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.

Authenticity as a Differentiator

Can the authentic behavior of a CEO or senior leader be a strategic differentiator?

In a word, YES, however it’s a little more complicated than just saying you are authentic or transparent within your work relationships.  If you are the CEO, or a member of the Senior Team, your job is to communicate authentically, showing your people what you do, how you do it, constantly demonstrating with your words and actions about your core values and core purpose.  Done well, this can truly be a differentiator in the competitive marketplace.

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.

Building a Culture of Trust

Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you might have a chance for success. Get two wrong and you are out of the running before the race starts. Get all three right, and you'll be sure to succeed.  It's important to get back to basics to discover what you are doing and where you are headed.  Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization?  If not, you are missing one of the most important links to the ongoing success and value of your company.

5 Characteristics of a Thought Leader

What is a thought leader?

Wikipedia defines thought leadership as follows: A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first citation for the phrase an 1887 description of Henry Ward Beecher as "one of the great thought-leaders in America."

Dealing with Disruption

There really isn’t anything like a safe job in a safe company anymore. Job security has become a casualty of disruptive innovation. Earlier generations spent entire careers in the same company in a ‘cradle to grave’ track.  My father worked for two companies in roles of progressively greater responsibilities during his career.  I have worked for or started six companies during my career. 

Win by Obsessing Over the Customer

Remember the Trojan Horse?  This military strategy used by the Greeks won for them a long running battle with Troy.  The Greeks loaded a wooden horse with troops secretly placed inside, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy while the Greeks pretended to sail away in defeat. At night, the Greek soldiers came out of their hiding place, and opened the gates of Troy for the rest of the Greek army who had sailed back during the night. The Greeks decisively ended the 10 year war with Troy with a surprise strategy that was both innovative and disruptive.

Results Based Leadership

Quotations from luminaries whether in business, sports, medicine, law, or politics can inspire and clarify. A great quote is concise and crisp, capturing a thought or idea in an entirely new way.

Great quotes can speak directly into our own unique situations. One quote from Peter Drucker on leadership said ‘Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.’ Of course, he is right about getting results, but in my own view Drucker leaves something on the table for debate.

Obsess Over Your Customer, and WIN!

In a recent Peer to Peer discussion with some CEO’s, most were defensive on the topic of how to deliver an outstanding customer experience. They mostly felt that their employees were always focused on the customer. One CEO said his company has data showing their consistent delivery of full customer satisfaction through customer surveys reflecting on time deliveries, rapid response rates on corrective actions, on time billing, and so forth.