Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaders know what to abandon.

The idea of measurement in organizations is directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up?  What are we going to abandon?  ~Max De Pree

Max De Pree is probably most well-known for his book, Leadership is an Art, published in 1989 and considered a leadership classic, and serving as CEO of Herman Miller.  Max’s father, D.J. De Pree, was the founder of Herman Miller, contract furniture manufacturer.  Herman Miller has been consistently recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired Companies,” having placed at the top of the list for furniture companies for the past 18 consecutive years.

There were three words in this quote from Max that stood out to me: measurement, renewal, and abandonment.  Those are three words that I typically don’t see used in the same sentence.  After I thought about it, I began to realize that connecting the dots among measurement, renewal and abandonment, actually makes a lot of sense even though at first glance it didn’t seem that obvious. 

If I’m seeking renewal, of just about anything, I typically begin with determining what I’m going to measure.  If I want to renew my health, I may start by measuring my weight; if I want to renew my business, I may start by measuring my degree of personal reward/fulfillment with the ROI of my time; if I want to renew a relationship, I may begin by thinking about the quality of time vs. the quantity of time I spend in that relationship. 

Then comes the hard part, if I’m seeking renewal, what am I going to abandon?   The word abandon is far more specific and extreme than say, “reduce” or “decrease.”  Max is suggesting that I need to determine what I’m going to cease, eliminate, stop, walk away from, etc.  Suddenly, everything seems important, necessary, maybe even critical, so how can I abandon anything?  If I don’t abandon something and only “add-on,” then have I really “renewed”; or have I just modified or tweaked what I’ve always been doing but with the expectation of being renewed? 

Letting go is hard, really hard.  But if we want to experience renewal on a personal level, a department level, or an organization level, we must come face-to-face with the idea of abandonment. 

If a city wants to begin an urban renewal project, where do they begin?  They typically begin with an area of the city that has been abandoned.  If you own a trademark and don’t file the appropriate renewal forms, your trademark may be considered abandoned and therefore cancelled.  We could probably think of a number of examples where once something is abandoned, the only recourse is to seek some form of renewal.

Renewal follows abandonment.  What in our lives and our organizations are we willing to abandon in order to experience renewal?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Leading is about much more than making money.

What Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, learned about organizational culture from playing poker: “The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than just make money.”

I've just started reading the book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos).  While I haven’t finished the book, I quickly discovered that Tony really gets the concept of culture and its impact on an organization.  He embodies the idea that leadership is about so much more than making money.  And as he describes, if you focus on the vision and your culture, first, you will make money.

At a mere 24 years of age, Tony Hsieh and friends developed LinkExchange, an Internet advertising service, and sold it to Microsoft for $265million.  Tony would receive about $40million if he stayed with Microsoft for 12 months following the acquisition.  If he didn’t stay with Microsoft for 12 months, he’d walk away from about half of that, or about $20million.  Below is some of Tony’s thinking during this season.
…most of my free time was spent just being introspective and thinking.  I didn’t need more money, so what was it good for?  I wasn’t spending the money I already had.  So why was I staying at Microsoft, “vesting in peace,” trying to get more of it? 
I thought about how easily we are all brainwashed by our society and culture to stop thinking and just assume by default that more money equals more success and more happiness, when ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life.

…I could make more money even though I had all the money I ever needed for the rest of my life.  A lot was going to change about the world.  We were on the eve of not only a new century, but a new millennium.  The world was about to change in a dramatic way, and I was about to miss out on it so that I could make even more money when I already had all the money I would ever need.

And then I stopped thinking to myself and started talking to myself:  “There will never be another 1999.  What are you going to do about it?” 
I already knew the answer.  In that moment, I had chosen to be true to myself and walk away from all the money that was keeping me at Microsoft.
And he did just that, Tony walked away from $20million for one year of employment in order to enjoy life.  He didn’t know it at the time, but he was also on the cusp of creating an organizational culture that would change how many organizations “do business” and how many leaders lead.

Whether your work is for-profit or not-for-profit, revenues are essential to every organization.  The need for those revenues can have a powerful grip on a leader’s focus, energy and self-evaluation of what’s been achieved.  But what’s been proven, time and again, is that when a leader focuses on a vision and higher purpose for the organization, revenues become a consequence instead of a goal.  And many times, are greater than what was imagined possible.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leaders know the answer to How? is yes.

We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going straight to the question “How do we do it?”  In fact, when we believe that something is definitely not worth doing, we are particularly eager to start asking How?  ~Peter Block

I attended a planning session this past weekend and the facilitator quoted Peter Block, one of my (many) favorite leadership authors.  One of Peter’s books is entitled, The Answer to How is Yes.  Peter suggests:
Too often when a discussion is dominated by the question of How? we risk overvaluing what is practical and doable and postpone the question of larger purpose.  If we are really committed to the pursuit of what matters, we might be well served to hold a moratorium on the question How?  
If we could agree that for six months we would not ask How?, something in our lives, our organizations, and our culture might shift for the better.  It would force us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as organizations.  It would create the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing.  It would refocus our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than what is the right answer.
It would also force us to act as if we already knew how—we just have to figure out what is worth doing.  It would give priority to aim over speed.  At some point we would either find the right question or grow weary of its pursuit, and we would be pulled into meaningful action, despite our uncertainty and our caution about being wrong.  My wish is that we exchange what we know how to do for what means most to us. [The Answer to How is Yes, Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler, 2002.]
Sticking to only what we know how to do can cause us to become, well, stuck.  This applies equally to individuals and organizations. 

I've lived this phenomenon.  My first experience in consulting focused on market research—the emphasis area of my MBA.  After about 10 years I wanted to change direction in my consulting so I went back to school and got a doctorate in management and organizational leadership.  I completed that doctorate eight years ago, but I’ve only recently stopped saying that I do market research.  Because market research was what I knew how to do I kept hanging onto it; even though what had really come to matter to me was seeing organizations change and leaders develop.  I’ve finally made the transition from “how” to “what really matters,” and I no longer say that I do research when asked, but it took me eight years!  I don’t intend to lose that much time from focusing on what really matters, ever again.

In the mid-nineties, AT&T asked Motorola to develop a digital phone.  Motorola thought that customers would not accept digital because of the poor voice quality.  They had the attitude that they were the market leader, they were doing great, and if they refused, it would not happen.  So, AT&T went to Nokia instead, and Nokia didn’t say How? they said Yes!  Nokia led the way, ending the era of analog and beginning the new digital era.  Nokia took market leadership from Motorola.  [Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud, HarperCollins, 2010.]

I have a hunch that Steve Jobs rarely, if ever, asked the question How?  Peter Block says “the phrase, ‘what matters’ is shorthand for our capacity to dream, to reclaim our freedom, to be idealistic, and to give our lives to those things which are vague, hard to measure, and invisible.”  I think Steve Jobs spent his life focusing on what matters and his answer to How? was nearly always a resounding Yes!  And aren’t we grateful?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leaders come clean.

Coming clean, or transparency, is about being open.  It’s about being real and genuine.  The counterfeit of transparency is illusion: pretending, “seeming” rather than “being,” making things appear different than they really are.  ~Stephen M.R. Covey

Not long ago I had a conversation with someone about trust.  He believed that because he had not told a flat-out lie, the level of trust between us should not be affected by his hiding things or withholding and failing to disclose information.  I disagreed.  His lack of transparency caused me to be suspicious and uncertain what I could, or couldn’t, believe; hence, I wasn’t sure when I could really trust him.

Ironically, a few months prior to this, I had another conversation with this same person.  In this instance, I had gone through a rather traumatic experience and he asked me how I got through it.  I responded with one word: transparency.  From the instant I got the news of this ordeal, I selected a few people to whom I disclosed everything – what was happening, what I was feeling, my struggle to process everything as quickly as it was unfolding, etc.  That transparency was a Godsend.  Coming clean, being frank, open and candid with people I trusted was a reflection of the quality of my relationship with these people.

Authors Karen Walker and Barbara Pagano describe transparency like this:
Leaders who keep in mind the spirit of authenticity while working hard to create meaningful connections with their followers, demonstrating sincerity of being, and revealing personal information that adds value to the context of work, will be practicing an important part of leadership transparency that builds credibility. Doing so, however, requires a certain level of maturity and self-awareness and a heightened sense of how people might perceive, dissect, and disseminate the information that is revealed. And because authenticity or personal transparency ultimately describes the quality of a relationship, leaders must create opportunities in which to engage with their followers, allowing the followers to know them. [Source:  TheLinkage Leader, Transparency: The Clear Path to Leadership Credibility, Karen Walker & Barbara Pagano, 2005-2008.]
Stephen M.R. Covey says that transparency will usually establish trust fast.  I would contend that the opposite is also true.  A lack of transparency will usually erode trust very quickly.  So how do we move toward a higher degree of transparency?

Organizational and leadership gurus, James O’Toole and Warren Bennis say that, “If you want to develop a culture of candor [and transparency], start with your own behavior and then work outward – and keep these recommendations in mind.  Tell the truth.  Encourage people to speak truth to power.  Reward contrarians.  Practice having unpleasant conversations.  Diversify your sources of information.  Admit your mistakes.  Build organizational support for transparency.  Set information free.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Leaders surrender.

Leaders who surrender are not “giving in,” they are “giving over.” (~Kathryn Scanland)  They recognize that their successes are with and through others.  They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind. (~Susan Debnam)

For most people, the idea of “leaders surrender” is the opposite of what they would think or anticipate.  If you’re leading aren’t you controlling, commanding, directing, and winning?  Not surrendering?!
Well, hopefully your organization is winning, but many times (and I’d argue most of the time), the organization wins because the leaders surrender.  The most appropriate definition of surrender in this context is to lay down your arms.  What are your arms?  Author of Mine's Bigger Than Yours, Susan Debnam, suggests a list of traits that I believe fall into the category of what leaders need to surrender to be truly effective.  Here are just a few:
Invincibility: They ignore cautionary words and take flagrant risks.
Sensitivity to criticism: They say they want teamwork but really want yes-men.
Lack of empathy: They crave empathy but are not empathic themselves. They can be brutally exploitative.
Intense desire to compete: They are relentless and ruthless in their pursuit of victory, often unrestrained by conscience and convinced that threats abound.
Tendency towards grandiosity: They over-estimate their own abilities.
Addiction to adulation: They have a constant and often petulant need to be told of their greatness.
Inability to learn from others: They like making speeches, telling, transmitting and indoctrinating, but are less open to hearing others’ views and suggestions.
Distaste for personal development:  They don’t want to change and as long as they are successful, they don’t think they have to.
In my conversations with various leaders one of the aspects of leadership that frequently enters the discussion is self-sacrifice.  Many people in leadership positions define self-sacrifice as giving up personal time or time with their family.  What sacrifice really means in the context of leadership begins with the above list of traits.  It’s not about patting yourself on the back because you never see your family or have no personal life; sacrifice is about surrendering your need for self-admiration (being right, getting the credit, never failing, always having an answer, etc.). 

Leaders who surrender are not “giving in,” they are “giving over.”  They recognize that their successes are with and through others.  They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind.