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?

Lessons from Lincoln

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Like many, I have always been fascinated with all things Lincoln.  Studying great historical figures like Lincoln, who endured and persevered through unbelievably tough circumstances, can teach more about leadership and character than almost any modern lesson.

Abraham Lincoln, notoriously quiet about himself, would undoubtedly be amazed at the number of books written about him.  Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington DC now has a spiral staircase piled three stories high with over 6,800 books written about his life.  Thousands more books could also be added, and every year many more are published.

With all of the great books already available about Lincoln, it’s easy to wonder whether any more are needed.  My good friend Stephen Mansfield has just written an extraordinary book, proving that it’s still possible to add to our understanding of the 16th president.  Though I’ve likely read over fifty books about Lincoln, I’m a novice on his life.  Stephen’s Lincoln’s Battle With God filled in missing pieces for me, added perspective, and provided more color.

In studying Abraham Lincoln’s life, what characteristics made him such a powerful leader?  Tell me more about his character.

I suggest in Lincoln’s Battle with God that there were three forces that profoundly shaped his leadership but are rarely discussed.

First, his depression. Lincoln battled depression all his life. He neared suicide more than once. He was haunted by the deaths of loved ones. He had to fight through it, had to reach for the meaningful facets of life so he could endure. This inner struggle gave him compassion, wisdom and an outsider’s perspective—all of which fed his leadership gifts.

The Power of Convergence

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I’ve enjoyed getting to know Faisal Hoque, CEO of BTM Corporation.  His story is the classic success story.  He moved to the United States from Bangladesh with nothing and now is regularly cited as a business and technology expert.  We discussed his leadership journey, his views on company culture, and his latest book.

Faisal, you’ve had quite the journey.  You grew up in Bangladesh and started a business at the age of 14 in order to raise money to move to the United States and study here.  What a journey it’s been from that point until now.  You’re the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation, you’ve written five management books, you’ve been named as one of the most influential people in technology.  Give me a synopsis of your story.

I’d be happy to, Skip. It’s perfect that you use the word “journey” because that’s exactly how I view life – a journey. To date it has been comprised of a series of events as you mentioned, and each has held a valuable purpose in guiding me through every stage. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. There are many quotes from the books that I think of often, but the following, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” is particularly meaningful to me because regardless of the difficulties I’ve faced, I have never allowed a fear of failing to dissuade me from pursuing my dreams.

Twenty-three years ago, I had just finished my first summer semester at Southern Illinois University Carbondale after arriving from Bangladesh in 1986. I was 17 and a student in the College of Engineering. After paying my tuition for the summer and fall, I had $700.00 left to survive, secure an education and start my life. I didn’t quite realize how tight of a situation I was in.

I met some local students who became good friends. They suggested I introduce myself to the “art and science” of on-campus “janitorial engineering.” So began my expertise in polishing marble floors, cleaning arena bleachers, offices and bathrooms. My friends urged me to request financial assistance going forward. So my “pitching” career began with efforts to set up meetings with the dean, provost and university president.

It is here in the corridors of Carbondale I experienced rejection when I was told “No” to my request for financial help. The provost began by suggesting I should seriously consider going back home, which I would not even consider. After submitting numerous applications, I received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota in Duluth. I built my first software/hardware product, which was sold commercially by a local company.

Not long after, I accepted an offer from Pitney Bowes, even though it was not in the financial industry where I initially envisioned myself. From Pitney, I moved onto Dun and Bradstreet and then took the step of building my first company, KnowledgeBase.

I was asked to join GE to launch their first B2B e-commerce spin-off as one of their youngest business executives at the age of 24. Ten years after my journey here began, I started my next company, EC Cubed. We launched in December 1996 and immediately signed up GE as a customer. Less than two years later, after raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists (VCs) and securing top-tier customers, I was fired as CEO. It’s a story many entrepreneurs have experienced at the hands of VCs, and a lesson I will never forget.

Not long after, I returned to the drawing board and wrote another book, then prepared for the launch of my next company in December of 1999, BTM Corporation. Fast forward 13 years, four more books, and many Fortune 500 customer transformations, and I count my blessings each day as I continue to pursue my dreams in this ongoing journey.

Your latest book is The Power of Convergence.  Define convergence.

Our ability to manage business technology has not kept pace with our creation of new technology.

Let me stop for a moment to define ‘‘business technology’’: the application of technology to deliver a business capability or automate a business operation, in other words, the right technology to meet the business objective. In many organizations there are still two camps–technophiles and technophobes–and if they aren’t at war, they are at the very least wary of each other. In too many organizations, the ‘‘business side’’ comes up with a plan and throws it over the wall to the ‘‘technology side’’ for implementation. Because technology is so embedded in the way things work today, these two sides should have been sitting and planning together from the very beginning.

How to Read a Client from Across the Room

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Brandy Mychals is a speaker, communications expert and creator of the Character Code® System.  Her new book, How to Read a Client from Across the Room, is a deep dive into her Character Codes and how to relate to people by understanding their personalities and knowing how they want to be treated – even from across the room.

Let’s start by going back years.  You were in two car accidents, and they are important to your story.  Your first accident was what can only be described as a freak accident.  Describe the accident and how it changed your career path.

I was focused on launching my communications career, possibly working in media or writing when this freak accident occurred. It was only a few months before graduation, and I was driving in LA when I saw a tire flying at me through the air. It had come off the freeway overpass above and since I was driving with oncoming traffic, I had nowhere to go.

The tire crashed through the sun roof of my car and struck my head. It took over a year to fully recover, and part of the healing modality I experienced in that process was chiropractic. I was motivated to use my communication skills with patients and headed off to chiropractic college.

You then built a very successful chiropractic business.  What was your formula for small business success?

The first piece of the formula for small business success is to show up and treat it like a business. So many solopreneurs, service providers, health practitioners or creative individuals that have a skill, craft or initials after their name think that learning their technique is enough. That is just the start. When it comes down to it – it is a business and has to be run like one. That means marketing, sales, admin and creating systems. I went through and created every aspect of the business so it would run well, without me having to personally complete each task.

I also always apply a global perspective and focus on where do we want to go? When you are clear about what you want to accomplish, your goals if you will, it actually impacts every decision you make today and tomorrow. That is what gets you there. If the end result isn’t identified, you will never get there because you won’t be clear about the daily steps to arrive there.

Lastly, understanding people, what they need, what they want, what motivates them, how to build a community, following, create buzz and momentum is invaluable. Every business needs an inflow of new business and new clients. Businesses wither and die on the vine if they don’t understand their clients inside and out.

After becoming a chiropractor, fate intervened again, and you had another car accident.  This one was worse in many ways, but it also changed your career path.

Yes, I thought I was done with dramatic car accidents, but apparently I had another path to travel.

9 Traits of Effective Employee Feedback

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One of the most important jobs of a manager is to provide feedback.  And it’s not just advice from the boss.  Whether you’re raising kids or leading a team project, feedback is a critical tool for success.

Effective feedback has nine elements.  They are:

1.  Continual

If you work for a boss who gives you little to no feedback all year long, then you know the dreaded process.  You fill out a performance review form.  You schedule a meeting with your boss.  You sit down and wait to see what will happen.  You have no idea what to expect.  You may be nervous, anxious or just plain curious about what she will say.

An effective boss doesn’t wait for performance review time to give feedback.  It’s a continual process.  I’ve found the most effective feedback is given during informal times—over a cup of coffee or lunch.  You have the opportunity to have a discussion about something.

2.  Supportive