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Posts tagged with ‘leadership’

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Even a perfect machine is just a machine.

Umair HaqueHow and Why to Be a Leader (Not a Wannabe)

Umair on leadership in the postnormal.

The cultural bias against creatives as leaders — Stowe Boyd via GigaOM Research →

I reviewed some research that demonstrates why creatives don’t wind up in leadership roles, generally, although a majority of CEOs believe that creativity is the key competency for our era:

The cultural bias against creatives as leaders, Stowe Boyd

A 2010 study of 1,500 CEOs by IBM yielded a few large insights. One was that over 60% believed that creativity is the most critical competency for CEOs today.

ibm creativity diagram

Creative leaders — they believe — are comfortable with disruptive innovation, both as a stressor impacting the company but also as a tool for competitive advantage. They are willing to refactor operations to produce better outcomes, inventing new ways of delivering value. They tolerate ambiguity well, and are courageous and visionary.

The disconnect is that, in general, people who demonstrate these sorts of capabilities — creatives — are often passed over for management jobs. In particular, we seem to have a cultural bias against creatives. They don’t line up with the typical leadership profile, and the nature of creatives is to introduce ambiguity, which unsettles people looking for certainty. Recent research by  Jennifer S. Mueller (University of Pennsylvania), Jack Goncalo (Cornell University), and Dishan Kamdar (Indian School of Business), as reported in Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential?, shows this to be the case.

Go read the whole post.

The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being (which is considered such righteousness here [in America]) is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness.

There is an opacity in individual relationships, and an insistence that the writer make the relation of the particular to the whole which makes for a kind of farsightedness. I believe in just the opposite. Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood, and this would give a far greater understanding of mass movements and sociology.

Also, this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

As soon as you speak in psychological terms (applying understanding of one to the many is not the task of the novelist but of the historian) people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.


My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.

Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944

My talk with Paul Greenberg at Pivot Conference on Leadership In The Social Business (or more apt, Leadership In The Postnormal).

Laura Dineen on Leadership In The Social Business

Laura Dineen of Bloom Social Business wrote some great notes about the event, and came up with this diagram and extremely condensed synopsis of what Paul Greenberg and I discussed there.

Courage, trust, purpose and collaboration: social business change from Pivot - Laura Dineen

#PivotCon kicked off perfectly with Stowe Boyd and Paul Greenberg setting the scene for the whole two days ahead. Things have changed in profound ways and we’re now living in the postnormal – a world that’s changed but hasn’t caught up to us yet. For leaders this is scary and uncertain (VUCA), which makes it difficult to make decisions, and difficult to use existing data to plan for the future. Organisations are closed with big bad departmental silos, whilst employees are disengaged and lack shared vision.

The disengaged employee is actually the 4D of the 3D workforce: distributed, discontinuous, decentralized and increasingly disengaged from the business.

Laura has made a real contribution with her diagrams. (Maybe I should talk to her about creating more for my Beyond Social book?)

Go read all of her notes on Pivot: it’s a great synopsis.

Oh, and I found this doodle of Paul Greenberg and me talking, by TheRealDanMeth:

Leadership In A Social Era: Notes From #Pivotcon

I thought I’d share my comments kicking off the discussion with Paul Greenberg this morning at the Pivot Conference. We were talking about Leadership In A Social Era. There was a great hand off when Brian Solis said that he, the conference producer and MC, wasn’t the ‘guy in a black turtleneck and blue jeans’, so I could walk in and say ‘Here I am: the guy in a black turtleneck and blue jeans.’


Today I want to start this discussion with Paul Greenberg by focusing on three challenges for leadership. I think these form a power law: the first is twice as large/critical/difficult as the second, and the second is twice as large as the third. So I am going to take 2 minutes for the first, one minute for the second, and 30 seconds for the third.

1 Welcome To The Postnormal

We’re no longer living in the old economy, based on industrial-era principles. That’s over. We’ve crossed into the Postnormal, and most leaders are either unaware of that transition, or are seeing only disconnected parts of it.

It’s not just that things have sped up: it’s the changes that this degree of speed brings.

The Postnormal is an era typified as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, or VUCA. This translates into a context where

  • things are changing unpredictably,
  • we don’t know what is good or bad information,
  • economic systems are so interconnected we can’t analyze the impacts of our efforts on them,
  • and we can’t effectively ‘read’ the situation we are confronted with.

Denise Caron says it well [emphasis mine]:

We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.

So learning how to lead and thrive in the Postnormal must be leadership’s first job.

2 Leadership In The Time Of Followership

The rise of the social web is changing the world, and causing some to equate large followings online with leadership. John Holt countered that, saying this {emphasis mine.]

Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. The include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly. This is the opposite of the “charisma” that we hear so much about.

3 The 3D Workforce: Distributed, Decentralized, and Discontinuous

Part of the postnormal world of business is the 3D work force: distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous (as I explored in a recent GigaOM Pro report on Work Media, aka enterprise social networks). It’s a work anywhere, with anyone, and any time world. But there is a lurking fourth D: disaffected. Businesses are confronted with growing numbers of uninvolved workers, many who have lost faith in their companies since 2008, perhaps as a result of company-led economic ‘adjustments’.


Also, during the discussion I made a few points that are worth highlighting:

  • Anyone interested in the future of work should read the Valve New Employee Manual (see here).
  • I believe that management will continue to use techniques that don’t work instead of adopting ones they don’t understand (source: Eric Bonabeau).
  • The most critical attributes of leaders today will not look like those we associate with leadership of even a few years ago. The patience to let things develop, the ability to operate in ambiguity. And lastly, the courage to try things that make you uncomfortable. 


These and related concepts are forming the foundation of the book I am writing currently, Beyond Social: Imagining The Postnormal Business. You can sign up for the Beyond Social newsletter, here.

Thomas Friedman Is Blaming Social Tools For Our Social Ills

Thomas Friedman is doing his ropa-dope again: blaming the victims — us — for the terrible political world we are subjected to. And all because of social networks:

Thomas Freidman, The Rise of Popularism via

In 1965, Gordon Moore, the Intel co-founder, posited Moore’s Law, which stipulated that the processing power that could be placed on a single microchip would double every 18 to 24 months. It’s held up quite well since then. Watching European, Arab and U.S. leaders grappling with their respective crises, I’m wondering if there isn’t a political corollary to Moore’s Law: The quality of political leadership declines with every 100 million new users of Facebook and Twitter.

The wiring of the world through social media and Web-enabled cellphones is changing the nature of conversations between leaders and the led everywhere. We’re going from largely one-way conversations — top-down — to overwhelmingly two-way conversations — bottom-up and top-down. This has many upsides: more participation, more innovation and more transparency. But can there be such a thing as too much participation — leaders listening to so many voices all the time and tracking the trends that they become prisoners of them?

The answer, Mr Friedman, is no.

And, oh, by the way, when you talk about the participative nature of the social web, consider the term many-to-many instead of two-way. We, the people, are involved in a conversation among ourselves, and if curmudgeons like you or our self-obsessed political leaders want to get involved with that, fine.

Friedman springs a relatively interesting term on us:

Indeed, I heard a new word in London last week: “Popularism.” It’s the über-ideology of our day. Read the polls, track the blogs, tally the Twitter feeds and Facebook postings and go precisely where the people are, not where you think they need to go. If everyone is “following,” who is leading?

Leadership today is — as always — linked to having a following, Mr Friedman. And before you can lead the people somewhere you have to start where they are.

Friedman goes on with the craziness:

And then there is the exposure factor. Anyone with a cellphone today is paparazzi; anyone with a Twitter account is a reporter; anyone with YouTube access is a filmmaker. When everyone is a paparazzi, reporter and filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. And, if you’re truly a public figure — a politician — the scrutiny can become so unpleasant that public life becomes something to be avoided at all costs.

Wait a second: are we all public figures now? What’s with the shift to ‘real’ public figures? What point have you made? Did I miss something?

Alexander Downer, Australia’s former foreign minister, remarked to me recently: “A lot of leaders are coming under massively more scrutiny than ever before. It doesn’t discourage the best of them, but the ridicule and the constant interaction from the public is making it more difficult for them to make sensible, brave decisions.”

Oh, now I see. Because we are looking more closely at what our ‘leaders’ spassive ay and do they are having a hard time being brave. So we should go back to being a mass audience, watching TV, and not whispering among ourselves.

So it’s our fault that our fearless leaders are no longer fearless, and our fault that they can’t rein us in to work together to save the world, and our fault that we don’t have extraordinary leaders.

Yes, let’s blame social tools and the spin they have on human society. Let’s not talk about the precarious of a flattened down world that you championed, Mr Friedman, where offshoring is treated like a law of nature, and the externalization of true costs is a first order predicate in the economics that led to the econolypse we are still living in.

The problem we have isn’t that our leaders are afraid to tell the truth. Our problem is that our leaders have accepted inequity and injustice, and we, the people, can apparently find no way toward solidarity. But don’t blame social tools for our social ills: they are a lot older and deeper that Facebook and Twitter.

(via underpaidgenius)

Shooting From The Hip Is Not Strategic Thinking

I read this piece by Liz Webber, and I thought about so many terrible meetings in the earlier part of my career. Why are meetings generally of low value? One reason is that executives aren’t really prepared for them, and they wing it:

Leaders Need to Learn to Think So They Can Speak the Truth Clearly by Liz Weber | Switch and Shift:

I’ve observed far too many staff meetings and planning sessions in which the leaders ramble on about the teams’ failings, lecture individual employees, or otherwise berate the teams on theoretical, non-specific changes needed. Are their comments interesting? Somewhat. Helpful? No. Demoralizing? Absolutely. So why do leaders continue to do it?  From my perspective:  it’s habit; it’s quick; and most importantly, it doesn’t require any work or change by the leaders. The leaders spew and the employees are expected to react.

Here’s the real problem though, in these situations, the leaders aren’t viewing their responsibilities correctly.

The leaders in these circumstances view the employees as pawns, workers, doers or some other beings that work to produce the organization’s services or widgets. The leaders lead; the doers do. That’s fine in theory, but if leaders truly want doers to “do” at a higher level, the leaders need to learn to lead at higher levels as well. And, that takes time, work, and changes on the part of the leaders first. And that requires the leaders to think, to analyze their current situations, to assess the various drivers of the problems, to assess their roles in creating the situations and drivers, and to assess the teams’ actions, reactions, and needed new actions.

After all of that thinking, the leaders need to develop clear ways to communicate those thoughts to their teams. It means the leaders will have thought, specifically, about what they want and need to say so it’s truly helpful to their team members.

They’re no longer just spewing ideas and words and expecting the team members to form some meaning from them. They no longer practice the behavior of: You need to figure out what I’m trying to say because I haven’t taken the time to get my thoughts and words straight before I open my mouth. 

The best leaders listen more than they talk, and when they open their mouths 90% of the time they are asking questions.

(Source: worktalkresearch)

60% of CEOs think creativity is the most important characteristic of leadership.
(via A collaboration between GOOD and Oliver Munday)

60% of CEOs think creativity is the most important characteristic of leadership.

(via A collaboration between GOOD and Oliver Munday)

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