Developing the Best Leaders

U.S.News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University just published their list of America’s Best Leaders.
The panelists rated nominees from to 1 to 5 based on how well they met the following criteria:

Sets Direction (25 percent):

  • by building a shared sense of purpose;
  • by setting out to make a positive social impact;
  • by implementing innovative strategies.

Achieves Results (50 percent):

  • of significant depth and breadth;
  • that have a positive social impact;
  • that are sustainable;
  • that exceed expectations.

Cultivates a Culture of Growth (25 percent):

  • by communicating and embodying positive core values;
  • by inspiring others to lead.

If your employees were given the chance to rate you against these same criteria then how do you think you would do?

  • What if you were rated by your boss?
  • Your peers?
  • Customers?
  • Investors?

For each of the three criteria what can you do in 2009 to so that you are able to rate yourself at least one mark higher than you do at the moment?

Full post – including the list of ‘America’s Best Leaders’ is here.

Using the Right and Left Brain at Work

Most organisations are designed to maximise the contribution of employees left brains to the pursuit of success. Targets are set, plans are laid, logic is deployed, progress is measured and accountability is maintained. Such ‘left brain’ activities fit nicely the milieu of meetings, time pressures, deadlines and procedures that form the social system of most organisations.

However most of us choose an employer based on ‘right brain’ criteria in pursuit of ‘right brain’ goals.

  • Will the work be fulfilling?
  • Will I part of a great team?
  • Will my efforts help to make the world a better place?
  • Will the job give me a lifestyle that works for me?

It is the ‘right brain’ that is the seat of creativity, imagination, innovation and passion. Unless we build a social system that feeds, stimulates and enables right brain contributions we should continue to expect as many as 1 in 4 of our employees to be looking to leave in the next 12 months, while 2 of the remaining three will be in survival (‘count the years, months and days until I retire’) mode.

Take a quick audit of your social system (meetings, processes and procedures) at work. How many opportunities in the average week are there for meaningful ‘right brain’ conversations that are likely to lead to the successful pursuit of right brain goals?

Of course it is easy for our left brains to rationalise away this paucity of ‘right brain’ opportunity in the name of efficiency and the pursuit of effectiveness. To overcome this tendency just remind your left brain of the critical importance of enabling good people to do great work, and of the need for frequent and regular innovation and renewal, if your organisation is to survive never mind thrive in the next few years.

You may find that it gives your right brain just enough time and space to do some big picture thinking.

Goals, Priorities and Resources; where does it all go wrong?

Spending time developing and clarifying goals is rarely time wasted. Although some of us spend time clarifying our work goals few of us spend time developing goals for other important aspects of our lives – family, community and self. This is one of the reasons why we find work-life balance so hard to achieve. Goals that have been set in our professional lives are not balanced by goals in other areas. The goals that we have set start to demand creativity and resources and before we know it…

Sometimes we set goals that do not provide clear priorities. Or they provide us with so many priorities that we may as well have no priorities at all. Priorities are immediate next steps that will move us closer to our goals. Good priorities are ones that we cannot fail to address. They are so simple and appealing that they cry out for us to get on with them.

But often we forget to allocate time and other resources to our priorities. Without resources to go with them our priorities are worthless. Without doubt time is the most precious resource that we can commit to a priority. I often find myself working with senior managers to clarify goals and priorities (no more than three or four at a time) and then schedule time in busy diaries to spend on them.

By scheduling two 90 minute blocks of time every week to work on priorities many managers ‘magically’ start to make tangible progress towards goals that had previously frustrated them.

Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier

This is the title of a provocative post over at Management Issues.

Rather than adding value to their organisations, two thirds of British managers actually create negative working climates that leave employees feeling resentful and frustrated.

Research by Hay Consultancy has shown that a fifth of UK workers are frustrated in their jobs, with rigid bureaucracy and poor management structures and systems hampering innovation and productivity.

Half of workers believed they did not have the authority to make decisions crucial to their jobs, with the same proportion complaining of being discouraged from participating in decisions that directly affected their work.

Managers were failing to design jobs in such a way as to capitalise on the talents of their workers, Hay also argued.

More than a third of the workers polled believed their job did not make best use of their skills and abilities.

The study of more than 3,100 leaders across 12 industries found that close to half of the managers were creating demotivating climates for employees, while a further 15 per cent generated only a neutral environment.

Good managers who really add value (in the eyes of their employers and their team members) are few and far between.  Just a quarter of managers were able to create a high-performance climate, according to employees, and only an additional fifth managed to generate a ‘moderately energising’ working atmosphere.

But while the findings do not surprise me the headline (Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier) does.

Getting rid of managers is not the answer.  Managing their failure to perform is.  In my experience if we manage managers well – tackle management under performance – and make sure that they manage effectively using feedback, coaching and delegation it is possible to quickly build a management culture that promotes high performance.

Wally on Leadership

I regularly read Wally Bock’s blog.  He is always coming up with great insights and ideas.

In a recent post he reminded us that:

  1. Leadership is behaviour.
  2. Theory doesn’t count unless it turns into behaviour.
  3. Principles don’t matter until you incarnate them.
  4. If it doesn’t find its way into what you say or what you do, it can’t be leadership.
  5. Leadership is situational.
  6. One size doesn’t fit all.
  7. What works in one situation may not work in another.
  8. Your choices of what you say and do depend on the situation.
  9. If you aspire to leadership, understand that leadership is about actions measured by results in a specific situation.

Much the same can be said of management. I even agree with the situational nature of leadership – although I also believe that a single, simple management system can provide the basics of good organisational practice in the vast majority of situations.  A system where you:

Thanks Wally.  You can read the full post here.

The Fine Art of Progress

I get fired up about management because it the best tool for helping both organisations and the people that work in them to make progress.

Outstanding managers are able to facilitate the progress of both the individual and the organisation and to connect these in a way that results in win/wins for both.

They do this by:

  • regularly creating time and space to allow people to understand what progress looks and feels like right now – for them and for the organisation
  • building a consensus around the ‘direction(s) in which progress lies’
  • enabling people to make things happen in pursuit of progress – they promote a ‘bias for action’
  • by building the skills and confidence of people to act creatively and pro-actively in pursuit of progress within the mission, vision and values of the organisation.

One of the greatest opportunities for performance improvement is to take more time to explore these questions about progress in some depth and then to link them to immediate next steps – practical things that individuals and groups can do to close the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.  And this is what Brilliant 121s are all about.

Sue Wiley on Why and How PMN Works for Her

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Sue Wylie is the office manager at re’new in Leeds.

She has attended four PMN workshops and has used much of what we have covered in her work.  In this podcast she talks about PMN and how it works for her.

Sue explains why;

  • she thought she would never have enough time for 121s – but now would not be without them, and
  • how 121s actually save her time and avoid interruptions in her working day
  • how the principles and practices have driven progress in her team
  • the impact that 121s with her manager have had in her

You can listen to the podcast here.

Enjoy!

Many thanks Sue!

If you have attended PMN training and benefitted from it, and would like to make a podcast with me – just let me know!  You could become an iTunes star!

Whack a Mole Management

If you have been to one of my training sessions there is fair chance that you have heard me rant about whack a mole management. Whack-a-mole is an arcade game in which you try to hit ‘moles’ that pop up randomly on a board using a rubber mallet. Every time you hit a mole, you get a point.

It’s fun and people experience a ‘high’ as pent-up energy is released by whacking the moles. The challenge of not knowing where the next mole is coming from adds to the excitement.

Whack-a-mole management is based on the same principles.

The challenges are the ‘moles’. As each challenge presents itself to managers, they hit it hard and fast with the hammer of position and conventional wisdom. Slam! They get one. Slam! They get another one.

It requires quick decision making in a fast moving game. It’s exhausting, but fun. Each night the players go home, knowing their job is safe because they have successfully ‘whacked’ enough organizational problems to stay for another day.

Problem One: Whack-a-mole lures people in because it works in the short term
Problem Two: Whack-a-mole management is more concerned with looking good than with being good.
Problem Three: Whack-a-mole management always ends by making things worse

Want to learn more? Try this blog post over at Slow Leadership

Why Managers Fail

This is the title of an interesting blog post by Lisa Haneberg – author of High Impact Middle Management – which has much to recommend it.

She offers a top 5 list of reasons why managers lose their jobs:

  1. Fail to build positive and trusting relationships.
  2. People don’t like working for him or her (micromanagement the #1 complaint).
  3. He or she does not get things – the right things – done.
  4. Is uncoachable. They don’t take help.
  5. Is full of bull – does not have the courage to be honest about what was going well and where things were not going well.

So if we invert this list would we have a compelling recipe for management success?

  1. Succeeds in building positive and trusting relationships
  2. People like working for him or her
  3. He or she regularly gets the right things done
  4. He or she is very coachable.  Always open  to learning.
  5. Has the courage to be honest about what is going well and what is not going so well.

10 Ways to Make Your Employees Love You

This is the title of a great blog post written by Alison Green.   Now I am not sure that we necessarily need all employees to love us but I bet that her list (which I have paraphrased below) contains some insights and clues into how most of us could become MUCH better managers.

  1. Don’t shout, disparage or attack people – nor employees, not customers, not bosses.
  2. Be reasonable. Hold people to high standards, but that don’t demand the impossible.
  3. Keep your word.
  4. Make your team feel respected and valued: Act in ways that show you care about their quality of life. And don’t underestimate the impact of regularly making sure great employees know you think they’re great.
  5. Solicit feedback. Ask for input on everything from how the employee thinks last week’s event went to what you could be doing to make her job easier.
  6. Stay focused on results. Don’t have rules and policies for their own sake; make sure each is connected to an actual business need, and be willing to bend the rules if it makes sense overall.
  7. Workout what people need to do their job better, and help them get it.
  8. Recognise and take the difficult decisions as well as the easy ones
  9. Be honest about performance problems.
  10. Don’t assume you know what’s going on.