Sunday, 17 December 2006

The Awe of the Simple

I just spent the last week in St. Louis, MO. I was on a business trip, but I always try to see one or two things whenever I travel to a new city. In this case, a couple of my co-workers were very gracious and took me to see the St. Louis "Gateway Arch".
It is hard to explain what impressed me about it. It's a very simple shape (A catenary curve, to be precise). Its size is certainly impressive, but there are larger structures, and certainly more difficult ones to build.
I think it was the elegant simplicity of it. Looming over the hodgepodge of architectural styles that make up the St. Louis Riverfront, it stands out by being a very pure expression. Many of the more intricate works lose something by their complexity.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Serendipity and Leadership

Sometimes, things seem almost too coincidental.

I had a conference call/training session this morning on the topic of leadership. It is part of the leadership development program in my company, and involved hearing from the COO of our organization. He talked about his leadership style, characteristics, and challenges.

One of the messages he gave us resonated strongly with my previous post. He talked about leading by example. How we need to be the example to those we lead, of the type of behaviour we expect. He talked about how this builds trust, and credibility. Parts of the discussion seemed to parallel my points regarding how the nature of an organization is often based on the example of the leaders.

On an unrelated note, the topic of ethics and integrity came up, which was something that hit me hard only a couple of hours later. He stated how integrity was critical to the organization and to leadership. A couple of hours later I found myself embroiled in an ethically questionable situation. I just don't know if I handled it properly. I sought advice from a couple of my role models, and took what I think was the ethical action for myself and the organization. But it wasn't pretty, and I don't know how things will fall out from this.

Integrity. Doing what is right, even when it's not easy.

Wow is that a lot more meaningful to me.

Start at the Top

As an analyst, I often get asked for my opinion on challenges faced by organizations. Sometimes my own, sometimes those of friends or acquaintances. I'll probably talk about those here, but I will make things anonymous to protect the confidentiality of the organization.

An acquaintance recently presented me with the following situation. A new project in his organization was floundering badly. Productivity and quality were both consistently under target. This had been an ongoing issue since the initiation of the project. He talked about the discussions he'd had with the project managers, and the actions they'd tried. Despite those initiatives, the various teams responsible for the project had failed to improve. His question to me was whether I had any thoughts on what else he could do to get the project turned around.

My response to him was very blunt. Look at the leadership. Any time you have a unit that is consistently under-performing, you need to ask yourself if you have the right people leading that unit. I believe it is entirely appropriate to start by looking at systems and processes, but once you've addressed those, it comes back to people.

People follow their leaders, in more ways that are immediately obvious. If you've got an organization that delivers poor quality work, the leadership doesn't value quality. If you've got a unit who in unproductive, ask how productive the leader is. These are problems that start at the top.