Monday, July 26, 2010

The ABC of leadership

I believe there are a few facts about leadership that are irrefutable.

1. Leadership begins with self. "Be the change you want to see" and "walk the talk" are oft heard phrases in today's corporate world.

2. The concepts of leadership and the definition of a good leader are discussed by every self respecting leadership trainer, facilitator, mentor and coach. No leadership training programme is complete without a discussion the differences between managing and leading. 

While it is commonly accepted that there are certain traits that all good leaders demonstrate, there is usually a debate around which is more important: which are non-negotiable and which traits help in creating a greater circle of influence. As I was preparing breakfast this morning, I thought to myself, "why don't I add my two pennies worth to this on-going conversation and create an A-Z list of leadership attributes?". So here goes... 

~takes a deep breath~

A: Accountability. A good leader takes accountability for the actions of self and their team / followers. During the Indian independence struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, violence broke out at one time and a police station was burnt down with some policemen inside. The Mahatma was an advocate of peace and non-violence (as we all know). He decided to fast (i.e. abstain from eating and drinking) to make amends for the violence. This was his way of taking accountability for the actions of his people. I have been fortunate that one of my ex-colleagues took similar accountability for his team's performance. He never made excuses for them but at the same time did not expose any of them to fault-finding. He always took the accountability for late or shoddy work and took steps to improve performance. 

B: Belief. A good leader has strong beliefs and is not afraid to fight for and defend those beliefs. Taking from the Mahatma's life once again, his belief that all people were created equal led to his first fight in South Africa, when he was stopped from boarding a train. Aung San Suu Kyii has spent a good part of her life in imprisonment as she fights for what she believes in. The list is endless... Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. - they lived for those beliefs. Their strong belief brought about a vast change in the lives of millions of people.

A strong belief in self is another attribute of good leadership. Think of any leader and this belief stands out. Bill Gates believed in himself and what he could do. That belief led him to drop out of school and focus on setting up Microsoft. The people of Mumbai showed leadership when they took the onus of returning the city to normalcy almost immediately post the horrific incidents of 26/11. Faith or belief in oneself can certainly move mountains, can't it?     

C: Care. Such a small word and so many implications. Leaders care! They care about themselves, their people, the environment around them... they care about the work they do, they care about the protection, the welfare and the well-being of their surroundings. They care and they demonstrate that care with passion. During the SARS scare in Hong Kong during 2003, a lot of businesses in the tourism sector were affected severely. A certain organisation however showed their employees they cared. Not a single employee was shown the pink slip and not a single employee was asked to take a pay cut. All this, while a lot of other organisations were letting go of people and indulging in short-term fixes. Once Hong Kong bounced back from the SARS scare, this organisation also bounced back and today they see a visible difference - they have one of the most loyal and committed staff in the entire industry. Voluntary attrition is at an all time low.

Leadership is not rocket science and there is no one single person who can claim to know all about it. All views on leadership and attributes of a good leader are valid and important. Please do contribute your views on this blog.

One final thought: here is an interesting article I came across today. The writer talks about two apparently diverse topics: leadership and solitude. I found this article very insightful. Here's the link for those interested:

Feedback is extremely crucial and of  vital importance to me. Please do take a moment and leave your comments. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Respect the other person's model of the world

A key aspect of relationships has always been 'Respect'. With the way businesses have changed in recent years and the emphasis on human relations and values-led leadership these days, 'Respect' has become even more critical.

The demonstration of respect differs from country to country. What Asians construe as a demonstration of respect might be viewed in a very different light in Europe or the Americas. I remember talking to a French colleague of mine, who was scandalised by a behaviour he had observed on the Indian sub-continent. The practice of a younger person touching the feet of an older or senior person. My colleague thought this was repugnant, not understanding that this was a symbol of respect.

So what is this respect? One of the definitions from my trusty Oxford Dictionary is "consideration for the feelings or rights of other people". When I trained on NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), we went through the NLP Pre-suppositions - a list of beliefs that all NLP practitioners are encouraged to explore and adopt. One of these beliefs said, "Respect the other person's model of the world". Ah-ha! Now that is interesting, isn't it? We had some major conversations around this one. "So am I supposed to respect the model of the world of a child abuser?", one asked. "How can I condone a murder or a crime? How am I supposed to respect that model of the world?". These were questions that came out from across the room and questions I still hear today.

Taking a step backward, what is this "model of the world"? Each of us creates our own perception of the world around us based on our experiences, knowledge, education, upbringing, religious faith, beliefs and values. Can two people therefore have the same model of the world? Most likely not! Can I ever view the world from another's perspective? Not while I apply my experiences, my knowledge, my education, upbringing, religious faith, beliefs and values to that model. What one has to do then is to suspend their senses and feelings and their model of the world for a short time and use the other individual's senses and feelings to view the world. That will then give one the perspective required to understand the choices the other person is making. That will answer the question, "why is this person behaving in this manner?".

Once we perceive the world through the other's senses and feelings, we are able to then behave in a manner which shows consideration for their feelings. As leaders we are able to remain non-judgmental about the choices they make. At the same time if the individual is seeking help or support to make changes to their model of the world, you as a leader can provide that support. This helps you remain impartial and objective and additionally, you have just explored newer horizons, thus broadening your own personality.

I used a technique with my French colleague to help him understand the behaviour of touching feet. I had him explore his world view of respect and how it is demonstrated. I then had him step into the shoes of an individual from the Indian sub-continent. I had him explore that model by viewing the world through this other person's experiences, background, faith, beliefs and values. He had a completely new experience and he was then able to empathise with that behaviour better.

One last thing - understanding and empathising with the other person's model of the world is not the same as  accepting it as right or wrong. It is for you as a leader to understand and accept that your people's choices and behaviours are dictated by their model of the world, just like yours are. That acceptance is the first step in the journey to respecting others.

As always, I need your comments and feedback. I am still new at this and the only way I can get better is for you to tell me how I can get better at it. If you wish to read about a particular subject, please do let me know and I will do my best to bring it to you. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Being non-judgmental

The other day, in the midst of an argument with my other half, I heard myself say, "you are so judgmental". That brought me up short - wasn't I being judgmental too? As human beings, is it ever possible to be non-judgmental? We are programmed from a very young age to have judgments. Children who know how to pass judgments are said to be bright, intelligent, the brains of tomorrow. As parents and teachers, we tell them, "this is beautiful", "this is the RIGHT thing to do", "I just saw X doing doing something idiotic"... the list goes on.

Contrarily, as the head of training and HR, one of the mantras I constantly heard (and have been guilty of chanting myself) is "be non-judgmental". As business leaders, we are constantly told not to sit in judgment, but to empathise and to "look at it from the other person's perspective". Unconsciously a judgment is passed when one fails to do this - "Mr /Ms. X is very judgmental". But can one really suspend judgment? The answer is a clear resounding,"NO". What one can do is to suspend our initial judgment and to refrain from acting upon it. To be seen as non-judgmental therefore, here are a few things one can do:

1. Acknowledge the instinctive judgment for what it is, without feeling guilty about it. Every single human being WILL have that initial response to an external event.

2. Convert the judgment to 'appreciative enquiry'. Say to yourself, "to me, this feels like Mr. / Ms. X is being idiotic. Let me ask them what makes them do this".

3. Prepare yourself to listen to what lies beneath the words - the feelings, the emotions and the driving beliefs

4. Ask the questions, "What makes you do this?", "How does this benefit you?" and "What makes this important to you?"

This is a kind of loop - you will find yourself making instinctive judgments throughout this process. Follow this 4-step process and believe you me, very soon, accolades about you being "understanding and completely non-judgmental" will be heaped on you.

Please do send me your comments and thoughts. "There is no criticism in feedback, only learning"