The readers of this blog are people I have met and worked with. We have been in meetings together. You have taught me much over the past few years. I write these to you, specifically. I think that I have a good idea of the challenges you face and the conditions under which you work. Thus, when I write, I am focusing the message so that you can walk away after a few minutes with insights that can be used today…not theory, but application. Today’s message has that specific focus in mind.
Recent issues of Fortune (September 15, 2017) and Fast Company (October 2017) highlighted how leadership can effect so much! Sadly, in some camps, leadership abilities are many times categorized under what are called ‘soft skills’. I am never quite sure if this means that they are seen as ‘soft’ since they are so difficult to quantify, or if, subtly, it is implied that they are not as valid as the ‘hard’ quantifiable skills.
Fast Company had no qualms in running a very direct article on Microsoft’s current CEO, Satya Nadella, who has been at the helm for the last four years. Since the tech crash of the turn-of-the-century under leadership of both founder Bill Gates and his successor Steve Ballmer, Microsoft values had stagnated. The culture was knows as a “know-it-all” culture. It was poundingly relentless. According to Nadella, Gates had built a culture of criticism. He said “Bill’s not the kind of guy who walks into your office and says ‘Hey, great job’. It’s like, “Let me start by telling you the 20 things that are wrong with you today”.
Nadella started to go the other way. He emphasizes what has been done correctly and well. According to the article “he startes each senior leadership meeting with a segment called ‘Researcher of the Amazing,’ showcasing something inspiring at the company”.
There were four things he does, beyond listening and learning, that were noted as his success factors:
- Showing weakness is a strength – when he made an insensitive comment early-on in his tenure, he owned up fast, apologized, and turned it around.
- Patience and urgency can co-exist – recognizing that changing culture is a process of patience and change of habit does not mean tough decisions cannot be made in a rapid and timely fashion.
- People can grow and change – From the many books strewn around his office to the focus on ongoing learning from within the ranks he has changed Microsoft from a ‘know-it-all’ to a ‘learn it all’ culture.
- Empathy is a tool – As the article well states ‘Putting yourself in someone else’s place is a powerful way to alter behaviors and outcomes’.
A phrase in the introduction to the article said it well, “My first boss was a bully…He would yell and curse. We were all afraid of him. As unpleasant as it was, though, I have to admit that the fear was a powerful motivator.” But there are other, better ways to get a team to perform. In today’s business world, bullying tactics are increasingly backfiring (case in point: Travis Kalanick at Uber. Meanwhile, a new breed of CEO is rising, defined less by ‘command and control’ and more by ‘inspire and empower’.
So why the big emphasis here? What is new about this? The impact on the bottom line. In his four year tenure, Nadella has raised Microsoft’s market value by more than $250 billion, breaking the decade-long stagnation. The culture change has been the significant variable, according to the author.
Along the same vein, Fortune spoke of the CEO of LRN, which makes ethics and compliance software. He speaks regarding the four moral pillars of leadership. To quote from the article, his pillars are:
- Moral leaders are driven by purpose – They see the path as a journey and frame it explicitly for those that follow.
- Moral leaders inspire and elevate others – How they wield authority stems from how they view others…every decision is made with consideration of other’s humanity.
- Moral leaders are animated by both courage and patience – Most leaders use their formal authority to do the next thing right. Moral leaders, instead, focus on the next right thing.
- Moral leaders keep building muscle – They keep up learning and growing, both academically and emotionally. They continue to look for ways to improve and grown.
Finally, I share an experience I have had with a client over the last 18 months. The clinic owner, a veterinary physician with decades of experience, decided to embark on a leadership journey. She, along with her six physicians and many support staff, have attacked leadership. With monthly senior leadership meetings and quarterly all-staff meetings focused on learning and applying leadership. What have been the results? Morale is better than ever – a great qualitative measure. And, profits are up nearly 20%. A superb quantitative measure, with no other variable having changed other that her leadership focus.
How many times can we say that this works!? A quick review of how you are doing in these areas would make your reading worthwhile. Whether running a nursing unit of 20 nurses, or a regional operation of thousands, leadership works. People who feel valued act with value. And when they act with value. And when they act with value amazing things happen, both monetarily and morally.
What will be your next step?