Monday, April 28, 2014

Do you manage or curate your talent?

Much of the job of a leader is to become a curator of talent: to find the talented people who can do their best work in the environment of your organization.  ~ Faisal Hoque

This past weekend, as I do periodically, I went on an art gallery tour in the River North neighborhood in Chicago.  This happened to be one of those very rare occasions when I was the only person who showed up for the free tour.  And I was fortunate enough to have a tour guide from one of the galleries who I know fairly well.  I've done this enough times that I offered to be my own "guide" so he could go back to his work, but he too wanted to visit the galleries included on the route for the day, so off we went.    

I go on these tours because I'm fascinated not only by the art but also by the art gallery business.  So I tend to ask sort of unusual questions on these tours about running a successful art gallery.  One of the things I've learned, is that the more successful galleries are really good curators.  They typically represent about 8-12 artists and there will be a focus or commonality among those artists.  For example, one gallery exhibits only contemporary Asian art, another represents only Russian artists, and some focus only on modern art, etc.  And the gallery owners are very particular about which artists they will represent in their galleries.  I think it's much like what Faisal Hoque said, "…find the talented [artists] who can do their best work in the environment of your [gallery]."  

Not too long ago, I asked one of the art gallery owners what buyers or collectors were looking for when they came to their gallery.  Her response, "I think they are typically looking for a specific color scheme."  That was not the answer I anticipated, and consequently that gallery is no longer in business.  They were not good curators.  They had art on the walls, but had not practiced a great deal of care in the selection of that art for the environment of their gallery.    

In Everything Connects, author Faisal Hoque says, "The Medieval Latin is curate, a person responsible for the care of souls, or curator, an overseer or guardian.  If you walk into an art gallery you will find yourself in a curated space such that the overall effect of the works in the room will be greater than the sum of the parts.  There will be, in other words, a synergy among the exhibition's components and their arrangement; an additional value will be added by the way the pieces are put together."

One of the trends in HR is to refer to HR as talent management.  I've never really cared for that terminology and now I think I know why.  Because managing talent sounds like a leadership style that's focused on "command and control."  It also seems almost disrespectful.  If employees are truly talent then wouldn't it be much more respectful to care for their souls like a guardian rather than to manage them? 

Sometimes I’m a bit surprised by how quickly some leaders select members for their leadership team.  This should be something akin to an art gallery owner who has identified precisely the type of art and artists who will best fit their gallery.  Then they painstakingly search the world (I mean that literally) for just the right fit for both their gallery and collectors.  Now, imagine the difference between leadership talent that is “managed” and leadership talent that is “curated.”  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Are you naked, but don't know it?

High-performance leaders realize that more often than not they just don't know how their people really feel about their leadership.  ~Michael C. Feiner

This past week the fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes, or The Emperor Has No Clothes, whichever title you prefer, has been going through my mind.  I've thought of this tale because I've seen leadership "teams" not acting at all like a team but assuming that no else in the organization really notices. 

If you're not familiar with the Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, here's a quick synopsis.
Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.  
Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it. All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.  
The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing.  He was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.  
Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said: "But he has nothing on"!  
This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.
Do you really know how people feel about your leadership; or, are you naked but just don't know it or think if you ignore the fact that you're naked everyone else will ignore it as well?  Sometimes it really surprises me how leadership perceptions and/or culture around leadership can get so far out of whack before leaders acknowledge that things aren't going well and they own how they have contributed to the problem. 

Too many times a leader's first instinct is to figure out how to "fix" everyone else.  But fixing everyone else means the leader is still naked.  Leaders need to acknowledge their nakedness and put on some clothes.  In other words, acknowledge that things aren't going well and it's likely something that everyone realizes (the elephant in the room) and identify the three things that you (the leader) will own and personally change to begin to address the issue.  Acknowledge it.  Own it.  Change it.    

If you're naked, please put on some clothes!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Are you leading the organization, or are you leading the people?

Followers have a very clear picture of what they want and need from leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  ~Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

Are you leading the organization or leading the people, is a question that leaders grapple with every single day.  I think it's one of the most challenging aspects of leadership.  Leading the organization means you are focusing on issues like the strategic plan, generating revenues, external stakeholders—all critical elements for every organization.  However, if the people aren't following you while you're focused on these aspects, then you aren't leading.

Leading the people looks much different than leading the organization.  Leading the people involves listening, motivating, communicating, etc.  The Gallup Organization studied a random sample of more than 10,000 people over a three-year period and discovered that followers have a very clear picture of what they want and need from leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.
Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, authors of Strengths-Based Leadership, said, "A major challenge for organizational leaders is that it is difficult to establish close relationships throughout an organization with thousands of employees.  When we asked followers more specifically about the "organizational leaders" and "global leaders" that have a positive influence, we found that people expect more general positive energy and "compassion" from high-level organization/global leaders – compared to much more intimate words (like caring) that followers used to describe their everyday leaders." 
"As Standard Chartered’s Mervyn Davies explained, organizational leaders must have "a positive bias" because employees simply "don't want to follow negative people around."  On a personal level, Davies' compassion was always shining through to Standard Chartered's employees.  In addition to being very open with his own challenges as his wife battled breast cancer, Davies was just as concerned about his employees' mental and physical health.  He initiated several programs aimed at helping employees boost their overall well-being, and he always encouraged his direct reports to put their family first.  He knew that for people to truly love their organization, it needed to have a heart." 
For leaders to be effective, they need to accept the fact that these two aspects – leading the organization and leading the people – don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  As an example, a large engineering company makes all of the organization's data and financial metrics, with the exception of payroll information, easily accessible to everyone in the company.  They also provide employees with regular updates on progress toward organizational goals.  And perhaps most importantly, leaders throughout the company help each employee see how he or she can directly affect the organization's key metrics like costs, profits, and sales.  This gives employees stability and confidence and clears the way for rapid growth.
Leading the organization, alone, may create short-term results.  But long-term sustainability is a result of not only leading the organization, but also leading the people.  Give them what they want and need from leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's personal.

Management is science.  Leadership is art.  Management is transactional.  Leadership is personal.  ~Dr. Kathryn Scanland

A phenomenon that I periodically run across is people in leadership positions who are trying to lead by managing harder.  What does that look like?  They create more transactions.  If they want employees to change their behavior, they create a policy (or policy-like document) and send it to everyone.  Their immediate "fix" if things aren't working is to evaluate processes, systems, and budgets.  They try to push change through the organization.

Leaders, on the other hand, would model the behavior they want their employees to emulate.  Leaders would first seek input from employees if things aren't working.  In other words, leaders, get personal.  They pull change through the organization.

This idea of getting personal shares similarities with what Max De Pree described as covenantal relationships.  In Leadership is an Art, Max said,
A covenantal relationship rests on shared commitment to ideas, to issues, to values, to goals, and to management processes.  Words such as love, warmth, personal chemistry are certainly pertinent.  Covenantal relationships are open to influence.  They fill deep needs and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling.  Covenantal relationships reflect unity and grace and poise.  They are an expression of the sacred nature of relationships. 
Covenantal relationships enable organizations to be hospitable to the unusual person and unusual ideas.  Covenantal relationships tolerate risk and forgive errors. 
Rich DeVos, billionaire and founder of Amway, chose to close his recent memoir, Simply Rich, with this statement.  "I was blessed with a love for people and know that seeing the best in people, recognizing them as fellow children of God, getting to know them as unique individuals, and believing in them has been a key to success in Amway.  And also, I believe, to the success of families, our country, our communities, and to life itself!"  For Mr. DeVos, leadership was personal.

Maybe we could look at it this way.  When we are being managed, we agree and do what our supervisor has instructed or communicated.  When we are being led, we follow because it's more than agreeing to a certain way of doing things; it is about embodying a certain way of being.  And that's personal.  Maybe someone is great at handing out policies and instructions; but when things get dicey is that someone we would follow?  Or, would we be more likely to follow someone because they have a certain way of being?

For some who want to pursue leadership positions, this may be a deal breaker.  We've all heard the phrase "It's business, it's not personal."  Well if you want people to follow you, the phrase might be, "It's leadership, and it's very personal."