Thursday, May 31, 2012

Be yourself: The issue is authenticity

Effective leadership styles are as unique as fingerprints.  Leadership techniques and tactics that work for one leader don't neccessarily work for another.  If you are a naturally introverted person and you try to imitate the technique of an extroverted, ebullient person it comes off as inauthentic...everybody knows you are faking it.  Lack of authenticity erodes trust and no leader can be effective if their staff don't trust them.

Marcus Buckingham has an interesting new HBR article on this subject and what it means to the development of leaders.  You can find it at this link.  It's worth listening to the 15' audio interview as he explains his point of view.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Standardization as a source of innovation: Captain Sullenberger: Dealing with the Unexpected

Professor Michael Roberto's Blog: Captain Sullenberger: Dealing with the Unexpected

In my March 21st blog I made a case that standardization is the source of innovation.  Professor Mike Roberto recently posted a short video(39 seconds) of Captain Sully Sullenberger.  Capt Sullenberger reinforces the notion of standardization as a source of innovation.

For those of you who don't know or may not recall, in 2009 Capt Sullenberger was the pilot of a US Airways aircraft which struck a flock of Canadian geese on takeoff and had catastrophic engine failure as a result.  He successfully ditched the aircraft in the Hudson River and saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew.

Monday, May 28, 2012

US Memorial Day

I spent part of the last week reading "On Hallowed Ground: The History of Arlington National Cemetary" by Robert M Poole.  The first hundred pages of this 270 page book are about the history of the Custis Lee Farm and how that land transformed from a working farm to a military encampment to an expedient burial ground for the dead from the Civil War.  The deliberate placing of the cemetery on the grounds of the home of Confederate General Robert E Lee and the post Civil War legal battle over title to the land is covered in some detail.  It reveals the depth of resentment for those who chose to rebel against their home country.

More than that history though, is the way Arlington National Cemetery symbolizes how America chooses to honor those who serve and those who die in service to their country.  In their own different ways The Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan  have all transformed Arlington National Cemetery.

For anyone who truly wants to understand the meaning of Memorial Day in the United States, this book is highly recommended. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our families deserve a fair share of our best efforts

A global company never sleeps.  Staff in different parts of the world are always working.   That makes it easy to fall into a 24/7/365 work routine where there is no room for anything else.  Work is only one part of our lives.  Great leaders create a work environment where staff have something in the tank when they get home.  This often gets articulated as "work-life balance".  At one level I believe everyone is responsible to create their own work-life balance.  At the same time I believe leaders create the environment where everyone can make a variety of choices.
How does the leader create that environment?  In my 23 and 24 April blogs I talked about technology and the leaders role as a multiplier. In this blog I focus on leader behaviors.  Simply, leaders create that environment by setting the example.  Like it or not, staff watch their leader's behavior like a hawk.   No matter what a leader says about work-life balance, what they actually do speaks louder to their staff.  Some examples:

1.  Office hours.  If you say you want staff to keep "normal" office hours but get to the office at 5am and leave at 7pm every night you are sending a message about what's expected.
2.  Email.  If you send weekend and late night email you are setting expectations for others.
3.  Vacation time.  If you don't take your allotted vacation time or you email or participate in teleconferences every day during your vacation you are establishing a standard.
4.  National holidays.  If you work during holidays or do not recognize different national holiday traditions you are setting expectations.
5.  Reward and recognition.  If the workaholic on your staff is the one who gets promoted, raises and bonuses you are setting expectations.

My overarching point is leader behavior not policy, creates a healthy work environment where staff can make choices in their personal lives.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Your legacy as a leader is the people you leave behind

Too often as leaders we think our legacy is what we accomplish in our role....the degree to which we meet our business targets, a reorganization, a strategic initiative, completion of a successful project, securing a big contract.  Clearly these are important accomplishments.  That said, I believe the legacy to the organization isn't the accomplishment of tasks and missions but the people the leader leaves behind.  I argue this demands that the leader needs to take a personal interest in their development.

What does "take a personal interest in their development" mean in practice?  First, it means having a plan.  I believe everyone needs an individual development plan that's agreed at the beginning of each year and reviewed at least once.  It needs to be separate but related to the performance appraisal.  Second, it means in-role assignments to build skill or capability.  Sometimes it means taking chances in selecting people for new roles....ones in which they haven't "checked every competency box" or had the ideal set of preparatory assignments.  It also means balancing challenge and support...sometimes referred to as "tough love".  You want to support and reinforce strengths AND challenge.  Often taking a personal interest in their development means letting a trusted team member go to another part of the organization, even though it creates a hole in your own.  One of my most satisfying accomplishments in Shell was when a person I identified with high potential in 2002 replaced me when I retired in 2011.  I was able to advocate for his promotion and a series of development assignments over nine years that lead to his selection.  I did this not specifically planning for him to replace me, but believed he would be able to make broad contributions given the right development path.  Specific skill or knowledge gaps can be addressed by formal courses or training.  I mention this last because too often "sending someone to a course" is a lazy way of addressing development needs.  To be sure there are times when formal training is the correct solution to a specific development need, but formal training needs to be just one tool in the kit....not the "silver bullet" to every need.

My last point is that the development of others shouldn't be confined to the leader's direct reports.  Spending time with the development of those two levels down in the organization....the reports of your direct reports is part of a robust approach to developing others.

The approach I'm suggesting takes time and time is precious to every leader.  This demands that the leader be disciplined about priorities and ensure "time on the diary" is dedicated to the development of others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Paradox of Learning-Can you say "I don't know?"

The paradox of learning is that the leader must be just as proficient at "un-learning"...the process of challenging assumptions and mental she is at learning.
All too often leaders find themselves in a position where they think they should know the answer to a question, problem, or dilemma  because of their position in the organization.  In some cultures there is an expectation that leaders "know" because of their position.

My point in this blog is that if you think you "know" the answer to a challenge because of your position or act like you do because others expect you to, this constitutes a "learning disability".
Learning takes place when there is a gap between what is known and what is unknown.   Recognizing this gap creates tension and as human beings we have an impulse to close the gap and resolve the tension. Learning is the process to close the gap.  If the leader thinks they "know" or "should know" because of their position there is no tension, and hence no learning.

To be sure the leader cannot profess ignorance about everything.  One of the most important factors in generating trust....what causes men and women to the confidence that their leader knows what they are doing.  In fact, there is some evidence that in extreme conditions people will follow whoever it is who demonstrates competence regardless of their rank in the hierarchy.

Great leaders aren't afraid to say "I don't know". They aren't afraid to create a little tension by doing so.  They are confident enough to publicly challenge their own assumptions and mental models...reveal their thinking and articulate what causes them to come to certain conclusions.  This encourages staff to voice points of view that otherwise might not be voiced.

To be sure it's uncomfortable for the leader to behave in this way.  In Professor Michael Roberto's blog he quotes Dr. Peter Carruthers of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “There’s a special tension to people who are constantly in the position of making new knowledge."  Great leaders embrace the tension and discomfort that comes with saying "I don't know".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Everyone Has a Role to Play

In Peter Senge's opening to The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook he tells the following story.  Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa the most common greeting is Sawu Bona which translated means "I see you".  The proper response is Sikhona which when translated means "I am here."  The order in which this greeting occurs is important:  Until you see me I do not exist.  It is as if when you see me you bring me into existence.  To people in this culture, ones identity is based on the fact that they are seen....respected and acknowledged as a person.

Everyone has a role to play in organizations....there are no "little guys".    Sometimes our organizational hierarchy and compensation systems lead people to believe some people are more important than others.  Clearly, some people are able to monetize their skill, training and knowledge in positions of responsibility, but that doesn't make them more "important" as people.

Great leaders know everyone has a role to play.  Great leaders "see" those in  low status jobs.  They look them in the eye... the food service workers, administrative staff, the cleaning crew, 3d party contractors... they greet them,  they listen to their concerns, they keep them informed on the purpose and direction of the organization, place priority on their health and safety concerns...and most importantly thank them for their contributions.

Trust is the currency of leadership and the leader generates trust by respect....respect for everyone. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Three Kinds of Failure

Are we learning? Are we anticipating? Are we adapting to the changing present? These are big questions that need to be asked by all leaders and their teams. There are good reasons to ask all three of these questions.

In his book "Military Misfortunes:  The Anatomy of Failure in War",  Eliot Cohen analyzes military disasters and lays out a method for understanding failure.  His central thesis is that there are three kinds of failure...Failure to Learn, Failure to Anticipate, and Failure to Adapt to the Changing Present.    He uses historical military examples to understand those failures.  He also identifies something he calls "aggregate failure" and "catastrophic failure", but it's these first three that I believe are more generalizable to the business world.

The "Failure to Learn" is almost a cliche in business.  Most often you hear it referred to by the term "we don't want to reinvent the wheel".  The need to learn from past experience is well known.  It's surprising then, how often it occurs in spite of the awareness.  My experience is this occurs when there is a mistaken belief that the underlying circumstances that resulted in failure "have changed" or it was a "good idea but the timing wasn't right before" or "they didn't execute it very well", or  "things are different here".  Beware and go very slowly when these code words appear.

"Failure to Anticipate" is really the subject of most strategic planning efforts.  As an example, the list of companies that failed to anticipate the impact of digitization is long...Barnes and Noble...really any brick and mortar book store, Blockbuster video, travel agencies, universities, brick and mortar banks...the list goes on and on.  My former company Shell, and it's well documented use of scenario planning is an example of how to address the "anticipation challenge".

To me, "Failure to adapt the changing present" is the most fascinating of the three kinds of failure Cohen identifies. The best example of how to address the "changing present" challenge of which I'm aware is also from a military context.  Journalist Joey Galloway describes the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam in his book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.”   He accompanied then LTC Hal Moore and the soldiers of the US 1st Cavalry Division on their mission.  It’s a gripping story involving a hellacious fight between two very capable armies. In the middle of this three day battle, Galloway observed LTC Moore occasionally remove himself and just stand silently and observe the what was going on.  Later Galloway asked LTC Moore what he was doing in those moments.  LTC Moore responded he would periodically ask himself three questions:“What is happening? What is not happening? How can I influence the action?”   It talks to agility of thinking, flexibility, speed in decision making and not being "married to the plan".   The leader who asks himself those three questions from time to time is taking a big step to adapting to the changing present.

Are we learning? Are we anticipating?  Are we adapting to the Changing present?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Easy Way Out Usually Leads Back In

Inevitably the leader faces difficult choices and the difficult conversations that emerge from those choices.   The most difficult for me as a leader were the ones that had personal implications for staff.  One that comes immediately to mind is those conversations around under-performance.  I don't think anyone enjoys these conversations.  The temptation is strong to understate the degree of under performance so as not to confront the real shortcomings of the employee.  I once had a young woman who was attempting a role that was new and foreign to her prior experience.  After much coaching and feedback she wasn't getting any better....she just didn't have the aptitude for the kind of work we were doing.  I knew her performance conversation would be difficult because she wanted to succeed at the new role so badly and had tried so hard to be successful. It was, as expected, a difficult and emotional conversation.  She had a huge emotional stake in being successful in the role and confronting failure was difficult.  The easiest thing that would have avoided the difficult conversation would have been to "soft sell" her shortcomings, thereby implicitly encouraging her to continue.  Had I chosen that course of action we would have had the same conversation six months later. This is what I mean by the easy way out usually leads back in...failure to confront a challenge only delays the conversation and makes for an even more difficult conversation later.   
Performance conversations issues aren't the only difficult choices a leader has to makeThere are choices about resource allocation, priorities, organizational reporting relationships, promotions, competitively selected positions....all of which can have significant personal impact.  Experienced leaders intuitively know the right thing to do and also know it's a more difficult course of action.  Forcing yourself to do the harder right thing rather than the easier wrong is a key element of effective leadership.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Handling Success and the Leader

In my model of leadership the leader is accountable for everything that happens or fails to happen in his organization.  There is no question this comes from my training at West Point and my experience as an Army officer  As a practical matter, this means the leader will get credit for some things that they only influence indirectly...likewise the leader is held accountable for bad things that occur even when their influence is equally indirect. If you are the kind of leader who takes credit for successes and "throws people under the bus" when mistakes happen you will never have sustainable success.
 So my second leadership principle on the list to the right is...  when things go well, put your people forward to take the credit; when things go bad-step up and take your licks.  Why is this important?
First of all, any success you have in the organization will be the result of a team effort and the larger the organization it will likely be more than one team working together.  Chances are there will be some group of people who do the "real work".  They know and you know who did the real work to bring success to life.  You also know that eventually you will get the credit for their efforts.  Publicly acknowledging their role builds trust and confidence in you as a leader. When you put those people forward who did the "heavy lifting" and acknowledge their contribution you reinforce the notion that it's not "all about you". 
Likewise, when you step up and take accountability when the outcome isn't positive it likewise reinforces that sense of trust and confidence.  When you "take one for the team"... when they know you will stand up with them, ...for them... and indeed... in front of them, and take your licks when they err, you generate incalculable loyalty.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mistake Making and the Leader

Yesterday I wrote about bad news.  Today I want to talk about a close relative to bad news and that is "mistake making"...specifically mistake making by the direct reports of leaders.  In all my leadership roles I've told my direct reports that I actually wanted them making mistakes.  Why? One is the learning you get from mistakes.  The emotional impact of "getting it wrong" sticks with you longer than sustaining your successes.  No one likes to make them but they give us a reason to reflect on what we thought would happen, what actually happened and why and what to do differently next time.  It's a methodology to improve performance. If you aren't making mistakes then you are probably not taking enough risk or testing innovative and new ways to tackle old problems.  Sometimes this takes the form of too much "guidance seeking"...a way of "delegating problems up".  Second, this is the way you develop the next generation of allowing the mistakes to become development experiences.

There are limits to mistake making....even when learning and developing.  I used to tell younger leaders that, yes, I wanted them making mistakes but I didn't expect them to make every mistake that could possibly be made...there was some level of fundamental competence expected.  Second, I told them I didn't expect to see the same mistake twice...evidence the learning isn't taking place.  Third, no mistakes in the areas of honesty, integrity, or ethics are acceptable.

 Edwards Deming's first principle of quality management was "first drive out the fear".  Peak organizational performance is possible when the leader drives out the fear of punishment for mistakes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bad News and the Leader

The first of my Top 20 Leadership insights is shown on the list to the right.  Bad news isn't like fine doesn't get better with time.  In order for others to to understand this I need to share some fundamental  beliefs. One is that bad things happen in even the best organization.  People make dumb mistakes, have lapses in judgment, take unnecessary risks, violate established procedures resulting in a bad could make a very long list of the kinds of bad things that can happen.  A well led organization isn't defined by whether or not bad things happen, but how leaders handle the bad things that do.  The second point is that there is a natural human tendency to not want to reveal bad things that happen in an organization. A leader may hope the problem goes away without anyone discovering it; she may hope it's not as bad as it first looks; she may be worried that it reflects on her leadership; she may be embarrassed that an egregious mistake has happened in her organization.  There are a lot of reasons leader may be reluctant to bring forward bad news, and it's always a mistake not to do so.  Bad news doesn't go away, and it's it's always at least as bad as it first appears.  The effective leader will bring bad news forward with the best information available at the time. commit to further investigate, and identify corrective action to prevent recurrence of the event.

Just as important is the environment the leader establishes to allow her direct reports to bring forward bad news.  How the leader reacts to bad news is important to creating trust and transparency.  If she encourages bad news to be brought forward and then reacts angrily or questions how the subordinate leader could have let this happen.....well, the chances of a subordinate leader willingly bringing forward bad news just went down considerably....and the chances it will be worse when it does come out just went up.  No matter what my emotional reaction to a particular bad news event may have been, I always felt it important to handle it as a learning and development opportunity for the organization.

This can be especially challenging in a global organization where face to face contact is infrequent and cultural mores make it even more difficult to reveal bad news.  This makes it imperative to frequently restate this principle and reinforce the learning component of the bad news lesson. An after action review among a leadership team, identifying what should have happened, what actually did happen and why, and what steps can be take to prevent recurrence is a good technique to use to turn the insights into organizational learning.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Holidays and the global leader-Showing respect

Today, May 4th, is the Remembrance of the Dead day in the Netherlands recognizing those who lost their lives during WWII. The names of Shell staff who lost their lives are literally carved in stone in the foyer of the old HQ building and a solemn ceremony with their descendants is observed that day. An amazing two minutes of silence is observed nationwide at 8pm along with a wreath laying by the Queen in Dam Square in Amsterdam. May 5th is Liberation Day marking the official liberation from Nazi occupation. I was deeply impressed by the reverence with which these ceremonies were conducted and the degree to which a new generation of Dutch citizens have adopted them.  When I lived in The Netherlands I witnessed these ceremonies as well as a stunning memorial service at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Always conducted on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, this moving ceremony was carried out by members of the British Commonwealth countries in honor of those who fought and died in WWI.   These observances are little noticed outside of Europe these days.  If you've never lived in Europe there is no way to really understand the lasting influence of the World Wars on the national psyche of the occupied countries and the devastating impact on those societies. 
What does this have to do with leading in a global environment?  First, I think a key element of developing a global leader dictates that they live outside their home country at least once.  Only by becoming immersed in another culture can you emotionally as well as intellectually understand underlying forces that are very different to your own.  In my times living outside the US I was endlessly fascinated with these cultural ceremonies in different countries.  Respecting those differences is critical to being successful.
On a day-to-day practical level, scheduling meetings, webcasts and video conferences that takes all these ceremonies into account can be a daunting task.   The list at this link gives you an idea of how difficult this can be depending in which countries you operate.  Even the most experienced global leader can make mistakes in this area.  I saw US leaders inadvertently schedule meetings on Canadian Thanksgiving and European leaders schedule meetings on US Thanksgiving.  Even more subtly, scheduling face-to-face meetings that cause staff to travel on those holidays can be a problem also. Honoring these national events shows respect and respect generates trust....a key quality for any leader.  Building trust at a distance isn't easy.  Respecting national holidays and ceremonies is a way to do so.  A simple email to staff in a particular country in advance of an important holiday...just letting them know you are thinking of them on their special day.... can have a powerful effect.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Coach K on Building a team and "internal leadership"

I'm going to briefly depart from my normal approach to the global leadership topic.  I realize this is a global leadership blog and I've cautioned about using sports metaphors.  That said, I believe this transcends sport.  In the attached link to YouTube audio,  Coach Mike Kryzewski(commonly referred to in the US as Coach K) speaks to the Corps of Cadets at West Point about leadership.  For the non-US readers of this blog, Coach K is a West Point graduate, the Duke University basketball coach, coached the USA Olympic basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and will again coach Team USA basketball in the London Olympics this year. Although it appears to be a video it is really a still picture with audio. There are three points about leadership he makes that struck me. One, at the 3:49 point he mentions a former player named MG Bob Brown and MG Brown's point of view that 5% percent of the leadership job is "hitting the target". The other 95% is teaching culture and values. I think this easily translates beyond the military context and what often gets referred to as the "hard stuff"- 5%- and the "soft stuff"- 95%. Stated another way, the "soft stuff is the hard stuff". Two, at the 6:25 mark he talks about how he is building his Team USA basketball team for the Olympics and how he is combining talented older players with talented younger players. If you aren't a USA NBA fan the names won't be familiar to you but the point is he is not just picking the best players.  He is very carefully and thoughtfully picking a team.  In doing so so he is seeking the best combination of talents and personalities.  Third, he states "You will never be really good unless you develop internal leadership, it's not just about you." He goes on to talk about how he is using Chris Paul, who is a very good player, but not the best individual talent to help him develop "internal leadership " on the team. He has singled out Chris Paul to develop as one of his "internal leaders" because of his ability to "relate to everyone".  This is more nuanced that we usually talk about developing leaders for "bench strength" or "position cover for the future".  Coach K is talking about layers of leadership on the same team.  Not a leader and followers but teams full of leaders.  There are really important lessons for leaders developing other leaders in this message, no matter what the context.