Monday, May 28, 2012

Leadership: surviving the Death Zone

It is climbing season in the Himalayas and already we have seen tragedy and triumph -  most of it taking place in the Death Zone.

On Everest the Death Zone is the zone above 8,000 meters where there is not enough oxygen to sustain life (an extended stay in the zone without supplementary oxygen will result in deterioration of bodily functions, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death).  

What has this got to do with business leadership?  We use the expression Death Zone in the context of business leadership to describe the transition that managers must make when they are promoted into a leadership position.

Giving new leaders the intellectual and emotional tools, and coaching to survive this transition is an investment that has high ROI for both your people and your business.

Unfortunately it is more common than not, especially in marketing and advertising firms, to promote a 'craft' expert (manager) into a leadership role without giving them what they need to thrive as a leader.  When you promote someone it is essential that, right from the start, you give them the fundamental tools of leadership.  By this we mean the intellectual framework on how to direct a team, the practical framework to understand and manage a task, and the emotional framework to direct and nurture the talent and, ultimately, the coaching to sustain them through this transition from manager to leader. 

All to often we see people with great potential fail to transition the Death Zone and default back to their comfort zone of managing.  This inevitably means one, or all, of three things: 1) they end up suppressing the talent they are there to lead because they do their job (craft) for them; 2) the task is inefficiently executed (i.e. costly to the firm) due to poor decision-making burning hours and time (the two vital commodities in any firm); and 3) the team becomes dysfunctional due to a lack of clarity of purpose and roles and responsibilities.  Or, worse still, you will see an individual's passion and talent crushed due to the negative experience.

On Everest once you are in the Death Zone every decision you make, no matter how simple, has the potential to change your life forever.  To successfully transition the Death Zone requires skill, motivation, bravery, teamwork, leadership and personal drive in just the right mix. 

For those of us in business with the responsibility for selecting and nurturing leaders there are valuable lessons for us above 8,000 meters.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Your Plumber: the right way to use a Hired Gun

Think about your plumber.  You would not think of having him or her 'on staff' in your house so that they are available to deal with the occasional challenge that crops up.  Much better to use them as a hired gun.  Bringing them in for a specific task that is beyond your core competency/experience, where there is a clearly defined objective (clarity of purpose), where specialized thinking or tools might be required, and where the mission creep can be monitored.

The same rules could well apply when you need to resolve operational leadership challenges.  By operational leadership challenges we mean all aspects of running your organization (tasks, teams, talent and growth) as opposed to delivering your product or service.

Often operational leadership challenges manifest themselves in such things as an inability to grow the bottom line through winning new or organic business, all levels of leadership struggling to succeed, or internal projects that impact the entire organization being poorly planned and executed.

The issues mentioned above may not, in the first instance, require extra hires or re-organization (moving house) you may just need to call in the plumber.  This hired gun will have the competency, breath of experience, capacity, objective (clarity of purpose), specialized thinking and tools, and task definition to focus on understanding the problem, developing the solution and then leaving you to focus on what you do best.

There is nothing wrong with companies using hired guns (a different way of thinking about consultants) - as long as they use them the right way. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Clarity of purpose (Pt 1): Commander's Intent

Understanding the 'Commander's Intent' basically means that all activities (whether they be marketing, operational, manufacturing, advertising, etc,) are done within the context of a broader objective.  If your objective is not inextricably linked to supporting the achievement of an uber objective then there is a good chance you have not understood your task.  This will mean that those executing (using your objective as their 'commander's intent) are being set up to fail.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Make it so." Stardate 2012

These three words truly define the difference between a manager and a leader.  With them Captain Picard ( confirms the task, empowers the team and demonstrates his confidence in the individual talent that makes up the crew.