“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
If you were asked in a blind survey to name the three characteristics to best describe your business organization, what percentage of surveyees would include the following three traits:
I have been working on this post for four weeks now, but ended up holding off until I finished reading the book discussed below (which I highly recommend and is surely worthy of a full book review).
Strengthening Business Organization Leadership Skills: Not Your “Father’s Oldsmobile” Conference
As background, I recently returned from attending the Turnaround Management Association’s all-new education symposium held in Chicago which focused on strengthening and reinforcing business organization leadership skills. Attendees included business turnaround professionals of many stripes, and came from as far away as Finland.
Unlike those “conferences” that leaves most attendees with few new and valuable “take aways” at its conclusion, this program delivered something innovative and valuable. Senior executives and top experts who have distinguished themselves as effective organization leaders:
a) Illuminated in detail their respective leadership philosophies and historical “lessons learned,”
b) Led insightful interactive discussions on leadership topics, and
c) Laid out the tools that can be used to distinguish oneself as a professional leader.
I surely left with a much stronger “tool box” of leadership principles. To paraphrase a colleague, “it was nice to take a step back from discussing high-level finance and legal topics specific to the turnaround industry and explore the ‘nuts and bolts’ behind the people that can be the difference between a successful business organization and failure.”
How Do You Define “Leadership”?
The symposium challenged the attendees to critically think about the meaning ascribed to the word “leadership.”
In the past few years, business schools have been re-examining how they define leadership. Here are a few ways they are defining or characterizing “leadership”:
- “[T]he ability to inspire others to strive and enable them to accomplish great things” – Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business;
- “Trustworthiness,” “Respect for Others,” “Change Leadership,” “Developing Others” -among other things, from the unique “Leadership Behavior Grid” that is now part of Stanford Business School’s applicants’ recommendation form.
Just as I was challenged at the symposium to consider the following question, how do you define “leadership” when it comes to your particular professional field? My answer comes a little later, but first the following.
The Importance of Virtuous + Innovative Leadership
I strongly believe that ever-changing economic dynamics, driven by the inevitable impact of globalization as well as the economic disruptions of the past six to seven years, means that the financial viability of any organization requires leaders equipped to cope effectively with the complexity of today’s business environment. This is true whether a Fortune 500 Company, a law firm, or a local small business.
Just last month, Ron Perelman donated $100 million to Columbia Business School to develop a “Center for Business Innovation” that is aimed at strengthening innovations and programs for future business leaders. As
Mr. Perelman stated in Bloomberg:
“The business landscape is changing rapidly and dramatically, and as such the principles that define strong business leadership — such as an entrepreneurial mindset and solving complex challenges — are more important now than ever before …”
Of special interest to me, law schools have a long, long way to go in the leadership development arena. Just a few months ago the first book of its kind was published on the topic “Law and Leadership: Integrating Leadership Studies into the Law School Curriculum.”
“Building Excellent Ethical & Enduring Organizations”
One session that I found exceptionally insightful was a dialogue lead by @BobVanourek, who explained the organizational leadership principles set forth in his book “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations” and discussed how they also apply to turnaround and crisis situations.
Mr. Vanourek skillfully walked through his five leadership practices (with all citations from the book):
- “Head and Heart” – most businesses only focus on Head (knowledge; skills; experience; education) and miss the boat on Heart (character; emotional intelligence; cultural fit; passion). Of interest to me is that apparently Google looks at the “bottom” of a resume first. Mr. Vanourek wonderfully quotes Nelson Mandela: “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
- “The Colors” – this is a business’ “Purpose; Values; Vision.” To be effective, an organization’s “colors” must go beyond business school jargon and truly reflect how an organization connects with its employees and vendors to further a commonly understood cause. As explained in the book: Purpose “grounds” an organization and its leaders, values “guide” an organization and its leaders, and vision “inspires” an organization and its leaders.
- “Steel & Velvet” – this one I found, in retrospect, to be the one that has challenged me the most when I have been in a leadership position. “Steel & Velvet” goes to leaders needing to know when and where to invoke the “hard edge” by decisively exercising authority to achieve excellent results, all within ethical boundaries, and the “soft edge” by employing a relational style that inspires colleagues to step-up and unleash themselves as co-difference makers within the organization. Vanourek emphasized: people stop listening if a leader constantly operates on the “Steel” side, which is a critical point to remember in a business reorganization or reconfiguration as individuals usually need to step-up in ways like never before.
- “Stewards” – this leadership practice goes to the heart of leadership being driven by the business’ shared values and vision. Stewards are most successful when every person knows that he or she is empowered by the organization’s Colors and “high-performance culture of character” to pursue and achieve exceptional results. The goal is to reduce the risk of depending on just one “heroic leader,” which can be stifling to an organization’s Colors.
- “Alignment” – finally, leaders need to ensure that all team members understand what their role is and what the expected results from such role are, something my own recent professional experience surely validated. Absent that, chaos and organizational under-performance will undoubtedly occur.
All businesses need stay ahead of the rapid changes impacting across marketplaces. In both those areas I am actively involved – law firms and business turnarounds, no matter how strong one’s educational or professional pedigree is, I am now more firmly convinced than ever that it is the “leadership difference” that will drive enterprises to future success.