How Leadership is the Ability to Create a Local Alignment in Complexity

There are numerous definitions of leadership. Seen from the complexity view, a leader is someone that is able to create locally, more or less broadly, some alignment inside a complex organization.

school_fishIn a complex system it is certainly difficult to create any sort of alignment. Contributors all have their own interest and are very inter-dependently linked and related to other contributors. However when one is able to create a dynamic movement and bring along the necessary contributors, astonishing things can happen. That’s probably what leadership in a complex world means.

This may be a new definition of leadership. At the same time I believe it is a useful approach to this issue. Seen from that perspective, a number of leadership practices become clearer and more founded in actual science.

As a leader, impress movement in complexity. It is will be even more powerful than what you believe.


How Total Happiness is Not Conducive to Creativity

Being too happy makes one not so creative! That’s at least apparently the outcome of serious research quoted in this Quartz post ‘Scientists explain how happiness makes us less creative‘.

multifacemanThe gist of the argument and of the findings is that “creativity calls on persistence and problem-solving skills, not positivity“. Hence, creativity would be found in rather tougher environments where problem-solving is paramount to survival.

It is a rather similar argument about the fact that expatriation and exposure to other cultures promote creativity: because problem-solving abilities are challenged significantly when moving to another country, plus exposure to other ways of thinking, there is a good fertile soil for creativity.

On the other hand there needs to be quite some protection afforded to allow for time and reflection that are involved in creativity. Extremely tough environments will not afford that. There must be some optimal spot in between perfect bliss and total disruption.

Conclusion: to achieve a creative environment, provide a protective setting but don’t pamper people too much!


How to Address the Paradox of Required Flawless Success

We are expecting from our leaders to be overachievers and at the same time to a flawless record of success. But wait! that’s not consistent.

overachievers-need-failureIf a leader has achieved something of significant in his past life, he or she will have been criticized, hated. He or she will have faced failure and disappointments. The project they were working on might only have achieved a small part of its original (grandiose) goals. Thus, an effective leader will not have had a consistent flawless record of success and approval.

When electing or choosing our leaders we need to face this paradox. And we fall into the trap so often! In large companies it is often the quiet achiever that gets promoted (to avoid controversy). In politics, any failure at any point will be duly raised up to demonstrate incapability. Dictators will re-engineer their history to appear flawless.

As a note though valid flaws should not include improper behavior and language, lack of respect etc. This shows a flaw in character, not the impact of having tried something worthwhile. These are not always easy to distinguish from valid failures but they finish by coming out in a long campaign (cf. US presidential campaign).

Inspired by Seth Godin’s post – a must read! ‘The paradox of the flawless record‘.


How To Create Emotional Connection in a Community

In this great blog post ‘What do people need to feel part of your community?‘, Pamela Slim shares how to create actual emotional connection within a group of people. And she certainly has great experience doing just this.

community connectionHer recipe includes:

  • Feeling safe
  • Feeling seen
  • Feeling heard
  • Feeling honored

One aspect that struck me particularly is her statement “I want to stress that “safe” doesn’t have to imply “always comfortable.” Some of the very best community building involves real discomfort as people explore beliefs and perceptions, challenge assumptions and explore differences.” Actually, I do strongly believe that going together through uncomfortable situations is a great way to create emotional connection – and that’s a ploy commonly used for example, for team-building events.

How do you treat the community you are trying to build? Is there any of these elements missing?


Why Leaders Must Put On a Show

Leaders must be able to put on a show, to display energy and pay attention to others, regardless of how they may feel at the time” writes Jeffrey Pfeffer in ‘Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

CEO_smilingHe continues: “In fact, being authentic is pretty much the opposite of what leaders must do. Leaders do not need to be true to themselves. Rather, leaders need to be true to what the situation and what those around them want and need from them. And often what others want and need is the reassurance that things will work out and the confidence that they are on the right track.”

It is true that I have found that the advice of being authentic as a leader is not always the best way to perform the role. On the other hand, sometimes being authentic allows a real connection with the people or the team, and that is also worthwhile. The issue here is to know when to be authentic and when to put on a show. And most of the time it is about putting on a show for the team.


How Leadership Development Programs are Designed to Derail Those Who Believe in Them

The thought might be a bit extreme but is worthwhile considering: what if the leadership development programs were actually designed to filter out of the career progression those who really believe in them?

derailmentFollowing up on our review of  Jeffrey Pfeffer‘s book ‘Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time‘ (see our post ‘Why the Leadership Industry Is Failing‘, the author notes that in a typical career, “The critical time comes around twenty years [in the career], when, if successful, people have reached very senior hierarchical levels where everyone around them is smart and accomplished.”

He continues “At that point, the differentiating factor is the ability to navigate increasingly politically charged environments that are peopled by those who mostly do not fulfill the leadership industry’s prescriptions“. This inconsistency between the actual behavior of successful leaders and what is being taught in the programs is actually quite striking also from my own experience.

Hence it is almost a natural deduction that if we were to apply what is being taught in leadership development courses, we condemn ourselves to career failure. Of course reality is not as black and many leadership course instructors and developers have good intent. However the thought is worth considering. A certain degree of unconventionality is required in all cases.

How ‘unconventional’ are you in the way you lead?


Why the Leadership Industry Is Failing

In the highly recommended book ‘Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time‘,  Jeffrey Pfeffer takes a very strong position on the failing of what he calls the “leadership industry” to produce the strong leaders organizations and society need.

LeaderBSMy conclusion that follows from these two sets of facts: The leadership industry has failed. Good intentions notwithstanding, there is precious little evidence that any of these recommendations have had a positive impact.

He started from an “observation: on the one hand, there is an ever-growing, enormous leadership industry consisting of an almost limitless number of books, articles, speeches, workshops, blogs, conferences, training sessions, and corporate leadership-development efforts, activities that have existed for decades. […]

The recommendations include, but are not limited to, that leaders inspire trust, be authentic, tell the truth, serve others (particularly those who work for and with them), be modest and self-effacing, exhibit empathic understanding and emotional intelligence, and other similar seemingly sensible nostrums.

And on the other hand, there sits ample, even overwhelming evidence of workplaces filled with disengaged, dissatisfied employees who do not trust their leaders and whose oft-expressed number one desire is to leave their current employer. What’s the upshot? Not only is the world filled with dysfunctional workplaces, but leaders themselves are not doing so well, as they confront shorter job tenures and an ever-higher probability of suffering career derailments and getting fired.

I am not too far from agreeing with this view. I am generally suspicious about mainstream ‘unanimity’ on concepts and approaches and I must say that leadership is an area of much concern. In future posts we will explore more this interesting observation and conclusion.


How We Can Overcome Being Judged Only By Our Track Record

I like this quote “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we already have done“. – Longfellow.

longfellow-quoteI find it so true both on a professional and a personal level. Because we are often judged by others on our past track record, it is extremely difficult to explain that we have decided to change, and that we intend to change. And even more to explain what we feel capable of doing in the future if it looks vastly different from what we have done in the past.

As a personal note, the most salient occasion where I have observed this was when I was an expatriate. The home office was still judging me on the basis of what I was doing before departing a few years earlier, while of course by experience grew tremendously from the exposure (hence, a divorce to be expected with my employer).

When we face this issue, explanation is one way, but action is probably the most effective way to demonstrate commitment and that we take a new orientation seriously, based on what we believe we can achieve. It may involve some significant initiative-taking. But that’s worth it!


What We Should Trust From the “Man on Site”

There are two schools of thought regarding how truthful the information from the man on site can be. One school follows Winston Churchill: “Never trust the man on the spot“. Another school believes that local knowledge offers sometimes a better insight than what is available in headquarters.

Worker on construction siteWhat’s the right way about this? It’s all about what information we want to have.

Information about the actual progress and the actual situation on the ground is best retrieved from site. Far-away management does not work and leads to unrealistic assessments of the situation. I observe this effect all too often in large projects.

On the other hand, do not expect the site people to have a very worthwhile assessment of the whole strategic or even tactical picture. They can only have a limited view of the whole due to their position. The breadth of the subjects they can apprehend depends on their scope. Local representatives in a particular country will often have a much better assessment of the political situation of that entire country and what can or cannot be done than the global headquarters. A local representative on a site can only apprehend very local issues. In general I have observed that often the local representative can be trusted on a scope slightly larger than his assignment.

In general, I tend to trust more the people on site except if the topic is clearly beyond their observation range.

Churchill quote from H. R. McMaster Dereliction of Duty (a recommended read about how the US politicians and top military got embroiled in the Vietnam war)


Why Emotions Remain So Important in Organizations

Google is generally trying to use data to drive its performance. But it has found itself unable to predict the performance of teams based on data only. Actually it was more about emotional interactions. This research – the Aristotle project – is explained in a very interesting NYT article, ‘What Google Learned from Its Quest for the Perfect Team‘.

emotions at workProject Aristotle is a reminder that when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

As Hugh MacLeod (Gapingvoid) puts it, “Why is business so hard? Simply put, we think it is due to a lack of humanity. Our obsession with data is conflated with a belief that emotion in business is bad: Data and emotion are incompatible, so we have a bias against connecting emotion to business and we work in sterile workplaces that do not value our humanity.

But what happens, when the data support the paradox that it is our emotional connections that create better, more efficient, smarter work?

Let’s develop emotional connection to create more efficient work.


How to Develop Emotional Responsibility

Marshall Rosenberg in the book ‘Non violent communication‘ explains that “In the course of developing emotional responsibility, most of us experience three stages:

  1. “emotional slavery”— believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others,
  2. “the obnoxious stage”— in which we refuse to admit to caring what anyone else feels or needs, and
  3. “emotional liberation”— in which we accept full responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others, while being aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.

RosenbergEmotional responsibility is essential to respond to deeply conflicted and emotional situations. I like this description of those three stages because of their clarity and how they relate to my own experience. I am not always emotionally liberated but at least I can see how to reach that level.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings is in my view the essential piece here. Being able to do that is the key in reaching inner peace and responding adequately to stressful situations where tempers flare.

How do you take responsibility for your own feelings and at the same time acknowledge the feelings of others, being ’emotionally liberated’?


Why We Should Avoid Moralistic Judgments

As a personal discipline, we should refrain from moralistic judgments. This creates new perspectives. I love this quote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi.

RumiOne other reason is that we are often wrong on our moralistic judgments, because we don’t know the circumstances that led to what we observe. It is so easy to be imprisoned in one’s frame of mind and not see that the situation is perfectly explainable in a moral way.

One kind of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values.” writes Marshall B. Rosenberg in ‘Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life‘. Indeed jumping immediately to moralistic judgments can be deeply life alienating. Just avoid it.