Gaining Perspective

HurricaneHouse6106625390_7a6a89ce7d_b
Over the past three years, the ground upon which we stand has been rolling like the ground underneath this Vermont house after Hurricane Irene came through.

If you are still standing, congratulations. If you don't know which direction you are facing, welcome to the club.

If you have fallen, and are trying to pick yourself up, don't quit. What you've been through, in retrospect, can provide valuable lessons for the future. If you need a hand, just ask. It is how we stand together.

My Experience

Like many people, my last three years have been the hardest that I've ever faced. From losing all my clients within a six week period in the spring of 2009, to 2011 becoming the busiest, most productive year that I've had in the past decade, there are lessons I'm learning that each one of us can apply.

One of things I learned is that I was not as well prepared for the storm of the recession as I should have been. Like many people, I assumed that what I was doing was enough. It wasn't. As a result the process of the past three years has been a process of personal development that enables me to see what I need to do to make the next three years the best that I've ever had.

There are three things I did that have been infinitely beneficial. I want to share those with you in this post as a guide for how to look at the next year.  I suggest that you download my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference. Print them off, and use them for taking notes to your self. Keep them handy. They will help you gain and maintain perspective on what you are headed.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides

I'll give you a quick overview of each guide, and then speak to the three things to do that will help develop the impact in our life and work that we desire.

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12TransitionPoints

Creating Impact In Times of Transition-TP

The first thing to know is that we are all in transition. If you think, maybe, you are just in a disruptive time, and, that things will return to where they were. Look at this list of 12 transition points. This is a random list I wrote down one afternoon. I'm certain that another dozen could be identified. The point is not to be overwhelmed with the sense of disconnection, but rather to see that change is normal. 

Change is happening to us all the time. We each need to make the mental shift from seeing change as random, disruptive chaos to a pattern of change that has a logic that we can tap into and take advantage of. Once we start thinking in terms of transition, we begin to see how a process of development can unfold to our benefit. This is where we start because with a transition mindset, we begin think more opportunistically about the future.

To see our life and work this way is to see how it is a system or a network of connections between various aspects of what we do where we do it.


Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching
From this perspective, we can see three broad areas that every leader faces:

The Three Dimensions of Ideas, Relationships, and, Social & Organizational Structures.

The problem is learning how to align them so that they work together. Our experience tends to be more fragmented, which is where our experience of the ground never being stable under our feet is found.

The key to pulling all of this together is being intentional about the ideas that link the dimensions together. These ideas are:

The Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose, Vision and Impact.

Each one of these ideas needs to be clearly defined so that they can be effectively applied.

For example: You are building your team to start a new venture. You want to select or hire people who not only share similar values, but, are also committed to the purpose of the endeavor. Bring these two ideas together in the selection of a team, and, a vision for what is possible will emerge. As a result, instead of never getting by the team formation stage, your team comes together quickly, and, moves well into the process of creating the impact that you desire.

The Circle of Impact perspective provides a way to see the whole of an organization. But just seeing it doesn't mean we know how to apply it.

 

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
The Five Questions guide is the tool that helps us clarify, focus and move more quickly into action. Ask them continually over time, and we begin to see a pattern that helps to make better decisions. This is just a tool. It isn't a magic wand to wave over a problem and it goes away. It is a tool that must be applied and acted upon. So, when you have answered the five questions, make sure that you do something specific in response, and then come back and ask the questions again.

I created the My 5 Questions template to make it easy for me to quickly answer the questions whenever the need arises. The purpose is to clarify, focus and move me to action. There is no limitation on where you can use these questions. Use the personally, professionally, with your team, your family, with clients, or with someone you meet over lunch. The questions work very well in conversation.

Three Things that Mattered the Past Three Years (2012)

It is simple. Just three things to do.

1. Care for people. Regardless of who they are. Whomever you meet each day, care for them. Treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion. I don't mean take over their lives. I mean provide them a relationship that enables them to become a better person.

2. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself who you are going to be. Act with integrity towards your own values and goals, so you can help others do the same.

3. Live opportunistically in the moment. As a planner, I can confidently say that a long-range plan is more often a closed door than open path. The best plan is knowing who you are, what values matter, and the impact that you want to achieve. The process is discovered daily in the moment to moment interaction that we have with people. This is where real freedom is found.

Afterword Three Years Later (2015)

The years 2012 to 2014, for me, were ones of dramatic change. When I wrote the above post, I was optimistic about the future. Instead, within the first year, the non-profit that I had been hired to lead failed and closed. The recession's effect upon my consulting work lingered. And my marriage ended. Hard year, but still a year of transition.

I realized, as everything was ending, that something new was beginning. I had to get to that point so that I could begin. I took the time to reflect, to heal, and, begin to set my sights forward. I found myself working an hour a week with a group of women in an addiction recovery program. A totally new and different experience for me. And, then, I came to see that I need to relocated my life and work to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides serve as a check point to connect perceptions that I had three years ago with those that I have now.

My Values have not so much changed, but have become clearer, more definitive, and, more focused on putting them into action.

My Purpose has changed. Instead of focused on businesses in a consulting context, I am redirecting my energies towards the personal leadership of individuals.

My Vision has yet to become clear. The reason is that Vision functions in the context of relationship, in a social context of collaboration and community. I have only move to Jackson within the past month, so time for visioning with others will come.

My Impact for the future will emerge as I go through the process of aligning my life and work with The Four Connecting Ideas.

 Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region


From Fragmentation to Wholeness

 Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

To create order is to create a structure for control. To release control creates a opening for initiative and collaboration. This is the transition point that modern organizations are passing through from hierarchy to the network.

If you know me, you know that meeting people from diverse walks of life is a passion for me. I find people infinitely interesting, their background, their thinking, how they found themselves doing what they do, their hopes and dreams, and their perception of their strengths and potential.

There is a reality that I see in many of them that is equally interesting.  Many of them are unfulfilled in their life and work. It isn't that they don't have a passion for something, or don't know enough about themselves to know what their strengths and gifts are. No, it is that most have never found themselves in either the social or organizational setting where they could flourish as human beings.

As I write this I'm mentally scrolling through the places where I live and work. I'm thinking about the people whom I've met and known over the years. Thinking about common characteristics that distinguish them and united them together.

What are the common characteristics of non-fulfillment and of life fulfillment.

Here are three.

Do you have a purpose, a mission, or a calling? Can you define this as something more than what you do as an activity, and more as something you create and achieve?

Do you have a supportive, encouraging, open and honest network of family and friends? Are there people who understand you, who stand by through thick and thin, who believe in you, your mission and the impact  you want to achieve?

Does your workplace and home life provide a context where your purpose and your relationships can flourish? Are you constrained by the structures that frame your life? Or, does the lack of order within your calling mean that there are opportunities that you fail to achieve?

My observation is that these characteristics are in descending order of occurrence. More people have a sense of purpose, fewer people have a truly healthy social network, and by a large margin, the fewest people work and live in social and organizational contexts where they can flourish.

The Circle of Impact


Circle of Impact- simple
For a decade, I've been using this diagram as a conversation / thinking tool to help leaders and their organizations understand where the gaps are in their business.  Here's a simple description of what I see.

Leadership is a function that every person can perfom to take "personal inititative to create impact." 

I am not defining leadership as a role or an organizational postion. Like many leadership theorists, I see these roles as management, rather than leadership.

Therefore, the Three Dimensions of Leadership that every leader must address are Ideas, Relationships and Social & Organizational Structure. Ideally, every person within an organization takes personal initiative through their ideas and relationships, within social and organizational structures to create impact. As a result, a company becomes a leader-filled organization, rather than one starved for leadership.

The four Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact provide the glue, the ligaments and tendons that create the wholeness of an organization.

Each of the three leadership dimensions must be aligned with one or more of the Connecting Ideas. Here's how.

The social and organizational structures are aligned with the organization's purpose. If these structures aren't, there is conflict and fragmentation.

The relationships within an organization are aligned with the values that create a common identity and character as a community of people.

However, it is not enough, to have values. Many organizations have a strong value system, but lack purpose. A community of people need a vision for how their purpose that makes a difference that matters.  It must challenge them to grow, to remain open, and to inspire leadership initiative all with their community. 

The Connecting Ideas permeate all aspects of an organization. Every person, every unit, office, group, committee, or board needs purpose that guides, values that unite, a vision that inspires, and an understanding of impact that defines the future of their organization.

The Structure Dilemma

Having been working with this perspective for over a decade, I've come to a challenging conclusion.

The problem in most organizations isn't the attitudes and behaviors of people. The reality is that people are products of their environment, or the social and organization structure of your business dictates what attitudes and behaviors fit within that system.

Most organizations work from a hierarchical stance. There are bosses and managers who direct employees work. This industrial model of management worked well when the tasks of work were non-creative, repetitive and mechanical skills based. Today, we live in a world of creativity, information and the skills require are for human interaction, communication and collaboration. The old structure doesn't align well with this new reality. Network

As I wrote in The End and The Beginning, this shift from hierarchy is an epic one. As I said recently, "Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, just leaders."

The emerging structure for organizations is the network. Each person participates by their own initiative. Each person contributes through their own unique offering to the network.

I call this "leading by vacuum," which simply means that people do what they are gifted or able to do, which opens up the environment for people with different talents and skills to contribute.

In an hierarchical structure, the efficient ordering of the parts and their compliance are primary. This structure is highly susceptible to fragmentation, compartmentalization and corruption through concentrations of power.

In the network, personal initiative, collaboration and communication make human relationships central.  This is an emergent reality, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The power resides in the network and those who know how to engage more people to contribute. It is a leadership of facilitation and ingenuity, rather than control.

I first saw this reality in mid-1970's when I heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in concert. Sitting in a large concert hall with these quiet instruments I saw these four musicians communicating through them. Here is MJQ playing one of the signature tunes, Django. Watch for how their unspoken communication and timing work together.

 

Each person in the band is essential. Each person has their part to play. The impact is a sound which transcends one instrument, and blends the four into something evocative.

The Quest for Wholeness

If you know that your business or organization is fragmented, splintering apart, difficult to hold together, then what you are experiencing is the end of the viability of a traditional hierarchical structure. You feel it before you can truly see it. By feeling it, you know that others do too.

Bringing wholeness to your structure begins with the Connecting Ideas.

Reaffirm your purpose.

Identify the values that build connections between people.

Create a vision that inspires personal initiative.

Define the difference you seek to create so that you and everyone else can be absolutely clear as to what your impact is.

Begin this process in conversation. Use the Circle of Impact Conversation Guides. Hire me to come facilitate the conversation, if necessary. I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you and your leaders.

Creating a network business structure starts with establishing relationships of respect, trust and mutual reciprocity. Out of those healthy relationships, the network emerges to provide a platform for leadership initiative to create impact.

As the network grows, allow it to establish the organizational structural components that it needs. Remain open to change. Stay vigilant in affirming and acting on the Connecting Ideas.

The future is the network. And the future is now.

Creating a Network of Relationships

Here are some additional conversation guides that can help you understand how to create your own network of relationships.

How Social Networks Work
How To Expand Your Social Network
How Information Flows Through a Social Network


Organizational Obsolescence

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Walk into most book stores, and look at the books on leadership that line the shelves, and you'll see very few that address the actual organizational structure of a business. If there are, the focus is primarily about measuring performance, not about how the business is structured.  As valuable as quality programs are, as change mechanisms, they are incremental at best if the real need is a reinvention of the culture and purpose of the business.

The chief problem affecting organizational performance today is not the ability of people to perform, but the structure within which they do so. 

This video is a snap shot of a conversation between two military officers. We have two cultures clashing in this conversation. One is the culture of the careerist who is a slave to the structure of the system. The other culture is of the leader who understands the organization's mission (which is not the perpetuation of the structure) and the leadership of the people who serve to achieve that mission.

If you are familiar with the HBO mini-series Generation Kill ( I highly recommend it.) you'll see these same two cultures colliding. You see the officer corps who are concerned about the unit's mission (which is in effect is reduced to their concerns about their own career advancement and longevity) and the NCO culture, where the concern is for the men who are charged with the dangerous mission that combat soldiers have.

The bureaucratic structure that constrains many large, complex organizations requires dramatic levels of change in order to function well in the future.

Network-Hierarchy Image
This image is one I've used before as a way to visualize a collaborative team working within a traditional hierarchical structure. Hierarchy does not necessarily exclude collaboration. Rather, when the system has turned in on itself to the point that the organization's mission is now the perpetuation the its structure, then you end up having the clash of cultures that is seen in the video.

The longer I work with issues affecting leaders the more convinced I am that structure is the last frontier of organizational development. There are three things to say about this.

1. The structure of an organization exists to serve the mission and the people who are employed to bring to fulfillment. 

It is a tool. Nothing more. To make it more brings it into conflict with the organization's mission. Yet, what I see is structure dictating what the mission should be, and how people are to function with in it. The structure of a business exists to facilitate the leadership of each individual member of the organization. By leadership, I mean the personal initiative that each person takes in collaboration with others to fulfill the mission of the organization. 

2. Structure is ultimately determined by leadership.

If a structure functions as it does in the animation above, then it is because the leadership of the system has allowed it to degenerate to that point. The relation between executive leadership and structure is a moral one. As a tool, structure serves a purpose. Just as a hammer can drive a nail into a board to build a house, it can also break a window to steal a briefcase from a car. The hammer remains what it is. It is the human use of that tool that determines its moral value.

3. Structures, not aligned with the organization's mission, and not open to the individual leadership of its members, will ultimately fail.

There is no such reality that a structure is too big to fail. They are failing all around us. Evidenced by the disparities in compensation, high unemployment rates, and the inability of many organizations to adapt to a changing economic environment.

The Leadership Question for 2011.

As we begin a new year, I want to raise some questions that we all reflect upon during the coming year.

Is your business structure obsolete?

Are your employees reflecting enthusiasm, independent initiative, collaborative decision-making and a passion for mission?

As the senior leader of your business, are you a liberating force for change or a careerist seeking to maximize your own personal benefit from a broken, declining system?

If any of these are true, then you need to take some time to consider what your alternatives are.

Every structure is just a tool. Resolve, then, to develop the very best structure to serve your business.

The challenge is before us all. The time to address these issues is now.


Fragmented and Compartmentalized or Connected and Aligned for Impact?

Circle of Impact

The Circle of Impact is designed to show how the Three Dimensions of Leadership work together.  It is a picture of connection and alignment that leads to impact.

Unfortunately, most of us don't think this way.

Our thinking is often fragmented, compartmentalize, lacking in meaningful connection and alignment. 

It was only through conversations with people where we were trying to sort through this fragmented, compartmentalized picture that the Circle of Impact came into being.

It could have been a long or brief conversation about a specific problem or something quite general and obscure, regardless, the issue had one of three origins.

Either it was an Idea problem, which could either be characterized as a thinking problem or a communication one.

Or, it was a Relationship problem, due to either a personality conflict, a difference in values or the lack of personal engagement.

Or it was an Organizational Structure problem, related to issues of governance, program, operations or resources. Later, it became clear that the Social Structure of an organization also can be setting for these kinds of problems.

In this week's Weekly Leader column - The Subversiveness of Gratitude, I write about the importance of connection.

What we are discovering, and the practice of gratitude is showing, is that truth is not in the discrete, isolated parts, but in their connection to one another. On a human scale, this means that our identity is not our position, title or place in a system, but rather the function that we have in connection. Collaboration and shared responsibility is the ground for understanding who I am within any social and organizational setting. The connection between the parts is where the action is, and the organization lives.

What is the connection between the Three Dimensions?

Ideas are the tools for connection.

Social and Organizational Structures are the settings.

Relationships are where connections are made, and the action is.

The Ideas that matter in helping people make connections are Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. If there is a hierarchy of importance, it is found with Values. Our conception (Idea) of our Purpose or Mission, our Vision and definition of Impact are formed by our Values.

For example, my Mission is to help individuals discover and act upon a purpose for their life and work. The ideas that give meaning to my purpose are values centered in human purpose, potential and impact.

It is also true that social and organization structures are tangible expressions of the values that are either intentionally determined or become the default values through inattention. Those values maybe about order, productivity, respect, trust or integrity. Or they may focused on wealth creation or personal freedom. Whatever the values are, they are the ideological foundation for these structures. They are seen in the effect or impact of the structure on the people who work wihtin the organization.

The three dimensions are not equal, but complementary. Look again at the Circle of Impact picture.

Purpose is an idea that is connected to Structure. The key focus here is to align the structure with the purpose of the organization. Without that alignment, the organization works a cross-purposes with itself.

Vision is an idea that is connected to both Relationships and Structure.  The focus here is a picture of activity showing what it is like for people working within the structure of the organization to achieve the desire impact. 

Ultimately, what this means is that leaders are not interested in ideas just for the sake of the ideas themselves. They aren't interested in having healthy relationships just because their values say they should. And, they aren't interested in structure just because it is needed for a business to function. 

Instead, leaders are looking for ways to utilize Ideas to strengthen Relationships and inform how the Structure of the organization can be aligned with the company's Mission or Purpose.

The Impact of the Three Dimensions of Leadership should be better communication, collaboration and coordination.


The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


Alignment: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is another post of a continuing series that describes the ideas in and use of my Circle of Impact Guides.

  Alignment of the Three Dimensions of Leadership is the key to making any organizational system work. Circle of Impact Alignment

The Structure of the Organization needs to be aligned with its Purpose or Mission.  The result is a more highly Coordinated organizational structure. It would mean that there is more Communication and Collaboration between groups, units, departments and levels of the organization. It would mean a clearer basis for making decisions about structural change.

Here's the important question to ask.

What drives your business? Is it your Mission or is it how you are organized?

If it is your Mission or Purpose, then you should  see the people in your organization constantly changing how they do things to better fulfill the purpose of the organization. However, if it is the structure, then you'll see a high level of resistance to breaking down barriers, and opening up lines for Communication and Collaboration.

Let me put it another way.

Every organization that I know has a Communication problem. However, that problem is not primarily the lack of clarity of the Connecting Ideas - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision or Impact. The core problem is how they have allowed the organization to develop into an integrated, yet compartmentalized system that does not allow for a higher level of Communication and Collaboration between people and departments.

This is why one of the main tasks of leadership is a focused attention maintaining alignment within the system with the Purpose and Values of the company.

How To Use This Guide:

Use this guide to ask questions about issues of alignment. Ask them this way.

How does the structure of our organization tangibly reflect our Purpose and our Values?

In our team meetings, how are values not being lived out in our interaction and collaboration together? How can we change this?

Are we organized to achieve our Vision for Impact?

Do we have a system of measures that help us identify the change we are creating? If not, what do our measures tell us? What relation to our measures have to our Purpose and Values?

The Circle of Impact Guides are intended to facilitate thoughtful interaction in conversation. The guides can help an individual see areas to address, or why things are working well. But their strategic use is as a communication tool that facilitates Collaboration that provides for an effective way to create organizational change.

Tomorrow, we'll look at how Impact Leadership Teams function.


Aligned for Impact

Reading one of the economics blogs that I visit, Truth on the Market, I came across a post on The Economist's Schumpeter columnist, Adrian Wooldridge's piece, The Eclipse of the Public Company. Wooldridge is co-author, with John Micklethwaite,of The Company: a short history of a revolutionary idea.

Truth on the Market blogger, Larry Ribstein, is the author of The Rise of the Uncorporation. He points to the importance of organizational forms like professional partnerships and LLC's (limited liability corporation) in contrast to corporate form of the publicly-traded company.  The history of these forms is quite interesting and enlightening if you are looking about how to create new opportunities and advantages in your company through the design of its organization.

Most writing about business doesn't actually address the structure of the organization. Their are ideas about marketing and sales, about human resources management, product innovation, and leadership. But not really that much about the structure of the organization itself.

This is unfortunate because the design of the organization determines whether your purpose has a possibility of being fulfilled or whether your people will have the opportunity to fulfill their potential service to the business. All this may seem academic, if the only reason to decide between a corporate or a uncorporate structure is legal and financial.


3Cs of Alignment - image

However, what if the organization of your company was focused on the optimum way to build an aligned system of communication, collaboration and coordination. What if your impact as a company, which is the change that you create, is not simply the numbers you measure, and is dependent upon the kind of organization that you form.

There are many ways to organize. The important consideration to remember is what is the driver. What is the impact you are trying to create? What form gives you the most leverage, the greatest flexibility, and the wide possible opportunity to build a system that aligns the three dimensions of ideas, relationships and social & organizational structure.

In addition, given the changes that we are seeing in the economy and society, which form, corporate or uncorporate, provides you the best, most stable and sustainable one for creating the impact that you want to achieve.

If this is a question that is important to you, then talk to a lawyer, a CPA and an organizational consultant. Invest in their time, and have them all at the same table discussing what is the best approach to creating a company that is marked by high functioning systems of communication, collaboration and coordination.  From that conversation, I'm confident, the right approach, or the right changes to your current design will show themselves.

This is how you can create a structure that is aligned for impact.


After 15 years, this I've learned.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

Earlier this week, I quietly celebrated the 15th anniversary of the beginning my consulting business, Community of Leadership, LLC. There was no time for celebration or fanfare, just another day of trying to make a difference that matters.  However, a road trip this week gave me time to reflect on the past 15 years.

Here's some of what I've learned.

1. You don't know what you don't know, and if you did, you'd be so overwhelmed by it, you'd never act.

I was young and naive when I began my consulting practice in 1995. I started with a desire to help leaders develop their organizations and communities. That purpose still remains. What I didn't know then is just how ill-prepared I was to go into business on my own. If you remain open to learning, to trying new things and fixing what is broken, you can make it. But it isn't necessarily easy. The Five Questions That Everyone Must Ask that is a part of my Circle of Impact model developed from my experience and that of others, especially #5.

2. What you THINK you are doing, and what you ARE doing aren't always the same. The difference you think you are making, and the actual difference you are making are not always the same either.

Focus is a good thing. However, if it is practiced too rigidly, you can miss what is right in front of you. While relationships have always been important and central to what I do, I'm not really selling a relationship. Instead it is a process of discovery and development where the relationship is integral to that process. At the end of the day, real progress often comes from the conversation that takes place within relationship.

The actual project, while beneficial, is often a secondary benefit compared to what happens in the relationship. The project deals with an immediate or current need. The development of the relationship prepares us for the future. The lesson, therefore, is to realize that nothing is ever exactly like you think it is or want it to be. The task for us is to be aware of the peripheral or ancillary processes that are taking place, recognize their value and give them attention.

3. Work is a context for personal growth. As a result, everyday we can afflict ourselves on our loved ones because we are not the person whom we or they think we are, not always living up to what we say we believe or are committed to doing.

My family has lived through my many personal transitions over the past 25 years. It has not always been easy for them. The old joke of asking "... when is Dad going to grow up and get a real job" is a familiar refrain in many homes. There are two sides to this situation which are important to address with our loved ones.

If you remain the same person over the course of your lifetime, you may never reach your potential. Growth has it price, and often that price is in our relationships. If your family expects you to remain the same person you were when you married or before you began a dramatic growth curve, then there can be conflict.

What I've seen in too many situations are families where the structure of the family is what is important, and not the actual relationships. And when Dad or Mom begins to change, it creates conflict, because what we are used to, what is comfortable, secure and predictable, is no longer there. Ambiguity and change get thrust into an already volatile cultural social environment.  As a result, families grow apart, members go looking for support and intimacy in other places. So, if you are growing into being a new person with a new focus and purpose for your life, then know that it has its effects upon your loved ones and you need to address it openly and with genuine humility.

One of the ways that I've seen these situations addressed is an appeal to balance between life and work. I'm not sure that balance is achievable. It assumes that we can compartmentalize our lives into the personal and public or work and measure out our time and attention in proportion to our priorities. I've concluded that alignment is a better approach. We create alignment by elevating the importance of living out our purpose and values, and allowing for the social settings and organizational environments where we live and work to adapt to our core beliefs. In other words, be willing to change what you do so that you can become the person you are destined to be.  Again, this is not necessarily an easy path to take.

If your life's trajectory is taking you through many stages of personal growth so that you are becoming a different person at 40 than you were at 25, or different person at 55 than you were at 40, then it is very important that your family grow with you, and you with them. If your growth happens too dramatically, too radically, over too short of time, without their input or support, you'll find yourself becoming estranged from them. The lesson is that every transition we go through in our lives is filled with opportunity and challenge. How we meet both determines what comes next. As you change, care for the people who matter most to you. Keep them close, so they understand and can support you as change happens. If they genuinely love you, then you'll make it through the hardships of change.

4. After 15 years, my original purpose and the values that sustain the vision for my work remain the same. The structure of my work has constantly changed.

This is not just a good lesson for personal growth. It is a lesson for businesses and organizations develop. I find the reverse to be often the case, where the social and organizational structures dictate to us what our purpose and values are. Purpose and values are internal strengths. Structure is an external form that provides a context for living out our purpose and values. People whose security is in the external world of things and order, often find themselves frustrated because it is impossible to control their social and organizational contexts. Those who rely on the internal world of their purpose, values and a vision for impact, find these ideas provide them the strength to manage the chaos of change in the external world. As a result, when your personal strength is internal, you can move into a wide variety of contexts and make a difference that matters. You remain the same person regardless of who you are with, and what you are doing. This is what we mean by integrity and authenticity. This is why it so important to know what you purpose is and what you value. They are foundation of sustainability and opportunity in life and work.

5. Opportunities may abound. However, not all opportunities are equal. We usually don't know this until we are half way into the project. Then, we realize that it isn't going to work out or there is something better that we didn't initially see.

While I'm not an advocate for quitting, I have learned that ending something sooner than later is usually better. Know what you want from life and work. Know what you are committed to giving to a particular situation, and don't forget it. Often the reason why these opportunities don't work is that there is not sufficient follow through and effective execution of the plan. In addition, I've learned that what someone says is the opportunity or the problem is probably only part of the story. You'll find it out soon enough, and that is when you'll know whether you should increase your participation or quit.

Life will teach you lessons that you can then turn into growth and benefit for yourself and others. If you let it. Personally, I'm looking to another 15 years of work before I retire. I feel that everything up to this point is just preparing me for the main act which is coming. In other words, if you have a plan for your whole life, make sure that you leave open the possibilities of changing your plan so that at the end of your life your legacy is clear and secure. Your legacy may come in the last half of the last chapter. So, be committed to staying true to your purpose and values through the end of your life.

I look forward to collaborating with many of you in the future. All the best.  Thank you very much.


Alignment and the Myth of Balance

First Posted April 2010 at Weekly Leader.

  Balancing Rock

I don’t know many people who don’t want balance between their life and their work. How many spouses have complained about long work hours? How many daughters and sons have gone through their childhood with one or both of their parents working long hours at the office or constantly away on a business trip?

The desire for balance is ingrained in our psyche from generations of work that lacked autonomy and meaning. It is a remnant of the industrial era when the distinction between life and work became more distinct. Prior, life was work. The line was between the two was non-existent.

In 1899, sociologist Thorsten Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class: An economic study of institutions. His research marked a growing phenomenon of people separating their personal life from their work life. Veben was the one who coined the often used term, “conspicuous consumption.” His research marked a growing tension between personal life and work life. This tension is at the heart of the quest for balance.

The balance between life and work, I’ve come to conclude, is an impossible standard. It is a measure of time and activity level rather than a measure of the value of either our life or work.

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. How do you know when there is balance between your life and work? Is it a 50/50 split?

2. If you were to achieve balance, what would be different? Is it simply that you would have more time to pursue your leisure time interests?

3. Presently, which side, life or work, is more out of balance? What is it specifically that tells me this?

When we look more closely at the relation between our personal life and our work life, we find competitive interests. My personal life and my work life are in conflict with one another. I have personal goals and aspirations, and I also have an ambition to advance in my career. Too often these seem incompatible, or out of balance.

When Thorsten Veblen conducted his study, people were just beginning to discover a sense of a individual life apart from work. In his day, the emergence of the leisure class was a sign of growing economic opportunity for people whose ancestors had only known hard work and poverty. If you were smart, industrious and willing to move, you could create a new life. It is no mistake that it was during this time that the Horatio Alger stories were so popular. They crystallized a perception in the growing middle class that hard work focused on personal goals was the route to success and achievement in life.

Over a century later, the tension between our private lives and our public life at work still exists. Establishing balance is no longer an adequate answer. Instead, something more radical is.

The radical answer is the alignment of our life purpose, values and vision for impact with the work that we do.

It is radical because it requires change. It is not simply finding some trade off between personal goals and career ambition. Instead, is bringing our life and our work into alignment around our purpose, values and vision.

It is difficult to visualize alignment between your life and work without clarifying the ideas that connect it all together. I am making the assumption that we are not just aligning our purpose, values and vision within our personal or private life, but really aligning both our personal and work lives together with our purpose, values and vision. The difference matters. It is between a life of compartments vying for influence over the other, or life in alignment around the values
that truly matter to us.

We are not one person at home and another at work. We are the same persons at home and at work, and the more we align those two halves (The tension of balance still remains.), the greater impact our lives can have.

Let’s use the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides to see how this can work.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

PURPOSE:

Our purpose is our sense of identity. It is our awareness of who we are; what our gifts, talents, and strengths are; what the social and organizational contexts of our lives are; and, the kind of work that we want to spend our days doing. When our purpose is not aligned either personally or occupationally, then a wedge has been driven between our
personal life and work. For ultimately, to have alignment means I’ve defined who I am, and my work is simply a reflection of who I am.

If you love the work you do, then you are closer to being in alignment, than you are if you hate what you do. Our purpose is not simply what I can do well. It is deeper than that. Our purpose is rather the difference I can make that truly matters. When we are having an impact, we know it because we find satisfaction and peace of mind.

Aligning our purpose with our work is not just doing that which I love and can do. It is aligning it with the right situation where I have the opportunity to create the impact that my purpose identifies. Purpose isn’t just another way of stating how I’m going to fill up my days with activities. No, it is about the impact or difference that I can make..

VALUES:

Our values connect us to people and our social settings, whether at work or away. They define what our standards are, what matters, the boundaries of what is appropriate, permitted and our measures for success. The clearer we are about our values the more likely it will be that we’ll find people who can join us in our purpose.

For this reason, it is vital that our values are aligned with our relationships. At the heart of this alignment is trust. When there is alignment, there is trust between people. When there is trust, there is openness, accountability, mutuality, and confidence. These are the relationships that we need in our life and work that enable us to fulfill our purpose. I cannot achieve it alone. No one can. We are totally, absolutely dependent upon other people to contribute to the fulfilling of our purpose. If you think otherwise, then your ambitions are set too low.

VISION:

Our vision is a picture of alignment. It is a picture of what we do with the people with whom we are in relationship through the social and organizational structures where we live and work to create the impact that our purpose points to. It is simpler than that last sentence, because when we are in alignment, we don’t see the parts, but the whole. We see the effect.

A vision therefore is more like a video than a snapshot. It is a view of what we see happening. It is a visual image in my mind’s eye that is a reference point for what we are constantly looking to achieve. It is as much the experience of it as it is the what of it.

The best place to start to understand what is your vision is to ask, “What’s changed?” The change you see is the effect of the activities of your purpose and values through people and structures. If there is no change, there is no solution to problem, no resolution to an issue, no growth, no progress, no forward movement. As much as we don’t like change, if you aren’t creating change, you aren’t fulfilling your purpose, and most likely finding that your values have less and less a role to play in your life and work.

Alignment is not the same as balance.

Balance is a picture of the compartments of our life and work in tension. Alignment is the parts of our life and work, functioning together toward an impact that makes a difference that matters.

Alignment comes when we connect our purpose, our values and our vision for impact with the people and the social and organizational structures in our life.

Start by clarifying your connecting ideas. Here are two simple quesstion to begin.

What is your life purpose?

How are you able to live that purpose out in your work?

If either one is not clear, then take some time to reflect on them both.

Three more questions.

What is it that I value and how is it reflected in my relationships?

Who are the people that I know that best represent a commitment to these values?

Are those values free to be lived out in my work?

If you are unsure of any of these questions, then take some time to reflect on them.

My advice is find one person whom you trust, and the two of you begin a conversation about these questions. To bring our life and work into alignment is a radical step because it will require change. This is why it is important that we are first clear about our purpose, values and vision, and that we have established some trusting relationships with people who can help us as we begin the hardest work of bringing alignment within the organizational structure of work.

You may well find that your work does not define you as a person. If so, what does define you? How can you marshal all the best of what you have to offer to live each day making a difference that matters. To do so may mean radical change. To do so may mean that you no longer live to be a apart of a leisure class for whom conspicuous consumption is the goal. Your vision for impact takes over and guides you to discover alignment in a whole new way than before
asking the question you’d never see.

When creating alignment, our life and work are in transition.

Transition through Time

I know many people for whom the daily grind is hard and unrewarding. The prospects of radical change to create alignment is not possible as long as there are children to educate and mortgages to pay. If this is you, then realize that our lives are not stationary, but always in transition from one point to the next. The measure of our lives is not its length, but its impact. Whatever point your life finds you, you can find ways to make a difference that matters. You may not be where you want to be, but you are also not where you used to be. Begin to create alignment and the way forward to a higher level of alignment will show itself.

Live through the tension of finding balance by creating alignment. Do so and both your life and work will open up to new opportunities. Keep thinking “What is the difference that I’m making here that truly matters ?” Keep asking that question, and the way to alignment will be discovered each day.


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cptspock/2445428627/

This post originally appeared online at Weekly Leader with the title The Myth of Balance.


Why Alignment Matters

Tire wear 3824682707_51317322e4

Alignment is one of those words that we don't use often.

When the steering on our car is out of alignment, our tires wear out faster.

Driving the car is harder because we are always fighting the steering. It wants to go one way, and we are trying to keep it going toward our destination.

Lack of alignment is costly because it creates conflicts. It puts parts of a system at odds where other parts.

Here are a few examples of a lack of alignment.

Poor morale. The system is not aligned with the people. They are unhappy for one reason or another. We could blame the people. Or we could address the reasons why they are unhappy.

Which is more important? Aligning people with the system or the system with the people? (Hold that thought.)

Disconnect between what you say you do and what you do. The system is not aligned with your purpose.

What is your purpose? What is your business' purpose? What measures do you use to determine that you are fulfilling your purpose? What do your customers say?  Are they recommending you to their family and friends?

What is more important? Doing things the way you've always done it? Or, having your customers say to their friends that you do what you say you are going to do?

A successful year did not lead to a second and a third one.  The system is not designed to align its various parts to create success.

If your life and work are not aligned for success, then it is out of balance. Lack of alignment creates wear and tear, conflict, confusion, poor morale, poor customer perceptions and a lack of impact.  The price is more than a new set of tires and a $50 steering alignment. Circle of Impact - Alignment PVV

How do we create alignment in our life and work?

Simple.

Align your purpose with what you do and where you live and work.

Align your values with the people in whom you invest your life.

Align your vision with those relationships and social & organizational structures so the difference you make truly matters.

As simple as it sounds, it does require courage, commitment and a willingness to change.

Where to start in creating alignment?

1. Identify your purpose and the values that guide your relationships. Ask these questions.

Is my purpose just what I do, or is what I want to achieve?

What is the difference that I want to make that matters to me and to the world?

What are the values that are most important to me?

What difference do they make in my relationships?

2. Look for ways to act upon those ideas in the social and organizational structures where you live and work. Ask these questions.

Is my business organized to achieve my purpose?

Are my social and work interactions with people intentionally based on my values?

How can I operationalize my values?

3. Create a vision that brings all three dimensions together in an alignment that creates the impact you want. Ask these questions.

What can I do, along with my relationships, to make a difference that matters?

How can we use the systems and structures of our social and work settings to create this impact?

If we were successful, what would it look like? How would I describe the difference I see?

Take these steps, answer these questions, make changes and act upon what you discover, and alignment will begin to happen. And just when our car's steering is properly aligned, so too, when our life and work are aligned, we aren't fighting the systems, but able to focus on our destination

This is what it means to create alignment in our life and work.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesonflickr/3824682707/in/photostream/