A recent CEB survey of C-suite executives indicates that organizations will require significantly higher performance—23% improvement, on average, in performance ratings— from their executive-level direct reports in the new year. How well are executives prepared to rise to that challenge? Less than 20% of C-suite leaders had confidence their executives could stand the test.
A large part of the problem, our research suggests, has to do with the high failure rate of outside hires. Intuitively, people know it takes longer for outside hires to come up to speed than internal candidates. But our research shows just how dramatic the problem really is. Outside hires taketwice as long to ramp up as a leader promoted from within. Astoundingly, C-suite executives report that only one out of five executives hired from outside are viewed as high performers at the end of their first year in house. And ultimately, of the 40% of leaders who are hired from outside each year, nearly half fail within the first 18 months. The direct and indirect costs of the failures are staggering, far exceeding the cost of the search that found the executive.
By Rafael Aparicio
In today’s world, where competition is global and products so similar, brands go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from the rest, looking for new ways to attract customers to buy something that is essentially the exact same product as their competitors. Think soap, sneakers, electronics, even advertising agencies, almost everything today, including ideas, has become commoditized and has left people relying solely on one thing to make their decisions: brand. Some go for a nicer identity, smarter packaging, better customer service, the list goes on. Companies are constantly trying to find the slightest edge that can ultimately mean their key differential and set them apart.
Now imagine your group of friends being that differential.
Let me start off first by asking you this question: are you a brand? Yes, you. Do you consider yourself a brand? We accept David Beckham and Michael Jordan as brands, but somehow we tend to think “us mortals” are not, just because we’re not recognizable enough and don’t even have our own line of underwear. Just as the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” – well, “if you walk out to the street and no one recognizes you, are you still a brand?” I have to say the answer is yes, of course you are. Regardless of the power of your brand, it will still trigger a perception to those around you, and that’s what branding is all about: perceptions. It is up to you to go ahead and take control of how people perceive you, because if you don’t take control of your own brand, others will. The way you talk, walk, behave, all adds up to that brand called you. Think of your group of friends, each has a set of traits that makes them – “them.” Are you the cool friend? The nerdy one? The jock?
Many of your friends make up for what you’re lacking. You might be shy, but thanks to that idiotic extroverted friend of yours, you now have a girlfriend. Now hold on to that thought and raise it to a professional level. We’ve all have had situations with clients or bosses where you are lacking some vital knowledge and you remind yourself of a friend that can help. So you call him up and voila! Problem solved. When they ask you how you managed to solve the problem you answer, “I just called up a friend.” Ah, the power of friendship: people sharing valuable knowledge and know-how just for the sake of friendship. That friend might just have helped you close a deal, and not only was he pleased to help you, he doesn’t expect much in return other than a beer or two – after all – ‘that’s what friends are for’.
Now imagine if instead of saying, “I called up a friend” as the reason of your solution, you tell your boss or client “I’m part of a knowledge network.” Not only that, you go ahead and put a name on that knowledge network and even slap on a logo and a slogan to it; You brand it. Suddenly the informality of “calling up a friend” transforms into this tangible, solid institution that can differentiate you. Your clients don’t only think, “this guy has a friend” but rather, “this guy has access to knowledge.” You might think your personal brand is pretty cool, but your brand as part of a group brand might be even cooler. Both personal brands and group brands can leverage from each other. A personal brand might sell well, but people often overlook the potential group branding has.
Think of Marvel’s carefully thought-out 5 year plan to make box office history. Each “personal brand” was given its own spotlight to then conclude with the climactic ‘The Avengers’ movie, which went on to be the 3rd-highest grossing film of all time. Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Ironman – all of them built as solid personal brands – had movies launched year after year, knowing that the idea of having them together in one final movie would be irresistible to fans worldwide. That’s basically why the 1992 US Olympic Basketball team, better known as “The Dream Team” packed stadiums. Michael Jordan was already amazing, but the idea of MJ alongside Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and the likes, was mind-blowing.
During my executive MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, not only did I meet some of the world’s top advertising creatives and executives, I met true friends. Later on, back home in Bogotá, Colombia, working at my recently founded advertising agency, Raf & Mike, I had three occasions where “I called up a friend” needing their help, each for a special reason. Every time I came back to the client telling them “I talked to this person from this city” they were more than impressed. I thought to myself, “what if this calling up friends thing was more than that, what if it was organized and managed? What if it was branded?” They say behind every good brand there’s a good story – we already have the story, we are just missing the brand.
My thesis went on to research, not only branding but also the creation and management of knowledge networks, the academic foundation I needed to establish this new network and have the structural groundwork for a fluid knowledge network, not just a group of friends.
So tomorrow, I can walk into client boardrooms presenting my agency as part of one of the world’s most exclusive advertising and creative Knowledge-sharing Networks, ‘The Berlin Exchange’… 20 of some of the worlds top advertising creatives and executives at their reach. They let me pick their brains and I let them pick mine. It’s one big brain-picking fest, all because we believe in each other’s talent and good faith, something only friendship can build.
So think of your friends on a professional level, what can they bring to the table that you are lacking or that can reinforce and complement your knowledge? More importantly; what can you bring to the table? How could you brand your friendship?
You never know, that brand might be the one who sets you apart.
Rafael Aparicio Gómez is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Raf & Mike, an advertising agency based in Bogotá, Colombia. Rafael is the first Colombian graduate from The Berlin School of Creative Leadership and has done award-winning work with brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, SAB-Miller, and the Colombian Football Federation, to name a few. He is an Advertising and Marketing professional from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and has work experience as General Creative Director for a local BTL agency and as copywriter for ad agency J. Walther Thompson. Oh, and he believes in friendship as well.
Although the ghost of the Great Man still haunts leadership studies, most of us have recognized by now that successful organizations are the product of distributive, collective, and complementary leadership. The first step in putting together such a team is to identify each member of the team’s personality makeup and leadership style, so that strengths and competences can be matched to particular roles and challenges. Getting this match wrong can bring misery to all concerned and cause considerable damage.
I was once asked to facilitate in a group coaching intervention for the leadership team at the subsidiary of a large chemical company. A year before Kate (not her real name, the head of the subsidiary) had been moved from head office to take charge. At head office she had always been viewed as a person extremely insightful about personnel decisions. Given her talents in HR, she was seen a good candidate to sort out the mess in that particular subsidiary. It was a big leap in terms of promotion but Kate was given a chance.
Unfortunately, I quickly realized that her tenure had been a disaster. She may have been a good coach but didn’t have what it takes to create greater strategic focus and execute a turnaround. A great amount of money had been spent on consultants and on training a workforce that had no clearer idea at the end of 12 months what they were doing or why. What had dazzled the people at head office had been Kate’s coaching and communication skills. She was at sea, however, in a more operational role.
What can be done to prevent a situation like the one with Kate? There are a number of serious leadership questionnaires that are worlds away from the enneagrams and compatibility tests that litter the coaching circuit. Some of these try to identify certain recurring behavior patterns considered more or less effective in a leadership context. We have also tests to discover whether executives are people or task oriented, autocratic or democratic, transactional or transformational, and variations on all of these. These sorts of questionnaire may be a bit simplistic, but they can help point someone in the right direction on a career or organizational path.
My own approach to leadership assessment is based on observational studies of real leaders, mostly at the strategic apex of their organizations. My aim is to help them see and understand that their attitudes and interactions with people are the result of a complex confluence of their inner theater (including relationships with authority figures early in life), significant life experiences, examples set by other executives, and formal leadership training.
As these influences play out over time, one typically sees a number of recurring patterns of behavior that influence an individual’s effectiveness within an organization. I think of these patterns as leadership “archetypes,” reflecting the various roles executives can play in organizations and it is a lack of fit between a leader’s archetype and the context in which he or she operates is a main cause of team and organizational dysfunctionality and executive failure. The eight archetypes I have found to be most prominent are:
- The strategist: leadership as a game of chess. These people are good at dealing with developments in the organization’s environment. They provide vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organizational forms and generate future growth.
- The change-catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity. These executives love messy situations. They are masters at re-engineering and creating new organizational ‘‘blueprints.’’
- The transactor: leadership as deal making. These executives are great dealmakers. Skilled at identifying and tackling new opportunities, they thrive on negotiations.
- The builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity. These executives dream of creating something and have the talent and determination to make their dream come true.
- The innovator: leadership as creative idea generation. These people are focused on the new. They possess a great capacity to solve extremely difficult problems.
- The processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency. These executives like organizations to be smoothly running, well-oiled machines. They are very effective at setting up the structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.
- The coach: leadership as a form of people development. These executives know how to get the best out of people, thus creating high performance cultures.
- The communicator: leadership as stage management. These executives are great influencers, and have a considerable impact on their surroundings.
Working out which types of leaders you have on your team can work wonders for your effectiveness as a group. It helps you to recognize how you and your colleagues can individually make their best contributions. This will in turn create a culture of mutual support and trust, reduce team stress and conflict, and make for more creative problem solving. It also informs your search for new additions to the team: what kinds of personality and skills are you missing?
Kate’s story had a happy ending. The group coaching session made it clear that the problem was not so much Kate’s lack of ability but rather that team lacked specific leadership qualities. If the team incorporated an executive with a strategic outlook and who had turnaround skills and experience then Kate’s skills as a communicator and coach would be more effectively leveraged to resolve the subsidiary’s crisis. After talking to the head of talent management at head office we were able to identify exactly such a person, creating a more rounded team and helping Kate to fulfill her mandate.
by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
When I took over as CEO of Intralinks, a company that provides secure web based electronic deal rooms, the company was hemorrhaging so much cash that its survival was at stake. The service was going down three times per week; we were in violation of the contract with our largest client; our chief administrative officer had just been demoted, and so on.
So, what I do on my first day? I spent more than four hours listening in to client support calls at the call center. I shared headsets with many of the team, moving from desk to desk to speak to the reps. To say they were surprised is an understatement: Many CEOs never visit the call center, and virtually none do it their first afternoon on the job.
I made this my priority partly because I wanted to know what customers were saying—but also to make an internal statement. I knew there had to be some radical changes to behaviors, expectations, and attitudes. There was no time to be subtle. I needed to show I was different, that things were going to be different, and I needed to establish trust as quickly as possible.
In leading various companies over the years, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that establishing trust is the top priority. Whether you are taking over a small department, an entire division, a company, or even a Boy Scout troop, the first thing you must get is the trust of the members of that entity. When asked, most leaders will agree to this notion, but few do anything to act on it.
Without trust, it is very unlikely you will learn the truth on what is really going on in that organization and in the market place. Without trust, employees won’t level with you—at best, you’ll learn either non-truths or part truths. I see this all too frequently. Sometimes employees will go out of their way to hoard and distort the truth.
The best way to start building trust to take the time and meet as many individual contributors as you can as soon as you can. In addition to meeting customers, meeting rank-and-file employees should be your top priority.
This is not a common approach. Many leaders see their role as directing and giving information, rather than gathering. There is pressure to “come up with the answer” quickly or risk looking weak. Too many new leaders believe they’re expected to know the answer without input or guidance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Doing this correctly takes time—but less than you might think. The meetings can be on one on one or small groups. The sessions can’t be rushed. In the first few weeks I’d suggest you spend up to half your time in these meetings. Take a pad and take notes. Listen intently. A simple but effective open-ended question is: “If you were put into my role tomorrow, what would be the first three things you’d do and why?” Or: “What are the three biggest barriers to our success, and what are our three biggest opportunities we have?” Really great ideas can emerge from these meetings—along with some really mediocre ones—but it’s your job to filter and prioritize them. First, gather the information.
Later on my first day at Intralinks, I began arranging meetings with individual contributors. That’s where my learning really began. Over the next few weeks I met with over 60 individual contributors. Not only did I learn a lot, but I convinced them that I cared what they thought and could be trusted with the truth.
In the middle of my first week as CEO, one of the company’s original VCs called. “So, what’s your plan?” he asked. I said I have to spend a few weeks learning. He was incredulous that I did not have a pre-baked plan. I was incredulous he thought that I should.
Over those weeks I learned how unhappy clients were with our complex bills, why service went down so often, why our pricing gave our clients headaches, that 80% of the customer calls could be eliminated with a simple fix to our service, and that clients wanted predictability of expenditures with us.
After six weeks, I had enough information to return to the management team with specific recommendations on what I thought we should do. Instead of just laying this out in an all-hands meeting, I began laying out the plan in one-on-one meetings in which I talked about how each individual’s feedback had helped guide my thinking. This created a tremendous buy in among all levels of the team.
By mid March, after only 10 weeks on the job, we rolled out the new plan. By the end of the year we’d signed 150 new long-term contracts (up from zero), revenue was up by almost 600%, our burn rate was cut by 75%, and we’d positioned ourselves to raise a $50 million round of financing a few months later in the heart of the dot.com winter.
None of this could have happened without building the trust of the team. New leaders must remember that many of the best insights on how to fix a company lie with employees further down the org chart. Creating a trusting, honest dialogue with these key personnel should be every new leader’s top priority.
by Jim Dougherty
The Best Way For New Leaders To Build Trust
Harvard Business Review
Jack Welch's Eight Rules of Leadership
1. Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence.
2. Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it.
3. Leaders get into everyone’s skin, exuding positive energy and optimism.
4. Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency and credit.
5. Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.
6. Leaders probe and push with a curiosity that borders on skepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action.
7. Leaders inspire risk taking and learning by setting the example.
8. Leaders celebrate!
Integrative Leadership is a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.