Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leading Today’s Exodus Out of OZ

Guest post by Julie Overholt:

A $6.25 billion corporation brought me on board about five years ago to work with a director as his leadership coach. My assignment was to help him recover from losing a contract that he and his team were charged with pursuing.

As the lead on this objective, he held himself strictly accountable for the failure of this initiative. My role was to help him synthesize that experience and support him re-engaging into a new leadership role.  When I first met him, he felt very defeated and withdrawn.

Interviewing key stakeholders, I was amazed and touched at how his peers expressed total respect for how he leads. Repeatedly I heard his reputation to be: 

·       Very straightforward. Always know where you stand with him.

·       Incorporates everyone and treats them as a part of his team.

·       Clear thinker. Organized. Collaborative. Forthcoming. Egoless. Warm personality.

·       Encourages and holds people responsible.

·       Even tempered. Good or bad results are treated the same.

In addition, his peers told me that he took an impossible task further than anyone else could have. Their consensus: His people would “walk through fire for him” because they respect him that much.

Imagine my surprise when the president of this same organization told me, “That guy doesn’t have a leadership bone in his entire body!”

How does this kind of disconnect happen inside an organization? (We might also wonder, “What planet has this guy been living on?”)

Welcome to the land of the OZ workplace. Oz organizations embrace processes, policies, procedures, rules and regulations. They believe that rules should define people rather than people defining the rules.

In an OZ company, the leaders operate from behind a curtain of ego, entitlement and demands. It is typical, in an OZ company, for a CEO to be so clueless about the true leadership qualities of his top executives.

The younger Gen-Xers and Millennials — today’s emerging talent— have more professional latitude than any other generation and they know it. They are in no hurry to pledge their commitment to a cause that leaves them indifferent. They also aren’t eager to sell their talents and skills to an organization that’s going to marginalize them the way it did their parents.

The OZ company, in other words. The dysfunctional organization ruled by fear and exploitation instead of inspired by great leadership.  With four generations crowding the workplace, corporate disconnect and dysfunction are a global issue.

In contrast to OZ, leaders who build a respectful, loyal, and values-based organization attract and keep emotionally intelligent, self-motivated, and uniquely talented professionals. This type of environment will inspire all generations, not just the youngest.

This is leadership that moves into the future instead of looking to the past, and it is in high demand today. This is great leadership, helping all of us deal with the truth and realities of our unpredictable world.

The youngest members of the workforce have been immersed from birth in the need for a pragmatic reality. They have seen and accept that things don’t always work the way they are supposed to.

Ironically, it is exactly that pragmatic focus that leads the youngest Gen-Xers and the Millennials to walk out the door when they perceive they are in a no-win situation. They stick with something as long as it works, but it’s “game over” if it’s no longer working.

This attitude is not about lack of loyalty. It’s quite the contrary. Millennials are dedicated to what works, not to being right or knowing the truth of something.

Without great leaders who promote a healthy corporate culture, no company can survive for long. OZ-like dysfunction is not a sustainable corporate M.O.

Here’s the bottom line. Leaders who know that they don’t have a culture that can attract and retain the best and the brightest for their organizations had better start building it immediately! If needed, find help.

Don’t, however, pay some self-proclaimed wizard a big fee to fix it. Stop throwing money at the problem. Instead, build a visionary leadership team to identify stakeholders for collaboration and reputation.

Remember my client above? He went on to take a pivotal leadership role for the organization. The president retired eight months later.

In retrospect, both individuals are exactly where they need to be.


Julie Overholt is Dallas based executive coach who may be contacted through her website. She is also co-author of the newly published book,  Julie is an internationally recognized coach to leaders of Fortune 100 Companies. She has been used as an expert resource for Men’s Health, Entrepreneur Magazine, and numerous technology and media outlets across the country.


Guy Farmer said...

Great post Julie. So many organizations function in this parallel universe where positive behaviors are discouraged and more complicated ones reign. Many of these companies would benefit from taking some time to rethink the kind of culture they are creating.

Pamela Potts said...

Sadly, an OZ type of corporation is not that unusual. For an insightful look at the organization of the future (even scattered organizations now),pick up a copy of "Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose " by Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe and Jagdish N. Sheth. Worth the read.

Mike said...

It seems so hard at times for companies & organizations to break their culture to "build a respectful, loyal, and values-based organization attract and keep emotionally intelligent, self-motivated, and uniquely talented professionals." It takes an inspired and relentless leader to change to this positive direction.

Julie Overholt said...

Mike, I want to build on your comment. Sometimes it feels like organizaions are on life support; they have a pulse but otherwise are nonresponsive. I suspect that the challenge in leadership is to own the leadership opportunities we all have in the day to day actions and words we choose.

As much as anything, this is what I so enjoy about Millenials and the younger generations. They own what they think and bring it to the workplace.

clayton said...

Provocative thought! In our experience, CEOs are disconnected in many ways. Daniel Goleman describes the CEO disease in his book Primal Leadership. When leaders are disconnected from the truth becauses can't or don't know how to share with them. Very interesting post!

Soderquist Center

sunil saraf said...

Quite interesting and thought provoking piece. It details a third party account (since leadership coach's own evaluation is absent)of a company director who can easily be passed on as corporate sage who is too perfect to be real. The five qualities in the person are copy book traits of any great leader. It is paradoxical that the said person is devastated for loosing a contract and was labelled as pursuer. It will be of interest to know who took the decision to bring in leadership coach. It seems that the CEO is not the party to this decision.

While CEO was on the verge of fading away, it would have been worthwhile to know from him about his perception which seems to be abnormal under the circumstances.

Core values of any organisation emanates from the purpose the founder(s) has found for self and the organisation that they build and culture is formed to defend and protect such values.

In the present case the description given of the organisation makes it so flimsy that it is amazing to know that it exists or existed.

Modern leadership requires leading not from front or from back but from the middle giving opportunity to the team to call the win. This encourages the team to accept and share organisational values.

A leader needs to focus on present with the help of learnings/un-learnings of the past, with an eye on future. The qualities of a great leader changes from time to time, through the life cycle of the oraganisation and phase through which organisation passes, therefore is dynamic and contextual.

Leadership can not be outsourced, neither the solution to the core issues faced by the organisation.

Organisations require a multi layered approach where a mix of Purpose, Vision, Mission, Strategy and business tactic needs to be dealt with certain amount of millennial paranoia blended with genX candour to be able to work towards audacious goals.

The moot point is that whether the leader should lead or should be worthy of being followed.

Julie Overholt said...

You would be correct in your assessment that the President did not recruit me into this coaching engagement. My client's boss, an Executive Vice-President brought me in when she observed that her Director didn't seem to be rebounding from the disappointment of what he perceived to be a public failure.

In the fast-paced business environment we work in, often times recovery is delayed because of the burden of projects and pressing timelines. The good thing I do recognize is that the EVP was really in touch with her Director's energy and sense of purpose; and quickly recognized that he needed some assistance.

It might be helpful to know that this specific organization is in the defense industry, which has been heavily layered with military leaders and individuals with a command and control mindset for several decades. Subsequent to this experience, this organization has done a very credible job of bringing in key individuals with collaborative skill sets. And, I have had the pleasure to work with them as well.

Each generation brings with it a unique way of thinking and problem solving; not to mention sense of urgency and history.

My belief around leadership is this: "Leadership is not really an option. Many people seem to think that if they don't want to participate, they can sit this one out!"

The question of leadership for me is not where we choose to stand in the crowd: in the front, middle or back. Where ever we go, someone will always be in front of us, and someone will always be behind you.

The question of leadership is not if we will lead others. The question is where will we lead others to.

Thanks Dan for providing the forum for this disccusion. And, thanks to all of you, that have shared your insights and wisdom. Julie