Tag Archives: change

Knowing & Becoming Known…A Challenge for the New Boss

new_boss_tshirt-p235578270226180427qj9t_152It’s never comfortable being the newcomer. This is especially true when we start a new job, and even more so if that job involves leading an organization or taking charge of an already established team.

Three words come to mind when I think about this: Culture, Trust and Change. These are big issues and huge, if you happen to be a new boss. How you address them will often make the difference between a reasonably smooth leadership transition and a very shaky one.

For instance, inserting oneself into an already established culture requires some delicacy and some time spent in learning how people think; what they value; and the assumptions they operate from.

As well, most organizations work from a platform of earned trust rather than assumed trust. As such, if you are an unknown commodity, there will be skepticism about your motives, and the effect your presence will have on the status quo. While we like to think people will readily embrace change, we know that it just isn’t that easy. But, the reality is that change comes with every new leader and the immediate challenge is to find ways to send the message that this is a good thing…or at least, the right thing.

All this needs time and work. The point is, in this world of speed and technology, we have to find ways of accomplishing things faster. That includes expediting the process of knowing and becoming known. The question is, how?

Well, it’s a tricky one…but like most things, not impossible

There is, for instance, the New Manager Assimilation Process, which is a structured way of speeding up your collective orientation. Specifically, it is designed to help new managers quickly establish positive working relationships with their direct reports while also building a solid foundation for the future.

But, whether you decide to use this kind of formal process or a less informal one, know that the first few days, weeks and months as leader, will lay the foundation for how you will work and be perceived in the future.

When I think about inserting myself, as leader, into an established group, these are some things that come up:


People like to know they are being heard. As a new manager this is particularly important. There will be things they will want me to know about them. There will be other things they will want me to know as well, like what they are proud of, or what worries them. And, they will have ideas to share that will help shape how we move forward together.

Respect what went before

As the new one in town, there will be things that were established before I arrived that will have a lot of value. Rather than take a ‘new broom sweeps clean’ approach to my new role, I would take some time to learn what is good about the way things are.

Be clear about my vision and purpose

As an unknown, people will be curious (and possibly anxious) about what I see as my role; what I want to accomplish and; how my personal beliefs and values align with their own. In short, they will want to be able to see themselves in the picture I create. The more often and consistently I communicate these things, the quicker I will become known.

Be accessible

This is not just about keeping my office door open. It’s also about making myself emotionally available and showing my humanness. I would want to give people an opportunity to know me as a person as well as a boss.

Ask for help

It doesn’t matter what I bring to the new organization, there will always be things I’m simply not going to know. Asking for help gives me the opportunity to learn… and others the chance to show me what they know.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Note: This post was originally published in November, 2011

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Shift, Leading Teams, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and Human Nature

flowerIn October, 2012, Superstorm Sandy was top of mind for a great many.  Not only was it a catastrophic storm for thousands of  people, it served to remind us, once again, that disasters pull people together like no other phenomena.

I say this, not to be flippant, but to call to attention how the best in good people seems to rise to the top whenever the worst things happen. It’s almost like our greater brain kicks in and we gain full access to whatever stores of resilience, resourcefulness and generosity we have inside us.

It would be great if we could bottle it, wouldn’t it?  Perhaps then we could take a spoonful whenever we begin to forget what’s important.  After all, in life or death situations, things have a way of shifting our view, away from politics, bottom lines and winning at all cost toward something decidedly more genuine, more human.

So what is it we forget about people when we are not in crisis that we would do well to remember and respect? And, how would doing this serve to improve our leadership efforts?

The answers to those questions require more than this one person’s scrutiny but when I think about it, I’m reminded of a few truths about being human, like:

Necessity is the mother of invention ~ When we feel an urgent need, we are driven to seek a solution that will fill it.  That necessity drives change.  For most of us, before we are willing to change, we have to both see and feel the need for it. The role of leadership in this is both to help people feel the urgency and to believe that the pain of change will be worthwhile in the end.

People are more resilient than they are typically given credit for ~ While, firm structures are important during times of uncertainty, so is faith in peoples’ ability to adapt and contribute to bringing about a new order of things. In leadership is it wise to remember that in general, human beings are not that fragile.   We fare much better when we are regarded, not as part of the problem but as part of the solution.

Caring for and about others is in our DNA ~ In crisis, our list of priorities tends to look different from the list we might draw up in more stable times.  Specifically, the safety and welfare of people always seem to come first when things are truly scary.  Everything else falls away.  Regrettably, when we are not in crisis, it is easy to forget that and shift focus to other, more financially or politically rewarding pursuits.  I suspect though that when leaders actively care for the people who follow them, the financial and political aspects of organizational life don’t suffer at all.

When we know the score we have it in us to be patient~ With a few exceptions, those who have suffered, and continue to suffer hardship from this latest blast from Mother Nature seem to have borne the discomfort and inconvenience of power outage and fuel shortage with stoic resignation.  People expected to lose electrical power.  Likely too, they expected to have to line up for batteries, gas and other supplies.   I  think that people who are not in crisis also appreciate it (and are much more patient with themselves and each other) when they know what to expect.  Patience allows for clear thinking. Clear thinking allows for greater productivity and problem solving. From that perspective, keeping people informed pays off.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Note: This article was originally posted in 2012


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Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

If I Ran the Zoo ~ A Whimsical Look at Leadership

From February, 2012 ~ I had fun writing this, so I’m running it again in the hope that you will have fun reading or re-reading it.


When my boys were little, one my favorite things to do was to read stories to them at bedtime.  A well-loved story was Dr Seuss’ “If I Ran the Zoo”.  Basically, it is about a little boy, Gerald McGrew, who decides that the animals he sees in the Zoo are too ordinary and he begins to imagine what it might be like if he ran the Zoo instead.  I’m not sure what started me thinking about it but a whimsical mood has led me to creating my own version of “If I Ran the Zoo”.  So, with apologies to Dr Seuss, here it is:

If I ran the zoo, I’d begin with the view,

That my organization includes you, and you.

All manner of folk, both women and men,

All shapes and sizes; all cultures and then…

I’d paint a big picture up there on the wall,

A picture so clear it would dazzle, enthrall,

All those wonderful folk with their heads full of notions

Who want to commit with their hearts and emotions.

If ran the zoo, I would see to it, too,

What’s important to me is important to you.

And just to be sure, I’d turn it around,

So things that you value, with me, would resound.

Then we’d roll up our sleeves and get down to work,

With genuine effort…no one would shirk.

With good conversations and tough ones as well,

There’d be no need to shout or to curse or to yell.

If I ran the zoo, there’d be elephants too,

But not in the room ‘cuz between me and you,

A room with an elephant’s crowded I think,

(And after a while, the room starts to stink).

And speaking of animals, there’d be “octopi”,

With tentacles reaching way up to the sky,

Crossing all kinds of boundaries, and silos and such,

To change for the better the World we all touch.

If I ran the zoo, I would hire people who,

Would focus on making our customers, too,

Feel glad that they know us and to want to come back

And we’d work to make sure there’d be nothing they’d lack

We’d be curious, too, us folks in this zoo,

We’d want to be knowing the why, what and who,

Of what happens around us, and how it takes place

Cuz, change is a creature we have to embrace.

So, that’s what I’d do, If I ran the zoo,

There’s more… but I’ll turn it over to you.

With blank sheet of paper and pen in the ink,

Tell me, how would you do it?

What do you think?



Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, Leadership Vision, NOWLeadership, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness, Servant Leadership

5 Actions That Help Create Stability in the Midst of Uncertainty

 According to a Mayan prophecy, on December 21, 2012, the World was to come to an end…again.  Obviously, it didn’t.  But these prophesied World-ending events  show up from time-to-time on the global radar.  The good news is that apparently one quarter of our planet is now online so, the next time it comes up,  we’ll  have some time to say our goodbyes before we all fade to black.  However, while my tongue remains firmly in cheek regarding prophesied catastrophes such as these, they serve as a reminder that there is always something afoot, something changing, interfering with, or otherwise upsetting our equilibrium.  It’s the way of the World.  And, through technology, we are choosing to make that World more intricate and more accessible which renders our day-to-day dance both exciting and sometimes  horribly stressful.

To me, all this suggests that a leader’s role, (at least one of them), is to create a platform for stability, often where none exists, because in a world of constant change and increased complexity, people need to feel anchored to something they can count on.

For some, it is as simple as knowing that in the face of the unknown, they can still be all right.  For example, during the Second World War, The British Government gave the people of Britain reassurance that they can still be all right through a poster campaign that said, among other things, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Of course it wasn’t the only thing they did to help sustain the people but it served as a vote of confidence in the spirit and capability of the British people to stay the course and overcome the hardship, terror and uncertainty that war had foisted upon them.  They, in turn, rose to the occasion finding ways to support each other; share what little resources they had and keep their upper lips proudly stiff.

Today too, we are bursting with uncertainty. We have come to know that just at the moment we begin to feel steady, things are going to change. So finding ways to create stability amid inconstancy is, in my view anyway, a primary goal for the 21st Century leader.

The question is, how? The answer is…well I’m not sure.  But I have some ideas and here they are:

1.    Be Purposeful

Knowing our organizational purpose is a great beginning to creating stability. After all, while change affects the way we go about fulfilling the purpose, the purpose itself, more often than not remains the same.

2.    Extend the purpose beyond the confines of organizational boundaries.

Most organizations support charities or causes of some kind.  Just as the causes can vary, so can the motivation for supporting them. To me though, doing good works that align with the organizational purpose helps the company grow roots and contribute to the creation of stable communities, both inside and outside corporate boundaries.

3.    Keep Learning

Broadening our knowledge base creates a more stable environment.  In other words, the more we know and understand the less there is to fear.  So giving true value and support to learning, not just training, will build a company of people who are confident, resilient and eager to see and experience what comes next around the corner

4.    Be Guided by a set of strongly held values

World events, economic instability and a constant feed of both useful and useless information contribute to a dizzying existence for most people.  Sometimes we just need to stop and remember what’s important and what we stand for.   It’s kind of like being out in rough seas.  When we can’t see the shore and the boat is tossing us around mercilessly, our values serve as the lighthouse beacon that gives us the promise of solid ground.

5.    Take Blame out of the Equation

When things go wrong, and they do, it’s easy to panic.  When we panic we look to place blame.  Blame is the enemy of stability.  It rattles people and often for the wrong reasons.  Blame is not about accountability it is about passing a hot potato and making sure it lands in someone else’s lap.  By taking blame out of the organizational culture and replacing it with a more solution-oriented demeanour, more people will have the confidence to participate in solving problems rather than defending themselves or looking for places to hide.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Change Management, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Change, Management, Organizational Effectiveness

Leading Collaboratively…A 21st Century Necessity

This, from January, 2011.


I don’t know about you, but when I was little, one of the things my parents were always on about was the importance of playing well with others.  In school too, I was encouraged, along with my classmates, to work together to complete projects and participate in sports events.

Then, in adulthood I got a job and for some reason, the emphasis there was not about that.  It was more about doing what I was told.  It was about individual survival and competition.  And somehow, while civility remained (for the most part anyway), a spirit of collaboration, where people shared information and resources freely to achieve something important together was rare.

In childhood we could perhaps afford to run afoul of collaborative efforts.  Then, the consequences were fairly minor.  But, as adults, we must go beyond the notion that collaboration is something we do to be nice. More and more, it is becoming something we must become skilled in if we are going to survive.

By now, most of us know why that is, at least on a global scale. In our current economy we are having to learn how to do more with less.  Our successes often depend on the successes of others, not only other individuals, but also other countries, other continents even.  Technology, too, has brought us closer together and the opportunities we have to develop relationships and work with others on-line are many and varied.

But what does this means to a leader at ground level, the woman or man who goes to work every day with the responsibilities associated with leading a group of others in the achievement of seemingly everyday things?  What part does s/he play in this collaborative effort?

Well, for one thing, I don’t believe it possible for one person to successfully demand collaboration from another.  It’s usually something we choose to do, or not.  And to me, that means that leaders at all levels must find ways to make it worth choosing.

So, if you are a leader, wondering how to help people in your place of work choose collaboration over other, more independent approaches to getting work done, I’ve had a couple of thoughts that may help.

Provide Clarity of Purpose

There is no doubt that people work much better together when they are certain about what they are working to achieve. We should not assume that everyone involved is clear about the goal. Clarity of purpose also includes ensuring that those involved have a shared understanding about why the work (and the achievement of it), is important and what working together in a common interest can accomplish that working out of self interest could not.

Offer Appropriate Reward

It is often the case that while we talk a lot about collaborative work in organizations, our reward systems frequently continue to acknowledge individual effort disproportionately.  This makes it difficult for people to choose collaboration over internal competition.  So, to me, the task for the leader is to model and acknowledge group effort at every opportunity and reward group achievement both in tangible ways and in ways that appeal intrinsically to its participants.  Or, simply put, rewards are structured in a way that people gain a sense of deeper satisfaction from working together than from working individually.

Share Freely

Sharing information and assets between and among various concerns is fundamental to effective collaboration. It is the leader’s role to demonstrate this by discouraging hoarding and secretive behaviour; by being candid with their views and generous with resources; and by helping others see that doing so will bring them closer to achieving their collective goal and enriching their personal experience.

Avoid Potential Pitfalls

Some people might think that collaborating requires us to always get along.  However, when we work together authentically, we are not always going to agree. So, taking unnecessary pains to avoid conflict in the group, often serves to impede its progress. As well, it is tempting to collaborate only with like-minded people for the same reason. On the other hand effective collaboration can be negatively affected if people get into the habit of attacking each other instead of the issues that get in their way.  So, the leader’s job is to strive for and encourage a balance that allows for healthy discussion, respectfully and productively conducted.

All this sounds like work.  And it is.  But, collaboration, when carried out effectively can produce wondrous things. Like this:

The bottom line is this. Whether we are engaged in for-profit business, non-profit organizations or more philanthropic efforts, our ability to work together in the pursuit and achievement of a common purpose has never been more critical. And, if our individual experience has so far not allowed us the opportunity to collaborate with others, now would be a good time to start, regardless of where we lead, or at what level.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

p.s. Here are some links you may find interesting:

Collaboration from Wikipedia ,  Collaborative LeadershipDefining Collaborative Leadership


Filed under building awareness, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys

This post is from 2011.  No monkeying around here.


I think we’ve all heard someone say it at one time or another.  Or, we may even have said it ourselves.  It goes something like this.  Someone asks the question, “why?” and the response is “Because that’s just the way it’s done.  We’ve always done it that way”

A statement like that can put the lid on things pretty quickly can’t it?  And often, those who are brave enough to explore further by asking, “Yes, but why has it always been done that way?” never receive a satisfactory answer because the truth is that nobody really knows why.

You’re nodding your head aren’t you?  I’m not surprised.  It is, after all, a fairly common occurrence especially in long established organizations.

It reminds me of the Story of the 5 monkeys.  If you aren’t familiar with the story here it is.

Of course, as human beings we like to think that we have evolved a little more than the monkeys in the story; that we are not so easily manipulated.  But, the story illustrates how we can fall into patterns of behaviour without really understanding why.  In organizations, we can also become so deeply entrenched in our way of doing things, attempts to effect change are often greeted with a metaphorical dousing of cold water almost every time.

I think we all know that in today’s economy, our ability to be flexible, creative and innovative is key to our present and future success. The question is, as leaders, how do we invite innovation and creative thinking into our workplaces?  Well, I’ve been having a bit of a think about that and I have some suggestions for your consideration, just to get you started.

Conduct a review of what you value

We tend to talk a lot about organizational values, sometimes without a second thought.  Taking the time to consider what we value and why we value it provides an opportunity to re-affirm organizational beliefs and also to challenge some that may no longer fit with our current reality.  Sometimes too, our actions and attitudes can get out of sync with what we say we value so looking in the mirror once in a while is not a bad idea.

Invite Challenge

This seems like a simple thing to do but sometimes we can allow our egos to get in the way.  For example, if you are a new leader it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you must have all of the answers. You don’t.  And you won’t.

Allowing others to challenge our thinking does not demean the role of the leader.  Instead, it enhances the possibility of a fresher, more creative and progressive outcome and that kind of leadership places emphasis where it belongs, on the work and the people who do it.

Look at failure as part of the process

Nobody likes to fail.  The thing is there are lessons to be learned from it and while we don’t try new things with the idea of failing, sometimes we have to try, and fail, until we discover what works.  Whether we like it or not, clinging to the familiar or doing things the way we have always done them will eventually lead us to failure anyway.

Acknowledge and Reward Creative thinking

Organizations that value stability over innovation will tend to discourage what they consider to be interference with the way things are and discount the ideas of those who think outside the scope of conventional wisdom.

Finding ways to bring out fresh ideas, no matter how bizarre they may sound, and acknowledging those eager to put them forward, demonstrates a willingness to accept the necessity for ongoing change in a time when change is the only thing we can count on.

In today’s world those of us who value stability must learn to live in environments where the apple cart is constantly being upset. To me, this means we will not always be able to know the “why” of everything but we can also no longer afford to accept things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

That’s what I think, anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

The Certainty of Ambiguity in Leadership

This post is a refreshed version of one written originally in  June, 2009.


Anyone who has ever been in a leadership role for longer than, oh, five minutes, knows that leadership is not a prescriptive thing.  As simple as we try to make it with lists of the ten top things to do here or the best five things to do there, it remains rife with complexity.

Part of this complexity lies in the many roles leaders must undertake that, while necessary, seem incompatible with one another.

Here are some examples:

Being conceptual and Tactical

As a leader, it is important for you to be able to rise above the day-to-day mechanics of your operation so you can see where it is all going. This is about having a vision and ideas that give purpose to the work.

There is, however, a limit on the amount of time you should spend at thirty thousand feet without coming down to the ground and working with people to ensure that plans are developed in line with the vision and specific actions are taken to bring it to life.

Leaders who dwell in the land of ideas too long tend to accomplish very little. Alternately, those who keep their noses to the grindstone and never get off the ground might accomplish a lot but chances are, it will be a lot of the wrong thing.

Being a Leader and a Manager

Some people believe that leadership and management are two separate jobs. From where I sit, they’re not.  Both roles belong in the leader’s virtual backpack. Confusion often raises its quizzical head, though, when deciding what to manage; what to lead; and when.

A simple rule of thumb is that you manage things and lead people. However, to add complexity to the mix, you also manage events and happenings that involve people. And that means you must be prepared to manage conflict and other situations that could potentially get in the way of accomplishing the work.

Being a Leader and a Follower

Opportunities for people to show leadership, regardless of their formal status in the organization, are everywhere.  It is a wise leader who will recognize this and make room for it when it serves the organization and supports its goals.  The trick is in knowing when it is appropriate to stand down and become a supportive follower.

In general, allowing someone else to take the lead is a good idea when:

S/he knows more about the specific work involved than you do or;

S/he has demonstrated more skill in a certain area than you have.

This doesn’t mean you abdicate your position.  It does mean that you are leading for a time, by following and supporting someone who can by leading, accomplish the goal better, faster or more efficiently than you can.

To do this effectively, you must first know your own strengths and limitations and also make it a priority to know the capabilities of the people who work with you.

Controlling and Empowering

We all know that empowering others to express themselves and make contributions to the organizational goals is key to creating vibrant, engaged, working environments. And, while this is a leadership responsibility, it is also the job of the leader to create a controlled atmosphere that connects to the demands and goals of the business.

This means finding a fine balance between being autocratic and being liberal. It is where having a fully activated set of organizational values and a comprehensive, well-articulated vision of the future come in handy. They form a framework within which people can be empowered to use their creative abilities and make contributions on their own terms.

There are many other situations where leaders are required to make choices between seemingly contradictory activities.  For instance, when would you encourage individual effort over team development? Under what circumstances might you favour an arbitrary decision over a democratic one?

What comes up for you?


Filed under Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Leading Change, managing paradox, Organizational Effectiveness