jerry cahn

The Courage of Leaders: Encourage It

Thinking about Creativity and Innovation recently, made me wonder about the courage that it takes for these leaders to breaking new ground. Clearly it is one of the most important attributes of leadership.

Social psychology focuses our attention on how institutions socialize people to follow group norms (e.g., socialization of citizens to be responsive jurors; initiating people who want to join fraternities (i.e., hazing), etc.) Countless conformity studies which show that the majority of people go along with what they think is the norm (e.g. Solomon Asch, Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif, Stanley Milgram, Phillip Zimbardo). Non-conformists must believe strongly in their ideas in order to deviate; if there are supporters of the deviant idea, even just one, it makes it easier. Thus, leaders demonstrate courage when they aren’t identifying with their membership group, but with an external reference group which supports the ideas.

Leaders for whom change is an important value, and who want to institutionalize innovative processes, must overcome these forces and identify with other leaders who focus on change. Alan Downs refers to the Fearless Executive as one who finds “the courage to trust your talents and be the leader you are meant to be” It isn’t the absence of fear that marks courage, it’s the silencing of the fears by feeling confident, powerful, decisive and empowering.

And most important, by demonstrating the courage to break from the norms (e.g., this is how it’s always been done), each of us can inspire other potential and existing leaders to be more courageous and make changes. Leaders can do this in many ways, by being a role within their firms for up-and-coming leaders; as advisors and board members, they set the standards and serve as a role model, and by sharing stories of how the courage of other leaders led to breakthroughs other leaders (e.g., Steve Jobs),

So, let’s inspire one another. Share with us the story of how a leader’s courage made a difference and/or how he helped inspire others to also be courageous.

A Matter of Trust

Earlier today I was speaking to a group about Strategy Implementation (or Execution) and we naturally discussed the importance of Culture, the norms, values and behaviors of people within the organization.. There’s a popular expression that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”; in other words, great strategic plans go nowhere if the culture inhibits people from moving forward.

One of the most powerful cultural elements is Trust. David Horsager in The Trust Edge, defines Trust as “the confident belief in someone or something to do what is right, delivered what is promised and/or be the same every time, whatever the circumstances”. Pat Lencioni, in the Five Dysfunctions of Teams, states that the first dysfunction is the absence of Trust. Inherent in most relationships is a vulnerability between people. When they trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level then they form effective teams which can achieve the strategic priorities, regardless of circumstances.

By building Trust, how top leaders can gain faster results, deeper relationships and stronger bottom-line, Horsager notes that there are eight “pillars” of Trust:

  • Clarity – people trust what’s clear and mistrust the ambiguous
  • Compassion – people put faith in those who care beyond themselves.
  • Character – people notice those who do what’s right over what is easy
  • Competency – people have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant and capable
  • Commitment – people believe in those who stand through adversity
  • Connection – people want to follow, buy from and be around friends
  • Contribution – people immediately respond to results
  • Consistency – people love to see the little things done consistently.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where the level of trust for so many institutions and organizations (e.g., the US Congress) has declined to very low-levels. It’s clear therefore that to implement strategy, leaders need to increase trust within their spheres of influence. What’s your experience with trust effecting the implementation of strategic priorities? What have you done to increase the level of trust? Which pillars have been most important to you?  Has the challenge of building trust differ in face-to-face groups vs. communicating over the web?

Create a Culture of Execution

The hardest part of strategy is execution. To implement a strategy, people need to change their behaviors and/or values and consistently act in support of the strategic priorities. In other words, you need to create a culture of execution to support individual’s implementation strategies. Recently, I was asked to contrast two approaches to execution, and realized that both “operating systems” complement each other very well.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) is a new and popular approach to achieving corporate goals. Developed by three consultants, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, it’s founded on the premise that the greatest distraction to adopting new goals is the need to cope with the “whirlwind” of activities and responsibilities of ongoing activities. Thus, the four disciplines are:

  1. Focus on the Wildly Important Goals (WIGs). Since the whirlwind keeps you from doing all the things you might want to do, focus on a few WIGs and leverage their achievement to accomplish more.  o
  2. Act on Lead Measures. All actions aren’t equal; therefore focus your energies on those that lead to the goals (e.g., prospecting leads to sales presentations which leads to closing sales), rather than lag indicators which report on the final result (e.g., total sales).
  3. Keep a Compelling Scorecard. People need to see how they are doing to stay engaged in achieving a goal. Create a scorecard to give them feedback on how they are doing.
  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability, which means hold people accountable for the actions they commit to do by reviewing progress regularly, such as at brief weekly meetings. Otherwise, you’ll get be distracted by the normal whirlwind of activities, and use that as an excuse for missing the goals.

Evaluate To Win was developed by a CEO (Lee Benson) who wanted to increase the extent to which all employees focus on and achieve corporate strategic priorities. Articulating corporate strategy isn’t enough; effective execution only takes place when corporate values and goals are translated into specific employee behaviors that can be measured, and when reviewed, used for spur continuous improvement.

The heart of ETW is a computer based tool used by managers and their employees to identify, create scoring criteria, measure achievement (e.g., 1-10 scale) monitor and evaluate improvement over time when it comes to those things that will:

  • Increase alignment with the company’s value system and mission
  • Improve employees’ performance in taking actions which will achieve the strategic priorities
  • Enhance leaders’ skills in getting people to focus on and achieve the strategic priorities

Each manager-employee identifies the best criteria and scoring system for evaluating employee’s actions. Progress is monitored regularly (e.g., monthly, quarterly, annually), so each employee knows what’s necessary for improvement, and then reset the scoring system. Since data are computerized, it provides senior management with benchmarks for judging teams and people for future job positions.

The result has been six consecutive years of 20%+ plus growth. Jack Welch (former GE CEO) endorsed the system, and Lee decided to make it available to others. (

4DX focuses on implementing new strategic priorities (WIGs) management wants the company to achieve, in the face of the whirlwind; ETW focuses on ongoing day-to-day execution of strategic priorities whether they are new or ongoing. But from there, they share similar perspectives of what’s necessary to execute effectively:

  • Both with senior management identifying the strategic priorities of the company and articulating what behaviors will be needed to achieve the goals.
  • Both require that the employee’s behaviors (lead indicators) that produce desired consequences be identified and criteria and a scoring system for measuring them..
  • Both recognize the importance of constant communication for accountability and improvement( 4DX has weekly meetings; ETW has formal reviews and projections of changes needed in the future which are documented.)

What’s your biggest challenge with execution? Is it introducing a new set of strategic priorities while maintaining the business? Is it getting everyone from top to bottom, focused on how they can improve on meeting the strategic priorities and adhering to the corporate values?  Share your experiences with us?

Taking Ownership Increases Authenticity

As I’ve mentioned before, my presentation coaching covers a wide range of communications, from classic sales, marketing, investor and corporate PowerPoint presentations to handling oneself in rainmaking situations, courtroom appearances, keynote addresses and issue debating. What’s great is that almost every week, I witness another case which proves the value of our ADAP (Audience-Driven Authentic Presentations) approach to presentation excellence.

A team of debaters was working feverishly to improve their skills. This weekend, they competed in a statewide competition, and came in third. And, one of the team members won the Best Speaker Award!

At the debriefing, we reviewed what went right and what didn’t in the debates, and why Jack (the winner) felt he was awarded Best Speaker. He noted that generally his partner does the drafting of the debate cases and he then customizes them for his own use. This time, he had extra time to draft the material for the two of them. He smiled as he reflected that “I really felt this was my material, rather than David’s. I always customize his drafts to my style, but this time I truly owned all the case material. That let me make critical distinctions in the material, I normally wouldn’t have made. I guess being able to meaningfully present those nuances made me more effective that I usually am.”

In other words, truly owning the material allowed him to be fully authentic in presenting it – and the judges clearly recognized his power and skill.  What’s been your experience delivering someone else’s presentation material with content or template style with which you’re not truly comfortable? Has it effective your ability to present authentically and fully connect with the audience?  Share your experiences.

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