Consulting to Organizations: Thinking Donuts and One Approach

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Donna Troisi wrote the following Newsletter after interviewing Andrea Schara

interbiznet presents the interbiznet Bugler

February 25, 2004
Software – Solutions
Read John Sumser’s article in the Electronic Recruiting News.Thinking Leaders
There are two recent articles dealing with leaders and leadership that caught my attention. Kevin Wheeler,  4 Ways to Improve Your Recruiting Leadership, writes “Leaders are not created magically, but emerge over time from a continuous process of being challenged, meeting the challenge, reflecting on what was learned, and applying it to the next challenge.”

Executive Career Strategies’ Leadership Development that Works reports on Morgan McCall, Jr., a professor at the University of Southern California, who has identified several experiences that help executives break through to a higher level of leadership effectiveness. McCall breaks down the experiences into great detail—what he considers powerful contributors to one’s development.

Both authors have touched important ideas, which get to the heart of the process—meeting the challenge and integrating the lesson so that the individual meets the next challenge with even more resources. Yet, the implication of both sets of ideas is that the challenges and experiences of the individual begin during the first job or internship. What about the first 18 or 20 years of one’s life? How might those early experiences contribute to and from which would emerge a leader? To develop this idea further, I spoke with Andrea Maloney-Schara.

Andrea, along with partner Kathy Wiseman, have created Leaders for Tomorrow, a nonprofit entity with an expressed goal of clarifying a leader’s ability to see and solve complex problems, while encouraging other people to enter into similar processes. What makes their approach very interesting and very different is how they do it—they bring the process into sharp focus by recounting family stories and tracking the development of character as it is shaped in personal encounters. People usually do not link preferences for ways of working as leaders or as team members to situations early in life. By reflecting on early links, the older knowledge of “living principles” emerges, deepens, and can be spread through networks. These stories touch on the commonalities that enable us to clarify how relationships enable the solving of complex problems.

For Andrea, those people, who want to be successful, are figuring out “How can I?”. They are doing trial and error—figuring out what works. She considers this the first step to awareness, although people treat awareness as if it were a psychological or spiritual touch-feely thing. Yet, it is an actual skill to consider “What is my impact on other people? What is their impact on me?”. This is what self-awareness is.

She poses the following scenarios:  I really want to go to the movies and I don’t know if my mom will let me go. There’s some violence and some scary stuff and after all I’m only 11. So, how am I going to approach my mom? The skills that have been developed in the family will eventually become work focused. “How am I going to approach my boss and tell him this is a very important project? He may have some misconception about it, but the project is a good one and will produce positive results for the company. I will think carefully about how to approach my boss on this issue.”

When the mom (boss) says no, what do you do? Do you go to your other siblings (co-workers) and say that mom (boss) is real stupid and you hate her?Or do you say to yourself how can I rework it—maybe do all my homework, clean my room, whatever it is to convince her that I earned the right to go. How do you renegotiate with mom? How do you renegotiate with your boss?

In Andrea’s thinking, it is a similar skill set, learned by managing yourself with authority figures early on in your family. You do not think about it when it comes to work situations. You do it automatically. You do not link work up with who you have been your entire life. It is in her experience that when people take the time to reflect, they can see the connection.

Leaders capable of linking the past and the present are natural self-analyzers. They automatically use relationship knowledge to build for future success. What is learned early on in the family eventually becomes part of work ethics, and then influences the corporate culture. In Andrea’s experience, the key is to link leadership to real life.

In her recent newsletter, Andrea poses the question, “How old do you have to be to ask the nicest people the hardest questions.” She discusses nine ideas about leadership, using as a reference point Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, who started asking those questions at the age of six.

Andrea and Kathy are interviewing 5 leaders, beginning within the high-tech industry, asking them about 30 questions. (They can be viewed in her latest newsletter. I highly recommend going through the answering process; it is, at the minimum, very thought provoking.) The principles are then summarized from these stories and discussed at a later meeting with the interviewee. They then have a small group come together, forming a small network, to listen to the stories and talk about the principles and whether they resonate or make sense to the participants.

Andrea has observed that in these small networks of people, it is possible to gain deeper confidence in the valuable connections behind leadership skills. People can gain knowledge from listening to how others have learned. In addition, people tend to find feedback more useful from people, who have nothing to gain. Just compare this to a 360 review, where more than half of the people giving feedback want your job!

In Andrea’s thinking, it is in the building of relationship skills where leaders learned to risk and ask the hard questions and listen to feedback without reacting to it too much. Understanding your impact on others, as you define what is important to you, is where you begin to see the strength of being an individual in a system—saying what you really think and listening to the feedback without losing your own direction. These are complex ideas that use storytelling as the vehicle to give people an easy-to-recall notion of how to manage self in complicated situations. People understand the idea of “building on who they really are” rather than memorizing a set of abstract principles.

It is also networking … like an information virus. The goal is to get people to have more confidence in their own strengths and skills. Listening to somebody tell you how they developed confidence, how they did trial and error learning, and what they got out of their life experiences may very well help you to figure out your own principles. However, if all it does is promote the importance of trial and error learning in relationships as a way to be more sure of yourself, then it will have accomplished a worth while goal.

When you think about it, it is common sense that leadership is linking the past to the present for the future. What might it say about their insight in choosing this particular format: storytelling—it’s been around for thousands of years, has a proven track record for passing on knowledge and wisdom, and also is entertaining.

	Buddha

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE

An idea, a set of goals or a vision, any of which are developed with personal inspiration, can lead an individual into action. Yet many such plans fail to bring the hoped for results.

Yes, visions can and do arise from both a superficial wish and also from a deep commitment to a clear purpose. Perhaps what is needed is an enlarged view of human behavior. After all the foundation for the individual is rooted in the past generations. The past has more influence as long as it is unknown. The future can be a more open road when one is able to see the past with a calm mind.

Ideally a true vision will be developed to sustain curiosity, encourage commitments and lead to better adaptations in a changing world. To sustain any vision, a foundation can be built by continuing to develop awareness of self in the moment and in historical patterns. With new awareness one can select the content of thoughts and actions rather than being driven by old habits. The goals is to learn how to be thoughtful in making choices that are worthy of one’s life’s investment.

Consulting to Organizations General Plan:

  1. Meet with the top five people. Understand the history of the organization, the individuals’ interests and patterns of relationships.
  2. Understanding the current goals and how personal strategies fit in the organization,
  3. Analyze the formation and function of teams. How much individuality is promoted? Teams can suggest tension-busting projects.
  4. Communicate consultant’s understanding back to the key participants and teams.
  5. Individual feedback can be written or verbal when given to the consultant.
  6. Individuals write new ideas, current strategies, visions and goals for the organization. Circulate these ideas.
  7. New group and individual goals are developed.
  8. One-day alpha training workshops are limited to five volunteer participants.
  9. Home training units are given to those interested in continuing, coaching contact is continued monthly.
  10. Consultant returns to the organization three hours a month for updates from key participants, for three years.
  11. Long term research made available.