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Phil's Leadership blog

Ooh, I’m on the UN’s Reading List

Dourando-60-SecondI know you shouldn’t Google yourself, ever. But, I just learnt from doing so that I’m number two on the UN’s recommended reading list for its in-house leadership development.

The 60 Second Leader book, that is. And when I say “Number 2″, I just mean it appears second on their list.

Still, nice to know the UN thinks the book is important for developing the leadership competencies of its employees. I mean, they’re peacekeepers, diplomats and the like. Serious stuff.

On this page, the UN tells its staff that the 60 Second Leader “offers a high impact, time-saving guide to the essentials of leadership.

Well, that gives me a warm, useful, smug feeling.

Oh no! That 8-step change framework is back again

I see from the Harvard site that John Kotter’s old 8 step ‘framework for big change‘ is trending again.leading-change

I do love retired Prof Kotter.

But, I simply don’t understand why this framework keeps re-emerging, as it’s so old-fashioned and doesn’t fit what organizational change is really about or how it really works today.

The framework’s assumptions of who are ‘the do-ers’ (people at ‘the top’) and who are the ‘done to’ (everyone else) always were flawed as they were based on this half-truth: 

“Human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted mightily by the people it most affects: those in the trenches of the business.”

In fact, the need for fundamental change is usually recognized first by the people doing the job – those in the trenches who are in touch with the reality of the market.

Any messages they try to send inwards and upwards through a management system that is designed for one way control and communication – top down – about the need to change gets ignored and nothing happens.

So the people in the trenches get cynical and have to create ‘work arounds’ – unofficial ways of getting the job done that they are often not allowed to report upwards (as these methods ‘aren’t authorised’. So you create a culture of dishonesty) to produce the results asked of them, deviating from whatever the official process is.

This was acknowledged years ago as the ‘hidden factory’ syndrome.

In large organizations in particular, there is no mechanism for aggregating front-line intelligence about the need for change and pushing it upwards so those who make decisions about change can do so in good time and with close to the market information.

‘Resistance to needed change’ happens just as much, if not more, within the management system as ‘in the trenches’.

The resistance to change that causes the problem is the absence of people listening ‘at the top’, starting directly with the direct bosses of those ‘in the trenches’, because those bosses are looking upwards – or ‘listening’ upwards – for instruction, not listening to what is being said ‘from below’.Chess

This internal friction preventing change messages from moving up from the market and into the business via employees is where the most significant resistance to change lives.

Showing no trust in people to change the business themselves, in real-time, as market needs change, or in anticipation of changes in market need, is the 50% of the ‘resistance to change’ equation this 8-step formula ignores.

And this resistance from ‘above’ is far more significant than resistance ‘from below’, particularly today, when markets are even more fast-moving than they were in 1995, when Prof Kotter first came out with this stuff.

Leaders at the top are part of a system in which they operate, NOT deus ex machina outside of the machine making changes upon it, leading to ‘resistance to change’ from those you are trying to change.

That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how people change. You want others to change? Change yourself first. Everyone knows that now. It’s almost become a cliche. But leaders don’t do it. 

There is a misunderstanding in this 8-step model/framework of where power resides; where it comes from. It assume there is a power to change from above if you just get it right. There isn’t.

There is no understanding in this model, and there never was, that the power driving change comes from an ever-shifting market and that organizations need to be structured to be driven by that power so they change organically.

Not structured so that change efforts are driven by vision or decree from those furthest away from the dynamics of power (the market), who have least day-to-day contact with the shifting market and aren’t immersed in it, one customer at a time, like those in the trenches are.Megaphone2

There is also no understanding in this model of how to change how smart people behave – the psychology of how and why we change how we behave. The 8 step formula is a recipe for groupthink and for shouting down anyone who says “But…” (by seeing them as resisters of change) and forcing compliance from all but the bravest. Who don’t last long and leave.

Ooh, how quickly what starts as a post becomes a rant. But there is so much deeper, complex thinking about how change works now that is more ‘real’ than the old 8 steps stuff.

Dave Snowden’s work on emergence, complexity theory, systems thinking and so on … it doesn’t come wrapped in eight neat steps and therefore doesn’t get the attention from leaders and managers who like to think there are a series of neat steps; things they can ‘do’ to the rest of the organization to overcome the rest of the organization’s resistance to change.

The constant re-emergence of this linear thinking just makes me go “Aw, haven’t we learnt anything in the past twenty years? We’re still going back to this????”


The Power of Introverts

As an introvert who teaches leadership (?? How did I end up doing this ??) I love Susan Cain and her growing movement that says you don’t have to be loud and proud to be a great leader.

I particularly love, from this talk, “There’s zero correlation between the best talker and the person with the best ideas.”

The leaders Susan Cain talks about tend to be ego-lite, thoughtful, analytical, and they listen a lot instead of pushing their own ideas.

In the world of business that’s equated with ‘weak’ quite often.

I love also the way she points out that the people who really ‘get’ the power of ‘quiet leadership’ is the military. Surprising, huh.

She argues for more quiet thinking time, leading to better, more creative decisions.

Because this is an age of information overload and too many people fighting to get their opinion heard.

Here’s her website. If you haven’t heard her 2014 TEDTalk yet (I’m not sure it’s even on the TED site yet: the one we’ve posted here is a couple of years old), there’s a transcript on her site.

Phil Dourado

A leader who inspired me: true story

Over at the Leadership Hub we are running a competition to hear your stories about a leader who inspired you. The prize is a free book.

So, to start off, here’s my example.

Obviously, I can’t submit this to the competition as a story. ‘Cos, er, I decide who wins it. And I’ve already got the book anyway :) (Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. Brilliant new book, re-defines productivity).

But, I’ve written up the true story, below, as an example of what we want: a true leader story with some learning in it for all of us.

And here’s the entry form if you want to submit a story about a leader who inspires/inspired you.

One of the best bosses I ever had

I worked in a team of 12 in a large organization that was going through a severe budget squeeze.

Our boss, like the head of all departments and units, was asked to make a large percentage cut in expenditure, fast.

Everyone across the organization knew this exercise was was a “Who you gonna fire?” exercise for the department and unit heads – management as do-ers and the rest of the organization employees as ‘done to’.

Because reducing headcount was the only way to hit the savings targets.

So, my boss calls us all together for the meeting where we’re told who’s got their job and who hasn’t.

This is what she said:

“I reported back to the Board on my recommendations for achieving our budget-saving targets.

I said we could lose three of you or one of me. My recommendation was that we lose me. I attempted to hand in my resignation.

This recommendation was refused.

They’ve given me two months to come up with something else.

So, what shall we do?”

What we did was each come up with savings in how we worked that cut 20% from the budget without losing anyone. Especially without losing her. And we did it with a sense of urgency and commitment you wouldn’t believe.

And we were all fiercely loyal to that boss for ever after.

Her name is Mary Scott. Wonder what she’s doing now; I lost track of her.

What I learned

Real leaders provide air cover for the people who work for them; they stand up for them, go to the wall for them, put the service the unit provides first, and their own career second. And by giving like that they reap far more in loyalty, engagement, innovation in the face of adversity, passion, productivity and team spirit than leaders who put themselves first. That’s what I learned.  And I will always try to lead like Mary Scott led me; she inspired me with what’s possible.

PS She was canny and calculating (in a good way) , not naive and self-sacrificial. She knew she was so good (but she was humble with it) that they’d never let her go; but that it would buy her time to work with us. And that she could present us with the challenge, and there was a good chance we’d be energised to come up with the solution together, focussed on that by her willingness to put herself on the line to protect us and our service. Yes, it was a calculated gamble. But she assessed the risk, innovated, and got it right :)

So, got a story like that – a true leader tale?

Submit it here

Read the rest of this entry »

Phil Recommends: Leadership Freak Have you seen it yet?

Leadership Freak - Dan Rockwell

I love Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak blog.

I love Dan’s proposition of “Empowering leaders 300 words at a time”.

And I love the clarity and elegance and relevance with which he executes that.

Here’s his latest: How to stop de-energizing the team

Phil Dourado

Leadership Hub Founder, Curator, Caretaker

The 5 things we regret on our deathbeds

Our top five regrets on our deathbeds.

So, we can do something about them now :)

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier
  4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self
  5. I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.

Source: as reported by hospice workers, who look after terminally ill people.

From: Jane McGonigal’s brilliant TEDTalk.

What’s it got to do with leadership?

Warren Bennis, the ‘Dean of Leadership’, according to the FT, says a lot of leaders are forged through adversity – going through something tough in their life that he calls ‘the crucible’.

Jane McGonigal went through her own crucible. Then thought ‘What if you could have the transformation into someone far more capable, living a better life, as a better person, for longer, and healthier, without having the trauma of the crucible?’

And invented a way of doing that. Just watching her video can make you live seven and a half minutes longer. Following her methods, outlined in her talk, can add 10 years to your life.

Innovation: Starting second can end up first

Who beat Amazon?

Which company created on-line bookselling in the 1990s? Amazon.com? Nope. The first on-line bookstore was set up by an Ohio-based bookseller named Charles Stack in 1991. Jeff Bezos didn’t launch Amazon till four years later.

We’re constantly being told that leaders need to foster a culture of innovation, to move into Blue Ocean spaces where no competitors exist, then profit from the customers before our competitors copy us and move into the space we have created.

Henry Ford said ‘come second to market’

Well, not always. Henry Ford used to argue that it made more sense to be second to market – let someone else take the risks of seeing if something new is what customers will buy. Then, when the market is proven, often at great expense, follow in and do it better. That’s the core argument in this book, and the authors lines up plenty of examples to prove their point.

Fast Second: How smart companies bypass radical innovation to enter and dominate new markets

Fast Second: How smart companies bypass radical innovation to enter and dominate new markets

And they do have one. The argument against them is the first mover advantage argument – That markets move so fast nowadays you need to be first to market with something new so you can mop up the customers. That may be true if there’s only room for one dominant supplier, and if your aim is to be that dominant supplier – the Amazon of your marketplace, if you will. But there’s usually plenty of room for smaller niche players who take the main innovation, tweak it a bit and find a space in the market that way. It’s like ‘the long tail’ argument.

But, do markets move too fast today for ‘be second to market’ to work?

Tom Peters argues that markets move so fast that trying to be second to market means you will just be mopping up the leftovers as those who were brave enough to lead and create a new market take all the prizes. Well, sometimes, maybe. But, not always.

The uncomfortable answer is that sometimes being first to market is the winning strategy and sometimes being second or even third, when the pioneers have proved what works and what doesn’t and lost all their money in the process, is the right strategy.

It seems odd to say ‘Take the lead on being second or third’ but leadership doesn’t always mean being first to market. That’s my view, anyway (in synch with the authors of this book).

Balancing the risk: Being closer to customers increases the chances of success

Nobody can tell you which one works in your particular situation (a strategy of being first, second or third to market). But, the closer you are to knowing your customers’ or potential customers’ needs – to instinctively know what they want even before they know it themselves – the more likely your innovation is to be a winner.

And that, though it doesn’t explicitly say so in this book, is why leaders need to be as ‘close to the customer’ (thank you Tom Peters, even if it was 25 years ago he said it) as possible. That means interacting with customers whenever you can, not receiving reports from middle managers about the customer base, but immersing yourself in the customer base, no matter how lofty your role in the organization is.

End of preachy bit. Anyway, interesting book…

Little bit more about it here: Fast Second on Wikipedia

The Second Little Book of Leadership

…just published on Slideshare. Hope you find it useful.


Confidence and leadership: Self-doubt is a good thing

Guess The Leader

“I’m not a naturally confident person.

At school, I bumped along the bottom, being a bit of a class clown.

I wanted to be an architect or lawyer, but my school exam results weren’t good enough.

I did a management degree, then applied to work for a series of high profile, glamorous brands.

I was rejected by all of them.

I applied to join Tesco, a company that seemed on the up.

I failed to get the job.

Then, by chance, they decided the guy who did get the job was so brilliant they wanted him to do something more important.

And they came back to the rejected candidate – me – and said do you want it after all?

I said yes. I stayed with Tesco for 33 years”

Who was it?

Terry Leahy, the CEO who took Tesco from being a mid-ranking UK supermarket chain to being the dominant force in UK retailing and the third largest retailer in the world.

Leadership lessons for us?

1. Confidence and ego: “I’m not naturally confident.” How extraordinary. Sometimes the greatest leaders are the most objective. And that can mean a lack of ego, of a natural assumption that their idea or solution must be the best one.

They don’t assume they have the right answers. And as a result, they work harder and question themselves more. Those who worked with Leahy, tho’, would say he didn’t come across like that.

So, maybe that lack of confidence is best dealt with internally – putting your ideas and thoughts through a series of internal questions and tests in your head, exactly the same as you do with external ideas that come into you.

2. Failure and success:  There’s some small print that appears at the end of investment adverts in the UK. It’s something like “Past success is no guarantee of similar future returns.” The same applies to failure.

I’ve lost count of the number of great leaders who did not ‘look promising’ or who failed or did poorly academically when younger. One to remember when recruiting, maybe.

Don’t just look at past performance. Look for the potential, the untapped talent, that previous bosses have missed in that person. And that even the interviewee themselves may not be aware of. Great leaders bring out the greatness in others.

More on self-doubt and leadership

There’s a great post on ‘self-doubt’ from a blogger I discovered through the Leadership Hub newspaper we just introduced. I’ll try and find it again and put the link here, as ‘self-doubt’ is widely-underrated as an attribute for leaders. In fact, it’s seen as something a leader should never admit to.

Ah, found it…

“f you don’t grapple with self-doubt, you’re dangerous” - The Five Positive Powers of Self-Doubt . It’s on the Leadership Freak blog. Great blog.


Leadership Hub Daily Newspaper