Monday, November 28, 2011

Leaders balance the glue and the grease.

Leaders build or strengthen their organizational glue—purpose/mission/culture—while launching enterprise-wide change initiatives, which require disciplined execution—the grease.  [Effective leaders work from a perspective where] glue and grease exist in parallel.  ~Douglas A. Ready and Emily Truelove

This is not necessarily a new concept, but authors Ready and Truelove may have presented it in a new analogy – the glue and the grease – which connotes some interesting visual images.

The organizational glue should remind people why they come to work every day.  I’ve seen a number of organizations where the vast majority of employees can recite the mission statement or purpose, but stating a mission doesn’t make it glue.  Author and visiting professor at London Business School, Gary Hamel, might suggest that the stronger an organization’s mission, the less need for layers of management because employees are driven more by the mission than by their manager.  It should also be noted that a strong mission is intended to mean how sticky the glue is or well the glue bonds; not how firm or aggressive the mission’s language.  The glue will create a unified culture that’s prepared for disciplined execution.

The grease drives productive change.  In practical terms, the grease is a methodical plan, detailed in a series of work initiatives that are aligned with the organization’s purpose.  Another word for methodical could be disciplined; it’s a plan that’s not only well thought out; it’s executed with an almost regimented series of targets and milestones. 

Many organizations have a very worthy mission, but many leaders stop there; consequently, so does the organization.  Mission alone does not create a sustainable future.  It’s an organization of all glue and no grease.  Whether an organization’s mission is to make as much money has humanly possibly or to obliterate poverty, both require a methodical plan that’s aligned with the organization’s purpose in order to achieve their mission.  They both need disciplined execution.

There are a number of young leaders who are changing how organizations “execute” or grease the skids.  Leaders like Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS; Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook; and even music sensation Taylor Swift who serves as her own manager and clearly does it quite well.  All of these young leaders have something in common – disciplined execution.  They not only move very deliberately toward a specific mission, they do it with unwavering discipline. 

Glue and grease; it’s kind of like oil and water, yin and yang, right and left, and north and south.  They are polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces that are interconnected and interdependent; and they give rise to each other in turn. 

Balancing glue and grease is something effective leaders artfully manipulate every day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaders achieve results.

Effective leaders have the ability and discipline to weed through busy activities, identify what results they need to achieve, and then focus their time, energy, and resources on achieving those results.  ~Kathryn Scanland

We all bemoan and complain about not getting enough done, not making it through our to-do list, and not having enough time.  It’s not difficult in nearly any job, profession, or position to create busy work and maintain a high level of activity.

Effective leaders have the ability and discipline to weed through busy activities, identify what results they need to achieve and then focus their time, energy and resources on achieving those results.  In my work I’ve run into numerous clients who have ideas, many of them good ideas; however, many times they don’t know what it is they are trying to achieve through that idea.  As I frequently say, it’s an idea without a strategy.

It can be as simple as creating a brochure highlighting customer success stories (but not knowing how it will be used or what results might be achieved by having this brochure), or buying a new software application or program to organize contacts (but not knowing what results we might hope for given this new way of organizing contacts), or even acquiring another organization (but not having identified our expectations for what we’ll be able to achieve with this specific organization that is now a part of our larger organization).  Until we identify the results we hope to achieve by all this activity, all we’re really doing is staying busy, but not necessarily achieving results.

I attend client board meetings periodically and I’ve found that experience to be somewhat like watching a soap opera, at least so I’ve been told.  Since I’m not a soap opera watcher I can only go by what I’ve heard, but I’ve heard that you can watch a soap opera once a year and keep up with the plot.  Many times that’s how I feel about board meetings.  I can pop in once a year (or once every several years) and feel like I’m sitting through the same meeting I sat through one or two years ago.  I think it’s because even board meetings (and other similar meetings) become an activity without a great deal of thought given to what results we hope to achieve by having that meeting.

Peter Drucker might refer to achieving results as contribution.  In The Essential Drucker, he provides an illustration.
Nurse Bryan was a long-serving nurse at a hospital.  She was not particularly distinguished, had not in fact ever been a supervisor.  But whenever a decision on a patient’s care came up on her floor, Nurse Bryan would ask, “Are we doing the best we can do to help this patient?”  Patients on Nurse Bryan’s floor did better and recovered faster.  Gradually over the years, the whole hospital had learned to adopt what came to be known as Nurse Bryan’s Rule; had learned, in other words, to ask, “Are we really making the best contribution to the purpose of this hospital?”
Achieving results separates the effective leaders from the leaders who are just busy people.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leaders are responsible.

Whether a man is burdened by power or enjoys power; whether he is trapped by responsibility or made free by it; whether he is moved by other people and outer forces or moves them – this is the essence of leadership.  ~Theodore H. White (May 6, 1915 – May 15, 1986) was an American political journalist, historian, and novelist, known for his wartime reporting and accounts of presidential elections

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of responsibility and a leader’s role regarding responsibility.  This first came to mind a few months ago when I heard an interview (that we’ve all likely heard a number of times) with Rupert Murdoch, founder and CEO of News Corporation, the second largest media conglomerate.  Following the debacle of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, Mr. Murdoch stated that he wasn't responsible for his employees’ behavior.

No, Mr. Murdoch can’t control or, for that matter, even be aware of all of his employees’ behavior when he has more than 50,000 employees.  However, is he responsible? 

Then more recently this issue of a leader’s responsibility, again, hit the national news.  This time with the ordeal that continues to unfold at Penn State.  It’s a little risky for me to raise this given my knowledge of athletics, but once again I’ve heard some of the University’s leadership argue that they aren’t responsible for others’ behavior. 

This has caused me ask, so what does responsibility really mean in the context of leadership?  Well, the dictionary tells us that responsible means accountable or answerable.  I would interpret that to mean that even if I didn’t perform the act, if one of my employees did, as the leader, I am accountable or answerable.  Then I am responsible.  In the case of Mr. Murdoch, no, he didn’t actually hack into individual’s phones personally; but it does seem that he is answerable for the employees who did.

In the case of Penn State, whether or not University leaders were aware of what had been happening over the course of years, they are answerable; therefore, they are responsible.  That would be my argument; if you are answerable, then you are responsible.

As leaders, while something may not be our fault or the result of our personal behavior, we’re leaders, we’re answerable; therefore, we are responsible.  The Penn State leadership was, and is, responsible for creating one of the most winning football teams in the nation.  They are also responsible for the poor judgment of one of the members of their coaching staff.  As Mr. White so aptly stated, “…whether he is trapped by responsibility or made free by it…this is the essence of leadership.”

For what are you answerable?  Are you also ready to be responsible?

Monday, November 7, 2011

How do you make people feel?

Leaders draw their effectiveness less from what they know or what power they wield, and more from how they make the people around them feel.  ~Betsy Myers, Take the Lead

Betsy Myers is the founding director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. Prior to her appointment, Betsy was most recently speaking and leading corporate workshops around the world on the changing nature of leadership and women's leadership, work that continues in her role with the center. Her new book, Take the Lead, was released on September 13, 2011.

I recently had the opportunity to interact with a leader in an organization who prided herself on not always being liked because she was willing to make tough decisions.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite how the rest of the staff viewed the situation.  The staff felt as though she wasn’t listening, and when they did express concern or disagreement, they felt invalidated; their experience and knowledge was dismissed.

Not long ago while channel surfing one evening, I came across the show Shark Tank.  Individuals bring their ideas or inventions to a panel of about five potential investors, each of whom are highly successful entrepreneurs and have made millions.  On this particular episode, I missed the portion where the individual described his idea, but that really didn’t seem to matter.  I caught it just in time to hear every single one of the five potential investors tell the guy how much they didn’t like him, personally.  They liked his idea and even offered to invest, as long as he had nothing to do with the business.  They would only buy him out; they would not invest in his business if working with him was part of the deal.  In a matter of less than 10 minutes, this guy/contestant had managed to make very one of the investors feel frustrated and downright angry.  Unfortunately, the contestant was completely taken by surprise and utterly baffled by the response he received from the potential investors.  He had no idea how his behavior was making them feel.

Years ago I worked for a college president who is a gifted leader on many levels.  He was, and still is, one of the best listeners I know.  His ability to listen had incredible repercussions on how he made people feel.  When you feel listened to, really heard, you feel validated.  I remember someone saying that if they ever had to be fired, they would like to be fired by this president.  Why?  He would be honest and candid, but it would be overlaid with compassion and care.  In other words, you’d be fired, but could somehow still walk out with your dignity and your head held high because he would make you feel cared for, even in the midst of being fired.

Leadership guru and author, Warren Bennis, says that “good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.  Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization.  When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.

How do you think the people around you feel?