Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead

How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade

career derailers

The Right and Wrong Stuff

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to derail a career or to lose a job. Adding to the problem is that it is possible that your career has stalled without your knowledge, an unexpected plateau because of something you don’t know about. Maybe it’s because you’ve been labeled impulsive or not seen as a team player.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to pause and assess where you are so you can get back on track.

Carter Cast knows this firsthand. In a terrific new book, The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade, Carter sheds light on what causes careers to derail and others to soar. His advice is practical and actionable. Carter is a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, a former CEO, and a venture capitalist. I recently asked him to share some of his perspective.

 

Korn Ferry Research: people who overstate their abilities in 360-degree assessments are 6.2 times more likely to derail than those with accurate self-awareness

 

Would you share your own story of career derailment?

Back when Bill Clinton was president and I was a marketing manager within PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division, I found myself sitting in my boss Mike’s office for my annual performance review. I worried as he started the preamble, which was along the lines of, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Mike didn’t bury the lead for long—soon he came right out and told me that senior management considered me unpromotable, which meant I was no longer on the fast track at Frito-Lay. He laid out a list of my offenses, littering his examples with words like “uncooperative,” “resistant to feedback from authority figures,” and “unmanageable.” He described my behavior in various situations, repeatedly pointing out times I circumnavigated the established processes and procedures and ignored the chain of command for the sake of expediency, or the times I quietly ignored his feedback and chose to do things my own way.

Thirty painful minutes later, as he was wrapping up, when Mike asked if I had anything to say for myself, I simply asked if I was being fired. (It sure felt like it.) He said, “No, but I don’t want you to work in my group any longer. You’ll need to look for another marketing position within the company.”

Eventually I found another boss and team to work with, but it was a humbling experience because as I talked to prospective bosses, I learned that I had a reputation problem. I was considered “difficult to manage.” I realized I lacked the self-awareness needed to change my behavior right away, so I went about doing so. I identified the circumstances that triggered my disruptive behavior (e.g. sitting in ponderous process meetings; being managed tightly by a very “participative” boss; being talked at by a verbose senior manager), and I steadily began to develop practical methods to better self-regulate and curb my tendency toward stupid, unnecessary insubordination. Over time, I was again considered to be a promotable employee, but it took a couple years to climb out of hole I’d dug for myself.

 

Career Fact: half to two-thirds of all managers will be fired, demoted, or plateau at some point.

 

Use Negative Feedback to Propel You Forward

Your story highlights negative feedback, and I was intrigued that you actually called your boss and had him give it to you again! How do you coach individuals to hear negative feedback and use it in the best way possible?

I must be a glutton for punishment. (I was a swimmer, so I’m fairly certain.) Yes, twenty years later, I called my old boss Mike to get some quotes for the book. And he gave them to me. Yikes. Even after all these years, when he spoke to me, about me circa 1995, I felt a wave of queasiness! Thirty-three year old Carter needed some tough love.

What’s Your Digital Business Model?

Transform Your Business

Digital transformation. We read about it often. Organizational leaders struggle to determine the possible threats, the impending changes needed, the opportunities that are possible.

Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner’s new book, What’s Your Digital Business Model?, provides a strategic framework for thinking about these issues. Peter is a Senior Research Scientist and Chair of the Center for Information Systems Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Stephanie is also Research Scientist at the same institution with a specialty focusing on how companies manage organizational change caused by digital disruption.

I had the opportunity to speak with them about their research and new book.

 

Rate Your Digital Readiness

How would you rate most organizations readiness for the era of digital disruption that we are in and are facing?

Most organizations we talk to and research know they have to change to stay relevant and have improved in some areas (perhaps they’ve worked on business process optimization or they’ve automated a lot of processes). However, as customer experience demands have increased, we find that many older, bigger companies have not made the improvements and changes needed to address those demands. Plus the leaders of the average large company (more than $7B in revenue) identified that 46% of their revenues are under threat over the next 5 years if they don’t change.

 

Fact: large companies predict 46 percent of revenues are threatened in the next 5 years absent change.

 

How was the research developed?

The book is based around six questions we think every executive and organization has to be able to answer in order to be competitive in the digital economy. We started this research by interviewing leaders from large, global companies, asking them to describe their most important digitally-enabled business transformation initiative. From there we developed a model, tested the preliminary findings in more than 50 workshops with senior executives, identified capabilities needed, conducted several surveys to test those capabilities and show links to financial performance, and interviewed many companies to help us understand what it takes to transform a business. The book resulted from five years of research which shows that the senior executives of top performing firms honestly answered the six questions. To help, each chapter concludes with a self-assessment on one of the six questions. The reader can then compare their self-assessment results to top financial performers to help leadership teams understand the gap they have to close.

 

Needed: Honest Conversations about the Future

Of the six parts, is there one step that more organizations get stuck in than another?

Probably the hardest question for most organizations is having an honest conversation about whether they have leadership, at all levels, who will persevere and successfully deliver the business transformation. Along the way the culture will have to change and adapt to the new digital business model and often this means changing people at the top. But it is not just the top layer of leaders that has to change. Successful transformation requires getting the whole company to behave differently – from the board to the lowest level of employees. For example, DBS Bank in Singapore, which was one the Euromoney’s most digital banks in 2016 has managed to get 14,800 of their 22,000 people involved in a digital innovation activity every week.

 

“Successful transformation requires getting the whole company to behave differently – from the board to the lowest level of employees.”

How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others

influence

Bring Out the Best

As leaders, we are often wondering what the best way is to bring out the best in our organizations. We want to help people exceed all expectations and accomplish more than they thought possible.

Yet, the current feedback mechanisms and performance appraisal processes in our organizations often don’t work toward that goal. In fact, Tim Irwin, author of Extraordinary Influence: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, argues that they do just the opposite. Tim Irwin, PhD is an author, speaker, and leading authority on leadership.

I recently asked Tim to share his perspective on negativity and criticism at work.

 

“Leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less.” -John Maxwell

 

What are a few things we often get wrong with criticism in the workplace?

Our brains are hardwired to detect anything that threatens our physical or emotional safety. When a person senses criticism, it engages a “negativity bias” in our brains and generally shuts down the parts of our brains responsible for creativity and problem solving. This is just one reason the often-used term “constructive criticism” is such an oxymoron.

 

Research: Science has revealed that affirmation sets in motion huge positive changes in the brain.

 

Avoid Words of Death

What are Words of Death?

The workplace, and society in general, are filled with critical words and phrases. For example, in some organizations, the phrase “One Throat to Choke” is used to describe the need for accountability on a project or other initiative. While maybe colorful and entertaining at some level, the use of these words and many others diminish us, at least at an unconscious level. Leaders routinely use statements such as, “I’m going to hold your feet to the fire,” (a torture method in the middle ages) to motivate employees and presumably to get them to work harder. Our brains thrive on affirmation not threats.

 

Research: Affirmation activates areas of the brain associated with calmness and openness to new ideas.

 

If we are on the receiving end of them, what can we do to limit their impact on us?

If it’s our present boss, we may learn some valuable lessons about how not to lead and motivate others. If a “Words of Death” culture prevails in our organization, we may need to consider, “Do I want to spend 40 to 60 hours a week or more in such a toxic environment?”

 

Share an example of “alliance feedback” that works to bring out someone’s highest potential.influence

Recently I met with a senior officer of a company who had some significant deficits in “Emotional Intelligence.” I could have said, “You have the empathy of a fence post, and no one trusts you.” Those were actually true statements. Would he have heard my feedback and acted on it in a conscientious manner? Doubtful. Instead, I said, “I know you aspire to a larger role in your company, and I think that is a worthwhile and achievable goal. In order to realize that aspiration, I recommend you work on collaborating with your peers more effectively by appreciating the challenges they face in reaching important goals.” What ensued was a very productive conversation about specific actions he could take to collaborate more effectively. He was eager to learn and not defensive in the slightest. The research is compelling that connecting feedback to personal hopes and aspirations bypasses the part of our brain that stays in hyper defense mode.

 

3 Faces of a Leader

How to Seek, Seed, and Scale Innovation

change

The Change Maker’s Playbook

Innovation is dynamic, iterative, and even messy – but with the vast problems facing the world, and opportunities to harness people’s creativity, passion, and desire to make an impact, there has never been greater potential to make a dent in as-yet unsolved economic, social and other issues. Leadership qualities, not always and not simply technology, are the essential ingredients.

I recently spoke with Amy J. Radin, author of The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation in Any Company. Amy is a nationally recognized Fortune 100 Chief Marketing and Information Officer.

 

“Purpose defines what you stand for and why your business exists.” -Amy J. Radin

 

The Power of Purpose

I love this line in your new book: “Purpose defines what you stand for and why your business exists.” Tell us more about the power of purpose and why it’s so important to change makers.

Purpose defines the marketplace problem the change maker wants to solve. It’s why they pursue an innovation.  They see the need to create something new, to fix something they see as really broken.

Purpose is grounded in emotion, but it’s far from touchy-feely. Purpose:

  • Focuses everyone on unifying beliefs, makes collaboration the norm, and aims resources at the vision and nothing else.
  • Minimizes the corrosive effect of internal politics — everyone is committed to the same point on the horizon. Purpose is an energy booster.
  • Sets the goal post on achieving aspirations to meet real market needs. Of course, financial results matter, but the purpose-driven team delivers financial impact and sets itself up to meet broader stakeholder needs.

 

“Purpose means knowing what you stand for, why you want to exist.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Resourcefulness is a key behavior of change makers. How should leaders encourage resourcefulness?

Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what. Doing so means they are making progress even though they have what can look like severe resource shortages.

Much of anyone’s resourcefulness comes from an ability to help everyone in their orbit to be more resourceful.

First, be a role model of resourcefulness behaviors.  My favorite example of all time is one I uncovered while doing the research for The Change Maker’s Playbook: Drew Lakatos co-founded ActiveProtective, a company working on an innovative device – think of it as the wearable equivalent of an inflatable air bag — to attack the growing medical and social crises caused by millions of seniors’ falling every year in this country. He had purpose and passion, but lacked capital.  So, he went around to junkyards one Saturday morning, and extracted non-bloody air bags from wrecked cars. Then he combined these with bicycle tire inner tubes, working with his local tailor to create components of early proof-of-concept designs – for a few dollars apiece. They were convincing enough to win critical support to get to the next steps.

Second, when assessing potential hires, listen for stories of how they have demonstrated resourcefulness in their lives. If you don’t hear evidence of real tenacity, move on.

Third, be open-minded about how things are done, not just what is getting done. Being resourceful means finding and supporting non-obvious ways to accomplish milestones and achieve goals.

 

“Resourceful leaders treat others with respect and value people as people, and as a result inspire and attract others to enable their purpose.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Fourth, promote a culture where seeking help is a mark of leadership and strength, not a sign of weakness. I see organizations where people are afraid that they will be fired if they admit ignorance. I see cultures punishing people who admit they don’t know something or would like help. These are environments where innovation cannot ever be successful.

 

“Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Lessons from Edison