Daring to look to the future … New Decade, New Directions and New Dimensions Ahead

I recently shared my thoughts on the change space, via video, with the audience at https://www.forandringsledning.com/konferens – a Swedish change management conference held earlier in February. You can see my video here: https://youtu.be/4zo1q4aTi0o  but the big question that came from it was whether you do hard or soft change management? I have to thank a conversation at a Spark Conference with Luc Galoppin a few years back for making the challenge of hard and soft change approaches drill into my subconscious as I consider the future of the space. Do you need a digital scale? The professionals from scaleszen are ready to give you best advises to find the best scale.

Now I’ve never been afraid to challenge the term change management as counterproductive to the purpose of the activity. It really is a sucky term, but it’s probably the most familiar term we have. Now in 2020 and beyond, I think it will stay around and continue to be challenged by terms like change leadership – because the behaviours of successful change management are found in leadership behaviours. We also have the continued stand off with project management, use of the terms change communications, change delivery, transformation and implementation coming into the mix and still forcing confusion. My sense is that there will be a divergence of approach into those that do tactical, operation change management activity and those that develop change strategy, advisory approaches and facilitate interventions. I think at the core of this is that as now, we will continue to have technology-based change and non-technology-based change.

Technology changes, whether by traditional or agile approaches in project management, will be very operational and tactically delivered and I feel the change management will align. This worries me a little because of all the tall of implementing digital transformation. Too many times I am seeing this used as a framing of “big tech roll-out” or “lots of new apps” or some other term that relates to organizations throwing a lot of technology out there. We have to realise that digital transformation is a cultural journey for people to embrace, adopt and adapt to new technologies and the tools they bring – not just the deliver of such tools. If you are looking for the latest coupons and offers available online, in Coupons Collector you can find a wide range of coupons that you can uses to buy what you need.

I’m writing this as we are now into a deep and unnerving time brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. With many people in quarantine and everyone recommended to practice physical distancing and stay at home, we have entered a period of disruptive change unlike any other. I saw the graphic below posted across LinkedIn and someone should be credited for it, hats off to the recognition. However, forced use of technology is not the same as a digital transformation. I’ve been supporting several organizations who employ people using virtual workspaces for the very first time. What we are seeing is the digital equivalent of learning to swim by being thrown in the deep end of the pool. Its sink or swim time! Get with the tech or go back to sleep! The way we work is going to fundamentally change going forward but lets remember we need physical interaction and we are not going to be plugged into the matrix for ever more. I do see us embracing these digital opportunities and blending them with traditional and progress techniques. I’m loving the exploration of opportunities but I’m also self checking to remember the majority are not at the front of the adoption curve like myself. I am still having conversations with people who are getting excited over seeing people in other places and being able to talk with them through the magic of the interwebs!

So what else can the future hold? I honestly don’t know if I dare predict given the current state of the world. For me, I am moving workshops I thought could never be delivered online, into an online space. I’m challenging coaching clients to meet virtually and recognize their own limitations in success and most of all, just reminding people that change is always changing – so we better get used to it.

As part of my commitment to support others through this challenging time. See opportunities for free learning here: https://www.capillaryconsulting.com/coping-in-a-crisis-resources-dedicated-to-support-you-through-these-difficult-times/

2019 was my VUCA-filled Culture focused extravaganza of change!

I’ve started this blog post 3 times already but playing with the ups and downs of the year is a big challenge. We are now halfway through January and I am ready at last to reflect objectively on the year… A year of first time awards, recognitions and achievements but also a year with the unexpected thrown my way and some true VUCA (more about that below) experiential learning moments.

I want to start with my observations of the change space in 2019. Some of this is manifestation of stuff that started in 2018 and earlier years but there are two areas that have bubbled to the surface for me this past year – Culture and VUCA.

Culture I saw come back into the change space properly after many years of being a sidebar or peripheral consideration. Occasionally a topic talked about by the strange touchy-feely people and not those “driving” change forward! The idea that change is only “driven” successfully when following a process or set methodology has always been an anathema to me! Now I must confess that the work on Toronto Change Days has prompted the culture conversation to come to greater prominence. The 2019 theme for the event was Living Values and so it really encapsulated a lot of culture focus. Now the idea, that the way people behave, will influence the success of a change initiative, is finally taking root and I’m pleased that the bigger, more holistic views are taking shape around this. There’s still a lot of work to be done in the culture space – shaping, changing, even identifying it style, needs to gain some maturity but like so many other aspects of change it starts with a willingness to bring it to the centre of the conversation is fantastically important. Hat’s off to evangelists in this space like Jeremy Dean, Hilton Barbour, Jackie Lauer and Tynan Allan

The other subject is VUCA (Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) which as a term is finally having a renaissance moment these last year or two. After a rise to prominence several years back, the term went into the lower levels of conversation for several years. I think that the increasing pace of the unpredictability of technological evolution and the continuous flux of society this past little while has brought a need to label and after some early reference to disruption and disruptive change – and attachment to the 4th industrial revolution, describe this state of existence seems to have settle on the VUCA term. Now it was 2 years ago I was fortunate enough to engage with a deep dive on this work and my thanks to Rik Berbé for the great work he’s been doing in promoting the benefits of recognizing and working in the VUCA space. This has been my theme of public speaking engagements in 2019 and with a little help of some Lego® , has been a great sharing experience over the past year.

The year also included some great learning for me. I set myself the challenge of learning at least one new thing each year and 2019 was the Emotional Culture Deck early in the year. This was a great experience that made me realise that we have so much potential from understanding the nuances of human interaction and the emotional drivers for everything we do. I had a busy year professionally and was fortunate enough to attend the ACMP “Change Management 2019” conference in Florida – and captcha some R&R time too! I was thrilled to be included in their Ignitors group of “experts, gurus and luminaries”, moving the needle on the discipline of Change Management, with many good friends and heroes of the space in that group too. I’m also pleased to be part of the community reviewing the Standard for Change Management.

My learning continued with a trip to the amazing Berlin Change Days which was a precursor to us hosting  the second Toronto Change Days non-conference. With a theme of Living Values we knew it was going to be a challenge for participants to feel safe to explore their values and I tip my hat to the honesty of the participants, facilitators and volunteers who jumped in to make this an amazing experience for all. I was particularly thrilled to see the event be featured by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 5 conferences in 2020 for educators and entrepreneurs.

Although the start of the year was bumpy for Capillary with clients suddenly ending engagements and continued fall out from the government changes in the province.  I’m thrilled that we roared back in the latter half of the year. Its personally very reassuring to see people embrace the learning style and content we offer and provide great feedback on the experiences. We delivered in new locations – taking the experience to Sudbury and Ottawa as well as delivering in the UK, all places we will return to in 2020. I also finally addressed some of the challenge pieces posed by Certified Change Agent Attendees – where do I go to next? 2019 saw me launch 2 new  workshops – the first was a connection of Lego Serious Play and the change space, with my Certified Lego Serious Play Change Facilitator credential, but the second was perhaps even more impactful as I launched the Certified Change Leader credential – a deeper exploration of change management, leadership, culture and more!

I wanted to end my reflection of the year on a high. This was the first year I was invited to pitch the company at an international conference, having been nominated for an award. In September I was invited to the International Trade Council Go Global Awards to give short overview of the company as we were shortlisted for an award. And yes, we won the award for 2019 Business of the Year – Professional Services a truly amazing achievement for us!

This blog post is the first of a series of three January entries, reflecting on the past year, past decade and future of the community we serve!

Be Agile, Be Ready, Be Bold and Change!

For some time, I’ve been having this conversation that an agile organization, is an organization that is much more resilient and ready for change. Although I’ve had my Agile journey’s of discovery, I must admit that I’m surprised that, so few people get this. Being agile is about a mindset. Its about culture. Its about people. Its about having the presence of mind and personal self awareness to flex, bend, move and work with a change and not try and snap.

When we consider determining how ready an organization is for change that’s coming, we often think of readiness for a planned change and revert to out tried and tested process. We get “that template” printed off and start ticking boxes and assessing change readiness with some magic formula that then presents us with the planned activities we need by some systematic gap analysis. Its all very dry and functional in approach but it’s the best we must work with. At the start of any change event, we have to assess change readiness. But what if we didn’t?

How about an organization that never needs more than a confirmation of change readiness? An assessment that is nothing more than a short conversation? And no need to create a change readiness plan of action. It may sound far fetched but its not. When you build agility into the workplace culture, you build readiness into the DNA. Now there may be a little work to confirm specific details of each change, but Agile organizations flex to accommodate the changing needs and the people who work in them are up for the challenge, with higher levels of resilience and capacity.

Are we being agile?

Now what about unexpected change, you know the disruptive kind of change? Yes, the changes we face living in a VUCA world! Building organizational agility supports the successful negotiation of these types of changes too. In fact, being agile, supports the resilient mind that doesn’t panic when the unexpected arrives, but stays calm and carries on when it is presented to them.

Now becoming an agile organization requires dedication and hard work as that is a change in of itself.  However, the hard work pays off time and time again on all future change initiatives. So my challenge to you is to find a way to develop your organization’s agility and make all those future changes less painful.

This article is part of the 2019 #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Readiness in Quarter 3. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic.

Communications – sometimes…

Sometimes the role is confusing… Sometimes we mess up… Sometimes our communications fail… Sometimes we get it right… Sometimes we just don’t know… Sometimes we communicate late… Sometimes we are amazed that we can juggle it all!

I’ve been amazed by the number of conversations I’ve had with clients, colleagues and more, who think that change management is just about communications. Please understand there’s more to it than just telling people what is going on!

I want to tell you a short story here. Around 9 years I was approached to undertake an engagement with a grocery chain. However, whether the fault of the company, hiring manager or HR person I was speaking with, there was a lack of understanding about the role. I was repeatedly asked if I’d come in and tell people about the change and make sure they do it. Now the first time I was contacted, I explored the words with he HR person, but effectively they thought my role would be to be the messenger of the change, so the leadership didn’t have to be, and my purpose was to make sure all staff complied. I was horrified! And when 3 months later the same company contacted me with the same request, I had the response ready, a short sharp “NO”.

 

I reflect on this situation many times and hear of many colleagues having similar conversations with potential employers and clients and it worries me. Understanding that there is more to enabling change than communications is huge for many people, but realizing that the communications element, which I readily admit is fundamental to the success of sustained change, is more than telling, is vital for them to understand the need of change management professionals.

I’m not a conformist in my approaches to supporting change, but there are simple things to consider when communicating about a change and these are so often overlooked. I want to just give a few tips from my experience that should help:

  1. KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid. I have worked with many organizations and I find that with all those entities they love a good acronym. So many acronyms, there could be dictionaries devoted to them! Avoid the use of acronyms where possible or at least explain them – not everyone knows what you know.
  2. Concise messages. Don’t write a book in an email. We have all fallen into this misconception that email is a time effective method of communications. Well, guess what, that’s not always the case! If you have that much content, demonstrate your leadership, confidence and capacity to engage with people and have a face-to-face conversation! If I see another manger spend an hour writing an email, followed by 2 hours of CC all replies ending up with an in person meeting, I shall have to temper my urge to scream at them why didn’t you do that in the first place!
  3. Transparency & Timing. Too many people feel they cannot say anything about a change until they know everything. I’ve news for you, you will never know everything! All this achieves is a space for rumour, gossip and untruths to formulate with people, while they wait for the truth and then we spend way too long undoing all these falsehoods. Of course the real reason for this arising is the avoidance of difficult conversations. My experience says that people respect early notification of change in preference to late notice. There will be challenging questions presented with either option but the early deal is far easier to manage than the late response.

I have a final response to my tips and its simply saying you don’t know when you don’t know. Its ok to have that response! It may be uncomfortable, but it gains valuable respect from people when you are open about your lack of knowledge. It will also let you gain insight into the focus of their thoughts so you can prepare what needs to be said next time!

As I close this post, I just wanted to acknowledge that this is being published outside the 3 month window for the communications theme of the change blog challenge! Sometimes we don’t manage to communicate on time, but we reflect that it has no detrimental effect on the outcomes, so its OK! I decided that applied for this content!

This article is part of the 2019 #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Resistance in Quarter 2. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic.

R³ – Resisting the Resistant Resistor!

Verb, adjective and noun – which sends the greater shockwave through the mind of the change practitioner? Why is the change facilitator only called in to help the organization, when the “R” word noticed? What is the big deal here with the “R” word?

I will begin this post with a confession – I resist resistance. Oh great, what the heck does that mean! I hear you moan, but just persevere with my thought process here and indulge my journey in words…

Let’s go back to school! This is what we learn.

  • Change 101 – People resist change
  • Change 201 – People don’t resist change they resist the consequences of the change
  • Change 301 – Not everyone resists change and its not a fixed space.

In other words, we overly generalize when we first learn about the resistance word, starting our understanding in a straightforward manner, but we gain a deeper understanding of the change space we connect with the deeper meanings around the fluidity of such statements. We realise its not as straightforward and understand it changes over time, circumstance and its not the same for everyone – a bit like change itself!

Ponder upon this for a moment – What if we replace resist in the above and use respond(s) to in its place?

  • Change 101 – People respond to change
  • Change 201 – People don’t respond to change they respond to the consequences of the change
  • Change 301 – Not everyone responds to change and its not a fixed space.

To me that progressive understanding doesn’t sound so worrisome and in truth, a little bit more accurate, realistic and manageable? I personally advocate for using the “respond” conjecture as the best way to reflect on how people behave when experiencing change. They may respond well, not so well or downright awful and all manner of behaviours in between. When we use the resist word, we get caught in focusing on the negative response and get ready to use our Jedi mind powers to deal with the resistance – and I for one don’t want to be Darth Vader!

I want to put a challenge out there to all the wonderful change navigators – don’t do resistance and resistance management plans for your change events. Not only are you highlighting the negative with more airspace in conversation, but you are also ignoring those people who are not negative. You also fall in to the trap of making a huge assumption that anyone who doesn’t feel negatively about the change today never will! Don’t make that failure!

Consider if you have ever worked with someone who was nonplussed to a change, but when they were not included in conversation or any other engagement activities about the change, their viewpoint became negative? Yes, me too – part of my early learning journey to stay away from resistance management plans. These plans make you act like Thor swinging his hammer to destroy all who stood before him! Slightly better than Darth Vader I guess, but not really the best approach.

Thanks for persevering, but now I’ve told you what not to do, I guess you are looking for some guidance on what to do instead? My Answer: Build a Stakeholder Response Table/Chart/Map and identify both the good, the bad and the neutral views of the change and create plans on how to maintain those in the good place, and move those you need to move, either from the bad place to the good place, or just the neutral zone! Let me show you what this might look life for a simple software change:

StakeholderWhere are they now?Where do I need them to be?How will you get them to where they need to be?
IT Support TeamNeutralPositiveEngage in conversations focused on their WIIFM and highlighting the perils of staying as is.
CIONegativePositiveWeekly check-ins focused on benefits of change, provide opportunity to explore fears and concerns effecting role and team
CHROPositivePositiveOccasional conversations to confirm success and reference to support future of change in other communications
Caseworker Team 3NegativeNeutralDeflate their instinct to stall change, by getting them to reflect past achievements and reinforce value of past efforts in all communications

I’m sure you can follow how this might go. If you are feeling colourful you can even use smiley and frowning emojis!

As a bonus, when you use this approach you can generate some clear metrics for improvement through the change journey. Score these positions from say, -5 through to +5 and with regular checkpoints to score current positions, you can easily demonstrate movement across that range for all the included stakeholders – hopefully in the direction you want!

Let me wrap my final words with these challenges, ideas and proposals:

  • Ditch resistance

  • Scrap resistance management plans

  • Develop inclusive response maps

  • Engage with all your stakeholders, not just the resistance!

This article is part of the 2019 #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Resistance in Quarter 1. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic.

My Agile Awakening – an Adventure towards Cultural Agility

About 6 years ago I first starting consciously noticing the Agile word coming up in many of my professional social feeds. I think it had been popping up before then, but the volume of its presence became more noticeable to me at this time. In total honesty the word scared me for several reasons.

Fear

I was afraid

The first reason was my fear of the unknown. I didn’t really know what it was, and I’ve always been someone who prides myself on being current and up to date on terms, approaches and the like. This was something I didn’t really know a lot about and what I did know added a secondary fear. I knew it was something from software development and back in the dark ages when I was a Mathematics undergrad student, I never got on well with my software development courses – I did what was required but it wasn’t the same comfort zone as the rest of my courses. Thirdly I have never wanted to be at the back of the line for something new, and I physically felt myself slipping back on this Agile thing! In reflection I was afraid of the unknown and yet I was also afraid of the known, or at least my known. Not a good place to start.

During 2013 my curiosity began to get the better of me. I was working at a location anchored in a traditional waterfall project management mindset, in fact they weren’t doing that very well, and I was frustrated by this among other things. So I started exploring and spent the next 12-18 months trying to get my head around this Agile thing that people were talking about. My rapid learning was fueled first by the musings of Jason Little and his Lean Change Agent book, then my mind double flipped with the 2015 Spark the Change Conference in Toronto, and a particular shout out to Riina Heldström who was at that Spark conference and made me ignite my mind to Agile beyond software and PM where she talked Agile HR and my thoughts raced through “of course, isn’t it bleeding obvious” through to “why am I stuck fighting against what is so f**ked up here”?

a gauntlet

the proverbial gauntlet

Anyone that knows me well, knows that this is throwing down the gauntlet to me. And my Agile adventure began. An accelerating learning curve over the last year or two has brought me to the place I’m at now. I’ve learned about elements of the practice, from scrums and huddles, to product-based ownership and customer centric drivers. I’ve learned how people practice it in a way that some think is wrong, and others think is right (isn’t this true for every business practice?) I connected my background and experience in the lean six sigma activity and operational excellence. I looked at the manifesto and then researched the multiple operational translations of the manifesto. I dug and dug until my brain was ready to go pop!

I discovered that there is a kind of hard Agile focused on project management, product development and all things connected to physical delivery. Then there is a softer, almost “agile agile” anchored in mindset, values and behaviours. This latter is where I emphatically gravitated, demonstrating agility in the workplace, with people and their thinking, no doubt heavily influenced by my change management background. I guess I would call it cultural agility in my head and I felt happy in this space.

Rich looking happy

I felt happy

I have continued my learning journey in Agile and discovered some really cool people with thoughts and ideas in the space – my thanks go to recent contributors Sarika Kharbanda and Evan Leybourne (do check out the Business Agility Institute) As with all disciplines, I’ve unfortunately found some people who have an arrogance about the practice – unless you have this cert or that qualification, you don’t know what you are talking about – but I’ve had that in every area I’ve been exposed to over time and let it slip by. I’m now reflecting on so much activity I’ve done over the years that has had an agile ethos about it, leadership styles, HR practices, business improvement activities, even my strong desire to only do what is needed, not what people would like… I think I’m a convert, I just don’t think I have a label for what I’ve converted to … I think I’m going to go with cultural agility as a label, for something I don’t think I really want to label.

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Eight Lessons Learned as I Reflect on 2017

As I come to the end of the year I have chosen to reflect back on the journey I’ve navigated, the people I’ve engaged with and look to adventures that await me in 2018 as part of a series of learning opportunities that have presented themselves to me.

Professionally it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve continued to engage with great clients, locally and abroad. Some with a purpose close to my heart, finding their potential and supporting them through their own change journeys. My first learning moment of the year came when I realised that although I need financial reward for my endeavours I place equal value on making a difference and releasing other’s potential. This part of the value I place when deciding to begin an engagement.

My first learning moment ... I place equal value on making a difference and releasing other's potential

It was only in 2015 I launched the Capillary Learning offerings. My desire to get people thinking change, rather than just regurgitating a process, led to the Certified Change Agent (CCA) credential that has now been experienced by over 200 people. Learning point two came this year as I reaffirmed my desire to share knowledge with others hungry to learn.

Learning point two ... I reaffirmed my desire to share knowledge with others hungry to learn. Curiosity has continued to be a part of my very existence. Thanks to my sparring partner, Nik Beeson, I've kept challenging and questioning and we've done some great workshops this year with curiosity and now have a Meetup group of over 500 members. My fourth learning came from these, sometimes less is more. I learned that small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity for workshop attendees.

My third learning came on the back of this, I have to take my enthusiasm and the CCA to new people in new places, so London, England is on the 2018 list and more Canadian cities too!

My third learning ... I have to take my enthusiasm and the CCA to new people in new places

Curiosity has continued to be a part of my very existence. Thanks to my sparring partner, Nik Beeson, I’ve kept challenging and questioning and we’ve done some great workshops this year with Curiosity Culture and now have a Meetup group of over 500 members. My fourth learning came from these, sometimes less is more. I learned that small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity for workshop attendees.

My fourth learning ... small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity

I’ve been coaching a number of great executives and leaders in their organization. I love to get the “aha!” moment and I’ve truly heard it and seen it with many of these clients. Learning number 5 came directly from these experiences – you should always be learning! I have committed myself to learn at least one new tool, technique or skill every year from now on.

Learning number 5 ... you should always be learning! I have committed myself to learn at least one new tool, technique or skill every year from now on.

I began applying this learning point, when I finally got to do the big Lego® Serious Play® course I’ve wanted to do for some time. I did a short course several years back but it never lit a spark in me but now I’ve done the 40 hour version I have been inspired to reconnect and 2017 certainly saw me involved in some great Lego inspired actives including incorporation of it into the CCA. Learning item six is not writing something off because it didn’t work in one format or style, everything deserves another chance.

Learning item six ... not writing something off because it didn't work in one format or style, everything deserves another chance. 

I’ve had some great speaking gigs in 2017. In Texas and Chicago I let loose with the Lego and Berlin Change Days was a performance I shall remember for some time! I’ve presented to 200+ and 15 in a room and thoroughly enjoyed both extremes. My key learning here, number 7, is to remember self care. Surprising to most I’m a natural introvert and I need to remember that these events take a lot out of my energy bank, so I should find the time to recharge and recover.

My key learning here, number 7, is to remember self care

My final, eighth learning point builds on the self care. Appreciate the communities you are part of and let them be there for you. 2017 saw me end my time leading the Toronto Chapter of the ACMP and letting go can be hard, as Bill Bridges will confirm and I’m definitely embracing the new zone now. I have many great connections in the change space and I thank you all for the great conversation, thought provoking comments and insights into the field I’d never normally think. Learning point 8 is be grateful for the support of others – Thank you!

Learning point 8 is be grateful for the support of others - Thank you

Leadership & Change – Part 3: The Personal Journey

What the heck does it personally mean to be a leader? To be someone who demonstrates leadership? How do you get there? What are the leadership behaviors that could impact a team in a negative manner? Is leadership a natural born trait or a developed skill? Can anyone be a leader? In this third part of the series, I want to explore the individual leadership role.

Let’s begin with confirming my definition of a leader. A leader is someone who demonstrates leadership qualities. That may sound “damn obvious” to many, but it needs to be said. Let me explain. In many cases the leader role is labeled to indicate its position and the owner’s level of organizational power that aligns with that label. The role may say Director, Senior manager, Vice President or Chief Operations Officer; and there are many more labels you could probably name; and the expectation (often just a hope) is that the person in this role demonstrates leadership qualities. As we all know, this is not always the case!

Manager vs leader

I use this cartoon when I do my CCA® program to demonstrate the difference between leadership and management and it has relevance for this post. Although I don’t agree 100% with all the statements on either side, it gives a good essence of each area. Take a moment to reflect on the words you see and how you might interpret their presence within each side.

The title of the cartoon leads me nicely into the core of my discussion: Manager vs Leader – which is your best position or role? Have you taken a self evaluation moment to consider which is your better role? You can do this simply by considering the things you enjoy doing (which are usually where you are willing to invest time). Where do these sit in the graphic or the general essence of each of these roles above? Be honest, are these management or leadership activities?

  • Do you prefer to be task focused or people focused?
  • Are you someone who provides guidance or likes to instruct?
  • What is your natural tendency and comfort space for risk taking?

I want to make one thing very clear – ITS OK TO BE A MANAGER. Without great managers, many things would never get done. We need managers. Although I personally prefer leadership to management, its not about there being a competition to be a leader and not be a manager. The goal is not that everyone becomes a leader. Too many organizations are making this assumption and giving greater credibility to leaders and belittling the manager role, placing expectations on the manager to be a leader without the support, competence or basic alignment to the role.

Lego LeadershipWe’ve all had those eye rolling moments, when a new and/or ill-fitting leader is trying to demonstrate their forced leadership skills. It often comes via control, fear, threats and other equally negative activities. This demonstrates that they are probably natural managers who are not doing well in their new leadership position, but because of the bureaucracy of the organization around them, they are now cornered into taking this role on, whether it’s a good fit or not. They may have a myriad of leaders that also use these techniques so the only example available to them is to follow suit.

Now this is where my challenge to individuals and organizations comes into play. I ask you as the person, or you as the employer to assess leadership capability in an accurate way.

self awareOn an individual level, this means demonstrating your Emotional Intelligence or EQ and being honest again. If you can develop sufficient self awareness you can recognize when you are doing a bad job as a leader. Recognition is not the same as responding to it. This is the time for courage, to say “this isn’t for me” and find a pathway back or forward into the managerial role you are best suited to undertake. If its not for you, then don’t go there, you will regret it. If your organization is encouraging you to go there, consider if you have the potential to move there, but need the support to get there. Which takes me to …

On an organizational level, if you recognize potential or want to move a manager into a leadership role, then you need to give them the support systems to enable their competence to grow accordingly. If they are not “leadership competent”, continuing to push forward down that pathway will make them and all around you more and more emotionally instable. Its not a good place to be and both physical and mental health will likely suffer! Develop leadership mentoring schemes, educational support programs and competency frameworks to enable the new and developing leaders to realise their potential.

My final summary comments for this post are these two statements.

  • Recognize yourself as a manager or a leader and recognize each for their contribution not as a competition.
  • Encourage organizations to develop their leaders, not just anoint/appoint them!

Capillary consulting offers a number of leadership development opportunities – robust programs and focused coaching opportunities. Get in touch to see how we can help you and your organization.

Leadership & Change – Part 2: Leadership teams, egos and humblebragging

I’ve faced several challenges writing this second article in the series about leadership and change. To fully explore this next area, I’m going to need to say some things that many “leaders” don’t like to hear. However, I think its right that I pose these challenges as recognition is the first step in a cultural movement away from these failings. I will try an put positive light where I can but you can be the judge on the balance I’ve given to each side of this equation.

I shall begin exploring “the leadership team”. In most organizations, this will be those at the top of the tree in the power and influence hierarchy. The ultimate team in charge – typically the “C-suite” or similar. This “top team” as I shall call them, are easily defined using the phrase “the buck stops here”. Now that last quoted phrase takes me nicely into my challenge with such leadership teams – Accountability.

true leadershipAs stated in my previous article, the position of leadership and the attributes of leadership are not one and the same. Many want to have the title but don’t want to take the accountability or responsibility that it requires. Discovering that they are expected to act strategically, make important decisions and retain a level of organizational authority can be a surprise to many; frequently rejecting such requirements or at a minimum, taken with immense reluctance and not very effectively. Recent news about leadership style at Uber, may be good evidence of this inability to take on this professional leadership role successfully, but I don’t want to spend paragraphs on that disaster!

In my opinion, there are three types of leaders and they are all present in the top team.

  1. Those that have taken the role because they want the importance, to stroke personal ego and feel special on a personal level. Let’s call these blimps – puffed up, sitting high in the organization but with no real ground lines.
  2. Those that are lost and frightened by the role, jumping aimlessly from one thing to another, hoping not to look too stupid and praying to have something click sometime. We can refer to these as puppies, jumping about without meaning to harm anyone, but not capable of being a fully functioning adult and understanding the expectations of the role professionally within the organization (think Uber again).
  3. Those that embrace responsibility, lead by example and understand how to empower and enable their organization to succeed through clear and considered direction. These are the true leaders, who demonstrate leadership in every way possible.

What is the balance of each in your leadership team? If there are more combined blimps and puppies than true leaders, its won’t be the best performing leadership team – and you will most definitely know it! Sometimes the sheer determination of true leaders can overcome the drag of the others to push forward what is needed, but emotionally this is very draining on the energy levels of said true leaders. If not it’s a constantly disagreeing group that never does anything productive enough to take the organization forward and may drive out the true leaders to seek alternative roles with other organizations.

blimpsBlimps are difficult leaders to work with. They inflate themselves with self importance, feeding a need to feel vital to the organization, but see their role as more about who will do the job for them rather than doing anything themselves. They are figurehead leaders who probably have instinctive command and control approaches, and readily farm out all their real work to others, badly using delegation and empowerment as cover words for their dumping. In organizations where promotion and professional expertise is measured by appearance, sweet talking and externalized displays (peacocking) then these people quickly rise to the top. They are those that talk the talk but never walk it. There is very little that can be done to educate these people and prevention is the best cure. Preventing them requires the culture of the organization to change and that can be a whole scale change initiative in itself.

puppiesThe puppies are those that somehow landed in a leadership position. They often refer to themselves as managers or senior managers because this is where their approaches lie. They landed in a leadership position because nobody else would take it, or they got rapidly promoted within the organization, potentially because of technical or managerial skills but never assessed on leadership competency. These people can be seen as victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes they are victims of lazy managers and leaders who rather than work to develop their skills, want the quick fix of “if in doubt, promote them out”. In a leadership position, they are a fish out of water. They may have some management capability, but that’s as good as it gets.  Unfortunately, puppies are poorly supported, and although they may have the potential to become really great leaders, they are not given the development, mentoring or other support mechanisms and just expected to “hit the ground running”. Without true leadership development programs, these people are destined to fail.

Now beyond the “top team” we can see leaders throughout the organization fitting into these three groupings and demonstrating success or otherwise within each category. The team led by each of these types, become a microcosm of the leadership style. The blimp, does little work, delegates everything and reminds everyone how important their position is. They may even do this with the humblebrag approach “I don’t know if it was my leadership, but we really got the results on that sale….”; “its not for me to say we are amazing, but the results speak for themselves” – you get the idea. The puppies are just trying their best to perform and hoping that they can fake it till they make it.

We really need to have a better way of getting the right people into these positions and supporting those that are placed here. We hiring structures to reflect leadership competence as a demonstrated behaviour – not assess it by a list of titles previously held. To have truly great leadership in organizations, we need to have development and support mechanisms to enable those in leadership roles to truly release their potential while embracing the responsibilities that go with that role.

Capillary Consulting offers a range of leadership development opportunities that can be tailored to the needs of your organization. Let’s discuss how we can help your puppies, prevent your blimps and support your true leaders.

Coming next … Leadership & Change 3: Stick or twist? Navigating the personal journey.

Leadership & Change – Part 1: The Leadership Word

leadership1Leadership is not about a title. Individuals may be appointed, anointed or otherwise installed in positions of power, authority and decision making but that doesn’t mean they are able to exercise true leadership. It isn’t a competence that plugs in by virtue of the situation.

When I challenge myself to define leadership I often find a struggle within myself. The difficulty is that we have leadership positions a plenty but I rarely see the individuals in these roles demonstrate leadership qualities. Yet conversely, I see great leadership within organizations as individual contributors demonstrate qualities far an above those in positions meant to lead them through their daily needs.

What do I mean by leadership qualities? It’s a very difficult thing to define in just a few lines but I’m expecting at least to see the following qualities:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Empowerment, enablement and divested responsibilities
  • Respect
  • Influence without malice
  • People who follow with purpose
  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Decision making
  • Embracing challenge as opportunity

These are all qualities that would encourage others to look up to the person and aspire to their values and there are probably at least ten times as many more words that I could offer as well.

Whatever set of qualities you use to scope out expectations of leadership they will always beg and answer to the eternal question – are leaders born or made?

To answer that question, I pose an alternate question to consider – can individuals grow and develop leadership qualities? If you believe and accept this is possible, then leaders can definitely be made.

Now I do not underestimate the instinct of many people who have a level of innate leadership. I believe there are many people who are by default significantly far along the path to demonstrated leadership; people who have shown themselves successfully manoeuvering a way through related leadership roles and delivering time and again. However, there are those who need the support, education and opportunity to become leaders, where a leader is an individual who naturally shows authentic leadership qualities.

Leadership2Leadership must be recognized as a continuum of competence. Some people are at zero on the scale and will struggle to move up the dial. Some people have that base level in the low numbers, and have potential to reach a higher capability, with strong support, development and mentoring. Then there are those that start high up the dial and can develop into outstanding leaders. Perhaps it’s the frequency, effort and instinct in applying the leadership that is the measure of a persons starting point on the continuum.

Which ever way you look at this leadership word, there is a range of evidence and a broad base of demonstrated application. The key takeaway here is that leadership is not a title but a behavioural competence that can be fed, grown and matured in almost everyone – if they have the capacity to take it on.

Next time: Leadership and Change Part 2: Leadership teams, egos and humblebragging

Capillary Consulting offers a range of Leadership focused intervention activities for organizations. Read about them here