Sunday, 29 March 2020

Your Defining Moment!

For the past decade we have all enjoyed a level of success and prosperity that has seldom been matched in our collective histories.  To have led and succeeded during this period was less a testament to our abilities and more a testament to our good fortune.  I don’t mean to understate the value of quality leadership, but candidly, you had to mess up pretty badly to have failed in this period.

But now we are individually and collectively facing a challenge that is literally unprecedented.  This is no understatement in the face of the response that seems to be necessary for us to pass through this portal of time.

I think that it is fair to say that for those in leadership at this moment, your legacy will be defined on the basis of how you respond in crisis. Here are my recommendations.

1.    Be present.  Even when you don’t have all the answers, your teams are looking to you for optimism and inspiration.  You must be present and available. 

2.    This is not the time for hyperbole; it is a time for humility.  No one has all the answers and speculation only causes more confusion.  Hope is a virtue, but false hope only disappoints.

3.    This is not the time for empty rhetoric; it is a time for honesty and action. 

4.    This is not a time for sounding an alarm; that time has already passed. It is a time to respond to the alarm and trust those whose advice is based on the best scientific evidence.

5.    We don’t need to hear how bad things are; dwelling on the obvious is for the historians. We need to hear how we are going to make things better; we need to be assured that the sun will follow the darkness.

6.    We need inclusive strategies that offer purpose to everyone.  Being part of the solution builds a sense of community and that will be critical in a successful recovery.

7.    Leaders must have multiple strategies.  There is the immediate; what are you doing during the crisis to survive. There is the transition time, how are you going to move from today to recovery as the disruptions are gradually lifted.  And then there is the new normal.  You need to determine how this crisis alters your business in the future.  What changes are permanent; is there long term impact on your employees; with your customer base; with your supply chain.  You need to be planning now and putting together different scenarios because none of us have any certainty what the future holds.

Right now, nothing is easy.  But just because we don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean that we won’t.  You must lead in a manner that demonstrates concern for the present; optimism for the transition and confidence for the future. 

Lead acknowledging these truths and others will follow!  

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Obituary Decisions

Every year presents us new challenges.  As leaders you will be required to make some difficult decisions that will push your moral or ethical standards to the limit.  And if your standards are not clearly established you may find that your ‘limit’ is flexible based on the situation.

My recommendations for these instances are twofold:

1.    Make your standards fixed.  Situational ethics or morals mean that those who depend upon your leadership never know with certainty what to expect.
2.   If you ever find yourself in a dilemma over which way to go on a decision, ask yourself ‘…what would I want to read in my obituary…’ as to how I responded under pressure.  Did I hold to the standards that I set or did I cave?

Clearly the easier decision, in the short term, is to turn the blind eye and move on.  But this only leads to more trouble down the road.  The right decision, the tougher decision, is one that you will be able to defend to the grave.

What you will find is that having made the tough call, it actually becomes easier over time.  Others know that you hold yourself to the same high standards you expect them to adhere to and they respond accordingly.  There will be no misunderstanding.  No one will be able to say ‘…but last time…’ when recalling a similar situation.

I am reminded of a quotation from a highly respected college basketball coach who said:

        ‘…reputation is what others think about you; character is what you really are…’
I know what I want in my obituary.  Hopefully you do too.

A side note.  In my blog dated November 9th, 2019, I wrote about the different responses to failure in Boeing and McDonald’s. 
It was recently announced that Boeing has fired their CEO for the culture that he created that allowed their Max 8 planes to be delivered with a potentially fatal software flaw.
It took the Board too long to act, but at least they finally did.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

How well do you translate?

A key function of any leader, in fact one of the key measures that differentiate a good from a great leader, is their ability to translate.

I am not referring to an ability to speak foreign languages.  Rather I am talking about the process in which the needs of the client are communicated to those responsible for implementing a solution.

This process takes place on multiple levels every day and the better that those interactions take place, the more likely that the results will be positive.

Here are some examples that demonstrate the point.

1.   A CEO meets with a major client.  That client expresses, in their internal language, their needs.  The CEO must then translate that need back into his/her organization’s language to affect a solution.

2.   A mid-level manager meets with team members to discuss their needs in order to perform their duties more efficiently.  That manager must then translate those needs into a language understood at the executive level in order to get funds allocated or policies changed that allow for the maximization of potential.

3.   A purchasing manager meets with a potential supplier.  The purpose is to source specific products for the company.  If the purchaser cannot translate company needs into a language clearly understood by the supplier, there may be a disconnect between need and solution.

Each of these examples illustrate that being an effective communicator requires translation skills to advance the conversation.  Everyone in leadership roles must be constantly aware that we don’t all speak the same language even when it is the same tongue. 

Failure to interpret needs properly invariably leads to failure in outcome.  The best leaders know this and constantly hone this skill.  Poor leaders miss the point and struggle to understand why their best efforts continue to come up short.

Merry Christmas 
Joyeux Noel 
Buon Natale
Feliz Navidad

Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Servant Leadership Misconception

Leadership has evolved over the past century, though many may dispute this fact.  The most effective style has moved from the ‘commander in chief’ model to one more generally referred to as the ‘servant leader’.

The reluctance of many to adopt this new model is rooted in a misconception as to what it means to be an authentic servant leader.  They have the mistaken belief that they must become servile and do the bidding of those who work for them.  For some reason they understand that the master / servant relationship has been flipped on its head and that the employee is now the master and the leader must acquiesce to their expectations and needs. 

With this type of understanding it is not surprising that many in positions of responsibility and leadership are unwilling to adopt the model.  Frankly I don’t blame them.

But here’s the rub.  They have a faulty conception of the meaning of servant leadership and thus they rebel against it. 

Servant leadership must be viewed as one being selfless not servile.  With this proper definition, the role becomes one of empowerment, not subservience. 

The servant leader sets aside personal ambitions of recognition or acknowledgement in favour of providing for those under their scope of responsibility.  When goals are accomplished, it is team effort and team recognition first.  Clearly the leader will ultimately be recognized as the catalyst for the success.  But the recognition is for the manner in which it was accomplished, that is, by the leader facilitating the group and providing the necessary tools, guidance and training to allow others to fulfill their potential.

When you properly understand the definition of servant leadership it is much easier to adopt and apply.  By looking out for the best interests of your team first, you are elevated.  It’s a matter of priorities.  If you look first to elevate yourself, you must put others down.  But when they raise you up because of your prior concern for them, the acknowledgement is that natural outcome of your sacrifice.

Today’s employees are better educated and generally better prepared to enter the workforce than any generation in the past.  Their expectations are in line with their abilities.  They will not suffer fools because their skills are so transferable and they understand that a career may entail many employers. 

To attract and retain the best of the best, leaders must be able to acknowledge and adapt to these realities.  The servant leadership model is the one which best accommodates these expectations.  Understand what it means and how to implement it and will you find success more often than not.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

A Foreigner's Perspective

As a Canadian I am nothing more than an interested and passive observer of the impeachment proceedings in the US congress.  But there is an interesting leadership dynamic that’s taking place, or will take place as the Senate takes over from the House in its’ deliberations.

Mr. Trump has a history of demanding loyalty from those in his employ or under his sphere of influence.  This expectation predates any involvement in the political scene.  It has been demonstrated in all of his personal and business dealings since the first $1 million gift that got him kick started in business.  It is a code by which he has operated and which he believes serves him well.

Those whom he judges as no longer displaying loyalty are routinely expelled to serve the fate deserving of a traitor.

What he fails to recognize is that it is not loyalty that he expects; but allegiance.  And as I have written previously, there is a fundamental difference.

Loyalty is a two way relationship.  One’s loyalty to another is reciprocated by loyalty in return.  It is based on a mutual respect and understanding of common goals, principles or viewpoints.

Allegiance is a one way relationship.  It is expressed in a master / servant relationship in which there is not mutual respect or understanding but rather an expectation of unquestioned service.

Throughout his career – personal, business or politics – Mr. Trump has always viewed his relationships in this manner. 

What happens if the investigative process uncovers evidence that suggests that he has, in fact, been guilty of misconduct that justifies impeachment?  

If that happens, those in his party in the Senate from whom he has demanded loyalty will demonstrate that they had only extended allegiance because it served their purposes to do so.  Knowing that Mr. Trump was never loyal to them, their allegiance will quickly shift to their own future and he will be seen wearing the emperor’s new clothes.

Politics is dirty, it is petty, and it self-serving.  Mr. Trump has known these truths all along and has not built relationships that withstand crises.

Ultimately, Senators will protect themselves at the expense of Mr. Trump.  There was never loyalty extended by them because there was never any extended to them. 

As one voice they will say ‘…the king is dead; long live the queen…’

Saturday, 9 November 2019

A tale of two cities

Sometimes you can tell a book its’ cover.  Consider these two incidents that occurred within a day of each other.

In Seattle, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg magnanimously offered to refuse his annual bonus.  Based on prior years this amounts to about $20 million.  Not a small amount but consider that under his watch the Boeing 737 program has ground to a complete halt and two Boeing 737 MAX crashes took over 340 lives in the past year.  The board will take his offer under advisement but this is the same board that has kept him on during this fiasco so don’t look for them to act on the offer. 

Hell, even if they do withhold it for a year, Muilenburg will somehow have to carry on with the $20 million he received last year.  I think it’s fair to say that he will manage to survive.

In Chicago, the very next day, Steve Easterbrook, CEO at McDonald’s, resigned at the request of the board because he violated a company policy about having a consensual intimate relationship with a direct or indirect subordinate.

Lest we have too much concern about Easterbrook’s future, he is leaving with almost $40 million of stock option and a generous severance package.

But finances aside, what do we learn about the culture at each company?

Boeing seems to conclude that the loss of 340 lives and a long term diminish of its reputation is not grounds for summary dismissal.  It is essentially saying to Muilenburg ‘…you got us into this mess, you get us out of it. Optics don’t matter; a questionable corporate culture does not matter; stockholders don’t matter.  It is the bottom line that rules.

McDonald’s though values its’ company image and its’ culture.  Despite a doubling of the stock price under Easterbrook’s guidance, the policies of the company must be upheld by everyone, without exception.

I have long held that authentic leadership must be ethically, morally and legally grounded.  If not, then all standards are only guidelines and are situational…let’s look at the circumstances before we hold anyone to account.

These two companies have a public persona that is vastly different.  When push comes to shove, which one will have your back?  Which one represents your values?  And why do many in Corporate America not understand the difference!

Thursday, 31 October 2019

"...all the king's horses and all the king's men..."

Sometimes leaders take risks.  That’s the nature of leadership.  One cannot always be certain of an outcome.  Measured, calculated decisions are a part of any leadership position.

This holds true for almost any level of the leadership chain.  It is how we learn; how we grow and advance; how we overcome new challenges.

I have always held to some fundamental ‘rules’ as it relates to taking risks.

1.    Whatever is decided must never violate the moral, ethical and legal standards that have govern your business.
2.    The cost of failure must never outweigh the value of what is learned in the process. 
3.    Failure must NEVER be fatal.  The company must survive even the worst decisions.

Some leaders feel that they are immune to these conditions.  Like Humpty Dumpty, they don’t see falling off the wall as that critical.  They say and do things that are not measured, not calculated and which are reckless.  As we know, you cannot unscramble an egg…

The point is that when you violate these ‘rules’ there are consequences.  And these consequences are out of your control.  Once you have lost control; once you have lost the narrative, you are now subject to someone else’s decisions.

The least impact may be a simple reprimand.  Perhaps it leads to a demotion or delayed promotion.  In the extreme in may lead to termination…or impeachment.

Rules are not ‘meant to be broken’.  Rules are established to prevent disasters and generally are born out of experience or out of an understanding of the common good.

This does not mean that rules cannot be changed.  In point of fact, rules are often challenged and revised based on new understandings and evolving norms. 

Your leadership must be both accepting and challenging.  You must accept the borders that your ‘rules’ have set.  Concurrently you must challenge that status quo when you know that the realities that established the ‘rules’ have changed and that the new normal demands a new approach.

Never sacrifice your core values. Ensure that you are open minded enough to see change for what it is…an opportunity to improve in an evolving world.