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

Wing Nuts and Cultural Contribution

Abundance Be Abundant

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Key Point: “You’re a bunch of extraordinary leaders and wing nuts.” That was the comment from a leader in the community I was having breakfast with the other day. She was commenting on the success we’ve had growing a phenomenal culture at ATB Financial. Her view is that members of the senior leadership were individually a bit odd; certainly the CEO and me, if not the rest. I took that as a compliment. It got me thinking about the paradox of being alike, yet different.

Wharton’s top leadership thinker, and best selling author, Adam Grant, notes the following:

Hiring like-minded employees can be unifying and motivating for a startup powered by the momentum of its first, disruptive idea. But a growing body of evidence questions that approach for scaling companies, says Grant. ‘Culture fit’ becomes a proxy for non-boat-rockers whom everyone likes, and feels comfortable around. That way, stagnation lies. Grant prefers ‘cultural contribution.’ ‘Instead of asking, ‘does this person fit our culture?’’ he says, ‘We should be asking, ‘What is missing from our culture, and is this person going to enrich it?’”

I agree with Professor Grant. We do need boat-rockers and people that make us think differently. In my view, I want people to be alike on core values like self-accountability, respect and abundance. However, I also want people who challenge the heck of out of me and others. I consider myself to be a respectful challenger, and yes, a bit of a wing nut. And I hope that makes all of us better.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. When you add to your team or organization, give more serious consideration to cultural contribution. What’s missing? How might this next person enrich it? Consciously seek out the diversity they might bring.
  2. Celebrate your constructive wing nuts. You might even be one.

Wing Nuts in Personal Leadership,

Lorne  

One Millennial View: I’ve certainly heard the theory that commonly makes its way into informal conversation: “There’s something a little ‘off’ about CEOs, political leaders, etc.” Some people suspect Elon Musk isn’t even from this planet. Personally, I do not view this as a negative adjective or descriptor. Various cynics even like to attribute high levels of success to stages of narcissism and autism. Who knows? There might be pieces of truth in all of that. But as Millennials, why would we say this? To me, it sounds like an excuse. Is it because we have big hills to climb and it’s easier to preemptively decide we can’t than put in the work (and possibly fail)? We can seemingly comment “#Goals” when we see a desirable achievement on Instagram, but then what? Rationalize that they must be a psycho for putting too much effort into work, appearance, relationships, etc? I sure hope I can rock the boat by being a wing nut, and I care way more for that idea than joining any like-minded group that cares not to try. 

– 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

 

ALL of Us Can Get Better at This!

Accountability

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Key Point: We all spend time suffering unnecessarily (although understandably), because most of us have such a hard time receiving and giving feedback. Families and organizations swirl in dysfunction based on this reality. 

Just the other day, I was talking to someone about giving important feedback to another. These two people care deeply for each other. Frankly, the person who could benefit from the insight has a blind spot. This individual (feedback receiver) literally can’t see, or is unaware of certain behavior. The biggest trepidation of the feedback giver in this case was the anticipated negative response. Essentially, giving the feedback was perceived to be more painful than allowing the person to continue in ignorance. So, everyone loses to some extent. Why is feedback exchange so hard?

Sheila Heen, “feedback author/ guru,” and Lecturer at Harvard Law, reflects on two core needs: “Human beings are wired to learn and grow. Getting better at something is what makes life satisfying. The other core human need is to be accepted, loved and respected for who we are now, as I am.”

And as my colleague and exec coach Michelle Steil, who teaches this stuff with me, emphasizes: “We require feedback to learn and grow, yet our personal beliefs about providing constructive feedback can create a conflict with our need to feel accepted for who we are.” This partly explains why it’s hard to both give and receive feedback. You also may have heard the term “Amygdala Hijack?” An oversimplified version of what essentially happens when we feel threatened is that our survival-trained brain responds, pumping out hormones that contribute to reactions like fight, flight, freeze and/or appease. So the negative reaction from feedback receivers is a “natural” response (amygdala hijack) at work. So what can we do about this paradox? 

Personal Leadership Moves (As Feedback Receiver):

  1. Put yourself in a position of control by reframing all feedback as an opportunity for you to grow. You can accept the feedback or not. Learn how to simply say “thank you.” Understand the perspective being presented to you. Be curious so you might better understand and give yourself time to determine what you may learn about yourself. Then do something about it. 
  2. Avoid or minimize the amygdala highjack by ASKING for forward feedback first. You can’t do anything about the past. However, you can always ask for one or two things you might do better in the immediate future. YOU are in control. Be a forward moving, always learning, feedback receiver. By acting this way, you make it safer for the feedback giver. 

Personal Leadership Moves (As Feedback Giver):

  1. Make sure the feedback is really about deep care for the receiver (and not about you). Intention and being a loving critic is way more important than style. Feedback giving is sometimes clumsy and messy. 
  2. Have the courage to give. It shows how much you care. Recognize it may not always go well. Yet that’s what loving leaders do. 

Always working on it in Personal Leadership 

– Lorne

One Millennial View: Sounds like a “mind over matter… over mind” situation. Some feedback might not always be the best you’ve ever heard, but be “thankful” for the opportunity to then improve. Speaking of, Happy Thanksgiving!

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis