New Leaders – Get Good Information and Build Relationships

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion; the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Open Communication

The techniques in these areas will establish the foundation to develop a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, accountability and action. I will discuss these attributes in a future post.

First Impressions

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

 

“What you do, not what you say, is what establishes culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on the following characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

To lay the groundwork for these cultural practices, you must first have good information, form relationships at all levels and communicate openly. The next two sections provide some techniques.

 

Information Gathering and Relationship Building

Before a new leader is able to decide, initiate action or communicate intelligently, he/she needs good information quickly. It is vitally important to have information from different perspectives and different levels in an organization. Just getting information from one person/place can lead to narrow, sub-optimized decisions. Here are some mechanisms to obtain good information and simultaneously form relationships:

  • Skip-Level Meetings: Go to department staff meetings at all levels of the organization, starting with your direct reports, if you are a manager. This also works for project team leaders. You may simply listen during the meeting, but a simple round table discussion also works very well. Popular questions are: what is working; what is not working; what is frustrating; what should we stop doing; what decisions are holding up progress?

 

“It is vitally important for leaders to have information from different perspectives and levels.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

There are several benefits to skip-level meetings. Not only do you get good information from “the front line,” but it is also a good place to find things that people can be empowered to fix, thus setting the tone for delegation, action and decisiveness. Two fundamentals: 1) Always listen and question; 2) Be cautious not to manage around the team leader.

  • “State of the Union” Meetings: These are short one-on-one meetings for a person to give you a summary of the situation for a group, team, department or project. It does not have to be a polished presentation, just a discussion from an outline that covers: priorities, issues, decisions needed and what to start, stop or keep doing. Basically, let the person tell you what they are doing, what is going well and what needs attention. Again, look for opportunities for decision and action.

Out Execute the Competition

Irv Rothman is the president and chief executive officer of HP Financial Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Company. Prior to joining HP, Rothman was president and chief executive officer of Compaq Financial Services Corporation where he led it from its founding to growth of over $3.7 billion in total assets.

Irv is the author of Out-Executing the Competition.  What I really admire is that Irv is donating all of the royalties he earns on the sale of the book to Room to Read, an organization dedicated to children’s literacy.

 

The best way to out-execute the other guy is to know your customer’s business as well as you know your own. -Irv Rothman

 

Attracting the Right Talent

Much of success in business is about finding and cultivating the right talent.  How did you attract and retain the talent needed to accomplish your goals?

Attracting and retaining the right people starts with a leadership commitment to first develop high performers in-house.  And this has to be more than an annual “talent management” exercise.  It’s an activity that leadership must consistently demonstrate is important by developing people and promoting from within.  This sends key messages to an organization:

1)   Leadership can be trusted to do as they say they will.

2)   Career opportunities exist…. No need to look elsewhere.

3)   Leadership recognizes and acknowledges that outside hires are a 50/50 proposition.

In short, provide an atmosphere where people can learn and achieve advancement based on merit.  Not only will the good people stick around, their hearts will be in it.

 

Developing a Culture of Execution

 

Out-Executing the Competition

Your book title is all about execution.  How do you develop a culture of execution?

A culture of execution starts with devotion to the customer.  Since it is theoretically easier to keep a customer than to find a new one, all messaging and reward systems need to be packaged around a “customer for life” philosophy.  And a pay-for-performance compensation system is a must.  Moreover, it can’t be black box; people need to be clear as to what rewards can be expected from results and behaviors.  Once you’ve got all that organized, creating an environment where people have freedom to act on behalf of the customer is crucial. You can’t have a circumstance where people are bound by the linear strictures of a traditional command and control organization. It not only frustrates your employees, it also makes for dissatisfaction on the part of the people on the other end of the phone.

5 Leadership Traits for High Performance

This is a guest post by Eric Lowitt. Eric is the author of The Collaboration Economy and an advisor to entrepreneurial CEOs worldwide. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Want to Lead Your Company to High Performance? Change How You Lead.

Growing up in the 1980s, I viewed Jack Welch as a model of the ideal CEO.  Tough minded, wildly successful, and more than a touch human, Welch provided inspiration for millions looking to go from rags to riches.  While Jack Welch the man deserves to be revered, his most often cited management mantras require a second look.  Here’s why and what your company should do instead.

Be number one or number two in your market, or exit the business.

Fire the employees in the bottom ten percent of performance every year.

The CEO mandate is to maximize shareholder value.

These three management principles were the core of GE’s management system two decades ago.  A massive number of books were written on GE management practices; hundreds of thousands of business students studied to emulate Welch and his business actions.

The opportunity to connect around a shared purpose is needed more than ever.

Times have changed.  For companies to access resources – environmental and human – they need to provide significant value to the local communities from where these resources come. As a result, companies are no longer able to control their corporate destinies.  Now they must work with these local communities and other stakeholders to access the resources they need to prosper in perpetuity.

So what are the leadership traits these companies’ executives – and any entrepreneur interested in growing her company – need to embrace to outperform their competition today, tomorrow, and in the coming decades?

  1. Seeing your leadership position as a privilege, not a right
  2. Serving as activist-in-chief for your constituents
  3. Operating in a time frame longer than tenure
  4. Believing in and relying on partnerships
  5. Feeding constructive discontent

Seeing your leadership position as a privilege, not a right

Twenty-first-century CEOs are keenly aware that their role comes with great responsibility. Rather than view their remit as “maximize shareholder value,” they realize that it is to serve their stakeholders’ best interests.  As John Replogle, CEO of consumer goods company Seventh Generation explained,

The difference [between CEOs operating with twentieth- versus twenty-first-century mind-sets] starts with how we view our position. Understanding how you view your position as CEO informs where you put your emphasis. I approach my role as CEO as one of privilege, responsibility, and stewardship.

While some CEOs emphasize the creation of shareholder value, my view leads me to emphasize actions and investments that further Seventh Generation’s mission.

Serving as activist-in-chief for your constituents

Stick With It

Photo courtesy of istockphoto/Greg Epperson

Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and the author of 12 books, the co-founder of The L Group, and a popular speaker.  His latest book, co-authored with his wife Julie, is Stick with It: Mastering the Art of Adherence.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Lee a few questions about his new book and his extensive experience working in the field of leadership, strategy execution and employee engagement.

Lee, this book is an updated version of a previous bestselling book of yours: Sticking to It.  What led you to update it?

Well, Skip, we had been applying the Adherence Equation for 10 years:

 

Black and White Equation for print

 

We learned from and worked with our clients to hone and develop new tools that support adherence (defined as consistent execution), and we wanted to share our learnings.  Even though I wrote 10 other books during that time, the Adherence Equation still seemed to resonate with organizations of all sizes and industries.  Truth be told, that first book remained my bestseller.  Clearly, I should have stopped after my first one!

I finally decided, with the better judgment of my business partner and wife of 25 years, that we should take our own medicine and FOCUS.  So, we have poured our best stories, examples and tools into this expanded and enhanced follow-up that serves as a roadmap for consistent execution.

Here is the essence of the Adherence Equation:www.stickwithitbook.com

Focus provides the clarity necessary to make decisions that support your most important goals. It results in a clearly defined pathway to success. A sharp focus answers the “what” question – What do you need to do to execute your strategy?

Competence is used in the broadest sense of the term. It encompasses all the skills, systems, processes and tools a team uses to achieve its goals. The result is the ability to commit to, measure and hit your targets. Building competence answers the “how” question – How will you execute your strategy?

Passion creates a sense of connectedness. It creates a connection between teammates, a connection to our human need for meaningful work and a connection to each individual’s sense of value and contribution. Igniting passion answers the “why” question – Why are you executing your strategy?

Why Leaders Don’t Need Parrots

Parrots

 

When I first became a CEO, I noticed something strange.

In a meeting, I was suddenly funnier.  The slightest hint at humor could erupt the room into laughter.  I was also smarter.  And my arguments were more persuasive.   Heads would bob up and down as I made a point.

Obviously my new title didn’t bestow some magical gift of brilliance.  What it provided was positional power, and people were reacting to the position.

Immediately, I knew what happened.  It took me longer to figure out what to do about it.

I’d seen this much earlier in my career when people would “parrot” the CEO.  I call it the Parrot Principle.  To get along and be accepted, some find it’s just easier to parrot the CEO than to think critically, to argue, or to be independent.  Why rock the boat when you can just agree and repeat what you’re told?

The cause is usually fear.  Fear of losing a job or of not being in the inner circle.  It’s also a symptom of a culture needing change.

Parrot Principle

Because of a lack of self-confidence, a fear of job loss, or an extreme need for acceptance, it is easier to agree with the boss than to advance a different point of view.

The result is usually what I call a “pocket veto” where people nod in a meeting, then go outside and talk about what they really believe.  It’s bad for everyone.  The company is not served well.  The CEO may not even realize what’s happening.  And the parrot is building distrust throughout the organization.

It’s not just the new CEO who faces this problem.  It’s almost any new position of power.  If others are dependent on you, you can be vulnerable to the Parrot Principle.

So what can you do about it?