Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-They are Clear When Implementation is Required in Spite of Disagreement

I have discussed the "Implementing When you Personally Disagree" leadership dilemma in a previous blog entry. It's worth repeating some of the key elements in the context of Trust Building behaviours.  I believe it is one of the toughest leadership dilemmas outside of "people" issues.
All leaders, will eventually find themselves in the position of leading implementation when they don't agree. This occurs in all large organizations and is especially common in global companies when standardization is involved.  So what's a leader to do when faced with this challenge?

First of all, I believe it is the leader's duty to argue her point of view vigorously during the decision making process, even if it is the minority view....no, especially if it's the minority view.  The senior decision maker needs the honest view of all concerned.  Many times the "right answer" isn't clear; often the decision is a 51%-49% close call that must be made.  If there is a business case behind the decision you need to be prepared to challenge the assumptions of the business case.  However, after all the arguments have been made and all the points of view expressed, sometimes the decision doesn't go your way.  What happens next is an important test of leadership skill.
I believe the leader has three different choices, two of which are honorable. One, and I see this all too often among early leadership practitioners, is to say "Well gang I did my best to argue our case but I lost.  I know it's a dumb idea but "those guys" up there say we have to do it anyway".  This approach undermines confidence in the entire leadership chain. It's purpose is to make the speaker look good and absolve everyone but the higher ups of any accountability for failure.  This is inappropriate leader behavior under any circumstance.

A second approach is to resign.  This is an extreme approach only appropriate when there are legal, ethical or integrity issues involved.  No leader is obligated to take illegal or unethical action and resignation is appropriate under these circumstances.  That said, resigning just because you disagree, leaves your staff in the position of implementing without your leadership....it's going to happen anyway.  The leader who does this is walking away when her staff need them the most.  The true leader stays and helps the organization through a difficult challenge.  

That's really the third option.  Having voiced your disagreement, and assuming there are no ethical/legal issues,  when the decision doesn't go your way, implement as if it were your own decision, even if you disagree.  Sometimes this requires you to explain that all the arguments have been made and that those making the decision are aware of the consequences and risks.  Sometimes it's necessary to explain that some policies/projects benefit the organization as a whole, even though the benefit locally is a hard to articulate or doesn't exist at all.

Most people understand you don't always get your way in a large organization.  Leaders build trust when they can both be loyal to their staff and simultaneously loyal to the larger organizations.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust: They are the Voice of the Person on the Ground

In leadership roles, it's common to find oneself in the middle of some directive or initiative from a level  higher  in the organization than you. Inevitably the leader finds himself in the position of implementing something that is difficult for the staff in his organization.

In my experience this particular leadership challenge usually involves some sort of change initiative.  In global organizations this often takes the form of standardization.  One of the big advantages of a global structure is the opportunity to scale activities and through standard processes reduce internal transaction costs and achieve efficiencies.  The benefits of these efficiencies are often not visible to the staff on the ground who have to change the way they have done their work.

Stated another way, there are things that make sense at a higher headquarters level that make no sense at all to the person responsible for implementation.  In addition to the disruption to their own work, the person on the ground often must deal with key stakeholders or customers. In some cases local staff have to give up relationships with trusted suppliers and partners in favor of global ones.  It's common to hear change-weary staff talk of initiative overload or "the flavor of the month".   Sometimes these changes come with a new leader who is eager to achieve a dramatic short-term improvement.  In global organizations, the decision makers often are not even in the same country as those most affected.

There is always resistance to change.  No matter where located in the organization, the effective leader has to distinguish between the noise that always accompanies doing things differently, and a serious problem with implementation.  The HQ level leader has to be willing to listen to the "voice of the person on the ground" and adjust implementation plans when warranted.  The local leader has to be that voice....an amplifier of important considerations going back up the chain....and they have to find balance..  The local leader can't just complain about every global initiative...you lose your voice when you complain about everything. On the other hand, the local leader can't be a mindless "yes man",  afraid to articulate local concerns.  Sometimes staff....especially since many have been through wave after wave of standardization and change....don't expect the latest initiative go to away.  They just want to know that "those guys up there"  know how hard it is down here.

The leader who is that voice...the amplifier of the message from the person on the ground...builds trust by demonstrating that he too knows "how hard it is"

Friday, December 6, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-Leading by Example- A Story

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to interview twenty successful leaders in a large company in Southeast Asia. This particular company, like most, has a base country but operates throughout a number of ASEAN countries. Our team were trying to tease out from their stories how these leaders built their leadership capabilities over time.  The company wanted our team to help them become more deliberate and consistent in building leadership competencies across the company rather than being somewhat idiosyncratic and inconsistent.

One of their stories helps illuminate the lead by example maxim. In one interview, I was exploring the change management competence. The leader being interviewed mentioned he'd led a turnaround in another country in the region.  I asked him to tell me what that was like.

First of all the business in the other country had under-performed under several managers for the previous ten years. His charter was to fix it or close it.  Because he knew the scope of the challenge he chose to leave his family in his home country since he knew his job would be a twelve to eighteen hour day, seven day a week task.

Early in his tenure he gathered the employees into a town-hall-like meeting.  He bluntly explained the situation...  if together they could not establish the unit as a profitable activity, it would close and they would all lose their jobs.  He went on to reveal he had left his family with young children at home so that he could fully commit all his time to their collective success.  He explained the business problem with charts that illustrated rising costs and flat or declining revenue and was clear both costs had to come down and revenue had to increase.

As he assumed his duties he chose very modest housing near the plant...using less than half of his expat allowance for housing.  While operating in this tropical climate, he had the air conditioning turned off in his office.  He told me "If I got hot I could always take a cold shower".  He turned off the refrigerator in his office saying "It only held water and I can drink room temperature water."  When his leadership team wanted a team-building away day,  rather than going to a local hotel or resort, he arranged for them to help build a home in conjunction with the local franchise of "Habitat for Humanity". This leader told me his role in the team building activity was to carry the bags of cement from the truck to the mixer.  He also arranged for the families of employees to sell baked goods or made-at-home foodstuffs in the company cafeteria both providing extra income to cash-strapped families and reducing outsourced catering costs.

The business broke even in his first year there and has been profitable every year since. Although there are clearly other factors that contributed to the sustained commercial success,  this leader's personal examples set the tone...to make the personal sacrifice of family separation, to choose modest accommodations, to work in an un-air-conditioned office in a tropical climate, to drink room temperature water, to demonstrate both community and family welfare concern....In so doing he built the trust essential to make the hard choices necessary for success..

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust- They Lead By Example

"Lead By Example" seems to be one of the oldest and commonly accepted leadership maxims.  At one level this is about jointly enduring hardship....people will follow someone who they know will endure the same hardships they do. As an Army officer this often meant physical hardship....being present when it's cold or wet, or insufferably hot, or in the middle of the night or going long periods with insufficient sleep.

In the private sector, especially in a global role, it means getting out of the headquarters and visiting staff in their workplaces.  If some of your staff work in extreme weather climates, it's best to show up when it's toughest.  You time your visit to cold weather climates in the winter and desert climates in the summer.  If staff are doing their job in risky security areas, the good leader demonstrates the willingness to take risk too, by site visits.  If it is remote, you show up to demonstrate you understand what it's like to be remote.  If there are tough customer or stakeholder relationships, you show up and deepen your understanding of what the staff on the ground are dealing with and "run interference" if necessary

"Leading By Example" is more than jointly enduring hardships.  At another level it has to do the extent to which one's behaviour as a leader honors shared values.  Most companies have some version of "Honesty, Integrity and Respect for People" as core values.  There is usually a code of conduct  that covers such things as health, safety and environment;  conflicts of interest; gifts and gratuities; compliance with the law, views on competition and proprietary information, etc.    Here's a sample template of a typical code of conduct.    The point is there are usually a set of values and expected compliance with certain standards of behaviour.

Leaders build trust when they lead by example....when they "walk the talk"....both by jointly enduring hardship and by honoring shared values and standards of behaviour.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-They are Willing to Engage in Difficult Conversations

I'd originally written about this in the context of "giving honest feedback".  Upon reflection I think it's far more than just being willing to send a tough message.  I think its more accurate to say one builds trust by demonstrating the willingness to engage in a difficult conversation.  Everyone is perfectly willing to provide feedback when things go well and we are congratulating others on a job well done.  When there has been an error or target not met or customer complaint...or any number of unpleasant events....that's when conversations get difficult.

We've all probably experienced the dilemma...if I don't discuss this issue things may get worse, the event could occur again, my own frustrations will rise and I deny the other person the opportunity to improve.  If I do raise the issue, emotions are likely to run high, I may be rejected or attacked, or the relationship might be damaged.  There are many things that make these situations charged...fear of the consequences of being blamed for a bad outcome, ones identity as a competent and capable employee, a desire to avoid hurting others or being hurt yourself,

Good leaders learn the skills necessary to engage in these conversations.  They understand and can apply dialogue concepts like mental models and the ladder of inference.  They understand how different people can interpret the same event in very different ways.  They practice inquiry and advocacy skills.  They approach a difficult conversation from a learning stance meant to explore how everyone, including the leader, may have contributed to the issue at hand.

The book Difficult Conversations:  How to Discuss What Matters Most is an excellent reference for those who want to get better at this particular leadership skill.  I've worked with one of the authors in a program to develop this skill among emerging leaders in a US company and seen the marked improvement among those leaders as a result.

The point of this post is that everyone finds themselves facing the dilemma of how to confront an error or failure of some sort.  Great leaders develop the skills that give them the will to engage in these inevitable conversations.  Staff respect that willingness, the opportunity to improve, the genuine dialogue and the how-have-we-all- contributed-to-this" approach.  It builds trust. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

If Building Trust is So Important Why Is It So Hard?

While in the middle of this series on "How Leaders Build Trust" I learned of the results of a recent Associated Press/Gfk poll that shows less than one third of Americans trusted their fellow citizens.   To be clear this isn't just a lack of trust of government, or large institutions or big corporations....it's a lack of trust in each other.  These results show a significant drop in trust in others over the last 40 years.

I think the implications for leaders is obvious.  The data show that more than two thirds of people....at least in America... come to the workplace not trusting each other.  This means that the leader must be especially mindful of trust building behaviours...and of those things that undermine trust.  I don't have any data to support this view, but my hypothesis....and experience....tell me this is an even bigger challenge for a global leader. If a leader from one's own culture isn't automatically trusted it's reasonable to assume a leader from another culture would have an even more difficult challenge to build trustIf staff come to work with a mental model that others are not to be trusted, any behaviour that reinforces distrust will solidfy that point of view.  I gave some examples last week which I repeat for emphasis:

  • If you say you care about people..... and do nothing to develop others
  • If you say you value challenge and disagreement....and admonish those who disagree with you
  • If you say you value work-life balance....and send email or text messages at night or on weekends or during your holiday
  • If you say you value multiple cultures....and schedule meetings or require travel on holidays of other countries/cultures
  • If you are running a global organization and say you don't favor one region over another....and then all the most favorable actions are directed toward one country or region
  • If you say you value feedback....and then react angrily to any feedback that isn't favorable.

Leaders must come to their role with the understanding that many of their staff will not trust them.  Trust has to be earned every day, action by action, behaviour by behaviour.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-They Don't Lie

At first glance, this title might be self evident....of course you shouldn't lie as a leader and if you do, you will lose trust.  However, there are circumstances when it is not possible to reveal everything you know....even when directly asked.

Often a leader is included in conversations involving confidential information.  Confidential information that cannot be shared can take many forms.  Sometimes the leader is involved in commercially sensitive market information involving company performance and there are legal prohibitions from sharing that information.  There are also times when organizational changes are being considered, including those that involve downsizing or reductions in force, but no decisions have been taken.  Sometimes a leader is involved in decisions that have been taken but "embargoed" until an agreed public release date.  Sometimes a leader is involved in promotion or key position conversations and all parties have agreed not to discuss any candidate's selection or non-selection.  Sometimes a leader will be asked to help evaluate a merger or acquisition decision.

Early in a leader's tenure it's important to be clear with her team that there will be times when she's not able to share all the information she has.  Promising that she'll share what she can, when she can, helps create understanding.   Nevertheless, there are always rumors floating around every organization about sensitive subjects.  Leaders inevitably get asked to confirm or deny these rumors in team meetings or organization "town halls".  Good leaders have to develop honest responses to these questions without lying.  If you truly don't know, say so.  Sometimes it is enough to say " I know and I cannot discuss it".  At other times it's necessary to explain why it is you cannot discuss it; examples of honest responses might include:
"A decision has been taken, but is not releasable and I cannot comment on until the public announcement"
"That would be market sensitive information and I'm not able to comment one way or the other"
"As soon as any decisions have been taken that I can share, I will"
"I really can't comment on that one way or the other"
"I'm never going to be able to confirm or deny any question involving mergers or acquisitions, until a public announcement"

My point is there will be times when the leader cannot share everything she knows.  Being honest....not lying....especially when sensitive information is involved.... helps build trust.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-Taking One for the Team

I define "taking one for the team" broadly as a leader taking personal accountability for team failure or under performance.  

There are always underlying reasons for failure.  Sometimes teams are under-resourced for the task.  There are often competing priorities. A "can-do" spirit....and previous success.... can cause a team or subordinate team leader to over commit.  It's the leaders job to properly resource teams, resolve competing priorities, track progress and intervene when necessary.  Given those leadership tasks, it is easy to conclude the leader should take personal accountability for a team or part of a team's failure.  Although this is easy to say, it isn't always easy for leaders to do in practice.

What makes it so hard?  In some organizations it is popular to establish stretch targets and then regard failure to reach the stretch target as under-performance.  Internal competition among business units, reinforced by variable pay systems, can lead to what amounts to a personal financial penalty to the leader for a team failure.  Some organizations even have a "zero defects" approach to performance where a single failure attributed to a leader is a potential career ending event.  I've even had situations where the manager to whom I reported didn't appreciate the professional competence or behaviour of one of my direct reports...either from a prior assignment or an interaction in the current assignment.  All of those situations can make it convenient for the leader to avoid "taking one for the team."

The best leaders recognize this is what you sign up for when you become a leader.  When things go well you put forward those on the team who did the work.  When they don't go well, you step up, take personal accountability, work with the team to diagnose the root causes of failure and formulate corrective action for the future.  Team members trust leaders who support them, even when things don't go well.


Friday, November 22, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust: Do What You Say

In many large organizations and institutions most leaders know the right things to say.  The leader development programs in these places are long standing and well developed and provide leaders with a good sense of what and how to communicate with staff.

When I was a battalion commander in the Army I used to tell new lieutenants that what they did was more important than what they said.  Most new lieutenants know the right things to say as a result of their
pre-commissioning training....and soldiers know it.  When a new officer arrives soldiers will shrug at what the new lieutenant says....and defer judgment about their trustworthiness until they see if their actions honor their words.

I found the same thing to be true in the private sector.  Here are some examples of how leaders can lose trust when their actions don't honor their words.

  • If you say you care about people..... and do nothing to develop others
  • If you say you value challenge and disagreement....and admonish those who disagree with you
  • If you say you value work-life balance....and send email or text messages at night or on weekends or during your holiday
  • If you say you value multiple cultures....and schedule meetings or require travel on holidays of other countries/cultures
  • If you are running a global organization and say you don't favor one region over another....and then all the most favorable actions are directed toward one country or region
  • If you say you value feedback....and then react angrily to any feedback that isn't favorable.
There are of course, many other examples I could give where leaders actions that don't honor their words erode trust.  The point of this blog entry is that actions matter....trust is generated when there is fidelity....consistency....between what a leader says and what they do.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust

In my last blog I mentioned that taking personal accountability for team failures and giving credit to those who did the work when the team succeeds are important trust building activities.  In intend to build on the subject of trust in the next few blogs.  Here's the list I'll build on in this series:

  • Do what you say-  Under promise and over deliver
  • Take one for the team when everyone knows you don't have to
  • Don't lie even when you have confidential information you cannot share.
  • Be willing to engage in difficult conversations.
  • Lead by example.  Don't ask anyone to do anything you aren't willing to do yourself
  • Be the voice of the person on the ground on messages up the chain.  Your staff want to know senior leaders understand "how hard it is down here"
  • Be clear when implementation is required and you don't agree...and do so without blaming the "guys up there".
  • Be really good at what you do.  People follow those who they believe know what they are doing.
  • People give trust when they get it.  Be a good delegator.
I'll expand on these themes over the next few days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Leaders Get More Credit Than They Deserve

I was reminded of this topic recently while watching an interview with Alan Greenspan.  For my readers outside the US, Greenspan was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States for 18 years. He was appointed and reappointed by four different US Presidents of both political parties in those 18 years.  He received an enormous credit for the contributions he made regarding  monetary policy and fiscal policy and US economic growth during his tenure.  More recently, he has been roundly criticized for not recognizing the signs leading to the recession of 2008 and in fact directly sponsoring some policies that fueled that recession.  His legacy is mixed.

I saw him interviewed on a recent television news magazine show.  The interviewer asked him about the criticism..."Did it bother him?".  Greenspan's candid response was "Of course it bothers me.  I'm a human being."  He then went on to say :  "I got a lot of praise I didn't deserve as well."

This comment caused me to reflect on how true this is for all leaders.  All of us who have been leaders know that a team or organization's success is the product of the contributions of many people. When the team is successful, the leader gets a disproportionate share of the credit.  Likewise, when a team isn't successful the leader also gets a disproportionate share of the of the blame.

This is what you sign up for as a leader....you are accountable for everything that happens or fails to happen during your tenure.  When things go well great leaders understand they will be given more credit than they deserve and deflect praise to those who did the work.  Conversely, when they don't go well, great leaders step up and take the criticism.  Both actions generate trust....the currency of leadership.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Road Worth Remembering

In the far southern tip of the Limburger province of The Netherlands is a highway, designated as N278.  The N278 runs from Aachen, Germany to Masstricht, Netherlands.  It is actually part of a longer highway that stretches from Cologne, Germany to Boulogne, France.   This highway was built by the Romans and used by Caesar and his legions, marking the northern most point of the Roman Empire advance in Central Europe.
The armies of Charlemagne used this road establishing the capitol of his empire in Aachen around 790.  The armies of Charles the V, Holy Roman Emperor in the mid-1500's used the road as did Napoleon and his armies.  In the last century, the German armies in WWI and WWII used this road both in their advances into the Low Countries and in their retreats.

It's fitting then that the American Military Cemetery of The Netherlands is located along route N278.  It sits 10 km west of Maastricht and 22km east of Aachen near the village of Margraten.  Within the cemetery boundaries are the final resting places of 8302 Americans who died liberating this region of Europe.  Included among the 8,302 are seven Medal of Honor awardees.   On it's walls are etched the names of 1,723 others whose remains were never found.

Also etched on it's walls is a quote from their commanding general, later President Dwight Eisenhower:

     "All who hereafter live in freedom will here be reminded that to these men and their comrades
      we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and with the high resolve
      that the cause for which they did shall live eternally."

The Dutch of the area certainly offer "grateful remembrance"  This clip is from Memorial Day but applies equally to Veteran's Day.

On this day may we all offer grateful remembrance of those who have served and those who continue to do so.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Looking for Signs of Trouble

In my last blog entry I talked about employee engagement and how leaders make a difference.  It's not always easy for a leader to know if their employees are engaged or not.  Bigger organizations engage in sophisticated employees surveys like Gallup's Q12 or customized from company's like Sirota.

Independent of these useful sophisticated instruments, there are early warning signs of trouble for leaders of all organizations of all sizes.  Leaders have to be attentive to these signs of trouble....they are often indicators of leadership problems that haven't yet surfaced.  Safety problems are one such indicator.  It's almost axiomatic that well led workplaces are safe workplaces.  Another is absenteeism...if people aren't showing up for work it can be an indicator of an unproductive work environment.  Unanticipated turnover  is another warning sign....especially among key staff with solid work histories who depart on short notice.  Spikes in requests for internal transfers can be another sign.  Union organizing efforts, although in and of themselves not always a leadership problem, can be an indicator of unresponsive leadership.

Although chronic unit under-performance may be another indicator, trouble spots can emerge even in organizations or units that are achieving or exceeding business goals.  This can be a sign of a "workplace tyrant" who is achieving short term goals at the expense of everyone around and below him in the hierarchy.  This kind of success is rarely sustainable and all too often goes unnoticed until the leader is promoted based on their ability to produce outstanding results. 

In none of these cases should the appearance of one or more of these indicators create an assumption of a leadership problem.  They should however be a sign to the senior leader to dig a little deeper into what the underlying causes are to safety problems or absenteeism or turnover or other indicator.  Early intervention can provide a coaching opportunity to a developing leader and prevent  long term organizational issues.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Do You Think About Your People?

"Do you think about the people who work for you as instruments to achieve your organizational objectives? Or do you think of them as human beings who have hopes, ambitions and personal lives in addition to capabilities?"

A couple of years ago I heard the Dean of a prominent US university business school challenge a group of executive MBA students with these questions.  His point was that if you see your people only as instruments to achieve organizational ends you will never get any of their discretionary effort and indeed will fall short of full productivity.  He went on to assert this was more than a touchy-feely, "humanistic-as-an-end-in-itself" approach to leadership....there is business value in treating your staff as individuals with different needs and in so doing tapping into their full potential. 

Just this week the most recent Gallup poll on employee engagement in the US was released.  You can access the full report at this link.  Their most recent research reveals that only 30% of the American workforce is actively engaged and 70% are not engaged or actively disengaged...actively disengaged meaning they hate their jobs and influence others to do so also.  Among the conclusions from this report are that 1) Engagement makes a difference in the bottom line...productivity, profitability, earnings per share(EPS), safety, customer satisfaction, absenteeism...almost every measure 2) Leaders make a difference  3) Different types of workers need different engagement strategies. 4) Engagement has a greater impact on performance than corporate policies and perks

These recent findings reinforce the points the B-school Dean was making to the EMBA students.  Leaders make a difference and the way they treat their people makes a difference.  If you treat your people as individuals...gender, age, tenure and other variables all come into play....if you support and empower them....if you coach and mentor more than you direct and demand....then you have a much greater chance of organizational success.

How do you think about your people?


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When Was a Time Someone Took A Chance On You?

I think this is a great question for leaders.  The reason I think it is such a great question is two-fold.  One is it helps leaders reflect on all the different circumstances that led to them being in their current position.  I don't know any leader who could honestly answer that question with "no one ever took a chance on me."  All successful leaders have arrived at some key inflection point in their working lives where someone took a chance on them....where they weren't perfectly qualified for a role or hadn't had the requisite number of prior experiences, or did not have exactly the right formal education and training.  Yet, someone took a chance on them, they were successful and future opportunities presented themselves as a result.

Asked to describe such an instance, an astonishing number of leaders will describe an instance where they were figuratively "thrown into the deep end of the pool".  For my non-US readers the "being thrown into the deep end of the pool" is a metaphor that refers to how one can learn to swim.  Either one can take lessons from an instructor and learn how to properly breathe, kick their feet, move their arms and stay afloat.  Alternatively, one can just be thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool.   The assumption is that person will learn how to swim for pure survival.  Similarly, when you ask a successful leader their most meaningful leadership experience they will often describe just such a situation.  They encountered some combination of a new environment, unfamiliar business, or a foreign culture...in short they were put in a situation where they didn't quite know what they were doing and had to learn very fast in order to survive.  I can recall several times both in my US Army career and my career in the private sector where someone "took a chance on me" and I had to learn quickly to succeed.

The second part of the question for leaders is usually a little more difficult..."When was the last time YOU took a chance on someone?"  Paradoxically, many leaders, almost all of whom benefited from someone taking a chance on them, are hard pressed to come up with an instance where they took the same kind of chance on someone else as was done for them.

All too often, especially in large organizations, the talent management processes make it difficult to take a chance on someone.  Often "the system" only generates candidates who have had just the right combination of education, training and prior experiences to be considered "ready now".  Taking a chance on someone doesn't mean you should take wild chances on completely unqualified people.  Good leaders know when they are taking risk on a selection, provide a supportive environment, allow mistakes to be made and provide mentoring and coaching to support the steep learning curve.

Sometimes in the crush of everyday business it is easy to forget the combination of circumstances and serendipitous events that have led us all to a certain point in our working life.  The extent that  decisions made by others has affected our success is easily forgotten.  Asking the question "When was a time someone took a chance on you?" helps leaders remember...and perhaps do the same for someone else. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Taking a Decision When Your Team Disagrees

Last week on 4 June I wrote a blog on the "illusion of consensus" and what leaders can do to insure diverse views get surfaced.  There is another circumstance where there may be genuine consensus among the leadership team and the leader disagrees. With apologies to my global readers, I'll use a US historical example.

In his book, Undaunted Courage which describes the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803-1806, Stephen Ambrose describes just such a situation. In the very early days in the history of the United States, the US government purchased the Louisiana Territory from France.  Although the British and the Spanish governments also claimed parts of this territory, the lands purchased comprised roughly the western most 80% of what is now the United States and were inhabited by scattered bands of native people. Thomas Jefferson, the US President at the time, chartered an expedition led by his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark.  Jefferson provided detailed instructions to the expedition leaders .  He identified the core mission was to "the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce." They were instructed to explore the Missouri River and  any connecting river to the Pacific Ocean.  There is a good summary of the expedition at this Wikipedia link.

The expedition used flat bottomed pirogues as transportation for themselves and supplies.  They used long poles and paddles to propel themselves upstream.  They spent their first winter with the friendly Mandan native people in what is now North Dakota.  The Mandan, who roamed far to the West for hunting  were able to describe to the expedition what lay ahead and key landmarks along the way.  One key landmark was the "Great Falls" of the Missouri River.

The following Spring the expedition resumed their exploration armed with key information about these important landmarks.  The Missouri River in the Spring is extremely muddy as the snow and ice of winter melt.  Not only is it muddy, it is full of the detritus a river gathers.... tree branches, logs, large chunks of earth. It had to be incredibly difficult to both maneuver and propel the 55 ft long pirogues, loaded with supplies, against the river current filled with debris.

In spite of the difficulty, Lewis and Clark were gratified that the landmarks were as had been described to them by the Mandans.  After two months of this difficult journey, in June of 1805 the expedition came to a fork in the river. They still had not come to the Great Falls.  They were astonished that this fork, an important landmark, wasn't included in the descriptions they'd been given.  One branch went to the northwest, the other to the southwest.  Each branch was approximately the same width.  The branch to the north was of the exact character of the river they had experienced so far, equally muddy, and filled with sediment and debris.  The branch to the south was clearer, flowed a little more swiftly and filled with smooth rocks.  The members of the expedition, excepting Lewis and Clark, agreed the north branch was the Missouri River because it looked exactly as the Missouri they had experienced for over a year.  They believed the south branch was a tributary.  Lewis and Clark weren't sure.  They sent scouts up each fork with no conclusive outcome.  They then split the party in half and each party rode a day and a half up each branch and returned.  Again, these explorations did not yield any more clues about the correct way forward.  A decision had to be taken.

Lewis and Clark consulted with their team.  The forty men of the party unanimously reaffirmed their previous opinion that the north fork, which was exactly like the river they had so painfully navigated for over a year, was the Missouri.  Lewis and Clark disagreed.  From their study of early maps they reasoned they were close to the source of the river and when they approached the source the water would run more swiftly and clearly..like the south fork.  They also reasoned the the north fork would have to be quite long in order to accumulate so much debris and they believed they were too close to the source for the correct river to accumulate all that debris..  In a remarkable tribute to their leadership the members of the team "said very cheerfully that they were ready to follow us anywhere we thought proper to direct but that they still thought that the other was the river."  They took the south fork and three days later, 13 June 1805....208 years ago yesterday...they arrived at the Great Falls of the Missouri.  Lewis and Clark were correct.

So what are the leadership lessons in this story?  One is the leader has to have an idea of what lies ahead....not only key landmarks but a recognition there will be critical uncertainties.  When faced with one of these critical decision points, it's good to explore options and gather data to try to make a more informed decision.  There are times however, when gathering additional data doesn't help...there is still considerable uncertainty and a decision has to be made.  It's also a good practice to consult with the team on these type decisions.....no matter the decision they are more likely to follow if team members believe their point of view has been considered.  Consultation with the team doesn't mean that good leaders "take a vote and go with the majority" or in this case, with the consensus point of view.  Sometimes leaders have to take decisions in spite of disagreement.  It's uncomfortable for any leader when faced with this situation, but great leaders know the correct way forward doesn't always look like the successful ways of the past.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taking Time Off-A Leadership Issue and a Tipsheet

It's the beginning of the summer in the northern hemisphere.  It's the time when many schools are in recess and workers begin to schedule their vacations.   A recent article on the benefits of taking time off caught my eye.  At one end of the spectrum the article highlights the fact that the US is the only developed country in the world with no laws that mandate a minimum number of paid vacation days for each employee.  The article also highlights an innovative approach of one Canadian health care organisation.  You can find it at this link.   In the Canadian case, the almost unthinkable idea of unlimited paid vacation time for staff has been successfully implemented.  I'm also including a link to a BBC produced tool that allows you to compare working hours among countries considered to be in the "developed world" by the OECD.  BBC tool link is here.

It's fairly easy to conclude that more hours worked lead to less productive, less healthy work force.  It's also clear there are huge differences among countries which produces a challenge for the leader of a global activity.  Here are some tips to address that challenge.

Be Clear About Your Expectations.  As you can see from the BBC tool, in many countries longer working hours are a measure of a good employee.  Be clear that you expect staff to take their allotted vacation time...do so both in writing and verbally. 

Make it Part of the Performance Conversation with Your Direct Reports.  "Have you taken all your vacation time yet?  When do you plan to do so?"  These questions in performance conversations let staff know you are serious about it.

Set the Example-  Setting the example is always a good leadership practice and it is especially important in this area. There is no question a global leadership role can be a grind.  With early morning and late night teleconferences and webcasts to accommodate multiple time zones it's easy to slip into 14 hour work days and doing catch up work on weekends.  If you say taking time off is important and then don't take it yourself no one believes you really mean it.

Unplug When You Take Time Off-  This is especially important in today's 24/7 wired world.  Early in one of my global leadership roles, I continued to stay connected, monitored email and made comment on what I thought were important issues.  A trusted colleague, a woman from another country who worked for me, gave me feedback.  "Please don't do that. When you do, you are telling me you expect me to do so when I take time off, and I need to disconnect and clear my head".  Great advice.

Don't Reward Overwork.    When it comes to performance appraisal, promotion and bonus decisions be cautious about rewarding those who put in long hours.  It's not easy.  Some people who work long hours often get more done on sheer volume alone.  I never went so far as to penalize someone for excessive working hours but I did have a case where I told someone "your reward would have been  greater if you'd set a better example in how you completed your work".

Take a Cue From Your European Colleagues.    "Holiday time" has long been more sacrosanct in Europe than elsewhere.  The EU mandate on minimum vacation time helps but those cultural traditions long preceeded the mandate. My EU based colleagues were well ahead of the rest of us on this issue.

Synchronize Time Off Among the Leadership Team.  Everyone can't be off at the same time.  Make sure you've got "coverage", and it's clear who has authorities to act and take decisons in your absence....and let them take decisions. It's good leader development practice to "sit in the chair" and be accountable for the decision 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Managing Agreement-The Illusion of Consensus Trap- A Tipsheet

There is a famous experiment in social psychology called the Solomon Asch experiment.  In this experiment everyone in a control group intentionally provides an obviously incorrect answer to a simple question about a visual image.  The subject of the experiment is then asked to provide his answer, unaware of being intentionally misled.  You can watch this process unfold in a YouTube link on Professor Michael Roberto's blog.  The results of this experiment have been replicated multiple times.  It's a powerful demonstration of the very human desire to conform to the views of the group. This can lead to the "illusion of consensus" and some really faulty decision making.  Great leaders recognize this and devise tactics to mitigate this risk.  These tactics and techniques are especially important on global diverse teams.

How does the leader get the full benefit of the diversity of their team and not fall into the "illusion of consensus" trap?  The goal of a team-based decision is to identify a problem or issue, surface divergent views, debate those views, then take a decision and act. There are a couple of things of which to be aware.  One is the influence that the first person to speak or the person who speaks most assertively on a team can have....people often line up behind those views.  The leader's expressed point of view can also greatly influence the degree to which a team is willing to diverge in their thinking...."the boss has made up her mind"   Subject matter experts can also affect the degree to which people are willing to present contrary views.  A short list of how to deal with these issues and insure divergent thinking includes:
1.  Designate a "devil's advocate".  A very senior person told me not long ago that in his board meetings he designates a devil's advocate to present a challenge to an emerging convergence of opinion.
2.  Know the style preferences and cultural nuances of your team members.  Rather than open dialogue, designate someone to lead the conversation who might otherwise defer to an assertive, first mover.
3.  "Listen for silence".  This is especially important in teleconferences.  If you haven't heard someone for some time on a conversation, invite their voice in.
4.  Know your people well enough to detect non-verbal signs of discomfort.  "Tom, I can tell you aren't comfortable with the way this conversation is headed.  Can you share with us what you are thinking?"
5.  Master the engagement skills of Inquiry, Advocacy, Mental Models and the Ladder of Inference.  
6.  Daniel Kahneman even suggests team members write out their point of view on agenda items before dialogue starts.  It's not practical for every agenda item in every meeting but for certain issues it is quite useful.
7.  Be choiceful about when you express your point of view as a leader.  If you truly are seeking divergence on an issue, guide the conversation but also let it flow.  If you have a strong point of view, acknowledge it up front and invite challenge. How you handle the challenge will determine to the degree to which people are later willing to do so.  If you hammer dissenting views into submission, don't expect challenges to your thinking in the future.  If you do have a strong point of view, withhold it and then later hammer disagreement into submission, don't expect much conversation in the future until you have spoken.
8.  Watch for weak signals that challenge your own mental models.  This can be especially important in mature teams where the leader's attitudes and views are well known and shared.  This makes it even harder to surface a dissenting view.
9.  Be cautious if your team agrees "too quickly" on a complicated issue.  Use your engagement skills to expose mental models and challenge assumptions the team are collectively making. 

Managing agreement requires just as much skill from the leader as managing disagreement.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jet Lag and the Global Leader-A tipsheet

In spite of the advances in technology, travel across multiple timezones is a reality for leaders in global organizations.  I strongly believe that paradoxically, technology makes face to face interaction more important, not less important.  It's the face to face interaction and relationships that give you speed when working virtually.  My own theory is we create thousands of impressions of others, most unconscious, when we are together.  Facial expressions, tone of voice, the use of humor, interpreting silence and dozens of other impressions are formed when we interact face to face.  Those impressions make teleconferences, video conferences, web casts, and email exponentially more effective.  Creating those face to face opportunities means lots of long haul, multiple time zone, international travel, often of short duration...3-5 days for leaders in global organizations.  On a very practical level, leaders in these organizations have to develop strategies for dealing with the effects of jet lag.

Today's Wall Street Journal has some useful tips and the results of current research on jet lag. You can access it at this link. Wall Street Journal article on jet lag.  Strategies listed include some combination of adjusting one's sleep schedule days before a trip, taking the hormone melatonin, seeking light at certain times or forcing the body to eat and sleep on local time immediately on arrival.  The article suggests that the right combination of these strategies will vary by individual.

My own experience supports the suggestions in the article.  To that list I'd also add a few other  things.  One is getting sleep on the airplane.  Some people can do this better than others but it was especially important for me traveling West to East where I left the USA in the afternoon and arrived in Europe the next morning.  I'd also not schedule meetings in the morning of my arrival day but check into a hotel early and get a couple of hours rest before afternoon meetings. I forced myself to stay up as long as I could that first night.  Melatonin didn't work for me so I also used prescription sleep medication under a physicians supervision to insure I was able to sleep though the night.

The global leader will necessarily experiment with some combination of these strategies to discover the approach that works best for them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

US Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.  It is a day set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the US Armed Forces.  For those readers who do not live in the US, this tradition goes back to just after the US Civil War...nearly 150 years ago.  Some time ago a good friend of mine shared a letter he wrote to a family member seeking to understand more about the circumstances of his brother's death.  My friend has given me permission to print his letter.  I've redacted some of the names to protect the privacy of all involved.

Jerry: My name is ---- and I served as (your brother's) platoon leader in (Vietnam)from my arrival in early Nov 68 until his death on Jan 15, 1969. (Your brother) was my radio telephone operator (RTO) upon my arrival so we quickly became acquainted with each other. He was never more than one step from me, always prepared to hand me the handset. He walked behind me so in case of attack he could fall forward toward me with the radio in hand. He knew a great risk was his with that radio with whip lash antenna.(whip lash antennas extend several feet in the air revealing one's position )We spent hours talking to each other about our hopes and dreams and what was happening stateside. I was always encouraged by his spirit - when we stopped for a night lagger, I was required to move forward to be with our CO(commanding officer), usually taking my C rations with me. While the CO and platoon leaders met, (your brother) dug my fighting position, my sleeping position and was prepared to talk to me upon my return. I depended upon him for so much. One of my earliest decisions in the bush was that I pull guard duty with my RTO, my platoon sergeant, his RTO and our medic. Five made the guard duty easier since we started at 2100 and went to beginning morning twilight. Several times (your brother) would pull or split my hour at 0100 so I could get another hour of sleep. I would always tell him not to do that, but you know how he was, he would grin and say, sir you need that hour more than me. When we stopped for rest, he wanted to know if he could get me water, always from a running stream with sandy bottom, or a well. And when we needed a bio break, he guarded me while I relieved myself, and I then guarded him. We were always close by proximity and respected each other. Around Thanksgiving, he asked if I would consider appointing him as a fire team leader so he could be promoted. I did that, and promoted him. We spent Christmas day on LZ Cork, up in the mountains, our last day before our longest stretch in the field, 34 days. Leaving the mountains, we were sweeping the lowlands in early Jan looking for RVN movements. On January 15th, our company was stretched in a long line moving toward a village. We encountered heavy, heavy resistance. My new RTO was shot in the leg and it was a while until I could get to the radio. Our right flank entered the village but withdrew under heavy fire. As we fought thru the afternoon, the company was taking heavy casualties as our movement on the battlefield was not an option since there were RVN in the trees firing at everyone who moved. Even with the best artillery support and air support, we were badly outnumbered. When we withdrew that night to a cemetery, I realized I had two KIA, (your brother) and (another soldier), and five wounded. I can tell you that both KIA were head wounds so there was no pain and suffering. That day was the worst battle I encountered until I suffered near life ending injuries and was medevacked(sic) out on May 29, 1969. Toward the end of January, I received a letter from your father, the only response I ever received from a next of kin. I decided early in my tour that I would send a personal letter to each next of kin and the platoon would take up a collection for every KIA. I still have your father's letter and a prayer card from (your brother's) service. They are in a book, secure in storage. I have not looked at that book except for maybe 3-4 times in the last 40 years. In early Feb 1969, my sister wrote that she had delivered a baby boy on Jan 15th. I was reminded of the scripture that the Lord takes and gives. While Ricky, my nephew, in no way resembles (your brother), I always think of him when I see Ricky. Upon Ricky's 20th birthday, I wrote him a letter, explaining about (your brother's) death on his birth day and my expectations of him.
Jerry, I hope these memories of mine are helpful to you in wanting to know about your brother. Naive as a platoon leader, I never wanted to lose a soldier in my command. Your brother's death was a loss from which I really have never recovered either. I have traveled to DC to the RVN wall several times, rubbed my hand over your brother's name and thanked God for the privilege I had to know him, and call him friend, soldier, patriot. I am a better person because I knew (him). You had the greater privilege of calling him brother.

My friend's letter to the brother of a fallen comrade expresses the emotions of this day better than any I could write.

Tucked in a tiny corner of province of Limburg, near the village of Margraten, on the road between Maastricht and Aachen is the only American Military Cemetery in The Netherlands.  Buried there are 8301 Americans who gave their lives in WWII.  There are also 1722 names of those missing whose remains were never recovered.  The photo above shows what it looks like on US Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Excel and You Will Get a Mentor"

I've heard talk about the importance of mentorship(advice) and sponsorship(advocacy on one's behalf) to professional development and career progression for over 25 years.  Too often it takes the form of advice to new graduates or early career staff to "get yourself a mentor".    Well intentioned staff, following this seemingly sound advice then approach some senior person with the "Will you be my mentor?" question.  Few things are more uncomfortable to a senior person than to have this question posed from someone they don't know at all or have a superficial relationship with.  I've seldom seen these forced connections work.

As Sheryl Sandberg points out  Lean In "The strongest relationships spring from a real and often earned connection felt by both sides"...and later "Intuitively people invest in those who stand out for their talent and who can really benefit from help."   She devotes an entire chapter to this subject of mentoring and sponsorship in her book. Although there are special issues with women on this subject, like many other points in her book, there excellent insights  on this subject for all leaders. 

The point is, the relationship comes first, followed by mentoring and/or sponsorship.  When I reflect on my own successful mentoring relationships of the last fifteen years they have all fallen into the category of me choosing to "invest in those who stand out for their talent" or "who can really benefit from help".  One particularly satisfying case involved a young man who I believed was especially talented in a specialty field.  I was able to both mentor and sponsor to the degree he replaced me in a role nine years after we first met.  I obviously don't take credit for his success...his talent and hard work have driven his success.  I am pleased to have identified his talent early on and played a small role in his career progression.  More recently I heard from a former colleague who has been selected for a prestigious international assignment...a role he would not have sought without my encouragement more than two years ago.  In yet another case I was able to help a young woman reflect on some of her own behaviours...and her underlying motivations...to improve her performance I got an email from her three years after our interactions thanking me for my guidance and stlling me how important it was to her current success.   More recently, I've been working with a disabled US serviceman who is striving to improve his leadership skills in the private sector.  In all four of these cases, which I consider to be successful mentoring relationships, they came from a pre-existing relationship that "morphed" into mentoring.  In a couple of other cases, I ended up with mentoring relationships as a result of my role doing assessments and coaching in formal leadership programs.  I also did a fair amount of "peer mentoring" for experienced hires entering our company from another company culture.  In fact, in none of those cases would any of us have necessarily classified it as mentoring...it was a natural progression of things we were already doing together.

On the other side of the ledger I accepted a request to be a mentor from someone with whom I only had a superficial relationship...and it was always difficult....despite the best intentions on both of our parts.  We were in different countries, but only one time zone apart and had infrequent face to face contact. Plus she was in a different career field.  I'm not sure either one of us got as much as hoped out of the interaction.  I also participated in formal mentoring matches with new graduates...they were sort of ok...I hope they helped staff make the transition to a specific company culture but the relationships didn't stick.

To summarize my own experiences as a leader, all of my strongest mentoring relationships reinforce the point Ms Sandberge makes in her book...they came "from  a real and often earned connection felt by both sides"  Yes, mentoring and sponsorship are important. Instead of encouraging young staff to "find a mentor and you will be successful" we should be telling them "Excel and you will get a mentor".   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Three Great Questions Every Leader Should Ask

"How can I do better?  What am I doing I don't know?  What am I not doing I don't see?" 

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a story of how one of her direct reports asked her those three questions.  I think they are great questions every leader should be asking.  Even more importantly, I believe leaders should ask them in three directions....to their own manager as in the case related by Sandberg, but also laterally to peers and to her own direct reports.

Most people will recognize what I'm suggesting as some sort of 360 degree feedback.  In my experience 360's are often done either as part of the assessment portion of a leader development experience, as part of annual employee surveys or to "fix" someone who clearly doesn't understand how their behavior is impacting others.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things as a practice....I just think it is far more effective when it is embedded in routine practice. 

It's even more important in global virtual teams where leaders and team members are separated by many time zones and have infrequent face to face interaction.  Carving time out for these 1:1 conversations, either telecon or through video technology is important.  At a minimum it should be done twice a year with the line manager...mid-year and year end....more optimally I'd suggest quarterly.

With regard to peers, I often picked out one or two trusted colleagues, shared what I was working on as a leader, and asked some version of those three questions.  I'd also at least annually ask for feedback on what I should do more of, do less of or what I should continue to do from everyone in my organizational unit.

Last, and Sandberg also makes this point...feedback is not absolute, it's an opinion.  "It is an opinion grounded in observations and experiences which allows us to know what impressions we make on others".    Sometimes those opinions will differ depending on who we ask...and sometimes our actions have different impact on different people.  Effective leaders want and need to know the full range of those opinions and develop practices to insure they do.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Opportunities are Rarely Offered: They are Seized"

This is one of the leadership lessons from Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" that applies to both men and women.  Clearly she makes the case this is more of a challenge for women than men.  In her experiences as a leader, men reached for opportunities much more quickly than the women.  When we opened a new office or the launch of a new project, the men were banging down my door to explain why they should lead the charge.  Men were also more likely to chase a growth opportunity even before a new opening was announced.....The women, however were more cautious about changing roles and seeking out new challenges.

The leadership lesson is taking initiative pays off.  As she says: "It's hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do."

She also cautions against waiting for the "perfect fit" when looking for the next big thing to do.  There never is a "perfect fit".  The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have. In this regard she prefers the metaphor of a Jungle Gym rather than climbing a ladder.  For my readers outside the USA, a Jungle Gym is a common playground apparatus where children can explore various ways of ascending it.  Here's an illustration.  

When climbing a ladder there is only one way to the top, but there are many ways of getting to the top of a Jungle Gym.  She uses this metaphor to make the case that just because an opportunity doesn't mean an immediate progression along a well defined path, taking risk with growth opportunities even if they seem like a lateral move at the time, may get one to the top of an organization even quicker. In her words: "When you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don't ask 'Which Seat?'...you just get on." 

While the data show that risk aversion and lack of self confidence are more common in women than men, her advice about career development applies equally.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Lean In"-Why Do Women Lean Back in the First Place?

Why do women lean back from the workplace so consistently?  Why does someone like Sheryl Sandberg have to encourage women to "lean in"?

One reason is they choose to do so. Some women have the option of working at home, raising children and providing a stable home life for a husband.  Some women have children with health problems that become the sole priority for a stay-at-home Mom. Several times in the book Sandberg expresses the utmost respect for those who have that choice and who choose to work at home..it's difficult, important work.  Those women are not the target of her encouragement to lean in. 

Many other women don't have a choice.  "65% of married couple families with children in the United States have two parents in the workforce, with almost all relying on both incomes to support their household.   Being a single working parent can be even more difficult.  About 30% of families with children are led by a single parent,  with 85% of those led by a woman."   So there are two target populations of women she is talking to...those who have a choice and choose to work outside the home, and those with no choice.

So why do women who choose to be part of the workforce and those with no choices "lean back"?  One reason is the insecurity more common in women than men.  That insecurity causes women to consistently underestimate their abilities and gives rise to all kinds of fears..... fear of not fitting in, fear of not being liked because of her success, fear of not being seen as a team player, fear of seeming negative.....  Hence the recommendation to "sit at the table".

A second reason is that among those families with two parents in the workforce, the woman carries the overwhelming majority of the domestic duties.  Sheryl cites the most recent studies that "when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40% more child care and about 30% more housework than the father".  Women lean back because they are carrying more than their fair share of the load.   Hence the  recommendation to "make your partner a real partner."

A third reason is that in anticipation of the increased load that comes with children, women lean back before they need to and pass on promising career development opportunities. When they do choose to return to the workforce, they aren't presented with the challenging assignments that come with those passed up career development roles.  Hence the recommendation "Don't leave before you leave. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the last minute."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lean In-"Women are Not Making It to the Top of Any Profession Anywhere in the World"

I realize in my haste to characterize "Lean In" as a leadership book I really short-changed her key messages for women.  Before I move on to the leadership issues that I think apply to everyone I want to be clear about those.  As I said in yesterday's blog the core theme is about achieving gender equality.  You can review a 15' video of Sheryl Sandberg speaking to those key messages at this link:

Youtube video of Sheryl Sandberg explaining her key messages for women.

It's worth a review to hear her views in her voice.  Her key issue is keeping women in the workforce and preventing them from dropping out.  The sub-themes in the video are:

1.  Sit at the table(women consistently under-estimate their abilities)
2.  Make your partner a real partner
3.  Don't leave before you leave.  Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the last minute.

I really encourage you to watch the video and read the book even if ....no..   especially if... you think you will disagree with her views.

If you are a member of my global audience and think this doesn't apply to you or your country I'm betting one of her opening quotes will get your attention.

"Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world".

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Lean In"- This is a Leadership Book

I recently finished reading "Lean In:  Women, Work and The Will to Lead" by Sheryl Sandberg.  As the synopsis on the Kindle edition says "Sheryl Sandberg examines why women's progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling common sense solutions that can empower women to achieve full potential".  It's that....and much, much more.

I admit I wasn't easily drawn to the book...it seemed like it was a book written by a woman, about women and for women.  However, there has been a lot of "fuss" about the book...some controversy and criticism from both men and women.  At one level I was curious what the fuss was all about.  At another level, I wanted to see what a senior successful woman had to say.  Sheryl Sandberg has two degrees from Harvard, been a McKinsey consultant, Chief of Staff of the US Treasury Department,  been a VP at Google and the COO of Facebook.  I had a hunch she had an important point of view.

To be clear, the core theme of the book is about achieving gender equality...no question about that.  She tackles gender inequality issues head on with data driven arguments.  An example is studies that show that "when a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. when a woman is successful people of of both genders like her less"....  and a study that "exclusive maternal care is not related to better outcomes for children"...and "a survey in 2012 showed that 80% of employed adults continue to work after leaving the office; 38% check email at the dinner table and 69% can't go to bed without checking their in-box" to name just a few.  She treats workplace gender issues in a provocative yet balanced way.

For me though, the book is about much broader themes of leadership. She tackles those straight on also....risk taking, the role of fear, feedback, mentoring and sponsorship, and choices.  Part of the beauty of this book is Sheryl Sandberg challenges us all. She challenges men to be better partners in the workplace and at home.  She challenges women to "Lean In", to take more risk, and "to scale back only when a  break is needed or a child arrives....not before."

Everyone needs to read this book....men and women.  I've already recommended it to two mid-career couples who are friends and colleagues.  Although it's not a "leadership book" per se....it is more about leadership than many books where that word appears in the title. 

I'm going to blog on this book for a few days but will close this one with a quote from the book:

  "We need to be able to talk about gender without people thinking (women) are crying for help, asking for special treatment or about to sue"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Taking a Decision When Your Team Can't Agree

Last year, I wrote a series of blog entries on the value of a diverse team.  In fact I made eight entries on this subject....more than any other single subject I've written about.  That emphasis reflects how important mastering diversity is to the leader of global teams.  If you are interested in reviewing those entries you can find them at entries on 23, 26, 27 and 28 March and 10,11,12 and 16 April of 2012.

Inevitably there will be times when a diverse team is unable to arrive at a consensus.  As I stated in the 16 April blog, sometimes the leader has to take a decision when is disagreement among the team.  Occasionally, a decision will reflect the majority view rather than consensus.  There are traps in the "majority rule" and "leader decides" worth discussing. A leader can find herself in a situation where the team is so divided that the the minority undermines the success of the decision.

Professor Ronald Peterson of the London Business School addressed this challenge in his article "When the Issues are intractable and your team divided."

Professor Peterson has found that "when leading a small group of people who are strongly divided, 'majority rule' (i.e., voting) leads to extremely poor outcomes"

In other words, voting in small groups as generally practiced does not respect the rights of the minority, so the losers of the vote are likely to actively undermine majority decisions.

One of my approaches has been to be clear about who gets to decide. When it is obvious to the leader all the issues, points of view and alternatives have been explored, the leader takes the decision.  Dr. Peterson suggests this is the second best approach:

 "When a leader is perceived as legitimate – either because they are individually trusted, or because they have been duly elected, etc., then that leader takes the responsibility for the decision and if things turn out well they will be vindicated, and if things turn out poorly, the anger is directed at the individual leader, preserving the group, organisation, or system from the anger"

His preferred approach is to come to a qualified consensus.  Is there and alternative that "everyone can live with even if it is not their first choice?"

When leading a well constructed diverse team, disagreement is inevitable....and a good thing...it sharpens everyone's thinking.  That said, the leader of a global team must have a range of tools in the kit to take a decision when the group disagrees and is stuck.


Monday, April 29, 2013

"The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations"-A Business Example

A few days ago I used the term "the soft bigotry of low expectations" in the context of the leadership of a large urban public school district.  I believe it also applies in the context of leading in a global commercial enterprise.

In one of my former roles I was involved in the assessment of general managers who had demonstrated the potential to become senior executives. Based on the assessment, a development plan was agreed between the participant and their line manager.  Those being assessed came from all parts of the business, functions and all parts of the world.  In several of these sessions, there were Nigerian participants..

I've been to Nigeria several times, although never lived there.   There are over 130 Million people living in Nigeria.  Over 100 million of them are living on less than two dollars a day.  The poverty is crushing and basic services like food, sanitation, power, public transportation and clean water are scarce, or unreliable, or non-existent in many places.  Muslim extremists in the north part of the country carry out attacks on Christian citizens.  In the South...the Niger Delta...a group of insurgents calling themselves MEND...the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, raid commercial activities and kidnap expatriates for ransom. Corruption of public officials is a well documented matter of record.

In order for a young person to get an education that gives them a chance to succeed, they have to overcome incredible obstacles just to have clean clothes and a full stomach when they get to school.  They then must have the drive to study and excel, and get an advanced education, often outside their home country.  Then there is the competition to get a good job with an international company.  Once there, success requires performing at a high level that warrants promotion and consideration for the most senior jobs in those companies.

I admit that when I did an assessment of a Nigerian who had made that amazing journey and against all odds, had arrived at the threshold of the executive ranks, I was tempted to be less stringent in my evaluation....to "cut them some slack" so to speak.  I had a deep appreciation...and profound respect... for what it had taken for that person to arrive at just that point.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion I really wouldn't be doing any of them any favors by a less demanding assessment and identification of their development needs.  They deserved candid, "no holds barred" feedback on what it would take to get to the next level.

Like a school teacher in a large urban district, it's natural for a leader in business to empathizes with those who face extraordinary life challenges.  It's important as a human being, to appreciate what it takes to do business in a second language, or be a woman in a male dominated culture, or be a racial minority or have suffered from religious persecution or any number of other life challenges.  It's just as important to not let that empathy get in the way of providing the gift of honest feedback.  Honest feedback, tough as it may sometimes be, respects the person by saying "I expect just as much out of you as anyone else at your level"  When your actions say "I don't expect as much out of you because of what you've had to overcome" you are practicing the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Leadership vs Management: "Leadership is about Character"

I've occasionally been frustrated when teaching and coaching mid-career leaders who seem to always want to make the distinction between leadership and management...as if it was an either/or choice.  I long ago learned it's not an either/or choice... good leaders must do both.  Simply put you manage "things"....processes, systems, materiel, finances....and you lead people.  Good leaders must do both. 

 In this Forbes interview,  outgoing Novartis chairman Dr. Daniel Vasella takes this simple view further.

"To a greater extent than management, leadership involves character. Let me also mention intrinsic motivation, interpersonal skills, integrity and courage paired with self-awareness and the ongoing desire to learn. At the core of leadership is the core of the person. Leadership development must involve introspection, reflection, and examination of our patterns. Otherwise, we become hostages of our old patterns of behavior, and we tend to unconsciously repeat the past.

If you believe in the growth of people, it will lead to better leadership. In leadership programs we have facilitated, we engage people in the thrill of discovering themselves, their blind spots, and their patterns in a safe, trusting, professional environment. They share life stories with others and receive feedback. It’s amazing to see competent managers connect the dots from their life stories to their current and emerging leadership stories. You have to have a deep commitment to develop new skills and patterns. It has a deep influence for teams and individuals. Few things are as fulfilling as seeing top people grow to the next level of leadership contribution."

If you read the Forbes article, you will see Dr. Vasella also talks to the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a "purpose" for the organization.  This reinforces the influencing skill of "creating a broader frame" I explored in blogs of 26 March and 28 March.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Change is Not Made in An Instant" Leadership and Charisma

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast meeting with  Newark, New Jersey Mayor
Cory BookerIf you read the Wikipedia entry at the link you'll see his tenure has not been without controversy.  If you read the Wikipedia link on Newark, you'll see it is 8km west of Manhattan and has a population of over 277,000.  Approximately one third of the citizens of Newark live in poverty and just over 50% are African-American.  Significantly, every Mayor of Newark in the 50 years prior to Cory Booker's election has been indicted on criminal charges.

Mayor Booker's politics and policies are interesting but not the subject of this blog.  What I did find interesting was his ability to hold an audience, influence and even inspire.   Regular readers will recall I mentioned charisma as a set of skills for leaders....and made the point they are a  skill set and not just an intrinsic quality to a fortunate few.

Whether one agrees with his politics and tactics or not,  Cory Booker is undeniably charismatic.  He's a gifted story teller mixing humor, serious topics and relevant subjects.  His audience consisted of people who are actively working to reduce poverty and who work to help those in poverty through food assistance, housing, health care and employment counseling.  He used personal stories to make his three main points that
1)  We are all....regardless of our station in life.... standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.
 2)  That change in addressing matters of poverty isn't made in an instant or the result of a single heroic act.  It is made by small acts of kindness, caring and generosity performed day after day by many people over a long period of time 
3)  Great leaders in this area don't see others and say  "follow me!"...they inspire others to see the greatness in themselves.

Here's a link to a video of Mayor Booker telling one of his stories.  All great leaders have the story telling skill in their leadership kit.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Public Schools, Leaders and "The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations"

In the last week, I've had the opportunity to attend meetings with two leaders in the public sector.  One was the Superintendent of a large urban school district; the other the Mayor of a large East Coast US city;   After listening to them and reflecting a bit, it strikes me that there are some similarities....and some differences....in effective leadership in the public sector.  I'll deal with the school superintendent first and then the other one in a subsequent blog.

For my readers outside the US, attendance at public schools is largely dictated by where one lives. Students are enrolled in the school appropriate to their age, closest to their home. In many large US cities, wealthier people live in suburban communities and commute to the urban areas by automobile or public transportation for work. Hence, the school districts serving the city residents often are serving the children of the poorest residents in the overall metropolitan area.  Mike Miles is the Superintendent of just such an urban area...the Dallas Independent School District in Dallas, Texas.  To give you an idea of the scope of the role,  there are 230 schools, 157,000 students and over 20,000 employees.  Of the 157,000 students 70% are Hispanic, 24% African-American, 5% white, and 1% Asian.  Mr. Miles manages a $1.5 billion dollar budget for this school district.

Miles and his Board of Trustees  have agreed a vision, destination and set of core beliefs that you can find at this link.  I'm restating the core beliefs here for emphasis.
  • Our main purpose is to improve student academic achievement.
  • Effective instruction makes the most difference in student academic performance.
  • There is no excuse for poor quality instruction.
  • With our help, at risk students will achieve at the same rate as non-at risk students.
  • Staff members must have a commitment to children and a commitment to the pursuit of excellence.
To the point I made a couple of weeks ago about using data as an influencing skill, Superintendent Miles used data very effectively to make his points in a presentation I attended.  He compared his school district to both state and national scores on standardized tests.  He also had the data by individual school so that it was easy to identify high performing schools(three of the schools in his district were listed by the Washington Post as among the best five in the United States) and distinguish their performance from others. In spite of isolated instances of excellence and a track record that showed improvement, the data showed a significant gap between his school district and others in the state and nationally.  He also used trend data to show that although there was improvement over time, the performance gaps weren't actually closing.

He had stories from his own experiences as a minority student who had a speech impediment and the role two teachers had in helping him overcome those challenges to achieve excellence.  He also once served as a custodian in a school district for six months and knows first-hand about appropriate maintenance standards of performance.  He doesn't accept that instruction should be compromised because there was a gang shooting or overdose in the neighborhood, or that expectations should be lower for those from single parent households.  Powerfully, he used Michael Gerson's term "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

He closed by re-framing and elevating the conversation making it clear that no matter what the employees of the school district did, the school district would not improve unless the community demanded excellence.

Whether or not Mike Miles will succeed is an open question.  He's been in his role nine months.  He's making school principals accountable for the performance of their schools and made it clear under performance won't be tolerated.  He established a Leadership Development Fellows Academy to prepare aspiring principals   He's implemented a new teacher evaluation system whose elements are to identify excellence, help every teacher improve, and create lasting impact.  He's also established service level agreements for standards of performance for central office functions.  Among a number of imposing challenges, two things stand out as particularly difficult leadership challenges for someone in Miles position.  One, I'm hard pressed to think of an example in the private sector where stakeholders wouldn't support holding leaders accountable for improved performance, yet some parents and members of the Board of Trustees aren't happy...they are comfortable with their long-tenured principals and teachers and are resisting the change in performance evaluations....in spite of data that indicates chronic under performance.  Some are happy to celebrate the achievements of a few high performers and accept under performance for the majority.  Another factor is disagreement plays out in public media...newspapers and television reports.  While leaders in public companies have shareholders and annual shareholder meetings have their own dynamic, it seems to me there is a difference between an annual shareholder meeting and having your leadership decisions analyzed daily in the public media.

Best of luck to Mike Miles.  He clearly knows how to lead.  As he himself stated, his success is dependant on the community he serves demanding excellence.