Advocating: a leaders muscle


It is an important challenge to address, and I’ve learned the hard way, that the most powerful advocate for the team is the Leader; the most likely to be out of touch with the will of the group is also me, the Leader.

My enemy is my growing emotional intelligence, which will lull me into believing I am super connected to the zeitgeist when more likely I am growing more influential and powerful which means there is no question that many are beginning to tell me exactly what they think I want to hear. The Emperor is beginning to have New Clothes!

If you take the study of leaders and leadership seriously (highly likely if you are reading this!) are beginning to learn that your experience and growth in part depend on an instinctive intuition, your growing inner compass helping you be more and more effective as a leader – but my experience is that it is exactly this that starts you on a fork from what is really going on in the team.

  • As a wiser soul you spot this and embark on a tactical set of methods to keep your connections
  • Informal chats with co-workers at ‘off duty’ numeral ground, the coffee pot, the corridor, the lunch queue
  • skip level one to ones
  • Listening tours
  • Office hours
  • Employee polls
  • Formal feedback tools

But it is all a waste of time if you have already decided, are not actually listening or even if you are listening slip into post rationalization as a method for proving your intuition was right all along.

It is important to know what is on the mind of the group and not because you should parrot it. That lacks authenticity and I am not a fan of the concept of ‘servant leader’ (not because I am not a fan of the excellent and nurturing shepherd) but because I believe leadership is more than administration, requires risk and inspiration, creativity and failure making the shepherd role necessary but not sufficient for great leaders. It is important because of the critical role of advocate. To trust and to follow you your constituents need to know you will advocate for them with fairness, equity and consistency. How can you do that if you don’t know what matters?

As well as not parroting, you are not seeking popularity – if you learn what the group believes and you know it to be wrong, mistaken, misguided still you must stand against it, offer another way while giving the belief validation and representation anyway.

To hear and not listen is about as stupid as a leader can be. Exercise your advocates muscle every day. Go! Start now..

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What does ‘Trust’ mean?


Within the context of Leadership – trust means your actions are:

Predictable, dependable, & repeatable

Copyright (c) 2011 James Stanbridge Picture of Trust

A Picture of Trust

As I look back on my own career, the consistent complaint is that I “randomize” the team – what they are telling me here is that I am “unpredictable” and no matter how hard I try (and I do) to tell myself that constant unpredictability is really predictable, this has been a struggle and a challenge for me personally and one that I pay a lot of attention to. What works for me is to try to connect through my communications a predictable cluster of goals and methods. Caring about the same things week in week out.

If in January I stated the goal to be raising by 20pts service quality for the consumer – in March, July and September this must be my headline too. And I need to be authentic to sustain this effort. Picking service quality for the consumer would have been totally fake if it did not make my blood boil and rage when I see it drop or ignored.

There is a lot in common here with the themes on focus vs priority – and in parables of great leadership and that is: members of your constituency, your followers must be able to predict accurately your stance. You can’t hope to be everywhere and in every meeting – so you should expect and create opportunities for your leadership to become a thing others can put in their pocket and pull out when they need it – “Stanbridge would say… ” or “I was chatting to Stanbridge about blah and he believes…” . Do watch out for your own ego here – there is a real trap you get far to impressed with yourself here and I’ll write a post about how you need your circle of influence to help you ‘keep it real’

Dependable is a nuance of trust that is deeply important to you followers – when they see a broad email thread for example, they must be able to depend on you paying attention, diverting, burying or what ever action they depend on you to take. In order to achieve this you must regularly talk about what matters to you and as importantly – what does not. For example – I don’t chose to spend all day reading and replying to email, so I have to chose large swathes of email not to read or pay attention to. Most of my team know not to cc me on email if they want it acted on. Either you are having a dialogue with me or you are not.

Fanatics make surprisingly good leaders (well, not so surprising if you apply what I said above)

fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. Churchill

It is a good test to ask yourself

Do my team think I am a

  1. Good Leader?
  2. FANATICAL Leader?

if the answer is 2) then you will be able to spot that you are inspiring Missionaries and not Mercenaries (thanks to Martin Walker for that quote!)

I’m suggesting here that you can’t invest heavily enough in developing your authentic, led from within leadership. Go! start now

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Osama, Obama, The USA and a parable of leadership


THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

Everything I’ve written here on this blog is encapsulated in the news we heard over this past weekend – and the intent of this post is to draw on the parallels, the parables of what we as leaders can learn from this historic moment.

First – I want to set the context as the key imperatives of Leadership from a followership perspective – a leader MUST establish:

  1. Who is in charge
  2. What are the rules
  3. The rules will be applied fairly and consistently

1) The US, and latterly President Obama took the moral high ground for themselves in declaring a philosophical constant that they were taking a stand against terrorism and the killing of innocents

We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies

2) The rules were pretty clear – if you declare war on the US and the philosophy and moral position of the US you become the target. al Qaeda and it’s leadership wherever in the World they may be became the target and the defeat of al Qaeda is the declared aim and no expense will be spared to achieve it. That’s a huge and serious commitment, as the President acknowledges

After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

3) The rules can be observed to be consistently and fairly applied – Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, are all removed from action based on their breaking the rules of being committed to the demise of the USA and it’s philosophy. Note that ‘fairly applied’ is relative to the application and contributes to the consistency and is not necessarily and observation of the fairness per se of the rule! Action along this lines against Muammar Gaddafi is fair and consistent against the rules – there is correspondingly less consistent attention being paid to other despots and war mongers which detracts from the overall execution against principal 3) – but this makes my case.

The greatest risks of leadership are also present and demonstrated

  1. no matter, your message will be misunderstood and misrepresented by cynics to manipulate the majority of the “uncommitted”
  2. what you want, always costs more than you are prepared to pay
  3. You can’t ask for patience and someone’s vote

1) no matter what you do, your message will be misunderstood and misrepresented by cynics to manipulate the majority of the “uncommitted”. The War on Terror is pervasively represented as a war on Islam – no matter the lengths that are gone to to counter this – it is still the common perception. Note the hostility and genuine anger to a Mosque at ground zero as evidence that it is close to impossible for many good people to tease apart the two.

2) What you want always costs more than you are prepared to pay – evidenced in the loss of life to date of course, but striking to me is the executive decision to kill bin Laden rather than take him alive. Many would argue that the better Public Relations course of action would be to have taken him alive – but a decision was taken that will sit on that leaders conscience to take a choice of action. You may not see it coming, but I can assure you a relatively tough choice will face you as you execute your vision.

3) It took 10 years, and two US Presidents to see this through – the eventual defeat of al Qaeda may take a generation yet and the overall struggle could be seen in biblical timescales. Doing what is right won’t win as many votes as doing what is right now – never mind.

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how people and leaders embrace corporate change (or not)


change = opportunity; If you are not willing to fail, you won’t get very far.

All very easy to say but so much harder to do. I like to differentiate my blog as practical tools and coaching for leadership, so here are some thoughts on how people deal with change.

In my experience there is a 3 stage process that folks typically go through
1) can I simply ignore this?
2) who won, who lost?
3) what now (for me)?

1) in figuring out if this is something that can safely be ignored, the organization is viewed in hierarchy terms – did we shift the chairs on the deck of the Titanic? Are we addressing something fundamental and acknowledging a revolutionary change in direction? are we dressing up ‘status quo’ as change? At it’s most basic “so what?” needs an authentically compelling answer.

As leaders driving change – answer these questions with integrity, and perhaps revise your change plans accordingly! the default for all our staff is to find a way to safely ignore the change. Just because you sent email, held all-hands etc. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you have communicated change – you merely broadcast it.

2) Who won? Who lost? I’ll leave it to qualified analysts to explain the Psychology but I know for sure this is the most vigorously debated around the water cooler and between the thought leaders in your teams. Don’t shy from this fact. Folks make accurate judgements about leaders who pretend a loser won. Thank someone for their hard work, dedication etc if that is true – but anything more is nauseating and will mark you down from potential followers perspective.

Mine for opinion here, you might find an opportunity to correct miss-perceptions or amplify correct assumptions. The bottom line here is that the decisions the organization makes are a clear indication of prevailing culture and intent. For better or worse, pay attention to that fact.

We are often too squeamish to call out the winners – yet, our tribes like to be on the winning side – I mean, who doesn’t? so set up your new leads or strategy guardians for immediate success by identifying their wins and successes in recent work and influence. Help establish their constituency.

3) What now? Critical question, but be prepared to answer “what’s in it for me?” at a micro level. Yes, as a leader you need to be able to talk at a macro level, say “share holder value” for example, but truly great leaders will personalise the message so that every single individual feels like they are on the vital mission of the corporation. Impossible to over invest in the importance of this last piece and it takes a lot of energy from the teams managing the change – but, if you can tell the story of “what’s in it for me?” at the most atomic – your changes will be compelling and sticky.

When you fail to properly tackle any of the above you invite folks to ignore the change you hoped to drive, worse, you reinforce their ability to do so with weak or low authenticity messages.

A more general observation here would be to avoid grand sweeping statements of change if for the audience you are addressing, not much in their day job changes. Again, you must bring rigor to your change in clearly identifying who there is going to be a change for and not get carried away in your own importance by implying that shuffling the pack will create a new suit or extra picture cards etc etc.

Finally, most change is long overdue – so all the above not withstanding, go! start now.

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from wanting change to getting change


Full disclosure: I strongly prefer revolution to evolution. Generally speaking, events roll slower than I would like and with less drama than I would prefer. Perhaps because of this I have developed

  1. the veneer of patience
  2. effective strategies for getting change implemented.

sidebar: I do believe that evolution is the natural state of the world, that left to itself, situations evolve. The revolutionary can have an impact as a force for change that occurs more radically, fundamentally or profoundly; which is something I can’t help but be drawn to

I’ve had many conversations with colleagues who are nervous, anxious about change, even change they deeply desire but seem unable to embrace or execute. Of course, part of the problem here is that we all call for change, can think of things we wish were different but the catch comes when that change requires we change ourselves! Barak Obama famously won election to President of the USA on a “Change” ticket – and is feeling the full backlash of an expectation that stuff would therefore change, but is almost wholly unable to influence individuals to change their own behaviours.

  • Know what you want (answer this question: “What do I want?”)
  • Invest in self awareness so that you can make yourself available to what really matters to you and that you can model the change you want
  • Build followership and alliances that support and energise your change

Let’s start then with wanting change – look around you 360 degrees and boil to one theme that captures what you want to change. I’ll use something by way of example that I hope resonates; as I look around me, I want to change the level of trust that colleagues have in one another to move from ‘functional’ to ‘high’

I’ll assume you have a good baseline or metric to determine the current state – I have internal poll data that I would use.

Now for getting that change implemented, Go First! in no other aspect of the leaders practise is it so important to lead from the front and model the behaviour you desire in others yourself. In the example I have used, trust is about being predictable and reliable (see separate posting on Trust)

Make yourself available to the situations you take most energy from as a default. In the example I used here, building trust means investing in situations that have trust as a defining theme or issue and diving in to really expose difficult issues and address resistance or head-in-the-sand avoidance head on.

Don’t be shy – talk about what you want often and with passion, make clear your vulnerability. Keep your eyes and ears open, as you speak and write about trust you should spot where you can build alliances with engaged colleagues around you. Enlist! Enthuse! Energise!

References:

[The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team]

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Bruce Patton

Permalink: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/014027782X

@Yodaism: “If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.”

The bottom line on effect change is to know what it is you want to change which requires some degree of self awareness, following that go – start now!

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a theme for the week


This week I have themed my blog to focus on ‘change’ and the leadership opportunities change presents.Working titles are
1) how people and leaders embrace change (or not)
2) why change is the new normal
3) from wanting change to getting changeWatch out for these later this week – change is such an interesting thing; almost all of us want it, but in the abstract we want change from everyone else not ourselves. Obviously self improvement desires are all about change in one’s self – but change addressing poverty, war, climate change are easy to salute and yet hard to write the check for.

The dissonance here reminds me of some other but opposite examples like time travel or teleportation which turn out to be only any good if you are the only person that has it! I would be rudely interrupted to find my great great great grandchildren popping in for a chat, and the idea of my mother-in-law being able to teleport herself into my bathroom is quite alarming to say the least.

Right, back to the serious stuff…