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?