Four Fundamentals of Leadership, Perfectly Demonstrated

According to leading business research firm McKinsey, organizations spend $14 billion annually on leadership development. In this 2014 article titled “Why Leadership Development Programs Fail,” they go on to provide four reasons why such programs don’t work, including lack of context and measuring results, lack of connection to real work and underestimating mindsets of the learners.

That is a whole bunch of money to waste, when leadership fundamentals are really pretty simple.

I recently joined a community chorus. (Hang on, I’ll get to the leadership fundamentals but I have to set the context first.)  I live in a relatively small historic town with lots of tourists but not as many locals.  I love to sing, and when I saw the ad to join the chorus, I thought a nice, easy community chorus would work well with my otherwise busy schedule.  I was a music major.  I can sight read, so this’ll be a breeze.

Boy, was I wrong…about the easy, breezy part anyway. I walked into a room of 120 volunteer musicians and picked up nine choral scores. Most pieces changed keys 5-6 times. Several split four-part harmony into eight parts. I guess this Community Chorus has stayed active and popular for 70 years because they have something special to offer.  Okay, time to roll up the top of my piano and practice.

But here’s where the leadership fundamentals come into play. In eight weeks, the Director has taken a group of volunteers, some of whom cannot read music, and created a spectacular presentation – at least it will be in three weeks when we present the concert “I Hear America Singing.”  I know it will be great, because the Director is leaving us no choice but to excel.  And I find that an endearing motivation. (more…)

How to stop leaders from “gaming” your system

For two decades I designed compensation and performance management systems for large and medium companies. I always had this nagging thought that after two or three years the system had run its course. Those who wanted to do so had figured out the game and turned what was intended to be a fair system into their own playground.

Quantitative performance ratings drove me crazy. Leaders would figure out the overall rating they wanted, and then go back and tweak the individual ratings so that they could give the salary increase they wanted to give.

Today, the Wall Street Journal carried an article about how companies are learning to game Glassdoor. Companies like SpaceX, SAP, LinkedIn and Anthem “encouraged” people to leave excellent reviews, causing unusual spikes in their ratings. CEOs questioned about the practice said that the ratings on the site were not representative of their company, so they fixed it.

I see a pattern here – those systems that are intended to provide helpful and unbiased data can be “gamed.”

The other nagging thought I had back when I designed compensation plans was that plan sponsors wanted to substitute a system for daily leadership. How do we make sure the tellers are upselling? Put in an incentive plan. Are tellers balancing? Put it in the incentive plan. Are they being nice…? You’ve got the idea. The plan becomes so complicated that two staff analysts are engaged to “track and manage” it. The branch manager doesn’t understand it and spends more time explaining the plan than correcting behaviors.

I see another pattern here – there seems to be more value placed on systems to manage behavior than on leadership observation, coaching, and feedback.

Systems are critical in an organization. They lay boundaries, communicate values, encourage appropriate behavior while discouraging behavior that is contrary to the mission. They are not, however, a substitute for leadership. The timely and effective use of organizational systems should be a competency for which leaders are held accountable.

How can an organization build accountability into their systems so that the data and results are intentional and not “gamed?” Here are four ways to get started. (more…)

How quickly can the Nebraska team learn?

Shucks. Nebraska lost to Purdue, and now has a 0-4 record for 2018, and hopes of a bowl game are…well…probably gone. So much for the silver bullet, Scott Frost.  Oh wait, I already said there is no silver bullet.

I do, however, see more leadership lessons from Nebraska. Let’s explore “organizational learning,” shall we?  I went to look for a prior article I wrote on organizational learning, because I use the term all the time.  By golly, I haven’t written one, so let’s take a whack now.

My mantra: learning occurs at the individual, team and organizational level, and higher levels of learning are not the sum of the parts.  They are greater and they are shared.  Just because everyone on the team is exceptionally good at their individual role doesn’t mean the team is effective. They may be; they may not be.

If they are, and they haven’t built a collective set of experiences, practiced together, and dissected each and every move to understand why it worked or why it didn’t work, their win is pure luck. Luck may win the game. It doesn’t get you to the national championship.

Scott Frost has repeatedly said, “I know what direction we are going.” My guess is that he’s going to the national championship. And given his record of coaching success, I suspect his experience has told him from the beginning that it ain’t gonna be easy.

Oh, there are some that are ready to give up on Frost already. They just don’t get it. It isn’t about the short-term. It’s about the long-term.  It’s about organizational learning. How can Nebraska’s journey demonstrate the elements of organizational learning? There are several ways. (more…)