Organisation : Organizational Leadership

Ed Ferris Edward Ferris is Managing Partner, Charlesmore Partners International, a rapidly growing management consulting firm with a single focus: to help CEOs and their top management teams develop the organization to deliver their strategy. Previously Mr. Ferris owned and managed a management consulting firm specializing in business and organizational strategy and held executive Human Resources positions at ABB, General Signal Corporation and British Telecom with responsibilities spanning some 44 countries on six continents.

He graduated from Manchester University in England, and holds two Postgraduate Diplomas in Human Resources. He is also a Graduate of the Institute of Personnel Management in London, England. He is a past member of Work in America’s Productivity Forum Advisory Board and is a frequent speaker and writer on human resource matters. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania with his wife and two daughters.

Edward can be reached at eferris@charlesmore.com


Being asked to talk about Organizational Leadership is somewhat like being asked to talk about the sea or the sky, its such a broad subject that its hard to decide where to start, where to stop and what to cover.

Yet, particularly for those of us in today’s business world, it is a subject of profound importance and critical relevance to our day to day activities. The success or failure of our enterprises, and our customers’ enterprises, our ability to support our families (and our employee’s families), and our sense of self worth and achievement, all have direct link and accountability to our performance as organizational Leaders.

$42,000,000,000

$42 billion dollars; Bill Gates’ reputed net worth (in 1997) for his sustained success in leading Microsoft to its current preeminent position as a technology leader and creator of shareholder value.

At the other end of the spectrum, let me offer you a different set of figures:

1,400,000
23,000
133

1,400,000 executives, managers and administrative professionals lost their jobs between 1988 – 1993. That’s 23,000 managerial jobs a month or 133 each working hour.

There are significant undercurrents beneath these numbers that are both worthy of exploring and highly indicative of the whitewater that is buffeting all of our organizations in these nanosecond nineties (as Tom Peters has characterized this era). Undercurrents that pose inordinate challenge and implications for the role, focus, actions and behaviors of Leaders throughout the world on a real-time basis.

And it is these implications that I would like to focus on today.     

Trends, Roles, Competencies & Prescriptions

I will start by looking at the 5 Trends that shape our business world. Then I will spend some time looking at 7 Roles that Leaders will need to play in order to create sustainable competitive advantage, as well as 9 Core Competencies that this will require. Finally, I will suggest 11 Prescriptions for Action to drive organizational effectiveness.    

Peter Senge

A couple of years ago, I attended a talk by Peter Senge, one of today's most highly regarded management theorists, and he proclaimed…

"Senior Managers in today’s organizations are increasingly lost.
They really don’t know what their job is about.

In the past, the top 3 or 4 executives made all the decisions, and then they oversaw the implementation process.

In today’s turbulent world, it’s impossible to control from the top. It’s crazy even to try"

This hit such a chord to me, having spent much of my career trying to guide, support, cajole, console and encourage managers along a continuum from solving today’s problems to trying to figure out the right strategies, actions and behaviors to embrace to ensure a sustainable future.

5 Camps of Managers

I had seen wave after wave of fads, fashions and fancies offered as the antidote to corporate malaise, Leadership dysfunctionality or the challenges of growth, technology shift, global competition or plummeting financial results.

My managers seemed to fall into several camps:

1.

The ones who were genuinely grasping for a new toolkit, with the full realization that today’s world demanded new skills and approaches.

2.

There were others who were clinging on so strongly to their past and their turf, it reminded you of approaching a Rottweiler's’ food bowl at dinnertime.

3.

A third group just sat clueless as the world zipped past them, and indeed were slightly less dangerous than the fourth group who lapped up every new idea emanating from an airline magazine and constantly whip-lashed their organization until their heads span. Never mind, thought the troops of this group, "this too will pass". And it always did.

4.

Then there was a fifth group – the professional career surfers. Always with their political antenna on, seeking the main chance, staying close to the company’s power brokers. Always there to start something visible. Never there to finish, or mop up.

5.

Yes, and of course there was a sixth group, who always seemed to do the right things, had balance, credibility and good sense. Set sound strategies, could explain them in ways people could understand, and were ever open to feedback, new ideas and personal learning. Their workgroups, divisions or companies always were the most successful, on a regular and consistent basis. They recognized that while the fundamental principles by which they lead did not change, the context in which they did business is changing rapidly, and they helped their organizations adapt and perform.

Their Leadership style could be found in the writings of Lao-Tzu, 2,500 years ago in ancient China, of Mary Parker Follett in the 1920s, of Peter Drucker in the 1950s, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the 1990s.

The French have a phrase, "in life, it’s only the packaging that changes, the truth beneath remains the same".

And so it is with Leadership. Fad and fancies may give us a new idea, a new edge or a fresh model to explore. But fundamentally, good Leadership practices endure, it’s the context in which they are applied that today spins feverishly on its axis.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the dynamics of our business world today:

Performance Standards

Higher performance standards

Firstly, the standards of performance that we are faced with today are increasingly demanding.

Standards of results, customer service and satisfaction, speed, cost reduction, innovation. Pundits talk about the "quick and the dead".

Fewer than half of the Fortune top 500 companies of 20 years ago is still on the list today. Sony turns out 4 new products a day. This year WalMart surpassed General Motors as the nation’s largest private employer and opened 80 more stores. Everywhere we turn the bar is being raised.

Globalization

Globalization

And the pressures of the global economy is exacerbating and driving this trend.

AMR, American Airlines’ parent has moved its data entry for tickets to Barbados.

Saztec, an Australian Information Services company enters data for American hospital clients in the Philippines.

British credit bureaus are running checks for local clients using the Pacific Bell telephone network.

The Malmo fire department in Sweden reaches its database of street routes by connecting to a General Electric computer in Cleveland.

The world is getting smaller every day, and for those of us who feel immune from this phenomenon, Rosabeth Moss Kanter warns us,

"Today, you have to be world ready, even if you don’t operate in international markets"

Innovation

Accelerating Technological Innovation

This situation is compounded by the acceleration of technological innovation at a frenetic rate. Today’s technologies are rapidly becoming obsolete and technological innovation is driving a seemingly never-ending treadmill of change, learning and capability.

This is probably the preeminent characteristic of our age, we see it in our homes, our offices and our communities.

Demographics

Demographic/Labor market shifts

A further significant characteristic of our age is being felt in changes in population mix and labor market dynamics

In the U.S., for a couple of decades now, we have heard about the continuing demographic shifts in the composition of our workforce, and that white males will soon become the new minority.

But the attention has, as yet, had little effect on the balance of power in organizations or on conventional thinking and behaviors in business. In 1995, a Federal Commission confirmed that 97% of senior management positions in the Fortune 500 are white, and at least 95% are male. Yet by the year 2000, white males will account for less than a third of the new entrants to the workforce.

There is a demographic express train gathering a full head of steam about to hit us head on, as we turn the corner into the next millennium.

And it’s not just a question of race and gender. It’s about diversity of age and generation, of nationality and culture in this increasingly borderless world, of personality style, and lifestyle. It is about opportunity and inclusion, not exclusivity and exclusion.

Let’s take teamwork for example. Many would say an increasingly relevant element of today’s business world. In the old days, teamwork was all about fitting in. We’d say a good team player was someone who could act, behave and think like the rest of us. At IBM, it meant dark suits, white shirts and blue ties.

Today, good teamwork is predicated upon taking full advantage of the creativity, values and beliefs, opinions and contribution of our increasingly diverse workforce.

It lies in recognizing, valuing and respecting the richness of individual differences as a positive force in our business world, and society in general. It is about managing individuals, not clones. Its Leadership akin to conducting a symphony orchestra, rather than running a printing press.

Political Transitions

Dramatic Political Transitions

The final contextual element, I would like to highlight is the quite dramatic changes in the political makeup of our world.

Those of us growing up in the fifties and sixties would never have dreamt of the rapid denouement of the Soviet Union. New borders and alliances are being shaped constantly.

Trying to keep an up to date map of the world is like trying to keep up with the latest versions of Microsoft software. And it provides an increasingly complex and rapidly changing backcloth for our daily business operations.

All of these elements, higher performance standards, globalization, technology, demographics and political change serve to frame the world today in which we try to act and serve as Leaders.

Our understanding of the new requirement of Leadership cannot be disassociated from this contextual backcloth.

Indeed it is these dynamics that is causing radical shifts in the requirements of Leadership today. 

People as Competitive Advantage

One of the most commonly stated maxims of business Leaders and theorists today is something to the effect that:

The root cause of all competitive advantage today is people

These statements go way beyond the "people are our greatest asset" statements that appeared in mission statements in the seventies and eighties and hung resplendent in Plexiglas tombs in corporate lobbies.

The essence behind today’s deep-rooted belief is that in today’s frenetic world, technologies and products come and go.

Natural resources throughout the planet are diminishing.

The balance of economic and commercial power continues to shift from manufacturing to services.

Today’s jobs require more thinking, more customer service, initiative and skill application. Physical labor is required in less and less jobs. It’s a different world, requiring different Leadership techniques.

In 1992, I was conducting a seminar in England. The group was asked to create a collage that represented their vision for the different domains of their life. One young woman, having completed her work vision, proudly displayed a very vivid photograph of oranges as the centerpiece. Others in the group stopped and stared. They had computers and $ signs, or pictures of large offices. And she had oranges.

Asked to explain it, she said simply,

"To me work should be like an orange - fresh, colorful and good for you"

That image has stuck with me since then, as I truly believe that people do their best work when they apply themselves to something they believe in and feel good about.

Unfortunately, work to many people, is a lot more reminiscent of Woody Allen’s view of the world,

"Most of the time, I don’t have much fun, and the rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all"

Let me give you some statistics from a recent survey of the American workforce:

  • 44% put in no more effort than necessary, and only 23% are performing to full capacity

  • Over 70% say that management can’t motivate them, and their pay is not linked to performance

  • Nearly 70% do not see the result of their work, and want more challenge

In these days of people representing our true competitive advantage, what is even scarier is another survey from Fortune Magazine:

  • A dissatisfied employee is 20% less productive than a satisfied employee

  • For every 1% of employees who are dissatisfied, 5% of customers will be

  • Customers can identify with a 79% accuracy which employees are poor performers, and with a 92% accuracy which employees are dissatisfied

To me, the first survey represents pure waste, a tremendous cost of quality, and immense untapped competitive potential.

The second survey shows clearly the commercial implications of the first.

As Walter Wriston, the legendary head of Citibank said:

"The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of the people in his/her organization is going to blow the competition away"

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the challenge facing business Leaders today.

7 Roles

So enough of the challenges. What about some solutions?

Firstly, and fundamentally, this calls for Leaders in companies to seriously play a different series of roles, than they have typically played in earlier times.

About four years ago, I came across a model of Leadership developed by a consulting firm in Washington State, that I began to use in my work at ABB¹.

Of the several hundred different Leadership models I have come across in my career, this is the one that always seemed to make the most sense and is most complete.

It is the one I have trained to in countless locations and situations since then, and it always seems to provide a framework that people could associate and work with.

Simply shown, the model suggests 7 distinct and proactive roles for the modern Leader, of which the classical role of Leader is only one dimension:

Leader, Living Example, Customer Advocate, Facilitator, Barrier Buster, Business Analyzer, Coach

Taken together and effectively understood and applied, it is my belief and experience that it will enable individuals to begin to seriously develop good Leadership skills and behaviors.

Let’s look at each dimension quickly in turn.

The Classical Leader

Leader - Leadership, in this classical sense, can be characterized as someone who:

Unleashes energy and enthusiasm by creating a vision that others find inspiring and motivating

To me, an ability to do this has six critical building blocks:

  • A clear commitment to a cause

  • Clarity of direction

  • A focus on breakthroughs, rather than incremental change

  • A willingness to share responsibility and accountability with others

  • An ability to translate the complex into the simple

  • A continuous demonstration of empathy, honesty and trust to those all around him or her

One corporate Leader, when publicly scoping out his vision for his company, wrote:

"I dream of….

A Company where people come to work everyday in a rush to try something they woke up thinking about the night before.

We want them to go home from work wanting to talk about what they did that day rather than trying to forget it.

We want factories where the whistle blows, and everybody wonders where the time went,

And then somebody suddenly wonders aloud, why we need a whistle

We want a company where people find a better way, everyday of doing things,

And where by shaping their own work experience, they make their lives better and their company the best".

Jack Welch of General Electric spoke these inspirational words.

But at GE, these principles are not just words.

Read the company’s Annual Reports over the last few years; check out their web page – there’s a consistency of philosophy that frames the organizational culture and drives actions, performance and a very strong sense of commitment.

Oh! And another place you could check out is the Fortune 500 list – GE sits at #5 in revenues, #2 in profits and #1 in market value.

Now, I fully realize that many of the companies represented in the room are not only from a different sector of the economy, but also are quite different in size and scale from GE.

In my view that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Leaders have an ability to articulate a vision that inspires others and that they create an environment of commitment and performance.

That’s what Welch is doing, but the same principles apply whether your are CEO of a $3M merchandising company, or lead a team of people within a singular workgroup

It takes clarity of thought, confidence and courage – but it’s an essential competency for effective Leadership today.

But what of the other six Leadership dimensions?

The Living Example

Next, our Leaders have to be Living Examples.

This means: Serving as a role model for others by "walking the talk".

This means making decision based on principles and applied values, rather than expediency.

This means demonstrating the required cultural behaviors, regularly and consistency for all to see.

Hatim Tyabji, CEO of VeriFone, the electronic commerce company recently purchased by Hewlett Packard, maintains:

"The only true motto of Leadership is…. Do as I do, not do as I say."

You can’t create commitment or demonstrate true Leadership if you behave differently from your people.

And this is a tough one. Leaders constantly operate in a fish bowl, with employees looking all the time for signals that project good news or bad, real commitment to causes and initiatives, consistency of behavior and treatment, integrity of operation and other such barometers.

We can’t ask employees to be diligent on cost controls, and appear to spend frivolously on executive perks. We can’t talk teamwork, and play favorites. We can’t subscribe to a set of corporate values, and act differently when the pressure’s on. Authenticity is an essential characteristic of good Leaders.

What we must do is:

Be clear about what we stand for, and communicate it regularly

Understand how others perceive our actions

Always look for ways to demonstrate our convictions

For, when you wear the mantle of Leadership, small gestures send big signals.

And remember….

We judge ourselves by our intentions… but Others judge us by our actions 

The Customer Advocate

The next critical role for the Leader is that of Customer Advocate.

That may seem like stating the obvious to a group like this, but similarly to the prior role, it’s the job of the Leader to trumpet the views and importance of the customer constantly.

This means…

Developing and maintaining close customer ties…. Articulating customer needs…. And keeping priorities in focus with the desires and expectations of the customer

And this applies to internal as well as external customer relationships. As organizations grow, there’s a great tendency to functionalize departments and create silos of operation.

Karl Albrecht, author of Service America, reminds us constantly…"If your job is not to serve the customer directly, your job is to serve someone who is".

The Facilitator

Next, we have role # 4, that of Facilitator. This doesn’t mean that you need to be good with flip charts and nifty with magic-markers (although sometimes that helps).

It means that you have a vital role in making things happen for your people, in:

Bringing together the necessary tools, information and resources to get the job done.

For your people to succeed, you have a strong role in serving them, and making sure that they have everything they need to be successful.

In my view the role of Leadership is not one of sitting in a corner office waiting for information and reports to flow in, and being briefed by a few cohorts.

It’s a proactive role of being out with customers and employees, and understanding needs and providing resource solutions.

Max DePree, CEO of Herman Miller, the furniture maker, said in his remarkable book, Leadership is an Art,

"The first responsibility of a Leader is to define reality. The last is to say Thank You. In between the two, the Leader must become a servant"

This means checking in the ego, and recognizing that long gone are the days when companies can succeed on the drive and determination of a single personality. Rugged individualism is being replaced by interdependent action

Facilitates group efforts

Also, within the Facilitation role, the Leader needs to facilitate group efforts.

Make sure things happen. Make sure they work. Make sure that the Company fosters true dialogue internally and externally to drive continuous improvement.

The Barrier Buster

Next, and somewhat related is the Barrier Buster role:

The Leader needs to:

Open doors and run interference

Challenge the status quo to make sure fresh ideas are being constantly pursued

And break down those barriers that impede their people from being successful.

These are the truly effective uses of executive power – to provide resources, to overcome obstacles and blow away impediments.

In the early 1990s, when I was doing my initial work in high performance work systems, we were trying to create quote unquote "empowerment" for a 300 person strong field service organization.

After a lot of analysis and agony, what became crystal clear was that the problem was not that they were ineffective with customers – actually the opposite, and the solution was not to bring them together weekly for a group hug.

It was that too much time and energy was wasted in having to go around our own corporate bureaucracy, or find innovative ways to get their job done because the tools were inadequate or unavailable.

What we discovered was an army of committed entrepreneurs, who were being successful, in spite of ourselves. This wakeup call made us well aware of how vital the barrier buster role is for effective Leadership.

The Business Analyzer

The next important role is that of Business Analyzer. Obviously a core competency of Leaders is to understand the dynamics of finance, commerce and regulation. But a subtler role is to be able to:

Understand the big picture and be able to translate changes in the business environment into opportunities for the organization

To be able to translate the complex to the simple – I said it earlier. To be able to explain both the What and the Why, and have the confidence to leave the How to the skills and capabilities of the organization.

We also said earlier that people apply themselves to things they understand and believe in. The old paradigm of Leadership operated on a need to know basis. The new one champions open book management.

Very little in this world is truly confidential. But information is power, and as Senge told us at the start, power used to be concentrated in the top three or four executives in a company.

The most prevalent trend in organizations today is the distribution of power and authority.

Decisions, we are increasingly realizing, have to be made where the knowledge is, and its no longer possible for those at the top of companies to have their finger on the pulse of all aspects of their business, like they could in a less complex age.

You can’t effectively distribute this power without providing business information and the educational means to make it relevant.

You want everyone to make good decisions and like with any other skill, this requires training, practices and the right tools.

The Coach

The final role in our recipe for effective Leadership is that of Coach. I once attended a meeting with a CEO whose business card introduced him as Head Coach. Clearly another airline magazine is to blame.

But seriously, the last several years have lead to a proliferation of people being told that they are no longer managers but coaches, being given the mandatory corporate sweatshirt and told to go out and just do it!

Beyond the confusion created among the incumbents, this trend lead to organizations of the aimless empowered wandering about.

The Coach is an important Leadership role, and it means being able to:

Teach others and help them develop their potential

But importantly, to be able to maintain an authority balance and ensure accountability in others

A clear dimension of this it to create environments where individuals and teams learn, develop, share knowledge and add skills.

But a less understood element of it is the responsibility to make sure that accountabilities and responsibilities are clear and that the passing of the power baton into the organization doesn’t result in adhocracy.

I've come across many examples of managers who intellectually and emotionally wanted to embrace the new role of being a coach, but who walked on egg shells in case they said or did the wrong thing.

They didn't want to be accused of being too controlling, or not empowering their people enough.

Like I've said several times, taking on these new roles does not mean the abandonment of good sense, balance and judgement. It just makes these skills that much more important.

The recipe

Leader, Living Example, Customer Advocate, Facilitator, Barrier Buster, Business Analyzer, Coach.

So here we have it, the recipe for next generation effective Leadership. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could memorize it, go away, practice and instantaneously be transformed into effective new age Leaders.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as that.

After our revelations with the field service organization that I mentioned earlier, we began to really try and rebuild the culture.

My boss, Doug Spence, in somewhat of a personal catharsis to his subordinate managers, and videotaped to 2,000 others around the country, admitted…

"Some of the things that got me into this job, I realized, weren’t going to allow me to stay in this job, if I didn’t change…"

He added…

"I’m not totally happy about that, because that means I have to learn some different behaviors… I’ve got to change some habits that I’ve adopted…I’ve got to change some ways… I’ve got to change some communication styles…"

Because becoming an effective Leader in today’s world is a highly serious proposition, requiring serious work. Many of you, I would guess, became successful by being good at what you do and through personal drive, determination and personal skills. That certainly was true of Doug Spence.

The more your organizations grow, and the more the world frenetically spins, the more success will be a factor of results through others, and of embracing new behaviors and roles.

How do we do this?

Successful Leaders: Get feedback…Learn from (and study) their experiences (both the good and the bad) and think of themselves as learners.

When things go wrong, we need to stop and understand why. When things go well; what elements contributed to the success? We need to ask for feedback, both from confidants and from customers and employees alike.

We need to constantly keep learning, and not just behave as if learning was something we did in school.

We can’t rest on our laurels, or our strengths, or the world will overtake us.

Studies of successful Leaders have shown that:

  • 70% of learning comes from work and special projects

  • 20% from feedback and coaching

  • 10% from self development and training

Whatever the mix, seeing our organizations and ourselves in a constant learning mode is critical to maintaining competitive advantage and effectively being able to navigate the whitewater.

9 Critical Competencies

So what are the competencies we need to develop to equip us for the future and to effectively fulfil the roles of next generation Leadership?

I would like to offer you 9 Critical Competencies.

Probably the most important Leadership Competency is Strategic Insight – In Drucker’s words, an ability to "look out of the window and identify what is most visible, but not get seen", to decide what’s important, to anticipate what will differentiate the winners from the losers, and have the courage to chart a course into the future.

We all remember Alice in Wonderland, if we don’t have clarity about where we are going, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up somewhere different.

Clearly, Interpersonal Effectiveness, including strong communication skills is a prerequisite Core Competency. Position power no long mobilizes the troops. Something subtler, more skillful and more effective is increasingly required.

As is the ability to Tolerate and manage Ambiguity. This is not just because of the chaotic nature of our world.

The new Leader will need to be patient and impatient simultaneously, passionate about causes and dispassionate to make good decisions and judgements, strategic to help create the future and highly tactical to make sure that there is one.

Dilemmas of opposites will stretch, challenge and intrigue us constantly.

Customer-sense – Again, may be stating the obvious to this audience but customers will keep changing along with the world, and will keep setting higher standards and requiring different services.

It is also increasingly insufficient to just give customers what they want, true service entities also help customers uncover and discover what they may need to maintain their own competitiveness, but not yet realize.

Additionally, gone are the days when Leaders can successfully run organizations and not have customer touch and rapport.

Self-confidence and equilibrium – the ability to approach tough challenges with strong inner confidence, an ability to deal effectively with reality and engender respect, and the capability to draw calm, reasoned conclusions from incomplete data.

An ability to make hard decisions, because they are the right things to do for the long term good of the organization and the customer base.

Risk management – the ability to take the right risks that bet on the future and make the right investment decisions to keep growing the business and the organizations core competencies. This requires portfolio analysis, clear understanding of options and choices, investment strategies and contingency planning.

Human Resources management – the disrespected role of the administrator, transforms into an essential competency for Leaders who must understand organizational design and development, selection and reward strategy, workforce diversity and how to create a culture of commitment and performance.

Technological acumen – In the information age, there will be very few more years when the computer illiterate can survive in positions of Leadership.

Conversely the opportunities of technology for information, communication, speed, cost reduction and business growth are both phenomenal and key strategic weapons to drive competitiveness, whatever your business.

The Leader needs to be able to intellectualize and leverage this potential.

Humanness – in the past, conventional wisdom maintained that emotions were kept at home, work and family were separate domains of life.

Leaders had to be all knowing and have their finger on the pulse of everything, and failures or mistakes needed to be camouflaged to avoid the signs of weakness.

In today’s world it is far more important to ask the right questions than to know all the answers.

It is more important to learn from mistakes than to hide or punish them.

It is more important to show the human face than the stoic one.

We’ve been on a journey of exploration. Against the backcloth of a rapidly changing world, I’ve tried to offer some perspectives on Leadership and suggested 7 key roles and 9 core competencies.

I’ve tried to emphasize that good Leadership behaviors haven’t changed for centuries, but that the approaches taught and practiced over the last few decades is increasingly less relevant and effective.

But as with most things, it is not just knowledge, but applied knowledge that is important. 

11 Prescriptions for Action

So, to conclude, I’d like to offer you 11 Prescriptions for Action ²

Don’t play by the dominant rules of your industry – As Peter Drucker added,

"The best way to predict the future, is to create it"

Strive for breakthroughs. Change the ground rules. Create discontinuity for competitive advantage. Constantly learn from others. Steal best in class ideas shamelessly. Benchmark outside of your industry.

At ABB, an electrical engineering company, when we wanted to learn about Customer Service we went to the Ritz Carlton. When we were focused on generating commitment we went to Disney. When we wanted to see true high performance in action we went to Saturn.

1. Create a bias for speed and action in your company

Percy Barnevik, ABB’s CEO used to say,

"Taking action and doing the right thing is obviously best. Taking action, doing the wrong thing, and quickly correcting it, is second best. Allowing delays, procrastinating or losing opportunities is the worst course of action"

Time is such an immense competitive weapon that everything and everybody should be challenged to shrink time in everything we do.

Barnevik introduced a program at ABB called T50 - a challenge to reduce the time of all major business processes by 50%. It certainly mobilized the organization to become time warriors.

2. Get innovative or get dead!

Businesses need to continue to find that new edge, that new advantage that will differentiate them from the pack.

Develop conscious strategies and mechanisms to promote consistent innovation. Resting on your laurels is simply not an option, the best companies are innovating themselves and surpassing themselves constantly.

Continuous improvement is exactly the right idea if you are the industry leader in everything you do. It’s a terrible idea if you are lagging the leadership benchmark. It’s a disastrous idea if you are far behind the industry standard.

Companies need rapid quantum leap improvement to attain and retain leadership position. A plan to get you there over five or ten years of incremental improvement will just leave your further behind.

Put the right people in place and make sure they can succeed – You need to make every person and every position count. This is so important! If you carry passengers or fail to optimize employee’s full potential, you are sub-optimizing your business. That’s letting down customers, other employees and other Company stakeholders.

3. Good Leaders recognize that times and needs change and so must people

Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Job security can no longer be assured.

The Leader’s responsibility is to help create employability, by constantly encouraging and enabling your employees to update their skills.

And sometimes it’s just that someone should move on. These decisions may be tough, but they needn’t be inhumane if you anticipate and collaborate so that job change becomes a process not an event.

When, I first moved to Philadelphia to join a 100-year-old company called Leeds and Northrup, which was in a serious turnaround mode. The layoffs came thick and fast, and it was all very traumatic.

The real sadness though was that there were hundreds of employees with wildly outdated skills, caste out on the streets, with limited possibility of getting re-employed very quickly.

Obviously, the angst was focused on current management who was desperately trying to reinvent a once great company. But to me, you also could look back one or two decades to prior regimes who failed to invest in skills development and allowed the employees and the business to get further and further behind the eight ball.

4. Be proactive and experimental

Size, business annuities and market share not longer provide companies with safe harbor.

The way things have been, won’t be the way they will be.

Good leaders need to be proactive is searching out new ways, connecting with new people, and utilizing new technologies. They should encourage their people to do likewise.

We should never mistake the edge of the road for the horizon. We must have the courage to find new frontiers, and to learn from the inevitable mistakes of experimentation. If we punish people for trying new ways, de facto, we create a risk adverse culture. That in itself, will become growth inhibiting for companies in the future.

5. Break Barriers!

I think that someone should invent some kind of new management tool that can sense out barriers to employee productivity and, at the press of a button, will zap the offending impediment into oblivion.

Clearly, that would be nice, but until Bill Gates’ develops it, I recommend that we settle for committing ourselves to proactive efforts to seek out whatever may be preventing your employees from doing their job efficiently and using all your powers to remove them.

6. Use all of your people, all of their skills, all of the time

Make sure you tap the creative and intellectual potential of your organization. Don’t under-optimize your talent and resource base. Remember the survey, I showed you earlier. I believe that there are huge reserves of capability in many organizations, just waiting to be plugged in.

7. Find your core competencies and leverage the heck out of them

Core competencies are unique skills and characteristics that add value and differentiate you competitively. Discover and uncover what these are in your business, or develop new ones that truly add value if you come up short. Exceptional companies find value potential that others overlook, and then liberate and leverage it.

8. Globalize your perspective and your knowledge base

You may be operating nationally, regionally or locally. But the economy continues to globalize and the world to shrink. Don’t get caught believing you are immune. That may be true for the next few years, but is unlikely to me so in the next millennium.

Conversely, the fasted growing markets are outside of the United States. Opportunities abound for those with the courage to pioneer new frontiers.

9. Reinvent your compensation system

Shift from paying for seniority, inflation or just turning up everyday to paying for true contributed value.

We talk teams and reward rugged individualism. We say we want you to share knowledge and be collaborative, but create a situation where you have to prove you’re better than others to get a bigger piece of the generally meager compensation pie.

10. Turn learning into a corporate religion

Go back to the Leeds and Northrup story, I just recounted. L&N were a classic case of a Company with two feet firmly planted in the past for too long. And the business, the customers and the employees suffered the consequences.

11. Make sure that training is characterized as an investment not a cost

I remember visiting a steel company in Cleveland who planned and costed 20% of employee’s time for training and team meetings. Wow! My colleagues said, how could they afford to do that? The CEO and the Union President both proudly reported that they were 50% more profitable than their nearest competitor.

They’d bet on the future, and were pulling away from the pack.

Lao-Tzu

So there we have it – 7 Critical Leadership Roles, 9 Core Competencies and 11 Prescriptions for Action, set against a turbulent, information age, world.
The days of the Leader standing at the top of the hill, yelling "Charge!" is receding rapidly. Increasingly, the Leader is a designer of effective organizations, rather that a charismatic cheerleader.

I’ve talked a lot of the future. To end though, I’d like to take you back 2,500 years to ancient China, and philosopher Lao-Tzu, who wrote:

The wicked leader is he who people despise.

The good leader is he who people revere.

The great leader is he who inspires the people to say, "We did it ourselves"

Thank you for your time and attention.

Notes:
1 Adapted from Belgard Fisher Rayner’s High Performance Leader
2 Adapted from The Eleven Commandments of 21st Century Management by Matthew J. Kiernan 


Copyright Edward Ferris 1997

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