Saturday, March 24, 2007

His Leadership Sucks! Or Does it?

Gardening shows may not be your cup of tea, but in Europe, they are very popular. Unfortunately, I don’t have a garden. Actually, I don’t have a yard. However, since I moved to Germany, I have developed a real taste for these shows. One of my favorite gardeners is Diarmuid [sounds like Der-Mid] Gavin. The funny thing is, I don’t particularly like the gardens he builds. At least, if I had a yard, I wouldn’t hire him to build my garden.

So, why is he my favorite gardener?


Because he operates from a worldview that is bigger than the work that he does. Put another way, his work, his gardens are an expression of this worldview.

I realized this when I was watching the following scene:

[Diarmuid is talking to a team leader doing some complicated metalwork. They are walking along a stretch of the metalwork that curves around the garden.]

Diarmuid Gavin: That’s really good metalwork.

[The team leader says it would have been more practical to take a direct approach with the work.]

[Diarmuid explains why he likes the work and how it fit’s into the garden’s design and his worldview of gardening.]

DG: I’ll tell you why I spelled that out for you.

Team Leader: Why?

DG: Because you can be stupid, sometimes about that… [Long Pause] No! No! Not stupid… You can be far too practical for your own good… and it stops you doing things… In your own life.

[Later in the show, they have completed the garden and Diarmuid is sitting in the back of the garden talking to the camera about the metalwork.]

DG: Madness is good. Madness is always good to have. It is always good to challenge and to examine our perceptions, and to challenge people’s perceptions of what a garden is.

[Fade to credits]

You may not like his work or how he deals with his people, but you cannot deny that he has a worldview and a focus that is bigger than gardening. Even when people don’t like what he does, they continue to follow him. Here is why.

You can apply Diarmuid’s worldview to more-conventional gardens. His work is an exaggerated caricature of his worldview. As Diarmuid works thought the design, build and presentation of this caricature, you develop an understanding of how he approaches a gardening challenge; his approach becomes part of your approach.

In short, Diarmuid, like all leaders, is a risk mitigator. By following him and incorporating his worldview into their world, the gardening challenged are able to achieve a higher level of gardening success. Where Diarmuid succeeds, they can succeed.

As I stated in Its Not Magic, enabling organizational success is the sole purpose of all leaders.  Simply put, Diarmuid achieves that objective.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Regarding a Manichean Paranoia

Manichean: Dualistic, presenting or viewing things in a “black or white” fashion.

This weekend, while catching up on my Daily Show viewing, I saw an interview with President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was talking about his new book, “Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower”.

The Following quote is regarding his view that President Bush is suffering from a Manichean paranoia.

“[It is] the notion that somehow or another, he is leading the forces of good against the empire of evil. The notion that somehow or the other in that setting the fact that we are morally superior justifies us committing immoral acts.

And that, I think, is a very dangerous posture for the country that is the number one global power, but which to lead effectively has to have the support, the trust [and] the confidence of other nations.

The fact is, he squandered our credibility, our legitimacy and even respect for our power. And that is a rather serious indictment.”

At first, I thought Dr Brzezinski had said Machiavellian, but that didn’t make sense. So, I rewound and listened to it again and there it was “Manichean”; not just black or white, right or wrong but dualistic, religious. It is viewpoint driven by a theological argument against all opponents; like the crusade.

Think about that. Zbigniew Brzezinski isn’t talking about an administration. No, he is talking about one man and his belief that the world is black or white, good or evil, for or against him. He is saying that this one man, the Commander in Chief of the most power and most deadly military force ever assembled, suffers under the delusion that anyone not with him must be against him. He is saying that this one man has squandered our rightful position in the world; divided our allies and united our enemies all in a failed attempt to fill a greater role in history then his abilities can deliver.

If these are not fighting words, I don’t know what are. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with this assessment; what side of the fence you sit on. Either you are mad as hell because Dr Brzezinski is wrong or you are mad as hell because he is right. Either way, if you understand what he is saying, you’re going come out fighting.

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Take care...


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Machiavelli and the Organizational Prince

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit on a leadership discussion panel. One of the participants asked each of us which book we would recommend as a must read for new leaders.

When I heard the question, my first thought was “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt. Unfortunately, by the time the question came to me, someone had already recommended "The Goal". So, I took a mental inventory of my bookshelf and all I could come up with was “The Prince” by Machiavelli. I keep an old, dog-eared copy of “The Prince” on my bookshelf. I can’t say that I often refer to it, but there it was and I stated talking.

Machiavelli’s advice is one of the first and perhaps the most enduring examples of early leadership theory. Before “Machiavellian” became a bad word synonymous with all things deceptive, “The Prince” offered sound advice for dealing with the medieval world of politics and power struggles. In many ways, Machiavelli’s advice is still sound.

Like it or not, as a leader, you are a Prince; well of sorts. And if you are willing to accept that you are a Prince, then you must know what Machiavelli had to say about being a Prince.

Okay, Machiavelli doesn’t paint a pretty picture and his advice is, well, Machiavellian. However, you must read him. While you may not like his methodologies, if you read carefully between the lines, you will see that Machiavelli knew human nature and more importantly, human behavior.

If you are still reluctant, let me put it another way. If you fail to understand what Machiavelli has to say, you are doomed to suffer at the hands of those who do. Worse yet, you are doomed to cause the suffering of your own people. Simply put, you are doomed to operate in ignorance.

Since "The Prince" is a short book, don’t you think that reading and understanding the message is much easier than being doomed?

When you are done, I still recommend you read “The Goal

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Its Not Magic, Its Leadership...

Often times we confuse visionaries with leaders; not that they are mutually exclusive but they are not he same. You can say the same of charisma. Perhaps it is a magical experience or encounter when you meet a charismatic visionary, but neither quality is what ultimately makes a great or even good leader.

When dealing with a charismatic visionary, I have only one piece of advice, don’t let the magical qualities blind you to an inability to develop relationships that mitigate risk for the individual players and ultimately for the organization.

Leaders are catalysts and they have one and only one job, enable organizational success. If his or her magical qualities get in the way of accomplishing this one job, look for someone with a little less magic.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Did You Get Hammered This Week?

Speaking of hammers… This past week I kept running into people that seem to think that “The Hammer” is the ultimate management/leadership tool. By “The Hammer”, I mean their position within the organization.

Now, I have to admit, I found this more than a little interesting. Considering you can’t throw a rock without hitting a book or article published by the Leadership Industrial Complex (LIC) that doesn’t identify positional leadership as the lowest form of leadership power, I was amazed that every time I turned around, there it was.

While I don’t often agree with LIC thinking, I have to admit to being on board with this line of thinking.

As a leader, one of the worst it not “the” worst thing you can do is constantly remind your people that you are the boss and then go about proving it to them by threatening to withhold or actually withholding the fulfillment of their needs and/or wants.

The more I thought about it, the more I have concluded that people do this because reprimand management is their fall back position; when all else fails, they are still the boss. I guess there was a lot of failure or fear of failure going around this week.

If I had to identify the source of most of what I have come to label “reprimand management”, at least the source outside of being a genuinely poor leader, I would have to say it falls on the shoulders of Ken Blanchard. While I don’t believe Dr Blanchard ever intended to promote positional leadership as a fallback leadership tactic, the management style immortalized by “The One Minute Manger” relies on reprimands as a cornerstone of follower motivation.

Here in lies the rub, what represents an appropriate reprimand? At what point does a reprimand cross the line? At what point does a paternalistic scolding, intended to change a behavior negatively effect motivation or commitment?

When Ken Blanchard was doing the underlying research supporting the methods in the One Minute Manager, it may have been a safe bet to use a paternalist approach with a more-or-less homogenous work force. However, with today’s diversified work force coming from different background and myriad expectations of work, you can’t depend on the right connection being made and the right push or change in behavior.

Speaking of behavior, don’t forget, desired behavior is part of that 70% we were talking about last week. It’s a persons back or time, and should not be confused with the competitive advantage that you find in the last 30%.

So, if you can’t depend on your hammer to deliver the 70% of your people that is for sale, how can you even consider depending on it to deliver the remaining 30% that is your only hope of ever being competitive in your market?

In other words, you are on thin ice, and using a hammer to check the thickness may not be the best idea. In fact, in all likelihood, that leadership method sucks.

As I said last week, “If you don’t want your leadership to suck, it’s time to expand your collection of tools.”

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