step up | Book Review

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and happiness." (Viktor Frankl, p. 34)

Michelle Gibbings, perhaps an auditor at heart, offers a highly organized, step-by-step guide for change, both personal and organizational. Her checkpoints are found on pages 3-4, 14, 30, 71, 94-95, 104-105, 116-117, 119-120, 128-129, 154-155, 165, 173, 179-180, 191 and 206-207. In that detailed way she reminds us of Kotter's classic work Leading Change. Mirroring her own career arc, Gibbings goes deeper, sharing that at the core, change is influence and that it is only hard because we make it hard (p. xv.)

A conservative guess is that at least fifty percent of Academy Leadership Excellence Course participants are strong technically and not quite so adept at leadership. If that describes you, Gibbings book is for you, the more technically focused but at that stage in [your] career where [you] know [you] need more skills - of a certain nature -- if [you] want to advance (p. xvi).


Gibbings provides a corollary to knowing yourself first, then others second as part of crossing the Knowing-Doing Gap, the basis of an Academy Leadership experience. Her framework is centered on Mindset, the intersection of individual and organisation (x-axis) & thinking and doing (y-axis), and illustrated (Figure 3) on page 13.

Upon reflection, Gibbings realized she had traversed her own knowing-doing gap, noticing (p. 15)

"I wasn't being hired for my technical skill. I was being hired because of my ability to get stuff done, and my ability to influence stakeholders and manage and motivate behavioural change."

This review offers supporting commentary strengthening Gibbings' structure based on corresponding leadership authors and related workshops.

Know Yourself | E2L | Goal Setting | Personal Leadership Philosophy

Gibbings observes we shape our perceptions based on how things should be, or are formed by the expectations dimension of our Energize2Lead (E2L) profile colors. Assumptions about how things should be -- not necessarily how they are -- creates a gap between perception and reality giving rise to blind spots (p. 19). Extending to the preferred E2L dimension, Gibbings also subscribes we should align the right people in the right jobs doing the right things (p. 148).

Recall the Knowing-Doing Gap recommendation we view the power of knowledge as a process. In the same manner Gibbings cites Carol Dweck's (Stanford) finding that people who have a fixed mindset see intelligence as static -- a fixed trait (p. 20), frequently limiting growth especially by not seeking additional knowledge via feedback.

Gibbings describes three P's: Paradigms (choices), Possibilities (options) and Practices (actions), which intersect creating an empowered mindset (p. 35). It looks a bit like Jeff Boss' Navigating Chaos process model -- taking advantage of possibilities (p. 39) by being curious and open to what is in front of you. In order to expand possibilities, build resilience and thrive through change, Gibbings asserts it will help if you are willing to (pp. 46-47):

1.   Be curious and have an open mind
2.   Surround yourself with people who will challenge you
3.   Manage stress
4.   Take time to reflect each day
5.   Use your energy wisely
6.   Learn from your mistakes
7.   Quieten your inner voice
8.   Feed your mind with healthy thoughts
9.   Don't expect life to be easy
10. Continue to push the boundaries

Lyubmirsky, King and Diener (p. 48) examined whether happiness leads to success, and the causal factors. Their results showed that happiness is associated with and "precedes numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviours paralleling success." More simply put by Gibbings, the happier you are the more likely you are to experience success (p. 49).

Integrity is frequently mentioned as a core value in our Leader's Compass workshops. Gibbings shows that integrity encompasses two core attributes: Having the courage to think and act, and also being conscious of the environment or situation you are in (p. 57). She goes further, describing how to navigate away from our comfort zone:

To break away from your expectations, you need to know yourself and what you want out of life. It's impossible to stay centred when you don't know your core purpose (p. 68).

Imagine you've discovered your core purpose, and written and shared your deepest values. That's a great start. Now it's time to open up, even to the point of vulnerability. Gibbings offers advice on being open (pp. 76-78):

• Welcome all types of news
• Talk to people at all levels of the organisation
• Beware of gatekeepers
• Take the time to walk the floor
• Invite differences of opinion
• Be open to learning
• Constantly be alert to the weak signals
• Don't silence the dissenters
• Be conscious that undiscovered issues are worse than discovered issues

This doesn't mean becoming less decisive or losing resolve. Gibbings offers her own variation of agility -- agile productivity -- as being decisive, disciplined and determined (p. 80). It's sounds somewhat like like Vroom's time-based decision making model, and should mesh with a well-articulated leadership philosophy.

Know The System | Communication | Motivation | Conflict

In our Creating a Motivational Climate workshop we determine leaders endeavor creating a motivational environment, rather than actually motivating people or preordaining outcomes. Gibbings in like manner informs (via Anand and Barsoux, pp. 115-116):

"Transformation journeys cannot be mapped out entirely in advance. As leaders, we must steer a course between order and disorder at the same time, leaving room for experimentation and divergent views, while simultaneously providing boundaries and key ideas so that the energy can be channeled."

Her conscious change leader approach model offers a context for describing prevailing attitudes within an organization: Accepting, contradictory, apathetic or conscious (p. 121). We can think of these descriptors as potential for leadership influence whereby a conscious environment is likely to innovate while an accepting organization may resist genuine growth.

Another indicator of openness is our tendency to solicit and receive feedback (think of the Johari Window exercise), allowing the emergence of knowledge previously unknown to emerge as insight. Gibbings distills effective, insight-based relationships from the intersection of nature, narrative and nurture (p. 139), which in turn allows us to:

• Motivate your team
• Persuade people
• Get things done
• Position yourself effectively
• Work more effectively with people

If we want to be a conscious change leader, it's our responsibility to create and nurture the right type of team environment (p. 163). Think about McChrystal's Team of Teams, whereby each high-performing team member knew at least one member of every other unit.

For long-lasting and constructive relationships, Gibbings recommends these fundamentals (p. 171):

• Take the long-term view
• Be proactive in your intentions and patient
• Pay it forward and extend support to people
• Build relationships intentionally
• Find ways to involve people and get their advice
• Hold your ground, when necessary
• Be yourself
• Show gratitude and be generous
• Genuinely wish everyone well
• Know when to give up and move on

We all hear about the importance of networking. Gibbings illustrates networking as a thoughtful and sustained process (p. 178) with the specific goals of securing both current and future support. As with effective communication, there are numerous steps which all require attention lest the influence chain be broken.

Of the five strategies for dealing with conflict, Leveraging the Power of Conflict workshops instruct us collaboration (gain-gain) is the best strategy, when time permits. Similarly, Gibbings defines a collaborative mindset (p. 205) which thinks:

• I don't have all the answers
• I'm willing to shift my position
• I'm happy to test assumptions, share ideas and find common ground

This in turn, allows for impact, or how we communicate and negotiate (p. 183), leading to lasting value.

Final Thoughts | Do The Right Thing

Gibbings has certainly traversed and captured the journey of her own leadership arc. We should remember it all starts with (p. 209):

"Feel the fear, and do it anyway."

Note: Michelle Gibbings generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | March 2017