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No Sacred Cows: They Trample Innovation and Graze Productivity and Profits.

August 6, 2009

Companies today are working in an environment of incredible change. The customer base is shifting, technology is constantly changing, margins are shrinking and competition is stiffer. Whether change is abrupt or gradual, the rules that once worked have become outdated. Ignoring that reality is so devastating. The key to success is change readiness. Forget about re-engineering, downsizing and all those other fast-track panaceas prescribed for corporate ills. The first step to change is to identify and eliminate the “Sacred Cows” – all those hallowed practices, dead ideas, pet projects, outdated policies, unnecessary policies that don’t work anymore.

I can find Sacred Cows everywhere in offices and in the minds of people. Sadly, we continue to worship our sacred cows. Herds of sacred cows grazing on profits and choking off productivity. They are trampling creative and innovative thinking, inhibiting quick response to change and costing money and time. I see people reluctant to come out of their comfort zones- they knew so much about what they knew and they were last to see it differently. This intellectual inertia causes us so many problems in our ability to see things differently as well as our ability to respond the vibrant changes in the market place quickly.

Educated incapacity is an acquired or learned inability to understand or even perceive a problem, much less a solution. The more expert the person is, the less likely that person can see a solution when it is not within the framework he/she taught to think. When a possibility comes up that is ruled out by the accepted framework, an expert is often less likely to see it than an amateur without the confining framework. Everyone suffers from educated incapacity because everyone has a stake in the status quo of his/her discipline. We have a stake in what we know. We are paid for what we know. If we thought it all was going to be made irrelevant tomorrow, we would feel threatened. Everyone can get up to speed on the learning curve, the real problem is that we have trouble getting up to speed to forget. How can we change this? Spotting your sacred cows and rigorously probing into its trajectory makes you challenge those established notions. It immediately opens our minds to alternative ways of thinking that make more sense.

Creating Sacred Cow Free Culture

  • Think about the big, important problems and focus on doing work that matters. Don’t get bogged down in the minute details and the short-term view.
  • Regular reflection and lateral thinking about ideas, solutions and product and evaluate how that fits in with reality.

It’s surprising to notice that how often people miss the critical facts that could make all the difference. We may be so biased to get information only from the people with the same point of view. Start questioning or rigorously probing any preconceived notions or past experiences(educated incapacities) or refusal to confront a problem because they can’ see a solution. New ideas and new thinking start to emerge.


Who Needs Charisma?

July 10, 2009

” Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal. Great leadership works through the emotions.” …Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intellitegence

This week’s Time published an article on Leadership: Who needs Charisma? Take away from this reading is:

  • Take responsibility. Leadership means you don’t duck when things go wrong. Young or old, handsome or plain, quite or loud – the surest way to win followers is to convince them that when the going gets tough, you won’t run and hide. You step in and take responsibility for it.
  • Don’t worry about your looks. It’s what you do that counts. Your looks may fool your adversaries but you need to be contextually aware and cognizant of the situation to make your different
  • Self-Reflection. It is very important to remember who you are, what you are, who you lead and what you lead. Different situations require different styles. When leader understand the nature of their followers they can get away with an awful lot.
  • Stop Talking. Start Acting. Good speech can only get you so far. That’s all. But your actions and your decisiveness is what matters the most. Leaders needs to have a courage to make quick decisions – not spending forever looking for the perfect decision.
  • Persistence pays off. Try, try, and try again. never give in. Resistance in the face of adversity is a key quality in a leader.
Bottom line
A great leader’s charisma makes us all into believers. But where does the truth lie between the personas that a leader presents to us and the one we are never privy to. Does it matter?
Yes, It does matter. Leader must be authentic in his/her integrity, in his/her understanding of his/her connections to, and his/her empathy with the people he/she leads. Leaders should see what’s right and possible, not for what’s missing and wrong, and move from strength to strength rather than always trying to identify and fix what’s wrong. You should focus on designing the ideal of what should be rather than envisioning the what might be. Achieving the sustainable destiny is the key. Imagine the future and elevate the strengths, achieve high engagement with your team, create magnetic working environment with strong bonds and a culture that attracts and keeps the best talent.

Dance of Innovation

June 2, 2009

Rapid Innovation is a Way of Life. It is a dance – series of steps and a particular rhythm. If you get an idea, you need to run a very quick and dirty test of your idea. Immediately after your initial test, you need to ask yourselves: “What happened? What can we learn from that test? What can we do differently next time?”. Then get on to next steps you discovered from your reflection process. Do this again and again. After a while (It is fun doing it. you may face so many challenges. never ever give up or quit refining your ideas. It is like learning your first steps. You need to try relentlessly until you get good at it), you get a good at it. Then you go develop a rhythm – that is where rubber meets the road and real innovation starts to occur. True innovation is not a cool idea – it is what we learn when we observe what  goes down when we actually test our potentially cool idea.


4 Pillars of Leadership: Framework to Sustainable Effectiveness

May 24, 2009



Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn

May 23, 2009

Discovering the Ability behind Creativity, Leadership, and Success
In most of my past counters at my job, before attending my management program at Kellogg, I looked for “needs” or “gaps” in skills to help fill gaps or solve problems. Because we looked for problems, we not only found them but helped them bigger than they were before. We all focused more and more discovering problems. Prof. Uzzi’s New Science of Leadership is a great learning experience and an eye opener for me. I realized that I had placed the spotlight on problems. I started to explore what’s working well or what are our key strengths. This is my first encounter of  three decade old methodology, Appreciative Inquiry,  to put to practice at my work. Appreciative Inquiry is a way of thinking, seeing, and acting for powerful, purposeful change in organizations. Appreciative Inquiry works on the assumption that whatever you want more of, already exists in all organizations.

When leaders see what’s right and possible with positive core, and move from strength to strength(rather than always trying to identify and fix what’s wrong), leaders can move from discovering the best of what’s to dreaming or envisioning what might be to achieve a sustainable destiny through new form of intelligence called Appreciative Intelligence.

Appreciative Intelligence is the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.  It is an ability to see a breakthrough product, top talent, or valuable solution of the future that is currently hidden in the present situation. Appreciate Intelligence offers a new perspective on successful people and provides a roadmap for those who want to realize their full potential. It also offers another perspective on what it means to be smart or intelligent.  There are three components of Appreciate Intelligence:

  1. Reframing: Framing is the psychological process whereby a person intentionally views or puts into a certain perspective any object, person, context, or scenarios.
  2. Appreciating the positive: This refers to a process of selectivity and judgment of something’s positive value or worth. Successful people have a conscious or unconscious ability to view everyday realty – events, situations, obstacles, products, and people – with appreciation. Because they are reframing to see the positive, they often see talents or potential that others might miss.
  3. Seeing how the future unfolds from the present: People with high appreciative intelligence connect the generative aspects of the present with a desirable end goal. They see how the future unfolds from the present.

As we imagine the future and elevate strengths, we achieve high engagement and creative magnetic work environment with strong bonds and a culture that attracts and keep the best talent. Appreciate Inquiry generates images that affirm the forces that give life and energy to a system.

Leading Success: Keys to Excellence

April 4, 2009

I manage highly talented and creative professionals to deliver innovative products and services. I often get into a dilemma of when to stop thinking about how to solve the problem and start coaching these teams to make them high performing teams. It is not that I am inclined to exert excessive control or paying to much attention to details. Now equipped with my newly acquired knowledge of new science of leadership, I started to think differently. I stopped doing the work of my teams. I started coaching them to perform. Though I enjoy solving problems or would love to help my teams in solving complex problems or algorithms, I soon realized I have many other things to focus on. I started coaching them to best apply their knowledge and skills. I know they are all experts in their own areas. They don’t need to have answers to all questions.

I started playing a role of a real leader – providing opportunities for my teams to stretch and solve these problems on their own. I encouraged them to make mistakes – not to repeat the same mistakes again and again. I shifted my focus from being an expert to solve their problems to being their expert leader. Get to know the people you lead and forging solid relationships with them ensure trust and prevent miscommunication. Relationships work both ways so making sure your team knowing you enough is also equally important.

Delegation is element in making teams work effectively. When delegating, it is very important to explain why the assignment or particular milestone/deliverable is critical and how it fits into overall business goal. These high caliber individuals want to associate themselves or be part of something big. Establishing that connection early in the process motivates them to go overboard to do their best. Also, when they understand the business context, they can make better decisions on their own with very little or no supervision. Staying away from solving the problem by yourself and delegating it by clearly describing the describing the desired outcome. Encourage them to explore ideas, alternative solutions and determine the best course of action or decision. Stay away from feeding them with ideas or trying to come up with your own ideas. Instead start asking them questions and actively listen.

Feedback is essential element in understanding what your teams needs are in terms coaching and direction. At times, as a leader, you need to make some tough calls or decisions. Knowing when to tell  or call for an action is equally important.  Leaders must be accountable to themselves and to their people. Leaders often trapped in a sea of details, focusing on solving problems or analyzing spreadsheets ignoring the players in the game. At times like economic downturn or recession, leaders need to ensure that their people or teams know what is expected, and measured based on their performance, and help accountable for the results.

Synergy occurs when the outcome of the team is bigger than any individual could accomplish alone. Synergistic teams can accomplish almost anything and they are well prepared. As a leader you need to instill great confidence, trust and respect for their judgment.  When problems arise, the leader need not assume charge, but as a leader you must know who is best prepared for the current challenge. Leaders need to seek out and act on new information and remain strategically agile. Recognition of individual as well as collective efforts and celebrating the success is the catalyst for teams to work cohesively. Leadership requires skills polished until they shine brilliantly. Its purpose is to maximize the efforts of many, focusing energies in clear and specific direction. It assures the tools required for success are available and that everyone is prepared to use when needed.

The best leaders have an almost uncanny ability to understand the context they live in—and to seize the opportunities their times present. A leader’s long-term success isn’t derived from sheer force of personality or breadth and depth of skill. Without an ability to read and adapt to changing business conditions, personality and skill are but temporal strengths. A lack of contextual sensitivity can trip up even the most brilliant of executives. So if your organization is seeking to fill a key leadership position, you need to move past a candidate’s record of success and understand the contextual environment behind that record—and how that influences the context your company currently faces.

Why Organizational Change Fails …

March 5, 2009
  1. Mis-starts: A mis-start occurs when change is ill-advised, hastily implemented, or attempted without sufficient commitment. Mis-starts are jarring and demoralizing to an organization, and they destroy a leader’s credibility.
  2. Making change an option: When leadership commits to change, the message must be sent that change is not an option. Regrettably, the message of change is often weak and watered down. “We’d like you to change, we’re asking you to change, we implore you to change, please change…” Whenever people have the option to avoid change, they will.
  3. A focus only on process: Leaders can become enmeshed in managing the process of change to the point where they don’t measure tangible outcomes. Activity becomes more important than results.
  4. A focus only on results: Unhealthy results-focus stems from a belief that the end justifies any means. Organizations tend to fail miserably in this regard: they downplay or ignore the human pain of change. Insensitivity to people’s feelings not only prevents change, but also destroys morale and loyalty in the process.
  5. Not involving those expected to implement the change: When management announces a change and then mandates the specifics of its implementation, a great deal of resentment is aroused throughout the organization. To smoothen the arrival of change, employees need to be involved in two ways. Firstly, their input and suggestions should be solicited when planning the change. Secondly, after a commitment to change has been made, they should be involved in determining the means. Leadership needs to communicate, “Here’s what must happen. How do you think it can best be done?”
  6.  Delegated to “outsiders”: Change is an inside job. Although outside consultants may provide valuable ideas and input, people inside the organization must accept responsibility for leading change. Dodging tough transitions or passing the buck is not an option.
  7. No change in reward system: If you continue rewarding employees for what they’ve always done, you’ll never move past the usual results. Make sure rewards, recognition, and compensation are adjusted to reflect the desired change.
  8. Leadership doesn’t walk the talk: For change to happen, everybody involved must buy-in. Leadership, however, must take the first steps. Attempts at change are sabotaged whenever leaders neglect to demonstrate the same commitment they expect from others.
  9. Wrong size: In this instance, change is either too massive to be achievable or too small to be significant. Like a good goal, a change program should be neither too easy nor too impossible.
  10. No follow-through: The best planning is worthless if not implemented, monitored, and measured. Responsibility for executing change must be clearly defined so that follow-through is timely and thorough.