Leaders as Activists

Activism is a decision to make positive change, as is leadership.

“If you get to the essence of what an activist is, you say this is somebody who looks at the situation around the world and thinks about that situation. There’s something wrong, there’s something that needs changing,” says Lucy Parker, co-author of The Activist Leader: A New Mindset for Doing Business. “An activist leader doesn’t think ‘I’m the whole answer to this question,’ but they think this is mine to do and I need to mobilize others and mobilize resources, mobilize people, mobilize activity to tackle that challenge.”

Co-author Jon Miller concurs. As he told me in an interview, “Lucy and I have been working together for 12 years now working with businesses on some of their toughest societal questions, whether that’s climate change or biodiversity or plastics in the ocean or privacy and disinformation or human rights in the supply chain.” Miller adds, “There are people who have this different way of thinking about how their business can relate to those issues. And we call that way of thinking. The activist mindset.”

Corporate engagement

There is a business case for corporate engagement on activist issues. Apple recently began using recycled aluminum in its product line, thereby reducing the amount of scrap aluminum. Walmart teamed with over 200 specialists in biodiversity to help farmers grow crops more sustainably and with greater diversity. 

“I mean, the operating environment for business is changing,” says Jon Miller. “The set of risks that business needs to think about is changing. That will create opportunities too.” Leaders with the activist mindset “are thinking about those issues — and the environment [in which] they’re operating –in  a different way.”  

Miller and Parker like to say to their clients, “Show us the business case for not acting given state that the world is in, given the severity of the challenges that the world is facing and the pivotal role that business is playing. The world is looking to businesses to play a part in these issues. The sustainable profitability of business depends upon them doing so.”

The challenge for companies is to operate within a sphere where they can have the most influence. For example, a pharmaceutical company can tackle healthcare disparities, an energy company can focus on climate change, and a retailer may choose to address community issues. What businesses should avoid is dabbling. That is, selecting an issue outside their areas of experience or choosing too many problems that dilute attention and resources.

Expect challenges

Change can come even when it’s hard. “You’ll often say this is what leadership is, this is not business as usual, this is not management speak,” says Lucy Miller. “This is we need to carve new ways of doing things.” Leadership is rooted in “preparedness to walk into a new way of doing things.” And when that occurs, says Parker, “you can see people grow” into a definition of the kind of leadership they want to deliver. Such leadership activism “is inspiring to work in because people have to find it in themselves to have that conviction.”

Becoming involved as an activist business leader requires determination rooted in resilience. Leaders must decide that their businesses need to be part of the solution. “Any leader at any level of a business will always run up against the next barrier, fall over at the next hurdle. The whole thing derails again and again,” says Jon Miller. “I think the real grace is having that clarity of vision, that clarity of purpose” to mobilize for the common good.

Inspiring words that, when acted upon, change companies, society, and our planet for the better.

Are You Coachable?

Executive coaching is the process of self-discovery. We all can benefit from learning more about ourselves and exploring ways to improve ourselves. An executive coach — one hired from the outside — can be a resource that helps others see themselves more clearly. Additionally, through the process of gaining feedback from colleagues, executives can learn how colleagues see them.

But the question arises: How do I prepare myself to be coached? A new book, Becoming Coachable, by a trio of executive coaches, Jacquelyn Lane, Scott Osman, and Marshall Goldsmith, can provide insight. Think of it this way. If you want to get in shape, you want to ensure that you have the mindset to put yourself through the rigor of physical exercise. Half-measures do not work. It’s the same with coaching.

Getting ready to engage

Executive coaching is not for everyone, but its benefits are plentiful when you prepare to address the obstacles you face and the willingness to address them intentionally. I recently conducted an interview on LinkedIn Live with Jacquelyn and Scott, both of whom lead the 100 Coaches Agency, Jacquelyn as President and Scott as CEO. [Disclaimer: I am a member of 100 Coaches.]

“Since leadership is all about relationships and relationships are complex,” says Jacquelyn, “coaching is really something that helps cut through some of that complexity to allow you to collect feedback from key stakeholders, from all the people that work around with and for you. And that helps you become more self-aware, it helps you understand your blind spots and how to be in better relationship with all those people.” Essentially, coaching can help “transform not only a person’s leadership but also life as a whole.”

Relationships are better understood – and ideally improved – when we know our effect on others. That is why feedback is so critical. “One of the great things about feedback,” says Scott, “if you can change your perspective on what feedback really is and not hear it as criticism, but hear it as the gift that it really is.” Listening to feedback opens the door to what you need to change. That perception “makes feedback a lot easier to handle. It still can be painful, but I think with the perspective of if I know about it, I can change.”

The role of trust

Leadership crumbles when trust erodes. “Trust can be improved by engaging in the coaching process,” says Jacquelyn. “Trust is really built by being consistent in our words and our actions in living our values and having integrity, making sure we follow through on our commitments. And the great news is that a coach is someone who can help you do all of those things better [as well as] help identify some of those places where you may be falling short.”

Trust shows up in how you act as well as how you engage with others. Dr. Jim Kim, a physician and former President of the World Bank, has said that as leaders, “you don’t own your own face.” As Scott says, “Your face, your expressions, your emotions, your attitudes are almost property of the company because they do, they impact so many people.” It sounds harsh, but as Scott explains, leaders are playing a role, one who aspires to help the organization achieve its goals. Realizing it permits a disassociation from one’s ego. “By saying I don’t own my face, it allows me to disconnect from that and recognize that my expressions don’t have to be an expression of me. They need to be an expression of who I am as a leader. And that [notion] is very transformational.”

Coaching as an enabler

Scott likens an excellent coach to the solvent WD-40, “a little bit of grease to help them work through something that they, maybe if they pushed hard enough, they could work through on their own.” The benefit of working with a coach is that it avoids “grinding too many other people’s gears.” Coaching leads to insights that the leader may not have thought possible. Often, such changes occur rapidly within a matter of months. “And once you open up the sense of what’s possible, you can grow into it.”

All of us need an outside voice, or voices, to help us see ourselves more clearly and more honestly. Coaching can be that process of self-discovery that opens the door to greater possibilities for your organization, colleagues, and yourself.

Note: To watch the full LinkedIn Live interview with Jacquelyn Lane and Scott Osman, click here.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 11.07.2023

The Many Roles of Mentorship

So you have been asked – or told – to be a mentor. Pat yourself on the back. It is an honor to serve as a mentor. Now, you need to understand what mentoring is and is not. Mentoring is an invitation to provide development opportunities to someone younger than yourself, often but not always. Mentorships require a commitment of time as well as investment in others. As such, it is essential to understand your role.

So you have been asked – or told – to be a mentor. Pat yourself on the back. It is an honor to serve as a mentor. Now, you need to understand what mentoring is and is not. Mentoring is an invitation to provide developmental insights to someone younger than yourself, often but not always. Mentorships require a commitment of time as well as investment in others. As such, it is essential to understand your role.

A new book, The Ultimate Guide to Great Mentorship, by Scott Jeffrey Miller, a long-time executive with Franklin Covey company and now an independent entrepreneur, is a good starting point. As Miller writes in the prologue, this book is for mentors and focuses on responsibilities and roles – 13. [Disclosure: Miller is co-owner of the Gray + Miller talent agency, including a speaker’s bureau where I am listed.]

Multiple roles of mentorship

The roles of a mentor range from validation to challenging to navigating with many types in between. The good thing is that one or more roles can be employed during a mentorship or even a mentoring call.

“Number one is the revealer and number 13 is the closer. Everything else in between can happen in any style, go anywhere, start everywhere,” Miller told me in an interview for LinkedIn Live. The mentor serves as one who can help the mentee uncover their true selves. Asking the right questions is a good starting point. “What is it that the mentee your mentee is trying to accomplish? What are they trying to get done? Do they want to become a podiatrist? Do they want to go to law school? Do they want to become a vice president? Do they want to become a cupcake maker? What’s their plan? Your job is to help them uncover and discern your job is to uncover so that they can discover.”

Building on self-awareness

Choosing your mentorship role depends on your style and how you approach others. “It’s super important for the mentor to understand what it’s like to be mentored by them, to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of feedback and instruction,” says Miller.

Fundamental to good mentorship is setting boundaries. The mentor should state what they can and won’t do; that is, it can help them learn but won’t help them find a new job, at least at the beginning. It is essential to build trust first. “There’s a difference between mentorship and coaching, mentorship and sponsorship and allyship,” says Miller. “I don’t think they’re the same. They can become the same when the mentee behaves their way into a reputation of being trusted and delivering on commitments.” Furthermore, by setting boundaries, the mentor is “preventing the mentee from being embarrassed or placing [the mentor] in an awkward position where you need to say no.”

Mentors serve as validators, too. At the same time, there are limits to validation, “This role that can be life-changing for someone where you are genuinely, authentically, judiciously validating your mentee’s genius. You slow down, take a pause, you change your voice inflection and your tone.” The conviction in your voice emphasizes the importance you place on your mentee’s plans. “Use it with great caution, and you have the chance to name someone’s genius in them that they never knew existed.”

A favorite role for mentors can be that of the navigator, who is just a step ahead of the mentee because they are learning along with the mentee. “You can ask smart, open-ended questions that will allow your mentee to avoid the potholes that you see right in front of you.” Your sense of curiosity and “a passion to help your mentee, to help them navigate the process.”

Reciprocity is critical

Mentorship is based upon reciprocity. The mentor makes themselves available to help while the mentee makes themselves available to be responsible with the time granted and the knowledge shared with them. Mentors should not aspire to control, nor should mentees feel obliged to follow through on advice given. Both need autonomy to determine the path that benefits them both.

“You don’t have to have all the answers,” says Miller, “you just have to have good questions.” These questions will open doors to a greater understanding of self and growth opportunities.

Note: Here is a link to my entire LinkedIn Live interview with Scott Jeffrey Miller.

First posted on Forbes.com 9.00.2023

Sheila Ford Hamp: The Responsibility of Ownership

Sheila Ford Hamp, principal owner of the Detroit Lions, spoke to Dave Brickett of the Detroit Free Press in October 2021 in the wake of an event honoring Lions Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, where the fans loudly vented their frustrations with ownership. “Obviously, no one likes to be booed, but I totally understand it… And I’m as frustrated as the fans are and I appreciate their sentiment and hopefully what we’re trying to do here will turn to cheers one day.”

Hamp continued, reflecting her feelings about long-suffering and loyal Lions fans. “We do have fabulous fans as we all know and they’ve stuck with us forever through thick and thin, and a lot of thin. It’s been hard, so I agree. And this year (2021), it’s a rebuild, it’s painful. We knew it was going to be hard, but it’s hard to lose. No one likes to lose. I hate to lose, but we are working on things and I think we’ve got a good path.”

Tell the truth

Two years later, Hamp’s words echo the enthusiasm that Lions fans, just beginning their 66th year without a championship, are feeling now. The Lions started their season against the defending Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. The game marked the official season’s kickoff, indicating that not only fans believe the Honolulu Blue and Silver, but league officials do, too.

And the Lions delivered on the hype, downing the Chiefs 21-20. The game was a see-saw affair, but it is evident as it has been for the past couple of years, this team has no quit. It reflects the hard-nosed approach that head coach Dan Campbell brings to the team. As a former player – and one-time Lion – Campbell understands how to bring out the best in his players and coaches. As general manager, Brad Holmes is in his first job as GM, but he has drafted good players and positioned the team for future success.

How Hamp leads

Hamp, however, has yet to receive her due. Sheila played varsity tennis for Yale, just like her father, William Clay Ford, the long-time owner of the Lions, who passed away in 2014. According to The Athletic, Sheila wanted to work for the NFL when she graduated in 1973, but was denied the opportunity due to her gender.

Hamp is not one to shy from the heat. “I think that would be a stupid thing to do is to hide because I really don’t feel like I need to hide,” she said. “It’s part of what I’m trying to change around here, which is the open, communicative culture and I’m part of it.” And the culture is changing.

After the Lions closed out last season with a win at Lambeau Field over the hated Green Bay Packers, Dan Campbell gave Hamp a big hug and shouted for all to her in the locker room. “I’m just telling you, I’m just freakin’ telling you — I’ve been around as a player and a coach in this league. We’ve got the best owner. Everything you could possibly need, every resource — she thinks about you guys all the time, man, she knows everything about you; she’s rock solid and as good as they come.”

We will know more about the team as the season unfolds, but one thing is sure: Sheila Ford Hamp is playing the proper role – guiding, supporting, leading. “She’s competitive,” added Campbell. “And, boy, she loves to win.” And it will take that kind of competitive drive to push the Lions forward this season and for seasons to come.

First posted on Forbes.com 9.14.2023