Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comfort Zones

“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” This disclaimer is no doubt familiar to anyone who has ever invested in a mutual fund. When I saw this disclaimer the other day, I thought about my clients and the discussion we often have about Comfort Zones. I've also written an article* devoted to this important concept published in the November (2010) issue of the Supply Chain Quarterly Magazine.

You likely arrived in your current position on the back of some real assets, like your ability to get into the details or make quick, effective judgments. Now let’s assume your responsibilities significantly increase. Perhaps you’ve become the CEO of a much larger company or the president of a global division with international range and scope. Will doing what you’ve always done, in the same way be a successful strategy now? Most likely, the answer is no. You need to avoid the trap of falling back into your comfort zones. To do this, you must be self aware and willing to adjust your approach.

As responsibilities increase with your changing role, it’s easy to confuse a strength with a liability. This is especially true under pressure. Behavior that may have served you well in the past may not be appropriate in your new higher level position. When you lead from the top you must work through a team of senior leaders who represent you, extend your reach and give you leverage. The behavior you want to rely upon to lead senior officers is different (in important ways) from the leadership behavior you used when you were one of those senior officers. This is probably the number one cause of CEO failure and there are examples of this in the business press every day.

This “Comfort Zone Trap” is not just a bad habit. It can be a fatal flaw. As you evaluate your own leadership style, you might look for this trap as a real opportunity to improve. 

*Read my article:  Are Supply Chain Leaders Ready for the Top?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Business, You Get What You Expect

Clients sometimes say to me, “this organization is just too political.” At times it gets more specific, “that guy is a political animal."   With some folks there is resignation:  “I’m no good at politics; I need to get out of here!”  Politics are considered frustrating and counter-productive, which is often true.

In the business context, the word “politics” certainly has its negative connotations.  It stirs up images of the “yes man” (or woman), the “back stabber” (driven out of control by ambition), and the individual that says one thing and does another.  Why does anyone put up with this?  

The answer is simple:  You can’t avoid it. 

Anyone with kids has seen this play out from the earliest years.  Our twins were keeping score when they we two years old.  If you complimented one, you were neglecting the other.  At two they were competing for power in very simple and effective ways.

A business leader is expected to bring in the best talent, create a high performing organization, and hit the numbers.  In the “thrust and parry” of competition, there will be winners and losers.  No matter what, politics will be hovering around. 
So what should a leader do?  It is all about keeping it simple and clearly communicating your values.

People will model your behavior.  If want to minimize the impact of politics, be clear about what’s important.

Here is a simple exercise.  

Write down on a sheet of paper a single word you associate with a “political” organization. It should reflect behavior you have seen with your people.  Then come up with its opposite.

For example:

Negative                     Positive

BS                                Straight Talk

Showboat                    Team Player

Blame                          Accountability

Following this example you would simply, concisely, and frequently communicate to your organization that you value and expect: Straight Talk, Team work, and Accountability. In every interaction, you would consciously model these behaviors.  With the passage of time, the values will become second nature; most employees will be able to name and describe them. 

With all of the management theory and programs available regarding “culture change,” it's easy to forget the simple fact that really do you get what you expect!  If you want to minimize the negative effects of Politics, be clear about your values. Your folks will appreciate it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Should Anyone Trust Your Vision?

I recently commented on a post (11/3/10) by John Kotter--Harvard Business Review Blogger: Why Should Anyone Trust Your Vision.  He brings up an interesting point about how and why leaders now need to engage their people in the decision-making process, to get their buy-in, in order to get the job (of change) done. I thought I'd share my comment here on my Blog:


Thanks for bring up this issue. No doubt, getting multi-levels of the organization deeply involved in developing and debating the "vision" (and most other things for that matter) is THE way to go. I've seen it drive great results as a corporate officer and now as an executive coach. However, I would like to address another dimension of the breakdown of trust. If I assume that the same top management team who was in place during the debacle is the team in place now, it is time to "own up". Nothing much matters if they don't. When we were young, most of us were taught to "own up to our mistakes and learn from them." This simple axiom must be embraced for any leader who wants genuine credibility. So, what is the implication? The leadership team in charge during the “great decline” needs to take visible ownership for mistakes made and ask the rest of the organization to do the same. It might start with this simple statement: "We blew it. We made assumptions that were flawed and lost sight of our values. We forgot what made us great and were seduced by short term gains. Now we need to focus on the solution and ask that all of you play a role in returning our company to greatness." Now, talk is cheap. The action that follows this admission must address the right issues and involve the entire organization. I see all too often that the insecurities (egos) of top leaders prevent them from seeing reality. They forget about the power of empathy. They forget to ask, “If I were one of these employees, would I trust this leadership team?” This is simple stuff, but it separates the great leaders from everyone else. 

Be sure to read John Kotter's complete post at:  blogs.hbr.org/kotter

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Executive Challenge: Bouncing Back

The Executive Challenge: Bouncing Back

Bouncing Back

Most of us can remember a time from our childhoods when we failed. Maybe we lost in the final round of the spelling bee, forgot our lines in the school play, or cost our team the championship game. At the time, those failures felt devastating and in some ways they were. However, most of us learned early on that failure is essential to winning.

As adults, we often forget this simple yet powerful lesson. In the business world, we are trained to despise failure, and for good reason. It can cost you dearly. However, since failure is unavoidable, we must develop the fortitude to learn from it, even if it turns our stomach. Like many things in life, the idea is counter intuitive. By learning to accept failure, we actually set ourselves up to win.

The ability to fail, feel the sting, learn from the experience and bounce back is a hallmark of great leaders. Call it compulsive but great leaders analyze a failure down to its smallest components. In the search for something positive, and to alleviate the pain, they dissect the miss in search of any grain of insight that can make the glass half full.

Bouncing back and learning from mistakes is an acquired skill. Most of us aren’t born with this ability; we learn from our experience. Great leaders remind themselves of the lessons learned at the knees of their parents, grandparents, teachers, and other influential people in their lives. Most important, they remind their people of this simple truth: bouncing back is actually bouncing forward.