Make Yourself Dispensable

If you are a leader who cares about people development, you take succession planning very seriously. You list all critical positions and prepare for contingency situations and elaborate a clear and robust succession plan. That includes your position. Leaders who do not prepare for their succession are really doing a dis-service to their organization. A CEO needs to be able to designate a successor and to actively prepare that person to take over. Proper preparation includes advanced training, adequate mentoring and a fair amount of coaching. That includes working with this successor on areas of improvement and leadership gaps without creating a clone of yourself. It is about being able to transition a new leader in your role while respecting the leadership culture.

If you are running a team, a department or an organization, who is ready now to take on your role?

Here is the catch though. If you are at the top of your organization, every one is aiming at your position and some may do whatever is possible to remove you from there so that they can advance or get a shot at your position. So that offers a serious dilemma. While you make sure your succession is ready and you make yourself “dispensable”, others are shooting at you and try to make you fall. Chances are you will be fine. But there is a slight chance that the stars align against you. I speak by experience and there is nothing you can do to stop that. There is an expression that states: “it is lonely at the top”.

Still though, you have a responsibility to prepare your succession. This is a critical part of talent management. You owe this to your shareholders and to your organization. Should something happen to you or should you accept another position, the transition you put in place and the legacy you leave behind are much better if you prepare well. If you are running a team, a department or an organization, who is ready now to take on your role? Who is ready in 2 to 3 years? Are you grooming enough talent to take over critical positions 5 years from now? That includes yours. This is a reality. You are not indispensable.

Your Values

Many leadership exercises require you to list your personal values in life and how you might apply them in the world of business. The exercise may seem trivial but I found it transformational when it is being done as part of a profound process of introspection to define a long term personal and professional vision. I have gone through this process as part of the resonant leadership development program. This program guides you through exercises to narrow down your critical personal values that you live by, stand by, and that you apply in your leadership journey.

I wanted to share with you my values to trigger in you a need to find yours and pursue them with vigor and purpose in life:

1) Courage: For me courage is number one: courage implies taking risks, making tough decisions, acting with resilience and assertiveness. Leadership requires courage. But life also does.

List2) Reliability: I strive to be as dependable and reliable as possible. I do things that I say I would do. I respect commitments with my son and with my business partners. I take my responsibilities seriously.

3) Mindfulness: I welcome feedback. I am opened to different views. I learn from my personal and professional failures. I do fail often. But I get up and move forward with energy and passion.

4) Caring: I do care about people and their well being. In leadership, caring means showing interest, committing to coaching people, putting 100% in your work. Business is about people.

5) Self-improvement: I was never perfect; I am still not perfect and I will never be perfect. Perfection in fact does not exist. But becoming a better human being, a better leader and a better partner is my priority. That means being willing to take criticisms, to learn continuously and to experiment with new concepts.

There you have them. My values are in my DNA and are my way of life. I do not have them framed on my desk. I breathe them, I live by them and I act upon them. What are yours? Go through the exercise and you will see that it is not easy to go from a list of 100 to your 5 values. These five are the ones defining you. 

Leadership and Acting

Being a Leader means that, at times, you have to step up, becomes charismatic on demand and show a sustained level of inspiration. Being a strong leader requires resilience, courage and perseverance. It is not easy every day. Leaders are human beings as well and they also face personal issues, period of low energy, and high level of stress in their mission. The end result of this is that, at times, leaders have to be able to put themselves in a leadership mode and take on a role that might not feel genuine or true to them. Leaders have to be able to show a balance between strength and vulnerability. If they show exuberant optimism, they are seen as fake. If they show too much vulnerability, they are seen as weak.

Leadership and ActingI conjecture that leadership requires acting talent to be able to balance your leadership intensity and to adapt to business challenges. Now, I am not talking about a full fledge acting role where you appear to take the role of a character that you are not. I worked for seven years for a great Italian leader who was able to put up a show in budget meetings and in other team events. I remember his theatrical tirades while as the same time looking at me and winking! That experience was interesting but I learned about fine line between staying genuine and appearing as a “drama king”.

When I refer to acting, I am talking about using acting to project the right leadership traits when they are needed. For example, when your team faces tough adversity, you might also feel the emotion and stress but you have to be able to put yourself in a quick resilient mode projecting confidence, trouble shooting behavior while at the same time acknowledging people’s stress and the related emotions. In moments of stress, people observe their leaders and interpret the words they use and their body language. At that specific time, you have to watch yourself and “act” in a way that projects the right signals.

Leadership means reassuring your people, showing them the way forward, inspiring them through adversity. That requires leadership talent including the ability to act mindfully. Acting allows you to show strength, stability and charisma. You have to do this while remaining genuine or people will quickly sense you are a fake. That is a tough balance. Acquire this talent and you will be able to lead people through good and bad times.


The Truth Does Not Exist

After four years of intense academic work and thousands of pages of reading, I am now able to extract how this tenuous and enriching learning process transformed and reshaped my personal motivations. Yes, getting a PhD is a transformative adventure. And the transformation happens at many levels, both your personal and professional lives. One key learning is to be more careful and more mindful with the claims I am making especially those that are not backed by data or hard evidence. I realize that, as Leaders, many decisions and positions we take are derived from experience, from personal preferences, from cultural norms and from just plain improvisations.

Managerial judgments enter the decision-making process to help us rationalize the lack of facts and backing evidence. We take positions in favor of one or the other options and make choices based on previous experience. The more experience we gain in business and in management, the more we consider our views and pre-dispositions as truths. Then we transmit them to the next generation of leaders and convince them that they should accept them to reach the path to success.

No TruthNow, I realize now that truths do not exist. They are also many roads to success. I also realize that there is a need for more evidence-based management in business. This is why I encourage the creation of more practitioner-scholar doctoral programs. Linking the field of practice to research-based theory development can bring powerful insights to management principles. The goal is to build knowledge based on robust academic research that is solidly grounded in practice. So instead of saying “all companies should train their front line employees to increase participation”, then you can say “research data show a positive relationship between front line training of employees and their degree of participation”.

As a Ph.D. student, you learn how to build an argument making claims supported by warrants and backings, and completed with rebuttals and qualifiers. This is part of the critical thinking process. Next time you hear someone making bold claims as part of an argument, ask them for the data that support it. That will be a short conversation. And the answer might be “because I say so” or “it is based on my experience”. Not good enough.


Can we Inspire? // John Jacko

Published by John Jacko

Stephan’s Introduction

I started my own blog to focus on some of the many important aspects of leadership. One of these aspects relates to the topic of inspiration or the ability of leaders to influence people to adhere to a vision and to execute on that vision. There is no better person to write on this topic than John Jacko. John is the Chief Marketing Officer at Kennametal and a thought leader in leadership. He is also an inspiration to many including me. I welcome John for a second time in 2013 as a guest writer on my blog!

Can we Inspire?

He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened – Lao Tzu

I read a lot of management and leadership articles, always looking to learn what works best in business and family to help people attain their highest potential. There are lots of tools that help us try to understand ours and others personal styles, i.e., Meyers-Briggs, and how to build on peoples natural styles as well as understand others. We use these tools in the hope of understanding what can bring the best out of people, ourselves, and our teams in the pursuit of self-fulfillment.

I have been a huge proponent of the COREmap tools and processes to assess people’s styles (see COREmap for more info). These tools are a primary predictor of people’s primary leadership styles, for instance; Commander – “Get it done”, Organizer – “Get it right”, Relator, “Get along” and Entertainer – “Get inspired”, and there are many combinations of styles, Commander/Organizer, Entertainer/Commander etc. I am on twitter often looking for new research and management techniques and what intrigues me is how few people talk about being inspired, also known as the Entertainer. We know we need to get the job done, done correctly, and all get along in the process, but how many people can inspire a group of people to excel and how do we do it?

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