The Power of Ordinary Practices – Quotes Worth Amplifying

Well, this seems to be a fitting follow up to my last blog post.

Amabile: I believe it’s important for leaders to understand the power of ordinary practices. Seemingly ordinary, trivial, mundane, day-by-day things that leaders do and say can have an enormous impact. My guess is that a lot of leaders have very little sense of the impact that they have. That’s particularly true of the negative behaviors. I don’t think that the ineffective team leaders we studied meant to anger or deflate the people who were working for them. They were trying to do a good job of leading their teams, but lacked an effective model for how to behave.

So, I would say sweat the small stuff, not only when you’re dealing with your business strategy, but with the people whom you’re trying to lead. I would encourage leaders, when they’re about to have an interaction with somebody, to ask themselves: Might this thing I’m about to do or say become this person’s “event of the day”? Will it have a positive or a negative effect on their feelings and on their performance today?codrawing2

Amabile also calls out the rich, internal emotional lives that we all have, and how that influences our working together and collaboration.

One, people have incredibly rich, intense, daily inner work lives; emotions, motivations, and perceptions about their work environment permeate their daily experience at work. Second, these feelings powerfully affect people’s day-to-day performance. And third, those feelings, which are so important for performance, are powerfully influenced by particular daily events.

This again has resonance with last week’s #UdGAgora work where we explored the role of empathy in course design. The red threads are really showing up today. Maybe this will help me start pulling together a full post about The Agora. Alan has already started the “reflective ball” rolling.
Source: The Power of Ordinary Practices — HBS Working Knowledge

Teaching Empathy: hey, that’s networked leadership!

IMGP3454I’m currently working with an intelligent and courageous core team working to implement a very different way of working in a very large bureaucracy. It is really HARD work, but these three people are showing energy, resilience and graceful humor. As I read this article on Forbes tonight, Teaching Empathy: The Ancient Way Is Now Cutting-Edge it struck me that the four things they suggest we teach for empathy also represent network leadership.

  1. Teach listening as a core skill and expect it as a cultural practice. Start by being an active listener yourself and give people the time they need to reflect. Time not made for someone is time wasted.
  2. Make dialogue a primary team, group or classroom practice. Dialogue opens the doors to exploration—what Peter Senge in his guide “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” calls “skillful discussion,” where thoughtful decisions can be made that honor all participants (or, in business, stakeholders).
  3. Identify roles, not organizational charts. When people are able to articulate their role, what they need to be successful and what gets in the way of their success, an empathic understanding is present and the beginnings of a healthy team, class or group takes shape.
  4. Lead with consistency, authenticity and honesty. Be clear as to why you are doing what you are doing. Do not lead or manage through personality but rather through articulation. To articulate is to clarify.

By networked leadership, I mean leading where you don’t always have authority. Where multiple reporting lines mess all the normal power plays up, rendering the old style of leading obsolete.

I see this team doing more and more active listening and they have refined their conversational skills to demonstrate both listening and bridge potential understanding gaps using the “what I heard you say is… ” before they add their thoughts. In an organization with a practice of “I win if I look smartest,” a lot of people’s attention is wrapped up in preparing their next statement, not listening.

In the formation of this big new plans, emphasis is placed not on large, plenary sessions to hash things out, but breaking into small conversations and building meaning outward. There is a strong invitation for others to describe what they understand and need about this big transition they are all navigating.

The new structure now distributes resources across divisional lines, so the idea of one’s formal boss is being tossed on the waves of change. The idea of roles, not organizational charts is one I want to bring up at our next meeting as a way to help with this.

Finally, this team is composed of a very senior leader, a senior researcher and a more junior staff member. I see them leading with honesty, authenticity and striving so hard for consistency. What I hope I will see soon is more and more people around them recognizing and appreciating this, so it will encourage more of the same.  I think it is possible. Hard work, but possible. And when it becomes more common, I suspect I’ll see both better results, and more joy.

I think these are four terrific things. What else do courageous, networked leaders need to know and do?

Edited PS: see also Eugene Eric Kim’s post on Balance Bikes for Changemakers. It’s all about the learning/experimenting!

Evaluation in Complex Settings and Leadership

I was browsing around the site of a very interesting conference to be held in Australia, Show Me The Change, and I noticed a number of people I respect and follow were involved. No wonder – the site was engaging, inviting. If I were in Australia, I’d go. Here is a bit about the gathering:

A National Conference on ‘Evaluation of Behaviour Change’ for Sustainability

We all know that behaviour change is complex. How do we show what’s working and how do we evaluate it? You are invited to participate in Show Me The Change and explore what matters most to you. You can take part in the ongoing conversations here, on our Show Me The Change blog. We’d love to hear your ideas and your comments. If you’re a Twitter user, please use the hashtag #smtc for your posts there.

I can’t believe I’m actually enjoying wandering through a conference site. Thanks Johnnie, Viv, Bob, Anne, Andrew, Geoff, and Chris .

Then I remembered I had a blog draft noting something that Chris (as in Corrigan) had written waaaay back in September of 09. Time to dig it up.Why not mash up evaluation and leadership?  In truth, I think they have a lot to do with each other – at least participatory leadership does.

If you are interested in leadership, go take a look at the post — too much good stuff to just tease you with a quote!

Chris Corrigan » Describing participatory leadership
How do you explain participatory leadership in one sentence?

Leadership in Uncertain Times

It seems every conversation I have with someone here or overseas  starts with some comment about “these times we are in.” Moreso for my US colleagues, but the change in economic times is on everyone’s mind. I’m doing more work online and less on the road. Budgets for current projects are sticking pretty steady, but no one seems to know what tomorrow will bring. For us independents, this uncertainty is nothing new, but clearly the playing field has changed.

However, I am blessed that I don’t have to lay any one off. I read about closures and layoffs and friends are losing their jobs and it breaks my heart. I feel pretty powerless and am doubling my efforts to help others in my network find gigs. Relationships and networks matter now, more than ever.

But what are leaders of organizations to do when their budgets are slashed by 20, 30 and even 50%? I look at my State’s budget shortfall and know there are no easy paths. Difficult times call for leadership in many forms and at every level, both formal and informal.
When I read Dan Oestreich‘s Reflective Leadership in the Age of Layoffs, I said “aha!” I must share this with my husband who, as a middle manager, is fighting the budget and morale battle every day. Dan writes:

Most managers I know do not feel they’ve actually been given much guidance about how to proceed with cost cutting and, particularly, layoffs. As the first line of a recent Harvard Business Review article asks,“Why aren’t layoffs taught as a subject at business school?” I assume the reason is that the subject is both very complex and comes far too close to what it really means to lead, touching that sensitive cross-over point between personal values and professional conduct, a place where theory definitely has its limits.

Dan encourages us to slow down, to reflect, to ask questions that matter. This is good advice for any tough decision regardless of the economic environment.  Dan writes:

…in addition to the fact that the leaders all seemed pretty much adrift and self-enclosed, is their push to simply get together in a room, have some hurried discussion, and then decide what needs to happen. The role of reflection seemed to be bypassed in this rush to create the right strategy — and then, ipso facto, to know what to do. Surely, when the financial heat is turned up, there’s no time to waste, but this is also a time when alignment with real brand values — a topic that requires reflective leadership as a team and as individuals — is likely to be the most reliable long-term guide. Understanding and applying these values demands decisiveness founded on thorough and creative consideration, not some three hour “tall grass” meeting where competing self-interests have a field day, followed up by a briefing and hand-out from Human Resources.

It’s as if no one wants to ask the telling question, “Wait a minute, what was this place supposed to be about, anyway?”

I encourage you to read Dan’s article. It is fabulous from beginning to end and offers some practical advice about how to lead in a time of layoffs.  Then think about your strategy for decision making and leadership in uncertain times.  What are you doing?  What values are driving your decisions? How are you living those values in every step? How can we prepare ourselves to make these hard decisions? How do we account for our responsibility to others in our decisions?

For me, here are some of the things I’m doing with my clients. They are tiny, piddling things when compared to the scale of things in organizations.

  • Do we have to meet face to face at this moment in time, or can we save time, money and carbon into the environment and meet online and on the phone? Doing this with a recent client saved them a $600 ticket and 16 hours of my billable travel time. The final outcome of the work is not visible yet, but I think I delivered quality consulting in a way that was probably more flexible than if we had met face to face. (And I have more time with my family!)
  • Is some  one else doing something similar to what you have to do and can you do it together to share the costs (and benefits!)? Right now I have two pairs of clients who are cross fertilizing their work and sharing some things with each other. This is bliss for me and saves them time, money and they can focus on their own work more closely.
  • What can be deferred? What is most important and valuable now? I think this is the toughest one, because it is easy to become short sighted in tight times. Really asking ourselves the hard question about how we invest our time and resources is critical. We can’t forget about tomorrow as we consider today.
  • How much can I not spend to keep my costs down? Both in terms of my own business and with my clients? I tend to be thrifty (some say ‘cheap’) but it is easy to fritter money away on things that don’t really matter. It helps that I work at home, away from shops and places to eat out. When I do shop and eat out, I am trying to patronize businesses in my local neighborhood.

Related to this is a great piece by Peter and Trudy Johnson Lenz  on Six Habits of Highly Resilient Organizations .Here is a snippet of the habits. Do read the whole article! It makes me reflect on my own little one-person organization!

  1. Resilient organizations actively attend to their environments.
  2. Resilient organizations prepare themselves and their employees for disruptions.
  3. Resilient organizations build in flexibility.
  4. Resilient organizations strengthen and extend their communications networks – internally and externally.
  5. Resilient organizations encourage innovation and experimentation.
  6. Resilient organizations cultivate a culture with clearly shared purpose and values.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I know our family is blessed and recognize so many are struggling. I’d love to hear your advice about how you are leading in difficult times… Again from Dan…

In troubled times, reflective leaders step back to witness…and to learn.


Chris Corrigan – 3 Lessons on Leadership

spiralsChris Corrigan  shares three lessons he learned about leadership while doing work this week with Aboriginal leaders in Canada. This is good stuff. I rarely quote this much, but I sense this is stuff that has value far and wide for all of us. It resonates with the groundswell I hear, feel and read about concerning our need for each other, for community, in turbulent times. And how we take responsibility matters, regardless of label of “leader.” Thanks, Chris.

Teaching one came from Nancy Jones one of the Elders who gave us small blankets with a medicine wheel design based on a vision that she had about unity, leadership and healing.  One of the great teachings in this medicine wheel was about the north, the direction from which winter weather and wind comes.  We laboured here through a blizzard today, waiting for an hour until whoever was coming was going to show up, and working small processes with diminished numbers.  But the Elder gave the teaching that essentially the weather teaches us that “whatever happens is the only thing that could have” and that the chaordic path is an inherent part of leadership: you can never really be in control.

The second teaching was from Ralph Johnson.  I asked him about the Ojibway word “ogiimaw” which is often translated as “chief” or “boss.”  I asked Ralph what he thought the word must have meant before contact, when the concept of “chief” was basically unknown.  He said that word relates to the word ogiimatik which is the poplar tree, the tree that is considered the kindest of trees.  Poplars are gentle, flexible, quiet and kind and are also good medicine.  He said this idea of kindness is what is under the word “ogiimaw” and that influencing people through kindness is the kind of leadership that the word implies.  This is very different from the kinds of leadership implied by the word “chief” which is a  title now won by competition in a band election, a process that seems to engineer kindness right out of the equation.  This is a great legacy of colonization – the lowering of kindness from a high leadership art to a naive sentimentality.

Ralph also gave me one more little teaching that rocked me.  He told me that the word I had always understood as “all my relations” – dineamaaganik – actually means “belonging to everything.”  Seems like a small change in translation, until another Elder, Marie Allen chimed in and said that the problem with leadership these days was the way ideas like “all my relations” activated the ego.  The difference between “all my relations” and “belonging to everything” is the difference between the ego and the egoless I think.  This is what Ralph was trying to tell me.  That the centre of the universe is not me, and things are not all related to me, rather I belong to everything.  Marie and I took a moment to express amazement at the way the earth used us to channel life in a particular shape for a short period of time.  We come from her, we return to her, and in the interim we do our work upon her.