Strategies for Individuals

by Christy Miller

..My connection to this blog.

This past summer I (third from left), along with several hundred relatives, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Miller family homestead in northwestern North Dakota. The festivities included recognition of 100 years of family farming as 4th and 5th generation pioneers still derive their livelihoods from reaping harvests of amber waves of grain. Nevertheless, time has not stood still. Fewer family members than ever can make a decent living at this vocation—not many have survived. Well-run corporate farms added competitive pressures, and although science and technology have increased long-term productivity, these advances required significant capital investment thereby shrinking short-term profitability. I see in my farmer relatives the attributes that keep this legacy going: a readiness to embrace new technology, a willingness to save today to invest in tomorrow’s successes or prepare for future failures, a deep pride and joy in the work itself, and a love for the family for whom the fruits of their labor provide.

I, on the other hand, discovered my calling in the corporate workplace but my journey has been built on the foundation of lessons learned from farming. It takes the system to produce good results--tools, technology, know-how, weather, soil, seed, fertilizer and pest control. You control the things you can, and do what you can to mitigate the ones you can’t. You don’t lose sight of the impact each has upon the other. Some days you have to work longer than others, but that’s okay because you really believe that work is good and that you are doing something that will make a difference beyond your contribution.

It is a pleasure to connect my story with those of my Drucker classmates, David, Lawrence, and Lucia, on this blog. Together we are learning to both practice and influence authentic, purposeful leadership in the 21st Century. As noted in the introduction, our research is inspired by Jean Lipman-Bluman’s book, “Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World”. She uses the term “The Connective Era” to define the emergence of a new context in which today’s leaders must lead.

In summary, Lipman-Blumen says that science and technology, increasing internationalism, diversity, lost faith in ideology, institutions and leaders, changes in organizational structures, and new plagues are factors that contribute to the need for new strategies to help us face the realities of our increasingly “connected” world. Complexity and rate of change demand a fresh approach to developing innovative solutions, and no one person can possibly have all of the answers. As we wrestle with the competing forces of diversity and interdependence, Lipman-Blumen hypothesizes that leaders must abandon their simple charismatic or command and control styles and draw from a richer basket of direct, relational, and instrumental styles of behavior in order to effectively lead in the 21st Century. They need to be accountable not only by taking responsibility for their actions but also by explaining them. They must cultivate authenticity so that when different situations demand a different leadership behavior, constituents will not see these actions as “mixed messages” but rather the action that was required in the situation at hand in order to achieve the group’s shared goals.

Lipman-Blumen’s seminal book was published in 1996, and yet today, ten years later, we still wonder where all the good leaders are. We read stories such as that of Max DePree, and while we are appropriately inspired by the apparent work-as-utopia he built at Herman Miller, it just doesn’t seem real. We ask ourselves why these behaviors have not gained traction and why so few of us seem to be a part of organizations that recognize and reward these cutting-edge styles that are required for success in the Connective Era. We shake our heads in disgust and mutter something about it having to start at the top—and it just isn’t.

So that is what causes us to ask our questions. My contribution focuses on the first one. I’m curious to learn how individuals can influence the advancement of Connective Era strategies. I suspect that the key to individual strategies lies in the words accountability and authenticity, and I intend to keep that focal point in mind in subsequent postings. I will share my image of leadership, then explore why this change is so hard, suggest ways of leading up, advise on building trust, and finally show how you can practice leading in all domains of life.

Personally I am nearing the end of a journey of learning at the Drucker School, and the words of my father at the beginning of the program are echoing in my middle-aged ears. Upon hearing the news of my enrollment, he asked, “Well, what are you going to do with that when you’re done?” I hope to help answer that question with what follows in this blog. At the same time I expect to provide the reader with ideas on how they, too, can make a difference in the Connective Era.

Lipman-Blumen, Jean. (1996). Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World New York: Oxford University Press

Depree, Max. (1989). Leadership is an Art New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

..Images of Leadership

In researching for this project, I was intrigued by the Images of Leadership project sponsored by Wharton College’s undergraduate leadership program. Before starting their Management 100 class, students are asked to select or design an image that represents their idea of leadership accompanied by a 100-word essay on why they chose that image.

It was a challenge to limit this to 100 words, but here is my essay and image. It will help you understand what I think we need to achieve.

“Effective leaders are instruments who stitch together diverse talents in order to ensure valuable outcomes In fact, leadership is a lot like a needle. Starting with a vision, it assembles the necessary components: the pattern for guiding, the scissor for cutting, the thread for binding, the thimble for protection, the tape measure for careful construction, the fabric for show, and the hand of the tailor for execution. Leading the way, the needle pokes through the layers of fiber. Sometimes this hurts. Finally the needle moves aside to reveal and recognize the beauty of all the contributors in the finished product.”

Ghandi, Mandela, Mother Teresa, a Tree, Pillow…Images of Leadership from Future Leaders

Microsoft Clip Art Image

..Why is this change so difficult?

Both our brains (logic) and our hearts (emotion) tell us that authoritarian leadership should be buried and replaced with a more participative style. Yet when push comes to shove, competitive pressures often cause us to react in known ways in which we feel more comfortable in predicting the outcome.

Gerard Fairtlough describes three ways of getting things done in organizations: hierarchy, heterarchy, and responsible autonomy. Responsible autonomy is the highest organizational achieving style for which to strive. The problem, he argues, is that the command and control hierarchy style “is so entrenched that a complete replacement, if it does prove desirable, will take centuries.” (92)

A recent article in CIO magazine cites recent brain research that provides scientific evidence that change is painful both psychologically and physiologically. So now we know that breaking the bonds of habit not only requires a change in our long-trusted behavior, it has been proven to cause physical discomfort precisely because of the way our brain is wired!

So should we give up now? Of course not! Fairtlough suggests four guiding principles. First, we need to understand the grip of hierarchy and what the alternatives are so that we can move more confidently towards a new way of getting things done. Second, we need innovation in the form of imagination, experimentation, and persistence so that we can discover these new ways of getting things done. Third, we need balance by paying attention to all requirements of the organization including system, culture, leadership and power. Fourth, we need courage because “downgrading hierarchy will nearly always mean upsetting powerful people. This takes guts.” (92, 93)

The CIO article goes on to say that brain scans also indicate that helping people come to terms in their own way with the necessary changes pays big dividends in the acceptance of the new behavior. But this takes a tremendous amount of patience on the part of the teacher/leader precisely because we are so complex and so individual. The article recommends painting a broad picture of the change, leaving some gaps, allowing people to fill the space and make the connections on their own.

So research by behavioral and physical scientists indicates that the change we seek is possible—although it may take more time and require a more focused effort on our part. There is another reason to be hopeful, and that is the next generation. The Wharton “Images of Leadership” project indicates that next-generation business students “are all idealistic, without a question” in proposing an image of leadership that is transformational at its core. The researchers ponder whether they are looking into the world and finding these positive images, or if they are images that the students themselves aspire to. I would like to suggest that any incremental change we can introduce in the workplace now will provide fertile ground in which to plant these new leaders who will be better equipped to reinforce and continue the innovation.

Someone once said, “Habit is a great debtor”. If you’re willing to pay the price, stay with us on this post for more practical ways you can influence the advancement of effective connective era leaders.

Fairtlough, Gerard. (2005). The Three Ways of Getting Things Done: Hierarchy, Heterarchy, & Responsible Autonomy in Organization Dorset, UK: Triarchy Press

Ghandi, Mandela, Mother Teresa, a Tree, Pillow…Images of Leadership from Future Leaders

The New Science of Change

Microsoft Clip Art Image

..A Moment for Peter Drucker

I turned to "The Essential Drucker" to glean some advice from the management guru himself before embarking on this “change the game of leadership” adventure. Sure enough, Peter Drucker provides a laser-sharp response to the question of “how can I make a difference” in chapter 15 entitled, “Focus on Contribution”.

Drucker says that the effective person focuses on contribution with a stress on responsibility. An effective person turns the attention away from his or her own specialty and toward the performance of the whole. An effective person recognizes the value of the contributions of others. Furthermore, an effective person understands that the value of his or her own work is constrained by the needs, the directions, the limitations, and the perceptions of others. Effective persons therefore focus on their contributions while working on developing relationships with others. Productive relationships produce results and accomplishments for all concerned.

How does this translate into a strategy for influencing ineffective leaders? Surely the individual who views the performance of the whole first before focusing on their own contribution will be in a better position to influence their manager. Know your business. Know yourself. Know what you can do. Understand the connections, and focus on results. I’ll explore these tactics in more depth in the “leading up” post.

Drucker, Peter F. (2001). The Essential Drucker New York: Harper Collins Books

..It's time to play ball!

One of my lesser-used achieving styles is competitiveness. While I doubt that the spirit of competition will lead us to the next level of effective leadership in the world, there are lessons that someone like me needs to learn from this approach.

I can be an avid baseball fan during playoff season, and I am especially excited this year because “my team”, the Los Angeles Dodgers, has emerged as one of the contenders for the title of world champion. As we move towards post-season play, I hear the language of competitiveness used more and more often, and I notice how people are inspired and moved by this possibility of winning. So in an effort to connect with this energy, I am going to continue this discussion using baseball wisdom articulated by Yogi Berra to illustrate the concepts of leading up, building trust, and learning to lead in all domains of life in order to improve leadership effectiveness.

..What difference does the uniform make?

You don’t hit with it.

That’s what Yogi Berra says, and I think it is a fitting introduction to a discussion on leading up. In the past, we talked about “managing up”. Career coaching advice from the website describes managing up as “focusing on the relationship with your boss to obtain the best results for you, your boss, and your organization”. Unfortunately an ineffective leader often negatively redirects our focus from the leader-follower relationship towards the ineptitude of the boss and both results and careers suffer. But John Gardner strikes back with “If a bad leader rules because of our lethargy, we are collaborators. The fault is not in our stars.” (71). In today’s world, we must learn to strike back by leading up. Leading up requires a commitment to becoming what Robert Kelley describes as an “effective follower”. He says that effective followers are “well-balanced and responsible adults who can succeed without strong leadership.” If we are truly interested in contributing to purposeful work, then whether we don the uniform of leader or follower, we can score the runs necessary to obtain the best results for our managers, our organizations, and ourselves.

Nevertheless, both managing up and leading up refer to the ability to consciously work with your boss to achieve organizational objectives. Leading up differs in that it requires more attention to those attributes that are usually assigned to the boss. According to a Harvard Management Update, the essential attributes of a leader include who you are, what you know, and how you interact with people. Do you have a reputation for results-oriented work and integrity? Do you have your facts straight? The article reminds us that people lacking in information rarely are acknowledged as leaders. Do you propose alternatives, solicit input, and leave space for others to willingly cooperate? If you can answer yes to these questions, you are already modeling effective leadership strategies.

One of the keys to effective leading up is to recognize that your boss needs your support. The goal should not be to usurp his or her authority, but rather to seek solutions that enable each of you to contribute in the most productive way. A review of the literature reveals three communication scenarios in which you can learn techniques that will improve the relationship and build trust between you and your boss. First, there is the “art” of asking the right questions. Second, you need to learn how to get bad news to the top. And third, the most difficult, is saying no to a “yes man".

According to Robert Ramsey, effective people “not only ask the right questions, they ask the right people, ask at the right time, and keep asking until they get good answers”. His coaching seems to indicate that clarity and persistence are the secrets that unveil the mystery and unlock the potential. Ramsey proposes simple guidelines to make it easier to ask the right questions in the most effective way of which I share a few here. Number one on his list is don’t ask if you don’t want to know. Conversely, be prepared to act on answers to the questions you choose to ask. Ask questions as soon as you need to know—don’t wait for the dynamics to change. Be clear, succinct, and to-the-point. Don’t hesitate to keep asking if the answers are unclear or incomplete. When questioning your boss, I would add that you should also be willing to share what you know. Keeping you boss informed ensures the smooth flow of information and knowledge both ways.

Steve Kirsner suggests that a lot of bad press lately has resulted from leaders who ignore bad news until it becomes worse. Confronting your boss with bad news is an important duty that effective followers should not neglect. Make it real, keep it real, build coalitions, don’t point fingers, and propose a solution are tips that the magazine’s panel of experts offers on delivering bad news in such a way that your boss will be encouraged to do something. In other words, get your facts straight, but don’t exaggerate. Use your connections to show that others can validate your views. Share ownership of the problem, and lead up by offering potential solutions to the problem. I would add that you should also be prepared to listen to the response from your boss. Listening, according to Robert Greenfield, builds strength in other people. (437) This openness to feedback is another way to illicit trust between you and your boss.

Some of us will inevitably have the unfortunate experience of reporting to a boss who is best described as a “yes man”. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jared Sandberg describes this person as someone “…so full of follow that they can’t lead. They head up the corporate ladder because their agreeability is in direct proportion to their lust for power.” He says that we often find it impossible to say “no” to a “yes man” because of the swift rebuttal that we don’t get either “it” or the “big picture” or we are accused of not being a team player. Don’t disappoint yourself by becoming the worst of the worst – a “yes man’s yes man”. The point is that while you might think you are preserving the relationship by saying yes, in fact you are ultimately undermining it. The article suggests strategies that effective followers can use to confront this behavior. First, you can try to reason with the facts. Second, you can attempt to implement the best of the bad alternatives. Third, you can say yes but perform the task slowly and incompetently. While none of these strategies are as satisfying as performing productive work, they may eventually help change the leadership behavior that perpetuates this style.

So if you can’t hit with it, just what difference does the uniform make? Pierce suggests that they are equal but different activities and that both roles are needed and should be encouraged. I agree that leveling the playing field could reap positive benefits for the organization. In the meantime, this posting has concentrated on effective followers who as responsible self-managed individuals can lead up by using communication techniques to build trust and influence the desired behavior of 21st century leaders.

Managing Up: An Overlooked Factor in Career Success Joanne Murray

Gardner, John W. (1990). On Leadership New York: The Free Press

Kelley, Robert E. “In Praise of Followers” Harvard Business Review, November-December 1988: 1-8.

“How to Lead When You’re Not the Boss” Harvard Management Update, March 2000

“the art of asking the right questions”
Robert D Ramsey. SuperVision. Burlington:Feb 2006. Vol. 67, Iss. 2, p. 3-5 (3 pp.)

“How to Get Bad News to the Top”
Scott Kirsner. Fast Company. August:2002 Iss. 62, p. 56

Vecchio, Robert P., Editor (1997). Leadership: Understanding the Dynamics of Power and Influence in Organization Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press
The Servant As Leader – Robert K. Greenleaf

“How Do You Say No to a Yes Man? Often Unsuccessfully”
Jared Sandberg. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern Edition). New York, N.Y.:Jul 25, 2006. p. B.1

Microsoft Clip Art Image

..You can observe a lot just by watching.

While at first this sounds like a redundant statement, this Yogi Berra quote ends up resonating with the second point I want to make about how individuals can influence the advancement of Connective Era leadership strategies. Just as I imagine my needle joining together a diverse set of components in order to produce results, connective leaders recognize that they don’t have all of the answers. They must, as Max DePree suggests, “endorse a concept of persons” and rely on a diversity of people’s talents, gifts, and skills. The first responsibility of a leader, DePree says, is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. (9) This posting focuses on the thank you—an action that requires watching in order to observe those moments that deserve recognition and reinforcing.

One of the frustrations of today’s leaders is that followers aren’t accountable. They are happy with as little responsibility as possible. Intuitively my values lead me to believe otherwise--that people want to do to good and want to be responsible for a part of some purpose that is bigger and more important than them alone. Even if I am not positioned at the top of the organization, I can use the tools at my disposal to help build a more enlightened workforce that is then likely to arouse trust from the current leadership and carry on the tradition of effective leadership. A survey of the literature affirms the powerful, reinforcing, and trust-inspiring benefits of saying thank you.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines grace as “dignified, polite and decent behavior”. Building on that definition, Erik de Nijs proposes the GRACE acronym for work. He says that in today’s world, vital leadership is one based on powerful, purposeful, and productive relationships of trust and transparency between leaders and followers. His GRACE model includes five key components: goodwill, results, authenticity, connectivity, and empowerment. Goodwill assumes positive intent, and results include both the reason and the result. Authenticity means being honest, while connectivity refers to finding ways to identify with, affirm, and encourage the other person. Empowerment is about helping others succeed. While de Nijs believes it takes all five components to succeed, his definition of connectivity is most closely aligned with the mandate to say thank you. It requires empathy towards the other person, understanding what is important to them, and communicating a genuine desire to relate to them. The lesson here is to get to know your constituents so that when it comes time to recognize them you can reward them with something that is truly meaningful to them.

Tom Gegax takes a similar approach to building an enlightened workforce. He believes that people will look forward to coming to work when they believe that their work contributes directly to the team’s success. Employees, he says, are like plants that must be rooted in a nurturing environment in order to bloom and thrive. His multi-point plan for cultivating this environment includes handing out “all-access passes” so that constituents know that you are available when they need you. He says that attention spent on employee concerns is reciprocated with appreciation that shows up in the simple metrics of productivity and turnover. His experience proves that thank you’s can flow both up and down the organization.

Noelle Nelson reminds us that the number one reason people leave their jobs is lack of appreciation. “People quit first because they don’t feel appreciated.” The dictionary prompts us with three definitions for appreciation: “the recognition of the good qualities of someone or something”, “a full understanding of a situation”, and “an increase in monetary value”. Saying thank you encompasses all three meanings. Nelson proposes five ways to appreciate. The first is to adopt an appreciative focus in which you actively search for value or worth in every person. The second is to problem-solve with appreciation soliciting input and advice from employees. The third strategy is to catch employees in the act of doing something right. The fourth is to create a culture of appreciation by collecting stories of work done well. The fifth is to lead by example.

My company pushes the idea of engaging employees, and a major component of that initiative is the reward program. I am sometimes annoyed by the monthly email from HR asking me to recount my previous month’s recognition and reward activities because often times it feels like I’m simply contributing to another metric. On the other hand, I must admit that I appreciate the regular reminder. As a middle manager, I need to be held accountable for increasing the value of my team by regularly immersing them in praise for their contributions to organizational goals. I represent management to my team, and as a result I am in a unique position. I can observe a lot by watching, and by watching I can recognize and reward those behaviors that will lead to increased follower accountability. Increased follower accountability increases leader appreciation increases follower accountability increases leader appreciation and so forth. Most important, thoughtful observers and watchers will notice that trust is building and growing with each cycle of feedback.

Depree, Max. (1989). Leadership is an Art New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

“GRACE at Work”
Eric de Nijs. T + D. Alexandria:Mar 2006. Vol. 60, Iss. 3, p. 47-49,6 (4 pp.)

“Relationship Management: Create An Enlightened Work Environment And Reap The Rewards From Your Employees”
Tom Gegax, Don Grimme. Business Credit. New York:Apr 2006. Vol. 108, Iss. 4, p. 65-67 (3 pp.)

“Culture of Appreciation”
Noelle Nelson. Leadership Excellence. Provo:Aug 2006. Vol. 23, Iss. 8, p. 11-12 (2 pp.)

Microsoft Clip Art Image

..You can't think and hit at the same time.

This Yogi Berra witticism points out the fact that using effective strategies requires practice. Practice is what enables us to take the right action at the appointed time. In this posting, I suggest that individuals can influence the advancement of Connective Era leadership by practicing the new more effective leadership behaviors in all domains of life. Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco S.A. reminds us that “Outside the factory, workers are men and women who elect governments, serve in the army, lead community projects, raise and educate families, and make decisions every day about the future. Friends solicit their advice. Salespeople court them. Children and grandchildren look up to them for their wisdom and experience. (5)” Certainly we have opportunities within our families and communities to practice effective leadership.

Back to Peter Drucker. He insists that, “Successful careers are not “planned.” They are the careers of people who are prepared for the opportunity because they know their strengths, the way they work and their values.” (180) Stewart Friedman uses a program called total leadership to help people align their values with their actions. Instead of work-life balance, his approach promotes work-life integration. Performance and results are still the primary objective, but they are informed by the three key principles of clarifying what is important, recognizing and supporting the whole person, and continually experimenting with how things are done.

Friedman says that clarifying what is important includes among other actions being able to choose what matters most, to communicate your story, and to pursue accountability.

• Family:
I believe in connecting with my family, so it is important to me that we join together for dinner each evening in order to catch up with the events of the day.
• Community: I have held leadership positions in my church community. I choose worship over golf on Sunday mornings because I believe in the need to nourish and heal my soul, to visibly demonstrate my commitment, and to affirm the responsibility to join with other believers in pursuit of our mutual goals.
• Work: Translating this behavior into the workplace, I recognize that sometimes we should have meetings if for no other reason than to collectively affirm our values, get to know one another better, and stay on course.

Friedman’s second principle, recognizing and respecting the whole person, requires taking responsibility for building networks of trust, communicating expectations, transferring skills across domains, and managing the boundaries and transitions.

• Family: In sharing a dual-career household, we have learned to trust the abilities of one another in areas as diverse as cooking, cleaning, finance, and doing the laundry. At the same time we give each other space to develop our physical and spiritual selves.
• Community: I have found a more highly developed openness to the diversity of gifts in the church community such that we are more likely to recognize that we can’t do it all by ourselves.
• Work: I carry both of these experiences into the workplace where it becomes easier for me to care for and recognize both the contributions and the diversity of my co-workers.

The third principle, continually experimenting with how goals are achieved, can further be described as the ability to question assumptions and fostering a learning environment.

• Family: We live this principle in our household where we have studied French, cooking, art, philosophy, and business together and separately over the past several years. This led to a mid-career MFA for my husband and an EMBA for myself. These formal studies have not only taught us to support and reciprocate each other’s needs and desires for learning but also to acknowledge and accept our passion for finding new ways of expressing ourselves.
• Community: My church community fosters life-long learning programs that range from caring for impressionable tiny tots to teaching seniors already full of life experience. I also serve in an advisory capacity on the Property and Finance committee, and while I am happy to connect past precedent with present realities, I am also open to encouraging new ways of doing things in order to further the mission into the future.
• Work: Turning to the workplace, modeling this capacity for change can be a powerful influencing factor if the energy is channeled towards effective, flexible leadership focused on results.

Friedman comments “practice and discipline are needed to learn how to stay focused while moving rapidly and diplomatically from one domain to another” (1279) while Berra says you can’t think and hit at the same time. Reflecting on my experience has given me more confidence that individuals can influence the advancement of 21st Century leadership. You must be willing to use every opportunity to enhance your leadership style so that you can connect your practice with performance and results with authenticity in all domains of your life.

Semler, Ricardo. “Managing Without Managers” Harvard Business Review, September 1, 1989

Drucker, Peter F. (1999). Managing in the 21st Century New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

“Learning to Lead in All Domains of Life”
Stewart D Friedman. The American Behavioral Scientist. Thousand Oaks:May 2006. Vol. 49, Iss. 9, p. 1270-1297 (28 pp.)

Microsoft Clip Art Photo

..Don't give me the answer. Give me the question.

Inspired again by the cleverness of Yogi Berra, I recognize that there is not a magic formulary of answers that will quickly transform the leaders of the world. However, I trust that these musings have encouraged you and provided you with some practical advice on how you can improve leadership effectiveness in the 21st century even if you are not at the top of your organization. I conclude then with this baseball-season, dinner-table conversation and leave you with a question.

Of the two of us, my husband is the most passionate Dodger fan. He was enthusiastically describing the roles of the relief pitchers and pinch hitters over dinner one evening last week. He reminded me that those players on the bench don’t just come to watch the game. Instead, they are studying the players so that they can identify how they themselves would have to change in order to confront the different hitting or pitching styles of the opposing team. If they get a chance to play, the bench should be mentally ready to face their competitors so that they can make the most valuable contribution to their team. This is not to say that they conform to the opposing team’s style but rather that they transform what had been an effective strategy in previous innings into winning plays for their team.

This is good advice for middle managers and other followers out there—will you be ready if you are called off the bench? Authenticity and accountability require self-reflection, openness to change, courage, and practice. Will you be ready to play ball?

  • Introduction
  • Table of Contents
  • Methodology
  • Elements of Effective Leadership
  • Strategies for Individuals
  • Muslim Women Leadership Status in the Connective Era>
  • Connective Leadership in the Global Environment
  • Conclusion