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It all starts with a conversation - Leadership

two people discussing leadership with launch center inc. and info from the site launchcenter.ca


Oh no, somebody copied my idea! ...

"Wait a second that might be a bit arrogant. Much more likely, they thought of it first".

"Well, whatever, it has been published already, drat!"

"Stopped before I got off the ground.... (sigh)"

"There it is, right in one of my favourite magazines,"

Harvard Business Review, Leadership is a conversation, written by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind.

I have been thinking about this topic and the idea of a site for a long time.

Let me step back, and explain....

I love business, and I am involved in it a lot. While revenue and results are key, I am also fascinated by the notion of human performance as it relates to psychology and how we can improve performance through the working environment. Human performance in business is a full and broad topic with a lot of items that impact it. Some of the tangents I find interesting are creativity and innovation, use of technology, tools and process to increase performance, and how it is affected by culture, the list is long. The big one is how does leadership change performance on an individual and group level. Fascinating stuff. If I look at the bio of my career, I understand how I got to this place. In reality, I have been pursuing this topic for a long time and have learned a lot on the journey. 

A couple of things led to this initiative now. The simple one is the number of conversations about lousy leadership. Just about any gathering of people at some point will lead to a discussion about work and then about leadership or "the awful boss." Being in the consulting business and seeing a lot of small or mid-size companies, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of lacklustre leadership stories. Turn the conversation to large companies and the viewpoint does not improve much. If you poll a significant amount of the working world, the people that talk about well-led departments, divisions or companies, and you will find the results are small. The science supports this with national levels of engagement being less than 35% in most organizations, that is abysmal. What is more interesting is the conversation around why is that? It seems like genuine leaders are like a unicorns, people talk about them, but haven't seen one. Leadership appears to be like a black box, and nobody knows how it works. A lot of the prevailing thought is there are "good leaders", and there are "bad ones", "you are a born leader, or not. That is how it works". Not a lot of conversation on the training of leadership.

Ok, so how do we pick our leaders? Let's look at that. It seems that most times we take somebody that is good at being in an individual contributor role and we move them into leadership. Or the person that had the great idea for the product is now running the division or sometimes the new company. When you step back from that thought and look at it, that is a minimal selection process that has almost no connection to leadership other than maybe they are "driven individuals" by nature. So how do we train them to transition to this role? Well, in most cases we don't, interesting? So how do we handle training in companies? After significant research in a number of organizations, it points to the fact that leadership training is minimal, and seldom a strategic plan. "We hire good leaders" is often the answer.... really? How is that working for you? Hit or miss it seems, no common language amongst team members. No systems or well executed cultural norms that team members understand. Little or no continuity on the actual values and culture of the organization. In most cases, we have some level of non-strategic HR led initiatives that are ad-hoc day training events with little or no senior leadership buy-in, which are at best, measured some time later, on how much people remembered the course. To make matters worse, a number of recognised poor leaders get promoted up the ranks to get them out of the present situation. Yikes!

After research into what makes for good leadership, it is not hard to find out some of the attributes; communication, a good coach, skilled at strategic thinking, builds good teams, lots of energy, empathetic, emotionally intelligent, creative problem solver, the list is long. Ok, it looks like there are a lot of moving parts to leadership. In fact, there are an awful lot of moving parts, and depending on what stage the company is at, the recipe can be different. So how does the system as it stands, make any inroads?

I am making some sweeping generalizations here, but this is the reality for most companies. And it is not hard to understand how we got here. Often the pressure in,  quarterly led public companies, pushes for short-term focus on results and not on the culture or infrastructure that will deliver results for them in the long term. It feels like an unnecessary "extra" that falls by the wayside. It's that "touchy-feely stuff" that "might be a nice to have, but we have to deliver revenue now!". Startups and early-stage companies have an equal amount of pressure for short-term performance and often little or no skilled strategic HR resources or seasoned leadership to break this cycle. The impact of this on a financial level is huge. Then add the stress on the human capital in a business and the numbers skyrocket. Poor onboarding, good people leaving, lack of engagement, lack of innovation, wasted cycles, It is an astronomical toll.  Unless you have worked for a long time in a very "leadership aware" company for more than a few years, you are not exposed to true productive leadership. Looking at the market as a whole and it feels like a lost art. If you take courses and read a lot, it will help you, but it is hard to find "actionable" skills to use. Leadership books tend to talk at a high theoretical level or concepts. They are good, but it is a lot of reading and time. Getting your arms around the whole task of leadership is hard. Especially when the destination is not well described. 

I can see how we got to the place in corporate America that we are in today. It is a "catch 22". How to do we break out of this loop?

When I think about the beginning of any memorable projects I have been involved with, it had a few consistent items that led to its success. It had a collection of some good people; it had a goal everybody believed in, the environment was one of trust, and you could freely exchange ideas without persecution. It also usually involved some level of prototyping, and it was reiterative.

These good projects always "started with a conversation." 

So I thought great! Let's start that conversation, then lets set up a site and a forum that talks about the concept of leadership. It could be a collection of ideas and best of class processes that are known. It could have an aggregated list of business books and websites that help with the mission of being a leader. Given that we are in a time-strapped world these days it could have some simple things like quotes to give us a spark of energy and use in our messaging to our teams. Have a bit more time? Go to one of the TED Talk links to gain some insight. In the mobile-based world, it would be great if it had bite-sized information "skill set training" in the form of videos, that you could watch anywhere, anytime, on any device. "Launch codes" to help you with your day to day job of leadership and managing. It would help define the language and concepts of leadership to all involved and be a resource for any leadership role, to go to in a trusted environment. Be you a CEO of a large corporation, a VP of a division, a leader of a startup or you are hoping to move to a leadership position and would like to learn more.

"Yes, that would be a noble goal building a site like that!"

"Ok, so that has been my thought, but when I did research, I came across this article, in HBR about the "leadership conversation." 

"Read the article; you are starting to make excuses....yes good idea."

Ok, as always a very informative HBR article. Well researched and well written about how leadership should move from a "command and control" world and move to "leadership conversations" with their people. That notion makes sense. Some useful tips and I like how they have broken up the discussion into four parts; intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality, and give some examples. A good read... An article for leaders on how to have a conversation with their people. One useful little piece to the whole puzzle. .... Interesting.

"Hey, but this is not what I am thinking about?"

"The conversation I want to start it the one about leadership itself!"

I want to talk about the puzzle of being a leader. I want to start the notion of leaders having vulnerable conversations with their people about what leadership is and how do they create the environment for real creativity, innovation, learning, and the results and performance that come with it. I want teams to be involved in that conversation. That's the conversations I want to start! 

"Ok then, hmm, this feels kind of vulnerable, and not sure if I can make it "perfect" starting off." (inner critic speaking here). I bet if I got more people involved with this project and we had a community that believed in the power of great leadership and progressive cultures that drive true performance we could build something worthwhile. It will probably go through a few reiterations mind you, but then all great outcomes do ... What is stopping you now?....Go for it!  Do it! ....  :-) 

Ok then....

Welcome to our site. This is the first step. Please join me on this journey. It will be interesting. Sign up now, and we will send you a wonderful quote about real work life that is inspiring. Put it in your office and let's start working towards the goal, whether you are an employee working in an environment that provides that feeling or you are a leader encouraging it in your team. Let's make a difference. 

Welcome, Kevin

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