Tag Archives: leadership

Hillary Loss is Lesson in Lost Leadership

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

 

Enquiring minds want to know: How could this happen?

The presidential election of 2016 will be parsed and dissected for decades. The objective will be to determine how a political novice with what could best be described as a volatile temperament, espousing ideas that even in the best light seem inimical to the fundamental social concepts of America; combined with a personality more akin to a bully, can triumph over a candidate with a lifetime of experience in government; one with a temperament of steadiness, the firm support of the moneyed elite and mainstream media and the unified backing of her Party’s establishment power. (Even though the DNC had to “fix” her nomination. Just ask Bernie Sanders.)

Right now all we really know – and all that counts – is that there are at least 290 reasons why Trump won. (The votes he won in the Electoral College.) For starters, the “experts” are confounded as to why millions of voters (including me) who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump. Analysts are trying to understand why Hillary received millions of fewer Democratic votes than Obama did in 2012. From a political standpoint, Salena Zita, perceptively wrote in The Atlantic magazine (prior to the election): “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The experts will go on ad nauseam offering the technical reasons and spreading the blame for Hillary’s loss, but they will miss the most fundamental reason for the defeat. Clinton lost because she did not understand and violated one of the most basic tenets of leadership. It is a lesson that anyone who seeks a position of leadership can benefit by learning. What Hillary failed to grasp was that: It is the responsibility of the leader to give followers a reason to follow.

No matter how experienced or well-intended a person who seeks the mantel of leadership may be, they will fail as a leader if they fail to give followers a valid reason to follow them. People do not follow a leader because it is expected or required, but because they are able to internalize a reason to follow; usually one that will, in the long run, benefit them as much as the leader. Sure, the authority of leadership can be mandated by the power of position, but that is not leading, that is herding. Managers can tell others what to do; whereas true leadership inspires others to do what needs to be done.

Hillary’s campaign was a great example of what happens when the leader fails to offer followers a reason to follow. Conversely, the entire focus of Trump’s campaign was to give voters a simple, easy to understand reason to follow him. Clinton’s message was: “Stronger Together.” Trump’s message was: “Make America Great Again.” Now seriously, who is going to even understand, let alone be motivated to run through a brick wall by the idea of “stronger together”?

Please don’t read my comments about Trump as condoning his often dark philosophy, divisive tactics and many of his offensive comments. The point I am attempting to make is that Trump – for good or bad – did what it takes to be a recognized leader; he gave people a reason to follow. The world has seen many bad people who were strong leaders and many good people who were weak leaders.  

During the course of the campaign Clinton’s message continually shifted from one approach to another, without ever focusing on a consistent, clearly delineated reason to vote for her. In the end, her message was almost exclusively targeted at “why Trump was bad,” and very little if any reason why people should make her their leader. Leadership based on a negative is always trumped by a positive. From the very first to the very last day, Trump had a singular message – Make America Great Again. Certainly one can take issue with how Trump may define what has to be done to make America great, but no one can argue that his message was not clear, consistent and concise and that it gave millions of voters a reason to follow him. It may well have been for the wrong reason, but at least it was a reason; and that’s what leadership is about. Hillary simply failed to put forth an effective message that would inspire people to follow her. And that is what causes leadership to fail and elections to be lost.

Now that Trump has been elected, it is ironic that thousands of – mostly young – people are out on the streets of American cities passionately protesting the results of the election. Where was this passion for Hillary during the election campaign? If Clinton had aroused even a modicum of this type of passion during the campaign, she would have easily won. Hillary harped on the reasons to “fear” Trump, but she failed to offer people a reason to be passionate about following her lead.

Learning the Lesson of Leadership

Hillary is no longer making history, so she is history. But her loss can be a win for anyone who seeks to make their own brand of history by becoming an effective leader. When someone seeks a leadership role – at any level – they first need to identify what talent, skills and ideas they have to offer that will give others a reason to follow them. They then have to effectively communicate that reason, in a clear, concise and consistent way to those they want to lead and a why those who do follow will benefit from that leadership.

Both Trump and Clinton have given us lessons in leadership that anyone who wants to be a leader can learn. Clinton has shown that no matter how experienced or deserving of leadership a person may be, if the nascent leader is unable to explain why others should follow them, they will never have the opportunity to lead. Trump has shown that when the would-be leader has the power to motivate others to follow, even the improbable becomes possible.

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Successful Business Maverick?

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Business mavericks are abhorred and adored. The mentality of a maverick is to relentlessly seek to find better ways to do what is being done and to focus on what is not being done and ask “why.” Those who are comfortable with or indebted to the way things are, abhor the maverick as a troublesome irritation who constantly rocks the boat. Those who are frustrated by the status quo but feel powerless to bring about change, adore the successful maverick as a hero and a role model. One thing is clear, whether it is resisted or embraced, the successful maverick brings about change that ultimately benefits everyone.

For those who long to follow in the footsteps of successful mavericks, the question is: What does it take to be a successful maverick?    

Let there be no doubt that the business mavericks who bring about change are those who challenge the old rules governing how and what should be done and chart new, creative courses of action. Often, these trailblazers are running new, entrepreneurial businesses, but just as often they head some of the biggest names in business.

Think of Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, Steve Jobs, the guru of Apple, Inc., Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Richard Branson of the Virgin empire. Business mavericks like these are noted first and foremost for breaking the rules; for challenging the tradition which says, “You can’t do that.” They don’t accept that as an answer and always seek to find ways that it can be done.

But it is important to understand that one need not be an industry mogul to become a successful business maverick. Anyone at any level in any business of any size can challenge the way things are and seek to do better. It makes no difference if one is tasked to do a specific job, manage a department or lead a division, it is possible to exhibit the attributes of a maverick; and spur success.

If you want to join the fraternity of successful business mavericks, you’ve got to start by thinking like they do. And the first sign of maverick tendencies is relentless curiosity. The man or woman who “cheats” on the old, outmoded rules of business is constantly asking questions and challenging the way things are done. It means being willing to accept the resistance from those wedded to the status quo and take exception to established procedures and mores.

Mavericks often exhibit other attributes as well:

  1. The willingness to adopt new perspectives whenever possible.
  2. The openness to try new things and to do old things differently.
  3. The compelling drive to act on ideas to test their true value.
  4. The eagerness to listen to others and profit from their input, regardless of who gets credit.
  5. Respect for and support of others when they propose new courses of action.

Being a business maverick requires an openness and willingness to look at the world in new ways. Rule-breakers know that new ideas need nurturing and support. But they know that thinking about a new idea is not enough. The true value of a good idea resides in its implementation. As management expert Peter Drucker said, “Ideas are cheap and abundant. What is of value is the effective placement of these ideas into situations that develop into action.”

On the surface, becoming a business maverick doesn’t require any special skills. You don’t have to have an MBA from an Ivy League university. In fact, you don’t need a degree at all. But if it’s so easy to be a cheater, and the potential for reward is so great, why, then, doesn’t everybody do it?

The Will to be a Maverick Is Hammered Out of Us

We have to recognize that daring to think and do things differently exposes us to risks as well as rewards. But you know what? Even though you may risk the ridicule and tsk-tsk of your friends, business associates and your boss, and an endless string of others; even though there is a risk that you’ll come up with a dumb idea for which you’ll be chastised; even though some may perceive you as a show-off or know-it-all; even though all of this may be true, when you finally succeed by doing things differently, the reward and personal satisfaction is so much better than the punishment. It’s not even a contest.

The only reason the downside exposure exists is simply to control you: to intimidate you so that you’ll be unwilling to join the ranks of mavericks and creative thinkers. The result? Many potential mavericks are afraid to engage in behavior that could potentially make waves. Instead, they lay low and avoid the possibility of future embarrassment and pain. It is a shame that most who admire the maverick and seek to follow in their path become timid feeders in a sea of conformity.

But it does not have to be that way. Even if one is not a natural born maverick, the attitude can be an acquired talent; a talent well worth learning and practicing. To develop and nurture this talent for ourselves, we have to overcome the way our psyche has been bullied for so long in an effort to get us to stop asking questions. To achieve real success in our life and career, it is essential to recondition ourselves to challenge convention. Doing so allows us to join the ranks of those mavericks who bring about real change and become a role model for others.

Adopting “Best Practices” Is Not the Path to Innovative Leadership

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The road to leadership and management success is not an easy one, and there are many who fail. Those seeking success will be confronted with potholes, perilously winding roads, dead-ends, and bridges to nowhere. That’s bad enough, but when these obstacles are encountered, there are those who promise that there will be clear sailing ahead and the objective achieved if only those seeking success follow and implement accepted actions.

For the most part, however, these are false promises. The problem is that they encourage those seeking success in management to do what others do. But innovative leadership is about doing what others have not thought to do, not simply following the herd.

One of the most insidious of these false promises is a concept that has gained widespread acceptance and promotion. It is the theory of adopting the “best practices” of others. Unfortunately, the idea of identifying and then implementing “best practices” is nothing more than a scheme invented by management consultants to serve as a type of perpetual annuity of fees paid by those seeking the yellow brick road to management leadership. The concept is simple: if you copy the “best practices” used by successful people or organizations, then you will become successful as well. But, it is fool’s gold.

The consultants do not want you to know this, but the core of the best practices hypothesis is, in reality “copy to create.” The conventional “wisdom” of best practices is that a manager can be more effective at delivering a specific outcome by following a standard way of doing things that have been established by other organizations. The idea is that by adopting the processes, systems, checks and structure of other organizations, the desired objective can be achieved with fewer problems. What has allowed this notion to become so accepted is the alluring, but false promise that success can come faster and with less effort simply by following, copying and repeating the procedures that have worked for other leaders and organizations.

Unfortunately, the only ones to benefit from the wishful thinking that adapting “best practices” as a leadership or organizational philosophy are the consultants. Selling the proposed benefits of “best practices” allows the consultants to charge outrageous fees for offering prefabricated templates to standardize leadership and business process systems.

There are a number of fallacies in the temptations to adopt best practices. The first of which is that all leaders and organizations are the same and that they face similar challenges and opportunities. Of course, this is simply and patently untrue. What distinguishes truly outstanding leaders is their individuality. And what distinguishes truly successful organizations is their unique culture.

While there are fundamental principles such as open communication, consistency, trustworthiness, respect for followers and high ethics that are common among successful leaders, a closer look at their application of leadership will show that there are distinct differences in the style of these leaders. The reality is that there are no “best practices” of real leadership that can be easily quantified and copied.

It is even more foolhardy to think that the processes and procedures – let alone the culture – of one organization are easily transferable to another. As with individuals, organizations develop their own unique style and culture. There is no doubt that a leader should seek out and instill best practices within an organization, but those best practices must be designed to leverage the culture and resources of the organization they lead, not those of a competitor. Companies come in all shapes, sizes and stages of development; each has its own culture.

That’s not to suggest you don’t study the style of leadership of others or understand what it is your competition is doing, but you ought to do that to do better than the competitor, not to become the same. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatantly copying the way others operate is a type of “me-too” attitude that simply doesn’t work.

Best Practices and Innovation

There is an even greater risk that comes with falling prey to the fascination of a best practices philosophy. Adopting a “best practices” style of leadership or the processes of other organizations legitimizes sameness and mediocrity; it stifles innovation and encourages bureaucracy.

If you fall prey to the belief that the best way to achieve your organizational objectives is to adopt the best practices of other leaders or organizations, there is no reason to attempt to discover a better or more innovative way to achieve success. Moreover, what might be best practice 10 or 20 years ago may not be best practice today. Just ask Blockbuster Video or Circuit City. If you think the path to achieving success as a business leader rests with process and procedure lifted from others, then you are following—not leading. In reality, “best practices” encourages you to attempt to be successful by doing what the competition does. This is wrong. The way to beat the competition is by being better than the competition, not by doing what they do.

Create Your Own “Best Practices”

If you want to be successful, develop your own style and your own best practices. Don’t be fooled by the false promise that the easy, simple path to success is to study what others do and copy them. Yes, study what others do, not to do what they do, but to do what they do better.

“Best practices” is a wonderful idea and a philosophy. However, they should be the best practices that you develop in your leadership style and the practices that best fit the strength and culture of your organization. The best practices you can adopt are ones that others want to copy. Then you will win the gold and they will be the fools.