Leadership from #Ford: Remember your roots . . Look to the future

As we looked out over the Ford complex they affectionately call The Rouge, my daughter said “It is really cool how they are committed to the environment and creating such a nice place to work”.  My comment back was “Yeah, but remember how dirty and polluted this place used to be.  They ruined air and water for a long time.”  Her response, “But it looks good today.”

We toured the Ford complex in Detroit where they make the F-150 truck, and there is a lots there to talk about.  Ford does a great job sharing the real history (including beating of union organizers) and painting a vision for why this facility means so much to the company and the people.  It is also amazing to watch people build a great product in an extremely clean and nice environment.  Worth the time if you are in Detroit. We live in a knowledge economy, but I still get the chills watching people assembling a physical product.

My big take-away from the tour is how both my daughter and I heard the same message, saw the same things, but initially had a different perspective.  I wanted to make sure she saw the past and she wanted me to see the present and future.  Who is right?

Knowing and acknowledging the past is important.  George Santayana once said Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  It provides context for decisions today and gives us a strong Why for current direction.  People need leaders willing to talk about history.

Living the in past is a problem.  Constantly reminding people of past sins as a form of punishment or reason for not believing in a future vision is being a bad follower.

Leaders, acknowledge the past and challenge yourself and others not to live in it.  Followers – ditto.  Many thanks to my daughter for reminding me of that.

Rotten Apple or Rotten Barrel?

A friend shared the following question:

When someone is not performing well, is it because they are a rotten apple or do they work in a rotten barrel?

I have a couple of core beliefs about people:

  1. Everyone has a place where they can be great and have a huge impact on the world around them.
  2. Not everyone is ready or able to have an impact in their current place (barriers are real and do happen – low self esteem, addiction, too much life happening at once, etc.).
  3. Huge Impact takes combination of talents, passions, and rewards (being fed by your work).
  4. Huge Impact does not come solely through a career/job.

Sticking with my friends terminology . . . A rotten apple is someone in a place where they are asked to perform at a level that is beyond them at this time.  Lots of reasons (see #2 above) and it is easy to slap a label on them.  I struggle with the term rotten apple.  I prefer to describe and treat them as a good person in a tough spot.

I challenge followers to always be working on awareness of self, have the courage to share it with their leaders, and to remember their ownership of performance.  Some times it is too easy to slip into the rotten barrel excuse.

I challenge leaders to ask the question of themselves, Is this a rotten apple or have I created a rotten barrel?  It is a difficult question to ask,  but if you want your people to ask themselves the rotten apple question, then you need to go first.

Great Followership is a Choice – Why It Matters . . .

I live in Michigan, and if you have read anything about the economy you know we are close to last when states are ranked in terms of economic health.  We have a long journey in front of us.  As we wait for a new governor to start and demand for new/old products to grow I cannot help but think that I am tired of waiting.  Really, what am I waiting for?  We often look to leaders to fix things or make things better, waiting for the right rallying cry or piece of legislation.  In waiting, we make a choice to let someone else figure things out.

Sometimes it is important to recognize what we have many things to be thankful for, and then make the choice to make it better.  I believe this is one of those times.  Here are a few illustrations of  what I mean.

  • A sunny day is a gift.  Going outside to enjoy it is a choice.
  • Children are a gift.   Putting your paper down to listen to them is a choice.
  • Having a job is a gift.  Getting enjoyment and fulfillment from that job is a choice.
  • Having people around you to help you find a job is a gift.  Preparing for the interview and being confident in who you are is a choice.
  • Having a great boss is a gift.  Trusting and supporting that boss is a choice.
  • Being asked your opinion by the CEO is a gift.  Giving a truthful answer is a choice.
  • Your talents are a gift.  Choosing a path/role/project to share those talents is a choice.
  • A paycheck is a gift.  Choosing to smile when you open it is a choice.

The election is over, but we should not wait for new leaders to improve our outlook and get things moving.  As followers, we have a choice.  The ironic thing about becoming a great follower – if we do it really well we end up being leaders.

Mastery – One of keys to success! Part 3 of 3

Mastery is “available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it-regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.”   These are the words of George Leonard in a book he wrote called Mastery.  This is not a new book.  My copy was printed in 1992 and looks/feels like it has been on the journey that the author describes.

This predates the 10,000 hour discussion I presented (see past blog), but reminds us that committing to Mastery is really about getting on a path and staying there for a lifetime.  For achieving Mastery is not about the destination, but the journey to get there.  The author provides many vivid images of the journey, from sports analogies around tennis to illustrations using the martial art of aikido.  If you are interested in a rich exploration of the topic, read the book.  But let me share a couple of parts that stuck with me.

A significant point was around our view of practice.  Practice if often viewed as a verb, but as it relates to Mastery it is best viewed as a noun.  The author points out the Chinese word tao and the Japanese word do – both of which mean road or path.  So achieving Mastery is about practice (remember 10,000 hours).  Practice is a journey on which you embark.

Leonard also shares his five keys to Mastery, which are:

  • Instruction
  • Practice
  • Surrender
  • Intentionality
  • The Edge

So what can you do as a leader to increase Mastery?

First, your performance management system has to promote Mastery conversations.  These questions need to be addressed:

  • What Mastery is needed in a role? (defined and measured at some level yearly)
  • What Mastery is the individual interested in attaining? (their own career goals – integrated into what the organization needs)
  • How is the Mastery journey going?  (for you and for us)

Secondly, the ownership of the journey has to be made very clear.  It is up to the individual.  A leader/organization owns providing a target and the support and resources.  Ultimately, the decision to go on and stay on the journey is owned by the individual.  Do you agree with this?  Think of it this way, most leaders will not be around a person for five years, and keeping track of 5 or 10 or 30 different people is not realistic for any leader.  So if the individual owns the plan, the commitment of  the leader become to create the time to review it, provide feedback on their progress, and assist in removing barriers that might be encountered along the way. (ex. time, resources, skills)

So how does your organization promote the journey to Mastery?  How well are you leading this journey?

Mastery = 10,000 hours! Part 2 of 3

It is a big number.  10,000 hours translates into 5 years of doing something BEFORE you can be considered to have attained Mastery.  So where did this number come from and what does it mean to people trying to attain it and leaders who are trying to grow and retain people who have this?

First question – Where did this number come from? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he explores success and presents what he has found to be common themes to those who have achieved it.  One of his findings was that success might look overnight or based on talent, but a common theme is preparation (aka.  hours of work). He references a study of young musicians that examined who achieved the highest level of achievement vs those who became good.  The difference between average, above average, and excellence?  Hours of practice.  In the end, the number was 10,000 hours.  He also presented other anecdotal evidence of famous athletes, musicians, and business icons.  This is not his only point to success, but it is a significant one.

This 5 year number is one that I have also heard shared.  Studies have been done in the area of nursing that support that the length of time for a nurse to achieve the status of a clinical expert in a particular area is 5 years.  So if it is important for a nursing supervisor to also be a clinical expert, promoting them at 2 years or 3 years is a risk, especially if their team needs them to be an expert.  Mastery is about preparation.

Second question – What does it mean to people trying to attain Mastery and leaders who are trying to grow and retain  people who have this? Think about our society – microwaves, fast food, IM(now Twitter), Facebook (instant updates of life vs yearly Christmas cards), etc.  We do not like to wait for things.  When we do wait we do not wait very long.  So this number 10,000 hours seems like a looonnnnng time.

I was presenting to a group of nursing leaders one time and I said something that clicked with them because everyone went for their pencils and wrote it down.  I said “When you think about career development, imagine a crock pot, not a microwave.” I was shocked at their response, but this visual made them realize the time needed to grow expertise AND the commitment that it takes from all to achieve it.  Helping people achieve this takes a plan AND a commitment from a leader to revisit it and revise it every 6 – 12 months.

So what can be done with this number?   First, as an individual pick an area you want to achieve Mastery in and get to work.  A job, special projects, volunteering, reading each week, or whatever other way you can find to accumulate hours doing and learning.   Secondly, as a leader make a habit of asking questions of your people.

  • What is an area that you want to become an expert in?
  • What things do you want to learn or do over the next year?
  • How are you progressing  on the development goals we set for you last year?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • 

Mastery – A great goal and a significant goal!  Just don’t get frightened by the number.  Remember, when you are doing what you love time passes quickly.

Mastery – Does it matter? Part 1 of 3

All this talk of Mastery – Initial Thoughts . . .

I watched a 10 minute YouTube video from Daniel Pink and I was blown away.  He shares the portion of his book (DRIVE) that shares the research based finding that the knowledge worker is motivated by three main things:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

What caught my attention was the word Mastery, which has become a familiar word for me recently.  The dictionary defines it as the possession of a consummate skill or the full command of some subject of study.  Now it is being heralded as a key to motivation for many workers.  Is this a surprise?

As a father of four I have had several more experienced men tell me that adolescence is easier if your child finds what they are good at doing.  This makes sense, but I am surprised that suddenly, in the adult world, this becomes newsworthy.  This is not intended to be an attack on someone making money for stating the obvious, but a recognition that we should view these new lessons for what they are – a reminder that many of the things we have learned in life still apply.

So how does this change how we manage our careers?  How does this change how we lead?  If Mastery is about being good at something, what has the most recent recession done to motivation if people are in one of two states – overloaded doing the work of 1+ people or trying to look overloaded by keeping their head down and staying in constant motion doing something.

Whether your people are in either of these states, I would offer to leaders that the  first step is sitting down and starting some dialogue by asking “What % of your job do you enjoy and want to get better at doing?”.  Then come up with a plan for increasing that by 5% over the next month.   Mastery starts with focus – and focus starts with leadership, from the inside and the outside.  A leader has the chance to bring focus from the outside by helping to define some targets/goals for the individuals.   We all have a chance to build focus from the inside by trusting, relaxing, and working at resuming our journey to Mastery.  After all, it is our journey and it is important.  Pink reminds us of that.  Where are you on your journey to Mastery?

There is more to be said on this topic.  Watch Daniel Pink’s take on this at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc.