You need to know where you’re going

Seth Godin reckons you need to see the end before you begin the journey and this is what makes it so difficult to be a leader.

To be able to be a leader you have to be able to paint a picture of where you want to go and know where you want to end up before you even set foot out of the proverbial door. That doesn’t mean you have to know how you’ll get there but you have to claim the destination.

All of us are good at dreaming about alternative futures. The difference is that once you say it out loud you have with the fact that it might not work or even that it will more than likely fail and humans aren’t trained for this.

Seth’s homework for this lecture was to write down where we want to go and what we’re scared about if we don’t get there.

Me, I want to go to many different places, both personally, professionally and there are places I want my organisation to go. I have many different pictures I want to paint but they are created with similar brush strokes.

There are two strands to my work:

  • a massive transformation programme involving the whole organisation
  • a different way of working for my department

The journey on the transformation programme will be complex with many twists and turns and possibly some dead ends.

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The final picture is simple – an online platform designed with the user in the centre that allows quick and easy transactions. The mantra is ‘do it like Amazon’. From the backend of the platform the organisation should be able to gather customer information to allow for service improvement as well as data to help us understand our customers. Overall we should create an efficient organisation as we go.

There are many people involved in this project and sometimes it feels out-of-control, drowning in data and outstanding tasks. Sometimes things are crystal-clear.

I will also share this nugget from another hero of mine, Daniel Kahneman:

“Plans for reform almost always produce many winners and some losers while achieving an overall improvement. If the affected parties have any political influence, however, potential losers will become more active and determined than potential winners; the outcome will be based in their favour and inevitably more expensive and less effective than planned. Loss aversion is a powerful conservative force that favors minimal changes from the status quo in the lives of institutions.”

What I fear about this is failure. Failing to make a tool that works for the customer and the organisation. Failing to complete on time and on budget. Failing, failing, failing.

The department picture is a comms department that uses customer insight to create targeted campaigns that will change behaviour and lives for the better. Campaigns based on evidence that can be evaluated to show our worth as a team.

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I have no fear for this picture because I am confident about the journey and the people who’ll be taking this road trip with. It feels more like I can follow the route in my head and recognise landmarks along the way.

This journey has fewer unknowns and I’m on the trip with people wo also know where they are going and can maybe take a share of the driving.

Its not too late to join me on Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop on Udemy. You should come along for the ride.




Follow the leader

I’ve started another course – Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop on Udemy.

I’ve been a fan of Seth’s for years now. I have devoured his books, subscribed to his newsletter and been disappointed that I couldn’t jet to New York for his regular workshops. Needless to say I jumped at the chance of this online course.

Even the first three minute lecture had some gems:

  • Leadership is not management
  • Management is getting people to do what they did yesterday cheaper and faster today
  • Management is the practice of compliance
  • Leadership is about change and enrolling others to help make it happen
My first exercise is to reflect on a few things and share it somewhere that others doing the course will be able to see.
So here goes.
Outline a moment when someone you respect engaged in leadership
I wish I had been there to witness this as it happened but I was on a flight heading out on my honeymoon. I heard all about it on my return.
In the early hours of the Sunday morning after my wedding, while we were still partying, Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. I was in Turkey for two weeks and missed the funeral and the mass outpouring of grief.
I worked as a journalist on Scotland’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper (at the time) and when went back to work I was full of curiosity as to how Diana’s death had been dealt with by the paper and its sister magazine. The then editor of the magazine was my line manager and a huge Diana fan. She had been in that post since the magazine’s inception and often had run-ins with the male dominated staff of the newspaper. She approached the paper to help with the extensive coverage she expected they would be doing only to discover that the editor of the paper wasn’t considering doing anything other than a straight news piece. Lengthy arguments then ensued with the editor of the paper claiming that  no one was that interested in Diana now she wasn’t strictly royalty and my boss claiming that he was completely missing the public sentiment and that the paper’s readers would be disappointed. She reckoned they’d go out and buy The Sunday Mail instead. When he still wasn’t for backing down she threatened to resign but was talked out of that by her staff. Instead she devoted the magazine to Diana with the full backing of my colleagues produced a special edition which won the praise of our readers and proved to the editor that we understood his readers better than he did.
Describe a time when you chose to lead
I suppose I have been a leader when it comes to using social media in an emergency but this has happened outwith the organisation I now work for and has been more at a national level.
My masters dissertation was on this subject and as a result I was asked to join a Scottish Government advisory group and I have spoken at many events and delivered training on the subject. I enjoy training sessions when you see people have that eureka moment and you know you’ve won over a few more hearts and minds to the cause.
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However internally this tends to be overlooked and I have observed that in hierarchical organisations like mine it often takes a consultant to persuade management about something their own staff have been saying for a while.
Do you agree leadership is a choice?
Yes. You can’t force someone to lead. Well, you can try but they’ll make a terrible job of it, certainly at the start. However, I have often seen people lead without realising it. I think that if you have the beginnings of a plan you need to test it to see if there will be any buy-in before you dive in head first. At those early stages a person can be leading without any consciousness that what they are doing is gaining momentum. Maybe the person has been the lynchpin in a project or a team and then transitions subconsciously into a leadership role once they’ve found their own groove. I think that’s what happened to me with social media – I was in the right place and the right time, reading the right stuff and networking with the right people.
What is the change you are trying to make
I want the organisation to put the customer at the centre of everything it does. We are in the middle of a massive transformation programme and I worry that, rather than customer centric service design, we are building services to suit the organisation. My team is fully on board with UX but in a big, hierarchical organisation it can be difficult to make your ideas heard when you are a small cog in a big wheel.
This first exercise in the course has been a difficult exercise for three reasons:
  • landing anyone in it for describing them as a leader
  • landing myself in it for not describing someone else as a leader
  • not sounding like I’m blowing my own trumpet for describing anything I have done as leadership
This last point needs to be addressed, particularly for Scottish women. We need to stand up and be seen and heard as the leaders we are so that we can encourage the younger women coming up behind us that they have as much right to to lead and take credit for leading as the men in suits who often have louder voices but not much to say.
*stands down from soapbox