THE POWER OF 3続 An architecture for exceptional leadership / A rogenSi viewpoint
By Gerald Tapper / Managing Director, rogenSi Asia February, 2014
Gerald Tapper is a specialist in leadership communication and behavioural coaching to which he brings the relevancy of his corporate leadership and management experience. Gerald has a 25year background in formal business leadership roles including the last 12 years as a Director at rogenSi. Currently based in Hong-Kong, as Regional Managing Director of rogenSi Asia, his experience spans global markets including over 10 years working in the US and Canada and extensive business throughout Asia and Europe. Geraldâ€™s principal focus is within the rogenSi Leadership Practice where he has focused on working with leaders at all levels and across a wide variety of industries. His work has involved extensive executive coaching including over 500 formal, individually coached leadership behavioural assessments involving both 360 degree and self-assessments. This has afforded him some unique insights into the patterns of behaviour and thinking of leaders. His point of view is shaped by observation, assessments of others and his own continuing experiences as a leader.
Fig 1. The Power of 3続 2
I am often asked, ‘If you had to list the three most important things a leader needs to do, what would they be?’. At rogenSi we say there are three fundamental components to leadership: knowing, doing and being (Fig.2). The knowing element represents all our accumulated knowledge of an industry; its products, business theories, market behaviours, organisational structures, cultures and strategies. It is a vast landscape of knowledge that continues to grow and develop throughout our career. However, within the context of leadership I am more often concerned about how a leader is being while doing what he or she knows. This article does not address the knowing element of leadership but please don’t interpret that as me ascribing less importance to this critical aspect of leadership. I believe that all three are important, but my focus here is on the doing and being of leadership.
Fig 2. Focus on doing and being of leadership So back to the original question. What are the three most important behaviours in doing the job of a leader, and what are the three most important aspects of what I call the ‘inner and outer worlds’, of being a leader? Why only three? Some say it is easy to remember 3
things in threes. It would be easier to write about 23! As an admirer of Mies van de Rohe, the brilliant German architect, I subscribe to his architectural philosophy of ‘less is more’. Like architecture, leadership in business is a complex art form; it is neither a popularity contest nor an exercise in perfection. It is about ensuring things get done in a way that consistently supports the delivery of superior results over long periods of time. It is not an exact science. So, what are the three most significant behaviours when doing the job of leader? Behaviour #1: Consistently Empower Empowerment is such an over-used and misunderstood word and it is all too often confused with delegation. I define delegation as an action: ‘I delegate this task to you’. In having this task delegated to you, you will either feel empowered or not to complete it. Empowerment is a state, a feeling. High
Insufficient task direction Too much autonomy
We discuss, You decide
The degree of autonomy I give a team member to complete a specific task
We discuss, We decide
We discuss, I decide
Too much task direction Too little autonomy
My view of my team member’s knowledge, skill and mindset to complete a specific task.
Fig 3. Empowerment Continuum 4
The Empowerment Continuum Fig 3. shows that as long as you give individuals an appropriate level of autonomy consistent with their level of knowledge, skills and mindset to complete a specific task, they will feel empowered. I have seen many competent and experienced team members suffer from unnecessary levels of anxiety and stress because their boss has delegated a task for which they do not possess the level of skills, knowledge or mindset to complete. They are set up for failure from the start. In these circumstances, the team member is much less likely to find an optimal solution for delivering the task and may even expose both the boss and the organisation to higher risk. Over the years I have observed many reasons why leaders do not give sufficient task direction. There are the ‘I don’t have the time to explain’ or the ‘They will just have to jump in at the deep end and swim’ leaders. Then there are leaders who have never taken the time to understand the capabilities of their team members or who simply have not cared enough to find out. These operate to the top left of the empowerment zone. I have observed leaders on the other hand who have a hard time letting go and give too much task direction. Under this leadership, capable people are held back as the boss is overly directive in the decision making. This stunts professional and personal growth and team members become disengaged, which impacts negatively on productivity and creativity. This is often the case of ‘perfectionist’ bosses; of those driven by a fear of failure or those operating in industries requiring high levels of accuracy in output. This breeds dependency on the boss, poorly equipping team members to develop their own decision-making and critical-thinking abilities. Truth be told, I have met some bosses who enjoy this level of dependency. There is much research that shows that empowerment 5
is one of the biggest motivators in the workplace. In his work ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’, (Harper & Row, 1990) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks of increasing task complexity as being at the heart of optimal satisfaction and performance in the workplace. Empowered people get things done and they do them well. Empowerment ensures that an individual continues to grow professionally and personally, as increasing levels of task complexity test their capabilities and decisionmaking abilities. Without empowerment, leaders are at risk of getting stuck. In their book ‘The Leadership Pipeline’, Charan, Drotter and Noel (Wiley 2011) discuss the concept that at each step up the leadership ladder, leaders have to empower others with some of the responsibilities they had in their previous role in order to create the space to take on new ones in their new role. My observations are that an inability to effectively empower others is a primary reason why many leaders find a ceiling to their career growth ambitions. They cling to tasks they knew how to do well, often the very ones that gave them their promotion, yet struggle to make space for the new. Behaviour #2: Consistently communicate in an inspiring and persuasive way The ‘Vision to Results leadership’ execution pathway, developed by rogenSi, demonstrates the critical importance of using inspiring and persuasive communication in the execution of a business vision (goals or ambition) through to measurable results.
Fig 4. rogenSi Vision to Results framework As leaders set direction and execute their strategies to drive performance, the ability to communicate, inspire and persuade is a key enabler to success at each stage of the framework. More importantly, as leaders create the context then drive performance they must be able to appeal to the hearts of their team members as well as their minds. We know that only when we are engaged and excited about the aspirations will we be prepared to go the extra mile. At rogenSi we refer to this initial emotional stage as ‘Believability and Desirability’. During the execution stage, inspiring communication is needed to ensure organisational and individual energy is where it should be, and that momentum is sustained throughout the process. Zenger Folkman, rogenSi’s strategic partners in leadership development, recently analysed their database of over 10,000 leaders to find those in the 90th percentile in the competency area of ‘inspires and motivates others’. They then reviewed the written comments from the direct reports of those leaders to find 7
the clues as to what specifically made them inspiring. (‘25 Methods for Inspiring others’ ZF, 2013). Zenger Folkman have said often that the ability to inspire and motivate comes down to doing a lot of ‘simple’ things well. Simple perhaps but not always easy. Many of these ideas, while they may be common sense, are anything but common practice. It is interesting to read the comments about the strengths of these leaders, taken straight from the feedback reports of the most inspiring leaders in the world, and to note that seven out of 25 comments refer directly to the leader’s communication style: 1. Displays enthusiasm and energy for what we are doing. 2. Helps us understand the “whys” behind big decisions. 3. Generates excitement about major initiatives. 4. Provides clarity in all communication. 5. Takes time to celebrate our success and encourages us to stay on the path. 6. Shares ideas and actively seeks input. 7. Challenges ideas respectfully. Encourages others to speak up. Despite the thinking that some leaders are born with the gift to communicate, communication delivered in an inspiring and persuasive way, one-to-many or just oneto-one, is a learned skill; a honed craft. With the right level of coaching, technique and guidance I have seen many a leader develop into an inspiring, believable and above all, credible, communicator. Behaviour #3: Timely decision-making in a consistent way ‘On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died’. Adlai Stevenson, (US Vice-President 1835–1914) In recent times, particularly following the crisis in the 8
banking sector, the demand for business leaders who are able to lead through ambiguity has been on the rise. Business Schools traditionally have taught leaders to make decisions based on information and analysis; the better ones in keeping with a ‘global’ standard of ethics. In today’s uncertain business environment leading others to a particular outcome in a timely way with little information is challenging. Yet decisions have to be made. The consequence of not being decisive and making no decision is often far worse than any wrong decision. Leaving people in an ambiguous state is not useful. Leaders should remember that they will never be all things to all people. They need to find the courage to make the best decision: even if it is unpopular. Our mistakes or errors of judgement are but wisdom building as long as we set out to learn from them. We need to walk a line, balancing timeframes that lead to superior efficiency through the quality of our decisions, yet moving fast enough to gain a competitive advantage. However, as a manager moves up the career ladder and ultimately into a Senior Executive role, decision-making becomes more strategic and leaders have to bring more focus to how the decision is to be made and who should be involved in making it. A leader needs to decide where to get the right information from; to listen to diverse and contradictory views from both within and outside the organisation and to build support internally. Ram Charan, author of the HBR article “Conquering a Culture of Indecision” (HBR April 2001) recently gave an interview (‘You can’t be a Wimp - Make the tough Calls’, HBR Nov 2013) where he outlines key traits to making timely, high-quality decisions in fast-changing and ambiguous environments. These include the ability to see change coming before anyone else and being able to cut through complexity to identify the handful of variables that your decision will be based on. I have worked with large numbers of highly analytical leaders, particularly in the technology and financial 9
sectors who are prone to ‘analysis paralysis’. My advice would be for those leaders to try and remember something I once read, ‘that it is often easier to act your way into a better way of thinking, than to try and think your way into a better way of acting’. You will have noticed in all of these defined behaviours I have used the word ‘consistent’. Consistent patterns of action are the building blocks of credibility and reliability. This supports the development of trust: without trust a leader is simply dead in the water. These are the three most significant behaviours when doing the job of leader. To be effective each behaviour needs to be supported by a specific mindset or attitude a ‘state of being’. There is an outer state of being, which is more apparent and an inner state of being, which is much less so.
The 3 states of the outer world of being a leader / Outer State #1: Be Courageous - supporting timely decision-making ‘Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much or suffer much, but who live in that great twilight that knows not victory or defeat’. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of US (1858 - 1919) By definition leaders are change agents. They constantly have to find new ways to meet the changing environments in which they operate. Then they have to mobilise others to take those new directions. Leaders running businesses or functions must find excitement in the challenge posed by head winds and the need for change. The path of least resistance will always be toward the centre of the bell curve. That is where everyone else is and that often defines the status quo. 10
It requires resolve to challenge the status quo. It takes courage to make the right, timely decisions that move a business or a function away from the comfort of the familiar. Some of the decisions that are the toughest to make are often those involving people. Holding those critical conversations that evoke negative emotional responses is uncomfortable and requires courage. Outer State #2: Be Curious - supporting empowerment Empowering others requires an understanding of where a leaderâ€™s direct reports sit with their skills and knowledge and mindset to complete a specific task. It requires a leader to have an understanding of the unique elements that define the playing field for each individual in which that individual can find motivation. That is a complex matrix. How can leaders even find the time to do this unless they have a genuine curiosity as to the potential of their people? They have to be curious enough to be bothered. Outer State #3: Be Present - supporting communication One of the often-quoted attributes of former US President Bill Clinton was his ability to give his complete and undivided attention to whom his was talking. He had the ability to be totally present in the conversation, making that person feel important by giving them his full attention. It is often said that the most interesting people are those who are interested. Who can avoid being drawn in to conversation with someone they find interesting? That is being present. And it is inside those interested, interesting conversations that opportunity is uncovered.
The 3 states of the inner world of being a leader / I call this the inner world because it is framed by deeply held beliefs and values. It can get dark in here and it takes courage to hold up a mirror to ourselves. We may catch glimpses of what may be happening through subtle cues, often betrayed by body language, tone of voice, facial expression and most often choice of language. Inner world #1: Higher intent When coaching senior executives, I ask them to ask themselves the following: With what intent am I shaping my thinking? Am I working in the interests and towards the goals of the organisation? Am I committed to developing and growing the team member who reports to me? Am I committed enough to my team member’s best interests to have those tough conversations? Or am I more committed to my own needs for harmony and peace that obstruct my access to the courage to make tough decisions? Having higher intent means aiming it outward - not inward. It is this higher intent that supports courage and purifies curiosity. Inner world #2: Humility One of the favourite leadership maxims of former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was ‘Avoid having your ego too close to your position’. In his autobiography ‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership’ (Colin Powell and Tony Koltz, Harper, 2012) Powell recalls when he was Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman. He had an assistant who would frequently remind him of the need to meet with the members of Congress who controlled the US defence budget. The assistant would be so persistent that Powell would become irritated and send him loudly out of the office only to return the next day undeterred with the same request. He understood that Powell’s irritated responses were not directed at him personally and was able to put his ego to one side. 12
We all have an ego and it is a vital part of our well being; but the need that some leaders have for positional power and all its trappings, and the validation it gives to their egos, can become distorting. There is something undeniably illuminating and attractive to human beings about the power of humility. Think about the impact and following that Ghandi, and more recently, Nelson Mandela have had. When a leader can subjugate his or her ego, it allows the space for curiosity in others to blossom. While being present, humility allows us to withhold judgement when dealing with the challenges and issues that come at us, leaving us open to learning from those interactions. Inner world #3: Authenticity ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all of the time’. (Abraham Lincoln, US President 1809-1865) I believe at times we are naive enough to think this is not the case. Our authenticity supports the genuineness of our interest in others and is the soil in which courage finds root. Much has been written on the subject of authentic leaders and from varying angles. I have not found a simpler and more effective summary of the essence of an authentic leader than that provided by Kevin Kruse (‘What is authentic leadership?’ Forbes, May 2013). He writes in a recent article online that theorists agree that authentic leaders are always three things: • They are genuine • They put organisational interests above their own • They have the ability to communicate with empathy
In conclusion / So in response to the original question, if I had to list the three most important things a leader needs to do, I would say there are three significant behaviours: 1. Do make timely decisions in a consistent way. 2. Do empower in a consistent way. 3. Do communicate consistently in an inspiring and persuasive way. Each of these behaviours are supported by three outer states of being: 1. Be courageous 2. Be curious 3. Be present And by three inner states of being which are: 1. Higher Intent 2. Humility 3. Authenticity This is the power of 3³ - the combination of behaviours, which in my experience, create an architecture for great leadership. None of these elements are stand-alone; they are all interconnected and interdependent. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the keystone to this architecture is self-awareness. It is the starting point. It is the reflection in the mirror through which we examine ourselves as leaders. We need to see the ‘real’ us: warts and all. With that understanding and acceptance, anything is possible in terms of transformation of leadership behaviour. This may be what Shakespeare meant when he said: ‘Of all knowledge, the wise and the good seek most to know themselves’.
Bibliography / Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Harper & Row, 1990) The Leadership Pipeline, Charan, Drotter and Noel (Wiley 2011) 25 Methods for Inspiring others, (ZengerFolkman, May 2013) Conquering a Culture of Indecision, (HBR April 2001) You can’t be a Wimp - Make the tough Calls, (HBR Nov 2013) It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (Colin Powell and Tony Koltz, Harper, 2012) What-is-authentic-leadership? (Forbes, Kevin Kruse, May 2013)
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