Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’
On my travels, I met with the CEO of Ocean Park (disclosure: a client) in Hong Kong. Ocean Park is a theme park that promises to connect people with nature and provide memorable experiences for all. Although I had several memorable experiences seeing my first Panda and getting a personal behind the scenes tour of how Pandas are taken care of, I also had an unplanned memorable experience that had simply to do with people. After my presentation on Social CEOs to the executive team, Ocean Park’s CEO Tom Merhrmann joined us outside as we started our tour. Tom is a very social CEO as you can see in his discussion of the Halloween bash with Marketing Magazine or impersonating Elvis, let alone his presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.
When we were outside the meeting room, we quickly ran into two Ocean Park visitors who were enjoying the park. Within seconds, I saw Tom offering to take their picture with one of the girl’s cameras. I had no doubt that the visitors had no idea who he was but were only glad to have their picture taken together to create their own memories of the day. It was nice to see that how observant he was of his customers’ concerns. A few seconds later, I turned around to see him picking up some litter that had fallen to the ground. Between watching a CEO connecting with customers and picking up a speck of garbage to keep a park pristine as it could be, he reminded me that being socially-media savvy is just one element of leadership.
“So a critical question for business leaders now is how to manage in that environment — specifically, what must be managed for change, and what must be managed for continuity, if we’re to be admired in 30 years? The answer seems clear. Products, services, and strategies must be managed for change, faster all the time. Their life expectancies are shrinking. Brand and culture must be managed for continuity. Look at the three old-timers on today’s list…They possess arguably the strongest brands on earth, and all have titanium-strength cultures.”
He is so right….strong brands and culture and of course, leadership (goes without saying) make for the best reputations.
I love this list!
Thoughtful interview in strategy + business with the former CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant. His internal focus on the Campbell culture was refreshing. He realized soon after joining and surveying employee engagement that one out of every three employees was looking for a job. As he said, nearly 6,000 of the 20,000 employees at Campbell’s were dissatisfied. He knew what needed to be done with results like that. Here are two quotes that illuminate his thinking: “I also knew that you can only win in the marketplace if you win in the workplace first.” Also, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. You have to behave your way out of it.” He is dead right. Employee satisfaction has to be taken seriously if a company wants to succeed and build the best reputation that it can. When I was recently in Brazil, the head communications person at one of the largest banks in all of Latin America told us that they strategically decided to put employees first in their line of stakeholders.
I also wholeheartedly agree with Conant that leadership has to own its behavior. Words are critical today, especially when you have employees all over the globe, but if actions do not match the words of leadership, your employees will be the first to know and tell others that this is a company that does not walk the talk. Interestingly, Conant instinctively knew that to get the front-line engagement he needed to turn the company around, he would need it from his top people. So he set his sights on getting them “wildly engaged” in the work.
Conant has written a book titled Touchpoints. The basic idea is that every contact is a chance to make that tangible, meaningful connection with others. It is about that quality interaction that can advance the business and enhance satisfaction. Conant talks about the 10 to 20 handwritten notes he sent out as CEO every day – 30,000 over a 10 year tenure. I know about those notes. I got one. They made the connection and to this day, I have not stopped talking about my shock receiving his handwritten thank you note for spending time with me discussing CEO reputation.
One of the advantages of having worked at several companies is that you really get to understand how different cultures can be. In the newest strategy + business study — The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture is Key, the researchers make the point that the most important ingredients in building an innovative environment is strategic alignment and a culture that supports innovation. They found after studying the world’s biggest spenders on R&D over seven years that “there is no statistically significant relationship between financial performance and innovation spending, in terms of either total R&D dollars or R&D as a percentage of revenues.” That’s a very revealing statistic. It is natural to assume that high R&D spenders would have the best bottom lines and most success. It just is not true.
Now that innovation spending is back on track after a poor economy, the authors conclude the following below. This is such a critical point for those wishing to understand innovation and what really is important in building a reputation for being a best place to work:
“Culture matters, enormously. Studies have shown again and again that there may be no more critical source of business success or failure than a company’s culture — it trumps strategy and leadership. This isn’t to say that strategy doesn’t matter, but rather that the particular strategy a company employs will succed only if it is supported by the appropriate cultural attributes.”
It always gets back to the people and the culture. The research is alot deeper than this but the quote above about culture trumping strategy and leadership just jumped out at me. I’d have to argue that the leadership provides the foundation for a culture that supports innovation and that leadership might matter even more than strategy but culture shapes success, and ultimately reputation.
How much does charisma affect leadership reputation today? It seems to be an age old debate. Too much? Too little? Just about right? When we asked this question years ago in my research on how to build an enduring and long-lasting CEO reputation, we learned that it is was important – better to have than not have. Charismatic leadership is not what you say but how you say it. It’s not just what leaders communicate that makes them charismatic; it’s what they elicit from others. I think I read this somewhere and it stuck in my mind.
Among the new breed of CEOs today, a quieter charisma is now more important. It is not about CEO celebrity but building CEO credibility. Maybe we should call it “slow charisma.” Credibility or authenticity coupled with charisma can be electric. When you see it, you know it. However, it is not all there is to leadership. Leadership also includes sound judgment, ethical conduct, the ability to listen and serve others. Lets not kid ourselves.
The Economist just wrote an article about what we can learn from Lady Gaga and Mother Teresa about leadership. Apparently there is a lot to learn. The article infers that brilliant and flawless communications helps enormously, particularly with these two charismatic (in their own way) women. Here is an excerpt.
Mother Teresa was a “PR machine” who, whether talking to a dying leper or a rich donor, “always left her imprint by communicating in a language the other person understood”. Lady Gaga is “one of the first pop stars to have truly built her career through the internet and social media. Lady Gaga has what Messrs Anderson, Kupp and Reckhenrich call “leadership projection” and a layman would call charisma. The authors think this is because she tells “three universal stories”. First, a personal story: who am I? (She stresses that she was the weird kid at school, but driven to be creative.) Second, a group narrative: who are we? (She calls her fans “my little monsters” and herself “Mama Monster”, and she communicates with them constantly via Facebook and Twitter.) And third, a collective mission: where are we going? (She promotes gay rights and celebrates self-expression; she tells her fans that together they can change the world.)
Lady Gaga has the “ability to build emotional commitment” in those she leads, says Mr Reckhenrich. This ability is increasingly valuable in today’s business world, he believes. In “The Fine Art of Success”, a book he and his co-authors released last year, they examine it at length. They are now working with Egon Zehnder, an executive-recruitment firm, to figure out how to identify whether candidates for top corporate jobs have the ability to “project leadership” the way Lady Gaga does.
Charisma can be critical when a leader has to deliver an important message, whether the individual has it or not. I think former President George W. Bush demonstrated charisma when he faced the nation after 9-11, both on television from the oval office and when visiting the site of the World Trade Towers site in New York City. All eyes were on him and he delivered, as required. However, that charismatic leadership soon faded with the war in Iraq and debacle of Hurricane Katrina because the empathy, emotional connection and authenticity were AWOL. Former President Clinton has it in spades. President Obama has it and especially when he puts it to good use.
In this day and age, it is not enough for CEOs to bark orders or to manage the bottom line only. Being able to deliver meaning and purpose along with a dose of slow charisma and empathetic communications is required. It is a tall order, I know.
I must be on a “leadership” kick as this week ends. Yesterday I posted about leadership’s role in crisis preparedness. Today I am going to post on the effects of crisis on a leader. At a dinner the other night, my colleague mentioned the impact of the killing of Osama bin Laden on President Obama. We agreed that he had to be a changed man. In yesterday’s reading, Daniel Henninger wrote the following in the same vein:
A candidate is not a president. In the fall of 2008, after Mr. Obama won, our offices were visited by then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a former anti-mob prosecutor. Asked about the Obama criticisms of the war on terror, Mr. Chertoff replied that it was impossible to overstate the sobering effect of learning the true magnitude of the threat and bearing responsibility for thwarting it. On another occasion, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who as a federal judge presided over terrorist trials in New York, was asked the difference between his understanding of terrorism then and as attorney general. “About the difference,” he replied “between what you thought you knew in the sixth grade and a post-doctoral education.”
Without a doubt, the decision to launch the Seals attack on bin Laden’s hideout and the risks that entailed changed the man. Whenever people go through their CEO transition to finally land their company’s highest office, they realize the enormity of the position. Nothing ever looks the same. The buck really does stop at that corner door. As you’ve undoubtedly heard before from Shakespeare,
“Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.”
Interesting leadership tactic surfaced when I was reading the New Yorker article on James Dyson of Dyson fame. Dyson forbids the writing of memos at his administrative headquarters so that people have to talk to each other. Since it is an open office, sounds alot easier than the usual dispersed office infrastructure. But I thought that he might just have a good idea. Years ago I recall reading how IBM’s former CEO Lou Gerstner forbade internal memos when he found out early on how much time people spent on them instead of dealing with customers. He wisely regarded this as an early warning sign. It was just a small part of the things he changed early on in the giant’s turnaround. This practice resonated with me because earlier in my career I worked for a company where the internal memos and internal toasts made or broke careers. It was an art form unto itself and I learned to take it very seriously. When I went to another company, I was surprised how little it mattered as long as the message was clear and the writing grammatical. This also brings to mind a company where they took out all the elevators and made people walk the stairs so they would run into each other and interact. Not the best idea for skyscrapers but a good idea nevertheless. The fundamentals are always the bottom line in leadership.
Author and columnist Thomas Friedman wrote today: “In this kind of world, leadership at every level of government and business matters more than ever. We have no margin of error anymore, no time for politics as usual or suboptimal legislation.” Leadership matters is one of the cornerstones of great company reputations. There is no getting around it. The destiny of the CEO is inextricably linked to the company’s reputation. If you have ever worked with a CEO who was not the right fit for the company and who worried about themselves more than the company, you know the damage that the wrong CEO can do. It is almost better to work for a so-so or good, not great, CEO than the wrong one.
Also in today’s New York Times’ business section is some advice from the CEO of The Calvert Group, Barbara Krumsiek . She was asked for her best advice to executives starting out. She said to ask each executive on your leadership team the following question, “Tell me about your job, but now tell me about what you think you do here that is not in that job description that you think is really critical.” Good starting out question but I actually like the second question better, “Tell me one thing that’s going on at Calvert that you think I don’t know that you think I should know.”
The best advice for CEO newcomers is that there is no such thing as a stupid question. One CEO told me that. You get about 3 or 4 months to ask those “stupid” questions.
Getting back to the importance of leadership, we don’t need Thomas Friedman or even me to relay this important news about what drives the global economy and business today — good leaders. Every day we get examples of the impact of good and bad leadership. Unfortunately there are so many examples of bad leadership decisions that we forget to notice the daily good deeds of many company CEOs. Is too bad. The margin of error might actually be wider than we think.
I recently stumbled over a quote from David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief communications strategist. He said “We need to involve all the other members of the team.” He was referring to the uni-focus on Obama and the need to take some of the 24/7 news cycle spotlight off him by giving his team roles to play in the administration’s strategies. It was a smart statement because it applies to most CEOs as well. Reputation is often driven by the ability of the CEO to build a top bench strength. Not all but several of the top team in an organization need to play supporting roles and build the brand by what they do and say. The chief sustainability officer or chief financial officer, to name two, can add needed gravitas and thought leadership to a company. Demonstrating that there are successors and that leadership ability is a prime ingredient of a company’s strength helps build reputations. It was interesting to hear Axelrod mention this factor and he makes a good point. It cannot be Obama all the time.
Just downloaded parts of Korn/Ferry’s new quarterly magazine that was just launched for CEOs, board members and other top officers. The magazine is written by Korn/Ferry consultants along with renowned journalists from the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal, as well as distinguished authors and academics. It is a handsomely produced publication with a broad collection of articles. The articles on talent and leadership range from succession planning at McDonald’s, corporate governance, crisis leadership from the CEO of American Express, and an article on Hong Kong based trading company Li & Fung Group. As I thumbed through the pages, I even found business cartoons which I am not embarrassed to say are always fun and uplifting. The articles are serious, informative and timely. I read the article by Glenn Rifkin on Warren Bennis titled The CEO Whisperer. Perfect title for Bennis who is a legend in management circles. Bennis is quoted as saying that one of the things lacking in most companies today is time to reflect on what went wrong and why. I fully agree that there are not enough debriefings nowadays. I remarked in my book on reputation recovery how the Army has After Action Reviews in order to make sure that mistakes are not made twice. Similarly, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates airline crashes and other transportation accidents with a focus on finding the cause – not who is at fault.
I intend to read the rest as the week goes on. Might find something on reputation that will be useful for my work. If not, I will make a suggestion that they consider it when the next quarter rolls around.