The Art & Science of Leading
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Leadership

Posts tagged Leadership
Rock Star Leader
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Companies can sometimes devote endless time and resources to recruiting so-called rock stars who promise to scale the business to higher levels. These leaders can be charming, charismatic and inspiring. They show drive, ambition and persistence in the face of challenges, promise big things and often make them happen. These characteristics and their self-confidence are what appeals to those who hire them.

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Disruptive Leader at Your Doorstep

Yet sometimes, what was thought a rock star leader is a disruptive leader. Their self-confidence can veer into arrogance and prevent them from collaborating with others. They can be dominant and short-tempered, quashing dissent and discouraging team collaboration. Their bold, individualistic behavior becomes disruptive to a team and the culture of a company.

Frequently, the behavior is tolerated because the executive is highly skilled in an area where there may be a limited knowledge pool. In one instance, an executive told me that they had to build an infrastructure around a Chief Medical Officer who was critical to the vision and growth of the company, but severely lacked organizational and team leadership skills.

These leaders tend to focus single-mindedly on one objective and are so determined to reach their goals, they neglect the needs of the team.

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Psychological Safety over Disruption

One of the most important attributes of productive teams is psychological safety. For teams to reach their full potential, members must be able to take risks without feeling insecure or fearing that they will be embarrassed or penalized in some way.

Disruptive leaders can be toxic to a work environment. By squashing conflict or making others feel embarrassed or insecure because of mistakes, they discourage creativity and ingenuity.

When their individualistic behavior is inconsistent with the values touted by a company, employees start to question the values of the company and authenticity of the leaders. In turn, employees lose respect for the leaders who ignore or tolerate disruptive behavior. This leads to dissatisfied and less engaged employees.

Highly Engaged Teams

Research conducted by author and business consultant Marcus Buckingham on highly engaged teams identified the following key characteristics:

Highly engaged and productive team members are:

1. Enthusiastic about the mission of their company.

2. Clearly, understand what is expected of them at work

3. Believe they are surrounded by people at work who share their values

4. Have a chance to use their strengths every day at work

6. Are recognized for excellent work.

7. Have great confidence in their company’s future

8. Are always challenged to grow.

If you are not surrounded by people whom you respect and and do not feel safe to share your ideas or use your strengths, it makes sense that employee engagement and satisfaction declines. It then becomes a clear decision. Do you allow disruptive behavior to continue and watch your culture and employee engagement decay or do you take steps to address the behavior?

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Leading a company can be extremely stressful. It requires being visionary, innovative and fiercely competitive without being overbearing.

Effective leaders, despite this stress, take time to understand and leverage the value others bring to the table and respect the different thoughts and ways people approach challenges. They develop tact, a skill that takes both brains and discipline.

When someone is not operating fast enough or not meeting a goal, leaders with tact hold back from causing pain or making things worse. They have learned the art of being gracious. Instead of taking the path of the disruptive leader, they get curious. They learn what is behind the challenge or struggle. They act with integrity and treat people with respect. They understand the importance of building trust and fostering a culture of collaboration.

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Rock Star Leadership Habits

Treating people with respect, acting with integrity…these are behaviors that require daily practice before becoming habits. They are behaviors disruptive leaders can learn when open to change and receptive to expanding their leadership skills.

Rock star leaders inspire employees and others because they are effective at managing the daily battle of being consistent, rational, tactful, and committed. They demonstrate a daily conviction to doing what is right and become energized by the results.

Next time you find a disruptive leader at your doorstep, take action by sharing the behaviors that are not consistent with your values; tactfully lay out the options for change, and demonstrate your convictions by ensuring toxic behavior doesn’t degrade the fabric of your organization.

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Allexe Law is an executive coach and founder of ArtScience Group, a business consulting practice providing executive coaching, organizational and leadership development and executive peer exchanges.

Allexe LawLeadership
Having What It Takes - To Lead at Scale
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You may have heard the expression, companies scale but people don’t.  Well, there is some truth to that saying.  The reason is that to be successful at growing a company, you need to be a strategist. 

Founding executives of early stage companies often start off as doers.  They have a specific skill or expertise in areas such as product development, sales, technology or finance but may lack the business savvy to help scale a company. 

Sometimes the sense of camaraderie amongst the original team members hinders the ability to make the difficult personnel decisions necessary to effectively and efficiently grow a company. 

Beyond Managing Your Business Area

As an executive in a growth company, you need to keep the company as a whole in mind. For example, in addition to understanding and updating the current technology offering of a company, a company’s technology lead must be well versed in business strategy:  staying current with new technologies; understanding how they apply to business strategy across geographies and sectors; determining if it can generate a competitive advantage; making complex decisions based on return on investment, and justifying major technology expenditures. They must have knowledge and experience with analytics, organizational design, and infrastructure.

The same holds true for the lead finance role in a company. As a company scales, this role becomes more than a steward of finances and manager of cost reductions.  The role assumes more strategic responsibilities, looking at the business with a value creation lens. They become a partner with the CEO in finding new opportunities, working with capital markets, assessing strategic financial risks and rewards, and managing external stakeholders.  They will need broader experience including operations and information technologies and be a contributor to the company’s competitive advantage.   

Leadership Skills

You can’t be the same leader at scale as when your company was smaller. The skills needed at the expansion stage are quite different.   As an executive team member, you should have more of a business orientation versus a functional orientation.   You’re not expected to be strong and decisive, to instinctively know the right answer to every question.  Your expected to have business acumen and leadership skills; to be a good communicator, collaborator, strategic thinker, multi-tasker, crisis manager, and change catalyst.

Additionally, you must hone the ability to ask good questions, listen and make connections.  Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of MIT Leadership Centre and author of “Questions are the Answer” states,  “When any leader is operating on the edge of uncertainty or the edge of the unknown, questions really are the answer” as questions are the precursor to creating completely new answers, new solutions.

Leveraging Questions

Hal Gregerson interviewed 200 creative and successful business leaders for his book and all of the leaders were exceptional at landing on their feet and asking the questions that other people weren’t asking.  He notes that “The biggest questions we ask often demand the biggest level of uncertainty, and fear, and anxiety that we can imagine”

Peter Drucker, known as the father of management thinking, would jump-start strategic thinking by asking “What changes have recently happened that don’t fit ‘what everyone knows’?”

To succeed in growing and scaling companies, leaders must adapt their approaches, grow their skills, and elevate their role as a strategist.    They need to become more of a leader than a doer.

 ArtScience Group is a boutique consulting company that provides executive coaching, executive peer exchanges, and team facilitation.  Learn more at ArtScience Group.

 

 

 

Breakthrough Strategy and Strategic Leaders
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The word strategic is an ambiguous term that often has different meanings to different people, yet frequently referenced as a skill desired in leaders.  When I hear an executive say that they or a team member needs to be more strategic, I ask what they mean and the responses can be quite varied.  Saying you want someone to be less tactical and to think big picture, does not go far enough in providing a clear understanding of the skill set being sought.

Great strategy is usually enabled when there is a clear organizational mission and vision that can guide innovative thinking.  A company that states their vision as “Being the Best” at something does not necessarily provide a clear path to innovative approaches, but vision statements such as “To build the Web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution” or “To seamlessly connect riders to drivers through our apps” are better defined and help differentiate a company from the competition.

Many companies run on autopilot when it comes to strategy. They follow a planning process and turn to the same people for ideas or new approaches. Other companies have the luxury of having advisors from different backgrounds that provide fresh perspective.  Frequently, leaders become so busy running their companies or dealing with day-to-day operations that they have little time to think creatively or plan towards the future.

Setting aside time to think strategically is a start, but great ideas take time to germinate.   

Approach to Strategy

Organizations can be proactive or reactive when it comes to strategy. In the reactive mode, innovation is triggered by an event such as loss of major client or market share. When an organization is proactive and intentional about strategy, they often have a more formal approach to innovation where they dedicate people, time and resources.

Strategy can involve incremental innovation where small improvements are made to your company’s existing products, services or processes to improve efficiency or experience or it can involve disruptive innovation. 

Transforming your business model and the way you define or do business would be disruptive innovation.  It could be creating and monetizing new value propositions that attract a new population of customers or providing complete solutions instead of one product or service.

Breakthrough Strategy

Breakthrough strategy involves being able to take a broad, long-range approach to problem-solving or decision-making and foresee opportunities that lead to a competitive sustainable advantage, that create value.  In this case, strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value, whether it is harnessing a new technology, a new business model, or a niche strategy. It involves being able to anticipate and adapt to a changing environment, to seize tomorrow’s opportunities today, to unlock value and help the business be more competitive.

Designing Strategy

Designing a strategy that creates competitive advantages is not always easy. Whether it is delivering products and services in a new way or developing a niche market, innovative strategy takes time.

Leaders who are seeking breakthrough thinking often have operating models within their organizations that encourage creative solution design such as design thinking, open innovation and idea incubation.  They question the status quo of their company and industry and get to the root of assumptions and beliefs about value creation.

Often game-changing information comes from looking for insights at the periphery of your industry or being exposed to different ideas and perspectives from outside your industry. Executive exchanges where you have an opportunity to meet with executives from different industries with different expertise can provide access to knowledge from a broad range of sources and inspiration where you least expect it.

Another approach for designing breakthrough strategy is to reframe beliefs or widely shared notions about customer preferences, the role of technology, regulation, cost drivers, differentiators, and competitors by exploring what supports these beliefs. 

Key to realizing breakthrough strategy is establishing an innovative culture, having the right talent, having the ability to take an innovation to market quickly and in a scalable way, finding the right partners with whom to collaborate, and identifying the right metrics for measuring progress.

Leadership Skills

Strategic leaders think ahead, while also taking into account lessons from the past.  They move fluidly between divergent and convergent thinking, understanding interdependencies between business activities while also being able to look at the organization and industry holistically and objectively.  They have both the visionary thinking to explore long-term possibilities and the pragmatic thinking that understands on the ground operations.

Armed with industry foresight, customer insights, an analysis of operational systems and interdependencies, strategic leaders synthesize information from many sources before developing a viewpoint.  They are able to elevate their thinking and apply judgment during analysis about how components fit together and with the bigger picture.

Delivering Strategy

Being strategic goes beyond designing strategy.  You also have to deliver it. To effectively deliver it, you need a communication plan that gains the support and influence of others.  Such a plan begins with understanding people’s concerns and risk tolerance.

When sharing information, strategic leaders foster open dialogue, build trust, and engage key stakeholders. They craft storylines that clearly articulate findings, insights and recommendations and communicate key trends across industries, segments and competitors. Strategy discussions should be well defined, clearly articulate the business choices, and lay-out talent and resource requirements.  Leaders also need to bring tough issues to the surface and take a stand when views diverge, even when information is incomplete.

Driving large-scale change is a balancing act that involves deciding how much energy and resources need to be spent between business-as-usual and executing on strategic objectives.  Certain areas of the business may be strained.  Identifying those challenge areas quickly and concentrating efforts on providing guidance where necessary will increase workforce alignment.  Additionally, regularly communicating the overarching objectives of large-scale change and how exactly each person’s goals contribute to the strategic objectives are tracked and reported, will create greater ownership of the change and lead to successful execution.

Thoughts?   Feel free to share your comments with me at Allexe.Law@ArtScienceGroup.com

 

What is Authentic Leadership?
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I was recently asked what the term authentic leadership meant and I realized that there is no short answer to this question. It means being true to your self, but which self? As human beings we are multi-faceted. We may act and respond in our personal lives differently than in our work lives. Can we be more tempered at work when something is not going right than at home, absolutely!

Depending on different situations we can be confident or unsure; social or anti-social; assertive and demanding or modest and collaborative. What about the monitoring of our words and behavior? Is it authentic if we carefully monitor what we do and say to others? These contradictory facets of our selves make it difficult to determine how to be our authentic selves, yet these aspects are not mutually exclusive. We ebb and flow through each and at times there is a synergy that feels like our authentic selves. When we put on a leadership persona that disconnects with our true self, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to develop honest relationships with others and to become an authentic leader.

So how do we reconcile the different ways we act and respond to become an authentic leader? Here are 6 steps you can take to develop authentic leadership:

Be Human

Someone once said that the longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart. First and foremost we are all human beings and speaking to colleagues and employees as human beings is the first step in building a leader’s legitimacy. It takes empathy to create a caring culture. Authentic leaders who are in tune with their emotions and share their feelings when expressing their thoughts create an environment that promotes openness which is critical to successful outcomes. Show your vulnerability.

Unlock Your Perception of Yourself

Having a rigid sense of self can stagnate your growth and prevent you from trying new approaches. There is an internal conflict leaders experience when navigating their role as an executive. Experimenting with new approaches can make them feel like they are imposters. If new approaches and change are resisted because they do not align with one’s image of self, you become the antithesis of an authentic leader. Feeling uncomfortable when trying something new is normal. It is not being a fake. Authentic leaders ask for help, knowing that they can’t be all things to everyone. They promote openness and develop trust through honest relationships.

Clear Values

Leaders who have a clear understanding of their values and who are consistent at communicating and upholding those values are respected because they act in accordance with those values. They are seen as working in the best interest of their customers, employees, and company.   As soon as you compromise on your values, even a little bit, the meaning is lost and a leaders authenticity is lost. Holding strong to your values helps team performance as well as strengthens the confidence others have in you as a leader.

Sense of Purpose

Leaders who are focused and passionate about their work and what they are trying to achieve attract followers. In having a clear vision with a strong understanding of their leadership purpose, they can align people around a common cause. When there is purpose, people feel motivated, respected, and connected and more likely to trust each other. When there is trust, people are more inclined to collaborate and experiment—to open themselves up to others and to novel approaches. Authentic leaders are also sensitive to the impact of their words and actions on others, and carefully select their words to engage others to create positive results.

Connect with People

Authentic leaders build relationships with others. They are willing to share their experiences and listen to others’ experiences, occasionally interweaving relevant stories of their personal life. They care about their interactions with others and improving their relationships. They are open to sharing changes occurring at work, their thought process behind them, and to listening respectfully to the ideas of others. In turn, colleagues return the respect and are more committed to decisions and actions.

Engage in Reflection

Taking time to reflect on what is important to you and seeking out real-time, candid feedback from colleagues, friends, and others on how you are coming across demonstrates self-awareness and a desire for growth and development. Leaders who openly listen to critique from others and seek to understand their flaws are seen as caring about their work, their colleagues, and the environment they are creating. They are viewed as being genuine.

 

Life is fluid, and as a leader, you are balancing many responsibilities. You are speaking to multiple audiences (e.g. colleagues, employees, board members, and investors) and adjusting your communication to motivate positive change. Self-regulating one’s words and actions to achieve better outcomes is expected of leaders. It does not mean you are disingenuous or a fake. Our feelings and actions may change in any given situation depending on circumstances, but honesty along with thoughtfulness and a touch of humility goes a long way in helping you become an authentic leader.