Our clients are learning-leaders in mid-sized companies. Most are senior executives – and their leadership teams – in rapidly growing, high tech organizations. These leaders are focused on creating agile teams of engaged employees in a low stress, creative working environment. Their goal is to create a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage for their organization. They know this requires enthusiastically engaged employees.
However, before we began working together, they were plagued with one or more of the following conditions. Invest a little time exploring what we offer IF you experience any of the following:
• You, and your team, are struggling with the chaos and overwhelm of 24/7 job demands, work/family conflict, and the high stress of low job control. Do team members appear to live on the edge of overwhelm and exhaustion?
• Your areas of responsibility – the cost centers or profit centers — are not meeting their expected performance metrics. Is the performance flat or declining?
• Your team’s response to new customer expectations or an aggressive competitor’s offer is slow and ineffective. The team’s discretionary energy is low or absent. Do you get silent — passive-aggressive — resistance to strategic marketing initiatives?
• You observe enthusiasm, creativity, and morale are low. Are the unique strengths and talents of your team underutilized or misapplied?
• Do people behave like they really want to work here or do they begin counting down to 5:00pm Friday on Monday morning?
• You observe that burnout, conflict, and turnover are high. This is an infection of the “3D Virus:” Dissonance, Distrust and Disengagement.
Any of these conditions are symptoms of low employee engagement. The Gallup Company’s latest published research shows that typically no more than 30% of the employees (including managers) are actively engaged!
All strategic initiatives to improve an organization’s performance involves some combination of new technology, process refinements, and improved human performance (execution). Of these three levers, improved human performance is the most important and often the most misunderstood or neglected.
Great technology is essential, but the finest equipment, hardware and software will perform no better than the enthusiastic creativity of the people using this technology in service of exceeding the customer’s expectations.
The same logic applies to process refinements. They are necessary but not sufficient to make a strategic initiative successful unless these refinements are executed by enthusiastic employees dedicated to exceeding the customer’s expectations.
Exceeding the customer’s ever-expanding expectations requires agile teams of engaged employees performing in a low-stress, creative working environment. Creating a high level of employee engagement is the only sustainable competitive advantage.
Many leaders fail to realize that cultural inertia caused by non-engaged or disengaged employees is at the root of most strategic initiative failures. Booz & Co. (now “Strategy&”) reports that over 70% of all strategic initiatives fail and another 15% are only partially successful. Their research confirms:
“Culture eats Strategy for breakfast!” — Peter Drucker
Engaged employees are essential for the organization to change as rapidly as change itself. The culture must be evolving as rapidly as our turbulent, VUCA universe is changing!
(Click here to read more) (This continues on an inside page).
The Reality of the VUCA Universe:
VUCA is a military acronym for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It is used by military strategists to describe the combat environment. Now it is aptly applied by business strategists to describe our turbulent, rapidly changing business universe.
VUCA is also an accurate description of our political/social universe as well. Everywhere we turn, we are confronted with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The fears arising from the turbulent VUCA universe are causing wide spread questioning of all top-down authority structures. The competencies of the leaders of all types of institution are being questioned.
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – It is to act with yesterday’s logic.” — Peter Drucker
All of the intractable problems leaders face are adaptive challenges – not technical challenges. There is a clear difference between an adaptive challenge and a technical challenge. In its simplest form, a technical challenge is any problem that can be solved by replicating a proven process within the existing culture (yesterday’s logic). Conversely, adaptive challenges do not yield to any established methodology within the existing culture. They require new logic; that is, new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.
Adaptive Challenges and “Temenos”:
Adaptive challenges do not yield to top-down, command-and-control leadership, where everyone is working harder and longer, and more intensely applying processes and technology that worked in the past.
Adaptive challenges require teams to collaborate in discovering new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. This is the definition of a “culture shift.” Culture shifts, even small ones, only happen when employees are actively engaged!
Solutions to adaptive challenges are ONLY discovered in a psychologically safe — “Temenos” — ecosystem where “There are no mistakes, only lessons; where there are no failures, only research.”
“Temenos: an ecosystem where it is safe for warriors to remove their armor!
Temenos (Tem-en-os) comes to us from ancient Greece. It was a turbulent, VUCA society! The word identifies a sacred enclosure next to the temple where it is safe for warriors to remove their armor before entering the temple. (Armor, n. “A safeguard or protection”) In the present context, it identifies a very safe environment where everyone can be honest, open, and trust others to be the same. Temenos is essential for a culture supporting collaboration, experimentation and innovation to exist.
Conversely, employees realize any attempts to collaborate, experiment or innovate where Temenos does not exist is serious, career limiting behavior!
Collaboration, experimentation, and innovation are required to discover solutions to adaptive challenges. The more difficult the challenge, the more “lessons and research” required to discover a creative solution.
Adaptive Leaders and Their Beginner’s Mind:
We define an adaptive leader as one who quickly recognizes an adaptive challenge. Adaptive leaders have high Social Emotional Intelligence (SEI) skills: curiosity, vulnerability, and humility. They comfortably acknowledge “I don’t know the answer; what do you think?” This is their Beginner’s Mind: being comfortable with all that they do not know as well is all that they do know.
“It is only what you learn after you know it all that counts.” — John Wooden.
One clear signal that a leader is dealing with an adaptive challenge is when the problem persists after multiple, carefully designed, technical fixes. A second signal is the upward delegation of intractable problems. If the front-line people who are most closely connected to the problem don’t have the proven methodology to solve it, they have just three options. They can give up and deny its existence, or ignore it, or delegate it up. None of these are satisfactory and cause managers and employees to disengage.
The longer the adaptive challenge is unrecognized, the greater will be the employees’ frustration and disengagement. A Leader’s competence is quickly questioned when, in the absence of a Beginner’s Mind, he fails to acknowledge the reality of the situation that everyone else clearly sees.
The best strategy is to is to create an adaptive working environment – an Adaptive Ecosystem – where it safe for adaptive challenges to be acknowledged and collaboratively addressed.
Creating an Adaptive Ecosystem:
An Adaptive Ecosystem consists of agile teams of enthusiastically engaged employees focused on adapting the organization’s culture to the turbulent VUCA universe as rapidly as it evolves! Employee engagement is the foundation of cultural adaptability.
Expanding employee engagement to meet adaptive challenges requires (among other things) providing a low-stress, psychologically safe – “Temenos” — ecosystem. Employees must have the autonomy to experiment with crazy-weird ideas in service of discovering successful, creative, new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that overcome these adaptive challenges.
High levels of employee engagement only happen when they are able to align the organization’s values and purpose with their own and they see their work as personally fulfilling. They have the freedom to pursue mastery of what they do well and provides meaning in their life.
In creating an Adaptive Ecosystem, Learning-Leaders become Adaptive Leaders. They think, feel and behave very differently in their leadership roles where the ability to gain buy-in without coercion is required for success.
The Authentic Leadership Insights Model:
The Authentic Leadership Insights model first began to evolve about 35 years ago when I was specializing in the recovery – or turnaround – of under-performing business units. While there were always technical challenges and sloppy process/procedural issues that had to be addressed, nothing produced reliable results until we effectively addressed the disengaged dynamics within the system’s relationships.
The performance improved only after we created an environmental ecosystem where all of the employees enthusiastically collaborated. It was only after the employee’s discretionary energy was available to the system that creative breakthroughs occurred. This is what employee engagement looks like.
What we discovered was this: our traditional, top-down – Command & Control – methods of doing things did not work! As leaders, we had to learn new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. We had to move away from top-down management to what (at that time we called) bottom-up management.
We did more listening than telling. Time after time, it was amazing how much we learned once we approached our problems with a Beginner’s Mind. We abandoned the old command & control management paradigm in favor of a collaborative, values and priorities approach to leadership.
Successful recovery of any low-performing operation always requires a culture shift. The organization’s culture is “the employee’s most successful way of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Its purpose is to preserve the institutional wisdom of “the way we do things around here.” When confronted with an Adaptive Challenge, Its job is to resist the changes required for success!
Over the years, in coaching executives who were dealing with Adaptive Challenges, the Authentic Leadership Insights concepts were refined and expanded. This model has been “battle tested” in the VUCA business universe.
A complete discussion of the concepts underlying this powerful model is available for downloading in the Resources Section of this website.
Join Our Eagle Tribe:
The Beginner’s Mind E-Zine is an irreverent, irregular publication for those leaders who already know it all and, from this wisdom, have the curiosity, humility and self-confidence to have their biases and blind spots challenged.
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What management issues do you have? Email your questions, comments or requests to BeginnersMind@InSearchOfEagles.com. All emails will be answered.
A Guide at Your Side:
I provide leaders with something they cannot provide for themselves. I provide a sounding board where they can safely explore the uncertainties and complexities they face. When we have only our internal conversation, we create an echo chamber and are not aware of our blind spots and biases.
I often partner with leaders – executives and business owners – to create an Essential Pause for Reflection in their turbulent, chaotic life. This reflective time for “deep work” enables 1) more thoughtful, sounder decisions, and 2) a low-stress, fulfilling life adventure.
If having a Guide at Your Side to support you as you deal with the isolation, anxiety, chaos and stress generated by the turbulent VUCA environment is something you would like to explore, I would like to get acquainted with you. CLICK HERE
We will arrange a free leadership strategy session to see if working together will help you become the leader you wish to be. So that you get the greatest benefit from our discussion, you will need to complete a brief questionnaire that tells me more about who you are, where you want to go, and what results you expect to achieve from a coaching engagement.
So if the time is right for you, CLICK HERE