An Exciting Leadership Challenge

This last year, I have had the privilege of exploring many opportunities and consulting with different organizations.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to study various teams and learn from a variety of leaders.  At the same time, I most enjoy operational roles where I’m responsible for driving results.

In June, I will be joining OCLC as President-elect and I will be named President & CEO on July 1.  Based in Dublin, Ohio, OCLC is a nonprofit computer library service and research organization.  Its goals include furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs.

During major career changes, I make a list of what I am looking for and then evaluate various opportunities against these criteria.  Here are a few I’d like to share with you in case it helps you on your own journey:

Supportive.  If you are joining a company, it is important to know whether you will have support or whether you will be fighting internally.  Most of us have experienced teams where everyone is more concerned about survival than about helping each other.  Specifically on my list is a “supportive board of directors.”  I met with the trustees numerous times throughout the process and this is one of the most engaged, thoughtful and supportive boards I have ever seen.

Engaging.  Really what this one is about is that I don’t like to be bored.  For me, I enjoy industries in transition or undergoing change.  Libraries have been at the cutting edge of technology for years and face challenges due to budget constraints.  I’m excited to help in any way possible and know that the variety of technological and economic changes will provide new challenges.

Stable.  I’ve enjoyed working in many different environments.  Working in a stable business is important to me.  My predecessor at OCLC, Jay Jordan, has done an excellent job working with the members to expand into new areas around the globe.  Note: It’s possible to be both stable and in the middle of rapid change at the same time.

Respected.  I’ve worked with libraries my entire career.  OCLC is one of the most respected names anywhere, and this is because the member libraries help to make it what it is.  The combination of fully engaged member libraries with talented OCLC employees around the world makes for a dynamic, well-respected organization.

Note to Managers: Stop Making Decisions

Photo courtesy of istockphoto/peskymonkey

This is a guest post by Dennis Bakke. Dennis is the CEO of Imagine Schools and the author of The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time (Pear Press)..

The conventional wisdom on leadership: Get advice from others but make the final decision. But in today’s shifting global marketplace, it’s out of date. More and more, success in business isn’t about producing the proverbial widget, but unlocking human potential. Success isn’t about rigid systems that guide our people as they churn out product. It’s about how we release our people to innovate, at every stage of the game.

As a young leader, I followed the conventional wisdom. I might ask a couple of people for some input before I made a decision. But I made the final call, always.

Success is about how we release people to innovate, at every stage of the game. -Dennis Bakke

It didn’t take me long to realize that the more decisions I made, the less engaged others became.  They didn’t have any control over the process or the results. So they didn’t feel any ownership in them either.

The problem was me. To be a good leader, I had to let go.

The reality is that it is the boss who is often the last to know. So when bosses, department leaders or team leaders make all the decisions, they’re often operating with stale or second-hand information, some of which has been edited or sanitized on its way to “the boss.”

Why You Should Empower Employees

Several weeks ago, my wife and I headed out for a quick lunch.  I had been traveling and speaking in a few cities and was glad to be home.  Before lunch, we needed a few supplies and stopped at Target.

Target does a lot right.  Wide, brightly lit aisles.  Easy-to-find merchandise.  And friendly staff who seem happy.

When I was grabbing the items I needed off the shelf, I noticed a sign.  “Buy three of these items and get a $5 gift card,” one sign said.  The other said, “Buy two and get another $5 gift card.”  I only needed one of each item, but I thought why not take the money so I loaded up.

At the checkout counter, we paid for items and then I asked about our gift cards.  We liked the kind woman who was helping us.  She was efficient and the type who could build a relationship fast.  “I thought about that,” she responded.  “Let me check….no, this item doesn’t qualify for some reason.  I know you only bought this many so you would get the card.”

She pulled open the Target brochure, looked at the item, and still couldn’t figure why it didn’t give us the cards.  I explained that I checked the labels when I took the items off the shelf and that they were immediately behind the sign.  She shook her head and offered to have someone go check the sign.

Immediately in my mind I pictured what would happen:  A light would go off.  She would get on an intercom and bellow, “Man in Aisle 9 needs a price check!”  We would hold up the line, miss our lunch reservation, and a manager would come out to talk to us.

“Forget it,” I said, not wanting to cause a scene and not having any time to wait.  For me, the pain wasn’t worth it.  (But I’m thrifty enough that it did bother me.)

“I’m sorry,” she responded with an “I wish I could do something” attitude.

Management Lesson

This is not a story about Target.  It’s a good store.  This is not a story about the checkout clerk.  She was so nice we would seek out her line next time.

It’s a lesson for management.  And it’s all about empowerment.

Why Leaders Don’t Need Parrots

Parrots

 

When I first became a CEO, I noticed something strange.

In a meeting, I was suddenly funnier.  The slightest hint at humor could erupt the room into laughter.  I was also smarter.  And my arguments were more persuasive.   Heads would bob up and down as I made a point.

Obviously my new title didn’t bestow some magical gift of brilliance.  What it provided was positional power, and people were reacting to the position.

Immediately, I knew what happened.  It took me longer to figure out what to do about it.

I’d seen this much earlier in my career when people would “parrot” the CEO.  I call it the Parrot Principle.  To get along and be accepted, some find it’s just easier to parrot the CEO than to think critically, to argue, or to be independent.  Why rock the boat when you can just agree and repeat what you’re told?

The cause is usually fear.  Fear of losing a job or of not being in the inner circle.  It’s also a symptom of a culture needing change.

Parrot Principle

Because of a lack of self-confidence, a fear of job loss, or an extreme need for acceptance, it is easier to agree with the boss than to advance a different point of view.

The result is usually what I call a “pocket veto” where people nod in a meeting, then go outside and talk about what they really believe.  It’s bad for everyone.  The company is not served well.  The CEO may not even realize what’s happening.  And the parrot is building distrust throughout the organization.

It’s not just the new CEO who faces this problem.  It’s almost any new position of power.  If others are dependent on you, you can be vulnerable to the Parrot Principle.

So what can you do about it?

Commitment: What will you do no matter what?

Photo by hectorir on flickr.

When you make a commitment, especially one to yourself, you begin to energize your mind in a way that opens new doors of possibility.

A commitment starts the engine of the subconscious mind.  It takes a dream or an idea, and begins the process of turning it into reality.  Mixed with discipline, commitment shapes the future.

Steve Jobs is known for a lot of his attributes, but one of them was his commitment.  He was committed to excellence.  There’s one story about him opening up an Apple computer, looking inside and making the team start over.  You can hear the conversation:

Steve:  That’s ugly.

Engineer:  Who cares what the PC board looks like?  The only thing that’s important is how well that it works.  Nobody is going to see the PC board.

Steve:  I’m gonna see it!  I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box.  A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of the cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.

That’s commitment.