Seeing Excellence: Learning from Great Procurement Teams





Share Leadership and the Power of Influence

Revised 5/28/2010: Added lateral leadership discussion, recommended reading and references.

The big picture.  You’re in the theater before the previews begin.  There is usually an animated segment depicting cell phones ringing and asking that you turn them off.  Forty years ago, the picture would have been filmed in CinemaScope®, owned by Twentieth Century Fox.  CinemaScope® was a new camera technology invented in 1953.  It was credited with more clarity of image, less distorted pictures, greater audience participation, and bringing audiences back into the theater by making on-screen pictures wider and higher.  It was introduced with The Robe and early movies included Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Egyptian.  Like sitting in a theater watching movies, leaders can engage in activities that are a source of distraction.  CinemaScope® underscores the leadership themes that are directly relevant to continuous improvement efforts and skills that teams (and their bosses) need.

The SCOPEVision tool chest is not a comprehensive management theory, but sound management is important to success of a continuous improvement project.  But woven through the guidelines and principles one encounters in books on leadership, there is a central theme.

First, intrinsic motivation in large measure explains why members of high performing teams participate. But the interpersonal relationships that are present in teams can be fragile. If they are not properly cared for, a team once energized can quickly become mired in the malaise of boredom. We have all been involved with energized teams whose initial fire fizzled out.

If a team is stuck, turn to an inquiry about the process and relationships to deconstruct why a team is stuck, or negotiating relationships have broken down, for example. In Whitney’s and Trosten-Bloom’s book, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, they asked the question, “What is it about the process of appreciative inquiry that engages people?” What they learned was the process of inquiry freed up the opportunity to be heard which unleashed the possible of influencing behavior and changing the world view.

If one assumes that people are basically intrinsically motivated to solve problems and improve their organizations, then they look to teams and groups to satisfy those needs. Indeed, belonging to groups, being committed to the group’s purpose, and having an opportunity to influence the work view through group activities have been identified as elements of extraordinary groups. While formal leaders (of teams and organizations) may have structural authority that grants some capacity to influence, getting traction on ideas and change initiative requires the buy-in from other people.

In short, it requires influence across the stakeholders affected by an initiative. And the ability of persons not in formal positions of power to influence is satisfying. Formal power that comes from structural authority – and the attending accountability and responsibility – can never be shared or delegated. However, especially when a leader is involved in forming or participating in teams, the power of influence can be shared. And others’ contributions to getting things done by leveraging that influence should be celebrated.

The "Seeing Excellence" stories on this Web site illustrate these concepts. With respect to the state’s contracting reengineering effort in Colorado state government, Harry McCabe did not occupy a position of formal leadership among the state’s stakeholders. But Harry modeled the way in terms of using checklists as a way to tweak the environment and foster acceptance of change or the informal learning to make the changes stick. This exemplified the quiet power of influence, and the approach was emulated by those occupying more formal positions of authority. To the State Controller’s credit, Harry’s approach to risk management and training became well regarded and showcased as a model. The power of influence was shared.

Lateral Leadership

We first encountered the term “lateral leadership” in Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp’s book, Getting Things Done. The central premise was that each of us can learn skills to promote individual, effective behavior, but more importantly, skills to help our teams succeed.

One of the most telling parts of that book was a charge at the end of the book that compared leadership when one is not in charge with leadership traits when one is. The lists were identical except for the existence of overall responsibility and the ability the make decisions and allocate resources. The remainder were the same.

 In the last 10 years, shared leadership and the networked nature of working environments have gotten more attention. Seth Godin in his book, Linchpin, emphasized the personal choices one can make to lead in today’s organization. Even better, Godin highlighted the essential abilities of a person he considers a linchpin, one who is indispensable to an organization.

  • Use inquiry to find opportunities. By using appreciative inquiry, you can lead stakeholders towards change.

  • Get started.

  • Be the interface between members of the organization. A team does not operate in a vacuum. There often are political considerations in achieving results. If you have the relationships with other senior stakeholders or parts of the organization, offer to be that linchpin. Well regarded teams have people who are able to talk with senior leadership about decisions or conditions the team is operating under that may plain be bad. These people are known linchpins in networks. They possess social capital and a superior “network quotient.” If you have the capacity to serve in those roles, your leadership will be valued.

  • Take time to form, promote creativity and resist judging too early There is a time for evaluation of alternatives. But do not judge too early. Help clarify the purpose of the group – continuously.

  • Contribute to management of complex situations.

  • Encourage discussion about the needs of the group.

  • Don’t be afraid to tap the altruistic motivations in members of the team.

  • Contribute your “deep domain knowledge” Teams need members with a variety of skills and knowledge. One is “deep domain knowledge,” to coin the term used by Seth Godin.

  • Develop other capabilities that teams need. One of the things that teams need are good coaches in teams, and motivated team members will try to emulate them. Develop your capacity to help develop the team.

  • Model the way in hosting and leading meetings.

  • Be on the lookout for situations requiring “safety”: initially be tentative with opinions.

  • Offer to do real work, like researching best practices.

  • Help the team spot system impacts, unintended consequences.

  • Promote informal learning with SUCCES (Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Stories).

  • Question whether there is excessive risk aversion Look at change as a strategic challenge

  • If no one else will, just start with a question

For the Organizational Leader: Getting Started

To minimize the risk of toxic cynicism as you start on an improvement effort, start by finding and learning from successful change initiatives.  You may have the kind of culture in your organization that is committed to continuous improvement, connected to the customers in terms of anticipating their changing requirements, and systematic in identifying opportunities to get better.  If the dialogue in the organization includes these topics already, between management and the employee, then you're home free.  Otherwise, consider the following approach to beginning the dialogue and finding a success story you can build on.  Your mission in your first SCOPE project is to find an improvement, uncover the method, and understand the critical steps that led to its success. 

Individual one-on-ones, heavily laced with questions, are an effective tool.  They can be used to find these successes.  The objective is to hear your employees and colleagues talk.  Identify the person who was most responsible or central to that success.  You might consider a one-on-one with an employee and ask questions like the following:

1.  Who is the most underappreciated employee in the company?  Why?

2.  Where would I look first to find an example of an improvement in a process that really helped the organization?

3.  What was the most important factor in making that a success?

4.  If you had to pick the one person most responsible for its success, who would that be?

Then find that person and take them to lunch.  Your mission now is to find out how they made that project successful.  You might ask questions like:

1.  How did you know that process needed to be fixed?

2.  Who did you involve in the solution?

3.  What was the biggest reason for your success?  What was the most important thing you learned?

4.  What role did leadership play?

5.  What could leadership have done better to support you?

6.  What one other process could that improvement approach help?

7.  What is the greatest barrier to that process being able to succeed more broadly across the organization?

8.  What one thing should I do to keep the improvement momentum going?

What you discover will start the gyroSCOPE spinning, if it isn’t already. 

Recommended Reading and References

Richard Pennington, Lateral Leadership for Sourcing Teams (2011)

Geoffrey Bellman and Kathleen Ryan, Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results (Jossey-Bass 2009).

Roger Fisher & Alan Sharp, Getting It Done: How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge (Harper Perennial, 1998) (coined the term “lateral leadership” that is used in this book)

Richard Hackman, Leading Teams (Harvard Business School, 2002)

Jim Kouzes and Barry Pozner, The Leadership Challenge, 4th Ed. (John Wiley & Sons 2007)



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