Alternative Facts in Leadership

Be Respectful Respect Thought leadership

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Key Point: This is a blog on leadership objectivity/transparency and not intended to be a political editorial. 

I recall sitting and having a glass of wine with Marshall Goldsmith, widely acclaimed as one of the most prominent executive coaches in the world. He has been in the boardroom and private offices of the many of the world’s most powerful CEOs. I asked Marshall about his years of observation regarding how CEOs (and ultimately their organizations) get in trouble. He responded without hesitation… “Number one issue is ego. When they start making almost everything about them, and their ego is at the front of decision making, they risk losing objectivity, and worse they surround themselves with people that feed that ego and its version of the truth.”

Imagine a CEO who stands at a company meeting and gives a rousing speech about the strength of their customer service. He declares: “We are the greatest customer service organization in the world. Let me read you some statements from super satisfied customers.” He does, and then asks the audience of employees, “who here knows and believes we are the greatest customer service company ever?” The audience roars and stomps its feet with approval. The CEO, with magnetic charm, charisma, strength of conviction, then piles back into his limousine and asks his loyal staff… “How did I do?” “Oh boss you were friggin’ awesome!” High fives all around.

Now, let’s say the following is the real story: Data and facts show that the company’s customer churn is the highest it’s ever been. Furthermore, customer acquisition is falling off too. However, the last marketing executive who shared that information with the CEO got unceremoniously fired. The CEO’s perspective was that he needed a marketing leader who was with him. He wanted different or “alternative” facts. So sure enough, the new marketing leader showed the CEO a different story. The customers leaving were “not that important…” “Those lost customers were primarily due to just one bad product; a blip.” “Boss, I’m here to tell you that we are and always will be the greatest customer service company in the world.” The CEO is now assured that his beliefs are right. And everyone around the big boss knows the one thing they must do to survive is to tell him what he wants to hear to confirm his beliefs. Truth and objectivity are left behind. This situation and type of environment will ultimately lead to a very bad outcome. Regardless of what anyone wants to believe or hope for, customer churn, and loss, is the worst in the history of the company and fewer customers are joining. So somewhere, sometime the truth will emerge in some very undeniable fashion. Reality will eventually define truth.

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been mesmerized watching President Donald Trump through a leadership lens. And putting policy and political principles aside, I am most alarmed by his approach to truth, transparency and objectivity. It’s one thing to bluster and shade facts as the CEO of a real estate company one privately owns. However, when you have arguably the biggest “CEO” (President) of a massive public organization (U.S. government); facts, truth and transparency are vital. PolitiFact scrutinized 365 specific claims by Mr. Trump and found that 2/3 were “mostly false,” “false” and 62 of them “pants on fire false.” The Washington Post found that Trump had made 24 false or misleading statements in his first seven days. Deception and flat out B.S. is worrisome to say the least. What is more troubling, however, is what happens to anyone wanting to point out the facts that may show a different view. If it’s the press, they’re intentionally vilified. (In fact in the world’s worst dictatorships those people of different views end up incarcerated at best, or disappear at worst). I feel sorry for the employees of The National Park Service for showing actual pictures of attendance at the President’s inauguration. They were instructed to search for pictures that confirmed Mr. Trumps claim; that his was the most attended presidential inauguration ever. When a leader sees what he wants to see and nothing else, it’s eventually going to result in a major disaster. It’s not if, but when. Consider this exact quote from Mr. Trump when asked about whether he should feel concerned about his unproven views of wide spread voter fraud: “Not at all because many people feel the same way I do.” Hmm…

Character Moves:

  1. Demand truth, transparency and unvarnished facts/data from our leaders and us. Opinion matters, and facts matter more. 
  1. We advance when we recognize that viewpoints are exactly that… One point of view… Only one. And healthy dialogue and disagreement moves us forward. It’s fighting well and listening well that advances us toward a mutually desired future state. And cognitive diversity is way more important than simple identity diversity (left or right, brown or white, etc). And fighting for then facts and truth really matters; especially when they are not in line with our wishes or belief. That is how we really grow and improve and become richer in the most important way. That makes all of us great… Again, and again. 
  1. Be wary of the egomaniac leader. They often are more interested in being right than doing the right thing. 

 No alternative facts in the Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: There’s a LOT of chatter about facts these days. Here’s a fact: I agree with all of the Character Moves whole-heartedly. Also, I think this humorous Instagram post from a comedian I follow is a deep breath (and perhaps a chuckle) that we can contemplate.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 6.30.56 PMThat’s all I have to say about that.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Don’t Be a Lonely Loner!

Accountability Personal leadership Self-improvement

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Key Point: Our commitment to continuous self-learning is fundamental to the depth and progress of our personal development. But self-learning is not just an individual process. We all can accelerate our personal learning from intentionally embracing others as coaches and teachers. Even the biggest CEOs, by most measures at the top of a career ladder, can benefit from coaching. In fact the very best ones I know are relentless at trying to “get better” by relying on feedback and guidance from others. See the following:

“It’s lonely at the top” appears to be truer than ever, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and The Miles Group. Nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, and almost half of senior executives are not receiving any either, the survey reveals.

“What’s interesting is that nearly 100 percent of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, so there is real opportunity for companies to fill in that gap,” says David F. Larcker, who led the research team and is James Irvin Miller Professor of Accounting and Morgan Stanley Director of CLDR at Stanford GSB.

“Given how vitally important it is for the CEO to be getting the best possible counsel, independent of their board, in order to maintain the health of the corporation, it’s concerning that so many of them are ‘going it alone,’” says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group. “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.”

Wow! 2/3 of CEOs do NOT get coaching and 1/2 of senior executives don’t either. This resonates with my experience and I can attest that most so called company “performance management “processes are weak, bureaucratic, and often demotivating systems. It is not only lonely at the top. People at ALL levels are often “lonely” for meaningful feedback and coaching. What can we do about it?

Character Moves:

  1. Do not wait or depend on the normal top down coaching from your boss. If you have a great leader that deeply cares about you and has the skills to coach you on both competence (job skill) and behavioral (emotional/social) levels, enjoy the ride. The next boss may not measure up. So commit to building and adding your own personal development system to supplement the on going organization experience. Do you have a coaching system to help you? Or are you going it alone?
  2. Consider the following or some combination there of: A. Find three or four diverse people you really want to learn from and invest in them so they will invest in you. This doesn’t have to be a big formal process but it needs to be intentional. Ask lots of key questions and really listen to their insights. (Keep a journal if you can build the habit). B. If you can afford it, invest in a life/career personal coach. The best are certified and have great references. If you can invest in a personal fitness trainer you might do the same for your personal development. As an example, check out Trent Pearce. C. Try the simple feed forward process the renowned CEO coach, Marshall Goldsmith, espouses: Ask three or four respected colleagues to help you identify just one or two things you might do to improve. Pick one challenge and get progress feedback. As an example, I know one leader who, after applying a similar process, is going to really work at asking more questions in meetings before weighing in with opinions. Focusing and working at that one small but important thing will make her much more effective as a listener and leader.

Not alone in the Triangle,

Lorne

 

Please… Just Shut Up!

Be Respectful Contribution Respect Self-improvement

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Key Point: It takes quiet confidence to know when not to say anything. This is a personal struggle for me. I have lots of opportunity for on-going personal development and one area requiring priority attention is learning to become more discriminate when, where and how much I talk. Frankly, I think I’m a reasonably effective listener and communicator. I’m not someone who typically talks over people, dominates conversations, or is sloppy in choice of words. I also usually ask quite good listening questions. But the more senior one gets, the more they have to be highly efficient when taking up airtime. And I have to give this serious attention now. Why? 

The people in my current environment are, for the most part, highly accomplished and smart people. They listen and are quick on the uptake. The most precious commodity they have is time and how well it’s used. And as people get more advanced in their application of that resource, more self aware of the energy they have and want to expend, they put extra value on efficient conversation; especially in business settings. The old adage that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” is sage advice.

Board members are particularly sensitive to this matter. Their wrinkles and grey hair are usually earned through thousands of meetings and group activities. And contrary to the belief of many, it is NOT disagreement and a well-served debate that typically annoys them. In fact, they often relish the contribution of constructive conflict if it results in better decision making. They actually MOST detest repetition of agreement and/or people who fill a vacuum of space, adding no value. Sometimes these two mistakes go together and for confident, successful people, this can feel like fingers scratching on a blackboard. I may be guilty of that “blackboard scratch sometimes, and I am in a role where even one time is too many. I have to apply the following character moves and I will!

Character Moves:

  1. Evaluate where you are on the “value talk” scale. Do you know? If you have some work to do on this, try some FeedForward practice Marshall Goldsmith coaches top execs how to use. Here is how it works: A. Find three to five people who are key stakeholders in your sphere and tell them, “I want to add more value and be more efficient when I talk.” Ask if they would be fellow travelers in your journey to get better. B. During a brief (10 to 15 min one-on-one conversation) ask for two suggestions from these chosen “coaches” that might help you improve on this in the future. No feedback on the past is allowed; only what might work in the future. We’re focusing forward, not looking backward. C. Listen attentively to the suggestions. Do not critique or make ANY comment on the feedback. Just thank the participants for their ideas and recommended action. (The person giving you the recommendations should simply say, “you’re welcome,” after your discussion. Nothing more needs to be added by them or you).
  2. Take the suggestions given, develop your own action plan and seriously practice working on the area you want to improve on.
  3. Over the next 12 months briefly check in with your selected coaches and ask them for continued forward-looking suggestions. If you are improving they will typically let you know.
  4. Remember that it is successful people who have the self-honesty, courage and tenacity to want to relentlessly improve. At the same time we are not in the business of being perfect.
  5. Ask yourself every day. “Did I do my best today to _____?”

Do the above and you and I will improve. The process works because it is about you and me. And as Marshall Goldsmith humbly admits, coaches are only as good as their students.

The confidence to be quiet in The Triangle,

Lorne Rubis

 

Who Writes 30,000 Hand Written Notes?

Abundance Be Abundant Gratitude Recognition

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Key Point: I was recently at a leadership conference. The speaker asked the attendees, an executive crowd of about 500, to raise their hand if they “needed recognition or acknowledgement for their work?” A few brave but sheepish souls put their arms in the air. The same presenter then asked the audience to raise their hands if they “found themselves doing their best work when recognized and encouraged?” And you guessed it; almost the entire conference raised their arms without any hesitation. The leadership expert on stage happened to be Santa Clara professor Jim Kouzes, co- author of the million plus bestseller The Leadership Challenge. He then quipped, with a little smirk, “So obviously regardless of whether you put your hand up in response to the first question, we all need encouragement and recognition. Get over it.”

The individual who personally wrote an estimated 30,000 hand written notes is recently retired CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant. Can you imagine the habit system he employed and his deeply held belief and routine regarding abundance and recognition? By the way Conant was no “cream puff,” he completely reinvented a tired and underperforming Campbell’s by focusing on establishing a renewed culture (including replacing 300 of the top 350 leaders). The following is an excerpt from an interview in August 2012’s Sloan Management Review.

“Ten to twenty personal notes a day! How did you choose who to write to?

Conant actively engaged staff in CSR with his practice of writing 10 to 20 personal notes to employees every day.

“Well, I had access to our portal and I would see all the things going right in the company. With the aid of a staff member, I would pick about 10 to 20 things every day and I would hand write a note to the person saying, ‘Thanks for the help. I understand we’re ahead of schedule. Nice job.’ Over the course of my career I sent out about 30,000 personal notes, and we only had 20,000 employees.

So I was personally connecting with them, and as I would send notes to them, it created a platform where they would send notes back to me. We sort of naturally had this unique dialogue that could be hand written or via email, where employees would start sending me things.”

Character Move:

  1. Develop a habit system to give recognition. Ok, you probably don’t have a staff member that can pick 10 to 20 notable things every day for you to acknowledge. But without an assistant, I know you can identify one thing someone does that is worthy of positively reinforcing. Send that personal hand written note, leave them a voice mail, or an email, etc. The medium is less important than the specific behavior you’re reinforcing. Just friggin do it!
  2. At the end of each day, ask yourself this active question: “Did I do my best today to encourage, acknowledge and demonstrate genuine care for someone in my work organization AND family/friends?” Answer this every day and I guarantee you will become a more abundant leader, friend, dad, husband, etc.

[Ed. Note: As you spend time on my blog, I will bring you the best of learning from both research driven results and experiential leadership. Conant’s 30,000 notes references 12 years of success from a top CEO who achieved real turn around results; financial and otherwise. The end of day active question recommendation in the Character Move above, is based on both Marshall Goldsmith and Jim Kouzes work; two of the top leadership consultants in the world.]

Daily recognition in The Triangle,

Lorne

 

Did You Do Your Best to…?

Accountability Be Accountable Choice Self-improvement

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Key Point: Let’s say you are on a flight and two flight attendants are serving you. One is full of amenity and joy, while the other is grumpy and treats you like you’re an imposition. Why? It’s essentially the same environment for both flight attendants. Or lets say you’re coaching two leaders. Using the same process with each, one excels and the other gives up. Why? Not surprisingly, the key difference is in the distinct approach of the individuals. There are two distinguishing characteristics that revolve around 1. Their mindsets, and 2. The questions they ask themselves to drive self-development.

1. Mindset is the discovery of world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck based on decades of research on achievement and success. It’s a simple idea that makes a huge difference. I have written about the importance of having a growth mindset before.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success, without effort. Dweck points out they’re wrong. A lot of Olympic athletes would confirm this assertion.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

2. The questions you ask yourself are more powerful and influential in driving self-development when they are active versus passive. As an example, “did you do your best to be happy today?” is an active question. “Are you happy today?” is a passive question. When we ask ourselves and answer active questions, we are more likely to learn and self develop. When we ask passive questions we can get seduced into relying on the environment to improve as a condition for us improving. (I referred to this in a past blog about my experience having a drink with super management guru Marshall Goldsmith). He’s continuing to do important research to further assess the validity of this premise.

Character Move:

  1. Honestly examine how much you have a growth mindset. Go to MindSet to test it. Work to nourish that growth mindset.
  2. Ask yourself the following core questions everyday. Did I do my best to be happy today? Did I do my best to live my life with meaning today? Did I do my best to improve relationships today?
  3. Add some additional “did I do my best?” questions that are personally most meaningful to you.
  4. Take action based on the answers to your questions and stay true to asking and following up on the answers everyday.

An active growth mindset in The Triangle,

Lorne