Sunday, July 28, 2013

Are We Creating the Best Environment to Develop the Best Leaders?

Way back in 1985 researchers like B.M. Bass proposed that the best leaders exhibit behaviours that create an atmosphere that increases a followers’ sense of self-worth and belonging. Yet the recent global recession has yet again brought the question of what makes a truly effective leader back into the spotlight again – as stakeholders, from shareholders to employees at all levels, seek to find and develop that special leadership talent that will optimise and transform their organisation into a sustainable, profitable and inspirational company.
Part of the dichotomy that seems to exist is that the key behavioural traits that support leadership excellence don’t necessarily translate and transpose themselves into a modern, social media driven world, which seems to be more about the ‘individual rather than the group’.
A 2009 peer reviewed report by Michele Frey, Roy Kern, Jason Snow and William Curlette found that softness, representing an optimistic view, and striving for perfection were found to indicate an achievement orientation with good coping skills, and were the key behavioural traits that distinguished transformational leaders from others.
In a post-global recession; social media enhanced world it may be hard to correlate ‘softness’ with effective leadership, as you find so many people shouting at the top of their voices about what makes effective leadership and why ‘they’ are right. But what in fact it might tell you is that those doing all the shouting, might not be the people you should be listening too; as maybe they’re just trying to sell something, like themselves; rather than actually being proven, effective leaders with a track record of success that you can really learn from.
Think about it for a moment – what inspires you and motivates you in the organisational setting? In most cases it will be leaders who are optimistic about the future and who do strive for ‘more’, pushing the boundaries to achieve something special. Leaders who motivate you to achieve greater things, maybe things you didn’t know or think you were capable of yourself. They aren’t harsh and loud, but ‘soft’ – that doesn’t mean soft as in a ‘push over’, it means someone who talks to you in a calm way, even when you’ve made that horrendous mistake that you think is going to be the end of your career :-) They are the ones that get the best out of you.
Another key behavioural trait for effective leadership is a leader’s willingness or unwillingness to cooperate with others for the general good. Professor Adler first talked about this as far back as 1956, which has since been interpreted as social interest, or more recently as community feeling. Adler believed that social interest was manifested by a healthy lifestyle, that is, one in which an individual moves in a cooperative, egalitarian way towards others, leading to a feeling of belonging within ones social context. Adler highlighted how the capacity for cooperation and social interest can be gauged by the way one sees, listens, copes, and acts.
The danger with the current social-business environment in which so many people operate, but especially the young, is that too often the way to get ‘noticed’ and ‘heard’ does not develop the necessary behavioural traits that will support an effective transformational leader in the future.
Since much of the research over the last 50 years has supported ‘upbringing’ as having a significant impact on leadership styles and abilities, we must be very careful that we are not allowing current ‘trends’ to encourage and develop negative traits associated with effective leadership behaviour.
It has been argued that life experiences, including family upbringing, accumulate and impact our ability to be effective leaders – and as mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is from these experiences that the best leaders exhibit behaviours that create an atmosphere that increases the followers’ sense of self-worth and belonging.
But we have to be careful that in the mad rush to be ‘socially accepted’ in the media-sphere, that we are not inadvertently creating the wrong environment to develop the effective leaders we need for the future – those that will strive for perfection; but know how to work with people, in a calm and optimistic way, to motivate and inspire them to achieve their goals and in doing so, maximise the potential for the organisation.
Frey, M., Kern, R.M., Snow, J and Curlette, W.L. (2009). Lifestyle and Transformational Leadership Style. The Journal of Individual Psychology. Vol. 65, No. 3, p. 212-240.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What Should a CEO be Really Good At?

With all types of media, from the press to social, CEO’s are more in the spotlight today than ever before; where it wasn’t that long ago that you only ever found out about the CEO and their exploits from either their annual accounts; the odd news bulletin or press article; and possibly a book written about their time in office; and this of course was mostly CEO’s from the large corporates.

With profits often being the key focal point of shareholders; service being one of the key focal point of customers; sustainability and job satisfaction being a key focal point of employees; and continuity and the ability to pay a focal point for suppliers; along with other interest groups looking at key issues around social responsibility, CEO have to be knowledgeable and aware on so many fronts - and all of the above potentially being discussed in some form of media 24/7.

Although business is constantly evolving, the basic foundation and generic applications are still the same – the problem with 24/7 scrutiny is that it can often miss the point that short-term ‘issues’ are a means to an end for a long-term sustainable vision; i.e. those looking in from the outside at a moment in time, can’t relate the short-term nuances to a long-term goal – hence the organisation can look in crisis or badly managed, when in fact it is simply going through a period of well-planned, structured change; and this can ‘encourage’ unnecessary back-tracking or changes, to satisfy short-term perceptions, that impacting long-term realities.

A CEO’s responsibility is to their organisations stakeholders, which includes shareholders, customers, employees and suppliers – but in a global, modern world there is now access to another group of stakeholders outside of this ‘common’ group which now includes potential shareholders, customers, employees and suppliers – which could include virtually everyone out there in ‘social media land’ depending on the organisation, its products and/or services – which is good, as long as CEO’s don’t allow themselves to be diverted from long-term goals, just to satisfy short-term reactions of the media and the masses.

This is a key issue of debate as many business discussions these days will elude that organisations spend too much time focused on short-term goals to satisfy stakeholders, without enough time spent focusing on the longer term, which is where sustainability and market optimisation comes from.

Also in today’s business world where many countries and businesses are still recovering from the global recession, more sme businesses are being started; some just one man/woman entities and others small business partnerships, as individuals look for niche opportunities in different markets.

This can often mean that the role of a ‘CEO’ differs considerably depending on many key factors, which include the size of the organisation; and where it is competing on the various life-cycles, including its products and/or services life-cycle; and the industry and market life-cycle; which can have a significant influence on the role of the CEO.

So in a 24/7 world of potential scrutiny and where many industries are still struggling or just emerging from the financial crisis, what should a CEO be really good at?

In my view and in no particular order of importance;

They need to know their market and industry; and be people who know when it’s sensible to follow and when it’s sensible to pioneer and innovate. They have to understand the concept of risk; and the risk/benefit equation and know how to manage change.

They have a solid long-term vision for their organisation; that goes beyond ‘muffty-fluffty’ words and rhetoric; to the ability to visualise the detail of the implementation needed to reach their vision; and are constantly evaluating their environment against this strategic vision.

They have excellent communication skills – they know how to build relationships; how to talk, influence and motivate different stakeholder groups.

And finally they know what they know; know what they don’t know; and readily admit things that they think they know, but where they might be wrong – i.e. they genuinely know their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to be open about them. 

So with organisations and their CEO’s more in the spotlight today than ever before, is this new found 24/7 attention good for ‘business’; and does it help or hinder the CEO becoming better in their role? Where one of the first questions a CEO needs to know is ‘what do I need to be really good at’ to succeed in my role and optimise my organisations future? 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Is There a Correlation Between Educational and Business Achievement?

Rory Sutherland, vice-president of Ogilvy Group UK, a leading communications and marketing company, is quoted in The Times as saying “I have asked around and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds. If anything, the correlation operates in reverse.”

He went on to say that “if you’re at university and you’re surrounded by general entertainment and you decide to sit in your room reading Thucydides, then you’re probably a bit of a weirdo. There may be an argument that if you fill business with intellectuals, then they make things far more complicated than they need to be,” (Kate Mansey, The Times, 07.07.13, p.9).

And Julie Henry and Sian Griffiths, highlight in the Times a week later, that “universities are manipulating their exam rules to make it easier for students to secure first class degrees, a study has revealed. Where the number of first class degrees has more than doubled in the past ten years and in complete contradiction to the ideas quoted above Gareth Williams, emeritus professor of higher education at the Institute of Education, London says ‘we have seen a race for firsts. Employers will look only at people with firsts or 2:1’s so there is enormous pressure in institutions for students to reach that benchmark,” (14.07.13, p.4).

What’s really incredible is that universities, rather than any external body, sets the rules for degree standards, which in itself is crazy when they are trying to attract students to pay higher fees – so it basically sounds like you can ‘buy’ your first, to some extent. And then, after all that, some employers certainly won’t look at it that favourably when others will. Lord Winston, for example, a leading fertility expert says, he ‘deliberately’ doesn’t hire graduates with first class degrees for jobs in his laboratories.

An analysis of how degree classifications are calculated has uncovered widespread manipulation of the rules governing student assessment which, according to some academics, has created a ‘race for firsts’ driven by a demand for success by fee-paying undergraduates.

Some people reading this will rightly go even further and ask what university degrees have to do with it in the first place. There are plenty of very successful businessmen and women who have developed and grown their own large, successful business, who haven’t even been to university – and have gained their knowledge in the ‘real’ world often from a very young age - where they have become extremely street smart. They might not have all the theory but their practical knowledge often surpasses the most educated of people.

So a key question that still remains is; ‘what is the correlation between academic achievement and business achievement – and what should that correlation actually be?’

Beyond the excellent research that universities carry out, usually funded by organisations that are interested in the results – is higher education becoming nothing more than a business, and possibly a not very good one at that? A successful business is usually one where there is a high correlation between its outputs (product and/or service) and the needs of the customer – but the jury seems to be out on the real correlation between education and business, at the detailed level (i.e. university by subject) correlated to business success.

As writing this I wonder what students are thinking who were awarded first class degrees, for example, where some might now have to come to terms with the fact that they didn’t actually deserve a first class degree, in the first place, and now that they’ve been generously given one to improve the credibility of the university they attended, some employers won’t even consider employing them.

I wonder if anyone has ever asked for their degree to be moderated downwards, to be more accepted in the marketplace – as that would then be the ‘cherry on the cake’?


Mansey, K. (2013). Got a 2:2? Like to get stoned? You’re hired! The Sunday Times. 07.07.13. p.9.

Henry, J. and Griffiths, S. (2013). Universities bend their rules to award firsts. The Sunday Times. 14.07.13. p.4.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What Does Organisational Culture Really Mean?

Culture has become a ‘glib’ term in organisational ‘speak’ – where you’ll hear people talking about ‘transparent cultures’ and ‘innovative cultures’ as they describe their organisations. But true organisational culture goes a lot deeper and is always multifaceted, especially in today’s global economy.

You have to understand what forms your organisational culture, before you can start working with it to optimise the working relationships that optimises the ‘cultural’ equation.

Two of the core determinants of organisational culture are its demographics, which include age, gender, race, religion, etc; which need to be matched by the leadership, strategic and operational approach to the business as it looks at ways to ensure sustainable growth within its industry sector and for its specific target markets; while optimising the outputs from the organisational make-up (which includes ‘its culture’).

Although people within organisations will talk about their company culture, it isn’t often something that is properly discussed within the strategic framework of the business – so ‘culture’ becomes an individual or departmental ‘perception’ rather than an all-encompassing organisational ‘reality’.

It’s strange because 10 to 20 years ago culture was a key topic for large corporations looking to maximise their competitive advantage, where many organisations started to implement ‘programmes’ to meet the needs of their staff, which included proving crèches for children; gyms and health programmes for staff at all levels; the recognition of multi-religious holidays and requirements, etc – making the organisation feel more like a ‘home’ for its employees, trying to cater for the needs of their diverse workforce; and trying to create a culture that cared for its staff so that they, in turn, would care for the company.

It was from this foundation that the ‘wording’ around the company culture would be formed during strategic brainstorming sessions looking at the core strengths of the organisation and its people. Here employees would talk about caring, transparent, innovative cultures in one voice – excited by how the ‘culture’ supports them in their jobs and allows them to perform better, often by minimising other stresses that 21st employees have to cope with these days; from single parents to interfaith requirements.

Unfortunately ‘culture’ has started to become one of those business buzz words – used to impress, but without the real thought behind the rhetoric. Yet organisational culture has a huge impact on business performance and is a core driven of employee motivation and commitment both in the short and long term.

The danger with a recession type environment is that organisations can lose sight of the business fundamentals while they focus on the bottom line and short-term strategies. Forgetting about the culture, doesn’t mean that the culture will remain as a status quo while ‘you’ sort things out – most often it means that the organisational culture starts to stagnate, it loses its all-encompassing focus, and different, fragmented cultural pockets start to form throughout the organisation often on a matrix type scale, as individual managers create their own departmental or team cultures, which can vary significantly across the organisation.

This starts to lead to confusion and even resentment amongst staff at all levels, which is often missed by the leadership, as they often assume, wrongly, that the negative changes in morale and performance are due to the impact of the recession and the uncertainty in their market. In fact the change in culture being a fault of the leadership can go completely over ‘their heads’ as they blame morale and culture on external forces – when organisational culture is everything to do with internal forces, and virtually nothing to do with external forces what-so-ever.

Understanding how organisational cultures are formed and developed is a key part of organisational development and it actually means that in the harshest economic and market conditions, in the right hands, your organisation can still have an extremely positive organisational culture, where employee motivation and performance is still optimised – and as one, the organisation understands and can articulate the ‘positive’ factors the organisational culture means to them as individuals, teams and as a single company.