Posted tagged ‘coalitions’

Keeping Your Balance

February 16, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it appears that President Obama is getting quite an education from both the Democrats and the Republicans. This type of education will hopefully result in the President learning how to keep his balance.

The life of a leader is always a balancing act but never more so than during a transition. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be crippling. One does not know what one does not know. Keeping one’s balance is a key transition challenge.

It is essential that the new leader avoid these seven traps.

1)      Riding off in all directions. You must focus yourself on what is important.

2)      Undefended Boundaries. It is important to establish boundaries around what you are willing and not willing to do. Otherwise bosses, peers, and direct reports will take all that you have to give.

3)      Brittleness. The uncertainty inherent in transitions breeds rigidity and defensiveness, especially in new leaders with a high need for control. The likely result will be over commitment to a failing course of action.

4)      Isolation. Isolation can occur because you do not take the time to make the right connections, perhaps by relying on a few people, on “official” information or, by discouraging people from sharing bad news with you.

5)      Biased Judgment. This difficulty manifests itself as over commitment to a failing course of action because of ego and credibility issues, confirmation bias (the tendency to focus on information that confirms your beliefs and filter out that which does not), self-serving illusions (a tendency for your personal stake in a situation to cloud your judgment), and optimistic overconfidence or underestimation of the difficulties associated with your preferred course of action. Vulnerability to these biases increases in high stakes, uncertain, ambiguous situations in which emotions can run high.

6)      Work Avoidance. The leader avoids making a tough call by choosing to bury him or herself in other work. This causes tougher problems to become even tougher.

7)      Going over the top. All these traps can generate dangerous levels of stress. When stress is too high it becomes counterproductive.

To avoid these traps the author recommends following the leadership transition program outlined in this document, creating and enforcing personal disciplines, and building support systems at home and at work that help you maintain balance.

Personal disciplines that should be considered are

  • Planning to Plan
  • Deferring Commitments until you are certain that you have time to fulfill the commitment
  • Setting aside time for hard work by prioritizing and eliminating distractions so as to concentrate on what needs to be done
  • “Going to the balcony” and allowing yourself to step out and distance yourself so that the problem may be perceived in a different light
  • Focusing on the process of influencing others through consultation
  • Checking in with yourself to privately reflect on the situation.
  • Recognizing when to take a break in order to reenergize yourself.

Building your Support Systems means getting your personal office set-up, stabilizing the home front as your spouse and family are transitioning too, and building your advice and counsel network. This network should include people who can guide you on technical issues, such as expert analysis of technologies, markets and strategies; cultural interpreters who will help you understand the culture; and political counselors who will help you deal with political relationships.

Creating Coalitions

February 11, 2009

Anyone who has been observing the stimulus bill negotiations surely has become much more cognizant of President Obama’s need to build coalitions and the early lessons he is learning. To paraphrase his comments last evening, “old habits die hard.”

In order to exert influence without authority to require that people take certain actions, one needs to create coalitions to get things done. Influence networks – informal bonds among colleagues – can help you marshal backing for your ideas among colleagues. However, to do so, one needs to create an influence strategy. This means figuring out whom you must influence, pinpointing who is likely to support and resist your key initiatives, and persuading “swing voters.” .

Many new leaders make the mistake of focusing on the vertical dimension of influence, i.e., direct reports and supervisors, and not enough to the horizontal dimension, namely peers and external constituencies.  Think about who might be critical to your success and whether you have engaged and enrolled them.

Start by identifying the key interfaces between your group and others. Customers and suppliers, within the business and outside, are natural focal points for relationship building. Another strategy is to get your boss to connect you. Request a list of ten key people outside your group whom s/he thinks you should get to know. Then set up  meetings with them. (This strategy should be employed for your direct reports as well. Create priority relationship lists for them and help them to make contact.)

Another productive approach is to diagnose informal networks of influence. Observe the interactions at meetings including who defers to whom on crucial issues. Identify who is sought after for advice, who shares what information and news, and who is owed favors.

Identify the sources of power that give people influence such as expertise, access to information, status, control of resources (such as budgets and rewards), and personal loyalty. Talk to former employees and people who did business with the organization in the past. Seek out the natural historians.

Eventually, you will identify the opinion leaders. If these vital individuals align behind your A-item priorities, broader acceptance of your ideas is likely to follow.

There is a diagramming tool known as an influence map that will help you identify who influences whom. An influence map will help you identify supporters, opponents, and “convinceables,” people who can be persuaded.

Potential supporters typically share your vision of the future, are quietly working for change on a small scale, or are new to the company and have not yet become acculturated to its mode of operation. You must solidify and nurture this support. It is not a given.

Opponents will oppose you no matter what you do. They may believe that you are wrong. They may be comfortable with the status quo, have a fear of looking incompetent, see you as a threat to a value that they hold dear or to their power, or that your arrival will have negative consequences for people that they care about.

When you meet resistance, try to grasp the reason behind it. This will allow you to counter arguments and you may be able to convert some early opponents.

“Convinceables” are the swing voters who are either indifferent to change, undecided, or may be appealed to based on their interests. Take the time to try to figure out what their interests may be. Ask them or engage them in dialogue about the situation. Ask if there are competing forces that prevent these people from listening to you.

Now you are ready to think about persuasion strategies. People tend to weigh status quo vs. change. People will more likely gravitate to the status quo unless remaining with the status quo is perceived as a future threat or if there is a reward for change. If the leader has earned sufficient credibility, merely asking people to try something new is sufficient. These persuasive appeals can be based on logic and data or on values and the emotions that values elicit, or some combination of both.

There are action-forcing events that require change. Review meetings in which people must discuss progress publicly are one such event. These meetings encourage action and enforce accountability.

If people are unable to move at once, a leader may employ strategies to allow people to make incremental steps towards change called “entanglement strategies.” For example, getting people to participate in an initial meeting may cause them to participate later on. Entanglement works because each step creates a new psychological reference point for deciding whether to take the next small step.

Another way to do this is to get people to participate in data gathering. Once the person recognizes the problem, have them participate in refining the problem definition. From there it is a small step to solution planning and then, to implementation.

Finally, if you get people to change behaviors, right attitudes often follow. This is because people look for consistency between their behaviors and beliefs.

This all leads to a concept called “sequencing strategy.” By getting individual influencer’s alignment and support, group actions follow. If you approach the right people first, you can set in motion a virtuous cycle. Approach people in the following sequence:

  • Individuals with whom you have supportive relationships first
  • People whose interests are strongly compatible with yours
  • People who have the critical resources to make your agenda succeed
  • People with important connections who can recruit more supporters

A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

January 18, 2009

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.


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