have an image of leaders – whether it is John
Wayne leading a charge in combat, or JFK
declaring to the world the USA will put a man on the moon by the end
of that decade, or Steve
Jobs radically changing established market segments like music,
telecom, and computers with new technology.
when the leader spoke, we listened; when the leader gave a command,
we followed. Leadership relied on this command
& control model, harkening back to the Roman Legion. Leaders
issue orders and the tribe executes them. Collaboration, dissent, or
suggestions were not rewarded.
theory has evolved, workers have become more educated, global markets
have developed, and the pace of change has accelerated dramatically –
the traditional has been replaced with rapidly changing and expanding
norms, globalization, and new devices to advance technology. This is
Normal and it dramatically affects how leaders lead.
is moving to a collaborative
model – the leader articulates vision and goals then seeks
input on how to get there. Success requires developing an environment
of trust and for stakeholders to offer honest input. Collaboration
and willingness to adopt offered changes – an open source approach
– is a fundamental difference between traditional command &
control and New Normal collaborative leadership models, but effective
two-way communication is the critical factor.
illustrate the shift to a new model, here's a brief case study on an
organization changing from traditional to New Normal leadership:
A specialty product/service firm using a traditional leadership and
sales approach – the sales person armed with brochures, catalogs,
and a price list visits each prospect for a show & tell session
to make the sale (or not).
The down economy causes sales volume to tank! With reduced sales,
the company is suffering financially.
The leader (company owner) could:
to sell the company (no prospects identified) [quit
to ride out the recession until market (and sales) return [dream
changes to meet the new challenges by: [evolve
web-sale portal (social business channel); 2. Qualifying
customers and guiding lower probability customers to the social
business channel; 3. Reserve
personal visits only for high probability customers; 4. Enroll
employees, tell the truth about the situation, plans, vision, and
commitment of the leader to create a sustainable new model company.
No magic – it took plenty of hard work and caused lots of angst.
Everyone was kept current with the progress – good or bad. With the
checkbook down to less than a couple of months of operating funds,
sales volume increased from both the traditional channel and the
social business channel. Sales volume grew at a steady pace and in
the fourth year after starting this transition the company is
profitable and stable.
leader bet the ranch on creating a viable organization and came
within a few months of losing everything. However, with the
commitment of all stakeholders, hard work, honesty in assessing the
situation for what it is, a good and flexible plan, and some luck –
a leading-edge company emerged.
The ability to see ahead
(or even around the curve) is a requirement for leadership. Every
time I get in a leader slot I am amazed by how my vision shortens.
As a consultant,
subordinate leader, or individual contributor I could usually make a
substantial contribution, often seeing farther than the boss.
When I’m the boss, I
cherish the contributors who have prepared for when it is their time
What is going on? There
are only so many hours in the day, and focusing wide at the top makes
it harder to get the energy to focus deep.
People want your time when
they feel lonely or uncertain. I think static office workplaces have
an incredible loss of focus to accommodate social needs. It’s much
nicer to sit around in the warm and drink
Lightweights overcome the
discomfort of leadership by doing their last job better, maybe
approaching perfectly. If you are too busy doing your last job to do
your current job, your successor will do your current job.
I’ve also noticed that
the great leaders, when forced to face down their responsibilities,
will carve out a job that is quite different than what their
predecessors did, often severely inconveniencing those who had
manipulated the predecessor best. The very best I ever met regularly
upset his organization and spent the time in between getting a fix on
what needed to be changed next.
He was repeatedly
cannibalizing the best organization he could build.
That was hard on the
marginal producers looking to slide by. They left.
It also created a cadre of
30 year loyalists, and one of the key growth stories of American
One key was using the
vision of others in the organization to see better and focus more
sustained than he could by himself.
Over the past several years, I have come to the realization that I think about different bodies of work in vastly different ways. While working for i3solutions, which mainly ran fixed-price, waterfall-style projects, everything was about the specification (and rightly so). The most important questions we asked ourselves were:
1.Does it meet the requirements as stated? 2.Did we hit all of the delivery dates? 3.Did we fulfill all of the terms of the contract?
All of which are completely valid, necessary questions. However, focusing on these types of questions often puts blinders on software developers. The focus becomes the pain-points, because these are the questions that must be asked for the company to avoid customer strife and legal pain. Answering these questions positively does not always avoid the pain. A disgusting project once went on for six months after user testing even though it met the requirements, because it didn’t actually fulfill the base need.
While working for several start-ups and on several pet projects, I thought in an almost completely different mindset. There was always a specification and deadlines, but the focus was shifted. We continually asked ourselves:
1.Does the product meet the actual need? 2.Is it easy and enjoyable to use? 3.Are we the best solution on the market?
Again, these are completely valid questions. While harder to quantify than the first three, these questions are necessary because they serve as a litmus test for the project’s experience. The focus here is on pleasure-points, for both the business and customer. However, none of these facilitate project completion, and can lead to evil rework. I am currently on the fourth major iteration of a pet project, all because each previous version failed one of the above questions.
So what have I learned? Most people I have worked with are violently of one philosophy or the other. Truly dynamic creators believe in the art of balance, and that is what I want to improve in myself. Where I can see both points clearly, the end result is better.
Have you observed these mindsets in your projects or yourself? Have you ever worked on a project that was completely one-sided? How did it turn out?
My name is Jack Gates – and I believe technology is how we do things, not the things we do them with, and leadership continues to evolve through technology. Some key elements to consider.
Leadership has changed to a hub and spoke structure – no pyramid, no flat linear hierarchy – leader is hub and doers are the spokes – together is a strong and stable framework for solid results (rim).
Leadership thrives with an open source approach and a collaborative team drawing the best resources when needed – internal, external, or international.
Just as we learn by doing, leadership is developed by doing – it benefits from shared experiences of others as well.
The 'New Normal' is a result of changes in business structure, available resources, and markets – leaders examine traditional approach, revising as necessary to adapt.
Leadership is sharing the vision and communicating – sometimes by speaking, sometimes by listening – the what and empower the doers for the how.
For more, come back to Leadership often – big things are in the plans!
We are creating a community of leadership learners and welcome you to be part of this community. We welcome your thoughts and comments – and sharing your experience to deepen and enrich the discussion.
Share and others will benefit – share and you will learn...isn't that really what leadership is about?
My name is Zachary Yates, and there are a few simple truths I believe in. One is that everyone should have a personal mission statement. It’s a north star for when the GPS for my life fails, or when the road-signs of my project are confusing. Here is the long version:
1. I believe there is no greater goal than the betterment of the human race. When choosing between companies, projects, or making other life-altering decisions, the question: “Will this make all of us better somehow?” is always my highest weighted valuation method.
2. I believe that action always trumps inaction. To me, this is simple math. I define success rate as the number of wins divided by the number of tries. (Success Rate = Wins / Tries) Zero tries makes you infinitely unsuccessful.
3. I believe I am not the person I was yesterday, nor am I the person I will become tomorrow. I learn and change in small ways every day, tacking towards where I want my life to go. I can’t change all at once, and I don’t expect this of others. Movement in a positive direction is always a success.
The last two are professional in nature:
4. I believe that technology is for people. Drawing from number one, all technology, software, or processes should be designed to make people’s lives better. All decisions on standards, features, and implementation should be weighed on how efficient and beneficial the result will be to people. This frame of mind can be lost easily when the going gets rough.
5. I believe that high quality leadership creates success. That is to say, many factors contribute to success, but leadership is the most potent and valuable. I believe in the inverse as well: when encountering a failing endeavor, look first to the leadership.
Do you have a mission statement, an outline, or some sort of compass? I think it’s important because it makes every decision easier, trivial and titanic. If you don’t, I encourage you to write a simple one and try it out on some simple decisions. For me, it quickly made the harder decisions easier. As a video-game dragon once told me, (paraphrasing) “Discipline against the lesser aids against the greater.”