“Chop Wood & Carry Water” – because there are no transformation shortcuts


It can be hard for very successful leaders to retool their leadership abilities.

But we all can.

It’s actually very simple, but it’s not always easy.

Easy or not, many of us are upgrading our leadership constitutions. We’re leading in times of extraordinary change; many believe it’s now or never. Many of us are self-authoring the greatest chapters of our leadership story.

Many C-suite execs have been working on their own personal retooling for many years, transforming themselves. As a result, they are amplifying the impact they have on their team, their families and their organization. They are leading differently at work and at home – it shows and it’s working.

They are building momentum towards a culture where curiosity, openness, understanding, wise risk-taking, agility, creativity, commitment and accountability become embedded in “the way we do things around here.”

These transformational leaders have chosen to engage in an ongoing mutual process of learning to raise one another up and shifting to a culture (a new system) with higher standards and higher levels of purpose, relationship and performance in order to more quickly and effectively get to the complex problem solving together.

But they were probably born for this, right? They probably have more time to work on that kind of stuff than we do. Their situation is probably different; they are different; they are special and gifted in the magical secrets that we don’t have access to.

Probably not. They are not unicorns and there are no shortcuts.

They have simply adopted new lifestyle habits that strengthen their transformation leadership muscles. We all have these muscle groups, but they haven’t all been developed yet. We all have the gift. We all have the same amount of time. With deliberate, purposeful, intensely focused practice (embedded in the way we work and schedule our days), these new muscles have helped them see more + work better + feel stronger in the face of transformation challenges. That’s how adult development works. If we want the elevated performance benefits of vertical learning we have to train in the same way that high-performance athletes develop their muscles to respond differently. Transformation leaders have been training their muscles to be transformation-fit, like Navy SEALs train to be SEALFIT . It’s a form of integrated training with specific, sustainable, lifestyle performance goals in mind.

Transformation (innovation) leaders have learned to get better at letting go of their biases and default/reactive habits in favor of greater awareness leading to resourceful, more effective habits. They have learned to respond more creatively, more collaboratively, more adaptively and more curiously. They don’t respond perfectly every time, but they recover more quickly now and they respond better more often (than yesterday) and, more importantly, when it matters most. They’ve learned to manage polarities and leverage the simple rules that drive complexity better. They have learned to use power differently and play the long game better. They’ve learned to let go of their addiction to old success formulas, dominant power structures and outdated leadership paradigms that have limited the visibility of all their options/choices/possibilities holding their teams back and holding their organizations and strategy hostage for far too long.

They have chosen to be more ready to lead change than others. They have chosen to be more ready to “mobilize for the fourth industrial revolution – It’s now or never,” proclaims the cover of KPMG’s CEO Outlook 2016. The summary headlines in this CEO report are echoed everywhere – in every forward-looking body of research: “The next three years are business critical. Industries are transforming faster than ever before. Innovation is a matter of time. Customer focus and investment will increase.”

It’s never going to be this slow again. Transformation is no longer just a business practice. It has become a way of life – a lifestyle choice for leaders in the new normal.

Are we ready to embrace transformation leadership and innovation as life? The more of us who are ready, the further we all get.

In our lifetime and our children’s lifetime , it will always be time to “chop wood and carry water.”

It’s time to fall in love with the process.

It’s time to train.

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The Future of Leadership: Disruption Dismantles the Oz Model of Leadership

Disruption is fundamentally changing what defines a great leader in today’s world. Dorothy, we are not in Kansas any more! In this disruptive world, the heroic, all- knowing leader is a relic of the past. Today’s leaders are responsible for re-inventing their business with a sense of purpose and the ability to create meaning for employees. These leaders have to have the agility, authenticity, and sense of self to do this knowing that control is a mirage.

If disruption weren’t enough, the very base upon which leadership is built—trust and authority—are being revolutionized in this VUCA world. Change, ambiguity, and uncertainty require stronger and stronger emotional bonds between leaders and employees than ever before, especially when leaders have to lead at scale and out of sight. It asks for leaders who are congruent in message and behavior; leaders who are role models of strength and humility.

Today’s strong leaders are described as collaborative, inclusive, engaging, and inspiring. Work groups are required to be team focused, democratic, matrixed, and participative. Everyone expects to have a voice.

Until now, the hard, cold masculine emphasis on logic, numbers strategy, and finance was pitted against the soft, intimate, feminine qualities of relationships and behavior. In today’s highly disruptive, competitive environments, decisions about the business are inseparable from concerns about how the culture, behaviors of leaders, and quality of the dialogue they create can enable the strategy given the context of their challenges.

Leadership used to be about maintaining order and replicating processes. Leadership of today is about navigating ambiguity. Leaders of today need to be catalysts and empowering and inspiring authentic storytellers of purpose and direction. No longer can leaders expect employees to perform solely in exchange for financial and job security. In today’s volatile economy, leaders are expected to provide individualized development and, most importantly, meaning for their direct reports in exchange for job performance. In order to do this, they need to have discovered their own sense of meaning and purpose.

By purpose, I mean the strongly felt sense of responsibility that a leader has for taking action even in the face of risk, conflict, and uncertainty. Purpose is the grounding that enables leaders to be agile amidst disruption, to earn the trust of others, and to lead without ascribed power and authority. It goes beyond talent, skills, or even knowledge. Unlike personality or behavioral approaches to leadership, purpose defies quantification, categorization, or assessment. Purpose can’t be taught, but it can be discovered.

When disruption hits an organization, the last place most companies think to look is at their purpose. Most try to come up with a new strategy to win, using their old Oz-style of leadership, in a game where they have already lost. If you look at the companies that have performed over time and outperformed all others, you’ll see a common thread around their purpose. Member of Axialent’s Advisory Board Raj Sisodia in his book Firms of Endearment articulates it best when he says “Providing shareholders a good return on their investment remains an important objective, but the idea is spreading that investment returns can be greater when wealth creation for shareholders is not the sole or even main purpose for which a company exists.” And indeed, the companies he researched — the Firms of Endearment — are characterized by leaders who pursue a purpose beyond returns and have proven to outperform the S&P 500 by significant margins, returning 1,026 percent for investors over the ten years ending in June 2006 compared to the 122 percent for the S&P 500.

The Oz model of leadership has been dismantled by disruption and we have entered an era of purpose-driven leaders at their best in the face of ambiguity.

Here are some ideas on how to start a conversation in your organization:

 Where are we fully aligned with our values; where are we not?
 What part of our rhythm of business challenges our most aspirational of values?
 Where in our system are we missing the opportunity to reward feminine leadership, regardless of gender?
 Where are we at risk of rewarding/celebrating only masculine traits? What is the cost?
What is the purpose of our business outside of financial performance?

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When good people do bad things

The hard reality is that good people do bad things and honest leaders let it happen. While out and out fraud certainly occurs, the daily parade of headline-grabbing scandals that impact our leading corporations are being instigated by leaders we would otherwise think of as normal, hard-driving executives.

As we learn from behavioral economists such as Dan Ariely, it is normal human nature for us all to cheat a little bit. Human nature as it is presents a constant choice between satisfying our self-interest and doing what we feel is the right thing. We balance our desire to get more for ourselves with our desire to perceive ourselves as honest. So long as our self-aggrandizing actions don’t make us feel like we are cheaters, we will continue to act only in our self-interest.

We start with little things: white lies becoming bigger, taking office supplies and small fudging of details on expense reports. We see whether such actions are the kind of things that we can share with peers around the coffee machine. Once we get feedback that these actions did not cause us harm or social ostracism, we find ourselves pushing the envelope further. We are now well on our way down the slippery slope. We are all vulnerable to varying degrees of rationalization and self-deception. We will tell ourselves stories to justify our actions and remove the dilemmas from our deacons-making.

So how do we change behavior and make ourselves more virtuous? The first step is self-awareness of what we are, in fact, doing. Just being mindful that we are human and subject to these pulling demands is a critical place to start. We don’t need guilt for not being “perfect.” Being human is being in the game of daily choices and not pretending that we can stand on a pedestal of propriety and be immune to the dilemmas we all face. We need to be mindful of the blindspots and unconscious biases we all embody. Our upbringing and social environment embed our unique set of biases: what is right or wrong, what is safe or dangerous. In organizations, this is the vital first step for leaders: to recognize that an ethical culture is not created by just setting high standards, but by understanding how we are all vulnerable.

The critical second step is then to create an environment that reduces the temptation that plagues all of us. Leaders have an obligation to understand what will reduce the risk of misconduct.

Where do we start? We each need to understand where we may be our own worst enemy. Ethical people are not always ethical leaders. They may be giving mixed signals to employees about expectations. They may be unknowingly creating a workplace environment that is so stressful that it leads individuals to take actions they are not proud of.

What steps can we take? Several tools used in Conscious Business provide a powerful platform for the self-awareness needed to reduce the risk of unethical conduct.

i/we/it — The i/we/it model is a powerful tool to see a broader picture of how to find sustainable and successful balance in one’s actions. In the narrow focus of achieving goals (IT), individuals can allow themselves to put on blinders that focus only on this goal. However, remembering the “I” is an important stop-gap that gives pause to one’s blind-focus actions. Taking steps to remember why I am engaged in this action and asking if it truly serves me can be a valuable wake-up call. Similarly, having a healthy set of relationships (WE) in your world can also be a powerful wake-up call. Having individuals whom you trust enough to call you on your actions can help break the auto-response blinders of self-deception.

Managing Polarities — One of the more common reasons why good people engage in bad behavior is they push themselves into a binary decision: I have no choice but to take this wrong action; the ends justify the means. But, what if we could acknowledge the tensions between what the organization says it needs and what is the right thing to do? Polarity mapping is a powerful tool to understand that organizational goals and maintaining high levels of integrity are not opposites, even if they are in tension. The exercise of understanding what are the positive and negative drivers of meeting business goals at all costs, as well as the effective and ineffective way of imposing standards, will create a powerful dialog that can help individuals and organizations find an effective balance.

We all want to do the right thing. But we are also human. Understanding how our human nature influences our decision-making gives us the power to prevent good people from doing bad things.

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