Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for June, 2011

Freedom and Collaboration

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Too often, leadership at the top is forced, as is decision making. In many ways, visionary leadership is about cultivating leadership in others. By this we refer to authentic leadership that embodies important and hard won principles. When I c

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onsider this, I am reminded of the three principles— a blending of seemingly opposing forces; those that were the essence of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Honoring all of them remains to this day, a clarion call, to allow for unique individual expression of vision within the context

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of community. In many ways, this reflects the goal of remarkable leadership : to cultivate the capacity of visionary leadership in everyone that honors self-expression, fairness, and the alignment of others toward a shared cause.

W.L. Gore, the award-winning company that invented Gore-Tex, has figured out how to reconcile the tension between individuality and collective effort. They believe that people cannot be at their best when swallowed up by an organization and its bureaucracy; they need to feel like a genuine part of the team with opportunities to bring their best selves to their work. One of the practices that Gore has developed is to reduce the size of any business unit that reaches 125 people. In so doing, such units in the company remain small enough that everyone can feel they have an impact and also experience a personal connection with those they work with. In being challenged to “own” the company, employees maintain a sense of entrepreneurial spirit and self-value.

Guided by this philosophy, the company has spawned an impressive number of product lines based on Gore-Tex technology, from sneakers and jackets to surgical products, filtration

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systems, and window screens, and a whole lot more. The opportunities are endless, and you can feel people’s spirit thrive there. Patagonia has the same kind of organization, led by its charismatic though down-to-earth founder, Yves Chouinard.

Flip It

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

One attribute that sets human beings apart as a species,

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is that they are both clever and creative. We could go as far as to argue that creativity and authentic innovation is at the core of all human progress and organization competitiveness. O

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ne can be creative in reducing costs, marketing, the sales process, product development, and visionary leadership etc. Essentially there is no end to the possibilities, and the organizations that promote innovation, and it is, and will be at the forefront of their industry. Creativity is about lateral thinking, and about making leaps in logic, straight into arenas that we often fail to consider. It is also very much to do to do with integrating ideas that were once dissimilar. There is a new, and arguably visionary notion out there, concerning innovation, and the fact that is

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now beginning to take root and I for one love it. It is the idea of flipping a sequence.

Karl Fisch, an Arapahoe (Colorado) High School Technology teacher, and a successful consultant, has done just that; and to great effect. This year, in addition to leading the technology area, he’s begun teaching algebra to 9th and 10th graders. And he’s flipped the typical sequence of teaching. Instead of lecturing during class time and assigning problems as homework, he now offers his students the chance to have further look at the syllabus through pre-recorded lectures; putting them on YouTube, for them to watch at home. He then spends class time working out problems with his pupils. I love the idea. I remember well the days when I listened to boring lectures from a teacher, and then being told to do assignments at home. So often I felt I could have easily read from a book during class and gotten what I needed, while at home, I often felt I wished the teacher was there to help. Fisch’s approach would have been a breath of fresh air. He’s not the only teacher flipping the sequence. Thankfully many more are. Fisch, by the way, is noted among other things, as having created the legendary Shift Happens videos, which have enjoyed enormous popularity.

To learn more about Fisch and other ideas for flipping the sequence, see the following article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/7996379/Daniel-Pinks-Think-Tank-Flip-thinking-the-new-buzz-word-sweeping-the-US.html.

Here’s a flip it idea. Instead of implementing strategy top down, consider a bottom up approach; where you consult with your employees, asking them what changes in strategy they’d want upper management to consider. Most frequently, strategies cascade downward, and staff are asked to think creatively in their own realms. However, by inviting strategy to bubble up, one engages all employees in organization wide thinking. This has notably positive effect. Upper management are still with the power to make decisions, but are better of having made them as a result of having engaged with others in order to get a new vision, and a fresh perspective. It essentially creates a sense that we are all in this together.

Alternatively, we could consider the possibility of having the employee do his or her own performance review first. Many companies are doing this, and are creating a strong sense of self-responsibility and self-initiative.

Or, what if we were to consider asking our manufacturers to get involved in product design?

Or, or, or. I love the idea of flipping it. Maybe I should ask readers to suggest blogs for me to write, which would in effect mean that I was engaging my readership, creating a sense of community. Now that the idea has popped into my head, let’s go with it. Any ideas?

Failure Patterns and Success Patterns

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

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Last night, with my 8 year old daughter, I watched the extraordinary classic movie; The Miracle Worker, about Annie Sullivan, who through her own vision, had endeavored to teach Helen Keller how to understand words.  It reminded me of the challenges of authentic leadership and organizational life under hardship.  The problem we often have, is that when faced with difficult times, during which we begin to fail in our efforts whatever they might be, we often promise too much.  In doing so, we set ourselves up to fall, and a pattern of failure will quite often start to emerge,; one that can be especially debilitating.  During such times, people can become disheartened, and begin to question their own vision, and their abilities to succeed as a visionary leader. In many cases they can become emotionally detached, and somewhat ornery; often  exacerbating the problem.  Many a sports team has experienced such a spiral downward during particularly disastrous seasons, despite having started with real promise.  Many an

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organization has felt the same and will often find themselves in desperate need of guidance. 

In the movie, Helen Keller, aged 8, could not hear, speak, read, write or communicate except in a rudimentary way.  She was a wild child, frustrated in her inability to understand life.  Her parents accommodated her best they could, which in many ways was also part of the problem. Young Helen was not required, or expected to do even the most simplest of tasks, and so she was arguably given too much personal freedom. This meant that she was given gratis to behave rudely, and without boundaries. Annie Sullivan arrives

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on the scene, with Helen’s life, and the life of her family in shambles (the organization in a failure pattern).  Showing authentic leadership skills, Annie immediately recognizes that Helen should no longer be accommodated.  The love of Helen’s parents translated into extreme permissiveness, and without boundaries, Helen became unruly and unhappy.  So Annie began to act as a makeshift leadership guidance consultant for Helen’s parents, beginning by offering proper boundaries.  Eventually Helen succumbed to the limitations enough so that Annie could begin teaching.  Throughout the movie, Annie taught Helen sign language, but only to the point that she was able to mimic the movements of her hands.  The powerful dilemma was that Helen could not understand that the movement of the fingers was a symbol of the word the fingers were signing.  While she could move her fingers signing “tree” for example, she could not associate it with a “tree.”  Annie kept saying to herself, “if Helen can only understand one word, just one word, then I’ll get through to her.”  What Annie instinctively knew was that the understanding of the attachment of a symbol to a thing was the key to unlocking communication.  Annie’s goal was not all of communication; it was to learn one thing.  

In other words, Annie was in the midst of a huge failure pattern and want to create a success pattern. It would not come from too many goals. It comes from reducing goals and learning to succeed, and to feel the pleasure of that success, causing one to want to come back for more.  First goal—dress oneself.  Second goal—sit at the dinner table and eat properly with a spoon.  Third goal—learn the meaning of one word.  In this way, Annie was an extraordinary leader and teacher, creating a success pattern where none existed. 

This is what leaders need to do in difficult times.  It is the opposite of what they often instinctually want to do—to promise the world.  In stead it is to reduce expectations, simplify, get clear what is most important and to create a success pattern.

At the end of the movie, I cried, for Helen learned the meaning of the word “water,” and with that, all the other words she was just mimicking all of the sudden had meaning—the symbols had meaning; they referred to a thing and now she could communicate through symbols.  We all take it for granted that this is how to communicate.  To Helen, it was manna from heaven, and with it the world opened up to her.

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Good Boundaries Make Good Leaders

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

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In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Mending Wall, he ends the piece with the statement “Good fences make good neighbors.”  The Poem discusses the mixed consequences of fences. On the one hand, a fence allows for each family to have their own space for

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personal freedom. On the other hand it separates.  Good boundaries are like that as well, and aren’t simply  just one thing.  A boundary is crucial for visionary leadership, and something that is undoubtedly crucial when asking the question: ‘what is leadership?’ Leaders that haven’t set their expectations, goals, and values, create ambiguous work places, of which the consequence is often confusion and unnecessary conflict.  Boundaries create a sense of what is okay and not okay.  They clarify, and they  focus.  On the other hand, when held too inflexibly, they create tension, along with a sense that there is little or no room for play.  Rules, for example, are boundaries.  When applied stringently they can be off-putting and people can feel they are treated like children without personal freedom.  Rules, when applied sensibly, can be calming—for good boundaries create trust.

I believe one of the signatures of a conscious leader is to know when to apply boundaries and when to relax them in the service of something bigger.  When values become rules, leaders act like “Big Brother”.  When values are principles, they teach us and guide us.  If they are too rigid, we lose something—our capacity to apply discretion. When they are too lax, they have no meaning.  When decisions become

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rigid, we run the risk of being unable to change in the face of changing circumstances.  When they are too loose, we are confused. 

I believe that one of the key things a leader needs to hold is one of being decisive and yet open.  This means that the leaders says: “I’m betting my money that this is the way to go, so let’s go.” At the same time, the leader knows that it may not be the right decision.  A good leader remains open to learning, and discovering new information that calls for an alternative decision.  This is a good boundary for a decision—held firmly but not too tightly.

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