Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mode one as followers and leaders - relationships

As followership and leadership rely on relationships in this blog I will look at mode one relationships from both a leadership and a followers perspective.

Mode One Leaders
The key here is that mode one people do not like uncertainty or risk and that their reaction is to block it out in some way.

Mode 1 leader - Mode 1 follower
So if a mode one leader has a mode one follower or followers, in terms of relationships then the union is usually mutually happy - for a while. Both sides of this pairing are risk averse and will happily collude to make up their own versions of reality that exclude uncertainty (lots of structures and systems just to make sure) and reduce risk. If you need stability then a mode one leader will give you it - in bucket loads.
Problems, usually in the form of stress and blaming usually occur in this relationship when things start to go wrong (as they often will). Problems usually arise out of the fact that together mode one leaders and followers are the least likely to spot external changes and the most likely to keep doing the same thing regardless. In other words a mode one leader or manager with mode one followers are the most likely combination to fool themselves about what is going on. This is exacerbated by the fact that mode one leaders are very likely to recruit mode one people - diversity is seen as a risk.
On the other hand mode one leaders with mode one followers are most likely to have stable relationships with each other with little if any friction or conflict. In stable times, as long as nothing goes wrong and risk is low, then this is a happy and productive pairing.


However if a mode one leader has followers from other modes things will become problematic, with the paradoxical pairing of a mode one leader with a mode four 'follower'. I will look at these pairing in future postings as and when we get to the exploration of that mode.

Mode one followers

Mode one followers are largely passive and they want explicit direction which works well with mode one leaders who want to reduce risk and therefore give very detailed instructions. Problems arise when a situation moves away from the formulaic and require creativity and critical thinking. Their form of creativity is step-by-step slow and incremental change. Their form of logic and therefore critical thinking is control and risk reduction. They will work nicely in structured well defined situations. If you change this and ask for fundamental change quickly, denial will be the most likely initial response. Force it and stress and illness is likely to occur. This is a similar response if you ask a mode one follower to do anything that is ambiguous and not well defined.
They appreciate the structure of mode one leaders and suffer under mode two and three leaders. They can freak out under a immature mode four leader but work well under a mature mode four leader. I will go into these in greater details shortly as we get to each mode description.

In the next blog I will have a look at mode two people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mode one people - attributes

The first group of people I will look at as part of this series on followership and leadership are what is known as mode one or technical people.
The term technical leadership or followership comes from the thinking and subsequent approaches to problem solving that underpin and define this system.
Mode one individuals largely see the world as a series of technical issues that all have an answer. If you don't know the answer to a problem then someone else will. This is a world of experts and consultants, you just need to find the right expert to solve any problem. The view here is that everything has a well defined answer, you just need to find it. This approach is usually illustrated by 'flowchart decision making' with no shades of grey.
Mode one individuals (followers and leaders) tend not to entertain ambiguity and uncertainty easily if at all. The most frequent mode one reactions to ambiguity and uncertainty include:
  • outright denial of the situation,
  • create their own (usually imaginary) certainty / reality,
  • displacement behaviour aka do something else (normally something comforting).
Mode one individuals (both followers and leaders) do not tolerate uncertainty and risk very well and operate to reduce these as much as possible, usually by resorting to methods of control.

Mode one leaders are autocrats. Mode one followers are largely passive and dependent people who want to be told what to do and they tend not vary from the script. Mode one leaders and followers go together well. However if a mode one follower is under a mode two, three or four leader, the leaders would do well to be very explicit about what is required of them. They will see people from other modes as increasingly unstructured and dangerous or a least unsafe. These are not great people in times of change as they will fight to get back to the old certainty or fool themselves that things have not or are not changing.

Mode one leaders in charge of organisations in times of change (like the current situation) are the number one candidates for loosing their business.

Mode one followers are the most difficult (but not impossible) to get to embrace change. Both mode one leaders and followers can embrace change if handled correctly.

A nice summary of mode one people:

Good at
  • Following ‘characterised’ procedures
  • Making incremental changes
  • Postponing reward
  • Staying safe
  • Standardising procedures
  • Leading from the front
  • Detail
Struggles with
  • Risk & Ambiguity
  • Innovation
  • Diversity
  • Non standard thinking
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence / resilience (they can appear very resilient but this is only due to denial and displacement)
  • Co-operation and collaboration
  • Strategic concepts (big picture)
Here is a video example of mode one behaviour when faced with something different from a previous blog.

Here are the distributions of modes in the leadership population.


Next I will look at mode two leaders and followers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A note about systems of logic or Modes


I have been asked for a little more info about the concept of a mode.

Whilst
 conducting 
research 
for 
the 
book 
‘The 
Ambiguity 
Advantage’ 
I 
spent
 four
 years 
examining 
people’s 
reactions 
to 
ambiguous
 and 
uncertain 
situations. 
One
 recurring 
factor 
with
 people’s 
ability 
to 
cope
 with
 change
 is
 their 
ability 
to 
be
 able 
to 
cope 
with 
the
 ambiguity
 and 
uncertainty 
inherent
 in 
change. 


From this work it became apparent that the system of logic or perspective being used by any individual bounds and gives direction to their response. This includes how people respond in terms of their:
  • Cognitions
  • Emotions
  • Attitudes
  • Behaviour
  • Resilience
  • Perceptions
which are all guided and given direction by the system of thinking being used. Part of the thesis here is that the mode being used is created as a response to ambiguity, perceptions of risk or threat. I know this sounds negative, however threat (fear) is the primal driver no matter how much we like it or not.
So a mode is a whole system of logic, thinking, perception, emotion etc. It is impossible to separate these out especially in terms of which is causal and which is an effect, which is why I describe them as a system involving all these elements rather than a style.

Next, I will look at the system of Mode one or technical (dualist) individuals. It's nice to be back!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm back with some modes


Firstly sorry about the pause in the blog. I have been setting up a new venture which has taken up more time than I expected, and we have been a little busy helping people deal with risk, ambiguity and emotional resilience. I have a sneeking feeling that I am in a minority in enjoying the current times and finding them very exciting. Things are starting to settle down now so normal service will be resumed. I am going to start off where I left off - talking about followership and leadership using the modes of leadership from my own research around how people deal with ambiguity.

Before I commence just a quick word about modes v styles.
A mode is a system of logic, or of constructing our thinking and therefore a system of perceiving the world around us. It affects everything we do, think and feel. They are not styles or preferences in the strict sense that they do not describe behaviours as such however discernible behaviours are apparent as a result of the mode an individual is in.

Modes are usually semi-perminant in that people will operate from a mode and tend not to move between them unless a) they have learnt about the other systems and are onciously doing so, or b) are in transition between two modes in response to some change or other.

In the next few articles I will explore each of the four modes and how people in them see the world. I will then have a look at the interactions between the modes in terms of leadership and followership, and a few other things. You can get a good overview in the book The Ambiguity Advantage.
These are quite likely to be interspersed with comment on current topics as well as there is a lot to think about at the moment.

In the next blog we will look at mode one or technical leadership.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ira Chaleff's follower typology - his response

I wouldn't normally do this, however Ira has responded to the last blog about his work. His response is very useful and adds to the short description I gave of his work so I will quote it at length here as it deserves a more prominent place than in the comments bucket.

Hi. This is Ira Chaleff responding to your description of my work on Followership.

First, thank you for a fair description and for alerting readers to the existence of our Followership Exchange WIKI that is becoming a posting ground for research and current activities on the topic of followership.

I think it would be useful for your readers to know that the two dimensions that create my "followership styles" typology are the degree of support given to the leader and the willingness to question or challenge (admittedly a bit of a strong word) a leader's actions that are counterproductive.

To answer your question "Are the styles fixed?" the answer is unequivocally "no." In workshops I have participants complete a self assessment questionnaire that places them in one of the four styles, or occasionally on the cusp between two styles. We then examine the growth direction for each style. Generally speaking, for those in the Resource or Individualist style the growth direction is giving the leader more support. For those in the Implementer style it is pushing beyong their comfort zone to vocalize questions or discomfort they are harboring about a leader's plans or actions. For those in the Partner quadrant, growth may be in either direction, continually working to serve the organization and leader better while being more willing to be an important source of candor for the leader. In my model, Follower is a role, not a personality type, and people can develop in a role.

My own view on these typologies is that their primary value is to begin giving people some language to think about the follower role, how they do it, and how they might do it differently. They typically haven't thought much about it, as there was an absence of language with which to do so.

To some degree you can view my typology as dynamically linked to Hersey/Blanchard's Situational Leadership typology. As the follower's "task maturity" increases there ideally would be a movement from Resource to Implementer to Partner. However, several factors can keep this from happening including internalized rule sets regarding authority relationships, organization culture, socio-economic stressors, etc. The aim of "Courageous Followership" is to lower the self-imposed barriers to acting as a fully responsible Partner for leaders, whether or not the leader invites this. Of course, doing this requires both courage and skill. The Courageous Follower book is a resource for an individual to develop in both dimensions. By contrast, The Art of Followership is a compendium of academic research into followership, and practitioner experiences with implementing followership development programs, in a variety of organizations.

The most fundamental point of Courageous Followership is that those who are not in the Leader role, can and should help the leader use his or her power well to achieve the organization's mission, and keep the leader from squandering or abusing power through courageous and skilfull support, feedback and, when necessary, moral stands.

Thank you again for this very valuable series which we will point Followership Exchange WIKI visitors to as well.

Thanks for the response. The link to Followership Exchange is here.

The interesting thing for me is the notion that even in the partner quadrant growth can be in either direction. Interesting because the emphasis appears to be on what is good for the organisation, or to put it another way, on the primacy of the goals of the organisation. This is where conflict for these people can arise.
Sometimes good partners who are intelligent (critical thinkers), courageous and challenging will also be using these skills on the ethics and morals (different things) of the aims of the organisation. As this is often profit before everything else (they can see through 'ethical' dressing up to make their goods or services more attractive / profitable), this then places a partner in a dilemma and thence into an ambiguous place where they have strong loyalty to the individual leaders but a weakening connection with the aims of the organisation. How they will deal with such a dilemma will depend on their 'mode' of thinking, which is what the modes of leadership are...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ira Chaleff's follower typology


The next followership model, another typology, comes from Ira Chaleff who I believe is part of the Followership Exchange a rather useful wiki devoted to followership. Chaleff published 'The Couagous Follower; Standing up and for our leaders.' initially in 1995 and earlier this year (2008) published (with Ronald E. Riggio, and Jean Lipman-Blumen) 'The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations'.
Chaleff's original work on followership proposed an interesting typology which emphasises the relationship between leaders and followers. Importantly this work recognises the positive role of follower challenge to leadership thinking and as the title of the second book suggests the role followers can play in developing and maturing leaders. Chaleff (et al) blur the lines between follower and leader, seeing rather the dance between the two in influencing and developing each other. The focus here is on the skills of the follower rather than their personality. Skills can be developed and updated and appear less set. There is a downside to skills based arguments however. They often led to indoctrinational types of instrumental training programmes to ensure compliance, which when you look at the typology will work with only a few types of follower. This is not a fault of the model, rather of the interpretation and abstraction of the model by people who misunderstand how such models can be used.
Blind obedience in this model is not seen as a positive attribute, hence the emphasis on bravery (both of the leader and the follower) to tackle the things that need to tackled.

Chaleff's typology:

Implementers. These are the majority of most organisations workers. They do most of the work and busy themselves doing and completing tasks. However they tend not to question the leaders, preferring instead to 'just get on with the job'

Partners. These people want (and often need) to be seen as equal to the leader, especially in terms of their skills and thinking. If this state is allowed to exist in the relationship the partner-follower will respect the leaders position and support the leader strongly. They will also provide the intellectual challenge needed by the leader. With the right leader a strong and positive partnership will develop. If however the leader won't allow these people to partner them (often out of fear that their position/status will be diminished) then they can create powerful enemies.

Individualists. Individualists are independent and will think for themselves. This does not mean that they are selfish, they just don't tend to follow 'group think'. They also like to do as they see fit and do not make great followers in the traditional sense. the wise leader however will use the attributes of the individualist wisely. These people, as long as you keep contact with them, will often provide new ideas and ways of thinking that can be used.

Recourses. These people will do what they have been asked to do and no more. They tend to lack the requisite intellect, imagination and courage needed to do more (I do find the label 'Resources' somewhat depreciating, however I do understand the sentiment behind it!).

As can be seen the focus here is more of a partnership and therefore the relationship between leader and follower. The blurring of the lines between leader and follower in the partner scenario is useful. However as noted before it does depend on the maturity of the leader for it to work. What I do like about this work is the call for courage and therefore emotional maturity / resilience.

As with most typologies (which models of followership tend to be) there is the question as to the nature of the types. Are the types, personality based, fixed and you just need to accept them?
Are they skill based and all you need to do is increase the skills by training, which is an often alluring proposition?
Are they intelligence or even maturity based?
Or a mix maybe? Issues rarely tackled by the models.
Other questions include:
Can people move between the types? Most models appear not to discuss this and accept the position people play. The way around this is often seen as training people to be a particular (more useful) type.
Why are they all 2x2 models? Can the reality (whatever that is) of followership (whatever that is!) really just fall neatly into a world of two dimensions?
Notwithstanding these questions, Chaleff's work requires close scrutiny as the emphasis on relationships and courage is a very profitable (useful and practical) line of thinking which many leaders and employees would do well to think about.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Zaleznik's Follower Typology


Today we travel back to 1965, to one of the earliest contemporary models of followership. Abraham Zaleznik, a professor at Havard, proposed the model in an article titled The Dynamics of Subordinacy in the HBR. The title itself speaks volumes about the thinking of the time. The concept of the subordinate is not something that is entertained easily these days and any leader that referred to their followers / employees as 'subordinates' would likely be seen as 'old hat' at the charitable end of reactions.

This model owes much to a freudian view of the world which itself is also somewhat out of fashion these days and as a result the model is now rarely seen as credible. It tends to be included in curricula as an exercise in academic criticism.

Ahead of it's time however, this is an early 2 x 2 model, which is again indicative of the type thinking being used by Zaleznik at the time. On a personal note I do find my self a little suspicious of models that fit neatly into a 2 x 2 matrix, as many models do. My question is:
Is it likely that (and this is a challenge to all of these 'neat' models) the data really determined the model? Or has the data has been somehow squished into a matrix and made to fit, or were they filtered (either during collection or analysis) through bi-dimensional (x vs y) thinking? If my suspicions have any foundation then the validity of these type of models should be questioned.
As a side note I find Zaleznik's later leadership writings simlarly interesting in that he describes leaders as 'charismatics' and managers as 'non-charismatics'.

However regardless of these issues the model introduces interesting dimensions worthy of consideration. Zaleznik makes a comparison based on the dimensions of activity and control.
The four quadrants of this model are:

  1. Impulsive followers (High Dominance / Actitive) who's defining characteristic is that they try to lead or influence others and their leader whilst being a follower them self. These are active and controlling people who try to dominate others and frequently (as the name suggests) act impulsively tending to move into areas that others wouldn't, sometimes seen as courageous and sometimes ill advised.
  2. Compulsive followers (High Dominance / Passive) are more passive than their impulsive colleagues. The rationale here is that these people would like to dominate their leaders and others but hold back out of guilt (Freudian).
  3. Masochistic followers (Submissive / Active) on the other hand want to submit and be controlled by authority. These people get pleasure from the pain of active submission. They submit (follow) willingly and enthusiastically, blindly following.
  4. Withdrawn followers are passive submissives. They will do the minimum required but will not engage actively in the direction of the the organisation or make any decisions. They tend to care little for their work or workplace.
You can see the Freudian basis of the model which often makes it uncomfortable for contemporary scholars, which is one reason why Zaleznik's work is popularly criticised. However when viewed in terms of behaviour, rather than the level of psychological or motivational explanation, this model is worthy of consideration.

Zaleznik, A. (1965), The Dynamics of Subordinacy, Harvard Business Review, May-Jun 1965

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kellerman's Followership Model


The next model comes from Barbara Kellerman (Havard University's JFK School of Government) who I shared the stage with whilst we were both delivering presentations to the Royal Air Force Leadership Conference last year. Barbara who is famous for her work on bad leadership published an article last year (2007) in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review entitled ‘What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers’.

Again this is a typological model that appears at first sight to be similar to the Kelly model I wrote about last, however there are differences as well as similarities. She has five types of follower, each with increasing levels of engagement.

Level of engagement is the defining factor of this model.

The interesting thing here is that she categorises bad and good followers and more importantly realises (unlike Kelly) that each type of follower can and are likely to change their approach depending on the type of leader they encounter.

Kellerman’s 5 types of follower are:

Isolates – these are people who care little for their leaders and will rarely respond to them regardless of who they are. These people tend to keep a low profile, they want to stay out of the way and just get on with their job without ‘interference from above’.

Bystanders on the other hand are the sorts of people who will offer little support to any leader. They will follow passively and really just observe things from the side lines, rarely getting involved in very much. They differ from isolates in that they tend not to hide from being led or managed nor do they resent it like the isolates can do.

Participants do care about the organisation and do usually want to make an impact. If they agree with the leader they will actively support them, however if they think that the leader is wrong they will actively oppose them, sometimes behind their backs.

Activists have strong beliefs both about the organisation and their leaders. They will actively engage depending on how they see both. If they like what they see they will engage and help create even better conditions. If they don’t they will actively try to get rid of the leader.

Diehards have the highest level of engagement in the organisation and with the leaders and have high passions. If the leader is going (in their opinion) in the right direction they will dedicate all to them and become a disciple. If they think that a leader needs some help to develop they will engage with them, however if they think that the leader is destructive they will set out to destroy the leader.

Kellerman’s model is a little less clear cut than Kelly’s and probably more realistic for that. It does recognise that each type will respond accordingly to how they see their situation in relationship to the organisation and the leader(s).

One problem I do have with this and the Kelly model is it does not appear to suggest that an individual might move from one ‘type’ to another. These are typologies and as such ‘type cast’ the people into types and gives no explanation as to how the followers (and leaders) might develop or change. For example few leaders get it right (or wrong all the time). They change and develop (for better or worse) and so do the followers. I think it is highly plausible that some people will not fully embody these typologies and change, sometimes rapidly in accordance to how they are interpreting things going on around them and the level of legitimacy they feel with the leader and in the organisation. Of course some will embody such types in a more stable way and just be one of these types regardless. (This is an argument against all typologies).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kelly's Typology of Followership


The first model we will look at is perhaps the most widely used in the leadership / followership literature. The focus of the model are followers' behaviour and thinking characteristics. Kelly who published a book called the 'Power of followership' in 1992 proposed that followers tended (conveniently) to fit into four different behaviour types (this is a typology), each type of which are elements of two dimensions of passivity and critical engagement. In other words followers are more or less active or passive in terms of activity - (doing stuff) and more or less active or passive in terms of (critical and creative) thinking.

Looking at each quadrant in order Kelly describes their behaviour thus:

Alienated: These tend to be capable but cynical individuals. At the top left side of the Alientated quadrant, these people do little but snipe (usually with devastating results as they have the critical faculty to make valid negative comment, but actually produce little unless supervised. Alientated followers tend to be loners with influence who can get others to follow them, especially if people are scared or things are ambiguous.

Passive followers tend to be just that, uncritical and unproductive unless they are shown what to do and are actively managed. These people will tend to follow blindly and just do what they are told to do, and they will do it how they have been shown to do it and no more. They tend not to vary their working practices and don't engage with change well unless they are told exactly what to do. If these people aren't given a brief and managed they will do nothing productive, typically surfing the internet or anything else they want to do. These people often appear to have lots of time on their hands. If you give them a job they will do it and stop, waiting for the next instruction.

Conformists on the other hand tend to be 'yes' people. They will be industrious and will work hard doing what they have been told to do. These are the people who actively follow others orders without question - even if following orders right now is not the best thing to do. These are busy people who get on with 'process'.

Effective followers are those people who actively engage in work and actively engage in thinking things through. They are independent, creative and will question the leadership when they think there is a problem. These tend to be very principled people, however they tend not to work too well for more autocratic leaders who don't want feedback and challenge.

The pragmatic survivor in the centre of the matrix is the sort of person who weighs up what it is that the leader wants at any moment and will reflect whatever they think will increase their own chances of survival / enhancement. So that if they have a more autocratic leader they will flip into conformist mode. If the leader genuinely wants challenge they are capable of doing this but will first ensure that the leader really wants it rather than just saying that they want challenge. They are very flexible individuals, however they tend not to work from the basis of principles.

My comments about the model:
This can be a useful model to examine people's motivations and work ethic. More importantly it helps to open the discussion about work effort and thinking effort, autonomy and depth of thought. Autonomy, creative and critical thinking (different from being critical) are key aspects for the development and profitability any organisation. They are also the aspects that are sadly often lacking in organisations, with the culture, rules and policies of the organisation promoting control, obedience and compliance instead of crtical, creative and autonomous thinking and behaviour.

Unfortunately many leaders come to such models interested in how they can use it to manipulate people to do what they want them to do. So having this model is all very well however calling people 'effective' who challenge when the context is one where the leader can't cope with, or doesn't want challenge suggests that this is an idealised model of followership where the leadership is seen as having one set of (perfect) attributes. Indeed autocratic (mode one) leaders would quite likely see 'effective followers' as a threat and troublesome. Conformist followers however would be seen by such leaders as being the most effective from their perspective.

Given those points, the effective follower typology does usefully blur the distinction between leader and follower (see last blog posting).

The other advantage is that having identified your follower this model enables you to contruct differentiated strategies for each. On the other hand the problem with categorising people is that we can tend to then feed into the categoristaion and only see the evidence that puts a particular person in a particular category; in effect typecasting them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Models of followership - a problem with the models


In this the first of a small series of blogs about models of followership I want to give an overview of the current models and examine the whole concept of followership from a number of different perspectives.
However I will start by criticising and arguing against the whole concept of followership! It might sound a little odd to start a series by knocking the whole concept, however I do think that it is important to be honest about my own personal arguments about followership.

The biggest criticism I have about talking about followership is that it can codefy the positions of leadership and followership. By this I mean that the concept is often introduced in organisations as a means to control people, to make them good followers, to ensure that they don't challenge or criticise the leaders - 'now run along and be a good and loyal follower', 'do as I say'. By codifying followership as a loyal activity usually means that leaders are fixed in their role as well. Someone is paid to lead and everyone else follows. Leaders lead and followers follow.

However from my own research it is often the case that (especially in crises situations) that leaders rise up in times of difficulty from the ranks. Frequently someone who is a good leader in one set of situations are not necessarily the best leaders when conditions change.
Really great leaders recognise that different times require different modes of leadership and often requires different people to take the lead. Generative or mode four leaders are great when fast change is required. However if the situation needs some stability more technical or co-operative (mode one and two) leaders tend to excel. It is rare that one person is good in all situations. There are a few multi-modal leaders around however most aren't and tend to excel in one or two types of situation. (Which is why we focus on developing leaders that can work across situations and when necessary know when to step aside). The interesting thing is that mode four leaders who aren't multi-modal themselves will engage other people to take the lead when necessary. Mode one leaders particularly tend not to notice that conditions have changed and that their thinking is out of date. Other leaders (Modes 1-3) will hardly ever hand leadership over to anyone else, for a variety of reasons.

So the criticism I have of many of the models of followership (and indeed many leadership models) is that they tend to assume that leaders should be leaders regardless of the circumstances. My view is that in certain situations most leaders would serve their organisations better by recognising their own situations of strength and moving aside when someone else would be better in a particular set of circumstances. Ego often gets in the way, which is why only mode four leaders tend to do this. I am arguing her for a model of shifting followership, not static like most of the models I will review here assume.

In a resilient organisation leadership will shift, followers will challenge and help to build stronger leadership. Some followers will lead and influence at times. The lines between leadership and followership should be flexible and fluid depending on what is best for the current situation. At other times the delineation will be clearer and better defined.
An example from my own past, as a senior police officer during briefings and debriefing, planning and normal day to day work I needed challenge and at times leading by others. However on certain operations, once the plan was agreed and was in action, operationally people did what they were told. They could criticise later. However even this rule was fluid if someone (a follower) noticed something (going wrong or new information) that wasn't part of the plan. Then they were expected to tell me and help with a solution. We discussed this often. People were part of the leadership / followership thinking. They and I discussed and knew when to flick into following, when to partner and when they (or I) needed to take the lead.
These are issues to be considered as we discuss models of followership - in reality the seperation between leader and follower is not always as well defined as many assume it to be, and in my opinion a resilient organisation would not want such a hard delineation and would prefer a more complex relationship to exist and be recognised.

Followership - what makes people follow?


Firstly sorry about the break in posts. One of my coachees in the city yesterday asked if I'd stopped the blog. No is the answer. The credit crunch has created a very busy time for me, especially in the area of emotional resilience and helping people perform better regardless of fear, nerves and anxieties. So followership....

Why do people follow someone? There is an old African proverb that says:

If you go for a walk in the bush and after a short time you look around and the people of your village are also going for a walk along the same path then you are a leader. If you go for a walk in the bush and after a short time you look around and there is no one behind you then you are just going for a walk.
What is it that makes people want to follow someone?

There are roughly for reasons why people follow another person:
  1. Fear - They fear the consequences of not following. This is usually fear of retribution. Losing their job for example. Fear can be effective usually only in the short term. The moment the followers can either escape or bring the leader down they often will. Fear of the leader or leader's power often breeds weak loyalty and low levels of commitment.
  2. Hope - They hope that this person will solve their problem or problems. This usually occurs where the group are in some form of difficulty, facing risk or ambiguity and can't see any other option. Hope usually springs from fear however in this case they don't fear the leader or the leader's power, rather they fear the problem and hope that the leader will solve the problem they can't.
  3. Faith - This usually occurs because the followers trust the leader. They have faith in the leader and the leader's abilities to deliver. The difference between hope and faith is that in the former they don't want the situation as it is now and don't know how to solve it and just hope the leader does. With faith they have trust in the leader even if they can't quite see where they are going, which is why it is often called blind faith.
  4. Positive emotional and cognitive coherence (Hearts and minds)- When people agree with the leaders representation of the current situation and are captivated by a clear vision of the future (direction) the leader creates and they can know what they need to do, then they tend not only to follow willingly
    but to collude with the leader in creating a new order. This reason for following operates at both a positive cognitive and a positive emotional level. This 'makes sense', is often an exciting logic and it 'feels good', it 'feels' like we can make a difference.
When there is both positive emotional and cognitive (intellectual) coherence everything fits together and creates a strong motivation. In situations like this it is almost immaterial who the leader is. If they have created the coherence in people, then those people will follow their thoughts and more importantly their feelings.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Theoretical theory and practical, pragmatic, practice.


Before we begin our series on followership I just want to talk about theory and practice. This came out of a couple of conversations I have had recently. The first of these was with a company owner who made a remark that he didn't want theory but practical training for his staff. This got me thinking about what he might mean and what his understanding of theory was. Then when I was coaching another business owner who runs a company of about 150 people she stated that she wanted to know what the academic research was 'as it helps to inform what we do here'. Last week I was teaching at Liverpool and this week at Oxford University when the MBA students, most of whom were running businesses started a conversation about how they had changed their view of the use of theory. As we are about to look at followership and some of this will involve theory, opposed to the theoretical it I thought that it would be timely to quickly look at the differences between, theory, theoretical, practical, pragmatic and practice.

In everyday language people tend to mix up the concept of theory and theoretical. Quite simply theoretical means that something has not yet been tested. In other words it is speculative however there may be some anecdotal evidence for the speculation. 
The first thing to realise about a theory on the other hand is that in an academic sense is that nothing can be proven only disproved. So when academics have a lot of evidence to suggest something is so, then the explanation is called a theory even though it is based on good evidence. The reason why something with lots of evidence is called a theory is that there may well be a better explanation or new evidence may come to light. Never in an academic sense, will anything be called a fact because it is always assumed that a better explanation might come forward. 
So a theory can be (and is often) based on very grounded practical evidence that the lay person might call a fact. So a theory can and often is both practical and pragmatic, and can help to inform practice and make the practice better. To think that because something is called a theory it is somehow not grounded or practical is a mistake many people make. All that is happening is that theorists are hedging their bets.
On a word of caution however; not all theories are equal. Some are well founded and based on good (valid and reliable) evidence, and some are based on no more than an idea someone had in the shower for which there is very little evidence. 
We all work off theories all the time. Every time we notice a pattern (the buses are taking a long time, or x is difficult to deal with) we are weighing up evidence to come to a conclusion (a theory). 
So as we start our exploration of followership it is wise to have in mind the idea that not all theories are equal - many in business for example appear to be pragmatic but can be based on little evidence or data, or the data is biased in someway and ultimately the theory turns out to be wrong, often with bad consequences. Good theories or explanations are based on good evidence where as much of the evidence as possible fits the theory. 
A theory can be practical, pragmatic and based on and inform good practice. Also a theory does not have to be theoretical. Simple really when you think about it!
   

Friday, May 02, 2008

Leaders and followership; the reality?


An emerging theme in the academic leadership journals over the last 15 years has been the concept of followership. This concept is starting to make the move from the academic journals and conferences to operational thinking. We are encountering more and more discussion of followership in companies and organisations, including in a couple of cases competency frameworks that make use of the construct. Unfortunately it would appear that a number of organisations have seized on the wording and developed their own (often less considered and more manipulative) versions of the term.
Just looking up the two terms in google 'leadership' returns over 133,000,000 (over one hundred and thirty three million) hits whereas the term followership returns just 124,000 (one hundred and twenty five thousand) hits, or 0.093% of the hits of leadership which is indicative of the level of attention it receives. A few blogs ago I wrote about leadership and management being part of a system where the leaders and managers need to fit and work together as part of that system, with each understanding their role and responsibilities. The concept of followership goes further, unfortunately the phrase 'followership' conjures up some misleading and largely passive connotations.
Over the next few blogs I will unpack some of the academic literature and research and look at how it appertains to the real operational world in business and services. I will also lay out an argument as to why the term followership does not help and what can more productively take it's place and enhance both the organisation/business/service and ameliorate an individuals experience of working in part of a system.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Too busy to lead III - The draw of certainty & ambiguity aversion


This series of blogs about leaders being too busy to lead appear, from the emails I have received, to have struck a cord with quite a lot of people. The emails can roughly be divided into three categories:


  1. About 20% from leaders who recognise their situation and have emailed for help to change the situation, which we are busy dealing with,

  2. About 60% saying 'this is so true' from people complaining that their bosses don't lead and spend most of their time micromanaging, interfering in their work and that they spend more time covering their backs and supplying 'urgent data' to the leader rather than being productive.

  3. The rest (about 20%) were from leaders saying words to the effect that they would love to get on with leading only "My staff are incompetent so I have to manage them".

The emails were interesting on their own, however being a researcher at heart I decided to investigate a bit further so I started to ask some questions. I wanted first of all to know what the email writers (251 in all) thought the issues were that led to this situation.
In order of popularity of answer:

  1. Leaders doing what they are comfortable with / used to doing
  2. Role ambiguity between leadership and management
  3. Lack of trust on behalf of the leader
  4. Fear of the risk of something going wrong (Similar to but different from no 2)
  5. Incompetent staff (guess which group this answer wholly came from)
  6. Lack of confidence on behalf of the leader
  7. Lack of training for the leaders and others
  8. Incompetent leaders
It would appear, if this is correct, that the number one reason for the lack of leadership behaviour from leaders is the safety of doing what the leaders know best - what they used to do. Of the 20% of emails I got from leaders asking for help all of them agreed with the statement that tended to behave in ways that were consistent with their old roles particularly under pressure and revert to management activities rather than maintaining a leadership presence.

Last year (2007) Science published an article about the role ambiguity and certainty plays in our brains based on an experiment Camerer did based on the Ellsberg Paradox which I talked about earlier:

Camerer's experiment revolved around a decision making game known as the Ellsberg paradox. Camerer imaged the brains of people while they placed bets on whether the next card drawn from a deck of twenty cards would be red or black. At first, the players were told how many red cards and black cards were in the deck, so that they could calculate the probability of the next card being a certain color. The next gamble was trickier: subjects were only told the total number of cards in the deck. They had no idea how many red or black cards the deck contained.

The first gamble corresponds to the theoretical ideal of economics: investors face a set of known risks, and are able to make a decision based upon a few simple mathematical calculations. We know what we don't know, and can easily compensate for our uncertainty. As expected, this wager led to the "rational" parts of the brain becoming active, as subjects computed the odds. Unfortunately, this isn't how the real world works. In reality, our gambles are clouded by ignorance and ambiguity; we know something about what might happen, but not very much. (For example, it's now clear just how little we actually knew about Iraq pre-invasion.) When Camerer played this more realistic gambling game, the subjects' brains reacted very differently. With less information to go on, the players exhibited substantially more activity in the amygdala and in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is believed to modulate activity in the amygdala. In other words, we filled in the gaps of our knowledge with fear. This fear creates our bias for certainty, since we always try to minimize our feelings of fear. As a result, we pretend that we have better intelligence about Iraqi WMD than we actually do; we selectively interpret the facts until the uncertainty is removed.

Camerer also tested patients with lesioned orbitofrontal cortices. (These patients are unable to generate and detect emotions.) Sure enough, because these patients couldn't feel fear, their brains treated both decks equally. Their amygdalas weren't excited by ambiguity, and didn't lead them astray. Because of their debilitating brain injury, these patients behaved perfectly rationally. They exhibited no bias for certainty.

Obviously, it's difficult to reduce something as amorphous as "uncertainty" to a few isolated brain regions. But I think Camerer is right to argue that his "data suggests a general neural circuit responding to degrees of uncertainty, contrary to decision theory."

It would appear that our response (aversion) to ambiguity may have a neuronal explanation (not an excuse mind you), which may in turn explain why only about 2% of leaders are mode 4 leaders and are naturally comfortable, or more accurately have a greater ability to mediate their discomfort with uncertainty (emotional resilience).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Too busy to lead II - leading as part of a system


The point of yesterday's blog was that by:
  • separating out the different levels of leadership and management on an operational basis,
  • assigning clear roles and responsibilities for each level
  • ensuring people stick to their areas of responsibility,
  • keeping the lines of communication operationally relevant, and
  • fostering a collective responsibility for success
then things run much more smoothly, effectively and efficiently. The realisation we had was that part of the command problem we had was 'role ambiguity'.

We had so many incidents where commanders felt they had to go to the scene because as police officers that was what they were used to doing, rather than stay away and keep a broader and more strategic view.

Leaders and managers get promoted largely because they were good at their previous jobs. When they were promoted or given a job they are (sometimes) sent on generic training for management or leadership but do not receive training or coaching about their new role and place in the system. When we researched how leaders and managers performed under pressure we found that they tended, when things get difficult or ambiguous, to revert to what they knew or were used to doing before they were promoted. This usually means that when there is a problem or stressful issue, they start to get involved in and micromanage people. We had so many incidents of inappropriate Action Bias where commanders felt they had to go to the scene of an incident because as police officers that was what they were used to doing, rather than staying away and keeping a broader and more strategic view.

The GSB (Gold, Silver, Bronze) system works so well because it sees the different levels of responsibility as interconnected parts of one system. What we learned was that:
  • training and coaching the leaders to become more disciplined and draw back, concentrating on strategic issues (not getting sucked into operational decisions and problems),
  • training the managers to manage at a tactical level and not get sucked into doing and micromanaging, and
  • critically, ensuring that everyone understands
    • the system,
    • how it works,
    • what their roles, responsibilities and expectations are, and crucially
    • how and what (and what not) to communicate to whom
builds a healthy system where people become more professional and start making better decisions. A central part of the system is to train people how to make better decisions, think in different ways (See Modes of Leadership) when solving problems and learn how to deal positively with ambiguity.

Leaders that are rushing around doing things, fire fighting and managing are a symptom of an unhealthy system.

Leadership is one part of a living system. Like any organ in a living body, it has a purpose and a defined place within the system. Confuse the boundaries of these and the system will not function optimally. A healthy system requires that each part is healthy in itself and works in harmony with the others. Every organ is as important as the rest in the chain. Likewise leaders and managers need to work together in harmony with every other function.

Leaders that are rushing around doing things, fire fighting and managing are a symptom of an unhealthy system. They should have their finger on the pulse of the organisation and be looking after strategic issues, not solving operational problems - thats what the managers and their teams are for. Far too many leaders operate at inappropriate levels in organisations and as a result end up creating the very situations are trying to resolve.

This is all very well but does it work in profit making businesses as well as service industries?
We have worked with investment banks, engineering firms, sales companies, retail enterprises and growing transport companies. The minimum ROI we have seen in the first year has been 3350%. Yes you read that right and that does not include factors for happier and more professional staff and better decision making capabilities.

Are you too busy? Think again you may well be what is holding your organisation back.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Too busy to lead?

You won't be too busy to die

It's odd how things happen in themes, it's a bit like waiting for a bus. There isn't one for ages and then three or four all arrive at the same time. For some reason this is happening with our contact with a certain type of 'leader' at the moment. I put the word leader in parenthesis for a good reason; they aren't really leading even though they call themselves leaders.
They are far too busy solving problems, managing people and directing operations to lead.

Let me tell you a (true) story:

In the early 1980's, the British police forces had a big problem. There was increasing civil unrest in the form of strikes, riots and other large scale public order events. In 1981 the police service was largely unprepared for these events in all sorts of ways. I know because I was involved in all of these as a young police officer. We didn't have the equipment, training and worse still the leadership to deal with these kids of large fluid and dangerous situations. Many mistakes were made and many people were injured and in a couple of cases deaths occurred.

The big issue was the leadership.

The first night on the Toxteth (Liverpool) riots in 1981 saw a police force overwhelmed and needing backup from neigbouring forces. Rows of houses, shops and cars were in flames. Crowds of 100's and in some cases 1,000's were thrashing the local force. Only 1 in 20 police officers had the equipment or training for public order events, and even then not on the scale being experienced during that hot summer with it's very long nights. I know I was there.
One night we were in the front line being petrol bombed, bricked and generally attacked with anything the crowd could get hold of. An officer next to me got hit by a petrol bomb and a brick at the same time. I and another officer doused the flames and pulled the officer back whilst protecting him with our shields from the rain of missiles. The plan in these situations is to remove the injured officer to safety, get medical help (which should always be just behind the line) and then return to the line. We pulled the smoldering officer into a doorway whilst screaming for a medic. Whilst we were waiting we made sure the fire was out and started to attend to his most immediate injuries. At that moment we both realised that we weren't alone in the recess of the building. I flicked my torch on, quickly protecting the injured man with my shield fearing the worst. The beam of the torch quickly picked out the shape of a police officer who was standing right at the back of the deeply recessed doorway. Confused at first we then realised that it was the area commander, a superintendent who was meant to be in charge of this overall situation. the other officer who had helped me drag the injured man back with said spontaneously "F*** me, I hadn't realised we had gone that far back!"

Many things were learned in the those days of the 1981, particularly in terms of leadership which as I got promoted became a central theme of my professional work as Director of Studies at the then, National Police Training.

Like most leaders senior police officers get to their position by doing the job. When they come under pressure they often revert to type and want to get involved in the action (Action Bias). As a result I was involved, with many others in restructuring the way we lead and managed situations that were 'out of the ordinary' incidents. Out of this came the Gold Silver and Bronze command system.

The idea here was to put a framework around leader's and manager's roles and responsibilities. Gold are the leaders at a strategic level. They set the mission goals and then ensure that silver has all the resources they need to do their task. They are kept separate from Silver and are not to go on the ground.

Silver achieves the mission by developing a strategy with gold and bronze as advisers and then commanding operations with one bronze expert as a tactical adviser. Silver commanders are not allowed to leave the command centre. Under no circumstances are Gold or Silver allowed anywhere near operational workings. They almost always (there is lots of evidence for this) make things worse for the people actually doing the job and usually distract them.

Bronze are the managers / commanders on the streets. It their job to make the strategy work at a local level using their operational expertise and without interference from above.

As you will no doubt realise this takes trust. Trust in the professional abilities of other people to do their job.

In short if you are too busy to lead you are doing the wrong things. In our seminars, workshops and coaching we help to get people back to doing what they are meant to be doing and get the organisation running properly.

Quite often the blockages in an organisation are blockages of thinking at the top. Free this up, get organised, start trusting and organisations start to flow and achieve.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Recruiting, promotions and other nonsense.

Just about everyone who has had a job has been through a job interview. What was your last one like? What was your worst experience?
I was in a company recently and had the opportunity to observe the recruitment of a number of people. The process was quite typical. A job specification was drawn up, sometimes by the last incumbent and sometimes by a 'specialist'. Some qualifications are decided on together with the usual candidates such as good communication skills etc.
An advert is placed and CV's or application forms start to roll in together with references.
There is then the quick sift to weed out the no-hoper's and a date is set for the interview or interviews. The person arrives and the recruiters get a 'feel' for the candidates with or without the aid of psychometrics through an interview. A decision is taken and the job offer is made and hey presto a new employee is recruited. Most are a variation on this theme.
I have conducted many such processes and observed quite a few. And the success rate of all this activity? It would be hard to argue that most recruitment processes do much more than recruit across a normal distribution. About 10-15% are great choices with an equal number being real dogs that you wished you hadn't bothered with and the remainder sort of average.
Whilst I was observing the recruiting process this time I wondered if the chances of recruiting real stars would change much if people were chosen at random from the final sift? I would hope that all that effort made a difference, but from experience and from what the MD was saying - 'It's difficult to get quality people' I wonder.
The same goes for promotions. People get promoted for a variety of reasons. Again about 10-15% were spot on and turned out to be stars. Sometimes some people get promoted who you think are dubious and find that they really rise to the position. And an equal number who you think will make good managers or leaders from their previous behaviour and attitude turn out to be surprisingly bad. As they say past and current performance is not an indicator of future performance.
More sophisticated processes have assessment centres but I am still left wondering as their success rate.
One model I like is to give people a go. Come in and do the job and then we will decide.

Often when dealing with prospective clients we offer to run a workshop / coaching sessions etc. and if they don't like it / it doesn't deliver we will walk away we won't charge. (This has never happened by the way we have always secured the contract).

You wouldn't buy a car without doing a test drive so why do the same with jobs and promotions?

There is only one way to tell if you have a potentially good leader for example. Put them in a position of leadership and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

T5 - some departures on time...

In the previous blog; Terminal 5 Chaos I made comments about the apparent lack of leadership capability of Gareth Kirkwood and how he came across during the press conference on the first day of the fiasco. Interestingly today he announced that he, together with David Noyes the BA Customer Service Director are leaving the company. The press have now engaged in a 'was he pushed or did he jump' series of speculations.
As I have said on a number of occasions leading when things are ok and the problems are purely operational ones takes skill. Leading at times of ambiguity, change and difficulty is the real test of leadership. Times like this requires agility, emotional resilience and the ability to not only cope with ambiguity but to be able to use it to your advantage.
Most leadership however does not occur under the glare of the media. Poor leadership frequently gets hidden and carries on quietly causing damage unhindered, but noticed by many who can't or won't speak up.
Preparing leaders to deal with situations 'when the wheel comes off' is a specialist process that unfortunately gets left out of most development and coaching events.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Global Value Chains and global decision making - problem solved


Late last week I was working with a post doc from Cambridge University who's research area is Global Value Chains or supply chain management. At the end of the session she mentioned that she was having problems getting a job, which surprised me a bit. She then rattled off a list of interviews she had attended and given presentations at and not been picked. So we sat down for a couple of hours to 'solve the problem'. What came out of this amazed both of us.
The first thing we had to do was to workout what the problem was. So she gave me the presentation she roles out for such occasions and it was impressive research. However we soon discovered that it was (like a lot of doctoral research) so specialist that only a handful of people in the world could engage at any meaningful level with the subject, and I wasn't one of them!
We quickly did a profiling job on her audiences and discovered the same was largely true of them. They were supply chain experts in their own right but not to the level required to really get to grips with her research. As she said, "It's so specialised that it's not important".

So using the principles of solving ambiguous problems we set about getting to grips with this one. Quite quickly she was designing a full page advert for the New Scientist to attract money so that she could continue with her research. This process brought about some key realisations about Global Value Chains and the issues facing developing countries as a result of the activities of globalised companies.

The issues we realised were these:
In manufacturing global companies like source the components from many countries. The decisions about where to get or manufacture the components from are based on a matrix of factors. Some of the factors in the decision matrix include cost, quality, ease of access, stability of the country, labour force and production unit, skills, inducements like tax breaks, transport and proximity to the line of the chain (So if every thing else is sourced from the Asiatic countries sourcing a small component from Europe might not make sense unless there is a good reason for it) etc.
Once the global supply chain is established, countries find that they have a relationship with other countries in the chain through the company. They have close relationships with those links on either side of the chain and more distant but equally reliant relationships with other countries further down or further up the chain. Each country in the chain is in a symbiotic relationship with the others and the company and yet they as a country are in competition with each other and want as big an amount of the pie is possible.
Once these supply chains have been established (Decisions made) they do not remain static. Many things can change or even remove one or a number of the links (Countries) in the chain. The thing to bear in mind here is that many of the links are developing countries. So a large global company setting up in a developing country helps economically. However that country does not have control of this production capability and it can move away as quickly as it arrives, especially in times of market slowdown or when another country offers a better deal.

The issue is that just about all of then decisions make are about what is best for the company. It doesn't take much imagination to work out what happens to a country that has attracted a number of of these links in a number of global value chains, when it is no longer seen as not the place to be, for whatever reason, somewhere cheaper, closer etc. It is very possible to imagine a scenario where a developing country is on the receiving end of a decision to pull out, or reallocate the chain elsewhere. If the country has a number of these chains and they all pull out, the economy of some countries would be dire straights, with the potential for civil or even international conflict.

The problem is that all of the decisions being made are fragmented and based on the health of the company not global stability. This has already happened with the global credit markets. Leaders making moneymaking decisions have created the current credit crunch. It is the lack of systems thinking outside of their own company system that has created a problem that is harming them now.

One of the things mode 4 leaders are really good at is seeing and understanding wider systems. They tend to act with this bigger picture in mind. Unfortunately from our research only about 1.2% of the leadership population are mode 4 leaders.

As for the post doc she (and I)now sees and understands the wider context that her work vitally contributes to. Her research concentrates on the relationships between emerging market countries who are part of global value chains. Her next interview is tomorrow. I'll let you know what happens.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Decision making errors 4 - The Majority Fallacy

This problem solving and decision making error has a number of other names, such as the Bandwagon error. It is quite closely linked to 'group think' in which people do what the group decides to do.


Making great decisions

The infinite variety of people's problem solving capability and the basis of their decision making never ceases to amaze me:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Decision Making Error # 3 The Bias Bias



Today's video looks at a phenomena known as the Bias Bias, or the bias blind spot reported by Pronin in 2002. The full reference is below.

Pronin, E., Lin, D.Y., Ross, L., 2002. The bias blind spot: perceptions of bias in self versus

others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 82, 369-381

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Emotional Resilience, Decisions and making good Judgements


Over on the Neuroanthropology site there is a blog I have been meaning to comment on for a month about emotions and decision making. Now whilst the actual blog is a critique of three studies on decision making and emotions from a neuroanthropological methods perspective it does make interesting reading from our point of view.
I don't intend to replicate the blog as it is examining a series of methodological issues and you can read it yourself here.

However I will comment on the three findings from a practical decision making perspective and how people deal with risk and ambiguity.

  1. The first study it reports on shows that sad people "spend more money to acquire the same commodities than those in a neutral emotional state.”
  2. The second is about trader behaviour and risk and concludes "that traders who let their emotions get the best of them tend to fare poorly in the markets. But traders who rely on logic alone don’t do that well either. The most successful ones use their emotions to their advantage without letting the feelings overwhelm them.”
  3. "Studies have shown that adolescents are very well aware of their vulnerability and that they actually overestimate their risk of suffering negative effects from activities like drinking and unprotected sex…" ‘It now becomes clearer why traditional intervention programs fail to help many teenagers,’ Dr. Valerie Reyna and Dr. Frank Farley wrote. ‘Although the programs stress the importance of accurate risk perception, young people already feel vulnerable and overestimate their risks.’ In Dr. Reyna’s view, inundating teenagers with factual risk information could backfire, leading them to realize that behaviors like unprotected sex are less risky than they thought. Using an analytical approach of weighing risks versus benefits is ‘a slippery slope that all too often results in teens’ thinking that the benefits outweigh the risks,’ she said.
The points I want to make about these findings are these (somewhat different to the original blog):
  1. The first (and simple) point I would make here is that each of these findings point to the importance of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience in decision making, especially when there is risk or ambiguity involved.
  2. My second point is that it is impossible to have a wholly analytical approach without our emotions and beliefs being involved, none of us are robots devoid of such influences. Therefore it is vital that we understand our own individual biases and emotional triggers and can either incorporate them into our thinking or act to mitigate their effects.
  3. That analytical approaches (the last study) to decision making can in certain situations exacerbate the problem and make the decision less effective, compared to an emotional or gut based one. What is happening in this particular case is that the fear of the risk prevents risky behaviour. When analysed the real risks became apparent (“The risk of pregnancy from a single act of unprotected sex is quite small, perhaps one chance in 12, and the risk of contracting H.I.V., about one in 500, is very much smaller than that") and therefore leads to more risk taking. This can also work in a positive direction. A very personal example I would quote here was when, many years ago I was in the Army learning to make parachute jumps. The analytical approach helped to move me past my fears - (terror actually) and walk out of a perfectly workable aircraft and plummet to earth, my life relying on a bit of silk and some string. One was considered to be a good result and the other judged to be not so good.
In summary making good decisions and solving problems well, is more than just collecting and analysing data. Judgement is a very large part of such activities. A big part of making good judgements is emotional resilience and intelligence.

This leads me to a question; How is judgement making developed in our leaders?

I'll leave this for another blog at another time as there are some concrete things that can help people to make better judgements.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Common decision making & problem solving errors #1

Heathrow Terminal 5 Chaos - management and leadership


It opened on time, within budget (£4.3 bn or $10 bn) and to spec, well the technical specifications anyway. A triumph of a new project management (actually on behalf of BAA it was project leadership and management) model that saw the sponsor taking responsibility, leading with vision and humility and not pushing the risk to the contractors in the usual punitive way of management. BAA looked at all the famous project management flops and realised that the often used model of abrogation of risk and responsibility (i.e. no leadership) to the contractors doesn't produce good projects. It is interesting that many managed and not led projects are government programmes, but that's another issue.

It is estimated by the respected transport Journalist Christian Wolmar that if this programme had gone the way of most other large capital projects it should have overrun on costs by about 40%, been about 1-2 years late and an average of 6 workers would have been killed during the construction phase.

As it is the project, one of the most complex yet, didn't have any of these problems and yet we see this happening, delays, the baggage system halted because the loaders couldn't keep up, glitches due to the complexity of the system, check in staff confused about the new systems. There will of course be a post-mortem, many reports and it will be interesting to see what the results will be of these.

However from a preliminary trawl of the media and BAA / BA material (they are staying very tight lipped at the moment, giving quick briefings and walking off before they can be asked any questions, listening to the passengers stories it sounds like the technical systems are working fine. The problems appear to be when humans who didn't design and grow with the technology are suddenly required to operate it all together.
I am reliably told (by a BAA employee) that every system was tested and retested and works. However everything working together with real people and not the experts and designers operating the systems things started to go wrong.

On the face of it the success of the capital part of the project was down to the sponsors bearing the risk, leading as well as managing the project, by which I mean taking responsibility, allowing the risks to be real and not pretending they don't exist or minimising them, keeping communications open at all levels, listening to feedback at all levels as the project progressed and learning as they went along. The failure of the operations appear to stem from the opposite. There appears to been a lot of management and little leadership when it came to the operations side of things. Both need to work together, especially when it comes to people.

The difference between management and leadership and what happens when both aren't operating together came out loud and clear in the very different press briefings given by BA.

The sight of BA Director of Operations Gareth Kirkwood, clearly rattled, giving a press statement to say sorry (which was good) and then walking off refusing to answer any questions (which was not good), did not help. He was clearly trying to manage the situation however in doing so displayed poor leadership and very little emotional resilience, which are closely connected, especially in times of difficulty.

This is in contrast to the performance today of The Chief Executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, who was composed, honest and human, took responsibility and answered the questions put to him. Leadership matters as does management - they have to work together.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Above average leaders


  • Are the people in your organization smarter / better / more intelligent than the average?
  • Are your leaders smarter / better / more intelligent than those from most other organizations?
  • Are your leaders smarter / better / more intelligent than the rest of your organization, or do they think that they are?
  • Are you, your team, your organization better at dealing with ambiguity and risk than the average?
  • Are you a better driver than the average?

If you answered yes to the last question then you are in good company. A study by Ola Svenson in 1981. ("Are we all less risky and more skillful than our fellow drivers?". Acta Psychologica 47 (2): 143–148.) found that just over 80% of drivers considered that they were in the top 30% of drivers in terms of driving ability.

In 1987 John Cannell published a study in which he found that every state in the US reported that the students from that state had on average scored higher than the national norm in educational tests!

In other studies, project manager's ability to project manage, leaders ability to lead, people's time management capability, sales ability, ability to deal with ambiguity, police officers view of their force and their policing capabilities, military personnel's view of the standing of their service compared to others, etc. all report the same thing. That they are at least above average and usually in the top few percent of the population.

This
tendency to overestimate one's achievements and capabilities in relation to others is a common effect especially when people are reporting on traits or attributes of themselves or groups to which they are affiliated. It has it's own name - The Lake Woebegone Effect after a fictional town in a radio series A Prairie Home Companion, where, according to the presenter, Garrison Keillor, "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Obviously with the exception of a couple of mathematical obscurities, only half the population can be above average.

This may account for one of the findings I had recently that most senior (board level) leaders tend not to engage in development activities but require that others below them do.

Most of us are, it would appear, when compared to everyone else, above average!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leadership development?

What would have to happen for any leadership development to be called a success?
That it develops more knowledge?
or better skills maybe?
Oh and some leadership models or theories maybe?
A mixture of all of these?

Just what are the attributes of a successful leader and how to best develop them?

How many coaches, leadership trainers and lecturers have answers to these questions that they have thought about before you ask them?

I was interested in what would happen if I started to ask such questions of the people who's job it is to develop leaders either in universities or in industry. The results were enlightening and somewhat depressing. Before I go any further this was an informal research project, but as a result of the findings I have started thinking about a more robust and formal exploration of this subject.

I have set about this task in the last couple of months and made a pest of myself with every leadership trainer and lecturer I have met. On the whole they were all happy to answer me. I have spoken to 161 such leadership developers since January. The lecturers from universities were much more likely to have thought about these questions before hand. Trainers and coaches tended, with a few exceptions, to have to think about this on the spot suggesting that they were just running programmes based on the activities and exercises they knew about.
The academics tended to have thought more about the end result and developed material that focuses on that.
It became apparent that trainers split roughly into two: trainers who mainly run set packages and facilitators who tend to work off the data presented to them by the delegates.
The problem with the academic solutions is that they tend to concentrate on the development of knowledge rather than skills.
Neither group had a ready answer to questions about what is their strategy for developing critical thinking, creativity, and autonomy.
When I asked how they helped to ensure that the leaders developed flexible practices and what they did to develop emotional resilience and the ability to deal with ambiguity I drew a total blank. No one had any thought out suggestions.

It would appear that there is a big difference between academic and industry leadership developers in their outlook and scope. Academics focus more on knowledge development, trainers on skills development and facilitators and coaches on personal development. These are not exclusive, just tendencies towards certain development activities.

Academic sources tend to be more up-to-date than their industry based colleagues. Additionally they are much more likely to present counter arguments for certain theories that industry trainers. Academics are also much more likely to have had their thinking and teaching challenged by peers.

On the other hand trainers are more likely to incorporate new material into their programmes than academics, however such material is much more likely to be unverified. In other words trainers will include material that has little or no research backing. This means that what you could get cutting edge thinking or a pile of drivel. Academics however are not immune to this either, but it is less likely to happen.

When asked how they help leaders make better decisions the most common answer was that simply knowing more helps here. Some (all academics) said they included decision making sciences in their programmes but weren't sure if this actually helped.

Lies, Hillary Clinton's Memory and Leadership Issues






A lot is currently being written about H.C.'s memory / lies / stories. Here are a couple more interesting and charitable blogs from a cognitive perspective :
  1. http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/2008/03/defending_hillary_clinton_from.php
  2. http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/hillary-kwame-and-our-fallible-memory.htm

I think that there maybe other explanations here, and one in particular that I have researched with leaders, particularly when they are reporting on how they see certain situations like the reality of the market conditions for example.
The phenomenon, 'context recollection' incorporates the affect of the emotions on story telling and recounting of memory events. If there is a strong emotional situational context, in which the story is being retold, particularly those contexts that produce euphoria or fear (risk and ambiguity) there is a strong tendency for the story or memory recollection to be molded to the current context to either carry on the euphoric emotions or to mitigate perceived threats.

The tellers of these untruths know and can report that the memory is not real, however the context appears to change the meaning of the untruth to 'not a lie' for the story teller.

Without evidence to the contrary, many leaders will stick to the 'untruth' and force agreement, creating a false certainty, ignoring and filtering out evidence that everyone else knows the veracity of the situation. Denial of this type is typical mode one behaviour.

This has a lot of consequences in situations where leaders are making decisions based on their understanding of the current situation and perceptions of the past. If they make decisions at times of euphoria or fear (even if they are not conscious of the emotion at the time) the decisions are usually awful ones. Their recollection of the success of the decision is likewise altered by the emotions experienced. This is why I place such emphasis on the development of emotional resilience and intelligence for leaders.