Category Archives: Leadership Values

Taking Charge: When NOT to Delegate

Somebody once said, “ You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.”

I think this week’s post kind of speaks to that.

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In leadership, one of the things we are always being reminded of is the importance of delegation, and with good reason. It not only ensures an even distribution of work and authority, it also provides important opportunities for individual exploration and growth.  I expect we can all agree on that.

However, there are times when leaders, regardless of their level in an organization, have to rely on their strength of character to call upon the backbone and take charge.

So here are some situations where I think delegation is not an option:

  • When you have to deliver bad news or make a change that you know will not be well received.

Let’s face it, everyone likes to be popular but leadership is not about popularity.  It involves making tough decisions, sometimes decisions that affect jobs and the futures of those who do them. It means not only delivering tough messages personally but also staying around to respond to difficult questions and participating in the process of making hard and sometimes upsetting transitions.

  • When the objectives of an assignment are unclear or people don’t have the tools they need to get the job done.

Delegating an assignment that is not well thought out or does not include the tools necessary for implementation is pretty much guaranteeing failure. And, it does little for the people charged with carrying it out, apart from adding to their frustration level.

It is the leader’s job to ensure clarity around what is to be achieved and to provide the resources necessary to promote success. Turning a concept into an assignment while it is still in its formative stage makes everyone’s job harder.

  • When something goes wrong that affects the entire department or company

So let’s say that things are motoring along nicely in your domain.  People are attending to their responsibilities and you are delegating assignments in accordance with your knowledge of their capabilities. Great.

And then, something goes wrong. Someone makes a big mistake that reverberates beyond your sphere of control, affecting other areas of the organization and its reputation.

While you might have delegated the work assignment, the responsibility for the outcome of it rests with you.  That’s why you get paid the big bucks, as they say. It is your job to find out specifically what went wrong and why.  It is your job to work with the person or people involved in bringing the mistake about and taking whatever corrective action is deemed appropriate. And, you are the one that must be accountable. ‘Nuff said.

  • When you are trying something new and the risk of failure is high

In any enterprise, innovation is crucial to growth and sustainability.  As such, risk is an inherent part of business life.  If a project being contemplated carries with it a high risk/reward ratio, it also requires full involvement by the leader. To some extent, this will mitigate the risk and send the message that, while you asking others to “go where no man has gone before” you will be right there with them, to share in the glory…or the blame.

People often say that leadership is not for the faint of heart.  I have described only four situations where a leader must stand up and be counted.  There are no doubt countless others.

What comes to mind for you?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

In today’s world, we often look for faster ways of getting things done.  The magic of technology makes this possible.  And, there are all kinds of ways to cut through processes when they start getting in the way of progress.  One thing we can never afford to compromise however, is the integrity with which we conduct ourselves.  That’s what this post is about.

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No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honour… Andrew Carnegie

Good leadership relies on our ability to live our lives with courage, strength of character and honesty. It is harder to do than talk about but without it, leaders can’t thrive for any length of time regardless of how skilled they may be otherwise.

There have been many prominent leaders who have risen to great heights only to fall with a severe thud because they have acted solely out of self-interest.  Sadly and frustratingly, there is a lot of evidence of this.

These people have, or are experiencing, the consequences of a kind of self-absorption, that assumes that power gives them a certain exemption from behaving responsibly and honourably.

What they seem to have ignored, or failed to understand, is that the more powerful we become, the greater is our responsibility to others. And, when leaders go awry of honourable actions, the impact of their 
behaviour is felt very deeply by people who have had little, if anything, to do with decisions made on their behalf. At these times, honour is offered as a sacrifice to greed and trust is destroyed.

Trust is one of those things that often takes a long time to build but only a minute to destroy. As such, it is a thing to be treasured and protected. That’s where strength of character comes in, and where telling the truth and keeping promises become vital.

Okay, so we’re all human and who among us has never told a lie? But, the consequences of deception and lies often have a greater impact than we think when we first venture into the realm of the untruth. It is a lesson that most of us learn eventually.

There is a certain arrogance in believing that the rules of the universe apply to everyone but me. And, believe me, there have been times when I have been very arrogant indeed… always with a poor result.

Maybe this is what happens to business leaders who come to believe in their own importance to the exclusion of everything else.

Skill and talent can take us only so far. To travel the rest of the way, we must make sure we bring with us a large measure of honourable intent, concern for the welfare of others and the willingness and courage to do what is right, even when it means giving up something we want very badly.  That’s what makes it so hard.

One of my favourite movies is “Scent of a Woman”.  In it, Al Pacino’s character makes a declaration that speaks to exactly how difficult it is to live a life with integrity…and exactly why it is so necessary.  I offer it here with no intent to infringe copyright but simply to reinforce the movie’s message and my own.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, organizational culture

Attention Leaders: Five Attitudes to Take to work in 2013

Attitude is a big deal.  The way we look at things and the beliefs we hold about them influence what we choose to do and how we choose to behave when we’re doing it.  That’s why I think it’s always a good idea, especially for those who lead, to conduct something of an attitude inventory from time to time.  And, what better time to do it than at the beginning of a New Year?

So, with that in mind, here are five attitudes that I think will be necessary for business leaders to take, in achieving success in 2013 and beyond:

Attitude # 1: Diversity is not a black and white subject   ~ There are a myriad of distinctions between human beings. Leaders who believe that diversity is limited to cultural, ethnic and gender differences must go deeper and wider to make optimal use of the richness in knowledge, thought and experience that exists in their organizations.

For example, organizations in 2013 include people from three generations, each with their own set of experiences and expectations.  Leaders who don’t seek to understand both the benefits this promises and the tension it creates, will be disadvantaged.  More importantly, if they fail to constructively accommodate these differences, they will also fail to create an environment in which people from each generation are willing to do their best work.

The Upshot:  If you look at building a diverse workforce as a nice to do initiative, you are missing the point…and the boat. Making optimal use of available talent brings optimal results and will keep you in the game. That makes valuing diversity a business imperative.

Attitude #2: Communication is only effective if it results in understanding ~ Communication is a huge topic in most organizations.  It, or lack of it, is often pinpointed as the culprit when things go wrong. And yet, so many cling to the idea that because they understand the message they are sending, it is reasonable to assume that those on the receiving end will understand it in the same way.

The Upshot: If you view communication as something that creates understanding, you may also see the wisdom in seeking out and engaging a wider range of communication tools.  And, there are a great many about thanks to the wonders of technology.   This attitude can help to reduce the confusion that comes from  unclear messages and increase potential for greater overall productivity.

Attitude #3: Learning and Training are not synonymous ~ Opportunities to learn are everywhere and yet some leaders continue to believe that if they have a wide array of training programs in their organizations and encourage, or even require, people to attend them, their job is done.  While it would be nice to think that, the truth is, learning doesn’t really happen in a classroom, on a webinar or from a book.  Learning happens when training is applied in real life circumstances. To create learning, you also have to create the culture and environment that welcomes it.

Lots of people who attend classes will come away with new ideas and yet have no place to apply them.  When this happens, the ideas, no matter how good, drift off into the ether.  Also, when people try something new and fail, the response to that failure becomes critical to the learning process.  Too many organizations make punishment the reward for honest mistakes.  When that happens, learning takes a back seat to survival.

The Upshot: If you want people to learn, grow and increase their value to your organization, create a whole learning environment that includes opportunity for application of new skill; a balanced attitude toward failure; genuine recognition of accomplishment and; a well constructed framework for individual accountability.

Attitude #4:  Collaboration is the watchword of the 21st Century ~ In successful organizations, there’s no such thing as a one-man (or woman) band. There’s just far too much going on for a single person to manage successfully. And yet, there are still those who try to keep tight control over everything that goes on around them.

The Upshot:  Taking a collaborative perspective and putting it into practice is hard. It means making the work more important than you.  But, doing so most often reaps better results.  That is reason enough to take a collaborative attitude.

Attitude #5: Vision, values and purpose matter more than rules and policies ~ In every organization, there have to be boundaries.  For instance, legal and ethical boundaries are permanent fixtures in any reputable company and must be strongly enforced.  However, beyond that, encouraging people to contribute their best work relies on the strength of their understanding of, and belief in, your organizational purpose, vision of the future and the values you espouse.

The Upshot:  Leading from vision, values and purpose requires greater focus and discipline than enforcing a set of rules.  However, those who do it successfully create workplaces that attract talented, enthusiastic and committed people. In a world where competition for the best is fierce, that has to be a good thing.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, NOWLeadership, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

Personality vs Character in Leadership

A recent, and much discussed event in the news has started me thinking about the difference between personality and character.   There are perhaps some who have spent little time considering if there even is a difference between them.  Even the Thesaurus on my laptop suggests the word ‘character’ as an acceptable substitute for the word ‘personality’.  But to me, they are quite different.  And, especially if you are a leader, understanding the distinction between them is critically important.

With my strictly layperson’s eye, I see that distinction as this:

Personality refers to our basic nature.  For instance, some of us are extraverted and some introverted.  Some of us are even-tempered, some hotheaded, and so on.  In short, personality mainly consists of those things we inherit genetically.  It dictates our personal preferences and choices. And, it drives our social interaction with others.

Character refers to how we choose to use our inheritance to make our way in the world.  Character is built over time. It comes from living, learning and making mistakes.  It shows up in the decisions we make and the risks we take.  Character measures and tests the strength of our will, our beliefs and our sense of justice.  And it is often a hard taskmaster.

It was W. Somerset Maugham who once said, “ When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character”

I think the same could be said of leaders.  Sometimes, of course we don’t get to choose our leaders. And sometimes we don’t get the leaders we choose. However, we do get to choose the kind of leaders we are going to be. Will we ride on the coat tails of personality, going where the wind blows us?   Or, will we rely on the deep-seated beliefs that form our character to guide us, even if that road is harder… and even if it makes us unpopular?

To many people, the answer will seem obvious.  But, character can be difficult to discern.  It can go for a long time without being publically tested or uncovered and can often be eclipsed by the strength and easy attraction of a winning personality.

So how do we know?  How do we recognize when we are leading from the depths of our character and when we are not?  Under what circumstances would we be able to recognize strength of character in others?

Well, I can think of a few circumstances anyway that would provide some pretty good clues. Like:

In a crisis ~ the measure of any leader becomes most obvious when things go wrong.  It is then when wheat and chaff part company.

In Private ~ If, what leaders say in public differs from what they say in private, on the same subject, that is very telling. Those who change stories to fit the situation cast doubt on the veracity of any of them.

In the Face of Temptation ~ The power that leadership brings can be quite an aphrodisiac.  How leaders choose to use that power will say a lot about them.  The draw of self-interest is ever-present.   The test of character comes when we are faced with the temptation to indulge it.

There are, of course, many situations where character, or lack thereof, is revealed.  Suffice it to say that if we are looking for it, character, can generally be found in close proximity to courage and truthfulness.

So here’s the bottom line for me.  As a leader, while personality will get you in the door, character will ensure you stay there…or not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Four Reasons For Insisting on Civility at Work

A story in The National Post recently caught my eye, about Karen Klein, a woman in Greece New York who, while doing her job as a school bus monitor, was cruelly bullied by a group of seventh grade boys.  To me, this story highlighted, once again, the destructive nature of incivility.

So, what does this story have to do with leadership?  Well, for one thing, if children are not taught the importance of kindness, good manners and respect for others, they grow up and then rudely impose themselves on unsuspecting and undeserving co-workers.  The problem of incivility and bullying simply transfers from the school bus to the workplace. So it could be said that leadership begins at home.

While we all seem to decry bullying, some may believe that civility is a minor consideration at work, especially now when we are pressured by time, having to do more with less and plagued by looming deadlines and demands.   Who has time to be polite?  Who has time to say please and thank you? And, who has time to think about how our behaviour is affecting those around us as long as we’re getting the job done?

Well, I think we have to make time.  In fact, to me, good manners and consideration for others should be embedded in the culture of every organization. Here are at least four reasons why:

Successful collaboration is not possible without it.

Collaboration is a key word in today’s workplace.  When we work together to achieve a common, mutually beneficial goal, it is often the case that impatience will raise its’ ugly head and start goading us into saying things we might not otherwise entertain.  It is at these times when a good dose of civility is required.  Rude and self-indulgent remarks simply get in the way of achieving a satisfactory outcome.  In this context, I like what Wikipedia has to say about civility.  “Civility gives us the means to disagree without being disagreeable” That kind of says it all doesn’t it?

How people treat each other inside the organization will reflect, for good or ill, outside the organization

This just makes good sense.  Those who work in an atmosphere where good manners are the norm will, for the most part respond to their customers and others, in kind.  There’s nothing complicated about that.  And, for some reason it is my guess that customers are more willing to part with their money if they feel they are being treated with respect.

People make their best effort when they feel acknowledged and important

I started my work life in the mailroom of a bank.  My job was to open mail and deliver it to its intended recipients in a department of approximately three hundred people. Many department managers either completely ignored me or made me the unfortunate recipient of rude, bad tempered remarks.   A few however, received their mail with good grace, responding with a well-placed thank you and a smile.  When this happened, I actually felt I was doing something of value.   It was a small gesture but always with a big result and a willingness on my part to do more for those managers who had taken the time to acknowledge my existence, despite my lowly placement on the hierarchical ladder.

Civility is key to building relationships and reputations through Social Media

Today, workplaces extend beyond our walls and borders through technology.  Every day, we send e-mails, text messages and tweets to people, some of whom we have never met face-to-face.  To me, civility is an important part of communicating through this media.   After all, when we say something on e-mail, Facebook or Twitter it is captured forever.  We can’t take it back.  And, it shapes the image we create of ourselves which can either reflect who we really are or cast a shadow over us that is difficult to overcome

Some people might pride themselves in their ability to rattle others with rude behaviour.  They say things like, “This is who I am.  Get used to it”.

But civility is not about who we are.  It is about what we choose to do. And, embedding good manners into an organization’s modus operandi simply makes sense.  It matters.  I think Karen Klein would agree.

What do you think?

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Leadership…What’s Charisma Got To Do With It?

Charisma. It seems to be something we admire in others and wish we had more of in ourselves.  It has drawing power.  When we see it in leaders, that compelling charm inspiring us to listen and follow and emulate, it is easy to envy the apparent ease with which they spin their particular magic.

Charismatic leaders paint the picture of the leader as hero.  These are people who suggest, by their very presence, they can take care of us; cure our ills; make change possible; maybe even be the saviour we have long sought.

In reality, no one can do that single-handedly.  Charisma may deliver the promise of change, growth, fulfillment and even wealth but on its own it will fail in the execution department.  That requires involvement from the rest of us, and a different kind of leadership.

Having said that, let’s face it; having charisma can be very handy.  Can we develop it?  I’m not sure. The word itself comes from the Greek meaning gift.  We know that each of us has gifts.  Not everyone has that particular one.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that what draws us to the charismatic type is not unlike what inspires us to follow leaders with less, um, pizzazz. So from that perspective I think it possible to develop, and use, some of the skills associated with the charismatic personality.

Specifically, here are three traits associated with the charismatic leader that come readily to mind when I think of other, perhaps less charming but equally successful leaders

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Intense focus

These and other elements can indeed be developed even among those of us who have had what Jim Collins describes as a “charisma bypass” because, as he says, charisma is a personality trait and leadership is not about personality.  Here’s what else he has to say.

In my observation, charisma, on its own, tends to burn bright and then burn out. It has a dark side too.  Adolph Hitler had it.  So did The Reverend Jim Jones and Osama bin Laden. All three have had a disastrous impact on humankind. Masses of people, at one time or another, have viewed them with awe, often blindly doing their bidding.  These leaders are people who fed on the hope and despair of others to their own advantage and for their own glorification.  Charisma gave them that opportunity.

So if we strive for anything in leadership, let’s work to transform rather than transfix. Transformational leadership contains an element of charisma but is grounded in a set of high ideals, a solid work ethic and the expectation that all people have the capability to raise themselves up through their own hard work to reach higher ground.

Those who work to transform may share some charismatic traits but differ in these important areas:

They focus on a purpose and vision greater than themselves

Their work is not about them but about something beyond them that serves a greater good.

They engage others in making the vision their own

This comes from the belief that a shared purpose and vision makes the necessity for change clearer and the work it takes to achieve it, more meaningful.

They value learning, creativity and personal growth

Transformational leaders encourage people to challenge what has always been and to explore new possibilities with enthusiasm and without fear.

They carry less mystique and more transparency

To involve everyone in fulfilling the organizational purpose demands a kind of openness that doesn’t exist in an organization whose leader relies solely on the strength of his or her personality to lead.  Mystique may be kind of sexy but it gets in the way of getting the job done.

A lot has been written about charisma.  There are even some articles that attempt to tell you how to become charismatic.  For me, many of them miss the mark, like the one that offers 17 Tips on Becoming a Charismatic Leader. I particularly question the wisdom of number five on that list which states “ think of something pleasant so you appear to be sincere”. Hmmm.

The bottom line for me is that while we are not all favoured with charisma, we do each have the opportunity to develop drawing power by building leadership skill; being open to learning; focusing on something beyond ourselves and; mustering the courage to challenge and change things.

I think if we can do all that, who needs Charisma?

What do you think?

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, motivating & Inspiring

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

I was having a conversation with my son the other day.  We were talking about higher education and business.  At some point, those two conversations, while starting out separately, merged.  I think it was when he told me about a respected business colleague whose strongly held opinions included the notion that philosophy graduates have no place at a corporate boardroom table.  I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since.

It reminded me that in spite of our teetering world economy, we continue to cling to what we consider to be tried and true.  In so many organizations, finance, economics and the pursuit of individual prosperity continue to be the only subjects worthy of respect and concentration.   It used to work.  The business world was the land of bottom lines.  The workforce did what it was told.   The planet was comprised of a collection of unconnected entities.  Their markets did not affect each other that much and so they operated in parallel without much worry about the impact they made on each other.  They drove for profit and the road to get there was pretty straight.

We still want profit and prosperity…of course we do.  But it is a changed world and the route to get there is less evident. That makes leadership more complex than before and the successful leader, a person who must practice both the science and the art of it.   It is not that any one individual must have all of the attributes that today’s leadership demands.   Rather, leaders must have foresight enough to ask those with skills and perspectives different from their own to sit at the decision table with them.

In my mind that includes extending an invitation to the philosopher.

There are many definitions of philosophy.   The simplest one goes like this:   Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental assumptions and beliefs”

As well, its purpose is to, “investigate the nature and causes of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning”.  This latter definition highlights the difference between philosophic reasoning and empirical data that are gained through observation, experience or experiment.  Simply put, the one is many shades of grey and the other, mainly black and white.  While I think we have always needed both disciplines to achieve business success, in today’s world there seem to be more grey areas than black and white.  And so, those who are skilled in navigating in the fog are needed more than ever before.

When some people think about philosophy, I suspect they conjure up the image of people who spend their days with their heads in the clouds contemplating existentialism or other unearthly ideas. So before this post goes off into the stratosphere somewhere, let’s look at how the philosopher might contribute to business success in more practical terms.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking asks us to question our assumptions.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in general, human beings are really good at assuming. Someone who undertakes the role of philosopher around the decision making table would serve a more than useful purpose by questioning the things we take for granted and challenging our sacred cows.  After all, in this new and rapidly changing time, nothing seems to be sacred any more.  Those things we assume or hold so dear could be the very things that get in the way of achieving the prosperity we seek.

Tolerance for diverse opinion

Those with a philosophical leaning have a greater tolerance for diverse opinion because they are curious about ideas; where they come from and their potential for useful application. Developing this kind of tolerance is important.   It helps to keep the mind open to possibilities outside the boundaries of current understanding. And, somewhere among all those thoughts and ideas is often something truly worthwhile.  It’s like mining for gold.  A lot of digging has to happen before the treasure can be found.

Systems thinking

Now more than ever we must seek to understand patterns and how ideas, choices and actions influence each other.  Through technology, the World has become more accessible to more people.  We see more.  We experience more.  And we know too, that whatever we choose to do in our individual worlds will affect something else, somewhere else.  More often than not, the philosophical types will be the ones who see the connection first and ask the questions that need to be asked so that decisions made and actions taken align with current reality and future possibility.

Do I mean that we must abandon our focus on finance and economics and Individual prosperity?  No, I’m not suggesting that.  I am suggesting that we make room for greater focus on the way we achieve prosperity; on expanding our definition of what it means to be prosperous; by thinking systemically and critically; and by building our tolerance for diverse ideas and opinion.

Bertrand Russell once said,  “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

I think the philosophy graduate might be just the person to help us do that.

What do you think?

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