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The Challenge of truth telling in the Army profession

July 12, 2014 Leave a comment

http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB1178.pdf

If a large organization like the Army which is so renowned for the quality and caliber of its leadership and integrity as difficulties with different levels of command and leaders telling the truth to each other, how much of an unseen force is the lack of candor in commercially-based organizations where there is more self-interest among individuals?
How important is it to the culture of the organization that people can tell the truth without fear of repercussions? If that’s not one of the cultural values of the organization, what are the implications going to be for large-scale transformations that require honest and open communication?
How do we break that political and cultural barrier?
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Reflecting on pride…

July 28, 2012 Leave a comment

examine the difference between “the source of pride” and “the need for pride”
2 related but quite different feelings that satisfy different needs?
do they arise from different places from within?
we can’t choose our feelings but we can work on breaking the automatic linkage between feelings and action through mindful effort
we can learn to notice the onset of feelings and disengage from the routine. robotic, instinctive follow-on action
we can learn to simply notice the arrival of the feeling and wait for our centered, calm state to re-establish itself and then decide on how to respond with our intentional mind
how can we learn to let the feelings run their course?
How does that compare to a strategy of “controlling” or “preventing emotions”?
How might that skill benefit us as professional consultants?
Victor Frankl has important, timeless things to say on this, as does the Buddha, to name just a couple sages ūüôā

Making the Invisible Visible: Understanding Leadership Contributions of Asian Minorities in the Workplace

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

leadership

Image by Ed Gaillard via Flickr

This small quiet book on leadership deserves to become visible so that its message of quiet leadership can be absorbed into our business and political organizations worldwide.

Who are the invisible leaders? How do we make them visible?

Back up for a moment: SHOULD we MAKE them visible, or is our understanding of leadership in the Western mode, with the “Individual as Hero”, not all there is to the story?

The authors tackle the problems and opportunities of global leadership from an angle that would be seen as nontraditional by Western leaders but which addresses the reality of leadership in daily life as experienced by millions of people around the world.

Coming from a Western in military background, I’ve grown up in a leadership culture that prizes individual heroic approaches to direct action leadership. I’ve never felt like that reflected everything that needs to be said about leadership and that’s the central message of this powerful book.

Thatchenkery and Sugiyama conducted a multi-year study to examine what they call the invisible leadership style that they experienced as members of various Asian communities. What they call invisible leadership can be thought of as a cultural worldview built on the ideas that showmanship is the opposite of leadership, that what matters is teamwork and results in long time horizons that favor growth and development from the inside of the organization and that performance is examined and valued on the basis of what’s good for the team. Invisible leaders get the job done and trust that the results will speak for themselves. They value team performance, and dont expect leaders to be constantly self-promoting and trumpeting from the front.

The authors proceed to explore their sense of this phenomenon by conducting a thoroughly grounded research effort that incorporates quantitative and qualitative data and analysis using surveys, focus groups, interviews and case studies to develop their argument. It is a model of scholarly work that carefully identifies assumptions, limitations and constraints while pointing to areas of consensus and opportunities to apply their insights in the last chapter.

They’ve incorporated scholarship on the impact of culture, motivation theory, multiple models of leadership and globalization in their efforts. They examine the impacts of leadership style and philosophy on promotions, training, recognition and reward systems and considered how invisible leadership is affected by current management practices in developing metrics, management practices and counseling programs.

They carefully examined the very notion of the utility of categorizing leadership under the broad concept of “Asian”, which on the surface seems like it could be useful but which masks the very real richness and diversity that can be found in various communities of practice and social groups populated by people from India, China, Japan, Thailand, Korea etc who are living and working in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and whose generational demographics and further complexity to the rich m√©lange that is their personal experience.

The study takes a cross-section of all of these personal demographic factors and adds a further dimension based on work factors like public versus private versus nonprofit institutions. No simple leadership model can do justice to such a complex sociological mixture, despite the loud proclamations of best-selling leadership book titles, and the promises of quick fix, simple formula leadership solutions. The authors findings resonate with Heifetz’s “Leadership Without Easy Answers “, and Deming’s advice to “eliminate slogans”.

The book begins what should be a long and continuing conversation to understand the real-life complexities of modern organizations and to find ways to unleash the power and quality of all our people. It suggests that organizations can begin to apply the insights of invisible leadership by asking the right questions, considering organizational policies about visible leadership, and the payoffs of supporting invisible leaders from both pragmatic and philosophical perspectives.

They carefully examine and debunk three common mental models that have plagued Asians in the United States, the UK and Canada. Asians have been variously seen as a model minority that has supposedly “made it” and shown the way for other ethnicities; as a “middle minority” without the social problems inherent in newly emerging groups but who are not quite yet co-equal with the majority and the experience of Asians as a group that is forever foreign. According to the study, these mental models are broadly perceived by Asians to affect them personally and professionally and get in the way of Asians being seen as individuals with rich personal narratives and unique circumstances.

The study examines the realities of glass ceilings in professional promotion patterns in a broad spectrum of typical organizations, relying on insights from personal interviews and government statistics to make the case. It avoids simplistic formulations and superficial conclusions and does a fantastic job of providing a rich background of context that suggests many avenues of research needed in the future.

The authors suggest that organizing around affinity groups rather than simple ethnic and social groupings can add real value to organizational dynamics. Considering the impacts of quiet leadership at all levels of the organization: strategic, operational and tactical can have powerful implications for policy and vision. They recommend organizations consider breaking with tradition of hiring outside leaders and rather concentrate more on growing their own from the inside as a way to acknowledge the power of tacit, long-term values based growth.

The authors don’t recommend a simple exchange of philosophies (“either-or”) but rather suggest that broader integration of multiple modes and perspectives on leadership will add value and robustness to organizational DNA.

I give this fine book my highest personal and professional recommendation, because it resonates for me on a personal and a professional level. It describes a style and philosophy of leadership that has gotten little to no attention in the scholarly or popular press and which I have witnessed to be enduringly effective. It treats a serious subject seriously and respects the broad diversity of opinion and scholarship that has been conducted in this area and yet finds many points of contention and new sources of information and inspiration. It’s offered in the spirit of scholarship and understanding and suggests new ways in which our global communities and people can be respected and make progress together.

The Ft Leavenworth experience

May 28, 2010 1 comment

2nd half of 14th century
Image via Wikipedia

To capture our discussion from our Post Instructional ¬†Conference about what officers would miss if they don’t come here:

1. Deep deliberate looks into complexity with a team.

Discussion: It’s too easy for distance learning and virtual teams to treat planning and problem solving as transactions of a couple hours and a minimum number of comments in a discussion board. In AOC, you have teams of 16-32-64 people looking at problems and living with each other in person going very deep with few distractions, and supported by teams of experienced faculty.

You cannot replicate that rich environment of tacit knowledge, which is experiential, collaborative, and in-person learning with  an engineering approach to cognitive task analysis which would render our staff group learning environment into a set of measureable chunks.

The profession of arms, our warrior culture is grown in the space and time between formal lessons, in the presence of leaders. You must be “present” to experience presence.

2. Planning/managing/experiencing complexity in great variety.

Discussion: we create complexity for the officers to explore here in at least 6 ways that cannot be easily duplicate on-line:

a)      The complex discussions of historical meaning being adapted to current environment

b)      The richness of developing leadership skills and qualities at the organizational level

c)      Understanding, planning and synchronizing the effects of large formations in Major Combat Operations

d)      Appreciating the socio-complexity of irregular warfare, stability operations, COIN and nation building in a whole of government approach in JIIM

e)      Designing, raising, manning, equipping a force with constrained budgets in a time of uncertainty for an extended time period while adapting the force for the current fight

f)       Developing campaign plans

g)      Synthesizing and socializing these challenges simultaneously, while living day in and day out with extraordinary officers fresh from the theater of war who are focused deeply on these individual topics.

Each topic above, a-f is a complexity and challenge all on its own. It is a non-trivial challenge to educate any single one of those lines of operation on-line and at a distance in a virtual staff group. When you combine them, and then immerse the officers in an environment rich in tradition and culture, you create the field grade officers in a way that can only be done here and in this way.

It takes time to learn a language and become part of the culture. You can’t get that by being at the end of a digital wire, performing transactional tasks while attending to other competing priorities.

The kinds of officers we have will ALWAYS sacrifice their own educational needs for the more immediate needs of others and their units. It’s how they are made. We must not put them into the position of having to choose between their education and the immediate needs of their unit. That would be asking them to make the hard choice, instead of us in the organization

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Developing leadership in all our young athletes

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Like anything involving kids, you want to make sure that you start with the absolute basics and set them up for success. That’s what you would do if you were teaching a new foot skill in soccer, and leadership shouldn’t be any different.

Stay focused on the basics of leadership with your kids. Here are a few ways that you can reliably improve their leadership.. Try these on for size and you will be amazed at how far they can get by the end of the season:

Develop a club approach to leadership that involves mixing age groups, so that the older players have an opportunity to share their knowledge and and experience in leadership with their juniors.. This way they get to use their maturity and seniority to their own advantage. You would be surprised at how eagerly our great young people will rise to the occasion and take on responsibility for helping the younger ones.

Like anything, though, the leadership role of our older players must be something that is explicitly valued by the club and in the coaching philosophy. You need to set these young athletes up for success by modeling excellent behavior with them in their formative years and consistently throughout their career. In this way, by the time they get to the senior position they will be fully prepared to take on a leadership role.

A good way to get started is in the teaching of individual skills and in leading the team through warm-up and stretching exercises at the start of practice and cool down and stretching exercises at the end. These can be ritual routines that are easy to learn and yet give our young people an opportunity to exercise excellence in practice.

Selecting captains for the team as an important way for kids to take on leadership roles during the actual play of the game. I like to rotate Kinship among the kids in the reward for their hard work during the week of practice and this makes can explicit connection between hard work and leadership rewards.

Finally, go out of your way to praise leadership and others, especially when the take the initiative to make on the spot corrections were to share their knowledge work to enforce the high standards of your club. In this way we showed that we value their initiative and leadership.

Enjoy the season!

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Advice to an aspiring young leader

May 25, 2010 6 comments

Students of the Leadership Course with Costa R...
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Leadership is not a natural act for most people, or so they think. There are leadership qualities deep down inside each and every one of us, though, that are just waiting for the right circumstances, motivation and opportunity to come to the surface.

The hardest way to try to develop your own leadership is to do it on your own. Leadership by its very nature requires the presence of others who will make decisions on whether or not to grant you the authority to direct their actions or inspire them in certain directions. So it’s necessary for you to define your leadership inside a social human context.

Therefore, a good place to start is a social situation in which you are already familiar with the people involved and where you can learn to try on a new role. It’s a good idea to enlist their aid and share with them your desire to improve your leadership. This could mean volunteering for committees or groups or to take the lead on a particular project.

If you select something that’s already within your skill set or where you have some expertise it will be that much easier for you to stretch in the area of leadership area

it’s a good idea to make your goals known to someone else whose opinion, insights and judgment you can trust. This person can act as a sort of peer mentor for you and give you the valuable feedback that you need to develop your leadership skills.

It’s always a good idea to maintain a journal and especially for leadership. You will want to record your experiences in as much detail as you can, which includes your thoughts and feelings and those of others whom you’ve selected to give you feedback. The reflective learning potential of a journal ensures you get the maximum benefit from your leadership practice.

A book or two on leadership is not a bad idea, but you want to be careful that you don’t over do the theoretical aspects of leadership. There are as many different offered ways as there are authors and it’s more important that you have an authentic experience coming from your own values than it is to adopt the practices of others. Leaders who are not authentic are most certain to fail.

Good luck with your leadership practice!

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Reflecting on surveys for organizational feedback

May 15, 2010 5 comments

Understanding, mural by Robert Lewis Reid. Sec...
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Discuss the usefulness and limitations of survey feedback. What are the key issues/problems the OD practitioner has to be aware of while feeding back data?

Usefulness of survey feedback (when it is effective) (Cummings & Worley, 2009, pp141-2):

  • Motivation to work with the data: organization members have to believe in the purpose and efficacy of the feedback system, We are finding it extremely important for the surveyed population to get feedback on HOW the data is being used
  • Structure for the meeting: Because of the challenges and possibilities of interpreting data and connecting it to action plans, there needs to be a thoughtful and satisfying means of examining discussing, interpreting and then acting on the data, in a process that satisfied all the tiers in the organization
  • Appropriate attendance : people affected by the interpretation of the data should be represented in the meeting: This can validate the assessment of the data and the legitimacy of the action steps decided upon
  • Appropriate power: feedback process must have the authority to get the data needed for action, but also the authority to act as suggested by a fair reading of the data
  • Process help: Because the sense-making of the feedback process stakeholders is a political process with connections to the deepest values of the organization, it is necessary that the process be above board and managed/led properly.¬† Social & political justice is an important part of legitimizing the decisions that come out of the feedback process. We don‚Äôt have to agree with every decision but we must be satisfied by the process that got us to the decision.

These elements are timely as we are conducting a process action team project for the college’s feedback system this month.

Limitations of survey feedback (Cummings & Worley, 2009, pp 147).

  • Ambiguity of purpose: If the purpose of the feedback process is not clear, then it stands to reason that the design of the experiment, the survey questions, the interpretation and the focus of action steps. Having an explicit plan that is clearly understood upfront seems non-negotiable before we proceed any further along the feedback path.
  • Distrust: it seems to me that distrust could come from either purposeful or accidental¬† circumstances. We might distrust the leaders‚Äô¬† true purpose or the skill of the practitioner in achieving the technical standards of designing and administering the survey properly. Either source of the distrust will clearly sabotage the ultimate actions that derive from the feedback.
  • Unacceptable topics: Culture, tradition, values, leadership-imposed constraints, or perhaps even an agreement among stakeholders to hold certain areas off limits may give us only par5tial insights. These off limits areas may not be critical to the system, but in complex social organizations it may prevent us from achieving a holistic and satisfying understanding. My experience has been that the off-limits areas really degrade the usefulness of the survey.
  • Organizational disturbance: we know from science that the act of measuring alters the system in some way so we must take into account how, so we must make trade-off decisions about how much to measure and how often, and in a manner that minimizes the cost of querying.

Key Issues/problems: It seems to me that whether your survey data and feedback processes are useful or problematic depends on how your system¬† ‚Äúscores‚ÄĚ on the 9 qualities of the survey data identified in Cummings & Worley,( 2009, pp139-141). I think that the organizational members perceptions of these ¬†are as important as the technical merits of the survey/experimental design.

  • Relevant: do the data connect with the area under study?
  • Understandable :¬† are the stakeholders satisfied with the clarity?
  • Descriptive : do the data give us meaningful and identifiable characteristics
  • Verifiable: are the data reliable and repeatable?
  • Timely: can we get the data quickly and within a timeframe that they remain valid?
  • Limited: is the scope is narrow enough to allow focus and analysis?
  • Significant: are we working on important issues concerning core processes and values?
  • Comparative: do the data allow us to make meaningful distinctions? And infer cause and effect so that we can take actions?
  • Unfinalized : do the data lead us towards significant action? Or dlo they leave us at a dead end?

(Cummings & Worley, 2009).

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