Leading Blog


quickpoint: Strategy and Leadership

Leading Blog quickpoint When confronted by “unusual uncertainty” as Ben Bernanke put it, leaders need to be able to think and act adaptively. It’s jazzstrategic improvisation. Professor David Teece of University of California Berkeley Hass School of Business shares this in the foreword of Winning the Long Game:
A firm’s dynamic capabilities rest on two pillars: (1) the vision and leadership skills of managers, and (2) the cohesion and flexibility of the organization as a whole. Leaders must fashion sound strategies for the enterprise, and the organization itself must be agile enough to adapt as required. An organization’s culture and values are much slower and more difficult to change than its structure or processes, and can hamstring even an excellent strategy if its leaders cannot show the way forward.

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Of Related Interest:
  Leadership as Provocative Competence
  Leadership: Artistry Unleashed

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:45 PM
| TrackBacks (0) | Change , quickpoint


5 Leadership Lessons: Richard Branson on Leadership

5 Leadership Lessons

The Virgin Way by Richard Branson takes us over very familiar territory. But then maybe that’s the point.

While there is not much that is new, Branson has taken sound principles and demonstrated that – in practice – they work. He quotes Mark Twain, “All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them.” And indeed they are. Our problem is age-old: putting what we know into practice.
The Virgin Way

Bottom-line: There is no secret sauce.

Anyone who puts themselves out there will attract more naysayers than usual. Branson is no exception. His book is enjoyable to read, but it would have been more helpful to provide more nuts-and-bolts of his entrepreneurial adventures—the man behind the hype.

1  One of the keys to “the way” we do things is nothing more complex than listening – listening intently to everyone who has an opinion to share, not just the self-professed experts. It’s also about learning from each other, from the marketplace and from the mistakes that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive.

2  Any culture with an over-emphasis on “knowing your position” creates problems that get in the way of relationships, causes resentment and, as a direct result of this, can interfere with progress and innovation.

3  Don’t waste your time and energy trying to light a fire under flame-resistant people. If that basic, smoldering fire is not innate then no amount of stoking is ever going to ignite it. The exact same principle applies to positive attitudes in people – you don’t train attitudes, you have to hire them. (We now hire for attitude and not paper qualifications.)

4  To achieve lasting progress we must identify, nurture and learn from the next generation of business leaders. The leaders of tomorrow will be so much more effective if they are taught to retain and refine that childlike curiosity for the unknown, rather than having it “schooled” out of them, as seems still to be the case today in so many schools and universities.

5  Going it alone is an admirable but foolhardy and highly flawed approach to taking on the world. So please, take it from me: no matter how incredibly smart you think you are, or how brilliant, disruptive or plain off-the-wall your new concept might be, every start-up team needs at least one good mentor. Someone, somewhere, has already been through what you are convinced nobody else has ever confronted!

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:02 PM
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Booknotes: Leadership Vertigo, Kidding Ourselves

Booknotes ☙ In Leadership Vertigo, authors S. Max Brown and Tanveer Naseer explain that there is a gap between what we know we should be doing and what we are actually doing. They call it “leadership vertigo” and they attribute it to false signals in our daily perceptions that inform us that we’re moving in a certain direction when in reality we’re not.

How do we avoid leadership vertigo? If we live the following four principles it will help us to keep our focus where it should be and avoid leadership vertigo: “We need to create a feeling of community, of being a part of something bigger than a collection of individuals. We need to consistently respond with an inquisitive mind, actively listening to our employees to learn from their experiences so that we can encourage them to share their creativity and insights. This is especially true when you are dealing with mistakes and failures. We also need to make sure that our employees see the authenticity behind our words and actions so that they will trust the compassion we exhibit in light of the challenges or obstacles they face.”

☙ Joseph Hallinan deals with the same issues in Kidding Ourselves. He writes, “We engage in self-deception so seamlessly, across so many aspects of our lives, that it seems, to be an inherent human quality—a built-in shock absorber that allows us to adjust to life’s stresses and strains not by altering ourselves, but by altering our perceptions.” He notes that this is not all bad. It allows us to adapt and persevere when the odds are against us. We like to believe that we are in control. It may be an illusion but the results it produces are real—to us.

☙ At the same time, “Once we have an opinion about how something should be, that expectation often colors our perception of how that thing actually is.” (Sounds like leadership vertigo.) The tail begins to wag the dog and our perceptions conform to our expectations. “When we look, we look with a purpose—we don’t look at something; we look for something…We tend to see what we expect to see and to experience what we expect to experience.

☙ Hallinan expertly draws our attention to a number of ways we deceive ourselves quite unconsciously. “There is very little we are not capable of seeing or believing.” While a little self-deception can lead to optimism, perseverance and success, being mindful of our proclivity for it can save us. “Striving to see the world accurately is immensely better than seeing is inaccurately.”

Leadership Vertigo Kidding Ourselves
Buy at AMZN Buy at AMZN

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:39 AM
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The Chaos Imperative

Our brains need white space to think creatively.

We need white space to think more deeply and completely.

Leading With Intention
In The Chaos Imperative, co-authors Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack say that “if we want to foster creativity and innovation in our own lives, we too need a bit of chaos.” We need organization and routines to be sure, but we also need “pockets of chaos”—“places where structure and efficiency are set aside or blocked off to create a more organic process that allows new ideas to come to the fore.” What Brafman calls “organized serendipity.”

We could actually use more of this white space not only in our organizations, but in our homes, schools and personal lives as well. In one study, “researchers discovered that the children with more recess time learned more, developed better emotional and cognitive skills, were healthier, behaved better, and managed stress better.” The problem is that it seems counterintuitive to us; like we’re not doing our job; we’re slacking off. But if you, as a teacher, a parent, or a leader think of your job as an opportunity to draw out ideas from others, to listen and to connect, it makes a lot of sense.

However, white space is not a shortcut, but a step. Using the stories of Dmitry Mendeleev (created the table of the elements), Gary Starkweather (invented the laser printing), and Albert Einstein (developed the general theory of relativity), the authors write that none of these men could have arrived at the solutions to their problems had they not spent considerable time thinking about the particular problem and mastering their particular field. “But in order to solve the problems they were working on, they needed to create a bit of white space.”

Our brains need time to process the information we take in and it is our default mode unless we are focused on a task. We actually interrupt this process when we perform a specific task. “It’s often in those moments when we cede control, when we put down that pen, when we fall asleep, or when we talk offline, that true eureka moments seem to find us.”

Introducing chaos into our lives and organizations is inherently messy, so the authors have introduced five rules for managing it:

Rule 1: Avoid the Seductive Lure of Data and Measurements. It’s a process. Results will vary. Sometimes you will have more insights and sometimes you won’t have any.

Rule 2: Remember, It’s Called Organized Chaos. Here’s a paradox: “We need leaders who can tolerate uncertainty and imprecision, but we also need leaders who can maintain stability around the chaos.”

Rule 3: Make White Space Productive. Here are a few tips: You first have to put in the work. A slacker won’t necessarily benefit from white space. Get up and move. Get some exercise. Take a walk. Create a micro white space—a minute or two—think before you speak.

Rule 4: Embrace Unusual Suspects. Intentionally seek out those with different views and approaches. Different doesn’t mean crazy. Break down silos. Get people from around the organization to contribute.

Rule 5: Organize Serendipity. Create openness. Allow people to bump into one another.

Organize a little chaos in your new year!

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Of Related Interest:
  Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:52 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | Creativity & Innovation


quickpoint: Napoleon on Self-Control

Leading Blog quickpoint In Andrews Roberts’ one-volume biography of Napoleon he builds a picture of self-made man who largely succumbed to his own strengths. Roberts shares an interesting note from Napoleon to Louis-Mathieu Molé on self-control. This excerpt provides some insight into Napoleon’s character:
In my own case it’s taken me years to cultivate self-control to prevent my emotions from betraying themselves. Only a short time ago I was the conqueror of the world, commanding the largest and finest army of modern times. That’s all gone now! To think I kept all my composure, I might even say preserved my unvarying high spirits … You don’t think that my heart is less sensitive than those of other men. I’m a very kind man but since my earliest youth I have devoted myself to silencing that chord within me that never yields a sound now. If anyone told me when I was about to begin a battle that my mistress whom I loved to distraction was breathing her last, it would leave me cold. Yet my grief would be just as great as if I had the time. Without this self-control, do you think I could have done all I’ve done?
Roberts concludes: “So rigid a control on one’s emotions might seem distasteful to the modern temperament, but at the time it was considered a classical virtue. It undoubtedly helped Napoleon deal with his extraordinary reversals of fortune.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:30 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | Leaders


Eight Critical Questions for Leading with Intention

Leading With Intention
Your leadership effectiveness is a direct result of the level of intention with which you operate.

In Leading With Intention, author Mindy Hall says leading with intention means “consciously deciding to lead by design rather than by default; being mindful of who it is you want to be and then living into that picture twenty-four hours a day. It is about seeing opportunities every day, in every interaction, to shape the tone, the experience, and the outcome of those interactions.”

Everything you do sends a message. It begins with self-awareness. “The rest is practice, consistency, and continuous effort.” Here are eight critical questions from Leading With Intention that the intentional leader needs to ask:
  1. What kind of environment do you create in your interactions with others? Does it inspire people to be their best? You are 100% responsible for the tone you set.
  2. Are you clear about your intentions? The simple act of being clear in your own mind about your intentions helps you come across as more grounded, prepared, and transparent.
  3. Do you have preconceived notions or mind-sets of a person or situation? Mindsets are not static; they are dynamic and with new information and/or experience we can shift our mind-sets. The key is being conscious of your mind-sets and being open to challenging them.
  4. Do you challenge those mindsets? Today’s business environment requires the ability to see beyond one’s own perspective.
  5. How open are you to your own learning? How open are you to your own learning, to changing what isn’t working, to seeking out new experiences, and to not being defensive of diverse opinions even when they are radically different than your own?
  6. Do you do what you say you are going to do? People pay more attention to what you do than what you say, and your behavior speaks volumes.
  7. How would others describe you as a leader? Leaders must actively manage their presence in every interaction, both formal and informal.
  8. Why do you do the work you do?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:14 PM
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Things You Can Do to Build Their Future

Build Their Future

This last summer, my son Mark attended a youth leadership conference for the first time. I attended the opening session with him in a room of about 300 kids that all seemed to know each other. Mark is a very personable and approachable young man but as a parent I naturally thought, “How is he going to get up and running in a group this size? He doesn’t know anyone.”

But the opening session wasn’t over for 30-seconds when a young man walked up and said, “I’m Hunter. Would you like to hang out with us?” And they were off and never looked back.

As I walked away, I thought that this is the kind of leadership that makes a difference in people’s lives. It’s leading from where you are, without title and without fanfare. Just doing the right thing.

It’s the little things like this that we teach our kids that enrich their lives and those of others. Leadership begins in the home. It’s where we have the greatest impact on the future. Here’s a few things we can do:

We can help them to look further out. Help them see the long-term effects of the decisions they make today. Define a future and help them to line up the decisions needed to get there. It will help them to gain a perspective on life.

We can take the time to talk about their experiences. Help them to see them in the most constructive way possible.

While some rules are important, principles will last them a lifetime. Rules are easy to churn out. Principles take time to teach and integrate into a person’s life.

We can teach them that connection with others matters and that’s not done behind a screen. People are experienced when you can look into their eyes. Life is experienced when you can see what is going on around you—both the sights and sounds. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your full attention.

We can give them responsibility. Help them to value contribution over consumption. If not we can be guilty of what President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He added, “No child in America should be segregated by low expectations.” Help them raise the bar in their life and thereby help others to discover the possibilities in theirs.

And the most important thing we can do is to set an example of the kind of people we want them to become.

Remember we are training future leaders not just raising kids. It’s an investment.

I later found out it was Mark Sanborn’s son that came up to my son that day. Not surprising. So I’ll leave you with a principle from Sanborn’s book, You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader:
We can’t give to others without being affected positively ourselves. And this is the secret of giving: When we make the world better for others, you make the world better for yourself.

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Of Related Interest:
  Leadership Begins at Home
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:27 PM
| TrackBacks (0) | Leadership Development


The Culture Engine

Culture is the engine of any organization. It is the force behind everything that happens. It empowers behaviors that communicate who we are whether we like it or not. Getting it right is critical.

How do we create a culture that brings out the best in people?

Chris Edmonds says that it can be done by the creation of an organizational constitution. “An organizational constitution is a formal document that states the company’s guiding principles and behaviors.” It describes how your organization operates. It makes clear what our expectations are and how we are to achieve them.

We have to begin by understanding the truth of how our organization operates. Are we were we want to be? To do that you have to de-insulate yourself, genuinely connect with team members, seek out the truth-tellers, and share your assumptions and what you are learning. Whether we like it or not, we have to “understand that people are acting exactly as you would expect. The way they are behaving now is being reinforced consistently, albeit maybe unintentionally.” In other words, if you are going to define a better way, you have to live a better way.

Leaders define the culture. So it’s critical that you live the values and behaviors in your constitution both in and out of the organization. “This scrutiny is unfair, yet it is completely understandable and it is inevitable. You need to expect it and live up to it.”

The first element of your constitution is your organization's reason for being. Your purpose statement should be a clear statement of what the company does, for whom, and why.

The second element is the “positive values and behaviors you want every leader and employee to demonstrate in every interaction with team members and customers.” These have to be defined in behavioral terms so people have something concrete to measure themselves against. Have a "good attitude" is not specific enough. You can't manage attitudes but you can manage behaviors.

The third element is strategy. The strategy represents the path to company goals and expectations. “Every team member should be able to describe how his or her daily projects, goals, and tasks contribute to the accomplishment of team or company strategies.”

Edmonds then explains how to manage, measure, and coach others to embrace the organizational constitution. “In high-performance, values-aligned organizations, values accountability is of equal importance with performance accountability. Leaders spend as much time, if not more, communicating, modeling, and reinforcing the department’s values and valued behaviors.”

The Culture Engine provides tools in each chapter for making this happen in your organization. The ideas here are not limited to just a few leaders at the top. At any level in the organization, you can make a difference within your sphere of influence. As a leader you should be intentional about the culture you are responsible to and for.

Organizational culture is not an amorphous thing – it is exemplified by the leadership. It can steer a company up or down, keep it on mission or force it off-course. For an organization to fulfill its potential, the culture must be on-point, truly reflecting the heart of the company from leaders to team members across the company. The Culture Engine helps leaders define the playing field.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:01 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | Management


Efficiency is the Wrong Mindset for a Leader


Efficiency always seems like the right answer. It’s reflexive. Faster. Easier. Who doesn’t want that?

And yet while efficiency is critical and often a competitive advantage, it is a problem when it becomes a mindset that is applied to everything we do; when it becomes an excuse for our lack of real connection. Faster and easier is not always better. As leaders, we have to know the difference. Some things are better over time. There is no such thing as efficient leadership. If efficiency is digital, leadership is analog.

Leadership is about influence and mobilizing people to achieve a common goal. This is done through relationships. Relationships do not benefit from efficiency.

Much of the practice of leadership is a process. If you rush the process you miss the fundamental issues that create meaning and engagement. Leaders are action oriented people to be sure. Holding another meeting, having critical conversations, and reinforcing commitments, principles and values, can seem like a waste of time especially when you see the goal and the need to get moving so clearly. But if you don’t take the time to do these things, you may end up on your own—leading no one. Leadership does not exist until we create a relationship with another person. It is our relationships that result in the actions we seek.

The efficiency—quality and flexibility—you get from people is primarily based on the relationship you have with them. Creating partners takes time. Distributing ownership takes time. The idea is to build relationships so that people in your sphere of influence, flourish.

Growth is rarely an efficient affair. It’s almost never a straight line. People have emotions, feelings and history and that takes time to understand and work with. If we are to grow and learn and innovate we have to leave room for the inefficient. Growth is born in the question. Efficiency rarely leaves room for questions. It is a tension that has to be managed. We have to learn to maximize efficiency without restricting growth.

We know when it comes to people, better doesn’t always mean faster. Easier isn’t always the best way. But if we approach the practice of leadership with a efficiency-based mindset, we will look for shortcuts through a process that necessarily requires time and patience. The straight line can miss so much. The crooked path often adds the depth and color to our life that we can’t get in any other way.

Good relationships cultivated over time, will bring you the level of commitment you want when you need it the most. If you haven't taken the time to build relationships all you have is a gun. Take the time now to build trusting, caring relationships with the people you serve.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:07 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | Leadership


First Look: Leadership Books for December 2014

Here's a look at some of the best leadership books to be released in December.

  The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace by Ron Friedman
  A Year with Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness by Joseph A. Maciariello
  Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future by Steven Krupp and Paul J.H. Schoemaker
  Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie
  The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill and Leena Rinne

Best Place to Work Year with Drucker Winning the Long Game Wiser 5 Choices

For bulk orders call 1-800-423-8273

discounted books

Build your leadership library with these specials on over 100 titles. All titles are at least 40% off the list price and are available only in limited quantities.

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“ I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.”
— Harold Kushner

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:46 AM
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LeadershipNow 140: November 2014 Compilation


twitter Here are a selection of tweets from November 2014 that you might have missed:
See more on twitter Twitter.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:06 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | LeadershipNow 140


Accelerate (XLR8)

In order to reliably maintain an organization nothing beats a well-organized and well-developed hierarchy. But in order to grow, avoid collapse, and take advantage of the changes happening all around us, we need something more.

John Kotter provides that extra something we need in Accelerate (XLR8). He writes that management-driven hierarchies are “still absolutely necessary to make organizations work.” So what he suggests is not an either/or but a both/and. It is a dual operating system. A second system that is organized as a network that works in cooperation with the existing hierarchy.

XLR8 Building leaders and being responsive in a disruptive, ever-changing environment “will no longer be improved by tweaking the usual methodology or adding turbochargers to a single hierarchical system.”

The second operating system does not take away from the existing organization but it adds to it, enhances it, feeds it. It is based on a few basic principles:

• Many people driving important change, and from everywhere, not just the usual appointees. It recognizes the possible contribution made by anyone in the organization. “You need more eyes to see, more brains to think, and more legs to act in order to accelerate.” It gives more people the latitude to initiate—the foundation for developing leaders.

• A “get-to” mindset, not a “have-to” one. Your existing people will step up but only if they “are given a choice and feel they truly have permission to step forward and act.”

• Action that is head and heart driven, not just head driven. Logic alone is not enough. People will want to help you if you can give them greater meaning and purpose to their efforts.

• Much more leadership, not just management. Management is the guts of the engine, but “the name of the game is leadership, and not from one larger-than-life executive.” Both practices are crucial but management alone will “not guarantee success in a turbulent world.”

• An inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network, not just the enhanced hierarchy. “The two systems, network and hierarchy, work as one, with a constant flow of information and activity between them—an approach that succeeds in part because the people essentially volunteering to work in the network already have jobs within the hierarchy.”

Kotter has found that “just 5 to 10% of the managerial and employee population in a hierarchy is all you will need to make the network function beautifully.” He describes eight accelerators for launching and sustaining this two-system model.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:28 PM
| TrackBacks (0) | General Business , Management


Learn or Die

Learn or Die
Our ability (and willingness) to learn impacts our personal and business growth, operational excellence, and our capacity to innovate. More than ever, it truly is learn or die.

Learning is impacted by our “reflexive ways of thinking, the rigidity of our mental models, and the strength of our ego defense systems.” So to a large degree is means overcoming our humanness.

We prefer to validate what we already know rather than look at evidence to the contrary. By and large, that’s a function of our ego. “In many cases, learning comes from mistakes or failures or other people disagreeing with us, which that means in order to learn, we often have to admit that we are wrong.” The author admits that “To become a better learner, I had to quiet my ego.” As a result he also became a better thinker and leader.

Negative thinking is toxic to learning. “In order to maximize our learning we have to be sensitive to and manage our emotions.” As a leader you need to be concerned about the environment of the people you lead.

“The litmus test of a learning organization is being receptive to information that goes against the established way and a tolerance for failure and mistakes.” To accomplish this not only should the environment be positive, but people need to be treated with respect, dignity and trust, mistakes should not be characterized as “personal failures but as the result of bad learning systems or too little effort,” people should also believe that they have some control over their actions, have a sense of self-efficacy and contribution.

Hess writes that “The U.S. Army Special Forces believes that adaptability—learning—is predicated on self-efficacy, resiliency, open-mindedness, mastery achievement motivation, and tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.”

Too often we sabotage our own learning by our need to be right. We need to be able to admit when we are wrong and quite frankly accept the “magnitude of our ignorance.” “Real learning, in most cases, requires us to change what we believe, and humble inquiry [open-mindedness with no predetermined or hidden agenda], helps us do that.”

Because we have difficulty seeing ourselves and examining our own assumptions, “learning is a team sport.” If we want to learn, we “must engage in effective learning conversations.” Learning conversations are conversations where we feel safe in disclosing ourselves to others. They bring about deliberate, nonjudgmental, non-defensive open-minded exchange. We learn from each other.

A particularly fascinating and eye-opening chapter is on Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Ray Dalio and Bridgewater got onto Hess’ radar after Dalio published his Principles in 2010. (It is a 123 page compendium of Dalio’s beliefs and processes that he believes will lead to a successful life and business that is well worth the read.)

The culture at Bridgewater may seem extreme to some but there is no doubt that they are serious about growth and learning.
As Ray sees it, achieving one’s goals is more likely to occur if one strives to be an independent thinker by learning. That, in turn, requires one to be honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses and to deal directly with one’s weaknesses by accepting them, seeking and being open to feedback, and creating workarounds that mitigate one’s weaknesses.
At Bridgewater everyone knows everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s part of their company-wide feedback loop. It’s based on truth which Ray believes “is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes.” “Searching for the truth and confronting one’s personal weaknesses in a radically transparent environment builds personal relationships.”

At Bridgewater they are just as concerned about how one arrives at an answer as they do the answer itself. They encourage people to be independent thinkers. A former Navy SEAL came to work at Bridgewater because he said the two cultures overlapped. “He said both organizations focus on learning, adaptation, recruiting high caliber people, and teaching them to be better thinkers and to relentlessly pursue constant improvement.”

Bridgewater has created a series of tools for use in evaluating employees and for employees to manage their personal growth” the Dot Collector and Dot Connector, Issues Log and Issue Log Diagnosis Card, Pain Button and Baseball Card.

With the Dot Collector allows anyone to give any other employee performance feedback. The Dot Connector is a database of feedback every employee has received from anyone. The data is grouped according to a list of seventy-seven attributes and then summarized to give each employee a picture of his or her feedback by strengths and weaknesses and by attributes.

The Pain Button app is based on Ray’s formula: Pain + Reflection = Progress. “The purpose of the pain app is for one to write down and reflect on the ‘pains’ one is experiencing in order to understand what’s causing them and to deal with those causes effectively.”

Ray himself is included in the process and is subject to evaluation by anyone in the company. Frankly, I have never read about an organization with such radical transparency. Hess says that in all of his research of over 100 high-performance companies over the past ten years, Bridgewater is the only business organization he has found that “has squarely faced our ‘humanness.’”

Learn or Die is a book everyone who is serious about learning and growth—personally or organizationally—should read. If you thought you were serious about it, Learn or Die will take you to a whole new level with tools, case studies, and insights that will challenge your commitment to learning.

Learn or Die sets out to use the science of learning to answer two important questions: How does one become a better and faster learner? and second, How does none build a better team or organization that continuous learns better and faster than the competition? Being smart is really about knowing how to learn. This book will show you how.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:28 AM
| TrackBacks (0) | Education , Human Resources , Learning


The Age of Enlightenment and You

Booknotes History affects the context we lead in. An understanding of the Age of Enlightenment—that still reverberates today—gives us a good basis to grasp the kind of world we are leading in. James MacGregor Burns’ Fire and Light is a good place to start. While the values of the Enlightenment and the importance of the individual seem unimaginable to live without, they do come at a price: a common and accessible worldview built on a firm foundation. Here are some ideas from his book:

☙Enlightenment remains the most powerful tool for challenging authority and liberating the human mind, an inspiration to leaders and followers worldwide, a method for effective change, and a framework of values by which that change can be measured.

☙No single idea of the Enlightenment was so laden and sweeping as this. If people could transform their minds, they could change their lives, and together with others they could change their communities and beyond.

☙Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was less a guide to committed leadership than a resounding statement of Enlightenment ideals that had served its purpose of uniting Americans for war.

☙Thomas Paine’s Common Sense expressed an aspiration that lay at the heart of the Enlightenment, the dream of revolutionaries everywhere, that the people “have in our power to begin the world over again.”

☙No one had a greater role in fashioning the American experiment, basing the government on Enlightenment principle and then testing them in action, than James Madison.

☙Pursuing private interests, untethered to the thick social structure of old aristocracies, lacking deep familial roots, free of tradition and inherited beliefs, constantly on the move, democratic man, in Tocqueville’s portrait was profoundly alone. Lacking them, people would be crushed under the hypertrophy of selfhood; they would suffer the full consequences of the liberal society that made the isolated self the measure of all things personal and political and the market economy that made money the measure of all things economic and social.

☙For Enlightenment pioneers it meant embracing mankind as the measure of all things—not authority, not custom, not faith, but individual perception and reason were the foundation of truth.

☙The Enlightenment has created the opportunity and freedom to take part in a mighty intellectual revolution that has changed the lives of whole peoples. Indeed, the Enlightenment has taught that change is the constant, and that the opportunity and burden for human beings is to harness it for their common benefit.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:58 AM
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These Are Hard Times for Leaders

Hard Times
Barbara Kellerman has written about leaders (good and bad) and followers, but in Hard Times she turns her attention to the often overlooked context in which we lead. Leaders followers, and context form a system of leadership.

“More than ever,” writes Kellerman, “it is better—better in practice and better in theory—to focus less on the leader and more on the leadership system.” It is difficult to navigate or change systems without understanding the underlying context they exist in. We diminish our capacity to lead when we don’t consider all aspects of leadership. Hard Times is about context. It’s not about looking in but looking out.
Everywhere leaders are finding it difficult to lead without using or threatening to use force because everywhere followers are making their lives difficult—and because everywhere context is both a cause and an effect of this power dynamic.
So this book is about what leaders need to know to develop contextual expertise. Her extensive examination considers twenty-four different ways the context in which we lead shapes leadership now—in the United States—in the second decade of the twenty-first century. However, much of what she discusses is global because it is human.

Tackling America’s historical background, she writes, “When the history of a country leaves a legacy that renders its citizens virtually allergic to authority, leadership is more difficult.” The capacity to persuade is more important than the capacity to control.

In examining religion, economics, organizations, law, business, technology, and media, the common thread is the diminishment of the leader. Leaders of the twenty-first-century “are likely to have less power, authority, and influence” than leaders of the twentieth-century making things “more complex and complicated than simpler and easier.”

Other contextual issues like money as influence, the anxiety of innovation, the competitive need to be first, class distinctions, cultural pressures, divisiveness, special interest groups, environmental issues, and risk management, have all intensified. These all serve to undermine leadership confidence and put us off-balance.

Risk management is not something that we generally like to spend our time thinking about. And unfortunately, some risk management platitudes only serve to put us asleep—only to wake up when a real risk comes along and we are ill prepared to deal with it. We need to develop “risk management based not on what we know, or think we know, but on what we do not know.”

Leaders and followers have changed in profound ways too. In general, says Kellerman, all this adds up to the fact that leaders are getting weaker. Leaders may not have less influence but they do have less power. Titles mean less and “status means less, which means that their ability to lead has lessened as well.”As Kellerman, Moisés Naím and others have argued, power is “undergoing a historic and world-changing transformation. Big players are increasingly being challenged by newer and smaller ones, and those who have power are more constrained in the way they can use it.”

While I think this has always been and will continue to be an underlying truth on a micro level, we may very well see a backlash on this trend at the macro level. Time will tell.
The most obvious reason leaders have been enfeebled are first, changes in culture that entitled and embolden subordinates to demean and diminish their putative superiors, and second, changes in technology that enable ordinary people to obtain information, engage in self-expression, and make interpersonal connections in ways and to degrees that historically are unprecedented.
Increasingly, unable to rely on power and authority, on a more general level leaders are having to become what true leadership is about: influence. Exercising influence is what leaders should have been doing (and should have been trained to do) instead on relying on position and power because they could get away with it. Leaders “are more dependent than they ever were on their capacity to exercise influence.”

As leaders we need to keep focused not just on the leader and the followers but on the context in which they interact. “Leading has become a high-wire act that only the most skilled are able to perform successfully over a protracted period of time.”

We leaders and followers (and we are all both) have both allowed our standards (character) to drop. If we are to become leaders and followers that work together for the common good, we need to start talking about what we should do not what we can do. The goal is not getting what we want, but getting what is best. That requires more than knee–jerk opinions and more thoughtful consideration.

Kellerman’s insight at the end of the book is worth repeating because it says so much: “Leadership is not a profession.” Amen.

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Of Related Interest:
  What’s Wrong with Leadership Training Today?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:15 AM
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