FAILURE

I had the good fortune to sit through Mr. Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com and Colin Powell speaking about the economy, business and leadership last week at Cloudforce Tokyo.

My favourite comment was from Colin Powell on failure – roughly paraphrased:

Failure is a part of life, you will fail. So learn to accept it and work through it:
1. Accept it is your failure. Don’t blame others.
2. Fix it
3. Then shake it .. move on. Too many people hold onto that failure, cannot deal with it. Never linger on the failure. You do not drive looking in the rear view mirror. You look ahead

At a school, a young girl stood up and asked a question.  She asked do you fail? He responded yes. It is part of life. You might fail a test. Do bad on a paper. Accept it. Learn from it. Grow and then throw the failure away. Move forward.

Wise words.

THE VALUE OF AN MBA

The topic of when to get an MBA comes up every once in a while with teammates; most frequently during career discussions with people asking “Should I go for an MBA?” HBR has finally acquired some stats on the topic (November 2012).

THE THINNER YOUR RÉSUMÉ, THE MORE VALUABLE YOUR MBA

People who go to business school with no prior work experience enjoy, on average, a 20% return on their degree. The figure is much lower among people who’ve already held jobs, sinking to just 2.2% for those who’ve worked for 19 years. These findings emerged from a study of thousands of students by Andrew Hussey, of the University of Memphis, who says that to potential employers, an MBA is primarily a “signalling” device and therefore adds more value when a candidate has a skimpy CV. Hussey estimates that on average, 90% of the return on an MBA comes from this signalling effect, not from knowledge gained.

The answer isn’t more clear than that economically, and I would agree that there is diminishing returns as you get older and more experienced. I personally enjoy targeted courses at this point in my career, and have been fortunate enough to attend a few fantastic courses at Queens.

LEADERSHIP AND STYLE

 

Years ago in England I learned a great leadership quote that has stuck with me and became part of the leadership philosophies that I follow:

“It is easy to be a bully”.

While discussing that concept with a colleague yesterday he shared a quote from a leader that he respects:

People will forget what you said

People will forget what you did

People will never forget how you made them feel

So true.

A QUOTE AND A COUPLE ARTICLES

 

A few items shared with me over the last couple weeks:

  • From John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”
  • The 5 Qualities of Remarkable Bosses (via INC.) and well worth reading:
    • Develop every employee
    • Deal with problems immediately
    • Rescue your worst employee
    • Serve others, not yourself
    • Always remember where you came from
  • And from the world of the quirky, but actually really good: Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk:
    • Never stop learning: “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”
    • Have advisors with different world views: “One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”
    • Be part of the away team: “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” (Just don’t be nameless security guy #3 – he always dies)
    • Play Poker, Not Chess
    • Blow up the Enterprise:  ….. We are often, in our roles as leaders, driven by a passion. It might be a product or service, it might be a way of doing things. But no matter how much that passion burns within us, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times in your life when that passion isn’t viable anymore. A time when it no longer makes sense to pursue your passion. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, you need to blow up the Enterprise. That is, change what isn’t working and embark on a new path, even if that means having to live in a Klingon ship for awhile.

A few enjoyable reads.

BE A BETTER MANAGER: LIVE ABROAD

 

From the HBR article with the same title:

Travel and living abroad have long been seen as good for the soul. What’s perhaps less well-known is that they’re also good for the company. People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity, our research suggests. What’s more, we found that people with this international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.

For example, we ran an experiment in which 220 MBA students from Northwestern’s Kellogg School were asked to solve the famous Duncker candle problem. In this behavioral test, individuals are presented with three objects on a table: a candle, a pack of matches, and a box of tacks. They’re asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall—using only the objects on the table—so that the candle burns properly and does not drip wax on the floor.

The correct solution demands the ability to think creatively: Empty the box of tacks and use it as a candleholder. The solution is considered a measure of “insight creativity” because it involves making the “aha!” discovery that the box is not just a repository for your tools but a tool itself.

We found that the longer students had spent living abroad, the more likely they were to use the box as a candleholder. In fact, 60% of students who had previously lived abroad solved the problem compared with 42% of students who hadn’t lived abroad. Interestingly, time spent traveling abroad had no effect on creativity.

Seven years ago I may not have understood this article, but I do now. Living in the UK was a remarkable experience that changed me as a leader/manager. I naively went into the UK thinking that Canada and the UK were similar and that the cultural integration would be easy. I could not have been more wrong. Those two years taught me how to work with people who were not like me, how to grasp the nuance of corporate and geographic culture and how to adapt.

It will be interesting to see how corporations view moving people around in the future. I was speaking with a neighbour who works for a global bank that is renowned for their international program. She mentioned that they were slowly closing down the program as ‘local talent was now getting strong enough that they don’t need to import people’. That may be the case, but it misses the point that the above article makes – it isn’t just about bringing in good talent – it is about growing the talent pool worldwide. I would argue that there were broader benefits beyond my development or my leading a turnaround – the entire UK team that I worked with grew, changed and benefited. We did it together.

EXCELLENCE IN A SALES ORGANIZATION

 

I was asked for suggestions on a workshop a colleague was running called “Demand excellence in your sales team”. He was looking for content and opinions on how to shape the day. Here were my suggestions:

  • Leaders who must revert to demanding will fail. It is a strategy that only works for a short while. I would call it “Building excellent teams” or “Coaching for excellence”. A notion that Daniel Goleman put forth in Primal Leadership … the pacesetting style sets you on the path to failure and what you call the meeting will set the tone and expectation.
  • My themes would be:
    • Set clear expectations with the team (Performance, development, teamwork, etc.)
    • Follow up with regular 1:1s that are quality meetings. Not just a review of the funnel, but development and coaching events. Set the expectation of the leadership team.
    • Managers need to be in the field (so do executives). Participate with your sales team so that you can coach based on first hand experience. Participate in pre-call planning, sales calls and team activities.
    • Sales success and failure is a team event. Lead by example and invest in the success of your people. A personal motto – “I don’t think about how I will be personally successful. I spend all of my time thinking about how to make my teammates successful knowing that if they succeed, my success is guaranteed”

My 2 cents.

APPLICABLE TO LEADERS/MANAGERS

 

The HBR article Selling is Not About Relationships (title misleading) categorizes sales people into 5 buckets:

    • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
    • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
    • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
    • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
    • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

In their analysis, they state that Challengers far outperform others, with Relationship Builders coming in dead last. Not that relationships are unimportant, their point is that the type of relationship is what is important. Challengers push the relationship, to make it better while Relationship Builders focus only on reducing tension.

This made me stop and think: How does this apply to management/leadership? I have often debated the merits of sales people transitioning from sales to management – where they can leverage their relationship skills. What this made me realize is that it is is more than that, the ability to build relationships is important but success will hinge on what type of a person they are. Consider the same definitions applied to management/leadership with a few key words edited (i.e. customer changed to organization):

    • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet everyone’s needs, and work hard to resolve tensions in the internal relationships. (Add: Infrequently progress from manager to leader as they are the keeper of the status quo).
    • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team. (Add: It is naïve to think that you do not have to work hard to be successful. You do. But the person who thinks that hard work is enough stay managers. They are great ‘do-ers’.)
    • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the organization who do things their way or not at all. (Add: Often burn bridges and have difficulty moving from manager to leader as they are not a team player. After all, people follow those they trust)
    • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the organization’s standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on follow-up, ensuring that issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly. (Add: Great reporting to a leader)
    • Challengers use their deep understanding of the business to push their thinking and take control of the conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — within the organization. (Add: Can build, communicate and execute a vision … in other words, can lead).

As with the sales profiles, I would suggest that the Challenger will outpace the others as they are willing to paint a vision of the future, push boundaries, take risks, face big issues and execute – with relationships, problem solving and hard working contributing to that success.