31 Questions e-book

I've turned my July series - 31 Questions - into a free, download-able e-book. 31_questions_logo_2

I've added some material to several of the questions, so what you find on the blog could be different than the e-book. You can also download a two page version of just the questions and my 10 Assumptions about leadership.

Over time, I will add more material to this book.  I see it as a work in progress. Your comments and thoughts are welcome.

31 Questions: wrap up

Over the past 31 days, I have posted a daily question about the practice of leading organizations. I've learned a lot from this process. I appreciate the great comments that have come during the series.

I have reformatted the 31 Questions series for easy download and distribution. Download here.

Share the questions with colleagues. Talk about them. Don't keep it to yourself. Conversation is the key to growing our awareness of what we can do to be better at leading our organizations.

If you have other questions that you think should be added to this series. Send a long and will tackle them together.

Thank you for reading and I wish you well in all your leadership endeavors.

31 Questions: inspiring ideas

31. How do leaders move their organizations from an inspiring idea to impact?

My office is filled with shelves of books whose authors are experts at inspiring me with innovative ideas.

The left-hand sidebar features some of my favorites. 

The dilemma that I discovered in myself, and have seen it in so many other people is a tendency to move from one inspiring idea to the next without any real significant integration of the idea into my life or practice. I came to feel like an inspiring idea junkie. I was constantly in the bookstore looking for the latest, greatest breakthrough idea to change my life and business. I didn't want to be left out of the inspiring idea loop. What I discovered after a great investment in books that I didn't know how to make the transition from the idea that inspired me to its application.

For example, I am very interested in networking. I first came to my interest in reading Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations, then Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Ron Burt's Structural Holes.  I understood the theory, but didn't see how to move from where I was to something resembling the picture each of them described. So, I kept reading. Alberto Barabasi's Linked, Emanuel Rosen's The Anatomy of Buzz, and Burt's Brokerage and Closure and many others.

What I have learned is that most books are organized to describe what something looks like. Few describe how to create it. Understanding how something is created is very interesting because it can teach us how we can do the same. Look at Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin or Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen or the fascinating Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. These are books with inspiring ideas that are also ones where you can learn how to move from idea to practice.

Learning to move people from a fixation on the inspiring idea of the day to the application of that idea requires a process that leads people to discover the practical application of ideas.

One of the ways leaders can do this is by asking questions. Questions can open up avenues of practical creativity.

Ask questions that help people to visualize an idea in action.

For example, what would developing a network look like? We'd exchange contact info. We'd talk about areas of interest, people we know, connections and commonalities that link us together. And we'd make a commitment to stay in touch and introduce other people to us as the situation arises.

Another approach is to follow a simple process that I've created. Moving_from_idea_to_impact_simple

Simply identify the idea. Talk about it with others. Look at way to integrate the idea into what you are already doing. Finally, determine what the impact should be. If you can define the impact, then you can figure out in conversation with others how to structure a process of application.

The reality of this process is that you can't do this with every inspiring idea, and that it takes time to do this well. The benefit is that the more you do this the easier it becomes. The goal is to become an expert at quickly seeing the application of an idea and moving into action with it.

Let's end by practicing this idea. Take a book you are reading or recently completed that has some inspiring ideas in it. Select one idea and commit to finding a way to apply it in either your personal or professional life. Chart the process of learning. Write a brief narrative about what you learned, share it with some friends or colleagues. Send it to me. If you want I'll post it along with some follow up conversation we can have.

By doing this, we model how to discover the practical application of an inspiring idea. Or, we discover why many inspiring ideas aren't very practical.

31 Questions: servant leadership

30. What is servant leadership?

Servant leadership is an idea first conceived by Robert Greenleaf, and now led by a center in his name.

"The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."

Much has been written on servant leadership, and I encourage you to read and absorb as much of this perspective on leadership as possible.

However, I'd like to place this question in the context of my first four Assumptions about leadership.

1. Leadership is both a role and a responsibility.
2. Leadership is role specific based on position within the organizational structure.
3. Leadership is a responsibility when it is a matter of influence and impact.
4. Leadership occurs in the context of human relationships.

These ideas assume that leadership is much more than an institutional role within an organizational structure. It is not simply a set of tasks and activities that one conducts.

Leadership is much more a product of the character of an individual.  The underlying assumption is that every member of an organization is in a leadership relationship with someone. Each one of us influences someone by our actions. That influence, properly understood, is leadership.

Therefore, servant leadership is a way to understand how to fulfill our leadership responsibility.

What, then, does it mean to serve first within the context of our relationships in business?

The question that rarely gets asked in this context is "Is our business structured - organized - to produce servant leadership? Or, does how we function force people into decisions and actions that encourage self-interest over against action for the greater good.

Servant leadership is not an organizational system.  If it is to make a sustainable difference in your business, you must take the time to look at how you are organized to determine what policies and structures inhibit the development of this leadership practice.

How, then, do business develop servant leadership throughout their business?

31 Questions: partnerships, collaborations, coalitions

29. How is leadership developed in partnerships, collaborations, and coalitions?

The business world, and especially, the non-profit world are filled with organizations that are structures based on relationships between individuals or other organizations.

My experience has been that these are some of the most difficult, complex, problematic organizations in existence.

I've written about business partnerships needing both trust and confidence here and here.

Trust is a belief in the moral integrity of the person or business.

Confidence is the belief that they are competent to do the job.  In partnerships, collaborations and coalitions we need both.

Collaborations and coalitions have the added problematic dimension of each party representing their own group's interests. These are relationship filled with potential conflict.

Partnerships, collaborations and coalitions require a high level of clarity of purpose and expectation for participation, contribution and execution. They are high maintenance organizations. The benefit comes from the ability to leverage talent and resources to achieve goals that are beyond any one person or group's ability to meet.

There is a place for partnerships, collaborations and coalitions. They require a higher level of commitment than other organizations require.

Therefore, what kind of leadership is needed for these unique organizational structures? 

In an organization of equals, how should leadership be understood and conducted?

If, today, you and a group of people were to set out to establish a collaborative partnership, what would your first steps be in establishing the leadership structure of the group?

How would you measure the trust and confidence that you will need to be a healthy, successful group?

31 Questions: visionary leadership

28. What does visionary leadership mean?

This is a popular way to look at leadership.

I have had people tell me that they see themselves as visionary leaders.

What does that mean? To be a visionary leader?

What is a vision? Is it a picture of the future? Or is it something else?

In business literature the idea of vision has long been connected with the idea of seeing the future. 

I have growing skepticism that we can actually predict the future. Read Nassim Taleb's two books, Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan, and you'll understand why my change in perspective. I'm not saying we can't look into the future with some predictability. I am saying that it is quite limited.

Vision, as I see it, is the ability to see the change that needs to be made and the effect or impact of that change. If mission is an identity or purpose statement, a vision is really a future results statement.

One way to characterize the difference is that a mission is like a snapshot, where a vision is more like a video of what is happening in the future.

A visionary leader is a person who can see the changes that need to be made and articulate them in such a way that people visualize the accomplished change. 

For example, let's say you need to move from a traditional hierarchical business structure to a more flat, distributed leadership model.  A visionary leader sees the functioning of that change, and knows how to develop people into that change.

Let me, therefore, reframe today's question.

How do leaders learn to become leaders who can envision the changes that need to be made in order to be prepared for whatever the future brings?

31 Questions: values

27. What role do values have in the development of leadership teams?

The role of values in organizations is changing.  The simplest way to understand it is with my notion of Values 2.0.

Values 2.0 is analogous to Web 2.0. Web 1.0 is websites that function as online brochures distributing relavent information about a business.  Web 2.0 is websites that are focused on the interaction between people, between businesses and their customers. All the popular social networking sites are Web 2.0.

Values in a Values 1.0 perspective are ideas that are meaningful, but serve a more symbolic purpose. TheyValues_1_simple are like the icons on your computer desktop. They are a reference point to some meaning that has value. The are Iconic because they can serve a branding function to point to a characteristic that the business would like its audience to identify.  The problem with Values 1.0 is that they are largely irrelevant to the functioning of the business.

Values 2.0, like Web 2.0, function in an interactive environment. They are not simply ideas posted on theValues_2_simple_2 wall or website for all to see and admire. Instead, they are ideas that are injected into the conversation that takes place in every organization. This interaction begins with questions. "What are our values? How do they fit into our culture? How do they help us or protect us?"

In a Values 2.0 organization, values are integrated into the organization through the relationships of people, and then into the operational processes of the company. Values become a tool for understanding where opportunities and problems are, and more importantly how to make strategic decisions.

Umair Haque regularly writes about the DNA of organizations as being the source of its life. Values are key elements in that DNA. When values are iconic, they are a reflection of the past than the present. Values that have impact are active agents in the DNA of a company.

With this background to my thinking about values, let's restate the question where we began.

What role do values have in the development of leadership teams?

Or, if values are to have a place at the table in your team interaction, how should they be introduced?

If you don't know, you need to ask.


Because there are values integrated into your organization and your team work. Enron, the poster child of companies that failed because of their values, had values, just one's that were unethical and ultimately destructive to its life as a company.

What role do you want values to have in your teamwork? Start with that question, and ask it over and over until you get an answer that makes sense.

Before you ask it of your team, ask it of yourself.

What role do I want values to have as I lead?

And, what values should they be?

31 Questions: mission

26. How do leaders develop an organization’s mission?

Before you can answer this question, answer what is the purpose of a mission?

A mission can be a how we see our purpose.  This means that it is a concept, an idea that guides an 3dleadership_missionvisionvalues organization or a person. In my Circle of Impact perspective, mission is one of three concepts that guide an organization. There are also Values and Vision. They are different and are addressed in separate questions in the 31 Questions series.

See the connections in this diagram. Mission is a way we give purpose to an organizational structure. 

It is a statement of identity. A purpose statement is an identity statement. When we say that our mission is "___." We are saying this is what I hope to achieve and who we are is identified by this purpose. 

It is important, also, that the structure of our organization fits with the mission of our organization.

For example, I read somewhere this week a comment about Southwest Airlines mission. I'm paraphrasing - "We are a customer service company who happens to be in the airline business." Read their customer service commitment statement.  This is a mission that gets translated into how they do business. It determines how they structure their business.

Mission, therefore, is more than a purpose or an identity. It is an idea that guides how the business is organized.  This may seem rather simplistic. It is until you begin to look deeply into your business practices, and realize that all sorts of structures and processes run counter to your mission.

Without regular attention to the connections seen in the above diagram, your business will devolve into a self-perpetuating organizational structure at odds with your espoused mission, regardless of what it is.  This is not a statement about the people, nor the value of the mission. It is a statement about what happens in organization that lose sight of the connection between their mission and their organizational structure.

With this background in mind, how should leaders develop their organization's mission?

What are the steps that should be taken?

What's the first one?

How do you know when you are on the right track?

31 Questions: impact

25. How do leaders learn to measure their impact?

Measuring leadership is not an easy task.

Measuring a company's profit and loss is relatively easy.

Measuring leadership impact, more difficult.

There are many intangibles that go into a measure of leadership.

I look at the leadership from the perspective of identifying the impact that they have had.

Impact is a way of understanding change. It is change. It is the difference that change brings.

If we can see the change that takes place, we can see the impact that leaders have.

Impact could be change in financial or sales numbers.  Impact could be the difference in attitudes and 3dleadership_missionvisionvaluesbehaviors of people. Impact could be higher levels of quality.

The key to understanding impact is recognize that it takes place within the Three Dimensions of  Leadership - Ideas, Relationships, and Organizational Structure. Not only with each one separately, but also in a coordinated manner.

To measure leadership in this way is to understand how the three dimensions create impact.

Or, rather, that leadership is not simply about ideas or relationships or managing processes and setting policies and strategies.

To understand leadership as a system for achieving impact is to understand also how to involve the whole business in the leadership enterprise.  This is not an analytical thinking process. It is an intuitive, synthesizing thinking process that gives you the big picture.

Peter Drucker wrote, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things."

By this he means that you can be very efficient and still not know what is going on in your business. Yours and your whole company's perspectives is so siloed that no one has any clear idea about the impact (effectiveness) that you are having. Everybody is defending their turf, looking for scape goats, and hoping to hold on until retirement or a better offer comes along.

As any B-school grad will tell you, "what gets measured gets done." Understanding what to measure with the three dimensions of leadership leads understanding that leads to better decision-making that produces the changes that I call impact. 

So, how do you measure your organization's leadership impact?