Friday, October 21, 2011


Let's say you are a manager who has worked in an organization for a number of years.  You have worked hard to create new processes and systems that assure that your division is working at top efficiency.  You have developed a policy manual, written rules, and if you happen to be in government, you have written ordinances, resolutions, and helped create laws that reflect the desires of the community.  And, today you receive an attractive offer to go to another organization.

You have enjoyed your work, put your heart and mind into the tasks of creating a great organization.  You feel invested in the success of your current employer.  But, this offer is too good to pass up.

As you pick up the phone to make the call accepting the offer you pause to think about what will happen to the people and systems you are leaving behind.  You think about your legacy.

Your thoughts may be that things will be just fine.  After all, you created the right rules, and set up the right processes.  What could possibly happen?

Six months after you leave you run into a team member from your old company.  The first thing out of her mouth is "Why did you leave?  Everything has changed.  It's not the same place without you."

This does not take you by surprise.  After all, the manager they hired to replace you changed all of the systems, rules, and processes. 

Your say, "Yes, I have heard that the systems all changed.  We had it running pretty well before I left, didn't we."

But your friend says, "It's not about systems and processes.  The new ones work as well as the old.  It's about how we work together, how we communicate, and how we feel about the organization.  It's about what is valued, and our pride in our work."

And, this is when you learn about your legacy.

All of this time you were thinking that the things you built, the words you wrote, the rules or laws you helped create, the way you made things run, was your legacy - what you were passing on to the next generation.

But, in reality, your legacy was found in the minds you touched, the values you instilled, the environment you created, and in your authenticity, your ethics, your vision, and your courage.

Systems and rules can be changed.  Structures can be torn down or sold.  Political tides can (and will) ebb and flow.  Corporate climate can change.  None of these contain your legacy.

The only thing you leave behind with any certainty is what is carried in the hearts and minds of those you have touched.

Use your time wisely, for whether it is short or long, it is not unlimited.  Give those who will carry on when you step out of the organization the gift of a legacy that will serve them well when they stand in your shoes.

Keat's Epitaph
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

For another look at the concept of legacy, you might enjoy this blog entry found on the Fast Company web site - What Is Your Leadership Legacy by Craig Chappelow

Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning Is Doing

In these tough economic times more and more workplaces, both business and government, have sharpened their pencils, gotten down to brass tacks, cut out the fat, tightened their belts, and adopted new production measures - because we all know "what gets measured gets done."  It has been very important for managers and leaders to be able to prove that each and every employee is doing what needs to be done, every minute of every day.

Top management has said that if you are not at your post, focused on your assigned task, you are not doing anything.  And, if you are not doing anything, you are wasting the company's time and money.

The concerns of management certainly can be understood.  Stockholders are unforgiving of companies that do not operate efficiently.  Citizens are unforgiving of governments that waste taxpayer dollars.  In either case, dissatisfaction with the organization's leadership can lead to changes at the top.   CEOs and politicians alike hold positions that are constantly at stake.

So it is not surprising that management's emphasis has remained on ensuring that employees are doing something that contributes to the success of the organization; doing those things that can be measured, proven, and demonstrated with hard facts.

In the face of this emphasis on facts and reality (See blog posts on The Leadership Diamond and Reality), true leaders are faced with the dilemma of finding ways to operate a profitable and efficient organization while still encouraging employee growth and learning.  These leaders understand the need to take care of today by delivering efficiency and quality, and to take care of the future by investing in the managers and leaders of tomorrow.

In a recent blog post (Learning and Teaching) the need for learning, both adaptive and generative, was discussed.  Adaptive learning is the learning that helps us survive.  Organizations, like individuals, must learn in order to compete, gain resources, and survive in a competitive climate.  Generative learning is the learning that "enhances our capacity to create" (Peter Senge).  It is this learning that lets the organization move beyond mere survival, create new and better solutions, and reach new levels of achievement. 

If an employee spends time learning, improving the chances that the organization will survive or will reach a new level, then that employee is doing something that contributes to the long-term success of the organization.

Even when the immediate results of the learning cannot be measured in profitability, number of widgets made, or popularity in the polls, learning that leads to the creation of good and competent managers, leaders who can take the organization to the next level, or creative thinkers that discover new ways of solving the problems of today is essential to the success of the organization.

If you are a leader, manager or politician, you have the opportunity to ensure that your organization is taking time to step back from the business of the day to take in the big picture (see The View From The Balcony), encouraging creativity and experimentation (see Everyday Creativity), expanding knowledge and skills (see Knowledge Skills and Talents), and improving the health of the organization.  All of these efforts will help you create a successful organization.

In successful organizations learning is doing.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Leadership In Troubled Times

When one reads the headlines of the day it is clear that we live in troubled times.  The Middle East and Africa are ablaze, pirates sail the seven seas, Central America is mired in drug wars, and here at home our national, state and local politicians struggle to balance fragile budgets teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Today, it becomes easy to believe that "desperate times call for desperate measures."  And, perhaps this is true.  The problem is that when leaders become desperate they often loose sight of what it is to be a leader, and what great leadership might look like.

Leaders are human, and subject to the same pressures that affect us all.  Public opinion is a powerful force.  It is tempting to take popular positions because by doing so leaders can feel supported, loved, and admired.  They may also believe that they have chosen a wise course of action. 

However, as the plaque posted in the Council Chamber of at least one Southern California city states:
What is right is not always popular.  What is popular is not always right.
Great leadership requires more than saying or doing things that make a large number of people happy.   Great leadership requires vision, a connection to reality, strong ethics, and sometimes, exceptional courage (Peter Koestenbaum) (One of the first blog posts in this series provides a quick overview of these attributes.)

Great leaders are those who will take the time to define "what we are trying to create as a result of our effort." (Peter Block Great leaders are those who understand that it is usually not the first answer that comes to mind that is the best answer.  Great leaders are those who will go deeper, beyond the obvious answers like "We are trying to balance our budget.", "We are against raising taxes.", "We are against cutting programs."  Great leaders are the ones who see, and can help other see, the connections between our vision for the future and our current reality, understand our ethical challenges, and expose their courage to act in a visible and transparent way.

If you are a leader, take time to reflect: 
  • What is your vision?  Does it go far enough to answer the question "what are we trying to create as a result of our efforts?" (Click here for more on the importance of vision.)
  • Are you connected to reality, and not just a point of view? (Click here... and here for more on Reality.)
  • Do you understand the ethics of the situation?  Remember, ethics is more than following the law. (Click here for more on Ethics) (Also, this article - Ethics and the Prince - may be of interest.)
  • Do you have the courage to do what is right?  What is right may actually be what is popular.  But it also may require opposing popular opinion.  Do you have the courage to act? (Click here and here for more on Courage and Free Will.)
  • Talk about each of these points with the people you trust and value.  Don't exclude those who disagree with you.  They may be the ones who can be of the most help in clarifying your thinking.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges of the world we live in is that great leaders are often not recognized until the danger has passed.  It is likely that your efforts won't be recognized until the smoke has cleared and history is being written by the survivors.

Leave your ego at the door.  Do your best.  Invite others in to help.  And, we will all get through these troubled times.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Learning and Teaching

My joy in learning is partly in that it enables me to teach.
The above quote is from Seneca the Younger, an early Roman philosopher and statesman.  Although he is thought to have made this statement during the early part of the first century AD, the sentiment expressed is as true today as it was in his time.  The real joy in learning is very often found in the use of the new knowledge, and the passing on of that knowledge to others.

The importance of learning, and the passing on of knowledge, should strike a chord with strong leaders.  As discussed in an earlier blog post (The Seeds of Change), organizations are organic in nature, which means that they are constantly growing and changing.  For the organization to be growing in the desired direction, leaders need to be sure that focused learning, and the passing on of new knowledge, is encouraged, and that both learning and teaching are highly valued attributes in the workplace.

The leader plays a special role in this process because by modeling the desired behavior (showing that the acts of learning, teaching, and applying new knowledge are valued) the organization has a greater chance of embracing a culture that values growth and change.  Learning and the application of new knowledge is in essence "change".

Peter Senge talks about two types of learning: adaptive learning, and generative learning.  Adaptive learning is the learning that helps us survive.  Organizations, like individuals, must learn in order to compete, gain resources, and survive in a competitive climate.

Generative learning is the learning that "enhances our capacity to create" (Senge).  It is this learning that lets the organization move beyond mere survival, create new and better solutions, and reach new levels of achievement. 

A leader who is both a learner and a willing and enthusiastic teacher helps to create an organizational culture that acknowledges the necessity and value of both adaptive and generative learning, and an organization that enthusiastically sees and reaches for possibilities.