Posts categorized “uncertainty”

How three clients mastered ambiguity

Randy White and Sandy Shullman feature the stories of three clients of the Executive Development Group in their article, “Build Leadership’s Tolerance for Ambiguity.” Read it all in this month’s CLO Magazine

quoteWe have a serious problem at the Food and Drug Administration and the President would like to know if you’d take over,” came the request in an after-hours phone call to cancer surgeon Andrew von Eschenbach in 2005.

Cathy Nash, had an enviable resume in banking when she was promoted by Citizens Republic Bank to CEO. A nice gig, but the only problem was the year: 2008. Citizens was under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and had acquired a less-than-stable real estate oriented thrift. Nash said yes to the promotion and TARP dropped in her lap.

Accepting ambiguity is tantamount to failure when your job is calculating the strength of vulcanized rubber at high speed on a freeway. But engineer Hervé Coyco had to accept the complexity, irrationality and emotionality of human organizations and, more so, consumers, when he advanced from leading a team of about 60 engineers to heading 60,000 for Michelin. Coyco took on—among other things—changing Michelin’s Car Tires business strategy worldwide.quote

What did they do? Read the full story, here.

For more information, contact the Executive Development Group..

360 assessments to help resolve sexual harassment can work, if…

The Executive Development Group partner Sandra L. Shullman weighs in on an engaging article appearing in Talent Management concerning the use of executive coaching with 360 assessments to resolve harassment cases in the workplace.

Sandy has been an expert witness in sexual harassment cases and while she sees how the process can be helpful, she offers some cautions.

“I can imagine how this might be helpful,” said Sandra L. Shullman, a psychologist, executive coach and partner with the Executive Development Group. “However, HR and managers in charge need to think about how willing the affected members of the organization are to participate effectively.”

A coach to harassment victims and an expert in harassment cases, Shullman also has consulted with client firms seeking to reform harassers. She said 360s and coaching should be applied judiciously because using 360s as remediation could cast a negative light on assessments, decreasing their acceptance for positive development interventions. She also said these processes should never be a substitute for sanctions or the mandate to maintain appropriate behavior.

You can read the entire article by assessment expert Dr. Paul Connolly here.

Learning from failure helpful in mastering uncertainty

Frank Kalman writes in this month’s edition of Chief Learning Officer about learning from failure:

…Aside from the psychological distaste associated with human failure, one of the larger barriers keeping more corporations from embracing it as an engine for learning is rooted in organizational culture. Creating a culture where failure isn’t the goal but is treated as a learning driver remains an uphill battle for many, said Amy C. Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School. The most frequent gaffe organizations make is equating perfection with good performance.

“The biggest mistake we make is thinking we’re not supposed to make mistakes,” said Edmondson, who wrote an April 2011 research article on the topic for the Harvard Business Review. Read the article here.

In our work on ambiguity, the ability to learn from failure is a requisite for overcoming the fear of uncertainty.

Kalman’s source, Amy C. Edmondson offers a 12-minute video presentation on the subject here.

The ambiguous map to Leadership

The February 2012 issue of Chief Learning Officer offers a special report on leadership development that makes an effective and topical preamble for The Ambiguity Architect and our work in understanding the importance of managing uncertainty as it relates to  leadership.

“Now you’ve got to work with huge amounts of ambiguity, help other people do that too, and manage risk,” she said. “You’re always trying new things, pushing the edge of the envelope — and you have to enable your teams to experience and also let them fail. That’s a whole set of leadership capability that we really didn’t have a huge dose of to start with.”—Diane Gherson, vice president of talent at IBM, CLO Magazine

That’s pretty specific to our work, but the report also describes an environment in which leadership is “granted” and subjective and harder to teach. All of this points to the value of ambiguity tolerance as a leadership trait.

For instance, globalization has forced GE’s leaders to think and manage in multiple layers, making critical thinking a top skill. They must have an acute sense of how these complex layers relate, and be able to assimilate business strategies across cultures. That is the framework in which executive leadership — across all global organizations — now operates.

“The information age has changed the world of leaders,” said Jeff Barnes, senior manager of global learning at GE. “Information is so quick. You don’t have time to really stop and think about it … your job [as a leader] has gotten so much more complicated.”

Read it all here.

Leadership, ambiguity, diversity—Randy White interview in “Research News”

Randy was interviewed while in Brisbane by Research News, the publication of the Australian Market and Social Research Society.

Glass ceiling author still waiting for more diversity among leaders

During his visit to Australia this year, Dr Randall White argued leaders need to be able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, rather than just take a command and control approach.

As an international thought leader in the field of executive coaching and leadership development – and the ‘token guy’ in the team that wrote the 1987 hit Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Dr Randall White was invited to Brisbane to deliver a keynote address at the 2011 Organisational Psychology Conference.

At the same conference, Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) CEO Serge Sardo argued that Australian businesses needed to move on from the concept of ‘the leader’ to the concept of ‘leadership’ and building a culture within an organisation that nurtures new leaders. READ MORE.

On leadership:

White cites Joe Rost, who claimed that there are more than 300 definitions of leadership in the West alone, but when asked to define a good leader, he says, ‘Effective leaders create an environment where everybody can maximise their potential, whatever that is. I think effective leaders aren’t afraid to surround themselves with people who are better than them. They are open to asking for, receiving and giving feedback about their performance. They aren’t afraid to be confronted by people around them who are faster, quicker, brighter and more prescient. You start to see the best in leaders when they come to understand that it’s about the legacy that they leave behind them.’ READ MORE.

Diversity in leadership:

He says it’s also important to acknowledge that one of the best breeding grounds for leaders is a start-up.

‘Across a wide variety of industries, we see excluded classes of people – women, those who might be termed minorities – starting up their own businesses because they get to write their own rules and create their own culture. They bring different kinds of behaviour to the leadership enterprise. Start-ups give people the opportunity to try their hand at leadership whereas, if they were in a larger organisation, they might not experience as big a stretch.’…

Leaders don’t just come packaged as white, male and 6’1 ”
White says organisational psychology could be potentially very helpful in helping those in the market and social research industry develop leaders, because it encourages people to try out different ideas.

‘For example, let’s have more diverse teams because the greater heterogeneity the more likely the business is to achieve its objectives.’READ MORE.

Ambiguity in Australia

Randy White’s keynote address at the Australian Psychological Society got the attention of the Australian Financial Review and netted a feature article by Fiona Smith. Read “When being unsure is a strength” here.

Soon after, Australian blogger, Dwight Towers picked up on the theme with some of his own commentary, calling it “Kinda good.” Hey, that’s high praise in this age of managed expectations. Read it here.

The Hobart-based employee assistance firm of Newport and Wildman felt the message is meaningful to their mission to include it on their home page.

The Roots of a Modern Meritocracy?

Dr. Randall P. White describes India as an emerging meritocracy in a side bar to the cover story, “How Indian Firms Beat the World,” this month in Talent Management.

Executive Development Group is currently providing executive education in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“…India is a fascinating crucible for what could become a true meritocracy.

Perhaps what the West can most effectively learn, in an immediately practical way, is:

• People who live in emerging economies see learning—and learning fast—as a primary competitive advantage.

• Knowledge-based reward and advancement may improve the work environment by diminishing the cult of personality.

• A corporation that believes in its learning initiatives can become a true meritocracy.

• The West needs to reevaluate and invest in education at every level long before graduates arrive at the corporation.

• For the near term, US corporations need to take on a retraining role, taking on people who come of age in an era of educational mediocrity. In the longer term, corporations will need to help any number of stakeholders revamp the US educational system.”

Read the entire article here.

Liz Mellon on “Thinkers 50″

Here’s an excellent interview with our friend and colleague Liz Mellon, speaking about her book Inside the Leader’s Mind.

Thinkers 50.

A review of “Inside the Leader’s Mind” by Liz Mellon

Liz Mellon walks with us among dozens of leaders, whether sharing their most public moments or abiding their most unguarded confidence to report her observations and present a behavioral prescription, not for success in itself, but for a sublime personal fulfillment that generates success.

Mellon, the respected academic-and one of the best professors of leadership I know-manages to write in the voice of a thoughtfully investigative journalist, as we are introduced to some of the most interesting organizational leaders in the world. Her keenly empathetic ear helps makes their examples accessible and helpful to leaders at all stages of development. Mellon reveals the sets of common behaviors that we can all study, understand and emulate.

Inside the Leader’s Mind: Five Ways to Think Like a Leader has an engaging cadence that carries us from planting mangroves in Malaysia with a CEO during his corporate training program to the cloistered boardroom blunders of the Deepwater Horizon debacle. Throughout the journey, we meet leaders who fail with bravado, relearn with aplomb and rise back with selfless humility.

Inside the Leader’s Mind articulates a vital catalyst for excellence in a chaotic business environment: ambiguity. As Mellon describes her “Five Ways of Thinking Like a Leader,” the reader is counseled to face realities of solitude and bruising public accountability and, at the same time, the reader is enticed by the narratives of those who navigate the perils to find immense joy as the leaders they set out to be.

Mellon informs the learning community, the psychological academy and all business executives who seek advancement in the highest echelons of global organizations with casually insightful scenarios from topical interviews both recent and revisited from her decades of leadership study.

We see that among globally diverse leaders, the commonality is the unknown. The deck has been reshuffled as powerful nations are digging out from collapse and emerging nations have never seen such golden opportunities.

Challenging the notions of leadership that were responsible for the world’s greatest financial crisis of a century, Inside the Leader’s Mind offers a new path that is as rewarding as it is courageous.

The good news is: nobody has enough information, so here’s your chance for greatness.

Uncertain about uncertainty

We’re finishing up a busy year, as harsher than usual winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere demonstrates that even the Internet can’t dig business out of a snow bank. Nature is still a significant contributor to the ambiguity we face as executives and leaders.

Fortunately, we’ve managed to stay a few steps ahead of bad weather and made it to all engagements in Paris and the United Arab Emirates in the past few weeks.

When we’re back in the States, if you believe our newspapers of record, business seems to be hanging on what the current president will do next and, even more vexing, who will be the president after 2012. Americans have lightened up a bit since the mid-term elections, but in our anecdotal comparisons, we’re still the world’s worriers. Embracing uncertainty—will I have a job, will my flight happen, will I have to take a pay cut—can be frustrating if not harrowing. We think this is why Americans are in such a funk.

In the rest of the world, people are upbeat. They don’t seem to care about who is running government. As we’ve mentioned before, in the emerging markets where we teach, things are now relatively MORE stable and certain than ever before. Chinese executives are noticeably happy. That’s just a hunch. And as a counter-point, we’ll offer John D. Hansen, et al, writing in the Journal of Business Venturing, who inform us that:

Americans SMEs are more willing to deal with the risks associated with making investments in projects that have uncertain outcomes or unusually high profits and losses…the risk-taking dimension of EO (entrepreneurial orientation) addresses a willingness to accept and even create ambiguity, particularly the ambiguity associated with engaging in high-risk projects. The finding that American SMEs are significantly more willing to take risks when compared to SMEs from all other countries seems logical based on the fact that the U.S. ranks lowest in terms of uncertainty avoidance (Americans are more tolerant of ambiguous future returns).

Okay, so maybe we don’t try to avoid uncertainty. But on average, we’re not so happy about it.