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US State Department, Distinguished Speaker Series

US State Department, Distinguished Speaker Series

8/27/2014 11:00:00 AM EDT
12 hours ago
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

Yale School of Management Alumni Reunion, New Haven, CT

Yale School of Management Alumni Reunion, New Haven, CT

10/17/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

Speech with Harry Hutson at Hanson Wade, NYC

Speech with Harry Hutson at Hanson Wade, NYC

10/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

Whose Networks are YOU In?

Whose Networks are YOU In?

8/27/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
23 hours ago

For a couple months now, I have been happily chattering in workshops about networks. They are on my mind. In this day and age, we think a big network (as in lots of "likes" on Facebook) is the thing. The more popular you are, somehow, the better life is.

I argue that a network isn't about its size but its value -- is it useful to you, supportive?  Here's that blog, in case you missed it: Gotta Big Network, But Is It Useful? 

That said, however, we are still falling short on understanding networks. It isn't enough that your own network has a good mix of people who will be there for you when you need comfort or clarity or a celebration buddy, or a person to tell you frankly if you have spinach in your teeth or need a new job. Networks are not just about you; they are also about reciprocity.

Networks are a two way street. You have needs; so do others.

So, the question I pose to you today is about whose networks are you in. Who turns to YOU for advice or hugs? For whom will you lift a glass and cheer on? And, importantly, whom do you look at - straight in the eye - and say, "You need to know this."

Your network will be all the stronger if you are shoring up other people's worlds, too. 

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How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

How Many Stories Have You HEARD Today?

8/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
yesterday

In case you have missed it, I have been arguing that storytelling is one of the most critical capabilities of a leader. Storyteller In Chief is an adjunct title every leader should hold. We need to tell stories to engage employees, explain strategy in more human terms, interpret market events, and pull meaning out of data.

However, leaders also need to LISTEN to stories.

First, by listening to stories, a leader can find another window into the organization -- to complement the weekly reports, briefs, daily updates and so forth. Leaders are so often working in the dark, any bit of light helps.

Second, leaders need to listen to stories so as to encourage the competency of storytelling through the organization. For the leaders' stories to cascade down and around an organization requires employees to be able to retell them well. Otherwise the impact and value of the stories will get lost.

Third, communication is a two way street. If you listen to someone's story, that person is more likely to listen to yours. I have listened to a lot of leader's stories (you know -- the tedious "war stories" that the ego-types will tell) and filed them away, knowing they aren't interested in my story so why bother with theirs.

Oh, and one other thing, listening to stories helps you hone your own storytelling skills. If you pay attention you can see hints about how to time your humor, reveal your message, emphasize the moments of drama and much more. It's an art and you learn it by listening to others.

So, how many stories have you HEARD today? I hope it is close to the number that you have told.

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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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What I Did On My Summer Vacation - I Thought

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - I Thought

8/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
2 days ago

Road trips are, for me, a great way to wipe out the cobwebs in my head. With a daughter now at Iowa State and a mini-high school reunion of friends from North Dakota, I set out this year along Interstate 70 (eventually 74, 35, 94, 39 and back to 70) for a good long drive and think-time.

My thoughts straighten out when the horizon is far away. When you can see the road five miles ahead, it uncramps things. I could think about the big stuff -- what am I about? who matters to me? what's dragging at me?

This is interlaced, of course, with the thoughts I have when I stop at the ferociously impersonal mega gas stations that are absolutely the same whether in Pennsylvania or Minnesota. Then I find myself in old wars about whether to eat real food or fake food.

My best thinking, however, was in upper Minnesota where the reunion was being held. We were at a cabin that sat inside a hairpin turn on the Mississippi River. In other words, you could look out the front windows and see the river and you could look out the back and see the river. Not only that, but our hosts had mown a field of grass into a labyrinth, a wonderful design for a long contemplative walk to the center (where there was a simple slate seat) and back out. Inside the hairpin turn, I walked in self-emcompassing circles. Importantly, my churning thoughts did not get further twisted or cramped, as the landscape might have suggested. They did the opposite -- they smoothed out.

How did that work? I won't unpack it too much except to say that there were no dead-ends. Just like the long highways, the twisting river and paths led me further. They took me over the horizon or around the bend. I found nothing that impeded the next mile or the next step and my thoughts could simply continue forward, never jammed.

So, I returned home from the drive with the sense of the future, the next, the open learning, discussion, and engagement ahead. The trip is, in other words, not over.

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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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Rogue Waves on the Leadership Voyage

Rogue Waves on the Leadership Voyage

7/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
4 weeks ago

Harry Hutson and I have recently created a case study about leaders and crises. Having interviewed some 60 leaders about their experiences with organizational rogue waves, we have distilled some guidance and important questions for leaders to be asking themselves as they face our unpredictable world and their responsibilities in it.

A summary of the lessons for leaders includes the following. (For a full copy of the case, click here to download.)

1. A leadership role is not easy. Be advised that there are always pending crises (rogue waves), and some will most likely wash over you and your organization.

2. Readiness and emergency preparedness are necessary but not sufficient for survival. Without social support and commitment to your values, a leader is vulnerable.

3. Leaders have two jobs: to be there for others and also for yourself. There is no point in succeeding at the former while failing at the latter.

4. A leader is the chief storyteller for an organization. Yet, as the world changes, your stories must evolve, too. Tell those new stories for your sake as well as to benefit your organization.

5. Don't waste your trauma. Play a bigger game. Embrace the full impact of your rogue wave experience and make a positive difference in the world.

As co-authors, we find that these lessons are creating a wave of their own. People hear them and respond by sharing their own crises, lessons, and deepening leadership maturity. Let us know if you are interested in a workshop on this material.

For more information about Harry Hutson, click here.

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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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Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

Yacking about Innovation Just Doesn't Do It

7/25/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

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. 

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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

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

Interview Question: What Roles Did You Play?

7/22/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month 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.  

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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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"Yes, but who stopped it?"

"Yes, but who stopped it?"

7/21/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month 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. 

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"What a hoot!" Joyful leadership.

"What a hoot!" Joyful leadership.

7/3/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month 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
a month 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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Literature for Leaders --Launching with Jean Paget

Literature for Leaders --Launching with Jean Paget

7/1/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month 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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