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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.

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