Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to avoid the corporate hall of mirrors!

Why do we ask interview questions that push for evidence of personal accomplishment?

If the candidate answers in terms of "we", "us" and "our", we are inclined to dismiss them as weak and unassertive and not leadership material.

And we wonder why we end up in a corporate hall of mirrors reflecting only the most self-serving and narcissistic of leadership behaviours.

Work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution doesn't work like that, not anymore. In complex, dynamic environments identifying how you single-handedly powered the project or won the day or brought the innovation to market is impossible. The best you can say is "here is how I contributed. Sometimes I inspired and encouraged those around me, and sometimes less so".

Jack Ma, founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba famously failed his way to success. Interviewers were not impressed with his individual accomplishments. He could not demonstrate any of the behavioural evidence they were looking for, so he failed to be accepted by KFC, by the Police, by Harvard University. He could only say, "I have an idea, and I think if we work together we could achieve something great. Sometimes I've failed, and sometimes we collectively have made it happen". Not great interview material. Yet today he has an  estimated net worth of $47.5 billion.

After University, Tim Westergren could only find a job as a nanny. For 5 years he would get up and practice piano for 6 hours, and then babysit the children in the afternoon. He joined a band, and spent 5 years touring and living out of a van, but his own band never found success. In 1999, still a struggling musician at the age of 34, he had an incredible business idea. He thought it could change the music industry.

With the little money he raised from investors, he hired 50 musicians to listen to hundreds of thousands of songs. Two weeks later, the stock market crashed making his company a very bad idea to other investors. He maxed out 11 credit cards for $150,000 of debt, just to make sure they got some pay. He had to ask his employees to defer all their salary and work for free after he had deferred his own salary long before he asked anyone else to. He finally secured venture capital investment in 2003. It was his 348th pitch to raise money. And at the next company meeting, he pulled out a stack of envelopes. Each one contained 2.5 years of back salary for his employees, totaling $1.5 million. 

The idea? Pandora Internet Radio. His company went public in 2011 and reported $138 million in revenue that year. By 2013, Pandora accounted for 70% of all Internet radio listening in the United States. By 2016, Pandora had 100 million monthly users.

If we only select for the behaviours of individual success, we miss the far bigger opportunity of hiring people for their ideas and for their potential to make a difference in the world. Most ideas are crazy because they are not part of the existing intellectual structure.

We should instead be searching for characteristics such as values and purpose and persistence. We should be seeking to determine how many times the candidate has failed, not how many trophies they have won. We should be asking what they learned about themselves and others from their failures, and how many times they picked themselves up.

Most importantly, we should be asking, "what can we do to harness that personal energy towards the creation of a better future. What enterprise platform can we offer to help bring this about?"

The problem is that we typically ask candidates "what can you do for us and how can you fit in here?" The "right" answers to those questions yield a hall of mirrors that only reflects what has worked in the past. In the open source era that is a recipe for disaster.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

6 Steps to Managing Wisely!

By  now you should know how to manage well, given that around US$140 billion is spent each year on management education. But how do you manage wisely, and what does that even mean? 

To manage wisely is to know what is the right thing to do at the right time for the greatest common good (and we could sure use more of that!).

Here are 6 steps to help you manage wisely:

1. Ask a Wise Mentor
When you don't know what to do, go to someone you regard as wise in your industry or profession - a wise mentor - and ask them what choice they would make.

2. Practice Emotional Regulation
Gaining control over the intensity and volatility of your own emotions is a key to wellbeing, and ultimately wisdom. Don't let your emotional hot buttons get pushed by anyone. Practice stable emotions under all circumstances, and cultivate positive emotions over negative ones.

3. Practice Compassion
Compassion is the conscious awareness of others' distress and the motivation to do something for them. There are other things you can do for others rather than for yourself such as empathy, altruism, generosity, kindness. Practicing these 'prosocial behaviours' helps you become a better and a wiser leader.

4. Practice Insight
The greatest capability of a leader is self-reflection - the ability to analyse an understand yourself. It's  naturally much easier to understand somebody else. But learning to manage wisely requires seeing your own strengths and weaknesses, and striving to gain insight.

5. Accept Uncertainty
Just because you hold strong feelings about something doesn't mean it's the right decision. Acceptance of uncertainty means not being 100% certain of anything working out the way you want it to, and being prepared to change your mind if new information comes along. It also means understanding why someone else might have different feelings about a particular decision. It doesn't mean giving up on your values, but you can also understand why someone else may hold different thoughts and feelings.

6. Make Decisions
In the end you have to make a decision. You can't sit on the fence. It's important to deliberate over a decision but not be paralysed by uncertainty. Managing wisely is more than just thinking through the pros and cons. You also have to be decisive. You may be criticized for your decision with hindsight, but there are times when you must act.

And these are the six steps to managing wisely. How many of these steps are you practicing today?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How to Practice Leadership Energy Coaching!

Wham! Bam! Thank you Mam! Here comes a new kind of executive coach - the leadership ENERGY coach! Just in time for the new leaders of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Based on a new model of how to generate, mobilize and recharge energy for leaders and how to achieve breakthrough results at the team and enterprise level, leadership energy coaching is primed to be the next generation step in the evolution of executive coaching.

The essence of leadership is energy: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy of the leader to persist with his/her mission, vision, and purpose over time. It can be seen in leaders who are driven to achieve something meaningful beyond their own personal goals, often at great cost. Leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Muhammad Yunis, Howard Schultz, and Malala Yousafzai are exemplars of leadership energy. What ignited their energy? Their individual stories reveal a common patter. Something in their early experience so compromised their most deeply held beliefs and values that they decided to do something about it, to make a difference, to create a better future. In a nuclear energy sense, they were 'fissionable'.

Leadership Energy Coaching is the practice of helping leaders to realize, and persistently act on, their core values and highest purpose for the creation of a better future.Leadership energy is not simply a collection of items a leader should do. It parallels the three Laws of Energy:
  1. All humans possess energy. Everyone has the potential to do work.
  2. The released leadership energy may or may not create useful output. How the energy is released and channeled depends on the purpose and values of the individual.
  3. Leadership energy needs to be restored.
This suggests a new model of executive coaching which follows four phases of energy transformation in a continuous energy loop. Executive coaching might start at any point on the loop, but in order to generate leadership energy the leader (and coach) must follow the forward motion of the loop:

Phase 1: Priming
Before energy can be utilized, a potential must be charged. It is the building up of personal energy that allows one to overcome the activation barrier. Recognizing what needs to change, what is seeking to emerge, and what is impeding progress towards some meaningful goal.
Phase 2: Release and Reroute
Channeling energy towards useful work, feeling the flow. Being clear about purpose and the desired better future.
Phase 3: Result
Evaluating outcomes, recognizing what worked what didn’t work, and what needs to be implemented.
Phase 4: Recharge
Reflections and insights on what has meaning. Preparing, repairing and replenishing ready to build up energy again.

Leadership energy coaching may be distinguishable from executive coaching in four ways:
  • It is based on a definition of leadership as 'the act of harnessing human energy towards the creation of a better future', rather than personal development models.
  • It integrates both personal and organizational development, while aligning business and leadership strategies.
  • It is focused on helping individuals develop self-sustaining, long-lasting leadership energy through proven tools and techniques.
  • It is not overly goal-focused or learning-driven, but rather fosters leadership energy at the individual, team, and organizational level.
The first Leadership Energy Coaching Certification program kicks off in Asia in July 2017. There are limited places available if you want to be at the forefront of executive coaching training and practice! Get more information here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Making Wise Decisions!

How to improve your odds of making the right decisions for the right people at the right time!

Think about your thinking
Making decisions is a bit like driving a car. You think you’re pretty good at it until you experience an accident or a near-miss. In that moment, you realise you’re not so skilled after all. In the same way, we make hundreds of decisions every day, big and small, and we seem to manage without too much trouble. Yet, it turns out that most of our decision making is unconscious, as David Eagleman wrote in ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.’ We think we’re in control but actually, we’re on autopilot. Our brains are very good at learning patterns and following routines to conserve energy, which means we’re more likely to make the same decisions over and over even if the circumstances are different.

The reason why we find it hard to change our minds is that it’s easier to accept whatever we hear. To reject what we hear requires an extra step of thinking, and thinking is hard work! So, we typically follow the line of least resistance and that means our decision making is easily biased. Here are the top four biases that cloud our judgement:

• Self-serving bias:
We tend to attribute success to something inherent in us, “I was successful because of who I am”. And we blame failure on the external situation, “I failed because of something or someone else out of my control”. It’s important to maintain strong self-esteem but we need to be vulnerable enough to learn from our mistakes.

• Cognitive fluency:
The easier it is to process and understand an idea, the more likely we are to unconsciously trust it. Yet, whether something is easy to process has nothing to do with truth and can lead to an “illusion of truth”. When you hear something that “sounds about right”, that is exactly when you should question it!

• Sunk cost fallacy:
We have an intense aversion to loss and so if we have invested time, money, or effort in a movie, a stock, or even a relationship, we’re reluctant to walk away from the investment even when it’s clearly a lost cause. It’s better to focus on the future costs and benefits and not let your past losses influence your decision.

• Confirmation bias:
We have a tendency to only search for evidence that confirms our beliefs, since it requires far less cognitive effort to stick with what we know. However, it helps to actively search for contradictory evidence.

To avoid these flaws in decision making, it helps to think about our thinking. We think fast and slow, as the Economist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman showed in ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. The fast, intuitive information-processing mode operates automatically and stems from what we know based on our experience. We get a ‘gut feeling’ of what to do, even if we can’t explain it. The slower information-processing mode tends to be more deliberative, more logical, and to operate in a more rational way. Both modes have been found to operate simultaneously in the solving of complex problems.

Yet this doesn’t explain why smart people can make foolish decisions! Recent research confirms a third mode used in our processing of information – the considerative mode as shown by Barry Partridge and Peter Webb in ‘The Decision Processing Survey’. This is a slower, more reflective process, taking into consideration competing interests, moral and ethical dimensions, and potential long and short-term consequences. Without this mode, we may make calculated, intuitive decisions but fail to fully comprehend how our decisions affect others and even how we might cause a net negative social benefit.

Here is a framework to help you think about your thinking (see Table 1).

Think about outcomes
Making a wise decision means fully utilising all three modes of information processing. It should also be evident in the way we act when we are faced with a complex, poorly-defined problem in business or in life. How do we make a decision when there are no clear guidelines or procedures and where the outcome is uncertain or unknown (i.e., it might be as viewed as the wrong decision now but the right decision in the long term, or vice versa)? A wise decision ought to be recognised by general consensus to be wise, and by implication to bring about the most benefit to self, others, and more broadly the common social good.

Wisdom is perhaps best defined by the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm as “deep knowledge and sound judgement about the essence of the human condition and the ways and means of planning, managing, and understanding a good life”, as expounded by Ursula M. Staudinger, Jessica Dörner, and Charlotte Mickler in ‘Wisdom and Personality’ in ‘A Handbook of Wisdom: Psychological Perspectives’.

Do you have to be smart to be wise? Well, it helps. And it also helps to have experienced life and to know stuff. These things are necessary but by no means sufficient. Being “the smartest guys in the room” is certainly no guarantee of making the right decisions for the right people at the right time for the greatest common social good, as Bethany McLean and PeterElkind noted in ‘The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron’.

The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, through the measurement of “wisdom-related performance”, has discovered that relatively simple social interventions can enhance wise decision-making performance. For example, asking participants to focus attention on cultural relativism and tolerance caused them to express higher levels of wisdom-related knowledge. Discussing the problem with another person, or engaging in inner dialogue with a person of their choice also resulted in improved performance. Even asking participants to address the question, “what is the wisest thing to do?” significantly boosted wisdom-related performance.

Here is how to use the Berlin Wisdom paradigm to think about your decision outcomes (see Table 2).

Think about wisdom
What makes a decision truly wise? The intention behind our decision counts, and how well we have thought about and considered the outcomes of the decision for all concerned definitely counts. But perhaps what counts at an even deeper level is the mindful expression and practice of compassion for all people everywhere, and a sincere desire to bring our lives to a place of meaning and service. We can’t know whether this or that action will really matter in the end, but we can seek to imbue every decision, in business or in life, with compassion.

Here are two important practices to help you think about wisdom (see Table 3).

Making wise decisions takes practice, and courage. It takes years of developing self awareness, experiencing life lessons and learning from them, thinking about our thinking and seeking to overcome biases and error, fully appreciating the different contexts, values and motivations of people across the lifespan, and seeking to make a contribution to human flourishing with compassion. Yet, it is possible to enhance our wisdom-related performance through thinking about our thinking, thinking about outcomes, and finally thinking about wisdom itself.

So, when you’re faced with a really big decision or a dilemma for which there are no right or wrong answers, stop and think. Ask yourself, “what does it mean to make a wise decision here?”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Grateful Workplace!

Are you grateful for your job?

Really? Don't "jobs" mean working for an organization that breeds egocentrism and selfishness! Most of us would probably move out of our jobs and into the Gig Economy if we could. So, what's gratitude got to do with your job?

Quite a lot, according to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. In fact, gratitude is actually proving profitable for companies. How?

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation in response to an experience that is beneficial to us, but that is not directly caused by us. Unlike many other emotions, gratitude is highly social and oriented towards others.

In the workplace for example, you might experience gratitude when a coworker sacrifices her free time to help you meet a deadline, or when your manager spends an afternoon helping you develop a new skill.

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. The research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity.

But what does this have to do with profitability?

In a paper published this month in the Academy of Management Review, the authors make the business case for gratitude. In organizations, they say, gratitude may be experienced as an event, something that happens once in a while. But gratitude may also emerge at the individual level in the form of persistent gratitude, and can also emerge at the organizational level as collective gratitude, in which individuals' own experiences of persistent gratitude converge to manifest as a shared organizational-level phenomenon.

The authors identify the following benefits of workplace gratitude:
  • Event-based gratitude leads to an increase in organizational citizenship behaviours, which are behaviours that directly contribute to work performance but are less formally rewarded and more discretionary than job-related tasks. For example, filling in for a coworker during an emergency, or making new employees feel welcome.
  • Persistent gratitude contributes to well-being, with positive implications for employee behavior and performance.
  • Persistent gratitude fosters more communal-based norms of behaviour, characterized by trust and closeness.
  • Collective gratitude contributes to a more resilient organization in which employees respond to new demands with optimism and persistence.
  • Collective gratitude increases corporate social responsibility, defined as "actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law".
How do you bring about a grateful workplace? The authors suggest an HR "bundled" practice that includes the following initiatives:
  1. Plan formal employee appreciation programs, in which the organization holds formal events to endow individuals with expressions of positive affirmation.
  2. Foster contact with beneficiaries, to improve employees' feelings of social worth, prosocial motivation, and job persistence. For example, employees at a University call centre were connected directly with their beneficiaries, in this case scholarship recipients.
  3. Give accurate, regular developmental feedback, providing employees with useful information enabling them to learn and develop their skills.
  4. Cultivate benevolent attributions towards HR. When employees attribute gratitude initiatives to benevolent motives, they are likely to respond with enthusiasm and engagement.
How grateful are you? Take the gratitude questionnaire here!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Leadership Redefined for the Open Source Era!

We live in interesting times. From Brexit to Trump we see the democratization of anger, frustration, and bigotry, while at the same time we are witnessing the democratization of technology, ideas, and capital. Change is inevitably paradoxical, and we are living  through a history of bright, shiny possibilities and dark, dystopian currents in equal measure. How should we prepare future leaders?

There might have been a time when we relied on our political, business, and community leaders to interpret the world for us and give us reliable institutions of civic and commercial order. But now we live in the open source era where information is ubiquitous, ideas represent currency and where entrepreneurship is the dominant platform for business success.

Airbnb, Tesla, Apple, Alibaba, Google, Zappos, Uber, are  good examples of "exponential organizations", where output is disproportionally large because of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. And while technologies such as artificial intelligence, nanothechnology, robotics, and digital biology are rapidly redefining the work environment, the practice of developing leaders for these organizations is lagging. What is the new model of leadership for 2020-2050?

Here are four ways we might better prepare our future leaders:

1. Unleash Innovation
Create the environment for anyone to propose new ideas with a net benefit for society, and allocate resources for test cases and pilot programs. Develop a start-up mindset. Be prepared for transformation and metamorphosis. New leaders will need to create a delicate balance between disruption and containment.

2. Leadership Being
Successful leaders in the open source era are "autocratic" or single-minded about their vision, mission, and purpose. But they also display an unshakeable adherence to their core values, a deep awareness of themselves, and a generally compassionate treatment of others. Leaders will need to be resilient, revolutionary, and remarkable in their purpose, yet considerate and empathetic in building collaboration.

3. Systems Architecting
Historians in the late Twenty-First Century will almost certainly judge us for dithering on climate change and on our collective failure to perceive the interconnectedness of all our actions. successful leaders of the open source era are able to conceive radically different systems of engagement of people and resources, of which Uber and Airbnb are classic examples. Systems thinking, imagining, and architecting will be essential skills for new leaders.

4. Leadership Coaching
Coaching has emerged as a highly specialized field of leadership development which is able to respond flexibly to changing operational environments and individual learning needs. Now, more than ever, we need capable and wise leaders who will make decisions for our common good, not just the good of shareholders. New leaders will need leadership coaches who can act like Sherpas, shouldering some of the load as they guide their clients towards their individual and organizational summits. They may also need leadership coaches who can behave like Shamans, wisely perceiving patterns and divining the future.

Does your leadership development curriculum consider these four approaches? If not, then you are most likely briefing your leaders for the past, not the future.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Boost Your Creativity!

Why do we get our most creative ideas in the shower?

OK, it might depend on when and how you have your shower (and who with). But that's beside the point. Our minds never stop working, chattering away incessantly. Which is why the shower works. It's a relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental environment that allows your mind to wander freely, connecting with your inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.

But how do you get creative in the first place? Here are 5 ways to boost your creativity:

A recent study of musical improvisation in rap artists showed a marked shift in brain  activity while subjects were creating lyrics. Brain patterns associated with motor activity arose in the absence of conscious monitoring and volitional control.

In other words, to get creative you need to relax the 'executive functions' of the brain, allowing more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processing. Here are 5 ways to do it:

1. Go for a walk
Our best 'divergent thinking' comes from walking. A Stanford University study found a person's creative output increased by an average 60% when walking compared with just sitting. And it doesn't matter where you walk - around the office, around the block, or on a treadmill.

2. Be bored
We are so tethered to our devices. They demand attention from us like needy children. They sap us of independent thought. Shut down the deluge of emails, tweets, Facebook and Instagram updates and simply let your brain "space out" for a while. Boredom is a lost art. And there seems to be an intersection between boredom and creativity.

3. Colour
There's a reason colouring books for adults have taken off. When you focus purely on the task of colouring you're being mindful. And when you move rhythmically for an extended period of time it becomes a kind of meditation. It's also an exercise in exploring your own artistry. So when you need to boost your creative juices, break out the colouring pencils!

4. Brainstorm when you're tired
Just when you're about to fall asleep at night or when you feel the 3pm siesta beginning to take over is actually a good time to brainstorm. Keep a pen and paper beside your bed for when an idea hits. When you're tired and less-focused you're not able to filter weird thoughts so easily, so let go and let loose!

5. Reminisce
In a 2015 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology report, subjects who engaged in nostalgia relative to control subjects showed a boost in creativity in a writing task. This occurred above and beyond personality factors. The mere act of reverie for the past turns out to be an effective mediator of creative endeavours. So take a look through old photos or simply reminisce about interesting events in your life.