Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


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Leadership – it depends on what you mean


starting pointSome of what people write for or against the concept of leadership suffers from the same malady – they assume rather than define the term “leadership.” I read a series of posts between friends of mine this weekend that illustrate the point and prompt me to write my own thoughts.

One group argued that the term leadership is a tired and overused concept that did more damage than good. They contended that efforts to train leaders undermined the necessity of getting things done in an organization. They preferred to train ministers whose character exhibits clear and growing virtues and whose behavior demonstrates the ability to name and address problems and opportunities without being directed to do so. Their argument inferred that “leaders” are little more than prima donnas whose only real aim is the consolidation of power and the exercise of privilege. Not only does their argument hinge on a straw man assumption of a negative view of leadership it fails to define their new term “minister.”

The other group argued that leadership was critical every organization. They contend that the failure to train “leaders” undermines an organization’s innovative drive and diminishes its execution. They prefer to train leaders who are capable of identifying and addressing problems, empowering and mobilizing people around specific goals, developing new capabilities in others, and recognizing new opportunities without being directed to do so. Their argument infers that without developing leaders, positions of power in the organization become dominated by self-serving political hacks whose concern is the consolidation of power and the expansion of privilege.   This too relies on a straw man argument that fails to define terms.

Both sides of the argument get at the same point – prima donnas, power mongers, hubris dominated stuffed shirts, and political hacks undermine morale, diminish employee engagement, and dilute the organization’s ability to perform.

Defining terms is important because of the variety of insights leadership studies seem to generate. One author lamented that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are people writing about it. I suppose this lack of uniformity in nomenclature might suggest a failure to define what leadership is. Or, it may show the situational influence that is part of defining the real work of leadership. Organizations exist in a variety of: development stages, market stages, demographic situations, and cultures. Given the wide number of variables and the required emphasis needed to discuss them effectively the definitions of what leadership looks like will vary.

I have found several definitions of leadership helpful in bringing clarity to discussions like the ones I see my friends engaging. Northouse (2008) attempts a definition of leadership that is often helpful. For him leadership is (a) a process, (b) that involves influence, (c) occurring within a group context, and (d) involving goal attainment.

One of my mentors defines leadership in a church context as: (a) with a God-given capacity and (b) a God-given responsibility to influence (c) a specific group of God’s people (d) toward God’s purposes for the group. (Clinton 1989:20)

The Apostle Paul offered his own word for leadership: προїστάμενς; nom. sing. masc. part. pres. mid. προῒστημι, met., To set over, appoint with authority; to preside, govern, superintend. Includes the idea of protection, care, and attention toward those for whom one is responsible. (Paul—Rom. 12:8)

Anderson at the University of Chicago gives an even broader definition for leadership i.e., the capacity of a human community to shape its future – a collective versus person.

Your organization does need leadership. So, before attempting to reinvent the wheel spend time thinking about how to define the deficiencies you see in human behavior.  A role of power does not equate to a de facto exercise of leadership. In my opinion once we decouple the idea of leadership from the roles or positions an organization uses to describe its coordination and control functions it frees itself to reconsider these functions in a way that leads to more effective behaviors. More importantly taking the time to define your terms will help you avoid the pendulum swings of popular thinking and their inherent waste of resource. Organizations need leadership. Leadership is not the only need an organization faces.

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Spiritual Leadership or Its Absence Affects Your Bottom Line


Spiritual leadership is the missing piece of the puzzle.

Spiritual leadership is often the missing piece of the puzzle of sustained performance.

Spiritual leadership impacts the bottom line

Most leaders understand the necessity of developing skills and leveraging their unique personality. Fewer leaders understand the antecedent of spiritual formation in the development of leaders. Fewer leaders still believe that spiritual formation has any bearing on their bottom line.  However, research begs to differ with what leaders believe or don’t believe.

So what difference does spiritual formation and spiritual leadership make according to the research?[i] Every significant metric of employee performance i.e., commitment, productivity, performance, character, and competence are positively affected by spiritual leadership. The reverse is also true; the lack of spiritual leadership exists as a drag on these same metrics. The fact is that spiritual leadership melts the impediments that keep organizations and businesses from hitting sustained bottom line performance. How?

First, spiritual leadership positively predicts calling (i.e., the experience of transcendence that defines how one makes a difference through service to others and thus derives a meaning and purpose in life). How calling is generated in followers is the concern of the spiritual leader.  Calling is that sense of meaning or purpose that makes up the triad of intrinsic motivation (competence, mastery, and purpose – see Pink).  As Fry et al describe it:

“The term calling has long been used as one of the defining characteristics of a professional. Professionals in general have expertise in a specialized body of knowledge, ethics centered on selfless service to clients/customers, an obligation to maintain quality standards within the profession, calling to their field, dedication to their work, and a strong commitment to their careers.”[ii]

Second, spiritual leadership positively predicts membership (i.e., the fundamental need to be understood and appreciated – this emerges in followers as the leader manifests the characteristics of spiritual leadership and so generates a sense of mutual care and concern so that followers gain a sense of membership). Spiritual leadership contributes to the altruistic love of each team member toward the other as they jointly develop a common vision. Altruistic love and a common vision is a prerequisite to developing hope – a characteristic that expressed in a “do what it takes” pursuit of “a vision of transcendent service to stakeholders.”[iii]

Third, the positive relationship between spiritual leadership and organizational commitment and performance is fully mediated by calling and membership.  Leaders who tap into their followers needs of calling and membership find that shared experience helps the emergence of trust, intrinsic motivation, and organizational commitment needed to enhance the team’s performance.  Researchers explain the dynamic at play in shared experience as:

“Concerning spiritual leadership, over time these individuals would begin to form shared or compatible mental models of altruistic love, vision, and hope/faith of the group, thereby increasing the group’s sense of calling and membership, and ultimately influence each other toward increasingly greater levels of commitment and performance.”[iv]

Spiritual leadership is a game changer

Clearly the exercise of spiritual leadership is a game changer. So what is spiritual leadership? It is an expression of vision, altruistic love, and faith/hope that characterizes the leader’s approach to exercising influence and power.  Spiritual leadership is a composite variable in organizational performance. It cannot be adequately deconstructed to create a reflective construct but does serve as a formative construct i.e., causal action flows from indicators to create a composite variable.  The formative indicators of spiritual leadership include:

  1. Vision – a picture of the future based on implicit or explicit commentary describing why people should work to create that future.
  2. Altruistic love – “…a sense of wholeness, harmony, and well being produced through care, concern and appreciation for both self and others.” (262)
  3. Hope/faith – hope is a want with the certainty of fulfillment; faith adds certainty to hope. People with hope and faith have clarity in where they are going and how to get there and are willing to endure hardship or setbacks along the way without losing the conviction behind their goal.

Taking care to help leaders in their spiritual formation is action designed to help them develop a clear vision, love for others, and hope/faith.  The methods of spiritual formation vary but always need a mentor who helps the emerging or existing leader frame their insight and communicate their vision and hope clearly.  Spirituality is that transcendent aspect of humanness that seeks out a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It may take on a variety of forms or expressions. Spirituality is distinct from religion. Religion is concerned with theological system of beliefs and rituals and related formalized practices and ideas. This distinction is important to keep up not only to avoid the violation of human resource law but to cut misunderstanding that wrongly equates spirituality and religion in a way that then disassociate its importance to the business goal.

In contrast to the idea of spiritual leadership, some leaders assume that the only needed tool of effective leadership is a dispassionate commitment to “the numbers”. The value of analytics is not in dispute.  What is in dispute is the assumption that analytics alone are enough to lead the sustained performance of any group. Research simply does not support the belief that a manager can be effective and stay dispassionately disengaged from the people they manage while hiding behind “the numbers.” Nor does research support the idea that the idea of meaning/purpose is secondary to the real business of making money or completing tasks. Meaning/purpose are primary factors to high employee motivation, sense of calling, and feeling of membership with the group.

Conclusion

How do you make room for the development of your own spiritual leadership?  How clear are you about your own sense of purpose or the meaning of life and work?  Do your vision, love, and hope/faith rise to the level of responsibility you now hold or did your spiritual formation arrest under the press to acquire the skill needed to master the technical aspects of your current role?  If spiritual formation has not been a conscious exercise in your professional development you may just have found the reason your team’s performance continues to lag behind the competition and your organization’s expectations.  Need help in kick starting your spiritual formation?  Then it is time to talk with a coach who gets it.

Afterward: The relationship of spiritual leadership and servant leadership

According to Fry et al, spiritual leadership addresses four key areas that research in servant leadership has not yet examined: (1) the specific cultural values that are necessary for servant leadership; (2) the role of servant leadership in achieving value congruence across organizational levels; (3) the personal outcomes of servant leadership; and (4) the apparent contradiction of placing the needs of people higher than the needs of the organization.  It must be noted on this last point that Fry observes a popular perception not a data supported by experience in servant leadership.  Servant leadership works at the level of motivation with organizational views in mind and indications are that organizational outcomes are enhanced by this perception as Fry et al also acknowledge in their definition of professionals above. What may be a more accurate statement is that a spiritual leadership perspective is the antecedent of the exercise of servant leadership.

 

[i] Louis W Fry, Sean T. Hannah, Michael Noel and Fred O. Walumbwa. “Impact of Spiritual Leadership on Unit Performance,” The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 2, April 2011, 259-270. 11 pages.

[ii] Fry et al 263

[iii] Ibid. 263

[iv] Ibid. 261


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Chance Meetings, Learning, and Career Advancement


Professionals barI meandered down to the lounge of our hotel while I waited for Janice to come down for dinner. We were at the tail end of our anniversary celebration and were flying out the next day.

The lounge is always a great place to meet traveling business people and this evening was no different.  As I entered a young man at the bar suggested several types of drinks I should try. We started talking.  Turns out he is a Vice President of Acquisitions on a five state tour finalizing deals he had put together. Assessing profitability, building company portfolios, and finalizing complex financial deals it is not my forte.  So, my curiosity was piqued. He gave me a rundown on what he and his team looked for in potential purchases. His background at Lehman brothers was the perfect foundation for his current role.

I asked him to what extent the corporate cultures of potential acquisitions played into his team’s assessments of potential acquisitions. 

“We don’t bother with that,” he replied.  “It is strictly a numbers game. We look at profitability, structures, and what duplication we need to remove or what systems will strengthen ours and we absorb what we can and eliminate what we don’t need.”

His background in statistics and finance give him a specific lens from which to view business yet several of his comments indicated that he had a greater than average people-sense behind all the analysis.  I wanted to get at that.   “You obviously enjoy what you do.  What the four most important lessons you have learned in your career so far?” I asked.

“I have thought about that,” he replied.  “They include: (1) patience – things don’t always move as fast as I want and being more deliberate helps me read whether I am working with a group that is on the same page or divided in how they approach challenges and whether they are critical thinkers or ‘yes-men;’ (2) numbers – I do the analysis work. People tell good stories but I want the facts.  It is the facts that tell whether a company is profitable and sustainable; (3) research – when I speak I have all the data I need. I watch some guys simply throw stuff at the wall.  It may work temporarily but when the CEO comes back with questions it doesn’t take long for bull*hit to unravel.  If I don’t know the facts I will tell the CEO that I don’t have the facts now but I will within the day; (4) competency – a person has to be able to do the work with excellence. 

I was impressed with the clarity and the speed with which he listed  these off – clearly he has been thinking about this. I still wanted to know more. “So what have you learned about people?” I asked.

Again he didn’t even pause, “My career started as a cop. I worked in undercover narcotics and one thing was true about every person I arrested – they were great story tellers.  They could have made millions as authors of fiction. Most people tell great stories – I don’t pay attention to the story, I look for the facts (the behaviors). It is just as true in business. That is why I am patient.  I hear the stories but I look for the track record.  This is why I will get to CEO role – I can separate the stories from the facts.” He paused for a moment and continued, “I recognized early on that technology was changing the way we did everything. I asked for an assignment in our IT department then I learned everything I could about technology and systems. I completed a degree in statistics and finance and I leveraged these at Lehman Brothers. I understand how to package business and to create systems to maximize it.”

I was enjoying the pace of the conversation, but I still saw that there was more to pull out of him – more about leadership. “You are clearly driven, so when you finally arrive at the top position how will you define success?” I asked.

He paused on this question.  “You are really perceptive,” he said.  He thought for a moment.  Then he continued, “I will be different than the c-suite leaders I have seen so far.  In my view the three most important things a C-suite leader has to pay attention to are: (1) numbers – always know what makes the business successful; (2) technology – most leaders lose touch with technology and when they do in this day in age they loose touch with their business; (3) people – they are the ones who make success happen.  A leader can’t ignore the people who make it happen. Too many C-suite leaders I have seen treat people as though they are mere automatons.  Without people things don’t happen – a leader has to appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around them.”

As he finished his thought his associate entered the bar. We made introductions and they congratulated me on our fortieth wedding anniversary and they left for dinner – I went to find Janice.

I did observe that his last statement gave him an “aha” moment and gave me the information I was looking for. His initial description of his work in acquisitions seemed devoid of the human side. This struck me as odd because his demeanor and the way he greeted me when I entered the lounge was much more engaging.  What I saw in his response was a growing integration between the demeanor he demonstrated and his approach to analysis.  His demeanor inferred an intuitive grasp on people dynamics. He elaborated on this a little more when he talked about patience. The more he moves his intuition toward an explicit understanding and integration the stronger the leader he will become.  In fact his aversion to the impersonal CEO model indicated that he had started down this very road.

So, what did I learn? I will spend more time in the numbers. I don’t have a finance background but I have collected some business acumen along the way and I am committed to adding to it. I also learned that leaders who exercise awareness of their own emotion learn more about the people they manage. My friend at the bar inferred his own frustration at being depersonalized when he described the short-comings of the CEOs he has worked with. Because he is willing to learn from his experience by openly contemplating his own emotion and experience he has arrived at a clear differentiation between highly effective and moderately functional CEOs.

What have you learned along the way in your career?  Are you as articulate as this young man in outlining what you have learned?  This young man took our conversation as a learning time just as much as I did. He gained insight into himself by the questions I asked. My questions led him to consider his experience from new perspectives.  I noticed that he was ready to engage conversations as learning tools but he also was ready to engage the conversation as an interview. I have noticed over the years that true leaders have this dual approach to conversation. Because they are learning every conversation potentially expands their knowledge.  Because they are interviewing they find opportunities others never see.

How do you approach conversations with total strangers? The next time you meet a stranger – ask some key questions.  Pay attention to the insights you pick up along the way and watch for opportunities. Most of all, have some fun – we did.


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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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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.

Leadership Development_Page_2

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.

Leadership Development_Page_4

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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BoringI was running through McDonald’s with just enough time to grab a burger between client engagements. A little boy walked into the store from the play area with his father. The boy noticed the big screen TV in the corner of the dinning area – it was playing highlights from the weekend’s NFL games. The boy sauntered over to the big screen, stood there for a minute then waved his hand as though he was erasing the screen and declared, “Boring – boring.” Apparently satisfied with his verdict he walked out of the store with his dad.

I thought about the several times I have wanted to do the same thing in poorly run meetings.  Like the young man in McDonald’s I want to wave my hand and declare, “boring – boring” when I see any of the following practices. And then I want to walk out and go back to work.

Boring practice 1: calling a meeting without a purpose and being unprepared.  I don’t mind getting together with you for lunch or after work to shoot the breeze but don’t pull me away from my team to sit in a room without a purpose. My mind simply backs up with all the tasks I need to complete before the end of the day, end of the quarter, end of the year etc.  Give me an agenda that differentiates between information you want to give, decisions that need to be made, and brainstorming we need to do to set direction to face the unexpected.

Boring practice 2: calling for people to give reports on data we all read prior to the meeting.  Expect people to be ready – this will save a lot of time.  However, be sure you specify what you want people to know before every meeting and how we will use it to get things done.  Most the companies I have been a part of go to great cost to have the right dashboards, data and instant reports. Make meetings an opportunity for your team to use their unique data sets to highlight various perspectives of a decision. Don’t use meetings to rehash by reporting on data everyone already has access to. 

Boring practice 3: asking for opinions as a prelude to telling us what we are going to do. If you need to pull us together to give a directive just give the directive and some context for it. Don’t ask for opinions if you don’t plan to alter your decision (because you have already made a decision).  On the other hand if you have options in mind and want some feedback on them ask away – need help in how to do this?  Watch reruns of Star Trek to see how captain Jean-Luc Picard pulled feedback from his line officers.  Then have everyone watch the same Star Trek scene to see how to give feedback.  (There are other options but as a Trekky since the 60s I like Jean-Luc.)

Boring practice 4: rambling on about the need for employee engagement without providing an opportunity for feedback.  Seriously any time I hear leaders complain about the lack of employee engagement I simply want to record the session – then play it back with the understanding that I am about to let them hear why the reason for poor employee engagement.  If you see me in the room with my Recorder Pro app ready to go you will know why.

Boring practice 5: announcing new policies destined to needlessly hamper the productivity of every department because one person won’t exercise common sense. Do you really need to hide behind a policy to correct the misdeeds of one or two employees?  My favorite example of this is when the company pulled back all its company issued credit cards because one sales person could not seem to complete their usage reports. We all had to pull cash advances for our travel – it was a nightmare. Go yank the chain of the offender don’t penalize your peak performers.

Boring practice 6: showing us a power point slide presentation containing 45 slides with 8 pt font and then reading each slide. Please learn how to give a presentation. There are plenty of self-study helps on the internet.  Just because you just stepped into your new CEO role or president role doesn’t mean you are exempt from developing better communication skills. You have not arrived – you have just started your journey.  A little humility and a learning posture will go a long way. 

Boring practice 7: arguing with your department’s nemesis while blaming them for your inability to meet your goals. I have sat in meetings almost as entertaining as an MMA fight. Two Vice Presidents went after each other like fighting cats. Unfortunately our employees were not amused they were filled with anxiety.  The result of the VP rant was that the employees  quick offering their insights and became siloed from one another across departments.  If you need to have one of those intense conversations do it off-line.

Boring practice 8: announcing the time limitations of the meeting then going over the allotted time to discuss the need for discipline in execution. This is not hard to understand. If you are the exception to every rule you propose then everyone will follow your example.  Then if you don’t like how things are going it is strongly recommended you look in the mirror for the reason things are becoming FUBAR. (If you don’t know what the acronym stands for ask one of the more experienced managers in the plant or office.)

Boring practice 9: introducing a consultant who then spends 45 minutes trying to convince us of his qualifications.  The better approach is simply to engage your qualifications by leading the meeting, or exercise, or training.  Please vet your consultants – work with them so that they don’t violate boring practice 1.

The bottom line is that leaders should treat people like they have the insight, wisdom, and drive for mastery that makes for an enduring great company or organization.  Expect people to work at their best. Reward the top performers. Discipline the poor performers. Have fun. Make 2014 a year of superior vision, inspiration and execution – don’t be boring.


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Toxic Leaders Spurn History – Bad Leaders Hide Behind It


PharaohIs toxic leadership the inevitable norm? Do people just need to suck it up and endure the chaos until they can retire? Are alternative ideas about healthy leadership possible to carry out or are they illusions that distract people from being productive? The story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt has important insights about leadership. Two leaders (Moses and Pharaoh) engage in competing agendas that launch far-reaching consequences. The narrative presents a dichotomy between good and bad leaders that defines how to approach the complex tasks of leadership in a different way. Pharaoh got it wrong from the start of the narrative. In his case the story is a progression that starts from a biased opportunism that accelerates to self-destructive hubris that left him at a strategic disadvantage.  Moses on the other hand wins yet enters the uncharted experience of birthing a nation. Moses has to grow as a leader or face a future no different from what characterized Pharaoh.

Over the next several articles I will investigate the behaviors of Pharaoh.  What characterizes a toxic leader and what insights can be gleaned about the motivations? The answer to this question will help decide the possibility of change for any leader.  So here is the first lesson – toxic leaders spurn history – bad leaders hide behind it.

Pharaoh is introduced in the Exodus story as a leader who did not know Joseph.  The history behind Joseph explained the contemporary presence of the Hebrews and their privileged location within the nation. Joseph had saved Egypt during a time of severe famine with his prophetic insight and his administrative skill. Pharaoah’s predecessor honored Joseph’s contribution to the survival of the kingdom by providing a place for his family (the Hebrews) to live and thrive.

However the new Pharaoh’s fear obscured his historical perspective – he viewed the Hebrews as a threat to his power.  It is one thing to hide behind history as a reason to avoid making mistakes.  Such a posture is a fast rode to mediocrity. However, Pharaoh takes a more radically ignorant path. The threat presented by the Hebrews was rooted in nothing more than the fact that Hebrews were not Egyptians. In the void of Pharaoh’s lack of historical grasp (that explained why these foreigners were in the country and their contributions to the nation’s thriving existence) ethnocentrism rushed in and created a narrative of fear and mistrust.  Pharaoh rewrote the history of the nation in his actions and the outcomes were not good.

Who is writing the history of your organization and on what foundation are they writing it? The narrative determines the culture of the organization and the culture determines the values and behaviors.  It is odd that something went missing in Pharaoh’s education and in his development. What happened? Bad leaders don’t work in a vacuum they work with the permission (either implied or overt) of their followers. Jean Lipman-Blumen’s work outlines this uncomfortable reality.  She writes:

…What are the forces that propel followers again and again, to accept, often favor, and sometimes create toxic leaders?  Isn’t it high time we come to grips with why we usually let toxic leaders mistreat us and depart when it suits their purposes? …Still, the majority of followers stay the course, many because the barriers to escape seem much too strong, be they financial, political, social, psychological, or existential – or, worse yet, some overwhelming combination of these formidable obstacles.[i]

Don’t ignore or dismiss Lipman-Blumen’s point. As followers we have a responsibility toward leaders. If we implicitly or overtly allow bad leaders to continue in their power infused invectives of bad behavior then we must ask ourselves what is it we think we get from these leaders and what would really happen if we said, “no” to them?  Perhaps Pharaoh had eliminated the bold followers who disagreed with his unique views. We don’t have that part of the story. What we do have is the insight that for tyrants to succeed they have to divest themselves from the encumbrance of history to rewrite history for their own support and sell it as a destiny.  Pharaoh succeeded at this and turned the tables on the Hebrews first oppressing them then enslaving them. When you see a leader who is ignorant of history consider it a challenge to help them see from a larger perspective. If he or she is not open to understanding the history of the organization specifically and has little appreciation of history generally then in the words of Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Pharaoh rewrote history to reposition the Hebrews in society. He framed their existence as a threat to the well-being of the nation. He initiated structures to limit the threat. Finally he oppressed them to maximize a benefit to the nation at minimal cost.  How is labor relations characterized in your organization?  A connection exists between the value a leader places on history and the way they ultimately treat people. What kind of leader are you?  Are you a student of history or are you writing your own history?  The answer indicates the trajectory of your leadership.


[i] Jean Lipman-Blumen. The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We Can Survive Them. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 24.