This month (October, 2020) I have been reading Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud.

It is not enough to have a great plan and great people. Leadership is about transforming your vision into reality. This involves figuring out what you need to do so your people can accomplish your vision. You must define and creaet the boundaries that drive the behaviour of your people.

Boundaries work by making it possibvle for people’s brains to function the way they were meant to. Our brains rely on three essential processes:

  • attention – the ability to focus on relevant stimuli and block out irrelevant information
  • inhibition – the ability to not do actions that could be distracting, irrelevant or event dangerous
  • working memory – the ability to retain and access information that is relevant for making deicsions and taking action

To help their people realise their vision, leaders must ensure that:

  • what is important is always attended to – by estabilshing structures, values and practises that build what we desire and keep people focused on the tasks that must be completed
  • what is not important or destuctive is not allowed – by setting limits on confusion and distraction and prohibiting practises and behaviours that will lead to failure
  • there is ongoing awareness of the information relevant to completing tasks



This December 2018 I am reading “The culture code: the secrets of highly successful groups” by Daniel Coyle.


Coyle argues that our interactions in a group are governed by our instinct for survival. Each person in a group is unconsciously assessing whether they are safe, if they have a future with the group and what dangers are present. Groups are successful when the people in them signal to each other that they:

1) are safely connected

2) will share information

3) know which way to move

These signals reassure each person in the group that they can stop worrying about what dangers are present. They can focus on making connections with each other. Groups tend to fail when people in the group instead focus on managing, or competing for, status within the group.


Coyle identifies three skills required to build a high performance culture:

  • Generating bonds of connection and belonging
  • Cooperating and sharing information
  • Creating narratives about the shared values and goals


1) To create a sense of belonging we need to tell people:

  • You are part of this group
  • This group is special
  • I believe you can meet the high standards we have in this group


Leaders do this by:

  • Emphasising that they are listening to their group members
  • Making sure every group member is encouraged to contribute and has their say
  • Publicly expressing gratitude to people in the group because being thanked tends to cause people to behave more generously
  • Ensuring the group members have fun together as this is a key signal to people that they are safe and connected
  • Creating physical places where members of the group meet and interact regularly
  • Avoiding giving “sandwich feedback” by giving positive and negative feedback separately and in different ways.
    • Negative feedback should be delivered in a two-way conversation that focuses on what a person can learn and how they can improve.
    • Positive feedback should be delivered separately by clearly indicating the positive behaviour has been recognised and praising it.


2) To create cooperation we need to ask questions of each other that look for connections and open up alternatives.


Leaders do this by:

  • Demonstrating vulnerability by being open about their own mistakes
  • Modelling cooperation and regularly communicate that cooperation is important to the group
  • Having a routine style of meeting for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of projects.
    • The focus of the meeting should be on identifying what is working and not working.
    • This will involve finding lots of different ways to ask the same question to find out the real answer.
    • These meetings are hard because people are pointing out flaws and being open about weaknesses
    • The other key step is letting the person who owns the project decide how to improve the project.
  • Helping group members embrace the discomfort of review meetings by Interacting with them in a way that makes them feel safe and supported


3) To ensure everyone has a common purpose we need to tell people:

  • Where we are and where we want to go
  • The obstacles in our path


Leaders do this by:

  • Regularly naming, assessing and ranking their priorities
  • Making building and sustaining the group one of their top priorities
  • Translating important values into concrete actions that set the bar for how group members should behave
  • Creating simple measures that focus on what needs to be achieved
  • Tailoring their leadership to whether tasks involved in achieving a priority require proficiency or creativity.
    • Tasks that require proficiency need to be done the same way every time.
      • Show the group excellent examples of how these tasks are done
      • Provide regular training with high amounts of feedback
      • Identify rules and processes for completing the tasks
      • Recognise and praise proficiency
    • Tasks that require creativity involve doing something that has never been done before
      • Invest in good people that are capable of solving problems
      • Provide the group with the tools and support they need to navigate the process of developing a strategy to achieve the task.
      • Make is safe to fail and to give feedback
      • Celebrate when the group shows initiative


This month (July, 2018) I have been reading Change Leadership in Higher Education: A Practical Guide to Academic Transformation by Jeffrey L. Buller.

In summary:

Buller begins with a question: “Why do those of us who devote our lives to teaching and research handle change so poorly?”.

He describes being hired as the new dean at a college. People kept telling him how hungry they were for change. The college was successful, but they were keen to update its curricula and policies. They wanted him to be an agent of change.

Buller decided to focus on revising the general education curriculum. This was an area where he had experience. But the reform he led became a “rancorous, highly disruptive process … for more than three years”. When the college hired a new president, Buller and the faculty decided they could not take the hostility any longer. They made a slight change to the existing program and declared the reform a success.

On reflection, Buller realised that he had focused on the wrong drivers of change. He had not established whether there was a real need for change. A driver of change is a factor that you cannot control (like a change in demographics). It has a significant impact on factors that you can control.

He argues that if you want to lead change in a university, rather than by led the drivers of change, then you need to know that:

1. Universities are distributed organisations rather than hierarchies. The common models of change management are not effective for distributed organisations.

2. Academics are often the people who designed the policies, teaching curricula or research directions which are being changed. They will see proposed changes as in indictment of themselves. They are more likely to embrace a change that is based on clearly established needs, not on anticipated benefits. This need may be:

a. being forced on them by external factors (making the change reactive)

b. eventually forced on them (making the change proactive)

c. due to internal factors making it difficult for the university to fulfil its mission (this makes the change interactive)

  1. Traditional strategic planning does not work well for universities. A better approach is to plan for the best and worst-case scenarios. Or to decide on the general direction to be taken and rely on the academics to solve the difficulties they encounter. This plays to the strength of a university as a distributed organisation.


  1. Transformative change in higher education is rarely achieved by one person. Instead the leader of the change needs to encourage a culture of innovation and creativity. This gives academics the freedom to produce the best ideas for how to respond to the factors driving the change. Effective leaders reward academics who take risks (entrepreneurs) because they are committed to finding novel solutions and creating a distinctive university, not just a bigger one.


  1. Leading reactive or proactive change requires recognising that you need to encourage a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Not just focus on changing the university direction, personnel, structure or procedures. Those changes are easy to achieve, but rarely address the causes of the problems facing the university. Doing this involves asking, and answering, the following questions:


  • What does our university do best?
  • What does this tell us about where the strengths of the university are?
  • How can we direct our resources to play to these strengths?
  • How can we build on our strengths, rather than altering our identity?


  1. Leading interactive changes – that is, changes which are necessary but are not being forced on a university – are the hardest to achieve. The successful examples described by Buller seem to involve six key steps:

A. The external factors driving change were identified.

B. The change leader recognised that the response to the change needed to be developed at the departmental level, not at the executive level. They also recognised the need to empower people at the university to see the future differently.

C. The university began administering and tracking employee engagement. In one case this was done using the Gallup’s Q12 Index – Twelve Questions that Matter survey.

i. The survey questions encourage employees to think about and track what they are gaining from the university as well as what they are contributing to it.

ii. The survey questions encourage line managers to clearly explain their expectations to employees, to praise their development and to recognise and reward their contributions

D. Once employee engagement increased, the university began also surveying the level to which employees felt included in the work environment. In one case this was does using the Gallup’s Inclusiveness 10 survey The survey questions encourage line managers to value diverse opinions and values and to encourage people to use their diverse talents.

E. Once the university employees felt engaged and included, a culture of innovation developed that responded to the external change factors by finding solutions that played to the strengths of the university.

F. The leader of the change began emphasising those strengths and directing resources to build on them.

6. Tracking metrics alone is not an effective way of achieving change. This is because academics will support changes where they see an investment in doing something, not changes that invest money in documenting that someone is doing something. Use the simplest metrics possible to note progress. They should not require an enormous staff to calculate the metric. Valuable metrics are ones that the parents of the students (and other members of the public) understand.


In more detail:

Three common models of change management that do not apply to universities

The Kubler-Ross Model of Change Management proposes that people resist change because they perceive a break with the past like a small death. Their response follows five stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

The Krüger Model of Change Management visualised change as an iceberg. So the danger lies below the surface. The real problems caused by change are rarely the visible issues that people leading the change focus on. Rather, it is hidden issues like power relationships, beliefs and biases that can derail change.

The Kotter Model of Change Management argues that successful changes involve eight steps:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating a guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision of the change
  4. Communicating the vision to get buy-in
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Never letting up
  8. Incorporating the changes into the culture


The problem with applying these models of change management to a university is that universities are distributed organisations

Universities have loose hierarchical structures. Power and decision-making is shared between various individuals and groups. For example, a university will have a governing board that retains responsibility for its relationship with its students, and for the university finances and sets basic policies. The administration will implement those policies and be responsible for the day to day support of the students and academics. The academics will be responsible for teaching and research, the two main income streams of the university.

Unlike hierarchical organisations, the higher ranks at a university do not possess all the power. Unlike decentralized organisations, each member of a university does not possess power equal to every other member.

Often the higher ranks at a university choose not to initiate or modify the actions of lower ranks. Instead they entrust actions to them. They will reserve the right to veto decisions that they disagree with.

Academics are active participants in a distributed organisation. A significant degree of independence is integral to the academic career. Therefore, they see themselves as independent contractors with substantial over their research and teaching, and who have an important say in how the university should be run.

Academics do not distinguish between themselves and the university. They are often the people who designed the university policies, teaching curricula or research directions. They will not see change as something happening to the university. Rather they will regard it as “an indictment of themselves”.

Academics can see traditional change models as:

  • Manipulative
  • Not applicable to them
  • An imposition

They can be anxious that change will cause:

  • Them to lose their power or position (the turf they have claimed)
  • Temporary incompetence (because they no longer understand the rules of how the university operates) and hence the loss of their identity (Competence and knowledge are important to academics.)
  • Punishment for their incompetence. The change will reduce their time for research and teaching, the activities that produce the outputs and metrics that they are judged against by the university and their colleagues.


Strategic plans do not work for universities because they were developed by, and for, hierarchical organisations

Strategic planning developed after World War II. Business leaders wanted to take advantage of approaches that had helped the militaries of the Allied countries win the war. Their goal was for their businesses to design a long-term plan that would help them to capture a segment of the market (rather than simply rely on advertising). The process they developed involved analysing the strengths and weaknesses of their companies, and the opportunities and threats to their business model. They would develop a vision of where they wanted to be in 10 or 20 years. By comparing the actual performance of their company to the performance required to achieve this vision, they could plan what needed to be done and identify the resources required.

But the answer to the question “Where do we want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years?” is never going to be “Right where we are now, doing what we do well”. Strategic plans encourage institutions to expand, or seek new markets, and try to become something they are not.

Strategic planning is not an effective way to prepare a university for the future because it:

  • tells us how to structure and monitor the planning process, but not how to come up with ideas for the plan.
  • identifies the strengths and weaknesses of a university and the opportunities and threats to its business model but does not tell us which of these issues should take highest priority.
  • plans for the next 10 or 20 years. Students typically stay at a university for between three and seven years.
  • uses metrics (benchmarks or key performance indicators) to try to predict what the next generation of students and the industries they will work in will need in 20 years from now. Polls rarely correctly predict which political party will win an election or how rapidly values and attitudes can change in a society.
  • involves predicting what the future will look like as best you can now and making choices about what options you will take now. This can limit your options later.
  • encourages us to underestimate the time and resources needed to complete tasks.


Scenario planning works for universities because:

  • it identifies a range of contingencies that could occur (worst-case, most-likely case, best-case and so on)
  • and provides guidance about how to handle these different situations.


The advantages of deciding only on the general direction a university will take are that it:

  • Recognises that the future is ambiguous.
  • Focuses the universities’ resources on two key approaches.
    • Positioning the university to do what it does best.
    • Developing the capacity for the university to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, while remaining resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.



This month (June, 2018) I have been reading Disenchantment: Managing motivation and demotivation at work by Adrian Furnham and Luke Treglown.

In summary:

Most people start a new job with a positive attitude. They will often have many reasons for being attracted to their new organisation and/or occupation. They hope to fit in and be productive.

Things may, however, go wrong. Occasionally, their disappointment leads to disaffection with the position or organisation (called disenchantment). Employees who are bullied, feel that the organisation does not trust them or has broken its promises to them, think that the organisation treats other employees better than them or that it tells lies about itself become disenchanted.

Disenchantment undermines the resilience of employees. They become less able to cope with challenging situations. They also become more likely to act against the interests of the organisation.

The problem is that disenchanted employees are not “lone wolves”. They tend to form networks with other employees who have similar levels of disenchantment. Employees who are less disenchanted learn not to ask them for help. This leads to a breakdown in communication within the organisation. It has a negative impact on its profitability.


Why disenchantment occurs:

Very different factors seem to cause happiness and unhappiness at work:

Motivating factors – their presence causes satisfaction Maintenance factors – their absence causes disaffection
Challenging workRecognition of your achievementsBeing given responsibilityDoing something meaningfulInvolvement in decision makingSense of importance to organisation Job securityEquitable salaryGood working conditionsHolidays


There are five factors that cause a person to become disenchanted with their job:

Perception by employee What the employee thinks / Why the employee thinks this Organisational Level
Organisational lying or hypocrisy The organisation lies about itself in public or to its employees Corporate level
Distrust The organisation does not even trust its own employees Corporate culture
Inequality Some people in the organisation are treated better than others Individual and organisational
Broken promises Expectations set by the organisation (perhaps during the selection interview or induction period) have not been met. Individual
Bullying and mistreatment Some of the senior people are callous and nasty. Being tough and ruthless is encouraged in the organisation. Individual


People who are acutely, or chronically, disenchanted will:

  • become disengaged and do the minimal amount of work to avoid being sacked,
  • leave the organisation,
  • take revenge on those they think are the main causes of their disenchantment


How to fix it:

Honesty versus lying

Every organisation likes to think of itself as an organisation that produces outputs which are fairly supplied and costed and where the workers and stakeholders are happy. The culture that people experience within the organisation can be very different.

Corporate culture is based on the needs of individuals to reduce uncertainty and have some reference to guide their actions.

The culture of an organisation can be traced to:

  • The attitudes or values of the founders
  • Its experience of external demands (e.g: the demands of the marketplace)
  • The need to maintain effective working relationships between the members of the organisation

Every organisation essentially values to same thing it wants to maximise returns for their stakeholders.

It is normal, and often productive, for various parts of an organisation to value different things (e.g: marketing versus production).

Organisational change is more effectively achieved by restructuring, recruitment and performance management, than it is by changing the organisation’s values. Holding value workshops is a soft option. Whatever change is apparently achieved, evaporates quickly.

Constructive organisation styles favour: Aggressive styles emphasise: Passive styles promote:
Achieving high quality resultsFinding unique solutionsCoaching othersDeveloping pleasant relationships FlawsLooking for confrontationsControlling othersViewing all situations as win-lose situationsPerfectionism Being approved by othersBlending inDependenceAvoiding threatening situationsMinimising risks


Trust versus distrust

Employees are aware of when they are trusted because of how the behaviour of their colleagues and manages changes in consequence. It is difficult to convince an employee that they are trusted when they are not given any independence, or assurance that they will do the right thing without being monitored.

When employees feel that they are trusted, their performance and commitment increase. When employees feel they are distrusted, their performance declines. They spend more of their time covering their actions and preserving themselves.

When managers do not trust their team, they start to hide information from their employees and monitor their activities to catch them performing poorly.

There are three factors that contribute to how a group perceives their manager (and similarly to how the manager perceives their group):

  • Do they show benevolence through supportive and sincere communication?
  • Are they competent and able at what they do?
  • Are they honest and do they have ethical principles?


To repair trust:

  • Hire for trust: ask questions about integrity and honesty and for examples of when an applicant has put their client’s, co-workers or company’s interests ahead of their own.
  • Make positive assumptions about your employees: tell people that you know they can meet the challenges you assign them, cultivate a culture of openness where employees can ask for rumours to be confirmed or denied.
  • Show zero tolerance towards deceit: communicate clearly that employees who actively undermine trust are not welcome, require managers to meet the same standards and admit when they have made mistakes


Equity versus inequity

Almost all employees assume that they will be fairly treated; that their pay is related to their skill level and effort, that people are promoted in response to their service and ability and that people will be disciplined fairly.

Their concepts of fairness are strongly linked to their concepts of justice. The sense of fairness and justice is based primarily on comparison with how other employees are treated.

Once evidence of unfairness or discrimination is observed by an employee, they quickly become deeply disenchanted. Organisations should be careful about saying they are fair unless they can justify their claims thoroughly.


Respect versus bullying

There are six ways in which employees can be bullied:

  • Isolation – being prevented from interacting with their co-workers
  • Manipulation of the information they receive
  • Changing their working environment to prevent them from completing their work
  • Being humiliated or insulted
  • Professional discredit – having their expertise or skills belittled
  • Devaluation of their role – being relieved of responsibilities or assigned to useless or impossible tasks

When faced by the choice between employing someone who lacks the skills or knowledge required for the tasks but is enjoyable to work with (the “loveable fool”), or someone who is highly competent but difficult to work with (the “competent jerk”), managers often choose the competent jerk. They argue that skills and expertise are more important than being a nice person.

However, employees will often choose to ask a loveable fool for advice, rather than a competent jerk. This means that communication will breakdown, as employees avoid working with unpleasant co-workers. This reduces the performance of the organisation.


Keeping your word versus breaking promises

From their first interview up until they leave or retire, people will hear their managers make statements about the future. The statements could be about how much they will be paid, what opportunities for training and professional development they will be offered or their prospects for promotion. Employees often hear these statements as promises. A major source of disenchantment occurs when these expectations are thwarted.

At some point, the person and the organisation have to start forming ideas about what they can expect from each other. Getting the first meeting about expectations right is vital as it sets the tone for the working relationship.

They key to fostering a highly motivated team is to help manage and grow their expectations. To effectively manage expectations, it is important for manages to discuss with their employees what is expected of them and to find out what they expect in return. A good manager helps their team interpret their desires and expectations. They should have the experience and hindsight to know what can be learnt from certain projects. This means they will be able to help their team achieve their expectations and help them identify areas of growth they may not have considered.


This page is named “A Learning a Month” in honour of the website A Learning a Day ( run by Rohan Rajiv.