Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Radical Accountability

Guest post by Stephen J. Cloobeck:

I was determined not to be a CEO who was content to preach to my team. And so, against the advice and admonishments of “foolishness” from my executive team, and just about everybody else, I decided to do something that would show not only our guests but also our team members how truly committed I was to radical accountability.

I announced that I was putting my business card – with my personal cell number and direct email address – on the front desk of every Diamond Resorts International property.

- “Stephen, that’s lunacy – you’re going to be inundated with calls and emails.”
- “You can’t do it all.”
- “Imagine the precedent it will set.”
- “We don’t have the infrastructure – you’re setting us up to fail.”
- “No one’s done this before.”
- “What’s wrong with how we tackle correspondence now?”
- “Stephen, can you just listen to reason?”

While there were a million reasons not to put my business card out in the open, there was one reason that, to me, trumped all the other cautions, admonitions, and words-to-the-wise. Simple: If I was going to ask my team members to embrace radical accountability, shouldn’t I be willing to do the same?

In my mind, the gesture was a show of respect not only for our guests but for our team members as well. If actions speak louder than words, I wanted this simple act to communicate three messages: (1) you matter, (2) I have your back, (3) your interests aren’t only in mind but also at heart.

My top advisors predicted a deluge of correspondence and unreasonable guest requests to come pouring in. But what happened was precisely the opposite.

In announcing this plan to our team members, we saw more employees in more places do more to proactively optimize the guest experience. If I was going to be accepting calls and answering guest emails at all hours of the day and night, they had every reason to ensure that these messages were positive in tone and content. And when I did get complaints or special requests, we were able to judge them on their merit and handle those cases independently. There was no bureaucracy. There were no middlemen. There was no protocol. It was just saying yes to doing right – the Meaning of Yes.

Across the board and around the world, we saw guest satisfaction increase. We heard more stories of more team members going out of their way to deliver small acts of kindness to guests and, what’s more, to each other.

In short, because we set high expectations for ourselves – from the CEO to entry-level valets – our people delivered.

Imagine if business leaders in other industries embraced radical accountability. If CEOs of banks took customer calls, would employees of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo continue to prioritize profit over people? If CEOs of pharmaceutical companies heard directly from the families of loved ones who depended on the medicines they make, would we still hear of soaring price shifts in times of economic downturns?

I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that embracing radical accountability and opening up direct communication from guests and team members about their concerns, experiences, and priorities made me a better leader. What’s more, it made us a better organization as a whole. It can do the same for you and your business.

Radical accountability frames responsibility in positive terms: What more can you achieve when you take true ownership? By that same token, just as accountability is often framed in the negative, we tend to look for defensive reasons to justify sticking to the status quo before opening ourselves up to the possibilities of “what if?” My advice is: Be wary of the status quo when it builds roadblocks between you and your end customers. The closer you can connect to their expectations, the more you set up your organization not just to meet them, but to exceed them.

Radical accountability frames responsibility in positive terms: What more can you achieve when you take true ownership?

Stephen J. Cloobeck, author of Checking In: Hospitality-Driven Thinking, Business, And You, is a self-made entrepreneur with more than thirty years’ experience across every aspect of hospitality design, development, and deployment. As the original founder and former CEO and chairman of Diamond Resorts International (NYSE:DRII) – a business that grew to become the second-largest vacation-ownership company worldwide with more than four hundred properties across thirty-three countries in its portfolio – Cloobeck made a name for himself as the industry's most adamant advocate for radical customer service, what he calls embracing the Meaning of Yes. For more information, please visit www.StephenJCloobeck.com.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Questions Most Leaders Have Never Asked

Guest post by Marcia Daszko:

It’s essential for courageous leaders to ask the bold, imperative questions about
performance appraisals! What’s our purpose and aim in using appraisals? What are our strategies? Are they effective? What are the outcomes? Do they help us get closer to our vision or further away? Do they help create collaboration and teamwork or internal competition? How long does it take for our managers and staff to implement this process? What are the results and outcomes? Do they help us have a robust, dynamic learning environment? Do they help us coach, mentor, and develop our people? Or do they instill fear and resentment?
Does management use performance appraisals to judge, blame, and rate individuals on their performance when instead, they need to be focused on how the system performs? What are the results of the system?

Many organizations across the U.S. have never asked these questions. They have adopted a process of judging, ranking, and rating their employees. The practice is mired in incorrect assumptions about the necessity of appraisals. Human resource and talent management departments justify this practice by assuming appraisals must be given for the organization to understand who needs to be:

· laid off if the company needs to cut costs

· terminated with documentation

· coached

· promoted

· aligned with the performance management tool (another fad?)

There are two significant umbrella issues that illustrate the devastating impact of using performance appraisals. First, most performance appraisals destroy people. When people feel judged, criticized, and blamed, they are not mentally engaged, motivated, happy, or healthy. Second, performance appraisals destroy the health and impair the success of organizations. When people are devastated, unappreciated, undervalued, or unrecognized
for their contributions, productivity decreases while absenteeism and turnover increase.

How many people love to get performance appraisals? Except for the few people who continually get great scores, the majority of employees are demotivated after receiving their appraisal. They resent the process and sometimes even the messenger. They disengage from the work they may have been happy with and withdraw their contributions and efforts. Even if they did well on the appraisal, they are often demoralized because they do not agree with some of the comments or their ranking or rating. Few things can build resentment faster than a performance appraisal gone awry—and most do go awry. Some people speak up; others speak with their actions. They withdraw and are no longer the vibrant contributors they once were until they find a new position and resign. Some are emotionally devastated and never recover.

How many people love to give performance appraisals? Most managers procrastinate getting their performance appraisals done and turned into HR. It’s often not a pleasant conversation between the manager and employee, especially when a manager feels like a judge of another person. Managers often feel compelled to point out flaws and criticize people. Even if they think that’s their job, it doesn’t feel good for either party.

Additionally, this process is time consuming and takes everyone away from their real work. Managers and employees are anxious. Even when the conversation is pleasant, one hurtful comment is often exacerbated.
A hardworking “star” employee can be traumatized when the manager’s appraisal doesn’t reflect the commitment the “star” has had. What is the cost of the performance appraisal process to an organization? Depending on the size of their department, managers can spend an average of two hundred hours per year completing, conducting, and reviewing appraisals for their employees.

At the minimum, let’s say that an organization with one hundred managers has an appraisal process that costs $20,000 in time (managers, employees, and HR documentation). Can you imagine the cost for organizations like the military, government agencies, universities, or public corporations with more than fifty thousand employees? It’s millions of dollars of waste! What can replace the waste? Leadership!

Marcia Daszko is the author of "Pivot Disrupt Transform" and a leading business strategist
and catalyst for leadership and organizational transformation. She believes and teaches innovation in leadership thinking. She has 25 years of proven success as a Founder and CEO of a consulting firm, Marcia Daszko & Associates, and is an executive team workshop facilitator. https://www.mdaszko.com/

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How to Retain your Star Employees

In today’s low unemployment, employee-driven job market, employee retention is more important than ever! It’s hard to find great employees – heck, it’s hard to find warm bodies - so is makes sense to do everything you can to hang on to the ones you have.

The cost of turnover is often way underestimated. The obvious costs are hiring and training costs, but there is also lost opportunity, morale, reputation, customer relationships, and other intangibles that are harder to measure.

The cost of turnover is even higher when you lose a great employee, one of those “A player” superstars. A study published in Personal Psychology showed that the top 5 percent of the workforce produce 26 percent of an organization’s total output. The top-performing 5 percent produced 400 percent more than you would expect (26 percent rather than 5 percent).

That means that top performers produce more than four times more! So if the average cost of turnover is $_____, then it is 4X $_____ for your best employees.

While top employees are hard to keep – they tend to promoted, “pulled” into better opportunities, and may have higher expectations, here are 10 things that a smart manager can do to minimize the chances of losing their best employees for the wrong reasons:

1. Retention starts with the hiring process. Hiring great employees isn’t just about finding employees with the right set of skills and experiences. It’s important to find out what motivates the employee, what they find satisfying and dissatisfying in a job, what their short and long range career goals are, the type of boss they like to work for, and assessing for cultural fit. You have to go beyond the resume and LinkedIn profile, and dig deep with phone screens and in-depth interviewing.
When you hire good employees that are a good fit for the job and have the right motivations, chances are, those employees will be more successful and satisfied.

2. Run a successful business or team. That’s your #1 priority as a leader. No one likes playing on a losing team or going down with a sinking ship. Bad employees will stay and suffer, great employees will eventually leave. If you’re faced with this kind of turnaround challenge, don’t let your HR manager talk you into doing an employee satisfaction survey. Invite them to step up and help you right the business – that’s the most important thing you can do to satisfy your employees.

3. Provide a good on boarding experience. Everyone remembers their first few weeks on the job – bad or good. Good onboarding sets the tone and lays the foundation for retention. Make sure your new employees get the training, coaching, and support they need to be successful.

4. Provide competitive salaries and benefits. Use salaries and benefits as a baseline, and build meaningful perks from there. While a manager’s hands may be tied when it comes to how much money they can pay, flexibility and work environment can often help compensate.

5. Trust them. Give your super-star employees the opportunity to use their unique strengths every day. Many of the best ideas float up to the top from down below—if that is allowed and encouraged. If it isn’t, employees may get bored or upset, and they won’t be doing what they do best.

6. Provide career development opportunities. Have regular career discussions with employees, allow them to explore options, provide information about opportunities, and help them make connections. Help them achieve their career goals, don’t be a road block.

7. Build a relationship with every employee. Get to know each of your employees, find out about their personal lives, their interests, values, hopes, fears, and wishes. Show them that you care, and you’re looking out for their best interests and want them to be successful. Take the time to have regular 1on1s, with no interruptions and your undivided attention.

8. Say "thank you." In creative, informal ways, acknowledge how much employees’ various contributions mean to you. Top employees will often say on exit interviews they never really felt appreciated. Praise is cheap, use it lavishly.

9. Deal with under performers. Good employees don’t like working with slackers. Train, coach, counsel, coach them out of the job, or fire them, consistently and with dignity.

10. Respect individuality. Not all employees are created equal. Recognize their individual needs, and adapt assignments, perks, and recognition accordingly. Loosen up those stale old policies and let them fly their “freak flags”.

What Kills Great Leadership?

Guest post by Bill Treasurer:

Leadership is a powerful thing, one that comes with a unique set of stresses, challenges, privileges, and responsibilities. Our leadership journeys begin starry-eyed and well-intentioned, but the path to leadership power is one that can lead even the best of us astray if we aren’t careful. “What kind of leader will I be?” is a useful question to ask oneself, but it ignores the central issue that snares most good leaders and squanders their potential to be truly great. A better question to ask is: “How will I use my leadership power?” If it turns out the power is being used to benefit yourself rather than those you lead—sorry, that’s being a ruler, not a leader.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to lift up those who follow you, not use them as stepping stools to further power or glory. It’s  sadly common for leaders to become intoxicated with power and become obsessed with acquiring more of it rather than using it to benefit those they are privileged to lead. Leadership, ideally, involves using and distributing power in a way that best serves the interests of those being led. Great leaders have a sense of personal responsibility keeping their ego in check and reminding them of their duty, which is to act in a way that dignifies the role of leader—further causing others to be inspired to seek out leadership positions that they can lead in a dignified way, too.

Sounds pretty noble and gratifying, doesn’t it? So why do so few leaders we see today live up to the potential of leadership?

The Leadership “Killer”

In short, many prominent figures today have had their leadership potential and ability struck down by hubris – what I dub the “leadership killer.” Hubris—defined as “dangerous overconfidence,” is lurking in the shadows of all of us, waiting for you to taste success so it can whisper in your ear about how you’re special and deserve more, more, more.

Left unaddressed, the killer will undermine your leadership impact, amplify the worst parts of your nature, feed your ego, and ultimately cause you to mistreat others.

It’s crucial that you remain vigilant so you can notice hubris when it tries to sneak up on you. In part, this requires you to develop mental, physical, and spiritual fitness to keep it at bay, but it also involves simply knowing what to watch for. The best way to be a great leader is to know how to avoid being a bad one.

Warning Signs

Here are some signs that hubris might be strengthening its grip on you. Take note if you catch yourself demonstrating:

·         Rigidity
o   Backbone and resolve convey strength in a leader. But when a leader’s opinions and preferences are calcified to the point that they are shut off to new ideas and contemporary approaches, their influence slowly rots. Entire organizations have fallen because of leadership rigor mortis.

·         Complacency
o   Vibrancy as a leader depends on continuously striving to gain new skills and competencies, and embracing new approaches. Over time, though, a leader may come to rely too much on past experience, automating his response to new challenges that actually warrant novel approaches. Before long complacency causes a leader to settle, expecting and accepting less of himself…and those being led.

·         Incompetence
o   A leader needs to have depth of knowledge to engender confidence among those he is leading; leadership competence yields follower confidence. Conversely, people will quickly lose confidence if they sense that their leader doesn’t know what he’s doing. Hubris deludes a leader to think he knows more than he actually does, causing him to overestimate his talents and underestimate his limitations.

·         Intimidation
o   Make no mistake: fear gets results. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be used by so many leaders as the primary means of motivating people. But fear has diminishing returns, eventually undermining the very returns a leader aims to get by stoking it. A leader’s job should be building people’s courage and confidence, not tearing them down by injecting them with fear and anxiety.

·         Invulnerability
o   People need to know that the person behind the leader’s role is real and vulnerable, just like them. Vulnerability and authenticity help bridge the natural distance between followers and a leader, but hubris causes a leader to falsely portray himself as invincible and superior to all others.

·         Ingratitude
o   A leader needs followers more than followers need the leader, because a leader’s results depends on their work. It’s simple really: without followers you can’t be a leader. A leader who fails to express gratitude–generously and genuinely–will lose the hearts and minds of followers, and undermine results in the process. Hubris withholds gratitude because acknowledging the contribution of others takes attention and acclaim away from the leader himself.

Good Leaders Have Flaws Too

Don’t worry if you’ve experienced one or two of the above traits at times—no one is perfect, and no one becomes a monster just because they were complacent that one time. Every leader is occasionally impatient, irritable, arrogant, or harsh. We’re human. It’s important not to think of these traits as absolutes; rather, consider them symptoms that might point to hubris when they appear in large numbers, but could also be unrelated to ego—just like a stuffy nose might not be the flu, but rather allergies or a simple cold. Any you notice in yourself are worth digging into to see if the root cause is hubris or something else. Only then can you address it and continue to grow free of the leadership killer’s shadow. Speedbumps are inevitable in anyone’s growth, and as long as you are able to note your flaws and move past them with integrity, you’ll be able to lead more virtuously, humbly, and selflessly.

Bill Treasurer is the Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company that exists to help people and organizations live more courageously, and the co-author of The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogancealong with Captain John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired). A former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, Bill is considered the originator of the new organizational development practice of courage-building. For over two decades, he has designed and delivered leadership and succession planning programs for experienced and emerging leaders for clients such as NASA, Accenture, CNN, Saks Fifth Avenue, Hugo Boss, UBS Bank, Walsh Construction, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

5 Traits Every Leader Should Have to Achieve Hero Leadership

Guest post from Jeffrey Hayzlett:

What’s leadership? What makes for an effective leader? The answers to both these questions are relative to every organization -- big or small. There is no one set of rules that makes for an effective leader, but leadership encompasses a slew of characteristics and different people embody different sets of traits. The fact of the matter is, some people become good leaders and others don’t.  

For me, a good leader isn’t someone who just tells others what to do. It’s not someone who wields power just because they are the boss. A good leader is someone who guides and mentors a team, who offers counsel, looks to foster a good working environment and creates a culture that’s sustainable.

Natural born leaders have the ability to motivate and communicate better than other members of the team. I believe these two traits are the two most critical because if you can’t motivate your team or can’t communicate your ideas, there won’t be anyone following you. Therefore, who exactly are you leading?

My latest book, “The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures” examines key pillars on how to become a better leader by creating a winning culture, achieving operational excellence – all without dismissing the power of profit. It was Henry Ford who said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Making money and creating a winning culture is something every leader should strive for. Why not have the best of both worlds?

Here are 5 traits every successful leader should have:

1. Personality.
You have to show your employees that you have a personality – whether it’s humor or being charismatic, employees need to relate to you at some level. Above all, you must be genuine. That’s something that you shouldn’t have to fake – ever. I believe in being yourself, always! My attitude is about owning who I am and everything I do: Sell me, sell the company; sell the company, sell me. My style of leadership is fearless, bold and relentless. To me, that says, “I own who I am!” Don’t be afraid to own everything about your leadership – the good, the bad and the ugly.

2. Be persuasive.
Being persuasive doesn’t entirely mean getting people to do what you want. It means that as a leader, you are constantly aware of the differences that exist at every rung of the ladder – from your fellow executives, to other types of company leaders, to the admin team. The message you’re trying to convey must reach everyone without any room for misinterpretation. At every turn, you need to think about who your audience is. That’s what a good leader does. They communicate succinctly and effectively, leaving little to no wiggle room for miscommunication or misinterpretation. An effective communicator gets everyone to row in the same direction and therefore is the catalyst that moves the needle forward.

3. Honesty and trustworthy.
Honesty and trustworthiness are the pillars of any good leader (and human being). If your employees and colleagues can’t (or don’t) trust you, you have a huge problem. Not to mention, no one wants to do business with you. People will follow those who they trust, and they’ll appreciate your candor and openness. They may not like it, but they’ll appreciate it.
A good leader also gives credit to their team. Let them know they are appreciated, trusted, and that you have their backs generates a greater level of trust and loyalty; more so than any so-called leader who is constantly bragging about “their” accomplishments.

4. Good listener.
A great leader is constantly engaged with their peers can rally a group of followers much faster than one who hides in the corner office. If you fail that simple, yet somewhat overlooked, task you’re putting your business in danger. It’s as simple as that.

Listen to your employees as they’re typically most aware of the issues taking place within your company and also your first line of defense. Listen to your consumers as they may have sound advice on how to improve your product or service. Creating that level of trust and keeping the lines of communications open are what’s needed to achieve a winning culture, which leads to operational excellence.

5. Risk-taker.
Taking risks is part of being in business. And for most of us, no one will die if we take a risk and make a mistake.

Everyone in my company has heard me say “no one will die” in numerous occasions. Most of us aren’t leading a team of surgeons and no one is going to die from taking a risk in business. Lose some money? Maybe. One thing’s for sure, you won’t get anywhere without taking a risk or two.

Taking risks isn’t about being irresponsible, reckless or careless. It’s about constantly taking the temperature of your business to make sure it still has a pulse. It’s about taking risks that align with the changing times and your company’s values. You will make mistakes, that’s part of life. However, if as a leader you’re not willing to take any risks, you can’t expect your employees to take them for you. If you take risks, they’ll try to emulate that and help move the company forward. You set the tone.

Good leaders, lead. They think big, they come up with great ideas, they fail, they counsel, mentor, and are part of the team. If you think being a leader is finally making it into the c-suite or the corner office, you have the wrong perception of what being a leader is all about. Sure, the corner office and the c-suite look good on a resume and might impress a few of your friends, but the fact remains that you spend more time at the office with your team, than you do with your own family. It might be best to have your team on your corner, rather than fighting you at every turn.

Jeffrey Hayzlett is a primetime television host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Executive Perspectives on C-Suite TV, and business podcast host of All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett on C-Suite Radio. He is a global business celebrity, speaker, best-selling author, and Chairman and CEO of C-Suite Network, home of the world’s most trusted network of C-Suite leaders. Hayzlett is a well-traveled public speaker, former Fortune 100 CMO, and author of four best-selling business books: Think Big, Act Bigger: The Rewards of Being Relentless, Running the Gauntlet, The Mirror Test and The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. Hayzlett is one of the most compelling figures in business today and an inductee into the National Speakers Association’s Speaker Hall of Fame.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Leadership Development Goals for 2019

One of my most read series of posts is my somewhat yearly list of New Year’s development goals for leaders. I don’t go back and check previous years, so there may be duplicates, as there should be. Things like “striving to be a better listener” come up each year as I work with leaders from around the world.

In my coaching practice, I usually start with a 360-degree assessment and use that as to help leaders identify and choose their development goals. That’s the ideal way, especially for behavioral goals, where leaders usually are not aware of how they are coming across to those around them (“blind spots”) and are feedback starved.

However, there do seem to be leadership gaps that come up more frequently than others, and that’s what I base my yearly lists on.

If you can get feedback from others, good for you (see #2)! Even without doing a more formal diagnosis, it’s a safe bet that a few of the development goals listed below will help you become a better leader.  

Note that some may sound like just common sense and easy, but they are anything but. Changing habits is hard work, so I’d suggest starting with even one, and then working at it for at least 3 months, then move on to another.

I’ve included links to a few of my favorite articles, books and videos. For full disclosure, I do get a small cut of any of the books you purchase on Amazon (thank-you!), but they are all books that I’d highly recommend.

1. Define my personal leadership vision:
Google “what is leadership”, “leadership”, “qualities of a leader”, etc. and read at least 6 articles.
- Read at least one good leadership book.
Develop my own list of the characteristics that define the leader I want to become. 
Refine the list into a single paragraph, share it with others, and refine further.
Start working on becoming that leader!

2.  Get more feedback:
·         -Take a formal 360 leadership assessment.
·         - Find other ways to get informal feedback on a regular basis.
·         - When I get feedback, I’ll keep my mouth shut and say “thank-you”.

3. Ask more questions and listen more (OK, I cheated, this is two related goals…):
·         - Read “Leading with Questions”, by James Marquardt and put the practices to use.

4. Commit to “letting go” (and be less of a micromanager):
·         - Take the 20 question micromanager test
·         - Meet with each of my direct reports and ask (questions from Marshall Goldsmith):
1.    “Are there areas of your work where I am too involved?”
2.    “Are there areas of your work where I am not involved enough?”

5. Work more collaboratively with my peers:
·         - Read Would Your Peers Vote for You?
·        -  Meet with each peer to learn more about their goals, share my goals, and ask how we can work together to help each other achieve our goals.

6. Interview three leadership “role models”:
·         - Pick one aspect of leadership I want to get better at.
·        -  Identify three people I know who I think are good at it.
·         - Meet with all three to learn what they do and how they do it.
·         - Send thank-you notes. (-:

7. Become a better coach to my employees:
·        -  Learn about manager coaching (book, course, etc.).
·         - See #3 “asking more questions and listening”.
·         - Begin helping my employees solve their own problems (instead of me providing the answer).
·        -  Work with each employee to create an individual development plan.

8. Be more proactive and willing to tackle conflict:
·         - Read “Crucial Conversations”, by Patterson, et.
·       -   Select at least one tough conversation that I’ve been avoiding and apply the skills from the book.

9. Become more strategic:
Improve my ability to see the big picture and take a longer range, broader business perspective.
Learn to step back from the day-to-day tactical details of my business and focus on the “why”, not just the “what” and “how.”
Learn to speak the “language” of strategy and apply these concepts to leading my organization. 
Read HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy and apply a strategic framework to my work.

Want some help with any of these? For you or for your organization’s leaders? Contact me (dan@greatleadershipbydan.com) to discuss doing a 360 degree leadership assessment, leadership coaching, consulting or training.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Elon Musk, Joking Around is Serious Business!

Guest post by Jamie Anderson and Gabor George:

Truly creative leaders tap ideas from all ranks, and are typically skillful at fostering innovation. They are open to diverse perspectives, and willing to take risks. These leadership characteristics can be further enhanced by humor. In the words of IDEO founder and CEO Dave Kelly, “If you go into a culture and there's a bunch of stiffs going around, I can guarantee they're not likely to invent anything.”

There’s an entire branch of social science that studies the psychological and physiological effects of humor and laughter on the brain and the immune system— it’s called gelotology. Discoveries in this field have demonstrated that humor, laughter and fun release physical and cognitive tension, which leads to mental flexibility—a key component of creativity, ideation, and problem solving. Gelotology can also explain why many frontline business leaders are not just leveraging humor, but are also investing in creating playful and fun work environments.

Up until recently Elon Musk’s eccentricity and wacky sense of humor have been seen by most as a reflection of his genius, being a maverick innovator and business leader. His sense of humour has often been on display. For example, when asked how to warm Mars up to make it hospitable for humans he answered: “The fast way is to drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles.” And on how he'd rather die: “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.” When asked if he was a Martian alien, “The rumour that I'm building a spaceship to get back to my home planet Mars is totally untrue.”

Musk had even considered taking merriment at his car plants to new heights (no pun intended), declaring in one interview “I’m actually wondering about putting in a roller coaster — like a functional roller coaster at the factory in Fremont. You’d get in, and it would take you around [the] factory but also up and down. Who else has a roller coaster? … It would probably be really expensive, but I like the idea of it.”

In February 2018, Musk launched the now-famous red Tesla Roadster sports car into space, atop the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Complete with a manikin wearing a spacesuit in the driver’s seat, the car had a GPS Navigation system that displayed the message “Don’t Panic.” After launching the Tesla Roadster into space Musk declared: “It’s just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years. Maybe discovered by some future alien race thinking what the heck, what were these guys doing? Did they worship this car? Why do they have a little car in the car? And that’ll really confuse them.”

But while certain eccentricities of a leader are idiosyncratic part of their personality, we view humor as a leadership skill that can be studied, cultivated, and leveraged to drive organizational excellence. To provide guidance for this process, we created the Stand-Up Strategist 4C/S Framework (see table below), which specifies four major organizational conditions or outcomes enabled by humor, and four styles of humor at the disposal of leaders.
Unfortunately for Mr. Musk, his seemingly intrinsic style is that of strong humor, which has the most limited application and needs the most mastery to navigate. Strong humor most often entails sarcasm or cynicism and is used by a leader as put-down, as a signal of dominance or to encourage conformity to group behavioral norms. It is the comic style mostly associated with generating negative emotions, and therefore the one with the most limited application in organizations.

An illustration of Musk using strong humor was a comment reportedly made in Tesla’s early days, in response to an employee complaining about working too hard: “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.” Although Musk’s misuse of humor did not become a major point of friction in the past, things became different when the performance of his company started to be questioned. Tesla shares crashed 6% and two of its senior executives quit in early September this year, just hours after Musk sparked concern by cracking sarcastic jokes and smoking marijuana on a live web show. Musk’s antics occurred at a time when Tesla’s investors were becoming increasingly concerned over its finances and ability to build cars at scale.

Leaders need to be especially tactful when using humor as a tool to address stress, anxiety and organizational crises. And while other styles of humor may be effective, strong humor must be avoided altogether for this purpose. During a difficult period for the company, the then CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer was widely condemned for joking at an employee gathering: “I’m not here to announce lay-offs (pause)…this week.”

Similarly, Musk’s sardonic tweets, musings about sleeping on the floor at Tesla and wise cracks about becoming chronically sleep deprived have not exactly delighted his shareholders, and prompted several Wall Street analysts to call for the company to appoint a no-nonsense deputy to prop-up Tesla’s operations and standing with investors.

The lesson from Mr. Musk’s ordeal is not to avoid humor. Rather, it is to understand its proper application, and to use it appropriately and effectively, like any other important leadership skill. We see more and more leaders harnessing the power of humor to unleash the creative potential of their staff, connect emotionally with customers, and lay the seed for new, future-shaping, strategic directions.

After all, joking around is serious business.

The Stand-Up Strategist 4 C/S Framework:

For more about the Stand-Up Strategist Platform, please see: https://www.standupstrategist.com.

Jamie Anderson is Professor of Strategic Management at Antwerp Management School, and Visiting Professor at INSEAD. He has been named a “management guru” in the Financial Times, and included on Business Strategy Review’s list of the world’s “top 25 management thinkers”. www.jamieandersononline.com. Gabor George Burt is creator of the Slingshot Platform, enabling organizations to overstep perceived limitations, re-imagine market boundaries, and achieve sustained relevance. www.gaborgeorgeburt.com.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

8 Steps to Jumpstarting a Truth-telling Workplace Culture

Guest post from Jim Haudan and Rich Behrens:

What do a water cooler, bathroom, and hallway all have in common?

These are three places in the workplace where people feel “safe” to tell the truth.

Many leaders believe that their people feel safe in telling them what they think and feel. But this is a misconception—or a blind spot, as we call it in our book, What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back

Consider these stats: the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people’s trust of their CEO, and CEOs in general, is at an all-time low. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said CEOs are somewhat, or not at all, credible. That is 12 points lower than the previous year’s results. Clearly, the trend of not being candid with higher-ups is becoming worse, rather than better.

Why? People don’t feel safe telling the truth because they don’t think it is smart or safe to do so. Many leaders believe that to be effective and successful, they need to be smarter than the next guy, fight for their area of the business, and not show vulnerability. This mentality creates a lack of trust, collaboration, and common ownership for a greater goal—and ultimately greatly slows down execution speed.

We can’t overstate the impact that truth telling can have on the engagement, optimism, and hope people feel about their organization and their team. Truth telling makes all the difference if you want your teams to successfully work together.

So, how can leaders tell if their people feel safe telling the truth? Try this quick 45-minute activity. We call it “Walls of Greatness and Reality,” and the activity begins with a discussion of what we are good at, and then moves to what we are not so good at.

Follow the steps below to complete the activity:

1    1. Give each team member three or four large sticky notes. Ask each of the members to write down one item per note that is great about the team, and how it has worked together and executed in the past 12 months.

2.    Have the team members place each of these on an open wall space and start to “affinity-group” them. Line up the various notes that fit under the same theme. You should end up with numerous vertical rows of key themes.

3.    Have team members alternate reading all the notes aloud, providing any commentary they see fit. At the end, ask the group for the story that describes what the team is great at. Capture the “Wall of Greatness” story on a flipchart.

4.    Repeat the activity by giving everyone another three or four large sticky notes and ask each person to write down where “we are creatively dissatisfied with the current state of our business”, related to marketplace, strategy, operating model, culture, or behaviors.

5.    Place these notes on a different space on the wall. Repeat the activity of affinity-grouping the notes and reading the vertical columns aloud, with the team standing in front of the wall.

6.    Ask the team members to put a check mark by the three issues they each believe are most relevant and represent the greatest opportunity for the team.

7.    Identify the two or three key themes that emerge from the group.

8.    Ask the following questions:
a.    Why do you think these realities exist?
b.    How have we helped create these realities?
c.    How have we personally benefited from these realities?
d.    What can we do to make sure our Wall of Reality looks different six months from now?

This activity can give leaders quick insight into how comfortable their teams are in talking about difficult issues, while jumpstarting the truth-telling culture.

Establishing a culture of truth telling is hard. It requires leaders to be vulnerable and to be open to hearing things they may not want to hear. But truth is a critical blind spot that can create an environment of poor decision making mixed with a significant lack of trust and disengagement in your organization.

If leaders don’t make the effort to allow truth to guide teams, the true problems of an organization and the best ideas of employees will remain buried in the hearts and minds of their people.

So, leaders: let your employees speak candidly and you will have an organization that soars.

Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successfully, build employee engagement, and transform businesses. Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc., and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale. Jim and Rich are authors of What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back, published by Berrett-Koehler and released in October 2018.