Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Leader's Choice


Once upon a time there were three leaders. Each made choices, day in and day out, that affected their organizations . . . in every way.

The first, let’s call him F, was afraid of everything, including new ideas. "Don't kick the hornet's nest," he would say. He didn't want trouble. He did not want to upset things. "Don't rock the boat," was another favorite maxim of his.

He hated bad news. So, when he realized that his company was losing money and falling apart, his chief concern was protection, especially his own. He said to his head of HR, "Your job is to keep me out of jail."

Eventually, the company went under and many lost their jobs. Soon thereafter, F the Fearful Leader, landed like a cat in another choice executive job.

The second leader, we'll call him S, loved new ideas, especially if they came from himself. No one on his staff worked as hard as he did. No one had as many creative ideas as he did. In fact, his staff was just a bunch of slackers who were trying to get by on as little effort as possible. At least, that was his perception.

When he went away on a six month sabbatical, his staff kept the organization running like a top. They loved the feeling of running things without S around, tossing his latest untested (and undiscussed) ideas at them, stressing them out, and making them feel like losers. They secretly wished he would never come back.

S was the Scornful Leader. He would often say that "Change is good," but he really meant that nothing was good enough for him. He looked with contempt at his people and treated them with disdain. As a result, his people felt unworthy. Anxiety grew, while collaboration and innovation withered.

The third leader, R, expected everyone in his company to be completely focused on delivering the best to their customers. To do that each and every day, he expected that everyone would identify and solve problems, generate new ideas, work collaboratively with one another, learn continuously, and take the initiative to do "whatever it takes" to be the best.

R, the Respectful Leader, put his employees first. He cared about his people and did everything he could think of to empower and bring out the best in each one. He knew deep down that if his people were well supported, they would take very good care of the customer. And they did! As a result, the company grew and grew, expanding from coast to coast, and internationally. It was recognized in its industry sector as one of the most competitive, most innovative, and best places to work.

Let's take a closer look at what R did differently as a leader.

As one of the founders of his company, R had designed, implemented, and sustained a strong and positive culture. One based on trust in people to do the right thing for the customer, for the company, and for the team. R respected his people and enabled them to do what needed to be done. He frequently praised people for their efforts and accomplishments and supported a robust reward and recognition structure.

R was a big supporter of training and development. A centerpiece of his concept of a winning culture was continuous learning and development. For him, support for training was a "no brainer." It was strategic, one of the keys to the success trajectory of the organization.

The Training & Organization Development team reported directly to the Sr VP of HR who was part of R’s inner circle of advisers. In one way or another, everybody was involved in training, pretty much all the time. Training was never seen as a business interruption. Rather, people looked forward to the next training opportunity.

At the time the company went public, R had many meetings with Wall St. analysts. They wanted to know what the success factors were. He would say that his company's "secret weapon" was its people, customer-focused, entrepreneurial, innovative, driven to be the best.

India-based CEO Vineet Nayar has built a highly successful software company by embarking upon a management philosophy he calls "Employees First." In a blog post, he wrote:

“All too often, companies take employees — the lifeblood of every organization — for granted, and the hype surrounding their leaders overshadows the work that employees do. Together, employees have the power to find innovative solutions to the many problems we face. Yet, we prefer to wait for a superhero to change the world with the wave of a magic wand. Let's not fool ourselves; employees are at the core of every game-changing idea. They have built yesterday and today, and undoubtedly, they are going to fashion tomorrow. ”

Washington D.C.-based creativity consultant Kristen Barney, at her blog Insight & Interaction, writes "when an organization has a culture and practices that support everyone in stepping into their highest potential, leaders can expect members to take initiative and excel beyond what is possible when controlled from the top."

Nayar and Barney are right on the money. If you are a leader in your organization and you want innovation, your job is to build the culture and practices that will support your people stepping up to their potential.

Regarding the role of the leader, Nayar has said "Get out of the way!"

"The role of the CEO is to enable people to excel, help them discover their own wisdom, engage themselves entirely in their work, and accept responsibility for making change.”

When a leader does this, the people will say “We did it ourselves.”

Leadership, as Stephen Covey once said, is a choice. As a leader, do you know what choices you are making? Not sure how to answer? Start by taking a look at the man or woman in the mirror.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday June 26, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Did You Get Started As A Consultant?

I was recently asked, "So, How did you get started as a consultant in the field of Organization Development?" As I answered the question, I noted how much I was enjoying providing the answer. I realized I was enjoying telling my story.

Questions such as "How did you get started?" ask us essentially for "our story." Each of us has a story. And most enjoy telling their story when they get a chance.

Sharing stories is a useful exercise. For the audience, each story offers something, certainly information, maybe instruction, perhaps inspiration.

Story telling also shapes the teller. For the teller, the story is an act of personal identity construction, one that job hunters for instance know quite well. Every time a hiring manager says "Tell me about yourself," a job applicant is invited to tell their story.

We tell ourselves our own story continually throughout our lives. Maybe that's why so many (including me) have gotten into genealogy. We want to know our own backstory, where we came from, how we came to be here at all.

This is a lifelong process of self-creation and self-understanding.

When we share our story with others in a public setting, such as a meeting or an online discussion, we choose our words carefully and decide how much (or how little) to reveal.

When we join an intentional community, such as a support group, we tell our story to open ourselves up, to build trust and establish relationships with others. This "baring one's soul" requires courage.

As OD consultants, we can put this in our tool box and use storytelling with our clients. This is actually one of my oft-used tools when I am working with leaders and teams.

In leadership development, I encourage leaders to reflect upon, and write in journals, the stories of their journey. For example, who influenced them the most?

In team building, I facilitate an exercise around story telling to create a team story. The team looks back at the journey thus far, recognizing key events, celebrating milestones along the way, and lessons learned. Then the story continues, looking at the present story and also the possible future chapters.

How about you? How did you get started doing what you are now doing? And if you think about the next chapter in that story, what would you like it to be?

How do you want the story to end?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday June 14, 2012

Friday, June 01, 2012

New Managers: Watch Your Step

Recently, I was in conversation with a 25 year old freshly minted manager. The new manager was beaming with pride and excitement about his job with a company in the mid-Atlantic region.

When I asked him about the job and what he does, he said with all sincerity, “And now I have people under me. Now I give the orders. And they have to listen to me for a change.”

I nearly choked. Here was a fresh-faced young person, only out of college a few short years, who has already internalized the wrong image of what a manager does.

Look at the worn-out paradigm that is reflected in the words he uttered with such joy:

Under me – The old concept of manager is that of Boss where the starting point is fear. The manager has the power. And the manager distrusts people. As a result, he must control them, keep them down and under his thumb. With the workers “under” him, the Boss holds the power and “wields the stick” of authority to run the gang.

Give orders – In the old concept, managers decide what needs to be done and tell the workers to do it. The assumption is that the workers have checked their brains at the door. That they are just sitting around, and that they wouldn’t know what to do unless the manager told them.

Listen to me – Since it’s the managers that know all and decide all in the old concept, it follows then that they do most (if not all) of the talking. Why would a manager ever listen to the workers?

Mull that over for a few moments. What kind of organization flows from this concept of managing? If you want one that is top-down, fear-based, stressed out, and disengaged, be my guest. But don’t be surprised by the side-effects including weak performance, saggy productivity, and employee relations issues to keep your HR department running in circles.

A friend of mine asked me, Where do these mental models come from? Is it learned at home? In school? On the job? The answer is, It could be any or all of the above. Regardless of where the concepts came from, the challenge before us to to shift such thinking into a whole different mode.

What mode, you ask? Consider this instead. What if the young manager were to say: “And now I have a team to support. I get to develop and empower them. And I will be listening to their ideas every chance I get!”

Let’s break it down:

- Managers support their people

- Managers develop and empower their people

- Managers communicate with and listen to their people and their ideas

Do you notice the difference?

Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said, “We have to undo a 100 year old concept and convince our managers that their job is not to control people and stay on top of things but rather to guide, energize, and excite.” Welch was ahead of his time.

Recently, India-based CEO Vineet Nayar asked, “What should the business of managers and management be? The answer to that question is to enthuse and encourage employees…..enhance employees first and customers second. Employees have the power to find innovative solutions to the problems we face. Employees are at the core of every game-changing idea.”

This, in a nutshell, is the New Management Paradigm. I like to call it Management 3.0. Embracing it is scary, I’ll grant. It will lead to very different organizations and outcomes, to be sure.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday June 1, 2012