Gary Hamel on the Value of Syndicating Leadership

If leadership is needed everywhere in the organization, is it possible that the problem is not that there is a lack of leaders, but instead that there are organizational structures that limit the opportunity of others to lead? Even more importantly, is it possible that change is so difficult in many organizations because, by the time a problem is evident enough to be addressed at the top, it is already to late to get in front of it?

med-th-garyhamel-420x236.ashxI had the opportunity to hear Gary Hamel speak a number of years ago and was impressed by his thought leadership and his practicality. The author of Competing for the Future and Leading the Revolution has always been a futurist who has challenged the status quo.

Along with McKinsey,the Harvard Business Review, and his colleagues at the London Business School, Hamel has created the Management Innovation Exchange to offer a platform for sharing ideas and examples of leading throughout the organization. Through that venue, the HBR/McKinsey Leadership Challenge has been created for the best disruptive idea or practice in syndicating leadership. Click on those links to discover more about the prize and the challenge.

A final word about what is exciting to me regarding this approach. Traditionally we academics go off into a lab or an office, do surveys, and try to find something meaningful to share in regards to management theory. The approach of the Leadership Challenge is to reach out to those places where positive action is taking place, and make it available for the rest of us.

Here is a link to a quick but fascinating interview with Gary Hamel regarding this approach: Interview with Gary Hamel

Should We Rethink the Promise of Teams? — HBS Working Knowledge

Teamwork is changing in an environment where more people are working remotely or are less consistently in touch with those on whom they depend to get the work done. Nonetheless, teamwork is still an effective tool for creativity and synergy in organizations large and small. In a recent issue of Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge,” Professor Jim Heskett looks at some of the these factors in recent research on team work.

We live in the age of transparency, open work spaces, co-location, and collaboration. An entire generation is being prepared to enter workplaces like this, organizations that reward extroverts who show initiative in stepping forward to shape the nature of the conversation of work and the ideas it generates.

The work they do will be carried out in groups ranging from assigned teams to fluid groups engaged in what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, in the recent book ‘Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, calls “teaming,” defined as “coordination and mutual adjustment during episodes of interdependent work.”

Teaming is a process by which participants and entire organizations learn and innovate while carrying out day-to-day assignments. Increasingly, Edmondson maintains, coordination and collaboration are occurring in temporary groups requiring teaming skills, rather than in traditional stable, well-designed teams that rely on managers’ abilities to form and lead them.

Leading business schools honor such behavior. At Harvard Business School, one of the first things new MBA candidates experience is introduction to their pre-selected Learning Team, whom they will work on an almost daily basis through much of at least one year. It’s an essential element of a program that places special emphasis on, and rewards, verbal contributions to classes as well as leadership of teamwork both inside and outside the classroom.It is not an environment that rewards introverts.(Most conversations between faculty and failing MBA students are about helping the students overcome their fears of engaging in classroom discussion, to improve the frequency of their classroom contributions.)

Teams comprising both extroverts and introverts, particularly those with diverse backgrounds, have been shown to have a lot of creative potential if managed properly. But Cain’s argument is that, as a society, extroversion is encouraged, developed, and recognized in so many ways that introverts—with their abilities to work alone, sometimes focusing on complex problems, not relying on feedback from others—may have fewer opportunities to shape creative solutions.

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Ask For What You Need

"Guess the Right Answer" is a game played by many leaders in a misguided attempt to empower their people. In this game, I as the leader, give you the description of a problem and then tell you to go off and find a solution. You come back to me with a proposal which I compare to my pre-conceived idea of what the solution should be and then I tell you it is a good idea (like the one I had already) or that it is a bad idea (unlike the one I had already).

While most employees and followers get frustrated at the leader for playing this game, they also tend to be active participants in the play. It is easy to blame the leader, but how is it getting to that point to begin with. When sent off to solve the problem, they meet in solitude without any contact with the leader and then also get frustrated when their answer is far off-base. 

Assuming that neither group of players in this game actually wants to create such a
Crystal Ball   frustrating situation, there is a simple solution that for some reason proves to be elusive for most teams. Whether it is an issue of ego or simply not wanting to look ignorant, neither followers nor leaders tend to specifically ask for what they need. As the leader in this situation, you can make a difference immediately by taking two simple actions:

1. Ask for what you need. As simple as this sounds, we have a tendency to not say what we need and then leave the communication setting complaining about the fact that we didn’t get it. When you think about the fact that some of us need lots of detail while others need the bigger picture…some get jazzed by the energy behind a project while others want the bottom line…it’s no surprise really that we often get crossed up in effective communication because, while we want the same outcome, we need to understand different things in order to get there. Jack Canfield has an interesting book called “The Aladdin Factor
” which deals with this issue as well. If we establish the habit of asking for what we need, not because we’re arrogant but because we want to do the best we can, we will find that the other person is often willing to deliver it.

2. Ask for what THEY need. While it would be great if we were all equally as willing to ask for what we need, it is a simple fact that we also make it difficult sometimes for others to ask for what they need. Either because of our position of authority or because of our own style, we place hurdles in the path to understanding by making it an heroic effort for somebody to say, “Hey. What I really need to know right now is…” or “I’m not understanding exactly what the point of the exercise is.” If you want to improve your communication with others, offer them the opportunity to easily get clarification. Practice asking, “Did I tell you everything you need to know?” On occasion ask them if they understand the purpose of the exercise or if you left anything out.

These two simple acts…asking for what you need and asking for what they need…can immediately change the tenor of your conversations, whether in one-on-one situations or with groups. There aren’t that many legitimate mind readers out there so help the rest of us out by taking the initiative. In the end it doesn’t matter whether they “should” know what you need or whether they “should” understand. If you are not happy with the consequences of your communication, either delivering or receiving, you have the ability to have an impact by simply asking the right question.

When Best Practices May Not Be Best

For a long time I've been bothered by the fact that many leaders with whom I come in contact are obsessed with identifying and replicating "Best Practices." This has been more of an intuitive thought rather than a practical one as I haven't really been able to say clearly why this bothers me. However, re-reading Seth Godin's outstanding book "Tribes
," it occurred to my why "Best Practice Sharing" can create a hidden problem. Hear me out and see what you think.

When leaders start focusing on identifying best practices, they are by definition identifying what has worked in the past. Too often, they examine the process…the manner in which something was done…and then try to work out how they can replicate the process in their own business or context. One client I worked with recently, for example, was determined to bring case studies into the corporate workshop in order to see if there were ways of applying the solutions in the cases to her own company.

Here's my problem. Almost every leader that has tried, for example, to take Jack Welch's approach at GE and replicate it in their own company has found it difficult if not impossible to do. This is because Welch's approach was not just about a process. It was about a mindset, a culture, and a specific moment in time when these changes could be made. We know in science that to replicate an experiment, all of the conditions have to be the same.  I suspect this principle is true as well when it comes to best practices.

I suggest that leaders need to go a step or two further. We should study more thoroughly the "Success Practice" that went into making the process work rather than the "Best Practice" of the process itself. We should see what it took to create the vision around the solution, and how the leader went about testing his or her ideas and gaining support. We should see what it took to bring about the necessary change and worry less about the step-by-step instructions for imitation.

True leaders are always surveying the landscape for new ideas and approaches. A good historian can document a process, but a leader has to understand the forces behind the actions. That is where the "Success Factors" can be found.