vision

Re-Learning Leadership

Learning LeadershipIt is said that we learn our parenting skills from our parents. We learn from what we observed in childhood. We are also impacted by the culture we were part of and the environment in which we lived. Parenting is often instinctual and we distinguish right and wrong from our values system which often gets severely tested, especially when our children start to have minds of their own and are developing their own system of values. The day you say “because I said so” can be a real turning point for some.

Leaders often learn the same way. Learning Leadership involves spending a lot of time absorbing behaviours from our leaders, in a culture that influences (but of which we might be unaware) and in, usually, one environmental context. Unlike most parenting skills perhaps the skills and behaviours used when we were learning leadership are not appropriate now – but as leaders we still do or “go with” what we know. In the last four decades the organisational context has flipped over every 10 years – grow, cut back, grow, cut back. On top of that each generation of workers gets more knowledgeable, more technological, has different motivations and owns more of the key competencies and skills of the organisation.

An interesting recent article in the Economist  commenting on the Anthropologist David Grabers article “Bullshit Jobs” points out that this trend will continue. As more competitive advantage will come from the interaction between skilled workers and the coming technologies more repetitive jobs will be automated. So more and more of the “power” will move from centralised control and command to the outer edges of the organisation. We have discussed this before in our story about the US Navy and their understanding of the importance of empowerment following modern changes in warfare technology.

So do leaders who have learned skills from their forebears and from older cultures and older contexts adapt? Well some do. And many don’t. There are many addictive qualities to the old authoritarian style and egalitarian behaviour. But this just doesn’t cut it in a modern organisation. Disappointing results from the US in the recent Gallup report (2013) on the US workplace noted that while it has been proven that employee engagement is absolutely key to organisational performance – poor engagement is costing the US 450 billion to 550 billion dollars annually. It also shows that different generations require different engagement (therefore leadership) practices. Often however the strategy is akin to the old saying – “When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail” – we do what we have always done because we stay inside our comfort zone.

So what do leaders do? We need to become more transformational and also more authentic. We need to update our skills but also change who we are as leaders. This can be done with gaining understanding, getting a change in perspective, observation and developing those required behaviour changes. This is not the same as those standardized management skills often sold as “Leadership Training”. The good news is that some leaders are changing. Reports from the US show that 43% of CEOs and 71% of Senior Executives say they’ve worked with a coach. And 92% of leaders being coached say they plan to use a coach again.

I work with leaders. I talk with leaders. I know fear of change is often a big obstacle. Time is also a big issue but sometimes an excuse. The feeling that you are handing over your power to others can be scary. However the power is shifting in any case and a new form of leadership is required. I often find leaders trapped by assumptions who can easily transform their leadership if shown the way. Remember the old adage “where there is a will there is a way”. But first you need the will.

Aidan Higgins

Leadership Development – is leadership doing or being?

Leadership DevelopmentWorking in Leadership Development as I do, I find a lot of material on leadership skills. There are countless advisors pointing out what leaders need to do – top ten of this, top ten of that, the five most important the other. A lot of this information is correct and well intended too but most of this is about what a leader must “do” to become  successful. Little of it is about who to “be”.

There have been a number of Leadership models over the years, some of which now look ridiculous in the light of modern psychology and some which would never have worked leading people who have a strong sense of self and view of life  and completely reject the “I told you so” philosophy. Generations such as X, Y and the Millenials need to clearly see the vision and to trust their leaders to become engaged with the goals of the organisation. This is particularly true of knowledge workers, where the core knowledge and key competencies of the organisation are in their hands.

Many leaders at the top of organisations or leaders who are in charge of large teams are task oriented, and often they love a list to tick off to feel they are moving forward. Its all do do do – “Today I will make sure I will do some trust building exercises with my people”, and “tomorrow I will act more Authentic.” I am reminded of the old line  about sincerity … “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

Leadership Development -Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Brand

I have found over the years that good leadership development results come from working at the core  – so that improving it means working from the inside out. Working on Emotional Intelligence is one part of this – and improves leadership through awareness of the  emotional environment, awareness of the needs of others and the ability to connect with people on an emotional level. This is necessary to lead others and to gain the trust required, particularly for difficult times.

Leadership development should also focus on leadership brand,  a second key facet, which is the leader understanding what they represent and being true to that. This has been coined “leadership brand” and is something very important to followers – “What is this person about?” “Can I trust them?” “Are they all about the results or do they care about me?” “How do I know?” “Is what they say consistent with what they do?”

The pathway to success in leadership is therefore for the Leader to “Walk the Talk” to “Become” rather than to “Get” and to “Be” rather than to “Do”.

Aidan Higgins

Authentic Leadership – The Real Deal

Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are. (Bill George: Authentic Leadership)

Working recently with a group of Senior Directors I was struck once again about how important leading with belief is to achieving changes in your organisation and your culture. We discussed the concepts associated with Authentic Leadership such as “leading with the heart”, “Walking your talk” or “being the change you want in the world”.

Finding belief in what you do or what you want to do is the first step. Remember Gandhi as portrayed in that fantastic Attenborough movie?  First seeing there was a problem and then building his understanding about what needed to be done and then doing what he thinks is right, sometimes at great personal cost. He believes first and then he models the behaviours he wants in others – he resists, he practices non-cooperation, he makes and wears his own clothes, he travels 3rd class with his people dropping his ego and becoming one of the masses – something even more difficult in a country with such a tradition of class and caste. He becomes the change he wants in the world.

Authentic LeadershipIn the Organisation there can be challenges to Authenticity from Stakeholder interests, ingrained culture and the daily impact of the disaffected. But more and more on a global basis we see where Authentic Leadership based on authenticity, belief, integrity and a higher purpose is clear and desired success follows – sometimes short term – but most definitely in the long term. And it is sustainable and self sustaining. It resonates through the organisation.

Viktor FranKl once wrote “Do not pursue success, for success like happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue. Success ensues from the pursuit of the higher purpose”. Finding the higher purpose in your Organisation is key to believing. It becomes the cause, it delivers the belief and the energy and the skip in the step for all your people.

Being clear about and communicating this vision is key, as is understanding your own perspective and drivers.  Being Authentic after all is not possible  if you do not know yourself.  How can you be Authentic to your true self if you do not have and/or practice awareness. To be Authentic in Leadership you must be able to get past skewed personal perspectives and motives and deliver from within. From where belief can resonate and connect and impact others.

The group I was working with gave time to think about how it was they were doing things, understanding why they were doing things that way and that while they were doing some things very well, some things could be improved. All they needed was to take another perspective on what they were trying to achieve. To their great credit they committed to “walking their talk” by changing their approach and the associated behaviours. They started on the path to Authentic Leadership with this commitment and this will in turn lead to long term performance improvement throughout their Organisation that is sustainable and full of integrity.

The Real Deal.

Aidan Higgins

Lincoln and Leadership

Lincoln LeadershipAs I watched Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln the other day (2012 Movie), I was struck by how his character displayed some key skills and abilities of Leadership. Hey I know it’s a just a movie, but the central character, well researched by Day-Lewis and director Spielberg, demonstrated  Leadership traits and skills that were often subtle and Authentic. I want to underline these while trying not to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet.

The Vision – he has a vision for how it can be. He speaks on issues of humanity, of the higher purpose and he talks about this being about global leadership – with all the world watching -clarifying how these changes are defining democracy not just for the US but for the world.

Belief – throughout the story Lincoln shines with belief. He knows what he wants, he sees it as good and he moves heaven and earth to get it done. He communicates his belief in every word and gesture on the topic. He energizes those around him and refuses to be diverted from what he knows is right.

The Power of the Story – At every juncture he illustrates his thinking with a story. The character glows with warmth and a twinkle in his eye while telling his stories. His personal charm shines through. One or two find his stories frustrating but in the main those around him enjoy them and he uses the power of these parables to explain in a simple way what it is he is trying to do and why.

Working with the team – Lincoln works well with the strong minded individuals in his cabinet, (he had appointed his rivals for the presidential election to his cabinet  – William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron and Edward Bates ) seeking their opinions and using conflict to refine his thinking.  He patiently explains the why and harnesses the power within the team to deliver the vision. Mostly he uses his team to get things done. Only once does he bring his personal power and authority to bear to drive on the final attempt to achieve his goals.

Awareness and humility – he is aware of his sometimes dark moods and also keenly aware of the intentions of those around him. In crux points he is not worried about going directly to those he intends to influence and with all humility appealing to their better self.

In all a masterful bit of work by Day-Lewis in portraying a masterful Leader. I have been an admirer of Lincoln since I heard the Gettysburg address speech read to me in a documentary on the American Civil War in the context of the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was the battle with the largest number of casualties (approximately 50,000 in 3 days) in the American Civil War and is often described as the war’s turning point.

Here I is again…  The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Aidan Higgins

Leading in tough times

Many areas of the business world are in states of turmoil. At such times the need for leadership is paramount argues Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour (London Business School)

Many areas of the business world are in states of turmoil, with employees facing increasing pressures, cost cutting, threats to jobs and a climate of high anxiety.  This is amplified by the fact that it is shared – people see the whites of the eyes of uncomfortable bosses, or feel the emotions of others who share their position.  Some feel they are competing for survival.   At such times the need for leadership is paramount.  In fact this is not just a time of need, but a time of opportunity for people to reveal a new and perhaps unseen capability for leadership – people who can act with the wisdom and skill that today’s challenges require.

The history of leadership tells us  that leaders emerge to meet the challenges of their times. Over much of the last decade, we had been living in an era when key attributes need were for leaders with the mindset and skills needed to grow a business in a climate of abundance and opportunity. Of course, there are new growth opportunities in the present climate, but they are currently in small pockets. For many people, today’s economic landscape is bleaker; and, for all, it is uncertain. These times require a different kind of leadership from the expansionist ethos to which we had become accustomed. They call for a much more savvy and psychological style of leadership, one that is emotionally intelligent and visionary in order to lead people beyond their overwhelming immediate concerns.

It is in this spirit that I offer 10 rules for leaders who must step forward and excel in this business climate.

These depend upon a correct understanding of the psychology of threat and uncertainty. It is critical for leaders to comprehend the mindset of followers, especially in turbulent times.
Survival and success

Understand the psychology of pain, fear, threat and anxiety. This is both quite subtle and quite complex. The need is for leaders to understand correctly what people typically do and think in response to such feelings. Many of people’s reactions will not be what we are used to seeing from them.

Steady emotions. Buffer people, as far as possible, from short-term pressures, yet make sure that they have something meaningful to do. If a major part of their role has disappeared, create a project for them around something that needs doing.

Decentre. This means asking “smart” questions of individuals that help you gain deep insights into how they think and feel, so that you feel what it might be like  to see the world through their eyes. This can be extremely affirming. The process goes as follows:

Ask an individual how he or she feels about a specific event.
Listen and ask more questions to get closer to what the person is experiencing.
Paraphrase to them your understanding of their thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge the reality of what people are thinking and feeling, but help them to reframe, to see the situation from other perspectives. Although it feels as if there is no end to uncertainty, the world is changing and a new order will emerge. When it comes, we had better be in a state of readiness. An analogy might be that we have descended into a valley filled with fog. This does not mean we have no direction to go in, but it might mean we have to hold hands until we reach sunnier uplands. People need you to tell them that better times are coming that there cannot be a return to any previous state, and that our best hope is in staying close to each other and working together.
Develop a narrative that connects the past, present and future. This does not mean being a soothsayer  predicting the future. The future is not waiting to be discovered – it is something to be seized and claimed. It presents an opportunity. Knowing that  it will not be like the past doesn’t mean disconnect.  You need to be able to elucidate the golden thread that connects past, present and future; It is the identity of the firm and the people in it. Each company has a unique story, history and cultural DNA. Some of that is going to be reborn in the new order that will emerge.

Make the narrative personal. These tough times are  also part of your story. Leaders should be unafraid to tell people how they forge meaning, hope and belief out of such times. You have to do so with authenticity – speaking about your own feelings, learning, foibles, biases and so on, in a way that reveals enough of your own fallibility to bring you close to them but not so much as to shake their confidence. The formula is V-I-P: vision, identity and passion. You cannot have a personal vision and express it with passion if it does not connect genuinely with who you are, your identity.

Be close-up and immediate. People need to know the best thing for them to be doing right now. Show them how this connects with deeper and wider goals you continue to have as an organisation. Remember, in times of fear and crisis, people need much more communication than normal, and it has to be personal – face-to-face – not a barrage of emails.

Set mileposts. The future may be cloudy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have medium-term goals. Tell people what these are, but don’t tell them how to reach them. It builds confidence for people to feel empowered to work together to solve problems about on how to achieve specific goals.

Sacrifice and celebrate. Show that you are just as much a stakeholder as they are. By doing without certain things, you can show symbolically that your life is not business-as-usual either. Spend much more time than usual telling people when they do something right and celebrating achievements collectively to reinforce the sense that you are a community with a common purpose.

Look after yourself. Don’t be a poor role model by letting yourself succumb to stress, overwork and loss of balance. Show people that it is healthy to go home at 5:30 occasionally in order to take your partner out for dinner or a movie. Indeed, tell them that some days you will work a half day from home to get some serious thinking or project work done, rather than appearing to be continually chasing work in ever-decreasing circles. Finally, here’s a little exercise you can do to accentuate the positive.  First write down all the negatives that you are witnessing during the downturn.  Then write down all the positives.  You will be surprised.  These times are like a forest fire – even as they destroy they create the conditions for new growth.  We can see for example how inflated discretionary payment systems were a poor one-club golfer’s solution to the challenge of staff motivation.  Now we are free to create the kinds of recognition and reward that will really unite and motivate people towards building tomorrow’s capabilities.   It is the leader’s job to connect with people to help them fulfil their goals and those of the business – the present climate offers great prizes to those who can do this.

First Published August 2009

Business transformation is about people, people!

Business transformation is defined as a key executive management initiative that attempts to align People, Process and Technology initiatives of a company more closely with its business strategy and vision to support and help innovate new business strategies. Of this the People part is by far the most difficult and time consuming if its to be done right. It is important to take the time. Fudge the issue and you fudge the outcome.

We all know about “changes of strategy” and “responses to market demand” and “downsizing” and “new company initiatives” and such. We hear them all the time in the workplace and in the media and after years of promises gone awry, sceptics deliver a sigh everytime such terms are used. In reality most initiatives fail to reach even 50% of their target goals, and Mergers for instance fail in over 70% of cases to reach a goal where the combined unit is worth more productively than the two independent units. This is because of the implementation. The plan often does not allocate sufficient time and resources to handle the soft factors which are required to address peoples concerns, motivations and critically does not give the time required to adapt.

What looks great on a spreadsheet is often a nightmare to staff who suddenly are not sure:

  • They have a secure job
  • Who they will work with (their social group)
  • Where they work and where they sit (their place)
  • Whether they will be let do their job
  • Having established a comfort zone that works for them they are now asked to change it and it often is not communicated to them how much. They can be left for months at a time with these stresses hanging over their head. What about motivation?

I have experienced in conversations over coffee that many execs find soft skill learning difficult to pin down. Perhaps its because it needs more than academic understanding? Perhaps its because those good with numbers can be by definition poor with people?  Is it taught well? Or is the theory too new?  Remember it was not so long ago that Taylorism was in vogue. Most of the theories I was taught in College in the late 80?s are invalid now.

My view is that for many Managers and Experts the idea of engaging with people brings them out in a sweat. They prefer the predictability of numbers or technology or knowledge to real engagement and while the predictable part of the change is expertly managed they hope this will be enough to allow them to fudge the people issues. They hope the answer to the ultimate question is indeed 42.

Motivate Yourself First

I recently gave a talk before Cavan County Enterprise Boards recent Awards Dinner on the topic of Motivation, with reference to the current economic climate. The reaction to the talk was extremely positive and also the feedback was particularly interesting.

I told the group that there are times I think when we forget the basics and lose ourselves in worry about things we don’t really need. This leads to suffering on a personal level that is not necessary and totally within our own control. Cutbacks and reductions can have an overly negative effect on us if we do not see that often these are necessary to moving forward. Often we attach meaning to things that causes us grief and worry. The way to address this is to sit down and think about what is really necessary at the end of the day and what of those things we worry about  are supports to our Ego rather than to our well-being and happiness.

Entrepeneurs and Small business owners in particular need to remain motivated and optimistic despite the current travails and to influence and motivate those around them as well. Someone once said “Sincerity is the secret – if you can fake that you can achieve anything!”. Well it can’t be faked, the people around you have a good idea whats going on really. So the feeling of motivation has to be real and come from within. Taking action every morning to bring a positive outlook into play by focusing on the positive things in our life can set the mood for the whole day. And bringing it to work influences those around us particularly small business owners.

The folks from Cavan had an interesting perspective. They reckoned the Celtic tiger hadn’t done much for them and so they didn’t miss it. “We never had too much around here anyway” they said and so we don’t miss it either. And this from as chirpy and cheery bunch of people as I’ve met. You know when you see what some have lost in terms of happiness and clarity in their lives its great to see that some have held on to what matters.

2019-04-10T09:21:37+00:00March 1st, 2012|Discussion, Leadership, Motivation|