Posts categorized “relax it’s only uncertainty”
Teaching leadership to executives around the world, sometimes the curriculum and principles can get so theoretical that it’s nice to hear what leadership sounds like in the real world. I heard it on American Airlines Flight 2276 from Curaçao to Miami, December 27.
My work has made me an American Airlines Executive Platinum member and also a Global 1K on United Airlines. Between the two airlines, I travel over 300,000 miles/year. Other than flight delays and cancellations I have the typical day-in day-out experiences of most long haul business customers when I am traveling. Except on December 27.
After a winter vacation on the balmy Dutch island, our flight was off the gate on time, actually about a minute or two early. Flying as much as I do, I’ve gotten into the flow of getting on the plane, the announcements (yes, I listen), the taxi and run up, being cleared for takeoff, building speed for rotation and wheels up.
Somewhere about 4000 ft down the runway one of the turbines started making a groaning sound.
“Gosh, I’ve not heard that before.”
And then we were off on a fairly steep climb. After executing a left turn we were out over the water and suddenly we could feel the plane throttle back. This can’t be good, I thought.
In a second, a very calming voice on the PA, that of Captain Edge, says something about this not being someone’s day and although not in anyone’s plans we needed to head back because we have experienced a bird strike and the right engine is damaged. He explained he wasn’t sure how badly it was damaged but we are alright and they are expecting us back at the airport.
Very calmly he explained, “We will execute two left turns and be back in the pattern to land. All questions will be answered after we land. Just sit tight, we are all fine.”
I have consulted to leaders and organizations on leadership characteristics and potential for over 30 years. I was impressed by the Captain’s evenness as he made the announcement, as though this was just a short walk in the park. The number of training and simulation hours and his leadership were obvious. Captain Edge, his first officer and the entire cabin crew were extremely professional, calm and well trained. American Airlines should be very proud.
This was this gist of my e-mail to American Airlines as soon as we were safely back in the terminal. I concluded my grateful correspondence, thusly:
“By the way, do you get copies of incidents like this? I never thought about it before but I figured that you must get reports of situations like this, so I am sure I am not informing you of something that you are not already aware. The reason I am writing you is to tell you of the professionalism of the crew and to tell you how well we were treated in getting back to Raleigh-Durham. We did reach Miami that evening, about four hours late. We thanked Captain Edge and the first officer (name, unknown). We never thanked the cabin crew.
“Is there a way to give an appreciation award to this entire crew? I know there are ways to give appreciation to individuals on my American Airlines App–but how about for the ground staff in both Curaçao and Miami? They were actually waiting for us with vouchers and onward journey information! Most importantly, I want Captain Edge and his entire crew to be appreciated for their skill, professionalism and leadership.”
American Airlines, if you’re reading this, thanks for the leadership!
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
We 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.
What did they do? Read the full story, here.
For more information, contact the Executive Development Group..
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s an excellent interview with our friend and colleague Liz Mellon, speaking about her book Inside the Leader’s Mind.
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.
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.
Since Phil Hodgson and Executive Development Group partner Randy White published Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty in 2001, we have seen not only validation among the executives we work with, but also greater interest in the challenges of ambiguity in business.
At this week’s SIOP Annual Conference in Atlanta, Sandy Shullman and Randy were encouraged and delighted by the collaborative responses to the two half-day presentations. There appear to be some emerging perspectives on the subject as it relates to the practical applications of learning professionals. People in the field see a need to measure tolerance for ambiguity and the uncertainty that it brings in their quests for potential leaders in their organizations.
It became apparent to us that this “aptitude for ambiguity” is indeed a trait sought by learning organizations like yours and a trait that can be developed.
As with most of our work, our study of ambiguity is a process that is informed and advanced by the questions learning executives bring. Presently, we are further developing our 360 assessment Ambiguity Architect®, so these kinds of mini-focus groups are invaluable. If your firm is interested in learning more about our work on ambiguity, please contact us via e-mail.