Sunday, September 07, 2008

ban "leadership"

This post by Bob Sutton chimed with some of my own thoughts. "Leadership" is a term much bandied about - and unhelpful. "Leader" is of some use but should be handled with care. "Leading" is fine.

There are people who lead others sometimes. They go somewhere (literally or metaphorically) and other people go with them. They are leading. The moment those people stop following them, they are no longer leading. And remember, they have to be going somewhere - otherwise that's "staying in one place" not "leading". Staying in one place is not necessarily a bad thing altho it doesn't have the same ring to it and probably won't get you laid: "Hi - I'm a leader stayinoneplacer."

Why am I being so picky? Well I think there are several things wrong with the industry that has grown up around leadership:
  • It focuses on "being a leader" rather than "leading" and hence deals with characteristics & qualities rather than actions. Thinking that training courses & seminars will help you lead others more than actually, y'know, trying some leading is misplaced.
  • It focuses on the individual (allegedly) doing the leading rather than the mass of people moving a direction (or more often several related directions). This allows the majority of us to disown our responsibility to lead ourselves: "I can't do this, I'm not the leader".

So what do I propose instead?

  • If you want to be a leader then try some actual leading. Head off somewhere and see who comes with you. It needn't be somewhere hard to get to. If no one will come then ask them why. They may have some good reasons.
  • The rest of us need to recognise that everyone's a leader. "It's not my responsibility" isn't really a good enough answer, ever. One day I may even live up to this.

Friday, September 05, 2008


The commercial arm of EngineerswithoutFears continue their punishing publishing schedule.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

making stuff happen if your thang is professional

The prompter behind the previous online post was some thinking around online communities with a corporate -> consumer focus (which is more about knowledge gathering). This post has been triggered by some conversations I've been having with different groups with more of a professional flavour - i.e. how do you nurture communities in a nascent professional group (either within an organisation or outside it)? This is more about knowledge dissemination.

I'm afraid there's another 2x2 matrix here but bear with me. It assumes that knowledge is unevenly distributed - there are experts and newbies. But it also assumes that even those with only some knowledge can help each other.
  1. You probably need to start with some face-to-face (or coaching-intensive online) training - a mix of presentations & activities that use a "trad" learning approach. This is be demanding of time but relatively focused.
  2. A website (with a blog, podcasts & videos) is helpful here. In effect this is your online broadcast system. This will require the building of content.
  3. Once those newbies are up and running, they need to support each other. Something online helps here (esp. if people aren't co located). It may be a discussion board, an email list, a wiki or even a community tool like Ning. This will require facilitation.
  4. Those newbies need to meet F2F occasionally to share what they have learned (both good & bad). This should take the form of an unconference like BarCamp - or some similar participatory approach.
Participants start on the left as learners. Then move to the right as colleagues then spread back across to the left as experts, colleagues and still learners (because ultimately we all remain learners).

The trick is to get these different activities to reinforce each other in a positive feedback loop. Trad education has been good at 1. eLearning made a stab at 2. But those charged with making people smarter need to get their heads around all four to be effective.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

online communities - everybody's gotta thang

After this post, I've been thinking about online consumer communities. I was working on something very, very complicated and then realised that the first thing I had to write was actually very simple.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

the whole truth and

So I was thinking about the relationship between fact & fiction in relation to storytelling and some observations came to mind.

1. Fact & fiction are agreements. A story both teller and listener believe to be true could be labelled "fact" and one both agree is untrue could be "fiction". However those are not the only possibilities. A story the listener believes to be true but not believed to be so by the teller would probably be labelled a "lie" by a 3rd party. And the reverse might be labelled a "error" (or a delusion at worst). 2. In most social situations there is no 3rd party umpire of truth & falsity. And agreement on "fact" and "fiction" can be murky esp. when talking about interpretations and motivations. We end up negotiating a lot of this stuff.

3. The belief of a listener or teller in the story is not always constant. As a teller I might distort events for any number of reasons both innocuous (e.g. compressing events to make the story easier to follow) or self-serving (to influence the listener). As listener I constantly revise my belief of the story - esp. if I don't know the teller well or doubt their reliability.

I'd like to do an experiment where a story is told over the phone with teller and listener being able to control a slider with "totally true" at one end and "totally false" at the other. The result would be a pattern drawn on the above matrix (with a time component - you might show that with a gradual change in colour from start to end).

I wonder what the patterns would look like?

presentation station

So after Louise Mahler's sesh last night, I believe I ended up ranting about the 3 things that people need to do to become better presenters (because there are too many bad presentations that happen every day and life is too short to endure them).
  1. Learn how to tell a story. A beginning. A middle. And an end. Pick up a book like this. Watch some movies. Read some books. Listen to experiences that other people tell you that stick with you. Try putting together a story of your own. Then cut out the bits you don't think you need. Then cut it back some more. What is the fewest number of words you need to tell your story? Can any word you add justify its place?
  2. Learn how to tell a story with pictures. This book and this one and maybe this one. Learn to paint. Or doodle a lot. Or try getting busy with the camera. Try to tell a story using only pictures. I dare you.
  3. Learn how to be in front of others. Now that you only have a few words and a few pictures - what is there left? There's you. Hear your voice. Raise your gaze. Feel yourself inside your body. Get up on a stage and do something unrelated with your work - acting, dance, comedy, stripping, it doesn't matter.

And when you've done all this, you'll probably rock (but you'll rock as yourself).

I am annoyed that so much of our education focuses on the analytic side of things & not this stuff. This shouldn't be hard but we seem to make it hard for ourselves. Go figure.


As much as McKinsey might bug me, they have an enviable access to senior execs and do churn out useful surveys. This one on organisational change is similar to their Web 2.0 number in that it kicks off with the bleedin’ obvious:

  • Transformations with well defined targets tend to do better than those without.
  • Having visible involvement from top people is important.
  • Focusing on the positive as well we the negative (go positive deviants!)*

The final point is that organisations need to engage with their people in a bunch of different ways – incl. the use of narrative (in there above performance targets & incentives). I also like it that role modelling comes out at number four. At 7 pages it is way too long - compile it down into a single page that you can stick (framed or otherwise) on your CEO's door.

*Interestingly, it seems that it helps if you have a roughly equal mix of emphasising problems and successes – so think on that appreciative inquiry.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

make some noise

The Sound of Leadership wasn't a promising title but the session run by Louise Mahler with the Creative Leadership Forum last night was excellent. Favourite exercise: The importance of pelvic thrusts in vocal delivery. Favourite fact: The reason behind the epidemic of vocal chord nodules among telephone sex workers.

intelligence test

We have emotional intelligence and then social intelligence, political intelligence, narrative intelligence and last night I heard about vocal intelligence. I like the idea of expanding our understanding of abilities to include more than just the mathematical or logical - as Howard Gardner has explored. However I'm getting a bit tired of hearing about "xxx intelligence". I'm not completely sure why but it's starting to feel overused - even cliched. It's in danger of taking a bunch of stuff that people do (and do well or poorly at different times in their lives) and making it mysterious.

The problem with the original Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is that it reified (& unified) something that might not be one simple thing (I find the Flynn Effect fascinating). These other intelligences could broaden out the notion of what it means to be an effective human being OR they could just be marketing labels that obscure more than they illuminate.

What next "blogging intelligence", "eating intelligence", "gardening intelligence"?