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Leadership

We need more leaders, but how do we find them?

Who's the Leader
In a world where things are moving much faster than ever we need more leadership from more places. Where things are more complex, more ambiguous, and more interdependent, we don’t have time to wait for everything to go up the chain of command and back down again. We need more people to step up and lead, more people taking leader-like actions so that organisations can better handle complexity and ambiguity and react more quickly. So how do we find them?

I start from the belief that not everyone in a formally appointed leadership role is actually a leader. Some people who have leader or manager in their title never lead. In my experience, if you meet a group of employees in any organisation and ask them, have you ever had a boss who didn’t lead? Most hands will go up. And that’s not necessarily the fault of the ‘failed’ leader. Too often people are promoted because they are good at their job, not because they display any leadership potential.

Equally, some people have the qualities of a leader but do not see themselves as such. Subordinates may have those qualities, but if they think there’s only ever one leader in a group, and they have a boss, then she’s the leader. They are not even thinking about leadership as part of their identity. Sometimes people need someone else to see leadership in them and make a point of telling them.

To identify leaders we could make a list of the qualities that make a leader, but that can be a tricky and rather fruitless exercise: creating a shopping list of characteristics that is far too idealistic to be credible or achievable. The way through this is to recognise that fundamentally leadership is something that others see in us. People grant a leader that identity by their willingness to follow them. In which case, if we can identify who people follow we will have found our leaders.

In the normal run of things we talent spot leaders by asking existing leaders and managers to identify those among their teams who lead, or have the potential to lead. The disadvantage with this approach is that you may be asking somebody with few, if any, leadership qualities to identify that which they don’t possess themselves. Alternatively, you may get clones of your existing leaders, because they recognise only the qualities that they do possess, or you get the promotion of favourites.

A more objective method, and one that accords with my belief that followers are best qualified to identify leaders, is to survey the whole team, department or organisation. I do this using Social Network Analysis (SNA) software, using it to locate the most influential individuals in an organisation, particularly those who are not represented in the formal hierarchy of leadership. The process is straightforward and asks each team member two simple questions alongside a drop down list of other team members.

1. “Who do you confide your concerns about sensitive work-related issues?”
2. “Who do you go to get knowledge, information or advice needed to perform your job?”

In my experience, these two questions, which focus respectively on trust and respect, give an excellent indication of who people follow. No matter the individual qualities of a ‘leader’, if those qualities engender trust and respect you have a real leader. And it’s not just me. There is evidence to support this belief.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, has been studying first impressions (how people size you up), for more than 15 years, and has discovered certain patterns in these interactions. In her book, “Presence”, Cuddy says that people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person?

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth, or trustworthiness, and competence, respectively, and as a leader you want to be perceived as having both. Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that respect, or competence, is the more important factor. But her research reveals that warmth, or trustworthiness, is actually the key to how people evaluate you. And from an evolutionary perspective this makes sense.

In our early history as a species it was more important to figure out if a stranger was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if they were competent enough to build a good fire. While competence is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far.

Furthermore, focusing too much on displaying your competence can backfire. A warm, trustworthy person who is also competent elicits admiration, but only after they have established trust does their competence become a gift rather than a threat. But ultimately we need both trust and respect for people to follow us. It is no good being competent if people expect you to stab them in the back (if only metaphorically these days), but neither is it any good to be utterly trustworthy if you can’t manage your way out of a paper bag.

Now, with the answers to our survey in hand, we could just present the results as a list of potential leaders, but SNA software allows more dynamic and contextual 2D visualisations of the group surveyed, one for trust and one for respect. These images comprise nodes (coloured squares or circles) that represent people and ties or edges (black lines connecting them) that indicate who trusts and respects whom. The bigger the node, the more people in the team, department or organisation who see that person as a leader. Someone worthy of their trust and respect.

Some will be existing leaders, and you can congratulate yourself on good talent spotting. Others may already have been identified as having potential. But be warned, there will be surprises. Some of your leaders won’t really be leaders at all and others with genuine potential will have gone unnoticed by you and themselves. In a complex and fast-paced world that is not a mistake that organisations can afford to make.

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PSA Guide to Leading Your Network

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We are delighted to announce the publication of the PSA Guide to Leading Your Network. The Guide is designed for experienced and first time, or aspiring, leader-managers and can used for individual reflection and development or in facilitated group workshops.

Its purpose is to help managers identify and make the most of the informal networks that inevitably exist within all teams and organisations. Not only will it help managers become better leaders and managers of their own team, it will also help make them better network leaders, able to work across team and departmental boundaries, bringing together constellations of talent to get things done.

Left to their own devices networks develop naturally at work through homophily and propinquity, natural human inclinations to associate with people who are like us (homophily) and/or near us (propinquity). While strengthening these bonds contributes to team efficiency it can inadvertently inhibit communication with other groups and lead to a lack of effectiveness.

In other words, closely bonded teams often do things right, but not always the right things. For best practice to be shared and innovation to flourish some of the most important ties are those that cut across groups: traversing teams, functions and departments. The key is to get a balance between both.

Effective networks facilitate the exchange of accurate information about who does what, who knows what, and who needs what, in order to enable greater productivity, but also feed innovation.

The Guide is designed to help managers understand, nurture and lead networks, which in turn will enable teams and organisations to:

· Better target scarce resources.

· Challenge the silo mentality.

· Restructure the formal organisation to complement the informal.

· ‘Rewire’ faulty networks to achieve goals.

· Deepen the quality of relationships among team members.

· Reduce transactional costs (micro-managing and second guessing) by deepening trust.

· And be more innovative.

If you would like to order copies please use the following web address https://www.mlruk.com/the-guide-to-leading-your-network

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5 Things Business Can Learn From Social Movements

 

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Business leaders talk about the need for greater collaboration, flexibility and initiative in today’s business environment. Now it seems to me that there are a lot of people involved with the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement who are demonstrating exactly those qualities. Love them or loathe them we would do well to learn from them.

If you hadn’t noticed, XR is a socio-political movement which uses nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, ecological collapse and the risk of human extinction. In a series of ongoing actions it most recently occupied four sites in central London: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and the area around Parliament Square, causing widespread disruption and immense publicity for its cause.

Citing inspiration from grassroots movements like Occupy, XR wants to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown. Now, Occupy talked about being leaderless, which makes no sense viewed through the lens of a hierarchy, but from a network perspective it makes perfect sense. It means, simply, that there are no positional or formal leaders.

There are leaders, but they are network leaders, naturally emerging from their environment and exhibiting leadership based on energy, expertise and initiative rather than any formal appointment. Traditional, hierarchical businesses may advocate that behaviour, but in reality they have a difficult time adjusting to it. For a network it’s natural and some businesses are catching on.

Business Networks

As the Internet reduces transaction and collaboration costs, we are beginning to see a change in the deep structure and architecture of most institutions in society. The monolithic, hierarchical organisation is beginning to falter against more lithe competitors.

Smart companies are finding that they innovate and perform better by creating networks or business webs. Using the Internet they open up and harness knowledge, resources and capabilities inside and outside their boundaries. They set a context for innovation and then invite their employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders to co-create their products and services. The new mantra is “focus on what you do best and partner to do the rest”.

The upshot is that these companies can innovate more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively by leveraging expertise they can’t afford full-time or otherwise would not have access to. This collaborative approach can lower costs and reduce risks, because you pay only for results and accelerate innovation by finding existing solutions.

In this new context, the traditional model of recruiting, managing and retaining employees is clearly outdated. The overriding factor today is engagement not employment. Organisations must build a positive presence in the minds of customers, partners, employees and the general public in order to forge long term, dynamic engagement. So how can the experience of social movements help?

5 Leadership Practices from Social Movements

A useful framework, by Marshall Ganz & Liz McKenna, can be found in the Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (edited by David A. Snow, et al). It explores social movement leadership through five interdependent practices: relationship building; narrative; strategy; structure and action.

Relationship building is key to any leadership endeavour, but this goes beyond mobilising individuals to join through transactions of resources and interest. Instead it encourages commitment to future engagement through the experience of shared values, which in turn builds collective capacity.

In network terms, it depends on strong (homogeneous) relational ties, which facilitate efficiency (doing things right) through trust, motivation, and commitment, and weak (heterogeneous) ties, which ensure effectiveness (doing the right things) by broadening access to knowledge, skills, and learning. In short, it counters the dark side of tightly bonded teams, which is ‘groupthink’.

Narrative is a powerful way to access, express, and cultivate emotional resources embedded in shared values: resources that are necessary to confront challenges with courage, resilience, and agency. Narrative not only articulates pathways from the world as it is to the world as it should be, but also sparks the motivation to act on it.

A good story, well told, can slip past the defences of the rational mind, pluck at our hearts and stir our souls. Human societies have flourished without the wheel, but none has existed without stories. We are storytelling animals; to be human is to tell stories. The ability to learn from vicarious experience through storytelling is thought to have provided an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors in terms of survival, the spread of innovation and the development of culture.

Strategy. While narrative engages the emotional brain, strategy engages the rational brain, drawing upon our cognitive resources for analysis, imagination and adaptation. Strategy is the practice of turning the resources you have into the power you need to get what you want. Given the highly uncertain environments in which social movements operate, successful strategy is an ongoing adaptive practice, something movement leaders do, rather than something they have neatly labelled in a file.

Additionally, because social movements often challenge actors with abundant traditional resources like wealth, status, expertise, and political power, their leaders must find ways to compensate through greater resourcefulness and agile responsiveness. This requires an integrated analysis of the big picture with highly particular knowledge of the specific context. This in turn requires strategic capacity to be widely distributed rather than concentrated in a strategy team that is removed from the rank-and-file implementation. High motivation, access to diverse sources of salient knowledge, and a commitment to learning facilitate this leadership practice.

Structure. There is a balance to be struck between the absence of structuring, where groups may act incoherently and sometimes at cross-purposes and an extremely hierarchical structure that centralises strategy in the hands of a few individuals, leading to an incapacity to respond with agility to threats and opportunities. The ideal is coordinated operations with decentralised control, a balance between efficiency, alignment and adaptability.

This requires a shared understanding of the environment and our place within it, alongside a shared sense of purpose – what we are trying to achieve and why. This requires leaders to create an ecosystem within the organisation and its environment that develops lateral as well as vertical ties to ensure shared understanding and purpose. Such systemic understanding and purpose then allows effective adaptation to emerging threats and opportunities by individuals and teams closest to the problem.

Action. To transform individual resources into collective power, relationships, stories, strategy and structure, must all be mobilised toward a common effort and then deployed through diverse tactics. For moments of protest to turn into powerful movements, tactical action must be strategic, focused, and well-executed.

Since most movements rely on people-based voluntary resources, learning how to secure sustained commitment of these resources while asking participants to take sometimes very costly tactical action is a key leadership challenge. Ineffective, disorganised, and poorly-executed actions undermine the sustained motivation necessary to keep the movement going forward.

Taken together, these five practices of social movements offer a useful way to analyse current business leadership and adapt to new forms more suited to a complex and fast paced world.

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A personal perspective on Network Leadership and why ‘restless persuasion’ matters, by Mike Peckham

Keep Persuading

Almost as long as I have been a consultant I have been told that the world is more uncertain, volatile and chaotic than it has ever been.  Thirty years ago in 1989 I can recall Tom Peters[i] invoking, indeed goading, us to ‘thrive on chaos’ and how everything was moving at an exponential rate.  Bennis and Nanus (1985)[ii] term VUCA or a world of volatilty, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity has been dusted off and is being used to describe the world we live in.  Indeed, there have been ever increasing challenges from management guru’s to face ‘wicked problems’ and to live in the ‘Age of Unreason’[iii] etc.  I have no doubt that if you are reading this you will be able to recant any number of book titles or aphorisms that broadly say the same thing.

The paradox for me is that if we have been saying this for at least the last 30 years, shouldn’t we just stop sensationalising it and say – ‘this is the business reality and move on’.  Business leaders today know that this is the case and don’t see anything other than the need to get on in a world that has a tempo and rhythm that they have adapted to.  The Hungarian scientist Hans Selye’s[iv] first used the term ‘general adaptation syndrome’ to identify three distinct stages as the body and brain adapt to stress, moving from alarm to resistance and ultimately, without adaptation, exhaustion.  In the long term, if we don’t adapt we become exhausted.  However, our bodies can become habituated to higher levels of stress. Arguably people working ‘in’ business have adapted but people working ‘on’ business are still in the stage of alarm and resistance?

Network leadership isn’t a response to a new business reality, it’s not a consultant inspired fad but an uncovering of a way of working that has existed below the surface of organisations as they struggle to make sense of how to act.  As our impatience grows and we push the world to speed up, to collapse boundaries and become more interconnected and interdependent it is imperative to know how to act.  Network leadership provides an answer.

David Goodhart’s (2017) book ‘The Road to Somewhere’ was the first to identify the tribal lines of the ‘anywheres’ and the ‘somewheres’.  The educated ‘anywheres’ dominate the social and cultural debate and are defined by their portable career and educational achievements, whilst the ‘somewheres’ are defined by the location they are rooted in.  The rise of political populism could represent the first two stages of the ‘general adaptation syndrome’ – alarm and resistance and a demand for heroic leaders to save the day.

The ‘heroic’ leadership model, in which we pin our hopes and aspirations on a single omniscient and omnipotent individual to lead the way, becomes problematic when the challenges are bigger than a single brain can cope with.  Network leadership is an alternative model that draws on a web of connections to get things done.  My understanding of network leadership is a result of working closely with hundreds of leaders across organisations globally, working closely with them through organisational change and upheaval and observing what enables them to act and mobilise those around them.

So how do I define and characterise ‘network leadership’?  Network Leadership is the ability and capacity to bring together people, ideas and resources to solve problems, create opportunities and deliver for a constituency.  Network Leaders recognise that they don’t know the answer but those around them do; that they don’t own all of the resources to deliver for their constituents but others within their network do; that their power comes from the ability to work across boundaries; to connect ideas with action and people with resources.  They are net contributors to their network in terms of connecting, energising and mobilising others to act.

In the overly simplistic characterisation of leadership styles, heroic leaders are defined by their sense of destination; the trinity of ‘vision, mission and values’ capture what they do, where we are going and how we will behave towards each other.  The network leader works in a more subtle way informed by purpose and belief; open to possibility and opportunity; working without authority but being influential; prepared to shift and reconfigure in order to deliver.

Network leadership is not to be confused with distributed leadership, it’s not diluting the authority of the leader across others but using singular authority to enlist others in their sense of purpose.  Network leaders have a mental ‘manifesto’ that describes what they believe in, what they stand for and what they are trying to achieve.  Mission, vision and values is replaced with manifesto thinking informed by a sense of restless persuasion.

Network leaders at the top use their power to bring people together from across, within and between organisations.  Assembling cross hierarchical groups to solve problems, re-forming them as a project unfolds; always being open to possibility and opportunity.

Network Leaders within organisations have an intuitive grasp of the social system within their organisation: how decisions are made, how resources are allocated and who determines who is listened too.  They are frequently the ‘go to’ people; the problem unlockers and are sought out for their advice.

Network leadership challenges the orthodoxy of the conventional schools of leadership by asking leaders to think about themselves in relation to others; inside and outside their organisation, over which they may have no authority; to ensure purpose and values are of equal importance and present in all they do.  ‘Restless persuasion’ is how network leadership is executed day to day.

[i] Peters, T., (1989), Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution

[ii] Bennis, Warren; Nanus, Burt (1985). Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge.

[iii] Handy, C., (1995), The Age of Unreason: New Thinking For A New World

[iv] Seyle. H., (1956) The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956, ISBN 978-0070562127

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To team, or not to team, that is the question…

To Team or Not To Team

We are social animals. We have hunted and gathered in teams for most of our history. Beside the benefits of sharing the burden of survival and gaining insight, learning and knowledge, we also seek out teams for affection, affiliation, acknowledgement and personal self-worth. Even today, banishment or shunning is an important form of punishment in most social groups and organisations.

In the early 20th century mass manufacturing and bureaucracy briefly removed the necessity for teams, when scientific management tried to improve productivity by assigning specific tasks to individuals. But teams reappeared after the Second World War, epitomised by the efforts of William Edwards Deming in Japan, and have since become the basic building blocks of organisations. A shift that has been culturally reinforced, in the western world at least, through the encouragement of group work in schools and our love of team sports.

However, managers need to ask themselves whether teams are always the right answer, because building an efficient and effective team requires time and effort, and if done badly can lead to confusion, waste, delay and poor decision-making. Nor do teams and team working suit everyone. Introverts, who it is estimated make up 40% of the workforce, may loathe them. And while teams work best if their members have a strong common culture, this can easily degenerate into a ‘them and us’ mentality and groupthink, where teams become close minded, overestimate their capabilities, and suffer from pressures toward conformity.

I am not suggesting that we avoid teams, far from it, they allow us to achieve what cannot be done alone. But I am suggesting we pause for thought. Teams do not happen simply by being given the title. They are complex arenas of behaviour that need to be carefully nurtured if they are to achieve more than the sum of their parts.

So how do you know if a team is the right answer? Well start by asking yourself the following key question:

Do I need a working group or a team? In some cases work may be best left to individuals. In a working group the members work separately toward individual performance goals and, if they interact at all, it is only to share information and best practice in order to help each individual perform better within his or her area of responsibility. Beyond that there is no realistic or truly desired common purpose, performance goals, or joint work products. So, is there a significant performance need or opportunity that requires your group to become a team? It is important to be clear on this because investing time in team building may be detrimental to individual performance.

If the answer is still yes, I need a team, then the next step is to measure yourself against some sort of standard.

In their seminal work, The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith describe a real team as a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. And a high performing team as a group that meets all the conditions of a real team, and has members who are also deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success. Let’s look at each attribute in turn

Small number. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s boss, reputedly said that “If I see more than two pizzas for lunch, the team is too big.” More prosaically, Katzenbach and Smith identify teams as between 2 and 25 people, with the majority being less than 10. Larger groups will struggle to find the time and space to meet. They are also more likely to fall prey to groupthink and herd behaviours. And, if the going gets tough, will find it easier to revert to formal hierarchy, structure, policies and procedures.

Complementary skills. This refers not only to technical or functional expertise, but also to problem solving, decision-making skills and interpersonal skills, all of which allow the team to perform and function together. The key watch out is forming teams on the basis of personal compatibility, rather than skills. To be immunised against ‘groupthink’, teams need to contain ‘deviants’, those who are willing to ruffle feathers. Teams need productive conflict between different personalities and approaches. They need some grit in the oyster. A group where everyone gets on enjoys themselves is a party not a team.

Common purpose and performance goals. Teams develop direction, momentum, and commitment by working toward a shared purpose. Fundamentally, purpose gives teams a shared identity, keeping conflict constructive by providing a meaningful common standard against which to resolve clashes. Goals are an integral part of the purpose, transforming broad directives into specific and measureable objectives. They define the team’s work product, differentiating it from individual job objectives, but identifying how individuals can best contribute.

Committed to a common approach. This describes how teams will work together to accomplish their purpose: who will do particular jobs; how objectives will be set and adhered to; how the group will make and modify decisions; and when and how often they will meet. In addition there are social roles to be encouraged such as listening, challenging, supporting and integrating.

Mutual Accountability. This underpins commitment and trust, which is vital for any high performing team. By promising to hold ourselves accountable to the team’s goals we earn the right to express our views about all aspects of the team’s effort and have our views receive a fair and constructive hearing.

Still interested in forming a team? Then you need to get the basics right from the start.

Tuckman’s familiar team development model is useful here, describing the process in four stages: forming, storming, norming and performing. In the forming stage, be prepared for little work to get done and for team members to be overly polite with one another. At this stage team members will seek guidance from you on the team’s purpose, aims and objectives; the contribution expected from each of them; and the ground rules. This period is about helping people to understand why they are forming as a team, what will be expected of them and how they will work together. Expect to deal with the following typical questions:

• Why were we formed or why are we now being asked to be a team?
• What are we supposed to accomplish as a team?
• Whose idea was the formation of this team?
• Why was I asked to participate on this team?

They are also likely to want to know who the other members of the team are. What their roles and responsibilities will be? How are they going to find out each other’s capabilities and characteristics? And how they will be expected to work together as a team? They may ask the following questions:

• How will we arrive at decisions?
• How will we resolve disagreements?
• How will we increase our ability to take risks and maximise our creativity?
• Where, when and how will we meet (whole team, smaller groups, one-to-one)?
• How are we going to make ourselves accessible to each other?

As these questions are explored and debated be prepared to deal with challenges to your authority and inter-team squabbles. This is the storming stage and your role is to explain the boundaries, offer suggestions, arbitrate and ultimately make decisions, while keeping a lid on anarchy. It will be up to you to direct the traffic, in order to identify and establish goals, roles and relationships, lines of communication, likely barriers, and support mechanisms. Norming is when team roles become accepted, team feeling develops, and information is freely shared. And your ultimate goal is performing, when optimal levels of productivity are achieved.

But it’s not over yet. The challenge now is how does the team continue to be successful and not get into a rut? The answer is continuous improvement. Teams need to maintain clarity on purpose and performance; accountabilities and responsibilities; barriers and strategies to get around them; interpersonal issues; modifications to the problem solving and decision making; and intra/inter team communication, to name but a few. The bottom line is that the conversation around the team’s why, what and how is necessarily ongoing, reacting to and evolving with the team member’s environment, just as our species has always done.

Still want to form a team?

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Forget Leadership, Try Management.

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Leadership is sexy, management is boring. Yet how many of us have followed plausible and inspiring leaders who it turns out couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag and in the end, if we follow them at all, it is only out of sheer curiosity. Paradoxically, it is management, often regarded as a science, which is more trainable than the elusive art of leadership.

Put simply, management is the science of getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right kit, in order to deliver the right outcome. This means that delegation is at the heart of good management and perhaps that is why management is often so poor, because we all know that we should delegate but often don’t.

We all know why we should delegate. From a manager’s perspective it can reduce pressure and stress; it increases a manager’s capacity, because it provides more pairs of hands and minds to work on a problem; and fundamentally it provides managers with the time to do the work that only they can do. From the subordinates perspective it is a powerful source of motivation and an essential part of training and developing your team. So why wouldn’t you?

Well let’s be honest, how many of us have not delegated a task because we feel we can do the job better ourselves; because it is easier to do it ourselves; because it is quicker to do it ourselves; because if things go wrong it’s our head on the block; because we’re too busy to delegate; or because we enjoy doing the job ourselves. So how do we get over ourselves? These four simple steps may help.

Ask yourself a simple question
To know if you’re guilty of holding on to too much, answer this simple question: “If you had to take an unexpected week off work, would your initiatives and priorities advance in your absence?” If the answer is no then either you have no staff or you aren’t delegating enough. At the very least you need a deputy, who can step into your shoes. Now and when you move on.

If you’re still struggling to delegate, try this: over the next month make a list of tasks that you might delegate: write them down as you think of them. Then ask yourself: “What can I, and only I, do?” If a certain task could be done by someone else, maybe it should be. The only things you shouldn’t delegate are things concerned with the strategy, planning, policy, standards and objectives. Anything concerned with discipline. Anything you know your boss would not want you to delegate, or you are not authorised to delegate. And anything you genuinely believe only you can perform in the time available, don’t cheat!

Be clear about what you’re delegating and to whom
Once you’ve decided to delegate, you need to be clear in your own mind what you are asking the team or individual to do. When describing the task begin with the objective: what you are trying to achieve, but also why. This provides the overarching purpose, which not only tends to improves motivation, but also sets the task in context, enabling subordinates to adapt should the situation change. Then provide a start and completion date, with an agreed monitoring timeline. Describe what the outcome should look like in terms of quality and in what quantity, how much/how many. Finally, detail the resources available: money, people and tools etc.

When selecting a person(s) for the task, consider their competence for the job and use the traffic light system to gauge the graduated level of support you may need to provide. Red: I’ll do it you watch and learn. Amber: We’ll do it together, or you do it and I’ll watch. Green: you do it.

Always ensure understanding
Remember, if a task goes awry the person usually at fault is the one who issued the instructions, because what you say is not necessarily what is heard, and any teacher will tell you that “Are there any questions?” is itself a poor question. The likely result is silence, because of the social pressure not to look stupid and/or delay the escape to break or lunch! The same pressures often apply at work.

The answer is to ask “Are there any questions, because if not I have some questions for you?” Make it clear from the start that you will be asking confirmatory questions to ensure understanding. This will get people to listen carefully and encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand. You are now working with, rather than against social pressure: no one will want to look stupid when you ask your confirmatory questions.

Provide feedback
Asking people to complete anything but the simplest task without any feedback is like playing darts in the dark. Without feedback, during a task, or at the very least at the end of it, your direct reports have no way of knowing how they are doing and therefore adjusting their aim or approach.

It is also important to engage them in a dialogue, not a diatribe. Help them learn, by exploring what has gone well, what was done poorly and how it could be changed. Ask them what they have tried and explore alternatives, and allow them the opportunity for response and clarification. And finally, thank and congratulate them when the job is done.

Hopefully, by following these four simple steps, you will ensure that people follow you out of something more than morbid curiosity and amusement.

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5 Leadership Skills in the Age of Networks

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Informal networks of connection and control have always existed, but often only vaguely understood within tribal pecking orders, neat corporate hierarchies, and military chains of command. For networks to emerge as a new paradigm it needed a language of its own. A language that has been provided by the internet and social media. The question is do we need to change how we lead within this new worldview? In my opinion, the answer is yes.

Effective collective action will always require some to lead and others to follow. Direction, however subtle, gentle or hidden is always necessary. Formal, positional leadership will remain important, but in a virtual, networked world leaders will increasingly be asked to lead without positional authority and without being able to constantly monitor their direct reports.

Unlike conventional top-down leadership, leadership in a networked world is more about enabling than directing. It is more about influence than control; more indirect than direct; but still obliging leaders to create an environment based on both collaboration and individual autonomy.

It is leadership understood first and foremost as a social process that creates direction, alignment and commitment without recourse to the traditional mantra of positional authority: “because I say so.” It is more a case of ‘power with’ as opposed to ‘power over’.

In her recent book, The Chess-Board and The Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World, Anne-Marie Slaughter identifies five skills of a network leader: clarification, curation, connection, cultivation and catalysis.

  1. Clarify – Leadership begins with helping people make sense of their situation and the clarification of goals. Clarification starts when someone steps forward and makes suggestions about how to fix or achieve something. Clarification continues through continually refining what those goals mean in practice through facilitated discussion and working through disagreements.
  2. Curate – Curation is the careful selection of whom to connect to whom: people, institutions and resources. This is a specifically network skill and starts with understanding or mapping your community or organisation, recognising who has what and who needs what in terms of knowledge, skills and resources.
  3. Connect – Having identified the assets in your community or organisation, good connectors are synergy spotters, accomplished at connecting people to each other, cross fertilising and spreading knowledge and connections to help things grow toward a common purpose. It should not be confused with networking. This is about connecting people, skills, knowledge and resources for the benefit of those you connect, not for selfish ends. And once connected, a great connector continually checks in with the members of their network to keep connections alive.
  4. Cultivate – As Stanley McChrystal observed in Team of Teams, leading is like gardening: “Leadership is like gardening, because gardeners can’t do anything. They can’t make plants grow or flowers bloom, they can only create the conditions in which everything flourishes and achieves its best.” The network leader, therefore, focuses on trust building (deepening relationships through repeated interactions), delegation and empowerment, troubleshooting, conflict resolution, setting and enforcing boundaries, sharing knowledge, gathering resources, and holding stakeholders accountable.
  5. Catalyse – a leader must provide energy, not drain it. A leader is the spark, igniting sustaining and rekindling activity in a network. This often requires uncommon powers of persuasion, which can be enhanced by being open to persuasion yourself. Model effective dialogue and a capacity to change your mind, on the basis that to change others you must be prepared to change yourself.

None of these skills are new. Napoleon recognised the importance of clarification when he spoke of defining reality and giving hope. But a new paradigm encourages us and ultimately requires us to look at the world in a different way. Like turning a kaleidoscope the pattern and the colours have been rearranged and we must adapt what we know to this new worldview, discarding what no longer fits, adjusting what still has relevance and, if need be, creating the rest as we go.

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Leadership is a balance between power and love

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I can’t take the credit for this one and I’m not even sure who can. I found it recently on an untitled word document, among a pile of papers that I had obviously put to one side to read later. Well I’m glad I finally did read it and I commend it to you, and if anyone can identify the author please let me know.

It begins with a reflection on that iconic moment when Nelson Mandela, as the new President of South Africa, put on the green jersey of the nation’s Rugby team during the Rugby World Cup that took place in South Africa in 1995. As the author notes, it was a hugely symbolic gesture, in effect saying “we are all South Africans now”, which demonstrated both Mandela’s power as president, but also his love for all the people of the new South Africa. It meant getting the balance right between authority and inclusivity, between power and love. So here it is.

‘As leaders we face similar challenges. Our context is changing and those who we lead are watching us. As more is expected of us, what kind of leadership is needed from us in these times of change? Using the analogy of ‘power’ (the drive to get the job done, to push things to a conclusion) and ‘love’ (the drive to connect things, to bring people together, to unify), as leaders we cannot choose one or the other, we must choose both.

There are four tensions we need to navigate when balancing these elements in our leadership.

1. ‘Being a pacesetter’ versus ‘Being a coach’
Daniel Goleman argues that although pacesetting is an important leadership style and is sometimes just what is needed, it won’t provide lasting improvements unless you adopt other leadership styles. Drawing on the work of Goleman, as leaders, if our only style is pacesetting we may find that we have stepped out on our own but that nobody is following, instead they are criticising us from the side-lines. But the answer is not necessarily to reduce the pace, it is to also have strategies to support those we lead in coping with the pace, to be a coach as well as a pacesetter.

2. ‘Challenging’ versus ‘Openness to being challenged’
Great strategists don’t always take people with them. The best leaders must be extremely challenging, but alongside this, we need to show that we welcome challenge ourselves and can model a more open and engaging style of leadership. The best leaders are very challenging but they also don’t take themselves too seriously. They encourage their teams to question their thinking and they go out of their way to make it okay for their teams to challenge them. They ask questions, they are curious. They don’t believe they have all the answers. They involve their staff in crucial decisions and encourage them to test new ideas.

3. ‘Being competitive’ versus ‘Being collaborative’
Our role is to do the best we can to improve our service areas and organisations and this, of course, means that there is competition within and between organisations. Although sometimes it’s not fashionable to admit it, competition stops us from being complacent and keeps us on our toes. Accountability and competition are good things and should be welcomed by all those who want to raise aspirations and help communities to achieve their potential.

However, collaboration is just as important and in fact, without it, all we will get is greater variation in quality. Some will get better and do really well, but overall the system will not improve. The right kind of collaboration is key though, it’s not about huddling together and endorsing each other’s views and practices, it needs to be inclusive but also focused on outcomes, on raising the bar and achieving real solutions for improvement.

4. ‘Being consistent’ versus ‘Being adaptive to context’
To what extent can solutions and good practice be applied across the board or are they context related? If you have a tried and tested system that has clearly worked well and delivered results why should others not use that system rather than try to invent their own, especially if this is based on sound evidence? But there is another side to this, especially when it comes to leadership: context does matter.

We need to have leaders who can adapt their leadership to different circumstances. We have to ask ourselves whether the leadership approaches that have worked for us in the past are still going to work for us in the future, in a world that is very different from the one we have now (whether we like it or not). And, if we do decide that we do need to adapt our leadership approaches, how do we make that happen? It certainly isn’t easy. We need to adapt to support the new leadership behaviours rather than the old ones.

In order to navigate these four tensions, it’s time for us to step up and build a new spirit of professionalism. As the whole system shifts and turns, more than ever before we need leaders who are demonstrating authority, pace and a commitment to systems that work, and are combining it with inclusivity, collaboration, and contextualisation: leaders who are stepping up to lead a self-improving system.

The real watershed moment we are living through is because this is an era that won’t be defined so much by the financial and policy changes taking place, unprecedented though many of them are, but by what we, as leaders, make of those changes, how we seize the opportunity to redefine our approach and to ensure outcomes improve.’

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Leadership is about Grip: Have you got it?

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If management is the science of getting the right people, with the right things, in the right place, at the right time, in order to achieve the right effect, then leadership is the art of achieving more than the science of management says is possible. That is, when there aren’t enough people, money is tight and there just isn’t enough time; and that requires ‘Grip’. Leaders need to grip themselves, grip their team, and grip the situation, which means a mix of mental and physical toughness, emotional intelligence, integrity, competence, and the humility to learn, unlearn and relearn. People with these attributes get things done when common sense says it’s not possible.

Mental and physical toughness, or resilience in current management speak, provides the inner conviction of a leader, which in turn gets authority and respect. A resilient leader learns from setbacks and isn’t crushed by them. When faced with a tough decision they sit or stand, they don’t wobble. They know the difference between collaboration and consultation. In the first, the team talks and the team decides. In the second the team talks, but the leader decides, because they have the courage to do so. The moral courage to challenge the organisation, their team and convention. Nobody can be a leader without courage, because by definition leaders break away from the crowd and take people with them, moving from what is known and expected into the new and unknown.

They do this by helping people to make sense of things. Human beings have a need to make sense of things and a desire to give meaning to what they do, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty. This has never been lost on populist politicians. Recent research suggests that confident, straight talking leaders with clear, simple messages (however economical with the truth), become more popular in turbulent times, because they help people to make sense of what is happening, what has happened and what will happen. Showing where, how and why we fit into the big picture. As Napoleon observed, a leader should ‘define reality and give hope.’

But true leadership is about more than offering simplistic messages and manipulating people with spurious reasons and remedies. True leaders have character, they are genuine, honest and straight with people. They don’t fake it. Ultimately, they are devoted to the cause. Their work is a vocation, expertise combined with feeling, and true leadership relies on it. Great leaders choose a profession that is congruent with their values, a vocation for which they have a deep inner commitment and belief. And if they don’t believe, they have the courage to change.

Leaders are consistent, in both mood and in their sense of direction, they maintain the aim and appear confident and calm in a crisis. They keep their head and their grip. But they are agreeable too, their mood does not change like the weather. They are self-aware enough to recognise their own emotional state and what drives them, and at the same time the impact this can have on others. They are able to control their emotions and impulses, adapting consistently to changing circumstances, while remaining passionate, enthusiastic and motivated. They make decisions, but they also understand other people’s feelings when making those decisions and in truth they influence more than they dictate. They are socially adept, managing networks and relationships, and making an honest and compelling case for movement and change.

A leader’s competence comes from their technical mastery as well as their people mastery. They are able to deal with complexity. They manage, plan, control and provide structure. They are intelligent, able to think critically but also able to think on their feet and process on the fly. They are creative, able to capitalise on opportunities through innovation, improvisation and, if necessary, invention. They think strategically. They understand the bigger picture and are able to anticipate, connect the dots and align stakeholders. Fundamentally, they are flexible, adaptable and responsive to changing tasks, situations, teams and individuals. But perhaps, greatest of all their gifts is that of humility. Leaders with grip are humble, prepared to admit their mistakes and always prepared to learn. Have you got it?

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The 3 Secrets of Happiness, Productivity and Innovation

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No doubt you’ve heard it all before: the on-demand economy will exacerbate the trend toward enforced self-reliance that has been gathering pace since the 1970s. Each of us will have to master multiple skills and keep those skills up to date. We will need to take more responsibility for educating themselves, selling ourselves, through personal networking and social media, effectively turning ourselves into personal brands. In a more fluid world everyone will have to learn how to manage ‘corporate individualism’ and ‘You Inc.’
 
But hold on a minute; surely there’s more to us than a piece of self-imagined corporate merchandise? How do we balance the demands of 21st century work with our personality, preferences and passion? Equally, what about the people we lead and manage? What about their aspirations and passions? So the question becomes, how can we make the most of our own and other people’s intrinsic strengths and motivations for the benefit of ourselves, our friends and colleagues, and the organisations to which we may belong (if only fleetingly)?
 
In a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? (Later developed into a book of the same name), Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, suggested that to be a true leader you should “Be yourself, more, with skill.” I think this advice goes well beyond leaders, I think it applies to us all. So where should we begin? Well I do like a good proverb, so let’s start with an ancient Chinese one, which describes happiness as something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. In other words, meaningful work, close ties to family and friends, and a reasonable hope of a positive future? Let’s take them in turn.
 
Meaningful Work
 
In ‘Finding your Element’, Ken Robinson describes how making the most of ourselves is about using our particular kind of intelligence in an optimal way. In his view, the only way to prepare for an uncertain future is to make the most of ourselves, on the assumption that this will make us more flexible and adaptable. He believes that each of us should identify and nurture four things:

  • Our Aptitude – our natural facility for doing something
  • Our Passion – what gives us deep delight and pleasure
  • Our Attitude – the drive and grit to succeed
  • Our Opportunity – creating and taking opportunities to find them
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    Identifying them will put us in the ‘zone’, which like the state of ‘flow’ described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (Mee-Hi Cheech-Me-Sent-Hi if you were wondering), is where we lose track of time, we feel we are doing what we are meant to be doing and being who we are meant to be: time feels different, ideas come more quickly, and it fills us with energy.
     
    Close Ties to Family and Friends
     
    Research conducted by Robert Levering, aimed at discovering the essence of a great place to work, concluded that such a place is one in which you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you are working with. Ken Robinson describes it as ‘finding your tribe’, which can have a transformative effect on both your sense of identity and purpose.
     
    People who are like you offer validation and interaction, they affirm that you are not alone and enable collaborative ventures. They provide inspiration and provocation, allowing you to stand on the shoulders of others and raise the bar on your own level of achievement. Finally, they provide the ‘alchemy of synergy’ by modelling the three features of human intelligence, which are diversity, dynamism and distinction.
     
    Diversity describes the breadth of human intelligence from analytic to creative, from practical to emotional, just like the different members of a team. Dynamism is displayed by its interactivity, neurons in the brain fire and connect just like people, and finding new connections is how breakthroughs occur. And finally each of us, and the teams we form, are distinct, every person’s intelligence is unique, like a fingerprint, the key is to identify where our strengths lie and seek out the strengths of others to plug the gaps?
     
    Reasonable Hope of a Positive Future
     
    In ‘Drive’, Daniel H. Pink describes how there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Fundamentally, the use of rewards and punishments to control employees is an antiquated way of managing people. To maximise our enjoyment and productivity in 21st century work, he argues that we need to upgrade our thinking on motivation to include autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose, the yearning to what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. And it is purpose that provides the essential context for both autonomy and mastery.
     
    According to the research cited by Pink, the most deeply motivated people align their desires to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. As an emotional catalyst, wealth maximisation lacks the power to fully mobilise human energies, because it still begs the question: to what end. Satisfaction depends upon not merely having goals, but on having the right goals: goals that are greater than one’s own self-interest. The alternative is worker disengagement and the poor productivity, which may be one of the reasons why we currently have such poor productivity in the UK.
     
    Furthermore, neuroscience is now discovering that when people have a sense of purpose, especially a sense of common purpose, their brain chemistry changes. From our perception of pain, to our ability to handle difficult and challenging environments, and even our health and well-being.
     
    For all these reasons, each of us needs to think about how we can create a purpose and an environment that stimulates us and the people we work with. How can we all be ourselves, more, with skill?

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