April 2010

The developmental digest for emerging leader/managers devoted to growth and excellence



Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership Assessment

Why is it different? . . .
Well, now that you ask, I guess it's really not different - at the foundation level, that is! However, it is significantly and profoundly different in application - and that's the 'rub'.

At the root level leadership is still what it always has been - the focusing of the desire for change that's resident in others and the accompanying facilitation of a sustainable new reality.

Making it work in today's precarious market however requires a radically different approach, if for no other reason than (and there are many other reasons) our staff - the people who should follow - has totally different perspectives based on some perceived unsettling experiences over the past twelve-to-eighteen months.

If there's anything worse than staring into the abyss of an economic recession, it's knowing that there is an abyss but being powerless to do anything to protect yourself from it. Many of those who are now expected to respond to change opportunities are in this second category - still blind and definitely fearful.

There's a story about a man who, while walking along a cliff edge, slipped and fell. There was a 400-foot drop to a rocky beach below and certain death! At the very last moment, the man reached out and grasped with one hand the stem of a small shrub growing just below the lip.

As he hung there, not daring to move and watching the roots of the shrub gradually separate from the rock face, a passerby appeared at the cliff edge and offered help. "Let go of the shrub and grab my hand!" the rescuer instructed.

There was no way the doomed man would let go of the shrub; precarious though it was, it was his only security. Even as the shrub was torn loose and the man plummeted to the beach below, he hung on to it for dear life!

My questions dear leader, are "How do you think the would-be rescuer felt as the man fell? Is there anything he could have done differently to save the man's life?"

Now translate that feeling to your impending organizational future. We appear to be emerging from the recession and one thing is now very clear - things are going to be much different than before. What this means is that we'll need to change to meet the changed market conditions for if we don't, we'll have reduced options - at the best.

There's no point in us trying to lead meaningful change if our people are emotionally resistant - whether from fear, anxiety, uncertainty or whatever. We must find ways to encourage them to let go of uncertain securities and to grasp our leadership initiatives. Just how do we do that?

Dealing with Uncertainty . . .
The first and vital issue is to rekindle the desire for change to the point that it surpasses the need for security, and that's a tall order. The shocks of the past year or more have surely cemented in a hard-set resistance to anything that's not one hundred percent certain. It's much better to play it safe and to minimize risk.

On the other side of the scale though, there's the proven fact that mankind is the most adaptable creature that ever walked this earth - so far! We are hard-wired for survival and we'll do whatever we have to with that goal in mind. It's also true that much of the change we'll need is organizational change, collective and collaborational change, but this actually constitutes the sum of all the personal changes that occur in each individual.

We could attempt to persuade, to cajole, to incent or to direct needed changes yet bitter experience will have demonstrated that this is not easy and often not even possible. We need a more subtle approach. Fortunately there are role models and pathfinders available to our purpose. They are an integral part of our culture - the informal culture that many, if not most, leaders tend to ignore.

Consider the following analogy; organizational culture is an iceberg floating in a sea of circumstance. Eight-ninths is submerged, out-of-sight and so often out-of-mind. The visible part is misleading (as the Titanic discovered), and this represents our formal, published Values.

The eight-ninths below the surface is comprised of four elements, separate yet interlinked -

  • Heroes - the golden-haired boys and girls we favour and promote
  • Myths - the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves to pass along the essential truths of our organization
  • Rituals - the often obscure practices that mark the rites of passage among our members and
  • Networks - the unseen communication and decision influencers that work to drive rumours and similar political impediments under the surface.

I do not have to ask you which factors are more powerful in influencing employee behaviour - the formal Values or the four informal influencers. What I should ask is why we do not take more advantage of these unofficial yet ultimately compelling forces.

Where there is uncertainty in the organization it will be felt in the dissonance between formal and informal cultures. The informal factors in combination are credible while formal Values may be perceived as wishful thinking at best.

If we were to apply a little influence to each of the four informal factors (Heroes, Myths, Rituals and Networks) and cause them to be both aligned with the changes we seek, as well as internally coherent at the same time, we would create the desired change within the influential informal culture. This way it would not be seen as an imposition.

How do we get there . . .
Start by recognizing what the informal culture is right now. Simply ask any newly joined person for the answers because, for sure, this has been the focus of attention as (s)he attempts to integrate him/her self into the organization. In addition to this, learn to listen with your eyes - observe!

Now design / redesign each informal factor by promoting new heroes, telling new stories/myths, encouraging fresh rituals or squelching older less appropriate ones, and by deliberately using the informal networks. Every small intervention will help to create a cohesive and continuous pressure for change which you may then reinforce.

Specifically, heroes are role models. Recognize, respond to and reward those who are working for needed change and ignore those who elect to oppose it. There's much power in ignoring unproductive or incompatible behaviours, far more than is to be gained by confronting and resisting it (this only creates 'anti-heroes'!).

Opportunities to tell new stories, each with a vital learning point deeply embedded, will arise during meetings, in newsletters, by email and in social venues. The secret here is to simply tell the story and not to beat everyone around the head with the learning point. If the stories are credible, the learning points will emerge in different ways for each listener. Do you recall the impact stories have had on you in the past?

Rituals tend to go deeper into the informal culture, and they are sometimes beyond the 'ken' of most employees. They are detectable though, usually as 'rites of passage' - the small behaviours that separate out those who are 'accepted' / in the inner circle from all others; they also define the informal decision makers and power brokers who can be anti-heroes. Note who lunches with whom, identify those who are consulted informally or quoted as 'experts and authorities' and how they are treated by staff in general.

Networks are the lifeblood of the informal culture and as such they're clearly identifiable. Who do you tell when you'd like something to be broadly known? To whom do you go to 'prime the pump' when you want to grease the skids or influence a decision? These are the entry points for the insidious networks that host rumours and peddle power.

To be successful you will need to make all of your interventions coherent - aligned with your desired intent and with one another - consistency of purpose is critical. It may take a while to plant the seeds and to gain the desired momentum for effective change, and there are no quick fixes or shortcuts; the biggest challenge is to close the credibility gap by building a bridge one brick at a time.

The Bottom Line . . .
We often speak of driving change but this is a heavy-handed approach at best; people respond to change best when they think it's their own idea. We acknowledge this whenever we quote the old maxim, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink". We can tell, we can even yell, but it's frequently better just to sell.

Change invites resistance if it is imposed; it works more easily if it is insinuated. This is a leadership skill that has to be learned if we intend to prosper in the future because the cruder, more directive strategies used by managers must rely on certain shared outcomes that all involved can relate to; this simply cannot be guaranteed.

Finally, leadership is an exercise in divergent practices, as opposed to management which is convergent. Divergent behaviours are almost impossible to control and will become even more difficult with uncertainty. Trust is an essential component and I've yet to meet the person who can command me to trust him or her. I have to discover trust for myself and I probably cannot tell you just how I achieve this.

I'm heavily influenced by what is going on around me in general, more so than by any single or focused source. In uncertain times, I sense that trust emerges in a myriad of tiny packages.

Think about it!

^ ^


Timely Insights

The Case for Behavioral Strategy . . .

Left unchecked, subconscious biases can undermine strategic decision making. This article, the first in a McKinsey Quarterly package on improving strategic decision making, presents new research quantifying the financial benefits of mitigating biases, proposes a business-oriented language for discussing them, and suggests practical tools for countering biases. An accompanying interaction further explores those biases and the ways they can combine to create dysfunctional patterns in corporate cultures.

Go to https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com

Generate Employee Referrals . . .

You want to hire the best and brightest, but they're already employed. How can you attract these passive job seekers to your business? An employee referral program could be just the trick. The pool of job seekers may be growing, but that doesn't mean it's easy to find skilled employees. That's because the best and brightest are still working. Yet, there is a powerful way to reach those passive job seekers: by using the talent you already have. Your current employees are a valuable and affordable source of leads to qualified job candidates. Besides knowing your company's hiring needs, employees are likely to refer only highly skilled workers who will fit your company's culture. http://www.profitguide.com

Quotable Quotes . . .

"Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart."

-- Alan Alda

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

-- Mark Twain

"May you live all the days of your life!"

-- Jonathan Swift

^ ^


Section 2 - Talk Back

Dear Coach

Our company competes in a very aggressive market and our product is knowledge-based. Over the past two years we have been losing key people at a rate three times greater than previously and our senior management doesn't seem to notice or even care. Part of the reason for our losses is because compensation levels are barely competitive and part is because we're not investing in our people - training, coaching, recognition, etc. I've just lost three good people in less than two months; what can I do to get the executive group to wake up and smell the coffee?


Let me start with the assumption that you've already discussed this concern with your immediate supervisor and also with HR, if you have people devoted to this function. This is the 'first line' of response - and more than 90 percent of issues are usually resolved at this level - given that there is motive and power to act!

Simply stated, it's not enough to talk about these issues; direct action is required and this doesn't always follow verbal or even written complaints. We all tend to embrace the status quo because everything is more comfortable at this level. This can, and does, include top management - those with the real power to resolve the kind of issues you're facing.

It's well accepted these days that we all operate from two minds, the rational mind and the emotional mind. Action may result from rational considerations; it always seems to follow emotional awareness, and it generally works best when rational and emotional minds are synchronised.

Since the rational mind is the one most prone to error, let's start there. Our behaviours are directly influenced by the quantity and quality of information we're exposed to; such information, made up of a constant stream of data, acts both as a framework and also as a stimulus.

We can deliberately expose ourselves to these data streams or we can unconsciously ignore them, and then we behave accordingly. Those we accept will help us to set priorities, form judgements, define value and truth, and arouse/engage our emotions - good and otherwise.

Our initial task then is to check that the relevant data streams are actually present, recognized, accurate and timely. What you are responding to may not be the same as that which is accessed by your executive team; they may be receiving a generalized, diluted, or reframed package which they'll view quite differently.

So you should first confirm the quantity and quality of information available to your executive. Do they have all the right facts and are they in proper context? As facts are introduced to the executive data stream will they withstand the act of translation without distortion? Your supervisor and/or HR can help you here.

A more important question - is the specific responsive action clearly indicated up front? In journalism the principle is to place the lead point in the opening sentence of the article, not to bury it where it's difficult to detect. There needs to be an indisputable 'call to action' that is obvious to all and it has to be 'right up front!'.

Now we need to ignite the required action and this means an appeal to the emotional mind, albeit in a form that's compatible with the rational information we've referenced above. The question that arises now is how to accomplish this safely yet effectively. The most powerful strategy I know is to use a story! Stories have always had a strong impact on people since they're usually the earliest and most memorable learning device we experience. They engage our imagination and help us to identify with consequences at a personal and meaningful level. They also encourage us to focus within broader fields of awareness.

Your presentation of the rational information could be crafted to recognize what is already known and accepted while introducing the specific issue that concerns you. As an example, you might say: "We need to adopt a fresh strategy to retain our valued people. Overall, we're experiencing a voluntary turnover rate which compares quite favourably with others in the industry, and that's good news. What is less obvious though, and this is the bad news, is that we've lost more of our high potential and key people than we can afford. Due to some successful poaching initiatives, three of our best team members have left us in recent weeks."

You now continue with your story which could sound like this:

"Two months ago we lost Shirley, one of our best Analysts. We've heard that she was offered 20% more in salary plus a signing bonus by our closest competitor. Since her departure, we've interviewed more than thirty qualified candidates and we've made three employment offers. No one has accepted the position at the salary we're able to offer. In the meantime we're currently paying excessive overtime rates just to get the work done; Shirley is just one example - there are others."

Note the call to action up-front and the acceptance of the current general fact (turnover rates overall) which together frame the issue yet avoid invoking a defensive posture among your listeners. Next, you change the focus of the data stream and translate it to the emotional level with the personal story about Shirley. Your 'clinching argument' is the economic one which links back to the rational without sacrificing the emotional call.

This approach doesn't allow for political agendas, of course, and the situation may be far more complex than presented, but the approach strategy will still apply.

I hope this helps.

^ ^


Commentary - Clarifying Integrity

Clarifying Integrity

One of the few positive outcomes of the Enron and World.com scandals of a few years ago has been the heightened focus on integrity - executive integrity in particular.

I'm frequently invited to contribute to decisions on senior-level and key position appointments. Whenever I do so, I include three default factors namely personal (inherent) strengths, cognitive (acquired) competencies and integrity. Without the latter the other two are definitely suspect.

So how do I assess integrity? Probably I do it in the same way that you do - only I do it consciously and deliberately. Let me explain.

Dealing with the 'powerless' . . .

My first technique is to observe how people treat and deal with those who they perceive to have little or no direct power. My personal assistant, Patricia, taught me this many years ago.

Pat has a very pleasant and gentle manner, one that seems to invite focused response. There are those who respond to her in kind, and those who take advantage and/or dismiss her as irrelevant. She would signal her opinion to me as she brought the visitor to my office and I had a fast and accurate hypothesis from the outset of the assessment.

In social situations, I observe how people handle children, waiters and service workers. If there's a difference in technique relative to others who are perceived to have power, I’m immediately on the alert. Those who are primarily self-focused may well have distorted perceptions on the sanctity of truth, respect and honour. Surely, one mark of good breeding - and integrity - is a sensitive consideration for others regardless of their status or circumstance.

Respect for Differences . . .

We've all been well instructed on how to recognize and deal with those who are different from us. All too often, emphasis is placed on defensive practices versus accommodating or learning opportunities.

Placing someone in a position where there's clear conflict with their accepted perspectives / values will usually invite a definitive response. Such responses too are more often driven by the emotional brain than by the rational mind and so they reflect deeper, more pervasive values.

Firstly, I watch for a desire to understand an opposing viewpoint, regardless of its acceptability. Then there're further clues in readiness to identify those aspects of a conflicting position or argument with which there could be agreement in whole or in part. Lastly, in this area, I strive to detect respect for the person independent of the critical opinion. The presence of all three factors tells me unequivocally that I'm dealing with integrity.

Problem or Solution . . .

Among senior executives, especially those who are spokespersons for their organization, is a tendency to address the issue(s) as though they are remote and far from culpable. This simply cannot be - if it happens on my watch, then I carry responsibility!

It is very tempting to project one's self as the solution rather than as the problem, yet this isn't realistic nor is it credible. The more one tries to distance him/her self from the blame the less integrity is demonstrated. We are all fallible and prone to error and there's no value-added in evading responsibility. Perhaps worse, there are no valuable lessons to be learned from 'faultless' behaviour.

The greatest people I've had the privilege to know in this life have all 'owned the problem' from time to time. They learn from their integrity and so I'm able to learn from them!

Rationalization Routes . . .

Ask anyone to make a challenging decision, or to handle a sensitive dilemma, by verbalizing their thinking as they reach for a conclusion and you will 'map' their soul. Follow the train of thought and note the factors that are included, those that are excluded and the sequence of the process - this is a vivid description of the values that drive the outcome.

Where there's reference to principles, acknowledgement of purpose, recognition of meaningful consequences and acceptance of longer-term responsibility, you will find integrity. Conversely if the perspective is short-term, situational, focused on immediate gratification or public image alone, you will have good reasons to doubt.

We don't often track our own thought processes competently and our displayed values may be less apparent to us than they are to others. If you're in doubt, review your explanation of a controversial decision you recently made; trace the content and line of your argument while requesting input from others - the greater the divergence you discover, the more precarious the integrity involved.

The Common Touch . . .

People who are self-focused and self-promoting rarely see themselves on par with ordinary folk. Self interest is often rooted in elitist attitudes and these need continuous reinforcement for their survival. In short, the more we try to distinguish ourselves the harder we work to deceive ourselves - and there is no integrity in us.

The converse of self focus is 'other awareness'; a genuine interest in, and acceptance of other people. This works best if our judgments are suspended - rarely made as well as being hung out for all to see. Also, we're frequently hypocritical without intention - saying one thing while 'living' a contradiction. The resultant paradox is confusing, both to us and to others, and integrity is questioned.

My sainted Scottish aunt told me repeatedly that I can learn something from everybody I meet, but I need to look diligently for the lessons. She was easily the most humble and genuine person I know.

I never, ever doubted her integrity!

^ ^


Section 3 - On The Horizon

Building Self-esteem is Good for Business

by Jeff Haltrecht

Ever notice that on some days when you get up in the morning, you are full of energy, confidence, and disciplined thought and the day seems to go your way. You successfully influence people, you win business, and you feel good.

Then on other days you wake up 'on the wrong side of the bed'. Things don't go so well at the presentation you made to the client and you blame someone or something for it.

This is your self-esteem talking and you better be listening. Self-esteem is how good you feel about yourself. The better you feel, the more value you believe you can contribute, the more successful you become.

Consider self-esteem as the initial leadership building block in yourself, and likewise in your people. Those with self-esteem take risks, achieve lofty goals, and have a higher level of personal satisfaction. Those with low self-esteem carry a negative attitude, are discontent with life, and under achieve.

A key role as a leader in your organization is to bring out the highest level of self-esteem possible within your people. This is achieved by helping them set goals, coaching them through the hard work until they attain success, and then rewarding their efforts.

Here are 5 steps that previously low self-esteem employees go through, with the help of their manager, to get the momentum rolling in the new direction. They sound repetitive and that's the point. The more they experience winning, the higher the self-esteem, the more predictable the results.

1. Stop making excuses and blaming others for lack of success
2. Set a small goal, change behaviour and work really hard to attain, reward results
3. Immediately set a higher goal, increase the work ethic, reward again
4. Mentally visualize achieving the goal and picture how hard & smart they are working
5. Set an even higher goal, push even harder to the level envisioned, attain and reward

With each small increment of success, comes an increase in the belief that they can do it, which in-turn builds their self-esteem. As their manager, you are responsible for helping set tough and attainable goals, encouraging progress, and holding them accountable to their commitments.

The key here is to understand your employees and what motivates them. Each person is different - What do they want? What are their goals? How do they like being rewarded? How hard do they need to be pushed? The more you know about what drives each person, the easier it is for you to motivate him/her.

In his book 'Success Is a Choice', Rick Pitino (NCAA basketball coach) lays out 5 rules to building self-esteem in your people.

1. Help each person see him/herself as having a significant role, no matter what it might be. Each person has to understand that he or she is essential to the group's success and that it's the sum of all the parts that make up the whole.
2. Create significance for the group, whether it's an organization, a team, or a company. Each member must feel he/she is a part of something important, and not just putting in time.
3. Maintain positive reinforcement for the effort people are giving. Always let them know you are aware of it and how much you appreciate it.
4. Recognize the people who get less attention in the group because they're not in the glamorous positions. Thank them publicly for their unselfishness, and do it in front of their peers. That is their share of the limelight.
5. Never forget that it's imperative to keep people positive, because those who are discontented have the potential to negatively infect others. We've all heard the saying 'one bad apple spoils the bunch'.

To win, your employees must be deserving of victory. It's the combination of a strong work ethic, demanding more of themselves, and the belief that they can be their best. You play a critical role in building this belief and instilling in them a discipline of winning. It's great for them and good for your business.

Jeff Haltrecht is a principal Leadership Coach at the Polaris Leadership Academy and the Facilitator of the Polaris Alumni; he is a regular contributor to Polaris Digest

^ ^