We All Need Leadership Skills

Agility, Holacracy, Digital Transformation, and other trends demand that EVERYONE develops leadership skills.

What does that mean?

Flatter organizations result in more authority being given to those of us in the trenches – by necessity.

An increasing customer focus forces organizations to look to line staff for accurate information about the customer.

A greater emphasis on teams and agility means that decisions need to be made on-the-fly by those team members.

The sum of all of this = we all need “leadership skills.”

What does “leadership skills” mean, exactly?

For many of us, “leadership skills” look like a lengthy laundry list of things we need to be good at to be a “leader.”

I don’t think it needs to be that complicated.


I would argue that we are all leaders, in our own domain.

Our attitude, our actions, and our choices shape our environment.

The question isn’t “Are you a leader?”

The question is “What is the quality of your leadership?”

You can find clues in the quality of your life and your relationships.


Since we are all leaders, it’s important that we develop “leadership skills.”

A good start is this list from the Center for Creative Leadership.

They list the following skills as key to leadership development:

  • Self-awareness – To me, this includes Integrity and Honesty, as well as a healthy measure of Emotional Intelligence. It’s not simply knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Communication – I would emphasize Listening and Asking Questions here, not just the ability to communicate in multiple media in ways others understand.
  • Influence – I would change this to Collaboration. I believe that it is more important to be able to work well with others, including respectful confrontation. I have found, at least for myself, that influence stems from the ability to develop strong relationships.
  • Learning Agility – The ability to focus your learning, to learn quickly and pro-actively, and integrate those lessons is key to succeeding in today’s world. I include focusing your learning because you are always learning something. Each time you talk to someone, or engage in media, or try something, you are learning something. The trick is – focusing your efforts. Learn more consciously.

We are all leaders.

It’s time we work to be great ones.


Resources:

Top 5 Skills for 2019 (blog post) – This is my argument for key skills we all need to develop and practice this year. To me, these skills go a long way towards developing “leadership skills.” We need to be leaders in our own life.

Deloitte’s 21st Century Leadership Trends (article) – Deloitte’s perspective on the C-suite. They note that there is not just a change in needed competencies, there is also a change in context. It’s becoming progressively clearer that old ways of working, and “leading,” aren’t working.

Deloitte’s Leadership Competency Model (article) – The big consulting firms drive the conversation around leadership. Deloitte has one of the more robust Human Capital consultancies. This article contains their perspective on leadership and the competencies required.

Learning In The Flow Of Work: Now Available For HR

Josh Bersin hat seine Idee von „Learning in the Flow of Work“ weiter vorangetrieben. Es gibt jetzt die „Josh Bersin Academy for MS Teams“. Unternehmen können sie installieren, und ihren Mitarbeitern stehen dann die Inhalte der JBA direkt über bzw. in Teams zur Verfügung. „Learning in the Flow of Work“ ist also ein Produkt, ein Geschäftsmodell. Josh Bersin stellt zwei Szenarien vor:

„First, a professional wants to learn something quickly on the job“: Er oder sie kann dann direkt in Teams auf die Online-Bibliothek der JBA zugreifen.

„Second: Professionals Want To Break Out From A Learning Program To Collaborate“: Sie können in Teams ein Thema diskutieren, auch mit Nicht-Abonnenten der JBA. Sogenannte „Conversation Starters“ ermuntern sie dazu.

Ein interessantes Angebot. Ob die Schnittstelle in MS Teams auch für weitere Anbieter und ihre Bibliotheken offen ist, bleibt abzuwarten. Josh Bersin deutet jedenfalls an, dass die beiden vorgestellten Einsatzszenarien nur die Spitze des Eisbergs darstellen. Und er lehnt sich noch weiter aus dem Fenster: „Third, and even more important, is the way workforce productivity platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Salesforce, and Workplace by Facebook are turning into learning platforms.“
Josh Bersin, 10. September 2019

Bildquelle: Josh Bersin Academy

Fast Zebras

Almost 10 years ago, Harvard Business Review introduced the idea of “Fast Zebras.”

A fast zebra is someone who is singularly focused on achieving performance results, knows how the organization can both hinder and help, and charts their course accordingly. In particular, they are wise about when to use the formal and rational elements of organization (such as hierarchy, processes, and monetary rewards) and when to use the informal and emotional elements (including values, networks, and feelings about the work).

Jon Katzenbach, How “Fast Zebras” Navigate Informal Networks

I’m somewhat surprised that the idea of “fast zebras” didn’t get more traction.

My suspicion is that “Fast Zebras” threaten organizational hierarchies and, ultimately, leave hostile environments.

Environments often have effective antibodies to rogue elements like “Fast Zebras.”

The concept was also marketed towards organizational leaders. In my experience, most “Fast Zebras” can be found lurking within your line staff.

The project managers, organizational trainers, senior engineers, and business analysts who have worked on many projects, have cultivated strong relationships throughout the organization, and know where the bodies are stashed.

People in hierarchical positions of power, particularly in deeply conservative organizations, often need to maintain the hierarchy. Middle and senior managers are often hamstrung by having to “keep appearances” among their peers and seniors. These individuals are quickly reminded about their “place” and attempts to go around the formal hierarchy are ruthlessly punished. The punishment is often covert and long-lasting.

Individual contributors have a great oppotunity.

We are not entirely beholden to the structure.

We are beholden to results and getting the job done.

In many instances, we need to work around the structure to get work done.

As one of my project management colleagues not-so-gently reminded the Mucky Muck as he wrongly chided the line staff about not working across silos, “If I don’t work across silos, I can’t get anything done.”

Every other line staffer in the room nodded in agreement.

One of the engineers chimed in – “Your problem with silos is with the management. We work together all the time. Heck, half the time we don’t even talk to our managers because then we’d have to wait for the silos to work.”

The project manager and engineer are the “Fast Zebras.”

Are you?

Building a Container

For those of us who find ourselves in “informal” positions of leadership (trainers, project managers, team leads, event organizers, etc) – it’s important to understand that we, too, are responsible for building a supportive container for the teams and people we work with.

I purposefully use the concept of “container” because we are often trying to protect our students or team members from the stresses of the larger organizational environment during the time we have them.

Containers have boundaries.

Containers, when built well, provide the safety and security people need to do the work they need to do.

Since much of my career has been spent inflicting unwanted change on people, I’ve become mindful of the container I have wanted to build.

The build starts with one question:

How do I want individuals to feel when they leave my container?

When I’m training, the answer is “confident.” Confident that they can function once the change hits. Confident that they are capable of learning new things in the future. Confident that they have a path to mastery within the new environment created by the change.

In project teams, the answer is “comfortable.” Comfortable that they have the resources needed to do the work. Comfortable that their work is valued and appreciated. Comfortable with the knowledge that they are being set up to succeed and (when possible) thrive. Comfortable with asking questions and with sharing challenges.

In a recent workshop, that answer was “safe.” Safe to explore potentially sensitive areas of themselves and their world. Safe to share with others. Safe to reach out for help.

Once you determine the desired emotional outcome (the Why), you can then consider how you want to encourage these outcomes (because you can’t control how others feel, you can only create a space where those feelings are more likely).

  • How do you wish to model this outcome?
    • Remember: your students and team members are looking to YOU for what this looks like.
    • It is hard to model when you are a ball of stress. I’m not asking you to pretend you have it all together. We’re human and we live in interesting times. Instead, I want you to make sure that you have your OWN support network as you do this.
  • What are the behavioral norms you need to set?
    • This is the core question behind “Classroom Management.”
    • What behaviors will you encourage?
    • What behaviors will you discourage and how will you address them when they appear?
  • What are the boundaries around that container?
    • Who are your allies outside of that container that can help you hold and maintain that container? Who can help you “run interference” as you and the others within the container do the work?
    • What exceptions will you need to make?
      • There WILL be exceptions. I have found that defining these exceptions up front makes it easier to maintain the boundaries of the container overall.
      • Example exceptions (these are IT examples because that’s where I came from): Power outages, Core application outages, the CIO wants something from the team ASAP.

These containers aren’t built to hold forever. YOU can’t hold the container together forever (unless you are a CEO). The containers I am describing are built to provide a temporary space to get real work done. They are built to provide the safety, security, and confidence that allows learning to happen.

Resources

Aaron Dignan’s Organizational Operating System Canvas works at the CEO-level. It’s overkill for the containers we are trying to build, but he provides some interesting questions for us to consider as we build our temporary containers – https://medium.com/the-ready/the-operating-system-canvas-420b8b4df062

Amy Edmonson’s research emphasizes the importance of psychological safety in the workplace. Containers are, fundamentally, all about creating that safety in often hostile environments. – The Fearless Workplace: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. (Amazon affiliate link)

The domain of Classroom Management (even in the K-12 space) contains many techniques I find useful when dealing with teams of professionals. Many K-12 teachers are masters at creating containers within hostile environments and without choosing who goes into the container. Better than Carrots or Sticks (Amazon affiliate link) specifically addresses the K-12 classroom. I would argue that what we observe as kids in school carries over into our adult lives. This book contains ideas that we can transfer into the workplace. Even encouraging people to bring their favorite “security blanket” may not be such a bad thing.

Thinking in Containers

What does it take to create a culture?

What does it mean to design an environment that facilitates culture?

A recent project provided an opportunity to explore these questions.

In this project, I needed to create an environment where a group of relative strangers would feel safe exploring potentially sensitive changes.

Some questions surfaced as I sat with the challenge.

  • What are the demonstrable outcomes I want to achieve?
    • My answer: People feel confident and secure both in the new environment and with each other – no exceptions.
    • I will know this by watching how people interact with each other.
      • Are cliques forming?
      • Is someone being shunned by the group?
      • Is someone isolating? They don’t need to participate all the time (I was trying to make the event introvert-friendly), but it was worth quietly asking if everything is OK if they appeared distressed.
      • How are the conversations? Open or guarded? You can tell a lot by observing body language.
  • What is a “safe” environment? What does “safe” mean?
    • I decided that, in this context, “safe” means that people are unlikely to be hurt physically, mentally, and emotionally by the environment or by other people.
    • Any “risks” (we worked with fire) would be identified and mitigated. Participants were responsible for following safety protocol for the physical risks and taking care of themselves for the mental and emotional risks.
  • What expectations do I need to set? What behaviors do I need to demonstrate?
    • Since I was one of the organizers, I was also one of the de-facto leaders. I knew people would be looking to me for both expectations and modeling.
    • The organizers set the expectation that we would be mindful and protective of each other in this space.
    • A pre-existing rule in our code of conduct for this particular group was “impact is greater than intent.” Emphasizing this rule seemed and being clear on our main environmental principle guided people (and myself) to right behavior.
    • My personal behavioral goal – Be Peaceful. Easier said than done.

Fundamentally, we were trying to create a container where people felt safe exploring what change means to them and how it manifests in their lives.

The feedback we received from attendees was that we were successful.

Now that I have some distance from this project, I have been thinking about what we may have done to create the container we did.

When I think about “containers” in this context, I think in terms of the combination of:

  • The people we attracted to join us in the container
  • The environment within which we placed this container
  • The behavioral norms the group established within the container
  • The behavioral modeling the creators of the container demonstrated

Admittedly, we only had to maintain this container for a few days and we were not trying to do this within a legacy organization or group that had to still keep meeting older obligations such as serving customers and executing projects.

Looking at singular, short-term events, however, can help us see what we are working with and potential tools we can use to build these containers.

Let’s explore this further in the next post.

The Myth of “Fearing Change”

I hear so much noise about how “people fear change” and “people don’t want to change.”

I don’t think that’s true.

They just don’t want to be herded through YOUR change.

They don’t want you inflicting your change onto them.

The people you are trying to lead aren’t stupid.

When I hear resistance, I hear variations of the following:

  • I don’t see what’s in this for me OR I see how this will hurt me.
  • You have not provided enough time or support to guide me through this.
  • I don’t feel like I can succeed with the way your change is structured.
  • Your expectations for what this change is going to do for us are unrealistic.
  • Your change is disconnected from the vision/values you claim to espouse.

I’ve witnessed individuals make dramatic changes very successfully.

Pivoting to new careers, building new skills, developing creative solutions, adapting to new environments and requirements.

They do these things often in spite of “leadership” and the systems in which they work.

Workers seem to be more adaptive and optimistic about the future than their leaders recognize. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that workers fear that technology will make their jobs obsolete. But our survey revealed that to be a misconception. A majority of the workers felt that advances such as automation and artificial intelligence would have a positive impact on their future. In fact, they felt that way about two-thirds of the forces. What concerned them most were the forces that might allow other workers—temporary, freelance, outsourced—to take their jobs.

https://hbr.org/2019/05/your-workforce-is-more-adaptable-than-you-think

The authors of this Harvard Business Review article found that the lower-income and middle-skilled workers they surveyed had a more nuanced perspective of the forces changing the economy and the workplace, and their role in it, than their managers did.

What the workers are looking for is support and guidance to prepare for future employment. They are looking for environments where they can learn and grow. They understand the necessity of change and of learning.

The workplace offers opportunities to embed learning into the day-to-day.

This can be done through project selection and design, work assignments balancing the skill of the employee and the complexity of the task, incorporating regular performance and learning reflection opportunities at key milestones, and opportunities to discuss organizational strategy and share perspectives.

There’s no big, new systemic change involved here. It’s all things we are already doing (or trying to do). We work on projects. We perform tasks. We have performance reviews (either formally or informally). We discuss strategy and share perspectives (both horizontally and vertically).

The shift is in perspective.

Do you see the people you lead as people or as a “resource” to be “maximized?”

I suspect that if you see people as a “resource” – any talk of “how to make my employees more adaptable” is a waste of time.

Is Microsoft or Google your next LMS? The view from BETT

BETT, das ist „the UK’s largest educational technology show“, kurz: die Learntec in groß. Jason Cole war in London und hat beobachtet, dass die bekannten Lernplattform-Anbieter wie D2L, Moodle (bzw. die UK Moodle-Partner) sowie Blackboard nicht vor Ort waren. Dafür aber Microsoft und Google. Was ihn dazu bewegt, Microsoft als LMS-Anbieter einmal gedanklich durchzuspielen (warum Google im Titel steht, weiß ich auch nicht).

Heraus kommt dabei Folgendes: „When Microsoft makes their push, the learning system won’t look like an LMS, but it will look like Teams.“ Und: „Teams is not ready to replace or compete with the LMS yet, but it isn’t terribly far away.“ Weiter: „The ecosystem around Teams and Office will give Microsoft an increasingly interesting story.“ Natürlich nicht morgen: „While the potential is there, there are a few hurdles on the way.“

Fürs Protokoll.
Jason Cole, e-Literate, 6. Februar 2019