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:

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Purpose and Progress: Powerful Motivators

Progress is a powerful motivator. When individuals and teams achieve small wins, they have a big impact on the overall motivation. It also generates positive momentum and energy to take further steps in the journey of achieving the purpose.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer presented their research findings in a book titled The Progress Principle” – Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work where they found,

“Of all the positive events that influence the inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work” – The Progress Principle

The converse is also true. Setbacks and lack of visibility into progress (as a team and as an organization) can be powerful de-motivator.

In this context, three things are very crucial from a leadership perspective:

Make the purpose visible.

We are talking about meaningful work here. In the daily conundrum, it is easy for your folks to lose the sight of the purpose and meaning of their work. While the meaning of our work is largely driven by the personal lens we use to see our work, the key question you need to ask as a leader is: Are people clear about what we are trying to achieve here and how their work contributes to that purpose?

Enable Progress.

People will get stuck. Their ability to make progress will be stifled by all internal and external forces. And that’s when they will need help. Enable progress by helping people, coaching them when required and eliminating the roadblocks (potential derailers). When a setback is encountered, help them in finding a way through the set back. The key question you need to ask: “Am I doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I am enabling progress?”

Make the progress visible.

Once people are clear about the purpose, then progress matters. Leaders have a huge role to play in making the progress visible. Use all forums of communication (daily stand up meetings, weekly status, monthly meetings, newsletters, wiki, portals etc) to make the progress visible. The key question you need to ask: Knowing what purpose are we working to achieve, do people know all the time about progress we are making (or not) towards the purpose?

Why does this matter? Because people want to make valuable contributions to a purpose larger than themselves. And when they know that they are making progress in achieving meaningful work, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.

That’s what we need more of in organization’s and teams today – isn’t it?

What Enables Proactive Leadership?

If there is one thing that differentiates leaders from others, it is their ability to remain proactive. I have seen so many leaders in business environment who don’t fix things till they start hurting the work. They devote more time to solve the problems that could have been fixed much before they happened. The cost of solving these problems after they grow big is often very high – sometimes, as high as losing a customer or your key team members!

What are the enablers of proactive leadership? Here are a few that came forth.

  • Systemic Understanding: Understand the System when taking decisions or evaluating issues. It is about understanding the critical interdependencies of parts within the whole. A wrong decision in one department may have long term repercussions elsewhere. The key is to see (and let your team see) those repercussions through the understanding of the system.

“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” – Peter Senge

  • Constant Learning: Learning feeds proactive leadership. We all make mistakes all the time but a learning team constantly apply lessons from past mistakes to prevent them from happening in future. Constant learning also allows people to apply their knowledge to the specific business context. Here are more ideas to build a learning organization.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

  • Foresight. A leader needs to be watchful about the changing landscape and currents. They keep a close watch on discrete events and use their systemic awareness to foresee challenges, issues and risks. While they may not be able to prevent all the issues from happening, but they can always use this awareness to prepare well.

Leaders that fail to assume responsibility for developing the discipline of foresight will eventually forfeit the moral authority to lead. – Bret Simmons (post)

  • Openness to Feedbacks: Feedback and inputs from people at all levels enables leaders to understand situation at a ground level while also staying current on expectations and needs of people. In many situations, this feedback can act as a compass.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Quick Action on Solution: Don’t let the grass grow under your feet. Risks, issues and dependencies can derail your organization if they are allowed to grow. A proactive leader maintains a constant cognizance on the potential threats and keeps them in check all the time. If you are a leader, don’t let the problems grow. Act on them.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

  • Keep the team together. A leader who leads through a compelling vision, fosters learning and builds influence keeps the team together. People need an ecosystem to perform proactively. A leader’s ability to connect, communicate and clarify constantly on vision, values, intent and progress enables teams to take decisions with better clarity.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard


Join in the conversation: Have you seen reactive leadership in action? What have been your lessons? Share them via comments or via Twitter!

Better Leadership in 2015 (And Beyond): 9 Essentials

Year 2015 is knocking the door. A few hours later, fireworks in the sky will mark the beginning of another new year. Last few days of a year often pulls us into a retrospective mood and we tend to look back and look forward at the same time. As I write this, I am thinking about leadership.

Our world of work is constantly changing at a rate that is almost unnerving. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) best describes the times we live in. People’s expectations from their leaders are increasing all the time. Generational shifts at workplace combined with business model disruptions is only adding to the woes of being a leader in the current times.

But the same challenges are also opportunities to practice better leadership provided we understand what it takes to succeed as a leader in 2015 (and beyond).

Here are 9 key thoughts on leading in 2015 and beyond:

  1. Leaders need to understand the new definition of power. It is not in titles or how large an office they occupy or where they stand in the pecking order of hierarchy. In this world of work, a leader derives power by engaging others, collaborating with them, build a positive influence and build an environment where people can thrive.
  2. Stability is a myth. As a leader, if you are not making forward progress, you are already moving backwards. Leaders have to maintain constant positive momentum towards achieving the vision and goals of the team. Constant improvement (and innovation) in products and processes is one of the ways to maintain positive momentum.
  3. Communication, collaboration, creativity and commitment are 4C’s that empower leaders in this world of work.
  4. In a complex environment, a leader’s ability to introduce and manage changes is as important as responding effectively to external changes. Leaders have to be creators of change too.
  5. Leaders need to stop trying to motivate people. This may sound counter-intuitive but intrinsic motivation, the one that lasts, cannot be generated externally. Creating an environment and system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen is the primary expectation from a leader.
  6. People need two things: purpose and meaning. A leader’s primary (and ongoing) challenge is to clarify the purpose and outline the meaning of work that people do. This is one of the key drivers of engagement that requires a lot of communication and context setting by the leader.
  7. For leaders, constant and self-initiated learning is not optional anymore. Constant learning equips leaders to remain agile in the face of uncertainty (and it sets a great example for people to follow).
  8. Work is a tool to develop people who, in turn, do great work. Traditional view of leadership is that leaders get work done through people. Which is true, however, I also believe that available body of work is an opportunity to develop people. You can use people as ‘resources’ OR you can use work as a ‘resource’ to develop people.
  9. Leaders in the new world have to be graceful and decent – even when facing uncertainties and chaos. They have to respect people, their time and their strengths.

Bonus:

With those thoughts, I wish you a glorious 2015!


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A Compelling Vision is an Anchor

Seagull Half Shot QAspire Blog Tanmay Vora

Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: ‘Who do we intend to be?’ Not ‘What are we going to do?’ but ‘Who do we intend to be?’ – Max DePree

Specific, measurable and time bound goals are important to set expectations on results and drive performance in short term. Goals is like math; they address the head. Goals have an end date.

Goals however, are not sufficient. If you only try to provide direction to people through goals, they will know “what” needs to be done but may not know “why” something needs to be done.

When leading others, we need math but we need music too. Something that addresses our hearts and taps into our emotions. Something that is larger than us and gives us a powerful “why”. Yes, we are talking about vision.

I have seen companies falling into the trap of managing people through quarterly or half yearly goals without clarifying the vision. That works to keep everyone running, only without a sense of direction. Result? A disengaged workforce that just complies to goals, and that too – dispassionately. This becomes even more challenging when an organization has distributed teams across the geographies.

In a creative economy, people will give their best output and exercise their discretionary effort only when they are completely aware of the vision. In moments of handling difficult conversations, choices and ways of working, vision serves as an anchor. It provides a meaning to our day to day work. Vision is not a destination, but more like a compass that guides us through our goals and decisions.

Managing your organization’s work only through goals is like focusing your kid on simply getting good grades in the next examination. Kids need goals but they first need a vision of what kind of human being they should become.

What is true for kids is also true for organizations and teams. They are, after all, made up of human beings too!

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Leadership Development Carnival: June 2014 Edition

 


Namaste!
Welcome to the June 02nd 2014 Carnival of Leadership Development.

I am thankful to carnival leader Dan McCarthy for allowing me to host this event -  a wonderful collection of very practical insights on Leadership Development. It is always a great privilege to host a Leadership Development Carnival because it allows us to explore so many different facets of leadership at one go. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment where technology is constantly changing how people collaborate and work, the paradigms of leadership are changing.

In this edition of Carnival, we have a solid collection of posts that explores the changing face of leadership in the new world. Continuing the tradition, I have also included Twitter handles of the contributors.

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Beth Miller of Executive Velocity asks “Does Your Leadership Fear Transparency?” and says “With the increasing lack of transparency that Washington DC has displayed, it is more important than ever for business leaders to step up and adopt the characteristics of transparency. Your employees crave and want leaders they can trust.” (@SrExecAdvisor)

Dan Oestreich from Unfolding Leadership says, "We think of the system as ‘out there,’ but the most important system to change is the one within.”  You can read more in this his powerful post titled “Having Tea with the Dragon”. (@DanOestreich)

Jesse Lyn Stoner of the Seapoint Center emphasizes on the importance of creating a team charter through her post “Create a Team Charter to Go Faster and Smarter”. She says, “Taking the time to get clear agreements among team members can slow things down in the beginning, but will help you go faster in the long run. It’s a paradox: Go slow in order to go fast.” (@JesseLynStoner)

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership presents an insightful post “10 Things Your Employees May Not be Telling You.” In this post at About.com, Dan writes, “In the absence of a solid foundation of trust and open two-way communication, here are ten things that you’re not going to hear from your employees.”  (@greatleadership)

Dr. Anne Perschel from Germane Insights shares “The Secret Ingredient of Great Leadership”. We have all read 10 tips, 5 steps, and 4 actions of successful leaders, but we have to look closer to find the secret ingredient of great leadership and outstanding results. (@bizshrink)

Julie Winkle Giulioni  asks “How Well-Populated is Your Pipeline?” She suggests, “Perhaps it’s time to evaluate leaders by the most crucial output for which they’re responsible: the quality of their followers.” (@Julie_WG)

Joel Garfinkle on his Career Advancement Blog shares “7 Competencies Successful HR Executive MUST Know” to be successful. (@workcoach4you)

Jim Taggart at Changing Winds blog submits his recent post “Why Arrogance Leads to Eventual Failure”. In this post he says, “I profile two very well-known companies, which happen to be Canadian (as I am) to illustrate how arrogance by top corporate leaders brought down one company (Nortel) and almost brought down the other (Blackberry), whose new CEO is working very hard to reposition the company to compete in the global telecom market.” (@72keys)

John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog presents his post “A Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving” and says, “An organization succeeds because of the efforts of many great people. But the management system has to be created for an organization to prosper as what we all know will happen, happens: people will leave and need to be replaced.”  (@curiouscat_com)

Karin Hurt of Let’s Grow Leaders says, “Micromanaging is a dysfunctional behavior that most leaders fall into from time to time. So how do you know if you’re slipping into the micro management trap?” and presents her post “The Insiders Guide to Micromanagement”. (@LetsGrowLeaders)

Jane Perdue of LeadBig presents “You know you’re not a leader when…” and says “Sometimes leaders need to take a moment, reflect on what they’re doing, and perhaps recalibrate if their actions are leadership material….or not.” (@thehrgoddess)

Mary Jo Asmus at Aspire-CS presents the post “Give them something of value” and says, “Relationships are foundational to great leadership, and value is the common currency that flows between healthy relationships.” (@mjasmus)

Nicholas Bate of Strategic Edge reflects on Leadership in his post “Leadership Reflections Seven”. In this crisp post, he provides useful reminders about fundamentals of great leadership.

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results Through Culture says, “GM’s recall delays indicate a corporate culture more concerned with profits than with people. These recall delays are a failure of internal systems, of engineering, and, most critically, a failure of the heart.” Read more in his post “GM’s Heart Failure” (@scedmonds)

Bruce Watt Ph.D of Development Dimensions International presents “Who Would Really Want to be a Leader?” and says, “Is negativity about leadership discouraging future generations from stepping up? In this post, I address our responsibility to select and prepare better leaders, hold them accountable and (very importantly) encourage future generations to pursue leadership.”

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference presents an interesting take on VUCA world through his post “VUCA Times Call for DURT Leaders”. He says, “We work in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous times. To lead effectively through VUCA, we need to be Direct, Understandable, Reliable, and Trustworthy. Five leadership practices will enable our DURT approach.” (@ThinDifference)

Alan Robinson, Ph.D of The Idea Driven Blog shows how leaders can prepare for uncertainty by embracing flexibility through his post “A High-Performing System Helps You Face an Uncertain Future with More Confidence.” (@alangrobinson)

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership blog presents “Looking for a leader?” and says, “If you’re looking for someone who will make a good leader, here are some things to look for.” A very interesting list. (@wallybock)

Frank Sonnenberg of Frank Sonnenberg Online suggests, “It’s better to learn from the mistakes that other companies make, than from your own.” and presents “50 Insane Mistakes Companies Make”. (@FSonnenberg)

Susan Mazza of Random Acts Of Leadership says, “Most "to do" lists are often more a compilation of "should do" lists rather than "must do" lists – and the difference between the two determines whether you are clear about your goals and able to achieve them.” Read more in her post “3 Steps to Transform Your To-Do List” (@SusanMazza)

Lisa Kohn of Chatsworth Consulting Group, presents Managing yourself out of the picture on The Thoughtful Leaders™ Blog where she shares why leaders should make themselves dispensable in order that their teams can survive without them. (@ThoughtfulLdrs)

Randy Conley of Leading With Trust presents “After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality” and says, “Suffering a breach of trust can be a traumatic experience that sends you into a tailspin of self-pity and victimization. This practical article offers five concrete steps you can take to avoid a victim mentality.”  (@RandyConley)

Neal Burgis, Ph.D. Practical Solutions presents “Can You Lead Through Your Discomfort?” and says, “When leaders normalize discomfort, you invite your work culture to embrace feedback and change.” (@Exec_Solutions)

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares "Leading Change-It’s Not about You" on The Lead Change Group blog and says, “This post serves as a great reminder of the humble leadership that ought to happen, where leaders are the first to admit to their employees that they don’t have all the answers, they don’t have all the ideas, and that they need everyone to be engaged and feel valued in order for there to be true success.” (@paul_larue)

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS Blog gives detailed, thoughtful instruction that will help all leaders develop more effective, productive, and meaningful relationships with their direct reports. Read more in this post “Do You Bail Your People Out? Rescue Management Diminishes Employee Accountability” (@DialogueWORKS)

Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand says, “Stress is down to two things – control these two factors and you can conquer the world!” and shares the post “How The Best Leaders Deal With Stress” (@Engagingbrand)

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace asks a question, “What does your CEO consider important when discussing talent?” The answer, in his post, “Tell The Truth About Talent” is thought-provoking.(@steveroesler)

Dana Theus of InPower Blog says, “Leadership is all about being able to see success, and help others see it and find their motivation to pursue it. But what happens when leaders see things differently? We don’t often take the time to think about the leadership gifts our gender gives us, but take a few moments to learn how others view success.” and shares the post “Do Men & Women Vision Success Differently?” (@DanaTheus)

Mary Ila Ward of The Point Blog shares “I’m spending a lot of money on this: Getting and Measuring Bang for your Buck through Leadership Coaching” and says, “Thinking about getting a leadership or executive coach or have one? Coaching has been cited to be both effective and efficient for certain organizations, but how do you know if coaching will pay off for your organization?  Read this post to learn how to measure for efficiency and effectiveness of coaching.” (@maryilaward)

Bill Bliss of Bills Blog breaks down the art of delegation into its value-added parts. Readers will never question the benefits (and bottom line impact) of delegation again after reading this post. Find more in the post “Delegation is the Killer App for Leaders” (@coachwmbliss)

Dr. Dean Schroeder of Dean M. Schroeder Blog demonstrates how leaders can realize a sustainable, substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace – and create a more engaged workforce in the process. Find out more in the post “Organizational Improvement: It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Journey” (@deanmschroeder)

Miki Saxon of MAPping Company Success shares “Ducks in a Row: Robert Sutton—Scale Means People” and says, “It’s important to understand that a company has no existence beyond its people who are united in a shared vision and their efforts to reach a common goal—to scale a company you must scale its people.(@OptionSanity)

That’s it for this month’s edition. Thank you to all the bloggers who submitted their posts this month and I hope you enjoy reading/learning from these brilliant posts!

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Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3


“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” — Ryunosuke Satoro

Generally, traits such as vision, charisma, thinking, intellect, decisiveness, clarity, confidence and action-orientation characterize leadership. All of these are important and necessary, but not sufficient. The biggest challenge for a collaborative leader is to drive results from a diverse set of people across geographies who may or may not have a direct reporting relationship with the leader. Leading in such a distributed and diverse environment demands one key skill which, in a way, binds everything else. That leadership skill is “self-awareness”.

(Revisit the series so far)

Collaborative leaders are self-aware and know themselves. Self awareness is a continuous and growing understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, emotions, moods, values, attitudes and personality traits. On one hand, higher awareness of the self lends leader, the much required confidence and power through their strengths. On the other, it also keeps them reminded them of their own vulnerabilities and blind spots. Self awareness plays a central role in a leader’s ability to articulate vision, form strategies, drive motivation and energize the team. In a cut-throat business environment where leaders are expected to work round the clock, taking quality time out for self-reflection is so crucial to build self-awareness.

“Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will  and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…The power to choose, to respond, to change” – Stephen Covey

They are aware about others. Understanding of others is as important for a collaborative leader as understanding of the self. It is when a leader understands and plays by the strengths of people while complementing their weaknesses that they deliver exceptional results. Equipped with this understanding of others, they can allocate talent better to ensure that strengths complement weaknesses. With an open mind and acceptance of diversity, collaborative leaders constantly tune their leadership style to ensure that collective strengths outweigh weaknesses by a margin. Understanding of others also enables them to be empathetic in their approach when dealing with others.

They seek feedback. One of the most powerful ways for collaborative leaders to understand how they are perceived is to seek feedback. Collaborative leaders establish formal and informal forums to get the feedback from team members at all levels within the team through open ended questioning and careful listening. One of the ways to also get feedback is to ‘feel’ the behavior of team members with the leader and with each other.

They are culturally sensitive. The arena for leadership today is global and demands a very high degree of cultural awareness, sensitivity and emotional intelligence. While living in a different country or speaking a foreign language may not be always possible, it is always possible to understand the key cultural drivers, communication specifics and ways to build meaningful connections with others.

In the next post, we will look at a set of collaborative leadership traits that enable readers in fostering true collaboration. Stay tuned!

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In the series so far:

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 1

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 2

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 2

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin

The biggest difference between command and control leadership versus collaborative leadership is – a collaborative leader knows that position in the hierarchy is no longer the source of power. The real source of a leader’s power is people and how well they work together. In a collaborative world of work, authority is merely a starting point for the leader to create an ecosystem where collaboration can happen.

In highly digital and distributed business environment, collaborative leaders need to focus on creating forums and establishing tools that encourage collaboration. Let us look at a few traits of a collaborative leader keeping collaboration forums in perspective (Revisit the series so far.)

  1. They know the difference between communicating and connecting. There is a difference between communicating (passing the message) versus connecting. As John Maxwell defines, “Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence on them.” The act of connection starts with appreciating the value each and every individual brings on the table. One of the key challenges for a collaborative leader is to align the team, cross functional groups and customers to a common purpose and the best ways to address this challenge is to meaningfully connect with others.
  2. They establish forums for communication and collaboration to happen. For people, doing their own work first is always a priority. Collaboration always takes a backseat if a leader is not conscious about setting up forums where collaboration can happen. Daily stand up meetings to address priorities, joint planning sessions, brainstorming, Lessons learned sessions, reviews and retrospectives are all forums that enable collaboration. The key for a collaborative leader is to plan them upfront and ensure that people continuously contribute towards the common goal.
  3. They use technology and tools for effective collaboration. Using collaboration tools like Wikis, document repositories, collaborative planning tools and workflow management systems act as a grease that streamlines collaboration. It is simple – the more collaboration is built into the work processes and tools, the more it happens. This is especially vital for teams that are distributed.
  4. They don’t hoard information but share openly. In a collaborative team, the sharing of information is seamless. Though a part of information sharing is taken care by the tools and forums established, a collaborative leader is very conscious about re-iterating the purpose, relentlessly clarifying the context and keeping everyone informed at all times. Collaborative leaders know that people working on the tasks are as important stakeholders as the customers.
  5. They first share the knowledge, and then expect others to share. The act of sharing starts with the leader. Team members only open up to share their knowledge and insights when everyone around them are doing it too. Collaborative leaders add value to the team through their clarity of purpose, their overall business knowledge and understanding of how things should work. Then, they encourage others to do the same.

In the next post, we will outline a few more traits that make a collaborative leader successful. Stay tuned!

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In the series so far:

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 1

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Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora

Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 1

Being in a band is always a compromise. Provided that the balance is good, what you lose in compromise, you gain by collaboration. —Mike Rutherford

At the core of being an effective leader is ability to analyze the situation and then lead in the most appropriate manner which is best suited for that situation. A leader knows that there is no single optimal style to lead everything. Experts have defined this as “situational leadership.”

In that context, not all situations demand collaborative leadership. There are situations when directive leadership is required and the ones where focus is on coaching and supporting. Collaborative leadership style works best in almost all situations but in following scenarios, it becomes very essential.

  1. When there are team members/stakeholders with diverse interests.
  2. When team members/stakeholders are cross-functional and geographically distributed.
  3. When the problem at hand requires effort from diverse groups/communities to solve.
  4. When a leader does not have formal authority over the people involved in the team.
  5. When complex problems require everyone’s creativity and insights.

However, one thing is clear – pure command and control leadership where people are simply expected to follow the instructions does not work anymore. Even when other leadership styles are adopted, the collaborative elements of leadership are still a vital source of competitive advantage as a leader, as a team and as a business.

What makes a leader collaborative? What are the absolutely essential traits of a collaborative leader? Let’s dive into what I call “indispensable traits of a collaborative leader”. In a series of posts, we will cover traits that make leaders truly collaborative.

1. They are passionate about the cause: Without passion for the intended outcome, no amount of collaboration will yield desired results. Before even initiating, a collaborative leader gets absolutely convinced about the desired outcomes and value they will add to the business. This clarity is important because vision, outcomes and benefits have to be re-iterated (read sold through influence) constantly through the execution. This clarity is the glue that keeps team focused on the results.

2. They lead their own selves before leading others. Unless a leader knows the self better, understanding others is very difficult. Collaboration with others requires prompt responses, focus on objectives, relationship building, creativity and perceptive abilities. The only way to lead others is to lead self – explore the self constantly and keep learning.

3. They look at “power” differently. For a collaborative leader, definition of power is to empower others. A collaborative team is the one where power is decentralized and everyone owns the final outcome. This also requires a collaborative leader to give up on their ego and need to be “in control”. They understand that “power with people” > “power over people”

4. They listen. Really. If a leader does not know how to listen, collaboration fails. Everyone wants to express themselves and be understood. A collaborative leader fulfills this essential human need by listening – what is being said and what is left unsaid. What is said through words and what is said between those words. All that is said through the body-language and tone of language.

5. They are generous in sharing credits. This also goes back to power. This is also perhaps the most difficult part. When team achieves great feats, it is easy for a leader to fall into a temptation to take credits when they should be generously sharing them. They recognize performance, remain thankful of others contributions and let the team be proud about themselves.

6. They know how to balance tasks and relationships. The objective of leading others is to generate results and get the tasks done without adversely affecting the relationships. Relationships are important, but not at the cost of progress. Excessive focus on relationships means that a leader becomes weak and tries to avoid conflict. The key is to remain objective in communication and constantly align others to the vision, mission and values.

In the next post, we will outline 6 more traits that make a collaborative leader successful. Stay tuned!

Tell us what you think about the 6 traits outlined above. What would you like to add?

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In the series so far:

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

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Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Seagulls

The Foundation of Collaborative Leadership

In an industrial age, people went to factories and worked together to produce the outcomes. When required, they collaborated in person. Supervisors commanded and controlled others and leadership was often equated with “taking power”. Factories depended heavily on rigid top-down hierarchies and people were viewed simply as dispensable workers.

With technological advances, our world of work changed dramatically. Today, we seldom do anything alone. With rise in knowledge oriented work, people in small and geographically distributed groups work together to create value through their expertise and creativity. There is no raw material, there are only people.

In this world of work, collaboration is not optional. In fact, effective collaboration is the backbone of how work gets done today. Most successful projects and teams I have seen have one thing in common – effective collaboration. They had one more thing in common – that one person with vision who believed in collaboration – a collaborative leader.

In this series of posts, we will look at what goes in to make collaborative leaders and their indispensable traits. Mary Parker Follett defined management as “the art of getting things done through people” and collaborative leadership embodies and extends this belief. It is about bringing diverse group of people together, have them share a common vision and provide them an eco-system where they effectively work with each other to produce desired outcomes optimally.

At the very foundation of collaborative leadership are respect for people, individual competence and engaging communication. Let us take a closer look at these.

Respect for People:

Effective collaboration starts with a simple belief that people are not “resources” or “capital” – they are not just a variable cost to your company. They are essentially humans who bring their self-esteem, emotional skills and intellectual capabilities to accomplish their work. That they want to be trusted, communicated with and inspired. Karen Martin, my friend and author of the recent book “The Outstanding Organization” says, “Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.” Respect for people imply that a leader is interested in (and enjoys) dealing with people, listening to them, help them navigate through challenges of work, solve their problems and invest time in developing their skills. Respect for people also means that a leader is able to provide the required space to people without compromising on the accountability. It means that a leader looks at conflicts as a way to improve.

Competence:

Collaboration is almost never a substitute of competence. At an individual level, a leader cannot foster collaboration and solve team’s problems without having the necessary skills and capabilities. For a leader, competence does not necessarily mean only technical skills. It also means higher visibility into work and how it fits into larger scheme of things. It means knowing how to communicate effectively and deal with problems. Competence also equates with an individual’s integrity – the extent to which thoughts, words and deeds of a leader are uniform. An integral leader quickly builds trust which is the currency of a collaborative team.

Engaging Communication:

If trust is the currency of a collaborative team, communication is the way to build it. It is only when a team frequently communicates, provides clarity, clarifies vision, shares ideas, extends their lessons and outlines problems clearly that they can really collaborate. Leaders in a collaborative environment need to be transparent and conscious about cultural aspects of communication. They need to offer a compelling view of the future (vision) to engage the energies of people. Along the way, they need to reiterate the vision, keep the team focused and resolve conflicts. They also need to be aware that communication is not just about what they speak, but also about what their actions speak.

With these fundamental elements in perspective, we will explore essential traits of collaborative leaders and related examples in the subsequent posts.

Join in the conversation: How would you define collaborative leader? What are your thoughts on how people are treated within organizations today?

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, A Family of Darters, Khijadia Bird Sanctuary

6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Influence

Mahatma Gandhi, as we know, was a simple man who had no position, no wealth, no power and no authority. Yet, he altered the course of history by leading India to Independence through power of people. How could a man with no formal authority take on an empire and influence the hearts and minds of so many people across the country?

Gandhi’s impact is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need positional power to influence others. No matter who you are or where you are in the order, you can make a difference.

Every time I think of influence, I think of Gandhi. He worked with others and through others to achieve his objectives. In the process, he never compromised on his own principles.

In an organizational context, ability to influence is at the heart of a leader’s success in driving changes, building great teams, delivering results and implementing the strategic vision. At an individual level, your ability to influence others is at the core of building relationships, creating a network and achieving your goals.

How does one generate influence? What are the building blocks to be considered? Here is what I have learned about generating influence:

  1. Having substance is a pre-requisite for generating influence. An empty vessel only makes more noise. Having real accomplishments, experience, subject matter expertise, passion for the subject and credibility are the foundations on which influence can happen.
  2. Trust, as in leadership, is the currency of influence. People get influenced and change only when they trust you. People trust you when you deliver what you promise, speak from your heart and be integral and ethical.
  3. Thought leadership accelerates trust and hence influence. When you challenge conventional beliefs, advance the ideas and provide new points of view, people get engaged and start trusting. Gandhi’s idea of non-violence serves as a great example of thought leadership.
  4. Influence spreads on pollens of generous actions. The process of influencing others start with a genuine intention to share and contribute first. It is not about what you want to say, but what helps others.
  5. Only intention is not enough, commitment is the key. Influence is rarely generated overnight. It requires commitment, patience and being persistent over a long time.
  6. Real influence provokes change. Influence is only valuable when it provokes change in how people operate and think; when it inspires them to take required action. It is a myth that just having an audience and followers means influence.

Join in the conversation: Who are you influenced by? What are specific qualities that you are influenced by? Share your lessons!

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In case you have missed:

How to Prepare Well: 3 Lessons

A man giving finishing touch to a stone, Vijaynagar, Gujarat.

A few years back, I was coordinating the interview process of my team members with the client before they start working on the client projects. My team members were not fully confident because they had never faced a client interview before. To build their confidence, we planned three mock interview sessions where I would play the role of a client. We did these interviews in-person and over-the-call. With each call, the confidence increased and communication was tuned for clarity. In the real interview, they did well and client was happy with how candidates represented their skills.

Candidates did well because they were prepared. They practiced, rehearsed and improved before the final show.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is so important yet so ignored in corporate environment where we see people representing things without preparing. They do meetings, discussions, calls and even address large groups of people without preparing. They think they would “go with the flow” and “take things as they come.” But they don’t realize that being unprepared, in lean terms, is a huge cost and sometimes, it costs a reputation!

The work “prepare” comes from Latin praeparare which means ‘to make ready beforehand’. Preparation (or lack of it) has been a major determinant in my successes and failures so far. Preparation sharpens your saw, equips you to deliver better and with greater confidence.

Based on my experiences so far, here are some of my lessons on how to prepare well:

  1. Purpose drives preparation. It helps to get clear about “why” you are doing what you are doing. If the purpose and end result is not clearly visible, your preparation may lack enthusiasm and direction. If you are a leader, your #1 job is to first clarify purpose before you start helping your team with preparation.
  2. It is not just about content, but also about context. The art of preparation is not just about the content of your outcome but also the context in which the outcome is delivered. E.g. you have mastered your pitch (content) for that client presentation but you also need to know client’s business, their expectations, key stakeholders and the bigger picture. Context is a part of your preparation.
  3. Preparation should allow you to be more flexible, not rigid. I have seen people who prepare well on content but if things don’t go as planned, they just freeze because they failed to consider the alternatives, variables and how they would respond to it. It is very much a part of your preparation. No matter how well you prepare, uncertainty is almost inevitable and hence preparation should help you remain agile and adaptable to changing situations.

Over to you: If there is one lesson you have to share about the art of preparing well, what would that be?

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Also check out my newest post on Pearson TalentLens Blog: 10 Most Important Traits of a Leader Who Thinks Critically

How to Build a Great Team and Culture? 60 Pointers

I recently delivered a talk at a local entrepreneurship forum on the topic “How to Build a Great Team and Culture”.

It won’t be unfair to say that establishing a great culture and team is highest on priority of a business leader. And why not? A great culture enables success, builds team fabric and attracts talent too. We have all seen many talented teams failing simply because of a poor culture and human dynamics. Here is the running list of 60 odd lessons I shared during my talk:

A Great Team is all about “People”

  • Good team work is mathematics – it adds leverage, divides work and multiplies success.
  • People are at the heart of a great team. Where there are human beings, there will be dynamics of how they operate. Human dynamics remain the same –be it team, family or community.
  • Treat them as humans. Living, breathing, emotional and intelligent people are not “resources”. They are not a part of machinery. They are humans.
  • Human beings have self-esteem.
  • They are driven by ambition.
  • They want to grow.
  • They want independence.
  • If ambition is the driver, inspiration is the fuel. Feedback is the compass that enables them to validate direction. Trust is the currency.

Why Team?

  • A team of discrete individuals join hands because they want to achieve something that is beyond their own selves. Having a compelling purpose is the first pre-requisite of building a great team.
  • In today’s world, people cannot be simply “roped into” the team. They have to “opt-in” – which means that a leader’s first job and biggest value addition is to articulate the clear vision and principles for how the team will reach it. To clarify the purpose in so many words (and through actions). People need to know how their work fits into a larger picture.
  • Clarifying the purpose and setting the vision is not a one-time communication. It has to be re-iterated in every meeting and every interaction. Vision and values are not “feel good things” written on the wall plaque – they have to be lived in every decision that an organization takes. Formal and informal forums like water-cooler conversations, one-on-ones, all hands meetings, and internal newsletters are a great way to reinforce the message.
  • If you want to ENLIST people onto your vision, you have to LISTEN – probably a reason why both the words are made up of same letters.
  • Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit. Communication that sets expectations right!
  • “If people are subordinates, what are they subordinating to?” In my view, people never subordinate other people. They are subordinates to a cause. In that sense, even a leader is a subordinate to a cause.
  • Set expectations on behaviors you value. As Michael le Boeuf says, “You get more of the behavior you reward. You don’t get what you hope for, ask for, wish for or beg for. You get what you reward."

Getting Right People

  • A team is as good as the people in it. Get people on your team who are either rock stars with proven capabilities or the ones who possess the attitude of being rock stars.
  • Never hire on capabilities alone. Attitude is as important as capabilities. In fact, with the right attitude, a team member can build capabilities. Skills alone, without right attitude doesn’t move a needle.
  • As Tom Peters says, “Attitude > Ability”
  • Embrace diversity. Diversity is the key to an innovative team. If everyone belongs to a similar background or have similar thought processes, how will the team think different? How will they look at same things with a new set of lens? How will they challenge the status-quo? Celebrate these outliers, for they are the ones who will help you grow!
  • Before hiring a team members, look for actual working skills. Learning history. Communication. Adaptability and most importantly, integrity.
  • After all this, ensure that the person is fun to work with, social and emotionally intelligent.
  • Get people on team with complementary skills. A good team is the one where people complement each other. It is like a puzzle where the whole picture is not complete without any one of its parts. Each piece of puzzle fills the other!
  • Even after having all traffic rules, accidents still happen. It will happen when you are building team. The key is to know when to let someone go.

Managing Smart

  • People don’t need micromanagement. They don’t need carrot and stick. They need an ecosystem where they can exercise their discretionary effort and deliver their 102% – 100% of what is expected and 2% value addition.
  • How to create such an ecosystem? Dan Pink’s new theory of motivation comes in handy. People need autonomy (control over their work). They want to pursue mastery (work that helps them become better). They need a strong purpose (working on what matters).
  • Trust is the currency for eliciting excellence. Because it is simple: people only do their best work when they are trusted. With traditional “command-and-control”, people will comply at the best. With trust and empowerment, they will exceed the expectations.
  • In a team, people share the same vision, but not accountability. Establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities early on.
  • If people are involved in planning, they co-own the plan (buy-in). Involve people when planning for tasks that impacts their work.
  • Rituals are powerful. Communication cannot be left to a chance. Establishing rituals (daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, one-on-ones, retrospective meetings) are a powerful way to ensure that team stays on track.
  • Have systems in place. It is said that “Processes without results are a waste. Results without processes are not sustainable.”
  • Share feedback early and often. Feedback validates the direction and helps in course correction.
  • Manage meetings well. Keep them short and focused on actions.
  • Foster collaboration. Don’t rely on emails when you can walk up and talk to a team member.
  • Play to their strengths and let them shine. A lot of team leadership is knowing who can do what and delegating accordingly.
  • Let them take lead. People fondly remember what they started or owned.

Grace Under Fire

  • In Storming phase of a team’s lifecycle, conflicts are inevitable. It is not about conflicts but how you manage them.
  • The harder the conflict, the glorious the triumph – because every conflict tests (and strengthens) the team fabric. It refreshes the dynamics.
  • Treat people well when they make mistakes – when they least expect it.
  • When you have to be firm, be firm – but not at the cost of politeness. Being firm and polite is an art! Dealing with others without grace kills autonomy.
  • Manage the grapevine. Avoid small talk within the team. Encourage people to address issues directly.
  • In all situations bad and good, always be transparent about what is really going on and how will it impact the team.
  • Monitor progress, not people.
  • Question process, not individuals.
  • When you encounter an ego situation, quiz your goals. Am I (are you) focusing on ‘who’ is right, or doing ‘what’ is right?
  • Be graceful, always!

Inspiration and Gratitude

  • Someone rightly said, “We always get more from people by building a ‘fire within them’ than we do by building ‘fire under them.’
  • Be generous about recognizing contributions. Be authentic when appreciating. Say more than just “good job” and tell them what exactly do you appreciate.
  • Thank often.
  • Own failures but share success.
  • Gratitude and Recognition feeds self-esteem (one’s assessment of self-worth) – one of our basic needs.
  • Inspire by improving the work, processes and rituals. Constant improvement leads to better engagement. “The greatest danger a team faces isn’t that it won’t become successful, but that it will, and then ease to improve.”
  • Celebrate successes and early wins.

A Note about Culture

  • It is said that an organization is an elongated shadow of the leader. As a leader, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes will become the culture of your organization. It pays to be careful about what kind of organization you want to build.
  • Be the example others want to follow. If you want excellence, be excellent first. First “be” and then “seek”.
  • Culture is built one choice at a time. Choices made up in start-up phase often end up building culture.
  • If you are not conscious about what culture you want to build, culture will happen. Culture by default or Culture by Design? That is the choice every business leader has to make.

Growing Others

  • When people do the work, their work makes them. It helps to see what people are becoming as a result of the work. 
  • A leader’s real legacy is the net positive difference they have made in lives of people working in their team.
  • Actively mentor them through the journey. Mentors elevate human potential and hence performance. Mentors open up a world of possibilities for people being mentored. Great leaders are farmers – cultivators of human potential.
  • Practice tough love with them – push them to achieve more or achieve better!
  • Have a goal to make yourself redundant, so that others (with potential) can step up and play a bigger role.
  • Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.”

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Also Download: Graceful Leadership 101 (PDF)

Why Managers are Catalysts in Managing and Developing Talent?

 

Most businesses today are talent driven businesses – skills and competence of people developing products and providing services is at the core of an organization’s differentiation strategy. Talent management and people development should be at the top of an organization’s strategic agenda given the need to improve productivity and effectiveness. Everyone agrees that people development is important, yet clear ownership of doing so is often missing.

Why is this a challenge?

Because managers look at people on their team as tools to get their tasks done. Because managers are only made accountable for generating business results only and not for developing people. Because managers excessively rely on some “training and development” department that is far away from day to day realities of how a business operates. Because leaders think that training and/or certification is the only way to develop skills of people.

The truth is: managers are the ones who communicate with people every single day, assign work in line with capabilities of people, provide the resources that people need to get the job done and guide the performance of people. This proximity with people (and their skills) makes a manager, an ideal owner for development of people within an organization. This is also true because people learn the most by working and experiencing, and less by training alone. But a 2008 research by Hewitt and Human Capital Institute reveals that less than 10% of managers are held accountable for development of people and less than 5% are competent enough to develop others.

What can be done?

I think, the first step towards building a managerial culture around people development is to start at the top. If top leadership takes active interest in developing managers at various levels, that drives one expectation clearly: that we are all responsible for developing people we lead.

The second step is to make managers accountable for people development. Developing people should be an integral part of every manager’s KRA and managers should be given the required space to develop others.

The third step is to help managers in developing people. This is where HR/Training teams can provide interventions. This can include critical areas like assigning right people to right tasks, building a team with complementary skills, improving collaboration, building trust through mentoring, providing feedback and build environment of learning and growth for everyone on the team. In fact, managers should be hired based on demonstrated skills in these areas.

The deliverable of a manager, in my view, is two sided: one is the business results and other is developing people while they deliver these results. The only way to thrive in a competitive environment is to constantly expand people’s capability to deliver and innovate. A manager’s ability to build a culture of continuous learning and develop people equals better bottom line results and higher employee engagement and retention.

Join in the conversation: Do you agree that managers should be responsible for developing people? Have you seen an exceptional manager who focused on growing others? What did you learn from that manager?

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6 Lessons in Leading a Cross-Functional Team

Being into quality and organizational improvement, I have always worked with cross-functional groups. By definition, a cross-functional team is the one where members from different functional areas work towards a common goal. A few years back, I got an assignment to lead a cross-functional team (xFT) and it was a great learning experience. Our goal was to implement information security management system spanning all departments, support groups and technical production team. It was an interesting ride because of challenges it posed, and challenges = lessons.

Recently, when one of my friends was also asked to manage a xFT in a different context, I ended up sharing the following key lessons (and challenges) on how to lead a xFT effectively:

In xFT, like in anything else, leader is an enabler: Every team member’s contribution to the team is vital because they carry the knowledge of their own context. The role of leader in a xFT is that of a coach – an enabler who eliminates roadblocks for team members to surge ahead in their priorities.

Leading xFT = Managing Diversity: Functionally, all team members are diverse and have their own reporting relationships, beliefs and values. They have to be led without the strings of formal reporting structures attached. This also means their time allocation may be diverse, so would be attitude and skill level. A leader’s challenge is to elicit their involvement without binding them into traditional management structure.

Trust is even more crucial for success: Since they don’t have a formal working relationship with the leader, building trust is the only way to move things forward. Leading is all about trust, more so in the case of leading a xFT. With trust, people self-organize, think favorably and take right decisions. As a leader, be inclusive, respect their opinions, showcase their contributions, recognize their work and be positive.

Clear goals are drivers of autonomy: In a xFT, decision making is bottoms-up. They decide the course of action and have autonomy to change the course depending on situation. So, the only way a leader drives these discrete decisions is by setting very clear goals and defining clear outcomes. This also means that leader has to work extra hard in setting up rituals for communication and status tracking.

Early “wins” are important: When a xFT starts working together, there will be a lot of ambiguity and doubt in their minds. They may not be confident about their ability to work together. They may be swayed away by their own departmental priorities. In such situations, if they see early wins, it reinforces their confidence. A team that achieves constantly, in increments, is the team that stays together productively. Early wins make the work and progress visible.

Constant communication is the glue: that binds the team together. Establishing rituals and communication forums (formal and informal to create face time is critical to keep team on track. These routines also helps a leader sense problems even before they actually happen, manage expectations constantly, provide feedback, learn about each other and manage conflicts. Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit for building trust.

Building a high-performing team in any situation is difficult and when team members are from different functional groups, a leaders role in creating a performing whole from discrete parts is both a challenge and an opportunity.

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Related Reading at QAspire:

Clearing the Fog in Communication

Our communication at workplace needs a lot of simplification. Have you seen leaders who throw jargons and so called “hot words” that leave people more confused?

When a boss says, “We need to get this done soon”, people are left to wonder what soon actually means. I once observed a senior leader who was approached by his team member for some help on an issue. After thinking aloud for a while, the leader ended up saying, “You need to somehow close this ASAP.”  For a struggling team member who needed direction, words like “somehow” and “ASAP” added ambiguity and needless urgency leading to frustration.

In one instance, a manager delegated a report creation task to his team member with a note of “urgent and important”. The team member worked hard to deliver the report created the report in shortest possible time but then received no response from the manager for days. Was it really important? If not, how can it be urgent at all?

I have seen managers who request “quick calls” that go on for hours together. Meetings to “touch base” end up being meetings that “drill down”.

I see a huge need to simplify our communication – our words and our actions have to convey very specific (and congruent) messages. Jargons and hot words break the communication, creates barriers, robs understanding, adds clutter and leaves people guessing. “I need to get this report by 12:00 PM tomorrow so that I can review and send it across to customer by 4:00 PM” is much better than “I need it ASAP”. Next time you call something as “important”, make sure your subsequent actions also demonstrate the importance.

What if we stop using jargons where we need to be specific? If we clarify expectations relentlessly? Our work will be free of foggy messages and hence simpler. Clarity and congruence in thoughts, words and actions are first pre-requisites of being excellent at anything – more so if you are a leader.

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Photo Courtesy: Gavin Liewellyn’s Flickr

Great Story: A Manager’s Function

I recently re-read a fantastic book “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister.

The book is filled with hard-won wisdom about executing projects and managing people for highest productivity.

Here is a real-life story from the book that underlines importance of the “human aspect” of our work; especially creative work that requires significant emotional involvement too.

In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged myself out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at the console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she’d poured it into me and buoyed up my spirits, I asked her how she found time for such things with all the management work she had to do. She gave me her patented grin and said, Tom, this is management.”

Sharon knew what all good instinctive managers know: The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Peopleware was first published some 25 years ago, and updated once since then. With such remarkable wisdom available to us, it is unfortunate to see many organizations and leaders still not getting the very essence of leading a knowledge-oriented and creative enterprise. Either they don’t read enough (which is dangerous) or they don’t practice what they already know.

It is all about people. As the book nicely puts it,

“The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.”

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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