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.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Become a better knitter...

Over the past 60-70 years we have seen a significant change in North American society.  There has been a concerted effort to embrace those who have been disenfranchised.  This policy or practice has  been called ‘inclusiveness’ as we seek to acknowledge that society has never been homogenous in the sense that everyone looks, thinks, acts and  believes the same things.

At the same time we have sought to respond to the injustices born by both individuals and by specific groups for discrimination based upon colour, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

These are positive steps for society to take as it helps to heal wounds, promote understanding and encourage dialogue and ultimately define a new normal.

But there is an ugly underbelly to this that is inescapable.

It is the rise of the radical, both on the left and the right of the spectrum.  Their positions are claimed to be as legitimate as any of the others despite the fact that their ultimate aim is division and segregation.  They want nothing to do with reconciliation but they use this inclusiveness platform to promote their hatred and their divisive policies.

It seems to me that while we have done a commendable job of recognizing individual groups for their distinctiveness, we have done a much poorer job of defining how that distinctiveness meshes with others to create a properly functioning society.  Stated another way, the whole must become greater than the sum of the parts.

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 5

What’s this got to do with leadership?  Only everything!

When one group has worked so hard to be recognized, it is natural that their efforts have been done with blinders on.  Without that singular focus these efforts more likely fail.

It takes leadership to knit together these fibres or fabrics of society to create a cohesive unit in which the distinctiveness is celebrated both for its’ uniqueness and for its’ contribution to the whole.

In your workplace the same premise holds true.  Each member of your staff represents a unique skill set; a unique competency; a unique opportunity.  It is your skill as a leader that brings together individuals to create a team.  Understanding how they are motivated, how they become engaged and how they seek recognition is a skill that takes intelligence, experience and emotional investment on your part.

The task is not easy, but the rewards are worth it. 

What do you need to do to change 2+2+2 into 2x2x2?

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Are you leading a team or a cult?

I frequently hear of leaders who have taken their staff on ‘team building’ exercises.  Some of these are as simple as a night of bowling so that people get to interact with others in a non-work environment. At the extreme there are outdoor adventures in which staff members learn to depend upon and trust others in physically and mentally testing conditions.

In general I am not opposed to team building but it is important that the purpose is always kept front and centre.

A highly functioning team is one in which all the members are focused on a common goal or purpose.  This objective is not one that members have chosen but it is one in which they are willingly supportive and prepared to contribute their best efforts to achieve.

In these circumstances it is important to remember that:
-         Each member brings unique competencies; that is, each has different skill sets and experiences.
-         Each member brings unique capacities; that is, each has a different level of motivation and commitment.
-         Each member brings a unique character; that is, each comes with a slightly different moral, ethical and legal compass.

It is the leader’s responsibility to meld these three-competency, capacity and character – so as to achieve the maximum results and accomplishments. 

Individuals are allowed, indeed expected, to hold different opinions; to see different solutions; to have different levels of engagement.  And as long as these are exercised with respect for others and with a view to achieving a common purpose, the team concept is fully functioning.

Where I see an issue with team building is when the leader is less concerned about achieving a common goal and more concerned about creating a common mentality.  It is no longer an issue of purpose but of process. 

In these instances, ‘team building’ is really an activity intended to stifle the individuality of each member.  Conformity is the key message regardless of how that impacts the competency, capacity and character of others. 

The ultimate objective of the leader is control.  In the end, it has nothing to do with team and everything to do with cult.

Today we see this played out particularly in the political arenas around the world.  But the business community is far from immune.

It takes a person of strong character to speak out against this type of leader.  Speaking truth to authority often has consequences and is therefore not for the weak of heart.  But failure to do so also has consequences that ultimately are perilous not only to the individual but to others as well.

So my message is twofold. 

If you are someone who identifies with the control option above, you need help.  You are not leading.  Your actions are self –serving and destructive.

If you work for someone whom you characterize with the control option, you need to understand that you are in peril.  Perhaps it is not physical danger but your mental well- being is at risk.   You need to protect yourself or leave.

Effectively and authentically leading people is a privilege and an awesome responsibility.  You can gain great satisfaction when the team delivers results that are above any beyond your expectations because your leadership empowered them to excel. 

Just remember that ultimately it was the combination of their contributions that resulted in the success of the team.  You were the conductor of their instruments… but they made the music.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Commander vs. Servant

Increasingly we hear the term ‘servant leadership’ with respect to the evolution of leadership styles.  I think that it is important to understand how and why we have reached this point so that you can evaluate your style and what, if any, changes you need to implement.

Let’s start with a brief history lesson.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the world was basically preparing for war, at war, or recovering from war. In between we threw in the Great Depression. That environment demanded a military style of leadership, the commander.

As we entered the baby boomer stage in the second half of the century, manufacturing was still very much a labour intensive activity.  Production lines of cars and virtually any other commodity were very structured.  Each person had a specific task and the commander structure worked pretty well.   Besides, most managers had little to no formal training in being a ‘boss’ so their default was to that which they knew.

In fact, we did not even begin to produce MBA calibre executives until the 1960’s and 70’s.  The study of leadership amounted to determining what a leader did that was different from that of a manager.  We did not really look at style so much as we determined duties.

The leadership model was still very much defined by results.  Managing by Objectives (MBO’S) and Key Performance Indicator’s (KPI’S) were commonly used to evaluate performance. 

As boomers moved into positions of responsibility in executive levels, many of them leaned heavily on the styles that they grew up with and the ‘top-down’ model persisted. 

But as the economy has changed, this style no longer suits the workplace.
Today we still have production lines but most of the work is done by robots.  AI increasingly takes over in the decision making processes that managers once were required to do.  The information age dictates a more collaborative approach in the workplace.  None of these truths are well suited to a commander style of leadership.  An evolution is necessary.

Fast forward to today’s workplace; compared to the baby boomer era it is characterized by the following;

·       A much better educated and prepared candidate
·       Individuals who are more socially minded
·       People looking for a role in which they can contribute
·       A willingness to change jobs frequently
·       A desire or a need for the individual to be recognized for their contribution on a regular basis
·       A workplace that is far more diversified in all aspects of colour, race, gender, religion, country of origin, and sexual orientation that demands accountability with respect to harassment or discrimination

Thus, servant leadership is one which both anticipates and responds to the needs of the employee.  It is one which creates a climate for people to deploy their skill sets in a creative manner in which they find personal fulfillment while concurrently achieving the goals and expectations of the employer.

The servant leader recognizes that morality, ethics and legality are critical to their performance.  Overall evaluation depends only in part on the achievement of objectives.  The manner in which those objectives are achieved is of equal or greater importance.

The servant leader understands that building and equipping a team and then defining the objectives of that team are more important than dictating how the results should be achieved.

The servant leader acknowledges that others likely know more about the ‘how’ than they do.  But the servant leader understands the ‘why’.

The servant leader does not keep their hands on the pulse of the business but on the pulse of the people.  The difference is subtle but critical…

With the perspective of time and place it is easier to see how this evolution came about and why.

We would like to think that a servant leader would always have been successful and in specific circumstances that may be true.  But the reality is that in 1950, the servant leader would have failed more often than not.  The times demanded a different leader.

Likewise, the commander may work today, in specific circumstances.  But more often than not, it is doomed to failure.

Where are you on this continuum?  We are all growing and evolving in our leadership styles.  But if you are still closer to the commander, it may be time to take a closer look at what success really looks like in the 21st century.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

What's in an Attitude?

The best leaders also have the best attitudes.  These aren’t ‘glass half full’ people; they are the ‘my cup runneth over’ types.

It’s not that they have a Pollyanna view of the world.  Rather they are firmly rooted in reality.

They don’t wear rose coloured glasses.  They see things for what they are.
What differentiates them from others though, is attitude.  I think that it is best understood in these two phrases.

The first is that for these people they live as if ‘there is no tomorrow’.  By this I mean that each day is lived in such a way that only their best is sufficient.  If they never reach tomorrow they will be content being judged on their last day’s efforts. 

They live without regret.  They aspire to be better than the day before. They make mistakes but are not defined by them.  Rather they learn and move on.

The second phrase is this.  They live in the expectation that ‘their best days lie ahead’.

For these people, improvement is continuous.  They believe that the status quo is simply a stepping stone to something better. They will not allow a lack of effort or a poor disposition to compromise their future achievements. 

Having learned from their successes and their failures, their optimism is routinely rewarded by better and better results.  This does not dismiss the possibility of disappointment but the graph will show an ever upward trend.

Both of these attitudes are contagious and combine to create a positive workplace.  Others see the efforts and the expectations leading to results.  

Their ‘buy in’ comes easily.

As a leader you have a responsibility to find the optimism in a challenge and to build a culture of accomplishment.  Hopefully this attitude is not foreign to you.

If, however, you cannot see the value in this type of ‘a better tomorrow’ approach to each day, it may time to step aside.  It’s preferable to have the train pass you by than to have it run over you.