A Dangerous Question

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Sometimes, the best questions are the simplest. This is one of the best development questions I was ever asked:

“ If your job was open, would you hire you?”

If your answer is yes, congratulations! It means that you’re in a place that balances your gifts with someone’s needs. You are proud to say what you do. There are more good days than bad days. You can succeed but are motivated to grow; you know that things will change and you’ll change with them. People are better because you are there, and they bring out the best in you.

What if your answer is no? The first step is to figure out why. Then you have choices. Can what’s broken be fixed? Skills can be learned, help can be found, networks can be developed even attitudes can change. Maybe you can modify your role to better suit and develop you. All are possible with effort. You are worth it. Make the effort.

Some things can’t be fixed. You can’t change your basic personality, although you can change your behavior to make things better. You can’t change a role you simply hate. You can’t change other people. While you can guide and inspire, change is up to them. Finally, you can’t make a future where you see none.

If you truly can’t fix what’s broken, you still have choices. Figure out what you do want and how to get there. Maybe you can’t get there today, but you can make progress. Learn. Develop new interests. Practice. Seek feedback. Get a mentor. Create new relationships or revive old ones. Prepare yourself for a job where you say “YES! Hire Me!”, even if you hire yourself.

If your job was open, would you hire you? is a dangerous question. Once your answer is “no”, you have the responsibility to do something about it.

Are you up to the question?

Good Leadership Habits Start Early

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Joe Kavcar was my boss in my first “big girl” job- a sales assignment for a consumer goods company. I was in my twenties and didn’t know much; Joe was in his fifties and knew a lot. It was a pretty good deal for me.

Like all new reps in our division, I started in “Joe School.” Joe connected with his group of newbies. He seemed to understand that people wanted to do well, but just didn’t know how. So he shared his vast knowledge and experience, patiently observed presentations, offered support, and reviewed results with loads of feedback. Still, Joe wasn’t a softie. More than once, I recall him peering over glasses perched at the end of his nose to proclaim, “This isn’t good, Sue.” Joe was demanding, but never mean or petty. He didn’t motivate by either the carrot or the stick, but by his interest in my success. I left Joe School confident, inspired and prepared.

Leaders Like Joe

Joe wasn’t much for labels, so he probably didn’t know he was a generative leader. A concept first described by Eric Erickson in 1950, generativity is behavior that invests in and guides members of future generations. This is in contrast to stagnation, or caring only for oneself. Common sense and considerable research shows that generative leaders make a difference to organizational performance. Time after time, personal experience and research data align to tell the same story: generative leadership practices can lead to employees that are happier in their jobs, perform better and are more excited about their work assignments. These attributes produce outcomes most organizations say they want: greater organizational commitment, increased organizational citizenship behaviors, and in at least one study, increased effectiveness in innovation.

One method researchers use to measure generative leadership is through examining perceptions of followers, specifically follower perception of leadership effectiveness, satisfaction with the leader and follower extra effort. Generative leadership, at its core, fosters sustainable results through others. Sustainable results come through willing, not coerced, followers. So, measure the attitudes and effort of followers to find generative leaders.

What Do We Expect?

If followers determine the effectiveness of leaders through generative behavior, what do followers expect in the first place? Interesting research released last year from Germany by Hannes Zacher, Thomas Henning, Kathrin Rosing and Michael Frese tested several hypotheses related to this question and added a twist. Does the age of a leader make a difference? Do we expect older leaders, like Joe, to lead differently than younger ones? Do we expect different relationships with older leaders than younger ones? Their research produced very interesting conclusions:

1. Leader generativity mattered most for older leaders. The presence or absence of generative behavior made a difference in the perception of success for older leaders.
Older leaders who demonstrated generative behaviors were more likely perceived to be successful by followers than older leaders who did not.

2. Leader generativity did not correlate to success for younger leaders. Followers evaluated the success of younger leaders independently of their generative behaviors. In other words, younger leaders could be viewed as successful even if they were invested in their own careers rather than the success of their followers.

Is This True?

Like all good researchers, Zacher, Henning, et al. describe the limitations of their study, conducted in an academic setting with professors and their assigned research assistants. They do not suggest they have discovered universal truths. But, they do cite that their conclusions support the results of at least two other studies. Zacher, Henning, et al. hypothesize that older leaders are expected to care less about advancing their careers and care more about advancing careers of their followers. Younger leaders, on the other hand, are expected to be more invested in advancing their own careers.

Do you find this to be true in your experience? Do we give younger leaders a pass on good leadership practices? If we believe generative behaviors produce desired outcomes for the followers, leaders and the organization – why don’t we expect them from every leader, regardless of their age?

How We Got Here

I suppose one argument is that older leaders who are perceived to be successful have learned the hard way that the only way to sustainable success is through generative behavior. They’ve learned that they can’t do it alone. We may also expect that at some point, leaders get it, so we have less patience with those who don’t. These are the older leaders perceived to be unsuccessful in the study.

If these conclusions are true for your organization, how do you stop the cycle? What if right from the start of leading others, new leaders were expected to shift their values from promoting themselves to developing others? What if these expectations came not only from those more senior to them, but those who followed? One might wonder if some leaders, unsuccessful in later years, could have been be different if they had not gotten a pass earlier in their careers?

Start Early

In closing, I’ll make an appeal from a (cough) “older” leader. If you are a new leader, develop good leadership practices early. Be a generative leader, whether those you lead expect it or not. Your success will ultimately rest with the willingness of others to follow you. You will learn this eventually, but my hope is that you benefit from this insight the start.

As a leader at any age, be someone’s Joe.

References

Zacher, H., Rosing, K. Henning, T., Frese, M. (2011). Establishing the Next Generation at Work: Leader Generativity as a Moderator of Relationships between Leader Age, Leader-member Exchange and Leadership Success. Psychology and Aging, vol. 26, p. 241-252.

Three Tips to Beat Procrastination

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Been putting off charging after your 2012 goals? Try these tips to beat procrastination, all from Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

The Nothing Alternative
Procrastinators have good intentions, but get sidetracked by something else. They may sit to write and drift away checking emails. They may set aside time to do the report, which is used by reading one more article. If this happens to you, try the Nothing Alternative.

The Nothing Alternative states that you don’t have to do the task planned, but you cannot do anything else with that time.  For example, you schedule time to write for an hour. When the time comes, you can sit there and stare at the wall instead of writing, but you can’t do anything else.  Writing will become the attractive alternative to nothing, which is exactly the point.

Play Offense
Play Offense means that you’ve worked out your strategy to defeat temptation before you meet it.

First, be aware of the things that most frequently get in your way. It could be chatty co-workers, disorganized files, a “jones” for Facebook. Then, plan in advance what you’ll do in these situations. For example, when a chatty coworker insists you stop to enjoy the latest You Tube video, your offense is prepared: “yes, but not now.” It could be something like: “Sounds funny! I’ll check it out tonight. “ Or if disorganization is your problem, your offense can be “When I download a file, it gets to a folder immediately.”

Playing offense doesn’t mean you’ll avoid distractions, just that you’ll be on the right side of them.

Keep Score
Give yourself the same motivation as every elite athlete in the world: Keep Score. Write down every day what progress you’ve made towards your goal. I know, this sounds like drudgery. But reframe it to accountability: accountability to yourself. Once you get the string of days of progress staring back at you, you will be loath to break them. Your first grade teacher was right about the little gold stars. They work!

Try these procrastination busters when distraction gets between you and great moments. You can do it!

References

Baumeister, R.F. and Tierney, J. (2011) Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin Books.

Are You Ready for the Resource Revolution?

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Family shopping In Pondicherry, India

My blog took a hiatus recently when I had the good fortune to visit South India. Through visits to large cities, tiny villages and small towns, the change sweeping India was evident. In a crude comparison using observations from a previous trip five years ago, there appeared to be more collective energy, prosperity and hope. If changes in India are reflected in all developing markets, the magnitude of change facing us is enormous.

The Resource Revolution
A recent report from McKinsey and Company outlines the enormous challenges and remarkable opportunities we face. Three billion people will move into the middle class over the next 25 years, creating a global consuming class of 5 billion people. They note people in China and India alone are doubling their per capita income at 10 times the pace of England during the Industrial Revolution at 200 times the scale. McKinsey claims that the world has never experienced this rate of growth and resulting demand on resources. It will force us to reconsider how resources are produced, distributed, managed and consumed. Demand for energy, food, water and public services will reach new highs. Regardless of where you live, you won’t be able to sit this one out. See the McKinsey Quarterly report Mobilizing for a Resource Revolution.

The enormous implications of rising aspirations of billions of new consumers require our best collective thinking and efforts. We could have the perfect marriage between the need to change and the breakthrough capabilities to make it happen. New pressures will force us to re-imagine and reinvent how we produce and consume with new technology is merging to help us to it.  Noted venture capitalist Vinod Khosla suggests that time and our capability is ripe for disruptive technologies that change our assumptions. We don’t need to face new challenges armed only with old solutions.

So What?
Our role as leaders and organizational members is to prepare for these changes so we can inspire ideas and create momentum for a re imagined future. The implications are so vast that finding a place to start in itself is a challenge. As this is a blog about choices people and organizations make to be great, consider the questions below as a place to start or continue thinking about your readiness for change.

Do we cultivate agility?
Agility requires that we understand our differentiating capabilities, the ones that set us apart in the market, and how to adapt them to new products and services as change requires. For example, IBM has a deep understanding of data and its uses. It’s offered this differentiating capability through different vehicles, as change required, from modular computers to laptops to services.

Organizations cultivate agility through combining deep understanding of their differentiating capabilities with awareness of megatrends producing different needs. They don’t change what they do well, but adapt to deliver it with new vehicles.

Check out Michael Cusamano’s book Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World for more insight into cultivating agility.

Do our talent management practices reflect our future?
The fundamental requirement for talent management practices is that they align to support organizational needs. It’s easy to speculate that your organization wants to be more innovative, flexible, increase sustainability and be relevant in new markets. It expects consumers and customers to be increasingly diverse. Do your talent management practices recruit, develop, evaluate and deploy people to deliver on these expectations? Do they support needs relevant in the last decade but not the next? The MIT Sloan Review article Six Global Practices for Effective Talent Management offers a roadmap and examples to make talent management an ally of your organizational strategy.

Can ideas and information flow quickly up, down and across the organization?
The key word in the question is “quickly.”  If ideas and information have to pass through layers, gatekeepers and screeners, then the answer is “no.” Fix that.  Do you personally build and use a network to acquire and spread ideas? Start now.

According to McKinsey, conservation and production opportunities in four areas represent 75% of the resource management solution: energy, land, water and steel. Talents in organizations around the world are working on solutions in these areas, perhaps in your organization. A robust knowledge management practice can accelerate solutions through networks bound by shared interests and connecting experts to problems. According to a recent IBM survey, high performing organizations are 57% more likely to provide global teams with social networks and collaboration tools than other companies. Is you organization one of them? To learn more, check out the MIT Sloan Review article Building a Well- Networked Organization.

Are we excellent at learning?
Learning agility is the ability to engage in novel experiences that expand comfort zones and build new capabilities.  As organizations and people, growth comes through testing and reflection. It’s not simply skills acquisition, but expanding capacity for ambiguity, risk tolerance and working with others who see things differently. The ability to learn may be our most critical personal competency in the coming decade. The more we practice, the better we get. We can all learn to learn. When we do this collectively, organizations learn.  Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: Art and Science of the Learning Organization is a classic work in this field. Peter Jarvis’ work Human Learning is a bit “wonkier” but it still delivered the “wow” factor for me.

Are we eager enough?
One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to an elementary school and secondary school in a tiny, remote village in Tamil Nadu with a few hundred people. Many, but not all, were poor. There were no satellite dishes nor WiFi access; No laptops, TVs or video games in sight.

We concluded our visit by meeting with a class of 10th graders. Their studies for this year consisted of English, Chemistry, Physics and Calculus (Algebra, Biology and Geometry were required previously.) The school day is 9 to 4:30 five days a week with six to seven hours of homework every night.  The 10th graders must pass a proficiency test at the end of their ten-month school year. They proudly showed off their new Physics lab and listened intently as the headmasters encouraged them to compete against themselves every day.

I have not experienced anything approaching the eagerness, energy and high expectations of these students in some time. They expect a better future for themselves and their community supported by a willingness to work exceptionally hard to get it.  What about your organization? What about you? Are you excited about the future or worried? Energized or complacent? Eager or tired?  The competition for the future includes those 10th graders in Tamil Nadu and their peers in hundreds of cities, towns and villages in the developing world. They are optimistically charging toward the future. Are you?

What Else?
These are the basic questions I think about in preparing for our future, but there are many more. What would you add?

Finally…
The unprecedented demands on resources and rising expectations of a exploding consumer class will change our world. The unanswered question is whether it will be for the better or worse. The stakes are very high, but so is my optimism. You might be optimistic, too, if you could see the bright eyes and bubbling enthusiasm of children who know they have opportunities their parents could not dream of.  With new thinking and improved practices, we have the opportunity to recreate how we live and work in a way that improves all of our lives, including billions of people previously trapped in poverty. Are you ready?

References

Dobbs, R., Oppenheim, J. & Thompson, F.  (2012). Mobilizing for a Resource Revolution. McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey & Company, January 2012

Cusamano, M. (2010). Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World. Oxford University Press.

Stahl, G., Bjorkman, I., et al.  (2011). Six Global Practices for Effective Talent Management. MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 53, issue 2.

Schweer, M. Assimakopoulos, D, et al. (2011). Building a Well-Networked Organization.  MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 53, issue 2.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art ad Science of a Learning Organization.
New York: Random House.

Jarvis, P. (2006). Human Learning. Routledge: New York.