August 4, 2011
I’ve recently been taking part in a really interesting thread on LinkedIn about visionary leaders. The question is “Is visionary leadership teachable? Can you teach a leader how to see the bigger picture?” I bang on about how everything is learnable, everyone is teachable…blah, blah, blah. I do actually believe this is absolutely true. In my time, I have worked with senior executives, factory workers, the learning disabled, adolescents, traumatised people, mandated clients sent to me from the criminal justice system…. even engineers for goodness sakes, you name it. I’ve seen it happen. People learn. Oh, yes they do. People change. Indeed they do; sometimes in spite of themselves.
….there will always be factors which impinge on each individual leader’s ability to integrate this learning into their being. There will also be many ‘life’ factors which determine how easily a particular individual will learn and how adept a particular individual is at applying what they learn.
I’ll add that the ability to see a ‘bigger picture’ or to be ‘visionary’ is but one of many leader-capabilities that are required for a leader to excel. These include capabilities such as knowing the self, managing relationships, loving and valuing people, managing time and resources, inspiring and motivating people, coaching and mentoring. There are many, many fine leaders who possess many, many of these capabilities in spades; and watching them in action, and watching them make it look so easy, it would be easy to conclude that they were just born this way. All of these capabilities work in tandem with each other, because we humans are systems of interconnected roles within ourselves. That notwithstanding and even though it’s rather artificial, let’s, for argument’s sake, isolate this thing of being a ‘visionary leader’.
What does it mean to be one of these things? I quite like this description: “The visionary is both the “keeper of the flame” capable of holding focus through the entire creative process and one who can either lead the organization through the unknown to manifest the desired visions and/or create the space for creative spirit of members of the organization to freely unfold to manifest the desired vision.” (RYUC) I also like this link because it lays out some of the characteristics of a visionary leader: possesses a deep sense of personal purpose, strong social presence and superb communication skills, sensitivity to others, willingness to take risks. Wow.
While none of these things is innate, the experiences and relationships we have from the day we are born immediately begin to impact on us and serve as the classroom in which we learn these capabilities. It would be easy to conclude, when observing one of these excellent-leaders-who-make-it-look-so-easy that they were born that way. They were not. They learnt it.
If we take one of those characteristics of a visionary leader, let’s take strong social presence, there will be a difference between those who grew up in a family where they were applauded for being social and those who grew up in a family in which they were admonished when they spoke out. The latter may go on to learn what it takes to be socially skilled, perhaps via other life experiences and relationships or reading self-help books or going on a course, but they will speak it as if it was a second language.
I see a parallel with learning a language. Many, many moons ago, I used to teach a programme called “English for Teachers”. It was for teachers of English who wanted to extend their own knowledge and grasp of the language. They were all non-native speakers, though you would have struggled to tell with some of these folks; they even had an English accent. None of these people were raised speaking English, however they had developed a very high level of proficiency to the point that they were able to teach it to their own students back in their home countries extremely effectively. Some of them would even try to correct my English and therein lies a key difference: consciousness. Because they had to be more conscious about their use of this skill than I did, they were more awake to its use than I, as a native speaker, was. We natives can sometimes be a little lazy with our language, but it’s ours. It is so well integrated into our very core that we don’t have to be so conscious of how we use it as often as a non-native does. Same can go for leadership capabilities.
Some leaders will be blessed by having already been to the classroom of life that has taught them a whole bunch of useful capabilities. Others will have been severely deprived of such opportunities and have to work really hard to learn them. I suspect that most will have gathered a fair amount of these skills already and just need to add some in. This last one is what I usually find. We most often work with people who are already good at the ‘achieving’, who can already master relationships, who are good at motivating others, but who are seeking to develop, say, more of that big picture thinking.
With effort and attention (both acts of will), they succeed. They become fluent over time. To paraphrase the TV ad, “It happens, but it doesn’t happen overnight.” And eventually, I suspect, they will even develop the accent so that nobody will know the difference.
July 29, 2011
There is plenty written about staff retention which tells us that financial incentives alone do not prevent people leaving. High up there on the list of retention factors is purposeful professional development which not only adds to people’s skills sets, both hard AND soft, but also assists people to feel that their work is meaningful and part of something bigger. I would add that people want to feel engaged in a job which affords them the opportunity to grow as a human being, not just to learn some things they can add to their work-based skill set.
It is also well known that the costs of losing people who aren’t quite right can be high, in terms of recruiting replacements, loss of ‘company memory’ and lost production time while getting the new people up to speed. In other words, it is important to develop what you’ve got.
The distaste for the term notwithstanding, it is the so-called ‘soft skills’ of your people which will assist them to put their technical skills into good practice. Poorly developed ‘social smarts’ can get in the way of high performance at work. There was even a survey in 2009 that showed that 85% of high-performing companies identified the soft skills that were essential to improved performance. What I am talking about are such things as empathy, ability to see a bigger picture, conflict resolution, genuine team playing and self-awareness. What’s more, the further up the ‘food chain’ someone is, the more the lack of these soft skills is felt by the business, hence the need to provide opportunities for staff to grow themselves. Once identified, how do you develop such skills?
There are lots of good professional development seminars or presentations providing essential ‘content’ orientated towards ‘soft skills’. This is the ‘what’. You learn about competencies (or soft skills, or whatever term you find most palatable). You learn about emotional intelligence, for example-what it is, where it comes from perhaps, maybe even the ’10 top tips’. But this is like learning about skiing from a powerpoint presentation or a book, rather than learning how to ski…you know, on the slopes?….falling down now and then?….feeling what it feels like to turn gracefully?
The training euphoria that people often experience following many training events tends to wear off rather quickly. At times, any initial behaviour or attitude shifts vanish quickly, and it seems that people are more or less back where they started. The ‘how’ to make the learning stick just hasn’t happened, which leads to the high level of cynicism about ‘soft skills’ training. According to Goleman et al (1998), “In order to reprogram neural circuits connecting the amygdala and neocortex, people need to actually engage in the desired pattern of thought, feeling, and action. A lecture is fine for increasing understanding of emotional intelligence, but experiential methods usually are necessary for real behaviour change.”
The secret is in how you deliver the learning. Goleman’s exhortation to use experiential methods applies here. Use of action methods, such as concretisation, sociodrama and role training is proving to be highly efficient and effective in producing real, lasting and immediate shifts in workplace attitude and behaviour. Such methods engage the whole person in learning: their thinking, their feeling and their behaving. Such methods also facilitate the integration of new learning into the being of the person. Also inherent in such methods, when carried out sensitively, is a dove-tailing of the learning with the person’s own value system. Result: people being authentic and true to themselves while exhibiting behaviours and attitudes which are in line with wider organisational needs.
In the current climate, when businesses are becoming increasingly more careful of how they spend their L&D budgets, it is vital that any investments are well targeted and get best results. This means businesses need to look at both what is getting taught, as well as how this is done with real and lasting impact on people’s performance.
June 28, 2011
Imagine this if you can….
- Your managers have the flexibility and deftness of thought and action required to finesse your organisation through the current challenges affecting the economic and environmental climate.
- Your organisation is awash with managers who set good examples to their staff.
- Your workplace is full of employees who enthusiastically put ‘all hands to the pump’ such that staff surveys show increases in loyalty and engagement.
- Your organisation manages and dizzying pace of change by continuing to inspire all employees to get involved in problem-solving and innovation.
How is all this possible?
Chaos Theory can give us a little insight as to how…
The global economic and financial systems are just that – systems. Chaos Theory studies systems and patterns that affect systems from a very big picture perspective. It tells us that all systems have a purpose and parameters within which they work, and work well. Changes can occur, and so long as they stay within the parameters, the system will equilibrate, learn and carry on, more or less as it was before. However, when the forces that impact on and within a system go beyond those parameters it will collapse, cascading into chaos and unpredictability which is often perceived as crisis. Sound familiar?
Once the chaos has been entered there is only one thing for certain. That is, that nothing will ever be the same again. Suddenly, what springs to my mind are a lot of our dinosaur politicians and business leaders talking about getting back to ‘business as usual’, but I feel that they are mistaken. There is no going back, and ‘business as usual’ now looks like something entirely different than it did pre-2008/Lehman/Greek debt crisis/sub-prime mortgages. Something NEW is emerging, it always does; but we cannot predict what that might be. Businesses that seek to ride out the storm until they can resume ‘business as usual’ will miss the boat! Businesses that are able to respond, adapt and keep transforming are the ones that will come though the chaos and emerge into the new system READY AND ABLE. These are businesses that are able to LEARN.
Thus it is suicidal in times of budget constraints, roller-coaster share values and erratic profits (along with the chronic skills shortage that some surveys still indicate) to cut investment in people. Yet in times such as these, the first thing a lot of organisations cut is spending in learning and development…..as if L&D spending was discretionary!
In late 2008, just as the global financial house of cards began to tumble, the UK’s top business leaders took out a full-page ad in the UK Sunday Times making a call for organisations to keep investing in people, especially during difficult economic times. These people understood what was required.
It is not a matter of a quick fix. Indeed, in the realm of leadership development there is no such thing. To quote Dr. Lester Levy, Adjunct Professor of Leadership at the University of Auckland’s Business School, people “should throw away the clock and put up the calendar, as the longer the development process is, the more enduring and sustained its impact will be.” We must dispense with the idea that the old ‘training model’ works for leadership development. A half-day seminar will just not cut it. The time is NOW to undertake a process of real development where reflection and longer-term experiential learning are the keys. Dr. Levy’s 2007 “More Right than Real” leadership survey indicates that “the NZ leader is unlikely to encourage and acknowledge differing points of view, has low self-awareness and is resistant to change.” Hardly traits which will help an organisation navigate its way into the new economy!
So NOW is the time to invest in your leaders!
I have written before on the difference between transactional and transformational learning processes, and now more than ever is the time to be looking for transformation; and this starts from within. Much has been written and researched about the link between successful leaders and high levels of EQ. Little in the current range of management education options really confronts and transforms the core issues related to leadership development: growing self-awareness, growing the ability to moderate and regulate emotional responses, growing the ability to stand in others’ shoes, growing the ability to motivate, inspire and coach. What is required is something fresh, something which gets to the guts of what is to be developed. It’s not a warm and fuzzy sort of training event that is needed, but a rigorous programme of self-examination which stretches people beyond their comfort zones and guides them to develop new abilities for a new era. (…and yes, I have some idea what that might look like, if I’m allowed a little self-promotion)
If you are looking to develop your leaders, it is not always wisest to go for the tired old options of years gone by. Remember: old minds think, ‘If it didn’t work last year, let’s do more of it this year,’ while new minds think, ‘If it didn’t work last year, let’s try something different’. If you are looking to develop your leaders, go for the innovative, not the remedial. And if you are looking to develop your leaders, do it NOW. In times when organisations need new solutions to old problems or really effective solutions to new problems, the answer is to invest in your talent; invest in your leaders…..and do it NOW.
May 23, 2011
Most of us have had moments in our working lives when we don’t live up to our own expectations.
*Think of the manager who is unnecessarily harsh in a performance appraisal when she intended to be encouraging and motivating.
*Think of how we prematurely reject new ideas from others when we intend to be inclusive and open to creativity.
*Think of how we escalate a conflict situation with a co-worker when we intend to reach resolution.
As Homer Simpson would say…. DOH! We take ourselves by surprise……and when we go away and reflect on our behaviour, we wish the floor would open up and swallow us or there was a rock to crawl under. For some time afterwards, we cringe whenever we think of it and berate ourselves saying, “What was I thinking? I can do better than that!” We certainly don’t entertain the possibility that there was anything good in what we did.
And yet, even in those very worst of working moments there is the seed of something good, if we take the time to find it. No matter how small: an intention; a positive attitude; a good opening line; a calm demeanour; there will be something that we already do well, and that we can build on as we learn how to get the whole performance we are looking for. I know what you are thinking: “What a bunch of new age, PC nonsense! It’s this sort of thinking that is sending the economy to the dogs!”
However, to fail to recognise strengths is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is demoralising, demotivating and just plain false to think we have to start right from the beginning again. As Dr. Max Clayton states, “…there tends to be an over-emphasis on the inadequacies of people….When people become aware of what is (good) in their functioning,…problematic areas of their life become easier to manage.”
Learning how to shift a behaviour or attitude in ourselves, therefore, is most effectively done using a strengths-based learning approach. A strengths–based approach to learning is simply one that builds on what you already can do: your current talents and capabilities are the spring board that takes you from good to great. Common sense you might say, and yet really, how common is it?
So why not focus on what is working, rather than on what is not?
At Quantum Shift, a strengths-based approach is inherent in the methodology we use. At the heart of the method is the premise that each of us has within us the role of the creative genius; the seed or potential to respond creatively and appropriately to any situation we experience. As we grow up, we use our creative genius to work out how we will respond to the challenges life brings and we develop a whole range or repertoire of other roles in support; and we continue to do this until the day we die. Our ability to respond well across many contexts and situations is dependent on the roles we have at our disposal; and because we develop our role repertoire directly by experience, this means every experience is a learning opportunity, a chance to grow our role repertoire.
Below is a simple method you can use to help you learn and build on the strengths you have already developed. This exercise is always easier if you can enlist someone to help you out. Bring to mind a recent interaction or conversation with another person at work, where you would like to have done it differently (or better). Re-enact this specific incident or moment with your ‘helper’, so they get to see and experience what occurred even if it is only from your perspective. Remember it is YOUR performance that is at the heart of matter, so what YOU did is the key to the situation.
FIRSTLY, ask the question: What did I do well? It is all too easy to go to what you did badly, but it is essential to start with what went well. This is where the other person is invaluable as they are more dispassionate and therefore more likely to see the good as well as the bad. List everything you can observe, no matter how small; you are building your self-awareness as you do this.
SECONDLY, ask: What did I do too much of? Sometimes we do things so well that they become habitual or overly comfortable default settings, and we over-use them, at the expense of other things that might get us the outcome we are looking for. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ in what we did, but we over-used it to the point that it got in the way of an ideal outcome.
THIRDLY, ask: What could I have done more of? What other things could I also have done in this moment that would have got the outcome I wanted? What resource within myself did I under-use?
Making this analysis is vital in order to develop a new behaviour or attitude. Reflecting in this way allows us to free up our creative genius and grow something new from what we already have and who we already are.
December 7, 2010
So you are thinking about investing in your people. Of course you are…. you maintain your plant and machinery, you maintain your office spaces, you maintain your computers….so naturally you want to invest in ‘maintaining’ your people.
So what kind of programme do you invest in? The ‘sticky’ one, of course. That is, the one which ‘sticks’ with people. The one which, when people get back to work, has stuck with them so they put their new learning into practice. Right?
So how do you know which programmes are the ‘sticky’ ones? I say it depends on the thing you are trying to develop.
The tried and true training paradigm of ‘knowledge transfer’ and the training processes used to effect this transfer have some use, but it’s limited. This style of learning is more transactional, the transaction being: you sit there and pay attention and I’ll repay that attention with some useful knowledge. However, the needs of the modern worker and modern organisation have changed. While this transaction is still useful for some kinds of learning content, if you want to develop communication, teamwork, greater customer focus or leader capability, the ‘sticky’ programme is most often not the one that is laden with information; it’s usually the one that is more about the people than the information.
Furthermore, people want to participate in learning experiences which grow them as human beings, and organisations need people who have honed the kind of capabilities the 21st century world of work actually needs; capabilities such as empathy, courage, increased self awareness, and greater ability to communicate and say challenging things to their peers, their staff and their bosses.
The new paradigm is also one that stops looking at the training budget as something that should solely serve the organisation or deliver a quantifiable return on investment. You know that if you spend money on an MYOB training course, you have got a return on your investment if the accounts folk use it effectively and productivity in the accounts department increases. How, though, can you quantify increased empathy skills? Yet you know in your heart, in your mind, in your gut that when your customer service staff have greater empathy, they go the extra mile for dissatisfied customers and stop them from moving over to your competition. You know that when your team leaders can have more robust performance conversations with their teams, morale increases, productivity increases, turnover declines. I’m constantly reminded of the quote that Einstein allegedly had on his wall: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” We are in an age where this is deliciously applicable. Yes, we do need to know that investment in developing people gives a return to the organisation, but let’s expand our minds and our ideas of how we ‘measure’ this added value.
In order to develop these things, a new paradigm of learning and development needs to take hold. People need to be able to participate in learning programmes which are directly relevant to them and which grow them as a person. Transformational methods, those which Phill Boas of the Melbourne Business School calls ‘high intensity relational processes’, and those which we apply in our work at Quantum Shift, are just the ticket. These are processes which are sometimes confronting and which “truly stretch people outside their comfort zones to really review their own style, values and preferences and those of others. It’s not always warm and fuzzy. But that is the reality of work and working relationships”. We can get a picture of the two approaches in this table:
TRANSACTIONAL LEARNING APPROACHES
TRANSFORMATIONAL LEARNING APPROACHES
One-off training events
Learning over time, with follow-up
‘Chalk and talk’ transfer of information
Experiential and interactive
Orientated to learning as a process
Involves feelings and relationships
Methodical, step-by-step, logical-sequential
Divergent and unpredictable
Behavioural and attitudinal
What to do
How to do it
November 9, 2010
>I’ve been party to many conversations about behaviour and attitude change in the workplace. This is because I’m in a line of work which not only advocates for it, but sets out to catalyse it. There are a couple very important questions that deserve some consideration, however, and they are: Is behaviour change necessarily a good thing and who determines what that change should be?
I can instantly think of cases where behaviour and attitude change is absolutely necessary and where the person in question would be given little choice about the changes to be made, for example, cases of workplace bullying or discrimination. Human social groups always have and always will expect a standard of behaviour that they enforce. This is not to say the person at the receiving end of any intervention will necessarily change, but in cases I’ve dealt with, they are left in no doubt that neither their attitude nor their behaviour is acceptable and that change is conditional to remaining part of that workplace.
However, in the area of professional development, it requires an act of will on the part if the person to change. It is arrogant for anyone, be that the CEO, the HR Manager, the project manager or the consultant, to assume that you can make someone change just because you want them to, or you re-write the company manuals or you change systems and processes. People are not weak-willed and do not take kindly to being treated like puppets. People also want to be the chief agents in their own lives, both at home and at work.
If a change is called for, what is required is a good, solid ‘warm up’. This means you make a good case for change, field people’s questions and anxieties, treat them with respect and allow them to engage their will. Shifts in workplace culture, enhancements to systems and processes or the successful introduction of innovative ways of working will only really embed when people have taken these things into their hearts and minds. We can, of course, enforce these kinds of changes and just tell them what to do, however what we get are compliant behaviours with low levels of real engagement, workplace dissatisfaction and disharmony and the lower productivity that ensues (until they leave, that is).
So applying ‘warm up’ when seeking a change at work will create the fertile conditions for people to learn and change. Sometimes, that is only the first step and there is further work to be done. We have all been in situations where we really wanted to do something, we were excited about doing something new, we knew what we had to do…..but we just didn’t know how. When our internal wiring stops us from enacting a change we actually want, the use of human technologies which aid people to ‘re-wire’ themselves can be invaluable. Technologies such as role training or sociodrama can assist us, with our will fully engaged, to become the person we want to be.
August 17, 2010
>The Centre for Creative Leadership are renowned experts in the research around leaders and how they get ‘derailed’. According to their research, a key factor behind executive derailment is deficit in the area of emotional intelligence. This presents a unique challenge because quite a lot of what we bring to the workplace in the way of our emotional intelligence is pretty much ‘hard-wired’ into our brain by the time we enter the workforce. This hard-wiring dictates how we respond to others in our world: are they friend or foe?
Our limbic system, where our emotional fuse box sits, acts irrationally, much like a house alarm. If you forget to disarm your house alarm when you get home, it will go off; it doesn’t recognise you, it has only received a signal that there is danger. Similarly, when we get to a position of managing or leading people, we often have hard-wired responses to them that are beyond our intellectual control. That’s the evolutionary point of the limbic system though. We have been hard-wired to react to potentially dangerous people or situations through our early life experiences. So if you grew up in a household where arguments led to someone getting hurt, you are likely to experience a little anxiety or tension as an adult when conflicts arise at work. You want it to stop, you know intellectually that you won’t actually get hurt, but you can’t help your palms getting sweaty or your heart beating more quickly…..yes, that’s why we often find ourselves taking up roles in our workplaces that mirror the roles we took up in our families of origin.
In order for us to ‘re-wire’ our emotional responses, it can be incredibly beneficial to participate in ‘state-dependent’ learning processes: those which, in a titrated and contained manner, recreate the situations to which we wish to have new emotional reponses, so that new neural connections can be made. We also require the opportunity to integrate these new experiences into our consciousness, so that we can have greater freedom to respond, and not simply react from a default setting.