Archive for the ‘Leaders’ Category

The Problem: Over-Managed and Under-Led

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Our challenges as leaders are greater than ever.  It’s all the ions:

  • Execution
  • Revenue Generation
  • M&A Integration
  • Competition
  • Innovation
  • Team Dysfunction
  • Lack of Prioritization

And our results are coming up short, because our teams are being over-managed and under-led.

We’re planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling better than ever, but more than the science of management or the promise of technology, we need to master the art of influence.  We need to balance the discipline of management while creating a culture of leadership.

There are basically six major leadership theory categories:

  1. Trait Approach, which includes the “Great Man” theory and “Level 5 Leadership”
  2. Behavior Approach, which includes Kotter’s Leadership Factor where management and leadership are distinguished
  3. Power & Influence Approach that includes the “West Point Way of Leadership”
  4. Situational Approach with the Hersey & Blanchard well known “Situational Theory”
  5. Charismatic Approach with the warning of obedience and unquestioning acceptance
  6. Lastly, the Transformational Approach, which include the work of Warren Bennis with emotional quotient (EQ) cross-over

I could expound more on each of these, but I know what you would be looking for:  Tips, tools, tricks, short cuts, numbered lists, colored diagrams, and statistical charts.  When giving talks, I have noticed much more note taking when I start a numbered list.  But that is management thinking.  Leadership thinking requires deep reflection, and an understanding of one’s own leadership philosophy.  That is, what do you stand for?  Can you complete the following sentences for yourself, and your organization?

I am…                       -                                   We are…

I believe…                -                                   We believe…

I think…                   -                                   We think…

I want…                    -                                   We want…

I can…                       –                                   We can…

It’s difficult to develop willing followers who are engaged and committed if a clear, altruistic purpose doesn’t exist.  And here’s the key:  The “we” in the partial statements above is something the entire team needs to have a part in creating.  People support what they help create, and the art of influence lies in creating an environment that is opposite of hierarchical organizations with rigid command and control mechanisms (i.e., over-managed).

Level 5 Leadership is all about balancing indomitable will and humility.  We leaders have plenty of will – that’s why we do what we do.  But forcing our will on others leaves us drained and frustrated, because people will never meet our expectations when we expect the exact same “will.”  The art is in giving up control, being vulnerable, being more patient, and creating an environment where others can discover what they control while creating the anticipation (and expectation) for an exciting future.  Our teams need to move from a mental state of apathy and helplessness to one where hope and control over their own destiny prevails.  In today’s environment where a culture of change is a prerequisite, we need to collectively look at challenges as temporary, limited in scope, and external.  Seeing challenges as permanent, pervasive and personal are sure signs that the organization is in dire straits.

So if you agree that real leadership is about people buying into the organization’s vision, empowering people and teams, and producing useful change, ask yourself this question:  Are you easy to follow?

I call my personal leadership philosophy, Self-Reliant Leadership.  To me, it’s synonymous with knowing which questions to ask yourself and having the courage to answer them and act.  The same principle can be applied to your organization:

  1. What is currently impossible to do that, if it were possible, would change everything?
  2. What’s the most important decision we’re facing?  What’s keeps us from making it?
  3. What does your instinct say to do?  Why aren’t you listening to it?
  4. Are we realizing our full potential?
  5. Is there value and fulfillment in our work today?

In “Creating the Good Life,” James O’Toole wrote about King Creon, the tragic hero in one Aristotle’s plays, Antigone:

“Creon’s flaw was lack of empathy, a trait that begins with listening.  In the end, Creon brings down his own throne because he cannot hear what people want; he is too sure that he is right.”

The seminal (leadership) question:  For whose good do you serve?

Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf

Friday, December 28th, 2012

We met Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on November 6, 2002.  He was at Colorado State University for  ”Bridges to the Future: American History and Values in Light of 9/11″ where he gave a talk on “Leadership in Difficult Times.”  When my son approached him at a small reception, he said to the General, “Sir.  I read your book… three times.”  When the General heard that, his eyes lit up, and he grabbed Kevin by the shoulders and posed for the picture you see here.  Kevin was twelve years old at the time, and ten years after this picture, Kevin graduated from the United States Military Academy – just like his first hero.  The General can be credited with his part in creating a voracious reader to this day.  A life of service is a life well lived, General.  RIP.

No Trust – No Leadership – Part 2

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Last week, I wrote about the importance of trust in leadership, and saw Al Lewis’ column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on, “Who Do You Trust?”  It was disheartening to read that in a Gallup poll last week, “Ranking lower than journalists were business executives.”

A quick search of “Trust” and “Leadership” showed 147,000,000 results, so this topic isn’t one that’s ignored in principle.  But in practice, it seems to be another story.  Stephen Covey wrote that a leader’s first job is to inspire trust – born out by character and competence.  One thing I have observed with my students is that when I begin speaking of a numbered list, note taking actually commences in earnest!  Covey went on to write that he observed 13 common behaviors of trusted leaders:

  1. Talk Straight
  2. Demonstrate Respect
  3. Create Transparency
  4. Right Wrongs
  5. Show Loyalty
  6. Deliver Results
  7. Get Better
  8. Confront Reality
  9. Clarify Expectation
  10. Practice Accountability
  11. Listen First
  12. Keep Commitments
  13. Extend Trust

That’s way too many items for me to remember, so I boiled it down to three questions to ask yourself (in the spirit of self reliance):

  1. What is the right thing to do?  This question is easier to answer if you invite confrontation.
  2. Have I taken a step back from the minutiae to insure I am giving laser-focused energy to the right things?  This means you’re empowering versus micromanaging your team.
  3. Am I interacting with people the way I would like to be respected so that I earn their commitment?  This requires you to find the value in each person with whom you work.

None of the above questions will be positively answered if the leader isn’t a listener, and striving to hear the unheard.  It takes showing some vulnerability as well.  Kevin Eikenerry wrote a great article on the subject and describes three traits to show:

  1. Caring for others – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care . . . about them.
  2. MistakesAdmit ‘em!
  3. Path to ImprovementInvolve your team in helping you work on your development plan.

I’m interested in your thought on how trust is earned in today’s complicated and rapidly changing environments!



No Trust – No Leadership

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012


During the past week, my students have been discussing the challenge of leading virtual teams, and the prerequisite that came up most was trust.  There seems to be a perception that leaders have trouble trusting remote workers, and long before Lencioni wrote a book on the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, we knew that absence of trust leads to team dysfunction.  A student in my class asked if trust has to be earned, or whether it should given in order to be received.  I have often said that a lot of bad behavior at work is from some level of insecurity, and not trusting your team reflects more on the leader than the team.

William Glasser, author of Choice Theory®, eloquently described relationships and habits that are closely aligned with building trust:

Seven Caring Habits

  • Supporting
  • Encouraging
  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Trusting
  • Respecting
  • Negotiating differences

Seven Deadly habits

  • Criticizing
  • Blaming
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribing or rewarding to control

It’s hard to imagine any of the caring habits described above are not dependent on active listening as the baseline competency/habit.  Attached is a video mini-lecture I delivered to my team on the subject, and I’m interested in your thought on how trust is earned in today’s complicated and virtual environments?

What Veterans Day Means in Denver

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

I just got off the phone with my son who is an Infantry Officer in the army.  With his wry sense of humor, he thanked me for single-handedly winning the Cold War.  His wise crack did make me think about spending two weeks in Germany in 1984 in a training exercise designed as a show of force for the Soviet Union.  I don’t know how intimidating we were sitting in a muddy “hide” for two weeks looking for a single, “signature” vehicle, because the wall didn’t come down for five more years!

This was an interesting week from a veterans’ perspective.  The sterling career and presidential aspirations for David Petraeus were obliterated in one fell swoop.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness indicates, “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that veterans between the ages of 25 and 34, who make up more than half of post-9/11 veterans, had a 2011 unemployment rate of 12 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for nonveterans. Among veterans aged 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is much higher — 30.2 percent.  All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of homelessness for returning veterans, even though they have higher education levels (62 percent of veterans over the age of 25 have at least some college compared with 56.4 percent of nonveterans) and higher median incomes compared with the general population.”

We need only look to the systemic problem of suicides and the proceedings that are underway for the alleged killer of sixteen Afghan civilians to know the issues of PTSD and TBI are having rippling effects in and out of the military.

Today, veterans’ issues are top of mind as we thank them for their service.  However, less than one week ago, CNN’s presidential election exit polls showed that only 5 percent of the electorate felt that foreign policy was the most important issue facing our country.  So what can you do to show your support going forward?  Two things to start:

  1. Mentor veterans to help them make their transition to civilian work;
  2. Encourage the hiring of veterans whenever possible.

These two initiatives are best conducted one-on-one with individual attention, and there are two great organizations right her in Denver to help.  The University of Colorado Denver has partnered with the Denver Chamber of Commerce to create a unique program to help veterans.  It’s called Boots to Suits, and the key components involved mentoring veteran students to help them with their transition to a civilian job.  In addition, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) has as its mission to encourage “employment of Guardsmen and Reservists who bring integrity, global perspective and proven leadership to the civilian workforce.”

Kinds words of thanks are nice, but sacrificing your time to help a veteran will make a difference.

What does self-reliant leadership mean to you?

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Chances are, you belong to more than one group be it work, social, charity, spiritual or political.  In these groups, you play a role as a leader, follower or both.  Depending on the level of sophistication and hierarchy of the group, a certain level of growth and development is expected – from the organization, and from you.

My question, what does self-reliant leadership mean to you?

Please WayIn Here!

Only very few civilized persons are capable of existing without reliance on others or are even capable of coming to an independent opinion.  –Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis

Tell Me About Our Future

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

I was inspired to write a book on self-reliant leadership based on the opportunity I have had to work with many leaders – some great, many good, and a few awful ones.  What I learned is the great ones inspired me to follow them willingly, because they made me feel that I could accomplish anything.  That is, they focused on the future – my future.  Their vision was articulated in the context of what I could accomplish.  They didn’t dwell on weaknesses, or the past, rather chose to paint a picture of what could be.  They helped me use my story to change my trajectory.

In working with great bosses, it occurred to me that we learn how to be effective leaders to instigate positive change by taking advantage of three opportunities that are always present:  Crucibles, Mentors, and Hearing the Unheard.  Said another way, there are three courses you can enroll in, for life, that don’t cost a cent.  They just require you to pay attention and take advantage of your every day surroundings.

Crucibles.  We’re all dealing with something – some sort of adversity.  It’s through crisis that leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate character, optimism, persistence and determination.  If things are status quo, a good manager can simply follow established protocol.  Leaders shine when things look bleak.  Embrace adversity for the lesson to be learned.

Mentors.  Self-Reliant Leadership doesn’t mean going it alone.  It means asking yourself tough questions, and having the courage to answer them and act.  Sometimes we need help with the questions, and that’s where mentors come in.  There are plenty of people you can learn from afar, and many that are willing to help in person.  Think about asking strangers for directions.  No one ever turns away.  They usually give you way more information than you can process!  We’re wired to help each other, so look for people that are gracious trustworthy, and someone you admire and enjoy being around.

Hearing the Unheard.  This is a necessary discipline of a good leader.  It’s knowing the values, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, pains unexpressed, complaints not spoken and feelings of the people you lead.  Only then can you understand when things aren’t right, inspire confidence, and help others change their trajectory to create powerful futures.

There’s a poem called The Mirror, and it has two lines that are extremely powerful:  The good you find in others, is in you too. The faults you find in others, are your faults as well.  What you see in others, shows you yourself. See the best in others, and you will be your best.  Don’t tell me your story; use your story to tell us our future.

Entrepreneurial Encore

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

A year and a half ago, I was at lunch with two people I have immense respect for – past guest lecturers in the class I teach on leadership at the University of Colorado Denver.  We were sharing stories of the challenges we faced as leaders in an assortment of roles, when the senior member at the table said, “We have a tremendous amount of insight and experience to offer towards the development of future leaders.  The heck with being best in the world, let’s figure out a way to leverage our strengths and talents to be best for the world.”  His statement was the catalyst that created the J3 Leadership Group, LLC where we now help build extraordinary organizations… one leader, one team at a time.  Our primary tenet is to help senior leaders align heroic aspirations across their organization to accelerate change and drive growth by building on core strengths to create unity of purpose and alignment.  We do not offer paint-by-numbers solutions, but require leaders to take on the dual role of student and teacher

At a time when many boomers are seeking encores for their careers, we took a hard look at which entrepreneurs were seeing success.  Much to our surprise, a recent Forbes article pointed out that, “Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.”  I personally believe it depends on the type of the venture; the passion, experience and skills of the founders, and the ability to pair with those that have complementary skills.

To this end, the J3 Leadership Group has created a very unique offering by pairing with a highly successful strategic branding company, and a unique sales and business development practice focused on helping C-level executives connect for fruitful B2B relationships.  *What we know is that driving organic growth while maintaining profitability is a difficult balancing act (and a source of pain in most organizations), so our partnership will combine brand and sales expertise along with an operational leadership approach to create the Sustena Group.  The three disciplines under one umbrella offer a unique approach to help senior leaders align and accelerate three interrelated and essential business functions – brand development, business development and leadership development.

We look forward to sharing what we learn by helping leaders, teams and organizations realize their full potential and deliver the encore performance their stakeholders expect.

Regarding the Millennials, We’re in Fine Hands

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Much has been written about the challenges of four generations currently in the work force:  Veterans/Matures (1928-1945), Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), and Millennials (1981-1999).  I have heard many say the younger generation doesn’t demonstrate commitment in terms of hours worked, and has an entitlement mentality.  I have also heard that the older generation is tired, and doesn’t understand how to leverage technology.  Michael Winerip recently wrote an article in the “The New York Times” times on “Boomers vs. Millennials: Who’s Really Getting Robbed?”  It was a light-hearted article on a serious topic of opportunities and obligations.  Dr. Tasha Eurich wrote a brilliant paper on “the real problem of generations in the workplace,” where she concluded, “generational differences are largely a myth.”

My perspective is based on observation and interaction, and I’ve concluded our future is in good hands with the Millennials.  I mentor and coach a number of Millenials, and I find them extremely intelligent, well educated, ambitious, and with a propensity to make a significant and positive mark on this world.  I had the honor and privilege to spend time with Sal Giunta recently.  Sal is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Viet Nam War.  Suffice it to say, he is truly an inspirational young man, and typifies many of the selfless and outstanding traits of his generation.  A good friend of mine who was born in 1936 (a “Veteran”) believes we need more leaders with heroic aspirations.  I don’t think we need to look much further than those 31 and younger.

Think You’re a Mentor – Answer this Yes or No

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Yesterday was the men’s 10,000-meter race in the London Olympics, and the two people Alberto Salazar coached finished first and second.  Salazar said the results “meant more to him than anything he achieved in his own running career, which included winning three consecutive New York City Marathons (1980-82)” – Denver Post.

He went on to say, “The only feelings I’ve had better in my life were getting married and my kids’ births.  Even my own successes in running, this makes me feel so much better. These guys are like sons to me, and any parent wants better for their kids than they had themselves.”

So… the Yes or No question.  When it comes to the people you coach, mentor, manage and lead, do you get more joy at seeing them succeed than yourself?  If the answer is yes, good for you.  If the honest answer is no, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your role.  Do what you do best, and let someone who is passionate about developing others fill that role.  Developing people is of the noblest endeavors, and it will always be a key ingredient in the overall success of an enterprise.  Yes?