Whenever you are about to make yourself unpopular, it is always a good idea to say right up front what you are absolutely NOT saying and that you really like children and animals. This is about Leaders and Leadership and so firstly, we must declare that some of our best friends are leaders and many others make a living, out of the burgeoning industry of Leadership Development. We’re am NOT saying that this isn’t an important, worthwhile activity. However…
The industry that serves and supports the development of the leaders of our great institutions with every flavour of coaching, consulting, psychology, assessment, training, models and ‘four- box’ solutions, (yes every self- respecting leadership consultant has at least one), we have found over recent years has been a bit like a ‘stuck record’. For those of you south of the 50 mark, that’s vinyl and it’s making a bit of a comeback). We tend to be repeating and repeating what leaders need to be doing better and have been for many years, yet the evidence seems to suggest that leaders are faring worse now than they were before all this ‘help’ was available.
In the UK, in case anyone missed it, we had three political leaders resign on the same day due to under-performance. This type of leadership failure is more and more common across all walks of life: business, sports, schools, hospitals and our public institutions, despite millions of hours and pounds researching, training, consulting and developing leaders. So what’s not working?
The answer is not simple. One assumption to challenge here is that the way we think about leadership has not kept up with the changes in the world and this has a number of implications. Before we offer some thoughts and our own observations of those implications, we should firstly say what we mean by that. Typically, we have thought of leaders as people we could ‘look up’ to. They generally had more expertise or experience. They could think, decide, engage people, communicate and implement what needed to be done. They would have one eye on the present and the other on the future. Simplistic, but broadly that’s been our view. Some leaders do these things well and succeed at least for a time. Others don’t and eventually fail.
The ‘look up to’ piece is key as this implies hierarchy and our view of leaders is entwined with our thoughts about organisation. We have persisted with hierarchical organisations for a couple of centuries as it has provided wealth and progress but in the last couple of decades it has creaked at the seams, largely due to the speed at which the world is changing.
The problem is this; as we ‘look up’ and wait for something to come back down, (a decision, an insight, a direction, an answer), by the time it gets back down so we can actually do something about it, things have moved on and we have to look up again for new set of decisions, ideas or answers. Aircraft may be obsolete by the time we get airport expansion in the UK! You get the point. This lack of responsiveness gets worse as the world moves faster. Which it is. Exponentially so. Many businesses know this and have organised themselves differently, but many still have not and continue to struggle.
The way we think about leaders and their development in truth, still has the concept of hierarchy at its heart, even if we don’t like to admit it. Hence, what we do has a high probability of having little or no long-term impact. It’s like we are training footballers then sending them out to play ice hockey without the proper gear.
The implications are many. Firstly, leaders are set up to fail from the beginning; we are just waiting for them to reach that point. Some development may simply delay the inevitable. We may call failure different things and we often pay leaders a lot of money even when they have ‘failed’, but fail they must.
A second implication is that the new generation joining organisations just don’t get it. They don’t really see why it should be like this. Their world doesn’t tend to look up, it looks across, down, in fact in every direction and connects itself through technology without layers or barriers. At best they are confused, “why on earth do you do it like this?” and often they are totally disengaged “I’ll not be part of this” or “I’ll go and do it myself differently”.
So what needs to change? One challenge to make is to just stop thinking about leadership as a role that is in some way unique that we attribute to a few. Changes in the world mean that what was needed from the hierarchy of a few leaders is now demanded from everyone. The skills (or whatever you want to call them) remain the same. Everyone needs to be able to use knowledge, think, decide, communicate and implement what needs to be done both now and in the future, through other people, whatever their age, function or profession. The ‘other people’ in the new world means anyone who might be needed not just ‘those I am responsible for’ as in the old world. “Everyone’s a leader” is a theme we keep coming back to. Thinking in this way also shifts the burden of responsibility from the few with impossible tasks to all of us.
From a leadership development point of view we need to change our focus from the few to the many. Nobody will have the resources to provide the answers simply through more coaching, more workshops or more training. Leadership development is really now about providing the environment and opportunity for everyone to drive their own development. To achieve this the current ‘leaders’ and the leadership development community must become fantastic ‘facilitators’ and not necessarily authoritative ‘experts’. “Gawd save us from the Guru!” may be another blog!
A previous blog, “The Age of the Individual”, discussed the idea that the ‘revolution’ before us is one in which the individual is reclaiming control from institutions. Although true, this is somewhat simplistic. Let’s call it poetic licence. Undoubtedly, these changes will ‘revolutionise’ many aspects of our lives, but the process itself, is, has and will continue to be, an ‘evolutionary’ one. Evolution seems to be a universal principle.
This period of organisational evolution is already serving up institutions in every sector that are adapting to the complexity (i.e. dealing with more of it) and dynamism (i.e. the rate and speed of that change) in the world where they exist. Like new branches on an evolutionary tree, organisations are showing very different characteristics as they adapt to different terrains and climates.
To survive and thrive, organisations are becoming more agile, fluid, and less structured with a real blurring of previously well-defined boundaries. Some organisations look so different in the new world it is important to emphasise that this is ‘evolutionary’. So what does this imply?
Firstly, evolution means that what went before was not wrong or bad, just appropriate to that previous environment. A chimp isn’t wrong or bad, just not homo sapiens. After all, an opposable thumb only gets you so far. We shouldn’t be critical of the past, just accept that it was a different time. We might reminisce fondly about how much easier it was back then, being a chimp, but really we don’t wish we had primates running our businesses.
Secondly, with evolution, we do not forget the lessons of our previous existence if they are still useful to us. For example, some organisations like Morning Star (a Californian tomato producer built on a philosophy of self-management), Giffgaff (a sim-only mobile network operator run by members), Orpheus orchestra (fantastic chamber music from New York City but conductor-less since 1972), have adapted by being textbook ‘leaderless’ organisations. However, this has not meant they have forgotten the lessons of the skills of great leadership. They have simply decided they are skills required by everyone, not just a few who we pay vast and disproportionate wages to for supposedly having them.
A ‘leaderless’ organisation does not forget the benefits of the things leaders may have brought that may still be important: vision, inspiration, facilitation, motivation, implementation, innovation etc. It uses them appropriately in the new model where ‘Everyone’s a Leader!’
It seems remarkable, although maybe predictable in an evolutionary sense, that some of these leaps have not been picked up by many more organisations. After all, some of these examples of leaderless organisations have been around for many years and yet we still bang on about the need for great leaders and a whole industry exists to tell leaders what they must or must not do. There is growing research and evidence for the real lack of a difference leaders make. The world has shifted and new models are needed.
Thirdly, with evolution, usually the incumbent sticks around, (how else could we have sold teabags in the 1970s?), while the new species find their place. The emergence of new models of organisation doesn’t mean those originally there just disappear. Some more traditional organisations are very durable. However, they would do well to learn the ways of the new world and they will still need to adapt or they will be vulnerable.
Finally, evolutionary processes take time either to establish a niche or to compete with, or indeed replace, the incumbent. Evolution tends to work in small increments. Notice I did not use the word slowly. Incremental does not mean slow. We will wake up one day and notice we are in a very different world and wonder how on earth that happened!
An article in this month’s publication of the HRDirector features an article that focusses on the societal shift from institutional control to individual empowerment, and the implications this might have over the coming decade.
The HRDirector is always a thought provoking read and, as I flicked through the pages, I was drawn to two other articles whose rhetoric linked to the belief that it is the empowerment of your human capital that will drive organisational development and societal change, more than the assimilation of new technologies and other influences.
Santiago Garcia, in writing ‘Your Old Road is Rapidly Agein’ discusses how HR departments need to evolve faster to embrace all the changes in the complex, uncertain environments of today. Leaders can no longer have all the answers, and success depends on a company’s ability to ‘unleash the initiative, imagination and passion of employees at all levels.’ The synopsis that ‘everything suggests that we are moving towards a future where people management may become the ultimate source of competitiveness’ very much correlates with this.
However the second article that caught my eye initially seemed to contradict this. It looked at an organisation that has traditionally and strategically, it seems, put its employees much lower in its priorities, and yet has been extremely successful. The feature focusses on Amazon and the changes it has made since swallowing up Zappo five years ago. Zappo was famously employee-friendly, but Amazon had never previously been overt in its people management focus. Their fundamentals were customer focus, long term growth and data based decision making. Everything that was not about these three success indicators was not deemed important.
However Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) has recently been communicating a new-found appreciation of empowerment that may, or may not, have come from Zappo’s influence, but what it shows is that even a successful organisation like Amazon cannot ignore the importance of taking employees very seriously. Bezos has shown that, as a great leader, he has to adapt and ‘reframe’ and has thus responded to the importance of his employees. It will be interesting to see if this new rhetoric continues at Amazon and the impact it has.
“My philosophy is, put your employees first, your customers second and your investors third and, in the end, everyone will be happy.”
Virgin Boss, Sir Richard Branson, has nailed another PR coup. Setting the cat amongst the pigeons and challenging employers to discard the traditional holiday contractual allowance, he has dared to suggest that staff should be able to take as much holiday as they like.
At first glance this is a great way of empowering the workforce and trusting them to have more ownership of their work-life balance. I will watch his ‘experiment’ with interest as he has initially rolled out this new policy to 170 of this staff (his total workforce has more than 50000 employees around the world). The clever proviso is that any absence should not damage business or ‘their careers’.
Sir Richard Branson is a great case study in modern leadership, and we often cite him at my360plus as a great example when we are discussing the ‘involve’ and ‘inspire’ clusters of high performance leadership behaviours:
Involving Leadership Behaviours:
- Encourages a ‘hands-off’ approach to management so that employees make their own decisions. Branson trusts and empowers his teams.
- Makes employees feel truly valued and appreciated. This increases company loyalty and provides a true sense of purpose.
- Encourages communication and feedback. Did you know that he even gives out his phone number to all employees encouraging ideas, suggestions or comments?!
- Actively listens: he is very approachable, and is able to connect with people at all levels. Feedback is truly encouraged and valued.
- Seeks to always look for the best in people. He moves people into different jobs within the organisation to transfer, develop and maximise skills.
Inspiring Leadership Behaviours:
- Encourages his employees to be innovative and take risks. Branson himself is not afraid to make mistakes, taking on challenges, demonstrating determination and persistence to bounce back and learn.
- Promotes a clear vision that is consistently and clearly communicated – the ‘Virgin Brand’.
- Builds confidence in the company’s potential for success.
- Is a role model. Branson is motivating, energetic and ‘walks the talk’. “If you love what you do and if you believe in what you do, others will share your enthusiasm.”
- Has an innovative approach to business: likes to break ‘rules’ and do things differently.
- Values and rewards truly exceptional customer service.
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules,” Branson says. “You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
We read with interest analysis in the news this week of the Jeffrey Review, commissioned by the Justice Secretary to look at the provision of independent criminal advocacy services (http://www.justice.gov.uk). This review will certainly fuel once again the debate surrounding the changing, challenging future of the law profession, with ‘rivalry within profession cutting numbers of young barristers and risking ‘talent pipeline’ for QCs and judges’.
Five years ago my360plus did not have one law firm as a client. Now we have several. This has not been down to any targeted marketing from us, but more of a sign of the changing times and challenges that face traditionally stable and simple business sectors. Today’s lawyers need to be aware and responsive to the onslaught of change created by industry consolidation, government intervention (e.g recent legal aid cuts), increased client demands and diverse competitive pressures. Leadership skills for lawyers are not traditionally taught at law school, so lawyers should not be surprised when they find themselves without the tools required to cope.
Leadership of a law firm is not the same as practice management. Instead of focussing on internal operational and transactional matters, leadership skills need to be externally focussed, able to strategically plan in an unpredictable climate. The leadership skills lawyers benefit from developing include:
- Having systems for identifying new opportunities and new markets
- Setting strategic direction, with action plans that are supported
- Understanding and addressing ways to improve the strengths and to combat the weaknesses of the organisation
- Identifying appropriate partners, alliances and external resources to further the organisation’s goals
- Understanding the new generation of lawyers
- Having a high self awareness
- Increasing team performance with a sustained learning culture
- Effective communication to all stakeholders
- Managing talent
- Driving innovation
The challenges of an ever changing competitive world make leadership development imperative. As the Jeffrey Review states: ‘Simply carrying on as at present in an attempt to keep intact every aspect of the traditional model is not a viable option’. Times…they are a changing.
If you would like to find out more regarding the leadership development that we do with some of our law clients please get in touch.
As a result of a highly successful 360 leadership development programme with law firm, Stevens and Bolton, my360plus was highly commended as part of the “Best Training Programme” at the Legal Education and Training Group Awards 2013. The award citation mentions that “the impact of the programme is already evident with greater business development activity being seen across the firm”.
My daughter is revising for her ‘A’ levels at the moment and I was struck by this colourful essay that I saw on the kitchen table – she had carefully studied the exam board marking scheme and had marked up her essay against each of the marking criteria to ensure she would maximise her grade.
This is a simple example of measuring the right things to maximise performance. As a high performance leadership behaviour we would call it ‘Quality Measurement’, which is all about making your measures outcome focused. This often includes setting interconnected goals, targets or measures to improve performance. Wherever possible in an organisational context, the focus is on making things better for the customer, whether they be external or internal. It is one of the leadership behaviours rated and coached in every my360plus profile.
What do organisations tend to measure?
Companies tend to measure what is easy to measure or what has traditionally been measured, without really considering whether the measures are appropriate and will help them towards their goal. Often, organisations have far too many measures, where reports are produced every month, but no one really reads them and very little action results from the review of the data produced.
Questions to consider when developing Quality Measurement:
- What can you do to better monitor the current project or work you are doing? How can you make sure you are making progress?
- How can you improve the monitoring of your activities over the coming week, month and three months? What will success look like from this point over these time periods?
- How can you have a conversation with your key customers to understand how they really measure you? What can you change that will improve success against these measures?
- What are you measuring (because you always have) that doesn’t really add any value? How might you replace these with measures that really matter, especially to a customer?
The key to Quality Measurement is to set meaningful measures that have a significant impact on your performance.
Let’s hope my daughter has pinpointed the correct measures for her exam success!
We are really proud that as a result of a highly successful 360 leadership development programme with law firm, Stevens and Bolton, my360plus was highly commended as part of the “Best Training Programme” at the Legal Education and Training Group Awards held recently in London.
The award citation mentions that “the impact of the programme is already evident with greater business development activity being seen across the firm”.
In addition, it states that the programme acted as “a trigger for greater openness in sharing of ideas and led to the instigation of informal peer mentoring within the leadership group”.
Leadership skills are needed now more than ever in practice. As well as the tough economic times all businesses have been facing, the legal profession is right in the midst of unprecedented change. Competition is fierce, driving down fees; the Legal Services Act is changing the way firms structure themselves; clients are becoming better informed and more and more sophisticated; technology is changing virtually every aspect of how services are delivered and a new generation of lawyers are approaching partnership with different aspirations and ideas.
What distinguishes an exceptional lawyer from a good one, apart from their legal skills, is their ability to deal with all this change. Particularly the sheer speed at which change is happening as well as the myriad of things lawyers need to be taking on board when making decisions. Leadership skills for lawyers focuses on the skills necessary to succeed and thrive during uncertain times.
Many lawyers still spend their professional lives not getting much in the way of feedback. They are either constantly told how wonderful they are (as long as the billable hours are good) or they are ‘bypassed’ for promotion to Partner without much explanation and often move on without knowing what else they could have done.
The my360plus tool is a really innovative approach helping lawyers develop their leadership skills and deal with this change. It starts with feedback from colleagues in the things that matter and make a difference, but it doesn’t stop there. It serves up practical ideas on what to do to improve, as well as the ability to enter into an on-going dialogue with colleagues to support leadership development goals.
It was this innovative but practical approach that was recognised by the LETG Awards. It is playing a vital part in broadening leadership skills as well as the fostering of greater openness, sharing and informal mentoring within law firms.
Change will bring opportunity especially for those firms focused on nurturing talent. Development through the giving and receiving of feedback will provide competitive advantage for those firms that embrace it. For more information on an innovative, proven and affordable 360 leadership development programme please do contact us.
Feedback is a vital performance management tool yet most managers don’t like giving feedback, do it ineffectively or don’t do it at all. Why is this?
- Often it’s because a manager doesn’t have the right skills to give feedback effectively, therefore fears some sort of backlash.
- Often there isn’t a culture of excellence that makes regular feedback at work the norm. Many managers haven’t experienced good feedback themselves and don’t know what it looks like. “Well done,” is nice to hear – but isn’t useful feedback.
- Managers may be reluctant to take responsibility for their team members’ performance so they don’t value feedback at work as a management tool.
Without effective 360 feedback at work, individuals have no hope of knowing what they’re doing well, what they need to do more of or less of. Performance will inevitably suffer and employee engagement and morale will drop
So what does effective feedback at work look like?
- Regular: every day even. If you wait until a project or task is finished it may be too late to keep performance high and you’ve lost a chance to boost the individual’s skills and confidence. It is definitely not ok to only give feedback once or twice a year in a performance appraisal. Aim to make feedback part of your team’s culture… and watch performance improve.
- Factual: Hearsay, rumour or third party reporting can be disputed and can disrupt a positive feedback environment. You always need the facts, first hand.
- Specific: “Well done” tells the individual little. Which bit was well done? What made it well done? Why was it well done? To keep it specific, try using the simple mnemonic AID. Action: What the individual has actually done. Stick to the facts. Impact: The effect the individual’s actions have/had/could have. Do/Do differently: What needs to be done – more or less of the same? Or something different altogether?
- It focuses on behaviour and actions, not personality, attitude or character ie it is objective not subjective. Avoid, “You did that badly” or “you’re no good at…”. Instead suggest an action which could be improved: “That could be more effective if the xyz was deployed more quickly” or “What would have to change to make sure xyz didn’t happen next time?”
- It involves the individual and gives them responsibility for their actions. If you ask them “How do you think that went?” you will usually find they know what went well and what didn’t go well. Then you can coach them to identify ways to improve it for next time. If they are overly self-critical you have the pleasant task of explaining, using AID perhaps, why their performance was better than they thought. If they’ve missed something out, you can ask about a specific aspect of the task, “And what about xyz?” Give them a chance to tell you what they already think. Use coaching techniques where possible.
- It is often positive. Remember to give people feedback at work when they’re doing something well – not just when they’re doing something performance-limiting. It is just as important that people understand when and why they’re doing something useful and effective (AID is still appropriate). It makes people feel valued and reinforces effective behaviour.
- It doesn’t rely on the ‘feedback sandwich’: Positive/Negative/Positive does not always work. At best it can dilute the message; at worst it can leave the individual confused about what the key feedback actually is. If you need to feedback about something that didn’t go well, it is probably worth focusing on that issue on that occasion.
- It is timely and carried out in an appropriate location. This might mean it is done straightaway while the action is still fresh. Alternatively it may be more effective a few hours or a day or two later so that all parties are in the best emotional state to remain objective and effective. Allocate enough time, choose an undisturbed, quiet location, perhaps on neutral territory if it is likely to be a difficult conversation.
- It is a two- way street. Don’t wait for someone to give you feedback – ask for it. Make it easy for people to feel comfortable giving you feedback by asking, “What could I do more of/less of? What should I stop doing/start doing? What could I do differently?” If you hear something you weren’t expecting or difficult, you don’t have to react straightaway. Say something along the lines of, “Thanks for telling me that. I need to think about that. Can I get back to you in a few hours/days?”
- It is properly managed: it should be aligned to performance goals and reviewed. Show how the feedback can help them reach their goals and targets. If you give some feedback that prompts a change in behaviour, follow up on it to review progress.
Done regularly and effectively, feedback at work can be recognised as an opportunity, not a threat. People will be happy to take the rough with the smooth when they know that feedback is objective, appropriate and useful, designed to help them do their job better.