The Organizational Garage Sale

Managers have a tendency to create layers…whereas, leaders understand that their real work lies in peeling those layers away.

If there is one thing that educators do not do…it is get rid of anything.  “You never know when I might need this again…” is just a staple of many an educator’s vocabulary.

And very often, the same rings true for our organizations and institutions.  We hold onto “stuff” and “ways of doing things” long after they’ve lost their usefulness.

We live with this fear, as people and organizations, that as soon as we get rid of something, ends up being the same time we need it again…

And for that reason, we have the choice of living with clutter, or an unending search for space and ways to store things more efficiently.  Things we often no longer need, or will never use again.

To go against this way of thinking is mentally chafing.  It rubs up against our human nature…which plays out similarly in our organizational cultures.

Which is why we have so much stuff…we find it incredibly difficult to give it up, even if we don’t use it anymore.  Even if deep down inside we know we will never use it again.  We would rather put it in a box, on a shelf, with the hope that we will use it again…than to put it out into circulation where someone might be able to get some use out of it.  We find it much easier to pile on, than to pare down.  It is just our nature.

We, as people and organizations, have this tendency to think in terms of addition…of more.

Our brains have a tendency to send out a positive vibrations when we think of the word “add“.  Consider words associated with “addition“…plus, gain, more, boost, expand, etc.

Whereas, our brains experience a similarly opposite effect when we hear the word “subtract“.  Consider those words that are associated with “subtraction“…minus, loss, decrease, diminish, dwindle, etc.

More has become a societal overwhelmer.  An endless search…to add.  A mental parasite that attaches to us and our organizations.  We never want less.  We struggle at every opportunity to downsize.  It is almost painful.  We even become wistful about those things we give away…even if we will never use them again.

We are constantly in this search for more…in our life, in our work.  The only problem…it does not satisfy.

It takes real discipline to pare down…to move to less.  To take away, to minimize.

But that is just what we have to do…in our lives, as well as in our organizations.  We have to declutter, to have the discipline to focus on less.  Which is the key to less…discipline.

Great leaders look to create agility.  To pare down their organization to the core of important.  To make it healthier by focusing on the necessary, while cutting and trimming away the clutter that remains.

More and more, we see people worn and tired in our organizations because of the overwhelming amount of things we are trying to do.  This constant addition of what needs to get accomplished becomes overwhelming.  Too many choices, too many focuses, does not allow us to get more accomplished.  Rather we end up getting less done and usually on a more superficial level…as we become even more tired and more overwhelmed.

Which is why, sometimes, we have to create opportunities for organizational garage sales.  Chances to get rid of the clutter.  To slim down our organizations and rid them of those unneeded structures and “stuff” that get in the way of focus and progress.  That weigh us and our organizations down.

Maybe it is a good time to look at doing less…and doing it better.

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The Mind Drift: Intentional Engagement

“There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plan of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.”  -Albert Einstein

How often have you driven somewhere only to realize that you’ve been operating on a mental autopilot?  It can be a bit surprising and unnerving to realize how far away you were from the actual task at hand.  Surprisingly, we can be hard-pressed to actually remember the drive at all…arriving with little or no recollection of the trip.

According to an article by David Rock, the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, points to a study by Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth which highlights that…“most of us are mentally checked out a good portion of the time.”  “This study shows that just under half the time, 46.9 percent to be exact, people are doing what’s called ‘mind wandering’.  They are not focused on the outside world or the task at hand, they are looking into their own thoughts.”

What I find most fascinating about this ‘mind wander’, this mental autopilot, is how proficient we can be at many tasks, such as the actual act of driving a car.  How efficiently and effectively our subconscious mind will kick in and take over during these spells.  It is rather remarkable.

And it is not just on our morning drive into work that this ‘mind wandering’ takes over…

Unfortunately, many of those around us spend much of their day on mental autopilot, tuned into other ideas and thoughts beyond their current circumstances and work.  Often bored and disengaged, their professional tasks are something to check off a ‘to-do’ list rather, than a creative endeavor to add value to the organization and those around them.

When the subconscious kicks in and the ‘mind wander’ takes over we become efficient, rather than effective.  Just like that morning drive to work.  We get the task done that needs to get done…we just find ourselves hard-pressed to have any recollection of the process.  It becomes a bit mind-numbing and meaningless.  And just like that drive…we unconsciously maintain our speed, we stay in our lane…we stay safe and predictable.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Which is why it is so easy for us to ‘mind wander’…the predictable and constant can be like mental Novocain…shielding us from the new, the different, those engaging experiences that shake us out of our subconscious existence.

So, maybe instead of finding ourselves in a ‘mind wander’…maybe, we need to engage in a mind drift.

Think of the mind drift is an intentional way of moving us off of that mental autopilot.  It’s no longer being satisfied with traveling in that same, one lane existence we take each day.  Rather, it is purposely drifting into other lanes in an effort to gain new experiences, new perspectives.  It is an intentional, rather than subconscious drift.  It is intentional in that it requires taking responsibility for and creating your own engagement.

Just understand, when you drift, when you veer into other lanes…not everyone will be happy.  Some will be downright angry.  There may be some honking, fist-shaking and a even some shouting and yelling coming your way.  But that is to be expected when you determine to shake things up a bit.

Just remember, after the initial reaction, people have a tendency to quickly slide back in to their own subconscious world, back into their own efficient ‘mind wandering’ lanes.

The ‘drift‘ is all about expanding our experiences, our learning.  If we always stay in our lane, autopilot is inevitable.  And growth remains minimal.

In closing, you may want to think about the necessity to drift and expand our experiences, our learning and even our ideas, like fishing…

Fishermen have a tendency to be very superstitious.  They have a favorite lake, use the same set-up, the same lures, bait…even the same special spot they cast out from each time.  And yet, for all of the hours spent fishing, they still only have one line in the water…which ultimately, limits the amount of fish they can catch.

Whereas, those who fish in the ocean, not only open themselves to the opportunity of more fish, but a much grander variety and diversity of fish.  So instead of single line…when you throw out a net, you inevitably increase the chances of catching not only more fish, but a much greater variety.

As leaders, as in life, we often have to push ourselves out of our lane…we have to be able to create our own ‘mind drift‘.  If we are to continue growing, we have to be willing to open ourselves to a broader, greater and even richer level of learning and ideas.  Sometimes, instead of throwing that single line out at our favorite lake, take a chance and cast your net out in the ocean and see what you pull in…

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”  -Winston Churchill

Never Underestimate The Power Of “Changents”

“One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.  It…makes you think that after all, your favorite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded… Naturally, therefore, common men hate a new idea, and are disposed more or less to ill-treat the original man who brings it.”  -Walter Bagehot Physics and Politics (taken from Everett M. Rogers Diffusion of Innovation)

Being an agent of change is an everyday business…

It requires keeping one finger on the pulse of the people and one eye on the horizon.  Many consider these agents of change or “changents” as organizational disruptors.  When in fact, very seldom do they look for broad, sweeping changes….in most instances, changents have a tendency to just see a different way forward.  They notice voids and chasms in the current way of doing that can be filled with new and better ways of doing.

Changents see conversations as transformational events, a forum where knowledge, ideas…and the seeds of change are planted.  Where the reality is pushed on towards the vision…

We often have this erroneous idea that a changent is only interested in creating new.  When, in fact, a changent is a much more multidimensional  and dynamic way of being and doing…

Changents are noticers, adopters, creators, subtractors, directors, leaders, followers, momentum builders…

Changents understand that it is not only in creating new…it is about creating movement, direction…building momentum, and filling voids.  It is both addition and subtraction.

As well as creating, it requires engaging in eliminating those obstacles that hinder movement and momentum…of processes and ways of thinking that slow down and even cauterize the forward movement, progress, and progression of an organization.

Changents are not only those early adopters who push forward in an organization to engage and secure new ideas…they know just as well when to slow down and allow new ideas a chance to settle in and percolate.  

Changents are adept in the art of timing…and understanding whether the timing is right or not right to move forward.  Being a changent is as much knowing what to do as it is knowing what not to do…and when.

As Everett M. Rogers states in Diffusion of Innovation“A change agent usually seeks to secure the adoption of new ideas, but he or she may also attempt to slow the diffusion process and prevent the adoption of certain innovations with undesirable effects.”

This is a very important and vital clarification…being a changent isn’t just in driving change, steering the ship…it’s being a vacuum and creating voids that spill the organization forward into new areas and arenas.  As well as, to determine those current organizational structures and processes that need to be removed…that have run their course and bog down rather than energize the environment and the organization.

Changents spend less time pushing and pulling change…rather they become a vacuum that creates voids which are necessary for the organization to fill…

Being a change agent is being an organizational adjuster…what Buckminster Fuller and Stephen Covey would refer to as organizational Trim Tabs.  Trim Tabs are those small rudders on large rudders that create the force that allows the rudder to change the course of the ship or plane.  Which is what a changents ultimately is.  They are the organizational vacuums that create the void of and for change.

They create the energy of notice.  And that energy, that vacuum, has the pull to gain the notice of the whole organization, which creates and enables movement in new directions.

As a Trim Tab…it is important that the pull created both adds and deletes.  Which means that it is not just about guiding the ship, about leading the organization forward…it is also in determining whether to add a change or subtract from the things that are getting in the way of your organization being agile.  Trimming the fat.

A changent is to an organization, as a Trim Tab is to a rudder.  They have the ability to serve as the vacuum that in effect turns the rudder, effectively determining the direction of the organization.

With which I will leave you with the words of Buckminster Fuller…

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do.  Think of the Queen Mary – the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder.  And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s like a miniature rudder.  Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around.  Takes almost no effort at all.  So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab.  Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether.  Bit if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me a Trim Tab.  -Buckminster Fuller (Wikipedia)

There’s A New “IQ” In Town

Today’s modern leaders need to be much more cognizant and aware of a very different kind of “IQ”…

For as far back as I can remember, intelligence has always been considered the difference maker…the overriding, predominant, and necessary factor for being a strong leader.  And while not to underwhelm it’s necessity (for it is needed), what we have seen over the last few years, as we’ve shaken and stirred the murky waters of leadership…is a surge of other influential factors rising to the surface of those frothy waters.

And while “IQ” may still be considered by many to be the top-shelf leadership prerequisite…we have definitely seen a real push and surge in recognizing and acknowledging the necessity of “EQ” or “Emotional Intelligence” being present in any effective leader’s toolbox.  Even though the “soft skills” often still remain the “hardest skills” for many leaders to deploy, effectively.

And without trying to make those leadership waters any murkier…I believe their needs to be a new “IQ” in town…or what I refer to as a leader’s “Intent Quotient”.

Today’s modern leaders need to be much more intentional…with their words, their conversations, what they model, in what they do.  Their overall approach has to be much more intentional.  It requires us to incorporate much more of design and systems thinking into our leadership.

Today’s leader’s need not only be intentional in what they do, and in what they say…they must be ever mindful of their own intent.

Being mindful of your intent, will only heighten a leader’s ability to form better connections and relationships.  Both of which remain at the core of great leadership.

All of which requires a deep awareness…

Which is why leaders also need high levels of “AQ“…or “Awareness Quotient” in conjunction with their “IQ” or “Intent Quotient“.

Awareness, like intent, is paramount for today’s leaders.  It is where your leadership begins…deep awareness of others, your environment, even of yourself.  When leaders are void of real awareness…they lack the ability to see what others see so clearly…in the organization, in themselves, and in others.

And you might be thinking that both Intent and Awareness are embedded in the original “IQ” and “EQ”…and you may be right.

And yet…

Leading in today’s turbulent and chaotic world requires us to shine a much brighter spotlight on those skills that weren’t necessary even just five years ago.

Today’s leaders must be able to not only incorporate “IQ” (Intent Quotient) and “AQ” (Awareness Quotient) into their daily work, they must be able to do it on a much deeper and higher level.

And for that reason, we may need to rethink whether they both need to acquire a much more prominent position within our current leadership toolbox.

Congestion, Roadblocks And Frustration

It isn’t until our routines are disrupted that we really discover how difficult change can be…  -George Couros via Jimmy Casas

And very often it is not the change itself that causes the frustration and chaos within an organization…it is the lack of clarity and transparency that accompanies that change.

Try and picture it like this morning drive to work…

You get out of the house and on the road…feeling pretty good because you are right on time.  It’s looking like a good start to a great day.  And then it all begins to unravel…

As you merge onto the freeway, you feel your blood pressure rise as you find yourself face to face with a sea of red tail lights.  And while you can’t see the cause of the problem up ahead…you know its there.

In an effort to avoid the “this is definitely going to make me late” traffic, you quickly veer off on to a side street…which is only a little bit better than your previous circumstances.  But at least you are making some headway…and if things stay that you way there is a great chance you won’t be late.

And as things start to move and you feel the “going to be late” tension fade…that same frustration comes rushing back in as you find yourself face to face with a    “road closed” sign.  Unbelievable.  Just closed, no other signs, no directions, no re-routing…just closed.

Now you find yourself guessing on which streets to take.  A left here, a right there…only to find yourself merging back into the same traffic that you worked so furiously to avoid.

So you give in…merge into the traffic and slowly make your way to your destination.  Arriving late, tense, frustrated, all wound up…never really knowing what caused the disturbance to your usually uneventful morning drive.

When leaders are not clear and open about the changes that are coming…they push their organization and people into that morning traffic.  Ultimately, bringing the pace and progress of the organization to a halt, as people find themselves slowly inching their way along…unaware and uninformed of what lies ahead.  Just knowing that whatever the change…it is causing congestion and organizational gridlock.

And even worse, when an organization lacks transparency and clarity…people begin to look for side routes around the congestion and confusion created by the change.  They try to figure out their own routes around the roadblocks they encounter.

Either way, when an organization lacks clarity and transparency around a change or change effort…their people will usually find a way to arrive at the destination.  The problem is in how they arrive…the journey they had to endure.  Will they arrive positive and energized.  Or will they arrive frustrated, tense and tired.

Leadership not only determines the path…they determine the quality of the journey.  Roadblocks and obstacles will always surface during change…the challenge of leadership is to not create your own congestion, roadblocks and frustration for your organization…and those you lead.

Transparency isn’t just about being open…it’s about being clear.

Pioneers Need Settlers…

It requires pioneers to move an organization…however, sustaining that progress necessitates settlers.

Too many pioneers and an organization creates progress in pushing towards the vision, but lack the people necessary to do the work of sustaining and bringing that vision to life.

Too many settlers and an organization does great work with sustaining their current efforts, but fail to have the people necessary to make determined strides and progress forward towards the vision.

Which is why organizations need both pioneers and settlers.

Pioneers and settlers give balance to organizations.  For both are needed and necessary.  One without the other will either cause an organization to stagnate or lack the ability to sustain its efforts.  Just like we need balance in our lives, organizations need that same balance for vitality and health.

It can be viewed through the same lens as creativity and innovation…creativity brings the idea to the table, while innovation brings that idea to life and action.

Pioneers and settlers work in the same manner in organizations…pioneers bring the vision to the table, while settlers bring that vision to life and action.  Into reality.  Both necessary and needed.

As leaders, we understand that most organizations have both pioneers and settlers.  But what we fail to recognize…is that most often they neither see eye to eye or even speak the same language.

To keep an organization healthy, a leader has to be the one to bridge that gap…between the pioneers and the settlers.  When pioneers and settler lose sight of each other, it creates chasms and divides in an organization.  Without bridges and scaffolds, these divides and chasms cause dysfunctional divides…as well as frustration between the two sides.

Instead of working in tandem, they become oppositional…

Which is why a leader needs to know when to pull back on the pioneers, as well as how to construct those scaffolds and bridges that keep moving the settlers forward.  Towards the vision.  A never ending push and pull for progress.

The work of a leader is to support both the pioneers and the settlers in an organization.  Both necessary, both needed…and both with their own individual needs and supports.  Acknowledging those needs and supports is the work that keeps an organization healthy…that keeps an organization moving and progressing.

It is the work of leadership…

As a leader, you have to understand that there will always be a divide, a chasm between the vision and the reality…which is why the real work, the work that brings action and life to the vision…is the scaffolding you construct, the bridge that you build to get those you lead across that divide.

Leadership Lessons From Luther (The Movie)

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.”   -Martin Luther

In this world, to be a true changemaker will require deep, steadfast belief in the change you are chasing after.  It will necessitate courage, perseverance, endurance, as well as a bit of boldness to face the doubt, fear, and discomfort that will most likely plague your efforts.

Deep commitment towards change begins as an internal feeling, as much as it is pushed from external forces.  It wells up from your innermost being, a feeling from deep inside, a knowing…that this is both right, and necessary.

Being a changemaker is not something you aspire to be…but a crusade that is birthed in the core of your being that spurs you onward.

For most often, your plight will not be a pleasant one.  It will be fraught with push-back, rejection, ridicule, even anger.  For great change is seldom embraced…most often, it is quite the opposite.

The status quo will fight and push back every step of the way…

The annals of history are littered with the stories of these changemakers.  Those few souls who were willing to sacrifice it all for their beliefs, and the change they were chasing.

Martin Luther was one of those changemakers.  And from him, there are leadership lessons to be learned…

First, changemakers are not born, they become… Like many changemakers, Luther came out of relative obscurity.  He struggled with doubt, courage and even his own ability, early on.  He faced failure, in his own eyes and the eyes of others.  Yet, he stayed determined and persevered.

Second, changemakers and leaders need mentors… Luther relied on his mentor to get him through his early doubts and fears.  A mentor who saw something in him…who urged and pushed him into experiences that provided for his ongoing growth and learning.  A mentor who both challenged and supported Luther each step of the way.  An example is in the words of his mentor, “God gave us gifts for a purpose.  To change minds, to open eyes, and isn’t that what you want to do…to change things?”

Third, we learn “we preach best, what we need to learn most”… Our ideas and thoughts of change are like seeds.  The more that we nurture and feed them…the more they grow and flourish.  But they don’t come forth fully formed.  Our growth, our learning, comes to us throughout the process.  And it requires reflection.  Change may set sail from the known, but it often takes us into unknown and unchartered waters.

Fourth, when you push on the system, the system pushes back, often swiftly and harshly… Luther did not do what was best for they system…rather, he chose to do what was best for the people he led.  He was a servant leader…and as a servant leader, he constantly looked out for the well-being of those he served.  Even when it neither benefitted him or his own well-being.  Luther was willing to stand strong in the face of the current ruling system in order to protect others.  As leaders, we have to stand boldly for those we lead and the wrongs within the system.  Luther was unwilling to sacrifice integrity, character, or ideas of what was right…which has a tendency to exact a toll on leaders.  Which is why leaders must equip themselves with stamina and capacity, if they are to withstand and persevere.

Fifth, as a changemaker, your message and goals may not be interpreted by others in alignment with your intent… As a changemaker, you have to be aware that your message will be internalized by others in many different ways.  You must be ready for your message to be taken out of context and spread in ways that are in direct conflict with what you may be trying to do and say.  Which is why ongoing communication and reiteration are vital to the process.  We are well to remember, that change has unexpected consequences…even in the best of intentions.  As Luther says to his mentor, “That day when yo sent me so boldly to change the world, did you think there would not be a cost?”

And while Martin Luther rose out of quiet obscurity…his impact on the world as a changemaker was enormous.  And while there are many more leadership lessons that can be taken from his life, we may best remember…

There is never full assurance you are right, sometimes there is just courage…courage to keep moving forward in the knowing that you are doing the right thing.