Sunday, 16 March 2014

Where is your leadership focus?

The primary focus of most companies has been the results - sales, margins and profits.  During this extended period of recession and slow growth, this emphasis has become even more pronounced.  Stock markets want quarterly reports from publicly traded companies and analysts forecast their expectations down to the penny.

But I am increasingly persuaded that this focus is putting the cart before the horse.  Our insistence on results has the unfortunate consequence of marginalizing the underlying fundamentals.  Specifically it tends to ignore the process taken to achieve these results.  The irony of course is that the process influences results more than any forecast.  The primary issue should not be the results, but the productivity that the environment produces.

Studies continue to show that a significant percentage of employees is disengaged at work.  Somewhere between 40-70% identified in this category.  Even at the lowest end of the range it is clear that there is a real problem because a disengaged employee is an unproductive employee.

The point is not to ask how bad things are.  Does it really matter is if 40% disengaged...or 50%...or 60%?  The point is that any level is serious and as leaders, what must we do to turn around the situation?  This is not simply an issue at your workplace.  The problem exists across Canada, across North America and around the world.  Productivity is so far below any reasonable expectation that the question that MUST be asked is 'why'.

My observation is that the problem seldom lays in the ability or desire of the employees.  Rather the primary blame rests with the leadership whose job it is to inspire their teams.  As part of this recognition it should be remembered that most of the leadership team are themselves employees looking for inspiration.  So the failure often begins at the top and washes it way down throughout the organization.

Leaders must first focus on the culture for which they are responsible.  Research repeatedly demonstrates that a negative workplace produces poor engagement, poor decisions and poor productivity.  It takes a sustained effort starting from the top of the house to effect change.  But the studies also indicate that a positive work place leads to better decision making on the part of all employees.  It also leads to greater engagement and better results.

Employees look for inspiration and opportunity to excel.  Leaders who create these settings have a much greater likelihood for success.  Once this type of environment has become ingrained you no longer are striving to achieve a budget.  Rather you are maximizing results from an inspired team that feels no limits.

None of the economic data being reported today suggests that there will be any material change to the current state of affairs.  What that means is that the winners in this economy will be the companies whose productivity is exceptional.  Growth will seldom be organic.  Rather, one company's gain will be another company's loss.  You will only out perform if your staff are inspired by your leadership.  So shift your focus from results to process and environment.  My bet is that the results will take care of themselves!

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Choice that Rob Ford made.

Authentic Leadership has multiple dimensions.  Consequently, for the leader to achieve maximum effectiveness, (s)he must be functioning properly in all of these dimensions.  My definition of an authentic leader includes a legal component, a moral component and an ethical component.  Perhaps that is why so many of our politicians are struggling. They fail on 1 or more of these criteria.

Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, is an excellent case in point.

Mr. Ford was elected in a democratic manner .  There has been no suggestion that he had somehow fixed the outcome of the election.  Indeed, a large percentage of his supporters have already voiced their support for him in the next mayoral election this fall. Accordingly, Ford meets the legal criteria for leadership.  But Ford fails the authenticity test because of his shortcomings on the other two criteria.

His morality score suffers because of his self admitted use of illegal drugs both prior to and during his tenure as mayor.  While his closest supporters willingly overlook these reports as simple human failings, the majority rightly respond that, as a leader, Ford is held to a higher standard.  Even if you choose to ignore those offences prior to taking office, there can be no excuse for the behaviour while in office.  Whether he likes it or not, when he is not at home, he is in the office, regardless of where that office is.  So public drunkenness or the use of illegal substances are both offences that violate any reasonable expectation of a moral leader.   If he needs to be chaperoned, so be it.

In a similar manner, Ford fails to pass the ethical standard.  He repeatedly denied his involvement with drugs and alcohol, only publically admitting his use when cornered without any options.  His claims that the question had not asked specifically enough on earlier occasions only served to confirm to the general public that he could not be trusted with the truth.

It does no good to suggest that his behaviour was no different from that many others in public service and therefore should be excused or tolerated.  He knew, or should have known, the inappropriateness of his actions.  Indeed, if he did not see these things to be wrong, it calls into question not simply his actions but his judgement as well. His denials and his deliberate avoidance of the truth are simply not ethical.

It is little wonder that the broader council has dramatically curtailed his scope of control.  Unless and until he regains both the moral and ethical integrity that has been lost, Ford can never lead authentically or effectively. 

What is true for Rob Ford is equally true to anyone who aspires to a leadership role.  In the short term you can use bully tactics or command others to do your bidding.  But in the longer term it is your people who deliver the results because they have been motivated by your authentic leadership which consistently inspires through legal, moral and ethical imperatives. 

Ford made deliberate choices to neglect the full scope of leadership and as a result he accomplished much less than might have otherwise been possible.  In that regard he follows a long line of disgraced politicians.  By making right choices your leadership can be incredibly more productive because those who you lead will want to confirm and support your authenticity through their dedicated efforts.

The issue is not so much 'can you lead' but rather will you 'choose to lead'.  The choice is yours alone.