision while employing supportive behavior to build confidence and enthusiasm in the employee.

Supporting is used for moderate to high development: Here, the manager actively uses two-way communication, making a strong effort to “hear” the employee. Both share in making the decisions. The manager’s primary role is one of facilitator.

Delegating is used for high development: While the manager may still identify problem areas for a particular task, the employee is given full responsibility for executing the plan. In short, the employee is running the show.

The goal of the manager-leader is therefore to assist her team’s competence and commitment so that each member is capable of completing their work on their own with as little supervision as possible. The manager who works towards this goal will earn two big dividends:
a) less time supervising and instead spending more time on other important work, such as strategic issues,
b) happier and more productive staff because they now have more control over their work.

Sit lead 3 A Comment on the Model

While this situational leadership model (notably Blanchard’s updating of the original model) has proven useful in the past, the rapid evolution of the workplace over the past decade calls for new thinking on approaches to leadership. The situational leadership model tends to be overly mechanistic and two dimensional. What needs to be integrated into this model is a more three dimensional approach. Organizations, as Margaret Wheatley explains, are organic entities that continually evolve. And it’s not surprising to view organizations in this light because they’re made up of people, each possessing his or her values, beliefs and complex needs and wants.

Nevertheless, older leadership models, such as Blanchard’s and Hersey’s, still provide very useful frameworks for discussion–and indeed exploration– on how to adapt them to today’s organizations. Models provide the much-needed rigor for trying to understand the complexities of leading and managing in a chaotic world. We would be much poorer from a knowledge standpoint without them.

I embrace the unknown because it allows me to see new aspects of myself.

– Deepak Chopra

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Target’s Huge Fall and Exit from Canada: Five Leadership Lessons

February 9, 2015
Wile Coyote There’s no question, or doubt, that reaching the pinnacle of a top leadership job in the corporate world, or the public sector for that matter, is for the most part something of which to be proud. Leading organizations in today’s volatile global economy and geo-political roller coaster of non-stop events is definitely not for the squeamish. It requires personal smarts, intense focus and immense concentration of effort to guide companies and public sector organizations through unrelenting change.

Your correspondent during his three decades with the Government of Canada, working in two provinces and for a variety of federal departments and agencies, experienced some excellent top leadership from deputy ministers (equivalent to deputy secretaries in the United States government). But there were also many mediocre and, in some cases, incompetent top leaders, and not just at the deputy minister level but those at the next two levels down.

Nothing surprising here.

The private sector has its abundant share of incompetents sitting in the corner office on the cloud-grazing suite level. The public sector takes a lot of flak, often unnecessary, from the media and the public. Your correspondent’s view is if you screw up when you’re leading an organization you have only to blame yourself.

Dodge City And that brings us to the focus of this post: Target’s get-out of-Dodge from its disastrous showing in Canada, something that will be studied undoubtedly in Canadian business schools in the future. But first, a little background on Target Corporation.

The company was founded in 1902 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by George Dayton as Goodfellow Dry Goods Company, though he changed Goodfellow to Dayton in 1903. In 1911 he shortened the name to Dayton Company. It wasn’t until 1962 when the company, after seeing the US being part of two world wars and the Great Depression, opened its first Target store in 1962. The company grew steadily during the following decades. In January2015 Target achieved infamy when the media reported that Target has a “Walk of Shame,” where any employee caught stealing is arrested and handcuffed, only to be paraded through the store in front of employees and customers. One employee who was arrested committed suicide, prompting a lawsuit from Target employees.

Next to the juggernaut Walmart, Target is the second largest discount retailer in the US. And it’s not only proved to be very popular with American shoppers but also with Canadian cross-border shoppers, one of Canada’s national extra-curricular activities.

So it was with much consumer excitement and media hyperbole that the arrival of Target to Canada took place in 2013 (though the acquisition process began in 2011). Zellers, a cross-country discount chain owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, shut down as Target assumed its 189 leases. Not all of the locations would be converted to Target stores, and in March 2013 the first converted store opened to much fanfare. Out of the 189 former Zellers stores, Target was to open 133 stores. However, not all of the stores opened (such as a two-level store still undergoing retrofitting in a large mall 10 minutes from your correspondent’s home).

Target Without any advance warning Target announced on January 15, 2015, that it was closing all its stores and exiting Canada, stating that it would not be able to turn a profit until 2021. It declared bankruptcy, and soon after a liquidation sale began in early February, managed by a firm specializing in this field (Alvarez & Marsal). Target employees, some of whom had quit fulltime jobs to work for this American retail giant and many others who had quit parttime jobs, were shocked and dismayed.

In the process 17,000 Canadians lost their jobs. What hasn’t been adequately reported in the media are the hundreds of suppliers who are left holding the bag, futilely waiting for what’s owed them, not to mention the landlords of malls who now have to scramble to find tenants for their large anchor store footprints.

Target Canada lost $2 billion, a whopping sum in such a short period of time. The company expects to write-off $5.4 billion, with the dissolution process costing an anticipated $600 million. And CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who was with the company 35 years, was replaced with an outsider, Brian Cornell.

Cornell assumed the CEO role in December 2014. His first order of business was to tour Target’s stores across Canada without any PR people or aides. He quickly realized, upon seeing near-empty store shelves just prior to Christmas, that Target had a huge problem. In sizing up what it would take for Target to recover and make a profit, taking into account Canada’s slowing economy, Cornell made the decision to shut down its Canadian operations.

Expert Why did Target fail?

If you fall prey to the endless analyses of so-called retail experts and other pseudo experts, you may as well ask, “why is the sky blue?”

But the answer at a corporate strategic level, in contrast to at the tactical, micro level, is not that complicated.

Yes, it’s a valid comment that Canadian shoppers, after years of visiting Target stores in the US, had become accustomed to the product variety, quality and prices available south of the border. However, it’s important to keep in mind that most Canadians had not been to a Target store. What helped inflame the expectations of Target’s arrival to the Great White North was the Canadian media, which went into true hyper-drive in the months leading up to Target’s first store opening. Your correspondent and his wife, both of whom had only been briefly in one Target store in Bangor, Maine, several years ago, never had any great expectation with the company’s arrival in Ottawa where they live. Target, to them, is–was–just another discount chain.

Target’s collapse can be summed up in two words: Arrogance and laziness. Target assumed that its huge success in the US would be easily transferred to Canada. Target didn’t do its homework. Sure, the company had huge distribution problems, leaving store shelves understocked (a major curse in retail). But the company owns the problem of product selection, quality and pricing, and the overriding issue of corporate communication. Target knew full well of the expectations of Canadian consumers and the endless business reporting by Canadian media.

Granted, Canada’s retail sector is a pipsqueak compared to the United States. Canada’s population of 35 million people pales considerably to America’s 315 million, where some US retail regional chains are larger than national chains in Canada. The state of California’s population is 38 million. New York’s metropolitan area is about half of Canada’s population.

And there have been a myriad of other reasons given for Target’s failure in Canada, from the size of retail market (though admittedly with growth potential compared to the over-saturated US market) to Canadian taxes and import duties to unreasonable expectations (read that as naïveté) by Canadian consumers.

Graphs In contrast to the apparent arrogance and laziness of Target’s top leaders, who in short blew their opportunity to make a strong entrance to Canada’s retail landscape, let’s rewind just over 20 years to when another prominent discount retail chain shut down, only to be subsumed by an American behemoth.

Woolco Department Stores was founded in 1962 in Columbus, Ohio, by the F.W. Woolworth Company. Despite the crowded US discount market, Woolco had greater success in Canada, with 160 stores at the time of its dissolution when it was purchased by Walmart Canada in 1994 from the F.W. Woolworth Company (the US Woolco stores were acquired 12 years earlier).

Walmart was dealing with roughly the same number of stores as was Target when both entered Canada. However, Walmart has been hugely successful in Canada. And yes, it also faced certain expectations from Canadian consumers. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the level of positive excitement was not the same as Target, 20 years later, because of Canadians’ on-and-off neurosis about American corporate takeovers.

When Walmart opened its converted Woolco stores two decades ago they were fully stocked and with the promised low prices. Sure, Canadians complained about their money going to an American giant retailer (though Woolco had also been US-owned) and that Walmart was aiming to put its competitors out of business. But that was a certain level of paranoia prevalent among a segment of Canadians.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to leading companies in today’s turbulent marketplace:

– Know your market
– Research it endlessly
– Never presume you have a lock on a segment of it.

The irony left after the detritus from Target’s exit from Canada is that Zellers’ brand will still have a foothold, albeit very small, in the Canadian retail landscape.

Below are five key leadership lessons that will help you, regardless of level in your organization, to adapt to a new context and market:

1) Practice Humility – Admit that you don’t have all the answers.

2) Bring Together your Best People – And be sure to listen to them.

3) Explore Opportunities You Would Usually Ignore – Wearing blinders will undermine your organization’s ability to seize growth opportunities.

4) Partnerships are where it’s at in Today’s Economy – Don’t run away from collaborating with supposed competitors.

5) Be Open to Outcome, Not Attached to it – This will enable your capacity to adapt to unexpected events.

Canada’s retail sector will soldier on without Target. Indeed, it won’t miss a beat. Target has run back to Minnesota with its tail between its legs, leaving thousands of former employees in a plight, not to forget suppliers and mall owners. The company’s insolvency application to the court, in your correspondent’s view, was tantamount to irresponsible leadership and cowardice. But that’s how it rolls in the corporate world.

Live the above five leadership lessons.

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.

Jack Welch

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The New Leadership Challenge: How to Deal with Uncertainty

February 1, 2015
CrystalBall When either thrust or eased into a leadership role, one of the outcomes is the leader being expected to have some, or even all, of the answers to problems facing the work team. As one moves up the organizational hierarchy, employees fully expect senior leaders to be purveyors of the future. And when the organization is going through turbulence, such as when a new competitor enters the market, employee insecurity feeds the need for answers.

This is an unrealistic expectation, especially with the huge number of events, many of which are inter-connected, from plunging commodity prices to terrorism attacks to environmental disasters to geo-political tensions to technological breakthroughs. Those who earn a leadership role, regardless of level, are warm blooded human beings, accompanied by personal insecurities and mental models–our individual set of assumptions about the world we hold.

With that expressed, an emerging double-sided competency that’s essential for any aspiring (including current) leader is the ability to synthesize information and to identify trends. The late Warren Bennis put it this way: “An effective leader sees through the fog of reality to interpret events and to make sense of the blurring and ambiguous complexity.”

Bennis’ comment helps reframe the myth of leaders needing to have the answers for their followers to instead providing clarity on issues. However, to achieve this level of capability in terms of clarity, a leader also needs to understand herself thoroughly and to be centered in how she carries out her leadership responsibilities. Five mind shifts are key to enable a leader to be proficient in dealing with change and the fog accompanying it.

Looking into fog bridge 1) Focus on opportunity, not the problem.
Break off the rearview mirror, which will only keep you glued to what was. Move forward by finding solutions that come from opportunity.

2) Emphasize the long-term, not the short-term.
Yes, tactical decisions are important for the day-today operation of your business or public sector organization. However, failure to position your organization for the long-term will weaken its ability to adapt to unexpected events.

3) View the whole; don’t fixate on one part.
Latching on to one aspect of an issue or problem will cause you to lose sight of the big picture, in turn diminishing your capacity to see opportunities and inter-connected solutions.

4) Learn to be a change adaptor instead of trying to control it.
Attempting to control one’s future is, to be blunt, a fool’s errand. The world is too complex, intertwined and unpredictable for any mortal to try and play that game. Learn to strengthen your adaptability and enjoy riding the wave of change. It’s less stressful and more stimulating.

5) Embrace trust; ditch being a doubter.
This fifth mind shift is very important in today’s volatile economy. Trusting your instincts and your peers and followers will make your job as a leader not only that much easier but you’ll improve your performance. William Halal expressed it beautifully on the need for leaders to put aside the need for control:
“The most unsettling change is that leaders will have to shed their mask of authority to meet people directly, facing all the stinging criticism and outrageous demands that have been suppressed by authority.”

Shedding the illusion of authority by both leaders and followers will force both sides to realize that they must learn to work together–essential in today’s competitive global economy. This means that leaders must encourage open discussions and shared decision-making, including ways to identify issues and resolve conflicts. And above all, leaders must be able to listen if they wish to understand the complex problems they face and the diverse views others hold.

Today, leaders are being called upon to deal with increasingly complex and interrelated problems. In some respects, the expectations being placed upon them are almost unrealistic. Transcending from the traditional approach where a leader was expected to be hardnosed and analytical to people orientation and interpersonal leadership won’t be easy for some in management. Unfortunately, those who resist the juggernaut of change, with the accompanying volatile uncertainty, will be left on the sidelines.

If there is no transformation inside each of us, all the structural change in the world will have no impact on our institution.

Peter Block

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Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate

January 26, 2015
Book Cover 1) Do you hesitate to make decisions and second guess the ones you do make?

2) Do you question your ability to motivate others and to create a team climate?

3) Do you worry that others have more talent than you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, or even seemed unsure, then my newest e-book is for you: Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate

Each of us may put on a brave face at work, but we’re all human beings, each with our unique gifts and warts. To wonder if we have the right stuff to become a leader is perfectly normal and is actually an important part of our personal learning journey.

Learning is an iterative process. We learn in spurts, not at a steady pace. Some days we’re on; other days we’re off. After all we’re people, who on a daily basis face a variety of events: illness, loss of a family member or employment, marriage, trip to a foreign country, college graduation, and the list goes on.

As a consequence, each of us needs to figure out how to interact with the external world while simultaneously trying to manage our personal issues. For example, this could be forming a family while taking on new responsibilities at work.

In my new e-book, I share my own fall-on-the-face experiences as a new manager many years ago. But I was lucky and had a great team who gave me immediate feedback that what I was doing was definitely not cool. Being a new manager is indeed a scary experience.

However, this e-book’s not about me but about YOU: how I can help facilitate YOUR journey to discovery, enlightenment and practice as an effective leader.

To do this, I’ve reached into my 420-plus leadership posts from my website-blog Changing Winds to share 10 popular posts on the theme of inner leadership. Along the way, I’ve included three short leadership profiles. Whether it’s Ryan who as a young boy from rural Ontario helped dig wells in Africa, or Ray Anderson who up to his recent death was seen as the planet’s greenest CEO or the story of the sticky paws, these profiles are intended to inspire and motivate you. As you’re reading, enjoy the photos I’ve included to help spark your reflection.

In the end, it’s up to each of us whether we empower ourselves to embark on the learning journey to find our inner leader. It’s a journey that’s exciting and at times stressful. However, the rewards as you proceed through this process reveal themselves every day.

There’s nothing more powerful you can do to encourage others in their quest for personal mastery than to be serious in your own quest.

– Peter Senge

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan TrailTake a moment to meet Jim.


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