Many people who write me express frustration about dealing with a different generation. Often the emails I receive are full of sweeping generalizations and accusations. Some are less frustrated, but sincerely baffled, wondering how to bridge the divide.
I’ve defined GENgagement as the state of achieving harmony, mutual involvement and cooperation, flow, and ongoing absorption in work with people of different generations.
GENgagement means getting all of the generations to understand each other, their influences, and their worldviews so they can work collaboratively, loyally, and productively. It is integral to the mission of transforming workplaces into engaged and productive environments for solving problems and being great places to work.
Benefits to organizations when workers are harmoniously engaged include desired talent retention, development of new skills, competitive intelligence, innovative ideas, and smooth transfer of external relationships – and increased profitability. According to an Aon Hewitt study, a 5% increase in engagement can generate an increase of 3% in revenue growth the following year.
Research: 5 percent increase in engagement can generate a 3 percent increase in revenue.
High-performing leaders don’t always lead by the book. They may not be full of praise. They may not celebrate small wins and give positive feedback. But somehow, some way they manage to deliver growth year after year. They can even set the bar for the entire industry. This leadership philosophy is different than what many of us follow today. Since I enjoy studying these various models, I wanted to share it with you.
Stanislav Shekshnia, Veronika Zagieva, and Alexey Ulanovsky have studied them for ten years. And they write about their findings in Athletic CEOs: Leadership in Turbulent Times. I recently asked Stanislav to talk about their research.
“Don’t let anybody work harder than you do.” -Serena Williams
What is Athletic Leadership and what are Athletic Leaders’ unique attributes?
Athletic Leadership is a model, a construct, which describes effective leadership in the specific context, defined by rapid obsolescence, high turbulence, heavy government involvement, high-power distance leadership tradition, and a medium level of development of human capital.
Athletic is a metaphor which we used to emphasize a very important characteristic of the effective CEOs we have studied – mental toughness. Just like top athletes these leaders are super-ambitious, passionate, focused, cool-headed and merciless to the competitors, followers and themselves. This evokes images familiar to all of us: Usain Bolt, Wane Gretzky, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
At the same time, business leadership is more complex than sports. Athletic CEOs combine toughness with mental adaptability. They are proactively curious; they constantly reinvigorate knowledge, and they change their mental models. This almost improbable combination makes them effective.
“I love competition, so when you talk and tell me what you’re gonna do, all it makes me wanna do is work harder.” -Usain Bolt
The agendas of athletic leaders – their ambitions and major themes – are complex and multidimensional, with many different overarching themes, time horizons and specific projects. However, there are two central leitmotifs in all this diversity: winning and transforming.
Athletic leaders strive to beat specific competitors – companies and leaders they recognize as such. They work hard to beat their own records, e.g. they want their companies to constantly outperform themselves. They would like to set world records. Their playing field is the world, and their benchmarks are the global leaders. And athletic CEOs want their companies to win championships as well as single matches; they make the long-term success of their organizations a very important element of their leadership agendas.
Leadership is always about transformation, and this priority sits high on the agendas of athletic leaders. Transformation, or positive change for its own sake, has a profound meaning for them. And, as with ‘winning,’ athletic leaders pursue different kinds of transformation at different levels. They change people who work for them, the companies they manage, the industries they compete in, the communities their businesses operate in and the countries in which they live and work.
Athletic leaders also use some distinct iterative behavior strategies for leading people and organizations which I call meta-practices. These practices produce superior financial performance (outputs of athletic leadership) and long-lasting transformational legacy (outcomes of athletic leadership).
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” -Pele
What do these leaders do that is not necessarily “by the book”?
The model of athletic leadership describes what effective leadership actually looks like in the specific context. This model seems contradictory: it reflects both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of leadership. Some specific elements of athletic leadership go against well-established and widely-accepted leadership models. Let me give you some examples.
Athletic leaders do not fit into the well-known ‘Level Five Leadership’ model depicted in Jim Collins’s bestselling book From Good to Great. They are not humble, but openly ambitious. They say ‘I’ much more often than ‘we.’ They do not follow ‘the Window and the Mirror’ pattern that Collins describes; rather, they habitually take the credit for success and may blame subordinates for underperformance. They usually decide on a course of action and only then think about the people who will carry it out (contravening the ‘First Who … Then What’ principle of ‘Level Five’ leaders). They do not shy away from the limelight, but constantly seek it. CEO Vitaly Saveliev appears in every issue of the Aeroflot inflight magazine; Herman Gref has given more than a hundred press interviews since becoming Sberbank CEO.
“I hated standing on that third-place podium. Hated it, hated it.” -Michael Phelps
Athletic leaders do not always demonstrate another recognized attribute of effective leadership: emotional intelligence – at least not in the way described by Peter Salovey, John Mayer, David Caruso, or Daniel Goleman, who write about understanding and regulating personal emotions, understanding the emotions of other people, and interacting with them on the basis of that awareness. Athletic leaders are relaxed about managing their own emotions and give themselves the freedom to raise their voices or threaten followers. They criticize more often than they praise. Providing positive, constructive feedback is not their strongest competency. One of them said to us, ‘My deputies are mature, well-paid professionals – if they don’t understand what they do well, they should not be where they are. They don’t need feedback.’ Athletic leaders do not often reflect on what effect their actions and words have on other people and rarely take any steps to correct negative outcomes. They are so passionate about what they do that they assume others share the same passion, demonstrate the same level of commitment, and therefore do not require any kid-glove treatment. Like top athletes, athletic leaders are so concentrated on winning that they tend to forget about the people who help them to win.
“I don’t fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me.” -Floyd Mayweather
In more posts than I can count, I have written, discussed, and interviewed authors on the importance of organizational culture. A powerful culture fuels an organization to achieve greatness. When a new book by Chris Dyer titled The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits hit my desk, I was interested to see the author’s view of culture and his interpretation of the latest research. Chris didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader on a thoughtful overview of culture and shows the practical steps to take to improve yours in record time.
I recently spoke with Chris about his work on company culture.
“Culture is the bedrock of business success.” -Mark Goulston
Transparency. You share some great ways to increase transparency. Is it ever possible to be too transparent?
Of course! Take any example, and a case can be made that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Each company needs to decide how transparent they should be with employees, customers, and vendors. InThe Power of Company Culture, I present evidence that more transparency is usually better. Regulations, privacy concerns, and competitive advantages aside, transparency is really about writing—and playing by—the rules of the game.
When companies take charge and share information about their financial health, successes, failures, goals, and dreams, they then control their own narrative. As humans, we can only use the information we already have to explain something new we don’t understand. By providing more information to those impacting our companies, we help them arrive at the correct conclusions and outcomes.
Any company looking to improve their transparency should start in a few key areas. First, ask: Does everyone in the company know what goals have been set by senior management? Overall company goals, department goals, and even team goals should not be a secret.
Second: Does everyone know and understand the financial health status of the organization? For public companies, this information is available to everyone. But most companies are not public. Decide how far you are willing to go, and share the numbers that you can.
Third: Do teams, departments, and employees understand what is expected of them by senior leadership? Nine times out of ten, when a department or person is not measuring up to what is expected, there is a disconnect as to what they believe is expected.
“Transparency is both a business ethic and a cultural element in the workplace.” -Chris Dyer
There are lots of ways to infuse positivity into an organization. I suggest a deep dive into the Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Leadership working models, via books and interactive workshops.
Before you do that, consider where your business falls on the positivity scale. Do your people ask, “What went right?” or, “What did we do well?” Or do they just focus on solving “problems”? Often, we forget to ask and identify what is working, and consider that the place for us to do more.
Positivity also entails identifying who does what, well. In a team, it is common for some people to excel in one area, and others somewhere else. Aligning tasks and goals around strengths, and minimizing weaknesses, is more positive than working on what’s not working.
Additionally, look at the language used by people in your company to find potential tweaks for positivity. Instead of addressing troublesome issues as “problem solving,” which is a negative concept, start calling them “opportunities to improve.”
One evening a few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit our local public radio station. That’s when I met Maureen Metcalf who was interviewing me on leadership in advance of my book release.
We had a wide-ranging conversation about leadership, success, and culture. Not too long after that, we sat down again to pick up the dialogue.
Maureen wears many hats beyond her show. She is the CEO of Metcalf & Associates, a speaker, and an author. Metcalf & Associates is focused on building leaders and their organizations for the future. The firm focuses on management consulting and executive coaching – helping leaders transform who they are and how they lead in service of navigating the disruptions across industries. She also has authored several books including the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook.
In this video interview, we cover many topics including:
How organizations need to evolve concurrently with the leaders
Creating a vibrant culture and the harmonic vibrancy framework
The importance of aligning behavior with culture and systems
How leaders make an impact on the culture
How those in the middle of an organization can positively influence the culture
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As one of the world’s leading authorities on brand-building, Denise tackles one of the most important and overlooked aspects of a strong brand: company culture.
It’s the FUSION of brand and culture that creates organizational power.
After reading the book, which I also proudly endorsed, I followed up with Denise to talk about her research into brand and culture.
The Importance of Culture
Denise, you are well known for your work on branding. This book takes a different turn as it is as much, if not more, about organizational culture. Tell us about why you decided to address culture.
FUSION actually came out of my work with clients on strengthening and/or repositioning their brands. I found that our efforts were sometimes held back from making as much of an impact as they could have because of cultural issues inside the organization. If the culture of the organization wasn’t aligned with the brand, some leaders wouldn’t want to include culture as part of brand-building, or they didn’t appreciate the need to align and integrate their brand and culture — to create brand-culture fusion — and that prevented them from realizing the full potential of their organization and their brand.
“Great brands are built from the inside out.” -Denise Lee Yohn
You say that a key leadership responsibility is the integration of culture and brand. Has this always been true? What are the best ways to accomplish this?
Brand-culture fusion has always required strong leadership from the top of the organization, but it has become more important in recent years, given the corporate culture crisis that has arisen. Leaders can no longer assume their organizations will have a healthy culture if they’re nice and decent people — it takes deliberate effort to cultivate a unique, valuable, sustainable culture.
“You must accept the challenge to lead your organization to greatness.” -Denise Lee Yohn