Category Archives: Change Management

Dare to Depend on Others !

As a leader, one of the biggest errors you can make is to believe that you can be self-sufficient. In a world where it seems that the highest virtue is to be independant, this can appear as a paradox. Nevertheless, if a great leader is often someone with a strong personal vision, she or he is also a master in relating to others.

A leader is a high-quality relationships gardener

Why would people follow you ? This is the key question that needs to be answered by any leader. So, if you do not have a high-quality relationship with your followers, how can you lead ? Great leadership author Jagdish Parikh reminds us that we have to manage our relationships with “detached involvement“. This means that we always incur the risk of being too attached to people (or to objects, to events, and of course to ourselves). At the same time, no leadership is possible if it is felt as distant or superior.

You may be an exceptional achiever, a great visionary or the most respected expert in your field, it makes no difference : to get results, you will need to rely on the motivation and performance of many others – especially in the highly complex environment we are living in today. In his recent book, Humble Inquiry, The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, MIT Profesor Edgar Schein is making a neat and… humble point about the tendancy we have to believe that a leader is the one who has answers.  One common characteristic of large-scale failures (such as the disaster of Space Shuttle Discovery) is the absence of a climate for subordinates to surface big issues as they show up. Creating such a climate is one of the roles of the leader, which implies a very deep consciousness of his dependency on others for the success of any endeavour. Asking authentic questions that surface his own ignorance is a key habit to develop such a climate, since it indicates clearly that there is no problem in NOT having all the answers.

A leader takes the risk of the other

One of the biggest problems of our times is the fragmentation of people in society or in organizations. It is often very strange to hear some executives complain about the silos or the lack of collaboration that exist in their companies, when all the systems they have put in place (from budgeting to compensation) are mainly constructed on individual (or fragmented) contributions. It is as if the large bureaucratic organization was trying through its processes to reunify separate and independant units.

The origins of this tendancy come from very far, and probably from the economic theory linked to the Enlightment views that promoted the advent of the individual, emancipated from holistic societies. I think that our challenge is to develop again a shared commitment (of employees, of citizens,…) towards what belongs to us – and not to me, or to any individual. Italian economist Luigino Bruni wrote a beautiful book, The Wound and the Blessing, around the proposal that we can only meet that challenge through the acceptance of the Other – as a potential blessing, but also as a potential wound. This means that we must not dream of a society that has eliminated all the frictions inherent to the fact of living together (the wounds). An authentic leader risks to be wounded by the world around her, by the people she meets. This is the fundamental condition for receiving the blessings that people can bring to the cause or the enterprise she his fighting for.

TraitBas2For you – leader or follower (and you know that we cannot be good leaders if we are not able to be good followers) – three questions can help you improve your capacity to relate to others :

  1. Do the persons who follow you feel that you are with them even if you are not totally melted with them ?
  2. Do you practice often the gentle art of asking instead of just telling ?
  3. Are you willing to let others bless you or are you just preventing yourself from the wounds that you can get from them ?

Bring On the Revolution of Capitalism !

iStock_000010542988SmallRecently, I came across this speech of Peter Bakker, the President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The former CEO of TNT, now leading this organization with more than 200 corporate members, pledges for a revolution of capitalism, in order to adress the most pressing challenges of our world : poverty, hunger, climate change… What would be the conditions for such a revolution to happen ? You can check out WBCSD vision to see what this organization stands for. As far as I can reflect on that topic, I can see at least three necessary conditions : acknoledge people not only as customers or employees, make big changes in governance and metrics, lead the inside revolution.

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Life is Strong / Life is Fragile

20120425-134229.jpgThis photo comes from my garden. I am so amazed by the beauty and simplicity of life. A very very small seed that has been enclosed in an envelope sometimes for years is able to grow like this zucchini in a few days !
In a time where most urban modern people have lost their deep connection with nature, this kind of tiny miracle of life can easily be overlooked. But it is repeated again and again everywhere on the surface of the globe.
When we think about organizations, maybe we ought to reflect a little more about the implications of this wonderful impulse that brings life. How many times do managers act as gardeners of social systems ? Do they see their task as a careful and patient taking care of life wherever it appears ?
I am not one of those people who consider nature as a kind of Goddess we have to revere. But I think that we’d better be cautious about what we do with (or often without !) her. Resilience also exist in people and in organizations, but if life is strong, it is also very fragile. There is a point of exhaustion and over-exploitation of our social eco-systems (be they communities, teams, families,…) after which coming back to a normal state is very costly.
Let’s not forget our responsibility in caring for life through our daily actions.


Prototypes or Quick Wins ?

In the typical Change Management orthodoxy, there is this notion that you have to identify so called “quick wins” in order to gain momentum for your initiative. I do not deny the importance of such early successes : it develops self-confidence in any project team and it builds credibility for the change program itself.

Nevertheless, I observe that it is much more challenging (and efficient) to design appropriate prototypes. In the way T. Brown from IDEO defines them, prototypes allow space for a real learning attitude, which include the possibility of mistakes and even failure. By promising quick wins, any change team puts itself in a position where there is no other option but to deliver performance – and only performance. This can lead to a level of stress that impedes learning dramatically.

In addition to that, if early results happen to be present, the cult syndrom  can be feared, where a core team starts to believe that 1) it owns a definitive truth and 2) that what has been demonstrated at a usually small scale can be easily amplified to the large scale (which is never the case).

One of my clients often says : (S)he is right the one who is right at the end. And what we want is results – at the end. Even if during the journey and because of learning, results are not as beautiful as expected.