Friday, 16 July 2010

What Job Descriptions Do Not Tell You about Great Leaders

Smart is an elusive concept. Asking lots of questions builds up our knowledge base. With knowledge comes a certain sharpness; an ability to absorb new facts. Knowledge and curiosity builds a certain creativity that allows you to be effective. Why then do we believe that job descriptions are necessary?

The traditional study of leadership leads one to believe that the role of leaders is to set a course and stick to it whilst standing tall at the helm of their business, following the tried and tested rules of engagement, guiding their teams tirelessly through the storm. Using time-honoured job description methodology, which is often very effective, leaders attempt to keep the organisation stable, predictable and on course. What I cry out is, “Off course, off course is where the innovation and fun begins!”

This very issue strikes panic into the hearts of most of us charged with assuring the sustainability of our businesses. The challenge for leaders is contradictory: manage for stability while at the same time creating chaos that will present new opportunities and innovations. These mutually exclusive and contradictory goals are at the heart of the best organisations. Leaders capable of supporting the invention of new products and services, creating multi-layered networks, and casting off the ballast of withered management practices while carefully retaining the best ones, achieve lasting results. And, since leadership and management are largely non-linear undertakings, these are often uncharted waters with no apparent “one right way” and no absolute formula for success. Great leaders see beyond the horizon, but know they will have to adapt along the course as opportunities and obstacles come into view.

The following ten contradictions are offered only as a starting point in re-thinking a job description for new age leaders; leaders need to do all these things and do all these things together.
•Follow a structured roadmap and know that a roadmap is just a suggestion
•Know the customer does come first and that the customer does come second
•Have a systemised employee base and lose the job descriptions
•Listen to what customers say and pay attention to only 20 percent of customers’ opinions
•Build a corporate culture and stand in contradiction to the corporate culture
•Make it both business and personal
•Apply both/and, not either/or thinking
•Don’t worry what you don’t tolerate, worry about what you do tolerate

Let’s face it, when under pressure to grow, organisations of all kinds look to their roots and their previous successes for answers. Rekindling business growth inside an organisation often represents the toughest challenge to a maturing organisation. Can it regain its entrepreneurial spirit and continue to thrive despite its mature culture?

By turning to intrapreneurs, the company hopes it can have the best of both worlds. Intrapreneurs, by definition, embody the same characteristics as the entrepreneur, conviction, passion, and drive. They tend to be the leaders who have no job description, or the people who know that job descriptions inhibit success and limit thinking.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Can Apple be trusted?

We run a lot of workshops on the subject of trust.  As part of the standard lead in to get people to understand the importance of trust, we run a simple exercise that asks them to choose the most trustworthy company from a list.

Now, I'll readily admit there are some ringers in the list.  We usually place some 'hot topics' in there to keep things interesting, and no-one ever expects Toyota, BP, Enron, or the latest villain of the peace to come out on top, however the winner is surprisingly consistent.... over the last couple of years it's always Apple.

Now, I'm no Apple-basher, not in the slightest.  I like them and am intruiged by the business.  I read a fascinating book about them recently (Return to the Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz) which fuelled the intrigue even further.  I believe they make truly great 'stuff'.  I have an iPod.  I'd like an iPhone.  I'd like a go on an iPad!  But it staggers me the degree of almost 'blind' trust people have in them as a business.

On the last group workshop we ran, I challenged the group who had (once again) put Apple top of the pile.  I'll admit that my main intention was to be combative and ramp up the conversation, but I was genuinely interested to see the reaction.  I'll be interested in what you make of these challenges too.

3 Reasons why we shouldn't trust Apple:

1) We shouldn't trust companies that don't talk to their customers.  Apple talk AT us, with no interest in shaping their products to our needs, rather they shape us to their products.

2) We shouldn't trust companies that don't trust us.  They don't trust us to (truly) choose our own apps, customise our phone, or even change our own batteries.  They don't even trust us to hold our phones correctly!

3) We shouldn't trust companies who don't act with transparency.  Apple have publicly 'embraced' open standards, but then privately created new, closed standards that limit transparency and openness.

So, can Apple really be trusted?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

5 of 5. Why we resist change

Living without change would be inconceivable and unbearable. At the same time few of us would care to go on living in the midst of ceaseless, chaotic, completely unpredictable change.
Hadley Cantril

Change is such a part of our lives, we must either learn to adapt to it or perish. In fact, in order to continue learning we must embrace change, in order to aspire, to progress, to seek perfection and evolve. Change is a natural part of our existence. Change impacts the lives of people and, as such, affects their emotions and insecurities. To implement change requires an appeal to the perceptions of people in terms of how it will improve their livelihood. If the change is misunderstood or if it is perceived as something having an adverse effect on the status quo, it will be steadfastly resisted. However, if a change is pitched properly, not only will people welcome it, they will help implement it for you. People tend to reject change typically for the following reasons:

1. Fear of failure
Resistance to change may be rooted in fear. During periods of change, some people may feel the need to cling to the past because it was a more secure, predictable time. If what they did in the past worked well for them, they may resist changing their behaviour out of fear that they will not achieve as much in the future.

2. Creatures of habit
Doing things in the same routine, predictable manner is comfortable. Asking people to change the way they operate or think is asking them to move outside their comfort zone. "We've always done it this way, so why do we need to change?" becomes the rallying cry for people who have difficulty changing their routines. In some cases, people may ignore or deny the change simply because it requires them to experience something beyond their normal method of operation.

3. No obvious need
Some people may see a change only from the perspective of the impact it has on them and their particular jobs. Not seeing the big picture, they may fail to recognise the positive impact of the change on the organisation as a whole. Thus they may find the change disruptive and totally unnecessary. Their attitude may be, "If things have been working well all this time, why do we need to change?" or, in other words, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

4. Loss of control
Familiar routines help people develop a sense of control over their work environment. They feel they know what works and what doesn't, and this makes them confident about their contribution to the organisation. Being asked to change the way they operate may make people feel powerless and confused.

5. Concern about support system
People operating within predictable routines know their support system will back them up during challenging times. Changing the organisational structures may shake their confidence in their support system. They may worry about working for a new supervisor, with new people or on unfamiliar projects because they fear that if they try and fail, there will be no one there to support them.

6. Closed mind
Some people seem to have the attitude, "Please don't confuse me with any facts or supporting documentation about this change--I've already made up my mind!" People with this attitude approach the change process with their minds firmly made up, muttering, "No way!" during discussions and explanations of the future.

7. Unwillingness to learn
Some people, hesitant to try new routines, express an unwillingness to learn anything new. They may say, "I already know all that I need to know." Like resistant people who have already made up their minds that the change won't be productive, people reluctant to learn something new impede the organisation's growth and adaptation to change. They also hinder their own personal growth and development.

8. Fear that the new way may not be better
If things have been going well, some people may resist change because they fear that the change will not result in improvement. Focusing only on their part of the operation, they fail to realise that change is needed in order for the organisation to stay competitive. They may resist forward movement because they are satisfied with the way things are going. Their current status is quite sufficient, and they wish to maintain business as usual.

9. Fear of the unknown
People may resist change simply because it is something unfamiliar. Not knowing much about the specifics of the change, they may imagine a worst case scenario, which can be very scary. They let fear of the unknown become their rationale for not giving the change a chance. These people may acknowledge that a problem exists and agree that a change might improve it. However, they worry that the proposed change might actually make things worse! Their fear causes them to place roadblocks in the movement toward change.

5. Fear of personal impact
Viewing change from a personal standpoint, some people may respond by asking how the change will benefit them directly. Will it make their job easier? Will they have to work harder? Will the change put their job security in jeopardy? Will the change force them to work with different people or learn a new job?

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