Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Three Tips for More Strategic Leadership

By Virgil R. Carter
Surprise—you don’t need a formal strategy role to help shape your organization’s strategic direction.  You can start by moving beyond frameworks and communicating in more engaging way.  “Becoming More Strategic:  Three Tips for Any Executive”, authored by Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar and published in Strategy + Business, suggests any executive “can act to become more strategic” by following three deceptively simple tips.  “in our interviews and experience (these tips) represent foundational skills for any strategist and putting them into practice requires real work”.

Here’s the three tips:
·        Understand what strategy really means in your industry:  Because strategy is an on-going journey, leaders will need to focus on and think strategically in their particular industry context.

·        Become an expert at identifying potential disrupters:  Expanding the group of leaders engaged in strategic dialog helps boost the odds of identifying company or industry-disrupting changes that are just over the horizon.

·        Develop communications that can break through:  an adaptive strategy-development process places a premium on effective communications with all executives participating, supported by data that’s engaging and easy to manipulate.

The authors conclude by cautioning, “It’s not enough to increase the number and diversity of leaders engage in strategy.  Many of those leaders also must enhance their own strategic capabilities.  We hope these three tips help them get started.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Leading Cultural Change

By Virgil R. Carter

Every nonprofit organization has its own special and unique culture, build from mission, vision, people and experiences of the organization, over time.  Facing challenging decisions and change, existing organizational culture will win almost every time.  So how do leaders successfully manage cultural change?

The answer in a nutshell is “start with what’s already working”, according to a recent article “Cultural Change That Sticks” in the Harvard Business Review.  Authors Katzenbach, Steffen and Knonley point out that when faced with opportunity or the need for change “you can’t trade your company’s culture in as if it were a used car”!

The authors note that cultural inclinations re well entrenched, for good or bad.  “But it’s possible to draw on the positive aspects of culture, turning them to your advantage, and offset some of the negative aspects as you go.  This approach makes change far easier to implement.”

Here are five principles that the authors suggest may help an organization achieve higher performance, better customer focus and a more coherent and ethical stance:

·         Match strategy and culture

·         Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior

·         Honor the strengths of your existing culture

·         Integrate formal and informal interventions

·         Measure and monitor cultural evolution (business performance, critical behaviors, milestones and underlying beliefs, feelings and mind-sets)

“All too often, leaders see cultural initiatives as a last resort, except for top-down exhortations to change”, the authors caution.  “But cultural intervention can and should be an early priority—a way to clarify what your company is capable of, even as you refine your strategy”, the authors advise. “Simply put, rather than attacking the heart of your company, (focusing on cultural intervention) will be making the most of its positive forces as your culture evolves the right way.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Communications for Leaders

By Virgil R. Carter

Successful leaders are those who can illuminate, persuade and encourage their colleagues and teams to be successful.  Successful leaders are good communicators!  It’s hard to find a long-term successful leader who simply sits in her/his office all day with the door closed.  Effective communications are essential for success!  Gretchen Rosswurm writes in SmartBlog on Leadership about some important communications habits for leaders.  Here are some of her tips:

·         Share an inspiring vision of the future:  A sense of shared purpose is important.  Leaders who do this paint a compelling picture of the future—where are we going, what does it look like, what are the benefits, what role do I play and how is it good for me?

·         Listen:  Real leadership requires listening and understanding what people think.  Leaders who do this ask questions and create opportunities for dialog.  Listening with patience and attention will win respect.

·         Commit to “no surprises”:  Leaders who are successful over the long haul are honest.  They demonstrate in word and deed that they are transparent about changes and vision.  Employees may not always like everything you have to say as a leader, but they will respect you and perform when you communicate openly, early and often. 

·         Widen the circle of involvement:  Strong leaders start with a small group and, bit by bit, widen the circle of people who are aware of and involved in the vision.  Leaders who continually engage and involve more people in the vision find that support and respect grows naturally.

·         Match your message with your audience:  Not everyone is motivated the same way.  A good leader uses a wide variety of approaches and messages which resonate with more people.  This shows respect for learning styles and diversity.  For example, consider communicating with visuals as well as data/text based materials, use of small groups, use of traditional media and newer social media.

Rosswurm points out that “in the end, there is no magic formula for great communications”, but suggests that leaders who communicate using these methods are “more effective than those who don’t”.  For the full article, go to http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/07/27/leaders-communicate-and-communicators-lead/

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Innovative Thinking?

By Virgil R. Carter

Is innovation important in your field?  Is your organization considered innovative?  Just how do innovators think? In a recent article, Harvard Business Review contributing editor Bronwyn Fryer reported on an interview on innovative thinking.  Fryer conducted a question-and-answer session with Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead to explore how the "Innovators' DNA works”.

Dyer and Gregersen conducted a six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews. The study found five "discovery skills" that distinguish the executives.

--Associating:  a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas

--Questioning: an ability to ask "what if", "why", and "why not" questions that  
challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture

--Closely observe details:  particularly the details of people's behavior. –   Experiment:  trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds

--Ability to experiment:  always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds

--Networking:  connecting with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn

“Overall, associating is the key skill because new ideas aren't created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven't been connected before”, according to Dyer.

Dyer commented that one might summarize all of the skills they’ve noted in one word: "inquisitiveness." “I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It's the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children”, he commented.

Dyer asked the executives in their study to tell them about how they came up with a strategic or innovative idea. That one was easy for the creative executives, but surprisingly difficult for the more traditional ones. Interestingly, all the innovative entrepreneurs also talked about being triggered, or having what one might call "eureka" moments. In describing how they came up with a product or business idea, they would use phrases like "I saw someone doing this, or I overheard someone say that, and that's when it hit me."

In conclusion, Dyer added, “We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were stuck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration.”