Overview of the Book
Leadership: It’s not about Power, Position, or Personality
What do Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Mary Kay Ash, Jonas Salk, and Lance Armstrong have in common? Not much, if you look at their temperaments, viewpoints, and passions. Yet, each has demonstrated the unique ability to define, make and sustain progress during times of success as well as disappointment.
Oddly, though, current leadership books rarely discuss the notion of progress. Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century is a new book that makes progress the centerpiece of a fresh perspective on leadership.
Progress Makers weaves together original research, novel strategies and tactics with stories of successful leaders to provide a refreshingly original perspective on how to become a progress-making leader. The book illustrates key concepts with in-depth profiles of successful leaders including a coffee entrepreneur, a general in the U.S. Army, a newspaper editor-in-chief and an executive with a Fortune 500 company.
The book features new leadership research including findings from:
The book emerged from a unique collaboration between a professor and a business executive that resulted in actionable ideas grounded in sound research and tested in the rigors of organizational life. Special chapters on how leaders “select, detect, and correct organizational errors” and “enlarge the circle of engagement” illustrate the unique insights gleaned from the collaboration. Progress Makers will help executives, managers, professionals, students, and small business owners move beyond the traditional leadership skill-set to a progress-centered conviction.
About the Authors
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Exploring
Everyone has innate exploring tendencies, but it is often exhibited in one part of a person’s life and not in others. Exploring is an essential feature of progress making, but exploring alone may or may not result in making progress.
Chapter 3: Refining
Unlike explorers, refiners do not heavily rely on intuition or hunches. Instead they trust a systematic, methodical and thorough approach. And unlike exploring, the refining process tends to produce incremental and evolutionary progress.
Chapter 4: Platforms
A new platform emerges from a combination of instinct, insight and hard work. A platform can be best illustrated with a series of nodes. The first node of a platform emerges with some individuals or team’s instinct about how to approach a problem in an entirely novel way. The individual or team then explores a number of options to glean essential insights. They often test out options during this phase. After they settle on an acceptable solution they start refining it through a series of improvements. Cycles of exploring and refining ultimately lead to a fairly stable point that temporarily provides enough certainty to launch the plan or market the product.
Three essential features of platforms are that: 1) they are temporary but they are often treated as permanent. A false sense of stability and sustainability imbues all who work at maintaining and profiting from the existing platforms. A case in point: the domestic auto industry. 2) They don’t necessarily lose their stability, but they often become irrelevant. Platforms provide focus at the expense of concealing other options. A case in point: Kodak film. 3) Platform improvement can create deceiving illusions. It is often difficult to judge whether an innovation is an improvement to an existing platform of a jump to a new platform. For example Wikipedia ushered in a new platform and competitor to traditional encyclopedias. On the other hand, changing the packaging of a cola product may appear like a radical transformation but in effect, it is a cosmetic change to an existing platform.
Chapter 5: Progress
Progress occurs when the following conditions have been met: 1) Results emerged from conscious decision making and deliberate choices. This rules out inertia and happenstance as sources of progress; 2) Something—or some condition—has improved the status quo. An organization, product or social movement makes progress when it moves beyond the current state of affairs; 3) The improvements are legitimately sustainable. The improvements should be sufficiently stable and endure long enough to serve as a platform. In other words, they should be resistant to rapid regression, and 4) The improvements occurred through either exploring or refining. These are the fundamental types of actions that drive improvement.
Some implications of the progress definition are that: 1) Assessing the degree of progress requires a complex act of judgment. For example, a sports team can have a losing record and still be making progress; 2) Progress always creates new challenges. For example, the Internet has expedited communication around the world but it has ushered in concerns about privacy and computer viruses; 3) Progress is not inevitable. A complex set of interrelated events produced the evolutionary track from the phonograph, to the eight-track tape, to the CD, to the iPod; 4) Progress rarely follows a straight line leading from point A to B. The development of the Curta calculator demonstrates the circuitous route that progress often takes, and 5) Progress in one arena can influence progress in other, seemingly unrelated, arenas. For example, we hear how cell phones have led to more distracted drivers, but they are also responsible for reporting drunk driving and other dangerous driving behaviors.
Chapter 6: The Progress Model
Progress can occur when either refining or exploring occur. But enduring progress only happens if you explore and refine. That explains, in part, the dynamic tension that occurs in the organization when decisions may appear contradictory, and motives suspect.
As people explore and refine, they establish platforms. A case in point: The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. Each mission (platform) focused on different technological challenges and goals. After all the major lessons were gleaned from a particular mission (platform), it was time to move on to the next one. In other words, there are limits to the amount of progress that refining can generate. The mission was accomplished by embracing uncertainty dn moving from one less-than-perfect platform to a better one.
There are several implications of The Progress Model: 1) No platform is perfect. For example, Sir Isaac Newton’s theories provided a platform that allowed Einstein to create an even more encompassing platform; 2) Progress occurs under conditions of “dynamic stability.” The wave-like rhythm of crests of uncertainty and troughs of certainty provides the essential tension for meaningful progress, and 3) Perceptions of the path forward vary greatly depending on your current and projected platform position. This implies that progress makers don’t push their colleagues to embrace all the uncertainty at once; rather they often focus on a psychologically manageable chunk.
Chapter 7: How Explorers and Refiners Make Progress
Chapter 8: Progress Makers
Leaders have two basic alternatives to dealing with this dilemma: 1) they may employ the “ambidexterity” strategy by seeking to balance the exploring and refining forces in their organization, or 2) they may select a “burst” strategy whereby they refine for long periods of time and then explore for short bursts of time. The risk exists that refining activities undercut efforts to explore a new path, while exploring activities undermine attempts at refining. Regardless of which strategy is selected, leaders face the same core questions: When should we explore? When should we refine? When should we start building a new platform?
The examples of Sportable Scoreboards and Intel reveal how these companies made choices about which platforms to explore, which to refine and which to abandon.
Chapter 9: Envision the Future with Calculated Boldness
There are often manageable issues that stand in the way of a leader’s potential to act with calculated boldness: 1) the leader overly relies on familiar courses of action. Is the cause organizational inertia or is it a respect for tradition? 2) the leader lacks awareness of all the potential points of intervention. Symptoms often appear at one level that are not the real source of the problem; and 3) the leader fails to engage in thoughtful and spirited debate. The reason for this: they may lack the appreciation, temperament and/or skills to glean actionable insight from debate.
So, what tactics can progress makers use to envision with calculated boldness? They can: 1) improve, develop or acquire the necessary tools to monitor organizational health and direction; 2) ponder and debate gateway questions, such as “On what issue do I need to exert influence?” before proceeding; 3) identify system-level roadblocks to progress by identifying all the potential points of intervention (examples include environmental issues such as governmental regulations, organizational issues such as policies/procedures, and individual issues such as motivations and skills); 4) calculate the cost of failing to address critical issues; 4) utilize the power of self-fulfilling expectations (consider the power of the placebo effect), and 5) learn to tolerate setbacks and recover.
Chapter 10: Cultivate a Focused Flexibility Mindset
The practice of focused flexibility is difficult for a variety of reasons: 1) Unexamined success. It is too easy to stay with the success of the status quo. As a result, leaders lack the flexibility to move to a new platform because their current success silently morphs into inertia. 2) Unmanaged stress. The loss of a major client or departure of a key leader may create stress in the organization such that leaders retreat to protect what is absolutely vital and ignore the rest. 3) Dysfunctional sensory mechanisms. Will the people who serve as the eyes, ears, and fingertips of the organization sense subtle changes in the marketplace? Do they have appropriate access to key decision makers? Sometimes hypersensitivity occurs because leaders may overly rely on one particularly articulate voice inside or outside of the organization.
Several strategies help cultivate a focused flexibility mindset: 1) building in frequent iterative loops, 2) searching for optimal environments, 3) improving peripheral vision, 4) managing the amount of stress the organization places on employees, 5) “declaring war” on the “terrible triad” of a) excessive planning (the more managers try to drive out uncertainty, the more unpredictable the results really are), b) overconfidence (excessive planning often leads to overconfidence in the ability to control events)and c) cognitive errors (such as over-committing to a losing proposition or seeking out evidence to confirm a preconceived notion), 6) legitimizing strategic forgetfulness and 7) designating “project pruners” to control “irrational exuberance.”
Chapter 11: Enlarge the Circle of Engagement
Leaders intuitively recognize the need to enlarge the circle of engagement, but often create the illusion because of: 1) expediency (many leaders feel that events move too fast to truly build employee commitment), 2) ego (engaging others reduces their personal ownership of ideas) or 3) anxiety (engaging others invites the possibility of conflict, disagreement or rejection).
To enlarge the circle of engagement, progress makers can take the following steps: 1) assemble a diverse, but collaborative team—much like C.S. Lewis did with the Inklings, 2) communicate in a collaborative manner which results in building critical relationships and enriches ideas, 3) seek and discover the unifying point of commitment, 4) moderate the influence of status and roles, 5) seize moments of acceleration by asking probing questions, providing thoughtful advice, and/or allocating new resources, 6) add talent to the team in a thoughtful sequence—much like Steve Jobs did with the iPod platform by creating partnerships in the music industry, and 7) routinely take stock and evaluate progress.
Progress makers have thick skin and sensitive ears: thick skin for the times when they encounter criticism and sensitive ears so they’re attentive to underlying issues than can impede progress.
Chapter 12: Foster the Growth of Investment-Worthy Employees
Managing this balance provides tricky for several reasons: 1) leaders lack the temperament to invest in others. They may be too self-absorbed or secretly resent the success of others; 2) leaders may lack the discernment to properly judge talent, and 3) leaders’ investments are small, narrow or misguided.
Some basic principles of personal finance provide a useful framework for crafting actionable ideas to implement the strategy. For example, progress makers: 1) craft a talent investment approach, addressing questions such as “Does the current team consist of the right talents for the tasks and objectives to be achieved?” 2) diversify their investments in employees, by not hiring clones and mixing the types of investments they make in individuals; 3) make routine talent investments; 4) regularly measure, analyze and discuss the performance of their talent investments, 5) routinely re-balance the talent portfolio and 6) cut their losses when they know an employee is not a good fit for the job and they see dim prospects for future change.
There are common barriers that crop up which can derail this process: 1) “sharp shooting,” whereby someone proposes an idea only to have the group take “shots” at it, 2) an insular mindset, when people tend to put mental blinders on problems that inhibit them from seeing the unusual, and 3) a phase imbalance, when any one phase in the process (seek-nurture-evaluate) dominates or a phase is simply skipped.
There are several tactics that progress makers use to increase the likelihood of generating the right actionable ideas: 1) build “discovery time” into the schedule, surroundings and job duties; 2) cultivate employee imagination; 3) pay attention to “lead users”; 4) use the right skills at the right time; 5) articulate criteria used to evaluate ideas at different phases and 6) evaluate ideas by examining attributes or features, rather than relying on impressions.
Chapter 14: Select, Detect, and Correct the Proper Errors
Radar provides a useful metaphor for discussing a framework for managing errors: 1) Select the type of errors you want to identify and the appropriate “radar” for the situation. Progress makers ask about what types of errors they wish to discover: minor errors or major ones? Random errors or systematic ones? 2) Use the selected radar to detect errors. A computer’s automatic spell-checker highlights potential spelling errors (sometimes, though, you may get “false positives;” sometimes “false negatives”). 3) Correct certain errors exposed by the radar detector. Progress makers use their judgment about which errors to confront and when to correct them.
Few would argue against the idea of properly managing errors, yet there are powerful personal and organizational forces aligned against the practice of it. Progress makers counter these forces with the following steps: 1) conceptualize the errors you wish to monitor. Monitoring errors in the exploring mode are significantly different than monitoring errors in the refining mode. Also, the number and kinds of errors that well-led organizations pay attention to are considerably different the errors less well-led organizations focus on; 2) document and analyze errors to discern underlying error patterns. For example, studies have shown that when gastroenterologists make errors conducting and reading colonoscopies, they usually miss the polyps on the right side of the colon; 3) evaluate, recalibrate and adjust the radar detectors. False positive and false negative errors are two distinctly different types of errors that are inherent to any testing; 4) adjust error detection and correction responsibilities of stakeholders. Consider Wikipedia, where a) errors are quickly detected and corrected, b) error detection/correction is a regular part of the activities and c) collaboration with others is a critical component to the detection and correction, and 5) champion productive—as opposed to defensive—learning. Productive learners discover how to avoid similar errors in the future; defensive learners concentrate their energy on avoiding responsibility and shunning change.
Chapter 15: Practice Receiver-Centric, Strategy-Based, Feedback-Driven Communication
There are often barriers that set this approach off-course: 1) a “spray and pray” approach to communication, whereby leaders spray information of all sorts to all audiences and then pray that everyone understands the message; 2) a technology-driven communications strategy, whereby leaders equate using the “latest” communication technologies with communication effectiveness, and 3) a gap between leaders’ desire to communication effectively with their resources. Often, leaders don’t devote enough time or have the necessary expertise to craft, execute and evaluate their communication strategy.
The progress maker is guided by the following best practices: they 1) select a rich and meaningful signature message that captures the essence of their vision; 2) use multiple, credible channels for important messages, realizing that complex and potentially conflict-laden issues are best handled face-to-face by highly credible sources; 3) translate their agenda for different audiences, using the language of a particular audience and addressing their unique concerns; 4) robustly “download” major decisions by addressing seven key issues; 5) identify, listen to and utilize opinion leaders, realizing that opinion leaders shape how others interpret messages, information and events; 6) harvest concerns and convert them into action items, realizing that if they fail to indentify and respond to concerns, others will; 7) encourage upward communication, and 8) check the effectiveness of their communication, seeking to understand employees’ reactions to their communications.
Section IChapter 1: Introduction
I. Our purpose
II. Our approach
a.Sectionsi. Progress Modelii. Progress Making Strategies
b. Insight Poolsi. Special Research Projectsii. Leadership Literatureiii. Personal Leadership Experiences
Chapter 2: Exploring
I. Attributes of Explorers
a. Embrace uncertainty
b. Question the conventional
c. Trust their intuitions
d. Delight in the adventure
II. Exploring and Progress Making
III. Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 3: Refining
I. Attributes of Refiners
a. Gravitate toward certainty
b. Strongly value order
c. Enamored with precision and clarity
d. Pursue correctness
II. Refining and Progress Making
III. Concluding Thoughts
II. Features of Platforms
a. Platforms are temporary but they are often treated as permanent
b. Platforms don’t necessarily lose their stability, but they often become irrelevant
c. Platform improvements can create deceiving illusions
III. Concluding Thoughts
a. Results emerged from conscious decision making and deliberate choices
b. Something—or some condition—has improved the status quo
c. The improvements are legitimately sustainable
d. The improvements occurred through either exploring or refining
II. Implications of the Progress Definition
a. Assessing the degree of progress requires a complex act of judgment
b. Progress always creates new challenges
c. Progress is not inevitable
d. Progress rarely follows a straight line leading from point A to B
e. Progress in one arena can influence progress in other, seemingly unrelated, arenas
III. Concluding Thoughts
II. So What?
a. No platform is perfect
b. Progress occurs under conditions of “dynamic stability”
c. Perceptions of the path forward vary greatly depending on your current and projected platform position
III. Concluding Thoughts
II. The Refiners Mode of Making ProgressIII. The Challenges Faced by Explorers and Refiners
a. Fighting the status quo
b. Managing fear
c. Battling fatigue
d. Knowing when to resist
IV. Concluding Thoughts
I. The Central Conundrum
II. The Progress Maker’s Response
III. Making the Right Choices
Progress Maker Profile: Ron Reed and the Discovery Channel