Archive for March 2014

Great by Choice, by Jim Collins & Morten Hansen

Great by Choice book coverJim Collins’ most recent work, Great by Choice, is intended to answer the question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”  In this book, Collins’ research focused on a comparative study between organizations with growth that exceeded industry norms over a 15 year or more time period, and similar organizations that struggled or failed during the same time period.  He determined that the differences between these comparison companies boiled down to three core behaviors, which he labeled as fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia, with an underlying motivation of “passion and ambition for a cause or company larger than themselves.” (p. 37)

Fanatic discipline is described as “consistency of action – consistency with values, goals, performance standards, and methods.” (p. 36) It is explained with the concept of a 20-mile march, or “hitting specified performance markers with great consistency over a long period of time.” (p. 65) This means setting minimum thresholds of achievement, even in difficult times, while also applying self-imposed constraints to keep from over-extending, even in good times. Empirical creativity is described as “relying up direct observation, conducting practical experiments, and/or engaging directly with evidence rather than relying upon opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, authority, or untested ideas.” (p. 26) It is explained with the concept of firing bullets, then cannonballs, which involves testing ideas in a low-risk and low-cost manner, using that information to empirically validate what will actually work, and then concentrating resources on those ideas that have been validated.  Productive paranoia is described as “hyper-vigilance, staying highly attuned to threats and changes in the environment, even when – especially when – all’s going well.” (p. 37)  It is explained using the concept of “leading above the death line,” which means there is an assumption that great difficulty can happen at any time without predictability, therefore decisions, discipline, and buffers are put in place in preparation for those events.  There is also great vigilance to be aware of changing conditions, and an unwillingness to take risks that could destroy the company.

Collins then explains two additional concepts:  SMaC and ROL.  First he states the importance of being SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) in creating and adhering to a durable set of operating practices.  Next he explains a concept which he describes as “return on luck” (ROL), and says that the successful companies were not necessarily luckier than the comparable unsuccessful companies; rather, they were better prepared for bad luck and had a better return on good luck.  In his analysis, the three core behaviors – fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia – are used to build an effective SMaC plan and to get the greatest ROL.  (Note: I will have an upcoming post on the place of luck in a Christian worldview.)

I found this book to be a practical benefit to my leadership, and have already used several concepts in my own planning, decisions, and communication. I resonated with the importance of consistency in behavior and actions, and especially found the idea of “firing bullets, then cannonballs” to make a lot of sense.  I would encourage this book as a valuable and practical resource.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

 

 

Quotable

“A victorious leader plans for many eventualities before the battle; a defeated leader plans for only a few.  Many options bring victory, few options bring defeat, no options at all spell disaster.” (Tzu, 2011, p. 11)

Tzu, Sun. (2011). The Art of War (J. Trapp, Trans.). New York, NY: Chartwell Books, Inc.

 

Be Intentional

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose.  In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose.  It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense.  However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting.  It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment.  He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.”  (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe).  Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418)  In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way.  It could be making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his growth process.  Or perhaps choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I deciphered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead).  In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple, and often minor, communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Leadership That Makes Sense

The study of leadership can be quite complex, immense, and intimidating.  Many experts, authors, and teachers research and study leadership in an effort to describe or prescribe an effective model; but a “review of the scholarly studies on leadership shows that there is a wide variety of different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leadership process.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 1)  Even more challenging, at times these various leadership theories seem to be in conflict with one another, and so, as Thomas Cronin says in Wren’s The Leader’s Companion, “virtually anything that can be said about leadership can be denied or disproven.” (1995, p. 30)  People then will often believe that leadership is relegated only to those who know everything about the subject or to those few people whom they feel have inherent “greatness.”

However, while good leadership does have good leadership theory as its basis, much of what makes a leader effective is in the practice of leadership, and much of what is effective in practice can be seen by doing things that make sense.  In fact, studies validate that leaders, organizations, and followers are more effective when they identify practical actions that make sense, and implement those actions.  That is why Jim Collins says, in Great by Choice, “Social psychology research indicates that . . .10Xers [leaders who built enterprises that beat industry averages by at least 10 times] do not look to conventional wisdom to set their course during times of uncertainty, nor do they primarily look to what other people do, or to what pundits and experts say they should do.  They look primarily to empirical evidence.” (Collins & Hansen, p. 25).  Edgar Schein adds, in Organizational Culture and Leadership, that this “is the basic reason why sociologists who study how work is actually done in organizations always find sufficient variations from the formally designated procedures to talk of the ‘informal organization’ and to point out that without such innovative behavior on the part of the employees, the organization might not be as effective.” (2010, p. 60)  In other words, people look around to see what makes sense and what actually works, and that is what they do.

When John Kotter, in Leading Change, talks about determining vision, he says that “all effective visions seem to be grounded in sensible values as well as analytically sound thinking, and the values have to be ones that resonate.” (2012, p. 84)  A good leader knows the culture in his organization and environment, and can identify the things that make sense, and that make sense in his specific culture.  Those things are the principles and practices that have reason behind them (leadership theory), but that resonate within the context of that culture and make practical sense (leadership practice).

So what does this mean for leaders?  It means that there is a good deal of common sense involved in effective leadership.  Don’t let the myriad of authors, experts, and theories confuse or discourage you.  Instead, remember that most often, decisions based upon empirical validation are the ones that work.  Look for what you can see works – what makes sense – and look for why it specifically works in your organizational culture, and you will be much closer to effective leadership than you realize.

 

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York: Free Press.

 

Quotable

“When we concentrate on individual moments or fragments of experience, we see only chaos.  But if we stand back and look at what is taking shape, we see order.  Order always displays itself as patterns that develop over time.”

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

 

What is Trait Theory?

What is Trait Theory?

Trait theory is the granddaddy of modern leadership theories, and basically is the idea that leadership is derived from certain inherent – or inherited – qualities, characteristics, attributes or traits.  In the “nature versus nurture” discussion, trait theory generally adheres to the side of nature (although it does leave room for the development of traits). In the mid-20th century, Ralph Stogdill challenged this model with his research, and leadership study drifted away from trait theory.  In more recent times, however, it seems to have come back into consideration, in a returning emphasis on “the critical role of traits in effective leadership.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 20) In part, this re-emphasis has occurred because evidence indicates that traits do matter; however, a holistic approach to leadership “involves more than specifying leader traits.  Traits only endow people with the potential for leadership.” (Wren, 1995, p. 141)

Trait Theory

From Peter Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice

  • Definition – Trait theory proposes that leadership is differentiated by a specific set of traits, either innate or cultivated
  • Predominant Traits
    • Intelligence – strong verbal ability, perceptual ability, and reasoning
    • Self-confidence – self-esteem, self-assurance, and confidence in one’s skills and competence
    • Determination – initiative, persistence, dominance, and drive
    • Integrity – honesty, trustworthiness, one who is principled and takes responsibility
    • Sociability – friendly, outgoing, courteous, tactful, diplomatic, and pleasant
    • Personality – characteristics including extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism, and agreeableness
    • Emotional Intelligence – the ability to perceive, express, and use emotions to facilitate thinking, to reason and understand with emotions, and to manage emotions within oneself and in relationships

 

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York: Free Press.