19 12 2011

photo credit Richard Giles

Now that I have handed in my final assignment for my MBA, I can get down to some serious blogging. Yes, it is fair to say that studying was somewhat a distraction from blogging (as opposed to the other way around).

As per a previous post, I am a compulsive goal-setter. It helps that I do strategic planning for my work, but I have also set goals for myself since I was a teenager. In my undergraduate degree, my Leadership lecturer told us about a study done on Harvard Business School graduates showing that those who had written goals were considerably more successful and happier in their lives. I was hooked.

So, in honour of the upcoming New Year, when everyone else (aka normal people) does goal setting as well (albeit sometimes with the aid of some liquid intoxicants), I am planning to write about goal setting. And given that I am already converted, I thought I’d ask others – what do you want to know about personal goal setting? And then, I’ll do the research and find out what it is you want to know.

So this is a bit of an experiment. If I get no responses – then I guess I’ll sob into my pillow for a little while. Then I’ll write something anyway. And as I am asking for input via the comments section of the blog….I guess it will be a little public if no-one wants to play with me! Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But I’m hoping that you might contribute – and I’m hoping this can all be of use to you.

And I will look up that Harvard Business School study and find out the details.

Please post ideas, suggestion and requests in the comments section……

A very short list of sayings that aren’t true

8 12 2011

photo credit Falashad

A fish rots from the head. This is used to imply that when an organisation has problems, it is the fault of leadership. While that may have merit, the metaphor does not. Fish rot from the gut, where the wet, bacteria- and enzyme-laden guts rapidly liquify and then rot. I’m sure I don’t need to go any further, you get the picture, and you don;t want to start imagining the smell. I decided not to test the other fish saying “after three days fish and visitors start to smell”.

photo credit F Trudeau

It’s always darkest before the dawn. This is used to impart hope and encourage perseverence – if things are really bad right now, then they can only get better. Not only is this sentiment not true (it is amazing the ability of situations to further deteriorate beyond what you thought was rock-bottom), but in fact it is darkest when the sun is on the directly opposite side of the earth from where you are standing. So if sunset is 7pm and sunrise is 7am, it will be darkest around midnight. Preferably in the country where there are no street lights, under a cloudy sky with no moon.

photo credit maryatexitzero

A watched pot never boils. Clearly if it has heat applied to it and has fluid inside it, it will boil. Your watching or ignoring a pot doesn’t actually stop it from boiling or otherwise. The Hawthorne effect does not work on inanimate objects. This saying refers to time being relative – when you are waiting for something (good) to happen it seems to take forever. On the other hand, bad things seem to come around quickly.

This is the end of the very short list of sayings that aren’t true. What other sayings annoy you?

Ethical Leadership

27 09 2011

I have had the pleasure of working for some really inspirational leaders, leaders from whom I learned a lot. These are some of the lessons I have learned from some of the best leaders I have worked for and observed.

1. Stand by your decisions. If you are making hard decisions that affect people’s lives, you put your face out there. There’s no hiding. If you make the decision, then you stand beside it, even when the going gets tough. (This doesn’t mean you can’t rethink.)

2. Be accountable. No excuses, if you make the decision then you own up to it.

3. Be fair. Find out the information from both (or more) sides of the story and hear both sides out fairly before making a decision. Particularly important in staff disputes and performance management situations.

4. Be available. People want to understand. They want to connect.

5. To err is human. We all make mistakes – you, me, everyone. It’s part of the human experience. Own up to your own mistakes and be clear that if you are changing your decision, you know you are changing your decision – you are not pretending that this was the decision all the way along (and why didn;t everyone esle understand that?). Likewise, recognise that the most perfect, hardworking and motivated employee will make mistakes from time to time.

6. Don’t make people wrong. So you are looking to lead your organisation in a new direction. Don’t start with a scorched earth policy – belittling and destroying everything that has gone before. What happened then happened for a reason and might have been the right thing at the time. Now times are different. You don’t need to make the past wrong in order to have a burning platform for change now and in the future. You also lose goodwill from staff if you denigate what they have done in the past.

7. Criticising the previous incumbent in your position is a cheap shot. And most of us recognise it for what it is. It doesn’t make your performance good, even in comparison. If you are good at your job, demonstrate it by being good, not by making everyone else bad.

8. Part of being a leader – a really big part of it – is dealing with your own emotional luggage. This is the EQ that makes someone a good leader because they aren’t wrapped up in their own emotions, triggers, reactions etc. You need to be able to be objective, you need to be focussed on the task at hand and how it is going. You need to not inflict your psychological hang-ups on others.

9. Being objective doesn’t mean you have no compassion. A Level 6 leader is a true human being who can bring their human compassion and understanding to the job – and still get the job done. It is possible to performance manage or discipline someone with compassion. It’s hard, and the person may not appreciate it at the time, but it’s ethical.

10. Bring people on the journey with you. Particularly if you are new to the organisation, you may have a different idea or understanding of what needs to be done, the direction you need to head in. But respect the people around you enough to explain it to them and bring them on the journey. They aren’t in the same “idea” space as you because their journey has been different. This means you need to lead.

11. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are truly inspired by the tasks ahead of you, it is easier to inspire others. And inspiration works – it can set a workforce alight with ideas, energy and motivation. Be passionate.

12. You don’t have to pretend everything is great all the time – but be careful what you say. Casual throw-away comments by the leader can be taken very seriously by staff.

13. Set the example. People watch the leader to see what they are doing, what is the expected standard. Work hard and be seen to work hard. Be respectful of others. Model good morale and good relationships. Be ethical. All of these things set the tone for people around you and help establish a positive culture.

14. Don’t be fake. You’ll get caught out and you’ll lose all credibility. And being fake about caring about others, being ethical or being an expert in a field is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

15. Assume the best motivations in people. Assume that most people want to come to work to do a good job. Usually you will be right. This doesn’t mean being naive or not recognising when something is wrong, but it gives people the opportunity to prove you right.

16. Be professional in all things.

That’s what comes to my mind as I think about some of the inspirational people I have known. The behaviours I have described, while modelled for me by leaders, are not only for leaders but also for people who want to be leaders, and those who want to work in a positive ethical workplace.

What else have I missed?

When organisations turn cannibal

21 07 2011

Many years ago I worked for a boss who fits all the criteria for “psychopath in the workplace”. He, and the place I worked, shall remain nameless for the purpose of this blog! (Disclaimer: If one of my former bosses is reading this and worried it is them – the fact you are worried means it is not you.)

This man ran a small organisation with four different operational arms. I can only suspect he was worried about his managers getting together and overthrowing him (much as he had done to the previous CEO) because the culture he encouraged was for each of the managers to attack the other managers’ units as a way of deflecting attention and negative focus from their own. To say that the organisational culture in this workplace was toxic is an understatement. When a manager came through your office you hid whatever you were doing and said nothing of any value to them at all. Non-cooperation was the order of the day. Staff turnover was endemic – people couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Years later I had risen through the ranks and happened to work alongside one of the “other” managers from this workplace. Her view on the experience was illuminating. She did what she had to do to survive and to keep her staff safe – as we all did. Imagine how effective the organisation could have been if everyone had been focussed on achieving organisational goals instead of cannibalising each other.

So a recent Forbes India article about leadership intrigued me. There were of course the usual “bad” manager types (Sociopaths, Opportunists and Chameleons) but one of the “positive” leadership types – Achiever – also had some cautionary tales attached to it.

The Achiever, according to the article, is highly prized for reaching goals and achieving outcomes. However, they tend to have a shorter term, insular view of their goals. An example given was shutting down investment in R&D as a cost-saving measure. Very effective in the short-term, but ham-strings the organisation in the medium to long-term.

Another example is where the achiever is competing against internal competitors. They do things that benefit their unit (and disadvantage other units) without understanding or perhaps caring about the broader organisation. Short term personal gain – their unit is working well, they may look good – but causing problems for the organisation.

Management book “Think One Team” uses the example of a jelly bean company (one of my former staff called the book “Jelly Bean Dreaming”) to illustrate how silos that compete against each other and don’t have an organisation-wide view actually work against the company.

While silos exist for a reason – the coalition of like services into units makes sense organisationally – silos that don’t see themselves as achieving for the whole organisation, or worse, compete with each other and actively disadvantage each other, equal a dysfunctional organisation.