A Whack Up ‘Long Side The Head Of Human Resources: The Leadership Imperative

When we perceive the simple center in the seemingly complex, we can change our world in powerful new ways.

Albert Einstein perceived the simple E=MC2 in the complexities of physical reality and changed the history of the 20th century.

Big Daddy Lipscomb, the Baltimore Colts 300 pound all-pro tackle in the 1960s perceived the simple center of what was perceived to be the complex game of football. “I just wade into players,” he said, “until I come to the one with the ball. Him I keep!” — and changed the way the game was played.

Likewise, human resources, despite its complex activities, should have a fundamentally simple mission, yet it is a mission that is being neglected by many HR professionals. I call that mission the Leadership Imperative — helping the organization recruit, retain, and develop good leaders.

Clearly, without good leaders, few organizations can thrive over the long run. What characterizes a good leader? A good leader consistently gets results — in ethical and motivational ways. Because they interact with all business functions and usually provide education and training for those functions, human resource professionals should be focused primarily on recruiting, retaining, and developing leaders that get results. Any other focus is a footnote.

Yet working with human resource leaders in a variety of companies for the past two decades, I find that many of them are stumbling. Caught up in the tempests of downsizing, compliance demands, acquisitions, mergers, and reorganizations, they are engaged in activities that have little to do with their central mission. Ignoring or at least giving short shrift to the Leadership Imperative, they are too often viewed, especially by line leaders, as carrying out sideline endeavors.

Many HR leaders have nobody to blame for this situation but themselves. By neglecting the Imperative, they themselves have chosen to be sideline participants.

Here is a three-step action plan to get the HR function off the sidelines and into the thick of the game.

Recognize. Link. Execute.

Before I elaborate each step, let me define leadership as it ought to be. For your misunderstanding leadership will thwart you in applying the Imperative.

The word “leadership” comes from old Norse word-root meaning “to make go.” Indeed, leadership is about making things go — making people go, making organizations go. But the misunderstanding comes in when leaders fail to understand who actually makes what go. Leaders often believe that they themselves must make things go, that if people must go from point A to point B, let’s say, that they must order them to go. But order leadership founders today in fast-changing, highly competitive markets.

In this environment, a new kind of leadership must be cultivated — leadership that aims not to order others to go from point A to point B — but instead that aims to motivate them to want take the leadership in going from A to B.

That “getting others to lead others” is what leadership today should be about. And it is what we should inculcate in our clients. We must challenge them to lead, lead for results with this principle in mind, and accept nothing else from them but this leadership.

Furthermore, leadership today must be universal. To compete successfully in highly competitive, fast changing markets, organizations must be made up of employees who are all leaders in some way. All of us have leadership challenges thrust upon us many times daily. In the very moment that we are trying to persuade somebody to take action, we are a leader — even if that person we are trying to persuade is our boss. Persuasion is leadership. Furthermore, the most effective way to succeed in any endeavor is to take a leadership position in that endeavor.

The Imperative applies to all employees. Whatever activities you are being challenged to carry out, make the Imperative a lens through which you view those activities. Have your clients recognize that your work on the behalf of their leadership will pay large dividends toward advancing their careers.

Recognize: Recognize that recruiting, retaining, and developing good leaders ranks with earnings growth (or with nonprofit organizations: mission) in terms of being an organizational necessity. So most of your activities must be in some way tied to the Imperative.

For instance: HR executive directors who want to develop courses for enhancing the speaking abilities of their companies’ leaders often blunder in the design phase. Not recognizing the Leadership Imperative, they err by describing them as “presentation courses.” Instead, if they were guided by the Imperative, they would offer courses on “leadership talks.” There is a big difference between presentations and leadership talks.

Presentations communicate information. Presentation courses are a dime a dozen. But leadership talks motivate people to believe in you and follow you. Leaders must speak many times daily — to individuals or groups in a variety of settings. When you provide courses to help them learn practical ways for delivering effective talks, to have them speak better so that they can lead better, you are benefitting their job performance and their careers.

Today, in most organizations, the presentation is the conventional method of communication. But when you make the leadership talk the key method by instituting “talk” courses and monitoring and evaluation systems broadly and deeply within the organization, you will help make your company more effective and efficient.

Continue reading

Turn Your Speech Into A Leadership Talk

My experience working with thousands of leaders world wide for the past two decades teaches me that most leaders are screwing up their careers.

On a daily basis, these leaders are getting the wrong results or the right results in the wrong ways.

Interestingly, they themselves are choosing to fail. They’re actively sabotaging their own careers.

Leaders commit this sabotage for a simple reason: They make the fatal mistake of choosing to communicate with presentations and speeches — not leadership talks.

In terms of boosting one’s career, the difference between the two methods of leadership communication is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Speeches/presentations primarily communicate information. Leadership talks, on the other hand, not only communicate information, they do more: They establish a deep, human emotional connection with the audience.

Why is the later connection necessary in leadership?

Look at it this way: Leaders do nothing more important than get results. There are generally two ways that leaders get results: They can order people to go from point A to point B; or they can have people WANT TO go from A to B.

Clearly, leaders who can instill “want to” in people, who motivate those people, are much more effective than leaders who can’t or won’t.

And the best way to instill “want to” is not simply to relate to people as if they are information receptacles but to relate to them on a deep, human, emotional way.

And you do it with leadership talks.

Here are a few examples of leadership talks.

When Churchill said, “We will fight on the beaches … ” That was a leadership talk.

When Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you … ” that was a leadership talk.

When Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That was a leadership talk.

You can come up with a lot of examples too. Go back to those moments when the words of a leader inspired people to take ardent action, and you’ve probably put your finger on an authentic leadership talk.

Mind you, I’m not just talking about great leaders of history. I’m also talking about the leaders in your organizations. After all, leaders speak 15 to 20 times a day: everything from formal speeches to informal chats. When those interactions are leadership talks, not just speeches or presentations, the effectiveness of those leaders is dramatically increased.

How do we put together leadership talks? It’s not easy. Mastering leadership talks takes a rigorous application of many specific processes. As Clement Atlee said of that great master of leadership talks, Winston Churchill, “Winston spent the best years of his life preparing his impromptu talks.”

Churchill, Kennedy, Reagan and others who were masters at giving leadership talks didn’t actually call their communications “leadership talks”, but they must have been conscious to some degree of the processes one must employ in putting a leadership talk together.

Here’s how to start. If you plan to give a leadership talk, there are three questions you should ask. If you answer “no” to any one of those questions, you can’t give one. You may be able to give a speech or presentation, but certainly not a leadership talk.

(1) DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS?
Winston Churchill said, “We must face the facts or they’ll stab us in the back.”

When you are trying to motivate people, the real facts are THEIR facts, their reality.

Their reality is composed of their needs. In many cases, their needs have nothing to do with your needs.

Most leaders don’t get this. They think that their own needs, their organization’s needs, are reality. That’s okay if you’re into ordering. As an order leader, you only need work with your reality. You simply have to tell people to get the job done. You don’t have to know where they’re coming from. But if you want to motivate them, you must work within their reality, not yours.

I call it “playing the game in the people’s home park”. There is no other way to motivate them consistently. If you insist on playing the game in your park, you’ll be disappointed in the motivational outcome.

(2) CAN YOU BRING DEEP BELIEF TO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING?
Nobody wants to follow a leader who doesn’t believe the job can get done. If you can’t feel it, they won’t do it.

But though you yourself must “want to” when it comes to the challenge you face, your motivation isn’t the point. It’s simply a given. If you’re not motivated, you shouldn’t be leading.

Here’s the point: Can you TRANSFER your motivation to the people so they become as motivated as you are?

I call it THE MOTIVATIONAL TRANSFER, and it is one of the least understood and most important leadership determinants of all.

There are three ways you can make the transfer happen.

* CONVEY INFORMATION. Often, this is enough to get people motivated. For instance, many people have quit smoking because of information on the harmful effects of the habit

* MAKE SENSE. To be motivated, people must understand the rationality behind your challenge. Re: smoking: People have been motivated to quit because the information makes sense.

* TRANSMIT EXPERIENCE. This entails having the leader’s experience become the people’s experience. This can be the most effective method of all, for when the speaker’s experience becomes the audience’s experience, a deep sharing of emotions and ideas, a communing, can take place.

There are plenty of presentation and speech courses devoted to the first two methods, so I won’t talk about those.

Here’s a few thoughts on the third method. Generally speaking, humans learn in two ways: by acquiring intellectual understanding and through experience. In our schooling, the former predominates, but it is the latter which is most powerful in terms of inducing a deep sharing of emotions and ideas; for our experiences, which can be life’s teachings, often lead us to profound awareness and purposeful action.

Continue reading

Leadership Is More of a “Practice” Than a “Theory”

Lessons from our recent Leadership Academies with clients.

Summary of article key points:

Leadership is more about practice than theory, even if theory can inform some relevant insights as part of a leadership development programme.

Leadership is a blend of art and science. Some leaders are born / pre-equipped better than others (nature), but intelligent training and development (nurture) can enhance virtually anyone’s leadership capability.

Theories and models have a use, but only to underpin “practice” in leadership and real world outcomes.

Functional skills and previous performnace are no guarantees of future leadership capability.

You will only get the leadership qualities that you select and train for.

The cost of promoting without leadership skills and then desperately seeking to equip people with adequate leadership skills can be high in human and economic terms.

Well-designed internal leadership academies can help when they match enhanced leadership awareness and capability to actual business needs.


Main article:

For centuries much has been written about the “science” and the “art” of leadership.

Most of us have read and absorbed elements of this wisdom (and too often perhaps some of the come and go fads rather than wisdom). Many of us have subsequently pondered that age-old question about leadership; “are great leaders born, or are they made”?

Based on our experiences we have found that effective leadership capability tends to arise from a little of both in terms of settling that ‘nature versus nurture’ debate? Sabre’s recent work on a number of high-level leadership academies (including one that was integral to the Coles turnaround) has confirmed that whilst there are many valid theories and models for the “science” of leadership, it’s often the “art” of leadership that still evades adequate capture and definition.

Many businesses simply don’t get it right, but it’s reassuring to see those that do reap the positive rewards that flow so evidently from putting in the effort.

It is certain that nature does equip some people better than others in terms of their leadership traits (from a genetic, neurological and thence a behavioural perspective). There are those who just seem pre-loaded with healthy measures of IQ, charisma and also enough EQ to meld it all together in a way that gets their people to where they need to be.

Arguably though the honing of these skills that may at first glance seem to be gifted from “nature” can be attributed in at least part also to a degree of “nurture.” For example, the development of complex neurological systems and patterns that drive much of our behavior (social systems of the brain, core belief patterns and embedded personality) can be traced to responses to external stimulus over the course of a lifetime.

It is however equally certain that proper approaches to ‘nurture’ can be used to raise the bar for virtually anyone who wishes to play the leadership game by enhancing awareness of their own strengths, areas of struggle and weakness as they manifest day to day.

Discipline is then required to act upon those insights of self-awareness to help cultivate better leadership capability for their own personal and professional circumstances.

One thing we often see is that being gifted in a particular functional skill or specialization, even to the point of genius, is no assurance that you can then lead a group of former peers in that field (or indeed any other).

Regular experiential “practice” of leadership comes into play as a valuable tool for enhancing the quotients of leadership talent that are gifted or acquired from our own recipe of nature and nurture. In the cut and thrust of day to day work life we don’t always have adequate time to discern the true source of, and impact of our leadership and team role styles.

Current research and models from such emerging fields as neuroscience confirm some leadership theories and debunk others, and are often very useful in framing approaches and delivering ongoing insight. They are at the end of the day however just more tools for the toolbox, with leadership capability itself something that needs to be lived and developed day to day and powerfully linked to real world outcomes.

One of the clearest examples that I have observed was in the military when being selected for and subsequently entering into Army Officer training. Now whilst not all attributes of military leadership are relevant to commercial or non-military endeavors, it’s safe to say that many are with respect to the human dynamics of leadership (particularly leading amidst complexity).

For Officer selection the emphasis was first and foremost upon personal leadership capability (and the potential to hone it further for a military environment). It was only much later after rigorous training in general military skills and leadership that relevant specialist streaming was done into various specializations and functional skills.

Continue reading