Monday, December 10, 2018

Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell Book Review

Leadership is a journey that doesn’t have a definitive playbook. It’s helpful to have different ideas and models to guide and mentor as we improve our leadership skills. The new book Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Joan McArthur- Blair and Jeanie Cockell offer a unique roadmap that they call Appreciative Inquiry. This model illustrates how to build resilience in leading oneself and those around you. It’s an approach for positive change in organizations, individuals, and groups. The process engages people by telling and listening to stories to build the future of people and organizations together in an engaging manner.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) can be used in strategic planning, team development, coaching, organizational development, and research. Ultimately, the process shows leaders at all levels how to build long-term resilience by using AI to reflect on and explore leadership through hope, despair, and forgiveness. This process builds leadership resilience in not just us, but our people. AI helps us navigate through difficult situations as leaders. It guides us in connecting with others.

The book offers personal and real-life leadership situations for readers to see AI in action. It’s useful to know the impact of AI by introducing several valuable models. Moreover, each chapter opens with an inspiring poem and ends with reflection questions to really get us thinking as leaders and asking how we can use the lessons in the book to be stronger leaders who can impact the people around us and the organizations that we work in.

What I enjoyed most about the book are the first-hand stories about AI and how it can change people and organizations. It helps to bring all the various ideas in the book together for that “aha” moment. It helps everything to gel and assists the reader to start down on a new path to leadership.

For those that really see the benefits that AI can bring to your organization or team, there are some excellence chapters at the end of the book to help you practice AI and even conduct your own AI workshop with your team with the support of other leaders in your organization.

If you want to explore a new leadership method, pick up a copy of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Clarity First by Karen Martin Book Review

Over the years I have lost count of how many useless meetings that I have sat through with colleagues listening to countless KPI numbers, reports, financial updates, and other meaningless reports. We all nod as if we understand and that the information is meaningful. Sound familiar?

Too many leaders spend time pouring over numbers and creating reports that lack clarity, relevancy, and actionable information. The new book by Karen Martin Clarity First offers strategies, guidance, and examples of how we should be mining and presenting clear information for our employees, customers, and leadership teams. Karen introduces us to some lean and value stream processes that are useful and manageable without overwhelming with statistics and mumbo-jumbo that goes over the reader’s head.

Karen addresses five key areas that need to be addressed to bring clarity to organizations and teams. Here are the five Ps:

1. Purpose
2. Priorities
3. Process
4. Performance
5. Problem-solving

Organizations that lack clarity drive waste which prevents leaders from achieving goals and only brings confusion. Surprisingly, many companies avoid clarity because it means “putting” everything out there. Lack of clarity alienates employees, stakeholders, and leaders. Everyone within an organization should be encouraged to champion clarity and make it a vital part of the company culture.

Not enough leaders realize that clarity can unleash the power of employees by empowering them. If encouraged, they have unleashed potential, insight, innovation at various levels, and encourage every single person at every level.

Clarity First is a must-read for leaders at any level. Here is what clarity can bring:

Highlighting organizational purpose
Set achievable priorities because clarity exists
Deliver better customer service and value
Encourage transparency
Build stronger problem-solving skills and capabilities
Develop personal clarity to individuals

Clarity isn’t something that should be feared. Every organization should embrace transparency and clarity as a key factor to success. Write relevant reports. Share the good and bad with clarity. Manage transparency at all levels with a variety of data points. Encourage people to bring clarity to work with them every day. Clarity First by Karen Martin can start you on your own clarity journey.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back

Too many leaders today are leaders in title only. They don’t possess relevant skills, and they read book after book or attend seminars to tell themselves that they are indeed strong leaders. These leaders lack conviction in their teams or often fail to see how their misuse of their “leadership skills” only demoralize or make teams feel powerless and unappreciated.

What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens is one of my favorite leadership books that I have read in quite a while. They acknowledge that too many “leaders” don’t understand how they are holding themselves and their teams back. Sadly, these same leaders have no idea what the top leadership misconceptions are and what to do about them. By not recognizing how they are holding others back, entire teams and companies are underperforming and lack the ability to empowering people.

The authors offer tools, strategies, and stories about how blind spots have an adverse impact. Only 30% of our workforce is actively engaged, and that hasn’t changed for years.  It won’t change until authentic leaders recognize their blind spots and engage in restoring purpose, engagement, and connection.

Here are the 5 leadership misconceptions that hold leaders back:

1.    Purpose: Too few organizations operate purposefully. This adversely impacts people, profits, and growth. The authors share how to build a strong purpose statement that will resonate with teams and aren’t just words. Make purpose personal and be passionate about the purpose, not the numbers.
2.    Story: Too many companies think that they have an unusual and compelling story to tell that everyone wants to hear. You don’t. Leaders have it in their heads but can’t articulate it to anyone else. What do you need to do? Proactively close the gap between what you say and what you mean. Also, don’t let your stories kill your strategies. Last, don’t place foolish emphasis on WIIFM.
3.    Engagement: Let’s face it. Enough companies today encourage little to no participation within the organization or with teams. They don’t listen to what their people want or even really care. ASK what your people need. Focus on the emotional versus the rational. The authors suggest using dialogue to reach the hearts and minds of your people. Last, flip the switch for your people. Take the challenges of the organization to your teams and listen.
4.    Trust: Too many leaders think that people won’t do the right thing unless what they are told what to do. Make priorities clear, invite people to use their strengths, and embrace human variability rather than reduce it. Clear-headed leaders clarify hard lines, guidelines, and no lines to make the complex simple.
5.    Truth: Let’s face it. Many leaders don’t want to hear the truth. They feel safer living in a world where what they think is right and think they know what is best for everyone. Wrong. Teams need to feel like they are heard and leaders care. People want to know the truth. Don’t let rumors and a lack of communication rule the day. Use humor every day because it breaks down barriers and walls. People feel safer. Make it a priority to create a truth-telling culture. Be committed and don’t waver. As Haudan and Berens share, “To thyself be true, and others will follow.”

Leaders at all levels need to understand their leadership strengths and weaknesses. Too many fear to see the truth. We all need to be aware of the leadership misconceptions that plague us every day to grow as leaders and bring our teams along as authentic leaders. Pick up a copy of Blind Spots today!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

For years, leadership has meant strength, control, absolute, and a lack of flexibility. Fortunately, new leaders are learning that serving their people, being more personable, and becoming humble benefits teams and entire organizations. Leaders are finally focusing on personal relationships rather than outdated transactional role relationships. Just because you are a leader does not mean that people must follow. These days employees demand respect, relational interactions, and want to work for humble and uplifting managers.

The new book Humble Leadership – The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein offers a new approach to leadership. Leaders need to be humble. Relationships should change in design and evolve over time. It’s a challenging balance for leaders and their teams. The balance between being too formal or too intimate is a struggle in this day and age. Being humble is key to cultivating a strong culture of cooperation and trust. Years ago empathy wasn’t considered a leadership trait and it is a strength that can pull teams together.

Leaders today need to be adaptive and very in tune with their actions, behaviors, and treatment of teams so that organizational culture thrives and in turn impacts employees. I have worked in organizations with great cultures and those that are toxic. When an organization is toxic turnover increases, sales and service take a dive, and organizations fade.

The authors offer four levels of leadership relationships. Level two represents the most effective balance for most organizations.

Level  Minus 1: Total impersonal, domination, and coercion
Level 1: Transactional role and rule-based supervision, service, and most forms of “professional” helping relationships
Level 2: Personal cooperative, trusting relationships as in friendships and in effective teams
Level 3: Emotionally intimate total mutual commitments

The authors assert that learning and rewarding humility is a learning process. Without focus and commitment, leaders can’t change. They need to practice focused reading and reflection, create homework around designing work relationships and build their behavioral skills through fieldwork and learning.

Humble Leadership doesn’t just present theories and ideas. The real meat in the book are the lessons at the end of each chapter which invite the reader to reflect. There are several chapters detailing real situations in companies and even the military where humbleness has been transforming. These stories r bring the ideas and concepts in the book together. For instance, we learn lessons from a major medical center, an international company, and even the US military.

If you are ready and willing to become humble and change your organization pick up a copy of Humble Leadership today. You don’t need to be a CEO – you can have an impact in your role and within the teams that you work with. If we all make small changes we can have an impact.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

When is the last time that you spoke up at work about something that you felt was wrong or refused to comply with what your boss told you do because it felt wrong?. How many instances have we watched a scene play out on TV where people stood back doing nothing when apparently there was immoral conduct going on? Have you ever witnessed racism or discrimination play out in a meeting and sat back in shock but did nothing? We all have. Throughout your life, you may continue to struggle to do the right thing when what you are told to do may be wrong.

Ira Chaleff’s book Intelligent Disobedience – Doing Right When What You’re Told Is Wrong is a book leaders should read. Sometimes we forget that there is a time and a place to step up and say no to a situation. So many tragedies could have been prevented if someone just dared to object or disobey orders. Ira offers a compelling analogy for when there are times it’s necessary to defy. Consider a guide dog. The dog is trained to understand yet resist a command that may hurt or kill its owner. Consider a blind woman that gives her dog a command to walk across the street. A well-trained dog will resist and refuse if he feels there is a danger. Sometimes we all need an inner guide dog to help us operate in a culture or situation where we are accountable for our actions even when we are instructed to “just follow orders”.

From an early age, we are taught to respect our elders and do what they tell us to do. Schools socialize us early on to sit in our chairs and be compliant and obedient. Don’t question, don’t talk back, do as you are told. Sadly, this follows us as we mature and the expectations are no different when we become employees. We “know” that we should do as we are told. Often, we are punished when we speak up even when it is the right thing to do. Few of us will rock the boat. Time and time again history has shown us how tragedies could have been prevented had someone spoke up. We live in different times where the moto is “see something, say something”.

Ira shares numerous examples and case studies that are shocking. They illustrate how humans will stand back in some situations and do nothing even though they know it is wrong. His stories are wake up calls. We need to find a healthy balance in our lives for functioning within a system of rules and expectations while being true to ourselves and be responsible for speaking up when we see something that is wrong. Just sitting back and not doing the “right thing” is no longer an option. We need to instill a sense of Intelligent Disobedience and act on it.

Effective leaders will guide their teams to learn and practice Intelligent Disobedience. Here are some starting points to consider

•    Identify certain risks and be willing to train people to give appropriate responses. Encourage alternative measures or correct violations by encouraging people to speak up.
•    Train people to question the phases of obedience. These include cooperation, strain, divergence, divergence amplification or education, and how to do the right thing.
•    Inform people that the earlier they question, the better.
•    The process can be done with politeness but may need people to become more assertive.
•    Orientate new employees about Intelligent Disobedience.
•    Support people when they do the right thing and share their experience with others.
•    Encourage, validate, and encourage people to do something even if it may go against the norm.

Intelligent Disobedience is a book that all leaders should read. Servant leaders lead from the bottom up and should train and encourage their people to do the right thing even when it may be perceived as the “wrong thing” to do. We should empower our people to think before blindly following “orders” or policies. We should push people to do what is right without the fear of repercussions. Most of all we need to offer our people the tools and training to take the first step in standing up.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Essentials of Theory U - Core Principles and Applications by C. Otto Scharmer

Over ten issues ago Theory U was published, and it was over 500 pages that contained numerous tables, graphs, and other insights. The author C. Otto Scharmer just released a condensed version of his original book called The Essentials of Theory U – Core Principles and Applications. This version of the book is only 157 pages and has some great insights for leaders and is the perfect size with wisdom to keep handy as you meet daily challenges.

Theory U encourages us to look at the world with fresh eyes. We need to be more cognoscente of how we pay attention to if at all, problems to avoid looking at everything as a “blind spot”. We need to be open to listening to our inner selves and be aware of any blind spots so that we can make change that sticks and benefits others.

There are three key elements to Theory U:

1.    Develop a framework for recognizing blind spots with our leadership and any system changes.
2.    Find a method for implementing an awareness-based shift that encompasses processes, principles, and other outside forces.
3.    Develop a new “narrative” for societal changes and impacting all of our mental and institutional operating systems.

The book thoroughly explains the Theory U and delves into the various issues that happen with blind spots and how it impacts us as leaders. Scharmer offers up some actionable methods and ideas to help leaders change and take action looking beyond blind spots. I was uplifted at the author’s framework to help me develop a better awareness and be open to alternative possibilities. We need to be more present while sensing everything around us and ask for more openness and understanding from those around us.

The Essentials of Theory U is a useful paired down version of the original book. It’s a book that you will want to read carefully to pick out which nuggets will assist you in your daily challenges. It may be beneficial to take a few notes to reference and it’s a more substantial read than most of us may be accustomed to reading but well worth it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Let's Stop Meeting Like This - Tools To Save Time And Get More Done by Dick & Emily Axelrod

Let’s face it – most of us hate meetings. Our calendar is stocked full of meetings that we usually don’t need to attend. We show up, pretend to pay attention, and take notes to remind ourselves of the 50 things that we need to accomplish once we escape the room.

Too many of us are too kind. We won’t say no to meetings, and we try to keep the peace. With so much going on it’s time that we take back control of our work lives and priorities.  We need to take a new look at how to approach and manage meetings. If you are wringing your hands every day over meetings, pick up the book. Let’s Stop Meeting Like This – Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. You need to read this book if you find yourself the culprit setting up meetings no one wants to attend, and you find that not much comes out of them.

This book offers tangible and realistic strategies for setting up meetings, eliminating people who aren’t stakeholders and getting things done. Meetings need to be better planned, have specific outcomes, and people need to feel that their input means something. Here are some of the highlights of meetings from the book:

  • Create concrete and managing plans
  • Build connections
  • Invite people to meetings and let them know they are valued
  • How to move projects forward
  • First aid for meetings
  • Five steps to meeting success
  • Three steps to meeting effectiveness
  • Connect people to one another and the task
  • Encourage open discussion
  • Elicit people’s dreams
  • How to be a better facilitator

The meat of Let’s Stop Meeting Like This is the concept of the meeting canoe. It’s a visual of an actual canoe with paddles that is a blueprint to conduct productive meetings. It shows leaders how to efficiently design and lead meetings that will work in any setting from the boardroom to small breakroom chats.

The canoe is divided into sections as depicted below:
  • Welcome: People are an asset and critical
  • Connect: People need to be connected to one another and the tasks at hand
  • Discover: Find out the way that things are with honest feedback
  • Elicit: Discover people’s dreams
  • Decide: Discover next steps as a team
  • Attend: Stay to the end and take action 

Pick up Dick and Emily Axelrod’s book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This today if you want to turn time-consuming meetings into productive and meaningful interactions to get things done with key people who have an impact.