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How We Can Start Leading Our Leaders

Business and elected leaders are not trusted by most Americans to act in the public interest, our interest.

Pew Research, July 2019

As workers and citizens, we are partially responsible for allowing leaders to ignore their responsibilities to us.  As Americans, we are called to define the scope of our leaders’  responsibility, the criteria they need to meet in order to be allowed to lead us, and the values they must demonstrate to earn our loyalty.

This is especially important to remember this Memorial Day week. We mustn't wait for November.  Many decisions critical to our economy, civil rights, healthcare, and democracy must be made in the coming months.

A budget is a  moral document

We must start evaluating and asking more of the leaders in our own lives, businesses, and in the nation today.

We don’t need anyone’s permission to start this work. Alexander Hamilton didn't wait for permission. In Federalist Paper 85 he wrote,

"Thus have I, fellow citizens, executed the tasks I had assigned myself" as he offered his arguments in favor of the Constitution.

Hamilton also said that our leaders "must be controlled by the reason of the people." (Federalist Paper 50) The reason of the people can reshape leadership by clearly and constructively evaluating our leaders’ efforts and results.

Is your leader:

  • Strong and fair?
  • Caring and empowering of others?
  • Informed, wise, and balanced in their decision-making?

At the Humane Leadership Institute, we’ve created a tool to help you evaluate your leader’s performance and how well your leader embodies your values.  Find the Evaluating Your Leader Wisdom Jig on our website.

First, get curious about your needs and your leaders’ needs:

  • How could your leader better meet your needs?
  • What personal or professional needs is your leader trying to meet for themselves?
  • Do those aligned with your shared values?
  • What might you do to find overlap and build alignment around shared needs and values?
  • What can you ask your leader to do to meet your needs and values?

Once you are clear about your leader's performance and lived values, you can begin designing improvements to your leader's behavior.  This is the tricky part: requesting changes. The goal is to have a discussion about how to better meet the needs of everyone involved. This can happen naturally in the course of conversation, in your own performance review meeting, on internal chat boards or social media, in an intervention, or even as an ultimatum.

If you've designed changes and are waiting for the right moment to share them, you  have already empowered yourself in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton. Self leadership at this level is available to every one of us. As you work through this process, your empowerment and self leadership skills will grow.  Your leader will either grow to better meet your needs or you will find yourself a better leader.

Of course, you needn't do anything at all. But quietly following leaders who do not meet our own standards has brought us to this moment– a moment that has cost us many lives, jobs, hopes, and opportunities.

My hope this Memorial Day is that you and many others around you will take up this work of evaluating our leaders.  By clarifying and speaking our needs and values, we will lead ourselves into a new era of more responsive, responsible leadership.  That would be a fitting tribute to all those who sacrificed to defend our shared ideals of liberty and justice for all.

Featured photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Open Forum – Free

We will meet online for a 1 hour in a confidential discussion of what challenges are real for you and how we might find humane paths to lead ourselves and our teams forward.

Our goals:

  • Support those most in need
  • Understand the truth, opportunity and learnings in our own challenges
  • Find what we have in common

To help us plan, please contact us to let us know your intention to join.

Please connect a bit early so that we can start on time and move quickly to creating value for each other.

We look forward to seeing you,

 

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Leading in a Crisis: A Humane Approach

Leadership in a crisis

Just last week you were trying to lead your team forward. Now, we’re in an historic moment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).

How you lead yourself, your team, your company and your family through these coming weeks will define how all of your life’s stories will unfold.

I want to share what clients have found useful over these past few days.  Just to be clear, in my experience this is a messy, iterative process that takes time to perfect. But, just working through the process the first time is likely to add clarity and strength to your leadership.

I try to avoid military analogies in business, but sometimes they are really helpful.  To guide fighter pilots in making urgent decisions in very difficult moments, US Air Force Colonel John Boyd invented the OODA loop model.  

The model holds that we loop through four steps:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

I break these steps down as follows:

Observe - Get connected & curious

  • Reality - get as close as possible to where the work and transactions are happening.
  • People - ask a variety of people questions about their situations and opinions.
  • Data - open a circle of inputs that are as unbiased, direct and timely as possible.
  • Models - find the best thinking possible.  Adapt successful models to your situation, don't just borrow their conclusions.

Orient - Get analytical

  • Think clearly - read the smartest, clearest thinking possible. It will sharpen your own thinking skills even if it is not relevant to your area of expertise.
  • Verify data for completeness, accuracy and timeliness.  Refresh your understanding of statistics, especially confidence intervals.  
  • Test ideas for confirmation bias and logical fallacies.
  • Build networks of insight and care - find support for your thinking and spirits.
  • Map assets and liabilities, business and personal, including contractual and social obligations.
  • Prioritize values - these will support the evaluation of options.
  • Clarify circles of care
      • Arm’s reach
      • Personal
      • Community

Decide - Get rational

  • Choose to lead yourself and  others towards greater strength, clarity, wisdom and true wealth in this experience
  • Get tight - pull in all outflows of time, energy and money.
    • Look closely at all of your variable and fixed costs and list how you might cut them and what the trigger will be for cutting each.
    • Conserve cash in every possible way, it is your key to survival.  See renegotiate promises.
  • Stay home - for now, physically and metaphorically. Create your core value.
  • Renegotiate promises - notify the person of your intent to stop keeping the promise, then renegotiate a promise you can keep going forward.

Act - Get moving

  • Purposeful work every morning - know what it is the night before
  • Build structures that serve you and your crew
  • Always learning - we will all be changed by this experience, choose your path forward before it is chosen for you.
  • Refine practice - turn what you learned into a  for yourself and others

As we loop from action back to  observing the results of our actions we have completed the experiment of  one OODA loop. We observed reality, oriented to a hypothesis about it and decided on an experiment to act upon.  The results of that experiment feed into our next loop. With luck and some skill, we will loop closer and closer to creating a new reality that works for us and those in our circles of care.

In times of real crisis, we will loop through OODA with the following intentions for ourselves, our teams an organizations.  As leaders, we are like emergency room doctors seeking to ensure the patient survives, heals and eventually thrives again.  To that end, we must focus on each step in turn:

  • Stabilize - ensure vital processes of life and value creation continue.
  • Heal - the damage done in the crisis and in our first responses.
  • Invigorate - integrate and breath life into the new normal that emerges after the crisis and healing.

Skipping steps in this process will only add risk to your situation.  Really focus on observing and orienting around what will be required for survival, make decisions and act in as many loops as are required to ensure survival  before you move on to the healing process.  You will learn valuable things about your business, your self and your team by investing in this process.  As you go, integrate your new wisdom into your daily leadership practices.

I hope you find this helpful.  We are here to help anytime, please reach out for a quick advisory orientation discussion anytime.  Book a time on my calendar here.

In these critical days, we will hosting free Humane Leadership Open Forums frequently online, see the events calendar here.  In these structured roundtables we will address your questions or issues in a confidential, humane group effort to find what's true and to support to each other in our leadership journeys.

SSig
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In the Absence of Good Leadership, We Must Lead Ourselves

A Reformation, Really?

At the close of Drucker Forum 2017, Charles Handy called for a reformation of business enterprises. Frederick Bird and Henry Mintzberg responded with a tongue-in-cheek revision of Luther’s 95 Theses, their 9.5 Theses which included this paraphrase of Luther’s thesis #32:

Those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have achieved higher share value will be eternally damned, together with their consultants.

In the US, government seems to gladly allow enterprises to set their own scopes of responsibility, mainly shareholder value, even when that directly conflicts with the best interests of the employees and the communities affected by the production, transportation, and disposal of their products. (Here's a recent glaring example).

Could it be that in our zeal to separate economic and political considerations, we’ve absolved businesses of moral responsibility and stalled the conversation about the equitable distribution of costs, income and wealth?

Commerce and Damnation?

This is a sensitive topic, but we need to be clear about who business is serving. As we produce more, how do we determine how gains are distributed? Already 13% of the world’s population is undernourished, despite an abundant food supply. As W. Brian Arthur of McKinsey recently wrote:

The economy...produces enough in principle for everyone, but the means of access to these services and products, jobs, is steadily tightening. So this new period we are entering is not so much about production anymore—how much is produced; it is about distribution—how people get a share in what is produced. Everything from trade policies to government projects to commercial regulations will in the future be evaluated by distribution. Politics will change, free-market beliefs will change, social structures will change.

Who Reaps Technology's Rewards?

As automation makes production and labor cheaper and shareholders lock in gains via share repurchases, some are already insisting on more equitable distribution of profits, like the $15 minimum wage movement in the US, or a Universal Basic Income.
Arthur anticipates “a Scandinavian solution: capitalist-guided production and government-guided distribution. Europe will find this path easier because a loose socialism is part of its tradition. The United States will find it more difficult; it has never prized distribution over efficiency.”

Avoiding the Evils of Socialism?

Let us be clear, not all Americans are misinformed about the extent to which our country is already a corporate welfare (or socialist) state. Our Medicaid system pays premium prices to big pharma, taxpayers clean up and pay for the collateral damage of innumerable industries: opioid abuse, corn, snack and tobacco companies whose products cost Medicaid billions, farm subsidies, bailouts for banks and auto companies, subsidization of highways, defense contractor premium pricing, security for oil producers in the Middle East and beyond. Nevertheless, socialist wealth distribution to individuals remains anathema for many politicians. Here in the US, the conversation about access and distribution will most likely remain the responsibility of individual citizens and a few “radical” elected officials until reason returns to conservatism.

If we let enterprise and government leaders define the scope of their responsibility, we can assume that many will be self-serving. Public company management teams seek to manipulate their stock prices (and bonuses) by repurchasing shares rather than investing in creating jobs, minimizing impacts, increasing production capacity or new offerings. In fact, Goldman Sachs recently reported that stock buybacks are exceeding capital investment in 2018.

We can also expect that the communities who are absorbing the incidental damage of our industries will be demanding a larger role in future decisions. Robert C. Wolcott in HBR states, “history suggests that concentration of wealth in too few hands leads to social pressures that will either be addressed through politics or violence or both.” If inequality continues to grow, automation causes significant unemployment, a recession hits, and/or geopolitical conflict flares, our liberal democracies will require morally reinvigorated leadership to survive (France's gilets jaunes protests are only one recent example).

We can wait for governmental regulations, which will be mired in political torpor and which corporations will most certainly fight, or we can recognize our own power as workers and consumers of products and begin to affect change ourselves.

What’s an Effective Moral Response?

Both leaders and workers are implicated in the actions of enterprises they work within or patronize. If you participate in an industry that earns profits by exploiting workers, natural resources or the environment in ways that are damaging and unsustainable, then you are morally implicated in those actions. As a consumer of the products of these industries, you are implicated, too.

“Tell me what company you work for and I will tell you what kind of human you are.”
- Emmanuelle Duez at GPDF 2018

As individuals, we each have at least three forms of capital: labor, money, and social capital (our networks and reputation). It is time to take stock of both our own values and our own power.

    How are we implicated in the larger impacts of the businesses we serve, invest in, and patronize?
    What is the quality of leadership we are offering and accepting?
    Who and what will we be optimizing for?
    Who do we want to be in this time of great change and opportunity?
    How do we begin to hold ourselves and our leaders more accountable for impacts on ourselves, our society, and our world?

We should not fool ourselves into believing that our work has no impact on our ontology, or who we are being in the world. I can imagine a future in which I am asked, “How did you help fight inequality, climate change and mass extinction, Grandpa?” Today is the day I am given to start creating my answer to that inevitable question.

Humane Leadership?

At the Humane Leadership Conference, we’re interested in creative conversations around what might be a more humane approach to leading ourselves and each other. How can we actually produce the greatest good for the greatest number effectively, profitably and humanely?

We believe that individuals empowered to communicate, collaborate, hold accountable, and humanely lead can conduct business in a way that generates productivity gains, engagement, shareholder returns and benefits to our communities. These empowered citizens, workers, and leaders can use their own capital to hold themselves, others and enterprises true to their values while creating the goods and services we all need.

We hope that you will join the conversation at the Humane Leadership Conference. We are collaboratively developing the tools for individuals and teams to practice identifying and clarifying the values they want to bring to their workplace and the world. We seek to make those aligned with their own highest values even more effective at self and team leadership.

Join us, there’s still time and much to do.