Ultimately, leadership is all about ability to act on the ideas. In that sense, anyone who thinks of the self as a leader has to be good at executing things. Probably a reason why top leaders in organizations are referred to as executives – the one who executes, not just someone with a fancy title and corner office.
Leadership is a very broad term and leaders in organizations come in all shapes and sizes – from introverted to extraverted, charismatic to simple, people oriented versus task oriented and the differentiation goes on.
But Peter Drucker, whose work has played a defining role in my own growth as a manager and leader, identified eight practices of effective executive based on his observations over 65 years of his consulting career.
The June 2004 article by Peter Drucker in Harvard Business titled “What Makes an Effective Executive” is a must read, if you are a student of leadership.
Here’s a short snippet of 8 characteristics along with a quick sketch note.
What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:
- They asked, “What needs to be done?”
- They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
- They developed action plans.
- They took responsibility for decisions.
- They took responsibility for communicating.
- They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
- They ran productive meetings.
- They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.
– Peter Drucker, What Makes an Effective Executive
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At #SocialNow conference recently, Luis Suarez shared a slide by Thierry de Baillon on ways to prepare for the dark side of technology. I loved the ideas and decided to sketch the approach.
Once again these ideas reinforced my belief that leading organizations and self in the future is all about the stuff like connections, empathy, flow, learning and thinking differently. It is clear that these implicit and human/social elements of work are the real antidote to onslaught of technology.
The sooner organizations embrace these elements into their culture, the sooner they will start adapting. That is the way to ride the wave of technology changes rather than getting crushed under it.
Related Visual Posts at QAspire.com
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
When everything around is constantly changing, it is easy to:
Get carried away by latest fads, best practices etc.
Execute changes that may not be significant in shifting results to positive direction
Implement solutions to half-baked problem statements
Isolate people affected by change in a rush to just change things
Get confused between change and transformation initiatives
We often see this happening all around us. There is so much conversation going on about change and transformation that it is easy to get carried away when the “Big WHY” of change is not clear.
In this context, I read Paul Taylor’s latest post titled “Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing” where he offers not so radical ideas to ensure that change does not fail. He emphasizes on importance of mindset, getting influence devolved to people closest to change, change through small experimentation and not initiating change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that proposed solution will result in net positive business outcome.
These are simple ideas, but powerful ones. Simplicity after all is not all that flashy and it takes far more thinking and work to simplify things. Which is probably why we take the easier route of adding complexity, heh!
Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s post:
change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way
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Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.
This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.
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And here’s a quick sketch note summary of key ideas from the post:
Related Posts on Managing Change
A team’s ability to learn quickly is at the heart of adapting to constant changes. In fact, it seems that constant learning is the only key to agility as a team and organization.
Jack Welch famously said,
“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”
On this blog, we have visually explored various facets of creating a learning organization. It all starts from understanding why organizations don’t learn. Peter Senge’s seminal work on creating a learning organizations outlines learning disabilities that plague organizations. To overcome these disabilities, we explored disciplines of a learning organization and the role of reflection in how we learn.
Along the same lines, I read Elizabeth Doty’s post titled “How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team” at Strategy+Business blog with great interest. It adds on to the ideas we have explored further and provides fresh perspective on how to catalyze learning within teams.
I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes from the same article.
P.S: I wrote a post in 2011 that outlined 10 actions for leaders to create learning organizations and further outlined Three Rituals For Constant Alignment And Learning that just aligns with some of the ideas suggested in this post. Do check them out.
As an organization grows, managing the flow demands work items to move from one team/department to another. In quest to make these teams accountable, very specific KPI’s are established and that breeds non-systemic thinking. People look at meeting their own numbers and push the work to next stage and often, what happens is that while people win (in short term), the system fails. Every team meets the KPI numbers and yet, customers remain disgruntled.
Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” outlines 7 organizational learning disabilities. He says,
“It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental learning disabilities. These disabilities operate despite the best effort of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities – for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”
It then becomes very crucial that we identify clearly these learning disabilities. Here is a sketch note summary of these 7 learning disabilities.
Critical question then is: How to we overcome these learning disabilities and truly create an organization that learns better? Peter Senge answers that question through his 5 disciplines of learning organizations that I have written about in the past. Here is a sketchnote summary of five disciplines:
More on Creating Learning Organization at QAspire:
What differentiates companies that succeed over a long run from those that don’t? As the rate of change and disruption continues to accelerate, companies need a strong foundation of fundamentals that enable long term success and growth.
In this respect, I recently read Leandro Herrero’s post on characteristics of companies that succeed in long run. 10 characteristics are outlined in the sketch note below.
Leadership success is largely governed by, amongst other things, one’s ability to create an ecosystem of engagement, meaning, performance and growth. A leader creates this ecosystem through conversations, communication (leading to clarity), connection, systems, rituals, processes and decisions.
Leandro Herrero, in his post, “Five spaces that the organizational leader needs to design and nurture”, calls leader a social architect. The idea resonated very strongly with me since social architecture (physical and psychological spaces) is a way to create the ecosystem of high performance.
“Yes, leaders need to see themselves as architects, as space designers, creators, and implementors. This is an area where what the leader says counts less than what the leader does in this social engineering. It is therefore very silent, but the spaces will be very visible and the legacy will be enormous.” – Leandro Herrero
Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the ideas presented in the post.
Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:
Leading in an era of constant disruption, change and transformation is not easy. In such transformation efforts, soft aspects of leadership play as crucial role as the hard aspects like systems thinking, innovation and execution of change.
Last week, I saw an insightful TED talk by Jim Hemerling where he outlined 5 ways to lead in an era of constant changes. He says,
Let’s acknowledge that change is hard. People naturally resist change, especially when it’s imposed on them. But there are things that organizations do that make change even harder and more exhausting for people than it needs to be. First of all, leaders often wait too long to act. As a result, everything is happening in crisis mode. Which, of course, tends to be exhausting. Or, given the urgency, what they’ll do is they’ll just focus on the short-term results, but that doesn’t give any hope for the future. Or they’ll just take a superficial, one-off approach, hoping that they can return back to business as usual as soon as the crisis is over.
Sustainable change and transformation requires inclusive leadership that inspires through purpose, develops people and builds a culture of continuous learning.
Here are my sketch notes summarizing the key insights from the talk.
Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:
Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.
Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.
Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.
If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!
Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!
Related Reading at QAspire
Most re-organization efforts either focus on hard stuff (processes, strategy, structure, KPI’s) or on soft stuff (culture, values, relationships, feelings). I have seen very few reorganization efforts in my career that are focused on the most important aspect of how value is delivered to customers: Simplicity
Simplicity stems from decentralization of power. “New Power” as they call it, is all about empowering people, creating conducive ecosystems for performance, learning collectively and encouraging collaboration. Most complexity in organization is introduced in an attempt to centralize power. The focus then is on adding more checks, processes, structures, metrics, KPI’s, incentives, coordinating offices and such.
Yesterday, I saw a very interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux (Boston Consulting Group) where he says,
Complicatedness: This is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is rubbish, very abstract. When do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness. Only you can fight, can do it.
The talk sets the context on how organizations increase complexity and offers useful ideas on how work can be simplified. Here are my notes from the talk and I recommend you watch this insightful and provocative talk to gain a more well rounded view.
More Posts on Simplicity at QAspire
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
You cannot change your reflection in the mirror if you want to change how you look and feel about yourself. YOU have to change and the reflection changes accordingly.
And to enable that change, you have to do all the right things based on what you wish to achieve.
Trying to change an organization’s culture is much like that too. Culture of an organization is a reflection – a by-product – of what people within the organization do.
If you want culture to change, you have to first change your intent, behavior, systems, processes, mindset and then narrative. Trying to change an organization’s culture only through narratives (tall mission statements, values on the wall and lip service) is like trying to change the reflection in the mirror. It doesn’t happen.
As Euan Semple so succintly puts it –
You can change things that affect people in the hope that doing so gives them a good reason to adapt their behaviour, but culture emerges from the collective behaviours of the people in your organisation over time.
Culture itself cannot be created – it just happens as a result of doing the right things.
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In the Photo: Mountains at the Dawn, Jhadol, Rajasthan, India (2013)
There is no real leadership without change.
If you are simply “sustaining” what already exists, you are not a leader because real leadership is about change – moving people, processes, outcomes and culture to a better place.
In an organizational context, there is no change without some leadership.
Without any leadership, things still change but often, in a southwards direction. Any change in a positive direction means channeling collective energy of people, overcoming resistance, building consensus and involving others – none of which is possible without some leadership.
As Esther Derby so rightly says in “6 Rules of Change”,
Leaders don’t drive, install or evangelize change. They NURTURE it.
Explicit details of change (the gross part) is never as difficult as the soft side it it (the subtle) – how leaders enable and empower others during the change process.
In this post at Rebels at Work blog, Lois Kelly emphasizes on three change muscles that leaders need in order to nurture change – Appreciation, Understanding of character strengths and Creating Psychologically safe environment.
Rebels at Work is an excellent movement and I strongly recommend that you read the post “Build these three change muscles”. Meanwhile, here are my visual notes when I read the article.
Related Sketchnotes/Posts at QAspire.com
The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.
Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.
In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,
“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”
The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.
And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.
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.
“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:
If the job of a leader is to take people to a better place, they first need to take people’s imagination to that better place.
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when communicating about the future is to show future in form of data, numbers and charts. They are good to capture the mind of people, but people will only endeavor to go there when their hearts are engaged.
Storytelling has been one of the most powerful tools to drive imagination of people first before people decide to take actions towards the future. The historic “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King or the narrative of non-violent movement for India’s independence by Mahatma Gandhi are powerful examples of story telling that led to massive change, first in the minds and hearts of people and then in reality.
If you are a leader who is facilitating a large scale change or transformation effort, paint a compelling picture of the future before you show the data. Ability to tell stories that foster change is a critical leadership skill.
In his classic HBR article titled “Telling Tales”, Steve Denning outlines seven aims of a good narrative. The article also provides an excellent context of leadership storytelling and offers practical ways to frame your narrative depending on your goals. I recommend that you read the original article.
Here is a quick sketch note of seven aims of leadership storytelling:
Change does not always mean transformation, but transformation by itself changes everything fundamentally. At a time when a lot of people use terms “change” and “transformation” interchangeably, it helps to know the difference between the two (and my sketch note on the same topic may be helpful).
I have seen people in process improvement use the word transformation quite often (in fact, I have been guilty of using the word “transformation” when I was only tweaking or improving the ways of working).
What do real business transformations look like? Scott Anthony’s post “What Do You Really Mean by Business Transformation” at Harvard Business Review may help you understand different kinds of transformation efforts. After I read the post, I was able to put different transformation initiatives going around me into the right frame.
I attempted to make sense of three kinds of transformation effort described in Scott’s post through a sketch note. Do read the original article at HBR.
Organizational transformation initiatives come in many forms – restructuring, cultural transformation, service transitions, rapid innovation, process overhauls, turnarounds and acquisitions to name a few. Studies by universities and consulting firms suggest that 70% or more of transformation initiatives fail.
I have been a part of systems that were transformed, companies that were acquired, companies that could not pull of a successful transformation and the ones that did. My observation is – a majority of transformation initiatives fail because of lack of system thinking.
“With discrete initiatives across the organization, you may get change. Transformation requires systems thinking.”
As you think across the connected components of a system, you see interconnections that you did not even know existed. Taking time to map these interconnections is vital to create a well defined transformation context.
I stumbled upon a 1993 McKinsey article titled “Leading Organization Transformations” which offers some timeless lessons and approach on how to lead organization transformations. I particularly liked the section “Natural Laws of Organization Transformation” which provides a broad guidance on the underlying principles. I feel that these natural laws are as relevant today as it were in 1993.
The authors say,
“Effective management “conversation” about performance improvement achieved through transformational efforts reveals that the specific techniques employed matter less than does adherence to a set of underlying principles.”
If you are planning an organizational transformation or undergoing one (which is very likely), I recommend you read this classic McKinsey article.
While reading the article, I create a quick sketch note to make the sense of these principles.
Disruptive forces compel organizations to undertake large scale transformation initiatives to stay relevant. The speed of executing these transformations is as crucial as the initiatives itself and a lot is at stake. In such situations, it is easy to get carried away by the enormity of task at hand and lose the sight of what could go wrong.
If you are undergoing a large scale transformation or planning for one, I highly recommend ThoughtWorks article titled “Seven Pitfalls to Avoid During Organizational Transformation” with insights from Anupam Kundu and Tarang Baxi. This article also features my sketch note summarizing the ideas presented.
When I read this post, it instantly reminded me of a post that I wrote back in 2010 titled “Change Management Essentials – 5 Things To Avoid” where I presented common pitfalls in change management from process implementation perspective and I believe that a lot of transformation initiatives comprise of multiple and overlapping change initiatives and process overhauls. You may find it useful to revisit the article.
Please click here to read the insightful article at ThoughtWorks Insights and here is the sketch note summary which can also be found in the original article)
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