Thursday, 20 April 2017

A eulogy for the living.

From time to time I reflect on my career, its successes and failures, and I am reminded of all the people whose support, wisdom, counsel and example have helped to shape the type of person and leader that I became.  The truth of the matter is that regardless of our personality; regardless of our intellectual capabilities; regardless of our good fortune; regardless of our merit, none of us has come to the role that we currently hold without an abundance of influence from others.

Sometimes it was the example of a superior.  Other times it was the encouragement of a peer.  And at other times it was the efforts of our direct reports.  We can look back and see how every contact was important in some way and has sculpted us.  Even when that point of contact was difficult, learning to persevere and grow meant that the contact had purpose.

Viewed through this lens, those in leadership ought to have an expression of thanks and appreciation towards others…an attitude of gratitude!

To that end I encourage you to reach out and genuinely thank those who have made your journey more successful; your load lighter; and your experiences more pleasant.  Take the time to write a ‘eulogy for the living’ and express some thoughts that you might have been holding back. 

Consider what you would want to say at their funeral.  How this word or that example impacted your future behaviour.  How a kindness paid forward changed an attitude or opened your mind to new possibilities.

Expressing appreciation is good for both the giver and the recipient.  For the giver, it helps to keep you grounded and focused.  The recipient is strengthened through gratitude and encouraged to continue building into others.

I confess that I am preaching to myself and that I have not followed this advice as frequently as I have cause to do.  But know that I will take some time – not in a broadcast email – to address this oversight.

Leaders are the beneficiaries of others efforts, input and opinions.  Make sure that they know how much you appreciate the contributions that were made to your success.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

United...the problem was not in Chicago!

Regardless of the scope of responsibility that you hold in your position of leadership, the culture of your company, your division, your team flows from your example. People naturally look to the leader to set the example and to define either in words or deeds – ideally both – the kind of culture that is acceptable and therefore expected.

So what are we to say about United Airlines and the recent incident in which a paying passenger was ‘escorted’ from the plane and ‘re-accommodated’? Most of you have seen the video.  

If not, check out this link

This was followed by a message from the CEO.  See

What were these people thinking?  How could a culture exist that suggested to ground staff that this was an acceptable response to an over booking problem created by United’s own systems.

My finger points to the top.  Airlines have consistently squeezed the paying public by charging for virtually every extra.  First it was baggage; then seat selection; then meals.  They re-worked planes to provide less legroom and thereby more seats. All of this points to a culture that says that the passenger is nothing more than a pigeon waiting to be plucked and when the last dollar has been shaken out of their pockets, 
maybe they will be allowed to fly.

Three important errors emanated from the top.

In his first response, the CEO takes no responsibility for the regrettable incident.  The fact of the matter is that the first response should have been his apology for allowing the culture in the company to deteriorate to the point where no employee came forward to say ‘STOP’ the madness.  The people were only parroting the same type of behaviour that the executive office had been communicating for years.  Why should we be surprised that the staff acted in lock step with the example that had been ingrained 
from the top?

Secondly he blamed the passenger and praised his staff.

No amount of apologies; no amount of money; no amount of discipline is going to undo the damage.  The videos and the internal responses are out in the internet for the ages.  The case is so obviously bad it does not even warrant a Harvard Business Review analysis. 

Finally, the CEO acted arrogantly by believing that he could contain the issue without professional assistance.  By the time that damage control experts were deployed it was too late.

How have your actions helped to define the type of culture that you want and expect in your sphere of responsibility?  Clearly United did not think through the consequences and now it is too late.  Have you neglected this critical component of your duties?  It is almost never too late to change.  And it starts with you!

If the culture is poor it falls on your shoulders.  Start by defining what it should be and then apologise for your failure to properly nurture and model that culture.

Next, make it a priority.  As seen in the United example, failure can cost into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  I cannot think of any situation in which the cost to implement a proper culture would run anywhere near this expense.

Finally, recognize that this cannot be a onetime event.  Culture is not an act; it is an ingrained behaviour and response.

I understand and appreciate that there is a bottom line focus driving most organizations.  But it cannot be achieved by throwing away millions by failing to practice proper business fundamentals.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Lessons from The Donald part ii

I am not an American and I did not vote in their recent election.  I have no party affiliations or preferences.  This blog is addressing issues of leadership.

As many of you know, I have blogged extensively on fundamental aspects of authentic leadership and how one must adhere to the highest moral, ethical and legal standards.  Character outweighs competence on my scorecard.

Using these criteria as my baseline, it is easy to see why Donald Trump has had difficulty getting his administration and his policies implemented.  Let’s review his scorecard on the four elements.

  1.     Authenticity:  Trump was legally elected and has the full weight of the US constitution to validate his position.  That cannot be argued.  The problem that he faces is that he did not win the popular vote and there are reasonable grounds to question the amount that foreign (Russian) intervention influenced the outcome.  While these two elements do not disqualify his election, they do prompt some questions.  And if inquiries do tie his campaign to the foreign interference, then his authenticity is clearly in doubt.
  2. Moral standards.  Trump’s own words show that he has abandoned any moral authority.  He has spoken out in a misogynous manner in the basest of terms; he has used a broad brush to paint Mexican immigrants as ‘bad hombres’; and he has castigated Muslims as threats to American security.  His comments are indiscriminate and offensive …and wrong.
  3.   Ethical standards. Trump began to gain national attention some years ago by becoming the face of the ‘birther’ issue regarding the nationality of Barack Obama.  He unsubstantiated comments were questionable to begin with and proven false when Obama released his birth certificate.  But nothing has slowed Trump’s propensity to make other equally dubious allegations and yet he remains entirely unapologetic.  Consequently his own actions disqualify him from achieving the ethical standard of leadership.
  4.  Legal standards.  Trump constantly uses social media to express opinions or to disseminate fake news.  The issue becomes a legal one when his comments cross over from being merely smoke screens and enter the realm of libel or outright lies.  I have already referenced the ‘birther’ matter but more recent claims that the former President authorized wire- tapping of Trump move the needle into the another more serious category.  And if his campaign is found to have been complicit with foreign interference of the US election, then all bets are off with respect to his legal authority.
I have no axe to grind with Trump.  Had Clinton been elected, at least some of these characteristics may have been called into question as well. 

The issue is that leadership - to be effective, productive, and sustainable – must meet at least the minimum standards of acceptable conduct in these key issues of character.  When it fails to do so, the individual cannot gain the traction they need to accomplish what they set out to do.  Effective leadership is defined by getting things done through others.  When the ‘others’ have reasonable cause to question the leadership standards in play, they naturally withhold their best efforts. 

If you are unable to reach the goals you have set out for your team, your first task is one of self-examination.  Have you committed to maintaining these aspects of character and are you meeting those commitments.  Don’t look at the performance of your team until you can honestly say that you are providing the leadership that is necessary.

It is early days for Trump.  If he can find the humility to apologize and work to regain some of the moral and ethical high ground, the next four years can make the world a better place.  His failure to do so may take us all into precarious times.