Sunday, December 31, 2006

The New Z-List

I just took another look at the Squidoo Z-List. Ray Edwards has taken over and made a few changes. It appears Ray's answer to the negative voting frenzy is to delete any site that was voted down. In doing so, an irrelevant list has become even less relevant. Which is funny because Ray's only other Lens is The Importance of Being Relevant.

It is pretty sad that we are afraid to acknowledge that the world is not always a pretty place where everyone feels the love and behaves in a politically correct manner. This failure is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty where we are lying to everyone including ourselves.

It's all sad, very sad...

[Update: The Z-List is now back to its original state. 478 Entries, 70 with positive ratings, 14 with zero ratings and 394 with negative ratings for 82.4% with negative ratings. The Leadership Epidemic has jumped to 476, 3rd from the bottom.]

[Update 2: Ray, thanks for the update in the attached comment. The apparent manipulation of the Z-List was a software error. That makes sense. Squidoo has been going through some changes in capability, so I'll take the error at face value. I still have probelms with the voting buttons and the wisdom of the crowd/mob. I'll comment more in a later post.]

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Take care...

John


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The Lie of Selling Inputs...

In today's post at The Business Pundit, Rob May lists his Top 10 Business Post of 2006. I am particularly fond of #5 The Wisdom of Niches which covers his thoughts on experts and the wisdom of crowds.

I have to admit, I had the same revelation regarding crowds that Rob describes in his post. At first blush, the arguments presented in The Wisdom of Crowds are convincing. However, I believe this has more to do with the quality of the writing and the way the argument is presented more than it has to do with the quality, i.e. the reality of the argument. Please read Rob's post, he does an excellent job of point out why crowds are not the best source for good answers to difficult questions.

There is a point in Rob's argument I would like borrow. It addresses the foundational difference between the depth of expert knowledge and breadth of conventional wisdom. He borrowed the idea from Scott Berkun, so I hope he doesn't mind if I do the same.

The thought processes in your brain depend on two things, inputs and structure. Scouring the web all day reading a million blog posts changes your inputs. Mastering an idea and achieving a deeper level of understanding about something changes your structure. Structural changes will lead to the revolutionary ideas...

This is the basis of much of the problems I have with the products, the conventional wisdom, being sold as Leadership. The Leadership Industrial Complex takes the observable qualities, behaviors, etc... of "Great" leaders and sells them as Leadership. Inputs are being sold as structure and the crowds are buying and propagating the lie. When the lie fails to deliver the intended outcome, good people and organizations are hurt.

This is not to say that there is no value to studying great leaders. Rather, the fowl is in selling the attributes of leaders as Leadership rather than a component of the leadership development equation of study, training and practice.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of "Thin Slicing" or the ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. The time and effort that experts put into learning their craft, going beyond inputs into changing structures, enables them to thin slice the area of their expertise.

In many ways I see leadership as the expert skill of building a trust relationships between people, both leaders and followers that mitigates risk within the organization. Leadership is the skill of thin slicing events in such a way as to be able to be proactive in moving the organization in the direction of success. Also, it entails the ability to be reactive in such a way as to enable improvisation that keeps the the organization on track.

Like any other expert skill, this skill is developed over time through study, training and practice. It is the result of an internalized model of what works within a given organization and operational environment with a given follower base.

Leadership ability is a synergistic activity that is greater than the sum of its part and is the result of moving past the conventional wisdom of inputs and building new structures.

What are your thoughts?

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Enjoy and Happy New Year...

John


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Friday, December 29, 2006

More Debatable Crowd Behavior

I just took another peek at the Z-List on Squidoo: 449 entries, 36 with positive votes, 10 with zero votes, 403 with negative votes. That’s 89.8% of the list with one or more negative votes; that’s just a little better than yesterday’s 93.2%. If you go look at the Z-List and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice The Leadership Epidemic at #448 the 2nd worst on the list.

On a more interesting note, the list has a new header, the gist of which is "Stop Being So Mean, Quit Voting People Down and Play Nice." Good luck on that one; the mob has already voted.

However, the message isn’t what caught my attention. Rather, it’s the title, sub-header and first line.

The Wisdom of Crowds?
How anonymity can lead to bad
behavior...
...and what you can do about it.

If you’ve read much of anything that Seth Godin has written, you know his thoughts regarding the perils of anonymity and how it leads to bad behavior. If you didn’t know better, you would think that the Plexo, Squidoo, Z-List experiment was an attempt to show just that; anonymity leads to bad behavior.

But this started me thinking that maybe it’s not the bad behavior that matters here. For all it matters, everyone could vote the list up and the result would be the same, a worthless list full of worthless ratings.

Maybe the problem isn’t that anonymity leads to bad behavior so much as anonymity leads to worthless behavior. Better yet, maybe the measure of anonymous behavior leads to worthless metric; at least in terms of the quality of recommendations.

What are your thoughts?

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Enjoy...

John


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It Is Good to be an Authority

Today, I was poking around on Technorati and discovered that The Leadership Epidemic has moved up in the world. Where we used to be an "Any Authority" blog, i.e. slim to none, we have become "A Little Authority" blog. Life is good...

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Enjoy...

John

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Debatable Wisdom of Crowds

That the wisdom of crowds is debatable was illustrated for me today at Squidoo.

If you were to put Squidoo in a nutshell, you would get something like, "A website that shares what people think about what other people think they know."

Today, I noticed that Squidoo has introduced Plexo, a technology that enables Lens Masters to build Lenses made up of the self-selected items of other Lens Masters.

Delivering what people think about what other people think they know has never been easier.

For instance, suppose a Lens Master wanted to build a lens pointing to the greatest blogs in existence; a blog A-List of sorts. Then, suppose that a Lens Master wanted to enable other Lens Masters to add their favorite blogs to the A-List. Further, suppose that a Lens Master wanted other Lens Masters to rank the blogs in the A-List. Finally, suppose the Lens Master was Seth Godin.

The Squidoo-Plexo technology marriage enables a Lens Master to do just that. Of course, because Seth Godin is the Lens Master, it’s not an A-List, it’s a Z List.

So, what does this mean? It means we get to see how crowds work.

You see, if I were to put up a Z-List lens, perhaps calling it The Worst Stuff Out There, nobody would notice. Like a lot of you, I’m way out in the Long Tail where I’m lucky if I get 100 visitors per month. But Seth Godin, he is in the head, where he easily gets 100+ visits in an hour; probably a lot more. In other words, Seth is a crowd maker.

Combine Seth Godin’s crowd with Plexo on Squidoo and you get the Z-List; currently the Number Two lens on Squidoo, right behind Funky, Chic and Cool Laptop Bags.

If you’ve not gone over to Squidoo and looked at the Z-List, take a quick break and examine the list; pay particular attention to the ratings.

Go ahead, I’ll wait...

Okay, here is what I find amazing. The last time I looked at the Z-List, there were 339 entries. Entries 1-20 had one or more positive votes. Entries 21-22 had zero votes. Entries 23-339 had one or more negative votes. The lowest voted site, Marketing Online Live Podcast had negative fifteen (-15) votes.

Are 316 or 93.2% of the sites on the Z-List really worthy of negative vote status?

What’s going on here!?

Well, I have a thought; it’s the unbridled wisdom of the mob. Those with a vested interest in ranking high find a way to move up the list while everyone else slowly finds their way down.

By introducing Plexo into the rating equation, even if it is not part of the overall lens rating, Squidoo has cheapened their currency. Plexo turns the rating system into a game where the cost of entry is zero and anyone willing to rack up a bunch of Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts can pick the winner of the Squidoo popularity contest where the rank/rating means nothing.

And, if the rating means nothing, why go there?

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Enjoy...

John


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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ten Rules of Leadership

Everyone has a list. So I thought I would compile my own list of leadership rules. The following is my first attempt at an all inclusive list of the irrefutable leadership rules; all ten of them.

  1. Leadership is not a set of attributes that can be imitated; behaviors that can be taught or a set of products that can be bought
  2. If you don’t know where you are going, how to get there or when you’ve arrived, you’re not leading
  3. Leadership does not stand alone; it is meaningless without management and work
  4. Leadership is a relationship, an individual process that can be refined over time through practice, guidance and failure
  5. Leaders can be boring, can stand still, can be quiet, can use measures, can do or be everything that everyone else says leaders can’t be or don’t do
  6. Good, even great leaders can do bad things and achieve bad outcomes
  7. Poor, even bad leaders can do good things and achieve good outcomes
  8. Leadership is difficult work
  9. If people don’t follow, you’re not leading
  10. There are more than ten rules of leadership; and your’s probably are and should be different than my list


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Enjoy...

John
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More Than Batting Averages

Today, I was looking for a quote in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. While searching around his book, I came across a different quote, something by Bill James from the 1979 Baseball Abstract.

"a hitter should be measured by his success in that which he is trying to do, and that which he is trying to do is create runs. It is startling, when you think about it, how much confusion there is about this. I find it remarkable that, in listing offense, the league will list first—meaning best—not the team with scored the most runs, but the team with the highest batting average. It should be obvious that the purpose of an offense is not to compile a high batting average."
Fortunately in baseball, success is well defined. In short, making more runs than the opposing team is success. While in the beginning of the game you may not know how many runs it will take to beat the opposing team, by the end of the game, you know who has won.

Of course, Mr James is talking about baseball players, batters in particular, but this statement started me thinking if the same kind of thinking applies to leaders and an organization’s success. If yes, what is the success by which we should measure leaders? What is a leader’s “Runs-Created” measure vs. their “batting average”?

The Leadership-Industrial Complex (LIC) would have you believe leaders should be measured by the number of willing followers or perhaps some measure of their satisfaction. Other LIC organizations would have you believe leaders should be measured by the lack of processes errors under their control. Still others would point to a leader’s renowned or charismatic persona. But all of these things run along the lines of batting averages.

Sure, you could argue that satisfied, willing followers generating few errors working for a popular boss positively contribute to an organization’s success. But, what is the contribution of these elements? More importantly, what is the correlation? Can you have one without the others and vice-versa?

Here’s my take. The things the LIC identifies with success: followers, satisfaction, persona, etc… are not causes; they are effects. Like the symptoms of a syndrome, their presence indicates the possibility that the organization is, for lack of a better word, suffering the effects of good leadership. However, the act of coercing, or at least attempting to coerce, these symptoms, the occurrence of these outcomes, does not make someone a leader. This is true if for only one reasons; it misplaces the organizations focus on these measures as opposed to the organization’s value proposition, its reason to exist.

Which brings us back to the answer to the question I started with, what is a leader’s Runs-Generated measure? Like James’ answer to baseball, my answer is simple. It should be obvious that the purpose of a leader is not to compile the soft measures espoused by the LIC. Rather, that which a leader is trying to accomplish is the delivery of the organization’s value proposition. The rest is just batting average.

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Enjoy...

John
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why I Love This Book - Book Reviews at Squidoo

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written several book reviews on Squidoo. These are books that I’ve found helpful in developing a personal management/leadership philosophy. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Great Ideas of Operations Research by Jagjit Singh

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Freakonomics by Levitt and Dunber

I have several more reviews in the works but thought I would share these with you.

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Enjoy

John...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Size Matters

Okay, I couldn’t help myself and I promise you’ll find the title is relevant if you read on.

Working with new programmers has challenges beyond those normally associated with a project. When I was a line programmer, just one member in a bigger team, I did not have to worry about these challenges so I did not fully appreciate this fact.

Sure, I knew that new programmers had a lot to learn before they would be useful. Until then, the boss kept them busy working the repetitive patches we need to apply to hundreds of individual programs that made up our applications. Along the way, the new guy usually figured out how we did things and could start doing some real development work.

When the company promoted me to team chief things changed. It turned out; having a new programmer apply patches to hundreds of old programs gives them little else than a basic familiarity with the poor programming habits of those who came before them after which, if they were a novice hack worth their salt, they could write a script that would apply the required changes. Unfortunately, when they jumped into new application development things quickly went south.

Before I go any further, let me step back and set some of the scenery for you. The year was 1990. We were maintaining COBOL programs that accessed data stored on an ISAM database. Both the database and the application were running on a Data General MV/8000 running AOS/VS. Our 200+ end users accessed the applications on dumb terminals. Finally, yes we used two digits to store the year.

Okay, I have to admit, when I look at it, the first thing that comes to my mind is Mr Spock making a statement about a zinc-plated, vacuum tube society with technology scarcely ahead of stone knives and bearskins. However, from a learning perspective, this environment had many benefits. The most important being the great clarity with which you could see the cause and effect of programming decisions in a multi-user environment; which brings me to my real point.

The problem we encountered was the habits new programmers developed in training before they joined our team.

The training environment was a single user environment. For instance, the typical assignment had one program, run by one user access an isolated set of data to produce a report. To enable each student to have their own applications, each student kept their code in their own working directory. To prevent data corruption, students had their own test dataset. To enable students to debug their work, applications ran without interacting with external processes.

Writing code in this limited environment is the definition of programming in the small. The real-world environment where end users ran our applications consisted of hundreds of end users running multiple instances of the same application accessing and updating data stored in a single dataset. Writing code in this interactive, non-linear environment is the definition of programming in the large.

Simply put, the new programmers thought that working in a multi-user environment was the same as working in a single-user environment. Until they accepted that programming in the large was much more complicated and required a different mindset than programming in the small, writ large, they offered limited value to the team.

Fortunately, the stone-knife environment we were working in enabled us to see the challenges of programming in the large and provided an opportunity for each of us to learn how to devise solutions to overcome them.

Additionally, my transition from team member to team manager forced me to take a similar look at the challenges of management and leadership. As with programming, I discovered that “In the Large” activities are much more complicated than “In the Small” activates writ large. In fact, while intimate knowledge of In the Small activities can provide great insight to In the Large issues, more often than not, In the Large activities are a different skill all together.

This is the fundamental problem of the E-Myth where well-versed technicians discover that running a business is much more than providing their value adding skills directly to paying customers rather than an intermediary employer.

If you’re encountering more difficulty achieving success as you transition from being a practitioner of the value-adding technical skills your organization offers to clients to the management and leadership of others who provide that skill, I’ll bet you a dollar that you are working in the small, writ large and it’s time you reevaluated your value proposition.

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Take care...

John

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Remarkable Consistency

I have to admit, I don’t go to McDonalds that often. However, last week while driving through the Netherlands, I couldn’t help but notice the pervasiveness of McDonalds. I must also admit that I am a big fan of McDonalds French Fries.
Last week, the temptation was too great. I stopped, ordered a large French Fries and Coke. It was the same French Fires and Coke that I managed to get every time I succumb to the temptation. Korea or Japan; Texas or Oklahoma; Paris, Amsterdam or Rome it is always the same.

Of course, that is what we expect when we go to McDonalds. Product consistency is one of the hallmarks of the McDonalds experience. Along with national now international marketing, product consistency is what made McDonalds remarkable.

Unfortunately, what was once remarkable has become ordinary. McDonalds has been so successful at replicating their consistency that we have come to expect this level of consistency as the baseline of any product we buy from a national brand. The fact of the matter is, to succeed in any business whether fast food or technology consulting, if you are not delivering the same level of consistency that McDonalds has established as the benchmark, your organization is dead.

So, how has McDonalds manage to make the most remarkable consistency ever achieved by a hand produced product an ordinary expectation. I chatted with the manager at the McDonalds in the Netherlands and this is what she said.

The success of McDonalds relies upon consistent product delivery enabled by four overriding components:

  1. Crew members who show up when they are scheduled to work; who learn and perform the tasks they are required to perform; and who treat the customer right.
  2. The most consistent and efficient internal management development systems in the world.
  3. The most consistent and efficient restaurant systems in the world.
  4. The most consistent and efficient distribution systems in the world.

In short, McDonalds relies upon a world-class distribution system, terminating with a well defined operational system run by internally developed managers who provide oversight of dependable people.

Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make; McDonalds-style consistency may have become an ordinary expectation in the big-business world of fast food but can the same be said for most small to medium sized business and organizations.

Is your organization the termination point of a world class distribution system? Does your organization have a well defined production system? Do you have a consistent process for developing managers who have experience working your production systems? Could you succeed with front-line employees possessing little more than basic work skills and the potential to grow?

If you answer “No” to any of these questions, your problem is not a lack of leadership development at all levels of your organization. Adding more leadership will not get you to the “Yes” answers.

Rather, your problem is execution: supply chain management; operational systems definition; and management development.

The “Yes” answers are found by Knowing the Machine: understanding your value proposition and how your organization delivers that value to the customer not by buying the Conventional Leadership Wisdom the Leadership-Industrial Complex pushes as the answer to every operational problem.

Would your organization benefit from McDonalds-style consistency? I’ll bet you the dollar you’re going to spend on your next leadership book that it would.

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Take care...

John

Friday, November 10, 2006

New at Squidoo

This past week, I've been spending a little bit of time at Squidoo. I really like this site that Seth Godin has put together. While there are a few too many empty Lenses, over all, the site has a good mix of information and personalities.

I particularly like the following Lenses; actually they are Squidoo Groups.

1. Seth Godins Group, The Best Business Books Know to Mankind is a collection of book reviews written by Squidoo Lensmasters. Check it out. I'm sure you will find something worth reading.
Here are three of my reviews that are in the list:
- The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
- Great Ideas of Operations Research by Jagjit Singh
- Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

2. My Group, Now That's Leadership is my attempt to provide a starting point for individuals to investigate a balanced set of ideas regarding leadership.

Jump on over to Squidoo and check out these and all the other new groups and lenses.

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Take care...

John

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Developing Field Sense

Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to explain myself or at least my thinking on leadership a lot more than I used to. I think it is because I’ve been having a real problem with the word.

The problem is, the Leadership-Industrial Complex has stolen a useful word and ruined it. Leadership has become a product, a thing rather than a set of qualities.

As much as I hate them, this might make more sense if I use a sports analogy, say soccer.

In soccer, a player with field sense has the ability to read the game as it is being played, to adjust their actions to their team’s and their opponents strengths and weaknesses. If great players are the ones with great field sense, does that mean great players practice field sense? If yes, what does that mean?

Is a player practicing field sense if she studies the rules of the game, the lay out of the field, or memorizes the play book? Is she practicing field sense when she builds endurance by running; does weights with the team, or re-learns her throw-in? Is a player practicing field sense when she does 200 passes from the left, followed by 100 runs through a three-man screen?

Are the great players, the ones that practice the best field sense?

Practicing field sense? What are you talking about? There’s no such thing as practicing field sense!

Exactly! You don’t practice field sense, you practice soccer. This may mean studying the rules to learn the basics, going to camp to improve your form and practicing with the team to learn the plays. But you’re not practicing field sense; you’re developing skills your filling your tool box.

Field sense on the other hand develops over time, on the field, against real opponents. Field sense comes from the game, not the practice.

Here in lies the rub; leadership is the field sense of the business and organizational world. So, if you don’t practice field sense, then how do you practice leadership?

Exactly! You don’t.

You develop it over time. You begin by learning the rules; you train with both formal and informal education; and you practice by working as a leader. Often times you fail and some times you succeed. Eventually, you develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t; then you repeat.

As you practice being a leader and your leadership qualities improve you may move to positions of greater responsibility and span of control, i.e. bigger leagues. As you move up, you constantly adjust your play, you study the game, you train and you practice; then you repeat. As with most things in life, being a leader is a journey not destination

Unfortunately, the Leadership-Industrial Complex has been extremely successful selling the conventional wisdom that leadership is something you do, something that everyone must do, that leaders are those that do leadership.

This belief that doing leadership makes a leader is perhaps the most infectious agent in this Leadership Epidemic that states that leadership is the be-all and end-all answer to an organization’s problems.

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Take care...

John

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Redemption of Ken Blanchard - A 100 Word Essay

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner”, they say. I do. Perhaps, admiration is a better word.

I wrote Ken Blanchard. No, not recently, 23 years ago, a real paper letter, before e-mail. “How do I become like you?”

Ken Blanchard wrote back, a real letter, on paper. He wrote, “Learn a little, live a little and tell a story. Learn something every day or you’ll have nothing worth saying. Live life fully, or you’ll have nothing worth hearing. Tell a great story, or no one will listen.”

He wrote a real letter, on paper!

Dr Blanchard, all is forgiven.

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Take care...

John

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Sins of Ken Blanchard - A 100 Word Essay

His Manager done poorly was my first exposure to popular leadership. Unfortunately, management, no leadership isn’t such a simple story.

Followers and leaders who don’t “Know the Machine” can’t set rational objectives and measures. Done poorly, these goals lead nowhere or worse.

One Minute praises and scolding, err… reprimands, depend too much on emotional, authoritative relationships. That might work with a homogenous workforce, but smacks of manipulation with a diverse population.

It’s not that simple, One Minute is not enough. Ken Blanchard should, I know he does, know better.

Propagating these popular myths, half-truths, are the sins of Ken Blanchard.

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Take care...

John

Good Management & Leadership

…Good management and leadership can not be separated. Does anyone want to work for a manager who lacks the qualities of leadership? Well, how about a leader that doesn’t practice management?
- Henry Mintzburg

Let’s take a closer look at this, “…management and leadership cannot be separated…”

We all know this is true, our experience verifies this fact every day. Who hasn’t encountered the boss who lacks managerial skill? More often than not, he plagues their people with an approach that combines micromanagement and cheerleading; a sure sign that he views the job of running an organization as being no different than performing the value-adding tasks: shipping the box, performing the analysis, building the application, treating the patient, etc… the organization exists to perform.

As far as the boss without the qualities of leadership, without the trappings of their position, you would never know that they were supposed to be in charge. Fortunately, or not, due to the viral impact of the Conventional Leadership Wisdom propagated by the Leadership-Industrial Complex (LIC), you don’t see many examples of the boss without leadership qualities. Of course, with leadership being a virtually immeasurable activity, if indeed it is an activity rather than a mythical explanation of an ill understood past success, the ability to fake the qualities of leadership is often confused with the qualities themselves. The tradition of Machiavelli’s Prince is alive and well…

So, if good management and leadership cannot be separated, why has the LIC exerted so much effort to separate the two?

The answer lies in the business of feeding an Otaku. A simple Otaku is easier to feed than a complex one. A management-focused-leadership Otaku with its emphasis on measurement and results presents too many difficulties. Someone might actually realize and be able to prove that the fare the LIC was serving wasn’t very satisfying.

It is much easier to feed an Otaku that has no means of measure, no means of indicating satisfaction. It’s the same reason buffets are so popular. The foods not very good, but it is all you can eat. But that’s a topic for another post.

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Take care...

John

Leadership vs Management

We have all seen the lists. You know the ones that define the differences between Managers and Leaders. They go something like this:

Managers have subordinates - Leaders have followers
Managers seek objectives - Leaders seek a vision
Managers rely on careful measurement - Leaders rely on instant feelings
Managers are boring - Leaders are sexy

After a quick look at the list, it is obvious that you want to be a leader. Upon closer examination, it appears that while managers are working in the realm of measurable reality, leaders do ephemeral stuff that isn’t measurable.

Additionally, beyond this immeasurable quality, the leadership hodge-podge of attributes and activities does not seem to have a unifying theme.

Finally, when you see this kind of list you usually find a definition of management and leadership where the central difference between the two is managers work with things while leaders work with people.

A more artificial and manipulative description of any other activity would be difficult to find.

However, if you buy into this line of thinking, it doesn’t take long to realize that regardless of your experience or ability regardless of your organization’s real needs, leadership is the place to be and the Leadership-Industrial Complex is standing ready to serve.

Here in lies a big part of the problem. Most of us are not in the leadership business. Rather, we are in the Healthcare, Auto Parts Sales, Truck Driving, Systems Integration, Farming, Manufacturing, Publishing, Education, Marketing, Any-Conceivable-Activity-Besides-Leadership business.

Unfortunately, feeding the Leadership Otaku is big business and the Leadership-Industrial Complex depends upon this division; it is one of the central tenants of their Conventional Leadership Wisdom. The greater the divide the greater the opportunity to fill the gap with leadership publications, leadership training, leadership conferences, and every other form of leadership think.

The next time you encounter a conversation about the differences between management and leadership; gather up your courage and ask this question, “Can you have one without the other?”

If the answer is, “No, you cannot have one without the other” then point out that the division is artificial and the conversation will not lead to a greater understanding of the challenges faced by your organization.

Now that is an opening to a real conversation.

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Take care…

John

Monday, October 23, 2006

Collecting Some Random Thoughts...

Squidoo for You...
Earlier this year, I started playing with Squidoo. This evening, I published my first Lens. Check it out at, you guessed it, http://www.squidoo.com/LeadershipEpidemic/

Thoughts From the Coyote...
Today, Carmine Coyote at Slow Leadership had a good posting on his thoughts about the leadership epidemic. He's taken a different tact than I am, but his thoughts reflect the recognition of a problem that plagues American business.

I believe this epidemic is hurting more than busienss organizations. Randomly pick any organization with more than three people and you will find this problem. Check it out...

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Take care…

John

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leadership Does Not Stand Alone...

Before I get into my version of the history of leadership, let me first establish that leadership does not stand alone.

Rather, leadership exists in the presence of management which in turn exists in the presence of technical activity, i.e. work. As with most cause-and-effect relationships, the direction of the correlation is important here. While you can have technical activity without management and you can have management without leadership, you can’t have management without work and you can’t have leadership without management.

This reality is easy to understand but cannot be over emphasized.

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Take care…

John

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Answer to Every Problem...

In my role as a Healthcare Administrator, I have come to accept that one of the greatest demands on my time is going to be problem solving: problems with patient safety; problems with patient satisfaction, problems with meeting access demands, problems with meeting financial targets, problems with staff turnover, problems with staff development. The list is endless.

Okay, “accept” is the wrong word. I love the challenges my job presents. I love working with people to make things happen; to make things better.

I became a Healthcare Administrator because when I was a Computer Programmer I didn’t have enough interaction with people. I wasn’t part of the team that was addressing the hard issues. I was outside the problem-solving loop and wanted to be on the inside. What better place than healthcare?

Unfortunately, things have changed.

A few years ago, the solution to every conceivable problem was identified. Whenever a problem crops up, the cause is a“failure of leadership”. Therefore, the answer to every problem is to fix the leadership; to get more leadership into the organization; to make everyone a leader.

Who could argue with the leadership conventional wisdom? To suggest that leadership may not be the answer has become tantamount to heresy. In many organizations, you would be better received if you volunteered information regarding the development of your recent crack cocaine addiction.

But what are we really saying when we say the problem as a “failure of leadership”?

To answer this question, I believe you must first take a hard look at the history of leadership.

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Take care…

John

Why an Epidemic?

Today at school, my daughter Taylor was caught sneaking a peak at my blog when she was supposed to be researching American Colonial Leadership. When she got home, she told me her teacher wanted to know why I called my blog The Leadership Epidemic. I suspect she’s not the only one with that question.

The idea of a Leadership Epidemic is based on an ever-increasing gut feeling I’ve had about the state of leadership in the world today, particularly in large organizations. Three years ago, while working in a hospital in Korea two ideas I had been reading a lot about: “Conventional Wisdom” and “Viral Marketing” collided with a routine SARS data review. The result was an “A-ha!” moment regarding the rampant spread of leadership as the be-all and end-all answer to the operational problems that large healthcare organizations were facing.

That evening, I went home and started building a model to explain the spread as a large-scale, viral event or epidemic. In other words, a Leadership Epidemic.

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Take care…

John

Monday, October 16, 2006

Do You Have A Leadership Otaku?

In Purple Cow, Seth Godin introduced me to the term Otaku: an interest that is more than a hobby but less than an obsession. When I first read his Otaku chapter, (Actually, I listened to it. For some reason, I like listening to Seth Godin more than reading him.) I thought to myself, “Otaku…now that could be a good thing but probably not all of the time.” That Otaku is considered a Japanese pejorative is a good indication that Otaku is not the be-all and end-all of positive character traits. Apparently, living on just-this-side of obsessive has its down side.

On a seemingly unrelated thought, I have to admit, I have a love hate relationship with Google.

I love all the stuff that you can do with Google’s Personalized Home option. Do you need access to all the RSS feeds you watch, anywhere in the world? Google Reader is your answer. Do you need to keep tabs on the latest news of your choice, anywhere in the world? Google applets offer an endless variety of news. Do you need to play a Sudoku anywhere in the world? The CountToNine applet on Google offers Sudoku on command. Yes, Google has a lot to love, but not everything.

The think I hate about Google is searching. Maybe it’s because I’m so bad at “Search Wordifying” the concepts I’m looking for. It’s not that I have a limited vocabulary, and I’m actually pretty good at stringing together searches using the tricks outlined in the Google Cheat Sheet. I’ve even figured out how to use Advanced Operators with my Google searches. But, for the life of me, I can not move beyond the inept stage when it comes to finding anything but the simplest concepts using Google search.

My daughter told me that the reason I was having so much trouble is because I’m searching for concepts rather than words. Herein are the seeds of my hatred for Google. Google encourages us to think in terms of words made popular by links rather than concepts. So, the concept I have to search for, words with links, isn’t necessarily the concept I’m looking for. In so doing, Google dilutes the power of the material it is supposed to be helping us find; particularly if we can’t find it.

So, if anyone from Google is listening, here’s the deal. I’ll give up my Reader, News and daily Sudoku if you will quit squandering the yotta-joules of Google brainpower on applets and build a concept search engine to replace search wordification.

So, what is the first concept that I would search if Google developed a concept search engine? How about this one, “Why do smart business people act stupidly by allowing themselves to become obsessed with leadership as the cure-all for poor execution and performance?” Until them I suppose I could search on “Leadership Otaku” but I’m pretty sure where that will get me.

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Take care…

John

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Please Ad My Splog to Your Site

Lately, I've been reading a lot about "Splogging". It is the subject of the day that everyone seems to love to hate. Today, I started wondering if all the press about splogging isn't encouraging people to start splogging and building their own “Made for AdSense” (MFA) sites. I mean, if you could earn $71,000+ in a month building splog pages would you? While you might not, I bet a lot of people are. At least, they are trying.

The thing is, Splogging has some problems beyond being the current trouble child of the search world. Splogging has to be just like building a website that accomplishes something. or writing a Blog with a following, it is more difficult to do than just throwing up a bunch of page with scraped content and AdSense links.

I understand that close to 80% of all Blogs die because people don't keep at it. Apparently, they don't have as much to say as they thought they did, or they discover that writing well enough to get across what they are thinking is more difficult than they originally thought, or they don't have the time [I know this has been my biggest challenge], or they just get bored with it.

If all these things are true, I wonder if and suspect that the same is true for all the beginner Sploggers that invest their limited time developing the beginnings of a link farm. Most of them are going to find themselves with the equivalent of an unprofitable family farm.

It also makes me wonder, if there is a market for these tiny patches of the blogosphere/splogosphere.

Could a commercial-caliber splog be built from these remnants? Would a successful Splogger be willing to buy these sights outright for a small cash payment or perhaps be willing to “Share” out the maintenance of small plots of their link farm to give them a feel of legitimacy?

They could call this new sub-class of sploggers, ShareSploggers. In return for working their plots, the ShareSploggers could include one of their own AdSense links. Another option would be for a bunch of small-time Sploggers to get together and form a Co-Op where the members agree on product lines to manage and link to each others sites.

Okay, realistically, a splog site needs thousands of links. But are a couple thousand links really that many; is it really such a big number?

Do the math and you find out that a link farm that starts with two links and is able to double the number of links every month, would reach 2000+ links in 10 months.

Now, what if all of the revenue generated from those 2000+ links was used to buy cheap AdWords on Google that could be used to drive more traffic to the ShareSplogger sites and drive more AdSense revenue?

That would be a symbiotic relationship reminiscent of the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us about. Well maybe more along the lines of the TV-Industrial Complex that Seth Godin educated us about.

As an experiment, I’ve built my own splog site: ShareSplogger. You may have clicked on it earlier in the post. Actually, it’s not a splog in the true sense of the word. Rather, it’s more of a Blog about Splog, a BSplog if you will. Check it out, build your own BSplog and join the experiment.

Take care…

John

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Long Tail of Poor Customer Service

Do you know this curve? If you don’t, chances are, your organization is suffering from at least one of two problems; most likely both: underserved customers and overworked employees. A smart manager, hopefully you, should read that as dissatisfied customers and burned out people.

According to the chart, if your organization is operating at greater than 80% of its capacity, you have entered the long tail of poor customer service where customers are guaranteed to encounter a wait, a long wait. Worse yet, in this long tail, small changes in use lead to large changes in line length and wait time.

Now, it may be fashionable to be seen waiting in line to get into the latest hot restaurant. Or, it may be worth the wait to get tickets for a must-see performance. But, have you ever gone into a store, picked up a few items and abandoned the purchase because the wait at the counter was too long; not worth the wait? When was the last time you thought it was fashionable to be seen waiting in a line at the grocery store check-out?

Long lines may be remarkable, but it’s a fact of life that most organizations don’t thrive by making people wait.

Further, the graph shows that as the demand for your services reaches your capacity to provide those services, customer wait time will approach infinity. Of course, you don’t have an infinite pool of customers to draw from and nobody will wait forever.

If you don’t know where or how long your customers are waiting, you can’t fix the wait and you are losing money to your competition.

So, look at the processes and tasks you use to provide the services your customers are paying for. Get to “Know the Machine” that drives your “Value Proposition” and identify the bottlenecks where processes and customers have to wait. Piles of inventory, long lines and full “Queues” are a good indicator. Develop a “Singularity of Intent” that makes the elimination of you longest line your purpose in life. Repeat.

What are you waiting for? Better yet, what are your customers waiting for? I’ll bet you a dollar they won’t be waiting for long.

Take Care...

John

Monday, September 18, 2006

A New Tipping Point...

Yesterday, I went to Starbucks and there was a tip jar sitting on the counter next to the cash register. It started me thinking about why you would tip the cashier. Does he deserve a tip for charging the right price? Is he going to make sure the coffee guy makes my drink right? What exactly has he done to earn a tip?

Okay, I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of tip jars and here’s why. It is a thoughtless tip, no different than the spare change you drop into a panhandler’s cup. The panhandler didn’t do anything for the tip, so tipping doesn’t improve anything. It’s not like the tip will encouraging him to take a bath and get a job. Worse yet, it encourages more panhandling. The same is true for tip jars.

Thoughtful tipping on the other hand is a great idea. Thoughtful tipping provides immediate feedback. Thoughtful tipping also provides a reward for good service.

So, what would happen if you tipped your doctor? Not for good medicine, you expect good medicine, but good services: she worked you into a full schedule; the nurse called with your “negative” lab results; your appointment started on time; you didn’t feel rushed. You name it, whatever it is that would make you say to your friend, “I had a great visit with my doctor! It was so good, I tipped her five dollars.”

If only a few people tipped their doctors, I suspect doctors wouldn’t take the money. A few dollars isn’t enough to persuade someone to subject themselves to that kind of immediate, possibly negative feedback. But what if everyone tipped their doctors? If your doctor sees 30 patients a day and they each tipped her five dollars, she would earn an extra $150 a day; that’s $38,000 a year.

More importantly, your doctor would get immediate feedback. She would know if she was meeting the expectations of her patients and could use that feedback at the end of the day or even between patients to improve her performance.

Would you work harder to deliver better service if you could earn an extra $38,000? I’ll bet you a dollar, no make that five dollars, that your doctor would too.

Take care…

John

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Red Notebook - Entry 3

I spend a lot of time thinking about “Singularity of Intent”. I picked up this idea from an article I read in Inc. Magazine titled One Step at a Time. Unlike most business-magazine articles, this one is as important today, if not more so, than it has ever been. The crux of the article is this. For most small business, the required resources, with the exception of one, are cheap and readily available. Money, talent, production capability, raw materials, etc… are readily available at commodity prices. However, time, specifically, you time as measured in your ability to pay attention and focus, to make important things happen, is not; it is in ever shorter supply.

Singularity of intent is about recognizing the scarcity of your most valuable resource, time. If you ill-spend your time, success will remain elusive. In short, your time must be focused on one of three activities: delivering, refining or redefining your value proposition. If you are not performing one of these three activities, you are wasting time.

Delivery is the process of running the current machine that provides the next opportunity for a customer to pay you for your value proposition. Delivery includes both the value-adding and non-value-adding activities required to run a company. Delivery is the activity most of us identify as “work”.

Refining is the process of making incremental/evolutionary changes, hopefully improvements, to the current machine. Refining also includes the process of applying the current machine to new challenges. GorTex is a perfect example of a company that refine. A product that started out as a water-proof/breathable fabric for extreme climbing apparel and tents has found its way to synthetic sutures and endovascular stent-grafts.

Redefining is the process of making bold/revolutionary changes, again hopefully improvements, to the current machine. Redefining is a complete change in the organization. When the United States rejected a Monarchy and became a Democracy they began a revolution in world government.

Singularity of intent is achieved when you have identified the next step that must be taken, the next bottleneck that must be broken or the next mix that must be achieved and made that step, bottleneck or mix the measure against which all work will be measured. Either you are working or you are not. If you are not working then you are wasting time.

The people at Marmot Mountain were able to turn their company around by implementing a singularity-of-intent culture. What would happen if you implemented a singularity-of-intent culture in your organization?

Take care…

John

Knowing the Machine

Knowing the Machine (KtM) is my attempt to address the challenges of finding oneself in a leadership position without falling prey to the pitfalls propagated by the spread of the Leadership Epidemic.

KtM consists of three basic concepts:

1) All processes can be viewed as a queue or line waiting for service
2) Three measures of execution matter most: Input, Overhead and Output
3) Time is your most limited and valuable resource

While I can not claim that any of the concepts behind KtM are original (I've borrowed liberally from much of my reading), I don't often see these concepts applied in this manner.

My initial purpose in discussing KtM is to develop a better understanding of how the pieces fit together and support each other. To that end, I welcome any comments you have.

Take care...

John

Red Notebook - Entry 2

Simply put, your “Value Proposition” is why people buy your product or services. For a place like Wal-Mart, the value proposition is at the intersection of low prices and good-enough quality.

While at first, this may seem like a knock, I don’t mean it to be taken as one. If you take a closer look at that statement, you will see what I’m getting at.

1) A low price is easy enough to accept. It’s hard work making a profit with the lowest prices in town. Besides, who doesn’t like paying less? So, no knock there.

2) Quality is a little different. Who wants to be known for selling or buying low quality? But let’s face, Wal-Mart is not the center of the universe when it comes to quality. When was the last time you said to you self, “I have to have the very best money can buy, where is the closest Wal-Mart?” Almost nobody goes to Wal-Mart for high quality goods. But that’s okay because Wal-Mart has figured out where good-enough is an acceptable substitute. I mean really, do you have to have the very best that money can buy every time you shop? Can you afford it? So, no knock there.

When you find and bring together the attributes that people need and offer them in a package that people can and will execute, you have a value proposition. Wal-Mart has done an amazing job of bringing low-price and acceptable substitutes together and delivers a remarkable value proposition. So, I say, “Good on Wal-Mart!”

The point isn’t product quality at Wal-Mart. Rather, it’s their value proposition. Wal-Mart has built a machine, rather, is a machine that delivers a specific value proposition. If you work at Wal-Mart, you are part of that machine and the more you know that machine the better equipped you will be to become a part of the process that defines the evolution of the machine. The same is true whether you volunteer at your local hospital; work in your parent’s auto parts store or are a VP for a Fortune 500 company. If you want your organization to succeed, the ability to identify and understand your value proposition, i.e. “Knowing the Machine” and how you can influence it’s evolution toward the next value proposition/machine is the single most important skill you can develop.

Take care...

John

Red Notebook - Entry 1

Strategic Development
- Vision
- Mission
- Goals
Execution
- The Value Proposition
- Singularity of Intent
- Knowing the Machine
Maintenance
- People Development
- Incentives and Rewards
- Support
- Feedback

What do these concepts mean in your organization? If it is anything like mine, one, if not more, find their way into every problem discussion we have. People speak of them, frame their issues in one or another of them, point to shortfalls regarding them, etc... But no body ever seems to "do" anything with them.

Now, I have to admit, I think these concepts are important; they are the elements I've been exposed to for most of my professional life. How could I think otherwise? But you see, I'm beginning to wonder if any of these concepts really mean anything. I need to think about this some more.

Take care...

John

Thoughts on Limited Liability

Vinay at WorldChanging posts...

One of the persistent threads running through environmentalism is the notion of "Corporate Responsibility." I've been thinking through some of the issues involving how corporations are formed and how the nature of the corporation affects how the economy assesses and handles risk and I'd like to present an idea for comment and examination.

The seed of the idea is that the limited liability corporation is a government subsidy to risky investments and as such may be partly what drives the reckless attitude of corporations towards the environment...

While Vinay is correct in stating that limited liability corporations (LLC) encourage investors to invest. I believe he is missing the point in assigning the cost of the limited liability.

If investors are willing to accept a given level or risk for a given level of return on investment (ROI), as you increase the expected risk, you must increase the expected ROI to generate the same level of investment.

The risk in his example can be quantified by the cost of insuring against liability; a product that by his estimates would be very costly because it covers a large risk.

Using his example of an insured partnership. To encourage a given level of investment (I1) and the purchase of the required liability insurance (LI), the partnership would have to generate ROI on I1 equal to a lower risk investment (I2) where I2 = I1 + LI.

If the partnership operates at the same level of efficiency/effectiveness as the LLC, microeconomic theory tells us that the increased requirement for ROI, i.e. increased cost, would be past onto the consumer by higher prices and/or fewer choices.

In other words, the individuals he wish to protect from the damaged caused by imaginary governmental subsidies would suffer real damages caused by increased prices and/or reduced choices.

Additionally, since the insurance paid for by the partnership's customers would maintain the status quo in regard to risk exposure for organizational management, the decision making environment will not have changed, e.g. your system provides no incentive to choose a more environmentally friendly path of action.

In fact, under his system of thought where increases in greed = increases in environmentally-damaging business activity, the added pressure to perform, i.e. to act more greedily to generate higher ROI, provides an incentive for organizations to consider proposals and pursue activities with greater potential for negative environmental impact.

Given the protections that LLCs provide for everyone, not just investors, I would think that that any clear minded individual: liberal or conservative, industrialist or environmentalist would be supportive of this type of governmental protection.

At least these are things I would consider when I was analyzing the situation.

On a side note: A few years ago, I took my girls yurt camping. The semi-permanence combined with the openness of the structures provided an exceptional camping experience. Vinay is working a project called Hexayurt. He is positioning it as a refuge shelter. However, given my experience in yurt camping, I bet this project would make a fantastic opportunity for a visionary investment capitalist to underwrite in such a way that it would support both humanitarian and capitalist objectives.

Take care…

John

Check out Vinay's post at WorldChanging...

Check out Hexayurt at MindsMoving...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Leadership Studies Don't Work, and I'm an INTP

Rob at the BusinessPundit posts...

I am an INTP. We are one of the smallest of the Myers Briggs groups, and that does create problems for us at work. But more importantly, it explains why studies about leadership, are (usually) irrelevant. Someone told me that...

Well Rob, I'm an INTJ, and we are also one of the smallest of the Myers Brings groups, but I don't think that really matters. I've not seen a single study that provides compelling support that knowing your Jungian personality type helps. The marketing material claims that the "self-knowledge" gained thought the Myers Briggs grouping is a stepping stone to understanding how you fit in with high performance teams, but I'm not convinced.

However, I whole-heartedly agree with you on the other point in your post; leadership studies don't work. Better yet, it's not just the studies that don't work. It is the idea that Leadership can be drawn out of the myriad of activates that, for lack of a better word, a leader does that doesn't work.

I am constantly seeing lists of attributes differentiating Leaders and Managers. The focus appears to be to differentiate managers and leaders along the lines of what is sexy and fun. Leadership is about doing the sex and fun stuff while management is about doing all the other stuff. Interestingly enough, Management activities tend to fall within the realm of the measurable while Leadership activities fall within the realm of the intangible. It seems to me that a whole Leadership Industrial Complex run by inumerable Leadership Gurus with a new book to sell has been using this artificial dichotomy to completely distort the importance of “Leadership” to organizational success.

The Leadership Epidemic is my attempt to establish a better understanding of this phenomenon. What are your thoughts, do you believe we are experiencing a Leadership Epidemic?

Check out Rob's post at the BusinessPundit...

Monday, May 29, 2006

My First Lessons in Business: What Flipping Burgers Taught Me About The Importance of Good People

My first job was at Rally's hamburgers (called Checkers in some places). It was one of those double drive-thru places that didn't have inside seating. I was 16 and was working for minimum wage which, if I remember correctly, was...

I love this post by Rob May on BusinessPundit. It is a perfect example of a situation that the Leadership Industry would turn into a case study of superior leadership principles in action. And, they would be right, but for all the wrong reasons. Rob's boss didn's apply situational leadership techniques, he didn't empower or inspire Rob, he didn't share a vision that established a superior burger-making culture.

Rob's boss did not get the best out of Rob becasue he used a specific leadership technique. Rather, they achieved success becuase they Knew the Machine: shaging orders, building burgers and working the window; they achieved Singularity of Intent, e.g. all actions were focused on a 30 second turn and they worked In the Moment.

In other words, they achieved successful through better execution enabled by good ingredients: Rob and his Manager mixed through a postive individual relationship; no magic leadership technique required.

Check it out...

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Epidemic Requires a Baseline

"In epidemiology, an epidemic is a 'disease' that appears as new cases in a given human population, during a given period, at a rate that substantially exceeds what is 'expected', based on recent experience..."

That being said, to have a Leadership Epidemic, several components are required. First, you need a disease or infectious agent. Second, you need a means of transmission or vector to spread the infectious agent. Finally, you need a rate of occurrence that is greater than expected for a given population.

In this posting, I will focus on the final requirement, "an expected rate of occurrence." What is the expected rate of occurrence of leadership? To intelligently talk about a Leadership Epidemic, do we need to develop a leadership measure; like joules, watts or horse power?

While I have not read every leadership book ever written, I have read a great many of them. This is my impression. Of the numerous leadership books presented to the pubic every year, none attempted to define leadership in measurable, numeric terms. Therefore, I am going to assume that there is no universally accepted or even generally accepted measure of leadership. As such, we can not put a specific unit measure on leadership.

However, I would bet that most people that have worked for a company; volunteered for an organization or lived in a family have some sense of how much leadership there is in the company, organization or family; even if our measure is in gross Goldilocks units: “too much”, “too little” or “just right”.

While we may not have a number measure, most of us have an innate sense of quantity.

I suspect this sense of quantity is a function of our evolutionary development. In The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Robert Wright provides an excellent introduction to Evolutionary Psychology: the theoretical approach to psychology that explains many mental traits as adaptations in the sense of evolutionary biology, as a product of natural selection.

In the spirit of Evolutionary Psychology, we need to think of leadership in terms of how it contributes to the survival and propagation of the individual’s genes. That is, how does being a leader or something other than a leader contribute to genetic propagation?

When I think of leadership in these terms, I immediately think of three things “risk and reward”, “opportunity and accomplishment”, “ability and action”.

Individuals that accumulate the greatest rewards, i.e. food, wealth, position, etc… have a greater chance of surviving and a greater chance of passing their genes on to the next generation. However, the greater the reward, the greater the risk required to achieve that reward.

In terms of leadership, think of a tribe. Suppose the tribe has reached a point where task specialization is beginning to occur where most of the members of the tribe have achieved a level of success that exceeds simple survival. The majority of the members are work-a-day people. As with most groups, different members will excel at different tasks. Perhaps one member is better than his neighbor at fishing while his neighbor is better at preserving fish. By focusing on what they do best, the two neighbors can achieve more than they could individually. David Ricardo is often credited with popularizing the idea of specialization comparative advantage as a fundamental tenant of economic development and prosperity.

In the evolutionary environment, this prosperity leads to rewards that contribute to the success of the neighbors and therefore the success of their genes. In essence, by focusing their energies on technical tasks, by becoming specialized technicians, and working together, the neighbors prosper. Additionally, the technician’s contribution is tangible and easy to measure. They caught 20 fish, build two houses or made five blankets. As long their numbers are up, technicians know their skills are in demand. When their numbers decline, technicians can work on getting better at what they do or switch to something they do better.

The trade-off for taking the technician path is a limit on the potential success that can be achieved. The technician’s success is limited to his contribution as an individual or member of a small team. Simply put, being a technician offers a low risk path to success for those that are willing to trade safety for lower returns; no leadership required.

On the other end of the scale is the tribal Chief. His value has very little to do with the technical tasks he performs. In fact, he may not do any technical tasks. Instead, his value is derived from intangible contributions such as his repository of knowledge, ability to resolve disputes or skill organizing scarce resources. It may even extend to embodying a standard of behavior or providing a religious figurehead. Unlike the technician, the Chief’s intangible contribution is difficult to measure.

For instance, if he successfully organizes the tribe against hostilities and the tribe survives, the tribe may think of him as a hero. However, if motivational requirements to achieve survival lead the tribe to expect unmitigated victory, they may not view survival as success. The same outcome may be seen as a failure. In the end, his skill in developing consensus, setting direction, managing expectations, executing the operation and maintaining a balance between competing elements, i.e. his leadership ability combined with the specialized capabilities of the tribe determine the leader’s level of success.

This line of thought applies to almost any leadership activity: when to fight and when to flee; when to plant and when to harvest; when to pray and when to take action. The list is endless. With so much riding on these outcomes, the potential for reward is far greater than any one technician could exact to achieve. However, the opportunity for failure is equally great. Every time you add an opportunity for success to the equation, you also add an opportunity for failure.

In many ways the leadership route is a journey marked by feast of famine proposition. In the evolutionary environment, where groups were small and opportunities were few, the all-or-nothing nature of leadership was terribly risky.

It is easy to see how the risk applies to the individuals. However, the greater effect is in the cumulative effect of the risk the group is willing to take.

Groups with a cumulative taste for too little risk fail to benefit from sufficient opportunities and decline in relationship other groups and/or the environment. Groups with a taste for too much risk suffer inordinate losses that cause decline in relationship to other groups and/or the environment. Ultimately, for a group to succeed and for the members of the group to pass on their genetic identity, a steady state that balances low-risk task-execution and high-risk group-leadership behavior has to be achieved. In other words, the Evolutionary Environment favors individuals and groups that balance risk and safety.

If you accept this line of thinking, we have a foundation that allows us to better answer the question, “What is the expected level of leadership?”

If leadership is a high-risk activity, you would expect it to relatively rare in comparison to low-risk technician activities. For different groups, the balance between leadership and technician activities would be dependent upon many factors: environment, competition, knowledge, ability, adaptability, etc… However, regardless of the actual balance, you would not expect group leadership to the prevailing activity.

Using our Goldilocks measures, we might say that the expected rate of occurrence of leadership is “very low.” Applying this level of expectation to our definition of an epidemic, for any give period of time, if the level of leadership substantially exceeds a very low level, we have met one of the criteria for an epidemic.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where to Start

Okay... It seems I am always starting with "Okay"; at least that is what my kids tell me. However, this site is not about what my kids say. Rather, it is about the tragedy I see happening to organizations and the people working in those organizations. It is about an infection that has been spreading unchecked and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. It is about a form of mental illness that blinds organizations to the symptoms of infection. It is about the inevitable demise or organizations that fail to receive treatment.

Specifically, this site is my attempt to better understand the disease I have labeled the “Leadership Epidemic”: its origins, means of transmission, rate of occurrence, symptoms, etc…

In short, this site is about how things are not okay.