Tag Archives: management

the power of introverts

2015.04.22_the power of introverts

When Susan Cain was nine years old, her mother packed a suitcase full of books and sent her off to summer camp where she was promptly encouraged to put them away and push herself to become more ‘social’, and less ‘introverted’. It was the first of countless times throughout her childhood that she would receive the message that extroversion was not just the opposite of introversion, but was, in fact, a preferred, more valued, and idealized counterpart. In this TED Talk, Susan argues that there is a huge loss to creativity and leadership that comes with an over focus on extroversion in organizations, and that when introverts are passed over for promotions because of their reserved nature, companies may be missing out on some of their most careful, thoughtful, and creative leaders.

As a culture, it seems hard for us accept that opposing behaviours can and do exist without requiring opposing labels of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. It’s time for organizations to start valuing the balance; to stop labelling introversion as a negative, while placing hyper-sociability (which comes with its own limitations and drawbacks to efficiency and productivity) on a pedestal. Action is not always the ideal over contemplation. Nor is collaboration always the ideal over autonomy. Solitude is often a very crucial ingredient to creativity, and the more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with their own creative solutions to problems, and lead organizations or teams in their own unique and valuable way.

watch the video here

advantage at the fringe

Colored sphere explosion

In today’s business environment, competitive advantages rapidly erode. Entire industries are transforming and being overwhelmed by new developments.

The internet is shifting power from companies to consumers.

Product and strategy life cycles are shrinking.

Deregulation and globalization are opening up entire industries to an onslaught of nimble low-cost competitors.

The fact is organizations using yesterday’s rigid management principles are not adaptable or creative enough to handle these challenges.

The problem is innovation is stifled by the norms of organizational structures. Individuals who deviate from this structure are identified as renegades and discouraged from contributing.

The outcome is organizations deal with change in a traumatic fashion. They aren’t nimble, they aren’t creative and they aren’t proactive.

The solution is management innovation. For far too long companies stuck to the same corporate regime. Products and branding are refreshed regularly, but the process by which we organize resources, plan and aggregate effort has remained untouched.

What kinds of questions should you be asking within your organization to foster innovation and management change? How many of these questions are being asked by your executive and management teams on a regular basis?

What can we do to encourage more open exchange? (creating a democracy of ideas)

What are we doing to make our employees innovators? (amplifying human imagination)

How are we allocating our experimental capital? (reallocating resources for adaptability)

How are we tapping into the intelligence of all of our employees? (aggregating wisdom)

Is our decision-making determined by foresight or the past? (minimizing the influence of old paradigms)

Can people choose where to make their best contributions in our organization? (allowing everyone to participate)

“I don’t know!”

I don't know

Like others, just before the holidays I watched in stunned disbelief as Leaf’s goalie Jonathan Bernier described the great Nelson Mandela’s amazing achievements “on and off the ice”. I mean I get it, he’s a professional athlete and neither his legacy nor his pay cheque hinge on being well-versed in politics or world issues. It is hard to imagine, though, that he would attend a charity event and not at least have googled the individual being honoured. What was really interesting on top of that, was the way he chose to go into so much added detail, rather than just admitting what he didn’t know, or even offering up that he was a truly inspiring man and vaguely leaving it at that.
Why can’t we just say the words “I don’t know”? We all know that nobody knows everything, so why is it so painful for us to admit when we’ve been hit with a question we don’t know the answer to? Is it pure ego? Cultural expectations? Where does it come from and when does it start? More importantly, is there a downside to living in a society, or working in an organization, where we don’t feel that it’s OK to say so when we don’t have the answer? Plenty of business articles advise never saying you don’t know, but there can be a deep cost to that attitude. It can certainly impact your credibility, as it did for Bernier, when his inaccuracies were so blatantly obvious, however, it can also cost the organization when decisions are being made based on information presented as fact, simply because the individual making the call didn’t want to admit that they didn’t have all the answers.
Three simple words – “I don’t know” lend themselves to all sorts of positive business outcomes such as seeking solutions, acquiring knew knowledge, gathering new information and collaborating with others. Just because you don’t know one thing, doesn’t mean you don’t know anything, and the same goes for your colleagues, superiors and direct reports. This radio podcast, from the individuals who brought us the documentary Freakonomics, is a fantastic listen, and offers insight into the roots of our fear of admitting when we don’t know an answer, as well as highlighting the negative impact this can have on businesses that foster it.

listen to the entire podcast here

Mindset of Exploration and Discovery

In the current context, the future is optimized when core organizational strategies are framed by a mindset of exploration and discovery, rather than one of exploitation and defense. A strategy based on the old model of exploiting a particular product, market segment, customer group or type of technology is fatally flawed in the world we now live in. Strategies based on the old model have a half-life that is shrinking and are a sure path to competitive disadvantage when events unfold in the unpredictable, non-linear and even irrational fashion in which they almost assuredly will.

A strategic mindset fueled by curiosity, exploration and discovery will produce a higher rate of opportunity creation than would ever be possible through the old methods. It is the more nimble, fleet of foot approach that is better suited to the times in which we live and the competitive marketplaces in which we do business. The choice has effectively been made for us by the context in which we have been asked to operate.

Insight, Intellect, and Practicality

The emphasis we have placed on the value of accumulated or stored knowledge we have worshiped in the past, is now a potentially dangerous source of false confidence. It is actually a rapidly depreciating asset, given the fact the half-life of anything new is shortening every day. To become a transformational leader and truly differentiate yourself, it has become increasingly important to work on your timely retrieval ability, rather than on your storage capacity. The more novel and different things you experience or have an interest in, the more likely your brain will be able to fill in the missing pieces and make the new connections that allow us to make sense out of apparent nonsense.

There are several new mindsets required for someone to thrive as a transformational business leader today. Regardless of the final destination we may choose for our organization, we know the starting point is the same. It all begins with the leader developing a rich and diversified experience repertoire from which new attitudes and new competencies can then flow. It is the complex combination of insight, intellect and practicality that together allow great leaders to not only have a superior radar system with which to detect signals, but also the ability to make rapid fire connections. It is based on their confidence, amplified by their adaptability and fuelled by their intellectual curiosity.

Underperformance and Failure

If legitimacy is not achieved by a leader, two things can happen – the followers will not be fully committed or fully invested, and the organization will seriously underperform as a result or the followers will ultimately undermine the leader, using a variety of different methods ranging from outright sabotage to careless neglect to lack of carry through. Either way, the inevitable result will range across a broad continuum of organizational failure, from mildly suboptimal to totally dysfunctional. In the process, the social architecture of the organization will deteriorate to the point where the leader can push all the buttons he or she wants, but the organization will just not respond as it should. At that point, it’s game over for the leader!

human dynamic business

The Human Dynamic

The minute you bring any group of people together, let alone the hard charging, high achieving, super innovative types we all want in our organizations, you are bound to ignite tensions. The human dynamic provides for an endless number of psychological variables that even the very best leader can find challenging.

High-performance organizational effectiveness can inevitably end up twisted and distorted by underlying tensions that impact performance, harmony and survival. First, there are the cognitive tensions, which arise from inequities in the distribution of mental fire power and the resulting inability to reach shared, common understanding because of basic differences in the way people process information. Second, there are the emotional tensions, embedded deeply in the character, motives, intentions and fears of the various members of the team.

Ultimately, the emotional and behavioural foundation of an organization is what shapes the culture and is reflected in the habits, preferences, methods, approaches and styles of the people. Culture is a powerful force that can act for the good, but equally for the bad.

Lessons in Team Leadership from Sochi

download as PDF

download as PDF

**Drafting a Winning Team …**
Seldom is success a solitary effort. Even in those sports which appear to be individual in nature, there is a background team of trainers, nutritionists and psychologists – all of whom contribute. In business, the same can be said, but seldom is the same degree of care put into developing the “right” business leadership team.
It’s all too common to hear complaints (sometimes verging on adult whining) about lack of alignment and inadequate collaboration as the source for under performance. Why do so many leaders seem mystified by the mechanics of team work, and fail to understand they control their choices and, therefore, the outcomes?
Let’s look at some facts:
• Teams are built through hard work over time
• Teams require clear roles and responsibilities to succeed
• Teams need to understand the “decision rights” within the team
• Teams are based on a mix of individual and collective accountabilities
We have largely failed to make the science of building a winning team a critical
leadership competency. Instead, we continue to rely upon broken systems and
practices that lead to teams that are set up for underperformance from the get go.

Meticulous Preparation …
Success comes from a combination of different sources, typically a cocktail that
includes equal parts hard work, effort, timing and luck. The first two ingredients set the groundwork for the moment when opportunity presents itself and the organization and its leaders swing into action. In sports and business “getting ready to win” is as important to ultimate victory as playing the game itself. Despite this, leadership teams rarely prepare in the way they should.
Just ask yourself the following questions:
• How much practice time does your team allocate?
• How well organized and planned are the practices you do hold?
• How much do you work on perfecting your “special teams” and “plays”?
• How fit is the team, and what are you doing to improve the level of fitness?
It might seem like a throwback to the values and beliefs of an earlier age to suggest that hard work matters, but the truth is – it does!
Successful teams prepare to be successful and, while there is nothing glamorous about the preparation phase of the journey to victory, the gold medal winners know there are no shortcuts. The gruelling, boring preparation is all part of putting yourself in a position to excel when it really matters.

The Role of Culture …
A study of serially successful winning teams will quickly and convincingly reveal the importance culture and chemistry play in ensuring victory. These are not mysterious secrets locked deep in an underground vault. Simply put, they are the basic, common sense rules of success.
Culture matters, despite how often it is ignored or dismissed by leaders who look down their nose at the “soft skills”, and prefer instead to puff up their egos with macho locker room banter about the value of the “hard stuff”. It is disturbing to witness the naïve talk of leaders who refuse to accept that success occurs within a context, and is the direct result of time spent creating the “winning conditions”. Success is the outcome – culture,
chemistry and the other “soft skills” are all part of the inputs. Garbage in – garbage out!
The external market conditions, the pace of technological change and the nature of societal and demographic change all conspire to make organizational culture an even bigger and more important priority than ever before. Leaders need to revisit their understanding of what culture means and the role it plays. Some common myths need to be punctured.
• The myth that culture is something HR looks after – wrong
• The myth that culture is about employee engagement – wrong
• The myth that culture is linked to compensation and benefits – wrong
• The myth that culture is elusive and cannot be proactively shaped – wrong
It’s time to grow up and place the elephant of culture on the leadership table.

Heart as Human Jet Fuel …
We seem to have come to the mistaken belief emotion has no place in the workplace and must be banished. This absolves too many leaders of the need to hone their skills of managing emotions, both their own and those of their teams. It provides a convenient excuse behind which some leaders hide. In the process, it deprives their organizations of a source of positive energy that can be put to very good use.
Emotions matter – in both business and sport!
In fact, emotions, including passion, drive, competitive spirit and determination, are all necessary ingredients for success for any endeavour in which there are obstacles to overcome and challenges to meet. If you disagree, then ask yourself why both the American men’s and women’s hockey teams wilted under the pressure of important games in the recent Sochi Olympics.
• Were they less talented? Not likely.
• Were they less prepared? No, they were not.
• Were they less well coached? Very, very unlikely.
They wilted because their heart was not as big and their emotions were not as well channeled – especially when they met some adversity along the way.
Heart matters – especially when you are tested.

The Power of Determination …
There are several important behaviors which leaders can leverage to get things done,to drive change and to overcome obstacles. However, the subject of determination, as an essential leadership trait, has not been studied in the way it deserves. The most important insights in this regard come from the work of Dr. Angela Duckworth at The University of Pennsylvania and her research into what she calls “grit” (and others might simply call determination). Professor Duckworth has identified an important breakthrough in our understanding
of performance and what distinguishes one person over another. She reminds us that “smarts” on their own are not enough to drive success. The “grit” she talks about is something that is hard to define, but you know it when you see it!
Associated with “grit” are the twin concepts of self-control and conscientiousness.
Dr. Duckworth describes “grit” as the tendency of a person to sustain interest in, and effort toward, very long-term goals. Self-control is described as the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.
This powerful combination of personal attributes is what allows some people to push harder, strive higher and remain committed in the face of adversity. In today’s world of short-term thinking and endless distractions, these traits are perhaps the answer to managing some of the stresses we feel. They speak to the character of the leader and, while hard to measure empirically, they represent the intangibles that separate good from great, and success from mediocrity.

Never Underestimate Lady Luck …
All of the great leaders and leadership teams I have known, over thirty plus years, have benefitted from their share of good luck. In fact, if anyone ever tells you that there have not been times when they got a break, they are probably lying to you or are deluding themselves. Luck in business is about seizing opportunity when it presents itself.
The great leadership teams we know and have studied over time have worked hard,
every day, to make sure they are ready to grab opportunity from the table when it presents itself.
• They have done the small things.
• They have stuck to some core beliefs.
• They have ground it out in the trenches, over and over again.
Having done so, and having paid careful attention to the chemistry, culture and
character of their leaders, they have been able to pounce quickly when opportunity presents itself. In the case of our women’s Olympic hockey team, a puck that luckily hits a goal post to keep the game against our American cousins close, ends up being the turning point that shifted the momentum and led to a win for the team that was behind going into the third period.
As always, luck comes to those who are well prepared.

Lessons from Adversity …
Setbacks are a part of business life – some would argue a necessary part, if you
believe we learn more from our failures than our success. Setbacks come in all sizes, shapes and forms, and they tend to present themselves at the most inopportune and inconvenient of times. Leaders can’t prevent surprises and setbacks, no matter how hard they try or how many processes, policies and procedures they put in place. Leaders are much better advised to build organizations that can bounce back from adversity quickly, rather than pretend they can erect walls to prevent setbacks.
Resilience is a positive organizational trait, and you can build resilience into your organization in several different ways. The most important of these is instilling confidence in people that they will not be punished for their errors of either commission or omission. We can go even further and suggest that since mistakes and setbacks are inevitable, you should make them sooner rather than later in order to provide valuable learning and insights that can be built into the organizational architecture.
To face adversity is to face the world as it is – imperfect, random and oftentimes paradoxical. Leaders who hesitate or, even worse, freeze in the face of adversity, are not likely to succeed in the long-term, because they create organizations which lack the resilience necessary to carry on. The author Seth Godin refers to these moments as “dips”, which represent the necessary tests along the road to success and serve to separate the worthy from the pretenders.

Coaching from the Bench …
Standing behind the bench of any great team is a great coach. Notice, they are found behind the bench (in support of their players), not in front, where the players deserve to be! If you had carefully watched both Mike Babcock and Kevin Dineen (the coaches of our two gold medal winning Team Canada hockey squads) as they skillfully guided their teams through the Olympic experience, you will have seen two leaders who never got too high and never got too low. In fact, their emotional tone and demeanor could have even been described as coldly neutral, but without doubt, they both feel something inside. It’s a matter of emotional control and perspective, two things that business leaders could learn to embrace.
In addition, both of these coaches had confidence in their teams and a quiet confidence in the preparation leading up to important games. They understand that preparation
matters, and that doing the hard work of “getting ready” is vitally important. Seldom do our business leaders commit to the same intensity of the preparation phase of work in the way they should.
To make matters worse, they don’t always know how to manage the bench during the
game. They are not attuned to the subtle signals which their players emit, and seldom do they trust their intuition on who to put into the game at just the right moment.
Business leaders should act more like hockey coaches than commanding officers.

Steps to Take :: Actions to Consider
Canadians all across the country once again felt the pride of Vancouver 2010 as
they watched Sochi unfold on their TV screens and web browsers. They marvelled at the success of athletes from all of the various winter sports (captured in the Twitter hashtag #we are winter), whether they were Canadian or otherwise. But, as always, we reserve our biggest boasts for hockey.
We can honour all athletes by taking away lessons which can be applied in business just as well as they can on the snow or the ice. Lessons born not from academic textbooks, but rather lessons drawn from the well of common sense.
The following are just some of those lessons.

Build Teams of Leaders
We have become infatuated with the cult of the superstar leader, the hero,
the mythical men and women of unbounded charisma. The best organizations,
however, focus on building a pipeline of leaders who know how to play on teams
and who respect the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

Get the Chemistry Right
Too little attention is paid to the importance of chemistry when building teams.
The collective result is what matters, and a team of A players does not always win over a team of B players who play with heart, pride and passion.

Practice Hard – Practice Often
Greatness does not just happen, it is built and earned through hard work and the
constant search for mastery, which come from deep within. The great players
always take practice seriously and, yet, in business, it is always the solitary
superstars who refuse to practice with the team and see it as a waste of their time.

Focus on Potential
There are not very many superstars who are born – the majority are made! They
evolve over time, based on a certain innate capability, but it has always been
baked into them by parents, teachers, coaches and life experiences. Business
leaders need to stop looking for the Sidney Crosby types and, instead, look
for those who have the potential, but who need someone to help release it.

Hire for Heart, Grit and Determination
IQ is overrated as a determinant of success! At best, it is no more than one
third of the total success equation, sitting alongside EQ and Character. Those
leaders who perform best under pressure, and within the fog of ambiguity,
tend to be those with more grit and determination than those with a fist full of
degrees from Western, McGill or Harvard.

Commit to Learning from Setbacks
You can tell when a leader lies or misleads. One of the most heinous lies is
about how mistakes are treated in the typical organization. The gap between
rhetoric and reality in this domain can be huge and, while the spoken word
says “stick your neck out and take a risk”, the daily code is the exact opposite
and only the CEO is blind to the reality.

Do you have the two skills required to lead your business into the future?

We are living a world of change like never before. The forces of change are coming at us in wave after wave with increasing fury and in totally unpredictable ways. Some leaders are simply overwhelmed by what they face. Others are stunned by fear and others still are unsure what to do. In each and every case, leaders are facing the need to transform rather than tweak – and yet very few are equipped for the task at hand.

Making sense of the world in which we live, decoding it and then shaping it in ways an organization and its people can better understand and willingly accept is the first challenge facing the transformational leader.

Read my full piece for the Globe and Mail here.

Canada’s Brand: Mindset for the Future

Canada has a great deal to offer the world when it comes to business leadership and ideas, but we have not worked hard enough at defining, packaging and exporting our unique point of view. We appear to have been more than willing to outsource our leadership thinking, operating models and business principles to the Americans, and that is simply not in our future best interest. As a result, the brand called Canada is seriously underleveraged.

We must make it an urgent priority to breathe new life into our brand or we will miss the opportunity to seize the business leadership baton from the hands of our shaken American and European cousins. We are all going to live in the future, whether we want to or not, and we can’t afford to allow the future to happen by accident or be shaped by others to suit their own ambitions. We have to be deliberate, thoughtful and intentional. We need a strategic plan for the future of our national brand, but we must begin by first nurturing a new leadership mindset for the future and the leadership competencies that go along with it.

Sadly, there are still too few spokespeople in the leadership field in Canada, and their voices are muted in the boardrooms of business because the voices we do hear tend to come from the halls of academia. We need to fill that void with a robust national dialogue on the subject of what constitutes global business leadership for the future, and then we must begin to develop the type of leaders dictated by the context in which we live. We need Canada’s brand to be known, admired and respected around the world, not just for our products and services, but also for our leadership capabilities and the Canadian way of doing business.