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?



[1] http://www.rim.com/company/index.shtml
[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/03/us-yahoo-microsoft-idUSN0229819820080603

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!