Leadership And Our Three Bears

If you think about it…our leadership stories often have a lot in common with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Much like Goldilocks, being a leader requires us to venture out into the forest not sure of what we will discover…

  • And like Goldilocks, we have to be willing to take that walk in the woods.
  • And like Goldilocks, once we stumble upon an unknown place, if we knock and no one answers, we still have to be willing to step through that door in the name of discovery.
  • And like Goldilocks, leaders have to be willing to try a variety of porridges, chairs and beds to discover what is best for ourselves and our organization.

What does the story of Goldilocks and Three Bears tell us as leaders…

  1. Leaders have to be pioneers….and be willing to explore new lands.
  2. Leaders have to be willing to go first…and open a lot of closed doors.
  3. Leaders have to be willing to be learners…and model that mindset for the organization.

And while Goldilocks was in search of the most comfortable…she was still willing to be uncomfortable to find it.

As leaders, we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and try a lot things that might not be the right fit…if we are to discover a better way of doing, being, even seeing.  We have to be willing to spend time in the uncomfortable…

If we are going to get to better.

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Flipping The Power Paradigm

Power is a bit like water…the more you try to gather it, the tighter you try to hold onto it…the more it slips through your fingers.

The funny thing about power…it’s a fleeting thing.  Which is maybe the reason why…

Some people are enamored by it…constantly wanting it, always after it, engaged in an endless search for more ways to gather and control it.

It is an intoxicating enchanter.  Mesmerizing in its lure.  Addictive in its offerings.  Bottomless in its craving.

Unfortunately, it is also an unwieldy and wild beast that can never be tamed.

What most leaders fail to understand is that power can neither be owned nor controlled…rather, it is given and bestowed as an act of trust.  As a source to serving others.  To determine otherwise sends us on a fool’s errand.

The idea of power is an antiquated proposition in our current times.  The entire idea of power, what it is, our understanding of it, even our idea of controlling it…has morphed and changed.

Power is no longer in what we have…but, in what we give away.  True, authentic power resides in our ability to raise others up, to build up those around us…

Power is found in connection.  Less in what we control and more in what we infuse.

Many modern day leaders are so focused on gaining power, on appearing strong…that they are blinded to the influence that they have lost.  We gain in what we give…in what we add, in what we pour out and into others.

Real power is found in service…selfless commitment to others.

Leaders should serve as a conduit…constantly charging up those they lead.  Infusing them with new learning, new knowledge…creating a constant state of challenge and support.

It is not about pulling inward…but pushing outward.  We don’t blossom when we pull in…inward is a negative flow.  Outward is the positive flow.

Leaders who focus on power and control, who put great worth into organizational charts, titles and rank…often have a shallow understanding of power…of real influence and what it requires.

For that reason, we continue to cling fervently to an upside-down idea of power.

And, until we gain a truer understanding of where real power resides…

It will continue to be like water…ever slipping through our hands as we ineffectually try to grasp and hold onto it.

Welcome To The Fear Factory

We most often don’t fear trying, even possibly failing…what we do fear is how others will look at us and what they will say…

Fear.

Whether real or imagined…it exists.

In our minds, in our lives, and in our organizations.

The scary thing about fear…is just how big a role it still plays in our 21st century, modern organizations.  According to Notter and Grant…“Fear is arguably the most important source of dysfunction in organizations today.”

Unfortunately, we do our leadership and our organizations a real disservice when we try to dismiss it away…whether real or perceived, it is there.

It exists…

And when fear exists…learning and action come to a screeching halt in our organizations.  Creativity and innovation are quickly replaced with status quo and self-preservation.

In an environment of fear, the best ideas and thoughts are kept close to the chest.  It is better fly under the radar.  Lay low…remain anonymous.

Which is why status quo and self-preservation are often found at the helm of those organizations where fear is pervasive.

And it is not just creativity and innovation that suffer at the feet of fear.  According to Pfeffer and Sutton in The Knowing-Doing Gap“Fear also inhibits the ability to turn knowledge into action because people are so afraid of their bosses that they do everything they can to avoid being the one delivering bad news about the company, even if they are not to blame.”  

Great leaders understand that feedback serves as the cornerstone of organizational learning.  Growth and capacity-building happen in an environment of feedback…whether that feedback is good or bad, it is necessary.  And when that flow of is cut-off, so is the lifeblood that feeds learning and growth to the organization.

Fear paralyzes that process…because bad news is just not tolerated in the Fear Factory.

Pfeffer and Sutton add that…“People…will avoid bringing negative information to light, even if such information is essential for turning knowledge into action.  People will avoid making suggestions for improvement if doing so first means implying that something is wrong.”

Knowledge, learning, creativity, and innovation…are all vital to our modern, 21st century organizations.  All of which require sharing and the creation of collaborative flows in our organizations.

Unfortunately, when fear exists…those channels close up and close off.

Pfeffer and Sutton add…“In organizations where there is fear of being blamed for short-term problems, people will focus on individual self-preservation rather than the collective good.”

In the Fear Factory…we lose our focus on the greater good.  We spend our limited time focused on our own self-preservation.  And for that reason, we find it difficult to focus on the greater vision and next steps.

Because fear has a tendency to turn our focus inward…

Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not…fear is prevalent and active in our modern organizations.  And it is not a force to be underestimated…it is a driver.

The problem is that it drives the wrong things…dysfunction, self-preservation, short-sightedness, and status quo.

And it will continue to drive our organizations in the wrong direction…until we determine to drive it out. 

How are you determining to drive fear out of your environments and organizations?

Binders Of Change

Deep and committed change never arrives in a binder…it must be stamped on the hearts and minds of those who are tasked with carrying it forward…

Change is a force unto itself, it is difficult, complex, and dynamic…an arduous, grueling and often formidable foe for us to reckon with.  A very real opponent that we must wrestle with on a daily basis.

We only have to take a glance at our sagging shelves to internalize just how challenging a force it really is.  Our organizational walls are literally littered with our ‘binders of change’.  The remnants left behind from a plethora of change initiatives and movements.

And while these yellowing blueprints and frameworks serve as our own historical set of organizational encyclopedias…they have done little to create change.  For all of the great thoughts, ideas and strategies found within…they have done little to move our organizations forward with new directions and actions.

As Chip and Dan Heath confer, “Plans are useful in the sense that they’re proof that planning has taken place.  The planning process forces people to think through the right issues.  But as for the plans themselves, they just don’t work on the battle field.

Because they all have a missing factor…

These ‘binders of change’ do little to move us emotionally.  Dropping down plans from above do little to engage and commit us to these efforts.  We continue to fool ourselves with the belief, that if we create the right plan, implementation will follow.  Unfortunately, what we miss, what we often fail to acknowledge, is that change is not just a mental process…it is a deeply emotional one.

Dropping a binder on someone’s desk does little to motivate anyone towards new actions, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing…towards committed change efforts.

A living mission and vision isn’t found in a binder…it lives in the minds, thoughts, words, and actions of those in the organizational community.  It has, too.  For change doesn’t ever come wrapped neatly in a package…its messy, chaotic, and requires a strong dose of perseverance to carry you through the struggle and effort required from all involved.

For deep and committed change to take hold…it has to live in the hearts and actions of the people it affects.

What a binder of blueprints and frameworks will never do…is engage us and motivate our emotional side.  According to Chip and Dan Heath Brothers, to get change to move forward successfully, you have to be able to “present people with something that moves them emotionally.

The Heath Brothers refer to the emotion of change as the Elephant.  Which is great metaphor.  For, we can all acknowledge and entertain the idea of how difficult and challenging it could be to try and move an elephant forward.  However, once we get it moving and momentum is gained…it can be quite a force.   “It’s emotion that motivates the Elephant. In fighting for change, we’ve got to find the feeling. But which feeling? Anger, hope, dismay, enthusiasm, fear, happiness, surprise?

Unfortunately, since we still try to provide change through a binder…we will continue to fail to engage those necessary emotional dynamics of those we lead.  We will continue to push out our ‘binders of change’ believing that just one more framework or blueprint will be the right one to create new actions, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing…

But our walls tell us a different story…from the plethora of binders lining our walls to the ones serving as the door stops in our offices…

“Knowledge is rarely enough to spark change; it takes emotion to bring knowledge to a boil.”  -Heath Brothers

Embracing The Unknown

As leaders, we sometimes have to stand up against our fears and walk through the dark tunnel of the unknown…otherwise, we always find ourselves crawling back to the comfort of what we’ve always known, of what we’ve always done, of where we’ve always been…

If you have ever served as a leader, whether you want to admit it or not…you’ve been there.  Springing out of your sleep breathless at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.  Wrapped in sweat, panic-stricken, heart-pounding, on the verge of hyperventilating.  Overwhelmed by all that you know needs to get done…all that needs to happen.  Crippled by doubt and fear of not knowing.  An overwhelming sensation that it all lays on your shoulders…

The vision.  The direction.  Goals to be met.  Objectives to be set.  Next steps, next steps, next steps…

Overtaken by the feeling that you have to have all of the answers…and why not?  You are the leader.  Aren’t they looking for you to know?

Which is the mindset of most leaders.  The belief that if they are not making it happen…it won’t get done.  The belief that everything rests upon them, sits on their shoulders.  And as leaders we buy in…hook, line and sinker.  We swallow that mindset whole.

So we stress, we fret, and we scurry about trying to get everything done.  Making sure we are always prepared, always ready…the leader with all of the answers, the one to provide the organization with everything needed and necessary.

The “fearless” leader…

Yet, we have to ask ourselves…do we ever reflect on this mindset?  Should we?  Is this what a leader needs to deliver?  Have we even ever considered these questions?

Is this truly what it means to be a “fearless” leader?

Maybe a better question in our current situation and for our modern times…is whether or not as leaders we can get comfortable with not always knowing?  Can we stand unwavering in the face of the unknown?  Can we push ourselves to get comfortable in a place that has always been uncomfortable?  Or will the anxiety and pressure of having to know all of the right answers (instead of the right questions) overwhelm our senses?

Will the fear of the unknown cause us to crawl back to the familiar?

A world where we have the answers…where we can fix all of the problems.  A world where comfort overcomes growth and capacity…

Can we enable ourselves to embrace what John Keats referred to in the 1800’s as our “Negative Capability”?

For Keat’s, “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” 

Julie Berstein, author of Navigating the Creative Process expands on this idea of “Negative Capability“…as “this ability to stay in a place where you don’t exactly know what is going to happen next.  Willing to chase down ideas and also willing to understand that not all of them are going to lead somewhere…but, the experience of pursuing an idea will influence the next idea.

One of the most uncomfortable stances for a leader, is to stand in the middle of the unknown…without all the answers.  To place themselves smack in the middle of that unknown, that uncomfortability…for that is the vulnerability arena.  An arena that most leaders will refrain and refuse to place themselves into…

Embracing uncertainty and the unknown is downright uncomfortable…especially as a leader.

However, in today’s rapidly changing and morphing society…it is quickly becoming a much more common occurrence.  A much more common position.

Today’s leaders are going to have to be much more accepting of the unknown, much more willing to embrace it…especially if they are going be able to pull their organizations through murky depths of transformative and disruptive change.

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.  We need men who can dream of things that never were.”  -John Keats

(Julie Berstein quote taken from the PBS Digital Studios video “How to be Creative”)

Remixing At The Idea Factory

Everyone has their own set of dots they connect in their own original way…some just connect them a bit more uniquely than others…

Music is one of those things in life that we expect and enjoy that other people expand upon…parody versions, karaoke versions, extended versions, versions by other artists, and even remixes.

We understand that music is not one of those things that blossoms out of nowhere…it is the result of inspiration from everything we have ever heard.  We don’t claim to own the chords or the notes.  We just take them and add our own twist and flavor to them.  Much like making a delicious cake…a pinch of this, a dash of that, all mixed together in just the right amount…baked into an incredible creation.  So, whether it be the same chords and notes or ingredients…the difference is in the maker, in the mix.

Creativity is much the same way, it is unique to the individual…we each have our own accumulation of knowledge, insights and learnings…our special dots we connect.

Whether as a musician or even a baker…very little we create is brand new and original.  Rather, it is how we mix those ideas, those ingredients…how we connect those dots and ultimately, how we mix and bake them together is the point where it all becomes creative and innovative.

According to Kirby Ferguson, “This notion of originality is coming from nowhere is false.”  He continues, “We have this romantic notion that ideas just come out of the blue…this visual of the lightbulb going off.  Though we have these sparks of insight, these flashes where we suddenly realize something…that doesn’t mean that comes from nowhere.”

The difference is in how we breathe life into those ideas…how we recreate and reconnect those dots in unique and creative ways.  Very often we get stuck on the premise that innovation is inventing…creating something that is completely new and original.  Rather, creativity is not just in the inventing…it is in connecting.  Connecting ideas in ways that people say, “Why didn’t I see that?”

Much like music, when we play things over and over again…it can often get tired and overplayed over time.  Very often, the very act of remixing gives us a chance to not only breathe life into something that already exists, but to create something new and exciting.  Which takes us back to Kirby Ferguson’s assertion that, “Nothing is original.”

Rather, everything is a remix…

The music we play, the recipes we cook, even the ideas we build upon…are not original in their source, but in the way we connect them.  It is all in the baking and mixing process that creativity and innovation arise.

And we each benefit the whole when we serve as musicians and bakers…creating and adding our own remixes to the idea factory. 

Which is why the connecting and collective sharing of ideas is vital to the ongoing process of innovation.  The more ideas and thoughts that we have access, too…the more dots we have to connect in creative and innovative ways.  As Ferguson adds, “How we create new ideas is by using this remix like technique…by copying things, by transforming them, by combining them.”

And there is no greater time for access to a wealth of ideas than now.  We live in a world that is rich and overflowing with ideas and possibilities…just waiting for you to connect your dots.  Remixing is no longer just for music anymore.  The world is an idea factory and it is waiting for your mix…your own special sound.

Remixing is no longer about what we do to the original…rather, it is quickly becoming the new original.

(KIrby Ferguson quotes taken from the PBS Digital Studios video, “How To Be Creative”)

Running With Blinders On

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”   -Margaret J. Wheatley

Throughout the ages, horses have served as a dependable and dedicated mode of transportation.  Often as the main means for getting us and our goods from one location to another.

Unfortunately, horses are easily agitated and alarmed.  To avoid panic and distress, small leather screens called “blinders” are often placed alongside their head to keep them from being distracted.  To keep them focused on the path ahead.

In the same manner that “blinders” focus a horse forward, “blinders” prevent them from noticing and seeing what is coming from behind and beside…

As leaders, we can easily find ourselves putting on our own “blinders”.  Caught up in our own excitement and enthusiasm for an idea or initiative, we find ourselves only able to see the path forward…screened from what is happening behind and beside us.

So we plow ahead, unaware of how the whole of the system is being affected.  Often misled by our own forward focus we struggle to gauge the progress we are truly obtaining.  We find ourselves “blinded” from seeing how our decisions and leadership are pushing out through the organization…how it is affecting the whole of the system.

When leaders plow ahead with “blinders” on…they gain a lot of ground, they just miss a lot along the way.

Today’s leaders can ill-afford to “run with blinders on”.  As Peter Senge has often expressed…we need to tap into the “collective intelligence” within our organizations.  We can no longer think in parts…we have to acknowledge the whole of the system when we consider our decisions, ideas, initiatives, and change efforts.

As leaders, when we hold on to ideas and initiatives too tightly, when we avoid and screen ourselves from necessary and needed input and feedback…we not only fail to engage the “collective intelligence” of the organization, we fail the whole.  Effectively diminishing capacity and growth.  Stifling and stagnating the system.

When we get too close to an idea, an initiative, or any change effort…when we hold it too close to the chest, we fail to engage the possibilities of what those could efforts could truly become…

When this happens the whole system suffers.  We lose a global focus for a small perspective.

When we screen ourselves to seeing where possible problems and hits will spring from…we find ourselves blindsided.  Which is often the undoing of the initiative or idea.

When we cringe and hide from the negatives and feedback necessary to allow an idea to form, grow and flourish…we not only fail to engage the “collective intelligence” of the organization, we fail to make decisions that are in the best interest of the whole system…

And when that happens…

We find ourselves “running with blinders on”…

“Our willingness to acknowledge that we only see half the picture creates the conditions that make us more attractive to others.  The more sincerely we acknowledge our need for their different insights and perspectives, the more they will magnetized to join us.”  -Margaret J. Wheatley