Leaders As Teachers

May 6, 2009

leadersteachers Leaders As Teachers

In the past it was called mentoring or coaching, now it is called “Leaders as Teachers”.  The term is rather self explanatory: C-Suite leaders help the up-comers to become leaders.

Easy to understand, not so easy to implement. It takes up senior leaders time – a valuable corporate asset – and there is setup time if it is done right. These are the key impediments to get the C-Suite to help the up-comers.

However, there are company models that are working and the benefits are noteworthy.

Bersin & Associates, a leading corporate learning consultancy, highlights the benefits –

Our research clearly shows that “leaders teaching leaders” offers many benefits:

  • It enables a company to build a culture;
  • It demonstrates to employees that learning is valued; and,
  • It provides leaders with a forum to consistently demonstrate company values, share business strategy, and set expectations of what it means to manage and lead effectively in the company.

One of the early adopters was Becton Dickinson (BD). They put in place their program early this century. The results are impressive– nearly all of the internal programs are taught by employees including all members of the C-Suite.

View a short video on BD’s program –Leaders As Teachers at BD

0 Leaders As Teachers

Read more about BD’s program. (PDF)

Another company that uses “Leaders as Teachers” is Capital One. The company started its University in 2004.

Noteworthy is that they embrace the corporate training strategy I mentioned in my post “The Revolution in Corporate Training”.

Capital One’s learning strategy is to encourage lifelong learning that is owned by our associates. Because the corporate university is all managed online, employees take control of their own learning

Source: Capital One University puts employees in the driving seat. (PDF)

A key offering of the University is the “Leaders as Teachers” program that ensures the transfer of knowledge from senior leaders to develop leadership skills in other employees.

The leaders as teachers program involves:

  • the executive-speaker series;
  • business-leader workshops;
  • short sessions with a senior leader speaking on an area of particular expertise;
  • leaders delivering entire training programs on particular subject areas, such as change management;
  • leaders involved in particular sessions on training programs – for example, presenting the company’s strategic imperatives during its induction program, OnBoarding.

Other companies using “leaders as Teachers” include Caterpillar and  Infosys. Ed Betof who developed BD’s “Leaders as Teachers” program offers the following advice to other companies –

1. It’s important that the chairman and CEO and leadership team be involved and supportive.

2. Emphasize the value of teaching learning as part of the criteria related to leadership potential.

3. Use a change-leadership process (Kotter’s eight steps) for long-term sustainability.

4. Develop “Big Mo” (momentum). Worry little about resistance, and focus on those who want to be involved. Enough momentum always trumps resistance. People like to be part of successes and to be where positive things happen. Momentum and involvement beget more momentum and involvement. At some point, they become the norm and part of the culture.

5. Make teaching valuable, engaging, rewarding, fun, and hassle-free.

6. Maintain strategic and business goal alignment. Our programs all have a common purpose: to grow the business and our people.

7. Maintain a strong link between classroom and real-work application. All of our teaching is in the form of active learning with application to participant responsibilities

8. Make leaders as teachers cost-effective. Leaders often learn as much as, and sometimes more than, the participants.

Article On BD website (PDF)

Now consider getting your C-Suites to turn those Millennials and Xers into Leaders.

Image: Graziadio Business Report

Without Warning: on leadership, whistleblowers, corporate culture and silence

April 14, 2009

withoutwarning Without Warning: on leadership, whistleblowers, corporate culture and silence

Do you have an uncomfortable suspicion that your business has a problem lurking in its depths? Is there an issue that you keep catching a glimpse of out of the corner of your eye, but can’t quite get hold of?

This is what Rodney N Johnson’s book, ‘Without Warning’ is about, and he calls these ‘silent problems’, as opposed to simple, complex or wicked problems.

  • A simple problem is one in which everyone agrees on the problem and on the solution. If not solved correctly, this could become a complex problem.
  • A complex problem: one in which everyone agrees on the problem, but disagrees on the solution.
  • A wicked problem: a problem (or nest of problems), in which people disagree over what the problem is, so a solution can’t be identified, and without agreement on the problem or a defined solution, you won’t know when the problem has been solved. Different groups of stakeholders understand the problem differently; any proposed solutions can’t be tested or evaluated other than subjectively.


But a silent problem is different, and Rodney Johnson (RJ) defines it like this:

A problem that is being avoided, neglected, or going unnoticed… A problem that is intentionally being silenced.

This is perhaps the worst kind of problem of all. At least a wicked problem can be acknowledged and struggled with. But one that you’re not aware of? How are you supposed to deal with that?

Whose problem is it?

One of the many silent problems RJ uses as case-studies is the sub-prime financial fallout which we’re all too familiar with now – warnings were given, but disregarded.

Question: if someone able to impose a solution had been willing to say ‘here’s a problem’, would it then have become a complex or wicked problem? That is, is it a silent problem only as long as no-one with enough authority to deal with it has spotted it or taken responsibility for it?

If there were warnings, then someone was aware of the problem, so it wasn’t silent for them – but presumably they didn’t have the clout to tackle the issue. A silent problem, then, is a leadership issue: it is a problem that is being ignored by management.

You’re the manager: how do you know if there is a silent problem?

The identification of silent problems is a key leadership skill: a good leader will be constantly looking out for them. RJ offers 7 symptoms and 5 areas where the problems are likely to be lurking. (No, I’m not going to give them away – you’ll need to get hold of the book!)

Without giving away the list, I can tell you that some of the symptoms could be easily missed in the hurry and scurry of actually doing business. This is why a silent problem is a leadership problem: someone needs to be working at enough of a strategic level that they are working ‘on’ the business not ‘in’ the business – that way they have a chance of spotting the problem.

I’d have liked a bit more on how to find and identify the problems, as this seems to me to be the key to silent problems. And some of the symptom-spotting is going to come down to gut feel that something is wrong – but how does one develop that, other than by experience? (Luckily, RJ provides a few tips on his blog for how C-level executives can use Management by Walking Around to help with this).

The book offers a structure for resolving these problems, and this, together with the case studies, is very thought-provoking (as well as entertaining), but it seems to me that the most important element here is identification of the problem. And that, of course, is the nub: the very thing that makes these silent…

I found two of the types of silent problems he identifies most interesting, one because the problem becomes part of the corporate culture, and the other because the problem is deliberately contained and ignored.

The latter sounds distinctly risky, even potentially verging on the unethical, and the kind of issue likely to cause major problems when it is eventually unearthed, requiring full-on crisis communications and significant business action. The former, in which the problem becomes encapsulated, pearl-like, by layers of corporate culture, I find intriguing. At what point does the problem become embedded in the culture? And it requires a particularly objective viewpoint to be able to see part of the corporate culture as a problem…

Don’t kill the messenger

In the Corporate Eye list of best practices, whistle-blowing is usually related to an ethics issue, but the principles are relevant here too. RJ says “we must encourage and empower those around us who might unearth and identify the silent problems”. These, he points out, could be employees or associates, but could also be clients or customers. And perhaps those outside the organisation – or new hires – are best placed to spot problems, because of the need to have an objective view of the situation.

So: what are you doing today to check for problems – or how are you enabling people to raise the alarm?

RJ seems almost to anthropomorphise problems, referring to them as living, growing, breathing and consuming resources (the latter is almost certainly true!), undisciplined, unruly and disobedient. This, together with the many fascinating examples, makes for a lively read.

It is all too easy to skim this slim volume the first time, but it definitely repays a second reading.

Leadership in a credit crunch: don’t blink

April 2, 2009

Colin Shaw is the founder of Beyond Philosophy, a consultancy, training and Customer research organisation recognised as a thought leader in customer experience. Colin is an international bestselling author and widely acclaimed public speaker.

I recently invited him to share his views on how companies should react to the current climate; his views on leadership and action aren’t necessarily what you’d expect …

Tighten your customer experience belt in a credit crunch only if you want to be left in the dust

racing cars small Leadership in a credit crunch: dont blink

I always remember watching a film of a racing driver in the late ’50s. He had just won a race where there was a fatal accident. He was asked: “After seeing the accident, did you slow down?” His reply has always stayed with me. “Whenever there is a bad accident, other racing drivers slow down. I don’t. I see this as my opportunity to win. I accelerate and drive harder than before. As others slow down, I pull ahead of them and win,” he replied.

This, for me, is a similar analogy that can be applied to the credit crunch. Having worked in a corporate environment all my adult life, I am more than aware of what is happening today. The “Powers of Darkness” are gathering and there are pockets of people in an organisation who have never really believed in the benefits of improving a customer’s experience. They think cost cutting and efficiency is the answer to everything. The Powers of Darkness are “inside out.” They will see the credit crunch as their time to strike – The Powers of Darkness are starting to cast their shadow far and wide throughout companies and they need to do something about it.

They talk of the doom and gloom that will befall the company if we do not cut costs. And while professing their support to customer focus, they say now is not the time. Now, they say, is the time to cut costs, become more efficient and to focus on infrastructure. If your business is thinking: “When times are better, we will reconsider improving customer experience.” As the doom and gloom spreads, the clouds thicken and people start to waver. So, maybe you’re right? Shouldn’t we all forget about improving the Customer Experience for a while? This doubt spreads, and the clouds eventually overshadow the fledgling shoots of a customer-focus approach. Ultimately, they wither and die.

Customer Experience is seen as a luxury, not an essential. And sure enough, I recently spoke to one client who was running a Customer Experience initiative and she was told that the project team was to be disbanded. Why? The official reason was that the company had “completed the Customer Experience work” and could now “pass it to the operational teams to build on this work.”

While I would agree that this is the ultimate goal for any organisation, the roots need to be strong and firmly established. In this client’s case, the roots are not strong enough. In my view, the company is doing this at the wrong time and for the wrong reason. This will eventually undo all of the team’s good work, and I guarantee the competition will catch up. I also guarantee that two years from now, my client’s executives will realise their mistake. But such is life. My advice is the opposite: This is the time to invest; the time to accelerate, not slow down, and the time to put some space between you and the competition, as those businesses will be slowing down. This is also the time to identify the Powers of Darkness and banish them from the organisation once and for all. This is the time for leadership to stand up and be counted. This is the time when leaders’ true principles are tested.

I appreciate that during these times, businesses need to save money, but life is full of choices. Let’s be clear: There are always money and resources available. It’s only a case of where they are deployed. The other day, we were presenting to a client on some market research we believe the company should be conducting. As I walked through reception area, I noticed it was being gutted and refurbished. This client did not have any customer research to talk of. The people I was meeting with started to question if such an investment was worthwhile. What was the ROI? A decent question, but my response was, in a friendly way, the ROI on the refurbishment of the reception area? The cost of this refurbishment must have been four times the cost of the research. The point was made.

All businesses need to look at their costs during a credit crunch. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But, is cutting costs to improve the Customer Experience the right approach? No. Leaders should see this as a time of opportunity, rather than threat. In the wake of 9/11, Southwest Airlines famously allowed its customers to have a refund or change tickets. Other airlines didn’t. The long-term benefit on customer loyalty is obvious. It is easy to keep to your principles, values and beliefs when everything is going right. It is when things go wrong that you are truly tested. That’s when what you do should still reflect those principles and values and beliefs. Be very clear that this is a test of leadership. Actions speak louder than words.

So ask yourself this: What do you want to be remembered for by your people and your customers when the credit crunch is a distant memory? Are you cutting or investing in customer experience? Do you see this as an opportunity or a threat? Are you advancing or retreating? During these challenging times, we will see the leaders’ true colours.

Thanks, Colin!

Economic Crisis, Good Communications

March 31, 2009

The Economic crisis and the collapse of financial companies has and will continue to supply the news media with an ample supply of material for reporting.

Yet most of the institutions at the epicentre of the crisis remain silent.

Perhaps Ben W. Heineman Jr., GE’s former senior vice-president for law and public affairs, says it best –

Where are the chief executive officers, top management and corporate directors of the world’s financial institutions? Their failures, that familiar litany of excess leverage, indecipherable financial instruments, poor risk management and woeful
compensation systems, are the main catalyst for these unprecedented problems. There has been a stunning silence on private-sector causes and private-sector cures from the private sector itself. This is unconscionable, because their lapses raise
profound political and economic questions about the balance between government regulation and corporate self-determination.

Ouch!, yet deserving. Where indeed are these “captains of industry”, who were so visible during the good times? Rather then focusing on the communications gaffes, let us take a look at those companies that stepped up to the communications task.

DanskeBANK is one of the standouts. They have a section on their website that does an admirable job of explaining the crisis and how it affects the Bank and its customers –
danske Economic Crisis, Good Communications

This section called “The Crisis” is an informative and insightful resource. This is a model for other companies.

Another company doing the right things for communications to stakeholders is Northwestern Mutual

nwmutual Economic Crisis, Good Communications

Noteworthy items include a low-key approach (a welcome alternative to hype) and a notice that the CEO received a Ethics award. The company also uses a time tested tool to build trust: testimonials. These are real stories that anyone can relate to. The fact that people are willing to use their names is telling. Northwestern is another good example of communications during the current crisis.

Finally, there is a good read “Corporate Communications in Financial Crisis: The New Paradigm“.

Some key points include —

Be for Something. With public trust in Corporate America and Wall Street at an all-time low, no amount of explanation or finger-pointing will salve the wound. Instead, the business community needs a leader, or leaders, to show everyone the way out. There is a hunger for this kind of forward-looking leadership – and the longer the marketplace goes without it, the harder it will be to convince stakeholders that it’s even possible.

Limit the excesses. The first companies to effectively define themselves as “anti-perk” institutions are the ones that will assume the leadership position articulated above. Consider the example of John Reed, who took the helm of a struggling New York Stock Exchange for an annual salary of one dollar in 2003. That’s the kind of decisive action needed now because it communicates a commitment to the new way forward in deed, rather than word. With the Dodd Amendment already limiting compensation at banks that accept TARP funds, companies are wise to identify ways to adjust their compensation structure, award non-cash bonuses (e.g. restricted stock), and cut back on the frills that have already landed companies in hot water.

If under investigation, cooperate, cooperate, cooperate. New SEC Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro has already moved to do away with an existing rule that requires enforcement division lawyers to seek the approval of Commissioners before negotiating penalties. To be sure, the SEC is on the lookout for villains to use to burnish its watchdog credentials. If your company lands in the spotlight, now is not the time to either fight nor hide. Today, companies can assume one of two roles – poster child of reform, or poster child for reform. Cooperation that goes above and beyond mere compliance is the best way to ensure that your company never gets cast in the wrong role.

Deliver bad financial news early and all at once. Such an approach may seem counter-intuitive – and frightening – but it is a critical strategic approach that subsequently defines how a negative story is felt and seen by your most important constituencies. Do not let the drip-drip-drip of rumor and/or real negative news play out publicly in the marketplace. Today, assumptions are almost always worse than the truth.

As always, but especially in tough times, leaders need to get out of their offices and do what they are paid to do — LEAD with Integrity.

A good scare beats a good plan any day

March 27, 2009

I saw this old management dictum in an Ivey Business School article, “LESSONS FOR EXECUTIVES FROM THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008″.

A good scare can be a once-in-a-generation chance to get tough but needed things done that would never be possible otherwise: the likes of completely changing the business model, drastically cutting jobs and costs, culling the product line, changing senior management and selling off or closing major divisions. Very unpleasant stuff, though every business needs this kind of therapy once in a while.

What instantly came to mind was something I wrote in an earlier post about ethics/integrity/trust — “I’d like to be optimistic that the current financial crisis inflicted so much pain that Boards and C-Suites will finally get it that ethics matters. We shall see.”

When I wrote this, I was skeptical that anything would change. My skepticism, though somewhat diminished, remains. However there are signs that maybe, just maybe more Boards and members of the C-Suite will finally realize that issues of trust, ethics and integrity “have legs”.

Here are some headlines –

U.S., Euro Companies Paying More Attention To Reputation Risk

“Most importantly, consumers have high expectations that companies will not only produce quality products and services but also will act ethically in their creation and distribution.”

How the Best Leaders Build Trust

(This is an excellent article by Steven Covey)

Think about it this way: When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

Reputation  Learning

Corporate reputation is the foundation for business health and commercial success. A large company’s reputation is typically worth 20 to 40 per cent of its stock market valuation and can be as high as 70% or more for companies that rely heavily on their reputation and brand values (Sources: Oxford Metrica, Reputation Institute, University of Kansas research). We can all think of recent cases where reputation has been 100% and a matter of survival. Conversely, getting reputation risk management right means competitive advantage, higher ROI and performance.

Managers in all functions and Internal Audit need to understand reputation risk. This is important for everyone, not just Brand and Communications staff. Respected corporate reputations depend on these skills and a raised awareness of how reputation underpins successful business strategy and performance – the business case.

These are just a small sampling of writings in the recent past. Seems that dramatically falling equity prices, the news media feeding frenzy and the increased consumer emphasis on Trust and Ethics have finally penetrated many organizations.  These tangible threats provided the pain for those organizations that have been ambivalent on Ethics and Trust to finally see ethical business practices as a serious corporate-wide issue.

Here are some additional references –

The Practice of Leadership site has these worthy articles –

  1. The critical importance of trust in times of adversity
  2. How leaders build trust
  3. Factors that leaders should manage to encourage trust
  4. Behaviours that create or break trust…
  5. David Maister on the Four Dimensions of Trust

Finally visit Vanno The Reputation Index and see what others are saying and interact.

In future posts, I will highlight some good practices.

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