Thursday, 8 October 2009

Broader Horizons

Time and again I come across the need for people to be able to change the way they perceive problems/the world/themselves/organisations etc if they are to be able to lead change. Covey talks about uncovering your bias, de bono talks about the beautiful mind and then last night I was reading William Isaac's dialogue (again) and his thoughts on why we need to be able to suspend our thoughts and opinions to truly listen to others.

So I have little doubt the management and leadership literature is out there, but do we practice? What do you do that keeps you from closing down your world view? Do you spend enough time with others away from the familiar thoughts and ideas of your industry?

Take a look at this video and see if it gets you thinking? It's part of our new campaign to have everyone do something small on the 10th October to broaden their horizons. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Open or closed V2

We get a lot of skepticism about our courses being under the Chatham House Rule (as well as a lot of support), yet getting any group of people to trust each other enough to share their mistakes and be open to really listening and not just posturing seems essential to me for any kind of personal development. I've been to too many open conferences where people are so busy telling others their opinions, or keeping up impressions about them, their job title or organisation and not really sharing, listening or learning anything. Is the internet and these kind of discussion changing that. Is there a new kind of openness emerging and better learning and collaboration as a result? If so what role do small groups, closed seminars or discussions have in the future?

Open or closed?

A leaders ability to learn lies in their ability to enter into true dialogue with others. But do you need a closed room (physical or otherwise) to create the environment for real dialogue?

This article from Seth Godin's blog puts a case for how a closed room generated a lot of discussion and energy...

A chance to join the online triiibe Five months ago, I built a social network on Ning. No ads, all free. I briefly opened it to the readers of this blog as a place to talk about leadership and connection. A few thousand people bought my book and signed up. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of posts and connections and stories. The plan was to run it as a closed community and then open it once we laid a foundation of connections and content. Well, the group that orginally homesteaded the site has agitated to keep it as a closed community. I can't disagree. In fact, the password-protected, non-anonymous nature of this community makes it work. People hesitate to spam or troll because they know they'll get kicked out and won't be able to return. They talk to one another with respect because it's really them, and they're really there. I've decided to let a few more people join in order to keep things fresh and growing. The only requirements:1. To be fair, you need to have purchased at least one copy of Tribes, just like everyone else there.and2. It's a promotion-free zone. If you attempt to sell things or sites or anything, we'll ask you to leave.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Add VideoI spent 4 weeks in South Africa in 1994 and was blown away by the optimism and this video brings it all back. There's a piece where Mandela stands up with a Springbok cap in front of a crowd of people. Sometimes leadership needs to be seen, not explained...

Friday, 31 July 2009

I've just blatantly copied the title from a discussion on Linkedin led by Kwai Yu, the founder of the Leaders Cafe Foundation. He's generated an amazing discussion on what courage is with his simple statement. My response is..

I think courage is as simple as my next action. Every time I take a step or action even along a trusted and well worn path, I am taking a risk. It may be the risk of doing the same, or the risk of the different. Both of them are unknown. I think courage is to be in the now and take the step that is in front of you in the moment.

When you search through yourself you can find what that action is going to be and then do it. I'm often in leadership discussions about Courage and again and again people are searching for big label items - like setting up a new business, running a marathon. It's when I ask people to recognise that feeling in the gut that we start to get to the bottom of courage.

It gets personal and about small actions. I wasn't sure about writing blogs and taking part in online discussions. I was worried I'm taking my eye of my other work - it's a constant pressue now I've started to embrace different forms of social media, yet it's paying dividends already (in terms of my motivation and connections) and it feels right.

At Common Purpose we insist courage is explored as a theme on all of our leadership programmes and I've just spent this week reviewing what we mean by it, this discussion board has enriched it no end..... :-)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

What's it all about?

Since I started this blog I haven't tried to explain it at all, what it's about or why I'm doing it. I think partly because it explains itself in what I'm writing, and partly because I'm finding out what it's about as I write.

Initially I wanted to write and wasn't very interested in other people reading it (I still feel that way quite a bit). But because, due to my job I'm always discussing leadership, listening to people talk about leadership and reading about leadership and so on, my head is full of reflections I want to get more organised. More patterns started to emerge as the idea of Leading Beyond Authority began to emerge for us at work (Common Purpose) and in turn I had the job of trying to design our courses to more purposefully bring this alive and to explain it to our staff.

Verbally I found this not too much of a challenge. I knew what we were getting at, and when people share their stories with me I found it relatively easy to bring the concept alive and differentiate what fits and what doesn't (at least within very amorphous boundaries). Starting to write about it has been a whole different journey. Not least because Common Purpose is quite a young and small organisation and hasn't had the resources or luxury to write about the work we do, we've been too busy doing it.

So now I find myself using this blog more to share reflections on leading beyond authority and trying to link it in to other concepts of leadership, and see how it is described in other words, models and ideas about leadership. I'd love to hear from you, about where you find similarities about what I'm saying with your experiences of leadership, your ideas, and other leadership frameworks or models you've been working with. Happy reading. Ollie

inherent conflict

I love the idea of inherent conflict (positive) in all leadership decisions and styles. The idea there isn’t and can’t be one way. It’s refreshingly different to the proposition that there are a set of learned behaviours that can be applied.

Twenty years ago a friend gave me the Tao Of Leadership. By reading it again and again I got more used to the idea that it’s ok to approach tough issues in apparently contradictory ways. Sometimes being tough and resilient and at other times letting go. Leaders I come across though find this extremely difficult.

They want to reduce things to a solution, to take the behaviours they have just used and apply them to the next scenario. Instead take time to consider the role of being patient, being determined, to see what is happening. The nature of change means it is already happening, it’s something beyond you that you are also part of. You need to see what’s driving it, notice how you are interacting with it and from all these signals then decide on where you act. Do things in this way and you may help things evolve quicker. Act against what is happening and you’ll be tough when you should have been soft and vice versa.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The importance of passion

Came across Ethans latest post about the lessons of leaderhip in surfing and how can you cope with the feelings of learning, the highs and lows, the excitement and depression, yet find it so much harder in other aspects of life. I think it seems so often to come down to passion. If you don't care about something enough you don't register the benefits, or have enough aspiration to want to go the extra mile when the tough times call.

It's often stated that leaders need to keep their eyes on the hills and their feet on the ground. This for me is one of the hardest leadership lessons. People love this phrase, but spend too little time identify what the hill is, what it is about looking up and around that inspires them. So then when they have their feet on the ground they find it hard to call on the inspiration they need.

I was speaking with my colleague in our Frankfurt office today and she spoke of why it's so important that our leadership programmes force people out of their offices once per month. That's exactly what they need to develop as a discipline. One of their participants from a major bank complained about this format until half way through the programme when he confessed he now realised he had been resisting spending time on what he needed most - time out to think about his destination, about what he cared for and to reconnect with his inspiration. Learning this discipline became his major benefit from the programme. It leaves me wondering why this is so underestimated, and helps me understand why Ethan is so willing to go through so much for his surfing and not so willing to put up with London tubes. For more on this take a look at what HBR have to say about reawakening passion, it seems we aren't alone in thinking it's dangerous to live without it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Passion not position

“A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”
John Maxwell

Just came across this quote on Rob Watts blog and thought it reflected something we struggle to communicate about leading beyond authority. Maybe we use the wrong phrase to express the challenges of leading without being able to rely on the power and influence that comes from your position. From people who've been on our programme and the hundreds of people who come and speak, join in the conversations about community change and leadership with us, we always come across the fact that leadership is often the challenge we face when we can't tell people what to do, or motivate them by the next pay cheque or possible promotion.

As so much of our training and education prepares us for working in a hierachy where we get our power through position, expertise and qualifications we aren't well prepared to solve problems and create change that doesn't fit this model. It's here where passion starts to make a difference. It can keep us going when it seems things are taking a long time, it helps us be more resilient when things don't go the way we want them and above all this it can be infectious and encourage others to follow us and to work with us.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Intentional Influence

Great article that is direct about the need to influence with intent if you want to lead. We can go round in circles looking at leadership models and reflecting on what strategy to adopt. Without the power, ability and intent to influence it's very hard to lead anything.

We've spent over 20 years at Common Purpose, as a non-profit helping people lead change, and a few years ago we settled on a persons ability to lead beyond authority as the key thing. At it's heart it means understanding how to influence without reverting to your position of power.

The thing I would add though is that you can't influence effectively without resetting your radar. You have to see and understand what people and organisations very different to you, and your training, are thinking.

For more see with a note from David Bell - Chair of the FT

Friday, 12 June 2009

The problem with labels

I've just been reading a piece by Mike Chitty on how we need to create more enterprising citizens and schools shouldn't restrict enterprise education to creating more entrepreneurs. The same often happens to those of us working in leadership education. Many people assume it is only about creating a distinct group of leaders who will take up positions of authority e.g. chief of police, senior partner, chief executive etc, but for us it's almost the opposite. It's about creating people who can lead from wherever they are, regardless of position, or hierachical power.

We need more people who feel they can act to make a difference and aren't only a passive part of a wider organisation or community. May Blood is a great example of this. Prior to taking part in our leadership programme she said 'In Northern Ireland, but perhaps everywhere, community entrepreneurs are not taken seriously, especially if they are women. I knew I had a serious contribution to make but I knew I would be treated as a poor relation'. It turned out well for her and she is now a Baroness!

For me it's all about helping people create change and I don't worry about the labels. Can't we stop people trying to say it's not for me, and get them to look past the titles of entrepreneurs or leaders?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Alan Sugar appoints on instinct

Alan sugar appointed his new apprentice on instinct. Does he have a gift or was there more to it?

Instinct and intuition play a huge part in leadership, but they can also be your downfall. In a position of authority Alan Sugar wasn't asked to justify his instinct. He didn't need to produce a scorecard for his interviews or explain his decision to his boss, and he wasn't about to lose followers, not when he was the one paying them. However most of us are more likely to be in the position of Lorraine, the contestant who also liked to call on her intuition, yet faced the problem of getting others to take her seriously. Rather than try and explain why she had come up with certain ideas, why she thought a rug was valuable or why someone's approach wasn't going to work she merely said she could sense it.

This won't wash for those of us serious about making change. People won't listen or follow (at least not for long or without some other reason) without some attempt to provide an insight into, or an e explanation of your instinct.

Instinct and intuition aren't hidden or secret gifts. They are years of practice and experience in similar or related situations. It's just that we are more or less conscious of this experience, knowledge and practice, and it's our ability to understand this and explain it that will allow us to call on and make more use of our instinct. My guess is Lorraine, with more experience than others in business and in a rich and challenging life 'possessed' more instinct than others, but this didn't serve her well in her ability to lead her teams in the longer term.

On Common Purpose programmes participants are asked questions about why they acted in certain ways and this is the beginning of the process for them to start understanding how they make decisions. What often follows is a greater consciousness of knowledge and expertise they previously took for granted. They become more able to reveal strong logic and reasoning behind their decisions and start to link emotion and feeling to experiences.

I'm not saying we should stop making decisions on instinct or intuition, but if we want to create change then we need to be able to able to call on our instinct and not have it dismissed as a crazy 6th sense.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Permission or forgiveness?

I've just read Tribes by Seth Godin. A great read and the phrase that sticks with me is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It meant a lot to me because I've often used this when I've been asked to describe my own approach to leadership.

I've been accused of being careless in my approach to issues and change, but I think that's the point. I don't mean to be careless but if you are going to lead any change you have to first understand you are going to tread on toes, you are going to upset people. If you didn't it wouldn't be change. It's the very nature of leadership that you believe that something needs to change, you are passionate that an opportunity needs to be taken, or that you need to overcome a problem. Being a leader actually means caring, it means caring enough to take a journey, to overcome and work with the obstacles you are presented with.

To lead beyond authority you need to accept that you won't be able to get permission in advance. Once you do that and you start your journey to make something happen it will then all start to fall into place. The journey to this point though is what I think leadership development is all about. So then leaders accomplish their goals and they complete their journey, what are they then asking for forgiveness for? Is it for taking on the challenge and leading the change, or is it for upsetting a few apple carts along the way? I guess it depends on how well they led the change, and in turn this may be what affects whether they can build the natural authority to lead change a second time around....

Friday, 20 March 2009

Seeking Common Purpose

I have always thought finding a Common Purpose is an important part of leading change. This was brought home to me even more when I read Obama's Nowruz speech, and the Guardian commentary on it.

'Obama is reasoning that on first introductions, it pays to stick to what you have in common'.

In his speech Obama calls for a sense of partnership and highlights the need for a better future together.

I don't think the need for this search for Common Purpose needs to be restricted to world leaders. I think the lack of desire to find Common Purpose is at the heart of so many of our social and economic problems. There are so many different opinions, approaches and outlooks that we have to deal with if we are leading change, and this can a lot harder to get rid of than airline baggage, especially in the case of Iran and opinions over nuclear armament. But to be able and willing to get everyone around the negotiating table the first thing that is needed is a willingness to find a sense of Common Purpose.

I think this is something more than just vision. It has to be something that all parties see and often can only be achieved by creating it together. Obama's Nowruz speech is a step in this direction. It's a proposal for finding some Common Purpose that I hope will be enough for people involved to decide to come around the table for.

This Nowruz speech isn't a one off either, Obama has been calling for a renewed Common Purpose in many of his speeches. Will it be enough to make a difference?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Be inspired

I've come across two different descriptions of inspiration in my time as a facilitator and trainer. Firstly that it's about helping people to connect to something bigger than them. To see how things in their everyday life have more meaning, how they are part of a bigger picture. I can't count how many times I've seen this in action. People going to a local youth programme, spending time meeting people from other sectors, building a school in a rural village in Ghana, or working with young offendors. In all these situations people find more connections to others, to their wider environment and in doing so are able to make more sense of their world and what they do. This connection to something bigger is what inspires them to do something more, to take action, to make change happen.

This first description came from Ben Clayton-Jolly and what's reminded me about it is his new organisation inspiring life. Take a look and I think you'll see what I mean.

The second explanation I've come across is that it is literally breathing in, taking in oxygen, energy, breathing life into you. This one is harder to see, but exists in those moments when we take a step back, when we realise how tense we have been and we breathe again, slowly and with intent. We do so because something catches us - makes us look, see or do something differently. It is often a change of scenery, a visit to a new place, or a challenge we have come across.

I got this explanation from Paul Ogden, who has made me realise just how leaders need to work on their inspiration, to train it in so it is with you in the hard and challenging times.

We can train and develop leaders as much as we want, but we've also got to find space to generate, give and share inspiration, it's the spark that starts the fire, the place where we get the energy to take part and to lead change.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The fear of leadership

Last night the BBC aired a programme on Radio 5 Live. It was about the organisation I work for - Common Purpose - and picked up on the accusations of us being a sinister organisation being made by Brian Gerrish and others. Of course I'm not overjoyed by it, but one of the issues raised on the programme made me think. The programme suggested that our description of leadership - leading beyond authority - appears sinister.

But leadership isn't something that can be confined to boundaries of authority. Surely the recent financial crisis has taught us that at least. Social and economic challenges aren't going to respect structures and boundaries that we put in place, and problems in our own organisations or communities won't remain neatly inside the boundaries of one department or geography. People will have to learn how to deal with things outside their authority.

I don't mean people should go and interfere for the sake of it, it's more complex than that. But we do need more people who believe they can make a difference and understand how to go about it. Part of that is accepting leadership as a positive thing, not something to be frightened of. Someone who wants something to change is going to have to lead it. Doing nothing won't make a difference.

Youth crime is a great example of this: Police can't solve this on their own, they need to work with communities, with parents, schools, politicians and community activists alike. But to do this Police need to reach out and understand these different people, to stop seeing them as part of the problem and start seeing them as part of the solution. They then need to communicate with them, share the problems, build coalitions of people to take things forward. For me this means leading.

Part of the strength of talking with people about leadership is it forces a very powerful conversation about whether or not individuals can make a difference. I've worked with so many people who've rejected it because they are uncomfortable with the responsibility that it appears to carry, or who think it is a label that can only be used by those in senior positions. It's this very fear that I want people to overcome. Why can't a single mum who wants to improve conditions on her estate be called a leader. And when she is she can't be told to lead within her authority, because all the answers lie well beyond her authority.

Does leading beyond authority sound sinister or is it just another way of helping leaders understand that problems don't come in neat packages?

I've put a link here to leading beyond authority so you can read the formal stuff if you want.