Where to Look for Better Performance in Your Work

"Here's looking at you, kid" - Jaskirat Singh Bawa, Flickr

Photo Credit: “Here’s looking at you, kid” – Jaskirat Singh Bawa, Flickr

I read about a unique and interesting study recently. The primary aim of the study was examining the impact of various combinations of employees and customers seeing or not seeing each other while work is performed and how these combinations affect customer satisfaction with the product provided.

An Eye on Cooks and Diners

Researchers Ryan Buell and Tami Kim set up scenarios in a live cafeteria environment:

  • Scenario One: Cooks and diners not in view of one another
  • Scenario Two: Diners only could view cooks
  • Scenario Three: Cooks only could view diners
  • Scenario Four: Diners and cooks both in view of one another

In each of these scenarios, diners would rate the quality of the food. The key finding in this study was that cooks who could view diners while preparing their customer’s food had the highest food quality ratings.

The Extra Ingredient in the Recipe of Work

Of this finding, Buell notes:

“We’ve learned that seeing the customer can make employees feel more appreciated, more satisfied with their jobs, and more willing to exert effort. It’s important to note that it wasn’t just the perception of quality that improved—the food objectively got better.”

Though not difficult to understand, this is a powerful finding from a unique study.

Who Are You Serving through Your Work

Most readers likely will not identify with the specifics of the cook-diner relationship. But all of us can think about the people we serve through our work, whether we are paid or not. Who are the customers, students, members, friends, family, and colleagues who benefit from our work?

The takeaway is the importance of focusing on these people while we work. And, if at all possible, to create an environment where we can regularly see those we serve through our work.

Keeping Your Eye on Your Customer

If you care about adding value to the lives of your customers—those you serve—find ways to keep these people in mind and in view while you do your work. Buell and Kim’s research suggests that you will perform best and provide the best products and services when you do.

Keep your eyes on the people you serve!

8 Practices of Effective Executives — From Knowledge to Action to Accountability

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What makes an effective executive?

Responding to this question, Peter Drucker wrote that great chief executives in history often did not have stereotypical leader charisma or similar personalities, attitudes, values, strengths, or weaknesses. Drucker argues that what they do have is commitment to eight core executive practices.

  1. They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  2. They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  3. They developed action plans.
  4. They took responsibility for decisions.
  5. They took responsibility for communicating.
  6. They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. They ran productive meetings.
  8. They thought and said “we” rather than “I”.

At the heart of these practices put forward by Drucker is a commitment to getting the right things done in the right way. In order to get the right things done in the right way, effective executives need to:

  • Get the knowledge they need,
  • Translate this knowledge into action, and
  • Ensure accountability for this action across the organization.

If you are responsible for executive leadership in a community, Drucker’s eight core executive practices provide practical insight on moving from knowledge, to action, to accountability. How are you doing on these fronts? Are you refining these practices in a movement toward effective executive leadership?

Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

by Arya Aiai, Flickr

Photo Credit: Image by Arya Aiai, Flickr

One of my areas of research is examining the role of resiliency in leadership. Here’s a link to an overview of one of my recent academic articles focused on the role that obstacles and resiliency play in the development of leaders (Management Research Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 5, pp.466 – 478).

In our research, we found that a variety of developmental assignments, relationships, experiences, and training were associated with increased levels of leader resiliency. Often, these developmental variables take the form of personal and professional obstacles that build resiliency in leaders.

What is Resiliency

Resiliency is about the capacity to bounce back after difficulty. Resiliency is about the capacity to persist through and overcome diverse challenges in life and leadership.

In this day and age, resiliency is increasingly important for leaders. Our world abounds with uncertainty, and it is individuals and leaders who are able to bounce back and make the best of difficult circumstances who will thrive in the days and years ahead. This is what resiliency is all about—persisting, or even thriving, in the midst of difficulty.

How Resiliency Works

Engaging the theme of How Resilience Works, Diane Couto argues that resilient people possess three defining characteristics.

  1. Resilient People Face Down Reality: “…coolly accept the harsh realities facing them.”
  2. Resilient People Search for Meaning: “…find meaning in terrible times.”
  3. Resilient People Continually Improvise: “…have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.”

These characteristics are vital for leaders today. Facing down reality means accepting the harsh realities and facts in front of us, but doing so in a way that finds meaning and purpose in the chaos.

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins referred to this tension between facts and faith as “The Stockdale Paradox.” The Stockdale paradox, named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, is based on the observation that those who survived in the most difficult of circumstances (such as prisoners of war) do so by both confronting the most brutal facts of one’s current reality AND retaining faith that one will prevail in the end. It is not merely choosing optimism OR pessimism—it is the experience of embracing BOTH difficult facts along side optimistic hope.

Brakes Break for a Reason”

My wife took me to a movie last night entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. It is the story of the Kadam family who left India for a new life in France. As the story unfolds, this new life begins in a French village due to their vehicle breaking down. Overlooking this village, and through the events that follow, the family embraces their reality that “Brakes break for a reason.” Through embracing the reality in front of them, the Kadam family finds meaning in the moment and forges a new and hopeful future for their family.

It was a beautiful movie, and in a simple way depicts this tension between facing down reality and finding meaning in the midst of reality.

Purpose in Leadership

This tension is one of the reasons I’m passionate about “Purpose in Leadership.” Leaders who are able to make sense of the world around them—to find meaning in the face of the mess—often are characterized by a resiliency that allows them and their organizations to thrive in the midst of great difficulty.

Creative Improvisation

This blend of finding meaning in the face of reality sets the stage for Couto’s final observation—the ability to improvise and make do with what is at hand. Resilient leaders face reality from a place of purpose and meaning, and from this place engage the resources around them (human, physical, structural, financial, etc.) to resolutely move forward toward their driving purpose.

Because the future is always being created as we go, leaders learn to improvise along the way. They respond to the needs around them. They collaborate with the people and resources at hand. They find unique and creative pathways forward to accomplish their goals in new ways.

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How are these characteristics of resilient people at work in your life? Are you nurturing this capacity to (1) face reality, (2) find meaning, and (3) forge a path forward through creative improvisation?

37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations. Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

Hindrances to Change

I’m teaching a graduate course on organizational leadership this semester. Yesterday, our lecture focused on barriers to change. From change theorists like Kurt Lewin on to others today, it is argued that change may only take place if the driving forces working toward change are greater than the restraining forces working to maintain the status quo.

In light of such perspective on change, leaders must be aware of the significant forces, barriers, and hindrances working against change.

I see hindrances or barriers to change grouping around four primary domains:

  1. Intrapersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to individuals
  2. Interpersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to the interpersonal relationships between individuals
  3. Team & Organizational Dynamics: barriers related to team and organizational systems and structures
  4. Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics: barriers related to the larger context within which organizations are embedded

In order to better understand the restraining forces at work against change, I present these 37 barriers to change grouped around the four above noted domains.

Intrapersonal Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Personally)
  • Risk Adverse
  • Complacency
  • Fear of Increased Responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to Experience the Discomfort of Change
  • Threat to Personal Values & Perspectives
  • Comfort with what is Familiar (peace before progress)
  • Suspicion of New Ideas
  • Focus on Self-Interest
  • Concerns for Job-Security

Interpersonal Dynamics

  • Lack of Trust
  • Resenting Interference of Others
  • Threat to Status in Community
  • Feared Loss of Power
  • Feared Loss of Positive Personal Relationships
  • Insular Approach to New/External Ideas
  • Feeling Excluded & Left Out
  • Poor Communication

Team & Organizational Dynamics

  • Focus on Past Success and Innovation
  • Social and Structural Self-Preservation
  • Institutional Focus over Focus on Purpose
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Feasible
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Necessary
  • Rule of a Change-Adverse Minority
  • Lack of Leader Vision & Leader Direction
  • High Cost (economic and human resources)
  • Failures Treated as Problems in the Organization Culture
  • Misalignment of Resources
  • Lack of Sponsorship by Senior Leadership
  • Lack of Training on How to Approach Change
  • Organizational Culture that Is Adverse to Change

Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Organizationally)
  • Economically Uncertain Environment
  • Fear of Unknown Environmental Realities
  • Concerns for Organizational Competition
  • Lack of Socio-Cultural Awareness
  • Not Considering the Needs/Wants/Aspirations of Environment or Society when Approaching Change

___________________________

Change is a reality in our world. Leaders who grow in their awareness of the barriers and restraining forces working against change will be better positioned to find solutions and carve out a positive change pathway for their community. In your organization, what barriers to change are most pronounced and how is your community working to find a productive pathway forward?

Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Photo: In the middle of nowhere, Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

FORESIGHT

Larry Spears argues that foresight is one of Robert K. Greenleaf’s core characteristics of servant leaders. Of foresight, Spears notes:

Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easy to identify. One knows it when one sees it. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.”

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE FOCUS OF FORESIGHT

This thread of learning from the past, observing the present, and anticipating the likely consequences of decisions on the future is critical. Focusing on only one of these areas can lead to leadership blind spots. Using and embracing all of them brings holistic perspective to leadership.

Past: The past is full of lessons, but it is not where we live. We must look to the past. We must listen to the past. We musts learn from the past. But, we must not live in the past. We must not only celebrate the past glory days of our organizations and communities.

Present: We must be present in the moment we’ve received, fully engaging the lives and mission we’ve been given as individuals and as organizations. At the same time, we must not be short-sighted and only live for the moment.

Future: Similarly, we must look to the future in light of the lessons of the past and present. We must anticipate and make course corrections based on likely outcomes and anticipated scenarios. But, we must not only look to the future. We can be so future-oriented that we miss the people and opportunities that are right in front of us. We must not live in the future, but rather look to the future for insights that inform the present.

STRATEGIC FORESIGHT

Although all organizational members benefit from looking at the past, present, and future, leaders in particular have this as part of their core job responsibilities. Leaders must learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Foresight is not about looking into a crystal ball to see the future. Foresight is about actively learning. It is about playing out future possibilities and scenarios in our minds based on the past and present knowledge we have of our organizations and world. It is about identifying with clarity what will be the likely future outcomes of decisions we make in the present.

FORESIGHT FOR TODAY

In other words, although foresight is looking to the future, foresight serves the present. Leaders look to likely future possibilities based on diverse possible decisions and scenarios, and then they return to the present to guide present-day decision making in light of this future-looking foresight activity.

As you look at the past, present, and possible futures in your organization, what narrative threads and patterns emerge? What lessons do these threads point to for your community? As you look to the future and anticipate likely outcomes of decisions, what decisions need to be made in the present to serve your organization in light of these desired outcomes?

Engage your leadership with foresight, guiding your present based on lessons from the past and foreseeing likely outcomes in your organizational future.

Assessing Leadership — The Purpose in Leadership Inventory

Researching, Steve Hanna, Flickr

Photo Credit: Researching, by Steve Hanna, Flickr

The inaugural edition of the journal Servant Leadership: Theory and Practice came out at the end of August. I’m grateful to have an article included in the August 2014 issue of the journal. My article is focused on the development and initial testing of what I’m calling The Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

In this brief post, I’m providing a link to the full article followed by a brief overview of what leadership variables are measured by the instrument.

The Development and Initial Testing of the Purpose in Leadership Inventory:
A Tool for Assessing Leader Goal-Orientation, Follower-Focus, and Purpose-in-Leadership

Why Was the PLI Created?

The Purpose in Leadership Inventory (PLI) was created for two audiences.

Leadership Researchers: First, the PLI is designed for researchers in the field of leadership studies. Developing new instruments to measure leadership variables is one of the keys to ongoing advancement of the field. As the field of leadership studies has grown throughout the last century, noticeable shifts are occurring. The PLI is designed to capture some of these shifts, and help researchers understand which leadership factors are associated with effectiveness in diverse organizational contexts.

Leadership Practitioners: Second, the PLI is designed for engaged leadership practitioners who desire to study the place of goal-orientation, follower-focus, and purpose-in-leadership within their organizations and leadership practice. Diverse leaders approach leadership differently. The PLI allows leaders to gain insight into how followers perceive their leadership around these vital variables.

What Does the PLI Measure?

As mentioned above, the PLI measure three core leadership variables. These are:

  • Goal Orientation
  • Follower Focus
  • Purpose in Leadership

The first two capture variables highlighted in a previous post: People or Production — Getting Things Done while Caring for People. A focus on accomplishing goals and getting things done is important for leaders. Equally import is a focus on caring for followers. Goal orientation and follower focus are the first two variables measured by the PLI.

The third variable is the significant addition to the leadership research stream. This variable is Purpose in Leadership. Purpose in leadership as a variable is based on the work of individuals such as Paul Wong who focus on meaning-centered approaches to leadership and management. These approaches take seriously the leaders’ sense of meaning and purpose.

Why Does this Matter?

The more I engage in leadership research, the more I’m convinced that purpose matters. Leaders who have a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives as leaders add value to their organizations. Such leaders help the members of the community understand that their work and organizational outcomes actually make a difference in the world.

As leader-centered models of the 20th century have been modified by more recent approaches such as transformational and servant leadership, the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning and purpose in leadership has emerged. The PLI is a tool to help leadership practitioners and researchers investigate the priority of these leadership variables.

I’m looking forward to seeing the additional research that will emerge through the Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

Manage with Realism — Lead with Optimism

Hope_Darren-Tunnicliff

Photo Credit: Hope, by Darren Tunnicliff, Fllickr

Hope…

People and organizations thrive on hope and optimism. Hope helps to orient people toward the future and inspire hearts and minds to action. Optimists choose to see the proverbial half glass full, and look for opportunities with a spirit of positivity.

Regarding optimism, Winston Churchill noted: “For myself, I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Similarly, Churchill declared: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”

Biblical authors also point to the power of hope noting that because of the love of God “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).

Hope is powerful. It holds a vital place in the life of organizations and the work of leadership. But hope alone is not enough. Hope and optimism must be blended with realism for leaders and managers.

One of my guiding leadership principles is this: Manage with Realism—Lead with Optimism.

Manage with Realism

Pessimism is exhausting. Always seeing the glass half empty and only looking at problems drains life from people and organizations.

But realism is an alternative that need not be pessimistic. Organizations benefit from managerial attention to details. Engagement with detail is best carried out from a place of realism—engagement with real strengths, real weaknesses, real opportunities, and real threats (…a “SWOT” analysis with realism). Healthy leaders and managers do not avoid reality, they face it. Healthy leaders and managers need to manage with realism.

Lead with Optimism

The story does not end with facing reality and managing with realism. Leaders and managers also need to inspire hope and optimism in the hearts and minds of people. Leaders and managers need to manage with realism and lead with optimism.

Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” Managing with realism is not the end of the story. Leaders help their people see light in the darkness and hope in the midst of reality by leading with optimism.

As Helen Keller noted, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” and “nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” To inspire our people toward achievement, leaders must inspire with hope and optimism.

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Rather viewing realism and optimism as being at odds, organizational success depends upon leaders and managers attending to both. How are you doing on these fronts? How is your organization doing? Are you managing with realism and leading with optimism?