Gaining Perspective

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.



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

The Initiative Generation

On top of Max Patch

Leadership is a product of personal initiative.  

It is a decision, a thought process, an act of the will, and an expression of identity and personality.

However, for initiative to constitute leadership, it also demands that it produce change, a change that matters, a change that makes a difference, a change that advances toward a goal.

The context for change is almost always some group of people socially connected around an idea that matters to them.

This is a basic understanding of what leadership is becoming in the 21st century. It is different than in the past because it is not based on wealth, social class, educational credentials, national origin, religious preference, geographic location or organizational title, position or rank.  

This new sort of leadership is based on personal initiative, social connection and the desire to make a difference. As a result, it is a kind of leadership that anyone can do.

Therefore, I think it is safe to say that, 

Passive followership is over; Personal initiative for impact is in. 

The implications of this shift are significant. If you are the senior executive leader of an organization, it means that the game of recruiting talent is changing.

This is an ongoing conversation that I'm having with Gretchen Zucker, Executive Director of Ashoka's Youth Venture. Recently, she gave a presentation on Talent for the 21st Century. She, graciously, shared her presentation with me for this blog post.

Gretchen points out that

"8 million jobs have been lost since 2008 in the US; nonetheless, employers are still having difficulty filling jobs with the right talent." 

She quotes Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation.

Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S.were created by firms that were 5 years old or less. That is about 40 million jobs.

Who is creating these new businesses and the jobs that follow?

People who take initiative, are socially connected, and have a clear purpose that drives their desires to make a difference.  The difference though is in the numbers.

While there may be a long history of small business in the US, entrepreneurism did not become the world changing movement that it is until about 30 years ago. 

This came clearly to mind recently as I sat across a work table in the office of a web designer, colleague and friend who is in his mid-20s. As he took a call and left the room for a moment, the difference hit me that when I was his age in the late 1970s, I did not have a single friend or acquaintance, in my age group, who had started their own business. I know entrepreneurs existed, but I didn't know any. Sitting in my friend's office, I realized that his circle of friends were creating a new culture of entrepreneurism in our community.  

According to Paul Reynolds, entrepreneurship scholar and creator of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor,

"by the time they reach their retirement years, half of all working men in the United States probably have a period of self-employment of one or more years; one in four may have engaged in self-employment for six or more years. Participating in a new business creation is a common activity among U.S. workers over the course of their careers."*

My own path to entrepreneurship began in the mid-1980's with the reading of Peter Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship. My contact with people who had started their own businesses was very small. Not so today.

What this indicates to me is that there is a growing class of initiators whose leadership is changing not only the landscape of business, but of communities and nations worldwide.  

This is the point that Gretchen Zucker presents.

Gretchen's organization, Youth Venture is part of Ashoka, created by Bill Drayton, who coined the term social entrepreneur.  Ashoka and Youth Venture invest in people who are changemakers.  

Ashoka and Youth Venture are shaping an Everyone A Changemaker™ society: every individual will take initiative, develop solutions to social needs and drive positive impact.Every part of society will benefit from having more changemakers, from a company to a school to an entire country.

Ashoka and YV help ensure the success of any entity, region or field by finding the best new ideas, by cultivating the changemaker talent to act on those ideas, and by designing new ways to allow major change to happen.

Ashoka and Youth Venture are helping to nurture the people I describe above. Currently Ashoka is supporting 2,500 Changemakers in 60 countries. So you can see that as this trend continues, it not only changes the world within the proximity of each person who is a changemaker, but it also sets a standard by which their peers begin to understand themselves.  

This standard is appealing because it isn't based on someone else's idea about who they are, but their own. It is out of their passion and commitment that these Changemakers venture forward to change the world within their reach.

This is the world that is coming to schools, congregations, scout troops,  and businesses everywhere.  This is a societal change that is being led by children and young people. This is a grassroots, entrepreneurial movement that begins at an age young enough to care for the needs of the world that they can identify, even at six or eight years old.

Recently I asked Gretchen Zucker to respond to two questions.

What is the single greatest misperception that businesses have about the current generation of young people as employees?

Businesses need to realize that the current generation of young employees (Millennials) is very different from the last generation (GenX) or the generation before that (Baby Boomers).  Times have changed dramatically and Millennials reflect that accelerating change in a new information era.  Millennials are very purpose-driven, tech and information savvy, globally aware, highly engaged (volunteer at twice the rate as their parents), and struggling to come out from under the very broad wings of their parents.

The best thing a manager can do to maximize the productivity of young employees is to encourage and enable them to be changemakers.  They are craving this!  Don’t be threatened.  They will amaze you with their creativity, drive and ability to mobilize teams to get things done.  

I've seen this trend grow over the past twenty years. A tipping point is approaching that will mark a shift that is of historic proportions. This point will be when a critical mass of people worldwide decides that they are going to take personal initiative to make a difference, and do so within a social context of shared responsibility and commitment.  When they do, they will no longer look to institutions to take care of them, as in the past. They will join together to take care of each other and their communities. 

I asked Gretchen, 

"Where do businesses go to find people like Ashoka’s Changemakers?"

Any employer (businesses included) needs to look upstream to figure out how to get far more changemaker talent (entrepreneurial problem-solvers with strong team, leadership and empathy skills), as the proportion of our society who are changemakers today is only 2-3 percent, making the “war for talent” as fierce as it’s ever been.  By enabling and supporting dramatically more people – in particular at a young, formative age – become changemakers through actually experiencing taking initiative to address a social need and leading change. 

Once a young person experiences the power of entrepreneurship, teamwork, empathy and leadership, he/she will forever carry the mindset and skill set with him/her in all aspects of life.  As change accelerates and employers must stay ahead of that change, the single greatest factor of success will be the proportion of their community (staff, stakeholders) who are changemakers.  

So, you can see how monumental is this shift for organizations.

No more passive followers who care little about their company. No more disgruntled employees who only care about how well the company compensates them for the sacrifice of personal time and the personal inconvenience they must go through to be away from the things they do care about. Strangely, it means that owners and managers will have to respond to a higher form of expectation for how their organizations function.

The cause of poor morale in the workplace isn't the external realities that affect the business. Rather, the internal ones. Morale is not some mysterious human social phenomenon, but rather an outcome of organizational design and management. It is an indicator of uncertainty, and produces a passive aggressive followership which is antithetical to the genuine leadership of personal initiative. The talented and self-motivated will leave or force change.

Regardless, organizational leaders have a choice to make. To resist the emergence of a generation of leadership initiators and watch their organizations decline, or to embrace them as a beneficial movement by accommodating their energy, ideas and influence to create new opportunities.

What, then, must a business person do to create an environment that is most conducive to attracting the young men and women that Ashoka and Youth Venture support?

First, envision the possible.

See it in this illustration from Gretchen Zucker.

What if this was your typical employee?

"I saw a problem with our operations and so I got our team together to devise a solution, which we’re now working on implementing with the involvement of other colleagues. I just wanted to make sure with you that I’m moving in the right direction. Is this okay?"

Second, invest in people.

Read my post Return on Initiative: ROI for the 21st Century. You can take a regressive cost/benefit approach to the development of people. It isn't a zero-sum game. Instead, it is a game of survival. Every business' survival is dependent upon creating an environment that accommodates and nurtures the kind of social entrepreneurial initiative that Ashoka and Youth Venture are developing in people worldwide.

This shift changes the talent recruitment game from a race to hire the best credentialed person to the one who has demonstrated that they are a Changemaker.  

Third, understand what motivates people to take initiative to make a difference that matters. 

No one asks people to initiate. It comes from an inner desire to make the world a better place. Ancient philosopher Aristotle saw this motivation as a function of the purpose of every individual. Something inside points to something outside that connects the two together and creates what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia which is happiness or human flourishing.

In simple terms, this desire for happiness, that is a kind of completeness, can be seen in three goals that I observe in people.  These goals are active reflections of their inner purpose. This is what people want from their life and work.

Life that is Personally Meaningful

Relationships that are Socially Fulfilling

Work that Makes a Difference that Matters

The children and young people that come to RandomKid** have these goals, as do those who work with Youth Venture. The people with whom you work, play golf, and share the subway have these goals. Each person's expression of them is unique. Yet, we are the same at a very fundamental level.

We look for social and organizational settings where these goals may be pursued. This is why children and young people are coming to RandomKid.

RandomKid's mission is to provide staff and services to youth, of all backgrounds and abilities, for the development, management and accomplishment of their goals to help others.

We educate, mobilize, unify and empower youth to directly impact local and global needs. By helping kids to become innovative and successful world problem-solvers, we are securing a better fate for our world now, and into the future. We don’t ask you to be a part of us; we become a part of you (emphasis mine).

In this sense, RandomKid provides an organizational structure for these young leaders to take initiative by creating projects that make a difference that matters to them. As Anne Ginther, RandomKid Co-Founder recently commented,

"What is most important to remember is that our mission is to help KIDS help others. It’s about empowering youth to make a difference. It’s about building the change-makers of tomorrow."

Dana Leman, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President tells me that they have learned that kids want ownership, fun and measurable impact from their projects.

There is a parallelism between what I observe in people and what RandomKid has identified in their project leaders.

Personally Meaningful = Ownership

Socially Fulfilling = Fun

Make a Difference that Matters = Measurable Impact

There is no dividing line between the child and the adult in this regard. Their goals are one and the same, just expressed differently.

This is the environment that initiators and Changemakers want. This is not the business environment of the 20th century. It is of the 21st century. 

Dana Leman commented to me recently about what she sees in the kids who take on a RandomKid project. 

Today's kids are not about trying to fit their ideas into standard business models. They are trying to develop business models that fit their ideas. They think about process as an afterthought and tend to engage in a more organic and responsive approach to today's emerging markets.

This is why so many young people in their 20s and 30s are starting their own businesses. Because they don't see themselves fitting in the institutional setting of the last century. And what organizational leaders must understand is that their competition for talent is not within their industry, but rather between the business structures of the past and the future. Either accomodate or become irrelevant is the reality that we face.

I started this post with the following manifesto.

Leadership is a product of personal initiative. 

It is a decision, a thought process, an act of the will, and an expression of identity and personality.

However, for initiative to constitute leadership, it also demands that it produce change, a change that matters, a change that makes a difference, a change the advances toward a goal.

The context for change is almost always some group of people socially connected around an idea that matters to them.

This is the future of leadership. And its future can be seen in the 10 year olds, the 14 year olds, the 18 year olds and the twenty and thirty somethings who are taking initiative to follow their passion to make a difference in the world.

Sixteen year old RandomKid Co-Founder and CEO Talia Leman speaks of her organization's mission as 

Leveraging the power of kids worldwide to drive an economy of positive change.

This is the purpose they share with Ashoka's Changemakers and Youth Venturers. This is the 21st century talent pool that stands apart from the rest. 

If you want these young people to work for you, then you must become like them. You must become an agent of change by encouraging and equipping the people in your business to take initiative to create an environment that can make the difference that matters. 

This may seem to be one of many options for the course of organizations and businesses. I'm convinced that this is the future that is fast approaching.  It isn't an option.  

When Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their book The Starfish and the Spider write about "leaderless" organizations, they are advocating for a leader-filled organization.

In a traditional sense, it could be said that organizations like Ashoka, Youth Venture and RandomKid are developing the next generation of organizational leaders.  In reality, these kids are already leading random organizations of social connection that are making a difference in local communities across the globe. The future is now, not tomorrow or next year.

This new future may seem filled with ambiguity and doubt. The reality is that as you accommodate your organizations to the ingenuity and 21st century leadership skills of these young people, a level of impact that your organization has never known will emerge. I'm convince that our best years are ahead of us, and they are going to be fun.  Because the children who are leading us today would not have it any other way. 

The Initiative Generation is here. Welcome them with openness, support their initiatives, and celebrate the difference they are making now.

*Wikipedia: Entrepreneurship-

** Disclaimer: I am the Board Chair of RandomKid.

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.

Culture: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This guide - Creating a Culture of Impact through The Connecting Ideas - is one of a series of my Circle of Impact Guides.

Culture of Impact Organizations are not just policies, processes and operating structures. They are places where people interact for the purpose of achieving the goals of the company.

The problem with most organizations is that they are not organized around people, but around the processes that constitute the organization's operating system. The effect of this problem is that it creates, not a culture of collaboration, but one of compliance to the processes that are designed into the system. This is why often people in these systems are referred to as cogs in a machine.

The solution to this problem is not dramatic or radical. It is, however, a shift of perspective from a process orientation to a people one. This change achieves a better alignment between the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and the Social & Organizational Structures. The shift is accomplished by using the Connecting Ideas of Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact to create a culture of impact.

Too often, employees are disconnected from the ultimate purpose of the business. Their role is to do their job, which typically means following the prescribed operating procedures. Even when the company's leadership wants, in the name of transparency, to engage with employees honestly about the company's health, it may not produce a more informed, engaged employee. The problem is more than being transparent about ideas. It is a combination of many things, all which are connected by the Three Dimensions.

If the leadership of a company wants employees to take greater initiative and care for the company, then they need to look at how  the Connecting Ideas facilitate a culture change that accomplishes the engagement that is needed.

The Connecting Ideas are the concepts that link the Three Dimensions together. These ideas are the core strength of the Ideas Dimension. Without a clear understanding of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact, the company lacks a set of ideas that can, not only unify the whole organization, but also give it direction.  This is especially true during times of transition, like the time we are in now.

The result of utilizing the Connecting Ideas is a change in the attitudes and behaviors of people. Over time, this change becomes a culture; a Culture of Impact that is built upon a clear and operational sense of the company's purpose and values. 

Over the years, I've seen that people want their lives and work to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference That Matters.  In other words, they want the Ideas Dimension, best expressed through the Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact to be reflected in all that they do.

If there is little or no alignment, for example, between the company's Purpose and how it is organized through the Social & Organizational Structures, then people will end up either fighting the operating system, or giving up and treating their employment as a job to endure. 

If there is no alignment between the people of the company and Values that are both Personally Meaningful and Operationally Strategic, then the culture will not be Socially Fulfilling.

If there is no Vision of Impact, meaning no conception that is shared between people, then employees will not see that their work Makes a Difference That Matters. A Vision of Impact is a living conception of the difference the company makes.

This is a picture of the change that the company, and each of its employees, should envision being fulfilled by their work together. It is not a visionary picture of one person, but all contributing their part to making the impact of the company something worth believing in, worth being committed to, and worth taking pride in at the end of the day.  This is a major responsibility of 21st century leadership.

To create a culture is a large task that may take a decade or generation to accomplish. However, all along the way, progress bolsters employees' sense of participation in work that is Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference That Matters. Taking the long view is essential, even in times where strategic planning may only take you two years out from where you are today.

Creating a Culture of Impact is the legacy of leading as the Circle of Impact identifies.

How To Us This Guide.

Look at the guide. As you see, the middle box has a listing of different levels of leadership and management in a company. Each level needs to be engaged in this process.  

Use the Circle of Impact Guides to facilitate the conversation that identifies and applies the Connecting Ideas.

1.  Identify your Purpose, Values and a Vision for Impact.

2. Align the Three Dimensions with the Connecting Ideas to improve Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

3. Operationalize the Values as Measurable Practices. Don't let your just be words that inspire and comfort. Build the Values into your work processes by asking, "How should we apply the Values to our work together?"

4. Create a Culture by Celebrating, Recognizing and Innovating your Purpose, Values and Vision for Impact.

Leading your company through this kind of Transition should not be done without thought, and with help of an able facilitator. It will take time, so be patient and persistent, and measure your progress.

Teams: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is one in a continuing series of posts on my Circle of Impact Guides.

Impact teams characteristics and strategies

Teams are a primary tool for organizations to get work done. Teams function in a wide variety of ways and for many purposes.

This guide describes my understanding of how a team functions in a more open, collaborative manner.

The guide is divided between a list describing the characteristics of a team member, and how to strategically develop a team.

The guide purpose is to facilitate conversation, not to act as a formula that every team be like. The conversation should be open and responsible. Your discussion advance your team toward greater clarity, alignment and ownership of your teams. The guide is a starting point for understanding what your team should be like. In other words, this guide is not the last word on teams. It is just a tool for establishing a basis for discussion within a team about how their work should be conducted .Common Collaborative Networking Approaches

In some contexts, I refer to these teams as Collaborative Network Groups. These teams can take many forms as way to support members, and creater a higher level of collaboration across organizational boundaries. 

I am part of a few Collaborative Network Groups. One is the Lessons in Leadership corp group.  Another is the Collaborative Solutions Group, a collection of individuals from a wide diversity of companies and disciplines within the financial services industry. Our principal focus is family-held businesses, though not exclusively. (If this interests you, get in touch.)

How To Use This Guide:

Take your team through a discussion of the Member Characteristics.  Have each member evaluate the team based on these criteria. Do this anonymously. Talk about each characteristic and determine how to measure each. As you do so, use the Circle of Impact guide for your discussion. You can ask your questions this way.

Do team members practice personal initiative in sharing ideas, building stronger relationships and improving the functioning of the group?

Does the team have a giving-orientation? Do team members take initiative to help other team members in ways that build a more collaborative group?

Questions like these open up the awareness of members to see how their team is functioning. This takes time, and needs a willingness by members to be open and transparent. If you can overcome resistance to change, your team will become more effective.

Circle of Impact Leadership: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is one of a series of posts describing the intent and use of the Circle of Impact Guides.

Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching The Circle of Impact is a picture of the dynamic that every leader addresses. There are three dimensions to leading.

There is the Ideas dimension which incorporates the activities of visioning, planning, decision-making and communication.

There is the Relationship dimension that functions as a focal point of networking and collaboration.

There are the Social and Organizational Structure dimensions. They are similar in that they are the context for people to work together. I divide this dimension in two, recognizing that the social environment of an organization is different than the organizational structure. I'm also distinguishing between the relationships that people have with one another, and the social setting or culture of the organization. That social setting doesn't require everyone to be in relationship, though it is formed by people's ideas functioning in their relationship within the structure of the organization. To keep this picture simple, I define the components of the Organizational Structure as Governance, Program, Operations and Resources. Working with these four broad areas will provide more than enough opportunities for conversation.

There are four types of ideas that are important for the functioning of the organization. I called these concepts the Connecting Ideas.

The first is the Purpose or Mission that a person or organization has.  The words are basically interchangeable. However, I distinguish them in the following way. Purpose is used more often to refer to the inner motivation that a person has toward their life. Mission is more focused on the outside world. That said, I find no difficulty is using either one in any circumstance to mean the same thing.

A second Connecting Idea is Values that guide the organization. These are ideas that speak to a certain quality of the work and relationship that exists in a group or organization. For example, values like respect, trust, integrity, openness, transparency, resilience, and creativity speak more to the quality of the individuals and their relationships to one another than it does to a product or service.  From my perspective, Values serve the organization by providing an ideological platform for relationships to be unified in their shared effort to give their best to the organization.

The third Connecting Idea is Vision. This is a picture that illustrates what it looks like for the people of the organization to function within the Social and Organization setting to achieve their Purpose.

The last Connecting Idea is Impact. This a larger concept that results or measures. It intended to describe the difference that the company makes that matters. Difference is a way of speaking about the change that should result from the shared actions of the people. To measure change in this way is more than measuring numbers. It is a qualitative people of difference. This difference is defined the Purpose and Values of the organization. This is why it is a difference that matters, and not just a difference that can be measured.

How To Use This Guide:

The guide is a picture. Ask questions about how the organization corresponds to each part of the guide.  Talk about what your purpose, mission, values and vision are. Ask about what are the guiding ideas that most people in your organization share. Identify the different types of relationships that exist within the environment of your organization. 

You can use this picture as a problem solving tool. Identify an issue that seems difficult to resolve. Ask: Is this an Idea, a Relationship or a Structure problem?  Ask each person to identify which dimension that they see as the focal point of the problem.  The solution is not with that one dimension, but utilizing each dimension's strengths to resolve the problem.

For example, a communication problem may be a lack of clarity. But the lack of clarity may not be an idea, but rather a poor relationship issue made worse by a poor delivering system for communicating ideas.

Practice with the guide and fairly quickly, you will see all three dimensions in dynamic relationship with one another. You'll get it.

The next few posts will explore other aspects of this picture.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership - A Leading Questions review

Almost twenty years ago, the conventional wisdom about organizational leadership Adaptive Leadership - Heifetz began to change. Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline was the first to acquaint me with the ideas of systems theory. Then Stuart Kaufman's At Home In the Universe came along to introduce me to the ideas of self-organization and complexity, followed by Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and The New Science. Since then, there have been many, many more writers that have come along to explore the nature of leadership from the vantage point of science.

My problem, and I'm sure this is true for many people, was the lack of background in quantum physics and evolutionary biology. As a result, applying these ideas was frustrating and discouraging.  Part of the problem was the conceptual difficulty of the ideas themselves, and the lack of a suitable organizational environment for them to take root.

The world has changed since this new world of leadership science began to be developed. Today, these ideas are finding greater receptivity as their application becomes more refined and real tools and guides are developed.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World is an important and welcomed addition to the growing body of thought on adaptive change in organizations.  The authors are Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard's Kennedy School colleagues and co-founders of Cambridge Leadership Associates, and Alexander Grashow, CLA's Managing Director. Heifetz is the author of Leadership Without Easy Answers and co-author with Linsky of Leadership on the Line They bring not only a first class understanding the theoretical understanding of leadership, but a real world perspective of having worked with leaders from around the world.  Since I first became acquainted with Heifetz's perspective in the early 1990's, I have found their perspective on leadership uniquely insightful.

The value of this book is its practicality. It is a guide book for how to be an adaptive leader.

This book is about possibility. Not daydreaming, wishful-thinking possibility, but rather a roll-up-your-sleeves, optimistic, realistic, courage-generating, and make-significant -progress kind of possibility. Leadership for change demands inspiration and perspiration.

The core focus is on learning to be an adaptive leader, with adaptation being the key idea. Here is their basic understanding of the adaptive nature of leadership.

Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. The concept of thriving is drawn from evolutionary biology, in which a successful adaptation has three characteristics: (1) it preserves the DNA essential for the species' continued survival; (2) it discards (reregulates or rearranges) the DNA that no longer serves the species' current needs; and (3) it creates DNA arrangements that give the species' the ability to flourish in new ways and in more challenging environments. Successful adaptations enable a living system to take the best from its history into its future.

For the authors, evolutionary biology is an analogy for how we function as leaders. Not to over simplify, but from this perspective leaders are change agents who practice the art of preservation and change. Leader is not a title or a role, but rather how one approaches ones relationships, decisions and activities.

Recently, I completed a two year long project with a client whose constituency was so focused on the past that you could consider them a museum. Over those months of work, they began to see how the values of the past could be actively lived out in the future with vitality and growth. The above quote describes what took place over those months.

The authors provide six ways to understand how being an adaptive leader makes a difference.

  • Adaptive leadership is specifically about change that enables the capacity to thrive.
  • Successful adaptive changes build on the past rather than jettison it.
  • Organizational adaptation occurs through experimentation.
  • Adaptation relies on diversity.
  • New adaptations significantly displace, reregulate, and rearrange some old DNA.
  • Adaptation takes time.

Even though this book is a guide to how to be an adaptive leader, it should not be read as simply a book of tactics. It builds upon a systems view of human interaction and organizational life. They provide a basic understanding of systems thinking in order to fully benefit from their practical wisdom.

There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be "dysfunctional" in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon.

If, then, you are in an organization that some people think it is broken, and others do not, as the person in authority, what is your job? Do you treat the critics as an annoyance and do everything possible to run them off to preserve peace and tranquility? Or is your job to look at the big picture and realize that there may be some truth in their criticism. To take this view means that you potentially become disliked by everyone because the steps you take as an adaptive leader please neither side.

To approach leading from this perspective requires a different view of the role of leader. The old paradigm held that there are a few leaders and the rest followers in an organization. The new paradigm is much different.

People have long confused the notion of leadership with authority, power, and influence. We find it extremely useful to see leadership as a practice, an activity that some people do some of the time. We view leadership as a verb, not a job. Authority, power, and influence are critical tools, but they do not define leadership.

It is important to understand the implications of this perspective. As a leader, you are not a place holder on the organizational chart, or some gatekeeper who believes that all decisions must come through you as the authority figure.

Exercising adaptive leadership is dangerous. ... The dangers reside in the need to challenge the expectations of the very people who give you formal and informal authority.

From my personal experience, what they say is true. To be a change agent, to create change, especially when you are unsure how it will be received, is one of the hardest aspects of leading. Yet, it is what secures the impact of we desire.

Leaders are change agents. My own perspective is: Leaders take personal initiative Change Tolerance - simple to create impact with ideas, through relationships and in organizational structures. A person's tolerance for change factors into how well they can be an adaptive leader. This diagram illustrates the various levels of tolerance of change that people have.  There are those people who are change-phobic, who resist change at all costs. There are those who embrace change to such a degree that there is no continuity established that allows for strength to be built and sustained. As a result, I find that people who are impact leaders have a change tolerance ranging from receptive to active initiation. It is never change for change sake, but rather, change that serves a higher purpose. This is why I too see leadership as a behavior that arises in the initiative of the individual regardless of what role they have in an organization.

I highly recommend The Practiced of Adaptive Leadership. Master the lessons that Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky provide us, and you'll begin to make a difference which encourages others to join you in leadership. I also recommend that you pair this book with Seth Godin's Tribes. Two very practical books on leadership, though very different, that provide an excellent grounding in the new paradigm of 21st century leadership.  I will carry both in my bag to use as reference in my own leadership opportunities.

Leadership Q&A - What's On Your Checklist?

My latest Weekly Leader Leadership Q&A column - What's On Your Checklist? - is posted.

This week I'm addressing an issue that I see in many places. It is the issue of staff who tend not to look at the big picture, but rather simply treat their job as a daily checklist to complete.

The antidote is to become an impact leadership business. Focus on the change you want to create, rather than the tasks that need to be created.

Use the Circle of Impact guides to help build awareness and communication to make the transition. If you would like to talk about how, let me know. I'll be glad to help.

Creativity for creating impact

Balancing Rock

The changes that confront us require us to think in new ways. We need to think creatively about the development of our businesses, as if we are starting over.

Even if our business is a staple of every other business, we need to begin thinking differently. Regardless of what we do, the demand for us to be creative in approaching every aspect of our organizations is growing with greater urgency. 

How to be creative in a time of great change.

It will be helpful to have my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference.

The Circle of Impact -3D-SimpleThe image here is a simplified version of my Circle of Impact. The focus is on creating impact, which means making a difference or creating change. In order to understand the true results of your company, you must ask what is the impact of all three of these areas.

What is the Impact of our Ideas?

What is the Impact of our Relationships?

What is the Impact of our Organizational Structure?

These Three Dimensions of Leadership, shown here, are the three areas where leaders must take initiative in order to be effective in creating impact. The aim is to bring them into alignment.

Many people I know think their business primarily functions within the Organizational Structure dimension. This is where all their energy is focused. The Ideas and Relationships dimensions are ancillary ones, drawn upon when needed, but not as essential as the structure of the business.

I've found that organizations are not just the activities of a business. The Ideas and Relationships dimensions are important as centers of creative initiative.


Being creative within the Organizational Structure dimension? 

The following questions are a good starting point for discovering perspective.

Write down your thoughts as we go through this little exercise.

What is your purpose for creating impact?

Can you describe this purpose in one sentence? If not, then the Idea of what your purpose is needs clarification. If you can't state simply what the purpose of the impact of your business is - what difference it makes - how can you organize your business to achieve it?


Purpose Connection

Now ask this question,

What is our purpose as a business?

In what way does this purpose make a difference?

How is our business structured to fulfill this purpose? Are they compatible?

Write something down so you capture what you are thinking right now. There are no perfect answers, only the perception of your business as it exists at this moment.

How to distinguish between measuring results by numbers and by impact.

We make assumptions about what a business is based on past experience. We assume that a business is a set of activities that we repeat to produce results. And the easiest way to determine results is with numbers. It is much harder to measure our business' results by determining the impact of our business. Even with these simple guides that I've given you, it is hard. Being creative is hard work.

You go on vacation. When you return, you don't talk numbers, you talk about the experiences you had. You show your pictures of beautiful scenery and happy times with family and friends. You don't show your receipts from the hotel or gas card. You know how much your vacation cost. The numbers matter, but they don't tell what is most important. Your experiences are the measure of whether your vacation's purpose (mission) has achieved its impact.  A great vacation impacts you and the relationships you have with the people who went with you. That difference matters and is why you will go on vacation again.

The experiences you had on vacation were personal taking place in Relationships. The measure of impact is partially determined by the values that you share.

For example, if you all are rock climbers, then you share the values of physical challenge, and if your vacation doesn't include rock climbing, your experience is probably less than what it could have been. Values matter in determining the difference being achieved.

Values Connection - Simple

What are the values that matter to you and to the people connected to your business?

 How do those values impact how you have organized your business?

Write this down.

For example, if you want to put people first in your business, which many businesses say is a core value, then how do you organize to insure that this value is living in your business?

Let's take this to a deeper level of consideration.

The Organizational Structure dimension consists of four categories of activity.
Governance consists policy making, strategic development for the future and oversight of the chief executive. Products/Services/Programs includes what you are providing to clients and customers. Operations/Administration is the support function of the busienss. Resources are financial, human and organizational. 

What are the policies, procedures, practices and behaviors that demonstrate how each of these areas are putting people first?

What does it mean for the Board of your company to put people first? Would your employees agree? How about your customers?

How about the support function of product fulfillment? Do your customers think you put people first when they must return an item or get a corrected bill?

The experience that people have with the Organizational Structure of businesses is how they measure the impact of the company's values. If there is a discrepancy between the stated values, and their experience, then the company has a problem creating the difference that matters.  

Creating Impact isn't simply saying we value people, it is operationalizing those values into the structure of your business.

Being creative is hard work, but it is the work that elevates your business to a new level. The impact of this hard work is greater impact, better results, and change that matters for the long term. And if you are not presently involved in a developmental process that is creating these changes, then you are behind the curve, and harder times await.

There is more here that I haven't touched on. We really haven't looked at the Ideas dimension or the place of visioning in creating impact. We haven't looked at the Relationship dimension with any depth either. There is still much to explore.

What is the benefit of this kind of approach to business development?

1. The tangible impact of your business grows.
If you are willing to work hard at it, you could change your industry by following through on the questions raised by this approach.

2. You create an environment of continuity in the midst of change.
The continuity is found in your values, not in your structure. As a result, you are able to build strength for the future.

3. You gain a new level of situational awareness, so that you understand what is happening before others do.

4. You find hope, joy and satisfaction in going to work every day.
Your life is changed for the better, not just your employees or customers.

5. You create a legacy of impact that you can pass along to future generations.

I feel a tremendous urgency about the time we are living in. We need skills for creating impact in the midst of radical, disruptive change. We must learn how to create the conditions for growing sustainable businesses. If you are thinking that business is going to be the same when this recession is over, I'm sorry, it won't be, already isn't, and will only be more so five years from now.

If you want to take the next step, let me know. I'll work with you to begin the process of change that makes sense and creates the difference you identify. This is what I do every day, and I welcome the opportunity to work with you who read my blog.  Thank you.

Cc_logo2Flickr #2445428627_06c7b7d940

Seth's Pivots for Change

Being a good innovator is being able to see value in things that others don't. This is what Seth Godin points to today in his post on change.

It's difficult to change when you think that you must change everything in order to succeed. Changing everything is too difficult.

You can't change everything. You don't need to. You just have to adapt to the changing realities of the market place.

Seth offers some ways of looking at this.

  • Keep the machines in your factory, but change what they make.
  • Keep your customers, but change what you sell to them.
  • Keep your providers, but change the profit structure.
  • Keep your industry but change where the money comes from.
  • Keep your staff, but change what you do.
  • Keep your mission, but change your scale.
  • Keep your products, but change the way you market them.
  • Keep your customers, but change how much you sell each one.
  • Keep your technology, but use it to do something else.
  • Keep your reputation, but apply it to a different industry or problem.

One way to understand how to change as Seth suggests is to first do an inventory of your business's impact assets. What do you have to use, to offer, to adapt, etc. that can make a difference for people. Make a list.

Second, make a list of the issues or problems that you see your customers or clients having.  Put this column next to your impact asset one.

Third, draw a line from each asset to each problem or issue. You should see new ways to take what you have and apply it toward being a solution provider for people.

Here's how I have done this.

I'm a leadership and planning consultant. I mentor leaders and their organizations through the transitions from where they are to where they need to be in the future. The reality is that no one has training money, and no one is looking to do a long-range plan. Both are too big for companies suffering in a down economy to take on. So, here's what I've done.

First example: Short is the new Long
I took my planning project process that typically lasts 6-8 months or longer, and developed a companion project that can be done in one day, focused on the next six to eighteen months. The process isn't comprehensive, and it doesn't do everything the larger project does. But it quickly moves groups to clarity and then into strategic action.

To better understand what I'm talking about go watch this 4.5 minute video of me talking about the Four Questions That Every Leader Must Ask. Somewhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours, a group can discover what they must do right now in order to make the kind of changes that Seth's refers to in his post. And this may be all they need to do to begin to make the transition to an improved situation

Second example: Local charitable business leadership training
I'm part of a group here in Asheville, Lessons in Leadership, that for the past two years has offered as a give back to the community, a low-cost/ high impact leadership training event. The focus is two fold. First, to provide an event that local business can bring their leadership teams that provides them new ideas and a motivational boost to their team work together. Second, all of us who participate here are doing this at no cost, and the money raised goes to support local families in need. Thus far we've raised over $17,000 to go to families in need. The model is a local community business leadership training charity event.

I've taken this idea, simplified it for replication, and have begun to talk to people in other communities about conducting a similar project, and one that fits with their community's needs. What I propose to them is the same, a give back to the community leadership training event for charitable purposes. We recruit sponsors to cover some of the costs. We work at getting as much donated as possible. For the event, I come in as the keynote presenter to talk about impact leadership along with a couple of local people who share their business impact stories. Part of the intention of the project is to begin to develop local talent to conduct community-wide training events. The event lasts 2.5 hours, and everyone leaves excited about working more closely together as a business community. The following morning, I meet with the leaders of the sponsoring businesses for two hours where we address specific issues related to business development in their community.  Presently, I'm talking with two communities about conducting this project.

The pivots of change that Seth describes don't have to be huge transitions for them to work. They do however have to address the current reality of those to whom you provide your products and services. Making this connection is the key.

My additional suggestion is to read Peter Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  The kind of thought process that Seth outlines in his post, Drucker describes in more detail in his book. He shows us where the entrepreneurial opportunities can be found.  It is not enough to think about this. You have to make the changes that you see if you want to improve your situations. Do it, and do it often, and you'll begin see the difference you can make in your business, your customers, and even in your community. And to do this in a down economy is a real testimony to the trust and confidence that people should be placing you and your business.