Archive for the ‘Leading People’ Category
“Another generous leader with whom I’ve worked for many years, and for whom I have great affection, is Doug Herzog, the President of Viacom Entertainment Group. Doug is much more likely to assume positive than negative intent – he believes that people generally want to do good work, and that you should hire smart, capable people and assume that they’ll then be smart and capable. I’ve noticed over the years that most people really like working for him: they tend to blossom in the sun of his regard. They feel motivated to fulfill his positive expectations. Of course, sometimes people don’t fulfill his expectations, and then he can be disappointed, and sometimes even has to let them go – but the vast majority of the time, I’ve seen his hopefulness about people bear fruit.
For example, at one point many years ago, Doug was having some difficulties with one of his direct reports. This guy – let’s call him Joe – was running programming for one of the channels Doug manages, and while he was creative and smart, he was uncommunicative and hard to read. Rather than assuming that Joe had some hidden agenda or was being secretive, Doug assumed that he simply didn’t understand how his lack of communication was affecting those around him. He offered Joe an executive coach; Joe took advantage of the opportunity and improved his communication and his focus on teaming with others. Now, almost ten years later, Joe is running the network: he and Doug have a strong and positive working relationship.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
Doug was the first client with whom I shared the six Accepted Leader attributes, in 1996. I had been working on the model for about a year, and felt as though I had something important – simple, true and useful. I explained to Doug how I had been observing the differences between ‘appointed’ and ‘accepted’ leaders, and how I had come to believe that we have a kind of radar for good leadership built into us from ancient times as a group survival mechanism. I laid out the six attributes – and he started applying them instantly, thinking out loud (very accurately) about some of his direct reports and which of the qualities they did and didn’t demonstrate. It was exciting for me; his immediate adoption was my first indicator that I had found something core to our perceptions of leadership.
But it also said something to me about Doug as a leader. I had already noticed that generous leaders tended to ‘assume positive intent’ – to believe that people want to do good work and be strong team members, and that when those things aren’t happening, it’s more likely to be the result of a misunderstanding or a lack of skill or knowledge, rather than of a malicious or selfish agenda, or a permanent inability on that person’s part. What I understood that day with Doug was that this generosity of spirit doesn’t make leaders naive or pollyanna-ish. Doug was quite clear about the leadership deficits of the folks working for him. Assuming positive intent, when well-practiced, is hopeful but realistic: you see people for who they are, and you believe that they can grow and want to grow.
It’s the essence of ‘reasonable aspiration,’ and it provides a great developmental environment for the followers of a generous leader.
“When Danny Meyer smiles, other people smile too. His good humor and hopefulness are highly infectious. Danny and I are walking along a Manhattan street, coming back to his office from a webcast we’ve just taped for Forbes.com about how to be a good people manager. Danny’s talking about the speaking gigs he’s been doing lately, and he’s excited. I notice people looking at him and breaking into spontaneous grins – it’s fun just to be around his energy. The good vibes continue when we get back into the Union Square Hospitality Group offices – the company of which Danny is founder and CEO. People seem genuinely glad to see him. As he walks toward his office, each little encounter is full of life: a shared smile; a brief greeting; a moment spent telling someone that he liked a graphic she had created; a quick question and response with one of his partners.
We’ve been working with Danny and his team for 20 years – they’re our longest client relationship. When I began developing this leadership model in the mid-nineties, Danny was the first person I thought of as an exemplar of the generous leader. And as I watch him make his way through the USHG office on this occasion, I see it again: Danny is generous with all the things a leader has to offer. He’s generous with time, attention, praise, resources, trust, information, knowledge, and – perhaps most notably – power.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
It’s been both inspiring and educational observing Danny over the past twenty years; I love the opportunity provided by long-term client relationships to watch businesses and people grow. When I first met Danny in 1993, he had one restaurant – Union Square Cafe – and was in the process of moving toward opening his second, Gramercy Tavern. Now Union Square Hospitality Group, the company Danny and his partners formed to tie together all their establishments, is a NY-based world-spanning collection of fine dining restaurants, barbeque/jazz joints, a catering company, fast food emporia and upscale concessions at major sports arenas. And though these venues are hugely disparate in terms of menu, price point and locale, all of them have generosity at their core, as a bottom line value. Each of the enterprises is founded on Danny’s philosophy of ‘enlightened hospitality,’ which consists of five simple tenets: take care of each other; take care of our guests; take care of our vendors; take care of the community; and take care of the shareholders.
And he really means it. I’ve watched, over all these years, as Danny and his partners have made consistent effort to ensure that these principles of foundational generosity live in every person they hire and every business they run. It’s always tough to balance growth with maintaining a strong positive culture – it’s easy for core principles to get lost in the imperatives of profit, especially when you’re adding lots of new people to the mix all the time – but Danny and his team are doing a remarkable job.
Generosity in a leader is a wonderful thing to observe. It has almost mystical properties. I’m reminded of the quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, “For it is in giving that we receive.” I used to think that was meant to refer only to the experience of giving; that we receive the benefit of feeling spiritually and emotionally great when we’re genuinely generous. And it’s true that being generous feels wonderful. However, I’ve noticed that those leaders who give consistently – who are generous with time, belief, hope, resources, power and knowledge – also receive on a practical material level. They receive people’s loyalty, commitment, and effort. Because their followers give back creativity, hopefulness, energy, collaboration, and hard work, their generosity becomes a powerful catalyst for growth – their own personal growth, but also their people’s growth, and the growth and prosperity of their business.
As an investment, generosity gives great returns on every level. Leaders – take note.
“Wonya Lucas is another wise leader. Last year I was facilitating a vision and strategy session for an organization called CTAM (Cable and Telecommunication Association for Marketing); Wonya is a member of the board. At one point in the discussion, we were talking about how and whether CTAM should change the focus of some of its offers to better serve its members. One person was very enthusiastic about how a particular offer would appeal to the membership. Most of the other participants in the session were getting caught up in the person’s enthusiasm. I saw Wonya listening carefully, not yet responding. A few minutes later she spoke up, noting that while she agreed that the membership would love the offer, she wasn’t sure about their bosses – that it might be a harder sell to convince them of the value of it – and that they were, ultimately, the ones who would have to pay for the members to use it. Her balanced insight changed the flow of the conversation, and the group ended up agreeing on a more robust and universally appealing offer.
I’ve often seen Wonya be the “fair witness” for a group; she seems to have a real gift for keeping her objectivity, even when all around her are losing theirs. People rely upon this ability in their leaders. We look to our leaders for guidance, and when we don’t respect the quality of our leaders’ insight, when we don’t believe that they can stay objective about important situations – we question their decisions.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
Recently, Wonya and I were talking about a situation where she had made a decision as a leader that turned out not to have been the right thing for her team and the organization. I really appreciated her “fair witness,” objective approach. She was able to say, “here’s what happened; here’s how that didn’t work; here’s what I’ve done differently; here’s what’s happening now.”
Being able to reflect on and grow from successes and mistakes as a leader is the essence of wisdom. Too often, leaders just keep moving: good things happen, bad things happen, but they don’t stop, take a breath and think – dispassionately and objectively – about what it means, and use their understanding to improve going forward.
In order to do this, though, you have to cultivate the skill of being a ‘fair witness’; of being able to look at situations – even those in which you have a strong emotional stake – as objectively as possible, so that your decisions are based in reality, rather than denial, hope, avoidance, or wishful thinking.
I recently read a wonderful definition of wisdom, from Aristotle: he proposes that wisdom is the understanding of causes. That is, knowing why things are a certain way, which is deeper than merely knowing that things are a certain way. Wise leaders look for the “why” behind events, and it helps them to make decisions that will benefit them, their teams and their organizations.
“I saw Kathy Dore do this again and again during the years when she was a client. I noticed that when something didn’t work the way she’d hoped – a program, a sales effort, a business process – she’d sit down with her team and have an honest post-mortem. She’d ask, “Why didn’t this work?” or “What held us back from even greater success?” Then she’d help guide the conversation so that people could discover those elements of the effort most likely to be the source of any problems. Once they had gotten clearer on the “shape” of the problem, she’d ask, “What do we need to do differently next time to make this work (or make it work even better)?” And I know from speaking to her that her self-talk about this process was generally hopeful and practical: We can figure this out. We can make this better.
And the results? Kathy built strong, loyal, capable teams who deeply respected and supported her as their leader – and together they were able to build new businesses, turn around failing businesses, drive existing businesses to achieve much higher levels of success.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
The first time I met Kathy, 16 years ago, I was immediately impressed with her wisdom. The way she gathered and reflected on ideas and input before responding gave the sense that she was giving important issues the consideration they deserved.
However- and this is key – she was not slow or indecisive. In fact, she made tough, complex decisions well and quickly…she just didn’t rush, or decide in an arbitrary or superficial way.
Sometimes it seems we assume that wisdom is a quality best left to philosophers and academics – those who aren’t bound by the deadlines and financial constraints of business.
But in my experience, the opposite is true, and Kathy’s a great example. When a far-sighted, passionate, courageous leader is also wise, it strikes a great balance. Wisdom is the counterweight to the forward motion of those first three traits; it keeps far-sightedness from becoming unrealistic, passion from turning into dogma, and courage from drifting into foolhardiness.
And now I have the great good fortune of benefiting from Kathy’s wisdom on a daily basis: in 2009 she went from client to colleague. Since then she’s served as a senior advisor at Proteus, and her wisdom is helping us grow well, and helping our clients create clear vision and strategy. Her wisdom simply has a new vehicle for driving businesses and catalyzing strong, thoughtful, successful teams.
Turner supported her in this effort (she’s also passionate, so I’m sure she made a great case for it), and her decision to move in this somewhat risky direction has paid off handsomely, in terms of both ad sales revenues and cementing relationships with important clients. But she had no guarantee at the time; it required leadership courage to commit to this direction and stay committed to it until it could have a chance to bear fruit.”
— From Chapter Five of Leading So People Will Follow
I suspect most of the people who work for Linda Yaccarino consider her fearless. But I know she has doubts and anxiety as anyone else does – it’s just that she doesn’t let them stop her.
And that’s part of real courage as a leader: moving forward in spite of your fear. Doing things that feel risky, or are personally uncomfortable, when you believe they’re necessary for the good of the enterprise.
I love working with Linda – it’s always a breath of fresh air. She’s bold, and she’s honest, and she takes full responsibility for her actions. In her new(ish) job as head of Cable and Digital Ad Sales at NBCUniversal, she immediately set a high bar for herself and her team when she arrived – there was a lot to do, and not nearly enough time or people to do it. In the first meeting she held with her senior team, I could tell they were excited, but a little overwhelmed by the challenges before them. Then I had the privilege of being a part of her first national sales meeting, a few months later, and I could feel her courage infusing each one of the 400 people in attendance; making them feel more capable, more willing to move beyond their own limitations.
Courage in a leader is a bracing thing: it strengthens and invigorates everyone it touches.
“John McDermott has no idea how courageous he is. He’s an extraordinarily personable and approachable leader, the head of Global Sales and Marketing for Rockwell Automation, and most of the time he uses his relationship and influencing skills to get people working together and moving in the right direction. It’s his preferred approach to leadership, and it works really well for him. It’s a particularly appropriate management style because his team is spread out all over the world, and consists primarily of very senior salespeople. They’re used to running their own show – John is most often thousands of miles away, at Rockwell’s headquarters in Milwaukee. They’re a strong-minded, autonomous bunch, and they appreciate and respond well to John’s collaborative approach and easy-going manner.
But when the situation requires it, I’ve also seen John make tough decisions with limited information, decisions that require him to do things that are personally uncomfortable for him. These behaviors are core to our definition of courage.”
— From Chapter Five of Leading So People Will Follow
John and I have been working together for the past five years. Of all the executives I coach, John is among the most serious about his own growth. In fact, the leadership attribute for which John is now an exemplar – Courage – was a growth area for John when we first started working together. It’s been great watching him over these years, strengthen his ability to make tough calls with limited information or in the face of adversity, and to have difficult but necessary conversations with people.
I thought it would be both useful and inspiring to you to know that John, and the other leaders in the book, didn’t necessarily start out their careers having these attributes in place. Just the other day, I was doing an email interview for the book, and the interviewer asked me if these attributes were “inborn, or could be developed.” Based on my experience supporting leaders over the past twenty years, these attributes are highly developable.
Here’s what’s required to develop these attributes: honest self-reflection, openness to learning, and the willingness to create new habits. John McDermott has all three in abundance and will, I’m sure, keep evolving as a a truly followable leader .
“I’ve noticed that young leaders, especially, can fall into the trap of feeling like they need to be dogmatic in order to be seen as powerful. In my experience, the opposite is true. Last fall I was having a conversation with Peter Liguori, where he was telling me that he thought the Discovery Creative Council should spend some time focusing on how to improve the organization’s creative process. I disagreed, initially – I thought the council should focus more specifically on generating creative ideas. Peter listened carefully to my disagreement, then offered a clear and impassioned rationale for his point of view: that he felt strongly that the Council members, as creative executives, were most at the effect of any problems with the creative process, and would have great insights into how to solve them. He also explained that he was concerned that having the council come up with great creative ideas, and then putting them into a less-than-great organizational process, would be frustrating and counter-productive. He made the case that focusing on the creative process was the more foundational and strategic place to begin. Peter never told me my point of view was wrong, and he never implied his point of view was the only way to see the situation. But he made his case so clearly, and with such honest passion, that I was sold. (And we ended up having a meeting focused on the creative process that has had a positive ripple effect throughout the organization.)”
– From Chapter 4 of Leading So People Will Follow
I really loved facilitating Discovery’s Creative Council, a handpicked group of “productive creatives” from all over the organization, with whom Peter worked to – as I note above – improve Discovery’s creative process and generate fresh ideas. I was sad that Discovery decided to disband the Council when Peter left the company. The Council members were all interesting, smart folks with great skills and insights, and Peter did a wonderful job of drawing them out and encouraging new thinking.
I observed, in working with the group, that Peter’s combination of deep passion and openness to disagreement was a powerful catalyst for the council members’ passion. His approach made it both OK to feel strongly and OK to disagree — and I often saw the group work their way to a better idea because he was modeling that blend of passion and openness for them.
The entire experience made me realize how closely the leadership attribute of passion is tied to innovation. To come up with new, better ways of doing things and then actually implement those new approaches requires deep commitment combined with a curious and inclusive spirit – the essence of true passion. When leaders can find that balance, exciting stuff can unfold…
“Nancy Tellem is listening intently. I’m telling her about my son’s inspiring experiences with an organization in Kenya, One Home Many Hopes, that rescues orphaned and abandoned girls, and gives them the chance to lead lives of positive contribution. Nancy has a kind of focused brightness, and when she’s listening, she becomes very still. When I’ve finished speaking, she nods reflectively and then begins to tell me about her own experience with Foundation Rwanda, a group that works with victims of the genocide in Rwanda, providing educational funding for the children born from rape, as well as medical and psychological services to their mothers, and also supports them in finding or creating income-generating activities. Nancy speaks quietly, but with complete conviction; it is clear to me that she will do whatever is in her power to advance the cause of this organization, and to enlist others in support of it.
I’ve seen her passion in how she approaches her profession, as well. When she believes in something, she will support and work for it with true commitment, most often gaining others’ support through the consistency and depth of that commitment. One very public example: in the late 90s, when she was President of Entertainment for CBS, she became convinced that “Expedition Robinson,” an incredibly successful Swedish show about people trying to survive on an island, and being asked to leave one by one (sound familiar?) that had been considered too controversial for American TV, could become a huge hit here. She fought for it with clear rationale and quiet determination, marshaling her team to overcome the financial and even psychological concerns. She gained the support she needed; Survivor first aired on CBS in 2000 – and the rest is, as they say, history.
Nancy’s passion has built her an equally passionate following; a few years ago, standing at a celebration with members of her team, listening to them speak of her with genuine affection, admiration and respect, I realized that her passion – along with her other leadership qualities – had made her a true leader.”
– From Chapter 4 of Leading So People Will Follow
The quality of Nancy’s passion is one of the things I enjoy most about having her as a friend and colleague. True passion in a leader is an unusual thing: it combines elements that may seem mutually exclusive. Passionate leaders are deeply committed to the causes, goals and ideas that are meaningful to them, and yet they are also open and curious…even in those areas where they are most passionate. They keep listening; they stay respectful of others’ points of view. Their passion doesn’t devolve into dogmatism or demonization of those with opposing viewpoints.
I’ve often noticed this wonderful combination in conversation with Nancy: when we’re discussing something about which she feels strongly, she’ll still invite and consider my point of view, and stay engaged even if it’s very different from hers.
When a leader can find that balance point — of being deeply committed without being close-minded — that person’s followers are free to come to their own conclusions, and their support then comes not from coercion or fear of reprisal, but rather from their own passion, their own sense of what’s important. Passion in a leader is inspiring; it helps to catalyze our own sense of purpose.
“One leader I know who’s especially good at this aspect of far-sight [curiosity-based testing of their vision] is Josh Sapan, the President and CEO of AMC Networks. Over the years, I’ve watched Josh throw out ideas about possible futures to his team, using a “where we could go” and “who we could be” frame that most people find both compelling and inclusive. At first, he can be charmingly self-deprecating about the possibility he’s presenting. And sometimes the ideas are shown to be unrealistic or not useful – and then Josh may be the first to let them go. But often the ideas take shape and acquire heft and power in the interchange, and as that happens I see Josh – and the team – gain ever greater confidence in the future they’re envisioning. I notice that even people who may not have been engaged by the idea to begin with start to feel the pull of the possibility: it becomes increasingly compelling to them as it’s shaped in conversation. And this approach, of reflecting on and discussing an idea together, is by its very nature inclusive. Under Josh’s stewardship, the AMC Networks brands have grown and prospered dramatically, and continue to break new ground in the media landscape – and I believe this ability of Josh’s, to envision new possibilities and then express them with increasing clarity and confidence, is an important element of that success.”
– From Chapter 3 of Leading So People Will Follow
I have the great pleasure of watching Josh in action on a regular basis. He holds a quarterly strategy meeting with his team that I get to facilitate. It’s a big meeting – almost 30 people – but it feels much smaller, because Josh creates such an open, inquisitive environment. Ideas get teed up, thrown around, pursued or dismissed. People ask questions, disagree, say “I don’t understand” or “What does that mean?” They laugh, listen to each other, stay engaged, get excited.
This is an important part of Josh’s far-sightedness: he focuses on the future in such a compelling and inclusive way that he draws people into a place of curiosity about the possibilities. He ignites their own farsightedness.
I’ve seen the power of this again and again. AMC Networks has had tremendous success over the past decade. Some of the key ideas have come from Josh, but most of them have come from folks on his team. He catalyzes, invites and rewards their vision. True farsightedness in a leader is infectious.
“Bonnie Hammer is tiny. She stands before the Universal Cable Production Studios team, forty-some people who together have created some of the most successful cable television shows of the past few years—Warehouse 13, Royal Pains, and Psych among them—and those in back rows have to sit up straight to see her. This is the first time in the studio’s brief history that the whole group has come together to focus on their vision for the studio’s future and plan how to get there.
Bonnie is the chairman of NBCU Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. She’s had huge success building her portfolio of businesses over the past decade, so folks in the room respect her and would be ready to listen even if she wasn’t inspiring. But she is. She may be little, but her energy is infectious, and she builds a picture of how the media industry is changing and the role this group could play; of how the studio can succeed both financially and creatively in this new world. She talks about how their collaboration with each other and with all their partners both inside and outside the company will support them in creating great content for people to enjoy not only on TV but online, on their phones, in games, and on platforms and in formats yet to be invented. She describes a future of risk taking rewarded, of working hard, having fun, being pioneers.
Everyone in the room is engaged; there are smiles and nods. Watching from the side of the room, I see that at this moment, they are fully accepting her as their leader.
Bonnie is far-sighted…Over the years as I’ve worked with her and her teams, I’ve watched her again and again as she pulls people’s eyes up from the ground and turns them toward the far horizon, describing a possible future and inviting people to go there with her. She shares her vision of the future in a compelling and inclusive way.”
– From Chapter 3 of Leading So People Will Follow
When I started writing this book, almost three years ago, I immediately thought of including Bonnie. The first time she and I met, I had come to speak with her about an executive on her team I was going to be coaching. Within a few minutes, she impressed me as being both unpretentious and powerful – an unusual and appealing combination. As I got to know her, I felt it even more strongly. And I also saw other great balances in her: she is both tough and kind; logical and intuitive; and – especially this – operational and far-sighted. I could have chosen Bonnie as an examplar for a number of the Leading attributes, but I picked far-sighted because she’s such an excellent model of the power of having and sharing a clear vision.
I especially enjoy watching her as she consistently brings her team’s focus back to the big picture: Why are we doing this, and how does it serve or not serve our overall vision and our key goals? She always does it in a respectful way – there’s no “I’m far-sighted and you’re not” sting to it – but it puts possible actions in the proper context and reminds everyone to think and act strategically about how best to use their time, attention and resources.
It’s a great practice for anyone in a leadership position to emulate. And that’s why I’ve chosen the 12 leaders I’ve used as examples throughout Leading So People Will Follow. I thought that, in addition to clarifying the six Leading attributes and offering practical ideas for developing them, it would be useful to my readers have real-world models of the attributes in action.
Over the next six weeks, I’ll be writing blog posts about each of my exemplars in the order in which they appear in the book. It’s a way for me to introduce you to these wonderful folks, and also to give you a ‘sneak peek’ at the book’s content.
Next up, AMC Networks’ Josh Sapan…..