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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Becoming an Energiser

Some people become leaders no matter what their chosen path because their positive energy is so uplifting. Even in tough times, they always find a way. They seem to live life on their own terms even when having to comply with someone else's requirements. When they walk into a room, they make it come alive. When they send a message, it feels good to receive it. Their energy makes them magnets attracting other people.

Just plain energy is a neglected dimension of leadership. It is a form of power available to anyone in any circumstances. While inspiration is a long-term proposition, energy is necessary on a daily basis, just to keep going.

Three things characterise the people who are energisers;

1. A relentless focus on the bright side.
2. Redefining negatives as positives.
3. Fast response time. Energisers don't dawdle.
For more on this fascinating theme of leadership see Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter's article in -  http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2009/ca20090929_458961.htm

Leadership is not exclusive - Sporting Lessons

In the best teams, while leadership is important, it is not the exclusive preserve of one person.

The best sports teams will often change their leader or have different leaders for different situations. For example, one player will be in charge of the social aspects of the team, in cricket the batsmen on the field will have to be their own leaders, or the captain may be substituted for tactical reasons. In the Olympic champion British rowing four, Redgrave, Pinsent, Cracknell and Foster, each athlete had a leadership role at a different time. When motivation was needed they deferred to James Cracknell, for technique Tim Foster, pace to Mathew Pinsent and for team tactics Steve Redgrave. For cohesion, organisation, feedback, etc. they went to their coach.

In business it is all too easy to appoint the chairperson, the manager of the team, and load that person with all the leadership responsibilities, no matter what the task of the team. The reality is most of us can handle some kinds of leadership, few of us can handle all kinds of leadership. Starting up a project is a very different matter from turning it around or enlarging it 100-fold. Few of us have all of the leadership skills necessary to achieve all three tasks. We should learn to swap and substitute the way that sports teams do.

Sometimes these things are also ego driven. Think about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who spent a lot of his time sitting on the bench at Manchester United. He would enter the game as a substitute when the team needed a goal and would normally manage to produce the goods. Paul Rendall, a not so well known rugby player sat on the bench for England so often he gained the nickname “judge”, but he was greatly valued by the team and when he did get the chance to play performed extremely well indeed. Substitutes have become a vital tactical element of the team performance and are often referred to as “impact players”, such is their heightened value, rather than the apparently derogatory “sub”. In business wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had people whose role was primarily to lift flagging team spirits or to carry out a specific tactical role against the opposition where a weakness has been spotted?

So make comparisons between business and sport but, unless you want to demoralise your players, choose examples from which the business environment can learn. The next time the whistle blows for the start of play in your office ask yourself if you have the persistence to get the information and make the changes necessary to create world-beating performance.

At the start of the game nobody knows who will win, but those who have worked harder in preparation will have a much better chance.

What can Leaders and Followers expect of each other?

A leader expects a follower:

1. To have the courage to deliver bad news.
2. To have innovative ideas.
3. To do the right thing and trust that it will be noticed (even if the initial impact on the team is negative).
4. To be willing to take the risk of lead initiatives – even when all of the outcomes or issues have not been clearly defined.
5. To take as much interest in their subordinate’s development as they do their own – training, goal setting, and HR reviews.
6. To seek perpetual education and development.
7. To respond positively to all types of business conditions.

A follower can expect a leader:

1. To provide clear direction;
a. Who are we (values)?
b. Where are we going (direction and strategy)?
c. How will we measure success (outcomes and goals)?
d. What do I need to do right now (immediate priorities)?
2. To give frequent, specific and timely feedback.
3. To be decisive and timely – not careless and impetuous, but clear and unambiguous.
4. To be accessible.
5. To demonstrate honesty and candor.
6. To offer a compensation plan that is fair and based on a clearly understood framework.

Leadership Lessons from the Financial Services Market

We are now 12 months on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the downfall on some of the world's major financial institutions.

One of the emerging 'stories' of these failures is about how we manage and lead, or rather don’t manage and lead, our businesses in the 21st Century.

Today, there is far too much of a disconnect between those at the very top of our businesses and the rest. As Lehman's collapse seems to illustrate so well, there is a vacuum between top managers and the rest. If you look back at similar stories over the years (Sumitomo, Barings, Daiwa, Allied Irish, Bank of Montreal), you will find that subsequent investigations blamed the failures on bad management. Take away the world management and replace it with “leadership.”

What do we mean by a “failure of leadership?” Several things. First, look at today’s big business model and compare it with 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1960s and early 1970s most businesses were led by engineers, bankers and chemists. They all had one thing in common – they knew stuff! They had become leaders by accident. Employees worked for them because the boss knew what he was doing. Today, those in top management often have only the slightest idea of what their employees are up to. Now most of business is so complex that we rely on people with finely honed, niche skills. CEO's have been known to boast that their traders were, ‘so clever they create complex financial instruments that none of the top managers can understand.’

Second, is the culture, the climate, of the organisation. Société Générale’s Jerome Kerviel (who had an ability to run up a trading loss in excess of €5 billion) has made it clear in interviews that all he wanted to do was be a big success, make lots of money for his bosses and earn a big bonus. If that is the only culture there is, and if that is all he was judged by, then all the controls in the world will not stop it going wrong. When you have a culture based on profit and little else you are in trouble from day one.

Third, in Kerviel’s case (as in others), bosses quickly distanced themselves from him. There was not the merest hint of support. Then, as it became clear that others may have been involved – and even that there had been three suicides in recent years caused by apparent stress to succeed – the leadership moved further away. The message is clear, ‘we’re cutting you loose, we don’t want to even begin to understand your problems.’ By doing that they have de facto told the rest of the firm, we don’t want to understand anyone else’s problems either. They live in their bubble, disconnected from the rest.

So there are three elements at play here that add up to a failure of leadership. One, an inability to understand what your employees are doing, because of the complexity of the process or service; two the creation and reverence of a culture based on pure profit; third a total lack of leadership support for the people.

The question today is whether a solution exists for these huge, complex organisations. Is there a leadership model they can follow?

The answer is that what is needed is to reconnect senior managers with the people in the business. And this does not mean some HR initiative, no matter how well intentioned. What it means is a real connection that pierces the bubble, implodes the vacuum and puts the organisation together again. This is called leadership. But it MUST come from the leadership and be maintained by them day after day. Do not give this to Human Resources; this is not for them. We do not want people playing at this, we want real commitment. Take our three issues as examples.

One, senior management MUST spend real time with those that make the money, generate the ideas, meet the customers. The new power elite, the traders, IT engineers and biochemists have to be able to talk openly with those at the top. Smart companies of course have done this forever as part of their leadership culture.

Two, there is more to a business than profit at any price. These recent events show that this model is not only bad, it is very expensive too! Change the model, change the culture, be more profitable, long-term.

Three, take responsibility. Real leaders (at all levels) do not run away. In the complex world of big business, a blame culture is just as poisonous as a profit above anything culture. It does not have to be like that. Talk, support, take responsibility; that is real leadership and a lot of our big business needs it today.

And if they do not take this advice? Well, there will be another Lehmans or SocGen and another and another. But it does not have to be that way. If you have poor leadership and a culture based on profit, you will pay the price in the end. Far better a well-led, open culture where effective leadership is the only control you really need.