Category Archives: management

Is the Term Leader Obsolete?

Umair Haque believes that leaders are responsible for the breakdown of our institutions and organzations.  In some ways he is right.  an updated persepctive on how we should manage our institutions would be healthy.

Clearly, most of those aspiring to the leader label have let us down. So now what? I propose that we develop a cadre of leaders who are willing to stand by a set of prescribed principles and virtues; further, I would suggest that we update the definition of leadership to incorporate the unique features of a global society.

Is it possible that the term “leader” has lost its allure, its freshness.?  Is it time to dump it and move on to a more meaningful term that has not as yet been blemished by organizational theory and practice — something more hip, with a little more pizazz?  That’s where Umair Haque is choosing to “lead” us — on a magical mystery tour of terminology and semantics.  But there is some truth in his offering.

Blogging for the Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque launches in by condemning the leadership of world leaders; in his words, ” This relationship isn’t working out…We’ve tried to make it work.  But it’s not us — it’s you (really)”.  To this extent, I agree — many of those in positions of leadership are just not getting the job done.  And it’s embarrassing.  In this global society, every failure, every demolition is a condemnation of the capitalist principles we have been dumping on the rest of the planet.

After a great deal of careful thought about leadership as a concept, Mr. Haque suggests that the problem is “leadership itself”.  In his view, rather than continuing with a “relic of 20th century thinking”, we should be “rebooting” leadership — coming up with a new way of managing people and institutions.

Haque suggests that the way we define leadership and the way we allow individuals to execute it is the problem. Let me present an alternative interpretation. The problem is not that leadership is obsolete; the problem is that the concept is in fact too advanced.   There are still many who are oblivious of what leadership means in spite of the masses of literature on the subject.  Just as our religious teachings and writings espouse love for humanity, there are those who will subvert their intent via  convenient misinterpretation.  There are others who chose an expeditious path or fear the loss of control that they feel would accompany embracing true leadership.  Leadership concepts seem clear enough; still leaders, due to ignorance or for personal reasons chose to abandon the game plan.

Following are summaries of Umair Haque’s arguments:

  1. Leadership skills were developed for a 20th century economics; the skills are not timeless.  He provides a couple of definitions of leadership that seem to support his view.  Really?  Leadership IS a timeless concept.  There have been leaders well before the 20th century and there will be leaders long after.  Leadership is a concept that continues to be redefined as the times dictate.  Most recently, the internet has created a need to re-examine how we can lead in a networking environment.
  2. Leaders do not lead.   Large emerging organizations create a need for someone to be a leader — specifically to navigate the politics of being a leading organization.  The role he describes is more of a manager of complexities.  There are individuals “lucky” enough to be the heads of organizations that were “lucky” enough to be every successful.  We have incorrectly assumed that these are great organizations with great “leaders”.  Being in the right place at the right time does not make someone a leader; leadership is earned just as respect is earned.  Still, there are organizations that experience success because of leadership.  And there are examples of this success cited in Mr. Haque post.  In fact, I was fortunate enough to work for a leader who worked the leadership principles with excellence.  And because he did his organization thrived.
  3. Leaders are employed to lobby for and help sustain dying organizations that would serve society best by dying a gracful death.  I agree.  There are individuals who fill this role and who are retained for this purpose.  However, I question whether these people are in fact leaders.  Calling someone a leader does not in fact a leader make.
  4. Since our institutions and organizations are in fact broken and outdated, our greatest challenge is not leadership but “building” better organizations.   Calling those who run our organizations by a different label isn’t going to change the quality of leadership or buildership.  In my mind, we still simply don’t get it.  Further, what Haque is suggesting is a redefinition of what leadership means.  Since we must address the challenges of the day, this is a healthy process.
  5. Leadership is the art of becoming, well, a leader. Constructivism, in contrast, is the art of becoming a builder — of new institutions. Like artistic Constructivism rejected “art for art’s sake,” so economic Constructivism rejects leadership for the organization’s sake — instead of for society’s.  I think it is healthy to continue to find new ways to look at the world and refine our thinking.  I think a number of the principles identified in this post are worthy of inclusion in a revised definition of leadership;  just as Bill Murray continued to relive Ground Hog Day until he understood the message and got it right, humanity will continue to experience disintegration and disunity until we get it right.  Still inventing a new term simply does not address the issue.  For a person to lead, they must understand the principles of leadership and  commit to understanding and executing the principles.  The people Hague is talking about in his article simply are not leaders.  Haque provides a list of individuals he calls either leaders or builders.  In my model, there are those who lead successfully in a particular way and there are those who lead for the purpose of building.  Further, in this list, there are some who are still trying to make their case as leaders who build (Obama) and those who have no business in a list of leaders (Palin).
  6. The 21st century doesn’t need more leaders – nor more leadership. Only Builders can kick start the chain reaction of a better, more authentic kind of prosperity.   What we need are more leaders who understand leadership and have the commitment to work it; I agree that “builders” are a critical part of this definition of leadership.
  7. Finally, Haque provides an arbitrary and convenient set of principles of constructivism.  For example, in his first principle he implies that leaders don’t learn from experience.  I think that true leaders would disagree with this belief.  I could spend a complete post examining these rpinciples.

I like that fact that Mr. Haque is starting a consultation on this issue.  He is quite right in assuming that many individuals that we call leaders are in fact failing to lead.  He is also right in stating that these people are in key positions and their lack of quality leadership has contributed to the deterioration of our  institutions.  However, twinning the concept of leadership with these absent landlords of leadership is problematic.

Put the blame where it belongs — not on the concept, but on the individuals failing in their responsibilities.  Continue to refine the definition of what leadership means by adding ideas such as inclusivity, unity and the good of all.

Leading Employees Through the Process of Change

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the challenge of change.  It is an uphill battle full of twists and turns.  Those having an attitude of change require commitment, persistence and patience.

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the complexities and dimensions of change. It is a frustrating uphill battle full of twists, turns and disappointments. Those having an attitude of change must be armoured with commitment, persistence, patience and lots of love.

I am sure you have heard it said that the only constant in this world is change itself.  And it is for this reason that I keep coming back to the topic of change, examining it from different perspectives.  With change going on around us at an alarming pace, our greatest wish might be to have the capacity to truly and comfortably keep up!   If only managers and employees could embrace change and alter their thinking “on demand”.

In my book, “Stepping Stones: Values Based Stories and Strategies for the 21st Century”, I acknowledged that change itself is a worthy value and allocated one whole chapter to the topic.  Change is simple to embrace when you are leading a process; as the conductor, you can detach from the anxiety of change because it is others who must comply with the flick of your baton.  However, when you are at the epicentre of a tumultuous and turbulent operation, you must share in the discomfort.  Yes, ain’t change wonderful!

In a previous post, I also introduced brief therapy. Most therapeutic tools address change directly using a rational approach, while confronting the conscious mind; brief therapy, in taking on the most difficult disorders enters through the back door, tapping into the sub-conscious mind and using the element of surprise and what many clients would perceive as being irrational, maybe even nonsensical  assignments.  While many therapies fail, brief therapy is claiming sensational enduring breakthroughs for clients who had given up any hope of emotional health.

Many direct techniques seem promising at first glance; however the relief of symptoms is not lasting and after yielding partial and temporary results from yet another magic bullet, clients simply give up and learn to accept their albatross.

This leads me into my most recent discovery on the process of change.  Not a therapy, the work of David Logan, a participant in the annual TED seminars (filmed March, 2009; posted Sept.2009), offers a model on how change occurs and thus some insights on how change agents can address the subject.   In this presentation, he is talking about tribal leadership — in his language, the people we associate with everyday form into tribes of  people ranging in size from 20 -150 members.

David Logan infers that tribal association influences how we understand and then participate in this world.  The weaker the tribal association, the weaker the capacity of the individual to participate in significant change.  He breaks down this human understanding into five categories or stages.

The first and least developed stage is “life sucks” and about 2% of the world’s population find themselves mired in the misery of this tribe.   They associate with individuals who have a commom understanding of the world and have severed from functional tribes to practice their own dysfunctional behaviour. Their group behaviour is justified by the fact that the complete tribe shares the “life sucks” perspective.  They are not positioned to participate in any meaningful change proecss.

The second stage is “my life sucks”. Sadly, 25% of people are stuck here, lacking belief in themselves and their capacity.  Although this is still a negative and a dysfunctional behaviour it represents an evolution in that the individual has escaped from the constraints of negative group behaviour.  The individual no longer acknowledges the need for membership in a reinforcing dysfunctional group.  Still their limiting vision of their personal reality affects the contribution they are capable of making in this state.

The third level, representing 48% of the population, is “I’m great” The positive side of this tribe is that the individual sees their own value.  On their own, they do their job effectively.  The challenge is that they do not value others.  The absolute limitation of this behaviour is that they cannot particpate effectively on teams of positve likemanided people.

The fourth level is “We’re great”, and it is great that almost 22% of folks have aspired to this level.  These are people who work in teams to achieve common work goals; with excellent leadership they have accepted a work vision and are working cohesively.  They have aspired to group benefit.

The final and optimal stage is “Life is great” and only two percent can be found at this level.  These are people who have a world embracing view, who are working for a fundamental global change.

In David Logan’s interpretation, true leaders only exist at level five.  Since his interest is in a world embracing change, leaders must be at this level; of course, it could be argued that leaders at level four indirectly support movement to level five, by drawing membership in level four.  Still at stage four group size is limited.  There is still a comparative view as opposed to an all inclusive stance found at stage five.

Since, as Mr. Logan points out, individuals only have the capacity to move up one level at a time, absolute change is a long term challenge.  Following are four difficulties that leaders, alias change agents must address:

  • What kind of manager are you?: Where do you fit on the continuum?  If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you have at least reached stage three.  If, however, you intend on leading your employees to the promised land, you will need to embrace “life is great”.  It is interesting that this stage is strongly consistent with the writings of the Baha’i faith.
  • Considering your workplace, at which stage do the members of your group reside?: In the absence of leadership, your employees could all be members of different tribes — that is, at different stages.   It is interesting how the five stages come together and give the illusion of a cohesive community.  A conscientious manager will invest in truly knowing both thee limitation and the potential of the employee.
  • Develop strategies to gradually move all employees up the ladder: Knowing that your employees most likely will be sitting on different rungs of the ladder, you will be called upon to develop customized individual programs. It will not be easy.
  • Patience will be your greatest friend: As you try to inspire your crew to step up a rung, they will occasionally succeed and they will just as often fail.

This model highlights the importance of one of my persistent messages – that the true leader manages people; when epople are effectively managed, they will effectively deliver products and services.  What is your view of this model?  Please let me know what you think.

Principle-Based Management

hockey-hitA couple of weeks have passed since Ben Fanelli, a 16 year old rookie defenceman playing with the junior Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, was seriously injured by a viscious hit.   Hits like this one occur just about every game in amateur and professional hockey.   It’s part of the “code”.  Hockey is a macho sport and hitting is a tactic used to intimidate, in particular the skilled puck-carrying players on opposing teams; the end goal is to make these players think about something other than slick, efficient puck movement and thereby force errors.  In the eyes of sport officials, you cannot eliminate hitting from the game and retain the inherent nature of the sport.  Therefore,  responsibility lies with the player about to be hit to keep his head up and protect himself at all times; God forbid that a player is seriously injured, then officials will point a finger at the offending player who through some convoluted interpretation of the rules must be held accountable for the injury.    The issue here: a principled approach to responsibility for the consequences of hitting in the game is absent.

Since the beginning of the NHL hockey season, a number of star players have been seriously injured, mostly with concussions; and Ben Fanelli came close to losing his life.  He still has a major battle in his future to restore his health, let alone the possibility of returning to serious hockey.  The trend towards  serious injury has been increasing in recent years as players are bigger, faster, stronger, their equipment harder and their training better.  There used to be an unwritten rule that protected the best players; however, this has vanished with the respect for life and limb of opposing players.

Since this form of intimidation has become an important tool for coaches, each team recruits and trains a number of players best suited to this style.  League officials, miopic in their view, can only see the hitting in the narrowest context.  As a result nothing is done to protect the immediate or long term health of players.  In the short term, league brass need to protect valuable marketing assets; in the long term, officials need to consider the impact of serious hits on the health of players who will become fathers and husbands.

Given this context — an absence of appropriate rules to control the impacts of hitting — it is not surprising that the junior league needed a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the Ben Fanelli injury; Michael Liambis, a 20 year old veteran of the Erie Otters who delivered a hit arguably within the rules of the game has been outrageously suspended for a full year — a length of suspension which is unprecedented in the sport and which effectively ends his junior career.  What a burden to place on a young man!  He must deal with the suspension and the guilt, because the league says that he did something wrong and should be punished.  I hope he has found a competent therapist to help him through this ordeal.

To reinforce this picture of ambiguity, in professional hockey, if a hit does not result in an injury, it will usually go unpenalized.  If an injury results from the hit, the “offending” player is removed from the game pending a hearing by the league.  Usually a suspension results.

I agree with the junior league that someone must bear responsibility for the Ben Fanelli hit and, in my view the needless injury of this young player.  I disagree with the league that that the message should be sent at the expense of this boy’s junior career.  Clearly, responsibility lies with the league itself and for that matter all professional hockey leagues.  Ambiguous guidelines result in arbitrary decisions.

Come on hockey officials!  It is time to “fess up”.  With this kind of hitting in the game, you are quite fortunate no player has been killed.  You are quite lucky that more players have not suffered brain injuries.  It is surprising that more players have not been paralysed.  Are you waiting for the worst?

The Ben Fanelli hit is a wake up call.  “WAKEUP” before more serious injuries occur.  Extricate this abyss of ambiguity and confusion and replace it with a well thought out principle based solution.  Stop blaming players and show solid leadership in this area.

In closing, how about a little justice for Michael Liambis?  It would be appropriate to see the Ontario Hockey League relent on its severe punishment of Michael Liambis and allow this young man to finish his junior hockey career.  Michael, I am in your corner.

Do you know of situations in your workplace where ambiguity is used to advantage by your employers?  What should the principles be in this area?

The Overwork Phenomenon

Reflections on Workplace Perspectives

Corporations who exploit their employees by manipulating an "overwork culture" are killing employee motivation, commitment and ultimately, production.

Corporations who exploit their employees by manipulating an "overwork culture" are killing employee motivation, commitment and ultimately, production.

The Business Pundit, in his April 6, 2009 post,  shares five ways that organizations sabotage their own success by breeding incompetence:  using numbers as the only device to measure performance, spreading workers too thin, expecting too much too soon, putting a bigger premium on politics than performance, rewarding mediocrity.

    Each of these contribute to poor employee morale; and, I have watched organizations self destruct, oblivious to how manager competence distanced the employee from organizational goals.  I have also consulted with owners and managers feeling the pain of their own poor decision-making.

    I would like to focus on one of these — overworking employees.  I am sure you have heard of survivor syndrome.  During downsizing,  employees dismissed or laid off tend to attract our sympathy — loss of income, threat to home and family, challenges of being rehired in a difficult economic climate.  Those who keep their jobs are referred to as survivors.  They keep their positions and maintain their income.  However, in a poorly managed environment, remaining workers can be asked to work harder and longer hours.  The risk, of course, is fatigue and eventual burnout.  This employee may end up on sick leave or may willingly choose to leave.  Indeed, the survivor will only survive in a competently managed work environment.

    This kind of burnout may also occur in growing companies.  As  companies expand, there is a point where revenues are not sufficient to fund needed growth in staff.  In this situation, managers will lean on the goodwill they have built with their best employees.   They will pressure trusted and devoted staff to work harder and longer hours.   Initially, the request will be for a short period; however, tettering on the edge between ordinary and superior, the manager will demand more help.   As one distraught manager shared with me, “I pushed them too hard for too long.  I lost the employees that I knew would be key players in my expanded company.  They no longer trusted me to treat them fairly”.

    No employee should be expected to overwork for an extended period of time.  This level of dedication could be achieved for a short period with the promise of benefits like promotions and stock options;  however, eventually something will give — employee health, employee morale, employee performance, employee trust.

    We should not overlook that managers are also under a great deal of stress, either from their managers expectations, overpromising to their managers out of fear or from the bleak reality that their businesses are under threat of extinction.  Still, overworking employees can be blindly perceived as an optimal short term strategy.  Managers must develop, perhaps in consultation with their reliable and trusted staff, more sustainable work strategies.

    Corporations can also contribute to the problem by creating fear of job loss.  In a highly competitive work environment and job market, corporations need their employees to overwork so they can compete, let alone survive.  In Reflections of a World Citizen, the blogger cites ” Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives” (Bunting , 2004).  Bunting’s shocking finding is that corporations are in fact engineering the overwork mindset causing job intensification, in effect burning out their workforce.  She refers to this action as “the most exploitive and manipulative work cultures developed since the Industrial Revolution”.

    The problem isn’t whether employees can find work says Anonymous Employee-Helping You Solve Your Problems at Work .  The problem often is that employees end up with too much work affecting their lifestyle, their health and production.  In effect, the culture that our material society has created in not healthy or happy for the employee.

    I have focussed on overwork to make a point.  The essence of this issue is the role that managers can play to ensure that employees are healthy and productive.

    Have you found yourself caught in one of these work environments?  How did you cope?  What do you see as viable solutions where workers are under constant stress to work long hours?

    Employment Strategies During a Recession

    It is no surprise that this year’s college graduates are finding the job market unreceptive;  and “even those who land jobs” says Sara Murray in her education blog at the Wall Street Journal, “will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times”.  Murray cites numbers from a longitudinal study conducted during the recession of the 1980’s by Lisa Kahn, a Yale School of Management economist.  In simple terms, this study shows how income for recent graduates decreases considerably as employment rates rise; further, this data reveals that overcoming a lower starting salary may be close to impossible.

    David overcame Goliath by rejecting the traditional terms of battle and by thinking of alternatives that woud level the "battlefield".

    David overcame Goliath by rejecting traditional terms of combat and by thinking of alternatives that would level the "battlefield".

    Murray offers some good news for graduates who are fortunate enough to find employment in their field of study, referencing Canadian data covering two recessionary periods collected by Columbia University economist, Till Marco von Wachter.  This study states that graduates who found work in their field of interest were better positioned to recover when the economy rebounded, even though their starting incomes might be lower.

    In his most recent publication, Outliers:The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell offers additional perspective on the principles of success.   First of all, Gladwell makes a strong case for preparation as a critical component for achieving the highest levels of success.  He examines the absolute dedication that must be invested to become an expert in any field and explains step by step how high achievers  like Bill Gates, The Beatles and others were able to outperform the field.   He also establishes a threshold for the commitment level that will produce excellence.  And from this comes the “10,000 hour rule”.   Step 1 — I have achieved a level of expertise.  I am prepared.

    The balance of the book is dedicated to a necessary and complementary factor on the path to success — opportunity.  Although there is an abundance of research on the subject of opportunity and we understand that some people have more opportunity than others, Gladwell presents his case in the most compelling and unique  manner.

    Gladwell presents substantial evidence to make the case that success, even for the most prepared and the brightest, is influenced by factors such as year of birth, month of birth, being in the right place at the right time, cultural heritage, family heritage and serendipity.

    Considering the 2009 graduates, Gladwell would conclude that their diminished opportunity is simply a matter of bad luck — they have had the misfortune of graduating during a world-wide recession.  Their preparation compares to previous years’ graduates and is not a factor.  No, the year 2009 is simply a year with less opportunity and that’s just the way it is.  Step 2 —  I am prepared, but where is my opportunity?

    So now what?  Is that just truly just the way it is?  Do we simply roll over and pretend that having less opportunity is our fate?  After all, isn’t that what we are conditioned to do — believe that our success or lack of it is a factor of our preparation and our ability?  John is so much smarter than I am.  Mary has natural ability in this area that I will never have.  That’s right — the next step is simply acceptance of my limited capacity.  Game over.

    Outliers does not change the way we look at preparation; it still takes effort and lots of it to develop expertise.  It is useful to know that 10,00 hours is a goal to which I can aspire to achieve excellence, but it still amounts to lots of hard work.  However, Outliers does offer us a new paradigm of opportunity.   Although preparation is still very important, opportunity outtrumps preparation as a determinant of success.   Opportunity is a commodity that some of us will own in excess, while others will experience a dearth.  Thanks to Gladwell’s, we no longer have to accept the limitation of opportunity.  We can act with effort to create opportunity.

    This is the question! What action can I take that will restore an equilibrium of opportunity into my life?

    David Brooks, in his New York Times post, shares a story about how the playing field was leveled for some students in inner city schools.  The “Harlem Miracle” as he has dubbed this educational experiment has eliminated the achievement gap for predominantly poor inner city black children when compared to predominantly middle income suburban white children.  The program –currently available to a limited number of inner city children who qualify through a lottery system — counters the view that improved facilities and better teachers will help these impoverished students to achieve at higher levels.  Instead, it has established a disciplined and orderly counter culture of absolute adherence and longer hours of school and study.  In this case, creative thinking has allowed inner city children to compete evenly with their suburban peers.  Opportunity has been restored.

    A second story comes from Malcolm Gladwell (How David Beats Goliath).  In this article for the New Yorker, Gladwell explains how a girl’s basketball team, short on talent, size and experience when compared to their competition, managed against all odds to overcome their opponents and win a national championship.  The coach of this team of 12 year old girls, Vivek Ranadive, was of east Indian descent having a heritage of cricket and soccer.  He had a difficult time understanding the logic of how basketball was played.  That is, that a team would permit another to easily enter its half of the playing surface with no opposition.  Once in the offensive end of the floor, skilled teams were at an advantage displaying their dribbling, passing and shooting skills.  And a shorter, less skilled and less experienced team was particularly vulnerable.  Ranadive decided to apply the pressure found in other sports — specifically, he taught his players to apply a continuous full court press.  With constant pressure before the ball was even played in bounds, the playing field was leveled.  The press confused skilled teams and made it challenging for them to unleash their skill advantage.  The press forced skilled teams to play on his terms and allowed his team to outperform far better teams.  Strategic thinking allowed this group to overcome the cultural opportunity that other teams possessed.

    In Gladwell’s words,”..substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond girls on the basketball court”.

    What are your thoughts about opportunity?  Can you think of times in your life where you sabotaged your own opportunity?  Please watch for “Craig’s Top Five List” for next Friday as I will share five steps that 2009 graduates can take to level the employment field.

    Unity-Based Leadership in the Workplace

    Reflections on workplace perspective…..

    The baby boomers, the single largest generational cohort ever, are still dominant in the workplace, even though the oldest among them have now reached retirement age. And, like the Titanic, this massive age cohort is difficult to budge, let alone turn. In the eyes of many, the baby boomers are painfully slow in reacting to “hit you over the head” trends and “if you can’t see it, you aren’t looking” trends.  In the eyes of many observers , these trends demand serious attention, however, most decision-makers continue to deliver incremental change, on issues that are defining the lives of “next up” generations.

    Understanding the importance of unity and collaboration critical ingredient for next up generations.

    In the absence of an ethical and moral framework, unity of the generations will not be possible.

    And these emerging generations are beginning to assert themselves in the work-a-day world by demanding that they be heard and that the promising attributes of their generation be drivers of a new workplace; in the absence of considerable action, it is the view of many that the “new gens” will reinvent the world, and with it the workplace.

    Gary Allen’s excellent post on these “next up” generations amounts to a manifesto of sorts that explicitly advises prospective employers what they must address so that, in particular, the F generation can be adequately accommodated, if not welcomed into the workplace.  In the absence of a reasonable response, the next up generations could very well launch a technology-induced revolution.

    Although demographers take full responsibility for naming the new generations, the incumbents so-named proudly claim full membership and have begun to lobby against the establishment generation with an “us versus you” mentality.

    We are unique, we have great ideas and we are impatient for change;  we demand change now, or else.

    Some might compare the simmering relationship between baby boomers and gens X,Y and F to the way the adolescent perceives the parent.  Mark Twain summed it up perfectly:

    When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

    I personally appreciate what these new generations have to offer and there is doubt in my mind that with a little guidance the new gens will change the world favorably; I also see movement from the stodgy baby boomers as the momentum created by the internet and Facebook have contributed to an recognition that the world is changing exponentially — change with it or be left behind.

    Still I feel that there is a missing ingredient in the Facebook manifesto.  Simply stated, I don’t believe that positive, sustainable change can be achieved through confrontation, intimidation and manipulation.   Perhaps it will take one more generation to complement the promising package — one that will recognize the critical importance of collaboration, cooperation and partnership.  In my dreams I envision Generation S that will offer the  overlay of an ethical and moral framework that will guide all action — will reinforce the importance of “unity-based leadership”.

    As Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith says,

    The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.

    This is a simple message with a profound complexity.  Clearly, divisions of any kind that create distance between us, whether they be generations, genders, races or nations with all diminish our capacity for unity.  Without unity, we all achive less.

    Have you achieved unity in your workplace?  Do you see the importance of aspiring for unity?

    Understanding Sabotage in the Workplace

    Reflections on workplace perspective…..

    Another Friday — another “Craig’s Top Five List”.  On Monday, we put forth a case for the ongoing value of management and success books.  While the current trend in the industry seems to be to discredit these reference materials and fear monger, we argued that the competent manager should understand the opportunities and limitations that come with these materials and include them as part of a package of resources that support a healthy attitude of continuous improvement.

    Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

    Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

    We also reminded readers that workplace sabotage can emerge from the shadows of an organization in many ways, and that pointing the finger at success books is just too easy.   So, on this wonderful wind down Friday, let’s talk about sabotage — specifically, five ways that organizations can interfere with their own success:

    1. It Starts at the Top: A true leader understands the importance of building a strong organization and is constantly in search of powerful guidance.  Sadly, the American Automobile Industry is a perfect example of a rudderless ship.  With countless opportunities to lead the pack, they chose complacency.   For example, they were given the opportunity to be the leader in electric automobile technology and they chose to balk at this gift.  And now, they are scrambling just to survive.  Poor leadership will suffocate an organization; strong leadership will allow an entity to explode with possibilities.
    2. Buy-in, Stay-in: Rightly or wrongly, there will be times in your organization when lower level managers decide to take management matters into their own hands.  This will not be an all out mutiny; no, instead, while smiling and nodding support for their bosses, these managers will quietly and secretly begin the process of undermining the initiatives they dislike, in part by treating their area of responsibility as an island.  These managers need to understand that disagreement is healthy if it is voiced openly and if it is part of an appropriate consultation process.  However, there is also a time for unity of purpose where the team as a whole needs to get on side and offer a plan its best chance of success.  It is often difficult for a senior manager to know what is happening on the ground floor.  In their eyes if they hear nothing all is well.  They need eyes and ears with employees at all levels so they can understand the support or lack of support for their plans.
    3. Silos Belong on Farms: The more we slice and dice our organizations, the lower the unity of purpose.  It is not uncommon for units, sectors, divisions to see themselves in competition with each other, largely a result of both managers and their staff seeing their role in the organization as being critical and successful, while the role of others, their “inside” competitors, being performed inadequately to the detriment of the organization.  Unifying the organization’s sense of purpose and demonstrating how each role is an essential component of the organization’s mission is a critical responsibility of senior managers.
    4. Communicate- Empower- Communicate- Empower: This is “the circle of [organizational] life”.  Managers at all levels who fail to delegate will by definition underachieve.  They will waste organizational capacity; they will damage employee motivation, goodwill, loyalty, commitment, happiness and so on.  They will undoubtedly lose their best staff.  Once managers learn how to empower effectively, they must complete the equation — effective and almost excessive communication.  The empowered employee has a responsibility to inform and advise the manager; however, it is contingent upon the senior manager to ensure that an effective and satisfying mechanism is in place.  When I say excessive communication, I mean it.  This is the tool that allows you to sleep well at night.  Because of clear communication, you know with confidence that all is well on the home front.
    5. You are Only as Good as Your Talent: A couple of stories might help to clarify this point.  Following the interviews for a senior researcher position, the interview team agreed that no one met the minimum qualifications.  “I will cover what the best candidate cannot do” offered one senior manager.  I reluctantly agreed and we offered the job to the best of the group.  Big mistake!  My senior manager was constantly rescuing this employee, time lines were lagging and we lost our capacity to perform effectively.  In contrast, an organization hired a salesperson.  Their expectations for this position were low based upon the performance of the previous incumbents.  In a short time, this newbie demonstrated that she could outperform two people in this area and in fact her area became a significant source of revenue.  The manager quickly realized that he could throw a challenge her way and that she would often out produce established areas of revenue for the organization.  The stronger the talent, the greater the opportunity, the greater the result.
    6. Flavour of the Month Syndrome: Did I say a list of five?  Well, I could not resist offering this one last point. “It’s just the flavour of the month” he lamented, “I’ll just wait it out and before too long everything will be back to normal”.  The manager who gets excited about every new management idea will find that skepticism settles into the organization. Employees will soon realize that the manager does not know how to use creative ideas to effect a change in culture; employees will see the initiative as time wasted and give the illusion of buy-in by saying the right things, while only accepting the idea at the margin.  The senior manager has the right spirit — one of trying to bring the best to his organization; however, with a little help from other managers, he will complete the loop and carefully assess the value of the idea to the organization and the nature of its implementation.

    Have you seen any of these at work in your organization?  What efforts were taken to resolve the challenge?

    Is it Time to Sell My Management Books?

    Reflections on workplace perspective…..

    Drake Bennett (Have Success Gurus Steered Us Wrong?, National Post, Saturday, April 25, 2009) and also in has an interesting take on the value of “success books”; interesting yes, but he may be missing the point.

    His bottom line conclusion, in my words: management books amount to little more than a hoax, a conspiracy of sorts that mislead CEOs and organizations who trustingly chose to adopt their doctrines.

    Is it time to sell my management books?

    Is it time to sell my management books?

    To make his case, he cites the work of a more recent set of experts, counter-gurus if you wish, like Phil Rozenzweig (author of The Halo Effect).  They claim that the suggestions espoused in these books are essentially useless, guilty on several charges.  First, they have done a poor job of identifying successful organizations, since success may be attributable to factors outside an organization’s control such as luck; and there is a fair amount of evidence to show this is true.  Second, what these gurus claim to be research is little more than a collection of soft qualitative case studies and in many instances the accuracy of the numbers can be questioned.

    How do I feel about this assessment?  A little conflicted I guess.  On the one hand, I agree with the reviewers.  These earlier management and success books are not without flaws and to some extent these challenges limit their usefulness.   On the other hand, completely discounting these reference text would be counter productive.  So I prefer asking myself what is the value of these materials and how should they be used in the workplace?  These are my observations:

    1. Organizations need some form of guidance: I just recently completed some consulting work with an organization.  There was a great deal of experience in the management group; however, there was little awareness of advances in the field of management.  They seemed satisfied to continue employing inefficient practices, because they had little knowledge of a better way and if they had some knowledge, they had little reason to believe that newer approaches to management were any better.   They were in need of someone to demonstrate that certain management principles actually worked. The “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” mentality that tarnishes a reasonable source of experience, ideas and tactics  makes it difficult for these organizations to bridge the knowledge gap.
    2. Some Disciplines Defy Rigorous Measurement: In my previous incarnation, I was blessed with the opportunity to manage highly rigorous studies using advanced measures and huge data bases.  We had solid numbers, a solid research method and our results were defensible.  For years we deferred studies that defied measurement, mostly because the measures were soft, qualitative and subjective.  It was like trying to build a high rise tower on a bed of   sand.  As researchers, we were vulnerable to attack.   In spite of their weaknesses, these studies were state of the art.  They were the best that anyone had tried; they represented innovation in the field.  Still they were impossible to defend — a nightmare for researchers.  The so-called science of management is similarly difficult to measure and although some researchers claim that they can do better — and perhaps they can do somewhat better — these new studies will also be subject to criticism.  Let’s face it.  These were pretty good studies for their time and in my view they still have a great deal to offer a judicious reviewer.
    3. Theory may have its limitations, but used correctly has great value: I love hockey; for period of time, I studied the sport of hockey very closely.  I was so passionate about the sport that I used to attend advanced hockey symposia with coach presenters from around the world — NHL and AHL coaches, European league coaches, and development league coaches.  They were all there talking about what works.  The irony was that what worked one year didn’t the next.  Last year’s hero was this year’s exile.  Nobody could predict what would work in the future and no one could explain why a certain approach had worked the year earlier.  There were just too many intangibles from talent to training methods to on ice systems to who knows what.  Coaching team sports was and always will be theory.  We will continue to attempt to make it science, and we may have  some hard data that seems to prove part of the puzzle; but in the end, my sieve will continue to be my intuition, my good judgment.   Interestingly much of my management and leadership principles are derived from coaching team sports — more on this in a later post.  Can you think of another domain which continues to be principally theory?  Remember Harry Truman wishing for a one-armed economist?  Why you ask?  He simply wanted some hard, scientific and tangible advice.  Business success and leadership also fit into this category; you must filter, examine, assess and consult to arrive at the best fit for your organization.
    4. Passion manifests itself through preparation: Years ago I attended a presentation by the CEO of a garden tools mail order company.  Most of his presentation I have forgotten; however, there is one thing he said that I found quite interesting.  This CEO had conducted a study of American businesses and from his research had concluded that there were two key determinants of business success — passion and luck.   After everyone in attendance laughed at the simplicity of his formula, we began to assess what this finding really meant.  First let’s look at luck.  I cannot predict when luck will come my way and I cannot even determine the quantity of luck that will fall in my lap.  Clearly this is beyond my humble capacity.  When it comes to luck, however, I belong to the school of luck infused by author Stephen Leacock.  “I am a great believer in luck”, said Leacock, ” and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”.   The work component described by Leacock is equated to my passion.  My passion is my drive that allows me to prepare and those business books are part of the content that feeds my passion — all in anticipation of the day when luck, however defined, comes a callin’.
    5. The formula for success involves more that just a management reference book: A quick story to make a point.  Years ago, a former NHL coach shared with me, over coffee, that he never explained his hockey system to his players; he simply taught them their role on the ice in different situations.  He had learned from the school of hard knocks that players would translate failure of the team with the weakness of the system.  He preferred that the players measure success in terms of their own level of commitment to team success.  Interpreting?  A management book does not an organization make.  The formula is much more sophisticated;  the ingredients of this recipe, if you wish, include items like leadership at all levels, teamwork and talent; all of this is overlaid with a system of guidance largely extracted from management books.  It seems a little too convenient to blame failure on the weaknesses of management information.

    I think most organizations realize that neither management books, nor management gurus provide perfect information.  They are merely part of the answer that prepares us to manifest our passion; organizations can then assess the value of these tools and the extent to which they will be integrated.

    And in all this, we must keep in mind that there is still no utopia; of course, I would rather be the organization that strives for self-improvement than a laissez-faire business that is mired in complacency.

    What is your favourite management book?  How has it helped you or your organization?  Does your organization have a mindset of improvement?

    Strengthening Gender-Based Relationships

    It is time for another “Craig’s Top Five List”.  On Monday, we looked at male mocking with the conclusion that perhaps we would be wise to strive for a higher standard in the way we approach gender-based relationships.  Here are a few suggestions:

    Rufino Tamayo 'Man and Woman' 1926, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Rufino Tamayo 'Man and Woman' 1926, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    1. Acknowledge our differences: I am saying this as though it has never been voiced before, in the history of humanity.  Of course, the exact opposite is true — it is hard to get through a day without some exasperated soul  needing to exhale this sentiment.  Clearly, you don’t know what you don’t know and under this condition, any form of growth is impossible.  Otherwise stated, awareness is a prerequisite for change.
    2. Accept our differences: By now I am sure you have figured out that difference is code for what I don’t like, don’t understand and cannot accept about “them”.  Since each gender represents fifty percent of humanity it may make sense to try something different; let’s face it —  How is your current pattern working for you?  Not so good?
    3. Stop the Veiled Criticism: There is something unifying about being able to share your frustration with those holding down membership in your gender club.  Somehow, if they share your angst, it affirms the view that you’re not crazy.  And if you are really courageous, you allow these whimsical commentaries on the other sex to slip out while they are present.  After all, “its just a joke;  I don’t really mean it.  I am so tired of this politically correct stuff, aren’t you”? you offer to your membership.  Well, if it smells like a dead fish and it looks like a dead fish, its probably a dead fish.
    4. Celebrate our strengths: Once we get past the frustrating parts of male-female relationships, we can rejoice in what we value in each other.  We need to acknowledge reality –that we are attracted to each other for reasons other the physical; for example, passion, intelligence, courage, sensitivity, calm, creativity and so on.  Its the  deeper issues that truly define who we are.
    5. Treat Each Person as an Individual: If we can treat each person as unique, then we override the stigma of gender or for that matter any other way of classifying humanity.  The more we choose to slice and dice humanity, the more we will frustrate our goal of unifying the human species.

    I have just completed reading an amazing book entitled “Change”, based upon the principles of brief therapy.  Clearly, surface or simple change is possible; however other forms of change demand more sophisticated solutions.  More on this in a later post.

    And that is the issue!  Change is a difficult challenge.  Can you see this prescription working?  How are things in your workplace?

    Male Mocking: Deserved and Necessary?

    Reflections on Workplace Perspective

    On Saturday, March 14th’s  edition of “Definitely Not The Opera” (, Sook-Yin Lee and guest host, Nick Purdon took a very thorough look at dumb guy stereotypes and male mocking focusing on this trend in advertising.  Loved the show — extremely well done!

    However, what I found troubling was how we accept our human limitations and rationalize how it is acceptable to repeat the destructive patterns of the past.   Perhaps I am taking this tongue in cheek presentation too seriously; maybe it all just meant to be playful and humourous.   BUT, what we say, in any form, and what we model is what we become.

    Those interviewed during this show presented a number of arguments rationalizing why male mocking was not only acceptable, but necessary and represented a rational evolution of male-female relationships.   Let’s take a look at what was said:

    • For decades, women have been victimized (i.e., sex objects, lacking in intelligence or judgment) by the media for so long it is now man’s turn. They can take it; we certainly did for all those years!  Ironically, most of the commercials mocking men are written by men.
    • The culture of men has evolved from one of men being respected and recognized as the breadwinner and the backbone of the family to one of men being irresponsible and incompetent.   So, this representation of man is simply a reflection of the current reality.  So we paint all men with the same brush?
    • The bashing of men is only temporary.  Soon society will tire of man bashing and we will find someone else to satirize.  Lucky them!
    • We will continue to mock each other because it is programmed into our “reptilian brains”.   Probably true, but a disappointing commentary on what men and women want their species to become.  If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.

    Only one interviewee spoke against these commercials. She said that this representation of men was in fact modeling future generations of young men and that the commercials suggested to young men that being irresponsible and incompetent was acceptable behaviour.  This mother of two boys, wanted more for her boys.   As any parent would, she wanted them to maximize their God given capacity in every way.

    Ironically, the decision of advertisers to male bash has little to do with any of this argumentation.  It’s really quite simple; advertisers see women as the front line purchasers in just about every area.  They also know from psychology research that the best way to get women to buy their products is to stroke their self-esteem.  And advertisers have decided that the optimal way to achieve this goal is mocking women’s mates, fathers, brothers and sons.

    I will be the last person to suggest that men are perfect.   I have learned from hundreds of career coaching diagnostics that each of us is an individual, that each of us has great capacity, a number of wonderful strengths and a comparable number of challenges that get in our way.   I understand that relationships between men and women are difficult and that women in particular have been seriously scarred by the power that men and paternal cultures have exerted over them.   I am not suggesting that we forget our history.

    I am proposing that we learn from history and strive for a higher standard — one that will strengthen and model the nobility of men and women. The world and for that matter the workplace will only work optimally if men and women treat each other with dignity and work collaboratively.

    “The world of humanity has two wings — one is woman and the other man”, says Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Bahai faith. “Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible”.  I think this reference puts everything in perspective.

    Are you concerned about male mocking?  Do you concur that we should strive for balanced relationships?  What are some of the gender challenges in your workplace?