The Leader in Me

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy.

In an organisational setting this old maxim often applies – organisations don’t change, people do. Efforts to undertake transformational change will fall short if the strategy fails to address the underlying mind-sets and capabilities of the senior managers who are tasked with executing it.

Self-understanding and the ability to translate it into an organisational context is a key prerequisite in a change leader. Change is driven by role models, rather than by apologists for the status quo.

Enlightened companies recognise that change is not only an outward driven process, but must also take account of inward factors, by linking systemic intervention with genuine self discovery and self-development by its leaders.

Read on: McKinsey – Change Leader, Change Thyself



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Leaning In in the Twenty-First Century

My working life has spanned 40 years, and I well remember the heady days of feminism in the 60s and 70s; and the fight for equal pay, being a union rep to get equal working conditions, and sitting in meetings with male colleagues vehemently protesting that they had a family at home to support and women should not receive equal pay for equal work, and in the 80s working to establish workplace policies on sexual harassment and equal employment opportunities.  Fighting the hard fight for women in the workplace.  All this seems a distant memory, but how far have women actually come in terms of gender equality, compensation, diversity and leadership, and what about the invisible women of the world who are yet to receive emancipation, let alone equitable working conditions.  Whilst the issues remain complex, subtle and difficult to tease out Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In; Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) ably summarises the issues facing twenty-first century women as they challenge to “sit at the table”.

Sandberg the chief operating officer of Facebook, and rated one of the world’s most influential women, combines personal anecdotes, hard data and compelling research to unbundle the layers of ambiguity and bias around the lives and choices of working women.  Women continue to face real obstacles in their professional life, including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination, and sexual harassment.  Few workplaces soffer flexibility, access to child care, and adequate parental leave that is necessary while you are raising children.  Women have to continue to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do, and opportunities for promotion are hampered by a lack of self-confidence, failure to raise our hands, and pulling back when we should be learning in.

Sandberg has created an international movement to encourage a more equal world.  She has started a conversation:

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013) Lean In; women, work and the will to lead.  Knopf.

Sheryl Sandberg

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Leading Strategic Innovation

Innovation is all about creating new ideas and selling them.  To successfully innovate in an organisational setting a number things need to happen:

  • Individuals need to enlarge their toolsets to think differently;
  • Groups must have a culture that supports risk, to ensure new ideas are not ‘killed’ at inception;
  • Organisations must structure themselves so that innovation is part of its strategic focus;
  • The market must see the opportunity and value;
  • Society must accept as legitimate, supporting community values and aspirations;
  • Technology must be developed  to make the innovation ready for prime-time.


These six factors constitute constraints to innovation.  Why do organisations, who say they want innovation, systematically put-up barriers to constrain new ideas from being formulated?  Why does innovation fail more often than not?  At the heart of most tales of innovation are stories of frustration, road-blocks, show-stoppers, and fate.  As the rate of product and service innovation speeds up, so does the innovation imperative.  The key to driving innovation is leadership that not only manages the constraints, but also enables aspiring innovators to successfully innovate.

There are no best-practice solutions to seed and cultivate innovation. While senior managers cite innovation as an important driver of growth, few of them explicitly have the skills to lead and manage it.  There are a whole gamut of questions around the person specification for this role – is it a training issue, should leaders be generalists or specialists, and so on? Leaders of innovation are people who are connectors – bringing disparate areas of the organisation together and divergent threads of conversations and ideas, and curating the conversation. And, because they see across divisions and into connections, they are able to align resources and focus time and energy on productive, meaningful work.  Innovation leaders understand the need for a deep understanding of the non-linear, of the role of emotional intelligence, and the increasing complexity and rapidity of change that is the new normal.

At its core innovation leadership is about understanding the constraints framework that can stymie innovation, and discerning a way to diagnose which of the constraints is particularly critical and will need to be managed.

In developing an innovation strategy there are some key deliberations:

  • Start small – learn by doing and build on your experience;
  • Build a portfolio – use a variety of attempts to learn what works and ensure that something works, the risk on any one project is modest;
  • Abandon projects appropriately – create an environment where people want to move on from low probability projects;
  • Support your innovators – don’t delegate innovation to specialists, but use specialists to support innovation;
  • Reward effort, punish inaction;
  • Intervene when groups go wrong – but set them up so they can succeed;
  • Set clear expectations about good effort, and encourage early experimentation.

Further reading:

Owens, David (2012) Creative people must be stopped.  Jossey-Bass.

Innovation: Time to Ditch “Model T Leadership”. Forbes.

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Creating Value in the Social Era

The future is ‘social’, although the picture on where we are heading in the social era is still developing. The world has changed – competition has changed, and how we create value has changed.  The people who will change our world in the social era will be more connected, more purposeful and more powerful.  As leaders we need to reimagine how we are going to get a new kind of performance for our organisations, our economies, and ourselves.

Being heard above all the noise in the social era is the challenge, but reach and connection allows for a different construct:

  • Organisations will need to be increasingly fast, fluid, and flexible with a social era backbone that can quickly assess, and respond, and be nimble on how to assemble a team that can address both problems and opportunities in the market.
  • Customers will no longer be just consumers, but also a co-creators.

The mantra is be “flexible or die”.  People in the start-up world, many of whom embody fast, fluid and flexible believe established players are fated to die, if they do not adapt.  It is generally agreed that organisations that are resilient and can adapt to the change environment by being nimble, humanised and networked will do the best.

In the social era purpose precedes scale.  Purpose is a better motivator than money, whilst not ignoring the necessity of money, purpose encourages the best in people and the best people.  A shared purpose engages people, and aligns communities.  The social era will reward organisations that realise that they can create more value with communities than on their own.  Openness is the name of the game realised through sharing and collaborating.

An organisation that creates value in the social era will be one that is participatory and embodies a culture of constant innovation.

Further reading: Merchant, Nilofer (2012) 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra. ebook.

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Scenario Planning: Planning is better than prediction

Scenario planning is a big-picture method of thinking that allows people to see the future logically, systematically and realistically. It is primarily used as a resilience test for strategy, but can also provide a framework for innovation and risk analysis.  It involves several stages, in which research, interviews, reports, analysis and brainstorming all play a part, and is of value to both creative and analytical thinkers.  Scenario planning helps an organisation prepare for a range of possible futures.

Scenario planning provides a conceptual framework, within which you can evaluate and explore complex strategic concerns.

Scenario Planning Process Map

As business and organisational futures are difficult to predict scenario planning is a useful mapping tool.

Scenario planning needs an internal champion, most likely your CEO, and ideally an external facilitator to provide independent insight.

A complete process can take 3-12 months – there are no short-cuts in scenario planning.  The outcome should lead to a dynamic, ongoing and heightened awareness of alternative futures.   A good set of scenarios extends at least 10 years into the future, and will be valid for two to three years as long as they are reviewed periodically.

The key benefits of scenario planning are that you can:

  • explore the strategic options available to you, as individuals and as an organisation
  • develop new understandings of the future by envisioning a wider range of possibilities
  • design strategies that are robust enough to withstand future shocks and surprises
  • learn to research ‘change’ in the business environment and to think systematically about business or organisational concerns, and apply techniques to the strategic planning process
  • understand the power of storytelling.

Further reading: Watson, Richard and Freeman Oliver (2012). Futurevision; scenarios for the world in 2040.  Scribe.

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A Personal Approach to Organisational Time Management

The biggest and most destructive myth in time management is that you can get everything done if only you follow the right system, use the right to-do list, or process your tasks in the right way. That’s a mistake. We live in a time when the uninterrupted stream of information and communication, combined with our unceasing accessibility, means that we could work every single hour of the day and night and still not keep up. For that reason, choosing what we are going to ignore may well represent the most important, most strategic time-management decision of all. McKinsey Quarterly shares insights into improving the fit between the priorities of managers Read on…

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Strategic Priorities in Libraries: Focus on the Transformation

Source: Web 2.012 Virtual Conference, 4 October 2012

Stephen Abrams delivered a keynote lecture on the need for libraries to get back to strategic planning.  Some key take outs from the session:

  • Library services are not a noun, they are a verb – what are the verbs in your library?
  • Library users are a narrow demographic, therefore they do not connect with the majority of the community. There is a need to create the “social glue” to maintain the library in the community. Invest time in demographics and analysis.
  • Main threat is the perception that libraries are about books, and not integral to a knowledge-based economy.  It is essential that libraries “protect reading not the book”, and understand the threats to reading.
  • Libraries must have a strategy to improve learning in the community.  Libraries are good at statistics, but they need to measure impact.  The value of libraries is in the experience.
  • All collections should have a program attached.  Service needs to move to a higher level.  Prioritse programs not collections.
  • The focus must be on informing rather than managing.  The confusion of the end user must be reduced to build an experience, this needs lots of skills.  What differentiates a library experience from a transaction?  Is your library organised around questions and programs? People want transformation, not transactions.
  • The virtual user is different from the physical user.  Libraries need to understand both users. Currently there is a disconnect and a need to balance the physical and the virtual. The end user is the product (Google model).
  • What is learned virtually is a social act so use this opportunity to engage with learners. The relationship is with the end user.
  • Libraries are doing too many things, there are too many desks, too many books. Priortise. Libraries need to get better at promotion, marketing and engagement.
  • More library staff must be in relationship management roles, and look at issues that affect the social web, such as advocacy, running campaigns.
  • There are celebrity chefs, why are there few celebrity librarians?  Librarians’ self-effacing attitude is getting in the way. Need to make librarians locally and globally famous.
  • Reposition the library and librarian separately, engage critical thinking and market sex appeal.

View presentation

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