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

Corporate Culture as an IED

“The greatest producer of casualties on the battlefield in the 20th century was artillery, and my assessment is the IED is the artillery of the 21st century,”  ~Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero

An IED is an Improvised Explosive Device, or in simple terms, a bomb, sometimes detonated by remote control and other times with pressure from a vehicle or even a footfall.  They have become the weapon of choice for terrorists who are outgunned in a traditional fight but can kill and maim without engaging their enemy.  And they are inexpensive to build, but can cause great havoc to a traditional army.

I recently read a fascinating article with the title: The IED: The $30-Bombs That Cost The U.S. Billions.  Essentially, IEDs are cheap to make, can be done by almost anyone with just a little training, can be hidden from view to be almost invisible, and easily detonated with a cell phone or pressure sensor. A nearly invisible hazard that causes great damage.

Corporate Culture as an IED

After reading that article it dawned on me that corporate culture can be very much like an IED.  We all know that culture impacts business performance, either positively or negatively and a culture that is not in alignment with the strategy and goals of the company can actually derail otherwise excellent business initiatives.

Yet while most culture experts talk about values, the role of leadership shadows and try to measure the overall corporate culture, I believe they are missing a hugely important element of corporate culture.

Culture can be a significant business risk.

Just like an IED is a risk to people driving or walking along a road or shopping in a crowded marketplace, culture can be a risk to business performance and the well-being of employees at all levels.

Let me explain.  First of all, there is no such thing as an “overall corporate culture”.  Culture is not one unified thing, but instead a collection of subcultures, many of which have strong group beliefs about work, the business, management and their jobs.

Subcultures exist in all organizations and are a result of both peer pressure to fit in with the group (team, department, etc.) and the very real human need to belong to a group.  And the importance of belonging to a defined group is hard-wired into our DNA from our early ancestors.  Individuals couldn’t survive alone, so being accepted into a tribe meant survival.  And the way to be accepted was to blend in, not stand out. To accept the norms of behaviour peculiar to that tribe. And those tribal behaviours were then reinforced by peer pressure. So when a new employee enters the workplace for the first time, they have an innate need to fit in, to belong to a group, to be accepted.

And in every subculture there is an informal leader who either by force of personality or experience or wisdom is trusted and respected and tends to set the basic ground-rules and beliefs of the group. He or she may be the lead engineer with the most experience, the head nurse, the Master Sergeant, or the person who has been in the company the longest and has the most insight into how to survive in the job.  Rarely are the informal leaders on the radar screen of HR as a key influencer or high potential, yet they have as much or more power over how things get done as any senior executive, probably more.

And this is how culture can become an IED.  When a subculture is not aligned with the overall business values or strategy, it can easily block a new change initiative or business improvement attempt.  And there are times when the subculture becomes an even greater risk to the business.

Think about the subcultures of greed and fraud within investment banking that led to the global economic crisis of 2009.  Or more recently the subculture within Volkswagen of a group of engineers and managers falsifying emissions data and unleashing a PR and financial disaster for the company.  Or the 5-years of opening over a million fraudulent bank accounts by Wells Fargo for customers who didn’t exist in the effort to satisfy the subculture pressures of the sales and marketing department.  And a subculture can even be lethal, as we have seen in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the death of 11 workers, caused by a subculture of pressure to make schedule and reduce costs that led to excessively risky decisions.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

The best defense against harmful IEDs in a war zone are the eyes of the soldiers, keeping a lookout for the telltale signs of roadside bombs.  I am encouraging senior managers to look for the subcultures that exist within their organizations, to identify the informal leaders, to work with them to align the subculture with the overall values and strategy of the company.

And The Biggest Risk?

But the biggest risk is not the subcultures themselves, but the fact that in most companies senior executives and leaders don’t know where the subculture are and how they are influencing, either positively or negatively, company performance and employee engagement!

 You get the culture you ignore, just as you get the culture you actively create.

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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Deeper Look at Corporate Culture

The deeper we look, the more we learn

As a young man I picked up a copy of a little book by James Allen, As A Man Thinketh.  I stuffed it in my backpack and finally pulled it out on the Greyhound bus heading home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday.  In the glow of the overhead reading light I read this amazing little book three times during the long bus trip. To me that evening on the bus was an epiphany and gave me a fundamental principle that has guided my business consulting, and my personal life ever since.

Men do not attract what they want, but what they are. ~James Allen

The lesson is very simple:  our thoughts create our reality.  Not physical reality, but our psychological reality, what we believe and how we feel about ourselves, other people and the world around us.  And what we believe obviously drives our behavior, which in turn influences the results we create.  Sounds fairly straightforward and at a simplistic level it seems like all you have to do is “think positive thoughts” and everything will turn out wonderful.

But it doesn’t really work that way, does it? When we delve a little deeper into how the human mind works we learn that only 5% of our thoughts are conscious, while the vast majority of our thinking takes place at the subconscious level.  Most people are totally unaware of the thoughts going through their mind at any given time.  So trying to consciously think “positive” thoughts won’t really shift behavior if the majority of the time our subconscious thoughts are giving an entirely different message.

Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought. Thought is the genesis of our happiness, and our despair.

Thought, Culture and Business Performance:

What’s all this got to do with business performance you must be wondering?  Quite a lot actually, because Corporate Culture resides in the unconscious, habitual thoughts and beliefs of employees. A few presentations on corporate values or executive speeches on vision are akin to addressing the 5% of our conscious thinking.  During the presentation heads nod, a few people promise to do better, then it’s back to work and the unconscious thoughts take over.  “My boss is such a jerk!  Nobody cares if I have a good idea or not. I can’t wait to go on my break. Customers are so difficult, etc.”

And that’s the problem with most culture change programs  They target the conscious, logical thought processes, but miss impacting the real cause of the culture; the habitual and collective unconscious thought patterns of employees. In most cases the business would be better off using the money spent on culture trainings to redecorate the employee lounge.

Corporate culture can only be changed from the “inside out”.  Until all of us, executives, managers and employees accept the accountability for the current culture (it’s a product of our collective beliefs and thoughts) a shift in culture will elude us.

Organisations do not attract what they plan, but what they believe about those plans.

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, strategy execution, the business of business | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment