How a Good Leader Reacts to a Crisis (HBR)

There is something about a big snowstorm that brings out the best, or more often the worst, in big city mayors. If, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local,” then you would think that the first hint of snow in the forecast would prompt mayors to relocate their offices temporarily to where the snowplows are dispatched.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who recently won a third term, and is widely regarded as an adept city leader, has come under fire for inefficient snow removal in New York City. Most of the complaints came from residents in the so-called outer boroughs — e.g., the four that are not Manhattan.

But across the Hudson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has received acclaim for his response to the nor’easter snowfall, despite taking flak on a host of other matters. Not content with supervising removal, he plunged in with a shovel, helping to extricate cars, clear walkways, and in one instance deliver diapers to a housebound mother. He also tweeted his first-hand observations of the snow to his more than one million Twitter followers.

We like to see our elected officials in action. The contrast between Bloomberg’s reception and Booker’s can serve as a lesson for anyone in a position of authority. Here are some tips for the next big storm that hits your office:

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First posted on HBR.org 1/04/2011

Help Employees Listen What They Don’t Want to Hear (HBR)

When change initiatives fail, the culprit is often a lack of good communication from management. But that’s not always the whole story. Communication isn’t just about what management says; it’s also about how employees listen.

This point was made to me by an executive whose organization had difficulty in getting employees to buy into changes it had proposed. He felt his employees were choosing to tune out as a form of resistance. Such resistance can often sabotage the best efforts of management to drive change throughout the organization. It even happens when managers are diligent communicators and active in the communication process. Resistance will occur for any number of reasons: perceived loss of autonomy, fear of the unknown, or a dislike for upsetting the status quo.

And then when the long-discussed change occurs — be it an organizational transformation or a move to a new facility — the disgruntled rank and file mutters about not being consulted and blames management for being heavy handed.
What can you do to avoid, or at least mitigate, this kind of ugly situation? It will take efforts before, during, and after your communication push:

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First posted on HBR.org 2/17/2011

 

What Teaching Taught Me about Management (HBR)

I have long admired teachers. The ability to share knowledge and turn it into learning is a gift that I find rich and rewarding. Let me add another accolade to good teachers — great management skills. I learned this first-hand because I failed at teaching.

For years I have taught in executive and corporate education programs. My work has been judged on the merit of insight and engagement; participants are my evaluators. In fall 2009, however, I had the opportunity to teach in an undergraduate program for a local university. I would be responsible for exams, papers, projects and of course grades. I would also be responsible for taking attendance.

Since my students were adults (“non-traditional” in the collegiate jargon), I let them come and go as they pleased. I didn’t bother too much with sign-up sheets for attendance nor did I squawk when students left class early. As a workshop instructor, I am accustomed to participants being called away from class to handle things back at the office. It was annoying when students left without warning, but my attitude was, “It’s their nickel and they must have somewhere else important to be.”

Wrong! This was brought home to me by a student who told me that she found it very rude that students got up and left and that such things were not tolerated by the university, only by certain instructors like me. Since I like to draw leadership lessons from what I observe, let me share a few things about teaching that apply as well to managers.

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First posted on HBR.org 4/13/2011

Three Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs (HBR)

Sometimes when you’re wondering what to do next in life, good advice can come when you least expect it — like when you’re getting your hair cut.

Joan*, the hairstylist giving me a trim, mused aloud about what she was planning to do with her career. Cutting hair was just one part of her livelihood; she was also a professional caregiver as well as the owner of a rig that her husband operated. But her husband was about to retire from the road, and now they were wondering, “What next?”

Over the course of our brief conversation, in no more than the time it took Joan to cut my hair, I picked up on three attributes of her success that are helpful for any entrepreneur:

Practical. Listening to her brainstorm reminded me that successful entrepreneurs know how to keep their feet on the ground. First, they get inspired through personal observation, developing ideas from needs they see in the world around them. Second, they develop a concrete plan. They may work the plan, changing it as they go, but always with an eye towards getting a good return.

Purposeful. People with a practical outlook seek opportunities that add value, as opposed to opportunities that just seem “cool.” (It’s easy to forget this distinction, especially in well-established organizations.) Their focus is offering products and services that customers need and will pay for. For instance, Joan’s second job as a caregiver: that’s a service for which there is always a need.

Impatient. Sure, patience is a virtue in some cases. But for an entrepreneur, so is impatience. Joan is eager to make things happen so that she can continue to earn a good living. When it comes time for her husband to leave the trucking business, she will be ready with another venture. Her gumption and ambition make her impatient for success, and that drive increases her chances of getting there.

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First posted on HBR.org 5/23/2011

VIDEO: Employees Are Looking for Inspiration

Looking to get to the top of your organization? You’d better work on your motivation skills. That finding comes from a survey by IIC Partners headquartered in London.

As the survey explained, “68 percent of top leaders say they preferred a senior executive who could motivate and inspire others” over the ability to perform well.

When employees see that their boss walks the talk, stands up for them, and has a clear vision, they are motivated to follow. And when they see a leader who believes that his/her job is to serve (rather than being served) they are all the more motivated.

First posted on Smart Brief on 4/24/2015

Make Time for What Matters Before It’s Too Late (HBR)

“In a market that’s become extremely lean and mean… individuals who have tended to be the senior statesmen of their day are sometimes the first to go.”

That comment by Richard Stein, an executive recruiter in New York, should be handed out with diplomas to all newly minted MBAs. On the one hand this is good news for them because it means there is room at the top — but it’s also a warning to these up-and-comers that time flies.

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times, who spoke to Stein as well as a number of senior leaders in law and financial services firms, reports that the day of involuntary retirement is fast approaching for many senior leaders, many of whom want to hang on to their jobs a while longer.

Reluctance to exit is understandable. Many senior leaders define themselves by their jobs. Senior executives especially grow accustomed to the perks that come with the job. But it’s not the corporate jet they’ll miss the most when they leave. People in power miss being in power. No longer will their phone calls be returned nor will people stop them in the halls to ask their advice. In retiring, they lose what they treasure most: influence.

That is why Stein’s dictum is so pertinent to today’s emerging leaders. Prepare for the future now. There is a misperception that legacy is something reserved for the CEO and his or her team in their last year at the top. No, you begin to create your legacy your first day on the job — and you build on it with every accomplishment over your career. (You also scuff up that legacy with mistakes you make, too.)

 

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First posted on HBR.org 6/17/2011

How to Instill Purpose (HBR)

A great many organizations invest a significant amount of money in trying to improve themselves. This commitment to getting better is laudable, but many times organizations overlook something within their organization that, when tapped, can sharpen focus, tighten alignment, hone execution, and — in the process — deliver better results. It’s called purpose.

While a veritable tsunami of resources — many of them first-rate — exist to help individuals discover purpose, a mere trickle of resources are available to help organizations discover theirs. This dichotomy led me to research ways to help organizations discover their purpose, and upon discovering it find ways to put it to good use. The result is Lead With Purpose, Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

Purpose, as savvy leaders know, is the foundation for creating vision, executing the mission, and abiding by the values of an organization. Culture emerges from purposeful organizations, because purpose is what shapes individual’s beliefs and organizational norms. That foundation is essential, because it opens the door for organizations to do four important things, all of which are vital to success:

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First posted on HBR on 11/11/2011

VIDEO: Good Values Spark Good Customer Service

Customer service is something that is a reflection of corporate values.

Good service is a reflection of good values. When an employee says that management makes it easy to do what’s right, it means they are teaching employees to put customers first and, most importantly, backing it up by example.

Organizations whose cultures place a premium on doing what’s right are organizations for which employees want to work and customers want to patronize.

First posted on Smart Brief on 5/22/2015

Compromising When Compromising Is Hard

“If you want to get along, you have to go along,” was the advice legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn gave to members of Congress. It was the mantra by which he governed the House of Representatives.

While Rayburn’s adage is focused on what it takes to succeed within a legislative body, it applies equally to functioning successfully with colleagues in any organization. The nut of Rayburn’s words mean you have to learn to give a little to get something in return: In other words, you have to compromise.

Today, I see too many people who see compromise as a bad thing, an abandonment of principle. In reality, a willingness to compromise is a sign of great conviction: the conviction that the organization comes first.

As easy as that sounds, it is remarkably hard to adopt.

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First posted on 10/12/2013