Sunday, 15 July 2012

Is this your time...

Most often, leadership is ‘…for such a time as this…’
If I asked a roomful of executives the question ‘how many of you view yourselves as leaders’, I would fully expect to see all hands raised.

If the follow up question was ‘how many of you have the word leader on your business card’, I expect that no hands would be raised.

Leaders come in a range of shapes and sizes.  Their core competencies are often similar, but the overall package is quite different.  The axiom that there are ‘horses for courses’ is as true in business as in sport.  Every company, every enterprise, every team is at a different point in its history.  And what is needed for the success of one company may, and usually is, quite different for another company.

Some leaders can be chameleons and make the necessary changes to adapt with the changing needs of the firm.  But more often than not, their fundamental skills are hard wired.  After a time, they no longer fit the personality that is needed for continued success.  This is hardly surprising because the skills needed for start-up differ from those of a turnaround and again from those of leading a mature business.
History offers us an interesting look at just what I mean.

Winston Churchill, rather SIR Winston Churchill, is acknowledged as perhaps the finest leader of the 20th century. His time as Prime Minister embodies all the elements of an inspirational leadership model.
He had the moral authority to lead by virtue of his election to Parliament.  His oratory and diplomatic skills rallied a willing populace to perform feats that were unimaginable.  And the goal of victory over their enemy and ultimately freedom in Europe cannot find a more noble or worthy purpose.

Churchill came to power upon the resignation of his predecessor Neville Chamberlain. He served from 1940 until the war’s end.  But to the point of ‘…for such a time as this…’, he was voted out of office scarcely weeks after the end of the war because the general opinion was that his skills were not consistent with the needs of a nation now ready to re-build its’ economy in the post-war period.

Churchill had not changed.  The noble purpose had changed.  And thus another leader was necessary.
In the examination of leaders, too often we become mesmerized by past performance and ignore the current state of affairs.  Perhaps it is our natural resistance to change. Perhaps the rose coloured glasses obscure the view.  Regardless, companies, organizations and any situation in which the inspirational leadership model is active, must come to terms with the reality that what has become broken cannot be fixed by sheer force of will.  Change must happen for the benefit of all. Organizations are organic.  They grow and they change. 

This is not meant to be unnecessarily critical of the leader.  Indeed, in most instances we will find that the leader did an extraordinary job.  It is just an acknowledgement that you cannot be all things to all people all the time. The very best, most inspirational leaders will recognize instinctively that their time is done.  And during their time they will have prepared the organization and their successor for the transition to the next stage.
Research in Motion presents a classic case in point.  Originally founded in the 1984, RIM carved out a unique space in the telecommunication market with the introduction of its first Blackberry in 1999.[1] In a short time they had developed the `must have` hand held mobile communications device.  RIM grew exponentially and essentially created and dominated a sector of the cell phone market.  Its products were in demand around the world and used by people as significant as  President Obama of the United States.

The founders were two men from the relatively small city of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEO`s, grew the company from humble beginnings to a point where, for a time, RIM was the largest company in the country based on stock value.
But the industry changed and the co-CEOs lacked the skill sets necessary to maintain the company`s competitiveness.  This is neither an indictment of their abilities nor of their desire.  It is simply a statement of fact.  RIM entered a long term free fall in which it lost over 90% of its value.

Like Churchill, the skills needed to address the changing times were not consistent with the skills that had led the company in the earlier days.  RIM had to make changes at the CEO level and history will record whether these changes were made in time to avoid ultimate disaster.
Had the founders acknowledged their status sooner and made the necessary executive changes, perhaps they could have avoided the dilemma in which they ultimately found themselves.  But it is very difficult to see the forest for the trees and to confess that someone else can do the job better than you can. 

Another case in point is Yahoo and its founder, Jerry Yang.  From humble beginnings in the dormitory room, Yahoo took on a lead position in the web search market.  With an initial third party investment of only $2 million, Yahoo seemed certain to be a spectacular success. From that time in April 1995, the company grew exponentially.  
Not surprisingly, competition followed from several fronts.  Most notably, Google started to overtake Yahoo as the industry leader.  By 2008, Yahoo was a distant second and continuing to lose ground.  With Yang having returned to the CEO office he had given up in 2001, Yahoo received an offer of $31 per share from Microsoft, valuing Yahoo at over $40 billion.  Today the company has lost over 50% of its value.  Most investors blame Yang for not supporting the sale to Microsoft and thereby condemning the value to the decline it has experienced.  Apparently it was just too hard for Yang to give up on his creation as emotion won over logic.[2]

It takes strength of character and outstanding self- awareness to make this confession.  But at the end of the day, if you don`t, someone or something else will have to make the decision on your behalf.  Candidly, it is much less painful if you are willing and able to make the confession yourself; less painful for you and for others impacted by that decision.
This simple statement should guide your decision making.

“…do the right thing for the company; have the company do the right thing by the employee…”
If this principle is followed by both parties – company and employee – then the resolution will be fair and just.  The interests of both will have been properly considered.

Sometimes the blame extends not only to the leader but to the Board of Directors as well.  I recommend you to this article to you as it speaks to the need to stop idolizing leaders and recognize their actual performance and contribution to the company.
As a leader, do you have the courage and confidence to step forward and recommend change, even when that change means that you lose your job?  If you are as good as you think you are, there will always be opportunities to apply your skills in another role.  And if you truly care about the success of the company and the welfare of your staff, this will be an easy decision. 
Or will you choose to hang on beyond your personal best before date. Your leadership is for such a time as this.  IS THIS STILL YOUR TIME?


Sunday, 8 July 2012

What colour are your glasses?

Quite apart from passion, inspirational leaders have joy.  And this joy is real as it breeds a culture that is positive and affirming.

I am not advocating a Pollyanna approach to joy; one in which the negative is never acknowledged.  Clearly there will be times or circumstances in which tough, difficult and disappointing results are the outcome of legitimate and worthwhile efforts.  But the leader with joy will choose to see the glass half full and as such have an uplifting and encouraging attitude as opposed to the defeatist half empty view of things.

It really is a matter of perspective.  And it is a matter of choice.  A negative attitude will have to change at some point if the objective is to be pursued successfully.  Why not already be pointed in the right direction, at least attitudinally, by taking the positive position rather than the negative. The glass is still filled to some level regardless of how you got to that point. Use the positive as a first step to re-filling the glass until it overflows.

I cannot stress enough how important this choice is, not only to your team, but more importantly, to you.  It starts when you look in the mirror to start each day.  By making your first decision each morning to find the positive in each and every outcome predisposes you to a positive outlook.  With this attitude already established, it is much easier to encounter difficulties by looking for solutions rather than dwelling on obstacles.  You won’t be found ‘picking yourself up off the floor’ because the issue you confronted was not able to knock you off your feet in the first place.

Again let me stress that this is not an attitude of denial.  In point of fact, it is an attitude that is more realistic than one which assumes that there will not be issues and therefore is surprised and often overwhelmed when that does happen.

Those who make no provision for the possibility of failure are those who are the most na├»ve.  When confronted by problems, their initial response is one of despair and questioning.  The ‘why me’ syndrome takes over as they try to analyze the reason that they and their team are the ‘victims’ of their efforts.  All this does is to delay the real work which needs to be accomplished, namely, how do we get past the obstacle and move on towards the fulfilment of our objectives.

Consider how you react as a team member to a leader whose response takes this ‘victim posture’.  If you are naturally positive, you are likely to become increasingly frustrated and impatient with their negative outlook.  Over time you will begin to tune out because you sense the lack of maturity in the person.  The noble goals that you once supported are less achievable because of the leader’s response to problems and your support of this person and the team’s objectives will begin to wane. Consider the Leadership Equation and the need for 'willing followers'. (See the earlier blog.)

Conversely, if your disposition is typically negative, the leader’s similar negative response will simply reinforce your attitudes and sustain or accelerate a downwards spiral.  As the team loses momentum, more problems present themselves and eventually it becomes easier to abandon your attempts than it does to continue to invest the efforts to overcome.  Bad simply leads to worse and each problem adds to the weight of the situation.  Finally you submit to failure because the leader has not provided any encouragement that the matter can be overcome. And the outcome confirms the negative suspicions your attitude has fostered all along.

A key responsibility of the leader is to build this  realistic positive culture that maintains a 'can do' attitude even in the face of obstacles.  Why choose joy?  The answer is obvious!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Are you a chicken or a pig?

Leaders with passion inspire a similar response on their part of their staff. 

These leaders are passionate about their work and this passion evokes an emotional response on the part of their team.  The response is not directed towards the leader. But rather it is an emotional response to the goal.  The individuals on the team become invested in the successful achievement of the objective and this is a reflection of the passion modeled by the leader.  Call it pride of accomplishment; a willingness to go the extra mile; that 'never say die' attitude.  Regardless of how you choose to define it, it boils down to a commitment to the goal that is evidenced by a higher level of personal devotion than might otherwise be anticipated.
Think about times when your leader has failed to have a passion towards the team’s objective.  How did that impact your commitment?  How willing were you to search for the answers or make the effort to overcome a particular challenge when the one most responsible for the outcome chose only to be involved in the efforts.

A passionate leader is a committed leader.  The difference between commitment and involvement is best defined by the story about the breakfast of bacon and eggs.  In this analogy  the chicken is involved.  But the pig... the pig is committed. 

When a leader lacks passion, the results are predictable.  The opposite of passion is not hate.  Rather, it is indifference.
And it is this attitude, perhaps more than any other, which will sap the enthusiasm out of a team faster than anything. 

When there is conflict amongst team members, at least there is an emotional response happening.  And the response indicates that people care about the outcome.  The issue then becomes one of channeling the emotion in the right direction.  Not unlike the experience of many entertainers who relate that they have butterflies before a performance.  What they have mastered is the art of having them fly in formation.

In a like manner, the inspirational leader will harness the passion of the team and focus it on the achievement of the goal.  For a time it may seem like a task not unlike herding cats.  But this is far preferable to trying to manufacture interest where none exists.  It is always easier to steer a course when you are moving than when you have not yet overcome inertia.

Be passionate but be real.  Remember that one of the aspects of a noble goal is that it is achievable.  If you have taken an unrealistic appraisal of the situation and the goal is truly not achievable, then grab hold to reality.  Your staff will have already acknowledged the situation and they are simply waiting for you to catch up so that a new strategy can be defined.  Any false bravado will simply erode their confidence in your judgement.

So be passionate, be committed, but be real!

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Plumb Line

In Jane Austen’s book ‘Pride and Prejudice’, her Mr. Darcy proclaims “…my good opinion, once lost, is lost forever…”

For the inspirational leader there is no such thing as ‘situational ethics’.  That is, right or wrong is not a reflection of the circumstances.  Right is right and wrong is wrong. Truth is not relative.

People on your team must know that there is always a moral compass guiding decisions.  They must know that the response to any situation is not dependent upon who is more senior, or more favoured or more fortunate.  They must know that the situation does not dictate the response but rather the ethical, moral or legal imperative is that which has priority.

Situational ethics are used only by those for whom ‘doing the right thing’ is an optional exercise rather than an obligation.  It is for those who see truth as an inconvenience and a potential obstacle to the achievement of the goal.

Quite apart from disrupting the inspirational leadership model, the fact of the matter is that situational ethics creates a dilemma throughout the organization.

There are no longer any standards that cannot be compromised.  Whether that is dealing with company assets, company finances or company information, where does one draw the line?   When a bribe paid to a foreign nation in order to secure an order and generate business because that is ‘business as usual’ in that country, what’s the issue?  A recent PBS documentary highlighted that much of our current economic malaise associated with the US housing market can be traced back to the practice of derivative trading conducted by major US banks.  The documentary showed that the practice would have violated US law had the banks not sold these financial instruments to European banks and non-bank companies in the US.  The bottom line was that the US banks found a way around the law and in doing so they created a market for mortgages where non would have otherwise existed.  Situational ethics in action!

The list is endless when everyone gets to interpret truth for themselves.  No definitions are valid any longer.  If I see performance one way and you see it differently, who is right.  Or for that matter, is there a ‘wrong’ any more.

Leaders set the standard.  And the standard must be unambiguous.

Expectations must be codified.  And they must be applicable across all levels of the organization.  As we saw with the issue of accountability, there can be no exceptions.  Too many people are impacted by the failure to abide by the standards that are established.

The impact of situational ethics extends beyond the borders of your team or your company.  It really extends to all your business partners, whether they are suppliers or clients. 

All the stakeholders that touch your firm need to know and understand the principles by which you operate.  They are looking for the same unambiguous standards that you promote for interaction within the company.

At the same time, your employees need to understand that the standards are applicable externally as well as internally.  There should never be a question in their minds about the need to compromise their personal integrity or the company’s standards.  No client, no supplier, no opportunity is ever so important as to require you to defer to a situational ethics decision.  As tempting as it may be in the short term, the consequences that follow will NEVER justify the decision.

The consequences may not be immediate. You may be able to rationalize the decision based on any number of factors.  But as well intentioned as you think your motivation, you move away from your standards at your peril.  RESIST the temptation.  Deal in truth, not in abstract.  Everyone wins when you set the standard and then abide by it.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

It's easier to read a book once it's been opened!

Today’s inspirational leaders are both transparent and vulnerable.  Neither of these qualities is evidence of weakness or a lack of competence; rather they should be viewed as signs of strength. 
The complexities of business, indeed the complexities of life, are increasing daily.  The amount of information that we create is overwhelming and trying to sift through the data to determine what is meaningful and what is simply ‘information traffic’ is an imposing and time-consuming task.  Leaders need to have the strength of character to acknowledge these facts.  And then they must demonstrate the vulnerability to ask for help.
This may come in the form of delegation of responsibility that was outlined previously. But here I am addressing the tsunami that can come up unexpectedly and simply swamp an individual, regardless of how accomplished and experienced they may be.
A healthy and properly functioning team is always ready to breach the gap.  This response, rather than being critical of the leader, is, in fact, an affirmation of their leader.  The willingness to assist demonstrates alignment with their leader and the goals. 
Where vulnerability is hidden, so is trust.  Employees today know all too well the scope of challenges that face every leader.  They may not know specifics, but generally speaking, we are dealing with a workforce that is better educated, plugged into the information streams and acutely aware of the difficult competitive landscape that faces almost every business.  For a leader today to simply internalize or rationalize the issues for fear that they are seen as being unable to cope is an unrealistic and dangerous response.
The strength of character is demonstrated not by the ‘knowing’ but in the ‘asking’.
I have coupled vulnerability with transparency very deliberately.  Because many senior leaders continue to operate in an environment that does not properly acknowledge the impact and influence of social media.
Can you say ‘Facebook’ or ‘YouTube’?
There was a time, less than a decade ago, in which the disingenuous leader was able to operate in a cloaked manner.  But today we have an internet based communications launching pad that distributes information with an immediacy, a scope and a frankness that is unparalleled in history.
Please note that the word ‘information’ is used advisedly.  I did not use the word ‘facts’ because often facts get in the way of a good story.  And most users of these social networks are too lazy to confirm anything. 
Review chapter 2 and the discussion on a higher level of accountability again as you consider this aspect of transparency.
In the inspirational leadership equation I stated that the goal or purpose must be noble.  And by noble I said it must be legal, ethical, moral and achievable.
If there is any abuse of this equation, you can be confident that some social media tool will expose it.  Indeed some sites have that specific mandate. has gained great exposure doing just that. 
A smart phone today acts as a video camera, editor, and transmitter all at once.  History unfolds as a live event and is streamed everywhere. The answer to the implied question then is simple.  A leader cannot lead inspirationally unless they are committed to the goals of transparency and vulnerability.  Those that are committed to this principle have nothing to be concerned about.  Those who cannot stand the light of transparency ought to step out of the glare.  There is no third choice.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

You only get out what you are willing to put in.

Inspirational leaders model and nurture future leaders.  This task is critically important to the ongoing health of an organization and inspirational leaders instinctively demonstrate this capacity because they themselves have often been the beneficiary of this coaching.
Unfortunately you will find situations in every company in which this process is not practiced.  Typically the reason is that the individual in the role of ‘leader’ is ill equipped for the function and is therefore intimidated by those who, by virtue of experience, skill or character, are superior in leadership competence. 
Nurturing and modelling can take on several activities.  A primary method is by delegating responsibility and authority for some functions.  Note however, that accountability cannot be delegated in this model.  To delegate accountability is tantamount to abdication of responsibility and, by definition, is inconsistent with leadership.
Delegation in this model is aligned with the quality outlined in the previous chapter that encouraged risk taking even if it results in failure. That is another reason why accountability cannot be delegated.
Modelling can be demonstrated by the LBWA principle…Leadership by Walking Around.
Twenty years ago, Ken Blanchard wrote the book “The One Minute Manager” in which he talked about ‘managing by walking around’ or MBWA. (1)
The same principle can be applied for developing leadership qualities in your staff.  Leadership by walking around is your opportunity to engage your team members without focusing on specific results of the day. The opportunity to casually share your vision and to have those ‘blue sky’ conversations builds confidence and rapport and goes a long way to keeping the team members willing to follow. 
These are especially good times to catch someone doing something well and to add inspiration through your recognition of their efforts.  A team member who is truly appreciated is one who is more fully committed.  In today’s environment where opportunities for promotion or significant increases in compensation are restricted, an environment that recognizes and acknowledges individual contributions is one which is more likely to attract and retain quality personnel and to have them contribute at a high level.
Nurturing and modelling can never include coercion of any sort.  This includes threats, slander, physical or sexual harassment, or any kind of behaviour intended to force someone into a particular response.  It may seem self-evident, but in fact we have a different definition for this approach or style. Words like bully, dictator or tyrant more appropriately define this type of person.
This is not to suggest that some things are not accomplished using these styles.  But given that the 'willingness to follow' has now been replaced by either pushing or pulling, the inspirational leadership model is not active. 
If you are not certain that the model has changed, just look at the tracks left by the heels that were dug in to resist. They will have left enough of a record to convince even the most sceptical critic that something inappropriate has taken place.
Ideally, your modelling and nurturing is not forced.  Rather it should be the natural outflow of your daily behaviour and activities.  If you are not choosing to demonstrate the characteristics of leadership, you are modelling some other style.  And the probable outcome is that you are alienating your staff, not drawing them into the team objectives that you have established.  If the qualities are not part of your DNA, your insincere approach to the leadership model will ultimately become exposed.  We will discuss the consequences in the next blog.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

An Enlightend Perspective on 'Failure'

Inspiratonal Leadership requires patience. No organization can maintain the status quo.  Change is inevitable; and with change you introduce the risk of failure.  Yet failure can be an acceptable outcome so long as it is 'controlled'. 
It sounds contradictory that you can gain while losing.  But it is true that our best lessons are learned in adversity.  Therefore an inspirational leader will always be encouraging others to take risks that have the potential to end in failure;  even approving initiatives with which the leader is not in full agreement. 
The key to this principle is that failure can never be such that it is catastrophic or fatal to the life of the enterprise. And equally important, that which is learned must be of greater value that that which has been lost.
This is why an effective leader has a long term focus.  In the long term context, failures take on a proper perspective.  The loss of $1000 may seem important if the monthly target was $10000. But if the annual objective is $120,000, then $1000 is much less significant and the risk is seen in it's context.
Having the resolve to accept failure as a natural part of progression is a liberating attribute for everyone involved.
First it allows for a breadth of creative thought that would otherwise be unlikely. How often are we looking for ways to re-invent a solution or to develop a new and innovative approach to an issue?  As long as failure is viewed in a negative way, reverting to the ‘tried and true’ will always carry more weight than it should. This is not to suggest or imply that failure is, in some way, the objective or to condone it as a goal. You can never make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

But consider these thoughts...
Thomas Edison is rightly regarded as one of the greatest inventors of the 20th century.  Yet failure was his constant companion to which he said: “…I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward..."
Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most important novelists.  About failure she had this to say: “…A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason…”

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books was quoted at her 2008 Harvard University Commencement address: “…it is impossible to live without failing at something; unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you have failed, by default..." It

None of these was disuaded by their failures; frustrated and occasionally discouraged to be sure.  But all used failure as a platform for future success.
For the leader, there is a different liberation.  Rather than hand hold the team through to the conclusion, there is an expectation of maturity and improved risk taking that may result in even greater efficiencies in the attainment of the goal.  Fostering this ‘outside the box’ thinking often opens the door to better processes and best practices are actually improved.  How much more productive will your team members become knowing that they have your unqualified support and are daily being encouraged to reach their full potential?  Is this not the same level of trust and support you crave and expect from your superior? 
Leaders today do well to remember that for both themselves and their staff.
Creating a culture and a climate that fosters this attitude is one of the leader’s most important contributions to the organization.  Sometimes it requires the individual to be brave and courageous.  But then, isn’t that our reasonable expectation?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sometimes the caddy is right.

Two friends were playing for the first time at the home of golf, St. Andrew’s in Scotland. They both took caddies because the course was noted for the subtleties of the greens and unseen hazards.
On the third hole, one player looked at his partner and said ‘…I think this putt rolls from right to left…’ Without leaving his position, his caddie stated ‘…nay laddie, that putt rolls from left to right…’

The player took a second look at the line and then confirmed his original read, right to left. At that point the caddie dropped the bag and glared at his charge while remarking ‘…laddie, why would you buy a dog and then do all the barking…’

How well do you listen to sound advice? Inspiring leaders do not spurn the input of others. Rather they have the humility to recognize that they don't know everything. Furthermore, leaders are careful to not assign blame if they accept counsel that turns out badly.

There was a time when leaders were considered infallible. Their insights, opinions, and decisions were to be accepted as statements of fact. The option for the listener was to accept and perform, or leave.

Regretably, too often the valuable input of those who had been hired to do the job was ignored or worse yet, never solicited. Today there is simply too much information available and too many sources to consider to reasonably expect that one person will have all the answers. Furthermore, with organizational structures flattened as they have been, an important aspect of job satisfaction is the knowledge that one can have input that is genuinely welcomed and considered in the decision making process. More to the point, it contributes to the 'willingness' of the followers who know they are respected and included in the processes that impact their roles.

Within this context, blame cannot be assigned if the advice results in failure. Leaders accept that ‘the buck stops here’ and they do so without retribution. That is not to suggest that future input from that source will not be held to greater scrutiny, but it cannot be done in a manner that discourages input from that source, or indeed, from any other source.

It is important to keep in mind our touchstone of improved productivity as you consider this and any of the qualities and characteristics of leadership.  The leadership model I have proposed is designed for that purpose.

Consensus of opinion may work in small groups considering dinner plans.  But at the end of the day, the inspirational leader takes responsibility for the team or group decision. When it is right, there is enough glory to spread around to all the contributors. If it fails, it falls to the one.

This topic has one prerequisite.  It assumes that as the leader you have hired, trained, and equipped people who are capable of providing the kind of input that adds value to the decision making process.  If that is not the case then you have failed in one of the fundamental responsibilities of your leadership role and you need to address that matter as a priority.

Humility is an overlooked quality of today's Inspirational Leader.  It ought to be viewed as the strength of character that it truly is!

I am not advocating consensus leadership that requires all constituents to be in agreement with the decision. But I am advocating a collaborative style that encourages input even if it has not been specifically requested. 

Employees need to feel valued.  

Leaders need to have the confidence and humility to accept the input of others in setting both goals and strategies.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The 'HI Principle'

In my earlier musings I commented about the failure or void in leadership that the boomer generation has authored during its time at the reigns of power.  For the most part we have simply adopted the 'commander-in-chief' model and then altered it to suit us by supplanting thankfulness with entitlement.  In the process we have determined that in business we ought to run our companies with a three month window on activities to appease the stock markets and maximize bonus opportunities.  And politically we have elected leaders who promise to fulfil our wants and desires by mortgaging future generations with unsustainable debt.  What a wonderful legacy.  We were handed everything we could hope for:  peace, prosperity and a healthy planet.  Yet through our wanton disregard and lack of leadership on both the personal and corporate level, we foisted the consequences of our excesses and our failures on our children, our grandchildren and beyond.

I submit to you that the leadership model is broken...if indeed it ever truly worked.  In its place we need something that works for the good of all for today and for the future.  In that model we must exercise our responsibilities as the `willing followers` and accept the fact that the noble goals may not be ones which pander to our every want and desire.  Sometimes changes come with a certain amount of pain.  In this context I am not referring to the workplace, but to our societal expectations, yet the leadership model should be equally applicable.

The HI Principle is based on two like-weighted pillars.  The first is humility and the second is integrity.  Neither of these are skills.  Both are qualities or characteristics.  Our focus on skills in leadership has, in part, brought us the results that I previously referenced, and most studies on leadership have focused on the differences in skills needed to lead as opposed to manage.  But as several have said in different ways, reputation is what others think about you; character is what you really are.

We need our leaders to inspire us with their character, not with their skills.  Skills can be taught.  Character is who you are, what you have CHOSEN to be. It is- or ought to be- part of our DNA. Character inspires us to achieve our full potential because it nurtures and encourages us.  This is not to suggest that skills are unimportant, but if we are to weigh the importance of the two- character versus skill- the scales clearly favour the weight of character by a wide margin.

And yet, this is where our leaders have generally failed us.  And it is an indictment on the majority.  The good news is that because character is a choice, leaders can change.  The question is `will they?`.  There are eight specific qualities that I will focus on, and then I will offer an unexpected challenge to leaders over the coming weeks.  Today I present my first characteristic; that of accountability.

Leaders must accept a higher level of accountability. It may seem unfair, but nonetheless it is true. Typically those in leadership roles are compensated more significantly than their colleagues. As well, they are afforded other perks and benefits that escalate with the impact of their leadership position. Accordingly, it is reasonable to expect that the tolerance for performance becomes stricter and stricter the higher the level of authority reaches.
Sadly, too many executives take an entirely contrary approach to the matter. Instead of scrutiny, executives have invoked entitlement and have abused their roles as leaders. Some have been caught and now pay the consequences by serving extended incarceration. Senior executives at well-known firms such as Tyco – ADT, Enron, and Adelphia are just a few examples. World Com, Hollinger, Livent, and Nortel are others in a similar position.

Some have avoided prison, but face public humiliation for their actions. Former leaders of GM and Chrysler have all been disgraced for their opulent or excessive behaviour during the recent economic crisis. These auto executives felt that they were acting appropriately by taking a private jet to Washington D.C. to beg for bailout funds to support their companies despite the fact that their decisions had brought about the demise.

In January 2009, the former chief of Merrill Lynch authorized payment of over $3.6 billion in bonuses just before the company was acquired by Bank of America in a distress sale brought about by the actions and decisions of the bonus recipients . How these individuals could have become so self-deceived as to justify their actions speaks volumes to the depth of entitlement that they had developed. Somehow they came to believe that they were beyond scrutiny, beyond principles, beyond common sense.
We rightfully hold leaders to a higher level of accountability. We look to them for examples of right. They are not obliged to accept the role, but they are obliged to accept the expectations of leadership and all it  encompasses. As Harry S. Truman famously stated, ‘…if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen…’ It was true in the 1940s and remains true today. Inspirational leaders feel the heat, but they don’t melt! Inspirational leaders choose to accept all the expectations along with all the benefits. It is not an either/or proposition. It is a both/and commitment to do your very best, all the time. That is being accountable.

If this expectation seems unreasonable to you as a senior leader, consider some facts from Statistics Canada that provide context to the argument.
1. The top 10% of wage earners now earn more than 10 times the amount of the lowest 10%.
2. In Canada, under 6% of all earners make more than $100k per year. But over 60% make less than $40k.
3. The top 1% of earners took home almost 14% of all income.
4. The wealthiest in Canada saw their marginal tax rate fall from 43% to 29% over the past 30 years. Not only are they making more but their take home pay increased by 25%.

Is it any wonder that there should be a heightened level of expectation for performance, conduct and responsibility the higher up the leadership ladder one ascends?

One author has called the current executive level compensation approach nothing more than ‘crony capitalism’. A CEO works to ensure that the Compensation Committee accepts the need to keep the pay scale in the 75th quartile or above. This becomes a self-perpetuating means of automatic increases that exceed anything justified by merit or cost of living. But what is good for the goose is seldom good for the gander as the need to rein in operating costs drives organizations to restrict or even reduce any growth in income for their general population. How else can you explain the fact that the average CEO compensation for the top 100 companies is 189 times the wage of the average employee? It is an extraordinary company which can truly demonstrate that this level of accomplishment actually exists and is thereby justified. The reality is that regardless of the role that ANY person occupies in an organization, the company can and should be able to survive their departure. Even the largest and most successful companies have a succession plan in place that should have several candidates under consideration should the CEO suddenly need to be replaced. Whether that departure is planned or a result of a catastrophic event, the company will carry on. Its health and long term well -being should never be in jeopardy as a result of a change in leadership.

And so the answer must be ‘yes’ to the question of accountability. Entitlement must be replaced with the expectation that every person is required to provide their very best performance. And this level of performance is the reasonable expectation regardless of the amount of compensation.

Links to references are available upon request.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Leadership Equation (Continued)

In my last blog I introduced the first component of The Leadership Equation. Today I will complete that equation.

Part two relates to those who follow the leader.  Specifically, those who follow must do so willingly.   It borders on the oxymoronic to suggest that those who must be pushed or pulled or coerced to a specific goal are doing so willingly. Rather, the willing response of the group is actually an acknowledgement and affirmation of the individual who has been called into leadership. This attitudinal position has a fundamentally positive impact on the process and significantly enhances the prospects of success.  Without a willing team, it is not possible to have an authentic leadership model.  And of equal importance, productivity will be at risk.

The third component relates to the goal or objective that the team is pursuing.  This goal must be noble or honourable.  It must meet each of these criteria.  Ethical, moral, legal and...achievable.  If the objective cannot satisfy all of these descriptors, it fails to meet the basic and necessary standard. 

Before you jump to conclusions, let me state that profit can be a noble objective.  Take the case of K. Matsushita, founder of Panasonic.  Matsushita argued that profit was simply the recognition of society that the product or service being sold represented a value which they supported through their purchases.  If that product or service failed to meet a value proposition, society would vote with its wallet.  Simply put, the value of a thing is what it will bring.  Profit is only ignoble when the means of achieving that profit fail to meet the moral, legal and ethical requirements.

Based on this leadership equation, I define leadership as:

A leader is one who, by virtue of their moral authority, is able to persuade others to willingly follow in the pursuit of a noble or honourable goal.

The value of presenting this definition in the form of an equation is seen particularly when things are not working out as anticipated.  You can now  analyze which component is not in compliance and then work to address the issues that are out of alignment.  As example, has the leader lost moral authority or is it being challenged in such a way as to cause confusion amongst the team members?  Perhaps the goal has become unachievable because of unforeseen circumstances.  If so, the team has probably responded with muted enthusiasm that is curbing productivity.  In either case, the equation allows you to be more focused on finding a resolution and getting things back on track.

Leadership is not a right, but a privilege.  Therefore inspirational leadership must be a habit, not an act.  Too often the reality is that authentic leadership has been found to be difficult...and left wanting.  This prompts the 'leader' to adopt non-inspirational approaches to motivation which only serves to  move the team further away from the goal rather than closer to it.  This is so tragic because we need true leaders now more than ever!  We need leadership that inspires us to fulfil our potential, not that which inhibits us.  Far too many aspire for leadership rather than being called into the position.  Their motives are entirely selfish at a time when altruism ought to be at the root of their service.

Some will argue that altruism is in conflict with the dynamic and critical decisions that must take place in order to guide an organization or even a team during these uncertain times.  To them I would say very simply, look at where that type of decision making has taken us now.  Christine Legarde of the IMF stated in November 2011 that we may very well be in the throws of a lost decade with respect to true GDP growth.  If you think that is an exaggeration, look to the example of Japan over the past two decades.

We need a new model of leadership.  I call it the `HI Principle'.

Please join me again next time as we begin to look at what this Inspirational Leadership approach looks like in the workplace.  You may be surprised at both how easy and how difficult it can be.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Leadership Equation

In an earlier blog I offered a means to measure the effectiveness of the leadership being provided in any organization.  I used the analogy of a rowboat and suggested that based on different surveys, productivity is likely no better than about 60% in most organizations.  And depending upon the impact of the negative contribution of the other 40% of employees, actual productivity may be as low as 20%.  In this scenario, getting just one of the four negative contributors to turn their oar to a positive contribution will improve overall productivity by 100% (from 20% to 40% overall).  Obviously the goal is to get all the oars in the water and pulling towards the same objective.  Only then is productivity maximized.

While there are various means of motivating employees, only one involves authentic leadership.  You may coerce, threaten, bully, harass or dictate as a means of 'motivation'.  But that only makes you a dictator, bully, tyrant or intimidator.  None of these lead; they all push.

What is needed is inspirational leadership.  This model provides effective and sustainable results that are reflected in the workplace by a positive environment and culture and ultimately improved productivity. 

This inspirational leadership model is defined in my Leadership Equation.  The value of the equation is twofold.  First is that you have an example to draw upon.  The second is that you have a means for analysis when things are not working out as anticipated.  The two are equally important.

The Equation has three components.  And only one part has to do with the individual leader.

First, the leader must have moral authority.  This authority can come from a variety of means.  In our democratic process, those whom we elect to political positions have a moral authority granted to them by society to lead and govern.  Those in corporations who are leadership roles have moral authority granted by virtue of the shareholders who approve of the Board of Directors and their subsequent appointment of the CEO.  Through delegation of authority, subsequent appointments of other leaders also have moral authority.

Sometimes moral authority is granted within a group.  The example of a jury speaks to this type of appointment wherein the group itself selects a foreperson to represent them.  This person thus has moral authority.

Under no circumstance can leadership be self declared.  Sole ownership is the exception. Any attempt at self declaration is not leadership but a coup and falls into the definition of dictator, regardless of how well intentioned their motives may be.  Consider the example of Alexander Haig, Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan.  Upon hearing of an assassination attempt on Reagan, Haig famously declared that he was in charge, his former military career training had kicked in.  The problem was that the U.S. constitution had already made provisions for succession in such a situation, and Haig`s role placed him 5th in that plan.  His self declaration was not only wrong but it became an unfortunate defining moment in his career, a moment that was viewed derisively, not in a complimentary way.

The moral authority of the leader may be challenged by others.  Sometimes consciously, sometimes unintentionally.  For example, a team member may have leadership desires and seek to influence the team.  Or the leader`s superior may attempt to exert influence on the team and bypass the leader.

Both of these situations must be addressed proactively.  If you are the leader and have the moral authority to hold that position, you must exercise your authority and confront these intrusions.  It is crucial that the team has one person and only one person that holds their focus. Without that focus you risk losing the impact of the moral authority that you already possess.

In my next blog I will discuss the other two components of The Leadership Equation.  Please join me.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Where are we now?

In the last instalment we examined the nature of the workplace into which many of today's leaders received their introduction and indoctrination.  On balance, the leadership of that day lacked any real sophistication, for a variety of reasons.  But much has changed and it is important to understand these differences in order to develop an effective and necessary leadership model.  Today I want to review some of the major changes and what they mean to us.

1.  Whereas the former workplace was a white male dominated environment, today we have a true multi-national environment in which women now are more fully represented at all levels of leadership.  This environment requires a much higher level of sophistication in order to motivate a diverse team towards a common goal.

2.  Today's employee is much better educated than at any time in the past.  This means that she/he is far better prepared to contribute at a high level in a relatively short time.  This is an important fact for the leader to recognize because individual contributions impact job satisfaction significantly.

3.  We are in a very difficult economic environment.  Unemployment is high and companies are contracting as opposed to growing.  The IMF suggests that we may be in a decade long period of economic stagnation.  All these factors contribute to a very high level of stress amongst all levels in a company.  And this requires a higher level of leadership and management competency to continue to draw out the best in people.

4.  Organizations have continually restructured and flattened their hierarchy.  This leads to fewer opportunities for advancement for everyone.  As a consequence, job satisfaction must come in different ways that do not include promotion and compensation increases.  Staff members must be inspired to contribute and to be part of a successful team environment as a key aspect of job satisfaction.

5.  Information moves at the speed of light.  And the avalanche of data makes it impossible for one person to be the 'oracle' in which all wisdom resides.  Employees want and need to be an integral part of the decision making process.  Any leader who ignores this reality does so at their professional peril.

The problem is that far too many employers continue to deny these realities and attempt to perpetuate the old model that ostensibly served them well in the past.  The result is that productivity declines; the best employees leave for opportunities that allow them better self expression; and a downward spiral performance continues while leaders stand by dumbfounded at how to halt the inevitable.

In the next blog I will begin to outline the route to Leadership that Inspires that will address the needs of today's workplace.