A Year in Review: Three of Your Favorite Blog Posts and One of Mine

As I conclude my first year of blogging it is a good time to reflect on the topics that interested you, my readers, the most. Here is a quick reference guide to your most read posts of 2014.

1. Our New Four-Letter Word: This post focused on how we inappropriately use the simple word ‘busy’. This post even resulted in a twitter email from a reader who pledged to not use the word busy for the year (how is it going Cameron?).

2. What if Everything Rises & Falls on Followership? Coincidentally, this post was written days before my attendance at the International Leadership Association Conference (ILA) in San Diego. Followership was one of the hot topics of the event and I am excited to see leadership being reshaped to embrace the importance, power, responsibility of active followers.

3. Focus: Finding Strategic Clarity. Review three signs that indicate your organization may be suffering from a lack of strategic clarity.

I also want to remind you of one of my first, and personal favorite posts, The Tale of the Orange and the Lemon tree. I jogged by this amazing fruit-laden tree this week and was reminded anew of the richness of this metaphor.

As we anticipate 2015, I look forward to getting to know and work with many of you in the months ahead. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. King Solomon


 

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

“Me the People”: It’s time to change our metaphor

“The crisis of US congress is an issue of followership and not an issue of leadership”. Barbara Kellerman

I am not a political person but my world is filled with political stories the day after American mid-term elections. As a Canadian living in the US, it has been interesting to watch the election from the sidelines. There were two troubling themes that I identified as I observed this ebb of the election cycle.

A Less Perfect Union

When the American constitution was established, it used some beautiful words – “to form a more perfect union”. My television was filled with commercials which focused on the opposite of this. The predominant messaging was on what another candidate or party was not. This negative campaigning has subtly shifted our focus away from becoming a “more perfect union”.

The day-time counselor Dr. Phil has helpfully dubbed this as ‘laddering’: the need to push someone down the ladder in order generate self-importance as you rise up the ladder. When you see someone ‘laddering’, you see someone who is weak. You also see someone who puts their needs ahead of the needs of others.

In decades past, politicians were called public servants. I once asked a high ranking politician why the word servant was in his title. He was strangely quiet. He had obviously not considered the implications of his role of a servant. Otto Scharmer summarized this perfectly when he reminded us that, “Our society must move from ego-system to eco-system economics. This requires that we shift from ego-system silos to eco-system awareness that  considers others and includes the whole”. It’s time to refocus on a “more perfect union”!

Me the People

This republic was founded on the premise of “We the people”. As I observe our political reality, it appears that ‘We the people’ has shifted to ‘Me the people”. We have quietly turned politics into a battlefield. If it is a battlefield, we must understand the implications of such a mindset. Abraham Lincoln clearly reminds us of these implications when he said, “A house divided against itself it cannot stand”. Battlefield politics moves us away from our goal of a becoming a more perfect union. Battlefield politics which focus on me instead of we have caused us to lose our way. Our strength is best found in our collectiveness, not our individuality. It’s time to put the we back into “we the people”.

A Plea for Change

Change is facilitated when we begin to look at an old thing in a new way. If we believe that the battlefield metaphor is inadequate then we must replace it with another. If it were my choice, I want to picture America as a body. A rudimentary study of the human body reveals incredible complexity, diversity and interdependence. I want to live in a nation that acts as my body acts – cooperatively, efficiently and with purpose.

If America wants to be a nation that leads nations, we need to change our metaphor. In fact, We the People, are responsible to make it happen.


 

Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who serves in the field of organizational development. He is not political but knows a problem when he sees one. And he knows that it is time for “we the people” to reclaim our quest to becoming a “more perfect union”. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

The Best of: Summarizing the 2014 ILA Conference

My first participation in the International Leadership Association conference was a very enjoyable experience. Three full days of presentations (with too many options to count)  would appeal to any individual with interest in the broad field of leadership. The presentations were a good mix of practitioners speaking about real-life application of leadership as well those who research and provide insights about emerging leadership issues.

Thoughout the weekend I tweeted and blogged my favorite quotes from the sessions I attended. Here is a summary of my top 15:

  1. The crisis of US congress is an issue of followership and not an issue of leadership. Barbara Kellerman
  2. Followers are the gem cutters of leadership, coaxing out its full brilliance. Ira Chaleff @followercourage
  3. Leadership studies and leadership programs are not necessarily leadership development. Susan Komives @SusanKomives
  4. Vitamins are to people as values are to organizations. Bernie Jaworski
  5. We live in an era of organized irresponsibility.  Otto Scharmer @ottoscharmer1
  6. What happens at the beginning of any creative process? Nothing! Creativity requires that we create space and wait for something to emerge. Otto Scharmer
  7. We need to move beyond seeing people as hired hands to seeing them as hired hearts. Kathleen Patterson
  8. The lines between organizational culture and organizational brand are merging. Steve Trainor
  9. Its time to legitimize the term follower. Ronald Riggio @ronriggio
  10. The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener. Bill O’Brien
  11. It is easier to recognize the quality of leadership in the behavior of their followers than it is in the behavior of the leader.  Kevin Lowe [Read this again – this is an amazing quote]
  12. Effective leaders of change must serve equally as agents of change and protectors of continuity. Samuel Wilson
  13. Our society must move from ego-system to eco-system economics. This requires that we shift from ego-system silos to eco-system awareness that  considers others and includes the whole. Otto Scharmer
  14. Succession planning often results in the selection of a weaker representation of yourself. Peter Drucker
  15. Courageous followership is the courage to stand up for leaders when they are right and stand up to them when they are wrong. Ira Chaleff

While the event is titled ‘International’, the actual content had a much more North American slant than I would have preferred. This event will be held in Europe next year so I’m sure this will improve. My conference highlight was the attention given to the importance of effective followership (my blog the week of ILA happened to focus on this – What if Everything Rises & Falls on Followership?). I believe that followership is a topic that will dominate leadership literature for the next decade or two. While I have very few negative comments about the conference, one would be related to the extremely heavy emphasis on the concept of mindful leadership (a somewhat self-evident concept to me). I had to laugh at the amount of conversations that I had where people used the phrase, “in my dissertation/book…”. It appears that the practices of servant leadership are still emerging. Or perhaps I’m just insecure because I haven’t written a book 😉

Details about next years conference in Barcelona, Spain can be found here (October 14 – 17, 2015). Those who wish to submit presentation proposals can do so here by February 1, 2015. #ILABarcelona

More detailed overviews of each of the days can be found here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.


 

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Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

14 Leadership Lessons: Quotes from the final day of the International Leadership Conference – San Diego

It was a great conference! Here is the final installment of quotes from our speakers.

  1. Followers are the gem cutters of leadership, coaxing out its full brilliance. Ira Challef
  2. We need to move beyond seeing people as hired hands to seeing them as hired hearts. Kathleen Patterson
  3. Over 94% of execs and 88% of employees believe a distinct culture is important to success. Deloitte
  4. Organizational culture is molded out of what we see, say and do. Steve Trainor
  5. The common understanding of organizational culture, ‘the way we do things around here’, needs to shift to ‘why we do the things we do around here’. Steve Trainor
  6. Without objectives, goals, strategies and vision, culture is dead by dinner. Steve Trainor
  7. The lines between organizational culture and organizational brand are merging. Steve Trainor
  8. The term ‘leaderful’ defines an individuals leadership behaviors that everyone sees. Myra Dingman
  9. A servant leader influences people with selfless behaviours, giving credit rather than taking credit. Deloitte Apex Program via Kathkeen Patterson
  10. Servant leadership is doing the right things at the right times for the right reasons. Kathleen Patterson
  11. If organizations are to affect deep and lasting change, every individual in the organization must be willing to change. Porras
  12. We are all followers first. Rusty Ricketson
  13. A problem with using situational leadership is the particular leader style to be employed is based on the leaders ability to accurately determine the followers developmental level. They may be wrong! Rusty Ricketson
  14. Leader style sclerosis is the hardening of the categories: where we can only practice our preferred leadership style. Rusty Rickertson

20 Leadership Lessons: Quotes from day 2 of the International Leadership Conference – San Diego

Here is a summary of the quotes I enjoyed from day 2 of the ILA conference (November 1, 2014).

  1. Our society must move from ego-system to eco-system economics. This requires that we shift from ego-system silos to eco-system awareness that  considers others and includes the whole. Otto Scharmer
  2. We live in an era of disorganized irresponsibility.   Otto Scharmer
  3. The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener. Bill O’Brien
  4. What happens at the beginning of a any creative process? Nothing! The creative process requires we create space for something to emerge. We have to hold open the space for something to be born. Otto Scharmer
  5. In 1964 Peter Drucker reminded us that we have a moral and civic responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society. Responsible leadership is not a new idea!
  6. Succession planning often results in the selection of a weaker representation of yourself. Peter Drucker
  7. Trust is congruence between what you say and what you do. Peter Drucker
  8. Establishing and building relationships requires mutual relinquishment of control. Michelle Bligh
  9. Vitamins are to people as values are to organizations. Bernie Jaworski
  10. The best way to predict the future is to create it. Peter Drucker.
  11. Courageous followership is the courage to stand up for leaders when they are right and stand up to them when they are wrong. Ira Challeff
  12. We need to legitimize the term follower. Ronald Riggio
  13. Definition: Following is a particular form of behavior that involves recognizing and granting legitimacy to another’s influence attempt or status. Derue and Ashford
  14. It is easier to recognize the quality of leadership in their followers behavior than it is in the behavior of the leader. [Read this again – this is an amazing quote] Kevin Lowe
  15. Prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Niels Bohrs
  16. The emerging organization is an ecosystem. It is scalable and will expand and contract in response to the market. Philip Foster
  17. Understanding the connection between personal troubles and social forces leads to social and individual change. Carmela Nanton
  18. Compulsive modernization is the insatiable desire to change and grow. Samuel Wilson
  19. The liquid state of modernity is corrosive to continuity. Samuel Wilson
  20. Effective leaders of change must equally serve as agents of change and protectors of continuity. Samuel Wilson

There is one more day to go so stay tuned for the summary of Sunday’s sessions!

13 Leadership Lessons: Quotes from day 1 of the International Leadership Conference – San Diego

As a first-time attendee at the International Leadership Conference, I really enjoyed my first day of sessions. Here are 13 lessons I learned about leadership on spooky October 31!

  1. The crisis of US congress is an issue of followership and not an issue of leadership. Barbara Kellerman
  2. In Japan, middle executives have been to more followership programs than leadership program (on average, they have attended four). In America it is the opposite.  Robert Kelley
  3. Followership is becoming the evolution of leadership. Ira Chaleff
  4. Followers need to speak with greater courage and authenticity Leaders need to reduce followers fear of speaking with greater fear and authenticity. Ira Chaleff
  5. All around the world, followers are getting stronger and leaders are getting weaker. Barbara Kellerman
  6. Followers must be able to utilize intelligent disobedience. We need to raise the next generation to appropriately question authority as well as willingly follow good leadership.
  7. The future of leadership studies will focus on leadership without leaders, without followers and without causality. Richard Cuoto
  8. Leadership is receding and others things are coming forefront.  Barbara Kellerman
  9. Leadership is not about individuals. Barbara Kellerman
  10. Leaders should bridge the gap between what ought to be and what is. Susan Komives
  11. Leadership studies and leadership programs are not necessarily leadership development. Susan Komives
  12. Leadership focuses too much on event making people and not eventful people.  Richard Cuoto
  13. The west possesses a leader-centric culture (that places far to much emphasis on the role of a leader). Ronald Riggio

Stay tuned for an update of day 2!

 

What if everything rises and falls on followership?

A well-worn leadership adage states that “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. I was once an ardent supporter of this belief. As an emerging leader, it made me feel important and it validated much of my work and academic career. After all, leaders make things happen!

As time passed, I came to an important realization – this statement is only a half-truth! In fact, I can only support the premise if it is coupled with my paradoxical title. If this was phrased as a logic statement it would read:

Everything rises and falls on leadership IS TRUE IF everything also rises and falls on followership.

In order to understand this supposition we must reframe followership and reclaim the full richness of this significant and powerful role. Here are three things we must do to accomplish this:

REFRAME 1: Lose the hierarchy

The term “follower is not synonymous with subordinate”.[1]

It is unfortunate that the word follower has become a word that connotes lack of power, subservience or a less desirable position. I recently heard someone tell their child, “You are a leader, not a follower!” While the intent of this is noble, it’s simply not true! We do not always lead! The role of a follower is not any less noble than that of a leader nor are effective followers second class. It would appear that the Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest attitude has erringly seeped into our beliefs about the importance of leaders and has turned followers into nothing more than a by-product of leadership.

In his book The Power of Followership Robert Kelley reminds us that the demarcation between followers and leaders is not as clear as literature makes it to be.[2] In fact, if you examine your daily behaviors you will find that you switch roles between that of a leader and a follower dozens of times each day. If this is true, then we must reestablish equality between leaders and followers. We must lose the hierarchy.

A leader without followers is simply someone taking a walk. Therefore, a leader is defined by the presence of followers. As we abandon hierarchy we give power to the role of followership.

REFRAME 2: Recognize the power of followership

“Followership is not a term of weakness, but the condition that permits leadership to exist and give it strength”.[3]

Have you ever considered how much power followers actually have? Kelley reminds us that “followers determine not only if someone will be accepted as a leader but also if that leader will be effective”.[4] Chaleff endorses the need for empowered followers when he reminds us that “parity [between leaders and followers is] approached when we recognize that leaders rarely use their power wisely or effectively over long periods unless they are supported by followers who have the stature to help them do so”.[5]

A recent trip to the U.S. Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. reminded me about the power of followership. Countless citizens sacrificed everything to stand up to a Nazi regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a towering example of a follower who refused to be passive. In fact, Bohnoeffer demonstrates how followers who actively exercise their power, paradoxically become leaders. Stated negatively, how many passive followers contributed to the rise of Nazism?

In high school biology we learned that symbiosis is the process by which two organisms rely on each other in order to survive. Natural symbiosis has no pecking order, priority or hierarchy. It is simply a coexistence that provides equality through shared benefit. This is how we should view leaders and followers. Leaders and followers both possess power and the right to exercise it. There is tremendous power in the role of active followership.

REFRAME 3: Embrace mutual accountability

How often have we heard people express thankfulness that they are not leaders because this means they are not responsible for the result? In order to lose the hierarchy and fully embrace the power of followership, followers must respond by sharing accountability with leaders. I call this active followership.Purpose

Mutual accountability shifts the focus from followers and leaders and, instead, refocuses on purpose (Figure 1).[6] Challeff notes that “leaders and followers are both forms of stewardship which are directed to the organizations purpose and stakeholders”.[7] In other words, when we shift our mindset to one of stewardship, many of our misperceptions about leaders and followers are reframed. As both leaders and followers align themselves around organizational purpose, a shared goal catalyzes efforts.[8]

Both followers and leaders are important and unique. As each party mobilizes around a clear purpose, hierarchy falls away, power becomes shared and leaders and followers share accountability.

The Goal – Everything rises and falls on followership…and leadership

“The word right makes no sense without the word left” and so too is leadership and followership.[9]

Allow me to conclude with an illustration that demonstrates the power of active followership. As the Russian dynasty crumbled in the late 1980’s, Lithuania was the first country to declare their independence from the USSR (March 11, 1990). About six months prior to this, a little-known event called The Baltic Way served as a critical catalyst to this bold declaration. In a public display of solidarity and a desire for independence, about 2 million citizens of the countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia joined hands on public roadways and formed a continuous human chain that spanned three countries and over 600 km. Approximately 1 in 4 citizens in these three countries joined this human chain that stretched the equivalent of the distance from San Diego to San Francisco. This demonstration by millions of active followers, became a foundation which emboldened Lithuania to declare independence from the Soviet Union six months later.

“Followers at their best…participate with enthusiasm, intelligence, and self-reliance – but without star billing – in the pursuit of organizational goals”.[10]

This is why everything rises and falls on followership as much as it does on leadership.


This blog post appeared concurrently on the blog site of my friend and colleague, Paul Sohn.

REFERENCES

[1]  Chaleff, I. (2003). The courageous follower. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, p. 15.
[2]  Kelley, R. (1992). The power of followership. New York, NY: Doubleday Currency, p. 28.
[3]  Chaleff, p. 19
[4]  Kelley, p. 13
[5]  Chaleff, p. 1
[6]  Chaleff, p. 3
[7]  Chaleff, p. 17
[8]  Chaleff, p. 4
[9]  Kelley, p. 44
[10]  Kelley, p. 27