What I am writing here is based on my own experience and what I observed and learned. It is my point of view and it makes sense to me. It has worked for me and is still working for me. It remains being your responsibility to do your own critical thinking, don’t just believe.

And that is exactly my intention: making you think for yourself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

People, Leaders and Change

Why is it ...
  • Why is it that 99% of people see the necessity of change and want it, but only less than 1% is willing to do something about it?
  • Why is it that even much fewer (than the 1% above) people are willing to take the lead?
  • Why is it that otherwise fairly intelligent people back down and don’t stand up for what they claim they want, preferring to be busy with their daily trivia instead?
  • Why is it that people pride themselves of having integrity and being authentic, when they show up with ‘split personalities’ saying one thing but thinking something else?
  • Why is it that people say that nowadays everyone can lead but are nowhere close, nowhere to be seen as soon as things get rough and tough?
  • Why is it that the majority of people look away when some stranger is in harm’s way and in desperate need of help?

I could continue this list with many more questions. But I think you get the point. I was asking myself whether this is a rather new development. Maybe it had to do with how society evolved. And my immediate and biased thought was that in the past we were doing much more. In the past people were much more willing to stand up and fight for what they wanted. Fight for their individual human rights. Challenging leadership and demanding change.
And at that point I began looking into the data. General data that anyone can easily research online. And my own data. Data I had collected during my own life experience. Data collected of my own ‘fights of the past’ if you so will. And my data was congruent with the general data found during my research. My conclusion was that nothing has changed. Back then most people were as risk-averse, as fear-driven as nowadays.
Courage seems to be in short supply. And not so surprising: wimps don’t dare to lead. Wimps blend in and look away. “Not my problem.” is their mantra. Always keeping a low profile. Always on their mission to please people. And they gladly follow the pied pipers who promise taking care of them as long as they obey. Critical thinking is absent. Wimps are paralyzed by their fear. The quintessential ‘obedient citizens’. Cementing the ‘status quo’. The exact opposite of troublemakers.
It also means that we still have the same type of 'leaders' as we had in the past. And in these days the autocrats are hiding behind the veil of democracy and pulling the strings. People are told that they are empowered, they are free. But security comes first. And for that total surveillance is needed. No one can be trusted. Neither you, nor others. Hence, the goal is total surveillance. Which means everyone is a suspect unless proven innocent. And the burden of proof is on you. "Get used to it and tough it out!" people are told ... And they obey. They always do.
“When you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.” This saying and that one “How you do anything, you do everything.” describes the state of our society well. A society is always defined by its people. And so are organizations, corporations, and companies. The easy way out pointing towards and blaming these entities was never and is not the root cause. People, each one of us, are the root cause. And, that hasn’t changed either, people get the leaders they deserve. Willful ignorance combined with lack of courage is paving the way.
Looking around one can see many people claiming that they are leaders. One can find them almost everywhere. In any specialty. Business leaders, marketing leaders, sales leaders, political leaders, you name it. The list is long. And each one of them claims too that what they do is based on the highest values, like integrity, trust, etc.. Of course. They talk about being authentic. And that would indeed be of the utmost importance. But are they? Yet, often when one listens to them talking about their ‘official topics’ it sounds disconnected. Disconnected from what they say they stand for, when they are not ‘on stage’. I have met so many people like this. I think we all have. How can one possibly have respect for these people? I don’t.
All too often these ‘leaders’ play a ‘role’. And watching them carefully reveals that their ‘spoken words’ are incongruent with their ‘unspoken thoughts’. They seem to have a ‘split personality’: their ‘official persona’ and their ‘private persona’. When you call them on that they become immediately defensive. They tell you that it is impossible, maybe even dangerous, to say ‘officially’ what they really stand for, what they really think. They have to obey the rules they say. They are unbelievably resourceful in finding ‘reasons’ explaining their behavior. I call that lame excuses. The opposite of leadership.
The very same people who don’t dare to speak up saying what they really think are the ones looking to the other side when someone needs their help. For instance a woman being attacked at plain sight. And, unfortunately, it’s the majority of people as research has shown.
There is a price tag attached to having integrity and being authentic. A price most people don’t want to pay. They rather cater to the system in place. “Singing about socialism with their mouths full of caviar.” a dear Mexican friend called this behavior. And that’s where their integrity and authenticity gets lost.
Being ‘mainstream’, being aligned with the ‘current general opinion’ seems to be more important than taking a stand for what one claims to stand for. Thus betraying one’s own values. That’s how the system is built. Telling people what to think. It happens in general and it happens in organizations / companies of all sizes and flavors. “Whose bread I eat whose song I sing.” Yet, it can only happen as long as people allow it to happen. It takes courage, a lot of courage to stand up for one’s values and stand tall. And it takes even more courage to be a true, authentic leader with integrity.
The ‘floggings will continue until morale improves’. More than ever before we need leaders  who deserve being called ‘ true leaders’. On all levels. Leaders with integrity. Leaders with values, Leaders who stand for something and stand up for it. Leaders who think for themselves and think critically. Leaders who say loud, clear and direct exactly that what they are thinking. Leaders with courage. Leaders encouraging others and empowering others to do the same. Authentic leaders with character. Leaders who lead and do not follow opinions. No matter the circumstances or the risk. Then, and only then, change becomes possible.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Leaders and Consultants

The other day I was asked whether I didn't like consultants. Well, there are a few I do like. Over the many years I learned an important lesson: always put the bar high, very high.
When you are a leader sooner or later some of your people will come to you with the brilliant idea of hiring a consultant. And for each one of the different areas of a company different consulting companies exist. Many per area of expertise, beyond many. And hiring a consultant first costs you money. Often big money. Hence it’s a leadership decision and you as a leader make the rules. Don’t ever let others decide at will whether to hire a consultant. People are quick spending money that is not theirs. And even quicker when they find ways to ‘delegating’ their responsibility to others.
Here are a few hints you might want to ponder and observe before even thinking about hiring a consultant:
  • When you have a business the assumption is that you know how to run it. That you know your business inside out. Likewise with your employees. Each one was hired as an expert on his/her job. Hence, consultants, if anything, should be a rather very rare need. And if someone comes along in your company asking for a consultant, that should raise a big red flag. That person should better have a freakin’ excellent explanation why that is needed. Supported by real data instead of some gut feelings.
  • Your usual consultant is neither engaged, nor involved in your business. Consultants are coming in and out of companies. They have no long term connection with your company. You are but just one of a number of different clients. Hence, the time is limited he or she is willing to set apart for you. First and foremost they sell something to you. And the more they sell, the better off they are. Why wasting time with one client when during the same time they could close a sale with a couple of others? Does opportunity cost ring a bell?
  • Consultants can never be held accountable. Successful execution is always your responsibility and never theirs. Think about that for a moment: you are supposed to do something a third party is recommending to you. And that third party has no skin in the game.
  • When they are ‘that excellent’ as they claim at what they talk about, ask them why they don't do it themselves. Such experts are truly sought after and could make a shitload of money in most companies.
  • Be very careful with your hard earned company money. Think before you spend it. Think what the best option, the best return, for your company would be. Check your other options and compare it to the consulting option. Which one is the most likely to deliver the best return?
  • Rarely, consultants are more than just another cost factor. And why should you outsource ‘cost-creating’? Each buck you earned you can only spend once. Spend it wisely then.
  • Ever wondered why most consultants are always amongst the first being eliminated when times become tough and rough? When the ship is sinking? It's because when you must stay afloat you get rid of useless ballast first.
In case you are considering hiring a consultant keep this in mind:
  • How do you hire an employee? Use the same rigorous process when thinking about hiring a consultant. Or would you hire an employee because he is doing the ‘buddy talk’ and invites you to a cheap lunch?
  • Consultants are always talking about best practice. That should tell you something. Best practice means horizontal progress, repeating what's already known. For that you don't need a consultant. Look for those able to create vertical progress and doing what has not been done before.
  • Expect them to know your business as well as you do. And ‘knowing’ means experience, means having done it. Fantasizing about it is not good enough. Keep in mind Virgil: “Trust one who has gone through it.” And only those you can trust.
  • Don't accept just lukewarm talk and fancy presentations. Expect them to get their hands dirty and do what they are talking about. Do it together with your people. On the job. Training your people while doing it. That’s the best way to learn for your people. And it’s the only way to prove the value of the advice. It cuts through the bullshit.
  • Do a value analysis. Check if the real value of what you receive is significantly higher than what you pay for. Check the data and don’t just take their word for it.
  • The return on your investment should be something around 10X. In other words the price you pay times ten. And it must be real return and not the one dreamed up. 10X is an expectation, a gauge that forces you to think and think critically about what you are offered.
  • Last but not least: If the consultant refuses to commit to a clearly determined goal and return within a defined time frame, you don’t need them. They proved themselves useless.
When you as a leader observe the above by now the vast majority of consultants will have already eliminated themselves. Leaving you with a small number of consultants able to reach the bar, the bar you have put very high. Not only does this save you time and money, it also might provide your company with a nice additional return.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Leaders and Limited Time

Time is the single most precious resource you have. That’s true for anybody. And especially true for leaders. Years ago at a business meeting the keynote speaker, a highly respected entrepreneur, said: “Life is like a bank account. On this account you have your time, your lifetime. Every day you are drawing some of it. The problem is that you won’t receive an account statement. You don’t know how much is left. Therefore be very careful for what and, most importantly, with whom you spend it.”
Leaders are flooded every day with all sorts of requests and all sorts of ‘information’. They receive often hundreds of emails. They are invited to many meetings. And many people want to talk with them, are fighting for their attention. Each one feels equally important. Impossible to deal with everything and everyone. The amount of time they have is limited, very limited.
Add to that the time spent on virtual social networks. The quick tweets here, the comments there. You were told by some ‘experts’ that it’s important to network. They told you that it’s a ‘must’ to show presence in these virtual social networks. So you do it. And it adds up. Mostly a big, fat waste of time. Most likely the biggest time waster ever.
Leaders don’t fall into these traps. They have a highly developed bullshit detector. And they are unafraid of being labeled ‘rude’, ‘unfriendly’, ‘unapproachable’, or even ‘asshole’. Leaders know what matters and what doesn’t. Leaders are in charge of their lives. And they know it and live it. They don’t relinquish control of their lives neither to others, nor to the circumstances, ever.
Here are some hints on how leaders stay in control of their time:
  • Emails:
Most people use email to either avoid working altogether (the lazy ones). Or, because they are afraid to talk directly with others and solve the issue (the wimps). And then there is the group of the ‘permanently confused’. Hence, when you check your inbox -
    • do it once when you start your day and once in the afternoon. That’s good enough.
    • Delete emails immediately when the sender was unable to provide a clear, coherent subject line. And then delete all those, where the sender was unable to explain in 2 short sentences what it is he or she wants.
With these two rules you have already eliminated more than 90% of the emails in your inbox. No worries, you won’t have overlooked anything essential. Essential things are only brought to your attention by people who have their act together. And they know and understand when and how to approach you.
  • Meetings:
Meetings are only then indispensable, when there is either no other way to know, understand, and solve a problem. Or, when important decisions need to be made. And you don’t have to be in all meetings:
    • Check the agenda for those topics where your attendance is needed. For that the topics must be precise, clear, to the point, and relevant.
    • When the agenda is unclear, the topics ‘wishy-washy’, the meeting is irrelevant. It should be canceled right away.
    • Then there are ‘emergency meetings’. Be very careful with those. Most of these meetings are called by the ‘permanently confused’. Stop that. True emergencies will make themselves noticed immediately.
  • Virtual Social Networks / Networking:
The number one time waster. Way too many people with no other things to do are creating more and more ‘communities’, ‘discussion groups’, and other mostly useless online gatherings. They call it ‘networking’. And relentlessly keep broadcasting their need to everyone how important that is to network with them. I call that ‘notworking’.
Leaders do indeed network, yet observe the following:
    • Be very selective when joining groups, online and offline.
    • Only talk with people who have something to say and to contribute. People of value and with values. People of character. Preferably coming from different fields and thus enhancing your worldview. And leaders know that there are only relatively few of them around.
    • Choose the critical thinkers. Those able to think for themselves. Granted, that requires a certain higher level of intelligence. Something leaders should have.
    • You don’t have to be on each and every VSN. And refrain from tweeting / posting your regular ‘water level status reports’. Those interested in that don’t matter. And those who matter don’t give a shit. Leaders get attention naturally, no matter what. They don’t have to be ‘needy’.
It’s not about quantity. You want the highest quality around. Hence, that reduces the number of people you want to be with considerably. And that is the purpose. Because now you have enough time to spend with them.
Leaders don’t just spend their time regardless of who requests to talk with them. No one can afford that. And certainly not a leader. Treat your time as that what it is: your most valuable resource. Time spent you cannot get back.
One more thing:
Leaders are not addicted to their smartphones. Hence, they don’t run into light poles while checking ‘the latest’. They use it as a valuable tool. And they know how to turn it off and being uninterrupted. They understand and appreciate freedom, privacy, and quality of life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaders and Their Networks

Networking was and is a people sport. Human beings are social creatures and want to belong. Yet, with the appearance of virtual social networks it literally exploded. Everyone seems to be busy with frantically networking. A huge amount of time is spent with such activities. Spent without thinking critically about whether this time was spent wisely. Whether this time could have been used for something more important. And most people forget that their time is the single most valuable resource they have. A minute spent of your lifetime you can never get back. But they uncritically go on growing their network. And suddenly networking becomes the purpose itself replacing the goals they had in the beginning.
The power to change or affect someone or something. The power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.
To spend time with someone in a friendly way especially when it is considered wrong or improper to do so.
The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Leaders do have networks too. Yet, leaders operate differently. They are extremely selective. Networks of leaders are not about quantity, but rather about the highest quality. For leaders meeting people offline, face to face, is much more important. Meeting online is just a nice, sometimes time-saving, add on. Leaders understand communication. It’s so much more than what you can get across online in chats, posts, and even in video hangouts. Meeting someone in person cuts through the bullshit.
Leaders seek for remarkable, high quality people. People of character. People on par with them. Those few standing up for what they deem right. Taking a stand even when all others disagree. People who do not depend on the opinion of others. People in their own power. For leaders nothing could be worse than being surrounded by ‘likeminded yae-sayers’. Leaders meet with people from many different fields. People with different points of view. That’s the only way to learn.
Leaders don’t just meet with anybody no matter who it is. They know that they have to earn the right to speak with others. And others have to earn the right to speak with them. They select carefully with whom to connect and with whom not. Leaders know that one can have only few friends. Hence, meeting someone for them is not about making friends. It’s about sharing information, learning, and making mutually beneficial connections. They understand influence. Influence doesn’t come from quantities of people. Influence doesn’t come from the puppets. Influence you gain connecting with and being accepted as equal by the few puppeteers.
Leaders are not harmony seekers. Leaders are not desperate for approval and appreciation. Leaders know that it is more important to say ‘no’ than it is to say ‘yes’. Networking is not about pleasing people and being everybody’s darling. Leaders think critically and are their own drummers. Leaders never fraternize. Fraternizing is for people who feel ‘less than’. Leaders don’t take part in useless and meaningless discussions. Like the ones happening all the time on virtual social networks. And leaders certainly don’t waste time sharing trivialities like, for instance, cat pics online. They don’t waste their time and are respectful with other people’s time.
Leaders value privacy. Extremely. They don’t share or even expose their private lives to others. Hence, they are not always available. And they are not available to everyone. And they are certainly not glued to a screen and waiting for the latest notifications. Leaders have and live a life of their own. Different to the majority. They have no need to show off. Yet, they pull the important strings.
You might not agree and arguing that many people told you otherwise. And I am sure they do. Yet, ponder that: When you want to know how wolves operate, never ask sheep.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

About Leading and Power

When it comes to power it’s mostly always discussed with a negative connotation. Add it to leadership and it’s seen as something really bad. The recipe for a heated discussion. Especially when it comes to the leadership of the 21st century.
Yet, leading and power go together. Without it nothing goes. One must distinguish between two types of power: natural power and ‘assigned power’. ‘Assigned power’ is not really power, but a force. And force always produces a counterforce. No one enjoys to be ‘forced’ into something. That’s where the bad reputation of power stems from.
Leaders do have power. Some power comes with the position, in other words ‘assigned power’. And then leaders have natural power. Natural power by far outweighs ‘assigned power’. People with natural power experienced that already as kids. Other kids were voluntarily choosing to follow them, were choosing them as their leaders.
Interesting enough these natural leaders don’t ask others to follow them. They, themselves, are their own drummer. They do what they do no matter whether others might follow or not. That is not their concern. They think for themselves. Doing their own critical thinking. Looking for evidence. Never just believing. They don’t follow opinions. They are natural skeptics. They are independent.
Even as kids they don’t engage in pissing contests. Or in meaningless fights. They dislike, even disdain useless debates based on personal beliefs and absence of any kind of evidence. Let alone critical thinking. Soap operas and all kinds of the ‘daily trivial dramas’ are anathemas to them. And a complete waste of their time.
Leaders with natural power are direct and to the point. They talk straight not leaving room for doubts what they might have meant. They have no need to hide behind buzzwords. And an even lesser need for authoritative lingo. When leaders go up on stage and talk, or when they write, there must be a real reason to do so. They aim to educate and inform people. They aim to get a point across. They aim to get people to think critically. They don’t waste peoples time by trying to impress them with ever more complicated phrasing. And they don’t waste their own time either with irrelevant stuff.
These leaders are not looking for being the center of public attention. It’s never about the applause. Often, these leaders remain almost ‘invisible’. Invisible, because they gladly relinquish the limelight to others. Yet, they are the ones pulling the important strings.
People can love them. People can hate them. They cannot be ignored though. Yet, what they all do is envy these leaders. Envy them because of their independence. Envy them because of their freedom. Envy them because of their courage. The courage to take a stand for what matters. To them and to others. The courage to be there for others when they need them most. Even in the face of danger. The courage to stand up and speak up even when the whole world is against them.
Whether people love them or hate them, they all admire them. Admire them openly and sometimes secretly. People admire the character of such a leader. They like the attention they receive. They feel safe and protected with them. And deep inside they wish for becoming one day like these leaders.
That’s what describes the natural power true leaders have, They radiate it. And people around them are attracted to it. That’s why they choose to follow. Choose without the coercion of ‘assigned power’. They choose freely to do so. That’s what power is about.
“Nothing happens until something moves " - Albert Einstein
What energy is to the universe, power is to leadership. The lifeblood making leading possible and getting things done.
There is no leading without power. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Leadership and The Noise

Face it: we are surrounded by an ever increasing amount of noise. And that’s already an euphemism. What it is we are surrounded by is an enormous amount of bullshit. So much bullshit that not even the bullshit generators on the internet can keep up with it.
Those of you old enough to remember the times before email will also remember the filters installed back then. At your company you couldn’t just write something and send it out. At least one more person, usually your boss, had to read it first and sign off on it. Hence, people would think twice before just writing something. And if your boss happened to be a true leader he would guide you to solve the problem instead of writing about it. I know how rare that is. Even rarer is to encounter a true leader. Yet, there was at least this barrier one had to overcome before writing.
Then email came along and with it everyone suddenly became empowered to just write. And writing they do. Indiscriminately. The ideal instrument for lazy people to avoid working. Just asking a bunch of irrelevant, stupid questions / comments and send it to the next victim. Bain & Company recently published a study. It states that a company with 10,000 employees loses in average $ 60 million / year through this careless behavior.
The same is true when it comes to newspapers and magazines. Those were the times when things like context, content, facts, evidence, class and style were important. Or can you imagine you could have written  the same paragraph twice back then without anyone noticing? Nowadays it happens all the time. The ‘copy and paste epidemic’. Only basic brain functions required.
All sorts of presentations about many topics are cobbled together in the same way. Entire meetings, often Board meetings, and seminars and conferences are flooded with stuff someone found somewhere in the internet. Words and phrases ripped out of context and bolted together no matter what and how. Copied and pasted like there would be no tomorrow. And after the fact just fuck it, file it, and forget it. The main thing is making it sound complicated, thus important. And if it sounds sexy, even better. Meaningless stuff crafted by human bullshit generators. And worse, many of these presenters actually believe the shit they are rambling about. Wasted time one cannot get back. A society drowning in gibberish. Voluntarily. Willful ignorance meets absence of critical thinking.
The question is why leaders are tolerating such insults of one's intelligence. Why are they allowing being taken for a ride so easily? Maybe it’s because sometimes bullshit is skillfully camouflaged. If you are unsure then just show it to three intelligent people unfamiliar with the topic. If they don’t understand it it’s safe to assume that you got bullshitted.
As a leader it's your duty to stand up, speak up, and stop the bullshit. Call it out loud: the emperor has no clothes. And don’t let your people getting exposed to it. Worse, getting misled by it. That’s what a leader is responsible for.
Leaders lead. They don’t follow opinions. And certainly not bullshit. Yet, that rarely happens.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Silly Little Detail: Can You Rely Upon Your Leaders?

You lead an organization / a company. Depending on the size of your entity you have some leaders running the different areas / departments. The larger an organization becomes, the more of these leaders you need. There are only so many people you can lead directly. Hence, you and the success of your organization depends directly on relying upon your other leaders. And that has proven time and again to be a real problem in large organizations.
Here’s a case in history to illustrate the point:
You have certainly heard about Napoleon Bonaparte. And ‘Waterloo’ will ring a bell. It has become a synonym for strategic blunder. Even though Napoleon’s field commanders, mainly Grouchy and Ney. knew the strategy, they still failed to fully comprehend it. Both were amongst the bravest, yet, not the smartest leaders.
Marshall Grouchy was following the Prussians with one third of the entire French army. He failed to hinder the Prussians joining the allied forces of Wellington at the battlefield. Instead of keeping them separate of Wellington’s army, he pushed them towards Wellington’s army.
And Marshall Ney misinterpreted a tactical retreat of Wellington’s army. He mounted a very brave attack with the entire French cavalry charging and without any infantry support. Very brave and very stupid ignoring the basics of strategy and tactics. And against the orders given by Napoleon before.
The result was a complete and utter defeat of the French at Waterloo. Napoleon himself had overlooked a silly detail: “Making the bravest your field commanders instead of the smartest always results in blunder.” His words and something he had known well to be true.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. Organizations / companies, successful at a time, are suddenly run into disaster by their leaders. An organization is only as strong as its leadership. And leadership is only as strong as its weakest part. Common sense and as such very well known, often ignored. And one big issue is seldom talked about:
  • Did these leaders understand and do what had been agreed upon?
  • Did they always have the overall objective in mind?
  • Did they stick to the strategy?
  • Were they capable of adjusting their tactics / actions to what the particular situation required?
  • Could they be relied upon 100 percent?
  • Could they put their egos aside?
  • Were they smart enough or just brave?
  • Did they have character?
There is a reason why turnarounds are needed so often. And the reason is always leaders. Leaders leading their organizations straight into blunder. And then the cry for a turnaround arises. The shareholders fear for their money. And they bring in new leaders. Leaders who might have certain merits but not necessarily expertise on turnarounds. Thus, the next mistake is made. You can’t perform turnarounds with the same type of leaders that has caused the problem in the first place. Turnarounds are indeed a different beast. Leaders unable to make the tough calls required not even in good times won’t make the much tougher calls in a turnaround.
Have a thorough look into your organization:
  • What kind of leaders do you have?
  • Are they first and foremost reliable?
  • Can they do what’s required and not just their best?
  • Are they willing to put themselves to the line?
  • Do they have character?
  • Do they have what it takes to be a leader?
Also, check the use of the language of your leaders.
  • How do they talk?
  • How do they write?
  • Are they crystal clear and concise in expressing themselves not leaving any space for doubt?
  • Or do they prefer using euphemisms and buzzwords designed to impress people?
And by the way: start with an honest assessment of yourself.