“Old school models of leadership are not enough anymore. Telling people what to do doesn’t lead to creativity. Instead, leadership is about generating and embracing bold ideas—and that all starts with asking questions.”
Tim Brown via IDEO U
I spent the holidays at home in Quito, Ecuador this year. I read, I wrote and I learned some really interesting things through in person conversations and online courses. In short, I became a little wiser as I rang in the new year! I share 3 nuggets of wisdom that represent my first post of 2018. May the new year bring you health, connections and opportunities to be present!
Health is the basis for growth.
In all aspects, staying healthy is preferable to dealing with health consequences after the fact. This applies just as much to organizations as to personal physical health. Health is a smart medium/long term strategy.
Connections are gold.
Connections create opportunities that would otherwise not exist. After posting a note about this on LinkedIn last week, I received an overwhelming response from people (some connections, some not) all over the world. Connectors connect interests resulting in value creation and problem solving. Without connections (and the platforms and people that connect), innovation and growth would not be possible. Blockchain (and distributed ledger) provide some interesting opportunities for transparency, connection and efficiencies.
Being responsible means you are response – able.
Even if we are trained to blame others or the weather or some third party when faced with something we are unable to accomplish, doing so means that we are giving up our ability to provide a solution or “own” the situation. Taking responsibility even when other factors played a significant part, means we are “response-able”; a great takeaway from philosopher Fred Kaufman.
Last month, I had the privilege of representing the region of Latin America at the Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna, Austria. The Forum is in its 9th year and as a former Drucker Challenge winner and writer for various magazines in Latin America, I was invited to participate and dialogue with some of the world’s leading management thinkers sharing ideas around the theme of “Growth and Inclusive Prosperity.” It strikes me, in symposiums such as this one, how conversations seem to lead back to education and learning: as formative and as restorative ways of improving our society and our organizations.
Peter F. Drucker was born in Austria 108 years ago. He passed away in 2005, but he has been almost unanimously claimed in the media, the business community and academic circles as the “Inventor of Management.” His work (including over 40 books and papers) guides most modern management practices and many of his ideas and concepts – such as “Management by Objectives” or “Knowledge Worker”– are part of our daily lexicon.
He was a teacher, professor, writer and consultant. He worked with large multinational companies as well as public sector institutions, schools, think tanks and entrepreneurs. He grew up in Vienna in a traditional prosperous Viennese family surrounded by philosophers and thinkers. He moved to Hamburg and Frankfurt to study at the age of 18. There he met esteemed economists and thinkers such as Hayek, Mises and Schumpeter.
Drucker’s education and thinking were characterized by an exposure to a wide range of ideas, personalities and schools of thought. Being of Jewish origin, Drucker moved to England in 1933 and later emigrated to the USA. In the US, he found a force driving social development: US corporations becoming global players in an industrial society. Working with corporations like General Motors, Drucker was keen to share his brilliant ideas about the importance of management; not simply from the point of view of efficiencies and productivity, but as a practical discipline that supports and furthers work in (and for) community and society.
At times, “leadership” has so taken over our thinking and our organizations that we sometimes forget about the importance and beauty (Drucker called it “Liberal Art”) of management. As Drucker said: “Management is most and foremost about human beings.” When we place human beings at the heart of what we do, we are able to make the decisions that drive impact and social change. This resounds with most teachers and educators I know and I have the privilege to work with. Management is a means of driving organizations forward by thinking through and planning for the best possible outcomes; it is not about money or “shareholder value” but rather about the impact your organization has on society and on the world; and sometimes it starts with one person.
GPDF17. Photos courtesy: Peter Drucker Society
The Global Peter Drucker Forum honors the work and ideas of Peter Drucker. Designated the “World’s Management Forum,” it takes place every year in Vienna in honor of Peter Drucker and is comprised of several plenaries over the course of two days. The sessions involve authors, consultants, directors, entrepreneurs and students presenting their ideas around particular topics and themes; issues of relevance to business and the management of organizations. While education and learning was a constant topic of conversation, one session in particular, “Applying new lenses to look at the challenges of our time,” was particularly enlightening from a learning perspective. Sarah Green Carmichael (Senior Editor of Harvard Business Review), Hal Gregersen (Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center), Thomas Wedell (Partner at The Innovation Architects) and Roger L Martin (Director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, #1 on the Thinkers 50 list and author) talked about the “problems” we are trying to solve as leaders and society and that often it is the frame from which we see the problem as more of the issue than the problem we are trying to solve. Wedell talked about spending more time understanding the problem and less time trying to solve it while Gregersen characterized those people that ask catalytic questions and seek out situations where they are wrong as the most successful individuals (employees, leaders or managers) in driving their organizations forward. In other words, our fascination with certitude – and the idea that our view is the only one that matters – is the driving force behind ineffective management of organizations. Looking for the questions to ask is a directly correlated with moving out of comfort, certitude, bubbles of isolation and with embracing what we may find uncomfortable – silence, distinct environments, injustice – in order to make positive change.
Fellow Canadian, Roger Martin, has written several leading business management and strategy books including The Opposable Mind (2007). Former Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Martin now runs the Prosperity Institute and along with other participants at the Drucker forum calls for a transformation in business education.
This is where we come in. As educators, administrators, managers and leaders, there is a resounding call to make our organizations more human and more human centric. The “how” is really up to us but I would venture that there are some pearls of wisdom in the works of Peter F Drucker; not as the “guru of management thinking” as he is commonly referred to but as the teacher and human being who returned to basics and touched the world of management thinking with simple phrases such as: “don’t tell me what … tell me what you are going to do on Monday that’s different.”
A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.
I read somewhere that leaders should sharpen tools not blame them. I think this is particularly apt when we consider leadership under the lens of constant learning. The best leaders are the best learners and if we identify a tool that is under-performing or not serving the purpose, we should learn how to get that tool to do the job we want it to do. It might mean repurposing the tool, changing certain aspects or “sharpening” it as mentioned in the opening sentence of this post.
Leaders are sharpeners of tools and are constantly looking to learn new ways of doing things or adapting tools to suit the job to be done.
Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote several years ago about leadership. Rings true today as I study and write about balance and successful leadership in organizations in Latam.
… about forming other leaders.
I have “taken the helm” of a sailboat many times. I don’t remember having to ask for permission. Leadership means forming other leaders and inspiring others to take risks, take action and help to further the shared vision. It’s not about control or power but rather about giving those things to others so that the whole can be larger than the sum of its parts.
“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Peter Drucker
Entrepreneurship in the Spanish language is most commonly translated as “emprendimiento” coming from the verb “emprender” which means to ignite or start something. For many generations, entrepreneurs in Latin America have started their own businesses for diverse reasons including, as the management thinker Peter Drucker pointed out, a response to a social problem disguised as a business opportunity. A glimpse at the “Rey del Banano” (King of the Banana) rags-to-riches story in Ecuador supports Drucker’s claim; born into poverty, Luis Noboa Naranjo launched the successful Bonita Banana Company after piecing together profits made from sales of newspapers and household items. Noboa later established the Noboa business group; at one time, his business venture was credited for generating 5% of the Ecuador´s Gross Domestic Product.
Nevertheless, an entrepreneurial venture or entrepreneurial economy does not an entrepreneurial society make. It requires something more: not just “igniting” entrepreneurial fires but having the mindset to ensure that the entrepreneurial flame will not die. An entrepreneurial society requires a “growth mindset” – an idea developed over a decade ago by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck to explain achievement and success. Dweck compares and contrasts “fixed mindsets” and “growth mindsets”; she concludes that if we focus on learning and improvement as a consistent goal, environment, and the country we are born in, economic realities, as well as adversity or failure, can become powerful impetuses to ensure we grow and overcome pre-conceived limitations to achieving success.
Harkening to the 2016 Olympics currently underway in Rio de Janeiro, an athlete with a “growth mindset” pushes through in order to grow as an individual, an athlete and a citizen representing a nation. They see their failures as a call to further action and continuous training; in other words as a “not yet” rather than a “not ever.” There are clear parallels in athletic training to Drucker’s own words describing an entrepreneurial society where “innovation and entrepreneurship are normal, steady, and continuous.”
For an entrepreneurial society to prosper, members need growth mindsets to consistently keep the entrepreneurial flame alive and support those willing to push the limits of an “employee” society in order to find solutions to the world’s problems. Peter Drucker saw entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial culture as the lifeblood of society (Innovation and Entrepreneurship: 1985). He heralded a new era that would see a shift from an employee society towards an entrepreneurial society. In Latin America, where I live and work, “emprendedores” are igniting entrepreneurial fires with creativity, innovation and problem solving skills; yet the region – like many other major trading areas in the world – continues to call for a growth mindset from members of society that would lead us through economic and political instability and clear past the “same-old” power dynamics.
Global discussions around “entrepreneurial society” must be inclusive with ideas from developing as well as developed countries, public and private counterparts, local and international companies, thinkers and managers, students and teachers, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, CEOs and investors. If an entrepreneurial society is to flourish, we need a “mindset” of constant learning and growth supported by connections across real and psychological boundaries. In every corner of the globe, adopting a growth mindset together with learnings from larger discussions of entrepreneurship and transformation, will help us move to a society of creators, co-creators and organizations that respond ethically, empathetically and effectively to the societies we serve.
“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” – Tina Fey