A few thoughts on Stoos

I’ve enjoyed the bits and pieces of Stoos I’ve picked up, mostly via Jurgen Appelo‘s summaries (the discussions at the LinkedIn group have been valuable as well).  For those who aren’t familiar with the Stoos Gathering, the goal was modest, but the topic was bold:

At the Stoos Gathering we will discuss how to accelerate change in management and organizational transformation.

That’s all?  More seriously, I love the ambition and it it has been great grist for my mental mill, especially these three themes in the documents and discussions:

  1. Leaders should change themselves first: A fellow named “Hank” noted this in the pre-gathering documents.  For example, leaders who have not learned to self-forget may find they struggle to build trust.  And putting spiritual traditions aside, those who have not tended to their spiritual armor will find they cannot resist the forces of reaction.
  2. “The Problem” will prove a crafty and adaptive foe: Steve Demming notes that “the participants left for a future time evaluations of the best ways of getting from “the problem” to “the desired outcome.”  Wise move, because IMO these “best ways” will have to contend with Anna Karenina Syndrome: “Happy firms are all alike; every unhappy firm is unhappy in its own way.”  The solutions must be viral, in every sense of that word.
  3. Beware introducing “corporate managers”: I’ve seen a desire to involve corporate managers into Stoos what Jurgen calls Management 3.0.  That’s great, but some of us are “The Problem” and aren’t self-aware enough to know it (see point one).  I’m especially concerned about two types: those who’ll want to boil it all down to “one particular approach” and those who’ll pick any work product apart as “impractical”, “not actionable”, “unrealistic”, etc.

Help others answer “their” questions

Placing yourself in another’s shoes is one of the most effective ways to confront reality.  I particularly like  Gary Cohen‘s take on how you can use the right questions to not only express empathy, but to also increase accountability (from my Q&A with Gary, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions.

  • Crossderry:  I like the distinction you’ve made between questions that answer “your” questions — i.e., questions where you own the decision — and asking questions that help others answer “their” questions.  Can you talk more about such questions and how they can be used to reinforce accountability?
  • Gary Cohen: One of the most important questions leaders can ask is, “Whose decision is it?” When leaders allow job descriptions to determine decision-makers, not rank, decisions are usually made by the most informed party, and everyone must take ownership of their work. Blame and credit are easy to assess, in these instances. If, on the other hand, leaders make others’ decisions, they take away accountability from coworkers. Blame and credit are harder to assess, and it takes longer for new leaders to emerge because there’s less incentive to take ownership of their work.

Whose “truth” are you after?

Continuing my Q&A with Gary Cohen, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions

  • Crossderry: Coming from the other direction, how can senior leadership make it safe to ask and answer questions openly and honestly? Put another way, what distinguishes an organization that cultivates “approval-seeking” from an organization that rewards “truth-seeking”?
  • Gary Cohen: While leaders should seek to cultivate a “truth-seeking” culture over one that’s “approval-seeking,” they must be mindful of whose truth they’re after. Too often leaders express disapproval when their coworkers don’t arrive at the answers they hoped to get. This disapproval prompts coworkers to fish for the truth/answer their leaders prefer. In this way, “truth-seeking” becomes “approval-seeking” in disguise. Continue reading

Using questions “within” your personality

What in the wide world of sports is goin' on here?

The second topic in my Q&A with Gary Cohen, author of JUST ASK LEADERSHIP: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, focused on personal transformation.  His answer was not quite what I expected, for he rejected my assumption that transformation would needed as  “a matter of course.”

  • Crossderry:  Of course, so many of us will be moving through different firms and roles that change will be a constant in our careers.  Any suggestions for making personal transformation a “core competence” that we leverage as a matter of course?
  • Gary Cohen: Well-designed questions will enable you to learn as much as you can about each firm, role, and set of coworkers, as quickly as possible. Questions signal a desire to learn from and work with others, not compete and contest. If you’re an exceptional question-asker, wholesale personal transformation may not be necessary to successfully navigate each and every career change.
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