Creating leaders everywhere is a major mental and emotional shift that requires training or coaching to achieve its full benefits. A leader's fundamental task is ‘identifying possibilities, defining what needs to be done, and influencing other people to do it.' The five everyday skills that enable this are self-direction, creativity, discovery, planning and influence. Integrating and focusing these skills can transform a person's impact power from a lightbulb to a laser.
Learning happens when you expand your identity to include the new information, when you learn to say "I know ...", "I believe...", "I am ...", "I am not ...", etc. If information is memorized but not absorbed into your identity, then it remains active only long enough to achieve a single goal--such as writing answers on a test or doing actions on a work project.
For creating leaders everywhere to be successful, the people involved will learn to identify themselves as leaders without authority. That identity shift goes against what we have been taught in school and experienced at work. Leadership is typically acknowledged and called "leadership" only when demonstrated within the context of positional authority.
Everyday leadership, such as persuading a group of friends to go to a movie, is not typically acknowledged as leadership. Therefore there is a major disconnect between the everyday acts of leading people and the skills used by leaders of organizations! Even strong everyday leaders who are asked to become 'leaders without authority' will need answers to the following questions:
- Why should I or anyone else want to become a leader without authority?
- How will my becoming a leader without authority make a difference for anyone?
- What's in it for me, or "WIIFM" as it is sometimes called?
- Why should I call attention to myself, risk being ostracized or laughed at, and probably get arrows in my back from people that I thought were friends?
- How am I to act as a leader? What am I supposed to do?
- Who am I supposed to 'lead'?
- Where and where am I supposed to act as a leader?
- What results will be expected from me as a leader?
- What happens if I act as a leader and the results are bad or called a "failure"?
These questions and others will be asked even more intensely by people who are not strong leaders in their everyday lives. If these questions are not answered successfully, creating leaders everywhere will be just another change project that failed. If they are answered successfully, creating leaders everywhere would help fulfill the basic human needs for purpose (the will to power), achievement (competence or mastery), and affiliation (relationships).
The fundamental skills of leadership are present in every healthy human, but most people have learned to conform rather than lead--school and work have taught us that being different is often emotionally expensive and physically draining. In addition, many of us are afraid of acknowledging and having internal power because we have experienced the abuse of power and authority and the resulting pain. There is also a great deal of confusion about the definitions of power, influence, manipulation, and other words related to change. (See attached Power Tree Definitions for a tree diagram of these words.)
Therefore the fundamental problem is how to unleash and improve individuals' skills so that organizations can deal with the increased moment-by-moment challenges of today's world. The skills that achieve organizational goals are the same skills used to achieve personal goals. When used in a work context, the skills may be more focused and/or broader in scope—however, leading change always requires self-direction, creativity, discovery, planning, and influence. In the real world, organizational change requires one or more self-directed individuals to define (mentally create and/or discover) a desired future state and then influence other people to make it real.
There also is a need to change managers' mental models of their organizations, from (a) the organization as a machine that is controlled by managing inputs, resources and outputs to (b) the organization as a participatory interactive system.
- In the machine model, managers define people as "resources” used to achieve goals defined by their superiors, and leadership is the exercise of positional authority.
- In the participatory model, people interact to achieve mutual goals, and leadership is the ability to achieve positive change.
Changing to a participatory model of an organization is not enough to implement a change. Change happens only within individuals, even when a change involves hundreds or thousands of people. The organization is a composite of the individuals. Two needs must be fulfilled for individuals to change: (1) clear paths for evolving their current states to the identity (internal models) required by the future state, and (2) motivation to pay the intellectual, emotional, and/or physical costs required to change.
When one or both of these needs remains unfulfilled, change will not occur. Even if the motivation is present, the change can fail because the migratory paths are missing or not understood. For example, the user costs of “unlearning” and “relearning” are rarely acknowledged when new systems are introduced. These user costs yield the J-curve of decreased productivity during unlearning, but there are later increases to a higher level of productivity after learning has occurred. Sponsors and users unfamiliar with the J-curve may kill a change at the bottom of the J-curve, and thus lose the benefits that would soon become obvious.
In summary, there are two possible approaches to creating leaders everywhere: (1) focusing on changing the structure and functional relationships of the organization, and (2) focusing on changing the internal models of leadership of individuals who comprise the organization. If the internal models and leadership identities of the individuals involved are not changed, then changing an organization's structure and functional relationships is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Defining and Teaching Leadership
In the Introduction to The End of Leadership (2012), Kellerman of the Harvard Business School cites Rhode and Packel's numbers regarding leadership: there are around 1,500 definitions of leadership and some 40 theories of leadership. In addition, there is little agreement among business educators about the best way to teach leadership. This diversity of definitions and theories necessitates careful thinking about how to define and teach leadership. This is crucial because teaching people to be leaders without authority is a core concept of the 'creating leaders everywhere' challenge.
I define the work of a leader as ‘identifying possibilities, defining what needs to be done, and influencing other people to do it.' This includes collaborating and forming coalitions for decision-making when appropriate. This definition of leadership can be taught as the stepped-process shown in Figure 1. An individual acting as a leader can be in any type of work or personal situation.
Figure 1. Steps to improving leadership skills in any type of situation.
Leadership is often not recognized in simple everyday situations, such as persuading coworkers to go to lunch where you want to go. However, practicing how to lead in everyday situations transfers to increased skill in organizational leadership. Individuals can be trained to recognize opportunities to practice in everyday situations. Also, the practice mentioned in the diagram is not just any type of practice, but rather practice that is specifically designed to improve the skill.
It takes both the front and top of each step to progress towards leadership. If the individual has only the front of a step and stops without doing the top, the process ends in a negative state. The negative states are defined from the bottom step upwards as:
- Possibility without Perseverance is loss.
- Purpose without Planning is wishing.
- Passion without Persuasion is wasteful.
- Power without Practice is only potential.
There are five cognitive skills that support this leadership process: (1) self-direction, (2) creativity, (3) discovery, (4) planning, and (5) influence. Each one of these skills can be learned as the five-stage skill-acquisition process defined in 1980 by Dreyfus and Dreyfus: novice, competency, proficiency, expertise, and mastery.
Teaching these skills to support leadership requires a coherent conceptual model of the conscious and subconscious thinking systems. However, it is not enough to just separate between the fast and slow systems for thinking. There also needs to be a clear differentiation between static and dynamic ways of thinking as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. The four thinking systems of humans. Together these support every human activity.
The creative ‘flow’ in the upper-right cell is often called ‘intuition’ and viewed as opposing the upper-left ‘rational decision making’ taught in business schools. However, viewing intuition as a process of lesser value confounds the skill of discovery with the skill of decision-making. Rational decision making is necessary when the intuitive process needs additional input to determine the appropriate action(s). Real life requires using both rational and intuitive thinking, and deciding when to use which type of thinking is a metacognitive skill.
There is an old story about five men describing different parts of an elephant (trunk, ear, leg, side, and tail), but no one has a holistic view of the elephant. The cognitive skills of self-direction, creativity, and influence are like the parts of the elephant, and now it is time to view the elephant as a whole. Discovery (identifying and then finding the needed information) and planning (deciding what to do as a result of that information) are not typically described as cognitive skills. They are, and achieving any goal that involves interacting with other people requires integrating and using all five skills.
The increasingly rapid rate of change indicates that individuals in an organizaton will need to know how to discover what they need to learn and then arrange to learn it They will be behind the change curve if they wait to learn from formal courses. Thus creating leaders everywhere requires that individuals be equipped with the cognitive skills that motivate and support continual self-directed learning.
Defining the 21st-Century Organization
The first page of the results from the Google search ‘enterprise future implications workforce’ includes reports from IBM, Dell, Metropolitan, and RAND with the same central theme: rapid shifts in demographics, technology and competition are forcing organizations to rethink the employer-employee relationship. For example, the last content statement in the IBM report states:[i]
“The Enterprise of the Future will not simply be enabled by its employees; its success or failure will be driven by its ability to unleash the collaborative creativity of this untapped asset.”
Three key concepts of this solution are embedded in the last phrase: “unleash,” “collaborative creativity,” and “untapped asset.” Creating leaders everywhere is unleashing and improving cognitive skills individuals already have and use in their personal and professional lives: self-direction, creativity, discovery, planning, and influence. The collaborative creativity of employees has been an untapped asset because of the traditional emphasis on the leader/follower mentality.
Shifting the emphasis to improvement of personal and collaborative skills will benefit the individual and the organization. When there is no firm foundation in the mental models of the people involved, then top-down changes in the organization structure and function will not achieve the desired results. A change must be supported both top-down and bottom-up in an organization for it to be effective and maintainable.
The two primary organizational issues are what to change and how to change it. Although the specifics will be different for different organizations, the fundamental change can be expressed in a single question: Is your company willing and ready to "retool" (Hamel, Leading the Revolution, p. 284) every mind in the company for leading without authority? As Hamel notes, it is not enough to have a few individuals or islands of capability scattered across the organization.
Your company needs to be running bootcamps that train people to lead without authority--to discover opportunities/problems, describe them and then decide individually or jointly what needs to be done, influence other people in various kinds of relationships to do it, and then learn from what was done to improve the next effort. This is the work of leadership!
As the five cognitive skills are practiced and mastered, they can be applied to doing the actions necessary for leading a revolution. Hamel lists eight questions that identifies skills needed for a company to be revolution ready, such as "distilling proprietary foresight out of an ocean of information" and "inventing new business concepts and reinventing old ones". Knowing how to do these requires (1) understanding how to do quick-and-dirty discovery and conceptual analysis of information, and (2) applying the methods that define each of the five levels of creativity. Those are two of the lightbulb-to-laser training topics for mastering change.
[i] IBM Global CEO Study (2008). The Enterprise of the Future: Implications for the Workforce, p. 27. Somers, NY: IBM Global Services. < http://www-935.ibm.com/services/uk/gbs/pdf/ceo_study_-_implications_for_the_workforce_final.pdf> 16 June 2013.
Some of the major impacts of equipping individuals to be leaders without authority would include:
- Much more external information would be sifted to identify trends, potential problems, and opportunities that could impact the organization’s bottom line. Pointers or links to the relevant information could flow from those viewing or reading it directly to the individuals it would affect the most.
- Creating leaders everywhere in an organization would provide an internal ‘early warning system’ for issues that could negatively impact any aspect of the organization. This could be especially true for those fundamental changes that normally are not recognized by top management until it is past the time when the change should have occurred.
- The traditional pyramidal structure, even if it remained in place in terms of titles, could be flattened to the degree that decisions would be made at the level closest to the input data and the consequences. Information and training in business skills would be provided so that the decisions would be good choices. Accountability would not decrease, and in fact it might increase as self-directed peers and teams held each other accountable for impacts on the organization’s bottom line.
- Collaboration and coalitions would increase as individuals learned that sharing information, power and risk yields better results. Value creation becomes the responsibility of each individual, and opportunities to create value can be identified and implemented quickly by those who do not have executive authority.
- The first small wins would be proofs-of-concept demonstrating that success is possible, much as the wins by successful agile software projects are convincing organizations that it is better to (a) quickly and iteratively deliver what users want than (b) do slowly and already be obsolete at release.
- People would learn that mentoring others benefits everyone involved in addition to benefitting the organization as a whole. One of the quickest and strongest ways to improve your own skills is to help and teach others. Communicating with other people forces you to bring subconscious information into conscious awareness, where it can be evaluated for accuracy and assessed for validity.
- People trained in self-directed skill acquisition can recognize more easily what needs to be done to improve any skill. For example, an individual who has only been creative by generalizing concepts (Level 1) or by transferring concepts from other domains (Level 2) can move up to being creative by decomposing and combining concepts (Level 3) or by redefining concepts (Level 4). This allows them to more easily make connections among people, ideas, and resources.
- In What Matters Now, Gary Hamel identifies seven benefits of individuals' self-direction ("self-management") to their organization: individuals will have more initiative, expertise, flexibility, collegiality, judgment, and loyalty, while also costing less overhead. (pp. 222-225)
Realistically, these impacts would not be immediate or simultaneous. There would be J-curve effects because of the change. However, the value creation achieved by teaching people to self-direct, create more and better, discover more thoroughly, plan for adaptability, and achieve by influencing would focus individuals' power of impact. In a supporting organizational setting, it could transform them from the unfocused power of a lightbulb to the catalytic power of a laser.
There are specific practical problems to be overcome when introducing a 'creating leaders everywhere' project anywhere within an organization.
- First and foremost, 'creating leaders everywhere' is a means rather than the end result. Different organizations and executives will have different definitions of the organizational goals to be achieved by its individuals' learning to think in new ways. This challenge could be overcome by having the project sponsor(s) define SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, results, timeline) criteria from one or more of the 40+ metric categories for organizations shown in Figure 3. The SMART criteria would define the organizational goals that would guide the individuals' decisions, and would be part of the customization of the material. The SMART criteria can be defined differently for different parts of the organization.
Figure 3. A list of the 40+ categories of metrics for defining SMART assessment criteria.
- The word "leader" creates a barrier for people who do not want the visibility or risk that is inherent in leadership. The five cognitive skills (self-direction, creativity, discovery, planning, and influence) that enable leadership are also the cognitive skills that enable achieving goals. The fear or rejection of becoming a “leader” could be overcome by reframing the project as improving skills for greater goal achievement. This supports the idea that leadership is not ‘the exercise of authority.' Instead, leadership becomes the ability to accomplish positive change.
- Introduction of change triggers the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) factor in individuals, even those not directly affected by the change. This challenge can be addressed by transparency in the introduction of the project, but the FUD factor is difficult to overcome. Also, it could be addressed by assessing the interest of individuals to participate in the project, so that individuals not ready for change are free to remain uninvolved. It is a waste of resources to force people into training or coaching when they are not willing and ready to participate.
- The moving of power without authority down into the organization can be perceived as increasing work without any increase in rewards. This challenge could be overcome by implementing a reward structure that appropriately rewards achievers who initiate positive organizational change.
- The training required to improve the five cognitive skills is both deep and wide, which presents delivery challenges. These could be addressed by (a) implementing as a coaching program, and (b) modularizing the training so that it is provided in incremental steps. The information with customized exercises could be delivered in person either onsite or remotely. Generic portions could be delivered online, but it would not be as effective as onsite. For example, the training in self-direction involves changes in the individual's identity; the training content is much more than informational facts to be memorized.
- A major challenge will be to design and provide a supportive organizational setting that maintains and builds upon the changes that come from creating leaders everywhere. This challenge is outside the scope of this hack, which is focused on how to change the mental models of individuals. These are numerous other sources of information that directly address this challenge.
- Because this is a new approach to leadership, it needs to be tested and validated. This challenge could be addressed by implementing it first as individual coaching or small pilot workshops. That would enable (a) information recipients to be ahead of the curve in applying this information, and (b) proof-of-concept results that would strengthen and advance the 'creating leaders everywhere' approach.
When introducing change it is important to modularize, customize, and pilot (prototype). Modularization is important because it can prevent people from being overwhelmed--presentation as modules allows time to practice each skill before starting the next one. Customization makes the information easier to assimilate and accommodate because it is expressed in terms of the familiar and concrete. Pilot projects are important to identify the unique organizational factors that could negatively impact acceptance of the project before it is rolled out to many people.
An excellent resource is the 2005 book, Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas, by Manns and Rising. As they note, successfully introducing a new idea requires a learn-as-you-go gradual process that requires time and patience. There are no 'quick fixes' when introducing change unless it immediately and obviously fulfills one or more needs of the individuals involved. That certainly is not true of creating leaders everywhere--there will be resistance, and often that resistance will be focused and powerful.
Introducing the idea of creating leaders everywhere into an organization is not for the faint-of-heart! There are are five suggested first steps when introducing it into an organization:
- The first step would be to learn more about Lightbulb-to-Laser coaching/training and decide whether to test it for yourself. Given the content, it would be hypocritical to tell other people they need to do it without your having done it first!
- With your coach/trainer, use Parts 4, 5 and 6 (pp. 115-206) of Gary Hamel's Leading the Revolution to decide if you are willing and ready to champion creating leaders everywhere.
- With your coach/trainer, consider the set of patterns for introducing new ideas discussed in Manns and Rising's book Fearless Change, and select and rank order a subset for use in your organization.
- Rough-draft a POINT (People, Objects, Information, Needs, Time) analysis to determine what is known and needs to be known for the pilot project(s) to be successful.
- Do quick-and-dirty pilot workshops to raise interest, assess the outcomes, and tweak the customized information when appropriate.
Every organizational and department culture is somewhat different. This is not like a technical-skills training that can be presented on a 'cookie-cutter' basis. The workshop/coaching exercises are customized so that the information is easier to learn from familiar situations and/or examples, and also so that the training time creates immediate value.
Many authors have identified three basic human needs by different names. My first introduction to them was by David McClelland while at Harvard. He identified the three needs as the learned needs of power, achievement, and affiliation. Although he described the need for power as the need to impact other people, it can also be expressed as the need for the 'will to power' that is expressed as self-direction. A self-directed person is someone who has the will to power, to choose and act on that choice. McClelland defined achievement as the need to continually improve, and affiliation as the need for relationships.
The three-need view has been made much stronger with Daniel Pink's identification of three innate needs: autonomy (power for self-direction), mastery (effort to learn and improve), and purpose (to contribute to a greater good involving others). (Drive, Riverhead Books, 2011).