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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Leaders Need To Be Energisers

Harvard Professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells us why 'energy' is such an important dimension of leadership:

'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. Energisers find the positive and run with it. A state government official in a state that doesn't like government overcomes that handicap through her strong positive presence. She dispenses compliments along with support for the community served by her agency, making it seem that she works for them rather than for the government. She greets everyone with the joy generally reserved for a close relative returning from war. I can see sceptics’ eyebrows starting to rise, but judging from her success, people love meeting with her or getting her exclamation-filled emails. She is invited to everything.

The payoffs from stressing the bright side can be considerable. In my new book, SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, I tell the story about how Maurice Levy, CEO of the global marketing company Publicis Groupe, tilted the balance in his company's favour when his firm was one of several suitors for Internet pioneer Digitas. At one point in a long courtship, Digitas hit problems, and the stock collapsed. One of Publicis's major competitors sent Digitas's head an email saying, "Now you are at a price which is affordable, so we should start speaking." Levy sent an email the same day saying, "It's so unfair that you are hurt this way because the parameters remain very good." Levy's positive energy won the prized acquisition.

2. Redefining negatives as positives. Energisers are can-do people. They do not like to stay in negative territory, even when there are things that are genuinely depressing. For example, it might seem a stretch for anyone to call unemployment as "a good time for reflection and redirection while between jobs," but some energisers genuinely stress the minor positive notes in a gloomy symphony. A marketing manager laid off by a company hit hard by the recession saw potential in people he met at a career counselling centre and convinced them that they could start a service business together. He became the energising force for shifting their definition of the situation from negative to an opportunity.

"Positive thinking" and "counting blessings" can sound like naïve clichés. But energisers are not fools. They can be shrewd analysts who know their flaws and listen carefully to critics so that they can keep improving. Studies show that optimists are more likely to listen to negative information than pessimists, because they think they can do something about it. To keep moving through storms, energisers cultivate thick skins that shed negativity like a waterproof raincoat sheds drops of water. They are sometimes discouraged, but never victims.

An entrepreneur who has built numerous businesses and incubated others had a strong personal mission to raise national standards in his industry. He began that quest by meeting individually with the heads of major industry organisations, all of whom told him that he would fail. He nodded politely, asked for a small commitment to one action anyway, just as a test, he said, and went on to the next meeting. Eight or nine meetings later, he was well along on a path everyone had tried to discourage him from taking.

3. Fast response time. Energisers don't dawdle. Energisers don't tell you all the reasons something can't be done. They just get to it. They might take time to deliberate, but they keep the action moving. They are very responsive to emails or phone calls, even if the fast response is that they can't respond yet. This helps them get more done. Because they are so responsive, others go to them for information or connections. In the process, energisers get more information and a bigger personal network, which are the assets necessary for success.

The nice thing about this form of energy is that it is potentially abundant, renewable, and free. The only requirements for energisers are that they stay active, positive, responsive, and on mission. Are you an energiser? '


Leadership Trends for 2010 - If your business isn't looking ahead, you're already behind

Two results from this year's Best Companies for Leadership survey, conducted by Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Hay Group, stood out. First, the Top 20 companies this year are significantly more likely to be primarily focused on "positioning for the future" than other companies.

The behaviour of these companies indicates they believe the recession is over. Their focus is on seizing the initiative as the recovery begins to gather momentum. These companies are innovating new strategies, tactics, and execution and are already working to gain a competitive advantage.

Secondly, there is a revealing shift in what the top companies value in leaders. In last year's programme, the quality that the Top 20 companies valued most in their leaders was execution—the ability of leaders to achieve results through others. This year, the most valued quality is strategic thinking.

Last year's focus on execution was a clear reflection of the turmoil that virtually every business had to deal with. In the teeth of the recession, with workforce reductions and limitations in resources commonplace, forward-looking companies recognised the importance and value of simply maintaining focus and performance with some kind of consistency.

This year's emphasis on strategic thinking suggests that, like an individual recovering from a personal upheaval, businesses today are taking stock: reviewing their options, rethinking their strategies, considering new opportunities and innovations.

As the recession recedes—but with reduced credit resources and different consumer and business buying patterns—companies are shifting their vision from the short to the long term and choosing to move forward with new strategies and initiatives that offer the greatest potential to impact top-line growth.

At the same time that they are shifting focus from short to long term, this year's Best Companies for Leadership are taking a broader view of what's important. The data suggest that the Top 20 companies this year are more likely than other companies to find value in being inclusive, socially responsible, and globally aware in their outlook.

This result reflects recognition on the part of leading companies that they are operating in a complex and every more deeply interconnected global system and that their responsibilities extend beyond achieving short-term returns in shareholder value.


Athletes as Role Models

Why is it that more professional athletes seem to be struggling to maintain one key ingredient in their lives – integrity?

Days of Grace is the memoir of the late pro tennis great Arthur Ashe. The book outlines Ashe’s final years after it was learned he was infected with the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion during a heart bypass operation in 1983. Ashe was able to keep the illness private until 1992. He died in early 1993.

Ashe epitomised integrity, both personally and professionally. What would Arthur Ashe say if he were able to provide insight on some of the latest story lines in professional sports?

How would Ashe react to someone like Michael Vick being given a chance to resurrect his tarnished image in the NFL? It certainly helps that Vick has someone in his corner whose personal integrity parallels that of Ashe. When you listen to Tony Dungy, you see a man who gets it today like Ashe got it then. Dungy and Ashe are examples that integrity can co-exist in professional sports. Does Vick get it? Public opinion is still out.

What would Ashe say to gun-carrying Gilbert Arenas of the NBA's Washington Wizards? Several incidents involving guns and pro athletes in the USA over the past few years have fuelled public perception that some carry handguns around like women carry purses!

What would Ashe think of the soap opera that has become Tiger Woods’ world? It is anybody’s guess how the Woods saga will unfold over the next year. A billion-dollar image is now mired in alleged infidelity with multiple women.

Professional athletes who feel they are above the law or public scrutiny have been around for years in the UK and the USA. In baseball, home run records established by Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds are now tarnished milestones?

More professional athletes need to work on expressions of solid character and less on expressing themselves as a human canvas for tattoo artists. After the career is over nobody will remember their body art. Athletes are remembered for character.