HBR: How Smart Managers Build Bridges

How do you manage conflict?  Are you improving your relationships with your directs? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

How Smart Managers Build Bridges

What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up. The information you get may well encourage you to moderate your own position and thus open the way for a mutually advantageous cooperation. Make them understand your constraints and get them to see what they have to gain by what you propose.

Of course, sometimes, no amount of understanding is going to get the other person to budge and you’re going to have to force progress. At this point, you have to work to bridge the gap in such a way that their main concerns are accommodated so that you can communicate and cooperate productively in spite of and within the limits of your differences. Typically, this involves talking responsibility for the action you wish to make while being prepared to share the payoff and the credit.

Once the gap is actually bridged and you move forward you will pretty soon see that your interactions generate change. Through the give and take of communication, all sides come to feel that at least some of the differences between them are actually smaller and easier to live with than they appeared to begin with.

I built perhaps my first managerial bridge when, fresh out of HBS, I joined our family’s business. Immediately on joining I realized that our warehouse constantly remained out-of-stock of at least five of the thirty-odd products our company carried. This not only caused a loss of sales of the items missing but also had negative repercussions on the sales of all of our products because it drove many customers into our competitors’ arms.

I went to our warehouse and met with the manager who was a very loyal, trustworthy person who had worked with us for many years. He was about 60 years old, knew all our clients personally and had a wide network of potential clients in the market. I asked him why he believed we faced this problem.

He answered that it was because our suppliers took a long time to deliver our orders and, given the global nature of our supply chain, there was nothing we could do about it. I talked to him a little about the notion of forecasting what amount of each product we would need to carry as minimum stock, in order to cover our sales during the time required between the date of placing our order and the date it would reach us.

His reaction was fierce: “If you want predictions go to the Oracle of Delphi,” he told me. “In Greece we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, so we cannot make predictions of how much of each product we will sell.” He would not budge.

Faced with this attitude, I stopped trying to get him to change. Instead, I asked for a worker, some red paint, a brush, and a wooden ladder. I obtained from the accountant the average monthly sales of each product, added a security margin of 20%, converted this quantity to the volume of space required for each product, and drew on the wall a thick red line at the point where the pile would probably be enough to cover sales of the product until our next order arrived.

I assured the manager that I respected his view that predictions in Greece were risky and — this was critical — assured him that the head office would take responsibility for whatever risks were entailed by my attempts to forecast “All you have to do is, whenever you see a red line appearing on the wall behind the stack of any product, is inform me”. Finally, I promised him a bonus for each day our warehouse carried stocks of all our products.

The immediate impact, of course, was fewer stock-outs. But the longer-term and more important benefit from the improvement was that the warehouse manager and I started talking more. He took to visiting me at my Athens office and to ask my opinion on other problems our Piraeus shop faced and to make useful suggestions on how best to address them. Thanks to my action in bridging I had been able to move from talking to the manager to talking with the manager.

Three Traps: Complacency, Cannibalization, Competency

The Three-Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan is a great book to help leader innovate with simple and proven methods for allocating an organization’s energy, time, and resources across the three boxes:

Box 1: The present—Strengthen the core

Box 2: The past— Let go of the practices that fuel the core business but fail the new one

Box 3: The future—Invent a new business model.

Below is an excerpt on the three behavior traps. How do you manage them to the lead your organization to innovate?

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While there were many within IBM who clearly understood the implications of both nonlinear shifts, their insights had difficulty penetrating the entrenched logic of the past. The dominant logic of the past exerts its hold on business cultures and practices in three distinctive but tightly interlocking ways. I think of their dynamic effects as traps that snare the unprepared. All three have common origins in mind-sets that focus excessively on past values, behavior, and beliefs.

The Complacency Trap

Current success conditions a business to suppose that securing the future requires nothing more than repeating what it did to succeed in the past. This is the complacency trap. Complacency shrouds the future in a fog of misplaced confidence, hiding from view a clear understanding of the extent to which the world is changing around you.

IBM’s extraordinary success driving revenues in its Box 1 mainframe business masked difficulties to come. Rather than face up to looming threats to the mainframe business, IBM applied temporary patches. One such patch ‘was to change the revenue model from leasing mainframes to selling them outright. S This produced a pleasing surge in near-term revenues that postponed IBM’s day of reckoning.

The loyalty of successful organizations to the past is often so potent that they become quite ingenious at ignoring the onset of fatigue in the Box 1 business. Instead of building the future day by day, IBM prolonged it’s past with what amounted to an accounting change. The resulting years-long period of bolstered revenues made it easy for the company to think that everything was just fine-four words that fairly summarize complacency.

Another way to understand how IBM fell into the complacency trap is that the company’s continuing Box 1 profitability delayed development of a sense of urgency that might have motivated a more prescient Box 2 judgment: that it was important to invest aggressively in the new enterprise model of client/server computing.

This is the dark side of success. No matter the industry or company, each great innovation spawns a steady accumulation of Box I-based structures, processes, and attitudes of the kind that blinded IBM to its predicament. IBM mainframes were not simply smart machines; they were smart machines that over the years had created at customer work sites whole new layers of enterprise management that had never existed before.

Mainframe computers were island fortresses, secured and operated by a newly empowered IT function and inaccessible, except through IT proxies, to the rest of the enterprise. If a technology can embody a governing philosophy, the mainframe’s philosophy was exactly opposite that of the open, accessible internet that was yet to appear. Even before the internet emerged as a business tool, there were pitched battles within almost every company about making valuable mainframe data accessible to and usable by employees with networked PCs. This increasingly loud demand clashed with the mind-set of IBM’s IT customers, who saw their mission as protecting the security and integrity of corporate data: allowing liberal access would lead to data corruption and to proliferating unreliable versions of the “truth.”

In fact, customers can play an important role in deepening a complacency trap. IBM had collaborated with its customers in creating what became an entrenched system of governance for computerized organizations. That system’s structures and attitudes were a self-reinforcing feedback loop amplified by IBM’s large-enterprise customers.

Ultimately, a more modern version of the mainframe emerged and made peace with the rest of the IT infrastructure. Today’s version powers big data analytics and other applications in many large enterprises. But in the IBM of the 1990s, mainframes cast a long shadow over the emergent model of more open, democratized network computing.

The Cannibalization Trap

The cannibalization trap persuades leaders that new business models based on nonlinear ideas will jeopardize the firm’s present prosperity. So, like antibodies attacking an invading virus, they protect the Box 1 business by resisting ideas that don’t conform to models of the past.

At its heart, the fear of cannibalization reflects a wish to keep the world from changing. It is perhaps easy to understand that wish, but it’s much harder to excuse it. The glib answer to those who suffer from this fear is to remind them that change is inevitable and the world will change either with them or without them. When a business allows worries about cannibalization to interfere with its strategy, it has overinvested in its past and is doomed to undermine its future.

Cannibalization is typically understood-and feared-as a near-term threat. As foresighted as IBM was in developing its personal computer in the early 1980s, forces marshaled within the company to protect the legacy business. Those who feared the PC believed it had the potential to threaten the mainframe computing model, perhaps by feeding the growing appetite to liberate enterprise data or by diverting attention and investment away from the company’s dominant business.

People who fear new technology are usually more right than wrong about its potential to supersede legacy products. The truth is, every Box 1 business has reason to fear, sometimes even hate, whatever shiny new thing is being launched. When Steve Jobs gave a big push to the Macintosh launch toward the end of his first stint at Apple, the group in charge of the incumbent Apple II felt threatened and undercut. It was as if cofounder Jobs had sponsored an insurrection.”

In reality, however, cannibalization should be understood as a long- term benefit. The new Apple Macintosh embodied features that soon enough would make its predecessors obsolete. If Apple hadn’t moved quickly, a competitor-maybe even IBM-would have filled the vacuum. Given its history, IBM’s embrace of microcomputing was unexpected. But it quickly set the standard for PCs and legitimized them as tools for both home and business users. While IBM’s marketing of the PC initially tilted toward home users, the real revenue bonanza came from businesses. Suddenly, at least part of IBM had reason to root for client/ server computing. No matter what anyone in the mainframe business thought about it, the client/server model had the shine of inevitability.

So, while companies must take the fear of cannibalization seriously as a problem to manage, it can’t become a reason not to act with foresight when new nonlinear strategies or business models present an opportunity.

The Competency Trap

The competency trap arises when positive results the current core business encourage the organization to invest mainly in Box 1 competencies and provide little incentive for investing in new and future-oriented competencies. In established companies built around a spectacular success, such as IBM’s industry-defining mainframe computers, it is natural to want to create a workforce whose skills dominantly reflect the legacy success. But a competency trap is a double- edged sword. IBM’s investments in Box 1 competencies helped its mainframe business. But Box 1 logic asks, why invest in skills not vital to the company’s current profitability? That is why Box 2 is necessary.

IBM eventually recognized that the dominant computing model it had exploited to achieve such great success was changing. Yet, despite having made significant investments in a robust R&D function, it was having chronic difficulty incubating new ventures. It struggled to find what IBM insiders called “The Next Big Thing.” The organization appeared to have succumbed to a “four monkeys” value system.

Believing that there were indeed systemic problems, then-CEO Louis Gerstner commissioned an internal inquiry to identify root causes. The inquiry, led by Bruce Harreld, IBM’s head of corporate strategy, confirmed Gerstner’s fears. Looking at a number of recent examples of flawed new-business incubation, Harreld’s team concluded that the company’s dominant Box 1 systems, structures, processes, and culture had:

  • Created a powerful bias for near-term results.
  • Encouraged a focus on existing customers and offerings to the extent that new technologies and nonlinear trends were either underestimated or escaped detection entirely.
  • Burdened new businesses with unreasonably high performance goals-especially damaging to ventures that targeted newer, riskier, but often more promising markets.
  • Motivated an unimaginative approach to market analysis that impaired the company’s ability to understand the sorts of “embryonic markets” most likely to spawn nonlinear Box 3 ideas.
  • Interfered with development of the skills necessary to adaptively transition a new business through its emergent and growth stages until it finally became an established enterprise.
  • Caused assorted failures of execution, many owing to the inflexibility of Box l=driven organizational structures, which leaders of new ventures “were expected to rise above … Voicing concerns over [such challenges], even when they were major barriers to new business initiatives, was seen as a sign of weakness.”

What the report didn’t say is important to note. IBM’s problem was not caused by a lack of research competency. On the contrary, its workforce possessed at least some expertise in a wide array of disciplines and technologies. Among its research projects were some that were quite promising and others that were highly speculative, unproven, and obscure. But for all the reasons listed, even ideas that managed to get traction were being ineptly developed and executed. What IBM needed was a well-designed process for enabling, supporting, and rewarding its maverick monkeys and likewise for managing new ventures onward through their developmental stages.

Such a process typically should incorporate a range of structural, cultural, and leadership remedies. At IBM-first under Gerstner and later Sam Palmisano-these distinctive remedies came together under the emerging business opportunities (EBO) framework, which created new structures, changes to the buttoned-down IBM culture, and more versatile and adaptive leadership behavior.

HBR: Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

Sales can be full of double-edged swords. How do you leverage the edge you want and blunt the ones you don’t? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

HP announced in March that it was combining its printer and personal computer businesses. According to CEO Meg Whitman, “The result will be a faster, more streamlined, performance-driven HP that is customer focused.” But that remains to be seen.

The merging of the two businesses is a reversal for HP. In 2005, HP split off the printer business from the personal computer business, dissolved the Customer Solutions Group (CSG) which was a sales and marketing organization that cut across product categories, and pushed selling responsibilities down to the product business units. The goal was to give each business unit greater control of its sales process, and in former CEO Mark Hurd’s words, to “perform better — for our customers and partners.”

The choice — to build a sales organization around customers or products — has vexed every company with a diverse product portfolio. It’s not uncommon for a firm such as HP to vacillate between the two structures. And switching structures is not always a recipe for success.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2005 at HP, before the CSG was eliminated. Most likely, those responsible for the success of specific products (say printers) were often at odds with the CSG. The words in the air may have been something like “Printers bring in the profits, and our products are not getting enough attention” or “The CSG people want customer control, but we have the product expertise.” And from the CSG sales team, we can imagine the feelings, “We are trying to do the best for HP and for customers. The printing people are not being team players.”

Especially when performance lags, people in any sales structure see and feel the disadvantages and stresses that their structure creates. But they often see only the benefits of the structure that they are not operating in. The alternative looks enticing. Unreasonably so.

HP’s dilemma illustrates one of many two-edged swords of sales management. These swords are reasonable choices that sales leaders make that have a sharp beneficial edge, but the very nature of the benefit is tied to another sharp edge that has drawbacks. Unless the undesirable edge is dulled, the choice cannot work.

Consider a choice like the one HP made recently to organize its sales force by customer rather than by product.

  • The beneficial edge: Salespeople can understand the customer’s total business, can cross-sell and provide solutions (not just products), and can act as business partners rather than vendors for their customers.
  • The undesirable edge: Salespeople will have less product expertise and focus. And it will be difficult for the company to control how much effort each product gets.
  • Dulling the undesirable edge: The company could create product specialists to assist customer managers (although this would add costs and coordination needs, and would work only if salespeople and the culture were team-oriented). It could also use performance management and incentives to manage effort allocation.

    Sales is full of such double-edged swords. For example:

  • If you hire mostly experienced people, they will become productive rapidly. But they will come with their own ways to do things and may have trouble fitting into the new environment.
  • If you drive a structured sales process through the organization, things will be more transparent and organized, and coordination across people will be easier. But out of the box thinking will be diminished, and managers might use the defined structure to micro-manage their people.
  • If you give salespeople customer ownership and pay them mostly through commissions, you will attract independent, aggressive salespeople and encourage a performance-oriented culture. But this will discourage teamwork and create a brittle relationship based mostly on money.

The effective sales leader recognizes the two edges of each of these (and other) choices. He or she works to sharpen and leverage the good edge, while dulling the impact of the other edge. The overly optimistic leader who sees the benefits of only one choice will lead his or her sales force into peril!

We have offered a few examples of double-edged swords of sales management. There are many, many more. Do add to our list, and tell us how you leverage the edge you want, and blunt the one you don’t.

 

Perfect Horse

Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis by Elizabeth Letts is a charismatic book. Below is an excerpt from the book about General George S. Patton:

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The door to the black car swung open, and stepped General George S. Patton, now secretly in England, where he was participating in a mock mission to confuse the Germans about the Allied invasion. Resplendent in high brown cavalry field boots and a gleaming helmet, he, walked briskly down the hillside toward the ten-man guard of honor, who stood at attention. Patton passed slowly in front of them, looking each soldier up and down and then peering into each man’s face. From there, he walked straight up onto the platform.

The corps chaplain stepped up to the microphone to give the invocation, asking for divine guidance so that the Third Army might help speed victory to an enslaved Europe. Next to speak was Lieutenant General William H. Simpson. “We are here,” he said, “to listen to the words of a great man, a man who will lead you all into whatever you may face with heroism, ability, and foresight. A man who has proven himself amid shot and shell.” Most of these soldiers were awestruck, having never seen the famous commander in person, but this was not the case for Patton’s fellow cavalryman Hank Reed, who had been acquainted with him for many years. Since the invasion of North Africa and Sicily, in which the general had played a starring role, George Patton’s name had been familiar in every American household. But Reed had known him as a rough-and-tumble polo player possessed of a foul mouth and a fierce competitive spirit.

Though Patton was eighteen years Reed’s senior, the two officers shared a strong tie. Each had been a member of the prestigious War Department polo team, Patton in the 1920s and Reed in the ’30, Patton’s ferocity on the polo field was an army legend. He seemed to go to war every time he galloped out onto the pitch. Even among tough competitors, the general was renowned for the particular bellicosity with which he approached the game. Once, while playing at the Myopia Hunt in Massachussetts, he was hit so badly in the head with a mallet that blood started streaming down his forehead. Patton wrapped a bandage around his head, shoved his helmet back on top of it, and continued to play. Another time, he fell so hard that he sustained a severe concussion. His daughter, Ruth Ellen, who was watching the match, knew something was terribly wrong because it was the first time she had ever seen him let go of the reins when he fell off a horse.

Patton, like many others in the army, had believed that in peacetime, when men had no chance to experience combat firsthand, the horseback battles played on the polo field were the best way to train a man for combat. If Patton’s theory was right, then the ace polo player Hank Reed was among the best-prepared soldiers at Camp Bewdley that day. None of the 2nd Cavalry men had seen real combat before, including their leader, Colonel Reed.

The general approached the microphone and looked out over the great mass of soldiers standing at attention on the hillside. “Be seated,” he said. His amplified voice echoed out across the hillside, high and clear. His tone was firm and commanding. In an undulating wave, the men sank back down onto the grass.

“Men, this stuff we hear about America wanting to stay out of the war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit! Americans love to fight-traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win-all the time….”

Up on the hillside, the men of the 2nd Cavalry listened intently. All of them knew that General Patton was the one who got called in when the going got tough. Indeed, the general then strictly admonished the crowd that his presence in Bewdley was to be kept top-secret. Nobody knew exactly what was coming next; they just knew that they would be part of something bigger than all of them.

From Patton’s vantage point up on the platform, the assembled men of the Third Army looked like an enormous sea of humanity gathered with a common purpose. Despite the uniforms that made them resemble one another, every man sitting there that day had his own life story, his own pathway that had brought him to that place. Born in 19I5, blue-eyed Jim Pitman was one such soldier. He had the face of a sprite, all upturned angles, quick to smile, his smooth skin radiating youth. Hank Reed had had twenty years to prepare for this moment; Jim Pitman had just four. Graduating from West Point in 1940, he joined an army gearing up for war and had been swept right into the heart of it.

HBR: Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders

What is your approach to leadership development? Which of the following approaches would work for you? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Deborah Rowland 

Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders

Too many business leaders today are out of touch with the employees they lead. Edelman estimates that one in three employees doesn’t trust their employer — despite the fact that billions are spent every year on leadership development. Part of the problem: Our primary method of developing leaders is antithetical to the type of leadership we need.

The vast majority of leadership programs are set curricula delivered through classroom-taught, rationally based, individual-focused methods. Participants are taken out of their day-to-day workplaces to be inspired by expert faculty, work on case studies, receive personal feedback, and take away the latest leadership thinking (and badges for their résumés). Yet study after study, including my own, tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.

The mismatch between leadership development as it exists and what leaders actually need is enormous and widening. What would work better?

Over the last 16 years I have carried out research into how leaders create change, and I’ve worked in the change leadership field for 25 years in multinational corporations. Over that time, I’ve come to appreciate four factors that lie at the heart of good, practical leadership development: making it experiential; influencing participants’ “being,” not just their “doing”; placing it into its wider, systemic context; and enrolling faculty who act less as experts and more as Sherpas.

Make it experiential. Neuroscience shows us that we learn most (and retain that learning as changed behavior) when the emotional circuits within our brain are activated. Visceral, lived experiences best activate these circuits; they prompt us to notice both things in the environment and what’s going on inside ourselves. If leadership development begins in the head, leaders will stay in their heads. We can’t simply think our way out of a habit. But in experience, and novel experience in particular, our intentional mind can be more engaged as we make conscious decisions about our behavior.

In practice, this mean setting up what I call “living laboratory” leadership development. Throw out pre-planned teaching schedules, content, lectures, and exercises that ask you to think about your world and how you need to lead it. In its place, switch to constructing self-directed experiences for participants that replicate the precise contexts they need to lead in. In such experiences the group dynamics at play in the room become the (at-times-uncomfortable) practice arena. Business simulations or unstructured large group dialogues are examples of this. I have also used experiences that challenge participants to self-organize visits outside of their companies to stakeholder groups that matter for their future, such as a carbon-dependent energy provider visiting environmental NGOs. All can act as powerful experiential catalysts for learning and change.

Influence participants’ “being,” not just their “doing.” In soon-to-be-published research, Malcolm Higgs, Roger Bellis, and I have found that leaders need to work on the quality of their inner game, or their capacity to tune into and regulate their emotional and mental states, before they can hope to develop their outer game, or what it is they need to actually do. So leadership development must start by working on the inner game. It’s very hard for leaders to have courageous conversations about unhelpful reality until they can regulate their anxiety about appearing unpopular and until they’ve built their systemic capacity to view disturbance as transformational, not dysfunctional.

In order for leadership development to influence being-level capacities, the learning experience needs to offer stillness and space for intentional, nonobstructed contemplation. It’s difficult to teach how to be! Training people with tools and models is very different from simply holding a space for leaders to be. In practice, I have found that offering participants experiences such as mindfully walking outdoors in nature, sitting silently in peer groups to hear colleagues share their life stories, and providing out-of-the-ordinary tasks such as stone carving, enables leaders to tap into their inner world as a powerful instrument for cultivating the vital skills of purpose, self-awareness, empathy, and acute attentional discipline.

Such approaches might sound a million miles from the chalk-and-talk model on which leadership development was built over the last century. But do we really believe that inner capacities can be developed in this way?

Place development into its wider, systemic context. In their HBR article, “Why Leadership Training Fails – and What to Do About It,” Michael Beer, Magnus Finnström, and Derek Schrader talk cogently about the need to attend to the organizational system as a vehicle for change before companies simply send their leaders on training programs to think and behave differently. Too often I have seen the “parallel universe” syndrome, in which leaders attend courses that promulgate certain mindsets and ways of working only to go back to the workplace and find that the office (and especially top leadership) is still stuck in old routines.

I have an additional spin on this need. And that is to use the lived leadership development experience as an opportunity to tune into and shift that very system, because they are intimately connected. Recently I directed a three-year change intervention in which the top 360 leaders of one company (including the board) attended a leadership development program in 10 waves of participants, with 36 leaders in each. Given the uncertainty in their industry, it was impossible for senior management to know what their long-term business strategy or organizational model would look like. However, the CEO did know that all he could do in such a dynamic context was build new capacities for agility and change in his organization. Each wave of participants joined the leadership development at a different stage of the company’s change journey, and at each stage we used the development experience not just for personal training but also as a vehicle to import and work with the shifting systemic dynamics of the company through time — helping them move through the “change curve.”

This meant, of course, that the program for each of the 10 waves felt very different, all set course designs had to be thrown out, and we as faculty had to continually adapt the program to the shifting context.

Enroll faculty who act less as experts and more as Sherpas. Finally, you have to attend to the required skills and characteristics of the people who lead these programs.

In the above example, we found that no single provider could provide a facility that was holistic enough. We needed a faculty group with egos not wedded to any particular leadership methodology or school of thinking and who could work skillfully with live group dynamics, creating psychological safety in the room for participants to take personal risks and push cultural boundaries. We required the educational equivalent of Sherpas, people able to carry part of the load in order to guide participants toward their personal and organizational summits.

This required not just hiring a bunch of individuals with such guiding skills but also developing ourselves continuously as a robust faculty team. We needed to be able to work with a continually changing curriculum design, and with the group projecting their discomfort with the wider change — and how it was being experienced in the program — onto the faculty.

Make no mistake, attending to all four of these factors is a sizable challenge. Whether you are a corporate or business school leader, a head of leadership and organizational development, or a senior business leader sponsoring and attending leadership development programs, take a long, hard look at how you are currently delivering leadership development. The price of failed leadership is already too high for us not to attend to the process through which we develop it.

JoA: 5 Things Leaders Should Never Say

How’s is your communication with your directs? Are you pushing them away? Below is an article form Journal of Accountancy magazine By Jennifer Wilson.

5 Things Leaders Should Never Say

To avoid alienating your employees, especially your best young talent, try these alternative approaches for better communication.

Today’s –coming leaders have many career options, and their phones, email inboxes, and LinkedIn accounts are being “hit up” every day by recruiters and others interested in potentially employing them. That’s why established leaders committed to retaining their best and brightest need to pay more attention to the things they say that frustrate and disappoint future leaders.

This article explores five phrases established leaders should never say again and suggests an alternative approach that their young or new talent might better appreciate. And while the advice in this article is geared toward conversations with young CPAs, leaders would be -advised to apply it when communicating with all team members.

Never say this again Be patient …

Why? Because … Up-and-coming leaders have many options. When you tell them to be patient about something they want changed, they hear, “This isn’t going to happen for a long time (if ever),” and they don’t want to—or have to—wait.

Try this instead: When your people want something to change, ask them to develop a plan to make it happen. Then, help them refine their ideas and do your best to support them in implementing the change unless the change is a monumental deal breaker. Be willing to pilot new ideas, take small steps, and implement things imperfectly to ensure that your team feels perpetual forward progress.

Never say this again: You’re not ready …

Why? Because … Emerging leaders want experiences. Most have confidence in their abilities, and they want to progress faster than traditional timelines. Your best and brightest don’t want to be held to “old” timing standards of what a “- person” or a “new manager” does. Instead, they want to do what they believe they are ready and able to do. When you say they’re not ready, they hear you saying, “I don’t believe in you yet,” which contradicts their own beliefs. This leaves them thinking, “You don’t get it” or “You don’t get me.”

Try this instead: Figure out how to get them a portion of the experience they’re requesting or allow them to take on the whole effort. For instance, if they feel they are ready to meet with tax clients, allow them to do so. Ensure that a member of your team acts as a silent shadow for the first few meetings. In my experience, today’s emerging leaders are often more ready than we expect—which is great news! When they try and don’t succeed, most are quick to admit they need to step back and invest to round out their skills. While they’re regrouping, they’ll appreciate that you took the risk and believed in them.

Never say this again: When I was coming up … That’s not how it was when I came up …

Why? Because …They hear you saying, “Four score and seven years ago …” or “I am old.” I realize that’s harsh, but if you hark back to your days as an emerging leader, you rolled your eyes when your boss said this, too! Back in the day, people churned butter and used outhouses. But they don’t have to anymore. Today’s emerging leaders don’t want to talk about yesterday’s hardships—they want to talk about tomorrow’s possibilities!

Try this instead: Ask yourself what you’re trying to convey in a story about the past or your career progression. Instead of using the offending phrases, try something like, “What I have learned that works well is …” or “A best practice we employ is …”

Never say this again: He must not be working because he isn’t here … or She isn’t putting in the same effort as others because she leaves at 4:30 p.m. or isn’t here on Saturdays …

Why? Because … It is a fallacy that people are productive contributors just because they’re in the office. It is possible that your people are working from home, clients’ offices, or other locations at odd hours and producing a lot of great work when they are not in the office. In fact, according to Gallup’sState of the American Workplace report, remote workers logged more hours than their office counterparts and were slightly more engaged. Emerging leaders value flexibility in where and when they work. The offending phrases make them think, “You really don’t get it.”

Try this instead: Look for ways to further your workplace flex programs. Ask your emerging leaders to devise strategies to maximize both production and flexibility. Encourage all employees to stop equating presence at the office with productivity because the correlation is false. And, if you want to learn more about the argument emerging leaders have for virtual work, read my blog post at convergencecoaching.com.

Never say this again: You can change this when I’m gone (sometimes said jokingly, but not heard that way!)

Why? Because … This is similar to “be patient” but has the extra kick of reminding your emerging leaders that you are on your way out, biding your time, bailing, or any other number of “short timer” ideas. And this can cross their minds, “So, we won’t change this important thing because you don’t want to, and the firm will suffer until you leave. Then, we’ll have to scramble to be competitive.” This leads them to want you gone sooner—and you wonder why you feel pushed? When your resistance persists, it can lead to this thought you never want to enter your future leader’s mind, “Why don’t I leave before you and save us both the trouble?”

Try this instead: Our profession is facing immense change in almost every area. For firms, those changes include shifting work styles such as dress and flexibility, the fight for relevance in compliance services, changes in billing practices, the emergence of advisory services, and leaps in technology. Evolution isn’t optional. Your emerging leaders want to capitalize on these changes and position your business for success. Step outside of your discomfort, reignite your passion, and put your immense experience to work to support your team in making the big changes needed—now.

SPEAKING TO THE FUTURE

As a Baby Boomer, I understand the feelings that established leaders might have as they read this article. You want to enjoy the fruits of your labor as you appreciate the view from your career pinnacle. You want things to be familiar and perhaps the way they’ve always been. But that’s like wishing you could do business in a market that doesn’t exist instead of actually doing business in the market you’re in. If you’re committed to having succession in place to ensure that your business succeeds well into the future, give up the notions—and phrases—that send signals of resistance to your emerging leaders. Reignite your inner revolutionary. Embrace their ideas. Engage with them in change.

This article is adapted from “5 Phrases Established Leaders Should Never Say Again,” CPA Insider, Aug. 1, 2016.

About the author

Jennifer Wilson (jen@convergencecoaching.com) is a partner and co-founder of Convergence-Coaching LLC in Bellevue, Neb.

 

FOCUS: How Gritty Leaders Articulate Purpose

The Four Virtues of a Leader: Navigating the Hero’s Journey Through Risk to Results by Eric Kaufmann is a quick and enjoyable read. He talks about four key questions to keep you on track: What am I creating? What am I avoiding? What am I sustaining? What am I yielding? Below is an excerpt from the book:

FOCUSFour Virtues.jpg

Purpose is the focusing element we need to understand and develop among the building blocks of grit. Grit is a forward-facing principle. Running away from something isn’t grit; it’s fear. While fear provides a strong motivation to keep running and moving, it drives you from behind as it pushes you along. Grit, on the other hand, magnetizes you toward a long-term objective. Clarity of purpose is a critical element for successfully developing and enhancing your grittiness; this can be something as broad as your life purpose, or a more narrowly defined sense of purpose for your work, team, or project.

Purpose draws from your focus, from your answer to “What am I creating?” In formulating your focus, you keep attention toward the horizon, and in so doing forward becomes obvious and easy to press toward. Leadership is a constant vigilance toward the future, toward what’s coming, as well as to the present, to what’s happening now. Long-term goals feed grit. We persevere when the future plays an active role in moment-to-moment decision making.

I’ve seen a common pattern among people who are most effective at remaining on purpose. I’ve coined the acronym FOCUS as a thinking guide that reflects how gritty leaders articulate purpose. FOCUS is a way to concentrate your efforts forward and bring forth the elements that empower grit:

F-Fulfilling. Is your goal fulfilling to you? How does this long-term goal feed your spirit? How does it make you a better person? Beyond the things that we have to do that we find challenging and difficult, how is this work feeding your soul? My job is challenging. It takes lots of attention and energy. Yet I grow and learn and make extremely rich and meaningful connections. I can press through the challenges because my work is fulfilling. My grit-my perseverance for striving to improve professionally-is fed by the fulfillment of being of service, of touching people’s lives in a meaningful way.

O-Optimistic. My daughter has a glass on her desk half filled with water. She keeps it there because she wants to be gritty, and gritty folks choose to look at the glass as half full. It’s difficult to be gritty when you’re pessimistic about your goal in particular or future in general. You can learn and practice optimism, and the optimistic aspect of FOCUS isn’t just looking at the world positively, but looking forward and being engaged by the future. Being focused on the goal means that you direct yourself toward it; being optimistic about your goal means that you look forward to it. It’s nearly impossible to persevere toward something that you dread.

C-Challenging. Believe it or not, if the purpose is too easy or too ordinary, we lose interest in it. It’s paradoxical that grit-stamina and determination in the face of difficulty-is activated by the very presence of challenge and difficulty. Being challenged has a stimulating and energizing effect when the goal is also fulfilling; you strengthen grit when you know that you’re working toward something fulfilling and challenging.

U-Urgent. To stay on track with your purpose, it has to entail a sense of urgency. Urgency keeps your intention top of mind and your attention focused. This might sound counterintuitive, as grit refers to passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Yet if the long-term goal has no sense of urgency, then it simply languishes in the “would-be-nice-someday” category. When urgency turns to stress, though, it actually consumes the ability to be gritty. What builds purpose for true grit is your continued attention to the urgency of the goal while maintaining a rational detachment from the strain and stress of the deadline.

S-Specific. The final component of FOCUS is that the goal is specific; it’s restricted. During strategic planning, I refer to strategy as the “art of exclusion.” Being specific means honing in on one defined outcome and ignoring the other possibilities and temptations. Losing weight through diet and exercise can take a while, often longer than we wish, and saying, “I want to lose weight” is fairly useless. But saying “I want to weigh 140 pounds” is specific. “Hiring good talent” is vague; “hiring three experienced trainers” is specific.