I Lead

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“Responsibility is the price of freedom.”

Elbert Hubbard

We are entering into an era of consciousness in which we can, finally, stop betting on Leaders as we know them today.

When we talk about organizational leadership, we are usually referred back into an individual figure that we define as ‘Leader.’ According to the conventional definition, this person, woman or man, ‘inspires others into achieving a purpose.’ There’s no doubt, specially in the organizational dimension, that these people don’t only exist, but are essential architects in the construction and management of the company. There’s endless literature addressing from most diverse disciplines leadership, as well as plenty of examples that illustrate the qualities that the so-called ‘leaders’ develop and which, in the field of human capital, are called: ‘leadership skills.’ These skills, supported by sophisticated management systems have been defined, from hard data and experience, as universal. For example, no one would argue that how to inspire others through his or her actions is indeed a default competence of a leader. Congruency, as well, is one of those skills that has been, throughout history, archetypically present in such individuals.

The large-scale mass production and exponential data processing power that initiated with the Industrial Revolution, and the technological boom of the millennium, has, for the first time, allowed humanity, not just to have access practically to all knowledge and information available, but to be able to exploit it. This involves, on one hand, access to a more complete map of reality and, therefore, more complex; and on the other hand, the possibility that individuals can actively participate in the construction of such reality.

Regardless of what kind of ‘complexity’ appears in our lanscape, according to Harvard Business Review, only 5% of leaders today, perform from the necessary perspective to manage the complex systemic change. Therefore, increased access to development, makes leadership much more complex. Consequently we move from the ‘one-leads-many’ approach to a more actual ‘many-people-sharing-one-purpose-leading-themselves.’ The impact social networks have on people’s lives in concert with millions of free voices in the world, have generated a recent phenomenon that’s here to stay. Consumers today are gaining strength through organized consumption; citizens through civil participation with global reach; and employees in the co-creation of organizational culture.

In the bigger picture, though the conventional leader is still present, the rise of many ‘I Lead’ individuals is not only weakening the first, but encouraging more and more of the latter. The ‘I leaders’ are ordinary people who speak out in a coordinated effort to achieve a goal they have in common, and who transcend the classical alienation coming from the archetypical figure of a messianic leader. Indisputably, it is becoming less and less likely that the figure of a singular leader would be enough to move groups of informed individuals who can clearly see his or her ‘bright’ side as well as his or her ‘shadow’ side. It is also becoming less and less likely that informed individuals would be seduced by ideas but more by the collective voice which is congruent with each individual´s purpose. We need less leaders that inspire and more free people who take responsibility and inspire themselves.

How does this manifest among organizations?

In the Human Resources forums, each time more and more people talk about the well-known Millennial Generation, who are becoming part of organizations. Young people discouraged by ideas that were sold to them and didn’t work. Children of the global crises who were born connected and grew up with a device in hand, and who can, from a desktop, contribute to the construction and destruction of institutions, governments and businesses. Young people who are hyper-informed, who manifest in their consumption habits and in their loyalty to their employers their core values ​​in action, and in many cases transcend the depleted ‘job security and the assurance of a career plan.’ They want more. They speak out, take out their wallets and they engage where they find, more than economical retribution, purpose.

Some organizations understand it, others don’t. Some are still leaning and keep investing on their leadership team, that is undeniably the most influential because of its systemic weight. These organizations, from the conscious development perspective, could be defined as ‘conventional’. Other organizations, however, have understood that, from a historical point of view, businesses are comprised of individuals with an exceptional self-leadership potential

I lead

Within the leader-group binomial relationship, the ‘group’ is becoming more and more developed. As time passes, the conventional leader will have to develop more facilitation skills and less management skills. That is, a leader who builds with other ‘I leaders’. Free and responsible individuals, that equipped with tools and information, manifest their values through action, and depend less on an external individual to guide them. Hierarchy seems to not be enough. Never before did the affirmation ‘culture eats strategy’ had been more valid. The organizational development strategies based on historical conventions are irrelevant to the employee who is informed and who breaks away from the organization’s control, and who is, not only eager to participate, but also is capable of doing it.

Some organizations have understood it and are co-creating together with the stakeholders, a culture of individual responsibility and coordination that is being supported by integrity. “If you are here it’s because you want to be here, not because you have to… and if you want to, you can create with us”; “If you buy with us, it’s because we give you the most value and if we are not, we do want to be, so let us learn how to.” Both statements presume a paradigm that returns to employees and consumers the responsibility of their choices, and opens the door to the collective knowledge to work as a change agent in the development towards having more value for all. It is not enough to tell employees ‘what to do’, instead it is more powerful to inquire about their perspectives, to then find means of shared efficiency that have concrete results that are better, not only economically, but in the individual welfare.

The ‘I leaders’ that are in organizations today, aren’t the functional leaders, or aren’t necessarily the ‘high-potentials’. The majority of employees can move mountains when they learn to collaborate from the standpoint of responsibility. The ‘I leaders’ are the men and women that when they connect between each other and also with a higher purpose, they emerge in organized communities, they emerge as true change agents and find it not only their daily doing, but in its integration by freely adding a sense that transcends one person’s calling. If anything, from the point of view of organizational development, we should invest so that employees operate from a place of unconditional responsibility for organizations may finally be nurtured from the perspective, the dreams and the creativity of many individuals and not only of a few ones.

I Lead

Everything starts with I

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“The question is not ‘Can you make a difference?’ You already do make a difference. It’s just a matter of what kind of a difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.”

Taken from Black Ants and Buddhists, thinking critically and teaching differently in the primary grades by Mary Cowhey.

We’ve been talking for a while about the interaction of a team while facing challenges in their organization, or even in society. From interpersonal challenges with a specific person, as your boss, your employee or friend, to the challenges of the financial statements, such as EBITDA, the We always emerges. The We component refers to what is understood as inter-subjectivity, two or more people referring to something concrete. For example: a team deciding on the best strategy to reduce costs.

Even though the world is becoming more and more automated with processes being operated by systems, nearly every challenge we face, at some point, needs to be addressed with a conversation. Whether it’s about lending, asking, negotiating or inquiring, in our daily work, almost everything is manifested, in one form or another, in an interpersonal interaction between I’s in a We space. During work, we face and solve challenges in the We dimension through conversations, but it all starts with I. In order to have more effective results for all parties, it is essential to be very clear that as We is the space to face challenges, I is the only dimension that can have a significant improvement in We and impact It: the objective reality.

Everything begins with I means everything starts by becoming aware of what I feel, dream, understand, listen, wish, what I… Because conscious or not, the entire weight of I is present, as if it were a transparent bubble that defines my experiences at the We level. Therefore it also defines the experience of the other I who are part of the We, with whom I interact.

Everything begins with I also means that if I am capable of setting the I in service of the We, every aspect of I—everything I feel, I understand, I believe and so on—is in service of a better We, in a way that honors and feels comfortable; subsequently the It, which is the challenge, together with the We and the I is in much more balance. So everything begins with I also refers to the possibility that the challenge we face can be confronted in a better way if I am aware of my impact at the I, We and It level.

A first step to practicing the I within the We, is to speak in first person. Talking about what I understand, I think, I feel and I… leaving aside the common: one, i.e. “when one works too hard, one gets stressed” or “there is always a lot of work” changing it to “when I work too hard, I get stressed” or “I have a lot of work.” Undeniably everything begins with I means that everything begins and ends where my responsibility is.

Everything starts with I

Kill PowerPoint

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“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint”

Steve Jobs

When an executive team meets to work, a question that helps understand the value of the meeting is: what do we have to achieve together during this meeting that is much more important than what we can do separately during that same time?

Normally, in conventional organizations and following the birth of PowerPoint, the presentation formula was adopted as an effective way to work. In practically in all the companies we have worked, we’ve observed that the presentation culture prevails and meetings, rather than being a space where people think and work, it’s a place where attendees gather passively to ‘watch’ the presentations.

We’ve heard here and there, complaints about no longer wanting to have meetings if it’s just to watch presentations. We’ve seen managers and teams spend hours to prepare presentations just for their boss. This is simply not efficient. As we have said before, the complexity we are experiencing today is greater than it used to. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was viable to use acetates for presentations with forecast graphs of market growth and business plans because predictability and specialization allowed it. Today, however, information in real time, ergo ‘live’, is available and this enables real time decision-making. Therefore, time spent with our team preparing presentations diminishes the time we have to think and decide, add value that is.

In meetings, when we ‘present’, the rest spends most of the meeting time ‘watching’ it and normally only 15% of the remaining time is used for analyzing and decision-making, leaving out issues to be addressed, normally needing a follow up meeting. “Ok, work on it and we’ll review it on our next meeting.” That is to say, meetings are not efficient, at least not enough. If in the business culture the hierarchic system prevails, it’s even less efficient because the presentation is made ‘for the boss’.

In contrast, in resourceful organizations we have found, that teams are aware of the ‘collective’ time value and it’s seen as the most expensive resource the organization has, therefore it must be taken seriously. What could be more important than making decisions, while having the executive team of the company gathered? Nothing. Everything that isn’t making decisions collectively separates the organization from its capacity of constant execution while facing complexity.

Thus, within the corporate culture it is increasingly urgent to ‘kill the PowerPoint’. Because when the team gathers, it’s mandatory to accomplish three things: think, decide and commit.

These are the only three actions that justify, from the cost-benefit perspective, getting the team together. Every time,  management gathers to observe presentations, reducing their thinking, deciding and committing, the organization is losing a key opportunity to maneuver.

Later on, we will explore a conscious format for effective meetings. But what we want to bring today to team conversations that have meetings is this central thought: there is nothing that justifies that a executive team spends time together if it’s not to think, decide and commit. Everything else could be called social activities.

Kill PowerPoint

The Question That Ends With All Gossip

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“Truth prevails by itself, lies always require complicity.”

Epicteto de Frigia

Usually when facing change, speculation and gossip arises in organizations. And, what organization today isn’t facing a major change, either in generation, in its structure or of definition of their business model? Practically all organizations are facing major changes, because reality has become much more complex. Therefore businesses need more flexibility to continue to fulfill their purpose.

In this context, uncertainty manifests with gossip and speculation, as if we avoid talking about the issues we must talk about. It is common to hire PR agencies or Marcom experts and to define which are the messages that should feed the system. This works, but not in the best possible ways. The reason why an individual decides to speculate and create an alternative scenario is precisely because he or she doesn’t knows what reality is. What motivates us, as employees of an organization, to speculate is our need to have a context, a reference that makes us feel secure.

Speculation arises when facing uncertainty, but the safest avenue to a good business climate amidst uncertainty is the truth. This is also true in our personal and social lives. Even though truth might hurt, it is the most efficient way to face any complex situation. While speaking about this, I like to use the ocean’s analogy: it’s as if on the surface there is a strong storm, but at the bottom there is absolute calmness. It’s similar in an environment of uncertainty. When we engage in gossip, we enter the storm and we distance ourselves from the truth, from the bottom. So, how do we deal with those behaviors even when we, as leaders, have uncertainty? For example , if I don’t know if I will be the next CEO or if there will be an important layoff; or if I know that, because the company needs to face strategic decisions, they will fire some of my colleagues; then how do I behave so I am not perceived as someone who betrays and keeps secrets? How do we stay in the calm bottom, rather than at the storm of the surface? There is a very simple step: ask for the facts. This is the question that grounds us and, as a safety valve makes the weight get back into the bottom, allows us to stay connected with reality.

When a colleague says: “They’re saying Juan is going to get fired because Pedro is much better.” And you answer: “Really? Tell me more!” When you get hooked in the conversation, what you are doing is climbing to the surface, feeling as if circumstances are stormy. Reality can be stormy, but it can also be calm . The question that will take you to the bottom of the ocean is: What are the facts? In what facts are you basing your arguments? These are the questions that make differences lose significance. It is a question we usually don’t answer because, by being at the surface,  we blame the storm for our decisions. When I stop assuming, when I am in the calmness of the bottom and I check with reality, then I’m the one who has to make the decisions based on what is important to me, because I’m not in the storm.

In later posts we will talk a bit more about assumptions and their impact within organizations.

The Question That Ends With All Gossip