How and why to cope with a leadership evaluation and development crisis to produce more effective leaders
As Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis suggest in Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, leaders define themselves by their choices. They assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”
Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran suggest that many (if not most) organizations define themselves (for better or more often worse) by their evaluation and development of effective leaders, by how many of the important calls their leaders get right when deciding whom to hire, whom to promote, and whom to support. As they explain in the Introduction, they devoted decades of research to develop a model for effective leadership. They share in this book their response to the question posed by the title. More specifically, they identify and then rigorously examine seven leadership attributes that are the most vital: integrity, empathy, emotional intelligence, vision, judgment, courage, and passion. No news there. What caught my eye and what, I think, will be of greatest interest to other readers is what Cohn and Moran offer when explaining “how to decode and connect these attributes…how they fit together. Our breakthrough insight is an overall framework for making leadership selection decisions.” These are among the “smart calls” to which Tichy and Bennis also refer.
Think of the challenge as a “puzzle” and the attributes among the most important “pieces.” How to put all the pieces together? Cohn and Moran devote a separate chapter to each of what they characterize as the seven “building blocks,” then reveal in Chapter 8 “A Better Way to Choose Leaders.” The information, insights, and recommendations provided within the book’s narrative are research-driven, primarily by interviews of more than 100 CEOs and other leaders. For example, those among the “A-C group” include Lance Armstrong, Jeff Bezos, Bono, Richard Branson, Michael Capellas, Richard Clarke, Jerry Colangelo, and Delos (“Toby”) Cosgrove.
Other resources include decades of research conducted by James Kouzes and Barry Posner;also, various leadership development programs (e.g. AT&T, Allianz SE, McKinsey & Company, “New CEO Workshop” at Harvard Business School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Team USA). They also picked the brains of thought leaders such as the aforementioned Tichy and Bennis as well as James MacGregor Burns, Daniel Goleman, K. Anders Ericsson, and Roger Martin.
Of course, it remains for each reader to determine what is most relevant among the abundance of material provided by Cohn and Moran in their book. The same is true of another recently published book that I also hold in very high regard, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, in which George Anders focuses on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why.” What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
All organizations needed leadership at all levels and in all areas. Although the two books take different approaches to an immensely complicated and critically important subject, executive talent evaluation, each can be of incalculable value to those who are guided and informed by the material provided. In fact, I highly recommend that both be read and (preferably) re-read, then frequently consulted by every one involved in an organization’s recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and leadership development initiatives.
Bono recently wrote a beautiful tribute to Sargent Shriver: What I Learned From Sargent Shriver. He worked with Shriver’s son, Bobby, on some major efforts to help alleviate poverty, especially among the most desperately poor. In the midst of his tribute is some great communication advice:
I have beautiful memories of Bobby and me sitting with his father and mother at the Shrivers’ kitchen table — the same team that gazed over J.F.K.’s shoulder — looking over our paltry attempts at speechifying, prodding and pushing us toward comprehensibility and credibility, a challenge when your son starts hanging round with a bleeding-heart Irish rock star.
Comprehensibility: make sure your message can be easily grasped, easily and quickly understood, by your audience.
Credibility: (Aristotle called it ethos): make sure you have done your homework, lived your message, gained respect – in other words, make sure you have earned the right to speak.
Pretty good advice for all of us in the communication business – which, by the way, is just about all of us!
Here is an interview of Dave Stewart by Ian Sanders featured by BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
Dave Stewart is best known as a Grammy-winning musician and producer — he was Annie Lennox’s bandmate in the Eurythmics and has collaborated with the likes of Bob Dylan and Bono. But when companies like British Telecom and the ad agency Interbrand started inviting him to speak, a hidden talent came to light: Stewart is a polymath who can connect the dots between disparate subjects, generating brave new ideas. The business world was hungry for his way of thinking, and soon he took on roles as U.S. creative director of the global ad shop the Law Firm and “change agent” for Nokia. His company Weapons of Mass Entertainment, an “ideas factory” based in Los Angeles, works with partners including HBO and Virgin Comics on projects in film, television, publishing, theater, and interactive gaming.
Last month Stewart and Mark Simmons, the author of Punk Marketing, published The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide [click here], a guide to creativity and brainstorming that introduces the straight-laced world of business to an artist’s approach to innovation. I spoke with him recently about how to present an idea, why it’s better to relinquish control over your ideas, and how businesses can create better environments for innovation.
You’ve got your hand in a lot of projects. How do you deal with the challenge of implementing all your different ideas?
Years ago, when I would have ideas it used to do my head in, because I was trying to make them work by myself. I thought, “I’ve got to own it 100 percent, so I have to build everything about it.” But as I got older I realized, “No, I’m an ideas person.” I can take an idea through prototype. If it’s a TV series, I can shoot a little bit, give it a great title, and write a draft. Now, I’m not going to try and make that series; I’m going to meet with a company that makes TV shows in that genre. And I’m just going to retain a small amount of ownership, because I want to do other things. Before, I’d get tangled up in the making of the thing. It took six months out of my life. Now we have partnerships.
The best thing, in the end, is to relinquish a lot of control. Because that allows you to be free thinking. I’d rather have 10 percent of something that took off than 100 percent of something that’s still on the table. When you’ve got a whole ideas factory, then you’ve got 10 percent or 15 percent of 50 different things. They can all be happening at once, but we’re not worrying about that because we’re not the ones making them.
What do you do with an idea once you’ve hatched it? How do you find partners to work with?
I’ve created a TV series called “Malibu Country.” When we first presented it to the producer, the presentation was a wooden box that looked like an apple box. When you opened it up, there was a “Malibu Country” shirt, music on a CD, the script treatment on a brown piece of paper. It looked like a country store. Because in my mind, it will be a store: It’ll be “Malibu Country” store, and it’ll be full of all the lifestyle feeling that the TV show is about. That’s all laid out in the presentation. When you go to someone with this, they either like it or they don’t, but they can see that you’re going to do this. Somebody is going to produce it. So they go, “Oh shit, I better not make a mistake in my decision here. This might be a huge hit!” It’s very different than just walking in and saying, “I’ve got an idea.”
You say your ideas are born out of chaos. But a lot of people in business are scared by not being in control. When you’re working with businesses like Nokia, how are you getting them to change their habits?
The creative process is chaotic. I’m not saying that when you’re executing an idea as a business that it has to be chaotic, too, but there needs to be a playroom where you can throw paint about. That should exist in all businesses, really. Because if everybody’s just sitting around analyzing everything — “Oh, we’re going to make this widget a bit smaller this year” — someone else is going to slam them from the side, and they’ll be wiped out. You see that happen all the time.
Nokia, and all the device companies, are now realizing, “We’re at the distribution point of all this content and media, and that thing in your pocket is almost like a remote control to your world.” They had tons of people on staff designing phones and all the stuff you need to make a great device company. But now it’s like, “Well, we wouldn’t mind creating content that drew people toward our devices. What is a real game-changing thing we could do with our devices?” I worked with Tim Kring on one that just hit Britain in June. [Conspiracy for Good, a massive multi-player entertainment property that blends gaming, story telling, and projects for social good.] It’s a real interesting blindside to the whole way gaming, television, networking, everything works. I’ve just created something else, a prime-time Saturday-night television show, and I brought that to Nokia. It’s another diverse way of creating content that’s on your TV, but there’s extra content on Ovi, which is Nokia’s cloud-computing site.
Another thing I like from your book is the idea of having a 48-hour business plan, not a 5-year plan. Weapons of Mass Entertainment can’t really have a strategic plan. So how do you lead a group of people through that kind of uncertainty?
I look at it a bit like sailing a ship. You always have somebody awake on deck with the binoculars, looking out. Businesses often don’t do that; they’re all down below, working away.
I want to be a new media company for a new age. What does that mean? Well, one thing I know is it relies on creating very interesting content and being able to deliver it in all sorts of ways for many platforms. Years ago, if you were making a musical, you’d make the musical, and then people queued up and bought tickets for it. It was marketed in the New York Times or on Broadway. Now it’s like, “Well hang on, you’ve got to have an app, and inside that app are four free songs and insights into the world of the musical, and guess what? You just press that button, and you’ve bought your ticket.” Fifty years ago, you never would have thought of all this stuff. Some kid would just be selling tickets out on the street.
Photo of Dave Stewart by John Attwell
Watch video clips from this interview:
How to Run an Ideas Factory Click here.
Putting Ideas Into Action Click here.
Can a person really change? Can a diminisher become a multiplier?
I know of no question more difficult than this one. And, to quote again from Cecil Eager, the owner of The Gruene Mansion Inn in New Braunfels, “you can teach someone how to check someone in – but you can’t teach friendly.” If a person is not friendly to begin with, you can’t teach friendly, and such a person seldom becomes “friendly.”
I keep thinking about this as I read business books. So many books describe the way the world could be/should be. But to actually move from here to there is one tough assignment.
At the moment, I am reading through Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman. (Read Bob Morris’ review of this book, on our blog, here). The book has this great narrative about the difference between a leader who is a diminisher, (thus, in reality, not a leader at all), and a leader who is a multiplier. It is a graphic depiction, a really clear image; one that makes sense. A person in a leadership position either has the ability to help people become more than they would be without such a leader, or they can diminish someone, literally de-motivating people, squeezing life right out of them. This is the very essence of leadership
Liz Wiseman quotes Bono at that the beginning of her book:
“It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.”
Wiseman defines a leader who is a multiplier:
Some leaders make us better and smarter. They bring out our intelligence. This book is about those leaders, who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around then. We call them Multipliers.
The Multiplier is the exact opposite of the diminisher. From her opening story, about an Israeli Tank Commander candidate who flourished under one leader, but was practically paralyzed by a leader who was a diminisher, we get the clear impression that leaders really do fall into one of these two categories. I think I agree.
But here is the question: can a true “diminisher” become a true “multiplier?” Though she has a final chapter tilted “Becoming a Multiplier,” and though this chapter provides some encouragement on this question, I’m just not sure. Maybe I would say it this way – if someone wants to become a “multiplier,” that is a signal that there’s a good chance that they already have that spark in them to begin with. But I’m not sure a true diminisher can ever become a full-blown multiplier. I’m just not sure people can really change.
But, I hope I’m wrong.
By the way, the real mystery from reading this book is this: how do some of these diminishers ever get promoted to leadership positions to begin with? Maybe the fastest way to fix this problem is this approach:
#1 — don’t promote any diminishers.
#2 – find those with a spark of multiplier ability, and nurture/cultivate/train/encourage such a spark in the people who have the best chance of becoming multipliers.