Organizational Leader as a Social Architect

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:

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

In moments of uncertainty, inspiration came to me in form of a tweet with a visual that read,

“If you see shadows, it is because there is light.”

I instinctively told myself,

“If you face the light, shadows fall behind.”

The mindset of abundance asks, “What’s possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” and focuses on those possibilities because constraints are almost a given in work and life.

Only then, we can start focusing on possibilities, thinking beyond the boundaries, raising the bar, stepping into the unknown and doing what truly matters.

We try. We err. And then, we learn!


Also Read at QAspire:

Putting People First: Leading in an Era of Constant Transformation

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:

5 C’s for Great Talent

What do you look for when you look for talent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 100 Words: Finding Inspiration

We either wait for inspiration to happen to us or try finding it from somewhere (books/blogs/videos etc). I have spent countless hours trying to wait or find inspiration. It helped, but only for a short while.

A better way to create inspiration, in my experience, is to get down to doing things. Once you dedicate yourself to the cycle of doing, delivering and improving, that becomes the source of your inspiration, the one that feeds more inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

The best inspiration happens while doing the work!

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Also Read at QAspire

Making Work More Effective

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

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

More on The Neo-Generalist
Related Topics at QAspire

Nobody Rises To Low Expectations

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

Raising Expectations Doesn’t Mean Pressurizing People

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

To Believe that People Can Do Better

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

Know Where to Raise Expectations

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

Finally…

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

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

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

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Also Check Out:

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

Six Rules to Simplify Work

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

Leading and Learning: How to Feed a Community

When I started this blog in April 2006, little did I understand about how a community works. I would write posts each week only to be read by my immediate colleagues and friends. Till a point when I learned that,

“conversation and sharing is the currency of a social community”

I started following many other blogs, take the conversation forward through comments and share along good stuff. I learned the art of building a community through excellent blogs of Michael Wade, Rajesh Setty and Lisa Haneberg. Their work fueled my own journey of understanding how a social community works.

Getting into Twitter in 2009 opened up new avenues to contribute and accelerate my ability to connect with multiple like minded people through sharing and conversation. Today, I am very happy to have a personal learning network – a group of fellow learners and explorers who share as they learn and work out loud.

Lisa Haneberg, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about how to feed a community where she said,

if we want to belong to a vibrant community we have to feed it.

And then, we belong to offline communities at work and outside of work. There again, conversation, generous sharing and helping others make meaningful progress is at the heart of building a community. I learned a great deal of this by going through my mentor Rajesh Setty’s program “The Right Hustle” which he defines as:

To hustle right is to choreograph the actions of those that matter to create meaningful accomplishments in an arrangement where everybody involved finds a win.

It became quite clear to me that

learning is a social act and we learn the most when we learn together.

In the communities that we choose to belong to (online and offline), we have to do our part in feeding it. It is only when we are generous about sharing our gifts that we build credibility to receive anything meaningful in return, build influence, thought leadership and learn.

Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery and the mindset of working out loud evangelized by John Stepper are great ways to feed your community and learn.

I wrote a post earlier titled “3 C’s for Leading and Learning on Social Media” which may offer helpful ideas to feed your community. Here is a quick sketchnote of Lisa Haneberg’s ideas on how to feed a community.

Bonus

As an extension to the ideas above, here is a sketch note version of “How to Work Out Loud” which John Stepper included in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.


My Community

People who read this blog, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere is my community and I am very grateful about it. I am intentional about feeding this community by sharing my lessons, summarizing insights visually, helping others move the needle and share resources that help.

Critical Questions

What about you? What learning communities do you belong to – online and offline? How do you feed your community? Critical questions as we start a new week. Do share your insights in the comments!

Two Ways to Respond to Anxiety

The anxiety we feel when we are worried about an uncertain outcome (or guessing our failure before it happens) can be very disabling. We fight it out to an extent that the only thing we really do is defend our ground. When we are focused on defending, minimizing our exposure to anxiety, complying and cruising along the path of minimum resistance, we can hardly create anything meaningful.

Then there is another kind of anxiety that results from your eagerness to do something – to make something happen. Sure, there is a strong element of apprehension here as well which is why it is a kind of anxiety. But the focus here is to beat anxiety by raising the bar, changing the frame of reference and explore newer boundaries. 

If you are set out to do anything meaningful, anxiety is a part of the game. Embrace it and you will make it. Let it embrace you and you stall.

Fear of failure in advance is very human. It is our response that makes it a limiting force or a creative force. In fact, history tells us that no meaningful creation has ever happened without anxiety.

As Henry Ward Beecher very aptly said,

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”

So, what does this mean for leaders?

If you are a leader at any level, choosing your response to anxiety (your own or your team’s apprehensions) is so critical. Your team can only do better when they are encouraged to acknowledge the fear and look beyond it for possibilities.

Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

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

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

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

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

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

 Related Posts at QAspire

What Makes a Team Great

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire.com

Leadership: Assessing Organizational Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts/Visual Notes at QAspire.com

Organization Culture is a Reflection

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the book at: TD.org | Amazon

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Also read at QAspire.com:

Leadership and Change: Build These Three Muscles

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

Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

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.

46_cusp

5 Timeless Qualities of True Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS:

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

In the conclusion, he writes,

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

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

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

Leadership, Connection and Power of Storytelling

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:

 

Additional Resources: