ABCs of Leadership

Posted on December 19, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: ABCs of Leadership

AUTHENTICITY. How you turn up is more important than what you turn up with. One of life’s biggest challenges is to be ourselves. You can’t be somewhat authentic, part authentic and/or almost authentic. To be authentic is to be “all in.” It’s the gift we give to those we care about. It’s how we validate that we are living our own story. It’s the one thing in life none of us can fake. And it’s the one thing no one can take from us. A life well-lived is rooted in authenticity.

BUILD A GREAT TEAM. Without a great team you can’t win. The best teams think and act like a jazz band. There is an underlying structure to the music but beyond that they love to build on the contribution of each other. Make stretch a way of life. Make truth telling an anthem. Live the values and challenge those who don’t. Keep in mind; a team can never be better than the least committed member.

COLLABORATE. The natural way for our kind to be is to work in tandem with others. The collective enemy of collaboration is hierarchy, boss-ship, unwarranted rules and a performance management process that ensures team members compete against each other. Collaboration takes off when working to build community overwhelms the false sense of security that comes with being part of a tribe; when people are encouraged to paint outside the lines; and when challenging the status quo is the day-to-day established order of things.

DIVERSITY. If everyone on the team looks and sounds the same know that tomorrow will be a replay of today. Stretch, agility, innovation and seeing new possibility are the ongoing rewards of a team that celebrates different backgrounds, varied experience and multiple points of view.

ENGAGEMENT. Retention and engagement are obverse sides of the same coin. Although other factors enter the mix, engagement is, and is always, about the work. Match opportunity with capability. Allow people to shape the nature of their contribution. Learn to listen in the way you want to be listened to. Know, if you can’t coach, you can’t lead! Become a mentor. Have someone under 25 mentor you.

FEEDBACK. Champions thrive on feedback. They need feedback. If you want your most talented team members to update their résumés, starve them of feedback. If you want to extend permission to those who are less than full contributors, starve them of feedback. If you want the team to embrace mediocrity, starve them of feedback. Keep raising the bar. Work to catch people doing it right. Find yourself doing it right.

GET SIMPLE. Being simple isn’t a process, a set of rules or a formula; it’s a state of mind. Strip away everything that is unnecessary. Think simple! Go home with a clean desk. Stop sending out reports that you’re not sure anyone reads and see if anyone complains. Reduce the number of slides in your next presentation by at least half. Share. Involve. Make “power to” more important than PowerPoint.

HIRE PEOPLE WHO LOVE WHAT THEY DO. Hire people who are better than you. Who you hire today defines what is possible tomorrow. Talent acquisition, when all else is stripped away, is about managing risk and thus about “fit.” There are four dimensions of fit: culture (where are we? where do we need to be?), leadership (role-specific competencies), performance (robust scorecard), and team (team assessment). Each dimension of fit is essential. Dig. Measure! When the work to define fit is incomplete the “best” candidate becomes the default option. It’s relatively easy to find the best candidate. Winning is to hire the “right” candidate. The difference is the difference that makes a difference.

INTEGRATION. Hiring success means landing with no surprises. Self-selection is the best interview tool of all. Be candid. Provide the tools to enable the new hire to integrate him/herself. Know that if they don’t land, they won’t stay! Know that if they don’t land, you won’t stay!

JUST SAY “YES.” Leaders who excel work on the assumption that given the chance people will get it right. Get out of the way. Give yourself permission to get out of your own way.

KEEP PEOPLE INFORMED. Leaders are storytellers. Collect best-practice stories. Share those stories whenever the opportunity presents itself. Use social media to push those stories into the middle of the organization. Translate the strategy into story. Make the organization’s meta story central to any and all talent acquisition initiatives. Ensure that the organization’s website echoes to that story. Keep in mind; whilst negative stories may inform, only positive stories inspire.

LEADERSHIP is a privilege that has to be earned every single day. People need (not merely want) four things from a leader: (1) Direction (where are we headed?); (2) the Discipline of Delivery (defined roles, clear goals, ongoing feedback); (3) Development (currency in the job market); and (4) the Day-to-Day Dialogue is based on respect, caring and fairness. If one of these four leadership pillars is missing the leader in question will be found wanting.

MEANING. Doing good always trumps doing well. The only real measure of success is the difference we make in other people’s lives. Stop asking “why?” Start pushing to understand “How?” Give back. Leave a legacy. Leave a lasting legacy.

NOIS A POWERFUL LEADERSHIP WORD. We all want to be liked. It’s easy to say “yes.” Business development is as much about the opportunities you walk away from as from the ones you accept. The acquisition you reject is a platform for success elsewhere. Integrity isn’t simply saying “no”; it’s about how you say “no.” The team leader who vacillates; who lacks the gravitas to convey “no” in a way that leaves no one in doubt; sows the seeds of their own failure. How and when we say “no” is a measure of character.

OUTSIDE-IN. Successful businesses are managed from the outside-in. The unfolding social, political and economic context must, of necessity, provide the backcloth for even the most rudimentary strategy. Conversely, successful people manage their lives from the inside-out. They strive to understand what their personal priorities are and anticipate what it will feel like when they have achieved those goals. In doing so – we motivate ourselves.

PERSEVERANCE. The race rarely goes to the swift or those blessed with the greatest gifts. The person standing on the winner’s podium is invariably the one with the greatest commitment; the person who didn’t give up; the individual who practiced the most. Don’t wait to be instructed. Read. Learn by doing. Practice. Mastery flows to those with passion.

QUESTIONS ARE THE GATEWAY TO ALL LEARNING. A great question asks for what we want; not what we don’t want. When we are at one with the work; when we are in the moment; when we learn to be still … the right question emerges. When we pose breakthrough questions of others – then we start to ask great questions of ourselves.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. People don’t resist change; they hold back when they either don’t trust or respect the person with the baton. People don’t resist change; they are rightly less than enthusiastic, however, about suggested change that they don’t have the opportunity to be part of. People don’t resist change, but are quickly derailed by self-serving language. Language isn’t important; it’s everything. When people hear the word “change” what they really hear is “more work.” When they hear the term “culture change” what they really hear is “a lot more work.” “Shape,” “redefine,” “move in a new direction,” “take to the next level” convey the same thing without triggering a negative response. That said, know that if you don’t manage culture … it will surely manage you. What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.

SELLING. How you make people feel is far more important than what you think they need to know. A successful outcome is the best business development tool there is. Engaging as it may be, at the end of the day, the client doesn’t want a better mousetrap (process); they need to see dead mice! Keep in mind; it takes four or five times the investment to find a new customer/client as it does to keep the one you already work with.

TRUST. There are two forms of trust; what you say and what you imply. It’s the latter that people get wrong. It’s what we imply but don’t follow-up on that first disappoints and then turns off those we need the most. Respect opens a door marked “rapport.” Listening leads to opportunity. Courtesy is the lubricant of trust.

UNDERSTANDING. Before we can understand others, we must first strive to understand ourselves. Know that the leadership of self is the genesis of our path to mastery. Strive to connect with your own “why.”

VISION. Only those who can see what is not there can do what others say cannot be done. Dream! You can’t win big if you don’t dream big.

WHEN YOU BELIEVE IN PEOPLE, REALLY BELIEVE IN THEM … YOU FAN THE FLAMES OF POSSIBILITY. One of the most precious gifts any of us can give is to believe in the person sitting across from us. What we believe is what they will perceive. When we believe in a successful outcome we are taking the first – and most important step – in making it happen.

X-CULTURAL TEAMS ARE BECOMING THE NORM. Be sensitive to the reality that where you were when shapes how you are now. Know that principles such as trust, respect, caring and commitment are universal. Create space for candour. Understand that freedom to disagree doesn’t mean freedom to be disagreeable. Language can bring people together or set them apart. Ensure that words in common use mean the same thing to everyone on the team. Ask each individual on the team how they want feedback. Be loyal. Stick up for those on the team who are different. Be sensitive to religious holidays. Like a master carpenter, work with the grain… not against the grain.

YOU STARVE THE TEAM OF OXYGEN IF YOU IGNORE THE ROLE OF HUMOUR. Like its first cousin optimism, humour offers a new perspective. Humour both removes barriers and builds bridges. The right humour is the light switch in a dark room. It changes the level of energy in the group. It pricks the presumption of the pompous. And it draws out the disappointment of the disillusioned. But it has to be the right humour. Humour that works takes account of context, content and character of the listener. Know that a team lacking humour is easily derailed.

ZOOM IN ON THAT WHICH IS TRULY IMPORTANT. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Work on what you can. When the river is in full flood it is not the time to reach for an unfamiliar paddle. Winning is about FOCUS. FOCUS.

Leaders Leave a Legacy

Posted on November 14, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: Leaders leave a legacy

In what amounts to a sad irony, a tree planted to celebrate the life of Beatle, George Harrison, was destroyed by, of all things, beetles. George died in 2001. He was only 58. Planted three years after his death, the twelve-foot tree in Griffith Observatory gardens, Los Angeles, had to be torn out. Below the tree was a simple plaque: “In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and a gardener.” Not a bad tribute for a working-class kid from Liverpool. The beetles, well, they were simply being … beetles. In stealing their name (sort of), perhaps George owed them one.

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The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture

Posted on September 5, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: 7 questions every CEO should ask about culture

Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s Founder – now owned by Amazon – preaches that an organization’s number one priority is culture. Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, says, “It doesn’t matter how good your original product is, if you can’t build a great company around it, the product won’t endure.” When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, in 2014, he told employees that his highest priority was the company’s culture. He refers to culture as “the soul” of the organization. For a great organization, culture isn’t an abstract or vague concept … it’s real … it speaks to people. It’s not a competitive advantage … it’s a competitive imperative.

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Tomorrow’s leadership will be different

Posted on July 4, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: Tomorrow will be different

The Irish elk thrived for over 7,000 years. Its range extended from China to, as the name suggests, Ireland. Standing more than a meter and a half (6.9 feet) at the shoulder and weighing up to 700 kilograms (1,543 pounds), it was, by far, the largest elk around – before or since. What made it truly spectacular though were its antlers at 3.65 metres (12 feet) across. In sexual conquest and in battle, antler size was everything. And then, 11,000 years ago, this magnificent animal went into sharp decline. There are a number of theories to explain its extinction.

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Future-oriented leadership competencies: Today’s talent management lynchpin

Posted on June 14, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: Future-oriented leadership competencies

The second wave of digitalisation – AI; increased globalisation; new entrants to the marketplace; the emerging influence of a millennial workforce; gig employment; political uncertainty; the difficulty of uncovering, let alone attracting, top talent; and the existential threat posed by our lack of action on the environment – all add levels of unprecedented
speed and complexity to the leadership challenge. Life, society, business, technology and business cycles are moving ever faster. Speed of learning becomes the one attribute that separates the winners from the rest. The undeniable conclusion?

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Making talent management work

Posted on November 2, 2017 by John O. Burdett
Article image: Making talent management work

TRANSEARCH Orxestra © author and organisational culture expert Dr John O. Burdett describes ten imperatives that are critical to achieving your talent management agenda, starting with the CEO who must be the organisation’s Chief Talent Officer.

“Talent management is a system, not a series of stand-alone processes.”

No organization can afford to put talent management on the backburner. The loss of experience as the baby-boom generation retires, the overall shortage of talented leaders, the absolute need to engage and retain high-potential employees at every level of the organization, and an environment which demands that organizations continually do more with less, all combine to make talent management a Board-level priority.

How do organizations get it right? What lessons have we learned over the years? In reviewing their own talent management agenda what questions should those at the organization’s helm be asking? What follows are ten talent management imperatives; ten issues that, left unaddressed, put at risk the entire talent management agenda.

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If You’re Not Managing Your Culture, Someone Else Is

Posted on January 30, 2017 by John O. Burdett
If you're not managing your culture someone else it

“The expression ‘change the culture’ is a misnomer. If elements of what you need tomorrow don’t exist today it is virtually impossible to create them.”

Nature offers lessons to us all.  When the wind blows strongest it is the tree with the capability to bend that survives.  Growth based on yesterday’s success, rigidity, strength without agility, may well be acceptable when the sun is shining, but in the midst of a gale they are features that will bring down the sturdiest oak.

We are living in turbulent times. Faced with uncertainty, leaders have a choice:

  1. to complain;
  2. to capitulate;
  3. to contemplate;
  4. to compromise; or
  5. to bring about change.

Change, of course, means taking people with you.  Not so easy when many of those who fill front-line roles carry scar-tissue from the last initiative. Not so easy when the majority of the workforce see change as simply another way to say “more work”. Not so easy when the organisation’s culture is viewed as a mysterious and impenetrable cloud.

When the tempest rages, those who survive and grow are not the most aggressive, the toughest, or even the smartest.  Evolution teaches us that survival lies largely in the capacity to adapt.  Put a different way, your ability to ride out the current storm rests, in no small measure, on the extent to which your organisation has made culture an integral part of the leadership conversation.

Consider the following questions.

  1. When was the last time your team had a truly robust conversation about organisational culture?
  2. To what extent was the most recent hire decision flexed against the culture you need to create?(1)
  3. What are you doing to regularly measure the strength/agility(2) of your organisation’s culture?(3)

If your answers amount to “not recently,” or “very little” then your culture is managing you.  Does it matter? In the worst of times (now) it matters a great deal.

What follows are thoughts and questions that frame the culture conversation.(4) An initial response might well be that we don’t have time to get into this right now. Napoleon offers a different point of view.

When told by one of his Marshals that the French had lost the day, he looked up and said, “That may be so, but there is still enough time to make sure we win tomorrow’s battle.” And there will be a new battle in the morning!

The culture conversation

Culture isn’t an abstract, will-o’-the-wisp sort of thing. It’s real, it lives, and how organisations shape their culture has a profound impact on an organisation’s ability to thrive and survive. Viewed all-too-often as an HR project, when uncertainty becomes the new norm(5) the need for the organisation’s culture to be a top team imperative emerges with full force. The conversation around culture, regardless of where or at what level in the business it takes place, benefits from the following insights:

  • Rule number one: if  you’re not managing your culture someone else is – the competition, the unions, a key supplier, leaders seeking to carry out their own agenda, influential members of the informal organisation. Cultural drift – doing little but at the same time assuming that somehow, magically, the culture will end up where you need it to be – is little more than a mandate for mediocrity. Sadly, it’s where 90% of today’s businesses dwell.(6)  Rule number two: don’t forget rule number one.(7)
  • Leaders live in a goldfish bowl – the higher in the organisation the role, the greater the magnification. No less important – how those at the top behave is far more important than anything that is said or written. By way of example, when top leaders don’t live the organisation’s values, the organisation, essentially, has no values. Misalignment between the espoused values and how the top fifteen people in the organisation behave is to pass by default a critical piece of the cultural puzzle to those with a personal agenda to pursue.
  • No business is an island; culture will change whether you want it to or not. To that end, the culture we need around here must reflect the changing face of society; it must recognise the unfolding global business reality; and it must ring to the sound of the (current and emerging) customer’s voice. The challenge: it’s not enough to build a strong culture, as the recent business and economic turbulence has amplified; sustained performance means also being agile.(8)
  • Although leaders often describe culture as a critical piece of the competitive puzzle, when compared to the investment in strategy those same leaders spend only a small percentage of time on culture. The dilemma: knowing how to have the conversation.
  • In  an unstable world, culture trumps strategy. It’s culture that has primacy. It’s culture that sustains. It’s culture that will be around long after the agreed strategy has been through the shredder. Where the only thing we can say about strategy with confidence is that it will change, thinking based on the presumption that strategy drives culture is, of pragmatic necessity, being replaced by the reality that the culture enables strategy.
  • The expression “change the culture” is a misnomer. If elements of what you need tomorrow don’t exist today it is virtually impossible to create them.
  • When a leader says “we are going to change the culture around here” he/she has stumbled at the first hurdle. The sub-text – “you are the problem” – is a message that everyone in the audience will reject and thus resist. “Shaping” the culture is a far more accurate and respectful form of language.
  • Culture  isn’t about everyone being the same. Culture is a container for diversity. Too much diversity equals chaos. Too little and nothing changes.
  • Few, if any, organisations have only one culture. The challenge becomes to encourage diversity at a local level while, at the same time, build a strong overarching corporate culture. This tight-loose approach to culture – knowing what is truly sacrosanct – is where judgement, wisdom, intuition and a feel for connectivity enter the leadership equation.
  • Even the most determined and aggressive leader cannot reconfigure the culture through fear, threat, edict or censure. How does it happen? An ability to articulate, influence and bring total commitment to “where to from here” is the start of it. Being the change the leader wants to bring about(9) is part of it. But engaging people emotionally is the heart of it. Those who work in and for the organisation are the culture. It’s a constituency that chooses who it wants to follow. In doing so it determines what is possible. Employees don’t so much resist change as they do withdraw support from a leader they don’t believe in.
  • The most important (two) groups in any organisation are (a) those often referred to as “middle- managers” and (b) anyone who interfaces on a day-to-day basis with the customer/client. The first are, literally, the only people in the organisation who can bring about change. The second are the only ones in the organisation who can build sustainable success. Impacting the culture means top leaders must look those who populate these powerful influence groups squarely in the eye and explain with total integrity, why!
  • In any organisation there are two dominant, often conflicting, forces. A way to operate as described by the organisation chart – and the way things really happen.(10) The only day of the week when the formal structure dominates the informal one is when the day in question does not have a “y” in it.(11) Managing the informal organisation is rooted in openness, truth, authenticity and servant leadership. When the way forward rings of self-interest; when leaders decide both the what and the how; when freedom to act is stripped away and/or when those who are impacted by the change aren’t afforded the opportunity to play a role in orchestrating that change, then the status quo is the best outcome possible.
  • Trust is all about delivering on promises made. It’s about the way the change is presented. When people hear about it in the press first, trust is an early casualty. When what is being said isn’t complemented by nuance, rapport, intonation and/or facial expression, people believe what they see, not what they are being told. A smile conveys a message of hope. A frown says you would rather be someplace else. Without trust, little is possible.
  • Inviting those who are impacted to be a full partner in the journey shouldn’t lead to the tyranny of consensus. There are a number of key decisions impacting culture (e.g., mission, values, leadership competencies, structure, and technology) that can, and should, only be taken at the top of the house. Involvement by all means, but don’t let the herd decide.
  • Although a focus on both is essential, climate should not be confused with culture. The former is how people feel about the organisation (employee satisfaction) on any one day. The latter, is what causes them to feel that way. One is software. The other is the operating system. Climate is the flower of the lily floating on the surface on the pond. Culture is symbolised by the roots anchored firmly in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Invaluable as, for example, the ubiquitous engagement survey is, and although elements of culture are almost certainly captured, it should not be assumed that engagement = culture. If issues such as symbolism, speed, structure, systems, storytelling, shared values, candour, brand, history, teamwork, language, metaphor, measurement and mindset are not embraced by the engagement instrument, then a good deal of  what is being described here as “culture” has been overlooked. That people are happy about the ship they are on doesn’t mean it isn’t about to hit an iceberg. Anyone remember the Titanic?
  • Culture isn’t a series of standalone actions. Culture is a system and, as with any system, when we change one element we impact the whole.
  • Culture is story and story is culture. The organisation’s culture comes together and is manifest in the organisation’s story. If you have a great story to tell you had better tell it because no one else is going to. When all is said and done, it’s not organisations that compete – it’s stories. A great story answers four fundamental questions:
  1. What do we believe in?
  2. Where are we headed?
  3. What make us special
  4. What is it we do that makes a difference in people’s lives? (12)
  • Without inspirational leadership little is possible. “Inspire” comes from the Latin spiritus which means to breathe life into.  To lead is to breathe life into the culture every single day. Inspiration shouldn’t be confused with charisma. Inspiration drives us on, charisma draws us in.

∼ ∼ ∼

Three colliding forces fashion today’s (unique) economic and business turmoil. Both the financial meltdown and the business slowdown have been covered extensively by the media.  A third factor has, however, gone largely without comment: cultural complacency.(14) As competitive intensity increases with low wage areas of the world and recognising, for example, that India will soon have more English speakers than the US, facing a Twenty-First Century economy with a 1980s mindset is the business equivalent of trying to hold off a hungry tiger armed only with a broken stick.

Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable enough to dance around the razor-sharp claws of our Asian opponents. Simply put: continued cultural drift sounds out the death knell of our economic prosperity.

When it comes to moulding tomorrow’s business possibility we all want “I” to figure in there somewhere. The problem being, if we ignore culture, if we remain complacent, if we continue to assume strategy provides all the answers, there will be an “I”, but it will be pronounced “Mumbai” and “Shanghai.” John Legend’s song “If You Are Out There”(15) has a line that could well be an anthem for all of us. The future started yesterday and we are already late.

Remember rule number one: if you’re not managing your culture, someone else is. And rule number two…

 

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Footnotes:

  1. This implies that your search provider brings, as needed, culture measurement tools to the table.
  2. See a means to measure both strength and agility in Myth, Magic, Mindset (2008), by the author.
  3. Look for Without Breaking Stride: successfully moving into a new role (2009), by the author.
  4. Taken from Myth, Magic, Mindset (2008).
  5. For “uncertainty” read “new entrants to the market, aggressive growth, acquisition, turnaround, and/or economic disorder generally.”
  6. As reflected by our own research.
  7. Rule number one/rule number two is usually attributed to Warren Buffet.
  8. See StrAgility questionnaire in Myth, Magic, Mindset (2008).
  9. Gandhi.
  10. Culture is found in the conversation that takes place when the boss leaves the room.
  11. Taken from a comment Warren Buffet made about shares he didn’t want to buy.
  12. To what extent does your organisation’s employment brand answer these four questions?
  13. Diversity here is intended to embrace a much wider definition than is traditionally applied.
  14. The evidence is that less than 30% of employees bring their ‘A’ game to work.
  15. From the Evolver album. GOOD Music and Columbia records.