Leaders Who Create the Future

At the heart of great leadership is the ability to critically assess current state, envision the future state and take actions to bridge the gap. Execution is effectively governed by learning and adapting the approaches along the way.

The fall of Nokia is a classic example of what happens when leaders cling to ideas that worked for them in the past without recognizing (or creating) the demands of the future.

According to Bill Taylor at Harvard Business Review, there are four kinds of leaders who create the future. The post emphasizes on a leader’s ability to learn constantly, willingness to disrupt the self when required, optimism about the future and the spirit of experimentation (and comfort with ambiguity and failures) to find new ideas that work.

Please read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of the post.

P.S.

Last weekend, I bought a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil to explore digital ways of creating sketch notes. Like a kid who gets excited about her new toy, I got excited too. Spent some time over the weekend to get comfortable with Apple Pencil, get ideas about possible uses, explore different tools and finally, I zeroed in on Procreate as the tool of my choice. The result of this hustle is this first sketch note that I created digitally. As much as I love my old fashioned approach of paper and pen, I am excited about new possibilities that this digital tools bring on the table. More than anything else, I am excited about new learning that keeps me going.

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

Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

I recently read this amazing quote from Robert A Heinlein which nicely captures the essence of my own belief about learning and specialization.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects.”

Let me share a story of my friend who was laid off in the 2002 dot com bust. He worked on a technology that was on its way to obscurity. After he was asked to leave, my friend walks up to his boss and talks about what organization needed then. Boss talked about a customer who wanted people who could work on a shiny new programming language. My friend took up the challenge to retool himself on this new technology in one month with a condition that if he failed at client interview, he will walk out voluntarily.

He worked very hard to learn the new language. Before he completed one month of his notice period, he not only cleared the interview with a customer but also landed on foreign shores for an onsite opportunity.

From a layoff situation to an exciting new possibility in a very tough economic environment is a truly inspiring story of our ability to reinvent ourselves.

We live in times when change is not only constant but unnervingly rapid and our ability to learn constantly is the single biggest differentiator. My friend demonstrated learning agility as a response to a tough situation. But we, in this hyper-connected world, don’t need to wait for any rude shocks. We have glorious opportunity because knowledge is democratized and ubiquitous. Connecting meaningfully with others has never been so easy, provided we are intentional about it.

Specialization is not a destination but a journey. Of constant learning. Of applying our lessons in unique business contexts. Of evolving our comprehension and connecting the dots. Of sharing our lessons generously. Of doing something about what we know. Of picking up new skills. Of adopting and adapting.  Of staying hungry and foolish forever.

I have seen so many specialists who cannot let go of what they know already. When fixed knowledge is the only hammer you have, every problem you encounter will start looking like a nail.

The key is to NOT let that happen!

Building an Adaptable Team: 6 Ideas

Ability to deal with rapid changes and uncertainties on the field is as critical a skill for organizations/teams as it is for the military troops. In military operations, lack of agility can have more serious and rapid consequences. In case of teams, individuals and organizations, the consequences may not be visible in a short term, but they eventually surface.

Organizations and teams that can adapt quickly not only just survive, but also uncover hidden opportunities. If you are a business owner, leader or an improvement manager, here are 6 essential strategies to build a team capabilities that help them remain agile and adaptable:

  1. Focus on the ‘customer’ and ‘value’: As a leader, your first job is to ensure that your team members understand your business, how it adds value to the customer and what differentiates the organization. Most of the processes should be modeled around the meeting the needs of customers and elevating your capacity to deliver the products/services. When you are ‘ears-open’ about customer’s unique needs and context, your team automatically responds accordingly. Once your team knows how to meet the expectations, they can then focus on adding value.
  2. See ‘Systems”: If your team understands your business broadly, it is also important for them to understand the elements of work, how they are inter-connected and what are the systemic implications of not doing something well.
  3. Balance “Structure” and “Chaos”: Companies that build repeatability of their success through hard wired processes and structure find it difficult to change directions when the external situation (economy/demand-supply etc.) changes. On the other extreme, companies that only thrive on chaos will not be able to scale up their operations. It is difficult to strike balance, but important as well.
  4. Strive to be ‘Lean’: Activities that do not any direct value to customer, or do not increase your capacity to deliver should be assessed very critically. Every unnecessary or redundant process step is a cost, that needs to be cut. “Improvement” does not only mean addition, but most significant improvements focus on elimination and simplification.
  5. Iterate: All big programs in your team/organization should be divided into smaller chunks and should be delivered iteratively. The idea is to collect feedback as early as possible. Lean start ups who build product first build the “minimum viable product (MVP)” and ship it to get feedback from the users. They do re-planning and incrementally develop the product, so as to incorporate changes effectively into their product.
  6. Collaborate: If your team knows how to pick clues by collaboration with industry experts, customers, end users and business and then act upon it, your organization/team will be able to closely understand the trends, foresee the changes and respond accordingly.

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Join in the conversation: Have you been a part of an “adaptable team”? How did you ensure that your team effectively responded to changes? How did it go?

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Update: Last Saturday (19-Nov-2011), I delivered a talk at “Sandhan” – a virtual classroom that is connected to over 900 colleges of Gujarat via VSAT. The topic was “Career A-Z: Essential Strategies For Building Expertise and Succeeding” where I laid out 26 ideas to build a career in knowledge oriented world. The talk received a very good feedback. Video/presentation will be posted soon.