7 April 2016 By Chris Kotur, LV Leader in Residence

During my strategy and planning work with organisations, boards and councils I'm often reminded how the people in these groupings see themselves as members of a workplace community complete with its own culture, values, norms and customs, networks, politics and actual community leaders.

I'm not referring here to leadership based on positional power, rank or hierarchy but rather I'm thinking of people who are seen as leaders despite not having formal authority and who gain the voluntary attention, trust and support from others because of their character and the way they go about making their contributions to this workplace community.

This is an important insight because understanding more about the traits of its workplace community leaders can help an organisation grow and strengthen its culture, reduce risks, encourage loyalty and support everyone who is part of this community to give their best. It is especially important to value the insights of these community leaders in organisations facing change.

Workplace community leaders can be found in any location or in any role in the organisation. People say they're drawn to them because they come across as 'somehow good', as positive and authentic. They are likeable role models who inspire others to work harder and be better.

When they're talking they don't always come across as polished public speakers. People listen to them without rolling their eyes because they don't sound like they're selling anything and they're not using slogans or spin.

They are sought out by others for wise counsel because they are perceived as insightful, open-minded and fair.

It's as if they've arrived in this workplace community with a different sort of CV, one that isn't the conventional version with the usual description of job-related skills. It seems that their 'CV' demonstrates more about their worth as a person, revealing their values, character, conduct under pressure and their ability to listen and consider all sides before making choices. This kind of CV would demonstrate their interest in serving others and how they contribute to building a strong, healthy workplace community.     

Spot the community leaders in your organisation with this unconventional 'CV' and you'll have found the people who can make or break your culture, help or hinder attempts to bring about change and who can contribute to or dampen ideas to help you manage risk and grow and prosper.

Leadership is constantly under test. At no other time has there been so much scepticism about the ability of leaders to get things done.  The recent wave of scandals in banking, government, business, unions, churches and politics shows us that trust in leaders is perishable and that culture in workplace communities remains fragile. While regulators across all sectors are calling for greater attention to ethical behaviour and more systematic measurement of workplace culture, focus on developing workplace community leaders can help organisations avoid becoming complacent or indifferent to culture.  

Here are three actions and behaviours of workplace community leaders that organisations should tap into. These practices always yield valuable insights and data.

1. Community leaders understand the power of workplace networks.

Every organisation is hardwired with social networks which are especially concentrated in smaller groups like business units or departments where changes are seen and talked about at a micro level.  Smaller work units (groups of up to 10 or so) are where key relationships are strengthened or weakened, where grapevine talk ranges from gossip to gathering information and where change is supported or resisted.

Community leaders network to gauge sentiment, read the politics, recognise early warning signs of success, resistance or concern, look out for individuals who need support and detect opportunities to speed up or slow down the speed of change.

2. Community leaders can explain and motivate.

Community leaders can help develop and refine communication throughout the organisation because they're attuned to listening for reactions stirred by news of any change. The first word received about a possible new CEO, review, restructure, change in policy or strategy, relocation etc - has the workplace community immediately applying the self interest test - is this good or bad news, will I gain or lose, is this a threat or some advantage, will this improve or worsen my situation?

It's important to know that most people focus much more on perceived loss over any possible gain. Loss aversion is a very powerful block to making any change.  Consider the failure of politicians who haven't been able to sell an idea because their story comes across as threatening, confusing, implausible, disingenuous, inconsistent, too technical or somehow just 'off'. We quickly think people we don't trust are trying to take something we value. Conversely, we take bad news better from people we trust.

During times of change respected community leaders can offer confidence and hope.

3. Community leaders can help with implementation.

During strategic planning it is common for an organisation to lose touch with reality as people easily overestimate their own capabilities and regularly underestimate the time and resources needed to deliver a plan. Organisations often disregard the practicalities of implementation and repeat past mistakes.

Think of the public humiliation caused by the many projects which run over time and budget or fall over after soon after being touted as great ideas. Think of wasted public money, careers that end abruptly, bad publicity and difficulties in trying to rehabilitate reputations and then consider how these workplace community leaders can help if they speak out when they see where and how implementation isn't working.

So consider using the insights, connections and reputations of your workforce community leaders to assist end to end planning - from strategy through to implementation. Call on them to help devise and promulgate thoughtful communications and support and monitor the health of your workplace culture. There is no down side to encouraging and developing community leadership in your workplace community.

Chris Kotur, April 2016

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13 August 2013 By Chris Kotur. Leader in Residence

As a strategist deeply interested in finding out what makes some approaches to leadership and governance work better than others I routinely have unique opportunities to reflect on what I've seen that distinguishes some consistently high performing boards from the rest. Here are some recent reflections on ways that work well for boards leading significant change while seeking to strengthen their capabilities and keep improving their performance.  

Culture matters

The differences between consistently effective boards and some others are often not down to structural or technical matters (like their professional approach to governance,  meeting procedures, plans and the like) but in recognising that board members need to work together as a highly effective group. Strong boards operate as strong social systems.

Their members contribute to good leadership, behave decently toward each other, work to earn each other's trust and take individual responsibility to keep improving their own performance as board members.

It may seem overly simple but leadership, behaviours and relationships make a huge difference to board effectiveness.  

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16 April 2013

It can't be a coincidence, not after I've seen it happen so many times. It's a moment that reveals some extraordinary insights about leadership.

For many years now I've been facilitating community meetings for people who are facing or have just experienced some of the toughest events or decisions of their lives. These meetings have been designed so participants can recall key events, draw new information from  a group with different perspectives and offer insights, suggestions to help shape the future.

I've facilitated these sessions in communities across several states during times of stress brought about by unexpected and unwelcome changes to the way people live and work because industry or business restructures, environmental or planning issues or natural disasters including during the Bushfires Royal Commission, the Flood Inquiry and recently in Harrietville for local people affected by last Summer's fires.

These meetings always reveal lots of anger, denial and blame. This kind of community stress is usually being experienced for the first time. People tell stories filled with loss and sadness. The most pain comes from losing lives and the effect of trauma on children - "choosing which pets to take or leave behind". And then there's lost property, lost jobs, bankruptcy, breakdown...

In most meetings there's a strong desire to blame others -  them...they broke promises, turned up late, were in the wrong place, could've warned us earlier, didn't know the local area, were neglectful, didn't understand or care enough, made stupid decisions... For a while it sounds like they are responsible for taking away people's carefree days.

And then more often than not, something remarkable happens. It takes one person to throw the invisible switch.

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27 June 2012 By Chris Kotur

Chris Kotur
Chris Kotur

Chris Kotur has facilitated numerous community consultations including for the Bushfires Royal Commission and the Flood Review. She is Leader-in-Residence at Leadership Victoria.

It started out much the same each time. Each event brought sudden changes no one expected or wanted. Afterwards nothing would ever be quite the same.

Bush fires, floods and economic restructuring have brought big changes to parts of Victoria. Fire and flood-affected communities are rebuilding. Some regions are trying to adapt as economic changes affect employers who restructure or leave town. Each time people's lives are affected in similar ways and each time local, community-based leadership holds many answers to keeping communities on the path to recovery.

Reflecting on these traumatic events over recent years it's clear that tough times also reveal the positive impact of remarkable leadership skills and capabilities. These lessons could well be lost unless we make much more out of what local community leadership has taught us during some of the toughest times Victorians have ever faced.

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17 May 2012 By Chris Kotur

Pssst ... I'll let you into a secret – a new trend is underway and it's reshaping leadership everywhere. It was very much alive in the room where I was facilitating the Leadership Victoria Master Class (Leadership Online 4 May 2012) - a key part of LV's Citizen Leadership Project. I came away feeling very optimistic about changes that are challenging and influencing leaders everywhere. Now more than ever before I can see the opportunities to grow and develop community leadership. Here's why.    

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8 May 2012 By Hannah Carrodus & Conal Thwaite

Graphic recording by Lynne Cazaly
Graphic recording by Lynne Cazaly

Citizen Leadership is occurring in unprecedented force across the globe. In recent times we have seen the successes and subsequent fallout from the Arab Spring protests, the Occupy movements and the Kony campaign. 

With the advent of social media it only takes one brief tweet from a high-profile person to spark off a storm of controversy. Yet at the same time, if social media is utilised properly, it can be an excellent tool for today’s leaders to connect with people and drive change. 

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19 March 2012 By Chris Kotur

Chris Kotur
Chris Kotur

I've tossed out most of my collection of reading on leadership and shut down some subscriptions I've had for a long time.

Those titles gave me some confidence that we could learn how to be successful leaders if only we studied hard enough. But if that were true how come in 2012, so many world economies, governments, companies, organisations and individual leaders are struggling with all those messes all those leadership theorists said we could avoid?

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