When I first encountered his name in 1990, Michael was one of four principals of the Institute for a New Leadership Initiative and author of a paper called ‘Training for Leadership’ presented at the 1990 conference of the Irish Institute of Training and Development. I still have a treasured, crumpled and sadly, incomplete copy. I found a similar article (Simmons: 1993) but it lacks some of the flavour of the original.
In presenting the ‘new’ in contrast with traditional leadership, two points stand out for me:
“A key skill is … To Learn How To Ask Interesting Questions And Then Listen With Complete Respect.”
“The crucial step is To Decide To Completely Stop Blaming And Complaining Anyone, Including Oneself, for Anything.”
I remember finding the use of capitals naive but charming and engaging. The ‘new’ represents leadership for humans: real, whole people, emotion as well as intellect, heads, hands and hearts.
[My observations, in blue, below, were added after receiving the whole piece. Michael reviewed it and made some minor amendments … and so did I. Our conversation will continue.]
MS: I have completed the survey though I am not sure how much it will help.
One thing to think about is the difference between continual improvement and transformation - a transformation has to involve a change in state - water to ice or steam, for example. Thus, it has to be profound and fundamental whilst continual improvement, especially ‘Kaizen’ – the Japanese business philosophy spearheaded by Toyota, where big results come from many small changes accumulated over time - itself is incremental. However, an organisation learning Deming or Six Sigma based process improvement can be transformed, because the shift from the task-oriented approach of traditional management is necessary.
DM: The waste incurred under traditional management is very great and as it starts to disappear, the improvement in performance is usually remarkable. Managers can be surprised. They start on a straightforward, technical, improvement process and end up changing the way they think quite profoundly.
MS: Another way of seeing this is to differentiate continual improvement from transformational innovation - a customer might define the improvement that they need but are unlikely to propose an innovative change that gives them a solution to the needs that they have. For example, the customer might ask for a candle that doesn’t blow out but only a “supplier” can, often out of deep frustration and determined research, come up with a completely new solution to the need to create light, like electricity. Thus, a better candle is not transformational but electricity is, both for the organisation itself and for its customers.
DM: The transformation we are interested in here is in the organisation, specifically from ‘traditional’ to ‘new’ leadership.
MS: Often, people in organisations feel so overwhelmed that they are not able to find the time for either improvement work or transformational activities. What always strikes me as amazing is that the truly transformational leader always will - the great leader just creates the time, maybe by prioritisation, maybe by working harder or longer hours but they just decide and then carve out the space and the time and make it happen.
DM: And transformational leaders are rare which probably explains why the organisational landscape is littered with the corpses of candle makers that didn’t see electricity coming. An advantage of the ‘new’ leadership, is that the leader is not so alone because many more people are engaged.
MS: As a thought, the Simmons Dickinson mission statement has always been “Achieving a dramatic and sustained improvement in customer satisfaction and business performance” - the commitment to ‘dramatic’ makes the intention transformational but, as you worry, the problem is the sustainability.
Of course, we have to ask this question of ourselves too, so my final thought is that, ultimately, we have to come to a totally different attitude to the whole thing - Neal Donald Walsch says that our purpose here "is to become the next grandest version of the greatest vision you ever have of who you really are", and that has helped me immeasurably to understand that it is the journey not the end point that is important. Aim your vision high for transformational change but understand that the joy is in the journey - live in the moment, enjoy everything we are experiencing and creating and let go of the bad feelings that we experience about our apparent failures.
I call it the “divine paradox” - to be clear about our vision and passionately, determinedly and energetically committed to achieving it whilst being able to let go and keep going when we don’t achieve it. I teach people that they need to develop the ABS (anti-locking braking system) of the emotions - in the car the ABS enables the engine to take off the acceleration when we begin to skid. In the transformation, the ABS of the emotions allows us to review, let go and start all over again - enjoy the journey and when we make progress, huge celebration, when we fail, a few tears, but then right back on that bike.
Thus, dear David, neither Brexit, Trump or the changing of a Chief Executive are going to stop me - I am 72 and completely on the job for the rest of my life, training individuals for Transformational Leadership in a big multi-national, working with a small charity on whole organisational transformation and working with men who have had testicular cancer on how to transform their lives. Right here, right now, until my dying breath!!!
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light”
DM: I like your final thought. “Though it may feel like a losing battle, there can be no retreat. Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?” (From Manfred Mann’s version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.)
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Simmons, M., 1993. Creating a new leadership initiative. Management Development Review, 4(5).
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