5 Leadership Traits for High Performance

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This is a guest post by Eric Lowitt. Eric is the author of The Collaboration Economy and an advisor to entrepreneurial CEOs worldwide. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Want to Lead Your Company to High Performance? Change How You Lead.

Growing up in the 1980s, I viewed Jack Welch as a model of the ideal CEO.  Tough minded, wildly successful, and more than a touch human, Welch provided inspiration for millions looking to go from rags to riches.  While Jack Welch the man deserves to be revered, his most often cited management mantras require a second look.  Here’s why and what your company should do instead.

Be number one or number two in your market, or exit the business.

Fire the employees in the bottom ten percent of performance every year.

The CEO mandate is to maximize shareholder value.

These three management principles were the core of GE’s management system two decades ago.  A massive number of books were written on GE management practices; hundreds of thousands of business students studied to emulate Welch and his business actions.

The opportunity to connect around a shared purpose is needed more than ever.

Times have changed.  For companies to access resources – environmental and human – they need to provide significant value to the local communities from where these resources come. As a result, companies are no longer able to control their corporate destinies.  Now they must work with these local communities and other stakeholders to access the resources they need to prosper in perpetuity.

So what are the leadership traits these companies’ executives – and any entrepreneur interested in growing her company – need to embrace to outperform their competition today, tomorrow, and in the coming decades?

  1. Seeing your leadership position as a privilege, not a right
  2. Serving as activist-in-chief for your constituents
  3. Operating in a time frame longer than tenure
  4. Believing in and relying on partnerships
  5. Feeding constructive discontent

Seeing your leadership position as a privilege, not a right

Twenty-first-century CEOs are keenly aware that their role comes with great responsibility. Rather than view their remit as “maximize shareholder value,” they realize that it is to serve their stakeholders’ best interests.  As John Replogle, CEO of consumer goods company Seventh Generation explained,

The difference [between CEOs operating with twentieth- versus twenty-first-century mind-sets] starts with how we view our position. Understanding how you view your position as CEO informs where you put your emphasis. I approach my role as CEO as one of privilege, responsibility, and stewardship.

While some CEOs emphasize the creation of shareholder value, my view leads me to emphasize actions and investments that further Seventh Generation’s mission.

Serving as activist-in-chief for your constituents

Nilofer Merchant may not have invented this idea, but she deserves immense credit for putting it into action and for sharing it widely.  Why not make your next meeting a moving one?  If possible, why not have it outside?

“You’ll be surprised how fresh air drives fresh thinking.”

 

Better Communication, Not Just More Communication

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  • Want better communication?  Stop talking.
  • Think technology will help?  Expect less from technology and more from people.
  • Want to go forward?  Start by backing up.
  • Think being yourself is the answer?  Think again—it’s an excuse for Neanderthal behavior.
  • Ever been told that asking questions helps?  Questions actually make many conversations worse.
  • Want to meet aggression with force?  Bring a stick to a knife fight instead.

Geoffrey Tumlin makes all of these counterintuitive suggestions—and more—in his new book Stop Talking, Start Communicating. Suggestions like this pull me in and force my brain into arguments with my assumptions. Studying great communicators is something I have done my whole life because I’m always interested in better ways to connect, to understand, and to listen. Geoffrey’s book doesn’t disappoint. It’s filled with practical advice to improve our communication in the digital age.

Geoffrey Tumlin is a communication expert and an organizational consultant. He’s the founder and CEO of Mouthpeace Consulting, a communication consulting firm, and the president of On-Demand Leadership, an organizational development company. He’s a West Point graduate who also holds a PhD in communication from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Geoff, your book is packed with advice from beginning to end. As you point out, good communication = good relationships = good life, so improving our communication helps us in all aspects of our lives. How has communication in the digital age challenged us and changed the game?

The fastest way to improve your communication is to stop talking. –Geoffrey Tumlin

The digital communication revolution of the last two decades has given us more ways than ever to connect with each other. The paradox is that these new capabilities have combined with our innate love of communicating and have led to hypercommunication: our inboxes overflow, our phones incessantly vibrate with text messages, and it’s difficult to keep up with the ceaseless conversations on social media. To cope with our increased communication loads, we’re sending more messages than ever, but we’re spending less time on each message. Our hypercommunicating environment doesn’t lead to productive and meaningful connections; it leads to rushed, distracted, and error-prone interactions. The ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time should have ushered in the golden age of communication. Unfortunately, it has all too often scattered our attention, strained our relationships, and degraded our interactions. Our challenge is to turn that around so that the most powerful communication devices in human history don’t come between us; they bring us closer together instead.

Let’s focus on the three guiding habits you say are critical in the digital age. Tell us more about each one of these habits and how to put them into practice.

It’s important to remember that these are guiding habits, not rigid orders. If you adopt these three behaviors, and if you incorporate them into your interactions, your communication will steadily improve. These three guiding habits will be like a tide that rises to lift all of your relationships.

Listen like every sentence matters; talk like every word counts. –Geoffrey Tumlin

1. Listen like every sentence matters.

Taking Your Team to the Top

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As a leader, how do you spot talent?

How do you take talented individuals and turn them into a winning team?

How do you create a winning culture?

Is it possible to use adversity to your advantage? 

What team is the greatest of all time?

I asked Ted Sundquist all of these questions and more.

Ted Sundquist played fullback at the U.S. Air Force Academy, winning the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1983 Independence Bowl.  He later served as a flight commander in Germany before returning to the Academy and coaching.  In 1993, the Denver Broncos hired Ted as a talent scout.  Ted was named General Manager of the Broncos in 2002.  Today, Ted is an analyst for the NFL network, a radio personality, a commentator and a blogger.  This year, he added author to that list with the publication of Taking Your Team to the Top.

Identifying Talent

Ted, you’re known for grabbing talent others passed over.  How were you able to see potential where others saw problems?

I think first and foremost you have to identify the talent pool that you’re dealing with.  Understand where the best and the brightest come from that can contribute to your industry.  In professional football, that’s dealing with the entering college football player pool, as well as players already in the NFL, and those available on the street (free agents).

Leading a team in any capacity is not a right but rather a privilege. -Ted Sundquist

Then you have to have a VERY good understanding of what traits are necessary in these individuals in order to execute the plans & procedures required to pursue your mission.  One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to football, and I’m sure that’s the case in other arenas as well.  We had prioritized our requirements prior to searching for those individuals to fill our positions of need.

You must be as detailed with the back end of your prospect list as you are with the top candidates. Look for those individuals that fulfill your priorities in the Critical Factors, those traits which run “vertical” through the organization and are analogous for every person on the team, regardless of position.  Know which factors are most important and which you can “live with.”  Then have a thorough breakdown of the Position Specifics, those skills necessary to fulfill a specific task required of the candidate.

Ensure that the positions are evaluated from various angles within the organization and not from a single viewpoint.  This eliminates personal bias and provides for a crosscheck of opinions.  Mistakes made on the front end of the selection process are difficult to correct once the player is on your team.

Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road. Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road.

If you take the time to do your homework, finding the pool of talent, identifying what’s most important to your team to accomplish the mission (Critical Factors [vertical traits] & Position Specifics [horizontal traits]), and then implementing an evaluation system from multiple angles & crosschecks . . . your chances of making mistakes are minimized and you’re more apt to find the best and the brightest talent to execute your plans towards goal achievement.

“The culture should reflect the mission.” Ted Sundquist

Creating A Team Mission Statement

The Power of Executive Candor

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Recently, I spoke with L. J. Rittenhouse, president of Rittenhouse Rankings Inc., a strategic investor relations and coaching company. When I heard about her recent book Investing Between the Lines: How to Make Smarter Decisions by Decoding CEO Communications, I was intrigued by this idea that decoding executive communications can help me pick better investments.

After reading this book I realized that her research and findings go beyond investing.  Rittenhouse’s research introduces new, important ideas about strategy, culture, communications, values, and trustworthy leadership.  Not long ago, I asked L.J. about how philosophy and research are supported by her work with CEOs and investors.

The Power of Words and Corporate Culture

You have said frequently that, “Words matter as much as numbers in determining the investment potential.”  That’s not something I typically hear on Wall Street.

Candor is the domain of leaders. -LJ Rittenhouse

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of pundits boldly predict the future by looking at past historical trends.  How many of these predictions came true?  Not many.  In fact, Warren Buffett has observed that if the future resembled the past, then the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest people would include a number of librarians.

COVER - Investing Between the Lines

My research shows that while no one can predict the future, we can create the future through our communications.  We do this when we choose words that inspire others to imagine new opportunities – and let go of the status quo.  This is a critical competency in today’s world.  Standing still is not a viable option.

One of the great delusions in business is the idea that words don’t matter.  They do. When my clients choose candor over obfuscation, they build reservoirs of trust.  In fact, the words a CEO chooses will reveal the trustworthiness of the corporate accounting.  This becomes obvious when you understand how financial statements are created.

It starts with company employees who decide how much cash to recognize during a reporting period, and when and where to report it as earnings. These judgments may be conservative, like ones you’d expect at a Berkshire Hathaway company, or they may be aggressive, like Enron’s accounting.

CEOs who rely on jargon, clichés, and confusing statements to explain their strategies will weaken trust and create cultures of fear.  Employees will be discouraged from speaking truth to power. Rather than attend to the needs of customers, colleagues, owners and other stakeholders, they will look out for themselves. This increases enterprise risk and destabilizes earnings.

We create the future when we choose words that empower and energize others. -LJ Rittenhouse

On the other hand, CEOs who adopt a candor standard and choose authentic, relevant words will create high performance cultures.  Striving to meet the needs of the company’s stakeholders, these CEOs and employees will execute clearly defined strategies.

Candor as a Competitive Advantage

Let’s go back to Warren Buffett. He’s a master communicator. Many people who don’t even invest in his company read his shareholder letters.  Since you’ve studied them at a level most don’t, tell us what characteristics make them exemplary.

Buffett’s letters stand out because: 1) he writes them himself and imagines an audience; 2) they reveal his investor partnership philosophy; and 3) he’s never afraid to say, “I was wrong.”