Free Resources – World Business & Executive Coach Summit

Many say that we live in a world where it’s never been more challenging to be a leader, regardless of the field or environment in which one leads. Faster changes, higher expectations of the leader to meet the needs of all stakeholders, always on communication channels, differing needs and expectations of different generations, global and technological changes that rewrite the reality of every industry or field are just a few of these challenges. In such circumstances, leaders need help and access to material that helps them to clarify their thought processes, from wherever it comes.

Last year I was very impressed to access a number of excellent sessions that were part of the WBECS Pre-Summit.  This organisation has a very extensive annual Summit that runs online weekly over a period of months. For that, you pay. However, they also offer a very extensive pre-summit where some of the top leadership experts and coaching experts of the world share summaries of material that will be in their longer summit sessions. These are free, run over a three week period, but are still enormously useful and can often stimulate interest for further reading, research and exploration.

WBECS Pre-Summit Recordings

The first week of sessions this year that can be accessed through the link above already include some valuable gems. Highlights for me included;

a) Daniel Goleman and Michelle Navarez – Mindfulness and EQ
b) Edgar and Peter Schien – Humble Leadership
c) David Peterson – DNA of VUCA
d) David Goldsmith – The Robots Really are Coming

And, there are three more weeks of great material still to be made available – all free!

I stress, this is not just for coaches or those who aspire to be coaches. For one, I would suggest that as leaders seek to achieve more through others in diverse teams, often scattered over many locations, the skills of coaching are pivotal for anyone who wants to lead. In many ways, the skills of coaching are the skills of leading.

There’s also much in these sessions that is food for thought for educators as they give thought to how to prepare young people to go in to the workplace of the future and do so effectively, as well as the most effective ways to lead and empower all stakeholders to do their best for the education of the pupils.

Enjoy, and please let me know what captures your attention.

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The Responsibility Vacuum

 

There are things happening in the world that I think should worry us all. Those things have been a long time coming, but their implications are potentially very alarming. In short, I fear that if movement continues in the current direction the implications could be terrible, and all that despite the fact that it should have been such a good time. So much has been happening in the world for the last 20-30 years that should be setting humanity up for a world in which there is space and time to deal with challenges like global warming and to continue in the eradication of poverty while empowering humans to take ownership and responsibility for their lives like never before.

But, where are we instead? There are certainly the warning signs that humankind is on the path at an accelerating rate towards a very dark time. Why the fear?

The pictures above are of two pages from the reading material I collected from a Covey Leadership Foundations training programme i attended around ten years ago. I had taken the materials out , as I do from time to time, to review. I find that every time i do this i find something new, can check in on my progress on issues and the commitments that I’d made to myself. These two pages leapt out at me this afternoon and I found myself wondering – if you set up many of the people being handed power in many countries of the world today, how do they stack up against these thirteen behaviours of high-trust leaders? Quite frankly, I’m not going to name the country leaders, but I can think of some who probably fail massively against every one of these thirteen  behaviours.

So, the two questions I found myself thinking about were – in a world where the people are handing power to such low-trust leaders, what does that say about the world today, and what does it suggest about where we’re going in the future? And, as an educator, I can’t help asking what the education systems have done that contributed to people who elect such low-trust leaders?

An optimist might suggest that bad leaders being raised to political high office doesn’t matter, provided there are strong, high quality leaders in other areas, particularly in business. Some would argue that so much of the real power today is now invested in business, when the market capitalisation and cashflow of many major corporations exceed the GDP of many nations. However, when we consider that many of those feckless political leaders owe their elevation to business leaders who have put them on their thrones to serve their business interests, when we see scandals like Enron or Theranos or the actions of banks and financial companies, then business leaders may not be the saviours for the future.

Further, one might say that who are the leaders in politics or business doesn’t really matter as long as people are moral and ethical within their families and their close communities. Many want to believe that their happiness and contentment in life is not dependent upon what’s happening in politics, business, the country or the world.

However, I believe that today there is a slow, dawning realisation that this ostrich thinking has created a ‘crabs in the bucket’ scenario for the vast majority of people. Information about just how daunting are the challenges facing the world from;
a) global warming and climate change,
b) increasing shift of wealth to those already most successful, leaving middle class westerners with stagnating wealth and the younger generation destined to be worse off than their parents’ generation,
c) the vulnerability of millions of jobs (and the financial security they represent) from advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies,
d) the tipping point of no return in terms of personal freedom and liberty as technology enables ‘big brother’ to destroy personal privacy (CCTV, facial recognition, elimination of cash etc.)
e) build ups of lethal, powerful weaponry in the hands of low trust world leaders.

History has shown us what can happen in such circumstances, when uncertainty and insecurity reach extremes. The vast majority of people like to believe on the way up, when life is rosy, that they’re creating their success. However, when uncertainty and insecurity start to snowball, people want to be relieved of their responsibility and accountability for their own lives. ‘Strong’ leaders who ramp up the fear of ‘others’ (anyone not like us) will happily convince them that in return for giving them power, they will be the paternal, benevolent leader who will protect them and relieve them of their responsibilities for themselves. Today, we are seeing different versions of this happening throughout the world. Whether you divide people on religious grounds, blame the ills on drug dealers and users or influx of foreigners. All amount to the same thing.

The evidence is that this is working for people in positions of power. Will it always? Perhaps the worst risks will come when those in power seek to use their positions to achieve aims and goals outside their own countries/ domains. This brings power operations in to conflict with each other eventually. Again, history suggests that the ‘little guys’ are the biggest losers from such situations.

Some readers may find this all rather negative. If there is hope, I believe it lies in this issue of trust. Because, the past also suggests that leaders don’t get to be in control and power indefinitely when their approaches are based on low trust strategies.

Recently, I heard a speaker in a blog post (sorry, I can’t remember the source) talking of responsibility as response ability – the awareness that I have the ability, the freedom, capability and the awareness to be responsible, responsive.  a person with responsibility doesn’t blame others for the state of anything, and doesn’t look for others to provide the solutions to life’s challenges.

Early in this piece I referred to the impact of education in such world experiences. In the last 30-40 years a lot has been done to expand education to a bigger and bigger proportion of the world’s population. However, so far, too many now have access to school, but not necessarily education. Much more must happen to ensure that education for the majority is built upon developing critical thinking skills, empathy and emotional intelligence and a generation of young people who genuinely embrace their right and duty to take full and complete responsibility for their own lives. On Friday we saw the biggest demonstrations yet across the world from young people striking from school to take to the streets to demand action on human impact on global warming. This is encouraging. We are seeing first signs of young people in the US turning against the politicians on the issues of gun control after the awful pattern of shootings in schools which cannot be rationalised away by thinking, educated people.

So, there is hope, and educators must understand the role that they have to play.

 

Criticism

Jeff Bezos

“If you absolutely can’t tolerate critics, then don’t do anything new or interesting.”

Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon
(Who knows plenty about both being criticized and doing new and interesting things)

Backing Winners or Solving Problems?

problem-300x200

Few types of ‘managers/ leaders’  pride themselves more on their skills at solving problems than school administrators. Many school Heads revel in the image of themselves as the calm vortex in the middle of a chaotic storm. For them, the more manically busy the school day, the more they believe they are proving their worth as leaders. They take great satisfaction and achieve much of their status from their zen-like unruffled calm as they solve problems left, right and centre.

Whilst i don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, I think this is a mistake and there is a better way of leading schools that can give them the scope to be better institutions delivering a better education for all pupils.

My starting point is an experience that has stuck with me for many years, that I’ve seen mirrored subsequently in the literature for personal development, happiness and, I believe, applies to organisations as well. The experience was when I was in my late 20’s and working for a Private Bank in the UK – providing a wide range of financial services to the richest clients of our bank. I had been managing an office for around 18 months and its performance was going really well; outperforming on sales and revenue targets, customer retention and all other measures. However, our Region was marginally under performing against targets. I had a regular monthly meeting with the Regional Sales Head.

We had a good rapport and the meeting that day took the form of a wide ranging brainstorming session. In the late afternoon we were batting around ideas  in a ‘reject nothing’ environment. At a particular point, I commented that most of our discussion related to problems – the offices with the biggest sales target deficits, the sales staff who weren’t achieving up to expectations etc.  We agreed to talk about what it might look like if we reversed and deliberately took control of Pareto’s Principal.

What would it look like if we spent 80% of our time and energy on the 20% who were achieving at the highest levels?

The Pareto Principle is better known as the 80:20 Rule. It states that 20% of a company’s customers contribute 80% of the profits, 20% give 80% of the problems and can be applied in many other ways. The important thing is to reccognise the principle, not to get hung up on the exact numbers. It had been set out in a book by Richard Koch around the time of our discussion. I still have my original first edition copy of the book

We were both excited by the idea and formulated some thoughts about what our days and actions might look like if we deliberately and consciously focused our energies on our 20% best customers and particularly in the sales team, the 20% of sales staff who were performing best.

There were a few months left in the financial year. During that time we did more on-the-job observations with our best staff, arranged an advanced sales skills course aimed at the best performing sales staff. One of the tougher parts was that we both set about being somewhat elusive for the ‘problem’ staff. Either we weren’t available, or we arranged pre-planned short ‘touch base meetings in which discussion would deliberately get cut short if they started talking about problems. When they did, the key was to always ensure that they left the table still owning their own problem.

Personally, the first effect I experienced was a lightening and enjoying my work more. I felt less weighed down by negativity. Across the Region, the responses were very positive. One very strong, high performing sales person turned down a job offer to go elsewhere (he was on the verge of agreeing to go). Three sales people who had been consistently weak over a number of years resigned and informed they wished to leave the company over a period of 6 months. This created the opportunity to promote and take on some new employees. The sales performance of the Region rose. Stronger performers became more ready to come forward and support less experienced (but positive) colleagues.

So, my question here is, applying the same principles, what would a similar Pareto approach in a school look like? Firstly, I think Principals would need to stop saying, “my door is always open,” to all. More selectivity is vital to ensure that 80% of time is available to go towards those who are positive, achieving and applying positive mindsets. Now, I can immediately hear the cries of callousness, of giving up on some people without giving them a chance to improve etc. However, I’m not advocating that school leaders ignore the under achievers, whiners and overly negative, but simply reduce the amount of time they spend with them to having them acknowledge their own ownership for the issues, commit to a timetable to deal with them and occasionally to follow up to see that they have done so.

The reality is that even if leaders could free up 10% of their time in a school day to spend with high achievers, coaching and supporting them to raise their game still further, three things in particular would happen;

a) Those high achievers with strong growth mindset would be enabled to achieve still more, have higher levels of motivation knowing that they are appreciated and valued (not ignored and left to fend for themselves because they’re not problems),

b) The leader would find they have more energy and drive.  Invariably, the kinds of people we are talking about here, the ‘problem’ people are energy takers or drainers. They stride in to the leader’s office with; “There’s a problem I think you need to know about,” They leave after some time task free and the leader just inherited yet another task to add to their already overloaded schedule.

c) There would actually be less problems. The culture of the organisation would be way more empowered. What the leader would be much more likely to hear about is situations that had arisen, been dealt with and were no longer of concern. It’s not a compliment to the leader if everything has to rise to the top for a decision. In a culture where attention is given to those who solve problems, that becomes the default expectation.

One final thought – if you were to ask most leaders they could probably list out their staff members who sap their energy (and that of their colleagues) and those who underperform, are overly negative in their mindsets and who sap time. What they may not have stopped to consider is how much they could do with the time freed up if they stopped pandering to these people’s toxicity. Also, many will argue that they have to tolerate these individuals in their teams because they are good subject experts or bring some skills which would be hard to replace. However, i believe this is mistaken and that it fails to take full account of the overall harm that toxicity and negativity brings.

As leaders, we steer our organisations in the direction where we place the majority of our attention. If we focus on problems, even successfully solved problems, that’s what we’ll have. Instead, I’m arguing for a stronger focus on positive, self-directed teams and individuals who accept accountability, take ownership and responsibility and move the organisation forward.

Footnote! I’m not advocating here that we apply 80:20 to pupils or to ‘customers’ (parents). This is where schools are not like conventional businesses, who might pick and choose the customers they want to give most attention on the basis of profitability etc.  That would be unethical. In fact, on that issue I believe that schools tend to err towards paying too much attention to students who lie at both ends of the bell curve, often leaving those in the middle not getting as much support to fulfil their potential. But that’s for another article, another day.

 

The Leaders We Want

Autocratic Leaders

When i started my career it was with a bank. I was 22 and fresh out of college. Well over 50% of the senior management of our branch were non graduates who had worked there way up through the ranks over many years – all male, of course. There were many titles and rules I had to get my head around during my first days there. The senior manager was to only be addressed as ‘Sir.’ All others of Assistant Manager upwards were to be addressed by their surnames – ‘Mr or Mrs X.’ A few months after i joined a colleague was given a formal warning on his record for addressing a Christmas greeting card to a manger and including his first name!

All of these rules and all these status rules were reflective of a very hierarchical and autocratic environment. You spoke when spoken to, were expected to observe the chain of command for all communication very strictly and an order from above was just that – to be obeyed without debate or discussion.

Over a period of years, many of these elder statesmen headed in to retirement and as we headed towards the 90’s a very different kind of management and leadership approach emerged. As younger people were promoted in to leadership roles they (we) applied their learning from training programmes that emphasised situational, consultative leadership. EQ was in, coaching was in and trust was the key to motivating employees to want to contribute, strive to deliver excellence to customers. Maslow, McGregor, Blanchard and Drucker,  had brought about a massive change in what we expected from leaders and what we believed leaders looked like, did and had the right to expect from others.

Such leadership was heavily linked to beliefs that people wanted rights to self-determination, to have their voice heard, to take accountability for their own lives.

Theory X and Theory Y – Wikipedia

This shift prevailed for a long time, not just in companies, but in all walks of life. It might have been easy to believe that it represented a permanent change. However, I see a rising trend throughout the world that suggests that there is a backlash. Now, it almost seems that such leadership styles are seen as weak and that the stresses and strains of life in the world today are causing people to look for leaders who will relieve them of their need to take responsibility.

In politics we have seen a big lurch towards leaders who are autocratic, domineering, blustering and paternalistic in a way. Trump in the US, Duterte in Philippines, Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil. As the UK stares down the barrel and tears it’s political fabric to shreds over the Brexit issue that has brought to the surface internal conflict that people were happier ignoring, I have seen and heard more than a few people say that what Britain needed at this time was Margaret Thatcher (considered to be the most belligerent and uncompromising leader certainly since the Second World War).

What is maybe most extraordinary on reflection is that these autocratic leaders are forgiven almost anything; barbarism, being uncouth and uncultured, misogyny in the extreme, lying, cheating, extreme narcissism and the most petulant and childish of moods, blatant vindictiveness towards adversaries and utter refusal to acknowledge viewpoints other than their own.

What do people ask of them? They get things done and give a feeling/ sense of certainty and determinism. You know where you are with these people – they will LEAD, organise the lives of their citizens, brook no debate or wishy washy compromising.

In many countries, most particularly America, we are led to believe that vast proportions of the population are outraged and incensed that they should have a leader like this. However, the reality is we really don’t see vast amounts of dissension, outward expression of anger on the streets etc. Instead, we see a population happy to take a few more opiates, smoke their newly legalised cannabis (Soma anyone? See Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World) and vent their anger in to the ether through social networking – which can simply be ignored by all in power.

That phrase about ‘getting things done’ is one I’ve personally heard many times. I lived in Gujarat, the state in India from which the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi originates.  I was there for six years basically from 1999 to 2005, a time that included the horrendous Gujarat eartthquake and also the infamous Gujarat riots. I was even, at one point, approached about the possibility of making myself available for personal English lessons for Mr Modi, who was at that time Chief Minister (It didn’t happen for logistical reasons).

On one occasion, the Manager of a large bookshop in the city of Ahmedabad struggled to explain to me why the best selling book among the university students there was “Mein Kampf”, by Adolf Hitler. His sheepish explanation – “He made the trains run on time, he got things done.”

There’s no question that in the world the balance of power and influence is shifting from West to East, while debate might go on for a while about how much the West is in decline. And, within this context, there is little question that Asia has a far greater tolerance towards autocratic top-down leadership. Whether we are looking at China or North Korea today, the benevolent authoritarian leadership of Lee Kuan Yew that shaped Singapore in to what it is. Western people chuckle quietly when told of the draconian laws that are used to run Singapore, but the people of that country have accepted them in return for what they see as great success that has enriched all their lives immeasurably.

And, it’s not just in politics and the leadership of countries where people seem to want to hand the power to autocratic leaders who promise them a better life without the sweat and tears of accountability, choice or the fickleness of woolly concepts like public perception. There also seem to be signs that in the workplace, i.e. within companies we may also be seeing signs of a greater tolerance towards strong, decisive leadership.

Some months ago, i was visiting a school. When told calmly and very matter-of-fact that there was a CCTV camera in every classroom that enabled the administrator (not the Principal) to check on teachers and students, I naively asked how the teachers felt about this. With a raised eyebrow the administrator told me, “in this country we don’t work unless we’re made to. The teachers understand that.” When I recounted this story to a friend his response was, with a note of sadness, “we don’t have self-discipline, so there’s a need for these kinds of things. .” I had no answer.

It seems to me that if the company is led by a strong-minded firebrand leader who doesn’t entertain (waste time with) alternative viewpoints and they get it right, the employees are happy to just be grateful, especially as they will usually be gifted at least a little of the spoils of the business success. And if the megalomaniac boss leads them all in the wrong direction, to failure and even the demise of the company, well, at least I’m not to blame because I’m just a humble employee and I never had a say in what was happening anyway. Fatalistically, I can feel sorry for myself whilst hoping that the benevolent autocrats in power will hand me enough morsels to get by.

Autocratic Leadership

So, where are we? Have the vast majority of people rolled over and acquiesced in their subjugation accepting that they are all destined to be cogs in machines controlled and manipulated by others? The 1% commanding and manipulating the remainder who accept their position? Or, am I meeting overly negative people? Or, are we just at a pivotal point where the pace of change in the world is startling people who are struggling to cope? Do they just want a chance to catch their breath while someone else holds things together?

Are we seeing the outcomes of the refining of education systems and processes that teach people to be cogs in machines, even if occasionally begrudgingly?  That have essentially left the vast majority of people ‘de-fanged’, denied the ability to muster the spirit to exert for their dignity? Left like helpless lambs to bleat for someone to protect them in return for their freedom. Are all men, now in chains? Are we living in the age of non-accountability?

I personally want to believe that this is ‘just a phase’ and we will find our way back to a belief in human empowerment, lives lived for self-actualisation and populations brought up to embrace accountability, total ownership of their own lives and leaders who accept the role in order to create the environment in which people can fulfil their full potential.

 

Google – On Teams

There’s an openness and transparency about modern organisations that can be really refreshing. I’m not naive and i certainly don’t believe everything’s perfect about today’s super-companies, but there’s no question in my mind – they get some things right.

A great example of this is with Google. A long time ago the founders recognised that their people were everything that determined whether they succeed or fail, live or die. So, they decided it was worthwhile to dig deep in to all sorts of issues that enable them to understand their people better. Then, having done all that work, spent all that time and money – they share their findings freely with the world.

One of the vehicles for this is their website – rework
(click on the highlighted link to open the website)

One of the areas they’ve considered important is, understandably teams. Here’s a great sort article from Inc that sums up the core of their discoveries about what marked out the best teams from the rest.

Inc – Google spent 2 Years Studying 180 Teams

The findings are thought-provoking for anyone who leads one or more teams. As leaders we can make a difference in creating the climates and environments in which these 5 attributes of the best teams are more likely to flourish.

Carol Dweck applies Growth Mindset to Issues of Growth Mindset

I’m never quite sure if it’s exclusive to the education field, or more extreme, but there is a very bad habit of latching on to ‘the latest new thing,’ demanding that it represents a magical simple wand to change the profession. Then, when simplistic representations of the concept or idea don’t deliver instant, easy payoff there’s a backlash and attention switches to attempts to tear down any validity in the idea or concept.

In recent years we’ve seen this happen with differentiation, at times with the emphasis on formative assessment, with the concepts related to Grit (Angela Duckworth) and very strongly in relation to Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset.

So it’s very refreshing to hear this interview with carol Dweck, conducted by Times Education Supplement;

TES – Carol Dweck – On Growth Mindset Theory

To my mind, the real value that comes out of the interview is that Dweck’s work has caused masses of teachers to focus on the issues of student motivation and its impact on learning outcomes to an extent far greater than ever before. I believe it’s also lead to a far greater level of attention to the fact that what has to matter more is learning rather than teaching and that teaching is nothing if not evaluated on the basis of its impact on learning and the fulfillment of potential on the part of learners.

As educators, we work with the human mind. This is incredibly complex and will never lend itself to simplistic prescriptions. The nearest comparison is to look for a desire that simple formulaic approaches to leadership can create highly effective organisations. The human mind, human motivations and the dynamics of human interaction are incredibly complex. Therefore, it will always require maximum flexibility, conscious reflection and ability to calibrate responses. It is vital to be open and receptive to all evidence of what’s working and how and ready to continuously build a flexible tool kit that offers increasing levels of responses and refinements.

For any of us whose work involves working with other human beings, we can never get good enough. We have to relish the process of continually learning more, refining our skills and adding more skills to our ‘toolkit’ in order to give us more refined choices for the decisions we take when dealing with others. I believe Carol Dweck’s work is just such a new tool that is thoroughly worth having in the toolkit. It’s not a panacea, a magic bullet and we need to rebuff those who seek to write it off because it didn’t deliver instant gratification.

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