LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS: Challenging High-Potential Managers To Become Great Leaders

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Who you are as a leader and the conversations you hold will determine your success, the success of your team and of your organization.

Leadership Conversations on Amazon.com

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Enter the Matrix at Your Own Risk!

I have had many readers ask how well the book LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS applies to matrix organizations, because many of the printed examples discuss hierarchical situations. In most matrix situations you, as the leader, have a wider group of stakeholders yet little or no formal authority. Yet, the job must still get done. So the answer is simple: The book is at least as powerful in matrix organizations as it is in hierarchical ones, if not more important.

This is for two reasons:

  1. The central leadership brand of the book – the need to connect, align and inspire – is a universal leadership concept.
  2. In matrix management, because your span of interest is much larger than your span of “control” or direct responsibility, it is even more critical to lead rather than manage others.

Leadership in this case is about attraction – pulling people toward you and your goals.  Management is primarily about guiding others under defined conditions – pushing folks toward the goal. The more people that are involved, the more important it is to pull instead of push!

Let’s look specifically at how a matrix organization relates to all four leadership conversations:

  • Taking Action: In a matrix, actions by others may be less visible to the leader yet must still be taken in concert. Everyone must take responsibility for heightened communication and feedback.
  • Decision Making: You often have more people who need to buy into or at least accept a decision in a matrix organization since most of those directly involved also have bosses to whom they must be accountable for decisions made. They all must believe in these decisions.
  • Developing Others: You also should think of developing others as not just building your employees, but also making sure that everyone with whom you work in the matrix has the knowledge to positively impact your challenges and opportunities. It is also important that you have the information to positively impact their challenges and opportunities.
  • Relationship Building: Your stakeholders tend to be more dispersed geographically in a matrix organization, and thus additional effort is required to create the appropriate number and quality of trusted and transactional relationships. Remember, relationships are the foundation of leadership.

Please let me know if you have any more questions on this or other leadership/management topics.

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What’s Your Job (As a Leader)? – Part 2

In the previous blog we discussed the complexity of both leading and managing, and how people most often state that lack of time is their reason for doing a sub-optimal job. Time is our most precious commodity.  We can spend it hard at work, or enjoy it in personal pursuits.  Is wasting time at work worth missing events with your spouse, kids, parents, friends, or on personal endeavors that enrich your life?

What do I mean when I say “wasting time”? When we do someone else’s job, fail to delegate, micro-manage, obsess over problems, waste precious resources, or don’t plan for the future properly, we are wasting time.

When you do someone else’s job, you don’t have time to get your own job done.  Management and leadership are both specialties – they are different jobs.  Do both sets of activities in the right way, in the right blend, at the right time and for the right reasons. Here are the specific suggestions I promised you in the last blog for gaining time in your day:

  • Work proactively. Look at the numbers (predictors) driving your business and don’t casually explain them away. Look for the disruptors that could give you an early warning to make strategic changes. These numbers can include sales, profit, turnover, rising costs and hours worked. Work proactively.
  • Be realistic. Don’t overestimate your company’s market power and customer value proposition or underestimate these items in your competitors.
  • Build the relationships before you need them – that will serve as your safe harbor in tough times and it won’t be lonely at the top. Critical ideas will come from those folks.
  • Have more than one or two go-to people. Develop every direct report into an expert in at least one area so they can lead projects and you won’t have to. In a matrix organization, build the capabilities of your key stakeholders as though they were your own team members.
  • Create competence: Delegate, have career conversations and get everyone participating in decision making. They will model your behaviors.
  • Connect, Align and Inspire: Make sure your folks are aligned before taking action. Being in the fast lane going in multiple directions at once does not work.
  • Respect that everyone’s opinion counts. Hold after-action meetings to honestly assess what went well and not-so-well. Give everyone an equal voice and don’t punish the innocent (or the guilty) for their participation.
  • Prioritize and commit to tackling only three important tasks at once. More than that and each priority will suffer.

In conclusion, develop yourself, develop your people and concentrate on the right blend of management and leadership as discussed in the previous blog.

My last suggestion: Put as much effort into your personal life as you do into your business life. That will give you the energy to excel in leadership.  Your family members are your most important trusted relationships and advisers. The most successful executives I see are ones who form strong teams with their significant others – it’s true.

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What’s Your Job (As a Leader)? Part 1

The headline above is perhaps the most illuminating question my clients can answer. It provides both of us a glimpse into how they see and practice their leadership/management roles. Before I say more, please spend a few minutes jotting down your answer to this question:

What’s YOUR job?



As you now look at what you’ve written, let’s parse the information in two different ways.

Management v. Leadership Mindset: First, to what extent did you write down management issues: achieving objectives, utilizing best practices and creating new processes? Contrast how much you wrote about leadership: vision, growing your people and creating new thought leadership. If you are like most executives, the tyranny of what must be accomplished today overwhelms the equally important task of creating the future. If you don’t exercise leadership with your people, who will (replace you)?

The Time Line: Another way of looking at what you wrote is how much attention you pay to

  • Understanding the Past and digesting the lessons learned.
  • Managing the Present so that you will survive/thrive into the future.
  • Envisioning and Creating the Future by creating new customers, products, markets, etc.

There is a simple fact I learned when I was in product management at Gillette many years ago. When your responsibility is to both manage the present (current products and services) and create future opportunities (new products and services), you will spend virtually all of your time managing the present. Yet a positive future in today’s business environment must be purposefully created and pursued.

If you don’t believe what I’ve just said, look at your own calendar. Add up the number of hours actually set aside in your schedule for thinking about and discussing the future, having career conversations with your people and attending conferences/seminars where you can have the conversations that lead to innovation. Many of you have few if any of these items in your schedules; and consequently you will not do them! Contrast this to the amount of time spent on managing the quarterly results, solving problems and hearing updates.

To what extent are you forming new relationships, growing your people’s capabilities, enhancing the decision-making and judgment processes and galvanizing your people to meaningful action?

I can hear your response now: “I don’t have time to do both management and leadership.” Creating time will be the second part of this blog to air next week as will be specific strategies for creating positive future success.

By the way, my answer to your response is: “Yes, you do and it is critical to your future success!”

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Just Say it

I hope you are in the habit of putting your brain in gear before opening your mouth when you have a conversation with another person – what I call a two-person conversation.

This blog deals with the one-person conversation: The conversation you have with yourself before you engage with the other person. It will assist you in taking your thoughts and converting them into positive conversations. None of us is perfect in terms of today’s “politically correct” conversations, and many of us can be more negative than we mean to be. Leadership conversations require a positive frame. We must put our ears into gear.

What do I mean by this statement? We are used to hearing thoughts OUT LOUD before responding, so it is important to let our ears guide our thoughts when we are preparing to speak with another person.  Often in coaching, the client says, “I am not sure how to say what I want to say.” My response is for them to, “Just say it,” then we will deal with what they have said in terms of accurately expressing their thoughts in a way others can hear the correct intention in a positive manner.  Otherwise, the thought just twists in our brain (tongue-tied) and we do not have the benefit of actually hearing what others might hear and then reforming our thoughts. Think, speak out loud, listen, reflect, reframe what you want to say and then speak with the other person. That’s the correct process.

If you are preparing a speech, writing it down is also only the first step. That’s because verbal and written conversations are different. One should also always say a prepared speech out loud to see if it sounds stilted and needs to be recast from written to verbal conversations.

Find your trusted adviser – business partner, personal friend or coach – when you have something especially important to communicate.  Let them help you be a good listener so you can be a great speaker.

Have a great day!

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Get That New Leadership Position!

We are at the stage of the economic recovery where many executives are considering changing jobs either within their own firm or by going to a new organization.  Before you send a resume or schedule an interview, there are two critical areas to think about.

Your RESUME: The tone and mindset of your resume may need to change if you are looking for a leadership position.

  • Don’t just dust off the resume that got you your current job and add your latest responsibilities while deleting the oldest one. Think Leadership, not Management Mindset (see page 12 in “LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS”).
  • Change from the “I” to the “We” as you show your ability to connect, align and inspire teams – both hierarchical and matrix ones.
  • Show more elements of vision, people leadership, thought leadership and cooperation and fewer elements of reaching objectives, using best practices, proven processes and competition with peers.
  • Be able to make the case in a cover letter and then again in the interview that you can perform the requirements of the new position, not just that you were a superstar in the old one. This is especially important for those moving from the management ranks into leadership.

The INTERVIEWS: Make the interview a conversation of two peers. If you let the interviewer be in a power position over you, then you will not be exhibiting your leadership skills. Find the balance.

  • Have realistic expectations – the purpose of the first interview is not to get the job; it is to get the second interview.
  • Be on an equal footing – the interviewer and the applicant should both be evaluating whether there is a fit on both the culture and the job requirements.
  • You are not looking for a job. In one form or another you want to take all of your experience, networking, thought leadership and vision to pursue a new challenge.
  • At the management level, you are competing with others in your firm for the next promotion. In leadership positions you get the next promotion because of the way you positively interact with your peers. Show how you can bring a contribution to your new boss’s entire leadership team.

Finally, make sure you are running toward a great opportunity, not just trying to escape a bad job.

On the other hand, if you are the one doing the hiring for a leadership position, look for a person who “gets” the leadership mindset, not one who only exhibits the management mindset. No matter how great their technical skills, they might be command-and-control folks who will cause conflict and dissention. In leadership IQ, EQ and passion are all equally important attributes to look for.

Happy hunting and hiring to all!

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Why Standing Still is Not an Option

Years ago, a friend and I went swimming on Sunset Beach in Hawaii, known for its incredible waves. A crew was filming a surfing commercial, which should have been a clue that the tide was strong, but we did not catch that warning.  Instead, enthralled with the beauty of the location and lulled by the warmth of the ocean, we swam out about 25 yards from shore and turned to look back at the beach.  Immediately I saw that we were being swept out to sea in a rip tide, a force far stronger than either of us. Absent immediate action we would be in serious trouble. In fact, we were still swept hundreds of yards down the beach. We obviously did all the right things, including swimming on the surface and parallel to the shore, or I would not be here writing this blog.

There are business lessons to be learned from this experience:

  • In the tides experienced by all U.S. businesses, caused by internal and external forces, we can never ignore warnings or stay still. A rising tide lifts all boats, but a sinking tide strands boats that do not move to the deepest channel. We must actively look for disruptions.
  • If we do not constantly scan the horizon, we risk being swept out to sea. If I had not been aware of our position relative to shore and how it was being impacted by external forces, we would have been in serious trouble.
  • Immediate action was required.
  • Yet, we had to go sideways before we could accelerate to shore. Going against the current would have exhausted our resources.

In some environments, accepting declining sales is actually better than exhausting our resources that would have been required to maintain sales. If we are not accepting pauses and disrupting our own organizations by developing new products and services, external forces will happily step in and do this for us. Use these pauses to build future direction and strength.

  • Loyalty is lower than ever; today’s great idea or product is tomorrow’s anchor.
  • Competition is more intense thanks to worldwide competition.
  • Financial cycles are stronger and more punishing – and rewarding.
  • If we do not show interest in our employees’ careers and ensure that they meet their objectives at the same time they achieve our organization’s goals, we will lose our best people.

The final word of advice: Remember that what we know anchors us in the past, and what we learn will create our future.

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The Pursuit of Excess

In case you missed it: Part 1 – The Wisdom of Buffet and Zuckerberg

Before I explain why excess compensation came into being and is continuing to accelerate, not just in the corporate world but also in the legal profession, let me tell you a story about a great sociologist.

When I was a freshman at Wharton, I was given a lower grade than expected by E. Digby Baltzell. His response was that he would change it to any grade I wanted, but if it was different than what he had provided, his door was permanently closed to me. He would never speak to me again.

I’m not sure I agreed with his logic even today, but I accepted the grade so that I could keep learning from him. This gentleman not only coined the term WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant), but he also had a very interesting model. He believed that all business people strove for wealth, power and prestige, but that no one (at that time) could have all three. For example:

  • Corporate Executives had power and prestige but moderate salaries.
  • Entrepreneurs created wealth and some level of prestige, but not power.
  • Lawyers had prestige but limited power or wealth.

The race was on. Corporate executives thought they were smarter, better educated and ran larger organizations than entrepreneurs, so they also deserved to accumulate wealth – giving them the trifecta. Then lawyers (who used to be relatively low paid “counselors”) decided they were smarter than corporate executives and deserved high salaries (wealth), which also gave them power as a community in addition to prestige. Then entrepreneurs created companies so large they commanded power as well as the wealth and prestige.  Now, all three professions had hit the trifecta. Were they willing to call it a draw? No!

All that was left was to see who would win this race, and, because power and prestige have a rather finite upper end, all they could compete on was wealth. It used to be a question of who could fly first class on an established airline. This progressed to seeing who had a plane at their disposal, then how big a plane, and then how many of them. Finally, the pursuit of excess compensation has led to a new concept of creating generational wealth – not only you, but none of your ancestors will ever have to worry about money and could buy whatever they want. To what extent is this a singular value worth pursuing?

All I ask is that every corporate CEO be able to keep a straight face when they tell their mothers and their children why they deserve $20,000,000 to $200,000,000 compensation in any given year. Let the giggling begin.

What’s your view on today’s top executive compensation?

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