Professional update

A couple of months have passed since I decided upon a shift in my professional direction. I’d like to share an update of where my process stands.

First of all thanks for all the encouragement I’ve been getting. It is both a trilling and slightly scary path I’m treading. Lots of interesting things are coming my way but nothing has yet materialized. Also I’m not exactly sure what opportunities to pursue. So I have decided to go slowly and keep things open as long as I can. One of my problems in life is I’m a little too eager to say yes to stuff. This is essentially good and has brought me much value, but in my present position I think it is wise to be a little cool and assess my options a little more than I usually do.

So what am I up to and what options am I considering this fall?

Presently I am doing a couple of client assignments. One is an investigation into job programs in a large municipality and looking for new approaches. Another is a culture development initiative in a fast growing online business. And I am also engaged in some think work around innovative organization models. So, I am fairly busy in the line of work I’ve decided to phase out. This in itself has generated some second thoughts because it is work after all and it is pretty interesting.

That said I have done a few things to generate options and pattern breaks for this fall. I have applied for a couple of university programs and courses. I have started to build an art/philosophy project that I will try to fund shortly. And I have entered a series of conversations that focus on long term work contracts.

A major insight is that I probably will not be closing down my company even if I chose to discontinue my consulting practice. The company as platform will be valuable in all different scenarios I’m looking at. If I chose to study I will be able to do consulting work on the side. If I take a long term gig I could just as well do it as a ”for hire” solution as signing a employment contract. And my art project would also benefit from having the company.

So, this is the status as I approach some vacation time in a couple of weeks. I will be working in July to complete the consulting assignments but also to work on my art project. In August I’ll be taking my kids to Mallorca for some sun, heat, swimming and good food.

Have a great summer!

–Jan

 

 

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Moving on

Dear clients, colleagues and business partners,

After over 20 years as a consultant and advisor I will be closing down my practice, effective by the end of August. This is not a decision taken in haste. It has marinated in me for some years and only during the Easter holidays did I finalize my decision. There is a lot I can share about this process but i won’t bore you.

Instead I’d like to extend a warm thank you to all my clients, colleagues and business partners these past 20 years. Thanks for having me onboard. Thanks for challenging me. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights.

I have been very fortunate to do interesting and important work. I have been allowed try new things. I have participated in some very innovative solutions. I have learned a lot and met world class leaders, thinkers and entrepreneurs. I have made many wonderful friends. I also humbly believe I have made some valuable contributions.

My next professional phase is not decided. I am in exploration mode and making myself available to the fabulous forces of the universe. (I have a Taoist outlook on the world.) Needless to say, I’m looking for work and open for exploratory conversations and suggestions.

Thank you all once again.

— Jan

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What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up?

I just love this question stated in Quora – and the response from Paul DeJoe.

Q: What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up?

A: Very tough to sleep most nights of the week. Weekends don’t mean anything to you anymore. Closing a round of financing is not a relief. It means more people are depending on you to turn their investment into 20 times what they gave you.

It’s very difficult to ”turn it off”. But at the same time, television, movies and vacations become so boring to you when your company’s future might be sitting in your inbox or in the results of a new A/B test you decide to run.

You feel guilty when you’re doing something you like doing outside of the company. Only through years of wrestling with this internal fight do you recognize how the word ”balance” is an art that is just as important as any other skill set you could ever hope to have. You begin to see how valuable creativity is and that you must think differently not only to win, but to see the biggest opportunity. You recognize you get your best ideas when you’re not staring at a screen. You see immediate returns on healthy distractions.

You start to respect the Duck. Paddle like hell under the water and be smooth and calm on top where everyone can see you. You learn the hard way that if you lose your cool you lose.

You always ask yourself if I am changing the World in a good way? Are people’s lives better for having known me?

You are creative and when you have an idea it has no filter before it becomes a reality. This feeling is why you can’t do anything else.

You start to see that the word ”entrepreneur” is a personality. It’s difficult to talk to your friends that are not risking the same things you are because they are content with not pushing themselves or putting it all out there in the public with the likelihood of failure staring at you everyday. You start to turn a lot of your conversations with relatives into how they might exploit opportunities for profit. Those close to you will view your focus as something completely different because they don’t understand. You don’t blame them. They can’t understand if they haven’t done it themselves. It’s why you will gravitate towards other entrepreneurs. You will find reward in helping other entrepreneurs. This is my email: paul@ecquire.com. Let me know if I can help you with anything.

Your job is to create a vision, a culture, to get the right people on the bus and to inspire. When you look around at a team that believes in the vision as much as you do and trusts you will do the right thing all the time, it’s a feeling that can’t be explained. The exponential productivity from great people will always amaze you. It’s why finding the right team is the most difficult thing you will do but the most important. This learning will affect your life significantly. You will not settle for things anymore because you will see what is possible when you hold out for the best and push to find people that are the best. You don’t have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it.

You start to see that you’re a leader and you have to lead or you can’t be involved with it at all. You turn down acquisition offers because you need to run the show and you feel like your team is the best in the World and you can do anything with hard work. Quitting is not an option.

You have to be willing to sleep in your car and laugh about it. You have to be able to laugh at many things because when you think of the worse things in the World that could happen to your company, they will happen. Imagine working for something for two years and then have to throw it out completely because you see in one day that it’s wrong. You realize that if your team is having fun and can always laugh that you won’t die, and in fact, the opposite will happen: you will learn to love the journey and look forward to what you do everyday even at the lowest times. You’ll hear not to get too low when things are bad and not to get too high when things are good and you’ll even give that advice. But you’ll never take it because being in the middle all the time isn’t exciting and an even keel is never worth missing out on something worth celebrating. You’ll become addicted to finding the hardest challenges because there’s a direct relationship between how difficult something is and the euphoria of a feeling when you do the impossible.

You realize that it’s much more fun when you didn’t have money and that money might be the worse thing you could have as a personal goal. If you’re lucky enough to genuinely feel this way, it is a surreal feeling that is the closest thing to peace because you realize it’s the challenges and the work that you love. Your currencies are freedom, autonomy, responsibility and recognition. Those happen to be the same currencies of the people you want around you.

You feel like a parent to your customers in that they will never realize how much you love them and it is they who validate you are not crazy. You want to hug every one of them. They mean the World to you.

You learn the most about yourself more than any other vocation as an entrepreneur. You learn what you do when you get punched in the face many many times. You learn what you do when no one is looking and when no one would find out. You learn that you are bad at many things, lucky if you’re good at a handful of things and the only thing you can ever be great at is being yourself which is why you can never compromise it. You learn how power and recognition can be addicting and see how it could corrupt so many.

You become incredibly grateful for the times that things were going as bad as they possibly could. Most people won’t get to see this in any other calling. When things are really bad, there are people that come running to help and don’t think twice about it. Tal Raviv, Gary Smith, Joe Reyes, Toan Dang, Vincent Cheung, Eric Elinow, Abe Marciano are some of them. I will forever be in their debt and I could never repay them nor would they want or expect to be repaid.

You begin to realize that in life, the luckiest people in the World only get one shot at being a part of something great. Knowing this helps you make sense of your commitment.

Of all the things said though, it’s exciting. Every day is different and so exciting. Even when it’s bad it’s exciting. Knowing that your decisions will not only affect you but many others is a weight that I would rather have any day than the weight of not controlling my future. That’s why I could not do anything else.

Paul DeJoe, Ecquire.com

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The mindset of great leaders

If you search Amazon Books for the keyword ”leadership” you get 110,096 results. That is a breathtaking amount of books. I can’t claim to have read all of these but I have read a LOT of leadership books during 25 years. Most of them are written by academics and relatively few by practitioners. Some are very good but most, quite frankly, are hardly worth the paper they are printed on.

My experience is that the conventional conversation and knowledge about leadership is rather ”technical”. It tends to be about tactics, tools, techniques that leaders should employ to be successful. You can also find an endless number of lists of the personality traits leaders should have.

The work I have done over the years has led me to focus much more on the leader’s inner motivations and mindsets. I have also become more and more convinced that these aspects are the decisive markers of great leaders rather than the technical stuff. The technical stuff can be learned by almost anyone but becomes more or less useless, or even potentially dangerous in the hands of a person that has not acquired a reasonable leadership mindset.

So, in this post I’d like to share a couple of key dimensions of a leader’s mindset that I have identified. It is by no means a complete set and I’d love to get your comments on these and other important dimensions.

1. Calibrate your view on people. It sounds really banal, but it is essential for any leader to make a deep assessment of one’s view on people. Leadership is people affairs, like it or not. So, it would make a great deal of sense to deeply understand if you like people or not. Even when they do ugly, messy stuff. Which they tend to do. It would also make a lot of sense to calibrate your view on human potential. Are people lazy and need lots of control to perform or are they full of potential and self directing if they are given the right circumstances. Your view on people will show in your leadership. You can hide it for a while, but not forever.

2. Make a conscious choice to be a leader. Most leaders I encounter believe they are destined to be leaders, but relatively few have made an active and conscious choice. If you see yourself as a reluctant boss or boss by accident, chances are you are on a track to become a less than good leader. If you have made a conscious choice you will most probably actively want to be as good a leader you ever can be. That makes a world of difference in the way your leadership is perceived.

3. Get to know your inner demons. Once you have made your conscious choice, you will have to accept that you have strong sides in your leadership and weaker sides. Get to know both. Do more of what you are good at and less of what you are weaker at. But most of all make sure you have made the effort to know your inner dark sides. The things that tick you off. The stuff that haunts you from the past. Get to know them and know how to defuse them. Because if you don’t they will most certainly bring you down in the future.

4. You need people you can trust deeply. Being a leader is a very rewarding life path, but at times can also be a very lonely enterprise. Don’t ever think that you can pull everything off on your own. Don’t be the lone hero. They look good in the films but aren’t what we are looking for in reality. You need a few people that you can trust blindly to tell you things straight to your face. People that you allow to take you down from your piedestal. It is an important development and survival strategy. Oh, and make sure you don’t have your spouse as professional confident. Trust me, it is a very bad idea.

5. Enjoy the ride, or get out. Sadly, I encounter too many leaders that complain about their role and the challenges they face. As I mentioned above leadership needs to be an active and conscious choice. It need to be fun and in net terms give you energy. Of course there are dimensions of leadership work that are tiring and even boring. But it really is no use complaining. Either the fun and energy giving parts of the work offset the negative or you need to consider some changes in your attitude and/or work set up. Perhaps a leadership role is not for you then you need to get out – for your own and your colleagues’ sake.

6. Focus more on relationships and collaboration. The wisest leaders I have met have one thing in common. The are very clear on the outcomes they expect from their organization but do not make the mistake of managing all the details. They delegate as much as they dare (and then some more…) and then focus their attention on creating the right circumstances for quality work to get done. Interestingly the wisest among the wise have focused on the people stuff. Building strong relationships and fostering great collaboration skills and climate.

I would argue the case that great leaders have navigated these dimensions consciously and generated a solid foundation that their leadership rests on. Leadership is at times very challenging work and having sorted out these types of dimensions makes you more capable and successful than leaders who haven’t.

— Jan

 

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Management principles from a legendary entrepreneur

I’m working on a blog post that aims to catch some of my key learnings from working with leaders and entrepreneurs over the course of 20 years. Suddenly this piece on Dee Hock’s management principles appears in one of my media feeds. I just had to capture and share it as my own learnings tie in so well with his experience.

Two things strike me after reading Hock’s principles:

  1. It was written 1996. It builds on his experience from building VISA in the seventies until he left. In those days reflecting on complexity and leadership must have been quite unique. Today we are increasing our awareness on something Hock identified in his work a long time ago. These principles also remind me of another early thinker in the field of leadership and complexity – Margareth Wheatley. Her book Leadership and the New Science was published 1992. What hits me hard in the head is my sense that we haven’t come very far in these 20-25 years. Or have we? Also, I increasingly worry that our young leaders still are taught the old paradigms in business school. Every day I experience that they are not being equipped for the landscape that they are set to lead in. Rather, they have to re-learn on their own.
  2. There is almost no reference to the outside world, i.e. the market and customers. This is utterly fascinating and I find myself asking why. Is it due to the nature of that specific business – setting up VISA in collaboration with the major banks, or is there another explanation? Once again I am reminded by another ground breaking book ”The Living Company” by Arie de Geus. In it he states that long-lived organizations focus on their own re-invention. Preserving the organization has a value in itself and most of the world’s oldest companies have changed their business ideas a number of times. So maybe Hock has a relevant point. By focusing inward on the right type of principles, the organization builds it’s capacity to adapt and continue to be relevant to customers and other external stakeholders.

”Substance is enduring, form is ephemeral.” Dee Hock

— Jan

 

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The Big Shortage

On January 23, Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri (@gpetriglieri) of INSEAD tweeted this illustration from the WEF in Davos *. It intrigued me and I instantly favorited it. I obviously had a number of fantasies regarding the context he was in and the reasons for the emergence of his illustration. We exchanged a couple of tweets and that was it for then.

But I kept the image and have looked at it a couple of times since. I think Professor Petriglieri makes a very timely and elegant point. Hence this short post.

From my personal experience with organization and leadership development the shortage that Professor Petriglieri uncovers is right on the money. We have lots of leaders in one or two of these circles, but way too few with all three capabilities. I don’t think there are many people that come into this world having all these three naturally and neatly balanced. Rather these potential capabilities need to be recruited for, trained for and developed on the job. This is a key insight for anyone interested in having the best leaders onboard their organization when tackling future challenges.

Now, why are these types of leaders necessary at all? To put it simply, check out my last post and the film with Mr Morieux of BCG. It all fits together nicely in my view. A new kind of world is emerging and putting new pressures on us. To create simplicity in our organizations (instead of complicatedness) calls forward a different set of leadership capabilities – capabilities that up to now haven’t been the most sought after. Professor Petriglieri illustrates a shortage that we need to take seriously.

* Professor Petriglieri a couple of days later tweeted this more simplified version of his illustration. In my opinion the original one is much richer and therefore more useful for reflection and discussion.

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Yves Morieux: 6 rules to simplify work

I seldom watch TED-videos any more, but the other day I visited the web site and directly found this 12 minute gem with Yves Morieux. I’ve never heard of him before but his talk blew me away – and he is my hero for doing so. I don’t think I’ve ever heard/seen such an elegant analysis of the problem of underperforming organizations. He not only pulls the problem apart, he aslo reassembles the pieces in a new way and offers us a new perspective on organizations, specifically large ones. Naturally, his platform as fellow and partner at BCG gives his talk loads of credibility. He’s been around. The talk is also special because it is a rare, if yet balanced, critique of the hands that feed him – and so many other in the consulting profession. Hats off to Mr Morieux.

— Jan

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Whom do you allow to whisper in your ear?

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As leaders and entrepreneurs we are aware that people around us are trying to influence us and the decisions we make. The intensity and openness of this practice can vary depending on a number of factors.

Either way we are hammered every minute of the day with subtle and not-so-subtle messages about what we should be doing or not. The interesting question is how this affects us and our judgment in specific situations and over the course of time.

People influence us whether we like it or not. We cannot choose not to be influenced. What we can do is make conscious choices about who are allowed to influence us more than others. This should be an essential dimension of any leadership practice.

Many successful leaders have outside personal counsel as a way to offset the biases of influence that are a natural part of being a leader. Consider the story about Bill Campbell (links below) that has worked with Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and a range of very successful leaders and entrepreneurs. One might think they have made it all by themselves, because that is often the image that is projected. But often they have speaking partners that have meant a lot for their development and success. It is rare that these external advisors get coverage as they inherently choose to be discrete in their practice. So do take a few minutes to read the story.

As leaders we never really know if we are seeing the whole picture. Never really know if we are being given the information we should be given. Never really know if the decisions we take are the best ones. Still we must use our best judgement and keep things moving ahead. A perfect decision doesn’t exist. There will always be trade-offs and unknowns. Some good some bad. This is the curse of leadership – but also the reward. The point here is to be able to distinguish between the issues that require our involvement and those that don’t. This is where people like Bill Campbell come into the picture.

Having one or several reliable and trustworthy speaking partners on the outside can prove to be invaluable to a leader. Designing a deliberate counter process to such psychological risks as group think and hubris is one important reason. But further than that there also is the real opportunity to improve important decisions by drawing upon the competences, experiences and candor of an independent outside advisor.

An outside speaking partner should of course have relevant business qualities such as excellent strategy skills and deep understanding of the inner life of organizations. But most important is having a solid ethical fibre, a balanced ego and an ability to focus the leader on what is best for the organization. Even if it means challenging the leader’s own self-interest.

So, in conclusion, successful leadership is seldom explained with only what one sees from the outside. More often than we might think there are carefully selected people in the background that are very important but who also know their role is to serve, not to be on stage.

Do you also need a wise person to whisper in your ear? For over 15 years I have worked together with leaders and entrepreneurs in a variety of organizations and strategic contexts. Please phone me or send me an email and I’ll send you a brief pitch of my work and the value I deliver.

Story about Bill Campbell – part 1.

Story about Bill Campbell – part 2.

– Jan

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Discovering mental models

Over the course of my life I have become ever more aware that our mental models shape how we think, feel and act in all aspects of life. This should come as no surprise to you and is actually a fairly trivial insight. However, this insight has led me on a rather challenging journey to formulate the specific mental model I have of the larger world and how it functions.

Why would this be necessary at all? Well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have more or less always seen myself as having a slightly different world view than many of my friends and peers and it would be helpful to be able to understand the underlying reasons to similarities and differences in how we think, feel and act. Being able to express my mental model is then obviously fundamental to this need. Secondly, being consciously aware of how I frame my world view also is a key ingredient in the continuous development of myself. Thirdly, knowing how I see the world helps me make better choices for myself, and try to be aware of the biases any mental model will have on my judgement. The fourth reason Is that my active awareness of my mental models also help me to adapt them over time. I am a firm believer in the idea of increasing levels of consciousness. If I am willing and able to express my current mental model, this directly offers me the opportunity to explore other models and develop my own mental models.

So, for me the challenging bit has been to actually capture and write down my mental model of how the world works. It has been an illusive quest that only recently finally came to some sort of resolution. This has partly been due to fear and not daring to express my world view to others, and partly due to me not being able to articulate it simply enough so it can be understood by others than myself.

In my next post I’ll share my current write up of my world view. Paraphrasing Douglas Adams’ epic book title it is something of my own (short) version of ”Life, the Universe and Everything”. I hope it can spark some interesting conversations.

— Jan

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It will get worse first

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The path to more human friendly organizations can be hazardous. It might have to become a little worse before it gets better.

No sorry, I am pretty sure it has to get worse first.

The choice we have is if we want things to get worse as part of an active scenario for development, or if things get worse because we make ourselves passive bystanders and victims of external changes we don’t understand the implications of. Yes, a tad harsh, I agree. But this is how I read our options. Control your destiny or someone else will.

But either way things will get worse first.

Those that get to work now and boldly move their organizations in direction of becoming more human friendly will have an edge over the others. That is the bet I am making for the coming 10-15 years. The most human friendly wins. The rest might survive. Barely scrape by.

Or not.

So why is human friendly the best strategy for organizations? I have two main arguments. The waste of human potential in our organizations today is just staggering. Up to 75% of all employees are disengaged at work. Imagine tapping into this enormous opportunity. This would result in:

A. Happier employees. Happier customers. More value. Healthier people.
B. Better productivity. More innovative. Better long term financial health.

I have a chosen truth. In the coming decades you don’t get B without delivering on A. A is your strategy. B is the results you reap. When you look too much for B you lose A and then B. So stick to A, but of course keep an eye on B and track development. But targets should be set as functions of A. Management should be about A.

This said, we are increasingly going to manage our organizations without managers. Or at the very least with do away with large numbers of them. And they won’t be missed.

The ones that are left will work differently than today. Very differently.

More about this in a future post.

//jan

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