Authentic Leadership: A Self-Admission

If you’ve read other entries in this blog you’ll know that I’ve always been a proponent of encouraging people to be autodidacts, to seek knowledge on their own and to engage in the joy of learning. This philosophy comes as a result of my own experiences as a home-schooled kid and as a college English instructor. When I taught my classes were open, democratic, collaborative, and relied upon the self-direction and self-motivation of my students. I took joy in seeing self-expression that was as untainted by my rules as I could make it.

Ironically, however, that’s not how I’ve conducted myself as a manager in the corporate environment. Here I’ve been very directive. Basically, I adopted the hegemonic, hierarchical structure of the organization. I didn’t do this unconsciously, but felt neither safe nor supported in taking a different approach.

Until a year ago, when a new leader created the space for me to be more myself. So much so that I truly feel free for the first time in my career to be who I am and to bring my whole self to work. In fact, I just wrote a prose poem based on a prompt by another equally open and collaborative leader, our new Chief People and Experience Officer. The prompt is based off the concept of “giving yourself an ‘A'” as outlined in The Art of Possibility, by Ben and Rosamund Zander. Here, for your merriment, is the prose poem I wrote. Feel free to point and laugh:

I brought my whole self to work,

my fearless, innovative, expressive self,
my skeptical, inquisitive, philosophical self,
my artistic, creative, expansive self,
     the one that sees possibility everywhere and in everyone
         that hopes to inspire others
             that feels joy when others are joyful
     the one that contains paradoxes and contradictions
         that accepts all aspects of existence
             that experiences frustration, sadness, and loss
     the one that embraces reality and revels in the art of evolution
         that savors the puzzles, the cacophony, the chaos
             that creates order, meaning, purpose
the self that seeks greatness
the self that loves all living things
the self that is, and always will be, becoming something more

I brought my whole self. It made all the difference.

Robert Frost fans may note a stolen line at the end. Poetry is still a work-in-progress for me.

The more I think about the changes at work, the people who are being drawn to the group, and the direction my boss is taking the team (leading through “benign neglect”), the more excited I am to be a part of it.

Cut the Noise

I estimate that throughout my career roughly 60% of my work has been frittered away on useless assignments. Some of it’s my fault; most of it is the fault of those above and below me. Far too often I’ve been asked to drop everything and gather data or attend a meeting or talk to someone or reinvent an entire process, and it all turns out to be for naught. Zero. Less than zero, in fact, because all that time I could have spent doing something productive and valuable is gone. And the work I should have been focused on is not done.

I’m not saying this because I’m doing any better. I know I’ve been the noise for my managers and my staff. What I’m really interested in is how we got to this point (causation has always been a fascinating subject to me), and, most importantly, how do we fix it? How do we cut through the noise to focus on those things which either definitively provide value—or, conversely, which we consciously acknowledge be to creative ventures that require uninterrupted non-productive intellectual space?

How do we have the brave conversations with the right people to regain the quiet, recapture the focus, and actually get some work done? Ideas, anyone?


Leaders: 4 Ways to Improve Your Ability to Think and Learn « Linked 2 Leadership.

There are many instances I can point to where the research and the advice on a specific subject is decades ahead of the practice.

However, in the case of stress and it’s deleterious effect on performance, it seems that the practice is regressing from the research at an ever-increasing rate. The points in the article above are oft repeated and well-supported. What’s not mentioned in the article is the significant cost to organizations in lost productivity and increased healthcare expenditures that are the result of ignoring stress in the workplace.

If that’s the case, though, why is there so little movement in the right direction on this issue? I think we all know the answer to that question, and it can be expressed in a simple equation:

short-term costs > long-term risks = fewer resources today

As long as the short term costs are seen as more pressing than the value of bringing on and effectively training enough of the right employees to avoid long-term costs associated with stress, the stress will continue.

Google’s 20%

Just read an article about how Google is beating Apple at innovation right now. One of the factors identified was “the company’s 20% time, the backbone of the company’s bottom-up approach to innovation.”

The 20% time approach embodies the philosophies of freedom and motivation that are crucial to innovation (and to job satisfaction). With my new team, this will form the crux of our own approach to creativity. Space to think: what a concept.

Here are two of my favorite videos that relate to this topic in just the right ways:

via Larry Page ignored Steve Jobs’s deathbed advice, and Google is doing great – The Next Web.


Manager of Sourcing and Employer Brand at Providence Health and Services. A promotion. An acknowledgement. An expectation. All wrapped up for the new year.

2013 is going to be quite a ride.

Permissionless Operations

This applies to large companies, too.

That’s the first thing I thought when I was about halfway through Jennifer Pahlka’s talk. The structured hierarchy; the long, tedious implementations; the many employees passively relying upon a few leaders to make decisions and effect change, and then complaining when the change is difficult or not well-considered—these foundational elements are effectively the same. It seems that we’ve adopted attitudes to our employer that resemble those we take with our government, and the resulting structures have ended up as carbon copies. In reality, the philosophical foundations for this attitude are ancient, and the governments and other socioeconomic systems we have today rely (too heavily) on the legacy of this philosophy. The practical effects of this legacy are that we understand that we must ask permission, that there are rules for everything, that someone else makes the decisions. As a result of these conditions we simply don’t engage.

However, in this era of big data, location-based technology, social media, and crowd sourced actions and solutions these structures and attitudes seem profoundly antiquated. The large, complex, hierarchical systems with rules for every decision are simply nonfunctional when compared to the small, simple, permissionless systems that are arising from the internet.

(This “new system” is not necessarily new when considered historically; the new element is the revolutionary technology which enables the mass application of the underlying philosophical Small is Beautiful principles. For that reason, let’s just call it a new system and skip to the good stuff).

The new system successfully combines our entrepreneurial drive with our communal predilections—two qualities that are often in conflict in our current system, or, worse, are given lip service in an attempt to “engage” employees. In the new system things tend to happen faster, with significantly less turbulence, and with far better results, in large part because people have the choice of whether to engage combined with the desire to be helpful. Individuality integrated with the contextually appropriate opportunity to do something meaningful.

I’ll write that again: Individuality integrated with the contextually appropriate opportunity to do something meaningful. This is the radical differentiator inherent in this new system. Free choice, timely knowledge, and meaningful work made apparent, all simultaneously available.

This is an era in which the best leaders will be facilitators, mentors, philosophers, not generals. They will ease relationships, guide curious inquiry, and engage with a skepticism that challenges others to thoroughly consider stated positions and decisions. I believe that organizations which permit adoption of this new system will experience a significant competitive advantage.

Do you agree? What is your organization doing to adapt to the new and rapidly evolving reality?