Strategic Leadership as a Competitive Advantage

Scott Edinger shares about strategic leadership.

Leadership Behaviors to Avoid

Getting teams right means determining how much of a team it is

One of the presenting issues I encounter as an expert in organizational performance is the need for improved teamwork. That need may be for a sales team, a management group, or even the executives of an organization. Frequently, this need is, as I stated, just the presenting issue, and there are a lot of matters beneath the surface that need to be dealt with before we get to actually begin working on team effectiveness.

There are four conditions that I frequently come across:

The team is actually not a team, but rather, a committee. There is no value judgment here—both teams and committees are useful for different purposes. It’s just that they have operating principles and ought to be treated as such. The key to determining whether or not you have a team or a committee is the degree to which they all win or lose together.

When I work with organizations that want to improve teamwork, I try to get a clear understanding of the team structure. In most instances, what I find is that there is not actually a team in place. Instead what I see is a collection of professionals that have been put together, often loosely, to accomplish a goal or set of goals; the group may be cross functional in nature or they may be from the same discipline; they may be together for a single purpose and then disband or they may work together with no end in sight.

Regardless of the make up, the first step is to get clear on whether you have a team or a committee.

They confuse shared destiny with shared destination. One of the principal differences in the team and committee is the notion of shared destiny and shared destination.

Shared destiny allows for a common goal in which each person in the group does their part as an individual contributor to achieve that goal. One person may do a terrific job and another, a lousy job, but the goal may still be reached. Many sales “teams” are a good example of this where one person can over-achieve their quota and another fails to reach their quota and the overall target is still achieved. That really isn’t a team. It is kind of like celebrating individual statistics in a sport where winning is all that matters.

That doesn’t happen on a shared destiny team, where it requires everyone to do their part in order for the team to succeed. An R&D team on the other hand may exist in an environment where it needs everyone to succeed in doing their job, as the nature of their work is dependent on others. There is great power in shared destiny teams but they need to have interdependent goals on which to operate.

They fail to differentiate means and ends. Too often, however, leaders undertake the task of developing teams for the sake of doing so.

Teamwork is a means to an end, most often the achievement of some kind of result that would not be attainable without the combination of everyone doing his or her part. That end may be greater productivity, more profit, increased speed to market, or any other business outcome aided by teamwork.

One of my clients is a Fortune 100 financial institution and I was in a meeting where the CEO reminded a group of senior executives that they needed to work as a team to capture the profit dollars that were falling through the cracks of the organization’s (self constructed) silos. That required real teams that depended on one another in order to be successful with a clear result in mind. Teamwork is about results and good teams are laser focused on the right ones.

Operating principles and expectations are explicit, not tacit. When teams are successful they operate on a set of standards or a code that is clear to everyone on the team.

Teams get very focused on how they are going to operate, what acceptable performance looks like, and the expectations of each individual on the team. They are clear on roles and goals as well as how success is defined. This is a critical step in the team development process as it establishes the working culture for the team. On good teams, it is not left to chance.

There is a lot written about why teams fail, and I’d suggest to you that most of the teams that fail, aren’t really teams at all. Sometimes, that is the problem. Before you embark on forming a team, or if you are wondering why a team is not functioning, examine these conditions to see which are present and you may have your solution.

Five Techniques to Grow Your Business

Three C’s of Strategy Implementation

Customers Need More Than Products

The best salespeople see a sale as a consultation, not a transaction. They find ways to benefit the customer beyond what the product offers. Here are three ways you can be more valuable to your potential clients:

  • Help clients see issues they hadn’t considered. Don’t start by lecturing a customer about the problems you see in her business. Lead a conversation, prompt her to explore deeper issues, and then offer thoughtful diagnoses as the discussion progresses.
  • Point out opportunities they’ve missed. If you can identify them, help your customer see untapped possibilities – markets, technologies, trends – that will allow his business to grow.
  • Refer them elsewhere, when necessary. Not every client needs what you’re offering. When that happens, connect them with people who can help think through a complex issue or point them to another vendor who has what they need.

When merging organizations, don’t forget culture and leadership

As the economy has been growing, so to has been deal activity with mergers and acquisitions on the rise. About half of my clients are involved or have been involved in some kind of merger activity and in the Tampa Bay area as well as the nation as a whole, M&A activity has seen substantial increases over prior years.

Chris Matthews of Time reports that “U.S. firms are on pace to have the biggest year in M&A activity since 2000.”

All of this activity is worth watching as most reports on the topic indicate that somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of these mergers fail to meet their stated objectives for growth and profits. How then, does an organization that completes a merger or an acquisition ensure that they end up in the top 10 or 20 percent? By following these four keys for bringing organizations together.

Don’t forget about leadership and culture during due diligence. Too many dealmakers are myopically focused on the financial analysis of a potential acquisition. While it is true the deal has to work with the numbers, the difference between success and failure is not about the rigor of financial analysis. The success of mergers and acquisitions is about people working together. So don’t forget to do an assessment of the leaders and key people involved on both sides of the deal. If you need to, get some help to work on understanding the strong elements of each culture and where there are potential synergies as well as clashes and prepare for how you will deal with them. Also, figure out how your new leadership team is likely to shake out with members from both organizations, but don’t make any promises. Sometimes in an effort to appease leaders, commitments are made during due diligence that come back to bite later in the process.

Make sure the leadership team works like a team, not a committee. Once the merger has taken place, most leaders will, understandably, be focused on protecting their turf and meeting their performance objectives. While that might work in some organizations, your real success and dramatic growth in blending two cultures comes from getting them to work as a team with shared goals and shared failures versus individual objectives. That will cascade throughout the rest of the organization, and greatly influence the cultural dynamic of teamwork and collaboration. A lot of profit dollars can slip through the cracks of silos that get created during a merger.

It’s not over when the technical systems are integrated. It is not easy, but what needs to be done to integrate systems is often straightforward. People integrations, on the other hand, don’t always work as they look on paper. When I worked with AT&T as they merged four large organizations to create one Fortune 10 company, CEO Randall Stephensonsuggested to a group of officers at the start of one of our sessions, that while he felt good about the technical integration of the businesses, what kept him awake at night was getting leaders from the different companies to work together. It is easy to remember the importance of communication at the start of a merger but it is at 6 months, 12 months, even 18 months post-merger, that you need to be focused on how you are communicating and the messages people are receiving about the integration. Create an integration team whose primary responsibility is the creation and adherence to a new culture for the new entity.

Celebrate gains, and sustain progress. It is not uncommon to hear at some point about “merger fatigue,” a very real phenomenon that exists when people are working at maximum capacity and feel exhausted by change. (As an aside, this happens in companies not going through a merger and they just call it fatigue.) Leaders need to be cognizant of this condition and recognize the good efforts made by employees to bring the organization together, and reward the contributions that help the organization reach its objectives.

Ultimately, leaders want to integrate two or more organizations to become one, minimize the risks of the merger, and rapidly achieve the growth goals and objectives. The financial and technical side of the equation tends to get the most attention, but it is the people side of the equation that will produce the value of the integration.

Leadership Is A Relational Skill

I have said many times that if you want to know the effectiveness of a leader, then ask those who are led. This is because there is no perfect assessment, no bright-line test for what makes a leader effective, and no model that can perfectly determine great leadership. We all know of examples of leaders who excelled in one environment and failed in another, as well as leaders who were average in one organization and proved spectacular in a new role. One of the factors explaining this phenomenon is that leadership is a relational skill; it is about how you interact with others. Sometimes we relate well, and other times not so well, but how we relate is always having an impact on our leadership effectiveness.

So how then can we relate more effectively as leaders? Here are seven simple steps for improving your ability to do so:

  1. Express genuine care and concern. Odds are, unless you are some kind of misanthrope (in which case I am surprised you are reading this article), you have some level of care and concern for those you work with. Expressing that professionally will help you relate well. Ask “What are the issues you are facing with this assignment?” and then listen attentively to the answer. Asking questions about the impact of something and focusing intently on the answer is one of your best methods for developing quality relationships.
  2. Establish high standards. When you set expectations with those you work with and establish that your criteria for success are at a level of excellence, you communicate value. Belief in someone’s ability to produce quality output will forge a connection based on performance. Think about a time when someone expressed a belief in you to achieve at a high level.
  3. Bring in the perspective of others. Ask people what their opinion is and share your interest in the views of others. This will allow you to increase the opportunity of others to contribute to discussion and provide value. This is particularly helpful if someone is shy or reticent to share their opinions, and does wonders for developing a participative team dynamic.
  4. Share relevant information. Give people the information they need to perform their job better. That may be information about how to complete a task or it may be as simple as sharing new information about an upcoming project that will affect them. I’ve never worked with an organization where I heard that people are kept “too informed.” Go out of your way to transparently share information that affects those around you.
  5. Role model the behaviors you want to see. You may wonder how this affects your ability to relate to others, but as a leader, you are always being watched. People will pay close attention to what you do, as it will establish a standard for behavior and interaction. This has a lot to do with how people will relate to you. If you want to have a culture where everyone works hard, show a strong work ethic. If you want customer focus to be a priority, behave in ways that highlight customer centricity.
  6. Clarify your understanding. We have all been misunderstood enough to know it feels bad when it happens. One of the most important contributions you make as a leader is to prevent misunderstandings, and you do this by clarifying and confirming. This also allows others the opportunity to thoroughly express their thoughts to you, which further enhances relationships. Checking for understanding by paraphrasing or summarizing ensures that you have a clear and complete picture of what is being communicated.
  7. Provide your reactions and candid opinions. People appreciate feedback, and withholding your approval or disapproval comes across as a lack of engagement. Help others to see that you are in fact engaged with them by responding to what they say, even non-verbally. As you provide your reactions candidly, support those you agree with and be appropriately candid about those you do not. People may not be thrilled when you disagree with them but you will establish great rapport by sharing your real reactions with people.

I should highlight that while these ideas may be simple, that doesn’t mean any of them are easy to do. The right behaviors are frequently filled with common sense, yet that doesn’t mean they are common practice. In the same way I completely understand how to swing a golf club, but am borderline incompetent when I have to actually do it. Consistent effort and attention to relating will improve your skill.

Best Places to Work cultures often have these key elements

When you think of the best places to work, one of the critical factors to consider is that of culture. Culture supports strategy, facilitates change, establishes focus and creates the context for high performance.

I’ve had the luxury to work with some of the best companies in the world and when I have witnessed strong cultures these are the elements I see at play.

  • There are high levels of employee engagement. Employees express confidence and a belief that the organization will be successful in achieving its strategic objectives. There is a willingness to “go the extra mile” for the organization, and give the discretionary or extra effort needed to complete priority projects and serve clients. In short, commitment to the organization and its goals are strong, and you can tell by the energy and determination produced by members of your team. High levels of employee engagement have been correlated with greater productivity, revenue growth, customer satisfaction, profitability and even earnings per share.
  • Leaders walk their talk, and also talk their walk. The importance of having good role models can’t be understated because they set the pace for work and establish the tone of the organization. We’ve all heard that leaders need to walk their talk, but as exemplars, they need to also talk their walk. That is, they need to promote and advocate the behaviors they model verbally as well, and let people know what is expected of them and the standards everyone will be held to. Then they need to follow suit.
  • Coaching and development are the norm. Perhaps the most overused term in business today is that “people are our most important asset.” While it is true, too often it is only given lip service. In cultures where that phrase is not just a platitude, people are routinely given balanced feedback that helps them to perform better. Done well, this comes from their manager as a coach or an independent third party. The only way organizations get better is if their people consistently improve, and the most effective way to do that is by investing time and resources in their growth.
  • Focus is on output, not input. The organization is all about results and outcomes, versus strict adherence to process at all costs. That is not to say that there is no process whatsoever; rather, the priority is always what needs to happen, not how it needs to happen. Process or input exists only to create outcomes. In high performance cultures, it is totally acceptable to push back on processes that don’t support an outcome, or worse, hinder an outcome, without being a renegade. This is especially true when it comes to end user or customer focus, where productivity is so vital to success.
  • Recognition and reward are in large supply. One of the most frequent complaints of employees who rank low in engagement is they feel underappreciated. A hallmark of a great culture is that it is standard to recognize exceptional performance. Further, recognizing great efforts and improvements in performance are customary as well. This is done best by leaders who are able to highlight the specifics of a job well done, the characteristics of the person who did it and the impact it had on the organization. Having a forum for this kind of recognition is useful, but don’t underestimate the power of impromptu crediting and acknowledgement of good work. When it comes to reward, think both financial and non-financial. High performers, in particular, value the incentives of autonomy, degrees of freedom and stretch assignments that further demonstrate their value.
  • Values are visible. The organizations’ values are not simply platitudes that are distributed to employees and hung in frames on the walls. They are observable in the behaviors everyone sees and experiences in their interactions with fellow employees and their managers. Employees will only judge the authenticity of your values by how they feel treated, not by the plaques that espouse them. Getting everyone in an organization to behave in accordance with your values so they are noticeable through interactions is no easy task, but the payoff is huge.

The powerful thing about all of these elements of a winning culture is they tend to build on one another. As leaders serve as role models, they can be role modeling key behaviors from your values you feel are critically important to your success. As you recognize great performance, recognize and reward employees who are results-focused and achieve great outcomes. Doing all of these things helps to create a culture of engaged employees. You may be doing some of these things but not others, so start by prioritizing one or two elements and make them a part of your culture.

All organizations have a culture of some kind. Is yours intentional and purposed or has it just sort of happened over time? And of course, the most important question for you to answer is, “how good is your culture?”

Reinvent Your Personal Brand

Like so many of you reading this blog, my “to read” stack is piled halfway to the ceiling. Some books and longer articles that I want to read, and others, that for one reason or another, I need to read. Add to that stack the deluge of emails, daily periodicals, and of course, blogs like Forbes, and I sometimes wonder how I’ll get through my stack. The books are all good by virtue of having made it into my stack, so I prioritize my stack from “must read now,” because of valuable information that I presently need, to “read eventually. This month, the book that made it to the top of my stack is Reinventing You,published by Harvard Business Review Press written by my friend and colleague, Dorie Clark. The criteria for me was that, like so many of you, I am continually looking for how to improve my brand and I always find Dorie’s writing, in her blogs on this site as well as Harvard Business Review, to have great pragmatic insights.

Here are a few of my key takeaways from the book.

  • You already have a brand, and in order to take control of it, you need to fully understand what it is. That’s easier said than done, because we’re all inside our own heads 24/7 – so you need to enlist key allies to help you gain perspective. Dorie suggests conducting your own “360 interviews” to get the perspective of your colleagues, boss, and employees to understand your strengths and where you can grow. She also proposes a fascinating concept – doing your own “focus group,” where the focus is on you. You can recruit a friend to moderate, and then invite 8-10 people over to talk about how they see you and what they can envision for you; you’re only allowed to listen and ask clarifying questions. That’s the kind of perspective it might take you years to learn on your own.
  • You don’t need to – and shouldn’t – jump into a “reinvention” without planning, but there are ways to minimize your risk. Dorie profiles people who served on nonprofit boards and gained new skills that allowed them to change careers, and provides case studies about professionals who cleverly expanded the definition of their current job to stretch their boundaries and move into new areas that fascinated them. That’s something we should all ask ourselves: what can I donow to make my current job more fulfilling and interesting?
  • Creating your “narrative” is critical to the reinvention process. If left to their own devices, most people will continue to think of you the way they always have, meaning their perceptions are often erroneous or out-of-date. After all, you’ve been learning and growing in the intervening years, but they may simply not have noticed. So you’ll need to create a narrative that explains, clearly and succinctly, where you’ve been and the value only you can offer. With creative examples like a poet who became a management consultant, and an Army helicopter pilot who transitioned into corporate America, Dorie makes this point eloquently and shows us how we can all do it.
  • You have to “demonstrate your value.” Whether it’s taking a leadership role in professional organizations or creating online content (like blogs or podcasts), it’s essential to show others how you think and what you can do. As knowledge workers, there’s no other way for them to get a sense of our abilities. And if you’re the one creating intellectual property, you’re able to set the agenda – and others will soon be talking about, and citing, you.

Defining and developing a personal brand is no easy task but Dorie Clark’s writing brings the process to life and makes it accessible to all of us. A brand is a promise of uniform quality and performance. What promises are you making? Read Reinventing You to get clear on those promises, and learn to do what is needed to deliver on them.