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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Keeping Criticism of Leaders Positive

A well-worn axiom known to every person who has served on behalf of their country is that "it is a soldier's right to complain."

In recent days, there have been a spat of NFL players who have publicly complained about their coaches, ownership or front offices. Most of these players have done so to get traded. A player in a team sport has every right to voice his opinion, but only if those opinions are presented in a positive, constructive manner with the best interest of the team in mind. This is a form of leadership that is critical for success.

Teams cannot not win with only the leadership of great coaches - they need great players. Every recent team that claims the title "dynasty" in sports history has been led by great individual players who were not afraid to speak their minds, but did so for the good of the team, not themselves personally. These leaders saw ways to make their teammates, coaches and fans better players and people.

These teams include the Patriots, who are led by Tom Brady, Junior Seau and Teddy Bruschi; the Ravens, led by Ray Lewis, Trevor Pryce and Ed Reed; the Broncos, led by John Elway, Steve Atwater, and Rod Smith; and the Cowboys, led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. All of these players earned the right to be leaders with their work ethic, selfless devotion to their organisations and teammates that made those around them play better. Sometimes, criticism is necessary for improvement and calling out defects is necessary. Other times a mere pat on the back or an "attaboy" is all that is required.

The first amendment provides the freedom of all Americans to free speech and opinion. However, in the context of a team, the First Amendment will promote success if the statements are made for the betterment of the collective, and not the ego of the individual. Every player has that right to complain, but in order to succeed in the NFL, it had better be to benefit those around you.

The Tensions Inherent in Good Leadership

There is no recipe for good leadership but it does involve several tensions:

  • Do not claim to know the future but articulate a vision.
  • Understand the politics but remain above them.
  • Respond quickly to situational demands but act to reshape them.
  • Focus relentlessly on task but build team cohesion.
  • Identify with your employees but be prepared to take a step back.
  • Be your authentic self but recognise that you have different, and difficult, roles to play.
For more see: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fc5288e6-f927-11dd-ab7f-000077b07658.html

What kind of leader do we need for 2010?

In 2009, most corporate leaders have kept their focus on survival--shifting their product mixes, cutting costs, reducing stocks, downsizing. Now, as the economists declare that the economy is stabilizing, many leaders are gearing up for 2010 and trying to take a longer view. What they see looks very different from anything in the past. It's sinking in that this mess won't go away fast.

As Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive officer of General Electric, has been saying for months, we are not just riding out the difficult downside of a cyclical business fluctuation. We are facing a fundamental reset of the global economy.

From the tops of corporations on down, people are looking at their colleagues with wary eyes. Every top leader today came into his or her position in a world where growth was a fundamental property of the system. In the last few months, many have realised that they don't honestly know which current leaders are fit to lead in this new, different world. Great leaders are asking themselves and their most trusted advisers, "What of my experience, expertise and success should I keep from my past? What do I need to shed? What new capabilities might I need?"

The unvarnished truth is that leaders today fall into three categories:

Leaders who don't want to. These are people in top jobs who could take the leap and lead in new ways in the new environment but who fundamentally don't care to. They are too close to retirement and too successful. Deep down, they know they don't have the energy and drive to undo many of the things they put in place, things that made them very successful in an earlier world. They are working hard to ride it out for the next few years and collect their pensions.

Leaders who probably can't. These are people who are in important positions of leadership, believe they are great leaders and feel they should still be in the top posts--but they lack the skill, breadth of experience, innovativeness and rigor to change at the pace required by a fundamental reset.

Leaders with a good chance. These are the few who have the skill, curiosity, imagination and determination to change, to let go of their sense of entitlement and their obsolete expertise from a world that has vanished and, with the right support and personal discipline, become leaders who will succeed today and in the future.

Heading into 2010, it should be even more obvious than it was a year ago which of your leaders falls into each category.

Everyone, from board chairman and CEO to line manager, needs to assess the people he or she is counting on to deliver in the future. First ask: Who doesn't want to, who probably can't, and who has a good chance? Then ask what you yourself are doing to make sure that the good-chance leaders get the opportunities and support they need so they can step forward and lead?

Along the way, don't forget to take a careful look to see if your don't-want-to and probably-can't leaders are in a position to block your good-chance ones. If so, move them out of the way, fast.