June 25, 2019

A Leaders Choice

I left the corporate world as director of public relations and started my own consulting company several years ago. Working worldwide, I help people improve their presentation skills, create positive impact and to use their emotional awareness to improve both leadership / presence skills. Discussing what I do, “Ah,” is a common response.  “I see, you’re a management consultant.” My usual response is to reply that the majority of my clients are managerially competent. My choice is to work on the leadership side of the equation, and the subset of skills that defines what good leadership is all about. I then usually get a puzzled, even bewildered look. Pausing, the usual response is, “I mean, come on, after all management… leadership… it’s all the same thing, right?” Management and leadership are not the same (though many business books out there confuse, or “interchange” the two words). The impact is confusion so deep it does not allow great leaders to flourish. When I train a group of leadership trainees, I ask them several important questions and conduct a short experiment comprising four simple questions, appointing one participant to track statistics and help me interpret the results. Ready? Here come the questions: Question 1: During their career, who has had one inspiring, motivational, role-modeling leader for whom you were committed to working hard? After some thought approximately 30-50% of hands go up. Never more than half the hands rise. Question 2Keep your hands up if you have had TWO of these leaders. Quickly half the hands go down, leaving only about 15% of the people with their hand up. Question 3: Who has had THREE? Needless to say most hands go down. There is usually one poor guy wondering why he still has his hand up. I then ask, “What can we conclude from this?” “Well,” they say, “there are not a lot of great leaders out there.” “Precisely.” Then I pose a fourth question. If all your past or present staff members you have led were in the next room and were asked, “Do you currently have an inspiring, motivational, role-modeling leader for whom you are committed working hard?” Would they raise their hands for you? Some participants look a bit pained, uncomfortable and claim, “We hope so, though probably not.” Not only do we have lack of great role models for leadership, we ourselves are probably not the best role models. Let’s get to the bottom of this confusion and lack of leadership once and for all. Take a hypothetical example:
  • Imagine you were working in a corporation or an organization.
  • You are at your desk, and you get a call from your senior leader about a special project at headquarters
  • You meet with the CEO because the project sounds interesting.
The CEO explains the project and asks, “Are you interested in this?” “Of course,” you say without hesitating – this is the kind of project you’ve been waiting for. “Good,” replies the CEO, “now I know you are onboard, here’s the catch.” “Oh,” you say,” thinking there’s always a catch. “Yes,” the CEO says, “see that door at the back of my office?” “Yes.” you reply, turning around and noticing the door for the first time. “Good!” says the CEO, “in the next room are a manager, a leader, trainer, consultant, mentor and coach, six people who will be your human resources for the project.” The CEO informs you that you need to create their job descriptions and the only way to move these people into action is to let them know what you specially want from them. Entering the conference room you see a group of people on their phones,  hanging out, not doing anything yet. They are unenthused about this great project you’ve been entrusted with. What set of distinct skills and approaches will you get from each of these people? You have six bored people with no job descriptions.
You’ve got a Manager ? There’s a definite Leader ?  
And the Coach is there too ?   Of course there is a Trainer ?
Nice to see that there is a Mentor ?   And, for good measure you also have a Consultant ?
  • What will these six people do for the project?
  • What’s their role about?
  • What can you count on them for?
  • What doesn’t fall within their job description?
  • Which of the first six boxes does your first answer fall into?
  • And lastly if you had to summarize each role into a single verb that depicts their role, what would it be?
Now, just for fun, pause this video and think for a moment about each of these roles. You can download the template and fill it out. Back to the video… Focusing on the top two boxes first: Management versus Leadership which is a major source of confusion. Training across the world, from India to China, North to South America – and in Europe, the answer is fairly consistent. What I usually hear is “Hmm… hard to say, they are so similar…” “No,” I declare – “it’s not the same thing at all – let’s sort this one out, once and for all.” Sigh of relief from everyone… Fill in the blanks in these two sentences using “manage” and “lead”: I ________________ my bank account, and I ________________ my people. The most sensible answer is: I manage my bank account, and I lead my people. We cannot “lead our bank account” and that begs the question can we manage our people? In essence the message is that people want to be led, not managed. We manage thingsprocesses, not people! Management and leadership are not at all synonymous. You can be an excellent manager, though not a good leader. Good leaders understand the inherent and underlying differences between management, leadership and the choices leaders have on how to lead and when to use the right mix of skills. Many great books on the subject of leadership interchange the words “leadership” and “management”, even by some so-called management gurus. Regrettably, many business card titles state Manager this and Manager that… why not Leader? Management involves a skill set including delegating and following up on tasks, creating scope for people, assessing performance, providing necessary tools to accomplish tasks, picking team members. Where does “strategy” come? In leadership or management? Maybe partly in both. The leadership element is the creation of the strategy end to end, instilling a sense of motivation, focusing the team in the right direction. Focus is the most important element of success – which starts with the leader. Managers roll out the strategy. The leader might be involved in the high-level strategy development and then is responsible for empowering and delegating the micro delivery aspects to the manager. Motivation does not spring from mere words. It’d be like saying, “Oh, Raj, by the way, you are motivated so act like it.” People become motivated by the environment you create as leader. Motivation might fall into all six boxes – so two words in more than once box is OK. Using each skill to motivate is slightly different in each box. During this exercise, most groups gravitate to the “management” box first. Why? We have been over-managed through life by our schools, as children, our parents and elders; societies managed us with direction, religion, choices and discipline. There’s nothing wrong with management and a bit of laser-focused direction – it just feels overdone. Let’s go back to leadership, your leader, your CEO. What is he or she doing – or supposed to be doing today? True leaders inspire teams. A charismatic mouthpiece, they project the organization’s image internally and externally, maybe even raising capital.  Leaders hold debriefs, focusing on what went well and informing others how they can be better next time. They share success, are accessible, demonstrate commitment, follow though. They walk the talk, balancing accountability, responsibility and gratitude, achieve a balance between assertiveness and being authoritative in the right circumstances, knowing when and how to use the right dose of likability (see table).  True leaders admit mistakes and let others take credit for success, leading by example. Leaders can motivate a team and organization on their personal “why” and need to have what is called learning agility – constantly learning new and relevant things. It’s important for leaders to have just enough data points to be aware what is happening in the organization, while not micro-managing. Leaders may have the official leader title and sometimes can lead from behind, as Nelson Mandela coined the term, without the official title. Leaders motivate and inspire, obtaining levels of discretionary effort, where people react – not because they have to – because they want to. We may all step into leadership in what we do; we don’t always have the leader’s title, though we naturally take leadership for many things. We can assign a verb to the top two boxes. Leaders do what they do because they “inspire”. Managers do what they do by using some “tell” skills.
Manager: Tell Leader: Inspire
Back to our CEO and the project. There are still four people wondering what they are going to do. What will you get from them and what should they be doing to best perform in their role? Let’s look at the middle two responsibilities the Coach versus the Trainer. Again, they are perceived aspretty much the same. Most people would say, “The coach is responsible for the team, leading them to high performance by showing them how to play the game, cheering them on and instructing how to use the equipment.” That’s the common perception in terms of sports coaches. This is misleading as that is not what coaches do. The word “coach” originates from horse and buggy days. The “coach” was a vehicle to take you from A to B and beyond. Back in the modern day, the coach will help you get from A to B (where you want to go). If a taxi driver asked where you want to go, you wouldn’t say, “I dunno.” It would be a long, expensive and wasteful ride. Goal definition is vital for good coaching to ensue. The coach can help to work out your goal, then help you set specific objectives to track your progress. Coaches have exceptional listening skills, understanding above and below the surface of what you are saying. Coaches are also good at the age-old skills of silence, giving you the space to talk. Despite common belief, coaches do not need industry-specific experience because they do what they do by asking questions to get you to think, in essence, activating your thinking process and acting as your thinking partner. A coach can work with an architect, yet know nothing about building design. The great thing about coaching is that it can be done 1:1, 1:team and even as a self-guided exercise –1:self! The coach also motivates and inspires though does it differently than, say, up in the leader’s box. They will balance the Asking + add in the listening and use conversational skills to guide the self Discovery + all attached to a specific Goal, ultimately holding people accountable for their commitments.  Coaches help the coachee see things with new eyes. Therefore the key verb for coaching is “to Ask”. What about trainers? Think about going to a sports training camp and what the trainer’s role encompasses. Firstly, they watch you perform, establishing your current skill level and creating a benchmark. They identify gaps between where you are and where you should be. Then they set up the improvement and maintenance program to get you – and keep you – in shape, fit and ready to compete (whatever arena you are working in), instilling skills and knowledge to move ahead. The trainer pushes you, giving unadulterated support – like the “Go! Go! Go!” cheerleader we all need occasionally. The trainer’s job is to impart knowledge, foster skills-based growth and development. Effective trainers must have specific subject matter expertise and knowledge. The key verb here is “to instruct”. We now have these four job descriptions sorted…
Manager: Tell Leader: Inspire
Coach: Ask Trainer: Teach
The last two roles that need to be filled on this team:
Mentor   Consultant  
The “Mentor”… Ever had a mentor? I was assigned a mentor way back, as a Management Associate Trainee at a bank in Germany. Our conversations seemed lackluster, plain and boring. One afternoon I got a call from the trainee coordinator in New York who had hired me out of graduate school. I was mortified when she suggested I was wasting the mentor’s time and agreed I had no idea how to use his support. Nobody told me. She challenged me by asking me the following questions:
  • Have you contracted with him what you expect from him, how often you want to see him and what the limits are to your interaction? No
  • Are you tapping into all his relevant industry experience? No
  • Are you asking him to open doors for you inside and outside the organization? No
  • Are you shadowing him from time to time to learn what he does and how he does it to then debrief with him? No
  • Are you strategizing and politicking with him on how to best pitch the project you are working on? No
  • Are you asking for his advice and feedback as well as motivation? No
  • Are you asking him to stand up for you where needed and protect you? No!
After a series of clear “no’s” it was apparent that I really did not understand what mentors were for, nor did anyone explain it to me. I find this is still true today. We use the word “mentor” in our day-to-day language though seldom contract on what good mentorship is about. Unlike a coach, the mentor must have some form of relevant or transferrable experience to share, open doors for you, politicking with you to help you weigh the political implications of your actions. They have knowledge and connections in and out of your organization. Mentors move when you activate them. The verb associated with the mentor is “to Guide”. What about the sixth and final role, the Consultant? Consultants provide external views, industry benchmarks, new perspectives, additional resources and even confirm what you thought you already knew – though probably weren’t able to convince your organization. They come at a cost, and, if used wisely, serve their purpose. The verb associated with the consultant is “to Advise”.
Mentor = To guide Consultant = To advise
Wrapping up When I raise my hand to acknowledge my great leaders I have two. One performed all these roles interchangeably. After working with her I codified what she did and how she did it, discovering that she would inspire me, give one colleague guidance, coach another — then manage my processes with me, train me how to do things, occasionally be my mentor, and give me access to consultants, reporting their comments back to the team. She demonstrated beautifully that to remain in the Leader’s space you choose when to lead, manage, coach, train, mentor or consult.  To create conditions where people raise their hand for you as an inspiring, motivational leader – start consciously using your leadership choices.
Manager Tell Leader Inspire  
Coach Ask Trainer Instruct  
Mentor Guide   Consultant Advise