Tag Archive for Harvard Business Review

Be Consistent

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine. The lesson, which was reinforced to me on numerous occasions, was that my words (what I say) and my actions (what I do) need to match. In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader. I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see. That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership. In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds. Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness. We disagree. We believe it is dishonest behavior. If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through. The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another. They are excellent role models for others. This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores. That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes. But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader. It gives you trust, makes you believable. John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message. Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48) I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived. In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things. I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me. My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I also want to go one layer deeper in this principle. The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are. In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values. Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.” (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are. It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.

 

Give People a Chance to Try

I vividly remember one particular day in my 8th grade math class. I don’t remember what concept the teacher was teaching, and I don’t remember many of the details, but I remember the specific experience. The teacher was reviewing concepts from the previous night’s assignment, and called me up to the chalkboard to work out one of the problems. The next few moments were terrifying for me. I was so scared to stand in front of my classmates and demonstrate a math concept that my hands began to visibly shake as I walked to the front of the room, and then . . . I don’t remember anything else until I sat back down. What happened in between standing up and sitting down was and is a complete blank. I knew at that moment that I could never do something that would require me to be in front of people.

So, there is great irony (and providence) in the fact that my career has required extensive interaction with and in front of people. I would never have imagined that I would have had the opportunity and experience of leading organizations, speaking in front of people, and developing other leaders. When I think about this, I can see that there are several important factors that played a role in my development, but one of those was simply the opportunity to try. My church asked me to teach a class, an administrator gave me some responsibilities, a student group asked me to speak at an event, and a variety of other opportunities were provided that helped me to grow as a leader and helped me to develop skills.

You see, leadership development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It involves both knowledge and practice, both learning and doing. You learn a lot by studying, by having someone teach you, but you also learn a lot by doing. Therefore, a critical component of leadership development takes place when people are given the opportunity to try by getting the chance to do. That’s why John Kotter, when he speaks about creating a culture of leadership, says that “people who provide effective leadership in important jobs always have a chance, before they get into those jobs, to grow beyond the narrow base that characterized most managerial careers. . . . The breadth of knowledge developed in this way seems to be helpful in all aspects of leadership” (What Leaders Really Do, in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011), p. 53). This is why you need to take opportunities that are presented to you, even if it is a little outside of your comfort zone. You need to be willing to overcome your fears and stretch yourself, knowing that you won’t do everything well and you’ll make mistakes, but you will learn and improve.

While this is true for you, it’s also true for those you are leading. George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer, in a article discussing Authentic Leadership, explain that “authentic leaders . . . know the key to a successful organization is having empowered leader at all levels, including those who have no direct reports. They not only inspire those around them, they empower those individuals to step up and lead” (Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011), p. 176). You will be a much better leader if you intentionally look for opportunities for those you lead, opportunities for them to step up and take some leadership, to stretch themselves, and to grow their abilities. Perhaps it involves leading a project or a task; maybe it’s leading a discussion or study or meeting; it could be taking the lead on learning a new concept to share with others. It can be a variety of ways, but regardless of what path you use, be purposeful about providing growth experiences.

The simple truth is that growth and development takes place when you have the opportunity to try. Therefore it makes sense that you must be intentional about taking those opportunities, and it also makes sense that – if you want to be a leader who develops others and you want an organization with a culture of leadership development – you become intentional about giving others those opportunities. Take advantage of experiences that will help you grow, and give your followers a chance to try.

Quotable (Bennis & Thomas, on learning)

“In the extreme, the capacity for reinvention comes to resemble eternal youth – a kind of vigor, openness, and an enduring capacity for wonder that is the antithesis of stereotyped old age . . . this [is a] quality, a delight in lifelong learning, which every leader displays, regardless of age . . . it’s an appetite for  learning and self-development, a curiosity and passion for life.”

Bennis, Warren, and Thomas, Robert, “Crucibles of Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

 

Be Authentic

I have worked with teenagers for years, and one of their defining characteristics is a common dislike for hypocrisy. That is not to say that they don’t also demonstrate hypocrisy and wear masks themselves, but as a whole, they don’t like it when adults say one thing and do another. They use the term “hypocrite” to describe this behavior, but there are other words that also apply: credible, genuine, real, or authentic. This belief or feeling, though, is not just true for teenagers; everyone dislikes hypocrisy and wants to see authenticity. This is a foundational principle that emerged in Kouzes & Posner’s leadership research, published in The Leadership Challenge, revealing that, “more than anything, people want leaders who are credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (p. 32). This led to their statement of “The First Law of Leadership: if you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message” (p. 33).

According to Peter Northouse, in Leadership: Theory and Practice, authentic leadership is leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values (p. 282), and is developmental (a life-long process), intrapersonal (within), and interpersonal (relationship). In other words, authenticity is all about being genuine, real, and trustworthy, both with yourself and with others, and about showing genuine care for the best interest of others. Being authentic means being genuine, consistently matching your walk with your talk, and it is absolutely critical to effective leadership.

The most important component of authenticity is honesty. It is honesty that makes someone believable and trustworthy, because it becomes the visible evidence of integrity. According to Kouzes and Posner: “Regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behavior. Consistency between word and deed is how people judge someone to be honest” (p. 28). You know this to be true. You can think of examples in your own experience of people who were dishonest and lacked integrity, and you know what you thought about those people and how it affected your level of trust. I don’t think anyone would question the significance of honesty. I think we also know that the “proof is in the pudding” – we decide someone’s honesty based on the actions that we see.

So besides the characteristic of honesty, what does authenticity look like? First, what it does not look like is imitation. To be authentic, you must be you, not someone else, and sometimes that is much more difficult than we realize. It’s fairly easy for us to try to take on attributes and characteristics of people we look up to, and it’s also appealing to try to imitate others who we want to be like. But the truth is, “no one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else” (George, et. al., Discovering your authentic leadership, p. 163). Keep in mind, it is true that there are some things we do because we have been exposed to an influential person in our lives; for example, I can point out a number of my own behaviors that reflect my father’s influence, and I can also describe important ways in which my wife has shaped who I am. However, being affected by their influence does not mean that I am being them. Rather, everything I have learned has had to be applied in a way that matches my own personality and characteristics. I still have to be me.

Then, authenticity means that people can trust you to “DWYSYWD: Do What You Say You Will Do. DWYSYWD has two essential elements: say and do. To be credible in action, leaders must be clear about their beliefs; they must know what they stand for. That’s the ‘say’ part. Then they must put what they say into practice: they must act on their beliefs and’“do'” (Kouzes and Posner, p. 38). This characteristic will most clearly be revealed when the pressure is on and the challenge is great. Without question, “the values that form the basis for authentic leadership are derived from your beliefs and convictions, but you will not know what your true values are until they are tested under pressure” (George, et. al., pp. 169-170). When the heat is turned up, the fire will usually reveal your true colors, and that’s when people can see if your authenticity is real.

The conclusion, then, is that a leader must be authentic in order to be effective. People must be able to tell that you are genuine, that you are who you say you are because you do what you say you will do. Whether you realize it or not, you are being watched by your people, your family, your customers, and your community, so that they can determine if you are believable and therefore trustworthy. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. That’s why I believe that authenticity needs to be at the top of the list for every leader.

George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A. N., and Mayer, D., “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Ed.). Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Ed.). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR on Leadership coverI first saw this book, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, on a list of recommended leadership books from Amazon.  I scanned the contents, and saw the names of several authors of other books that I have read and enjoyed; in addition, it’s put out by Harvard Business review, which has a strong reputation.  That was enough to convince me to pick up a copy and read it.

It has since become a frequently referenced book by me.  I have found useful thoughts and ideas in most of the chapters, and those thoughts (and quotes) have made their way into a number of posts that have appeared on my blog in the last several months (this month, I referenced one of the articles – The Work of Leadership, by Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie – several times). Of course, some have resonated with me more than others, but I think I found the whole book to have value.

The book contains ten chapters; each one is reprint of an article published in the Harvard Business Review sometime in the last 25 years.  The intent is that these ten articles represent some of the most important and influential articles and authors that have shaped leadership theory and practice over the last couple of decades.  It includes articles from authors such as

  • Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), in an article that introduces his thoughts on emotional intelligence
  • Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Great by Choice), in an article that explains “Level 5 Leadership”
  • John Kotter (author of Leading Change), in an article that examines and presents “What Leaders Really Do”
  • Peter Drucker (author of The Effective Executive), in an article about what makes an effective executive
  • Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline), in an article that explains that the best leaders are the ones who don’t try to be perfect at every skill
  • And several others

I think this is a great resource to have on your leadership bookshelf.  It contains summaries and short discussions of some of the most influential leadership ideas of the last two decades, so it gives you a synopsis of these ideas without having to read the full works of the authors.  As I read through the chapters, I wrote an outline of the main ideas of each article on a separate 4×6 notecard, so that I would have my own personal quick-reference guide for each of the concepts.  Whether or not you do the same, I do think this can be a great resource for you.

Various Authors (2011). HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press:  Boston, MA.

Quotable (Heifetz & Laurie, on calibrating and communicating expectations)

“A leader must strike a delicate balance between having people feel the need to change and having them feel overwhelmed by change . . . A leader is responsible for direction, protection, orientation, managing conflict, and shaping norms.”  The Work of Leadership, Ronald A. Heifetz & Donald L. Laurie

 

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.