Saturday, December 12, 2009

Most Stressful Part of the Workplace

Do a Google search on “leadership theories” and it produces 1.2 million hits. Do a search on “leadership training programs” and the result is over 30 million hits. What does this suggest? According to Angie Tsai, the Organization Effectiveness and Development Director (Asia Pacific/Japan) for EMC: “This shows that while there is lots of interest in leadership and everyone has an opinion there is no one common approach. No single answer.” And after leading off with these statistics, Angie pointed out that “leadership is as much about personal choice as anything else.” She maintained that being a leader, ultimately, is about “who you are as a person.” Self-awareness, she maintained, was the most common attribute of successful leaders.

Angie indicated that for 60-70 percent of all employees, regardless of when the survey was taken or what occupation or industry was represented, the “most stressful part of their jobs is their immediate supervisors.” It is our immediate boss/manager/leader who has the most impact on us and makes the difference in whether we stay or leave, produce or retire on the job. She did acknowledge that it takes time to work out a relationship with one’s supervisor but it is well worth the time and energy. She pointed out that she has been at EMC for the longest time period of any job, and it is the hardest job she has ever had.

Finally, Angie was of the opinion that multi-rater feedback works best when people have a competent third-party or coach who can help them understand the data and how to make any appropriate changes. She believed that it was important to be self-aware about your strengths and weaknesses, for which 360-degree feedback was crucial. Working on your strengths was important, she argued, except for when these became weaknesses through an over-reliance upon them or when they result in arrogance. Her list of key leadership attributes included: self-awareness, vision, energy, integrity, cognitive complexity, creating options for execution, genuine interest in people and being more optimistic and agreeable than pessimistic and disagreeable. Angie urged those just starting out their careers to find opportunities to volunteer for additional assignments, especially special projects and cross-functional task forces, as a context in which to develop leadership capabilities.

No question about it: Leaders make a difference.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trust Works

Here’s a sample of quotations from my HKUST students’ experiences with trust. Note the obvious point (#1) that being trusted by their leader made them want to work harder (“compelled” them to in fact, as one put it):

"I am a hard worker as a rule of thumb but Alex’s trust in me made me work even harder, because I did not want to disappoint him."

"Since Bob put his trust in me, I made sure that I would not fail."

"I wanted to show to my boss and my client that their trust would pay off and I started to throw myself into the project."

"This trust gave me more confidence in myself, which encouraged me to do even better and gave me a sense of power."

" excited I was to work with him because I felt that he trusted my abilities. Not only did I feel compelled to reciprocate Wilson’s trust but I also felt empowered to explore new avenues."

"I felt empowered and trusted at the same time, but also scared. It made me want to work hard in order to show that I deserved this trust."

"I learned to trust in their job performance because at the beginning I was checking every single analysis they did, but I noticed how they got angry with me because I didn’t let them conclude anything by themselves. I showed trust to build trust."

The second observation is more subtle: These experiences cross over any demarcations of gender, nationality, and function/discipline. Could you guess which one is from a Mexican-American woman, a Chinese-American women, a Danish man, a Chinese woman, a German man, a Norwegian woman, or a Mexican woman? Which experiences come from the field of management consulting, construction engineering, environmental justice, public relations, or financial services?

Point #2 is that trust is not a particularly American or European or Asian idea per se but fundamental to all relationships. Leaders understand and learn to go first when it comes to being trustworthy and building trust – you have to “show trust to build trust.”

I trust you got these points.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

You Need to Treat Everyone Fairly

“A leader must be able to inspire others – to have followers,” explained Charles Mak, Head of Asia’s Private Wealth Management group for Morgan Stanley and native “Hong Konger.” The most important lesson for leaders (new or experienced), he went on to say, is that “you need to treat everyone fairly.” While everyone is not the same, everyone expects to be treated with dignity and respect, and then they, in return, will respect you and be willing to do what you ask them to do. Charlie recognized that as a leader he has to be “a role model and also be able to put himself into other people’s places so that he can know how they think about things.” There are over 60 different nationalities represented among the 300 people in his division, so “you prove ‘being fair’ by how you behave and make decisions.”

The most difficult task for a leader, Charlie claimed, is when you have to lay people off, but not “letting underperformers go is also a failure of leadership.” He pointed out that leaders develop others into leaders by giving them opportunities to grow and, inevitably in that process, letting them make mistakes… “and helping them to learn from those experiences.” But they better not make that same mistake again, he quipped, or “you get yourself fired!” Building a meritocracy is an essential organizational strategy, especially in Asia, for developing, rewarding, motivating, and retaining key people.

Difficult times require even more transparency and communications with people, and during these times it is especially important that you “don’t b.s. them!” One of the best strategies for building credibility, maintained Charlie, was setting stretch goals that could be achieved in a step-by-step fashion. He also pointed out that “profitability will bring you credibility” – so be sure to walk the talk!

With grace, humor, and insight Charlie reminded us that people everywhere are still just people -- who want pretty much what people everywhere (at all levels, fields and industries) want – “they need to be loved.” In return, he asserted, “they will treat the business as their own.”
Very good advice indeed.

Hope all is well,


Saturday, November 28, 2009

If You Ever Think You Are Indispensable

“I was, at age 19, the night store manager for Macy’s,” Michael Shriver told us recently, “and one of the ‘old-timers’ told me that if I ever thought that I was indispensable, than I should simply put my hand in a bucket of water and then pull it out, and watch how quickly the hole got filled in.” This advice has helped framed Michael’s views about leadership, providing a sense of humility, a willingness to learn, and a belief in the wisdom of others. “If leaders do their jobs right, than they are not indispensable,” he said “because they have developed people behind them,” this from the President of Worldwide Store Operations for DFS Galleria (the world's leading luxury retailer catering to the traveling public).

In sharing his leadership journey, Michael observed that “it’s not what you intend that makes a difference so much as what other people believe you intended.” In this regard, he asserts that perception rules and that people seldom perceive you in the same way that you do. He talked about the importance of 360-degree feedback and, at the same time, acknowledged how painful it can be to receive this feedback: “You need it but that doesn’t make it any less painful to get.” Michael pointed out that the key to a leader’s success and impact is the ability to listen to feedback and then to make an honest and conscious effort to change his or her approach so that it’s appropriate to others. He said that he’s “learned a lot by making mistakes, but more importantly by eliminating the gaps between perceptions and realities.” When you make a mistake, he said that it was essential that you admit it and say “you’re sorry. And then don’t do it again! People will forgive.” He maintained that this also needs to work in both ways (that is, leaders forgiving the mistakes of others).

What does Michael recognize as leadership talent in up-and-comers? First of all, they need positive energy – “they have to have a passion for something.” Second, they need to be able to articulate their passion in a compelling manner. Also important is a “willingness to step out (forward) on their ideas (taking responsibility).” Finally, it’s about their execution ability – “they have to follow-through, be willing to be held accountable and have the courage to take a risk.” He did explain, however, that leaders need to protect people who take a risk and make a mistake, so long as they are able to learn from the experience. Often times, he noted, the outcomes are outside of your boundaries (e.g., the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong).

Another important leadership lesson Michael offered was his viewpoint “that you didn’t have to have all the answers to people’s questions – couldn’t even be expected to. What you did need to do was to follow through and get back to people who have questions that require answers.” Another insight was that “strategy is also about saying ‘no’ because capacity is not unlimited.” Finally, Michael admitted that: “I think I can continue to improve as a leader.” And his remarks encouraged the rest of us to do so as well.

Hope all is well,


Monday, November 23, 2009

Leadership: It's Not Just About You!

This was the headline from Barbara Chiu, Cisco’s managing director for Hong Kong and Macao, as she related about the importance of leaders being able to connect with people and with what they want to achieve. To do this, obviously, means thinking less about your own needs and more about those of others. As she explained: “When you were made a leader you weren’t given a crown, you were given a responsibility to bring out the best in others, and so you have to value the process of developing people.” In fact, she asserted that “when you are a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself.”

Even when dealing with “difficult” people (in response to a student’s question), Barbara maintained that “you have to lead yourself to find a way to respect others, even if you don’t like them. The challenge is to find a common goal or interest that allows you to connect with them.” And, moreover, she said that in tough time’s leaders have to spend even more time than usual talking and listening to people at all levels: “Communicating my aspirations and listening to their concerns so that they can know me and appreciate that I know them.” Organizations can no longer survive, in Hong Kong, China, or elsewhere with a “command-and-control” mentality – “We have to be collaborative.”

Barbara told us that “people have to believe that you are trustworthy and that you trust them, and then they will be able to trust you.” Your job, therefore, is to “arrange opportunities for people to shine.” In her experience, all of it in Asia (with Cisco, PCCW and HP), she felt that “you can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion. The heart comes before the head.”

Barbara could not find enough times in her remarks to say, again and again: “It’s all about bringing out the best in people.” No argument from me.

All the best,


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Getting Dressed to Model the Way

There are many requirements for leaders, and opportunities to observe leaders in action. That’s what I tell my students, and as one of their class assignments each week they write an essay regarding their observations about leaders and leading. The search for a new president of the European Union (EU) is an important leadership opportunity that has received lots of attention from the European press, especially in the Financial Times. This headline in a recent editorial from Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor for FT, read: “Europe needs a man who’s suited for the job” gave us an unexpected source of inspiration about the challenges of Modeling the Way.

Her observation about the requirements of leaders to Model the Way (not her term, but ours) was not lost upon my students. Much like the U.S. media attention directed on Michelle Obama’s apparel, the same scrutiny, albeit more tongue-in-cheek here, gets directed toward every leader who needs to set an example that demonstrates his/her appreciation of the needs and aspirations of their constituents.

Friedman writes:

“There are, of course, some possible sartorial unions that can be made. The president might wear, for example, an Italian suit with a French silk tie and English shoes and shirt, or an English suit with Spanish shoes and an Italian tie and a French shirt, all with a German watch, and on casual days might branch out into Irish knitwear and even Swedish chinos. But then, if he were eager to publicize some of the smaller countries’ industries, he might take a chance on Romanian textiles (garments make up 15 per cent of Romanian exports, according to the International Trade Centre in Geneva). Meanwhile, if Turkey’s application for membership is accepted, that will throw another variable into the mix, since Turkey is a tailoring and knitwear centre, and it is important for new states to feel appreciated.

The challenge in all this is to avoid exposing oneself to charges of indecision and lack of centre while rotating the above. When dressing, as when doing anything, it will be the responsibility of the EU president to maintain his independence of mind and identify, while at the same time letting each country know that he also shares their concerns."

She concludes: “And you thought the shirt/suit question was a purely aesthetic matter. Hah! It is a microcosm of the job.” And that’s the point. We expect our leaders to balance having their own style while at the same time being in touch with the “style” (or fashions) of their constituents. It is not always an easily achieved balance.

Hope you are staying in style.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VCs Agree That Leadership Makes A Difference

We had two “Venture Capitalists” as guest speakers this past week: Melissa Guzy (Managing Director in Asia for Vantage Point Venture Partners) on Saturday with the part-time MBA students and Carol Sands (Managing General Partner, The Halo Fund) on Monday with the full-time MBA students. They were each delightful, warm and engaging, candid, informative, and opinionated (in a good sense).

Melissa continued a theme that we have heard from all of our guest speakers that “managing people (leading people) is the same all over the world. People are people!” She did point out that just because you have a title, this doesn’t mean that you either are the leader or necessarily have leadership skills (these are in short supply, Carol will tell us, for entrepreneurs). Melissa did maintain, however, that leadership capability is the key variable in making decisions about whether to invest or not in new start-up ventures. One hallmark of great leaders, she felt, was that they were comfortable hiring people smarter than themselves, and that they were able to pull together a team of greatness (more than the sum of its parts, which allows for some individual weaknesses).

It is very important to know your values and vision, especially because persistence (and passion) will be required in order for new ventures to survive. This means that you have to be willing to be introspective and ask yourself why you are or are not being effective. Leaders, she maintained, need to be lifelong learners. Similarly, she asserted that you have to be willing to lead from the front. Melissa says that she likes to test her theories on herself first and then is willing to risk it all for her beliefs in the process of setting an example for others. Finally, she warned us about being dishonest – “I’m not as concerned that people may make a mistake as I am that they try to hide it or blame it on others.” Doing so is the deal-killer for her.

Carol led us through her upbringing and journey from Normal, Illinois to being a VC and it certainly wasn’t quite a straight path. She sees her current core competence and one that serves venture capitalists well as “learning and transferring knowledge.” This was in keeping with her viewpoint, and advice to all the high-achievers in the audience, that “when you are given extraordinary opportunities you have an extraordinary responsibility to give back.” Much of her own work with first-time entrepreneurs is making sure that they don’t make “old” mistakes (those already made by her and others).

It’s important, according to Carol, that as entrepreneurs and leaders you don’t let yourself fall in love with the product or technology but rather you have to believe (fall in love) with the people. As other guest speakers have pointed out, the products/technology doesn’t pay you back, it’s the people who do. She said that entrepreneurs take offense at being told they might not be good leaders, but that most of them agreed that they weren’t necessarily good or knew much about business, and this was the leverage point at which “leadership coaching” could be addressed. A key rule for success (internally), she maintained, is making sure that there are “no secrets” – you need to take the time to make certain that everyone agrees on where you want to be even if there are differences about how to get there. For her own part, she claimed being very good at identifying problems even if she didn’t always necessarily know how to solve them. “You’ve got to be willing to ask for help, or you get yourself, and your organization, into lots of trouble.”

If you wanted to get their insights into hot markets, upcoming technologies, where to invest in Asia/China, and the like. Well, you needed to be there!

All the best,


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You Never Know When You Will Make A Difference

This has been a busy work week (I know, I’m on sabbatical, and not suppose to be able to say that, but....) and I made two public presentations this week. One to a group of first year students here at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the other across town at Lingnan University. Jackie had been instrumental in getting the first one organized as she “volunteered” my services to the colleagues she’s been working with at HKUST in student affairs and with their community engagement program. The second came about through my friendship with colleague Dean Tjosvold, a chaired professor of management (and intentionally renowned scholar in the area of constructive conflict) at Lingnan.

Both were rewarding and the students were quite attentive and had lots of good questions. They seemed really eager to understand something more about what leadership meant and looked like. The Vice-Provost at HKUST sent me this note: "Thanks again for a wonderful seminar. We provide many learning experiences to our students, with the hope that some will actually light a fire inside them. I believe it happened last night."

This reminds me about why we put the time and energy into doing the things that we do – on occasion, we really do make a difference. The folks at Lingnan are thinking about how I might be able to help them set up a leadership center. We’ll see what happens with that opportunity.

Hope you are making progress on the things that matter to you.


Caring About Others

Our friends Mark and Roberta Linsky stopped by for a few days to visit us on their way to Vietnam. I made them pay for this stopover by being guest speakers in my leadership seminar. Actually the price was minimal and the pay-off was great – for them and the students.

Roberta, recently retired as the SVP for Worldwide HR at Logitech, explained that is was “easier to be a leader in good times than in bad times,” and that the latter requires even “better leadership.” She made the point that “success is never final.” Mark, who retired from HP some years ago and is now quite active with a number of local and national volunteer organizations, reiterated this point when he explained that “every leader fails and that’s why they get better.” He went on to maintain that “feedback is a gift” and that you can’t really develop yourself, or your organization, without knowing how you are doing against some mutually agreed upon objective.

Mark maintained that “learning is a continual process” and that it is, or certainly should be, something that everyone is interested in. This was especially true in working with volunteers, because the task of leading them was making sure that you (a) didn’t waste their time and (b) made the experience and contribution relevant for them.

Leaders fail, asserted Roberta, not because they don’t have the skills for the job (although this is sometimes true) but most often because of ego issues – such as not listening, not caring about the interests of others, being arrogant, and the like. Respect for people, both Mark and Roberta agreed, was crucial to the success of leaders and constituents will never forget how they have been treated and appreciated (or not). Making certain that people can work together is generally a function of the clarity and consensus that exists around key goals and objectives.

Finally, the students had a number of questions for them about how they managed their own relationships (marriage and family) amidst demanding careers. They pointed out that you had to really care (love) the other person, be interested in their needs and support their choices, make tradeoffs, and have a long-term perspective (especially when it came to any sense of “balance”).

All the best,


People Are The Same Everywhere

"People are the same everywhere," was the conclusion of Marc Ketzel, VP for Human Resources in Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets for Yahoo! and recent guest speaker in my HKUST leadership course. With responsibilities for over 2,500 people across 12 countries, he told us that leading people is more similar than different across countries and cultures such that global leadership is understanding some “universal” truths more than worrying about particular differences. He went on to point out that it was always better to offer people choices and alternatives (especially when working upwards) so that a collaborative solution could be achieved.

Marc indicated that it was important for an organization to define what leadership means. This allows organizations to (1) communicate what great management and leadership looks like when leaders at any level are at their best; (2) set clear expectations on the role of managers and leaders; and (3) use (at every level ) to qualify and select leaders, recognize and reward them, assess and calibrate leadership talent, build/buy training and development programs; and create individual development plans to strengthen leadership capabilities.

He also explained that individual’s also needed to be aware of their personal leadership brand or what they stand for. In his own case, Marc talked about operating at three levels: business strategy, human resource strategy, and the tactical execution of strategy. Key values for him were having a global perspective, emphasizing communications and building and sustaining trust by making sure that there were “no surprises.”

All the best,