Authentic Leadership

Leadership is lacking in our country, in all areas of business, government, in the church, and in the home.  One does not need to dig very deep to find failure in leadership in almost every sector of our society. The long term effects of this lack of leadership are devastating.

How can we raise strong authentic leaders in our companies, among the ranks of our management, on our leadership teams, and on our boards?

Here's what I think:

Developing trust with people you are leading takes time and consistent behavior.  We all act and behave in ways that are consistent with our values.  In my life, I can remember times when my behavior was not consistent with my own values, and damage was done within relationships that were and are important to me.

Being authentic has nothing to do with style or charisma.  Leadership is authenticity, not style. Charisma lasts for a short time, but authenticity endures through time. Authenticity derives not from personality, but from alignment with values and purpose.  It’s about being real with who you are at your core.  Find people who believe in what you believe, and they will begin to follow you.

One example of an authentic business leader is former Medtronic CEO Bill George.  Mr. George is worth considering if you have an interest in building a trust culture, and growing your market cap. He should know. During his tenure as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of medical device firm Medtronic, (NYSE MDT) market cap increased from $1 billion to $60 billion. 

He has been named one of the “Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years” by PBS; “Executive of the Year-2001″ by the Academy of Management; and “Director of the Year-2001-02″ by the National Association of Corporate Directors.  Mr. George is professor of Management Practice, and a Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics at Harvard Business School. 

ARTICLE:  Authentic Leadership Lessons from Bill George, Michael Langhout. [8 min read] 

Be disciplined and consistent in applying your integrity and ethical behavior in the workplace and at home.  You will never get the right kind of respect, and especially will not get the right kind of followers, if you are unethical in your business or personal life.

Make sure your core values, both personal, and those co-developed by your leadership team, are alive and always consistent with your actions and activities – and those of the company you lead.  Otherwise, your words will be void of meaning and just placards on the wall.  

This aspect of being a leader is often ignored but is crucially important to any company.  It is the 'glue' that holds the enterprise together and must be consistently and constantly communicated to all members of the organization.

VIDEO:  Authentic Leadership; Bill George at Knowledge at Wharton.  [21:52 min] 

  • Be transparent with your 'crucibles', those events in your life that did not give you the result you were expecting.  It is OK to have 'failures' in your career or in life.  Failure is a useful teacher so long as we have the humility to learn from our mistakes.  

  • Until you have experienced a few setbacks in your life, you are not prepared to lead because you don't have the wisdom that failure or rejection bring.  Building trust and respect as a leader requires you to embrace those dark times, and talk openly about them. 

  • Find someone trustworthy who you respect and who has great life experience. Connect with that person. Ask them to mentor you.  We all need someone to guide and encourage us in our work and lives.

BOOK:  'Authentic Leadership', Bill George.

In his book, George identifies 9 key points which comprise a holistic template for authentic leadership. Here are some of my favorites: 

  • Be Authentic.  This sounds self-evident, but often we try to be someone we are not.  Authenticity is a reflection of how truthful and real we are in our relationships, and in understanding ourselves. Being authentic means honesty, vulnerability, and being real when sharing who you are, or how you would like others to be when in a relationship with you.

  • Identify and Leverage your Crucibles.  Difficult times shape us into who we are.  They are the ‘marrow of life’ and necessary to attain a meaningful level of experience and leadership ability.  

  • Learn to Follow your Passion.   Do you know your passion?  How do you want to make a difference in the world? What will you do to make a difference? You need to be true to what you believe.

Excerpt from George:  "The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born - that there is a generic factor to leadership.  This myth asserts that people either have certain charismatic qualities or not.  That is nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true.  Leaders are made rather than born."  

Questions to consider:

  • What is your definition of leadership? 

  • Do you serve your people, removing roadblocks, sharing your values and vision?  

  • Do you have the respect of your people?  

  • Look over your shoulder and see if anyone is following!

And finally, I will leave you with a quote: 

“Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
—John D. Rockefeller

Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams


“There is a desire in each of us to invest in things that matter, and to have the organizations in which we work be successful…Our task is to create organizations we believe in…to be part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, risk, and adventure that commitment entails. That’s team work motivation.” – Peter Block

 A characteristic commonly seen in high-performance teams is cohesiveness, a measure of the attraction of the group to its members (and the resistance to leaving it).  How do you get people to work together, to collaborate, to manage tension without emotion, especially in a virtual environment?  

Often in business today, people are siloed and focused on their own objectives, losing sight of the overall purpose, direction, and goal of the team or company.   When they attend virtual staff meetings, they are not 'present' and unable or unwilling to practice active listening and full participation.  They often are not responsible for their promised outcomes or objectives.  They are active on their mobile devices during meetings and at other times during the workday, and don't contribute at a level necessary for productive growth.  Their peers are also impacted due to a loss of focus on team productivity focus.  Leading a team in today's business environment can be challenging.  
Here are some questions I ask when working with clients struggling with these issues:

  • How does a manager get people to work together without a lot of drama? 

  • How do they conduct staff meetings or 1:1 meetings with their direct reports?  

  • How do they find and continuously develop talent?  

  • How do they foster a culture of responsiveness, innovation, and value creation?  

  • How can they get their people to better align with their vision of the company?

  • How do they manage their people and get them to be more focused on results that drive enterprise value? 

Here is what I think…

Leadership takes courage, devotion, and passion.  People don’t follow titles, they follow courage, and leaders who demand excellence will win.  Organizations are limited by their leaders, and your education, character, capacity, ability and vision define what John Maxwell describes in his classic book (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) as the ‘leadership lid’.  

Leaders don't really lead people, they set the vision and manage processes.  As leaders, our people will decide whether or not to follow us.  Our people will determine if we are a leader. Our people are perfectly capable of managing themselves and, if not, they need to be reassigned their job, or set free to work elsewhere. Our job as leaders is to articulate a strong vision; engage the available talent who design and perfect processes; execute on the strategy; measure outcomes vs. plan; search for ways to improve the processes, and train people to be accountable to those processes.  Most of the time this involves team interaction. 
Creating a highly functional cohesive team is the number one job of the CEO.  In a team environment, each team member must be aware of what they are doing individually, and what contribution they are making.  They must also hold each of the other team members accountable to their respective roles and progress towards objectives.  This takes a high level of trust, and willingness to be bold in providing honest objective feedback, and to deal with conflict and tension that inevitably arises when debating important topics and initiatives.
Assembling and managing collaborative cohesive teams in today's virtual and distributed workforce is a growing and real challenge for leaders.  Natural work teams coming together in person with a pre-set rhythm is more effective than meeting virtually on a video or voice call.  Staying in physical contact or being in close proximity to our teammates promotes discussion, camaraderie, esprit de corps, and progress which simply disappears in a virtual environment.   

Want more detail? Check out the resources below:

ARTICLE: Understanding Team Cohesiveness.  Daniela Molnau. Six Sigma. [15 min read] 

The author describes 4 stages of team development, from a theory advanced by researcher Bruce Tuckman:  forming, storming, performing, and norming.  Highly cohesive teams focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability within the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process.  Daft, R., & Marcic, D. (2009)
High performance teams are what make companies successful.  In order for strategy to be imagined and deployed, a cohesive team must be in place to do the work.  Such teams achieve higher levels of performance because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of team identity, and have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness.
Recognizing the team has a level of collective Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Research from organizational behavior experts Vanessa Druskat and Steven B. Wolff suggests following three practices to build your team’s EI:

1. Make time for team members to appreciate each other’s skills.
2. Raise and manage emotional concerns that can help or encumber the team’s progress.
3. Celebrate success.
VIDEO: The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.  Patrick Lencioni. [2:28 min.] 

If we can get our people working together, focused on doing everything well, we would have fewer issues to deal with, less entropy, and a happier more fulfilled workforce with delighted customers.  Teamwork is the greatest competitive advantage that any group can have.  Building a highly functional cohesive team is a fundamental strategic decision we have to make as managers or leaders.  It takes courage, sacrifice, and personal investment to make this work properly, and it is often not easy to accomplish.  While you lead the team, you have an opportunity to impact the lives of the team members in a way that is much greater than anything you do in your life's work.  In fact, it may become the biggest and most altruistic thing you ever do in your life.

BOOK: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Patrick Lencioni. 

In this classic work, Patrick Lencioni describes the challenges to the team that present themselves when different personalities are operating in the same team environment.  

With the stress of a new product release, even the eventual success or failure of the company at risk and looming in the near future, Lencioni takes his readers through a sequential process of optimizing team function.  Briefly, his model first establishes the importance of building trust amongst team members.  Once trust is established, the team can begin to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in working together.  If the team members can overcome the reluctance to deal with constructive conflict without emotion and drama, they become committed to each other, and hold themselves and each other accountable to the objectives, initiatives, and priorities they have set for themselves.  Sometimes this activity results in team members having to leave the team, or the company, because they are uncomfortable with giving and receiving feedback in a group environment.  But after the right members are in place and functioning well together, the team achieves an outstanding result, and the company continues at a much higher level of performance.  

A self-inquiry question to consider:

  • What is your company doing to ensure world-class team performance?

And finally, I'll leave you with a quote:

“The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors, and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.” —Stephen M. R. Covey 

When Processing Feedback, Apply the 'Rule of 1%'

Are you getting feedback on a regular basis as a leader?  If you are a CEO, is your senior leadership team comfortable giving you feedback?  Are you getting feedback from your board?  How are you handling it?

What does it feel like when you get negative feedback?  For me, sometimes I can get defensive.  It can depend on the subject, and on my own emotional state and level of stress at the time, but more often than not my tendency is to be defensive.

Customer Experience Defines Your Brand

Good leaders understand that an inspirational Vision, supported by enduring Core Values, with Goals that are in alignment with the current mission are all critical factors in a successful organization. They understand why they do what they do, and are clear about their purpose.

The Value of Respect

Barron’s recently published results from its annual survey of institutional investors about their views of the world’s top 100 companies, based on market cap as of May 12, 2014. This cross section of U.S. money managers ranked companies on the basis of 1. Strong management, 2. Ethical business practices, 3. Sound business strategy, 4. Competitive edge, and 5. Product Innovation. Barron’s has been conducting this survey since 2005, and uses a numerical scale relating to four statements of Highly Respect , Respect, Respect Somewhat, and Don’t respect.

Radical Empowerment…Exponential Growth

Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store has a system of onboarding that is revolutionary.

Tindell is author of Uncontainable, How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Training is a large part of The Container Store’s onboarding process, where new employees receive nearly 300 hours of education and training, compared to a retail industry average of 8 hours. As a result of the investment, The Container Store has a following of devoted customers who love to shop there, and who tell others of their experience.

Leading Your On-Boarding Process

Are your on-boarding processes functioning well?  Are they used strategically to introduce new employees to the systems and mechanisms used in your organization designed to accomplish the goals and deliver a remarkable customer experience?  Are you as a CEO involved in the process?  If not, you need to be.

Open Book Management. Transparency that Works

The Great Game of Business is a company whose origins were from the Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp, (SRC).  For those who do not know about Jack Stack and Springfield Re-manufacturing, I will be writing more about this great story of American Manufacturing ingenuity in future posts.  Suffice it to say, Jack Stack and his smokestack industrial Midwest manufacturing companies are the real deal.  Key learning from the SRC story are all rolled up into an Open Book Management Concept they call the Great Game of Business, and it is an awesome system to utilize if you want your company to succeed and thrive for decades to come.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

What is your company’s culture?  How would you describe it?  Are you able to say that everyone in your company understands what you mean by culture?  Are they completely aligned with it?  Do you communicate it during your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding and training of all employees?

9 Authentic Leadership Lessons from @Bill_George

Bill George is worth listening to if you have an interest in building a trust culture, and growing your market cap. He should know. During his tenure as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of medical device firm Medtronic, (NYSE MDT) market cap increased from $1 billion to $60 billion. PBS named Bill George as one of the top 25 CEO's over the past 25 years.

Authentic Leadership, Anyone?

Fortune Magazine has been on my regular reading list for at least the past four decades.  Articles published by Fortune are generally timely, instructive, useful, thought provoking, and written by terrific authors.  I attend the semiannual Fortune Growth and Leadership Summits, co-hosted by Vern Harnish and Gazelles Coaches International, where I listen to terrific speakers and network with mid-market entrepreneurs, CEO’s and other growth coaches and advisors.

Last week, Fortune published an article by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  My takeaway from this article, and a key point with which I strongly disagree, is that In communicating with others in your organization, being authentic, is a deterrent to getting ahead.  Compromising who you are as a person is more important than standing up for what you believe.  A communicating style that is authentic and transparent is to be discarded in favor of just ‘blowin in the wind’, borrowing a line from the great folk musical trio Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Keeping our jobs is more important than being current and authentic, according to Professor Pfeffer.  He reports that 'leaders need to be pragmatic—to say and do what is required to obtain and hold onto power and to accomplish their objectives.'  In my view this type of communication behavior only prolongs the pain in organizations where employees are often uncertain and confused when they see ambiguous and compromised messaging coming from their leadership.

Authenticity is the currency of the internet.  Organizations will follow their leaders, good or bad.  Bad leadership will sink a company, and leadership needs to be trustworthy, honest, and predictable.  People working in the organization need to be closely aligned with the culture.  One or two wrong moves by leadership, or messaging that is confusing and inconsistent may cause loss of trust, and employee turnover, or loss of valuable customers.

Being authentic and transparent with others is crucial to progress with a team and essential when the business is rapidly scaling.  When dealing with conflict, being clear and authentic will yield a higher quality result more rapidly.  Truth is critical to building trust on a team, and trust needs to be in place before conflicts can be worked out.  Dealing with the truth will absolutely get to the desired outcome more rapidly than not.

The author goes on to say that 'the ability to subordinate one’s views and feelings is a critical skill for advancing and surviving in the workplace.'  If this is the default cultural state of affairs in any company, the chances of that company succeeding in the marketplace competing for customers, or for talent, is slim to none.  He quotes INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra as follows: “By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that … suits our organizations’ changing needs.”

As a business growth coach, I work with many clients who have major problems in their organizations because they are not authentic, behaving instead like the Chameleon, changing colors and adapting as Professor Ibarra suggests.  I suggest that if we are not sure of what we stand for, then we stand for nothing, and that is a sure recipe for disaster.

A Living Passion for the Vision

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

Leaders need to have a passion for their work, and have a vision for their organization, exuding the essence of it in all thoughts and expressions to all stakeholders, at all times.   S/he needs to be passionate and stay focused like a laser on bridging the gap that exists between that vision, and the mission…what the company actually does day to day.

The Turnaround. Part 3 of 3

In one turnaround I was leading, a member of the senior leadership team was always in agreement with everything we discussed and pleasant to be around, but was quietly and effectively undermining my efforts to discover variances that were causing waste numbers to be excessively high. His department was causing the problem by using materials that were over specification because the correct inventory was not available when needed to meet order lead times.  This senior manager didn’t want to spend the time or energy to solve it. Instead he tried to bury the data with evasive maneuvers.  His passive/aggressive behavior proved not only costly to the company, but fatal to his career.

The Turnaround. Part 2 of 3

Strategy can emerge from a gap analysis illustrating where you are currently, your mission, vs your vision of where you want to be. Strategies, goals and objectives can all be set once the mission and vision are identified and agreed upon, and those strategies must be in alignment with the mission, and the organizations overall vision. Its extremely important to identify a unifying strategy(s) and to gain buy – in from all stakeholders in the value chain, and that includes customers, suppliers, employees, bank, and board.

The Turnaround. Part 1 of 3

Congratulations!  You’ve just been hired as CEO of a company in deep financial trouble. The ownership and board of directors have given you free reign to do your job, and you feel up to the task of leading the effort, but you have limited time to turn this ship around, and get it moving in a different more profitable direction.

What will be your plan starting Monday, your first day on the new job… the first month…the first six months. How will you evaluate and manage the company and its processes.  How will you engage with the customers?

Three Questions for Leaders

Roselinde Torres, in a recent TED talk, describes a new 21st Century world which is global, digitally enabled, transparent, with faster speeds of information flow and innovation, and where nothing big gets done without some sort of a complex matrix. Ms. Torres suggests that leadership is defined by three important questions that we should be considering for ourselves as leaders, and for those whom we lead.

A Culture of Innovation

Innovation can be iterative and lineal, as in re-engineering a product component or a work process. It can also be transformational, when entirely new technologies are discovered, such as life changing medical devices like the pacemaker, the Cochlear Implant, or the personal computer. Others come to mind, such as the automobile, or the internet.

Are You a Passionate Leader?

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

Leading with Humility. Lessons from Pope Francis

Pope Francis, the Pontiff of the Catholic Church and spiritual leader to 1.2 billion Roman Catholic’s worldwide, is known for doing things that are considered contrary to the traditional role of a Pontiff.

He is attempting an amazing turnaround…the reformation of one of the oldest and greatest institutions in the history of mankind, and doesn’t want to be idolized, lifted up, or pandered to just because of his position in the Church. He is setting a new direction for the Catholic Church, which desperately needs reformation, and is doing so by setting himself up as a servant leader, one with great humility.

Hire for Value

The most important and long lasting decisions you make as a leader have to do with the people you hire. How you shape the job posting, and then recruit, interview, hire, on-board, and train new people, and how you position them will have an enormous impact on the effectiveness and value of the organization. If you are hiring the right people who might be different than you and have great capacity to do things you can't do, then the organization increases in capacity. You need to model this behavior and drive it throughout the leadership team. Diversity of ideas will promote innovation, growth, and eventually creation of great value.