5 Principles that Make or Break Leadership


Leadership complexityIt takes just a few minutes to discover whether I am working with a tyrant, a Pollyanna, or a true leader. All I need to do is listen to how they describe their employees.

A tyrant makes statements like, “These people are: entitled, lazy, ignorant, and clueless about how to manage gross profit.  I need you to define what we need in the next manager and to show us how to turn this team around.” The owner had is game face on as he told me this.  I suppose it was to impress on me the weight of the job he was asking me to do – it wasn’t working.  He wanted to hire our company to define what he needed to do to turn around his struggling sales team.  I wasn’t impressed nor was I sure I wanted the contract.

A Pollyanna makes statements like, “I have the greatest team in the world – they are awesome world champions.” However, when I asked why the owner needed us to do employee assessments he simply stated that he needed help.  I learned that their profits were non-existent and their cash flow was inverted.  I did not learn this from the owner – I stumbled on it when interviewing the office manager.  A Pollyanna boss can’t see problems nor do they see reality.  They simply wring their hands and hope that everything will be ok.

A leader makes statements like, “We have had a successful track record. Our team is mostly working well and they are engaged, disciplined, and learning. However, I need you to coach Sue (not her real name); she is struggling in her performance.  She has the skill sets, I was sure we made the right hire but for some reason she has withdrawn and become unresponsive. I will have to let her go if she doesn’t change but I need another perspective to let me know if I missed something.”

Listening to managers, owners, and C-suite positions talk about their employees tells a lot about an organization.  Why bad bosses who describe employees as incompetent ignoramuses don’t correlate the fact their description of employees is a direct reflection of their lack of skill as a leader is always amusing to me.  On the other hand, watching great leaders set high expectations and live those expectations out in front of their team is always inspiring to me.

Over the years I have observed five principles that make or break the success of a company in the short-term and the long-term that are directly related to the behavior of a leader.  Look at the principles below and then think about your own behavior as a leader or manager.  What does it take to change these insights from a negative to a positive outcome?

Principle 1 – how you talk about your employees is a direct reflection of your skill as a leader.  If they are bad employees you are a bad boss.  The fact is that great leaders hire great people. They inspire them to carry out outcomes they could not do alone by giving them a sense of purpose higher than the job itself and authenticating their contribution and their skills. I found that companies who think highly of their employees not only develop them consistently but also show sustained success over time. Conversely companies that have a low opinion of their employees typically make bad hires and struggle from financial crisis to financial crisis with poor performance over time.

Principle 2 – employees behave in direct correlation to what you believe about them. If you believe they are successful they will act that way.  If you believe they are losers they will act that way. This insight was first found in education then also seen in business. It is called the Pygmalion effect and is used by great leaders to improve overall performance.

Principle 3 – employees know no more about the business than you are willing to teach them. Complaining about ignorance when you do not train and develop your employees is ridiculous.  In one company we asked cost accounting to give us an itemized cost of each product.  We put together an excel sheet for their sales team from which they could calculate the impact of discounts on their gross profit while paying attention to the product mix and overall revenue targets.  We trained the sales team in how to use this sheet and trained the sales manager to reject discounts that did not show the impact on gross profit based on the excel sheet. Not surprisingly the team loved this.  It helped them feel they had more control over their own sales tactics. The managers were shocked at this new-found enthusiasm and business acumen.  However, the wish to know how to exercise business acumen existed all along. No one ever trained the team or gave them the data they needed to make smarter decisions.

Principle 4 – the harder you work to control your employees’ behaviors the greater the cost of labor you will generate. Extrinsic motivations generally work to cut employee motivation, remove employee engagement, and drop employee commitment – yet it is the first tool every bad manager uses to assert their superiority.  Recognize the difference between algorithmic tasks (established instructions down a single path) and heuristic tasks (tasks requiring experimentation to find a novel solution).  The point is that reward/punishment motivations work ok with algorithmic tasks but they are devastating in heuristic tasks because they often yield unexpected reactions and impaired performance. Great leaders understand this difference and use it to leverage the intrinsic motivations of their people.  The point is that people are intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers not extrinsically motivated profit maximizers in their performance and decision-making.  In contrast I worked with one client that defined every job as an algorithmic task.  He could not (or would not) see that the tighter he pulled the noose around his people the more inefficient they became.  This showed up in increasing sick days, constant internal complaints, losses due to flagging quality, higher rates of turnover, and increasing number of legal actions against the company by the EEOC. His response to these negative results was to lower the boom and get people in line. How do you think this is working?

Principle 5 – the cost of a bad hire is about 5 times their annual salary over the first year of their employment.  Bad hires ruin great teams. It is especially devastating to performance when a manager protects a bad hire or truly incompetent employee or even promotes them to avoid unpleasant conflict. In one company I watched an incompetent and poor performing employee run the company with the threat of law suits and complaints to the EEOC.  There was ample evidence to terminate the employment and to discipline the manager of that department for failure to discuss flagging performance issues.  Instead company penalized top performers for questioning why this incompetence was allowed to remain.  In another company we tracked the lack of discipline of poor performance to an affair the owner had with one female employee.  She had effectively been paid to remain silent, she did not have to show up to work, and she hated everything about the company. (The company went under about six months after this all came to light.)

What needs to change in your leadership behavior?  What kind of boss are you?  Change is possible though not necessarily painless. Do you see the need to change? Then act quickly and decisively. Hire a coach (and in some cases legal counsel) to avoid impulsiveness and violation of labor laws.  Be honest with yourself, are you a tyrant, Pollyanna, or leader?  What kind of leader do you want to be?

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Filed under Change Management, Coaching, Leadership, Management

All Congregations Face Problems – Leaders Differentiate the Healthy From the Pathological


agree-to-disagreeThere are two kinds of problems in a congregation – healthy problems and unhealthy problems.  Understanding the difference is the responsibility of leadership.

Healthy problems propel congregations into recognizing a changing need or environment so that they pay attention to structural changes and development of their people. Healthy problems include: over confidence by the founding pastor who sees herself as indispensable; eagerness – high energy; evangelism orientation without a corresponding discipleship process; seeking new ways to serve the community; growth beyond the ability to deliver; insufficient cost controls; insufficiently disciplined staff meetings; and inconsistent salary administration. If you work in or attend a fast growing congregation, you probably have experienced all of these normal problems.

Unhealthy problems indicate that leaders have ignored needed change.  Unhealthy problems include: arrogance; lack of focus – energy too thinly spread; no boundaries on what to do; pressing for more growth despite inability to deliver quality care; no cost controls; no staff meetings – no communication; and grossly under paid or over paid employees.  These problems show that the congregation has lost its bearing and is adrift.

Even dynamic congregations can lose the drive of their mission when mission looses focus and clarity. The shift of focus is subtle because management strategies included in budgeting, cost reduction, rightsizing, or structural realignment can undermine and distract leaders from the true driver of their success – their mission.

Dynamism in a congregation is situational, it is not guaranteed. It is possible for a congregation to become malformed and enter a period of decline and thus act like an aging organization shortly after it is started. When early aging occurs, simplicity (the earmark of a vibrant congregation) gets lost in complexity as the people in the congregation struggle to explain the gap between their actions and their ideals or to explain how their actions fulfill the mission.

Dynamism induces simplicity as the earmark of a highly reproducible structure.  This kind of simplicity was described by Rainer and Geiger as, “…a straight forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”[1] This definition is important to think about.  Simplicity is not the absence of complex situations – this misnomer only causes frustration.  Complexity and growth go together. Simplicity is the ability of the congregation or Christian organization to support a direct line of action between its mission and its target in the midst of an ever-growing complexity of networks and stakeholders. When this kind of simplicity is lost activity around the mission becomes as congested as a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour.

So how is a simple and dynamic structure developed?  Start with a blueprint i.e., define how the congregation will bring people to spiritual maturity i.e., start with your mission.  Then remove congestion to build movement. Design what you do in alignment with a spiritual maturation process and your core values. Then recruit people to the process to help others grow in Christ. Use the same process in every aspect of how you minister to the community. Then practice your focus, say “no” to almost everything. People are drawn to momentum, but not every opportunity that emerges is something to be pursued as an institutional response. Recall Jesus’ response to the disciples request that he expand his work in Capernaum.  The crowds sought after more but Jesus stayed focused. At the disciple’s request to engage Jesus’ new found recognition Jesus said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.”[2]

When you align your congregation around the purpose it is supposed to be about, you not only keep it simple you also end up launching new ministry because of your focus.  Again, look at who Jesus said “no” to. What were the results?  How many others besides the twelve did Jesus commission to ministry in the New Testament?  Look at Matthew 8:19-22; Mark 5:18-20; John 5:10-17; and John 9:1-41 where Jesus did not inhibit the man from following in the crowd or restrict him from talking. The fact that each of these people immediately engaged in ministry points to the discipleship emphasis of Jesus i.e., act on what you know.  It is as people acted on what they knew that Jesus then followed up to help develop their content. Notice that Jesus did not recruit any of these emerging ministers to the twelve.

We often get it backwards, wanting people to have all right content but who often have no idea how to put it to work and then insisting that all ministry happen through the programs authorized by the staff. It is important to see that any time we organize, no matter what spiritual label we put on it, we pull people together toward a common goal and create tension.  Tension develops between the organization we create and the mission we seek to engage.  The reason tension emerges is that organizations work with four primary drives: self-preservation, growth, effectiveness, and efficiency. A leader’s tension between how they define the work of the gospel and what consumes their time emerges when the organization asserts its drives and imposes its needs on the mission of the congregation. Instead, organization must subsume its drives to the mission it was designed to facilitate as a means of moving people together toward that mission.

Organizations are not people so how does this inversion occur?[3] Organizations become inverted when the people running the organization use its structures and processes to amplify their own drives for power, prestige, and pleasure not serving others.

Organizations invert when its leaders hide in structures and processes to avoid having to take responsibility to serve.  This happens when lead pastors or executive pastors or CEOs hide in their offices each day, running new efficiency studies to wring more money out of the operation and not asking what people experience when they meet the congregation. It happens in congregations when the pastor gets lost in the internal aspects of the congregation and tries to make things more effective (read relevant) or more efficient (read removing objections to the latest trend he/she wants to try) and not taking the time to know the questions people are asking about God.

Hodgkinson adds another perspective to creating a dynamic organization that is particularly helpful to those leaders who inherit organizations or congregations that they must rejuvenate.  To help sift through the haze of complexity, Hodgkinson offers a series of insightful questions that pastors should ask about their congregations.[4]

  1.       Is the organization unjustified in its basic purpose?  Can it describe its basic purpose?
  2.       Is the organization unjustified in its complexity of ancillary purposes?
  3.       Should the organization grow? Consolidate? Reduce? Is the growth pattern valid and defensible?
  4.       What are the latent functions of the organizational effort and are they valid and defensible?
  5.       What, so far as reasonable analysis can reveal, is the shape of the non-quantitative cost benefit account? Is the quality of organizational life adequate under its constraints?
  6.       What consistency exists between the answers to these value questions and the core commitments/assumptions of the leader asking them?

These questions can be a source of hope and vision or a source of intimidation and threat. The emotion experienced when these questions are reviewed is itself a reason to stop and reflect.  Ask yourself what emotion you experience and why?  This practice of self-awareness may lead you back to the question Jesus asked James and John – are you willing to drink the same cup Jesus drank?

So, what problems is your congregation facing?  Are they healthy or unhealthy? Will you exercise the courage and faith to discuss these problems or hide and hope they will go away or that someone else will deal with them?

References:

[1] Thom S. Rainer and  Eric Geiger. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2006), 60.

[2] Mark1:38 (NASB)

[3] Christian A. Schwarz. Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (Carol Stream, IL: Church Smart Resources, 1996), 62-65. Schwarz’s discussion of a technocratic versus biotic approach to congregational life is another similar way to assess the tension that occurs in the organization of the church.

[4] Christopher Hodgkinson. Educational Leadership: The Moral Art (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), 109-110.

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Filed under Organizational Development, pastoral leadership, Resilience

Four Questions to Ask in the Middle of Conflict


conflict-in-recruitmentLeaders face conflict. Conflict simply is a matter of fact.  The presence or absence of conflict has very little to do with whether a leader is successful or not. Instead successful leaders know how to transform conflict into opportunity. So, the question is not how to avoid conflict but how to engage it and how to find the opportunity for break through thinking and development that conflict represents. Don’t rob your organization of powerful and transforming potential by either power over or ignoring conflict.

Mark Gerzon, in his book Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, outlines four essential questions for approaching conflict.  Make a habit starting your approach by asking yourself:

  • “What else can I learn about this situation?”
  • “Is there some useful, perhaps vital, information that I lack?”
  • “Do I truly understand the way others see the situation?”
  • “Should I consult with others before I intervene?”

Leaders who make a habit of asking themselves these questions avoid the impulsive decisions that generate years of regret later. I am not exaggerating when I say, “years later.” I have worked with leaders who described significant turning points that cost time, money, and tons of emotional energy  in colossal set backs. Rather than ask themselves these questions they responded to in hast and anger. We can and should learn from similar examples.

Ask yourself these questions then you are more ready to engage conversation with the source of the conflict.  The goal in engaging any conflict is to listen generatively and not reflectively.  Generative listening listens from the context of the whole system while reflective listening only hears from inside one’s self. The pitfall of reflective listening is that subjectivity pushes leaders down the rabbit hole of Wonderland and end up with a distorted view of reality. Generative listening on the other hand provides the leader an opportunity to move from simply managing conflict to engaging transformation. Generative listening uses several important skills.  Invite someone with whom you have strongly disagreed to talk with you while you listen – take the following steps.

  • Find a good space. Choose a place to talk without distractions.
  • Take the time. Let the other person tell their story.
  • Respond (versus react). Choose your body language, tone and intention.
  • Show interest. Make eye contact; focus on the person speaking; don’t answer your phone or look at your BlackBerry.
  • Be patient. It’s not easy for people to talk about important things.
  • Listen for content and emotion. Both carry the meaning at hand.  It’s OK sometimes to ask, “How are you doing with all this?”
  • Learn. Listen for their perspective, their view. Listen for their experience.  Discover or learn a new way of seeing something.
  • Follow their lead. See where they want to go. Ask what is important to them (rather than deciding where their story must go or how it must end).
  • Be kind. Listen with heart as well as with mind.

After doing this notice the difference this makes in how you feel about your relationship with the other person.  The act of listening not only brings clarity for both people in the conversation it often brings items to light that have never been considered before.  One conversation does not have to resolve all issues however; a good act of listening goes a long way in bridging seemingly unbridgeable differences.

Leadership i.e., the ability to create a new vision for group action amid competing perspectives, values, and allegiances; is all about getting through conflict.

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Mentors make a difference – a tribute to Roger W. Birkman


r birkman

Mentors make the difference between seeing things in a limited and typically self-indulgent way and seeing things in a larger perspective that inspires great work. Roger W. Birkman (February 1, 1919 - March 26, 2014) was a mentor who made that difference for me.   I am one of hundreds of Birkman certified consultants trained in the Birkman Method personal assessments. I met Dr. Birkman briefly but even in that brief engagement I saw what others told me about him.  He exuded curiosity, love for people, and appreciation for the work of others. So, just how does someone I only met in passing earn the title of mentor in my life?  Another mentor of mine, J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary, describes this dynamic:

You can gain the advantages and empowerment of mentoring from indirect relationships with unavailable mentors. There are two kinds of passive mentors – the Contemporary Model, a living person who can mentor you even without a deliberate effort on his or her part, and the Historical Model, who has passed on yet can mentor you via input from biographical or autobiographical sources.   These “model mentors” are always available, but mentorees must make an effort to find them.[i]

Dr. Birkman was a contemporary model in every way. The questions he asked about how people relate at work simply yet poignantly saw “the elephant in the room” that many tend to ignore.  He wondered whether there was a way to understand behavioral patterns to give people a way to work more cohesively and with greater appreciation for each other’s unique perspectives. His work was…well it was healing. In every hospital, business, church, non-profit, and corporation I have used the Birkman Method leaders learn to see things differently. They understand the impact of their own behaviors on their teams in ways they did not before.  Healing takes place as new appreciation unfurled and teams develop around new insight. I identify with this healing…Dr. Birkman’s work has indelibly altered the way I understand my own behavior and the behavior of others. I am (and those around me seem to agree) a better leader and a better friend as a result.

Thank you, Dr. Birkman for rising above group think, for exercising critical reflection, for putting your ideas out in front of people to be tested, shaped, confirmed, and improved upon.  You made a difference in me and you became a model.  Your passing doesn’t limit your influence in this mentee – it only moves you from a contemporary to a historical mentor whose influence, insight, and challenges continue to shape my thinking and improve the way I serve as a leader.

 

[i]  Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton. Connecting: the Mentoring Relationship you Need to Succeed in Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), 132-33.

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Filed under Coaching, Leadership Development, Leadership Formation, Mentoring

Leadership Development – A New Horizon: Preparing Servant Leaders for Sustained Organizational Success


Drive Strategic Value

A report by Bersin in October 2008 reinforced that it is more important than ever for organizations to invest in leadership.   Why? Because the investment is strategic:

…not all training drives the same level of strategic value. What companies need most vigorously today is …talent-driven learning programs, particularly leadership development.[i]

The competitive environment of today’s global venues provides a strong reason to develop leaders. The speed at which competitors rise requires an agility that can only be accomplished by exercising a range of leadership skills across organizational functions.

In addition to the competitive landscape organizations today stand at an unprecedented generational crossroad.  The retirement of Baby-Boomers and entry of Millennials into the workplace presents organizations with a trillion-dollar question mark according to the Seattle Times.[ii] Many Boomers expect to continue working well into the traditional retirement years – a fact that provides a false sense of security for some organizations who feel they can put off developing new leaders.  The sheer number of Baby Boomers that will leave the workplace places many organizations in jeopardy of losing key leaders at a time they need them most.

So how ready are organizations to make a leadership transition? Only 36 percent of companies surveyed in 2008 felt prepared to immediately fill leadership positions – See Figure 1.

Leadership Development

Three challenges standout: (1) the need to define leadership clearly and strategically; (2) the need to find qualified candidates to fill current and future leadership roles; and (3) the need for a comprehensive leadership program to cultivate and develop the leaders of tomorrow.

Leadership and the Competitive Environment – A Changing Terrain

Developing leaders the leaders of tomorrow is not a simple extension of the styles and values of yesterday’s leader.  Programs entrenched in yesterday’s ideas of leadership will be left behind in the competitive dust of lost opportunity. Why?

Universally, it seemed that people had grown frustrated by a world dominated by codes of what they saw as traditionally masculine thinking and behavior: codes of control, competition, aggression, and black-and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal.[iii]

The change identified by Gerzema and D’Antonio’s research quoted above cannot be ignored. A global shift is happening in how leadership is defined.  Leadership in tomorrow’s world must be able to break gridlock through reason and not ideology or sheer aggression. The leaders of tomorrow must be intuitive as well as empirical, think long-term as well as short-term, and bring about sustainable solutions and not posturing for expediency. Another way to describe this kind of leadership is servant leadership.

Servant leadership is interconnected and interdependent perspective on the act of leading. It works from a win/win not a zero sum game. Servant leadership is decisive and resilient and is so out of an orientation that is neither controlling nor stubborn.  Instead servant leadership operates from a clear value base that informs a leader’s decisions, reactions, plans, and ethics.

A servant leadership approach appeals to the intrinsic motivations if people to carry out organizational goals.  Does it work?  According to Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company it does. When Mulally took the helm in 2006, Ford was losing billions of dollars and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Since Mulally stepped in, Ford has posted a profit every year since 2009.  When asked about his leadership style, Mulally responded,

At the most fundamental level, it is an honor to serve—at whatever type or size of organization you are privileged to lead, whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit…. Starting from that foundation, it is important to have a compelling vision and a comprehensive plan. Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate….A big part of leadership is being authentic to who you are, thinking about what you really believe in and behaving accordingly. At Ford, we have a card with our business plan on one side and the behaviors we expect listed on the other. It is the result of 43 years of doing this.[iv]

Leadership is changing – the world is changing.  What does a leadership development plan look like that aims at developing servant leaders?

Seven Design Components of Effective Leadership Development Programs

One: Determine the Leadership Culture and Life Cycle Position of Your Organization

What is the leadership culture of your organization?  The concept of culture is wildly popular if not always understood. The significance of starting with a view to what makes up the way your organization actually works is that all leadership action is done in a context and must be appropriate to that context. To initiate a leadership development plan without understanding the culture of the organization is like insisting that the operational norms of a McDonald’s drive through should be the basis for developing leaders at Ruth Chris’ Steak House.

Organizational culture can be defined as:

…a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.[v]

Identify your organization’s culture. What are the implicit rules of operation, relationship to power, the nature of vendor relationships, the rules for relating to stakeholders, and the rules to promoting up,  etcetera? Will your organization’s culture support servant leadership?

Define your organization’s life cycle place. Organizational needs and focus shifts depending on the life cycle age of the organization.  Younger organizations tend to be creative, aggressive, sales focused, et cetera.  Prime organizations are disciplined, opportunity drivers, attentive to policies designed to maximize resources, et cetera.  Aging and stuck organizations tend to be autocratic, highly formal, and characterized by a lost sense of mission other than profit.  The skills and traits required of leaders in each life cycle stage are different. So, not only is it important to know where the organization is at today in its life cycle but also where it expects to be in tomorrow.

Evaluate the gaps between your current organization culture and a culture of servant leadership.  Gaps show a shift is needed in how leaders are developed and socialized into your organization. What does a servant leadership culture look like?  Here is an insight from Greenleaf:

…today is the urgent need, around the world, for leadership by strong ethical persons – those who by nature are disposed to be servants (in the sense of helping others to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely themselves to be servants) and who therefore can help others to move in constructive directions.  Servant –leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely to attain for themselves.[vi]

If you find gaps be honest about them. Look, no organization is perfect – but everyone wants to work for an organization that is improving the way it sees itself.  Pull your people into the process and help them own the changes that will make your organization world-class in its culture as well as its performance.

Two: Identify Current and Potential Leaders within Your Organization

Start by identifying the competencies your organization needs.  When developing leaders look at the whole picture. Use dynamic management as well as leadership skills.

Identify the competencies that are needed in both poles of leadership (i.e., management and leadership). Leadership Praxis measures these competencies using a statistically reliable and validated 360 leadership assessment.  These include:

  • Spirituality: the ability to define a sense of ultimate (or immaterial) reality. Spirituality enables yourself and others to discover the essence of being, their deepest values, and meaning by which they make decisions.
  • Vision Casting: the ability to define a preferred future, communicate it to others in a way that inspires commitment, confidence, conviction and contribution in others.
  • Ensure Long-term Results: the ability to think strategically by integrating industry knowledge with organizational knowledge and knowledge of your customers.
  • Build Strong Teams: the ability to help the members of your work translate strategic goals and initiatives into specific responsibilities and priorities.
  • Managing Outcomes: the ability to set up measurable outcomes and create systems for monitoring progress toward them that includes ethical evaluation and specific activities.
  • Developing Others: capacity for building the strength and continuity of the organization by recognizing individual potential and acting to developing them through training, coaching, and performance evaluation.
  • Delegate: readiness to explain expectations, give appropriate resources, and assist with regular and unscheduled coaching.
  • Decision Making: ability to stay strategic, results oriented, and productive without losing sight of the complexity of issues and the diverse views of others. Capable of making implicit assumptions explicit prior to acting and anticipates potential outcomes to all actions.
  • Courage: the ability to speak out in the face of opposition, acknowledge conflict, and work openly toward strategically aligned solutions.
  • Resilience: ability to solicit and act on constructive feedback, challenge yourself with tough assignments, and demonstrate resilience and courage in the face of setbacks and opposition.

Do the work needed to correlate these competencies to the job skills needed at every level of your organizational leadership structure.  The objective in any leadership development program is not just to find whether these competencies exist and how to introduce them as effective behaviors but to build a capacity for complexity in the exercise of these competencies.

Test your leaders for these competencies via your performance appraisal process and the use of the Leadership Praxis 360 degree leadership assessment. Then assess the goals to development and the length of time it will take for a leader to be ready to assume a position.

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The criterion for assessing potential leaders also includes values. What are the values that show a leader understands the concept of service in behavior?  These values determine how a leader relates to their environment and people and offer the foundation for sustained performance.

  • Conceptualization – the act of looking empirically and symbolically at how things work and an ability to forecast changes in future behavior as a result.  The opposite behavior is vanity metrics i.e., using numbers to make one look good rather than make decisions.
  • Awareness – entering every situation and personal interaction with one’s full attention and emotional intelligence.  The opposite is an appeal to rationalism characterized by unilateral control, minimization of loosing and maximization of winning, and suppression of negative feelings or feedback.
  • Differentiation – the recognition of one’s unique contribution both direct and indirect and a commitment to help others discover and use their unique skills and abilities as well as holding others responsible for their own emotional well-being. The opposite is a victimization posture that yields personal responsibility for wellbeing and performance to forces outside oneself.
  • Stewardship – a commitment to use resources with the recognition of their cost both real and symbolic. The opposite is an arrogance that assumes the source of all available resources is the direct result of one’s own efforts – results in competition, one-upmanship and brinkmanship.
  • Foresight – the commitment to work to understand the lessons of the past to change activity in the present to altering the consequences of the future. The opposite is the failure to learn from experience so that work patterns are simply engaged with greater intensity without regard to outcomes.
  • Healing Community – a commitment to building an organizational culture and work environment where people can be their best selves who are rewarded and not castigated for their creativity and innovation. The opposite is a culture of one-sided task demand that fails to recognize the impact of employee engagement, commitment, and direct and indirect contribution.
  • Persuasion – the realization that power is the least effective means of sustained performance and reliance upon building systems that leverage intrinsic v extrinsic motivations.  The opposite is the use of power to cajole, threaten, and suppress opinions or data sources that do not find its source in the person with power or contradicts the mental models of the powerful.
  • Service – a commitment to the holistic development of others in work. The opposite sees employees as expendable resources to be controlled and discarded when their immediate usefulness is exhausted.

Developing internal talent is an advantage.  Internal talent achieves productivity almost 50 percent faster than external candidates.  This is particularly true for organizations in which the knowledge of internal politics and structures is required to get the job done.

Developing leadership competencies does not occur from a singular source.  A world-class leadership development process takes deliberate advantage of serendipitous as well as formal and informal development methods as is illustrated in Figure 1. [vii]

Leadership Development_Page_3

Start identifying leaders in your recruitment process. Pre-hiring assessments can be used to drop candidates that do not pass a minimum threshold score in the pre-hiring assessment screen that includes assessments, resume review, and reference reviews.  Focus your time on the more promising candidates.  Automated pre-screening can offer up to 42% increase in recruiter efficiency if the right tools are in play.  Use recruiting to build your bench strength of future leaders.

Three: Identify Leadership Gaps

Identifying leadership gaps is a function of individual and organizational readiness. It considers the life-cycle stage of the organization, the competency development of candidates, and the cultural behavior of the organization’s leaders.

  • Determine current and future leadership requirements
  • Compare those requirements with the current leadership team
  • Identify current leaders who may be at risk of leaving
  • Identify succession plans for those at risk of leaving or planning to leave
  • Look at leadership development pipeline
  • Identify gaps in skill and the time required to fill those gaps
  • Identify gaps in values i.e., the degree to which servant leadership values are exhibited in future leader behaviors

Look at the sample gap analysis below. This type of summary is helpful in surveying the potential talent pool.

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If your organization uses a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) to catalogue performance appraisals and development plans/activities this summary takes little time. If your organization has not leveraged a HRIS this information should be on file in your personnel office.

Four: Develop Succession Plans for Critical Roles

Succession planning is not a luxury – it is a necessity even in organizations that simply do not anticipate a change in any of its critical leadership roles. Life is unpredictable and no organization escapes the disruption and employee trauma that occurs when key leaders leave the organization. Succession planning is an insurance program that admits the unpredictability of the future and prepares to thrive in spite of the potential for the unexpected. Succession planning should be a company policy, dealt with openly and deliberately by corporate boards and corporate officers and leaders.

Succession planning should not be limited to executive roles. As part of a leadership program, organizations should test all critical leadership roles.  One survey found that whereas more than 70 percent of large companies have succession plans at the director level, only 41 percent have them at the manager level, and just 11 percent included first-line supervisors.

Enduring great organizations carry out succession planning across all levels of the organization – they are proactive and deliberate at getting the right people.  In contrast the lack of bench strength in other organizations creates significant vulnerabilities in the neglect of mission-critical roles.

Coaching and mentoring has gained in usage as a critical element of succession planning.  The American Management Association (AMA) reported that of the 1,000 business leaders surveyed nearly 60 percent use coaching for high-potential employees. These leaders used primarily outside versus inside coaches because outside coaching brought greater objectivity, fresh perspectives, higher levels of confidentiality, and a broad base of experience in many different organizations.[viii]

Increase efficiency in succession planning by using technology systems to support the succession planning process. The best technology systems provide the ability to:

  • Create back fill strategies that use data captured in the recruiting and performance review processes, coupled with individual career plans
  • Add multiple candidates to a succession short list and view all the best options – with necessarily adding them to the plan
  • Displace multiple talent profiles – from C-level to individual contributors – side by side to quickly identify the best fit
  • Track candidates readiness based on skills, competencies, and performance; promote top candidates based on relative ranking and composite feedback scores

Five: Develop Career Planning Goals for Potential Leaders

Companies that support career planning for their employees gain in retention, engagement, and protection of the leadership pipeline. 61 percent of employed college graduates surveyed by Taleo Research in 2008 said they left their first employer because there was no potential for career advancement or organizational opportunities.  Career planning is not just the responsibility of the person any more if companies want to keep top talent.

If companies do not offer employees with career planning and advancement opportunities, their competitors will. 77 percent of workers ages 36-40 (right in the middle of the pipeline for leadership) last in new jobs less than five years.  This rate of turnover represents a high cost and loss to organizations that fail to offer career planning.

Combining employee development and career planning enables employees to explore potential career paths and to watch and progress through the development activities necessary to meet them. Competencies tied to relevant development activities can be incorporated into the performance review process and thus support succession planning.

This kind of approach to employee development recognizes that people are intrinsically motivated and that this motivation possesses three critical elements: (1) Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; (2) Mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) Purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.[ix] As a result of using leveraging intrinsic motivation, the engagement and commitment levels of employees rises significantly. This makes it far more likely that the organization will retain its investment and capitalize in significant returns through talent retention and performance.

Six: Develop a Skills Roadmap for Future Leaders

A skills road map provides the direction high potential employees need to direct their learning.  Connecting competencies to a skills map and identifying the type of training needed (formal as in academic work, non-formal as in seminars, and informal as in coaching) allows the employee and the company to track progress.

See Table 2 following as a sample skills map.  In one organization the COO mounted this as a poster outside his office and used it to conduct ad hoc coaching and mentoring sessions encouraging key employees to pursue more competencies that potentially positioned them for future open positions.  Notice that this skills map includes all levels of this organization’s leadership.

Seven: Develop Retention Programs for Current and Future Leaders

Monetary and non-monetary rewards can be used to improve retention of any employee.  Recognize excellent performance through tools like: salary increases, bonus plans, promotions, additional paid vacation or sick days, public recognition, acknowledgement through private praise, and stock options.  Retention is critical not only because its cost is high but because top performance dive best business performance.

Conclusion

A well designed leadership development program is the key to identifying, attracting, filling, and retaining world-class organizational leadership. The benefits of an optimized leadership develop program include: a pipeline of leadership talent, talent aligned with corporate goals, improved morale, increased retention, improved leadership skills, and consistent measurement through development and performance management. (To request a PDF copy of this article email info@leadership-praxis.com.)


[i] “Driving Performance: Why Leadership Development Matters in Difficult Times.” Source: http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/landing/DrivingPerformance.pdf. Accessed; 18 Mar 2014.

[ii] John Gallager. “Retirement of baby boomers may reverberate in the workplace.”  Source: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2002185894_boomers21.html. Accessed; 18 Mar 2014

[iii] John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio. The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 7.

[iv] Rik Kirkland. “Leading in the 21st Century: An Interview with Ford’s Alan Mulally,” McKinsey & Company, November 2013.

[v] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership 4th ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 18.

[vi] Robert Greenleaf. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2002), 240.

[vii] Raymond L. Wheeler. An Inconvenient Power: The Practice of Servant Leadership. (Claremont, CA: Unpublished Manuscript, 2014), 357.

[viii] “Coaching: A Global Study of Successful Practices.” AMA, 2008. Source: http://www.opm.gov/WIKI/uploads/docs/Wiki/OPM/training/i4cp-coaching.pdf. Accessed: 19 Mar 2014.

[ix] Daniel H. Pink. Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009), 204.

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Leadership and Doing the Unprecedented – Lessons from the Life of Gideon


What is a Leader?

compass 1What is the difference between a leader and someone who simply holds a functional place in an organization?  Leaders have a commitment to act in unprecedented ways – sometimes with little empiric evidence of future success.  They have a vision, they understand the cost, yet they see (indeed almost taste) a different future that must change the present. Functionaries are precedent keepers afraid of failure almost as much as they are afraid of rocking the boat or standing out.

As part of my own development and personal renewal I read through the Bible every year. The experiences the Bible records of the intersection between faith and leadership is more than inspirational – I often find it deeply challenging. If the Bible is read with the humanness of its characters in mind (not simply read as a mystical book of inspirational thoughts) then it jumps off the page with a contemporary vibrancy that is astonishing.  Men and women portrayed in the bible face the same challenges of: decision-making, risk mitigation, managing outcomes, building trust, ensuring long-term results, building strong teams, delegating, developing others, courage, and resilience every leader today faces.  I find myself sometimes cheering them on and at others bemoaning their stupidity and the consequences that emerge as a result.

I read through Judges this week. The context of the book is that the third generation since their exodus from Egypt had forgotten the fundamental values and commitments so hard-won in their grandparent’s generation.  The parallels to what occur in family business the third generation from the founder are uncanny. Stalk and Foley note:

In the United States, a familiar aphorism—“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”—describes the propensity of family owned enterprises to fail by the time the founder’s grandchildren have taken charge. Variations on that phrase appear in other languages, too. The data support the saying. Some 70% of family owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. Just 10% remain active, privately held companies for the third generation to lead. In contrast to publicly owned firms, where the average CEO tenure is six years, many family businesses have the same leaders for 20 or 25 years, and these extended tenures can increase the difficulties of coping with shifts in technology, business models, and consumer behavior.[i]

Israel found themselves under the competitive pressure of a group called the Midianites who had dominated them and were in the process of pillaging their livelihood.  Gideon was no one of particular importance prior to where the narrative picks him up. He was however an apparent cauldron of burning questions.  What unfolds in the narrative presents five principles of leadership emergence that I see played out constantly. The case study of Gideon is worth the time for every organizational leader to review to avoid the trap of precedent. For every future leader the narrative should be mandatory so that they understand what they are getting into.   The five principles listed here are explained below:

  • Principle 1: the emergence of leadership begins by pondering a different future, a different reality. Emerging leaders interrogate the present by asking, “why?”
  • Principle 2: facing the test of their personal fears and sense of inadequacy is the first hurdle in acting on their vision of the future.
  • Principle 3: facing the test of public scrutiny and backlash clarifies the leader’s vision and galvanize their deepest commitments and values.
  • Principle 4: the greatest challenge a leader faces is not failure but success.  It is success that tempts them toward arrogance.
  • Principle 5: leaders who successfully pass the test of arrogance are positioned to create systems that sustain greatness.

Principle 1: the emergence of leadership begins by pondering a different future, a different reality. Emerging leaders interrogate the present by asking, “why?”

Gideon was approached by an angel who greets him with a destiny shaping statement, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 RSV)  This divine encounter uncorks a flood of pent-up reflection. (I won’t make a defense for the presence of angelic beings here – if you have ever had a divine encounter you need no one to convince you of the possibility or the impact. The fact is that the presence of questions does not need a divine encounter for the principle to apply.)  The observation is that leaders spend time considering the unprecedented which makes those around them nervous.

If you work with a leader you have no doubt learned to (1) be sounding board for their “why” questions and their exploration of alternative futures and (2) manage your own cognitive dissonance and emotion as you help these leaders focus on the next productive action.

If you are a leader like this, understand you are not the only one who generates puzzled looks and nervous laughter from those closest to you. Like other leaders you may have received your share of veiled threats from those serving around you that aim to reign in your “insubordination.”  The most important thing you will wrestle with if you are a leader like this is the realization that what you see as possible not only alters your destiny but the destiny of those around you.  This presents the responsibility inherent in leadership to not “go off half-cocked.” Leadership decisions impact other people’s lives. At the same time you have to ask the questions. These “why” questions are the beginning of innovation.

Principle 2: facing the test of their personal fears and sense of inadequacy is the first hurdle in acting on their vision of the future.

The answer to Gideon’s “why” question was unexpected. “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.  Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14 NASB) The acceptance of personal responsibility is the differentiation between lazy negativity masquerading as insight and true leadership.  Anyone can complain – it takes courage to act. This point really brings up three aspects of effective leadership: (1) legitimization; (2) courage; and (3) authenticity.

If you work around this kind of leader you will see that they work from a vision larger than themselves. Your support and their larger vision is the authentication of their leadership. Gideon received an invitation to put faith to work – or using a colloquialism – to put his money where his mouth was. Leaders who ask the “why” questions discover a deep passion within themselves to act on what they see.   God asked Gideon to put his own faith to work. Wrestling with destiny questions always ultimately forces leaders to make a choice to act or stop asking the questions.

If you are a leader, courage is required. To act Gideon must do the unprecedented and work against the prevailing mental model of his community.[ii]  The idea of leading has the idea of going first. Think about being the first one to try something.  How often have you stepped up to be the first?  Many so-called leaders prefer to have someone else (like a younger sibling) go first.  Then, if all goes well the so-called leaders can step up and claim credit for the success.  It takes courage to go first.

If you hang out with real leaders it doesn’t take long do discover that they are authentic – not super human.  If you are a leader you need people around you who can listen to why you are not the best person to go first. Like Gideon you may not have the experience, or the recognition (pre-established support or track record), or the confidence in your ability to lead.  Some people see this as a contradiction in leadership.  It really is a deeper wrestling with an intuitive awareness of the risks involved in leading.

Principle 3: facing the test of public scrutiny and backlash clarifies the leader’s vision and galvanize their deepest commitments and values.

Gideon’s first act was to topple the community idol and offer sacrifice to God.  Theologically speaking, an idol is any symbolic source of security, provision, protection, or reverence that has usurped the place of God in a person’s life. Idols become symbols and explanations of success. The problem with these symbols of success is that: (1) they are never causative and (2) they empower mental models with an aura of unchallengeable authority. The result is that a defensive reasoning emerges as a means of self-protection. Defensive reasoning is a learned behavior for dealing with difficult situations.  These mental models set up a bifurcation between espoused theories of action and a very different theory-in-use.[iii]  The latter are usually resorted to in times of stress.

Theories-in-use in organizations have four similar values: 1) unilateral control; 2) maximization of winning and minimization of loosing; 3) suppression of negative feelings; and 4) appeals to rationalism.  The stress of introducing change to any system results in defensive reasoning because it alters the political and symbolic frames of the organization or group i.e., it attacks their idols.

If you are a leader don’t avoid conflict.  Conflict pushes the theory-in-use to the front of everyone’s conversation and causes them to test the utility and actuality of their mental models.  If conflict is avoided then the myth of a mental model’s unassailability will continue to keep people from knowing a new reality.  They will remain under the thumb of whatever belief keeps them from moving to an alternative future.

For leaders conflict clarifies their thinking and helps them galvanize their actions. In Gideon’s case an important theological assumption emerges. Notice that in the conflict Gideon does not stand alone, he has a first follower – his dad, Joash. Joash made this statement when the community threatens to kill Gideon for tampering with their idol, “Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? …If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his alter.” (Judges 6:31 NASB)  What is the important lesson?  God is self-authenticating.  By extension the most important thing a leader gains in conflict is: (1) the emergence of first followers – early adopters; and (2) the awareness that their motivation for acting is self authenticating to those who do step in as first followers.  The synergy that formed between Gideon and his first followers became contagious as it does of any leader in this situation.

Principle 4: the greatest challenge a leader faces is not failure but success.  It is success that tempts them toward arrogance.

The potential for failure at any point in the story of Gideon seems more probable than success.  For leaders who have stepped out and faced the conflict inherent in challenging the mental models of those around them failure is sometimes seen as a preferable exit. Why do I say this?  I have seen leaders in the middle of success and conflicts orchestrate their own failure to escape the pressures of leading. Success in leadership is the greater challenge. Success can lead to arrogance and hubris that ultimately undoes a leader who believes they can do anything they want and still experience success.

Gideon recruited a significant army as a result of the synergy developed in conflict. However, God asks him to cut the numbers of volunteers so that a victory would not be misunderstood to be the result of purely human effort but the intervention of the same God Gideon questioned at the beginning of the narrative. It is interesting to me that every great leader “…apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck)” according to Collins’ research.[iv] Whether or not you belief in God’s intervention great leaders understand that it is not their efforts that ultimately lead to or sustain significant discovery or sustained success. It is luck or divine intervention.

This is why the development of character in leadership is imperative if success is to be sustained over a life time and leaders are to grow in their capacity to lead.  Peter said, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and area increasing, the render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 NASB) Leadership character is appropriately defined by Peter’s admonition to develop these virtues.

Principle 5: leaders who successfully pass the test of arrogance are positioned to create systems that sustain greatness.

Unfortunately sustained greatness was not the case with Gideon. He was tested by the request of the people to be their king and he initially rejected that offer pointing them to God as king. However, in rejecting the offer he determined to commemorate his victory with a gold-embroidered garment often used as a symbol of priestly authority by ancient Israel. The commemorative garment became an idol. Gideon had a chance to significantly alter the political and social values, symbols, and commitments of the country but it seems that he preferred to return to a quiet life away from the challenge of leadership.  His meager attempt at commemoration rather than transformation set up ultimate failure. Leaders today face the same temptation.

Conclusion

What is your leadership context? Have you been irritated with nagging “why” questions?  Are you honest about your questions? Will you accept responsibility to make a difference in what you see or do you find it easier to simply join the chorus of cynicism and negativity that exists somewhere in every organization?  Are you authentic in your self assessment? If you are willing to make a difference do you see that conflict is unavoidable?  How will you process these questions and ultimately how will you finish well in life?  The lessons of Gideon are still lively and troubling.


[i] George Stalk and Henry Foley. “Avoid the Traps That Can Destroy Family Businesses” Harvard Business Review. January – February 2012. Source: http://hbr.org/2012/01/avoid-the-traps-that-can-destroy-family-businesses/ar/1. Accessed 20 Mar 2014.

[ii] Mental models: Beliefs, ideas, images, and verbal descriptions that we consciously or unconsciously form from our experiences and which (when formed) guide our thoughts and actions within narrow channels. Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/mental-models.html#ixzz2wXvPmx1x. Accessed 20 March 2014.

[iii] Chris Argyris. “Good Communication that Blocks Learning” in Harvard Business Review. July August 1994, 77-85.

[iv] Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other Don’t (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001), 35.

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Entrepreneurs – Listen Up, It May Be Time to Hire Differently


HiringA friend of mine recently called and needed to blow off some steam. His organization grew out of a passion discovered by accident. He jumped on his passion, started a nonprofit, and the organization took off.  “We are at $2 million in budget and I have figured out that I don’t have the right people. A consultant waltzed in and told me to hire an administrator at a six figure salary immediately – lives depend on what we do.  I am not sure I can jeopardize our programs by putting out that kind of salary.  I don’t want to be in the place of hiring someone and then letting them go in six months because our revenue projections were not quite right.”

Sound familiar? This founder’s story is not unlike any other founder who has experienced the exhilaration of watching their blood, sweat, and tears turn into a vibrant, howbeit, gangly organization.  At the same time the founder experiences a sense of legitimization and affirmation in the risk they engaged they also face burnout in trying to keep things moving in the right direction. Their original employees don’t have the skills and competencies needed to keep up with the new demands for structure and systems. If left unaddressed the founder ends up feeling like all they are doing is chasing their tail.

Business entrepreneurs, non-profit founders, and church planters all go through this very predictable stage of organizational development. It is important to recognize that founders are simultaneously their organization’s greatest asset and greatest liability!  Founder’s who use an excessively autocratic style become toxic to their own organizations creating the pathologies that ultimately deal a death-blow to the organization. In a fast growing organization like that of my friend the crucial question is, “Will you mentor future leaders in your organization?”

The challenge is making the time. The hardest transition for a founder has two aspects. First, a founder must learn to delegate activity so that there is enough of a margin to spend time developing others.   Second, the founder must recognize when it is time to hire a different kind of person.

Delegating effectively is not simply handing off tasks.  Why? Fast growing organizations typically run with time coefficients that are driven by ego not planning.  “I want this done yesterday” is the predictable demand. The result of this ego driven time coefficient is that delegation occurs on a bungee cord and delivery and service suffers.  Every task that is not accomplished at light speed is pulled back by the increasingly irritated founder. Add to this that no one can do the task correctly. How do founders escape this trap? There are three critical skills every leader must develop: define your working values, be consistent in delegation, and recognize when you need a new kind of employee.

First, name the values from which you actually work. Take the time to name what is important in how tasks get done. For example: I value cost effectiveness, excellence, and ambiance. I want those around me to be attentive to all three when they make purchasing decisions not just one or two. I value teamwork, assertiveness, and responsibility. When people go to work around me I expect them to give me their best insights and their best work. I can’t see everything in the market place and I don’t possess omniscience. However, early in my career these values were implicit and not explicitly a part of my thinking. As a result I became frustrated with the performance of my employees whose work had to be redone because they failed to meet my expectations i.e., my values. Write out your values and talk with your team about them and show them how core values inform daily decisions about how tasks are done.  For more information see http://wp.me/pYuoc-dL.

Second, be consistent in your delegation. This requires that you understand the levels of delegation and use these levels specifically to (a) carry out more work and (b) develop the capabilities and capacities of your current team.  Avoid the three cardinal sins of poor delegation: (1) Over management – delegation on a bungee cord.  This results in stunted skill development and poor decision-making down line. (2) Under management i.e., sloppy delegation without boundaries – also possesses a fuzzy scope. This results in frustration. (3) Scapegoat or Surprise accountability – you did not know the assignment was yours until just before it is due. This results in anger. Remember to match individual follow-through ability with the tasks being delegated. Remember the less competent an employee is the more directive you need to be.  Conversely the more competent the employee becomes the more supportive you need to be. Expect your team’s competency to increase.

So, what are the critical components of good delegation? (1) Delegate to clear outcomes and expectations. Use specific verbs for outcomes: plan, implement, or report. (2) Delegate to clearly defined time frames. Timeframes must be realistic to the task. (3) Delegate using the appropriate level of delegation i.e., proper to the skills of the volunteer or staff member to whom you plan to assign the task for example:

  • Level 1: Measure and report back or Research and report findings
  • Level 2: Research and present options based on findings
  • Level 3: Research, recommend a response and report back before doing
  • Level 4: Act and report on the results
  • Level 5: Act with no further communication

Third, recognize when to take the leap and hire that administrative professional. Fast growing organizations share a common behavior.  They are opportunity driven and not driving opportunities. This means becoming less intuitive in how the organization is run and more systematic. What indicates that it is time to hire that professional manager?  Is your organization rapidly growing and is it characterized by: Self confidence – Founder indispensable; Eagerness – High energy; Sales v Marketing orientation; Seeking what else to do; Sales beyond the ability to deliver; Insufficient cost controls; Insufficiently disciplined staff meetings; No consistent salary administration; Leader surrounded by claqueurs; Increasingly remote leadership; Leader’s inflated expectations; Unclear communication; Hope for miracles; Unclear responsibilities; Internal disintegration; and a Workable people-centric organizational structure? Then you are at the turning point.

My friend above was a little surprised to hear me agree with the consultant he rejected. “You do need to hire a capable administrative person,” I said. “Everything you have described to me fits the profile of an organization that is moving toward its own adolescence. If you don’t begin to make the shift now, your organization will become toxic and you will burn out.”

My friend is about to begin a powerful and difficult journey. There is more to this transition than simply finding the right person for the job. That is important. But, for the founder the transition means three big changes.

First, a different kind of leader is needed, one who can bring systems, policies, and administration to the organization. This requires a different set of skills and way of seeing the organization. The organization does not need someone like the founder it needs someone who can complement the founder’s style knowing that the two perspectives will conflict at times. The manager cannot be stronger than the founder but must be able to disagree and engage in the kind of fierce conversations needed to bring about a new level of operational discipline.

Second, recognize that the organization will experience goal displacement i.e., a shift from more is better to better is more occurs. Accounting functions begin to look at profitability and long-term funding rather than only the sales or donations generated.  In for profit organizations pricing and product lines become more predictable and profit is as important as cash flow. Founders generally think that cash flow equals success when in fact the company may be going broke. This is equally as true for nonprofits who have yet to integrate operational controls to decide whether their administrative and program dollars exist in a healthy ratio.

Third, recognize that conflict during this period of change is predictable and normal. During this period a temporary loss of vision may occur – that is normal. A shift occurs that makes the organization sovereign rather than the founder sovereign.  Policies are made then challenged.  The point is that the organization becomes a reproducible system it has the ability of moving to a new level of effectiveness in its mission.

What can go wrong?  In this critical transition failure looks like a loss of mutual respect and trust among those who have formal and informal control of the decision-making process.[1] The temptation is to return to a time when the company was smaller and flexible. The founder can fire the new manager. Yet if this occurs the organization does not revert to the past level of fun. Instead, it enters a time of uncertainty and self-doubt.  The other risk is that the organization my lose its sense of mission and purpose and engender an environment of rule following in which the entrepreneurial drive disappears entirely.

If you understand your core values, if you exercise good delegation, if you recognize the need to diversify the leadership of your organization and develop leaders in every function of the organization, then you are in a good place to take the next step and move to a different level of success in what your organization intends to carry out. And so, my friend has begun his journey to a different way of working.  How about you?


[1] Ichak Adizes. Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 48-55.  Adizes’ book is a must read for Founders in all types of organizations.  The more his concept is understood the easier it is to predict organizational transitions and apply the right organizational strategies at the right time.

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