VIDEO: The Art of Leading Your Peers

Peer leadership requires conviction that the person in charge is one whom you trust and are willing to follow even though that person has no authority over you. So why believe?

Leading those who can say “no” to you is always a huge challenge, but if you can convince them by your actions and your enthusiasm, then they might believe in what you are doing.

First posted on SmartBrief on 1/04/2013

How to Stay Creative Under Pressure (HBR)

Sergio Marchionne has lit a fire under Chrysler that is providing a spark of hope to the ailing automaker. From media reports, it seems that the Fiat team under Marchionne’s leadership is shaking up the place the way another Italian (albeit American) did a generation ago, Lee Iacocca.

As a hands-on manager, Marchionne expects his direct reports to meet with him regularly, which they can do face to face at Chrysler or via video conference. He also has ditched the executive suite for the engineering trenches so he can be closer to the action. Marchionne is to be commended for keeping the loop tight enough that executives can keep each other informed. But there is there is a price to pay. Marchionne, according to the Wall Street Journal, he expects his executives to be in the office as he is six or seven days a week “for the foreseeable future.”

Creating urgency to save a sinking ship is imperative. Working long hours to do so is also critical, but working day after day for months on end without a break is a bad idea. When a team is crashing on a deadline, pulling together can be energizing. But when there is no deadline in sight, the long hours exact vengeance in the form of loss of energy as well as diminished commitment. Managers do not become more creative by working harder; they burnout more quickly. You need give people a break from the day to day flow of work. Here are some suggestions for sustaining productivity under fire.

Set standards. The team leader must make it clear that during the crisis people are expected to assume a greater work load. The leader sets the example by taking more than his fair share of the work. Part of that work means being there for his team. At the same time, the leader does not need to decide how individuals must work. Often employees can decide how best to do their jobs. For example, mandatory meetings are fine, but every meeting need not be mandatory.

Get a buddy. One way to work smarter is to do what I have seen efficient organizations do. Team up with a co-worker to cover for you, not simply on vacations but also during times you will be out of the office. If your buddy is junior to you, then it can be a development opportunity. The leader can also buddy with a colleague or boss to stand in for him, too. Many organizations preach team as in collaboration but too few take advantage of treating teammates as partners. You can do more when individuals work together.

Mandate fresh air time. Get out of the office from time to time. This can be as simple as going out for lunch, or taking a walk in the afternoon. Clock time in the gym, too. Fitness is essential for tackling a heavy workload. The leader also sets the tone by making time for himself. When the team sees the boss taking a break (mental or physical), it gives the team permission to do likewise. Without the leader’s example, no one will follow through on making time for self.

Clocking long hours is not reserved for the corporate suite. Working in government, or even in the highest office in the land — the White House — can be grueling. President Obama vowed to make his administration family friendly, but as his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel quips, “It’s friendly to your [Obama] family.” As a result many staffers, as reported in the New York Times, are feeling stressed chiefly because they miss time with their families. Continued long stretches of working extraordinary hours will cause talented people to leave early.

Taking breaks is not the same as doing business as usual. It is an acknowledgement that people are your most valuable resource. They need rest and relaxation as well as an opportunity to reconnect with their families. Rather than diminish urgency, it heightens it. Getting outside of the bubble of work allows the mind and body to recharge and be better prepared to face the gauntlet of challenges that lie ahead.

First posted on 7/06/2009

Sum Up Your Leadership in Six Words (HBR)

Once upon a time Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story using only six words. Impossible, some thought. Not for Papa, as Neal Conan explained on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. The next day Hemingway produced this: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Clare Booth Luce, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, once told President John Kennedy that “a great man is one sentence.” Noonan writes that Lincoln’s life could be summed up as “He preserved the Union and freed the slaves.” My colleague, Scott Eblin, adapted the concept to summing up one’s leadership legacy. “It takes time and effort to boil down the essence of what you’re trying to do to a short and memorable idea.”

Reducing one’s life to a handful of words is a mighty challenge. Creating a six-word memoir, a concept inspired by a project conducted by Smith magazine, can be a useful exercise in self-analysis, particularly if you apply the process to reflecting upon your goals and your results. Did we achieve what we set out to achieve? Did I help them and the team to succeed? Did our results stand the test of time?

The million dollar question for any leader is this: did you leave the organization in a better place than when you found it? Sadly we have discovered that the great recession we are enduring was in part due to senior executives who did not leave their companies better off, even though they themselves exited with pockets full of cash.

For leaders, this six-word exercise works well as a form of aspiration, that is, how do I want to be remembered? So if you are early or mid career, you have time to make changes so that you can become the leader you are capable of becoming. Consider the following three questions to help you consider how you would sum up your work life in six words or less.

What gets me up in the morning? A very basic question! What do you do and why do you do it? For some, the answer is the opportunity to work with others on a project that has real meaning, that is, improves the quality of life for others. If this question throws you, then you need to consider what you don’t like about what you do. Is it possible to change something, or must you change careers?

How can I help? We humans are motivated to work for goals greater than ourselves. Leaders achieve through the efforts of others. It is imperative that they create conditions for others to succeed. They help others achieve intentions that enable the team, and by extension the organization, to succeed.

What is my influence? Line authority over someone on your team is a point of leverage but its effect may be limited. For organizations, particularly in challenging times with dwindling resources, leaders need to exert their influence. Such influence is built upon good example but transmitted through effective persuasion rooted in trust.

You can adapt the six-word memoir exercise to fit other needs. For example, how might you describe a challenge facing your team using just six words? “Tough job. Committed people. Keep working.” Or “Need ideas. Sooner than later. Help.” You can even make a game of it at your next staff meeting. Encourage your people to contribute their six words as a means of getting to think about the issues, the challenges, and the opportunities you face.

Summing up your career in six words may not produce a eureka moment of sudden clarity, but the exercise challenges you to think about what work means to you and how you influence the way others work. “Big idea. Profound thoughts. Truthful moment.”

[For more information on six-word memoirs, read Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure .]

First posted on 7.09.2009