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Poor leadership = poor adaption to changes

Changes conjure up many feelings and emotions - excitement, anticipation and happiness, but change can often herald reservation, concern, even fear.

While many leaders extol the benefits of change, not everyone shares that enthusiasm.

A client outlined the challenge he saw in taking on his new role as CEO. This challenge revolved around the level of fear he sensed throughout his new organisation. Phrases like "I can see the fear in their eyes" and "deep reservations about the future ahead" were quoted. There will be many reasons for these behaviours a nd this leader faced them as his prime challenge. Without commitment to the journey of necessary change throughout the organisation, he was "on a hiding to nothing".

Poor leadership can give rise to fear. Leaders define, affect and influence the culture of an organisation way beyond their own imagination. Some have no idea of the level of influence their behaviour has on others, not only on their direct reports, but through them on the whole organisation.

Resistance to change can also be due to;

  • Vested interests and personal fiefdoms which work hard to prevent change.
  • Potential organisational blindness to how the outside world really works.
  • Or, team spirit lost in transition.

Every organisation must evolve, adapt and remain sensitive to changes in its industry and others which can undermine what was once a stable and sustainable market. Often leaders read the situation correctly, but then act to bring about change in a way that destroys the very foundations that brought success to the organisation and would have served it well into the future, if only channelled correctly.
So, back to my client. What could he have done? In this instance it was a case of acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of what has passed, how his predecessor in attempting to do the right thing – did wrong. Not wrong in realising that change was necessary, but rather in misunderstanding how to deliver change.

History plays a part in defining the behaviours of an organisation "the way we do things around here", and some recognised capability for change. The very success built into the DNA of the organisation that brought it to the current position, that same DNA would if handled correctly, deliver future success in the 'brave new world'. Listening to those who have seen the journey to this point and asking them the right questions such as "What have you learnt when facing this or that challenge in the past"? and "Which solutions worked, which didn't and why was this the case"? Getting under the skin of the what, why and how the organisation responds to the new, what constitutes the resilience amongst the teams and capability to adapt, change and renew - this is key.

Having listened, questioned and understood, it is as vital to acknowledge that history - the strength that has helped so far - and open the dialogue about what the future holds, what part each person thinks they can play and what do they see as the evolution necessary to meet the future.

None of this should detract from the crucial role any leader plays in doing his or her own strategic thinking, market analysis and all the other critical 'outward looking' actions.  The real talent comes in performing the merger of listening and acknowledging within, with diagnosing and refining the challenges and opportunities without. This results in change for good, lessening the fear.

Fundamental to overcoming resistance to change is the building of trust. We can help with this. Contact – peter.buckley@buckley-partnership.co.uk

The Dark Side of Leadership Reputation

Within the film industry, George Lucas had a great reputation, built partly on his success with Star Wars. As the story goes, wisely he outsourced the original Star Wars sequels to a capable group of screenwriters and directors. Despite the massive success of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, ego and reputation meant he then opted to fly solo as a writer, director, and producer of the prequel trilogy. The resulting films proved that the director had absolutely no understanding of what audiences wanted from the franchise and by neglecting to reflect on what audiences loved about the franchise, Lucas created three boring films that barely qualified as action figure commercials nor made any return on investment.

There are strange, but often repeated outcomes that appear when the board of an organization appoints a leader with a known reputation, who fundamentally isn't up for the challenge itself, but rather approaches their role with total selfishness.

Reputation is a mercurial aspect of perceived successful individuals. Such is the nature of reputation it prompts a discussion and blog in itself... for another time. Suffice to say, in such instances as this it rests on delivering an outcome, often change, that a board considers the holder is able to bring to their own challenge 'at home'. Of course this presupposes the conditions both internal and external match theirs at that time and place, which of course can, and never will, be the same. Yet here they are appointed to the role.

So what are the outcomes of such actions? Firstly, single-minded, selfish individuals are only fuelled in their excess through each and every move, appointment and often increased reward package. Their power knows no bounds. So, to their actions and the long term effects: Change is brought about and while short term leading to perceived success, long term a change takes place in the soul. Soul of individuals, mores and culture.

Short term EBITDA, profit, growth and value appear enhanced, yet underneath a deterioration is happening. Deterioration is the ability of the organization to continually deliver cost savings, increased individual and group productivity and most of all limited creativity.

While these outcomes do not show up in the near horizon of 3-5 year plans, this does not seem to matter either to the incumbent leader nor the board. The inevitable results: Change in the leader. They move on to another challenge, fuelled by their own perceived self-worth and in many instances a knowledge that it is the 'right time' to move on (perhaps before being found out).

For a moment though let us consider what happens inside the organization. A common conversation revolves around 'sitting it out, change is inevitable and while this is the current way, hopefully the soul will prevail'. Of course this is seldom the outcome and instead another change takes place as those that have ability and resolve chose to find employment that offers values and beliefs similar to their own. Others fight to survive by adopting the prevailing behaviours in this 'new order' that can provide them short term success, but actually, in long term, affects their own sense of balance and fulfilment. In terms of delivery, whether achieving targets, results and sustainable creativity and innovation, sadly efforts, campaigns and initiatives fail. Not immediately, but rather they end up being sub-optimal and limited in their sustainability as mentioned. This is mainly as a result of staff not really being committed heart and soul to what the leader really wants, as demonstrated by his or her actions and selfish intent.

What can be done? In truth, this conundrum is best resolved through a combination of decisions and actions, namely;

Board members define what they want from a new CEO. This definition has to include;

  • A previous track record in dealing with challenges similar to their own
  • A clear set of behavioural skills considered important to maintain morale, mores and norms that enable the business to succeed then and now
  • Insight and ability to diagnose and act upon the few, yet critical blocks to improved performance and success going forward.
  • A robust and thorough selection process that takes time to really explore the fundamental motives and strategic intent underlying applicants desire to become the CEO.

Notwithstanding all the above, it is fair to say that these core insights not only apply to the appointment of CEOs, but equally to Directors and leaders throughout organisations. It is simply that the scale of risk and potential long term damage to the organization is greater the higher 'up the food chain' one goes.

Leading Change

As a leader, do you engage people at the level of spirit?

For this “Thought for Today” I felt a new approach was needed, so I have taken the liberty of providing you first with a short synopsis of a much wider and enjoyable article written by Sally Helgesen. The full article follows later.


  • The reality is that meaningful, lasting change occurs only when a critical mass of people throughout an enterprise — not all of them, but a sufficient number — begin to approach their work and commitments in a whole new way.
  • Sustained transformation requires transformed people.
  • Leaders can instigate change effort, only to find their efforts stymied by entrenched interests or silos at senior levels.
  • Example of Pope Francis who approaches the difficult-to-reconcile tasks of re-engaging a broad spectrum of grassroots believers at the level of spirit and imagination while also seeking to curb the power of an entrenched bureaucracy that views itself as the true arbiter of church culture.

How do you engage people in meaniful, lasting change?

First, a leader needs to create opportunities to build and connect with alternate constituencies in meaningful yet powerful symbolic ways in order to counterbalance vested interests nearer to hand.

Second, rather than telling others that they need to change their ways, a leader seeking transformation must instead personally model a radically open style of leadership that sets the tone for what he or she wants to see happen.

“Transformed people transform people”. St. Francis

Organisations can only be transformed when the people who comprise them are transformed, and people are changed by individuals who engage them at the level of spirit.

Papal Pull: by Sally Helgesen, Strategy & Business June 2015

“Only people of the spirit change things. The rest of us just rearrange them.”

The insightful quote wasn’t uttered by a religious figure, or by a touchy-feely New Age philosopher. Rather, it came from one of the most wilful and domineering figures ever to strut across the human stage: Napoleon.

The conqueror of Europe, whose dominion did indeed prove short-lived, was sufficiently clear-eyed to recognize the transitory nature of his military and political triumphs. But leaders today are often less astute. Although transformation has become a kind of Holy Grail in many organizations, it’s often viewed as an engineering or structural challenge that can be executed from the top: Get all the design elements right, and transformation is sure to follow.

The reality is that meaningful, lasting change occurs only when a critical mass of people throughout an enterprise — not all of them, but a sufficient number — begin to approach their work and commitments in a whole new way. Sustained transformation requires transformed people, as Lou Gerstner recognized when he noted that a reborn IBM could not be run by “the guys in white shirts” who had long defined the company’s culture. Gerstner, who ran Big Blue from 1993 to 2002, began the necessary work of supporting and engaging different people and the same people in different ways. By doing so, he was able to transform IBM from a complacent manufacturer of computer hardware into a more nimble and profitable provider of computing solutions, including services.

Such engagement does not happen by fiat, by a leader decreeing it must be so, although we continue to see leaders who stubbornly go down this path. My own favorite example, is former Hewlett Packard CEO Leo Apotheker’s sudden August 2011 announcement that the entire company — all 300,000-plus people — would on one specified day in September abandon their traditional business model, seize new terrain, and alter their modus operandi. Apotheker’s own tenure lasted about three weeks after this grandiose “Day One” declaration, which sowed confusion and despair in the ranks. The annals of business failure are littered with similar disasters. In the real world, people don’t change because the CEO tells them they must do so overnight.

Sometimes leaders do try to broadly engage people in a change effort, only to find their efforts stymied by entrenched interests or silos at senior levels. One classic example from business history was New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc., (NUMMI) an ill-fated partnership struck in 1984 between General Motors and Toyota. Based in Fremont, California, NUMMI was an effort to help frontline GM workers and supervisors learn the principles of lean manufacturing and the legendary Toyota production system (TPS) first-hand. Though the venture proved transformative for individual participants and resulted in vastly improved quality for the vehicles coming off the assembly line, GM didn’t change much as an organization as a result. The reason? Positional leaders outside the plant saw NUMMI’s innovation as a threat to their way of doing business. The Fremont plant was ultimately shut down in 2010, a year after GM filed for bankruptcy. (In a wonderfully ironic footnote, the old NUMMI site is today owned and operated by Tesla Motors.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how transformations succeed and fail as I follow the fascinating efforts of Pope Francis to reinvigorate one of the few 2,000-year-old institutions on earth. The Catholic Church as an organization has provided the very prototype of top-down hierarchy since the early Middle Ages, so opening it up structurally is a particularly daunting task. What’s remarkable is the agility with which this Pope, who assumed his post in 2013 after the unprecedented resignation of a long-time Vatican power player who had become paralyzed in his role, approaches the difficult-to-reconcile tasks of re-engaging a broad spectrum of grassroots believers at the level of spirit and imagination while also seeking to curb the power of an entrenched bureaucracy that views itself as the true arbiter of church culture.

In moving on both fronts simultaneously, the Pope reveals his understanding of the two-step methodology required if sustained transformation is to flourish. First, a leader needs to create opportunities to build and connect with alternate constituencies in meaningful yet powerful symbolic ways in order to counterbalance vested interests nearer to hand. This approach was most vividly demonstrated in Francis’s drive to canonize Oscar Romero, the murdered bishop of El Salvador; the move had been blocked by the Roman Curia, the administrative arm of the Vatican, for 35 years. Soon after his installation, Pope Francis — the first South American to lead the church — embraced the effort, creating a groundswell of support across Latin America that included peasant villages, political allies, and advocates of liberation theology who had been marginalized or even banished from the church. In doing so, the Pope created a counterweight to those curial princes in Rome who had viewed the effort as a threat to their personal fiefs and positional power. In May, Romero was beatified — the penultimate step to formal sainthood.

Second, rather than telling others that they need to change their ways, a leader seeking transformation must instead personally model a radically open style of leadership that sets the tone for what he or she wants to see happen. In this spirit, the Pope remained in his modest Jesuit rooming house during his transition instead of moving into the palatial apartment prepared for him. He insisted on personally paying the fee at the desk upon leaving instead of having a retainer take care of it. He wore simple white robes and a skullcap at his investiture instead of the elaborate brocaded cape expected, and he rejected the scarlet slippers that had become a papal trademark. And most famously, he washed the feet of prisoners, including women and Muslims, at his first Holy Thursday service.

By acting as a simple, even humble priest from Day One of his papacy, the Pope demonstrated his understanding of the basic insight of the saint whose name he took upon investiture: transformed people transform people. This is a truth leaders miss when they imagine their positional power alone can compel lasting change. Organiz ations can only be transformed when the people who comprise them are transformed, and people are changed by individuals who engage them at the level of spirit.

This particular transformation effort isn’t finished, of course, and the forces of resistance can be wily and patient. As one senior curial official recently confided to long-term Vatican correspondent John Allen, “Bergoglio [Pope Francis] won’t be here forever, but we will.” That’s an extraordinarily bald and confident statement of faith on the irresistible nature of positional and bureaucratic power in an institution whose purpose, as Francis reminds us, is supposed to be pastoral. But if Napoleon is proved right yet again, the triumph of inertia is likely to be brief.

Maths v English

I wonder if you remember the choices you had to make during school which almost felt like having to choose between Maths and English. The “Now is it going to be science subjects or arts Peter?” question, directly or implied.  Back in the 70’s I chose sciences and that set a path for me over the coming decade. Wow, what a long time when my decision was not founded on any substantive knowledge, enough information or, in truth wise counsel.
As the decades passed by, and what is now described as “multiple-careers” with a lot of tough, enjoyable and sometimes confusing outcomes I realised as time went on how much I love the arts; Literature, music, the spoken word, beauty and aesthetics.  
As a coach now for over two decades, I have had numerous discussions with clients around what did they want out of life back then, what was your passion and are you living and breathing it now (even if it’s different from before).  Sadly many, far too many are not fulfilled, are not pursuing their passion and know there is something missing in their lives.
Having the right person to talk to, with the right conversations, can and does enable all of us to gain far greater insight into who we really are and what we really want out of life – no matter what age we are. Yes, you can change, even with all the responsibilities, commitments and ties that seem to prevent us thinking (i.e. outside the boxes we find hold us to the today, the mundane, the unfulfilled).
While working with a wonderful team recently, I was reflecting while facilitating the discussion and solutions around how to meet, exceed and grow EBITDA, and cope, survive and thrive in times of tougher financial targets and tangible cuts that were being explored, and most importantly the themes of trust and how motivation and morale are ‘hurting’ within their business.
It dawned on me that the vast majority of discussions that are going on in many organisations revolve around the former; How to cut and how to increase productivity and profitability and deliver the calculated and actionable tasks to achieve this, yet fail totally to really find similar solutions to the latter i.e. How to address and re-build trust, motivation and morale.
In my heart, then head, it felt to me like the difference between Maths and English.
Maths versus EnglishMaths – as I saw it then, was anodyne, formulaic and followed clear heuristics to reach logical and finite decisions for action, while English on the other hand was discursive, emotional, motivational, inspirational and, critically, created pictures of a future, a brighter future that when written and spoken well can raise the human soul, individuals and teams alike to achieve wonderful, and at times, unbelievable successes.
That was it – turning to the group I mentioned “Maths v English”, explained what I meant, and from that moment on we complimented the hard Maths work with robust, tangible and achievable English. Together the outcome of both delivered more, far more than anyone expected and critically created a legacy that to this day sustains and allows for on-going dialogue, continuing iteration and innovative solutions which in turn maintain morale and motivation, in both good and tough times.
Do you consider your ‘English’, or is it ‘Maths’ that is the sole medium used in your organisation? Why not explore ‘English’ further and who knows, the short-termism of many ‘Maths’ initiatives can be complemented with enduring trust, motivation and tangible positive morale.

The seasons change, life is constant change and work... well you don't need me to tell you!

We all look for some certainties in life. This includes aspects of our work life where we feel 'assured', and this is no more relevant than in the behaviours and skills of our leaders and in you as a leader of others.

I just read this short, but insightful article by Heidi Grant Halvorson which encapsulates firstly, why trust is so important a consideration for leaders and, secondly, a number of strategies you might want to consciously consider about yourself:

The Most Important Skill for Great Leaders? Trustworthiness.

by Heidi Grant Halvorson

What makes a great leader? You are probably thinking it's something buzzword-worthy like confidence. Or maybe vision. Or emotional intelligence—you hear about that one all the time. For sure, those are all good qualities for a leader to have, but the answer is actually trustworthiness. Technically, it's not just being trustworthy that is key, but being seen as trustworthy.

The question "Can I trust you?" is always on our minds whenever we interact with other people (particularly when we meet them for the first time) though we usually aren't consciously aware of asking it. Studies suggest that in order to figure out whether or not someone is trustworthy, we analyze their words and deeds to find answers to two questions: "Do you have good intentions toward me—are you a friend or a foe?" and "Do you have what it takes to act on those intentions?"

So how do we find the answers? Decades of research show that we are all highly tuned-in to the warmth and competence of those around us. Warmth is being friendly, kind, loyal, and empathetic. It is taken as evidence that you have good intentions toward others. Your competence—being intelligent, creative, skilled, effective—is taken as evidence that you can act on your intentions if you want to. Competent people are therefore valuable allies or potent enemies. Less competent people are objects of compassion, or scorn.

When your team trusts you as a leader, it increases commitment to team goals. Communication improves, and ideas flow more freely, increasing creativity and productivity. Perhaps most important, in the hands of a trusted leader, employees are more comfortable with change and more willing to embrace a new vision. When your team doesn't trust you, you don't get their best effort. You'll then find yourself unable to inspire, influence, and create real change—an ineffective leader.

When your team doesn't trust you, you don't get their best effort.

We can all agree that trust is good. The problem, however, is that we are so eager to prove that we "know what we're doing" as leaders that we neglect the arguably more important part of the trust formula: proving that we will act with our colleagues' interests in mind. In other words, trust is an afterthought.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, author of many of the key studies on trust and leadership, has argued that when you project competence before warmth, you run the risk of appearing cold and eliciting fear from your employees. They might respect you, but fearful employees are rarely able to work at their best. And you certainly can't blame them for wanting to jump ship once an offer to work for someone who doesn't make them constantly anxious comes along.

Fearful employees are rarely able to work at their best.

In a nutshell, being competent is certainly important, but it must be coupled with the sense that you have your employees' welfare and interests in mind and that what they experience matters to you. Think about how you can use the following strategies to up your trust quotient:

#1 Pay Attention

Make eye contact, and hold it—both when you are speaking and listening. Nod from time to time to show you are understanding what's being said to you (and if you don't understand, ask). Smile, especially when they do. And above all else, really focus and internalize what is being said to you—everyone needs to feel that they have been heard, even when you can't give them what they are asking for.

#2 Trust Them First

Human beings have a deeply-rooted tendency toward reciprocity. We are naturally inclined to want to do favours, give gifts, and work to promote those who have done these things for us in the past. And the same holds true when it comes to trust—we are more likely to feel we can trust someone who has trusted us first. So assign tasks and projects that reflect this trust. Socially, share personal (but appropriate!) stories, talk about your struggles and challenges, let them see your fallible, human side. Allowing yourself to be a bit vulnerable is a great way to project warmth.

#3 Show Empathy

As a leader it's easy to have a laser-like focus on the tasks at hand. But take the time to mentally put yourself in your employees' shoes, to really try to grasp their perspective. Use phrases like "I imagine you must have felt..." to convey that empathy directly.

All that said, if you just aren't the warm-and-fuzzy type, and maybe talking about "feelings" makes you uncomfortable, fear not. Evidence suggests that the moral character aspects of warmth—the sense that you are fair, principled, courageous, and honest—are also highly effective for establishing trust. In other words, to get your employees to trust you, be someone they can always count on to do the right thing.

My learning from this, combined with personal observations of leaders and teams over the last 16 years, is that in truth it is easy to spot leaders who are not sincere in their care for others and personal mindfulness and to really 'do it right', honest reflection on your leadership style and skills is critical.

In using the learning from this article the key issue is not to apply each and all these strategies, but more to work to infuse this thinking and practice into your personal 'norm'.

I will be returning to this theme over the autumn and in the meantime, How about you? How have great leaders earned your trust?

Thriving in a diverse business world

When you contemplate ‘diversity’ what elements spring to mind? In an effort to ‘think outside the box’ this report offers new insights into what ‘diversity’ can truly mean for business. How can leaders respond to fast-pace ‘diverse thinking’?

KPMG LLP (UK) (2008) Thriving in a diverse business world. Roffey Park

Attempting to develop your ‘strategic muscle’? This McKinsey article offers three top tips for any leader who wants to be familiarised with strategic thinking. As strategy becomes a ‘real-time journey’ will you be running up to speed?

Birshan, M and Kar, J (2012) Strategy Practice, Becoming more strategic: three tips for any executive. McKinsey Quarterly

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