We traditionally reward Hedgehog leaders who excel in a specialized area. In fact most of our career paths are tailored for specialized knowledge. Their expertise clearly produces value by digging into and sometimes creating new pursuits opens opportunities. But what is being overlooked is the need for Fox leaders with a breadth of knowledge, the ability to see patterns and understand systems interactions. Fox leaders with generalist expertise should not be discounted.
Fox skilled leaders close silos, integrate systems, identify unintended consequences and provide strategic perspectives. Expansive knowledge typical of a generalist manager also adds value. Some organizations build Fox leaders by rotating them through different departments to guaranteed broad expertise.
Let me reassure you that this is not an either/or choice. An idealistic outcome would be that they are fused in one person but that is unlikely. Investing in becoming a Hedgehog expert was calculated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers to be 10,000 hours or 10 years of study leaves little room for broad investigation. While this figure may be pop science, a dedication to specialization does frequently preclude other pursuits. Certainly Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Goethe attained Renaissance man status with expertise that multiple arenas. However, most leaders decide to pursue only one path. And too frequently a bias toward specialization results.
The “jack of all trades and master of none” label discounts the need for Fox oriented generalist leaders. In the Big Data era the ability to analyze and integrate information from multiple fields grows. Fox insights reduce the cost of pursuing the wrong strategy or being blindsided by events.
The Hedgehog versus Fox supremacy debate plays out in universities between a general liberal arts or a concentration in a specialized STEM major. While some students opt for dual majors, there is a clear trend to STEM specialization. Certainly the job market seems to currently reward this choice due to labor shortages. However, the STEM crisis resulted from years of being neglected. Hopefully an awareness of the need for balance will limit future extensive swings in labor supply and demand.
Business leadership and specialized competency provide the best success formula. Great leaders respect and reward both Fox and Hedgehog leaders. It may be time to validate your organization’s promotion and recognition practices to ensure an effective balance.
THE STUDY OF LEADERSHIP traditionally starts by focusing on the leader’s personal awareness of themselves and their style in interacting with others. From first line to top line executives, mastering yourself and your interactions permits effective communication, clear performance expectations and teamwork. The second stage concentrates on process knowledge and skills to produce value. Work can only be accomplished when key skills are applied. Both of these leadership dimensions will succeed in a relatively stable environment since interpersonal relationship principles are relatively stable and skill requirements typically change slowly over time.
However, a third dimension recently became an essential leadership component. It requires agility in setting wise and timely direction or goals based on changing circumstances and situations. The ability of leaders to conduct a situational triage mirrors what medical professionals employ when handling a crisis. They scan all of the patients’ issues, weigh the alternatives and set a course of action based on handling the most critical cases first. Now that change and crises regularly impact those outside the medical profession, all leaders need to learn how to conduct a triage to ensure that critical steps take priority. The ability to capture changing realities that produce stellar results defines a truly successful executive.
However, keeping these three dimensions of leadership development in balance is similar to walking a tight rope. It is hard and challenging, but it is necessary to move forward. When imbalance surfaces, the problem can be diagnosed by examining how it has impacted the organization.
- When people and personal connections swamp process and priorities, the result is the perception that favoritism, politics, cliques and pet projects drive decision making.
- If process inordinately drives decision making at the cost of people and priorities, the evidence is that bureaucracy and red tape are drowning out innovation, service, collaboration and productivity.
- When priority setting unrealistically prevails over people and process, the result is disengagement, turnover, and productivity issues.
The best way to ensure leaders effectively employ and balance all three essential leadership dimensions is through transparent and open communication, mutual respect and a reward system that recognizes initiative.
What have you done or observed that establishes an effective balance between people, process, and priorities?
Recently, Dr. Mary Lippitt was interviewed by Patricia Raskin on Voice America. Dr. Lippitt talks about how knowing priorities can help to clarify goal alignment, bring decision making criteria into focus, and improve communication. In addition, by learning the Spectrum of Profiles, individuals can learn how to more effectively influence others and how to improve team effectiveness.
Listen to the June 1st episode.
Does this sound familiar? You’re with your team in a conference, the leader puts the big idea on the table, no one speaks and then one person agrees. Before you know it you’ve all agreed, only to learn later that many had unexpressed concerns. What went wrong? No on wants to go against the flow. Blinded by an apparent consensus, many stifle their thinking, concerns and questions despite the fact that even experts overlook key factors.
When time is short, when it seems like a slam dunk or when we assume that agreement will keep us in good graces, we succumb to passive conformity. False agreement with an easy yes shortchanges our future when facing complexity and uncertainty. As a parent, I have agreed too quickly without investigating key details or grasping the entire picture. The same is true at work. Being pre-occupied with other matters, wanting to move on to other matters and feeling unsure about what I could add, transforms inquisitiveness into acquiescence. The result will likely be mediocrity or a blunder.
Group think operates at all levels since we naturally enjoy being surrounded by those who think like we do. However, those who can end our sentences for us also likely share the same blind spots. When the issues are pivotal, precedent setting and strategic, we must dig into the details to ensure that we are not making an error. So learning how to prevent from following into the trap of rapid and wrong agreement is important. When a leader needs to invoke critical thinking, there are six steps to guarantee engagement:
- Ask for input before sharing your thoughts
- Provide soak time to let the idea and options emerge
- Complete a comprehensive analysis of the current context and trends
- Create small groups to consider alternative and ramifications
- Praise those who identify potential pitfalls
- Establish evaluation criteria for weighing alternatives
As a team member you can leverage your contributions by learning how to disagree without being disagreeable to preserve your role as a valued team player:
- Lead with a positive aspect of the proposed idea
- Offer to examine alternatives and evaluate potential consequences
- Recognize that others will see things you do not and that you see things others do not
- Identify the best case, worst case and likely outcomes
- Confirm: ensure that all six mindsets have been evaluated before a final decision
Fighting the current takes greater effort than going with the flow. Everyone who has ever rowed against the current knows that it takes sustained effort to counter the tide. The benefit of the effort though is substantial. We arrive at our destination, proud of our efforts and recognized for smart decision making.
First published: http://bizcatalyst360.com/when-is-it-smart-to-go-against-the-flow/
The road to the C-suite is littered with well-meaning, well-qualified workers who never quite get there. So what is the difference-maker?
Executive coach and consultant Dr. Mary Lippitt has worked with hundreds of leaders, from Fortune 500 executives to top Pentagon officials, and she’s conducted research on thousands of people to study how they make choices.
Bizwomen spoke with Lippitt about some of the top mistakes women make in the workplace — and what they could be doing differently to boost their profile and career prospects. Here’s what she said:
MISTAKE #1: Making yourself indispensable in your current role.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Train your future replacements.
“Make yourself absolutely indispensable in your current position and people will move around you to keep you there,” Lippitt said. She recalled a woman she once worked with who was in charge of the budget. She held tightly to the responsibility and was the only person who knew how to do it.
“It seemed like the right thing to do — to make yourself indispensable — but it actually made her irreplaceable. So the bosses kept her in that role until she retired.”
“It was the kiss of death,” Lippitt said. “If nobody on your staff knows how to do some of your work, you’ll never get promoted. Part of your job is planning for your replacement.”
MISTAKE #2: Climbing the corporate ladder in a silo.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Look for new ventures within the company.
“Women today need to think beyond the traditional career path,” Lippitt said. She calls it “stepping out to step up.”
Lippitt once gave a speech at Harvard University’s Women and Power Conference. After giving her presentation, Lippitt asked women in the crowd how they advanced their careers. Many of them boosted their profile by pitching an idea and carving a new career path within the company.
“One woman in tech came up with a new product line and became the product manager for it,” Lippitt said.
“A banker said she identified a new service, completed an analysis and then showed the results to her bosses, asking to lead the new operation if they wanted to move forward with it. They did, and that role was the banker’s ticket to the executive ranks.”
MISTAKE #3: Using tenure to advocate for yourself
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Focus on the value you’ve added recently.
“When it comes to angling for a raise or a promotion, many women make the mistake of assuming tenure will make all the difference,” Lippitt said. It’s the ‘I’ve been here [x] years and it’s my turn’ mentality.
“But while that argument worked in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, it doesn’t resonate anymore. Today, it’s all about the value you’ve produced recently, especially in the last six months. Paint a picture of your impact lately.”
MISTAKE #4: Silently succumbing to group-think.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Ask thoughtful follow-up questions.
“In an increasingly specialized world, groups are more prone to accept the thoughts of an expert at face value,” Lippitt said — even if they need to be challenged.
She once worked with a company run by a charismatic CEO. He’d recently rolled out an initiative he called “Empower. Free. Serve.” The phrase appeared everywhere, from company name tags to banners hanging in the cafeteria, but the chief executive told Lippitt the initiative wasn’t working.
So Lippitt talked with the company vice presidents. The problem? No one knew what the phrase meant.
“Empowered to be freed of red tape to serve our customers?” one replied, when Lippitt inquired.
So during a staff meeting, when Lippitt was supposed to be presenting her findings, she asked the CEO to outline what “Empower. Free. Serve.” meant.
“We’re going to empower the people to shop seven days a week instead of six,” he replied. “We’re going to free them from having to come to stores. And we’re going to open new distribution centers to get there faster.”
Lippitt said there’s a simple way to speak up or challenge an idea without painting yourself as a contrarian: Ask for specifics in a collaborative, supportive way.
For example, “This sounds very promising. I want to understand a little bit more. Let’s take a look: Are there any potential risks associated with it?” or “I like that idea. Can we dig deeper?”
“You don’t have to have the answer to the problem to speak up,” Lippitt said. “It shows you’re a valuable team member. And when you’re helping an organization avoid a pitfall, you’re seen as a key player.”
“Real power,” Lippitt said, “is adding value to the company.”
Identify What’s Important
Unfortunately, the use of a permanent and all-encompassing prime directive that guided Captain Kirk no longer exists. Situations change putting interests in a constant flux and combining both objective and emotional factors. However, not all factors carry the same weight. Since some factors are more important than others, what gets top billing will change as circumstances continue to shift.
Understand Current Viewpoints
Understanding current viewpoints and priorities are key to gaining influence. It enables leaders to highlight the benefits being sought, while building common ground, rapport and respect.
For example, why assume that heated debate is the standard communication practice? Instead, identify the benefits of another’s perspective first, and then ask for clarification on details in order to build harmonious discussions. It’s important to note if questions come before agreement, a defensive response is likely. That does not mean that getting onboard with an idea will have you selling out your position. It only shows that you fully seek to understand what is being said, before suggesting alternatives. It also helps builds reciprocity, or a quid pro quo situation, where ideas can be merged allowing both viewpoints to prevail.
In order to detect current goals, one must be able to analyze the top business issue at hand. In other words, what keeps you up at night?
Consider these questions to help identify the current priorities:
- Is the focal point internal or external to the organization?
- Is there a culture of risk taking, or risk avoidance?
- Is the focus on standardizing existing practices or improving them?
- Is attention focused on the near-term, the long-term or on the past?
- Is more attention given to growing with the current business model, or revising it to capture new trends and possibilities?
- Is the goal to be a state of the art industry leader, or follow proven paths?
- Is flexibility and nimbleness, or consistency preferred?
- Is creative or systems thinking more highly valued?
Boost Your Influence, Not Your Ego
An influential leader conceals traces of a personal ego and focuses, instead, on exploring options, evaluating alternatives and assessing risk without confrontation. They know that working with others, instead of working against them, produces optimal outcomes. This does not feed the ego, but it does produce results, acceptance and commitment. While agreeing first, then analyzing positions runs counter to standard communication practices, it is also the formula for successful results.
Lao Tzu’s definition of great leaders remains valid: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
Mary Lippitt was a new hire with a game-changer of an idea.
She thought she was on to something that would revolutionize an inefficient process — and set her up for success in the process. But, if not for some well-timed advice from her mentor, Lippitt’s good intentions would have led to a giant mistake.
Lippitt was 31 years old at the time and working in human resources for a county government in Florida, overseeing employee relationships and training. Immediately, she spotted a number of inefficiencies in how government employees were reimbursed for taking continuing education classes.
So she hatched a plan to make those reimbursements faster and more standardized in a process that applied uniformly to unionized and non-unionized employees.
She pitched it to her immediate supervisor, who took the “Don’t bother me; just do it” approach. So Lippitt made an appointment to present her ideas to a top executive, her boss’s supervisor’s boss.
A few days before that appointment, Lippitt mentioned the plan to her mentor, an executive in the same building but a different department. She expected praise. Instead, he asked her a question: “Did you dig into the history of this existing policy?”
“No”, Lippitt replied.
“Then you may want to rethink this”, he said. “First, you’re proposing a serious overhaul of an existing system. Second, you’re pitching it to the person who developed the plan a few years ago.”
Lippitt was stunned. And embarrassed.
“I was ready to present it, thinking I was going to get accolades and ‘attaboy’ kind of things,” Lippitt told Bizwomen. “(My mentor) saved me from making a major faux pas.”
Now an executive coach and consultant, Lippitt has worked with hundreds of leaders, from Fortune 500 executives to top Pentagon officials, and she’s conducted research on thousands of people to study how they make choices. When she discusses the importance of context in business decisions — and of having a mentor — she often comes back to that pre-presentation wake-up call.
Lippitt says her first mistake was assuming that logic dictated all business decisions. Rather, rational analysis is just one of many factors that impact policy change.
“Sometimes altruistic intentions are out of touch with reality,” she said.
The experience taught Lippitt the value of seeking context and of bouncing ideas off people in other departments. It also taught her about the importance of “managing up,” or enhancing your manager’s work. Make your boss look good, and you’ll be better off, she said.
As for her big ideas: They eventually did get implemented.
“But I introduced them piecemeal, rather than as a grand overhaul,” Lippitt said. And she let her boss’s supervisor’s boss — the person she could have sabotaged her career in front of — feel like he was a player in the process.
“I went in and just started telling the big boss, ‘You know, we’re having some trouble and complaints about getting refunds in a timely manner,’” Lippitt recalled. “‘Do you want me to look into this? Do you have any thoughts for how to smooth this out?’”
She started with the biggest pain points, asked for permission and then let the positive feedback filter up to the top executives. Then, she could introduce another idea.
The result? Lippitt got several promotions and doubled her salary in four years.
We all think we are highly credible, but we need to validate that perception. Living in an illusion is not smart. I was working with a CEO who was asked at a staff meeting on Friday if a layoff was planned. He empathetically said no, but the following Wednesday the firm did conduct a layoff. He chose the desire to be popular over the need to be credible. Credibility stems from trustworthiness, believability and a commitment to high integrity.
To test your credibility, rank yourself on the following using a five point scale with five being always, 3 being frequently and 1 being rarely:
- You consistently get advanced warning from others on emerging problems.
- You avoid sugar-coating information to making it appear more positive than it really is.
- You respond fully and honestly to questions including saying “I do not know, but I will get the answer for you when appropriate.”
- You promptly own your mistakes and display integrity in all your communications
- You “walk your talk” and follow through on all of your commitments and plans.
- You retain your composure in tough and emotional situations.
- You share credit and praise with others for success.
If your total is less than 26 points, you have an opportunity to improve. Consider the following actions to enhance your credibility:
- Increase face-to-face time and actively listen to others.
- Build lateral networks to gain a wider perspective
- Establish multiple and timely communication channels including: public boards, standard updates after staff meetings, and skip-level meetings
- Invite informal exchanges
- Deploy the “say it, do it and announce it” model frequently to demonstrate follow-up
- Reduce the usage of jargon or slogans
- Demonstrate a consistent practice of rewarding honesty, information sharing and initiative
It takes time to establish credibility, but it can destroyed in an instance. While not easy to establish, once in place credibility results in trusted information that reduces time spent on rumors, aligns organizational efforts and encourages engaged and committed members. Leaders who project credibility are rewarded with outstanding results and retention of key talent.
At first glance, exchanging information, meaning and messages among team members appears deceptively simple. After all, you know each other and share common goals. Unfortunately, communication and misunderstanding continue. Most of us are poor listeners who quickly jump to assumptions and immediately judge another’s message, rather than concentrating on the content. Effective communication takes analysis.
Driven to quickly get to the heart of the matter relies on the assumption that we can effectively multi-task or fill in the blanks. Too often these hasty conclusions depend on a personal motivational filter instead of an open and rational analysis. We ascribe personal agendas almost immediately analyzing why something is being shared rather than concentrating on what is being said.
While working as a consultant with an executive team, this predisposition to detour into personal conclusions almost derailed a new team. A new externally hired CEO introduced a new strategic vision for the firm, which failed to win support from any of his staff. Knowing that many on his staff had applied for his position, the CEO attributed the opposition to jealousy or collusion. He had focused on why they resisted instead of what they facts and trends caused their objections.
During a strategy meeting, it became clear that the CEO and his staff were talking past each other. The staff viewed the new direction as rejection of current practices and an effort to make his mark. When no one explored what drove the disparate conclusions, positions hardened and tempers flared. Each side assumed that they were “right” and the other party was being unreasonable and/or calculating.
As an outsider, I probed for the rationale behind each position. The CEO explained that the Board had charged him with the goal of growing the business through rapid expansion. In contrast, the staff wanted to focus on quality and process improvement in response to increasing complaints from key customer accounts. Once the CEO, unaware of these problems, listened carefully to the staff’s position he recognized that retaining current customers was essential and would serve as the foundation for expansion. As facts and analysis replaced labels and assumptions a strategy was crafted to include both goals. Quality and tactical improvements would be tackled first and then an expansion strategy would be launched.
Every organization and most teams have communication “problems” but they can be kept manageable if we start with an analysis of what drove a recommendation rather than trying to decode why an idea was being advanced. If your team is struggling with effective communication, consider:
- Probing the basis behind proposals by asking what questions instead of why questions
- Detecting what business priority currently drives decision making
- Separating idea generation and analysis from the evaluation process
- Demonstrating respect by actively listening without interruptions but with time limits
- Recognizing plans are subject to change as circumstance shift which require us to be agile and proactive
- Reducing power or title difference though a round table or having the leader withhold comments until the end.
To modify one of Stephen Covey’s seven basic habits, when you truly want effective communication “seek to understand what is being said before trying to understand why it is being said.” It builds teamwork and excellence.
This is a terrific book. It is both thoughtful and extremely practical. It helps leaders become better strategists, decision makers and influencers by showing them how six Mindsets are key to business success. Using Lippitt's paradigm, leaders can become more agile and resilient.
Jay Jamrog, Senior VP of Research, i4cp