Would you describe your company’s CEO as Wonder Woman, or your executive vice president as Batman? Do the regional managers remind you of the Fantastic Four?
I’d guess it’s unlikely that you think of your leadership team in this way. So you might be surprised when I say that many companies including yours are following a Superhero leadership strategy. And the research suggests it’s probably not working.
A Superhero strategy is a leadership strategy in which an organization focuses most of its time and energy on developing a small, exclusive group of people who are destined for major roles in the company. Often called a high-potential pool, this group is usually very hard to get into, and once in, people are reluctant to leave it. These people are given the bulk of leadership development resources, get first shot at exciting new opportunities, and are first in line for promotions.
In other words, if you’ve noticed that your organization consistently relies on the same small group of people to take on any and every new challenge facing the company, then your company is probably following the Superhero strategy.
A Superhero strategy isn’t necessarily bad, and it’s certainly better than having no leadership strategy at all. But as companies continue to struggle with employee engagement, a rapidly changing business landscape and the pressures of disruption in nearly every industry, Superhero strategies alone are insufficient. Here are three big problems with Superhero strategies, and how to fix them:
Problem #1: Thinking of leadership potential like a super power
Whether they can fly, become invisible, or run at lightning speed, most superheroes possess natural abilities that no ordinary human could possibly learn. Many organizations approach leadership potential in the same way, assuming that it’s a natural quality that very few people have. That view of leadership potential worked fine in the past when organizations were more hierarchical, and requirements of leadership were left to a select few. But today’s businesses need to be more agile and rely increasingly on shared leadership. They need people to show more leadership behavior across their organizations, not just those who carry the title of manager or leader.
The Fix: Grow leadership potential like physical strength
Start thinking of leadership potential like you would physical strength. In other words, everyone has different starting points and different areas of strength. For example, some may have more leg strength while others have more upper body strength, and some have more stamina while others are faster. But everyone has the potential to get stronger. Organizations that think of leadership potential as a set of strengths and weaknesses that can be improved will be able to build a much stronger overall organization than one that spends its time searching for one or two Hulk-like characters.
Problem #2: Thinking you know who the bad guys are
Whether it’s Superman vs. Lex Luther or Batman vs. the Joker, Superhero sagas often include an everlasting battle between a superhero and an equally-matched supervillain. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they could devise clever ways to beat their opponents. This scenario once described the competitive landscape for many businesses, who typically knew a lot about rival companies, enabling them to build a team of people who had the skills and abilities to meet the competition. But in today’s world, companies are more likely to face disruption from a start-up they never heard of or a college student testing a new theory. Their existing group of Superheroes may be completely unprepared to face a new form of disruption.
The fix: Expand your definition of leadership potential
Many organizations have a narrow definition of leadership potential which is often closely modeled after current and past company leaders. These narrow definitions often cause organizations to continuously choose high-potential leaders who look and think like the same leaders that the company has traditionally had. Instead, organizations need to broaden their definition of leadership potential to uncover diverse skill sets and mind sets that may be better suited to meet new challenges facing the company.
Problem #3: Waiting for the superheroes to save the day
The most satisfying part of any Superhero story is when the Superhero swoops in at the last moment to save the day. But while the drama makes for a great movie or comic storyline, it’s a major problem in the workplace. Putting so much pressure on the organization’s Superheroes can cause them to feel overwhelmed and burned out. Meanwhile, the rest of the workforce feel unempowered and becomes disengaged from their jobs as they wait for orders from the organization’s Superheroes.
The fix: Get more people in the game
Getting more people in the game starts with giving more people low-risk opportunities to own and manage a project or initiative. By getting more people involved in these small test scenarios, organizations can keep their workforce engaged and activate leadership potential among a much larger group of people. This approach eases pressure on the organization’s Superheroes while enabling the company to become more agile and innovative.
Even though Superheroes are still bringing in big bucks at the box office, organizations that rely too heavily on a superhero leadership strategy may find themselves unable to rapidly respond to competitive threats and disruption. Companies that expand their focus to unleashing leadership potential among more than just a select group of company Superheroes will better prepare themselves to lead in innovation and handle constant change and disruption in their industries.
Change, and the need to keep pace with it, has been a dominant leadership challenge for at least three decades. Maxims such as change or dieand change is the only constantpermeate organizations, globally, keeping executives up at night as they consider how best to move forward.
There is a counterpoint to these popular sayings, which leaders should also consider: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In short, change is an insidious beast. It calls out to leaders to focus on what’s happening outside of their companies as the way to know what to do on the inside. And, in doing so, many executives – especially, those who run large, longstanding concerns – fail to take stock of what’s going on beneath the surface of their organizations, where vital, foundational factors reside, which explain how the company creates proprietary value – in spite of how the world around it is changing.
A sterling example of a company that takes both of these realities into account – the outside world and the inside world – is Apple. Apple was founded in 1976, powered by its drive to humanize the computer. That was its core identity; a statement that clarified the proprietary contribution the company was capable of making. The company has stayed true to its identity ever since. Forty-plus years later, Apple is still humanizing the computer in ways no one could have imagined back then. From the earliest Macs to the newest iPhones, Apple has constantly changed – by not changing at all. The company simply continues to re-interpret its formative identity in new and meaningful ways. To borrow the title to a famous movie, Apple has succeeded by going back to the future.
Call it the identity paradox: an organization’s ability to change from a changeless foundation. Taking this approach to leadership is the secret to staying relevant, no matter how much change is going on in the outside world. In this way, the identity paradox provides a platform for innovation that fully embraces the world as it changes, while holding fast to who the company is at its core.
Limitations and Benefits
Leading by the identity paradox is not a silver bullet. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it does increase the odds of success, over time. The power of the identity paradox cannot prevent companies from becoming acquisition targets. It cannot assure that every new product – even if they are inspired by the identity of the company – will gain sustainable traction among customers. Nor can it certify that all forays into new markets will turn out well.
The benefits that flow from the identity paradox are many, however: Chief among them is how the organization’s identity constitutes a stabilizing force against VUCA – the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, which shape today’s world. Consider the company’s identity the keel that keeps the ship ‘steady as she goes,’ no matter what the weather brings.
The leadership imperative
The identity paradox imposes an unspoken discipline on all leaders: To not lose sight of the immutable characteristics, which allow each organization to create value in its own special way, even as it responds to the irrepressible, often convulsive changes occurring around it.
Today, wholesale change is often seen as the path to salvation, where nothing is sacred and everything is up for grabs. That isn’t just wrong; it’s dangerous. When it comes to creating value over the long-term, the identity of the organization is sacred.
For leaders, embracing the identity paradox, as a management discipline is the most logical way to ensure that the enterprise will thrive, no matter how much change the outside world imposes on it.
Larry Ackerman is a leading authority on organizational and personal identity and the pioneer of Identity-Based Management. He is the founder of The Identity Circle, a consulting and coaching firm in Westport, CT. His corporate clients have included AARP, Dow Chemical, Fidelity Investments, Lockheed Martin, Maytag, National Geographic and State Farm Insurance. Larry is the author of two groundbreaking books on identity, Identity Is Destiny: Leadership and the Roots of Value Creation, and The Identity Code: The 8 Essential Questions for Finding Your Purpose and Place in the World. He has been a guest lecturer at the Yale School of Management, Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Wharton, Pepperdine, and UCLA Anderson School. He is also the author of numerous articles on identity and its impact on leadership, brand, and culture. Larry is a graduate of LifeLaunch, the initial coaching program of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, and holds an Associate Coach Certification (ACC) with the International Coach Federation. Email Larry at:
In business situations in which collaboration is an important driver of organizational success, lacking a sense of community can be a formidable barrier to delivering results. This is particularly true in today’s complex and uncertain operating environments in which a culture of solidarity and knowledge sharing become critical drivers of staying relevant. In these situations, the more a group comes together around a shared objective, the more effective it will be. To this end, humor engineered by leaders can shape a culture of empathy and relationship satisfaction and be a foundation for greater alignment.
But of course, humor can be highly subjective and what one person finds hilarious another person may not. So knowing your audience is paramount, and business leaders who score high in the effective use of humor also tend to score high in emotional intelligence. The global nature of business today means that leaders must also be adept at adjusting their use of the different styles of humor as they cross societal boundaries – an aspect of what has become known as cultural intelligence.
Now throw the instant and global reach of social media like Twitter into the mix, and we might soon be talking about digital intelligence for leaders too. In a digital world, a comment or joke that can potentially reach millions is only a screen tap away. Leaders have never before been able to achieve this kind of mass intimacy so they need to think carefully about how humor can and should be used over the digital medium.
It is well understood by psychologists and social scientists that people who laugh together generally have stronger feelings of empathy and bonding. Humor can be used as an especially effective approach to build group cohesiveness, with a leader as the role model of projecting a relaxed and fun attitude, sharing occasional jokes, anecdotes and stories that inject a playful aspect to day to day interactions. A highly successful Irish CEO is known for whistling tunes as he walks around the office, projecting an energetic, fun and relaxed demeanour.
In situations where a leader needs to increase sociability across organizational hierarchies, self-deprecating humor can be used. At a recent employee event, Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group, was joined on stage by a young British intern who was shadowing him for the month. The intern was describing how much time the two were spending together, having visited six countries in just eight days. The intern quipped: “Just about the only thing I don’t know about him is the color of his pyjamas.” As quick as a flash, Dehaze responded, “That’s probably a good thing, because I don’t wear any pyjamas!”
But while self-deprecating humor can reduce social distance and make leaders seem more collaborative, participative and open, it must be used with caution. Humorous self-criticism works much less well as a tool to engage with peers and superiors, and can even reduce one’s credibility with subordinates if used excessively.
When used effectively, self-deprecating humor can also be beneficial in addressing criticism and resolving conflict that might negatively impact collaboration. Applying humor in such difficult situations has less to do with being funny and more to do with a leader’s ability to react to others with understanding and imagination.
Humor can also be utilized to reduce the pressure of stress associated with deadlines, targets or crises. Social humor is best leveraged in these situations, not to make deadlines or challenges disappear, but to improve morale, to help individuals avoid feelings of isolation, and to increase the solidarity of purpose needed to overcome adversity. We recall a joke told by a regional CEO in a European-based telecoms equipment company to open an employee meeting: CEO: “Knock, knock.” Audience: “Who’s there?” CEO: “China!” The firm had recently lost some important contracts to Chinese competitors, so everybody in the room immediately understood the punch line. The CEO went on to speak about why there was a need for greater agility, alignment and collaboration.
Due to its tendency to trigger negative emotions, strong humor should be used sparingly or avoided altogether, and only ever directed at external targets where there is an urgent need to overcome complacency or strong internal inertia. During a difficult period for the company, the then CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer was widely condemned for joking sarcastically at an employee gathering: “I’m not here to announce lay-offs (pause)…this week.” In years gone by, strong humor might have gone beyond sarcasm to involve humiliation, ridicule, sexist or even racist overtones but these kind of jokes, anecdotes and stories have no place in today’s world.
The Internet is a new frontier for all styles of humor, but leaders should carefully think through their personal social media strategy before tweeting photos of their belly button. While having a sense of fun is acceptable in high Power Distance Index (PDI) societies in which individuals with authority are expected to have feelings of high self-worth, in these societies people of high authority might be expected to maintain or even increase power distance. So in these societies the leader should be careful in using self-deprecating and social humor. Of course, this becomes complicated for leaders of truly multinational corporations – a tweet posted in good humor in the USA could be perceived as completely inappropriate in Japan.
Time and time again in our interactions with leaders in some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies we have been struck by a recurring experience – not only are these leaders intelligent, talented and forward-thinking, many of them are also very funny. And it is not just that these senior executives are able to deliver a flawless punchline at a cocktail reception or town hall event – they are able to leverage humor as a strategic tool to build a sense of community within their organizations.
May the farce be with you.
About the authors: This post is by Jamie Anderson and Gabor George Burt. Jamie Anderson is Professor of
Strategic Management at Antwerp Management School, and Visiting Professor at INSEAD. He has been named a “management guru” in the Financial Times, and included on Business Strategy Review’s list of the world’s “top 25 management thinkers”. www.jamieandersononline.com. Gabor George Burt is a leading business transformationist and creator of the Slingshot Platform, enabling organizations to overstep perceived limitations, re-imagine market boundaries, and achieve sustained relevance. www.gaborgeorgeburt.com.
To be an effective leader and run a high-performing company, you need to be great at communicating with your employees. After all, when employees are well informed and feel included in company strategies and activities, they are more productive and engaged – and all of your stakeholders (especially your customers) benefit.
Effectively communicating with your employees doesn’t necessarily require you to command an audience like a rock star or give a TED-worthy presentation. Great communicators genuinely connect with company workers in ways that not only inform employees, but increase trust between the c-suite and the front lines.
Here are three ways to strengthen your connection with employees, too, and become a better communicator in the process.
1. Be transparent.
At its core, transparency is a pretty simple concept: You commit to employees that you will share what you can, when you can. And then you do it, consistently, especially in regard to the most buzzed-about company topics like organizational changes or product innovations. The key is to give employees a steady drumbeat of communication and easy-to-use channels where they can offer their input and feedback.
To be clear, being transparent doesn’t mean opening the information floodgates. Employees don’t want every detail about the most tactical activities and processes, communicated at equal volume and priority. Even in a transparent environment, you still need to set and follow a communications strategy, filtering your messages by audience, relevance and timing.
And keep in mind, there will always be information you can’t and won’t communicate, because of confidentiality or financial-disclosure regulations. When you can’t be transparent with employees, be sure you tell them the reason.
2. Be authentic.
Transparency is about WHAT you communicate, and authenticity is HOW you communicate. Some leaders communicate the way they believe leaders “should” share information – buried in loads of industry jargon delivered behind a formal podium.
Masking your authenticity places artificial barriers between you and your audience, and removes your ability to play to your strengths. If you’re more comfortable in small-group settings, skip the all-company town hall and hold a series of employee coffee chats instead. At your best in casual, online discussions with employees? Supplement your strategy with regular messages to employees via internal social media.
Always play to your strengths as a communicator. You will deliver more effective messages while authentically connecting with your audience.
3. Be vulnerable.
It’s a difficult moment for a leader: an employee stands up in a meeting or Q&A session and asks THE tough question. “Why did this strategy fail?” or “How are you going to fix this?” These moments test a leader, and the best communicators answer in the most straightforward and truthful way possible: “I made a mistake” or “We simply don’t know yet.”
Many leaders try to avoid appearing weak or unknowledgeable, so they dodge the question or avoid the uncomfortable moment altogether. But it’s always better to hit a topic head-on. In fact, start the meeting or memo with it: “I know you’re all probably wondering …”
This level of honesty goes hand-in-hand with transparency and authenticity, and will go a long way to establish trust between you and your employees.
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss are co-owners of ROCKdotVOSS Communications.
Their debut novel B.S., Incorporated – a funny, heartfelt, fictional take on corporate America – has been called “a veritable how-to and how-NOT-to for all company leaders.”
Tania is a brilliant CEO of a super successful accounting firm. Carlos, her VP of operations, is a bright and solid asset to the firm. But sometimes Tania and Carlos clash big time, especially when Tania wants faster results and shorter timelines on client projects. Then Carlos slows down—fast results to him mean poor quality and possible problems in client care, which he also owns. So as Carlos gets more cautious, Tania gets more impatient and massively triggered. She feels unsafe and starts to micromanage Carlos, who then rebels, feels unappreciated, and grinds to a halt. He will not make a client-facing mistake. Period.
Tania and Carlos want the same thing: high-quality work delivered to clients in a timely manner. But they both have needs that they need to tune into: Carlos’s is safety, and Tania’s is safety and mattering. When Carlos’s needs aren’t honored, he cannot take action. When Tania’s needs aren’t honored, she feels devalued. As a result, projects are delayed, and unhappy clients call Tania, who then gets more upset. She and Carlos lose even more trust in one another, and Tania feels unsafe selling more client engagements because, what if they are delivered late?
The team gets confused and thinks, “Wait a sec! We have these huge leaderboards showing our sales, quality, and client deliverable deadlines. So why are we selling less? Delivering late? Questioning quality?” Half of the team goes into panic and fight or flight, while the other half freezes. They’re all in what I call Critter State—the reptilian/mammalian brain hijack where a person reacts from fear versus choice.
This scenario is a perfect example of the big negative repercussions a business can experience when leaders’ needs aren’t honored. Although Carlos and Tania wanted the same thing, their individual needs were slightly different, and they made different negative meaning when these conflicts arose. As a result, client relationships were at risk, the team lost confidence and panicked, and the drive for sales decreased.
What Kills Your Performance Can Ultimately Catapult It
What happens inside you when someone you’re counting on drops the ball? Do you crave safety as Carlos does? Or safety and mattering as Tania does? Or something else?
For Tania to become more emotionally agile, she needed to first identify the core “right” she felt she didn’t have that was throwing fuel on the behavioral fire. Then she needed to raise her overall behavioral baseline so that she could gradually respond from choice rather than compulsively reacting when a trigger event occurred. That way, Tania could create an environment where she experienced more control, confidence, and support—in comparison to her current world of chaos fueled by excessive controlling and constantly mistrusting Carlos.
To achieve this, I coached her to determine which Organismic Rights[i]she felt weren’t being met. Organismic Rights are our basic human rights that are established during our early life experiences. They determine where a person will have behavioral struggles as they move through life. Put simply, like all of us, Tania had her own set of “growth areas” to work on. They were governing her behavior and hindering her performance—and she was totally unaware of them.
Until Tania and Carlos were appreciated as human beings doing the best they could, they would continually be triggered by one another, and the business would suffer.
Imagine a newborn baby entering the world. He or she is forced to adapt quickly. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich observed a series of stages through which all human beings must pass on their way to full body maturation, referred to as Organismic Rights. The more fully developed they are, the more that individuals can express themselves with greater aliveness and creativity (what I call the Smart State, where all 3 key parts of our brain are working together and we have behavioral choice). The less developed, the more likely they will operate in the Critter State.
The Five Organismic Rights are these:
1. The right to exist
2. The right to have needs
3. The right to take action
4. The right to have consequences for one’s actions
5. The right to love and be loved
Organismic Rights Behavior Decoder
Behavior in Critter State
What You Might Crave
How You Can Shift into Smart State
How You Can Help Another Shift into Smart State
If a person plays small, keeps their head down, tries to be invisible, or becomes silent in times of conflict, chances are they don’t experience having the right to exist.
Acknowledging yourself and letting yourself be seen by proactively communicating and participating, intentionally taking a role.
Acknowledging them, including them, giving them a role.
To have needs
If a person frequently puts others’ needs before their own, self-sacrifices, “takes one for the team” repeatedly, or doesn’t actually know what they want, chances are they don’t experience having the right to have needs.
Being present and asking for what you need specifically, letting people know what you can’t do, setting healthy boundaries, saying no when tempted to overextend yourself.
Helping out, showing you’re in this together, sharing the workload.
To take action
If a person often procrastinates or avoids commitment, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to take action.
Getting an accountability partner to support you in making and keeping commitments, making sure you understand what “success” is so you can take action and move forward.
Help them form a plan, pair them up with an action-oriented person.
To have consequences for actions
If a person often uses victim language, blames others for their own choices and actions, or avoids accountability, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to have consequences.
Think of how others are impacted by your choices, consider what potential outcomes could be, look carefully at your role in what you create in your life.
Explain that course-correction is how we learn and make things better, map out the best case/worst case/likely case scenarios, and commit to helping them work through each.
To love and be loved
If a person is uncomfortable with giving or receiving affection, or being around theirs or others’ deep hurt or emotion, chances are good they don’t experience having the right to love or be loved.
Ask for affection, ensure you reach out to friends/family, practice staying present when people around you emote, consider the benefits of compassion versus empathy.
Use the Emotion Wheel to help them understand what they are feeling, help them use Maneuvers of Consciousness to shift to Desired State.
Note that you can use this on yourself or with others too. For example, if people are struggling with accountability, they may need help increasing their right to take action. If they often blame others for their shortcomings, they may need help with the right of having consequences.
Now that you see how certain behaviors may reveal some minimal Organismic Rights, please take a moment now and rate your organismic rights from 0-5 where 5 is the highest experience of this right.
1. Your right to exist: ____
2. Your right to have needs: ____
3. Your right to take action: ____
4. Your right to have consequences for your actions: ____
5. Your right to love and be loved: ____
Consider your ratings. Where would you like to increase your rights?
Tania and Carlos now have a powerful, healthy, high communication collaboration based on honoring both of their needs for safety, belonging, mattering and their Organismic Rights.
Regarding Organismic Rights, where do your key stakeholders at work stand? Your family members? Now revisit the table above. How would you like to help yourself and others to modify their behavior and increase their Organismic Rights?
[i]Wilhelm Reich, Character-Analysis: Principles and Technique for Psychoanalysts in Practice and in Training, translated by Theodore P. Wolfe (Orgone Institute Press, 1945)
Christine Comaford, author of Power Your Tribe, has been a leadership and culture coach for the past 30 years. She has also built and sold five companies with an average ROI of 700 percent. A sought-after speaker and lecturer, she is a corporate consultant to mid-sized firms and the Fortune 1000, a leadership columnist for Forbes.com, and The New York Times bestselling author of Rules for Renegades and SmartTribes. For more information, please visit www.PowerYourTribe.com.
Soft skills can make or break you as a leader; they are clearly more important to a leader than any hard skill. This is a basic truth I learned early on in my business career, and it has sustained me throughout a succession of leadership roles — right up to my present work as an executive coach.
I first became aware of the need for soft skills when I was a Tupperware Executive Manager, teaching members of my team about the products, how to best present the line and explaining how effective use could make customers’ lives more efficient. My team members easily grasped these concepts, and I always made sure they were well versed to answer almost any customer question.
Nevertheless, I found that I was spending most of my time working with them on the softer skills. Before I knew it, my role became that of a coach, inspiring them to give their best, teaching them how to be customer-focused, understand their customers’ needs, wants and desires, and demonstrating how to present, motivate and engage the customer. Also, how to potentially transform an excited customer into a recruit for the team.
Tupperware was where I learned how recognition can be an important motivator. With hindsight, I now see that I hadn’t realized just how important recognition for my own accomplishments was to me. I knew it felt good, and now I saw first-hand how Tupperware effectively used recognition to motivate and retain quality consultants and managers.
Leaders of today have a bigger challenge, given the diversity of modern-day teams. While teamworkhad been important with my Tupperware team, my leadership skills were really put to the test when I took on the responsibility for all Sales and Clinical teams at Radi Medical Systems (Radi). I could screen candidates for product knowledge and aptitude (candidates had to demonstrate they could sell the product and take an online test to prove that they could interpret the technology and explain how it was used), but figuring out if they had the right values, were a good fit with the other members of the team, and knowing what I would need to do to motivate them appropriately was complex.
In my dual role as President/CEO and first sales representative, my goal was to generate revenue one customer at a time. Within five years, the company had nearly 50 employees, 30 of whom were in the field, with revenue approaching $28M. Dealing with the explosive triple-digit growth forced me to relinquish my “lead by example” sales role and instead lead differently. By setting the company’s mission, vision and values, I used those corporate philosophies as litmus tests in hiring — taking on applicants who aligned with these philosophies. That made us a cohesive and successful team.
The takeaway here is that it’s a lot easier to lead a team when everyone is on the same page. Leaders understand that people make the difference between a good and a great product, and that means hiring the right people must be a #1 priority. Never settle for just any candidate; make sure they are the right candidate.
It bears repeating: soft skills can make or break you as a leader; it’s not necessary to master every such skill, but each leader should find those that work for them. One skill that always stands out in my mind and that I have used successfully is Caring. There’s a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I’ve always believed to be true: “Nobody will ever care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Anyone who has ever worked for or with me knows that I put this quote into practice.
In my recently released book, Motivation Now!, I’ve shared the soft skills that are reflections of my approach. Examples include:
Achieve Now! Achieving now is about accomplishing things that you want to do.
Celebrate Now! Reflects the personal touch and how I ran Radi — like a family.
Setting Goals Now! This is as much a soft as a hard skill, and clearly relevant to leadership.
Leaders are not expected to be everything to everyone, but it is critical that leaders know their strengths and how to leverage (and supplement) them appropriately. Just being aware of your “Top 5 Strengths” helps you to truly define yourself. [I recommend completing StrengthsFinder Assessment (SFA).] Once you know your strengths, you can channel your energies into the things that you do naturally. This will get you further in life — it’s called building on your strengths.
I’ve found that leadership isn’t a constant — it’s put to the test every day. As president of the non-profit Medical Development Group of Boston (MDG), I found myself in an environment that required me to make good decisions and speak with authority and passion. Membership in this group was about as diverse as you can get (age, experience, skills, specialties, etc.). I found that my passionbroke through many of the potential barriers. Passion is one of my true gifts, and I share it with everyone that I come in contact with. How you act and how you present yourself are two very important measures of leadership.
If you consider all of the leadership roles I’ve presented above, you will find that all of these positions required use of attentive listening, clear speech, and persuasion. In the end, I realized that my true calling was to be a coach, and to this day coaching is how I lead. Leadership can be a lonely road, since a leader’s journey is often fraught with adversity, change and long hours. But it doesn’t have to be lonely, nor should you feel alone. Have you ever considered having a coach in your life?
Lisa Sasso, MBA, is a certified executive coach who empowers aspiring leaders and executives to achieve their personal and professional goals, maintain work/life balance, and ultimately reach their greatest potential. She specializes in coaching medical device professionals and recently published “Motivation Now!”
I couldn’t believe it was the same woman. As she shared her presentation, she was warm, charming, gregarious, with a whip smart sense of humor. In less than two minutes, she had the audience in the palm of her hand, laughing so hard we were wiping tears from our eyes. How could this be the same woman who sat in front of me all day with the blank eyes and furrowed brow—who kept her back to me so much of the time? The woman who seemed so angry and aloof. Detached. Who was this mystery woman?
It’s easy to see how this can happen. With so much on our plates, we disappear into our minds, thinking about all there is to do, tackling the challenges of the day, weighing the pros and cons, processing, scrutinizing, calculating—busy working the business of business. But we forget. We forget that how we show up in the world, intentionally or not, has an impact.
If we’re focused on an upcoming deadline and neglect to say hello to a teammate in the hallway, they’ll think we’re mad. If we’re quiet in a meeting, people will think we don’t care.
If we’re overwhelmed and need to be alone, people will think we don’t like them.
At work, especially in a leadership position, we live in a heightened reality. We’re “on”. People are paying attention. Everything we say and do communicates something and if we’re not mindful, the messages we’re sending can cost us.
I remember having this conversation with the mystery woman, half-way through the day, following her presentation. “You totally took me by surprise,” I shared with her, “you blew me away! You were articulate, warm, hilarious! You clearly have a natural talent for presenting.” Then, looking her in the eye, I said gently, “So why don’t you let us see that side of you off stage? It was as if two different women showed up in this room today. You are an amazing, kind, and caring woman, why don’t you let people see who you truly are?”
She looked at me for a long moment, took a deep breath, and said, “I know. I don’t know why I do that. I…I don’t mean to come across the way I do. It shows up on my 360. I know it’s a problem.”
“You’re robbing us of you. And, as a leader, if you need to connect to the hearts and minds of others to be able to lead and influence, you can’t afford to send mixed-messages. People won’t give you their best because they have to, they’ll give you their best because they want to. You can’t put their want at risk.”
Later that day, as this incredible group of leaders talked about what they hoped to do differently, I watched a transformation take place. Looking up at me, with a wry smile and a glimmer in her eye, the mystery woman unveiled her true self. “I’m going to work on letting people see who I really am. I think maybe it’s time to lose the tough act and get real.”
Your words, your energy, your expression, your body language, your tone, whether you’re present or distracted—whatever your reasons—how you show up with others matters. The stakes are higher than you realize. What messages are you sending?
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership.” She is the author of Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need. For more information, please visit:www.BraveLeadershipBook.com.
Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:
Built to win doesn't mean you're going to win. It means that you are setting your team up to win more often than not.
Recently, I spoke to 300 leaders at a client's annual conference.
Between the banners hanging on the walls demonstrating their past successes and industry awards, the celebration of their terrific financial results, which were the best in the company's history, and the praises sung of their unique organizational culture, which they believe is the foundation of the company's success, it was clear that the theme was this company was “Built to Win.”
But the company leaders didn’t leave it at that; they acknowledged the hard work ahead by saying, "That's all in the past. We have the opportunity to do very well in the coming year - but we have to earn every customer's business and earn our employees' hearts, every day this year, all over again."
There are many other examples of sports teams and company teams around the globe that had talent, leadership, and heart, but were unable to finish. They simply didn’t "win" as expected.
Every leader on the planet, of every team and company, large or small, believes they have built their team to win. Few leaders would admit their team is built to lose or is built for mediocrity, right?
What separates the teams that should win, that could win from those that execute well, adapt well, and exceed their high expectations?
I suggest these three integrated approaches.
Treat Employees As Your Primary Customers Create a safe, inspiring, respectful work environment of trust, giving your employees the opportunity to apply their knowledge, skills, and hearts to serve the team and organizational constitution daily.
Formalize Your Culture Don’t leave your culture to chance. It drives everything that happens in your company. Start by formalizing your team or company's "reason for being," it's present-day purpose. Then outline your team's values, the desired principles you want to be demonstrated in every interaction daily. Define values in observable, measurable, behavioral term, writing them into an organizational constitution.
Evolve, Learn & Refine Daily With your standards now defined, spend time and energy paying attention to the quality of the work environment and your team’s performance. Engage and learn employee's perceptions about how to make improvements. Test new approaches. Learn and test again. This ongoing evolution is the mark of high performing, values-aligned teams.
What will you do to build your team for wins today?
S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com. Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here.
Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, and even Thomas Edison are a few of the great visionary leaders in their respective industries. What made them such great leaders was not just one aspect of their management style or their respective innovations. What made them great leaders was their ability to attain great vision or more accurately a great core business model vision.
For a great enterprise vision to be realized one must have more than just a vision of an innovation or perceivable future. Leaders must have a workable product or service and a sustainable operation. You see many people have great ideas but cannot attain a sustainable product and business operation. It is only when they achieve both a workable product and a sustainable operation that produces profitability is a great vision realized or a core business model vision attained.
Let’s step back. Every organization is under an unbreakable operational fact called the “Law of Business Reality.” That is an organization will serve its customer in a profitable way or cease to exist. All organizations operate under this law and each organization needs to produce their own version of the law called a core business model. A core business model is how each enterprise will uniquely serve its customer in a profitable and sustainable operation. Only when company a can produce a product or service with a solid core business model will a vision be realized.
That is the main attribute of all great leaders. Not only to produce a great product or service but to produce a visionary core business model. All great leaders have realized a great core business model vision. Think about it, when Steve Jobs developed Apple it was not about one computer it was about the perspective of how technology would improve our lives. Apple had a core business model of great technology as easy to use as an appliance.
“All Great leaders have realized a great Core Business Model vision.”
Similarly, Jack Welch with General Electric turned around an aligning company to fix its core business model. His vision to serve customers in a profitable way meant to be at least first or second in its respective markets or get rid of the product. Jacks’ vision fixed GE’s focus and GE’s core business model. Even Thomas Edison produced a successful operation and a sustainable core business model based on a product invention development business.
A recent development of great leadership vision is Elon Musk’s Tesla organization and its core business model. The vision of sustainable clean electric transport for the masses is close with the introduction and production of the automaker’s Model 3. Even though Tesla has not generated profitability success yet, its company valuation is above some of the leading automakers today. Musk’s organization is on the verge of producing a sustainable core business model and attaining his great vision of electric transport.
Great leaders know core business model vision. They instinctively understand what it takes to not only develop a product or service but how to produce a sustainable core business model from an innovation or idea. These great leaders can see the future is a new way and understand a complete path to attain the vision with a sustainable operation. That is the main aspect of all great business leaders, an actualized core business model vision. It is not often we witness an actualized core business model vision, but when one does, we all benefit with better service and many times improvement of overall life.
David A. Duryea has more than 30 years’ experience in business leadership and specializes in business model innovation, strategy and business disruption. David is an author, speaker, forensic expert, implementer, innovator and business innovation consultant. Core Business Model and the Law of Business Reality concepts are from the second edition of “Do The Right Thing In Business Improvement Including Process and Technology” by David A. Duryea. https://www.davidaduryea.com/do-the-right-thing-book. More Information about the author and core business model concepts can be found at https://www.davidaduryea.com/.
Every leader wants to consistently create mind-blowing products and offerings that customers love and line up for. They know that if they don’t innovate, they will be left behind, the world’s simply moving way too fast. They are looking to institutionalize the innovation process. This means building a culture where innovation happens every day. It means creating an environment where innovation is not the domain of a select few individuals, rather every single person believes they can contribute to creating great products. It means pushing the boundaries in everything you do. It means a relentless focus on altering customer experiences in meaningful ways.
As a leader you can institutionalize innovation in your organization by creating an innovation biome, or a sustained environment where innovating becomes a habit. Creating the innovation biome, however, requires all elements (teams, departments, priorities, etc) residing within your organization to act in concert and support each other. If your corporation seeks to alter its genetic code and transform itself into an innovative juggernaut, then it needs to operate with an exceptionally high degree of conviction and shared belief that innovation is a priority. This is the number one factor that drives organization-wide innovation.
This starts with leadership. You cannot tiptoe your way into innovation. You simply have to commit to your direction and share your conviction and vision with all related stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, customers, and partners. And everyone around you needs to share in that belief.
Shared belief has incredible power, probably more so than any other factor that drives change. Shared belief in a vision provides everyone involved with the confidence to go all-in and help make the vision a reality. Any ambiguity or second-guessing makes the already challenging task of moving a company in a new direction a lot harder.
Take for example Moore’s Law (the belief that chip capacity would continue to increase exponentially). While this wasn’t a scientific law, it was a shared belief that has driven the forward progress of the computer industry for decades. Or take for instance the shared belief inspired by President Kennedy as he boldly stated a vision and commitment to put humans on the moon and return them safely to earth. A vision that was realized because everyone involved shared in the belief.
Or learn from Apple’s example, when it launched the iPhone with a degree of commitment and conviction that made irrelevant one of the most desirable products of the time, its own iPod. There was nothing wishy-washy about the launch of the iPhone, no “minimally viable product,” no “let’s wait and see how it does.” It was full commitment from the leadership of the organization. The company went all-in, knowing full well that they were risking the sexiest product of the time with an untested device.
The more you believe in a vision, the more likely you are to achieve it and, in turn, make the belief real. Belief motivates people to take the necessary actions to make a vision come true, creating an upward cycle.
For the better part of the past decade, most people have considered Apple to be the most innovative company in the world. This is not because Apple kept proclaiming it was innovative; it is because it kept churning out one game-changing product after another. Now, everyone expects Apple to produce nothing short of breathtaking innovation. This shared expectation results in exactly that—breakthrough innovations. The perfect upward spiral. The belief is shared by everyone: Apple’s customers, employees, shareholders, partners, and even competitors.
The first step to creating an innovation biome is to make it clear, through words and actions, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a shared belief requires actions that go far beyond appointing an innovation czar or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and ensuring that every offering, big or small, enhances a customer experience journey in a meaningful way.
Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of THE INNOVATION BIOME, has been at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25 years. He founded Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his tenure building out innovative companies. Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit www.BridgesInsight.com.
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