Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leadership For Kids Provides Lessons For Adults

Gary shares three key lessons from his work with children that adults
could do well to understand. The three lessons are:
1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices




Over the years I have had the good fortune to have been asked to provide some leadership development sessions for children. I usually work with adults and many of those adults are highly educated so we often go into quite complex areas when we facilitate leadership programs. Working with children therefore poses a considerable challenge. How do we distil quite complex information into an easily understood format for children?

The answer lies in having the capacity to understand leadership in such a way that it can be focussed into some simple concepts. Through some trial and error I have discovered some concepts that seem to work, with interesting feedback from the adults who have witnessed the programs.

Three key concepts have emerged as being the ones that children seem to be able to embrace:

1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices


1) Everyone is a leader
Over time I have found some interesting trends when working with children. When I have asked them to raise their hands if they believe that they are a leader or could be one in the future, virtually all the children raise their hand. When I then ask them, "Who are leaders?" they unanimously respond, "We are!".

What response do you think that I usually hear from adults?

Very few adults raise their hand to indicate that they think that they are a leader.

For children, the concept that everyone is a leader and they have to lead themselves seems relatively natural, yet for adults it seems (for many) quite foreign. When we facilitate leadership education for adults one of our key themes is that you can't lead others if you can't lead yourself. My experience has taught me that children understand this idea, so we adults have a responsibility to continue to help them understand this concept by re-enforcing that they are, in fact leaders. To do this, find them making positive choices and recognise them for it. The importance of choices is explained in the second lesson below.

2)Leadership for Kids.pdf The Figure 8 of Leadership
The attached file Leadership for Kids includes a diagram outlining the Figure 8 of Leadership.

While my experience with adults is that it takes them a while to comprehend that leadership can be for bad reasons (equalling poor leadership) just as it can be for good reasons (equalling good leadership), children seem to understand this concept quite easily. This raises the important issue of self leadership, which feeds off the first concept above, that we are all leaders.

In simple terms self-leadership starts with choices. Some choices are good choices and lead to good behaviour, while other choices are poor choices and lead to poor behaviour. The good choices represent good leadership, and the poor choices represent poor leadership. On many levels this is quite simple. And it is! Children seem to understand it and can easily provide many examples of good choices and poor choices which result in good leadership or poor leadership.

The simple power of the model lies in the fact that children have the capacity to start making good choices even if they have made some poor ones. In other words, the start of good leadership is only a choice away. Clearly the reverse is also true; poor leadership is only a choice away as well. I recall a child in one session raising his hand and saying,

"I've been making lots of bad choices at school such as not listening to teachers and picking on other kids. I thought that I was a bad person and I didn't realise that I was a leader. But what you're saying is that I only have to start making good choices and I can be a good leader. I like that idea. I can do that."

None of us are perfect. We will all make poor choices. Overall leadership is dependent upon the balance of our choices. Are they generally on the good half of the model, or the poor half? Over time we can consciously develop positive habits to enhance our good leadership through making good choices. Maybe this leadership stuff isn't so hard after all, which leads to the third and final concept.

3) Being responsible for your choices
Rather than blaming other people or circumstances for our choices, personal responsibility for our choices increases the probability that we will make good choices. Once again children seem to easily understand such a statement. Maybe they see the consequences of their choices more clearly than we adults do because they have so many adults around them monitoring their behaviour. Yet when we become adults often we stop getting that sort of feedback because of many complicated reasons. What if we adults were to actively seek out feedback on the choices that we are making and our resultant behaviours? Maybe such feedback would assist us in better leading ourselves. And we never know, the better we lead ourselves the more likely others may be to follow.

In summary, the key features of Leadership for Kids that may provide some lessons for adults include:
1) We are all leaders;
2) Our choices lie at the heart of effective leadership; and
3) Personal responsibility for our choices will enhance our capacity to lead ourselves and others.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Discover How To Prepare Powerful Questions

Preparing powerful questions can be one of the most important practices that a leader can include in their repertoire of leadership skills. Powerful questions have the following four characteristics:
- They are genuine, meaning that we are open to whatever answers are provided
- They are thought provoking
- They invite another’s contribution
- They act as a call to create

It is relatively easy to identify whether or not a powerful question has been used because the five outcomes from powerful questions include:
- New thinking
- New solutions
- New partnerships
- New products and services
- Action that would not have otherwise occurred

On the surface creating powerful questions may seem easy. My experience has taught me otherwise. Just like any skill, the ability to develop powerful questions takes time and effort. In programs where we teach people about the importance of developing their questioning skills, the participants often experience difficulty in generating questions. People often say, “I’m really good at answering questions, I’m just not very good at creating them!”

We encourage people to adopt a practice whereby any meeting that you are about to attend, you spend some time thinking about the types of questions that you could consider asking. When adopting this practice there are at least two levels of questions that should be considered. These are the ‘Big Picture’ or strategic questions, and the second level is the action or event level questions. Most people have a tendency toward the action questions which often create a cycle of problems, questions and actions that may not be connected with the strategic possibilities that may exist.

Developing your questioning skills will enable your to develop the capability to catalyse and conduct more Conversations That Matter®.

For example I recently conducted a program where a team of participants were helping another participant (Dan) to prepare a list of powerful questions for a meeting that he was about to conduct with a team member Judith, the following week. Dan was an experienced manager and had authorised leave for Judith who had been with the organisation for about four months and had just completed a training program for her role. Judith had proven herself to be highly competent in her short time with the organisation. Two other staff were to share Judith’s duties while she was on leave. Dan had asked Judith if she was happy to train the two people to do her work and she had agreed to do so.

Dan was happy that he’d been able to allow Judith to go on leave and was pleased that two other staff had been trained to do her work. However, on the first day that Judith was on leave he discovered that while the two staff had been ‘shown’ what to do, neither of them had actually been given the opportunity to ‘do’ the work in their ‘training’ and therefore had little idea about how to do Judith’s work.

As a participant in our program Dan was preparing his list of questions with the help of the rest of the participants in his group. Initially, the questions that the group generated included:
o Did you know that the two staff didn’t really know what to do when you were on leave?
o What did you expect would happen on the first day of your leave?
o Why didn’t you train them properly?

To me, these questions were very much at the action/event level because they are focused on the detail that is ‘right in front of our eyes’. In this example it was clear that the staff had not been trained properly because their performance was lower than expected. Action-event level questions are like zooming in on an issue with a video camera. The problem with starting at action-event level questions is that if you are looking at the wrong picture you will zoom in on the wrong details!

Such responses are quite normal from our program participants because, once again, most of us are used to answering questions rather than designing them. When I asked the group how they would have responded to the questions themselves if they had been Judith, the group (including Dan) reported that they would probably feel like they were being attacked. I then asked Dan if Judith was a specialist in the field of training. He said “No.”
Dan had a sudden ‘a-ha’ moment and then said, “...yet I expected Judith to know exactly how to train someone in her job. Just because she could do her job doesn’t mean that she’d be able or competent to train someone else to do it. I have assumed for years that people could train others to do their job. Some people probably can, but not everybody.”

I then asked, “What performance outcome does your organisation desire when staff are ‘back-filled’ while on leave?” This was a strategic question, a ‘Big Picture’ question. “The same level of performance.” was Dan’s answer. “What system has the organisation created to ensure that the performance outcome that you desire will occur?” I continued.

“Well, other than staff training other staff to back-fill them, there really isn’t one. And come to think of it, we regularly have performance issues when staff go on leave, which then leads us to be reluctant to approve leave in the first place.”

Strategic questions enable us to zoom out, to take in the whole picture and to see how the system is contributing to the issue, not just a single individual.

We then focused back on the questions that Dan was preparing for his meeting with Judith. When generating the questions a member of the group then said, “Maybe it isn’t a meeting between Dan and Judith that we should be preparing these questions for. Maybe it is a meeting with between Dan and the rest of the organisation’s leadership team?”.

Dan had another ‘a-ha’ moment. “You’re right! That’s exactly who we should be preparing this list of questions for. My focus was in the wrong spot. It was very easy to blame Judith, but actually those of us leading the organisation need to take responsibility for this issue. Under-performance when people have gone on leave has been a problem for years.”

For the first time Dan’s thinking on this issue had shifted. Nothing more than a shift in focus from creating answers to creating questions and a couple of strategic questions had enabled Dan to think differently.

Finally after generating a list of questions for the Leadership Team (including both Strategic and action-event level questions), Dan was asked by another group member what his intentions regarding meeting with Judith would be. He answered, “I’ll ask her about her holiday and fill her in about what’s been going on while she was away. I’m not going to focus on the training, not yet, anyway. I was blaming her but it wasn’t her fault. It was ‘our’ fault, including mine. When the time is right I’ll seek her input to the new system that we clearly need to create.”

In conclusion I asked Dan and his group how they would feel if they were Judith when she had the ‘new’ conversation that Dan now had planned to have with her. “Great! I’d feel like Dan actually cared about me and was interested in my holiday.”

Think about the different outcomes that the two potential conversations with Judith would most likely create. Which outcome do you think is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation, and which one do you think is more likely to reduce her engagement? Clearly the new conversation that Dan was planning to have with Judith is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation.

Preparing questions before meetings is a very powerful practice to include in your repertoire of leadership behaviours. Remember to prepare some strategic questions, and as soon as possible to introduce them to your conversation. A simple, yet effective action-event level question to be asked after discussing your strategic questions is, “What will we do next?”.

If you are trying this practice for the first time, please let us know how you go. In addition, please share the questions that you used that seemed to be effective in helping the people with whom you are working to shift their focus to a more strategic level.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dee Hock - An example of a Servant Leader

Dee Hock, founding CEO of VISA International was the driving force
behind the creation of one of the most dynamic, complex organisations
of our time. Despite being pragmatic in its pursuit for profit, VISa
is also a highly values based organisation. Dee Hock was a Servant
Leader and his approach is an example to us all.



Dee Hock is one of the most influential people of our time, yet few people are aware of his extra-ordinary influence on creating sustainable organisations through an approach known as Servant Leadership.

Dee Hock was the founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International, an organisation that to this day is regarded as the most profitable business on earth. Yet most people know very little about VISA such as where it is head-quartered, what it's history is, who created it, why it was created and who works for it. To many people's surprise when they do commence their research on this amazing organisation they discover that it was founded upon an interesting paradox. First, VISA International is an organisation grounded in solid values, second it is an organisation that has a pragmatic pursuit of profit. How can two seemingly opposite pursuits co-exist?

One of the ways that these two opposite pursuits can co-exist is through the concept of Servant Leadership. Robert K Greenleaf first penned this concept in 1970 in an essay titled The Servant as Leader. In many ways the deep concept of Servant Leadership is captured by the test that Robert described in his essay. The test is as follows:

"The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Many leaders practice the opposite of Servant Leadership. They see the people who report to them as being truly 'sub-ordinate' (the origin of this word means, "Sub - order") and they believe that their direct reports exist to 'serve' the leader. In contrast Servant Leaders consider that the people who report to them are people who should be served. But service in this context is not about 'doing their job for them'. Rather, it is about creating an environment that enables a leader's direct reports to be the best they can be in their service of the organisation.

Servant Leadership also extends to serving the people to whom you report, serving your key stakeholders, your customers (or clients) and the broader community. So this means that while the formal leader is serving their direct reports, their direct reports are also serving them. Another interesting paradox! In addition Servant Leadership does not have to be limited to people who are in formal leadership roles. Servant Leadership can be practised by anyone, at any time, in any role.

Dee Hock published a book titled The Birth of The Chaordic Age in 1999. In 2005 it was re-published under the title One From Many. The book is exactly the same and both versions are currently available through Amazon and other good book-stores. It is well worth adding this book to your personal library.

For many people the concept of Servant Leadership seems natural yet they are not sure how to practice it. Please share your experiences and/or ask questions to enable us all to extend our understanding of Servant Leadership.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oprah, Black Eyed Peas, Dancers, Questions & Innovation!

Questions are powerful. First they enable the possible to be imagined, and then they enable the imagined to be created.

To illustrate I refer to the amazing Flash Dance Mob that occurred at Oprah's 24th year season opening party in Michigan Avenue, Chicago. As part of the celebration the Black Eyed Peas performed their hit "I Got a Feeling" to the 21,000 strong crowd. Unbeknown to Oprah who was on stage with the Black Eyed Peas, several hundred dancers were strategically placed throughout the crowd. The crowd had been informed that if they wanted to join in the dance then they should simply follow the moves of the people around them. The result was that the majority of the crowd joined in the dance, started by a single dancer strategically placed in front of the stage. If you haven't seen the clip, turn up your volume and watch it now.

It was an amazing spectacle! The beauty of the crowd dancing together was that it embodies action. There is no denying it, the whole crowd took action, danced together and created an amazing spectacle and surprise for Oprah.

So how does something like this dance get created? Quite simply, someone (probably the producer Australian Michael Gracey) asked a question, something like, "What if we could get the whole crowd to dance together?". This question would have sparked the imagination of those people who were involved in the conversation, more questions would have followed and eventually a plan would have been created. At the start of the dance no-one, including Michael Gracey would have known that the dance would actually work. Yet it did work. And it all started with a question.

'"What if" questions are often powerful because they allow people to imagine what might be possible. What if questions often lead to innovation. Unfortunately I can't remember the source, but I once learned that innovation comes from getting something and putting it with something different. In this case, dancers were put together with a crowd and voila, innovation occurred. Questions played a central role in enabling the innovation to be realised.

When was the last time that you asked a powerful question? What happened, what did you create and what something did you put with something different to create something new?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Learn How A Strategic Conversation, Twitter And A Customer Summit Helped Telecom New Zealand

Strategic conversations are conversations that include anywhere from 12 to over 1,000 people. These conversations are designed to enable large groups of people to quickly 'get on the same page'. This can include gaining clarity regarding a desired future, understanding the current situation in the context of the desired future, to then agreeing on the steps to be taken to move forward. New technology including twitter has suddenly and exponentially increased the power and possibilities for strategic conversations.

Recently Dr Andrew O'Brien from Organisations That Matter facilitated a strategic conversation that was hosted by the CEO of Telecom New Zealand as part of their Customer Summit process. Twitter was used to include people from 'outside the room' and proved to be an outstanding success. Our understanding is that this was a world first for this type of conversation.

If you are interested in finding out more about that specific conversation, check out this blog that was posted by a participant.

As a facilitator of strategic conversations is it exciting to see the possibilities that new technology is bringing to 'face to face' communication. The question for you to consider is, 'when do you plan to host a strategic conversation?'.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mentoring in the mould of the Master-Apprentice approach

As a trainer of mentors and facilitator of mentor-mentee relationships I like to keep my eye out for developments and thinking in the field. Over the weekend I had the pleasure to read a newspaper article from a retired professor named Jim Mroczkowski. In his article Jim explains a mentoring relationship that occured after a shift from one university to another. He describes the relationship as being more like a master-apprentice relationship than a modern mentoring relationship and attributes the success of his career to the foundations that he learned during his time as an 'apprentice'. Jim's article is titled Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned and is worth the three minutes that it will take to read the article.

The success of his experience got me thinking. How present are master-apprentice relationships these days? Might there not be some perfect opportunities for such relationships to develop today? Are any of our members currently participating in such relationships and if so, how do they work?

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on these questions and to hear your experiences relating to master-apprentice relationships.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Personal Values Help Us To Navigate Our Way Through Life

Gary Ryan defines personal values and uses examples to help illustrate what they are and how they are used. An activity is included to assist you in identifying your personal values.



This Podcast is also available for download from iTunes.

Michelle Hunt, author of Dream Makers (www.dreammakers.org) describes values as the rudder that we use to navigate our way through the turbulent waters of life. Without our values we have no rudder and simply go wherever the current takes us.

Usually our values become evident when something happens that truly upsets us. Our values are often the opposite to the things that deeply upset us. For example, if someone is telling me lies and I have discovered that I have been told lies, I have a physical reaction to that behaviour. My values of honesty and integrity have been challenged by the person lying to me which results in a strong reaction from me. Similarly, I have a strong work ethic and I struggle with people who seem lazy and then complain that nobody is helping them. In this example, my service value is being challenged.

Jerry Porras in his book Success Built to Last suggests that it doesn't really matter what your values are (unless they would cause deliberate harm to others), what really matters is that you are aware of what they are for you. This is critically important because without a deep understanding of your values you are at risk of behaving in ways that are not congruent with them.

If you are not sure what your values are, try the following activity. You will require a pen and four small pieces of paper.

1) Write what you think might be a core value of yours on each of the four pieces of paper. You can write single words or phrases - whatever works for you. What matters is that you understand what your values mean. It doesn't matter if no-one else understands what you write.

2) Life is challenging and sometimes we have to prioritise our values. Out of the four values that you have written down, which one would you set aside first. Please scrunch up the piece of paper with that value on it and throw it on the floor.

3) Life is even more challenging. Out of the three values that you are yet to set aside, which value would you set aside next? Once again, scrunch up the paper and drop it on the floor.

De-Brief
How did you feel when you had to select the first value to set aside? The second one? Your reactions will tell you something about whether or not what you wrote is more like a core value or not. A strong reaction to the activity more than likely indicates that what you wrote is more like a core value than not.

Now, let's go a step further. If you have discovered some core values, do you ever behave in ways that is far worse than scrunching up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor? Maybe you had honesty and integrity as a value, yet you regularly talk and gossip behind people's backs, then pretend to be nice to them when they are around you.

Once we identify our core values we can use them in our day to day decision making. They help us to do the right thing at the right time. Sometimes our actions, when driven by our values are not popular. That is OK. There are times in our lives when we must take a stand no matter how futile the odds may seem to be. For example, someone may be getting bullied at work and we see it occur. What would our values guide us to do?

I recall as a young manager a service repair man who I had engaged to do a job for me provided me with a bill that seemed higher than it should have been. This contractor had done work for me before and I trusted him so I didn't follow up on my suspicions and paid the bill (which was against our protocols!). A week after the 'job' was completed he returned to my office for what I thought was a friendly visit. He handed me an envelope with several hundred dollars in it. He openly told me that he had over-charged my organisation for the work that he had performed and the money in the envelope was my share of the over-payment. If I agreed to continue to contract him and to approve his work at inflated rates, he would continue to give me envelopes filled with money.

While not enraged by his behaviour I was not far from that type of reaction. I literally threw the envelope back at him and immediately told him that I was reporting him to my boss and that he would never work for our organisation again. He too reacted strongly and threatened my physical well-being at which time I picked up the phone to dial our security personnel. He quickly left our premises, never to return.

I had not gone to work that day expecting such an event to unfold. I had nothing but my values to guide me with regard to how I reacted in the moment when he handed me the money. To this day I am glad that I had the courage to follow my values. At the time I was on a very low wage and three hundred dollars was a lot of money. But there simply wasn't a chance that I would accept it. In telling the story to my boss I also had to admit that I had not followed proper protocols when I had suspected the bill had been inflated in the first place. I was reminded of the reason why our protocols existed and promised to strictly follow them in the future, which I did.

Imagine if I was not clear about my values and I had accepted the money. Imagine the ripple effect over time. I suspect that I wouldn't be writing this blog on this topic, that is for sure!

In another example I recently witnessed some peers provide some feedback to their colleague. While highly skilled, this person was told that she put her own success ahead of the team's success. While difficult to hear, she thanked her peers for their honesty. She realised that what her peers had told her was true and she needed to improve in some areas, while maintaining her outstanding performance based on her technical skills. Her personal value of honesty allowed her to hear the feedback, accept it and then do something about it. Recently her peers have recognised her team first behaviours and her respect amongst her peers has sky-rocketed.

Values do conflict. They conflict on a personal level and they can conflict on an organisational level. I will write another blog about how you manage such situations. The most important issue, however, is to identify your values and to try to live them to the best of your ability. As you consciously use your values to guide your behaviour, you build your capacity to take effective action and are better able to navigate your way through the turbulent waters of life.

Russell Ackoff - Systems Thinker Passes Away Suddenly on October 29th

Professor Russell Ackoff, a prolific student and teacher of Systems Thinking, passed away suddenly on Thursday 29th October as a result of complications arising from hip replacement surgery. He was 90 years old.

If you would like to see some of Professor Ackoff's work, watch his video.

A full obituary can be read from his website.

My own understanding of Systems Thinking was heavily influenced by a video presentation of his titled, "From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking." I have to admit that I only understood half of it when I first watched it, but I was entranced by the different perspective regarding how the world works that Professor Ackoff was presenting. Many years later his teaching has continued to strongly influence my own thinking.

One of my favourite quotes from Professor Ackoff is:

“All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter! If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.” Magnificent!

Professor Russell Ackoff, rest in peace.