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From OnlineDegree.Net – 100 Blog Posts That Will Make You A Better Leader.

Good smattering of writing. Check it out!

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I was one of 5.1 million people who lost their jobs since last December, a victim of a slowing economy and customers unwilling to commit to large project expenditures. Obviously, with that many layoffs happening, axe-pink-slipmy situation wasn’t unique. I’ve been through many layoffs in my career, both as the manager doing the layoffs (the worst experience as a manager), as well as the one on the other side of the desk.

There were about thirty of us getting the pink slip at my former company. One of my peers there started a website blog about her experience at www.mylayoffstory.com. It got picked up by a reporter from Forbes.com and she was interviewed in a story there.

If you know someone that has been laid off (and you probably do), think about ways to help them. Here are a few suggestions from the different perspectives.

As the manager of the person just laid off: In addition to the Human Resources “scripting” you are given, be honest. Let them know your feelings. Ask if it’s OK to keep in touch with them. If you really believe the person is a good worker, offer a to be a reference. Follow up a few weeks later to check in and say hello.

As a co-worker of the person just laid off: Offer sympathy. Offer to listen. Offer to buy them a beer. In my case, I got home and already had a LinkedIn.com recommendation waiting for me by one of my co-workers. It was unexpected and very welcome. Send them an e-mail or make a phone call a few days later and ask if there is anything you can do. I received messages from some folks expressing shock and even guilt about the situation. It’s not only the person going home that’s affected.

As a friend, family member, or other acquaintance of the person just laid off: Invite them to meet your other friends and help them expand their network. Invite them to lunch. Don’t focus on the negative (the layoff), but just be there to offer support.

I have never been busier with all of my unexpected “vacation” time. For one thing, I was able to focus on the Leadership In Action group, which has been very fulfilling for me. I have enjoyed meeting many new people and hearing their own leadership stories. I look forward to much more.

And my own good news, I’m starting a new job on Monday. Thank you all for the tremendous support. I hope I can keep the good Karma going.

What’s your story?

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In his book The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra outlines six basic principles of ecology. He considers these principles critical to the creation of sustainable human communities. The organizing principles of ecosystems, according to Capra, must be the foundation upon which our educational, business, and political communities are built. He goes as far as to say that “the survival of humanity will depend … on our ability to understand these principles of ecology and live accordingly.” The basic principles include interdependence, recycling, partnership, flexibility, diversity, and sustainability. I will examine the relevance of each of these principles to leadership in a series of blog entries.

The first characteristic of ecosystems Capra identifies is interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected to form a network of relationships. Each individual’s identity is derived from the pattern of relationships within the network. The behavior of every member within the system is shaped by the behavior of other members. The success of the whole community is dependent upon the actions of the individuals within the system. Each individual’s success is dependent upon the effectiveness of the entire community. This makes an understanding of relationships the key to understanding systems.

Relationships involve patterns of interactions. Relationships cannot be understood by studying each individual in the relationship separately. To separate the parts destroys the pattern. You kill an organism when you disrupt its life-giving patterns by dissecting it. This is why it is fruitless to attempt to understand leadership by focusing on its individual components. You cannot improve leadership by training a designated leader without considering the relationships and context within which that individual must perform. The leadership response will differ as circumstances change.

Leadership of a group is destroyed when the components of leader, followers, and context are separated. Leadership is not improved by trying to analyze its different components. Analysis is taking something apart in order to understand it. Systems cannot be understood by isolating their parts. Systems thinking is holistic. It looks at the entirety. Systems thinking shifts attention from the parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from content to patterns.

A systems perspective puts relationships within a network pattern. The relationships within a network are nonlinear. This means that a disturbance within a system will not have a single effect but will ripple out impacting many parts of the system, much like the effect a stone has when thrown into the middle of a pond. This is why a slight disturbance within a system can have far reaching effects. This constitutes the power of the leadership response. By altering your response to others or the environment, you can have a significant impact upon the leadership of the group.

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In a previous blog entry I wrote of the ecology of leadership. Ecology refers to the relationships of organisms among themselves and to the environment. Leadership may be viewed as an ecological system involving the interaction of humans with each other and the environment. If leadership is an ecosystem, it will then adhere to the principles of living systems.

Living systems are the natural order of life. Living beings link together. Connections lead to patterns of behavior. The relationships that emerge form the environment in which the life forms interact. The environment formed likewise shapes the relationships between the organisms. It is a cyclical rather than a linear process.

To illustrate the difference between a cyclical and linear perspective, let us consider the food chain. A simple linear model would have plants eaten by herbivores, herbivores eaten by carnivores. Smaller animals are eaten by larger, stronger, or smarter animals. In a linear or hierarchical model, we
would put ourselves at the top of the food chain.

But what if we look at the feeding process cyclically? Animals eat plants. Animals die and become fertilizer for plants. Plants give us oxygen, we give them carbon dioxide. Are plants here to serve us or do we exist to serve plants? We consider ourselves as superior. When we die, however, our bodies become food for insects, microbes, and plants.

The linear and hierarchical models are usually applied when we consider leadership. We think of the leader as being out front with followers bringing up the rear or the leader occupying the summit of a pyramid with followers down below. A cyclical view of leadership gives us a much different perspective. Leader and follower become defined by each other. One is a leader because someone else chooses to follow. Being a follower implies someone else is leading. There is no leader without a follower. There is no follower unless someone is leading. The distinction between leader and follower becomes even fuzzier when we consider that we occupy both roles simultaneously. As a leader I take my lead from the followers. If I get too far out ahead of the followers or become disconnected with their motivations, they will choose not to follow and I am no longer a leader. As a follower, I lead by choosing who to follow. I can change who leads by
choosing someone different to follow. Who I choose to follow determines the direction the group shall take. For leadership to be successful, it must be exercised by both leader and follower. As with any living system, remove any part of the system and you kill it.

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What’s Your Plot?

It was an interesting evening. Many thanks to all of you for coming to the workshop last Wednesday evening, and special thanks to Kim Galle of Resource PI for showing us a great analysis tool. We were each provided with our Predicative Index results, which plotted our behaviors and tendencies based on the brief survey we took online. There were four areas of focus on the PI plot:

  • Dominance
  • Extroversion
  • Patience
  • Formality

The results are plotted along three dimensions – how I am, how I think I need to be, and my synthesis of the two – which is how we appear to others.

My own personal PI Results were not surprising. I have stronger dominance and extroversion characteristics, but it’s the combination of the areas that really tell the story. Kim handed out a sheet that showed our “Behavioral Assets” based on our results. Those assets were interpreted from both a Leading and Managing perspective. Mine showed leadership attributes such as a seeker of understanding, trusting, enthusiastic, and extroverted with people (which actually was surprising – but something I’ve learned in careers that require it). I have a strong future focus, with a “nothing is impossible” outlook.

Sounds good until you flip to the managing side. Although I have strong vision-oriented personality, actually getting the little details done to achieve that vision is not as natural. I’ve learned how to do the details over the course of my career, but as Kim pointed out, those “learned” things tend to drain our energy. That makes it even more important for me to find team members who offset my weaknesses with their strengths.

By the way, if you haven’t read Marcus Buckingham’s Now, Discover Your Strengths, then by all means check it out. Together with the PI, you can have a good overall picture of the job that is most suited for you.

How about you? What did you think? Kim took a lot of questions after the meeting. The meeting satisfaction surveys were very positive, so I’m sure you have something to say. Tell us all what you learned from the meeting, and any other comments you have.

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What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” That phrase was spoken by the prison captain (warden) to prisoner Luke in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. The captain had just knocked him down, both figuratively and 217px-cool_hand_luke_martinliterally. The captain was showing his superiority over Luke’s lowly position as a prisoner, and serving as a warning to others on the chain gang that he was indeed the boss, and his instructions were to be followed without question.

Unfortunately, around businesses in America today, that attitude can be found in many bosses. And, just like that warden, communication failure is typically the reason for the failure of leadership. Fredrick Taylor’s principle in 1911 that “the workman who is best suited to actually doing the work is incapable of fully understanding the science,” is no longer the best management model. It lacks the essential communication and feedback processes. The American Heritage Dictionary defines communication as “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior.” Key to that definition is the word exchange, which implies a 2-way path.

But it’s not just a matter of crafting a clear message. That same message will be heard by different people in different ways. When I went from leading a team of technical professionals to leading a team of call center employees, I learned an important lesson of “situational leadership”. Many years later, I took a course with that subject by Ken Blanchard. Blanchard describes the relationship of the development level of the staff to the appropriate matching style of the leader.

The idea hit home with me. Leadership expectations must indeed be situational. For employees who were at the beginning of their career, much more direction and mentoring must be given, compared to those who have experience and knowledge of their craft. In addition, the ability to identify where a person was in relation to their career was a skill that is more than just a review of their resume of work. Having effective one-on-one meetings with direct reports is an important activity toward understanding the individual’s progress and building a trusting relationship. Early in their career, a more directional approach is required. As the staff member matures in their responsibilities, the transition to more of a coaching model is preferred as they learn to handle the responsibility delegated to them.

I think that excellent communication skills, including both speaking and listening, are the most important proficiency that a manager needs. Communication is always better received when coming from a person with whom you have a relationship. Using that skill effectively will help achieve personal and professional satisfaction, and will most likely propel a qualified manager to a higher level of career growth.

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Ever notice that once something enters into your awareness you see it everywhere. You decide on the model automobile you want to buy and you begin seeing numerous drivers on the road driving that same model. You purchase a new laptop computer and suddenly become conscious of how many others at the airport have the same brand.

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My passion is leadership. As a result of my heightened awareness on the subject, I glean lessons about leadership from all aspects of life. That is why I enjoy books that open my eyes to how a seemingly unrelated subject can provide me with lessons about leadership. Such a book I have recently read is Leadership Texas Hold ‘Em Style by Andrew J. Harvey and Raymond E. Foster. The authors describe leadership lessons to be learned through the game of poker. I had fun learning something about the intricacies of card playing. What surprised me, though, was what can be learned about leadership from a game of cards. The authors do not belabor the analogy between cards and leadership. Instead, they use poker as a lead-in to the skills of leading. This book is no fluff piece. Both authors have had long careers in law enforcement and higher education. From their own leadership experiences and studies, they describe in detail the many skills required of leaders. What I found different about this book is that while many books describe what leaders need to do, in this book the authors explain how to do it. I recommend this book.

I also recommend you notice the leadership lessons all around you in the things important to you. I enjoy nature, drumming, cooking, exercising, reading. Each of these interests has taught me how to be a better leader. I have even incorporated these interests in my leadership work with students and clients. Allow the world to be your teacher. You will discover that lessons are everywhere.

What are your sources for learning about leadership?

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