Ambiguity, Emotional Resilience & Agile Leadership Blog

Research, comment and thoughts about ambiguity, emotional resilience, agile leadership, strategic development, wisdom and roi.

Being wise at work: What is wisdom?

Being wise at work: What is wisdom?

Following on from my last post 'Where is the wisdom in your organisation?' it might be an idea to work out just what we are talking about here. What is wisdom?

One way of looking at this is to think about what a wise person would be like, if we met one. How would we know if we met a wise person?

What would tell us?

Attributes

Well we would probably talk about attributes like making good decisions, making wise choices and doing wise things. But what is that that makes something a wise choice, decision or action?

Does something become wise if we agree with it? There does appear to be something here that something to do with agreeableness, even if at first we didn't understand or agree with it. There is a property of general human agreeableness to the decision, action or choice. Wise decisions tend to be pretty recognisable as such to most people. However general agreeableness is not on it's own a sufficient attribute to get something identified as wise. I can agree to something without finding it wise.  

There is also a suggestion of consideration with wisdom. That the issue at hand appears to have been well thought through or considered. This usually means that a range of angles or perspectives have been examined and usually angles and perspectives that go beyond that which would be normal or average. So we could say a wise decision is one where the individual has weighed up and thought through a wider set of implications and outcomes than would have been normal to expect.

Intelligence

But is this not just intelligence? Well maybe. Or...

Maybe not. Wisdom is a step beyond 'just' intelligence. Wisdom suggests more than just putting the pieces together or problem solving. There is the idea of good judgement, particularly in situations where there is uncertainty or ambiguity. And a 'good' judgement strongly suggests that the decision or judgement is ethically and morally sound, that it is best for the individuals concerned and society in general as well as wider systems like the planet. 

Wisdom therefore points towards actions and choices which have been thought through and have the widest possible positive impact. Good judgement and wisdom go hand in hand.

The thing that usually defines wisdom or a 'good' judgement is where it is made in complex, ambiguous and unclear situations. This is what often moves a judgement, decision or action from the ordinary or normal to the extraordinary or wise. The ability to move beyond the obvious and craft a decision or action that takes into account wider (often ethical and moral issues) in non-standard and incomplete or shifting circumstances.

In my next post I will have a look at why wisdom is an important and all too often neglected trait in the workplace.

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Where is the wisdom in your organisation?

Where is the wisdom in your organisation?

Imagine for a few seconds. What if your organisation was staffed with wise people?

What would it be like? Stop and conjour up a picture of your workplace full of wise people.

What would be happening if you were surrounded by wise people that isn't happening at the moment? 

What wouldn't be happening that is happening at the moment if wise people abounded in your company or institution?

How would decisions be made?

... So who are the wise people in your organisation? 

Interesting isn't it? I mean when you start thinking about wisdom and your work. 

The idea of wisdom appears to have dropped out of currency in today's networked, information technology centric, best practice, efficient, effective, productive working environment. 

When you stop for a second and start to think about wisdom, where it exists in your workplace and what effect it would have (if there was a lot of it about) on working life and business practices in general, odd things start to happen. 

Just thinking about wisdom somehow slows things down, makes things just a little more... well considered.

So let me ask you another question. Just how do you go about producing or developing wisdom? How do you help people to do wise things, make wise choices and decisions and ask wise questions in the workplace? 

My next few posts will look at how wisdom relates to ambiguity, resilience and leadership as well as how to develop wisdom in the workplace.

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The one thing high performing teams do that others don't

The one thing high performing teams do that others don't

I have had the privaledge to be part of, coach or observe a wide variety of high performing teams at the top of their game over the years. These teams have included special forces, airforce and aerobatic groups, police anti-riot teams, professional international rugby, football and rowing teams, and business teams that are out performing everyone else. 


I was with another such team this week who were moving into the high performance bracket. They were doing well, but weren't quite in the 'fit and flow' of the best teams on earth. 
What I mean by 'fit and flow' is that the individuals in the team fit together like a tight jigsaw. Each team member having a precise place and fitting perfectly with those next to them, so that there are no gaps. Tight fitting so that there are few if any bumps as the work transitions from one team member to another. Imagine running your fingers over the surface of a jigsaw and finding it hard to discern where one piece ends and another begins. That's a tight fit. In a work team that means the work moves between the members seamlessly or flows without interruption. Everyone is working in concert as if the team is one organism. 


Getting a team to this stage is no mean feat, but with the right guidance most teams could achieve this


So what is the one thing that makes such a difference? Feedback and not just any feedback. This is constant and consistant intra-team and coach feedback. Every high performing team I have ever worked in, coached or observed have a constant flow of feedback or information about every minute detail of performance as they work together. They give each other feedback all the time. They have a coach who not only gives feedback but ensures everyone pulls their weight in terms of giving and responding to feedback. After every operation, project, flight, game or whatever they have a debrief run by the coach, where every minute detail is gone over and they leave with a definite plan of action. As a member of a high performing team you get really good at noticing things about the teams performance and taking responsibility to help maintain, correct and improve by saying what you notice at the time and listening to the other team members and the coach and taking immediate action.


I am lucky to have had the privelidge to have worked with some of the best teams on the planet and as I watch this new team transform itself I know they are a whisker away from achieving high performance. Teams like these, who embrace this attitude, bring tears to your eyes as they flex and flow. It is a beautiful thing to be part of. 

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The difference between a reframe and spin

The difference between a reframe and spin

 

There is a world of difference between reframing something and spinning the issue.

Reframing is the art of seeing something from another valid perspective. Spinning on the other hand is putting a gloss on on issue or finding positives so as to manipulate an individual or situation. 

The essential key here is the validity of the reframe. If the reframe is done with the others best interests at heart so they can genuinely see things from another perspective then it is legitimate to call it reframing. If however the objective of the exercise is to manipulate the other into taking a perspective that they would not ordinarily take, especially if they knew all the facts and it is either genuinely not in their best interests or it is the interests of someone else then we are into spin. There is no attempt in reframing to hide any of the material facts. Where as in spinning, on the other hand, the aim is to create a perception where some facts gain prominence and others are minimised or completely' forgotten'. 

So why is this important and why am I writing about it here? 

I find it interesting the rationale used during organizational change programmes, particularly from management at times. And it's not just about the rationale used but the spirit that rationale is propounded in. 

This is not just an academic argument. The affect and effect are very different in both cases.

 

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The decline of interest in management. Leadership has always been low

The decline of interest in management. Leadership has always been low

Whilst conducting some research on google trends I ended up having a play with some search terms and found something quite interesting.
When you look at the worldwide search volumes comparing the terms leadership and management something that surprised me at least fell out of the leadership and managementdata. The first surprise what that interest in management is declining. I had expected an increase in interest in leadership, but that isn't the case. In the screen grabs that follow the red graph is for the search term 'Management' and the blue for the term 'Leadership'. 

 Firstly since 2004 there has been a significant decline in interest in management as a search term, and when you look at these data you find that the term leadership has consistently had low search volumes comparatively.

 

Worldwide decline in interest in management. Leadership has always been comparatively low as a serch term.

 

The decline of interest in management worldwide

When you drill down and have a look at the search figures by country, the same trend emerges with some really interesting variations

For example in the US whilst they there has been a decline in interest in 'management', the decline has slowed but remains high compared to other countries as you will see.

 

Decline in interest in management in the US

Whilst interest is declining in the US it still remains comparatively high.

The decline of interest in management in the US

 

Decline in interest in management in the UK

However in the UK the decline is much more sustained and almost mirrors the global trend.

The decline of interest in management in the UK

 

Decline in interest in management in France

Decline in interest in management in France

 

Decline in interest in management in Germany

Interest in Germany on the other hand has levelled off and remains comparatively high.

Decline in interest in management in Germany

 

Decline in interest in management in India and interest in leadership is almost nonexistant

I then turned to India, the results of which surprised me. I have to say as a growing economy I expected a rise in interest however the opposite is the case. Interest in management has completely dribbled away and interest in leadership has flat lined.

Decline in interest in management in India

 

Sudden decline in interest in management in Japan

At first glance I thought the sudden dip might be related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster but that didn't occur until 11th march 2011. 

Decline in interest in management in Japan

 

Increase in interest in management in China

Search volumes for management and leadership in China is interesting. China bucks the trend, it's almost the reverse of the rest of the world.

Increase in interest in management in China

 

Regional interest maps


Blue map = search volumes by country for leadership. Red map = search volumes by country for management

Regional interest in leadership - mapRegional interest in management - map

 

The question all this begs is why? 

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What is emotional resilience and why it is a core factor in agile leadership

What is emotional resilience and why it is a core factor in agile leadership

Emotional resilience is an often misunderstood concept particularly in organisations. Contrary to common belief emotional resilience is not the absence of emotional response or feeling. That often leads to huge problems. When I was conducting research for The Ambiguity Advantage during the south east asia tsunami response, one of the things we found was that the disaster managers who had empathy and higher levels of emotional intelligence and resilience ran teams that performed better, suffered from less burnout and had lower levels of turnover in what can only be described as extreme circumstances. The leaders who cut off from their emotions tended not to manage with empathy, had higher levels of personal problems after deployment and had higher levels of turnover in their teams. Additionally we noticed that the team members of these teams prefered not to share information or learning with their leader or manager.

Emotional resilience then is the ability to regulate your own emotions and bounce back after an emotional hit. It is in itself an agile response to emotional trauma or upset.

Inherent in the concept of agility is responsiveness. This includes the ability to be able to respond appropriately but further, to be able to take other peoples view, see and understand the world from their perspective. Understanding different perspectives includes others emotions and feelings about an issue - empathy in other words. In order to be able to be a responsive and agile leader or manager not only do you have to have emotional resilience, but you need to be able to lead others. The biggest issue in leadership and management is taking people through situations where their emotions and feelings might not be wholly positive. Helping them overcome their fears or problematical emotions so they can perform. In other words helping their people develop greater emotional resilience themselves. You just need to bring to mind a leader like Nelson Mandella who has in his life demonstrated quite extraordinary levels of emotional resilience and empathy.

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What does being professional mean?

Does wearing a suit make you professional?During a conversation last week with a group of my research students at Oxford last week they mentioned the p-word. The concept of 'being professional' often crops up with students as they think about their future work.  'So what does being professional mean'? I asked.

"people often assume that being professional means being formal"

One of the first realisations we had was that people often assume that being professional means being formal. This idea was soon debunked as people who are officious and formal for the sake of it often do not portray the sense of professionalism rather officialdom. Indeed we could all cite examples of relaxed, friendly people who are human and professional. 

The discussion then moved on to the idea that professional does not mean part-time. The distinction being with professional sports people as opposed to part-time or amateurs. Whilst it is often the case that professionals do what they do on a full time basis, this is not always so and doing something full time or not being classed as an amateur is not sufficient to be classed as a professional. Indeed there are many many instances of full time 'professionals' not acting in a professional manner. So just because you are in a profession like being a doctor or teacher for example does not necessarily mean you are going to be 'professional'. 

By the same logic then qualifications and expertise are no indicator of being professional either. You can have all the qualifications in the world and still act unprofessionally.

"qualifications and expertise are no indicator of being professional either"

We then realised that 'being professional' and 'being a professional' are two very different things. The latter does not lead to the former. 

So where does this leave us. What does being professional mean? A discussion about politicians found us considering the idea that ethics is an important concept in this. That putting the ideals of the endeavour before your own self interest was a trait of a professional. This means that whatever you are engaged in there will be a set of guiding principles and ethics which denote professional practice and the ideal of being a professional. Further we realised that most professional jobs are considered to be professions as they are there for the good of society at large. That there is an ideal of an educated and altruistic aim sitting behind the idea of a profession. 

Some of the best professionals combine an educated (this does not mean qualifications or schooling - I'll report on this conversation next!) and ethical response with humanity. 

The conclusion we reached was that 'being professional' means characterising, living or taking on the:

  • ideals,
  • ethics and
  • social aims

of the said profession in a way that positively connects other human beings with that endeavour. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Agile leaders are hardly ever right.

When it's wrong to be rightThere is a problem with being right, or at least believing we are right. Simply put the problem is what happens when we believe we are right.


The moment we think we have the answer, that we are right we tend to stop searching, after all we have the answer don't we?

The second thing is, believing we have the answer has to assume we believe we have the right problem. For every answer there is a problem. Just look at the last thing you disagreed with someone about. If you look closely enough you will find a problem. It is impossible to have a disagreement and for there not to be a problem. Believing we are right not only presupposes we have the right answer but also that we have the correct problem. As a rule of thumb this is almost never the case.

Both the belief that we have the correct answer to an issue and the often unquestioned, assumption that we have the right problem results is probably the most damaging concern. We then tend to start proving that we are correct. The effect of this is that we stop listening, start arguing and most importantly, stop actively learning.
So what has this got to do with agile leadership?


There is a feeling that many people get when they are in the position of a leader or manager and that is that since they are now in a position of authority they should know what to do at any given time. In other words, that they have the answers. I refer back to the start of this article.

There is a saying - 'you can either be right or in a relationship. You can't have both.'

Oh and the opposite of being right isn't being wrong. 

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The difference between problem solving and decision making

An interesting discussion started in one of my workshops in a financial institution this week around problem solving and decision making. 

To put it simply decision making requires options. Decision making is the art of choosing an option. Not choosing an option i.e. not doing anything is also a decision, albeit often chosen in the absence of a purposeful decision or as a result of hiding from the action of making a decision.

Part of the problem solving process is to develop viable options.

Once you have options you can then make a decision.

Therefore problem solving is the process of developing viable options or solutions and decision making is the art of choosing an option.

Frequently people skip to the decision making stage before a, making sure they have the right problem and b, have generated a good range of options.

A warning sign is when you feel you don't have any options... 

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Welcome to the new Ambiguity Advantage, Emotional Resilience and Agile Leadership blog.

Hi

I am David Wilkinson and this is the continuation of the the blog over at http://ambiguityadvantage.blogspot.co.uk/. Over the next few weeks I will be transferring the blogs over to here and closing down the Ambiguity Advantage one at blogspot. The focus of this blog will broaden slightly to incorporate

  • ambiguity, how people deal with it and how to use it to your advantage and profit from it (it really is a positive!)
  • uncertainty,
  • risk,
  • emotional resilience,
  • change,
  • organisational change,
  • learning,
  • and agile leadership and management

which are all areas I consult in with a large range of clients and teach at a number of universities including The University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University (My two home universities), The Universities of Essex, Liverpool, and Cardiff in the UK and a smattering of other universities in Oman, Saudi Arabia, The Yemen, the United States, Malasia and some others. 

Many thanks

David Wilkinson

PS I have agrowing of guides and extracts from my books as well as tips and advice I can let you have. Just sign up below and I will send them to you.

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