Ch 7 & 8 “Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities/Experiment and take Risks”
While reading CH 7 of Leadership Challenge, “Search for Opportunities”, a few underlying themes came to mind. The themes I saw taking shape included taking the offense, attack, forward looking, advancing. The idea of not standing still and moving forward are easily seen in the subheading throughout the first part of the chapter (Seize the initiative, Leaders Make Something Happen, Encourage Initiative in Others, and Challenge with Purpose). The practice of constantly keeping yourself, and others, moving forward and taking challenges head on is a great way to approach things both professionally and personally. When you are competing with others for a finite resource, whether it be customers or donations, not challenging the status quo and the mentality of “doing things the way they have always been done around here” can set organizations up for failure. The example of Arvind Deogirikar of Sun CIS in Moscow capitalizing on painting the city buses with the company logo and a number of other things that had not been done by others resulting in sales growth to $30 million speaks directly to the idea of seizing the initiative and challenging the status quo (167-168).
When seeking new possibilities for an organization, one must be proactive and careful to not only listen to ideas generated internally, but to also be outward looking. The authors hammer in the point that effective leader’s listen to external sources of information continually so as to not become narrow minded. In “Creating the Conditions for Success” Mumford et al. brought up the need to have diversity when building a Leadership team in order to generate more ideas from different perspectives. The need for the diversity within the system is obvious, but this alone is not enough. I believe that Kouzes & Posner would agree with Mumford et al., but take it one step further and add that failing to look for diverse ideas and accept different sources of information from outside the organization can be self destructive for any team. An organization will be more open to change and growth if they follow the practice of allowing outside ideas into the company, just the practice of accepting something from an external source can show that a group is ready and capable to change.
Kouzes and Posner end the Chapter with the big heading “Challenges Often Find You” and come to the conclusion most change situations were not initiated by the person who led the process. They see the importance in accepting the challenge and the choices made after tackling the problem. On the surface this makes sense, we all work for someone and deal with new projects assigned to us on a regular basis. But I feel that the authors should go a step further and explain that even though the source of the challenge may be from a superior, the one who undertakes the assignment or project must make it theirs. When meeting that challenge the individual executing the change must strive to be so invested in the project that when it is completed they feel that it was theirs from the beginning. The leader of any new project needs to be the one who is keeping things on track and fully behind the process. Leaders can easily lose all support from their subordinates and the project can lose momentum the minute their team believes that the leader is not fully behind the project. A leader should not accept a challenge they cannot fully support.
Questions from chapter 7
1 - Do you believe in the idea the authors bring up about challenges finding you? Do you, or would you, accept challenges that take you out of your comfort zone? 2 – What are your perceptions of seizing the initiative and leaders making things happen? Do you see it in a negative light or positively?
In Chapter 8, “Experiment and Take Risks”, Kouzes and Posner hit on two key areas when dealing with an organization that is going through change – Generate small wins and learn from experience. The first idea goes hand and hand with Kotter’s fourth error “Not Systematically Planning and Creating Short Term Wins”. I immediately identified with Kouzes and Posner where they talked about “breaking down big problems into small, doable actions”. To put it in other words, create milestones or benchmarks that can give the team small wins and objectives to meet throughout the process from beginning to end. In my experience milestones are extremely effective in helping members of the team break down large and daunting problems into small slices that are easily completed individually. When dealing with long term projects, people can lose focus easily unless something is keeping them on task and small achievements help. Using milestones is also an effective tool a leader can use to ensure their team is staying on task and meeting the short range goals necessary to achieve the desired end-state.
In learning from experience, the authors again touch on a key area in which leaders must pay attention to if they want to become more effective. Organizations and leaders need to avoid the zero defect mentality when it comes to the actions of their teams. We learn from making mistakes, the key is to identify where the mistakes were made and not accept the repetitions of the same mistake. Kouzes and Posner briefly discuss the military’s AAR process (After Action Review). In my many, many experiences with this process I can say that it works and it backups much of what the authors talked about in learning from experience. In an AAR everyone has a voice, no idea is ignored and the format is followed to encourage everyone on the team to learn what they did right and what went wrong. Key is identifying those things that must be done the next time to achieve success and ensuring they are followed. In this process leaders are the active learners that the authors talked about being. The key to success in AAR’s is not identifying issues without also identifying the solution or work around and implementing that into the way things are done.
Question from Chapter 8
1 – Have you ever been part of a “postmortem” where much of the blame for failure fell on your shoulders? How did you respond? Did you find the process helpful?