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Chasing Potential

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on September 26, 2018 at 9:47 am

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Just yesterday, during a workshop (The 5 Hallmarks of Great Teams), someone asked me if caring leadership is really all that important when there are successful leaders who treat people harshly – leaders who act as though they actually dislike those they lead. He cited a harsh and apparently uncaring UK soccer coach who has produced some winning teams as an example. His question was a reasonable, maybe even obvious one, and it presents us with an uncomfortable reality.

The truth is, we cannot argue that poor, uncaring, even harsh leaders don’t produce good corporate results at times. There are workplaces led by bullies and intimidators that remain in business for years. The reality is there are just far too few workplaces led by caring skilled leaders for everyone to work at one. The numbers just don’t add up. Consequently, there are a lot of people who must find a way to pay the mortgage and buy the groceries at workplaces that are less, sometimes much less, than they could be. People do what they must. They find a way to survive.

With this in mind I offer the following brief except from my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders:

“With the right leadership, people care more about their work. Their achievements become a motivating force that gives rise to cycles of success. Creating these environments is critical work. Positive workplaces create momentum as they attract other high achievers. For the best leaders, creating these places becomes an inspiration. They build entire leadership teams that share it.

However, we must concede that it is possible to treat people poorly and still achieve a measure of commercial success. The evidence is all around us. For this reason, let us fix our gaze on something higher: on potential. I believe that every team that achieves commercial success with poor leadership could become so much more with good leadership. Let’s ask ourselves what these teams could become if the people who did the work were enthusiastic participants and not reluctant survivors, if they were chasing a dream they cared about for a leader they cared about. We cannot develop potential without reaching the hearts of those we lead. We cannot simply demand they give us their best; this choice rests with them.”

I can wish that work and leadership were different, that more poorly led teams would produce disastrous results. This would certainly provide more incentive to organizations to work harder at ensuring good caring skillful leadership from the president’s office down through to lead hands on the factory floor. The reality is, this isn’t going to happen.

Instead, I’ve tried as best I can to inspire leaders to chase the untapped potential that exists in so many organizations by focusing on equipping good men and women with the practical leadership skills they need to build successful and satisfying workplaces. Throughout my executive career, I didn’t have any tolerance for harsh leadership. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t lead well led didn’t last long.

I call this gap between what people must do to keep a job and what they could do if they were really inspired to do their best work the potential gap. And it’s this potential gap that holds the possibility of taking so many organizations beyond what may have been thought possible. I suppose it really becomes a question of whether or not you really do care about people and what you’re willing to settle for with the team you lead.

The Timeless, the Trendy and Emotional Intelligence

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on May 10, 2018 at 4:36 pm

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Those who know my work know me to be a strong advocate for timeless leadership in an era where we seem fascinated by what I describe as a lot of trendy, faddish leadership thinking. It seems almost every week we get a new best seller on the new “best” way to become a better leader. While these trends come and go, some have gained more traction – emotional intelligence fits this category.

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term 1990, describing it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”  In the 1990’s Daniel Goleman, a science writer at the New York Times, became aware of Salovey and Mayer’s work, and this eventually led to his book, Emotional Intelligence. A new industry was born.

So why do I place this in the category of trendy leadership thinking? It is not because I don’t believe emotional intelligence exists – it most certainly does and it is a valuable, likely even an indispensable, leadership attribute. The issue is not with emotional intelligence but rather with the proposition that it is something new or that it can be acquired by simply enrolling in the right course or reading the right books.

Until this phrase was coined in 1990, we simply called emotional intelligence, empathy. The Oxford Dictionary describes empathy as, “the power of identifying oneself with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object of contemplation. I describe it more simply as the ability to understand how others are feeling and be appropriately responsive to their feelings. There are really no significant differences between emotional intelligence and what we used to call empathy.

Here is the issue: some people have a lot more of it than others. Over a lifetime in leadership, with thousands of people, I have never seen anyone with low levels of empathy, or emotional intelligence if you will, acquire more of it. I have had far more success hiring and removing leaders with this characteristic in mind than I did trying to help people with low levels of empathy become leaders who connected with and inspired their teams.

Robert Hare, in his book Without Conscience: The Psychopaths Among Us writes, “It’s as though they can read the notes but they’ll never hear the music.” To be clear I am not suggesting that people with low levels of empathy are psychopaths, only that the phrase is helpful. One can explain empathy and its importance to someone who is not demonstrating it (I’ve seen much of this over the years) and the individual will understand – will read the notes if you will – and still continue to come up short demonstrating it.

Author John Ortberg in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them puts it this way, “People who don’t read others well aren’t aware that they don’t. It’s like being emotionally tone deaf.” He continues, “These folks are not aware that they’re doing anything wrong.” 

That’s the way it goes with empathy, or emotional intelligence if you will, people who don’t have it don’t know they don’t have it but everyone around them knows. The leader lacking in empathy will constantly say the wrong thing, often the wrong way, as everyone in the room wonders, “How could he have said that?” or “How could she be so insensitive?”

Watch a person with lots of empathy and you’ll see them naturally adjust to a wide variety of people in differing situations. They always seem to know how to approach a situation the right way, even when it seems sensitive or a bit tricky. For the most part, they not drawing on learned behaviour, they are acting naturally. This is not to say that good leaders don’t work on refining skills – they do – only that the foundation, the characteristic empathy, must be there for the refining effort to yield results.

A lengthy career working with thousands of leaders has convinced me that empathy just cannot be coached. This may not be good news for the industry that’s been built up around coaching emotional intelligence but I am convinced it is a clearer picture of reality. I focused my limited training resources on the more timeless and enduring fundamentals that can be learned, like feedback, communication, coaching, building team culture and performance management.

A final observation: people who don’t have lots of empathy are not lesser people, they simply have different attributes.  Many if not all people with highly analytical or scientific minds, don’t have lots of empathy but they have the right qualities for other very valuable work. The problems arise when we try to fit them into work they are not well suited to, like leadership.

Looking to go deeper on timeless leadership practices? Check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available in softcover and all major e-book formats.

Simple Purpose

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on February 23, 2018 at 11:40 am

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“But in Britain, too, there were those – especially those among the commercial classes and ruling caste, best informed about the nation’s weakness – who continued to fear the worst. It was Churchill’s epic personal achievement to rally them in support of the simple purpose of repelling invasion.” Max Hastings. Inferno, The World at War 1939-1945. Vintage Books. 2012

 
I am currently enjoying the early pages of Max Hastings exceptional account of the Second World War. During this morning’s time, I came across our opening excerpt. Hastings describes Churchill’s leadership in rallying his country behind what he describes as “simple purpose” as his epic personal achievement. Can there be anything more essential to good leadership than that ability to rally a group of people to a simple purpose? I think not.

Simple purpose is powerful. Simple purpose has the ability to inspire, to unite and to energize a group. Simple purpose elevates work beyond something we do only to provide for our financial needs.

While it is clear that most of today’s workplace situations do not provide for the kind of urgency Britain felt during the summer of 1940, this does not diminish the importance of simple purpose in inspiring a team’s best work. People in all organizations still crave leaders who can distill a simple purpose and rally them to it. Without purpose – and there are far too many organizations where people feel little or no sense of it – work is reduced the the often uninspiring repetition of tasks. This type of environment does little to bring out the best in anyone. Daily work has to be connected to purpose to become meaningful.

So what is the simple purpose you are rallying your team behind? And know, making money won’t cut it with most people. Money is important but its not as inspiring as many people think it is. How often and how passionately are you talking about your team’s purpose? Is it driving your planning? Are you measuring progress and set backs against it? Are you talking about it with each potential employee during the interview process?

Inspiring your team with a simple purpose is ground zero, the very foundation of effective inspiring team building leadership. For some of us, it may well be time to revisit it.

Looking to go deeper into good leadership? Why not check our my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders to consider a 1/2 day workshop.

Lead Like Scrooge?

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on December 1, 2017 at 11:51 am

Scrooge

“Oh!, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” – Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol

At this time of year it seems fitting to turn to Dickens with A Christmas Carol for some seasonal leadership inspiration. Let’s see what we can learn from one of literature’s most well known bosses – Ebenezer Scrooge. Read the passage again and this time let your mind linger over the words, then let’s take a closer look.

As the story unfolds, we can’t help but sympathize with the diligent and hard working clerk Bob Cratchit, a devoted husband and father who must endure the scorn and mistreatment of a cold and uncaring boss. Scrooge sees Bob’s wish to be with his family over Christmas as an imposition. As far as he’s concerned Cratchit is taking advantage of him. Even today there are a great many people feeling torn between unreasonable bosses and their families, they are often as discouraged as Bob Cratchit. Encouraging a healthy work / life balance is not only the right thing to do – it builds loyalty and performance. So this Christmas season why not take time to do a balance audit. Look a little more closely at how hard the members of your team are working and how they are feeling about it. Make sure there is time for family, rest and even a little Christmas cheer.

Dickens describes Scrooge as “secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I think we can pull two good lessons from this passage. Today too many leaders hoard too much information. They don’t talk to team members regularly about the business, and when they do their comments are often superficial. If you want involved employees then you have to involve them – that’s the way it works. When you share information openly, when you genuinely work to help the members of your team understand the situation (whatever it is), you send a powerful message that you trust them and care about them. This is why a good communication plan is a strong loyalty builder. Remember, we talk to people we care about. This is the message good communicators send. So this season, take stock of how often you’re holding staff meetings and how openly you are sharing information.

Finally, I ask what might be the most important the question: Can a leader be “solitary as an oyster” and still build a high performance team? You of course know the answer. Leadership is at its heart all about relationships. When the people you lead know you care about them, they care about you – team members don’t want to disappoint leaders who care about them. I am convinced this is a powerful and enduring leadership truth. Whether you are encouraging, challenging or correcting, it must be evident that you care. So your final assignment as this Christmas approaches is to ask yourself how well you know the people you are leading and how well they know you. If you have well developed relationships, you are doing the work of a good leader, keep it up. If you’ve lost touch, if you’re spending too much time in your office and not enough on the shop floor resolve to get out more – Christmas is a great time to make a start.

We all know how the story ended. Ebenezer had a change of heart. He became the very best of leaders, illustrating the last and most important lesson: a change in the right direction can have a dramatic effect on everyone involved. Merry Christmas all, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.

Dan Gaynor

Follow Well To Lead Well

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on October 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

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Great teams are ordered, and order starts on the leadership team itself. There is no place for anarchy, yet too many leaders unwittingly create more chaos and discontent than they realize. The conditions arise when we are directed to lead a mission we don’t personally agree with.

These situations are important tests for every member of the leadership team. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all failed this test at some point. So how should we deal with them? First, a good leader will welcome input from the members of his or her leadership team. Advisors help leaders find tune plans and avoid unnecessary mistakes, so advocate for your point of view as an advisor, and when you’ve had your say, fully support the direction you receive as you carry it to your team. You would expect the same from those you are leading. If you cannot do this, even when it is contrary to a choice you would have made, the time has come to leave. Anything else invites chaos and eventually conflict for you and those you lead.

In his book, Shake Hands With The Devil, Ret. Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire poignantly described his thought process at the height of the FLQ crisis of 1970, when he was asked to lead a mission he was uncomfortable with. His men had live ammo in their guns and he might have to give the order to fire on fellow Quebecers. Dallaire wrote, “If I gave the order to shoot, I could not let my men sense the slightest shiver of doubt in my belief in the rightness of that order. Any uncertainty on my part would communicate itself to my men; any hesitation on their part could result in chaos and innocent casualties. In a nanosecond I had to be able to set aside deep personal loyalties and put the mission first.”

Leaders who cannot put the mission first and follow well create three problems:
1. Divided loyalties
When the team sees you don’t fully support an initiative, they are caught between their loyalty to you and their obligation to the larger team. They hesitate, they cannot give the mission their best work and are often cited for poor performance, they become the innocent casualties of your leadership.

2. Multiplied resistance
It’s not good when anyone resists a mission their leader has charged them with, but a single individual does not have the same impact as a leader who is resisting. A leader can and will multiply that resistance across an entire team, undermining the effort for everyone who is trying to make a success of the effort.

3. Hypocritical example
If you are to become a transformational leader – someone who leads important changes – you will soon discover that leadership is not a popularity contest. There will be times when doing what is right is just not popular. Times when you must direct the team to follow you on a mission they don’t agree with. How do you do this when your example is contrary to what you ask of them?

I offer one caveat. You do not take a mission you believe is morally wrong to your team. If you find yourself in this situation, try to change your leader’s mind and if you fail it’s time to find a new shop. This said, these situations are generally rare. Most often resistance to a mission is the product of pride, preference and a need for popularity. What we’re asked to lead is not morally wrong, we just think our way is better, or we don’t want to take unpopular news to the people we lead.

A leader who follows well offers advice and then, regardless of the decision that’s made, accepts the mission and takes the hills he or she his charged to take. Anything less invites chaos, conflict and disorder. Anything less undermines the mission and the success of the team.

Interested in going deeper into timeless leadership practices? Check out the book or call or write for some individual coaching or a group workshop.

Dan Gaynor

Fundamentals First

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on September 7, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Fundamentals

“All of these principles are easy to comprehend, and all of them are damnably difficult to live and make happen. And that explains why truly great leaders are rare indeed.” Oren Harari

Writing in his book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell author Oren Harari is talking about the fundamentals that were so characteristic of Colin Powell’s approach to leadership. I’m not sure why, but it seems these days that there is far too little attention paid to developing strong fundamentals, maybe it’s that tendency in human nature to complicate the simple.

Good examples would be the seemingly boundless enthusiasm for personality testing and emotional intelligence workshops and books these days. I’m not saying these are of no value, only that work on these topics will not transform an average team into a high performing team. In leadership, as in virtually all other endeavours, the foundation for success is found in strong fundamentals. There will always be far more upside in teaching leaders how to stay mission focused, provide good direction, build accountability and provide skillful feedback than there is in some of the more tangential leadership topics there seems to be so much enthusiasm for, yet I frequently see these foundational topics overlooked.

So what the are some of these fundamentals? In the space I have here I can’t possibly offer a complete list but I can cover a few.

Start with the right heart

All the best leaders care a great deal about the missions and people they lead. They are in it for the right reasons. They are mission and people driven. They value relationships. This doesn’t mean they coddle team members. To the contrary, they challenge people to deliver their best work and to continually get better and they encourage and support their efforts. We can’t teach someone to have the right heart for leadership, but we can help those who already do learn how it how to express it in the right ways.

Communicate well

We talk to people we care about and we listen to people we care about. For the best leaders good communication habits connect them with people and build engagement. As I have so often said, we can’t expect engagement if we don’t engage people, if we leave them in the dark. Opening the enterprise and building relationships with strong communication skills is essential.

Provide good direction

Research clearly demonstrates that when people know clearly what is expected of them they have higher levels of performance and more job satisfaction. Yet so often I meet people who don’t know or are unsure about what’s expected of them. Learning how to provide direction well and how to avoid common pitfalls is essential. This is why I include eight keys to providing direction well in my work.

Provide lots of quality feedback

I’m convinced that every truly team building leader has great feedback habits. Why? Because teams are built one member one situation at a time and skillful timely feedback is the key. Time and time again I encounter leaders at all levels who don’t provide enough feedback as well as those who provide it poorly.

Coach

Legendary coach John Wooden wrote, “Every good leader is a natural and enthusiastic teacher.” I couldn’t agree more. Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won more national championships than any team in history. His book, Wooden on Leadership, is a brilliant volume on applied fundamentals. His efforts to build relationships and improve skills through coaching ranks high among these. Time spent developing good coaching skills is time well spent.

Build Culture

I would offer without hesitation that every significant team building effort I led at newspapers across the country featured purposeful work on culture – not what your team does but the way they do it. If the leader doesn’t do something to promote the right team culture and correct problems then who will? Culture drives performance and there is a right way to go about building it.

Make every performance count

Last on my admittedly incomplete list is the way great leaders treat performance. They insist that every team member earn his or her place. When someone isn’t they confront the problem with feedback and coaching first (here we are back at these two fundamentals) and when this does not solve the problem they know how to have those difficult conversations and make the necessary changes to the roster with skill.

I take a fundamentals first approach because 20 years of building the teams I led convinced me time and time again that they work. Today, when I encounter teams who are not living up to their potential it always traces back to fundamentals. It’s fundamentals consistently applied that will always drive the biggest improvements.

Want to fortify the fundamentals with your leadership team? Check out these options for 1/2 day workshops and individual coaching.

Making the Most of Coaching

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on August 29, 2017 at 8:00 am

Personal Development Career

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since I resigned as president of a large daily newspaper to pursue a new direction in leadership development. Maybe not new so much as a sensible next step. I spent much of my newspaper career developing the men and women who served on my leadership teams. I did a lot of coaching.

In the years since, through Gaynor Consulting, I’ve provided a lot of coaching to a great many clients in many different industries – both in group workshops and individual sessions. Some have been more successful than others, I believe because they took the right approach. So how do I think you can get the most benefit from coaching?

Be an active honest learner
I can quickly tell those who want to learn from those who are across the table because they have to be. Those who want coaching come prepared with questions. They know where they want to get to (they have goals for growth) and they are open and honest about their situations. With coaching you really get more out when you put more in.

Make it a priority
We spend time on the things that are important to us so if you just squeeze your coaching session in when you can around everything else you are speaking volumes about what matters. As I have often observed, without coaching people under pressure usually just to the same things harder faster and you know what Einstein said about that – doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result is insanity. Developing better, more refined leadership skills is the key to meeting old challenges in more effective ways.

Be teachable
I’m sure most people would like to think of themselves at teachable. The reality is, for many pride closes the door to learning. It’s humility that opens the door. Too many of the leaders I meet don’t make it to a workshop or a coaching relationship at all because they are too proud to be open to learning. It’s as if they believe that finding out they didn’t know something, like how to provide expert feedback, is an admission of weakness, when in fact it’s just the opposite.

A few years ago I was presenting workshops to a large organization. I had to present each workshop several times to cover the group. The CEO, (one the most accomplished leaders I’ve ever known) attended each and every session. His opening comments included the observation that he picked up something new in each one. Now that’s the posture that leads to continuous learning and sets the right example for every other leader on the team.

Keep an open mind
Too many people are so committed to a belief that they cannot see the value of a new way of doing something even in the face of the most compelling rationale. I often see people defend a flawed position far too long. Admitting a mistake, even to oneself, is an act of strength and a key to learning.

Revisit and reinforce
Over these years presenting workshops I’ve also come to appreciate the value of reinforcement. You simply will not attend a workshop or learn something new in a coaching session and lock it away for good in one pass. Learning requires repetition. I see the evidence when I do a brief knowledge check to discover time and time again that too many people have forgotten some of the most important fundamentals. This is why I encourage everyone to take lots of notes on the handouts and revisit the material from time to time. With enough repetition knowledge starts to stick.

Apply what you learn
I once heard it said that information alone does not lead to transformation. It’s information and application that gets the job done. The goal of good leadership development is to help people build strong new leadership habits but new skills don’t start as habits. Discipline always precedes habit. Nothing new, whether it’s an exercise regimen or a new approach to providing feedback, starts as a habit. It starts as a discipline that says, “I’m not going to miss that daily workout” or “I’m going to find at least one opportunity every day to apply the feedback skills I just learned with a member of my team.”

Over the years I have coached I’m sure hundreds of men and women, first as a newspaper executive and now through my own company. There are undeniably two groups: those who became better more skilled leaders and went on to produce great results and those who remained stalled right where they were wondering why the next promotion never came. Reflecting on this experience it seems to me that those in the first group knew how to make the most of coaching.

For more on timeless leadership practices check out my workshops or consider some individual coaching.

Dan Gaynor

Thinking About Potential

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on July 17, 2017 at 9:29 am

An encouragement for the day – a short excerpt from my book:

“However, we must accept that it is possible to treat people poorly and still achieve a measure of commercial success. The evidence is all around us. For this reason, let us fix our gaze on something higher: on potential. I believe that every team that achieves commercial success with poor leadership could become so much more with good leadership. Let’s ask ourselves what these teams could become if the people who did the work were enthusiastic participants and not reluctant survivors, if they were chasing a dream they cared about for a leader they cared about.”

Are you passionate about your team’s potential?

The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders is available as soft cover and in all major ebook formats. Order yours today.

Job Fit and Performance

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on June 5, 2017 at 9:39 am

Colorful Puzzle Pieces

Leaders are limited or lifted by the people they lead. Their success and that of the mission depends on the contributions of others. With this in mind, I believe all the best leaders have a kind of healthy discontent about the state of their teams. They are never satisfied with status quo. They are always looking for ways to boost team performance. This is why casting the right people into each role is always essential leadership work.

The key to casting well is Job Fit. For me, job fit is the combination of talent and values that make an individual well suited to the role he or she must play. When people are doing the work they have talent for, for leaders and teams that matter to them, and they have the right values, they are invariably satisfied and productive.

Talent is the stuff we are born with, the raw material. When talent is trained, and accompanied by the right experience, high performance and job satisfaction are natural outcomes. I learned a long time ago that I do not have the talent for math. Trying to make me into an accountant or mathematician would be an exercise in frustration for everyone and it would be a frustrating exercise for me, but I have other talents. The key to lasting success is matching talent and values to work. While this might seem obvious a lot of people are doing work they’ll never do very well or feel very good about.

Talent alone is not enough, we also need the right values. An individual could have lots of talent for math but be completely unable to respect others or take direction. Such a person will only damage the team and undermine the mission. Talent AND values are the keys to job fit and lasting success for everyone. So every great team-building leader is in a constant search for job fit with each and every team member.

Through job fit leaders build high performance teams one individual at a time. As I’ve been known to repeat constantly, “Great leaders surface and resolve the big questions about people and the work they do.” They do not sit by and watch someone struggle without doing something about it. Job fit becomes their reference point.

This is why great leaders make every performance count. They know that performance is always the best indicator of job fit. When performance is strong and the individual enjoys the work, we can be fairly sure of job fit – this is evidence of good casting. When someone is consistently performing poorly, job fit questions arise and it’s time to do something about it. This is when a leader’s observation, feedback, coaching and accountability skills all become essential. When performance improves in response to the leaders intervention, we can dismiss job fit concerns. When it does not, it is time to make a change for the individual and the organization. The most frustrating situations I came across during my newspaper leadership career were those where I knew there were job fit issues that previous leaders had ignored, sometimes for years.

When job fit is the issue, performance and job satisfaction will not improve until the casting issue is resolved. Delaying these changes is not skillful or caring leadership. While you can’t guarantee that everyone who leaves will find the right job the next time, know for certain that they won’t even get the chance to by staying in the wrong one.

Looking to go deeper in leadership? Check out my book The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you currently doing to build your team’s performance?
  2. Are there any job fit issues that need to be surfaced and resolved?

Thinking “Corporate”

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on January 31, 2017 at 1:10 pm

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Like so much of our language, the word “corporate” has taken on new meanings over the years, many of them not very flattering. Often when we hear it we think of power, money, cold-hearted leaders, business in it’s worst manifestations. A look at its classic definition provides a different perspective. Our english word corporate gets its roots in the latin word for the body, corpus. It literally means to form one body of many members.

We can draw insight from this perspective as we consider corporate life in all its forms – business, non-profit organizations, community groups or any other situation in which people come together to work or play.

The classic definition of corporate gives us powerful insight into organizational life and leadership. it carries with it implications that are worth thinking about, regardless of where you lead. It’s helpful to see the organization then as a corporate body.

Let’s start with the idea that corporate gets at the reality that we are at once highly individual and at the same time connected to everyone else who is part of the group. The contributions of one affect all. Whether or not we like it, we rise and fall together.

There is a reciprocal relationship within every corporate body. The body needs strong members; the members need a strong body. When the body is strengthened everyone benefits; when it is weakened everyone suffers. The body will only ever be as strong as its members and what they contribute. When one contributes even a little more, the entire body is strengthened for everyone. When one contributes less, or undermines the effort in any way, the body is weakened for all. This is why great leaders treat every performance like it really matters.

At newspapers across Canada, I shared this thinking in my own way, with the many different teams I led. I held a staff meeting, usually within a few days of my arrival. Among my comments, I told everyone that I believed people were the most important part of every newspaper. I waited for the predicable response, “Oh, he’s one of those guys, those people guys.” Then I would continue, “No, I really mean it. So if I really believe that people are the most important part of this newspaper, I will treat every performance like it really matters. I will insist on your best and accept nothing less.”

When you really believe people and what they do matters, it carries with it a responsibility to pay attention, and it sends the message to team members that they must approach work as though what they do really does make a difference. There can be no free rides. I have always believed that people want to make a difference, they want their contributions to matter. I sent this message early and often. I supported it with strong caring performance management throughout the organization.

In a strong corporate body there are no unimportant contributions. So how does your leadership team treat the development of the organization? Does every member of your leadership team treat the work of each individual as indispensable? How would this corporate perspective change the way you lead?

Want to go deeper into good leadership? I wrote, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders to pass on what I’ve learned through a career of building strong teams. Or consider some individual coaching or a leadership group workshop.

Dan Gaynor