THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report
Monday morning: October 18, 2010
Some days we get so busy that we forget there is a difference between management and leadership. John Kotter notes that management makes systems, people and technology work well day after day, week after week, and year after year. This includes planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, and problem solving, plus taking complex systems of people and technology and making sure they run efficiently and effectively.
Leadership, on the other hand, notes Kotter, creates the systems that managers manage and changes them in fundamental ways to take advantage of opportunities and to avoid hazards. This includes creating vision and strategy, communicating and setting direction, motivating action, aligning people, plus creating systems that managers can manage and transforming them when needed to allow for growth, evolution, opportunities and hazard avoidance.
When I reflect on what John Kotter wrote, it is clear that mangers maintain systems that work well on a day to day basis. They are trained in order and execution. Yet, we must remember that systems that are working well over time tend toward entropy or the lack of forward momentum plus complacency or the lack of urgency. Therefore, we have to accept the fact that managers are trained to maintain something that will ultimately not work well over time. Furthermore, they are not trained, encouraged or rewarded in any way to constantly improve or change things. Thus, many times we are setting managers up to fail and be frustrated on a regular basis due to the natural tendency of systems to move toward entropy and complacency.
So, what happens when organizations have different amounts of management and leadership? When organizations have high competencies in management and leadership, they’re able to meet challenges today as well as tomorrow. However, most organizations are usually lacking in one or the other. When management exists without leadership, the company is often unable to change. And when leadership exists without management, the company is only as strong as its charismatic leader. Most of the time, organizations are overstaffed with managers, but lack enough leadership to help them deal with constant change. It reminds me of some farm wisdom that I learned many years ago when I first came to Iowa: if you keep doing what you are currently doing, you keep getting what you currently got. To avoid constantly ending up at the place of entropy and complacency, we as leaders and managers need to do some things differently.
First, when building a new system, define the results you are seeking and define the outcomes you will measure that show whether or not you are achieving the desired results. Sounds simple but 9 times out of 10, people do not do take this action. Still, in the process of doing this, watch out for the tyranny of measurement. The standard perspective is that what gets measured, gets done. However, the measurements in some companies are now becoming more important than the results.
Second, it is common for organizational goals and systems to be in conflict. Therefore, it is important to better define your goals and make sure your systems are in alignment with those goals. Be careful along the way and watch out for the tyranny of goals. In this place, having goals is more important than completely them in a thorough manner.
Next, routinely do a system analysis as part of your strategic reviews. Often during this process, we discover that there is no one who is clearly in charge of managing a system. If this is the case, then define who you will hold accountable to meeting expectations related to this system, e.g. quality assurance, but also clarify how he or she can or can not improve the system if entropy and complacency sets in.
This week, recognize that poor leadership or management can cause major problems when dealing with the challenges of entropy and complacency.
Have a fantastic week,
P.S. Routinely, we, as executives and leaders, have to stand up in front of large and small groups to present new ideas. Some days it is a new vision for the future and other days it is a new strategic plan. Whatever the case, the goal is to develop clarity and ultimately ownership and buy-in across the organization.
However, when leaders present, they also encounter confusing questions, off the wall comments and at times verbal bullets or attacks from people who do not want to change. John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in their new book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, Harvard Business Review Press, 2010, notes that these attack strategies by naysayers, nitpickers, and handwringers fall into four categories:
- death by delay: endlessly putting off or diverting discussion of an idea until all momentum is lost.
- confusion: presenting so much distracting information that confidence in a proposal dies.
- fear mongering: stirring up irrational anxieties about an idea.
- character assassination: undermining the reputation and credibility of the presenter.
In their new book which opens with a short fictional story, very much like the work of Ken Blanchard and the current, more popular form of Patrick Lencioni, Kotter and Whitehead outline how to respectfully engage with adversaries and how to stand your ground with simple, convincing responses to common questions. Their method outlined in the second half of the book focuses on how to save a new idea and how to rebut twenty-four common attacks.
Overall, this is a good resource for leaders and managers to read and then review before any major presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed the section in the appendix called “how the method helps large-scale change” which is a quick and delightful summary of the Kotter 8 step organizational change model. For those of you who are familiar with the model, this book is critical to step four, communicating for buy-in. Recognizing that “the single biggest mistake that people make when trying to communicate a new vision of change, and strategies for achieving that vision is under-communicating by a great deal,” this book outlines how to avoid that problem and deal with those who want to shut down change at the point of presentation.
If your time is limited and reading a 190 page book is not possible, then I suggest you read an interview of John Kotter by Jeff Kehoe called “How to Save Good Ideas”in the October 2010 Harvard Business Review. It will not give you the depth of the book, but you will get a nice high level overview of some of the key material about why well intentioned and talented people with good ideas often fail when presenting them to large and small groups. Personally, I enjoyed reading the book and the article because I could really get a more complete sense of what Kotter was trying to do in the book and a better understanding of the key points. I particularly enjoyed some of his thoughts in the later part of the article about writing books, story telling and what motivates him to keep studying leadership and change. In short, the book, Buy-in, will be a good addition to your leadership library.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257