Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Leading Through Compassion, Building to Last: Chapter 1

Leading Through Compassion, Building to Last: Chapter 1

Here is the first chapter in a three part piece on 'Compassionate Leadership'.  

Amongst the many over-used, misused and often abused ‘management magic wands’ is the hype and hoopla around ‘Centers of Excellence (COE)’. The others in the fray being other whiz-terms like Lean, Balance Score Cards, Six Sigma, Process Reengineering, TQM and of course the latest panacea, Big Data.  The powerful terminology of COE has caught everyone’s fancy and now every leader or manager worth his salt aspires to build a COE. Be it a COE team, a process, a business unit or for that matter an entire organisation. Going strictly by the definition of a Center of Excellence (COE), a center of excellence refers to a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, evangelization, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area. Each manager and leader, by virtue of well-defined and well-oiled processes, SOPs, taut metrics and failure modes intends to build an impeccable team and process. And every such team needs dynamic and agile super-performers to execute the lofty vision of their leaders. Every team demands a bunch of nimble-footed ‘hit the ground running’ individuals that have the ability to burst the learning curve and achieve the top-speed ASAP.
Today’s fast paced and overtly competitive environment expects optimum productivities and other performance KRAs from an employee ASAP. The water-tight metrics and real-time dashboards are quick to bucketise employees into ‘rising stars’, ‘high potential’, ‘also-rans’ and ‘underperformers’ in no time. In turn, the leaders or managers are quick to pick these ‘labels’ and deploy their focus on the stars within their system.
Are ‘Centers of Excellence’ just meant to further ‘excellent’ employees? Or is it a culture of cloning excellence and building excellent employees out of everyone? Do managers and leaders have the will to spend time with the laggards in their teams? The intent to turnaround their under-performers. The drive to create a culture of excellence within the team, where each individual gets habituated to delivering a superior performance…continuously…consistently. Do our managers have the willingness to not just create COEs, but create a built-to-last culture? Do our leaders have the passion, and more importantly compassion, to don the mantle of an empathetic Coach?
Most of us have been managers. Be it while managing people, projects or even in many tasks in our personal space. Some of us may also have had the opportunities to be leaders. What then is the difference between managers, leaders and coaches? Aren’t all these roles basically created to serve a single purpose i.e. to ensure Success of projects, people or teams. Why then so many terminologies? Based on my understanding so far, managers and leaders are necessarily much broader roles involving one-to-many relationships and impact. However, a coach necessary takes the mantle of someone more closer, relatable and personal. A more one-to-one relationship. The canvas for managers and leaders is much larger, focusing on a range of activities and processes driven by people and their diverse competencies. On the other hand, a Coach takes a more inside-out approach of focusing on an individual, nurturing and shaping him while trying to attain the desired outcomes.
Did you ever wonder why people hire personal fitness trainers instead of working out on their own? It’s simple. The trainer pushes them beyond their comfort zone and can get them to do much more than they thought was possible. Why do people need someone to motivate them? I am not sure, but when it’s done right, that person can do much more. While it’s the same body doing the same exercises, someone is putting them in a different mindset. The trainer is telling them they can do it. They believe it and that belief allows them to achieve much more. This is also effective at work and that’s where the timely presence of an emphatic and compassionate Coach can work wonders. People can meet tighter deadlines. They can add more features. They can build a better stakeholder experience. They just don’t believe they can do it because it would require them to be uncomfortable. A Coach, talks to people, understands them and their self-inflicted boundaries and eventually pushes them outside of their comfort zones. You will learn very quickly that your team can accomplish much more than you think it can. Push and push hard. Most people don’t want to stretch beyond their skill set if it involves risking their existing position. Encourage them to “lean in” to the opportunity and discover what else they can do beyond the status quo.

This is the first chapter in a three part piece on 'Compassionate Leadership'. Do check the follow-up second part to know more about your role as a Compassionate Leader. 


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