In 100 Words: Giving Attention

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Everybody we meet is trying to get attention through tactics. More clicks, eyeballs, likes. What if you focus more on giving attention?

What do you deeply care about? What are you trying to make happen? Who are you trying to help? These are good questions to find out what truly matters and then pay attention to only those things.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil

That’s what great leadership is all about. Not just competing to get more attention but using the privilege of leadership to pay attention to enabling people and things that matter.


 Also Read at QAspire:

Building a Culture of Excellence: Tom Peters

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a new book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” due for release in August 2018.


It is safe to assume that every CEO would have priority building a culture of Excellence because ultimately excellence drives growth and makes a company memorable.

Today, we have a bunch of complex models to help organizations become excellent, but in the pursuit of implementing these complex capability models, organizations forget that excellence is as much about people as it is about the process. It is as much about the small things as it is about the big things.

In a world that is obsessed with complexity, Tom Peters advocates simple things to enable a culture of excellence. He says,

“Embracing new technology is incredibly important, but EXCELLENCE IS HUMAN.”

Excellence is all about being close to your customers, creating ecosystems where best people can do their best work, developing people, listening, caring, smiling and saying “Thank you” often enough. These are not complex things, yet for many leaders, these are the most difficult things to do. And these simple things are at the core of excellence.

Please listen to this episode of the podcast and I am pretty sure it will be thought provoking, as it always is with whatever Tom shares.

Here is my sketchnote summary of the key nuggets of wisdom Tom Peters shared in this podcast episode.

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Also See:

Leadership: Humility and Focusing on Others

I often meet business leaders who are so full of themselves. When interacting with others, they try to keep the needle of focus constantly towards themselves, their business, accomplishments and stories.

It is easy to get caught up in the self because after all, you are a up there and you make things happen (or so you think!).

In one of the leadership workshop I attended in early years of my career, the trainer beautifully described humility as

Humility is like the banks of a river that gives direction to the flowing water without possessing it.

Leadership in any form is about others. A leader is just a means to an end. A steward of the larger cause, whatever it may be.

Like banks of a river, leader holds the context together in order to channel the energies of people. A leader enables flow (progress) by enabling others, asking right questions, coaching others and learning in the process. The focus of a leadership conversation is the needs of others, needs of the context and needs of the customers.

I read Dan Rockwell’s recent post titled “The Seductions of Arrogance Compound the Elusiveness of Humility” where he outlines 5 practices of humble leadership. It is a thought provoking post that emphasizes on ‘practicing’ humility by focusing on others.

Some critical questions to consider, whether you lead a kid, a team of professionals or an organization, are:

  • How often do you, as a leader, brag about others?
  • How many times do you turn the focus of conversation on others?
  • How many times have you stood up to accept responsibility, especially of failures?
  • When was the last time you thought about amplifying someone’s strength rather than focusing on their shortcomings?

Here is a quick short sketchnote summary of Dan Rockwell’s 5 practices of humble leadership (Read the full post here)

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Nancy Duarte on Storytelling in Business

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


When driving large scale change, leaders often fall in trap of presenting the current reality and future state in form of data, numbers and charts. Data and information may provide clarity to people, in itself, they fail to connect people emotionally to ideas.

That is an area where modern advancements like AI with all its information generating capabilities, will still not fill the human need to connect emotionally.

For that, leaders need an ability to empathize with current realities of people, tell stories that resonate, in a way that inspire thinking and provokes meaningful change in how people operate on a day to day basis.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast, Nancy Duarte, a communications and persuasion expert discusses ideas on how to use storytelling and emotional connection to engage people/customers better. Do check it out.

While I present the sketchnote summary of this excellent podcast conversation, I also encourage you to watch Nancy’s famous TED Talk, The Secret Structure of Great Talks, which is viewed over a million times.

NancyDuarte


Related Reading at QAspire:

Three Levels of Trust in Relationships

A lot of people I meet use the expression, “Trust me…” or “Believe me…” in an attempt to build confidence. Do we trust them, just because they are asking us to?

Trust is not something you demand, it is something that you have to earn through clarity of intent (why), actions that support that intent (what) and most importantly take those actions with utmost integrity and human connection (how). And we have to do this consistently because trust is built one step at a time.

And unless people trust us, they would not care about our competence. Therefore, leaders have to truly connect before they can lead.

We commonly use the word ‘trust’ in business environment but how often do we care about what kind of trust we are expecting from others? I learned about three levels of trust through this excellent post by Randy Conley.

Also Read: Employee Engagement: 4 Basic Human Needs (by Randy Conley)

Let’s say, a new member joins your team and during induction process, the new team member understands the governing processes, explicit policies and implicit expectations while also being aware of the consequences. Through processes, we know that new member will not be able to violate the essentials. Conley defines this as deterrence based trust.

As we work with the new team member through a longer period, seeing them deliver the outcomes, we build our experience with them. At this point we know that they are aligned to the same intent and we have sufficient knowledge about their behavior and reactions. Conley defines this as knowledge based trust.

But most intimate level of trust is what Conley defines as “Identity” based trust. This is way deeper than just knowing a person. This is about having deep connection with intrinsic motivations of an individual. We understand them at a level of their hopes, aspirations and fears. And yet, we don’t misuse them. We give them the space to be their most authentic selves.

Most effective mentoring relationships I have seen – whether they are between parents and their kids, teachers and their students or between professionals – have this depth of trust.

Conley argues that this kind of trust is reserved for most important people in life, but with right boundaries, building this trust at workplace unlocks creativity and productivity.

Here is a quick sketchnote of ideas presented in Conley’s post.

So, next time you end up using the word “Trust”, do a quick check on what level of trust you are referring to.

88_trustRelated Resources at QAspire

Sketchnote: What Rebels Want From Their Boss

At the heart of a meaningful change is someone who thought beyond the boundaries. Someone who challenged the status quo. Someone who exerted emotional labor to pursue, fight for their ideas and convince others. And then they bring about change. You can call them rebels or change makers and they are inevitable for growth and positive change.

Rebels may not be a very popular lot and many bosses I’ve seen work overtime to subdue the rebels. But great leadership is about providing right channels to direct this energy, nurturing a mindset of continuous improvement and supporting people as they execute their experiments and ideas. That’s what rebels expect from their bosses.

“…it’s just another one of those things I don’t understand: everyone impresses upon you how unique you are, encouraging you to cultivate your individuality while at the same time trying to squish you and everyone else into the same ridiculous mould. It’s an artist’s right to rebel against the world’s stupidity.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

In this context, I love the work that Lois Kelly and Carmen medina do at Rebels at Work community. I have sketched their ideas here before and here’s a quick sketchnote of their recent blog post “What Rebels Want From Their Bosses”.

This may help you as a leader if you really intend to support rebels in your teams.

Related Sketchnotes/Posts at QAspire.com

Social Mindset: A Key to Engaging People

It is more than obvious now that the way people feel about their workplace has direct material impact on performance of the business. This simple equation gets even more complex when we think of forces that are fundamentally changing how we work. Our workplace conversations today are dominated by topics like increasing globalization, economic uncertainties, automation, disruptive innovations, social technologies, generational shifts, mobility, people analytics, gig economy and such.

Newer generations at workplace demand different experiences and therefore, organizations are challenged constantly to move beyond traditional engagement programs and think of engagement more holistically. There is plenty of conversation happening today around moving from employee engagement to employee experience, role of design thinking in driving people experiences and creating a differentiating employer brand experience.

These are all worthy topics to take the conversation of talent engagement forward but I think that none of this will be effective in engaging talent unless we address something very fundamental underlying all of these ideas. We live in social, hyper-connected and super-transparent world and therefore, adopting a “social mindset” is and will remain a killer app for engaging people.

Social mindset is about focusing on people more than focusing on process and having a belief that magic happens when:

  • We create ecosystems where good people can thrive
  • People are aligned to purpose and are clear about how their work contributes to larger objectives
  • People have tools and communities to learn what they want to learn and when they want to learn
  • Leaders play an active role in building ecosystems for high performance

Real engagement happens when we focus, not on generating engagement, but doing right things that increase human engagement.

To be able to adopt a social mindset, leaders need to be equipped with deep understanding of how social, networked and self-evolving structures work. Only then can organizational leaders facilitate effective engagement of talent to meet organizational objectives. This is conversation that goes way beyond HR teams focusing narrowly on “employee engagement programs”. This is a more holistic conversation, and one that really engages talent by integrating work design, culture, rewards, learning and career development to deliver superior employee experience. Let us take a deeper look at how social mindset enables each of these and what it means in practical terms:

Work Design: People need a conducive space to perform and how work really gets done is a key driver for engagement. Technology advances have transformed how work is performed and designing work in a way that engages people is a real challenge and opportunity. Organizations have to relentlessly clarify purpose, how an individual’s work enables achievement of purpose and provide autonomy to team members to execute their ideas. People derive sense of control when they have space to do the work in their own unique way and execute their ideas. Social mindset plays a huge role in enabling people to perform. Traditional “once-a-year” feedback mechanisms only disable people. Real enablement happens when people get frequent feedbacks and support throughout the year. Enablement is also about involving people in collaborative problem solving, making goals transparent, seeking their feedback and most importantly, acting on that feedback. The design of organization and work should enable and encourage people to pursue non-linear career paths. Reducing organizational layers, building small teams and empowering them to self-organize go a long way in engaging talent on a longer run.

Alignment and Clarity: In an information intensive world, real empowerment to people is all about seamless communication across different clusters of organizational network. When communication channels are open, people have greater opportunity to clarify their concerns, know the strategic direction and align their local decision making accordingly. Organizations are increasingly using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Microsoft Skype for Teams and Slack to facilitate these critical conversations. Using social tools to not just broadcast but engage in a dialogue is a great way to also build a compelling employer brand. Communication and clarity across the board works like grease to reduce friction, enable clarity and therefore, improve engagement.

Social Learning: People who get the required support to do their work better tend to be better engaged. We have moved beyond traditional one-way forms of training (learning events) to continuous streams of on-demand learning (learning journey) that combine synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. People don’t go to classrooms when they want to learn – they go to corporate learning management systems, micro-learning platforms like Twitter, Enterprise social networks like Yammer and so on. Enabling social learning is about encouraging people to share their work, get feedback, align their practices and learn from these experiences. It is about building communities of practice and encouraging people to work out loud. For this to happen, leaders have to set the right example and become engaged social learners themselves. When organizations get this right, they build a solid employer brand (reputation) while engaging with their prospective talent pools on external social networks.

Creating Ecosystems of High Performance: Real engagement happens when people are able to play to their potential and deliver superior performances. Effective leadership that works hard to build trust, respects people, engages in seamless conversations and treats people as colleagues and not as “resources” goes a long way in building a performance culture. Social mindset and leadership is about building a fabric of relationships between clusters of networks in organization to facilitate collaboration and performance. It is therefore so vital for leaders to walk an extra mile to clarify goals, communicate, build relationships, foster trust, deliver feedback early and often and set right examples.

Social mindset has existed in our societies and communities since ages but often forgotten in the maze of organizational layers, tight bound hierarchies, complex processes and boxed responsibilities that inhibit shared understanding and learning.

Human beings are fundamentally social and therefore, understanding of how social structures work is easy. It is all around us.

It is often in doing things we know that we stumble the most!


This article originally appeared as Cover Story in PeopleMatters Magazine April 2017 Edition


Also check out: Happy to have contributed a sketchnote to the re-published version of “The Best Leaders are Constant Learners” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche at HBRAscend.in – a Harvard Business Review publication.

5 C’s for Great Talent

What do you look for when you look for talent?

Competence is the key to solving problems but competence alone is not sufficient for success. In current context, I would define talent as a combination of competence, commitment, learning agility, attitude/character, communication skills, ability to collaborate across different cultures, critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Back in 2010, I interviewed John Spence on this blog when he released his new book titled Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies For Turning Ideas Into Action. The book offers great ideas to simplify work life which I often refer.

In the same year 2010, American Management Association released result of their Critical skill survey which outlined Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking as key skills for future success.

In the book, John defines business success as a combination of culture and great talent, and further offers 5 C’s of Great Talent, which I found very useful. 

Here is a quick sketch note version of 5 C’s of Great Talent.

Related Reading at QAspire: Skills For Future Success in a Disruptive World of Work

Nobody Rises To Low Expectations

If you are dealing with a mediocre team or average performance from people, check what you are expecting from them. People respond to expectations (implicit and explicit) and raising the bar of expectations is a great way to enable growth and potential in people.

Raising Expectations Doesn’t Mean Pressurizing People

Setting high expectation means providing clarity of purpose, helping people find meaning of their work, helping them see what success looks like and then helping them along the way. It is a common misconception that the only way to raise expectations is to put undue pressure on people. Pressure can help people perform, but only till a certain point beyond which it results in a burnout. In a creative world of work, people step up when they know the difference their effort can make. It is a leader’s job to enable the ecosystem of conversation, clarity and collaboration.

To Believe that People Can Do Better

When you raise expectations, people will falter. The key is to have a belief that people can do better. It is easy to give up on someone and blame their limitations. It is incredibly hard to handhold, believe, enable and help.

Know Where to Raise Expectations

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details (activities, task, operational aspects) and when to see a broad picture (values, behaviors, methods, results etc).

Finally…

Once you raise expectations, be a catalyst of their performance. When you see their efforts towards raising the bar, acknowledge it early and often. Celebrate small milestones because appreciation is the fuel of high performance. Fail to do this and people will fall into the trap of “it is never enough” mindset. When they know that you are raising expectations only to squeeze something out of them, they will soon disengage.

Bottomline: If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising the bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

By the way, this also applies to expectations that you have from your own self!

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Also Check Out:

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Thanks to Sebastian Andreo for sharing his view via Twitter on acknowledging, appreciating and celebrating the efforts. I updated the post.

Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

There is no leadership, personal or organizational, without listening. In fact, ability to truly listen (and not just hear) is the foundation of having a conversation, building trust, influencing others, resolving conflicts, driving your vision, building relationships, implementing change and learning. Yet, many of us equate listening with absorption of what the other person is saying. There’s more to it!

In this respect, I loved reading a recent article on Harvard Business Review titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article provides an excellent round up of how to truly listen.

I attempted to capture the essence of their post in a sketch note form and I loved the way they sum it up. Here is a snippet from an article that you must read:

“Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

Here is a sketch note summary along with some links to my own thoughts on listening well at QAspire.

 Related Posts at QAspire

What Makes a Team Great

Last week, during an internal team event, we organized an interesting activity. Team members were asked to form a human chain by holding hands. A round hoop was then passed through one end of the chain and participants had to pass the hoop through themselves to other end without breaking the chain. The team that passed hoop across in least time would win.

The hoop signified challenges and issues that a team faces. To achieve the goal and overcome challenges, team members had to contribute equally – each link of the chain was important. When a team member was struggling to put the hoop through the head, the other team member would just raise the hand and help put the hoop into next person’s head. They empathized with struggle of the other team member and changed their posture (alignment) to help put hoop through the head. Teams learned that empathy, emotional intelligence, self-alignment (adaptability) are the key ingredients of a strong team.

In the same week, I stumbled upon a 2015 NY Times article titled “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others”. According to the research presented in this article, three characteristics that differentiate a smart team are:

  • Equal Contribution: from all members rather than a few team members dominating.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Ability to read  complex emotional states of others.
  • Women Power: Teams with more women were found to be more effective. This had little to do with diversity (equal number of men and women) but just having more women on team. Women are, on average, are more intelligent emotionally than men.

Read the full article here and a summary of the same in sketch note form below:

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire.com

Leadership: Assessing Organizational Health

Leadership in a business context is challenging because its effectiveness depends not just on a leader’s key traits but also on organizational decision making, competitive forces and constantly changing external situation.

On the other hand, people want to work in healthier organization cultures where they can maximize their chances of adding value – both to their own selves as well as to their organizations.

Beyond visible numbers, how do we assess the health of an organization?

I read 2016-1 edition of McKinsey Quarterly with great interest. It is a rich resource with insights on theme “Organizing for the Future”. In one of the sections on putting leadership in context, authors point to an interesting 2009 research from McKinsey’s Alice Breeden, Aaron De Smet, Helena Karlinder-Ostlundh, Colin Price, Bill Schaninger, and Eilidh Weir on “Building healthy organizations to drive performance: The evidence”.

To be sure, certain normative qualities, such as demonstrating a concern for people and offering a critical perspective, will always be part of what it takes to be a leader. But the importance of other elements, such as keeping groups on task and bringing out the best in others, vary in importance depending upon an organization’s circumstances. Organizational health changes over time. Effective situational leadership adapts to these changes by identifying and marshaling the kinds of behavior needed to transition a company from its present state to a stronger, healthier one.

The exhibit offers 9 rules of thumb to assess health of an organization beyond numbers. Whether you are a leader responsible for organizational health or someone responsible for building leadership culture within organization, these rules of thumb for assessing organizational health will certainly help you clarify behaviors that lead to better health.

Please read the full report here for more context and insights. Meanwhile, here is a quick sketch note version of the exhibit.

Related Posts/Visual Notes at QAspire.com

Critical Competencies for Effective Coaching (And a Book) by Lisa Haneberg

Great coaching is at the heart of meaningful accomplishments. In an organizational and team context, being able to coach people means helping them overcome their own resistance, get unstuck and move forward in the direction of their goals. Great coaching catalyzes great results.

But too often, we see managers and leaders getting so busy on the treadmill of getting things done that they lose focus on how those results are achieved. A leader’s constant job is to strike a balance between getting things done and developing people. Doing one at the cost of the other can be a great disservice to organization and its people.

I recently read revised edition of my friend Lisa Haneberg’s book “Coaching Basics” published by Association for Talent Development (ATD). It is a wonderful resource for organizational leaders, HR professionals and managers if they want to understand the nuances of how to coach others for greatness. I strongly recommend this book.

I was also fortunate to be able to write a blurb in this book where I say,

Companies often tell their leaders to ‘coach’ people without giving any guidance on the ‘how.’ Lisa Haneberg fills this important gap by offering a very useful handbook that clarifies the foundation of good coaching and offers actionable insights and tools for effective coaching.

– Tanmay Vora, Director, Product Development R&D, Basware

But when I read this book, I was instantly reminded of a wonderful post that Lisa wrote in 2014 where she outlined critical competencies of a great coach.

Here are a couple of excellent quotes from Lisa’s post:

“Coaching is a service and we cannot be successful if the learner perceives that we are helping to satisfy OUR needs or wants.”

“Great coaches are able to help learners adopt a more helpful perspective of the situations about which they are struggling.”

And here is a sketch note summary of coaching competencies that Lisa’s post outlines.

Get the book at: TD.org | Amazon

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Also read at QAspire.com:

5 Timeless Qualities of True Leaders

Before leadership be effective, it has to be true. And the truth of leadership is essentially human. If we have to raise the bar of leadership, we need to first cultivate truer leadership at the core.

In his article “Why The World Needs Truer Leaders (And How to Be One)”, Umair Haque defines eudaimonic leadership as,

leaders who expand human potential to its very highest, so everyone can live a life that matters

In the same post, he offers 5 timeless qualities of true leadership. I recommend that you read the entire series that Umair is writing at Medium.

Here is a sketch note version of qualities of truer leadership.

BONUS:

Shut up and Sit Down” is an excellent post by Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker which talks about our dangerous obsession with leadership and how leadership industry rules.

In the conclusion, he writes,

When we’re swept up in the romance of leadership, we admire leaders who radiate authenticity and authority; we respect and enjoy our “real” leaders. At other times, though, we want leaders who see themselves objectively, who resist the pull of their own charisma, who doubt the story they’ve been rewarded for telling. “If a man who thinks he is a king is mad,” Jacques Lacan wrote, “a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.” A sense of perspective may be among the most critical leadership qualities.

True leadership stems from the heart, yet most leaders (and many we see in political arena today) operate with an outdated view of leadership. When leaders have to show that they are powerful, they are not.

Here is a quick sketch of Jacques Lacan’s quote:

Leadership: Start With Trust

Leadership starts with influence and influence starts with trust. Ability to truly connect with others is vital for leaders to build an environment where a leader is trusted for the intentions before being respected for competence.

I once worked with a new CEO who came on-board, took charge and immediately got into action. I remember when he first met a group of senior folks, he started with his introduction and talked at length about his past experience, competence and all the great things he had accomplished. Soon after requesting a short template introduction from all of us, he started off with his grand plans about the organization. He clearly failed to build a non-threatening space for other leaders and came across as someone who was ego-centric and hard-nosed.

Our first instinct as human beings when we assume a leadership role is to show our strength, competence and skills and prove a point about our fitment to the role.

I was reminded of the CEO (and many other leaders I worked with) when I read the classic Harvard Business Review article titled “Connect, Then Lead” which says,

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

I think of the CEO again who was, through his aggressive show of strength, able to generate dispassionate compliance to his decisions. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to create an ecosystem where people exercise their discretion (tapping into intrinsic motivations). Trust is a good place to start.

I strongly recommend that you read the HBR article “Connect, Then Lead” by Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger for rich insights on this topic.

Here is a short summary of key insights that stood out for me from the article in a sketch note form.

Related Resources at QAspire

  • Graceful Leadership 101: Free PDF Book

  • Taking Charge of a Team? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

  • Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

  • Leadership and Building Emotional Infrastructure
  • Leaders Need Three Kinds of Focus

    I once worked with a CEO who was paranoid about results, so much so that he never cared for relationships with those who delivered the results. The end results weren’t surprising – the intended results were never delivered because people either stopped caring or moved on. The loss was almost irreparable. Leading in a complex world is almost like a tight rope walk and leaders cannot afford to have singular focus on either task or relationship. They have to constantly strike a balance between needs of the context, their own needs and the needs of others.

    In this 2013 HBR video (6.42 mins), Daniel Goleman explains why leaders need to cultivate their awareness at three levels and what they can do to improve upon these three areas of focus.

    Here is the sketchnote version I created to capture the essence while seeing the video:

    If you liked this, you will also like the following posts:

    12 Critical Competencies For Leadership in the Future

    The rate of change in the business world today is greater than our ability to respond. In a world that is often described as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and ambiguous), there are major tectonic shifts that demand a new mindset of leadership. First, let us look at these shifts.

    In recent years, we have seen disruption of market leaders like Kodak and Nokia amongst many others. The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has gone down from 67 years in 1937 to 18 years in 2011. With advances in technology, mobiles are becoming more of a convergence device that replaces so many utilities (calculators, alarm clocks, small digital cameras etc.) that we used otherwise. Generations at workplace are changing and new generations bring different values, expectations and mindsets at work. Rise in automation is resulting in heavy disruption. Right from purchasing stuff to booking taxies and filing tax returns, everything is increasingly being automated. The agents, middlemen and the whole supply chain related to these services is being disrupted. And, we are not even talking about automated cars yet – the next big frontier for the technology battle!

    With a hyper connected workforce, organization cultures have become transparent. With opportunities abound, employees are “volunteers” who have global choices. In this world, having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. The cumulative impact of these forces demands a new mindset and competences for leaders to be able to stay relevant and make a positive difference to people and hence, business. 

    Having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow

    If you are a leader at any level in a modern organization or aspiring to be one, here are some of the critical competencies and skills you need to thrive in a VUCA world.

    1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: To navigate successfully through the maze of VUCA, leaders will need to be comfortable with unclear situations and travel into unexplored paths. This means leaders will encounter “first time” situations more often and they need to build their muscle to still deliver results. With “rapid prototyping” approach, leaders will need to constantly experiment to get early and frequent feedback that enables constant realignment.

    2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. With a younger workforce that is purpose driven, having a compelling vision for the future is also a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members. In fact, a compelling vision is an important pre-requisite for any community or network to succeed. Leaders who will thrive in future are the ones who have a clear vision of where they want their organizations and teams to be. 

    3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges. A leader’s ability to spot the white spaces, unique problems and interdisciplinary intersections is as critical in the new world as their ability to “do something about it.” In VUCA world, leaders have to listen to the future by virtue of constantly scanning the horizon, being future minded and having strategic foresight without losing the sight of the current reality. When they do this, leaders build a unique ability to see through contradictions towards a future others cannot see. 

    4. Weave Ecosystems for Human Engagement: One of the biggest leadership challenges is to create an environment that taps into intrinsic motivation of people. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2015 reports that softer areas such as culture, engagement, leadership and development have become urgent priorities on a CEO’s desk. An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic drivers of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have a hope, the need to feel a sense of worth and the need to feel competent. At a time when most “engagement initiatives” are aimed at providing external motivation, we need leaders who can build trust through integrity and results, who can mentor and coach others, who can clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence. 

    5. Anticipate and Create Change: When changes around us are constant and rapid, leaders have to use the wisdom from their future mindedness and strategic foresight to “create change” before an external change forces them to react. When leaders ride the wave of changes, they have to involve people in the change process, prioritize what’s important and execute changes in smaller iterations. Leaders nurture change by maintaining balance between the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs. 

    6. Self-Awareness: Leaders cannot succeed unless their personal vision and values overlap with organization’s vision and values. It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and possible blind spots that they can really bring their true authentic selves into the game and bring about a significant difference to the team, organization and hence the industry. 

    7. Be an Agile Learner: Rapidly changing context is like a treadmill that compels leaders to learn constantly in a self-directed mode. Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up on familiar approaches (unlearning). Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture. When thrown into unfamiliar situations, leaders need to learn immersively from those experiences.

    8. Network and Collaborate: To make the sense of changing trends, practices and expectations, leaders in today’s world need to collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization. A social mindset enables leaders to create, engage with and nurture purposeful business and social networks through social media and in-person communication. 

    9. Relentlessly Focus on Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Helping customers navigate through the changes is as critical for leaders as it is to steer their own organizations effectively. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to the voice of their customers, engage deeply and build long term relationship by adding substantial value to the customers. 

    10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond external tags and titles. It is about serving effectively to the needs of the stakeholders – the most important ones being the people who make things work. Leaders, in this world, have to model the behaviors they seek, help people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly, lead through their influence and not through their authority. The primary task (and an obligation) of a leader is to build more leaders. 

    11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the systems for the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organization structures, methods and processes. If organizations are purposeful networks of people, leaders need a compelling purpose that people in the organization share. Leaders will have to pay equal attention to leveraging diversity and draw on multiple points of views and experiences.

    12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: When working with global work force, leaders will need an ability to communicate effectively across cultures. Like a location pointer on a GPS map, leaders have to constantly clarify the current situation with respect to changing external demands. Equally important for leaders is to re-iterate and reinforce vision, values and strategies. Finally, leaders have to help others in clarifying the meaning of their work. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership.

     

    The hallmark of VUCA world is that there are no silver bullets. Successful leaders have always been adaptive to the context they find themselves in. The future is not a distant dream, it is here and now. Leadership today is all about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

    (This article originally appeared in People Matters Magazine, Dec 2015 issue)

    A Quick Guide To Managing Conflicts

    In early years of my career, I avoided conflicts just like any other obedient contributor would, not knowing that they were inevitable in the process of doing meaningful work. Most of us learn how to deal with conflicts through our instinctive reactions when we are in middle of one.

    Here’s my one big lesson about managing conflicts – whenever I tried to “react” in the face of conflict, the situation mostly worsened. But when I chose to “respond”, conflict became a constructive learning experience. Response is nothing but a time delayed, thoughtful and goal-oriented form of reaction.

    In an idea cast at Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo, author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, outlines four types of conflicts and offers very useful guidance on how to handle them.

    I outlined the key ideas from the idea cast in form of a sketch note while listening and sharing it here with an objective that others may find my notes useful. Please listen to the idea cast here for more nuanced insights on the topic.

    BONUS: Seth Godin’s guidance on managing disagreements and on managing conflicts with our own selves.

    Employee Engagement: 4 Basic Human Needs

    At Blanchard LeaderChat, Randy Conley shares insights from Leigh Branham’s research on employee engagement and outlines 4 basic human needs that leaders need to take care of at work.

    There is an epidemic of workers who are uninterested and disengaged from the work they do, and the cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, and Gallup surveys show the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”

    Engaging people at work is the #1 leadership challenge. Most engagement initiatives are aimed at providing external motivation to people. The truth is – extrinsic motivation doesn’t last long (if it motivates at all). As a leader, you are responsible for creating an ecosystem where people are more likely to feel motivated intrinsically.  To be able to do this, we need to humanize our approaches. Deming famously said, “All that people need to know is why their work is important.” without which, all external motivation, rewards and recognitions will fail to engage them at work.

    Here is a sketch note I created based on the post (Read the full post here).

    I feel that if leaders at all levels understand the basic human needs at work, they will go a long way in improving the engagement levels within their teams and organizations.