18 December 2005

Leadership an interview for example

Starting point Voordaan
On the Dutch weblog by Daan (Voordaan) a start was made with a snowball interview. Her idea and execution has created a flood of loggers writing about themselves.

Other web logs and Volkskrantblog
I have chosen to use Volkskrantblog and Blogger to put down my ideas about leadership. My other thoughts and writings are saved at web-log en punt weblog. The reason to choose for one subject on a weblog, is something that other people might want to know. So lets start writing about the reason or reasons.

A few reasons
First there was a conference about leadership, that I started organizing. My Vk and Blogger weblog gave me the possibility to order and write down my own ideas about leadership.
My opinion about leadership is rather clear cut. I think that every human kan en should lead himself. That does not mean that I think that leading yourself is easy, but then neither is learning to walk.

Secondly I heard more and more people call out for leadership, but nobody really tells what is meant with leadership. I think, that as long as people are not able to lead themselves, they will receive leaders that will not do what is best for everybody.
I do not mean to say, that leadership is useless, but when an individual is not able to lead himself, he should certainly not ask others to lead him.

To me leadership means taking responsibility for ones actions. And to me that is not the same as being accountable. In the end one can only be accountable to oneself. It is off course possible to state, that one is accountable toward others, but maybe this simple question will make it clear what I mean.
Assume that some ones action are detrimental to others, but that he dies during that action.
  • To whom will he be accountable?
  • Is he accountable toward a higher being, that shaped everything?
I do not think so, because I have to assume that this higher being knew, that it would happen, even if I take free choice into account. In that case the responsibility is not with the perpetrator, but with the creator.
Although humans like clarity about guilt and responsibility, we do not know why. Is it is something that is part of our nature or is it nurtured or maybe both.
My question about the responsibility of the leader could also be worded as following:
  • Can a leader be held responsible for mistakes made by the cleaner, even if he did not personally see what happened?

Personally I do not think, that a leader can be personally responsible for the mistakes others make. He can be held accountable though, for how he handles the mistakes of others. Is he playing “pass the buck” or does he try to find a solution that fits the problems, that were created by the mistakes? In that last case I would call someone a real leader. His solution is not finding someone to blame, but to find a suitable solution.

Thirdly writing about leadership gives me a possibility to create a structured image of leadership. I mean a structure that answers questions like:
  1. What is leadership?
  2. How does one become a leader?
  3. What is that leaders do?
  4. What influences do leaders have?
  5. By what are leaders influences?
  6. How can leaders have influence?

To end
Writing about leadership makes it clearer and clearer, that leadership is the easiest thing to do. In the end it is bringing together all kinds of abilities we use daily. The difficulty lies in conquering our fear and taking our responsibility.

14 December 2005

Leadership and judging

A major ability for a leader to posses is judging without condemning.
Most people learn throughout life, that being judged is a denouncement of ones personality. They often only have experiences with judging, but most of all condemning, statements. For example, what does the statement: “You have to work smarter.” mean? Or a judgment stated in the form of a question: “Do you know what you are doing?” Or the deathblow condemnation: “Why do you do that?” Often spoken in a tone of voice that makes clear that the question is rhetorical.
The motivation for such condemning behavior by the judge or condemner often is discontent with the overall situation. This discontent however creates a reaction, that creates resistance within the recipient of the reaction. In the end the judge has transported his discontent to the judged. The reaction of the judged is not to ask himself the question: “What has been said?” but just reacts. And the original problem, that needed a judgment, is never solved.
For a leader such behavior will signal the beginning of the end of his leadership. Where the beginning is his recognized, respected leadership and the end is a leadership in name, not respected and without influence.
How can a leader prevent that his judgment become condemnations?
First by looking at his feelings.
What does he feel for the situation he needs to judge? Is he irritated, because it does not function or does not function in the way it should? Is he angry, because the person to be judged does not do, what was asked of him? Is he sad, because the situation will be less effective than possible? Every feeling will create its own reaction, but they will create condemnation if they are not recognized as the basis for the reaction.
Secondly the leader can look at what the recipient of the judgment needs and adjust to that need. This strongly compares to what Blanchard and Hersey mean with situational leadership.
Thirdly the leader can look at how he wants to communicate his judgment. And even there it sometimes can go wrong. Because some people will think, that the used medium is a judgment about their personality.
Special is that a leader who gets to know and understand his feelings and emotions, gets better at understanding others.
But maybe the most important activity of judging is, the guts to admit that you as a leader are only human. So when giving wrong judgments, you are also willing to admit, that you made a mistake and will correct it.

Leadership and double loop learning

Learning may be the most important thing a leader can do. I am not talking about learning new knowledge or skills for your job or professional background. I am talking about getting to know yourself. Getting to know the people around you, with whom you work together or cooperate. Learning about the new developments within and without your organization. Learning from the mistakes you make yourself, those that your colleagues make, those made by your organization and found in its surroundings.
With learning I do not rote learning, often negatively described with repository learning. You could compare this repository learning with Argyris’ single loop learning. I am talking about double loop learning. Learning by looking at what happened and comparing those outcomes with the goals that where set. And if necessary adjusting or changing those goals.

Why should leaders learn in double loops? Argyris gives a few reasons:
  1. Past knowledge creates a model of the world. If this model is not adjusted over time, you will try to fit the changes in your surroundings into this outdated model. When this fails it could lead to a feeling of personal failure. Lots of humans however have trouble admitting they make mistakes, based on values they use. Something that could lead to denying that there is a discrepancy between reality and model. By keeping an open mind to differences between model and reality, you create the possibility to adjust the model to reality.
  2. If this model becomes the core of ones professional activities, you slowly start to identify yourself with it. Every critical reaction to the model, from your direct surroundings up to the changing reality, can be seen as a threat to your personality. Suddenly the solution is no longer changing the model, but removing or denying the critique. A reaction could also be to focus the attention on something or someone else. By looking at the model as a instrument, to create a clearer few of reality, it does not become a burden but a tool.
  3. The fear of critique, created by identifying oneself with the model could lead to the fear of having created a imperfect model. One no longer tries to look at the model objectively, but sees every flaw in or fault created with the model as a personal mistake. By constantly comparing the model with reality, one keeps in mind that the model is not the reality. Also the possibility to adjest the model to keep it useful is kept open.

If I had to sum everything up to one scentence, I would say: Keeping an open mind for information out your surrounding and comparing that with the ideas one has based on a model, could help a leader to become a better leader.

27 November 2005

Leadership and intervening

Leadership means having to intervene. In all kinds of situations leaders are asked to be judge, police officer, motivator, coach etc. And there is more than one kind of intervention that can be used. You could act to protect the order. You could intervene to motivate someone of help him find his own inspiration. It can also be necessary to control the direction of a conversation. In the case of a conversation it can be handy to use an intervention model, that takes the different elements of a conversation as starting point.

The intervention model

Every situation in which humans communicate with each other, you can find four elements:
content, procedure, relation and emotions.
At certain moments during a conversation, one of the communication partners can make one of the four elements more important than the others. You could say, the partner wishes to change the subject of the conversation. Suddenly the procedure, the relation or the emotions are the subject of conversation.

The intervention wish

Often the leader is expected to answer the wish of his conversation partner to discuss one of the other three elements instead of the content with was the subject of conversation. And to answer that wish the leader has to address that wish, even when it is not expressed openly. Most of the time the leader has to read the wish from the reaction that is given by his conversation partner. For example: his partner reacts emotionally or shows behavior that is related to a certain position, that is not appropriate for the given conversation. Those are the moments that a leader should intervene. Often to prevent the conversation from escalating into an emotional battle. Sometimes to answer the others wish to address one of the elements. Which element should be addressed for the best result, is often however unclear.

A guideline for intervening is to react as soon as possible on a level of least importance. The goal is to prevent the need to intervene at a level that will be emotionally hurtful.
This means, that one could ask the other to follow a certain procedure during the conversation. P.e. when giving feedback use the following guidelines:
  • to tell first which behavior one has seen, without being judgmental.
  • secondly give your feelings, caused by the behavior.
  • then tell how the other can behave in such away, that it give you a positive feeling.
  • last you can also say what will happen if the behavior does not change.
If putting the procedure central does not work, it can be useful to talk about the relationship. This element is important to both parties and could lead to loss of face for both sides. It can be necessary to agree on the fact, that during the conversation both parties are equal, where outside of that situation there is a clear hierarchical relationship. For example during the conversation there is a coach/coached relation, where afterwards it is manager/employee.
If in the end the talks escalates out of the reach of a procedural and relationships intervention, one must address the emotions shown. It is important to take the emotions serious and not ask the other to stop being emotional, because it hinders the conversation. It will be necessary to give the emotional party the possibility to work through his emotions, which can be helped by expressing what you see in your own words. After that it probably will be possible to make procedural proposal. Especially if the emotions went deep it can be necessary to make a new appointment.

Intervening is not the easiest thing to do. It takes tact and empathy to make it work well. However not intervening and letting things snowball, will often hurt the relationship more in the long run, then trying the wrong intervention.

16 November 2005

Strange developments

Differences and similarities
The government of Norway is planning a law, that forces companies to have at least 40% women in top management.

Their motivation is, that research showed, that diversity leads to successful organizations. From this point of view, this action by the Norwegian politicians is rather smart. It shows guts to force others to think about diversity.
It is only a pity that it might not be diversity that is the factor that leads to success. It could be a hidden factor, that creates as well success as diversity.

The Norwegian governments behavior is similar to behavior based on the following thought.
I will put on as many garments as I can, because that will keep me warm. That it is not the clothes you wear, that keep you warm, should be clear when you look at the Tuareg. They live in a hot climate and put on a lot of layers of clothes to keep cool.

So the danger is, that your conclusion is shallow and hastily taken. To prevent is this, it is necessary to research your situation thorrowly and take into account that what you think is normal. This last part is rather difficult, as you will need comparison material, to see what is normal to yourself and different to others. So diversity does not only breed success, it gives you the opportunity to understand what is invisible to you in your own situation, because its normal.

07 November 2005

Leaders, fear and anger

I wonder how many leaders think, that their emotions are useful instruments. And how many focus on their emotions and use them to assess a situation. I wonder how many leaders are aware, that two emotions should never be left unknown and unheeded. I mean anger and fear.
Neither of these two emotions should be allowed to run free or even sneak around in the leaders emotional arsenal.
When one of these two emotions appears, a leader should be aware of it and understand what it has to tell.
Fear is probably the worst advisor a leader can have, if it is left to do what it wants: run. By the way, anger is not much better at advising, as anger only wants to fight and so brings the leader in perilous situations.

Mankind had found several cultural solutions to cope with these two emotions. Some of those solutions are:
  • suppression
  • denial
  • freedom to act
  • limit to certain members of the group
  • manage
  • control
  • make rules for use

Organizations also have their way of coping with these two emotions, fear and anger. Some forbid employees to be afraid or show anger when inside the walls of the organization. However, when they leave the building, both emotions can be used the way best seen fit. An example are aggressive sales organizations. The behavior of those organizations led to the government making laws to protect citizens against them.

The government itself is off course an organization itself. The government is even an organization, that uses fear and anger as a means to achieve its goals. Most rules nowadays are based on the fact that people can be scared into doing what you want them to do. You could say, that the government creates anger in a controlled manner. It does so through laws, rules and regulations in which citizens are told what to do or what they are allowed to do or not to do. And it makes it clear that sanctions are available for those who break the law or do not follow by the letter.

Experts, mostly psychologists, often propose the use of rewards for proper behavior instead of punishment as a better way of achieving the wanted goals. The problems arise as one tries to write down such a reward system in laws and regulations. It seems that paper rules only are capable of regulating anger and fear.

This leaves us with the question: how can a leader use fear and anger to his organizations benefit without having to use paper to write down the rules?

06 November 2005

More questions for a future leader

In my previous log about leadership development Preparing to be a leader I put forward several questions a leader could ask himself to analyze his surroundings. A future leader can also ask himself questions about himself before he takes on his role as leader. Those questions could be:

- Why do I want to lead?
  • Because I want to control?
  • Do I want to be noticed or do I want security?
- How do I want to lead?
  • Am I going to be leading or supporting?
  • Will I keep my distance or will I cooperate?
  • Do I want to be the best or do I want to create cooperation?
- How do I see the employees, I am going to lead?
  • They are independent, mature employees.
  • My employees still need to learn a lot and I will have to teach them.
  • I will need to support my employees to learn their skills and responsibilities.
  • Do I want to order and let them do their job or do I want to tell them how they should do their job?
- What do I want to achieve with my leadership?
  • Should it make the organization successful?
  • Should I be successful?
  • Should my department be successful?
- How do I see myself?
  • Am I the master and are my employees the pupils?
  • Am I the only one who knows how everything should be done?
  • I am only the messenger, not the maker of policy.
  • I am like a father to my employees, who should protect them against the unknowns from outside the department.
- What do I feel, when thinking of leading others?
  • It feels good.
  • I feel insecure.
  • I am afraid.
  • I have bad premonitions.
These questions can be expanded.

- What are my strong points?
- Why was I chosen?
  • I am the best in my field.
  • I adjust my behavior to the organization policy.
  • I adjust myself to my colleagues.
  • I do what I am told, without asking questions.
  • I ask questions about orders and the policy of the organization.

24 October 2005

Preparing to be a leader

The development of leadership is comprised of several elements, that need to be clear beforehand.
The first element is a question:
“Are you sure about leading other people?”
That question should be asked, not because leading other people is the worst job there is, but because leading is more than giving orders from within a well defined plan communicated in the right way.
Leading means taking into account, that others stop taking responsibility for their actions, simply because the leader is responsible for everything.
  • How do you make them understand, that they are responsible and need to take responsibility for what they do?
Leadership also includes taking into account the jealousy of others, who wanted to be the leader instead of you. Or the jealousy of those who think they can do a better job than you at being a leader.
  • How do you make those jealous ones let go of their jealousy?
Being a leader also means having to meet people with the expectancy that you are or should be infallible.
  • How do you make it clear, that being a leader, does not mean you stopped being a human and so you will make mistakes?
It also seems that having the leadership includes seeing the future more clearly than others, without the information and knowledge of others about what the present looks like.
  • How do you make them help you with their knowledge and information?
Leadership according to many entails: telling others what to do and how to do it.
  • How do you make them understand, that their way of working is no worse than yours or even better than yours?
  • And that you do not posses all knowledge and skills just because you are the leader?
Some think that leaders are without fear or fearless.
  • How do you make them see, that it is not about being without fear, but that it is about conquering your fears and taking decisions or action although you are afraid?
Being the leader means you have manipulated those who took the decision to make you the leader, because you had compromising information about them or bought their loyalty.
  • How do you convince them that your were chosen on basis of your merits and abilities and you were the best the decision makers could find for the job?
Leadership is according to some the willingness to lie and cheat to keep your position and protect the company.
  • How do you make it clear that a real leader does not lie to safe his position or protect his company?
There are more questions you can ask, before you decide to start taking on your role as a leader. Especially because if you do not answer them beforehand, you might find out the hard way during your leadership, that they exist.

Leadership and communication

There are lots of definitions given for leadership and everybody will have his own preference. I am not planning to summarize them here. If you are interested you can always go to a search engine to start a search.
What I think is special is that more and more people think that leadership is something you can learn and not a talent you are born with. Look for example at this site of Big Dog en Little Dog at the page about the concept of leadership.
Another example of a different way of thinking about what is important in leadership is the Dutch column by Bert Overbeek about what organizations can learn from termites on Management Site.
What is so special in the article by Bert Overbeek, is that it points out how much you can achieve with a good plan, that is clearly communicated and in which everybody works together. This article by Bert Overbeek gives me the idea, that a leader is the one who creates a well thought out plan and communicates it with those who will execute it. When this is done well, he makes sure that the cooperation runs smoothly. To be able to do this, the leader needs to understand the culture within his organization.
But his knowledge of other factors within his organization is also important, for example knowing how changes influence everybody within the organization.
But in the end all knowledge is useless, if you do not know how to communicate with others.

17 October 2005

Eight Tips to motivate, or should I say nine?

In this Dutch article on Managers Online you will find eight tips from Phil Kleingeld, CEO of Motivaris.
The most important tip is that you can not motivate other, you can only support their own motivation by creating the right conditions.
The other eight tips are:
  1. Using immaterial rewards lasts longer
  2. Let people decide how the will work
  3. Listen to ideas
  4. Keep people informed
  5. Use concrete goals and do not forget to use tip 4
  6. Give clear compliments, as soon as you see something done well
  7. Be consistent towards others and in your own behavior
  8. Plan useful meetings

Managers Online and Motivaris
The question I have after reading those nine tips is: What is the founding idea?
One answer I know from scientific research is that people like having their lives in their own hands. Even babies like toys they control more than toys controlled by others.
You can also conclude that people like to motivate themselves, by the fact that children playing games like to play by their own rules. Looking at the reaction grown-ups give to this “childish” behavior, it seems that grown-ups also would rather play by their own rules. The solution to solve this conflict is agreeing to rules beforehand and strictly adhering to those rules. If you break the rules you are accused of being a cheat.

In a way it all seems very simple. If you abide by the rules, explicitly or implicitly agreed upon, everybody is motivated to play along.

Kinds of leadership

I think there are several kinds of leadership. I do not mean the kind of leadership Blanchard and Hersey address when they speak of situational leadership. What I mean is leadership in the areas of:
- content
- emotion
- relation
- procedure.

A good leader probably needs to be reasonable to well able at all these areas. You might say, he has to be a leader in all four areas. In that sense it would be better to speak of a complete leader. I assume that four persons, every one very able in one of the four areas, could achieve the same as one leader, able at all four areas.
The art of finding leaders, under that assumption, would mean finding four persons that make each other complete in every four of the areas.
Off course, if one of the four is a complete disaster, when it comes to relations and another one is his opposite, the situation will not be salvageable.
This does not mean, that a four headed leadership is less appropriate. It just means that looking for four leaders takes as much wisdom and spirit as looking for one leader. Besides four equals are in the situation to learn from each other. The danger for one person, that is better in most areas than other persons in his surroundings, is that he or she becomes arrogant, if that is not already the case.
And we all know what happens to arrogant leaders.

14 October 2005

Leadership and fear

Ever since that dreadful day in september 2001, their has not been a day, that terror has not struck at the hearts of citizens all over the world.

More afraid
But most leaders will have been more afraid than most citizens. Because how can they make it clear to us that they have recognized our fears? How can they make their citizens see that they are doing everything to control the creators of our fears?
As I look at the situation, I see a problem. How can I diminish the fear of others through my behavior? Is it possible to influence others emotions by showing courage? I do not know. What I do know is that people seem to be less afraid, when others in their surroundings, to whom they look up, do not seem to be afraid. However this technique does not really work in the long run. Look at all the stress related illnesses. The first world war had its shell shock, the first Gulf war had is syndrome. It seems that showing courage is the way to help others suppress their fear. It does not seem to help them conquer their fear.
So maybe it is necessary for humans to experience their fear. And that the leader should only show that you do not have to be afraid of your fear.

Most afraid
So I would not be surprised if it became clear, that showing bravery, while not really being brave is the worst thing a leader can do. This behavior probably looks to most people more like bragging, than bravery. Although most people might not be able to put their finger on it, the probably feel something is wrong. And it is this subconscious information that is endangering the position of the leader.
This problem will not have a simple solution. Because the solution will differ for every person and every leader. But the first step will be to show that you are afraid but have faith in the outcome of the situation. So what is important is to show, that you know your own feelings and know how to deal with them.

Real courage seems to me, is not running for your fear. Real courage is becoming aware of your fear and having the will to give it a name. Once your are aware of your fear and ask yourself why you are afraid you can work on it. Because often we think we are afraid of the situation, but what we really are afraid of is what this situation will mean for the future of our position.
In that sense I can understand that a leader is afraid to show his fear, because that might compromise his position in a situation in which everybody is looking to him for guidance. In those situations it does not only take courage to become aware of your fear for the situation but also become aware of your fear of loosing your position.

09 October 2005

The difference according to women

a list of words describing female leaders, as mentioned by females:
  1. collaborative
  2. compassionate
  3. consensus building
  4. empathetic
  5. emotional
  6. gossipy
  7. intuitive
  8. multi-tasking
  9. relationship building
  10. strong
  11. verbal
a list of words describing male leaders, as mentioned by females:
  1. arrogant
  2. assertive
  3. bravado
  4. competitive
  5. direct
  6. dominant
  7. ego-driven
  8. focused
  9. intelligent
  10. physical
  11. powerful
  12. self-righteous
  13. single tasking
  14. Strong
  15. stubborn
Can you spot the differences?

27 September 2005

Leadership and feedback

While reading in Lenette Schuijts book Met ziel en zakelijkheid I read her definition of responsibility toward others.

Her thought centers on the idea of sympathy instead of pity. So would also like to see, that people take responsibility for their action and use those actions to recognize their fellow humans.

That idea created the insight, that gives the giving of feedback a new basis.
Feedback is often defined as:
Someone acts in a way I do not like or maybe I do like it.
I react to that by addressing the other, and describing what he did, without judging that behavior.
The next step is to tell, how that behavior influences me, for example does it influence me emotionally or physically.
After that I describe what the other can do to help me more constructively. To end with the possible consequences if the behavior does not change.

The thoughts of Lenette Schuijt however make feedback into an instrument of recognizing the other. By describing the others behavior I show that he and his behavior is important to me. As I describe my emotions, created through that behavior, I make it clear how important the other is to me. By addressing my whishes for my emotions and the possible consequences of not changed behavior I show that I want a our relationship to have a future.

So by giving feedback I not only make myself important, but I also make the relationship and the other important.

25 September 2005

Leadership, how to get it?

I think that every consultant or guru has something to say over leadership, so let me put in my five cents.

As I look at leadership, I will do so from my knowledge and experience background, which gives me a certain distrust of leaders and leadership.

But letst start with making clear that leadership often is defined as the possibility to give others orders. However you could state, that leadership and leaders only exist where you find groups. However at the moments, that you are alone, you will have to lead yourself, so everyone is a leader at some moment in time.

But lets look at leadership as it is often defined: the power to order other people.

From a groups point of view, leadership can be obtained through two methods. One of the two methods however does not mean that you are seen as a leader. That method is the one that you see in official situations or created through agreements, or based on heredity. It is the hierarchical leadership model.
The other method is often seen as the true form of leadership and a being leader. That is when the leader receives his leadership from the members of the group, through his knowledge, behavior or attitude.

In some cultures the task of obtaining the leadership is the task of the individual, where other cultures it is the group that gives the leadership to the individual. Especially western cultures put the burden on the individual. But there are differences. Dutch culture expects the leader to be cooperative. The English culture wants its leaders to class consious with some form of self derision. The American culture wants its leaders to be a visible figurehead, who takes decisions. In eastern cultures the leader had to show modesty and put the group needs over his own. In which case the group gives the leader is given the leadership.

However, in the end you can state, how you become a leader is not that important.
The group leadership is done by a human and in that position certain factors come together. Those factors are the person of the leader and his personality, the culture of the group and its surroundings and the influences all these factors have on each other.

17 September 2005

The fall and rise of a CEO

Read about how David Pottruck, former CEO of Charles Schwab, went from being fired at Schwab, to chairman of a startup.
The process that is described is compared to the loss of a loved one. So the article at the website of Fast Company Magazine is not only of interest to leaders and managers who want to know what emotional rollercoaster they can expect after being layed off.
That process goes from:
  1. Shock and Disbelief, through
  2. Developing Awareness, and
  3. Restitution, and
  4. Resolution of the Loss, to
  5. Recovery
One should however remember, that as clear and concise it was written down here, it is not a linear process. It should be more likened to a itterative process. At every step in the process you can fall back into a previous fase of fases. And the way and how fast you go through the process also depends on your personality, your surroundings. It is even possible to get stuck in one of the fases.

Excerpt from an article on Fast Companies website.

16 September 2005


Lets start with stating, that leadership is something that every human being is born with. Some may have mor e feeling for it, than others, but everyone has it. But as with every aptitude, it might vanish as it is not being used. So humans possess leadership and during their life the either develop it or not.

However, I assume that the aptitude for leadership disappears when it is not developed, but you could ask yourself if there is only one kind of leadership. For example:
  • Is parenthood not somekind of leadership?
  • Are there not lots of people who lead in all kinds of situations, that are often not associated with leadership?
The questions we should ask, before we start talking about leadership, are:
  • What do we mean with leadership?
  • Is leadership something that happens in every situations or only in certain situations?
  • Might leadership not be dependend on the culture that looks at it and from which it is looked at?

But first of all lets start with determining what is meant with leadership.