Micromanagement and Humble Inquiry

I have been hearing a lot about “micromanagement” lately in my coaching work with 360° LPIs (Leadership Practices Inventories) where invited Observers are asked a series of questions regarding the Leaders’ behaviours that either support them or detract from their learning, their self-concept as professionals and thus, their job satisfaction. In a series of interviews with professionals in another organization with retention issues, the issue of “micromanagement” surfaced with regard to a leader whose knowledge, expertise and meticulousness led to her team’s sense of being “overpowered’ and disrespected by her tendencies to “micromanage” others.

In the context of business management, “micromanagement” is defined as a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees. In a 10.16.2017 Fast Company newsletter piece titled: ”Stress is making you micromanage, which is making everything worse”, the author, Caterina Kostoula discusses the effects of being micromanaged on health, creativity, retention and productivity and asks the reader to consider why there is a need to micromanage, what is the source of anxiety that is leading to the behaviour. She suggests a number of ways to understand and curb the tendency.

Both these experiences and readings have brought me to Ed Schein’s 2013 Humble Inquiry text, which is about the art of questioning, rather than telling. In today’s social organizational climate no one wants to be told, least of all highly educated professionals of any age who believe that their education and expertise ensures they will be treated with respect as the knowledge workers they are. Ed Schein is a thought leader who has maintained his interest, involvement and noted expertise in the world of people, organizations and culture for 60+ years. He is 90 years old, a former professor in The Sloan School of Management, a master in organizational culture and leadership and still a powerful force in the organizational development world.

There are different forms of Humble Inquiry outlined in the text and there are a few commonalities among them.
1. Humble Inquiry implies a desire to build a relationship with colleagues that will lead to more open communication and greater feelings of teamwork, trust and mutual respect.
2. It implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and thereby, arouses positive helping behaviour to the other person. It is about an attitude of interest and curiosity.
3. Humble Inquiry is necessary if we want to build a relationship beyond rudimentary civility, because we may find ourselves in various kinds of interdependencies in which open, task-relevant information must be conveyed across status boundaries.
4. It is only by learning to be more humbly inquiring that we can build up the mutual trust needed to work together and open up communication channels.

It is likely that in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous organizational world of today, it is easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging to avoid the anxiety of not knowing. By better understanding our discomfort with highly uncertain outcomes, we may get better at identifying and understanding a tendency to micromanage – and by the way, this tendency may be seen by others before we are able to see it ourselves. The next necessary step is to identify the behaviours that are deemed by others to be micromanaging. The final and very important step is to successfully learn the art of Humble Inquiry and to use it whenever we feel the urge to take the lead away from others to dispel our own discomfort.

With thanks to Ed Schein, Caterina Kostoula, Fast Company and a series of online summarizing authors from sites such as Agile Jottings.

Developing a Culture of Innovation

    I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation – the concept has crossed my desk from several different directions recently. I always take notice when I see something several times in short succession from variable sources. It usually means something is moving away from the edges and hitting the mainstream. I like to think of the application to healthcare-which is in need of significant innovation. A few interesting definitions of innovation (which can be a vague over-used term) are emerging from different sources.

    Innovators are people who apply new and original ideas and methods to solve existing and potential issues and problems. Using creative thinking and idea development, innovators are willing and prepared to embark on an initiative that will advance their profession, organization, business, and/or goal. Turning their ideas into action, they play a key role in driving something forward (adapted from Donner and Wheeler).

    An HBR article on Twitter today by Soren Kaplan provided some further insights. Innovation he says can be categorized into 3 different types: incremental (small tweaks that advance the core business), evolutionary (changes that evolve with other changes), and disruptive (defined as an innovation that creates a new market and value network, eventually disrupting an existing market and value network, and often displacing established leading market firms, products, and relationships). A lot has been written in recent years about disruption and disruptive innovations (see Christensen HBS).

    Most organizations today want more innovation. They want employees to be focused on how things could be done more efficiently, smoothly and with more positive outcomes. The highly competitive environment demands this kind of thinking and action. Organizations need people who will find a problem, create an innovative solution, evaluate its functionality and scale it up. Often what stands in the way of more innovation is organizational culture, known to be one of the areas that are hardest to change. Strategies proposed by Kaplan are: embedding innovation in structures and processes across the organization, getting people in all roles and levels involved, training and development in innovative and design thinking, ensuring that good ideas get traction and are widely publicized, and supporting a few key leaders to effectively champion the ideas and keep up the momentum. Many people believe there are no bad ideas; what counts are the early ideas.

Liberating Structures

I have stepped away from this Blog for a while now keeping busy with other things. I am hoping to commit to more writing about things that interest me, and affect the work we do developing health care leaders.

Today I want to talk about Liberating Structures, which, in its simplest form, is a suite of tools that enable people in organizations, teams, communities – groups of all kinds – to engage with each other in meaningful and collaborative dialogue, and work together sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences in order to achieve the outcomes they want. Liberating Structures have the power to alter the way individuals and groups interact with each other, and transform workplace culture.

Henri Lipmanowicz, former President of Merck Intercontinental and a founder of The Plexus Institute, and Keith McCandless, a founder of the Social intervention Group have published their suite of tools in The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures. “So why is it” the authors ask, “that so many organizations of all stripes are filled with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas?”

Feeling that improvements could be made in the way people work together, and recognizing that Complexity Science has tremendous potential and practical application to support transformational learning, the authors began to collect ways that people can use to engage everyone, bring out thoughts and ideas, and get people talking and problem solving together. “Gleefully we cut across academic disciplines, tapped spiritual practices, roamed the planet and deepened scientific insights along the way.”

I have been interested in these kinds of practices for 25 years or more. I heard long ago that “the answers are in the room”. I don’t know where I heard it – probably in the Lippitt living room in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was involved in a Planned Change Internship in the early 90s, working with a small group of diverse others interested in organization and leadership development. This kind of thinking has stayed with me as I navigated the very hierarchical healthcare system working to support transformative change. We know from personal experience that everyone has significant contributions to make, and we know how important engagement in the workplace is to people and outcomes. The question is: How do we engage everyone, provide a safe environment, and enable new ideas to emerge and grow? Liberating Structures effectively support these efforts. Check it out at liberating structures.com. Communities of practice around liberating structures are popping up around the world. If you’re interested in organization development (OD), developing leadership, engaging people and teams, it’s a movement worth following.

DWHLI 2017

The 2017 DWHLI was held May 23-26 at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto. Eighty five participants from across the health professional spectrum of roles and disciplines, and representing several provinces, participated in 4 long days of concentrated leadership development programming. More information about the program, the speakers and facilitators, and the innovative projects that were launched by the attendees can be found at healthleaders.ca

Exerpts from Longwoods Nursing Leadership, June 2016, Special Focus on the The Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute

Exerpts from Longwoods Nursing Leadership, 29(2) June 2016 Special Focus on the The Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute

DWHLI and CNA celebrate their partnership and plan 2016 events

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Earlier this month Judith Skelton Green, Julia Scott and I sat down with Anne Sutherland Boal, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association, and Carolyn Pullen, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Strategy to put the final touches to our partnership agreement to offer together our 27th Leadership Institute.

Dorothy Wylie, retired Professor of Leadership at University of Toronto Nursing, after whom the Institute is named, and Karima Velji, President of CNA, joined us for dinner and celebratory toasts.

A few collaborative events are scheduled for 2016. In February we will offer a webinar about leadership competencies for health care professionals, and their importance in today’s complex and rapidly transforming environments.

We are hard at work designing a leadership workshop for participants at CNA’s Biennium in June in St John’s NB. In October we will offer our 27th week-long Institute with CNA. We are thoroughly enjoying our collaboration – truly a “meeting of the minds” – as we are very much on the same page about the value and importance of leadership at every level and in every discipline providing healthcare today.

Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute in New Partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association

Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute Canadian Nurses Association

New Partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association
The Dorothy Wylie Health Leadership Institute (DWHLI) is introducing a new and significant partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA).

The institute is a unique Canadian leadership program that brings together health-care leaders from all disciplines across the country for a concentrated study of leadership principles, models, skills and tools. Established more than 15 years ago, the program offers a refined, highly-specialized and interactive leadership learning experience. A recent survey found that more than 75 per cent of institute alumni said their experience had a positive or profound impact on their personal life and career, and it was described as a “catalyst for change.”

DWHLI has chosen to work with CNA, the national professional association of registered nurses, because its program will be an excellent companion to CNA’s existing suite of professional development offerings, including continuing competencies, advanced practice support and specialty certification. In its 111-year history, CNA has demonstrated a sincere commitment to health-care leadership, and now it will connect more professionals from across Canada to the institute’s innovative work. By working together, the two organizations will extend the reach of the institute’s program, explore new blended learning approaches and integrate advanced technology to enhance participation.

Work is already underway to deliver the 2016 program jointly, with the first offering in October (details to follow). Both organizations look forward to this dynamic collaboration for the advancement of health leadership.

For more information, please visit: Health Leaders Institute or cna-aiic.ca

Thinking about Occam’s Razor

While watching an episode of Madame Secretary the other night, I was interested to hear the main character mention Occam’s Razor as she wrestled with a complex issue and the need to get at the variables, understand them and make decisions about how to proceed. Knowing my interest in complexity and complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory, a friend told me about Occam’s Razor awhile ago. I had never come across it before, despite lots of reading about complexity and complex systems – obviously not reading the right things, Ann! Thanks.

Wikipedia tells us that Occam’s Razor (which is also sometimes written as Ockham’s Razor) is a problem-solving principle devised by William of Ockham in the 13th C – believe it or not. William was a respected English Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian.

The principle of Occam’s Razor states that among competing hypotheses which predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of major differences – the fewer assumptions that are made, the better – according to the theory.

Called also the Law of Parsimony, it tells us to KISS or keep it simple, and not over-complicate. This of course makes a lot of sense and it also reminds us to quantify, qualify and verify our assumptions. Wikipedia goes on to say “ For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are better testable and falsifiable.”

The fact that we are still considering William of Ockham’s ideas, 7 centuries later boggles the mind, and makes me question how much more we know or don’t know today than we did centuries ago.

It also makes me wonder about the fit between Occam’s Razor and complex adaptive systems’ theory. This is for another time.

Appreciating a Preference for Introversion

I have had the pleasure of getting to know many people whose preference for introversion is obvious in their interpersonal relationships – including their relationships with me, an avowed extrovert. In her recent excellent bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I was reminded of the many famous and talented introverts who have given the world great things. The contributions of Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet, Barbara Streisand, Bill Gates are unprecedented and undeniable. I realize that with age and experience I am getting better at being a good listener when I am with people whose preference is for Introversion. Even though I still find the silence disconcerting, I am trying to better understand and appreciate it, and, through my own silence, enable both my own reflections about the nature of our conversation, as well as the ability of my introverted colleague to choose where to take the next part of our discussion. It’s hard work though very worthwhile for both of us.

Qualities of Leaders: The Amygdala Hijack

Recently I was driving on a freeway with a friend. We were having a quiet companionable moment together when someone cut in front of our car while changing lanes. My companion, who was driving, immediately went ballistic, swearing and yelling at the other driver. His behaviour seemed to come out of nowhere and I was shocked until I remembered reading about the so-called “Amygdala Hijack”, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his writings about Emotional Intelligence.

What an interesting phenomenon this is!

Drawing on LeDoux’s work, which uses animal research to understand pathological fear and anxiety in humans, Goleman uses the term Amygdala Hijack to describe immediate and overwhelming emotional responses which are over the top and out of sync with the actual situation. In these cases the stimulus has triggered a more significant emotional threat than would seem reasonable to an observer.

The neuroscience reads like this: From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the amygdala while another part is sent to the neocortex (the rational or thinking brain).

If the amygdala perceives the stimulus as a fight, flight or freeze situation, it triggers the HPA (hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received, leading to seemingly irrational and possibly destructive behaviour.

If the amygdala does not find any match to the stimulus received with its recorded threatening situations, then it acts according to the directions received from the neocortex.

Now my friend is – most of the time at least – a charming man with a high degree of Emotional Intelligence in his interpersonal relations. He is a leader. As well, he is kind and empathetic, and can often put himself in another person’s shoes and feel deeply for their problems. So when he reacts to a moderate stressor with such an over-the-top response, I find myself getting stressed and wanting to shout at him to settle down and be reasonable, which of course would not be the best choice of my own behaviour!

I wonder if testosterone is involved in some way and if women experience Amygdala Hijacks as often as men may do – and do the trigger circumstances differ with gender differences? or it is more related to temperament and world view thus influencing how different personalties approach and interact with their world?