How to Fix Leadership at All Levels

Leadership Crisis

We are experiencing an unprecedented leadership crisis.

That’s what Sebastian Salicru argues in his new book, Leadership Results: How to Create Adaptive Leaders and High-Performing Organisations for an Uncertain World. We are living in a world where leaders are more likely to create “distrust, doubt, and dissent than confidence and engagement.”

Read the news and it’s easy to see why he feels this way.

 

86% of the world’s experts agree we are experiencing a leadership crisis.

 

Sebastian is the founder of PTS Consultants and works with executives and organizations to deliver exceptional results. I recently spoke with him about his new research.

 

Why is leadership experiencing such a crisis moment with increased skepticism and a marked loss of trust?

The main reason is that traditional approaches to leadership are no longer working, the game is changing and current leadership practices are outdated.

Most people think societal and economic systems are no longer working – they have had enough! Declining confidence and trust in leaders, and the consequent low levels of employee engagement, have become a problem for governments, industry—including banks—and even non-government organizations.

 

A top-performing leader has a 50% higher impact on a business.

 

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which samples more than 33,000 respondents from 28 countries, found people’s concerns center around corruption, globalization, immigration, an erosion of social values and the pace of innovation. Not surprisingly, CEO credibility is at its lowest level ever. It has dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent, declining in all countries surveyed, and government leaders (29 percent) remain least credible. “The gap between the trust held by the informed public and that of the mass population has widened to 15 points, with the biggest disparities in the U.S. (21 points), U.K. (19 points) and France (18 points). The mass population in 20 countries distrusts their institutions, compared to only six for the informed public.”

The growing multibillion dollar leadership development industry is failing to deliver results, and according to the 2016 Harvard Business Review article ‘Why leadership training fails—and what to do about it’, corporations have become victims of ‘the great training robbery.’

Beyond research, the briefest glance at the television news or newspapers paints a vivid picture of the global leadership crisis, with escalating trends of violence, depravation, injustice, coercion and the abuse of power – pervasive images to dismay even the most casual viewer.

Clearly, our leaders are ill-prepared to fulfil what is required of them, and we are not getting the expect results we expect.  Hence, the title of my new book: Leadership Results: How to Create Adaptive Leaders and High-Performing Organisations for an Uncertain World.

Based on my 20-plus years of working in management education and leadership development, I see it only deepening. I know we can do better. We needed to re-think leadership.

 

“Leadership is fundamentally a relationship.” –Sebastian Salicru

 

Rethinking Leadership

Find a Common Mission to Engage Employees

thread

Find a Common Mission, Vision and Purpose

Despite billions of dollars of investments, organizations around the globe see employee engagement stagnant at only 13%.

David Harder, author of The Workplace Engagement Solution: Find a Common Mission, Vision, and Purpose With All of Today’s Employees, believes that CEO’s can successfully awaken the culture, and that you can create an enthusiastic culture and loyal customers. David is the founder of Inspired Work. Over 42,000 participants have engaged in his program to change careers, become better leaders, and launch businesses.

I asked him about his engagement ideas.

 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

 

What are some of the characteristics of a culture that it truly “engaged”?

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.

 

The Importance of Mission

How Leaders Create A Compelling Vision to Engage & Inspire

company vision

Lead With Vision

Leaders create a vision and engage a community to achieve it.

What does it mean to lead with vision?

It’s a question that authors Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter, and John Maketa researched extensively, surveying over 400 companies in search of the answer.

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book, LEADING WITH VISION: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce.

 

Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?

Yes, of course.  Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.

The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability.  Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission.  He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed.  He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).

That statement struck me as extremely important.  Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that.  The power of it is immeasurable.  That is what visionary leadership can do.  It can unleash the power of the workforce.

 

Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.

 

The 4 C’s of a Visionary Leader

What’s your definition of a visionary leader?

A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state.  It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be.  That feels very risky for leaders.  It is stepping out of the norm.  There are certain things they will need to do.  In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs.  They must:

  1. Embody courage,
  2. Forge clarity,
  3. Build connectedness, and
  4. Shape the culture.

 

What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision? 

Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way for Exceptional Results

Align Your Organization to Create Exceptional Results

 

How do leaders align and engage a workforce in the midst of uncertainty?

 

Authors Kay Kendall and Glenn Bodinson are expert Baldrige coaches. They studied more than two dozen organizations that delivered exceptional results following the Baldrige Criteria, key principles derived and championed by Malcolm Baldrige in the mid-1980s to improve productivity and competitiveness. Their research was supplemented by talking with more than fifty CEOs to gain insights on performance excellence. I recently asked them about their work and their new book, Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way.

 

Disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism.

 

What do readers, who may not know Malcolm Baldrige, need to know before picking up your book? How will studying the Malcolm Baldrige Way help business leaders?

Malcolm Baldrige was a very successful businessman before Ronald Reagan tapped him to be Secretary of Commerce.  He was deeply concerned about the future of manufacturing in America.  At that time, the 80s, Japan was dominating in the automotive and electronics manufacturing industries.  Both of those industries – and others in America – were being plagued by poor quality, and consumers were making choices to go with Japanese products.  Secretary Baldrige championed an effort to establish a presidential award based on rigorous standards that would recognize manufacturing and service organizations that achieved high levels of performance.  After Baldrige’s untimely death, President Reagan decided to honor his friend with what became known as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  Studying Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way will help business leaders in any industry, in any situation – flourishing or in peril – learn how to align their employees to deliver exceptional results.

 

Why Engagement Matters

To those who think culture is soft, what statistics can you share that demonstrate engagement matters?

Leading the Malcolm Baldrige WayOne study showed that companies with high levels of employee engagement have five times higher shareholder returns over five years.  There is also clear evidence that engaged employees create loyal customers.  If that isn’t compelling, consider the flip-side of engagement.  Statistics from a recent article in Harvard Business Review cited, “Disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects.  In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.” Those are staggering costs for organizations.

 

 

Engagement is the rage these days in leadership circles, yet still many leaders don’t work on engagement. Why is this?

Honestly, we don’t understand it.  The evidence that engagement matters and impacts bottom-line results is clear.   There is also the notion that treating employees as valued assets is what leaders as decent human beings ought to do.  In the latest recession, we saw a lot of leaders with an attitude of “My employees should be grateful just to have a job.”  As the economy picked up, we saw many employees jump ship as soon as there were opportunities to work for an organization with a better culture, where they were treated as valuable contributors to the mission and vision.

 

Research: Companies with engaged workers report 6% higher profits.

 

Don’t Make Excuses

12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower