Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behaviours at Year End Break Up Parties!

Most organisations have some sort of "year end" breakup party just preceding the holiday season of their culture. A celebration of what has been achieved and what there is to look forward to in the following year.  These are the absolute best times to understand the REAL culture of your organisation.  As an example, over the next few days many organisations around the world will be breaking up for Christmas where there will be ample flow of alcohol and consequently ample flow of emotions (sometimes far too openly for the comfort of others).


So sit back in a corner and observe for a while and see the nature of the zoo in terms of behaviours.  Behaviour and relationships (or desired relationships) determine which cluster each of the animals aligns with and who is permitted to join. The image clearly shows the animal alliances and a little analysis helps you to understand the culture of the zoo.  The Organizational Zoo philosophy is that the culture of the zoo is determined by which animals you have, where they are in the hierarchy and how they interact.

What stories do you think are going on in this image?
Why does Triceratops drink alone: His/her fault or the fault of others?
Which of the Lion den (org silos) would be best to be part of?
Why do the Owls spread themselves amongst several groups?
Who typically is th only one working and why?
What reasons are there for being part of a lions group rather than any other, especially the Quercus (Oak Tree)?

Metaphorical questions (like rhetorical questions) are wonderfully powerful. Reflecting on why things happen using the creativity of a metaphor is helpful to our understanding as it brings emotion, creativity and logic together in an "out of body" experience.  We can talk about behaviours in a way that seems more objective and less political than talking about people. Note, I said seems, we are still limited by our own biases and established patterns, but if you allow yourself some freedom, you may even be able to challenge these and come to understand some new options you have not noticed before). A BIG thank you to John Szabo who does all of the Zoo Drawings, he nailed this one just like all the others!

Have some fun with this and at the same time you may learn something about others and maybe even yourself!
Happy people watching!  I look forward to sharing more metaphor with you in 2011.
Enjoy a safe and prosperous break for those of you fortunate enough to get them and spare a though for those who are less fortunate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The cycles of life: A metaphorical tradition

Many countries celebrate a “Festive season break up” in December or January/February. It may be the financial cycles of the organisation, the tradition of Christmas or Chinese New Year or any of a range of other natural cycles. I sometimes wonder whether we celebrate surviving another cycle or we are celebrating the beginning of the next cycle. We even count the cycles in terms of our age, they year of the XYZ, anniversaries, the decade of ABC, person of the year, annual champions (and “wooden spooners” – those that come last for those lucky enough to not be familiar with this term). We even make (mainly without any commitment) resolutions for the next cycle through annual strategic reviews, personal commitments and promises. If I lost that 10 KG I promised I would every year I would have dieted into oblivion by now- thankfully I am not great at keeping such commitments through multiple cycles. I can argue that it is like recycling. I promise to lost 10 KG, lose 5 them put it back again so I am in a position to promise to loose 10 again next “silly season”.

This cycling is something that humans have retained from their mainly outgrown animal instincts. Sometimes we don’t even realise we are on the treadmill and would be uncomfortable if we were to have the luxury of getting off and stoping for a while.
Nooooo!!! Mustttt stay up wiiiitttthhhh the Paaaccce!” we exclaim as we rush through life as if rushing to the end faster is a good idea.

Perhaps this festive season we should take a little time to rethink how we engage and what cycles to extract ourselves from. I am convinced that we can be more productive and happy by consciously challenging which cycles we choose to remain in and which to jettison. What metaphor would you apply to your ideal life? Would it reflect calm and ordered or aggressive and chaotic or some other style. What image comes to mind when you consider how you would like to live and what cycles would be there and which ones gone? A tropical island where the daily cycles reflected eating, drinking and sleeping and there are no annual cycles? Have some fun with this – give yourself the time to play in your imagination and then think about what you have to DO to achieve that. Persist! Nothing ever changes until you make a decision and act on it. Don’t be too busy to think about what you really want and what truly makes you happy. It can’t happen if you don’t dream about it and motivate yourself to go and get it. Create the metaphor, reflect on it and then do what needs to be done to get it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Enhancing Professional Coaching with Metaphor

Performance is a big focus of professional coaching and behaviour is a big part of performance. A concept that stimulates a reflective dialogue about the impact of behaviour on performance is a useful interaction, providing it is done in a constructive manner. In coaching, there are a number of ways which metaphor can be used as it provides a creative mechanism to trigger novel ways to assess who we are and why we act the way we do.

Behaviour has a major impact on performance of individuals, teams and organisations, both positive and negative. If you learn how to understand behaviour and how to leverage the positive aspects whilst mitigating the negative impacts, you can greatly improve team dynamics, the working environment and performance generally (whilst reducing stress and negative political behaviours). Problems often happen when people do not talk about behaviour and “read between the lines” rather than ask and seek to understand differences. Differences in behaviour can be a major asset to be leveraged and metaphor provides a fun constructive way to stimulate conversations between people about the impacts of their behavioural environment. The Zoo Character cards and the free on-line profiler enable people to separate the behaviour from the person and depoliticise interactions. This helps people to build relationships rather than damage them through misunderstandings.
Some examples of the types of metaphor based activities that can be done in coaching sessions include:
1. Compare the outputs from the Organizational Zoo on-line profiler for the same person in different situations. Discuss the impact of deploying different behaviours when the context changes. Explore how success comes from being able to adapt to different circumstances and behaving in way that helps to deliver our desired outcomes. Discuss how behaving to control the environment is more productive than reacting to the environment.

2. Consider how your profile may be different if completed by others, a peer, your boss, someone who works within your team. How others perceive our actions and behaviours can be very insightful and their reality may be very different to how you perceive you act. The Organizational Zoo online profiler can be used to do 360o assessments to provide multiple anonymous perceptions of one’s behaviour. This can be very insightful and stimulate some rich reflections. The aim is to engage in a challenging dialogue to learn about behavioural strengths and weaknesses. The rich discussion is far more important than absolute accuracy of the profile. The value created for the coachee is not about right and wrong – it is the ability to understand how to further develop their behavioural capabilities and build more effective relationships. Ultimately, the more we understand each other (those we like and those we don’t) the better we know how to interact in the most optimal manner.

Can we ever truly accurately “categorise” a person’s behaviour? Humans are complex and often unpredictable, especially successful people. Many profilers categorise to simplify a person’s character, which is highly dangerous. People should be taken out of the box, not tried to be put into the box. The Organizational Zoo metaphor enables us to be the animal (behaviour) we need to be in order to achieve our desired outcome (as opposed to judge ourselves unable because we fit into a certain box). If you want your coaches to be more powerful and more successful (and perhaps even more liked), get them to understand what animal they need to be in each situation to get the best mutual outcomes.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Leadership in Action? No - just Leadership Inaction

The recollections from my last post created another thought about a story I shared at the power of place session at the International Leadership Association global conference. It highlighted the difficulties the Australian aboriginal peoples encountered with the arrival of the English settlers. My early childhood in “the outback” was a time when aboriginals were treated as second class citizens (and unfortunately still are by some). As a na├»ve child I could not understand why my dark skinned friends with whom I played football and shared lunches at school were any different from me. I admired how much “place” is embedded into their culture and identity, and enjoyed conversations and their stories about the rainbow serpent creator and how the people and animals were part of the overall environment. Metaphor is deeply embedded into their beliefs and how they pass on these beliefs to the next generations through stories. It is only recently that our westernised learning systems are “discovering” the power of story and metaphor in formal learning and business engagement, and yet it has been used for centuries by “apparently lesser educated people very effectively.

Aboriginals understand they don’t “own” land - they and the land are essential elements of the environment. Once the land was taken from them, they lost their sense of identity and place and therefore a large part of their culture. The government’s ignorant answer was simply to give them another place. Typically this was out of sight and I would argue out of mind. For a long time this strategy (disgracefully) worked for the government, but had a hugely negative impact on the aboriginal peoples. For a while, “integration” was seen as the answer. That is, focus on how to bring aboriginal people into the “superior” European ways of life and totally remove their traditional “savage” ways of life. Of course, without identity and belonging to their sacred places, many critical parts of their identity and purpose were lost. This caused many issues such as school dropouts, high level of disobedient behaviours, alcoholism and premature deaths. The infant death rate of aboriginal people is much higher than that of the Australian norms and life expectancy is much lower. I am pleased to say that there are some programs that are supporting some return to traditional ways involving the elders mentoring the young people, but I fear this in insufficient to retain enough knowledge for this to be sustainable.

The key learning for me from these recollections is the arrogance of those in power and their tenuous sense of superiority. They claim to be “developed civilisations” with highly educated leadership “helping” the disadvantaged. These are the same types of people who have destroyed the environment, engaged in divisive world conflicts with aggression, fought over resources and engaged in personality destruction in order to get into power and control decisions making (on behalf of others?). They are also the same types of people who cannot find answers to sustainable management of resources after just 200 years of occupation and who’s short term thinking caused the global financial crisis.

I would like to highlight that the aboriginal peoples of Australia lived in a sustainable manner for 40,000 years (the oldest civilization – yes I stress CIVILization) in harmony with the environment and (mostly) in peace with their neighbouring tribes- until our “modern” society took this away – and for what? This harmonious culture had been part of the environment for thousands of years longer than any western culture has managed without destroying themselves or their environment. Aboriginal peoples understood how to navigate by the stars and manage the optimal resource gathering by seasons long before western “civilisations” were thinking about such things. They shared this knowledge through storytelling and metaphor through millennia, whereas western uncivilisations are trying to find ways to turn story into profit and influence rather than leverage it as a possible way to preserve and share knowledge. Aboriginals understood the importance of environmental balance and strategic use of resources and more importantly, acted on this knowledge through a nomadic lifestyle, so as not to over use what was available and enable it to recover before they returned again.

Our current global leaders (still dominated by western thinking) have not been able to find “acceptable” answers to any of these complex questions because they are looking in the wrong places. They are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Quality answers are available and will work if given the chance. However, our “leaders” are just too arrogant and “superior” to see beyond their self imposed boundaries. They do not possess the leadership we need for our best future options. The real leaders are too busy trying to make a pragmatic difference with no resources to engage in their silly games of politics. A good first step is to cut “defence” SPENDING globally by 20% and give it to people to INVEST in sustainable community initiatives to improve their living standards and reduce aid dependent subsistence. Show some true leadership by considering what is best for the peoples of the world and make decisions that help the problem instead of being part of it. I am looking to soar with Eagles and engage with Quercus, but disappointed to find too often those in charge are more self focused Lions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Place, experience, identity and belonging

Connections are strange things - they seem to come out of nowhere, but have importance to us and how we lead others.  A few weeks ago three unrelated things happened a few days apart that triggered me to recall two unrelated memories from my childhood. These stimulated some useful reflections on our behaviour as professionals and in which boat we should be. I attended a session on the use of multiple senses and poetry to influence perception at the ILA conference. I also attended a session on the power of place at that same conference on the same day. The following day, I went for a reflective walk around the Boston Common.

Whilst on this walk I recalled my enjoyment of the poem “Hist” as a child, which I also shared with my own children when they were in primary school. The poem describes a fearful journey at night “a mile or so across the Possum Park” (which as child I thought was Boston Park) and how terrified they were during the journey. Once nearing the other side and coming into the light again, their fear evaporated and their stories changed to how brave they were and how exciting the journey was. This stimulated me to think how often we don’t take that courageous journey out of fear. We don’t get on board that unknown boat to “somewhere else”, especially in a time when perceptions of risk kill many ideas before they can grow sufficient strength to survive attack by the change resistant power brokers eager to preserve their control and interests.

Updating that old poem to suit our current context might look like:
(with apologies to and inspiration from CJ Dennis)

Hist….. Hark,
The journey seems so dark
We SHOULD tread a new track across an unknown park
Step right, lead like you might
With egos aside and open minds
Deliver us into the light
Let’s together embark on an uncertain journey that takes us to a better place using all the knowledge we have and embrace the “sacrifices” this may entail. Because if we do not do so, the sacrifices will be much worse (and are already visible to those who CAN SEE). Please do not be afraid of the dark. Look for the inspiration and confidence that comes from leading by example and accepting that we must act for the future, whilst retain the best of what we already know (and this is not western dominated short term thinking!) The planet needs and is ready for true “advanced leadership”. Are you in the boat or on the bank?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From Lead Gunners to Gun Leaders

In Australia the slang term “Gunner” is a derogatory term for someone who is always shooting off ideas but rarely does anything about them. It comes from their constant verbal shots of “I am gunner do this and they are gunner do that…”. The lead gunner wants to look good by spruiking ideas, but knows that attempting delivery of their “great idea” is a risk. It requires action and capability they are not confident about, so they have handy a list of complex barriers they use as a excuses for their lack of delivery and commitment. I often wonder what they see when reflecting (assuming they engage in genuine self challenge). Are they aware of their limitations, or blissfully in their own little “reality”.

Typical of the dry and not so subtle Australian sense of humour is you can buy such people a circular wall decoration called a “tuit”. This removes their excuse of “I’m gunner do it when I get a round to it”. In contrast, the slang term “Gun” applies to someone at the peak of their performance. A gun athlete wins the gold medal, they are the best and everyone knows it. A gun leader is a highly respected individual who delivers on sustainable promises. People trust them and are inspired by them.

I have observed lead gunner behaviours in many of today’s so called “leaders”. Many are fantastic at describing their vision or mission (assuming they know the difference). However, they have very little idea (or intention perhaps) of acting to convert these into reality. This is often driven by fear of the unknown and the unpredictability of the longer term future. The fact that we live in a complex world should be seen as a great advantage and source of opportunities for innovation, not an issue. However, it has resulted in many at the top (I refrain from saying leaders) making decisions that are short term focused to reduce risks and “optimise” short term gain. A better leadership approach is foster “collaborative opportunity before issues” (see earlier post). Although risks are important to decision making, the risk analysis needs to come after the creative interactions to generate a wide diversity of opportunities. This mindset of focusing on short term “risk free” actions for immediate benefit to the few is the action of gunners not leaders. Now more than ever we need genuine authentic leaders who think, behave and act in a sustainable manner. It is far easier to describe what a house is, than to build it. It is even more difficult to convert the newly constructed building into a home, which a family of people “own”, identify with and feel a sense of belonging and safety. Organisations often lack this sense of belonging, causing stress, a lack of loyalty and high employee churn. So back to our Lead gunners…

How do we encourage the decision makers to shed the gunner mentality and remove the barriers to realisation, rather than constantly talk about what is stopping them. “I can’t deliver this until….” echoes along the corridors of the top floor, along with “I wasn’t my fault, we couldn’t have known and this has never happened before”. Get over it! The world is complex and unpredictable. If you want the privileges of being a leader in such a world, deal with this - or get out of the way for someone who can! In fact, if you are a capable leader you will revel in the uncertainty and leverage the diversity and emergence whilst acting in a responsible manner. Such an approach will drive a positive performance spiral in your organisation and contribute to the “greater good” not to mention your reputation.

So, where are we going to find people who get this? Leaders accept the challenges and the responsibility of creating a shared vision which all members of their “tribe” want to willingly follow. Because, if they don’t have willing followers, they can hardly be leaders can they! So are you gunner join the typical leaderless or be a gun leader?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Boundary riders for creative innovation

Boundary Spanning Leadership, a book by Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason from the Center for Creative Leadership was released last week has been an immediate success. It is in fact, a good example of its own philosophies in that it draws on a wide range of ideas from many contexts to support the research on which it is based. It also leverages the impressive networks into which the CCL authors have within their circles of influence to promote the ideas it contains. They cleverly contrast the common perception of boundaries as barriers to progress with the less commonly applied definition as frontiers. This highlights an important aspect of our role as leaders is to challenge boundaries to forge new territories on the path a discovery pathway that drives innovation and performance. Although these principles may not seem new at first glance to some, what is unique about the book is the simple way in which these complex issues are simplified with a well structured pathway that clarifies how you can transform the concept of creative innovation into a reality. They provide interactive ways to engage people to participate, that is taking good theory and weaving a pragmatic process in place to deliver results.


I was attracted to this book because I often referred to myself as a “boundary rider”, explaining that my role has often been to solicit new options by drawing from a wide range of disciplines to stimulate conversations at the edge of people’s experiences and knowledge. I, as I am sure others like CCL and similar innovation consultants, have used such approaches for many years to make a difference for the people we interact with. The challenge we often have is when people ask what we do. It can be hard to define and mundane job titles do not do our work justice. This is what Chris and Donna have captured so well. They clarify some of the more creative elements and processes we deploy through a sharper focus and demonstrate why this creates value.


When being introduced to new people (even by some of my former bosses, clients and family members!), rather than tell them what I do my introducer often says, “He can explain what he does as I am not sure”. My replies vary depending on who it is and the context, but some of my favourites have been “I bend people’s minds” or “I am a boundary rider across multiple knowledge disciplines”. These statements are not meant to be arrogant or create a sense of superiority- they are meant to stimulate a creative conversation by offering something a little mysterious and intriguing. These responses invariably trigger another question and the exchange of good questions is always a more creative and fun two-way interaction to share knowledge than simply telling them answers (which like names are bit mundane and quickly forgotten).


Like my friend the Yak illustrated above, boundary riders are highly enthusiastic in what they do and if given a little freedom around emergent interactions and permission for the group to experience some small “mistakes” in a safe fail environment – the groups can create a lot of innovative outcomes whilst having a lot of fun along the way.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The intersection of thoughts: Attendee or Participant?

This week represented a unique intersection of experiences for me. I am on a speaking tour of east coast USA for three weeks and it is 5 AM on Sunday morning in Boston. No, not jetlag - my mind is wide awake and bursting with ideas. For the last four days I have been attending the International Leadership Association (ILA) conference and heard a wide range of ideas about what leadership should be and how leaders how leaders need to act for a sustainable future. The four keynotes were excellent and inspirational - holding the hearts and minds of the thousand attendees in their hands through their inspirational words. Each received a standing ovation demonstrating the level of appreciation for sharing their thoughts and experiences. Their key messages for me were the importance of spirit and compassion across cultures and beliefs from Karen Armstrong. Jeff Swartz explained why business performance and sustainable practices are allies not enemies. Rosabeth Moss Kanter pointedly and repeatedly asked “Leadership for what?” and explained that “Advanced leadership” requires capability, connections and cash (resources) with commitment and concern. The importance of adjusting your perspective and approach as our new challenges emerge was highlighted by Howard Gardner. All four strongly emphasised the importance of action rather than just talk and, quite appropriately, this was the overall theme of the conference, “Leadership 2.0: Time for Action”.

My other engagements as I migrate south with winter approaching are a series of workshops on leveraging collaborative knowledge to drive innovation and finally chairing/speaking at the Project Management World conference in Florida. This unique boundary spanning combination of activities going through my head (at the same time as designing a new course on internal research in organisations) has created my brain implosion and awareness at such an uncivilised hour. This is one of those moments when both right and left brain are actively generating new thoughts from this diverse mix of concepts and I felt compelled to share this with others. Attending sessions on “transcendent moments” in leadership, the influence of art in innovation and the significance of place for our sense of identity, all helped to fuel a powerful concoction of new ideas. The act of being open to ideas from outside one’s normal emotional and intellectual boundaries creates new emergent opportunities, which I now need to act on in order to harvest the fruits of to reap the potential benefits.


My last two Twitter posts (@Metaphorage using #ILA) for the conference were: “Have we just attended a conference or participated in a series of conversations that have developed our perspectives and matured our approach?” and “THE question is how many of the 1000 attendees will think, behave and ACT differently as a result of attending?” For me this is the essence and purpose of participating in such events – how do we use it to make a positive difference, for ourselves and others? As Theodore Zeldin stated “The kind of conversation I like is the one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person”. What is the point of listening and providing a standing ovation, if we do not act on what we have learnt? It dishonours the speakers and limits our own performance. The wiser alternative is to ACT and further develop the ideas through ongoing experience, shared conversations and helping others to understand the value of what we have had the privilege of being exposed to. Engaging in this way will further mature our own capabilities and connections at the same time increase the capacity of our organisations to apply the ideas more widely. Ultimately, shared insights leading to more sustainable actions increases performance and relationships – Isn’t that what advanced leadership is about?


I know what I am going to do and the process has already begun. Other than sharing what I got from the experience though this blog (and two more drafted), I have created three new book titles with structures for wider sharing and added several maturations to my new course. When I return home, I am ready to participate in richer conversations with my mentee groups and further develop the mentor program and networks I facilitate. I also have a new bunch of challenging question to engage my students with in our interactive tutorials.


What have you done recently to put your advanced leadership into action? Will you continue to “just attend” events or will you participate in them and engage with others to create a difference through enhanced interactions?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reflective Metaphor Model for Performance


I have been developing a new model to enhance performance through an action research program. It combines reflective practice, conversations that matter, behavioural metaphor and assessments of impacts on (largely intangible) performance outcomes. Application of the new model (illustrated) is highlighting the power of combining these concepts into an ongoing capability development cycle. By adapting the behaviours required at each stage of the cycle, the individual or team can align thinking to desired outcomes (such as impact on stakeholders and team performance). Recording and challenging their thoughts in a Reflective Impact Diary at each stage assists their development. For example, the structure reinforces enabling simulations before any planned interaction as well as recollection and challenge after the event to highlight key learnings. Learning is even stronger if the conversations and constructive challenges at all stages are done collaboratively.

This approach helps participants to preselect the behaviours are the most appropriate to achieve the desired outcomes of each conversation at each stage. This highlights the purpose of each conversation and matures participant’s thinking before the interaction, thereby improving the chances of success. Actively engaging with colleagues in Conversations that Matter at each stage of an adapted reflective practice cycle (Reflect, Plan, Do, Observe), enables richer learnings and stronger relationship development. Embedding Zoo Metaphor into this approach enriches the understanding of the behavioural interactions for both “Reflection in Action” and “Reflection on Action”. Combining reflective practice with conversation structure, behavioural analysis and metaphor is unique. Placing reflection at the beginning of the cycle to simulate creative conversations about possible outcomes is something that some people do some of the time. The suggestion of this model is to consciously do this in a structured way and enables the actors to be better prepared than the traditional approach of Plan, Do, Observe then Reflect. Separating pre-reflection (simulation before the event) from planning is a critical point. Simulation is about creating and testing a range of options using divergent thinking. Planning typically is more about selecting which options from a range should be used and in what order using convergent thinking. The behaviours to be displayed in each of these conversations are very different to optimise the process. If simulation and planning are done together it is probable useful emergent opportunities will not be developed (or perhaps even recognised).

The interdependence of these four approaches and the synergies they generate with each other makes them powerful. Although any of them can be used alone, together they become much more influential and contribute more to personal and team capability development. All four concepts help those using them to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and others and the interactions they can then have with them. My PhD research is assessing the impact this will have on performance (of individuals, teams and organisations). I am very interested to hear what you think (and also from people who wish to participate in the research).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wiki Conversation Visualised

A group of my students studying knowledge based performance are each asked to research a separate topic and then write about it in a wiki. They insert links in the context of their own topic to the topics researched by other students to demonstrate the interdependence of each field. After this has been done they are asked to engage in a "Conversation that Matters" (see Jan 4 post) about the relationships between each of the topics. Whilst they have this conversation, the links each student highlights are marked on the board and additional key topics mentioned are added. The picture above is one output of this conversation (as are notes, mindmaps etc recorded by students). This image becomes a memory jogger for them at a later time which enables them to recall more details of the conversation.

More important are the outcomes of the conversation. Discussing the learning experience, the students feel they have a greater depth and scope of understanding and a richer perspective of how interrelated the "different fields" actually are. They believe the conversation is a great way to learn and provides a better sense of connection between topics. They also relate to each other better as they have shared knowledge and helped to deliver a higher quality of learning for all members of the group.

Collaborative learning techniques such as this enable everyone to contribute and a range of perspectives to be aired, opening up fresh insights for those who did the detailed study of the topic. Because there is no script, the flow of the conversation depends on when each person decides to contribute and this is influenced by the strength between their topic and the one being discussed in the moment. Typical complex interaction, if repeated a different sequence of events, but now having done this many times- similar patterns arise. As an aside it is interesting to note how many of these knowledge related themes come back to decision making.


The face to face conversation makes a useful addition to the wiki and the "verbal wiki image" is a good complement to both. Combining individual effort with collaborative development and the rich image makes the learning experience more significant for all members and much more useful than each participant researching all topics.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Behavioural Based Leadership

Leadership is behavioural - not a position!  The person at the top of an organisation may be a poor leader.  They may occupy the top job and command decisions, but this does not mean they are a GOOD leader.  A real leader is a person who has WILLING followers.  People want to help them because they are inspired by them and respect them as a person.

To become a leader of great standing requires a history of proven performance where your stewardship and demonstrated actions have served other well.  A leader of such standing shows a complex understanding of responsibility and can read other's behaviours to the point where they know what is best for them (even if their followers are not consciously aware of why).  They seem wise and have a mature set of behavioural capabilities that carry them well in times of crisis.

The model above lists 20 behaviour based capabilities that a great leader would be expected to have.  Perhaps not all well developed, but they would be aware of which need further development and what they need to do, experience or learn to achieve this improvement.  Capable behavioural leaders care about their own development as well as the development of those who follow them.  they have an adaptable style which shows visionary action orientation (Eagle), wise mentoring (Owl), collaborative engagement (Bee), the ability to take command if appropriate such as in a crisis (Lion) all supported by a philanthropic foundation.  The have an inherent ability to read the situation and quickly adjust their style to optimise the outcomes for "their people".  I have met a few such leaders, but they are few and far between.  Have you met any? 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Combining Metaphors to enhance effect and performance

The use of animals as metaphors for behaviours was covered in The Organizational Zoo as well as some other places.  Sports metaphors also have been widely used for business teams.  I have for some time played with the combination of the two to generate an understanding of the relationship between behaviour and a team role.

Belbin's research built an understanding of how different teams benefit from acknowledging that a diversity of roles is required to optimise outcomes.  My own interactions have been experimenting with the understanding of getting the right behaviours expressed in the right roles within teams.  Where people with particular behavioural preferences are put into a role not matched with those preferences, conflicts can occur as well as personal stress. 

However, if the roles are matched with the behavioural preferences a better balance of behaviours can generate a smoother flow of the work.  We still need diversity of behaviours and a set of roles appropriate for the task at hand, as each team needs "small agile players" and some "more robust players" to complete the different tasks.  In the basketball and football images shown the goal and required tasks are very different and this requires a different set of behaviours.  The level of aggression and the nature of the players are different, but each team has internal diversity to match the appropriate roles within that overall requirement.  If the basketball team is doing HR (less contact and more supportive) and the football team is in sales (more robust contact and aggression) I am comfortable.  However, if the football team represents my HR team and the Basketbally represents my sales force my business is suddenly not looking so good.

Combining the metaphors in this way provides a richer picture of what is required to be successful.  The overall context, the roles within the teams and the interactions between the players are all important.  People get the importance of this very quickly and have fun exploring the implications.  As with many metaphors, this quickly introduces a complex message in a simple and safe way which stimulates conversations between people around the impacts for them in their contexts. This is where the real value is generated.  People talking with each other about things that matter in a constructive way.

Get the right players in the right roles and you fly with the eagles, get misalignment of behaviours (animals) or have them in the wrong "positions" (roles) and success is far more difficult to achieve. I see this as being aligned with some of the recent writings of Dave Snowden on the interactions of crews.  Interested to know if readers can identify with this concept.  As always, I appreciate the fun images provided to me by my friend John Szabo (a good example of roles - I write and he draws, other way round would not be so good as I still struggle with stick people!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Park Ranger and the Leading Lion

A scenario where leading from behind can be effective.

Collaborative employee A
We are between a rock and a hard place, they will not change their plans and we cannot force them to. I honestly believe this training proposal is necessary for the program be successful, but they simply won’t resource it.


Collaborative employee A’s manager

I'm almost to the point of saying "to hell with it - let them rot", but I know that isn't the answer. If they persist then we need to be prepared to assist when the project fails - which costs more money than if we did it correctly the first time.


Collaborative employee A
I had been in this battle for a long time before I realised they would not allow us to help. There are only so many times you can come back and fight the same battle. Then I challenged myself: "So this means that you can't manage what is needed?" I really dislike the sound and implications of that question.


Supporting aggressive leaders with knowledge-based proposals is like being a ranger in a wildlife reserve responsible for caring for the lions. The lions consider only the immediate benefit to themselves and have little interest in longer term strategies. They are not able to understand that the ranger is there to support and guide them and without whom, the lion would not survive in the wider changing world. The ranger ensures sustenance and protection for them and their part of the world for rest of their life. However, this requires a little cooperation from the Lions. Unfortunately the lions are disinterested or incapable of understanding the value of the ranger’s advice and support. Even once it is implemented (assuming the lion does not try to eat them whilst doing so), they may not appreciate what it has done for them.

I ask myself why are we rangers take the risk of working for lions on the open grassland with little protection and kudos? Unfortunately, as the Global Financial Crisis has shown much of the business world is ruled by prides of primeval carnivores living day to day for their own benefit. The rangers are those of us trying to convert this into something more sustainable for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, lions have not asked for this and don’t appreciate why we are doing what we do. They are blissfully unaware of the wider impacts on the world and how this ultimately affects others as well as themselves.

We are bound to lose a few battles and win some others. Not perfect, but progress. We are in this environment because it needs us. Going back to the management question.… So how do we MANAGE the primeval carnivores so that they make the most of the situation they don't understand (or don’t want to understand)? Sometimes it is better to allow some small mistakes to be made and prepare to be there to support them though and to minimise the consequences when they happen. It is quite conceivable that under such circumstances, you will be chastised for “allowing” the mistake to happen, despite your best efforts to prevent them (and probably being mauled a few times).

The fact those “accusing” you of not doing enough to prevent the issue are the very animals that flatly and robustly rejected your earlier suggestions should not surprise you. They will not thank you for cleaning up, will criticise you for poor management in allowing it to happen, but in your heart you know it was the best outcome overall as it prevented the major disaster. Rangers are Owls and ultimately Owls can only influence over time to optimise outcomes, not force actions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Conversations that Matter


Constructive conversations are the single most powerful way to engage people and make a difference for those you interact with. It is a pity that many people underestimate the power of the conversation. Everyone engages in conversations, but only a small percentage know how to create the right environment for "Conversations that Matter".
Effective conversations that matter follow a simple structure defined around understanding what you are trying to achieve and four fundamental focus areas: Outputs, Outcomes, Benefits and Beneficiaries.
For example, brainstorming, making a decision and authorising actions are all usually done through conversations, but in each of these cases, the focus of the conversation is different. This impacts on the type of information being exchanged and the people you need to involve. Certainly the outputs (tangibles such as documents, lists, decisions, communications) and outcomes (intangibles such as emotions, buy-in, creativity, identity and "enhanced performance") are very different. Brainstorming conversations that matter generate outputs such as lists and outcomes like creativity and potential (and perhaps even fun). A conversation that matters about succession planning and business continuity will generate outputs like a strategy, some decisions, agreed actions and hopefully some processes and pairing of mentors and mentees. However, the outcomes may be great (the strategy is good, the chemistry between the pairs positive and there is time to achieve the desired knowledge transfer) or bad (the strategy is impractical, matching poor, a lack of trust and sharing is ineffective). Too many projects that finish on time and on budget are a failure because we converse about the more easily measured tangible outputs rather than the far more difficult (and important) intangible outcomes. "We finished on time and on budget, but once the project team disappeared we had no idea how to operate the system effectively let alone optimise it". Very familiar words, regardless of what type of industry!
This is where conversations that matter generate their most significant impact. Managed well, the facilitator ensures everyone in each conversation understands the purpose of the conversation and what benefits will be delivered to which beneficiaries. Performance improvement results when the ultimate owners and users of the new idea, product or concept have been engaged in a series of conversations that matter at the appropriate moments throughout the initiative. This generates engagement, ensures understanding of how each interaction will impact their performance after it is finished and how the right knowledge is going to be transferred to them so they can take ownership. A good facilitator knows how to ensure each conversation is completed across each of the four focus areas so that everyone involved is fully aware of the impacts. When the leader creates the right environment for the conversations that matter to flow, it builds trust, effective relationships and greatly increases the likelyhood of achieving the desired outcomes. For more on Conversations that Matter refer to the book, Being a Successful Knowledge Leader or ask a Zoo Ambassador

By the way, metaphor is a great way to have fun with conversations that matter. Metaphor can be used to stimulate emergent ideas and get people thinking outside the box (if brainstorming or focus on consequences and risks if in a decision forum). All Organizational Zoos are happier places when people talk with each other with a positive purpose, rather than talk at each other with avengence.