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If you want continuous success 2012 you need to be flexible. Adapting to changes in your environment, quickly building and rebuilding to keep performing at the peak of your ability. These are your main needs 2012. If you are a business.

If you are a human being your main needs are slightly different. To keep performing at the peak of your ability you will need to rest, recover and refill. In order to be flexible you need some point of reference, some focus of control something that is consistent. Without which you may just be being chaotic rather than flexible.

Both these factors are a source of security. A security we are dependent upon to be able to perform and be flexible.

Now, there are different ways to approach this. One way is to create an environment that doesn’t change. An environment where routines can be built, tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today, no surprises, no disappointments, nothing bad can happen. In other words, we create security by controlling our outer environment.

If this has ever been possible it is certainly not so now. And we all know it. Ok, we can try to cover up, hide from reality, avoid facing the facts pretty much the way Basil Fawlty runs his hotel. We maybe all do this more or less but the effort needed and the energy spent is definitely taking its toll. Not to mention the consequences this behaviour has for the way things (don’t) work.

So what is the alternative to controlling your environment?
Self control. No, I don’t mean gritting your teeth and keeping a stiff upper lip, I am talking about self management or self leadership. Taking charge, being in control, stepping up to the challenge using your full potential in a wise way to deal with whatever situation you meet. Using your creativity, your personality, your perceptual, emotional and physical skills to interact with the environment. Not controlling it. Interacting with it in a beneficial way whatever form it takes.

Which of these two alternatives has the potential to actually work and give a lasting feeling of security? Hoping for everything to stay the way it is so you can do what you have always done? Or building an inner stability, feeling confidence in your ability to deal with a changing environment? A static stability dependent on nothing changing, or a dynamic stability as a source of security in a changing dynamic world? The choice is your’s.

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The word collaboration has over the years been associated with treason. A collaborator was someone who cooperated with the enemy and for a lot of people, the very idea of any collaboration between management and employees is seen as “teaming up with the enemy”.

The reason for this unfortunate situation is a traditional void between between the parties who need to be part of a collaborative leadership. Some organisations bridge this gap in a reasonable manner, due mainly to the personal maturity of management and employees and a realtively trauma-free history. Others have a very different situation where the extreme may be an open conflict, where much time and effort is spent protecting yourself and inflicting harm on the “enemy”. Even the knowledge that the long term effects are bad for all isn’t sufficient to stop the battle.

The first step, to even have a chance to improve the quality of cooperation is to bury the hatchet and let go of the past. Only when there is an actual will for better co-operation is there a chance to move on. If there is no will, there will be little development, and in an organisation with a tradition of ruthless exploitation of staff, management by terror and where any managers showing the slightest weakness have been the prey of vengeful, bullying employees the trust and the will may be nonexistent. No-one is satisfied with the situation but no-one is willing to take the first step. “Winning” is more important than functioning. Destructive chaos preferable to “losing”.

Still this is where we have to begin. To try and reach that first small, fragile expression of intent: “ok, we’ll give it a chance.” Then there is something to carefully nurture and develop instead of  continuing along that habitual, destructive path with all that it costs in time, money and human suffering. But, before any intent is expressed, managers and employees will need to know what “it” is they are to give a chance. They will need to know what collaborative leadership actually is and how it can be a more intelligent way of taking action.

Brainpower

The lone wolf, the hero, the captain of the vessel, the distinguished, 50+, grey-templed CEO all have two things in common. They have past their best before date (if they were ever more than just a mythical figure) and…they all only have one brain.

In the complexity and pace of daily life and business 2011, one brain is a definite limitation. Medical science hasn’t reached a solution to this yet so the best alternative is to find other brains to co-operate with.

Integrative thinking, integrating different information, experience and understanding is the key to more strategically sustainable solutions to operative problems. Finding the solutions for today’s problems that don’t become the cause of tomorrow’s problems.

Of course there is a price to pay. Letting other perspectives enter the stage and taking them seriously, will mean challenging our own perspective of reality. In fact, accepting things that may initially feel wrong, outrageous or even insulting. And how many of us are prepared to do that?

Whether talking about life in general or leadership in an organisation, the challenge is the same: How well is your inner reality developing with and adapting to your outer reality? Because no matter what you are doing, there are two realities that need to be considered.

First you have an outer reality. The context that you are a part of and take action in. It may be that global market or your local neighbourhood but there will be certain conditions served by this reality that at the moment are a fact. There is a nuclear catastrophy in Japan effecting the economy, the weather is extremely cold, the shops are closed etc. In this reality you will find possibilities and limitations and exactly what they are will vary. They will vary from day to day, changing even as you read this so that next time you look outside there will be a different outer reality.

Then you have an inner reality that is you yourself. As a corporation, as a family or as a person. Your inner reality also holds possibilities and limitations. There are things you can do and there are things you,a t least at the moment, cannot do. These factors change too, if you do something about them. Sure some things develop naturally but if you’re sitting around waiting to “become” an expert at rocket science or violin playing you will probably be disappointed. So, changing your inner reality takes an effort and it takes time.

Every-day life is about relating these realities to each other and what you wish to achieve. A change in the outer reality may mean an adaptation of your inner reality, learning new skills, aquiring new resources and changing what you do. In the same way leadership is about relating these realities to each other and what you wish to achieve, with a rapidly changing and complex business environment constantly challenging the way you use your resources.

Unfortunately, a traditional view of leadership with a top down, control and command perspective is built on the strategy of handling these two realities separately. This can be a functional strategy in a more stable environment where changes are small and few. Today the pockets of relative quiet and calm are unusual and only by changing it’s perspective on leadership can an organisation hope to find the flexibility, agility and motivation to deal with the outer reality of the 21st century.

This different perspective is of seeing leadership as a joint venture where leaders, managers and co-workers colaborate in the quest to relate outer reality to inner reality. Anythoing other than co-operation in a common process leads to a devestating split in the organisation. A split between strategic levels, focused on the outer reality and operative levels, focused on the inner reality. A split that can become a void, a void that will be widened by the lack of a common language, a lack of communication channels with sufficient “band-width”, a lack of common understanding of the leadership process, a lack of tools for handling the process etc.

The most unfortunate outcome of this split of an organisation into “us and them” is when middle management, appointed to bridge the void and keep the peace, crash and burn and full scale war breaks out. Time and resources that should be spent battling with the competition are used protecting “us” and attacking “them”.

Intelligent business? Definitely not, but unfortunately a not uncommon result of outdated assumptions about leadership

There are things we don’t do.

Some of these things we are proud of not doing. The surrounding world is glad we do not do them and a lot of good comes from us not doing them.

Other things we wish we would do. We strongly believe we or someone else would benefit from us doing them and a lot of problems arise due to us not doing them.

So, why don’t we do them? These things we believe would be right to do and think could lead to desirable consequences? Things that we could do right now but for some reason don’t? The reason is that we can imagine future possibilities. We can see the possibility of other consequences than the desired ones. Other consequences that are not the desired ones. They may not be probable, in fact they may not even be possible but they are thinkable and that may be enough to stop us. If we care.

If we don’t care, these consequences won’t matter. And if they don’t matter there is nothing to stop us. If I don’t care about failing, even a high probability of failure won’t stop me. Because failing won’t matter.

So we need to ask ourselves about these consequences. Do they really matter? If you think they do, it’s because you care. Are the things that make you most careful the things you really want to be caring about?

Alone on my desert island, consideration is a totally unnecesssary concept. My personal experience of reality and my actions rule.

Then another person arrives. A second perspective of reality and possible action. A perspective different to mine. What to do?

1. I could get rid of the other. Either literally or by banishing them to the far end of the island and once again my perspective rules. At least in my territory.

2. I can allow the other to co-exist with me as long as my pespective is accepted as the perspective. The trouble with this is all the questions I keep getting about the perspective and what to do next.

3. I can choose to live as a community where different perspectives are allowed and encouraged. The difficulty with this is handling the difference between the perspectives and the issue of dominance.

If we both choose alternative 3 we can start developing our co-operation. Co-ordinating our different perspectives to benefit our mutual survival. Should one of us choose alternative 1 or 2, we may have embarked on the path to our mutal destruction. Energy we could have spent on survival will be spent on our struggle for dominance, being “right” becoming more important than surviving.

How much energy is wasted in your organisation?

Following the development in Egypt I can’t help but think: where will things go from here and how will they get there? Will there be an acceptance for a different leadership? Will there be an acceptance for a new structure which will most likely limit individual freedom? Does there need to be a leadership, a structure and limitations to individual freedom?

To down-scale the issue somewhat I have just had the opportunity to observe what, in my eyes, was the result of an almost total lack of leadership and structure. An unwillingness to create any kind of conflict or disturbance had led to a lack of decisions being made and any decisions that were made, just being an adaptation to meet the self-interests of strong individuals.

The motivation for this non-existent leadership is wanting to be democratic and giving the members of the organisation independence and freedom.

This is a bit of a dilemma. Is it an individual choice whether I accept a leadership and a structure I don’t agree with or does a democracy depend upon people being willing to accept things they do not agree with? Who decides the limitations to individual freedom and are limitations necessary? Doesn’t everybody want what is best for everyone?

In theory I think most would say they do but in practice I think the answer to that one is obvious. Life is easier the less reality and fewer people you take into account. At least at the moment.  Not thinking about the production, the transport and eventually the disposal of your 50 inch flat screen TV:s does avoid a lot of moral anguish. So, we go for instant satisfaction of  individual self-interests, the consequences be damned. Or at least postponed. Or hopefully becoming someone elses problem. To see this behaviour endorsed and encouraged by those who have the power to counteract it is depressing, whether on a global level or in a small organisation.

Intelligent action? I think not. Watch this!  http://bit.ly/97hwa2