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Berger Blog

Expanding the discussion of Generatonal issues in organizations, Leadership, and Individual & Professional Growth.

A good effort We'll see what happens

Friday, September 30, 2005

I’m working with a new client group – a West-coast based marketing company with some stake in the marketplace.  This company created an internal program that identifies the high-performer/high-potentials, sticks them together, and tells them to be the company’s leaders of the future.

Interestingly enough, the execs told them nothing else.  They gave them little other direction, little other visible support, and no expectations.  Not surprisingly, little has emerged from the project.

What this situation calls for is a bit of a gut check where the old guard senior partners pony up to the table and determine what they are in the game for.  I mean, I really have seen how hard it is for the 58-year old senior exec to take his (high) 6-plus figure salary – and all of the power and trappings that comes with it – and turn some of that over to a 24-year old kid who finished his or her MBA two years ago.

In my work with senior and junior leaders in companies, I try to get a couple of key points across.  For one, letting a younger person in on the “top secret” discussions and decisions that happen behind the board room doors isn’t immediately followed by corporate anarchy, and then the senior exec who let the kid in initially getting fired.  As true as that may seem for some of you, it’s just false.

Secondly, when you give younger people a little taste of power and wisdom, they don’t jump ship to your closest competitor where they can leverage their insider secrets into a fat salary with stock options.

Actually, just the opposite happens more often than not.  By you letting some younger folk into the fold, you are actually doing everyone a service.  The younger person gets a boost of commitment and support in continuing to work hard for your company, your company gets some fresh insight and perspective that is in woefully short supply at the senior leadership level -- face it, there isn’t a single person in upper management who doesn’t remember the time before CDs (the music ones, not the money ones).  Also, you may be seen as the genius who is willing to take some risks in ensuring the company’s future.  Additionally, when you let people in the process that way, they are more likely to become  more committed to you and your company, not less.  They are unlikely to jump ship and take their secrets with them

posted by Michael Berger, 2:04 PM | link | 0 comments |

Being "Great"

Friday, September 02, 2005

I was talking with a client the other day about the team she manages.  She is the leader of a team of about 10 managers/directors for a consumer products company on the West coast.  She just inherited four managers from another division that was merged into her group.

She wanted me to come in and do some work with her and the whole team – your basic teambuilding kind of thing.  I asked her if she was worried about creating a safe environment for the discussion about what’s working and what’s not, as well as the roles people need to play in order for the team to be successful.  She said she really wasn’t

“No, we have a lot of really open and frank discussions in my group and in our meetings,” she told me.  “People really say what they think without being afraid.”

“Really,” I said with a noticeable amount of surprise.  I realized in that moment how accustomed I’ve become to the presence of fear and mistrust with just about every team of people I work with.

“So, what has made your team function so ‘normally,’ without the same baggage of fear being dragged around into every single conversation, email, and interaction,” I asked.

She thought for a moment.  “Well, I guess that I created it.”

It was that simple.  I probed a bit further into her perception of the safe team and heard what she had done to make this possible.  What it came down to, in my assessment at least, was her openness to being wrong some of the time, knowing that other people on her team saw things differently than she did, that they had ideas that may be different and better than hers, and that she was truly, genuinely committed to the group and the company’s success, as opposed to her own.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, talks about how the leaders of the historically top-performing companies look at themselves when searching for answers as to why things went wrong and look out the window (at other) when searching for the reasons why things went right.  My take on this is that great leaders are open to their own accountability, as well as understanding that many outside people and forces need to play a role in achieving success.

It was a great reminder to me to see someone who was really doing things right.  It’s unfortunate that so many leaders get caught up in being closed to others, in looking to reap the big reward in success and cover their own asses in defeat.  Of course, I usually want to know why – what else is going on that forces this protective dynamic, with my eye on figuring out how to create an environment where things can go right.

posted by Michael Berger, 10:23 AM | link | 0 comments |
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