Leadership is “The” Lead Factor” Rest are all Lag Factors

Narisho & Nashipae.jpg

Pic Details: Copyright @YashMahadikPhotography. Two Lionesses, Nashipae and Narisho of the Enokoyani pride emerging from the bush after their afternoon rest. Nashipae means attractive and a beautiful lady and Narisho means a skilled and ferocious huntress. Their names are given to them coz that’s what they are. These two were were protecting their seven cubs from a lion war that was on in Maasai Mara for their Pride and territory take over and hence had broken away from their pride. This image was created on 24th August, 2016 at 4.31 pm local time. Shot with my #Canon1DXMarkII Lens Canon f2.8 70-200mm @110mm f5.6, ISO 400, WB – Auto, 1/400s, Handheld shot, Zone cluster focus on AI Servo mode. For more details and images from the wild visit @yashmahadikphotography

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the wild observing, understanding and photographing wildlife. I have learnt many valuable lessons from mother nature. One for example is about Lions. The Lion may be “The King of The Jungle” but it’s the Lioness who is “the True Leader”. The Lion is big, masculine, roars loudly and plays a very important role in protecting its pride and its territory and is called the King of the jungle. However, the Lioness plays even a more important role which includes hunting for the pride to feed it, raise the cubs successfully (especially with very high mortality rate for lion cubs in the wild), methodically coach and train the future lions and make them adept for staying at the top of the food chain. Lioness are the ones who keep and grow the pride and ensure its perpetuity. Hence it’s not just the Lion who is the King or is more important, but it’s the Lioness who is equally if not more important to its pride. I give this analogy of Lions not because of its gender traits but to tell a story of hierarchy and its relative importance to leadership.

Similarly in an organisation it’s just not the CEO but it’s the CXOs and leaders at the middle of the pyramid that are crucial and important to organisations success and perpetuity. 

If engagement, performance, culture, values pertaining to an organisation and it’s workforce are an outcome (also known as lag factors) then leadership is the most important lead factor. There is a lot of wisdom shared on how to develop and grow leadership in large enterprises and many inspiring examples come from the armed forces too. In my perspective and experience the essentials of leadership to become an effective lead factor within an organisation are as follows:

1) Define:

As an organisation clearly define your leadership framework. Framework consisting of – Values, Competencies and Behaviours that you expect you leaders to imbibe, role model and develop themselves and in others.

2) Assess and Build:

First help leaders assess their capabilities and styles and identify gaps. Use validated assessment techniques and experts – avoid a home-made and untested remedy when it comes to leadership assessments.

Then, start to shape, influence, build and develop leadership competencies and capabilities from the top. CEO and CXO group should be totally aligned and committed to role-modelling and living them.

I would emphasise more on “shaping” and “influencing” by ways of coaching as compared to the traditional class room training methods to build leadership competencies and capabilities. Please remember, people are cast into unique and diverse moulds depending on the background of their upbringing and that’s mostly reflected in their style preferences. Never try to break and re-mould people, instead shape, influence and help them understand the effect of their behaviour on others. Educate them on how they should  best flex their style depending on the situation. Remember diversity of leadership traits and styles can be a strength. Don’t allow the CEO to start cloning people to match or look like his DNA.

3) Cascade Leadership building:

Most organisations in my opinion make the mistake of focussing their development effort only at CEO, CXO and their direct reports level (the top of the pyramid). Some call it their “top 100″ and other ‘top 300” depending on the size of their organisation. I have said it in point no.1 that top down approach is important but don’t restrict your leadership development to the top of the pyramid.

When it comes to leadership, “the fortune is at the middle of the pyramid” and I say this, coz of two main reasons:

a) Leaders at the middle level of an organisation have the maxim performance and productivity impact on people whom they lead and influence.

b) Middle level leaders are the pipeline of the future leaders of any organisation and they need to be disproportionately invested into.

In addition to the above, other important things to consider whilst you build leadership to be the powerful lead factor include as follows:

  1. Make sure the performance and rewards in your organisation are equally balanced on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the results. Many organisation recognise and reward their people on parameter that are more biased towards the what (High Sales numbers, low-cost of operations, brand ratings, etc) and nothing wrong in that. But giving equal weightage to how these results were delivered (compliance to standards and laws, by being ethical and honest, by coaching and developing people) is very important. Top-notch organisation always focus equally on the “What” and “How” the results were delivered.
  2. Lessons on leadership from armed forces are valuable and inspiring and there is a lot to learn from them. But, remember that the context and rules of the game in the Army and a Corporate organisation are very different and hence not every leadership capability and its context can be applied as it is. May be a separate blog later on this topic!!
  3. Dont overwhelm early in career leaders by expecting them to act and deliver like highly evolved senior leaders. Let them make mistakes, learn and evolve as leaders with their original style.
  4. Coaching and creating a culture of learning for leaders by action-learning is key. Traditional classroom training doesn’t teach corporate leaders much. The slum-dog millionnaire learning style is crucial.
  5. Attitude, character and thinking ability differentiates good leaders from others. Skills and capabilities as a business manager become threshold. After a point skills and capabilites do not differentiate leaders to be effective. Its attitude and charachter of the leader which comprises of many things such as honesty, ethics, sensitivity to people and cultures, ability to develop and grow more leaders, to be a life long learner, etc, etc.

We assess, hire and develop leaders based on their experience, skills and capabilities with such little focus on knowing their attitude, character and thinking ability. Hope there is better balance in every organisation on this front.

True Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders – J Sakiya Sandfifer

What’s going on in the windmills of your mind?

Windmills

In the windmills of your mind…. this iconic song from the Thomas Crown Affair movie (1968, Steve McQueen & Faye Dunaway) was originally sung by Noel Harrison. As often found common with other rare melodies, this one has a touch of Mozart (The opening is borrowed from his work) is composed by legendary French music composer Michel Legrand, English lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. In the re-make of the movie (1999, Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo) it is sung by Sting. This song has been on the playlist of almost every well-known chamber, symphony or philharmonic Orchestra. Other celebrity singers such as Barbara Streisand, Tina Arena, All Angels, Eva Mendes, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, etc, have sung and recorded this song in various versions and languages (Lyrics and tune remain the same). It’s an epic!!!

When I like a song and if it stays on my playlist for years, it’s often coz of its terrific composition and seamless blending of superb lyrics, music, vocals, tune, harmony and the overall rhythm of that melody!! And this one has it all. In the movie the song is playing in the background and shows how the protagonist is dealing with his own thoughts and emotions, Thomas Crown is a rich and accomplished person who is seemingly bored with his life and for thrills sake he plans and executes heists and does it in style and challenges himself in order to challenge others who are in the pursuit of catching him. A smart mind leaning towards or flirting with the dark side and yet isn’t dark!!  One thing you wished is, if you found out and knew what and how other people think, especially the ones with whom you have little or no communication. Having communication with a person isn’t a guarantee to accurately know how he or she thinks!!!

This song is very poetic and allows us to interpret it – in our own unique way. This song is a classic depiction of how a human mind deals with its own motivations and temptations. Motivation and Temptation are two things (and not just words) that most people need to be aware of and deal carefully with. Motivation is generally understood as “the basic reasons that drive our acts and behaviors”, whilst Temptation is generally understood as “Inclination towards a sin”. The core meaning of both is very close if not similar.

One cannot, at least yet explain how the human mind works. There has been massive scientific research and now there is a reasonable understanding about the human mind but they are merely suggestions and there isn’t yet any conclusive explanation or finding. Hence as they say, Human mind is a very complex organ and as David Rock says, every brain thinks like a map yet it thinks very differently. Many are or have tried to study and interpret the human mind by observing and understanding human behavior and feelings and then they extrapolate or correlate those to how they must emanate from a thinking process of an organ know as mind (brain). Of course what seems to be clearly established is that, the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects the way you act and behave. The Think – Feel – Act & Behave chain of links and process.

I like the work done and presented by Stephen Covey, in which he clearly explains the way you can change and influence your and others behavior by influencing their thinking. If you want to change a behavior or a habit then change the way you think and the behavior will in-itself change.

What’s goes on in the windmills of the mind of senior leaders and employees of a corporation or an organization can impact the culture, performance, value system, existence and perpetuity of that organization. Yet we are so focused on assessing, evaluating, rewarding behaviours and the results (which we term as How and What of Performance Management). In fact the fountain head of How (Behavior) and What (Results) is the mind. Thinking is what happens in the windmills of the mind of every person. Organizations that focus, work and believe in shaping the thinking of the employees via using cognitive learning techniques are likely to prosper as opposed to others.

So, listen, feel and know what’s happening in the windmills of your mind… and live and enjoy the song and music of life.

A song that beats the “Windmills of your mind…” the one for me is, “Tusi Na Cosa Grande Pa Me…” have you heard it, if not, do listen to it 🙂

Image Above is Courtesy: A Pic of the Video Clip on YouTube by Petula Clark – Windmills of Your Mind

Get off that dead horse….

I was well aware of the idiom; “Beating or Flogging a dead horse”. Which means wasting time persevering with something that’s foreclosed, concluded, decided or dead.  While ago, I saw a viral email (source unknown), which shared the wisdom and notion of the dead horse theory, which is probably based on the same idiom. The viral email and its contents were as follows:

Dead-Horse-Theory

The tribal wisdom of the Plains Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that:

“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, many leaders and organizations relent and persevere with the dead horse and more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course…

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

I found the above satirical viral email (source unknown) rather interesting and thought provoking. Attempting to put the above in context, let me begin my post in which I will present some of my perspectives and opinions on  how the corporate world keeps beating some of the dead horses instead of dismounting them.

In the corporate world the dead horse theory is often seen at play in many areas but some of the prominent areas in my observation are; Strategy, Policy, Processes, Technology and People.

How often have you seen a dead and an irrelevant strategy being defended and persevered, dead strategies which aren’t delivering results or are making the desired impact. I have seen it a few times and I have confronted and challenged it as much as I can. Must say that, if not always, I have often succeeded in convincing people to stop beating the dead horse (persevering with the dead strategy) and instead mount a new one. About a decade ago when I used to work for a top company in the Asia Pacific region as their HR Business partner, I remember challenging my talent acqusition team on the old and irrelevant strategies of attracting talent from Engineering and MBA Schools. The old strategy included focussing on pre-recruitment season talks at the campuses, recruiting a few interns and some graduates. The war for talent had intensfied and if we had persevered with our old strategies then we would have lost the plot. The new strategy was not about just recruiting talent, it was all about building a employer brand which was valued internally and externally by the talent, it was about engaging with the talent in campuses throughout their academic period and not just before the recruiting season. Mounting a new horse did pay off as we were successful and managed to attract and retain very good talent. I often find many companies complaining about the war for talent and how the talent shortage is affecting their business. I say, look at your strategies and if they are a dead horse then  dismount and ride a new horse. Complaining and persevering with your old strategies is like beating a dead horse and it won’t help.

POLICIES and PROCESSES is another area, where we keep beating the dead horses. We often criticize our governments for its lack of sensitivity towards the needs of its people and how slow and beuracratic they are when it comes to changing policies and processes that are irrelevant. Now think about your organisation, do you see policies and processes that are dead and how long do we take before we revise or change them and make them relevant? Google as a company is a case in point where they have become a Top Employer in such a short time and it’s coz of their culture, ethos, people related polices and processes – they are very relevant to the needs of today’s top talent and hence they are able to attract and retain top talent. It’s more than just the free gourmet food that they serve to their employees, be it their paternity leave policy or their process of making work more meaningful, it’s a whole range of things. They fortunately don’t have a plethora of legacy polices and processes and hence what they have and ride are new horses in the area of their people related practices. It will be interesting to see how they stay ahead and don’t get caught up with their own legacy as they grow, mature and age. But this is one company which is a true benchmark. Read this blog on what makes Google a top employer as assessed and declared by Glassdoor in their annual list of “50 Best Places to Work,” http://goo.gl/04e3pE

TECHNOLOGY is another classic area where we live with and flog irrelevant and dead technologies and coz of various reasons we don’t upgrade the technology or the skills required to upgrade it. This causes serious efficiency and productivity issues as compared to competition and sets many companies back. Enterprise-wide, integrated, efficient, secured and standard technology platforms across the company is every corporations goal. But the pace at which the technology is changing and evolving, it’s rather hard to decide when you dismount the dying tech platform horse and mount a new one. And the horse of technology comes at a cost, which is difficult to capatilisze coz of its shorter life cycle even when compared to fashion. In my observation as compared to the cost of technology the bigger issue is the know how and competence of the leaders about the changes, evolution and real benefits of newer technologies. Hence most are often beating a dead horse of a technology platform, thinking it’s alive.

When it comes to PEOPLE – how and when to consider them a dead horse. The corporate world’s leaders and their beliefs, thinking, philosophy and ethos is basically divided in three categories. 1) There are leaders and organizations with a harder view and approach and as per them when people reach their level of incompetence (Peter Principle http://goo.gl/yGPUYe) then those people (“Dead Wood”) should to be separated and exited from the organisation – either on grounds of non-performance or in a wave of restructuring and downsizing. 2) Then there are those who have a more softer and socialistic view and approach and they believe that people can never be termed as “Dead Wood” or Dead Horse – until they retire or literally die. 3) Then there are those who have a blended view and approach of the earlier two explained, they are neither too hard nor too soft and socialistic.

In my perspective PEOPLE whom we term as HUMAN RESOURCES are the most valuable resources of any organisation and it’s the responsibility of any good organisation and its leaders to invest in developing and growing their people and keep them employable. However, the responsibility of the PEOPLE towards themselves and their organisation is to ensure that they take a lead and co-ownership of their development (Knowledge, skills, values and attitude) and ensure their own employability.

In my opinion a person can be termed as a dead horse in an organisation when they are consistent non-performers and makes no effort or shows no willingness to improve their performance and skills. People who are dis-engaged and are uncapable of engaging others and creating value for their organisation are like horses that are about to die. Last but not the least, people with lack of integrity and or unacceptable standards of ethics are serious dead horses. Organizations and leaders should definitely dismount these type of dead horses and find and mount good ones.

Would love to hear your views, opinions and perspectives on this.

 

How to Best Design and Manage Summer Internship Programs for Strengthening your Employer Brand – Part 2

Part 2 – What Students must do to make internships more valuable:

This is in continuation of the Part-1 which was published three weeks ago.

Today the first month of summer internships for MBA students in India is over and now remains only a month more to go, here are my perspectives and opinions on what the students should do to create value for the organization in which they are interning and also for themselves.

My advice is not on obvious things such as; work hard and stay on top of your project deliverables by making sure your project management skills are being honed, etc. This to me is basic, threshold and hence a given, my advice in particular is about the attitude and dos and don’ts that need to be adopted and exhibited by inerns to create more value:

1) If you haven’t yet started, then, make sure that you have the draft structure of your final presentation and report ready. Don’t leave it until the last weeks. This will help you to start converting you work into a good presentation and report. As you complete your project start to populate it into the draft PPT and report that you may have created.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D Eisenhower    

2) In the past one month you must have met a lot of people in the company you are working and lot of other people in the industry coz of your interactions with them. Make a list of people with whom you would like to build solid connections and then work on building them. No harm in upfront telling those people, how much you value their support and how you would like to stay in contact with them, even after the internship. It will help if you can make time to have informal meetings and discussions with these people over a coffee or a lunch – tell them about yourself, your dreams and aspirations. One caution, don’t go overboard and spend most of your time; networking. Key is to have a nicely focused shortlist of people with whom you want to build solid connections and then spend some time in building those connections. This is also your opportunity to befriend and make solid connections with your fellow interns from other schools. Peer connections are as valuable as any other connections you make during your internship and MBA education.

 Start with the end in mind ~ Stephen Covey

 3) Take a balcony moment and assess what you are learning. At times we get so focused on what we are doing that we forget to hard wire what we are learning. Learning is the most important objective of any internship; ensure you stay focused on it. I recently learned that, to go faster at times you have to slow down, come out of the dance and take a balcony moment. This interval or mid-point of your (two months) internship is a perfect time to slow down a bit, review your progress, assess its effectiveness and re-plan the next phase of execution.

Taking a break for sharpening the saw at regular intervals helps you to cut more effectively and faster ~ Stephen Covey

 4) Your next big milestone is the final presentation that you will give to the senior management of the company. Most company’s give 50% weightage to your final presentation (solutions that you will recommend to the complex business challenge you are working on) and that’s the “what” part. Remaining 50% is for “how” you have worked, behaved and gone about completing your project. So if you are keen on getting placed in the company where you are doing your internship then give it your best shot and present yourself well on both parts; “what” you delivered and “how” you delivered it.

 Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain ~ Unkown

5) This is my last and most important piece of advice. It’s about what you should do when you get an offer to join the company or what to do – if you don’t get that offer. Of course this should matter to you, only if you are keen to work with the company that you are interning with.

If you get the offer then it’s easy, you are delighted with yourself and congratulations will be in order from all quarters. Enjoy that moment, go back to your school focus on your remaining studies, pass with flying colors and you will most probably join that company, this time, next year. But, when you get that offer – do think hard if you really want to join that company and wish to make a career there. If in doubt discuss freely with your confidants and only if your are totally sure – accept that offer otherwise decline it and try for other jobs and companies that may be of interest to you. It has to be your decision!

What if you are very keen and you don’t get the offer? Now this is a difficult situation. I have often found many interns dismayed and are left feeling dejected and low. Some even get aggressive, angry and start to blame their mentors and guides for not being of much help etc. Some start arguing and disputing the feedback they get and some begin to plead for a reassessment and re-consideration.

Well, let me tell you one thing. Most progressive and professional companies have a very robust assessment process (which involves multiple people and data points) and their decision is often very objective and final. So, in my opinion those who do not accept the company’s decision and start to behave negatively – often land up denting their own image. Therefore,  resilience, maturity and dignity lies in and comes from internalizing the failure as compared to externalizing it. Adopting a positive attitude will help you overcome your disappointment and enhance your chances of greater success in times to come.

Remember one thing, your not getting that offer can be due to various reasons. I have seen many good interns, who despire their super performance on what and how – not getting an offer due to the recessionary economic cycles. During a depressed economic cycle, companies tend to hire fewer number of people. However after the economy bounces back the same companies and leaders go back and look for those interns who were good and are now placed and working somewhere else. Therefore, as explained above please remember the impressions and connections you make can and will serve you well throughout your career or vice versa.

Irrespective of the outcome, as they say; count your blessings and be grateful to the company , all the people who have helped you with your internship and internalize your failure and externalize your success. It’s a key characteristic of a good human being and an good professional. Wishing you great success and a big career. Like life, a career should be big and not necessarily long. So go out there and make it big!!

Dictionary is the only place where success comes before work ~ Mark Twain

My next and concluding part is on what the MBA Schools must do – and I am sure it will raise a good debate and discussion between the three key stake holders (Companies, Students and Schools). Please let me have your comments and feedback on this blog. Thanks 🙂