Three Dimensions of Leadership Development

Women Who Created their Future

The movie Hidden Figures introduced us to Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were human computers at NASA. The film captures Katherine Johnson’s dedication and creativity as she enhanced trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s flight. Her success led John Glenn to insist that she verify the newly installed computer projections before his flight. She lifted her career as well as the rockets.

Dorothy Vaughan was the first female supervisor at NASA. She earned her position by developing new skills and training her staff when their jobs were threatened by the introduction of an IBM computer. Seeing the writing on the wall, she conducted computer program classes to keep them ahead of the technology curve.

We must learn from these women, especially since the pace of change has grown exponentially since the 1960s. Women must continually update their skills and demonstrate their value. Career development alternatives you could consider include

  • Staying alert to external trends and internal realities. What if you were a professional driver? How would drones, driverless cars, cashier-less stores, and automation mean for your job?
  • Leveraging trends in your organization. Is greater specialization or general managerial skills increasingly important? What accomplishments have recently earned promotions? How can you contribute to critical goals?
  • Developing mentors outside your chain of command offers you a sounding board and career insights. They can guide your next steps.
  • Displaying initiative and creativity increases visibility while also expanding your skillset. Many women become executive after introducing a new line of business.
  • Building a professional network. Join your professional association to stay up to date. In addition, professional associations gain early identification of job openings.
  • Crafting a developmental plan. Record your goals and specific milestones to increase the rate of follow-through. Share your interests and plans with your manager.
  • Collecting honest feedback and suggestions. Every one of us can improve when we learn about our potential blind spots. It demonstrates that you are interested in advancing your career.
  • Attending conferences, seminars, and workshops. Valuable technical nuggets can be gained, and, at the same time, you can expand your network.
  • Learning from your mistakes. The only failure in life is to make the same mistake twice. Take time to reflect on professional and personal setbacks to discover new strategies for handling the issue in the future.
  • Allocating time for strategic thinking. While turmoil frequently consumes our time and energy, we must devote time to finding the right career direction.

What are you doing to develop your career opportunities? Our careers are not set in stone. Opportunities abound, enabling us to create our desired career path.

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

 

 

Your Best Career Path: Tiger Woods or Thomas Edison

I am not a golfer, but I know that Tiger Woods started playing the game as a toddler with his father as his coach.  Malcolm Gladwell capturedhis career in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, to support the premise thattrue mastery requires 10,000 hoursof practice. The importance of extended dedication to specializationwas bolstered by references to Bill Gates, the Beatles, and Robert Oppenheimer.  The take-away was that excellence sprang from a prolonged and specialized dedication.

David Epstein’s book Range:  Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized Worldcounters that premise.  He proposes diverse experience and a broad knowledgebase produce excellence.  He supports this with the careers of Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Winston Churchill, all of whom leverage multiple knowledge and interests into stellar careers. Current examples include new medical devices that sprang from merging engineering and medicine just as fusing mathematics and the stock market generated new trading algorithms.

These books raise serious questions for coaches:

  • Is specialization essential to excellence or does it lead tonarrow thinking?
  • Does a generalist background yield a jack of all trades and a master of none?
  • Does the path to success depend on the environment, industry or organization?

Over my 30 years of experience, I have found that no one can offer a guaranteedcareer path.A one size fits all formula does not exist.  Career success for specialization appears in law enforcement, research, sports, medicine, engineering,technical vocations, and relatively stable industries.And at the same time, generalistsexcel in small businesses; strategy focused roles;dynamic industries;and creative endeavors.

Career planning requiresa broad lens.  It may be that lateral career moves are wiser than waiting for the next step up the linear career ladder, that following in the footsteps of former success stories may not be safe, that both specialization and generalist backgrounds offer rewards, and that switching career trajectories may not be terminal.

I think the message from both books is not to limit your options or ambitions.  The “right career” is one where you can take pride in your impact and continue to learn.

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

 

Perception Traps: Distortions and Deficits

Is seeing believing? It should not be. Our perceptions can be superficial and incomplete. Car accident witnesses describe the same event differently. Architects, security personnel and employees see the same office, but what registers with them varies significantly. We see through our filters without even recognizing that we employ a limited lens. Being conscious of our own perception biases improves teamwork, engagement, and results. It can also improve communication with others.

We must recognize that we register a narrow slice of reality because we rely on what we already “know.”  We like observations that confirm our past experience. And, this means we miss the opportunity to identify what is new and what is possible. These perceptional deficiencies can be overcome in several ways:

1.     We have a perception deficiency that is best addressed by asking others what they see. The picture above illustrated that there are multiple accurate interpretations of the same reality. Some may focus on the white vase, while others concentrate on the profiles of two people. Accepting that there are other valid points of view increases our ability to understand reality as well as ensure that we see all that there is to see.

2.     We conquer perceptual distortions by keeping our minds open and rejecting all stereotypes. Labels gloss over distinctions. They also encourage simplistic thinking and an unwarranted belief that we know all that we need to know. Stereotypes also reduce cooperation and teamwork. Kierkegaard captured this reality when he stated: “Once you label me, you negate me.” When we attach a label to someone, we stop paying attention to them. Labels transform the other person into one of “THEM,” which is an impersonal, and usually less respectful, abstraction.  Stereotypes blind us as certainly as if we were wearing blinders. An every day, and all too common, example is using age to assume competency. Can a person over 40 really know how to handle IT problems? The answer is yes. It depends on their training, continued development and experience not their age.

3.     Distorted and fixed perceptions are dangerous. Our world is becoming more complex, integrated and agile, and that static points of view limit our ability to collect information and recognize patterns. Holding onto a narrow view means we make mistakes because our actions are based on incomplete knowledge. Convinced in our accuracy, we refuse to adjust our views or consider other options. Instead of listening to different points of view, we prefer to have others just agree with us.  When others realize that our mind is made up, they stop sharing information since it becomes a waste of their time.

We get our eyes examined to ensure that we see clearly. We must also test our perceptions. For as Thoreau noted: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” We must continually test our perceptional mindsets before we accept what we initially see as all that there is to see.

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

Boosting your mental agility and critical thinking

Large amounts of data and rapid change increase the need to think critically and adjust to new realities.

Will Rogers reminds us that “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” While stagnation is dangerous, finding the path forward can be challenging. Mental agility, situational awareness and sound judgment are essential to addressing probable, pervasive and problematic change.

The rapid rate of change has led CEOs to identify critical thinking, judgment and innovation as essential to their future success. In today’s complex world, no individual has all the answers, but a person can ask the right questions and evaluate responses.

Mental agility — the ability to recognize what has happened, what is currently happening and what could happen in the future — requires an open, inquisitive mind. And that openness must be combined with a critical analysis of all relevant information to discern how to leverage opportunities in the short and long term. Mental agility and critical thinking close the ubiquitous gap between what we think we know and what we need to know. They prevent missteps and blunders.

Mental agility and critical thinking do not require an elevated IQ, advanced degree, lofty position or specific personal style. They do require a dedicated willingness to:

  • Test existing assumptions that may have changed based on dynamic environments
  • Check for potential distortions or bias, including level of effort and confirmation bias
  • Solicit and respect multiple points of view

Adopting an open mind means actively seeking information, considering alternatives, and selecting a viable and valuable goal. With multiple variables affecting any decision, a comprehensive framework is indispensable in collecting pertinent information. Knowing it all prevents risking it all.

Consider the purchase of a car. Decision factors include price, warranty, miles per gallon, cost of insurance, features, size, lease or purchase, color, style, type of gas required, cost of maintenance, towing capacity and dealer location. This list may appear lengthy, but compared with the factors involved in organizational success, it is quite small.

Organizations confront greater complexity and interdependencies than purchasing a car. One individual’s ability cannot juggle every aspect. Leaders need a system to gather timely, relevant information from multiple sources. Considering six situational mindsets ensures an effective grasp of reality. The following definitions and questions serve as a guide and can be tailored into a checklist for your organization:

  1. Inventing Situational Mindset questions concern innovative products, designs and services: What new features or services can we offer? How can we apply technology in a new way?
  2. Catalyzing Situational Mindset questions assess the level of customer service, market position and competition: What new markets can we explore? What will grow sales? How can we improve customer service?
  3. Developing Situational Mindset questions evaluate system effectiveness, information flow and seamless execution: What will improve cross-functional collaboration? Are our systems effective? What policy alterations will support our goals?
  4. Performing Situational Mindset questions examine quality, cycle time, workflow and return on investment: What deviations should we address? What can we improve? What limits our productivity?
  5. Protecting Situational Mindset questions address staffing levels, retention of key talent, succession planning and engagement: What will improve collaboration? How can we retain key talent? How can our culture become more agile?
  6. Challenging Situational Mindset questions probe trends, assumptions, strategies and opportunities: What new alliances are possible? What new niches should we pursue? What will position us for the future?

These situational mindsets surface what is present, what is within reach and what is around the corner. Their use builds the mental agility and critical thinking essential for organizations to achieve their goals in the midst of change.

Published with permission from SmartBrief.com

About Author:

Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd., an international firm helping leaders deliver results. A leader in the field of organizational effectiveness, she has assisted corporate and government clients in the US and abroad, including Lockheed Martin, Marriott, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Would You Choose the Red or Blue Pill if you were in the Matrix?

In the film,The Matrix,the main character, Neo,is offered a choice. He could take a red pill representing a desire to live in the real world as a free person or take a blue pill and remain secure in an illusionary world where he could hold on to his established beliefs, practices, and expectations. His choice was change or stability.  It was an either-or choice to be made immediately.

In the movie Neo takes the red pill, rejecting a fabricated world to gain increased awareness and discomfort and the risks that follow.  He elected reality and change over staying in a fictitious world offering predictability and safety.  With only two choices and pressure from Morpheus, encouragement from Trinity, and pursuit by agents he had little time to make this momentous decision.

Organizations today often cast major decisions as either-or options, when, in reality, there are few binary choices.  For example, what if Neo asked if he could take both pills?  What if he asked Morpheus for additional time?  What if he asked if there was a purple pill? With only two polarizing possibilities, he elected not to stay shackled to an impersonal manipulative system and change the matrix.

Leaders today must reject dualistic thinking and apply critical thinking to assess multiple options.  This does not require an advanced degree, membership in Mensa or a lofty title.  The practice merely requires an open mind and a willingness to shift mindsets to address current conditions.  Adopting the practice of probing six situational mindsets enables leaders to discover alternatives and weigh options.  It also engages others, surfaces new information, and creates common ground.  The six mindsets questions cover every organizational aspect.

  • The Inventing Mindset probes options for new products/services, creative designs, and new synergies.
  • The Catalyzing Mindsetfocuses on serving the customer and building the organization’s brand.
  • The Developing Mindset creates seamless infrastructure, integrated systems, and effective polices.
  • The Performing Mindset targets process improvement, quality, workflow efficiencies, and ROI.
  • The Protecting Mindset centers on developing talent, collaboration, agility, and bench strength.
  • The Challenging Mindsetevaluates challenges, trends, risks, and opportunities for sustained success.

These six mindsets combat our natural tendency to rely on past practice, accept only confirming information,jump quickly into action, and tolerate limited alternatives.  We can do better asking questions covering all six mindsets.  A simple mindset checklist will prevent hasty action.

Now some resist the idea of a checklist viewing it as a personal shortcoming.  However, lawyers, doctors, and pilots use them.  The world is too complex and there are too many variables to juggle and weigh complex issues.   If we have to-do lists, grocery lists and digital schedules, we already recognize ourinability to balance all of the information.

If we adopt an inclusive understanding of our circumstances and choices, we will find more alternatives. May be there was a purple pill option for Neo if he had asked.  What questions should you be asking right now?

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

4 Ways to Smash the Barriers to Critical Thinking

Many leaders exhibit a tendency to jump intoaction.  When a problem is identified there must be an immediate response.  There appears to be an ingrained “just do it” mentality on the assumption it will produce results as well as admiration.   What is overlooked is the option for a pause between learning about a situation and responding to it.  The pause enables information gathering and analysis.   It also acknowledges recognizes that no one, no matter how talented, can master the complex issues facing us today.

The practice of gaining input can be called brainstorming, consulting, buzz groups, task teams, or crowdsourcing.  But these work only when they are employed,  when everyone believes they can contribute,  and when everyone feels that it is safe to offer an opinion.

The lack of critical thinking cited in many CEO surveys encouraged me to poll 100 people about the barriers they experience in practicing critical thinking. The results are:

  • 42%  Identified time pressure or the lack of time to consider options
  • 20%  Expressed fear of rejection, ridicule or retribution
  • 20% Replied nothing will happen as a result; They were resigned to accept that status quo
  • 9%   Doubted their ability to add anything important
  • 5%   Feared that it will mean just mean more work for them
  • 4%   Stated that no one required them to think critically

Organizations are wasting valuable human resources if insights and concerns never surface. And reversing the top concerns require only minor adjustments.  Consider implementing one or more the following:

  1. Concerns over time constraints can be overcomeby setting aside 5 to 10 minutes of a staff meeting to explore an idea or ask for an issue that needs attention. It can also be encouraged by reminding staff that preventing problems saves time and effort rather than having to resolve setbacks later.And, the cost of blind spots continues to grow.
  2. Creating a “safe” environment by encouraging and respecting different points of view. Why not start your next staff meeting by asking “what have we learned since our last meeting?”  Another option would be to appoint a rotating “devil’s advocate” who will critically examine proposals and raise issues. This is particularly important whenpotential benefits crowd out a comprehensive examination. The devil advocate can spotlight the need for deeper dive.  In business and physics for every action there is a reaction, and it is important to recognize ramifications before leaping into action.
  3. Every suggestion or proposal deserves a response. Clarification on what was done or why no action was taken must be shared. It showsrespects for the person who offered the suggestion and ensures further engagement.  Additionally, the contributor can learn about factors that can turn an apparent slam dunk into a pitfall.
  4. Build critical thinking confidence through coaching, usingan established checklist, and providingtime to reflect and confer with others. Recognize that not all critical thinking happens instantaneously.  It can require “soak time,”  whether it is in the shower or in the car. Confidence is also boosted when critical thinking is recognized, whether it was implemented or not.  Whatever the outcome, the practice deserves encouragement

Leaders and decision makers must recognize those that think out of the box as well as those that think inside it, and under it.  To paraphrase,Einstein, today’s problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that was used to create them. We must expand our thinking practices.

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership

When something is missing, it is a vacuum or space creating a void. I believe we have a missing element in our understanding of leadership. We all recognize that leaders face challenges that were unfathomable twenty years ago. However, leadership remains consumed with the relatively stable aspects of personal style and skill sets.

Given our dynamic environment, situational awareness becomes an essential component for leadership success. Leaders must recognize how the competitive landscape, regulatory forces, workforce demographics, and system ramifications impact the organization. No one should ignore their present realities.

While I would temper Peter Drucker’s statement that leadership “has little to do with “leadership quality” and even less to do with “charisma.” Its essence is performance,” I agree with his focus on results. But to date, it undervalues results in favor of steadiness, predictability, and persistence, all of which certainly play a key role. However, so does flexibility, agility, timing, and current conditions. Ignoring these increases our blind spots and risk.

Getting the leadership “formula” right reminds me of searching for the sorcerer’s stone. A magical solution, to be sure, but we must remember it is also fictitious. Search for any universal formula will not work. Precisely following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos will not guarantee success. Certainly, those leaders deserve their acclaim but that does not mean their formula will work in every organization.

Few leaders run an organization that is the equivalent of an Apple or Amazon. I have met many business leaders who assume that what worked in one environment will work in every environment or that what worked in the past will work in the present.

Leadership has changed in scope and expectations. Organizations are more integrated, customer requirements shift more rapidly, and resources have become more constrained. And to make it even more challenging, our greater complexity means that no one person can have all the answers. So instead of becoming the solution provider, leaders need to develop their ability to question and evaluate alternatives. Luckily, this is not rocket science or a matter of IQ. It requires committing to a practice of employing six situational mindsets to uncover information before jumping to a decision.

Situational awareness Consider what a leader could learn by asking questions in six different areas including:

      • What new approaches or creative options can we investigate?
      • How can we improve customer service and retention?
      • How can we become a truly seamless effective organization?
      • What can improve our quality and efficiency?
      • How can we foster collaboration, engagement, and learning?
      • What can we do now to ensure a prosperous future?

Vacuums are broken using heat to expand the container. We should use the heat created by change to expand our view of leadership. Yes, listening, planning, team building, and engagement are critical but so is collecting information on our current realities and leveraging them to achieve results.


Dr. Mary Lippitt is the author of  Brilliant or Blunder: Six Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity and Complexity

“Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership” was originally published on 10 July 2019 at BizCatalyst360.

 

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

“Reading this brilliant book was both a pleasure and a gift. Situational Mindsets has not only helped me to analyze my own leadership tendencies and skills, but it caused me to take notice of the changes I need to make within my own organization to gain a competitive advantage in today’s world.”

David M.R. Covey, CEO of SMCOV, Coauthor of Trap Tales