Leadership on Point

The Point Of No Return

February 1, 2013 Richard Levin

We have reached the point of no return.  On phone calls and e-mails, I mean.  We have reached a point where so many of us are so busy that we don’t have time to respond to a phone message or e-mail.  We often have the best intention to reply, and we flag the message for later action.  But later becomes later, as work and the-rest-of-life get in the way.

Maybe it is embarrassment or maybe we really have nothing to say in reply, but a lot of us put off responding to a message until we “have something to say”.  Maybe you are calling someone about a decision that is supposed to be made about a business proposal, or you want to know what action was taken on something that was promised.  Rather than report that nothing has happened yet, we wait until there is actual news to report.  Which, more often than not, brings the other person to presume the news is not good and we don’t have the courage to say so.

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Since When Is Executive Coaching A Bad Thing?

November 14, 2012 Meghan Vincent

While reading Boston.com this past weekend, I came across the article, “New T Manager Underwent Professional Counseling in Atlanta” and was a bit surprised by the tone of both the article itself and – even more so – the reader-added comments that followed.  It seems to me that one of the larger issues (from my subjective perspective, at least) is the general lack of understanding of what executive coaching is – and what it can do for the leader of an organization.

Concern has been expressed over the fact that the newly selected director of the MBTA, Beverly Scott, received “individual coaching and consultation” while serving as the head of Atlanta’s transit system (MARTA). While we don’t personally know Scott or the consulting firm that was hired to work with her, we are familiar with some of the drivers behind the decision to hire a coach (information and quotes taken directly from the article):

  • Scott’s relationship with her board of directors in Atlanta had grown strained
  • “She has so much energy and that for some people can be complicated”
  • “She demands a lot of people.”
  • Scott was a “change agent, and that is often difficult and not always appreciated in an entrenched organization.”

 

Speaking from experience, none of these bullet points raise a red flag in my mind.  In fact, they are quite common.  The relationship between boards and senior management is often a harried one, many times requiring outside help to manage the conflict(s) that develop as a result.  Furthermore, leaders are frequently hired or promoted based on technical abilities and business acumen, with little regard for the “soft skills” that make a leader effective.

The job of an executive coach in this situation is to work with a leader to refine those aforementioned ‘soft skills’ (self-awareness, presentation skills, active listening, stress management, change management, communication skills and messaging, to name a few).  The end result is the development of a true leader – not in the sense of his or her title but rather in action, someone who can inspire and lead his or her organization towards growth and success.

The part of this article that I found most shocking was the quote provided by Mike Jacobs, a state representative in Georgia who heads the legislative committee that oversees MARTA.  He stated, “it’s cause for concern when a consultant is hired for this sort of purpose to address a major leadership position.”  I cannot possible emphasize how much I disagree with this statement.  A cause for concern would be someone who refused coaching and/or refused to acknowledge that he or she had any weaknesses that needed to be addressed.  No one is perfect – and no one should be faulted for trying to address those areas in which there is opportunity for growth and development.

I wonder what Mike Jacobs would think if he knew how many great leaders – in the corporate, government and non-profit sectors – have worked with an executive coach?

 

Written by RLA Associate Meghan Vincent. For follow up, Meghan can be contacted at: mvincent@richardlevinassociates.com

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The Myth of Work/Life Balance

August 23, 2012 Richard Levin

I have come to a disappointing realization.  It is now 14 years since my colleagues and I published our much-talked-about book, Shared Purpose, whose premise was that employers, families, communities, governments, and schools must work together to address the work/family imbalance facing working parents.  At the time, we urged our readers not to view “work and family” as a women’s issue, but as a serious challenge we must collectively address as a society.

It is why I am so saddened to read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”, whose conclusion is that society has reneged on its commitment to working moms and has continued to place the burden of “work/life balance” on women.  (Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011.)

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Lessons Learned At the Beach

July 23, 2012 Meghan Vincent

As most New Englanders can be found doing during the summer months, I was enjoying some sun at the beach last weekend when I witnessed an event, courtesy of a 7 year-old, that even senior executives could learn from.

I watched as the aforementioned boy finished removing his brand new shovel from its packaging and began feverishly digging in the sand.  In one swift motion, a giant shovelful of dry sand went flying into the air and… all over a nearby sunbather.

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But Who Will Make the Cookies?

December 16, 2011 Meghan Vincent

Richard Levin & Associates, Meghan Vincent, executive coaching, leadership, succession planning

Recently, a good friend of mine (Allison) and I were chatting about the upcoming holiday season.  Typical to these conversations, we were commenting on how hectic this time of year can be – an endless circle of shopping, cooking, decorating and attending social gatherings.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love all the “chaos” that comes with this time of year… we were just taking note of how exhausting it all can be.

Then Allison caught me off-guard with her comment about having to learn how to bake cookies.  You see, her grandmother (the matriarch of her Italian family) was responsible for making at least a half-dozen homemade cookies from recipes that had been in the family for generations.  But, as everyone does, she is getting older and does not want the Christmas cookie tradition to stop with her.  As the oldest female grandchild, Allison was selected to carry on the tradition when it becomes necessary.  This is very important to her grandmother… and to her.

It’s funny, in a way, that Christmas cookies would prompt such careful planning for the future – but one’s business, on the other hand, does not (enough).  Thinking about all the “what ifs” of succession planning can be an overwhelming and scary experience, but you have to ask yourself: what will happen to your business after you’re moved on to something else?

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Where Is Your Business Going?

November 17, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Business Improvement Process + Organizational Direction + Knowledge Management

Mission and vision provide employees with a picture of where their organization is headed and is part of a bigger  value system.  This value system provides direction for how the organization will respond to the overall business landscape and how the business will position itself among its competitors.  The discerning leader uses environmental and competitive analyses to create an exciting and ideal vision of the future or to redefine a new direction for the organization (Nanus, 1992).  Creating a picture of the future, persuading the board of directors and motivating employees are key elements to executing a rigorous strategic plan with multiple tactical elements.  Such a vision gives followers something bigger than themselves to believe in and a clear, values-based direction to follow.

 

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Let’s Celebrate – Another Female Corporate Executive – CEO!

November 3, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Women CEOs, Leadership, Women, CEO

Although the pay gap has shrunk, women are virtually absent from executive positions.  Corporations and society, in general, have numerous causes from such misrepresentation; the cuprites most sighted are stereotyping, misperceptions about leadership skills, cultural constraints, and the perceived inability for women to make tough managerial decisions. Moreover, women executives are observed having minimal networking groups and opportunities and are often not accepted in male dominate circles.  But IBM has a different opinion; the October 26, 2011, WSJ revealed that after 30 years of impeccable service, Virginia M. Rometty was given the top position of one of the world’s largest and well know corporation.  Rometty now shares corporate prominence with Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, Meg Whitman – how nice!  In the United Kingdom, executive women are also making a difference; their presences in the board rooms and at higher leadership levels show exceptional performance relative to Total Shareholder Return.  Yet, overall, executive and working women are still exposed to discrimination, stereotyping, the glass ceiling, and an expectation to conform to cultural norms and values.

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Stakeholders and Change Management

October 26, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Stakeholders and Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Richard Levin & Associates

Effective Business Positioning with External Stakeholders

Business executives and connected advocacy groups are both focused on the benefits and risks encountered by an organization’s business decisions.  As both entities measure and manage organizational benefits and risks, proponents of theoretical stakeholder’s viewpoint postulated that the long-term sustainability of the firm is ultimately based on relationships (Vachani, 2006).  Experts, in the field of stakeholder theory, speculate several important leadership factors that should be embraced by today’s executives, i.e.; noteworthy participations outside the professional arena and boundaries of job responsibilities; confronting institutional mindset both inside and outside the firm to think and behave in the communities’ or region’s favor; and maintaining a creative and constructive connection with the external social and philanthropic environments (Welter & Egmon, 2006).  Welter and Egmon suggested, “Building the continuous process of change readiness on deeply held, sustainable principles”.   Unfortunately, some leaders’ inability to accept their social responsibility may be a result of historical factors that influence their behaviors; whereas, previously learned behaviors, formal training, and orders from superiors are often established to confront current and future business predicaments, skirmishes, and opportunities.

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Who Is Harold Leavitt … And Why Should You Care?

October 3, 2011 Meghan Vincent

Harold J. Leavitt's Diamond Model for Analyzing Management Change

The late Harold J. Leavitt was a pioneer in the development of the academic field of organizational behavior, a management expert with degrees from Harvard, Brown and MIT (undergrad, graduate, and doctorate, respectively) and a highly respected college professor (University of Chicago, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Stanford).  And, in 1965, he gave to the world his model for analyzing the impacts organizational change.

Through this model (known as Leavitt’s Diamond), Leavitt demonstrates that each element of an organization’s system – people, goals/tasks, structure and technology/processes – are interdependent.  In other words, changes made to any one of these four elements cannot and will not occur in isolation.  Rather, a change made in any one area of your organization will impact the entire system.

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Crash and Burn: Bad Leader, or Set Up to Fail?

September 26, 2011 Richard Levin

Leaders Set Up To Fail

I was recently asked to advise on a situation in which a senior executive, new to the company, was spiraling downward in his performance.  The executive had been pre-screened by a global search firm and was interviewed by an internal search committee representing numerous corporate functions.  His references were stellar, his executive presence superb. Six weeks into his new job, nearly all of his colleagues and direct reports were in agreement: the hire was a misfire. What went wrong?

The most common response is that the company and its search firm missed something in the executive’s profile, and the executive fell short of expectations.  Our tendency is to focus on what the leader did “wrong”; maybe he failed to engage his team, perhaps he didn’t have great communication skills, possibly he could not articulate his vision or spark people’s (or his own) imagination. In this scenario, the leader’s team is typically presented as competent and well-intentioned, ready to be motivated and inspired by the “right” leader.  The team sees itself as eager and hungry for exceptional leadership, and feels the new leader let them down.  The outcome is a situation in which the leader and the team co-generate an escalating spiral of underperformance, frustration, and anger.

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