07 December 2006

Leadership and your own expectations

If we take a honest look at ourselves, we see that we have expectations of everything and everyone around us. For example we expect our employees to do their work and realize the vision, mission and goals of the organization. The vision, mission and goals are again expectations of what the organization can achieve, as they have not yet been realized. In essence we expect to carry out our vision, to realize our mission and reach our goals. But is that what really happens? If we look at how many companies have a vision, but never achieve a workforce, where every employee carries the vision, you should start wondering.
So what is the use of expectations, if they do not become real?
Maybe the most important thing about, expectations is not to make them external. You should not expect others to realize your goals, or you could say your expectations. In a sense, the only thing you can expect of others is that their expectations are the same as yours. Or even better, their expectations go beyond yours and support yours
If you really expect others to realize the expectations you have from yourself, those expectations are no longer yours.

But why is it so important to realize your own expectations? Because your expectations energize you. They give direction to your live, based on you subconscious knowledge of your talents. But they also give the motivation, to stay motivated in any situation. Take this quantitative expectation some people have.
- I expect to have enough money, within ten years, to make it possible to travel the world.
Such an expectation can even be realized by cleaning buildings for ten years. If you keep your expectation in sight, you will succeed, while doing all kinds of other fun stuff. And by keeping the expectation in sight, you will endure ten years of cleaning buildings. (By the way, I expect that cleaning buildings is dull and tedious work).
But why do I call this an expectation and not a goal? Because a goal is something that seems to stand outside yourself. It is something that can lead to disappointment, if for example it is not reached. A goal is also something people like te use to settle scores. An expectation however is something, that leaves room for all those strange things that happen to people. Lets be honest, who would have expected forty years ago, that hypertext would become important and you could become a multimillionaire using it. Besides most people who now are multimillionaire thanks to internet, probably never expected that that would happen. They probably expected that they would be having fun with using their knowledge of and skills for internet.

06 November 2006

Leadership and expectations

How can a leader satisfy others expectations?
There are often lots of expectations when it comes to a leader. If you take a look at who is expecting something from a leader, you start to wonder how one person can satisfy all those expectations. Lets be honest. The board of directors expects the leader to show the way, to keep the company alive. The board of trustees expects the leader to have himself advised. The shareholders expect that their shares will rise in value and they will receive a yearly divident. The colleagues of the leader expect him to be sound and honest. The employees expect that the leader will ensure their salary. The customers expect the leader to ensure that the products will be good. The government expects the leader to keep the company profitable, so taxes can be collected. The neighborhood expect the leader to honor their wishes for a save living environment. And then we have not yet addressed all expectations that surround the position of a leader.
As you see, leadership is accompanied by expectations from others. But it is not about the expectations of others. All it is about, is the expectations the leader has of himself. Does he expect to be able satisfy the expectations of others. And how important is it to satisfy the expectations of others, if you forget to realize your own expectations?
In the end it is more important te realize your own expectations, because that is where you find the energy. You will not find energy in satisfying others expectations. Of course it is nice to give others a pleasant feeling, by satisfying their expectations, but that will only be fun and energetic if that is what you expect from yourself.

17 October 2006

Leadership and goals

Setting goals is a important part of the function of a leader. Often this is described with having a vision, although in laymen terms it is called setting goals. An important point when setting goals is setting the right goals. And to be able to set the richt goals, one needs the right information for the situation. An example of setting the richt goals and having the right information is an anecdote about a basketball player who took up running, because basketball was not really his game. Before he began running, he called a trainer. The trainers advised him to start running eight miles every day for a week and then call him back. After a week he would see results, the trainer added. After a week of running eight miles every day, the runner found he was still running the eight miles in the same time as when he began running. Disappointed he called the trainer, that his time had not improved and that could not have been the goal. The trainer answered with a question: “Are you still out of breath after running eight miles as you were at the beginning of the week?” The runner had to admit, that his condition had improved over the week. And he could only conclude that he had sat himself the wrong goals. So the only difference between the trainer and the runner, was the amount of knowledge. The trainer knew that a better running condition starts with better use of your lounges, not a faster time.

So being able to set the right goals is an important leadership skill. Setting the wrong goals will lead to disappointment and disappointment will lead to resistance. But setting the right goals needs information. Information about the possibilities and abilities and about the situation in which those abilities are to be used. It asks for the ability to tune the available abilities to the situation. To recognize which abilities are needed in a situation and see which abilities are available in yourself and your organization. But it also needs the ability to see the possibilities and impossibilities of a situation and through that set the right goals. Because setting realistic objectives, is more important to create the feeling that reality is manageable, than setting high and lofty goals, that will be forever out of reach. Besides it is more fun to make real small steps, than become disappointed over giant steps you will never make.

13 October 2006

Leadership and two kinds of it

If you want to sort leadership, one could state, that there are only two kinds. The first kind is all about the leader. The second kind is all about the succes of the organization the leader works for.
In the case of the leader who stands central, the leader and his wishes will stand as norm. Something that would not be a problem if the leader had only to lead himself. Or when his wishes and standards coincide with those of his surroundings. It becomes a problem, when this leader starts to impose his wishes and standards on his surroundings, from his believe to be more knowledgeable than everybody else. Often such an all knowing leader will look for people to surround him, that will agree with him. Or else he will use any means possible to undermine and weaken the opinion of others. If the leader has enough power he will use it to get rid of those with a opposing opinion or make it impossible for them to work, so they will choose to leave.
Such an egocentric leader will believe that all successes are his doing and will explain all failures with every possible external reason available. If that means blaming his coworkers, so be it. But failure can never be his doing.

The second kind of leader has a attitude that seeks to find success for his surroundings. He knows, through observation, what his surrounding sees as success. This kind of leader will try to gather people around him, that will be strong in the aspects where his weaknesses lie. He wil also find the means and people who make it possible to be successful. And he will look for the strong sides of the people and the means that are at his disposable to create success.
The inclusive leader will acknowledge everyone who had a part in the success. He wil look at failure from its causes and try to learn from it, together with the people with whom he cooperates. This behavior does not mean that this kind of leader is afraid to take difficult decisions. Difficult decisions are part of what a leader has to do. The inclusive leader will have less need for these kinds of decisions. And they will be taken after all other options have been tried and proofed to be inadequate.

Making such a bipartition is off course extreme, because no human is black and white in personality. However it will be much less fun working for an egocentric leader than a inclusive leader. Even if the egocentric leader is completely or partly egocentric. So all one needs to do is find a leader, who finds his surroundings more important than himself.

09 September 2006

Leadership and natural talents

It seems that most people really like to be special in one way or another. I can imagine this myself. Of course it feels good to get attention because you are good at something. But lets not follow that idea as it comes to leadership. Because as a leader you will always get attention. First of course because most people think, you are the best at what you do. Secondly just because you are the leader. Thirdly because some people will see you as a means to achieve their goals. Fourthly because some will want to take your place. Fifthly because everybody around you is looking for their safety with you. So as a leader you get so much attention, that most of the time, it has nothing to do with any talent you have what so ever. And the talent you do have, is unrecognizable for most people, if they do not have it themselves (if we would believe most leaders.)

The best leader is you
I would not call leadership a talent like playing the piano or painting or running or writing. Leadership is just being the best you can be as a human in relation to and with others. If that is a talent, than we all have it. In the end it is just choosing to the best you can be and getting the opportunity to practice your leadership.
Getting the best from yourself is growing up in a risk tolerant surrounding, so you can make mistakes and learn from them. Getting the best from yourself is also being supported by someone who has high expectations and will give you the chance to make true on those expectations. And not by stating those expectations, but also create the training facilities and to coach you while you practice. That support also means keeping someone motivated if he lets himself get beaten down by a situation. And then when everything goes right, you get your leaders just like that.
In the end the only talent a leader really needs is some common sense.

31 August 2006

Leadership and change (3)

So now you have everybody motivated to make the journey to the top and enjoy the view from the top with you. You have expressed your expectation that the view will be beautiful and that you expect everyone to be able to reach the top. But you are still standing in the valley. And then the Chinese proverb comes up:
A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

In that sence climbing a mountain is a beautiful metafore for change. You are standing in the valley and can only see mountains around you. You expect that the view from the top of the mountain will be more beautiful than in the valley. But to get to that view you will need to get up the mountain.

And there you find the most important point of climbing mountains. There are no beaten paths. You will need to find the path together in cooperation. Which means starting at the bottom. You will need to find a point where you can access the mountain with ease. And you will need to take a rest every now and then from climbing. Also you will need to stop and look around every so often to see where you are, and if you are still going up the mountain? Are you following the best route? Sometimes you will need to trackback and choose a new route. Or you will need to walk along the mountain face to find a better route before going up again. Because in the end you want to reach the top without accidents. Also you will need to give everybody the chance to climb at his own speed. And sometimes you will need to let someone else lead, who has had time to look for a saver route. In the end climbing a mountain is a group activity, that will be a succes because of all the different talents in the group.

However as leader you can use the climb to proof how good you are. But then you are not going for the view, but the proof of your position within the group. At the top you will not be enjoying the view and most of all you do not want to enjoy the view together with your colleagues. But hen you better ask yourself why you became a leader.

Leadership and change (2)

In a previous blog about leadership and change I mentioned that change asks clearity of a leader. He does not need to live others lifes, he needs to lead by living example. An analogy for change to me is climbing a mountain.

Most leaders when working on a change in their organization show people a mountain and tell them about the beautiful view is from the top, once you stand on it. It seems that the leader already has been on the top and now he invites everybody to join him at the top to enjoy the view with him. (People who have experienced change before, know that most of the time when they arrive at the top of the change mountain, the leader has already found a new top from which he is enjoying the view. So the people who came out of the valley to enjoy the view do not get the time to look at it.)
The strange thing of a leader describing the view from the top is that he can only do so, when standing in the valley himself. So he can not have seen the real view from the top.

So starting change by describing to others a view you have not seen yourself, is a hoax .

A possible solution to prevent yourself from becoming a hoax, as a leader, is telling what you expect to see. But never go off on a rant of how beautiful a place must be, when you have not been there. It will come back to bite you.
So what you really must find important is that everybody will reach the top. And that you want to enjoy the view from the top together. And most of all you expect that everybody will be able to reach the top.

14 August 2006

Leadership and form or substance

One could state that there are only two forms of leadership. However it is always possible to say, that every human has his own form of leadership. But to keep the discussion simple, lets keep it with two kinds. Although maybe it would be better to speak of one form of leadership and something that looks like it.

Oke, so I said two forms of leadership. One form of leadership is all about its appearance. What does the leadership look like? Does it look like leadership or does it not? This is, so to speak, leadership in appearance, that tries to look like leadership and works really hard at it. Where am I in the hierarchy? How do I interact with my subordinates? Am I friends with the right kind of persons? Do I say the right things?
The other form of leadership is substantial. I am not talking about leadership given to someone, because he is the best in his field. I am talking about leadership that is directed at making the best of leading others. Everything the leader does is directed at the advantage it creates for everybody who is beneficiary of the leadership.

However the leadership of substance is hard to discern from the leadership in form. Simply because the external elements of leadership are the same. Making a distinction between both forms of leadership can be really difficult in many situations, especially if a culture has all kinds of rituals and protocols that support the leadership.
Although most of the time it does not matter if leadership is substantial or form driven. Most people do not need a leader in normal circumstances. Most people think it is all right if someone represents their group. The will probably think: “Rather him then me.”

The difference between both forms of leadership are found in situations of emergency. Situations in which one person needs to decide who does what, so the efficiency of the actions of the group is maximized. In those emergency situations humans want a substantial leader, not one who looks at the form and seeks to minimize the risks for his own position.

But how can you tell the difference between both forms of leadership, if it is possible at all? Often it can be found in things like the desperate fight of a pro forma leader to conserve certain rituals and protocols. The form directed leader will also point to the rules and the hierarchy with great energy. He will try to establish his leadership by showing himself in public in a ritualistic way. He will tell others how they should behave and what their responsibility is towards the leadership. In moments of privacy he will be glad to except help. But in the open he will proclaim to have done everything on his own. Persons who have knowledge of the weaknesses of the leader will be manipulated into keeping their information to themselves or have to fear for their position within the organization.
Form centered leaders will often seek subjects and employees who will say yes to everything he says and wants. They will use their limited power to derail any independent mind, by promoting them to a save location or firing them.

The substantial leader will often do things that are the direct opposite. In public they do not mind to much for rituals and protocols. The do not have a problem with asking for help in public, although they may not need it. They surround themselves with people whose strong points are a complementation to their weaknesses. And decisions for hiring or firing are based on the need of the organization.
The substantial leader will look for what is good for the group. The pro forma leader will do everything that is good for his position.

12 August 2006

Leadership and change

If you look at what people expect from leadership, then you that it is not much what they expect. A leader does not need to plan the lifes of others. He does not need to lead others lifes. He does not need to live others lifes. All this people can do themselves.
What people really want from leadership is clarity. A leader really needs to reduce or take away the insecurity people have about living. A leader needs to clarify the future and in which direction it will go. A leader needs to clarify what happened. A leader needs to show confidence at the moment people feel insecure and because of that are frightened.
What does that mean for a leader who leads a change? It means that a leader most of can tell what the consequences are from the change. A leader should be able to tell why the change is necessary. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the change? How will the world look like after the change? The leader needs to show confidence in the success of the change. The leader will need to believe that the change is necessary. But why do so many changes fail?

Changing successfully
Change is a highly researched subject, especially changes that failed. Several authors have given their ideas about the factors for failure and added their factors for success. Take De Caluwé for example, who states that the change process needs to fit the organizational culture. Others tell us that the failure was caused by the lack of a good plan. Systems thinking states that failures to change are caused by the parts of the system and how they interact. So finding causes for failure to change is easy. But why should we not look at the reason for change.
With many change activities you could ask te question of necessity. The question you could put forward about change is: “Why do organization want to change?” Several answers are possible to this question. But is the real answer to this question not: “Because it is possible.” Most of the time, when we look at the reasons for change, the need to change is minimal and most of all made up. And most employees even think, that change is just a way for most managers to make their mark.
And that idea about managers makes clear that most leaders make a big mistakes when it comes to change. They forget that for people to change, they need to be absolutely clear about what is going to happen. And if we know anything about uncertainty, it is that people become fearful in unclear situations. And uncertainty feeds wishes of keeping the situation as it is. It can even create forces that wish to return to times when everything was clear, known and understandable. This conservatism among employees was created by leaders who were not clear about: “What is going to happen?”, “Why it is happening?”, “How it will happen?”, “What people are allowed to do, and what others will be doing?”, but most of all: “They did not make it clear if they believe that the change is necessary?”

Personal change
If you look at creating change in your personal life, you can see how difficult it can be to change. Take for example the plan to start running every sunday morning. So you plan to get up early, before everybody is up. The first sunday you choose to realize your plan it is raining. As you had not expected it, you did not get gear to protect you against the rain. The second sunday fails also because your children get up even earlier and want to talk to you as you come downstairs. The third sunday you remember that you wanted to go running after you wake up late in the morning. So you do not go running. It seems that having a plan to change, without the conviction is the same as having no plan at all.
A different example however shows how easy change can be. You are fired at your employer, for whom you worked eight years. You lived a short fifteen bike ride from your workplace. After a few weeks you find a job in a place that is fifteen minutes driving from where you live. Now you get up a half hour early every morning to make your lunch. It seems that you are completely convinced of the need to change.

Off course you wil say now. The first example is not the same as the second. And you are right. In the first case you made an investment into your own future. In the second case the investment was into certainty about your future. What seems to be important in change is the attitude you have towards the change. How important do you think you are yourself or how important is the security a job can give you?

09 July 2006

Leadership and training

I have always found training to be a strange activity within many organizations. Especially the way training takes place.

The trainee
If we look at what training means to a person who is going to be trained, we see the following.
First training is a fast way of gaining more and new knowledge and skills. It is a situation of which you can be certain that the wished for knowledge and skills will be available.
Secondly training is a change process. The receiver of the new knowledge and skills no longer has a deficit in knowledge and skills.
Thirdly training is a social activity. The transfer of knowledge and skills from the trainer to the trainee takes place through communicating the training content. In this social situation the trainer receives respect from the trainee for his work.
The fourth point in training is that is a brake in the daily situation. Especially if training takes several days and is organized outside the workplace. If training becomes schooling it becomes part of the daily situation.

The organization
As training has a certain meaning for the trainee, it has a different meaning for organizations.
Firstly training is a purchase activity. As there is a shortage of knowledge and skills a product is needed that will reduce the shortage or change it into a surplus.
Secondly training is an investment. The purchased knowledge and skills have to create value for the customer and the organization as soon as possible.
Thirdly it is a change process. Where at first there was a shortage, now a method must be found to make money with the new skills and knowledge. Sometimes the change is forced on the organization because the keeper of the new knowledge and skills changes organizations and a new employee has to be found with the samen knowledge and skills. And when this employee is found he or she needs to be trained in working with the organization.
Fourthly training is a social process. The training is giving to one of the employees and this often is followed by new chances and relations within the organization for the trained employee.

So what is strange about the way organizations use training? Often training is no more then a way to eliminate a shortage of knowledge and skills. For example training is more often used as a way of rewarding employees who have been exemplary and can not be giving a pay rise or bigger bonus due to company policy. So they are sent to function related trainings at nice locations. But after returning from the training nobody expects them to use their new knowledge and skills. You could call this a paid short working vacation. That as a result of the training a lot of unfinished work has piled up, that needs to be done as soon as possible, is no need to stop sending people to trainings. So the employee has to work extra hard the first few days back from training to clear this backlog. And a simple solution to this backlog problem would be to use a reasonably quiet period to send employees to training.
Training as a part of the reward system also is delayed payment. As the employee is upgraded by the training, his or her worth for an organization is greater. So the employee will be able to take on new positions that have a higher salary scale.
Next training often is not bought because of a shortage, but because it is a habit. Every new employee follows the same training, containing so much new knowledge and skills, that you can not expect anything else but inefficiency of training content use. The advantage of such a habitual use of training, especially if it is done consequently at the same training institute is that all employees learn to speak the same language.
And of course some training is purchased because of a recognized shortage of knowledge and skills. But then the organization acts as if training does not change the level of knowledge and skills. So as the employee returns from his training the new knowledge is nog addressed and the skills do not get a chance to be used. The expectations shown to the employee are for a product similar as before he or she left for training, even if with the training the employee could create more value than before.

Strange training purchasing
And that is the strange thing of buying training by organizations. And here we see a contradiction with buying machines.
You might even call it a radical contradiction buying machines or training. When an organization purchases a new machine everything is researched. From the qualitative and quantitative differences between the current and the wished for machines to the TCO and ROI. Does it take a long time to learn to work with the new machine or can it be done in a short amount of time. Does it give more if you learn longer or can you do any amount of learning without any advantage. All this is researched before deciding buying the new machine.
And there we see the strangeness of training purchasing within organizations. Because it seems to be difficult to find the ROI, we forget about the TCO. We do not look at the learning curve or better the forgetting curve. But most of all we do not look at efficiency or effectiveness. Although doing something about this situation is not difficult.

Social activities
As I said before, training is a social activity, as well for the trainee as the organization. It even is so, that by making training a real social activity the forgetting curve becomes a learning curve, effectiveness increases and TCO reduces. With social activity I mean coming together to decide what should be learned. Taking care of replacement during the training and showing interest and coaching afterwards. In a sense what an organization would do when it would buy a new machine and had it installed.

25 May 2006

Leadership and models

Lingual hairsplitting
In a Dutch article on Managementsite by Leo Kerklaan and Marjan Hoogendijk present their opinion about commonly used management models to organize work. They state that those “popular standard models” often are directed at quality improvement. The use of ‘standard models’ is something I would criticize. To start the word standard has several meanings. First of the word standard already makes clear that it is something that is commonly used. Like in the ISO 9000 standard or the IEEE standards, which both are models of something you could find in the real world. And these kinds of standards are meant to make the connection between different models possible. Secondly standard means: something to keep a something else standing. For example a musical standard. Standard is also used to make clear that something happens regularly. As when you say that Robert's reaction is standard.
Kerklaan and Hoogendijk seem to use standard in its first meaning, which however makes the combination of standard and model rather strange. Because a model is a standard, a means to simplify the complexity of the world, to make it understandable. A way of looking at the world, that makes the causal relations between elements, that influence each other, visible. And in the end a model is meant to give a theory of a causal relationship a link to being used in reality.
Or are Kerklaan and Hoogendijk saying that ‘standard models’ are models that are commonly uses. In that case the combination of ‘popular’ and ‘standard’ is superfluous, because popular means common.

So it would have been more sensible if they had used “popular quality models”, because that is what the article is criticizing.

Technical critique

Of course I do not only have lingual critique. To start with their piece has a big technical rattling structure. Take for instance the sentence:
  • Organizations are being convinced to use the model by showing best practices, or using a ‘award’ approach in which an authority gives away the award to an excellent organization. However, as said before, there is little systematic research that supports the positive effects.
This gives a question:
  • What ‘positive effect’ is meant: the effect of the model, the award ceremony, the research? I assume they mean the models.
Next I wonder if a model has an effect? Is it not more likely that it has influence? So the model influences the behaviour of its user, and the behaviour has the desired effect. If the model itself has effect, we are probably talking about a supermodel or a mechanical model. Effect is about changing reality by direct action. That a model does not change reality is a good thing, because that would mean that every time someone has an idea about what the world should look like, that world would change.

A second dissonant in the technical structure is that the writers disqualify the models, because they are used incorrectly, need to much time and money and do not deliver on what was promised. But these disqualification are only presented when they need to qualify their own model. It seems that the writers think that the cause lies with the models.

So what I see is, that the article wishes to replace one hammer, with another on the basis of the fact that the first hammer forces me to use it wrong. However only after I looked at the use from the perspective of the second hammer. Which brings me to the third point of critique. The article is critical of quality models, without ever showing the model that is used to judge.
However what it looks like to me, is that Kerklaan en Hoogendijk use a model that is quite similar to the quality models they judge. According to me they use the ideas behind their model:
  • To reach a goal one needs to set a goal
  • A goal is flexible, and gives meaning to what you do
  • A goal is not rigid, but gives direction and can change over time, through the experiences one has trying to reach his goal.
By using this approach while judging the quality models, the seek the fault with the models and keep their users out of the wind. So in a way Kerklaan en Hoogendijk say that all models inherently cause wrong use, except for their model. But as with all models, it is not the model that causes the problems, the problem is that they are made and used by humans.

Internal critique

What really bugs me about the article by Kerklaan and Hoogendijk, is that it leaves out human traits.
First of all human are not able to comprehend reality in its totality. Which declares our need for the use of models, extracts, structure and systems.
Secondly people do not like uncertainty. Which also declares why we use models, structures, systems and rules.
Thirdly people differ in the way in which the react to reality. Which again declares our use of models, structures, rules and systems. That is also why nobody has exactly the same learning style, we use different tactics to come to a solution and we have differences in taste.
Fourthly humans have trouble changing. To start with because it creates uncertainty. Secondly because they become afraid of what the effect of the change will be for their reality. And lastly because changing takes time.
Although the model of Kerklaan en Hoogendijk takes this human side into account, their critique on all other models however does not consider the human side. Whereas all models are a consequence of human behavior. All models are meant to make reality manageable. The models are meant to reduce uncertainty. They are meant to help humans change. That is also what is going wrong with all models. The models forget to address the most important motivator humans have: their freedom to decide. Behavior that can be found in babies. They play longer with toys that are under their control, than with toys controlled by others.

So why would the Kerklaan and Hoogendijk model be better, than other models? It gives humans a grip on making their reality managable. Their model is not a straightjacket, but a handle. And in the basis this is what all models do, but as they become more and more complex they create the wrong behavior. They make their users dependent, wanting to object and fight the change the model proposes. They create political behavior, strictness and risk averseness.

What does this mean for leadership? To start a leader wil have to address his own shortcomings and that of his fellow humans. Change takes time and is not a result of introducing a new model. Taking the ideas of Kerklaan en Hoogendijk means that the leader picks a model that clarifies what his daily behavior is.
The leader should be permanently attentive to prevent the model from becoming the goal instead of what it was meant for: quality improvement. So it is not enough to choose a model to realize a goal. The correct implementation of the model has to become one of the goals. The leader could almost choose a second model to check the implementation of the model that will create all changes. Which also means that the leader can not let external personnel implement the new model without checking their progress and checking if everybody is satisfied with how the model effects the organization.
You might say that implementing a new model is a full time job next to the leadership job. So the question comes to mind if changing your model is the best course of action?

20 April 2006

Leadership and “Yes, however ...”

One of the most frustrating answers to a vision presented by a leader must be the "Yes, I see your point, however ...". This kind of leader probably is one who likes to tell others what, when and how it should be done. The leader who gets frustrated by the "Yes, however .." answer could try to find a seminar like the one organized by Intermediair and Denk Producties. A seminar that states that the person who answers with "Yes, however ..." thinks that problems are caused by others.
By the way a leader who thinks that the "Yes, but ..." answer should never reach his table, also thinks that the cause of his problems are others.
However if the leader sees the "Yes, that maybe so, but ..." as a starting point to discover each others ideas about the situation, has found an opening. You might use this answer to start a mutual conversation.
So the "Yes, if ..." reaction could be the start of a talk about both visions of the situation.

There is of course a simple reason why people answer with "Yes, however ...". Sometimes it is because they see that what is presented is old whine in new bags. Especially experienced employees will have this reaction to change and ask themselves of what use it is to change the looks, if the content stays the same. ("We're not selling cars here, is it?") And most of the time the new leaders are the ones who present old ideas as new. At those moments, experienced employees react with their "Yes, however ..." it is highly important for the new leader to listen instead of identifing himself with the presented ideas. So to speak: "You are not your vision."
This attitude however is rather difficult to achieve, if one has put a lot of effort in creating a balanced vision statement. The vision has become part of ones personal view of the world, and has incorporated itself into our personality. Disapproval of the vision with "Yes, however ..." first creates the feeling of an attack on ones personality. At such a moment one could forget that:
  1. The receiver needs to explore the vision to understand it and make it his own. As you have done yourself.
  2. You are not your vision.
  3. It is highly unprofessional to let ones emotions answer the emotions of others.
So what could be the best solution for a leader to answer the "Yes, but what if ...?" reaction? Start talking to people in the organization, that will directly be influenced by the new vision. That way they will get the chance to understand the ideas behind the vision. And they can start thinking of solutions to work with the new vision, once it needs to be implemented.

A lesser solution is to bring your vision, listen to the reactions of the others at the different levels people can react. Those reactions can be substantive, procedural, relational of emotional. We would most of all like substantive reactions, but every kind of reaction is justified. One can not assume to have the right, to decide for others how they should feel.

The worst solution is to present the vision and answer every "Yes, however ..." with "When are you going to act as a professional?" Because you not only say: "I think you and your emotions are unimportant." But you also say that the other is only a means to an end, which lowers yourself to the same level. In which you have created a precedent to be treated as a means to an end. Something a leader should not want.

03 April 2006

Leadership and thinking in solutions

I read about ‘solutions focus’ for the first time about a year ago. It was presented to me at the Dutch site managementsite.nl.
The idea behind ‘solutions focus’ is, that a problem does not exist all the time. During a period in which we perceive having a problem, there will be moments that the problem does not exist. If we examin these problem free moments we might be able to find a solution for our problem, by applying the behaviour we show at the moments the problem does not exist to the moments that we seem to have a problem.
This method of ‘solutions focus’ does not work for the moments, that we encounter a problem for the first time. Although it can support us in solving the problem, because it reminds us of the fact that most problems have a solution.
Also ‘solution focus’ does not see running away from the problem as a solution. Most of the time we find, that the problem occurs in a different disguises and setting, just as soon as we have settled there. So ‘solutions focus' sees addressing your problem or problem situation with action directed at the problem as the solution. Besides the danger of fleeing is that those around you will see you as the source of the problem. Because the moment you leave the problem probably disappears. And for managers this image is even more dangerous, as they are seen, most of the time, as the ones who should have solved the problem.

To help someone with a problem find a solution according to ‘solutions focus’ you could ask him or her to describe a situation in which the problem did not occur. If this is a problem you could explore the situation, by asking: “what happened?”, “who was present?”, “what was the goal of the situation?”, “who had which tasks?”, “which actions were taken?”, “what results were achieved?”, “how much time was necessary?”, “what was said?”, “what was different from the situation in which you had no problem?” The goal of these questions is to make people let go of their need to protect their world view. As putting their world view on the line, is asking them to put themselves on the line and admit that they are flawed as are we all.
If that does not work, you might try to ask: “What would the situation look like, if there was no problem?” The goal of this question is to get visualization going, as this helps people to see what can be done to solve their problem. To support this visualization process one could ask questions like: “What would be different from the current situation?”, “How would you behave in that new situation?”, “How would you relate to the other in the future situation?” “What could you do to create the new situation?”

The advantage of ‘solutions focus’ is that you are helped to start thinking positively about your problem. You stop thinking of yourself as victim of your situation and take initiative to solve the problem. One stops complaining and becomes a solver. And if there is something people like, it is having influence on their situation.

But why should it be important to a leader to focus on solutions? First of the block is the idea, that leaders should have answers to questions and problems followers have. However by using ‘solutions focus’ a leader puts the follower in to the driving seat of his own position. The leader does not lead by presenting a solution, but by helping finding the solution. This not only creates a follower who can lead himself, but the follower will see the leader as a person who is sincere and willing to listen to the questions he or she has. A second idea that comes to mind is the fact that two know more than one. A leader can not know all answers to all questions, he needs his followers to be able to answer some of their questions on their own. Thirdly using this approach creates trust and openes within the relationship the leader has with his followers. So when problems might become really serious they will not wait till the end to talk with the leader, they will keep him informed.
So in a sense using this approach means that life will be easier, the leader will be seen as a leader, followers will be happier and probably work harder and be less ill.

07 March 2006

Leadership and aging

According to Paul Schnabel and Peter Ester it is simple. If the Dutch leadership does not address the coming wave of aging citizens, the Dutch will be toast. Secretary Hoogervorst already mentioned that it will come to the stage that there will only be two employees in elderly care for every elder.

In real life it will not be as worse as these Dutch gentlemen suggest. First more and more elderly are growing old healthy. Secondly it will take somewhere between twenty and forty years to ride this wave of elderly citizens. So just bite the bullet.

On the other hand from the point of view of leadership is addressing aging in the workforce is a good thing. Simply because there will be less youngsters to do all the work. It will be necessary to use the elderly (aging) employee.

Up to now you often saw, that companies out of cost cutting fired their older employees. Which often resulted in their return for a consultancy fee, comparable to their year salary, just to get their work done. You could question this kind of leadership or should it be called bean counting?

A solution for addressing aging is employees taking their responsibility. A proponent of this idea is Rupert Spijkerman. For leaders however it is necessary to create the possibility for the employees to take their responsibility. If the rules do not allow employees to carry responsibility you get what you could call bureaucratism (the rules do not allow it, so I do not do anything outside the rules). With the strange side effect, that the same rule abiding employee, in the world outside of his job actively takes part in all kinds of enterprising activities. So here Schnabel and Ester have a point. if the rules do not change, older employees will not change. A important instrument for leaders to use, is leading by example: change your own attitude towards aging employees.

24 February 2006

Leadership and disappointment

It is not hard to imagine that leaders can be disappointed by the reactions they get from their direct colleagues. Everything you do is directed at helping and leading them and they do not recognize your efforts.
A simple reason could be, that your employees are used to your way of working and do not react to it like they used too. Another reason could be, that your employees do not know how they could react. Or do not understand, that a leader also likes to receive positive feedback. A forth reason could be, that employees never learned to see by what kind of positive actions they are surrounded. Yet another reason could be, that your actions as a leader are so indirectly connected to outcomes, that employees have trouble recognizing your impact as a leader on their experiences.

It becomes a strange situation, when a leader starts to complain about the behavior of people from outside his organization. If he is disappointed by his customers, who do not seem to understand that quality is costly. If he is disappointed about the fact that investments do not deliver within five years the expected market share and profit. When you are disappointed about the fact that your turnover grows less in one country compared to another, although neither are comparable.
The disappointment is even stranger, when the leader has a great succes under his belt. You decided to invest in a company, that others thought to be a bad investment. And after a year your decision turns out right. Your company’s profit grew 75% over the last year and you can pay your shareholders their dividend, for the first time in four years.
But maybe the disappointment is understandable. We often want to hear from the ones we see as close to ourselves to recognize our succes and the financial profits do not seem enough.
Or all our efforts are directed at making it possible to stay in a certain place, that seems to be difficult to maintain. We often see this happening when people try to keep a company or its headquarters connected to the county in which it was founded.

Coping with disappointment
How could a leader address his disappointment, to keep yourself from showing it in public? Because people do not understand that a successful organization complains about a small problem.
A first method could be to see that you are disappointed and why. Getting a clear understanding of your disappointment could be achieved by talking to an external party. Be careful who you choose, because journalist have their own goals when listening to you. Best is to find someone who has no stake in listening to you.
A second approach is stop looking at negative things and things that go wrong. You might want to look at only your successes. However there is a danger in only looking at positive things. If the failures are a signal for fundamental problems, then ignoring them may result in complete failure of all systems.
A third method is to sit down with your colleagues and make a list of all positive and negative elements and see if being disappointed is justified. Often you will find out, that there is no reason to be disappointed.
An advantage of this last approach is that you get a clear view of your situation and that you can be content. Your satisfaction can give you the energy to find out what caused some of the fiascos.

A few suggestions for a leader who is feeling disappointed:
  1. talk internally about your disappointment, because in the outside world you will not be understood;
  2. have a positive feeling, before you start looking at fiascos, because else you will feel disappointed afterwards;
  3. do not look at disappointments on your own. Do it with someone else, who can give the advantages of the fiascos (not the devils advocate, but his fool);
  4. research your disappointment, is it caused by:
  • internal reactions, or
  • are they from outside, or
  • is your personal situation a reason for disappointment?

Advise for Numico’s chairman
My advise to Jan Bennink of Numico is: stop being disappointed about the Dutch when everywhere else you are a succes. My compliments for the succes of Numico.

16 February 2006

Leadership and management

Superior leaders get things done with very little motion.
They impart instruction not through many words, but through a few deeds.
They keep informed about everything but interfere hardly at all.
They are catalysts, and though things would not get done as well if they were not there, when they succeed they take no credit.
And, because they take no credit, credit never leaves them.

-- Lao-Tzu

Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.

-- Peter F. Drucker

08 February 2006

Leadership and marketing

Organizations are more than their product

Marketing is one of those disciplines of which many leaders probably think: thank goodness that it is a department. This of course is the wrong thought. Because marketing in essence is the product an organization sells.
Most small to average size organizations however, think that they are selling a specific product to their clients, for example a machine or a hamburger.
Most clients think they are buying a machine or a donut they crave for. But in reality an organization sells a combination of elements, of which the product is only a part.

A leader should look at the total organization as a product that is to be sold. That would give the insight why it is necessary to address the 5 P’s of the marketing mix as well as the 4 C’s of the consumer mix.

The 5 P’s were short for:

  • What are you selling? The next cash cow or do you have a dog in the house?

  • As real estate agents will say: Location, location, location

  • Are you offering the lowest price? Or are you being exclusive? Or is the relation between price and performance more important?

  • Is the products existence known to the public and does it look good?

  • Is everybody motivated to sell the product or are they selling because they get paid to do so?

A variation on the 5 P’s is the 4 C’s put forward by R. Lauterborn (ref. 1, ref. 2, ref. 3, ref. 4), which I first encountered in an article by John Koster and Ed Peelen on managementsite.nl “Komt het nog wel goed met marketing?” (Will marketing be alright?):

  • Which effort must the customer make: personally, financial or physical?
Customer needs:

  • What is it the customer wants to buy: a product or its use?

  • What can be done to live up to the expectations of the customer in price, place, promotion, product and personnel?

  • How does the customer want to be addressed?

When we use the 5 P marketing mix to answer the questions of the consumer mix, you get the following questions:
  • Product

How much trouble is it to us a product (almost everyone has something at home, that after onetime use disappeared into a closet or drawer, because of the difficulty to use it or get help from the manufacturer.)

  • Place

How far and how long should a customer travel to get his product. And what should he be paying once he has arrived at his destination? (An example of how this is solved, is the free parking ticket for the car park.)

  • Price

What should a customer pay for the product? And does this price seem reasonable compared to what he is getting and needs to do?

  • Promotion

Is the PR directed at the customer or was it made for the PR department? Is the packaging and the user manuel clear and understandable? Is there a help desk and is personnel available?

  • Personnel

Is it the customer who is excerting himself to reach a member of the organization or is the personnel that tries to reach the customer with a friendly attitude? You might say is the customer there to keep the employees busy or are the employees there to help the customer?

Customer needs:
  • Product

What is the intended use by the customer and is that the only thing it can be used for? Is the customer interested in this product or would he rather have a product that is less sophisticated but easier to use?

  • Place

Does the customer want a shop around the corner with everything for sale or does he want a range of shops. that all sell their own unique products? Does he want to spend a lot to get at the desired place or does she want it at walking distance? Does he want exclusivity or does she want what everybody is having?

  • Price

Is the price unimportant as long as the product works the way advertised or should it give more for a low price?

  • Promotion

Is the customer interested in thinking for himself or should you make him laugh? Should your PR be understandable or should it challenge the customer to understand what was meant?

  • Personnel

Should the customer be searching and waiting for help or should the customer be treated like a king?

  • Product

How much effort should it take the customer to use the product? How can the customer be helped to start using the product as soon as possible?

  • Place

How easy can you get to the location where the product is sold? What has to be done to get to the location? Could the product be brought to the customer?

  • Price

Does the price fit the expectations of the client? Or should the client be helped understanding what the price signifies?

  • Promotion

Is the customer getting the information he needs, or should the customer adjust to the information?

  • Personnel

Is the customer expected to search and wait for personnel or is he being pampered like a baby?

  • Product

Is the product telling the customer that it is easy to use and understand or is a product for professionally trained users.

  • Place

Does it say: “come on in” or more something like ”get out and stay out.”

  • Price

Is it a price of exclusiveness or inclusiveness? Does the adjust to the customer or should the customer adjust to the price?

  • Promotion

Is it about the customer or is the product and the organization central to the information given? Do we think and tell the customer we think his mental capacity is hindered or do we think he needs to be informed to become knowledgeable?

  • Personnel

Is it clear that the employees think that the customer is important and do they show it or is the customer a buggy side effect of working for this company? Is the customer right or the employee?

Examples of how organizations and their leaders have trouble connecting their product and customers, are easily found. Take for example the automotive industry. With the exception of a few brands most are doing worse every year. Toyota has almost overtaken GM as biggest car maker of the world. Where GM is closing factories and cutting salaries.

What is causing this difference?
Because Toyota puts the customer and his wishes central and also communicates this with its vehicles and service. GM however still thinks that all its customers want is a car with the GM logo somewhere on the car.
But not only the automotive industry is an example. The educational system also thinks its knows better than its customers. The biggest part of the educational system still focuses on content delivery. Instead it should be looking at what is needed to help their customers learn what is being taught and what the customer is going to do with that knowledge.
It would be good if leaders understood that their product is not what the customer takes with him when stepping out of the door, but that its the whole package from the first glimpse of an idea for a product up to the moment the product will be recycled.

29 January 2006

Leadership and diversity

At the core of the position of a leader is diversity. The leader does not only has to deal with diversity daily, but his existence means diversity, because he is different from all other members of his organization.

The word diversity is being used for many different aspects and activities within an organization.
The government for example expects organizations to employ several kinds of citizens, employee diversity. The expectation is, that the leader will answer the governments quest for diversity. But what answer could a leader give? (A reason to work on creating a divers workforce, is that multi cultural organizations have more success than mono cultural.)
The organization itself expects the leader to poses an arsenal of reactions that fit almost every situation. In every situation his reactions have to create the right effect, a divers arsenal of reactions in leadership. But which reactions are the most effective in which situation?
The consumer expects that an organization sells products that fit his wishes, a diversity of products. How can a leader make those consumer wishes come true and at the same time keep all those wishes separated?
Employees expect a divers array of jobs, functions, tasks and responsibilities. What can a leader do to create all this diversity? (Although all those different products consumers want, create a lot of diversity in jobs.)
The suppliers expect the organization to be able to address a myriad of delivery forms and payment possibilities. How could a leader keep all these differences apart? (What if he tried to find employees that address the specific wishes of suppliers?)
Banks expect an organization to answer a range of questions about their financial situation and follow several rules before they can loan money. How does a leader answer all these questions? (Should he do it himself of find others to help him? And should this help be external or internal?)
The Internal revenue service expects a company to follow a divers set of rules that govern accounting and tax payment. Those a leader need to know all those rules? (What should be done by himself and what can be done by others?)
Stake holders in the organization expect the leader to give the right leadership, so its effects on her surroundings may be positive. Can a leader create this effect on his own and how? (Could he select the right employees who will follow his example?)
Shareholders expect a yearly returning positive return on investment and climbing share prices. Can a leader answer their question of is he to dependent on the market, employees and other external factors?

Diversity is really the central axiom of the function of a leader in an organization. But what is the best way to address diversity?

27 January 2006

Leadership and tradition

What is the importance of tradition for leadership?
Repeating a certain action, behavior or ritual with a long rest period could be a definition for tradition.
The advantage of tradition is, that it fits the way our brain works. Something that happens regularly, or returns occasionally or is being done at a regular basis, becomes strongly embedded in our memory and can be easily retrieved for use.
The disadvantage of such deep memory tracks is that they are difficult to replace with new behavior. The human brain will try to prevent the removal of such memory tracks.
So tradition is important for leadership, because it supports a long living leader by creating a subconscious right to leadership with the people he leads. The advantage of this is, that people know what they may expect of their leader, which gives them a feeling of safety.
This tradition effect of long lasting leadership is strengthened if the leader creates all kinds of recognition and remembrance moments into his leadership existense. An example is personally giving employees presents who did something special for the organization. Although lately the 25 year employee ship is a rare occasion, the five year working relation is more than special enough.
A tradition in that sense that has been created the last twenty years is the press conference and stockholder meeting where the CEO presents the financial situation of the organization.

For a future or new leader this need for tradition of humans means that one should keep the previous leader in high regard. The best one can do is to leave the existing traditions in place and replace them slowly with their own. An example of an organization that uses this tactic is the Catholic church. New church leaders do not change traditions, because the traditions are part of the rituals of the organization and her surrounding culture.

Traditions strengthen leadership, if the leader respects the traditions.

What could a leader do to support traditions?
The most important activity a leader can give to support a tradition is show his face. His partaking of the tradition confirms and strengthens the right of existence of the tradition. However the danger of supporting a tradition can be, that the leader is governed by the tradition. You could say, the tradition starts to live a life on its own. An example of this is Queens day in the Netherlands.
To prevent such a situation, you need to change the tradition slowly. Again Queens day is an example of how this is done.

How does tradition support leadership?
In most cases tradition only supports a leader or the leadership during the period of transition or take over. Take for example how the English royal family has organized its succession. Everybody knows the phrase “The king is dead. Long live the king.” After which a process is started to crown the new king. By doing this in a traditional fashion, the new king is confirmed as the new head of the royal family. But would this also work for a leader in an organization?
Most leadership successions often take place by means of an electronic message to all employees and a message to the biggest customers. If a company is of interest to the press the succession will be on the news. But that has nothing to do with tradition.
Tradition supports the new leader most of all in his direct contract with his new staff. His introduction, sometimes by the old leader, must make it clear to his staff who holds the power to take decisions. In some cases it is even a tradition to get rid of all other members of the executive board and replace them with friends. The staff often expects this behavior from the new leader.
This tradition of the introduction does not mean that a leader can be certain about his power. The tradition does not automatically support the leaders position. The leader will need to find those elements in the tradition, that support or weaken his position.

Are leadership and tradition partners or enemies?
Leadership and tradition are nor partners nor enemies. The leader needs traditions to support his position, but also has the freedom to create new traditions. Tradition however does not need the leader to survive, because human nature is inclined to keep traditions alive. However tradition is not set in stone and can be changed over time.
Tradition can be a leaders enemy, if he uses or treats it wrongly. Just as tradition can be a partner to a leader, if the leader recognizes the tradition for how important it is to his staff and employees.
However if a leader is not careful, he can become a prisoner of tradition.