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"If you cry 'forward', you must make it clear the direction in which to go. Don't you see that if you fail to do that and simply call out the word to a monk and a revolutionary, they will go precisely the opposite directions."
Anton Checkhov

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 288

Estimated reading time:  1:45

 

After the US election earlier this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and values. Leadership is about standing up for our values, for what we believe to be true.

 

And ironically we are all biased, in short if you have a brain, you are biased. That is why it is absolutely vital to be listening to other voices than the ones inside your head. This is true for all of us, and most especially those of us who lead other people.

 

Sure there are times when you need to make fast decisions, to go with what you know. When time is very short and you don't need much buy in from people, go with what you know. And remember going with what you know is more than likely based on your habitual thinking. For more important and longer lasting decisions that require commitment from others you need to mitigate the risk of your habits and biases influencing your decision making.

 

Here are 3 actions you can take to mitigate your biases and habitual decision making:

 

  1. Explore multiple options and hear diverse views about  the issue, and taking those into account, learning from the diverse voices in the room, make your decision.
  2. Take a 3 week vacation away, and go somewhere there is no internet access. (This will help refresh your brain. Think of it as a kind of reboot)
  3. Make a commitment to change your mind at least once a week. Even a small change can tell your brain that new neural pathways are good.

 

 

The best leaders then hold growth and learning as a fundamental value.

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 362

Estimated reading time:  2:15

 

Hello from New York City!

 

This is my third trip here this year, all of them with the NeuroLeadership Institute. I am attending the annual summit and am still trying to process the amazing content from the last two days.

 

One insight today for me came in the session on the neuroscience of ethics and values. Four scientists were discussing their findings. One spoke about his insight that we’re teaching ethics in business schools and elsewhere poorly. To get into his reasoning here are some contextual pieces.

 

  1. It turns out that we tend to emulate and mimic each other. Therefore even people who say they would never cheat will cheat when they see other people doing it. 
  2. When dopamine levels in our brains go up, our moral behaviour appears to go down. And what are two drivers of increased dopamine? Sex and large amounts of money.

 

So, what happens in classrooms and offices when we tell stories about all the bad ethical behaviour? We may in fact be inadvertently giving people the idea that such behaviour is what is needed in our businesses; it is the behaviour to be emulated and mimicked. And because of the large amounts of money we talk and her about, we are more likely to seek the dopamine rush.

 

So, if you want to build a culture of trust and collaboration where people do the right things for the right reasons, stop talking about the bad guys (and it is almost always guys in these stories) who do bad things. Instead talk about the heroes, talk about the people who get dopamine rushes from doing good in the world, who are valued and honoured by our organizations and culture. One of my colleagues was talking about how good it was that in Canada we celebrate Terry Fox, and even with their sometimes cheesy production values, the “Heritage Minutes” that highlight our heroes like Nellie McClung https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdbG6EIHrbs 

 

Who are the people in your organization that you want people emulating and mimicking?

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 422

Estimated reading time:  2:30

 

Greetings from AC 8618 enroute to Winnipeg. It has been another great week with interesting work, and travel, and the adventure continues. An early meeting I was part of this week was the weekly Staff Meeting of the cathedral where I hang my clergy hat. In the mist of that meeting, the Dean, (kind of the CEO of the Cathedral), spoke up as we were exploring some of the growth issues we are working through there.

 

He said that there were three words he was conscious of around growth. 

 

  1. Homeostasis, or what we might call the “Goldilocks” effect. There will be times when the growth appears too hot, or too quick. Or there are times when growth might appear too slow or too cold.  What we’re after is “just right” growth over time, evening out the too fast or too slow, finding that balance over time.
  2. Problems, are those issues that we can solve with certain expertise and an individual or small group of people can resolve with some work and applied thinking. Fixing a leaky pipe in the kitchen or filling in when a colleague is sick are solvable problems.
  3. Dilemmas, are those more complex issues that are not solvable or fixed by an individual or a small group of experts. The fact that many of our street congregation (the people we feed every day in our Maundy Cafe) have various mental illnesses is a dilemma. Dilemmas are solved eventually by insights and dramatic shifts in thinking and assumptions by large groups of people. 

 

As leaders It often helps then to watch your organization or your team with these in mind. Are we growing too quickly or too slowly, or ever time, is it “just right?” It often helps to have some criteria or metrics for yourself to measure the growth over time and too determine what “just right looks like.” Then, in the midst of the growth, ask yourself are the barriers to growth problems that are easily and quickly solved, or are they dilemmas that require a dramatic mind shift to mitigate or alleviate? Appreciating that dilemmas will not be solved tomorrow, what do you need to put in place as a work around in the meantime? 

 

 

A good rule is to solve problems when they present themselves, and use work arounds on dilemmas. That will keep the growth in homeostasis, or like Goldilocks found,, “just right.”

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 410

Estimated reading time:  3:00

 

You may recall that last week I wrote that two things have struck me about strategic thinking as a leadership practice. I wrote last week about a useful image about what we might mean by strategic thinking. 

 

This week I’d like to suggest that we are not the first humans to live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) time and perhaps we all could lift ourselves out of the entertaining drama and ask ourselves, what do we want to have happen? Whom do we want to be?

 

I was first aware of this some years ago when the media were following the phrase, “weapons of mass destruction.” It struck me that 2000 years ago if a Roman Legion showed up at the gates of your city, they were a weapon of mass destruction. You would really be living in a VUCA time. And then more recently, watching an episode of Home Fires, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Fires_(UK_TV_series)  on Netflix. The series opens in  England in August of 1939. History majors will know that the Nazi’s invade Poland in early September 1939. The characters of the show in August of 1939 are living in a VUCA time. They fear that war is coming, and the older characters who have lived through the First World War all know that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are going to be the norm. 

 

A challenge is that we not only recognize that we live in a VUCA time, but that we get overly dramatic about it. We are not that special. Our ancestors lived through sometimes terrible and dangerous times. For all that we face, we are very fortunate to live in this time and this place. 

 

A key lesson from the ancient wisdom is to “Fear Not.” 

 

While we are thinking about vision and planning as we discussed last week, there is a wonderful old prayer, adapted by my former Bishop as a blessing. I’ve adapted it for Leadership Notes. I think it appropriate as we move away from the drama of VUCA living.

 

As you go into your sometimes challenging work,

remember the love and gratitude that inspires us.

Have courage.

Hold on to what is good.

Return no one evil for evil.

Support the weak, and honou life.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 236

Estimated reading time:  1:45

 

Greetings from AC 108 enroute to Toronto. It has been a great week with interesting work, and travel, and the adventure continues. I am enroute to Toronto where I’ll be working with a group of leaders in part talking about mentoring, and then next week in Calgary with a group of young leaders. I am, as always, excited to be in their company and to be learning with them.

 

This has got me thinking about an old rabbinic idea. A good rabbi would never say that she or he will teach you a text. She or he would say, “let us study this text together.”

 

This is an important guideline for all of us, seasoned and emerging leaders. Mentoring is about ‘studying the text together.’ Our experience of the world is changing and so the assumptions and ideas that worked 20 years ago need to be challenged. And while the media have changed, the fact is we have to work together and so the lessons learned over time and experience need to be honoured. It is the dialogue between the challenging and the honouring that is where the rich and profound learning for all of us reside.

 

 

May this week be filled with opportunities to both challenge our assumptions and honour our lessons learned.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 568

Estimated reading time:  3:45

 

Greetings from Vancouver, where Fall is in the air. As I mentioned last week I was speaking at a conference of credit union leaders last week in Toronto. A colleague of mine, Kevin Yousie, http://www.crosswaterpartners.com  spoke earlier in the day and he did a great job introducing the audience to a powerful tool to explore the external environment in their strategic deliberations. He also reminded us of a useful acronym, VUCA. We live in a VUCA time; volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. I especially appreciated that when the deliberations around the tables started to “go down the rabbit hole” into VUCA problems and drama he brought the groups back “up” to the strategic level of thinking.

 

Two things have struck me since his presentation. First, a useful image about what we might mean by strategic thinking, and second that we are not the first humans to live in a VUCA time and perhaps we all could lift ourselves out of the entertaining drama and ask ourselves, what do we want to have happen? Whom do we want to be? I want to share this useful image with you this week and explore the second idea in more detail next week.

 

I recall, many years ago, at a strategy session Kevin was actually facilitating, another participant in the session, with whom I didn’t really get along, kept urging our group to “think strategically.” The challenge in my opinion, was that he was most vociferous in his urging when I or someone else disagreed with him in the midst of the conversation. “C’mon Alisdair, you need to think strategically,” he would say time and again. Finally, I turned to him and replied, “Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean I’m not thinking strategically.” 

 

Not my finest interpersonal interaction, to be sure.

 

I have since learned of helpful concept to help us all think strategically. (I actually used it in a sermon in January of this year, http://thecathedral.ca/sermons/sermon-by-the-rev-alisdair-smith-5/ ) The concept is from the work of the Neuroleadership Institute, Imagine if you will five words, listed in a column from top to bottom:

 

Vision

Planning

Details

Problem

Drama

 

Consider a group of us were walking along the savannah 40,000 years ago and there was a rustle in the grass. Our ancestors all said, that could be a problem and ran away. Some other people thought, that could be a butterfly and got closer, only to be eaten by a sabre tooth tiger!Those of us who were thinking “problem” or “drama”  ran away and our genes passed on. The people who thought, “that might be interesting” got eaten and their genes would not be passed on to the next generation. So you see, we are wired to problem and drama. 

 

However, focusing on the problem provides us with technical solutions at best. The way to engage our brains around strategy is to ask vision questions like; what do we want to have happen? Whom do we want to be? And then identify the steps towards that vision. 

The way out of the problems and drama then of a VUCA time is to shift our focus to vision and planning. And let’s continue this conversation next week.