Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Training

When looking around in organizations and corporations, the lack of training of people in leadership positions becomes apparent. My own corporate experience was no different. There was a seminar here and there, a couple of days during the year ... that was it. No one seemed to care enough making sure we would have the best leaders. And the rest of the industry was no different. 

Leaders, to me, are born with certain talents, and then leaders are made. Talent alone is not, and never was, good enough. A well-trained but untalented person beats a talented one without training anytime. Selection of the right people is crucial. For that purpose a thorough assessment needs to be performed. Those, based on the assessment, being recommended as future leaders must then have a thorough training, learning the essential skills of leadership, and then practice it time and again. That distinguishes the military from the rest: Leaders are very well trained, are going through tough exercises, learning and practicing the skills. Training for that actually never ends, you serve and you train. There is no other way to achieve mastery ... talent or not ... you must do the work. Being exposed to extreme situations cuts quickly through all the BS. 

Leadership is an Art and must be taught and studied as such. Learning the skills of leadership means achieving craftsmanship at its finest. And in order to stay proficient one must practice, practice, practice. It always surprises me that so little is done in organizations and corporations, to bring about the best leaders, leaders fit for the challenges ahead. One can only imagine the blunder attributable to bad or inexistent leadership.

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Dealing With The Unexpected

As a leader more often than not you have to deal with the unexpected.  Face it, also as a leader you know much less, than you might think you do. Yet, your people you lead are looking at you, are waiting for you to lead. You must develop this awareness of what you truly know, and even more what you don’t know ... cannot know. Your decision making, the quality of your decision making depends heavily on that. You must know when to make a decision for taking action, and you must know when not to decide for action, in any case, you decide! 

Imagine this situation:

February 1982 in Mexico. We were just at our office when the President of Mexico made his announcement. He was informing the nation that the country was dead broke ... that this was the fault of the international corporations ... that therefore the oil industry will be nationalized ... the entire banking sector will be nationalized ... that the rest of the industry will be under tight government control, especially pricing and importing goods ... that international traveling will be restricted ... that accounts in USD or other foreign currencies will be exchanged into Mexican Pesos at an arbitrary exchange rate ... that having foreign currency may be penalized ... and those were just the big points. How do you handle such a situation as a leader in your company? It feels like all alarm bells ring at once ... including the master alarm ... and you have not much time to react ... you must assess the damage and quick ... you must decide without having the essential facts for good decision making ... what do you do? Employees and workers were at the brink of panic, looking at us in leadership positions ... desperately waiting for being told what to do. The Titanic was sinking and rearranging the chairs on the deck would not be good enough ... 

That was the day, and I was a very young area controller back then, when all my naïveté suddenly fell off me ... when I realized that neither I, nor my top leaders had ever been prepared for something like that. We met in an emergency meeting with our Managing Board and went through our options ... well, you could barely call that options ... and one person was remarkably calm: our CEO ... a former U-Boat captain and used to the unexpected ... we assessed the damage, main problem was our cash reserve under these circumstances, then made some tough decisions right away: We had to lay off 15% of our workforce immediately, had to size down production levels to one shift only. And then the most important decision was made: with the cash we had we would pay first the salaries of the workers, then employees, then managers, and if there would be still something left top managers would be paid. We wanted to make sure that even facing the lay offs people would know and understand that we wanted to keep as many of the as we could. Keeping the knowledge and knowhow on board was crucial for the turnaround waiting for us. 

There was a moment when the discussion went towards shutting down everything and then just wait ... saving money through dramatically reduced cost. But reason kicked in and the understanding that you cannot save yourself rich, so to speak. The operation had to go on to avoid the sinking. We made all those decision for action we had to make right away to keep the company alive, and we postponed all those decisions we could to gather more data / facts and then decide actions to take. All that we discussed and decided in a matter of hours. 

What would you have done?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Serving and Leadership

What makes a leader a Great Leader? Diving deep into history one can find many examples of leaders. Quite a number of them were really good leaders of their people. Then there are some considered being the truly Great Leaders. The question arises whether there is a common denominator making a leader a Great Leader

Time and again when reading the Great Leaders in history I came across statements like this: “One must first and foremost serve in order to lead!” This important ingredient can be found in any Great Leader and it distinguishes them from the many others. It speaks loud and clear of the integrity of the leader. Great Leaders serve their people they lead, thus, people choose voluntarily to follow them and go, if necessary, through hell with them. 

How do they do that? They find a way to truly connect to people on a very deep level through empathy. They genuinely care about their people. They show respect to people, thus, winning their respect in return. They make people grow beyond their own expectations, making them aware of their true potential. As a leader, always remember: It’s not about you, it’s about them! 

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” - Douglas MacArthur

To me, it becomes very apparent that this is the type of leadership we need, but in most cases are lacking. This is the type of leadership fostering cocreation and collaboration. This is the type of leadership that can bring about the change we need in our organizations and society at large. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Commitment

Commitment has everything to do with your integrity, in fact, the way you handle your commitments defines your integrity, or the lack thereof. Often, commitments are made and then taken very lightly:  for instance, you keep it when you feel like it ... and if not, who cares? Make no mistake, if you don’t honor your commitments you simply show your lack of integrity. 

There is no such thing as a “minor commitment”, one could treat lightly. You better make sure that you always and under any circumstances keep your commitments you made. Nobody really cares about the excuses you might provide for not keeping your commitment. You broke your word and will be perceived as not trustworthy. 

For any true leader keeping commitments made is mandatory. Demonstrating commitment is never easy though. Especially during tough and rough times you will show the material your are made of as a leader. When your world seems to fall apart, it will become tempting to compromise on your commitments. When you can resist this temptation, and boldly hold your line against all odds and adversities, then you are a true leader people will choose to follow. You will be rewarded with the reputation of unwavering integrity, and the commitment of others to you. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Thinking for Yourself

During the last years I observe a steadily increasing attention deficit, caused mainly by the use of Twitter, Facebook, and similar electronic media platforms. Even when being with people in person, they seem to be hooked to their gadgets, constantly reacting to what is appearing on their screens at an ever increasing speed. Sustaining an informal conversation, uninterrupted by for instance incoming tweets, sometimes is next to impossible. 

Unfortunately, this development also reached the people in leadership positions. Often, you will see them in their offices having several chat windows open ... being logged in in different social networks and glued to their streams ... while having a conversation with someone being with them. They call it proudly multitasking, I call it the inability of concentrating on this one thing and doing that right.

This information overload leads directly to simply repeating other peoples thoughts and ideas, effectively shutting down the ability of truly thinking for themselves. Poor leadership, or, better, the complete absence of leadership is the immediate consequence one can observe. 

As a leader you must be able to focus, to concentrate on the right things and doing these right ... one after the other. That requires thinking for yourself ... really staying with the problem at hand long enough ... wrapping your own mind around it and doing the required work of thinking, instead of repeating what appears on your screen. True thinking is slow, so you need to slow down ... need to be alone and undisturbed by anything ... that’s when the best thinking happens. 

Excellence in thinking for yourself leads to excellence in results, something every leader must have. As Albert Einstein said it: It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer!

Here is an excellent speech I came across during my research:

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

Friday, February 15, 2013

On The Magic of Storytelling

Leadership is first and foremost having the vision of where to go. A vision is always long term, and, to me, long term means envisioning 10, 20 years ahead. Then, only then you can think about the strategy and tactics you might have to deploy to get there. And for that matter you need your people and their fantasies, and your people need to understand your vision ... they must become one with your vision, so to speak. Broadcasting your vision will not be good enough though, you must engage and excite your people ... you must play to their fantasies. Wrap your vision in a story ... a story compelling enough to get their full attention. The daily life is rough enough for people, the daily trivia numbing them already. To get their undivided attention, to tap into the full potential of their fantasies, people want to be romanced by your story. Enrich their world with your story! The greatest leaders in history were also great storytellers! There lies great power within the Magic of Storytelling.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Action Rather than Words

As a leader you must give the example by your actions. Trying to lead just by words is not good enough to bring about change in the mindset of people. Also, avoid going into an argument to drive you point home. You might have won the argument in that particular moment, however, it most likely will backfire on you. Instead, it is so much more powerful getting others to agree with you through your actions. Through your actions you are demonstrating a higher value, without talking too much. With your actions you will be establishing trustworthiness with people. Listen to them carefully making them part of your mission. Show empathy and care for their needs! You can talk a lot, however, only when you live it, live your talk, people might voluntarily choose to follow you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Reputation

Everything depends on your reputation, especially being a leader. Reputation is based on your core values ... such as Integrity, Honesty, Trustworthiness. People will measure you against your values, looking into what you are saying and even more what your are doing. Building your reputation takes a lot of time. Protect your reputation with your life if needed, so to speak. Stay always true to yourself and your values, never settle for less! Your reputation is a decisive factor when it comes to true leadership. When you slip only once it will be gone in a second ... and so will be the people having trusted you! And always remember: How you do anything in life, you do everything! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the Secret of The Casual Conversation

The Secret of The Casual Conversation is one of the essential pieces of the Art of Communication. Knowing and understanding casual conversation, and then mastering it enables the leader to sense the underlying motives, concerns, wishes etc. of people. An excellent general knowledge is, of course, indispensable and any true leader must have that! Mastering Casual Conversation allows for connecting with others on a much deeper level. Being able to eloquently and educatedly participate in any conversation about any general topic, and demonstrating empathy for the others, attracts people to be listening to you. Leadership is about the influence a leader has in those who follow. and influence can only be built via establishing likability and trustworthiness. The Secret of The Casual Conversation is an essential skill any leader must have.

Monday, February 11, 2013

On the Art of Communication

A true leader must first and foremost master the Art of Communication! Communication is the single most essential ingredient getting across your thoughts to people. It requires the ability to tuning in into the frequency of others, thus being able to sense where they are coming from. Empathy for people is absolutely crucial, and so is integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness in your doing. Accepting people and acknowledging them as who they are is the key to truly connecting with them on a deeper level. Communicating begins with listening, and continues with even more listening. It is about the others and not about you as a leader. Paying attention to what they want is opening the channel for cooperation, collaboration, and cocreation. Hence, people will feel that what they do is meaningful. And people doing meaningful things are most motivated to deliver excellence!

Friday, February 08, 2013

On Ethics and Integrity

As a leader you have power, and with power comes responsibility.

Immanuel Kant once said: "So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world!" 

Nothing less can be expected from a leader. Today more than ever, and in the time to come we need true leadership ... leadership based on the highest values such as integrity, honesty, trustworthiness. This is true for society at large, not only for organizations. 
With the ever advancing technology, as seen in virtual social networks, people have now more than ever the ability to hold leaders publicly accountable. However, there is an important point people must observe: The very same integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness we expect from out leaders, applies to us as well. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On Traditional Leadership

In the long history of mankind there was always a small group of people leading. Sometimes, these were the smartest, and sometimes these were the strongest and bravest. Over time different systems brought about different leaders. Yet, they were all either smart, strong, or brave ... or all three of it. One quality, however, has been there in all of them: they knew that power is never granted, power is taken! This has never changed. The traditional system evolved being based on command and control, a system that worked so well ... or so it was thought. 

With the rapid advancements in technology, mainly information technology, virtual social networks appeared. These networks are effectively disrupting the way information was exchanged before. Suddenly, everyone has the ability to participate on these platforms, to cooperate and cocreate, and, even more important, make oneself heard. Corporations, organizations at large are feeling the impact and their leadership must react. Reacting alone might not be good enough though. Knowing and understanding the art of communication, and the power of cooperation and cocreation is making it necessary to creatively destroy the old systems and bring about a new kind of leadership: Leadership embracing cooperation and cocreation!

We are just at the very beginning of understanding what we have at hand already.




Monday, February 04, 2013

On the Transformational Power of Social Media

Technology is advancing very fast. It brings about a dramatic change on how our organizations at large, our societies will be structured. There is a shift in power taking place, a shift towards cocreation and collaboration on a global scale. People are no longer just employees ... paid slaves so to speak ... these jobs are being eliminated fast during the next years. People are effectively becoming the enterprise: You are the enterprise! And these people want to participate in the process, they are an essential part of our society to come. They want to do meaningful tasks, they want to be heard, acknowledged, and respected. The new kind of leadership is becoming part of that process ... more moderator than commander ... more coach than boss ... more empathy than distance! You ain't seen nothing yet ...

read: https://plus.google.com/u/0/110703041966676039868/posts/SLZwLFfjaJc

On New Leadership

What we need, in my humble opinion, is a complete makeover of Leadership ... creative destruction if you so will ... and bring about this new kind of Leadership: people, who not only repeat, like nowadays in many cases, what they have been taught as skill sets ... people, who truly live this new kind of leadership required ... why are these people leaders in the first place?. Then trust can be built with the employees. To me, this is not only a task for companies ... this is the task at hand for society at large!

Read: https://plus.google.com/u/0/110703041966676039868/posts/CQpSWHLzDYk

On Requirements for Leaders

We had great leaders in the past, we have leaders now, and we will definitely have leaders in the future! Each organization needs leadership, needs direction, needs vision. The requirements for leaders are changing / evolving, and that has always being the case. The qualities of a leader, which distinguish a true leader from others, are still the same and are certainly not defined by, for example, a CS degree combined with the thinking / believing that people are just data. You are a good leader when people freely and confidently choose to follow you, when people see your integrity, your honesty and choose to trust you! If you want to find out, just turn around and look if someone is following you.

On Traditional Hierarchies

No longer is it good enough to have the traditional hierarchical structures in place. The new leaders don’t get their power out of preset / pre-described positions. The new leaders are getting their power based on the knowing and understanding of these complex networks, are getting their power from their ability to read and understand the connections , are getting their power from their ability to tuning in into the frequency of others, are getting their power on the degree of influence they have with the many followers, are getting their power based on their knowing and understanding that human beings are so much more than just a bunch of data left behind . The new leaders are the central connectors within the system, the new leaders make the connectome (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectome) work.

On the Impact of Technology

Technology will enable communication in a way never seen before. People in these organizations are connected on a worldwide scale, communication is interwoven / entangled and every bit of information is available instantly and on your fingertip.

The amount of information is already beyond comprehension and often adding confusion at a grand scale. And that’s the crucial point where leadership is required.

On Organizational Change and The Leadership of The Future

Technology is of course influencing organizations, thus forcing them to adapt. Nothing new here. Virtual social networks are indeed a game changer, and organizations are already being reshaped taking advantage of the possibilities. So called social layers will be integrated into these evolving organizations, facilitating communication within the organization and also outside the organization. The borders between inside and outside will subsequently be more and more blurred.

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