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Posts tagged ‘Strategic Thinking’

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

the devil and email

How often have you written an e-mail and when you clicked “Send” immediately wished for an “undo” button? How often have you received an e-mail and spent minutes, hours, or days steaming with frustration?

The good news about e-mail is that it is a quick way to communicate at a distance without interrupting someone’s schedule. The bad news about e-mail is that since it’s not face-to-face, it can – and often does – produce unintended results.

When we meet people face-to-face, communication is primarily nonverbal: 53% face, 38% voice, 7% words (Mehrabian). Nonverbal cues include social context, facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, and gestures. We use these cues to send and receive information. When we e-mail, we’re starting with only 7% of what is needed for effective communication. But danger lurks beyond the lack of nonverbal communication.

“When the brain receives insufficient data about others’ feelings, it just makes stuff up (Meng).” Our brain fills in the blanks, making assumptions about emotions and context. And not only do our brains make up the missing pieces, our brains automatically assume those made-up “facts” are reality. The problem grows larger when we recall that our brains are more likely to feel threatened rather than assuming the best.

If your boss comes into your office, sits down, relaxes by leaning back in the chair, and with twinkling eyes and a smile says, “Well, that could have gone better ….” You know that your boss isn’t anxious or upset by the nonverbal cues offered. However, if you received an e-mail with the same words in the subject line, your brain would immediately try to choose from fight, flight, or freeze. Even if your boss had no intention of attacking, your e-mailed response has the potential to increase the miscommunication. And the cycle escalates. Meng says, “I am not sure if the devil invented e-mail, but I am sure it made his job easier.”

Remember that the e-mail needs to contain information including context and emotional state, along with facts and beliefs.

Remember that if you are unclear, leaving room for questions about what you wish to communicate, the recipient’s brain will fill in the blanks.

To increase the likelihood that your e-mail will communicate effectively, keep the brain in mind:

  1. Choose a subject line carefully. Be concise and specific.
  2. Include language that clarifies the facts, your feelings, and what you believe about the subject.
  3. Use the SCARF model for social brain-behavior (The brain treats these five domains as essential to personal survival.):
    1. Status – Acknowledge actions and behaviors that are already supporting the desired actions and results.
    2. Certainty – Be clear about your expectations and needs including: who, when, what, where, and how.
    3. Autonomy – Allow the recipient to exert as much control as possible over required action items or requests; ask for their opinions and feelings on the subject matter.
    4. Relatedness – Be gracious; create a connection.
    5. Fairness – Be consistent and transparent.

Finally, as you review the e-mail, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Imagine that you don’t know the situation, that you don’t know the emotional context, that your brain will fill-in-the-blanks negatively. Then revise as needed.

Using e-mail effectively allows recipients to increase their connection with you and align with your goals. The impacts of increasing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness include building connections, more easily resolving technical issues, and willing engagement. Hopefully these tips will make the devil’s job a little more difficult.

What strategies do you use to be specific in email communication?

Further reading:
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, IL.
Meng, C. (2012). Search inside yourself. HarperCollins, New York, NY.
Rock, D. 2010. Your Brian at Work. Harper. New York, NY.
Siegel, D. (2010) Mindsight: The Science of Personal Transformation. Random House, New York, NY

I’ll take both

I sometimes feel caught between polarities. An example is the old conundrum: pick two, price, quality, or speed – you can’t have all three.

David Brooks writes in an op-ed piece today:

The enduring popularity of the Olympics teach the lesson that if you find yourself caught between two competing impulses, you don’t always need to choose between them. You can go for both simultaneously. A single institution can celebrate charitable compassion and military toughness. A three-week festival can be crassly commercial, but also strangely moving.

As organizations plan and innovate, it is tempting to choose one solution or another. The challenge is to ask, “Why not say ‘and'”? Brooks offers the  example of Lafley at Proctor and Gamble who chose to “lower prices and reduce costs” and ‘”innovate.” He pushed the vision for the company in both directions.

What examples can you think of where the power of “and” has changed the direction of your life or organization?

Running ahead for more of the same

Organizational antiques

An interesting conversation thread from the current Friends graduate cohort began with the statement, “I’m reflecting on the buzzphrase ‘historical perspective’ (something I hear a LOT and use often myself) and wondering if a bias toward “from this point forward” is more relevant. [sic] ” The discussion has proceeded to consider motives for using the phrase and how it influences outcomes.

I added my own questions: Is the phrase being used to stifle new ideas? Or, is it a preface to telling a story that spurs action? Further discussion questions motives in using the phrase: Is the motive to protect or justify a position? Continue the status quo? Is it a fear of change?

What are your organization’s antiques?

What are the processes that don’t support your goals? What are the decision-making methods that repeatedly lead to the dead-end road? What are the reports that no one has read in years? What equipment needs to be retired?

Which antiques are so valuable that you’ll pass them down to the next generation?

Reality or not

I’ve had several discussions over the past few days about our maps of the world or in Senge’s term: mental models. We each have ways of living in the world that allow us to navigate successfully. Red lights mean “Stop.” A classroom should be arranged in rows of tables with chairs facing forward.

The world we live in is the one that we construct. Not everyone uses the same construction. You may construct travel plans by getting recommendations from friends. While someone else may search for online trip reviews to seek out the best travel options.

We each use our own models and maps to deconstruct and reconstruct our world all the time. At work and home we constantly adjust to changing relationships and environments. We eliminate what isn’t working and construct an “alternative” reality.

The challenge for each of us is not that we construct reality using mental maps and models. The challenge is to be aware of them. Here are some questions to jumpstart making your models visible:

  • What do I assume when I interact with people? Am I on guard or assuming they want the best for the situation?
  • What are the assumptions behind my business strategy for this year? Am I operating from a sense of abundant possibility or scarcity?
  • How can I be more aware of my assumptions about how things work?

In case you’re wondering about the “reality” of the photo – it was taken on the Interstate by a passenger in a moving car, holding the shutter open to capture the lights of oncoming traffic – zoom.

Sailing with Dragons
Turning off the autopilot

Planning is not an event

Planning is not an event. It is the continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not, of making risk-taking decisions with the greatest knowledge of their potential effect, of setting objectives, appraising performance and results through systematic feedback, and making ongoing adjustments as conditions change.
Peter Drucker

Idea for reflection – 27

What comes next

In South Central Kansas, we awoke to a winter wonderland this morning. The storm was forecasted for days in advance. Over the last two days, people were busy preparing, buying groceries, fueling vehicles, and dusting off snow shovels. We are all lured by the promise of certainty. We like to be prepared. We like maps, but a global positioning system that can pinpoint our location to within 15 feet is even better.

Yet the biggest myth we believe is that we know what comes next. Each event or performance is a moment in time. Measurements reflect the past. The challenge of leadership is to stimulate ourselves and our organizations to continually adapt, to move in new directions, to propel innovation. Julia Sloan suggests leaders can create an environment that supports change by developing five essential attributes. imagination, expanded perspective, ability to “juggle,” no control over, and desire to win.

Here are a few ideas that leaders can use to strengthen these attributes for themselves:

  • Instead of saying, “No,” ask a question.
  • Reflect on experiences and situations that evoke strong feelings like anger, sadness, or happiness.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings as a way to identify patterns and understand assumptions.
  • Tell stories that illustrate your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Suspend judgment, slow down, look for a “surprise” – then reflect on the surprise.

The power of informal learning

I’ve been re-reading Julia Sloan’s, Learning to Think Strategically. She begins by saying that “strategic thinking is a long-term informal development process, best learned from experiences outside the work environment and supported and processed inside the work environment.”

From this I take away the need to integrate broader life experiences and encountered environments into my work. What does drinking coffee at Mojos or walking through Longwood Gardens have to do with work? What does listening to music or creating art have to do with work?

Everything. Informal does not mean accidental. Spend time observing the processes going on around you, reflecting on how each experience creates emotions and thoughts, and considering the implications for your work. What can you learn? How could the processes, observations, and experiences inform your work? Your strategy? Informal learning may be non-routine or unstructured, but we can bring awareness and curiosity along with us everywhere we go.

What did you learn outside of the office today? How will you apply it when you return?

Abstract perspectives

Jon recently walked through the door with this photo in hand. What is it? My father-in-law, who is a professional artist, would say, “It’s whatever you want it to be.” The value of the abstract is that it challenges our imagination and creativity. It opens the door to all possibilities.

What would you imagine if anything were possible? If you had three wishes to increase the health of your organization in 2011, what would they be? Where are the greatest opportunities for realizing these dreams? Where will you start? How will you take the first step?

The door

A few days ago, we were on a walk along the Sand Creek Trail and took a byway that we hadn’t explored. We encountered an old barn with doors that had been closed long ago. Leaves new and old drifted against the bottom. If there had even been a handle, its location had long been covered over ….

I’ve been considering that door with no handle as one year ends and another begins. What are the things that are behind doors that need to be opened up and aired out? What are the things that need to be given away, torn down, or permanently closed? What doors do we want to open, walk through, and explore on the adventure that is Friesen Group?

Part of the power of a blog is that ideas can be shared in short snips. While the questions listed here are big questions, I invite you to join me in taking short snips of time in the next few days. Use the time snips to provoke your thinking, to make meaning and insight, to remember – as we enter into 2011.

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