Upside Down Leadership

Accountability Be Accountable

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Key Point: Overall, leadership isn’t getting much better. Even though organizations are spending tons of money on leadership development, statistically we aren’t seeing much leadership improvement. According to a recent HBR article: “70 percent of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65 percent of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related. There is a vast upside to human leadership. As data from McKinsey & Company shows, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32 percent more committed and 46 percent more satisfied with their job and perform 16 percent better.”

The idea that there is a vast upside to human leadership is a head scratcher. I guess somewhere along the road we signed up for inhuman leadership? And 65 percent would forego a raise to see their boss fired? Holy cow! So, how might we rapidly change this so-called inhuman leadership?

Based on 40 plus years of real world experience and leading research, I suggest the following:

  1. Allow employees to transparently rate leaders in confidential ways. The data trend would be your friend, or not. If we used a minimum number of input (10 people?) to openly rate leaders, we would see leadership improve dramatically. The audience is usually right. People have a right to great leaders. Continued poor ratings would require leaders to improve or be replaced.
  2. Expect that every leader should ask for feedback FIRST. Leaders like the ability and even expect to give feedback to direct reports. However, modern research reinforces the value of leaders creating psychologically safer environments, by setting the foundation for meaningful conversations and asking how they might improve first!
  3. Change one-on-one meetings to have leaders ask only two questions: How might I help you? What might I do better to advance our purpose?
  4. Adjust the span of leadership control to a minimum of 20 to 1. Leaders spend too much time “checking up” rather than adding value. Most of the time meetings are for leaders’ need to know and command/control. In more modern systems, leaders are more like gardeners than commanders.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. How are you rated as a leader by your direct reports? Would you be recommended to a friend? Family member? If Uber drivers are rated, shouldn’t you, me and all leaders be too?
  2. Get out in front and ask for feedback first. Say “thank you,” and go forward.

Turning things right side up in personal leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: For Millennials, it seems that the most attractive organizations to work for offer as much autonomy as possible. If a leader doesn’t trust that their employees know how to do their job, then why the heck did they hire them? That said, leaders should also be revered. It’s FUN to have a great leader: A mentor you look up to, a person you want to perform well for, and someone with the ability to give you occasional positive acknowledgment or a kick-in-the-pants if need be. Leaders should strive to be bragged about by their employees at happy hour, not the subject of a “screw them” toast.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Tackle the Hard ‘Nut’ First!

Accountability Be Accountable

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Key Point: The very first thing you should do each morning is tackle the most difficult issue on your agenda. If there is a” fierce conversation,” you need to have it. If you have bad news, share it. If it is something ugly that you hate to do, and/or like to procrastinate on, learn how to get it off your plate immediately.

Today, a very respected colleague of mine shared a great story with more than a hundred new hires about tackling the hardest “nut” first. After he graduated from university, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He explored apprenticing as an auto-mechanic where a wise journeyman taught him the lesson of unscrewing the most difficult “nut” first. (This was when mechanics were not computer scientists and actually fixed cars). The “nut” that was the hardest to get at, toughest to unscrew, etc. was the place to start. Why? When you got that difficult step of the job over first, the rest of the “nuts” come off easier, and the overall job is much more successful. 

In our organization, one of the biggest behavioral disappointments we have is the failure of team members to get back to customers within 24-hours. Especially when these customers have a pending deadline and/or ask for help. In most cases, the primary excuses regarding team members failing to return that call, is the fact that they “have to have a difficult conversation” to move forward. They may have to reject a loan application, call about an overdraft, confirm a bad credit score, ask for more customer information, etc. Therefore, we provide no call back at worst, or a very late one at best. Of course, our customers subsequently get very upset when we don’t meet our commitments. We fail to tackle the “hard nut” first. The same outcome occurs when leaders fail to have difficult conversations with direct reports. Avoidance leads to festering aggravation, and eventually a much bigger problem.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Learn that simple, yet hard approach of getting the toughest issue off of your lap ASAP. Don’t wait. Make it so. It will likely come back to haunt you if you don’t. This sounds easy, but most of us like to do the easy stuff first and push off the tough stuff. It’s understandable, yet problematic.

Tackling the hard “nut” first in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think if there was one skill I wish I could improve on overnight, it would be this. It truly is one of those “simple” things that proves easier said than done. More recently than I care to admit, I now start my day by making my bed. This was something I’d typically put off till later, but it is one of those subtle tasks that lets you achieve something bright and early, and come home to something clean. Of course, making a bed isn’t a hard “nut” by any means, but it does get things cracking.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Employees Have the Right AND Accountability to Expect Great Processes!

Accountability

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Key Point: I was listening to an executive from one of the global, big-name consulting companies the other day. He is in most boardrooms with all the world’s largest banks and other financial service companies. His observation: For the first time, financial service companies have almost the same strategy; to provide profitable financial services from a scalable platform to a customer of ONE. Mass personalization is the nirvana outcome for both businesses and retail customers (think Netflix and Amazon individual customization). However, on a global stage, the competition is crazy intense and increasing. An efficiency ratio of 40 percent may have been the benchmark, and then you find out some competitor is way more productive with 20 percent efficiency, while providing equal or better service. Yikes! And, in spite of recent trends towards national protectionism or thinking that regulation is going to protect inefficiency in markets; well these constraints in the historical sense, are just blips. So what?

If you’re in charge of any group or organization, high performance, execution and getting results is taking on advanced meaning and requiring more elevated leadership. Execution is NOT blindly or simplistically about annual performance reviews, exhorting or inspiring people to greatness, or just getting rid of poor performers and leaders. Nor is it sufficient to only have great technology or processes. It is no longer reasonable to expect sustainable success by relying on any ONE part of an organization system. More than ever, it is necessary to be exceptional in every aspect!

The purpose and value of the company’s business model must be compelling. The organization’s processes are ideally the HEROES in giving customers a memorable experience and commercial entities an attractive financial margin. Of course, employees need to be there to make hero processes really “wow” customers. They need the courage and self-accountability to finally demand that processes must make them look competent in the eyes of the customers. For too long, organizations have been asking employees to cover up and excuse continuous crappy processes. Every year, the same lousy practices persist and too often the explanation from “leaders” is that people just aren’t working hard enough or don’t have the right “DNA.” On the flip side, employees break a process or compensate for inadequate ones and then get rewarded for being the heroes for putting “out the fire” they created. No more.

Personal Leadership Moves:

1. As a leader, demand that the processes you deliver to others make you and teammates look competent, and THEN use people attributes to “wow” and create memorable differentiation. Do not allow yourself to continuously make up for poorly designed/flawed processes. It is not sustainable, and will not lead to high performance and execution.

2. Have the expectation that every part of the organization achieves greatness: People, data, technology, processes, purpose, and valued business models. Any weakness makes you and the company vulnerable. To have a truly great culture, EVERY part hums and creates a lasting symphony.

Heroes in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: It feels lousy to just skate by! You know it, I know it, and everyone feels worse off for doing it. As Millennials, we have an opportunity to train ourselves early in our careers to do our best to make sure the processes we follow are actually keeping ourselves challenged, learning and growing. As well, we have the right and accountability to be proud of processes we are part of.  This blog likes to reiterate, it’s “that easy, and that hard.” But it’s also that much more rewarding.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Wisdom of Chairman of the Board

Resources

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Key Point: Serious directors on boards of significant organizations have so much to teach us. Unfortunately, few of us ever get to observe, let alone participate, on public boards. And the Board Chairs are often most interesting because they have the responsiblity to extract value from both the board and management. To do this effectively requires exceptional IQ, EQ and insight to deftly guide the entity.

This past Friday, we live streamed an interview with the Chair of our Board, Brian Hesje. He is a very respected leader, recognized and admired by impact players in Alberta and throughout North America. For almost 20 years, Mr. Hesje has been at the governance helm of ATB Financial. When he took on that role, ATB, despite in existence for 60 years, was essentially insolvent. Bit by bit, with the steady guidance from Hesje, his board colleagues, and refreshed management, the company is now thriving. During the last 8 years, with Dave Mowat as CEO, the organization is arguably one of the best run companies in Canada. So what lessons did we learn from the reflections of our Chair? The following are just a few important gems that are worthy of consideration by all of us, regardless of what role we have:

  1. “One way to evaluate the value of both directors and management is the degree their driving agenda is determined by what’s best for the organization versus what’s best for them personally. Ego is well governed and the very best leaders are always about doing the right thing rather than just being right.
  2. While the fiduciary responsibility of Board members (in Canada) is about doing what’s best with the entire corporation (all stakeholders and not just the shareholders), the most important thing is to be “people first.” Hesje believes the route to happy customers and an acceptable shareholder return is through employees being at the front of the value line. 
  3. To understand what we have to do improve things for customers is sometimes overworked. Management establishes focus groups, hires consultants etc. However, if we just thoughtfully asked ourselves what makes us happy or unhappy as customers we would know what to do. Just fix the basics first.
  4. The most important product that service companies like ATB have to ‘sell’ is TRUST. Everything must be done to protect the trust between all stakeholders. This means living up to the commitments we make.
  5. Everyone in the organization must be committed to personal growth. Because the institution is made up of the collective mindset, this thinking will drive continuous innovation. No growth, no job, no company.
  6. Have the ability to consciously choose what to keep and improve, versus what to disrupt (eliminate and completely reinvent). Not everything needs to be ‘thrown out.’  Making these choices is the hard work of hard work.”

One attribute that Brian really values is the ability for leaders to think and find the essence of things. Complex problems are not necessarily calling for complex solutions. Rather, the most important contributions are often elegantly simple.

Brian… Thank you for your wisdom and taking the time to share it with all of us.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Take the time to seriously consider Mr. Hesje’s lessons and how they might make you and me better leaders and people.

Wisdom in Personal Leadership

Lorne

One Millennial View: Mr. Hesje sounds like a great man with positive intentions for everyone involved with the company. Sometimes I think Millennials might hear the position of “Chair of our Board,” and immediately invision Darth Vader. Thanks to people like Mr. Hesje, we have a more balanced view of the tremendous responsibility they have to effectively govern.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

How Groups Can Make Fatal Decisions

Accountability

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Key Point: According to Wikipedia, “Groupthink” is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Most of us are familiar with this concept, yet it thrives and will always be a concern regarding the impact on quality decision making within groups. What are the symptoms of Groupthink? According to the people who teach the Directors Education Program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, be aware of the following:

  • “Illusions of invulnerability: Members of the group overemphasize the strength of the group and feel that they are beyond criticism or attack. This symptom leads the group to approve risky actions about which individual members might have serious concerns.
  • Illusions of unanimity: Group members accept consensus prematurely, without testing whether or not all members really agree. Silence is often taken for agreement.
  • Illusions of group morality: Members of the group feel that it is “right” and above reproach by outside members. Thus, members feel no need to debate ethical issues.
  • Stereotyping of the ‘enemy’ as weak, evil, or stupid: Members do not realistically examine their competitors and oversimplify their motives. The stated aims of outside groups or anticipated reactions of outsiders are not considered.
  • Self-censorship by members: Members refuse to communicate concerns by others because of fear of disturbing the consensus.
  • Mind-guarding: Some members take responsibility to ensure that negative feedback does not reach influential group members.
  • Direct pressure: In the unlikely event that a note of caution or concern is interjected, other members quickly respond with pressure to bring the deviant back into line.”

This past weekend I was fortunate to be a student in the Directors Education Program and went through a few exercises that highlighted how seductive groupthink is, even to an experienced group of leaders familiar with its dangers. One business case that we used to refresh ourselves had the same elements and conditions that underscored the tragic explosion of NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger. On Jan 28, 1986, the tenth flight of Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. Investigation of this tragedy revealed that key people recommended the shuttle not fly due to quality concerns with the infamous “O” rings under cold weather conditions. But Groupthink, including almost every symptom above, resulted in the right decision being overruled; with fatal consequences. While most groups we are part of do NOT make life or death decisions, we still need to fiercely guard against Groupthink. This aligns with the principle I often write about: The ability of high performing groups to fight well.

Personal Leadership Moves:

Familiarize yourself with the Guidelines for Avoiding Groupthink (also from the Rotman people).

  1. “Assign the role of the critical evaluator to each group member; encourage the sharing of objections
  2. Avoid, as the leader, clear statements about your preferred alternative.
  3. Create subgroups or subcommittees, each working on the same problem.
  4. Require that members of the group make use of the information available to them through their subordinates, peers and networks.
  5. Invite outside experts to observe and evaluate group process and outcome.
  6. Assign a member to play the devil’s advocate role at each meeting.
  7. Focus on alternative scenarios for the motivation and intentions of competitors.
  8. Once consensus is reached, reexamine the next (but unchosen) alternative, comparing it to the chosen course of action.”

No Groupthink in Personal Leadership

– Lorne

One Millennial View: I’m thrilled this is a subject being touched on. I personally believe we should be way more focused on promoting the “individual” instead of any type of Groupthink. Everything at work can be considered case-by-case, and if we’re too quick to just “Groupthink,” it can be a lazy and over simplified way to problem solve that can clearly lead to big mistakes.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis