Starting a new job is one of life’s big stressors. You want to make a good impression, hit the ground running, and have an immediate impact. Today employers have little room for someone who doesn’t. Honeymoon periods seem to last all of thirty seconds.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” –Winston Churchill
No matter how savvy you are or how many jobs you’ve had, you should think carefully about your onboarding process into a new company. Learning the culture, understanding what success looks like and building key relationships are unique to each organization.
Studies show that a great onboarding process can increase productivity and dramatically improve executive retention.
Onboarding can cut time to productivity by a third.
Walking through a busy convention floor at Book Expo America, I nearly bumped into him as I dodged through a publisher’s stand on my way to an appointment. It was one of those chance meetings, the ones you don’t expect but you figure somehow it was arranged or planned to happen just that way.
Dr. Samuel R. Chand and I collided, and it started a conversation about leadership and what makes it possible. After our meeting, I had the opportunity to read his books and soak in his ideas. I’m delighted to introduce him to you and share some of our conversation.
“The best use of power is to give it away.” –Sam Chand
Waiting for someone to call me into the auditorium, I stared out the window. As I meditated on the points I wanted to cover as a featured speaker at this leadership conference, something in the street below caught my attention.
A man stood on a ladder painting—not that uncommon a sight. I smiled, remembering my student days in college. I had spent my summers doing that kind of work. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. For several minutes, I watched his graceful motions as he moved his brush and roller across the surface.
As I watched, I noticed that this painter was only covering a limited area. He stretched as far as he could to the left, to the right and even reached above his head. It also occurred to me that he was only going to the height that he was comfortable at, even though the extension ladder he was using could reach much higher.
From my painting experience, I remembered that once I was on the ladder and had the necessary resources, I painted a much larger area before taking the additional time needed to climb down and relocate the ladder. It was an efficient method.
“Those who know how will always work for those who know why.” –Sam Chand
“Why isn’t he going higher to paint all the way up? What would allow him to go higher?” I asked myself. Then I saw the reason—no one was holding his ladder. By himself, the painter couldn’t go any further. He had done everything he could by himself. He needed help.
As I watched his graceful strokes, I realized the leadership parallels. Whether we’re talking about churches, businesses or non-profit organizations, the effectiveness of a leader depends on the person or persons holding the ladder—those who are in support roles.
The height that a visionary leader reaches on the ladder to their vision is not controlled by the leader’s capabilities. It’s not even controlled by how inspiring their vision might be. It’s controlled by who’s holding the ladder.
Then another thought struck me: Those who hold the ladders are as important as the leaders themselves.
The visionaries could have all the training possible, the most expensive equipment, years of experience and knowledge about painting, and a blend of expertise and passion about their craft. But that’s not the deciding factor. The ladder holder determines the height to which the ladder climber ascends. “That’s it!” I cried aloud. “Those who hold the ladder control the ascent of the visionaries.”
“When you’re 100 percent certain, you’re too late.” –Charles W. Robinson
Additionally, a ladder holder who may be very capable with a 20-foot extension ladder (or vision) may not be the person you want holding your 45-foot extension ladder (a new or enlarged vision). Old ladder holders are rarely adequate at holding new ladders.
I love your focus on those who hold ladders. How should leaders acknowledge the ladder holders?
The greatest acknowledgement is for leaders to recognize that no one would be the leader that they are today had it not been for someone holding their ladder. There’s no such thing as a “self-made” person. Someone gave us our first break. Someone took a risk and believed in us. Someone leveraged their credibility for our sake. Someone forgave us and gave us another chance. Someone knew we had messed up yet defended us to those who wanted us vanquished. Someone funded that shaky idea. Someone gave us our first job. Someone…
Therefore a spirit of humility and dependency will be the attitude that exudes appreciation for our ladder holders.
“More than anything, leadership is about managing expectations.” –Sam Chand
What makes businesses vulnerable to disruptive change?
There are 2 main messages in my book.
First, that while we think the world is changing rapidly, in fact, we continue to rely on a platform that arose from the invention of 3 general purpose technologies in the 1870’s: the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the telephone. Even with the computer and the Internet, we have spent decades boxing in this amazing new technology to fit our paradigm need for a faster, smaller, cheaper phone. So, while we think we are in the midst of rapid change, the western world is in fact obsessed with ensuring we stick with the old world and reward refinements of tired mature ways of doing things. When real change comes, will business leaders be prepared? I don’t think so.
One of the reasons why we won’t respond well when real change comes is that while ideas are abundant, small start-up ventures lack the resources – people, money, physical assets — to launch these ideas. They also lack the credibility, networks, access to customers, suppliers, government officials, etc. This limits their ability to move these ideas forward, no matter how great they may be. At the same time, existing companies are flush with people, money, networks, customers, and, most important, credibility and brand value. But what they lack is an entrepreneurial mindset. To move forward, companies need to resist the rhetoric of finding and sticking to a narrow form of sustainable competitive advantage, and instead adopt a model of strategic entrepreneurship that promotes transformational growth and longevity.
The fundamental impact of disruptive change is that our organizations are not built to manage change very well. Through principles such as sustainable competitive advantage, we tend to use fixed mindsets that build a sort of impenetrable armor around the firm’s processes and procedures, instead of being flexible and adaptable. When disruptive technologies or business models present an alternative, firms resist. Indeed, even customers often resist, as we remain stuck in our paradigms formed as noted above. However, in time, customers adapt because they do not have the level of sunk investment in the old ways that companies often do. Time and again, rigid non-entrepreneurial firms fall by the wayside.
There are many very extreme examples of this phenomenon. Think of Kodak, which is a firm that actually pioneered digital photography, but in the end was unable to adapt to this powerful disruptive technology.
“Progress is a nice word we like to use. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” –Robert Kennedy
How can large organizations embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship?
I emphasize the importance of adopting three points:
Recognize that opportunities are developed at all levels of the organization.
Build a culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurship.
Consciously develop support for entrepreneurial initiatives through effectual processes or bricolage.
The key is leadership, not only in words, but in action. It is imperative that the CEO endorse an entrepreneurial culture by example – championing new ideas. In fact, a failure or two is good because it demonstrates that even the CEO recognizes that not every entrepreneurial idea is destined for success, and it is important to manage your investment and ensure that no one new venture will take down the ship.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” –Peter Drucker
What are the elements of a good corporate culture?
There are many theories on this question, and I included quite a few in my book. In the end, the key elements are:
Provide open opportunities for opportunity development – these include group time (because we know that mixing people with diverse expertise and background can lead to innovative solutions), plus unstructured open thinking time (such as 3M’s famous “tinkering” time).
Adopt a learning culture – growth mindsets are essential, pursuing what could be as opposed to why this won’t work.
Accept failure, and the importance of learning from failure.
Adopt bricolage (known outcomes, with unknown ways of getting there), or effectuation (building on invention, experiment, and science) as frameworks for pursuing each entrepreneurial initiative (purposefully).
“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” –Peter Senge
How do leaders encourage creativity at all levels of the organization?
The first thing I would say is that leaders must recognize that organizations need time to change. This is not an overnight process and will require considerable and repetitive actions and wins to change. And failure is a key component – an organization can move far closer to being creative and adopting entrepreneurial thinking by showing that a person with a great idea that failed in implementation is celebrated as thinking outside the box, rather than penalized for failing.
Researchers have studied the importance of story-telling in organizations, and how a lasting culture can be built around well-known, maybe even legendary, stories that come from the history of the organization. The dimensions of story-telling I describe in my book include equality (versus inequality), security (versus insecurity), and control (versus lack of control). Through story-telling of actual events that happened in the organization’s history, employees are able to gauge whether the organization will endorse or shun creativity at all levels.
“Successful innovators are..not risk-focused; they are opportunity focused.” –Peter Drucker
If you are looking to develop a strong global brand, you will find two names consistently mentioned as “go-to” experts: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They have just released a second edition of their book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization.
I recently spoke with the authors about their new book and the rules of branding.
6 Rules of Brand Revitalization
1. Refocus the organization.
Where do most corporate leaders get it wrong?
They tend to believe that “refocus” can happen through tools and templates and HR seminars. Refocus is more than filling in the blanks and talking the talk. When there is a conflict between strategy and culture, culture wins. A commitment to change requires refocusing of the cultural mindset that emanates from the top down. Merely embarking on a training program to encourage a focus on new tools, templates, and techniques can distract from the need to accomplish both the behavioral and attitudinal modifications that foster culture change.
“Refocusing an organization around common goals is the first step for brand revitalization.” -Light / Kiddon
What tip would you provide to a leadership team in the midst of this refocus?
Leaders are different from commanders. Commanders manage by telling people what to do. They create acceptors. Leaders create believers. Acceptors go through the motions complying with the new processes and behaviors. Believers have true commitment that this refocus is a better path to a successful future. Acceptors are not the same as adherents. The leader must be the one to set the tone and drive the change for all to see and emulate. Leaders must demonstrate commitment if they expect people to become believers in the new world.
“The leader must set the tone and drive change.” -Light / Kiddon
What are the best ways to stay on top of changing customer expectations?
Stay up-to-date with all available information. Read a variety of sources, not just in your business’ field but also across many disciplines. Include regular market research reports. But also include what is happening in the world around us. Be observant. Be informed. Be open to new ideas.
In this world of access to “big data’” there is now a focus on data analytics. Analysis can tell us about what is happening today. Analysis is about the decomposition of data. But real insight does not come from analysis. It comes from creative synthesis. Analysis is about taking data apart. Synthesis is about putting together disparate sources of information in original ways. Synthesis is about detecting patterns that others fail to see. Keeping a brand relevant will involve both analysis and synthesis. Make sure that the organization is open and conducive to creative synthesis.
The total brand experience includes consideration, shopping, purchase, use, service, online, offline, brand communications, handling of customer complaints, and so on. Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience. It includes every aspect of the brand promise: functional benefits, emotional and social rewards, solutions to problems, and so forth.
“Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience.” -Light / Kiddon
Most leaders hear this advice but don’t know what it means, what to do about it, or how it impacts everyday life in the office.
Becoming an authentic leader is more than a lofty goal. It’s an essential part of your effectiveness. My own experience is that it’s often authenticity that sets the great leaders apart. We don’t always know why we are inspired by certain individuals, but I think it is this characteristic that appeals to us at a deep level.
What I particularly like about her new book is that, as the subtitle of the book suggests, she provides tools to help with the goal.
Lead with Authenticity
How would you define authenticity in leadership?
Both authenticity and leadership are important in defining authentic leadership. Leadership is about getting things done that are both difficult and important in the context of a specific organization or more broadly any human community. Authenticity adds another layer which is being true to your own nature AS you are getting things done that are difficult and important.
What’s the relationship between authenticity and leadership?
Our typical way of thinking about authenticity is to just be yourself, and it will all turn out better. Of course, be yourself. It sounds so simple. The first problem with that is you are not that simple. We humans are just not that simple. There is no one solid self like a concrete block. Our hardwired adaptive traits as humans mean that we behave differently under different situations and circumstances. Leadership requires this adaptability. But you have to find ways to communicate who you are as you are leading effectively. More importantly, you have to figure out ways to stay in touch with what is important to you as you are in the thick of getting things done. Paying attention to the inner game and outer game at the same time is a lot easier said than done. Said another way, it is easier to just be authentic or just figure out how to get things done that are difficult and important. But the daily question is how do we do both at the same time?
“Authenticity is knowing, and acting on, what is true and real inside yourself…” –Robert Terry
Why do you think there is currently so much interest in leadership authenticity?
Trust in big institutions like our government here in the US is low. I also think that the modern era poses some challenges with upping the ante on aspects of authenticity like transparency. Like it or not, we are in an age of transparency. The boundaries between private life and work or with private life in general are not what they used to be.
Leadership is never a value-neutral concept. To say someone is a leader means we have high expectations. A lot of this interest comes down to people wanting our leaders to step up and make things happen that are good for the whole. Any robust discussion of authenticity takes you fully into the thicket of human moral psychology as authenticity is so not a value-neutral construct.
“Fear is not your friend if you want a culture of authenticity.” –Karissa Thacker