Monday, May 28, 2012

On Being a Leader - Memorial Day 2012

On this beautiful Memorial Day morning, when we remember the fallen heroes who served our country in times of war, I am thinking about my father, George James Seamon, who bravely served America during World War II, putting his life on the line in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy against the Nazis. He did not talk a lot about the war, but for the rest of his life (He died in 2003 at the age of 78), he carried a deep admiration for General George S. Patton. Patton, my dad would say, was a true leader. Fearless. Visionary. And genuinely compassionate toward his troops.

The same could be said about my dad, who after the war joined the New Brunswick Police Department and rose steadily through the ranks, attaining the rank of Captain, and ultimately Deputy Chief. Like Patton, my dad was fearless when it came to his job, whether dealing with the criminal element, or with corrupt politicians. Many is the time that men who served under my dad would say how wonderful a leader he was. He could be tough, but he was also fair and he treated his men with respect, training and developing them for advancement. Outside of work, my dad was a coach who loved teaching kids the basics of baseball and basketball, as well as the foundations of good sportsmanship.

In my work as a Learning & Organization Development consultant, I teach managers about managing people, teams, and organizations. I've been doing this for over 30 years now. As I do so, my dad is always on my mind, and I ask myself, What would my dad say in response to this question or that question?

Many these days are questioning the role, and even the value, of management, asking if managers still serve a useful purpose in organizations that are so different from those of the last century.

For me, it's not an either/or dilemma of whether managers should stay or go. Rather, it's an evolutionary time, when managers must make a shift I have called Management 3.0. In a nutshell, they must make the shift from manager to Engaging Leader.

The 21st Century Engaging Leader, like Patton and my dad, has characteristics such as these:

Puts people first - As servant leaders, Engaging Leaders see their role as supporting the efforts and success of their people. Engaging Leaders listen to their people, believing as Vineet Nayar does that employees have the power of innovative solutions to the problems you face each day.

Lives by values - In a world of greed, Engaging Leaders will stand out like the rebels that they are because they believe in respect, in safety, in fairness, in sustainability, and in doing the right thing.

Stays focused on the mission - Dedicated to success, the Engaging Leader will roll up her sleeves and pitch in, doing whatever it takes to achieve results that the team can be proud of.

Blogger and Agile consultant Rachel Weston, in seeking a role for managers in this changing world, recently wrote: "But where is the person dedicated to each individual’s success and happiness? Where is that partner in personal growth, that leader in professional direction, that sounding board, that champion, that servant leader dedicated not only to the success of the team, but to the success of the individual?"

I say Yes to that. And Amen. That is, in part, the new role for managers, a role that will support people and help them, and the organization, to flourish.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday May 28, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Transforming Ideas Into Action and Results

Ever had the experience of synchronicity? It’s when you notice some coincidental events and you say to yourself “Whoa.” I had one the other day. In the morning, I saw an HBR blog about making ideas happen, and then later I saw a post about the 99% conference on the subject of making your ideas happen.

When I worked for the American Management Association several years ago, I proposed a new seminar on this very topic: How to turn your Brilliant Idea into action. It was shot down in the new ideas committee. Somewhat ironic, you might say.

I was really bummed about that rejection. I thought the seminar idea had real potential. Little did I know that the Great Recession was about to commence. Sometimes, in retrospect, you realize that an idea you are having is “ahead of its time.” Or maybe your idea was like the proverbial seed that fell on rocky ground where there was no soil for it to take root and grow.

So, let me propose this course again. What would it teach? Some of the themes of this course would be…

Goal setting – Success starts with a dream. What is your new idea? Can you get really specific about it? Visualize it. Draw a picture. Make a prototype. Why does it excite you?

Problem solving – What problems would your Big Idea solve? How do you know? How would it improve the world? Who would it help?

Creativity - If you are seeking the next Big Idea in your work or in your market, you need to develop your creative thinking skills and apply them.

Improvisation - Learning and applying principles of improvisation can support and facilitate your creativity.

Collaboration - Teaming up with others to brainstorm is a great way to test and develop ideas. You may recruit like-minded dreamers who share your passion for the Idea.

Diversity - Gathering a diverse group together for divergent thinking can provide the multiple perspectives needed for breakthroughs.

Feedback - Presenting your idea to a discerning audience will help give you a dose of realism. You may head back to the drawing board. But you may still be convinced you have a Brilliant Idea even after your audience gives it a thumbs down. Having a tough audience can actually stimulate renewed enthusiasm.

Strategy - How will you make this idea happen? What can you do to realize it? What obstacles will you face? What resources will you need? Who can help you?

Some years ago, when I was with a pharma-chem company, I helped to create just such an intervention, based on these very elements. It not only went well, it helped turn an organization around from the brink of elimination. I consider it one of my successes as an OD practitioner.

Anybody interested in this new course idea? Let’s collaborate. It could be the vehicle to your success.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday May 18, 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Making Change Work

Recently, I have been quite close to a few major change initiatives and I've noticed how certain basic principles associated with making change work are routinely overlooked.

People support what they help to create - Here's a basic question for the leaders of change: Have you consulted the people who will be most impacted by the change? Leadership experts like Meg Wheatley and others have taught us that "people support what they help to create." A simple and powerful truth about human nature. If you want the buy in of people in your organization, you must treat them with respect by inviting them to discuss the change. Listen to their concerns, and to their ideas. There's a great quote from Warren Bennis on this: "Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things."

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - How often have you seen this scenario? A CEO gets fed up with something in his organization that he perceives as dysfunctional and says "Shut it down." No discussion, no debate, and certainly no consultation with the people working in the system. The reaction of the people? Surprise, dismay, anger, hurt. When such organizational bathwater is tossed out, the baby often goes out the window too. Is it any wonder people resist change? Ask yourself, What gets lost?

Be careful to preserve what's working now - The "baby" we were just referring to represents what is now working well, even in a process or system that needs major change. There is always something that is working well now. This is where change agents would do well to study Appreciative Inquiry and use its methods to find out the current strengths of the as is process. If change makers are not careful to preserve what's working now, the intended improvements may actually cause setbacks.

Every solution generates new problems - Every well-intentioned change project will attempt to identify and address what isn't working and bring about improvements. Change is good. But make no mistake: it will also generate new problems. This is an area for increased mindfulness on the part of change agents. As a smart CEO (that I worked for years ago) used to say: "Keep your eyes open."

Convert problems into opportunities - Keep your eyes open, he continued, because inside every problem lies an opportunity. All it takes is a shift in thinking. A shift from getting bogged down in negativity. To getting energized about finding new ways to delight customers.

Start digging the well before you're thirsty - Making change work requires thoughtful planning well in advance of the cutover from the old to the new. Ideally this planning is open and inclusive.

Practitioners in the field of organizational change management often discuss the reasons for the high rate of failure of large scale change projects. Seems to me that more mindfulness about principles like the ones above would go a long way to making change work.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday May 6, 2012