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Superheroes — Lessons about Power and Leadership

In Avengers, Batman, Comic Books, Dark Knight, Exploring Leadership, Harry Potter, Justice League of America, Komives, Leader, Malavenda, Movies, Nance Lucas, Pablo Malavenda, Pop Culture, Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, Spider-Man, Timothy McMahon, Tuckman Stages, Uncategorized on July 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm


This summer you can’t escape Superheroes. From the Avengers movie which is smashing all box office records to The Amazing Spider-Man (reboot) to The Dark Knight Rises (big screen’s 7th Batman actor so far) — not to mention Dredd (Judge Dredd reboot) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — superheroes are saving the world in teams, with side-kicks, and alone on multiple, multiplex screens.  Even Broadway in New York City is currently smitten with a superhero — Spider-Man — Turn Off the Dark.

Leadership and Power — there is no better example than Superheroes.  According to J.W. Gardner (1990), Power is a social dimension; it is the capacity to ensure the outcomes one wishes and to prevent those one does not wish. Gardner (1990) also explains that Leadership and Power are two different things but are intertwined in many fascinating ways. The important questions are — What do you do with Power when you get it? How did you get the Power? How and when do you use it? Why do you use your Power — toward what ends?

Over the past 25 years, I have led many discussions about Leadership. Everyone has an idea of what Leadership is and what defines a Leader. Since I am more interested in engaging individuals I developed a highly interactive session. My goal is to give the participants an opportunity to think rather than be told what to think. I start the conversation about Leadership and Power with a simple yet important question —


Why Be a Leader?


What are the benefits? Why do individuals aspire, work, lobby, and fight to become the leaders of their groups or communities. Being the “Leader” is often not easy. Being the Leader means taking on responsibility, working harder than others, and not getting much recognition or praise. Being the Leader is often unfair. Leaders rarely get credit for the successes and almost always get blamed for the failures. In many cases, the Leaders are hated just because they’ve been given the title or position of authority. Take for instance the President of the United States. As soon as they win the election, they are hated and disrespected by a large portion of their constituents. Often even Superheroes like Batman, Spider-Man, Green Hornet, Blue Beetle and Green Arrow are misunderstood by the public they are serving and vilified in the media. So why would anyone want to be a Leader? What are the benefits and rewards? The audience thinks and begins to offer answers.

  • Because I could do it better than everyone else
  • To Make things better
  • To have a say in what happens
  • To control what is done
  • To learn and grow personally and professionally
  • To determine your own destiny
  • To give back
  • To serve others
  • To make a difference
  • Because no one else will

When the participants start running out of answers, I usually stop and tell them there are two answers they have missed.  I also share that I am not surprised that neither of these answers have been mentioned yet — because for as long as I have been asking this question, these two answers rarely come up.  They usually look at me dumbfounded.  With a few more hints — they finally realize the two mysteriously missing answers to the question, Why Be a Leader? are: MONEY and POWER. In an academic or intellectual setting, it just isn’t appropriate to share that your goal in life is to be a Leader to get a better position with a better salary, incredible benefits and retirement plan. Emile Henry Gauvreay gives an insightful description of our attitude of Money today in this observation:


I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest to make money they don’t want to buy things they don’t need to impress people they dislike.


Pursuing money as a benefit to being a Leader is not all bad unless it is your only motivation.  After all we must live, support our families and feel that we are being compensated appropriately for our work and effort.

And POWER also has a very bad name — individuals in our discussion talked about “control,” “determining the destiny,” and “having a say” — but they won’t use the “P” word for fear of appearing greedy, corrupt and immoral. Power is typically used in a negative context thanks to powerful political leaders and powerful corporate CEO’s who have behaved badly. This quote from Lord Acton in an opinion piece from 1887 says it all:


Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.


As for POWER, again, if it is the sole reason for being a Leader it will most likely bring trouble. But I would argue that POWER is actually quite necessary to make any positive change as a Leader.  Without POWER what really can be accomplished? The key is how you use the power — for good or for evil.

Everyone is with the Justice League. Each member of the Justice League has great power. But unlike the Super Villains, Superheroes use their Power for good not evil. Another example — a bit more obscure — is the Disney movie, Sky High (2005). In looking at Power and Leadership, I love Sky High. The storyline in Sky High is similar to Harry Potter. This 14 year old finds out his parents are very famous Superheroes (The Commander and Jetstream), and he now must attend a special school for Super Heroes kids called Sky High.  The first day of school, the gym teacher has all of the new kids gather in the gym and one at a time they have to show him their super power.  Based on their demonstrated super power, the gym teacher identifies them as Superheroes, Villains, and Side-kicks.  The concept of a side-kick I think is fascinating.  The role is to support and complement the Superhero without ever being in the spotlight. I like this idea because I can definitely see myself more as a side-kick than a Superhero or Villain. Superheroes use their Power for Good — Villains for Evil.

Leaders typically have some degree of Power; but Power can exist without Leadership.  The person who puts a parking ticket on your car’s windshield has Power but not the permission to lead. Parents have Power; School teachers have Power; Mid-managers have Power. Some have power because of their title and position — but they may not be Leaders.  Others get Power because of more intrinsic reasons like their physical appearance and attractiveness, their leadership skills, or ability to persuade others (Gardner, 2003). Superheroes are not Leaders until they can harness and control their Power, understand how their Power may be used for Good, and must commit to using their Power only when necessary and always for the good of others.

Power is essential.  If you read the essays by Robert K. Greenleaf (2002) about Servant Leadership — you see that he acknowledges that indeed little may be accomplished in a community without Power. A wonderful example of an individual whose means and ends were so admirable and so well respected that seeking Power is justified.  The leader is Green Arrow who gained power and used the power to fight crime in his home town. Loki on the other hand used Power to an end that was horrifyingly destructive and despicable. The Justice League of America (JLA) and the Avengers are similar in that each Superhero and Villain acquired their super powers in different ways.  Most gained their super powers because of an accident — like being blasted off their home planet (Superman, Wonder Woman), falling into a vat of toxic goo (The Joker, Poison Ivy), exposed to alien technology (Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, The Thing, Invisible Woman), being exposed to radiation (The Hulk, Captain America), being bitten by a bug (Spider-man), morphed with an animal (The Penguin, Beast Boy), struck by lightning (The Flash), using themselves as  test subjects in an experiment that goes really wrong (Green Goblin).  Others chose to find or create their power like the billionaires who have different identities by day (Ant-Man, Batman, Green Arrow, Iron Man, Wasp).

In Exploring Leadership, Komives et al (2003) affirm that Leaders must have the power to get results. Leaders though must be held accountable. Leaders also must be careful not to hoard power; hence their emphasis on Empowering as a key element of their Relational Leadership Model (Komives, 2008).  Power can be indeed shared and amplified but Leaders should be hesitant to merely give it away (Gardner, 2003). Most of the time Superheroes act alone or with their sidekicks. But this summer with the wildly popular movie The Avengers, we see Superheroes needing to figure out how to work together. Like any group of Leaders who are put together in a team to focus on one task, they progress through a series of stages of group development (Tuckman, 1965).  This is seen in the Avengers — and the success of the movie is that they eventually pass through the “storming” stage, begin to “norm” and ultimately “perform.”  You even see some evidence of them saying goodbye or “adjourning” (Tuckman, 1977).  During the performing stage you can see all of the Superheroes sharing power and in effect amplifying the overall power of the group — of Avengers, who defeated Loki and his alien army. And the DC folks are working on a Justice League of America movie; so, we’ll get a chance to see shared Power and Leadership among Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman soon in a theater near you.

Lastly, J.W. Gardner (2003) cautioned that Leaders must always be accountable. To avoid Leaders hoarding power or using Power for their own benefit, there must be a system of checks and balances.  More importantly, Leaders who are given extraordinary Power must be able to use the Power well. As Spider-Man recalled from his last moments with his surrogate dad, Uncle Ben:


Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-man.


So next time someone asks you “Why Be a Leader?” — don’t be afraid to say for POWER. But don’t forget to explain that like Superman, Batman, Spider-man, and all of the Avengers — YOU will choose to use your POWER for Good not Evil.


References:

  • Gardner, John W. (1990). On Leadership. New York: The Free Press.
  • Gardner, John W. (2003). Living, leading, and the American dream. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Greenleaf, Robert K. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness – 25th Anniversary Edition. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
  • Komives, Susan R., Lucas, Nance, & McMahon, Timothy R. (2007) 2nd Edition. Exploring Leadership for College Students Who Want to Make a DifferenceSan Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Development sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.
  • Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) Stages of small group development revisitedGroup and Organizational Studies, 2, 419-427.

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Saying Goodbye: You’re Off to Great Places

In Adjourning, Books, College Students, Dr. Seuss, Exploring Leadership, Group Dynamics, Komives, Kouzes, Leader, Leadership, Malavenda, Nance Lucas, Oh the places you'll go, Pablo Malavenda, Posner, Timothy McMahon, Tuckman Stages, Uncategorized on May 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm


Congratulations!

Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places!

You’re off and away.


Saying Goodbye can be a powerful and transforming action that many Leaders overlook. Leaders spent a tremendous amount of time and energy building a hardworking, cohesive team and often see great results. But Leaders fail to give appropriate praise and recognition which should include some type of ceremony at the end of the year. In many team situations there is a clear and definitive “end” of the year, completion of the work and inevitable dissolution of the relationships. This is especially true in organizations in which the leader, chairperson, or president must be elected (or re-elected) each year — like student organizations and societies in college and high school. It is that time of year when some students are getting ready to graduate and for life after college, and all of the other students are preparing to move on to the next level of leadership. Leaders often let the outgoing members of student organizations just fade away though and allow the incoming  Leaders and the formal graduation ceremonies take precedence. What Leaders must do however is give formal recognition to the accomplishments of the team which has been together for the entire year and most likely has many wonderful things on which to reflect and of which to be proud.

Great Leaders spend part of their tenure recognizing accomplishments, rewarding good work, working on team building and trust among group members, and empowering and encouraging their team members to work hard, take risks and make history. Ironically these same Leaders often leave office and fade away without properly “Saying Goodbye” and more importantly without allowing the team members to say Goodbye to each other. When Kouzes and Posner talked about “Encouraging the Heart” they were not only referring to recognizing individuals throughout the entire year but also having an upbeat year-end celebration to give closure to the entire team (Kouzes & Posner, 2008).

Encouraging the Heart is based on two commitments: recognizing contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence and celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community (Kouzes & Posner, 2003).  For some leaders Encouraging the Heart comes naturally but for most it is not their strongest trait. Believe it or not it is easier for many Leaders to “Challenge the Process” but Encouraging the Heart frightens them. Yet is it so important that Kouzes and Posner dedicated an entire textbook to this one behavior of their Leadership Challenge — Encouraging the Heart. Now there’s a book, Encouraging the Heart workshops, and the Encouragement Index. So don’t blow it by not coordinating an end of the year celebration. According to Kouzes and Posner the importance of Encouraging the Heart is backed up by research that reports that approximately one-third of North American workers say they NEVER are recognized for a job well done, a little more (44 percent) say they receive little recognition for a job well done, and only 50 percent of Leaders say they give recognition for high performance  (Kouzes & Posner, 2003). Great Leaders know that people matter, and Leader must make people feel in their hearts that they are valued and appreciated — and we’re not necessarily talking about money or salary.


You’ll be on your way up!

You’ll be seeing great sights!

You’ll join the high fliers

Who soar to high heights.


Also remember that every group, team or organization goes through developmental stages explained well by Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development Model. Tuckman’s original stages of development, as you will recall, are as follows: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing (Tuckman, 1965).  In 1977, Tuckman with Mary Ann C. Jensen added a fifth stage: Adjourning. Adjourning has also been referred to as the De-Forming or Mourning stage.  Tuckman and Jensen (1977) realized the function or design of many groups is to complete a series of tasks and to dissolve.  Even if the group continues to exist the members of the group will be different and the developmental stage would revert to the Forming stage also know as Re-Forming and Re-Storming.  Adjourning allows for the group to continue on with new members, new leadership and a new set of goals and tasks to complete.  According to Tuckman and Jensen (1977): When it is time to end or change the group in some way, managers can be perplexed by the blind refusal to change or contemplate a future that is different from today. This requires the skills of “Change Management” Leaders to be deployed, for example in celebrating the successes of the past whilst steadily revealing the inevitability of the future (Tuckman & Jansen, 1977). As with beginnings, rituals help people cope with the changes of ending. If properly implemented the Adjourning stage which includes Encouraging the Heart behaviors can be transforming for all members including outgoing members and new incoming members as well.

The 3-steps to a successful “Goodbye” are as follows:

  • Celebrate
    • Bring all members together
    • Have a meal
    • Dress up
  • Recognize
    • Say Thank you
    • Recognize major accomplishments
    • Honor members – leaders, staff, volunteers, advisors
    • Give a Keepsake
  • Leave a Legacy
    • Pass the Gavel
    • Introduce New Leadership
    • Share Vision for Future — finances, services, programs, and leadership


On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

And face up to your problems

Whatever they are.


From an organizational perspective, plan the ceremony and pick a date as soon as possible.  Get the event in everyone’s calendar and make it an expectation to attend.  Assign the planning of the event to someone on the executive team.  I prefer the event to be coordinated and planned by the vice president.  The VP has enough knowledge and connection to the entire organization to plan something appropriate and special.  Make sure the event is within the budget and communicated as an expectation as well as a priority.  Most of your budget will be needed for food and beverages and the gift to all members.  That being said focus on the objectives of the event which represents the Heart of the organization — the people, relationships, memories, and the personal growth of each member; therefore, don’t let the lack of funds prevent you from planning something creative and special.  Everyone should attend. Everyone who attends should feel very special at the event.  Everyone should be acknowledged, thanked and recognized — EVERYONE.  This is consistent with the principles of the Relational Leadership Model concerning Empowerment and Inclusion (Komives, Lucas, McMahon, 2007). Be careful not to plan one of those banquets that makes a few people feel great and most feel ignored and under-appreciated (again).  A proper Goodbye is wonderful and uplifting for EVERYONE!


And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)


How you Say Goodbye is up to you and should be appropriate for the culture and consistent with the values of the organization.  Here are some ideas that may work for you.

  • Thank You — A thank you gift that each member may take away. It may be engraved with the “year” or term of office or something that can be personalized like a picture frame.
    • Flowers — a flower for each outgoing member
    • Gift — glass, mug, picture frame (for the group photo mentioned below)
  • Recognition
    • Plaque – may include photo, name, year or term of office
    • Certificate of Achievement/Excellence — this is most inexpensive recognition item you can give but it will be treasured by the members.  They look great if you use multi-colored certificate paper, and they can be personalized and signed by the VIPs of the organization.  For a few more cents, you purchase certificate covers and fancy stickers and ribbons to make the presentation even more dazzling.  Check with your national/international office for pre-printed certificate paper.
    • Photo of Group — the photo may be distributed electronically or made available online; the photo should include a “key” with names of everyone pictured and not pictured.
    • Logo Item — a lapel pin, patch, medal, hat, fancy pen, coaster, etc.  If the organization is a national/international or has a specific logo, there may be items for sale from the national office.
  • Program
    • Emcee, Keynote, Presenters — decide who will be hosting and emceeing, select and invite a keynote, and select presenters
    • Keynote Remarks — should focus on Leadership and leaving a legacy for the future. Considering using creative, leadership focused quotes and books like Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. {More information on how to use Story Books in Leadership may be found in this PCPop post: Story Book Leadership: Getting Started.}
    • Script — Write a script. Do not ad lib or “wing it.”  Don’t deviate from the script once it is written because it was developed to give everyone equal recognition and assures that no one is singled out as extra special (unless that is part of the original plan).  We have all witnessed this disaster — when the emcee calls up each member to receive their certificate and offers personal remarks about one particular member and then has to come up with something equally impressive for everyone else.  It never works out well, and it makes the program awkward for everyone.
    • Awards — are optional.  If you choose to give awards like best program, best committee, best chairperson, best senior, best alumnus/a, etc — make sure they don’t do more harm than good.
    • Special Recognition — decide if you wish to honor specific groups or categories of members like all graduating seniors, all executive team members, advisors, staff, or committee chairs.
    • Creative Presentations: Superlatives, Limericks, Funny Awards for each member.  With these creative presentations you must make sure there is one for each member.  A small group of officers or committee members may create these presentations or they can create the awards and superlatives and have the members vote (like “Most Likely to Succeed”).
    • Passing the Gavel: Give the outgoing president an opportunity to give remarks about the year’s accomplishments and highlights.  The outgoing presidents then presents an engraved gavel to the new president for the upcoming year.  The new president shares his/her vision for the next year building on the success and hard work of the outgoing members.
    • Photo/View Slideshow — Every organization should have a director of communications who is responsible for taking pictures and video at all events.  Their ultimate goal is to have enough photos to create a meaningful slideshow for the end of the year banquet.  The slideshow can then be shared online with all members — another gift for all members — as well as alumni and friends of the organization.
    • Music/dancing:
      • Dinner music –if you have the funds, during dinner it is a nice touch to have live music featuring a piano player, jazz combo, violinist, or harpist.
      • Dancing — After the formal presentation, some group may enjoy dancing to a DJ, who will also play “dinner” music and supply you with a microphone and sound system for your keynote and presentations.
  • Food & Beverages — Dinner, Lunch or Breakfast
    • Plated — served, sit-down meal; must coordinate special dietary meals in advance
    • Buffet — hot meal, easier to accommodate special dietary needs
    • Picnic – variety of menus will work: burgers/dogs, steak/potatoes, shish kabobs, bbq (ribs, chicken), clam bake
    • Hors d’oeuvres — this is a great option if your budget will not allow for a full meal but make sure the food is hot and plentiful.
    • Desserts — this is another great low(er)-budget option but make sure you have healthy options too like fruit smoothies, yogurt, granola, fruit salad or fresh fruit platters.
      • Buffet with a chocolate fountain (Yum!)
      • Ice Cream Sundaes — make your own — make sure you have lactose-free (soy) and lower fat options like sherbet.
  • Beverages
    • Cash Bar — general rule of thumb is that if more than half of your honorees and guests are of legal drinking age a cash bar would be appropriate.  You may disagree but I don’t think using organizational funds to pay for an open bar is appropriate.
    • Coffee — if dessert is a part of the event, coffee would be a nice addition.
  • Venue— once you decide on the program and the food you would like to serve, you have a few options for venue.  Remember to ask about catering options, food charges, vegetarian options, tax charge, service fee, tip/gratuity, bar fee, bar minimum, security requirements and any other costs.  Make sure you ask about specific requirements and the cost, if any, for a microphone, lectern, video projector, screen, dance floor, linens, flatware, centerpieces, table for awards, etc. Options for your venue are as follows:
    • Banquet hall
    • Hotel banquet room (tend to charge extra for everything — so, get a quote!)
    • Private home (obviously technology challenges)
    • Park, beach, golf course club house, country club, pavilion, outdoor plaza/patio, neighborhood clubhouse
    • Restaurant — private room
    • Museum, gallery

So…

Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!

(Dr. Seuss, 1990)


It sounds like a lot of work, but the rewards are tremendous.  Each one of your members will feel wonderful about their experience with the organization, be proud of what they were able to accomplish, and be confident that their contributions are appreciated and valued. New incoming members and officers will be inspired to continue to work hard toward accomplishing the mission and vision of the organization.  You will have started a meaningful tradition that members will look forward to attending each year. You will have become a great Leader who is comfortable Encouraging the Heart and understands the importance and significance of the Adjourning phase of group development. “You’re off to Great Places – Today is Your Day – Your Mountain is Waiting – So, Get on Your Way!”


References:

  • Komives, Susan R., Lucas, Nance, & McMahon, Timothy R. (2007) 2nd Edition. Exploring Leadership for College Students Who Want to Make a DifferenceSan Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Kouzes, James M. & Posner, Barry Z. (2003). 2nd Edition. Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Kouzes, James M. & Posner, Barry Z. (2008). 4th Edition. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Seuss, Dr. (1990). Oh, The Places You’ll Go! New York, New York: Random House.
  • Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Development sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.
  • Tuckman, B.W. & Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) Stages of small group development revisitedGroup and Organizational Studies, 2, 419-427.

For more suggestions on must-read LEADERSHIP books, check out this PCPop blog post:


For more on Story Book Leadership, check out these PCPop blog posts: