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Ducks in a Row: Leadership, Influence and Control

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

There is much talk these days among what Jim Stroup calls the modern leadership movement (MLM) that leadership is all about influence.

What I’ve never seen is any mention that influence is about control.

Influence moves you in the direction desired by the leader, essentially controlling your choices.

Also faulty is the assumption that the influence ‘leaders’ exert is always for ‘good’; as I keep saying, assumptions are bad.

In this case the assumption is that a ‘leader’ you like/trust/respect won’t lead you in a direction that encourages you to do something you wouldn’t do on your own if you thought of it.

That is a faulty assumption at best and a destructive one at worst.

To paraphrase an old saying that has served me well in my life, consider the source of the influence sans assumptions before allowing it to affect you.

In other words, listen objectively to the words and consider what they mean.

One trick to doing that is to pretend someone you would never allow to influence you said the same thing. How would you react?

If you would pull back and say, ‘no way’, then it should be ‘no way’ even if the source is someone you like/trust/respect.

Fickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Influence = Manipulation

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Every conversation about leadership talks about ‘influence’ and how to increase yours.

In a post at Forbes, Howard Scharlatt defines influence this way,

Influence is, simply put, the power and ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking. At one level, it is about compliance, about getting someone to go along with what you want them to do.

He goes on to describe three kinds of influencing tactics: logical, emotional and cooperative, or influencing with head, heart and hands and talks about ‘personal influence’ and its importance in persuading people when authority is lacking.

A couple of years ago I wrote The Power of Words and said, “Personally, other than socially acceptable definitions, I don’t see a lot of difference between influence and manipulation,” and I still don’t.

I realize most people consider manipulation negative and influence positive, but they are just words.

I often hear that leaders are good people, while manipulators are bad people. But as I pointed out in another post,

  • leaders are not by definition “good;”
  • they aren’t always positive role models; and
  • one person’s “good” leader is another person’s demon.

Everyone believes that they use their influence in a positive way, but when you persuade people to do whatever who are you to say that the outcome is positive for them?

Influence, persuasion, manipulation; call it what you will, just remember that it is power and be cautious when you wield it.

Image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/363547


Friday, January 7th, 2011

influenceAsk people why they blog or “work” social media and you’ll eventually hear that they want to “build their influence” or “extend their reputation and have more influence.”

Much of the commentary around “leadership” cites “vision” and “influence” as hallmarks of a leader.

I know these terms have made me vaguely uncomfortable, but didn’t pin the reason down until recently.

The pinning came during a conversation I had with a client. She was looking for ways to increase her influence with her team. When I asked her the specifics of what she wanted to accomplish she said that she wanted to lead them to do things differently.

Long story short, after more discussion the bottom line was she felt that having more influence would mean that her people would do things her way.

Add that to a recent comment by a blogger that he blogs to share his knowledge and influence people and I had my ah-ha moment for identifying all the vague discomfort I feel when I hear that word.

The definition of influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.

Notice there is nothing that states the effect is to homogenize others with yourself, although most people see that as implied.

Perhaps I’m an anomaly because I see influence as a goad; a goad that drives people to think, reconsider, reformulate and possibly change along lines they consciously choose as opposed to blindly adopting thoughts/ideas/attitudes/actions—whether mine or someone else’s.

What do you think about influence?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arenamontanus/269431673/

Leadership’s Future: Ethics in the Modern World

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Wally Bock has an excellent post regarding his rethinking of the value of the MBA Oath and its possible effect on future ethics. Wally quotes from a post by Scott Eblin entitled “Why we need an MBA oath.”

“What doesn’t get said, doesn’t get heard. If the MBA Oath causes even a few leaders to stand up and say out loud how they intend to conduct themselves then it was worth the effort of writing and promoting it.”

That idea dovetails perfectly with a tongue-in-cheek op-ed column by Edward E. Sanders, an adjunct lecturer at New York City College, textbook author and entrepreneur.

Sculpture: Deadly Sins #1, Pure Products USA, by Nova Ligovano aSanders suggests that today’s leaders got their ethics lessons watching JR and Gordon Gekko and many followed in their footsteps, so perhaps Hollywood could produce a new batch of TV shows and movies that focus on CEOs making tough choices and doing the right thing.

Perhaps Tom Hanks (as a John Wayne character) could play the role of a competent and honest CEO — a person respected and trusted, and who inspires others to do the right thing when confronted with compromising choices.

Sanders may be on to something. How about a group of forensic accountants fighting financial crimes a la CSI.

Most kids need ethical examples beyond their parents and they do look for them in their various entertainment forms.

The problem, of course, is money.  All entertainment mediums build their offerings around what sells and what sells is from the dark side.Pride

It doesn’t matter that JR and Gekko get their comeuppance at the end, viewers’ well-developed “but me” tool reassures them that their outcome will be different.

But like the MBA Oath, it can’t hurt and it might help.

Image credit: Flickr

Ducks In A Row: How To Guarantee A Winning Team

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

There is much talk about building winning teams and how to lead them and much of that centers on “influence” and “visions.”

The ledgendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, an expert on winning teams, provided a far simpler approach that you can be implement in a matter of seconds.

The only caveat is that once started it must be followed exactly and whole-heartedly.

“If anything goes bad, I did it.
If anything goes semi-good, we did it.
If anything goes really good, then you did it.
That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

If more “leaders” followed this path we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Do you have the courage to implement Bryant’s approach?

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

The Downfall Of Leadership

Friday, August 21st, 2009

At some point in the rise of the modern leadership movement, and the ensuing profit-making industry, leadership and management were set on divergent courses, with leadership presented as the brilliant star and management as the subservient drudges.

The results of this extreme focus on vision and influence are being felt globally in the form of the economic meltdown led by the Wall Street leadership who were above the mundane and wouldn’t dirty their hands with the gritty details of management.

In a brilliant opinion piece, Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, founding partner of Coaching Ourselves and author of numerous, says, “U.S. businesses now have too many leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing. So they don’t know what’s going on. … Unfortunately, detached leaders tend to be more concerned with impressing outsiders than managing within. “

The current rise in advanced degrees in leadership can do nothing more than exacerbate the already dangerous attitude that so-called leaders are different/unique/special and, therefore, entitled.

And it is that sense of entitlement, exemplified so well by John Thain, that got us into this mess.

Those who want only to lead should become consultants and stay out of line positions, executive or not, where they can do so much damage.

Consultants are paid for visions, excel at influencing and then walk away bearing absolutely no responsibility for the results.

When will we stop this nonsense and accept that, depending on circumstances anyone can lead, anyone can follow, the positions aren’t cast in stone forever and the whole shebang needs to be managed along the way.

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Image credit: ravasolix on sxc.hu

Ducks In A Row: The Benefits Of Benefits

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

When it comes to company success there is much talk about leading and influencing, visions and inspiration, but when the subject of benefits comes up then it’s all about the bottom line.

Did you know that no benefits (other than those negotiated by a union) are actually required by law for any worker, full or part-time?

So why should companies have benefits? Just think about how much better their bottom line would be without them. Wow!

Then think about how demotivated, unproductive and disinterested their employees would be. Double wow!

The smartest employers (AKA good leaders) offer all the benefits they’re able to offer to the people who work for them, even part-timers. Sure, they’re limited by financial consideration, but they do as much as they can.

  • A startup CEO told me that he had insisted on good insurance coverage in spite of his investors’ gripes. Why? Because, he said, his people were more willing to put in 80 hour weeks when they didn’t have to worry about their families. Interestingly enough, his company also offered slightly below market pay and far more modest stock options and still filled their openings with top talent (this was during a boom period, too).
  • Another small biz owner I know, with sales of less than $2 million, offers Aflac, exceptional working flexibility, including working from home, and just added a 401K, although many similar-sized companies just moan about how they can’t afford anything.
  • My friend, who owns a tiny, neighborhood restaurant, gives her waiters their birthday off with pay—and has almost no turnover.

Part of the problem in large companies is that Wall Street penalizes companies that do take care of their people (Costco) and lauds those that use every trick to avoid spending that money (Wal-Mart).

But make no mistake—taking the best care possible of your people will yield a high return in the form of lower turnover, higher productivity and more creativity.

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Why I Hate “Leadership Vision”

Friday, August 7th, 2009

The leadership industry dotes on the idea that visions are what make leaders, since they influence people, and that visionaries aren’t like you and me and require special handling.

It’s CEO visions—those rosy predictions, high hopes and self-deluding prophesies—that fill annual reports that sway analysts.

From Business Week: Are stock analysts swayed by an annual report’s CEO letter to stockholders? Yes, concludes a forthcoming study in Organization Science. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and other schools looked at 367 shareholder letters written by new CEOs from 1990 to 1999—giving each leader a “charismatic vision” score. To assign ratings, they scrutinized the texts for moral, ideological, and emotional characterizations of future plans and past mistakes. They also counted the number of times such words as “believe” and “commitment” appeared—along with team-oriented terms like “we” and “our.” Their finding: the more charismatic the text, defined in this way, the more likely analysts were to issue a “buy” for the company. Such language also led to off-the-mark earnings forecasts from analysts. While the decade studied coincided with the dot-com era, when analysts often said “buy,” Penn State management professor and co-author Vilmos Misangyi believes the findings also apply to the current economy, as uncertainties may prompt a strong reliance on a business leaders’ words. “If anything,” he says, “I would expect stronger effects today.”

Keep that in mind when you invest the paltry amount you have left after the most recent Wall Street vision decimated the economy.

Why is it that we accept as intelligent gospel visions of credit default swaps and derivatives from guys in $3000 suits, but would consider the same ideas as ravings if they came from a smelly guy wearing dirty clothes?

How much of so-called leadership vision is form and how much substance (or the result of a substance)?

And even when the substance is there, what is it worth when it’s left as a vision with no operational plan?

Read this post from Steve Roesler for a great example of vision sans plan.

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Image credit: sjtodey on sxc.hu

Time To Get Off Your Ass And Lead (Yourself)

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

There are many lessons to be learned from the current economic crisis, but one of the most important is that we the people should stop following and start leading ourselves.

In other words, we each need to take responsibility for our own actions and think critically about the words and actions of those in positional leadership roles.

In business, we need to rid ourselves of the idea that positional leaders don’t need management skills or that managers don’t lead.

Jim Stroup points out in numerous posts that “No one has proven that leadership is different from management, much less that it is a characteristic inherent in individuals independently of the context in which those individuals operate, one that they carry with them from one organization to another and which they then instill into groups otherwise bereft of it.”

We need to stop defining leaders based on their vision and skill at influencing people to follow them.

A comment left on a Washington Post column by Steve Pearlstein regarding the leadership failure that led to the current economic crisis neatly sums up the problem with that definition.

“What a great summary of the economic problem. However this was not a lack of leadership. Defining leadership as influencing people to move in a specific direction, the financial and economic elite successfully led the country into the economic disaster. The problem was a lack of management that failed to identify the signs of the pending disaster.”

Mike Chitty’s team approach is an unlikely solution since you can’t mandate that whichever [leader or manager] is superior will listen to or act on the ideas of the subordinate, while making them equals is rarely successful.

We need to lead ourselves and stop waiting for someone else to show us how, tell us why or lead our actions. 99% of us know what’s good—not just for ourselves, but for the world.

We especially need to stop

  • putting ideology ahead of success;
  • avoiding accountability by citing all those whose lead we followed;
  • excusing our own unethical behavior on the basis that others do the same thing; or
  • believing that [whatever] is OK, because our religion forgives our actions.

Everyone cleaning up their own back yard will alleviate a large part of the problem, and then we can work together for the good of everyone, not just “people like us.”

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Image credit: flickr

The Power Of Words

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Do words really make a difference? Can just one word change people’s perception of a person or event?

I’ve read several items lately on the importance of influence in leadership. Several even make the point that it’s the ability to influence that marks a person as a leader.

Personally, other than socially acceptable definitions, I don’t see a lot of difference between influence and manipulation.

Both influence and manipulation seek to produce an effect without any apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.

But if you say someone has a lot of influence it’s a compliment; call the same person a master manipulator and you’d better duck.

It’s a good example of the real power that words have to inspire or crush even if their meaning is the same.

And it’s important to remember that words come with baggage that goes well beyond their actual definition.

That baggage was one of the main reasons corporate marketing departments made so many mistakes when moving from one culture to another.

  • Braniff translated its slogan relating to seat upholstery, “Fly in leather” to Spanish; only it came out as “Fly naked.”
  • Coors slogan, “Turn it loose,” means “Suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish.
  • Clairol, introduced a curling iron called the “Mist Stick” in Germany and learned the hard way that mist is slang for manure.
  • Gerber started selling baby food in Africa using US packaging with the baby on the label until they found out that in Africa the picture on the label indicates what’s inside since most people can’t read.

There are hundreds of similar mishaps. They made marketing departments a laughing stock, forced companies to hire locally, helped change the headquarters mindset and encourage global companies to be truly global.

The point of all this is to encourage you to take a few extra minutes to think through not only what you want to say, but also what your audience will hear when you say it.

That effort can make the difference between going up like a rocket or down like a falling star.

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Image credit: flickr

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