Leadership, Part 5: The Third of the 7 Cs: Consensus Building

The third C on the path toward gaining a “followership” is Consensus Building. This may be the first “honest” step in the leadership progression, because it does not open the way for persons to be manipulated, as Crises and Compelling Visions do. Consensus Building relies less on charisma, hypnotic eyes and/or British accents and more on listening and hearing the voice of the led.

Consensus Building is also the first C that gives a legitimate voice to the concerns and desires of the led. What do your followers want to achieve? What collective goals to the leader and potential followers share? How can goals be prioritized when not every goal can be given equal emphasis?

Consensus Building is an art, not an act. The effective leader (and in this case I mean one who is actually concerned about the well-being of others and not just the exaltation of self) will possess a fundamental, non-negotiable set of objectives, but will allow room for discussion of what objectives of others can be accommodated without compromising the fundamentals.

Let’s look at a potential business scenario. A well-established company has had a downturn, to where it is unprofitable and in danger of shutting down. Clearly, this is a Crisis and can be managed as such (i.e., the leader channels Alexander Haig and declares “I am in charge here!”), with little to no room for the voice of the employees. In this scenario, a Compelling Vision would be very hard to develop without the employees believing the leader has lost it.

There is another path. The leader can explain the reality with his/her workers, that if the organization cannot find a path to sustained profitability (a non-negotiable fundamental), it will have no choice but to close. The leader declares he/she is all ears to listen to ideas toward cost-cutting, improving quality, timeliness of delivery, improved service to remaining customers and how to reconnect to former customers.

Consensus Building is one of the two Cs that presents leadership as a shared responsibility, that the followers have a say in the forward progress of the organization, and that win or lose, everyone in the organization wins or loses together. Consensus Building is a very powerful leadership ability, one that does not require the artificial stoking of the fires of Crisis or Compelling Vision. In fact, leadership by Consensus Building can function effectively forever, provided the leader continually walks the talk.

In Part 6, the Fourth C: Cooperation

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Leadership, Part 4: The Second of the 7 Cs: Compelling Vision

The second of the seven Cs is similar to the first (Crisis), in that much depends on the follower believing the leader’s assessment of a situation. But of course it differs in that the air of urgency born of a Crisis is lacking.

The Compelling Vision (or another C, Cause) is the leader giving the promise, or the hope (to quote an enormously popular poster from the 2008 U.S. Presidential election) of a better future for those willing to follow into a promised land of sorts. Following this leader will fulfill a particular destiny for both leader and follower, and (by extension) to choose not to follow is to forfeit the opportunities to be had when the promised land is reached.

Like a Crisis, the picture of a Compelling Vision can be a pure falsehood. A Vision can be as manufactured as a Crisis. In the allusion to religious cult figures (none of whom were named) in the last post, not all had to concoct a Crisis to attract followers. Many could achieve the same result simply by projecting a Vision perceived to be uniquely theirs.

The degree of attraction of the Vision will also be affected by the degree of present (real or perceived) misery on the part of the targeted followers. And what may be omitted in the presentation of the Compelling Vision is that the bright future this leader alleges to be pointing the followers toward will be obtained at the expense of others.

All effective leaders must project some sort of Vision that suggests the state of the followers will be improved by following the leader. If the leader projects an aura of “I don’t know where we’re going until we get there,” he will soon turn around to find no one following. But an over-emphasis on a future Vision, that does not address the current reality (Crisis or not) and does not include a plan to travel from present-state to future-state, is a sign that something (often the leader’s mental state) is out of balance. Remembering that a strong leader does not necessarily correlate to a decent human being, someone over-emphasizing the Vision is not telling you something you should know.

A Compelling Vision as a leader’s carrot will have greater staying power than a Crisis. But the leader using a Vision to establish a followership can be undone in two ways: when it becomes clear the Vision cannot be reached (obviously), or when the Vision is achieved. If we achieve Nirvana, what next? The logical answer: I don’t know, but we no longer need the leader!

In our next post, we look at the Third C: Consensus Building


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Leadership, Part 3: The First of the 7 Cs: CRISIS

We have in the last part discussed the leadership opportunity created by a Crisis. If someone fears for their survival, their livelihood, or any other facet of their future, they are more apt to seek out a leader that can guide them through the struggle to a stable future, if not a better future.

Remembering that the key to leadership lies more in the perception of the followers than the capability of the leader, it is instructive to understand that a manufactured crisis can be just as effective a rallying point as a real one. For example, countless people over the years have combined a daunting apocalyptic vision with the insistence that they alone can navigate the worthy (i.e., their followers) through it into a lucrative quasi-religion or a cult that ultimately met with a horrific end.

Don’t forget that being a good leader does not necessarily correlate to being a good human being.

More than one person has observed, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Though this quote has been attributed to former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I found no definitive confirmation. But the quote betrays the inner thoughts of many would-be leaders (“this is the chance for me to grab power”). In the throes of a true crisis, the most marginal acts of leadership tend to be magnified solely because of the desperation felt by the followers.

Business organizations are as ripe for crisis leadership as any regime under fire. “Sales are in the tank and we must take drastic action to stop the bleeding and turn this thing around.” Business leaders can lie just as effectively as the most ruthless dictator, so not every proclaimed crisis can be considered to be real.

The problem with leveraging crises as springboards to leadership is, in rather quick order, the crisis passes (either through normalizing the situation or through the collapse of the organization). The crisis is pretty much a one-off. If you are in leadership when a second crisis occurs, you will have been perceived as leading the people into the crisis. You’ll have to stake out a new position on the progression to entrench leadership.

Next: the second C, Compelling Vision

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Leadership: A Structured Analysis in 7 Cs–Part 2

Think back twelve years to Sept. 10, 2001. As I was pondering the traits of effective leaders, this date was just slightly over two years earlier.

For those of you living in the United States, the world was completely different that Monday. George W. Bush was in the ninth month of his presidency. His approval numbers through those first months hovered in the 50-55% range, which is a touch below average for a first-term president in his first few months (perhaps driven lower by the manner in which many perceive he came into the office).

All of that changed about 8:46 a.m. (EDT) on Sept. 11, 2001. The coordinated attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, severely damaged the Pentagon and would have struck a third target if not for the courageous acts of a hijacked plane’s passengers over rural Pennsylvania, plunged the U.S. into immediate crisis. Three thousand people on planes and in buildings died that morning.

In the days that followed, G.W. Bush appeared in numerous televised speeches addressing the crisis. And his approval rating, at 55% on September 10, was a record 90% a mere eight days later. You may view the approval numbers from the Gallup Organization here (http://www.gallup.com/poll/116500/presidential-approval-ratings-george-bush.aspx)

What happened? Did President Bush develop his leadership capacity overnight? Was he given a crash-course while circling in Air Force One during the immediate aftermath of the attacks? I am going to suggest that Mr. Bush’s leadership ability had not changed…but the perception of the American people had changed, and changed significantly. The jump in his approval ratings aligned with the desperate desire of a people in crisis to be led.

At the time I crystallized my leadership progression model (the 7 Cs), the U.S. had been at war in Iraq for about nine months. Bush’s approval ratings by this time were hovering in the 60-63% range. When it came time to present the class, I told the attendees that, in all likelihood, as the crisis receded in time, and the people’s “need for a leader” diminished, Mr. Bush’s ratings would continue to slide downward, which the data demonstrates, indeed happened.

This was a significant revelation in my mind: the strength* of leadership borrows more from the response of the led than it does the attributes of the leader.

(Note: I am not debating politics here, so if you feel it necessary to send me rants about Bush stealing the 2000 election, or 9/11 being an inside job, or Barack Obama being born in Kenya, please don’t. I’m merely attempting to call on history and cite statistics to support a theory rooted in the response of the led as opposed to the merits of the leader.)

In evaluating this reality, I developed a leadership progression I refer to as the 7 Cs. It has nothing to do with sailing; the model describes each phase of the progression with a word or phrase beginning with C. The progression will be shared, one C at a time, over the next seven posts. The progression does not necessarily follow this order or include every C, but I did my best to create a meaningful sequence.

In Part 3, the First C: CRISIS

* Note that “strength” of leadership does not necessarily correlate to “quality” of the leadership or the leader. A quick study of the Roman Empire will make that abundantly clear.

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Leadership: A Structured Analysis in 7 Cs

After a considerable vacation from blogging, I have decided to return. Of course, the Word Press dashboard looks completely different so I will have to spend some time learning where everything is and everything went. I am still beating (or getting beaten by) MadCap Flare, which I will hope to do something about in the upcoming weeks. I have until Nov. 1 before my year’s support evaporates.

Leadership. The word probably evokes a thousand different feelings in a thousand different people (leader or not). In organizations, effective leadership is essential; I don’t think any one is arguing against that.

A recent discussion in a LinkedIn group (I believe the continuous improvement one) presented a very concise, to-the-point discussion of effective leadership from the Harvard Business Review. You can read the post here: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/nayar/2013/08/tests-of-a-leadership-transiti.html?goback=%2Egde_52933_member_264494538

Since I concluded in my Culture Change series that leadership has to drive culture change because they own the responsibility to respond to actions for better or for worse, I want to facilitate and enable “good leadership” wherever I can.

Which leads me to some serious thinking I had to do 10 or so years back, when I was constructing a course for the lead persons in our organization, regarding what makes a good leader. For most of the persons in our lead person position, this was their first “leadership” experience in a work setting. And the vast majority of persons coming into lead person positions were doing so based on criteria that had nothing to do with their perceived leadership ability. For the majority, they became lead persons because they knew best how to do the job. And while that is a strong need in a lead person, it does not necessarily correlate with the ability to lead. Thus, a course was in order.

And as I thought about leadership in the development process, I came across what I believe may be a little-discussed truth as it relates to leadership: the number one essential need for an effective leader is a group of followers convinced they need leading.

My experience continually points back to that truth. You’ve certainly heard of “leading by example;” well, leading by example is of no value unless you have someone willing to follow by imitation.

Essential to leading, frankly, is developing a “followership” that accepts your leadership. Building a followership can be accomplished in a number of ways. One of the ways that never results in creating a followership is plopping someone in front of the group and saying, “here is your leader.”

So in the next 9-10 posts, I will describe my thought process and the “followership-creation” model that resulted from it. This is not intended to be a scholarly treatise on the subject of leadership, though my knowledge of history lends plenty of examples that supports the model I am sharing here. So check back in each weekday over the next two weeks and read. I hope to create a followership among my readers!

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Culture Change Simplified, Part 4 of 4: Eat Less, Exercise More

In this final installment, we discuss how to change a culture without dynamiting the whole operation. If an analysis of your organization’s culture suggests dynamite is warranted, read no further. Fortunately, the vast majority of organizations can successfully change. Conceptually, the path is easy to understand. Practically, it is not as easy to follow.

Eat Less, Exercise More: what does a weight loss mantra have to do with culture change? More than it may seem on the surface. When confronted with the need to lose weight, we are counseled on one side to increase our physical activity and reduce our caloric intake: eat less, exercise more. But we are also bombarded from the other side with “miracle” weight-loss pills, diets, surgeries, etc. Do we go for the quick fix or for the tried-and-true change of lifestyle?

The lifestyle change achieves results slowly. It’s not fancy, not glamorous, and requires dedication and unfailing effort, but it does achieve the sort of results that can be sustained. And besides, we all know intuitively that before too long studies will show the miracle diet was either ineffective or dangerous (of course, when the miracle diet’s cover is blown, the supermarket magazines will have moved onto a new set of miracle diets).

Culture change can be seen in the same way. There are simple principles (that we will discuss shortly) that if rigorously and consistently applied will move the culture in a positive direction. The changes take time to be established, but once established, they are more easily sustained. Now for some, that is not fast enough, not “miraculous” enough, and—perhaps more to the point—does not allow one individual to take the credit for it. So they seek a book, a slogan, or any other cure that will spare them the real effort necessary for lasting positive change.

Eat less, exercise more. The process will work. How can I be so confident? Because it was the same process that created the culture you presently have!

Where Do I Start?

The raw material for culture change is all around your organization. Remembering in Part 2, we discussed the A-B-C-D progression. A, the first element, represents the actions taking place. Actions are being carried out in your organization continuously, right here and now. What needs to change is the response to those actions.

We must look at each action (or, in many cases, inactions) and classify them as positive (good for the organization’s well-being) or negative (not so good). The response to those actions must be such that the people in the organization recognize they are good (and are rewarded for continuing to do) or bad (and are sanctioned for continuing to do). The actions must be responded to consistently and firmly; there can be no doubt in the actor’s mind about leadership’s position on the action.

As much as possible, the actions related to the process must be given special, focused attention. An action within the process is either good (leads to the creation of salable product or service), bad (inhibits or prevents the creation of salable product or service) or indifferent (has no effect on the actual properties of the product or service). Good actions must be reinforced; bad actions must be analyzed to identify their causes, and those causes must be corrected. Indifferent actions must be systematically eliminated, because they are consuming resources and producing nothing in return.

Through careful, conscientious observation and analysis of actions, choosing and taking appropriate actions in response to those actions, you will establish new patterns of behavior. These will in turn raise expectations and change the culture. Not glamorous, not miraculous, not easy—but effective. What worked to create the present culture will succeed in making a new culture.

Which begs a question: who is responsible for changing an organization’s culture?

  1. Leadership
  2. The Line Workers
  3. A responsibility shared by both A and B

I asked this question many times in courses I presented, and probably 90% of class participants got it wrong.

The answer: A, it is Leadership’s responsibility, simply because they get to determine what is an appropriate response to each action.

Making Culture Change Happen (The Right Way)

When embarking on your culture change adventure, it is important to remember a handful of key points:

  • Do not spend time bashing the former culture, because in so doing you are bashing the people who lived and worked under that culture. They will dig their heels in
  • Do not confer guru status on individuals, whether in-house leaders or consultants, regardless of how much credit they want. The culture change must be accomplished by everyone working together, not by one person directing and dictating a “new reality.”
  • Make the focus of the change effort the processes as much as humanly possible. If you make it about people, you will create factions. Even if individuals or groups are performing poorly, deal with the process aspects, and give the individuals the opportunity to demonstrate their capability with the improved process before making personnel decisions (and, yes, personnel decisions may be necessary for a variety of reasons)
  • Involve as many people as possible in the effort, particularly in dissecting processes to understand why they are producing the results they are producing
  • Do not spend time begging and cajoling oppositional employees to “get with the program.” Remember you will encounter resistance because someone was profiting from the former culture and now their profit is shrinking. If they are performing adequately within the bounds of the process and not impeding the change effort, endure them. If they are doing neither of the above, expedite their removal from the organization
  • Listen, listen and listen more to people at all levels; a problem is best understood when it is viewed from multiple angles
  • Do not announce to anyone that “we are going to change the culture.” Do not introduce yourself as a “change agent,” even if you are one. At the end of the day, you want all members of the organization owning the new culture—they had a part in its coming into existence—as opposed to the new culture being forced upon them
  • Be patient. It takes time; if time is of the essence (i.e., your destiny is close at hand), expedite carrying out each point above. If it is truly a crisis, be honest about it with the employees and make the focus on how together we will work through the crisis—just don’t call it a culture change!

I hope this series was useful to you the reader. Regardless of your position or job duties, you can contribute to a change of culture. If you are able to look at, dissect and analyze a process and discover ways to improve it, you are “change agent material!” Just don’t call yourself that.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section or write me directly at mrprocedure@gmail.com.

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Culture Change Simplified–Part 3 of 4: Re-orienting Organizational Direction

In Part 2, we made the unsettling observation that the culture of the organization will–for better or for worse–dictate its destiny. Many years ago I worked in an organization that was “sole source” provider of its particular products. As a result, they projected an attitude that was far from “customer-focused.” Internally, workers (and middle managers in particular) were treated about as badly as the customers were.

Well, in time, competititon developed and their customers had choices. Ultimately, when the organization’s bread-and-butter customer found another supplier, everyone in the organization recognized we were now in an irreversible death spiral. Today, the location of my office is now occupied by a Jack in the Box restaurant.

So, to avoid a similar fate within your organization, something has got to change, and it’s got to change now!

We will look at culture change from two angles in Parts 3 and 4. Today, we will talk about re-orienting your organization.

An organization can operate in one of two organizations: a personality-centered focus or a process-centered focus.

You can determine your organization’s orientation (focus) by looking at how conflicts are resolved:

1. In a personality-centered environment, the conflict will be resolved based on who has the highest position, the loudest voice, the most persuasive argument, or who is the last person standing. In such an environment, it’s about winning and losing, command and control, and never about the process. It’s ironic that when a company finds itself in a crisis, they seek out a “rock star” CEO to infuse a new direction. In effect, the company is doing little more than superimposing another personality on the personality focus that put the company in crisis in the first place.

2. In a process-centered environment, a conflict is resolved based on what is best for the processes that achieve product realization (to borrow the phrase from ISO-9001). Egos are set aside, because egos don’t improve processes. In such an environment, leadership is always asking questions of those closest to the process. A new leader coming into an organization intent on instituting a process-focused environment will similarly ask questions, as opposed to coming in professing all the answers.

If the culture is personality-focused, switching to a process focus is imperative. People in the organization must understand first of all their relationship to the processes, and leadership must listen to the voice of the process, which also means the voice of the process performers.

In our final installment, we talk about the front-line actions necessary to bring the change about.

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