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Archive for the ‘Agility’ Category

On reflection it's a fine balance


Good judgement is more in demand than ever before. In our intricately connected technologically advanced society where information travels faster than we do, but expert knowledge about its implications may take years of experience to interpret, for most of us certainty is hard to come by. So most decisions involve some element of judgement.  Take today for instance.  I got up and opened my hall cupboard to get out my yoga mat. For the first time in 7 years living here I smelt gas.  I called my husband. He couldn’t smell a thing! Shrugged and walked away.  Now I have to make a judgement. Call the emergency helpline? Or is my nose just over sensitive? So I shut the door, do my yoga, go back and repeat the process, half an hour later. To me the smell is stronger:  my husband still can’t smell a thing.  Having just read the book Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz, I know my brain could be am bias. Our brains leap quickly to assumptions when fear is involved, their designed to. We have a natural confirmation bias, to confirm our own beliefs.  But I know my husband is far better at practical things than I am, and he was an engineer before he retired, so he’s more likely to be right.  Then I remember the smoke filled room experiment!   If I call National Grid, will they think I am wasting their time? What constitutes a leak worth reporting? If I don’t do anything will I be able to sleep tonight? It’s coming up to Easter and weather is getting colder, so I want my heating working. How quickly can National Grid fix a leak?  Will I just end up with gas shut off and a miserable Easter?  No-idea of the answer to any of those questions! How can I assess risk when I’ve never faced this situation before?  Simple example, but poor judgement could have relatively small or relatively large consequences.  Inevitably I weigh the risk of being cold against going up in flames and decide to err on the side of caution.  The gas man cometh!

We expect sound judgement from leaders in business, politics, the legal system, public institutions; we hope parents, teachers, members of society will exercise sound judgement.

According to Tom Davenport (an early KM guru) and Brook Manville, (forward by Larry Prusak) in their new book on Judgement Calls ,

“…the belief that the traditional paradigm of decision making – where an all-seeing and wise CEO ‘makes the call’ alone- is being superseded by more participative and data-intensive approaches”.

About 18 months ago, we ran a KM Forum themed day on these data-intensive approaches, inspired by Tom Davenport’s books Competing on Analytics and Analytics at work. It certainly plays an important part in providing evidence to support sound judgement. But of course you have to have the data to look at before you can find the patterns, or identify the insights on which to base your judgement.   But the mathematics of probability, normal distribution and the like, only work when you have a large enough sample and the anomalies aren’t paradigm breaking.  If you listen to this Analysis, 10 Downing Street appears to be influenced by Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s counter arguments about the impact of the highly improbable.

Of course, it may not have been concerns over the impact of the highly improbable that encouraged the government to make suggestions about topping up your tank to create a petrol shortage before any strike ever got off the ground?  Maybe it was an insight from the Nudge Unit?  Who knows, but to my mind that experience certainly leads you to think twice about the Wisdom of Crowds where self interest is concerned.  I listened to the news in dismay as people said how it was madness that everyone was rushing to fill up, were irritated at the chaos, and then admitted that they wanted to be sure they could get around!

Collective judgement is a tricky issue as Tom Davenport’s final chapter suggests. It’s a knowledge issue at heart.

“The great advantage of a more collective information and knowledge intensive approach is that done well, it offsets the litany of pitfalls one person making a decision can fall into “Chapter 13

That is provided we can

  • Learn from success, but then recognise situations where the lessons no longer hold true
  • Reframe the rather concrete notion of decisions instead think about an ongoing collaborative process of evolving a solution to a problem, through small experiments and frequent feedback.
  • Invest in developing collective leadership judgement through experience with real problems and repeated practice, with some time for reflection on lesson learned, and some coaching on how to improve.

Members of the Henley KM Forum can access our guide to better organisational decision making produced in 2009, from the members’ website. There is also a complementary publication on coaching for better decision making. Those who are not members may want to download free our Knowledge in Action brochures Issue 21 and 22.

Just in case you are worried about my status over Easter, the gas man arrived, used his analytics (a neat little sniffer machine) found a leak – yes my nose was right, replaced the regulator, and all for free. Great service, lesson learned, rely on my judgement and ignore my husband’s sense of smell which is clearly not helpful in this small collective of marital bliss!

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Inspirational Relationships?Image: tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Relationships are a core concern for anyone interested in knowledge and learning.  The word relating is interesting in that it can mean connecting with others in a way that is meaningful for each party, or it can mean verbally telling or explaining an experience or a set of events via the medium of story.  What’s common to both is a concern for communicating meaning.  I think what is different is the depth of meaning each type of relating achieves.   Relationships create meaningful bonds between people, relating stories helps sense-making, but the meaning derived may not be shared. A fine distinction; but just as meaningful as the distinction between information and knowledge, if you are thinking about the quality of KM activities, and their impact on community.

As an aside, it’s ironic that John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s book was called the Social Life of Information.  It’s one of the few instances when blurring the distinction between information and knowledge made good sense.  (Connecting to Amazon to create the hyperlink above, I was reminded that I bought the book on the 13th March 2001, just in case I had forgotten!) By challenging to the glory of IT storing and shifting information, at the turn of the millennium, Seely Brown and Duguid seemed to presage something of shift in the KM world.   Relationship capital became more prominent in the Intellectual Capital arena. The priority of people relating and Nahapiet and Goshal’s concept of social capital became of practical interest to organisations. Although some people still confuse information management and knowledge management, many organisations are shifting from capture to collaborate and accept the limitations of the ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality.  Probably just co-incidental timing, as the web became more ubiquitous, social media started to develop.  We started to hear about Web 2.0 around 2002, and Stanley Milgram’s six degrees of separation quickly became four or less. This you tube social psychology lecture from Yale explains the principles at about 3 minutes into the video and goes on to explore the foundations of social network analysis.  If you want to read more the Duncan Watts also published an relative easy read on this important topic.

People relate to one another in many ways. We all have a mixture of close connections and loose associations in our relationship network. From a knowledge perspective, each serves a different purpose; the former give us a strong sense of belonging, deep tacit knowledge sharing opportunities, and more meaningful feedback, the latter provide timely access to ideas, insights and trending topics, better responsiveness to external dynamics and greater reach.  In the    All of the ties that bind need some form of maintenance, it is up to us as individuals to decide what proportion of our time we invest in networking compared to revitalising community bonds.

We talked a lot about relating stories at the KM forum conference; they are a popular means of conveying ideas in a way that others can relate to. But it is worth asking, by relating stories do we cement our relationships? Historically, perhaps.

http://public-domain-photos.com/search/campfire

The campfire was the 'Ba' space for storytelling

Before the written word, stories were a form of knowledge sharing that bound the community together, and helped them survive. They were crafted and distilled from the best of collective experience and the telling was associated with times of safety and warmth– you don’t tell a story when a sabre tooth tiger is bearing down on you, shouted instructions are far more useful!  Culturally, the campfire is the equivalent of Nonaka’s ‘Ba’ space for story telling. That image resonates across many cultures.  A collection of stories was a wellspring of learning, and an oral history that gave the community a sense of identity and purpose, re-enforcing principles and values that mattered. That makes them powerful.

Nowadays stories are still good for finding points of connection. But in modern society community ties are much more fragmented, and stories can be interpreted outside of the context of belonging to some collective that assures our survival.  A well crafted story can be the communique of choice for gifted politicians, influential speakers and educators; it grounds concepts in real life challenges and adds human interest.  Taken out of the intimate context of a community, stories can have a different side to them. Undoubtedly, it’s human nature to relate instinctively to stories, which means that once recognised, this can become a tool of deliberate influence. I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  Just that story tellers have choices. Stories can be used care-fully or manipulatively. Until it became too expensive, advertisers loved ‘serials’, stories around a theme – remember Beatty and the BT phone ads that ran for years?   If you have to convince someone of your ideas, and can get a quick win with a story told with integrity, then, why not follow the principles of different types of story-telling and use them to achieve results?  Two books worth studying are Tell to Win  or Steve Dennings book the Leaders guide to Storytelling. Stories are memorable, emotive packages of words that do an effective job of conveying context with fact and interpretation. But in my view we have to think beyond one off stories and consider how stories become ongoing and evolving narratives – connected, purposeful and thematic. Steve Denning talks of narratives as a secret language of leadership

It is the patterns of discourse which are interesting if we are trying to effect durable change.  Isolated stories make relatively simply points. In some ways they are blunt instruments; to effect lasting change in organisations they have to become narratives to spread and as they spread they evolve.  Discourse, -the ongoing stream of dialogue, debate and conversational dynamics over time is what shapes how organisations either adapt and change or stagnate and die.   It is this we in the KM profession need to be aware of.  I would argue that we need to study this more than stories in the future if we are going to understand how to increase the agility.  Shifts in discourse are subtle signs of collective mood swings, they will signal how tensions are affecting groups, highlight the emotional resonances in the tensions which may become contagious, and so give us a sense of emerging trends.

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Follow the red brick road to empowerment AND organisational learning?

After from my throwaway comment at the end of Thursday’s blog,   it struck me that embedding courage, wisdom and heart into the fabric of the organisation is a good recipe for managing risk and essential ingredients for agility. But it will be a long journey, because the attributes have to move from the intuition of the individual, which is the mental spark that something needs to change right through to an institutionalised wisdom that is readily accepted by groups across the organisation.   Clearly learning has to happen at several levels, individual, group, across groups to finally become part of the organisational DNA.  There are both psychological and socio-political influences on this process, which become more and more difficult to negotiate the larger the organisation grows.  This article is very academic, but it does outline some of the issues. You may not want to read it in detail, but Figure 1 offers a useful diagram that captures what I mean and Table 1 shows a useful summary of the politics of organisational learning and the dynamics of power as they impact on organisational evolution. On a more practical note, the case study which Louse Montgomery and Julia Montgomery will share at the conference seems to address this challenge head on through the idea of making the learning pathways of Investment Bankers explicit.  Again I don’t want to steal their thunder, but I do think it is worth provoking interest in why recording progress en route to knowledge excellence could do more than just help the individual in their reflections and development. As Victoria Wardtold us, when she proposed this session for the conference, negotiating a pathway, creates a change in the contract between the individual, their line manager and their organisation, it provides a reference point that stays stable while everything around is changing, and makes an important and demonstrable connection between the individual’s commitment to learning and development and the organisation’s commitment to refreshing knowledge and skills. So it’s not just about isolated learning interventions, but about how they connect to the business performance, and strategy.   That does not do justice to the richness of the process and how it addresses the social and political forces identified in the article above, so I will have to come back to this topic after the conference.  For now, I just want to flag the idea of tailoring learning and development to strategic business conditions and then linking it to emerging individual needs as a great way of translating learning at the individual into organisational learning.  By recognising

 “the individual needs of people throughout their careers, with the aim of building capability from the moment they join a business to the point that they achieve peak performance.

such programmes, designed to achieve knowledge excellence in the beleaguered Investment Banking community,  are most encouraging

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We are busy collecting props for Nick Milton’s session at the Henley KM Forum conference; We’ve also surmounted Henley’s quite natural resistance to plugging untested electrical equipment into our building circuits, and found ways to accommodate about 90 delegates all being active in one space together.  (The session will be fun, I promise you and there are lots of valuable lessons to learn, but I am not going to give the game away!) Nick is a regular blogger so I have been checking out his musings.  A couple of Nick recent Knoco stories focus on the role of asking in knowledge sharing, and the KM techniques that embody the mechanisms for encouraging pull rather than push.  So it was in that context, that I smiled when I saw his blog on the 20th  February.

funnyanimalpictures.netThere’s no text, just this well known picture:-  with the caption, Mother told me there would be days like this!  Nick I sympathise!  Why did it make me though smile? Because the animal that usually pulls the heaviest loads is an ass!    But the metaphor started me thinking about information overload and potential to make a dumb mistake, unless we take the time and energy in this fast paced, social media savvy world to sort the wheat from the chaff.   What stories are the ones that we really need to learn from one, and which are the ones that contain misleading messages for our own specific context?   They may well be valid in other contexts, but often it is the subtle variations shaping the context that make the difference between something that is worthwhile for us to learn from and something that would not make a dent in our own particular circumstances.

Transferability is one of the big issues for qualitative research, and one of the reasons why thinking before adoption is so important for appropriate adaptations. Can the ideas generated through research be readily applied across contexts?    Do we have enough understanding of the detail of the context to see how we can apply them to ours?  This is one of the reasons why networking face to face is so valuable. It’s the opportunity to meet with the experts, quiz them on the detail of their situation and decide how it relates to ours.

But, I’ll dare to suggest it also comes back to the spending some quality time in the slow thinking stream, which Daniel Kahneman talks about in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.   Kahnemann is credited with being the founder of behavioural economics, a field of thinking which brings understanding of real human behaviour and social psychology, to theories of rational economic man, that formed the foundation of economics for a long time.   Together with Amos Tversky he won a Nobel prize for their work on bias in decisions and choices.  Only by understanding the full detail of his work, will you see how to relate it to your KM problems, but those of you who heard Graham O’Connell’s opening session at the November KM Forum meeting will remember him talking about why slow reflective thinking helps us find the patterns, discriminate what is valuable through the extent of resonant connections, cross validate with other evidence and plan accordingly.  In addition there may be the weight of the moral, ethical angle to evaluate.  I have just come across an immediate example related of this last risk of decisions divorced from the detail of context, whilst listening to ‘The Stream’ on Al Jazeera. The issue for their attention was  When should police use Social media to solve crimes? The obvious ethical dimension of this problem is when might the activity affect innocent people’s lives and what protection are in place to ensure that the potential negative consequences of crowd sourcing the search for a suspect doesn’t outweigh the potential public good associated with taking a real criminal off the streets?  Could an innocent person be convicted based on perceptions of observers that may well be biased?  We know from research that people are often inaccurate witnesses.  We also know that weight of perception can be a strong influence on decision making; the risk is that the potential heavy weight attributed to the much larger number of potentially inaccurate sightings of a person, could lead to a wrongful conviction.  Of course it could equally well lead to faster justice.

It’s n

treasuretroveblog.com

Think slowly when you summon the Social Media Genie

ot the sharing activity that is problematic, it’s whether we have the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure that information overload does not distort our thinking. You may like to download the white paper on Knowledge Sharing 2.0 and the Social Media Genie, which was produced as a result of research project in the Henley KM Forum last year.  In the case of police use of social media I’ve no doubt there are careful rules for when and where this is allowed, and there are certainly many benefits to be gained from a fast and agile response that social media can create.    However, I would also argue that some slow and care-full thinking about the how we use the social media are also vital.  Otherwise we run the risk that for some important decision an unreasonable weight of perception will sway our decisions and those pulling the cart end up without firm ground under their feet!

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Just a week to go to the conference, and we are getting excited, All the speakers slides are coming in, and we are starting to talk with them about writing a report about the conference afterwards. Then even if you miss a day, you’ll be able to get a good sense of the coverage and conversations around Organisational Learning and Leadership.   One person I have not mentioned in these blogs so far is Victor Newman.  He probably doesn’t need an introduction to our KM Forum members, because he has been involved in projects on innovation, presented at events and conferences and is always well received.  Anyone in KM who hasn’t encountered his Baton Passing techniques and his views on innovation is missing a vital part of their KM education.    He’s keen on the issue of Leadership Agility in the context of Innovation, as you can see from his recent blog. Agility for entrepreneurs and SME’s is critical when size affects you ability to absorb mistakes in sense-making, changes in the external conditions, when you have a smaller buffer between you and catastrophe in many areas of the supply chain, or in customer reach and loyalty.  Living closer to the edge of survival is likely to make you sharper.

I mentioned in an earlier blog, that I have been watching the Super Smart Animals series, and

A Chickadee in Canada

one experiment with Chickadees from Kansas and Canada is enlightening in this respect.  In episode 1 of the series, we learned that Chickadees are the same genetically all over the American continent. But Chickadees from Canada are smarter than their cousins from Kansas, simply because they have had to live closer to the edge.  Food is plentiful all year round in Kansas, but northern Chickadees have to cope with much more extreme weather conditions and making it harder to find food and survive.  As a result they explore and work things out for themselves. In one experiment a bird from each location was presented with a wooden panel in which tasty grubs sat in little holes.  Unfortunately the holes were covered with metal lids with a glass window in. So the birds could see the grub, but not reach it, without doing something unfamiliar.   Kansas chickadees spent time tapping on the window, looking longingly at the grub. Canadian Chickadees got down and used their claws to prise off the lids and reach underneath to get the prize.  Clever birds!  No-one had told them how to be innovative, but conditions had made them more agile.

We know that crisis is a catalyst for change, but if that is not a frequent occurrence, the learning can be limited.  This suggests that agility is something that requires constant practice; what makes us endure the discomfort of repeated practice?  Pressures on survival!

The Lion, The Scarecrow, Dorothy and the Tinman

On that basis, hopefully the current economic crisis will be good for the more complacent financial and political chickadees, who are no longer in Kansas with Dorothy, but on a journey that needs the courage of a lion, that  wisdom of the scarecrow’s brain and one that puts real heart in the Tin man!

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Sense-making is one a key leadership practice that gives the organisation agility. But it is a tricky one, when we are bombarded with so many different stimuli.  As Sarah Grimwood the practitioner co-champion for the research on building agile leadership capability told me

 “Organisations need leaders that can adapt to a rapidly changing world (and can take others with them).   The volume of information that we can now access instantly online, including on social media sites, requires leaders to be able to quickly assimilate what is really important and to communicate this to their teams.”

Sarah is KM Lead at MWH and is also talking about communities as the basis of organisational learning at the conference.

Co-ordinating different leadership activities

The issue is what is required to co-ordinate all the sense-making of all the leaders of communities, projects and cultures so that they feel connected to a direction that keeps the organisation competitive and flexible?  As long as the organisational identity is defined sufficiently broadly it can offer a meaningful collective purpose for a whole range of dynamic capabilities.  Community can also mitigate risks associated with communities of practice becoming so strong that they won’t let go of what they know.  After a while the emotional reward of being in a successful and close knit group, can create blinkers to accepting new ways of framing what people do. Dynamism is lost.  We often argue that communities have a life. But if they don’t disband naturally, they can keep refining knowledge beyond what adds value; they become so invested in the specialist knowledge that made them distinctive, that unlearning is not considered. With no external market pressures the organisation is at risk of stagnation, despite the evident value of communities as learning mechanisms.  This is where diversity pays dividends in challenging thinking. It is also why senior leaders have an important role to play in asking questions about where renewal will come from.  Structurally this may be a good time to introduce some inter group competition to challenge the value of existing know-how for the future, it may be when mergers and acquisitions create a different rhythm for renewal.  Obviously that creates all sorts of discomfort and tension for change recipients. In a world where it is easy to become overwhelmed by new ideas, innovation and change, bounding the possible with bonds of collective identity that make sense to all involved provides a stake the ground that helps people adapt and decide how to integrate new regimes with what is valuable from the organisational knowledge bank and the historical legacy of reputation. Coaching is another context specific integrating mechanism, but depends heavily on the quality of the people acting as coaches, and their ability to both recognise and deal with the tensions that arise and communicate well with others one to one and one to many.

The concept of a community of influence is a novel development that also works across boundaries to use knowledge diversity. Organised as a set of loose association of other organisations and key stakeholders, it offers a fluid mechanism for adaptation that takes into account multiple voices and uses them to accumulate learning and change through practice in very large scale problems. By connecting smaller communities, that retain their specific identity and purpose, but can work from different perspectives on a common cause, a powerful body for influencing decision making emerges at the societal level. The network then can influence the particular external conditions which limit each smaller organisation’s ability to create the necessary change.  It is harnessing difference, beyond the focus of the specific collectives that contribute.  I am looking forward to hearing more at the Henley KM Forum conference about how MacMillan Cancer Care have overcome the challenges of making this work across different interests to realise a more joined up and innovative approach to this very important form of healthcare.  If you are coming to the conference you’ll get the chance to really explore the challenges of creating and sustaining communities of influence.  If you are not attending, then Alison Donaldson, Elizabeth Lank and Jane Maher have written a book, which tells the story of how these relative loose associations of professionals, specialists and patients can over a long period of time produce durable learning and change through conversations and relationships.

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Trying to live up to yesterday’s commitment to get back to blogging and explore the conference themes, today I am going to focus on emotions and how they affect responses to change. It’s not my intention to give away what the speakers are going to say, but more to start some thinking about why these themes are relevant to our KM practice.

Organisational learning helps change and makes it stick. In KM we can’t make it happen directly, we have to work through influence. It’s the leadership in all the different areas of expertise that have to implement it and keep people motivated to deliver and learn at the same time.

But learning and change create all sorts of emotional responses for those involved. Some people thrive on it, some people fear it. To some extent, it depends on whether people feel confident that they can turn change into an opportunity, or whether they are happier with working in well know territory with familiar routines and expertise. A leader’s mood is highly contagious. It can have an enormous influence on that balance, as well as how well the KM techniques and technologies we know and love get adopted in practice. So for me the quote below[1] captures what we need from leadership across the board, in projects, teams divisions and departments.

Be positive

“Effective leaders prime good feelings in those they lead. They create emotional resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people” 

That would really improve knowledge flow. The best in people from a KM and a business perspective means people using their skills and expertise and capabilities to their full potential to deliver results.

From personal experience, I know that when I’ve worked with someone   who has innate emotional intelligence, it makes a difference to how valued I feel, affects whether I get a strong sense of belonging to something worthwhile, and changes my levels of engagement. In a high pressure business environment, acknowledging and dealing with the feelings that affect how well we exercise our capabilities is as important as dealing with the task, but it’s easy for the former to get overlooked, with detrimental effect on knowledge work. Perhaps because it’s easier to manage tasks than emotions, perhaps because we feel we achieve more by concentrating on the task, or perhaps because we are not sensitised to the emotional climate.

I’m not suggesting leadership is about being soft and cuddly all the time. In the March/April 2000 edition of Harvard Business Review[2] Goleman reviewed some research conducted by Hay McBer. They found that leaders who get results move seamlessly between six familiar leadership styles, some much harder than others. The interesting thing was that they use all six flexibly rather than relying on just a few of them. You’ll recognise the six styles in people you know, but think about how many leaders you know who feel comfortable using the full range.

“Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance. Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision. Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony. Democratic leaders build consensus through participation. Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. And coaching leaders develop people for the future. “

Leading for results means knowing how to match style to context so that followers feel supported and are not floundering in situations where they feel they don’t belong. To do this leaders need to be able to connect with their own, and others fears, hopes anxieties, dreams and potential, whilst also setting clear boundaries and expectations that support a level of emotional resilience to change, personal commitment to the organization and continuous self management and well-being. That sort of emotional intelligence comes from four quite distinct personal sensitivities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill.

With these, leaders gain the capacity to vary their style, and so get the best from those who follow them. Increasing emotional intelligence should amplify the impact of knowledge and learning activities. This is one reason why we have included it as one of the leadership practices in our 46th Henley KM Forum research project. We were exploring what it takes to develop knowledge driven leadership agility. Conference delegates will learn more about the full set of practices and the development challenge we have created to raise awareness of the sort of leadership capability that really supports knowledge work. If you aren’t coming, I will be referring to them in my blogs up until the conference. So watch this space.

In the next blog, I’m going to talk more about what happens when the collective emotional undercurrent becomes negative overall. That puts me in mind of Daan Andriessen’s presentation at the 2010 KM Forum conference. Those of you who belong to the Henley KM Forum can download his slides from the members’ website. Those of you who don’t belong, can learn what you are missing, by visiting Daan’s website. You’ll find the presentation in the Knowledge Management part of his presentations area Look for “The Unconscious at Work; How hidden patterns in organisations may hamper KM” Presentation given at the Henley KM Forum 2010.

[1] Goleman, D Boyatzis, RE and McKee, A (2009) Primal Leadership. Leadership Excellence  vol 26 (iss) 10: 9-10.

[2] Goleman, D (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review  vol 78 (iss) 2: 78-90.

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