What is Leadership?


"It's time to stop talking about leadership, and lead."

The voice in my head. One afternoon.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

July 1999.

Over the past three decades I've lived and worked in the world of leadership. Part of my passion has been the desire to understand the intersection of organizational structure, culture and human nature with the phenomenon of leadership. From early on in my training and study, it was clear that my perception of leadership is different than many who write about it and the practitioners of the leader craft.

Two Trends

There are two trends that I see that I find problematic for effective leadership in our world today.

The first is the relationship of organizational leadership to globalization. Many people think that as we have become a more globalized society, that we are living in a much larger arena. The fact, that during the course of a day, that I can engage in conversation and project work with colleagues in Europe and Asia would initially suggest that this is a much bigger playing field. However, I am convinced that one truth remains.

It is that all work is local work.

It ceases to be local when a business no longer requires human beings to do the work. Regardless of how big an environment that we live and work in, the work is still done in communication and collaboration with people whose proximity to us is made closer by both their physical presence and the aid of modern technology.

I want to suggest that the importance of local proximity, even through a screen, has become even more significant as our possibilities for world-wide impact have grown. In some respects, our vision for that impact has not kept up with our reach.

People no longer dream of grand visions. Our lives and work are more fragmented, more confined into ideological and socio-political enclaves. The Steve Jobs' and Elon Musk's of our world stand out as visionaries because they are exceptions, and not the models to follow.

I take my reference point for this perspective, President Kennedy's Houston Speech in 1962. In that presentation, he challenged the nation to believe that we could go to the moon within the decade.


And we did. 

I have tried to identify similar grand endeavors that were presented to the people of the world that catalyzed society to act in unity and harmony toward a grand goal of achievement. I have yet to identify one.

The second trend has been around as long as I have been involved in the world of leadership.

When James Magregor Burns published his text Leadership in 1978, we were a few years passed landing on the moon, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and, the Watergate scandal. From Burn's Wikipedia entry:

Burns shifted the focus of leadership studies from the traits and actions of great men to the interaction of leaders and their constituencies as collaborators working toward mutual benefit. He was best known for his contributions to the transactional, transformational, aspirational, and visionary schools of leadership theory.

This was a significant shift in understanding the nature of leadership. Yet it is a shift that has never been fully realized. Today we still live in a time where conceptions of leadership presented to us in popular media are about individuals whom some editor or producer has determined to be today's great leaders. This personalization or celebrity-ization of leadership marginalizes many people whose leadership is an embodiment of Burn's description.

These transformational leaders live in the shadow of their shared accomplishments with their partners in leadership impact. They are individuals and teams that are not interested in the title leader, or any other title like, facilitator, convener, mentor, catalyst and servant.  These transformational leaders are the hidden leaders that do not attract large advertising budgets, but makes every organization on the planet function as well as they do.

What, then, is Leadership for Today?

Leadership begins with individual initiative. If every person who reads these words would do one thing that they have never done before, based upon some concern or passion to make a difference in the world that really matters, then we'd notice. People in Mumbai may not notice what's happening in Monte Carlo, or people in Memphis know what's happening in Munich, but the people in those locales certainly would. 

We live in a time of great pessimism about leaders and organizations, which in many cases is justified.  I'm not a pessimist, nor am a starry-eyed optimist. I am very much a realist who believes that the strength of a society is found in the individual leadership of its people.

So, may I encourage you to focus on two things.

First, look closely at your local community. Where you have questions, ask someone. Find out what needs your community has that are important to you. It maybe education or children's health, or, racial reconciliation.

Take seriously the idea that you can make a difference. Do not let the pessimism and fear that exists in so many places convinced you not to care.

Second is to decide to do something to make a difference. Understand that most of the leadership we do is not world changing in the moment, but when combined with thousands and millions of other individuals' initiative, then impact can truly be world changing.

Where to begin

If the two areas of focus is a bit much, as I'm sure it for some people, then may I suggest that you look at the story that you'd like to tell about your community. Write a short story of what your community would be like if all the major issues began to be resolved. Just try a sentence at a time, then a paragraph. This is how I began to learn to write years ago. Words, phrases and fragments of sentences on scratch paper.

If you write something, send it to me. Let me celebrate with you a statement of hope that could become a reality if folks like you cared enough to take initiative.

This is what leadership is today. It is the best part of us giving ourselves to people and places we care about.

Networks in Transition

Transition Point - without Title

Networks are the new management mantra. The back story to this development is the increasing importance of healthy relationships for the sustainability of organizations. I've seen this coming since the mid-1970s with the realization that relationships are the vehicle through which life works.

The science of networks is growing in sophistication and practicality. It is truly amazing to see what the data on networks can reveal. That said, networks are not the end point. They are a transition point to something else.

The first transition

If you step out, look back, you'll see that for most of the past couple millennia, organizations have been structured as hierarchies. I've posted on this before.

Hierarchy of  Structure

This hierarchies look basically like this image.  There is leadership, with a level of  middle and supervisory management, followed by everyone else. This is an over simplification.  The point though is that the structure was organized for order, efficiency, and bottom-up accountability.

This hierarchy has been the primary form of organizational structure since human beings began to organize themselves. Some form of this hierarchy will always exist. However, it will be different.

Into the context of organizations appears a new phenomenon called a network of relationships. This is a new form of human organization that exists as connections without a designated location for these relationships. These are the kind of relationship that populate social media networks. They are virtual and intermittent, lacking comprehensiveness and continuity.

Prior to the advent of modern communication technology, the highest form of network was a local community of residents.  This ancient form of the network was based on physical proximity. Think of an Amish barn raising where all of one's neighbors come to your farm to construct a building that serves a family's need for sustainability.  Of course, no one talked about their local community as a network, but that is essentially what it was.  The connections formed a tight bond of closeness that made it difficult for outsiders to join. Today, networks are the opposite, loose, open configurations where the social bond is in the moment.

Hierarchy of Connection

Today, this network of relationships looks like this.  It is not primarily based on living near one another, but rather being connected through common interests. The sophistication of these networks is enabled by the data mining that modern computer technology provides. Social media provides the most practical and universal means for these networks of relationships to develop.

These networks are driven by the science of connection and its viral nature. There are great possibilities for impact when a network is mobilized for a cause, when an influential hub (person) sneezes and the whole world catches a new pair of shoes, or when one person posts a video of some random guy dancing, and it is shared globally millions of times. This is the power that this form of network connection holds.  This, however, is a feature of contemporary networks of relationships, and not the potential, ultimate end.

Two shifts

Networks are a basic infrastructure of the future of organizations. Where hierarchies are based upon position and role within an organization, networks are based upon who you know, and the ability to turn those connections into action.

To understand networks is to be aware of a couple shifts that have taken place over the past century.

The first shift is the elevation of the individual to a place of centrality in their own network of relationships. In this respect, being member of a community or an institution means less today than it did a generation ago. This individualism is a product of living in a society of choices made available to all who have the means as a consumers.  Today's consumer mindset sees organizations and networks existing to meet my purposes and desires. It is social in a limited, not a comprehensive sense.

The result is that much of the emphasis on networks is focused on developing them for one's own purposes as a universal platform for marketing the individual to a world of individuals.

A second shift is the emergence of the network as a place of virtual habitation. We live online, and our relationships are online, and our identity is formed online, and our life is lived online. What the old hierarchies and old local communities offered was a physical place to live one's life and to develop the habits and practices that provided a basis for a sustainable society. There is a reason why cultures survived centuries, even millennia, without the modern technologies that we have today.  These cultures of the past were communities rooted in a specific place, organized around specific traditions that helped people know how to live a life of contribution and meaning within that specific context. Many of the habits and practices that provided sustainability during the pre-modern era have eroded away as we taken up residence online. Today, everything can be done online, not requiring anything more than a wifi connection to be connected to a network of social profiles of people whom we only know as they choose to present themselves online. 

The significance of this shift is seen in the difficulty that people who are not highly engaged in an online network of relationships find in dealing with people who are not used to face-to-face human contact. Frankly, they do not understand the patterns of interaction and communication that take place through social media platforms. As a result, they are missing the necessary capacity to be persons of influence who can make a difference on a global scale.

Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
These two shifts inadequately address the fundamental desires that people have.  Those desires are for our lives to be Personally Meaningful, for Happy, Healthy Relationships, Socially Fulfilling and to Make a Difference that Matters. All of this can happen through our online network of relationships. To do so requires that they become more than simply a place where I daily project my personality into noise of the online social world.

The Next Transition

These changes are why I see our current fixation on networks of relationships as a transition point between the old hierarchical structures and what comes next. What comes next is a recognition that we are more than the constructed persona of our diverse social media profiles. We are real people who have lives apart from the online world.

The next iteration of the network is for them to become more communal. By this I mean that the relationships transcend the virtual to be transformational. For this to happen, there must be a personal stake in the relationship that moves beyond what I get from it. It goes to what I give to make it work.  In this respect, the next transition is a return to the old communities of proximity where being a neighbor meant that we were actively engaged in the care and sustainability of our community of common welfare.

There is a sharedness of these communities of relationships as seen here. When I speak of "leading by vacuum," it is a way of talking about how we each bring our own gifts and talents to the network of relationships, and in so doing, the network transcends the virtual to become something greater.

In this scenario, the individualism of the network is transformed into a community of relationships who share a common purpose or goal for their relationships.

For example, the Flow Ventura Global Triiibes Retreat  brought together people from around the globe, most who had never physically been together before. We knew each other online. The event would never had occurred had the relationships been simply virtual and individual. Instead, over a period of time, our relationships came to increasingly matter more and more. We were more than virtual connections. We were friends whose daily interaction online mattered in how we live in the dispersed places where we reside.  In other words, knowing one another online was insufficient for the sustaining of our relationships. We needed to be together in the same place, face-to-face, and side by side.

The retreat as a result was transformational for many of the participants.  Many common points of interest explored in the conversations and presentations elevated the shared values that transformed our once virtual network of relationships into a community of friends whose relationships matter to one another.

Facilitating The Transition from Network to Community

For a network to transition into a genuine community requires leadership. It needs people who facilitate and coordinate the interaction that is needed to build a community of relationships. Conversations within these networks need to clarify the shared ideas of purpose and values that are a basis for a shared vision of impact, and a common commitment to share the responsibility for it. Each provides a way for the relationship to transcend superficial connection to one that is meaningful, fulfilling and makes a difference that matters.

This is the future that I see emerging. I see it as the logical evolution of networks of relationships to become more communal than social. That does not mean it will happen in every place.  It does mean that it is possible. That it is a choice fueled by our desires for a certain kind of life that transcends the shallow superficiality of much of what we experience each day.

PDF of this guide now available

The Benefits of Adaptive Learning


The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.

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-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entrepreneurship

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

The Ascendency of the Local

2010-12-09 19.24.40

Last week I sent birthday greetings to a woman in Israel, whom I've not meet face to face, yet with whom I have talked on Skype and emailed over the past year.

A year and a half ago, I initiated and then coordinated an online conversation about morale in the workplace that included 36 different people from 12 different countries on four continents. The result was the ebook - Managing moral in a time of change.  The book was edited by a woman in England.

Weekly, I engage in online conversations with people from around the world whom I have also never seen face-to-face, yet with whom I feel a close friendship as colleagues.

These few illustrations, along with many more, could lead someone to the conclusion that we live in a global community. In one sense that would be correct in the sense that it is possible to have relationships with people across the globe. In another, often missed or ignored sense, these globally connected relationships are not global. Instead, I see these relationship as not unlike those where there is a close physical proximity.

The Rise of the Local?

What we are experiencing is the rise of the local, that can be characterized in both a geographic and a relational sense.

Roberto Verganti, Professor of Management of Innovation at Politecnico di Milano, in his fascinating book, Design Driven Innovation, makes the following observation.

The design discourse is both local and global. On the one hand, the local density of the network is essential, because interactions based on tacit knowledge benefit from geographic proximity. On the other hand, interactions among interpreters worldwide allow them to enlarge the quanity and variety of their insights and provide a global perspective on the evolution of meanings.

Verganti is speaking about how product design processes are conducted.The key word in the paragraph is "interactions."  It is what distinguishes the local from the global.

All "interactions" are potentially local, especially when there is a clear purpose. Local, therefore, is more than "close proximity" and is about about "shared values and outcomes."

If we define local in this way, then what does global mean?

It appears to me that global is often a code word for "centralized" or "one size fits all."

Years ago, one of the American car companies marketed what they called their "world car." It was a phrase euphemistically used to describe a car that they could market everywhere, in any country, on any continent. In reality it was a car that they saw as "one size fits all."

This was a "global" approach that was not based on interaction or the recognition of local distinctives, but rather a singular strategy that was intended to work everywhere.

A "global" approach is a mindset that can even function in what we'd consider a "local" context.

For example, a family has three children. A "global" approach to their development is to see that all of them learning Spanish and attending either their father's or their mother's college or university, and returning home to work in the same career's as their parents. 

A global approach, therefore, is more formulaic, describing a general or generic path that is intended to fit most every circumstance. In this sense, it is a lowest common denominator approach to interaction. One message for everyone regardless of who they are. 

A "local" approach would see each child as a unique human being with specific needs and potential, and making their own choices about their education and their career in consult with their parents. As a result, one child may need to learn Swahili in route to becoming a teacher or aid worker in Kenya. Another may earn a two year degree in  mechanics in order to work in a motorcycle shop. And the third child learns Mandarin on her way to earning a Ph.D. in economics in for a career as business consultant with a international investment banking firm.

There is a tension between "local interaction" and a "global one-size-fits-all" approach. It is partly an issue of personal responsibility and individual freedom, and partly an issue of how does a global society make decisions that impact billions of people?

Network-Hierarchy ImageA local approach is based upon individuals making decisions that take into consideration their family members and neighbors, even if their neighbors are people on another continent. It is based on relationships, shared values, responsibility and outcomes.

A global approach assumes that this is not feasible, and that a central decision making body should make these decisions. In effect, it distrusts interaction and collaborative solution making. This has been the course of most societies for the past two centuries regardless of whether they are politically democratic, socialist or developing.  

The ascendency of the local challenges an elitist global approach to decision making.

This distinction between local and global leadership is most significantly being played out in local communities. 

Over the past year or so, I've been following developments in a city far from where I live, as its city administration sought to apply a "globalized" solution to the problem of city revenue. The solution would have had an adverse impact upon local business, and led to more "centralized" control by city government over businesses and private property.  Based on my observations as an interested outsider, these "global" solutions were really a way for a small group of citizens and city administrators to gain power and control over the economic assets of the community.

A contingent of local citizens organized and through their "localized interactions" working within the system of local government, exerted influence upon the city to change some of these decisions that were having an adverse impact upon local businesses.

As an outside observer in conversation with some of the citizens involved, I saw the power that "local interactions" have in a "globalized context."  They have a capacity to transcend the artificial barriers that traditional social and organizational structures provide. Those boundries represent the effect of past decisions upon a community. As new pockets of local influence grow and gain importance, the community's ablity to adapt to the changing social and economic realities grow as well. 

Legacy structures like these tend to be hierarchical and ordered for control of the system, rather than for interaction and initiative by members.  We don't tend to think of global approaches as representative of the old industrial model, but that is precisely what they are. It is an organizational design that assumes that a few persons closely linked together, who hold power on behalf of the larger comunity will make decisions that are beneficial to the whole community.

The Local is the Future because the Future is the Interactive.

The future of organizations and communities is in the interaction that takes place in relationships. This is already happening, and has been for some time. And where there are legacy hierarchical structures, localized interactions are happening. In many cases these interactions transcend the boundaries of the organization as they created collaborative groups whose focus is on the shared values and outcomes that have drawn them together. 

One example of how "local interactions" are not limited to "social or organizational  proximity"  is found in the impact of author and entrepreneur Seth Godin


Several years ago, Seth started the online social network Triiibes  as a vehicle for his book Tribes to find an audience that would be engaged not only with the ideas in the book, but also as way for people learn how to develop and lead their own tribes. This successful social network, with close to 15,000 members, is a platform for a wide range of activities that are bringing people from across the globe together to create value in their local arenas. Tribes cover

The Morale ebook, mentioned above, is the product of this interaction in the Triiibes network. There are, now, ebooks being produced on a regular basis through the "localized interaction of the Triiibes global community".  

In addition, a global gathering of local meetings are regularly taking place that bring people together who have been inspired by Seth Godin's book, Linchpin. As of the time of this writing, over the past nine months, there have been 1,575 Linchpin gatherings, involving 8,269 people in 102 countries. Linchpin book cover

As one of the organizers of these local gatherings, this globally dispersed gathering for local interaction has a thematic continuity of shared values and outcomes that is a guide to the future of localize interaction in organizations and communities.

    Local Interaction on a Global Scale Makes The Difference That Matters

    Local interaction makes a difference because it where collaborative work takes place. The Local is based on individual initiative rather than quiescent compliance. It is a more agile, adaptive, responsible approach because it is a way those who are most impacted by circumstances are able to address issues under which they have control.

    The challenge for global structures is to establish the credibility that provides a basis for their interaction with locally interactive collaboratives. Both need one another. One as its reach goes beyond the local into a collaborative environment with other local groups, and the other as it shifts from a compliance / control orientation to a facilitator, sustainer role.

    Wherever you are in relationship with people, you are a local group whose potential is far greater than the sum total of members in your group. The question for local groups is whether they can see beyond their own self interest to embrace a set of values and outcomes on a global scale.

    Imagine Influence

    The Influence Project that FastCompany is conducting is a marker about the meaning of influence in our time. From the project description:

    Influence is not only about having the most friends or followers. Real influence is about being able to affect the behavior of those you interact with, to get others in your social network to act on a suggestion or recommendation. When you post a link or recommend a site, how many people actually bother to check it out? And what's the likelihood of those people then forwarding it on? How far does your influence spread?

    I get this, and signed up, along with over 11,000 other people who are curious to see their influence. As I write this, my rank is 425 out of 11,067, in the 96 percentile. Are you impressed? Don't be. That should not be the point.

    Let's look at this in a broader context of the world we live today.

    The conception of influence that the magazine and the project designers have is related to clicks of a computer mouse. If I suggest that you vote for someone in a contest, like Katie Stagliano, an 11 year old who gardens to feed the poor, and you do, that is a demonstration of influence as FastCompany understands it.  I do see value in this as a way to communicate ideas, make connections with people, and make a difference that matters.

    My issue is what the nature of the project itself. If I was to command the attention of 11,000 people, would I not want my influence over them to be more than to see what their influence rank is. The problem that I see is that FastCompany missed an opportunity to do more than some attention-grabbing marketing gimmick. For at the level of influence this project espouses to have, that is all it is.

    Imagine instead, influence being not about mouse clicks to websites, but contributions to charities.

    Imagine the benefit to the world if instead of your rank being based on clicks to your influence url but your url goes to a site that allows for donations. And the limit on each donation is $10.

    Imagine, 11,000 people each donating $10 to a single charity for $110,000 going to that charity in a week's time. Now imagine, each person donating $10 ten times, and a over million dollars contributed in a weeks time. That to me is what influence is about.

    FastCompany is trapped in an old model of success. That model measures influence by numbers. Number of people who joined. Number of clicks out to six degrees of separation. Numbers of new subscribers, presumably.

    Go to the Influence Rank view and see who is on page one. Who are these people? Are they people of influence? In what way do they influence people? Are these people sneezers or are they just good connectors?

    What I really want to know is what is the purpose of their networking.

    Imagine The Influence Project being about change, about the difference a person can make through their network. This is influence that personal impact can make.

    Here's my suggestion.

    Join the project.

    Play the game.

    Treat this as a learning experience.

    Gain a better understanding of how you network, and the extent you can engage your network in making a difference.

    But don't leave it at that.

    Activate your network to do something that makes a difference.

    Tell your story of influence as impact.

    Do so, and you will have taken a step beyond the gimmick to be a person of genuine, authentic influence, and maybe even show up on the cover of FastCompany in November.

    After 15 years, this I've learned.

    The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

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

    Here's some of what I've learned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You are replaceable ... You do realize that, don't you?


    Michael Klein* writes,

    “[B]y the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” – Bill Gates

    Realizing that you are replaceable is hard for individuals and organizations to come to terms with. Yet, the reality is that 99.9% of the time we are completely interchangeable. Accepting this is the first step to increasing your odds of success.

    When businesses (industries) fail it’s because they ignored the fact they were replaceable.

    This is largely true because we have allowed the human dimension in society to become commoditized. You see as older workers are exchanged for younger less costly ones.

    In a conversation last week with Ty Hallock and Duncan Work, I referred to Ron Burt's theory of structural holes. Burt's idea is that the person who knows two people who do not know each other has a competitive advantage over the other two.  Duncan pointed out that is probably less so today as networks have grown through the mediums of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

    I believe Duncan is correct, and the implication is as I wrote about here, that crowdsourcing is a function of the commoditization of professional services. In other words, we are all replaceable by someone who can provide the same or better services at a lower price.

    How, then, do we individually develop a competitive advantage that makes us irreplaceable? 

    That is one of the questions of the day. 

    My own sense is that it comes from two sources.

    In the future development of networks.

    There is a tug-of-war taking place between the value and importance of quantity versus quality in networks. You may have ten thousand Twitter followers. Can you get 10% of them to buy a book? Can you get a hundred to donate to a charity? Can you get them to do anything? That is the difference between quantity and quality.

    If you can convert followers to actors, then you have a competitive advantage over the person who has ten times the numbers, but not the influence to make a difference.

    The character of the networks.

    Proximity, which is the same thing as numbers, doesn't mean you have a competitive advantage. The character of a network goes beyond the numbers to the values that unite a network to action.  Outside of network conversation, we are talking about collaboration.

    A network that collaborates is a network whose character is more like a community than a phone system. 

    I'm convinced that it is the second of these sources of competitive advantage that will dictate whether you are a commodity or a valued service.

    The key to this second source is the person or persons who intentionally take initiative to take the network beyond its map to being a collaborative group of people engaged in work together.

    The ebook, Managing Morale in times of change, was a project that came about because the network of relations was more than just a place to post opinion. It was a place of engagement where each individual's contribution mattered to the discussion.

    To be a human resource commodity means that you are no different than the next person. There is no competitive advantage. The character of the individual and the character of their network is the counter force that will dictate value in the future.

    How Networks subvert Commoditization.

    So what are you to do?

    How do you push away from being a commodity, and become a value-added, asset-rich resource to others.

    First ask, "What do I have to offer that matters to people and organizations?" 

    Think in terms of leverage. A lever is a tool or skill that makes another task easier.

    For example, in group meetings, you might be the one who knows how to jump to the flip chart and lead the discussion to more quickly define a problem or reach an agreement. You are a faciliator of group thought.

    The reality is that this ability is something someone else can do as well, possibly even better. So, the second key matters.

    Second ask, "How can I describe what I have to offer as assets that solve other people's problems?"

    In other words, the focus is on meeting another person's needs, not your own.

    Recently, I wrote about  Starting with a Client's Perceived Need. When services are commoditized, it is the person relationship that is the value-added distinguishing mark which matters. I find that the perceived need is often not the real need. But the perceived one is the one that is most pressing and must be resolved in order to get to the deeper ones.

    As a result this means our relationships matter, leading to the third key.

    Third ask, "Who do I know already who may know others who need my help?"

    If you network does not know that you are offering a service, then how can they utilize what you have to offer?

    I find the way to work within a network is not direct sales, but rather seeding the network with information and engagement that shows rather than tells of your value.

    When you are a human commodity, no one sees YOU. They are only looking at cost and output.

    For this reason, I practice a lot of giving away, of sharing my strengths in small, but generous ways.  I am also always seeking to understand the stresses and pressures that are affecting people at any one moment. I'm engaged and listening for the opportunity to offer my help. Some times the offer is for free, sometimes for pay. But that is my approach.

    Whatever you do, your network must trust you and have confidence that what you bring to the relationship matters beyond the mere accomplishment of the task.

    Sure, we are all replaceable. Which means that someone can replace me, as they have, and I replace others as I have. The point is see one's competitive advantage as as a set of assets that one offers to a network of relationships who value you the person, and not merely the service. This is the future that is before us all.

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    The Influence Landscape

    Everyone of us has a network of relationships. The question is what is the impact of that network upon our life and work.

    Here are three questions to guide you through this diagram.

    1. What am I currently using or am involved in, and how do I measure its effectiveness in helping me be a person of influence in my life and work?

    Create a list. You'll know your effectiveness because you'll be able to identify what has changed over the past 12-18 months.

    The list forms the basis for this year's plan for expanding your influence. You want to maintain and develop.

    2. What am I not using and how can I begin to use it to expand my influence?

    Create a second list of the areas that you are not using. Then answer, if I was to begin to do something in this area, how will this make a difference?

    The key to planning is identifying the changes or difference you want to make. If you want to be a person of influence, define what this means.

    3. What is the impact upon other people and groups that you'll have if you were to grow your influence?

    Clarify the impact you want to have, and you'll more easily know how to get there.

    Finally, here are three keys to your planning for 2010.

    Do it in conversation with others.

    Write it down.

    Execute and review your progress regularly.