Friday, July 27, 2007

As in Golf So in Management: A Mind Up to Speed With the "Game"

After a thrilling British Open in which Ireland’s Padraig Hamilton outwitted Sergio Garcia, we’re awed again by Hunter Mahan’s opening round of 62 at the Canadian Open. While most of us are content to boast a hole-in-one once in our amateur golf careers, Hunter racked up three eagles in a game. He attributes his current round of success with improvements to his mind. In his words: “My mind is kinda catching up to my game.”

Based on the post British Open tournament press interviews, we can conclude Padraig gets it, Sergio, not yet. The latter blamed divine intervention for his almost win. Padraig stuck to hard work, some mental toughness when the chips were down and mental agility along the way. Lots of humility there.

In golf, so in managing and leading in the truest sense. The “game” is as much about “feel” as technique. It is not behaviour modification, such as “I must do active listening more”. It is a deeper sense of how you think and learn, how others do and making the link accordingly. Educators call it “deep learning”. Very much akin to the journey from novice to expert. This is no easy task.

The reality in today’s work environment is sobering. In 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers, based on the opinions of 50,000 employees in Canada and the United States, Bruce Katcher cites a litany of employee woes about managers:
-don’t listen
-don’t respect us
-don’t appreciate us
-don’t give us enough authority
-will punish us if we make unpopular suggestions

All of these laments are solvable if managers better understand their own minds. To be at the top of their games, pro golfers practice “deliberate learning”. That is, they practice self-observation and feedback followed by practice based on their new insights. The discipline of constant improvement, a deep learning process, is understood as vital to being at the top of their game more often than not. Deliberate practice is essential to great management too.

Note, it’s not technique only or the tasks at hand. It’s about relationship. If you begin to see the world from another’s point of view and you accept it, as a starting point, without judgment, you are on your way to learning and improving. Top pro golfers and other elite athletes fight first with themselves to raise the bar on performance. So relationship with self, in the context of management, is as crucial as relationship with others.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sophocles to Conrad Black: Wish We'd Had a Chat

The contrast in leadership stories was hard to miss. Toronto’s Ed Mirvish, who dubbed himself, “Honest Ed” was described as “an icon who never put himself on a pedestal” and whose kindness to people, especially new immigrants to the city, gave them a sense of dignity and belonging. The adjectives for Conrad Black ran the gamut of arrogant, an inflated sense of entitlement and a disdain for anyone who put obstacles in his way.

Who would you rather be as a leader, let alone a person in this world? Conrad has gotten himself into a mighty mess. Too bad he didn’t take some of Sophocles’ wisdom to heart.

One of the greatest hazards for leaders, according to Sophocles, is the suppression of dialogue with knowledgeable and concerned people around them. In the play Antigone, Sophocles drives home the message that a tough task for all leaders is to resist their own instincts and commitments. In that leaders often face a messy and chaotic combination of feelings, thoughts, facts and analyses to sift through, Sophocles recommends good deliberation. That should include a clear examination of history and a sensible assessment of the consequences if certain actions are taken. Sophocles underscores that the exercise is not an individual but a communal one.

He pushes his point further: Listening is not enough. That which prevents going down dangerous roads is a deep regard for people.

Much will be written in the days ahead as to why and how Conrad Black shot himself in the foot with his own personality. These are the mysteries of life. Only Lord Black really knows. That’s why self-awareness is a lifelong challenge in developing leadership effectiveness.

See the books by Joseph L. Badaracco’s Questions of Character and Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth for more insight.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Preparing for the Unexpected: A Deep Dive in Disaster Management

After three days immersed in the views of disaster management specialists, I’m ready to cocoon. They’ve got me convinced we should prepare better for the unexpected. But, what a lot of work! Business impact analysis (BIA) and all that flows from it is no easy task.

It’s an important part of leading and leadership---to anticipate and be ready to adapt to a crisis. How many leaders of organizations large and small pay enough attention to this? Not many is my guess.

The 17th World Conference on Disaster Management at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre reinforced what the military routinely does: train for the expected and unexpected. The latter is the most difficult. The leadership landscape, military included, is littered with “disasters”---the 2003 blackout, Katrina, SARS, Iraq, the RCMP plus multitudes of train and plane accidents, floods, etc.

The real message is that many disasters, both large and small, can be prevented with smarter and more diligent thinking and action. Richard van Pelt from Pasadena City College made that point over and over again. His visual depiction of one disaster after another around the world that should not have happened underlined that disaster management is a daily requirement.

That means creating an organization of leaders in which openness, transparency, wide sharing of information, creative thinking, and evidenced-based and ethical management abound. When done well, business impact analysis will be built into the “DNA” of the culture.

Check out and for more on this topic of preparedness.