Who’s In Charge?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Who's In Charge?“Who the **** is in charge around here?” This question left an absolutely indelible impression on my mind since I first heard it more than 30 years ago.  Our unit was experiencing its first inspection by a Sargeant Major whose reputation definitely preceded him…It took him all of about 3 seconds ask “who the **** is in charge around here?” He then proceeded to communicate in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t nearly as concerned about the faults he would find, as he was about how our leader (guess who?) could have allowed them to occur in the first place. It was at this precise moment that I came to understand that the most important factor in determining whether or not something will be successful is who is charged with the responsibility for making it happen.

I’m always amazed at the number of organizations that charge sub-par leaders with mission critical tasks and then wonder why they failed to meet their objectives. The most important decision a leader can make with regard to any implementation, initiative, project, objective, goal, task, etc. is who they are going to put in charge? As much as it may be politically incorrect to say so, it’s not nearly as much about the team, as it is the leader’s ability to assemble and lead the team. In all but the rarest of circumstances, teams simply don’t function well in the absence of sound leadership. In fact, in most cases I’d go so far as to say that in the absence of leadership you might be able to assemble a group of people, but said group will not function as an effective team on it’s own accord. 

The only exceptions I’ve witnessed that contradict my observations mentioned above are situations where a purpose-aligned execution based on the desire to give selflessly in service exists. This normally occurs in crisis/emergency/volunteer situations – for an example of this please read Wally Bock’s excellent post yesterday.  However, even in these circumstances personal leadership is still at the forefront of the success.

Whether you examine successful athletic teams, military teams, executive teams, management teams, technical teams, design teams, functional teams, or any other team, you’ll find that the best of the best have structure, a hierarchy of leadership, a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities & expectations, clear and open lines of communication, well established decisioning protocol, and many other key principals. Put simply; the most productive teams have the best leadership.   

To further my point, you can examine any organization and you’ll consistently find that the the best performing units have the best leadership, and the worst performing units have leadership challenges to overcome. Furthermore, in well run organizations you can determine which initiatives are most important to the enterprise by examining which leaders are tasked to what initiatives. Great organizations assign their best leaders to the most significant opportunities and/or to correct key shortcomings (see previous post: Resourcing 101 for CEOs).  

Bottom line…personal responsibility and accountability have always been the ultimate leadership “hot potato” in that everyone wants to be in charge, but few are willing to take ownership of the never-ending obligations that go along with the privilege of leadership. If the individuals placed in charge of executing key objectives, deliverables & results are not excellent leaders, you are simply setting yourself up for failure. The strongest argument for great leadership is what happens in its absence…very little.

What say you???

Leveraging Down for CEOs

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

DelegationIf you desire to become a successful leader at any level, much less a top CEO, it will be essential for you to master the art of leveraging down. The simple truth is that all great leaders are highly skilled in matters of delegation. Think of any top performing CEO and you’ll find that to the one, they possess an uncanny ability to focus on highest and best use activities. While most executives that have reached the C-suite level understand the importance of scaling via delegation, far too many CEOs struggle with the effective implementation of the concept. To this day I’m amazed at how many CEOs still own tasks, roles, projects, and responsibilities that should be delegated to others. So, in today’s post I’ll share a few tips on deciding which tasks, and to whom, the art of delegation should apply…

As a CEO it is critical to develop a keen understanding of your value to the enterprise, and to further develop an awareness of activities that are dilutive to said value. The number of activities a CEO takes on can certainly vary based upon skill sets, stage of corporate maturation, and the talent level of the rest of the executive team. That said, it is nonetheless safe to say CEOs who find a way to focus the majority of their efforts on the business vs. in the business will be the CEOs who achieve the highest and most sustainable levels of success.

Everyone’s time is valuable, and all time should be valued. That said, one of the first things you need to understand as a CEO is what your time is worth relative to others in the organization. There is a simple short-cut which allows you to quickly extrapolate an hourly rate from a total annual compensation figure that I find useful for quick comparative purposes. The calculation works like this: if you make $750,000 per year, just eliminate the last three zeros of your annual compensation figure and divide 750 by two. This calculation will give you an hourly rate based upon a 40 hour work week and a 50 week year. In this example the hourly rate of a CEO who makes $750k is $375 dollars per hour. So, if you run the same calculation on a $100k employee you find a $325 dollar per hour delta between your hourly rate and theirs. Therefore any items that don’t constitute $375 dollar an hour work, which can be leveraged down to someone with a lower hourly rate, provides positive arbitrage both in terms of cost savings and time recovered for higher and better use activities.

Another simple rule of thumb that allows you to maximize the equation mentioned above is to leverage down to the lowest level of talent possible while still insuring an acceptable level of execution. For instance, rather than leveraging down to the $100K talent in the example above, if you drive down further to let’s say a $30k individual, you increase your organizational leverage factor by almost another 30%. The most productive, high-performance organizations have the ability to deliver fairly complex solutions, and complete difficult tasks at the lowest levels within their organization.

Now that we’ve made the economic case for what, and to whom, you should leverage down, let’s discuss what does, and does not, merit the attention of a CEO based on non-financial analysis. In Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he put forth a simple decisioning framework that helps to distinguish between those activities that are truly priorities, and those that just appear to be priorities. Basic human nature is such that each individual believes that his/her problems and challenges are truly important, and therefore should constitute an emergency on your part. Your job as the CEO is to quickly be able to distinguish between the true emergency, and the perceived emergency. In Covey’s classic illustration below, you’ll find a simple chart to use as your guide.

Decisioning Matrix

Understanding how to effectively delegate to others in a fashion that sets them up for success and not failure is another key part of the equation. It is critical to understand that improper delegation not only results in the task not getting done, but in most cases, in the task ending-up back on your desk in worse shape than when it left. You see, if you keep authority but delegate responsibility you actually disable someone from being effective. If you give away both authority and responsibility you haven’t delegated, you have abdicated. If you keep both authority and responsibility over something but delegate the task, you are tasking not delegating.  Smart leaders empower others by delegating the authority but owning the responsibility. I would suggest reading this paragraph at least 3 times and then examine your delegation style to see if you’re being effective in your efforts.

The moral of the story is this – a lack of delegation creates operational bottlenecks, delegation confused with abdication creates organization chaos, and effective delegation of authority vs. tasks creates personal and operational excellence. Focus on making the lower echelons as competent and productive as possible, driving all decisions down to the lowest level in the organization without suffering an unacceptable increase in delivery risk. The tips mentioned above will help you build a formidable organization, make better use of your time, and insure operational performance gains across the enterprise.


Leadership Boldness

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do You Have An Edge?Are you a bold leader? Have you been told that you have a bit of an edge? If so, you have likely found that it serves you very well. Let me be clear that when I refer to an edge I’m not talking about rough edges, or confusing candor with rude or arrogant behavior. What I am referring to is having a direct, no B.S. approach that allows you to get right to the heart of an issue in the shortest time-frame possible. So my question is this…how edgy are you?

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday debating the merits of new GM CEO, Daniel Akerson’s leadership style. Mr. Akerson is well known for his candid, demanding and often blunt approach to business. The article discussed the pros and cons assocaited with his style of leadership, which I personally find quite refreshing. Spare me the politicians masquerading as CEOs, and give me a leader who will cut to the chase and get things done.

On several occasions I’ve received that “I can’t believe you just said that” look from clients. In fact, one recent interaction in particular does a good job of conveying the value of having an edge…I had a client look directly at me and say: “If I spoke to my clients like that they would fire me right on the spot…How do you get away with that?” My question back to him was: “Why don’t you fire me?” His response: “because you tell me what I need to hear as opposed to what you think I want to hear, and I value that.” My reply: “That’s how I get away with it.”

I have found that people largely fall into two groups: those known for their candor, and those known for a lack thereof. I have also found that in most cases people value candor, and if they don’t, I’ve found that they tend to live in an ego-centric, altered state of denial that will result in many unnecessary hardships. I coined the following phrase to address these delusional types: “Those who seek shelter in the wisdom of sound counsel must also be willing to take refuge there…Those unwilling to do the latter, really don’t value the former.” 

I’ve never been accused of being politically correct, or a shrinking violet. In fact, my edge is a large part of my competitive value proposition. I don’t sugar coat, gloss-over, or spin…rather I tell you what you need to hear, which is always the truth, regardless of whether or not it is easy to swallow. My clients tell me that having someone to hold them accountable, challenge their business logic, force them out of comfort zones, and tell them the truth is a rarity in the marketplace (remember that scarcity = value).

As a validation for what I’ve communicated above, among the most common requests received by coaching referral services are inquiries looking for “strong” coaches. The simple truth of the matter is that I’ve rarely encountered a successful professional advisor, entrepreneur, executive, or any leader for that matter who doesn’t have a bit of an edge. Think about it this way, do you want to be a professional mind reader, or do you simply prefer that people engage in sincere, honest dialog?

Now let’s take this discussion up a notch – how sharp is your edge? We’ve all come across those people in our lives who don’t just possess an edge, but they have taken their edge to a completely different level having honed it to a razor’s edge…These people not only possess the qualities espoused above, but they have also learned how to appropriately leverage their edge by using it for the right purpose at the right time. Whether they use their edge as a subtle carving tool used for shaping and refining, a surgical blade used to implement change, as a lightning rod for shock-and-awe purposes, or a defensive instrument of protection, they know when to use it, and when to keep it in check. So, I ask again…Do you have and edge, and if so, how sharp is your edge?

What do you think of the value of candor in the workplace?

Why Consensus Kills Team Building

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Teamwork MattersI read an interesting post last night by Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) entitled “Six ways to make teams work” and found myself in complete agreement with Dan on 5 out of the 6 points. Where Dan lost me was on point #4 – Teams Decide by Consensus. In recent months I have observed a decent amount of politically correct discourse on the topic of team building and equality. The gist of the argument seems to be that for teams to be productive, employees have to feel “empowered” by having an equal voice. I can sum-up my feeling on this in one word…ridiculous. To be blunt, the concept of equality in the workplace has only made team building more difficult as employees seem to have a sense of undeserved entitlement with regard to their roles and responsibilities. And as odd as it may sound, one of the greatest impediments to building productive teams is practicing management by consensus.  In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on team building and equality…

Before I start, let me point out that I hold Dan in high esteem and find myself in agreement with him much more often than not. He is one of my favorite leadership bloggers, and hopefully we’ll still be on speaking terms after this post. That said, let me be as direct as possible with my next statement – While all people may be created equal, they are certainly not all equals in the workplace. While the thought that all employees should have an equal say may get some air time in business school, I have found that often times the theoretical discussions that take place in halls of academia have little to do with the realities that exist in the world of business. You must also keep in mind that the classroom is one of the few remaining bastions of true equality (at least until the grades are posted). The business world is not fair…it is regrettably most times rather merciless. In a highly productive organization the power and influence of your voice is earned through trust and performance, and not entitlement.

Team building basics are often overlooked by ineffective leaders or unproductive companies. However great leaders and highly productive organizations always focus on team building as a key priority. I have found that highly productive executives and companies clearly understand the value, leverage, efficiency, and economies of scale that are generated by assembling highly focused, motivated, and productive teams. If you are a CEO or entrepreneur and don’t see team building as a priority, then the text the follows is written for you.

I’ve often said that theory without action amounts to little more than useless rhetoric, and while most companies are spinning their wheels pontificating on the merits of team building, it is the truly great organizations that put theory into practice. Great leaders intrinsically understand that team building catalyzes collaboration, creates both disruptive and incremental innovation, facilitates a certainty of execution, and is one of the key foundational elements associated with creating a dynamic corporate culture.

It is one thing to be able to recruit talent, something altogether different to properly deploy individual talent, and quite another thing to have your talent play nicely in collaboration with one another. It is the responsibility of executive leadership to set the tone for great teamwork by putting forth a clearly articulated vision, and then aligning every aspect of strategic and tactical decisioning with said vision. A lack of clarity, the presence of ambiguity, obviously flawed business logic, or constantly shifting priorities/positions are the death of many a venture. However CEOs that implement a well thought out and clearly articulated vision, create a sense of stability and a bond of trust amongst the ranks. This in turn leads to a very focused, coordinated, and ultimately a very passionate work environment. It is not too difficult to get your crew all oaring together when these characteristics are firmly in place because they now know which direction to row.  

I have been generally well regarded throughout my career for building extremely effective teams, and what I can share with you is that team building is not about equality at all. Rather team building is about alignment of vision with expectations, getting team members to understand exactly what their roles are, and making sure they have the right resources to perform said duties with exacting precision. Building productive teams is about placing the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Team building should have nothing to do with ego, tenure or titles, but rather it should be all about competency, collaboration and productivity. Leaders must clearly communicate to team members what their duties, roles, and responsibilities are, as well as setting forth a road map for performance expectations. Team building, group dynamics, talent management, leadership development, and any number of other functional areas are much more about clarity, focus, aligning expectations, and defining roles than creating equality. If you examine the most effective teams in the real world you’ll find numerous examples which support the thoughts being espoused in this text.

Whether you look at athletic teams, military teams, executive teams, management teams, technical teams, design teams, functional teams, or any other team, you’ll find that the best of the best have structure, a hierarchy of leadership, a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations, clear and open lines of communication, well established decisioning protocol, and many other key principals, but nowhere is equality found as a key success metric for teams. Decisioning by consensus usually results in no decision being made, or an intellectually dishonest, watered-down decision that is so full of compromises, hedges and caveats that a non-decision might have been preferable.  

While I’m a true believer in candor in the workplace, and have always encouraged feedback and input at every level of an organization, this doesn’t mean that everyone has an equal say, because they don’t…Moreover, those that hold less of a vested interest, that don’t have as much as risk, that don’t have the experience, or those that may be looking out for self-interest more than the greater corporate good should not be considered equal with those that do…

While I concur that there is no “I” in team and many other statements to that effect, such statements are not meant as endorsements for management by consensus. They are simply meant to foster a spirit of cooperation. Understanding how to lead and motivate groups and teams should not be considered one in the same with creating false perceptions of equality that don’t exist (Bonus Post: CEOs and Team Building). Real leadership means knowing when you should make the decision and when you should let others make the decision. Smart leaders may choose from time-to-time to give away authority, but they never give away responsibility – ultimately they own the decision regardless of who makes it and/or how it’s made.

Bottom Line: Show me any team created of equals and I’ll show you a team that will never reach its full potential…

What say you? I won’t hold it against you if you agree with Dan (love ya Dan), but I may push back on your logic.