Nicholas Winton – the power of good

Sir Nicholas George Winton is a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain.

Winton kept his humanitarian exploits under wraps for many years until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in the attic in 1988. The scrapbook contained lists of the children, including their parents’ names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in.

After sending letters to these addresses, 80 of “Winton’s children” were found in Britain. The world found out about Winton’s work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That’s Life! when Winton was invited to be an audience member.

You can read the whole story here.

 

 

Management lessons from the covid-19 death spiral

An excellent article from Ed Yong1  begins like this:

Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the sixth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

The author then identifies nine errors that hamper our ability to respond to the pandemic. And one stands out to me because we discuss it often in my strategy workshops.

The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …

The first lesson is, of course, a refresher: Situations that require the coordination of all parties involved can only be solved by the participation of all parties involved. And that participation is best obtained when parties see and agree on the nature of the problem, rather than by means of executive fiat.

And the second lesson is the costly intuitive error: To think that because the situation is obvious to you it will be obvious to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/, accessed 200911 []

Keep track of what really matters

I am a fan of keeping a journal. I keep one myself and I encourage the leaders I work with to do the same.

The format does not really matter (what you thought, what you did, what you said, how you felt, etc.) as long as you record it. By recording it you’re acknowledging that it mattered at the time and you’re making it matter now.

You don’t keep a journal to revisit it. You keep a journal to make a record, to state that your day mattered.

I’m reminded of this by a recent post I read on keeping a Good Times list:

to notice and record the moments and experiences in life that bring you joy, or that energise and fulfil you. This one thing will help you appreciate what really matters, and to do more of them. It’s simple to do, and you need nothing more than a pen and paper.

It’s another form of “counting your blessings”. And it will help you keep track of what really matters.

[photo by Dina Spencer]

A list of best practices will not make you a great company

… any more than finding a recipe will make you a great cook.

Bill Bennett reflects on the writings of Alfred North Whitehead on learning. He ends up dismissing the pursuit of “best practices” as secrets to success in favor of a culture of discovery:

  • Design your organization so that it develops new capabilities;
  • Make it your job, as a leader, to help your organization be better at learning;
  • Structure your organization so that your people must engage with important, unsolved problems.
  • Establish routines that allow for failure and reward those who try to discover;
  • Build a culture that values discovering over knowing, becoming over being;
  • Lead by design.

And don’t forget the secret: There is no secret1

Stop mulling over millennials

Millennials want the same things from their employers that Generation X and Baby Boomers do:

  • Challenging, meaningful work;
  • Opportunities for learning, development and advancement;
  • Support to successfully integrate work and personal life;
  • Fair treatment and
  • Competitive compensation.

And all three generations agree on the characteristics of an ideal leader:  a person who

  • Leads by example, is accessible,
  • Acts as a coach and mentor,
  • Helps employees see how their roles contribute to the organization, and
  • Challenges others and holds them accountable.

Full article here.

 

A new project: the People & Management Monthly Links newsletter

When my friend Xavier took an interest in my master’s thesis he started suggesting books and journal articles that he thought might be useful to my research. Soon thereafter I started doing the same whenever I bumped into something I thought might be useful to his doctoral dissertation (and later to his research and classes).
 
I also began doing this to other friends and colleagues. It had been (and still is) a great experience for me and I wanted others to experience the same.
 
This has been going on for decades now. Of course, paper cuttings and photocopies have become emails with links and attachments.
 
I am thinking it is time to broaden the circle. And that is why I am creating the People & Management Monthly Links newsletter.
 
The content of the newsletter will follow my consultancy practice and intellectual pursuits: leadership development and executive coaching, that is, people managing themselves, others, their team, and their organization.
 
My hope is that as a subscriber to the Monthly Links you will also become a contributor of material that might be interesting to other subscribers. Please send your suggestions by replying to the newsletter email you receive – you can subscribe here.
 
Happy reading!

The eight archetypes of leadership

Manfred Kets de Vries in HBR:

  1. The strategist: leadership as a game of chess. These people are good at dealing with developments in the organization’s environment. They provide vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organizational forms and generate future growth.
  2. The change-catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity. These executives love messy situations. They are masters at re-engineering and creating new organizational ”blueprints.”
  3. The transactor: leadership as deal making. These executives are great dealmakers. Skilled at identifying and tackling new opportunities, they thrive on negotiations.
  4. The builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity. These executives dream of creating something and have the talent and determination to make their dream come true.
  5. The innovator: leadership as creative idea generation. These people are focused on the new. They possess a great capacity to solve extremely difficult problems.
  6. The processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency. These executives like organizations to be smoothly running, well-oiled machines. They are very effective at setting up the structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.
  7. The coach: leadership as a form of people development. These executives know how to get the best out of people, thus creating high performance cultures.
  8. The communicator: leadership as stage management. These executives are great influencers, and have a considerable impact on their surroundings.

More here

The dissident leader

I found this quote in my notes. And it coincides with my current reading of Tomas Sedlacek‘s Economics of Good and Evil. Sedlacek was an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. Although I have not finished reading the book, I can already recommend it. More on the book and its thesis in a future post.

[Vaclav] Havel embodied the guidelines of creative defense with wit, wisdom, and the shortcomings of a man. He inspired people with a bold algorithm, a mantra really: living in truth. In an era of cryptic truths, so too was the very notion of “living in truth”. After 1989, he became the first anti-political president of the Czech Republic and the planet; he remains so to this day the bearer of a political legacy not so much shrouded in failure as indifference to power. Yet, he was never powerless, not for a moment.

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from “the people”; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself.

Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner’s chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate’s cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two — this is the gift Havel gave.

via The New Inquiry.