Tuesday, December 31, 2013

......on idle time

That idle time.........

Sitting on the back verandah
    or by the corner window
Gazing over grassed paddock
    or paved car park
It matters not.........

Seeking space for ideas to fit
    or making sense of that observed
Reconfiguring patterns known
    or grappling with the unknown
It matters not...........

From farm to c-suite
    experience is the same
Answers emerge from deep thought
    ideas grow in unfettered space
It matters.....that idle time

Shaun G Coffey
31 December 2013

Friday, November 08, 2013


What it is:

I balance my life by taking as good care of myself as I take of my family, my friends and my work.

I treat myself the way I would like other people to treat me.

I stop, look and listen.

I take one minute for myself a few times every day to stop and ask, "IS THERE A BETTER WAY FOR ME TO TAKE CARE OF ME RIGHT NOW?"

I realise that I have the answer within me.  I am quiet and listen to the wisdom of my best self.  I wait for it.

I discover what is best and I usually do it.

I give to myself and I receive from myself.

I am happier.

Why it works:

When I take as good care of myself as I take of others I am happier.  Because the better I take care of myself the less angry I am with myself and others.  And the more loving I become.

Source:  Originally taken from  One-Minute Manager Audiotape of the same name.  See the Spencer Johnson book - http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/88180.One_Minute_For_Yourself

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Science has not reached its limits

 Has science reached its limits of growth?  

I recently re-read " Prometheus Bound: Science in a dynamic steady state" written in 1994 by John Ziman, and was intrigued how much the context has changed in 30 years, yet the substance hasn't.

John Ziman had a distinguished career in the natural sciences. In Prometheus Bound (ISBN 0 521 43430 0), he wrote about the problems scientists have with governments, administrators etc.  His preface starts:

 "Science is reaching its 'limits to growth'. It is expected to contribute increasingly to national prosperity, yet national budgets can no longer support further expansion to explore tempting new re-search opportunities, by larger research teams, equipped with increasingly sophisticated apparatus. As a result, science is going through a radical structural transition to a much more tightly organized, rationalized and managed social institution. Knowledge-creation, the acme of individual enterprise, is being collectivized.

This transition is pervasive, interlocking, ubiquitous and permanent. It affects the whole research system from the every day details of laboratory life to the politics of national budgets. Changes in one part of the system, such as the abolition of academic tenure, have repercussions elsewhere, for example in the commercial exploitation of scientific discoveries. A new policy language of 'accountability', 'evaluation', 'input and output indicators', 'priority-set-ting', 'selectivity', 'critical mass', etc. has become commonplace throughout the world, from Finland to Brazil, from Poland to New Zealand, from the United States to Papua New Guinea. Indeed, science is becoming a truly international enterprise, organized systematically on a global scale."

I am sure there are many people who could write this in 2013 - and lament that we may not have made much real progress in understanding and practice of public policy around science and technology.  But we have made enormous inroads into our understanding of the world and our ability to put science to work over the last 30 years.

 In a real sense we have risen to the challenge set by Ziman when he elegantly posed:

"Many scientists and scholars look back regret-fully to a more relaxed and spacious environment for academic research. But nostalgia is a fruitless sentiment. What all scientists know is that science cannot thrive without social space for personal initiative and creativity, time for ideas to grow to maturity, open-ness to debate and criticism, hospitality towards innovation, and respect for specialized expertise. The real question is not whether the structural transition is desirable, or could have been avoided: it is how to reshape the research system to fit a new environment without losing the features that have made it so productive in the past."

The challenge is still relevant in 2013 and will remain for some time.

The Power of Ethical Management

In recent conversations I have been challenged by the notions that many organisation continue to come unstuck because  of unethical behaviours of leaders and managers.  But is it just at the top that we have problems?

Organisations can create an environment conducive to ethical behaviour.  It all comes down to how people - and I include both employees and clients - perceive the way they are being treated by the organisation and its management.  And the extent to which they can influence what happens.

Three factors come into play.
  •  Purpose:  use values, hopes, and a clear purpose statement to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
  • Professionalism:  by knowing as much as we can about our job and striving to perform effectively we develop an identity with the purpose and pride ourselves and of our organisation.  Knowing what is at risk can help you resist temptations to behave unethically. 
  •  Perspective: be reflective in our practice.  Make time to pause and reflect, make yourself aware  of what is going on around you. See the big picture and all the impacts.  Respond and adjust, using purpose as your reference point.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Is it success that corrupts, not power?

Holding organisations together when all is going well is not an easy task.  When all is going well you can inadvertently wander away from core business. Success bring a certain amount of freedom to explore, and can lead to complacency and slowness to respond to circumstances. Success is not often something for which we prepare. 

It is in that context that we can ask:

Why have so many seemingly successful companies failed in recent years?  Why is there widespread anxiety over company/organisational leadership?  Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their political leadership?
Is it a lack of preparedness?  Is it an inability to cope with success?  Have we even thought about what success is?
The following examines some issues relating to responsibility, ethics and power in leadership.  I have drawn on some older material to help my reflection, and suggest that we seldom consider how we should prepare for success as a precursor to good performance.  None of this is new, but has it been forgotten?
Leadership has been described as a serious meddling in the lives of others (De Pree, 1991:7).  This implies that leadership embodies a responsibility of leaders for, or toward, those who are led. 
Yet a common scenario in modern business (since the late 1980s) is:
... good, respected and successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.  (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:266).
An Australian newspaper article from that time (Barker, 1995:14) reported that a concern for ethics in business is:
... a response to what is now called “ the excesses of the eighties” - the economic damage done to the nation and individuals by greedy, irresponsible and often corrupt business people who were feted as national heroes.
Ethics in management is a significant theme in the recent.  But why is it that leaders get caught up in a downward spiral of unethical decisions?
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:266-267) seek to:
... debunk the notion that ethical failure of our leaders is largely due to lack of principle and/or the tough competitive climate of the 80s and 90s. (Equally, we could say the same for the more recent past)  Rather, we would like to suggest that many of the violations we have witnessed in recent years are the result of success and lack of preparedness in dealing with personal and organisational success.
Other evidence (Barker, 1995; LaBier ,1986) supports this contention that little attention is placed on preparing people to deal with the trials and dilemmas associated with success in modern society.  As success is the goal of every leader (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:270) it is surprising that it does not rate more significance in management and leadership literature.
The biblical story of David and Bathsheba is used to outline four potential by-products of success:
·      lose of strategic focus;
·      privileged access;
·      control of resources;
·      inflated belief in personal ability to control outcomes.
Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:267-269) write that “... the good and successful King David of Israel, believing he could cover up his impropriety, took Bathsheba to his bed while her husband was off in battle.” 
David is not where he is supposed to be (loss of strategic focus), he “delegated, then ignored what was happening”.  David had time on his hands, and a viewing position atop the palace roof to view Bathsheba at bath (privileged access).  David then manipulates the situations (controls resources, and tries to control outcomes) sleeps with Bathsheba who falls pregnant, brings her husband in from battle in the hope he will sleep with his wife and cover-up David’s impropriety, and eventually causes the husband to be killed.  The manipulation is exposed.  “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power, and control over power, he could cover up”.
When kept within reason, privileged access and control of resources are positive and justified requisites for success.  Privileged access is “essential for comprehensive strategic vision” and control of resources is “necessary for the execution of strategy” (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:269).  Loss of strategic focus and inflated belief in personal ability are essentially negative (see Table 3)
Table 3:  Possible outcome experienced by successful leaders
Privileged Access
Inflated Belief in Personal Ability
Emotionally Expansive
Unbalanced Personal Life
Inflated Ego
Fear of Failure
Control of Resources
No Direct Supervision
Ability to Influence
Ability to set Agenda
Control over Decision Making
Loss of Strategic Focus
Organisation on Autopilot
Delegation without Supervision
Strategic Complacency
Neglect of Strategy
                                                                                (Source: Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993: 270)
The benefits of success to the leader and the organisation are obvious.  Less readily apparent is the personal “dark side” of success which revolves largely around three psychological issues outlined by Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:270-271).  These are:
·      Climbing the success ladder exposes leaders to negative attitudes and behaviours.  There may not be apparent, but nonetheless come with the territory of successful leadership.  Negatives that could be reinforced include unbalanced personal lives, a loss of touch with reality and an inflated sense of personal ability.
·      Leaders may become emotionally expansive - “their appetite for success, thrills, gratification, and control becomes insatiable”.  They can lose the ability to be satisfied.  They can become personally isolated and lack intimacy with family and friends, losing a valuable source of personal balance.  They “literally lose touch with reality”.
·      Other factors include stress, fear of failure and the “emptiness syndrome” (“Is this all there is to success?”)  An inflated sense of ego can lead to abrasiveness, close-mindedness and disrespect.
Success does not necessarily lead to undesired behaviour as Ludwig and Longenecker (1991:271) are careful to record:
We are not suggesting that all successful leaders fall prey to these negatives that are frequently associated with success, but rather want to make the case that success can bring with it some very negative emotional baggage.
However, it is useful to recognise the seven lessons from David’s experience (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1991:271) provide a useful framework for reflection:
  •  Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organisation’s short-term and long-term success.  This can't happen if they aren't where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.
  • There will always be temptations that come in a variety of shapes and forms that will tempt leaders to make decisions they know they shouldn't make.  With success will come additional ethical trials.  
  • Perpetrating an unethical act is a personal, conscious choice on the part of the leader that frequently places a greater emphasis on personal gratification rather than on the organisation’s needs.
  • It is difficult if not impossible to partake in unethical behaviour without implicating and/or involving others in the organisation
  • Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organisational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.
  • Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behaviour.
  • Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organisation, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.”
The important lessons for Ludwig and Longenecker (1992:272) is for leaders to recognise it could happen to them, and to be aware that:
Ethical leadership is simply part of good leadership and requires focus, the appropriate use of resources, trust, effective decision making, and provision of model behaviour that is worth following.  Once it is lost it is difficult if not impossible to regain.
Further Reading
Barker G (1995)  The glove that tempers the iron fist.  The Australian Financial Review Magazine. July. pp.14-21
Burdett  J O (1991)  What is empowerment anyway?  Journal of European Industrial Training. 15(6):23-30
De Pree M O (1989)  Leadership is an Art.   Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.
Eisler R (1995)  From domination to partnership: The hidden subtext for organisation change.  Training & Development 49(2):32-39
LaBier D (1986)  Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
Ludwig D C and Longenecker C O (1993)  The Bathsheba syndrome: the ethical failure of successful leaders. Journal of Business Ethics 12(4):265-273
Peace W H (1991)  The hard work of being a soft manager.  Harvard Business Review. 69(6):40-42,46-47

Monday, July 01, 2013

Six Enemies of Strategic Planning...and six ways to face them

Strategy development can be a baffling process, and poor strategy is almost impossible to execute. Kaufman gives some useful hints about what to avoid and how to avoid them.  Six ideas that can be used as tools to check how you are doing!

  1. A focus on means rather than ends.  Overcome this enemy by turning it on its head.  Look at the WHAT and not the HOW.

  1. The failure to recognise the three levels of results:  micro (individual), macro (organisational) and mega (societal).  Overcome this by understanding the distinctions among the three levels and linking them together.

  1. Written objectives that give destination without supplying precise criteria for knowing when you have arrived.  Overcome this enemy by preparing objectives that include measures of success.

  1. Needs that are defines as gaps in resources or methods (means).  Overcome this enemy by defining needs as gaps in results (ends), rather than rushing into premature solutions to ill-defined problems.

  1. A mission that is practical, real world, do-able, and achievable, without being focused on a vision.  Overcome this enemy by defining an ideal vision.

  1. Reliance on plans that are comfortable and acceptable.  Overcome this enemy by pushing out of comfort zones and looking at where you should be, not just where you feel comfortable.

From Kaufman R (1992)  6 steps to strategic success.  Training & Development  46(5):107-112

A leader must break free of the wisdom of the herd, and strike out in bold new directions.

In 2002 Steve Sample, Tenth President of the University of Southern California penned the book, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadershi...