Creating leaders at every level

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 9 February 2018
Tanya Kennedy
Purpose Consultancy
Issues covered:

Tanya Kennedy, Managing Director, Purpose Consultancy debunks some myths about leadership and provides facts that can create leaders at every level within an organisation.

Full video and transcript below



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Tanya: So my name is Tanya Kennedy. I'm the managing director of Purpose Consultancy and we are a group of consultants who work in partnership with our clients to create healthy and positive change and organisations with very clear purposes.

So, I'm here today to debunk some myths about leadership. There are a few people who do this regularly. But to come at it from a very specific angle and based on work I've been with over the last couple of years with a guy called David Marquet.

Just to start, I've been in leadership for quite a long time, 20 years, as Barry has kindly shared with you today. And every day that I'm in leadership, I strive in service to people that I work with and struggle with the instinct always to take control.

I'm comfortable with control. I've been trained to lead. I've been trained in techniques. I'm happy to make decisions and I'm happy to tell people what to do and how to do things, particularly if they ask. Yet I know that by taking control what in effect I'm doing is potentially stifling their innovation, potentially impacting their health and well being, because by taking control from people, that's exactly what we do. And that's what I'm going to talk about today.

So where does this come from? Why is it that, as leaders in 2017, largely we still go about leading in the same way? Here's a picture that reflects where it all came from. So, it's the Industrial Revolution, it's a factory environment, and it's where we want people to produce just to use their hand, not the thing too hard, and just to make their KPIs.

We haven't changed much. We haven't changed our language much since these days. We haven't changed our structures much since these days. So still, this is what we do.

When I look at this photograph, in particular, there's one lady who stands out to me, and it's the lady just in the second row there at the very end and she's looking directly at the camera. I'm thinking to myself, "What is she thinking?" She's got a stripy top on. Can you see her?

But back then, we weren't interested in what the lady was thinking. We just wanted to know that she was doing her widgets every day, and we've continued to do that.

And in fact, it goes back further than that because here is our education system back in the '50s, which is very similar to our education system today. And this is not the stuff of leaders. This is setting down the same constraints and following the same patterns every day, because we as human beings want to be in control. We want to reduce risk. We want to make sure everything goes according to plan. It's in our nature.

That's the kind of reaction that you'll probably find in a lot of schools and in a lot of businesses. People say, "Yes, I'm going to work to do my job". And what we want to do as leaders is to move away from that.

So if I asked you . . . I'm sure there are a few leaders in this room today. This presentation is all about giving control. What are the feelings in terms of words that spring to mind when I say to you, "The best leaders give control to people"? What words do you think of when you think, "Right, I'm going to go into work tomorrow and I'm going to let people go about their business and encourage them to think what they think and do what they want to do"? What words spring to mind?

Participant: Panic.

Participant: Delegate.

Tanya: Delegate. Relief.

Participant: Empowerment.

Participant: What am I going to do?

Tanya: Yes, redundant maybe. Any other words?

Participant: Opportunity.

Tanya: Opportunity for the leader and for the people who they work with.

Participant: Balance.

Tanya: Balance. Okay. So, David Marquet, who is the guy who I'm going to quote a lot today, does a lot of poling. He travels the world and he gathers a lot of information. He's asked that question over 20 countries of thousands of people and these are all the different words that come up.

So, it ranges from "fear" . . . It's a word cloud, so the biggest word is the most common. Right through to "liberating, scary, opportunity", everything that you've said. So, the range of feelings is incredible.

Myth 1 - Leaders trust their instincts

So, the first myth that I'm going to bust today is leaders trust their instincts. Leaders might trust their instincts in certain circumstances, but if your instinct when it comes to giving control is fear, "What am I going to do now? What's going to happen?" what leaders need to do is act in ways that counter their instincts. In doing that, you're unleashing the potential of everybody who is around you. You're improving their health, you're improving their wealth, you're creating opportunities for them. And as an organisation, you're going to be doing better.

So, here is the man in question, David Marquet. David Marquet was one of the stars of the U.S. Navy. He was a submariner. He was a captain. He was highly intelligent. He was a leader for a long time. He believed that his leadership capability equated with his intelligence, with how well prepared he was, with knowing more than everybody else, and he has been on a journey in one particular set of circumstances that's taught him a lot about himself and a lot about leadership as well.

So, what happened to David Marquet was he was told that he was going to be put on to a submarine called the USS Olympia. In preparation, being an ultimate professional that he was, he spent a year studying every pipe, every screw, every nook, every cranny. He knew every member of the team. He knew their resumes. He knew their capabilities. There was nothing he did not know when he was going on to this submarine.

Then what happened? A week before he was due to go, he was told that he wasn't any longer going to the USS Olympia. He was going to the USS Santa Fe. Now Santa Fe was a better submarine. The USS Olympia had one of the best crews in the navy at the time, so he was happy. He was going to kill dead things. Santa Fe was a better submarine, but the crew was one of the worst in the U.S. Navy at that time.

He thought to himself, "That's okay. I'm a good leader. I've come through the U.S. Naval Academy of leadership, so I know that leadership can be defined as directing thoughts, plans, and actions of others so as to obtain and command their obedience, their confidence, their respect, and their loyal cooperation. If I give good orders, I'm going to get good results. I'm fine".

But submarines are a bit like aeroplanes. A Boeing 747 is completely different from another craft. So, he went on to this submarine knowing nothing, but he thought, "That's fine. I can give good orders. I'm a good leader. I've been trained". So he went in the belief, as a lot of leaders believe, you should go into any situation believing, "I should know all and tell all, and everything will be okay".

So off he went onto the bridge in the first day, and he said hello to everybody and he introduced himself, "Aye-aye, sir", "Aye-aye, sir", "Aye-aye, sir", a very command-and-control organisation. He was looking around and he thought, "Oh, what is that button up here, that button down there? I'm going to ask this guy here, I'm going to engage with my crew". "What does that button there do?" and the crew member said, "Not sure. I've forgotten". And immediately he realised he had made a mistake.

So in trying to be the know all, tell all, in control, in command leader, he already created a situation because then the onus was on him to tell the crew member what the button was for or to find out.

Myth 2 - Good leaders know all the answers

Here is my second myth. Good leaders know all the answers. Good leaders can't know all the answers, and neither should they deem to do so. Good leaders should be able to say, "I don't know". What do you think of that? Can you say, "I don't know"? Do you say, "I don't know"?

Participant: It shows a lot of vulnerability, doesn't it?

Tanya: Yes. What happens when we show vulnerability? We relate better to people. We engage with them. They're passionate, committed, empowered.

So, he thought to himself, "This isn't good. I've not got a good crew. I don't know the ship. Basically, we've just submerged, we could die. So I'm going to have to do something really different here". And he looked at what he had control of. He had no control over the crew that were there. He had no control over the jobs that they did. But what he did have control over was how they treated each other.

So, he thought, "We're going to do a drill. As part of this drill, we are going to pretend that . . . we'll create this incident. It's going to be a nuclear incident", and they went onto battery power to practise the drill.

He said to Bill, his second in command who had been on the ship for two and a half years, he knew well, "Bill, two-thirds ahead". And Bill said to the little naval officer at this particular set of controls, "Up to two-thirds please". David Marquet was standing behind the periscope and nothing happened. He looked up and he said, "What's happening? Why has nothing happened?" And everybody looked down. Then eventually the young guy said to him, "Sir, there is no two-thirds on this submarine".

David Marquet said to Bill, "Did you know that?" Bill said, "Yes, sir". He said, "So why did you tell this young man to do it?" And what was the answer? "Because you told me to". So, he knew then that there was a really really high risk to everybody involved. He had to create a situation where people felt confident to trust him and to say what they thought.

Myth 3 - Leaders motivate their people

So, my third myth is leaders motivate their people. This is maybe one of the edgier ones. Some leaders will go about, "Yes, let's do this. Congratulations. Yes, well done. We're doing really well. Let's keep going". And doing that unknowingly creates stress.

The fact is what leaders need to do is to make it safe. What is that young guy feeling in that situation when he knows the answer, but he can't say? Fear? Okay. The only way to deal with fear is to make it safe, and the only way that we can make a safe environment is by changing our language, changing our behaviour. Simple things like how questions instead of why questions. "Are you sure?" to "How sure are you on a scale of 1 to 5?" "What do you think we should do next? What should we do next?"

David uses this. This is a really great example, I think. Why this is so important . . . This is he at the top of the submarine here and this is bringing on a team of Navy Seals, which they have to do every now and then. They have to come up above the water, bring these Navy Seals on. If you can see the guy there at the bottom of the rope, with the red jacket, then there is a guy coming down the rope, that's a Navy Seal. That guy with the red jacket is in control of that man's life who's coming from the helicopter floating over the submarine.

So, David Marquet way back here, way high up, cannot give orders. He has to trust this guy. This guy has to trust himself to do what he needs to do in these really treacherous conditions. As a leader and in a strategic position where he is . . . And he took this photograph for what reason I'm yet to find out. This is what he can see. Quite often, when we're in those positions, this is as much as we see, so if we don't enable our people, things can't happen.

Traditionally what we do as we push information to authority to make decisions, and in fact, what we need to do is push the authority to where the information is, to the guy in the red jacket at the bottom of the rope. And you'll have lots of those in your organisations.

How do you do that then? I deal a lot with change. I hear a lot of talk about changing mind-sets, changing thinking, and thinking changes behaviours. Well, I'm going to challenge that myth as well. I'm going to say that the myth is teams think their way to new action. That's what we think. What I think is teams act their way to new thinking.

Here is an example from Google. Google, brilliant company, on top of almost everything that happens, engaging in terms of their staff, find that people weren't getting to know each other in their time off in the areas that they have. If you've ever seen photographs of Google, there are some fantastic areas.

They went around about finding out why that was, and what they found out was in the restrooms people were in small areas, small tables, small confined areas, and in being that way they gravitated towards the same people and they potentially could end up texting on their phone in their time off.

So, what they did was put in long tables. This is an existing Google staffroom. Long table in the middle. This is one of their newest buildings in London in terms of where their staff go, long table in the middle. And I have to say from my own experience, particularly in business in the community, we have a big kitchen with a big table and some of the best craic happened around that table.

So, by creating an environment where behaviours changed, thinking changed, people got to know each other better and they were comfortable and more confident.

So as leaders, what I want to challenge you is don't think that you should have to be in a know-all, tell-all position all the time, because that is not the case. Sometimes you'll move down into that bottom left quadrant to telling all, as David Marquet did, and knowing not. In those situations, you need to start helping people's behaviour change.

Then we'll move into the tell-not and know-not, which he was in as well in this situation. But that situation up there in the top right where you know-all and tell-not could be one of the most empowering situation, because even though you know the answer, you create curiosity, you create a growth mind-set by asking a person, "What do you think? What's your intention? What did you do? How can we deal with that?"

Even though I know, I can stretch the minds of the people who I lead. So, I might move across and I might move back, and that's my decision based on the situation at the time. But we don't need to know-all and tell-all.

And it does go against our grain because we're hard wired and programmed, as I've said, to take control and order to reduce risk as human beings ultimately to stay alive. So it's that fight, flight, or freeze that we are struggling with all the time when I talk about my instinct in serving people that I work with.

As a final example, I want to talk about a case study in terms of an organisation that has started to adopt this approach and are getting astounding results.

This is a police service in North Yorkshire. This police service had a leader who was one of those guys. You know these guys. They really want to make a difference, try something new. He tried everything. He'd done Stephen Covey. He'd read all the books. Nothing was working until he read David Marquet's book. It's called "Turn the Ship Around!" if you're interested in reading it.

This guy read it and he believed, and it was basically around this behaviour changes thinking. He took his area of command and he took his inspectors and he got them to read the book and he asked them to start coaching conversations, to start asking questions, not to give orders, and even in that command control environment, to get people to think.

What happened was magical. What really happened was, because people were thinking, incident logs were far more detailed, which meant that there were more successful prosecutions if that was the result that was needed. Police officers were being more curious. Guys who were in command control centre was asking the right questions because they were thinking through what needed to happen. They understood. They were happy and comfortable to take a decision.

Promotions went up in his area of control. Motivation went up. Illness and time off due to illness went down. It's all documented. The results have been incredible.

Myth 4 - Leaders know all and tell all and that's the way it should be

So, the final myth is leaders know all and tell all and that's the way it should be. That's not right as far as I'm concerned. Leaders know all or may know all, but even when they do, think about telling not. It doesn't create curiosity. It doesn't create a growth mindset, and that's what differentiates organisations.

But where do you start? What if you've got a guy who said to you, "I just want you to tell me what to do"? It's just like anything. It's staged. So, if you take the example of changing behaviour, changing the environment, it's about this language here. Starting at the bottom if you want, a ladder too "Tell me what to do". "What do you see?" "This is what I see", to "What do you think?" "This is what I think", and enabling people to come up there.

Where you don't want to be in this ladder is a level 7 boss and a level 1 worker, because you can imagine how frustrating that is, or a level 7 worker and level 1 boss. So, it's about knowing your people and knowing your situation.

In terms of what we do with this at Purpose Consultancy, if you're interested, we can work with organisations in lots of different ways in terms of looking at the control within your organisation, how it's working, delivering workshops, and changing behaviours, changing the language, observation and coaching and feedback. We don't know what we don't know a lot of the time.

Working with senior teams is incredibly powerful in terms of creating an environment where their behaviour changes so they can trust each other. And then every leader scenario where we can take an entire chain of command and work through this scenario in terms of "let's learn from that".

So, finally challenge move outside your comfort zone. Let someone else order a meal for you. If you're out with your team at Christmas and it's not turkey dinner, let the person next to you order your meal and see what happens. See if trust confidence builds and see what you learn. See how your mind stretched.

Have a look at where your we/they boundaries are. And what I mean by that is the language that I hear a lot in terms of change is us and them, we and they. As soon as I hear that, the one thing an organisation can look at in terms of behavioural change that is incredibly powerful is only talking about we. Where "They didn't order the part that we needed" becomes "We didn't order the part that we needed", there is no more recrimination and there accountability and acceptance, learning, and growth. Thank you.

This article is correct at 09/02/2018

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Tanya Kennedy
Purpose Consultancy

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