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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lessons 5 and 6 from Journey of the Accidental Leader

This is the 4th of several posts this week on my book The Journey of the Accidental Leader (HRD Press 2008).

Basic tenants of The Journey of the Accidental Leader follow:

5. Vision: You must have a vision to make it come true. The basis behind goal theory is that if you have a written or publically professed goal, you are 90% more sure of completing that goal. Simple but strong math to consider. Asking people to write out their dreams and aspirations is a fast way to improve goal attainment and happiness.

6. Culture: Pay attention to corporate culture. We all have experienced corporate culture, even if we could not define it. Culture is the unwritten rules, beliefs, behaviors and customs that are strictly enforced in any organization. This culture is caught, not taught by seeing it in action. Leaders need to know how strong an influence they have on followers. In fact, leaders have a megaphone when they speak and can easily spread emotional contagion…for good or bad.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lessons 3 and 4 from Journey of the Accidental Leader

This is the 3rd of several posts this week on my book The Journey of the Accidental Leader (HRD Press 2008).

Basic tenants of The Journey of the Accidental Leader follow:

3. Trust matters…a LOT. The basis for all human interaction and relationships is trust. Without trust, you can’t get much of any consequence done. With trust, there’s not much you can’t accomplish. Trust speeds up transactions and makes them cheaper. The key elements of trust are a) Good Character (candor, communication, courage, commitment, and consistency); b) Good Sense (Knowledge of Self, Others, your Field of expertise, the ability to learn, and the capacity to teach others); c) Good Will: (Honor Self, Others, the Company, the Community, and the Country). Trust sits at the core of all good relationships.

4. Change isn’t easy. But if you do it right, everyone wins. You know the old saw: The only constant in life is change! Often we hear that “people hate change.” Not so. People don’t hate good change, such as if you gave them a check for $1,000. They hate change that makes them lose something. So, if their job changes and they lose power, they will hate the change. To structure change in an organization, people must see how the change will help them gain something or prevent loss of something.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons from The Journey of the Accidental Leader

This is the 2nd of several posts this week on my book The Journey of the Accidental Leader (HRD Press 2008).

Basic tenants of The Journey of the Accidental Leader follow:

1. Nobody knows what they’re doing until they do it. Most of us think that we’re never ready for a new promotion when it comes, especially when it’s thrust upon us. Truth be told, we adjust, learn and if we listen and respect those around us, we’ll actually thrive, not just survive.

2. You get what you give. Reciprocity is as old as mankind. People have been battering wood for meat since fire was discovered. We give and take favors every day, however slight or unconscious. Raising reciprocity to a conscious level makes more influential leaders of us all. The rule is simple, you get what you give, so give first the exact thing you’d like to get back in return. If it’s respect…give it first. If it’s loyalty, give it first.

Watch this space for the next tenants of The Journey of the Accidental Leader.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Accidental Leaders


This is the first of several posts this week on my book The Journey of the Accidental Leader (HRD Press 2008).

People accidentally fall into leadership every day. Rare are today’s leaders who declared from an early age that they wanted to become leaders. Oftentimes, leadership is created by a circumstance. A person gets promoted, transferred, or unfortunately fired--and you're selected as and interim leader, a position which eventually becomes permanent. Sometimes, you volunteer to lead a team at work and that becomes an independent work unit, and you’re asked to lead it. And, sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time…or the wrong place, depending on your point of view!

Next...an overview of The Journey of the Accidental Leader.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What to do? Anchor Yourself…dig roots.


This is the 5th and FINAL of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.

--Don’t take it personally when people crticize you when you've made a decision or you will begin to lose self worth and confidence. People ARE NOT saying YOU are a dope….they’re saying in YOUR ROLE you (in their eyes) are acting like a dope. Perhaps you’re being too much of a showboat, too tactless, maybe you’ve pushed things too fast and turned up the heat or pace of change way to fast, not established a coalition for the change, embarrassed people, acted too much like a hero and not enough as a humble servant. Your decison may also impact on their world, and they may not like that and will try to find ways to pushback.

--However, pushback is not always bad. It often means that you’ve struck a nerve that someone else does not like….for some cultural or personal reason.

1. Let’s say you want to change the color of uniforms at a company from black to white. You get tremendous pushback. Some folks call you an “idot” etc. If you take it personally, you may start to reciprocate by pushing back with names yourself. You call them idiots behind their backs or worse in a public setting.

2. Now the war is on. They attack you, undermine you, and do anything to get the heat off them. But what if you get on the balcony--above the fray. Don’t respond emotionally, just say how you regret their name calling…etc. You now analyze who originally asked for or lobbied for the original color…could be your current boss!  He doesn’t want to look stupid, so YOU must find a win-win somehow…or the out-door will get a lot closer and faster than you want.

--Distinguish yourself from the role

1. This is very hard, especially when you’re being attacked. Remember it’s your performance in the role that’s being hit not you….someone is uncomfortable.

2. Don’t take credit. Pass it along. You’ll be glad you did in the end. Too much praise taking can set you up for a fall when the blame is passed around…perhaps unjustly.

--Cultivate factions beyond your own camp.

1. NOBODY can make major organizational change ALONE. You’ll need lots of people in the coalition.

2. DO NOT conspire with those colluding to push against you by making yourself the issue.

3. An Example: Keep the heat on the ISSUE, not you. For example, let’s say that in a sports equipment manufacturing company, the sales quotas are screwed up because the tracking data is inaccurate. People want it fixed and will blame whoever they are directed to pushback on…a kind of scapegoat. However, if you counter attack personally at the “jerks” attacking you, you unwittingly collude with them…by making YOURSELF the issue….not the bad data.

4. In the above case, instead of allowing people to shine a light on you personally….the easy way out….you must shine the light, not on them but on the issue…and never let up on that. In a sense, start a campaign. Be just like Clinton’s oft repeated campaign that defeated George Bush (41) when no one had ever heard of Clinton. His simple slogan was: It’s The Economy!

5. In the above example of the basketball manufacturer…if you’re being personally attacked for a systematic problem, your slogan should be: It’s The BAD INCOMING DATA!

--Have confidant and alies…just know the difference

1. Confidants love you warts and all. They share a deep personal bond with you and tell you when you’re getting too big for your britches…and pump you up when your deflated like a flat tire. They’re clearly focused on you and are not conflicted with cross loyalties. They’re friends, parents, doctors, lawyers…they’re on your side…for good or bad. And they’ll tell you when you’ve got egg on your face or when you look good but can’t see that either. They provide a safe haven to tell your deepest feelings and secrets to.

2. Allies share your values and beliefs but they’re subject to cultural (especially work related) currents. Thus a friend at work can be an ally and help you establish a coalition. They can help you understand the views of others, give you perspective, and political advice. And you’ll need a large number of them to help you ward off the attacks…and even more importantly launch your campaign. They can be colleagues, vendors, clients, stockholder, parent companies, corporate partners, etc…don’t forget to make a long list of who the real stakeholders are.

3. However, Confidants are different from Allies. DON’T confuse them. If you show your deepest fears, anger, and insecurities to subordinates, bosses, even allies—you become VULNERABLE to manipulation. For example, a subordinate may actually use insider info against you because he or she really would like to get promoted into your job! This is not meant to make people paranoid only realistic. Keep you allies close but not as confidants.

4. Also, if you keep your allies close, keep your critics even closer. There’s tendency to not talk to you major critics because it’s uncomfortable. LISTEN to your critics…because that at least let’s you know the arguments pushing back on the issue.

--Seek Sanctuary

1. Stay in shape….work out. Establish a routine to help you through this difficult time.

2. Find places to be comforted: You car with the music on, a friend’s house, you therapist’s office, with your coach..

Finally, understand that leadership is not for wimps. Many day's you may wake up wondering why you ever decided to lead. But when you see the postive change that you can make in a person, a team, and an organization as a leader, I think you'll find the journey well worth the trek.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Leadership Personal Response—Self Preservation

This is the 4th of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.

Managing your hungers/desires:

--The easiest way to get taken out by an organization or a faction is to take out yourself! Play into their unconscious and sometimes conscious trap.

--Don’t forget that this is a courageous battle. You need to take care of yourself physically (stay in shape), mentally (have confidants and allies), spiritually (believe in what your doing and something above yourself) and intellectually (rationally see what’s going on—get on the balcony).

Watch out for your own desires...we all have needs that can get in the way:

1. Power and Control—power and control are natural. Can be from up bringing, your work experience, this particular working issue (chaotic and demanding you take control).

2. Taking charge to quickly and with too much gusto can create a counter pressure from the organization that gets thrown into disequilibrium.

3. Be careful NOT to be the white knight heroically coming in to save the day…you can get too carried away with the rush of recognition and thrill of saving the day. People and organizations give you power to service them…if you over-reach too quickly and take too much delight in being in the spotlight…the organization can take away your power…it’s derived from the group…not you!!

--Affirmation and importance:

1. We all want to be needed, but be extremely careful of a kind of narcissistic need to be right…and the one who can solve any problem.

2. Believing you can solve anyone’s problems develops an exaggerated need in them to actually seek out problems they can solve.

3. Others begin to not challenge them…and then a problem sneaks up on that leader and undoes them. Avoid grandiosity, which can isolate you from others…and set you up for unreasonable expectations and a downturn.

4. It’s OK to tackle tough organizational questions (especially when you build a coalition to help you fight the ubiquitous status quo, but just don’t be so brash as to think you can take on the world alone—you can’t and you’ll fail.

--Intimacy:

1. We all need and want intimacy. We’re pack animals and tribal by nature.

2. Power is an aphrodisiac…people, both men and women are attracted to it.

3. Both men and women in power can abuse it. Office affairs and overly deep relationships with subordinates can creep up by a leaders need to be wanted and adored. Remember, people are attracted to your power, not usually you. See how many of them are around when you’re

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Leadership Response

This is the 3rd of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.

a. The Balcony vs. the Dance Floor: As adaptive leaders get hit with resistance to adaptive change, the authors suggest alternatively working on the dance floor (tactics) and then moving on to the balcony (strategy). This technique of going from the fray to the front porch allows the leader a chance to get perspective. I liken it more to a football game with the guys in the booth far above the field to give the coach on the field, the benefit of a “balcony” view…they can see patterns of the defense and offence that the coach might not be able to see from the sidelines on the field.

b. How to Take the Temperature: The author’s insights here are brilliant and for me the most critical part of the book (which should be read in its entirety to really understand their brilliance).

--Observe superior authorities for their response to your adaptive change. HERE FIND THE BRILLIANCE OF THIS MODEL: Adaptive/transformative leaders find themselves on the end of a seesaw. They are at one end pushing for real, transformative change—that they were told by superiors to make. The issue or problem (with its supporters, often peers and subordinates and any others who might want to resist change) sits on the other end pushing in a counter direction…at first pushing only for the status quo.

1.But eventually if the leader’s pressure is too much, the issue side puts on more pressure to equalize the system. This requires the superior authority (and the fulcrum) to shift AWAY from the adaptive/transformational leader and TOWARD the issue (peers, subordinates, etc.) in an attempt to balance the seesaw. This movement involves a cooling of support by the superior—who may be calculating the cost to him or herself of the counter pressure on the issue side.

2. This dynamic makes the leader feel abandoned, isolated and betrayed because many times the superior TOLD them to go in and change things. The leader then feels like they’re on a limb with no support. But there are things that can be done on both sides of this seesaw. More later.

--Observe peers and subordinates signal their feelings by their hostility, pulling back, passive aggressiveness (my words not the authors). They will mouth the words but not the support. Ask them how they are and they say “fine” it’s likely they’re anything but fine. Again, true hard change…like a new system of accountability that threatens people’s status quo (bonus, etc.) and you have a real fight on your hands.

1. KEY: Push down the decision making and not may yourself as the leader the issue…but keep the focus on the issue itself by making those responsible for it….in charge of it.

--What Adaptive/transformational Leaders can do.

1. Move between the Balcony and Dance floor Leaders need to experiment with trying new techniques to relive pressure….and then reapply it to get things done, without destroying the process. They also need to step back (balcony) to objectively observe
the effect and dial it up or down. As one of my friends put it: “Bend, don’t break” leadership.

2. Take responsibility for being part of the problem. All leaders have flaws. Identify yours and work at them before they sink the ship. If you’ve been at the job more than a few months…you’re in the fray and need to look coldly into a mirror.

3. Pay close attention to superiors: They often reflect the heat in the organization. If they’re cooling, it’s a strong sign, your approach has caused a disequilibrium that the system is reacting against.

4. Keep supporters close and opposition closer. You need to pay close attention to your critics so that you don’t lose sight of what can be your undoing. May civic leaders fail to keep in touch with those constituencies that oppose them, and then are surprised when statutes they fight for are scuttled because of the work by those very groups.

5. Don’t be a solo act: Leaders are not smart enough or powerful enough to make transformative change alone. You need other people, allies to make things work. Think Survivor Island. You need help to get through the jungle.

5. Model behavior…you have to do what you want others to do. As a parent, you can’t smoke and tell your kids not to. As a leader you can’t tell people to change, if you’re not willing to yourself.

6. Accept losses/casualties: Some people won’t ever be able to make the transition and are poisonous to the team. They will eventually need to be replaced. Sooner than later.

7. Finally, Control the Temperature--turn the heat up and down. The authors call it “orchestrate the conflict.” What is meant is to add pressure when people slip into complacency on the one hand. But on the other, dial back the pressure when people show signs of severe fatigue…insubordination, emotional responses, undermining activity.

As an example of this technique, the authors use the movie, Twelve Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. Twelve men sit on a murder jury. Initially 11 want to find the defendant guilty. Only one, Henry Fonda, votes against. For the rest of the movie you watch Fonda’s character, masterfully turn up and down the heat to get to the issue of reasonable doubt. Fascinating example.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Adaptive Leadership: The Challenge

This is the 2nd of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.

The Leadership Challenge

1. It’s not change that people fear but the loss of something they hold dear like their basic beliefs, values or favorite practices. When you mess with what I want—I feel loss and push back at YOU the leader.

2. Adaptive Change is what I call transformational. It’s like the doctor telling you that you need to lose weight and exercise. You want to take a pill so you can eat like a horse and not look like an elephant. Won’t work. So, you change doctors. Who really loses on that one? Nonetheless that’s at the core of this concept. We don’t like hard change but will opt for the easy solution….a technical one: A pill--surface change, a sham masquerading as a solution.

3. Push-back: When people are confronted by a leader introducing such tough adaptive change (to change their ways of doing things), they feel a sense of intense disequilibrium and try to re-balance that feeling by attacking, seducing (intellectually), marginalizing, and diverting leaders of that change.

--Seduction comes from those who support you. They want you to tone it down. Most people love and are drawn by the status quo…what is and not what might be.

--Attacking comes from people who don’t really hate you but hate the role you’re playing which is forcing them to change…which they don’t want to do.

--Marginalizing is another tactic to somehow get an adaptive leader’s voice blunted so it won’t be allowed to be heard. Bosses and subordinates do this through any number of ways, undermining, passive resistance, etc.

--Diverting, like the other push-back techniques is all about taking the adaptive leader off his or her game…out of the picture. Throwing up roadblocks, starting coalitions, and generally tossing rocks in the road to impede progress find their way to the fore.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


This is the first of a series of posts based on my review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ((Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

Of all the books I’ve read and reviewed on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading would be one of the top 10 books I’d recommend to any leader—from first line manager to CEO.
 
Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky serve on the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and have written Leadership on the Line.  The book proposes that leadership—adaptive leadership (transformative leadership) isn’t for sissies. It’s a full-contact sport (art/skill). When you lead people to change, they often have to give up something and experience a loss, such as routine, comfort, values, or beliefs. It’s not easy for those following a leader who demands they focus on the truth—often painful. Rather than face the pain, they try to eliminate that pain: The leader who introduced the pain!

On the other hand, the leader has to know when to apply the heat of change and when to release the pressure valve. People can only take so much disequilibrium. So this book presents what I would call a kind of seesaw approach to good leadership with the leader on one end, the issue (including those who have to deal with it like subordinates, peers, customers, etc.) on the other end…all kept in some sort of balance by the leader’s boss/superior (sometimes the CEO)—who modulates the dynamic change and rebalances the disequilibrium caused by adaptive leadership.

This week, I’ll be making some posts about this important book. NOTE: I have reviewed an article by Heifetz and Linsky in a recent series and will also be reviewing their newest book out this year….that’s how important I believe this stuff to be. KUDOS to Heifetz and Linsky.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Other Articles Worth Reading in the Spring 2009 issue of OnPoint



1. 7 Ways to Fail Big: Lessons from the most inexcusable business failures of the past 25 years (Carol and Mui). These guys studied 750 of the biggest business failures over the last 25 years (many of which could have been avoided). They came out with 7 big findings you might want to explore in depth: The Synergy Mirage, Faulty Financial Engineering, Stubbornly Staying the Course, Puesdo-Adjacencies, Bets on the Wrong Technology, Rushing to Consolidate, Roll-Ups of Almost Any Kind.

2. Reputation and Its Risks (Eccles, Newquist and Schatz). The authors set up the value in considering reputation management as a discipline in any company early on the article when they tell us that 70-80% of market value comes from brand equity, intellectual capital and goodwill! Thus, reputation is jugular! See the detail by reading the entire article that speaks about how to 1) Assess current reputation with stakeholders; 2) Evaluate performance in those key categories; 3) Close any gaps that you identify; 4) Monitor changes in stakeholder’s opinions and expectations: 4) Designate one person in charge of reputation management.

LOTS MORE IN THIS QUARTERLY. BUY IT FOR EVERYON ON YOUR SENIOR TEAM AND HAVE AN OFF-SITE RETREAT TO DISCUSS IT.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How Risy is Your Comapny...Last Post

This is part of a long series in a number of postings based on the Spring 2009 Issue of OnPoint (from the Harvard Business Press) dedicated to Risk Management.

Specifically, this particular post is the last of several relating to my review of the article How Risky is Your Company (Robert Simons).


1. Risk Exposure Calculator: Simons offers a simple and powerful calculator to provide risk assessments for successful companies. The clue here is that success may breed success—but it also breeds over-reaching ambition, unbridled confidence and often unbelievable stupidity. So if your successful…read through his calculator that tracks three things: Pressures due to growth, culture and information management.

2. Levers of Control: Simons offers some tactics once you’ve discovered your exposed areas of risks. Those safeguards are 1) Belief Systems (communicating core values); 2) Boundary Systems (off-limit behaviors); 3) Diagnostic Control Systems (monitor critical performance); 4) Interactive Control Systems (stimulate learning).

My Advice: If you’re a successful company read this article immediately before you hit the skids!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How Risky is Your Company

This is part of a long series in a number of postings based on the Spring 2009 Issue of OnPoint (from the Harvard Business Press) dedicated to Risk Management.

Specifically, this particular post is the 1st of several relating to my review of the article How Risky is Your Company (Robert Simons).

Like many, I lived through and suffered through the Dot. Com boom and bust in the late 90’s. I watched young high-flying CEOs and Internet gurus tell us all that there was a new economy…basically that 2 + 2= 785! It was a nutty time. Stock options flowed, IPOs abounded and many smart but very inexperienced folks made quick money. It was like musical chairs—then the music stopped and companies folded like lawn chairs and a lot of investors lost a bundle in money, energy and effort. If they had just talked to Simons, a lot of us would have saved a lot of time and money.

Watch this blog for a series of post on how risky your company is.

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