No Excuses Real Leadership

No Excuses = Real Leadership

No Excuses Real Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leaders don’t offer, nor do they accept excuses. True leadership demands the character to demonstrate personal responsibility for one’s actions, and the courage to hold others accountable for theirs. Excuses attempt to conceal personal or professional insecurities, laziness, and/or lack of ability. They accomplish nothing but to distract, dilute, and deceive. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

The word “excuse” is most commonly defined as: a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense. History’s greatest leaders have always fostered cultures of commitment, trust, and performance, where action is valued over rhetoric. Leaders who issue or accept excuses are complicit to muting performance and fueling mediocrity.

The problem we face as a society is we live in a time where he or she with the best excuses wins. Excuses have become the rule, and performance has become the exception – a sad commentary to be sure. However the solution is a rather simple one – I’ve always said, people will stop offering excuses the minute those in positions of leadership stop accepting them.

People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, mental illness, victimization, and virtually every challenge known to man. Life is full of examples of the uneducated, the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who could have made excuses, but who instead chose a different path – they chose to overcome the odds and succeed.

John Wooden said, “Never make excuses. Your friends won’t accept them and your foes won’t believe them.” The great thing about performance is it obviates the necessity of an explanation. In these troubled times inept leaders blame their business woes on the economy, while skilled leaders find a way to thrive. Challenges and setbacks are opportunities for growth and development, not permission space for rationalizations and justifications. The best leaders not only understand this, they ensure the entirety of their organization practices it.

Here’s the thing – sane people don’t expect perfection from leaders, but they do expect leaders to be transparent and accountable. Accepting responsibility for your actions, or the actions of your team makes you honorable, and trustworthy – it also humanizes you. People don’t want the talking head of a politician for a leader, they want someone they can connect to, and relate with. They not only want someone they trust, but someone who trusts them as well.

One of my favorite quotes is by Edward R. Murrow; “Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.”  The fastest way to lose respect as a leader is to focus on optics over ethics. If you’re more concerned about political fallout than solving the problem, you have failed as a leader. Even though responsibility for decisions defaults to the leader, responsibility should be a thing of design, not default. It should be readily accepted and not easily denied – this is real leadership.

Thoughts?

Leadership is NOT Dodgeball

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership today seems to be all too often confused with playing a game of dodgeball. It’s as if many leaders show-up for work each day with a freshly applied coat of Teflon, ready to duck and dodge anything that comes their way. Let me be clear – I appreciate savvy and finesse as much as the next person, but not as a substitute for courage. We have too many people in leadership positions who can’t or won’t accept responsibility for anything. Put simply, leadership is about accountability, and not only being willing to take the hit, but also being capable of surviving the hit. Leadership IS ownership…

If your immediate response to a problem is to spin, deflect, or blame-shift, then you’ve got a lot to learn about leadership. Those whom you lead are not looking for you to step back or step aside from issues, they’re looking for you to step-up and hit issues head on. The fastest way to lose respect as a leader is to focus on optics over ethics. If you’re more concerned about political fallout than solving the problem you have failed as a leader. Even though responsibility for decisions defaults to the leader, responsibility should be a thing of design, not default. It should be readily accepted and not easily denied – this is real leadership.

The entire world seems to be crying out for real leadership right now. Not leaders in title, but leaders in action. Whether in the boardroom, political arena, or on the front lines, leadership is far more than holding press conferences, giving speeches, and presiding over meetings and committees. Leadership is owning the responsibility for getting things done or failing to do so. Remember, specificity of thought and deed shatters the comfort and safety sought by those who prefer to remain in the shadows of vague rhetoric.

Let’s look at this another way – when was the last time you held a leader in high regard who dodged the issue, didn’t do the right thing, failed to accept responsibility, took credit for another person’s achievements, or blamed someone else for their mistakes? My guess is that your answer, as it should be, is never. While people will take issue with arrogance or ignorance, they will usually accept an honest mistake – especially where sincere contrition and remorse exist.

Here’s the thing – sane people don’t expect perfection from leaders, but they do expect leaders to be transparent and accountable. Accepting responsibility for your actions, or the actions of your team makes you honorable, and trustworthy – it also humanizes you. People don’t want the talking head of a politician for a leader, they want someone they can connect to, and relate with. They not only want someone they trust, but someone who trusts them as well.

If you take one thing away from today’s post, it should be this: leadership isn’t about you, your ego, your pride, or your personal ambition – it’s about caring for and serving those you lead, while accomplishing the mission at hand. Leadership has very little to do with the leader, and everything to do with those being led.

I knew a great football coach who used to say “Step-up and take the hit or get off the field.” My sentiments exactly. Thoughts?

Why Accountability Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Don't let accountability be your weak link...Accountability and transparency are hot topics today, and rightly so…Given this new found popularity, I felt that a piece delving into the topic of accountability would be both prudent and timely. Frankly, considering what the lack of accountability has done to our nation’s economy and political structure we should all be spending more time on the topic. However the truth is that few people really like to hear the “A” word applied to their individual circumstances, choices, decisions, and performance. Regrettably, this is precisely why we are embroiled with many of the daunting challenges facing our country today.  Nothing keeps personal and corporate train wrecks from occurring more than a solid framework of accountability. In today’s post I’ll examine the many  reasons for why accountability should matter to all of us…

Regardless of where you are in the corporate hierarchy, accountability is a fundamental principle associated with success. Administrative and support staff needs to be accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work. Sales people need to be accountable for not only production volume, but also the manner in which they represent the company brand while attaining said volume. Management needs to be accountable to their subordinates, as well as to executive leadership. Executives need to be accountable for their quality of leadership and decision making, and as we discussed yesterday, board members need to be accountable to shareholders. I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t also take a moment to remind politicians that they are accountable to their constituents.

Accountability is the lowest cost, most practical, and most productive form of risk management and quality assurance that can be implemented across an enterprise. It is really nothing more than a common sense understanding that decisions made within a framework are going to have a greater chance of success than those made in a vacuum. Decisioning options vetted in the full light of public view will by default go a long way toward the prevention of self-dealing.

It is those individuals or organizations who don’t believe they are accountable to anyone, for anything, or at anytime that are nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. All human beings, regardless of who they are, can be capable of making huge mistakes when operating in a vacuum or under a veil of secrecy. While there are certainly those individuals who are just predatory, bad to the bone people, clearly not everyone who makes a mistake is evil with the intent to do harm to others. Rather many people when faced with a tough situation simply were not operating in an accountable manner, and therefore made a decision that they would not have likely made if they were openly operating under the scrutiny and review of others.

All one has to do is to just pay attention to the recent headlines to understand the critical importance of, and need for accountability. I truly believe that if most of the public figures falling prey to bad decisions of late had been operating in the open light of day, and had they sought counsel in their decision making, that the outcomes of their recent debacles may have been quite different. If you think back to any of the bad and/or regrettable decisions you’ve made in your life, it is highly probable that you didn’t seek the counsel of others (or ignored said counsel) prior to making the wrong decision. Setting up an enterprise wide framework for accountability is as simple as implementing the following five items:

1. Have a clearly articulated statement of corporate values: Not only state the values that you want the entity to use as a foundation for operation, but also use the values to frame your vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and processes. Hire and manage based upon the corporate values. If you hire someone who doesn’t share the corporate values, or don’t hold existing employees accountable for maintaining the corporate values, then you will get what you deserve.

2. Have a written delegation of authority: A written guideline for corporate decisioning will help individuals make good decisions. Describe in great detail which employees are authorized to make what decisions. Establish budgetary and approval guidelines for all decisions, making sure that good checks and balances are in place to help keep employees accountable.

3. Implement a good leadership development program: Utilizing training, coaching, mentoring, peer review, talent management, and other development best practices will help insure that your leaders will continue to grow, and that corporate accountability guidelines are being consistently reinforced.

4. Active Oversight: Engaged management oversight is key to preventing poor decisioning. It is fairly easy to course correct if you’re only a few degrees off course for a short period of time. However, if allowed to wander far astray for great lengths of time, it may be virtually impossible to prevent a disaster. All small problems can be dealt with. However the bigger the problem, and the longer it has been allowed to fester, the more difficult and costly the solution (if there is a solution) will be.

5. Compensatory Penalties: Those individuals who believe they are substantially at risk for poor decisioning will simply make fewer bad choices. Fines, liquidated or punitive damages, compensation forfeiture, restitution, and/or termination will keep most people on the right side of the line.  

The bottom line is that individuals, teams, business units, divisions and corporations will be better off when a culture of accountability is adopted. Don’t run from accountability; rather embrace it as a way to manage personal and professional risk.

Related Post: ”Rogue CEOs & Board Accountability

Rogue CEOs & Board Accountability

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Accountability should be more than fine print...Rogue CEOs…given the recent failure of banks and financial institutions previously thought to be untouchable, there has been a tremendous amount of justifiable venom being spewed at the CEOs of these firms. Their ignorance, and in some cases their arrogance, allowed these rogue CEOs to operate outside of normal business rules, conduct self-serving agendas, and partake in self-dealing transactions all while receiving outrageous compensation. Before I go any further, let me state that I believe we should understand that the overwhelming majority of CEOs operate within the bounds of reason and ethics consistently placing stakeholder interests ahead of their own. The real question we should be asking is where were the boards of directors during this period of mismanagement? You see it is the board who is responsible for holding the chief executive accountable. Even where you have a CEO who is inclined to misbehave, an actively engaged board of directors simply won’t allow it to happen. In todays post I’ll examine the role of the board of directors in keeping CEOs accountable… 

Before I proceed further, and for contextual purposes, I believe it’s important to actually define the role of the board of directors. While there are certainly a variety of opinions as to the roles and obligations of a company’s board of directors, from my perspective they can all be boiled down into four simple responsibilities:

  1. Shareholder Accountability: A board member’s primary responsibility is to act in good faith as a fiduciary in representing the long-term best interests of shareholders. A board’s actions and decisions must be able to pass the litmus test of public scrutiny (legally, morally, and ethically), rise above personal agendas, and always place shareholder interests above all else;
  2. Corporate Governance: A board must insure that the corporation’s charter and by-laws are adhered to. Moreover a board must use its best efforts to hold executives accountable for insuring that corporate actions fall within other legal, financial, regulatory, and compliance boundaries. Ignorance and apathy are not the traits of a good board. Great board members are proactive, involved, supportive, consultative, experienced, and savvy. They know the rules, play between the lines, and do the right things. 
  3. CEO Oversight: It is the board’s job to select the CEO, provide the CEO with support and guidance, and to hold the CEO accountable. Good boards exercise great care and prudence in profiling CEO candidates, recruiting the right CEO for the job, providing the CEO with a clear job description, successfully onboarding the CEO, and holding the CEO accountable for meeting a set of clearly defined expectations. Good boards do not attempt to micro-manage a CEO, rather they understand their highest value in being a value added resource for the CEO focused on helping the CEO become successful. 
  4. External Visibility: A key responsibility of the board is to serve as an external champion of the corporate brand. Board members should have a clear understanding of the corporate vision and mission, and where prudent, evangelize the message for the benefit of the corporation. Whether this requires providing networking assistance, investor relations support, or engaging the media, a highly regarded and active board can add substantial value to the enterprise.

In the text that follows I’ll offer several points that will help a board evaluate whether or not they have the right CEO for the job:

  • Tenure: In a previous post entitled “CEO Term Limits” (a must read for board members) I stated that there is no such thing as a standard shelf-life for a CEO. No rules of thumb apply when evaluating whether a CEO has outworn his/her usefulness purely from a chronological perspective. I’ve witnessed CEO’s where the company has outgrown their skill sets, and/or abilities within a year of hire (a bad hire…), and I’ve also observed many instances of CEOs that have successfully guided companies for 20 years. The question is not how long a CEO serves, but rather what he or she does while serving. Whether age 32, or age 72, a board must ask themselves, is our CEO doing the job, and perhaps the better question is, are they the best CEO for the job?
  • Performance: The topic of performance is a multi-faceted issue. A CEO’s performance should be benchmarked against a variety of key performance indicators which are clearly spelled out in the chief executive’s employment agreement. When evaluating performance, a board must evaluate whether a lack of performance exists across all areas or in a single area, whether the lack of performance is a short-term aberration vs. the likelihood of it being a burgeoning problem, and whether the CEO can be coached through the performance gap, or whether the lack of performance is an irreconcilable issue.
  • Ethics Violations: The character of the CEO is often synonymous with the brand of the enterprise. Once a chief executive has violated the public trust, or made a gross or negligent error in judgment which could taint the corporate brand, a board should move swiftly to restore the integrity of the corporation. Many things can be spun, justified, rationalized, or managed, but a lack of ethical behavior on the part of the chief executive is not one of them. Let me also be clear that a good employment contract will make null and void any favorable severance packages where malfeasance, misfeasance, gross negligence, or fraud on the part of the CEO is present.
  • Loss of Confidence: Once the board, the employees, the capital markets, the press, or other key constituencies have lost confidence in the CEO, the board must replace the CEO. A CEO cannot lead, motivate, or inspire without the trust and confidence of those they serve.
  • Lack of Development: The corporate enterprise and the business world in general, are dynamic, fluid, and evolving environments. Therefore great chief executives cannot be static in their personal or professional development, or in their strategic and tactical approach to doing business. A CEO that does not exhibit the ability to change, innovate, and grow with the world around them is someone who will likely need to be replaced.

In the final analysis, the board’s decision as to whether a CEO should be replaced is a decision that should be made within the framework of managing risk and opportunity. The board must weigh the transitioning a CEO against the financial costs, the impact of the business disruption and lack of continuity that can come with replacing the CEO, the market reaction to a change in leadership, and whether the decision is ultimately motivated by right thinking. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the title of “Director” should not be synonymous with “Crony.”  Any board member not willing to uphold the aforementioned duties and responsibilities should be replaced in a New York second.