Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Active Listening: the Key to Leadership Success

Guest post by Richard Lindenmuth:


Leaders are often thought of as the individual undertaking the most personal risk. Even the military has morphed their ideals on leadership roles, shifting away from the highest ranked official and instead citing the individual or group who knows the mission and territory the best.

Today, the key step for being a true leader is active listening. Active listening is the act of repeating back, in your own words, what you believe was said.  Active listening focuses on more than just hearing the words, it is about understanding them to make sure that you are on the same page with others in the discussion. If you start with active listening as leader you can determine who understands the mission the best, who is most capable of success and what kind of support is required for a positive outcome.

Effective listening skills, make it possible to select leadership and those responsible for success. Many of us have heard that a good leader surrounds themselves with brighter and stronger individuals. However, how do you assess leadership potential when a predetermined hierarchical organization already exists?

This concept is combated by leadership that is visible and communicative at all levels. The In Search of Excellence author, Tom Peters utilizes the term “management by walking around”. If those in charge do not not have direct contact with all levels involved, how can they really lead?

I often tell upper management that they have earned their stripes and that I view them as “the Elder council”. No serious strategic moves will be made without them being part of the decision-making; however, markets, customers, supply chains, manufacturing processes and everything else in the age of “digital connectivity” changes too fast for a traditional organization to react in a timely fashion. Meaning constant communication needs to flow in both directions. 

John P. Kotter wrote the book XLR8, which takes this concept on leading and describes a dual system organization meant to keep traditional hierarchy in place but facilitates direct and timely moves via a second organization that does not follow the former.

Active listening and fluid communication takes time and cannot be accomplished overnight. After absorbing a new operation, I visited the factory floor. I could see people looking at the floor or walking the other way. When I actively listened to these employees I found that the consistent understanding was that management only comes out onto the floor if there was a problem, or someone was being fired. Simple communication on why I was on the floor, paired with their conveyed worries, allowed for better understanding and encouraged a greater team environment.

Instant recognition by the leader should be added as one of the key steps in today’s world. Take away the fear, show people that you are willing to listen and take positive action based on the messages of those around you. Show them you appreciate their daily contributions. It has been shown that a yearly bonus or a salary increase do not have the impact of instant recognition, a thank you, a photo, a small gift card, or dinner with a spouse paid for by the company for their contribution.

A leader does not have to ask for or make strategic decisions every day, effective leadership can be found in the small details. A manufacturing worker suggested quality would improve if the factory was better lit. One week later, LED lighting was installed. You could feel the change in atmosphere that a leader was actually listening.

Customers have a direct impact on the direction and success of a business. Pareto’s Rule suggests that 20% of your customers represent 80% of your profit margin. A leader should pay particular attention and listen to those customers.

Active listening, instant recognition, being visible at all levels of the corporation, good communications. This is leadership!

About the author:
Richard Lindenmuth has more than 30 years of general management experience in
domestic and international operations. He is noted for his comprehensive execution skills in both high-growth and distressed environments. He was president of ITT’s Business and Consumer Communications Group, where he led 12,000 employees through rapid deregulation, grew revenues and profits to set records. He has also acted as interim CEO for a number of companies, including Styrotek Inc., where he returned the company to solid profits in just a few months. Richard is also the author of “The Outside the Box Executive” and “The International Executive.”

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ethics Is Serious Business

Guest post by John Hooker:

Everyone knows that an organization can’t function without physical infrastructure---communications, transportation, computer technology, and the rest.  Yet we rely equally on social infrastructure.  It consists of the social practices that allow us to relate successfully to coworkers, customers, investors, and the community at large. 
Building and maintaining physical infrastructure requires a certain kind of know-how, which we call engineering.  Maintaining our social infrastructure also requires know-how, because we must develop ground rules that make our social practices sustainable.  The field that provides this kind of know-how is called ethics.

This means that ethics is serious business.  Ethical dilemmas are at least as hard to resolve as engineering problems, and at least as urgent, particularly in our complex and fast-moving world.  They require careful analysis, not gut feeling or simplistic platitudes.  When does online data harvesting become invasion of privacy?  When does pharmaceutical pricing become price gouging?  When does cost saving become worker exploitation?  When does product promotion become false advertising?  When does socializing become sexual harassment?
When organizations go astray ethically, it is usually due to a lack of ethical competence, not bad people.  Naturally, there are plenty of scoundrels out there.  The media loves to tell us about the Bernie Madoffs and Martin Shkrelis of the world.  But most of us are basically good people who are unsure how to navigate the treacherous ethical waters of modern work life.  Even when there are bad people around, we often lack the concepts and vocabulary to explain why they are wrong.

To illustrate this, we need look no further than one of the most famous case studies in professional ethics.  In the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company discovered that its budget car, the Pinto, was prone to burst into flames after low-speed rear-end collisions.  The company could have corrected the problem for $11 per car but decided against the fix – until the problem mushroomed into a public relations disaster, and Federal regulators mandated a recall.  One of the managers involved in the affair was an idealistic young man named Dennis Gioia, who went into the auto industry to make a contribution to society.  He wrote an honest article about his experience years later, after he became a business school professor.  Gioia supported Ford’s decision at the time, based on a plausible cost-benefit analysis.  Yet the flaws in Ford’s analysis are immediately evident to someone properly trained in ethical reasoning.  The problem was not bad people, but bad thinking.
It is a relatively straightforward matter to hire staff with engineering competence.  But how does one recognize ethical competence?  How does one motivate staff to acquire this competence and apply it?

The first step is to understand how people grow ethically.  Beginning with Lawrence Kohlberg, developmental psychologists have discovered that ethical competence tends to develop in stages that parallel social and cognitive development.  There are various accounts of what the stages are, but I find it helpful to identify three broad stages that one can recognize in the staff of almost any organization.
The first stage is heteronomy, in which people take their beliefs and values from others.  In youth, norms are typically supplied by family and school, and in adulthood, by the organizations to which one belongs.  The second stage is ideology, in which people begin to do their own thinking but buy into a thought system that claims to have an answer for everything.  One often finds this perspective among teens and young adults, but it can persist into later years.  The third stage is autonomy, in which people acknowledge the validity of different points of view but strive toward a rational consensus.  It arrives in mature adulthood, if at all.

Employees and managers in the autonomy stage are ready for mature leadership.  They will respond to ethical reasoning and can learn to apply it themselves.  Those in the ideological stage may have charisma but are best avoided when top leadership responsibilities are assigned.  Those in the heteronomy stage will absorb the values of the organization, particularly when it advances their careers.  It is for them that the organization’s ethical norms must be made as clear as possible.
Training in ethical analysis can play a key role in developing ethical leadership.  It gives those with autonomy the intellectual tools they need to make responsible decisions and build consensus around them.  It can help nudge others toward ethical maturity.

Ethics training can take at least three forms.  One is an ethics course in business or professional school.  One can look for this on the resume, although many such courses do not teach ethical reasoning skills.  A second form is ethical training on the job, which can be effective if it goes beyond simply sitting around and exchanging opinions.  Participants must be asked to analyze dilemmas, and their analysis critiqued.  Perhaps the most effective form, however, is a practice of ethical discourse within the organization.  Beginning with top management, ethical analysis should be consistently used in meetings and memos.  It should play a central role in explaining and justifying company policy.  People tend to absorb the thought patterns to which they are exposed on a regular basis.
An organization that takes ethics seriously, and develops ethical competence in its emerging leaders, is well on the way to building a sustainable social infrastructure.


John Hooker is a T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, and Professor of Operations Research, at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and author of the new book TAKING ETHICS SERIOUSLY:  Why Ethics Is An Essential Tool For The Modern Workplace.  He has also held visiting posts at several universities, most recently the London School of Economics and the State University of Campinas, Brazil. He brings his extensive background in philosophy and logic to the rigorous analysis of ethical dilemmas, and his background in management science to making sure the dilemmas are realistic. He has published over 170 research articles, eight books, and five edited volumes on ethics, philosophy, operations research, and cross-cultural issues, including Business Ethics as Rational Choice and Working across Cultures. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the world’s only academic journal dedicated to teaching business ethics, and he developed the ethics program in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

High Touch/Personalization

Guest post from Phyllis Weiss Haserot:
 
Leaders and human resources executives can learn a great deal from baseball’s top executives at the Chicago Cubs. They have success in signing stellar recruits, and have made their strategy of recruiting “the whole person” into the envy of other major league teams. 

In an age when so much business is transacted electronically at a distance, the Cubs push hard for in-person meetings in order to identify what is important to each recruiting target and establish a personal connection. Also, the high touch culture approach produces valuable word-of-mouth when solicited players ask current players how well their families are treated. They hear about neighborhoods players reside in, local attractions, and the kids’ room at the stadium. 

The formerly lowly Cubs team has snagged the most desirable free agents since Theo Epstein arrived as president of baseball operations, and he and the general manager, Jed Hoyer, applied the competitive strategy of selling the whole life approach: You are more than a baseball player. 

For example, pitcher Tyler Chatwood, whose wife was pregnant when the Cubs targeted him was presented, unsolicited, with a list of recommended physicians and hospitals in the area at their first meeting. Appealing to the most important influencers in the players’ lives is working, as they have signed all the free agents at the top of their list – and almost all of them for less money than other teams offered. Senior leaders -- take notice! 

Monetary compensation is not the Cubs’ most important tool or incentive offered. They don’t enter a salary bidding war. So the players regard team executives as straight-shooters.  

One agent quoted by the Wall Street Journal said the Cubs “sell the crap out of we value you as a person.” This is a very appealing factor for the mostly Millennial players baseball covets now. They see themselves as multi-faceted and family focused. Granted during the season they put in more hours than most highly paid professional service and other knowledge workers, constantly honing their skills, both physical and mental. They value and demand their form of work/life balance, and the Cubs management leads with buying into that. 

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, a successful recruit, told the Wall Street Journal that players are rushing to join an organization they expect to make them holistically happy. The personalized, high touch approach to recruiting and retention has made a huge difference in the overall team success. 

I regard the perception of personalization and high touch, as one of the crucial skills for success at work for marketing, recruiting, talent development and retention.  

While I am an avid baseball fan and love this example, which resonates with most individuals and is relevant to all industries, most of my work has been with professional services and knowledge workers. From my experience, I advise you to consider:

- In-person visits with clients/customers at least a few times a year, even if there is no ongoing business at the time. It’s even more valuable than for sustaining business development opportunities and identifying needs you can address.

- Providing education on specific issues external stakeholders already or likely will face.

- Training them on organizational culture, processes, and continually improving the working relationship, keeping intergenerational concerns in mind.

- Tracking the changing demographics and generational preferences of both external and internal constituencies to be sure you can mesh their needs with your business demands and be flexible.

- Within the capacity of your company, allowing for individualized career paths.

Challenge your assumptions about what employees, clients, alliance partners and referral sources consider most important and how they want to interact -- by asking regularly. Get to know them and what they truly value. Deepen relationships. Keep the conversation going. Remember the Cubs and their high touch culture.



Phyllis Weiss Haserot helps organizations solve inter-generational challenges among work colleagues and with clients to achieve better productivity and knowledge transfer, retention, succession planning and business development results.  She is president of Practice Development Counsel, and author of “You Can’t Google It!! – The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work.” For more information, please visit www.pdcounsel.com.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ten Years After Ford’s Spectacular Turnaround, What Alan Mulally Reveals About Brand-Inspired Cultural Revolution

Guest post from Denise Lee Yohn:


It's been 10 years since Alan Mulally pulled off what has been considered one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in U.S. history.  HIs leadership of the venerable Ford Motor Company's recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 has been celebrated and analyzed from many perspectives -- the development of industry-leading products and partnerships with technology and consumer electronics companies, the revival of the Taurus brand, the consolidation of global operations into a single business unit, etc.  But one angle that hasn't yet been covered is the brand-inspired cultural revolution he led inside the organization.

When Mulally arrived at the struggling company, he set his sights on dismantling the toxic culture that had metastasized within it. In the excellent book American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company, Bryce Hoffman wrote about the lack of transparency, fractious business units, and a preoccupation with self-preservation that had come to define Ford’s culture. Meetings resembled mortal combat, Hoffman described, with executives regularly looking for vulnerabilities among their peers to exploit.

Given the state of internal affairs at the company, it’s no wonder the Ford brand was struggling on the outside. With its leaders distracted by playing politics and defending turfs, the Ford brand had become listless and unfocused. Ford’s product lineup hadn't kept up with changing consumer tastes and different regions pursued different automobile configurations which diluted the brand identity around the world.

Mulally challenged this dysfunction head on and championed a single, clear vision for the organization:  “One Ford,”  With One Ford, the company set about reviving what Mulally called the "phenomenally powerful" Ford brand, promoting “the critical ingredients that made a Ford a Ford.” and then working as one team to deliver on those, as a Fortune article explains.

One Ford was grounded in the original purpose that prompted Henry Ford to start the company—to “build a car for the great multitude.”  The resurrection of this vision conveyed to everyone inside the company and out that Ford was back in the business of “serving all around the world a complete family of cars that are best-in-class,” Mulally explained. With One Ford, he put the purpose and values of the Ford brand at the center of the organization and unified the company’s people, plans, operations, and products to restore the brand to automotive leadership.

He instituted weekly business performance review (BPR) meetings that required a new level of rigor, scrutiny, and detailed analysis from the company’s leaders. According to Hoffman, these executives initially bristled at Mulally’s demands and resisted the changes, but over time they began to see that the transparency Mulally enforced effectively united them to work together on the company’s business and brand goals and that the commitment he expected was not in service to himself but to the brand he had so much passion for.

Mulally also drove Ford's engineers to define Ford’s “DNA,” as Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s global product chief, called it—the “genome that was designed to and engineered to convey quality, innovation, and style.” By identifying “300 different characteristics—from the chirps on the electronic key fob to the clunk of a closing door—that define the personality of its vehicles,” Ford developed a common design language that made it easier to develop single products to sell in all markets.  Moreover, it helped build the Ford brand by making a Ford recognizable around the world and eliciting a strong, visceral, emotional reaction to its vehicles.

All of these efforts worked to transform Ford -- the company was restored to profitability and the brand, to preeminence.. Within a year, the entire organization's energy toward the Ford brand had been reinvigorated and executives throughout the company had begun to adopt Mulally’s focused and data- driven approach. In 2010, Motor Trend named one of Ford’s newest cars, the Ford Fusion, “Car of the Year.” And the company posted annual profits of $6.6 billion, making it the most profitable automobile company in the world at the time.

Ford’s turnaround demonstrates the transformative power of an organizational culture steeped in an overarching purpose and integrated with the brand. But more than that, it shows how leaders set the tone and pace of cultural transformation.

 

Denise Lee Yohn is a leading authority on positioning great brands and building exceptional organizations, and has 25 years of experience working with world-class brands including Sony and Frito-Lay. Denise is a consultant, speaker, and author of What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest and the new book FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World's Greatest Companies.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Leadership Lesson from D-Day: Foresight

Guest post by John Antal:
 


Foresight is one of the most critical skills of a leader. Foresight is the capacity to accurately focus on the key factors of a rapidly changing and chaotic situation without losing sight of the big picture. The best leaders anticipate and develop an ability to see beyond the immediate and are able to visualize and plan several moves ahead of their opponent. Foresight helps leaders act in a manner that addresses problems in the short term and solves them in the long run. In war, foresight is as valuable as it is rare.
 
In December 1940, Adolf Hitler was considered by many to be a leader with exceptional foresight. In 1938, he had bluffed the Allies at Munich and annexed portions of Czechoslovakia and eventually took the entire country without a fight. In 1939, Hitler’s forces attacked Poland while the French and British, who had pledged to fight if Poland was attacked, did little to help. The Poles fought and died alone and Hitler won another victory for the Reich. In 1940, Hitler unleashed a lightening war against Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. All these countries surrendered to Hitler’s armies. In 1941 Hitler’s legions seized Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete. In Africa, Rommel’s Deutsches Afrikakorps, was nearing the Suez Canal. By late 1941, Hitler’s empire stretched from the shores of France to the Parthenon in Greece and from the sands of Libya to the gates of Moscow.
 
On December 7, 1941, Nazi Germany’s ally, the Empire of Japan, executed a surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. The Japanese attack badly damaged the US Pacific Naval Fleet, sinking, among others, four battleships. American naval and aircraft losses were heavy. All eight American battleships anchored at Pearl Harbor, the pride of the US Navy, were damaged, with four being sunk, along with the loss of three cruisers and three destroyers. Although the US Navy’s aircraft carriers escaped the attack, 188 Army and Navy aircraft were destroyed. Most tragically, 2,403 Americans were killed, with another 1,178 wounded. That same day, the Japanese attacked US forces in the Philippines, and Guam, while simultaneously attacking British and Dutch forces across the Pacific.
 
The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor crippled America’s fighting forces in the Pacific and shocked the American people. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his address to Congress on December 8, 1941, stated: “Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.”
 
Those were brave words, but in 1941, the United States was not ready for war. The US Army was ranked 19th in the world and was smaller than the army of Romania. Only three divisions in the US Army were considered combat ready and these lacked the modern equipment—especially tanks—that was the key ingredient of the German Army’s (the Wehrmacht’s) success. The Army Air Corps (the United States Air Force did not become a separate service until 1947, after World War II) was struggling to train pilots on mostly obsolete aircraft. Only the United States Navy was truly a force to be reckoned with and now the Japanese had delivered a devastating blow to the American fleet.
 
Hitler watched as Japan conducted its Pacific blitzkrieg. The Japanese seemed poised to knock the US out of the war. Hitler expected America to cower and beg the Japanese for terms, just as the British and French had done at Munich. He waited a few days after the Japanese attack, searching for an opportune time to maximize the propaganda effect and announce his support for Imperial Japan. Then, on December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler gave a speech at the Reichstag and, to the surprise of his generals, declared war on the United States.

When Hitler’s Generals heard their Fü
hrer declare war on the United States their jaws dropped. Japan had not informed Germany of its plan to attack Pearl Harbor. Hitler had not consulted the Wehrmacht high command that Germany would take on the Americans. The German Army was fully committed to the titanic struggle in Russia. It was true that the United States had inadequate military forces and was unprepared for war, but it seemed unnecessary to add another enemy to an ever-increasing list of enemies. Germany was not bound by the Axis Tripartite Pact to declare war on the United States. Nevertheless, victory for the Axis was in the air. Hitler’s forces were expected to take Moscow in the spring. Japan had just smashed the American Navy. Hitler was sure that the “decadent bourgeois Americans” could not fight.

 
On December 11, 1941, the Führer’s foresight still seemed infallible and America’s ability to fight a global war against the Axis powers of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany looked impossible. Impossible, however, was not a word in the American dictionary and America rose to the challenge. Almost immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans shook of isolationism, rolled up their sleeves, and decided on courage. They decided to lead. It took tremendous effort, organizational skills, and sacrifice by a united America to raise the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marines and Coast Guardsmen required to turn the tide against this vicious totalitarian onslaught, but that is what they were determined to do. Remember Pearl Harbor was their rallying cry.
 
One thousand, two hundred and seventy-seven days later, on June 6, 1944, the Allies under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, landed on the beached of Normandy, France, in the greatest amphibious operation ever attempted. The Allies cracked open Hitler’s Fortress Europe and started the march toward Germany. D-Day was a vital step in the destruction and surrender of Nazi Germany, and it started at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. For the ancient Greeks, the name Prometheus means “foresight.” Adolf Hitler’s hubris and lack of foresight on December 11, 1941, when he declared war on the United States, was, thankfully, one of biggest strategic blunders of WWII.
 
John Antal is a Soldier, historian, author, leadership expert and master storyteller . He has published thirteen books and hundreds of magazine articles on his historical and leadership subjects. His latest book, 7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day: Lessons from the Longest Day, June 6, 1944, was published in October 2017 and is available at You can learn more about John Antal and his books at www.American-Leadership.com.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Likability in Leadership—Necessary for Some, a Liability to Others


Guest post from Cassandra Frangos:

We had a handy rule of thumb for hiring in my first job in management consulting. After the first or second round of interviews, if the candidate scored high on the prerequisites, the team would gather for a reality check and ask each other: "Would you mind being stuck in an airport for 9 hours with this person?” If the answer was, "Oh my, no way," we’d usually move on to the next highly qualified candidate. Consulting is a time-intensive business where exhaustive hours are spent traveling to remote locations, making presentations together in close quarter conference rooms, and collaborating with customers. You have to like the people you work with.

Yet, it’s not the same in every case—likability does not necessarily equal followership when it comes to leadership. When I’ve conducting executive assessments or performance interviews, for instance, I don’t need to hear that a leader is highly likable. In fact, if that’s the first thing a colleague says about a leader, it gives me pause. There are other arguably more important elements in gaining the respect necessary to lead.

When I weigh the pros and cons of likability, I put the question into context by looking at three lenses that help calibrate the question:

The first context is culture. A leader’s disposition needs to be in sync with the culture of a company. I met with the CHRO of a staffing firm in the southwest last month and the first thing I thought was: this person is really nice and I can see why she is so respected here. The organization was relatively small, everyone was together in one location, and they relied on local contacts to keep the business going. Likeability was built into the formula. Would that same CHRO be as successful at a firm where the culture was more about innovation and less about continuity? Doubtful.

Industry is the second context to consider. When people talk about the qualities that made Steve Jobs so successful, likability didn’t always appear on the short list. Yet, he was one of the most admired leaders of our time. Apple is in an industry where fresh ideas, fast thinking and constant change are keys to success. Jobs brought a highly distinctive design vision that keyed-in on user experience and an eye for engineering excellence that few could match. He was a brilliant in all the ways that mattered, and that, more than likability, gained him the followership he needed to lead in computing. Likewise, the aggressive and purportedly overbearing Jack Welch was highly respected and emulated, but likability was not a key ingredient for leading the massively complex global conglomerate.

Lastly, I look at circumstance. In general, I would expect customer facing leaders to be likable but the benchmark may be somewhat different for other types of functional or technical leaders. Likewise, there are numerous extenuating circumstances that make likability in a leader more or less necessary. If a leader is charged with reengineering or remaking a failing firm, they must be empathetic, but perhaps likability is too much to expect. Whereas, if a leader is hired to improve employee engagement, shore up retention, and bring the organization together, then achieving the necessary followership may depend upon being likable.

In leadership, likability looks different depending upon the context. The best leaders are decisive, commend respect, and connect with their followers. That won’t happen if a leader is a bully, tyrant or, yes, just plain untrustworthy. But likable? It’s not always a necessary quality in a leader.

BIO
Cassandra Frangos, EdD, is the author of Crack the C-Suite Code: How Successful
Leaders Make It to the Top and a consultant at Spencer Stuart, where she focuses on collaborating with Fortune 500 leadership teams on executive assessments, succession planning, leadership development and top team effectiveness. Previously, she led Cisco’s Global Executive Talent practice where she played an integral role in the 2015 succession planning for Cisco’s CEO, and conducted the research for Crack the C-Suite Code.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Leaders: Take the “Blind Spots” Test!

Guest post from David Mattson:

If something bad were to happen to you or one of your key team members, something that took you or that person out of action for a month or more, would your business be in crisis? Would its performance suffer? Would its survival be in question?
Did you hesitate before answering any of those questions? If so, your company may be suffering from “blind spots syndrome.” One or two people may be carrying a disproportionate share of responsibility for the entire organization’s performance. In this situation, well-intentioned company leaders often set themselves and their companies up for failure by taking on too much, improvising too often, and not delegating effectively. As a result, they typically don’t know what they don’t know about the most dangerous obstacles they face … and, all too often, they’re not particularly interested in finding out.

This dysfunctional way of working drains both leaders and organizations of energy, resilience, and potential. It’s stressful for you and everyone in the organization. How vulnerable is your company to the blind spots syndrome? You can begin to get an answer by taking the following short test.

BLIND SPOT #1: No methodologies and systems. When everything is improvised, inconsistency carries the day, and predictable events – like key people leaving or getting sick for an extended period – lead to major, immediate problems. Give yourself a score of 1 if your business would be in instant crisis if its top three people were, without warning, incapacitated for a week or more; a score of 10 if such an event would have little or no immediate effect on the smooth functioning of your organization; or another score if your organization is somewhere in the middle.

BLIND SPOT #2: Not being in recruiting mode. The best companies are always on the lookout for the best people. Give yourself a score of 1 if you are only in recruiting mode when there is a staffing emergency; a score of 10 if you are always in recruiting mode; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

BLIND SPOT #3: Not establishing a documented process for hiring. Following a “gut feeling” is not enough. You need a clear, quantifiable hiring process, and everyone who hires employees needs to follow it. Give yourself a score of 1 if you have no documented hiring process; a score of 10 if you have a detailed written hiring process that everyone with hiring authority in your organization follows; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

BLIND SPOT #4: Not creating and sustaining a culture of accountability. Supporting such a culture requires leaders to show personal vulnerability. The leader’s example is the single biggest determinant of success in this area! Give yourself a score of 1 if you have never acknowledged a personal skill gap or oversight to a subordinate; a score of 10 if you regularly establish specific accountabilities to subordinates and apologize authentically whenever there is a breakdown that prevents you from fulfilling that accountability; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

BLIND SPOT #5: Creating learned helplessness. This is a big one, and I want to look at it closely. People come to us to ask us for our opinions all day long. Sometimes those requests for our opinion are really requests that we solve a problem -- and sometimes we are all too happy to jump in and do so. Of course, a lot of these questions really are ones that your team member wouldn’t know the answer to … but many are questions that the person could answer on his or her own. We may field these questions at a time when we are in the middle of something else that we don’t like doing very much … like staring at spreadsheet numbers and looking for some magic trend. So when the person with the question comes in, we are happy to put that down and move into “rescue” mode.

This pattern brings to mind the proverb about giving a person a fish to eat, as opposed to teaching a person how to fish. One “solution” lasts a day – the other lasts a lifetime. Which is better? I think you know the answer. Or think about your own home life. If your kid is having trouble with homework, do you say, “Don’t worry, hand it over here, I’ll do it for you”?  Of course not.
Yet we are all tempted to rescue team members at work when we know they will be better off solving the problem themselves. Why? One reason we tell ourselves is that we think it will be faster. We want to just give the answer so we can go back to what we were doing. When we add up all the interruptions, though, we realize we’re not really gaining anything.

Another driver is ego. We want to jump in and be the “fixer.” Let’s be honest. We love this part of the job, especially when it’s more interesting than what we were doing when we got interrupted!

Give yourself a score of 1 if you often find yourself taking on tasks because you convince yourself no one else is capable of “doing it right” or doing it on time; a score of 10 if that seldom or never occurs and you spend 90% of your time working on the business, rather than in it; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.
These are just some of the obstacles that stand in the path to personal and organizational excellence. Even one of the blind spots I’ve shared with you has the potential to undermine or even kill a business. Why bother to address these issues? Because failing to do so leaves you vulnerable to unacceptably high levels of personal stress. That affects not only your ability to lead, but your quality of life.

If your personal score is…
 
Likely Result
Less than 20 points
 
Unsustainably high and dangerous personal stress levels
21-30
 
Significant personal stress levels; reduced quality of life
31-40
 
Moderate personal stress levels; adequate quality of life, but room for improvement
41-50
 
Low, consistently manageable personal stress levels; high quality of life

 

 

 

 

 

 


Note that blind spots can pop up when you least expect them, even in the areas where you imagine yourself and your company to be the least vulnerable. Companies often “fix” a blind spot, but find that it returns over time. Why does that happen? Creating self-sufficient team members and departments is the ultimate goal of any effective leader. That means people and teams make important decisions in areas you’ve specifically delegated to them—which is as it should be. Yet as you grow in scale or bring in new people, that very growth creates the possibility of a blind spot’s recurrence or of brand new blind spots developing—new problem areas of which you and other company leaders aren’t aware. The fact that there were no blind spots in a given area the last time you checked is no guarantee that there are no blind spots right now!

Most of the leaders I share this test with acknowledge that dangerous blind spots do exist in their world – but they haven’t yet taken on a personal commitment to change the status quo. Unfortunately, just knowing about a blind spot is not enough. Overcoming one, in our experience, takes commitment, patience, and a willingness to work with a personal coach. But the effort is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your company.


David Mattson is the CEO and President of Sandler Training, an international training and consulting organization headquartered in North America. Since 1986, he has been a trainer and business consultant for management, sales, interpersonal communication, corporate team building and strategic planning throughout the United States and Europe. A Wall Street Journal bestselling author, his new book is The Road To Excellence:  6 Leadership Strategies To Build a Bulletproof Business.  For more information, please visit:  sandler.com/road-to-excellence.