Don’t blame the Leadership. Lead.

Unconnected & unresponsive organisations often find themselves in a trap.

Disengaged employees look up to a Chief Executive Officer and blame them for the lack of a better workplace. At the same time the CEO often wants a more engaged workforce but has no idea how to make the change in an effective way.

The longer this goes on the greater the risk that in this circumstance the CEO pulls the lever on the traditional response and announces a top-down transformation program. With the CEO and the transformation team having accepted the responsibility to drive change, everyone sits back and waits to see how the CEO’s pet project goes.

Many will have seen that moment when the arms start crossing defensively in the auditorium as the CEO announces the change. If the organisation started with disengagement now it has disengagement, along with a healthy dose of apathy & cynicism.

Change from the top

There are few models of change that don’t emphasise the importance of senior management support for change. It has become a litmus test of change in many organisations to inquire about the level and seniority of executive support. Senior management are powerful stakeholders in any change and change takes both collaboration and power.

However none of the change models that work, place all responsibility for change on senior leadership. Senior leadership should support and align change in the organisation to the desired direction.  Nobody said they, or their proxies, had to do it all.

Looking up is disengaging

We have our jobs and our place in the hierarchy. We have power, capability and influence to drive change. Waiting for senior leaders to get the changes required is the most disengaging experience for capable leaders across the organisation.

Looking up can take many forms. Some times it is a simple as feeling the need to have some indication of the ability to proceed. Other times it is created by approval processes on the resources or people required to make change happen. Some times we don’t even know we have referred something up for approval until we challenge why we aren’t acting now.

Creating an environment where people look up for authority will only worsen any engagement issues. Lack of engagement will worsen the problems in the workplace. Instead, give people the authority, trust and confidence in direction to act on their own.

Follow & Act

Take guidance from senior leaders. Support the change they seek to drive. Be a good follower.

Yes, necessary, but not sufficient for real & effective change.

Take it as your responsibility to respond to what you see needs work. Connect with others to encourage them to join you in this important work. Start new conversations that help everyone to understand the changes needed and push change forward.  These simple steps make you a networked change agent.

Understand the strategy and align the changes that you are pushing to where senior leaders are heading.  If you don’t understand ask for clarification, not approval.

Ask for forgiveness, not approval. You will learn and grow as you act. If you are doing the needful to bring about change your organisation and colleagues will not mind.  

Mostly you will get thanks from a grateful CEO.

Circles of Control and Influence Revisited

The only knowledge we can manage is our own – Harold Jarche

If you are a middle manager in a large corporate, the concept of circles of control and circles of influence is sold as the concept that keeps you sane.  There are only some things you can change yourself.  There are some things you can play a role in shaping.  Everything else is beyond you.  

If you follow this model, you will keep calm and stay in your box.

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However, even this narrowing of accountability doesn’t seem to work in practice.  

Why does this view of circles of control and influence break down? Discussion of these circles is usually framed in terms of the organisational hierarchy.  

Control is defined your role, your resources and your people.  Influence is those parts of the organisation you relate to directly up the hierarchy or as partners in the work.  Every other person or silo is a mystery and will remain so. Relationships outside the organisation are excluded.

Rethink your Circles for a Networked World

However, a networked world enables us to see control and influence differently:

  • Control: yourself and the physical resources you can allocate without the participation of others. YOU
  • Influence: everyone else with whom you are connected by some form of interaction. YOUR NETWORK

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Our networked circle of control is much smaller than hierarchy suggests.

Other people are not under our control as much as we might like to pretend or the systems of our organisations might suggest. When networks enable us to listen, to engage and to learn together, this becomes very clear. Employees, suppliers and other partners don’t act the way we want from orders. They are motivated by an alignment of interests.  We need to influence their actions to get results and to win engagement.

If our resources or decisions require interactions with others then those interactions come with influence.

We control our personal states, our learning and the things we personally can move around, little else.

Our networked circle of influence is much larger than hierarchy suggests.  

This circle runs wherever our communication reaches. The more you network and the more you act the more influential you are.

In an organisation with an enterprise social network, your influence is potentially everyone. Influence doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the organisation.  There will be times to achieve a goal you might need to work outside the organisation to influence back in.  This much wider influence removes our ability to absolve ourselves from bad things in our organisations, our customers or our community.  We have the ability to influence their change.  For example:

  • if there is a bad customer experience in your organisation, find someone to help you change it. You can do it even it is outside your job, because it is an important role.
  • if your business is having an adverse or could have a more positive social impact, go find others to discuss and act on improving it.

Circles of influence are just as powerful as circles of control. They require different actions but the impacts can be as great.  

Keep Calm. Use influence to have impact. Just don’t define yourself and your circles in terms of a hierarchy

Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware

Middle Managers need to use their Networks and Authority

Middle managers like to complain about being squeezed by pressures from above and below. Their organisations love to blame them for all the ills in the place.

Middle managers have two great advantages that they can use to drive change:

  • They can place themselves in the heart of the network of their organisations.
  • They have authority to make things happen.

Without use, these opportunities whither. Middle managers need to take advantage of them when they can.

Networking in the middle

Frontline employees have very full lives juggling customer expectations. In my experience, they have limited opportunities to engage in networking across the organisation. Enterprise social networks do assist to connect frontline people with the rest of the organisation but the pressures of direct customer engagement often means time is limited and is often focused on better meeting customer needs.

Senior management are often removed from the day-to-day interactions in the organisation because of the scale of their jobs and the greater exposure to external stakeholders. Nobody wants a hierarchy where messages need to go to the top to spread because it is a terribly inefficient way to share information.

If middle management is to have any meaningful role, middle managers needs to play a role networking the organisation across the middle.  Middle manager jobs should give them enough perspective and exposure to their peers to seek and share information widely across the silos and beyond. As nodes in the network of the organisation, managers can dramatically increase their influence sharing information, connecting people, reducing duplication and guiding action. Build a reputation as a generous middle manager who is happy to collaborate, share information and advise and you will find people beating a path to your door.  Your authority increases when you want to act.

Authority to act

When everyone around you assumes authority depends on hierarchical position, having any hierarchical power is an advantage to action. You don’t need to be at the top, you just need the respect of others. Yet many middle managers wait assuming further endorsement is required.

What middle managemers needs to do is leverage their network position and their hierarchical opportunity. Organisations often give way to people who have hierarchical power who are prepared to act, especially where the activity is beneficial and well aligned to strategy and purpose.

When I was a mid-level manager in NAB, a group of graduates came to me wanting to know whose authority they needed to set up a TEDX style speaking program in NAB.  I told them they needed no authority.  It was a great idea, there was a demand and there was no obvious sponsor in the organisational hierarchy.  Finding one would be more work than organising the first event.

I suggested that they could do it themselves and start straight away.  For safety’s sake, I told them that if they were challenged on their authority they should say I approved it.  When they did get a challenge, that answer was more than enough because the people who worry about permission rarely have the courage to check its source. A TEDX style event sat well with the culture that NAB was building and the strategy of being more open and aligned to customers and the community. The first TEDX event had over 200 internal attendees and the events which were run by volunteer graduates for 2 more years were huge successes.

Network and Use Authority

If you are a middle manager and want that role to continue in your organisation, don’t fall for the blame game.  Network yourself to increase your authority and use whatever authority you have to add value in line with the organisation’s purpose and strategy.

Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware

Assigned. Chosen. Earned. Part 2 – 2 Stories and a Challenge

We shape our impact with our choices of how we respond to our circumstances and the influence we earn in our networks.  Our jobs and the hierarchy do not determine our ability to influence.

That concise message was prompted by The Australian Leadership Paradox, a book on improving leadership in Australia by tackling issues like roles and authority. Geoff Aigner, one of the co-authors, asked me for stories that brought a richer context to my last post. Here are two examples:

A Job. Limited Power.

At the launch of the Academy in NAB, I was asked to become the inaugural Dean of Customer Experience.  The job was tasked with building customer experience capability enterprise wide across a large financial services group.  As a direct report of the Australian CEO, the job was a high profile one in an important initiative.  

However, that description was where the hierarchical power stopped.  The role had no direct reports.  Everyone in learning reported to other leaders in a central learning function or across the many businesses.  There was no reporting on how much learning work was actually going on. The activity and budgets sat in these widely distributed teams. Everyone already had too much work. The Academy was being created because there was a need for better collaboration across businesses on learning. Nobody had seen a Dean before and there was no idea yet what they did.

I had to choose the role that I would play. I could have seen the situation as impossible and quickly failed. I could have chosen to influence the CEO and leverage his power to direct action. However, the giddy sensation of power would be temporary and the businesses would have quickly locked me out. The CEO would have rightly questioned the value I added. My authority would erode if it did not come from my relationships.

I chose instead to share my passion for learning, to advocate for the Academy and to help facilitate a community of the learning professionals across the organisation.  I chose to engage the business by demonstrating new ways for learning to lead change, to solve problems and to demonstrate the value of collaboration. Over time, my authority and my influence increased because of the impact the Academy team delivered.  People began to ask the Deans and the Academy to help solve tricky issues well beyond learning. That influence continued when I left the job.  After all, nobody had told me what role to play, so nobody could tell me to stop just because a job went away.

Why Are You Doing This Again?

The experience of being Dean led to my role in helping sponsor and grow NAB’s Yammer community.  When Yammer began at NAB, it was unofficial with no budget or sponsorship.  There was no place for it in the hierarchy. For the Yammer community to grow, it needed many leaders to choose play the roles of sponsors, advocates and community leaders, because these roles were not in anyone’s job description.  

Over and over again, as we did this, we were each asked a variant of the question:

Why are you doing this again?

Our answer was simple.  The roles were needed and the community added great value to NAB.  It was not our job but somebody had to do it.  We could play the roles and so we chose to do so.

For five years, I worked with other leaders in that Yammer community.  Everyone’s time was volunteered above delivery of the expectations their day jobs which ranged from Graduate to Executive General Manager. We did what was required to build a successful and vibrant community. The roles we played grew the benefits for NAB and the engagement of the community until we ultimately prepared a business case for sponsorship and formal adoption by the company.  

In this process, each of those leaders built their unique position of authority in the community. Many of the leaders got new roles as a result of demonstrating their ability to play different roles and their growing authority. In addition, the community was stronger because its leadership came from within.

Over to you: A challenge – your new role

  1. What problem or opportunity can you see that doesn’t fit in somebody’s job?
  2. What role could you play to draw attention to or solve for that problem or opportunity?
  3. Whose authority & support do you need to make the change happen?

Assigned. Chosen. Earned.

  • Job = what you need to do. May come with rank in a hierarchy. Assigned
  • Role = how you manage yourself in response to a constantly changing environment. Chosen
  • Authority = your leadership influence. Earned

Your job does not define how you behave in a situation or determine your leadership influence. Job, role and authority each come from a different source and respond to different circumstances. They will never perfectly align.

Your job may provide authority over some of your network. The impact you have in one interaction may give you authority in another part of your network. Frustratingly, it is equally likely that they both will not.  

When we see hierarchies, we confuse these three distinct concepts.  We think the hierarchy determines, and more commonly limits, our actions and our influence. 

The role you play is your choice. The influence you have can only be earned from others.

Hierarchies might give you a job. Hierarchies rarely help you do it. Let the poor hierarchy be. Stripped of roles and authority, a hierarchy is harmless enough.

You determine your actions in each context. Your network gives you the power.

Choose to have influence.

PS: For a richer discussion of these concepts and tools to help, read The Australian Leadership Paradox by Liz Skelton and Geoff Aigner

Is your career a collection of cells or a portfolio?

If you look at any classical hierarchical organisation chart, what do you see most?

White space.

That white space is where the opportunity and ambiguity exists. The white space is where everything unplanned occurs, especially important in a time of fast paced disruption. White space is the territory of much needed collaboration. White space is where we make our difference.

Career as a series of cells

However many people lives their work lives constrained by the boxes. We each get to choose our contribution.  For some the boxes define the limits of their contribution.  Each job becomes the cell in which they live and contribute to the organisation. Too many people view their role as the limit of their authority and the limit of their opportunity. When these individuals change role, it is as if they have had their cell moved; new window, but same limited vision.

Worse still a proportion of people view this succession of cells as defining their life. They see themselves as only their job. Those jobs have needs, challenges and demands that dominate their lives and limit their broader contribution to the communities and societies in which they live.

What’s the alternative? Career as a portfolio.

We each have a rich purpose and lives full of opportunities.  Our workplaces and our lives are full of whitespace.

From all that opportunity we get to form a portfolio of opportunities to make a contribution.  Like investment managers, we allocate our limited time into many things to diversify the sources of our monetary, physical and emotional returns.  Some will be through our day job.  Some opportunities in our portfolio will be projects – collaborations that we run on the side to explore who we can be.  These side projects might be at work but they could equally be outside.  Not all side projects are economic.  Many are simply creative or social.

Beyond traditional work, we make a contribution with our leadership and participation in society.  We have families and relationships.  We volunteer.  We advocate.  We debate.  We join organisations.  We participate.  Most of all we discuss and help and build rich communities.  Given the complex issues society faces we need more of this broader contribution from everyone.  

Each of these activities helps define who we are as part of our rich portfolio of contributions.  After all, where we choose to spend our time and money is a much better indicator of who we are than a list of jobs or even our self-declared descriptions.

Having recently found myself without a day-job, I have entered the world of a portfolio.  I have been overwhelmed by the opportunities, the difference I can make and the richness of experience that each opportunity offers.  Each and every opportunity was possible if I was still working full-time, but I know I would have faced different incentives and pressures in exploring these opportunities.   I wouldn’t have made such a clear choice to manage a portfolio with my time.

It is time to step outside the cells.  

Make a bigger contribution.  Make your mark.  Manage your career and life as a portfolio of interests.  What more can you do in, around and on the side of your job?

Is your career a collection of cells or a portfolio?

If you look at any classical hierarchical organisation chart, what do you see most?

White space.

That white space is where the opportunity and ambiguity exists. The white space is where everything unplanned occurs, especially important in a time of fast paced disruption. White space is the territory of much needed collaboration. White space is where we make our difference.

Career as a series of cells

However many people lives their work lives constrained by the boxes. We each get to choose our contribution.  For some the boxes define the limits of their contribution.  Each job becomes the cell in which they live and contribute to the organisation. Too many people view their role as the limit of their authority and the limit of their opportunity. When these individuals change role, it is as if they have had their cell moved; new window, but same limited vision.

Worse still a proportion of people view this succession of cells as defining their life. They see themselves as only their job. Those jobs have needs, challenges and demands that dominate their lives and limit their broader contribution to the communities and societies in which they live.

What’s the alternative? Career as a portfolio.

We each have a rich purpose and lives full of opportunities.  Our workplaces and our lives are full of whitespace.

From all that opportunity we get to form a portfolio of opportunities to make a contribution.  Like investment managers, we allocate our limited time into many things to diversify the sources of our monetary, physical and emotional returns.  Some will be through our day job.  Some opportunities in our portfolio will be projects – collaborations that we run on the side to explore who we can be.  These side projects might be at work but they could equally be outside.  Not all side projects are economic.  Many are simply creative or social.

Beyond traditional work, we make a contribution with our leadership and participation in society.  We have families and relationships.  We volunteer.  We advocate.  We debate.  We join organisations.  We participate.  Most of all we discuss and help and build rich communities.  Given the complex issues society faces we need more of this broader contribution from everyone.  

Each of these activities helps define who we are as part of our rich portfolio of contributions.  After all, where we choose to spend our time and money is a much better indicator of who we are than a list of jobs or even our self-declared descriptions.

Having recently found myself without a day-job, I have entered the world of a portfolio.  I have been overwhelmed by the opportunities, the difference I can make and the richness of experience that each opportunity offers.  Each and every opportunity was possible if I was still working full-time, but I know I would have faced different incentives and pressures in exploring these opportunities.   I wouldn’t have made such a clear choice to manage a portfolio with my time.

It is time to step outside the cells.  

Make a bigger contribution.  Make your mark.  Manage your career and life as a portfolio of interests.  What more can you do in, around and on the side of your job?

Change begins when you start

Today I saw a conversation on twitter between two people who inspire me with their passion and ability to make change, Maria Ogneva and Susan Scrupski.  I also saw a moment in that conversation that represented an insight into change leadership I see again and again.  I paraphrased that moment in this tweet.

Here’s what struck me about this tweet and what makes it a template for all change leadership:

  • A person, our change agent, sees a need for change and forms an intention to make it
  • The intention for change is not fleeting and our change agent reflects on the need for change over time
  • Our change agent has doubts they are ready to make change happen
  • The change agent is very aware of the challenges ahead
  • The change agent decides to act regardless.

Almost everyone can see changes that they want in the world.  Many many people don’t think that they are ready to lead change and have doubts.  Everyone knows change is hard.

Change still gets made.  Why?  

Because people with passion and energy, just start.  They find the way forward and find their purpose in the hard work.

When you look at the lives of great change leaders, again and again you find the same comment.  They weren’t the best placed.  They weren’t the most powerful or most capable.  They weren’t given authority.

Change agents are the ones who see a need, challenges and take action anyway.  Everything else comes with solving problems, drawing others to help and having success.

Great change leaders are the ones who start work regardless.

So when are you starting? Today?

The Magic of Authority

Authority comes when we are ready to lead and ready to deliver for others

Recently I was talking with a colleague in a mentoring conversation.  This individual was describing her surprise that she was being asked to lead a piece of collaborative work that she had initiated.  A group that she had brought together were deferring to her authority.  Because she had convened the group, chosen the individuals and had the compelling vision for the work, the group were ready to follow.  It was an adjustment for someone who saw themselves as simply as the coordinator to realise that they had earned the authority to lead others more senior.

At the heart of this moment, is a key insight.  The magic of authority is this – you have the authority because others judge you ready.  Others chose to follow because they trust in your vision, insight, capabilities, experience or approach.  Their trust and their followership means that you are ready to lead, whether you know that yet or not.

You can be thrust into a rank you are unfit to hold or where you are unsuitable to deliver on the expectations of the position.  We have all experienced the terror of those first moments of a new and challenging role. Rank is a gift and some times it is bestowed in error.

Authority doesn’t work that way.  Unlike rank, it doesn’t come as a gift from others.  Authority is earned.  If you have authority, you are ready to exercise it.

So next time you are wondering how you ended up in charge, remember that you earned it.  Go show your new followers that their instincts are right.  

That leadership is the least that they expect from you. 

Authority is earned

The best obstructionist question is ‘who gave you the authority to…?’ My answer is always the same ‘Nobody’

Authority is not given. Authority is earned. Rank & title might be given to you but authority comes from action.

Authority is purpose, capability, experience and leadership rolled into one. You don’t get that without work (& hard work at that). People allow you authority when they have confidence in your leadership to deliver. Authority comes when others chose to follow.

My experience is that when everyone is standing around the empty white space where a problem resides, the person who first steps in to solve it wins authority. Almost always people are relieved that someone did something. That initial authority will grow if you keep delivering on the work to solve the problem.

Don’t wait to be given a parchment & seal with formal authority to act as a leader should. Waiting around is the surest way to lose what authority you have earned.

You have the authority because you want or need to act. It’s up to you to convince others to let you continue. That’s what leaders do.

So do it.