Category Archives: Leadership

The Future of Change

Has the nature of change really changed? In her just released book, “Imagine It Forward,” former General Electric Vice Chair Beth Comstock points out that “what started out as seemingly isolated, episodic incidents has come to resemble an epidemic…the nature of today’s challenges cannot be solved by yesteryear’s tried-and-true expertise.” Our world no longer works that way. She writes, “The coming onslaught of ever more digitization, and automation, and artificial intelligence – it means virtually every industry is coming to its point of reckoning.”

Future of Change Sphere

Why does this matter? One reason is that human beings are bad at changing. Yet, they are surprisingly capable of adapting. Wait, what? Isn’t changing the same as adapting? Actually no. Adapting is becoming accustomed to new conditions, while changing is all about becoming something entirely different. It has been said that it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Steps To Change

Have you ever noticed that special, warm, certain feeling you get when visiting with an old friend, a mentor, or perhaps that special member of the family? I got that feeling in abundance this week when I had the opportunity to discuss John Kotter’s work on change with a great group of leaders. Kotter is a favorite among business people. The quality and caliber of his thinking – the wisdom he has extracted from his experiences – resonates at so many different levels. His work is both thoughtful and profound.

Kotter, trained as an electrical engineer at MIT, earned his doctorate at Harvard, and joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School. In the universe of “publish or perish,” Kotter has excelled. He wrote one of the Harvard Business Review’s all-time best-selling articles and has, over the past 30 years, produced 18 books, many of which rank in the top 1% of sales on Amazon.com. His work speaks authentically to the challenge of leadership and change. So, what does it take to create real lasting change? Kotter offers a road map of sorts in his best-seller, “Leading Change.” Kotter says there are eight crucial steps leaders must take to assure success:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition throughout the organization
  • Develop a vision and strategy
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower employees to take broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains to produce more change
  • Anchor the new approaches into the culture

If you’ve ever undertaken a change effort, you know it is not for the faint-hearted. There are just so many opportunities for sabotage at so many levels within an organization. On more than one occasion – even in the face of certain collapse – individuals and organizations cannot and will not muster the necessary resources and energy to change. Need an example? Look no further than Sears Roebuck. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

Change is daunting. It is often thrust upon us – these days without much warning it seems. It is an enormous catalyst for expanding your success and assuring continuity. Unexpected change created by the actions and decisions of individuals or entities outside our control is the most challenging, oftentimes because it is so unexpected. Oddly enough, change you can see on the horizon is challenging too. Fear, paralysis and resistance often force poor choices.

Think about public and private colleges and universities for a moment. First, there was the rise of private, for-profit colleges and universities vying for students, financial aid funds and prestige. Then came the growth of the lifetime learning movement catching colleges off-guard. Both the non-profit and private sector took to the marketplace with fresh offerings. Then came online degree programs. With the fast rise in popularity and the benefit of education software, online payment systems and high-speed Internet access, public and private colleges were able to ride the wave.

MOOC Future

And now it’s MOOC – massive open online courses offered by leading colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, George Washington University, Rice, Emory, Brown and others. While still in its infancy, MOOC certainly suggests investments in “bricks and mortar” may be coming to an end. MOOC proffers a dramatic rise in quality, diversity and depth of educational content not seen outside the walls of the Ivy League ever.

Change from the outside. Adaptation. Small victories. Innovation. And now, change from the inside. It’s worth pondering your own organization’s future in the context of both types of change. It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which current business models no longer fit our collective futures. Bring your sense of mindfulness, awareness and imagination to bear on what’s to come. Be part of the future.

Want To Be A Great Leader? Build Trust First!

Why Building Trust Makes Leaders More Successful

Building trust is hard, but there’s an unspoken goodwill supporting your success.

There is an amazing amount of trust, tradition, and protocol that surround the inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States of America. The symbols of power are ever-present. Former Presidents, elected leadership of both major political parties, the United States Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Secretaries and nominees, elected Representatives and Senators, Diplomatic Corp, Governors, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Honor Guards, military bands, motorcades, security teams, and government staff.

As the winner of the general election, the American people have placed their faith and trust in new leaders.

It’s a good parallel for you as a leader especially if you’re new to your post or working to overcome an organization failure. There’s an unspoken and perhaps unseen goodwill encouraging you in your leadership position. It emanates brightly from the moment you accept the post. Your job, is to keep that goodwill alive and healthy by building trust. New leaders sometimes overlook the enormous power of goodwill and the trust they have coming into a leadership role. That is a mistake.

Savvy leaders know that building trust is key to their own success and that of the organization they lead. Here are five things I’ve learned about trust in my leadership career.

Trust Requires Risk Taking

Whenever I have accepted a new leadership position, one of my first actions is meeting with the entire staff and then individually with every staff member starting with the person on the lowest rung of the organization. Oftentimes, that person is the janitor, receptionist or stock room clerk. It doesn’t matter. I want them to have the same opportunity as everyone else in the firm to see the new boss up close. It’s important I get to know them and share a bit about myself.  Finally, I want them to see they are an important part of the enterprise and more importantly that I see them.

Savvy leaders know that building trust is key to their own success and that of the organization they lead.

Trust, Like Respect, Must Be Earned.

It’s also true that your place as a leader will come with a loan of goodwill–funded by the “trust bank”–to get you started on your way. Don’t squander it. Expect your words to be parsed for meaning and your actions watched closely. One of my unofficial jobs as an association  Chief Operating Officer was explaining what our CEO really meant.
Trust and Leadership

His staff meeting edicts, shared news, or strategic pronouncements often met with much confusion among team members. Absent real trust, I became the “CEO whisperer” to staff, clarifying edicts and making meaning from his words. Being obtuse is not helpful to building trust with your team. As Warren Buffet reminds us, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

When it comes to leading, your team, your members, your Boards, Committees, and stakeholders need to meet you.

Trust Comes From Being Authentic

I’m often asked for reading recommendations for leaders. Who’s the best to read? Peter Drucker? Tom Peters? Rosabeth Moss Kanter? Jim McGregor? Steve Covey? Bill George?  My answer is always the same. Carl Rogers. His book “On Becoming a Person” first published in 1961 provides exceptional leadership insight and guidance.
Written as a treatise for psychotherapists and counselors, Rogers explores the value and meaning of being authentic and the simple power of being oneself. You and your team benefit enormously from a willingness to lead with your best self. The comedian Chris Rock tells a dating joke that illustrates the point. “When you go out on that first date, you’re not meeting me, you’re meeting my representative.” When it comes to leading, your team, your members, your Boards, Committees, and stakeholders need to meet you.

Keeping Your Word Creates Trust

The greatest tool to engender trust, is to keep your word. My greatest leadership mishaps have come from not doing what I said I would. There’s never any malice behind my inaction. Oftentimes, I changed my mind after agreeing to something because upon further thought, it seemed like an unworkable or bad idea.

Saying “no” is almost always a better choice, if you cannot see a clear path to success.

If I agreed to do something under pressure, knowing the work needed to get done, the results were awful. Typically, after making these commitments I found my work schedule overloaded or worse still that I lacked the essential skills for achieving the goal. Poor choices. Worse results. Here’s what every CEO and leader has learned.

Trust, Leadership, Followers
Changing your mind after the fact isn’t a crime, but your trustworthiness will take a hit, especially if you delay communicating your change of heart. Saying “no” is almost always a better choice, if you cannot see a clear path to success. Sure you can take the occasional flyer, but not at the risk of you being viewed as untrustworthy. Don’t do it.

One the ways you take the lead here is to model the behavior you expect from your team.

When Trust Is Nowhere To Be Found

How can I trust you? We’ve all been let down by someone. The team member who misses deadlines.  The one who sows dissent and discomfort among the team. Those who lie, dodge, diffuse, and deflect responsibility. It’s all part of the human condition. But it’s not okay. When it comes to disruption save it for your latest innovations and product launches.

One the ways you take the lead here is to model the behavior you expect from your team.  When you sense a team member is being less than truthful, ask more questions. Dig in. Clarify the issues as you see it and ask them to do the same. Avoid blaming, shaming or shifting responsibility. Use “I”messages, like those developed by clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon famous for his Leadership and Parenting Effectiveness (P.E.T./L.E.T.) Training workshops.

Building trust is challenging work. Keeping it requires you to keep a critical eye on your own behavior and actions. It’s probably worth remembering Albert Einstein‘s thoughtful assessment. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

If Innovation Stops Will You Be Out of Business?

Innovation Wired 4 Leadership

Does innovation really matter for organizations? Is the pursuit of newer, faster, better, disruptive, radical innovation a meaningful goal for leading our organizations? How real is FOBO?

“Your company is out of business. You just don’t know it yet.”

If there’s one thing that should keep you and every other leader up at night,  FOBO is at the top of the list. That’s right–the Fear Of Becoming Obsolete. If that’s you, a recent GE study will give you some important insights about the state of innovation. The impact of innovation on both business and society is extraordinary. The ways you can leverage it to your benefit are even more so. Based on a survey of 2,748 business executives and 1,346 informed citizens the survey explores perceptions and ideas about the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

The good news is that executives share a strong sense of curiosity and optimism about the future of the 4th Industrial Revolution. What exactly is the 4th Industrial Revolution? According to the World Economic Forum, the first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth is building on the third, the digital revolution that has occurred since the middle of the last century. Characterized by a fusion of technologies it is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Optimism about the digital revolution extends to leaders in more than 20 countries especially those in emerging economies who are feeling considerably more empowered than those in developed markets.

“Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?”

86% of executives surveyed believe advanced manufacturing  will radically transform the industrial sector. A majority of both executives and citizens believe these transformations will create a positive impact on employment. Interestingly every market shows a distinctive preference for incremental innovation, improving existing products and solutions versus breakthrough innovation (i.e.; launching products that are completely new and have the ability to disrupt their market.)

While 68% of executives report having a clear innovation strategy, 62% of them struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Oddly, those without a clear innovation strategy (32%) also struggle to come up with radical and disruptive ideas. Which leaves one to ponder the obvious question. Does having a clear innovation strategy matter?

Proctor & Gamble CEO David Taylor speaking at Chief Executive Magazine’s Talent Summit noted that “there are processes that a company gets enamored with.” Most all of us have had the experience of following a process that no longer delivers the results essential to customer needs and satisfaction. If you have processes that encumber people for an extended period they have a proclivity to take regardless of their efficacy.

“Only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies.”

There is general agreement (90%), among executives and citizens alike, that the most innovative companies not only launch new products and services but also create a new market that didn’t previously exist. Yet, there is a real risk of innovation being hampered as technology evolves faster than businesses can adapt. Bringing radical and disruptive ideas to life in 2015 turns out to be a  challenge among 76% of U.S. executives surveyed. That’s a 32% jump from in 2014.

Adding to this challenge only 24% of executives feel their company is performing very well at quickly adapting and implementing emerging technologies. Executives (61%) are learning the value of big data and beginning to understand that integrating analytics delivers better results and outcomes for their businesses.

“76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor. HR talent acquisition systems that are “turning off” applicants are creating a significant problem.”

Is the work and the worker of the future really changing? There is a growing notion among employers that the digital transformation is giving rise to the “nomad employee” — people that do not necessarily seek full-time employment, but favor freelancing or contracting modes. Jacob Morgan, a Forbes Magazine contributor writes about the seven principles of the future employee, noting they will have new requirements:

  1. Demand for a flexible work environment
  2. The ability to customize work
  3. Share information freely
  4. Use new ways to communicate and collaborate
  5. Options to be leader or follower as needed
  6. Free to  shift from knowledge worker to learning worker
  7. Learns and teaches at will

No matter whether it’s a nomad on a “gig” or a full-time employee, just less than half of employers and citizens believe the current education system is adapted to fulfill the private sector’s demand for new talent and skills. Given that 76% of executives believe talent acquisition remains the first innovation success factor, the disconnect between available talent and talent with the right education and skills remain significant problems. It’s difficult to grow a leadership commitment and conducive culture for innovation success when finding the “right” talent grows increasingly more difficult. Many question how much HR talent acquisition systems are “turning off” applicants and actually complicating and not easing identifying qualified talent thus fueling shortages.

“This is how work will get done over the next few years and it has already started in many organizations around the world.”

According to executives surveyed the six main attributes they are seeking in candidates include:

  • Problem solving abilities (56%)
  • Creativity (54%)
  • Analytical skills (44%)
  • Interpersonal skills (43%)
  • Long-term commitment (41%)
  • The ability to suggest improvements to the existing ways of working (40%).

Interestingly, only 27% of executives believe the candidate’s ability to navigate uncertainty with ease is a significant attribute. Ease or not, navigating uncertainty will surely be a part of everyone’s toolkit for years to come.

Does measuring outcomes instead of innovation make more sense? What are the greatest measurements of impact and success?