Leadership Vertigo: How the Best Leaders Go Off Course

falling and screaming businessman in formal wear over white back

What To Do When You Are Off Course

Do you know a leader who insists everything is fine when everyone else knows trouble is ahead?

Have you watched someone so oblivious to signs and signals that employees are not engaged?

How do leaders accurately assess and view how they are perceived in an organization?

 

My friend Tanveer Naseer recently co-authored Leadership Vertigo: Why Even the Best Leaders Go Off Course and How They Can Get Back On Track.  It’s a thoughtful read designed to help leaders accurately diagnose and solve problems with culture and leadership.  I recently spoke with Tanveer about his book. Tanveer leads his own leadership consulting company and is an award-winning leadership blogger.

 

False Signals and Leadership Danger Ahead

What is leadership vertigo?

Let me first start off by explaining what vertigo is. For most of us, the word vertigo brings to mind the famous scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film where we see the lead character looking down a staircase and seeing the floor below suddenly pushing off into the distance.

In reality, vertigo refers to a perceptual phenomenon where our brain sends us false signals about our motion, which we believe to be true. The best known example of this is the crash of John F. Kennedy’s Jr.’s plane in the Atlantic Ocean, where his brain was convincing him that he was flying his plane level, even though the gauges on his instrument panel were telling him that he was in fact heading on a downward angle towards the ocean surface.

 

“Leadership vertigo is the gap between how we view our leadership and how others experience it.” –Tanveer Naseer

 

So with this understanding of what vertigo is, leadership vertigo basically refers to the gap between how we view our leadership and how those we lead experience it. It refers to those moments where we’re convinced our actions and words are creating the right conditions for our employees to succeed, and yet that’s not what our employees are getting from us.

This is exactly what we see in all the studies of the past few years that show that despite the growing knowledge base on how to engage and empower our employees, most leaders are still not connecting their message with their employees. It’s because they’re convinced that they are being the kind of leader their organization needs, despite all the evidence around them pointing out the contrary.

 

4 Key Leadership Principles

Briefly walk us through the 4 Leadership Principles of Leadership Vertigo.

1. Build community.

The first Leadership Principle, “Build Community,” refers to recognizing that in order for us to better understand the realities our employees face, we have to consistently demonstrate our respect for them as individuals; that they’re not simply there to do a job, but they’re there to help us collectively succeed because they see and understand the value of our shared purpose. And we can engender this feeling by recognizing the value of their contributions to that shared purpose, as well as promoting a culture of shared accountability to encourage equal and fair participation.

 

Leadership tip: Respect employees as individuals who contribute to a shared purpose.

 

2. Develop competence.

Leadership Vertigo Book CoverThe second Leadership Principle, “Develop Competence” refers to how we show up for those daily interactions with those we lead. Are we going into those meetings and those conversations with a genuine interest to learn and understand what our employees have to say? Research has shown that emotions are very contagious and that our brains are hard-wired to pick up the non-verbal cues we give off before we even say a word.

So the minute you walk into that meeting room, your team members have already read those non-verbal cues you’re giving off, and everything you say and do is going to be filtered through that initial perception they got about your emotional state.

3. Earn credibility.

The third Leadership Principle, “Earn Credibility,” looks at something that we’re seeing more and more in discussions about leadership today. Specifically, how do we go about increasing our awareness, both of our own mental state as well as the realities of those around us? What’s critical to this principle is being open with our employees that we don’t have all the answers because only then can we free ourselves to be genuine about what it is we’re after, what it is we need, and what we can give them to be successful in their efforts.

4. Cultivate compassion. 

Power Your Creative Thinking With the 4 Lenses of Innovation

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

  • Do you want to create a culture of innovation in your business?
  • Do you want to tap into your inner creative voice?
  • Do you want to power your creative thinking?

Power Your Creative Thinking

I love reading about the world’s greatest innovators. Whether it’s an innovative individual or a company, I am fascinated with the stories behind history’s greatest breakthroughs and inventions. Recently, a terrific new book on the subject crossed my desk and captured my attention. After reading it, I had the opportunity to converse with the author. The insights in this book can help any company improve its innovative culture and any individual become more creative.

That author, speaker, and consultant is Rowan Gibson. Rowan is one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation. He is the internationally bestselling author of three books on business strategy and innovation – Rethinking The Future, Innovation to the Core, and his latest, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.

 

4 LENSES OF INNOVATION

Challenging Orthodoxies

You share four lenses or perspectives on innovation. The first is challenging orthodoxies. There are many examples of people who stand up and say there is a better way. Perhaps that child with a rebellious streak may have a great future?

Almost by definition, innovators tend to be contrarians and nonconformists. As Steve Jobs put it, they “think different.”

 

“Almost by definition, innovators tend to be contrarians and nonconformists.” –Rowan Gibson

 

I just saw the movie “The Imitation Game” about the work of Alan Turing during the Second World War. This guy was obviously a genius, and a pioneer in the field of digital computing. He almost single-handedly built a machine that broke the German Enigma code, which undoubtedly helped the allies win the war. But Turing had no regard for prevailing wisdom, or for military authority, or for anyone else’s way of doing things. He believed only in his own revolutionary ideas.

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

So, yes, maybe that rebellious school child has a great future. Turing’s headmaster told his parents he was wasting his time at school because he wasn’t willing to be educated in classical thinking. Einstein was so rebellious he was actually expelled from school. But it was that rebelliousness toward authority that led him to question Newton’s seemingly unassailable laws of motion. Richard Branson was another rebel at school and eventually dropped out at age 16—going on to create Virgin Records.

If you recall some of the other famous individuals who were featured in Apple’s “Think Different” ads, such as Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Martha Graham, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pablo Picasso, they were all misfits and rebels. The saw things differently from others. They wanted to challenge and change the status quo.

There are just so many examples of companies that have innovated very successfully by challenging deep-seated orthodoxies: Swatch in the watch industry Dell in the computer industry, Southwest in the airline industry, IKEA in the furniture industry, Enterprise in the car rental business, Zara in the fashion industry, Chipotle in fast food, IT’SUGAR in candy retail, and the list goes on.

A recent example is Beats by Dre. They asked themselves why every other field of consumer electronics—TVs, laptops, smartphones—was being dramatically improved, while people were still listening to music with cheap, low-performance earbuds. What if there was a market for premium headphones, costing hundreds of dollars, that would reproduce music the way artists wanted their songs to be heard? And what if those headphones could be marketed as a fashion statement, not just as an audio accessory? Luke Wood, CEO of Beats by Dre, told the press, “People thought we were crazy. They said the marketplace would never support a $300 headphone.” Well, once again, here’s to the crazy ones. Today, premium headphones are one of the fastest-growing categories in the consumer electronics industry, making up over 40 percent of all headphone sales, and Beats owns over 60 percent of that market. Last year, Apple acquired Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission Copyright Rowan Gibson; Used by Permission

 

2. Harnessing Trends

The second lens or perspective is harnessing trends. How do you spot the trend in time to ride a new wave?

Well, you have to be very sensitive to what is changing in the world. It’s not about having a crystal ball and trying to predict the future. It’s more about having a wide-angled lens that allows you pick up important trends and then exploit them in some way.

Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Lessons from Frank Perdue

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A Visionary Leader

He entered many of our homes via television, winning our hearts with his clever ads about his chicken.  Appearing in hundreds of ads, Frank Perdue turned Perdue chicken into a national brand.  “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” the ads touted.

Frank Perdue was a visionary business leader.  He focused on culture, leadership development, packaging, promotion, and operational excellence perhaps years before others.

Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

Recently, his wife, Mitzi Perdue, wrote a biography Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.  The book paints the picture of the man, allowing us glimpses into his personal life, but also is full of business and leadership advice.

Mitzi herself holds a BA in government from Harvard, a masters in public administration from George Washington and was for years a syndicated columnist for Capitol News then Scripps Howard.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her late husband.

 

“Find out what the customer wants and then make it better.” –Frank Perdue

 

Take Care of the Customer

There are so many business and life lessons in this book.  Let me just ask about a few areas.

One story you tell was about packaging.  It grabbed my attention because he wanted better packaging, but his team said no.  They said it was too expensive.  I know he was frugal, so his commitment to make it happen speaks volumes.  That little story says so much about his style and determination. Would you help us understand why this was so important to him?

Funny you picked on that story because it happens that I’m (I think) unusually qualified to comment on it.  My master’s thesis from George Washington University was on the importance of packaging.  I felt that the packaging of an idea or a product wasn’t as important as the content, but it was way up high as a consideration.  Frank intuitively understood this concept without having to get a master’s degree!  In the cases of the cartons that chicken was delivered in back in the late 1960s, it was pretty much industry standard to have flimsy boxes that might leave someone’s processing plant looking fine, but by the time they arrived at the distributor’s loading dock in a big city, the box might be crushed and leaking.  Crushed and leaking boxes were a mega-headache for the distributor because it’s hard to handle them on a forklift, and it’s unsanitary.  Frank realized that if he could create boxes that wouldn’t crush or leak, he’d be solving one of the distributors’ major problems.  His attitude was that as long as his goal was to be the best, the price almost didn’t matter, he had to fix the fragile boxes because, “We can’t afford not to.”  It fit in with his motto of, “Take care of the customer,” and the result was that when a distributor wanted chicken, he probably had Perdue on his speed dial. Packaging was an extraordinary competitive edge for us.

Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

“A business that doesn’t change is a business that is going to die.” –Frank Perdue

 

Build A Culture of Disagreement

Take us into the culture of the company.  It tolerated disagreement and strong opinions.  As you say it tolerated “really forceful disagreement.”  How did Frank encourage this?  When did he, as a leader, stop the argument and unify the team?

Leaders Open Doors

Silhouette of businesswoman with briefcase standing in doorway

An Approach to Lift People, Profit and Performance

“I got to open doors for people!”

When Bill Treasurer heard his five-year-old son say those words, he immediately recognized this as valuable leadership advice. With decades of consulting experience, Bill wrote Leaders Open Doors: A Radically Simple Leadership Approach to Lift People, Profits, and Performance as a new approach to leadership. Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting. He has led corporate workshops for clients ranging from Saks Fifth Avenue to NASA.

 

“Leadership is about momentum and results.” -Bill Treasurer

 

I wanted Bill to share his approach to leadership and how Leaders Open Doors.  Bill is also careful to explain that leaders open doors, but that does not mean they have always-open door policies:

 

“Allowing yourself to be continuously interrupted is a recipe for lousy leadership.” -Bill Treasurer

 

Open Door Leaders Make People Uncomfortable

What’s most important about leadership?

The focus of leadership should not be the leader. The focus should be on what the leader is doing to create opportunities for those he or she is leading. Ultimately, followers reap the rewards of effective leadership.

I call leaders who focus on creating opportunities for those they serve Open-door Leaders.

 

“Vulnerability is critical to leadership because it mitigates the leader’s ego.” -Bill Treasurer

 

Explain why you say that a leader’s job is to make people uncomfortable.

FINAL 2 (1)People and organizations grow, progress, and evolve by taking on challenges, which are, by definition, uncomfortable things. An Open-door Leader’s job is to nudge people into their discomfort zones.

The trick is nudging people far enough outside their comfort zones that they become motivated to pursue a higher standard of performance, but not so far outside their comfort zones that they get paralyzed with fear.

To be clear, making people uncomfortable does not equate with stoking their fears. There’s nothing more childish than intimidating leadership. Fear is cheap leadership – it takes no effort or thought. Open-door Leaders, conversely, make people feel safe enough that they want to pursue uncomfortable challenges. By creating safety, the leader helps people become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, the CEO of IBM, said it best: “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”

 

“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” -Ginny Rometty

 

Restoring Confidence

How does a leader restore confidence in someone who is discouraged?

Three ways:

  1. Sharing stories of his or her own hardships and struggles. When leaders share stories about their own imperfections, failures, or mistakes with us, we judge ourselves less harshly.
  2. Believing in us more than we believe in ourselves. Leaders have to constantly remind us of our potential so we can see momentary missteps in a larger context.
  3. Give people another shot. Consider, for example, when you were learning how to ride a bike. What did your parents make you do whenever you fell? Get back up and try again. They didn’t stop believing in you just because you fell. They viewed the setback as part of the learning process. Likewise, after a career setback or failure, the leader should help us draw out corrective lessons, and then have us re-attempt the thing that set us back.

 

“Leaders open doors.” -Bill Treasurer

 

How do leaders shift perspective in others?

29 Ways to Celebrate World Hello Day

Hello in different languages

World Hello Day

 

Hallo. Ciao! Hallo. Ni hao! Hola. Marhaba! Shalom. Bonjour!

Friday, November 21 is World Hello Day.

What are you supposed to do on World Hello Day? Greet 10 people. That’s it.

 

“For every goodbye, God also provides a hello.” –Donna Gable Hatch

 

The idea is to encourage the resolution of conflicts through communication instead of force. Sure, we can all point to examples where this is not possible. We may call it idealistic. Still, I like having a day where we can celebrate the power of communication. It’s easy to cite the examples where it is difficult, but there are far more conflicts resolved through negotiation than any other method.

 

“Don’t tell your friends about your indigestion. ‘How are you’ is a greeting, not a question.” –Arthur Guiterman

 

Let’s celebrate that today by sharing World Hello Day with others.

 

29 Ways to Celebrate

Here are a few suggestions on how to make World Hello Day worthwhile:

Greet others enthusiastically today.

 

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” -Jimi Hendrix

 

Introduce yourself to strangers and tell them about World Hello Day.

Share this post with someone you haven’t said hello to in a while.

Let someone cut in front of you in line.

 

“Send out a cheerful, positive greeting, and most of the time you will get back a cheerful, positive greeting.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Make today a day of happiness.

Spend some extra time with a good friend.

Have your team at work write down five things that you are grateful for.

Encourage someone.

Radiate peace and joy.

Make today the day that you forgive someone for good.

 

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” -Gandhi

 

Allow a driver into your lane.

 

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” –John Muir

 

Send Facebook messages or Tweets to 3 people who you admire.

Compliment others sincerely today.