"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
—John Cave
Westhaven Worldwide Logistics

If not otherwise stated—all postings © Frank D. Kanu. All rights reserved.

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Should Heads Roll?

I have mentioned before in this blog the dangers around objectives, the way they are set, the rewards or ‘punishments’ associated with not meeting them and the relationship between objectives and behavior.

And now UK-based Lloyds Banking Group is paying the price for not heeding my advice!

Quite a price actually… they have to pay a fine of £28m for ’serious failings’ in relation to sales staff bonus schemes.

This fine follows an £8bn sum set aside for miss-selling loan insurance and £400m for miss-selling interest rate swaps.

The bonus scheme giving rise to the £28m fine (which could, incidentally, have been as high as £35m had Lloyds not agreed to settle early) apparently pressurized staff to achieve their sales targets or else face demotion and pay cuts. Some sales staff even sold products to themselves to avoid retribution.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority spokesperson hit the nail on the head when she said that, “… financial incentive schemes are an important indicator of what management values and a key influence on the culture of the organization…”. She also said, “…customers have a right to expect better from our leading financial institutions and we expect firms to put customers first—but firms will never be able to do this if they incentivize their staff to do the opposite.”

My view? Well, fines are all very well… but these big financial institutions seem able to absorb them—and the culture that caused them seems to remain in pace.

Perhaps heads should roll among the management team who signed the scheme off in the first place. That never seems to happen. Shareholders should complain too… they haven’t had a dividend for years.


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What about Age?

Do you stereotype your team members’ aspirations according to their age?

Be careful if you do…

So Joe who heads up Finance. He’s in his early thirties. He’s just got to be ambitious hasn’t he? He’ll soon be after his next move… perhaps out of the company—or even your job!

And Clare. She’s going great guns in HR. Approaching 40… reckon she’ll be after a senior role in Group before long. If that doesn’t happen then she’ll probably be head-hunted.

What about our senior Marketing man, Tim. At 55, he’s got to be coasting before long. Don’t get me wrong, his performance remains great… but 55—that’s knocking on the retirement door and no mistake.

Actually—mistake.

Lots of mistakes in fact.

You see, Joe in Finance may be young – but he’s not happy. He’d rather have been a musician if the truth be told. He’d certainly like to move… but to a less demanding role and for a more ethical company. This might give him the time with his family that he craves.

Clare might be going great guns in HR… but she will soon be going. Not to Group, nor to another even more senior HR role, but to the charity sector. Clare wants to ‘give something back’…

Tim might be 55—but he remains ambitious. And, if truth be told, he’s also a bit ruthless. He finds you dismissive of him because of his age—which is why he’s waiting for you to slip up… so he can take your job.

Get the picture?

Forget age when judging people—it’s an irrelevance.


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To Keep Your Team or Not

You’re a senior manager in an organization… and then you’re head-hunted to be a slightly more senior manager in another organization.

What’s the first thing you do?

“Umm… well, we poach the team we knew and loved in our previous organization—right, Frank?”

Wrong.

Lifting acolytes from your previous organization is just about the worst thing you can do… at least initially. Here’s why:
  1. The complexion of people you had round you previously worked, at least in part, because of the culture at your old company. There’ll be a different culture at your new company—and your old team might not fit.
  2. They’ll bring with them a lot of old baggage and processes. This is your chance to adopt new leadership strategies, to seize the opportunity to try out new things. Your old team might impede this.
  3. Your old team will get in the way of the learning curve you need to ascend. You have a new company and new responsibilities to understand—perhaps even a new industry. You don’t want barriers between you and those in the new company who can help you.
  4. Resentment. Believe me… this is the biggest problem. People in your new company will be switched off big time once they see all your old buddies shipped in. They would have been hoping for the chance to impress… to advance even.

Now you’re thinking that I am being a bit rigid about this… and you’re probably right. So—let me say that after a few months it may become clear that a couple of your old team members could help you out big time in your new role.

No problem. Recruit them. But just beware of the pitfalls.


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Gender Diversity

What happens—if you say ‘gender diversity‘ to a room crowded with male CEO’s.

I’ve never done it, so I don’t know for sure. But I bet that while a few enlightened individuals may nod sagely and engage you in a discussion about how their company is trying to encourage a higher proportion of women in their top jobs, many will look for a convenient pot plant to hide behind.

I mention this having stumbled across a Washington-based organization called WEConnect International. WEConnect International describes itself as a ‘global non-profit (organization) that facilitates economic growth by increasing opportunities for women-owned business to succeed in global value chains’.

You will be taken aback by some of the statistics on this page of WEConnect’s website—http://weconnectinternational.org/buying-for-impact# external—including the fact that women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food but earn only 10% of the income and 1-2% of the property.

I was also struck by the fact that there are approximately 187 million women entrepreneurs worldwide who own at least some 32-39% of all private businesses in the formal economy.

Elsewhere, I read that women hold only 3% of CEO positions and only 15% of board seats among Fortune 500 companies. The so called ‘glass ceiling’ is clearly made of tougher stuff than commentators 30, 20 or even 10 years ago anticipated.

If I worked with your company and asked a few obvious questions about the profile of women within the organization like…
  • what percentage of the workforce do women represent?
  • what distribution is there of women over the different echelons with the company?
  • how easy is it for women to have families but retain their ‘position’

…and so on, would you be able to answer them readily?

Perhaps.

And perhaps not.

Whichever it is, and a bit like your policy on the environment and your Corporate and Social Responsibility in general, you had better take an interest in pulling together fair and cogent policies for women in your company over the next few years because (mark my words) …

…your suppliers, your shareholders—and most importantly, your customers, will be watching with interest.


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Enough Said.

One of the greatest challenges facing a leader is the extent to which democracy features in the culture they seek to engender.

I know this is the case because I have to admit that it’s a subject my opinion wavers on. There are periods when I think consensus leadership must be the only way forward to secure team buy-in… and then there are other times when this seems a ridiculous notion given how impossible it is to get the full support of 100% of your staff for your strategy; and, more importantly, how a democratic approach can leave your position as leader open to challenge.

That’s why I read with interest the reviews of a recently released autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson.

‘Who is Sir Alex Ferguson?’ is not a question you will hear in the UK! He has just retired as the Manager of Manchester United football (soccer) club after 26 years. As a recent blog indicated, simply keeping a job as a football manager in the UK is an achievement in itself. Sir Alex’s 26 trophies suggest a much broader level of achievement than just that (see below).

I have yet to read the book but from the reviews it’s clear that one of Sir Alex’s key tenets is that a leader cannot tolerate any threat to his authority. If any one of his players threatened to become ‘bigger’ than Sir Alex in terms of his influence on the club, then he had to go. Simple as that.

Back to my wavering… well, as I write this, I think Sir Alex is probably right. If someone represents a sustained threat to your leadership then you will have to get rid of them.

Tomorrow, I might feel that it’s worth using some energy to try and turn the situation around. Like I say, it’s one of the great conundrums of leadership.

You were going to mention Sir Alex’s achievements in detail, Frank!

That’s right—and here they are:

Under Sir Alex, Manchester United won the Premier League 13 times, the FA cup 5 times, the Premier League Cup 4 times, the community shield 10 times, the Champions League twice and the Cup Winners, the Fifa Club World Cup, the WEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental cup once each.

Enough said.


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Seemingly Unresolvable Dilemma

Stuck with a seemingly unresolvable dilemma?

Not sure how to play it… which way to jump?

Think back over your life and career. Who was the most outstanding leader or mentor you ever worked with or saw in action? Whose style and way of going about things has left an indelible print in your memory banks?

Ok… now imagine that person faced with your insurmountable problem. How would they have reacted to it? How would they have dealt with it, practically and emotionally? How long would they have taken about arriving at a solution? Would they have gone about it on their own or brought others into the equation?

This technique works in more than one way. First of all, imagining that the problem is someone else’s will help ease some of the tension it’s giving you. Secondly, it can help get rid of the blind spot that’s stopping you from finding a way forward. Most importantly, it can get you quickly to a solution that you can be confident in, because you know it would have worked for your mentor.

No matter how difficult the problem or problems you face as a leader, there is always a best response. Reflecting on the modus operandum of an impressive leader or mentor from your past should help you find the answer.


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Disputes

Ever had, as a leader, to deal with a dispute between two of your direct reports?

I expect you have… and I expect it’s been one of the trickiest challenges you’ve had to face.

It’s funny how quickly a political situation like this can become entrenched… with neither side prepared to compromise. It can also, of course, be very damaging in an organization – particularly when a dispute between two departmental heads becomes a culturally embedded rift between two departments.

In my experience it often happens between the Head of Sales and Head of Marketing. Given their interdependence, particularly in terms of achieving targets—the tendency to blame each other for failure to achieve the annual sales forecast is an ever present danger.

So, how best to sort it out.

Well, here’s a novel idea. How about getting them each to write to you about the problem—not as themselves, crucially, but as if they were the other person.

So, Sandra Smith, Head of Marketing puts herself in the shoes of Jim Jones, Head of Sales—and sets out Jim’s possible grievances with Marketing. And Jim writes about Sales as if he were Sandra.

Imagining they are the other person having to deal with themselves and their respective departments can be a spectacularly revealing exercise in self-awareness. Once you’ve considered each letter (and get them to do it again if there’s an obvious lack of honesty) get them together in a room and summarize what each thinks the other’s issues are.

Honest… this is a really useful tool for modifying behaviors which are causing tension…
and should lead to improved understanding
and, the ultimate objective, greater co-operation.


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Show Me the Staff—I Show You the Leader

A colleague shared a mantra of his with me the other day and as he does not seem to have any copyright on it (!), I will share it with you:

‘Quality of leadership should be measured not in
the actions of the leader but in those of the led.’


Sometimes you read or hear pithy phrases which pull you up short—and that’s what this phrase did to me.

It had this effect because it reminded me how often all of us in ‘the leadership industry’ fall into the trap of looking hard at what’s going on at the top of the organization and not at the ramifications of that activity at the sharp end.

Examples? Ok… think of someone in your organization who’s very good at positioning him/herself so they can impress those who may be making decisions about their future; think of someone who does not question the policy making of superiors but adopts it so they are regarded in a good light; think of someone who is very well connected externally.

I can give you a negative for each of these superficially desirable leadership qualities.

The person positioning themselves is self-centered and self-seeking, with little thought of how this impacts of their staff. The manager readily adopting senior management policies does so without concern for the negative impact on their staff and, indeed, customers. He or she is part of a ‘yes men’ culture which always cast long shadows over departments where staff have to implement them. And the externally well connected manager is probably never around when their staff need them.

Leadership is about influencing the positive behavior of others. So I really mean it when I say…

… show me the staff first and then I’ll show you the leader.


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