The Wisdom of Buffet and Zuckerberg

“Charlie and I try to interact with our managers in a manner consistent with what we would wish for, if the positions were reversed.” – Warren Buffet, 50th Shareholder Letter

I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” – Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile World Congress

Here are two people spanning generations who both believe that shared values and a focus on relationships are the key criteria in hiring. These quotes also fit with the general wisdom that people go to work for a company, but leave because of their boss.

If you also would prefer to hire someone you would be willing to work for, start to think about what those qualities are. Contact me if you want me to work with you through some values exercises and career conversations to bring those qualities to life.

Now, let’s go a giant step further and address executive compensation starting with Buffet’s additional quote in the same shareholder letter: “A Berkshire CEO must be ‘all in for the company’ not for himself … At Berkshire, directors walk in your shoes.”

When I went to work for Merrill Lynch in 1975, there was a saying, “Bulls and Bears make money, but hogs get slaughtered!” Don Regan, then-CEO of Merrill Lynch, made a point of telling us that the top five paid people at ”Mother Merrill” that year were salespeople, not executives, because the sales people drove the business creation and value – not the executives.

I wonder: How do these quotes and prevailing wisdom fit with today’s spiraling top executive compensation? How can every top executive be in the top quartile of performance, which is often the stated justification for these increasingly “generous” payments? How can boards of (often interlocking) directors continue justify handing excessive payment “gifts” to fellow CEOs?

Now for the coup de grâce: How many of us want to work for/hire someone whose sense of equity is to stuff their pockets with as much corporate money as possible?  In what way do we model great leadership when we provide ourselves with excessive compensation? Finally, what is the effect on organizational integrity when we covet or receive this excess compensation and this compensation is shared only by the few people at the top?

In the next blog, I will offer an explanation of why executive compensation has risen so quickly and dramatically to atmospheric levels in this country.  Hint: It has nothing to do with value creation!

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Use Your Listening Skills to Drive Better Decisions

This is Part 2 of my mini-series on Listening. Read Part 1 here.

Now that you’ve had an opportunity to improve your listening skills, let’s focus on using these skills to make better decisions:

  1. Be contextual. Make sure you are in agreement on the objectives/goals related to the conversation.
  2. Make sure you agree on the facts.
  3. Focus on “what is right” instead of “who is right.” This gets you halfway there!
  4. People do not fear change; they fear what change will mean to them. State your tentative decision and ask them how it might impact them. This allows you to answer any of their FEARs (False Expectations Appearing Real). Now you are 75% of the way to better decisions!
  5. Finally, to solidify the link of the decision to the goals, ask them how confident they are that the decision you made, alone or in conjunction with them, will allow them reach the agreed upon goals. Keep the conversation going in a learning mode until everyone is at an 80% confidence level. That’s where leaders live; they act with 80% of the information and improvise as the other 20% is learned through taking action.

Teach this process to those with whom you work and read more details about perfecting your communication and leadership skills in “LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders.”

To your greater success!

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Are You REALLY Listening? Part 1

Be honest – what kind of listener are you?

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of others not really listening. These are the people who drive 55 mph in the left lane in a 65 mph zone, oblivious to the fact that they are breaking the law, inconveniencing others, contributing to road rage and causing accidents in order to force their views on others with their “windows” closed and a disinterested stare on their face.

Eighty-five percent of communication is non-verbal, and we can see in the faces of poor listeners that they are not open. This is amplified when they interrupt to argue or defend their position before they listen to, much less digest, what’s been said. They are forming their response before you even stop talking. This behavior leads to a complete breakdown in communications.  After all, why should anyone waste brainpower or time trying to communicate with someone who is not perceived as listening? By the way, this applies at home as much as it does in the office.

We cannot control what others do, but we can learn and model great communications and hope that others catch on.

Here are the secrets to great listening:

  1. Clarify, don’t assume. We make our beliefs come true – so we must be interested in, and curious about, what the other person has to say. That is the stance of a leader. Believe that the other person has something to say; do not make assumptions that you already know their thoughts or feelings. You don’t!
  2. Ask Questions. Because most people will agree with most decisions – if they feel heard – you must actively invite them to complete their thoughts before you respond. Ask, “Tell me more … where else … how else … how certain are you of these facts … who else might you want me to talk to for confirmation … what could allow you to change your stance on this issue”? Be a learner in this process.
  3. Restate what you heard and keep doing so until they agree you’ve got it right. When they do agree, thank them for the information. Appreciation counts!
  4. Pause and reflect. Let them see that you are actively considering what they had to say. After all, they are invested in the outcome and want to know that you are as well!

Practice these actions and in the next blog I’ll show you how to apply these new skills to decision making.

Thanks for listening!

Read Part 2 here.

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Ensure Your Next Promotion is NOT Your Final One

In my experience, almost 50% of high-potential managers and leaders fail within 18 months of a major promotion. As an executive coach, this really concerns me. I’ve written this blog to provide you with ideas and actions to take to be one of the 50% who will succeed.

At the fundamental level, you have the greatest chance for success if you:

  1. Not only learned and mastered the requirements and challenges of your last job, but you also have already started to gain proficiency in what it takes to be successful in this new job as you worked closely with your old boss.
  2. Have a new boss who believes in you and will be actively involved in mentoring and coaching you to be successful in the new job. If the new boss will not be actively working toward your success, do NOT accept this promotion. ”Faking it until you make it,” and doing so alone, rarely works.
  3. Realize that the measures of success will be different in the new job and actively hold the baseline conversations with your new boss to determine the critical ones. They could include items like numerical goals, focusing on teamwork and/or specific developmental gains for you or your team members. Ask what success will look like, what new skills you must master and what activities you should leave behind or pass on to others.

Your To-Do list:

  1. Write down everything that you must do in the new job that was not required in the old one. This establishes your learning path. Figure out exactly who will coach, mentor or train you in these new areas.
  2. Evaluate your new team (who might be either direct reports or matrix) and quickly determine what you did in the past that you can let go of — either because it no longer needs to be done or because it can be delegated to others. Make sure you develop multiple go-to people, not just one or two of them.
  3. Get a 360 assessment from the key people in your last job. A new job is a great time to leave bad habits behind. Ask them to give you the gift of telling you in a frank and honest manner how they experienced you. Thank them and make appropriate changes in your style and approach. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the critical differentiator as you rise up in an organization.
  4. Start the new job by working hard at forming new critical transactional and trusted relationship — with everyone who you might need to know to create success. It is the relationship you don’t have that will be your potential downfall!
  5. Learn the values and beliefs of your new employees and partners; let them know yours. Discuss the meaning of the values and attempt to highlight stories of those in the organization who have exemplified these values. These are the “legends” that become powerful guides. Learn what the culture is in the (potentially new) organization and decide how you might want to enhance or shift it.
  6. Establish concrete business goals, then establish and communicate widely who owns each of them and who should be supporting them. Discuss the importance of teamwork in being able to accomplish them. Look for some key wins that the team (not just you, but with your involvement) can achieve on the first 30 to 60 days — and achieve them. Nothing breeds success better than securing the confidence of your stakeholders with concrete, positive, successful action.

Finally, be open, share credit and build an atmosphere of trust and respect. Good Luck and let me know if I can assist you through the transition!

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Getting to YES

“Too often, we see things in black and white rather than shades of grey, and are not open to compromise.”

Often, we default to “no” by problem solving rather than focusing on the opportunity to “get to yes.”

A senior-level client (I’ll call him Brian) was faced with two options: a major promotion that would require a move, or a lesser promotion that would not. While Brian would not be ultimately adverse to relocation, there were legitimate reasons why the move would cause untenable disruptions to his family at this time.  Brian’s first instinct was to take the lesser promotion.  He had just flown to the headquarters when he called me on Super Bowl Sunday for some guidance.  Brian was anxious about which promotion to accept with the company president the following day.

After it became clear that Brian wanted the major promotion, I asked him to shift his thinking from “either one job or the other one” to, “What will it take to get to yes?” – on the larger promotion.

The president knew Brian was grappling with this decision, and was pleased when he heard him start the meeting with, “My goal is to get to YES” with the major opportunity. This enabled them to work together to find a solution. Now, let me make two things clear: Brian was not negotiating for salary or title, so there was no reason to be adversarial.  Also, this is a family friendly firm.

All of these factors enabled the president and Brian to be on the same side, focus on the conditions that would enable him to take this job, be respectful to his special family needs, and ensure that Brian would succeed in this new position. They quickly structured a solution to make it work without an initial relocation – to get to YES – and the deal was done.

Too often, we see things in black and white rather than shades of grey, and are not open to compromise and working with others – even our boss – as a team.  Yet, creating opportunities for success, being open and agile, and being able to collaborate is the key to success for senior executives in today’s world.

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Leadership Conversations in China and India

I am proud to announce that my book “LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders” is now published in India and in Simplified Chinese in addition to the United States. This will allow organizations to use the book in the 3 most vibrant economies in the world. Over the past few weeks, I have had many emails and LinkedIn requests from both China and India and one manager in a plant in China had read both the English and the Chinese versions and has bought copies for his entire team because of how well it fits their culture.  I have also taught the models from the book twice at Wharton Executive Education to senior Indian government officials who honored me by calling me a “guru”!

Chinese version

Chinese version

My goal for 2015 is to do a tour in both countries in order to see how Leadership Conversations can work to bring leaders together across the globe and to continue my learning in the fields of leadership, communications and culture. Understanding how to improve one’s own leadership and to build leaders around them is critical in today’s world. Then, if we can hold conversations to grow, empower and innovate we will create the future in which we all want to live and will prosper.

For the Indian version, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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10 Ways to Make Your Employees Feel Valued

“Feelings” are often a “dirty” word in the business arena. Many senior executives are not comfortable dealing with feelings, yet introducing humanity into your leadership persona (brand) is critical to your success – especially at the top of a great organization.

At a recent Wharton Club presentation in South Florida, the participants benefitted from embracing feelings as they explored their mindsets, values and the need for “stay” interviews with key employees.

Here are the two notions they embraced: The first is a quote from my book Leadership Conversations: Challenging High Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders; the second is a message I deliver in keynotes that I perform for clients:

  1. To quote Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you   did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    My belief: Leadership skills are often derided as “soft” skills by those who do not possess them; those who do possess them realize that they are critical foundational skills.
  2. The crux of leadership is to connect, align and inspire others so that their activities are performed at the highest possible level. In marketing terms, leadership is a “pull” strategy, not a “push” strategy; or, as my 96-year-old dad still says, “It is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.”

If people do not feel that they want you as their leader and that you hold their interests at heart, they will accomplish less and actually disrupt the organization more. They won’t take the extra time to be creative, to provide over-the-top customer service or to even see how their job connects with the rest of the organization in order to add greater value. They will model your behaviors.

How can you align yourself with your folks so that they feel valued?

  1. Have the on-boarding conversation with every person in your area of responsibility. During this conversation, focus on how your relationship with them will work, not on the job that needs to be done.
  2. Be truly open to what others have to say which entails your being willing to change your mind based on what you hear.
  3. Ask open-ended questions to show your folks that they matter to you and so you can learn even more from them. Great ideas come from people who feel included. They will save the best feedback and suggestions for when you show you are worthy of receiving it.
  4. Listen to what they have to say. Instead of immediately responding to their first statement, ask the “what else” and “tell me more” questions to make sure they tell you all that is important to them. i.e. listen with your heart and ears, not with your mouth.
  5. Then restate what you heard to ensure you received the message they intended to communicate to you and so that they truly feel heard! Most people will accept decisions made in the organization and rally behind them once they feel that their thoughts have been heard and considered.
  6. Discuss how this information might improve their success, as well as yours and the organization’s success so that they get used to bringing actionable items to you for consideration.
  7. Create a strong feedback culture so that information flows freely. Often we think we have an open-door policy that in reality is not one because we set up barriers to communication.
  8. Provide and receive feedback on an ongoing basis to ensure that each of you will reach your targets with a minimum of wasted efforts.
  9. Never insert feedback into a formal review process unless you are already working with the individual to improve the behaviors and beliefs that are holding them back.
  10. Be a believer in positive intentions – theirs and yours!

How will you find the time to have these conversations? It is simple. Following these steps will increase employee engagement and productivity which lowers turnover and by increasing clarity in conversations which leads to less wasted time and fewer last-minute crisis that burn both time and resources.

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