It’s Lonely, But Especially at the Top

I am a pretty big Simon Sinek fan. For those of you that aren’t familiar with him he has published two books; Start With Why, and Leaders Eat Last. He has also been a featured presenter on TED (if you don’t know what TED talks are drop me an email) and drawn huge audiences.

I see Sinek as a bit like Malcolm Gladwell, who I also enjoy. Neither of the two are scientists in the traditional sense. They are just very smart, curious people who look at patterns and situations and make observations and comments on them.

 Sinek’s latest blog post; is just such an observation. In it he discussed the importance of having a colleague to partner with in traveling your leadership journey.

I use colleague perhaps differently than most; I don’t intend it to exclusively describe a peer or coworker in your organization, but rather someone you respect and who you can agree to hold each other accountable as you evolve.

I have long believed that leadership is something others bestow on you rather than something you achieve by virtue of a position on an organizational chart or certification from an organization. To that end doing by yourself is both improbable and probably inaccurate.

I differentiate management and leadership. Not in a judgmental way, I think highly effective managers are critical to organizations in achieving their goals. I just personally see leadership as more ethereal and strategic than management.

In his recent blog, my UK based colleague Geoff Searle points out that traditional leadership models are based on four primary skill sets and activities: planning, organizing, controlling and motivating. It is interesting to me that all four of these activities are things you do to people rather than with them. I especially highlighted motivating because in this old school mindset the model was again things you do to by using leverage points like compensation and performance management, usually reactively rather than proactively. He also astutely identifies that the key skill of alignment isn’t included in this approach.

I have also found that the majority of models to teach leadership are flawed because they focus almost exclusively on the I think, or intellectual part of people and don’t discuss behavioral and even more visceral things like trust and congruency, I think in large part because those are “soft skills” and in part because they are much tougher to change.

Another person I admire a great deal Meghan Biro, commented this morning on the trust deficit that exists in many organizations based on corporate behavior when we embraced the human capital model and used strategies like down- sizing, outsourcing, and off shoring to create higher rates of return at the expense of people and jobs.

Both Gen X and the Millennials got a front row seat to that paradigm shift. It is ironically amusing to me to hear corporate leaders lament about the lack of loyalty from these generations given their willingness to employ the models I mention to improve the bottom line.

Equally amusing is the recognition that truly engaged employees, and I describe engaged as aligned not happy, outperform less engaged employees by a significant margin.

You just have to overcome that trust deficit thing and create an environment that reinforces engagement…

We see a certain recognition of the mutual reinforcement model with the proliferation of coaching models and certification programs. My concern is that those can teach you the techniques, but do we really see changed behavior?

I am a big believer in Stephen MR Covey’s Trust model ™ that indicates that real trust is identity based, built from shared values and experiences so the trust that comes just from training or practitioners who are certified as coaches may have achieved Covey’s second level, competency based trust, but just like George Clooney’s character in Oh Brother, Where Art Though, that doesn’t make you bona fide.

Partnership is powerful. Having created a shared experience with a colleague inside or outside your organization and holding yourself accountable is I believe a much stronger model.

A new article from McKinsey demonstrates the reality/perception delta between employees’ perception versus “leaderships” perception of their credibility and ability to motivate staff, the difference is over 10% in all cases rising to a high of 16% on inspiration. They may be “certified”, but it appears they aren’t bona fide.

This is interesting as Gallup and the famous Net Promoter model have both included scores on the question “I have a best friend at work” as a key indicator of employee engagement.

Most executives I have talked to don’t consider that as relevant or appropriate once you start climbing the management ladder. I will admit to being among them.

Perhaps however if we were to rephrase it to “I have a trusted colleague who I share a commitment to hold ourselves and each other to our stated values and behavior” it becomes relevant again at every level?

So I guess I would suggest when you look at developing and reinforcing your culture you keep some things in my mind-

·        How you act is more important than what you say.

·        Assuming that you have credibility and trust at the identity level is probably ill advised.

·        Find a partner in your organization who you can share your experiences and concerns with and agree to hold each other accountable

·        When you are looking at reinforcing leadership skills and models wherever possible use a cohort or partner model to build in reinforcement and shared accountability.

·        Manage and engage with whole people at every level.

Truth be told the Millennials are no more demanding, narcissist, or disloyal than any other generation. Just like as history tells us you get the performance and loyalty you earn and manage for every day….  


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