Friday, February 15, 2019

Servant Leadership in seven rules

My favorite leadership approach is servant leadership!

While leadership is needed for different reasons and is expressed in different ways, it is clear that certain styles of leadership are better suited for specific situations, characters of teams, groups and organisations.  Therefore: this blog entry about servant leadership... because it works for me!

Note that this blog entry talks of teams... Teams which could be organizations, be hierarchical, etc... Servant leadership is not about structure but about method.

Let's start by expressing a complementary view: what is not servant leadership. At the extreme we could mention dictatorship, but that would not help us much, and is in fact not complementary. Instead, it is better to bring up followership in which team members follow their leader. Let's now start with three defining aspects of followership:

Leader with followership:
  1. Team leader communicates expectations, team members follow with goal to meet expectations
  2. Team leader expresses expectations to optimally meet the teams capabilities
  3. If the leader receives feedback from team, the leader may review their communication and expectations, and review their expectations

The most important part of this very simplified followership leadership is that only the leader adapts! Sadly, many leaders have a hard time with the idea that they must adapt. Therefore, to understand leadership, you need to accept that you too as a leader need to adapt. This is our rule one in servant leadership, a rule that is universal for all leaders:
Servant leaders align communications and expectations to meet their team’s need
Followership leadership is useful for short lived teams, such as one time situations or events, and useful for situations where members don't consider modifying tasks, because the tasks suit everyone or are too hard to change.  It is important  to note that in all situations there will be "moments of followership", moments that are "one off"or for which debate is not wanted, nor learning expected. These moments are very much "leader leads, followers follow" moments. For this reason,  we have rule two of servant leadership:
Sometimes servant leaders lead and their team follows
Much of what you do as a servant leader is to work for others, and yet you are still "the boss"and that means that there are moments where you need to "be the undisputed leader that is followed". This much because it is needed to keep your team healthy and sustainable.

Good leaders know that the greater value is in the team, not in them. That means that we want to boost our team coherence and self drive, in effect to give more leadership ownership to the team. This will be our rule three:
Servant leaders help the team lead itself
 Each team member is a mini-leader! In parallel, each team member is also a follower of all those other mini-leaders. Therefore we take our simple followership process above, and we rewrite it twice, first focusing on mini-leaders, then focusing on team followers. This gives us:

Team members as mini-team-leaders:
  1. Team members communicate expectations to the rest of the team
  2. Team members express expectations to optimally meet the team's capabilities
  3. If each team member receives feedback, they may review their communication and expectations.

Team members as followers of their team:
  1. Team members follow the communicated team expectations
  2. Team members communicate their capabilities and optimally meet the team's expectations.
  3. If team members provide feedback to their teammates, teammates may adapt how they follow goals, and adapt how they communicate their capabilities, and meet expectations.

With these two lists, we have captured something of a "pure unemotional and egoless self-driven team", that is, a hive-like team where everyone is led by everyone else, and is following everyone else. Yet such a team does not exist: teams are groups of individuals, all with their differences, and most importantly with their emotions and ambitions. And a productive team is much fueled by its emotional energy and enthusiasm! Therefore rule four, an obvious one, but as you will see, that has a twist:
Servant leaders encourage emotional energy and enthusiasm
The twist is then the following:  What type of emotions is does the leader encourage? Team emotions or individual emotions? Or both?

Both! Because a team is a group of team members but also of many individuals that are part of group. Here is the thing though,  the team’s emotions and individual's emotions can sometimes be very different. Think extrovert versus introvert here. In fact, they can be so different that they challenge each other, and this often subconsciously! To simplify, what can be happening is that the team feels aggressed when certain individuals do not embrace their emotions, and the individual feels agressed when the team or other individuals act so as to disturb their personal emotions. Therefore, when I say that the leader encourages energy and and enthusiasm, I am also saying that the leader cares about how team and individual emotions interact, and when needed help emotions co-exist together peacefully. We can write this as the following rule:
Servant leaders foster acceptance of team emotions by individuals and of individual emotions by teams 
Helping the productive coexistence of the team and its individual team members is much of what servant leadership is about. In part to help sustain good emotions, but also simply because when a team needs to solve many problems, it helps when the team members are given the independence to come up with solutions. However, just like emotions may hinder and even splinter a team, so can action and ideas. This is in part because giving team members some independence is also allowing them to be mini-self-centered-leaders to some extent. This, added to people's ego, gives you something extra, which can both be valuable, as well as highly lethal to a team. And therefore, an important task of a servant leader is to help channel the effects of giving people some independence. One way to approach this is to equate being independent to following yourself. We already have a followership list above, which we can rewrite as follows, with a self-centered focus:

Team members as followers of themselves:
  1. Team members follow their own expectations
  2. Team members communicate their capabilities, and optimally meet their own expectations.
  3. If team members provide feedback to their teammates, teammates may adapt how they follow their goals, and adapt how they communicate their capabilities, and meet their own expectations.

Note here that I am assuming best intention, and therefore do not include disruptive self-interests above. However, best intention also goes the other way: people tend to bias their communication and expectations to protect their team members independence and ego! And not necessarily on purpose. We can express this as a form of shyness, again rewriting one of the previous followership lists.

Team members as shy mini-leaders:
  1. Team members do not communicate expectations that might clash with expectations of others in their team
  2. Team members do not expresses expectations to optimally meet the teams capabilities when that optimality might cause issues to others in their team
  3. Team member tends not to receives advice when these are too personal towards them, or towards others.

These last two lists give us new tasks for the leader: to coach individuals to help them lead themselves coherently within their team, and to help teams lead themselves without fear of interfering with each other (e.g. social shyness). We might express this as follows:

Leader as personal coach:
  • Leader coaches individuals to help them align personal and team expectations

Leaders help deal cross team interference:
  1. Leader helps team members communicate expectations that might clash with expectations of others in their team
  2. Leader helps team members expresses expectations to optimally meet the teams capabilities when that optimality might cause issues to others in their team
  3. Leader provides advice when these are personal towards them, or towards others.

Now as we will see below, we will also want help the team deal with these topics, yet still then, the leader wants to have them in their radar. And therefore we condense all of this into rule six of servant leadership:
Servant leaders coach individuals and teams around expectations
Again, good leaders know that the greater value is in the team, not in them. Therefore, when possible, we want our team to deal with their expectation issues. And therefore, we want to boost our team members and the relations they have within their team.

Now we are almost done. Our last servant leadership rule will be about process, as until now our focus has much been on people, which makes sense as teams are groups of people. However, process is the backbone of the team: if it is weak, the team will be weak, if it is too rigid, the team will be too rigid... and we could go on. Yet the process as a backbone analogy is in fact a great analogy, in part because it telling us that the team and the process and are symbiotic relation. Processes are not rules to apply, and neither are they routines that we follow, they are productivity boosters! Taking that from an optimisation perspective, processes are mechanised ways to push your team to be better each time. And that is not easy, and very much a job for your servant leader to help you with.
Servant leaders help team grow and pivot their process to be more productive
I'll give you a simple example: Give your team the productivity boost to be on time to your meetings! This may sound like "petty" time dictatorship. But hey, do we need to lose three minutes multiplied by the size of your team with every late meeting start, as always one member comes late? I would argue not.

Here you have it, seven rules for servant leadership:
  1. Servant leaders align communications and expectations to meet their team’s need
  2. Sometimes servant leaders lead and their team follows
  3. Servant leaders help the team lead itself 
  4. Servant leaders encourage emotional energy and enthusiasm
  5. Servant leaders foster acceptance of team emotions by individuals and of individual emotions by teams 
  6. Servant leaders coach individuals and teams around expectations
  7. Servant leaders help team grow and pivot their process to be more productive

Note: You do not need to be a purist to apply servant leadershp. Provided here is an "idealized" explanation: in the real world there is friction, things interfere, and things happen differently then planned! Still, what you do have here is a servant leadership tool box that fits all those real world moments.
 


All original content copyright James Litsios, 2019.

Friday, December 14, 2018

From pure effects and observations to social theories

Philosophy in computer science

Sometimes philosophers ask questions that seem of little use, for example:
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
 While pointless to most of us, this is in fact a central question for computer scientists. Let's rephrase for them:
"If effects happen, and are never observed, did these effects really happen?"
The simple answer from a computer science perspective is "No, effects only exist when observed".

The more complex answer would have us questioning things. We might ask:
  • What does it mean to "observe"? 
  • What is an effect? 
  • Can an effect sometimes be real, and sometimes not?
  • Is a virtual effect still an effect?
  • Is a virtual observation still an observation?
  • What about the heat generated by effects that are not observed?
  • What has this to do with security vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown?
  • ...
I will not ask these questions, or at least, not yet. Instead, we start with a simple view, which is to state that:
  • Effects are really only effects when the effects, or the effects of effects are observed.
  • Observations are really only observations, if they are observing effects, or observing observations of effects.
Said differently, in the simple view we do not care about:
  • Effects that are not observed, and do not effect effects that are observed.
  • Observations that do not observe effects, and do not observe observations which observe effects.
    With this simple view, the computer scientist is happy to become a philosopher. Given the original question:
    "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
    The computer scientist extends the question and asks:
    "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does the tree exist?"
    Within the simple view, the computer scientist answer is: "No, with no observers, it is as if the tree does not exist"!

    There is no existence in an unobserved reality for a computer scientist,

    (Now you know why computer scientists walk funny: they are only sure that the ground exists when it meets each foot steps).

    Jokes aside, the simple view of theory says 
    • we only care about effects and observations together, 
    • we ignore unobserved effects,
    • we ignore non-effected observations,

    Philosophy within a bigger world

    Our aesthetic simple theory concerning effects and observations is not really real. And yet it is not far from real. Politician and economists, for example, use it all the time to argue that what is not observable is not real. Technologist are continuously creating new observable realities. And even more impressive are those entertainers that create effects by finely tuning the make-believe observability of what is really not an effect. What is then this "not truth" that is "enough truth" that it affects so much our societies?

    For a start we can note that there is a bit more depth to effects and observations than what we noted above. For example, we note that effects and observation come in different types. Our senses of perception are examples of types of observation. Physics is much the science of studying different kinds of physical effects.  Effects of specific types are often only observable with specific types of observations, and specific types of observations can most often only by effected by specific types of effects. Also, note that some observations need effects to observe, while some effects depend observations to function. In addition, some effects and observations are not possible within certain contexts, while others are only possible within specific contexts. Going further some observation create effects and some effects create observations. Finally, types of effects and observations can be both effected and observed.

    With this in mind, the simple theory is then just the tip of a deeply hidden system that connects as much our reality as our imaginary. To a mathematician it has the looks of a cohomology, to a computer science the looks of interwoven systems of polarities and dualities of semantics, to a physicist a multidimensional interplay of identifiable and relatable particles.

    Philosophy meets the social world

    In a social world, there is no pure effect nor pure observation.  In a social world, effects depend on observations, observations anticipate effects. In a social world, social animals, humans, have a need to be observed, and need to create effects. In a social world, the simple theory is not real: there is no pure effect and pure observation that only exist within their simple complementary relation. And yet the simple theory is still the most important theory to understand because the simple theory can be seen as the boundary, the envelop, of the social world. The simple theory is where the social world stops. In the social world all effects and observations exist. In a social world, effects can be unobservable, observations can be void, and both can even be imaginary. They can also be fake... politics have invented nothing, and in fact politics show us the way to understand the social theory of effects and observations. The outer border of the social theory effects and observations is the simple theory. This boundary is not part of the social world, it only limits it. The social world is one of power and influence. In the social world it is the most observable effects that are the most real. And therefore the never-ending social chatter of people, businesses, and power organizations, all looking to effect and be observed by others.

    The social world is open, it does not meet its boundaries, and therefor never meets the simple theory. An example of this is that it is rude and antisocial to ignore someone, to not observe their effect and by doing so make them "not exist".  However, this last example shows how close the simple theory is to the social theory of effects and observations. In fact, one way to define such a social theory is to say that is not the simple theory!

    Are you a scientist?

    You may ask: "is the simple theory not just scientific truth?"
    Science says that truths are based on facts, and facts are observable effects. Therefore, no, the simple theory is not scientific truth, and is more a mathematical and philosophical thought game. Science does not make things disappear because they were not observed.  However, the simple theory is not far from science. And as we have seen above, it is also not far from a certain form of social theory. The simple theory is therefore a good observation point from which to understand the world. Yet to never forget the broader social context when creating effects.

    All original content copyright James Litsios, 2018.

    Thursday, December 29, 2016

    Innovation, and failure

    Last weekend my dad found an old book of mine from 1979: "A solid state of progress" from Fairchild. I am not sure how I got it, and I had not seen it since ~1985. Here is a picture out of it:
    The book has about 50 "art" pictures of integrated circuits, and that's it. They are all carefully presented, each one with a little marketing blurb, as this is a marketing publications, and the book has a marvelous "old color ink" smell.

    For those that do not know, Fairchild was "the" semiconductor company of the early sixties and from it many were born. Here is a figure that I have copied without permission from someone who redrew without permission a version of a graphic found on page 12 of the in October 2007 issue of The IEEE Spectrum magazine:

    Finding this book after something like 30 years made my weekend, but the reason I wanted to mention it, is because this book brings together a few special themes:

    • Innovation: Wow, Fairchild had a crazy influential team of innovators .
    • Branding:  These pictures are like the Marlboro man. Fairchild semiconductor was part of Fairchild Camera and Instrument. The pictures resonate the camera sensor company, but also with the fact that in those days chips were still "something magical".
    • Failure to change: In many ways this is a story of Fairchild's failure! Branding around "static, beautiful and mysterious pictures" is great for the feelings, but not for the business.  The business of innovation is one of change, and that means that your internal process must stick to what stays even when everything else changes.  
    • Failure in business: How many times have we heard smart competent engineers say "that is not the way we do things", or "I do not know how to use that"? The tricky part of innovation is that unless you embrace it, you are pretty much rejecting it! Yet rejecting change is not going to make it go away. Not to mention that adopting too much change will drain you, and cause failure too.
    So here is the thing, this beautiful book out of the past of the chip industry is both an emotional statement, as it is a historical archive of how not to manage innovation.