Tuesday, 29 November 2011

High Impact Leadership


Click HERE to download the article, including an outline for a unique workshop on how to develop High Impact Leaders in your organisation.


A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say; we did it ourselves - Lao Tzu (570 to 490 BC)

The very words “High Impact Leader” probably cause us to think of some of the exceptional or “visionary” leaders who control the world’s largest and most successful organisations and who feature regularly in the media. Celebrity “Rock n Roll” leaders, who cast a shadow much larger than the organisations they’re responsible for. We probably think of people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates, perhaps Alan Sugar, Jack Welsh and Anita Roddick. And who could argue with any of those illustrious individuals being described as “High Impact Leaders”. In each case, their influence has extended well outside their own business ventures, touching lives through their courage, humanitarian endeavours, thought leadership, innovation and the sheer scale of their success.

Perhaps we might also think of great military or political leaders such as George S Patton, Napoleon or Winston Churchill. Or perhaps we think of those people who have led cultural revolutions such as Nelson Mandela or Gandhi. It would be equally hard to dispute that any of them have a place on the list of High Impact Leaders.

But High Impact Leaders exist in every organisation, at every level, in every function and department and there are more of them than you might think. They are the people who always seem to make things happen, who others hold in high regard, and whose influence extends beyond the people they work with directly. They’re not necessarily managers or in formal positions of authority and they’re not necessarily “visionary”.

High Impact Leaders are authentic to their values and highly self-aware. They are completely comfortable taking personal responsibility and accountability, but also secure and confident enough to delegate effectively, letting go and placing their trust in others. They have a unique blend of attributes which inspire people, not just to accede to their authority and comply with their instructions, but to follow them, do their best for them and aspire to be like them. They create environments where every individual can deliver their very best, they encourage true collaboration and teamwork, stimulate creativity and make the impossible possible.

The environment we operate in is becoming increasingly tough; managers and leaders face organisational and market challenges on a huge scale. Simply remaining in business requires a higher than ever degree of agility and responsiveness both from organisations and the people who work in them. This represents the fundamental challenge for leaders in the early part of the 21st century. But while a great deal of time and resources are expended on training managers’ functional and technical capabilities, very little time is spent on developing the skills that will help them to become authentic leaders.

So what are the attributes of High Impact Leadership?

Firstly, High Impact Leaders possess a high degree of self-awareness; they understand their strengths and weaknesses. They’re able to work with people to create collaborative environments where everyone can be successful. This comes from emotional intelligence. Consistently, research has demonstrated that up to 95% of the difference between exceptional leaders and average leaders is based on emotional competencies rather than intellect, technical knowledge or functional expertise.

High Impact Leaders understand what makes people “tick”; why people are different from each other and why they behave the way they do in different circumstances. This understanding of what drives behaviour also helps them to form strong relationships which are key to getting the best out of each individual and for creating effective teams.  It also helps ensure that they are able to find the best way of inspiring and motivating people in order to consistently achieve successful outcomes.

High Impact Leaders inspire trust. Research suggests that things happen up to 60% faster in high trust environments but a recent study conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management suggests that trust in leaders has suffered significantly during the economic downturn. Whilst there are signs of a slow recovery, much still needs to be done to restore trust both within organisations and in the wider markets in which they operate. Only by building trust at an individual and relationship level, can trust be restored at a market level.

High Impact Leaders understand how to motivate and set goals that balance a focus on strategic and operational imperatives with the need for creativity and innovation. Some of the greatest discoveries in the past fifty years have come about almost by accident; creating an environment where creativity flourishes is no easy task, particularly when economic and competitive circumstances encourage an aversion to risk.  Traditional task based objectives rely on a “carrot and stick” approach usually linking the achievement of pre-defined targets to financial rewards. This stifles innovation, often drives the wrong behaviours and generally ignores the fact that people are most motivated by having a sense of self-control and from working towards a purpose in which they believe. High Impact Leaders use effective feedback to develop strong relationships and trust, showing humility themselves by constantly seeking feedback from others.

Finally, High Impact Leaders have a sphere of influence that extends well beyond their own area of responsibility. They achieve sustainable results through gaining commitment rather than compliance, drawing on the full range of their leadership ability to deliver positive outcomes. The “shadow” they cast as leaders and the impact they have depends not only on their authority and legitimate sources of power, but on their intrinsic understanding of the environment they’re operating in, the often diverse cultural dimensions and the people involved.

Now more than ever organisations need High Impact Leaders. Fortunately, whilst only a very few people might naturally possess the qualities of authentic leadership, the skills and attributes of High Impact Leadership can be learned and developed in everyone.

Chris Burton, 2011
This material is now available as a workshop which can be run in any organisation to develop High Impact Leaders. 
Drawing on extensive research brought to life through examples and case studies the interactive workshop uses feedback from colleagues to help participants understand their strengths and areas for development. The workshop is complemented by a comprehensive workbook providing background material, models and tools which enable managers and leaders at all levels of the organisation to develop the attributes of High Impact Leadership and to carry it back into the workplace. 

Click HERE to download an outline of the workshop.

Click HERE to email me for more information.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Meaning of Life...

During these difficult times  it’s easy to become focused on the economy and our personal survival. We can lose sight of all we have and forget what’s really important. I read this story recently and thought it provided a timely reminder...

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2″ in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The students laughed.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognise that this is your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical check-ups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Why transformational leaders need smart teams

It’s more than 40 years since psychologist Ulric Neisser conducted a series of experiments to highlight what is now known as “inattentional blindness”. Neisser demonstrated that when individuals are paying close attention to one thing, they can fail to see something unexpected even when it passes directly in front of their eyes. In his original experiment, Neisser showed a video tape of two teams passing basketballs, one wearing white shirts and the other wearing black. He asked participants to count the number of passes made by one team and to ignore the other. They were told that to score accurately it was necessary to pay careful attention to the task.

When asked at the end of the video whether they had seen anything unusual, only twenty percent of participants reported seeing a woman with an umbrella walk across the court; though she was on-screen for several seconds.

Over the next thirty years, this phenomenon was successfully repeated by other researchers. In one experiment fifty percent of participants failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the basketball game, face the camera, and beat it’s chest before walking off again, even though it was on-screen for almost ten seconds.

Why did so many people fail to see the woman with the umbrella or the gorilla?

The answer to this question was provided by Max Bazerman and Dolly Chugh who identified a fundamental management concept which they termed “bounded awareness”. Similar to inattentional blindness, Bazerman and Chugh suggest that when focussing on a particular task, people often fail to notice and process information which is easily available to them.

Might this management concept explain how overall performance can be constrained by limiting workers’ capacity for innovation through the way in which business objectives are set?

For many years managers and leaders have been taught that great results come from SMART objectives which by their very nature demand that people focus on very specific outcomes;  might they be missing opportunities to add even greater value?

There is no question that there are times when it’s entirely appropriate for workers to be focused onto specific, measurable and time-bound objectives; some projects for instance require this level of discipline to ensure they deliver the required outcome on time and within budget. However, narrowing the field of vision onto one clearly defined objective will also constrain creativity and innovation. Additionally, if the specific outcome is subject to a reward there may be no incentive for the individual to identify or act on information which is unrelated to their immediate task.

In highly transactional environments, clearly defined and specific objectives will help to deliver results which are planned in advance, but for transformational leaders who are working towards an inspirational vision there is a need for creativity and innovation to drive real progress. Companies such as Apple and Google do not rely solely on SMART objectives for this very reason; by creating open environments and setting wider goals which are more open to interpretation these companies achieve results which are often unexpected but which drive their market leading advantage.

So whilst there will always be a need for people to focus on clearly defined, pre-determined results, we also need managers and leaders to create objectives which are not constrained by bounded awareness and which encourage collaboration and true innovation. Over many years of working with some of the UK’s most successful organisations I have observed that some of the leaders who create the most value do so in a way in which the results are almost unexpected; seemingly the result of serendipity or accident rather than by design. However, the fact that they are able to do this consistently over long periods of time suggests that there is more than simply good luck at the heart of their approach.

These highly successful leaders appear to use a set of common principles to drive progress; as well as setting specific planned outcomes for their people they are able to create environments which are open to creativity and innovation, allowing people to add value in unexpected ways. A study of these principles has led me to identify five key requirements for transformational outcomes which can be realised through the acronym TEAMS.

T is for Tangible. The outcome must be tangible rather than simply measured; it might be felt at an emotional or cultural level. This doesn't mean it can never be measured but transformational leaders accept that some important outcomes might not fit easily on a spreadsheet. Albert Einstein once observed "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted".

One of the corporate values of First Direct Bank is “fun”; objectives are set around this value and yet the outcomes may be difficult to measure in a traditional way. Making “fun” a desired outcome requires an acceptance that what constitutes “fun” will not be the same for everyone so it would be almost impossible to plot results on a graph or measure them in a spreadsheet. Yet we can all “feel” when an environment is fun or not and there may be other measurements (attrition, sickness) which indicate a positive or negative trend.

E is for Evolutionary.  Change doesn't need to be revolutionary but every objective should be moving people forward towards a vision, even if it's only a small step. We should be able to view our objectives and their outcomes as a step on our journey and we should recognise that not every journey is a straight line. Sometimes, the places we pass though on route to our final destination inspire us the most, and sometimes the unexpected and unplanned detour will take us somewhere wonderful. Objectives should also be evolutionary for the individual or team receiving it; moving them forward and developing their knowledge, skills and capabilities.

A is for Aligned.  Objectives should be aligned with our vision, values, culture and strategy. The transformational leaders I’ve observed create objectives which move their people towards a long term vision and which are congruent with corporate and personal values. Their objectives are aligned with the objectives of other individuals and teams and help to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. This also helps create environments which are more conducive to collaboration and shared results.

M is for Motivational. Motivation is like fun; it’s different for every individual and group. To create motivational outcomes leaders must consider the individual or team responsible for delivery. A combination of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards based on individual preferences and style, and which recognise cultural as well as organisational values will motivate people to deliver extraordinary results without the need to make them time-bound.

S is for Supported. There's no point in giving someone an objective without committing the resources, time and effort they'll need if they're to achieve it. So the leader and the organisation must ensure that the appropriate support is in place, particularly if the objective's been made evolutionary and motivating. Support creates the right environment for success and recognises that success comes from collaboration at all levels and not simply individual efforts.

In today’s highly competitive environment we need to stay SMART, but we also need to explore new ways of creating competitive advantage and staying ahead of the pack. Objectives which are truly SMART allow for only two possible results; success or failure. In an effort to ensure success, people may suffer inattentional blindness and miss opportunities to add even greater value. Objectives which are based on TEAMS are broader and less specific but by widening the goalposts the definition of success is also opened in a way which promotes creativity and collaboration.

The most successful leaders in today’s organisations are able to balance planned outcomes with innovative progress; these are the leaders who truly have SMART TEAMS.

To try Ulric Neisser’s experiment for yourself visit http://youtu.be/wcjnJ1B7N0E and count the number of passes made by the team wearing white. Ignore the team wearing black completely.

For help in creating inspiring performance in your organisation contact me at chris@designed4success.co.uk

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Do workplace values and attitudes change significantly from one generation to the next..?

It's important for organisations to understand the values and attitudes of the people they employ. If individual and organisational values are congruent then engagement will be high, goals will be shared more readily and the culture is more likely to sustain high performance. If values are not aligned tensions and conflicts may arise over goals and how to achieve them.

The workplace is a reflection of the society in which it operates and will therefore be subject to the same influences and factors which drive change in the wider environment. If significant change in values and attitudes were experienced in the workplace from one generation to the next then it would suggest that the same changes must be taking place in society at large.

Values, which help to define a person’s sense of what is “right” and “wrong” are formed early in life and determine what might be an appropriate course of action or outcome in a particular situation. Once formed, evidence suggests that individual values will be enduring and will be held throughout the course of a person’s life. Whilst values tend to be general in nature, attitudes provide a more specific focus on the people and objects within our environment and as such are more subject to change. If values are influenced by social circumstances then it’s likely we will “inherit” at least some of our values from parents and those closest to us in our early years (friends, neighbours, family members, nursery and schools etc.). The degree to which they change from one generation to the next will therefore be limited to some degree; however the way in which we apply these values through our attitudes may be subject to greater change.

Take, for example, a value that everyone should be treated fairly. In a single culture society our concept of “fair” might be based on what’s best for the resident population. In matters of employment, promotion, remuneration etc. it might be considered “fair” to favour people from within our own society and to treat “outsiders” differently. As society becomes more multicultural then our attitude about what is “fair” might change to reflect that everyone should be treated on an equal basis, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. Our value of “fair” hasn’t changed, but our attitude of what is “fair”, or our interpretation of “fair”, has moved significantly. Over time, we may reflect this change in attitude in the way we articulate our value. For example, our value may become everyone should be treated fairly and equally

Organisations need to work hard to keep up with shifting attitudes which can often change overnight. Consider how the 9/11 tragedies will have changed attitudes towards security in the workplace; the value of needing to feel secure remains constant, however the attitude of what makes us feel secure at work changed significantly from one day to the next. 

Taking everything into account, it's unlikely that values will change significantly from one generation to the next but will evolve more slowly to reflect changing attitudes which can change dramatically in the blink of an eye. If this is the case in society at large, it is also likely to be reflected within the workplace.