The year 2020 was extraordinary in many respects. There were many challenges, but also opportunities and bright spots. The crisis accelerated many things — including my professional reorientation. In this respect, the crisis really is a productive state, as Max Frisch once wrote.
To have developed a coherent modern leadership attitude is one thing. However, to endure the tension between this aspiration and the sobering reality of everyday leadership in mostly more traditional structures is something completely different. In many cases, this tension, known from social psychology as cognitive dissonance, can only be resolved by sacrificing one’s own aspirations. But there are also other possibilities than willingly submitting to one’s fate.
The end of the year is the time of appraisal interviews. Usually the performance of the individual is evaluated. However, the creation of value in organizations and especially in agile teams is actually always the result of teamwork. This focus on individual performance leads to loose groups of mediocre soloists instead of excellent team performance.
When people talk about agility, some rave about customer orientation and speed, while others invoke the self-organization and autonomy of the team. Mostly these and some other concepts float more or less incoherently in a mystical cloud around the central concept of agility. An attempt to put these ideas into a logical context.
For your agile transformation you have to think big to break up silos, but at the same time start small to learn together without imposing a predefined solution. Crucial to this is the promotion of an open learning culture beyond information hiding and cover your ass.
What we can learn from the sugar consumption of Gandhi, from Netflix’s surprising resemblance to a nuclear submarine, and from the frightening team dynamics of super chickens about new leadership. On the occasion of the X‑Conference 2020 I tell my three favorite stories about role models, responsibility and trust — also as video for listening, thinking and imitating.
Lonely Christmas? How does the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder actually talk to us? I’m sick of being admonished like a child, threatened and occasionally praised. With this ongoing infantilization of mature citizens, the government is undermining the self-organization and personal responsibility that we urgently need for a sustainable containment of the pandemic.
Fast communication with e‑mail should support the actual work. And being able to book a meeting quickly should also be a relief. In fact, however, e‑mails and meetings unintentionally became the core work content of many knowledge workers because their simplicity replaced and corroded structured workflows.
In retrospect, I consider it one of my biggest mistakes to have always categorically rejected metrics for the agile transformation. Although I still see the danger of an explosion of cargo cult if phenomena of agility are measured and rewarded instead of the essence, I would consciously take the risk today. For sooner or later, in every transformation, there comes a time when the question is raised very insistently as to what all this is meant to achieve and what it brings. And then you have to beat the system with its own weapons.
Every transformation entails friction with the status quo. Those who simply accept the practical constraints that are brought into play dilute the transformation. The new is then only somehow amalgamated with the collective without bringing about a significant change. The transformation itself is transformed and its protagonists are either assimilated or repelled.
Changing behavior and habits is often tedious. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, it is said. And that is exactly where the problem lies. Behavioral change is not only a question of will and motivation, but can be strategically better addressed with a differentiated understanding of human behavior. The behavioral model of B.J. Fogg provides the basis for this.
Entire organizations also suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. After the first steps of transformation and the first insights, they are stuck at the peak of “Mount Stupid”, where they enjoy all kinds of cargo cult grossly overestimating what they have already achieved.
The credo of the start-up culture, “Fail fast, fail cheap”, still has the bland aftertaste of sloppiness for German engineers and their managers. This typical German fixation on gap sizes prevents agility and slows us down.
Court jesters or corporate rebels invite people to reflect, rethink and think differently and protect the organization and its rulers from hubris and inertia. But is this necessary in a crisis? Is this art or can it go away?
Thirty days without social media apps on my smartphone. Thirty days of not enjoying likes on the side and quickly answering a comment. Why should I do something like that? To rediscover the important moments of idling, for example. And generally for a more mindful use of my attention. A report about the escape from the rabbit hole of the attention industry.
How do people cope with change? In Virginia Satir’s Change Model, the phase of chaos and uncertainty is crucial. This is where the seed for the new and better status quo lies, provided that it is possible to experiment with the new and integrate it profitably on the basis of a feeling of psychological safety. This can be well observed at the moment with the topic of the home office.
What do humans do when they do nothing? They think about their social life. So what happens when all idleness is more and more cleverly suppressed by the attention economy and its apps on the smartphone? About the antisocial side effects of the uninterrupted distraction through social media.
We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. Technology is seducing us in a perfidious way, hijacking our attention. Cal Newport offers a counter-proposal with his philosophy of “Digital Minimalism”.
Trust is the foundation of modern leadership. Voluntarily and with all our heart we only follow whom we trust. Frances Frei and Anne Morriss describe three drivers for trust: logic, authenticity and empathy.
Home office is in fact only at first glance a question of where you work. In essence, it is about equality, about concepts of human nature, trust instead of control, and fundamentally about the relationship between manager and knowledge worker.
The joint fight against an existential threat is able to weld people together in an organization. The prerequisite for this is a climate of psychological safety and leadership with purpose and trust instead of command and control.
Trust and cooperation emerge in a climate of psychological safety. Where, conversely, competition and fear have been the predominant themes, strong unity cannot be expected in a crisis.
In which environment do people flourish and what makes them wither? And what essential categories are there, anyway, to influence this process. Where can leadership exert its influence? The PERMA model by psychologist Martin Seligman offers some very good answers.
COVID-19 is a touchstone for agility and new work. The crisis reveals the true culture of the organization unvarnished. Quite a few beanbags and foosball tables now turn out to be “lipstick on the pig”, a naive cargo cult at best and the deliberate deception of a Potemkin village at worst.
Instead of calling for presence again after this long phase of forced distributed work, now would be the perfect time to decouple the employees’ radius of action from their physical presence and to consistently expand it into virtual space.
Remote work and leadership at a distance is based on purpose and trust. Where these are missing, the corona crisis becomes a crisis of purpose and trust. One can learn from this — or reboot the previous operating system of the organization as quickly as possible.
With the first loosening of the exit restrictions, in many offices the ramp-up back to the pre-Corona cult of presence begins, because real work can only be done in the office and only under supervision.
After weeks of distributed cooperation it is time to draw a balance. This blog parade is itself an exercise in distributed asynchronous collaboration, a virtual retrospective to reflect on the opportunities and limitations of home office and remote work, in order to identify success factors and prevent us from falling back into the old rut.
Although the SARS-CoV‑2 virus is certainly not a welcome but nevertheless a good reason to reflect on how to deal with complexity and decision-making in complex to chaotic situations. The Cynefin framework by David Snowden provides a very helpful framework to this end.
Is this art, or does it need clearing away? The crisis is leading to consolidation in many places. Short-term earnings today are inevitably gaining the upper hand over speculative ideas for the day after tomorrow. The art of ambidexterity, however, cannot be cleared away for this very reason! Diversity and dissent are especially important now to find the right balance.
The crisis is accelerating digitalization. Distributed collaboration from home rather than together in an open-plan office is suddenly the standard. But how does leadership at a distance succeed? Some incitements to reconsider from the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership.
Despite the prescribed and advised spatial distance, people move closer together and show more interest and understanding for each other. If we could preserve this for the time after the Corona pandemic and do not immediately fall back into old patterns, much would be gained.
Now that so many people are working at home, the question arises how to work together well remotely. Spatially distributed collaboration does not only happen through video conferencing, but also and primarily requires written and asynchronous communication.
Do fish have to climb trees? Of course not! So why are employees regularly asked to work on their weaknesses? It would make more sense for everyone to accept weaknesses, make them irrelevant through appropriate organization and thus deliberately make strengths productive.
Leadership begins with self-leadership. Only those who are self-sufficient instead of emulating others or an ideal can develop the potential of the people entrusted to them and awaken hope in them.
Personalized responsibility in the form of a “single wringable neck” is the means of choice when it comes to reliably shaping cooperation in organizations. With each such role, however, the level of organized irresponsibility increases.
Good leadership requires integrity more than charisma. Integrity creates a climate of safety in which people can thrive, while charisma often leads to complacency and arrogance and keeps people small and dependent.
Leadership takes place in and through relationships — leadership is relationship. We determine whether these are filled with fear or with equal dignity, the counter-proposal to the authoritarian education of the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul, which can very well be transferred to other leadership relationships.
How many rules does cooperation require? Less is more. For instance in traffic, as Hans Monderman’s concept of shared space shows. But also in organizations: fewer rules lead to more responsibility and lively cooperation.