Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So You Want To Be A Leader?

This is actually the topic of a presentation that I used to do for our local Chamber of Commerce leadership development program as the last chapter of an eight month development program. Our intent was to send them out with both a sense of empowerment and accountability to something larger than themselves and their companies.

I among others have had the opportunity to discuss and debate what differentiates leadership and management on the "pages" of this blog, linkedin, and a number of other venues as have thousands of others smarter than me.

I ran across a summary of an interview with Robert Dolan, Dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, on BNET that I think summarized it it more succinctly than I have ever seen or heard before. He stated, "a manager maintains the status quo and delivers profitability, a leader performs three essential functions-
  • they develop and encourage great talent merely with their presence
  • they see new opportunities and innovations and push the organization to pursue them
  • they act as a moral compass for the organization and role model the appropriate adoption of the organizational values and principles."

We can argue for decades about all of the other characteristics and attributes, but what I really like about Dolan's point is that they describe action and doing rather than passivity.

I found this summary especially timely because I hear the media and others starting to declare that the recession is "over". It is over because the stock market is moving up and large corporations are starting to declare profits again. I guess the fact that they expect unemployment to remain in double digits for the foreseeable future and that we have a health care crisis represents a rounding error. Not to me.

I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist. I was hoping that the recession would serve as kind of a national wake up call on a number of key societal issues. As anyone who has read my blog, my book, or other publications knows I am a big fan of engagement, true engagement. That is a system where stakeholders align in a common purpose. Studies show that organizations who adopt and maintain engagement strategies outperform their competitors in every key dimension. I was hoping the recession would cause more organizations to recognize that engagement is not only necessary, it is good for business.

I still remain hopeful that the "end" of the recession doesn't mean we think we have solved the health care issue. We have a very expensive system that delivers health care inefficiently and with pretty poor outcomes.

I am also a fan of personal competency. Getting away from the corporate and governmental codependency that has dominated our economic model for the last several generations. Employees need to be given an opportunity to engage and in return they need to be educated and expected to play a role in decisions about their health, their long term economic security, and generally be financially literate.

Much of the debate around leadership is whether leaders are born or "taught". Is it a series of characteristics or traits or is it behavior? I kind of like the behavior model. If you have capacity and you don't do anything with it are you really a leader? I think that is similar to the point Malcolm Gladwell made in Outliers, a high IQ in and of itself is no guarantee of spectacular success either personally or professionally, you must apply it.

When I look at where we got to and how we got there I have to tell you I see a lot more people in business and government who are managers- protecting the status quo and profitability; than leaders, individuals who develop deep talent, challenge their organizations to innovate, and act as moral compasses and role models not only internally, but externally.

Even the debate over health care represents an interesting model; we recognize it is compromised, but we seem (at least our "leadership") to embrace significant change in a model that doesn't work in delivering against key performance measurements.

I heard earlier this week that the performance bonuses paid out by the major financial institutions exceeded their recorded profits. Am I the only one who missed the logic of that decision?

How can we declare the recession is ending with record unemployment?

So for me I like Professor Dolan's definition of leadership. To his three characteristics I would add two more of my own:

  • Come to work every day prepared to be fired for doing the right thing.
  • Think about your "legacy", what you leave behind more than your "career", what you take with you.

It would appear to me that if you choose leadership rather than management as defined by Dr. Dolan you might not find the field nearly as crowded. What do you think?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enlightenment in the Vineyard

My wife and I had an opportunity to spend this last holiday weekend in one of our favorite locations, the foothills of the Sierras. The Calaveras County of Mark Twain fame also makes some awesome wines!

The region is quite small with limited production and focuses more on Spanish style wines like Temparnillo, Syrah, Grenache and "warmer" climate wines. It is reminiscent of our Rogue Valley located near the California border. Just as the Sierra appellation is overshadowed by Napa, most people associate Oregon with Pinot's. I can tell you some of the "warm weather" wines from the Umpqua region are fantastic.

In addition to getting to drink some great wine and enjoy some great company I had the chance to read an excellent book , Do You Matter and actually see some of the concepts in action.

Although the premise of the book is the criticality of design I saw significant parallels to my own perspectives on successful engagement strategy. The parallels for me included the systemic nature (both need to be included in all decisions) and the criticality of the internal in the process. We call internal customers employees.

The author said that the design is really creating a "portal" to the customer's experience with your product or service. I would submit that engagement is the same. If you think about the five levels of engagement I have discussed before, the highest level is that of pride of association. You have gone beyond a commodity to a shared experience. You have connected.

They point out that if your employees do not share this "connection" it will be reflected in their interactions with your customers. BlessingWhite and others share this perspective about engagement.
To put it in context; General Motors sells transportation, BMW or Porsche sell a lifestyle or experience. They are aspirational.

The reason I use the analogy of this wine experience is I saw several key elements represented in this particular community. The "tasting" experience is likely representative of Napa in the old days. You may have an opportunity to discuss the wine directly with the wine maker and/or owner. I recognize you can do that in Napa as well, but not for free or a tasting fee typically under $5!

One of the other things that is quite interesting is that several of the vineyards have tasting rooms located in close enough proximity to be entirely walkable. This allows you to enjoy the experience without worrying about driving or chartering transportation. There is excellent lodging and dining all in a contained area.

In the "better" wineries (MHO), the personalities of the people in the tasting room is also part of the experience. A kind of enthusiasm and ambiance is created. You are sharing an experience with others beyond just having wine.

When I developed my system of Compliance to Commitment I talked about the Human Resources Pyramid created by Roger Deprey-

  • What is my job?
  • How am I doing?
  • Does anyone care?
  • What do we do?
  • How are we doing?
  • How can I help?

The authors of Do You Matter ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why does it matter?

Is is just me or do you see some parallels there?

So the "enlightenment" part comes in the concept that whether you approach it from the "people" perspective or the design perspective the conclusion is the same. Successful organizations build relationships, they don't engage in transactions. It is built into their processes rather than "engineered" over.

I was somewhat saddened to hear that one of the likely first casualties of the GM debacle will be Saturn. I remember when Saturn was cult like on the level of Harley. It was a culture designed from the ground up with the internal and external customer in mind. Their human resources systems were studied and copied and their customer satisfaction was on a par with Lexus. As they became more successful GM "fixed" them and demonstrated that culture eats strategy every time. In this case the GM engineering/finance culture crushed what was once Saturn.

A friend who left a large oil company told me that engagement isn't new, they have "done it" at her old company. Well, I hate to be a buzz kill, but it must have been "engineered" rather than designed in because the employees in the "stores" didn't get the message. If they have been immersed in that model they must have missed a few of the classes. To them I am definitely a transaction.

So perhaps it was the wine, but I think this culture by design and engagement thing has potential. It goes to stakeholders not shareholders and relationships not transactions. I like it.

As a consultant, teacher, and leader I would like to share the idea of organizations who seek commitment rather than compliance. I don't aspire to own it, but I think the idea of being kind of a "portal" to take organizations to a new place intrigues me. What do you think?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009


In my dream the angel shrugged and said ...this time if we fail, it will be a failure of imagination and then she gently placed the world in the palm of my hand.

Brian Anderson

I have to admit that this particular quote is one of my all time favorites. It has been an interesting week, we are halfway through the first month of 2009. The economy is still very rocky, but I saw some interesting things as well.

Earlier this week a pilot skillfully landed an aircraft in a frozen river and 155 people walked away. There were no casualties. Listening to the stories from the survivors it was uplifting to hear not only about the captain, but about passengers helping each other and the courage and action of the ferry crews and others.

A friend shared a sad story about a hate crime that occurred over 20 years ago because of anger and ignorance and fear generated from tough economic circumstances and a desire to blame it on others because of their nationality. I hope we are past that.

Another colleague talked about how we let people like Madoff becomes heroes or "rock stars" and who is responsible for changing it and how long will it take. I responded that we have to address it individually and role model the appropriate behavior for ourselves, each other and our families.

Dr. King gave his "I have a dream" speech over 45 years ago. On Tuesday we will inaugurate an African American president. The energy around that inauguration is a palpable force. The "audacity of hope" and opportunity for change energy he brings seem to have captured not just the imagination of the United States, but the world. I had an opportunity to watch some of the inaugural festivities today. I have to tell you that whether you voted for him or not the energy that this president brings is something to behold. At the Democratic convention former President Clinton indicated that the United States is at our best when we demonstrate the power of our example rather than the example of our power. I felt proud of the example I saw today.

As many of you know I am deeply committed to the spirit of engagement, that asking your employees, your customers, and your community to "join up" with you in supporting a common vision built on a foundation of trust is a profoundly better way to lead organizations. I have decided to make it my commitment to try to spread that concept and model to as many organizations as I can through my consulting, my writing, and my speaking. One of the people who read my book was kind enough to accurately synthesize my intent in writing it in her review. It is not a how to manual, it is a journal of my experiences and a model of a system and a path I have committed myself to. I don't get it right all the time and I am not setting myself up as an example, rather I am attempting to share my experience.

So I have decided that I am going to accept President Obama's invitation to join him in the audacity of hope. I am going to take responsibility for my actions and my journey and also to try to create environments of engagement and commitment rather than compliance and fear wherever I can.

Where will your imagination take you over the course of this year?

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