Posts Tagged ‘leadership cancers’

Leadership Cancers #8: Anticipation

by Gary Monti on May 4, 2010

Anticipation, a song by Carly Simon, chronicles well the consequences of waiting for consequences, “Anticipation…is makin’ me late, keepin’ me waiting.” In this blog we will explore anticipation and look at a much healthier alternative.

The Desire for Control

Anticipation has its roots in the desire for control. Specifically, it results from building expectations. With expectations I choose to lock on to some possible future event causing thoughts and actions to become a servant of the desired consequences.  Not a smart way to operate.

This was reflected in a rather painful experience pursuing a contract early in my consultancy. A division of an aerospace firm was looking for someone to audit their current project management system and then provide guidance and support in making it more robust.

The fit felt perfect! After going through preliminary conversations it seemed like a slam-dunk. There was only one problem – other companies were bidding. Ignoring this, I kicked back and rewarded myself with some rest and relaxation prior to starting the engagement. Fantasies as to how the engagement would be successful and transformative for the client danced before my mind’s eye.

The Loss of Freedom

As you might have guessed, the day of reckoning came and much to my surprise someone else was awarded the contract. The first thought was, “How dare they!” To say my blood boiled would be an understatement.

Anxiety followed the anger. The future was surrendered to an expectation. The feeling of being trapped soon set in. It was quite genuine. Leads were dropped in anticipation of getting this contract.  It was a lesson well learned. Fortunately, there were sufficient reserves to make it through until the next contract.

The Solution

A better way to behave is stated in a term from complexity theory, anticipatory awareness. It sounds almost identical to the leadership cancer called anticipation. It is quite different.

Where anticipation is a locking on to an expectation and experiencing emotional ups and downs similar to a gambler at the racetrack, anticipatory awareness is a complete letting go of expectations.

Does this mean no planning is done, i.e., just sit around and wait? No. It is much more subtle and more challenging than that. In fact, anticipatory awareness can be restated as, “Plan without consequence.”

Practicing anticipatory awareness requires discipline. In the case of making proposals it means creating a document as if the prospective client’s survival depends upon it and then letting go as if the client does not care. While it sounds a bit crazy it promotes a very healthy behavior. It keeps me on the move. It also promotes a constant question central to any good consultancy, “Does what’s being offered really provide value?

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this blog you can also send a response via e-mail to or visit

Leadership Cancers #6: Leave your heart at home

by Gary Monti on April 21, 2010

Can you list the tribes to which you belong? For most of us work, family, social clubs, and recreational teams are a pretty typical mix. Does your role change as you move from tribe to tribe? Does the persona (mask) that you present change with the roles? If it does, at the end of the day how do you answer the question, “Who am I?” Coming from mythology the question can be restated as, “What’s in my heart and are my actions true to it?”

In business there can be a temptation to stray from one’s truth for the sake of the score, the big contract, or some other external goal. A friend of mine who is a sales engineer jokingly sums it up with, “I feel very strongly that………what are you willing to pay money for?”

Let’s explore the dangers of this approach along with a realistic remedy.


In psychology of temperament the way we prefer to come at a problem or situation is referred to as our native style. This varies from person to person. For complex situations a team comprising a range of styles is needed to get the job done. For example, one person prefers to plan while another wants to execute.

In making room for others’ style we may shift how we work. This is called an adaptive style. It means flexing and letting go of demanding work be done “my way.”

We can, however, drift away from ourselves and move into the cancer, coercive style, where we stray completely from who we are because we desperately want something, are afraid of repercussions or a combination of the two.


If it is a cancer why would anyone want to use coercive style? It boils down to one of two words – greed and fear. The definition I use for greed is:

“Unrealistically high expectation of return on a minuscule investment.  There is a focus on consequence at the expense of principles.  A loss of self and a loss of boundary due to a focus on acquiring something external.”

And the definition I use for fear is:

“The feeling one has with the sense of negative consequences.  It increases with increased perceived impact and the degree of powerlessness.  A loss of self and a loss of boundary due to a focus on a perceived threat.”

Notice that regardless of whether you are the predator or prey the results are the same – loss of self.

What’s the Big Deal?

A possible response to this is, “What’s the big deal? It’s business, a dog-eat-dog world.” The answer lies in my first blog in the Leadership Series. Complex situations require leadership, which means you don’t know how to get through the situation. Instead you lead the way by believing in yourself, the team, and the underlying principles. Leaders work from an internal compass that keeps its bearings on the overarching principles as the terrain shifts. Without that compass the team is lost.

What’s the Answer?

The answer is something of a paradox. The more challenging the outer situation the more one looks inward. Be true to that inner compass. It’s best said in a proverb regarding meditation:

“One should meditate at least a half-hour a day unless there is trouble. At that point meditate an hour a day.”

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this blog you can also send a response via e-mail to or visit

Leadership Cancers #5: Simplemindedness

by Gary Monti on April 13, 2010

Have you ever nailed something? I mean, you got it down to a few simple keystrokes or a few lines in a paragraph. How sublime is the feeling of accomplishment? All the effort seems worth it when the faces of those who use your brainchild say, “Yes, this is it!”

On the flip side have you ever created a train wreck of a solution? One so clunky you’d like to just shoot it and put it out of its misery? Or have you ever had a customer say, “All you have to do is…” and you start wondering what she was smoking for lunch?

The differences between getting it just right and failing miserably can sometimes be reduced to two words – simple vs simpleminded. The two seem to sit very close to each other and may be hard to distinguish. Let’s take a look at them and examine the boundary between the two.

DaVinci, Simplicity, and Telephones

As mentioned in the first post in this series, DaVinci summed it well:

The sophistication is reflected in the simplicity.

A client’s VP of Sales, when talking about what comprises a successful product, said it in today’s terms, “The product should be so simple that my grandmother can use it without reading the instructions.” It is referring to what is sometimes called seamless performance. In other words, the product performs so well and delivers such high quality results it actually disappears. Landlines are a good example. When I pick up a good old-fashioned, copper-wired phone my minds eye is focused on the person I am calling and the call itself. The phone literally disappears from my consciousness. That is simple.

When I use my cell phone…well…that is another story. There is just a touch of stress, barely perceptible that is saying, “I wonder if this will go through and if it does what are the odds it could drop out?” It’s ever so subtle but it is there.  If you don’t think this is true for you try making this simple observation the next time you want to make a small, important call to someone about whom you care. Pay attention to your feelings when it can’t get through or is dropped as you are ready to breathe out and talk. Is it frustrating? Do you feel disappointed? Where does anger fit?


So where does simplemindedness fit into all this? To answer this let’s go back to “simple.” When something is truly simple it means all the principles and disciplines required are present and combined in a balanced manner to create a product that performs as expected. For simplemindedness to be present all that is required is to leave out a principle, have some principle inadequately represented, or have the relationship between design elements be off balance.  It’s that simple! Sticking with cell phones, battery life and bandwidth represent the second and third situation, respectively.

What’s the Answer?

If we pick up the cell phone situation and bring it over to the realm of relationships with clients, peers, vendors and other stakeholders there is a way to keep simplemindness out of the relationships and subsequently the product. Know the disciplines, principle, and balance between them that is required to move from customer need to functional specification to design specification to production. With this information you are forearmed and prepared to fend off the “all you have to do…” declarations that key stakeholders may make. You can push back in a very sane manner that is business-like and respectful.

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this post you can also send a response via e-mail to or visit

Leadership Cancers #3: The myth of peak performance

by Gary Monti on March 30, 2010

From sex to deodorants the push is for peak performance. The message is, “If you aren’t number one then there is something wrong.” After all, isn’t it important to be the biggest, fastest, or strongest? To use the classic project management answer, “It depends.” Let’s look at peak performance, its costs, its misuse, and a realistic alternative.

What Is Peak Performance?

Peak performance as used here might best be defined with an example – the successful return of the Apollo 13 astronauts. From the time the oxygen tank ruptured on April 14, 1970, until the landing on April 17, roughly 87 hours passed of intense activity. The mission was deemed a successful failure.

It would be an understatement to say considerable teamwork, focus, persistence, and ingenuity were required. Essentially, the stakeholders involved dropped everything they were doing to focus on solving the myriad of problems the tank explosion created. A new balance point had to be created centered around the successful return of the astronauts. The integrity of the mission literally had a hole blown in it!

What Does It Cost?

What does peak performance in such a situation cost – everything. With Apollo, hard deadlines had to be met and resources were scarce. Everything else was secondary and viewed only in terms of its utility in saving the astronauts.

Its Misuse

There is no doubt the mission was noble. So, how could peak performance be viewed as a cancer? For most of us we work in a day-to-day environment far removed from saving astronauts. Even at that, there can be a great deal of significance gained from putting in a days work.

The cancer arises when peak performance is misused. The term I’ve coined is “mesa performance.” With mesa performance a peak is hit and sustained. It’s a plateau. Most of us hear it as “setting the bar higher.” I prefer mesa performance because when one jumps over the bar there is a coming back down to normal levels. The misuse of peak performance has the expectation of staying at that level. It is the new standard. We can be told we are above everyone else and will stay there. We are on the mesa.

To put it in perspective, imagine after the astronauts returned safely everyone was breaking out the cigars and champagne, slapping each other on the back and celebrating. In the middle of this Gene Kranz, the flight director, said, “Oops, we forgot to tell you. Apollo 13.1 is having problems and we need to get on it right away! You did well with 13 so we expect you can do the same with 13.1.” No one has slept for 3 days.

When this becomes business-as-usual you know where it is headed. It can be summed in one word, unsustainable. Remember how everything was viewed as a resource with Apollo 13? Ongoing consumption of everything including reserves and backups has several major downside characteristics. People burn out and start making serious mistakes, the wiggle room for different options disappears with the drop in resources. The organization cannibalizes itself. The list goes on.

A More Realistic Option

A more realistic approach is one that is sustainable. You can see this in the word “overtime.” It means going beyond a certain reasonable limit of effort causes, over time, the consumption of infrastructure.

Overtime is best when it has a specific goal in mind and is stopped once that goal has been reached.

Ideally, planning ahead occurs and reserves are built with the knowledge they will get consumed from time to time. Flexibility and the ability to meet customer needs is maximized.

If you would like to delve deeper into project management and leadership and how to become more successful send me an e-mail at or visit where you can get a free Executive’s Guide to Change Management white paper.

When does independence promote less-than-optimal performance? When is it a force tearing the project apart? In this first of six blogs on leadership cancers we will look at the potential corrosive effect independence can have on your organization and projects leading to sub-optimal performance if not failure. It will be done through game theory and The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Finally, we’ll take a look a possible solution to the situation.


We all start life dependent upon our parents and others to be fed, clothe, nurture, and teach us. As we mature there is movement towards self-reliance, i.e., independence. Based on self-interests we can take action and control our lives. Teams can be joined for accomplishing tasks that go beyond what an individual can perform. This sounds sufficient for success. But is it?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

When teams are formed based solely on independence a problem arises. Once a member’s self-interest fails to be met they can pull out of the relationship with potentially devastating consequences. When other team members see this behavior then they may pull out as well. Let’s look at a typical example.

Imagine a 2-person design team, John and Mary. John is extremely good at designing for performance but the product is a nightmare to maintain. Mary is just the opposite. Her designs are easily maintained but they don’t have the performance of John’s.  Each can do the entire design but lack efficiency when it comes to their weak spot. John is overly sensitive and Mary is rude. They both want to be seen as superior and never hesitate to stick it to the other. Whenever one appears to cooperate the other takes advantage and tries to put in fewer hours. There is no backup for either of them and management is afraid of losing either but will draw the line at flat out refusal to work and will withhold any bonuses. The grid below shows the four possibilities in terms of effort-hours expended. If they both cooperated the total hours would be 60 (blue). With both being non-cooperation it shoots up to 100. If either pulls out completely the other has to put in 150 hours. The job ends up taking 100 hours (red) because both will be selfish at the first sign of cooperation by the other.

John Selfish John Cooperates
Mary Selfish 50,50 0,150
Mary Cooperates 150,0 30,30

In game theory this is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Both could cooperate and put in fewer hours overall but that would require being empathetic and trusting. Instead, at the first sign of seeing the other cooperate, the one will try to take advantage and be selfish. With them both being selfish the job gets done but at great inefficiency.

A Possible Solution

One approach is asking them to cooperate, pointing out the value to the organization and they could be more productive. That is unrealistic since it expects altruism from two uncooperative people. A more realistic approach and one that works well in a complex situation is a joint evaluation. Their bonuses, profit sharing, etc., rises or falls with team performance. This returns power to the leader. Mary and John can do as they like and they will be rewarded accordingly. There are risks associated with this approach. However, if costs are outstripping benefits then it is worth considering.

If you find this topic as fascinating as I do and would like to delve deeper into game theory and its use in leadership send me an e-mail at or visit