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Friday 30 August 2013

Affective organisational stewardship

I’ve been involved recently in a number of conversations about knowledge management. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is the tensions around

  • capturing information which is fast changing and fluid
  • the best ways of sharing information, or knowledge, usefully
  • being innovative, creative and responsive in a corporate environment where consistency and corporate memory are also valued.

These tensions have led me to think about stewardship; an old fashioned term which points in two directions.

In an organisational setting, stewardship picks up the idea that a steward acts on another’s behalf to use resources wisely. Stewards must be mindful that whatever we have at our disposal is ours to use but does not belong to us. Resources need to be used for the good of the organisation. This is what good managers do. Not for themselves, but for their team, while also ensuring that what their team achieves contributes to the organisation’s objectives.

Stewardship is also about building something so it is better when you leave than when you arrived. This is one thing good leaders do. But again, not for themselves. Although recognition may follow, the best leaders are not primarily motivated by what they gain but by what they create. Fundamentally, people are important. Managers cannot manage without them; leaders who have no followers are delusional!

I’m not suggesting that people are “soft resources” to be used or managed for organisational ends. Far from it, but people working together is how information is generated, shared and used, how innovations occur, how organisations serve their various customers and meet their goals.

In a different context I heard someone comment that we are rightly focused on being effective but that we also need to be affective. To have what we do come from the heart. I’d argue that the quality of our interactions with others and our stewardship will be better if they are affective too.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Follow the leader

The cult of the leader is alive and well. Not just in despotic regimes but in the business section of any good bookstore. So what of the followers?

Most of us will never be CEO, the maths are against us quite apart from other constraints such as talent and luck! We can talk about the importance of leadership at every level and in every role within an organisation. We can proclaim the necessary death of hierarchy, as Shawn Murphy’s recent post on Switch and Shift did. We can bemoan a lack of leadership when we feel we are not being properly represented or appreciated.

Perhaps we are really seeking answers to the question “What is good followership?”

In their recent book 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders Al Gini and Roland Green touch on this with their definition of leadership as “a power-laden, value-based and ethically driven relationship between leaders and followers who share a common vision and accomplish real changes that reflect their mutual purpose and goals.”

Leadership always, and only, occurs when people follow. We followers therefore have a responsibility to choose our leaders wisely.

We also need to

  • Understand the organisation’s purpose
  • Understand the part our work team plays in that
  • See where our job fits
  • Be open to doing things differently if that will better meet the purpose
  • Take initiative to make such changes
  • Develop moral courage to know when not to follow, and act wisely on this
  • Be able to work effectively with others (including our leaders) to achieve goals that contribute to the organisation’s purpose.

This takes effort. Followership is active and relational. It is not simply doing as one is told!

The flip side of these look a lot like mainstream leadership advice – articulating meaning, ensuring fit between team and organisational goals, managers and team members creating solutions together, openness to other points of view. They require effective, engaged leadership as well as followership. But a leader is a loner if no one is behind them!

Shawn Murphy’s post

Monday 24 June 2013

The virtues of leadership

Leadership. We know it when we see it. We applaud it with flurries of commentary, social media posts and tweets. We bemoan the lack of it in an environment where leadership has been overtaken by politics, short term gain and lack of vision.

Perhaps it’s time to take a larger view.

I recently reviewed 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders by Professors Al Gini and Roland Green. They explore the moral basis for leadership (and followership) with good leadership characterised as being anchored in ethical behavior. At heart it is about motive: ethical leaders exercise leadership for the common good, not for their own greatness. Results are important; Gini and Green also argue that someone who demonstrates virtue and has the organisational capabilities required yet who fails to deliver is not a leader. And followers have responsibilities too. We get the leadership we allow!

The virtues Gini and Green identify are • Deep honesty • Moral courage • Moral vision • Compassion and care • Fairness • Intellectual excellence • Creative thinking • Aesthetic sensibility • Good timing and • Deep selflessness

It can sound idealistic and removed from reality but writing about the protests in Turkey and the government’s response , Thomas Friedman quoted advisor on governance Dov Seidman “ …moral authority is now so much more important than formal authority… Moral authority is something you have to continue to earn by how you behave, by how you build trust with people….every time you exercise moral authority, leading by example, treating people with respect, you strengthen it”.

It is easy to denigrate others for their lack of leadership. But if Gini and Green are right and “what was true thousands of years ago remains so today. The quality of life of a community whether it is a political unit or a business corporation depends on the character of all its members and on the virtue of its leaders”; whether a leader or a follower we need to identify key virtues to develop, practice and make habitual.

Al Gini and Ronald M Green, 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character, 2013, John Wiley & Sons

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/turkeys-strongman-learns-democracy-is-about-more-than-just-elections-20130622-2opct.html

Friday 24 May 2013

Feedback loop

I love Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Effective feedback helps us to break that cycle and do things differently.

What I hadn't recognised until recently was how many of the tips, hints and advice around this aspect of work life apply equally well whether you are the giver or the (hopefully willing) recipient of feedback. This highlights a key point: giving and receiving feedback is a conversation. Even better, it's part of a series of conversations which occur in the broader context of an ongoing professional relationship.

Tips I shared with colleagues as part of their structured professional development program that I've designed and am implementing included:

  • Don’t take it personally, feedback is about what you have done not who you are.
  • Take some deep breaths
  • Assume the other person has good intentions
  • Focus on behaviours and be specific
  • Really listen to understand the other person’s perspective
  • Find ways to work together
  • Say what you have learned and what you will do as a result
  • Admit responsibility (and accept praise!)
  • Use the feedback to clarify standards, goals and expectations
  • Role model the behaviours you want to see in others.

I'd appreciate some feedback! What have you found particularly useful in these sorts of conversations?

Monday 6 May 2013

The Fashion for Passion

Passion. I confess, it’s a word I’m uncomfortable with. It brings to my mind business televangelists. And even if I had a passion for something my understated, introverted tendencies mean I’d likely not tell you!

Having and following a single minded passion can rule out too many perfectly good alternative options and doesn’t leave room for other important, necessary, but less exciting things. It also gives too easy an excuse for not actually doing anything while “working out what I’ll do when I grow up”.

So while finding and following your passion might be fashionable advice, what I suspect works for many of us is the connection between productivity and engagement . When we work on something successfully we become engaged in it. I’m not praising the mediocre, but this is more about attitude and hard work than about dreams. It’s about seeing where our efforts fit into a larger picture so we can do the boring bits - and every job has them - because of what they contribute to.

And attitude counts. I had coffee this morning with a friend who is a poet. She mentioned colleagues who undertake an exercise to write a poem a day, every day, for a month. By doing this their perspective shifts and they begin to see the poetic all around them. In our professional lives perhaps we need to focus on doing good work really well, becoming engaged in it as we experience success, and then, just maybe, becoming passionate about it as an outcome, not as a goal.

Some of these ideas are a response to Mark Babbitt’s post “Follow your passion” SUCKS as career advice and Tony Wilson’s AHRI HR Practices Day keynote where he touched on the link between productivity and engagement.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Venus, Mars and leaning in…. What if we are missing the point?

What if we are missing the point? The inclination to see differences makes us blind to the overwhelming similarities of men and women, and we’re easily fooled into seeing dissimilarities that don’t exist according to Stephen Holden. His brief review of scientific studies on gender differences shows mixed findings in recent published work, raises the issue that statistical significance is not always significant and points out that when studies look for gender differences and find none they might not even be published. Perhaps we aren’t from Venus after all!

Pointing out that women and men are much more similar than some recent business and pop psychology best sellers suggest is useful but doesn’t explain measurable differences in pay rates and the number of women in senior or board positions or part time roles.

What it does remind us is that these differences are not intrinsic to being male or female so they must be a result of things that can be changed.

Changing long standing, socially entrenched and unconscious biases is difficult. Anna Genat and Robert Wood’s recent work on unconscious bias shows that for all the emphasis on the importance of intuition and “going with gut feeling” we’d be better to slow down and not only respond to what we feel but analyse why we feel it. And this is particularly true when we might stereotype male and female competencies.

So success for individual women and men will be related to their talents and skills but also to how others interpret and value their competencies and more broadly about the physical and cultural structures and supports they have in their professional and personal lives. Skills, confidence and smart positioning are all important but leaning in without appropriate supports results in falling over!

And success is a slippery concept. Mary Walshok recently suggested that Sheryl Sandberg is probably right; success in America requires singular focus on developing leadership skills and a strong power base. But Walshok goes on to question this definition of success and draws on her work on corporate cultures around the world to point out that in the US -and I’d suggest in Australia to a large degree - success and identity relate to career. Whereas she points to other countries that rank higher than America in productivity and quality of life and have very different values which are reflected in the workplace.

She believes we should not be discussing whether women need to change in order to be successful, but to challenge this definition of success and recognise that not just workplaces but communities and families need time leadership and expertise. I agree.

http://theconversation.com/gender-differences-more-fictions-than-fact-11725 http://voice.unimelb.edu.au/volume-8/number-12/balanced-response-bias http://www.xconomy.com/san-diego/2013/03/18/women-success-and-corporate-culture-are-these-the-values-we-want/

Monday 8 April 2013

Gardener Managers

The manager as gardener. This image sticks with me from the book Manager Redefined by Thomas Davenport and Stephen Harding. They see effective middle managers as creating an ecosystem which allows employees to flourish. So taking this analogy further (and probably further that Davenport and Harding intended) what gardening tasks do managers do?

Pruning is determining what not to do. It’s so easy to keep adding new projects and tasks without deciding that some activities are no longer useful. Even though we do them well, we need to stop. Judicious pruning also encourages new growth.

Weeding removes obstacles. Dealing with small issues early before they can grow and take over . Removing unnecessary policy, procedures or structures that get in the way or take up resources at the expense of desired plants. Removing the weeds gives people the freedom they need to do their jobs.

Fertilising is not dumping manure! It is providing what is needed to support healthy growth: resources, information, and encouragement.

Protection finally, supervisors might need to provide protection from harsh organisational sun and wind (or careful exposure when weaker plants need to toughen up).

The gardener’s work is constant. Small interventions made regularly rather than a bulldozer when the plot is overgrown and weeds have got out of control (although occasional remodelling will be necessary). Wise gardeners know that the garden alters day by day. A garden where nothing changes is either plastic or dead.

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