Leadership Impact GapThe final and perhaps most damaging source of friction and drag that may be destroying value in your organization, and exhausting you in the process; there is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Originally introduced in this blog; ‘The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process’).

One of the forefathers of leadership thought, James MacGregor Burns, famously declared that “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” Over the last hundred years, leadership thought and practice has traversed the varied terrains of charisma theory, behavior theory, as well as situational and contingency approaches, to name just a few. It’s all very confusing for leaders and change agents alike.

Here’s the short path through this chaos. It doesn’t matter what your noble intentions are, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or whether your mother loved your brother more than you as a child. In order to dramatically increase your effectiveness, what we need to know are three simple things: How would you like to motivate and encourage others to behave? How are you actually motivating and encouraging others to behave? And if we discover a gap between your intentions and reality, are you interested in doing something about it? This is the concept of impact.

When leaders are asked to articulate their vision for their impact, they generally articulate a desire to motivate and encourage team members to reach high levels of achievement, approach their work with creativity, develop others and work effectively as a team. When we measure their actual impact, which we do using a highly valid and reliable instrument developed by Dr. Rob Cooke of Human Synergistics International called Leadership/Impact, we find they often motivate a very different set of behaviours. These behaviours include motivating others to follow the rules, oppose ideas, compete with their peers and avoid responsibility.

ANZ Ideal Vs ActualIn other words, we are taking the chaos and creating more chaos. The picture to the right is a graphic representation of the gap I’m describing. On the left is the average ‘ideal’ impact. On the right is the average ‘actual’ impact.

In my experience, there are three main reasons for the gap. Firstly, two thirds of all leaders are unaware of their impact on others. This can be because they have never asked, because people are too afraid to tell them, or because nobody in that particular environment knows any better.

Secondly, we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. This is a phenomenon social scientists call ‘illusory superiority’; a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive abilities, and to underestimate their negative abilities. The very same reason that 93% of us believe we are above average drivers!

Finally, we are the product of our environments and conditioning. I may genuinely value creativity and innovation, but I operate in an environment that demands compliance. In spite of my noble intentions as a leader, consciously or unconsciously, I actually reinforce the status quo.

Research CEOsTo the right is the ‘test/re-test’ data for the leaders in our doctoral research. On the left, you can see that their first measure, in aggregate, is even worse than the average of all leaders in the database. On the right, you can see that their re-test data looks like an ‘ideal’ impact. Once again, these leaders have learned to dance with the chaos and, as you can imagine, their world feels very different today than it did then.

To dance with the chaos, you need a big brain and a small ego

The chaotic world in which we now live and work offers us ready made excuses for under performance in our organizations, and varying degrees of disorder in our personal lives. But as you’ve probably determined from the four sources of friction and drag, much of this pain is self-inflicted.

We do not have to settle for mediocrity or exhaustion. These are choices we are making, consciously or unconsciously. There is a better way, and relatively small changes can have a profound impact on your organization, your leadership and your personal life.

The challenge is not whether you are succeeding or struggling, because in a highly changeable world, one can become the other quite quickly. The real challenge is, in the words of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “Are you good enough to get better?”

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to the other blogs associated with this friction source;

Original blog – The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process
We are using a set of beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve us (Friction Source #1)
We’re very committed, but are not quite sure what we’re committed to (Friction Source #2)
We accept mediocrity (Friction Source #3)

The third source of friction and drag that may be destroying value in your organization, and exhausting you in the process is; we accept mediocrity. (Originally introduced in this blog; ‘The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process’).

Let’s assume for a moment that you are very clear on your aspirations. Our research and practice has identified eleven levers that leaders can pull to get there. Five are so called ‘hard’ levers: strategy, scorecard, structure, systems, and skills. Five are so called ‘soft’ levers: standards, strengths, story, symbols, and sustainability. The eleventh lever is leadership impact: this lever is as important as all the others combined: it acts like a handbrake or accelerator (I expand on this later).

Each of the ‘S’ levers is worth one point in our alignment model (though I have represented each lever out of ten in the graph below for visual impact). The leadership impact lever is worth ten points. So your alignment score is S10 x L1, which gives you an alignment score out of 100.

Alignment Inventory M1On the right is the first measure of alignment for all of the companies in our data base. That is, the measure of how aligned each of the eleven levers is to the respective company’s aspirations in the opinion of the organization’s most senior leaders. As you can see, the average score for most levers hovers between 6 and 7, which is how we get to an average alignment score of 45% (S6.7 x L6.7 = 44.89%).

I recently conducted this same alignment measure in a room of 50 CEOs from multinational companies. The average alignment score across these 50 companies, from the broadest range of industries and sectors, was 43%. My guess is that your first measure would be pretty similar.

How can we complain about the marketplace or head office when we score, on average, 6 or 7 across all of these levers? My provocation to you is that we are accepting mediocrity in our organizations.

Alignment Inventory M1-M2On the right is the ‘re-test’ data for the companies in our database who have achieved transformation status; that is, a case study showing significant improvements across a range of metrics including financial performance, customer advocacy and employee commitment. As you can see, relatively small changes across each of the levers can add up to a pretty significant impact overall.

These organizations are led by people who have learned to dance with the chaos of today’s world, professionally and personally. They have also raised standards for themselves and their colleagues; mediocrity is no longer accepted. These opportunities are available to all of us.

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to the other blogs associated with this friction source;

Original blog – The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process
We are using a set of beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve us (Friction Source #1)
We’re very committed, but are not quite sure what we’re committed to (Friction Source #2)
There is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Friction Source #4)

Today’s blog will look at the second source of friction and drag that may be destroying value in your organization, and exhausting you in the process; We’re very committed, but are not quite sure what we’re committed to. (Originally introduced in this blog; ‘The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process’).

We all have goals for our organizations, which I refer broadly to as aspirations. In the early days, I used to think it would be really difficult to get a group of senior leaders to agree a shared aspiration. As it turns out, this is not too difficult at all. Most leaders aspire to pretty similar things. In fact, if I showed you the aspiration statements of every client we’ve ever worked with, you would be hard pressed to determine their respective industries, let alone organizations.

TAP 5CsThe real challenge is that we don’t properly scrutinize our aspirations. Specifically, is every single person in your organization crystal clear on what success looks like? Do you actually have the capability to get there? Do you have the bandwidth? Are you all confident you can get there? Are you all truly committed to this aspiration?

The ‘5C’ model to the right shows how all of the clients in our database, in aggregate, have rated their aspirations against five key dimensions. It turns out that we’re super committed; we’re just not sure exactly what we’re committed to, or how we’re going to get there.

Take this simple 5C test with your colleagues. If you are not all scoring in the 90%+ range on all five dimensions, then you are leaving real stakeholder value on the table, and probably exhausting many in the process.

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to the other blogs associated with this friction source;

Original blog – The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process
We are using a set of beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve us (Friction Source #1)
We accept mediocrity (Friction Source #3)
There is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Friction Source #4)

burning platform imageIn my previous blog post I identified the gap between our noble intentions and our reality that is the primary source of value destruction in organizations, and exhaustion in leaders (Read it here; ‘The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process’). Today I will focus on the first source of friction and drag that may be destroying value and exhausting you in the process; we are using a set of beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve us.

There are many leadership assumptions that destroy value and exhaust us in the process, but I will focus on the two most destructive. The first is that “change can be managed.” Please be crystal clear on this point: change management is an oxymoron. It is underpinned by notions of predictability, safety and control. Its primary tools are the change manager, the change team and the change plan. But in the immortal words of the great poet and pugilist, Mike Tyson: “Every man has a plan to beat me, until I punch him in the face.”

Leading in the 21st century means we will be metaphorically ‘punched in the face’ many times because change is the only constant in our organisations. As a result, leading change must be the day job of an organisation’s most senior leaders, starting with the CEO, not a group of delegates. Change cannot be managed, it must be led. And if you think the difference is semantics, then I suspect more chaos is on your horizon.

The second destructive assumption is that in order for people to change, we must instil in them a sense of urgency and fear. This is often colloquially referred to as a burning platform.

A leader’s use of fear inducing strategies can be as much a sign of limited leadership capability as it is a sign of genuine and urgent crisis. After all, it’s much easier to scare the life out of people, than it is to inspire them with a compelling vision of the future.

So before you light a fire under those you lead; understand that anxiety is the single most contagious human emotion. It encourages many physical and psychological consequences that turn chaos into more chaos. If you want people to act on your vision, you need to create a burning ambition: a fire from within.

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to the other blogs associated with this friction source;

Original blog – The Gap: How to Unintentionally Destroy Value and Exhaust Yourself in the Process
We’re very committed, but are not quite sure what we’re committed to (Friction Source #2)
We accept mediocrity (Friction Source #3)
There is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Friction Source #4)

Over the past 15 years, my colleagues and I have been obsessed with business and leadership transformation, understood through stories of success. When I say transformation, I mean how otherwise ordinary leaders, teams and organizations become extraordinary.

The one thing this fifteen year obsession has taught me above all else is that transformation is not a matter of intention; it’s a matter of alignment. Why do I say that? All leaders have noble intentions. I’ve never met a leader who aspires to destroy shareholder value, irritate customers, and alienate staff. And yet, 70% of all change efforts fail.

Having lived my professional life at the intersection of large scale business transformation and the personal journey of the CEO, I have been granted a unique vantage point from which to study the gap between intention and reality. I have come to understand that this gap is a primary source of value destruction in organizations, and exhaustion in leaders.

IT’S NEVER BEEN MORE CHALLENGING TO LEAD

Word Map - MasterTo the right is a simple ‘word map’ analysis of how the 5000+ leaders we have worked with and studied over the years describe the greatest challenges they face. The bigger the word, the more prevalent the sentiment.

Clearly, we are leading in an increasingly volatile and chaotic business world driven by the relentless march of new technologies, the radical disruption of traditional business models, unrelenting public scrutiny, increasing accountability to more powerful and varied stakeholders, and the public failure of major institutions, to name just a few. The resulting chaos means it’s never been more difficult to lead. It’s also never been easier to blame external forces for under-performance in our organizations, or disorder in our personal lives.

Word Map - Master (Personal)Take a closer look at the second word map to the right. If we strip out the elements from the original version that are mostly out of our control, we are still left with more than half of the original content.

All of us must lead amid the chaos, yet some succeed and others fail. That is because some leaders take this chaos and dance with it, learn from it, and adapt to it. Many of us take this chaos and unwittingly create more chaos. The cost is not just unrealized value for our organizations, but lost time with our loved ones, broken relationships, enormous stress, and diminished health.

Before you get too despondent, understand that I’m not describing hopeless leaders or broken organisations. Our sample of leaders comes from more than 100 organizations, across the broadest range of industries, and includes some of the world’s most reputable brands.

In fact, the very best leaders have an additional challenge in my experience: success encourages ego, ego tends to encourage complacency, and in a world where nothing stands still for very long, complacency is usually followed by atrophy.

Recently I was challenged by a leader grappling with the chaos in his environment who said to me; “I know we’re doing lots of really great things, and I suspect we’re doing some dumb things. The trouble is I’m not always sure which is which until it’s too late. Your stories of success are great, but what I would really appreciate you talking to me about is failure. How do I recognize the things that are costing me time and money much more quickly?”

Think of your organisation as a snowball, where the goal is to create unstoppable momentum toward your intentions and aspirations. What inhibits your snowball is friction and drag. In our research and practice, we have uncovered four major sources of friction and drag that result in value destruction and leader exhaustion, listed in the graphic below;

Friction Sources Grey No Border

My next four blogs will investigate each of these elements, so that you can identify the sources of value destruction and leader exhaustion in your organization.

Want to keep reading? Here are quick links to the four friction sources discussed in this blog;

We are using a set of beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve us (Friction Source #1)
We’re very committed, but are not quite sure what we’re committed to (Friction Source #2)
We accept mediocrity (Friction Source #3)
There is a gap between our leadership vision and our impact on those we lead (Friction Source #4)

In my last blog, Engaging Your Up-Line Doll in Your Leadership Agenda, I outlined four sets of questions to help you understand your starting point for engaging your ‘up-line’ doll. If you haven’t read that yet, please take a moment to do so now. (Here)

Today, I present three strategies to engage your up-line doll in your leadership agenda. It’s not a perfect science, but your answers to the questions in the previous blog will help you determine the best strategy for you.

STRATEGY 1: ENGAGE & LEVERAGE

  • Engage them openly in your agenda, and ask them for any suggestions to improve it
  • Involve them in the process of providing leadership feedback
  • Share your story with them
  • Explore the potential to take your leadership agenda more broadly into your organization (e.g. other divisions or countries)
  • Build momentum for your agenda by leveraging their resources and support

Read the rest of this post & join the discussion

In my previous blog I explored the Russian Dolls Metaphor, one of the 7 Metaphors for Leadership Transformation through the eyes of Chris, the Asia-Pacific CEO of an Italian eye-wear and eye care company.  Today I would like to extend on that by looking at the outermost doll. Specifically, how you best engage them in your leadership agenda. This doll is that of the ‘up-line’ environment; which might be an international parent company, a board of directors, a state or federal regulatory body or simply your higher level manager.

Sometimes this big doll fits neatly around the smaller dolls, sometimes it fits loosely, but at other times it seems that it has the capacity to squash all the others – and the leadership agenda with it.

A leaders’ strategy for managing the up-line doll varies greatly, depending on their circumstances and their individual skill at this rather complex and nuanced task. One thing I’ve learned for certain is that the up-line doll has a very big impact on the speed and depth at which leadership transformation can happen.

In a perfect world, your up-line doll would be aware, engaged and supportive of your leadership transformation agenda, but this is not always possible or even desirable given certain circumstances.

The four sections below will help you assess your starting point in your efforts to engage your up-line doll:

Read the rest of this post & join the discussion

The Russian Dolls metaphor describes a complementary set of journeys that interact with a leader’s personal journey, thereby increasing levels of effectiveness. Russian nesting dolls, also known as matryoshka dolls, are typically made of wood and contain three to eight identically shaped dolls nested neatly inside one another. When you pull one doll apart, another one, slightly smaller, sits inside. Each doll in a set typically resembles the others, but may bear a unique image or pattern. Some of the most prized collectibles tell a story through different images painted on each doll in the set.

In our context, the Russian Dolls metaphor helps us to understand that a leader’s personal journey never exists in isolation; it is surrounded by multiple other journeys occurring concurrently. In our research, the subjects identified at least five different dolls, or journeys, which they felt were important in their transformation. These were; a personal doll, a leadership doll, a team doll, an organizational doll, and an up-line doll. I use the notion of “up-line” to represent the hierarchy above the leader; this might be an international parent company, a board of directors, or a state or federal regulatory body. Within the metaphor of the Russian Dolls, this constitutes the largest or outermost doll.

What we now understand is that when the journeys are neatly aligned, something magical can happen, as can be seen in Chris’ story.

In this video case study, Chris, Asia-Pacific CEO of an Italian eyewear and eye care company, talks about the interconnected journeys, or dolls, that combined to accelerate his leadership transformation and the transformation of his organization.

Chris’s story is a powerful illustration of what becomes possible when leaders create very explicit links between their own journey and the journeys of those who accompany them. His story also points to the power of storytelling to create such linkages. What Chris’s story is not, however, is a story of leadership transformation in isolation. The alignment of all the journeys, or dolls, was critical to his success.The most challenging doll to get aligned for most leaders is the ‘up-line’ doll. This doll can swallow up all of the other dolls, along with the leadership agenda, if it is not managed very carefully and intentionally. In my next post, I will provide several questions to help you work out where you stand with your up-line doll.

In the interim, you might like to reflect on the these questions:

  • How many of the dolls are relevant to your journey?
  • How aligned is your personal doll with the imperatives of your leadership journey?

Want to keep reading? Here are some quick links to other blogs you may like;

3 Strategies to Engage Your Up-Line Doll
Engaging Your Up-Line Doll in Your Leadership Agenda
A Coaching Session with a former World Champ

In my last blog post I introduced everyone to Geoff, the CEO of a wealth-management business, and how the Coach metaphor helped accelerate his transformation journey. Today I would like to concentrate more closely on the peer coaching element of the Coach metaphor.

In a sporting context, a team captain’s success is generally dependent upon the support of his or her teammates. Realizing this helps extend our understanding of the Coach metaphor from the idea of two people behind closed doors to a dynamic situation involving many people in both planned and spontaneous interactions.

I want to illustrate this point with the example of a peer group relationship that developed in an eyewear and eye care multinational. One peer coaching group in this organization included the directors of marketing, product, and operations, who came together with the explicit aim of exploring the various leadership strategies they were each working on. Though each member was open, constructive, and engaged in the sessions, the group was not getting real traction at first.

Read the rest of this post & join the discussion

In an earlier blog post, A Coaching Session with a former World Champ, I introduced the Coach metaphor; one of the 7 Metaphors for Leadership Transformation. The Coach metaphor describes how a coaching staff can collectively help leaders achieve their aspirations. It is not about leaders becoming coaches; it’s about leaders letting themselves be coached by others—consultants, colleagues, even family members.

When you think about coaching in a business context, the image that probably comes to mind is a one-to-one consultation that takes place behind closed doors, detached from the usual work environment. In contrast, our research led me to explore the use of the word within the context of sport and how that somewhat different use applies to leadership transformation.

I like the sports analogy because professional athletes receive coaching from a variety of sources beyond their head coach. This coaching happens in public as well as private settings. There is usually a clear distinction between captain and coach, and the captain cannot be successful without his or her team members. Today I would like to extend those insights through the eyes of Geoff, the CEO of a wealth-management business.


In this video footage, Geoff talks about his new appointment as CEO and the harsh feedback he received from his boss early in his tenure. He goes onto reflect on the lonely nature of a CEO role and how his coaching relationships were fundamental in driving positive change for him and his organization. Coaching can take many different forms, and Geoff re-affirms this notion by also reflecting on his peer coaching relationships with his colleagues.

Although I was a consultant to Geoff, I operated more like a sports coach—he needed help defining the plays that would let him and his team deal with the complex environment they were operating in. I was able to draw on my experiences in similar situations with other leaders to help Geoff play a strong second half.

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