Sunday, May 19, 2019

When it comes to leadership, one's actions speaks louder than words

Last week, I was involved in some interesting conversations on issues that slows organizations down and the role leadership play in leading to or resolving of these issues.

One such teething issue was how to get employees/new leaders understand the meaning of cultural fitment and further to avoid people/culture misfit cases early in their lifetime at the company. Not an easy problem to define, let alone attempt to solve it.

A group of us talked about specific cases (people/instances too confidential to be called out in this blog) on how early stage employees (in some cases, the ones in system for a long time too) just failed to align to cultural norms, behavioral expectations, leading to poor impression (about them) being formed. In some of these cases, their managers being in a remote country/site which gives them a very thin window to recover from these slip-ups and thereby shortening their spans in the teams or even in the organizations.
We did try and delve into root causes and solutions to avoid these situations from happening. One root cause that emerged prominently was that employees or leaders themselves don't get enough feedback timely.

Feedback mechanisms mostly are under-leveraged in most of the organizations. One could argue that for the feedback mechanisms to work, there really are 2 players. One is the feedback seeker, other is the one who provides the feedback. This division just about, sounds right.

But if we broaden our view for a moment, there's another crucial consideration. In addition to these 2 players there's also an invisible element called as intent. Simply put, if the intent to provide feedback or to receive feedback is missing then the feedback mechanisms won't serve the intended purpose.
Feedback without intent really is like human being without a heart or a life without purpose. Without appropriate intent, feedback mechanisms are reduced to check list items. One may get the task done but still be far from reaching the outcome.

If intent is so important, then who is responsible for ensuring that it's presence in the organization culture. It has to be the leader of the organization.
I was recently reading this book 'Trillion Dollar Coach'. I was fascinated by the story of how Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO) conducted his staff meetings in the presence of his coach, Bill Campbell. Below excerpt from the book:

To balance the tension and mold a team into a community, you need a coach, someone who works not only with individuals but also with the team as a whole to smooth out the constant tension, continuously nurture the community and make sure it is aligned around a common vision and set of goals. Sometimes this coach may just work with the team leader, the executive in charge. But to be most effective-and this was Bill's model-the coach works with the entire team.At Google, Bill didn't just meet with Eric. He worked with Jonathan and several other people, and he attended Eric's staff meetings on a regular basis. This can be a hard thing for an executive to accept-having a "coach" getting involved in staff meetings and other things can seem like a sign of lack of confidence. A 2014 study finds that it is the most insecure managers who are threatened by suggestions from others (in other words, coaching). So, conversely, publicly accepting acoach can actually be a sign of confidence. And a 2010 article notes that "group coaching" is effective but generally underused as a way to improve team or group performance (which the authors call "goal-focused change").

Eric Schmidt did a few things impeccably well:
1. Being open to being coached by someone requires one to break the barriers in the mind. Eric was super-successful but still chose the path that could expose his vulnerabilities. A courageous thing to do for a leader.
2. He let the effect of Bill not being restricted to his own self-development but extended the benefits to the entire team.
3. By inducting Bill in his staff meetings and by agreeing to be publically coached by him, he broke the traditional norms such as: the leader is always correct, one doesn't need a coach after being super successful and likewise.

In short, what Eric did with his actions was to inject the necessary intent in his team that spelled almost like:
1. It's ok to be corrected if one is wrong.
2. It's ok to receive feedback.
3. It's ok to give feedback.
4. To build successful communities in organization, real-time coaching is a huge enabler.

He could have just stood in front of all the employees and given an inspirational speech but he didnt take that route.
He didn't put up the fancy posters to express his intent, he did so by being an example that his team could emulate.
In a short run, people get impressed by the words and but in a long run, it's simply the actions that matter.

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