Now that you have your team comfortable and are in the process building a level of vulnerability and trust with each other the next issue to tackle is learning how to manage conflict. Most of us avoid conflict and see it as a bad thing. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Avoiding conflict can be very destructive and can pull teams and businesses apart. It is not the conflict that his the issue it is how we deal with conflict that makes it either negative or positive. None of us like conflict and typically we look to avoid it. We tell ourselves that it is really to avoid making the other person uncomfortable but in reality it is far more about not feeling uncomfortable ourselves. But conflict is necessary and needed if companies are going to innovate and thrive. Innovation is incubated in those leadership meetings that have robust dialogue and the conflict that comes with it. Here are two examples to compare.
Defending Your Life
This large company is run by a leadership team that is made up of several different departments under the leadership of the president. Their market deals with technology and as such is fast paced and high volume and therefore need to have regular leadership meetings. No one looks forward to these meetings. These meetings are tense, no one really wants to stand out or push back. Decisions are discussed but it is not a good idea to be found in disagreement with the president (who typically drives most of the initiatives) and so conflict with respect to pushing back on ideas does not really exist. In addition the departments are encouraged to compete with each other for resources and in fact go through lengthy processes of presenting and defending requests for those resources with the other department heads called on to "critique" and challenge the presentations. Even though this has the appearance of being a team exercise it is well known that is it not as the president has the final say on which projects get approved. Often it get personal and ambushes occur frequently because department heads horde information and are not willing to share it with each other. Nobody really likes this model but because it is encouraged by the president no one wants to be seen as pushing back on it and so all avoid bringing it up. After each meeting everyone goes back to their respective departments either bloody and bruised or thankful that they were not the ones on the hot seat. Departments are silo-ed and isolated and innovation is something that is a catch phrase but not much more. Turn over is on the rise and department metrics have been on a steady downward trend.
What Do We Need To Do To Achieve Our Mission?
This group is also a technology player. The president conducts weekly leadership team meetings with the various department heads and they too all compete for limited resources to run projects. Here is where the similarity ends. This group under the mentorship of the president have done a couple of things differently. First they came to an agreement on their mission and committed to one another that all decisions going forward be measured exclusively on whether they move the company forward in that mission or not. Second they came up with a short set of rules for their meetings; first silence means disagreement so speak up and get involved. Challenge ideas and not people, push back but always within the confines of respect. Everything gets put on the table at the meeting (if your bugged about something say so) and debated - vigorously! Does the decision enhance the mission or not? Lastly, when the meeting concludes everyone knows who is doing what and everyone stands behind the decision.
In one meeting one of the department heads called one of the other department heads to account with respect to how they had communicated the implementation of new HR software which had been debated and agreed upon by the team. He expressed that their loyalty first and foremost was to each other on the team and by communicating this initiative in a less than positive light they had in fact made the leadership team look divided on this issue where buy-in was so crucial. It was awkward and initially you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Finally the offending department head admitted that there had been something bugging him about the software but had not shared it in the previous meeting when the final decision had been made. He admitted that his misgivings about that one item had definitely tempered his communication back to his group. He also admitted too that his college was right and it had not put the team in the best possible light. Rather than stand this person up in front of the proverbial firing squad the group circled back to address the concern that had been raised. Once that was resolved they took the unprecedented step hold a "town hall" meeting with the staff to be frank with them about the new HR software and some of the concerns that had arisen and to share that the leadership team had worked through those issues and was now solidly behind the choice.
Both companies had conflict. The difference is in how they dealt with that conflict. One managed the conflict to produce innovation and buy-in and to push the company mission forward. The other company did not manage its conflict and by default used it to perpetuate a silo mentality and constricted flow of ideas and innovation. Conflict is a normal and necessary part of being on a team but it is how we deal with it that makes all the difference. Avoiding conflict only drives it into places in your company that you cannot manage. You will ultimately have to deal with it either in terms of staff turn over or diminished output so you can manage conflict or avoid it but as the old adage goes - "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later".
In the second installment of our consideration of Patrick Lencioni's "The Advantage" discussion on organizational health we look at THE basic building block for building a cohesive leadership team, vulnerability. Really what we are speaking of is trust but not the sort of trust that we all exercise daily such as I trust that guy will obey the red light at the intersection or based upon past experience I trust that Mary will back my proposal to the management team. No the kind of trust that Lencioni speaks of in his book is what he calls vulnerability based trust. That is a trust based upon the willingness of the team to be open and vulnerable with each other. "I was wrong, I made a mistake, you do that way better than I do, I am struggling with some aspects of this latest project and I need help" are all vulnerability statements.
How often to do hear these kinds of comments on your leadership team? And yet it is exactly this kind of vulnerability that is required to build a level of trust that breaks through the barriers of petty politics, fear of failure or looking weak, pride and ego. It means coming to a place where the group is willing to lay these things down for the greater good of the company or team. While this can seem pretty daunting at first perhaps you should ask yourself how much of your time in meetings and else where do you invest in preserving and shoring up your position and not actually dealing with the challenges facing the company? The great thing too about this type of trust is that it can be achieved both with new teams coming together or with teams that have been established for years.
One more thought before we look at how to build this level of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the basis for all healthy relationships. Marriages fail for lack of it. Research for yourself and you will find a wealth of material on this issue and the role it plays in creating healthy relationships. We are all different and look at the world in unique ways but it is only by being vulnerable that we create a milieu in which we accept those differences as something that may in fact enhance the team thus making it ok to just be yourself.
There are a lot of simple ways to begin the process of building this level of trust but it must begin with the leader. A leader willing to be vulnerable gives permission to the rest of the team to follow suite. You can begin with a short exercise in personal history - each answering small set of questions about their background - some off-site exercises do this using an icebreaker where you get a sheet of paper with unique facts about the people in the room and you have to find out who belongs to what fact. Using personality profiles like Insights, DiSC, Strengths Finder or Meyers-Briggs are useful tools too in moving beyond just getting to know each other. Once you know that Bob needs time to process new information and will not be comfortable in making snap decisions it is easier to deal with his hesitation when that comes up at a meeting - besides what decisions cannot wait for at least one meeting and a little reflection?
One thing that Patrick highlights that I feel is invaluable is to avoid what he terms the "Fundamental Attribution Error". In a nutshell it is our tendency to attribute what we consider to be negative behavior in others to their intentions or character (or lack of it) while attributing our own negative behavior to environment. I might see someone cut into traffic and deem them a jerk and impatient (they were just trying to be a jerk) but when I do the exact same thing it is just because the traffic was heavy and I needed to get into that lane, not my fault right? Be careful to avoid this tendency when dealing with people on your team.
How might this all look in reality? Let me share an example from my own experience.
In one organization we made it a point to go off-site at the start of each new business cycle and use that time to get to know any new team members and to do strategic planning. This team had been together for sometime and were walking in a pretty high level of vulnerability and trust with each other. There was a positive dynamic and the first days ice-breakers had gone well and we moved to focusing on our strategic planning. During one of the breaks I was pulled aside by one of my new staff who confided that she was thinking of leaving the company. When I asked why she said that after listening to everyone throughout the day she felt that she was nowhere near as qualified as the rest of the team. What was shocking was that she had come to us with a solid resume and an amazing set of credentials. What I had not realized is that while many on the team were familiar with each others weaknesses some of the new staff had not been around when the original members of the team had come together. We circled back later that evening after supper and because that time had been tagged as "team building" I took the opportunity to go through a personal background and present challenges exercise. Starting with myself, all of the team shared some of their challenges and fears and were open and vulnerable about the things they were struggling with. At the end of the session I sat down with this young woman and asked her if she was still struggling with feeling inadequate? She beamed and said it was the best thing she had gone through and really appreciated the honesty that was evident during the session. She realized that it was ok to have feelings of insecurity and was confident that she was on a team that would support her and that she could support. She turned out to be one of the strongest members of the staff and team.
We have to feel free to be ourselves and to bring that set of skills and perspective to bear on the team that we are a part of. The foundation for building this type of culture is by creating a team that demonstrates a vulnerability based trust. But it does not stop there - next we will look at mastering conflict.
This week we are going to take a look at Patrick Lencioni's principles for Organizational Health. Specifically we are going to explore the requirements for creating a cohesive leadership team. I want to be very clear that I draw the concepts from Pat's book "The Advantage - Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business" but the examples I use are personal and based upon my own experience of these principles.
Lets begin by looking at the concept of a Leadership Team and how we tend to view that. Leadership teams occur in every type of organization and at various levels in that organization. Whether you head up a group responsible for custodial services or are the CEO leading your companies executive group, leadership teams take on many forms. Yet regardless of what their mandate is, or where they are situated in a company all successful and cohesive leadership teams share certain traits. Let's consider a couple of examples to begin that exploration.
Example 1 - We will get along fine just as soon as you realize I am the boss.
Organization X was small as groups went. They fulfilled a social mandate to enhance the lives of families in a local community and to provide training and education to that same group of families. Everyone was clear on the mission and vision of the group and great care had been exercised in selecting a group of people who had all of the skill sets necessary to carry out the organizations mandate. Yet in spite of having all of the right people and having a clear mandate organization X lurched from one crisis to another and never seemed to move to any kind of stability.
It only took one leadership meeting to figure out why. Even though the team was populated by capable professionals it was divided and dysfunctional. There were two distinct groups, one that dealt with family support and local issues and one that dealt with training and education. The president's background was family support and even though the two arms of the group were meant to compliment each other decisions nearly always came down in favor of providing resources toward family support over training and education. Added to that was a culture of hierarchy in which it was not prudent to question the president or question those in charge of the various sub-components. Turnover was high, mistakes were not tolerated, information was used as leverage and meetings were never positive or productive. This dysfunction became known in the community at large and everyone knew that this was a place to avoid and where quality people tended to have a very short shelf life with that organization.
Example 2 - Here is our mission - what do we have to do to make this work?
Organization Y was also small as groups went. It had the same mandate as organization X and yet where X struggled, Y prospered. Whats more, the folks who worked at Y did not have nearly the same professional pedigree that the folks at X had been noted for. The first meeting was notably different in tenor from the X meeting. People arrived and seemed energized and friendly. As they worked through the agenda there was a surprising amount of discussion and debate and at one point a position put forward by the president was challenged as not being in alignment with the mission or the agreed upon process that had been passed two meetings before. The president rather than getting upset at the push back discussed and explained her position and allowed for feedback and admitted that they were right and thanked the person for reminding her about that process. People would admit they were struggling with a project or initiative and would actually give others in the group the opportunity to give input even if it was not their particular area of expertise. In fact there were some really interesting and innovative ideas that came out of the discussion. The focus was always about helping each other work toward accomplishing Y's mission which everyone knew forward and backwards.
So leadership teams share certain traits - they have a mission (or should), they are made up of a variety of people who each in turn own a piece of that mission and its fulfillment and they usually have someone who is tasked with leading that team and ensuring its goals are met. And yet, in spite of the fact that most leadership teams have these traits we can see by our two examples they can look very different in reality. (Which example resonates the most with you? Which example is the most familiar? Are they the same?)
Why is this? And how is it that at times the most unlikely collection of people will come together and accomplish truly remarkable things? Most importantly are there concepts that can be learned and applied toward creating these meaningful and cohesive leadership teams?
This week we will explore those questions and the potential answers to them. Tuesday - what is the foundation of a cohesive leadership team?
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This week has been an attempt to explore Jim Collins Level 5 leadership based on the key traits that his research team discovered when they studied "Good to Great" companies. Any set of human characteristics is hard to quantify and capture and Level 5 leadership is no different. How do you encapsulate in a few sentences all that goes into making a person a good leader? How do you capture all the nuances of what effective leadership is? Certainly this last trait highlights that challenge.
The whole idea of Level 5 leadership came out of the research Collins team had gathered in looking at a 1435 companies who had been on the Fortune 500 list at one point or another and the 11 companies that actually made the cut into the "great" category. When the research team looked at the leadership in each of those 11 companies they discovered that in each case they had leadership that shared very similar traits. In fact the findings were so congruent that they could not be ignored - hence Level 5 leadership.
In their follow up interviews with all of the Level 5 leaders in which they asked them to rank the top five factors in their companies transformation in order of importance for most of them the number one factor was luck! Every time the research team pushed back it was always luck -"we were in the right place at the right time, we were fortunate to have the right people in the company, or we were lucky to find the right successor." Luck, as strange as it seemed came up in almost every interview.
So of all the counter-intuitive components of Level 5 leadership this one seems to be the most compelling - until you begin to look a little deeper. Here we benefit from the research rigor of Collins' team in that for each "Good to Great" company they also studied a comparison company. One account is telling; the CEO of a "Good" steel company talked about luck as well but looked at it as bad luck. "Our first, second and third problems are imports." (Collins, Good to Great) On the other hand the CEO of the "Great" company talked about luck from this perspective; "Aren't we lucky that steel is heavy and they have to ship it all the way across the ocean giving us a huge advantage!" (Ibid) Both steel company CEO's, both in the same industry at the same time, both speak about luck but it is the perspective that distinguishes the great CEO from the good CEO and herein lies the distinction between a Level 5 leader and other leaders.
As Collins puts it, the "Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly." (Collins, Good to Great) It is like that great coach that everyone has encountered at some point in their lives, the one who is quick to give the team the credit for the win and take the blame on themselves for each loss. The window and the mirror.
Events that are considered either good luck and bad luck really aren’t that different, are they? Each is a critical point at which the event will turn for the better or for the worse. A mishandled opportunity becomes bad luck, and a well-managed crisis becomes good luck. The most important factor is not the challenge itself, but how you perceive and handle it.
I leave you with the quote by Harry Truman that we began this exploration with "You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit." Level 5 leaders can be found everywhere and yes, you can foster the traits of Level 5 leadership provided you are prepared to put the effort into it. It starts with the attitude reflected in the quote - easy to say - not so easy to do. You don't need "a position" to lead, you just do it. Wherever you work, make it "your" company, make it your business to know how what you do impacts the company's bottom line, make it your mission to improve that bottom line from where you are, in your role and make it your goal to invest in your colleagues and team members and be willing to help them succeed. It will strike against everything your instincts tell you to do but do it anyway and practice it every day and to quote Winston Churchill; "Never give up!"
So by now you may be wondering what sort of mild mannered "Clark Kent's" are these Level 5 leaders? In a way they really are an interesting dichotomy of "Clark Kent" and "Superman". Mild and unassuming in their personal approach, helpful and supportive of their team and successors and yet...Superman when it comes to commitment to doing what is right for the company - no compromise - and the same drive and commitment to see results. All, and I mean all, of their energy is funneled into those areas.
Collins highlights that these Level 5 leaders were driven to see results and never hesitated to make the hard choices, sell of large chunks of the company, fire relatives and do whatever was needed to make the company great. What is interesting is that these individuals operated with a certain unbreakable congruency of thought and action. I call it behavioral integrity in which thought (manifested statements regarding desired approach and goal for the company) and action (behaviors and decisions made in pursuit of those stated goals) are always aligned. There was a singularity of focus in word and deed. The way they maintained this focus and drive was to cultivate the habit of setting targets and measuring often and being brutally honest with themselves about the results.
When I was quite young there was a potato farm located not too far from where I lived. I was getting just old enough to know that I wanted more than my allowance provided and so decided to walk over to the farm that fall to get a job picking potatoes. If you have ever picked potatoes you know it is back breaking work and quite frankly not a lot of fun. (There were no machines, these potatoes were all hand picked.) My first day on the job I noticed that besides myself there were about 8 other kids on the crew and on the second day there was one more, I had invited my friend to come with me to make some "easy" money. I noticed quickly that even with ten kids picking potatoes not that many sacks got filled on any given afternoon. To say there was room for improvement was an understatement. Fortunately my friend had the same mind and work habit that I did and we decided to quantify our work and set targets. We were paid for each 50lb sack we filled and so most of the kids would decide to pick 3 or 4 sacks per shift. I don't know why but that just wasn't a sufficient motivation for me so my friend and I decided to use a different measure - we would work by row. Now these rows were quite long usually about a 1/4 mile in length. I did not like finishing my shift with a row undone so we decided to start each shift with a fresh row and target to do the entire row that shift which typically worked out to around 10 sacks. So we would not distract each other we would pick rows side by side and start at opposite ends and see who could complete their row the quickest. We determined we would not leave that day until we had each done an entire row. Well it was dark when we got done, but we did it. The next day we worked at shortening the time to do a row and by the end of the week we set a new target of a row and a half for each shift and by Saturday afternoon we hit that target. On the following Monday after school when we showed up, none of the other kids were there and we asked why? As it turned out my friend and I were picking as many sacks between us as all the other kids combined so the owner and his wife told us we were getting a raise and the field was ours! You know the work did not get any less back breaking and I never went on to become a tycoon in the potato industry but I did learn a valuable life long lesson. Figure out what you have to "do" to succeed, and measure frequently how that behavior is working. Drive for results.
I use this example not because I want to toot my own horn but rather to point out what I believe is a fundamental value and truth regarding this trait and all the other traits for Level 5 leadership - that they are things you can cultivate whether you are picking potatoes (think about it, what we were doing fit the model just in a different setting), working on the line or occupying an executive suite. These qualities or traits are really good habits to develop and they will serve you well regardless of where you are in your career progression. Being driven to produce results is work and often hard work but it does pay off. As Collins highlights from a discussion with one of those Level 5 leaders when asked about the difference between himself and a CEO from a comparison company he summed it up this way: "The show horse and the plow horse - he was more of a show horse and I was more of a plow horse." (Collins, Good to Great)
Today look at what you could "do" differently to boost the bottom line for your role and the company, practice doing it and at the end of the week or month ask yourself - did this change get me the results I was looking for? If not, why not and make changes. If yes then examine what other changes in the way you "do" things could produce similar results. That is being results driven.
In the "I" centric world of today there are dozens of stories and articles of those larger than life ego driven leaders who produce dramatic results but typically never have the staying power to keep those results coming. You will hardly if ever find articles on Level 5 leaders because for them it is not about them, it is about the company and the great people that make it successful. They prefer to stay in the background, working hard and staying focused on what is best for the company and they never let ego get in the way. Another way to describe them would be the old term "they are pillars of the community."
It is a bit like comparing sprinters to distance runners in the Olympics. Quick now, who is the fastest man on the planet at the 100 yard dash? Now, who is the world record holder for the marathon? If you said Usain Bolt for the first question you would be right. If you said Patrick Makau for the second question you probably looked it up on Wikipedia like I just did! Isn't it funny how the fast movers get our attention? Yet in business, if you were honest with yourself, who would you prefer to lead your company, the fast mover or the marathoner?
Take the example of the Kerry Group. Never heard of them? Don't be surprised, the Kerry group has been shepherded by a series of modest, Level 5 leaders since its inception in 1972 as a small confectionery provider in the back of a trailer. It was headed at the time by a young accountant Denis Brosnan who was followed by two more low-key chief executives, Hugh Friel and Stan McCarthy. Still never heard of them? Under the guidance of these leaders the Kerry group has grown to a global company that employs more than 25,000 people with operations in over 25 countries across five continents. They are now a leading player in the global food industry with annual sales at almost $7 billion (U.S.). What makes this an even more interesting success story is that Kerry is an Irish company who succeeded without one dollar of government assistance. Here was a company based out of Ireland that weathered all the economic turmoil in that countries downturn when companies all around them were dropping like flies. Not only did they survive, they prospered. Other companies had the "sprinters" such as real estate developer Sean Dunne who went out in a blaze of glory when the Irish market crashed but the Kelly Group had the good fortune to be headed by quiet, modest, Level 5 leadership and it prospered.
When you go on the Kerry web-site you will see very little about its leaders, you will see a lot more about its mission and its commitment to the success of its employees and the well being of the communities they live in. In a day and age where employee engagement is so crucial to company health and growth, leadership willing to invest in and provide for a meaningful role for its staff will always do better than those companies that serve as platform for the uber-egos that lead them for their own gain.
So why is modesty a key feature of Level 5 leadership? I believe it is what empowers the first two traits; fierce ambition for all things good for the company and a willingness to invest in the success of others. You cannot focus your ambition on the good of the company if your agenda takes priority over the good of the company every time a tough choice has to be made. You cannot invest in the success of others if your only concern is for your welfare and not theirs. Modest leadership knows when to get out of the way and let the people they have developed fly. People can become amazingly invested in a company if they come to understand that the company is genuinely investing in them.
Perhaps as key as a Level 5 leaders keen ambition for the success of the company is their desire to ensure that success continues after their departure. This alone is perhaps one of the most interesting distinctions of this style of leadership. In their research Collins and his team found that of the "good" companies they looked at over 3/4 had executives that picked weak successors or set their successors up for failure.
Early in my development as a leader I learned this principle from a colleague who bluntly stated that "his job was to work himself out of a job". What he was communicating was that as a leader he wanted to hire and develop others who were brighter and more capable than he was so that ultimately he would be out of a job but the company would be in far better hands. When we speak of Level 5 leadership as counter-intuitive this would definitely qualify as one of those features. How many places have you worked where leadership at all levels sought to solidify or enhance their position through keeping those talented and capable individuals who could help the company, far from the board rooms of decision making? Companies that operate in the kind of culture that inhibits ideas and innovation because they might undermine those in a position of authority tend to stagnate and eventually have to change or die. I say have to change because typically some crisis shakes up the status quo and they come to terms with urgency of needed change or they don't and these companies disappear.
Lets be clear, companies don't set out to stifle innovation and leadership but often success is their greatest enemy. As a company succeeds and grows management at first has free reign to speak to its processes and direction and there is a healthy and robust dialogue among the leadership. Patrick Lencioni in his excellent books "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" and "The Advantage - Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business" points to this healthy and unfiltered communication as key to successful organizations. But as the company prospers and grows more people are brought into the leadership echelon and rather than viewing these new players as assets and a fresh pool of ideas and perspectives they become perceived more and more as threats and a cause of mistrust. Communication begins to erode as leaders at all levels begin to leverage information to their advantage and soon the company becomes sluggish and slow to respond to customer and market forces. And the spiral of mediocrity begins.
How effective can this leadership trait of setting others up for success be? One of my favorite stories comes from my own research on leadership from Frakas and DeBarkers excellent book - Maximum Leadership. The leader in this example is Al Zeien who was CEO with Gillette from 1991 to 1999. Zeien who lived through the troubled take-over turmoil of the 1980's when Gillette was the target of no less than four hostile takeover attempts, exemplifies the Level 5 commitment to setting others up for success. During his tenure as CEO he conducted no less than 800 performance reviews of managers annually! These managers were located around the globe and Zeien who had also made it his mission to personally monitor and guide the careers of dozens his companies managers had a keen eye for talent always within the context of his ambition of what was best for the company. So involved was he in this commitment that he could be heard to remark "'Now, we have a manager in India who is originally from Japan, trained in Boston, spent two years in Houston for us, then back to Japan, before a stint in France, and then after that...'and at the end of reciting that career history could fire off one last piece of information that this manager had just had a baby boy!" (Maximum Leadership, Farkas and DeBaker). Zeien admits those take-over years were troubling times for the company but rather than succumb to the temptation to become secretive and distrustful Zeien continued to pour himself into setting his managers up for success.
Here is the kicker, Al Zeien was a recipient of that same leadership attention and commitment to his success at the hands of Colman Mockler the previous CEO of Gillette and cited by Jim Collins as an example of an outstanding Level 5 leader. It was Mockler who lead the company during those uncertain times and the benefit that Gillette continues to garner from this kind of leadership is staggering. On one of the take-over bids in 1986 the executive and shareholders would have realized an immediate 44 percent gain on their stock or about a $2.3 billion short term stock profit across 116 million shares ($30.40/share). However after ten years of Level 5 leadership first under Mockler and then under Zeien Gillette shares stood at $95.68/share, over three times the value of the take-over bid! (Good to Great - Collins)
Level 5 leaders believe in setting others up for success and always within that strong commitment to what is best for the company. This leadership trait is something that can be practiced regardless of where you are situated in the company structure. Foster the habit of looking around you at the people you work with and find ways to support them and set them up for success. Counter-intuitive maybe, effective - absolutely.
"You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit." Harry S. Truman
This next few posts we are going to look at leadership and the type of leadership that Jim Collins in his best seller, "Good To Great", describes as Level 5 leadership. I appreciate Collins work on leadership because he was NOT studying leadership when he began to do his research on "great" companies and why they stand above "good" companies. He and his research team were not interested in looking at leadership in particular but the research pointed them in that direction. This is why I believe his findings resonate and are compelling to those of us who consult with leadership or are leaders. His findings are simple and stand as a good mirror for us to look at and evaluate where we are in terms of our own leadership.
The lessons that you need to explore from this next series of posts are this; take an earnest look at this leadership "type", evaluate it in terms of it's application for moving into or improving your leadership (formal or otherwise) and also use it as a template to look for role models in your organizations that exemplify those characteristics and learn from them.
Lets start with the first characteristic that Collins identifies; Ambition. This at first seems counter-intuitive because as Collins describes it this is not personal ambition of the variety that seeks self advancement or self promotion. In fact the Level 5 leaders that are identified in the research are rather modest, shy and humble with regard to themselves. However, when it came to the company, when it came to the organization they were fiercely ambitious and driven. The key is that they were harnessing their energy and will toward the good of the company not themselves. This unusual duality is a hallmark of this kind of leadership.
Stop and reflect on whether you have ever come across this style of leader in your career. Chances are they were there but I almost guarantee they did not stand out. These would have been the leaders in the company or group who in fact may not have been considered the up and coming stars but whom everyone wanted to work for and whose groups always delivered results beyond expectations. Quiet, humble but able to garner loyalty and forge teams that got things done.
I recall an experience I had with a young leader with an oil and gas company. He was in some respects very similar to his peers, young and looking to prove himself in his new leadership role. What made him different was that he was quiet and unassuming and while others were looking to climb the ladder quickly so as to improve their position he seemed more interested in looking for ways to have his team both serve the company better and each other as well. He wasn't a braggart like some of the others but was keenly focused on improving his team.
He wanted to know about performance leadership and how to apply it to his crew. And over the course of the next year he took those lessons to heart, applied them to his leadership and his crew, experimented, asked questions, "tweaked" and worked at it so that by the end of that year he had the highest performing crew and they loved being on his team.
Having ambition is not bad - as long as you are harnessing it for the good of the company you work for or lead. If you stop to think about it which leaders have you responded the most positively too? Was it those who had a clear personal agenda for advancement and who looked at colleagues as stepping stones or those leaders who demonstrated a clear vision for the company or their team and were driven to make it a success?
There is a reason we use the term "harness" for things like harnessing energy or harnessing creativity or harnessing a team of horses. It is about work, getting something done, about focus and about performing a good that is beyond our personal needs at any given moment. Perhaps John F. Kennedy summed it up best when he stated "Ask not what your country (read company) can do for you, but ask instead what can you do for your country." A truly Level 5 sentiment.
How is your ambition? Where is your focus? Think about it.
In the field of Narrative Psychology we are beginning to discover just how powerful our "stories" are. We have all heard the accounts of primitive tribes where stealing was considered taboo, so much so that the thief would have the hand that they stole with wither up and atrophy. We all marvel at accounts like this that speak to our susceptibility to the power of suggestion. Most of us scoff at the thought or dismiss it as something that afflicts those with a weaker constitution than ours. Yet we are now discovering the impact of the power of suggestion and in particular how powerful it is when we are writing that narrative or suggestion.
The biggest story we write is our story. We create narratives and context, heroes and villains, and arrange the events of our existence into some kind of coherent context. This serves to give our lives structure and underscores and reinforces the essential truths that we have created about ourselves. And these are broad landscapes indeed with family legends passed down from grandparents, parents and relatives. Stories such as "the women in our family have always been healers" and these traits are woven together with personal history "I have a real gift of helping the sick and volunteer time at the local hospital" and thus they become part of an elaborate story that we create of our lives.
Impact On Identity
Sometimes the events of our lives take on mythical proportions which is not to suggest that we are lying or deluded but we construct our stories to reinforce what we choose as the high (or low) points of our personal identity. "I was a tomboy and I climbed a 1000 trees and beat up a hundred boys when I was young!" We even make fun of those narratives such as the standard "When I was your age I walked ten miles to school, in bare feet, uphill, both ways!"
It is in this part of our "story" that things can get really interesting. We create both positive and negative qualities for our main character - us. Most of us will have a mix of both but some folks will be much more positive than negative and some will tend to lean toward the negative side of things. These features of our character will be shaped by the stories of others in our lives such as our parents and family and the messaging that they insert into our story. These also can be both positive or negative. In their excellent narrative on this issue John and Stasi Eldridge in their research speak to the role of our parents and in particular our father with respect to the messaging they speak into our lives and its impact. We do (and will) however, add a lot of our own narrative and most of this will happen without us even realizing it.
Redemptive or Contaminating
Our stories tend to fall into either redemptive (overcoming an obstacle and succeeding) or contaminating (once everything was perfect and then "something" happened that changed all of that) genres. In redemptive stories our protagonist (us) is heroic and dynamic. In contaminant stories our protagonist (us) is more passive and leans toward being a victim.
What is Your Story?
Our stories are very powerful indeed and we will filter everything through that narrative. So my question for you today is this: "What is your story?" Are you a hero or victim? Is your story redemptive or contaminating? These are important questions to consider not only for personal reasons but also because of the impact that your story can have in your work and career. What do you expect for yourself at work and why? Good things or bad? Do you deserve that promotion or not? Your personal narrative will be at play in how you answer these types of questions. Take time today to exam your story and what it says about you. Does your story hold you captive or set you free?
By the way; in case you aren't happy with how you see your story remember this; the last chapters are still waiting to be written and you are able to change that narrative any time you decide you need to. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I was discussing leadership with a colleague the other day and the topic came around to the question of how do you deal with someone or a team who have not had any meaningful feedback on performance for some time? It is a good question and one that every leader faces at some point in their journey. Maybe someone gets transferred to your group or you move into leading and new group and inevitably you will discover this gap.
This should not surprise us because in spite of the perceptions we have and the posturing that some folks will exhibit about "sticking it to their staff" the reality is that giving feedback on performance is something almost everyone struggles with. Assessments are an emotional minefield and most of us either avoid them like the plague or we find a nondescript process that clumps everyone in a very narrow band - a sort of the "no one moves, no one gets hurt" approach where we can say we did it but in reality everyone knows that it was just a process of going through the motions.
So how do you avoid that minefield? Two things; metrics (not necessarily the same as a kpi) and behavior. On a plant floor or in a production setting metrics could be quite straight forward. How many widgets did you make today? What was your down time? In a corporate setting those metrics might be harder to spot but the question still comes down to what "widgets" need to be counted for the receptionist, mail clerk, or the HR department?
Why count anything? Simply this; if you can get your team to start measuring (counting) something that is part of their job you now have something that you can discuss with them that is performance related but not personal. You move from the notion of having to tell someone you don't think they are doing a good job (did you get a chill at the thought?) to asking them to tell you about their numbers. "How did you do yesterday?" "Tell me about that uptick on Wednesday." Now its about the numbers not the person and surprisingly when you have a good set of metrics they will want to tell you about it.
Okay but what does this have to do with behavior? Let me share an example from an experience I had with the leadership at a large coastal LNG facility. The leadership was looking to ramp up operator performance and the first thing they wanted to look at was the daily ops report filled out by each operator. Up to this point they were concerned about the lack of detail in the reports and the mandate was "we want better reports". Over the course of the next 30 minutes we walked them from "we want better reports" to more specific behaviors such as they need to be filled out daily, need to have safety issues mentioned, need to have repair status mentioned and we would like them to discuss process reviews for things like P&ID's. Sometimes it is not about counting an actual widget as much as it is about counting a behavior. This is hard because we have not been taught to look at performance as a series of behaviors that in combination produce results toward a goal.
The net effect was amazing and really not that hard. We engaged in discussions with the operators and asked them what sorts of things they would like to see on the daily ops reports and of course they pretty much wanted the same things as the leadership. So we started to count and track ops reports on a graph in the control room. They counted who submitted each day and they counted the number of discrete entries (safety, repairs etc.) and they explored process reviews. In very short order (one month) reports went from one or two sentences to a base line of over 15 separate items and they discovered a number of ways to improve processes too! Now the supervisor or manager could walk in and stand and look at the graph and every time an operator would come over to engage them about the numbers and the performance.
We are all competitive by nature. Whether it is in team sports or individual sports we are always looking to improve our "scores". I give you two examples to support this premise; the Olympics and video games. You would think that with all the advances in sport that it would be hard to break old records and set new ones. There was a point for example where we did not think breaking the 4 minute mile was possible and yet that is now routine. At every Olympic games we see new records set. Video gaming as an industry now has a total market value of just under $2 trillion dollars! Every gamer will tell you that it is the challenge of either doing better than you did last game or doing better than the other players in that game. We are wired for competition and improvement.
Linking behavior and metrics allows you to move past the old "minefield" that inhibited true performance improvement to active and meaningful discussions with your team on measures they have developed and that promote the overarching goals of the company. The work is in identifying the behaviors that are linked to the performance of a task or a role and then letting them run with it. Find the behavior, let them start counting and watch the impact that will have on performance.
Just a little over nine months ago my brother in-law Tim Lynch passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. As much as going through that process was heart wrenching and painful, both Tim and his family were grateful for the time that he had to share his thoughts and feelings with his family and those he cared about. I have reflected on the things that he spoke about and want share them with you as a lesson about what is at the core of performance leadership.
On the weekend that he found out that he had only a few weeks to live he sat on the porch swing overlooking the Red Deer River Valley and the place that had been his home his entire life. With his family and friends gathered around him he felt compelled to speak to some things that he had come to realize as a result of his journey. With tears in his eyes he looked around at his children and shared these things;
1. Don't waste all your time working
2. Take time every day for your family and those you love
3. Let your word be your bond
4. Be respectful to all
5. Be true to yourself
I am sure we have all heard these admonitions before but for me they carried extra import given Tim's circumstances and the fervor in which he communicated them. For Tim some of these admonitions were regrets that he had not taken the time to do them more and other points were just a part of who he was.
So what do these things have to do with performance leadership? In a word, everything! The core of performance leadership is founded on the principles that guide you in your interaction with people be they your team or employees or your circle of friends and loved ones. Let's look at each of these points.
Don't waste all your time working. This speaks to a key principle that your team, your people are there to do a good job but that job does not define them. They want to do right by you and the company but there is so much more to who they are and if you try to prescribe their worth based on hours logged each day you do them and yourself a disservice.
The next point is directly related to the first; Take time every day for your family and those you love. As I wrote about in an earlier blog research has begun to show us that a healthy work environment is key to a better home and personal life not the other way around. As counter-intuitive as that may sound ask yourself, when work is going well don't things at home seem to go better too? Part of your role as a performance leader is to create a work environment that is healthy, acknowledges your staff as people and encourages them in growing in all areas of their lives.
Let your word be your bond. Everyone wants to know how they are doing and where they stand with you, their boss and their peers. You owe it to them to be honest about the things that impact them and to be the kind of leader that sticks to their word. Nothing is more demoralizing than having a leader who breaks promises or worse yet outright lies. We are social creatures and trust is the glue that keeps those social bonds strong whether at work or at home. This also ties into being respectful to all. When someone is struggling it is a huge disrespect to not be honest with them and help them with it. To wait until they fail is really your failure as a leader. How many times have you said "If only they had told me, or if only I had known?" Respect your staff enough to be honest with them.
Lastly be true to yourself. This is not only good advice for you but also something you need to propagate with your team. Companies, or business units or business teams have a nasty habit of forcing people into molds. We begin to use the same language, dress the same way, look at the work and the world the same way and stagnate the same way. You need to foster an environment of letting people not only be themselves but also to ensure everyone on the team does so as well.. (See Be Respectful to All) We need diversity of skills, abilities and perspectives as these are crucial to creating a high performing team.
Ultimately then the core of effective performance leadership is how you treat and lead the people on your team. Are they valued for who they are and the perspective they bring to the group? Do your foster a milieu of respect and honesty and do you take the time to get to know them as people?
These are good things to remember whether at work or at home. And while I know that Tim felt that he had fallen short in some of these he clearly hit the mark on others. He touched a lot of lives as the crowd of over 500 at his funeral could attest to. Be that kind of leader.
Managers Could Do a Lot Better at Performance Management by Chris Groscurth
When it comes to managing performance, managers have their work cut out for them. Few employees feel their manager excels at even the most basic performance management tasks.
Gallup's State of the American Manager report noted that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities, and just 13% strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals.
For executive leaders, driving organizational performance is easier said than done -- it requires everything from hiring great managers to developing a strong culture. There are so many elements to align that even the best performance strategy can get lost in the execution. As a result, executives sometimes default to bad performance management processes.
Other leaders delegate performance management responsibilities to HR, assuming that an HR-facilitated process will help improve the state of performance. Yet it often doesn't, because many HR people haven't cracked the performance management code -- great managers, effective and efficient processes and metrics, and a high-performance culture.
But leaders who are devoted to growth and performance take a different approach. For the past 40 years, Gallup has studied high-performing organizations and advised leaders on how to develop and sustain them. We've learned that organizations deliver precisely what their purpose, brand and culture support -- whether that's excellence or dysfunction. This means that leaders can increase performance by being intentional about things like organizational alignment and clarity.
Here are some steps leaders committed to building a highly successful organization can take to deliver performance:
Clarify your purpose and brand. To align purpose and brand, leaders need to clearly know and communicate why the organization exists and what they want to be known for. Clarity of purpose at all levels -- enterprise, line-of-business and unit -- is necessary for building an organizational culture that performs at top levels. For example, Southwest Airlines and Google provide rich case studies of companies that entered crowded markets and differentiated themselves among customers and employees based on their purpose and brand.
Remove cultural barriers to performance. Gallup's ongoing organizational effectiveness research has identified five functional drivers of a strong organizational culture: leadership and communication, values and rituals, human capital practices and policies, work teams and structures, and performance. These are concrete aspects of an organization's culture that leaders can measure and manage. Among these five drivers, barriers to performance reveal themselves in several ways. Here are some common obstacles Gallup has helped clients overcome:
Study your stars. Identifying top performers is one thing; studying them is another. Observing and measuring what excellence looks like in a role is the best way to define successful performance, which means it's vital for leaders to know what their best do differently. Top performers can provide a wealth of information about what makes the company attractive to talented people, how employees want to be managed and how to further each employee's success. By studying star performers, leaders can ensure that their strategies for selecting and developing employees are on target.
Use predictive analytics to hire for excellence. Predictive analytics empower leaders with insights and information for ensuring employees and managers possess the innate talents they need to excel in their roles. For example, although true manager talent is rare, it does exist, and organizations can identify and measure it. To find talented managers and employees, leaders need to develop the right strategy and use a systematic approach to scientifically choose top performers and great managers.
Align people and processes. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of total quality management, taught that bad systems beat good people. Yet Gallup's research shows that great managers lead differently and get better results from their employees -- even with broken performance systems. Ultimately, the responsibility for bringing people and processes together falls on executive leaders. Leaders need to take ownership of ensuring that success is built into the systems their companies use to drive performance -- and that employees at all levels understand and connect with performance-building efforts. By keeping people, processes and systems in harmony, leaders do their part to ensure that their organization's approach to performance management is the best it can be.
As highlighted in the first article of this two-part series, great managers catalyze team performance, making manager talent a crucial component of performance management. When executives combine manager talent with essential performance-driving practices and metrics, they complete the performance management puzzle. This full-scale approach can help any leader fortify a high-performing organization from the inside out and ensure that it is built to last.
Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., Senior Practice Consultant, is an expert in leadership effectiveness, individual and team assessment, and organizational development at Gallup.
Unleashing Employee Engagement
If you are like me you love reading about companies that have employees that always seem to be miles ahead of everyone else with regard to engagement and customer service. For example how many times have you heard stories about a certain airline staff going the extra mile and turning a potential disaster into a marketing coupe? One story that stands out for me occurred while there was a storm in Toronto and all flights were mired in delay and frustration. Now there were several carriers operating in that part of the airport but not one stepped up like this airline. Seeing the long lines and sensing the growing frustration this staff went into over drive to address every passenger concern and need. Someone even went so far as to order a huge amount of pizza and pass it out to all of their customers while they waited. It did not speed up the delay but it sure made everyone feel as if the airline cared.
That wasn't the best part! After handing out pizza to all their clients they realized that they had lots left over. And guess what? That's right they walked across the floor to their competitors and began handing out pizza to their customers! If it had not been for all the jaws hitting the floor you could have heard a pin drop!
We might be tempted to think that this sort of thing is a one off or that this can't happen in most places and that is where we would be wrong. This kind of engagement does not happen by accident and it is possible to have that sort of engagement in your company or on your team.
I might not be able to say which airline it was (although I am sure most of you have guessed by now) but I can tell you who they learned it from. Southwest Airlines pioneered this approach that has been so effective in creating employee engagement. In their excellent book "Maximum Leadership" Charles Farkas and Philippe De Backer spend some time plumbing into the mindset of Southwest founder and then CEO Herb Kelleher. With an airline that was the envy of the industry when they asked Kelleher what made Southwest so different his response is informative; "...the intangibles." By that he meant the employees. He formed his airline around a clear set of principles that put their people first and profits next. He wanted a company that would be fun to work at and he wanted people to know that they respected, valued and who could be trusted with a degree of independence in performing their roles. While this may seem counter-intuitive at first blush (after all without profit it won't matter how happy a company's people are) it turns out that this was pure genius.
It would be years before the research would catch up to Mr. Kelleher but when it did two things stood out; first - happy and engaged employees actually make for a better client experience. I know this seems obvious in hind sight and yet why was he the first in that industry to do it? Second, people who are happy in their work are actually happier in their home life. Research done by Gostic and Elton and published in their book "What motivates me?" discovered that creating a sense of happiness at work actually had a side effect of increasing overall enjoyment in other areas of life. That,s right, the whole work/life balance equation had always started with the home side but as it turns out its the other way around. A happy work place actually has a big impact on home life.
So here is what we can glean from Kelleher and the Southwest experience; start with people, make the effort to get to know your people and don't be afraid to give them some independence and support. Don't be afraid to lean on them and don't be afraid to give them all the room they need to grow. Who knows? You may just discover how much you like coming to work each day too!