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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Results Matter

Nancy McKinstry is the ceo and chairwoman of the executive board of Wolters Kluwer. She talks about leadership in this interview with the New York Times:

'Q. What leadership lessons have you learned?

A. The first thing that I learned was results matter. At the end of the day, no matter how much somebody respects your intellect or your capabilities or how much they like you, in the end it is all about results in the business context. You have to be able to demonstrate that you have proven you can drive something forward. So when I talk to my team, I use a football metaphor — every day, we have to come in and advance the ball.

The second thing is that you have to have a direction for a business. How can you possibly motivate somebody to work hard and sacrifice time with their family, etc., if they don’t have an understanding of where you’re trying to go? So I believe very strongly in setting a direction for the business, creating the plan, and really allowing people the opportunity to get engaged around that.'

For more, see - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/business/13corner.html?ref=business


'To laugh often and love much; to win the resepect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded.' 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

High Altitude Leadership

“There exists a rare and special breed of leaders who…are constantly pushing past current leadership trends in order to achieve…extremely challenging goals. We call these people high altitude leaders.” High Altitude Leadership

High Altitude Leadership: What the World's Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success introduces a new approach to leadership, a concept called high altitude leadership. Written by experienced climber and entrepreneur Chris Warner and accomplished leadership consultant Don Schmincke, the book discusses the relationship between mountain climbing and leadership development.

Warner and Schmincke describe the “high altitude leader” as a person who recognises and survives eight dangers that emerge when leading a team to high levels of performance. The eight dangers include fear, selfishness, tool seduction, arrogance, lone heroism, cowardice, comfort and gravity. Each fear is described through a mountaineering story, complete with life-or-death circumstances. Warner and Schmincke then compare these dangers to similar dangers that occur in the business world. The authors discuss that in leadership, as well as in climbing, the higher altitudes you reach the greater the challenges become.

High Altitude Leadership initially addresses the fear of death as a main danger in leadership. Warner and Schmincke agree that leadership responsibilities can be difficult and dangerous. In both the world of mountaineering and the business world, many people let fear control actions which ultimately leads to failure. According to the book, “acting decisively in the face of great fear triggers the actions needed for success.” High altitude leaders embrace the death of projects, goals, careers, teams and companies to become an effective leader and increase profit.

Sometimes selfishness also destroys the possibility of profits within companies. This danger can weaken the culture within an organisation. The authors advise leaders to overcome this selfishness through a “compelling saga”; actions that inspire passion for a strategic focus. At times, high altitude leaders must accomplish this “compelling saga” without the necessary tools. The section about tool seduction discusses the inevitable breaking or failing of tools that leaders often rely on. In other words, the authors state that people are “seduced” by these tools and often disappointed when they do not work. The authors agree tools can be useful at times, however, high altitude leaders should adapt the tools to the organisation rather than the other way around.

The authors provide a positive perspective about humility. Warner and Schmincke approach humility as a simple cure for arrogance within a business community. They believe humility strengthens a business and produces growth. However, high altitude leaders cannot allow this humility to cause ego-driven individuals or selfish heroism. To treat the effects of this lone heroism, the authors suggest creating partnerships to leverage the strengths of many. High altitude leaders must not allow partnerships to create cowardice, because it would show weakness in a team. The authors suggest using bravery as a tool to defeat cowardice; for example, always telling the truth and not feeling shameful.

People tend to commit to tasks when they feel comfortable, and according to Warner and Schmincke this comfort is not always a good thing. “Great achievements sometimes require enduring extreme discomfort.” High altitude leaders must persevere through difficult times, and remain alert for signs of too much comfort. Equally important is the ability for leaders to remain aware that failures can occur. “Gravity” emerges in business environments as an uncertain and often catastrophic event. A high altitude leader allows luck to take control of the situation and does not fear failure. The leader must remain open to new experiences and expect success in all cases.

Warner and Schmincke address the dangers of leadership and methods of defeat to provide a basis for leadership. According to the authors, “how you respond in the face of real dangers defines you as a leader.” Remaining alert of the danger that can occur and consistently challenging these dangers is what makes one a high altitude leader.

High altitude leadership focuses on the essential role of teams. It emphasises the fact that whether you are leading a team on a mountain or on a project, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. High altitude leadership proves that highly focused teams that are confidently rooted in one vision are able to defeat the inevitable eight dangers. This defeat ultimately leads to greater success. In addition, it recognises that leaders are made by the circumstances they encounter.

Not only does this leadership theory examine the dangers that are inevitable with leadership, it provides a basis of leadership that many organisations are following today. High altitude leadership focuses on the “compelling saga,” a focus that has driven success for many companies. For example, Wal-Mart used a strategic focus when they chose a specific mission for the company; giving “ordinary folks the chance to buy the same things as rich people.” In addition, Nike had a strategic focus to create a brand for every competitive athlete. These leaders aligned the company towards a higher cause, creating a high altitude organisation. Although these companies may not have used the title of a “compelling saga,” there was a saga component that separated these organisations from their competitors. The companies had a specific strategy for high-performance behaviour and succeeded with this approach.

This book is well worth reading!