Discovering the Leader Within
Robert E. Quinn
Jossey-Bass, 1996, 235 pp. ISBN 0-7879-0244-6
Quinn is a management consultant and professor at the University of Michigan Management School of Business. He majors on leadership, vision, and change. This book explores the process of “transformation,” or “deep change,” and the development of “internally driven leadership.” It is divided into four parts: the necessity for change, undertaking personal change, changing the organization, and a summary section discussing vision, risk, excellence and related concepts. There is much to be gained from this book. Each chapter has a series of excellent questions for reflection and discussion
“In the end, excellence is infectious.” Xii
“We must continually choose between deep change or slow death.” Xiii
“Incremental change is usually the result of a rational analysis and planning process.” “…it is an extension of the past. …we are in control.” “Deep change…is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.” “This is usually a terrifying choice, often involving a ‘dark night of the soul.’” (3)
“Organization and change are not complementary concepts. To organize is to systematize, to make behavior predictable.” An “organization” is characterized by predictable behavior. “The process of formalization makes the organization more efficient or effective. As time goes on, however, these routine patterns move the organization toward decay and stagnation.” (5)
“When internal [what the organization is like] and external [what the world is like] alignment is lost, the organization faces a choice: either adapt or take the road to slow death.” (5)
“To make deep personal change is to develop a new paradigm, a new self, one that is more effectively aligned with today’s realities.” “In doing so, we learn the paradoxical lesson that we can change the world only by changing ourselves.” (9)
“Excellence…never lies within the boxes drawn in the past.” (11)
“Each of us has the potential to change the world. Because the price of change is so high, we seldom take on the challenge.” (11)
“We keep very busy because it’s a kind of opium. We don’t know how to confront the deep change process, so we keep ourselves busy with the normal stuff and try not to notice what’s really happening.” (17) “The tendency to choose slow death exists in everyone’s life.” If I am not continually growing, I am slowly dying. Life is a continuous process of deaths and rebirths. (24-5) “In today’s organizations many people are dying, not physically, but psychologically.” (26)
Leaders often fail to see the incongruity of asking for change in others while failing to exhibit the same level of commitment in themselves. (32)
“Most new programs to initiate change in organizations fail. Once a change effort fails, the effort tends to be ignored. “I have seldom heard anyone say, ‘The change didn’t happen because I failed to model the change process for everyone.’ One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” And it is incredibly powerful. Personal change requires discipline to take an unusual perspective, an unnatural thing. We resist reflecting on our own fear of change, but we must confront it.”(34-7)
“We are energized when we are learning and progressing, and we begin psychologically to die when we allow ourselves to stagnate.” “Relationships often play a key role.” (42)
“Most of us have very high expectations of our leaders, and we are easily and quickly disillusioned by their failure to meet our expectations. We seldom, however, hold the same expectations for ourselves.” (44)
“Denial occurs when we are presented with painful information about ourselves, information that suggests that we need to make a deep change.” “When we practice denial, we work on the wrong solutions or on no solutions at all. The problem grows worse as we become discouraged, and our vitality level declines.” (52)
The “tyranny of the in-basket”: We have so much to do that we don’t do the hard work of thinking, of maintaining, of making sure we are doing the right things. (60)
Past successes have etched a map, script, paradigm, or myth into our brain which affects how we process information. When we use the old maps in new territory, strange and frustrating things happen. Our maps and the external world get out of synch. We must redesign our maps and realign ourselves with our environment. “We reinvent ourselves by changing our perspective.” (65-6)
One way is by retelling the important stories in our life from the perspective of our current situation, telling them in unique ways that reconnect our past foundation with our present and future realities. (67)
“Our lives are always full of significant things about which we are unaware. Gaining an appreciation of these things can radically alter how we see the world and how we behave.” (70)
“To thwart our defense mechanisms and bypass slow death, we must confront first our own hypocrisy and cowardice. We must recognize the lies we have been telling ourselves. We must acknowledge our own weakness, greed, insensitivity, and lack of vision and courage. If we do so, we begin to understand the clear need for a course correction, and we slowly begin to reinvent our self.” (78)
“The path of change is often tortuous, with no clearly defined structure for determining if our action is right or wrong.” “When we have a vision, it does not necessarily mean that we have a plan. We must trust in ourselves to learn the way, to build the bridge as we walk on it.” (83-4)
“When one discovers what is right and begins to pursue it, the necessary people and resources tend to turn up.” “The fact that we have enough trust and belief in ourselves to pursue our vision is what signals to others that the vision is worth investing in.” “However, it is usually our actions, not our words, that send the message.” “Acting on a vision that exceeds our resources is a test of our vision, faith, and integrity.” When present resources determine the future, we have a plan, not a vision. A vision leads toward a plan that exceeds present resources. (85)
“Deep change throughout a system means sacrifice and suffering for everyone. It also means engaging in real conflict. It is not very pleasant.” (95)
“Organizations are coalitional. The dominant coalition in an organization is seldom interested in making deep change. Hence deep change is often, but not always, driven from the outside.” (96)
Organizational cultures are malleable but difficult to deal with. When a rational strategy conflicts with existing implicit rules, little change occurs. (100) We can tear down all the hierarchies, but we continue to navigate by the same old map; the old governing rules are still in place. If the real, deep structure does not change, even downsizing is only a short-term financial fix. It does not address the real problem. (102) The real problem is often inside ourselves. Deep change requires an evaluation of the ideologies behind the organizational culture. We must first alter our own maps. (103)
For transformational leaders, the vision is more important than personal survival. Their credibility is their behavioral integrity, the alignment of every action with the vision. People watch their leaders and quickly recognize the leader’s personal discipline and commitment. If the leader’s words are empty, they ignore the vision until it dies. (125)
“The transformational paradigm transcends the rational planning process. It is concerned with deep change – with exploring new areas, trying new methodologies, and reaching new goals. The means to the desired end cannot be specified; they can only be learned as part of a risky, action-learning process.” (125)
“Visionaries are internally driven leaders.” (127)
“Empowerment is not granted by the organization. People must empower themselves.” (137) Middle managers have to fight the system above and below, take risks, and break rules to enact transformational change. By definition, transformation requires rule breaking. By definition excellence is deviant behavior!
Three barriers to middle-management initiatives: (136)
ü Bureaucratic culture
ü Embedded conflict
ü Personal time constraints
“Unfortunately, risk taking sometimes has a negative outcome.” (138) [Everyone knows this but authors rarely mention it! dlm]
“The most potent lever for change is modeling the change process for other individuals.” (148)
“CEOs are expected to play four general competing roles: vision setter, motivator, analyzer, and taskmaster. Top managers must attend to the need for people, for innovation, for efficiency, and for performance. Some of these roles or expectations compete with one another. The transformational role focuses on vision and motivating. The transactional role focuses on efficiency and performance. (148-9) Highest levels of performance are achieved by CEOs who frequently engage in all four competing roles. (150)
Today’s rules and procedures often represent solutions to yesterday’s problems. (156)
“Every couple of years, you need to bet your job, or else you are not doing your job.” “You have to pick the issues that really matter.” (158)
Definition: A team is “an enthusiastic set of competent people who have clearly defined roles, associated in a common activity, working cohesively in trusting relationships, and exercising personal discipline and making individual sacrifices for the good of the team.” (161) “It does not take long for members of an organization to figure out when there is little cohesion within the top ‘team.’” (162)
Deep change is not about checklists or recipes. “This is about figuring out where you are and where you need to go and then launching an effort to get there. It’s about learning.” (166)
The transformational cycle has four distinct phases: “initiation, uncertainty, transformation, and routinization. Excellence is something that happens as part of this cycle.” (167)
“First, the person or group develops a vision and then begins to take risks. At the outset, it is often impossible to know if the vision is illusory or sound. A significant danger at this point is acting on a vision that cannot be implemented. If that situation arises, the person or group is caught in the trap of illusion or self-deception.” (169) [rarely admitted in print! dlm]
“Excellence, by definition, requires continued deviance from the norm.” (174) “There appears to be a high level of satisfaction in achieving excellence. There also seems to be a great deal of pain involved. Every day, you meet some form of resistance, some force that would wear you down.” “Excellence is a form of deviance. If you perform beyond the norms, you disrupt all the existing control systems. Those systems will then alter and begin to work to routinize your efforts. That is, the systems will adjust and try to make you normal. The way to achieve and maintain excellence is to deviate from the norm. You become excellent because you are doing things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others.”
“The question is, why would anyone ever want to do something painful?” “You do it because it’s right and because it brings enormous internal satisfaction. That is the key.” “…external punishment is a natural process that is never going to end. It forces us to weigh the trade-offs between internal satisfaction and external punishment.” (176)
“An undiscussable issue is one that is important to the group but is too threatening to discuss within the group.” A “sacred cow.” Undiscussable events may exist because of historical events, because someone will become hurt or angry, or because of an enormous outside threat to the organization which is too frightening or painful for words. When “sacred cows” are not discussed, cohesive achievement does not occur. Value is not added. Trust falls. Transaction costs go up. Innovation withers. People withdraw. Perceptions become self-fulfilling. Harmful cycles set in. People feel disempowered and helpless. (189-90) Usually the help of a trained facilitator can help set up a constructive framing and prioritizing process. (191)
“Though vision statements are now common in most large organizations, vision is not.” (195)
“During turbulent times, people’s uncertainty climbs, and they hunger for meaning and direction.” “They crave a clear vision. What they are actually encountering, however, is continuous change and differentiation.” (196) “Many senior executives…have difficulty coming up with anything that is persuasive, exciting, or passionate. There is no life in what they conceptualize. Worst of all, when they finally formulate a vision statement, it is not consistent with the behavior of the CEO or the top management team.” (197)
“Gandhi’s vision…was rooted in both facts and values. It inspired passion.” “A visionary leader delves into the core of the organization or group and touches the issues of bread and salt. Few senior executives ever do so. They are thus greatly hindered in the process of aligning the operational present with the developmental future.” “Isolated and insulated people cannot succeed at motivating others.” (200)
Where should a vision come from? Top down or bottom up? A circular process works. The bottom-up process provides the CEO with input needed to develop his own vision, which is implemented from the top down. It is his own vision yet it clearly takes root from frank expressions of subordinates. It results from an important dialogue. Because it is in touch with the core of the system the organization embraces the vision. (210)
“Empowerment is a commonly used buzzword. Everyone is for it. However what it means and how to implement it are fuzzy. Is it mechanistic, top-down? Or is it organic, beginning with the needs of the people? Or both? (223)
Mechanistic View of Empowerment
Organic View of Empowerment
Four dimensions of empowerment: (225-6)
1. A sense of meaning. Their work is important to them; they care about what they are doing.
2. A sense of competence. They feel confident about their ability to do the work; they know they can perform.
3. A sense of self-determination. They feel free to choose how to do the work; they are not ‘micromanaged.’
4. A sense of impact. They feel that they have influence in their unit; people listen to their ideas.
The Levers of Empowerment: (227)
1. Clear vision and challenge.
2. Openness and teamwork.
3. Discipline and control.
4. Support and a sense of security.
Note that #3 is mechanistic while 1,2, and 4 are organic. Both are required.
We cannot empower people. Empowerment cannot be delegated. (228)
Four questions to ask yourself:
1. How can I increase my own sense of meaning and task-alignment?
2. How can I increase my own sense of impact, influence, and power?
3. How can I increase my own sense of competence and confidence to execute?
4. How can I increase my own sense of self-determination and choice?
“These are four uncomfortable questions. They shift the responsibility for our empowerment from someone else to ourselves.” (228)