Anticipatory Leadership and Time

In my last post we discussed the power of small wins in effecting significant and systemic change.  Small wins and trimtabs.  Timtabs can turn the QM2 but you have to strategically plan and have the right time to make the turn.  The point is anticipatory leadership.

Wayne Gretsky is an example of this.  Widely regarded as the best hockey player of all time, he fundamentally change the game.  He has been asked what made him as great as he was.  His response was:

“Most players skate to where the puck is.
I skate to where it is going to be.”

Leadership that can identify opportunities for small wins and take small wins to scale, in the 21st century, does so by anticipatory leadership and reading Time.  A Project Manager who leads – leads by anticipation – by understanding and anticipating Time.

Time in ancient greek had two forms:  Chronos and Kairos.  Chronos is linear, clock & calendar time.  Kairos is the fullness of time, the right time,  pregnant time.  Leaders understand Kairos, anticipating opportunities and taking small wins within Chronos to transformation in Kairos.

So the pace of small wins (timing and amount of time) is important.  So also is “reading” the time, anticipating and leading at the opportune time.

From a leadership perspective, to see a project simply within Chronos time is to miss the fullness of time.  My partners here at EPIC PM have talked about project failure.  Projects can be a failure in Chronos at any given moment but a leader who reads time (Kairos) can see small wins turn to success.  Consider several projects that at several points of Chronos time may have been considered failures but in Kairos are now seen as successes.

The American Revolution: Almost no battles were won by the colonial troops in the American Revolution.  Leaders and members of the Civil Rights Movement were jailed, beaten, denied access and killed.  In each of these cases the movements were a failure…. until they won.

The leadership of both these movements had a strategic vision and guiding set of principles that allowed them to persevere in the midst of perceived failure and in the end show that these failures were filled with small wins aligned with the vision and values of the movement and its leadership.  So having a strategic vision and clear values is important if “failures” are to be built into small wins that turn the tide.  In the case of the American Revolution this strategic vision can be seen in the casting of the Liberty Bell twenty years prior to the Declaration of Independence.

Vision and leadership of that vision are very important in managing and weaving failures and small wins together into transformative change.   And a key component of the type of leadership needed is the component of time and how that is viewed and understood by leadership.

So “reading” the time (Kairos), anticipating and leading at the opportune time to bring transformation to fruition is key to leadership and is connected to vision and values. Reading “time” and seeing ourselves in time and space is difficult and fraught with distractions.  But a lesson from Quantum physics can help.

Because all time (chronos) is related to motion, we are able to make the following statements for a “Rocket man” traveling through space:

If we send our Rocket Man out into space at 130,000m/sec and he tracks his time traveling and returns to Earth in 5 years time, 10 years will have passed Earth in relative time.
What would have been 10 years on Earth will have only been 5 years for the Rocket Man via the theory of relativity – time related to motion.

If he travels at 150,000 m/sec, 1 day for Rocket Man will be a 1000 years on Earth.

If he travels at 180,000 m/sec; the speed of light, time will stop for Rocket Man, everything will be “now.”

“Now” is the quintessentially existential moment; it is that moment that separates the past from the future and yet is not a part of time itself.  You cannot say that this second is “now” for by the time you say it, that second is no longer “now.”  You cannot say the next half-second is “now” or the next billionth of a second is “now.” You cannot even tell me what you are thinking “now”, because by the time you have a chance to reflect on it to tell me it is no longer “now.”  “Now” is the most real moment to us and yet does not exist in time.

Being in the “now” gives a leader a chance to escape the pressures of time (chronos and Kairos) and reflect.  Here is the chance for a truly free act – the ultimate small win – out of which change can be affected and to perceive failures and small wins not as random or micro but connected in a purposive way.  Out of these moments of “now” a leader can “skate to where the puck is going to be.”

A Project Manager, who is also an EPIC leader (Empowering, Preparing, Inspiring an Connecting), leads small wins, like a timtab, by operating in chronos and reading the opportune time (Kairos) through reflecting in the “now.”

Next post we will look at a framework for leading project teams by an EPIC rubric that addresses the whole person.

Projects Can Feel Like Turning the Queen Mary 2?

Consider the Queen Mary 2: an ocean liner so vast (QM2 is 147 feet longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall (984 ft.), so heavy (Approximately 151,400 gross tons) and so imposing (QM2’s whistle is audible for 10 miles) that it is difficult to see how it could ever be turned.

New initiatives and change at the company level, a department level, a project level and often even at a personal level can  feel like the QM2 – immovable, vast, heavy and imposing. But just as with the QM2 it takes but a small rudder – a trimtab to – move the entire vessel in a new direction. A trimtab is a small movable piece on the main rudder of a ship. When this trimtab is moved it creates such a countervailing force that the very size and weight of the structure itself is used to make the turn.

In the same way a small but significant trimtab action, or idea or process ( a Small Win) can turn an entire culture where its very weight can be transformed into momentum for change.

The key is to identify the trimtab (Small Win) and move it. To focus attention and effort on this smallish point and thereby move what was immovable.

Size does matter and its small that makes a difference in moving and leading large scale change.

Consider these small wins and the trimtab effect:

  1. A discussion of blogging and the value of wordpress happens one afternoon between two colleagues

—a pilot of its use is set up with a couple of managers to use with members of their departments

—-The CEO begins to blog

——-a company-wide implementation through intranet install is launched

———-multiple uses of blogging are beginning around company as means of information and process sharing

2.  A new LMS (learning management system) is used as a proof of concept for its effectiveness by a PM in developing the project team

—-Two other PMs to begin using the LMS with their teams

——These PMs begin discussing the use of the LMS with their Functional Managers

——–A Functional Manager agrees to try the LMS for the department

———–the success is seen by others

————–Word spreads from one Functional Manager to another

——————A VP begins using the platform with the Executive Team

——————–Company-wide implementation is initiated

Trimtabs are often small wins. Karl E. Weick speaks about the charatieristcs of a small win.

“A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.

Small wins often originate as solutions that single out and define as problems those specific, limited conditions for which they can serve as the complete remedy. I emphasize the importance of limits for both the solution and the problem to distinguish the solutions of small wins from the larger, more open-ended solutions that define problems more diffusely (e.g., “burn the system down”).

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible. This occurs because new allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits. Additional resources also flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.” (Weick, 1984)

As a Project Manager moving a project or process within a project can feel daunting.  Especially in cases where you may be working in a week matrix or functional organization. Remembering the trimtab effect of small wins can give strategic advantage and allow you to lead E.P.I.C.ally by Empowering, Preparing, Inspiring and Connecting in small ways that produce a great effect.. Leading in this way,  we can see the wake of the course change that these small trimtab wins have effected.

Trimtab leadership is Anticipatory Leadership that understands the difference between chronos and kairos time.  More on Anticipatory Leadership and Time in my next post.