The Uncomfortable Nature of Leadership

Tribes cover

My friend David Pu'u pointed to Seth Godin's post on the uncomfortableness of leading where he quotes from his bestselling book on leadership, Tribes.

It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed.

As they say, "No pain; no gain."

There are two kinds of leading.

The first kind of leading is by personal performance, knowledge and expertise as one of the gang, often referred to as "first among equals" after the Latin phrase, "primus inter pares."

The members of the group are equal in position, but one leads because of their knowledge, expertise or a position of authority.  Such as with a business partnership where one of the partners is the managing partner.

The second kind of leading is when you have a position of authority within an organizational structure.

It is the second one where the most discomfort comes in.

I was the scoutmaster for my sons' scout troop for eight years. I tried to run our troop as a "first among equals", until my lead assistant in charge of camping didn't like a decision I made about his son's advancement. Within five days, the situation went from a disagreement between us to a challenge of my authority as scoutmaster before the whole troop. It wasn't personal. It was the principle of the issue. However, when the line was crossed from being between us to involving all the families, I had to exercise the authority that comes with the position. In consultation with the troop committee, he was suspended from all future activities with the troop. It was a sad moment because it didn't have to go that far. The beneficial result was that it created confidence that the boys would be treated fairly and cared for appropriately. Confirmation of the difficult decision came as parents stepped forward, offering their support and help.

It was very uncomfortable experience and a great lesson in leading. To this day, five years later, I'm still affected by it. He was my friend and scouting partner. We hiked together. We were a great team together. And in a matter of a few days, it was over.

This is one of those issues that supervisors and middle managers are not taught to understand. They rise through the ranks of the company. Someone thinks that they have some leadership skills, and they are elevated into a manager position. The challenge for them is no longer being one of the guys. It is why leadership is an uncomfortable position to be in.

This is why leadership is not just tactics and strategies, but personal character and the capacity to change.

If you are in this position, here are three areas to focus your attention.

1. Be clear about the long-term impact you want to achieve.

2. Be clear about the values that govern your decisions and behavior.

3. Be clear that you can't take personally, the conflicts and disputes that come with authority, even if it is personal to the other person. You can't let it become about you, it isn't, but about principles and goals.

I encourage you to read Seth's NY Times bestseller book, Tribes, and to subscribe to his blog. I also encourage to read David's blog, especially right now as he chronicles his adventures in Bali.

Beyond The Charts - The Circle of Impact Explained

Circle of Impact -5 QsI received a question that I want to answer here.

Read you about your tools for clarity and connection.

May I ask you a personal question?

The tools are sound yet...what is the next step for you personally? What is the part you play in this scenario. Give the tools and step aside? I read something about you clients?

The form did not require us to talk much about ourselves.

The tools for clarity and connection are the first three charts that I ever created. 

Leading Through Times of Transition
The Circle of Impact
Five Questions That Every Leader Must Ask

Since I first wrote this post, I've expanded the number and range of the diagrams that I've created. Their purpose is to provide a guide for group thought and interaction.

You can download the current set of guides here.

These diagrams grew out of conversations I was having with people. I'd have a notepad out, and I'd draw the situations they were describing on the page, and then make connections. At first, I didn't see the imagery that you find here. A pattern began to arise and that's when I decided to develop the diagrams as tools for helping make complex situations both more simple and dynamic.

Circle of Impact- simple

By simple, the Three Dimensions of Leadership refer to three main areas that affect us in organizations: Ideas, Relationships and Organizational Structure. The difficulty is thinking about them all at the same time, hence the need to think dynamically.

By dynamically, take any one of the three dimensions, and try to understand the impact of the other two on it. For example, what's the impact of relationships and ideas on organizational structures. If very little, then you need to elevate the role of conversation between people about ideas in the organization as one step toward resolution.

The tools are for conversational purposes. I use them in my work to help clients move more quickly through a process of discovery to a point of decision followed by action.

I've found that the charts have a great power to identify problem areas, and their solutions. If the problems are simple, then the charts identify how to move into action. The charts are intended to accelerate decision-to-action processes.

For example, let's say that is some undefined problem that exists but lacks some clarity about what it is. Using the Circle of Impact guide, we begin by asking,

"Is this an Idea problem, a Relationship one or something about how we are Structured as an organization?"

If you cannot answer the question with any certainty, then you take the dimension that seems most likely, and begin there. Do this because ultimately, all three dimensions must come into alignment for most problems to be resolved.

These disagrams have helped me considerably to be able to see what the problem of the moment is without referring to the charts at all. This dynamic of interaction about ideas, relationships and structures give those who learn to use it an advantage over those who simply think in less dynamic  ways.

The next step
Implied in the question, I'm assuming, is how do I use these in my work. If I'm giving these away for free, how does this come back to me as a benefit?

The more people use my charts, the more they will begin to see situations that need change that are highly complex. This is where I enter the picture. Whether it is with an individual or with an organization. I'm helping with these complex transitional processes.

Transition through Time

The Transitions chart simplifies something that is not simple at all. The initial question is:

How do I take my organization through a process of change? How do we make these transitions?

This is where my client projects come from. Because the path from one stage to the next is not always easy to identify and even more difficult to accomplish. People hire me to mentor them through these processes.

Think of it in terms of a team of explorers who have only the most rudimentary information about what the future holds. I work with leaders who must make transitions without a clear or comprehensive understanding all the time. They need perspective and tools for making decisions.

Let give you three current examples of how this is happening.

1. A rural non-profit healthcare group after twenty five years is in trouble. A long range plan is adopted that includes a new marketing place and a total reconfiguration of the board and organizational by-laws.

Problem: Two months into the transition the board determines that by the end of the year, they will be broke.

Solution: develop a partnership with an organization that can bring needed financial resources into the relationship.

End result: The non-profit sells its State license - Certificate of Need to a for-profit regional healthcare business. Non-profit organization reorganizes a foundation for raising money for indigent care in their county.  The transition means my client changes their perception of their mission. A dramatic change in their organizational structure from service provider to foundation follows.  A collaborative relationship between now two healthy healthcare organizations develops, where before there was only one that was struggling to survive.

My role was to mentor the leadership through the process and be a catalyst for the board to believe that they could make this transition.

2. A mid-size corporation goes through a C-level and board leadership change. New CEO wants values to become an important part of the company's assets. Initial project develops values statement. Statement written by diverse team including both management and union leadership. HR develops program to inform employees about the rationale and meaning of values statement.

After the statement project is complete, my role shifts to two projects. One is working with the corporate leadership team to develop how to implement the company's new values statement as a leadership / management development tool. The other project is focused on assisting one of the business units to discover how the values statement can be utilized to improve policies, procedures and internal communication. These projects are ongoing. The optimum word is "operationalize values." In other words,  what behaviors and business processes are required to live up to the values. Five Questions - Verticle

3. A 200 year old church with a strong history in its community recognizes that it must become more future focused. Utilizing the Five Questions Guide, we work for two years to shift the congregation's perception of its mission.

Churches are social environments that are either focused on the past or the future. If the past, they are like museums of memories, recalling the good days of the past, and finding security and comfort in theological perspectives developed in cultural contexts different than today. A focus on the future is a "missional" approach. This approach asks what is our impact or influence to be. The Five Questions help to identify that big picture, and the Three Dimensions help to organize how the church will act upon that insight.

Each of these client projects are dramatically different. The one constant in each is the need to find a pathway of transition from where they are now to where they want to be in the future. My primary role is as a mentor to the leadership through a discovery process so that they know what they need to do.

The Impact of Leadership
The last part of the question asks:

The form did not require us to talk much about ourselves.

When the charts are used in a conversational setting, we are talking about ourselves. We do so in a real world context, not in an abstract one. We are dealing with situations as they exist at the present moment. Brainstorming has its place, as a way to warm up the ideas dimension. But if the brainstorming is not done in a real context, then it will not lead to concrete action.

I brought to a stark awareness of this truth a decade ago. While on vacation with my family the mountains of Wyoming, while riding horseback one afternoon, I heard a voice speak to me:

It is time to stop talking about leadership, and lead.

I knew then that I had to change. I had to get out of my head into action.

If we are to lead, we need to take initiative.

Initiative is the first step in all leadership. There is no leadership without initiative.

Using these charts for just conversation purposes is insufficient. They should provide whomever uses them the confidence that they can take action.

Earlier this morning I came across a quote from Seth Godin that I used in a post a couple years ago. He wrote:

Most fast-growing organizations are looking for people who can get stuff done.
There is a fundamental shift in rules from manual-based work (where you follow instructions and an increase in productivity means doing the steps faster) to project-based work (where the instructions are unknown, and visualizing outcomes and then getting things done is what counts.)

And yet, we're still trying to hire people who have shown an ability to follow instructions.

Life and work can now be understood as a series of transitional projects. This requires not only personal initiative, but also creativity.  We need a totally different mindset than before in order to make a successful transition.

In the post I wrote two years ago, I made the following comment:

Personal initiative is a quality of character that looks for ways to make a difference. This is what I find is at the heart of true leadership. When we take initiative, we are taking responsibility for the outcome of a situation. Step forward, fill the gap, do the right thing, don't wait to be asked, take the lead.  ... Personal initiative is freedom. Freedom to excel in all aspects of your life.

These diagrammatic charts provide us tools for helping us to lead.

They enhance our ability to think conceptually.

They enhance our capacity for meaningful conversations with people that lead to making a difference.

They help to put the realities of organizational life in context.

If you have questions, ask them. Asking a question is the beginning of a conversation, and if you don't ask, you'll not discover what you need to know.

31 Questions: decision-making

20. How do leaders learn to make decisions?

Decision-making is a critical skill for leaders.

It is not simply an analytical process.

Analytical skills in decision-making can be taught by using a formula method.  It is the basis of modern science.

However, how are the intuitive skills for decision-making acquired?

Intuitive skills are those gut-checks that tells us either something is wrong or now is the right time.  They represent a series of connections made through various sources that gives us a large picture of what is happening. The clearer that picture is, the clearer the decision.

How do we learn to listen to our intuitive side in decision-making?

Different ways of looking at the decision making cycle.

Mishkin Berteig at Agile Advice has a helpful compilation of various ways to look at the decision making process.

Here's his diagram of these different approaches.


What I like about these various styles is that everyone of them requires reflection upon the impact of the decision.

To simply go through a redundant cycle of activity without consideration of effect doesn't make sense.  Yet, for many people once they find their comfort zone, they zone out into that cycle of activity.

There is some good material at Agile Advice.  Read and learn.

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Brent Edwards has an interesting post on decision-making . What it speaks to has more to do with the problems of communication in organizations. He looks at the lack of competing alternatives, the lack of debate, and the silence of people who are part of the decision process.

Recently, I sat in on a meeting where the committee was describing to me a set of administrative problems within their organization. It was clear, and I believe they saw this too, that part of the problem is the lack of trust. The trust factor meant that people were not honest in what they said, and as a result, a certain perception of the problem became the defacto explanation, whether that was true or not.

As I asked some more questions, what emerged was the truth that the individuals most threatened by a certain course of action, or simply most threatened by an honest portrayal of the circumstances were the most aggressive in trying to keep the status quo. Instead of trust and honesty being at the center of the organization's relationships, it was turf battles that protected a minority group, and not the organization as a whole.

In this environment, decision-making is very difficult. It requires someone who ceases to look at the situation as a personal issue, and looks at it from the stand point of what is best for the orgnanization. It really points to the requirement of trust and honesty as essential for a healthy organization.

(HT: Bill Kinnon)

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No Lessons

Some how I missed this in reading my monthly copy of FastCompany.

Here's an American manufacturer of lawn mowers who chooses not to sell through WalMart.  Read the article. 

What this points to is that even the most financial of business decisions are moral decisions. Jim Weir's decision had implications that impacted every employee of the Simplicity company.  I know that many people think that financial decisions should be divorced from the human cost, but to do so is to really constrict decisionmaking, not release it to clarity.

I have had a Snapper for 11 summers. I have a very hilly yard to cut, and my rear-end Snapper handles it  well.

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How should leaders respond to technological advances that increase human connectivity and communication immediacy?

The Culture of Connectivity and Immediacy is an excellent panoramic picture of the course of modern communications technology.  Dean Landsman has captured well the social changes that accompany the personalization of technology.  It really is amazing to think how much has changed in such a short period of time.

The question that I have concerns the human dimension.  The social aspect is part of it, but not the whole.  What interests me is how our relationships change.  Are they changed for the better when our communication comes in multiple fragmants of thought/sentences, rapidly, in an increasingly accelerated pace?  How dos this affect people's sense of identity.

I remember hearing an interview a number of years ago with some academic who celebrated the phenomenon of people having multiple online identities.  She saw identity as not something fix or real, but created, in my terms, an artifice, a marketed persona, something unreal.  The assumption is that experimentation with differing identities leads towards some sort of world identity.  At least that is how I took this notion.

For leaders, this requires a lot of adjustment.  Decision-making has to take place in a context of immediacy, without time for reflection.  Increasingly, it will take place in a context of continuous communication with people. 

What this means is that clarity about the purpose, mission, values, strategies, goals, methods, etc. has to be worked out, not merely assumed.   Ironically, this means more planning, rather than less.  And the planning has to be the sort that builds capacity in the relationships for enhanced communication, so that when fragmented conversations occur there is a better chance that both sides of the conversation understand and are understood.

It is an interesting time.

2005 A Year of Excellence

Making 2005 a year of excellence means we have to think differently about the "ole New Year's Resolutions."  Just fixing a problem doesn't insure that excellence will result.  Sometimes it is just a higher level of mediocrity that is created.

In order to make 2005 a year of excellence, it requires a different approach.  This is the focus of my latest Real Life Leadership column in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

What we must do is create a vision for the impact we want to have.  This vision needs to be in keeping with our values, can be achieved during the next twelve months, and is one that motivates us to make the necessary investment in time, energy and thought.

I'm in the midst of this myself this week, and I'm identifying some subtle changes in my priorities that will make a big difference down the road.

If you need to know more, email me.

UPDATE: Becasue links to many of my AC-T columns have changed.  Here is the column from 12/27/04 that is linked above.

Continue reading "2005 A Year of Excellence" »

Best Business Books 2004 - Strategy + Business

Strategy + Business magazine has published their best books of 2004.

Here's the list.

Best Business Books 2004: Index


Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right
by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
(Crown Business, 2004)

The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers
by C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes
by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)


A Bias for Action: How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time
by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development
by Henry Mintzberg
(Berrett-Koehler, 2004)

Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them
by Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company
by Constance L. Hays
(Random House, 2004)

The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works
by Ricardo Semler
(Portfolio, 2004)

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer
by Jeffrey K. Liker
(McGraw-Hill, 2004)

The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual: Battle-Tested Wisdom for Leaders in Any Organization
by the Center for Army Leadership
(McGraw-Hill, 2004)

IT & Innovation

The Business of Software: What Every Manager, Programmer, and Entrepreneur Must Know to Thrive and Survive in Good Times and Bad
by Michael A. Cusumano
(Free Press, 2004)

Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage
by Nicholas G. Carr
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity
by Lawrence Lessig
(Penguin Press, 2004)

The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability
by Marco Iansiti and Roy Levien
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)


Alexander Hamilton

by Ron Chernow
(Penguin Press, 2004)

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value
by Bill George
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill
by Ron Suskind
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

Ready to Lead? A Story for Leaders and Their Mentors
by Alan Price
(Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild
by Christopher Byron
(John Wiley & Sons, 2004)

Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top — and How to Manage Them
by David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value
by Bill George
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Back to the Drawing Board: Designing Corporate Boards for a Complex World
by Colin B. Carter and Jay W. Lorsch
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Corporate Governance and Chairmanship: A Personal View
by Adrian Cadbury
(Oxford University Press, 2002)

The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business
by Don Tapscott and David Ticoll
(Free Press, 2003)

The Recurrent Crisis in Corporate Governance
by Paul W. MacAvoy and Ira M. Millstein
(Palgrave MacMillan, 2003)

Change Management
Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change
by Robert E. Quinn
(Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Change Without Pain: How Managers Can Overcome Initiative Overload, Organizational Chaos, and Employee Burnout
by Eric Abrahamson
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds
by Howard Gardner
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

The Bubble Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing
by Roger Lowenstein
(Penguin Press, 2004)

Rational Exuberance: Silencing the Enemies of Growth and Why the Future Is Better Than You Think
by Michael J. Mandel
(HarperBusiness, 2004)

Behavioral Economics

The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
by Paul Seabright
(Princeton University Press, 2004)

The Economy of Esteem: An Essay on Civil and Political Society
by Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit
(Oxford University Press, 2004)

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
by Barry Schwartz
(Ecco, 2004)

The New Consumer
Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping
by Paco Underhill
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense
by David Brooks
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness
by Virginia Postrel
(HarperCollins, 2003)

The Sikh Temple: Leadership Asheville Ethics Case Studies #7

A description of this discussion can be found here.
An brief overview of the If Aristotle Were Mayor presentation given prior to this discussion can be found here.

The Sikh Temple
The families who live in the Evergreen district of Buncombe County love their neighborhood: orchards, deer, oak trees – a reminder of what the rest of the county used to look like before the encroachment of development. The same serenity attracted Bob Dhillon, certain that he had found the ideal site for his congregation’s Sikh temple. Rural and detached from the business of the nearby city, much like the original temples in India, the area seemed the perfect host to a temple of immense architectural and religious grandeur. He arranged for the purchase of 40 acres.

Plans were developed, calling for numerous interconnected building – a total of 94,000 square feet, including at least on façade over 316 feet long; in some places the temple will rise to more than 60 feet. Even from a distance, marble balconies, tiled arches, and water fountains will be visible. Opponents and proponents agree, the structure will be beautiful.

It is the beauty of the site that is the chief concern among Evergreen residents, many of whom believe the temple may become a tourist attraction, causing traffic problems and the degradation of the tranquil lifestyle of their neighborhood.

But many temple proponents see a more insidious reason behind the opposition: prejudice. For example, an appeal to the city to stop construction cited problems a Sikh temple in nearby Spartanburg, calling the Sikhs “undesirable neighbors.” Some wonder if those who object to the temple are not, at bottom, motivated by racial and religious biases.

In answer to the opposition, city planners have assured Evergreen residents that the Sikhs have followed all of the city’s guidelines and zoning regulations relevant to the area. They see no reason to stop the construction.

In addition, the city has gone to great lengths to see that the temple does not become an overbearing venue. All meetings in the temple are restricted to no more than 1,500 people; if there are consequent traffic congestion problems, the temple officials are required to provide traffic control for the nearby area; and to ensure harmony, temple officials are required to meet with residents twice a year to iron out any problems. None the less, opponents of the Sikh temple have filed a lawsuit against the city.

As Mayor and a member of the City Council, you can:
1. Ignore the virulent opposition from Evergreen residents and allow the temple to be built in accordance with existing regulations
2. The council can prohibit the construction, pleasing the residents while causing distress among the thousands of Sikhs counting on the new temple.
3. As a compromise, the city can place additional building regulations on the temple or insists on modifications to the design. But there’s one important caveat to this options: The size and shape of the proposed temple has religious significance. Any modifications would alter the Sikh symbol of the divine represented by the architecture.

Are the Sikh’s rights violated by such modifications? Have the Evergreen district residents raised legitimate concerns, or does their opposition to the Sikh temple show religious intolerance or cultural bias?
Ralkowski, Mark at Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

LA23 Core Learning Group #7:

To Be Updated