Gerard Van de Par

Gerard Van de Par

Is Innovation manageable?

In the years leading up to 2018, I have spent my time bringing innovation to the financial services space. Fintech, as this sector is colloquially referred, focuses for the most part on disrupting the state of affairs induced by the use of technology. As such it is all about innovation.

And now, from a distance, my optimism regarding the sector’s ability to innovate and capture opportunities has not changed. I think the real disruption does not derive from technology, but from the changes technology brings to business models.

Banks and Insurance companies are masters in the quintessential process. Changing a process is slow and requires a lot of detailed planning. No wonder that specialists and managers that have invested years gradually improving a process do not advocate nor gravitate toward abrupt change.

Let’s study a bit about Innovation.  Innovation comes in four basic formats

Basic research is the work of Universities and (ever fewer) large corporations. This kind of research does not directly result in marketable solutions. It is however a fundamental prerequisite for an innovative ecosystem.

Sustaining innovation is where larger corporations excel. Years ago, Philips  promoted itself using the slogan “Let’s make things better”. Nobody expects a company with that motto to change the industry which defines it.

But how much do we in a western society, need breakthrough innovation with companies which provide employment while making a decent profit? The pace of innovation was much slower in times gone by. Our  ancestors adopted the philosophy of Enlightenment, and since then progress, development and change has become integral to our lives. We actually expect to receive the best that is and in fact have exported this notion to other cultures as well.

As a consequence  of this expectation, we  live with accelerating change and drive the ability to manage and adopt it. As an example, unlike our parent’s generations, we can expect to  change our professions multiple times in our lives. We all have become more dependent on our ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Most larger organizations are not good at managing change. Notwithstanding a quest for more flexibility, as demonstrated by frequent use of Agile and Scrum project management methodologies, they are in fact risk averse.

Clever companies know this and adopt change by incorporating successful innovation into their organization. Indeed, it’s the few companies that have taken large, calculated risks that have become the new champions. Management as practiced in larger organization is contrary to this kind of entrepreneurship. It’s about reliable results, good communication and sensibility for the needs found in the corporate environment.

Breakthrough and disruptive innovation requires a different set of skills. A tolerance for failures combined with perseverance and optimism would be a start. In this field failures are more frequent than successes.

Larger organizations will keep struggling to manage this dichotomy. A majority of all the efforts remain focused on minimizing surprises whilst maintaining promise in terms of future value.

The type of management needed for generating innovation appears contrary to the set of skills required to be a successful manager in the corporate world. (Steve Jobs, as an example, was not exactly a prototype of good manager).

A good leader takes the team over a predictable and successful road with the ultimate goal to achieve at least continuity if not moderate improvements. Too often I see companies looking for a hybrid manager being able to deliver both innovation and continuity. This formula simply doesn’t exist in one person.

What could work however, is to make sure the management team is diverse, such that new ventures are included in strategy and visioning.  What could also work, is to keep real innovation at arm’s length, to be managed by the innovators with enough incentive in the game to make it successful.

And finally, what could work, is to incorporate successful companies with a different business model that is innovative. This will only work in the long run if together with its product or services, some of the essential innovative culture mindset has a rightful place in the company, hence allow for diversity in management styles.

In the last decade, we have become risk averse to a degree that it is impeding innovation and development. If we are to achieve real progress, it will be vital to both allow and contain risk within business again.

It’s not at the individual level, but the diversity found in a management team that keeps the door open for new ideas and absorbs the resultant benefits into the organization.

Making the Turn: 10 Warning Signs You aren’t Shifting from Founder to Leader
Greg Giuliano

Greg Giuliano

Making the Turn: 10 Warning Signs You aren’t Shifting from Founder to Leader

By Thomas Brattle Gannett and Dr. Greg Giuliano

You came up with an awesome idea. Your singular focus has been to make it real. You started a company. You got funding. Maybe you’re looking for Series B or C funding now. Maybe you’re prepping for the IPO. Congratulations! You’re ready to scale or go public. You’ve gotten this far. What could go wrong?

Every founder reaches this turning point. Some make the turn. Others do not. Missing the turn or making it too late can cause a company to stagnate or implode or can spell the death of the idea; or worse, the idea becomes someone else’s to bring to market without you.

What’s the differentiator? The winners make the shift from Founder to Leader. Those who can’t or won’t become the barrier to growth and success. They may not be the first to go; but eventually, and in many cases when it’s too late, the founder who hasn’t made the turn will be removed by the investors or by the board of their newly public company.

How do you avoid this fate? Make the turn. When you started out you rightly focused on developing your unique new product, service, or solution. At some point founders need to shift their focus from making the idea real to building a team and then an organization that will make the idea real. The mindset and skill set for the latter is vastly different than those that enabled your creative expression.

There are warning signs you may be stuck in founder-mode and not making the turn to leadership. One of these can derail things pretty easily. And, most times, if one of these signs is present, another is as well. Here are ten signs you’re not making the turn.

  1. You’re holding on too tightly. When you started out you had to do everything. It was only you. In early days as you began adding one person and then another, all the decisions still ran through you. When you’re working to reach the point where you can scale or go public, holding on too tightly becomes a serious risk to the enterprise. Success depends on your ability to delegate not just responsibility; you have to delegate authority. There are things that only the CEO can do. If you’re still spending time doing the work of others, you can’t do what only you can do. Let go. It’ll be okay.
  • You’re keeping stuff in your head. This behavior is related to the first sign. It’s slightly different however. You may decide to delegate some decisions and tasks; but you keep the important stuff to yourself. If people still need to come to you for instructions on how to do something, that’s a sign that you need a clearly stated process so that anyone designated to handle a task can handle that task. To scale you need a playbook so that everyone has clarity about the processes and systems that get stuff done. Hire someone to interview you about how you do everything. Have them write it all down. Get it all out.
  • You’re spending too much time in the weeds. Most likely you enjoy solving problems. That’s how you came up with your cool idea in the first place. You like the details. You can get lost exploring the problems and finding solutions. That’s okay if it’s just you. But it’s not just you. Your team and your organization need you to be doing the things that only you can do. Get out of the weeds. That’s someone else’s job now.
  • You’re hiring fans.  You’re excited about your idea. Making it real drives you. Your enthusiasm is infectious. That’s a double-edged sword. You want to bring on people who share your enthusiasm; and, that can’t be the primary reason you hire them. They have to bring something to the table besides an eagerness to tell you how smart you and are and how cool your idea is. They have to have the ability and the freedom to bring their experience and expertise to fill a gap in your capacity and take on an important function on behalf of the business. Hire leaders, not fans.
  • You’re not building a team. This warning sign is related to the first three in that if you’re guilty of one of those signs, you’re most likely guilty of this one. When you make the turn you accept that your job is to build and sustain a strong team with the alignment and capacity to engage one another and all your people to make the idea real. Building and sustaining a team is pretty much a full-time job. Delegate the rest. Take care of your team.

At some point every founder has to consider adding a team not just below him in the org chart, but a team alongside him or above him. As founder you probably have gotten used to and like being the voice of authority. Making the turn includes recognizing that you need other people to help you achieve the vision and valuing the involvement of people who can advise and challenge you in a way that your team and employees cannot.

  • You’re not listening. Your curiosity has gotten you here. If, as the pace quickens and the work becomes more complex and the stress level rises you become less curious, you’re stuck, and probably on the path to failure. As long as you stay curious, the future is yours. Your curiosity will enable you to recognize new opportunities or see that the idea that founded the company may no longer viable and must be amended or shed.  When engaging your team your employees or your customers, follow this rule: “Use inquiry before advocacy.” When you advocate a position, whoever is listening is voting in their head. They either agree or disagree. If they are an employee, they’re probably not going to tell you they disagree. If they’re a customer, they may be deciding to buy or pass before you want them to. When you inquire, there’s nothing to vote on. Inquiry deepens the conversation and moves you and the other person past debate and into real dialogue. That’s where the possibilities emerge. Be intentionally curious.
  • You’re not focusing on the customer. The seventh warning sign is directly related to the sixth. Your idea solves a problem. When you think knowing the problem and building the solution is enough, you’re headed for trouble. Your customers will always come up with an enhancement, iteration, or completely different application. The sooner you shift to the needs of the customer, the better for you and your company.
  • You’re building a culture by default and not by design. You may think having an HR/People Strategy is something for down the line. You’d be wrong. There needs to be an absolute focus on HR and people from the get-go. As startups grow, leaders build and mature a HR/People strategy that is informed by and aligned with the overall business strategy. This is harder than you think because it requires discipline on your part to make time to be intentional about the culture you want to scale and to put policies and procedures into place that create that sustainable organization. Sound governance begins on day one. You may get a good deal of pushback from your founding employees, but your new employees are looking for stability.  You may be torn between these conflicting demands. Founders think that an HR/People Strategy with manuals and policies and procedures are a waste of time. Their organizational culture happens by default. Leaders know that building a culture by design is critical to business success.
  • You’re avoiding some tough calls. Here’s an example. Maybe your CFO is a family friend. As your company matures that person might not have the needed skill set to take the company to the next level. You have tremendous loyalty to your friend. You don’t want to hurt them. You also don’t want to face a really difficult conversation. Founders who are too loyal to their early hires often fail to build the right culture for the company as it shifts in to the next gear. Making the turn from founder to leader means making tough calls. It may mean letting go of a founding employee, including any friends and fans that cannot make the transition you require. Leadership is uncomfortable sometimes. That’s part of the job.
  1.  You’re not managing your energy well. Founding a company is a rush; you are propelled by adrenaline a lot of the time. There is the exhilaration associated with the possibilities you generate, the intense pressure, and the corresponding fear of failure at any time. This experience can be addictive. We’ve actually seen founders and the people who were drawn to the early stage company create crises that don’t need to happen just to feel that rush again.  As your company transitions into a more mature business you have to be aware that you will miss the rush.

Founders tend to be wildly passionate. You are always in the mix. And, you operate in a fishbowl. Everything you say and do is observed and noted. How you show up can energize your employees or demotivate them. Your behaviors and practices set the example for what is acceptable, and they will be replicated to the point that they inform the organization’s culture. When you recognize and accept this, you make the effort to stay energized, to show up well and with intention. If you are tired, overworked or rushed, you are making mistakes and the power of your position amplifies the negative impact of those mistakes. When the opposite is true, you can amplify the overall positive impact you have on a company tenfold. You must concentrate on managing your energy because there are so many demands on your time, that you can’t meet them all.  If you try to, you begin to see warning sign #1.  Effective time management begins with good energy management.

These are the ten warning signs you’re not making the turn from founder to leader. Want to make the turn? Here are three signs you’re making the turn and embracing being the leader and not just the founder.

  1. You’re creating a compelling vision of the future. You’re telling the story of where the company is going and why it’s going there. You’re being clear about outcomes and how you’ll measure success along the way and at the end.
  2. You’re aligning thought and action. People know the strategy and plan to realize the vision. Everyone knows their role and responsibility. Actions are coordinated and people know who’s doing what, and by when. You’re establishing a common language and process tool kit embedded with leaders at every level to ensure consistency in execution.
  3. You’re growing leaders at every level (including yourself). As you scale you will need leaders everywhere who are agile and adaptable. In addition to driving business results you are making time to ensure each team and each individual are doing their own work of personal and professional development.

If you’re the founder or CEO, there’s no one else at your level in the organization. You have no peers. Everyone reports to you and looks to you for answers. The pressures you face are intense and very real. We know that. And still, you need to keep growing yourself as well. To reach and stay at the top of their game, every elite athlete continues to practice, keep their skills sharp, and grow their capacity to win. The very best rely on a coach or coaches to help them with their continuous development. The best leaders see ongoing coaching as necessary and vital to their success and count their executive coach as a trusted advisor whose only agenda is helping the founder/CEO succeed.

There are signs all around you as to how well you are making the turn and shifting from Founder to Leader. Making the turn means letting go. Making the turn means doing the work of growing your capacity to lead. Leadership involves uncertainty. You won’t know everything. Leadership is messier that being the founder. It might not be as fun for you. And, it’s what you’ve signed up for. Make the turn.

About the Authors

Thomas Brattle Gannett, aka “Toby” is the global chair of N2Growth’s Board and CEO practice. Toby works with Boards of Directors and CEOs as a senior advisor on matters surrounding board and executive leadership team optimization. Toby has served more than 50 cumulative years on corporate and non-profit boards of directors and boards of advisors. On boards, he has served as the chairman, vice chairman, and secretary. He has been chairman of executive, governance and CEO search committees.

Toby is a First Movers Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Board Leadership Fellow at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) where he also completed the NACD Cyber Board Oversight Program through Carnegie Mellon University.

He holds a BA in Philosophy and History from Colorado College and an MBA in Health Care Administration from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is graduate of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business’s LEAD program in Corporate Innovation.

Dr. Greg Giuliano is a Principal and Senior Advisor at N2 Growth coaching and advising senior executives and leadership teams all over the world. He designs change leadership and team development strategies that create alignment and build individual and team capacity to lead organizational transformation.

Greg is the author of the bestselling book, Ultra Leadership: Go Beyond Usual and Ordinary to Engage Others and Lead Real Change, and The Hero’s Journey: Toward a More Authentic Leadership. He is also the creator of various individual and team assessments including the #UltraLeadership 360 and the TeamWork GPS Team Survey. He is co-author, along with Pat Newmann, of The Change Leader’s Checklist. Greg holds the doctorate in Psychology from Alliant International University. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of San Diego.

About N2Growth

N2Growth is a global leadership and talent advisory firm with more than 40 locations worldwide and serving more than 70% of the Fortune 500. We have successfully advised and coached thousands of senior executives spanning 5 continents and more than 60 countries. N2Growth is widely regarded as one of the world’s premiere executive coaching firms specializing in Board, CEO and senior executive assignments.

N2Growth has been one of the top leadership development firms and one of the fastest growing executive search firms on the planet for 4 years running. Year after year, Forbes ranks N2Growth as one of the best Management Consulting and Search Firms.

Is Leadership Development the Answer to Low Employee Engagement? (Yes.)
Greg Giuliano

Greg Giuliano

Is Leadership Development the Answer to Low Employee Engagement? (Yes.)

This White Paper is excerpted and adapted from Ultra Leadership: Go Beyond Usual and Ordinary to Engage Others and Lead Real Change (Giuliano, Lioncrest, 2016).

Where are we?

90% of leaders think an engagement strategy is important while only 25% of organizations have one (ACCOR). Research by Gallup, as reported in The State of the American Workplace in 2013, discovered that roughly 70% of workers were disengaged. A 2001 study by the Hay Group indicated a 2.5x revenue increase for companies with high engagement levels. In 2004 the Corporate Executive Board’s research showed an 87% decrease in the likelihood of departure for highly engaged employees.

The problem is leadership on autopilot.

Workers show up; they are at their desks, but they are not as engaged as they could be. They are not willingly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly saying ‘yes’ when asked to contribute and participate. We can’t fix a problem until we acknowledge it. When we ignore a problem, we exist in it. In such an underperforming state, without leadership that can drive real change, organizations are trapped in a vicious cycle. It’s business as usual. Business moves along. We do more and produce less. We turn unconsciously to outcomes. We keep our focus narrow. We chase short-term wins.

A 2012 Custom Insight survey revealed that 49% of workers cited problems with their direct supervisor as their reason for disengagement. Disengaged teams stem from disengaged leaders.

Disengaged leaders do not want to abandon the status quo. They go after short-term wins and cannot lift their heads high enough to glimpse the future. Rather than address the problem, they switch into survival mode and use the phone-it-in, tick-the-box approach. The problem is leadership on autopilot. Organizations wanting to reengage people and drive real change must realize that leadership is the determining factor. This paper is about rethinking the practice of leadership and reforming the way we approach the development of leaders and leadership in our organizations. What is expected of leadership today? What shifts must learning and development professionals make in order to create an environment of continuous learning that accelerates development and quickly and positively impacts the business in real and tangible ways?

Rethinking Leadership.

Every day, in every meeting, in every situation, there is a void. An opportunity exists to step in and lead. Beth (name changed) is a senior leader at one of our client organizations. She is always looking for the void. In fact, she is an expert at finding the void and stepping into it. This ability demonstrates the power of choice: the choice to lead. Leadership must see the power of choice in every moment, when it is time to choose between doing business as usual or stepping up to real and more impactful leadership.

If we look around and see that people are disengaged, that leaders are driving toward tactical outcomes and short-term wins, and that organizations are blindly driving ahead. then we begin to see something happening below the surface. Simply put, the underlying factor in the success rate of engaging our workforce and delivering change is leadership. The underlying common denominator is a failure of leadership that permeates today’s workplace.

It is time to reimagine leadership: what it means in theory and what it means in practice, how we choose leaders, how we develop leaders, and what we ask of leaders. Leaders are expected to move things forward: the organization (business), the teams that do the work, and each individual on those teams. In fact, Arie de Geus, says that leadership must “create the conditions in which people will voluntarily give their best.” In 1990, John W. Gardner defined leadership this way: “Leadership is the process of persuasion or example by which an individual or a leadership team induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and his or her followers.” In Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, another Gardner, Howard Gardner, defined leadership as “an individual who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of a significant number of individuals.” Both definitions are partially correct; and, there is a piece missing.

Ultra-runners push boundaries by running extreme distances, sometimes as long as thirty, fifty, or one hundred miles or more. Such endeavors go beyond usual and ordinary. Organizations need leaders who, like ultra-runners, are not afraid of pushing the limits. We can weave this will to push the limits into our definition of leadership. Our simplified definition of leadership is this:

Leadership requires the will to push the limits combined with the skill to get people to willingly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly engage and contribute to important work.

John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” When we push the limits, we learn. We begin to live and lead from a creative rather than a reactive viewpoint. It’s critical to encourage leaders to embark on an ongoing journey that develops a capacity to lead others effectively, efficiently, and for years to come. It is therefor incumbent upon learning and development professionals to also be on a journey of continuous improvement and evolution of the methods by which we facilitate and guide the learning journey of leaders and enable more impactful and relevant leadership development.

Leadership requires the will to push the limits combined with the skills to get people to willingly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly engage and contribute to important work.

Next Practices.

Unprepared leaders lack the skill and drive to step into the void and take up the challenge of engaging, supporting, and developing a team of people. Unprepared leaders develop work-arounds. The reason they do so is to avoid the hard work of leading people.

Heisman winner and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota says, “Sometimes as a leader, you have to…hold people accountable and call them out on things, and that’s not an easy thing to do by any stretch.” We certainly don’t prepare leaders to do this. So they don’t. They develop work-arounds. Work-arounds aid the person who has not yet developed the skills to lead properly.

Research published in Harvard Business Review’s 2016 State of Leadership Development Study, indicated that only about 33% of Line-of-Business respondents said that they have become much more effective as managers after taking part in development programs. A growing problem (or opportunity) for learning and development professionals is the finding in HBR’s 2018 study that while 67% of boomers describe current L&D offerings as excellent, only 40% of millennials do. The millennials in the respondent pool of Harvard Business Review’s 2018 State of Leadership Development Study question the relevancy of their organizations’ leadership development programs to a much greater extent than the boomers do. Only about 50% said they see strong alignment between leadership development programming content and the business issues facing their organizations, including any transformation efforts underway.

Our track record and current reality demand that we expand our leadership development perspective. Our experience and research in leadership development and adult learning demonstrate that learning is most impactful when it has a strong business context, takes a multi-dimensional approach, and is a self-directed and communal experience that happens over time with coaching support.

Taken together, these form a core of next practices in leadership development.

Business Relevance

To succeed, leadership development must rest upon and provide a strong business context. What do our leaders need to be good at in order to drive our business forward and sustain a positive culture that ensures high engagement and maximum contribution? How do learning and development activities align with the current and future needs of the business? How do learning and development activities impact people and the business immediately and consistently?

A Multi-dimensional Approach

Consider the myriad leadership competencies you have been asked to develop over the years. Line them up horizontally from left to right. They represent one axis of leadership development: coaching, problem-solving, decision-making, influencing, planning, delegating, financial analyzing, presenting, giving feedback, listening, inquiring, team managing, negotiating, visioning, strategic thinking, organizing, collaborating—the list goes on and on. We may learn these competencies through leadership training. Think of the competencies on this horizontal axis as the techniques or “applications” of effective leadership. We rely on these apps to help us successfully navigate various circumstances and situations.

It is important to develop these apps, and the techniques associated with applying them, but what about the operating system that runs them? After all, some apps do not run on old antiquated operating systems. To run the numerous apps associated with leadership, we must update our personal operating system regularly. How? By focusing attention on a vertical axis of leadership development and encouraging personal, cognitive, and emotional growth in addition to adding apps through competency training along the horizontal axis. When we take a multidimensional approach to leadership development, by integrating horizontal axis training and vertical axis development, we increase our ability to push the limits and inspire others to come with us. This is important because at the end of the day, all development is mental development.

A multidimensional approach to leadership development means encouraging leaders to make the intentional decision to step out of their comfort zones of competence. Some may be engineers, marketers, finance directors, or salespersons. We need those individuals to undertake a journey of mental development that grows their conscious competence with leadership that enables them to more fluidly and effectively engage others and drive real change.

The hard work of powerful leadership development means asking the hard questions.

  • What are the things that hold me back?
  • What keeps me from fully engaging and impacting people in a positive way?
  • What gets in the way of my being the best leader possible?

I’ve met and worked with many brilliant and dedicated learning and development professionals over the years. Their contributions to the field cannot be underestimated or over appreciated. They deserve our respect and gratitude. It’s important to make clear that traditional leadership development—the philosophies and tactics that for decades have been used to grow and mature organizations—has produced some very positive results and made the workplace better for many.

Like anything that we use over and over again, the process eventually grows stale, and the results dwindle. We know this is true from the many studies that indicate leadership and employee engagement reside at perilously low rates. The focus on competency training over personal development—true mental development—means that in many cases people are trained in a technique or tool but lack the cognitive and emotional capacity to know how, if, and when to best use that particular technique or tool.

Self-Directed and Communal

Our experience indicates that the more individuals own their learning process, the more accelerated their development will be. Rather than build and push content at learners, leadership development must also source and curate it to facilitate more direct ownership for learning and development. With input from their managers, peers, and teams, leaders know what they need to focus on when it comes to their development. Leadership development can shift from delivering learning events to facilitating an ongoing learning process that leaders can access in real time and virtually, via both formal and informal avenues allowing them to choose the curricula and focus that best suits their learning and development goals.

We’ve also learned that learners don’t commit time and energy to any program, course, or event. They do commit to engage with other people who share their experience. To be successful, learning and development activities must facilitate connection between and among learners allowing them to share their experiences and results with one another and to celebrate their successes as an outcome of the learning and development process.

Over Time, with Coaching Support

It would be amazing and unusual if we could achieve the learning outcomes we desire neatly into a two, three, or even multi-day event. The reality is that we just don’t learn that way. In our work with adult learners and leaders in particular, we have deployed a three-step process of learning and development that consistently holds true in helping individuals and groups to accelerate their development and learn a new way of being and leading. Learning that sticks and real personal development occurs when we engage in honest self-reflection and dialogue with others, and commit to practicing new ways of behaving and leading.

Self-reflection is critical to developing self-awareness and becoming an authentic and impactful leader. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There’s power and truth in these words, especially if we want to lead others in important work.

And self-reflection is not enough. True, we become more self-aware through reflection, but our ability to act on a newfound awareness is strengthened and enhanced through dialogue with other people, including a dedicated coach whose job it is to reflect back, provide feedback, and guide practical application of introduced concepts and tools. When we engage another person in conversation about what we are discovering along the path to greater consciousness and leadership, we tend to gain an even deeper understanding of who we are and how we perform as leaders. Through dialogue with a coach, we can check our perceptions.

The leaders I coach know that I will ask them to engage with someone they trust in conversation regularly to get feedback about how they are performing. There is plenty of rationale for soliciting feedback on a regular basis, especially as part of any learning and development process. We need input and others’ perspectives to explore and measure the gap between what we intend and what others are experiencing under our leadership. Reflection and dialogue provide data we can use to make adjustments. The fact is, if we are not open to feedback, we are not on the path to more authentic and impactful leadership. When we stop learning, we stop leading.

Learning and development take time. As we encounter new concepts that challenge our status quo and new tools that feel clumsy at first, it is the practice of applying those concepts and practicing using those new tools over time where real learning takes hold and becomes the new reality for the leader.

The three-step process of learning is iterative. We encounter a new concept. We reflect on it. We talk about it with another person, our coach. We practice applying the concept and using a new tool. We reflect on that experience. We talk about what we learned. Doing this over and over helps us recreate our reality. That’s real development.

Real Results.

Our client is a large business software company. The objective was to build leadership capacity and ensure bench strength to fill the leadership pipeline as a significant percentage of its management ranks nears retirement age. The development experience we delivered followed the design principles espoused above. The program was a multi-dimensional learning experience incorporating a pre-program team survey, manager interviews, four days of in-person workshops to kickoff and conclude the experience, provide foundational concepts and tools, enable individualized curriculum selection, and facilitate the formation of small learning groups that would be self-directed and leader-led., self-directed learning activities, practical application opportunities, 1:1 leadership coaching, and mentoring by senior leaders.

Participants were surveyed at the conclusion of the closing workshop and again sixty days post-program. Scores on both surveys reset the benchmark inside the organization. One item of particular importance was, “As a result of this experience, I will be better able to engage my team.” Immediate Survey response average was 4.88 (out of 5). 60-days post program the average response was 4.85 (out of 5). Qualitative evidence suggests the program achieved the agreed objectives. Participating leaders indicate a high degree of learning and development and continued application of desired leadership concepts and tools resulting in stronger alignment and more effective communications that drive up employee engagement.


Our people are simply not engaged. According to Gallup, the economic cost of low engagement alone is between $450 billion and $550 billion annually. Keeping people engaged and contributing as part of a high-performing team is the hard work of leadership. It requires focused intention and regular attention.

It is the responsibility of leadership to create shared clarity that sustains alignment. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep bench strength high and to be always building individual and team capacity. It is the responsibility of leadership to coordinate action to ensure smart and fast execution and delivery. To say that leadership is the key determinant of success in today’s business world is truer now than it ever was.

This reality raises the stakes for learning and development inside organizations. We must ensure that learning activities are business relevant, focus on learning as a process rather than events, encourage self-directed learning that is ongoing, provide both formal and informal opportunities for every employee, facilitate the formation and success of small learning communities, leverage coaches and mentors to support and accelerate personal development through ongoing reflection, dialogue, and practice.

Creating a pipeline of strong and shared leadership is the best next practice in the battle against decreasing employee engagement.

Leadership and Digital Transformation

Mike Myatt

Leadership and Digital Transformation

News Flash: The #1 thing leaders need to understand is that the Digital Transformation train left the station a few years ago. If you weren’t onboard back then, you need to stop looking for the next train and rapidly go in search of building a rocket ship. Businesses simply have run out of time to embark on multi-year transformation projects – that window has closed. In the text that follows, I’ll provide you with 4 constructs to help you evolve your thinking around digital transformation.

Your business now operates as part of a global digital eco-system where leveling the playing field has become a digital impossibility. Playing for parity by traveling the traditional path of best practices just ensures one thing; you will spend great amounts of time and money failing slowly, publicly, and painfully. The only chance businesses have at longevity, much less sustainability, is to stop trying to play catch-up and get out in front – fast.

The Holy Grail of enterprise sustainability is business model reimagination and reinvention – not digital transformation – at least how many businesses are attempting it. Even the swiftest of fast followers will struggle to not choke on the dust of first movers in today’s world. If you’re stuck in the purgatory of a legacy based business model, don’t transform – reinvent. Put another way, don’t copy – create. The business you’re in today will not be the business your in even a few years from now. If you don’t begin to reinvent and reimagine your business today, your future will be a bleak one.

Don’t chase category leaders – outsmart them and unlock hidden value they’ve yet to recognize. Don’t attempt to compete with those who are more evolved, piggy-back off of them, partner with them, engineer around them, on move out in front of them. The magic happens when you compete on your terms and not simply cede opportunity to bigger competitors by playing according to their rules on their home court. Remember, bigger isn’t better – better is better. Following are four focus points that smart companies use to reframe their thinking around digital.

Focus Point #1: Rethink how you approach digital. Yes, all businesses need to be modernized to remain competitive, but launching a digital chat-bot, while not a bad thing, also won’t solve your problem. Stop thinking about managing the risk of technology, tools, and process improvement. Start thinking about opportunities based on insights, customers, markets, and business models. Beating your competition to the future will be accomplished by those companies with vision, talent, grit, purpose, agility, creativity, commitment and determination – not just those organizations with bigger budgets.

Focus Point #2: Redefine your future and get there first – resist the temptation to chase others in pursuit of their future as already defined by them. This race you should be running is not so much against others as it is against yourself. Your organization must immediately stop processing with dominant logic and an institutionalized approach. It’s not enough to digitally iterate, you must digitally reinvent. Stop thinking about a strategy refresh and start thinking about new business models, wire-frames, jump-starts. The first rule to surviving in a digital world is that action will consistently win against reaction. Smart companies are already cannibalizing aspects of their own business not only as a springboard to the future, but to keep their more evolved competitors from doing the cannibalizing.

Focus Point #3: Reevaluate your talent. Smart companies are already doing two things that legacy based companies are not. They are already retraining large portions of their workforce in next generation competencies, and they are also making big talent upgrades by hiring an entirely different kind leader. They are not filling current openings to maintain the business they’re in, but hiring executives to reimagine the business and lead them into their redefined future. New thinking will not likely come from those who want to protect their creation, but from those who want to engineer a new creation. Think next chapter vs last book.

Focus Point #4Reset the activity. Now that the thinking and planning has been done, it’s time to start doing. It’s the operationalizing of new behaviors by resetting and reshaping of day-to-day activities that will cement change as the new norm. Again, innovation requires deviation from the norm in all areas, but mostly in what you do and how you do it.

The best companies don’t play catch-up – they leap-frog. This is the question every organization must answer… Are you going to act or react?

10 Tips That Make Complex Leadership Ideas Really Simple
Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr

10 Tips That Make Complex Leadership Ideas Really Simple

Like many columnists, I am a consultant and business author. I’ve written five books over the past 25 years and am proud of all of them. My latest, It’s Good To Be King, has done well probably because it simplified what many make complex: leadership principles.

There are over 60 leadership tips presented through the text. Let me share with you my top 10 leadership tips from the book. At the risk of being accused of shameless self-promotion, I believe there’s something in this list for every leader, regardless of their ilk.

Here is my top 10 list:

  1. Leadership is a choice. Sometimes the need to lead is thrust upon you. When this happens, you can rise to the occasion or let someone else take charge. Either way, you live with the consequences of that decision. If you choose to rise to the occasion, do it deliberately and with forethought of action. Don’t just wing it.
  2. Dedicate yourself to being open to learn new things. Sometimes leaders forget how to listen and learn. Don’t fall into that trap. You don’t have to have all of the answers all of the time.
  3. Welcome those who can coach and teach. Even world-class athletes have coaches.  Surround yourself with people who can make you better. So, accept your Yoda.
  4. A foolish student laughs at knowledge. Begin to look backwards to inform your outlook for the future. Gain a full understanding of where your organization or group is today and how it got there, so that you can define a path forward that is right for the current situation.
  5. Leadership styles don’t discriminate. Poor leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Regardless of appearance, a poor leader will wreak havoc on any group or organization of which they are allowed to lead.
  6. Deceitful leaders will destroy all trust within an enterprise or other group. Once trust deteriorates, the culture becomes cut-throat as each team member begins to
  7. It’s almost never too late to right the ship. Even when the situation looks dire and the challenges insurmountable, there may be a path to success that can be discovered through creative thought and perseverance.
  8. When confronted by setback, good leaders dust themselves off and carry on. It’s the only way to succeed. Surely, not every facet of your execution will go flawlessly! Take difficulties in stride and watch how your people follow suit.
  9. A vision is best presented as a story that people can relate to. From an early age, we have all learned to learn through stories. Present your vision as a story that your people can imagine being part of and personally succeeding through and you will engage them in the process of making that story a reality.
  10. A leadership void will always be filled. If you don’t step-up someone else will and the outcome may not be what you prefer or expect.

To close, thanks for indulging me on this. But, as mentioned, I wouldn’t have offered the list if I didn’t already think there was some value in the ideas. I hope that you do, too. If so, be sure to pass this list onto others who may also see the benefit.

OluKai Sells Comfortable Shoes While Promoting the “Doing Good” Movement
Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr

OluKai Sells Comfortable Shoes While Promoting the “Doing Good” Movement

OluKai is a luxury lifestyle brand.  The company is committed to building a unique and better class of products that blend quality with modern performance while leaving the planet a little better than they found it.  They believe that sustainability and positive living is less about a philosophy and more about making better, deliberate choices every day.  It’s about your actions, and inspiring the actions of others.  OluKai is also a B-Corporation.

What’s a B-Corporation?  Individually, B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.

Collectively, B Corps lead a growing global movement of people using business as a force for positive change. Through the power of their collective voice, they intend to make a better world and they see establishing prosperity for all as a means to that end.

Certified as a B Corps in January 2014, OluKai works in parallel with 1,000+ other Certified B Corps across 33 nations and 60 industries to serve as examples and promote social and environmental improvements by changing the ways in which is business is conducted.  Together B Corps intend to create change across all communities and economies by being positive forces for “doing good.”

OluKai heritage of good works stems from Hawaii’s cultural value system. Since inception, the Irvine, California-based firm has willfully adjusted its policies and procedures with the ideas of “Malama” – to take care of, to serve and to honor, to protect and watch over the places and people in which they do business – in mind.

By changing its business practices to meet higher standards of social and environmental performance and accountability, OluKai has made the greatest impact in the following areas:

  • Environment: Product uses 50% of the waste and pollution of other shoe products and they have encouraged more than 25% of their significant suppliers to implement environmental initiatives aimed at reducing emissions.
  • Community: Over 75% of employees have participated in paid service days
  • Workers: 100% of non-executive workers participated in bonus plan and the company’s employee feedback process incorporates the measurement and tracking of social goals.

To close, OluKai and B Corps businesses, like them, demonstrate that you can sell good stuff, while doing good things for your workers, the community and the world.  I hope other companies join the calling and work to purposefully make the world a better place to work and live.  Be sure to reach out, if you need some help getting your company aligned with the “doing good” movement.

MFG of South Dakota: Trying To Do Some Good in the World
Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr

MFG of South Dakota: Trying To Do Some Good in the World

MFG of South Dakota is a subsidiary of the Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG), a leader in the field of reinforced plastics and composites, serving diverse markets with a variety of composite material systems and processes. A family-owned business for more than 60 years, the company has 13 operating entities throughout North America and is headquartered in Ashtabula, Ohio.

On December 6, 2017, MFG announced closure of its wind blade manufacturing plant located in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  At that time, the company cited changes in market conditions and proposed revisions to tax policies impacting the wind energy industry in the United States as the reasons to shutter its South Dakota operation.  The company was to close by February 15, 2018.

Fortunately, on December 28, 2017 MFG of South Dakota was granted a reprieve, of sorts, as a new order was received that will sustain operations into the third quarter of 2018.  It’s the leadership team’s hope that it can parlay its recent success into new opportunities to flourish.  It is mine, too – for MFG of South Dakota is a company aiming to do some good in the world.

Certainly, firms looking to profit from sustainable energy initiatives are in business to make a profit.  That said, sustainable energy is good for all of us as citizens of the world.  So, choosing to create an enterprise aimed at making the world a better place to live is “doing good” by its very nature.  But, MFG of South Dakota’s story of “doing good” doesn’t end with its industry choice.  In fact, that’s only the beginning of the story.

Facing a talent shortage in South Dakota in 2011, MFG South Dakota’s leadership team decided to look into innovative ways to hire the workers that they needed to staff their plant.  They learned about the Karen people from Myanmar (Burma), an ethnic minority persecuted and interned by a military dictatorship. They began to offer several of the Karen’s jobs, and, as in most immigrant success stories, more followed.

Clearly, the strategy of “doing good” was good for all involved; the company no longer had a struggle to find factory workers and the Karen people had a path to reliable employment in their new country – that path is the kind that most first-generation Americans would want, steady work and income to make things better for their children.

To close, MFG of South Dakota is trying to do some good, while running a viable business.   I hope that MFG of South Dakota can leverage its short-term stay and extend it into a long-term strategy for success.  Surely, we all agree that the world can use more businesses looking to do some good.

High EQ: The most desirable leadership tenet of them all?
Gordon Berridge

Gordon Berridge

High EQ: The most desirable leadership tenet of them all?

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions in an effective and positive way. And, in many organisations around the world, it is on the rise! Contrary to popular belief, The Millennials, Generation Y and Gen Next (those engrossed by tablets and screens) hold, on average, higher EQ levels than generations before them. In the business environment, researchers discovered that average EQ scores increase the higher in an organisation a person is, up to middle-management.

CEO’s with high emotional intelligence scores are, on average, found to hold their role significantly longer than their low EQ counterparts.

Surprisingly, EQ levels drop sharply when you go above middle-management and what is more surprising, CEO’s, typically have lower EQ scores than the lowest ranked employees.

Trends suggest increasing CEO pay, a lack of emotionally connecting with employees and even embezzlement are significant factors in these results.

With the demand for high EQ leaders increasing, what should future leaders consider when in pursuit of developing the most desirable leadership tenet of them all? Below, I have taken from Daniel Goleman, an American Psychologist, five elements which define EQ. However, first, I would like to explain some of the benefits of developing high EQ:

  • Improved decision-making and actions
  • Controlled emotions
  • Better communication
  • Reduced anxiety and stress levels
  • Ability to defuse conflicts and arguments
  • Stronger relationships
  • Success in managing difficult life challenges

On to those elements which define EQ:

1. Self-awareness

Leaders with high EQ understand their emotions, and they do not let their feelings rule them. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better.

What to work on to improve self-awareness:

  • Understanding emotions
  • Know strengths and weaknesses
  • Accurately predict behaviour
  • Don’t allow feelings to dominate rational mind/thinking
  • Balance emotional and rational mind

2. Self-regulation/management

Self-regulation or self-management is the ability to control emotions and impulses. Leaders who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they do not make impulsive and careless decisions. They think before they act.

What to consider to improve self-management:

  • Exercise self-control and self-regulation
  • Use emotions to generate passion and love
  • Think of emotion as fuel and reason as the wheel in a car
  • Control emotions through reason
  • Direct emotions to create a better life for you and others

3. Motivation

Leaders with a high EQ are willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They are highly productive, enjoy a challenge, and are effective in whatever they do.

What to strive for when improving motivation:

  • Be self-motivated to perform and accomplish tasks
  • Use feelings to develop intuition which will help speed up and improve your decision-making
  • Use emotions at the right time, in the right way with the right quality to achieve best results
  • Positive emotions create passion and motivation in life

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. Empathetic leaders avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in an open, honest way.

Here are some highlights of leaders who exercise a high empathy characteristic:

  • They show an ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs and viewpoints of other people
  • They understand the emotions of other to build stronger relationships
  • They listen, are non-judgemental and compassionate as they build empathy

5. Social skills

Leaders with strong social skills are more often team players. Rather than focusing on their success, they help others to develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.

Building on your social skills is a critical component in the makeup of a high EQ score, here is what to consider:

  • Love interacting with people who are happy and spread happiness
  • By better understanding others emotions, you develop excellent social skills
  • Show a genuine likeness and interest in others, and it will be reciprocated by the happy and interesting people you want to surround yourself with
  • Believe in the sum of the whole over the individual part
  • Understand your feelings, communicate them well, and strive to understand behaviours of others accurately
  • Make an effort to keep those relationships which you genuinely want and need

How to develop EQ

So what methodologies can we exercise to develop EQ? Well, you must start by being human. Don’t lock yourself away or become disconnected from others. Find ways to enjoy being around people you work with including those in lower ranking positions. Treat people with equality no matter what and try to consider things from the other person perspective. Look beyond people prejudices and develop emotional attachments and where appropriate share your emotions and welcome others emotions.

Voltaire once said, to understand all is to forgive all!

Limiting negative emotions is essential. Consider your flaws and others POV and seek out the positives in others. Understanding people as they are is also key. There are roughly 7 billion people on the planet, and no one is the same – understand yourself and learn to appreciate others will have different views and opinions.

Dale Carnegie wrote in How to win friends and influence people – “Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Developing a high EQ requires you to limit stress and maintain calm. Stressful situations occur, limit them by being calm and rational in your thinking and planning. It is essential to prevent building up stress, manage stress as soon as possible, tackle problems head-on and as early as you possibly can. Try to expect the unexpected or at least in every process consider what if – you actually canmanage everyone’s expectations, even if you cannot satisfy them. Approach stresses with courage and determination.

Expressing emotions will help you to build your EQ. An unexpressed emotion can become toxic and harmful; it is important to vent if you must, but vent correctly and with control. Learn to express your opinion in a way which others will understand and appreciate – you can improve this by asking people for feedback. Emotionally connecting with people and developing deeper bonds will significantly help you in the pursuit of a higher EQ.

Be and think positively. You have the power to consider things from a positive or negative perspective. Everyone has good and bad days, focusing on negative thoughts will expose you to depression and anxiety. By focusing on positive things, you encourage happiness and satisfaction.

You never fail, you learn. Failure is apart of life, dwelling on failure is like focusing on negative thoughts – if you do it too long, it can become toxic. Don’t let it disturb you for too long. Learn your lessons from failure and move on. Next time you will win.

Dream! Hope for the best in life but know you must do everything you can to achieve it. Accept that there will be disappointments along the road but continue to believe in what you hope and dream for.

Your thoughts, comments, likes and shares are always welcome. If you would like more insights on leadership tenets, how we at N2Growth observe and assess them and create an advantage for our clients, please feel free to reach out.

The Number 1 Tip to Ensure Returns on Your Firm’s Digital Strategy
Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr

The Number 1 Tip to Ensure Returns on Your Firm’s Digital Strategy

To succeed in today’s rough and tumble business world you need a solid vision for how you can “digitalize” your business.

Indeed, it is not enough to have a vivid and compelling business strategy.  We must be able to discern what role we are expecting digital technology to play within the business.  It is only with this understanding that we can establish the necessary linkages required to inform digital technology direction-setting.

A good place to start this assessment is to take a quick peek of the current strategic agenda of the company.  It is those project initiatives that serve as the roadmap to success.  They provide the first clue about what the organization’s digital technology expectations should be.  But, it is wise to dig deeper than the strategy list because the digital technology implications of each initiative may not have be well understood and additional inferences will need to be made in order to translate strategic aspirations into digital plans.

For example, here is a list of digital technology implications that came from a few of my recent clients’ strategic planning efforts.  It is indicative of the ways in which digital technology requirements can be buried within the details of a strategic plan:

  • Claims Adjudication Process Redesign Project:  A major P&C insurer wanted to modernize its claim handling functions. A review of the project exposed the need for developing a mobile computing application as a means to support the newly reengineered business process;
  • Service Delivery Project:  A country-wide retailer wanted to initiate a voice of customereffort to better service and retain its customer-base.  A review of the project identified an opportunity to build an online customer support portal as a means to better capture and understand customer needs;
  • Sales Support Project: A global manufacturer determined that its sales force performance was less than stellar.  Upon review, the provision of a Web-based sales support product was determined to be needed as a condition of project completion;
  • Customer Intimacy Project: A regional financial services firm new it was losing customers because they lacked the necessary tools to give their customers the attention that they sought.  A review of the strategy called for the acquisition of a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) package as prerequisite to the completion of its “Customer First” initiative;
  • Product Distribution Project: A niche software company was losing market share to more innovative firms.  A review of the strategy recognized that the best solution for it to remain competitive required a retooling of its packaged software products into a Software-as-a- Service (SaaS) solution.

All of these simple examples illustrate the importance of taking the time to recognize ALL of the digital technology implications of our business strategies.   It is by making this connection that must we forge a meaningful digital strategy plan that will deliver results.

To close, digital technology implementation only makes sense when it is fielded in the service of the business.  Otherwise, it’s just technologists playing with the latest toy.  Be sure to “acid test” your business strategies before you seek digital solutions to enable them.

Be sure to reach-out to me directly if you would like some assistance in building your digital strategy.

N2Growth Leadership Academy Recognized by Sioux Falls
Roosevelt Castro

Roosevelt Castro