Are your leaders all in?

Building a high-performance culture in an organization is a daunting undertaking. Anyone who has taken on such a commitment on would attest to that fact.

You are never going to get it perfectly right. You need nerves of steel and a combination of conviction and drive together with patience and tolerance for a messy process.

The main reason, of course, is that people are different, with diverse personalities, styles, and commitments. The likelihood of getting everyone in the organization to commit to the change, growth or success you are trying to implement is slim to none.

At the level of the employees, that’s OK. In fact, even with the managers, you don’t need to achieve 100% ownership and commitment to your goals. As long as you achieve a critical mass of buy-in and commitment with your managers you will have enough steam to succeed in your endeavor.

However, when it comes to your senior leadership team you must have 100% ownership, alignment, and commitment among 100% of your senior leaders toward the change, growth, and success you are trying to achieve.

If the head of the organization or team can’t completely enroll his/her leaders in his/her commitments, objectives and execution strategy you can bet that the effort won’t succeed.

A committed and determined leader will do his/her best to enroll, inspire, engage and even demand that his/her leaders own, lead and drive the new direction.

However, if the leader doesn’t succeed he/she must have the courage to make the tough decision to replace the leaders who won’t step up with ones who will. Nothing less than 100% ownership and commitment at the Leadership level will suffice to achieve a high-performance game!

Unfortunately, many organizations and leaders don’t seem to understand this simple nuance of total commitment. They underestimate how critical this point actually is, or they lack the courage to make the tough, uncomfortable, disruptive, unpopular decisions in order to achieve that 100%.

Many CEOs like their leaders on a personal level, which make these dilemmas even harder. In many cases, the CEO has been ‘in the trenches’ with his/her team members for a long time, so there is a bond and a sense of loyalty between them. That makes matters more difficult too. In other cases, certain people whether committed or not are a source of priceless knowledge, experience, and expertise. So, the idea of letting someone like that go or even upsetting them by merely changing their role in order to give way to someone more suited to the cause is understandably challenging. However, if a CEO wants to build a high-performance culture and game, he/she must be willing and able to make these calls in order to build a genuinely committed team around him/her.

Take as an example the struggles of the CEO of an up-and-coming technology company that was on a path of significant growth. He had just acquired a couple of companies in order to expand and strengthen his product and services platform. He was under tremendous pressure from his board to continue to manage the company’s aggressive growth, while at the same time integrate the companies he had acquired. The combination of significant growth and change was putting a lot of pressure and stress on everyone.

Needless to say, this was the time for his senior leaders to come together in the most unified and aligned way in order to lead and drive the opportunities and challenges of the change in the most cohesive, effective and rapid way, whilst continuing to unify and motivate the overworked and stressed out managers and employees.

However, this was not the case. Most of the senior leaders clearly understood the need for strong unification at the leadership team level, and they made attempts to bring the senior team together. However, a couple of the most senior leaders in the team who were also the CEO’s favorites, and who enjoyed the special attention and ‘privileges’ that relationship afforded them, were cynical about spending the time on teamwork, so they blocked these attempts to rally the leadership team.

Even when the pressure was mounting, as company performance was declining, the CEO did not take action to bring his senior team together, and/or coach and discipline the troublemakers.

He continued to interact with his senior leaders on an individual basis, which resulted in him working harder but his leaders working in silos. He talked about the need to increase scale and productivity, but his actions missed out on the opportunity to share the load with his leaders and elevate their individual and collective ownership, effectiveness and productivity at such a critical time.

Any organization is a reflection of its leadership team. The culture of your organization will only be as strong as the culture, behaviors, attitudes, and dynamics within your senior team. If you want to build a high-performance team in your organization start by modeling this behavior and dynamic with your senior leaders.

When it comes to ownership and commitment within the senior leadership team of your organization, don’t give your leaders discounts; the team is either all in or they are not in at all!


Don’t overlook the power of authentic conversations

I was participating in a meeting of the senior leadership team of a leading technology company. The leaders were discussing important strategic and operational topics that are critical to the future of their business.

At some point, I looked around the table and at least 50% of the leaders were looking down at their smartphones, probably responding to emails or something like that. In fact, throughout the entire meeting, this was pretty much the case. This is not an isolated dynamic for this team or company. It is pretty much the norm in most or all meetings of most teams and organizations.

From time to time the CEO would stop the flow of the conversation, put his foot down, and ask everyone to get off their phones in order to fully be present in the debate. At times he even expressed frustration with this people’s lack of attention to the conversation. However, nothing seemed to really change. The leaders would lift their heads up for a few moments, they would say something like: “I am listening and fully participating…” which, of course, was complete baloney because no one can be fully present in two important conversations simultaneously, only to go back to emails when the debate went on.

It was exactly the same in another larger meeting in another company with more than forty managers. However, every time one of the participants spoke in an authentic way, with passion from their heart, whether an authentic expression of frustration, fear or enthusiasm, it shifted the mood, spirit, and attentiveness of the entire room instantly. Everyone stopped all side activities, raised their eyes from their devices to the person speaking, and fully listened and were present to what was being said.

In one instant, when the group was discussing how to bring to market a new service, one of the managers who was an introvert yet highly respected stood up and expressed her frustration about the fact that for the longest time she had single-handedly handled this service without the support of her colleagues. In fact, she expressed her experience of “having felt alone for a long time…”. As she was speaking the room turned silent. Everyone was fully attentive in the moment in this rare and powerful conversation. After she completed and sat down others started to stand up and share their authentic feelings too. Her authentic expression gave others the courage to do the same and the meeting became much more authentic and powerful, with fewer distractions and focus on emails.

I have witnessed many similar examples of strong group attention and engagement in meetings and conversations when people showed the courage to share their genuine feelings about things like: “uncertainty about the future”, “fear of failing” and “excitement about a new direction”.

It is a known fact, that if you want to enroll, engage and/or mobilize people to any cause speaking from your heart in an authentic way makes a bigger difference than lecturing, preaching or scolding. I have learned this as a parent too.

In a corporate environment courage and authenticity are rare, but when they occur they transcend seniority and authority. In other words, even the most junior employee speaking the truth about a challenge or opportunity with courage and authenticity can make a bigger difference than a senior manager who says all the right corporate things. I have seen it many times.

So if you want your meetings to be more effective and powerful, and your people to be more present and engaged give people plenty of opportunities to express themselves, and most important – encourage, promote and recognize courageous, authentic expressions and conversations.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey toward your destination

I was coaching a senior executive who was not demonstrating the leadership that he had wanted and that people expected of him in his senior position. During our session, he shared his disappointment and frustration with the fact that he had recently turned 50 and he hadn’t reached the level of promotion that he had wanted. It seemed that his miss behavior was a reaction to his sudden realization and panic that “he was behind on achieving his life goals…”.

As ambitious members of a modern and demanding society, we have the tendency to go through life with the sense that we are “not quite there yet”. We set goals for ourselves and then along the journey we often forget that we are the ones who set these goals. We fall into the trap of feeling that we are behind and/or that only when we realize the goals we set we will have truly made it, and then we can truly relax and enjoy our life to its fullest.

The entire “retirement” concept is predicated on this premise – we work extremely hard throughout our life, often sacrificing and neglecting key areas like family, marriage, health and recreation, in order to achieve financial and professional goals that would allow us to get to that stage in life where we can retire and then “truly start doing what we love to do”.

I love and resonate with this quote from Fr. Alfred D’souza::

 “For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.

We so often equate our material achievements and success with our self-worth. We get caught in the hamster wheel of jealousy and competitiveness, and even when we do reach certain milestones we don’t take the time to appreciate and celebrate what we have accomplished. Instead, we move right into the next goal and the rat race continues.

And let’s be honest, the dominance of social media doesn’t help at all! In fact, it only makes the pressure and stresses greater. Instead of only seeing our neighbor’s new car, we are now exposed to thousands of online “friends” who display their lives. No wonder we often feel like the grass is greener on the other side.

Throughout our prime years, as we are working our butts off, we feel like “when we get the next promotion… close the next deal… make the next million… buy the house or car of our dreams” or “get our children through college or married…” – “THEN life will truly be great”.  But then when we reach a certain age we start talking about our life in terms of “the good old days”.

So if throughout our life we feel that “someday” we will start living and then at the prime of our life we feel like “the good old days are behind us”.

When is it our time? When do we ever enjoy today… the moment???

If you understand and appreciate the strong tendency we all have to focus on our future goals and ambitions at the expense of living and enjoying the present you could develop some practices and habits that will change the scale. Here are some ideas:

  1. Keep reminding yourself that you are the one who created your objectives and expectations in the first place. As the author of your future, if you find your goals and timelines to be too daunting and/or stressful change them to ones that empower you.
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments – every month, week and every day. Focus more on your progress and what you have accomplished, and less on your gaps, deficits and what you haven’t achieved.
  3. Make sure to set time in your busy life for activities that empower you… If you are a workaholic take time for great vacations. If you are married and/or have kids make sure to spend quality time with them on a regular basis… force yourself to do that….
  4. Anticipate now what you will regret in the future if you don’t do or say, and do it today!
  5. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself and your life with others… or even worse, being jealous of others.

It’s now or never… literally!

Are you owning your personal power?

I was working with a senior leadership team of a successful technology company that was dealing with great change as a result of changes in their market and the way their customers wanted to partner with them to purchase and consume their offerings.

The stakes were high and the senior leaders had to make some big and bold decisions about how they will organize their company differently to accommodate this change.

The good news was that the company had a strong portfolio of offerings that was relevant and desired by their customers. The bad news is that this organization and leadership team had a long history of working in a particularly siloed way. While teams worked well together, each business and function had a lot of autonomy to do things the way they wanted, and overall the organization was quite siloed.

The future opportunities and challenges required a significant internal change both in mindset and structure and the leaders were in a meeting discussing this.

After presenting and summarizing the market changes that lead to the change, the leader asked people to state their views about how the organization should restructure its business and functions.

Through my one-on-one conversations prior to the meeting, I knew how individual leaders felt about the required change, including which groups should grow, which should shrink and which should be closed altogether in order to enable new groups to be formed.

However, in a typical diplomatic and politically correct fashion none of the leaders fully expressed their views. It wasn‘t that no one said anything of substance. It was more that most of the leaders danced around the topic a bit speaking in a conceptual and hypothetical manner instead of jumping straight to the heart of the matter with concrete ideas and proposals.

In fact, the one leaders who had a reputation for being blunt and disruptive did what he always does – he expresses a blunt view. However, because his colleagues already related to him as the “blunt” “disruptor” “controversial” and even “troublemaker”, his comments didn’t make the impact in terms of encouraging others to speak more courageously or actually shaping the direction and decisions.

I wasn’t surprised because unfortunately, I see this dynamic frequently in teams of all levels. People tend to water down their ideas, commitments, feedback and/or criticism when they talk to colleagues, boss or even subordinates.

Why does this happen?

I believe the main reason is that people don’t own and don’t take responsibility for their power to influence, shape the future, drive directions and make a difference.

If you don’t own your personal power, you are likely to hesitate to express your big ideas, negative feedback or bold requests of others.  You may speak freely in private, however, you will hold back in public.

Some people may push back and say something like: “It’s not that I don’t own what I have to say, I just don’t trust my teammates or our team environment to hear what I have to say in the right way…” Well, if you don’t trust your team or team environment and you do own your power to make a difference start with an honest conversation about the trust. It all boils down to the same thing.

This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out I find that it all boils down to courage. Having the courage to look inward and be clear about who you are, where you stand and what you want to drive, achieve and say, even if it may be scary or uncomfortable for you or the people receiving.

Many times, people talk before they are clear about what they want to say, so they tend to speak in circles or stumble on words. This is not because they are not smart, they don’t command the language or they are lazy. It stems from the same space of lack of ownership –  they haven’t taken the time to get clear about, and own their stand and position. Most of the time it doesn’t take a lot of time to make a choice and take a stand. It could, however, take a lot of courage

So, next time you find yourself uncertain or stuck in a conversation ask yourself:

  • Am I clear about my stance on this topic or conversation?
  • “Am I clear about what I want to say?” You can be clear about what you want to say but not yet sure about how you will say it… no issue there as long as you don’t use the latter as an excuse to sell out on the former.
  • Am I willing to own what I have to say with no compromise or excuses?” OR, “Am I willing to own my power and ability to make a difference?!”

This will help you move forward.