The importance of sifting

Woman reflectingIt’s surprising what a difference it makes, thinking over our experiences and learning.

You’d imagine that if we put all that stuff into our heads the process would be automatic after that—that we could rely on our brains to process everything comprehensively; to form all the connections that there are to form; and to generate all the ideas there are to generate. After all, we’ve put it all in one pot.

In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. The “stuff” mostly just lies there.

Instead, to make the most of what we have—all that accumulated wisdom—we do need to find ways of sifting through our experiences and new things we’ve learned. We do need to do that deliberately. And we do need to create the opportunity for new patterns to emerge.

In other words, both time to reflect and some particular approach to reflection are important.

Talking things over with other people is obviously one way, especially if they have some skill in listening and questioning. Another is writing a journal. Whatever the specifics, expressing what’s inside stimulates new realisations. Particular frameworks and models and new ways of looking at things help.

It’s like we need to cross and recross the ground in different directions, connecting up the pieces in new ways, and sorting out what is most important.

In other words, we need to sift.

So much, so obvious maybe.

The question is: Are we sifting enough?

Threatening with help

Three managersIt’s a curious thing…

People can be remarkably resistant to help: I suppose we all are, depending on the subject. “Help” can take us into painful contemplation, addressing issues that we might prefer to avoid—or at least put off to another time.

Perhaps that’s why “threatening” someone or a group with help can be so effective. Suddenly, when there is a real possibility of someone else getting involved and perhaps setting the pace and the agenda—taking the initiative away—we find it within ourselves to make a start; to tackle the issues we need to tackle.

Sometimes, I’ve been the “help” that is threatened. I don’t think I’m that scary but, even so, some people would rather take the suggestion as a prompt to galvanise themselves into action—independently.

Where are you on this…

Are you the help that is threatened?

Or are you being threatened by help?

Or do you put your pride aside and accept additional expertise into what you’re doing?

Or maybe you’re a leader using the threat of help to get others to take action, even if that isn’t what you originally intended.

Whichever of these apply, it’s a powerful effect.

Being the boss isn’t the same as leading

Group discussion around a computerJust because you can tell someone what to do doesn’t mean you should, or that it’s the best option.

In most situations, probably, you’ll be right—the one in the know, the one with the insight to see the correct course of action, the one with the relevant experience.

But not always…

Sometimes it’ll be one of the team who has the right idea.

And that’s where we see the difference between a boss and a leader: The “boss” asserts their authority, really in insecurity, and insists on their point of view being adopted; whereas the leader has the strength and self-confidence to accept the alternative idea—to admit they may have been wrong, even.

And that’s empowering. It encourages creativity and innovation and leads to advantage.

Over the long haul, the leader and the team will beat the boss and the subordinates.

Which are you: A boss or a leader?

It’s the orderliness of you (or your business) that matters…

Group of four employees…not necessarily the orderliness of your systems.

Order around us is generally helpful and a good thing—of course, it is, but at the end of the day…

What really counts is our own internal order—how organised we are in what we do and how we think and who we are.

Sometimes we need to allow a little disorder outside to have order inside.

For example, it may not be vital to have one neat and tidy task management system. What is vital is effective and, ideally, efficient completion of tasks in a sensible enough order. That might mean running several management systems in parallel and accepting the messiness that entails.

In other words…

Make sure you’re optimising the right thing.

Culturally, the assumption is orderly externals lead to orderly internals. Sometimes it’s the other way round. We need to allow for the possibility—in organisations as well as in ourselves.

And if you’re more orderly inside, you’ll create more order outside.

Life’s too short…

Maze…to have such a long process.

Sometimes, we get carried away with the thoroughness of the process we put in place. Yes, we need to do a diligent job, but good enough is good enough.

Arguably, that’s one lesson of Apple’s success—implementing enough features but not every possible feature. Sometimes it’s frustrating not to have a certain option, but overall the system is more useful and more useable. Less is often more.

So…

Where might you shorten your process?

Have you really got enough time to keep it complicated?

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Drop everything?

Group of four employeesWe need to get people’s attention from time to time…

We may well need them to accommodate what we need done, or what they need to do to give effect to what we’re offering them.

If we expect them to drop everything though, it probably isn’t going to happen.

I’ve made the mistake several times of agreeing to buy a service or product that’s been offered to me unsolicited and then found that I don’t have the capacity to follow through on the implementation.

So in change and growth, to drop everything isn’t a realistic option, and we’ll do better if we set the pace accordingly (and choose people who recognise that).

Less is sometimes more, especially in the long haul.

Can you governance your way to innovation?

Group of executives listeningIt’s the modern management obsession: “governance” and, to a degree, quite rightly so. We do need our organisations and our projects to be well-managed.

The trouble is…

Governance on its own isn’t enough to prepare an organisation for the future. We can’t legislate for innovation and adaptation. I don’t think so anyway.

Somewhere, there needs to be enough freedom to try something new, and forgiveness if it doesn’t work out first time.

And yet…

Some organisations and some leaders – or maybe it would be more accurate to say some managers – seem to think that if only they govern rigorously enough, their organisation will be adaptable and agile.

But I believe they stand in the same position as those who attempted to succeed with a Soviet-style planned economy.

A balance is required: a combination of governance and freedom. Sounds like a contradiction? Probably it is, but that’s what’s needed. And the art of a leader – perhaps as opposed to a manager – is to hold the space for that ambiguity to exist in a tolerable and stimulating way.

What do you think?

Can strong governance and adaptation co-exist? Or is governance alone enough if it’s done sufficiently effectively?

Leadership is contagious

Two doctors in discussionUnlike management, which doesn’t really spread from person to person, leadership is contagious. If one person is an effective and energetic leader, those around them are likely to pick up some of the traits too.

Management authority has to be arranged and people have to be appointed to roles.

Whereas…

Leadership authority can be developed independently of management structure and rub off from one individual to another, to be drawn on as and when circumstances require.

A good idea then to cultivate leadership skills in an organisation—they spread.

(Thanks to Geoff Crowley, Managing Director of Highland Colour Coaters, who prompted this piece.)

The fine tuning of big change

Fast yacht sailingWe tend to think that big change requires brute force and large, broad strokes.

Maybe not…

Sometimes, the bigger the change required, the more delicate the approach needs to be—the more finely attuned is the effort that will succeed.

It’s a bit like getting a sailing boat to go fast—fine adjustment is required—just the right amount of force on the controls—not too much, not too little—everything in balance; “in the groove” of the optimum.

Marketing is like that: Push too hard and you end up with less.

It’s very obvious sometimes that people in positions of authority apply too much force and end up with less result. They’re not matching their input to the natural dynamics of the system.

They’re not in the groove.

And nor is the system.

Of course…

They need to be demanding, but not beyond the ability of the team to keep up, otherwise the result is, in fact, diminished rather than increased.

What’s the difference between espoused theories and theories in use?

Group discussion around a computerThe short answer is ego.

Organisations, teams, and individuals (including ourselves) have a habit of claiming to operate according to a set of theories that apply to our work. With the best of intentions, we set out to do our business based on a set of assumptions we would like to be true.

In fact, observation of what actually happens will usually reveal something different. We operate according to a rather different set of assumptions—our “theories in use.” It’s these theories-in-use that govern what is really done.

For example, espoused theories might be around customer service. In some organisations, unfortunately, the theories in use might have more to do with profit maximisation. The result is a debilitating disconnection between what management claims to be about and what it’s really about.

When challenged on this, leaders will typically resist admitting what drives them isn’t what they would like it to be. Their ego won’t let them.

Unaddressed, ego will maintain the discrepancy between espoused theories and theories in use, preventing the organisation (or the person) from really understanding itself, in turn preventing it from adapting and changing and growing.

An important role of leaders is to overcome this tendency, both in themselves and in others.

How closely aligned are your theories in use and your espoused theories? Can you see any gap between how you say you operate and how you really operate?

Another way this manifests can be summarised by “we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”

Time to reflect on our actions perhaps.