The Future of Leadership

The future of Leadership (and also Management) continues to be debated. It is widely recognised that things cannot remain as they are. We are in a challenging era and we need organisations to be more effective (not necessarily efficient), to be better places to work and to be sustainable. Up until now these have mainly not be attainable apart from in a few organisations. These few do, however, show that what we are all striving for is in fact possible. The question is, how on earth do we get there?

There are professional bodies that see themselves as the custodians of Leadership or Management, however are these the bodies to take things forward? In fact should there be representative bodies at all? The problem is that we are trying to paint a picture of the future which a) obviously does not exist b) which we wish to be different from the present.

This means that if we use the current knowledge and models from any existing sources then we are likely to be interpolating in order to create the future. Even current management thinking tells us to be wary of this. Surely what we desire is a way of extrapolating from what we already know. Fans of Douglas Adams will only be too aware of how the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ was extrapolated from an exceedingly hot steaming cup of coffee in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (please read it if you have not already done so). If Douglas Adams had interpolated then he might have just created a frothy Latte rather than an ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’.

So what does this mean for Leadership? In terms of concrete actions, I am not entirely sure. However, to find out I believe that we need to paint a picture of the future which does not have to be complete fantasy but which should not be limited by current thinking. This should maybe focus on organisational structures (or not), behaviours and the ways in which employees communicate as well as the requirements of organisations. The let us consider how we get there.

We should not throw away what we already know but neither should we accept an interpolated future just because there are aspects that we are unclear about. If there are no Leadership and Management models then let us invent them, if we do not like the language used then let us create new language. Even if we cannot do that, let us experiment and create a prototype of the future which others can borrow or add to.

The danger is that this will be seen as too high a price to pay for creating a brighter future. What price are you and your organisation prepared to pay?

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Doing Creativity the Steve Martin Way

creativity steve martinThese thoughts were inspired by some works of the comedian Steve Martin and have been toned down a little!

“All knowledge is or is about to become old-fashioned. There is room for something new”.

Remember that all but the greatest theory, most of the data and knowledge acquired by scientists will become increasingly irrelevant as it is supplanted by new theory and applicable data. Someone has to provide that new theory and data, why shouldn’t it be you?

“There is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration”.

It’s OK to fantasize about success. Dream your wild-ass dreams. Creativity is often manic. Just remember that there is a reason folks talk about manic depression. In the end, most of your ideas won’t work out. That’s normal. Creativity is about generating 100 ideas, so that you can recognise just one good one.

“It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances”.

When you find your niche, when you have your business idea, make sure that you are consistently good at what you do, no matter what the circumstances or market conditions.

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The Paradoxes of Creativity

paradoxes of creativityI like this list of paradoxes of creativity from leading creativity thinker Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys).

He states that to create, a person must:

  • Have knowledge but forget the knowledge.
  • See unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder.
  • Work hard but spend time doing nothing.
  • Create many ideas yet most of them are useless.
  • Look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different.
  • Desire success but learn how to fail.
  • Be persistent but not stubborn.
  • Listen to experts but know how to disregard them.
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When is a change not a change?

This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.

So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.

Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organization works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:

  • Shed staff, often indiscriminately
  • Adopted best practice from external sources
  • Changed the organisational structure chart
  • Amended job titles

What we have also done is:

  • Lost valuable knowledge and experience
  • Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
  • Addressed any necessary changes in behaviour
  • Failed to address insecurities regarding the future

We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.

This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:

  • Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
  • Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
  • Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
  • Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
  • Encourage transparency wherever possible
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Bullying Kills Creativity

Bullying kills creativity! Much has been written about bullying within organisations. Depending on which survey you read, statistics show that anything between 30% and 50% of workers are affected. The large spread may even be indicative of the fact that in some countries and cultures, workplace bullying is under reported. It goes without saying that this topic should be addressed purely from an HR point of view, but what else is it doing to your organisation?

On a personal level, bullying directly affects the motivation of employees. The effect on extrinsic motivation may simply mean that as an employer you notice a decrease in performance. Intrinsic motivation will also suffer as employees ask ‘why should I make extra effort at work?’ As an employer, there is a double whammy here if you are not seen to be tackling the issues. Along with knowledge and experience, intrinsic motivation is one of the biggest drivers of Creativity on a personal level so ignore bullying at your peril.

Creativity is also one of the major components of Innovation, something that many of us strive for in the current tough economic environment. One of the underlying principles for embracing Creativity and Innovation is the new type of ‘network’ that needs to exist within our organisations. It is more informal than those shown in structure charts and helps us to share ideas and expertise. These networks are ‘soft’, they are not built from cables and computers, and they incorporate real people, your employees. Such networks are built on trust and sharing and are of course easily damaged by systematic bullying i.e. bullying that is not personal but which is accepted as the norm.

There are so many more things that you could also be damaging by ignoring individual and systematic bullying such as team working, scanning your external environment, developing initiative, organisational learning and decision making. ‘So what?’ you may say ‘Why should I care?’ To answer this simply take a look around you. The world has changed and to cope with the changes you need to change too. Old fashioned change management is not as effective as it used to be and to continually demolish and rebuild your organisation structure is expensive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an organisation that changed according to its environment, that could change shape and function as the economy changed, and which could, as part of its normal day to day operation generate ideas for new products, services and processes? This is all possible, from the smallest business to the largest most bureaucratic government department. But you will never achieve any of this if bullying or harassment is rife within our organisation. Apart from physical or verbal abuse, this also includes deliberately delegating boring tasks, not carrying out annual reviews or withholding professional development opportunities.

Get started now before it is too late. You owe it to your employees and the other stakeholders involved in your business.

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