Leadership

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Leadership Diseases and Their Cure

Two executive leadership management styles I am occasionally requested to consult on are by-products of the base motivation of the individual leader. The problematic symptoms are very different, and one needs to address the ‘disease.’ Unless you can get the executive to understand their particular disease and have the desire to want to modify the behavior, you cannot mitigate the symptoms.

Popularity

The first disease is an underlying need to be popular while supervising people. This need is rarely admitted, but clearly manifested by actions. Executives that want to be liked have trouble making timely decisions that would upset anyone. They even go so far as to physically disappear so that decisions are delayed or solved by others. These executives rationalize that time will cure the negative emotions a decision may cause. Delayed response may even make a needed, yet unpopular, decision immaterial as it becomes stale. This is not a person who makes principled-based decisions, but one who tries to come up with the most diplomatic answer that puts them in a good light. Their decisions are made with their interest of staying popular in mind, without regard to consistency or what’s best for the company.

An executive whose personality requires approval is vulnerable to one-on-one lobbying resulting in decision reversals. I often hear when dealing with these popularity seekers, is that there is a competition to be the last lobbyist in order to be the most influential before a critical meeting. Lobbyists learn that if you cannot get the leader to a decision you want, the fallback is to request to freeze the decision to another meeting. The executive concludes that it is better to have a late decision rather than an unpopular one.

Investors don’t pay […]

By |August 14th, 2018|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Turning Fear into Success

About six months after I stepped down from being CEO of a global company for nearly a decade, someone asked me how I was doing. I said the first thing that popped into my mind: “I am celebrating sleeping again.” It was true. I was sleeping at least eight hours a night for the first time in a very long time, and it felt very different. My burden of fearing failure was dramatically lowered with the absence of the responsibility that comes with being in that position.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was coaching another CEO. I asked him how he slept, and he answered, “I have always had no trouble sleeping. Frankly, I sleep like a baby.” Eventually his company stalled, and in short order, he decided to sell his business before its value totally collapsed.

Another client requested me to talk to a promising lieutenant who seemed de-energized and unmotivated. I asked the lieutenant how he slept, and he said: “Great.” In both this and the previous case, I was stunned at these individuals’ answers. I asked myself how they could not worry at night when they had such a responsibility to make things happen? Yet, looking back, I too, was always fearful that my subordinates were not worried enough!

It made me ponder why I felt my burden of the office was so heavy 24 hours a day. I was not frozen by fear but instead motivated by it. Was fear actually an important success driver? Why did it not have the opposite reaction by freezing me in my decision making?

Since my childhood, I feared failure. It manifested itself in worry and a resultant effort not to shame myself or my parents […]

By |July 6th, 2018|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Finding a Support Base for Change

How many times is a new leader asked to change the status quo of the unit they inherit? If not, how many new leaders think they have to change the status quo just to symbolize taking charge?

In the course of management succession, a new leader is constantly elevated and expected to show immediate competency with equal-to-better ideas than the last person. Not only is the new leader asked to come up with a different strategy or changed environment, they are expected to carry it off with majority support as the first test of their abilities. The test sets the tone for their tenure.

Every unit can be improved in some way. The strength of one leader is usually matched by some weakness in the last individual in that position, that got less attention. So, coming up with a set of changes to ‘take charge’ is not as difficult as it would seem. When you have no good ideas to improve your market position, try re-branding with a logo or ‘refreshed’ color combinations…just kidding, as you must have something better than optics!

Seriously, change is stressful for all. It shakes the power structure into the unknown. Obviously identifying change issues that improve your business competitiveness or performance culture would be best, but you will really be remembered by whether you could sell your idea and overcome resistance to take charge. Mediocre ideas that are ‘sold’ well are superior to the greatest idea changes you never get concurrence for. New leaders, especially if coming from outside the organization, usually do not have an established constituency. Most all inherited subordinates are polite and act politically supportive in their surface behavior to a new leader. But there are a wide […]

By |June 4th, 2018|Career Lessons|0 Comments

A Destructive Start

 

Often when I see top leadership succession within companies, there seems to be an incredible urge to immediately execute one, or both, of two destructive things: Rebrand and Reorganize. Both create internal commotion that distracts from outside focus and usually, the company does not recover to full efficient functionality until about two years after the fact. Let’s look at each of these scenarios.

Rebranding: Often the new leader feels that they need to take charge and make an impact immediately. Changing brands is one way to say, “there is a new sheriff in town with better ideas than the last yahoos.’’ They claim the new brand will impart momentum, freshness and add strategic clarity. In reality, it is a psychological way to ‘mark their territory,’ like dogs to fire hydrants. It establishes the new leader applying new “varnish” at the expense of momentum of the enterprise.

The fact is that the real brand loyalty for a service company is not a logo or a color or a symbol, but instead the identification to the individual company representatives the clients depend on. Take that representative away and those clients are more likely to follow that person to the next company, rather than ogle and admire the new brand. Brand changes don’t make new clients; in fact, they create uncertainty in the clients’ eyes that then needs to be overcome. Internally, brands are more sacred and emotional. Changing the brand usually comes with more employee criticism than praise for the wasted transition costs and distraction of attention to more pressing internal—and client—issues.

In the product industries, there are countless cases where a product-based company has changed brands without much negative impact. But service companies are people and they are different. […]

By |June 2nd, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The ‘Stallion’ Dilemma

 

In every company, there are a few very fast rising executive stars with what I like to refer to as the ‘stallion syndrome.’ Why do I call them stallions? Well, they are people who are very impressive in appearance, very strong in performance results and very hard to manage. These stallions stand out from the crowd. They have extraordinary talents in a few critical areas that result in successfully reaching the number goals. They are driven, ambitious, fearless and cocky, and often disregard failures by not taking responsibility. The stallion usually makes or exceeds all of his numbers, drives followers to high levels of performance and innovates amazing concepts and products. Promotions come fast and the stallion moves up in the organization quickly.

But very often, stallions also have huge blind spots to their deficits.

It is almost as if a well-rounded executive must possess twenty different important traits with a passing grade in each area. These characteristics often include:

Integrity
Sensitivity
Emotional maturity
Competency
Quick intelligence
Great instincts
A team first loyalty
Trustworthiness
Ability to articulate clearly
Kindness, etc.

 

On the other hand, there is the stallion, which is extraordinary in three or four of these realms, but can be abysmal in many others. It is almost like God said: “If I give you an exceptional talent, it is a zero-sum character game and for every great trait, there is an offset of weak traits.” History has shown that extraordinary talent often comes with significant quirks.

Because the stallion is stroked for their numerical accomplishments, they are uninterested in working on their weak points. They tend to be extremely difficult to coach, and often are in denial that the weaknesses are important to correct, or worse yet, even […]

By |February 20th, 2017|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Indelible Christmas

 

This last month I received a request from the National Archives Foundation asking me to write down some experiences from my tour of duty in Vietnam combat. Apparently, this is a national effort to gather the stories before they are lost in a disappearing generation. I have dozens of memoirs from my tour of duty, but here I’ve chosen to recall these two, because they describe how fragile life can be.

I served on the front lines of combat in Viet Nam and, in retrospect; Christmas Eve 1970 was the most formative and life-challenging month of my life. It was the first day of the so-called “Christmas truce.”

U.S. soldiers in field operations hated the Christmas Cease Fire truce that was about to start on December 24th at 10pm and go through New Year’s Day. The Christmas truce concept during war, dating from WWI, was created by Christian countries without considering that it made no sense to the non-Christian enemy we were fighting in 1965-1973. The truce was negotiated that both sides would stop all maneuvers and shooting at each other for six days. The U.S. politicians thought is was a great symbolic idea, but the enemy thought of it as an opportunity with one-sided rules of engagement intentions.

Throughout the Viet Nam war, that “Christmas truce” ended up being a most harrowing week for our troops in the field of combat­, and a chance for the enemy to take advantage of static U.S. field positions. In this war, the Americans owned the day with firepower and the Vietnamese owned the nights with surprise and ambush. Successful night ambushes from the enemy were set up by probes and exploration to understand weak spots in our defenses. That took […]

By |December 16th, 2016|Career Lessons|2 Comments