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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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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Triangle of Worth ™


Some advice with regard to strategies that I can *prove* deliver results for diverse, geo-distributed teams:

The Secret Sauce: Based on a recipe I cooked up a few years ago called “Triangle of Worth” the key philosophy is a combination of elemental needs for teams and individuals to have a high sense of worth in the workplace and they are:

  1. sense of vital mission – am I working on the critical path?
  2. sense of equity – do I get out something commensurate to what I put in?
  3. sense of respect – am I able to respect the values and mission of my colleagues and peers – and can I assume they respect mine?

Many of the best trends you can observe in the ‘organisational health’ stats I am proud to have been associated with across a number years, teams and geos are influenced by putting this philosophy into action

Ingredients:
  • Clear Vision and Mission
  • OnePager or Equivalent set of goals and KPIs
  • Regular review period not > 3 months
  • Actionable Scorecard
  • Great communications
Method:

Take your OnePagers and make sure they represent a nuclear group – there are 10 active OnePagers for a team of around 60 peeps – so in aggregate no more than 6 people can describe their work in 1 page. I don’t know what the maximum size is to be effective – but it is not huge

Happy to supply some examples / templates – mail me directly

Finally – get into the rhythm of sending weekly notes from staff meetings to all hands – but these notes always start with a commentary from the leader and follow with the wildly important goals for the team this week (not a status of things got done. The focus on goals for the week makes a difference as they tie back to OnePagers or KPIs and so ground that cannot be overwatered is watered again. Regular and consistent is key.

Go, start now!

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my focus is not my priority


Focus vs. Priority : amongst the most frequently interchanged verbs of leader-speak, and by a long way the mistake that irritates me most consistently

Count the priorities you are given carefully – in my book if you have more than one then your leadership has failed you; very happy that you have multiple focus areas that support and validate your priority but please, you can really only be successful in achieving a single priority.

If you manage a team (let’s use the Sports team analogy), you may have a pretty clear priority at the start of the game. Win it.

Support your priority with focus areas:

  • focus on defence
  • focus on offence
  • focus on fair play

but the priority remains and resolves conflicts for resourcesFocus vs Priority Jamesstanbridge.wordpress.com or time – let’s say that a stakeholder has asked for more profitability. Should that become the new priority? you can’t have both “win” and “profitability” as priorities since they are clearly in conflict in many circumstances. If I allow both – should I sell my start player for a profit? If I pick just one as the priority and then the other can be a focus area in support of the priority and it all makes perfect sense. Refuse to compromise and drive for clarity in a single priority supported by focus areas.

What process should we as leaders use to boil our imperatives, goals, commitments blah blah to a priority and supporting focus areas?

Enlightened Self Interest is my favourite tool – what result is likely to see me [promoted, rewarded, respected, admired] insert what ever tickles your ego here

Test it out, if I call blah my priority, what are the focus areas I need to support that priority. Now test again, are any of these focus areas more properly the priority?

Go, start now!

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“Burning Deck” without setting things on fire


The role of leadership teams in providing motivational gravity

Some weeks back in a hugely impactful, and widely reported memo to his staff,

Nokia’s chief executive to staff: ‘we are standing on a burning platform’ http://bit.ly/ePlUgo

Mr Elop made a dramatic call to arms that I found inspirational, but which also got me wondering “how do I get my team to work in burning deck mode without setting fire to things?”

Regression to mean can be observed in that left to themselves, teams regress from high performance to the mean, normal performance. Normal is misleading, I do mean underperforming; performance is not sufficient to meet the needs of the business.

As leaders, the question we need to ask ourselves and our teams when we recognise performance as regressing is “If we carry on at this (normal) rate, how long have we got left?”

  • before we lose our market position
  • before we lose our relevance
  • before we lose our jobs?

and when the answer is “not long” – burning deck motivation looks ideal

image

I like the phrase “Job Tourist” to describe a mode we all get in and can recognise, pretty much all of the above are words we use or situations we are in where we are coasting, passing through work – normal performance.

image

These are the words and situations represented by the paradigm of standing on the burning deck of a ship and, are easy to understand as attributes a leader would like to observe in a team that is need of greater performance.

Here is where the role of the leader is to provide motivational gravity that inspires and pulls team performance from “normal” to “burning deck”

Motivational Gravity

Motivational Gravity pulls normal behaviour to exceptional through:

  • Clarity of purpose [confront difficult issues]
  • Behavioural modelling [authentic belief]
  • Consistent messaging [systemic not tactical]
  • Emotional appeal [critical path]

The leadership models I’ve borrowed from are obvious to most readers but this is where to apply that theoretical learning you’ve done to great impact.

And that is the key message here – it’s what we do that matters, not the people we have doing it for us. The role of the leader is to provide that motivational gravity that shifts performance of the team as a whole from normal to something exceptional – go, start now!

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