Real Leadership Development is . . .

famous-leaders

Leadership and learning are indispensable from each other. ~ John F. Kennedy

Whether developed and delivered by world-renowned business professors at famous universities, or designed and conducted by company L&D specialists, most leadership development courses, workshops and programs don’t work!  They don’t create leaders. At best they deliver interesting information and data. Just because you have new stories and information about leadership doesn’t make you a better leader.

Leadership is about leading. It\s about you doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. It\s not about knowing what others have done.

Effective leadership has more to do with character and courage than IQ or business degrees.

As you can tell, I am not a great fan on leadership development programs in general.  After all, one important ingredient to real leadership is almost always absent from these courses: Courage.  The courage to take a stand. The courage to go against the tide of majority opinion when it is wrong.  The courage to risk failure to bring a new product or service to market quickly. The courage to confront poor behaviors and poor attitudes at any level of the organization. The courage to protect those being bullied by ineffective managers or supervisors.

Malala Yousafzai Opens Birmingham LibraryI take note that courageous leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Steve Jobs and Malala didn’t attend a leadership development course, yet in the eyes of most would be considered true leaders in their field.

 

Leadership development is critically important and the world is crying out for more leaders. So, is there a way to develop real leadership?

I think there is.  A few companies havCulture rulese the right approach.  What I call “real world, experiential learning”.  Let me give you an example.  One that I use in my new book, Culture Rules! The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture and how to use them to create greater business success (available in paperback from Amazon in mid-October, 2017).

General Electric is highly regarded for turning out exceptional business leaders. GE’s internal leadership development process began in 1910 and today is a 5-year application only course, and of the 200 who enter the program each year, only 2% make it to the C-Suite level within GE. Many go on to leadership roles in other companies, like Larry Bossidy, former GE executive recruited to run Allied-Signal.

 The program is short on classroom training and long on field experience. The official name of the program is Corporate Audit Staff, an unlikely sounding name for a leadership development program. Participants, however, have nicknamed it the Green Beret program for its rigor and high drop-out rate.

Much of the GE internal leadership development process consists of a series of 4-month projects and assignments in various GE businesses around the world working alongside established senior executives, during which upcoming leaders receive continuous feedback and honest critiques.

Putting people outside their comfort zone quickly weeds out those without a hunger for new ideas and learning. Likewise, classroom training revolves around current case studies of situations within GE companies, and follows the “GE Playbook”, which mandates taking decisive actions, slashing costs dispassionately, streamlining operations, bolstering product development efforts, imposing financial discipline, developing teams and instituting some form of continuous process improvement such as Six Sigma training. Internal leadership development began at GE long before Jack Welch became CEO and is the outcome of a strong corporate culture where discipline, process innovation, facts and people are seen as the cornerstones for business growth and sustainability.

Why don’t more companies develop strong internal leadership development programs? In a corporate culture system dominated by the drivers of cost control, functional budgets and beliefs about the importance of products and technology over people as the real business drivers, leadership development is rarely a high priority. Corporate culture determines much of how companies do things, and in this case, how they develop leaders, or not!

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.          ~Harvey S. Firestone

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

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CULTURE RULES ! : A Revolutionary Insight about Corporate Culture

Culture rules

New Book by John R Childress coming in October, 2017.   Some advanced praise:

“This wonderful book will transform our understanding of corporate culture.  Seeing culture as a business system, and the 10 Core Principles that govern culture, can help leaders at all levels develop a high-performance organization.  Finally, an approach to corporate culture that makes a compelling business case!”
  ~ Stephen M. R. Covey, The New York Times bestselling author of The Speed of Trust, and coauthor of Smart Trust

Click on the book photo to learn more and download a free summary booklet.

Newton and the Apple

As legend goes, Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree deep in mathematical thought when an apple fell down and hit him on the head. That simple physical action, combined with his long pondering of mathematical problems, somehow helped him formulate the theory of universal gravitation and the orbits of planets.

Whether the actual event happened is highly suspect, but the fact is, Newton had been pondering the question of how gravity works for several years. His subconscious was primed to make a breakthrough and the apple might have been the igniting event.  The same is true for Charles Darwin.  It wasn’t a single event that helped him come up with his theory of evolution, but two decades of reviewing his observations, notes and experiences following his travels in the Galapagos Islands.

Perplexed and Vexed:

I too have been bothered and perplexed by things that just don’t add up.  For me, my challenge is to understand how businesses and other organizations work and why some produce stunning results and keep doing so, while others, with equally good products and financial backing, work hard only to deliver mediocre results.

For the past 35 plus years I have been consulting, speaking, writing and coaching business leaders, executive teams and Boards on the importance of corporate culture and its impact on business results, employee engagement and customer loyalty. I have designed dozens upon dozens of senior team culture change events, developed approaches for sustainable business turnarounds using culture change as the main lever, and coached multiple new CEOs on how to quickly understand the cultural strengths and weaknesses of the company they were coming in to lead.

But something was always missing. The workshops were great, leaders began to change their behaviors, culture change road maps were developed, KPI’s for culture change were developed and refined, and in many cases, the culture shifted, for a while.  But there was always this seemingly “invisible hand of culture” dragging things back, keeping the new culture and behaviors from being fully imbedded and becoming the new normal.

When you are lost and all else fails, go back to the beginning!

So, I sat down and started rummaging through my bookshelf for some of the old business books I remember reading a long time ago.  Two books caught my eye.  One by W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, published in 1986, and the other by James Allen, As a Man Thinketh, originally published in 1903.  Both these books had a profound impact on me when I first discovered them early in my business career, but like many things in our busy lives, their messages had gotten lost in all the data and social media assaulting us these days.

Insight!

What hit me the most are two profound truths from these two books.  Deming looked at business performance as a whole, and not as a series of discrete parts, like operations, manufacturing, marketings, human resources, etc. To Deming, poor performance was a system problem, not a people or equipment problem. And a particular quote of his reverberated around my brain for weeks:

A bad system will defeat a good employee every time.

A light bulb went on for me.  Maybe culture was a business systems issue, and not an HR issue.

And then after rereading As a Man Thinketh, this quote

You are what you think about and  To think is to create,

reminded me that corporate culture works on human logic and human principles, not business principles!

Suddenly, I had an “apple on the head” moment.  Corporate culture is a business system composed of multiple drivers, many of them disguised as business policies and processes, combined with two other powerful culture drivers,  peer pressure and shared beliefs.  All the multiple elements of the corporate culture system combine in unique ways to determine  company culture.  And some culture drivers are stronger than others.

So, with this insight and dozens of culture  consulting assignments under my belt over the past few years, I sat down and put these thoughts together in a new book, CULTURE RULES! The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture. We are just finishing the editing and formatting and the book should be available on Amazon, both as a paperback and in eBook format, sometime in October, 2017.

In the meantime, I have put together a PDF summary booklet of the key concepts, particularly the 10 Core Principles, that is available for download from my website: www.johnrchildress.com.

Yes, Culture Rules! And Culture has Rules.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

 

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Develop Character First, Leadership Will Follow

Character_Building

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.  ~Helen Keller

In the middle of the second World War, Britain was facing a shortage of young officers. The task of developing young military leaders fell to Lord Rowallan, a Lt. Col. who was then Commandant of the Highland Fieldcraft Training Centre (HFTC) in 1943/44. The HFTC was set up by the Adjutant General in 1943 for the purpose of developing leadership qualities in servicemen who had been graded “NY” (Not Yet) by the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs) looking for potential officers.

rowallanLord Rowallan had a strong belief that if you first develop character, military leadership skills would follow. So he put together a 10 week “Outward Bound” type of training in the Scottish Highlands. The training at the HFTC was highly successful in developing character and leadership qualities in the cadets, and the pass rate at the end of each 10-week course in the Scottish Highlands was about 70%.

The Rowallan Company became the successor to the HFTC. The Rowallan Company was set up in 1977 in similar circumstances to address the high failure rate (70%) of officer cadets on the Regular passammoCommissions Board (RCB). The 11-week course was based on the training developed at the HFTC in 1943/44 by Lord Rowallan, who was consulted about the establishment of the Company. Since 1977, 53 courses were completed and of the 2,900 cadets who started the courses, 65% were successful. Of the successful Rowallan cadets, 92% were successful on the subsequent Commissioning Course and many of these reached high ranks in the service. A successful innovation was to admit women officer cadets to the Rowallan Company courses as well as men.

Sadly the Rowallan Company was disbanded for financial reasons in 2002 but has been resurrected in a new course taught at Sandhurst called the Development Course.

What I find fascinating about this program is that it was a 10 week ‘non-military’ course designed to develop character, not military skills. Each participant took a turn at being the leader of one or more outdoor problem solving challenges and was then graded on their effectiveness by an observing officer and by their peers. The 10 week training was filled with many such exercises interspersed with lectures on the “character of successful leadership”.

I had a chance to speak with one of the former Commandants of Sandhurst a while agosandhurst and he had glowing things to say about the young cadets who had been through the Rowallan program prior to entering Sandhurst. Remember these were the rejects, the Not-Yet Ready to be accepted. He said he would always look hard at the “Rowallan chaps” when looking for a Cadet to head up special tasks.

So let’s fast forward to today. A few years ago I had an interesting meeting with two of the heads of the MIT Engineering Leadership Program. As you probably know, mentorship_mit_gel_logoMIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is one of the elite global engineering and technology higher education schools. A major benefactor, Bernard M. Gordon, gave an endowment to “develop more leaders” among engineers, believing strongly that the skills of engineering coupled with the skills of leadership would greatly benefit business and mankind.

In developing their Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) curriculum, the faculty and advisors relied heavily on the principle of “character building through experiential learning” by having Leadership Labs every Friday where the students solve challenging situations and are then reviewed and critiqued by the advisors. In it’s fourth year now the MIT Engineering Leadership program is worth watching as an example of building more leaders. If you are curious, check out http://web.MIT.edu/gordonelp.

Thanks for joining the conversation

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, parenting, Self-improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I don’t multi-task well

Multi-tasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time. ~Gary W. Keller

You may have noticed  I haven’t posted a blog in several weeks. (At least I hope you noticed.).  The reason is simple, I am currently writing a new book and it pretty much consumes all my limited brain power.  To be honest, after 5-6 hours of research and writing, I am exhausted.  Plus I have a deadline of the end of August for publication.

So, not too many blog postings between now and then.

However, the good news is, it’s shaping up to be an important book on the topic of corporate culture and business performance. Below you will find a draft of the book cover and over the next few weeks I will be posting a few chapter excerpts.

Culture rules

That’s all for now.  Back to writing and watch this space for coming chapter excerpts.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

 

 

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, John's views on the world, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Engineer an Agile Corporate Culture

bad knees

 

“I finally figured something out. Agile development is a culture, not a process.”   ~Jeff Patton

I have a bum knee.  Actually it’s more than bum, it’s truly dysfunctional, especially after running 15 marathons between the age of 45 to 50, on a right knee where the interior meniscus had been removed 25 years earlier. Long before keyhole surgery.

I don’t run anymore and to be honest, sitting for long periods causes my knee to stiffen up.  The knee action just seems to freeze up and it takes a bit of awkward walking to loosen things up and return to a more fluid stroll instead of a hobble.  The fact is, my knee gets stiff if I don’t move it frequently.  Movement seems to act as a lubricant making the joint more agile and flexible.

Pulling Taffy_thumb[1]The same is true with taffy candy.  Let it sit and it hardens, keep stretching and pulling it and it remains soft and pliable.

So what’s all this got to do with an agile corporate culture you ask?  Lots!

Creating an Agile Corporate Culture:

We all know that corporate culture impacts business performance, both positively and negatively.  And that culture can be a significant barrier to organization change initiatives. In fact, many estimates go as high as 70% of business change initiatives fail due to a rigid corporate culture.

And there is ample evidence that an agile culture improves long-term sustainability and overall business performance.

So, how to develop a more agile corporate culture?

One important action is to move people around.  Don’t let them get ossified and build up mental and work habits by staying in one job or one function too long.  The key to functional excellence, contrary to traditional thinking, is not sticking with the same function for a long time, but continuous learning about the function and how it relates with the other functions and supports the overall business.

Most companies have reduced the amount of cross-functional training that goes on inside the organisation.  Over the past decades we have inadvertently created narrow specialists instead of savvy and agile people who understand how the business works and how their chosen function fits into the overall business model of the company.

What is the frequency of cross-functional learning in your company?  How often are people at all levels given assignments in other functions? How often do we send people to conferences that are not function-specific so they can learn more about the overall business world and customer experience?  Do we make cross-functional knowledge a requirement for advancement?

This is how to create an agile culture where people see change as another learning adventure.

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.  ~Helen Keller

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, Organization Behavior, Personal Development, strategy execution, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Search of the Real Corporate Culture

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. ~Arthur Conan Doyle

As a young boy I read most of the Sherlock Holmes books, watched the old black and white movies on TV late at night when Basil Rathbone was the quintessential Holmes. And of course I watched all the new Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and can’t wait for the next episodes.

What I really like about the Holmes mysteries is that many of the major clues are usually in plain sight, and yet everyone misses them, except Holmes of course!

A Clue About Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is getting a lot of attention these days, and rightly so since we have some pretty strong evidence that culture impacts performance, both positively and negatively. We also know that culture is a complex mixture of many elements including shared beliefs, habitual ways of working, company history, strength of the on-boarding process, company policies, and of course, the behaviour and actions of the leadership team.  In addition there is a lot of focus on one of the outcomes of corporate culture; employee engagement, with the argument being that the more “engaged” employees are with the company and their fellow workers the more productive and innovative they are.  And again there is good evidence, mostly correlative, that high engagement levels lead to better employee productivity and openness to change.

So, an intense focus has been put on the leadership team and employee engagement. But aren’t we missing something?  There is a very important group in the middle between executives and 1st and 2nd level employees: middle management.

I’ve been promoted to middle management. I never thought I’d sink so low.  ~Tim Gould

I believe that middle management attitudes and actions (how they behave in the workplace and in daily work situations) have much larger influence on the overall corporate culture than most people realize, and yet in culture study after study they are virtually ignored, the focus being on leadership and employee engagement.

Yet in many ways, middle management determines the culture. The role of leadership is to set direction, develop the business strategy, determine ways to beat the competition, and also establish the internal groundrules (what some call values or operating principles). And of course at the employee level is where these are put into practice, where the work gets done and the customer is dealt with.  But the vision, values, groundrules and objectives never come directly from the CEO or the senior team.  They are interpreted by middle management!

Middle management are the translators, and we all know that no matter how fluent they are, translators often get it wrong and can easily use the wrong word for a totally different meaning.

UN-translators-003

And since middle managers are often left out of senior meetings where issues are discussed and decisions made, they often do the best they can to translate accurately. Yet many middle managers also feel disenfranchised, especially in a culture where many of the upper management positions are filled from the outside and personal development opportunities are slim.

Middle management is an important part of the company performance equation, yet most companies focus more development time and money on the leaders and front-line employees than on middle managers. Yet middle managers have a great deal of real influence on how work is done, beliefs about leadership and the company, and the lives of day-to-day employees.

This graphic shows the important role of middle management in determining the culture at the front line. And it is at the front line that most customers experience the culture of the company.  Customers don’t sit in the Executive Conference Room, but they do sit in the waiting room at the hospital or stand in line at the check-out counter, or try to get a problem resolved from the Call Center. It is easy to see how a culture can get out of alignment with the vision, values and strategy and in some cases actually become a barrier to execution, innovation and change.

Middle Mgt Translators

When was the last time your company spent as much time and development dollars on middle management as they do on senior executives and front-line employees? When was the last time middle managers were invited to sit in on upper management meetings? When was the last time middle managers were asked to speak or present at company meetings, or Board Meetings, or conferences?

Want to reshape your corporate culture?  Don’t forget to recruit the key translators, middle managers, onto your change team. While organizations may be shadows of their leaders, culture at the employee level is a shadow of middle management!

Elementary, my dear Dr. Watson!

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rights and RESPONSIBILITIES of Corporate Leadership

 

I recently read what to me was a very disturbing article published in the INSEAD online magazine, KNOWLEDGE.  Normally I enjoy reading their articles as INSEAD has some very fine business academics and some well thought through research findings. But this article was different.

The title was “Who is Responsible for Corporate Misconduct?”.  The gist of the article centered on the academic debate as to whether or not the corporation or individuals should be held accountable for fraud and misconduct.

The article began by exploring the growing fines and now legal proceedings against Volkswagen as a result of its emissions cheating scandal.  While the article rightfully acknowledged that a scandal of such proportions over a long period of time could not be the work of just a few rogue engineers and that senior management must have somehow been complicit and created a corporate culture of performance pressure to “make the numbers look good”.

But then the article focused on what to me was a naive and meaningless issue: whether or not a corporation, as an entity, is morally responsible for its actions. The article, in a thinly disguised attempt to promote the authors’ new book, The Moral Responsibility of Firms, took up both sides of this philosophical question: “Whether firms should assume responsibility for individuals’ actions.”

One side of the debate argues that it is the individuals inside the corporation, not the corporation itself, who should take responsibility for actions taken in the name of a firm.  The other side of the argument proclaims that it is best to fine the corporation for moral and ethical misdeeds first, then attempt to seek out those more directly responsible.

Finally at the end of the article comes a meek suggestion.

“Most scholars of business ethics agree that corporations should be doing more to create a culture where bad behaviour is neither condoned nor ignored, and where misdeeds are not covered up but are attributable to both individuals and organisational factors. Better appreciation of moral responsibility in firms will allow managers to structure internal incentives, rules and policies to achieve the economic objectives of firms in an ethical manner. It will also help in providing an appropriate external legal framework to encourage good business conduct.

The difficulty for me in all this business philosophy posturing has to do with the facts.  Between 2009 and 2015, major global banks have been fined a total of over $300 billion for fraudulent activities as governments’ solution to punish and therefore eliminate such actions.  But even with stiff monetary penalties in the billions plus added regulation and more frequent audits, fraudulent behaviour continues. Consider the recent massive fines levied against Wells Fargo for opening millions of fraudulent credit card applications and accounts in order to meet sales quotas.

Obviously, treating the corporation as the perpetrator is not the solution. And large fines aren’t a deterrent.

Rights and Responsibilities of Leadership

When the rights outweigh the responsibility, leadership is lacking.

When it comes to the rights and responsibilities of leadership, I’d say the Navy is the authority on that matter and corporate executives and regulators should take note of where the real responsibility for the conduct of the crew and the actions of the ship really lay.

“On the sea there is a tradition that with responsibility goes authority and accountability. Men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do. And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts”     – Wall Street Journal – Editorial 14 May 1952

The Navy holds the captain ultimately responsible. Period.  A captain whose ship or crew is deemed unfit will never captain another vessel and is often reduced in rank, if not court-martialed.

Yet not one CEO of a major bank cited for fraudulent activities has been convicted or jailed. Some have resigned, but it’s hard to say in disgrace when they walk away with a severance package of millions.

When those in leadership positions are held directly responsible for the actions of the people they lead and the cultures they create, those in senior leadership roles may take their responsibilities more seriously than their rights and perks.

The quality of an individual’s leadership is not determined by the size of their paycheck, but by the value they create and the lives they improve along the way.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, Self-improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment