Introduction

What I am writing here is based on my own experience and what I observed and learned. It is my point of view and it makes sense to me. It has worked for me and is still working for me. It remains being your responsibility to do your own critical thinking, don’t just believe.

And that is exactly my intention: making you think for yourself.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Silly Little Detail: Can You Rely Upon Your Leaders?

You lead an organization / a company. Depending on the size of your entity you have some leaders running the different areas / departments. The larger an organization becomes, the more of these leaders you need. There are only so many people you can lead directly. Hence, you and the success of your organization depends directly on relying upon your other leaders. And that has proven time and again to be a real problem in large organizations.
Here’s a case in history to illustrate the point:
You have certainly heard about Napoleon Bonaparte. And ‘Waterloo’ will ring a bell. It has become a synonym for strategic blunder. Even though Napoleon’s field commanders, mainly Grouchy and Ney. knew the strategy, they still failed to fully comprehend it. Both were amongst the bravest, yet, not the smartest leaders.
Marshall Grouchy was following the Prussians with one third of the entire French army. He failed to hinder the Prussians joining the allied forces of Wellington at the battlefield. Instead of keeping them separate of Wellington’s army, he pushed them towards Wellington’s army.
And Marshall Ney misinterpreted a tactical retreat of Wellington’s army. He mounted a very brave attack with the entire French cavalry charging and without any infantry support. Very brave and very stupid ignoring the basics of strategy and tactics. And against the orders given by Napoleon before.
The result was a complete and utter defeat of the French at Waterloo. Napoleon himself had overlooked a silly detail: “Making the bravest your field commanders instead of the smartest always results in blunder.” His words and something he had known well to be true.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. Organizations / companies, successful at a time, are suddenly run into disaster by their leaders. An organization is only as strong as its leadership. And leadership is only as strong as its weakest part. Common sense and as such very well known, often ignored. And one big issue is seldom talked about:
  • Did these leaders understand and do what had been agreed upon?
  • Did they always have the overall objective in mind?
  • Did they stick to the strategy?
  • Were they capable of adjusting their tactics / actions to what the particular situation required?
  • Could they be relied upon 100 percent?
  • Could they put their egos aside?
  • Were they smart enough or just brave?
  • Did they have character?
There is a reason why turnarounds are needed so often. And the reason is always leaders. Leaders leading their organizations straight into blunder. And then the cry for a turnaround arises. The shareholders fear for their money. And they bring in new leaders. Leaders who might have certain merits but not necessarily expertise on turnarounds. Thus, the next mistake is made. You can’t perform turnarounds with the same type of leaders that has caused the problem in the first place. Turnarounds are indeed a different beast. Leaders unable to make the tough calls required not even in good times won’t make the much tougher calls in a turnaround.
Have a thorough look into your organization:
  • What kind of leaders do you have?
  • Are they first and foremost reliable?
  • Can they do what’s required and not just their best?
  • Are they willing to put themselves to the line?
  • Do they have character?
  • Do they have what it takes to be a leader?
Also, check the use of the language of your leaders.
  • How do they talk?
  • How do they write?
  • Are they crystal clear and concise in expressing themselves not leaving any space for doubt?
  • Or do they prefer using euphemisms and buzzwords designed to impress people?
And by the way: start with an honest assessment of yourself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Getting Real

The world is not fair. It’s not as you would like it to be. That’s something you must understand, especially as a leader. As much as we would like to have an ideal world. It’s not going to happen. At least not any time soon. Hence, as a leader you must be able to deal with it. You must be able to remain calm and know your options. And holding hands singing the Kumbaya won’t do the trick.
Here are a few hints:
It’s nothing personal
That’s what they say. And that’s what you might want to believe. Get ready for a rude awakening: It is, in most cases, personal. You might have something another one wants. You might, knowingly or not, be in someone’s way. Or you are the proxy for the real target. And then they fight against you. They don’t fight about finding a better solution for a problem. They fight you. And the end justifies the means. Hence, it is personal, most of the time.
People are mostly honest, fair, and trustworthy
Sounds great. Too good to be true. Don’t be naïve. When people can have an advantage by playing foul, they will play foul. And when people can deceive you, they will deceive you to gain an advantage. Always watch your enemies closely. And watch those you consider friends even closer. History is filled with stories of betrayal. Betrayal from people that were considered friends, sometimes even family.
Here’s a personal anecdote:
Many years ago I had someone I considered friend in the company. A friend of many years. Many things we had done together. And I trusted him. Until that fateful day came. It was in a Board Meeting. On stage and taken completely off guard I was betrayed. Betrayed by my friend. He simply had changed sides. And this change of sides got him a huge personal advantage. When I talked to him after the fact he just said: “Welcome to reality!” And I realized that I had no friend. The moment he saw an advantage in betraying me he didn’t hesitate, not even a split second. And I learned my lesson.
Live up to your values. Be honest by all means. But also shut up. Never reveal every thought of yours. Remain a mystery.  And never, never, never expect that others will be honest with you. Don’t become a target by talking too much. Learn whom to trust and whom not.
Ethics and Rules
Organizations and companies pride themselves with their rules of ethics and conduct in place. A good thing it seems. Yet, there are always people not playing by the rules. They don’t give a damn about ethics and conduct. And it starts at the top. That’s, for instance, why there is so much corruption possible. A small group of people being corrupt. And the silent majority tolerating such behavior. The few ‘troublemakers’ pointing out what’s going on are quickly isolated and then removed. Because they didn’t understand the kind of game being played.
Coda
Take this short insight as a reality check. And that’s just the tiny tip of the iceberg. As much as we all like to envision an ideal world, get real. Know and understand the reality of life. The more important you become as a leader, the more likely it is that you will be attacked. The more likely it is that you will piss off people. Sometimes people with a lot of power. And you definitely will as a true leader. Envy is such a strong force. It can get people to do things they themselves couldn’t believe they would do. Don’t underestimate it. The earlier you understand and accept reality, the better off you are as a leader. Become a master in playing your game.
My mentor back then at the beginning of my career told me: “When you do your job right as a leader, you won’t have friends. But you will earn a lot of respect. It ain’t easy though. Tough it out.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Leadership Reality - The Dark Side

When it comes to true leadership and how it looks like, an ideal world is described. And I am no exception. In my blog "Thoughts on Leadership" I talk about the Leadership we need in the 21st century. I talk about what makes a leader in such an ideal world. Yet, this blog "The Unconditional Groth" is different as you might have realized by now. This blog is about the reality we face every day. The often crude reality. It's all based on my experience of many years. You might conclude that it's too exaggerated and you might want to dismiss it. That's ok. Always do your own critical thinking and don't just believe. And maybe it rings a bell. If it appears to you too far fetched, you are too naive. If it’s too strong, you are too weak. That's why you are at where you are at.
So, today I am talking about reality. I am talking about the dark side of leadership.
Every day we are confronted with the dark side of leadership. Whether we lead or we are led. It's always present. And often it's shapeshifting. Nothing is as it appears to be. It was that way 3000 years ago and it still is. The sage have long known this truth.
Leadership means human beings are involved. And the human race still lacks the development of being always integer, honest, straight forward, trustworthy, fair. Hence, if there is an advantage one can take, he / she will take it.
There is a different game being played. And it's about power and how to keep it, increase it, and executing it. Ever wondered where the noun "executive" comes from?
You wanna be fair. You wanna play by the rules. That's how you were educated. I hear you. And that's very nice of you. But did you also hear the saying "nice guys finish last"? Or did you hear this one: "Power is not given. Power is taken.". It's irrelevant that you want to be fair, when the game being played is a different one, is not fair. You might as well commit professional suicide.
Anywhere but not in my company, you might say. Your company is the exception. Your company is where the good people flock together. And you have friends inside your company. Congrats if that’s the case. You won the lottery. But just in case consider the following: your friends can become spoiled. They can turn against you in a heartbeat providd the price is right. I saw it happen around myself. I saw it happen in other places. But at your company they are satisfied with what they have you might say. Then keep in mind that satisfaction is not the same as loyalty. Fear your enemies, but fear your friends more.
Look at the big picture you can see every day. It's called "Geopolitics". The superpower securing its interests on a global scale. Runner-up regional powers threatening the superpowers or simply their neighbours. Russia and Ukraine. China and Vietnam. World dominance is the name of the game. And it's not about fairness. It’s not about friendship or loyalty. It's about power.
On much smaller scale a similar sort of game is played in organizations and companies as well. Of course, they would officially deny that. They point to their corporate rules. And the same is true between organizations and companies. The patent wars come to mind. And often, it's perfectly camouflaged. Yet, just like a physicist would do it, look for the effects. Where there is an effect, there must be a cause.
Ever heard about the infamous "win: win" ? There is no such thing as all parties winning. It doesn’t exist. One wins, one loses. Period. When someone mentions “win:win” to you that should immediately trigger a big red flag. It's an instrument of power designed to control people. Did you ever realize that it doesn't matter what kind of bullshit someone is saying as long as the guy holds the power? People bend over to power.
When you are in a leadership position you will be attacked. Because there will be always someone for whom you are a disturbance or at least an irritation. You might argue that there are other leaders who are not attacked. And it’s true. It’s either that they are simply too insignificant and no threat at all. Sheep in a sheep’s fur. Or, they have assumed formlessness and are rather wolves in sheep’s fur. Better learn to distinguish both.
The higher you go, the tougher the game becomes. You can see and detect these games around you. And I am sure you do. And on the highest level they play a game you, maybe,  won't even understand.
You want to make a difference and bring about the leadership we so desperately need? Then stop believing and start critical thinking. You better learn to play the game and bring yourself in the strategic position of control. Control the choke points. Play the game and play it masterfully. Otherwise your honest and beautiful goals won't happen.
How and where can you learn what it takes? Well, that's your first test. And learn you should. That’s what true leaders do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Authenticity and Independence

Authenticity and independence. Nothing could be more important for a leader than that. Living your life based on your principles and your values. No matter what. Form your own opinion. Based on your own independent critical thinking. Jumping on whatever bandwagon is always easy. Being your own bandwagon is tough and needs character. Character to stand up for yourself and what you found to be right. Even in the face of rejection or, worse, aggression. Yes, there is a price to it. Sometimes a high price. Nelson Mandela was a great leader on his own right standing up for what he believed in. Unfaltering. He spent 27 years in prison for staying true to himself and not compromising on his convictions. That’s character.
As a leader you determine your standards. You gotta define what you stand for. Your principles and your values you base your life upon. You commit to it. And then you live it. Anytime and every time and anywhere. In your personal life, In your business. Always. You can’t compromise on that, ever. Don’t settle for less. The moment you would compromise you are no longer authentic. No matter your excuses.
Many people will be eager to tell you what to do and how to do it. They want you to be like them. They want you to join their bandwagon. They want you to follow their opinion. The price would be losing your authenticity and making yourself dependent. Dependent on other peoples opinion. Dependent on other peoples approval. The fastest way to make yourself a prisoner of pleasing people. The worst a leader can do.
Leaders lead. They don’t follow opinions.
Yet, all too often people choose to chime in into what the majority believes. Seeking acknowledgement. Longing for approval. Longing for applause. Or looking for that extra buck it might make them. Going to great lengths to get it. Even if this means to betray their own principles and values. Addicted to pleasing others. And they become exchangeable. Something that could be anything. Something without character.
When they talk they use “clinically pure language”. Everything with the potential of making a clear, concise statement for what they stand for is removed. Instead, they use complicated phrasing filled with buzzwords. Delivering anemic speeches. A language designed to impress. Designed to suppress any questions. And they appear detached. Appear like the messenger and not the leader. Puppets on a string. Inauthentic and dependent. In self denial. The audience can sense it. Can smell the fear. Sooner, rather than later.
Authentic and independent leaders and thinkers have no need for the approval of others. They live their lives straight based on their principles and values. They have done their homework. Have done their critical thinking. And they talk about subjects they personally know and understand and have experienced. Emphasis on experience. They have formed their own, independent substantiated point of view. They don’t just repeat what others say. That’s what makes them not only stand out, but stand-alone.
Being authentic and independent is polarising. Some people might like you and some others won’t. And that’s ok.
Remember Apple’s “Think Different”, something Steve Jobs stood for:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Those are the leaders we need. Many more of those and much less, if any, of all the other well-adapted Teflon people.
What’s it gonna be for you? Your choice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thinking Is Worth The Trouble

Thinking for yourself, critical thinking is the most important skill one must train relentlessly. Unfortunately, it's a skill not taught. And a majority of people couldn't care less. They are satisfied with their daily soap opera. They believe what they are told. They do what is expected. They complain every now and then. But of course within the rules and constraints. Obedient citizens.
And many of these obedient citizens are assigned leadership positions. In governments. In companies. In organizations. Aimless, helpless, and willing consumers themselves. Consumers of whatever senseless and meaningless stuff. Repeaters of what they are told and never dared to question. Believers engaging in spontaneous communication out of an intellectual nothingness. It’s astounding what kind of complete nonsense people are willing to believe.
Thinking is work and is time consuming. Especially critical thinking. And that’s the reason why, for instance, many politicians can maintain more bullshit in 5 minutes than critical thinking can check in a lifetime.
When our species appeared on this planet the chance for survival looked rather dim. There was nothing we could do better than other species. Too slow to outrun predators. Mediocre endurance. Not strong enough. But we had the capacity to think for ourselves. More and better than any other species. It's our brain that made our survival possible. That’s why we are still here … still. Hence, why not using it properly?
Have a look at this: 

What is it? What comes to your mind first? Most people will say it’s a cube. But wait. Is it? A cube is a 3-dimensional object. And this image is 2-dimensional. Therefore it can’t be a cube.




Now look at this one:

What is it? 12 black lines. That’s it.






In both images you had the exact same information. 12 black lines. Yet, the first one represented to your brain a recognizable pattern. And immediately your brain delivered the interpretation of the information. That’s how our brain works. Our brain is interpreting incoming information based on recognizable patterns. All the time. Bluntly spoken our brain makes stuff up. That’s why critical thinking is so important. Because otherwise you can be easily fooled.
As a leader you must master critical thinking. You must think for yourself. And as a leader you must train your team in critical thinking. Thinking the way scientist do. For instance:
  • When you have an assumption you must check its validity by testing it. Doing your best to disprove it. Remember what Richard Feynman said: “You are the easiest person to fool.”
  • When someone else is presenting to you for instance methods or systems, ask for sound evidence that it works. Don’t just trust hearsay or dubious statistics. Ask the right and tough questions. Forget being just polite. It’s always you and your reputation at stake. Make sure that you do your due diligence.
  • “Trust one who has gone through it.” (Virgil). You wouldn’t jump out of an airplane when you know that your instructors never ever jumped themselves. Likewise, listen only to those who have done what they are talking about. There are so many people who always seem to know everything and telling you what to do. But never did it themselves. Don’t waste your time with them.  
True leaders mastering critical thinking are encouraging others, their teams, doing the same. The more the art of thinking is spread, the better our results will become. Technology is evolving fast and people need to keep up with it. The way it's done, however, is cementing the system of a small group of people controlling and commanding the rest. What the 99 percent don't get, and how could they without thinking, is that they become soon obsolete.
Thinking is worth the trouble. And it starts with leadership.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Flow: Leading Oneself

Today it's going to be a different post. A post written being in the flow. In my flow. Usually, the posts I am writing here are short. This one is longer. Personal and about leading oneself the way I experience it.
This thing called life has its ways to teach us. It certainly taught me some lessons.
Early on in my life people told me to be in the flow. "Life is easier that way" they said. Yet, when I asked what exactly they meant by that I got the blank look. Some came up with some ambiguous answers. Others were explaining that it was something like fitting in, being part of whatever that was.
With my free and independent spirit I decided that this concept was too foreign. Well, to be honest, I thought it was plain old bullshit.
During my teenage years I was always a troublemaker. I never just believed. I wanted evidence. Arbitrary rules didn't work for me and still don't. I am the proverbial rule breaker. When I came across a Malcolm X speech I listened up: "Power is never given. Power is taken." he said. Now that resonated with me. Exactly.
The day came and my mother said to me "You are not in the flow. Don't be such a rebel." "Here we go again!" I thought. Yet my dad just smiled.
Interesting enough my friends always looked at me first when it came to play something. And so did my classmates at school. Later, the same happened with colleagues at work. I never asked for it. It was their idea to see me as their leader. And sometimes I wondered why. I was simply myself living my life. What was the big deal?
During my corporate life it was no different. I had all sorts of leadership positions. And there was one common denominator for all these positions: I could do it my way. I think for myself, doing my own critical thinking. Which is the way I live. It was not particularly healthy as a career strategy in a corporation though. But I had the most difficult, most challenging tasks. Exactly what I wanted and loved. And I was successful. And many people wanted to join my rather small teams. Hence, I could always pick the best ones.
I was and still am also a risk taker. Mountain climbing was first. Then, later, I added skydiving and scuba diving. And nature taught me the lessons of leadership. Going beyond my perceived limits drives me. Yet, it's a calculated risk. I train for it. I know what I am doing. And I understand the risk and its possible consequences.
But there was something inside me bugging me. And I felt like critical mass was building up. I was done with corporate. And I quit. Another risk taken. But free at last.
I took some time here in CA for myself. It was needed. I immersed myself into fields like philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and into my favorite: physics. Through physics I understand my world. Physics fascinated me from an early age on.
During these years I finally understood that I was always in the flow and I still am. I am in my flow. There were times when I had lost my path and ended up in a different flow: other people's flow. And you feel that something is wrong. It's like an electric current going through a conductor of high resistance. It doesn't work well that way. You feel the pain. And it gets you back to your flow provided you are self aware and pay attention.
I also understood this concept of being the master of my life. I see it more like the architect of my life. You can plan and build it any way you want it. Yet, there are principles in this complex world you must observe. There are the many things you cannot control. Uncertainty rules. Severe situations you can only endure. And those will show you the material you are made of. Character building events.
And it's never easy. I can't do easy anyway. Easy is boring. To me until now it was a rewarding experience. What made it rewarding were the people I met and got close to. Remarkable people I had and still have profound relationships with. Others took a different path and we lost contact. New people came into my life. And when I least expected it this one special person appeared. The one bringing out the best of you. The one you want to never ever miss in your life. More than just a soulmate. Remarkable people and remarkable experiences. People accepting me the way I am and viceversa. Well, that's the only way with me. That's what made and makes my life so rewarding.
I never thought of myself as a leader. I did and do my thing. I live my life. I do it my way. And I am in my flow. I don’t follow a different drummer. I am the drummer. No matter how difficult that might appear to others. Yet, for some reason there were always people choosing to follow me. And I feel deeply honored by that.
I think that's what leadership is about. Being authentic. Being the way you are. Being who you are. Being in your flow. Hence, my story above. When people then choose to follow you, you are a leader.
Stay in your flow. Always. Sometimes it's a peaceful stream, and sometimes it's the wildest river you can imagine. It's peaceful when you follow your path, your dreams ... it's wild and raging when you leave your path.
That’s what leading oneself is about.
Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lost in Translation: Cocreation and Cooperation on a Global Scale

People keep telling me how easy it is with technology to cocreate and cooperate on a global scale. People keep telling me that groups can get together online around a problem awaiting solution. That it happens naturally. People keep telling me that leadership is no longer required in such an environment. Anybody can and will lead.
People keep telling me many things … it’s astounding how naïve people are …
Take the real world for instance. It’s already hard and challenging to cooperate and cocreate in familiar settings. In small groups with similar cultural backgrounds. On a global scale, and involving different cultures and languages, it can become mission impossible.
Now add to this the challenges of the virtual network. And up a notch. Take the leader out of the equation. Everyone leads now. And voilà, here you go: excitement meets confusion. Eagerness meets incompetence. A recipe for disaster.
Trust me: you need a leader to make it work. And it can work. Yet, don’t ever underestimate the complexity. Human beings by definition are complex. And each one is different.
I have worked with many diverse teams. Teams with different cultural backgrounds. And of course with a gender mix of 50 : 50. The first thing I made sure was that I had A-players in the teams. The best I could find. And it’s not always easy in a large corporation to find them. They hide often in unexpected places.
The language barrier is formidable. You understand a different culture by mastering the their language and living there for a while. The agreed upon language for our teams was English. That doesn’t mean now that there was a common understanding. Even the Englishman in the group lectured the American that they (the Americans) were speaking a dialect and not real English. At least that was good for a laughter. But it illustrates the difficulties. And then there were some passionate Mexicans. Thin-skinned and with a more explosive character. Plus the usual behavior of males and females. Add to the mix me and a couple of other Germans. The proverbial definition of volatility.
Communication is an art. Mastering that art is the key to lead such a diverse team. Hence, I realized that we had to spend time together outside the office. A considerable amount of time. And we did. To the dismay of some controllers. There are always some bureaucrats in the way who don’t get it. Fuggem.
We met in Germany, in the US, and in Mexico. And I made sure that we would have some fun and unforgettable experiences. Exposing each one to the different cultures. And we also worked during these offsites. Trust was built that way. Mutual trust. It’s not easy to do in the real world. And it’s even more difficult in virtual environments.
So, yes it is possible to cocreate and cooperate on a global scale and be successful. Yet, meeting only virtually is not good enough. Overcoming cultural differences and biases is even harder. Plus the gender issues. Even in highly developed countries.
Why is it so hard? Because we are adults screwed up and conditioned by education and society.
Take some little kids. Five year olds for instance. From different countries. Put them together. Expose them to something new. A challenge. And then watch how they approach the problem. They speak different languages. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take long and a leader emerges. And their natural curiosity gets them going. Going together. They have no issues. Let alone the strange issues adults have. Kids indeed do that naturally. They thrive doing it.
And then watch the miracles happening and learn.
That’s where leadership begins: Creating the environment where kids can cooperate and cocreate. It requires disrupting education as we know it. It requires disrupting society as we know it.
That’s where leadership begins. The technology we have. The leadership we lack.