Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Leadership Development and the Sigmoid Curve

by Mark Evenden at Developing People International.

Charles Handy published a book in 1995 called the ‘Empty Raincoat’ in which he discussed a range of paradoxes and in particular the paradox of the Sigmoid curve and its implications for organisations. In essence, Handy was explaining that all organisations have life cycles (analogous to product life cycles) that are fairly predictable and can be expressed in terms of 5 shaped curves. The curves show how organisations form and start to grow, before eventually reaching a peak and then starting to decline. The time span for the growth, maturity and decline may be very long or fairly short.

For example I have worked in the UK tableware ceramics sector, the growth and decline of which has spanned several hundred years. Compare this to the life of a consumer product such as a mobile phone when most of us want an upgrade after 12 months.

Handy argues that it is critical for an organisation to begin a second wave / curve of organisational / business development before the first peak finishes and not wait until pending disaster has become clear to everyone (as with the UK tableware market). In my view one of the most successful organisations to achieve this reinvention of itself has been Apple. Just as you think that the market is bored with their latest products – out they come with a new one!

Unfortunately, I don’t believe there is a simple way of calculating exactly how long an organisation will take to reach a peak or when the decline will start.
This is of course a paradox because why change something when everything is apparently going so well?

Yet in my view one of the crucial roles of leadership is to identify when exactly to change. This takes vision and courage from the leader because in the short term the risk to changing the business may appear to be huge. Leaders therefore need to be forward thinking and be able to see the “big picture” and make best ‘estimates’ about what will happen in the future, new trends, changing market forces etc.
However leaders need also to be aware of their own and their organisations’ mind sets. A “mind set” is a “way of doing things” that can ultimately be a limiting belief. Mindsets constrain leaders and their organisations.

The following are examples of organisational mindsets
* “All watches must have hands.”
* “All letters must be sent by post.”
* “You need film to take photographs.”
* ‘Couples getting married will want an expensive dinner service as a wedding present’

To be successful I believe leaders need to continually challenge, innovate and develop if they are to successfully reinvent themselves as well as helping to reinvent their organisations. In the words of Marcel Proust - “The real act of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in having new eyes”.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Back to Basics - What IS Leadership Development?

by Lucy Cadman @ Developing People

Have you ever seen a diamond in its original form? It looks just like a lump of rock (albeit a very slightly sparkly one!), and I for one wouldn’t have a clue what was or what wasn’t a diamond before it goes through the cutting and polishing process that makes it the beautiful stone it becomes.

Leadership development is a similar process. It is about moving you, inch by inch, along a personal continuum. At the beginning is a ‘rough’ management style –the one that came to your naturally. At the other end, is a perfected and optimised way of leading. Leadership isn’t just a way of speaking, or a manner of dealing with your team. It is truly about your overall approach to the world, and how you respond daily to it.

I used to take a critical view of leadership development – it seemed like a very negative, very harsh and perhaps even endless game of ‘chasing your tail’. But I have learned that to understand my faults is a way of knowing myself better, and appreciating that my faults exist is far more positive than denying that there is anything wrong. Finally, to go one step further and engage in leadership development in order to actually reduce or remove those faults is a very noble pursuit that will be beneficial to not just for me, but to those long suffering souls who work with me too!

I am pro-active in seeking solutions, and I hate to have to react only when pushed into a situation at the last moment. Put me in front of a crowd and I clam up, but I will listen to anyone and everyone who needs me. My imagination runs riot in my head, but I am not always blessed with being able to get my ideas across successfully. My kindness is both by best and worst asset, and perhaps I need to develop a little more ruthlessness. These are all characteristics within my personality, my habits and my projected-self. Some of these can be changed more than others. Leadership development is concerned with identifying our weaknesses and one-by-one, and proactively engaging in activities and experiences that will improve them. Perhaps your leadership style is too autocratic and you’re having difficulty delegating properly. Maybe you lack confidence when it comes to public speaking, which undermines the confidence of your team in your abilities. Whatever the weakness and whatever the issue, you can work to resolve it, and you can become a greater leader.

It is truly inspiring to work in a business that is committed to personal development and growth, both for our clients and for our staff. Personal development is infectious - just like a smile! Once you can see for yourself that progress is possible even in some of the most set-in-stone characteristics in a person, you can fully realise the true potential of personal development, and what it could hold for you. I know I did.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Minimising the impact of your ‘weaknesses’ as a leader

by Mark Evenden @ Developing People International

In my view, great leaders are not successful simply because they are in the right place at the right time. They succeed because they play to their strengths, and they work hard at maximising them. Most great leaders I have worked for have been very conscious of their strengths and have known how to deploy them for their own advantage and for the benefit of their business. I think that this has also enabled them to be able to repeat their great leadership performance any new role they found themselves in.

However, it is clear that all leaders also have weaknesses. I have observed these weaknesses inhibiting a leaders’ success, and in one extreme cases it was their downfall, because they were not fully aware of them (or possibility and even worse, they did not accept them!). In my experience, there are a number of factors that can derail a leader and can interfere with their ability to gain the engagement and commitment from their people. A number of the most common ‘flaws’ that I have observed include the following. Leaders who:

* Have a lack of real understanding the impact their behaviour has on other people.
* Do not listen to their staff properly, either failing to empathise or communicate enough.
* Can see the ‘big picture’ but are unable to follow through on the details of a plan, creating frustration in their teams.
* Don’t delegate enough – they believe that the ‘best’ person to do the job is themselves.
* Claim that people are the organisation’s ‘most important asset’, but in reality they do not give enough time and energy for their people.
* Fail to challenge their managers and staff to improve their performance, or do not provide the necessary training and development
* Act with insensitively or without appropriate discretion.
* Are rude, aggressive or over critical of their people.

It is helpful for leaders to recognise these factors and work to minimise the impact of them. The best leaders I have worked for were very self-aware and understood their flaws and engaged people to work alongside them who balanced their ‘weaknesses’. For example, I once worked for a charismatic MD who was an excellent visionary but ensured his Operations and Finance Directors were able to keep tight control of the detailed operational activities and finances.

Ultimately it is up to the leader to recognise and manage their weaknesses effectively. However, I have seen leaders who failed to do this effectively and eventually derailed them.