Thursday, September 21, 2006

Leadership in CoP -- More

Today I read a piece "Vigilant vs. Operational Leaders: Changes at Ford, the Coke-Pepsi Fiasco, and Other Management Moments" on Knowledge@Wharton newsletter.

It looks a little bit like a matrioska... however, George Day and Paul Schoemaker built on top of their research (not "expert opinions"!!!) and analyzed the four traits of leadership:
(a) external focus
(b) conceptual ability
(c) organizational role and
(d) time horizon.


Now, does it apply to CoPs and if so, how?

External Focus.
"Vigilant leaders" - they say - "are more externally oriented: They are open to new ideas, seek diverse perspectives, listen to a wide array of sources and foster broad social and professional networks."

Reading this description, one immediately thinks of Kolb's learning styles and of the diverging learning style in particular:
"Diverging (feeling and watching - CE/RO) - These people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations several different viewpoints. Kolb called this style 'Diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a Diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information. They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the Diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback."

Now I ask: is there any doubt about the fact that, in a CoP, problems and ideas are concrete and have to be looked at from different perspectives, idea are generated mainly through group brainstorming, and the capability of giving and receiving strong and open personal feedback is an asset, especially for the resident facilitator(s)?

Also note how Day and Schoemaker define operational leaders: "more narrowly focused, have less interest in outside opinions and confine their networking to familiar settings". That is, they are concerned with one or few topics, don't like apparently "off-topic" threads and don't like unfamiliar territory, often resorting to ipse dixit (like many people in the CoP field do anytime Wenger is contested, as if his works were an infallible religious book which doesn't even need interpretation).


Conceptual Ability.

Vigilant leaders also "probe deeply for second order effects", that is, they do not stay content with analyzing their experiences through the lenses of process management, ROI or McElroy's first generation KM. In other words, they aren't ISO 9000 compliant.

Their counterparts, operational leaders, are those first generation KM dinosaurs one can stumble when joining KM groups. They are predictable and focused mainly on the task at hand, they rely on past experience and try to avoid mistakes like the plague. In their brain, Popper's philosophy hasn't sunk yet and they think that for their knowledge to be valid all they need is to try to verify it over and over again, often resorting to qualitative descriptions without any rigor whatsover. They still regard induction as the main pillar of science and behave like Russell's inductivist turkey (slide #14), they call deduction a "theoretical approach", a "generalization" and/or a "lack of context". They have what Piaget would define pre-operational thinking.

CoPs strongly need a leader whose culture and interests go beyond first order effects. The ideal CoP leader would look at the CoP s/he leads in terms of Value Networks rather than first order outcomes.


Organizational Role.

But vigilant leaders also enable people in their company by allowing them to explore areas outside their main focus. The dinosaurs I described above are controlling, focused on efficiency and cost cutting and don't explore outside potential. This is particularly unfortunate when leading a CoP which is all geared onto idea generation and sharing.

Even though methods to measure and test a CoP's effect, impact and outcome, existed and there were consensus among scholars and/or practitioners on which one to use first and why, there would still be a lot of problems related to these measurements.

For one the effects, impacts, outcomes of a CoP cannot be measured for months or even years after its institution. For two, some of those outcomes and impacts do not impact finances, so it might happen that financially there is no ROI (or even a loss) but the return on investment happens through the enhancement of a non-monetary value (say I set up a CoP and its members feel better about working, and are more relaxed and available in the workplace). Furthermore, cost effectiveness is reflective of another unfortunate paradigm called the scarcity model). This does not:
1) take into account that some tangibles are, indeed, limited (not scarce!), and yet some intangibles are abundant (not unlimited!), It just assumes that everything is always scarce, which introduces a theoretical bias in the very system that should be objective enough to represent and quantify a pros/cons analysis;
2) realize that not every outcome can be measured in monetary terms and that doing so is yet another source of lack of science in this practice.
It basically measures abundant intangibles as if they were limited tangibles and as if all tangibles and intangibles were to have the same unit measure (it's like measuring liquids in meters.... plain old stupid).

Time Horizon.
Finally, a vigilant leader's time horizon is longer while an operational leader's is shorter.

But in order to be effective at doing so, one needs to come from an abundance perspective. If time is scarce, one has no time to wait for results. If time is limited, one decides which results to wait for. If time is abundant, one participates to the creation of new perspectives, opportunities, concepts without having an agenda on which one to find or explore.

Since CoPs just die if they are managed (or led) toward an agenda, it's particularly evident how one needs to come from abundance in order to get any result out of them, and needs to be patient as well. This also explains why CoPs are so good in getting results about unstructured practices, where nobody has agendas to push.

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