Monday, July 28, 2014

How well do you love?

The process of becoming a leader is, if not identical, certainly similar to the process of becoming a fully integrated human being.  ~Warren Bennis

I discovered Joel Manby in Matt Tenney's recently published book Serve to Be Great.  Here is how Tenney describes Manby's perspective on leadership.

Former CEO of Saab USA, Joel Manby points out in his book Love Works, many organizations are great at measuring what he calls do goals—the success of the customer experience, employee satisfaction, safety results, brand strengths, and financials.  But very few measure what Manby calls be goals—those we set for how we want our leaders to treat each other and the members of their teams while they are working to accomplish the "do" goals.  In essence, the "be" goals measure how well a leader lives the core values and fits in with the culture.  Manby believes that leaders should not only be measured on how well they achieve the "do" goals, but their performance on the "be" goals is also important.  In fact, their compensation should be directly tied to how well they do on both; in order to even qualify to be a senior leader a person must excel at both.
To get the best measure of the "be" goals we set for our leaders, we should consider gathering anonymous, 360-degree feedback from employees and peers, and getting feedback from seniors in person.  We can ask questions such as:
  • How well does Bob listen?
  • How willing is Bob to help others?
  • How important to Bob is the happiness and success of the people he leads?
  • How kind is Bob?
  • How compassionate is Bob?
  • How well does Bob live core value A (repeat for each value)?
In essence, we're asking "How well does Bob love his team?"  Of course, we're not talking about some romantic feeling that people often confuse with love.  We're talking about acts of love—extending oneself for others' benefit and treating them with kindness and compassion.  This is what it takes to be the ultimate leader. 
When we commit to measuring how well we love those around us, and how well the other leaders in our organization love those around them, we can dramatically improve the business outcomes for our organizations. 

The idea of having both "do" goals and "be" goals reminded me of Warren Bennis' definition of a leader—a fully integrated human being.  How can someone be "fully integrated" if they only have do goals and not be goals as well?  And, how can someone be "fully integrated" if they do not love well?

Leadership and loving well, a not often thought of combination, but far more interdependent than many of us may be willing to admit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fear your strengths!

Coming to grips with the need to modulate your strengths is some of the hardest developmental work you will ever do.  ~Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser

Fear your strengths?  Really?  Yes, really.  First, I'll share my own example.  I've completed many different personality profiles.  I need to be aware of what instruments and assessments are available for my work, so the best way to learn about them is to take them.  And, there is some consistency across all of my profiles.  One of the consistencies is that I'm a perfectionist.  There are a number of strengths that go along with being a perfectionist.  I'm principled, I’m always looking for ways to improve things, and I'm an advocate for change, to name a few. 

However, when I focus too much on being a perfectionist, it can also mean that I may procrastinate because if I can't do something perfectly then I may not want to even try to do it at all.  It also means that I'm evaluating myself and consequently beating myself up when I didn't do something "perfectly."  I may have done it really well, but for me "well" isn't good enough.  In my world, everything requires perfection.  So I try even harder.

That's when I realized I needed to find a different way to look at my strengths and tone down my perfectionism.  I took note that one of the personality assessments described my "type" as reformer, which has perfectionist characteristics.  Looking at my work and life through the lens of a reformer as opposed to a perfectionist creates a much different view of the world.  As a reformer, I just need to know that I helped to make a positive change; that I truly did help improve things.  I don't need to be able to show that I blew the top off of the perfection meter.  I didn't abandon my strengths or who I am.  I did some recalibrating to allow my strengths to once again, truly be my strengths and not the thing that was actually preventing me moving forward.

I see this in leaders.  When organizations aren't going as well as their leaders would like; they try harder.  And many times trying harder means giving an extra boost to their strengths, not realizing that too much of a good thing may actually contribute to the problem, not resolve it. 

In the book Fear Your Strengths authors Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan describe a study they completed with leaders.  Most leader assessments structure questions assuming that "more" is always "better."  Instead, Kaiser and Kaplan use a scale that ranges from "too little" to "the right amount" to "too much."  And their findings are quite revealing.

The more pronounced your natural talent and the stronger your strengths, the graver the risk of taking them to counterproductive extremes.  There is a clear correlation between having talent in certain areas and overdoing behaviors associated with those talents.  For instance, leaders whose StrengthsFinder results indicated such talents as "achiever," "activator," or "command" were more often rated as doing "too much" forceful leadership.  Similarly, those who had the talents "developer," "harmony," or "includer" were more often rated as doing "too much" enabling leadership.  Overall, leaders were five times more likely to overdo behaviors related to their areas of natural talent than areas in which they were less gifted.

Taking your strengths too far has consequences.  Kaiser and Kaplan's study showed a relationship between leader behavior and employee engagement, team productivity, and effectiveness.  In every case, these outcomes are lower for managers rated "too little" on the leader behaviors, peak for those rated "the right amount," and drop back down for those rated "too much."  Overdoing it is just as ineffective as underdoing it.

Maybe it"s time to think about recalibrating your strengths?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Are you headed toward self-destruction?

The capacity for self-reflection and self-correction can keep us from the path of self-destruction.  ~Gayle Beebe

It's a privilege to quote a client.  Dr. Gayle Beebe was a client while he served as president of Spring Arbor University.  He has since moved to Westmont College and continues to serve in the role of president.  He authored a book entitled The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership, which I highly recommend.  It wasn't until reading this book that I learned he studied under Peter Drucker and Richard Foster, two minds I greatly admire.  Following is an excerpt from The Shaping of an Effective Leader.
So often what distinguishes great leaders from also-rans is whether or not we can develop a capacity to self-correct.  Leaders get off track.  We overreact.  We walk into situations and do not respond as we should.  This in and of itself is usually not a problem.  It becomes a problem when we cannot recover from our mistakes. 
One of the great examples of how to develop the capacity for self-reflection and self-correction is taken from the famous scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet where Hamlet reenacts the murder of his father in order to "catch the conscience of the King."  What this passage so poignantly demonstrates is that the capacity for self-reflection and self-correction can keep us from the path of self-destruction.  Otherwise, left to our own devises, we will fall into patterns governed by self-interest that come to rules us. 
Often, our own moral awakening results from our confrontation with the fact that we are completely out of sync with our deeply held convictions… Once we recognize that we are out of sync and need to improve our performance, we can engage in the sort of development that inspires people to follow us.
Can I get an Amen?! 

In my experience, it feels like many leaders have replaced self-reflection with self-interest and certainty.  One of the basic (and critical) aspects of leadership (as Dr. Beebe learned from Dr. Drucker) is the ability to self-reflect and self-correct.  Yet, I meet leaders, frequently, who are adamantly opposed to, or even refuse, any kind of self-reflection.  Why?  I think it's because they believe that self-reflection is a sign of weakness or uncertainty, and opens them to vulnerability.  Well, yes, that's because vulnerability is the path to change and growth. 

One of my favorite chapter titles is from the book Deep Change by Robert Quinn.  Chapter 1 is entitled Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.  Quinn says, "Most of us build our identity around our knowledge and competence in employing certain known techniques or abilities.  Making a deep change involves abandoning both and 'walking naked into the land of uncertainty.'  This is usually a terrifying choice…"

So we come to a fork in the road.  Become vulnerable and walk naked into the land of uncertainty through self-reflection and self-correction, or continue to walk blindly and risk self-destruction.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Snowmobile in the desert.

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.  ~Edgar Schein

I'll admit I go from an obsession with one author to an obsession with another.  My current obsession is with Simon Sinek.  He's young (Gen X), studied anthropology and has applied those concepts to organizations, and consequently has one of the top-viewed TED Talks.  One of the things we tend to forget is that organizations are made up of people.  One of my favorite quotes (unfortunately I don't know who to credit) is, "We thought we hired employees but people showed up instead."  Simon very insightfully puts people back into organizations. 

Simon's most recent book is entitled, Leaders Eat Last, which I highly recommend.  The following paragraphs are excerpted from the chapter entitled, "Snowmobile in the desert."

If the human being is a snowmobile, this means we were designed to operate in very specific conditions.  Take that machine designed for one kind of condition—snow—and put it in another condition—the desert, for example, and it won't operate so well.  Sure, the snowmobile will go.  It just won’t go as easily or as well as if it were in the right conditions.  This is what has happened in many of our modern organizations.  And when progress is slow or innovation is lacking, leaders tinker with the machine.  They hire and fire in hopes of getting the right mix.  They develop new kinds of incentives to encourage the machine to work harder.
…the machines will, indeed, work harder and maybe even go a little faster in the desert.  But the friction is great.  What too many leaders of organizations fail to appreciate is that it's not the people that are the problem.  The people are fine.  Rather, it's the environment in which the people operate that is the problem.  Get that right and things just go. 
…trust is like lubrication.  It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance, just like putting the snowmobile back in the snow.  Do that and even an underpowered snowmobile will run circles around the most powerful snowmobile in the wrong conditions.  It's not how smart the people in the organization are; it's how well they work together that is the true indicator of future success or ability to manage through struggle.
Just as we can't simply tell someone to be happy and expect them to be happy, we can't just tell someone to trust us or to commit to something and expect they will.  There are all sorts of things we need to do first before someone will feel any sense of loyalty or devotion. 

Please take note: loyalty and devotion is the consequence of a feeling.  Not a compliant response to a memo or a mandate. 

In my work, I frequently see leaders tinkering (sometimes desperately) with the snowmobile, when they should be focused on the conditions—figuring out how to get the snowmobile out of the desert and back in the snow. 

Edgar Schein is one the leading authorities on organizational culture.  When he said, "The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture," I believe he was saying, "Spend less time tinkering with the snowmobile and focus more on keeping it in the snow."