Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders

Tales from a Reluctant CEO

Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman started a business and grew it to $35 million through trial and error and constant change. In her new book, Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO, Maxine shares lessons that can benefit all of us starting something new. She shares how they overcame obstacle after obstacle to succeed. I recently spoke with her about the lessons she shares in her new book.

 

When should a start-up start thinking about culture?

Culture is not really something that you think about when you first start a business. You might say, we want to be casual or formal, or we want to maintain an air of professionalism, but short of being doctrinaire, you can’t really control what organizational culture will become.  More than anything, culture evolves from the personalities of the founders. I happen to be very chatty and like to ask a lot of questions.  Some employees see that as friendly; others see it as intrusive.  When I push people to “think smart” and try to do things in better and more creative ways, some people see me as demanding and judgmental, others feel that I am encouraging and stimulating. In both cases, it is the employee who identifies culture based on how they interpret what is going on.

Culture is one of those things that exists in the eye of the beholder.  An employee, an outside consultant or a business colleague takes a step back and sees the unspoken rules and nuances of the organization.  Sometimes people are only aware of the organizational culture when they are asked what they like or don’t like about their jobs. When we asked people who were joining the organization what they were looking for in their selection of a job, we got a glimpse into the kind of culture in which they would feel most comfortable.  And while many said they were looking for an environment in which their opinions were valued and respected, others wanted a cultural milieu in which the boss would tell them what to do and they would have clear guidelines for performance.

Over the years, as Community Connections grew in size and diversified in its programs, culture changed. You could feel the difference. A business with three employees can’t help but be informal and casual.  But as we grew and increased our size to over 400 employees, it became impossible not to have some hierarchical structure. You can remember the names of three people, but when the size gets big, and leaders are rushing from one meeting to the next, it’s hard to be as friendly as you’d like to be.

 

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” –Thomas Wolfe

 

You wrote fairy tales for each chapter. That’s unusual in a business book. Why did you decide to do that?

Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next

mba

From a Mom

Karyn Schoenbart is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to the world’s leading brands. A working mom, she often gave career advice to her daughter Danielle as she was growing up. By the time Danielle entered the workforce, she joked that she had received a “Mom. B.A” giving her a tremendous competitive advantage. Now years later, Karyn has written MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next, based on her “lessons” to Danielle as well as on her thirty years of experience building a successful career. The book, filled with wise advice and numerous personal anecdotes, is noteworthy for Karyn’s candor and her delightful sense of humor. I recently spoke with Karyn about her favorite tips for those just starting out or climbing the corporate ladder.

 

“Your integrity is your biggest asset.” –Simon Chadwick

 

Make a Good First Impression

What’s the best way to make a good first impression?

It starts with how you show up.  It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion.  But that doesn’t mean it is a “one size fits all” rule.  Dress the way that matters to the people who matter. And when in doubt, find out! A few years ago, we were looking for someone to fill an executive position that would report to me. One of the candidates came to the interview in a very low cut dress. She was clearly qualified, but we didn’t know what to make of her choosing that particular dress for the interview. In the end, we all agreed: The candidate’s attire demonstrated a lack of judgment, and we didn’t want someone with poor judgment helping to run our company. We didn’t hire her.

How you speak is also a reflection on you.  Avoid bad vocal habits like the dreaded up-speak (where every sentence ends as though it is a question).

In my experience, people like it when you call them by name – it shows you care.  Make it a practice to remember and use people’s names.  My tip for remembering names is to use it three times when meeting them; when introduced, during the conversation and finally when saying goodbye.  It really works!

 

How do you build a good relationship with the boss?

Be the person your boss can count on. Step up and go above and beyond.  Every positive interaction that you have is like putting money in the bank. Then if there is a problem, you have something to withdraw. Think of criticism as an investment in you.  Your boss is taking the time to help you be better.

It’s also a good idea to get to know your boss as a whole person.  Find out what matters to him or her and show an interest.  One way to break through is to check in on a Monday or Friday, which creates an opportunity to interact on a more personal level (i.e. do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?).

 

“Focus on being a good listener, which includes being patient and attentive.” –Diane Bowers

 

Survive the Bad Boss

What advice do you have for surviving the occasional bad boss?

5 Books Recommended By Leaders Like Warren Buffett

This is a guest post by Lior Grossman. Lior is the founder of BookAuthority, designed to help you find the best business books by top industry leaders. Personal note: I was one of the first CEO’s to make a few recommendations on the site.

 

The Power of Books

I firmly believe that reading the right book can open your mind to a whole new world of ideas and opportunities. The right book can inspire and empower you to overcome your challenges and take action. As a leader, I understand I need to expose myself to ideas that are capable of transforming me and the people that I lead.

The world of leadership is evolving, and present-day leaders should seek insights and context to understand this changing world better. Leadership development is a must because what was applicable in the past no longer applies today.

Reading is the one habit that almost all successful people have in common. Bill Gates reads about 50 books every year; Mark Zuckerberg resolved to read 24 books a year; Mark Cuban reads three hours every day, and Warren Buffett spends 80% of his day reading!

Yes, I know. Unlike Mr. Buffett, you cannot afford to spend the majority of your time reading books, and you really don’t have enough time to dedicate to your personal development. However, sharpening your skills can be as easy as updating your reading list, so that when you do find that one precious hour to read, you’ll spend it on a book that will be worth it.

The idea of helping people identify the few books that are worth reading is what led to the creation of BookAuthority – a new website that helps you identify the world’s finest business books, by collecting and aggregating book recommendations from 150 of the most successful people in the world.

To help you find your next read, here is a list of great leadership books recommended by well-known leaders like Warren Buffett and Eric Schmidt:

 

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

Author: William N. Thorndike, Jr., Founder of Housatonic Partners

Recommended by Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Is Leadership a Passing Phenomenon?

This is a guest post by Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes. Dr. Adizes is a leading management expert and author of over 20 books. He offers an interesting perspective below.

Leadership: Quo Vadis?

It is in vogue now to lecture, write and debate the subject of leadership. I claim it is a passing phenomenon, like the concepts of administration, executive action and management were before it.

All of those concepts deal with the same process: management of change, taking an organization from point A to point B.

At the beginning it was called administration.  That is why MBA stands for Master of Business Administration.

Over time “administration” was found to be too limiting as a concept. It was delegated to low level supervisory and bureaucratic positions, and the concept of management was born. Business Schools across the country changed their name from Graduate School of Business Administration to Graduate Schools of Management.

The concept of management was not yielding the right understanding of the process of transforming organizations, and the concept of Executive Action was born. Titles such as CEO, CIO, CMO etc. appeared like mushrooms after the rain, and executive programs emerged in the market place.

Still not good enough to explain how organizations should be transformed, the concept of leadership started dominating the literature.

What is going on here?

Administration, Management, and Leadership have a common purpose. They are theories that prescribe how organizations should be transformed and how to manage change. They are all based on the same paradigm of individualism, that a single individual is the driving force of this transformation, whether it is called Chief Administrator or Manager or CEO or Leader.

 

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” –Vince Lombardi

 

As long as we remain with the same paradigm, no concept will be satisfactory. We will continue to change titles, embellish concepts and continue to chase our own tails, reinventing the same wheel from administration to leadership. Leadership will be assigned its place in the annals of social sciences next to management and administration.

Passé.

Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.

No individual possesses all the ingredients in his or her personality that are necessary for successful management of change.


“Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.” -Dr. Adizes

 

Change the Paradigm

Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For

Become a Good Authority

What if chasing balance was actually making us unhappy?

What’s the true purpose of work?

 

“Change the game, don’t let the game change you.” -Macklemore

 

Personal and professional growth. We often think they’re different. We live our lives as if the personal and professional are in neat little silos, as if one didn’t affect the other.

I’ve often said that leaders help people with the personal, not just the professional. And sharing a little of the personal may make a big impact in the professional.

The two are interrelated.

And so, when I read Jonathan Raymond’s new work, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, I was excited to find a book that explained why this is…and how to use it to become a better leader. Jonathan is the former CEO of EMyth and now the owner of Refound, an advisory firm that offers leadership training and coaching. And I think his take on “good authority” will have you nodding along with what we want from the very best leaders.

 

“When you make peace with authority, you become authority.” –Jim Morrison

 

Own Your Contribution

Contrast good versus bad authority. What are a few attributes you would think of?

I’d say the first attribute is in the willingness to own your role as an authority in the first place. I see too many modern leaders try to abdicate that responsibility, either outright or in subtle ways, and try to be nice at the expense of giving people the boundaries they need to grow. The main attribute of bad authority is when a leader doesn’t own their contribution to a stuck dynamic or problematic situation. For example, a leader who hasn’t provided a reasonable timeline to reach a goal and then blames the team for not delivering on it fast enough. Good authority is the art of owning your contribution, being transparent with your team, and then moving forward in a collaborative way.

 

“Our strengths are not our own until they are freed of the burden of having to heal the past.” –Jonathan Raymond

 

Would you share a little about the concept of “borrowed authority”?

Borrowed authority is the idea that until we investigate the beliefs about authority we inherited from our parents and teachers – not to mention the business culture in general – we’re still borrowing our leadership style from the past instead of discovering the one that genuinely expresses who we are today. In Good Authority, I offer that the opposite of Good Authority isn’t bad authority, it’s borrowed authority. What I mean by that is that most leaders have good intentions, but until we do the work, we’re bogged down by ideas and beliefs about what it means to be the boss that hold us back and create pain and confusion for the employees in our care as a result.

 

“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” –Timothy O’Leary

 

Make it About Relationships

I want to ask about organizational culture. You say, “Nobody sets out to make their employees overwhelmed, stressed-out, and miserable.” I have to say that I read that and laughed, thinking, “If Jonathan only met one of my bad bosses, he’d think differently!” You’re right, of course, but people are overwhelmed and stressed. What’s are some ways to change a culture into one that is positive, empowered, and driven?

Good Authority CoverThis may sound odd, but the first problem is bad math. One of the things I ask leaders to do is to add up all the time they’re spending (1) doing re-work for a struggling employee, (2) mediating their interpersonal conflicts, (3) answering questions that they should be able to answer themselves, and (4) complaining to their spouse, partner or friends about how frustrated they are. The pivot is incredibly simple and goes against our conditioning, which is why we typically avoid it. The key to create a positive, empowered and driven culture is the exact same thing that will get you out of being overwhelmed and stressed. Repressing what you see and feel leads to emotional, mental, and physical problems, and it keeps that data away from the one person who needs to hear it in order to grow.

There’s an art to talking about work in a way that feels personally relevant to your employee, but it boils down to this: Give them feedback not about tasks and projects but about how they’re showing up as a human being. Make it about relationships, feeling their impact on others, how they avoid taking risks—those are the things that people will immediately see as helping them get better at work and at life at the same time. There’s a whole new type of organizational culture that opens up from that simple shift.

 

Leadership Tip: More Yoda, Less Superman

 

How to Become a Great Listener

What are some techniques you use to help coach someone who has problems with listening? How can we all learn to be better listeners at a deeper level?

Before we talk about the deeper cut, one simple technique that’s often used in mediation applies well in the workplace in general. Have the person you’re trying to help repeat back what they heard before responding. Highlight for them what the gaps are between what was said (and, even more importantly, how it was said) and what they heard and how they interpreted it. There’s a lifetime’s worth of personal growth work there.

 

“We teach best what we most need to learn.” –Richard Bach

 

At a deeper level, and this is something I work on every day, is to re-examine what we think our value is as leaders. That’s a lot of what Good Authority is about: to learn how the highest value we can add to our teams, and in the rest of our lives, is to put our thumb on the side of the scale that’s about creating the space for others to discover that next better version of themselves, as opposed to tending to fill that space ourselves. I love leaders and have so much respect for anyone who throws their heart into a problem with no guarantee of success. The pivot is to see how not everyone works that way, and that to create the organization that can do more than you can on your own, you have to listen for those other voices.

Finally, it comes down to not shooting the messenger. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve seen, in fact I’ve never seen one where this isn’t true, where one person becomes a scapegoat for the cultural dysfunction and is moved out (fired or pushed into quitting), and the message they were carrying never sees the full light of day.  It’s a basic rule of group dynamics, but I see CEOs do it all the time, moving out the ‘disgruntled’ employee instead of leaning into the conversation and discovering the most powerful brand ambassador they’ve got.

 

Tip: Focus more on who people are and less on deadlines and tasks.

 

Let Go of the Past

How about letting go of the past? What advice do you give to someone who is letting the past limit their future?

Find a way to get in relationship with it. Meaning, when you notice yourself re-hashing or cycling in an old story, imagine a friend was telling you that story, what would you tell them? It’s a life’s work for sure, but learn to reframe our past in terms of how it made us the person we are today. I heard this phrase again recently that I absolutely love: “The past didn’t happen to us, it happened for us.”  To be clear, I’m not suggesting people try and transcend or gloss over traumatic or otherwise difficult personal experiences, only that we hold a bit of double-vision about them. Let yourself feel whatever there is to feel about whatever it is that you feel it’s holding back. Cry, laugh, roll up the car window on the freeway and let out a yell from the depths of your soul. By giving yourself permission to let it be what it is all the way, only then do you open up the room to see it in a new way. The paradox is that you don’t have to do any additional work to do this. It’s the process of giving yourself permission to feel that brings that higher mind back online, and you can move forward with confidence and a sense of self that might surprise you.

 

“Shake it off.” –Taylor Swift

 

How to Increase Accountability