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Tag: leadership

Leadership and the monkey business illusion

12 by wang_zqhhh via FlickrWhere has all the leadership gone?

Leadership is a funny thing.  We want to break it up into lots of small parts and promised ourselves that if we do more of something, or if someone else does more of something, then we will have more leadership.

When I put the  analytical process in those terms, it sounds ridiculous.  Leadership isn’t something that is made up of lots of things.  But sometimes it is there and sometimes it isn’t.  And when it isn’t, we not only miss it, we get angry.  Why isn’t there leadership?

The monkey business illusion

Well maybe we are looking for leadership in all the wrong places.  The monkey business illusi0n explains the point.

Oh, yes, I know you’ve seen this.  But not this version, watch it.

We see what we want to see.  When we see no leadership, maybe, just maybe, we didn’t see it.

Maybe we spent our time looking at non-leadership so we screened out leadership?

Why do we feel there is no leadership?

Why do we see non-leadership instead of leadership?

Simply because that’s what we were looking for.

When we start by looking for leadership and honouring it when we see it, then it is there.  When we ignore it, it’s not.  It’s as simple as that.

When we do a test of leadership and we say leadership wasn’t there, we are jumping our logical tracks.  We can say we didn’t see leadership; that’s all.

That’s why democracy is important.  It is not that the voters recognize leaders.  It is what they recognize is leadership.

Leadership exists when we say it does.

Find it. Honor it.


SIR COPE – Leading when everything has fallen apart around us

Chalk by Menage a Moi via FlickrLeading during a disaster

Karl E Weick is one of the most profound psychological writers of all time but is a tough read.  An expert on dangerous work environments, he wrote out advice for leaders after 9/11.  His advice is relevant today and I’ve tried to render it below in simpler language and a more straightforward order.

Tragedy that leaves us confused and speechless

Karl E Weick writes about massive accidents where it is not quite clear what happened or whether it should have happened at all.  The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an example.  The financial crash of 2008 is another.  Though hardly having the same consequences, England’s dismal performance at the 2010 World Cup is in the same class of bewilderment.  Let me try to explain.

We hate what we cannot explain

When the unexpected happens, we are at a loss to explain, and we hate that.  We like to be able to explain.  After a disaster, somewhat illogically, we have a strong impetus to explain.  Explaining won’t help us clean up but it will help us feel in control again.

Leading during mass bewilderment

In these cases of mass bewilderment, a leader has a double task – sorting out the mess, which is task enough, and helping us get a grip on what has happened and stop panicking.

This is Weick’s advice for leaders when we are startled by tragedies and the unthinkable.

Our three tasks following a disaster

  • Accept that you are startled too and that you have three tasks:
    • to do the practical things that need to get done
    • to console those who are hurt and hurting and
    • to help people start to make sense even though little makes sense to you either.

Watch for the fight/flight response

  • Also accept that our initial reaction is to rely on what we know.   We will use yesterday’s explanations and when those don’t make sense, we’ll use very simple ideas to feel in control.  Basically we will run (flight) or we will blame (fight).  We will take on the mantle of blamer or victim.

Once we start to think, we’ll over complicate solutions

  • As soon as we collectively realize that the problem is not going away, or that the people we blame cannot solve the problem anyway, we will start thinking.  At this point, we are likely to swing from the oversimplified (blame or be a victim) to the other extreme and over-complicate the solution.  Importantly, you need to remember that you are a member of your group and will share their ideas and its ways of thinking.   So, you too  will make this radical swing from fight/flight to overcomplicated!  None of us are thinking clearly but over-complication is a good sign because we have moved away from “just wanting the problem to go away”.

Think aloud to model how to involve everyone in finding a way forward that we all support

  • Your role now as leader is to think aloud.  I remember seeing a manual advising young officers in the Army not to think aloud.  Weick says we should think aloud for two reasons.  The rest of the group will think more clearly when they feel that we are all in this together and don’t have to worry if “it is just me”.  We’ll realize that there are no experts, no answers, and no guarantees.  And so we may as well pool our ideas, make a joint decision about what to do, take responsibility for collective actions.

As people start to grapple with understanding what happened, feed in resources for collective decision making

  • Once we begin working together to figure out what we are going to do and the price that we will pay collectively to solve our problems, the leader has the next task of feeding resources, not necessarily to solve the problem, but to help us figure out how to solve the problem.

Remember your role is to help the group think things out together

  • Above all else, the leader’s role is
    • to avoid personal paralysis
    • to ‘hold’ the confusions of others and let them know it is both OK
    • to reassure us that they we will come through this together and
    • to provide resources to keep the recovery moving.


Weick gives us a useful 7 point acronym to think about leadership in bad times and good.  It’s rather aptly named SIR COPE

Sense is social

Sense isn’t there for the finding.  We create sense.  By talking to and with each other, we find out what meanings are possible and come to both shared understandings and agreements.  We aren’t wasting time when we are chatting.  We are working things out.

A wise leader encourage us to talk to each other.

Identity is remodeled

      Our first reaction when we are shocked and confused is to run or fight – to be a “victim” or “fighter”.

      When we mishandle our reactions to bad events, we can be locked into to these simple flight or fight reactions.  We have a lot more to us, though. We are sounding boards, witnesses, source of support and resilience, information hubs, story-tellers, companions, care-givers and historians.

      As we tell our stories from slighly different perspectives and for slightly different purposes, we move away from the simple roles of victim and fighter and develop an understanding of context that aids the explanations and understanding that allow us to move forward wisely and considerately.

      We, and all the leaders in the group, will be helping people have these multi-level, yet slightly confused conversations that are essential to move forward to the essential state of overcomplicated confusion that we need before we can move on.

      Retrospect provides a path to resilience

      One of the oddest features of human thought is that we don’t know what we think until we hear what we say.

      We begin to understand ourselves,when we hear what we say, when we hear the reactions of others, and when we hear the words they use when they are repeating our views.

      Leaders help people talk their way into resilience by listening to the words people are saying and helping them find other words that connect with human strengths rather than with darkness and evil.

      We repeat what they are saying so that they can see and hear themselves finding purpose and connection in an otherwise distressing situation.

      Cues need to be considered and incorporated

      We understand situations by creating a story from a handful of cues. And we look for cues that confirm our analysis.

      Sadly, we ignore a great deal.

      As a leader, we can help people incorporate more salient cues their stories and support them in those early moments when our stories get more complicated and more confusing.

      By considering the facts and alternative explanations more fully, we will find a better solution and way forward than if we jump prematurely to an early conclusion.

      Ongoing work on plausible stories aids recovery

      Even once we have a reasonable sense of what has happened and what we are going to do together to move on, we will still have to check, update and even revise our sense of events as we take collective action.

      As a leader, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels or allow other to languish in a half-finished story and the feeling, “Now we have it figured out.”

      Recovery is about workable, plausible stories of what we face and what we can do.  As we  act, the situation will change again and we should take into account new inputs and new opportunities and new setbacks.

      Part of the leader’s job is to keep summarizing how far we have come, what has happened, where we are at, how we feel now and the distance we have yet to travel.

      Plausibility about what happened and what will happen is our goal

      When the world appears to fall apart, we are desperate for an account of what happened.  We are less interested in what is accurate than feeling a gaping void of meaning. We want a plausible account quickly.

      That plausible account is not the end story though. It is only the first point from which we work to build the fuller story like a grain of sand in the oyster becomes a pearl.

      A leaders helps people get that first story and then helps them revise it, enrich it, replace it.

      Enactment allows us to think

      Most of all, in inexplicable times, we have to keep moving.

      Recovery lies not in thinking then doing, but in thinking while doing and in thinking by doing.

      None of us has the answer. Instead, all we have going for us is the tactic of stumbling into explanations that work, and talking with others to see whether what we have stumbled into is in fact part of an answer.

      As a leader, we help people keep moving and pay attention to everyone around them.

      When people are animated, their actions are small experiments that help make sense of perilous times.

      Wise leaders protect those constant little experiments that help us find wisdow in our dismaying situation.

      Weick made clearer?

      This is still a complicated rendition but Weick’s ideas are worth thinking through because frequently, it seems, we are in the middle of groups who’ve had the proverbial rug pulled out beneath them.

      Obama seems to be a master of the group recovery process.  I couldn’t help run Radio 5 commentary about our World Cup performance through this list.  They make the Social level but don’t seem to go much further.  We emote but don’t go very much further in developing a clear idea of what WE will do next.  There is no call to action even and no demand for us to be out there supporting the team next time.  No sense of action follows the phone-in periods.

      I think we could still make a simpler acronym without closing what Weick is trying to say.  Want to have a go?

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        Rational data analysts have to consider motive first

        Winners by Ann Morgan via FlickrDo the leaders of the world consider hard cold data when they make decisions?

        I was sitting on aeroplane, catching up with the executive of an houshold name mulitinational, when he said something that was either the befuddled product of a jet-lagged brain, or something quite profound.  I know he is capable of both, so see what you think.

        He said that he had learned, that “at this level  [buying and selling business units across borders]” the final decision just depends on the person making the decision.

        Is there a general truth in this observation?

        It is true, that like the son of a rich man, a firm can seem to “do well” just because of inherited wealth.  If we compare like-with-like and mentally subract the advantage of licenses and capital, is it true that at some point, organizations stop making rational decisions, and revert to the prejudices, preferences and whims of decision-makers?

        Is the world ultimately run on whim, concealed by the size of major organizations?

        Does data and rational decision making really matter in this complex and fast moving world?

        I doubt we would ever have the hard data to systemaically explore this speculation. Wee may as well put it aside.  But another question does suggest itself.

        If the world is puttering along on the basis of whim and prejudice, maybe we should stop worrying about being rational?  Maybe we should just suck-our-thumbs and join in? Put two stones in our pocket and say yes or no depending on which one we pull out?  Should we worry about having data at all?

        What is the purpose of data?

        It seems to me that we data pundits may have created a “straw man”.

        Skilled leaders know that every decision is, at the last, personal.  Their decisions are their choice and the choice of the people they represent.  For them, the important order of events is not data and then preference.  It is preference then data.

        Data is not there to tell people what is rational.  Data is there to follow through personal choices rationally.

        Do we always use data sensibly?

        There are, of course, foolish leaders who discard data when it does not endorse their naïve preferences.  The are inept leaders who discard data when it is ‘politically impossible’ to convey bad news to the people they represent.

        More enlightened leaders, and I’ve known a few, use data to learn more about the group’s preferred possibilities and more about ways of achieving their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes more conscious about what they need to negotiate, with whom, to secure their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes more aware of what to look out for as they enact their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes aware of side-effects that might undermine their preferences once the achieve them.

        Data is useful to them but not when we try to tell them what they and their followers want out of life.  Data is useful to them when we elaborate their values and help to understand more fully what they want to do.

        What is the role of a data pundit?

        In short, I suspect data is always welcomed by enlightened leaders when it helps their mental model become

        • fuller
        • more flexible
        • more oriented to the outside world
        • and more supportive of informed, sensitive engagement.

        A concrete example

        I think Iit’s pretty much like taking a long haul flight with several segments across the world.  If I need to be in a certain city by a certain time, a rational analysis of options is pretty useless.  I am only interested in my options for achieving that goal.  And if that goal becomes uncertain or impossible, then I want data that allows me to re-formulate my goal and communicate to all the people who will be affected.

        Leaders are rational; they are motivated

        This seems obvious but we expect leaders to be more rational.  They aren’t rational.  They are motivated.

        Sometimes we think that is wrong.  But following that reasoning,  it would be equally wrong to want to be in a certain place by a certain time.

        The questions facing data pundits are

        • which motives do we enjoy serving?
        • and which data puzzles  can help to solve?
        • Executives often seem satisfied to support massively important decisions with sub-standard data.
        • Our data often seems good.  Yet they throw it out.  We jump to the conclusion that they are too motivated to follow a course of action without a rational analysis.
        • The reality is that we may have done the wrong task.  We may have interrogated a question that interests us rather than people we serve.

        So why did I bother to write this post?

        We shouldn’t be dismissing leaders as being willing to proceed without data.  They’ve been forced to proceed without data because we didn’t make data available to address the problem facing them today.   We might think they could make better use  of their time and effort but it is likely they would use data that elaborates what they value should we make it easily available.

        Motive first. Analysis second?  First, be clear about the motives of the leaders and people we serve?

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        Your CV: Your story in words other people recognize

        Struggling to write your CV or bio?

        It’s tough to write a CV, particularly when we’ve changed career slightly or done something unusual.

        Learning from a twitcher

        By chance, today I listened to a program on bird watching  and learned about the ‘rare man’ committee.   Apologies for the sexism, but we psychologists have something to learn from what an experienced ‘rare man’ said the qualities needed from a person who sits on the ‘rare man’ committee and ‘rules’ on the claims that fellow twitchers have seen a rare bird.

        OK, I wouldn’t sit around all day looking for a rare bird, but the advice was sensible.

        These are the qualities needed for someone who wants to sit on the ‘rare bird’ committee.

        • An applicant needs a track record that other bird watchers recognize
        • An applicant needs specialist knowledge to contribute the committee
        • An applicant needs awareness of their strengths and weakness that will affect their judgment

        There was a fourth, I think, but it seems this is one of the few BBC programs that will not be repeated!
        RGB by Mosieur J Iversion via Flickr

        Why we find writing a CV difficult

        Generally, I think we find the middle point relatively easy to describe. We find the third difficult.  More on that just now.

        Our CV is an act of leadership

        We find the 1st very difficult when we have changed our career in some way.  We are frustrated as noobes, for example, when we are asked for experience.  We are infuriated as experienced people when our experience is not recognized by people who sit in judgment on us.  When we live somewhere like the UK, we recognize inherent class bias that engenders the most off-putting blindness and bad manners.

        The way the bird-man put it is helpful.  Describe your track record in terms the other party recognizes.  We need therefore to know something about what they expect.  In New Zealand, where I lived for a while, we would highlight our previous job titles and we would put our firms in a lighter weight font.  Where we worked didn’t resonate with the locals.  We also stripped off our qualifications.  If the job application asked for a degree, we didn’t elaborate.  We just said Yes.

        It is astonishingly destructive to have to do this and HR departments should be on to it.  It is discriminatory, excluding and ultimately very bad for the firm.  Where there are very dissimilar tracks into an organization, it is up to HR to tell the alternative stories so their line managers understand them.

        But HR departments are rarely competent.  Sorry but we know that to be true.  And because they are rarely competent, it is up to us to exercise leadership  I’ll give you an example.  Once I had a student who had come up the hard way.  I advised him to state but not emphasize his good university degree and highlight three features of his background.

        • His father was an underground miner.  He grew up around miners and he understood their concerns.
        • Because he grew up at a mine he spoke 4 languages.
        • Before he came to university, he worked as a temporary teacher.  That wouldn’t be a track record that was ‘recognized’.  But while he was a teacher in this remote rural school, he coached his school athletics team and took them as far as the Provincial championships.  That would be recognized.

        He walked into a very good job on a graduate trainee in a leading multinational.  Had he not emphasized this story in his way, he would have fallen foul of class bias.

        It can be hard for an individual to identify features of their background that will resonate with people they have never met in a sector where they have no experience.  It is hard for us to recognize those features in our own CV.  That’s our task, though.  To find those points where we resonate with the people we are going see.  That is the leadership task.

        Our strengths and weaknesses

        Oh, how questions about strengths and weaknesses make us shy.  But I will tell you why.  The question is always asked in a frontal way.  Very, very rude of interviewers to do that.  They need to probe what your strengths will be in their team and what will be your weaknesses.  But that is their job.  You cannot know because you have not been in the situation before.  By the time you know, you will be ready for the next challenge.

        Thinking about the referees of rare bird sightings helps, I think.  An applicant would know where they think they would want to play a leading or substantial role and where they would take a following or lagging role.  It can be help, possibly to think about where you think you might speak up and where you would be listening hard.

        Whatever, when an interviewer is frontal, remember that it is their bad manners not yours.  Take a deep breath.   Exercise leadership.

        • Orient yourself: Repeat the common & shared goal.
        • Remind yourself of why you want to be with these people: Repeat their three contributions.
        • Steady your audience:  State your contribution and state your main agenda as you see it.

        Your goal is not to answer their question.  Your goal is to bring everyone together.  Leadership.

        Thank you rare bird man.  If anyone heard the fourth criterion, do let me know.

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        Meeting of hopes & dreams: will that happen in this General Election?

        Affect images and political campaigns

        “for the student who seeks to learn; the voter who demands to be heard; the innocent who longs to be free; and the oppressed who yearns to be equal.”

        I badly want to hear candidates in the general election describe “we the voters”.  I so badly want to hear.

        I want to feel the “throbbing resonance” of shared beliefs, shared purpose and shared hopes.  I want to feel the protection of an arm around me as we whisper our fears.

        As a relative newcomer to UK, I want to hear the shared mythology that long time residents share and reassure them we are in this together. I want to see their shoulders relax and their eyes light up.

        We are a different place from the US and we are on a different journey.  And maybe in my noobe status, I am not hearing what is being said.

        Maybe though we are going to have big surprises when the results are announced.  Maybe too social movements like Hang_em will take off.

        What do you think about the connection between the politicians and the voters?  I’d love to know.

        QUOTATION FROM: Barack Obama addressing the United Nations Wednesday 23 September 2009

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        5 competences for space creators in our networked world

        Entrepreneur, leader, space creator

        The great desk tidy continues.  Professional organizational designers will instantly recognize what I am going to describe as Level 2 or C Band in Paterson parlance.

        Understanding what is needed when

        Let’s imagine a mechanic.  He, and increasingly she, has served an apprenticeship, gone to college, and worked on lots of cars under the supervision of experienced mechanics.

        A car arrives.  They look at it.  The learn of symptoms from the driver.  They make some investigations in a manner that any other trained mechanic would recognize as methodical (or haphazard).  They take action.

        From time-to-time though, the bundle of symptoms is out-of-pattern.  It may be a rare case that they haven’t encountered before   It may be a complicated case where feedback to the basic tests they carry out is obscured and muddies the decision making process.  The case may be complicated by factors not really to do with the car itself.  Spare parts might be short or the car might be needed in less time than the mechanics need to do everything as well as they would like.

        When the job becomes complicated, a more experienced colleague steps in “reads the situation” and explains the priorities to the skilled but inexperienced worker.  Now that they are oriented again to a set of tasks that they know how to do, they can pick up the task from there.

        In time, of course, they become experienced themselves and mentor others.

        Directing traffic

        In an organization, the role of the experienced worker is sometimes played by a controller who cannot do the job themselves.  The archtypical example is the Air Traffic Controller, who prioritizes aircraft and coordinates them with each other and resources on the ground.  The controller is not the aircraft Captain’s boss.  But does give orders of a kind.

        The intersections of networks

        In networked industries, the role of the controller is likely to become more common.  They may have rudimentary grasp of the skills they coordinate – they may have the equivalent of a light aircraft license, they could join in firefighting in elementary roles, they can do elementary electronics – but they are specialized in control.  They have the mindset to concentrate on what is in front of them for long periods.   They have good mental maps which they keep up-to-date.  They are important enough for psychologists to study them in depth.  Indeed many of the advances in applied cognitive psychology have come from studying air traffic controllers.

        And so it will be with “managers” of the future.  Though that term has developed so many connotations that we may have to drop it.

        We will have people skilled at managing “space” where people come together to get things done.

        People in this line of work will probably start early.  We will see them organizing conventional clubs at school, working online and developing mental models about how to create cooperative spaces in a networked world.

        Five competences for space creators in our networked world

        As I am on a great clean up of my paper world, I want to write down five competences that the “space creators” of the 21st century will have.

        #1 What needs to be done

        #2 Emotional energy to connect

        #3 Form a collective umbrella

        #4 Delegate tasks to protect the collective

        #5 Keep commitments to positive emotional space

        Sort of abstract but it follows a logic to be: what needs to be done, why are we bothered and how or why would this be our priority, what is the space that we need to work together, what are the important tasks to maintain this space and who will do them, are we having fun here?

        How do we learn these skills?  A post for another day, I think.  First, any comment on the competences?

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        Let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

        Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

        Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies

        Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.

        How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.

        Organize agilely and leanly

        That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.

        What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.

        Leadership vs management

        On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.

        I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.

        Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.

        When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.

        But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.

        When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think.  Sometimes it is a trial.  But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.

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        3 reasons why I will use Barack Obama’s speech as a masterpiece of leadership

        It has happened . . .

        PULLED UP FROM MY DRAFTS:  Hard to believe that only 18 months ago we waited till morning for a speech to appear on YouTube.  We take for granted now the quality of Obama’s speeches.  And now we are in thick of the adventure, we deal with multiple voices of doubt, fear and plain colly-wobbles.  Come on America.  The world needs you to do what only America can do.  Lead.  Show us the American Dream.

        The historic has happened.  On Thursday night, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomimation for the Presidency of the United States of America.

        Some people are not sure why .  . .

        I have many friends and acquaintances throughout the world who are apalld.  I have never got to the bottom of it.  A few months ago, I polled LinkedIn.  I received many emotional responses from people who were willingly to answer my follow up queries.  But I couldn’t get to the bottom of their objections.  This could be my blindness.  But I perceived panic and a general rejection – “I don’t agree with his policies but I cannot say exactly what they are”.

        The hope in my classroom is palpable .  .  .

        I teach in London, the capital of the Commonwealth,  and have around 100 students from all over the world.  The response to Barack Obama in that room is quite different.  The mix of hope and fear is palpable.  The students are literally holding their breaths hoping for his success.

        We are on the cusp of change in media too  . . .

        On Thursday night, I woke intermittently hoping that BBC would stream the acceptance speech.  Sadly, we are still in ‘old media’ here and they kept interrupting ‘to tell us what to think’.  In the morning I was able to patch together some of the speech from user submissions to YouTube.  And I was able to download the transcript. This morning the Obama campaign circulated the link to their submission to YouTube.

        Permanent links . . . mavens will keep them

        The dance of leadership

        I’ve added the links because we are going to be studying this speech for a long time to come.  I had high expectations.  And it exceeded my expectations.  Barack did not improvise in the fashion of the “I have a dream” speech of 45 years ago.  Nor did he ‘riff’ which he often does.  He does ‘dance’ with the crowd, though.  We love his speeches because he co-creates the experience with us.

        Getting down to the deed

        The key idea in management theory is that leaders must command an unbroken chain from our strategic goals to the details of our action.  We can often recognize the micro-manager.  They harp on the details.  It can be harder to show how strategy must be reflected consistently in day-to-day actions.

        In this speech, Barack Obama was also much more concrete than he usually is, e.g. we are the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy.  Don’t tell me that Democrats wont’t defend this country.  Change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.

        It was this feature that particularly caught my ear as I listened to snippets through the night.  I will be looking at the speech more for that quality.

        Resolutely positive

        It can be difficult to phrase change positively.  By definition, today is not enough.  Barack Obama comes back to what is ‘true and good, better and possible’.   The USA has still not fulfilled the vision of its founding fathers.

        Moreover, he defines clearly the ground rules of free speech.  First, we must accept that both we and our opponents belong.  We must accept they have a right to be here and will be here in perpetuity.  We must accept this principle before we can truly accept that our opponent has a right to speak and to hold an opinion.  It is difficult to understand the notion that I can compete with you and at the same protect your right to hold your opinion unless I begin with a  deep and uncertain belief that you are entitled to membership of our group and that is unquestioned.  Belonging is a very important foundation of democracy and the good life.

        Case study

        I intend to to distribute his speech to my students as a career exercise and ask them to rewrite their vision of what they will contribute to the world in the next 8 years.

        This weekend I will put together some exercises for them.  Will you be using the speech in your work?

        One Comment

        We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

        Art Kleiner

        I haven’t read any of Art Kleiner’s books.  How did I miss him?  Well, I seem to have missed him and it is time to make good.

        Managers & the Core Group

        I am taken with the idea that every organization has a core group. The group could be corrupt, of course, but every organization does have a core who are part of the value chain.

        I joined a university early in my career for that reason.  As an academic, I was part of the core, while as a psychologist in HR, I was not.

        The perils of neglecting the core

        Many of the tensions in modern organizations arise because ‘managers’ have tried to dominate the core – the academics in universities or the doctors in the health service.  It doesn’t work.  Trying to dominate the core, or heart, eats away at its vitality.

        Nurture the core

        We, managers and administrators are here to serve.  When we understand the core, or heart, and help it function as it should, our organizations flourish.

        Managers & the Influencers

        And of course, within the organization are groups who are very important because they influence the process in a critical way.  Radar in MASH is much more powerful than the Colonel.  And Hawkeye, a Captain, dominates the Majors with his wit and grasp of the essence of war.

        Social dynamics

        Kleiner points out that when we first start working with an organization, that we must read the social dynamics. Who has undue influence?  Who has privilege. Formal rank may not matter very much.  When does it, and when does it not?

        On the periphery

        When we are on the periphery, irritating as it may be, it is worth acknowledging how the system really works. Then we can influence the system, even if we will never be part of the core.

        Supporting the core

        When we are managing an organization, we can acknowledge who is the core ~ not to give them further privileges, they have those already and will defend them to the last ~ but to subtly influence their acknowledgment and influence of other stakeholders who may not be core, but who they cannot do without.

        In the university world, there is a cute poem that begins with students who splash through puddles, then associate professors who can jump over puddles, and Professors who are so magnificent that they can jump over the University Library, the Vice Chancellor who can speak to god and the Departmental Secretary ~ she is god.

        Managing organizations

        Helping an organization maintain its vitality doesn’t take a lot of heavy-handing action.  Indeed, the opposite.  It takes a little system thinking.  A gentle nudge here and a tactful reminder there.  Sometimes a good humored reminder of reality when we stand aside and stop protecting people from their own arrogance.  When the harm will not be permanent, a lesson in cause-and-effect can be salutary.

        The core will always be there.  We destroy value when we deny it. And we risk corruption when we sweep relations between stakeholders under the carpet.

        Relationships matter. Interests matter.  We need to get real.

        Look harder for an organization whose core you respect

        Art Kleiner makes an important point.  There are many organizations whose core is rotten ~ who are evil at heart.  We may be in that core, or we may be fretting about our lower status on the periphery.  What counts is whether we essentially believe that the interests of the core group are good for the organization and our community.  If we believe that, then we stay.

        Otherwise, we need to look harder for an organization whose core we respect.  It’s best to be part of the core.  If not, we can serve it.  Gracefully.  Thankfully.  With a little reverance, but with understanding that the core needs others too and that we should help them manage their relationships with others.

        Remember power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We should never let something we respect become so isolated from reality that it corrupts itself with meglamania.

        But to change an organization, to nurture its vitality, we must believe that the interests of the core are the organization’s interests.  We need that deep down belief to respect the core and to help it confront issues about its relationships with others.

        Am I rambling?  I like the acknowledgment of the core or heart of an organization.  Remember in the words of Colin Powell, leadership is follow me.  We must believe so deeply in those we lead and serve that we want them to be at our side in the heat of enemy fire.

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