Archive for Leadership

Elementary Lessons in Vision and Teaming

Have you read The Goal? It is (still) a pivotal book in the Lean movement. I’ve been telling architects that The Wheel on the School (a children’s story by Meindert deJong) is the hidden jewel of that genre—namely novelization of business fundamentals. I believe it could be a pivotal book in the networked, collaborative, dynamic teaming movement. Is there such a movement? In software development, we see it instantiated in Agile development and Visual Architecting.

I so like The Wheel on the School! The team was chartered: wonder about storks. The team went off, and in their individual styles, wondered. They created a shared vision. Then they each went off in different directions, like the spokes of a wheel, but with a common vision unifying their search for a solution. The whole village got pulled into the creation of the solution, at different points. The team told vivid vision stories to motivate and inspire various people along the way. More and more people got drawn into creating the solution; taking risks, doing what it takes. The core team, working like cogs, pulled in teams of teams. Sometimes all working together, sometimes as smaller teams. Fluid, dynamic, ever-changing teams. Through action, they made the vision real. People changed; changed their self-concept, changed the communities concept of them. In changing how they viewed themselves, in changing how they viewed others, they built the team. A team needs diversity and a team is transformative; or it can be. They made their vision real: they wondered, they created a shared vision, and they set the wheels of action in motion. 

This is Kotter’s 8 steps of leading change in one delightful story you can even share with your kids. Or have them teach you. An open mind. A willingness to wonder. A willingness to think outside the box of convention. If you want to create, to lead, and you don’t relate to this book, please do tell me! The first 3 chapters on creating a shared vision will either have your attention, or you’ll be lost in translation. Not so much to invest then. And, if you find it useful, by all means tell us what lessons you found radiating from this gem of book.

While I’m recommending books for leaders, I also really like  Stephen Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative, Jossey-Bass, April 22, 2005.  I see he has a follow-up book due out in October called The Secret Language of Leadership, (2007). 

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That Vision Thing

I get challenged on the question of vision. Is it management’s responsibility to come up with the vision, or the architect’s? Well, this is my push-back: the architect needs to be sure there is one. Remember: no vision, no destination, a random walk.

If management has established a shared vision, and we have a shared understanding of this vision in terms of what it means for the technical community, great! Job done; get to work on architectural strategy.

Still, I can’t tell you how many projects I encounter where the technical people feel there is no vision. So, is there really no vision, or no vision the developers relate to? Either way, the architect has an important leadership role to play. And moreover, even if management “leads” on the vision thing, the vision will be the better for the architects involvement. The architect is (or should be) responsible for the goodness of the architecture (value delivered, structural integrity and resilience under change) as it is sustained through the incarnations it will take as market changes and internal forces impinge upon it. The project manager is responsible for each release, one release at a time. There is an important tension there.

The tricky part is establishing a shared vision without having it be an unmercifully drawn-out process unto itself. To do this, leaders ask that the job of articulating the vision be delegated to them by the community. This is a job of trust, and a balancing act between participation and traction. Then it is a job of informing and influencing, inspiring and persuading.

In engineering, we tend to use and appeal to logic as our principal tool for persuasion; logos, standing on the shoulders of ethos. We tend to eschew pathos, the appeal to the emotions; we neglect enthusiasm, the importance of building it in ourselves that it may light in others; we neglect to tell stories that connect personally, appealing to the common history and aspirations of those we would persuade.

On the subject of persuasion, there’s Gladwell’s triad for infections of epidemic scale: connector, maven, salesman (The Tipping Point). Or as I interpret the triad: relationship builders creating conduits for persuasion, knowledge that imbues the message with meaningful value, and the emotive power of the carrier. Overlapping with, but importantly extending the triad of rhetoric: logos, ethos and pathos.

Gladwell also makes the point that the message has to be sticky. This has two aspects: the message must be compelling but the environment also must be receptive. Good people act in more, or less, helpful ways depending on their perception of context. That is why we focus so much on context leading up to vision and strategy.

We need to build a shared sense of where to get to, and a sense of the context that behooves us getting there—our history, our present context, and the forces that will reshape our context. The really neat thing is that we don’t place ourselves in the forefront, trying to persuade and otherwise bludgeon everyone with the vision thing. Simply getting people in the room to talk about context, their view of it, and others view of it, builds a sense that this view, this context, is shared, and more than that, it has its comfort and its motivating force. And yes, by being careful about inviting key individuals with various important perspectives, we play a shaping role in creating a valid shared context view. 

If the vision that comes out of this sense of our shared (business or project) context and the forces that will reshape it, and the opportunities it opens up, is not the vision we hold, then we need to take a hard look at ourselves.

Being ethical as a leader, to me, means not setting out to be self-serving. Rather it means to honorably, responsibly, seek out the value that is compelling to our community, build a shared vision, build passion and commitment to attaining the vision, and lead the decisions and the action that realizes the vision. It is not about power or dominating the will of others (as in, telling them what the system must be, how it must be organized, how to make it “perfect”). It is about leading to value delivery by facilitating the best joint effort of the community, creating the spaces in which individuals can make their best contribution to a system that will be successful and, in the process, building their own self-esteem and satisfaction with what they are spending the better part of their daily lives on.

 

[This post draws from various October entries in my online Architecture Journal.]

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