Smart Growth for Leaders

With governments around the world developing economic stimulus packages and high level meetings of the world’s leading politicians (Davos) and thinkers (TED) – there is clearly a lot of activity and talk around growth, innovation and productivity. In amongst all this – how do we, as leaders, choose what and who to listen to? What is our filter for the torrent of information? On the one hand we have TED, the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, which brings together a raft of experts from across the broad spectrum of enterprises. And even if we cannot attend in person, the TED Talks series makes these fascinating and highly addictive discussions available to anyone with an internet connection. But how do we take this to another level? How do we move from ideas and talk to action? Umair Haque has given this some thought and has written a Smart Growth Manifesto. His manifesto suggests that we have to reboot capitalism. And he provides four pillars around which action can be built. I have attempted to take these four pillars and apply it to the business of leadership and the challenges and opportunities that these present, as follows: 1. Outcomes not income. There is no surprise for my regular readers here – I strongly believe in focusing on outcomes. In this instance, the focus is on tangible human outcomes. This means looking beyond the dollar value. If it takes a village to produce good business outcomes, what is it, that we as leaders can do to ensure the village is happy, healthy, innovative, productive and creative? How do we find ways to...

Sometimes We Have to Go Counter to Our Instincts

As leaders, we often look for lessons and experiences from others in order to help us navigate uncertain circumstances. Moreover, we frequently base our actions on our instincts, which have been formed over the expanse of our lives and professional experiences. Like many of my peers, in the course of my career, I have had to rely on these things many, many times. I have also learned that there are many times where we must go against our instincts in order to make the progress we seek. For example, the adage “trust must be earned” is one which most of us grow up hearing. As children, we are told “don’t trust strangers” and later in life we carry that skepticism with us, impinging, or at a minimum delaying, our ability to get close to those that we come in contact with in our professional dealings. I live by a modified version of this adage within my career – “trust must be unearned”. Under this approach, I believe that I am able to encourage a results-oriented mindset, allowing my collaborators to buy-in to our mutually agreed goals. And in the spirit of achieving positive results “faster, better and cheaper”, teams which start from a position of trust are able to move quickly from ideas to results. I don’t suggest that this always works – it does not. However, I have found that people respect an approach such as this, and more often than not, rise to the occasion. Furthermore, nothing seems to engender trust amongst team members more than collective success, recognition and reward. Remember, as Wally Bock says, “If...

Moving Up

Much attention is paid to the disparities between men and woman in the workplace. It is true that women are generally paid less (roughly seventy-five cents on the dollar), encounter the glass ceiling earlier (of course, men don’t encounter it at all), must network more creatively and carefully, and generally wrestle more with the never-ending work/family/life balancing act. Yet it is also true that women are rising and succeeding in the business world more effectively than ever before. It is an indisputable fact that women have made substantial strides in recent decades, further underscored by Fortune’s 2008 list of the 50 Most Powerful Women. Fortune’s list reveals some positive and encouraging trends: More than 50% of the winners are 50 and under, several are younger than 40. They hail from a wide cross section of industries and have a fair amount of diversity among their ranks. Many are competently juggling family and business life. And while the salary gap between men and women is still marked, one cannot help but applaud the fact that progress is clearly being made and will inevitably continue to trend upwards. To be sure, gender equality in the workforce and beyond is a noble goal. But the continued advancement of professional women is important for all organizations looking to expand, diversify and become increasingly competitive.  Research in Europe and the United States suggests that companies with more senior-level women tend to perform better financially. Hiring and retaining women at all levels also enlarges a company’s pool of talent, important to fuel ongoing growth as well as hedge against leaner periods. Coaching, mentoring, and networking...

Hands-Off Management

I am often asked about the difference between leadership and management. What is it that makes a leader? What is the difference between a manager and a leader … and is it possible to be transformed from one to the other? Now, there are many more experienced writers who can weigh into this debate, but I would like to explore what I call “hands-off management” … because for me, leadership is about creating an environment where the whole organization or business unit is engaged, working in synchronicity and moving cohesively towards a clearly articulated goal. In this situation, no-one needs to “hold” the wheel or keep control because the business systems are aligned with your strategy, the processes you need to drive forward are active and working, and your teams are propelling your business forward in line with a shared purpose and direction. Furthermore, with an active and engaged workforce, you are able to complete a feedback loop where your teams who work directly with customers, suppliers, partners and so on, openly bring their insight, ideas and innovations back to the business and feed it through in a form of continuous strategic development. Obviously, making this work in reality is easier said than done. However, there are some very clear steps that can be taken to begin to deliver the benefits of hands-off management: Focus on one thing: All leaders must be able to communicate effectively. This is often known as KISS (keep it simple, stupid), but chief executives such as Procter & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley use alternatives such as Sesame Street simple slogans to get their messages across...

Lessons in Loyalty

Approximately 25% of employees do not feel loyal to their current employer and 20% say they are likely to leave their current position to change jobs within a year, according to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey of HR professionals and hiring managers. Although I am not completely surprised by these figures, the percentages are nonetheless disturbing and warrant our attention. Ongoing recruitment, training and retention are costly endeavors on multiple fronts. Disengaged employees erode retention, productivity and profitability. Moreover, as with one bad apple, their attitudes tend to be infectious, spreading negativity to fellow employees, thereby further exacerbating the problem and escalating the overall damage. Far too many employees live in a state of comfortable misery and something must be done about this pervasive issue. The bottom line is that employee dissatisfaction can largely be attributed to leadership skill and effectiveness. Of course individuals play a role and must assume some level of responsibility for their own satisfaction. But the reality is that it is up to us – right or wrong – to lead effectively, intelligently and passionately and as such inspire our teams to work in kind. The top reasons listed for disloyalty in CareerBuilder.com’s survey were: “I don’t feel my employer values me” (61%); “My efforts are not recognized or appreciated” (52%); “My employer doesn’t pay enough” (51%); and “Not enough career advancement opportunities” (44%). These are all issues over which we as leaders exercise a tremendous amount of control and influence. It is critical that we manage these areas purposefully and proactively. We have to connect with our teams; our success depends on it. Michael Stallard...

Leadership Is About Skills Not Gender

The current political scene has brought an important issue to the forefront.  Specifically, how, if at all, are leadership and gender intertwined?  While in the past I have written about leadership and women, what the current situation clarifies for me is that it’s not really about gender at all; but rather, it is about skills and, ultimately, the performance of a leader that matter most. With Sarah Palin now a central focus of the Republican presidential ticket, people are asking if she has what it takes to be the vice president and “one heartbeat away” from the presidency.  To be fair, some ask these questions in a completely gender-agnostic way, questioning her credentials and experience.  However, there are those that ask the question from the perspective that she is a woman and a mother of five children, one a special needs child.  As far as I am concerned, it is completely appropriate to inquire about a candidate’s viability for the role they are seeking.  But again, these inquiries ought to come from the perspective of qualifications, not gender.  No father of however many kids has ever been asked this, so why ask Sarah Palin?  Mind you, I’m not defending or admonishing Sarah Palin for joining the Republican ticket.  As a citizen of the United States, my concerns are more about identifying and electing the ticket [including both the president and vice president] that can address the issues of importance to me and our country. In fact, it would be interesting if we were able to hold “blind campaigns” wherein candidates campaigned based solely on their views, policies and credentials...