Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are You Living Up to Your True Potential?

“Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian” – Shari. R. Barr

How do we know what our potential is in life and how can we find the opportunities that will allow us to assess and identify our true potential? Individual potential goes way beyond business to incorporate all aspects of life, but if we just look from a business perspective, do you really know what your ‘true’ potential is? Can we be sure that the aspirations we currently have are in line with our potential and not, for example, being influenced by society or our misguided desire to achieve goals, which might not actually be in line with our real potential?

When do you as an individual take stock of your business career to assess your real potential - to assess whether the career path you are on is actually the right one for you? Don’t some people get caught in their own ‘vortex’, where self-imposed constraints and beliefs guide their future careers; without challenging themselves to find new opportunities that may open the door and identify their latent potential? Without exploring opportunities some people will never allow their true potential to shine through.

When it comes to finding your true potential; who is responsible and who will find the opportunities that will allow you to identify where your real potential is. While growing up, it is the parents who should be exposing their children to as many opportunities as possible, so real individual potential can be seen and identified at an early age.

Then as one moves through life it’s up to you to continually try new things, giving yourself the opportunity to identify any hidden potential; and that curiosity should stay with you as you journey through life. Just because you have entered into a business career and are moving steadily up that business ladder, doesn’t mean this is where your true potential lies. We are often afraid to try something new, partly for financial reasons or the concern of financial security, (which makes sense); but others miss the opportunity to try something new because they fear what people may think of them if they don’t succeed. As Kerry Packer said “life isn’t a dress rehearsal”, so this isn’t a trial run where next time around, you’ll remember what you should and shouldn’t have done, and get it right – this is it; so if you don’t take the risks and explore the opportunities, you may never find your true potential – that one special gift you were given may stay dormant your entire life.

However, besides you and your parents, it’s also the responsibility of organisations to find and identify the potential of all their employees, or at least it should be. By an organisation identifying any latent potential in their employees, they can plan their future business a lot easier, and if they can match organisational needs to individual potential, imagine the performance and culture that organisation will have.

As individuals we must make it our responsibility to find our true potential in our life time and we should affiliate ourselves with organisations (and people) that are just as keen to identify potential as we are. That way it will be a win-win situation for everyone. This goes for CEO’s and Executives, as much as individuals starting out in their careers – it’s never too late to find out whether you have some latent untapped potential just waiting to change your life.

There will be some people who will be disappointed when their individual expectations exceed their potential, but that is in business and maybe their true potential resides elsewhere.

It was Amelia Earhart who said “dreams have no boundaries”. So, with that in mind, it’s worth the effort to find your true potential and then create your dreams around it – imagine what might be possible and what you could achieve in your life time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who’s Assessing the Board’s Performance?

It’s interesting that with the constant changes taking place in the global market place and organisations having to constantly evolve to stay ahead, that most corporate boards seem pretty static.

So who’s assessing Board performance and ensuring that they have the right mix and calibre of executive and non-executive directors to lead the organisation forward? As it is this group that define the future vision and direction of the organisation, through their strategic leadership.

Static boards that have been formed by a buddy-buddy network or through any other method are unlikely to be able to adapt quickly enough to changes in the market place. They are unlikely to have the right selection of non-executives to ensure the organisation optimises its future, which may lead to sub-optimal solutions that will mean a drop in performance and may lead to a fight for organisational survival. In these scenarios the blame is often placed firmly at the executive or management level, without sufficient investigation into the reasons for poor performance and the role and influence of the Board, including the non-executives, in the specific failings of the organisation.

Board’s that are simply there to ratify decisions are also going to be the downfall of their organisation, sooner or later, as organisations need both skilled and flexible board members, especially at the non-executive level, who can contribute to the organisations future through strategic insights and challenging the executive team.

Financial and business analysts are just as guilty as they often see Board changes as problems rather than solutions; often looking for something to report, before actually assessing the benefit of the proposed Board changes.

Creating a Board with the correct knowledge and skill set will have an impact on the organisations sustainable growth. There has been considerable research into the key knowledge areas that should be understood and practically applied by Board members, and these include; corporate strategy formulation; competition; global markets; leadership; strategy implementation; change management; group effectiveness; organisational design; corporate governance; investor and community relationships; functional knowledge and ethics.

The amount of time directors have to dedicate to their roles and accountabilities has also changed and it’s worth noting that many Corporate Boards have not transformed to the legislative, operational and leadership requirements of the 21st century, and are still caught in the ‘old ways’ of operating. Unfortunately there isn’t an option, Board structures need to change to ensure effective governance and compliance, as Board members are now under greater pressure to govern their organisations adequately. Board members are now being held responsible for financial performance, for monitoring compliance with legal requirements and with appropriate standards of conduct. This has had a major impact on the amount of time directors have had to devote to their role and their respective organisation – but like other jobs, if you can’t dedicate the time, you shouldn’t be in the position.

It’s one thing to identify leadership potential and to develop the strategic leadership team through training and development initiatives, but we need to go further and actually make sure that the Board has the best set of members at the executive and non-executive level to ensure the maximum input and representation in respect of corporate strategy and business enhancement. This will give the organisation a real competitive advantage and, in the not so distant future, will be one of the key factors in differentiating between those organisations leading the way and setting the examples for others to follow; and the rest.

So who is assessing that the current Board structure has the required skills for today’s complex competitive environment and who is prepared to reconfigure the Board to ensure the best structure for the future of the organisation? This is the key question facing organisations – and it will be strong, confident leaders who will make sure that they have a Board that represents the needs of the organisation; a Board that will challenge their ideas and thinking; and have the special talents and business networks for the good of the organisations future. In fact the true leaders of tomorrow will crave a Board that is diverse and challenging rather than one that is passive.

Finally, if organisational restructuring and change management are seen as accepted and basic business principles in today’s business world, then the Board should not be excluded from the same rigorous process.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leadership: The Mad Dash to Find El Dorado

When assessing the great leaders of the past, whether military, political, or business, it’s likely that you’ll find a very short unique list of truly gifted people who are regarded as ‘great leaders’ of their time.

Yet today leadership has become a topic that has attracted a lot of attention – it’s like teenagers wanting to be celebrities or reality TV stars – it appears everyone suddenly considers themselves a leader or even a great leader and knowledgeable enough to give advice on the subject.

Within this mass of expertise we have some so called top companies using psychometric tests to assess leadership potential – where these tests are firstly based on generic behaviours, where leadership is anything but generic; and worse these tests were never designed to assess leadership in the first place.

There’s a big difference between being assessed as a great leader after a period of time (as all great leaders have been in the past) and striving to be one, day after day. Great leadership is about meeting the challenges faced, head on and through many campaigns and difficult situations, being considered as a great leader; both by those who have followed you over the years and those who have opposed you – and certainly isn’t something that is achieved overnight.

Yet it appears in today’s world that everyone wants to be a great leader, without having ‘worked’ for the honour or having proved themselves to be worthy of the title – and of course there are plenty of people, many who haven’t ‘lead’ themselves who can tell you the secret of overnight success – for a sizeable fee, of course.

The reason leadership is so highly sought after is that it is something that is rare and unique. Amongst the throng of wannabe leadership ‘experts’ there are people and organisations that can help improve leadership skills and the potential that one-day you might be considered ‘great’, but it takes time, a lot of time. Leadership goes way beyond a set of behaviours that may contribute to you becoming an effective leader, especially as these behaviours are certainly not a guarantee of success.

Great leadership is about a journey, where different situations and challenges are met and overcome; where leaders have other great leaders supporting them in their quest; where followers follow because they want to, through being inspired and through loyalty; and where the objective of the journey isn’t about titles or money, but about a continuing challenging vision, experiencing and learning new things and creating a better life for those back home.

The recognised great leaders of the past didn’t create their success through power, but through loyalty and inspiration and through the ‘management and development’ of their talent (having the best people in the right places at all times). Their drive was a vision and not a title – a vision that their followers aspired to as well.

So if you aspire to be a great leader – check who you’re going to get any advice from, as it’s likely that 99% of them haven’t aspired to any form of leadership themselves. You’re looking for people and organisations that aren’t offering quick solutions to a complex problem, (which can take a life-time to achieve) and who aren’t assessing your potential from simple out-of-date personality profiles. The 1% will have been leaders themselves (but will be humble, and won’t consider themselves great); and they will guide you, over a period of time, on your journey, assessing success; not from fancy tests, but from actual achievements and the constant ‘feedback’ of your followers.

So be cautious of the many organisations who claim to be the oracle of fast-track leadership development, as they are only in a mad rush to cash in on everyone’s desire to hold this prestigious title and reach their own El Dorado. Avoiding them may be one of the smartest leadership decisions you’ll make.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are You an Authentic Customer?

A lot is written about authentic leadership; but what about an authentic customer, does this phenomenon exist?

Do customers walk their own talk? For example, does the customer who complains about the lack of real effort and focus in corporate social responsibility avoid purchasing products or services from these organisations; only giving their custom to organisations that have a proven track record in CSR?

Do customers that complain about the lack of leadership in organisations, assess the leadership prior to their purchasing decision, or are the two mutually exclusive?

In fact is there any evidence that customers vote with their feet when organisations don’t meet their ‘values and ethics’; or does the average customer talk one thing but when it comes to the purchase decision walk in an entirely different direction?

Haven’t the majority of customers become lazy, convincing themselves that it won’t do any good to complain anyway and that all organisations are as bad as one another – so I might as well stay with the ‘devil I know’.

It’s in the interests of organisations to ‘fuel the flames’ on the debate about the power consumers have with negative rhetoric, implying that no amount of complaints will make a difference so why waste that valuable time by trying to make a difference.

But properly focused consumer activism has enormous power, especially coming out of a recession – but is the customer strong enough to ‘force’ organisations to change by withholding their purchases until change is effected.

Is the consumer really prepared to walk their own talk, even if it means employees in the non-compliant organisations losing their jobs? The consumer would be fully tested – the headlines could read ‘local consumer activists cause 500 jobs to be lost as they withhold purchases while demanding fully implemented CSR initiatives’.

How would that fit with the CSR debate – the loss of jobs because an organisation wouldn’t change – how far is the customer really prepared to ‘fight’ for their beliefs, for service and for ‘ethically’ run organisations.

If not then step aside and don’t engage in the debate, as you’re not really serious about change, and like many organisations only interested in being seen to embrace the socially acceptable rhetoric – which probably makes the consumer just as bad as the organisation. It’s like someone being against global warming and driving a gas-guzzling 4x4 – the two aren’t compatible

What the business world needs now are authentic customers who buy on the principles they openly talk about – this will effect change in the fastest possible way. Might some employees suffer along the way, until organisations are socially responsible – possibly. Will it be the right employees who suffer – no.

But to make change one has to stand by ones principles until the change is complete – otherwise the sad truth is that you were never actually that committed to the changes you advocated in the first place.

So are you an authentic customer? And if the answer is no, shouldn’t you become one?