Neuroscience of Leadership

July 11, 2009

And continuing on this theme from my last post on brain science and leadership, I read the paper from Rock and Schwartz on the Neuroscience of Leadership.  Some great points, particularly that behaviourism and humanism are overrated management approaches and that the preferred model of leadership is to encourage people to work out the solutions on their own.  This is not just about empowerment but actively working with people’s brains to harness the energy that is created when problems are solved.  Brains are pattern making organs with an innate desire to create novel connections and can undergo significant change in response to new environmental signals.  The paper states that the key is to focus attention on desirable practices and behaviours as then, the brain changes its physiology to meet the new pattern.  Leave the problem behaviours in the past and focus on identifying and creating new behaviours. 

Overcoming resistance to change is easier when the brain goes through the moment of insight when new connections are created.  But that is not all.  Training may yield these insights but the addition of follow-up coaching helps to embed the insights that occurred in the training session into the brain. 

Many old adages came to mind while reading the article.  Practice makes perfect was one.  Be the change you want to see was another.  Definitely “food for thought!”

Wisdom Management and Wisdom Leadership

April 16, 2008

actKM has had a recent discussion on the topic of wisdom management.  Patrick and Matt have blogged on the topic and I thought I would put in my 2 cents worth.  I mentioned in my note on actKM that a futures report by the UK Chartered Management Institute envisaged a probable future where technologies for capturing wisdom and wisdom management will emerge.  They stated that knowledge and wisdom management will be key to organisational success. And even more – wisdom will become a valuable resource so organisations will want to access the societal, cultural and organisational memory via practices such as organisational rituals, gatherings and accounts of long-term employees. This tacit knowledge can be accessed via storytelling, anecdotes and case studies. Organisations must increasingly use products and solutions that facilitate wisdom.

The above sounds a bit like some of the later developments in knowledge management to me.  But let’s explore what wisdom management could be.  If the purpose of KM is about improved decision making and innovation, what would wisdom management be about?  Is there a different purpose?  Joe and Serena in their actKM posts seem to think that WM would be more about reducing errors in decision models or making great decisions.  I tend to disagree but more on that later.

There seemed to be general agreement  on actKM not to link the two words wisdom and management together (although I would not mind working in a Wisdom Management Department to be able to say I work in WMD – but then perhaps wisdom management might be a weapon of mass destruction in its own right).  On this track, I have had discussions with others that KM is not about the management of knowledge but the nurturing of an environment where knowledge can be created, shared and where K can flourish (ecosystem model).  So similarly, wisdom management could be the development of an environment where wisdom can be shared and nurtured?

Now all this leads on to the juicy topic of what is this wisdom thing anyway.  And what makes a person wise rather than just knowledgeable?  Wisdom involves ethics, sincerity and cutting through the crap.  Wisdom has more to do with advice, mentoring and life-long learning.  What passes as wisdom for one person is knowledge for another, and is just plain common-sense for another person.  Wisdom is different to consilience (the coming together of knowledge from different domains).

I agreed with Patrick that wisdom tends to be experiential and individual and is difficult to scale.  It has a lot to do with learning and with leadership.  It takes time and is entirely dependent on the journey of the recipient of the wisdom. 

This journey aspect is particularly important.  The Getting of Wisdom is not so much about the destination (as making better decisions) but the journey of getting there – it is more about one’s own lived story and how that unfolds over time and the role of wisdom through mentors and an innate curiosity.

Wisdom and wisdom management may not clarify things in the first instance.  It may be that you need to develop and change your values / beliefs in order to be at a level to receive that wisdom.  Wisdom could be what you look back in hindsight as major transformative learning points in your life.  It could be the spark that confused you and that you had to undertake learning to bridge that paradox and ambiguity.  In this sense case then, true wisdom would be relatively rare whereas knowledge is relatively common (and I don’t mean common sense!).  Wisdom may also involve being reminded of what we have forgotten. 

For many, wisdom has a sense of the spiritual about it as it is personal, to do with lifelong journeys and transformation.  It’s not just head stuff.  It requires courage and curiosity to listen to wisdom.  And sometimes, there may not be anything there anyway (the concept of zen). 

Well, that’s my take on wisdom and wisdom management/leadership  anyway!  I can’t see it taking off anytime soon but you never know with the baby boomers and cultural creatives and downshifters with time and money on their hands, that there might be something in it.  But once it is commoditised, the magic may be lost!

Regional Knowledge Resource Kit

March 22, 2008

My good friend Nerida Hart, who is now working at Land and Water Australia, has pointed me on a number of occasions to the Regional Knowledge Resources Kit.  I have had some cursory looks at it in the past but over the past couple of days I have looked at it in more detail and it is an incredibly valuable KM resource.  The work that they have done with the various regional bodies is amazing, brokering conversations amongst local practitioners to share knowledge and build connections. 

The Kit itself is full of great information and links to valuable resources.  It does not just have utility for regional land managers but for anyone who needs to work with a community to find out their particular needs, develop trusted relationships and develop strategies for implementing concrete actions that will create value for them.  One of the key insights for me from the conversation with Nerida today and delving into the site is that anecdote circles work best when the group knows each other a bit – so therefore it’s best to have anecdote circles during the middle of the process rather than at the start.

So make sure you add this to your KM favourites, the RKRK site.

Killing Innovation – A Manager’s Guide

February 13, 2008

I wrote a short article the other day about innovation and someone took umbrage at one of my lines that the public sector (as the traditional hierarchical bureaucracy) has 1001 ways to kill a good idea and that we need to move towards a model that has 1001 ways to advance a good idea.  Innovation can often be really difficult for managers who are under time and budget constraints to get the job done rather than look to do things differently. 

I came across this blog post which describes 5 questions that can be raised by a manager to kill innovation.  The beauty of responding with a question is that it makes the innovator have to justify their innovation to you through logical reasoning based on your own assumptions – a phantasmagorically circular way of killing innovation slowly but surely. 

I think we are now up to counting 1035 ways to kill innovation (although we cheated because we started at 1001)!! 

Leadership vs Management: that old question

January 31, 2008

I am designing a conference program at the moment around the topic of leadership.  Looking around, i noticed this little quote by Steve Denning:

Managers are expected to accept whatever the organization wants and to make that happen. By contrast, leaders often challenge what the organization says it wants and create new goals.

That’s a nice little distinction that I am sure to use time and time again. 

Newton’s Laws of Experts

January 2, 2008

Interesting article over the past couple of days by William York in Online Opinion.

He has reframed Newton’s Laws of Motion into new Laws of Experts.  The original laws from Sir Isaac Newton are:

  • First Law (Law of Intertia): every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force;
  • Second Law (Law of Acceleration): the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the applied force; and
  • Third Law (Law of Reciprocal Actions): for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

York’s reframed Laws of Experts are:

  • First Law: every expert persists in his state of rest or opinion unless acted upon by an external grant;
  • Second Law: the rate of change of opinion is directly proportional to the applied grant; and
  • Third Law: for every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.

I thought these reframed laws were very good – particularly how grant guidelines dictate the opinions of particular experts and create an environment where dissent is actively discouraged (as it does not meet the guidelines) and hence the need for the third law.  But perhaps some slight changes to the laws would make it more interesting if we add in some comment on how new knowledge can change expert opinion:

  • First Law: every expert will steadfastly maintain his current opinions unless acted upon by an external grant or irrefutable new knowledge;
  • Second Law: the rate of change of expert opinion is directly proportional to the amount of external grants and sharing of irrefutable new knowledge; and
  • Third Law: for every expert opinion, there is an equal and opposite expert opinion.
  • Of course, all this talk about Newtonian physics depends on one’s frame of reference – and that perhaps these laws are only valid in an inertial frame of reference.  If we are aware of how the wider context is changing, then the laws may not stand up to scrutiny.  I think that Einstein had something to say about that with his theory of relativity!

    Happy New Year everyone and all the best for 2008. 

    5 Pathways to Organisational Renewal

    December 24, 2007

    Just doing some packing up of various papers on my desk (not quite like a bomb has hit it but fairly close) and came across a little schematic that I did while at the AusForesight conference this year. So here are my 5 pathways to organisational renewal. 

    An organisations can adopt one of many of these pathways (preferably multiple) to achieve positive change.  For those who are regular readers of this blog, you will not be surprised that two of the 5 points of the star are foresight and knowledge management.  Also listed are innovation (buzzword of the decade), leadership (buzzword of the past 30 years) and systems thinking (buzzword of the next decade!).  Taking any of these pathways in a whole-hearted and meaningful manner will take an organisation down the path of organisational renewal.  Adopting more than one of these at a time will enable a greater potential for success.  I’ve taken the number 5 from a book that I have been reading for the past couple of months called “The 5 Literacies of Global Leadership” by Richard Hames (more on this excellent book later).  That my 5 are in a star shaped pattern and some are more closely linked to others is just a coincidence – there is no grand plan with where they are located on the star – it’s just how they happened to be situated in a moment of inspiration during the conference.

    Agile Government: Challenging the Bureaucratic Dinosaur

    October 17, 2007

    The Victorian Government’s State Services Authority is running a project at the moment on the notion of Agile Government.  It emerged from their previous work on their Future of the Public Sector 2025 project.  In collaboration with Demos, a UK thinktank, they have released this provocation paper

    In the paper, they describe government agility in relation to being responsive to the needs of the community being served, being more adaptive in changing products and processes in response to broader changes in the operational environment, and shaping the external environment through policy making, taxation and service delivery. Three types of capacity are required which form an agility cycle:

    • Scan emerging trends and issues through gathering information and analysis
    • Respond to opportunities and risks by being sufficiently flexible at tactical and strategic levels
    • Shape future environments through driving change.

    They also list a range of agility capabilities:

    • Outward-oriented culture to scan the external environment, join up different departments and agencies, shift resources with ease and stopping services and projects if they are not delivering a sufficient return.
    • Systems and policy alignment between strategy, values, budgeting, etc, particularly focusing on realignment when goals and tactics shift as one part of the system changes.
    • Workforce adaptability to match skills to changing tasks which could include service redesign, new capabilities and rapid deployment.
    • Fast and effective decision-making through making judgements based on imperfect information, particularly on operational matters.
    • Successful use of information such as analytical skills and the use of ICT including more responsive relationships with citizens.

    For me, the agility cycle does not quite sit right, particularly with including the shaping aspect in the cycle.  Agility is about scanning and responding and having that cycle move faster.  The concept of shaping works at a different level . In one way, it is a form of responding but really it is actually something more systemic.  It brings in the notions of complexity, societal behaviour change and community dialogue – an important part of government but perhaps shaping forms part of a framework that supports agility rather than forming part of the agility cycle.

    Another aspect is that agility is a relative concept.  If standard processes takes 3 years, than an agile government could be expected to do it in 12-18 months.  Also, if it would normally take 20 years to generate larger generational change, then perhaps an agile government could do it in 5 years through its various levers of taxation, incentives and policies.  The latter is more shaping, the former is more responsive. The longer term aspects of shaping have strong links to systems and complexity thinking.

    All up, a most interesting paper and concept and one that the SSA are currently seeking comment upon.

    Commonwealth Ombudsman’s 10 Lessons for Public Administration

    August 12, 2007

    The Commonwealth Ombusdman gave a presentation at an IPAA seminar earlier this month where he reported on the government review of 247 immigration cases and outlined some lessons for public administration as a result.  The lessons are clear and concise.  Following them will go a long way to reduce errors that are the consequence of systemic administrative problems. His 10 lessons were:

    1. Maintain accurate, comprehensive and accessible records.
    2. Place adequate controls on the exercise of coercive powers.
    3. Actively manage unresolved and difficult cases.
    4. Heed the limitations of information technology systems.

    5. Guard against erroneous assumptions.

    6. Control administrative drift.

    7. Remove obstacles to prudent information exchange with other agencies and bodies.

    8. Promote effective communication in your own agency.

    9. Manage complexity in decision making.

    10. Check for warning signs of bigger problems.

    He mentioned that the last lesson is probably the most important.  The Rau, Alvarez and Solon immigration cases showed that flaws in an individual decision can highlight a much larger problem.  Agencies should not wait for a crisis to eventuate but internally monitor and have good quality control and complaint handling procedures. Warning signs can then be picked up more easily and change initiated early.   

    Lessons learned from these exercises are particularly important to share where problems lie, how they can be rectified and to build a culture of learning and improvement.

    Brian Bacon presentation

    July 28, 2007

    This week I attended a highly entertaining and informative workshop by Brian Bacon, a leading strategy and management consultant from the Oxford Leadership Academy.  There were some great one-liners that I thought that I’d share.  Many were attributed to others and have been quoted many times before (and I won’t attribute them here for brevity).

    • “A leader never reacts” – but observes, understands then acts decisively. 
    • The conversation is the relationship.
    • Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character but if you have to be without one, be without a strategy.
    • Strategy rarely survives contact with the enemy but character persists.
    • Vision without execution is hallucination.
    • Plans are just frisbees.
    • Successful organisations have a combination of focus, will and capability.  Missing one means that you might, could or would do it but in all likelihood, won’t do it.
    • Execution is about alignment and engagement.
    • The shadow of a leader is very wide.

    Lots of food for thought.  There was a reflective self-management leadership exercise at the end which was quite like Theory U and Presence in its style.