Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vision and Motivation

There are probably hundreds of authors who have talked about the importance of vision in leadership. Vision is, without a doubt, one of the essential elements that goes into separating the average top manager from the successful leader.

Here are a few examples of what some of the thought-leaders of our day have had to say about the importance of leadership in our organizations:
  • The Leadership Diamond, developed by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum, incorporates vision as one of the four foundational components of leadership.
  • Kouzes and Posner's book, The Leadership Challenge, lists "inspiring a shared vision" as one of five essential steps to being a successful leader.
  • Kevin Cashman shows that before you can help others reach their potential, you must define yourself, and get clear on your vision. In his view, vision forms the cornerstone of personal success and fulfillment.
  • Daniel Goleman, and his co-authors of Primal Leadership, define six leadership styles, with visionary leadership being at the top of the list.
In every case, the wizards of leadership thought agree that to be motivated and successful an organization must have a clear and compelling vision of what it is they are trying to create as a result of their effort.

The relationship between having a clear vision and a motivated workforce is illustrated by the often retold story (perhaps apocryphal) about the architect Christopher Wren. Wren lived in London in the mid 1600s, and was known as an accomplished architect who's designs included the Royal Observatory, Trinity College at Cambridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral.

As the story goes, St. Paul's Cathedral, as well as the majority of London, burned to the ground in the great fire of 1666. During the rebuilding of the cathedral, Wren was visiting the construction site, watching his design take shape, when he noticed two workers laboring side by side laying bricks in one of the outer walls of the new cathedral. One of the workers seemed dull and slow, and clearly not engaged in his work. The other was laboring hard, with enthusiasm, doing fine work at an impressive pace.

Wren approached the first bricklayer and asked him what he was doing. The bricklayer replied, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying bricks." Wren then went to the second bricklayer and asked the same question, "What are you doing?" The second bricklayer looked up and greeted Wren with a smile and a nod, and replied "I am building a beautiful cathedral, sir."

The difference between these two workers was that one saw only meaningless labor, while the other had a vision of what he was trying to create as a result of his effort.

Koestenbaum describes vision as the crowning achievement of human evolution. Vision is the means by which we see the future. German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said "The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens." Koestenbaum adds, "It is not just the future that transforms itself. It is the future in us that transforms us now so that the future itself can happen to us." (P. 277-278, The Philosophic Consultant).

Kouzes and Posner define vision as "... an ideal and unique image of the future." (P. 95, The Leadership Challenge) This image of the future is not limited to improving on what exists. It can be a leap from "what is" to "what can be" without any knowledge of how to get from where we are to where we are going.

Peter Block, in his book The Answer to How is Yes, would agree that knowing how to move from today into the future is not a requirement. What is required is a commitment to the future, and the "how" will become evident.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Cashman's Leadership from the Inside Out shows how important it is to align actions and persona with the deeply seated values that drive the individual. When an individual's values are aligned with the organization's values and vision, there can be a partnership that leads to success for both. When there is alignment, the individuals within the organization are like the second bricklayer in the Christopher Wren story.

And finally, in Goleman's Primal Leadership, visionary leadership is one of six essential leadership styles. Visionary leadership helps "...people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but why." (P. 57, Primal Leadership)

There is agreement among the great thinkers of the leadership world on the subject of vision. It is a magnet into the future; it inspires personal commitment; it is essential to moving forward together. And, when it is missing, organizations wander in the wilderness.

If you see yourself as a leader, you need to ask yourself if you have inspired a shared vision within your organization. You may be amazed at the answers you find, and the possibilities that present themselves when the answer is Yes.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dealing with Resistance

In the last blog entry we took a very quick look at some of the forms of resistance that you might encounter as you embark on a change effort. This topic seems to hit home with many of you, and has raised the natural question of how to deal with resistance when it is encountered in its various forms. Therefore, this blog entry contains a few thoughts about what to do when you find yourself face to face with resistance.

Peter Block says that “there is no way you can talk {someone} out of their resistance because resistance is an emotional process. You cannot talk people out of how they are feeling.” He goes on to say that “the basic strategy is to help the resistance blow itself out, like a storm.” (Flawless Consulting, P. 161)

Block suggests that there are three steps to dealing with resistance:
  • Identify in your own mind the form of the resistance (see the description of the types of resistance in the previous blog entry.)
  • Name the resistance – use neutral language to describe the form that the resistance is taking.
  • Be quiet – let the person respond to your statement about the resistance. Don’t keep talking. Live with the silence and tension.

Use open ended questions or statements, instead of questions or statements that can be replied to with yes or no answers.

If you encounter a situation where the person or group you are working with is avoiding responsibility for the problem or solution, you might say "You don't see yourself as part of the problem." Then, be quiet, and listen.

If you are working with someone who is giving you very little, and one word answers, you might say "You are giving me very short answers. Could you say more?

If you are working with someone who is silent, you might say "You are very quiet. I don't know how to read your silence."

You are probably beginning to get the idea. Your statement begins with a description of the behavior (You are very quiet.) which is followed by a question or statement about what is needed (can you say more?) or how this affects the work you are trying to do (I don't know how to read your silence.).

(Flawless Consulting, P. 163-166)

This process of identifying, naming and being quiet provides a mechanism for getting the resistance out on the table so it can be addressed.

It might also be helpful to think about resistance in terms of the Leadership Diamond model that has been covered a number of times in this blog. This model is based on the importance of vision, ethics, reality and courage. Peter Koestenbaum writes that resistance to vision is blindness. Resistance to reality is denial. Resistance to ethics is indifference. Resistance to courage is fear. (Leadership – The Inner Side of Greatness – P. 29)

Being aware of these concepts may help you identify the form of resistance that you are encountering. For example, someone who is constantly asking for more and more detail may be expressing a lack of confidence, or their fear. Your statement to this person might be "Your need for lots of detail tells me that you are uncomfortable with this project (or change effort). Tell me what is making you uncomfortable." Or more directly, "What are your fears?"

And finally, as you work with change efforts it is helpful to keep in mind the fact that organizations are not mechanical devices that can be changed by removing one part and replacing it with another. Change is an organic process. It starts small with seeds of ideas, a few people with a new vision, or a spark of brilliance, and grows over time into something that will change the organization forever. Resistance to the growth of new ideas, processes, and structures is normal even in nature. But, just as in nature, growth is difficult to stop. Leaders who are unafraid to identify and name resistance can clear the path for healthy growth that will bear the fruits of success.

(See the April 1999 FastCompany Magazine for an article by Peter Senge on this subject.)