Monday, April 27, 2015

Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their leadership? Some thoughts from business

Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their leadership? Is it a lack of preparedness?

This blog examines some issues relating to responsibility, ethics and power in leadership.  I have drawn on some older material to help my reflection, and suggest that we seldom consider how we should prepare for success as a precursor to good performance.  None of this is new, but has it been forgotten?

Leadership has been described as a serious meddling in the lives of others (De Pree, 1991:7).  This implies that leadership embodies a responsibility of leaders for, or toward, those who are led.  

Yet a common scenario in modern business (since the late 1980s) is:

... good, respected and successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.  (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:266).


An Australian newspaper article from that time (Barker, 1995:14) reported that a concern for ethics in business is:

... a response to what is now called “ the excesses of the eighties” - the economic damage done to the nation and individuals by greedy, irresponsible and often corrupt business people who were feted as national heroes.

Ethics in management is a significant theme in the recent.  But why is it that leaders get caught up in a downward spiral of unethical decisions?

Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:266-267) seek to:

... debunk the notion that ethical failure of our leaders is largely due to lack of principle and/or the tough competitive climate of the 80s and 90s. (Equally, we could say the same for the more recent past)  Rather, we would like to suggest that many of the violations we have witnessed in recent years are the result of success and lack of preparedness in dealing with personal and organisational success.

Other evidence (Barker, 1995; LaBier ,1986) supports this contention that little attention is placed on preparing people to deal with the trials and dilemmas associated with success in modern society.  As success is the goal of every leader (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:270) it is surprising that it does not rate more significance in management and leadership literature.

The biblical story of David and Bathsheba is used to outline four potential by-products of success: 
·      lose of strategic focus;
·      privileged access;
·      control of resources;
·      inflated belief in personal ability to control outcomes.

Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:267-269) write that “... the good and successful King David of Israel, believing he could cover up his impropriety, took Bathsheba to his bed while her husband was off in battle.”  

David is not where he is supposed to be (loss of strategic focus), he “delegated, then ignored what was happening”.  David had time on his hands, and a viewing position atop the palace roof to view Bathsheba at bath (privileged access).  David then manipulates the situations (controls resources, and tries to control outcomes) sleeps with Bathsheba who falls pregnant, brings her husband in from battle in the hope he will sleep with his wife and cover-up David’s impropriety, and eventually causes the husband to be killed.  The manipulation is exposed.  “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power, and control over power, he could cover up”.

When kept within reason, privileged access and control of resources are positive and justified requisites for success.  Privileged access is “essential for comprehensive strategic vision” and control of resources is “necessary for the execution of strategy” (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:269).  Loss of strategic focus and inflated belief in personal ability are essentially negative (see Table 3)

Table 3:  Possible outcome experienced by successful leaders


Positive/Benefit

Negative/Disadvantage





Personal
Level
Privileged Access

Position
Influence
Status
Rewards/Perks
Recognition
Latitude
Associations
Access

Inflated Belief in Personal Ability

Emotionally Expansive
Unbalanced Personal Life
Inflated Ego
Isolation
Stress
Transference
Emptiness
Fear of Failure



Organisational
Level
Control of Resources

No Direct Supervision
Ability to Influence
Ability to set Agenda
Control over Decision Making

Loss of Strategic Focus

Organisation on Autopilot
Delegation without Supervision
Strategic Complacency
Neglect of Strategy

                                                                                (Source: Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993: 270)


The benefits of success to the leader and the organisation are obvious.  Less readily apparent is the personal “dark side” of success which revolves largely around three psychological issues outlined by Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:270-271).  These are:

·      Climbing the success ladder exposes leaders to negative attitudes and behaviours.  There may not be apparent, but nonetheless come with the territory of successful leadership.  Negatives that could be reinforced include unbalanced personal lives, a loss of touch with reality and an inflated sense of personal ability.

·      Leaders may become emotionally expansive - “their appetite for success, thrills, gratification, and control becomes insatiable”.  They can lose the ability to be satisfied.  They can become personally isolated and lack intimacy with family and friends, losing a valuable source of personal balance.  They “literally lose touch with reality”.

·      Other factors include stress, fear of failure and the “emptiness syndrome” (“Is this all there is to success?”)  An inflated sense of ego can lead to abrasiveness, close-mindedness and disrespect. 

Success does not necessarily lead to undesired behaviour as Ludwig and Longenecker (1991:271) are careful to record:

We are not suggesting that all successful leaders fall prey to these negatives that are frequently associated with success, but rather want to make the case that success can bring with it some very negative emotional baggage.

However, it is useful to recognise the seven lessons from David’s experience (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1991:271) provide a useful framework for reflection:

  •  Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organisation’s short-term and long-term success.  This can't happen if they aren't where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.
  • There will always be temptations that come in a variety of shapes and forms that will tempt leaders to make decisions they know they shouldn't make.  With success will come additional ethical trials.  
  • Perpetrating an unethical act is a personal, conscious choice on the part of the leader that frequently places a greater emphasis on personal gratification rather than on the organisation’s needs.
  • It is difficult if not impossible to partake in unethical behaviour without implicating and/or involving others in the organisation
  • Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organisational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.
  • Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behaviour.
  • Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organisation, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.”

The important lessons for Ludwig and Longenecker (1992:272) is for leaders to recognise it could happen to them, and to be aware that:

Ethical leadership is simply part of good leadership and requires focus, the appropriate use of resources, trust, effective decision making, and provision of model behaviour that is worth following.  Once it is lost it is difficult if not impossible to regain.


Further Reading

Barker G (1995)  The glove that tempers the iron fist.  The Australian Financial Review Magazine. July. pp.14-21

Burdett  J O (1991)  What is empowerment anyway?  Journal of European Industrial Training. 15(6):23-30

De Pree M O (1989)  Leadership is an Art.   Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.

De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.

Eisler R (1995)  From domination to partnership: The hidden subtext for organisation change.  Training & Development 49(2):32-39

LaBier D (1986)  Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Ludwig D C and Longenecker C O (1993)  The Bathsheba syndrome: the ethical failure of successful leaders. Journal of Business Ethics 12(4):265-273


Peace W H (1991)  The hard work of being a soft manager.  Harvard Business Review. 69(6):40-42,46-47

Friday, April 24, 2015

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to respond.

I don’t know the exact origins but for many years now I have often said to colleagues that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth, and that is the proportion in which we should use them. The management literature abounds with entreaties for us to listen better, to develop listening skills, to be reactive listeners, and to listen first before speaking. But have we learnt the lesson.

I would like to thank the people at Swish Design for the post from which I have taken my title. Finding it was an OS!M[1].

Yes it is true.

Often we are waiting for the gaps, or the breaks, or when we think the speaker has finished (or had enough time) so that we can inject our piece of “communication”.

Often we break the sequence of discussion, or inject content of little value, or just say the same thing again.

We listen to respond. We build our own ideas, not necessarily creatively building on the ideas of others.

Our behaviours are less supportive and more directive. We miss messages, and opportunities. We just fail to listen. Our agenda not theirs.

As Kelly Exeter from Swish Design (http://www.swishdesign.com.au/category/blog/) says:

I think any of us who are in client facing roles have experienced this – that thing where we spend most of the conversation formulating our reply to the person we’re speaking to. So much so that we forget to actually listen to them.

Which in turn prevents us from understanding what their actual problem is …


[1] Oh Shit! Moment

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Where is your organisation? Stop Planning and Start the Journey.

A business plan is a necessity for any business. It is the result of painstaking thought and analysis, translated into a strategy and action.

Many advisers will tell you, quite rightly, that simply having a plan is not the path to success. They will tell you that to execute your strategy you will need to be continually planning, and taking operational or tactical decisions as you are sure your objective.

I’d like to suggest a different way of looking at this.

Everybody in business will tell you that they often encounter barriers, unexpected obstacles and difficulties on the path to their ultimate goal. Having a means to navigate through this environment of uncertainty becomes critical…

Navigation, as commonly understood, requires us to know where we want to go. Often in business however we are more like explorers who have no idea what we will find along the way, or even what it looks like when we get there. We are driven by a vision of the future, and often one we want to create. The most important question on such a journey is often “where are we?”

It’s the navigator’s job to answer that question.

Do you know where you are? Have you defined your purpose adequately, so that at any point on the journey you can determine if you are fit for purpose? Do you have the necessary information to assess the health of your business? Do you have the cash flow to keep going? Have you been filling in the details as you go so that you can test the continued validity of your business plan? Or are you pursuing the journey in the hope that the ship is in shape? Do you know where you are, or are you just assuming that you are where you want to be?

Think of your business journey as a journey of discovery. As a navigator does, you not only chart the course, that you continually scan the horizon and monitor the weather, and make adjustments to sail around the storms or to avoid the rocks and reefs, or to take advantage of favourable winds. Just as the navigator calls for course changes to avoid hazards, and then for re-corrections to come back on track, so too you can manage your businesses.

How good is your information, your understanding, your analysis of experience, and your scanning of the business horizon? Where are you getting your advice?  Who do you turn to for assistance to navigate through the morass?

At any point in the journey that is your business life you must be able to answer the question “where are we?” and then assess whether you are still on track or off course.  And then you can make the informed decisions necessary to keep the business viable.  Execution is strategy.  Navigation enables execution.

And all business is a journey, not a destination.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A note for the CEO: You communicate even when you are not communicating!

Here is a little story from one of my favourite leadership practitioners, Max De Pree, that reminds us that what a leader does is important.

I often found  the CEO job a rather lonely life where every move is under someone’s observation.  But rather than letting this develop into a sense of strain or tension, it is important to remember that if your actions reflect your words (or intentions) then you are being authentic and effective.


Esther, my wife, and I have a grand-daughter named Zoe, the Greek word for “life”.  She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulders.  The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days.  When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.

To complicate matters, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born.  Realising this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions.  “For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father.  I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger.  While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.”

Ruth was doing exactly the right thing on Zoe’s behalf (and, of course, on my behalf as well), and without realising it she was giving me one of the best possible descriptions of the work of a leader.  At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one’s voice with one’s touch. (my emphasis)

Reference:  De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia. pp.1-3

Climate change has more impact than culture change in organisations

In the organisations I have lead I have steadfastly refused to have any culture change programmes.  I prefer to change what the organisation and its’ people are doing, and as a result the culture changes. Too many efforts aimed at improving organisational performance stumble because they miss this opportunity.

I am sure many readers will have shared the experience of attending a culture change workshop where a “desired culture” is identified and a list of “behaviours” is identified.  Then we all go back to doing the same things in the hope that the culture will change.  Unless new and different activities are introduced the change efforts will be suboptimal.

One aspect of this that is not often spoken about now is the difference between climate and culture in organisations.  Culture tends to be deep and stable (entrenched). Culture is often difficult to access and perceive. Climate, on the other hand, is often easier to perceive and understand – the behaviour, attitudes and feelings that characterise daily life in the organisation. Climate is not only easier to assess, but it also is easier to change.

Climate is the key determinant of performance.  Every action you take, every decision made, will have direct impact on the climate in the organisation.

Neglecting your people, for example, creates a poor climate.

A warm, supportive, co-operative climate where high standards are accepted and expected improves your chances of business success.  Creating a climate where the teams objectives are crystal clear create the grounds on which a healthy culture will develop – one where every employee is totally committed to the company’s goals and works hard to contribute to them.

It goes beyond just asking: Do they work well together as a team?

The important questions for individuals look like this:
·         Is everyone clear about what they’re doing?
·         Do they feel their contribution is recognised?
·         Do they feel they get a hearing?
·         Are they truly valued and honoured by the organisation?
·         Do they have a sense that they belong?

__________
See also : Novel Approach to Developing Leaders

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Purpose is the game of champions, and subservience to purpose is a proven path to success

The more I witness organisations that are struggling to succeed, or survive, or just to run harmoniously, the more I see an absence of purpose. Most of these organisations have a great vision, mission and strategic plan, but lack the spark to pull it all together.

In his book, Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, Nikos Mourkogiannis records that “…purpose – not money, not status – is what people most want from work. Make no mistake: they want compensation; some want an ego- affirming title. Even more, though, they want their lives to mean something, they want their lives to have a reason”.

You can’t find much fault with that!

Purpose is not often discussed in the context of a business. The concept however is straightforward. Why does the organisation exist? What does the organisation do? “Purpose matters because it makes work meaningful and integrated into my life; it enables me to feel pride in what I do and liberates me to do it better” observes one of Mourkogiannis’s subjects (p.15).

And, purpose is not a new concept – it has long been recognised. For example, when Henry Ford was sued by his own shareholders in 1914 for breach of fiduciary responsibility, he argued from the witness stand that in effect businesses run solely for shareholder profit would ultimately make less money than businesses run for purpose. Ford was ahead of his time on both accounts!

Mourkogiannis makes the point that “where the company is driven by a purpose, the vision, mission and values flow naturally from that purpose. People don’t need to be “aligned” – they already have been attracted to the organisation, as employees or customers, by its purpose.”

Let’s explore these concepts further:
  • Stripped bare, vision is a statement about where you want to go as an organisation. It is a future state.
  • And your mission is the path that you take to get from where you are now to that future position enunciated in the vision.
  • A common element of many vision statements is to be number one at what you do.
  • And what you do should be your purpose. Purpose is what you do every day as part of the journey to achieve your vision.
  • Effective organisations are those that are fit for purpose at every point on that journey.
  • If you are not fit for purpose then your journey/mission can be very rocky.
What are some of the symptoms of organisational problems in terms of purpose? There are many but commonly they include morale problems (things are flat, there is a shortage of energy, people do not really believe what is been said and/or done); calls for a new strategy (often a call from a rediscovery of the foundations of the existing strategy); execution problems (the targets are okay but the actions taken are inappropriate) and concerns over reputation (actions debase core values).

There is little to be gained by simplistic approaches often used to address these (like restructuring, for example.) There is no point trying to align the people if you are trying to misalign them with their understanding of, or belief in purpose.

Purpose is like a moral compass, pointing you in the right direction. It gives the business a clear sense of its reason to exist. It can and should be the test applied to each and every action you plan to take – is the proposed action consistent with the purpose? Will it contribute to achievement of our vision? Does it reflect our values? If clearly defined a purpose will excite and engage all stakeholders, especially staff and customers. An understanding of purpose enables staff to make better, and more confident, decisions. They are aligned through self-motivation, rather than inducement.

“An understanding of purpose makes it easier to follow the ancient learning ritual – fail and try again, fail and try again, and ultimately succeed.” (Mourkogiannis, p13)

Purpose ultimately provides the focus needed to create a focus on what needs to be done today for you to be successful, because you must succeed at all steps along your journey, you must be fit for purpose no matter how far, or close, your vision.

So, why did I use “subservience” in my title? This is aimed at leaders in organisations and comes from the work of Justin Menkes (Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others, 2011). He talks about the very significant impact leaders can have if they are subservient to purpose – and the importance of this “in today’s world of distractions and continual melding of home and work life.” (p.99) Subservience in his terms is the deliberate choice to put the purpose first: to frame all relationships and actions and engagement in the context of purpose.

Drawing on the work of Mourkogiannis and Menkes, it is my belief that the best leaders “discover” the purpose of their organisations through discussion and observation. Yes they can shape it – but not in isolation of the people who make up the organisation, and key stakeholders on the outside. Leaders emerge because they make sense and are able to capture and articulate what an organisation, and its people, needs to do to live its purpose.

And a brief comment about “alignment”. In work, I like to find organisations with a purpose that aligns with mine – to make a difference by helping people and organisations become, and remain, fit for purpose.

If your own purpose aligns with an organisation, then join it or remain with it. If it doesn’t, then find somewhere else to work. That might sound harsh, but it is really about doing something on purpose.

Leading your organisation to success: what makes for good managerial leadership?

How do you grab the attention of your organisation and ensure that it does the right thing?
Many will say “by having a compelling vision”.  It would be nice to have such a simple exclamation.

Having a compelling vision alone is insufficient for achievement as a leader. It must be complemented by communication and relationship building skills. Peters and Waterman, in “In Search of Excellence” in 1982, considered that the principal factor which seems to deliver organisational success is the manager’s ability to deal with people.

Dealing with people starts with establishing a shared understanding of purpose. CEOs cannot develop a compelling vision or a strategy on their own. Yes, they need to have an agenda, and be results oriented (results get attention), but these cannot be developed in isolation.

The reality is that the best CEOs are good at articulating the aspirations of their fellow organisational members.

They are good at listening and observing their own people, and turning those aspirations into a compelling statement for the organisation.

Simply put, the best leaders set the direction by energising the aspirations already in the organisation.
 
Articulating and communicating that vision turns it into a statement of shared purpose. The much sought after alignment of staff is more correctly described as a continuing process of orienting people towards the core objective, and to initiate actions that contribute to the achievement of purpose.

And organisations become more effective as this shared understanding translates into another continuing process of always challenging what is being done – does it contribute to the purpose? Is it consistent with values? If so, is it the best way? What are the risks? Is the risk worth taking? And so on.

Rather than being seen as the action of a charismatic or transformational leader, the purpose provides for a fundamental need in people. It is one in which they can find meaning and a sense of personal worth. It is a framework in which their contribution can be appreciated, and not just externally, but in greater levels of self-esteem and confidence.


Two other factors are important, and can be deal breakers no matter how effective a leader has been in developing a sense of purpose. Those factors are trust and respect.

Trust is easy, and whilst it encompasses concepts such as integrity and fairness, in organisations it comes simply from making yourself and your position clear, and then honouring your commitments. That is, doing what you promise. This requires accountability and reliability, and implicitly requires you to think carefully about the commitments you are making, and recognising the impact that you are having on the organisation and its people. Max De Pree rightly talks of leadership as a serious meddling in the lives of others. Consider your commitments carefully, make them public and then honour them. Too often this becomes a stumbling block!

Respect, also, is easy. To gain the respect and confidence of staff, managerial leaders must be able to display competence in the work of the organisation, not just in “management expertise.” This is not an argument either for internal appointments, or for appointments of people who already understand your business. Many leaders entered jobs in which they have little content knowledge, and those who survive invariably go into a deep dive to understand the business and its nature. As they develop expertise, and display empathy with the joys and trials of the business, they win respect. Those who do not work to understand the business falter.

The essence of managerial leadership is to develop and demonstrate the expertise and understanding that allows you to articulate a core purpose for the organisation. Translating that purpose into action is the essence of successful strategy and that requires you to be clear about your intentions and “walk the talk”.

Company Directors should act without fear

I invest a lot of time assisting people running businesses to do the right thing and to find the correct decisions for their company or organisation.  Often, to do this effectively, we need to reflect on our own practice.  Here is a thought for you on fear.

Have you been in this situation before? You are facing a dilemma and need to make a hard decision. Racing through your mind are all sorts of scenarios and distractions. A decision seems obvious, but something holds you back.  It could be that you’re racked with fear that people won’t like your decision. You might fear looking stupid. We fear that people may feel hurt, or that you might damage a friendship or a working relationship. Will making a decision be seen as me having got it wrong in the past?

So you compromise and make a decision that you think might keep the peace, or please everyone.  Or, worse still, you avoid making a decision at all.

Now, ask yourself this: what would I do if I had no fears?

Prolonged exposure to boardrooms, and listening to the war stories of respected directors, tells me that the above situation is not unheard of in the governance arena. But there can be no place for fear in decision-making for directors. They are charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of the company.  Importantly this requirement includes making decisions in the best interests of the company even if that is not in their own interest.
 
Directors are expected to make the tough call, and this can often be a daunting and difficult task.   But they cannot avoid their responsibility by ducking the hard decisions.

Perhaps the most valued asset that any director possesses is his or her reputation. Reputation risk is often discussed by directors, and an association with poor decisions and/or practices could damage that reputation. This provides a very strong motive for directors to ensure that they are making sound decisions that are in the best interest of the company. Best interest, of course, now goes beyond narrow interpretations of shareholder value, to ensuring that decisions enable the company to continue to trade in a sustainable manner, and reflect the needs and interests of staff, customers, and the wider community as well as shareholders.

But directors, like all people, are not immune to fear. They, however, may have a heightened responsibility to ensure that fear does not distort good decision-making. If we asked the question, “what would I do if I had no fears?”, then we could remove one major obstacle to the operation of sound judgement.

When you ask “what would I do if I had no fears?” then often the correct decision stares you in the face…your choice becomes clearer.

Want to learn more? I recently completed a program offered by the University of Lausanne through Coursera entitled, Unethical Decision-Making in Organisations.  Delivered by Guido Palazzo and Ulrich Hoffrage from the UL Business School, the course covered many topics, including the Enron story and Lehman Brothers collapse.  I would recommend the course to anyone interested in developing their decision making skills. I would particularly recommend it to anybody serving at Board or C-Suite level.

Amongst other things, the Lausanne course has helped me to re-appreciate the operation of fear, and particularly concerns about making decisions that might isolate you in work or social settings. The course also help be put in context the importance that leaders such as Field Marshal Bill Slim and Gen George Patton both applied to the advice “do not take the counsel of your fears”.  And the words of Max DePree: “Leaders stand alone, take the heat, bear the pain, tell the truth.”

High on the list of screens I will now apply to the difficult task of decision-making, especially at board level, will be to regularly ask myself: what would I do if I had no fears?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leadership in Organisations – it is about identifying the path everyone wants to walk, and then building that path as you go.



How do you grab the attention of your organisation and ensure that it does the right thing?

Many will say “by having a compelling vision”.  It would be nice to have such a simple exclamation.

Having a compelling vision alone is insufficient for achievement as a leader. It must be complemented by communication and relationship building skills. Peters and Waterman, in “In Search of Excellence” (1982), considered that the principal factor which seems to deliver organisational success is the manager’s ability to deal with people.

Dealing with people in organisations starts with establishing a shared understanding of purpose. CEOs cannot develop a compelling vision or a strategy on their own. Yes, they need to have an agenda, and be results oriented (results get attention), but these cannot be developed in isolation.  The reality is that the best CEOs are good at articulating the aspirations of their fellow organisational members. They are good at listening 
and observing their own people, and turning those aspirations
 into a compelling statement for the organisation. 

Simply put, the best leaders set the direction by energising the 
aspirations already in the organisation.

Articulating and communicating that vision turns it into a statement of shared purpose. The much sought after alignment of staff is more correctly described as a continuing process of orienting people towards the core objective, and to initiate actions that contribute to the achievement of purpose. And organisations become more effective as this shared understanding translates into another continuing process of always challenging what is being done – does it contribute to the purpose? Is it consistent with values? If so, is it the best way? What are the risks? Is the risk worth taking? And so on.
. Rather than being seen as the action of a charismatic or transformational leader, the purpose provides for a fundamental need in people. It is one in which they can find meaning and a sense of personal worth. It is a framework in which their contribution can be appreciated, and not just externally, but in greater levels of self-esteem and confidence. The effective managerial leader’s role then has been to capture and clarify the collective aspirations, to articulate these in a clear statement of purpose, and then to continually reiterate and reorient around that shared vision.

Two other factors are important, and can be deal breakers no matter how effective a leader has been in developing a sense of purpose. Those factors are trust and respect.

Trust is easy, and whilst it encompasses concepts such as integrity and fairness, in organisations it comes simply from making yourself and your position clear, and then honouring your commitments. That is, doing what you promise. This requires accountability and reliability, and implicitly requires you to think carefully about the commitments you are making, and recognising the impact that you are having on the organisation and its people. Max De Pree rightly talks of leadership as a serious meddling in the lives of others. Consider your commitments carefully, make them public and then honour them. Too often this becomes a stumbling block!

Respect, also, is easy. To gain the respect and confidence of staff, managerial leaders must be able to display competence in the work of the organisation, not just in “management expertise.” This is not an argument either for internal appointments, or for appointments of people who already understand your business. Many leaders entered jobs in which they have little content knowledge, and those who survive invariably go into a deep dive to understand the business and its nature. As they develop expertise, and display empathy with the joys and trials of the business, they win respect. Those who do not work to understand the business falter.

The essence of managerial leadership is to develop and demonstrate
the expertise and understanding that allows you to articulate a core purpose
 for the organisation. 
 
Translating that purpose into action is the essence of successful strategy
 and that requires you to be clear about your intentions. 
   
It is more than just “walk the talk” – it is about identifying the path 
everyone wants to walk, and then building that path as you go.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A leader must break free of the wisdom of the herd, and strike out in bold new directions.”





In 2002 Steve Sample, Tenth President of the University of Southern California penned the book, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership”   I was reminded of this great little read during a discussion with a business colleague today. Not surprising, when I found my copy it was full of many long-forgotten marginal notes and post-it stickers (also covered with my characteristically unreadable scrawl).

The key take-away of the book is that most people are incapable of truly original or independent thought, but a leader must have that ability.  Sample draws heavily on classical works from Shakespeare to Machiavelli to Abraham Lincoln to support this proposition.  As an aside, his recommendations for a reading list are fun, and…well, contrarian.

A leader’s vision is important, but just as critical is this ability to “think free” and consider a range of ideas.  I’m digging deeper into the book as I’m finding it fascinating to revisit after 12 years during which my experiences give me a richer reference point (and will probably post some further comments.

My dictionary defines contrarian as “one who opposes or rejects popular opinion”.  That certainly sounds like free thinking.  Sample pulls together a few contrarian principles “which will help a leader break free of the wisdom of the herd, and strike out in bold new directions.”

1.    Think gray: try not to form firm opinions about ideas or people unless and until you have to.

2.    Think free: train yourself to move several steps beyond traditional brainstorming by considering really outrageous solutions and approaches.

3.    Listen first, talk later.  And when you listen, do so artfully.

4.    Experts can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for your own critical thinking and discernment.

5.    Beware of pseudoscience masquerading as incontrovertible fact or unassailable wisdom; it typically will do nothing to serve your interests or those of the organization you are leading.

6.    Dig for gold in the subtext while your competition stays mired down in trade publications and other ephemera.  You can depend on your lieutenants to give you any current news that really matters.

7.    Never make a decision yourself that can be reasonably delegated to a lieutenant and never make a decision today that can reasonably put off till tomorrow.

8.    Ignore sunk costs and yesterday’s mistakes.  The decisions you make as a leader can only affect the future not the past.

9.    Don't unnecessarily humiliate a defeated opponent.

10.   Know which hill you’re willing to die on, and realize that your choice may at some point require you to retreat from all the surrounding hills.

11.   Work for those who work for you; recruit the best lieutenants available, and then spend most of your time and energy helping them to succeed.

12.   Many people want to be leader, but few want to do leader.  If you are not in the latter group you should stay away from the leadership business altogether.

13.   You as a leader can't really run your organization; rather you can only lead individual followers, who then collectively give motion and substance to the organization of which you are the head.

14.   Don't delude yourself into thinking that people are intrinsically better or worse than they really are; instead work to bring the best in your followers (and yourself) while minimizing the worst.

15.   You can't copy your way to excellence; rather true excellence can only be achieved through original thinking and unconventional approaches.

Sample records that these principles are based in a belief that leadership is highly situational and contingent.  He rightly states that “every leader is locked in a moment-to-moment struggle with the context and circumstances of his own place and time”.   The leader must work hard to master the struggle.

Reference: S B Sample (2002) The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.  Jossey-Bass.  ISBN 0 7879 5587 6

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