12 Principles of Knowledge Leadership

Leadership is a subjective participation sport of perspectives and relationships. The more effectively you influence others to play with you, the greater your own success, and the more value you generate with, and for, others. Great leaders generate trust and act in an open and trustworthy manner. In doing so, they generate an environment in which people desire to be involved in decision-making and the implementation of value-creating actions. They interact in an open manner to solicit a range of perspectives to ensure knowledge is transferred between them, constructively challenging current thinking to generate the ideas to make a better tomorrow. Knowledge leadership is primarily behavioural (both for the leader and their followers) and generates a collaborative atmosphere of ownership and a sense of identity around the shared purpose.  Effective leaders use metaphor to simplify complex matters and creatively highlight connections between what is already known and what needs to be understood for the future.  This use of metaphor to draw people towards a mutually beneficial journey with sustainable outcomes develops an environment of trust and participation.

Reflect on why you have followed those you consider your leaders, mentors, and role models. Reflect on
why we will move mountains for those we trust… and why we place them in the paths of those we do not. Such self-awareness will lead to insights on why leadership is critical to success and why knowledge and behaviour are essential ingredients in this success.  Recently I wrote the opening chapter for the book “Successful Knowledge leadership” describing 12 principles that effective knowledge leaders follow. Each of us probably have elements of these some of the time, the great leaders exhibit most of them, most of the time.  It is just about consciously implementing your “should do’s” to convert the thoughts into actions and the potential into value.

12 Principles of Knowledge Leadership is a great place to start you practice of becoming more successful:

  1. Lead people to interact through effective processes to deliver aligned individual and organisational goals supported by tools to make this more efficient.
  2. Engage people in ‘Conversations that Matter’ to make more informed and sustainable decisions and build trusted relationships (and the subsequent flow-on effect of increasing knowledge transfer).
  3. Enhance performance of self, teams, organisation, and cross-organisational boundaries through timely communication and relevant interactions.
  4. Accelerate the development of employee capability, experiences, and networks by creating an environment which attracts, engages, and retains knowledgeable employees through the provision of constructive and meaningful work activities.
  5. Create the foundations of a learning organisation and a ‘safe-fail’ environment that encourages emergent discovery and an adaptive approach to errors.
  6. Prioritise activities to focus on appropriate resources to highest value activities (considering both short and long term implications and both tangible and intangible benefits and risks).
  7. Ensure cycles of knowledge flow throughout the organisation from initiative design, to implementation, to post-implementation review, such that learning from the current cycle informs the next cycle.
  8. Invest resources in prospecting of future potential to fuel growth and innovation, to fill knowledge gaps and create new options.
  9. Share relevant information, narrative, story, and insights through targeted communications to build community and team identity and leverage cultural diversity.
  10. Stimulate change and challenges through reflective and emergent dialogue using creative social interactions among people who benefit from connecting regularly (ideally through both face-to-face and virtual contact).
  11. Leverage knowledge assets (tacit knowledge, processes, intellectual assets, networks, relationships etc.) in creative but ethical ways to make sense of emerging trends and highlight potential risks – considering both internal and external influencing factors.
  12. Be the knowledge leader you want to serve and mentor the one you want to replace you.

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Moving mindsets from “What is” to “What is POSSIBLE”

“Traditional teaching” is TEACHER and CONTENT focused. This is fine – if you want to win a local pub trivia night, but it is not LEARNING. Learning requires a level of understanding of what the content is about and why it is important. Even more important is knowing when it is relevant to apply and why it is more optimal than a range of other possible options. Flip teaching is (apparently) a “new” way to teach that incorporates technology and prior learning before applying the content in tutorials. The basic process is record a video or activity that students view or act on BEFORE the class, so when they come together in the classroom, they engage in APPLYING the content and ideas to exercises. This is of course better (in theory) than just learning content (which is rapidly forgotten). Some examples of the “flipped classroom” also have technology where the students are doing exercises in computers in class and the teacher can monitor their activity and put their attention towards those who need it most.

It is not about the content, its about the interactions

The biggest limitation is traditional teaching is students may not fully understand the impacts and consequences of the knowledge they have “gained”. Vygotsky (1978) argued a long time ago that language and signs helped learners to develop a richer and higher level of understanding, thereby increasing the chances of converting content and thought into meaningful action. He described this transformation as a move from a life where action dominates meaning (or “rebus”) to one where meaning dominates action. For this evolution to happen, learners benefit from spaces where they can interact and reflect (alone or with others) to develop their thinking and interpretation of the content. Interactions across perspectives enhance the richness of these exchanges and this is what the Facilitator” should be doing in class rather than teaching content.
The idea of learning by doing and interacting with others is far from new. May writers have discussed action learning, action research, andragogy (or adult teaching method) and the limitations of these versus traditional content based teaching. One of the key limitations is that andragogy assumes the learner is a willing participant and will engage with others. Words Bloom used to describe the outcomes of traditional learning included: defines, describes, identifies, knows, labels, lists…
Whereas words Bloom used to describe andragogy are much richer and action orientated such as (and require a significantly higher level of understanding): appraises, compares, concludes, contrasts, criticizes, critiques, defends, discriminates, evaluates, explains, interprets, justifies, relates…

However, if students have not read the material before the interaction, the value of the dialogue is significantly reduced. Larry Michaelsen creatively got around this problem by setting short tests at the beginning of each class that count to final grades. If they did not read, they (and their teams) were penalised in the results (simple and brilliant). The truth is if they DO read before, they learn more and education is an investment in your future. If you want to maximise return on your time and efforts investment, you read before, interact during class and reflect afterwards. The truth is, your capabilities (what you are really buying in education) are as much influenced by what you do before and after classes than in them. Each enhances the quality of the other.
A quality education is one in which we (participants) understand what is already known from the past and apply this to inform decisions and actions (the same or differently) in the present, in order to create a better future. After all, one of the key the purposes of education (other than just being fun to participate in) is to guide us to a more sustainable and enjoyable future. Flipping the classroom is just one way to achieve this higher level understanding, others include conversation, games, metaphor, role plays, challenges, debates etc. The key in the interactive dialogue and being outcomes focused (around what you are trying to achieve).
I advise my research students that I want them to develop multiple perspectives:

  • Understand the problem (but this is just the beginning)…
  • Convert that problem into an opportunity (if it is an issue, then resolving it adds value right?)
  • Then advise, specifically, how to act for the future (in a meaningful way that creates sustainable way.

That is, inspire our thinking by shifting our focus from “What is” to “What is POSSIBLE!”

References:

Bloom, BS, Hastings, JT & Madaus, GF 1971, Handbook on Formative and Summative Evaluation of Student Learning, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, NY, USA.
Michaelsen 2012 http://www.teambasedlearning.org/
Vygotsky, LS 1978 Mind and society: The development of higher psychological
processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Understanding and Mitigating Culture Clash

Culture is an interesting outcome of people interacting in specific environments and can be difficult to influence. The Organisational Zoo metaphor provides a simple way to understand culture as an outcome of:
(i) What animals you have in the zoo
(ii) Where they are in the hierarchy and
(iii) How they interact with each other.

The Zoo represents the organisation and each animal an individual behaviour (not a person as a whole). People are far too complex to put into a “box”. They behave differently in different contexts, sometimes automated (instinctive) and at other times somewhat deliberately. All organisations have an overall stereotypical culture, which in reality is the combination of many smaller subcultures. As you drill down through specific contexts, different behaviours are displayed resulting in variation on how the collective accept some behaviours and not others depending on the situation.

We can come to understand this better as we analyse the types of behaviours and how those involved categorise them according to context. A useful exercise to understand your (sub)culture is to determine which animals you prefer in each of the following categories:
• Expected (this behaviour is considered absolutely required in this context)
• Desired (we would like to have this behaviour if possible)
• Tolerated (prefer this was not displayed)
• Not tolerated (this behaviour is disruptive in the context and likely to lead to conflict)

Participants are asked to include twenty of the Organizational Zoo animals (place five cards into each of the four categories). In doing so, they engage in a rich exchange of perspectives of the impact of each animal on outcomes and performance. They often disagree and with good facilitation, insights into why this diversity exists and impacts each animal has in each category can generate terrific understanding between the people involved. This exercise has been done in a range of cultures/countries using a range of groups and every time it generates positive outcomes: participants learn from each other and have fun whilst disagreeing!

One key learning that often comes out is why cultures have clashes (see photo). Where two cultures (or subcultures within one organisation) have similar animals in the expected and desired categories, they are very compatible and cross fertilisation of ideas seems easy. There is a strong sense of common identity and willingness to engage with each other as indicated by the green zones. Cross overs between desired and tolerated between the cultures are inconvenient at times and can create some tension, but these can be managed with competent leadership. However, if there are some animals that are expected in one culture and not tolerated in another (red zones), there is a lot of tension and if not managed well, ultimately leads to conflict and culture clashes.

The Zoo metaphor cards can be used to highlight such potential issues early in the formation of teams (such as acquisitions, mergers, new projects…). If such constructive dialogue is facilitated before tensions are allowed to escalate into issues, agreements on ways of interacting can be forged. However, if such conversations are not facilitated (or done badly), the underlying tensions build into an explosive crisis, after which resolution is extremely difficult. When this happens, trust and collaboration seldom develop causing derailment and destroying performance.

Often, it is not the conversations that DO happen that are most damaging. Its those that should have happened but didn’t (or did so too late and or with the wrong behaviours).


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Reflecting on behaviour for team success

We rarely afford ourselves with the luxury of engaging in sufficient time to do what Donald Schön called “reflection in action”. When we do so, we realise just how much more there is to life and we enhance our learning experiences. One of the biggest challenges in our lives is productively engaging with others. Group dynamics is a double edged sword! Groups enable us to share workload, enjoy learning from other’s perspectives and engage in a deeply rewarding relationship that creates something together. However, the other side of group work is that we perceive we “have to compromise” with others and listen to their views which may be quite different to your own. When a group of people get together their differences can be their greatest asset, as they get to learn how others see things. This can help them to make sense of why things are how they are. However, the unfortunate truth is that highly competent people have confidence in their own abilities and perspectives and try to influence others that their own way is the best way. What this really means is that it matches their CURRENT patterns of thinking and experiences, so they identify with it well. However, learning and relationship building are about creating new patterns of thinking and deeper levels of understanding. These happen best through listening and conversing about relative merits, not telling others why you are right (thereby implying they are wrong).

Ambitious successful people (those appropriately attracted to courses like MBA’s), often see a different opinion as a personal challenge to their leadership capabilities or professionalism. IT ISN’T (necessarily)! It is a terrific opportunity to open your mind and behave in some unfamiliar roles to increase your diversity and enable you to acknowledge the value in arguments you did not consider yourself. This is not a fault – it is how we learn and become better through the knowledge and thoughts of our extended networks. It allows us to be more than we can be as an individual.

So here is your personal development challenge over the next few weeks… put away your initial reaction to what you hear. Reject the urge to say “Yes, but…” Give a moment to reflect on whether that statement that you heard a colleague state. Assess what merit it may have that you did not previously see: If it does adopt it into your approach. If it does not, seek further information about it – ask an OPEN question to learn more. You never now, it may be the best idea you ever subconsciously rejected before it had time to grow on you. It is also possible that it is as sub-optimal you first thought! If is it, then professionally questioning it often leads to the person offering it to realise it is not sufficiently robust. Intelligent people usually come to understand that there are other ideas or options that may be better. This is how effective conversations that matter work to generate better outcomes for all (assuming everyone wants win/win and as long as there is a respectful manner when challenging ideas). I know this approach works and has on many occasions educated me to adopt new ideas I would have not have benefited from without listening and engaging in dialogue. What happens when you get this right is we all end up with richer understandings from the interactions. If we don’t engage in this way, it is almost certain we will end up just maintain the status quo (at best) or worse, lead to conflict and everyone losing.
As Theodore Zeldin stated: “The kind of conversation I’m interested in is one which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. It is always an experiment, whose results are never guaranteed. It involves risk. It’s an adventure in which we agree to cook the world together and make it taste less bitter.”

Dorothy Leonard-Barton highlighted back in 1995 in Wellsprings of Knowledge that “creative abrasion” is a positive source of innovation and learning and something to be consciously acknowledged and leveraged. She went on to propose teams should be designed to include diversity and systems of thought that encourage different views and/or ontology to be expressed, argued and reconciled. This is why people SHOULD pay good money for high quality education that help them to think and constructively challenge! They get to interact with other string intellects and learn how to learn from each other. With the right focus and facilitation they become more capable. Another outcome of quality education is the participants are more effective, they can utilise more behavioural styles when engaging with others (and leverage groups for mutual benefits). After all, isn’t a “problem” just an opportunity to make something better? Well lead creative abrasion through professional conversation enables you to keep your eye on the outcomes and adapt your behaviour such that you can achieve this. This is one way the Zoo animal characters can be used effectively – reflecting on who you should be in that context, not allowing the context to drive how you react.

You deserve to enjoy your group interactions rather than endure them, so do the free online behavioural profile and assess how adaptable is your style to suit all the contexts you engage in…. (please be sure to challenge yourself and reflect on what you need to do to become who you want to be not just believe you are already there).

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Getting started with a new client or opportunity

In the beginning of any new relationship the key is to show you can create benefits they value and build interactions you each enjoy.  Often the best way to find things they care about and value is to ask a series of questions. A perceived problem can often be a symptom of something else such as poor management generally or too focused on tactical solutions.  To find the best opportunities to tackle FIRST, you need to explore a little in creative ways.  It is important to start with divergent conversations including a range of perspectives to help with identify potential outcomes.  Divergent conversations help to open minds, if the appropriate creative behavioural environment is generated.  This provides many options to consider, but do not be fooled by many options- this can be worse than no options.  Attempts to do everything that MIGHT be possible are rarely optimal.  Cull the list of options to a subset of the highest priorities through convergent conversation (with appropriate analytical behaviours) to get the best actions to address first.

Start with some conversations triggered by questions about them in their contexts. Consider the impacts (or lack thereof) of combining aspects of people, process, tools and desired business outcomes.   These interactions will inform the next level of questions required to advance the cause and performance of the client.

Some useful generic starting questions are:

Questions open gates not premade answers

What are we trying to achieve in the business? (divergent)

What keeps you awake at night? (convergent)

What are the three biggest issues or lost opportunities? (convergent)

How is this aspect causing us issues in achieving our desired outcomes? (divergent)

What actions can resolve any barriers caused by these? (or even better, leverage them to create an advantage?). This one is potentially divergent or convergent- depending on how you lead the behavioural environment.

Who do I need to involve to realise the desired outcomes from these actions? (convergent)

When you have reflected on these and feel you have plausible answers, bounce the resulting plan in some more conversations with others.  Actively seek to get insights (pros and cons) from a range of people to leverage different perspectives. Then DO IT (implement the actions!).  Reflect on how it is going as you do it as well as reflecting how it could have been improved afterwards (more conversations that matter to gather a range of perspectives- not just your own thoughts).  One of the reasons we learn more from errors than from getting things right, is we reflect much more deeply when we feel the pain of a mistake, especially an expensive one.  When something works, we don’t tend to reflect as much, perhaps assuming the adequacy of our effort was optimal.  Without reflection, this is a BIG assumption!

Go ahead – start a new emergent conversation triggered by reflective questions today!

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