Bridging Lives Notes: May 2017

Focus on Growth
What is your commitment to growth?
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When we experience volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) in our work, growth might not feel like a high priority. While we can appreciate that, by our nature, we’re either growing or dying, a “yes” to growth can be easier said than done.

Sometimes we try to manage by insisting on controlled growth - with outcomes we get to determine and no mess along the way. Sometimes the growth imperative overtakes us, even when we’d prefer to stay the same - for a while longer anyway. Growth can cut to the core of our identity and how we matter in the world.

There’s something exhilarating and enlivening about choosing to grow.

Leadership and culture agility, adaptability, resilience, resonance… . None of this happens by accident or default. It all happens because of a lived commitment to growth and developing the self who leads and engages. When we step wholeheartedly into our big-person boots and face into what’s there for us now, we stand that much taller and create for the better.

Professionally, you could be growing to … be more profitable, be more competitive, contribute in more meaningful ways, or perform at your best with greater wellbeing. Or something else. What kind of growth do you want - or is required of you - now?

What could you open up to and let go of so you see and engage in new ways?
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the man who lost his keys and was looking for them under a streetlight. A passerby offered to help and then asked whether the man had lost his keys there, near where the light was shining. The man’s response: “No. I’m looking here because this is where the light is.”

How often do we do this ourselves? We’re looking for something or have set an important goal and then stay with what we already know or can see, even when that is not likely to get us there.

Let’s take a fresh look at what differentiates effective leadership and engagement. How could this help you now?

What Differentiates Effective Leadership
In your professional domain, you probably know what differentiates you as an expert. How clear are you about what differentiates you as an effective leader?

Recent groundbreaking study data validates what’s at the heart of leader effectiveness.
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The most important thing you do as an expert is probably related to being competent – even brilliant – and moving the leading edge in your domain of expertise. Would you be surprised to learn that your technical expertise is a non-differentiating strength for your leadership effectiveness?

Think about that…non-differentiating strengths. Especially if you’re rewarded for subject-matter-specific or technical brilliance, it could be hard to imagine that that’s not why you’re valued and promoted as a leader. The truth is, however, that you can be a brilliant, leading-edge expert and a profoundly ineffective leader simultaneously. When evaluating and developing leader effectiveness, something else differentiates you.

I call it Competence-Plus™.
Before we get to the study findings, let’s consider how have you may have experienced this where you are. Think of a leader you absolutely love[d] working with. What qualities really differentiate that person as a leader, someone with whom you’ll take risks, someone with whom you gladly coordinate for taking on complex issues? Ask around and find out what the people you trust and count on think about this.

Mostly you’ll find technical expertise and competence are a gateway requirement. They may be conflated with leader effectiveness, but, in fact, leader effectiveness is something else. When leader effectiveness is missing, working together becomes tricky and can be quite painful and costly.

Results shared in 2016 from compelling research conducted by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams (co-authors of Mastering Leadership) identify what’s at the heart of leader effectiveness. They learned specifically what distinguishes leadership that scales as you grow, resulting in substantially better performance with higher satisfaction and lower energetic cost. Is that something you want more of?

See the 2016 Mastering Leadership presentation here.
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Anderson and Adams conducted a matrixed content analysis of quantitative and qualitative results for highly successful executive-level leaders who completed a Leadership Circle Profile in 2010. The 100 most “creative” and 100 most “reactive” leaders represented 56% of their executive norm base (28% at either extreme).

What they found substantially redefines effective leadership. Leading with creative brilliance, keen intellect, unique competency and capability, industry savvy…that’s all good, but it’s not what differentiated the executives studied as effective leaders.
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They found that both groups - Creative Leaders and Reactive Leaders - were equally endorsed for certain skills or qualities that turn out to be non-differentiating strengths, ones that are necessary but insufficient for effective leadership.

Indeed, they found that strengths can become liabilities and that leaders can experience a Canceling Effect where liabilities cancel out the otherwise positive effect of strengths.
The most prevalent liabilities for ineffective leaders all had to do with awareness and relational skill. They defined the top five liabilities as…
  • Ineffective Interaction Style: Off-putting verbal and non-verbal communication style. Arrogant, condescending, demeaning, dictatorial, domineering, confrontational, intimidating, aggressive, overly critical.
  • Not a Team Player: Operates independently, “Lone Wolf.” Does not provide enough support for the team or recognize its needs. Does not collaborate, coordinate, or align with other departments. Makes decisions in isolation and focuses only on his/her own goals.
  • Team Not Fully Developed: Does not provide development opportunities; roles and responsibilities are not clear.
  • Over Demanding: Of self and others: Perfectionist – nothing is good enough. Drives too hard, too fast, and sets unrealistic expectations such that others cannot keep up with their current capability. Is unforgiving and harsh when expectations are not met.
  • Too Self Centric: Is too wrapped up in his/her self. Puts personal agenda and gain ahead of the team; boasts and takes all the credit for others’ work.

Why does this matter? To become more effective, you have to focus on a different kind of growth. What distinguishes “Creative” and “Reactive” is essentially a structure of mind. Consciousness is a structure, and structure determines performance. Effective leadership is about leading people - and leading for their growth. How you get results is as important as the results themselves.

You have to scale in relational competency if you’re going to grow in leadership. What got you where you are won’t necessarily take you where you’re going. Highly reactive leaders can become highly creative leaders. Those leaders can generate either highly reactive or highly creative cultures. For more agility, innovation and leadership that scales as you grow, transforming your leadership system means evolving from one operating system to the next – both individually and collectively.

What difference could this make for you?
Your growth can make a world of difference. ASK ME about individual and group coaching for your growth - focused on better performance with higher satisfaction and lower energetic cost.

Innovating with Engagement
What is at risk when engagement suffers? Innovation, for one, …and the list is long. Communication breakdowns and the erosion of a positive work environment erode your high-performance capacity. An innovative approach I took for an engagement project with an organizational client earlier this year sheds light on what’s possible.

Engagement and culture are foundational to unlocking an organization’s growth and will either be the accelerator or roadblock to your success. Engagement and culture shape each other. Engagement is key to developing your culture – the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up an organization. That’s your secret sauce; when working in your favor, culture serves as a differentiator and a competitive advantage. When engagement suffers, both your culture and business performance are at risk.

Consider what happens where you are. When efforts to improve engagement somehow fall flat or produce a quick spike in activity only to be followed by more of what was not working before, what do you do then? How do you get yourself out of a persistent, damaging and deep rut?

Consider what builds – or undermines – high-performance cultures. According to the authors of Primed to Perform, there are essentially two interrelated types of performance: tactical and adaptive. When you’ve got both - working together in sync - you have sustainably high performance.
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Tactical performance comes from strategy. The ability to create and execute a plan drives tactical performance. Leaders and managers tend to focus on tactical performance measures. However, in a world increasingly characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), there are greater limitations on tactical performance and greater demands for adaptive performance.

Adaptive performance is just as important as tactical performance but has typically been harder to understand and to measure. Adaptive performance comes from culture. The ability to diverge from a plan and create necessary outcomes drives adaptive performance. Leadership agility is vital here. Adaptive performance is increasingly crucial for high-performing cultures.

What do you look for to measure and promote healthy engagement?

Our project began with an essential question: “What do you want people to think about and why?”
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They already had data from umpteen surveys focused on engagement measures. What could we ask here and how could we get people to interact with constructive candor to make a positive difference?

Our project was designed to promote greater understanding, connection and engagement at each step along the way. We started on the premise that engagement and culture development are complex, systemic issues. Culture and engagement are not one-time (episodic) issues that, once addressed, are handled and you can move on.

This meant choosing systemic methods to improve a situation rather than methods arising from crisis management to solve a problem.
One innovation was to evoke the “wisdom of the group” in a powerful and actionable way they could customize to their needs and fully own. Accessing and leveraging the “wisdom” of a whole group can be particularly difficult in the context of systemic communication and trust breakdowns. Even where they were willing, it was hard for people to bring their “A-game” or to coordinate for meaningful improvements that addressed causes, not just symptoms.

At the core of our process was another innovation: use of WindTunneling technology. Everyone - not just a handful of leaders - gained a fuller understanding of what was really going on and developed options for meaningful improvement. Everyone in the system could share, develop and assess ideas in a trustworthy process - without distortion from power dynamics, bias, etc. Our approach represented a C-change in how leaders, managers and staff had been dealing with engagement breakdowns to date.
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A diverse group began to learn from their whole system what improvement could look like, feel like and move like. People perceived as chronic “grumblers” and “disruptors” started feeling heard and valued rather than dismissed or alienated. People exhausted and cynical from repeated attempts to impose top-down solutions that either didn’t take hold or didn’t address the real problems began to experience a new quality of sincerity and capacity for follow-through that would make a difference. People began to see and co-create new possibilities in engaging.

This client group continues to explore ways to communicate, interact and co-create as a healthier, more vibrant whole. Instead of this initiative resulting in another “dead end,” it set a process in motion for continuing to improve both tactical and adaptive performance - despite dramatic escalation in VUCA conditions - for a more sustainably high-performance culture.

You Are the Bridge to “Better”
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What difference could this make for you?
  • let me know what resonates for you in these notes and
  • ask about ways we can focus on growth for you.

For the work that's yours to do, you are the bridge to "better." Thank you for the important work you do and the leader you're becoming while you do it. I'm here as your ally, partnering with you to thrive.

Be in touch...and stay tuned!
Lead. Collaborate. Grow. ... to Thrive!
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