Saturday, November 24, 2012

Getting Exercise Jumping To Conclusions

Quick!  Read the series of letters and numbers shown below.  Don't waste any time.  Can you read them?  (The images are on the left side of the page below the first image)

Hopefully you found that to be pretty easy.  (And, if I were better with HTML I would have figured out how to put those two images in the line of text above.  But, no matter.  I am sure you were able to do the exercise.)

I expect that you were able to read " A B C", and "1 2 1 3 1 4".  It might have been more difficult to read the series of numbers than the series of letters just because the letters were in the usual order.

But, did you notice that these two series are ambiguous?  I set you up by telling you that you had a series of letters and numbers.  Therefore, you knew what to expect.  When you saw the first series, your brain read it as ABC without any problem.  And when you encountered the second series, your brain read it as 121314, again with little or no trouble.

The ambiguity comes from the way the "B" and the "13" are written.  It could easily be read as "13" or "B".  But, you knew what to expect, so you saw what you expected to see.

If the exercise worked for you, you just experienced jumping to a conclusions, a process that happens to you many times every hour of every day.  In some cases these tiny jumps help make life easy.  They help you drive your car, use your computer, and interact with others.  In other cases, they interfere with communication, cause accidents, or make you say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Try this little exercise:
  • 2 X 2 =
  • 10 X 100 =
  • 127.39 X 4377.72 =
For most of you, the first two were easy.  No thought is required.  2 X 2 = 4.  And, 10 X 100 = 1000.  But, the last one takes a bit more work.

What you just experienced is an example of the two ways your brain works; what Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel winning economist, calls System 1 and System 2 thinking.  (I recommend Kahneman's, book Thinking, Fast And Slow to anyone interested in understanding more about why our intuition often fails us, and how to identify when we (or others) are using our intuition (System 1) or deeper cognitive (System 2) thinking.)

Right about now, you might be asking yourself "What does this have to do with running my organization better, or being a more effective leader?"

Fair question.

Regardless of industry (business or government), managers and leaders are as likely to jump to conclusions, see what they expect to see, and use intuition to solve problems as anyone else.  Years of experience can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to making the right moves in changing markets, or new political environments.

When the person in charge sees what he or she expects to see instead of what is really there, the organization is in for a rough time.  These lapses in cognition can spell the end for commercial businesses, or can cause government organizations or leaders to be out of touch with the people they exist to serve.

Do we really understand our customers, patrons, or communities?  Even if we have done surveys or polling, have we deluded ourselves into interpreting the data in a way to fits our mental model of reality?

The recent presidential election provides a perfect example of imperfect data gathering, poor interpretation of the collected data, and how armies of statisticians can see what they expected to see in the polling results.  The outcome, at least for the losing party, was not what they anticipated, to say the least.

Within your company or your community jumping to conclusions and seeing what you expect to see can be just as devastating when the conclusion is wrong.

Good managers and leaders have learned to seek out others, look for the people who have a different point of view, find those willing to say that the "emperor has no clothes", and use both System 1 and System 2 thinking in making important decisions about the direction of the organization.

This is not an abdication of authority or responsibility.  On the contrary!  Good managers and leaders are aware that they may have blind spots, and expect to have the help of others to identify and correct any shortcomings in understanding.  Once the blind spots have been checked, and the conclusions have been tested, it is time to jump.  This doesn't have to be a long, drawn out process.  Stay nimble.  Keep your advisers close.  Include others.  Listen.  Then decide.

May all your conclusions be the right ones!  

Thinking. Fast And Slow is truly a fascinating book for anyone interested in how the brain works, intuition, conclusions, how we make choices, and more.  Here -,_Fast_and_Slow - is the Wikipedia summary of Kahneman's work.

I also recommend the earlier blog post on Perception for more on how we observe and make decisions.

Also, my thanks go to Jim Boylan for his work with organizations on perception, and ambiguity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do At Least One Thing...

Your morning starts with the usual goals for the day: Get project 'A' started, move project 'B' one step down the road, call Fred about the problem that came up yesterday, and so on.  All of these are important goals; important in the sense that they directly relate to your job, and the work that you are doing.  All of these goals are essential to your success in your present position.

However, the thought may pass through your head every now and then that none of these goals relate to who you want to become, how you want to grow, where your life needs to change, or how you are preparing yourself for the future.

If you are one of the lucky people who find themselves being and doing exactly what is right for you, you can probably skip the rest of this blog post.

But, if you are like most people, you have room to grow, ways to improve, and much to accomplish before you reach nirvana.

For the majority of us there are a couple of things that, if done effectively, can create a turning point in our career, and our personal life.  These things are:
  • Learning about yourself, who you are, who you want to be, and what is necessary to move yourself to your desired future.  (Kevin Cashman's book Leadership From the Inside Out is a great friend and resource while you make that journey.)
  • Every day do at least one thing that moves you toward becoming/being who you want to be.
Simple concepts?  Yes, maybe too simple for some.  But, the execution of these steps takes some work and dedication.

The good news is that this dedication to improving, and investing in yourself pays huge dividends for the rest of your life.

You might say "That's a great idea.  I'll start tomorrow."  And, to that I would say "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays." (From The Music Man, by Meredith Wilson)

Start today.  Put on your daily planner (along with Project A and Project B) to do one thing every day that moves you toward being who you want to be.  Take the first step.

The first step for many will be to begin to get clear on exactly who you want to be, and what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Some of you will be able to work this out for yourselves by devoting a little quality time to thinking over the question, either alone or with family or friends.  Others may want to consider getting a little help from a coach or mentor who can ask some meaningful questions.  Either way, get started! (See the footnote above regarding Leadership From the Inside Out)

Then, every day take one action, devote time to one thought, have one conversation, introduce yourself to one person who can help, read one article, tell one other person what you are doing, or focus a few minutes on your future. 

Your journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step.

Before you realize what has happened, you will find that your feet are on a slightly different path; one that leads to a better destination. 

Good luck on your journey.


For those who might be interested in a little reading on this subject, you might find David Whyte's book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity very interesting.  Whyte describes his journey from his job as a marine biologist to his dream of becoming a poet in a way that will give heart to all who have a passion for making both life and work meaningful.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reputation vs. What have you done for me lately?

I recently read an article in INC. Magazine titled 9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People, by Jeff Haden, and was struck by several of his key points.

In the article, which is well worth your reading, he points out a number of beliefs that will certainly set your ego-based brain thinking.  A little reflection on each point would be a valuable exercise because you might discover something about yourself that you either like and need to emphasize, or don't like and need to change.

One belief that struck me as particularly important is:
I have never paid my dues.
Dues aren't paid, past tense. Dues get paid, each and every day. The only real measure of your value is the tangible contribution you make on a daily basis.
No matter what you've done or accomplished in the past, you're never too good to roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and do the grunt work.  No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.
Remarkably successful people never feel entitled--except to the fruits of their labor.
We have all heard people say "I've paid my dues."  What this really means is that I have done a job that I didn't enjoy, or that I now see as below me, and because of my past work I no longer have to do that task.  The job should now be done by someone else.  When I say "I've paid my dues," I also mean that others, perhaps our boss or coworkers, should recognize my past contribution, my "history" in the organization, and give me credit for what I've done.  It's time for someone else to have their turn in the barrel.

The problem is, as Haden points out, history rarely counts.

Don't get me wrong.  Your history is incredibly important in creating your reputation.  Your reputation is the mental picture others carry of you filed away in their heads waiting for just the right moment to bring your name to mind.  It's your reputation that opens doors of opportunity.  It's your reputation that gives people a positive or negative feeling about your skills, knowledge, and abilities.

But, it's what you have done lately that maintains that reputation.  You can have a long history of contributing to the company or organization, but if you are seen as no longer contributing, your prior reputation isn't going to help. 

If your goal is to be noticed, or to be seen as an asset to the organization, it is both the history of outstanding performance, and the current reality of continuing performance at an exceptional level that combine to unlock opportunity.

None of this is to suggest that you have to do every job in the office.  Certainly not!  That's why there are many people in your organization.  It takes lots of people, doing their jobs, to get things done.  (For a little mind-twist on a related subject see the prior blog post 100% Responsibility.)

But, it is important to understand that when someone needs some help, or the work piles up and the whole system starts to grind to a halt, you are not exempt from pitching in, even if the job is menial, dirty, or boring. 

In the end, no, you haven't paid your dues.  But, you certainly have created a reputation.  I hope it's a good one.


PS:  It is probably important to note that there is a difference between your reputation and your character.  For most of us the two are parallel.  But, it is very possible to have a tarnished reputation while retaining an exceptional character.  
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.                   Abraham Lincoln

This possible polarity might be a good topic for a future blog post.

Also, you might find the prior blog post Changing Minds - The Importance of Character interesting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Motivation, Rewards, and Leadership

The good news is that the world really is all about you.  
Therefore, the world is what you make it


Here are a few thoughts-for-the-day with which you may, or may not, agree.  Regardless of how you feel, I hope you find a moment to stop and think about your beliefs and the basis upon which those beliefs have been built.

1.  Employees do not need to be motivated - In organizational life managers are often charged with the productivity and well being of the staff.  It is management's job to make sure the staff is focusing on the task at hand, and that everyone is sufficiently motivated.

But, is it really management's job to motivate you?  Is the manager the one responsible for each person's motivation?

If we assume that it is management's job to motivate us, we assume that we are not inherently motivated.  The cause of motivation is outside of us - a gift to be received from someone else.  If we don't receive the gift every day, we will not feel motivated.  This belief places the responsibility for the level of motivation squarely on management's shoulders, giving us someone to blame when motivation falls below required levels.

I suggest that this model is flawed.

Yes, management has a role to play in creating an environment that does not squash motivation like an unwelcome bug.  "It is right and human for managers to care about the motivation and morale of their people, it's just that they are not the cause of it." (Koestenbaum and Block - Freedom and Accountability At Work)

We are also responsible for our own morale.  If we come to work depressed, it is not only management's responsibility to pull us out of our depression.  If we feel unmotivated by our work, it is not only management's job to detect our lack of motivation and give us a rousing pep talk.  We are all responsible for our own morale and motivation.

We have freedom; we have a choice.

(See: Motivation, Vision and Motivation in this blog)

2.  Rewards do not explain and drive behavior -  The holy grail of compensation has long been "What gets rewarded gets done."  If you want something done, put a reward on the result.  If you want to encourage a certain behavior, put a reward on it.  The reverse has also been true - if you want to discourage a behavior or result, take away a reward (usually money) every time it happens.

Yes, compensation systems are important.  Yes, compensation systems are often designed based on a desire to encourage certain behaviors.  No, compensation systems are not successful in creating long-term motivation, and achieving desired results.  Short-term results, maybe.  But, long-term results, no.

By focusing on money, organizations have found a simple and quick way to push individual performance to great heights for short periods of time.  However, it is often easy for self-serving employees to take advantage of these money-based incentives, increasing their compensation at the expense of the organization's long term health.

For the long-term it's not what gets rewarded that gets done.  It's what is rewarding gets done. (Katzenbach - Why Pride Matters More Than Money)

As an alternative, treat employees as you would anyone who is actively contributing to the wealth of the organization.  They are the ones who are creating the products and services that make the organization successful.  Compensation is important, but not because it will change behavior.

(See: Money and Motivation in this blog)

3. Leadership is abundant, not rare - Many organizations are leader-focused.  The person at the top of the hierarchy is the fearless leader, and those in the rest of the organization are the followers.  Leadership is reserved for those with titles and offices, for those who attend the board or leadership team meetings.  Employees are trained to do their jobs, or put through employee development programs to help them become better employees, supervisors, and managers, but they are not considered leaders.

Yes, it is very important for the top leaders to offer a clear vision, set the tone for the corporate ethics and values, keep the organizational culture connected to the realities of the market, and to display the courage to take action.  This is a seat of great power that comes with great responsibilities.  It is important that these top leaders use their power with care and grace, for they are creating a tone that will color the behavior of others.

But these leadership behaviors are not reserved to only the nose-bleed seats.

Organizations will find that, given the opportunity to take on the challenge, leaders exist at all levels.  What is required is for managers and supervisors to create the space for others to take action.  

No, not everyone wants to be a leader.  

But, people rise to a challenge.  If you want to encourage leaders at all levels, you need to start by making room in your organization for people of good character to understand the vision and share it with others, express their ethics and values, touch the realities that define their market, and both see the courage of the leaders at the top, and show their own courage by making choices and taking risks.  

(See: A Leader's Power, Ownership, 100% Responsibility, Changing Minds - The Importance Of Character in this blog)


Thanks for taking the time to read through this blog entry.  Hope it sparked some thoughts or feelings about leadership. 

If you are interested in more thought provoking reading, the preceding is largely based on the work of Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block in Freedom and Accountability At Work.

My thanks go to Dr. Koestenbaum for his long dedication to improving both government and business organizations.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Steering By The Rear View Mirror

As corporate and government leaders we depend on data and historical trends to make sense of today's economy.  We look at quarterly performance, study charts of changing sales numbers, analyze trends in housing prices, and examine the number of new jobs created last month.  Unfortunately, much of the data has been disappointing, or worse, very negative.  Then, using this historical data, we make policies that take us into the future.

All of these are valid sources of information.  These indicators, and many more, have lead to a general agreement that the depth and breadth of the recent recession has had a devastating effect on both business and government.  Unemployment has been at unprecedented levels.  In addition, the world economy has been tested almost to the breaking point several times.

Working on the assumption that this is all true, then it stands to reason that caution should be the word of the day for organizations that want to survive.  Our tendency has been to cut back, lower costs, reduce services, hunker down and weather the storm.  It comes as no surprise that this is what the majority of our leaders have advised for several years.

This advice may have been very appropriate for the time.  After all, who could argue with recent history?  It is natural for us to set our course based on past experiences.  It is natural for us to make forecasts based on historical data.  It is natural for us to be cautious.

However, the one thing we can count on in life is change.  When things change, whether that change is rapid or gradual, an organization needs to be able to react by adjusting its course to match the new conditions.  There comes a time when leaders, boards of directors, or others charged with steering the corporate ship must take their eyes away from the rear view mirror and focus on the road ahead. 

Here's the challenge: History, and our natural caution, would tell us to hold to our conservative course until things have turned around.  In other words, we should hold on until we see recovery in our rear view mirror.  It's a bit like riding a roller-coaster sitting backwards.  But, if we prepare ourselves for what has passed, that last dip or rise, we will not be ready for what is coming.

Our program cuts and reductions in products and services have prepared us to survive the past, but are we prepared for the future?

Have our cuts placed us in a position where we cannot respond to the future opportunities and demands?  Are we put in a position where we need to gain back customers, or the trust and confidence of the communities we serve?

Today, we find ourselves, in both business and government, in a position where our roller-coaster ride is beginning to move upward.  But, how many organizations are prepared to take on the demands of a improving economy?  Do we have a game plan for recovery?

For businesses, now would be a very good time to know what needs to be done to win back customers that left because of reduced service, responsiveness, or lack of innovative products.

For government, now would be a very good time to know what long-term effects past decisions to defer maintenance will have on the long-term integrity of infrastructure, and how service reductions will change the quality of life in our community.

It takes courage to buck the popular trend.  (See the "Great Leadership In Troubled Times" post in this blog)  A leader who begins talking about recovery when "everyone knows things are bad' may have trouble selling the message that we need to recreate our organization to deal with a growing economy.  But today, the organizations that are ready to move to the next level of success are the ones that will ride the proverbial roller-coaster without suffering a bad case of whiplash.

Yes, things have been difficult.  But, we cannot let that historical fact turn us into a deer in the headlights of a recovering economy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still maintain the ability to function." (As quoted by Marcus Buckingham in First Break All The Rules.)  I would modify this slightly for this discussion by suggesting that the test of a first rate leader is the ability to hold two opposing models of success in the mind at the same time, and retain the ability to move forward.

As much as we would like for life to be full of quick and perfect answers, the truth is that life is messy and full of shades of gray. (See the Polarities post in this blog)  Business is not simply good or bad.  In these interesting times we need to be prepared for both good and bad.  The economy is not simply good or bad.  Today it is a complex mix of both good and bad. 

The natural tendency is for the people in our organizations, both leaders and staff alike, to demand certainty.  They want black or white answers to every question.  But, the organizations that succeed in this economy will be those that can embrace uncertainty, and navigate these hazy, uncharted waters.

This is an interesting time for people within organizations at all levels.  This is a time when everyone needs to learn from the past, but look to the future.  If we insist on steering by the rear view mirror, we will all crash and burn.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Have A Nice Conflict

You are running a little late, and show up to the early morning project team meeting a few minutes after it started.  But already things have taken their usual course.  Tom is raising his voice and pressing for action on his latest proposal, Helen is telling Tom that he doesn't have enough information to move forward - more data is required.  Joe is leaning back in his chair looking uncomfortable, wishing the problem would just go away.  All three faces turn to you, the team leader, as you walk into the room.  Once again, your team is in conflict, and the day is just beginning.  Everything is normal.

Conflict is part of our daily lives.  Families experience conflict. Business and government organizations live in a sea of conflict.  International relations are fraught with conflict.  The news is filled with conflict.

The question that comes to mind is: if conflict is so prevalent in our lives, why aren't we better at dealing with it?  Perhaps one answer is that we are never given the proper tools.  As we grow up we learn how to get along, or how to take control of a situation.  We learn how to press our point, or to compete.  But, we may never be taught how to:
  • Anticipate conflict
  • Prevent conflict
  • Identify conflict
  • Manage conflict
  • Resolve conflict
The time has come to change all of that.  Being a better leader or manager, or just being a better person, starts with self awareness and self management.  These competencies are rooted in self knowledge - knowing yourself, what motivates you, what you value, and how you translate those motivations and values into behaviors.  As you extend your knowledge beyond yourself, you gain an understanding of others, and how their motivations and values drive their behaviors.  You also begin to gain an understanding of what causes conflict.  (See the footnote below for information on tools to help you gain deeper self and social awareness)
 [C]onflict [is] the feeling that occurs when another person or set of circumstances becomes an obstacle that inhibits one's ability to live out their motivational values.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p 95)  People go into conflict about things that are important to them - values that are tied to their sense of self-worth.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 130) 
If you want to deal with conflict, your challenge is to learn how to identify motivations and values in yourself and others, and how to communicate with the people involved in a conflict.  Then, the key is to use that knowledge to build a path back to self-worth for all parties. Luckily, you are not alone.  Help is on the way.

Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson, and Kent Mitchell have recently published a book titled Have a Nice Conflict that will, in a few hours, give you valuable insights into how to translate your self and social awareness into actions, behaviors, and language that will help you anticipate, prevent, identify, manage, and resolve conflict.  Their book is based on work done by Elias H. Porter, as well as decades of study, and experience using the Strengths Deployment Inventory, or SDI.

One of the things that Scudder, Patterson and Mitchell points out is that behavior in conflict follows patterns.  Although it is true that human beings are not 100% predictable, it is interesting to note that certain discernible patterns of behavior do exist.  Knowing that patterns exist, and having some tools to help you identify the patterns when you see them, gives you a huge head start on managing conflicts.

The authors have created a fable, or parable, that lets you follow the journey of "John" as he learns about these patterns of behavior within himself and those around him, both when things are going well, and when things go into conflict. 

As Have A Nice Conflict points out, one of the biggest challenges is to learn how to manage a conflict when you are already firmly entrenched in it. If we enter into conflict at a purely reactionary level, if we just follow our emotions, we tend to let the conflict manage us rather than managing the conflict.  But by managing ourselves, and learning how to communicate with each of the individuals involved in the conflict, we can be more effective when we find ourselves in the fray.  Also, conflicts become shorter, and are often avoided.
A well-chosen behavior on your part can prevent conflict with another person. But you need to prevent conflict in yourself... too.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 142)  Managing conflict is about creating the conditions that empower others to manage themselves out of their emotional state of conflict.  It's also about managing yourself out.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 162)
We all need to follow the advice of every airline flight attendant: place your own oxygen mask on first, then help the person next to you with theirs.  You need to gain control of yourself before you can be any help to the other parties to a conflict.  (See the earlier blog post The View From The Balcony)

Preventing conflict within yourself, and creating conditions that allow others to manage themselves requires conscious thought.  Conscious thought is much easier when you know what to listen for, what to look for, and how to respond to people who hold differing motivational values.

Have a Nice Conflict gives you some interesting insight into language and behaviors that you can use when you find yourself in a conflict with another person.  And, it shows you how to modify your language to fit the person, or people, in the conflict.

The first and best thing you can do is to dedicate some time to learning about yourself.  The footnote below gives links to some very valuable tools for gaining an understanding of what it means to be you.  Every tool has its supporters and critics.  There is no "single best tool".

Take a look at Have a Nice Conflict.  I think it will be well worth your time.  You will come away with some interesting insights into the people you live and work with.  You may also learn a thing or two about yourself in the process.



There are many tools that help you learn about yourself: Myers Briggs, Thomas Kllman, DiSC for example.  But the best tool I have found to increase both your self awareness, and your social awareness is the Strengths Deployment Inventory, or SDI.  The SDI is the one instrument that I have found that takes on the question of how to deal effectively with conflict.

I have a personal bias toward the SDI instrument, and have used it successfully both as a tool for gaining self-knowledge, and for creating a team environment of mutual understanding, better working relationships, and reducing conflicts.  Have a Nice Conflict and the SID go hand in hand with developing your self and social awareness.  The SDI will give you insight into why you and others behave in certain ways.  It creates a bond between team members, and establishes a common language about behavior that can be used within the team when things get a little tense.

The DiSC Instrument is also a great team-based tool for looking at styles and behaviors.  In my experience, the DiSC has been useful for helping teams identify attributes of the team members.  It becomes more powerful when used with the SDI to help the team members understand what to do when those attributes, or behaviors get in the way.

The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument is great for helping you think through critical situations where conflict might exist, and selecting a behavior or strategy that may be appropriate.

And, finally, the Myers Briggs instrument is always a great tool for improving your self-knowledge.

Each of these tools should be done with the assistance of a coach. (See the previous blog entry Every Leader Needs A Coach)  To gain the full understanding of what the tools have to say, having a few hours with a qualified coach will be most valuable.

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.