THE LEADERSHIP GAP

“It is the men behind who make the man ahead.”
American editor and author, Merle Crowell (1906-1959)

I have recently been invited to give the opening keynote at the 2014 HRM Expo in Cologne, Germany this coming October, my given topic being “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” The fact that I wrote a blog piece on this topic last March (see “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” posted March 17, 2014) may actually be the main reason that I received this invitation.

By Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Cologne at dusk; by Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


In this post, I reasoned that notwithstanding the changing face of management towards greater freedoms in the workplace, people still needed some direction and structure in their work lives, whilst accepting that this is significantly less than what was needed in my, and previous, generations. I also cited my reasons for rejecting the idea that business leaders should be democratically elected by their staff, as I had seen in one case, as being a leap too far. I felt that I would still rather have them appointed by the board and senior management.

I still believe this, but I do have some serious concerns about the way we generally seem to select, develop and promote our business leaders, as despite the changes we are seeing in our new mobile, connected world, these practices seem to have changed little over the last 50 years, including some Business Schools where the business case studies used can be significantly older than the students (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011). I have also been critical of the fact that senior management in larger companies tends to be suspicious and wary of promoting creative, imaginative people who are prepared to take some calculated risks and drive needed changes in an ever-changing world, in favour of promotion of those who are more inclined to protect the status quo. Senior executives do love to promote in their own image.

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons


One of the other problems that I see is that there appears to be a growing belief amongst many that leadership and management can be easily taught, and taught quickly, and to foster this belief we have seen a growing availability of short, sharp, quick-hit training courses that seem to cater to the same clientele who see books like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese” as being great tomes on business life. This “leadership development” industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, in the main turning out managers who believe they know all that they need to know to successfully lead a team. I have, for example, interviewed many young MBA graduates who believe that they are ready for a management role immediately upon graduation, whereas I have always seen an MBA as being equivalent to buying a fishing license, which gives you the right to sit at the river, but which still means that you have to learn how to actually catch fish.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I have no doubt that some elements of management and leadership can be taught, but the reality is that becoming a capable leader and manager is a journey of discovery and experimentation over one’s lifetime, rather than being a destination that one reaches after reading a few “pamphlets” and some attendance on a few “quickie-how-to” courses. I recently had a newly appointed manager ask me whether I could give him an hour of my time to tell him about the key elements of management so that he could become effective quickly. Up until his sudden appointment into a management role, no-one had thought about how to prepare him properly for the move from an individual contributor to having responsibility for a team of people. I was delighted that he was keen to understand the role of a manager, but somewhat dismayed that he felt that “an hour of my time” was enough to get him started.

Another problem that we face today is that, lacking other empirical measures of management excellence, the main way that we tend to identify and recognise outstanding leadership in the business world is based almost entirely on the financial results, which often disregards at what expense these are achieved. A good example of this tendency, were the accolades heaped on the management of Enron right up until the final moments of its sudden and spectacular death. As a result of this focus on “show me the money”, the biggest fee earners and highest revenue generating sales people are the ones who most commonly get promoted, in the belief that they will somehow automatically understand how to pass these skills on to others, and the fact that they could sell product and services was an indicator of leadership qualities.

The issue is that when it comes to selecting future leaders, just looking at their potential leadership skills, based on past performance, is not enough, as it is critical that one also evaluates their “followership” skills.

The critical question is “Would anyone follow them if they didn’t have the title ?”

This situation was well brought home to me during my own career when a colleague of mine, who had been a successful regional President, was appointed to the role of Global CEO. Despite his previous successes, and despite having been able to build a small band of devoted acolytes, he was not able to build broad “followership” in the company. After only about a year in the role, there was a general uprising amongst staff that forced the board to rethink his appointment and resulted in his subsequent removal.

To me, this was at least a real example of workplace democracy at work.

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


This taught me not only the power of mob rule, but also the fact that a true leader cannot be defined by his own leadership persona, but is more defined by the number of, and the passion and commitment from, his followers.

As said by Harvard University Professor Barbara Kellerman “Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”

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THE FIRST CRITICAL HOUR IN THE DAY OF A MANAGER

“A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men; he is a person who can get his men to do the work better than he can.”
Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Federal Express

Most business people whom I know spend the time taken to travel from home to the office either making phone calls from their car, or checking their emails if they are not actually driving. One of my golden rules of self-management is to NOT look at emails as a first priority (see “Fifth secret of time management” posted November 11, 2010), and I have also long believed that people who feel obliged to call me from their car on their way to work are either doing it to impress me with how busy they are, or are just making a “boredom call” while stuck in heavy traffic.

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long believed that the first part of the day for anyone, irrespective of their role and corporate ladder status, is to use the time to address the important things before the brain gets cluttered with the urgent things, and before any chance for some creative thinking gets buried by the daily avalanche of red-hot tactical issues that will need addressing as a standard part of most business days.

However, beyond making sure that you actually use your time well, and that you do get to prioritise your time in such a way that it enables you to address those priorities that will define your own personal measurement and success, there is one critical area that I believe all who are in a people management role must seriously consider on a daily basis.

I found that doing it while travelling to work every day not only enabled me to build it into my schedule as a ritual, but also prepared me for the most important element of my role as a manager, as I believe that the best way to spend that first critical daily time slot is to think about the people that you have been asked to lead, and to consider your own personal role in making their chance of success easier to achieve.

Author: Christopher Michel; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/6294620410/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Christopher Michel; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/6294620410/; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Here are the sort of questions that I believe every manager should ask himself every day, on the way to work.

– What is the climate in my area of responsibility ? What do I need to address/change that is hindering my people from doing well ? Are there barriers that I need to help remove ? Are we getting the support and co-operation from other departments/divisions, that we need to do our job well ? Is my business unit seen as being “business critical” ? Are we seen as being strategic, so are we viewed as being part of “change the company” more than just “run the company” ? How is conflict handled in my team ? Is my team co-operative rather than competitive ? How self-managing are they ?

– How are my people faring ? Is anyone struggling ? Am I effectively dealing with people who are not performing well ? (see “Move them up or move them out” posted August 23, 2010). Am I giving my people regular and ongoing feedback on their behaviour ? On their successes ? Are we meeting deadlines and benchmarks ? Are we seen as creators of talent for the company ? Do the people in my team support and help each other ? Do they share information well ?

– Are my people inspired to achieve our team goals ? Are they “building a brick wall or a cathedral” ? How good is morale and is it consistent across the group ? Do people readily pick up new responsibilities ? Do they buy in to the company vision ? Are they proud to work for the company ? Are they committed to the team and its mission ? Do they come in to work “with a song in their heart” ? Do they love what they do ?

– Do they all understand their roles and their responsibilities ? Do all my people understand their own personal objectives, as well as those of the team ? Does everyone understand “what is in it for them”, beyond their financial incentives ? is there enough freedom for people to influence how they do their job ? Do they respect their direct manager ? Do they respect and trust senior management ?

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Have I provided all the resources and tools that they need ? Are there barriers to what they do ? What do my people lack that could make things easier ? Do they have the technology needed to do the job ? Have we supported their need for mobility ? Is the physical environment supportive ? Does the physical environment encourage team interaction ? Are there enough quiet zones ? Can people get privacy when needed ? Am I protecting the team from unnecessary interference from all sides ?

– Are they smarter, faster, more capable today than they were yesterday ? Can they update their CVs regularly with new skills and knowledge ? Am I challenging them enough for their personal growth ? Am I making new assignments available ? Am I across their training and development aspirations as well as their needs ? Am I effectively preparing them for the future ? Do I have effective mentoring and coaching programmes in place, and if so how are they doing ? Am I building future leaders ? Have I identified and prepared my potential successors ?

…. And finally and most importantly ….

– What is the single most significant thing that I can do for them today ?

In the words of Chairman and CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956) “A manager is an assistant to his men.”

THE MANAGEMENT ART OF COOKING

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Newspaper columnist and writer Harriet Van Horne (1920-1998).

I love to cook (even though I am at best an enthusiastic beginner), ever since my wife once gave me, as a Xmas present, my first ever formal cooking course of one full week in London at the “Leiths School of food and wine” (see “Cooking tips for men” posted November 25, 2010). I loved the course, my only disappointment being that there was nothing about wine on the course, despite its inclusion in their name. I have, since that time, been back to Leiths on a number of different courses and have realised that there are a lot of similarities between being a chef (even if only occasionally) and being in a management role.

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons


Here is how I see this:

– Do it with total commitment … Cooking takes commitment and time, and trying to prepare a great meal without focussing on what needs to be done, and when to do it and with what, will generally not result in a successful set of taste sensations. Similarly, management takes real commitment, and just “dabbling” at management while you continue with your vocational activities as your main priority will not bring success, and is the equivalent of believing you are a cook because you fry an egg occasionally, while heating up pre-prepared supermarket food the rest of the time. Management is a serious art and a vocation, and must be given your full attention.

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons


– Learn from those who know how … I have been cooking since I was about 16, as my father’s severe ulcer limited him to mainly bland foods, and as my mother refused to cook a separate meal for me, it was a question of start to cook or live on boiled chicken for dinner every evening. I thought that I was OK in the kitchen until I went on my first course 45 years later, and realised that there were many things that I did badly, as basic as how to chop an onion. In the same way, you can choose to grow your management skills through trial and error over a long period of time, thus having a negative impact on those who have been entrusted to your care. A far better approach is to learn from others, as you can accelerate your management skills dramatically by some formal training, and more importantly by having some role models and mentors to learn from along the road to management proficiency.

– Learn to mix complex ingredients … Not all ingredients mix well, and do not suit all tastes. Quite a few French cooks use “mixed-spice” with meat in the hope that it will give it an exotic taste, but as it is really meant to be used with baking cakes, all it does is to confuse the palate. In the same vein, it is easy to curdle eggs if you do not treat them with respect or if heat is applied too quickly. The same is true with people. Not all personalities or professions mix easily, and it takes management skill and patience to bring together disparate parts of an organisation into a well-functioning business unit. It is also easy to “curdle” people if you do not treat them with respect or “heat” them inappropriately.

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Know your limitations … I came back from my first formal cooking course flushed with my newly acquired skills, and immediately organised a dinner party for 8 with no thought as to whether I would be capable of executing the menu I had chosen. Choux pastry filled with smoked trout mousse with a dill cream sauce as starter, racks of lamb with potato en-papillote and beans wrapped in bacon for the main course, store bought cheeses but served with home-made soda bread, and segmented oranges in a caramel sauce to finish. Not a beginner’s menu, which I didn’t realise until I actually started preparations and cooking, and which frazzled, frustrated and nearly ended my cooking career at the start, and which took me nearly 2 full days to prepare (and another 2 to recover) rather than the hours that a skilled cook would have taken. In the same way, it is important in management to “know what you don’t know”. Throwing yourself into elements of management such as recruitment, induction, goal setting and performance reviews without some reading, training and serious learning beforehand, so that you at least know what will be needed, will be unlikely to give you decent results.

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Preparation is key … You need to plan everything beforehand to have any chance of success. This includes analyses of the recipes of the dishes that you will prepare, making sure that you have the necessary kitchen equipment and all the ingredients and spices needed. A key element is planning the timing backwards, from when you plan to actually serve the food to your guests to when you will need to start the initial preparations. My first ever attempt at cooking for a dinner party was when I was just 22, and I hadn’t properly planned the cooking timing, so I wasn’t actually in a position to serve the starter (stuffed cabbage leaves in chicken broth) till about 11.00pm by which time we were all under a serious alcoholic haze. The dessert (chocolate mousse) wasn’t served till around midnight. This need for planning came home to me the next day when I was cleaning up and found the whole main course (roasted lamb and vegetables) still sitting untouched, if somewhat dry, in the oven. This need for close planning is also true for any business endeavours. You need to make sure that you have the right people, that they have all the resources that are needed to do the job, and plan back from when you will need to deliver an end result through all the stages back to the actual start time. You also must have regular checkpoints to ensure that you are tracking well, and that nothing and no-one is left behind.

Cooking, like management, is only worthwhile if you do it for the benefit of others and not just for yourself. The French use “Chef d’entreprise” to describe a senior executive … I can understand why it is an accurate term.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

The aphorism “Knowledge is power” (Scientia potential est) has been mostly attributed to author and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), even though this is not quite what he said. In his “Meditations Sacre” (1597) he does say “Ipsa scientia potestas est” (knowledge itself is power) which is fairly close, though its true meaning is believed to be, for the atheists, “Wisdom is power”, and “Wisdom is His power” for the religious.

Whatever is the accurate version, it is obvious that we have known this for a long time.

I have long believed that knowledge and learning really do give one power, and that these are ever more critical in today’s business environment. On the other hand, I have also long believed that knowledge must be shared, and that the hoarding of knowledge or information is akin to an act of tyranny.

As a result, I have long been an admirer of the correct answer to the question of “What happens if we train our people and they leave ?” as being “What is worse would be that we do not train them, and they stay”.

We tend to all generally agree that having well trained, up-to-date and skilled people in any organisation is a key prerequisite for any chance of business success, and yet I continually find that the minute the business environment gets a bit tough, staff training and development is one of the first things that is slashed in the rush to cut costs. Actually, a recent article in HR Magazine suggested that the financial investment in learning and development has actually fallen in Europe over the last 5 years of corporate financial hardship and restraint, as has also the number of attendees at Business Schools. While I have long been critical of many traditional business schools, this has been more about their content and curricula rather that the value that they could actually create (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011).

Author: JimmyGuano; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: JimmyGuano; via Wikimedia Commons


Whilst I can understand that organisations need to do whatever it takes to stay alive during hard times and that training and development spending has to accept its share of the cost cuts that are imposed, I believe that for long term business success, beyond just short term survival, training and development needs to be viewed less as an operational cost and more as an investment for the future.

I have also found that some of the best training and development can be more a question of commitment and imagination, rather than just a question of spending money on formal training. I am therefore a fan of the 10/20/70 rule applied to learning of 10% training, 20% mentoring and coaching and 70% on the job learning.

Author: Tadas1980; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tadas1980; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Here are just a few initiatives that I believe can be implemented to keep growing and developing your people, that take effort rather than heavy expense, without having to just spend money on course attendances, and that are relevant irrespective of whether times are tough or not.

– Build a learning culture … It is critical that you build an understanding in your people that learning is a journey rather than a destination, and that you encourage everyone to keep learning and growing. This also means that you have to get people to understand that trial and error, and therefore the making of some mistakes along the way, is an acceptable part of the personal growth process, and that they will not be punished for honest mistakes that are made through trying new things and pushing beyond traditional boundaries.

– Make mentoring a way of life … Some of the greatest leaps that I made during my career have been through the helping hand of a senior mentor, either through helping me navigate the minefields in a new organisation or assignment and/or having a wiser and more experienced person to be able to use as a sounding board and test-bed for new ideas and directions. Don’t wait for a formalised HR process to implement a mentoring process, but help and encourage your people to both look for a suitable mentor for themselves, as well as acting as a mentor for someone else, which can be in itself an extremely rich learning experience.

Author: Mamunjoy; CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mamunjoy; CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Set up internal Think Tanks … Ask people to work together to address some critical real-world issues and opportunities, rather than trying to do this just in controlled meetings, thereby allowing them the freedom to work out the “how and what” on their own. Some of the best management development that I was involved with during my career involved getting a diverse group of people from different geographies and different divisions of the company to look at how to solve some serious company business issues, and to then present their findings and recommendations to the global board.

Author: Klimaforum Latinoamérica Network; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Klimaforum Latinoamérica Network; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Give people challenging assignments … Giving people assignments that will stretch (not break) their skills and experiences, and which will take them out of their comfort zone, is a great way to encourage their learning. It is also a good way to test whether they are ready, and possible timing, to be promoted to a more senior role. This is an area when having a suitable mentor and “carer” assigned to them becomes critical, as you want to ensure that you have created an environment that gives them the greatest chance of succeeding, rather than just throwing them off the deep end and hoping that they don’t drown in the process.

– Encourage networking internally and externally … Learning by mixing with peers costs very little, whether this is through the involvement in internal interest groups, industry organisations or attendance at meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce. This will enable one to gain insights from a broader set of experiences than one tends to find within their own organisation. Some of the best small moments of enlightenment that I have had have come from listening to a speaker from a totally different industry and country describe a relevant business environment, but from a totally new perspective.

In the end, it is important to remember the words of management guru Peter Drucker (1909-2005) who said “If you think training is expensive, consider the cost of ignorance”.

WHY SO MANY INCENTIVE PROGRAMMES FAIL

“Outstanding performance is not a skill; it’s a commitment and an attitude.”

I had a discussion a few days ago with a newly appointed manager about the “trip for performance” culture in his company for top performing salesmen, as he felt that they didn’t actually seem to achieve their goal of driving the required behaviour, nor did they actually seem to enthuse the winners with a great feeling of having been well rewarded for their achievements. He therefore felt that as the new incoming manager he needed to rethink the incentive programmes in a way that they could actually be more effective, and he was therefore seeking my advice.

His description of the latest incentive trip made me realise that he was right about their minimal usefulness, as the majority of award winners were the traditionally high-performing, high-earning salespeople, who would have overachieved against their goals anyway as a natural outcome of their normal behaviour. Beyond this, the trip that they were about to embark on as their reward for outstanding performance was at a level that would not have seemed much of a reward. It basically comprised a 4-night long weekend trip to Las Vegas from London, travelling economy, without partners, and staying in a mid-level hotel … all done on a shoestring. He rightly pointed out (as one of the award winners) that taking him away from his family for a long weekend was actually a disincentive, as he generally struggled to find time to spend with them anyway, just from coping with the demands of the job.

Author: Apogee (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Apogee (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


It initiated a long discussion of what should be the characteristics of an effective incentive programme. Here are some of my criteria for success.

It needs to be more than just for salespeople … I have rarely come across a company where salespeople can be successful on their own, without the support of various groups of people around them. Having incentive programmes that incentivise and reward only the sales part of the effort can create resentment and disillusionment in the rest of the organisation. The most popular winner of one of my President Clubs was the Headquarters receptionist/telephonist, who was the “face to the customer” and who was a consummate professional. Rewarding excellence should include an opportunity for all to participate.

Author: Evan Bench; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Evan Bench; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It needs to deliver an opportunity for success to more than just the top 10% … The top-10% of salespeople will work to over-deliver on their goals anyway, whether driven by their personal need to succeed or their drive for financial reward. A truly successful incentive program will work towards incentivising the next 10-20% as well towards striving for inclusion in the programme rewards. There is no incentive that works better than starting with hope.

It needs to be achievable, but with real effort … Having an incentive programme where it is too easy to reach the milestones will not deliver much in terms of benefits and will not deliver a sense of achievement to the award winners. Having a programme where it is almost impossible to achieve the goals will mean that people will give up before they even start. A worthwhile incentive programme needs to give everyone the belief that they have the ability to be an achiever, but only by putting in the commensurate effort to do so.

It needs to be easily understood by all … I am always amazed that no matter how complex is a commission scheme, even the most simple salesmen will be able to calculate their commission due on a deal down to the closest centime/cent/penny. However, incentive programmes need to make it easy for everyone, as the last thing you want is to encourage totally inconsistent behaviour that would be needed to achieve the results.

It needs to be well rolled out with some fanfare … If the incentive programme is to be considered important by the participants, it should be rolled out with some pomp and ceremony, which just sending out an “email cc: all” doesn’t achieve. One programme that was available to me early in my career involved a trip to Hawaii. After the initial rollout which took place at the airport, we all kept receiving little Hawaiian reminders at about monthly intervals … a lei, a sun-hat, a bottle of Hawaiian tanning lotion etc., … they just kept coming and gave the programme some impetus over time.

Author: Janine; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Janine; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It needs to have a reward worth winning … Having a few days in Las Vegas on a shoestring is not worth the effort beyond being tagged as an achiever, particularly when the reward entails you sharing it only with people you spend your working time with anyway, but making you leave your partner/family at home during personal time. The reward also needs to be geared to the role, as what will excite a salesman will not necessarily excite a consultant or someone in Accounts Receivable. It doesn’t have to be an expensive prize, but it does need to be worthwhile. One of the most successful incentive programmes I ever ran involved a Rolls Royce hubcap mounted on a wooden plaque, mainly because it was a dig at the company car scheme at that time.

It needs to be a reward that winners would not normally do or acquire … the cost of the incentive reward is less relevant than its uniqueness. A 4-day trip to Las Vegas for people living in London is somewhat ho-hum, particularly if done on the cheap, as the award winners in this case were by definition the highest commission earning salesmen, who could have afforded to do it themselves, and probably at a better level of comfort. I suggested that a pampered weekend at London’s Connaught or Dorchester Hotels for winners and partners would be a greater reward (and less expensive) as it was something that people who actually lived in London would be unlikely to do themselves.

Author: Stephen Sweeney; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Stephen Sweeney; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It needs to be true recognition for excellence amongst peers and partners … I have always found that the best incentive programmes ensured that recognition was visible to the personal ecosystem of the award winners. Recognising excellence in front of, and shared with, an achiever’s partner, who generally has to also shoulder some of the burden, is as important as peer recognition, whether it is awarded at a company in-house event or an awards dinner. This truth came home to me at an awards dinner early on in my career, when I heard a spouse say to her husband “Don’t embarrass me next year by not getting up on that stage.”

As 16th President of the US Abraham Lincoln said “A goal properly set is halfway reached”.