Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do You Hire Talent that Challenges Your Thinking?

What kind of people do you like to have around you? Do you have enough confidence in your ability and knowledge to have people around you that will challenge your thinking, look at things from a different perspective, and help you develop the most comprehensive and effective strategies for the future of your organisation, department or team.
Or would you prefer people around you who will do as they are told, just focus on their job and be good, solid followers? Since you know your job, business and industry best - that’s why you’re in the job in the first place.
It seems in a tight economy, when you’d think executives and managers would be looking for the best talent to help them challenge their thinking and maximise the sustainable growth of their business, that organisations are in fact preferring to play it safe and are recruiting and developing ‘talent’ that will ‘toe the line’, get on with their job and do as they are told, making them feel better about themselves in these difficult economic times.
Let’s face it part of the problem with corporate boards over the last fifty odd years, is that the CEO and Chairperson often don’t want people on the board who will actually challenge their thinking, but people who will look good on their letterhead and who can bring some good business, publicity and/or finance there way, but who otherwise will simply rubber stamp their strategic and executive decisions, without asking too many questions.
There’s no doubt that this short sighted, self-preserving way of thinking is one of the main contributors that has stopped boards diversifying and being more demographically representative.
When Jim Collins wrote about having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats – he’s left it up to the reader to define their definition of ‘right’ – which appears to be slightly dangerous in today’s business world.
If organisations want to optimise their growth, the right people on the bus will be people who besides other things, will challenge the organisations thinking; people who will be innovative and look for ways to improve their performance and that of the organisation. This doesn’t mean they are arrogant or rude people who’ll burst into the CEO’s office, telling them that they’re an idiot and ‘this is the way’ things need to change or be done.
Far from it, as these are professional individuals, people who are ‘talented’, which is why you recruited them in the first place and why you should want to hear what they think. In the right organisational environment, with the right culture, they are skilled and confident enough to give their opinion about a subject they know something about, but talented enough to listen to other opinions and agree on the ‘leaders’ preferred way forward after a transparent debate.
It was Albert Einstein who said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” and that’s what organisations need – humble but talented people who are passionate and curious, talent that through their curiosity will question and challenge the way things are done – not in a nasty self-centred way, but in a positive way that will enhance the organisations performance.  
In a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review in May, 2010, Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt highlight how, “our recent research on leadership transitions demonstrates that nearly 40% of internal job moves made by people identified by their companies as 'high potentials' end in failure. Moreover, disengagement within this cohort of employees has been remarkably high since the start of the recession: In a September 2009 survey by the Corporate Executive Board, one in three emerging stars reported feeling disengaged from his or her company.”
If you don’t employ talented people who you want to challenge the status quo in your organisation, don’t be surprised when your bubble bursts. You might be successful now, but it won’t last, as your competitors with the right organisational approach and culture focused towards embracing talent will grow faster and more effectively in your market place. You will probably have forgotten about this article by then, blaming the bank for lack of financial support or your sales team for lack of progress – but unfortunately it will be due to your lack of effective leadership and your unwillingness to be challenged for the right reasons – that of the growth of your business.
Finally I’m reminded of the words of the American basketball coach, John Wooden who said; “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Martin, J. and Schmidt, C. (2010). How to Keep Your Top Talent. Harvard Business Review. [On-line: accessed 25.11.12]

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is Ethical Behaviour a Prerequisite of Effective Leadership?

From as far back as 1975 and beyond researchers like Steve Yussen and Victor Levy have been telling us that “for social learning of ethical behaviour to take place, role models must be credible in terms of moral behaviour. By treating others fairly, honestly, and considerately, leaders become worthy of emulation by others. Otherwise, followers might ignore a leader whose behaviour is inconsistent with his/her ethical pronouncements or who fails to interact with followers in a caring, nurturing style.”
This implies that followers are seeking ethical leadership in the first place and can tell the difference between the two. Some might argue that today’s role models, who start to shape our ethical landscape from a young age aren’t teaching the right behaviours in the first place and hence aren’t teaching people to actually know the difference between right and wrong. In fact it’s highly possible that perceptions of ‘true’ ethical behaviours are becoming blurred as unethical behaviour seems to get the headlines on a virtually continuous basis, to the extent that this could start to give the impression that this is normal and acceptable behaviour.
For example, an employee who speaks up against wrongdoings in his or her organisation isn’t embraced by their community and thanked, but are branded as ‘whistle blowers’ and are often put on trial more than the unethical organisation and their leadership. This can give the impression that speaking out against ‘unethical behaviour’ isn’t okay.
Michael Brown and Marie Mitchell, in a 2010 article in the Business Ethics Quarterly highlight how qualitative research over the last decade has revealed that ethical leaders are best described along two related dimensions: moral person and moral manager.
Where Brown and Mitchell state that “the moral person dimension refers to the qualities of the ethical leader as a person. Strong moral persons are honest and trustworthy. They demonstrate a concern for other people and are also seen as approachable. Employees can come to these individuals with problems and concerns, knowing that they will be heard. Moral persons have a reputation for being fair and principled. Lastly, moral persons are seen as consistently moral in both their personal and professional lives,” (p.584).
And “the moral manager dimension refers to how the leader uses the tools of the position of leadership to promote ethical conduct at work. Strong moral managers see themselves as role models in the workplace. They make ethics salient by modelling ethical conduct to their employees. Moral managers set and communicate ethical standards and use rewards and punishments to ensure those standards are followed. In sum, leaders who are moral managers “walk the talk” and “talk the walk,” patterning their behaviour and organizational processes to meet moral standards,” (p.584).
So the question still remains today, ‘how do we develop the ethical leaders of the future?’ and at the moment it seems this responsibility is being left in the hands of the current organisational leadership and corporate boards. Where not surprisingly ethical leaders will tend to attract and develop other ethical leaders; but of course poorly developed and unethical leaders are also developing a potential future group of unethical leaders.
As mentioned in the article by Michael Brown and Marie Mitchell, “how does (un)ethical leadership develop over time? Although research points to the importance of personality (Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009), how does upbringing, education, and work experience shape the ethicality of leaders? Can ethical leadership be developed and if so, how? Can unethical leaders be trained to be ethical and if so, how? Indeed, scholars suggest both are a possibility. Specifically, Mitchell and Palmer (2010) argue that sustained ethical behaviour and confidence to engage in ethical behaviour can be strengthened, similar to a “muscle” in the body. Based on self-regulation theory and research (e.g., Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, & Oaten, 2006; Muraven & Baumeister, 2000), they contend ethical exercise can strengthen leaders’ moral core, which then can ensure behaviour holds integrity to moral values, (p.603).
We need to find dedicated people who are passionate about the future of business to urgently answer these questions if we are serious about developing effective, ethical leaders for the future
Maybe a first step I for Nations to identify their outstanding, ethically driven leaders across all industry sectors, from large corporates to sme’s, and allow them to become much more visible in schools and universities; and more visible in all forms of media; making ethics something that is ‘attractive’ and highlighting standards our future leaders want to embrace.  
Brown, M., and Mitchell, M. (2010).  Ethical and Unethical Leadership: Exploring New Avenues for Future Research. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume 20, Issue 4, p.583-616.
Yussen, S. R., and Levy Jr., V. M. (1975). Effects of warm and neutral models on the attention of observational learners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 20: p.66–72.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How Long Should a New CEO Have to ‘Settle In’ to their Job?

After 55 days in the job George Entwistle, the boss of the BBC, resigned from his job last night (10th November) – though some commentators suggest he was pushed out. But is it fair for a newly appointed CEO to fall on his sword after only 55 days?
Clearly huge mistakes have taken place under his short watch leading to the media, especially from the Rupert Murdoch stable, jumping on to these mind boggling blunders with blood curdling lustre. But who should be held accountable when a CEO is just getting to grips with their new role?
Where are the operational managers and editors who are responsible for the actual mistakes and why aren’t they holding up their hands and taking responsibility for their errors. Also where are the Chairman  and the rest of the ‘board’ who should have been supporting their newly appointed CEO in this initial period.
George Entwistle made the following statement about his resignation saying “when appointed to the role with 23 years’ experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead. However the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader” (Sunday Times,  11-11-12, p.4).
It seems to me that the person who could be expected to know least about the situation – unless someone went directly to him with concerns or facts, has taken the fall for the mistakes of others. Is this part of the ‘danger package’ that comes with taking on a new CEO role? If it is,  then one can expect CEO’s to take a completely different approach to their first 100 days in the future and become complete detail merchants – not wanting to trust their executives to do the jobs they are paid to do. And if they do take this approach, what will this do the culture and motivation of the organisation (let alone the top team) as rumours of this new ‘style’ sweep through the organisation and how will this affect the new CEO’s hope of building a positive culture going forward.
In an article by Ken Favaro, Per-Ola Karlsson, Jon Katzenbach and Gary Neilson of Booz and Company they mention that 80% of CEOs today are appointed from within the ranks of their companies. Where this trend has held steady over the last 11 years in the top 2,500 companies by market cap.
There are so many questions around, how long should a CEO have to settle in to a new role; how long should a board give them before they can be held fully accountable for the ‘running’ of their organisation and fired (or accept their resignation) for blatant mistakes made by their executives? Also should boards consider different ‘settling in periods’ for external and internal appointments.
But maybe these are the wrong questions? If one believes in the 100 day concept for CEO’s getting to grips with their new role and the organisation – maybe it’s the Chairman and the other executives who should be stepping up to the mark and assuming the responsibilities that they are actually already paid to do – and then taking the responsibility for failings during this period. It certainly shows the power the executive team have to make a new CEO’s job complete hell during their settling in period – but begs the question what kind of people would take such a ruthless, selfish approach to business and the ‘welcoming’ of a new CEO?
Maybe part of the good news in this sorry tragedy is that it is reported that government insiders believe that at least six senior BBC executives are likely to lose their jobs over the McAlpine story and the fallout from the Savile affair, acknowledging that “these people have serious questions to answer.”
The chairman and board must support a new CEO during their first 100 days and beyond – especially as they hired the person in the first place and begs the question, what kind of board hires someone to fail?
Favaro,K.,  Karlsson, P-O., Katzenbach, J.,  and Neilson, G. (2010). Lessons from the Trenches for New CEO’s.  Separating Myths from Game Changers. Booz and Company.