Monday, June 30, 2008

Leadership Rules

Rule: a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.: the rules of chess.

When a new leader takes over a team or organization, they’re often asked about their leadership style, philosophy, or beliefs. People want to know how you’re going to behave, and how you’re going to lead them.

There’s been hundreds, if not thousands of books and articles written about leadership. It seems everyone’s got the key to leadership enlightenment, and is willing to share it with you for $22.95 and/or a $10,000 speaker’s fee.

How about you? If you were asked to do a presentation tomorrow about what’s important to you as a leader, could you do it? Do you have a set of lasting, consistent “rules” you hold yourself accountable to as a leader? Or are you a “book of the month” kind of leader?

Up until now, while I’ve had them in my head and like to think I practice them on a day to day basis, I’ve never taken the time to write them down. I found it to be a valuable exercise, and would encourage every leader to give it a try.

So here are my own leadership rules, in no particular order. They’re mine, and only mine, and I’m in no way saying they should be everyone’s. However, they’re certainly not proprietary, so feel free to use any or all of them.

Dan’s Leadership Rules:

1. I fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.

2. As a leader, I hold myself accountable to the highest standards of behavior. When making a decision, I ask myself “would I be comfortable with the details of this decision plastered all over the Wall Street Journal or company intranet?” I look at myself as a role model, for my team and others. If there’s even the slightest chance of offending someone, then I keep it to myself. If I see a wrong, I’ll speak up. I won’t “let my hair down” after hours or off-site - as a leader, there is no “on” and “off” switch.

3. One of the most important things I’m responsible for is the development and growth of my employees. It’s up to me to make sure they are engaged in meaningful and challenging work that helps them stretch and grow. And in order to help develop others, I need to development myself.

4. I’m responsible for creating a team of “A” players. My goal is to hire, retain, and promote only the best. If someone is a C player, my job to is turn them into an A player or help them find another role where they have a better chance to be an A player. I will hold my team accountable to the highest standards or performance and behavior, and offer no apologies for expecting my team to work harder and behave more professionally than other teams around us.

5. It’s my job as a leader to ensure my organization’s work is strategic. That is, all of our goals and activities need to be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the larger organization. I owe it to my organization and to every member of my team to ensure our work is meaningful, and will have little tolerance for non-value added work.

6. Any organization I lead will always have a strategy and goals. Any individual I lead will always have a set of objectives and a development plan.

7. I understand and embrace the importance of team meetings and individual 1on1s. These meetings are not a nuisance or distraction – they are the day to day manifestation of leadership.

8. I need to be an advocate for my peers and my manager. Their success needs to be as important as my own success. I’m responsible for their development too.

9. I should be positive and optimistic – about my company, our products and services, our clients, our goals, other departments, etc… I’ll challenge when appropriate, but it will always be with the intention of constructive improvement. Humor is OK – cynicism and sarcasm are not.

10. As a part of a leadership team, it’s up to all of us to challenge, debate, and speak up when we disagree. But when we leave we leave the room, I’ll respect the final decision, publicly support it, and do all I can to help successfully implement it.

11. My employees are bright, capable, responsible adults and I need to treat them that way. I am not all-knowing or blessed with superior judgment because of my title. I don’t need to be aware of all details, be involved in all decisions, or dictate how they do their work. Treating employees like children and micromanaging is the ultimate form of disrespect and poor leadership.

12. I’m still working on this one – but I need to listen and ask questions, and be open to possibilities. Listening as a leader means fighting the natural urge to evaluate and react, vs. listening to truly understand another’s worldview and consider the possibilities. (Then I can evaluate and react).

I’m sure if I continued to think about it, I’d come up with more, but these are the ones that just flowed from my head to the keyboard without thinking. So for now I’ll leave it at a dozen and continue to work on holding myself accountable to these.

What are your own leadership rules? I’d be glad to publish any and all in the comments section.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Guide to Leadership Assessments

I’m often asked is there’s such thing as a leadership “test”, or some kind of assessment to determine how good a leader someone is. While there’s no single silver bullet for assessing leadership capability (at least I don’t think there is, no matter what the assessments salespeople try to tell you), there are a number of useful assessments that can give a leader insights into their development needs.

There are hundreds of assessments out there, and some of them are downright silly (the “Find your Star Wars Twin” assessment). It’s always best not to overly rely on any one assessment, and instead look for feedback from a number of sources.

The following list only represents tools I’m familiar with, have personally used (oh yes, every one), and can recommend:

360 Assessments

I think these are the best way to get a handle on your leadership strengths and weaknesses. I like them because they are usually more likely to lead to behavior change and positive results. A 360 assessment, or multi-rater assessment, usually consists of a list of questions based on a set of leadership competencies. You can buy an commercial assessment that's based on a proven competency model, or create your own based on your own model.

The leader usually selects their own raters (better for buy-in), and someone else (internal or external administrator, or web-based service) sends it to their boss, direct reports, peers, and others. Individual ratings and comments (other than the bosses) are anonymous, and grouped together by category.

360s can be used for performance assessment (results go to boss, HR) or for development(results go only to leader). Both have their places, with advantages & disadvantages. The important thing is to be transparent about it.

Here are are number of great 360 assessments:

1. The Center for Creative Leadership's Benchmarks . Benchmarks is a comprehensive 360-degree assessment tool for experienced managers that measures 16 skills and perspectives critical for success, as well as, five possible career derailers. Benchmarks offers an in-depth look at development by assessing skills developed from a multitude of leadership experiences, identifying what lessons may yet to be learned and helping the executive determine what specific work experiences need to be sought out in order to develop critical skills for success.

Benchmarks requires certification to administer it, and costs $295, with volume discounts (let's assume all have volume discounts). It's available in multiple languages.

2. The Leadership Practices Inventory. The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) is a 360 degree Leadership assessment instrument created by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner which has been used to assess the Leadership behavior of nearly one million Leaders worldwide. Historically available in paper format, LPI Online offers a more automated, less labor intensive way of administrating the Leadership Practices Inventory. No certification is required, costs $125, available in multiple languages.

3. Development dimensions International (DDI) has a number of assessments, but the 360 I like is The Leadership Mirror. Available in multiple languages, costs depends.

4. Personnel Decisions International's (PDI) The Profilor. The PROFILOR is a comprehensive 360 feedback tool designed specifically for training and development purposes. It's fully customizable to reflect your organization’s terminology and/or competency models.
Available in 11 languages. Over half of Fortune 100 relies on the PROFILOR to assess development needs. Cost vary.

5. Lominger's Voices. Another research-based 360° assessment with access to Lominger’s Library of 67 Competencies, 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers, 26 Clusters and 8 Factors, 7 International Focus Areas, 10 Universal Performance Dimensions, and 356 Behavioral Aspects. Cost $210, requires certification to purchase, available in multiple languages.

Personality/Preferences/Style Assessments

These kind of assessments don't really measure leadership capability, but they can provide a leaders additional insights into their behavior. For any of these, there's no good or bad profile, and results should be used only for development, not performance assessment.

6. MBTI Complete. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument is a questionnaire designed to make Jung’s ideas about psychological type useful in everyday life. It identifies a person’s four basic type preferences that combine into one of 16 different personality types. These results help you understand normal differences in the way people think, communicate, and interact—differences that can be the source of much misunderstanding. The MBTI instrument has been used for more than 50 years to establish greater understanding between individuals, and has been translated into more than 15 different languages for use around the world. Cost is $59.95, and the online Complete requires no certification.

7. Behavioral Style DISC™ Profile. There's a lot of suppliers who sell this assessment, I linked to a reputable local provider I use. DISC Provides leaders insight into their behavioral characteristics, communication style, and behavioral adaptations to their work environment. It's usually used for development, but can also be used for team building and selection (if properly benchmarked). No certification is required, cost varies. Not sure about languages, I'm sure some one's translated it.

8. Workplace Motivators. Same provider. This one identifies interests, attitudes and values held by a leader —the primary driving factors behind a leader's behaviors. It can be used for development and selection applications. No certification required, cost varies. Not sure about languages.

9. Social Styles. The SOCIAL STYLE Model is a tool for understanding our basic behaviors and the impact we have on others. I like it because it's easy to understand and remember. There's a self perception, and a more accurate multi-rater assessment. Not sure about the costs and other details, I haven't used this one in a while.

10. And finally, here's the leadership assessment that I believe to be the most accurate and useful. It requires no certification, is available in any language, and best of all, it's free. It's called "asking for feedback". Ask your boss, your employees, your peers, your family, and anyone else who's opinion you value. Go ahead - try it. Just remember to listen, shut up, and say "thank-you".

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ethics and Leadership

This story from Andrea Brown, who got it somewhere from The Georgetown Coaching Network. It's based on an old Chinese folk tale called The Empty Pot.

A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young executives in his company together.

“It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO he said;I have decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued.

“I am going to give each one of you a seed today - a very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed.

He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed.

Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by - still nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil - he so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened.

Jim felt sick at his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right.

He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful–in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed. A few felt sorry for him!

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.

Jim just tried to hide in the back.

“My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown”, said the CEO.

“Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring him to the front.

Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!”

When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed.

Jim told him the story.

The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Here is your next Chief Executive! His name is Jim!”

Jim couldn’t believe it. Jim couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new CEO the others said?

Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed.
I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow.

All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers.

When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive!”

If you plant honesty, you will reap trust
If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.
If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment
If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective.
If you plant hard work, you will reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.
So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Short-Term Leadership Development Assignments

There's a recent article in Chief Learning Office Magazine called Short-Term assignments on the Rise. Here's an excerpt:

More and more organizations are enabling a mobile workforce by increasing temporary and short-term job assignments, according to a recent survey by Worldwide ERC and Cartus. Budgetary pressures, an ever-shrinking labor pool and more demand for flexibility in the workplace are the motivators for this, said U.S.-based human resources practitioners.

Of the 80 percent of respondents who use short-term assignments, 62 percent said that during the past three years, their use has increased. Fifty-seven percent of the 208 people polled expect this trend to persist in the future.

“It’s a reaction to the real-estate market in one sense and then also a cost savings in another sense,” said Lina Paskevicius, consulting manager at Cartus, a provider of global mobility management and workforce development solutions. “People are finding that they may not be in a position where they can move, [as] the real-estate market has taken some of the equity out of their homes. They’re also not willing to move to the new location either, [for the] same reason. And companies are realizing that they don’t need to relocate someone; they can send them on an assignment and have them back in nine months.”

Of the 40 percent of respondents who have rotational assignments, 43 percent expect an increase in this type of job assignment in the future. As defined by the survey, a domestic, short-term assignment is a single, short-duration relocation in which the employee moves from home to the destination location and back again, whereas a rotational assignment is a series of short-duration assignments.

These posts can provide employees with a bevy of development opportunities. Organizations are using them for career development, knowledge or skills transfer and project work.

I'm not surprised to see an increase in these kind of development assignments. They are kind of a compromise between a full scale job change with relocation and a project assignment. The conventional wisdom on full job changes for leadership development used to be that it should be about 18 months minimum, in order to have time to learn the job, make a contribution, and harvest the development. So the conditions would need to be right for this kind of assignment to work - shorter learning curve, ability to "hold" the person's position until they return, supportive manager, etc...

Given the challenge or getting high-potentials to relocate, and ever increasing shortage of leadership talent, I think we need to consider challenging the conventional wisdom and give a shot.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to Start a Leadership Exchange Program

We all know that there’s no better way to develop a broad and deep set of leadership competencies than having a variety of challenging and diverse jobs. The most successful leaders, especially general managers, tend to hone their skills by working in different functions, geographies, and product lines.

GE is best known for this kind of a general management leadership development model. They’re able to do this because they are so large, and have so many different businesses all over the world.

However, even if a company does have the potential to move their high potential leaders around in developmental assignments, they don’t always do it. Why not? Because without some kind of intervention, or top-down process, it won’t happen naturally. Job changes, especially to new areas, are inherently risky, for both the manager as well as the hiring manager. They both may understand that these moves are for the longer term greater good, however, shorter term priorities always come first.

One way a company, or HR leader, can overcome this dilemma is to implement a “Leadership Exchange Program”, or “LEP”. Here’s how it works:

Identify positions

The Talent Manager, or HR Leader, works with senior executives to identify positions that could be filled with an LEP candidate. These should be positions that are developmental by design - small plants, small businesses, Assistant to the CEO, etc… The position may be opening up in the near future or a newly created role. You might set a target of one position per senior executive, or business unit. It’s helpful to have CEO sponsorship, in case some senior executive doesn’t want to play.

Identify candidates

This part’s a lot trickier. Candidates for an LEP should be of the highest caliber, truly high potentials being groomed for senior leadership positions. They should be at a point where they are ready and willing for this kind of developmental challenge. The fastest way to kill the program is to let someone into the program that some senior executive wants to get rid of.
An ideal candidate would be a promising leader that’s never worked outside of their home country, or a career engineer that needs some manufacturing experience, or a line manager that needs some staff experience. Gather a list of names, along with brief bios and a summary of their development needs.

Match candidates with positions

This can be an annual process, tied into the succession planning and development process, or it can be a regular monthly or quarterly meeting. The Talent Manager or HR Leader is responsible for gathering all of the responsible senior executives at the table and facilitating the discussion of who should move into what job. At times, the CEO may need to get involved to force a decision or override a resistant senior executive. Eventually, once the program gains some traction and success stories begin to emerge, the program takes a life of its own. High potential leaders start asking to be on the list, because they realize it’s a career builder. Senior Executives get more comfortable filling positions with “unnatural” candidates because they see what a top caliber leader, even with an initial steep learning curve, can bring to their business.

Keep the process as simple as possible. There should only be two confidential documents – a position list and a candidate list. Anything more than that means you’re adding too much bureaucracy and over complicating it. The focus should be on the discussions and true developmental moves, not filling out a lot of forms and checking off boxes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Listening Tips for Leaders

I did a coaching workshop with a team of managers a couple weeks ago, and while discussing the importance of listening in order to build trust, I realized many of them honestly didn’t know how to listen. The idea of closing the door, putting down their crackberries, and making eye contact seemed to be new revelations to them.

Have we forgotten, or never learned how to listen? To me, it’s a foundational leadership skill – most other leadership competencies are connected to the ability to listen.

So, here’s a refresher, from the website Listen More:

Make yourself available
- set aside specific hours to be available to your employees
- maintain a more relaxed open-door policy
- close your email and instant messaging windows, switch your cell phone to silent, send your phone calls to voice mail and close the door, if necessary
- consider reserving a conference room for serious discussions

Give your complete attention
- stop what you're doing and focus completely on the employee. maintain eye contact and acknowledge key points
- postpone a conversation if you have a deadline or scheduling conflict

Write down key points
- jot down or make a mental note of key words, ideas and questions to ask later to minimize interruptions while someone is speaking
- note key points so you can have a point of reference later (if follow-up is needed)

Understand the message
- rephrase what you've heard to be sure you understand
- ask open-ended questions that encourage detailed answers. and wait a few seconds after the answer to encourage the speaker to say more
- double-check important facts and confirm appropriate follow through
- listen with an open and unbiased attitude, and refrain from going on the defensive. make sure you thoroughly understand the situation before taking a position

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Fallacy of Strength-based Leadership Development

I’m not a big fan of the “Discover your strengths” school of leadership development. This is a concept made popular a few years ago my Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. The idea is we should “discover our strengths”, play to those strengths, and don’t worry so much about fixing our weaknesses. Whenever I lead a session on development planning, someone always raises their hand and brings this up, and everyone nods their head in agreement.

The Center For Creative Leadership just released a study that basically says leaders aren’t so good at the thing that really matters the most: leading people. Here’s a summary:

Too Much of a Good Thing: Beware of Your Strengths
A Leadership Gap: When Strengths Don't Meet the Need
Are today's leaders equipped for tomorrow's challenges? Recent research from the Center for Creative Leadership shows a startling gap between the current strengths of leaders and the leadership skills and perspectives that are critical for success.

"CCL works with many clients seeking to build and extend the leadership capabilities in their organizations. In this context, we often hear concerns about developing new competencies and building leadership bench strength," says CCL's Jean Brittain Leslie. "We wondered how universal this concern is and what specific skills need to be improved upon."

Leslie and her CCL colleague, Sylvester Taylor, examined data from more than 438,000 individuals in 7,500 organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies. All data were collected from June 2000 through November 2004 using CCL's Benchmarks®, a leadership development assessment tool that rates skill levels of 16 key leadership competencies. Through the Benchmarks process, participants learn how others perceive their strengths and development needs, how they compare with similar managers in other organizations, and how to focus on skills and perspectives critical to being effective and successful.

Looking at the data, Leslie and Taylor sought to understand two key issues: What leadership skills and perspectives are critical for success? How strong are today's leaders in these critical skills and perspectives?

Leader Success Profile
The ability to lead employees was rated the most important competency for success. This reflects a leader's ability to direct and motivate others, to judiciously use power, to develop others, and exhibit organizational values. Eight-nine percent of the bosses in the database rank this as a top skill for leaders in the organization.

Seven additional skills and perspectives were ranked as important by a majority of the bosses:
Resourcefulness (81 percent)
Decisiveness (75 percent)
Managing change (69 percent)
Straightforwardness and composure (68 percent)
Building and mending relationships (67 percent)
Doing whatever it takes (67 percent)
Employing a participative management style (64 percent)

"Collectively, these eight competencies represent critical skills for success in organizations," says Taylor, adding that most individuals, regardless of level, gender or age, ranked the importance of these characteristics similarly. "This means that most people think about many of the components of leadership in the same way."

Current Bench Strength
Unfortunately, today's leaders lack strength in many of the skills deemed important for success.

Three of the top eight skills in importance were not among the top eight in terms of strength of today's leaders. The ability to lead employees - the competency rated most important for success - placed 15th out of the 16 total competencies. The other two were Change Management - using effective strategies to manage and facilitate change, and Building Relationships - negotiating work problems effectively and influencing without authority.

What strengths do today's leaders posses? Our data suggest that individuals are better at mastering new technical or business knowledge, displaying warmth and good humor and demonstrating respect for varying backgrounds and differences.

Notably, individuals who were considered top performers (using a separate measure of performance) were consistently viewed as better at all of the sixteen leadership competencies.

Implications: A Leadership Gap
Today's organizations face a gap between the skills they require and the capabilities of their leadership. While all sixteen competencies contribute to effective leadership, the skills considered as strengths are not the most critical for success in today's organizations. Instead, the skills deemed most important - most notably the ability to lead employees - are decided weaknesses of today's leader population.

"Our findings raise critical questions for individuals and organizations about the quality of leadership," says Leslie. "The challenge is to identify the most critical leadership skills needed in your organization and measure the leadership gap. Then you can make focused development a top priority.

My take:
I’d suggest that weaknesses – especially in areas are determined to be the most important to a leader’s or organization’s success – can’t be ignored. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware of and leverage your strengths – just don’t kid yourself thinking you can be successful in spite of your inability to lead people.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

How to be a More Strategic Leader Part 2: The Development Plan

I’ve facilitated or participated in well over 100 talent review meetings, usually using a performance potential matrix and competency model as the basis for assessing a management team.

When discussing why a particular manager isn’t ready for promotion, or is seen as having a lack of potential, the reason I hear the most often is “he/she isn’t strategic enough”, or is “too tactical”, or “too operational”.

One of the reason I hear this so much is that I find managers just aren’t very good at describing specific development needs. When they use the “not strategic” label, and I ask for specifics, what I hear doesn’t really describe a lack of ability to think strategically. Sometimes the person is perceived as having a lack of intellectual horsepower, lack of creativity, a nit-picker, too focused on the details at the wrong time, uncomfortable with ambiguity or uncertainty, doesn’t understand the “big picture”, can’t comprehend complex concepts or issues, and is too focused on the day-to-day details and issues. These managers often seem to compensate by gravitating to and getting really good at operational details, and end up perpetuating the label.

In reality, some managers will never be seen as strategic. They just don’t have the IQ or DNA. And that’s OK, every business needs a good COO – we can’t all be big picture visionaries. But for the rest of us, we can to some extent develop our strategic muscles.

Here’s a general development plan for learning how to be more strategic:

1. The most dramatic way to learn something new is to change jobs. Perhaps you’ve been in a role or series of roles that requires attention to operational detail, and have not had to be strategic. If possible, find a job that requires a significant degree of strategic thinking and planning. Moving from a line to staff job, overseeing the development or marketing of a new product, moving to an unfamiliar area, business, technology, or territory, or any assignment that would involve doing something for the first time would all provide opportunities to develop and flex those strategic muscles.

2. A less risky, but almost as effective way to develop this capability is taking on a strategic, developmental assignment within your current role. Develop a strategy for your own unit, or better yet, volunteer to coordinate the development of a strategy for your manager’s team. Take on a complex project that requires a fresh approach, involving different parts of the business.

3. Learn from others. Find someone who’s known as being strategic, and spend time with that person to learn how they think and operate. Ask to shadow the person during a meeting, and watch and learn how they work with others, ask questions, and work at the 10,000 foot level. Mentors, coaches, consultants, and perhaps your own manager can also be great ways to learn from others.

4. Volunteer your time to a non-profit or community board, planning or advisory committee. Ask to participate or lead the development of a long-range strategic plan or vision.

5. Take a university based executive education program that emphasizes strategy.
Here’s a few I’d recommend:
- The Center for Creative Leadership’s “Developing the Strategic Leader
- Stanford’s “Executive Program in Strategy and Organization
- Wharton’s “Strategic Thinking and Management for Competitive Advantage
- Harvard’s “Strategic Agility: Leading Flexible Organizations

6. Read. School yourself. Go to Amazon, do a search, and order 5 books on strategic thinking and strategy. Subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, or the Financial Times. Subscribe to e-newsletters, blogs, and other online resources (see sidebar for ideas). Becoming a strategic leader is an intellectual journey that never ends. It requires rampant curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Develop the discipline to always be scanning the world around you and stretching your thinking.

7. Get feedback. Let it be know that you are working on developing this capability, and continuously ask your manager, peers, direct reports, and others how you’re doing. Mulit-rater assessment research has shown that by simply making a public declaration – and asking those around you for help and feedback – will improve other’s perception of the areas in which you are focusing your development.

Follow this development plan, and soon you'll be playing chess with the big dogs.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The 10 Greatest Management Theories, Models, or Methods

Sports and entertainment junkies love to debate their “greatest all time ever” lists.

What if you could only pick 10 theories, models, or methods to include in your leadership and management playbook - what would they be? Or, if you could only teach 10 things as a management trainer, what would they be?

To make it easier, I went to this site and picked my top 10:

1. Situational Leadership (Blanchard Hershey)

2. Management by Objectives (Drucker)

3. Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow)

4. Change Phases (Kotter)

5. Five Competitive Forces (Porter)

6. Change Equation (Beckhard)

7. Three Levels of Culture (Schein)

8. Disruptive Innovation (Christensen)

9. Leadership Pipeline (Charon Drotter)

10. Stages of Team Development (Tuckman)

It was a bit of a humbling exercise, by the way. I found out I have a lot to learn.

So what would you have on your list? What should be a "top 10 must", and why?

Monday, June 2, 2008

How to Build a Leadership Development Program

A reader wrote me and asked: “I am currently working on a project on how to identify the next generation of leaders(Gen Y). I was wondering if you could give me a few ideas on how to develop leadership in the work environment. “?

My first reaction was, “Well hell, that’s what this entire blog is all about. Read the archives!” But I’m trying to encourage reader questions, so my polite response back was:

Thanks for the question. I’d be glad to give you a few ideas. In fact, the purpose of my blog is to do just that – help identify and develop leaders.

Did you take a look at the archives section? Look for the “Blog Archive”, right under the “ask me a question”, and open up the twisties. You’ll find over 170 articles. You can also use the Google search bar.

I’ve written a number of posts on how to identify leadership potential. I’ve never seen any research that would suggest the criteria would be different for Gen Y. There’s also a ton of articles on how to develop leaders.

Take a look, and if you have a specific follow-up question, please write back and I’d be glad to address it in an upcoming post.

Upon reflection, the question got me thinking. How would I go about building a leadership development program from scratch? What would you do if your manager dropped this one on your lap, and you had no idea how to go about it?

The consultant answer, and the right one I suppose, would be “it depends” (that’ll be $20,000 please). There is no cookie cutter, one size fits all leadership development program. Every company is different, with different challenges and a unique culture.

However, there are probably some similar elements of an approach to building a leadership development program that could apply to most companies. At the risk of over-simplifying, here’s a 10 step approach I would recommend:

1. It starts with really understanding business. Review the annual report, internal and external websites, “Google” your company”, internal business plans, anything you can get your hands on. Do this before you talk to any business leader – do your homework!

2. Interview the head of HR, the CEO, and other key executives and thought leaders. When it comes to talking to the CEO, expect resistance from the “palace guard”. Don’t take no for an answer. You’ll feel like Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz… “nooobody talks to the great one”. My experience has been that CEOs and other top executives love talking about leadership development, and end up wanting to stay involved.

Ask questions about the business challenges, implications for leaders, perceptions of skill gaps, bench strength, what’s already in place, what’s been tried before, and any other advice they have to offer. As you start to develop some ideas of your own, use these meetings to begin testing your assumptions.

3. Review your findings and begin to develop your strategy. What problems need to be solved with a leadership development program? Is there a lack of talent on the senior team? Or middle managers, or supervisors? Or is it a specific function? Which ones and what are they lacking? Is there a lack of successors for key positions? If so, which positions? Is growth an issue? Is there a need to develop for new openings dues to rapid growth? Is the competitive landscape shifting, requiring a new leadership capabilities? Is early identification of potential a challenge? Draft a list of 3-6 goals and measures, then go back and test these with key stakeholders. Verify and refine.

4. In most cases, but not all, it’s helpful to develop a set of expectations (otherwise known as a leadership competency model, in HR-speak) for all leaders. I’ll address how to do this in another post, but the information gathered from interviews should give you a good start. This model will provide you with a framework to begin to develop your program, and to align existing systems (performance management, compensation, hiring, assessments, etc…) around this common set expectations. Again, test, get input, and verify the model. Yes, even with the CEO.

5. This is where the “it depends” comes into play. If succession planning is one of the top priorities, then a system needs to be put in place to:
- Identify key positions and/or functions
- Assess performance and potential
- Review talent
- Prepare high potentials for future opportunities

I think I’ve covered each of these topics at least once, so I’m going to have to fall back to my original “check my archives” answer.

6. If the issue is rapid growth and the need to prepare new leaders, then a new leader orientation program needs to be built, which could consist of formal training, mentoring or coaching, and other methods to accelerate the learning curve of new leaders. Make sure you survey and talk to incumbents (needs assessment) as a part of your program development process.

7. If there’s some key competency missing with all leaders, or within an important function, then a development program needs to be built to address this area. Again, needs assessment is critical.

8. Programs can be built and delivered internally, externally, or a combination of both. For new leaders, internal usually works. For across the board missing skills, you’ll probably need to go external. For an executive level program, I’d recommend partnering with a top-notch business school, if you can afford it.

9. Implement. Score some wins, get some traction, and build momentum and credibility.

10. Measure, measure, measure, and continuously improve. Repeat steps 1-4 on a regular basis, until you’ve made the “Best company for Leaders” list, and work yourself out of a job.

Please comment if there’s a “must” that you feel I’ve missed.