All posts by scanlandk

Agility is the new stability.

You have control or growth, but you can’t have both. Trying to eliminate chaos, stifles growth. ~Craig Groeschel

I’ll admit, I like stability. However, as I’ve learned over the past number or years and especially that last 1.5 years, stability actually comes from my ability to change and adapt.

The adaptability and agility I’m talking about here is not the kind when you are forced to change. We all experienced that in the last 1.5 years. We had no choice. This type of adaptability and agility is a choice, and it’s a strategic one. This is when we are choosing to adapt or change. We are proactively seeking out ways that we need to adapt.

An organization’s culture that is characterized by stability that doesn’t also have characteristics to counterbalance that desire for stability could actually be self-defeating. For example, if stability is part of a culture, a counterbalance would be characteristics like innovation, results-oriented, goal-oriented, ambitious, curious, progressive, etc. If the organization’s other culture descriptors are reinforcing stability like risk averse, regulated, cautious, etc., then I would have a hard time concluding that this culture will actually result in stability, especially over time.

The Counterbalance

McKinsey has researched the counterbalance of stability and agility. This balance is typically more challenging for organizations that have been around for a number of years, or decades. McKinsey reported on this pattern.

“Why do established companies struggle to become more agile? No small part of the difficulty comes from a false trade-off: the assumption by executives that they must choose between much-needed speed and flexibility, on the one hand, and the stability and scale inherent in fixed organizational structures and processes, on the other.”

“A 2015 analysis of McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index showed that companies with both speed and stability have a70 percent chance of being ranked in the top quartile by organizational health. That’s a far higher proportion than McKinsey found among companies focused only on one or the other.”

This isn’t an either/or option. It’s a both/and requirement for organizational health.

The Yin and Yang

What’s your organizational yin to your yang? Is your organization too focused on only one or the other—on only stability or only agility? Are you missing the counterbalance?

Ask a number of random employees what five words they would use to describe your culture. (The actual culture, not what might be stated on your website.) Then, put all of those words into two lists. One list that supports stability and one that supports agility. Are the lists balanced?

I like stability, and because I do, I also crave agility and proactively look for ways to adapt. It’s all part of the yin and yang of leading with bold grace.

Are you a future-back thinker?

I think the lesson is that unless you’re intentional, things usually don’t change. ~Billie Jean King

Being a future-back thinker requires intentionality. It’s a word that I’ve circled back to frequently this year. I’ve worked with a number of boards over the past year and I would describe several as “waiting until someone brings them something to react to.” Whereas intentional would mean being deliberate, purposeful, intended, and planned.

Richie Norton said, “Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.” I would modify that slightly for leadership and say, “Intentional leadership is the art of making choices before others’ choices make us.”

I’ve heard some leaders say “I don’t have time to be intentional. I have too many things I need to respond (or react) to every day. Being intentional is a luxury I don’t have.” Well, Richie Norton has a response to that as well. He said, “You don’t need more time, you need to act on creative, intent-based ideas.”

How to be more intentional?

Become a future-back thinker.

Tanya Prive wrote in Inc. “Mark Johnson, author of Lead From the Future, argues that strategic planning requires a series of outcomes not from the present to the future, but, rather, from the future back into the present – as “future-back thinkers.” Others may refer to it as reverse engineering. Starting from the endpoint and working your way back is a highly effective way of designing a road map to realize the strategy or future you intend.”

If you don’t know where it is you’re going, it’s difficult, if not nearly impossible, to be intentional. If you are simply allowing the past to push you into the future, then you are only “forecasting” where you are going. Forecasting is not planning and it’s not intentional. It’s the opposite of intentional. It means your movement into the future is accidental, haphazard, or involuntary.

Realize a future that was not predictable.

Prive also says that “A leader’s sole purpose is to realize a future that was not predictable or going to happen anyway.” I feel like that needs repeating. “A leader’s sole purpose is to realize a future that was not predictable or going to happen anyway.” Sounds like leaders need to be intentional. Prive goes on to say “That’s where management stops and leadership starts. Your main focus should be on getting your team aligned and inspiring coordinated actions throughout your organization. To do that, you continuously must have conversations with various stakeholders, each and every day.”  

Intentionality means you know where you are going, and have given it the priority of both your time and attention that it requires. You’re not just waiting until someone or something is knocking at your door and needs attention. You are choosing what needs and gets your attention. You’re intentional. That’s leading with bold grace.

Unless you’re intentional, things usually don’t change. ~Billie Jean King

How big is your margin?

Create margin for opportunities that you can’t predict. ~Craig Groeschel

A margin for opportunity. I moved 18 months ago. This gave me the opportunity to purge, reorganize, and rethink all of my “stuff.” I recall sharing with a friend how I had organized a closet and there was still open space. She replied with, “so you have space to put more things”? My response was, “no, so I can always have open space. Seeing open space is freeing.”

The context of Groeschel’s quote was in reference to the uncertainty of the past 18 months. He said that “a good leader plans for unforeseen challenges. A great leader plans for unexpected opportunities.” The idea of creating margin for opportunity is harder than it sounds.

Margin: think guide, not a contract.

I work with a number of clients on strategic planning who treat their plan as if it was a contract as opposed to a guide. A contract allows for little, or even no, margin. That’s likely an indication of a good contract. Strategic planning, however, should clarify an end point and provide a direction. Unforeseen challenges will occur and if you can’t keep your “contract,” you create a sense of failure and loss in direction. But if that same strategic planning is a “guide,” you now have a little elbow room for unexpected opportunities.

We cram everything full with very little room to maneuver. From our strategic plans, to business models, to personal calendars, daily routines, and yes, even our closets. We’ve left very little room for the all-important margin.

How to create margin for unexpected opportunities?

Use the power of 3.

At the beginning of each week, identify the 3 most important things you need to accomplish. Put those 3 things on your calendar in all caps. Then leave space/margin for the unexpected.

At the beginning of every day, determine 3 things you will accomplish that day, and make them realistic. For example, instead of “complete X report,” maybe a more realistic item might be “create the outline for X report.” Allow yourself to leave a little margin every day.

In the big picture (whether that’s your organization’s strategic plan, or your personal goals), sum it up into 3 bullet points? The 4 Disciplines of Execution references identifying the wildly important. And yes, they say that what is wildly important should be no more 3. Decide what’s wildly important and then leave yourself a little margin. Creating margin means intentionally leaving space for the unknown.

Making the mental shift from unforeseen challenges (i.e., a pandemic) to unexpected opportunities (i.e., a whole new way to work), is another example of being adaptive and leading with bold grace.

From Diversity to Inclusion

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. ~Malcolm Forbes

Diversity. An Islamic Proverb states “A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” I’ve experienced this firsthand. For some reason, I had the habit of buying a bunch of flowers (notice I said “bunch” and not “bouquet”) of all the same kind. Recently, due to the purchase of a ceramic gadget at an art fair that allows anyone to artfully arrange flowers, I started purchasing bouquets of different flowers. Interestingly, I have found myself pausing as I walk by the table to admire the assortment of colors and textures. It reminds me of “the art of being different together.”

DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) has become a frequent topic in blogs, podcasts, and boardrooms. It seems that while more leaders may have the desire for DEI, they struggle with how to implement the actual practice of DEI. This week I heard an example that I thought was both easy to implement and very effective.

Diversity Put Into Practice

How do you show up as an inclusive leader? Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director & Senior Client Advisor for Morgan Stanley provides a very practical (and easily doable!) example.

Harris says to do this at least the next four times you begin a meeting with your team.

  1. Start by saying something like, “Here’s the conversation (whatever topic or challenge you need to address) we’re going to have today. I’ll get us started.”
  2. Then say something like, “I’d like you, Abby, to add on to this conversation.”
  3. “Bill, I’d like you to add on to what Abby has said.”
  4. “Shonda, I’d like you to completely blow-up this argument, play the devil’s advocate, what’s the other argument, where are the gaps.”
  5. “Damien, I’d like you to add on to what Shonda has done.”

Harris says by doing this you’ve done two key things. First, you have essentially said, “I see you” because you invited each person into the conversation, by name. Second, you have said “I hear you” because you invited them to support or refute the argument on the floor. By doing this, you have ensured that everyone is equally invested (i.e., included).

Make the Mix Work

Andres Tapia said, “Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.”

My ceramic gadget helped me to make the mix of flowers work (i.e., become a bouquet). Just as Harris’ practice is an example of how to move from diversity to inclusion and also make the mix work.

A leader who enables a team to “think independently together” and “make the mix work,” is leading with bold grace.

Compassion Competence?

Compassion competence is an emergent pattern of collective noticing in a generous way, collective feeling and collective acting to alleviate someone’s suffering. ~Sally Maitlis

Compassion is still kind of a new concept in the workplace. Many of us still ascribe to the “work ethic” expectation of the early industrial revolution years. Always show up for work, regardless of how you feel. I can’t count the number of times I went to work with a cold and subsequently accomplished very little other than sharing my germs with all of those around me. But that was the mentality and the culture. While I believe the pandemic may have helped us rethink that logic about our physical health, I’m not as confident that we’ve done as well with our expectations around our mental health.

Part of shifting our paradigm about mental health in the workplace is to think and act with more compassion. Fortunately, compassion competence is something that can be developed.

The basics tenets of compassion competence is simply to notice and to act. As Adam Grant said, it’s “common sense, but not common practice.” Also, note Maitlis’ definition that it’s not to fix someone but to alleviate their suffering.

As is stated frequently, in the U.S. almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Greenway Therapy points out, “that number only accounts for diagnosed mental illness but not for simply needing some support to get through a bit of life muck. The human need for support is 100%.”

What does noticing and responding to others’ pain look like?

Compassion competence from a policy perspective
  • Give people Fridays (or a day) off to spend time with loved ones and to recharge
  • Offer free, private counseling sessions
  • It’s okay to call in sick, and it’s okay to call in sad too
Compassion competence from a practice perspective
  • Dedicate a portion of a weekly huddle to emotional support
  • Schedule a monthly team check-in to see how people are doing (emotional acknowledgement)
  • Notice and mention another person’s emotional state. It may start with paying attention when a coworker’s responsiveness dips or an employee’s mood lags.
  • Leaders show their own vulnerability. When leaders model that it’s ok to struggle, that makes it okay for others to ask for help.
  • Create a culture where employees feel safe enough to share how they’re feeling and not be judged for it. And know that the result of doing so is actually going to result in support. Colleagues may step in and say, Hey, I got your back. Or, the boss might say, okay, let’s find another way to get this done.

Lead with bold grace and find one way to demonstrate compassion competence this week.