Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Friday, March 25, 2005

Defer This

The notion of deferring judgement is a highly underrated, extremely powerful tool in the change leader's toolkit. It is also highly underutilized.

It works something like this:
  • What if I were to refrain from censoring my own ideas long enough to inventory my options? (personal application)
  • What if I were mature enough to not need to hear my own voice in response to someone blathering inanely about things of which they clearly know nothing? (interpersonal application)

We all succumb to any number of self-inhibitors when trying to think up novel ideas. Sometimes the inhibitors are so strong, we don't even try to think; it is a struggle merely to be. the shame of it is, a nation of survivors does little to innovate, grow, or enhance the culture around us; much less cultivate our own personal mental space.

Statistics indicate most children are creative until they reach kindegarten or 1st grade. The corollary statistic says most adults are no longer creative. The ratio is something as obscene as 85:15.

The conundrum of processing judgement instantly rather than deferring it for a time is that we fear we will not be heard, or that we are somehow inviting others to walk all over us and our ideas as though we were a doormat. So we choose the path of pre-emptive verbal strikes. Typically long-winded and varying in degrees of "on-topic", they help us scope out our territory, be heard (or at least be verbal, if not simply be loud), and prevent others from taking all the credit for an idea that is not our own. Or, at least, prevent them from poking holes in our thoughts because they are too busy holding their breath, attempting to get a #$*!$&!! word in at all.

This doctrine works equally well when talking ourselves out of an idea. Note the irony of an original thought being crowded out by our habitual mental defenses. For demonstration purposes, when was the last time you had a novel, potentially useful idea (can you recall when that was?)? What was your first mental or verbal response to it: positive or negative? What about the last time you responded to someone else's original thought?

Studies further show students require a praise-to-criticism ratio of 4:1 just to maintain current behavior. To actually alter (read, improve) it, the ratio shoots up to 8:1.

Conclusion: we are far more likely to be negative than positive. Negative, judgemental thought is habitual to the point of going unnoticed in us. The routine of crushing, killing, stomping out or otherwise destroying others' ideas will do that to a person, because we are so used to having our own novel thoughts crushed, killed, stomped out or otherwise destroyed.

But the downward spiral can be broken. What if we were to routinely withhold judgement of another's bad idea or our own stupid thought? imagine if we habitually graced others with our silence when we have no business speaking ...

Change leaders bear an extra burden to turn the tides of meaningful change on behalf of those they wish to lead.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Principles of Change Initiatives

I recently reviewed a change project assignment for my graudate studies, and found several key learnings that have very good general crossover appeal for any manner of organization seeking to spark meaningful change.

  1. Professional courtesy and mutual respect engenders collaboration

    This has little to do with liking a person. When you let someone know you do not like them, they have won. So when implementing change initiatives, respect must be genuine irrespective of mutual regard. So it is that when there is a preexisting relationship between two parties, especially a positive one that has been cultivated over time, introducing the other person to change (or requesting a commitment from them) is much easier to accomplish.

  2. Never underestimate the power of a coffee break

    Even a seemingly token gesture of buying someone a cup of coffee is meaningful. Because such coffee breaks assume (and require) more personal interaction than involuntary encounters, a person taking such initiative can develop greater influence with that person. Making the time to connect with someone, even at a level that appears (or even when it is) trivial, speaks volumes to the recipient. This is never more true than when the initiator has no agenda.

  3. An effective leader needs to be true to his or her word

    When you say you want to meet, you need to follow up!

  4. One must be consistent to be credible

    When you set a timetable, you need to show up!

  5. Do not let momentum falter

    There is an almost inverse relationship between entropy and momentum. As change initiatives begin, the effort needed to overcome inertia (or resistance) is significant, relative to when momentum begins to build. The greater the resistance was to change, the more critical the need for sustaining momentum and achieving "wins".

  6. There is little one can accomplish within a change-resistant environment that having executive support won’t help overcome

    If rewards for change are the proverbial carrot, then invoking executives' names in support of the change is the stick. That is to say, key assisters are crucial to successful implementation of a change initiative. When members of a change initiative are able to cut through bureaucracy and red tape by dropping the name of their executive champion, odds of success increase dramatically as resistance to change decreases.

    Note the inverse relationship between morale and forcing change down followers' throats. While executive support can grease the wheels, if used liberally, it can also foster resentment.

  7. People’s openness to change is an almost unquantifiable variable
    To assume change opportunities ripen at a similar rate for two different people, or that two different people ripen to new ideas at the same time, is to open the door to failure, at worst, or to damage your relationship with a slow ripener, at best.