Thoughts On Leadership From A Fortune 20 Executive

Leader Language CollageI’m fortunate that practically all my corporate clients genuinely care about leadership and demonstrate this commitment in our engagement. However, many executives claim to be interested in leadership yet their behavior often doesn’t match their speech. I’ve recently crossed paths with a senior leader (not a client) who writes about and demonstrates leadership. Karin Hurt (Let’s Grow Leaders) is a senior leader with a Fortune 20 company.  She manages customer service organizations and deals directly or indirectly with approximately 10,000 people throughout her organization. Karin and I both blogged about the coexistence of confidence and humility in leadership and exchanged thoughts (Can Confidence & Humility Coexist in a Leader?). I recently interviewed Karin about our shared thoughts on leaders and leadership.

Is My Leader Genuine?

Leaders these days are conditioned to talk about leadership. They are smart and understand they must respond to corporate mandates on leadership development, succession planning and the like. However, many leaders essentially give lip service to what they perceive taking them away from their “real job.” They attend the leadership development workshop but are on their PDAs instead of being engaged.  They encourage their people to develop professionally but evidence no commitment to their own development. How can you tell if you are working with a leader who truly cares about leadership or merely spouts the latest cliché or quotes the latest best selling book?  Karin feels that: “It starts with how they show up as a leader.  Are they willing to take hard stances and push back on their boss to do the right thing?  Are they being transparent and explaining why and how they are doing what they are doing?”

Great leaders often have to make decisions that may be unpopular with some of those they lead. I have found people can accept an unpopular decision if they understand the rationale behind it. They may not agree with the rationale but at least they know the reason a decision was made. Translation: Transparency produces trust.

Process Versus Outcome

I’ve written before on the importance of understanding process and outcome (Can You Really Let Go Of The Outcome?). Leaders who focus solely on outcomes create pressure packed environments. The message can be sent that you need to achieve the numbers by any means necessary. Leaders who focus on the process of excellence know the numbers will take care of themselves if people are truly motivated to do their best. Karin puts it this way: “I spend a lot of time coaching to the behaviors versus the numbers. Unfortunately it’s very, very easy to freak out and talk about numbers. At my level it’s all about the numbers. But what you have to do is not let that translate down to your people.  You measure the three or four things we want you to focus on.”

Passion And Meaning

Great leaders are truly passionate about what they do. They create an environment of energy, enthusiasm and fun. When people are truly passionate about what they do they have found meaning and calling in their work. They don’t just go through the motions to maximize their bonus at the end of the year. This is infectious and cascades throughout the organization. Some leaders falsely believe you can motivate someone to higher performance if they lack this internal commitment to finding true meaning in your work–regardless of pay, status or job description. Karin states: “Some people find meaning in their role regardless of level. If someone is just showing up they probably are not following their calling and should move on. It’s about finding what makes you really, really tick.”

High-Performance Teams And Cultures

High performance teams and cultures are rare but they do exist (High-Performance Culture: Cliché or Reality?). They are created as a result of a structured process that consistently assesses the status of the team and makes changes when necessary. In order to create a high-performance culture, leaders at all levels must be committed to creating high-performance teams they are responsible for leading. They must be motivated (and incentivized) for doing so. Karin nicely describes the interplay between team structure, high-performing individuals and cultures.  She observed: “I think you need to create high-performing individuals and high-performing teams.  When you have that then you have a high-performing culture.  What does that mean your people will do? How does that mean your teams will function? What are the leadership behaviors?”

Karin HurtThanks to Karin for taking the time to chat about leadership. It’s nice to find executives who truly care about leadership. We found a lot of common philosophy and I hope you take some nuggets from our conversation.

Comments

  1. Nice interview Mark. With my clients the transition from managing self to managing others is all about understanding that the ‘real work’ is the people!

    • Absolutely Penny. Seems about 25% of the time of senior leaders is spent on people issues. Rather than view this as a pain in the neck, I try to instill this as a leadership competency clients should master (and enjoy!).

  2. Mark, Thanks so much for the great opportunity to connect. I so enjoyed our conversation.

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