Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership as a process of pattern recognition

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on July 1, 2013

I have been writing about the art and science of leadership in this blog, from its initial beginnings over 1,400 postings ago now. And I continue that loosely organized series here with this posting, where I focus on the distinction between what we look at and what we really see, and between what we think about but only from within the framework of our own a priori assumptions and what we approach for its novelty and unexpectedness too. And I begin this posting by noting its basic conclusion:

• That real leadership calls for an actively exercised willingness to really see and not just look, and too often in a perfunctory, preconception-blindered manner.

And I begin this by asking a set of three very basic questions:

• What is being done?
• Who is doing it?
• And in what context is this being done in?

If you only look in that perfunctory way, and never with fresh and openly questioning eyes as if seeing what you are facing for the first time, you will never really see where what is being done is only a matter of rote routine or even resource wasting ritual, or when real change might be needed. If you never open your eyes to really see and to think about what you see as if with those fresh new eyes you are never going to see where problems are developing until events have developed to a point where you have to take reactive, remedial steps to correct matters. And if you take that approach you are more likely to miss new and emerging opportunity than you are to proactively find it – when that opportunity is still fully available and for all of its potential value.

I have adding more of my postings on leadership per se, and on developing better general leadership skills to my directory Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2 continuation page than anywhere else in this blog. Those two directory pages list 49 postings between them with the word “leadership” in their titles. I am adding this into my directory: Social Networking and Business instead, and as a third such posting for there because of what comes next here.

The three questions that I bullet pointed towards the top of this brief note only begin to address one side of and one approach to the issues that I raise here. Those questions can all be construed entirely in terms of the business itself and can readily be addressed without any explicit understanding of the people who comprise its workforce, as a socially networked community and a complex system of social as well as business relationships. So I add some more questions to the above list, now adding in consideration of employee buy-in and commitment, and of loyalty to their teams and to the business they work for. But at least as importantly, I do this by challenging one more basic tacit assumption that I have built into the above text: an assumption as to who does this looking and seeing, and this thinking.

• As a business owner or leader you have at most just one pair of eyes and I add one mind. You can only be physically present in one place at any one time.
• But for any business with a staff of any significant scale, you are surrounded by others who also have eyes and I add ears, and minds and who hold capability of taking a vested interest in your business.
• All of these others: your employees at least start out with incentive to see and recognize emerging problems and opportunities.
• All of them can collectively help you to enable your business and to keep it more agile and nimble and competitively effective and at all levels.

This is quite explicitly where business social networking enters this discussion. This is also were corporate culture and organizational openness enter it too, and a willingness or lack thereof to acknowledge the value and worth of employees at all levels on the table of organization, and to work with them as colleagues in a shared endeavor.

• What do people who do the hands-on work that your business depends on, and who are physically spread out throughout it at any given time see and hear?
• What do they bring together in their minds from that, in identifying the unexpected or even just in tracking and monitoring the standard and expected?
• Are you or anyone else in a senior position of authority listening to them and if so with what effect?
• Do you reward employees who seek to bring what they see and hear to your attention? In rigidly hierarchical organizations I have seen employees responded to negatively and even punitively just because they tried speaking to a more organizationally senior employee outside of their table of organization specified chain of oversight and supervision. (This was not a competitively nimble or effective organization, and they knew that but they did not know quite how or why. This was a big part of that.)

I wrote in the title to this posting that it is about pattern recognition and it is. But the larger the organization, the wider the range of potential sources of information and insight you have for putting the pattern recognition puzzle together with. This need not be a one person or even just a few-people exercise and with that mostly carried out from within executive offices that are walled off by executive secretaries, administrative assistants and other gatekeepers. You have your entire workforce and all of its collective knowledge and experience and all of their eyes and ears to tap into for this too – if you are willing to take the risk of doing so.

I stated at the top of this posting that its bottom line conclusion is:

• “That real leadership calls for an actively exercised willingness to really see and not just look, and too often in a perfunctory, preconception-blindered manner.”

The all too easily assumed, unnecessary and limiting assumption that we all too readily read into that is that it is just the leader who should be or can be doing this observing and thinking. This can and should be an ongoing activity of the entire business as a networked and connected community. And it should be strategically and operationally be pursued as a shared endeavor. Effective leadership seeks out more effective ways to identify and organize and to tap into this potential. And the more competitive your marketplace and the more rapidly changing and evolving your industry and your business challenges, the more important this all becomes.

As noted above, you can find this posting at Social Networking and Business. You can so find related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2 continuation page and also at HR and Personnel.

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