Posts

Elon Musk – Leading a quest to save the future

Elon Musk – Leading a quest to save the future

47 year old South African born entrepreneur Elon Musk founded X.Com in 1999. X.Com later became Paypal and was sold to Ebay in 2002. After making a cool $165 million out of the deal, Musk turned his focus to new and more ambitious ventures. First he founded Space X, a company designing and manufacturing spacecraft with goals to commercialise space travel and colonise Mars. Then in 2003, he commenced Tesla Motors and started producing zero emission electric sports cars. More recently, Musk convinced Tesla shareholders to acquire his third passion project, Solar City; a business owned by Musk’s cousin, specialising in powering homes, businesses and eventually cities with solar power.1

Elon Musk - Leading a quest to save the future

The lure of a strong vision

Musk wraps all of his companies up in a larger than life vision that attracts and inspires his employees.2 At Tesla Group, people genuinely believe they are saving the planet. At SpaceX, they are on a crusade to give humans a second chance on another planet if earth gets into trouble.3

Musk intimately understands the heady attraction of such ambitious work for highly skilled people. When releasing his electric car patents to the world, Musk openly taunted his competitors: “My vision allows me to hire and retain better people than you will ever be able to hire for any amount of money. They will be smarter, they will work harder and they will stay longer.3

I wrote about the positive effect of workers feeling a higher sense of purpose in my blog ‘Work and Happiness’.

Selecting the best talent

Musk has a reputation for hiring only the best people on the planet to work for him – whether to build a rocket or cook in the cafeteria.4 He believes that bringing on a few leading minds in the field and giving them the freedom to accomplish their responsibilities is better than hiring a lot of people to get a complicated job done. According to Musk, numbers just slow down progress and make a task more expensive to complete.

Apart from wanting the best, Musk also values a positive attitude and an easy to get along with personality. (Watch ‘Elon Musk talks Talent vs. Personality in Employees’).

Musk personally interviewed the first 1000 staff for Space X and even today still interviews every engineer. However, he encountered unique challenges sourcing talent along the way. In particular, it was difficult to entice experienced people away from established aerospace players like Boeing and Airbus. So he went after younger talent; personally scouring PhD programs from a range of universities for individuals who had built something, or had been on a team that had made something from nothing.2

At Tesla, the experience was a little different. Cars hadn’t been done in Silicon Valley before so there were a number of software engineers excited about the prospect of applying their skills to an entirely new product. Tesla also had the backing of a Silicon Valley legend – Google Founder Sergey Brin – to boost the project’s appeal and the credibility of the Tesla brand amongst target applicants. Once again, Musk stayed close to the recruitment of talent,2 even taking to Twitter himself to advertise for engineers for the autonomous vehicle division.5

Recruitment techniques

Musk makes applicants write essays about why they want the role. He also gives them a riddle to solve to test critical thinking. In the interview, Musk is known to play mind games; he barely pays attention to candidates and sits with his back to them2 before spinning around to drill them with questions.6

Musk is a proponent of behavioural interviewing techniques. Unless a prospective employee can break down the solution to a problem in granular detail, he will conclude that they do not really know the answer or have embellished the level of their involvement.6

Intense culture

Job ads on the Tesla careers website come with a warning: “These jobs are not for everyone, you must have a genuine passion for producing the best vehicles in the world. Without passion, you will find what we’re trying to do too difficult.”6

According to Dolly Singh, former Head of Talent Acquisition at Space X, working with Musk is not a comfortable experience as he is never satisfied. He pushes his team so hard they sometimes feel like they are “staring into the abyss”. However, this pressure on performance is deliberate. Musk knows that his staff will exceed even their own expectations if he keeps the heat on.7

And, as Singh points out, “you don’t get to Mars with a bunch of softies.”

Musk describes himself as a nano-manager. Even more intense than a micro-manager, he maintains a hands-on obsession with the tiniest operational and design details.1 And when there is a pressing problem preventing progress, Elon will devote the majority of his time and energy to it.2

Structure and communication

The Musk businesses run on flat structures. Staff are free to contact anyone directly, including Elon.2

At Space X, the engineers (including Musk) physically sit on the manufacturing floor in giant glass cubicles. They have to walk through the floor to get to their office so are forced to look at everything going on and interact with staff.2

Is Musk a modern day superhero?

Musk has been described as a modern day Howard Hughes and even compared to comic book hero Iron Man (aka Tony Stark). There is no doubt he is a physics genius. And, if popular media reports are to be believed, has a penchant for fast cars and beautiful women. However, Musk knows that to achieve his ultimate goal of saving the planet and establishing interplanetary colonisation, it will take a team of superheros. To this end, his approach is quite simple: seek out people who are as talented and driven as he is; ensure that the work environment is as motivating and meaningful as possible; and, establish clear and measurable objectives. Sounds easy, right?

Works Cited

  1. Wartzman, Rick. “Admire Elon Musk All You Want, but Please Don’t Manage like Him.” Fortune.com. Fortune, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  2. “How Elon Musk Builds Organizations That Can Achieve Anything – Recruiting & Training, Remaking R&D, Setting Strategy.” Innovation Leader. 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 May 2017.
  3. Lavoie, Andre. “Want to Hire the Best Talent? Be Like Elon Musk and Set a Strong Vision.” Entrepreneur. 22 July 2014. Web. 21 May 2017.
  4. Carson, Biz. “Elon Musk Is so Obsessed with Hiring, He Even Poached the Best Yogurt Shop Employee from Pinkberry.” Business Insider Australia. 02 June 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  5. Burns, Matt. “Want To Work For Tesla? Elon Musk Turns To Twitter To Recruit Engineers.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  6. Tovey, Alan. “Elon Musk: Have You Got the Drive to Work for Tesla?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  7. Feloni, Richard. “A Former SpaceX Employee Explained What It’s Like To Work For Elon Musk.” Business Insider Australia. 24 June 2014. Web. 21 May 2017.

Elon Musk image By Steve Jurvetson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Can you teach leadership?

Jon Windust

This is the wrong question. It should be “what is the most effective way to learn leadership?”.

I advocate an apprenticeship-like approach which I introduced briefly in the article Disrupting Human Resources. I’ve been interested to read about an increasing emphasis that apprenticeships in general will take in the US in a similar way that they currently do in Europe. While they aren’t talking about apprenticeships for leaders, I believe organisations should be setting up apprenticeship-like processes that take aspiring leaders through a multi-year learning journey as they progress from team leads to senior leaders.

Why? Apprenticeships exist because some skills are difficult to master without repeated application in a real-world setting. Some knowledge can also be difficult to codify, which means that the only way they can be taught is by the learner experiencing something with the assistance of a more skilled guide. These situations describe leadership precisely. Human beings aren’t logic machines, we have emotions and social rules. Thinking that leadership can be taught is a mistake. You can provide a framework, but then a person needs to experience it, over and over with guidance from an experienced person. This builds the tacit knowledge needed to become a great leader.

Can you teach leadership?

Let me give you an example. Autonomy is great right? But what do you do if you’ve provided autonomy and your team isn’t getting results or even putting in much effort? I’ve seen inexperienced leaders in these situations. They do the best they can, but when you’re confronted with something that doesn’t work as it is described in theory, a person’s belief in leadership method can crumble. The natural reaction is to take either the passive route and put your head in the sand or use the aggressive option and demand action. Neither of these resolve the problem. What’s needed in these circumstances is for a more experienced leader to coach the less inexperienced leader. Through exploring what they’ve done, haven’t done and what foundations were put in place they will come to an answer. Any answer is just an initial answer. Solving this sort of situation takes time and many adjustments.

Human beings aren’t logic machines, we have emotions and social rules.

My view of the leadership apprenticeship is mixed mode learning. That is formal training and learning materials to provide a leadership framework on top of which experience is added. Experience is first gained by shadowing leaders, then short duration projects in which they take responsibility and lead a group of people. Managing freelancers on a project is an ideal opportunity to start learning how to set clear expectations, provide feedback and keep things on course.

Next is a team lead role. Why? Because this role is characterised by the person still doing some of the work directly. They lead by example and work with the team. This phase helps a person to start making the transition from achieving things individually to achieving things by leading a group of people to collectively do them. The team lead role can be challenging for highly skilled and talented people who have internalised standards for how things should be done and to what quality. Working with a more experienced guide during this phase can help a person recognise how they need to change their thinking and approach. Without this, a new leader is at risk of making damaging mistakes such as micromanagement.

As a person progresses into more senior leadership roles they completely transition from directly doing end work activities to leading others to do end work activities. New and more advanced skills are needed in this phase that focus on strategy execution. Any apprenticeship should continue through to senior roles to help a person recognise and adapt to the more strategic and less hands-on nature of their role. While some will thrive and love the changing nature of the role, it should be recognised that some will not enjoy the less hands on nature of it. A guide can help a person recognise this and avoid career damaging moves.

For more insight on leadership skills see my article on the five keys to leadership you need to know.

What is the most important thing you have learned about leadership?

Jon Windust

“What is the most important thing you have learned about leadership?”

Leadership is a skill, the mastery of which takes many years. Don’t assume you’ve learned it. This is particularly true for “natural born leaders” who are most susceptible to thinking they have it covered.

When people say someone showed great leadership they usually mean one or all of:

  1. A person set a great example for others to follow.
  2. A person made a tough or even courageous decision to change something for the better.
  3. A person was able to motivate a group of people to cooperate and achieve something substantial.

It is true that some people will naturally exhibit the first two points above. Some will even perform some of what is needed for the third point by force of their personality. But, I am yet to meet someone who possesses all of the skills out of the box to get people to cooperate to achieve something substantial. Some people get a head start because of their competence, courage or social skills. But it takes time for anyone to learn how to lead well.

I’ve previously written about some of the most important aspects of leadership. As a person progresses over their career from team lead to senior leader, new skills and levels of capability are required. Read leadership theory, certainly, but seek out those who have done it successfully and learn from them.

One of the most effective learning experiences I have had is regular formal catch-ups with other CEOs where the more experienced help the less experienced understand how to handle specific situations. In these discussions there are normally a number of options put forward by the different CEOs. From this, the person learning is able to choose their path. But once the path is chosen, the learning hasn’t really taken place until it’s put into action. Once done, positive or negative reinforcement will tell the CEO whether to take the same action next time or try an alternative route. Much of leadership is learnt this way. Theory provides a foundation. Natural ability provides a partial foundation. But true learning takes time and a myriad of experiences.

Zhang Ruimin – the would-be unknown leader

Zhang Ruimin took the helm of a struggling refrigerator manufacturer in 1984 when he was just 25. As a leader he won the confidence and goodwill of his workers and reversed the company’s dismal quality record. Since then, Zhang has turned the Haier Group into the world’s fastest growing appliance maker with the largest market share in white goods world wide. 1

Management without bosses

“A leader whose existence is unknown to his subordinates is really the most brilliant one.”
(Ruimin, Zhang)2

Zhang Ruimin

Prior to 2005, Haier’s 80,000 or so employees worked in traditional functions like manufacturing, sales and marketing. However with the advent of the internet, Zhang knew that the existing departmental/functional/silo organisation would be too slow to respond to customer needs into the future. So he began reorganising the way employees worked. 3

Zhang believed that if the company wanted to intimately understand and meet consumer needs, staff needed to be directly connected with the customer. Instead of complying with rules and following a manager, he decided that workers should have the freedom to make decisions led by the users of the things they make – the consumer. 2

ZZJYT’s

No, I’m not cursing in code.

Zhang split staff up into self-managed work units call ZZJYT’s (zi zhu jing ying ti – which roughly translates to independent operating unit) and by 2012 had almost done away with middle management completely. Today each ZZJYT comprises 7-10 people from various functional roles.

These microenterprises operate as independent ventures. Each is responsible for its own hiring, procurement, strategy, production and ultimately profit and loss.

The ZZJYT’s are not permanently assigned to a particular product or role. Instead they are formed through internal competition. If an employee identifies an opportunity for a new product or service, they are free to propose their idea. A vote involving employees, customers and suppliers determines whether the project goes ahead. The winner becomes the project leader.

Once a leader is appointed they can independently handpick a team and find their own manufacturers and distributors (either internally or externally) to produce and sell their product. 3

Beware the catfish

The project leader must work hard to stay ahead of the catfish. That is what the firm calls the person with a rival idea with the second highest number of votes. 3 Once a leader is in place, his or her team appraises the leader’s performance every quarter and votes whether they want to keep them in the position or replace them. 4

Zhang believes this structure creates competition in the organisation while also fuelling entrepreneurship. 3

Remuneration

Zhang believes that employees in traditional organisations tend to focus too much on what their bosses say or think because their pay is determined by them. This is why there is no position-related remuneration at Haier. 5 Instead employees are paid solely based on performance and the results their team achieves.

Ecosystem of talent

In the new generation Haier, talent is provided through an open labour market. Each ZZJYT is given the freedom to innovate by reaching out to customers, prospective employees, collaborators and even competitors.

Employees are free to leave or join ZZJYT’s, however a unit will dissolve after the project is over and talent goes back to the marketplace.

Whilst many businesses will find this concept foreign and unmanageable, for industries like Hollywood, bringing skilled workers together for the length of a project is nothing new. (See http://www.cognology.com.au/are-terms-like-hollywood-and-gig-spelling-the-end-for-the-traditional-employment-model)

The platform

Instead of offering jobs, Zhang says Haier offers everyone a continuing series of opportunities to find jobs via an entrepreneurial platform.4

By definition, platform companies form ecosystems by partnering with, and incorporating technology from multiple corporations to drive innovation and performance. Haier’s powerful internet platform enables limitless collaboration with suppliers, customers, universities, competitors, and other stakeholders.

According to Zhang, eventually there won’t be employees at all. There will only be a platform. 1 (I feel like Keanu Reeves might pop up any second now….)

A natural evolution in the internet age

Zhang Ruimin has been lauded for his accomplishments in management innovation, and yet by some he is still seen as a radical. Haier’s goal of becoming a facilitative platform without traditional employees seems consistent with broader global trends towards open collaboration, greater connectivity and on-demand workforces. I wrote about this last year in my blog http://www.cognology.com.au/what-skills-will-be-most-in-demand-in-2025

We are seeing the dawning of a new age of organisational agility and innovation. Employers and skilled workers alike have much to gain from embracing new ways of working. But it will take a willingness to change and adapt.

References

  1. Kleiner, Art. “China’s Philosopher-CEO Zhang Ruimin.” Strategy Business. 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 May 2017
  2. Ruimin, Zhang. “Raising Haier.” Harvard Business Review. 31 July 2014. Web. 08 May 2017.
  3. “Haier and Higher.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 May 2017.
  4. Mahajan, Neelima. “How CEO Zhang Ruimin Reinvented Haier – Three Times Over.” CKGSB Knowledge. 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  5. “Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin: Challenge Yourself, Overcome Yourself.” Founding Fuel. 18 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  6. Fischer, Bill, Umberto Lago, and Fang Liu. “The Haier Road to Growth.” Strategy Business. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  7. “Zhang Ruimin: Driving Haier’s Innovation.” Zhang Ruimin: Driving Haier’s Innovation | CEIBS. Web. 08 May 2017.

How do you know you are ready to be a leader?

Jon Windust

There are two elements to this answer.

One is the desire to be a leader.  The other is possessing some of the skills needed to be a leader.

The motivation to be a leader can come from a number of places.  The desire to collaborate with a group of people is a good starting point, but not enough on its own. Couple with a drive to help people, pass on your knowledge/experience and influence people to be able to achieve more and you have a good starting point.  Later as you encounter tough problems, you’ll know whether you want to stay a leader.

Next are the technical skills needed to be a leader.  A survey of over 300K people identified 7 key skills needed:

  1. Inspires and motivates others
  2. Displays high integrity and honesty
  3. Solves problems and analyzes issues
  4. Drives for results
  5. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  6. Collaborates and promotes teamwork
  7. Builds relationships

You need a number of these skills and be on the way to developing the others.

A friend wanted to be a school teacher.  Luckily, early on in her training she experienced a classroom environment and her first real introduction to teaching.  This experience provided her with the insight to know that teaching wasn’t for her.  Getting early experience in leadership can be equally valuable in helping you answer the question.

Warren Buffett – Not your average billionaire

This blog will be the first in a series of posts profiling some of today’s most successful business leaders. Each leader is recognised as a trailblazer in their own right; entrepreneurs and visionaries who have dared to challenge the status quo and write their own rules.

This series will explore their different leadership styles and approaches and look at how this has shaped their success.

I decided to kick off with a name you might recognise as being one of the wealthiest and most business savvy people on the planet.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is the creator and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company with interests in the likes of Apple, Costco and Coca Cola. [1]

Buffett has been a regular on the Forbes 400 Richest People in America list since 1982, and in 2008 was officially crowned the richest person in the world with a fortune of $62 billion.

Warren Buffett is the stuff of legends and has a cult-like following of investors that hang on his every word. But for me, it is not so much his financial prowess that I’m interested in, but rather how his distinctive leadership style has contributed to his celebrated status in the world of business.

Laissez Faire Management Style

Numerous books and articles written about Warren Buffett refer to his laissez-faire approach to management. A French term, laissez-faire loosely translates to “let them do” -basically let people do as they choose. This label seems fair given what I have come to learn about Buffett’s hands-off approach.

When Buffett buys a business, he leaves the managers alone to run the company the way they would have had he not bought them. Unlike other CEO’s, he doesn’t seek to exert control through traditional corporate plans or strategic meetings, and generally only communicates through his annual letter to the board. [2]

So how has Warren Buffett managed to successfully build an empire with assets worth $621 billion [3] whilst all the time remaining at arms length?

Adapting the Situation to Suit the Leader

Perhaps the secret lies in the corporate culture and operating environment he has carefully cultivated over the last four decades.

Engaging Top Talent
Warren Buffett has been quoted as telling his children “If you want to soar like an eagle in life, you can’t be flocking with the turkeys”. His personal philosophy is to surround yourself with good people whose behaviour is better than yours so that they inspire and challenge you. When hiring managers, Buffett looks for integrity, intelligence, and energy. [4]

Autonomy and Accountability
It stands to reason then that by choosing highly motivated and capable leadership, Buffett has been able to entrust his businesses to the stewardship of others. Handing over full autonomy is fundamental to the way Buffett operates. [2] (For more on the benefits and challenges of autonomy see A Sensible Discussion about Autonomy)

Meaningful Communication
Though Buffett’s communication with his people may be infrequent, his words have impact. He showers praise on the people who work for him in his annual letters but is also generous with advice. He breaks down complex financial concepts in a way that anybody can understand him.

Values-Driven Culture
In Part II of my blog Aligning People I discussed how a group united by values will achieve far more than one that’s driven by other agendas. Interestingly, Buffett only acquires well-led, profitable companies that share his values. He believes that a values-driven culture translates to strong business performance and credits a strong culture with the ability to attract and retain outstanding employees. [5]

If you want to soar like an eagle in life, you can’t be flocking with the turkeys

Authentic Leadership – Living the Values, Walking the Talk.

An ‘aha’ moment for me in my research into Warren Buffett was when I realised that the values he pursues in business he practises in all aspects of his life.

Thriftiness

Berkshire Hathaway only acquires firms with low debt and strict cost control. This reflects Buffett himself who is renowned for his frugal nature. He still lives in the same house he purchased in 1958 for $32,500 and drives himself to work everyday. [6]

Hard Work and Discipline

Lawrence A Cunningham in his book Berkshire Beyond Buffett wrote that,
“Buffett’s own success has been built through hard work, discipline, a no-nonsense acquisition strategy and unwavering adherence to core values”. [2]

Buffett demands the same level of discipline and commitment from his leaders. He asks only that they stay true to their core business and values. In other words, he expects them to keep doing what they know how to do and to do it well. No more, no less. [2]

Integrity and Humility

Cognology has found extensive evidence to suggest that integrity is a key attribute of exceptional leaders. Buffett is passionate about maintaining a reputation for doing the right thing and instructs his leaders to “zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation.” [7]

Buffett is admired for the humble manner in which he openly admits his failures and his willingness to share the lessons he has learnt. In turn he encourages his business leaders to “face up immediately to bad news” and not let problems fester. [7]

But Warren Buffett is not as warm and cuddly as he might seem. He has shown that he is also a man prepared to deal with any leader that has breached what he holds sacred. A Buffett biographer once noted that “when a leader violates corporate values or generates reputational damage, the axe falls swiftly.” [2]

Letting Go

At 87, Warren Buffett has no plans to retire. People will remember Buffett for his extraordinary ability to pick good investments. But in truth, a lot of his success has been due to his ability to identify talent and retain top performers for the long term.

His leadership style has been shaped by his own personality: his honesty, his integrity, his humility, and his other deeply ingrained values. He has succeeded in demonstrating that you don’t have to maintain tight control over your people to do well in business. Success can in fact come from letting go – so long as you have laid the right groundwork to begin with.

References

  1. CNBC, [Online]. Available: http://www.cnbc.com/berkshire-hathaway-portfolio/.
  2. L. A. Cunningham, Berkshire Beyond Buffett : The Enduring Value of Values, Columbia University Press, 2014.
  3. Market Watch, “marketwatch.com,” [Online]. Available: http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/brk.a/financials. [Accessed 09 03 2017].
  4. Vintage Value Investing, [Online]. Available: http://vintagevalueinvesting.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Warren-Buffett-University-of-Florida-Lecture-Vintage-Value-Investing.pdf.
  5. L. A. Cunningham, “The Philosophy of Warren E. Buffett,” The New York Times, 05 02 2015.
  6. A. Mohr, “www.investopedia.com,” 22 07 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0412/the-everyday-lives-of-frugal-billionaires.aspx.
  7. W. Buffett, “berkshirehathaway.com,” 31 12 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2014ltr.pdf.

Promoting High Performers to their First Leadership Role

What does promotion mean to you? A step up the ladder, expanding your skill set, a pay rise? At some point, promotion is likely to mean a move to a management position. When hiring for management roles, senior leaders typically gravitate towards high performers, assuming those who have mastered their current role are the perfect choice for leadership. In reality, great workers don’t always make great managers, and turning your high performers into spectacular leaders requires more than a promotion.

The Challenges Facing New Leaders

New managers have to stop focusing on their own performance and become an inspiration to others, delivering results at a team or even organisational level. For many, this involves developing an entirely new skill set.

Australian Managers leadership survey

Motivation and Alignment

The ability to influence, motivate, and inspire a team is essential for managerial success¹. Without it, poor performance, disengaged individuals, and low staff retention are the inevitable result.

Managers play a pivotal role in ensuring employees are invested in their work, aligned with organisational objectives, and productive². If new managers have no understanding of employee engagement, top-down communication, or alignment strategy, they lack the tools to get the best out of their team

Need a refresher on aligning employees to organisational goals? Check out my article, Aligning People P2: The Role of the Manager.

Feedback

Delivering feedback is no easy task, it’s a skill that took many of us years to master. Imagine how much more nerve-racking it is evaluating individuals who were recently peers?

With potential trust issues to navigate, little experience of goal setting or managing different personality types, providing actionable feedback is a potential minefield for new managers.

Looking for tips to master performance conversations? Check out my article on the psychology behind workplace feedback.

Delegating

Tasked with succeeding at a team level, new managers have no individual control over their goals for possibly the first time in their careers. For high performers used to exceeding expectations, the desire to micro-manage is a difficult one to fight³.

Those that are comfortable delegating have yet more problems to face. With no previous management experience – and in some cases knowledge of their team – judging attainable goals and knowing which individuals are capable of delivering autonomously is all but impossible.

Planning and Organising

Critical thinking is crucial to managerial success¹, but it is not a skill that’s common in junior roles. Suddenly required to establish priorities, streamline workflows and think autonomously, many new managers struggle to identify the best strategy for success at a team level. Without these skills, new managers often feel as though they are underperforming, leading to poor team productivity at best and, at worst, an exodus of high performers.

How to Promote to Leadership

A leadership role is completely different to any other. Creating confident, able managers begins long before promotion.

Training

Individuals with the possibility of promotion are more engaged and committed to their employer⁴. Providing management training is a great way to reward high performers, encourage loyalty, and increase managerial competency. In fact, those given developmental assignments before promotion have been shown to make much better leaders in the long run⁵.

Training can take many forms. Those of you who caught my article on managing freelancers will know I’m a big fan of facilitated learning. By providing employees with the opportunity to take on new responsibilities, you give them the freedom to develop their skills organically, solving problems and adjusting their strategy to create an approach that works for them.

Of course, self-learning has its limits, and there are situations where having someone with experience on-hand to offer advice is invaluable. Assigning a mentor to help an individual develop their managerial skills is a great way to ensure they are ready when the time comes to take on a leadership role.

Mentors are facilitators rather than instructors. They provide advice and guidance, but it is the mentee who takes responsibility for the outcome. Encouraging future managers to own a solution boosts their confidence, promotes critical thinking and encourages high performers to move from an individual ‘what do I need to accomplish’ mentality to a wider, team perspective.

Experience

Exposing potential managers to leadership situations means that, when they do make the jump, they have a thorough understanding of what is expected of them. It also gives individuals the opportunity to identify which skills they need to work on and where their strengths lie.

Enabling promising candidates to shadow other leaders is one of the best ways to deliver this perspective. Placing them in departments outside of their own offers a number of other advantages, broadening individual understanding of wider organisational goals and strengthening interdepartmental relationships.

Providing cover during a leader’s absence is another way for potential managers to hone their skills and gain much needed experience.

Discussion

Open discussions of employees’ long-term goals, strengths and weaknesses feature highly in all the best performance management systems. If, with experience of management, individuals are still keen to move up, then place them in a team leader or junior management role. If, however, an individual decides leadership is not suited to them, help them expand their role to make the best use of their strengths and skills.

Don’t forget, even with the appropriate groundwork, a promotion does not create a leader. New managers need ongoing coaching and development from senior staff to help them succeed in their new roles⁵. Check out my article on the seven skills all exceptional leaders need for an in-depth look at what it takes to make a manager.

To Sum Up…

Leadership is not a natural progression; it takes time, training, and support to turn high performers into fantastic managers.

What did your career progression look like? Feel free to share your experiences, I’d love to hear your take on management training and progression.

References

¹Muller and Turner, 2010. Leadership competency profiles of successful project
managers. International Journal of Project Management, 28. pp. 437- 448.

²Cartwright and Holmes, 2006. The meaning of work: the challenge of regaining employee engagement and reducing cynicism. Human Resource Management Review, 16. pp. 199 – 208.

³White, 2010. The micro-management disease: symptoms, diagnosis and cure. Public Personnel Management, 39 (1).

⁴Kosteas, 2011. Job satisfaction and promotions. Cleveland State University (Thesis).

⁵Dragoni et al., 2009. Understanding managerial development: integrating developmental assignments, learning orientation, and access to developmental opportunities in predicting managerial competencies. Academy of Management Journal, 52 (4), pp. 731-743.

Clinton vs. Trump: Two Alternative Approaches to People Management

From FBI investigations to opinion polls and some unfortunate word choices, American Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are filling the column inches and keeping the world’s media on its toes. One article caught my attention last month and sparked more than a little curiosity about how they each run their campaigns. I’m not talking about the merchandise-laden tour buses and charged debates, but the experts, aids, and volunteers bustling about behind the scenes.

In 2012, Ann Marie Habershaw – the COO behind Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign –  revealed that hiring practices among staffers were, at best, ad hoc. She was responding to a Tweet from Nathaniel Koloc, then CEO of recruitment firm Rework. She told him that department heads often make hiring decisions on the fly, and campaigns are inevitably run by friends of friends and talent sourced through word-of-mouth.

As though to prove her point, three years later, Habershaw mentioned Koloc to Clinton’s deputy COO, who called to offer him the position of Director of Talent Acquisition and Development on the Hillary for America campaign. That makes Clinton’s outfit the first major political campaign to have a role dedicated to people management and talent sourcing¹. An interesting move, don’t you think?

Which got me thinking, what can we learn about people management from these two very different candidates?

Clinton

25 seconds in, learning from criticism. 3.29, expressing her opinion and identifying problems without micromanaging the solution. 5 mins in, importance of compromise for progress.

Team and Hiring Style

The first female nominee is known for her close inner-circle. Many of the major players on her staff have been with her since she was First Lady, and she has retained a number of employees from her time at the State Department – not to mention some notable names from both husband Bill’s and President Obama’s campaigns².

This tried and tested team have proven they can handle anything a Presidential election might throw at them, but Hillary has also future-proofed her staff. Her established team is joined by new hires with more contemporary skill sets, like Marlon Marshall, who is known for his alternative approach and willingness to operate contrary to established Washington precedent². Interestingly, it’s an attitude mirrored by campaign manager Robby Mook, who worked with Clinton on her 2008 campaign.

Personality

The thousands of work emails now available to the public reveal a lot about Clinton’s character and how it translates to her management style.

Performance-oriented Clinton is happy to circumvent time consuming, official procedures when she judges them irrelevant. For example, when waiting to receive a statement which lacked any sensitive information but had been classified top secret, she instructed the sender to simply email it directly (and against protocol), ensuring the document was available there and then without delay.³

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”4

Source: Huffington Post

Management Style

There may be no better way to define Clinton’s management style than with her own phrase, ‘smart power’. It encapsulates the need to learn and adapt to new situations in pursuit of the best possible outcome⁵. A practice reflected in her team, who embody a mixture of experienced and unconventional thinking.

Throughout her public career, Clinton has championed training and skills development.

In a primary debate in 2007, she advised against contracting out government jobs, an expansion of her 2006 idea to form a ‘public service academy’. Much like a military academy, this theoretical institute would train civil servants for free in exchange for a set number of years work. It’s a management approach that offers benefits at both an individual and organisational level, the organisation in this case being the USA⁶.

Defining Principles

  • Compromising
  • Manages to strengths
  • Performance orientated

Trump

On being detail orientated (1 min 32 in), 2.50 attitude to employee performance.

Team and Hiring Style

The Republican nominee launched his bid for The Oval with a very small team. Including long-time advisors Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski, his initial staff had little political experience and were later joined by communications and foreign policy teams that, again, consisted of strategists and consultants with little or no experience in the political arena⁷. Trump opted for those he knew and trusted from his years in industry rather than new faces or unknown experts.

However, as the election gained momentum, Trump’s hiring policy changed in response to the developing needs of the campaign. Established political consultant Paul Manafort came on board, bringing with him over 30 years experience in presidential politics. At the same time, those in Trump’s team with political backgrounds were promoted, and the campaign strategy took on a more traditional approach, with Manafort introducing teleprompters and speechwriters⁷.

Personality

Intuitively driven, Trump is not a manager bound to the status quo. He is known to base his hiring decisions on gut reactions, and places greater emphasis on potential than experience.⁸ It’s a focus reflected in his initial campaign team, picked for their skills rather than their experience in the political world.

“Management is an art that is very important to me. Having leadership skills and employees that love their work is one of the great joys of life.”

Source: Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.

Management Style

As a manager, Trump has high expectations. He leads by example, working around the clock and expecting his employees to do the same⁸. He also cultivates a competitive environment, actively encouraging rivalries even amongst high-level employees like Manafort and Lewandowski⁹ (those of you looking for another approach to aligning employees with organisational outcomes might want to check out my recent article, Aligning People: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge).

Trump has a well-founded belief in his abilities, appears very resilient to criticism, and is confident that his approach is the best.ⁱ⁰ He doesn’t delegate big decisions and takes personal responsibility for the outcome of projects in all fields⁹. It’s an exhausting style of management, and not one many could successfully emulate, but it is fantastic for achieving huge successes and is the reason he can deliver on projects that would be unattainable to other managers.

The best example of this is his campaign, which has taken him from a candidate with no elected experience –– not even running experience – to a nominee; a victory that has only been achieved by a handful of men, most notably Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft¹¹. In the light of this success, his claim that he is a quick learner¹² seems well founded; and clearly he expects the same from those around him. When the campaign hit a snag in March, it was Lewandowski who hired Manafort and his company of politically savvy aids to put it back on track¹³, demonstrating a penchant for agile learning in Team Trump, with senior staff continually assessing performance, identifying missteps, and adjusting their strategy in response.

Defining Principles

  • Intuitive
  • Hierarchical
  • Performance orientated

To sum up…

Trump’s experience in industry and Clinton’s decades in Washington have created two very different managers with two very different approaches, but they both have two values in common: performance and agile learning. Only time will tell which management style is the best suited to the political arena but I, for one, cannot wait to see the outcome.

What are your thoughts on these two approaches? How would they translate to your organisation?

References:

¹Krueger, 2016. How the Hillary Clinton campaign built a staff as diverse as America. Fast Company.
² Anon. 2016. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016.Ballotpedia.
³ Klapper and Lee, 2016.What we learned from 52,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails. PBS.
⁴ Sanghoe, 2015. 5 important leadership lessons from Hillary Clinton. Huffington Post.
⁵ Shambaugh, 2010. Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton. Forbes.
⁶Katz, 2015. What a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean for the federal workforce. Government Executive.
⁷ Anon. 2016. Donald Trump presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016. Ballotpedia.
⁸Kruse, 2016. The executive Mr Trump. Politico Magazine.
⁹Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.
ⁱ⁰Gaskell, 2016. 4 Leadership lessons from Trump. Forbes.
¹¹Raunch, 2015. Amateurs in the Oval Office. The Atlantic.
¹²Dickerson, 2016. How fast does Donald Trump learn? CBS News.
¹³Moussa and Newberry, 2016. What we can learn from Donald Trump’s campaign reboot. London School of Economics (US Centre).

Aligning People: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge

Part I: Understanding the Obstacles

Aligning people

Today’s working environment is an entirely different beast to any that’s gone before. We have more generations in the workforce and a greater focus on life choices, travel and experience. Personal status is no longer determined by job role, and it’s vogue to hate work.

Add to that our (relatively) recent economic woes and the uncertainty of the job market, and it’s little wonder alignment is a thorn in the side of leaders up and down the country. So, what are the alignment challenges facing leaders, and how can we overcome them?

1. Mind The Generation Gap

For the first time in history, we have multiple generations in the workforce. Millennials are working alongside Generation X’s and more than a few hierarchical Baby Boomers, many nearing retirement age. In this one-size-fits-one environment, any approach to alignment must consider the motivations and needs of each of these groups.

Baby Boomers

These guys are work oriented. They are motivated by wealth and rank, define success by hours logged, and believe in working their way up the corporate ladder. Baby Boomers are committed to their organisation and often serve long tenures in one company2. Most significantly for business, they actively avoid confrontation and will often prioritise process over results3.

Generation X

In direct contrast to the generation above them, Xs favour a ‘hands off’ management approach. Technologically literate, this group have an aversion to risk, can be sceptical of management and are happy to consider lateral progression over the traditional ‘upwards’ promotion².

Caught between progressive Millennials and traditional Baby Boomers, Gen X is a useful workforce intermediary. Baby Boomers labelled them ‘slackers’, in reality, they are the pioneers of the work-life balance4. Most telling of all, their flexibility and excellent communication skills mean that both Baby Boomers and Millennials consider this group the best at generating revenue and managing teams1.

Millennials

Now the dominant generation in the workforce1, Millennials boast technical skills that surpass either of the generations before them. They distrust bureaucracy, hop willingly between jobs, and will sacrifice income for a better work-life balance2. Digital natives, they expect instant access to learning and information — a point of contention between this group and Baby Boomers, who respect the traditional, ‘top-down’ distribution of information1.

Millennials infographic

2. Everyone Hates Work, Right?

We’ve seen a huge change in social attitudes to the workplace over the last 30 years. Women are entering the workforce in increasing numbers, more and more Australians are working from home, and a whopping 38% of Millennials work freelance. But that isn’t the only change.

TV shows regularly depict the soul-crushing tedium of the 9-5 (think Simpsons and The Office), while the internet is littered with ‘Happy Friday’ memes designed to reinforce the monotony of working life. Pop culture has painted such a negative view of work that it’s now commonplace to hate your job. With the world telling us to live for the weekend and endure the week, leaders are facing an uphill struggle to convince employees they have an essential role to play in a rewarding environment.

3. Money, Money, Money

Independent and relatively wealthy, Generation Xs can afford to pursue career changes. They are flexible enough to think laterally, and will likely avoid or leave roles they don’t enjoy. At the other end of the scale, Millennials are less financially secure and display a greater level of flexibility, with many freelancing alongside their day jobs. Unlike Baby Boomers, both generations are less financially reliant on a single employer, and require more than simply a paycheque to commit long-term.

This, coupled with the disruption introduced by innovative technologies and the turbulence of the financial market, has served to decrease the average employee tenure6. Workers no longer commit entire careers to one organisation, and many will hold roles in multiple industries before they retire7. A reaction to boom and bust cycles, and the resulting redundancies, mergers and acquisitions, these behaviours mean that alignment strategies must be robust enough to handle staff turnover while addressing underlying issues surrounding engagement and productivity.

4. You’re How Old?!

Baby Boomers were hit hardest by the recession, experiencing the most redundancies, pay cuts and investment losses. The resulting financial insecurity will mean many continue to work long after retirement age5.

While a longer tenure benefits employers — we retain essential skills and knowledge — it poses a significant threat to engagement. Working beyond retirement can result in an (understandable) negativity towards work. As the workplace becomes more Millennial orientated, and the first Generation Zs make an appearance, ensuring Baby Boomers feel included and valued will present one of the biggest challenges for alignment.

Millennials value mentors infographic

To Sum Up…

Aligning every worker to a broader organisational purpose offers advantages across the board. But alignment is a target that’s becoming increasingly difficult to hit, with workplace disruption making aligning employees to organisational goals more challenging than ever. Luckily, we have the answers to meeting these challenges in Part II. Stay tuned!

 

References

1Bursch. 2014. Managing the multigenerational workplace. UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

2Dowd-Higgins. 2013. How to play together in the multi-generational sandbox at work. Huffington Post.

3Murphy. 2007. Leading a Multigenerational Workforce. AARP.

4American Management Association. 2014. Leading the four generations at work. AMA

5Laham. 2015. Peace, love and no retirement in sight: why so many baby boomers must keep working.Huffington Post.

6Bidwell. 2013. What happened to long-term employment? The role of worker power and environmental turbulence in explaining declines in worker tenure. Organization Science

7PWC. 2014. Millennials at work: reshaping the workplace. PWC.