Friday, 27 August 2010

Have you ever been an Ostrich Leader?

by Mark Evenden

I am often intrigued why senior leaders in organisations remain silent when even the uninitiated can see that the situation desperately needs them to take a lead and speak out. This is sometimes referred to as "ostrich style leadership" after the widespread (but untrue) belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when faced with danger.

I am not sure whether it is because they think that if they say and do nothing that they will be less responsible for what happens, or whether it is a product of indecision or possibly even fear. As with all animals, we humans are very instinctive and when faced with a crisis we tend to produce a ‘fight or flight’ response. Freezing up under pressure is a manifestation of the fright response, and it is precisely at these crucial times that we need leaders to fill that void and provide clarity and direction to enable others to override their instincts.

Sadly I believe too many leaders don’t like to take this responsibility.

I can remember many years ago when it was announced that the business I worked for was to be closed down. This was a massive shock for the employees, their families and the local community. Many of our staff had never had another job, some had sons and daughters who worked there too, and for them their whole world was collapsing around them.

However, it was clear to me that I had a vital role to play amongst this chaos. In the short term we had customers who had placed orders with us and their business relied on us fulfilling these orders. In addition, all of our staff still had an important future, albeit a new and different one, perhaps working for a different organisation, working for themselves or taking the option of early retirement. It was my leadership responsibility to help our staff to see a positive future for themselves and to enable them to realise it.

The results of all this speak for themselves. Over 75% of redundant staff (excluding those who took early retirement) had found new employment within 3 months of the site closing. In addition, we did not loose any customers or have any service or production issues during this period, which was a great credit to all the staff who worked there.

For me this was an important lesson to learn early in my career. Leadership is not a position, but an act of taking responsibility for a situation - especially a tough one.

Would you like to see greater leadership qualities within your own business? Our Leadership Development training can help you. Click here to email us for more information, or phone us on 0845 409 2346.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Developing Leadership and Strategic Thinking

by Lucy Cadman

I sometimes suffer from what I fondly (or usually not so fondly) term as “Woolly Brain Syndrome”. I know what I want to achieve, and I know what I want to see my company achieve … but sometimes I just can’t figure out a logical thought progression to develop substantive plans to help these ideas to become a reality.

Would you like to improve your own strategic thinking skills? If so, try out some of the following development ideas listed below:

* Read the business pages of a quality newspaper such as The Times, Financial Times, and Telegraph etc. Alternatively subscribe to the Harvard Business Review. Learn about strategies and actions that other organisations have taken to improve their performance. Determine which ones of these would work well within your organisation.

* Prepare a ‘strategic perspective’ for your business / function. Conduct some research - what will the likely key trends and changes be in the next 3-5 years? Look at things such as changes in technology, applications, competition, legislation, demographics, etc. What opportunities and threats are provided?

* Research your major competitors and develop a detailed profile of each competitor. What can you learn from them?

* Analyse the needs of your customers. What is it they need and want in your products applications and services, both now and in the future?

* Challenge the assumptions and beliefs that you have about your business – which ones are obsolete or restrictive? Which ones should you change? For example, the internet has challenged the belief that you can only purchase music on a CD / Tape, and the digital watch challenged the belief that all watches had to have hands to tell the time.

* Volunteer to work on a cross functional business / organisation improvement project.

*Learn to play chess.

* Discuss with a trusted colleague or manager your ability to strategize and see the ‘bigger picture’. Identify any weaknesses or blind spots. Discus ideas to force yourself to move away from details to the ‘bigger picture’ to gain a broader prospective.

* Seek someone who could act as a mentor (either internally or externally) and who could guide you through a strategic planning process.

* Discuss with your manager your ability to make sound judgements and business decisions. What feedback can they give you about your effectiveness? What decisions could you have made differently?

* Identify the most important decision that you have to make in the next 3-6 months. Discuss with your manager or colleague the key steps to making the decision and likely information you will need. Start gathering the relevant information.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but if it is put into practise the suggestions will help you to improve your strategic thinking and leadership capability, and will help you to avoid being a sufferer of “Woolly Brain Syndrome”!

If you require further help in developing your Leadership Skills or your Strategic Thinking skills, Developing People Ltd can help you. Please visit our website for more information, or call us on 0845 409 2346.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Team Development – Internal or External Focus?

by Lucy Cadman

I found working as a sole trader from home could be a rather a lonely existence. I used to come into contact with many clients daily – either replying to their emails, chatting to them on forums, answering their telephone calls, or meeting them in person at their homes or whilst doing demonstrations at various events throughout the UK. But whilst I loved my customers (and indeed, I loved being loved by them), it was still lonely. I had no team around me to share either my problems or my ambitions. If something went wrong, I fixed it myself. If something needed doing, I did it myself. If a goal needed achieving, I achieved it myself. All very self-satifying … but none the less, very lonely. To thrive, a business needs good teams within it, and for me, the two are irrevocably interlinked.

Managers who wish to improve the performance of their teams often tend to focus on the team’s ‘internal workings’. They focus on subjects such as clarifying the team’s goals and roles, building spirit and motivation, providing focused agendas and agreeing rules for decision making. However, a book written by Deborah Ancona (Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management) and Henrik Bresman (INSEAD) states that these attributes alone are not enough to ensure that a team is successful.

The authors have harnessed decades of their research and documented their findings in their book X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead Innovate and Succeed. While Ancona and Bresman recognize the importance of the ‘internal workings’ of a team, they also saw that the most successful teams (which they dub the X-Teams) had team spirit, but that they also projected ‘upwards and outwards’ from the team. They established co-operative relationships, sought out key information from other teams and outside sources, communicated the team's mission to key stakeholders and actively pursued support from management. The poorest-performing teams, on the other hand, just focused on their own inner workings and relationships.

While the phrase ‘X-Team’ is relatively new, the idea that successful teams need to go outside themselves is less so. Margerison and McCann identified that all successful teams at some time in their life have to interact with others external to themselves. Margerison and McCann’s specifically identified two activities in their Types of Work Model relating to this issue:

• Advising - involves the team gathering information from others and disseminating it to the rest of the team so that it can be used effectively.
• Promoting - which means selling the ‘benefits’ of the team and what the team does not only to key stakeholders, but also to those who will be responsible for making things work further down the line, both internally and externally to the organisation.

So what are the implications for managers who wish to develop their own teams? Clearly the traditional ‘internal’ focus of goals, roles, team behaviours and team ways of working are a vital basis for building a team. However, this is only half of the solution. Managers also need to identify and build relationships with others both internal and external to the organisation. Managers should challenge themselves and their team by asking: Who does the team need support from? Who else has a stake in what our team does? Who might need to know about what we are doing? By doing this, as researchers have identified, managers can cultivate the type of environment that will make their teams more successful.

Would your Managers benefit from Management Development Training to help them integrate both internal and external working methods into their teams? If so, please contact Developing People Limited on 0845 409 2346 for more information.