"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

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Leadership Jigsaw

Are all the pieces of your leadership jigsaw in place? Do you know how you’re going to lead but remain uncertain about where you’re going to lead to? Do you know who’s going to be your immediate support but not how they’re going to be structured?

I ask these questions because a surprising number of leaders seem to have only half the answers… and usually it’s the easy half! To continue our jigsaw metaphor, they’ve sorted the easy-to-identify colorful pieces, but not the sky.

If this is the situation you find yourself in, let me offer some advice…

The sky is the responsibility of one function over all others—Marketing.

Your first job? Check that everyone in the company knows and understands this. No cross-border incursions from Sales allowed! It is your Marketing team that needs to understand what your company does or could do best and identify profitable customer segments.

Once that process is underway? Well, believe me…

… all the other pieces of the jigsaw will fall into place.


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It Takes Everyone

I was watching a show the other night about music royalties.

You know, if you write a song that proves internationally popular and sells millions of units, and you have made sure that all the intellectual property issues are nicely sorted out from a legal point of view… then you could be making some serious money.

And it’s not just about the number of CDs sold and music files downloaded. If your music is used in advertising, in a television drama or as part of a soundtrack – then those royalty checks will keep getting bigger and bigger.

Write something seasonal—a Christmas-related hit for example - and you could be made for life with the inevitable annual revival of your song.

All very interesting, Frank… but what’s this got to do with leadership?

Good question. During the show, one of the commentators remarked that in any rock or other sort of band split, gentle probing beneath the usual claims of personality clash or creative differences usually reveals an issue over writing credits.

Or as another commentator put it (and I paraphrase)—after ten years, ten albums and ten grueling world tours, four members of the band notice that the fifth member’s house is ten times the size of theirs!

Now if one band member’s doing all the writing, then perhaps that’s fair enough. But my understanding is that most group output has creative input from every member, a collective output which made the big selling album or single particularly special. The show remarked that some bands have recognized this with a band-members’ legal agreement which sees a more equal sharing of royalties.

And surprise, surprise—many of those bands are still together.

My point is that there is a lesson here, surely, for corporate leadership. It takes everyone to make the company what it is…

…so let’s see a little more even spread of the rewards.


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Organizational Structure

I have been thinking a lot lately about organizational structure.

Of course, one of the objectives of a company’s structure is to make it easy to manage. The ‘family tree’ structure with lieutenants managing sub-divisions is clearly preferable to everyone in, say, a 1000-employee company reporting to one person (a clearly unworkable structure). The challenge is just how many generations you have in the family tree. Direction given from grandparent to grandchild will always be more effective than from great-great-great-great-great grandparent to grand-child after all.

I call all of this kind of consideration ‘practical structure’. It’s interesting… and, of course, very relevant to the subject of effective leadership—but of more interest to me is what I call ‘cultural structure’.

What do I mean by that?

By ‘cultural structure’ I mean the way individuals in an organization relate to it. You see, in most organizations they relate to their company through their relationships with each other. So Joe, a middle-ranking marketing executive in ACME Corp, will tend to think of his relationship with ACME in terms of who is senior to him, who is junior to him, which members of staff he has to compete with for promotion, bonus, remuneration increases and where he has support and where he doesn’t.

All of which effort demands an awful lot of Joe’s energy and delivers little if any value to ACME.

What if things were different? What if Joe’s relationship with ACME was based on what background and skills he has… and what he represents in terms of value to the organization? What if his annual appraisal and any remuneration package enhancements were considered in such terms without trying to evaluate him in terms of where he stands alongside other staff?

A nightmare for our HR colleagues I hear you say. Well, maybe… but ‘cultural structure’ is long overdue a re-think.

Organizational structure experts please take note.


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Sleep?

Quick… off the top of your head. How many hours are there in a week?

That’s right. 168.

Actually, that’s wrong. Well, according to our corporate and political leaders anyway.

Let me explain.

Our corporate leaders want us to be in the workplace. To show our commitment, they make us feel obliged to be there for 10 hours a day and to do a bit more at home at weekends.

So, let’s say that’s a total of 55 hours a week for work.

Governments want us to get a good sleep each night to keep healthy and so we’re not a danger on the roads (56 hours sleep a week). They also want us to exercise (10 hours a week), spend quality time with our children (14 hours a week), participate in the local community (5 hours a week) and invest time to preserve our marriages (28 hours a week). We’re to have hobbies to keep depression at bay (5 hours a week) and we’re to keep shopping on maxed out credit cards to support the economy (5 hours a week).

So, let’s see 55+56+10+14+5+28+5+5.

I make that 178.

And I make that a problem… just like the kind of leadership that created it.

Right?


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Lover Over Need

A few days ago I had the privilege to observe two football teams practice. Coincidentally both had a new QB try out.

The coach on the one team didn’t like the new QB being a lefty— - he had him do a few snaps; then used another player.

Sounds familiar?

How often do you make business decisions based on your preferences?

At the other team the coach was “in love” with his QB. For starters—that QB couldn’t throw a ball—even when his life depends on it.
Since the coach was in love, the newcomer had no chance.

How many of your choices are wild ones—because your love made you blind for the real needs of your team / business?

How open are you to change—when it is better?


PS: Former and current NFL players are part of my extended family.


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Yeah. Meeting

‘Yeah.’
‘Start.’
‘Meeting’.
‘People.’
‘Give.’
‘Discuss.’


Apparently, if your staff uses the above words lots of times in a meeting they’ll have a good chance of getting their proposal accepted by you.

That’s according to new research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management Professor Cynthia Rudin and MIT PhD student Been Kim.

Rudin and Kim analyzed the vocabulary and word patterns used in 95 meetings and found that ‘yeah’, ’start’, ‘meeting’, ‘people’, ‘give’ and ‘discuss’ helped to secure their boss’ and colleagues’ agreement.

‘Yeah’ is effective because it indicates agreement with what’s just been said. ‘Meeting’ is good because a reference to the possibility of a further meeting can help to move on current discussions when they stall.

Helpfully, Rudin and Kim have also suggested words that are best avoided if a positive meeting outcome is to take place. Their research indicated that ‘buttons’, ’speech’, ‘recognition’, ‘fair’, ‘flat’, ‘animals’, ‘middle’ and ‘bottom’ are real turn-offs.

So… if one of your reports in a meeting says, “Let’s start the meeting, people. Give me all the points you want to discuss,” and follows this with lots of ‘yeah’s’, then watch out, they’re looking for your buy-in.

On the other hand, if they say “Your speech was worthy of recognition as it pressed all the right buttons. That’s the bottom line for us middle managers” and continue by talking about fair and flat animals…

…then it’s time to bring the meeting to a close!


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Effective Leadership

A discussion about Elementary school applications with a friend revealed a surprising amount about the difference effective leadership can make.

School applications are a nervous time for parents. Which local school will do its best for their child? Will their application be successful?

These questions can go round and round parents’ heads as they visit the schools on open days and meet the staff.

In my friend’s case, one of the two local schools available had a clear reputational advantage over the other. Yet it was smaller, further away… and you had to re-apply to continue on to the same-site middle school.

The open day at the ‘good-reputation’ school was managed by a well-meaning but somewhat distracted head teacher who was showing a handful of parents around over a series of open days.

At the ‘poor-reputation’ school, a newly appointed head-teacher assembled her prospective parent audience together in the main hall and delivered a very professional presentation that spoke not only about the main elements of school life but also about her passion for teaching and doing the best for her pupils.

You’ve guessed the outcome. My friend’s child has gone to the school which once had the poorer reputation. During the time his son has been at the school the head teacher has maintained her enthusiasm and (greeting all the parents at the school gates every other day) her visibility and accessibility.

Unsurprisingly, my friend’s son’s school now enjoys
the best local reputation. His son is thriving.
Oh… and they have just a short, very enjoyable walk to school!


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Politics.

Having referenced this word in my last blog entry I wondered how many times it had featured in the last 100 entries.

The answer? Almost none.

And that’s surprising because the challenge presented by politics to any leader in any field is absolutely central to a leader’s performance.

So, politics. Let’s stick with corporate politics—at least to start with.

If you ‘Google’ the words ‘office politics’ how many results do you think you will get?

1,500? 15,000?

Nope. You will get over 1.5 billion… including books—and even websites with urls like www.officepolitics.com.

Now I have always clung to the rather naïve hope that if you have the right people in your organization then you’ll not have to worry about office politics because there won’t be any. Friends have rebuked me for this, pointing out that there’ll always be politics as long as there’s more than one person in the room.

So how can you, as a leader, minimize the damaging effects of office politics?

Well, how about ensuring that political behavior isn’t rewarded. Use your instinct to sniff out those who self-serve, who gossip to the detriment of others, who manipulate the well-intentioned to their own ends, who play their reports off against each other and who bully.

Most of all, recognize when someone is trying to ingratiate themselves with you.

In other words, be objective in all things but especially in the views you have of your staff.

Then you might find people start focusing on outshining
your company’s competitors and not each other.


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