6 Most Brilliant Leadership Strategies

Last month Geoffrey James provided me with the rare honour of guest posting my 5 Most Dimwitted Leadership Strategies on BNET’s Sales Machine.  Geoffrey is a prolific writer with a highly provocative and cynical nature reflected in his outspoken readers.  Today’s post is inspired by a number of his readers who challenged me to write about leadership strategies that DO work, strategies that foster sustainable results in today’s highly complex business environment.

Each one of these practices yields significant results on its own, but in union they become extraordinary.  For the sake of consistency, my intent was to provide 5 clever leadership strategies, however I simply could not narrow my list down to less than these 6.

1.  Zoom-In, Zoom-Out. Leaders need to maintain multiple vantage points, navigating with ease between a worm’s-eye and bird’s-eye perspective.  Typically they favour one or the other which can hinder their ability to make good strategic decisions.  Effective leaders instinctively know when to zoom in and zoom out, this strategy is critical in times of crisis or tackling complex problems.  Read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s illustration of the significance of a zoom-in, zoom-out framework to learn more.

2.  Getting Naked. Vulnerability is arguably the most important leadership trait, yet it is widely shunned upon.  Nothing inspires trust like confident humility, there is no more powerful attribute than honesty and from trust breeds loyalty.  Patrick Lencioni, author of the very clever “Getting Naked” shares how to embrace this transformational strategy.

3.  Shared Value.  If you are not familiar with the Shared Valued Movement then dive in!  We are finally moving beyond our outdated approach to creating value and harnessing value with purpose.  Our business community is developing a global conscience and discovering it pays to act responsibly.

4.  G7The Group of 7 provides a bird’s-eye view of your corporate environment with strategies and pathways to address pervasive issues right down to the worm’s-eye view.  The health of your corporate environment is an imperative determinant in your ability to embrace change and complexity.

5.  Customer Experience Driven. Business starts and ends with the customer experience; a closed-loop strategy is essential.  Start with these 7 Habits of Highly Successful Customer Experience Leaders and then move from effectiveness to greatness with the 8th habit.

6.  Cross Fertilization. I have blogged extensively about the genius born by cross-fertilizing brilliant ideas.  Creating the practice of exploring different disciplines fosters innovation and creative problem solving.

“All decisive advances in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.” Arthur Koestler

What other brilliant strategies do you have to add?

The 5 Most Dim-Witted Leadership Strategies

Today’s post was inspired by The 8 Stupidest Management Fads of All Time and The 5  Dumbest Management Concepts of All Time by Geoffrey James.  I would respectfully disagree with some on his lists but I did enjoy his provocative perspectives.  Geoffrey’s articles got me thinking about the most dim-witted leadership strategies that continue to linger in today’s business community.  The good news is that there is growing momentum in our appreciation for transparency and we are finally starting to embrace the power of mass collaboration.  Let’s agree to abolish these 5 useless and more often dooming leadership strategies.

#1 Command and Control
Command and control leaders might as well put a blindfold on along with some earplugs.  Typically these leaders rationalize their methods emphasizing the negative outcomes of consensus based strategies.  Consensus based strategies, while polar in nature, are as dysfunctional.  Both strategies are negligent and like most things in life the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.  Decision makers are crucial, as are collective buy-in and the voice of the team broadly.  We need more leaders that have the confidence to act and the humility to listen.

#2 Bottom Line Be All End All
Leaders that put the bottom line above all else will eventually find themselves at the bottom without the line.  And assuming they defy the odds and sustain this risky strategy, they will not be maximizing their potential.  They are simply gaining more than they are losing.  I’m not suggesting the bottom line is not important, it is without question a key performance indicator, but it is no more significant than customer experience or employee experience and arguably less important.  A healthy bottom line can be a goal, but it is not a strategy.  Once again, it’s about balance, we need more leaders with the courage to focus beyond the all mighty dollar.

#3 Tradition and Prescription

While tradition might provide comfort, familiarity, and even bind groups of people, it can also inhibit and even sabotage meaningful change.  I’m not suggesting all traditions be tossed, but they do need to be examined mindfully and they should never be maintained blindly.  Similarly prescriptive leadership may provide consistency and reduce complexity but the reality is we do not live in a one size fits all world.  It stifles creativity and fosters inflexibility.  The effort required to develop a universal solution is enormous and commonly fraught with compromise on behalf of the customer.  That said, highly regulated industries often require a more prescriptive approach, such as Health Care.  The key is to examine all practices through the lens of your customer; it is possible to both meet regulatory demands and remain creative.  Bottom line, we need more creative leaders that embrace and celebrate change.

#4 The Black Hole

Every company has a black hole, that is where all the wasted money, energy and talents fall when the are misused, misunderstood or worse unnoticed.  I would bet that we could feed an entire continent, if not the world, if we could monetize this waste collectively.  Every company needs a ‘waste master’, chances are they would be your most profitable investment.  Leaders are often aware of some waste and blind to even more, we need leaders that have the courage and foresight to eliminate waste and in so doing maximize their potentiality.

#5 The Lone Ranger

This is the “I need to do it myself if it is going to get done right” leader.  News flash, you are NOT a leader if you are doing everything and deciding everything.  Being a leader is about empowering others, motivating them to act like an owner.  A lone ranger may feel like a rock star but nothing could be farther from the truth.  This leadership approach will chase away the talent on your team, it clearly does not scale, it is not sustainable, and it puts your business at massive risk.  We need leaders that cultivate positive results from others; a smart leader surrounds themselves with those smarter then they are.

What does your top 5 dim-witted leadership strategies list look like?  And what does your top 5 smartest leadership strategies list look like?

It’s a Nude New World!

Naked, naked, naked… if you follow my blog or if you are reading HBR, Huffington Post and the like, you are taking notice of our nude new world.  “Don’t confuse transparency with a lack of privacy” embrace it as “a new form of power”, words to live by from Macrowikinomics authors Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams.

In a recent article Thriving in an Age of Hyper-Transparency, Don and Anthony say “Transparency should refer to the release or exposure of pertinent information — information that can help stakeholders if they have it or harm them if they do not. Employees should not violate confidentially agreements or the law…”  In other words, your intent with transparency matters.  Transparency with the intent of harm is powerless, in fact it is risky business both morally and legally.  What we are advocating is transparency that empowers.

“Rather than something to be feared, transparency is becoming central to business success.  Every company needs a transparency strategy. It has to rethink what new information should be made available to employees, customers, business partners and shareholders. Corporations that are open perform better. Transparency is a new form of power, which pays off when harnessed.”  I urge corporations to take this sound advice literally.  To survive and thrive in our nude new world it is not enough to be more open, you will need a transparency strategy that reinvents accessibility to information.  This is guaranteed to expose you to new complexities but trust that the rewards far exceed the efforts.

For my readers that share my passion for customer experience, bring out the champagne, this nude new world breeds trust and trust breeds loyalty.  Transparency is a key component to the 8th habit of Highly Effective Customer Experience Leaders.

Much of the published discussions I have encountered thus far have focused on corporations and government, this is a result of numerous scandals exposed in recent years.  Yet the need for transparency in social responsibility is just as crucial.  It is an essential missing component that is enabling our giving to exponentially exceed what is being received by those in need.  In my recent post Mass Responsibility, I explain that “we need to rebuild philanthropy on a trusted and transparent foundation that is fiscally responsible and value driven.”

Bottom line is that transparency fosters end to end responsibility and empowers your economic destiny.

Embrace Your Skeptics!

If you are evangelizing a customer experience transformation you have undoubtedly become intimately familiar with the challenge of attaining collective buy in.  I was recently asked by a “clienteer” about how to best prepare for the anticipated skeptics he was to face while introducing a new strategic customer experience corporate initiative to his organization broadly.  He was on the right path and I don’t think I told him anything he didn’t already know but rather validated his planned, rather unconventional approach.  Historically companies have introduced new initiatives when they are fully baked, presenting what they perceive to be the perfect apple pie right out of the oven that everyone will love, eat up and then bake that same pie on their own.  Only when they present it, the most vocal skeptics start to ask “why pie?” “what is it for?” “I don’t like pie” “I prefer cherry pie” “pie is fattening” “we need cake, not pie” “why didn’t we know you were making pie” “I’m an award winning pie maker, why didn’t you ask for me help?”.  By not involving your employees in the early stages of the process and focusing on attaining collective buy in from conception, many great initiatives never get off the ground and fail due to fear based attacks mixed with some valid overlooked risks and concerns.

John P. Kotter was interviewed in HBR’s October issue on How to Save Good Ideas.  He talks about how we’ve been taught to focus on getting an idea right instead of making sure people understand and support it.  He talks about the “murky land of human nature and group dynamics” and how this colours the way people react to new ideas.  Kotter recommends embracing the naysayers and inviting them to critique your ideas and treating them with respect.  He stresses the importance to never let disagreement become personal.

I have found that this is tough and often counter intuitive for otherwise highly effective leaders that are passionate about how their idea or mission will transform their business.  This comes back to applying “naked” leadership principles, becoming comfortable with the transparency and vulnerability required to introduce ideas in the early stages of development and inviting skeptics to help influence and shape the solution.  This approach will create holistic collective ownership and mitigate having your idea killed by the crowd.

I am not suggesting you bring your idea forward when it is merely sketched on a cocktail napkin; you still need to ensure you bring forward a compelling story to support your idea.  If you are presenting to a group of Accountants as was the “clienteer” I spoke with, you probably should have a solid RIO based story, or if you are presenting to creative audience then you should ensure you have strong visual components to support your story.  Likewise if you are presenting to a highly technical audience you will want to ensure you have a conceptual framework and process roadmap to support your story.  The important take away here is to begin the dialog as early as you can and embrace your toughest skeptics, make them your biggest asset, mastering the art of winning buy-in and attaining collective ownership is a critical leadership skill.

What strategies do you use to deal with skeptics?

Getting Naked Part 3: With Sybil Dahan

Today I am excited to shared the “naked” insights of Sybil Dahan.

Two weeks ago I launched a new blog series featuring some of my fellow “naked” fans.  This series was inspired by my favourite book Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni.  In fact, you’ll find references to the “naked” approach in posts such as Celebrating the Age of Transparency, Is Vulnerability a Leadership Strength?, Part 5 of 7: Are You Ready to Get Naked?, and The Beauty of Audaciousness.  This book resonated for me like no other. Patrick brilliantly put to words a message and a Getting Naked Service Model that I have passionately come to believe and live by through the course of my career. Not only did it validate my approach, for which many have thought I was crazy, it re-enforced it and further shaped my methods. I advocate that everyone read this book, it is sure to transform your thinking and approach with your customers.

When a book impacts me like this one has it makes me curious to find out how it impacted others that have read it.  What about the “naked” approach resonated with them the most?  How is their approach similar? And how does it differ? Finally, did the book further shape their approach?  I was  also curious to hear examples of how the “naked” approach has enabled barriers they have encountered?  What traits do they admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build their trust?

Two weeks ago Joe Ames, Senior Director of IT Infrastructure and Development at Lash Group shared his point of view with us.  Joe shared “When companies set aside reality and keep customers at all costs it turns the relationship from one of partnership and value to both parties, to one of order taker and win-lose.” I love this! I see so many companies struggle with win-lose relationships with their clients.  I believe that having the courage to be vulnerable with your clients is the best way to break this cycle and transform your relationships into trusting partnerships.

Then Ray Brown, co-founder of ClienteerHub enlightened us with his “naked” insights.  Ray shared “Calling people on how they are feeling/acting/behaving is another form of nakedness. I call it “pedantic openness” and I use it a lot at times of communication or relationship breakdown. “Let’s just ask the dumb questions and stop making assumptions.” Once I get a team up the scale of maturity I often do a “Stop, Start Continue” exercise where people openly share their thoughts about one another. They make their relationships “naked”.”  This level of nakedness is powerful, few have the courage to take it to this level, huge kudos to Ray.

Now, it is a huge honour for me to share the insights of one of my most cherished clients, Sybil Dahan.  I had the privilege of partnering with Sybil as Commercial Director at Abbott Canada.  Previous to this role Sybil was General Manager of Abbott Sweden, she achieved award winning results and recognition in the Scandinavian business community and her “naked” approach undoubtedly contributed to her accelerated success.  She then came back to Canada and was a courageous advocate and enabler of improving patient experience.  Sybil’s “naked” leadership approach accelerated our ability as a vendor to partner with Abbott for mutual patient-centric success.  Key to the success of the “naked” approach is a client that embraces it, if your client leads through fear, this adds a layer of complexity as you need to coach your client to surrender their fear, this was not the case with Sybil.

Dawna: “What about the “naked” approach resonated with you the most?”

Sybil: “The “naked” approach, described by Patrick Lencioni, is about service providers behaving like partners instead of consultants when dealing with clients. I have noticed that service providers who behave as consultants may create solutions for clients but often enough do not own the outcome, while the ones who behave as partners work with clients to achieve a common objective and, therefore, are accountable for the results. Lencioni eloquently articulates what I have always admired in service providers who behave like partners.

In my experience, the fundamental difference lies in that partners genuinely work toward success defined by the ultimate customers, and in many cases the ultimate customers are not the clients, but the clients’ customers. What I admire most of the service providers that behave like partners is their ability to define our customers’ needs as the only measurement of success.”

Dawna: “How is your approach similar? How is it different? Finally, did the book further shape your approach?”

Sybil: “My approach is much more similar than different to Lencioni’s naked approach when dealing with customers. I aim to partner with our customers to achieve a common objective. In healthcare, the consumers of products and services are the patients while the other customers are the ones often making the decisions on behalf of the patients, e.g. healthcare professionals deciding what treatment to provide; private insurance providers or governments deciding if the treatment option is worth paying for. My approach with the decision-makers is to clarify the objectives upfront – defined and measured by the patients’ positive outcome and satisfaction – hence setting the stage in achieving a common goal.

Although Getting Naked principles focus on the concept of providing services – or products – I found myself analyzing how the naked approach can also be applied to a leader and more importantly a leadership team. That is, how can one provide the service of leading an organization to success? I came to the following conclusions:

–      Fear of losing the business can be interpreted as leaders should not make their tenure all about a popularity contest and focus on their own career development. Leaders should instead focus on understanding and improving the organization’s performance, i.e. ensuring the leadership team performs well together and articulates the vision and values clearly to the entire organization, and ultimately communicating the organization’s performance – good and the not-so-good. Focusing on the organization’s successes, not your own, is what this is all about.

–      Fear of being embarrassed can be interpreted as leaders should not behave as if they have all the answers and solutions. Leaders should ask the “dumb questions”, but should also ensure they are surrounded with people who can provide the answers. Leaders will face the situation of having to move forward without all the answers, so how they behave when the results come out is crucial – if the decision was not the optimal one then will the leadership’s reaction be of hiding the outcome, or deflecting the responsibility onto others, or perhaps punishing the organization for their failure? Leaders should instead take full responsibility for the failure and put mechanisms in place for the organization to learn from their mistakes. Learning from the organization’s failures, not punishing, is what this is all about.

–      Fear of feeling inferior can be interpreted as leaders should not fear in participating in the every-day activities, or as some might call it “doing the dirty work”. By no means am I suggesting that leaders should become micro-managers and do their staff’s activities, but instead apply the concept that you should never ask another to do a task that yourself would not be willing to do. This is about building respect and trust because of who you are and what you can do – not to be confused with what title one holds and what was done in the past to get there.”

Dawna: “Share some examples of how your own flavor of the naked approach has enable barriers you have encountered.”

Sybil: “I do have one example that describes my flavor of the naked approach, and I must admit I have used it often to make that point.

Soon after I arrived in Sweden to lead our local affiliate, I was presented with the affiliate’s set of values (responsibility, teamwork, engagement, quality, success) yet realized no direction was given to the employees as to what to do with these values. Within months of my arrival, the leadership team drafted the vision and long-term goal for the affiliate, and began the relentless task of communicating the vision, values and long-term goal to the entire organization. The following year, I’m called to an internal meeting to assist the supply team in reaching resolution to a contractual matter. As I’m describing the solution I determined as best, an employee asks to challenge my decision – this in the presence of many of my direct reports, including his boss. The challenge was based on his belief that my decision was not in line with our vision and set of values, so I got very excited and wanted to hear more from this manager. Suffice to say that after a good debate, the manager’s recommendation became the final decision, and ultimately the right decision based on the outcome.

By focusing on the affiliate’s success – not protecting my own ego – it was possible for this manager to express his views based on agreed criteria (vision and values). By not insisting on maintaining my decision by fear of being embarrassed, it was possible for all to recognize that this manager’s recommendation was a better solution for the affiliate. The fact that I and a few of my direct reports participated in this meeting in the first place demonstrates that the leadership team was prepared to do the dirty work… Although I joked with the supply team that they were capable of reaching resolution without the leadership’s intervention in the first place.”

Dawna: “What traits do you admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build your trust?”

Sybil: “What I admire most in leaders is the ability to combine a strong IQ with an even stronger EQ, i.e. leaders who are visionary and strategic, demonstrate strong business acumen, are humble and inspirational, and can build a strong organizational identity. An outstanding leader ensures the leadership team, not just oneself, is leading the organization – this is perhaps the single most important attribute I look for in a leader. I believe that for this to succeed, leaders should establish a team that works well together i.e. respect among the team allowing for some disagreement, ability to quickly reach a final decision based on agreed values, obsession over communication, celebration of success and failure, and ultimately a team that has fun doing all this.”

Special thanks to Sybil for sharing her enlightening perspective.   I have seen first hand through my partnership with Sybil that she walks the talk.  Sybil, Ray, Joe and I would like to hear your thoughts or questions, are you ready to get naked?

New Series Part 1: Getting Naked with Joe Ames

If you have followed my posts, by now you may have taken note that my favourite book is Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni.  In fact, you’ll find references to the “naked” approach in posts such as Celebrating the Age of Transparency, Is Vulnerability a Leadership Strength?, Part 5 of 7: Are You Ready to Get Naked?, and The Beauty of Audaciousness.  This book resonated for me like no other. Patrick brilliantly put to words a message and a Getting Naked Service Model that I have passionately come to believe and live by through the course of my career. Not only did it validate my approach, for which many have thought I was crazy, it re-enforced it and further shaped my methods. I advocate that everyone read this book, it is sure to transform your thinking and approach with your customers.

When a book impacts me like this one has it makes me curious to find out how it impacted others that have read it.  What about the “naked” approach resonated with them the most?  How is their approach similar? And how does it differ? Finally, did the book further shape their approach?  I was  also curious to hear examples of how the “naked” approach has enabled barriers they have encountered?  What traits do they admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build their trust?

These questions sparked this new blog series, we will explore these questions with some of my fellow “naked” fans.  My first guest is Joe Ames,  Senior Director IT Infrastructure and Development at Lash Group. Joe is an innovative, results oriented leader with a proven record of defining technology strategy and managing large-scale projects.  With notable expertise in assembling teams that drive innovation, efficiency, and business process improvement by aligning technology solutions with business needs. Joe has a demonstrated ability to consistently drive quality and process improvement with the implementation of new technology and process through an open-minded collaborative approach.

Question: What about the “naked” approach resonated with you the most?

Joe: The fundamental idea resonates with me which I summarize as being open and honest with your customers, employees, family, friends and so on. Of the 3 fears the fear of losing the business is the most relevant at present. When companies set aside reality and keep customers at all costs it turns the relationship from one of partnership and value to both parties, to one of order taker and win-lose. Operating from a place where you are comfortable loosing the business is necessary in order to truly be honest with your customers. That doesn’t mean that you treat them poorly, rather, that they know you will give them everything you’ve got every time and will settle up later on the details.

Question: How is your approach similar? And how does it differ? Finally did the book further shape your approach?

Joe: What you see is what you get, I’m an open book so people around me know what I’m thinking and know my opinions. The book and experience have validated that approach, however, it’s also helped me understand that with some finesse and sophistication I can be direct and honest without overstepping boundaries or being rude. Sometimes it’s about the timing and/or the things I choose to concentrate on.

Question: Can you share any examples of how your own flavour of the naked approach has enabled barriers you have encountered?

Joe: A recent example is related to interactions with colleagues internally. As we all get busy with the day to day sometimes we forget to keep each other informed of decisions that are made. In the instance I am thinking of a colleague did just this and while the appearance was that there was intentional withholding of information, direct interaction and real time feedback cleared up the communication issue and reset expectations. Without directly engaging them on the issue it would have been drug out, increased the amount of time to resolution, and eroded the trust we’ve worked so hard to build on the team. It was also an opportunity to talk through the pressure they were getting that wasn’t fully visible to me and provide support.

Question: What traits do you admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build your trust?

Joe: This morning I had the opportunity to meet with one of the most effective leaders I have had the pleasure of working with over breakfast and it hit me. Some of the most admirable traits of effective leaders are not only credibility, integrity, and inspiration. Those are the basis of leadership that you can’t lead without. Truly great leaders listen, even when the message is about what they can do differently. They accept that they can be wrong and recognize it and immediately work to make changes. All the while they lead by example.

Huge thanks to Joe for sharing his “naked” insights with us.  I had the pleasure of working with Joe in my previous role as Vice President of Operations at ABSG Canada, a sister company to Lash Group within AmeriSource Bergen.  I have immeasurable respect for Joe, he is fluent in driving meaningful change and a true customer advocate.

Have you read Getting Naked?  If so, please share how this book impacted you?