Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Road is Your Footsteps, Nothing Else

South American poet Machados is on to something. The path to the future, let alone the future, cannot be known in advance. Having intentions and views of outcomes are useful. But, don’t be fooled by specific action plans or strategies which are invented and unproven. Witness the results of the “strategies” of our national politicians. I’ll bet they did not do a SWOT analysis!

The journey to the desired outcomes is a messy business. Nature’s method of “strategizing” provides a more realistic view in today’s environment. It is a self-organizing system finding order amidst chaos and complexity. If we add to the equation, many people (connecting) and information (lots of it, unplanned and uncontrolled), the system eventually discovers good solutions to vexing disturbances, according to Margaret Wheatley (Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time). As Myron Rogers, an author in her book explains, “when an individual changes, the neighbours take notice and decide how they will change.” Belinda Stronach’s astonishing move to the Liberals supports this view. This was followed by more exchanges of information and more interconnecting of multiple players leading to one of the possible outcomes.

Strands of other forces, often imperceptible guide the journey. Stephen Harper failed to work with Belinda’s strengths, an approach that all great leader-managers utilize. If the newspaper reports are correct, he instead focused on her “weaknesses” (too soft on core policy issues, beliefs not quite aligned with his). His actions suggest that he was unable to see Belinda as a bridge between the two cultures he needs to unite—the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives. For the foreseeable future, it’s checkmate! Every manager of strategy, beware. Each person counts in the formulation as well as the execution steps. Even the outliers.

D. Wayne Lukas, a famed American horse trainer, who has broken every record in the history of his sport concurs. His mantra---the “horses are always right”, is core to his success. In that the term “manage” has an equine origin, meaning “to handle, to train horses”, we can stretch the analogy to humans. Lukas is adamant that developing world class talent and thus achieving world class results means paying attention to the small things that enable people (and horses) to develop their potential. The strategy that produces outstanding results follows because the spirit, the identity from which all else flows is engaged.

Thus, identity is another crucial strand, contributing to the “footsteps on the road”. For an organization, it manifests as collective identity and the collective wisdom. Using the polls as an indicator, most Canadians did not want the minority Liberal government to fall. Although the issues were hotly debated from coast to coast, the net of the conversations fell on the side of restraint rather than more chaos. Is it possible that Canadians drawing on our values as a nation overall knew what was right, at least in the short term? Take any organization and poll its members especially those on the front line. The seeds of great strategy are always there ready to be cultivated by leader-managers. It requires honouring the culture first and then paying attention to the abundant local “intelligence”.

In Here Be Dragon, Peter Newman recounts an extraordinary demonstration of a shared identity and experience shaping the road ahead. When the Germans seized Prague in the early part of 1939, the citizens found their way to St. Wenceslas Square, “the city’s and country’s spiritual heart”. Spontaneously, they broke into their national anthem—“Where is My Home?” An “invisible conductor” led them to the same spot to declare their identities. The seeds of future action were sown.

This “invisible conductor” is a great leader’s sixth sense. It is not neat. It is not based on the 25 certain steps to the future. It is more nuanced and emergent. Henry Mintzberg in Strategy Bites Back explains the process as a “recipe not meant to be followed exactly….add a drop or two of that, a pinch of the other. Let yourself be led by your palate and your tongue, your eyes and your heart”.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just a Leaf

War is in the air these days. So is security. Underlying the 60th anniversary of V-E Day is the constant drumbeat: people want leaders who help them to remain alive, to experience the joys of day-to-day living with their families, friends and business colleagues. The Liberal surge in the polls despite our mixed feelings on Martin’s leadership may reflect the “bottom line” for the majority---we do not want war at the federal level. We want action that will help us build prosperity together. Inherent in our scenario of wellbeing is security not instability and chaos.

Think about our flag. As a Vietnamese refugee, who is now a lawyer in Ottawa points out, there is “no star, no sun, no moon and no stripe. Just a leaf.” Simple and modest. Nature-based, reflecting the value of life itself, each and every life. Such sentiments run deep especially at this time of year as the life spouts everywhere in our natural environment while we also reflect on our great wars.

“Just a leaf” embodies a strong message for any leader: build rather than destroy. Our great Canadian artist, Alex Colville who painted and drew the mud, fear and horror of WWII, claims that the experience of war sharpened his awareness of time and life’s most basic parts----a job, a house, a car, children, a dog! Not surprisingly, his paintings in peacetime commemorate the extraordinary, ordinary people in moments of disquiet and joy. It is the ordinariness of life that great leaders honour and hold sacred.