I suspect no one understands leadership better than Warren Bennis. On top of that, he's a fabulous read: panache, insight, the whole ball of wax. In Monday's BusinessWeek he guest-posted while Jack and Suzy Welch are on vacation (they're filled with insight, too, but their stuff doesn't leap from the page).
Bennis believes you should accept those leadership roles and act the part when they're offered. In other words, when you get stuck with a position, take it on, even if you're scared out of your wits. Bennis plays around with the greats in his article: FDR, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc. But what he has to say is just as applicable to Gen-Yers who are staring at their first leadership opportunity after a year or two on the job. Bennis tells of an interaction with Sydney Pollack, the late Oscar-winning director who said that he "was at a loss when he first moved behind the camera, so he simply acted like a director. "I even tried to dress like a director--clothes that were kind of outdoorsy," he said.
The article title tells it all. Acting the Part of a Leader: Why greatness is often paired with theatricality--and can emerge so suddenly.
The nugget in the article is Bennis' statement that everyone who takes on leadership believes that the role is too big, and that they're not up to it. But accepting the risk of failure and making the necessary adaptations is the first step to becoming a leader.
Over the past three years I've had Gen-Yers stop me to talk about a new responsibility and their fears. The conversations went like this: I've never led a team before. What do I say? What if I fail? How do I manage the differences in my team?
In yesterday's post I wrote that the command and control model is coming to an end. Borrowing from Rosabeth Kanter, and from Tom Malone's language, I suggested that a better metaphor for the 21st century is coordinate and cultivate.
Cultivate: she cultivated a taste for fine wine, to prepare and work the land in order to raise crops, to promote the growth or development of a science or art, to foster.
The assembly line and most routine production lend themselves to command and control. Individual creativity and intelligence are not at all necessary when you're dealing with routinized, formulaic processes. But with a global marketplace demanding creativity, innovation and deep smarts, companies will have to take advantage of the intelligence and creativity of their people. People become the real assets of an organization, not bricks and mortar.
The cultivating model surfaced in the late 1980s, not in any finalized or clear format, but I saw managers in technology breaking free from the old command and control of traditional business. Indeed, some of my clients in strategic sales, info technology and architecture work out of the coordinate and cultivate model.
What does cultivate look like?
Malone suggests that film-making provides a prototype of "knowledge-and-creativity intensive work" that will show up in many more industries in the future.
Kathleen Kennedy, the producer of ET, Jurassic Park, . . . describes (the process) for a film producer: "Once principal photography begins, the producer steps back and sees where the movie is going. A film is an organic, living, breathing thing. It's not just defined by what's on paper, it continues to change. The creative process continues throughout and out of that comes sometimes the best ideas. But there needs to be someone who maintains a cohesive vision, a focus on the entire picture and not just the individual elements."
You can see that managing in that setting can be scary: certainly not easy. But, as Malone suggests, thinking of your work as cultivating, rather than controlling, can enable you to be more flexible and open to differing possibilities.
Bottom line: You can't be completely certain of the product or the service that will result, but the intelligence and creativity of professionals are going to be a prerequisite for business success.
Yesterday's post focused on the shift from command and control to coordinate and cultivate. Making change ain't easy for any of us, so it's important to make certain that you really want to make the change. Jeff Pfeffer has a recent post on not making change unless it's really necessary. Coordinate and cultivate easily passes the smell test for change, and to a great degree many of my clients have been moving in that direction for some time. They've been working at it in bits and pieces, the small wins approach, which gives them a far better batting average rather than trying to hit a home run in one fell swoop.
Then too, one of the drivers of this change is that my conversations reveal that 90% of subordinates really like it. It gives them more responsibility, but it also gives them opportunities to grow and add to their toolkit. Plainly, in some companies if you don't grow and add to your competency base, you'll be on the streets.
Still, the old command and control exerts a powerful influence on our thinking. It creeps up in the oddest ways. Watch how often when a problem pops up in an organization the solution is to centralize control so it won't happen again. I've watched the push and pull between managers and the boss over a single termination go on for months. "Who's going to make this decision? Do we really need to make it? What'll happen if . . .?" The smart senior exec still kept pushing the decision down, so the managers would learn how to make the right call. But it was caught in the old command and control world for a long time.
Why is change so difficult?
My white paper on that subject reveals 10 reasons why it's difficult to make change. But the biggest may well be that we try to make the change without unfreezing the old behaviors. Kurt Lewin, the grandfather of change theory, found that unfreezing must take place before change can occur. So when you decide to make a change and unfreeze an old practice, begin by asking yourself questions: What are the weaknesses of this practice? Why does it really need to change? What has changed to make this practice ineffective? What will happen if I continue to use the old practice?
Tom Malone describes coordinate and cultivate this way: A cultivation approach recognizes that sometimes you need to control people carefully, sometimes you need to just nudge them in the right direction, and sometimes you need to accept and encourage the direction they're already moving in--even if it isn't the precise direction you'd prefer.
Bottom line: Every manager will need to learn to coach. Better companies are making coaching a key skill for all managers and executives.
What experience have you had with coordinate and cultivate?
Major crises drive not only business changes, but also management changes. Since the early 1980's successful managers, especially in IT, have been moving away from the old "command and control" of GE and other major industrial giants of the 20th century. If command and control goes away, what will be the model for the 21st century?
A recent issue of the Economist uses the example of Cisco to answer the question and points to the works of Rosabeth Kanter and Tom Malone as the best interpreters of the 21st century management model. They argue that the new model will be oriented to "coordinate and cultivate," an approach, I believe, that has been in the works for nearly 20 years with those companies that intend to use the intelligence and creativity of their people.
In his book, Malone tells of his speaking experiences:
When I give talks about new organizations, I often take a little poll to see how well the audience thinks today's companies take advantage of people's abilities. I ask them this quesiton: What percentage of the intelligence and creativity of the people in your own organization do you think your oganization actually uses? . . . . The average answer I hear is from 30 percent to 40 percent. In the old world of large-scale, mostly routine production, taking maximum advantage of everyone's intelligence and creativity wasn't critical, and the top-down, command-and-control management style was usually quite effective. But as organizations become more decentralized, as knowledge work comes to dominate the economy, and as innovation becomes increasingly important, taking advantage of people's true intelligence and creativity will become one of the most critical capabilities of successful businesses.
Then, Malone goes on to describe the new style of management and chooses the metaphor of cultivation to best describe the 21st century's needs.
Rather than just telling people what to do, managers will increasingly cultivate their organizations and the people in them. To cultivate something successfully--whether it's your farm, your garden, your child, or your organization--you need to understand and respect its natural tendencies at hte same time that you try to shape it in ways you value. More specifically, you try to discover and encourage its positive potential and limit the harm cuased by its negative tendencies. Rather than just trying to impose your will on the system, you try to balance the right kinds of control with the right kinds of letting go.
This is an important topic and I feel I don't understand it as well as I should. Let me know what you think about the new model, and let me also know the percentage of your intelligence and creativity that you believe is being used by your organization. Please either leave a comment below, or send me an email by clicking on the "Email me" link in the upper right hand corner below my picture if you prefer. I won't publish names without your permission.
Gen-Yers have a well-deserved reputation for technology in the DNA. They grew up with it, understand it and like to use it. On several occasions, however, some of my Gen-Y colleagues have set themselves up for difficulty by their use of email rather than face-to-face.
In a recent post my friend, Alexandra Levit, emphasized the importance of face-to-face communication for building relationships. I noted that professionals in many fields are resistant to using email for strategic relationships. They insist on phone and regular face-to-face meetings. They have found what I've argued to be true: email is dangerous. It is profoundly open to misunderstanding. In some relationships it can easily set you up for liability issues and it, therefore, should be kept to the minimum. My architectural clients maintain that stance as much as possible. Lawyers also refuse to put much in email for the same reasons. And senior execs tend to keep email at a minimum, detailing only matters such as meeting times, confirmations, etc.
With all the input about managing up, working with difficult bosses and the difficulties of getting useful feedback, what really should you expect from your boss. It's an issue that Jack and Suzy Welch answered in a BusinessWeek column. Much of what Welch writes is focused on upper level managers, and some of it is 20th century stuff, so I want to translate and adapt the material for Gen-Yers and the 21st century.
What was interesting about the column setup was that Jack believed that "bad bosses are few and far between," while Suzy, his wife, believed that bosses "who manipulate and torment," were more prevalent. Most of their friends agreed with Suzy. What none of these discussions seem to surface is the fact that some of us are very sensitive while others are not especially so. Those who are more sensitive might have a very different view of the same boss than those who are not. After a while these definitions of bad versus good bosses are not really that useful. For some, they may be a cause of frustration while for others they have no significant bad effects. Thus, the set of expectations Jack and Suzy lay out should be instructive for all of us.
However, since the Welches tend to focus on more senior managers, I will adapt their input to Generation Y.
First, they believe you have the right to expect two candid performance appraisals a year. Today, performance appraisals get less and less attention for a number of reasons. Most performance appraisals in even the best companies are largely a waste of time and most employees know that. Feedback and appraisals are valuable only in the context of your work, and time often renders them of little value. You have the right to expect feedback input once a month and that would be generous for 95% of professionals. What that means is that you're going to have to learn to get a useful session with your boss. It also means that it's inappropriate to expect more than one session a month. If you get more than that, good for you.
It's reasonable to expect a boss who doesn't play favorites. That's certainly true, but it's not much of a big deal for most professionals. Favoritism grows more easily in hierarchical settings--old GE, GM and Ford. Indeed, if you think someone is a favorite, there are often two important things going on. That person is a solid performer and he/she also knows how to manage the boss. Both of those behaviors can be learned. If you're frustrated with the attention someone is getting, you know how to change the relationship: solid performance in the achievement of the boss's goals and managing up. I've known exceptions to those rules, but the state of demands, change and innovation are so pervasive today that most who might play favorites have no time for the game.
It's reasonable to expect your boss to support you when you're in the middle of important performance situations. Although you may expect your boss to know when you need help, remember he/she is not a mind reader. You'll need to communicate your need, and it is appropriate to expect support at that time.
Finally, it's resonable to expect that your boss will have a significant degree of integrity. She should be able to be trusted, and you should be able to expect a degree of fairness about the relationship and her performance. Bosses can't always be as transparent as we might like for strategic reasons. Furthermore, some people are more valuable to the ongoing success of the firm than others. Reality says that if your skills are not at the core competence of the firm you may not get the straight skinny all the time. It's a case of wants versus needs. You should be able to get what you need, but you can't count on getting what you want.
Welches' last paragraph is exceedingly appropos:
We understand that we're in an economic period when beggers--read, most employees--can't exactly be choosers about their bosses. We also know how much a boss can affect your quality of life. Bottom line, then: Go ahead and hope for the best, but be prepared to settle for a realistic set of expectations.
A recent Wall Street Journal article written by Steve Yoder and his son, Isaac, asks whether freshman year is too soon to think about a career. Isaac is going to a liberal arts college, in contrast to his brother who's an engineering student. Isaac's father wonders whether he's "setting Isaac up for unrealistic expectations about what life holds after graduation," and the $100,000 plus he's spending. "Should we," Steve wonders," expect Isaac to identify some plan for how he will recoup that investment in the job world?"
College discussions inevitably turn to money, which is not an inconsequential issue, but is often a red herring surfaced by the media and the banking industry. Just as enlightening are the comments to the article, all of which focus on college costs and the recession and liberal arts, with engineering as the best path to job stability: an idea which the recession has now debunked.
For many freshmen, making a decision about a major or concentration of studies is difficult. Trying to make a decision about a career is even more difficult, especially when you're liable to be making the decision without career experience or input.
Making career decisions is difficult enough with work experience in your background. Furthermore, the current model of career coaching among trained counselors, both within and outside colleges, is linked to personality testing that holds to an "inner core" or a "true self," a model that needs to go the way of the Dodo bird. Instead, as Herminia Ibarra puts it, "A very different definition of working identity asserts that we are not one true self but many selves and that these identities exist not only in the past and present but also, and most importantly in the future." Most of us can put on a lot of hats given a little bit of time. We don't need to wear the same one forever. In the 21st century, versatility and adaptability are the essentials, not career permanence or changelessness, as many have learned from this recent financial fiasco.
Think, instead, of careers from a different perspective. We are essentially actors, carrying around a whole cast of characters that are surfaced or evoked by the opportunities that face us. Certainly you're going to need to make a decision about your major fairly early if you're going to be an engineer, not quite as early if you're going to be a physician and probably not until the beginning of the junior year in college if you intend to be a lawyer. But the rest of the world of work responds to all kinds of degrees, majors, concentrations and interests. The successful managers and execs that I work with have college majors all over the map: agriculture, physical education, philosophy, French, English, art history, math, biology, physics, economics,etc.
In my mind the purpose of a college education is to be able to make informed decisions. That's a monstrous task, for example, in an economic crisis, facing unanticipated financial constraints, and yet be expected to assist in solving problems comparable to health care delivery and climate change. The problems of the future will not get any simpler.
Bottom line: Don't spend college study time worrying about career. Instead, dig deeply into a few subjects, learn how to think from many different perspectives and disciplines and learn how to communicate effectively. The better companies want well-rounded people and it's a lot more fun working for a "better company."
I've been thinking a lot about a previous post on dropping out of college. That post struck a chord with my readers so I thought I'd take that conversation further. I quoted David Brooks who argued that college costs are not the issue driving dropouts, but lack of self-discipline, problems at home, lack of academic preparation or emotional disengagement. I 'fessed up and commented that I'd been "kicked out" of college after my first year for both social and academic reasons, but that the real issues were problems at home and lack of self-discipline.
However, there are a few things right about dropping out of college--especially if you go back and finish. One year of dirty factory work in Detroit, along with several other experiences, had a lot to do with the clarity I gained, clarity that sent me right back to college.
I worked for the Ex-Cell-O Corporation, a firm that manufactured precision parts for Pratt Whitney jet plane engines where I spent the entire year in a division that "finished" the parts. I learned that I was very good at precision work and so was regularly shifted around to different jobs. It was made clear to me after about six months that if I was interested, long-term opportunities were available. The wages were excellent and anyone today would say that the additional benefits were, well. . . unbelievably good. Surprisingly, that year enabled me to come to grips with a number of important career issues that as the result of much recent research have clarified what was going on in my life at that time and why I was able to leverage it successfully.
It's the knowing you get from doing
I decided rather quickly that in spite of the opportunities, the world of manufacturing was not for me--a decision that would not have been as clear without the year off. I didn't "fit" the factory and over the long term it would have been very frustrating. The experience affirmed what research tells us about adult learning. The kind of knowledge we need to make real change in our lives is not textbook learning, but implicit. It's knowledge that Herminia Ibarra calls the knowing you get from doing. So, we can only come to career change as a result of actual involvement in a specific context whether the factory, the marketing group or even the medical practice. Planning a career won't do it for a huge majority of us. Instead, we need experience in a field or two. I have since found it intriguing to realize that a great number of physicians never practice medicine--but instead decide in their last year of medical school or during their residence that that world is not for them. The same is true for lawyers. That's the knowing you get from doing. But in developing our career we take baby steps and learn from those steps until career patterns begin to take shape.
In addition, that brief episode of manufacturing success gave me the confidence to recognize that there were careers out there in which I could succeed. How did this happen?
Success is about hard work, not talent
What I found was that if I put a great deal of effort and discipline into my factory work I could succeed. Although there were some failures in that setting, there was always a supervisor or foreman around to intervene and coach me through the issue. The result was that I developed a different attitude toward failure. Today I say that my success was not about innate gift, but about working my ass off and accessing help. Recently, I related my experience to Carol Dweck who smiled over the phone at my early learning, reminding me that Robert Sternberg, the cognitive psychologist, had gone through a similar experience. Dweck's research concludes that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise. And though I was merely flirting with that notion at the time, it was reinforced in my experience of college, graduate school and business. One potential C-client at a major American corporation commented that I was old enough to have had a few significant failures and so he'd like to work with me. I chuckled at his smarts, as well as his ignorance of my life.
Go for the small wins, not the big success
My factory supervisors were very effective at teaching by the process of what today we call "small wins." And though one "leader" swore like a sailor, told more dirty jokes than 50 factory toughs, and teased me mercilessly, he also sat with me until I'd learned a new task, then came back and watched throughout the day, giving me feedback as needed and letting me know when the work was performed perfectly. Furthermore, my coach was not an advice-giver, but taught with very specific, concrete, descriptive statements. Nothing he said was open to ambiguity. It was always this "f----ing" part or that "damned" ball bearing. Inevitably, a couple weeks later he always seemed to have a still more difficult task for me. I was easily bored, so in spite of his ways, I appreciated the new opportunities. Today's research on learning confirms the lesson of small wins that I learned from that "teacher." In short, don't even waste your time on huge gains, take it step by baby step.
Manage your sexual priorities
I also came to grips with my interest in the opposite sex during that year. Though I dated a lot of interesting females at the time, I watched some of the younger factory workers essentially condemn themselves to a very narrow future because they got involved and got married and started having babies far too young in life (the order may have been reversed). Early on, I realized that if I really intended to achieve in a professional career, I'd need to keep my focus on career, manage my testosterone (this was before the pill, much less other stuff), put aside money for college and stay focused on my ultimate goals. My dad was helpful with that issue, and on one occasion told me that if I intended to finish college and become a professional I'd need to "keep my zipper zipped."
Today I understand that that decision was right, but for the wrong reason. It was completely based on bias: what's called the availability heuristic. The availability of experiences in the lives of other young men evoked my emotions by their vivid, easily imagined and specific consequences and drove my decision. I had no background or training in decision making and the simple process of even assessing pros and cons of a relationship was well beyond my radar screen.
Perseverance is about "ignition"
Although I've mused over two other drivers of my return to college and the resulting perseverance, I never fully understood their power until just recently. I grew up with music and was richly exposed to every type including opera--which I loved, because I was a singer. During the summer following high school graduation, I was given a ticket to a concert of Eileen Farrell and the Detroit Symphony. It's been nearly sixty years, but I remember sitting in the balcony, listening to Wagner's Liebestod and waiting patiently through the long introduction for her to slowly rise and sing. No mike, seemingly no effort and her magnificent voice soared over the orchestra's triple forte, lavish, voluminous and brilliant. I was shocked and speechless, unaware, in spite of all my experiences with music, that the human voice could do that.
The second experience was a long exposure to a leading Detroit pastor and preacher who in a very quiet way was one of the most respected and capable men in the city. As a high schooler, I listened critically to his words and process, reflecting on their power and his rich impact over the lives of thousands of people.
Both of these experiences ignited a deep passion and awakening that created my identity and led me to say that is who I want to be. It took college and seminary to figure out which of them was to form the basis of my career. Meantime, I was studying both music and preaching, working and practicing to trace the invisible signals that would motivate me for the rest of my life. It's the recent research of Gary McPherson's study of musicians at the University of Illinois, and John Bargh's studies at Yale that explain the role of these two seminal experiences. Daniel Coyle describes their impact upon commitment and perseverance with his metaphor of ignition. He writes that "ignition and deep practice work together to produce skill in exactly the same way that a gas tank combines with an engine to produce velocity in an automobile. Ignition supplies the energy, while deep practice translates that energy over time into forward progess."
Dropping out of college can be the right experience for you. Use it wisely.