VIDEO: How to Lead When Everyone’s Watching

Savvy leaders know that everyone in their organization is watching them.

So what can leaders do to lead in the age when social media is not only ubiquitous but also perceived to be more credible than mainstream media?

In this video, I offer some suggestions for leaders who need to manage their time in the spotlight.

First posted on SmartBrief on 7/21/2012

Troubleshoot Your Way to Recovery (HBR)

One summer Akio Toyoda disappeared from public view. In reality Toyoda, a member of the company’s founding family, was very much in view if you were looking on the asphalt of a dealership in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As Michelle Maynard writes in the New York Times, Toyoda, who will become company’s new president this June, was on his hands and knees inspecting the undercarriage of the new Toyota Tundra.

Unlike most of Toyota’s product line, the full-size pick up was plagued with problems that forced Toyota to issue recall notices. As Maynard notes, what Toyoda was practicing was a time-honored tradition in the Toyota Production System, called “genchi genbutsu,” translated as “go to the spot.” That is, find out where the trouble is through first-hand observation.

Genchi genbutsu, or trouble shooting, is a practice prescribed in “lean thinking” — an approach to productivity that marries two complementary concepts: improvement and learning. The part of lean that involves trouble-shooting is something that every manager can put into practice as a means of not simply delivering continuous improvement, but of finding out what’s working and what’s not.

Recessions are a prime time to practice trouble shooting for two reasons. One, managers are challenged to do more with less; two, managers may have more time due to the economic slowdown. Most especially, trouble shooting can be essential to optimizing execution and so for that reason it makes good sense. To implement your own form of trouble shooting, consider three questions:

What is the real problem? Dysfunction is often apparent. For example, a product does not perform to specification. Or a process fails to deliver a consistent outcome. Diagnosing the problem requires the discipline to find the root cause. A product failure could be because of a faulty part; a process failure could result from a missed step. You do not know until you take time to investigate.

How do we fix it? Sometimes, as with product recalls, the fix can be costly. Other times it can be solved by a simple product or process redesign. Judging what it required takes an experienced hand with strong diagnostic skills, but also savvy to understand how to make the most effective solution and do it expeditiously.

Who is best suited to fix it? Putting the right people on the job is essential. Not everyone is a born problem-solver. You want to have people who like asking questions but more importantly have the facility to analyze and implement solutions. You also want people with a degree of tenacity, those who are willing to stick with it until they find a solution.

An important part of implementing trouble shooting is that it puts the manager into closer contact with people doing the work. As all experienced managers know, nothing good can happen without the input and buy-in of people doing the work. And for all the emphasis that companies put on execution, too frequently they omit the human aspect of bringing initiatives to life. By talking and listening to people on the line, or in the cubicles, managers find out what is going well and what requires improvement.

Trouble shooting by itself will not generate value but without its practice, organizations will find themselves repeating mistakes and worse failing to capitalize on lessons learned. And in times of turbulence that is something that cannot be overlooked.

First posted on 5.26/2009

Never Let Your Ego Stop You from Learning (HBR)

When the most physically dominant player of his generation goes back to school because he wants to “learn the secrets,” it makes news. NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal recently took a crash course in sports broadcasting journalism at Syracuse University in preparation for a career after basketball. O’Neal is no media neophyte; as reported in the New York Times, he’s starred in movies, made rap albums, performed in over 250 commercials, and done too many post-game interviews to remember. Still, O’Neal aspires to something more — to do a sports talk show — and to do that he wants to learn to develop and deliver stories on the air.

O’Neal’s experience reminds me of what thought leader Jim Collins did a few years ago. In addition to being a best-selling author and much sought after consultant, Collins is a climber, and has been since his teen years. But sometime in his early 40s, as he writes in the Epilogue of Upward Bound, he knew that if he wanted to get better he would have to relearn his climbing technique. And so he put himself under the training of two climbing coaches. “The most important lessons…” as Collins explains, “lay not in what I needed to learn, but in what I first needed to unlearn.” It was arduous and awkward at first, but Collins persisted and made progress. In honor of turning fifty, Collins scaled the 3,000-foot vertical face of Yosemite’s famed El Capitan in just 19 hours, a feat that takes most experienced climbers at least 24 hours.

There are lessons for managers in what O’Neal and Collins have done. O’Neal honed his basketball skills through practice and coaching; Collins holds an MBA from Stanford and is an accomplished teacher. Each has learned how to learn in one field and has been able to transfer that skill to another field. That transference discipline is essential to continued self-development.

Peter Drucker advised in his famous Harvard Business Reviewessay, “Managing Oneself,” that it is critical to realize how you learn. For example, Drucker writes that Churchill, a poor student, “learn[ed] by writing.” Beethoven wrote in his sketchbooks but did not refer to them when he composed; ideas and melodies had been committed to his subconscious. Speaking personally, before I teach something I feel more comfortable when I write out my ideas first. Recognizing your learning method is important because it defines the way you absorb information and process it as knowledge. As children we are force-fed in classrooms (and not always well either); as adults we need to use our intelligence to discover how we master what we learn.

Most often you cannot receive more schooling, especially when dealing with critical issues that are fast-breaking and in which there is no body of formalized instruction. You will need to figure things out for yourself. For most leaders figuring things out is second nature; it is way they have arrived in positions of leadership. But the best leaders are those that are never afraid to ask questions. Rather than a question being a sign of ignorance; it is admission ticket to learning as well as a good way to build rapport and trust with colleagues.

Neither O’Neal nor Collins let their egos interfere with their desire to learn. That is a good lesson for the rest of us. There is little to gain by allowing your ego to supersede your desire to learn. Too often we may feel too embarrassed go back to the classroom, or even to ask questions, for fear of looking stupid. Actually the stupid thing to do is to fake it. The smart thing is to apply your learning skills.

First posted on 5/28/09