Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter
October 2011, Issue 103
The American author, poet, and psychologist, Bonaro W. Overstreet observed, "October is a symphony of permanence and change." Isn't that so true of life? It's certainly the paradoxical balancing seen in strong leaders and found in peak performance cultures.
This month in the northern hemisphere trees put on a colorful display as they prepare for big weather changes in the months ahead. The flowers and foliage of perennial plants in our gardens die to prepare for winter. Yet the tree trunks and plant roots remain; gathering nutrients and becoming dormant to wait for re-growth next spring. Strong leaders and peak performance organizations preserve core organizational values while shedding old ways and preparing for new seasons ahead.
Another take on this season comes from Emmy Award-winning writer and producer, Mitchell Burgess: "if winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It's a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it's time to reflect on what's come before."
This issue provides reflections on:
- What expectations do I have for the people on my team?
- How might my beliefs and expectations shackle me to behave like a prairie chicken rather than soaring like an eagle?
- Am I fulfilling the needs of my team members for competence, relatedness, and autonomy?
- Do we have healthy debates, dysfunctional arguments, or avoid discussing difficult issues?
- Are increasing workload demands along with always-on technology taking control of my time?
- Is our culture helping or hindering our major change initiatives?
- Am I a servant leader? Whom do I service?
- Are you leading a peak performance culture?
If you're too busy to read and reflect on these key questions -- beware. As the Aesop Fable about the ant and the grasshopper reminds us, we need to prepare for the changes ahead, or we'll be changed.
My Fair Lady Shows the Power of Expectations
This summer I finally saw the famous musical My Fair Lady based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. I took our fair daughter, Jennifer, to see My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
I've wanted to see the show for years as a result of reading and talking about "The Pygmalion Effect" in my work. This powerful leadership force was first publicized in J. Sterling Livingston's classic 1969 Harvard Business Review article entitled "Pygmalion in Management." He researched and wrote the article while a professor at Harvard Business School. Here's part of his conclusion:
"The powerful influence of one person's expectations on another's behavior has long been recognized by physicians and behavioral scientists and, more recently, by teachers. But heretofore the importance of managerial expectations for individual and group performance has not been widely understood. I have documented this phenomenon in a number of case studies prepared during the past decade for major industrial concerns. These cases and other evidence available from scientific research now reveal:
- What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
- A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
- Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
- Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do."
As a psychology major and now elementary school teacher, Jenn and I had a discussion about the strong impact of a teacher's expectations on the self-image and success of students. Study after study shows it's profound and often quite subtle.
Whether as a teacher, coach, or manager, you clearly can't raise performance with low expectations. Daniel Goleman's more recent research on Emotional Intelligence leads to the same findings: "expecting the best from people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy."
You can read more about The Pygmalion Effect and its profound leadership implications at "People Live Up or Down to a Leader's Expectations" and "Leader's Have Great Expectations." What we see in others is often what we get.
Native American Folktale Illustrates the Power of Expectations
I don't recall how this Native American fable ended up in my database:
A native brave came upon an eagle's egg which had somehow fallen unbroken from an eagle's nest. Unable to find the nest, the brave put the egg in the nest of a prairie chicken where it was hatched by the brooding mother hen. The fledgling eagle, with its proverbial strong eyes, saw the world for the first time. Looking at the other prairie chickens, he did what they did. He crawled and scratched at the earth, pecked here and there for stray grains and husks, now and then rising in a flutter a few feet above the earth and then descending again. He accepted and imitated the daily routine of the earthbound prairie chickens. And he spent most of his life this way.
Then, as the story continues, one day an eagle flew over the brood of prairie chickens. The now aging eagle, who still thought he was a prairie chicken, looked up in awed admiration as the great bird soared through the skies. "What is that?" he gasped in astonishment. One of the old prairie chickens replied, "I have seen one before. That is the eagle, the proudest, strongest and most magnificent of all the birds. But don't you ever dream that you could be like that. You're like the rest of us and we are prairie chickens." So, shackled by this belief, the eagle lived and died thinking he was a prairie chicken.
As discussed above in "My Fair Lady Shows the Power of Expectations," this story wonderfully illustrates the powerful forces of perception and expectations that shape our reality. These expectations can be self-perceptions -- boundaries we set to limit ourselves. Or they can be set by supervisors, managers, and executives as outlined in "The Fish Tank Factor" article and short quiz. Collective expectations create very powerful cultural norms that can become "Unconscious and Underlying Beliefs Undermine Culture Change Efforts".
May you soar with the eagles! And help raise the expectations of your team members.
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on… the Power of Expectations
"What we expect, that we find."
- Aristotle, Greek philosopher, student of Plato, and teacher of Alexander the Great
"Much of life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think the worst of people and show it, they will often prove you right. If the systems we design are based on the principle that people cannot be trusted, then those people won't bother to be trustworthy. On the other hand, if you believe that most people are capable and can be relied upon, they will often live up to your expectations."
- Charles Handy, The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism - A Quest For Purpose in the Modern World
"They were a burden to their shipmates -- sailors who were constantly in trouble, or simply did not do their jobs. 'Undermotivated problem sailors' was the term the U.S. Navy used for them; the military acronym was 'LP' for 'low performer.'
But their supervisors were given a set of tactics to change the LP's behavior. The supervisors were taught something new: to expect the best of these low performers despite their abominable histories.
The supervisors let the LPs know they believed in their ability to change, and they treated them more like winners. That positive expectation proved powerful: The LPs began to do better on every front, receiving fewer punishments, showing better overall performance, even improving their personal appearance. It was the Pygmalion effect in action: Expecting the best from people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy."
- Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence
"There is no rule more invariable than that we are paid for our suspicions by finding what we suspected."
- Henry David Thoreau, American author, naturalist, and philosopher
"Theories of human behavior become self-fulfilling. We act on the basis of these theories and through our own actions produce in others the behavior we expect. If we believe people will work hard only if specifically rewarded for doing so, we will provide contingent rewards and thereby condition people to work only when they are rewarded. If we expect people to be untrustworthy, we will closely monitor and control them and by doing so will signal that they can't be trusted; an expectation that they will most likely confirm for us.
- Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Six Dangerous Myths About Pay," Harvard Business Review
"Be careful how you interpret the world: it is like that."
- Erich Heller, 20th century British essayist, scholar of German philosophy and literature, and American professor
"Time and time again, studies have shown that manager' expectations have profound effect on the productivity of their staff. Managers with high expectations about their subordinates motivate the people around them to perform well, whilst those with poor expectations cause them to become despondent and unproductive. The phenomenon has been found in many different types and levels of business, from life insurance to telecommunications, from CEOs to low-level management. Throughout the business world, expectations have the power to become self-fulfilling prophecies."
- Richard Wiseman, The Luck Factor: Change Your Luck and Change your Life
Three Keys to Leading a Virtual Team
Today's organizations are spanning geographic and departmental boundaries. Increasingly people -- especially white collar professionals -- are on teams whose members' don't all work in the same location. Telecommuting and cross-functional/ regional/ country collaboration are adding to this growing trend.
The international training company, AchieveGlobal, recently published a study looking at leading virtual teams. Among its research findings:
- "86 percent of senior executives believe it is 'extremely important' for them to work effectively across boundaries in their current leadership roles, yet, only 7 percent of these executives believe they are currently 'very effective' at doing so.
- 91 percent cite working across boundaries as important at the middle management level, but only 19 percent agree that middle managers were effective at it."
Technology provides powerful tools for leading virtual teams. But as anyone in our family will tell you about my handyman abilities, a great tool can be destructive in unskilled hands. Technology tools allow us to leverage strong leadership skills or broadcast our lack of "soft skills."
AchieveGlobal's study found that problems with virtual teams often come from lack of planning, and communication that isn't a true two-way conversation. This is all too symptomatic of poorly used technology such as e-mail, that's often called "communication" but is really a one way information dump.
Successful virtual leadership comes from integrating group cohesion and individual commitment. Drawing from
"more than 30 years of research conducted by Dr. Edward Deci and others -- collectively called 'Self-Determination Theory' (SDT) -- confirms that people share three fundamental psychological needs, regardless of culture: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Satisfaction of these needs optimizes employee motivation and raises productivity. When these needs are thwarted, healthy functioning plummets.
- Competence – Feeling valued as knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced
- Relatedness – Collaborating with trusted colleagues and co-workers
- Autonomy – Exercising self-control, within guidelines, to achieve business goals
The role of the leader is to create the conditions that allow team members to satisfy these needs."
These are core values, behaviors, and leadership skills badly lacking in many organizations. The "soft skills" really are the hardest and most critical skills that determine the success or failure of any type of team.
Go to "The Invisible Workforce" to read the AchieveGlobal report.
Team Building: Healthy Debates versus Dysfunctional Arguments
Strong management teams fiercely debate options, challenge each other's thinking, and find the optimum approaches hidden in the grey area between both sides of tough issues. That takes trust, emotional intelligence, and courage.
I am currently coaching a couple of lower performing executive groups struggling to "up their game" and become strong leadership teams. One recent executive group exhibited these -- all too common -- behaviors:
- Things were often left unsaid at their meetings and disagreements went underground.
- Complaining, criticizing, and talking about each outside of the meetings and behind other executive's backs.
- Difficult feedback or problems one executive was having with another were often not given directly and openly to that person.
- Disagreements became arguments with disrespectful or angry undertones and condescending editorial comments.
- A few of the most vocal executives' hogged airtime, dominated discussions, and lectured the others.
- Lack of response or silence was often mistaken as agreement.
To evolve from an executive group to a strong leadership team we all agreed a key component was moving from conflict avoidance and/or dysfunctional arguments to healthy debates. Here's how we defined the key differences for them:
- Not listening before jumping in and cutting others off.
- "Yeah, but" responses that don't probe to understand where the other person is coming from or hear their views.
- Grandstanding, lecturing, boasting, or showcasing personal/ departmental achievements as the gold standard others need to achieve.
- Biting, sarcastic, impatient, or angry tones -- often greeted with eye rolling and disengagement.
- Using absolutes like "always," "never," "everyone," etc., with few shades of grey.
- Not giving credit or acknowledging accomplishments or progress.
- Refusing to move from a preset position.
- Obstinate, contrariness, and constantly playing the devil's advocate.
- Focusing on the issue, problem, or behavior, not the person.
- Guiding the discussion back on track when it wanders or moves off topic.
- Assuming the other person has good intentions and wants a positive outcome.
- Acknowledging and naming personal emotions and feelings.
- Empathy and seeking to understand the other point of view.
- Anchoring personal and group behaviors to the team or organization's agreed upon values, ground rules, or norms.
- Encouraging and supporting everyone to speak up.
- More questioning and probing and less telling and lecturing.
- Clarifying by seeking more information and clearing up points of confusion.
- Reconciling opposing points of view, linking similar ideas, and looking for common ground.
- Probing contrary points of view if everyone seems to be in agreement too quickly or easily. Are we really in agreement or avoiding conflict?
By "fostering more openness and transparency" and getting the "moose-on-the-table" this team is making good progress toward becoming a strong leadership team.
How's your team doing? Does your team exhibit many of the six common behaviors? Do most of the points on the dysfunctional arguments or the healthy debates lists define your team? What does the rest of your team think?
Research Shows Strong Leaders Aren't Controlled by Technology and Work Loads
Work overload, 24/7 availability, stretched work weeks, and overflowing in-boxes are overwhelming most professionals and managers. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can be the less stressed out exception. You can Lead, rather than Follow or Wallow.
Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University was recently interviewed in The Globe & Mail about her latest research findings. She and Chris Higgins of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario just completed the third in their once per decade look at Canada's workforce. As research is clearly showing in other industrialized countries around the world, they've found that we've moved into a period of "intensification, the idea that there is too much to handle -- too much at work, too much at home, too much total."
They've found that "technology is taking over" with expectations that "employees will be available 24/7, and will respond 24/7 … in our latest study, we asked how much time people spent on work-related e-mails during a work day and a non-work day, and found it's almost four hours during work days and just over another two hours on work-related e-mail during non-work days."
It's so easy to blame today's technology, the boss's expectations, or organizational cultures. But that's a cop out. Wallowing and Following managers look out the window for the cause of their time and workload squeeze. Leading means looking in the mirror to "Find the Courage to Stretch our Comfort Zone".
Linda Duxbury hits on one of the central challenges of these crazy-busy times:
"We have to start having a dialogue on what is the appropriate use of this technology, and then we have to start calling people on their bad behavior because it doesn't have the positive impact that is often thought. From our research, for example, a boss who checks his BlackBerry while in a meeting or talking to a subordinate is not seen as important or overworked, but as someone who can't get their act straight and who cares more about the unknown person at the other end of the device than the people who he or she is supposed to be managing."
Linda and Chris' findings are consistent with the extensive ten year research study done by management professors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal. In their Harvard Business Review article "Beware the Busy Manager" they report "fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner."
A few years later they followed up with an even stronger article filled with practical, how-to Leading advice. In "Reclaim Your Job" they summarize a big leadership gap: "What gets in the way of managers' success is something much more personal -- a deep uncertainty about acting according to their own best judgment. Rather than doing what they really need to do to advance the company's fortunes -- and their own careers -- they spin their wheels doing what they presume everyone else wants them to do."
Linda Duxbury reports that their research found somewhat higher than 10 percent of the people in their study were taking control of their technology and workloads and not controlled by them:
"Our data from other research shows that most individuals get this technology with the intention that they will separate work and family -- they will not use it in family time. The 24 people in that longitudinal study all held good intentions at the start. But nine months later only four of them were actually successful at imposing limits. When we asked them why things changed, they told us it's because of the constant pressure and expectation from their boss, colleagues, and clients that they will be always available. No dialogue was taking place with the boss, colleagues or clients on what reasonable expectations might be."
Both sets of studies show that way too many professionals and managers allow themselves to be boxed in by their jobs. But in the exact same organizations with the same cultures, resource shortages, workforce shortfalls, demanding customers, and senior manager expectations, a minority of strong leaders have developed ways to take control of their jobs -- and their lives. Does your email in-box and workload show that you're Leading, Following, or Wallowing?
Failed Culture Change Causes Failed IT Projects
Many organizations are implementing significant overhauls of their IT systems. But many of these projects are poorly implemented. This leads to sizeable cost overruns, missed deadlines, disrupted operations, unhappy customers, and stressed out employees.
This month's issue of Harvard Business Review carries an article entitled Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think. Reporting on the largest global study of IT change ever conducted (1,471 projects), an Oxford University Said Business School professor and McKinsey & Co. consultant provides examples of entire companies that have failed because of badly implemented IT system changes. Bent Flyvbjerg and Alexander Budzier found that one in six had a cost overrun of 200% and schedule overrun of almost 70%.
This adds to the long list of studies showing that organizational change initiatives have a 50 – 70% failure rate. There's a variety of reasons for that. We've found that one core cause is "Partial and Piecemeal Plans and Programs" where change initiatives like new IT systems are "bolted-on versus built-in".
The major contributor to failed change efforts center around failing to shift the organization's culture. The largest study ever done on organizational transformation was conducted by McKinsey & Co. Here's a conclusion reached by senior McKinsey leaders, Scott Keller and Colin Price, in their new book Beyond Performance:
"What we might think of as the usual suspects -- inadequate resources, poor planning, bad ideas, unpredictable external events -- turn out to account for less than a third of change program failures. In fact, more than 70 percent of failures are driven by what we would categorize as poor organizational health, as manifested in such symptoms as negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior."
McKinsey's research shows that getting frontline employees to feel ownership of the change and engaging them through communication and involvement increases the chances of success by four times! When employees are empowered to take initiative (Leading not Following or Wallowing) in the change effort, it's five times more successful! The authors state, "taking deliberate steps to move the needle on the soft stuff is a vital element in organizational transformations, though it's often overlooked." Click here for more quotes and findings from their book.
IT projects are too often prime examples of internal/external experts working with a small group of senior managers to impose significant change on the organization. Most of their "change management" efforts are top-down "do-to" plans rather than inclusive "do-with" change efforts. Doing change to the organization puts the organization at serious risk and causes lots of pain, suffering, and unnecessary cost.
Successful change efforts do a much better job of balancing management systems, processes, and planning with emotionally intelligent "soft skills" leadership. During my November 4 complimentary (no-charge) 60 minute webcast on "Leading a Peak Performance Culture" I'll give you a highly condensed summary of what integrated and strategic culture change looks like. Click here to register.
Are You a Servant Leader? Whom Do You Serve?
Recent Client work with culture change, service/quality improvement, safety, and leadership development has led to discussions of values, intentions, and drivers of behavior change. Do you see people as "human assets" to be "motivated" toward your goals? Do you strive for a win/win alignment of helping people get what they want from work while the organization gets what it wants from people? Do you serve and support or direct and control? Do you start your day asking how you can make the world better or how you can move closer to your goals?
Robert Greenleaf, coined the term "Servant Leadership" in the 1960s when he retired from management development at AT&T and formed the Centre for Applied Ethics. Here's part of his definition:
"The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions … The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
In his article, "Are You a Level-Six Leader?" Harvard Business School visiting professor Mitch Maidique writes:
"The central, most telling question to ask a leader is, whom do you serve? Some leaders will tell you, using a popular descriptor, that they aspire to be 'servant leaders.' The question still remains, however, a servant to whom: to yourself, to your group, or to society (to cite three of several options)?"
Mitch builds a six-level "typology of leadership" that he calls a Purpose-Driven Model of Leadership:
Of course, no one is just one of or two types. We're a complex blend of many overlapping and interconnected types. As we grow, develop, and personal or organizational circumstances change, so will the primary drivers of our leadership approaches.
A big problem we constantly see is organizations trying to install leadership and culture development programs that don't align with the underlying beliefs deeply embedded in the typology of its key leaders.
For whose convenience are your systems and processes designed? Is your mission statement deeply lived or just filler on your web site? Does your team or organizational values have a high "snicker-factor?" Whom do you serve? What about your team? Your organization?
"Leading a Peak Performance Culture" Complimentary Webcast (No Charge)
Research consistently shows that 70% of efforts to improve customer service, quality, safety, productivity, innovation, employee engagement, restructure, or introduce new technologies fail. Leadership and organization culture are THE critical X factors. "Soft" leadership and culture boosts or BLOCKS strategy, structure, and change initiatives.
High performing organizations pull together the intangible leadership issues that define their unique character and rally people around a deeper sense of purpose. These powerful feelings are made tangible through the strong implementation of management processes and systems that translate ideals into action.
Join me for a rare and powerful free 60 minute webcast on November 4 @ 1:00 PM EST.
Register ~ Agenda ~ What You'll Gain ~ About Jim
Join this webcast to:
- Define what strong leadership skills and a peak performance culture looks like for your organization
- Get practical tips, tools, and techniques for leadership and culture development
- Assess your personal, team, or organization's leadership skills and culture against world class standards and research
- Pinpoint performance gaps and priorities to be addressed
- Learn how to better integrate and coordinate your team or organization's current culture changes and improvement programs
- Establish the key elements and priorities of your leadership development and culture change efforts
- Identify and address the barriers to energizing and mobilizing people to building a peak performance culture
- Clarify/redefine technical, management, and leadership roles and responsibilities
- Refocus and pull together leadership development and culture change programs and initiatives
I hope you can join me! Spaces are limited -- register now!
Tweet Reading: Recommended Online Resources
This section summarizes last month's LinkedIn Updates and Twitter Tweets sent about online articles or blog posts that I've flagged as worth reading. These are usually posted on weekends when I am doing much of my reading for research, learning, or leisure.
My original tweet commenting on the article precedes each title and descriptor from the original source:
Like driving, most leaders' think they're trustworthiness is above average. But it's a series of little things that gradually erode trust.
"Seven Reasons Your Reports Don't Trust You" – Dennis and Michelle Reina
"Little breaches of trust over time are a big deal. Ultimately, employees pull back, withholding their full energy and talent. Leadership, too often oblivious, wonders why."
Leading is rarely about giving up and accepting those changes we could more directly control or influence in our personal or work life.
"Cheese Moving: Effecting Change Rather Than Accepting It" - Harvard Business School
"In the face of established practices, traditional ideas, scarce resources, and the powerful demands or expectations of others, we often underestimate our ability to control our own destiny and overcome the constraints we face -- or think we face."
This study shows how much employee turnover, customer turnover, and employee productivity costs under low levels of leadership.
"Poor leadership costs average organization over $1 million dollars" - Blanchard Leaderchat
"A new white paper from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that poor leadership is costing the average company an amount equal to 7% of their annual revenue."
Younger workers won't tolerate traditional command and control management - during these turbulent times, engage them or lose them.
"Why more managers need to relinquish control" - Fortune Management
"To accommodate the aspirations of the latest generation of workers, more managers ought to allow their employees to collectively tackle today's organizational challenges."
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