Just passed a nice restaurant out in W.A.’s Swan Valley this morning. A large sign out front had an arrow pointing to the restaurant, saying “Psychic Dinner”.
I commented to my wife, “Isn’t that redundant? Shouldn’t the psychics know anyway?”
I was in a conversation with a group of businesspeople and one of the group – a published business coach and “life coach” (she also has a business that focuses on ‘talent’) - said that when it comes to public speaking people either just “have it” or they don’t. Apparently, she thinks she has it. I immediately disagreed and launched into why she is wrong.
I cannot count the number of times I have come across people, quite often some kind of highly regarded professional or educator, who think that some seemingly special skill cannot be developed in others. I shudder to think of the kinds of staid and regimented growth their clients would have if they listened to them. Talent can be developed.
In one of the books out there on strengths, the authors go into almost ecstatic praise of General Colin Powell for how he demonstrated such a brilliant gift as a speaker at one of their events. The authors then comment along the lines of, “But that was Colin Powell and he has an innate gift that no one can approach. That’s his strength.”
The conclusion that they seem to draw is that a strength is an outcome in an adult’s life that should be accepted for what it is, without any others being able to make the commitment to developing that same strength. That is, they believe that what you’ve got is all you’ve got and you should just work with that.
The evidence from psychology, neuroscience, biology and life around us is that new talents and strengths can be developed.
Every week, I work with clients on their leadership, their communication, their businesses and their lives. Within ONE DAY, I have seen people turn from fearful, anxiety-ridden, shy people who would never get up and speak to becoming powerful speakers confidently moving a room with reason and emotion, because they were given the tools to see how they could talk with a group in a meaningful way and they had a reason to now try to develop this skill. It CAN be learnt.
My doctoral studies are on the development of professional giftedness. It’s an original term that I have coined, to denote someone who appears to have an innate gift that they have developed into a talent that sets them apart from the rest of their peers. There is a great deal to consider in terms of human development and how that contributes to these individuals’ talents and skills, but their ‘innate’ gifts are ones that the vast majority of people have within – these people have learned to tap into their own gifts in order to achieve a meaningful goal and purpose. They use their existing strengths to develop new ones.
But ‘therein lies the rub’: if you don’t have a real purpose and need, you won’t be as likely to develop the gifts and talents you need.
One last point: I have a very different perspective on human development. That’s because my youngest daughter has cerebral palsy. She turns 6 in May. She cannot move herself around, she cannot feed herself as a rule, she cannot speak (though she communicates a lot).
In the last couple of months, she has started to sit herself up consistently. It has taken over 5 years of hard work on the part of teams of people to finally get her to be able to sit herself up. When she started doing it, my family was jumping up and down and basically throwing a party for her. It’s a huge relief for health reasons and her ongoing development.
This is a small step for others, but an incredible leap for Alyssa. If we had said, “Well, you either you have it or you don’t!” we never would have gotten to this point.
Don’t give up on becoming something and growing because some self-proclaimed life coach or otherwise says you can’t. It may take a lot of hard work and assistance and you may not become the world’s greatest. But that small step for others may be a giant leap for you and it will all be worthwhile.
You know when you go to Starbucks, or The Dome Café, or Caffissimo and they provide you with a loyalty card? If you purchase 10 coffees, then you get a free one. So (if you’re a coffee/tea/hot chocolate drinker) you stuff the card (or cards, if you visit multiple providers) into your wallet or purse and pull it out dutifully every time you visit so that you can get that free one.
If you’re Scottish, you probably walk an extra mile or so to the nearest coffee takeout chain so that you can get that free 1/11 of a coffee. (I am part Scottish. Connect the dots …) Of course, if the coffee tastes like dirty tap water with a bit of mud thrown in, you won’t be likely to worry about that loyalty card. Likewise, if the service is abominable, you will have no deal, no loyalty, no commitment to that coffee shop as your favoured beverage haunt.
Ramp it up to a higher value item, say buying a new car. Do you continually go to the same dealer for a new car every time, or do you change needs, desires and the car seller you go to? How do you decide which one is better or best? What would influence you to keep coming back and even to refer others? How do you develop the commitment?
In my work with professional services firms, I have interviewed many clients and found that client loyalty is based upon the standard and value of the product provided – time and again – to a client AND to how connected they feel as clients, how clear communication is, responsiveness, proactivity, shared values, how much a professional is acting in the client’s best interests and whether problems are resolved quickly and effectively.
The same is also true of leadership and persuasion in general – your ability to influence people both rationally and emotionally is a powerful predictor of their commitment.
The level and value of the work you provide should both match the level of current client commitment as well as progressively move them towards greater levels of commitment as time, need and opportunity dictate.
I devised the Commitment Matrix™ to demonstrate how differing levels of commitment may be identified:
™ Lamplighter Performance Consulting
Someone using your most basic product or service might only be in the high logic, low emotion quadrant. Another might be using more of your services and have a teen crush – someone who initially met briefly with you, was excited and said that doing more work with you sounded great, but quickly turned off the idea. Now, the crush may be all you need for a quick one-off service or small product – but if you want something longer term, you will need greater involvement.
You probably want to slowly move clients up to the upper right quadrant by emphasising either the logical or the emotional.
In another situation, a client may be in the upper right quadrant – a committed long-term buyer – but they begin to sour due to bad experiences, or perhaps they start to see a decrease of value of your service. Beware that, at this point, they may be turning away into one of the lower levels of commitment.
Let’s note a leadership example: You wish to initiate a major change in your organisation. Without addressing both the intellectual and emotional reasons for and against change, you are only going to generate more shallow levels of commitment. If you wish to gain long-term agreement and long-term you must emphasise BOTH logic and emotion. In your communications and your planning, you need to take both into account.
The IT giant, Apple, has realised this in all of its design, marketing, hiring and customer support. Both factors are critical in creating committed disciples. And don’t Apple fans sometimes act like they have had a religious experience with their iPhone or iPad?
You need to work with your people to keep them committed. And that comes down to your personal interactions – observing, listening, connecting with them on multiple levels – being consistent and targeted in all facets of your leadership, service and organisation.
Reflect on 2-3 of your more significant stakeholders:
- Where are they right now?
- Where do you want them to be?
- Where are they at risk of going?
- How will you move them into a higher level of commitment?
- What is your team doing to ensure higher levels of client engagement and commitment?
- How can you address more of the fundamental motivators of long-term commitment in both your planning and communication?
The Commitment Matrix is a valuable tool for analysing your clients, people and stakeholders. Remember that for someone to remain thoughtfully loyal over the long-term, they need to have all of their psyche engaged and fired up to be committed.
Copyright 2012 Peter McLean
I was speaking at a Business Lunch recently and was asked by one of the attendees what I thought about downsizing (she is a lawyer who has had experience in the area.)
Downsizing too often becomes the step of first resort, rather than the last. Toyota Australia is just releasing 350 employees and, as is typical of these kinds of situations, is doing so without any consideration for the after-effects: for both staff and the company. You can read the following article, released today, that shows some of the poor management and leadership at work: http://finance.ninemsn.com.au/newsbusiness/toyota/8452115/anger-as-toyota-workers-lose-their-jobs . The anger that is being generated by taking people to a room across the road and handing them an envelope is natural. The lack of courage shown by the leaders is, unfortunately, also typical. Rather than have a face-to-face discussion, Toyota has simply pulled the plug, treated staff like potential criminals and denied them the opportunity for even meaningful farewells, let alone lending assistance for finding future work.
I commented that downsizing has many potential risks. Here are a few of the points I made in relation to poor management of letting people go:
- You generate anger in the employees through a poor process – anger that comes back in the form of sabotage or lawsuits. (The lawyer who had asked the question was nodding vigorously).
- You lose vast experience that is difficult to recoup (see my staff turnover costs calculator in another blog entry to determine the dollars per person lost.)
- When the business has an upswing, you will have a tough time recruiting experienced people back, leading to great losses in productivity and profitability.
- The rest of the staff’s productivity dives as people wonder “Am I next?”
- Your firm’s reputation may suffer, causing customers to turn away.
- It becomes a deepening, self-fulfilling cycle: cut workers, productivity and profitability go down, cut workers to raise profits, productivity goes down, etc. etc. Pretty soon there’s no company left.
- As one of the interviewees in the article stated, “They preach about family this company but they treat you like dogs”. It’s easy for cynicism to (rightly) set in. Why should they take management’s other assertions seriously?
You cannot cut your way to growth. It requires investment and effort. Employees can be highly motivated to save their positions and create further growth for a company they believe in.
During the GFC, there were a number of Australian firms facing trouble who, realising these negatives, asked their staff for ways to find money and stop jobs being lost. Staff took voluntary reduced hours, sorted out shifts, made improvements and general efficiencies, kept all of their staff and then saw productivity and profit soar after the GFC troubles were over – all without a job being lost. There is a time to downsize, but it should be a last resort.
A Positive Approach to Downsizing
I have a client who is looking at a long-term downsizing of their staff due to industry changes. Management knows the possibility is on the horizon but are unsure when. Instead of keeping everyone anxious about their jobs, their HR director has actively engaged HR in finding ways to boost employee’s ongoing work satisfaction and output and increasing the job matches to the work they are currently doing. They are also helping their staff to develop entrepreneurial and professional skills that will serve them well in the future (including running outplacement education such as resume building, interviewing skills and so on), while benefiting the company as well.
This client has been using Harrison Assessments through our company, Lamplighter Performance Consulting, as part of the process. The profiling has provided invaluable career development advice, but just as (or more) importantly provided ongoing guidance for the job and professional development and management of the personnel. The tools also help predict staff performance under anxiety and uncertainty, so the Harrison Assessments are proving a tremendous resource as the entire organisation undergoes profiling.
This client is putting their money where their mouth is and it is positively impacting their people and their bottom line. This is an initiative fully resourced and supported from the top down, through and out.
Before the firm embarked on this program, there was a significant decrease in employee performance. The HR director has told me that since starting their concerted staff development for the future program, performance has risen and is going well despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the organisation as a whole – extremely important when they are managing billions of dollars worth of funds for their own clients every day.
The lesson? Invest in your staff (and yourself, for that matter) first, before you think that cutting costs by cutting staff is the best option.
Confidence is an important part of leadership, but it can be overstated – literally.
Listening to Ms Julia Gillard’s continuous statements that “As the Prime Minister, I will be making that decision …” smacks of insecurity. Her need to continually remind the Australian people, media and, indeed, her own party, that she is Prime Minister reminds me of Shakespeare’s line that she “doth protest too much.”
A person’s protestations that they will start “making the hard decisions …” or frequent reassurances that they are “working hard” as leader are often indications that they are not achieving much of importance to their organisation or those whom they serve (or, in the case of politics, whom they represent). You may have experienced it this way in your organisation when people continually say, “I’m the manager, so I’m going to decide that” or “As the CEO, I will be re-forming a team that will be focused on the strategic implementation of initiatives that will…blah blah blah.” Stop talking about how you’re the leader and actually…well, lead!
A long time ago, when I was in education, I was setting up a series of exams for our final year students. Things were slow and the person supposedly in charge had not started on the project in the block I was working in, so I took the initiative on the “all-important and oh-so-complicated” matter of setting up screening between examination areas (please note the sarcasm there ), organised other staff and started catching up. The person nominally in charge of the examinations then came by, saw that I had got things underway, was initially pleased, started to follow along and then – I am not making this up – stopped suddenly, turned to me and said, “No, I’m in charge. I should make that decision.” Of course, the only way she could distinguish her decision from mine was to make the opposite decision, tear away the people who had been working on the job, change things around, slow everything down and do things all over again so that she could stamp her authority on such a monumental task.
“As the Prime Minister, I’ll be making that decision…” The department head’s little ego trip instantly struck me as both ludicrous and smacking of someone incredibly new to leadership. I had to quietly laugh. It also reminded me of a mistake I had made when I was all of 18/19 years old and in charge of a volunteer work crew at a summer camp. I had realised my mistake back then (I’ll write about it another time, I suppose) and carried it with me throughout my leadership experiences: Leadership is about getting results from people, not about being “the” decision-maker at all times. Nor is it about your ego. Leadership is often about letting other people lead in the moment so that you get the best results.
This difference is often analysed as the deployment of positional power (power by virtue of your position), versus support-based, expert, coercive, reward-based and referent/interpersonal power. Positional power is absolutely valid, but is not the most powerful position. Relying on it is insane.
If someone is continually having to state that they are the leader, it betrays a real crisis of confidence and over-reliance on position. And confidence proceeds from results that matter.
Don’t gab about how good you are as the leader, because anyone with a dose of sense will see right through it. Instead, build leadership predicated on powerful principles:
- Use your gifts and talents to see that a meaningful outcome is produced for you and others.
- Believe in the product you are creating. As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, says, something worthwhile requires your passion and energy to accomplish. This can only happen when there is an interaction between need, opportunity, your talents and resources – human and otherwise.
- Aim to bring out the gifts and talents of others. Don’t let your ego prevent others around you from shining. When you are surrounded by stars who want to follow you, you’re leading a galaxy that shines brightest, instead of a dull system ready to go nova.
- Excellence doesn’t come through achieving one great thing: it comes through continuing to do things that are great. Perfection is not possible, and action is preferable to endless analysis and invention, but creating something that is perfect for people now sure is great to aim for.
- Lastly, build your confidence on real achievement. If you actually accomplish something worthwhile as a leader, then talk about what you have achieved with others and people will see you as the legitimate leader you are.
If your leadership is all about reinforcing your status, then you’re on the wrong boat. In fact, it’s probably left without you. The ship that’s sailing over the horizon is the one that will be exploring new ports and ventures while you’re stamping your foot on the harbour decking crying that you’re the leader, so they should have waited for you.
Don’t protest too much. Get on with the job.
High performers require role models, or exemplars, that they can emulate. In high performance sports, past Olympians are analysed to death by present aspirants, as they seek to gain that edge in their own performance.
These high performers then become the models for standard performance. Thus, my kids are now taught swimming in ways that were probably not conceived when I was a child. As a result, my 9 year old probably swims better – technically – than I do. It’s beautiful to watch.
Unfortunately, many of our models for leadership are in public – that is, political – service. Depending on your ideology, they can be “lousy” merely for espousing an opposing point of view. Additionally, political leadership is so often about compromise that people become jaded with those leaders.
Where else can we look for exemplars? There are few business leaders who are consistently in the public eye enough for us to learn from their example. Once someone is well-known and his/her product admired, there is often great interest in that leader. Jack Welch of GE fame was one. Steve Jobs is another. This desire to discover from recognisable and somewhat admirable leaders is one of the factors that has sparked Steve Jobs-mania following his unfortunate death. Plus, all the Apple devotees wish to know more about their esteemed icon, of course. Wanting to know how the man was able to lead Apple to such worldwide corporate dominance, the Walter Isaacson opus on Jobs was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for the first 9 weeks after its release and has been in the top 5 all but one week during the ensuing 13 weeks to date. Internet and magazine articles proliferate on the “real leadership lessons” of Steve Jobs. Apparently, none of them is written by anyone who knew him.
Steve Jobs has become admired as a leader, even though very few people actually experienced his leadership (and they are forbidden to talk about it via Apple’s employee secrecy code), and even though he spoke only rarely about how to achieve your goals and aspirations. The rest of his speeches were for launching products – giant sales pitches.
But trying to learn from a biography and the so-called expert columns on this ultra-secretive public figure is like trying to learn how to swim from a fish. You can see it from a distance, but there’s no way you could go out there and do what the fish does, replicate its environment, try on its fins and tails and swim away. What you really need is someone to show you how to do it in your context and with your body and abilities. That’s why great swimming teachers can be so effective: they’re teaching you to swim like the person you are and as a human is capable, not like a shark (or, worse yet, a jellyfish).
So who can be the leadership role models from whom you can learn? Here are some sources:
- Former bosses
- Politicians you actually know
- Admired public servants
- Ministers or clergy
- Family – a father, mother, uncle, aunt, sibling, etc.
- A current boss
I travelled the world to find role models; teachers who, among other things, could teach me about leadership and SHOW me how to lead. I have a few who are my favourites.
Regrettably, when I work with people in leadership, they often cannot point to outstanding leadership that they have received – they can only point to poor leaders they do NOT want to emulate.
It is possible to learn from negative examples. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share. Frankly, I also write (more than I’d like to) about negative examples from the political arena, because they are so blatant and they are what is “out there” for us to learn from. But you should strive to also learn from the good elements of different leaders, because it is highly unlikely that you will find a perfect one in this life. Steve Jobs was apparently very difficult to work with and for, but the people around him believed in his vision and instinct. Still do. That made up for a lot of his personal inadequacies.
But one of the keys that I do find about leadership is that it is always easier from the outside. Once you’re in that spot, it’s much more complex and harder than you thought. If you don’t think that, then you’re not trying hard enough.
Find the good in what others do and adopt it. Use them as exemplars, make their positives your own, avoid the negatives and build on your own gifts, talents and passion. Be a leader others will want to emulate.