The 4 Most Important Leadership Behaviors

When I work with presentation clients, the starting point is to identify what’s the most important thing the audience needs to know to get them to act in the desired manner (e.g., invest in the company pitching the deal). Reading a McKinsey article, Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters, I realized that as a leadership coach, I face the same dilemma when helping executives become more effective leaders:  identify which of the many leadership qualities are most critical.

The researchers, using their own experience and relevant academic literature came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. They then surveyed 189 people in 81 diverse organizations around the world, and the grouped the sample by quartiles so they could compare the top and bottom in terms of leadership effectiveness. They discovered that 4 of the behaviors explained 895 of the variance between strong and weak organizations!

The four behaviors are:

  • Solving problems effectively: Key is gathering and analyzing the right data, and then considering the right options that can lead to effective decision-making.
  • Operating with a strong results orientation: Creating a vision is only the start, following through to achieve results with efficiency, productivity, and prioritization of highest-value work is key.
  • Seeking different perspectives: In this VUCA world, leaders need to monitor trends, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute meaningful ideas, differentiate important issues from those which aren’t, and give appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Success here involves sound analysis and avoidance of biases which often affect decisions. (Vistage CEOs engage in issue-processing sessions each month which reinforce the importance of this approach. It leads to incredible results (see case studies) and model the behavior in their companies.
  • Supporting others: These leaders understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in others, they build trust and inspire colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote efficiency, allay unwarranted fears and prevent energies from producing internal conflicts.

Obviously, different business situations often require different styles of leadership, but knowing which four behaviors provide a solid foundation will help every leader.  What do you think? What’s your experience with these behaviors?  Share with us!

Habits of Excellent Presenters

Reading Brendon Burchard’s most recent book, High Performance Habits, made me think about the habits developed by excellent presenters. For over two decades, we’ve served over 5000 clients who’ve presented on investment, fund-raising, marketing, sales, management and other issues. More recently, we focus on senior executives whose presentations are focused on closing large and important deals for companies involved with M&A, VC, Private Equity, etc.

Based on this experience, we see that excellent presenters develop the following five habits:

  • Competence: They immerse themselves in the material so they can build a Compelling Message. They know that “data dumps” and “long-winded wordiness” are distractions; short phrases, not full sentences, are presented; graphs, not tables full of numbers. They recognize that persuasive arguments are based on the right balance of logic and emotions.
  • Proactively Responsive: Meet the audience’s needs. When it comes to building a case, they do the necessary homework to understand the audience’s perspective: what’s their past experience on this topic? What are their current concerns (e.g., more logic or emotion)? Who else helps them make the decision? How will the setting affect their ability to process the information? Is the information succinct enough to get attention (from people whose attention spans often are limited) and have the desired impact?
  • Being Authentic: They immerse themselves in the material so they are presenting from a position of aligned values and self-confidence of the material. Demonstrate your sense of curiosity in learning the material and formatting the presentation for presentation excellence. Facilitate the audience’s development of trust in you.
  • Sharing: The goal isn’t to present “to” an audience, but to be part of a “community” in which they use their competence to share a story with the audience. The “field” includes presenter, audience, setting, context, message and possibility of a future relationship. They welcome questions, because it demonstrates that a relationship has been forged between the parties and enable the presenter to further demonstrate her/his expertise.
  • Practice: They recognize that everyone is nervous about presenting, with the only real question being how to channel it? By practicing the art of persuasive communication they harness nervous energy to make the presentation exciting, as opposed to allowing it to become a barrier between them and the audience. Handling pace, tone, body language, etc. are key to the transfer of enthusiasm – which is the ultimate goal of a presentation.

Are you an excellent presenter? Have you had the pleasure of listening to one or more? What additional habits would you include?  Please share!

Internships Should Be Part of Your Culture

“Finding great talent” is almost always reported to be one of the three greatest challenges by our clients. For smart ones, they use intern programs both to compliment staff on projects and to identify new talent who will fit into their culture. So, many interns are you taking this summer?

Providing students with internships is key for society as a whole. Researchers report that the failure ….

That’s why it was great to see Andy Kessler’s Wall Street Journal Op-ed piece encouraging companies to create internships. However, his conventional approach –that internships are programs that require external funding sources and therefore serve only a limited number of students – misses the bigger opportunity to do more. Companies should….

The research results of this failure to give students quality internships opportunities are tragic:

  • The youth unemployment rate is double that of the national average.
  • An AP study found that 50+% of all college graduates have not found jobs commensurate with their skills.
  • A McKinsey study found that many young people do not even know how to launch themselves on a viable career path.

Internships shouldn’t be thought of as learning opportunities that companies should offer students, often relying on external funding sources. Instead, companies should view offering quality internships as being as essential to serving our communities as is mentoring new staff and/or participating in community services.  Parents know that their kids often have little basis for making good career decisions because they don’t understand the world-of-work, which requires both hard and soft skills.

But here’s the real problem: they want their kids to have experiences but don’t advocate becoming mentors for students in their own companies! It’s really amazing getting calls from parents seeking help in finding suitable internships for their kids while defending the fact that their companies, with hundreds of employees, only serve a handful of summer interns.

During my career (in many sectors of the economy), I’ve hosted 600+ students to participate in “mentoring internships” year-round, so they can make better career decisions. While a mentor guides each intern, many staff members interact and contribute to the learning process. Interns work on meaningful projects where they can apply what they’ve learned, develop new skills, expand their base of knowledge and learn about new tools. They experience the workplace: how people collaborate, communicate, manage time, etc.; they discover the relationship between corporate strategy, group activities and individual contributions. They leave smarter and wiser, knowing more about what they can do in the future, including new classes and schools to attend, and careers to pursue.

Most important, the ROI for such programs can be quite high. Companies save money on projects using less-expensive labor; mentors get projects finished; employees learn how to supervise, delegate and manage others; and the company wins twice: by serving the community and often identifying highly qualified candidates for future jobs.

Any company can offer mentoring internships by creating a culture committed to learning. We call them CILOs (Continuous Improvement Learning Organizations). Encourage ongoing learning by employees and young people in the community so they can make better career decisions – regardless of whether that means they will later work for your company or someone else’s!

(A free e-book on setting up such programs is available at www.MentoringInternships.com).

What Impact Will Digital Automation Have on Your Business?

How do you plan for the future of automation?  When I’m teaching college students, I ask them to look at the jobs they’re planning to obtain in the next decade and to think through the extent to which automation, robots and algorithms are going to change those jobs. Decades ago, ATMs began weeding out bank tellers; the algorithms of Uber and its competitors, especially with driver-less vehicles is transforming the world of yellow cabs and black car services. When CEOs and I have the conversation, we look at their companies and others, to see how robots and software change how we manufacture and distribute products, work with customers, pay for goods and services etc. So I started looking for a framework that to help people manage the transition as we progress with smarter AI, bots, etc.

Frank, Roehrig and Pring offer one in What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data.  They propose the AHEAD model, which outlines five distinct approaches for handling such digital systems:

  • Automate: Outsource rote, computational work to the new machine (e.g., ATMs)
  • Halo (or Code Halos): Instrument products and people to leverage the data they generate through connected and online behaviors to create new customer experiences and business models. (e.g., General Electric enable their products to collect halos of data, increasing the value proposition for the products)
  • Enhance: View the technology as a means to complement what you do in your job, so you can offer increased productivity and satisfaction. (e.g., GPS has made the entire driving experience easier, just as technology has enabled professionals (from sales to medicine) to know more about customers and service them better).
  • Abundance: Use the technology to drop the price of your product/service so you can make them available to new markets (e.g., RoboAdvisors now enable investing novices as well as experienced investors to make decisions based on information never before at their disposal).
  • Discovery: Leverage AI to conceive of entirely new products, services and industries. (e.g., smartphones, with apps).

Each of these offers a different way of looking at how technology can change your life and that of your company, today and tomorrow.   Share with us your experiences at adopting AI, Algorithms, Bots and Big Data.  At what level of the AHEAD framework are you working?  Try moving to the next step in the transition.  As the authors point out, the machines probably will never do everything (at least in our lifetimes), but how can they free you up and support your effort to do deeper, more meaningful things?

Do Potential Customers Really Want Your Product?

Since the 1960s, Everett Rogers introduced the concept of adoption-of-innovation, there have been some excellent examples of what works and what doesn’t. (He applied it to the adoption of corn by farmers; I used it to explain the use, and non-use of birth control by teenagers as part of my doctoral dissertation.) This week I used it to discuss two electric car companies – Tesla’s success and Better Place’s failure — an observation also noted by Greg Satell in his Digital Tonto blog. Peter Drucker was right: the key to any business is creating a (profitable) customer.

Over a decade ago, Shai Agassi led a team to create a pioneer electric care company – Better Place. Recognizing the limit of battery charges, he envisioned a world where people could drive in relatively inexpensive electric cars, by adopting the idea of “gasoline-filling stations” and creating “battery switching stations”. Drivers would drive into the station on the way to their destination and it would remove the old battery and switch it for a fully charged battery quickly. He raised money to test the idea in countries and states with defined travel limits (e.g. Israel, Hawaii and Denmark) and build enough stations so local people could travel.

However, it failed because the business model didn’t take into account the need of customers – partners and end-user) for this venture. The goal was to have a car company manufacture and sell cars to-end-users who would get the batteries from Better Place. This meant that the car manufacturer was not selling a totally workable vehicle! This presented a problem for insurance companies and discouraged car manufacturers from investing in building vehicles that weren’t self-sufficient.

As a result only one company (Renault) agreed to manufacture the car and less than 2000 small cars were produced. Most people didn’t want them, so they didn’t rush to buy, and the company failed.

There are two analogies worth noting. Almost two decades ago, Webvan raised billions of dollars to create a food delivery service where people could order on-line and have it delivered within 30 minutes. The company invested in warehouse infrastructure, when it should have spent more time understanding customers’ buying patterns. By creating no minimum size purchases with almost on-demand delivery, almost empty delivery trucks were delivering unprofitable purchases. The company closed within a few years. (Its operation was folded into Amazon!)

Similarly, TATA, an Indian conglomerate realized that families with 3-4 people were taking motorcycles to work and school – creating a safety hazard for the passengers. They created a small, basic feature care called the Nano; it was slightly more expensive than a motorcycle (e.g., $2500 vs. $1800), and provide safer transportation. In its first year it only captured 10% of the anticipated customers! Why? It offered almost no “comfort-features” (e.g., glove compartments). Since then it has raised its price almost annually adding more features…and still is failing. One reason is that other companies started offering cars people liked and bought, even though they cost $6000+.

In contrast, Elon Musk took a customer-focused, adoption-of-innovation approach with Tesla. He did not focus on the mass market, but the limited number of early adopters: people who love new ideas, can afford them, and when satisfied serve as role models (e.g., celebrities and high net worth individuals committed to showcasing sustainability). His first model, Roadster, was designed to attract this audience; he priced it at $100,000, which enabled him to listen to customers, and improve it for future growth. Second, because batteries have limited distances, he focused on customers who already had another (gas) car that they could use for long distances or who only needed it for short distances. Now, Tesla offering a model for “the rest of us”, priced, like GM’s Bolt, at under $40,000.

In sum, to develop an innovation and have it successfully adopted, you need to address the needs of all the initial customers/partners. Never lose sight on the business goal: to create a profitable customer. What’s your experience? Share it.

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