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  We are finally moving beyond our outdated approach to creating value and harnessing value with purpose.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?

We Need More Audacious Leaders Without Titles

As we begin to embrace the power of mass collaboration and radically re-discover, re-shape, re-invent, re-new, re-act, re-approach, and re-create our corporate environments, supply chains, industries, really our business community broadly.  Companies with the courage to actively embrace this revolution will discover and expand their potentiality.  Our biggest barrier in this quest is the attachment to traditional solutions and fear of change that are so tightly guarded in our command and control business structures.  We need to acknowledge, reward and seek out audacious leaders without titles to evangelize and harness change.

The brilliant Robin Sharma has written a book The Leader With No Title.  He illustrates that to create spectacular results, we need to awaken inner leaders to

    • Influence people like a superstar, regardless of their position
    • Recognize and then seize opportunities in times of deep change
    • Defeat stress, build an unbeatable mindset, unleash energy and balance our personal life
    • Shift from victim-hood into leadership.


Bottom line, “we all have the power to show leadership where we are right now and shine at brilliance in all that you do”.  I would add that the more audacious you are about it the more you will harness full potentiality.  When I think of a superstar audacious leader without a big title, I think of Susana Lazaro of Abbott Laboratories.

Susana is passion, and she has mastered the art of leveraging that passion for the greater good and igniting others along the way. Her passion is matched by her authenticity, compassion and creativity.  She has the courage to foster meaningful change and the audaciousness to navigate through even the most challenging and limiting barriers. She is refreshingly forthright, driven and highly articulate.  Most notably Susana ambassadors more significant change than many of those with more leadership authority within her organization.   This is not a poor reflection of the leadership senior to Susana but rather a reflection of the power of leading and seizing opportunities day to day and developing a trusted tribe of supporters.  In fact it is arguable that her lack or corporate authority is an asset to her approach.

I worked closely with Susana as a client, we were partnered to radically transform the patient experience of a initially bottom ranking patient support program that only one year later was top ranking.  The program and support team grew at the speed of light and the complexity of services combined with numerous limiting barriers would in most circumstances impede positive results but thanks large in part to Susana’s tenacious, unwavering commitment to put the patients AND the support team first the program today is a big success.

This was first and foremost a team effort and there are many heroes in this story but no one that fought harder or lead stronger than Susana.  Her manager and the leaders her manager reported to, supported Susana’s sometimes unconventional methods, this took courage on their part.  Too often our traditional command and control structures are fearful of leaders without titles, fearful to empower them and give away control.  I believe we need to embrace, harness and reward these humble heroes.

Do you know any leaders without titles?

FF: Passion Profile Featuring Dan Rockwell AKA LeadershipFreak

This week it is my privilege to feature Dan Rockwell, the insightful “Leadership Freak“, for my Follow Friday post!  Inspired by Twitter’s FF tradition, I like share a little with you about people I like to follow.  If you don’t follow Dan’s blog, you must! He has mastered the art of “helping leaders reach higher in 300 words or less”.  Dan’s posts never disappoint, he is audacious, humble, insightful and immensely inspirational.  His posts always generate a rich dialog, and his followers are eager to participate, it’s absolutely marvelous!

Yet I know very little about Dan and I am excited that today, we are getting to know him a little better:

Dawna: “What drives you?”

Dan: “I reject the idea that life is meaningless chaos and embrace the idea that we have a creator. I’m driven by the conviction we are entrusted with abilities that help equip us to fulfill a higher purpose. Additionally, I’m driven by the frailty and brevity of life. I’m driven to leverage my limited time and opportunities in ways that maximize positive impact. The brevity of life doesn’t diminish the value of our actions, it magnifies it.”

Dawna: “What makes you tick?”

Dan: “At the core, I’m a teacher. I’m the guy trying to figure out why things work the way they do and then after I think I’ve figured something out, I love explaining it to others. The goal of teaching is enabling. It’s a great joy to see the light come on in someone’s eyes.”

Dawna: “Why are you so passionate about leadership?”

Dan: “Even though I’m 53, “Leadership Freak,” as a person, was born about three years ago. You could say I’m freakishly interested in leadership because I failed at it for so long. I spent many of my years holding a leadership position but not actually leading. A few years ago I realized I was wasting my life by not aiming higher. Dissatisfaction with ineffectiveness was the seedbed of my passion for leadership. Today, I’m committed to effectively leverage influence for the good of others.”

Dawna: “What are your top 5 leadership skills?”

Dan:  “1) Dissatisfaction: I’m always dissatisfied with the status quo. 2) Vision: It’s not enough to be dissatisfied. Anyone can complain. Learning to be a leader means I’m learning to move through dissatisfaction to become a forward facing organizational leader. This includes learning how to craft and inspire compelling vision. In addition, I’ve always been a “big picture” guy with an ability to simplify complexity. 3) Public speaking.  4) Enabling others: I love challenging others to reach beyond their comfort zone so they can achieve more than they thought they could. One way to enable others is by getting in the trenches with them.  5)Encouraging/motivating: People need tons of encouragement in order to reach their highest potential. I’m the leader who shakes your hand, pats you on the back, walks around looking for people who are doing the right things in order to thank them. I’m learning that leaders set the tone of their organization through encouragement.”

Now I am an even bigger fan of Leadership Freak!  Huge thanks to Dan for sharing his passion with us.

Happy Friday everyone!

Making Smart Sexy Again

The fall issue of Motivated is out!  And it is exploring the theme of “fear”.  Once again it is filled with powerful insights, guidance and inspiration.  I was most struck by “Love & Leadership Go Hand in Hand” by John Hope Bryant author of Love Leadership and founder and CEO of Operations Hope.    He believes that most of our leaders lead by fear.  The reason these leaders have done so well in the past  is “feel-good, me-based, immediate gratification disease” which he calls “short-termism”.  John says “over the past twenty or so years we have made dumb sexy”.  Now he is on a mission to make “smart sexy again”.  (I heard Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” in my head as I read this.)

Love Leadership is based on what he calls “a perfect storm”.  He explains “the first cousin to fear is short-termism, and short-term’s best friend is laziness, the roommate of laziness is greed, and the most popular word ever uttered by fear, short-termisim, laziness and greed is ‘me’.”  Also known as “what’s in it for me?”  John believes that in order to succeed over the long term the question needs to become “what do I have to give?”.  I believe the mission to make smart sexy again is further challenged by our so-called leaders that have lead through fear parenting a new young generation of mini short-termismers that are now entering the work force.  However, I do think this mission is well on it’s way, we have seen this in the re-occurring themes on HBR such as transparency, authenticity, and social responsibility.  This recent video on “The Biggest Mistake a Leader Can Make” is a good reflection of this.  John’s message reflects what we are finally seeing the business community begin to embrace, so his perspective did not enlighten me personally, it was the art in which he delivered it did that did.  He used such powerful words that I think will better reach and resonate with the unconverted.

I could not agree with him more when he says that “the current economic crisis is not about some sophisticated or complex failure of free enterprise or capitalism as we know it, but rather simple-minded failure of greed itself.”  AKA “short-termism”.  He goes on to say “this crisis is more a crisis of virtues and values, than any sort of classic economic crisis.  No doubt you’re feeling this crisis economically, but this is no different than when you have a cold; you feel or sense it when you sneeze.”  In other words, it is a symptom.

Later in the article he stresses that “everyone needs to have an enlightened self-interest in the outcome of a business transaction and it should start with a genuine understanding of the concern with what’s best for the client”.  That concern is what he calls love.

Perhaps I should update my tag line from “when meaningful change is needed” to “making smart sexy”… I’ll stick with mine as it is near and dear to my heart, but I do love and appreciate John’s mission and message.

I’m curious, do you think the word ‘love’ is too soft for the business community to embrace?

Changing Women Leaders is not the Answer, Nor is Blaming Sexism

I typically do not pay much attention to gender based articles and stats.  Having started my career as a software developer I was normalized to a highly male dominated work environment. In no way, shape, or form have I ever perceived my career as having been more challenging because I am a woman.  Nor have I made an effort to suppress my female traits to be more like my male colleagues.  Sure I have encountered sexism, but no more frequently than I have encountered reverse sexism and all the other types of prejudices that are out there.  Long before my career even started I knew not to take this type of behaviour personally and that it is a source of insecurity, my mother instilled this in us at a very young age.

Men and women are different.  We should embrace this and not try to coach women to be more like men in order to be successful leaders.  I have recently read two articles that have advocated women leaders need to act more like men from HBR and the Financial Post, two of my favourite information sources.  This drove me to want to share my thoughts.  While I do agree with some of the constructive advice that is provided in both articles, I profoundly disagree with the over arching message that women need to act more like men to be successful as leaders.

A couple of weeks ago Jeffrey Pfeffer posted Women and the Uneasy Embrace of Power on HBR which initiated a very provocative discussion.   While I enjoyed the discussion it ignited, I was initially disappointed after reading his post,  I wondered if Jeffrey was somehow related to Archie Bunker! How in today’s business environment can someone still believe that people do not see right through acts of “engaging in self promotion” that Jeffrey is advocating.  I wondered if Jeffrey had read any of his peers blogs, had he not heard of the “age of transparency”?  Leadership is not about whether you are a man or a woman, and it is certainly not about attaining power over other people.  Power is at an individual level, you can lead by empowering yourself and others, but the type of power Jeffrey describes is egocentric and political. In another post on HBR earlier the same day, The Crucial Skills for Tomorrow’s Leaders, skills such as trust, authenticity, purpose, empathy, devotion, curiosity, and mindfulness were identified… power was not even mentioned.

Then this week the Financial Post published 10 Body Language Mistakes That Women Leaders Make by Carol Kinsey Goman and Troy Mediathe.  To their credit there are 4 points listed that provide good constructive advice for women (and men), but I disagree with the rest of their points and would instead encourage women leaders to remain true to who they are and instead shift their focus to simply earning respect through their authentic actions and words.  Here are the points I challenge and why:

“1) They use too many head tilts. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved — and a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can be very positive cues, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. Women who want to project power and authority should keep their heads straight up in a more neutral position.”

Yikes, did they really just say that?  I highlighted the only part of this point that adds value “head titling is a signal that someone is listening and involved”, this is a good thing!  I would not call this being submissive, I would call this being vulnerable, which I believe is a leadership strength.

“2) They physically condense. One way that status is non-verbally demonstrated in a business meeting is by physically taking up room. Lower-status, less-confident men (and most women) tend to pull in their bodies and minimize their size, while high status males expand and take up space. So at your next meeting, spread out your belongings and claim your turf!”

When I see someone expanding to take up space and “claim their turf” I think it is screaming insecurity and ego.  However, I do think it is important to have a good posture, open shoulders cue your own self empowerment.

“5) They nod too much. When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees – or is listening to, empathizing with, or encouraging the speaker to continue. This excessive head nodding can make females look like a bobble-head doll. Constant head nodding can express encouragement and engagement, but not authority and power.”

I agree that if it goes to the point where you look like a bobble-head doll you have gone too far, but listening, empathizing and encouraging are all great cues of leader.

“6) They speak “up.” Women’s voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if they’re asking a question or asking for approval. When stating your opinion, be sure to use the authoritative arc, in which your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence and drops back down at the end.”

News flash, I call that a Canadian accent. When I moved down to the US for 10 years I became very aware of how we Canadians raise our voices at the end of sentences, as though every sentence is a question and if you’re French-Canadian you might even add a “non?” at the end.  I will agree that I think this can come across as overly politically correct but I do not agree that this is more common in women then men.  At most I would recommend it be something you be mindful of especially if you have a strong Canadian or French-Canadian accent.

“7) They wait their turn. In negotiations, men talk more than women and interrupt more frequently. One perspective on the value of speaking up comes from former US Secretary of State Madeleine Alright, who – when asked what advice she had for up-and-coming professional women – replied, “Learn to interrupt.””

Perhaps in politics this is true, but I do not think business should emulate politics, in fact my thoughts on conduct in political leadership is another topic all together.  It is important to speak up and be heard and I do think there is an art of interruption when required but I disagree that interruption should be advocated broadly.

“8) They are overly expressive. While a certain amount of movement and animation adds passion and meaning to a message, women who express the entire spectrum of emotions often overwhelm their audience (especially if the audience is comprised primarily of males). So in situations where you want to maximize your authority – minimize your movements. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.”

I agree with this to the extent that it needs to be in balance, it is important as a leader to be calm and contained when the circumstances require this but it is also important for leaders to exude their passion, we all craving authentic leaders with purpose, we want to see their passion but we also want to see their disappointment and their strength to remain calm in crisis.

Bottom line, changing women leaders is not the answer, nor is blaming sexism, our focus needs to be on developing leaders we can trust that have the courage to lead with purpose rather than power.  Leadership is not a battle of the sexes, we do not need more women leaders for the sake of equality, we simply need better leaders that inspire meaningful change.

As a final thought that was reflected in numerous comments in response to Jeffrey’s post, not all women aspire to become leaders in business, women that chose to focus on raising a family are not “dropping their quest for power”.  The lack of appreciation and respect for the role of a mother bewilders me, but that is another topic all together, I simply wanted to point out that we need to celebrate women who make this choice and accept that this is one of the reasons there are less women in leadership roles in business.

What leadership skills inspire you?