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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing:

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Leadership and Management: what no one has the courage to tell you

The field of leadership and management studies is marked by never ending fads, pleasantly attired gurus, and far too little real life insight from those who have tried, failed, and failed again to bring about serious change in their organizations.  All of the formulas, apps, and charts are of little use if you do not have an honest idea of what to expect when you actually try to put a new idea and vision into effect in the workplace that is your own.  They are even less useful when you encounter the type of resistance that can and does occur from some of the most dysfunctional of organizations. 

This is not meant to diminish the wonderful work done by so many in the field. The theories and concepts of people like Townsend, Drucker, Kotter, and so many others has been of foundational importance in even my own career.  But what those brilliant minds often do not prepare you for is the reality of the system in which you will attempt to bring to fruition the lessons you learned from the highlighted and dog-eared pages that line your bookshelves.   

First, you will never work in a vacuum. Where you are or where you go will have a history that long pre-dates you.  No matter how troubled that history may be—no matter how glaring you may see the current or future potholes or cliffs that threaten the future—the past will be stronger for many of those you attempt to lead or persuade.   Particularly if you are in an entrenched organization, with long standing mindsets, strongly held beliefs and its own way of doing things—there is a transition phase that must be managed well if you are to succeed.  That is old news for the readers of Leadership Books.  But what is new is just how basic that first phase must be if you are to succeed 

In essence, the implementation of progressive concepts about leading organizations requires a first step that most writers assume has already occurred—the believe that these ideas are valued—or at least valued by a group of people willing to listen to them with a partially open mind, or perhaps one open ear.  Most of those you will attempt to lead in these organizations do not possess a “Learner’s Mind” as the former interim senior minister at my church called it.  In fact, they have only a reactionary mind.  There are reasons for this—and those reasons are only one factor why many leadership and change management plans start far too distant down the Yellow Brick Road.  Remember, Oz is nothing without the Tornado—the nasty neighbor—and the Black and White part.  If you forget the beginning steps—the danger is that those you are trying to lead may lose the whole reason for the journey.  And if people are willing to even look at the map, well it’s going to be a very short journey indeed.  

But how to manage that trip in the absence of a learner’s mind?  What if the group, or team, or company or organization that you have been tasked to lead hasn’t made it there yet?  What if they proudly attend the meetings of their local flat-earth society and have no interest in your concepts?  Albert Einstein himself would be dismissed by this band of “professionals”—would you not fall to the same fate, but probably faster?

It is my belief, that this is not a diminishing phenomenon, but rather a growing one.  Reflecting the polarization of many of our political and social systems—where the art of compromise, even of learning, has atrophied, is it no wonder that some of our institutions are suffering the same fate as people who should be willing to learn new ways, new ideas, and different processes, instead dig in their heels and refuse to grow. Like a plant that refuses water or food.

I know the answer from those in the private sector—fire them all!  Promote those that share the vision!  Introduce metrics to measure success and demand that the measures be met!   But what if the world in which you work isn’t the private sector?  What if you are in a sector that values, above all, intransigence masked as security and status quo, labeled as tenure or protection?  Maybe you have the ability to leave—find you way to Park Avenue and the towers that speak your new found language.  If so, good for you. 

But there are others, many others, who are responsible for companies, organizations, departments, or bureaus that live outside the natural rules, in lands with their own laws—to which reason, relativity, and the normal order of things just don’t apply.  As with all advanced life forms—they have a consciousness and a sense of being.  And they do not see growth—but only fear.  They see the changes to come and, much like a Pope hearing of Martin Luther—know only one way to react. 

These coming articles will discuss that reaction—and how you as a manager or leader must deal with it.  I realize clearly that management and leadership are quite different beasts.  But for these discussions, they are inherently related and co-dependent.  The talents required by both are the same. In organizations such as these, the management of change and the vision that leads it ultimately are useless if those doing the work or being led just refuse to move. 

How to get them to move?  In a world where reason fails to work, where statistics and logic are disarmed and rigidity and dissonance are notes in the national anthem—how can we hope to make things better?  That is what this series will discuss.  Sadly, there are no easy answers.  But for those who face this challenge answers must come. 

Too often, these groups are in the fields that are most important—government, public safety, and critical utility and transportation sectors.  In each of these institutions the need for better results—for improvement—to get more out of strapped budgets— is never ending.  Lacking the flexibility of the private sector, however, doing more with less becomes too often doing more with the same. The same old mindsets, the same old approaches, the same old biases. 

The leaders and managers of fire departments, police departments, 9-1-1 Centers, and other similar organizations are crying out for solutions as they face an ever changing environment with workforces that are sometimes unwilling to acknowledge the realities around them.  This spells disaster for that organization and, equally as important, those that the organization serves. 

There are better ways.  Let’s find them.