The Biggest Question Facing any CEO or Manager Today: Where’s Leo?

The toughest job for any CEO is to ensure they and their teams are asking the right questions. The best CEOs rely on a gender-balanced, diverse team to both formulate those questions and get the right answers. The same can be said of managers today. As a turnaround specialist, I’ve worked across industries and in companies of all sizes to ensure the CEO is also asking what I believe is the single most important question I know.

I learned about this question from the game-changing book Servant Leadership – A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power. In it author Robert Greenleaf shares the inspiration for his ground-breaking work and the foundation for the question.

“The idea of the servant as leader came out of reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story we see a band of men on a mythical journey. The central figure in the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant with his spirit and his song. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo.”

Greenleaf goes on to posit “that the great leader is seen as the leader first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness. Leo was actually the leader all of the time, but he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a person who was by nature a servant.”

The question(s):

Do you know where Leo is in your company? Where is that person who may or may not have a significant position or title but who is lifting your organization in ways you can’t measure? And who has the potential to have a detrimental impact on, or reduce the “spirit” in, your organization if they left? How many Leos do you have today? How can you help more people in your company bring out their inner Leo? And are you sure you are being the best version of your own Leo?

The impact:

Research by Sigal Barade has shown that anyone can influence everyone else in a work environment. And research by Gallup sets the cost to business worldwide of not enabling Leos across all organizations at $7T. Senior managers at all companies can take steps to enable increased power at lower levels with the right top-down approach on issues like communication and compensation.

But leading companies are also showing others the way by embracing a strategy of decentralization along with a parallel path and a “side-to-side” expectation that acknowledges the impact peers at all levels have on each other. They are focused on enabling Leos everywhere.

Where’s Leo?

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What’s Missing from Most Companies’ Core Value Statement

In some ways, all turnarounds are the same. In my experience working as a turnaround specialist for companies ranging from startups to multinationals and in many different industries, challenges come in common areas, no matter the setting.

Every company starts out with a plan for their customers, their competitors, their costs, their capital needs, and their communities of vendors and partners. Invariably these plans are captured in numbers that appear on business plans that span from one to three to five years. Lots of numbers.

Most companies also have an initial plan for the culture. But unlike the other planning areas, here the plan is described in words. And the words that companies use to describe their desired optimal culture are the same too. In fact, you can generally pick 4–10 from the list of 25 values offered below and you’ll cover 99% of the values statements out there. I’ve seen them all. Do you recognize any of these in your company?

Accountability
Agility
Boldness
Collaboration
Commitment to customers
Community
Continuous learning
Constant improvement
Diversity
Fun
Humility
Innovation
Integrity
Leadership
Ownership
Passion
Quality
Respect
Service
Simplicity
Speed
Sustainability
Teamwork
Transparency
Trust

Companies rely on their plans like an orchestra relies on written sheets of music to ensure the right beat and harmony among many instruments.

But then something happens, often in the market. The beat unexpectedly changes, sometimes dramatically.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

—Mike Tyson

It’s then that plans need to be quickly adjusted by people who are (hopefully) ready for change. Numbers generally need to be changed in all plans, and while the orchestra is still playing. The best teams continue to play by improvisation.

But the key to great improvisation is culture. And it’s here I’ve found that the most important cultural attribute is not on the list of values above. What’s missing is courage.

Courage is the ability to face difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being deflected from a chosen course of action. The biggest risk to companies facing new challenges is that team members will lose their resolve to remain true to their values. In this case, improvisation will fail.

Successful organizations expect to face challenges. Those same groups know that when times get toughest they need to double-down on their values with a focus in an area remarkably absent from normal lists of core values—courage.

Your organization will need courage to keep the music in harmony when the sheet music suddenly changes.

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Building Confidence in the Age of AI

Rick Miller published on Forbes.com:

Many people are scared of what AI might mean for the future, and the media is to blame. As story after story churn out for consumption, most offer a common point of view—artificial intelligence (AI) will “take your job.”

Today’s headlines tout the elimination of truck drivers, bank tellers, cashiers, factory workers, and newspaper reporters—just to name a few.

This tired, fear-based approach to attracting eyeballs has been around for a long time. It plays into our fear of loss. Our parents were also scared when they read articles about how the travesty of automations progress would eliminate jobs and cause waves of unemployment. And when was the last time you talked to a switchboard operator, TV repairman, bridge toll taker, film projectionist, or railway station ticket seller?

Yet last I checked, the United States was operating at close to full employment.

The truth is that there is no consensus on whether AI will eliminate more jobs than it will create. But the central question is now, as it has always been, how best can the workforce adapt to unending change and progress, and minimize anxiety about the future?

To date, the answer has been simply, just learn new things.

But perhaps for the first time, it’s no longer enough to simply learn more. We also need to learn differently. In my view, we also need to learn in new ways, learn to integrate what we learn, and learn more about ourselves.

Learn New Things

There’s always been lots to learn. Now there’s even more. From Niklas Goke:

“Back in the 1960s, an engineering degree was outdated within 10 years. Today, most fields have a half-life much less than that, especially new industries. A modern degree might last you just five years before it’s completely irrelevant.”

In 2013, we created as much data as in all of the previous history. That trend now continues, with total information roughly doubling each year. Michael Simmons has crunched the numbers behind our knowledge economy:

“You probably need to devote at least five hours a week to learning just to keep up with your current field—ideally more if you want to get ahead.”

The 5-hour rule is getting lots of traction. And whether you follow that rule or make up your own, it’s up to each of us to invest time to stay current.

Learn In New Ways

With the world’s facts literally at our fingertips, accumulating knowledge is no longer the asset it once was. Instead of knowledge, we must focus on building intelligence.

Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, asserts this:

“In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant.”

The ability Harari is talking about is the skill of learning, itself. The 2018 lawyer needs knowledge. The 2050 lawyer needs intelligence. Determining what to know at any time will matter more than the hard facts you’ll end up knowing.

As information sources continue to expand and as entire industries rise and fall within a few decades, learning will no longer be a means but must become its own end. We need to expand both what we learn and how we learn. At long last perhaps we will finally start to value the skillsets of teachers and invest more in the science of education.

Learn To Integrate

Harari goes on to describe the importance of the ability to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world. He coined the term multipotentialite to guide us toward what he believes is the answer to the prevailing past focus on specialization that must change:

“Idea synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability: three skills that multipotentialites are very adept at and three skills they might lose if pressured to narrow their focus. As a society, we have a vested interest in encouraging multipotentialites to be themselves. We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, and we need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to tackle them.”

The combination of ideas from seemingly disparate categories can yield innovations that disrupt industries and push us forward as a society. We each have an opportunity to think of ourselves as integrators. As we do, we will each be better prepared to fully participate as problem solvers in the future.

Learn About You

With all that’s new in what and how to learn, perhaps one of the most important keys to future happiness and confidence in the age of AI is based in wisdom that’s been around for centuries. The ancient Greek principle “know thyself” may point the way.

It turns out that that specialization is the best approach in the area of self-understanding. Learning about yourself is more important than ever. Know what you stand for. Know your values. Use both as the foundation of relationships and confidence. Developing insight, or self-understanding, by turning your focus inward will allow you to align what you do to who you are. Turns out that the answer isn’t to out-do the machines, it’s to be more human.

I developed a Power Compass than can help you develop insight and confidence that allows you to be a Chief—an insightful human who knows how and what to learn—in a quickly developing technological world, no matter your position or title.

No artificial intelligence can come close to your uniquely human ability. Remember that next time the latest AI headlines grab your attention.

source

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Confidence, Power, and Values

Rick Miller published on Leader Values blog:

When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”—Roy E. Disney

In working with leaders at all levels for many years, I have found that one simple exercise stands out as the single most impactful tool for Chiefs looking to increase their confidence. It comes down to values. And as we plan for 2019, who couldn’t use more confidence?

What is the exercise?

  1. Ask 10 people who know you well to each give you four words that describe what they think you “stand for.”
  2. Count how many different attributes show up among the resulting 40 responses.
  3. Ask yourself the question, “Can I stand strongly for 10, 20, or 30 values at the same time?”
  4. (This is the toughest part.) Review the sample list below and select the “core four” values you believe you most strongly stand for:

leader-values

  1. Write them down!
  2. Immediately begin a 60-day program to think more about, speak clearly about, write regularly about, and act consistently in alignment with these core four values.
  3. After 60 days, go back to the original list of 10 people and ask them the same question.
  4. Evaluate your feedback. You will see a sharpening of responses into fewer categories. Getting everyone to say the exact same four words isn’t the goal (“empathy” and “kindness” are kissing cousins and can count as a single response, for example).
  5. Once you know what you stand for, take more stands.

Why does it work?

Success occurs when you receive feedback that your intention and your attention can combine to deliver different results. In particular, when you align what you do (your thinking, speaking, writing, and acting) with who you truly are (your core four values), you are at your most powerful.

One of the most potent forms of power comes from the concentration of focused energy found in a laser. The same thing happens when you choose to focus and concentrate on a specific set of values.

As you set your New Year’s resolutions, you’ll be well served if you add this little exercise to the list that includes going to the gym and eating fewer cookies.

source

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Student-Teachers Create Success

After delivering a keynote speech to a room full of Chiefs in 2014, I went back to my seat and continued a conversation that had started that evening with a Fortune 50 Chief. She wanted to spend more time swapping stories about building powerful teams.

She was clearly a strong leader in a company with a strong set of core values, but she had several things on her mind. While she had built her own strong team, she felt there was still room for growth. She also felt her team wasn’t being viewed broadly inside her company as the strategic asset it could be. Finally, she knew the right personal coach could help bring out more of her best.

I knew when I left the event that we could be great student-teachers for each other.

Two weeks later we agreed I’d do a keynote for her worldwide team at their annual meeting. Shortly thereafter, I began a three-year assignment with three objectives: help six individuals to become more powerful individually, and as a group, and help her organization to build broad companywide support.

Here is that leader’s assessment of the results we delivered:

“I knew my team was more than capable to take on the challenges that we were facing, however, I also knew we did not have a lot of time. I was confident that with coaching from someone outside of our organization who had experience with turnaround situations and a commitment to values-based leadership, we could create a synergy that would empower the entire team to accelerate our progress. I am pleased to report my expectations were surpassed. Here are some highlights:

  • We built strong companywide support. In fact, all business units that we support volunteered to transfer their people to us in areas where we demonstrated better leadership and leverage. (How many times have you ever seen that?!)
  • Our organization doubled in size.
  • All six individuals took on broader responsibilities and were ready for them.
  • My team was consistently invited to all strategic meetings for input. (Be careful what you ask for.)
  • Inside my organization, we demonstrated we could be agile-at-scale as 30% of our team changed roles as needs shifted.

Overall, we translated all our activities into value for the organization and focused our energy on better internal and external communications. Our people and our internal customers knew what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it supported the organization’s overall mission. All six of us got better, and it cascaded throughout the organization.

When we invest in our people—who ultimately manage the change and the challenges we face each and every day—the payback is limitless, especially when that investment is in one-to-one coaching where the response is customized to not just address a bigger need, but also to address how that individual contributes to the bigger picture. And while each of us got better, we got better together too. I chose this particular coach because we share an understanding of the African proverb, ‘If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together.’

Believing in your team, investing in your team, and being willing to gain insights from someone who is not in the day-in-day-out environment will generate opportunities that you cannot imagine. The results are both bottom-line driven as well as individual people-development driven. Not everyone will embrace the opportunity but those who do will definitely be provided honest and transparent coaching and feedback to become who they aspire to be.”

—Fortune 50 Chief

From my perspective, it was great to work with such a hard-working, kind, values-based set of leaders who were committed to growth for themselves, their team, and their company. I was consistently reminded that i3k (intelligence, intensity, integrity, and kindness) mixed with humility and laughter is a powerful combination that delivers amazing results.

Yes, we began with the Power Compass and used other tools. But the real key to our success was the openness created by the understanding that we were all student-teachers capable of sharing counsel and learning something new. My client set the tone. She always sought input from all team members, worked as hard as anyone on her team, constantly created time to learn new things, and modeled healthy work-life integration. There were many gentle reminders as well as a-ha moments.

What’s the lesson?

Powerful leaders are always looking to improve themselves and their teams. They bring their A-game everywhere they go. And they surround themselves with other student-teachers to constantly raise their game and drive sustainable growth.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such powerful student-teachers.

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Set Your Own Direction, with ENERGY

Why are so many of us following someone else’s direction? Why do we run out of steam walking someone else’s path? Perhaps it’s because too many of us haven’t set our own direction.

Working with business leaders at all levels for decades, I’ve developed a simple five-step process that can help anyone set their own direction and bring energy to each new experience. Today, when so many of us are choosing to carve new paths where no one has gone before us, old “roadmaps” don’t work.

There are so many voices in the world always willing to tell us what they think we need to be, or to do, to be successful. Many of these voices are well-intentioned—they’re often family members or friends.

Others aren’t so well-intentioned. Many have a stake in the game, and aren’t looking out for your best interests. Specific companies advertise incessantly, while the media—traditional and social—are never-ending sources of direction.

No matter where this counsel comes from, it can distract us from the real mission.

In my experience there are five great ways to increase your insight and deepen your self-understanding, which is one of the best ways to energize any area of your life. The good news is each one is something you do. My advocacy is for you to simply do a little more of it!

Be Present – When you become totally aware and conscious, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible in the current moment.

Be Accepting – When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them.

Be Generous – When you choose to be charitable with your possessions, your money, and your time, you will experience inner satisfaction despite “having less.”

Be Grateful – It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. It takes inner strength and composure to remain grateful when facing life’s inevitable difficult periods. The grace required to face tough times and remain thankful is a blessing.

Be Still – Counter to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that come with being still.

We each need to develop our own unique compass to help set a direction that “fits” us. Once we build our own distinctive compass, we find that outside voices lose their strength over us as they are replaced with the most important voice we’ll ever listen to—our own.

Listening to our own voice will enable you to tap into an endless source of energy that comes from within.

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Why Are You Following Someone Else’s Direction?

Are you tired of reading articles with yet another list of advice to follow?

Is it me, or does every publication we pick up during this New Year’s season include an article from a well-intentioned author who tells you what “to-do’s” you need to make you skinnier, smarter, kinder, or wealthier—or all four?! There are seemingly endless articles supporting what everyone should or should not be doing.

My question is, does one size (list) really fit all?

My answer is NO.

The most successful people I’ve met set their own direction rather than following someone else’s, and they have a personalized compass to guide them. This compass integrates simple, individualized choices in five areas and can enable anyone to set a course that fits their unique makeup.

And the best news is that not only can this amazing tool help you be more successful, but it’s also totally FREE. Grab it here. It will take you four to five minutes to create your very own compass.

With your own compass, you’ll be able to make choices that suite you and easily build the energy, confidence, clarity, influence, and impact you need to reach your goals.

Now to be fair, all these lists are simply trying to be helpful. And some articles set themselves apart. One of my favorites this season came from New York Times writer Susan Shain who offers research-based tips to reach whatever goals fit—again, for you.

Among other tips, Susan advocates for each of us to:

  • Think big: pick a personally compelling overarching intention rather than a particular habit.
  • Be patient: give yourself time to really figure out the cues and rewards that drive your behaviors.
  • Embrace the right rewards – if you can’t feel an immediate, intrinsic reward (energy, pride) you may need to rethink the habit.
  • Prime your environment – find a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
  • Plan to fail – have a personalized recovery plan.
  • Celebrate often – celebrate your way, every day.

Key lessons: one size never fits all, but you can always set your own direction with a simple compass. Use it!

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“Self-Made” is Bulls#!t

The widely-held belief that success is available to everyone, simply with focus and hard work, is one among many positive messages regularly reinforced in our Western culture.

But in my view, our “cowboy culture” also over-celebrates individual accomplishment, particularly in business. Too many romanticize the importance of a single individual’s ability to enable a big impact. This idea that denies the reality that teams of people, along with some good luck, always play big roles in enabling any company, or an individual for that matter, to register true success.

But we love heroic stories.

And the media is well-served to regularly feed us the stories that we all enjoy reading and watching. Business icons are created in part to sell products. And while many of us can learn from and be inspired by stories about Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman, Larry Ellison, Mary Barra, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Cuban, at times the media goes too far. They sometimes build up super-human personas that more resemble Marvel Comic book characters than real Chiefs.

For me, one particular exaggeration goes too far. The hair on the back of my neck stands up whenever I read the characterization of a business leader as “self-made,” because that’s simply bulls#!t.

The good news is that few, if any, of these successful individuals would ever describe themselves as self-made. They know the truth. Anyone who actually refer to themselves as a self-made success might as well be waving a red flag. Proceed with caution.

The bad news is that people looking for role models might actually believe it. They want to believe that they, too, can create success from nothing—all by themselves. But that’s not how it works in real life when you pull back the curtains. No one works truly alone.

While we all love rags-to-riches stories, let’s be honest about a more realistic recipe for success.

Here is mine:

  1. Be focused and hard-working, and
  2. Be thankful for circumstances you did not create
  3. Be grateful for the (many) people who have supported you and those who continue to
  4. Be generous in supporting others
  5. Be understanding of those who may not have had the support they needed
  6. Be empathetic for those in circumstances they did not choose
  7. Be humble

We can still enjoy fantasy, but it’s important to stay grounded in certain truths. This reminder can be particularly helpful as many of us set new goals this time of year. Remember to identify who can help you with whatever goals you set!

We ALL need help.

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