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Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

Talk at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

Talk at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

7/29/2014 5:30:00 PM EDT

National Contract Management Association - Panel

National Contract Management Association - Panel

7/30/2014 9:45:00 AM EDT
The title of our talk is Leading From Wherever One is in a Public Procurement and Contract Management Program

Executive Speaker Series at LMI: Big Data Comes Alive: The Ethos of Storytelling

Executive Speaker Series at LMI: Big Data Comes Alive: The Ethos of Storytelling

7/31/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

National Institute of Governmental Purchasing: Panel

National Institute of Governmental Purchasing: Panel

8/23/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Private Book Club Meeting, Annapolis

Private Book Club Meeting, Annapolis

8/26/2014 7:00:00 PM EDT

US State Department, Distinguished Speaker Series

US State Department, Distinguished Speaker Series

8/27/2014 11:00:00 AM EDT
Ralph Bunche Library

Keynote, Project Management Symposium: Leadership: Risk and Resilience

Keynote, Project Management Symposium: Leadership: Risk and Resilience

9/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Private Book Club Speaker - Annapolis, MD

Private Book Club Speaker - Annapolis, MD

10/2/2014 6:00:00 PM EDT

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

7/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
yesterday

If innovation is so important, why do organizations do so many things traditionally? I am baffled.

Candidates are interviewed -- the same old way. Offers are extended -- in time- honored fashion. Onboarding routines are exactly that -- unchanging routines. Workspace is predictable. Employee handbooks, weekly updates, and timesheets are all out of some secret textbook that describes how things are done the world over. Same ol' same ol. It is no wonder that employees know quickly and note often that innovation is just talk.

The forms and norms of a workplace have value, of course. But, if the corporate strategy involves innovation, new thinking, creative approaches, and unorthodox solutions, there is a need to keep people jostled out of their routines and habits.

Imagination needs to be stoked by a person's surroundings. Everywhere. Put announcements on the ceiling; pipe in drumming music or bird calls; take out the chairs; expect crazy. Put Legos everywhere. Close all the curtains and shut off the lights. For a day. Fill a room with balloons. Drape ivy across doorways.

The seeds of innovation need to be sown from the beginning. Every time a new person comes on board is an opportunity to signal that the organization expects innovation.  For a new hire: 

  • Roll out a red carpet (literally)
  • Create a treasure hunt for the employee handbook.
  • Set up a speed-dating format to introduce the rest of the staff
  • Supply a personal diary to record their first impressions.

If I can think of four things in a matter of two minutes, a brainstorming group will come up with hundreds.

The habit of innovation is the goal. Turn talk into gesture and action. Make it a habit for everyone right from the get-go. 

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

7/22/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
4 days ago

Interviews are compressed moments to check-out a candidate. For candidates, they are a chance to be on stage, if only for an audience of one. Because the moment is limited and a lot rides on it, there is a cottage industry of interviewing tips and advice for maximizing value in the encounter. To prepare, a person needs only to click a few times online to find models for conducting a good interview, checklists for preparing for the interview, and hundreds of possible questions to use (or anticipate being asked.) 

Let me add one more idea to the list:

Interviews are too often about transmitting information that is already available in great detail on websites and in resumes. Therefore, interviews need to move past information gathering and turn into a time to learn at a deeper level. What is the candidate about beyond name, date, serial number? What is the organization about beyond the reporting structures. What is the essence of the person? the dotted line organization chart? the culture of the enterprise?

One angle turns out to be quite useful. It is to explore roles. Talking about roles takes the conversation up a level. It means sharing interpretive ideas about what was happening in a situation, not just cataloging the event. Rather than listening to a report about "I did this and then I did that," the interviewer can hear how the candidate is thinking and understanding his/her impact and influence. 

I have had great conversations that started when I asked about roles and people responded by describing themselves in those terms. 

  • "I was the problem child, asking all the annoying questions."
  • "I found myself acting as the social director, trying to get my very introverted staff to interact with each other." 
  • "At that time I became the peacemaker, running between the two factions to sort out the confusion."
  • "They wanted me to be the king, telling them what to do, but I couldn't do it that way."
  • "I was playing the journalist, searching for the facts."

 

Each of these statements invites wonderful follow-on questions:

  • Why were you doing this?
  • Did you stay in that role or find another?
  • Were others surprised or did this unfold naturally?
  • Did you like playing that sort of role?

 

Whenever we can talk at a "meta level" about roles, I find that the conversation shifts into metaphor, interpretation, and nuance. It is much richer and more revealing. And a lot more interesting.  

 

"Yes, but who stopped it?"

"Yes, but who stopped it?"

7/21/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
5 days ago

We have a family story about my husband's formidable Swedish grandmother, Ruth Lindberg. The tale is that whenever two of her children were fighting, she would ask what was going on.

The responses were predictable. "She started it."

"No, HE started it."

Ruth's response was not what we would expect. She did not try to figure out the right and wrong of the battle and declare a verdict. Instead, she would say, "Yes, but who is ending it?"

I imagine that her question zapped a lot of childish nonsense. She was clearly a wise mother. Her story survives four generations now. When it is retold it evokes some reflection. One uncle claims it sowed a seed that grew into his life's work as a pastor. 

Ruth's stance was provocative. I imagine the squabbling children stamping their feet and wishing for a mom who was, at that moment, a sheriff. Ruth saw it differently. This wasn't about adjudicating justice but about helping children see there was something beyond winning and losing. This wasn't about victor and vanquished. Problem solving requires something more. The virtue is not in the winning but in the shared solution.

I can't help but extrapolate this story to larger settings: organizations, communities, and our national family. I believe we would be in a very different society if we had all had a Ruth in our lives. It would have helped us recognize that constant fighting begs for ever-bigger sheriffs and, perhaps, we would benefit from seeking solutions instead. 

"What a hoot!" Joyful leadership.

"What a hoot!" Joyful leadership.

7/3/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
3 weeks ago

About every other month I make of point to have lunch with Steve Gladis. He is a former fed and a current leadership speaker, coach, writer -- and a dear friend.

When we have lunch, all I do is laugh. He's overflowing with good humor, generous support, but most importantly, abundance. He says his mother saw the world as abundant and he clearly got the gene. He is abundant in his enthusiasm about people, in his excitement that his clients will succeed, and in his hopes for the world. A few minutes with him and I am ready to go back into the arena and make a difference.

How is it that there are people who can unlock your joy?  Steve is a joyful leader and with that, anything is possible. Wow.

As leaders we have to keep a pulse on the mood and spirit of a group. Fear is terribly infectious and anxiety can spread through a team quickly. Similarly, if the leader extends a sense of abundance, possibility, and joy, a team will respond. Humor is also infectious.

I've written about verbal tics before -- how we leak out something about ourselves with the throw-away lines we use. For Steve, the verbal tic is "what a hoot!" We could all do with a couple throw-away lines like that which give a hint that there is good cheer inside.

Not all of us are extroverted, overflowing, joyful personalities. I am not suggesting that we turn ourselves into Steve. When we are happy, however, don't hoard it. When there is a ray shining between the clouds, step into that circle of light. When someone does something well, relish it. When there is reason to laugh, don't grimace. Find the joy. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Alignment - Up and Down? or Around?

Alignment - Up and Down? or Around?

7/2/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
3 weeks ago

It's a regular backbreaker. Leadership teams, every so often, set themselves to a huge task. They spend weeks of effort compiling and analyzing data and trends, assessing capabilities and opportunities, and reaching deep into themselves about their values and purpose. Then they create an organizational strategy.

Unfortunately, the rest of the organization doesn't know about it or feel the dream and direction. Yet.

Therefore, the next task is to build alignment. We need alignment, the leaders say to each other, to get the organization behind the strategy (note the prepositional word, behind.) We need to cascade the strategy so that it flows down the organization engulfing employees at all levels (again, note the language). The metaphors evoke a duck and ducklings, perhaps a locomotive and a train, even waterfalls. My favorite metaphor is the idea that strategy is like a magnet that lures all the filings towards it with its powerful draw. Alignment is natural and inevitable.

We are taught that this is how strategic alignment should work. Everyone has cause to face the sun (strategy) because it is so powerfully conceived and explained. The leaders have to see that the light gets to everyone, so to speak. As a result the organization will grow and flourish in a coordinated direction.

Recently, I have been wondering about all this. While there is power in being drawn toward the sun, the work of strategic alignment is much more than saluting the boss and then passing the baton down the ladder. The actual work of supporting strategy requires a great deal of lateral work -- team work, interconnection, coordination, networks, affinity circles, and, importantly, external resources and partners. It is in that mess of circles that the real work of strategic alignment is put to the test. 

If we could adjust our assumptions and consider strategic alignment as horizonal work we will be asking different, and better questions, about how to be effective. Rather than simply communicating up and down, we will now address the issues of explaining, resourcing, acting, and measuring laterally. The real work - the really hard work -- will be come clearer.  

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

Literature for Leaders --Launching with Jean Paget

Literature for Leaders --Launching with Jean Paget

7/1/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
3 weeks ago

It is mind numbing. Reading books about leadership can dull the senses, limit one's vocabulary, wear down patience, and distance the whole person. I can say this with impunity because I have published a book on leadership and it was really hard to write it so that it was readable, engaging, interesting, and, above all, human.

I say this by way of disclaimer as well as an introduction to a series of occasional blogs that I'm writing called Literature for Leaders.

Faced with the responsibilities and complexities of leadership, a person needs a deep well to draw from -- emotionally, intellectually, and more. Leaders cannot simply be people of action. In fact, that can be dangerous in that if the leader is elbowing in and doing everything, other organizational talent is undercut. Leaders must bring context and ideas, strategy and direction, motivation and passion to the organization. A library of literature is available to them to use and I intend to delve into that.

A Town Like Alice by Nevile Shute

I begin this Lit for Leaders journey with a novel written in 1950. The story is about a plucky, young woman who becomes a version of a venture capitalist in postwar Australia, having survived a POW experience in Malaysia. Underneath it all is a terrific saga of love and romance which I don't want to spoil by giving away. The first time I read the book I hung on every plot turn. I have read it repeatedly and enjoy the twists and turns in themes and setting.  

A Town Like Alice is a story of a different place and time but the leadership themes are timeless: Jean Paget, the main character, has vision and passion; she holds a group together despite hardship; she uses resources wisely and targets investments, maintaining a longer view even when immediate crisis is consuming. She is British and has a nearly stereotypic personality of emotional discpline. However, it is how she builds partnerships, draws connections, and exemplfies servant-leadership that reveal her inner warmth and character. 

Jean Paget is a good friend to meet, someone who is a special addition to your leadership network. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Leaders, Do Employees Feel Connected to You?

Leaders, Do Employees Feel Connected to You?

6/30/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
3 weeks ago

Once a team grows larger than about a dozen, managers feel they can barely keep up. Steering, understanding and supporting people takes time and resources.

Think about being the leader of a division or an organization that numbers in the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands. How is it possible for a leader to have much of a connection with employees?

I believe that however difficult it is, connecting is an imperative. Leaders who appear distant and unknown cannot expect the organization to have the synergies of a community. How can people work together at their best if the leader is essentially missing -- or at least emotionally missing? Loyalty is hard to command when there is a significant gap between people and their leaders. It is difficult to offer much commitment to abstract goals and strategies without a connection with the leaders who are setting direction. A distant leader also is hard to trust. As a result, people will not be forthcoming and the likelihood of a good flow of information diminishes. 

Leaders, however, should not tackle this issue with superficial activity. For example, I don't suggest that a leader writes birthday cards to every employee. I saw an executive struggle to do that sort of thing (pre-auto-reminder-social-media-canned-responses-days). However, it sets things up for embarrassing misteps such as the employee who gets a best-wishes card the day she's fired. Personal touches are nice but they don't do the trick, being necessarily mechanical at scale. Pinging is not a building block for relationships. 

There is, however, an effective way to build a connection between the leader and the organization, even at scale. It requires flipping the paradigm. Leaders need not target individuals in the organization. Instead they target themselves. What I mean is that a leader can't know everyone, but everyone can know the leader. The trick is for the leader to let people into their lives. This need not be invasion. It's about sharing things about one's self properly, with dignity and genuine spirit.

Leaders don't have to be folksy; neither do they have to have dramatic and entertaining war stories or narratives. It's much simpler. A leader needs to speak from the heart, share some humor, tell some stories about themselves, and, most importantly, simply enjoy communicating to the organization. If that happens, employees find it easy to listen. They will also hear a number of things -- information, personality, compassion, and more. These are the building blocks of relationships.

By speaking in a real voice, leaders extend themselves as human beings. Organization cannot help but recognize that and will respond in kind. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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The Habit of Measuring ... and Deluding Ourselves

The Habit of Measuring ... and Deluding Ourselves

6/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
4 weeks ago

I get on the scales every morning. I look at my weight and various thoughts go through my head: I'll drink more water today; I'll exercise; that extra pound is because of the ice cream yesterday. Etc.

In other words, measures make me think about my behavior.

However, there is a lot more to weight management than getting on the scales. There is nutrition awareness, family habits, whether I went food shopping, if I can get to the pool, how much time I have for cooking, My Fitness Pal, my memories and associations with food, whether I care about my weight, my stress levels. Measuring my weight every morning will NOT tip the scales, so to speak.

Measures are a funny thing. They are part of our ritual but they are NOT the Silver Bullet that will magically improve everything. It takes a whole lot more than a number. We fool ourselves by thinking that measuring will make the difference.

We think this way at work, too. Measures are the new religion. Don't get me wrong. I know from which this comes -- the Total Quality revolution in which I participated. We learned that measures can do a lot to unearth problems and indicate priotices. However, we have a determined faith now that if we measure, we will change, upgrade, solve problems, and get along better. This is putting a lot of trust in numerology. Yes, measure creates discipline. It does give us a better window on what's happening. Measures tell us trends. BUT, they do not make change happen. Measures -- however sanctimoniously we point towards them and invest in them -- do not do the work of improvement. They merely indicate the work. They nod towards the work. The work still needs to be done.

We need to be careful about this. There is a lot in our workplace that is making measures an ideology, a religion. We are measuring everything in site and self-satisfied that we have the answer. To top it off, we have big data which takes measures to another dimension of wonder. It is amazing but it isn't going to do the work of change. We need to stop chanting "measures measures measures" and remember that there is context, system, process, people, skills, technology, and elbow grease to make us healthy and successful.  

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Building a Staff with Individuals or Team Players? BOTH.

Building a Staff with Individuals or Team Players? BOTH.

6/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

It's sort of a parlor game for managers and HR staff. Answer the question, "Do we hire strong individuals or team players?"

The former option is the Steve Jobs archtype. We need people who are experts, singular thinkers, independent (not mob) tendencies, or particularly talented in one dimension. If they are intense enough they can move the whole system. Their passion and focus will insert innovation and keep us from getting stuck. They will take us into the future. 

The latter option is the collaborative soul. We need people who play well with each other, keep disruptions to a minimum, but are keen on synergy and building strength by playing off each other. They will be the reason that everyone embraces the future.

I resort to hiring neither. Yes, each has a real value and there are the amazing stories of how one person transformed an organization or how collaboration saved the day. Instead, I look for people with both  which means I look for people with a strong sense of irony. To be ironic means a person naturally sees the conundrums of life. The ironic person recognizes that we can be holding two things at once in our minds - the focused genius and the collaborative synergy builder. People with an ironic turn of mind are capable of seeing:

  • The two meanings of a word

  • The seriousness and the humor of a situation

  • The deeply human ability to want two things at once (romance and stability, for example)

  • The roles we all have to play - as an individual and in the community.

There is no one answer. Individuals? Team players? We need both and I want a good stable of people who deeply understand and manifest just that. Both. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

"Don't read the comments"

"Don't read the comments"

6/24/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

I wrote an Op Ed recently for CNN Opinion and the 1197 comments (so far) were quick to appear. One of my friends sent me a note that said, "great article but never read the comments."

I have tried to read them but, I'll admit, I quickly lost interest.

I ask myself: Why?

For starters, I was once a literature/writing teacher and my first instinct is to edit. It's an occupational hazard. However, when I read comments, I nearly hyperventilate. I can hardly stand sloppy thinking and writing and both seem to dominate. Don't get me wrong. I love new slang and hybrid words. I want to read fresh ideas and orthogonal perspectives. I enjoy conversational writing. However, I can't hang in there when there is no obvious logic, hint of a story, or an effort to convey a point with imagination or elegance. 

Furthermore, I don't sense authenticity in the comments. Superlatives are not genuine emotions but simply a way to get attention. What is the real emotion, need, or concern underneath? It is hard to know that.

  • "You feel strongly." (Check)
  • "What's the core problem?" (Not checked)

 

For all the lessons we have been taught about good communications, the comments section is not the best forum to apply them. The back-and-forth, slap-dash remarks between some people is just that -- batted and returned tennis balls. It is difficult to feel a call-and-response when the points are like bullets being fired. Deep listening is (deeply) incompatable with the format. For example, there isn't much ability to "mirror" what was expressed as a way to acknowledge its value and pace the conversation.  

Communications is hard enough with a person in the room. This business of commenting online is fraught with difficulty. No wonder the wheels fell off the wagon for me and the conversation I wanted to start simply didn't. 

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

Join MARTHA's LEADERSHIP COMMUNITY:  Click Here. 

Order MARTHA'S BOOK, "On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience" - an Amazon bestseller. Click Here

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