Guest Post – When Hierarchy and Unintended Consequences Stifle Humble Leadership

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Ed & Peter Schein make a great thought leadership team, This father-son duo draw from their experience and study of business and organizations to bring a much needed perspective to both disicplines.

In celebration of their new book “Humble Leadership“, Ed & Peter Schein have been generous to share this post. This is an excerpt from their book  -enjoy!

 

It was tempting to write this whole book around the amazing stories that are surfacing about Humble Leadership and the creation of Level 2 relationships in very hierarchical organizations. Retired general McChrystal in his Team of Teams (2015) and Chris Fussel in One Mission (2017) make it very clear that organizations now have to replace the efficiency of the linear industrial factory model with agility and adaptability as the problems they face become what we have repeatedly called complex, systemic, interconnected, and multicultural, that is, messy. Dealing with customers in an interconnected multicultural world will become as complex as dealing with fluid, invisible, polymorphic enemies. O’Reilly and Tushman (2016) make a similar point in their argument for organizational ambidexterity in that the economic and market forces are similarly fluid and unpredictable, requiring organizations to develop distinct subgroups that can respond differently as market and competitive conditions change.

McChrystal points out correctly that what makes the difference is not technological superiority but “the culture,” by which he means the degree to which the troops are trained not only to be precise about those things that really need to be standardized, but to be able to think for themselves and self-organize in those areas that require a new bespoke response. The stories reviewed here are all built on that assumption, but we have added that “the culture” has to be a

Level 2 culture and that transformation is only achieved by a certain kind of relationship building.

To create the agility needed to respond to a volatile and chaotic environment, McChrystal emphasizes empowering local units to be coordinated by a team of representatives from those units. The solution of having each team have a representative at a coordinating meeting to create “the team of teams” only works, however, if each representative has spent time in each team and established Level 2 relationships within each team. Otherwise it is inevitable that each representative would feel the need to argue for the values and methods of the team from which he or she came (in other words, digging in on one side of a technical, transactional negotiation).

 

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 About Authors

Edgar H. Schein is Professor Emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational studies, organizational culture and leadership, process consulting, career development. Ed’s contributions to the practice of O.D. date back to the early 1960s and continue with the recent publication of Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein, co-founder of OCLI.org who brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley.

(images: https://www.humbleleadership.com/)

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Is Hope A Leadership Trait?

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We like to hear of lessons in leadership, and look for relevant examples in all mediums. Whether reading articles, books or watching movies, there is always a leadership tip we can gain, whether from good or bad displays.

An example of this is one of my favorite movies – Apollo 13. One of the reasons I gravitate to that movie is not just the story itself, but Ed Harris’ character in the film.

Harris plays Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director in charge of the moon mission that has been derailed by an internal explosion aboard the ship. Some of the lines Kranz says helped calm the anxious flight command crew and give them hope of bringing the astronauts safely home:

“Gentlemen, at this moment, I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission: How do we get our people home?”

“We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure …not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!”

“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

“Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

These statements serve as an example of mission-oriented leadership. Through them, Kranz was able to rally his team, giving them direction and the hope that would resolve the crisis. His skills in knowing what the team needed to accomplish it’s charge allowed everyone to do what was needed to succeed.

The question that this poses for leaders in all fields is: “Is the ability to instill hope a necessary leadership trait?”

Leaders deal with people. People bring to the table skills, vision, insight, and emotions. The first three of these may be constants in anyone’s day, but it’s our emotions that ebb and flow with the circumstances we’re faced with.

Leaders must have a solid EQ to deal with people’s emotions. There are many factors, both internal and external to the organization AND the individual, that make a person’s belief in the mission waver.

For instance, a military commander may be outnumbered in forces and face daunting environmental challenges that shake up their troops. A volleyball coach’s team may shrink at the notion that they must play the state champs the next day.

So what leadership traits keep their teams engaged and committed to the mission at hand?

This is where hope is necessary.

Hope is a feeling of trust, an expectation for a certain outcome. It is akin to faith, a confident trust in someone or something. It’s the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hope intersects the emotional needs that your people have at any given moment. It’s not a buzzword or a catchy slogan, but a real genuine feeling of possibility that comes from doing the right things.

Hope is not always a guarantee for success, but a leader will take the slightest amount of hope to chip away at the barriers of reality and impossibility. An astute leader will dove-tail hope into the vision and mission of their organization. They will work to make sure that everyone is “laser focused” on the task at hand. More importantly, they will make the vision bigger than the obstacles that threaten the mission itself.

But where does the ability to instill hope fit into the list of leadership traits?

If you peruse many of articles on the top leadership traits – even those form leadership teachers like Peter Economy, John Maxwell, and Brian Tracy – the closest you find to this is optimism, positive attitude, and confidence. Yet none of these qualities are the same as hope.

  • Optimism is an everything will work out in the end mantra. It doesn’t always factor in the inevitable crises such as what happened in the Apollo 13 mission.
  • Positive attitudes tend to root out the reality. Gene Kranz was not a cheer-leading type in what he did during the aborted moon mission.
  • Confidence, while a key trait, will not alone get it done. Napoleon’s confidence got the best of him when he rushed into the Battle of Waterloo. Confidence is usually centered on self and does not easily impart to others.

Giving hope to your people combines the alignment, engagement, and vision of the organization. A leader’s ability to do so will reap enormous benefits for your organization and your people.

Hope is telling your team that getting this difficult proposal done on time will open up new doors of business. Hope gives your people the drive to keep going when they don’t see the results coming together. Hope is reassuring the employees that you’ll all get through this rough financial patch intact. Hope drives doctors to cure patients, teachers to educate students, and public servants to protect their communities.

If not for the ability to instill this in their people, where would leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King have turned to? What would the people they led have become?

(this post first appeared on Lead Change Group)

(image: The Blue Diamond Gallery)

How To Fix A Toxic Culture? Dilute It!

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A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect

It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans.  Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.

While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.

A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.

While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.

There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.

Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture  – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.

Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.

In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.

The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.

(image: cemiquelservet.com)

 

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