Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nine Things They Don't Tell you about Leadership

Nine Things They Don't Tell you about Leadership
by Mitch Owen

1. Job Skill is one-third of the success equation.
Knowledge and skill is important, but it equals about 1/3 of the equation for success. Making successful decisions and building strong relationships are just as important.

2. 95 percent of real leadership is in doing the hard work.
Being in the leadership means you get to go to nice meetings and eat wonderful meals.. but the truth is great leaders know.. it is all in doing the hard jobs. Your people remember you most when your there during the tough times. Here is an easy question.. how many funerals and hospitals did you visit this past year? Think about it.. I still remember one of my dad's former football players just because he choose to fly 500 miles and spend a weekend telling me what my dad meant to him. I would follow him anywhere!

3. Everything is not equally important, but everything is very important.
Yes.. it says what it says. Somethings are more important.. One of the toughest job is deciding what is most important and staying focused on that and only that.. and yes.. everyone thinks everything is important, so be prepared to have a few doubters.. especially when you don't value their special projects as most important.

4. Most complex problems are really simple, we just don't like the answer.
Several years ago, an organization I was advising got into financial trouble. The creditors were bang on the door and even threating to foreclose. The President looked at me and said, this is such a complex problem, I am not sure what to do. Truth was, it was a very simple problem.. he just didn't want to face the truth. He had to sell a portion of his business to save the rest. Sure, he could use bankruptcy protection, but the solution was still the same. We did 23 different scenarios showing them the same basic answer.

5. Don’t forget where your taking them.
Much of leadership is making strategic choices where you want to take your team and then staying true that choice. In sports it is easy.. score the most goals, win games.
win a championship, etc.. In life, it is not as simple. In my experiences, leaders have a tough time choosing what their goals will be. When they do choose a single focused goal, they usually do quite well. I am reminding of companies like Southwest.. who transformed an industry by focusing very specifically on things that matter.

6. When you throw your weight around, you usually fall.
One of the toughest dynamic of being a great leader is to exude confidence without being arrogant. No one follows you if they think you don't know what your doing, but no one wants to be around someone who looks and acts like s/he knows it all.

7. In the end.. it is personal
Everyone says that business is business.. it's nothing personal. Truth is, it is personal. Most employees who leave a job, do so because they don't think their boss cares about them. Caring about people is one of the most underused techniques in building teams. Trust me.. we all want our boss to care about us.

8 The rest of the world counts.
Even your enemy's matter in the world of leadership. Don't burn bridges.. don't hurt people when their down. Remember that even strangers matter in the long run. Touch strangers with your endless meaningful little acts of compassion and build friendships. Years from now, one of those strangers might end up being your boss...

9 Failure is necessary to be successful
If you really hope to be successful, you have to fail a time or two. It's true, there is even research to back it up. Not only does it give you humility, it also teaches you how to avoid failure when it really matters. So, if your having a rough year, just think of it as your last year in grad school..

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Six Million Dollar Question

One of my favorite teachers from college was my soil science teacher: Dr. Martini. Although he was my best friend's father and quite entertaining, I think the main reason I grew to like his classes so much was the related to "Six Million Dollar Questions." Dr. Martini would teach in a very engaging style and at points in the lecture.. he would state "This is the six million dollar question.. if you don't know this question, don't even bother to come to class for the test!" Even more astonishing, was the fact that years later, I found that my grasp of soil science is still strong and those six million questions (or answers) made all the difference in my vegetable garden. It wasn't knowing the material that was so crucial to success.. it was knowing the right part of the material.. So, how does this relate to todays leadership challenges...

Today, most of are faced with challenges where there are no Dr. Martinis to lay out the six million dollar questions? We are looking at a large text book of material, having to make decisions on what to do and what not to do... and we often don't have clues as to which of these questions are most important.. and which can be ignored. We are overwhelmed with the hundreds of actions that we could take and we know that we have time for only a few... Let's take a simple problem:

If you offer a product, you should be doing some customer evaluation of that product.. and given what I have seen in my experiences.. most of you have somewhere from 10 to 25 questions your asking.. but is there a six million dollar question? Just one question that will serve you well.. allow you to evaluate a product and move on to decision.. the research says yes: The six million question is:

Would you recommend this product to a friend?

Yes.. all the other questions are helpful.. but asking this one question tells you whether this is a product that will continue to be wanted by your customer.

I would suggest that their are other six million dollar question that we learn from our leadership experiences. Do you have any. I have a buddy who use to tell me this one:

Does creating this rule control 1% of your workforce, while penalizing and limiting the other 99% of your workforce?

Of course.. we have those kind of rules, but the answer is hopefully no in most cases. What are the other six million dollar questions you can ask that will help you move through the complexity of today's leadership? Please share your's so that we all can learn from you experiences!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why Employees Leave!

Leigh Branham has put together a great book on The 7 Hidden Reason Employees Leave!
I recommend it and have found it very useful. What I like best is he targets things many of us could fix, but we just don't have them on our radar. My favorite is Reason 1 - The Job or workplace was not what was expected. Here are some tough questions you might ask yourself:

  1. Do you conduct realistic job previews with every job candidate?
  2. Do you make a significant percentage of your hires from a pool of temps, adjuncts, or part-time workers who already know your workplace?
  3. Do you use employee referrals and hire a significant percentage of these referred potentials?
  4. Do you have realistic job descriptions with a short list of the most critical competencies?
  5. Do you allow candidate's future coworkers to participate in job interviews?
  6. DO you make a significant percentage of hires from a pool of current employees?
  7. Do you build into the interviewing process a way for candidates to gain a "sample" of the on-the-job duties.
  8. Do you survey or interview new hires to find out how to minimize new hire surprises in the future?
That last question is clear that it is not just what has caused someone to leave you in the past... An even more important question you should be asking is what is causing your current employees to think about leaving?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

KAI - Wisdom of Hawaii's Ocean

I have a great little book by Renata Provenzano based on the lessons we can learn from KAI. KAI means ocean in Hawaiian. It is amazing what you can learn about leadership from just appreciating the forces of nature. Here is one of my favorite quotes in the book:

"Personally, the biggest lesson from our ocean is to respect it. Waves are more powerful and predictable than I am. They can come up and wipe you out instantly. We need to respect nature because it's so much more powerful than we are. If you're going to go into its environment you need to walk lightly first and learn from it. There's no way you can fight it, no way you can take it on. It can be calm and still one moment and then it can be growling and nasty. I've been in both situations many times."

- Kiki Hugho, Pilot Boat Captain, Outrigger Canoe Paddler, Hokule'a Crew Member, Ocean Man, Mystic, O'ahu.

Whats the leadership message. Think of the last time you joined a team where you were new but everyone else had been together for awhile. The culture and rules for operating are the KAI.. they are powerful and can wipe you out in an instant. Walk lightly at first.. learn the culture of this team you have joined.. and most of all, don't try to impress them with all your knowledge and skill.. less the ocean will rise up and be nasty...

More on KAI later.. especially on "Eddie would go!"

Monday, September 17, 2007

Patrick Lencioni's Dysfunctions of Team - Pillars of Success

I have used Patrick Lencioni's model of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team to great success in helping young leaders understand the challenges of bringing a team together. Lencioni's book starts by stressing the five critical dysfunctions that teams have to avoid and presents them in a hierarchical fashion.

Using Lencioni's model, we can say that:
  1. Teams have to begin by building trust in each other and the leader.
  2. Then you must have a team that can discuss conflict openly.
  3. The third pillar is for everyone to be fully committed.
  4. The forth is the need for everyone to accept accountability for their role.
  5. Finally, there has to be an attention to getting results.
I take groups through the positive side of that model.. So I call it:

The Five Pillars of a Strong Team.

While I still think very highly of Lenconi's model and will continue to teach it, I still feel it can be enhanced further. In teaching this, I have often noticed that the first two seem to have so much more impact on learners. I have recently been toying with how I might improve on the final three pillars. With that in mind, I would love your input on the following variation on Lencioni's model:

  1. The first pillar to team success is to create an environment trust. The lack of trust in the team can derail them regardless of whether the other pillars are in place.
  2. The second pillar is a open environment where all can share their views without fear of conflict. I teach this as a environment that is interested in learning about both sides of every decision. This pillar is fully grounded in the Learning Organization movement.
  3. The third pillar relates to how significant is the cause. Lencoini's stresses that team members have to be committed to the cause. This is true, but more significant in this is the significance of the cause. The more significant they view the cause, the greater their commitment will be. For this reason, I have changed this pillar to "Finding a meaningful and greater-than-self outcome to work toward."
  4. The forth pillar based on Lencoini's model is all about taking personal accountability. I have modified it to be "Identifying Your Contribution to Achieving a Meaningful Outcome you could not Achieve Alone."
  5. The fifth pillar is all about measurement. One of the best outcomes of the past 20 years has been the concept of scorecards. Tools that help teams know if they are achieving the outcome they are striving for. Take Toyota.. I am sure they have been gunning to be the biggest car maker for many years.. I am willing to bet that each team in Toyota down to the line where they put the camry together are measuring success toward some outcome. How fast do we put it together, how safe were we this year, how many failures did we have.. all meaningful outcomes for that team. the fifth pillar is still tough to lay out in one sentence.. "Do you seek the truth and aggressively pursue the data that tells you (measure) if your team is on the path to success or failure."
I would love your input. I am still evaluating this approach and I have also begun to wonder if there is a pillar or two missing..

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Are you having a Britney Spears moment?

Everyone is making a big deal out Britney Spears flop at the MTV awards, but ironically I think Britney has it pretty good compared to the rest of us. I am viewing this from a leadership perspective.. and you may say, has he lost his mind, but stick with me.. it will all make sense in the end. Let's agree that Britney did flop.. She was doing what she is suppose to be good at and well.. had a bad day.. week.. or whatever? There is a great leadership lesson in here, and Britney is blessed to have instant feedback.

What happen to Britney, having a bad day is not uncommon. It happens all the time in our organizations. Our leaders all have bad days.. they might give a poor speech or answer a question in a defensive manner. They might try and do a meeting when they have been sick and really come off as a weak leader. All sorts of things can happen and worst.. sometime is not a bad day.. but rather a habit they have. I once had a boss who was fond of stretching stories about his sporting accomplishments. We all knew they were white lies and the impact on the team was to introduce a sort of "make fun of the boss" culture. He never knew what he was doing.. that the very culture he would whine to me about... he actually created.. which is my point.. At least Britney Spears got the message that she flopped. She can go work off a few pounds or starting shopping at a mature girl store. My boss was out of luck.. I was just an young 18 year old kid and wasn't about to tell my boss.. your a clown.. grow up and quit bragging about how great a sports star you were.

One of the greatest failures of leaders is the art of self-deception. It has a profound impact and can literally cause a leader to crash and burn without them even having a clue to what is happening. One of my favorite examples is when a leader things very highly of him or herself.. EGO is just a wonderful vice. The research indicates that these leaders will actually not be able to see their contributions to failures.. actually be blinded to their own weakness.. We all need a little Britney time to keep us humble and help us get beyond our self deception...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Employee Retention - Hiring the Right Fit

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) just published some data that sheds some understanding on employee retention. The first question is "who is ready to work?" Their findings are that the five most important skills for a new employee are:
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Oral Communication
  • Ethics and Social Responsibility
  • Reading Comprehension
You might note that knowledge of a specific field of study did not make the top 5.

The second question relates to retention directly. SHRM asked employees what were the most important things that influence their job satisfaction. The findings in rank order are:
  1. Benefits
  2. Compensation or Pay
  3. Job Security
  4. Flexibility to balance life and work issues
  5. Communication between employees and senior management
  6. Feeling safe in the work environment (up 14% since 2002)
  7. Management recognition of employee job performance
  8. Relationship with immediate supervisor (HR Directors rank this 1st)
  9. Autonomy and independence
  10. Opportunities to use skills and abilities.
The implication is that while the literature has documented that having a positive employee relationship with their supervisor is critical to employee staying on the job, concerns over benefits and good medical care may be actually creating dissatisfaction. The lesson to organizations is to ensure that they do not allow their benefits packages to diminish to a level where they become de-motivators for employees. I was blessed to get to tour the UPS facility in Louisville Ky last month. I was impressed with the mechanics of this huge system of getting all these packages to where they needed to go. But what impressed me the most was UPS's benefit packages.. how they took care of even part-time employees. Well Done UPS! Your employees know what Big Brown Can Do for Them!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pavorotti... One regret I will always have

When I die, which will hopefully be many years from now, I know now that I will die with at least one regret.. I will always regret that I never saw Luciano Pavarotti live in concert. He gave the world music that transcended generations and cultures and he did it with what is the most wonderful voice we may ever hear. I especially like the fact that he could sing Ava Maria.. then turn around and sing with James Brown. He was a gift from the heavens.

The lesson to me is never to put off something that will make a difference in your life. Sure, there are lots of better things to do with my time that concerts, but I do believe this one would have made a profound impact on my view of the world. So, I will take this one off my list of things to do and refocus my efforts on those things that really matter.. like watching a world cup game (cricket or football-soccer)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Leadership: ASU upsets Michigan

I have been pondering what I could say about the huge upset Appalachian State pulled off this pass weekend. It will no doubt go down as one of of the greatest upsets in the history of the game of American college football. What has struck me is the degree of debate that now is found over the question of how good is ASU? This afternoon, I was entertained by emotional debates on my local radio channel over just how good is ASU? Do they deserve to be in the top 15? Are they better than half of the Division I football teams? All good questions, but also a symptom of our culture that may be holding us back as a organizations.

Let me bring it home to your organization with a simple question: How often when someone in your organization receives an award or promotion, do others in the organization talk negatively about them behind their backs. Is there a culture of tearing down those who achieve in your organization. It may be very well human nature for us to explore the question "How Good is that winner?" when we see someone do well. The implication is not good for building a trusting organization. Especially if this question dominates the culture.

The leadership tip! Build a culture of celebrating success in others. Embrace them and park your need to judge how awards are judged. With that said.. Congratulations to ASU! What a wonderful experience for all of us to celebrate your achievement this past weekend!