Optimizing Energy

April 8th, 2013

I have an intense passion for leadership development. I also have a lot of fuel for the topic which can get me into trouble because I tend to overcommit and over-extend. The thing is this. I am doing what I love. I know that many of you reading this feel the same level of passion which makes even more excited. When asked why leadership development is “the thing for me” it’s a very simple answer. We NEED great leaders. We need them to be prepared. We need leaders who can successfully navigate the work and unleash energy for the work.

What would the world feel like if even a small fraction of doctors, attorneys, middle managers, CEOs, non-profit leaders “did” leadership better? Think of the untapped energy that could be released. It’s really quite powerful to think about. Each year or so, I go back to an article written by Kathy Allen and William Mease which is just awesome. It’s a real thinker. The article is called “Energy Optimization and the Role of the Leader” and the final passage of the article suggests the following – “This article is an introduction to the concept of organizational energy and its relationship to leadership. We believe that the conscious awareness of energy in organizations and its deliberate optimization is a powerful leadership strategy. By optimizing energy already present within the system leaders can move the system toward greater wholeness, avoiding the ongoing energy drain of other approaches. This article invites practitioners to begin by noticing whether energy in their work group is being absorbed and constrained or unleashed and expanded and to act toward greater energy optimization ” (p. 10). What if WE (Leadership educators) were the people to help make that vision a reality? The people who help others “unleash and expand and to act toward greater energy optimization”? I’m in.

Little Book of Leadership Development

February 4th, 2013

Beyond planning, organizing, and controlling, a manager’s job routinely requires teaching and helping employees make sense of their role in the organization, increase their technical proficiency, and behave in an ethical and trustworthy manner. It also requires motivating peak performance and inspiring a commitment to personal growth. In today’s complex and fast-changing business climate, managers at all levels are increasingly called on to be leadership development facilitators.

“Leadership development is not something that primarily occurs in the classroom,” note two leading experts on the topic, Scott J. Allen and Mitchell Kusy. “It occurs on the job—on the fly—each and every day.” With THE LITTLE BOOK OF LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee (AMACOM; May 10, 2011; $19.95 Hardcover), Allen and Kusy provide busy managers valueable guidance for cultivating leadership in others. Drawing on their experience consultants and trainers, the coauthors offer a concise, manager-friendly facilitator’s guide—a guide to teaching, helping, motivating, and inspiring employees to excel as both leaders and valuable contributors.

Leaders & Managers?

December 17th, 2012

In his classic text Managing the Dream, Warren Bennis works to make the distinction between leaders and managers. Bennis suggests:

  • Manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • Manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • Manager maintains; file leader develops.
  • Manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • Manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • Manager has a short-range view; the leader has a perspective.
  • Manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • Manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader his eye on the horizon.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • Manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

It’s interesting to look at this list. So much can be read into these simple statements. On one level they are sweeping “truths” that some, if not many, would agree with. On the other hand, it’s just not that simple. In fact, like the distinction between leadership and followership, it’s likely that individuals in position of authority are moving between leadership and management each and every day. It’s a continuum. Likewise, one can begin to see the glorification of the role of “leader” in his statements – after all, as he describes it, the role of “leader” sounds much more sexy, right? A manager sound like a robot who looks at the bottom line and does things right with little originality or perspective. I don’t want that to be me – do you?

The reality is that we need to be both or on a team with a number of individual strengths that complement one another. After all, after the “dream” is sold to constituents, who manages the process of making it a reality? – SJA

Developing the “Expert” Leader

October 31st, 2012

What does the “expert” leader look like? Moreover, how would we know we are in the presence of an expert leader? The National Research Council (NRC) (2000) suggests the following as attributes of experts. Which do you think apply to leadership?

  • Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices (NRC)
  • Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter (NRC)
  • Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is the knowledge is “conditioned” on a set of circumstances (NRC)
  • Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort (NRC)
  • Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others (NRC)
  • Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations (NRC)

So does any of this sound like an expert leader? Which of the bullets apply? Which may not? More important, what are additional attributes of an individual who is displaying expertise in the ream of leadership? Lord & Hall (2005) would suggest that there are six specific skill domains when it comes to leadership: task, emotinoal, social, identity level, meta-monitoring, value orientation. So this is interesting…do you think that the leader needs to show expertise in each of the six domains outlined by Lord & Hall? Seems like a tall order, but perhaps that’s is truly being asked of a man or woman who has chosen to take on a formal or informal leadership role. What do you think? It’s an amazing conversation…

Four Stages of Competence

September 30th, 2012

I have been reading a lot about models of learning, expertise and how individuals learn. I really enjoy this simple model of skill development. Developed by Noel Burch an employee of the consulting firm, Gordon Training International the model suggests that there are four stages of learning.

In the first stage, unconsciously unskilled, an individual is unaware of what they need to learn in a particular domain. In other words, “they do not know, what they do not know.” In this stage an individual may behave or act in a way that undermines their objective or impedes success simply because they lack the needed knowledge, skills or abilities to succeed.

In the second stage, consciously unskilled, an individual becomes aware of their inability to succeed in a particular task or skill.  In other words, they observe themselves lacking the knowledge, skills or abilities to succeed. This may be accompanied by a heightened understanding of just how far one has to go to reach success in a particular domain.

The consciously skilled phase is marked by practice, trial/error and experimentation. The individual knows “how to do the skill the right way, but need(s) to think and work hard to do it” (Adams, 2012, para. 10).

The final stage is unconsciously skilled and after continual practice and success the leaner no longer needs to expend the same level of energy on the task as in previous stages. The skill or ability is more or less automatic and even “natural” according to Adams (2012).

So how does all of this apply to leadership development? I think there are a number of connections that can and should be made. For instance, it helps program architects get into the mindset that in “leadership development” we are trying to develop skill vs. simply promote conceptual understanding which tends to dominate leader development programs. Rarely does someone leave a program knowing that they have truly developed in their skill to lead others. Could you sit in a classroom and talk about soccer for three days and expect great players at the conclusion? They may know more, but are they better at playing?

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