What leadership qualities are important to today’s workforce?
The best leaders—the men and women people want to follow, not have to follow—are confident, authentic (genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief), and intrinsically powerful, which means they’re connected to a purpose greater than themselves.
“It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.” -Jean Nidetch
I’m often giving keynote speeches about the rapid-fire pace of change. From artificial intelligence to the gig economy, the world of work is changing at a record pace.
The Leadership Mind Switch is a new book by authors Debra Benton and Kylie Wright-Ford that helps leaders position themselves for the future in the midst of these changes. To keep up and succeed, you want to understand how to navigate to drive growth well into the future.
Rethink How We Lead
Why is it important to rethink how we lead?
While it is always important to grow and develop as leaders, we are experiencing an historical era where tech advances married with sweeping demographic changes, plus a shift in the power base from corporations to individuals, have upended the way the future looks for work, workplaces and workers.
The sharing economy, the low marginal cost of becoming an entrepreneur and the preferences of rising generations mean that leadership behaviors of the past will fail in a quest for relevancy in our physically and digitally fused world. Yet leaders are still using biographies of their favorite leaders from the 80s and 90s as their guides for the future.
As a Chief Operating Officer meeting hundreds of the world’s best executives, I was struck by the slow pace of change in the way we interact in the workplace relative to the pace of change in the outside world, the changing complexion of our customer bases in business and the demands of the rising generations. Legacy thinking and iterations on past methods won’t cut it in the new world of work, yet many leaders are “nibbling at the edges” of the changes they need to implement to attract and retain talent and, frankly, to remain relevant. Free food and subsidized health memberships are not enough anymore. Dramatic shifts in the characteristics and behaviors we value are needed to thrive going forward.
The dizzying pace of change often make us believe that everything is upended, but some things have not changed for leaders. What is something that remains unchanged and just as important in terms of leadership?
The ideal of being trusted and trustworthy has not changed over time. It is as important now as it ever was, especially in the eyes of those impacted by less than honest leaders, but what is different now is our ability to get transparency on and take action against leaders that lie, cheat and create subversive cultures.
The optimism of people and yearning for strong leadership, whether real or perceived, can often mask less than trustworthy behavior for a period of time. However, we are entering an era where rising generations are seeking more from their leaders and their organizations. Consumers, workers and competitors have more ability than ever to call out bad behaviors, share good behaviors and make choices.
“The optimism of people and yearning for strong leadership can often mask less than trustworthy behavior.”
I have unwavering belief in our ability as a society to sift through the noise of leaders who are untrustworthy and that we have an opportunity to set a new bar for leaders who create positive cultures, leave enduring legacies and inspire those coming behind and beside them. We just aren’t there yet.
What behaviors do leaders need today that may not have been “musts” in the past?
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
People issues. Many leaders will tell you that people problems keep them up at night. From dealing with the under-performers to retaining and motivating the superstars, people problems dominate a leader’s thoughts.
One primary difference between a great culture and a poor one is this: a great culture has stars in every seat and a poor culture tolerates under-performers.
That’s what Trevor Throness explains in his new book, The Power of People Skills. His book teaches how to make the right people decisions. Don’t let the difficult people problems slow you down. His book is a helpful guide to everyone in management. I recently spoke with him about his work. Trevor is a coach who has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and organizations fix people problems and build exceptional cultures.
“The one quality that all successful business leaders have in common is tenacity.” –Trevor Throness
Attracting A Players. Many say they want to do this, but they don’t put the time and resources in to show it’s a priority. Why is it so important?
It’s important because A Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others. Think of your best person; wouldn’t you rather lose three other weaker players than lose him? One great employee is worth three adequate employees. The irony is that often the best employees cost nearly the same as the worst. 50% of medical doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, but they all charge the same!
“A-Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others.” –Trevor Throness
What are some of the people myths that affect many companies?
Here are two of the biggest myths:
People’s basic weaknesses will change if they’re coached
Often leaders believe that, through their expert intervention, the basic construct of someone’s personality will change. “Sure, today they’re a quiet, detail-oriented person who prefers to work alone, but once I show them the way, they’ll become an aggressive leader!” The truth is that leopards don’t change their spots. The best case scenario for any employee is that he will become a better version of who he already is. If you’re unhappy with the fundamentals of who he is, coaching is not going to fix that.
The point of coaching is to help people fix their weaknesses
The focus of coaching should be to capitalize on strengths, not to build a set of strong weaknesses. When I’m coaching someone, and we’re discussing weaknesses, I’m hoping that the person will grow in self-awareness so she can see how her weaknesses affect her team and then moderate that behavior. Mostly, however, I’m looking to adjust her role so that she can spend more of her day capitalizing on her strengths, doing what she was born to do, what makes her feel strong, and what accounts for most of her results.
“One great employee is worth three adequate employees.” –Trevor Throness
An engaged culture promotes continuous learning so that employees are not only growing, they are staying ahead of change. Even better, they are bringing positive change into the organization.
An engaged CEO or business owner leads an engaged culture. If she or he is disengaged from the culture, the employee population will also be disengaged.
An engaged culture recognizes that everyone walks in the door with various sets of life skills. Therefore, the organization makes sure everyone has the necessary life skills to change and engage. These include sales, presentations skills, the ability to influence, and clarity in how to build a vitally effective support system.
Self-reflection is encouraged in a strongly engaged culture. At Cornerstone on Demand, executives routinely ask questions such as, “What’s your next move?” “Where are you going next?” After seven years employees are given a sabbatical for self-reflection. The point is, we cannot have engagement without a connection to one’s own truth. We have proven this thousands of times in our programs, which are question driven.
“More than 80% of America’s workers don’t like what they do for a living.” –David Harder
I’ve featured many people on this site talking about the problem of engagement. The stats are remarkable. We didn’t have sophisticated surveys years ago. Do you think this is a new phenomenon?
In the scheme of things, surveys are a bit old-school. The problem with surveys is they don’t produce change. Unless there is a solid commitment to produce an engaged culture, they often create more harm than good.
My point in The Workplace Engagement Solution: Find a Common Mission, Vision, and Purpose With All of Today’s Employees is that the majority of workers are checked-out, to various degrees. Getting them back requires a visionary commitment from the leadership but it also requires that we teach people how to change and engage. Notice that I rarely use one work without the other. Right now, according to a recent New York Times study, 48% of Americans view themselves as “underemployed.” This is also a staggering number and yet it is reflective of workers at odds with keeping up with change.
Gallup: Only 13% of the world’s workers are engaged.