August 23, 2008

Moral Leadership

I attended the annual American Psychological Association's Convention last week so be prepared, gentle reader, for my blogging reflections from this event. I do not normally attend this convention which is primarily focused on the more clinical side of psychology--however, there were a number of presentations geared to Organizational Psychology practice and one that was particularly inspiring to me was given by Richard Kilburg entitled "The Evolution of Executive Conscience and the Practice of Justice". Kilburg, a consulting psychologist, seasoned executive coach and professor at the Carey Business School of Johns Hopkins University challenged those in the audience, many of whom were executive coaches and organizational consultants, to push the moral issue with our executive clients. He presented us with challenging questions and exercises we can provide our clients to help them to develop their "Moral Compass".

Morality is a topic often left to our church, community or home life. But it is clear that strong ethics and integrity are characteristics we want to see in our leaders and we are all too often disappointed in this area. I doubt the problem lies in choosing leaders who are immoral, though there are a certain amount of psychopaths who make it to powerful leadership positions. I suspect the problem is more likely in the difficulties and challenges we all face in our daily work world.

Consider this: Have you ever been asked to lie about your work? Maybe its to fudge the numbers "just a little bit" to make things look better? or, to keep quiet about errors or problems that may impact the sale of your product. Do you sometimes exaggerate your capabilities to get the job? Have you ever kept quiet about practices in your company that are clearly wrong? There are many situations we face in our work world that require a decision to take the high road, or not. The impact of these situations becomes bigger as the scope of one's job enlarges.

The pressures of business can make it easy to get off track and lose our moral compass. It is often routine every day decisions that can lead us astray or keep us on track. Leadership is not just about doing things well, its also about doing what's right. Not always the easy path---but who said it would be easy, anyway?

August 13, 2008

Experience, Judgment and Learning Agility

I was sitting in a cramped American Red Cross bus, doing my civic duty and giving blood. As I lay with tubes coming out of my arm, the nurses began to discuss the presidential candidates who apparently both have August birthdays. One nurse commented "Now I really don't know who I am going to vote for---McCain really does have alot more experience" (she sounded like a former Hillary supporter).

So I wondered: What is experience worth in a Leader? How much is enough? Can one have too much experience or not the right kind?

These questions are critical today given the looming baby boomer retirement issue and concerns about filling the leadership pipeline, both in government and business. If experience is the critical factor in choosing a leader, than all leaders should be as old as possible since they will have the most experience. I know that is simplistic, but it does sort of follow from the argument.

On the other hand, there is the question of the right kind of experience. In politics do we want leaders who are former military people, have many years in the senate, experience governing a state or leading a company, community organizing, public interest law? In business, do we need leaders with specialty expertise like engineering, technology, finance, biotech or will we be better served by leaders with more general management and business experience?

I believe experience is important, but what is even more important is what one learns from that experience which is captured in the concept of Learning Agility. Learning agility , as defined by Lominger, is "the ability and willingness to learn, change and gain from life experiences; use failures, successes and feedback to form rules of thumb, models, maps, paradigms......" --basically to apply your learning to new situations.

So the question becomes, not "How many years of experience do you have?" but instead, "What have you learned from your experience? How have you applied that learning to better yourself and the world around you?"

Unfortunately, too much hiring today focuses on the first solution--- years of experience---rather than the second which, granted, is a little harder to define.

We are living in a time of rapid change and complexity, and we do not know all the challenges we face in the future. When you consider the daunting tasks ahead for a new President, Governor, CEO, College Chancellor or others in high places, do you want the person with the most years of experience or someone who has demonstrated the ability to learn from his/her experience and apply those learnings to new and unforeseen situations?

August 5, 2008

Coaching, Mentoring or Training: What, When & Why?

There are many options available for developing your people. Three strategies one often hears about are coaching, mentoring and training. What are the differences? Why one over another?

Training is something most people are familiar with. Most companies implement some form of training-- new hire training, training on specific technical skills or applications like Microsoft Office or SAP, learning to operate a particular machine, etc. Training usually involves some classroom lecture but may also include discussion, on-the-job activities, or online delivery via webinars or e-learning courses.

Mentoring is when a more experienced Leader works closely with someone to "show them the ropes", provide guidance, and act as a role model. Usually mentors are experts within the same company or industry as the person being mentored, though not always. Mentors can be engaged through a formal mentoring process or informally; either approach can be effective (or not).

Coaching (non-sports coaching, that is) is distinct from training or mentoring. Corporate Coaching is usually a formal 1:1 relationship between a manager and the coach targeting specific leadership capabilities which will ultimately benefit the individual as well as the organization. Coaching differs from mentoring; whereas the mentor is a guide, expert, or role model, the coach is more of a facilitator or process consultant. The coach is not necessarily from the same industry as the person being coached and it is often beneficial to have a coach with a solid foundation in business and psychology who has had exposure to diverse industries and corporate structures.

When to use one approach over the other?

There is no single answer to that question; it really depends upon your unique situation. We do know that classroom learning is the least effective approach for people development. However, training can be more effective when utilizing action learning programs that include real work scenarios and opportunities for applying just-in-time learning.

Mentoring can be through either formal or informal programs, applied on either a one-off approach or an organization-wide program. However, there are some issues to consider with mentoring: the mentor-mentee relationship is a delicate one and will only be successful with the right chemistry and an environment where trust can develop. Sometimes professionals seek a mentor from a different company or a professional association if, for example, they are working in a small company or other setting in which viable mentors are not readily accessible. Mentoring can be a good option under the right conditions as it can be cost effective and lead to growth and development of both mentor and mentee.

Coaching is generally a formal relationship involving an external consultant/coach and usually occurs at the senior manager to executive level. However, informal coaching delivered by the HR/OD department or through a peer coaching program is also a good option. Coaching is most effective in helping successful people become even better at what they do. It is of particular value during transitional times such as new hire/on-boarding, promotion, lateral moves to a new business unit, or post mergers/acquisitions. Coaching is also sometimes useful for addressing employee performance issues; this is a more sensitive situation and requires two major conditions: (1) the company values the leader and sees coaching as an opportunity to help him/her overcome obstacles to success and (2) the leader is highly motivated to change.

These are the "cliff notes" on 3 different ways to provide leadership development. They are all viable learning modalities and generally within the grasp of most companies or nonprofit organizations. Most every organization states "people are our greatest asset", yet it is this "greatest asset" that is frequently overlooked. People want to learn and be the best they can be.

All they need is a little coaching, mentoring or training !