20 Leadership Questions Answered @Medici_Manager @LeadershipHub

Question 1 – Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

I have had several mentors or influences throughout my life, each being involved at a different stage, and having a different impact.

First of all was my dad, I wrote a blog about him, called “Heroes and Influences” back in Oct 2012.  My dad showed me that we are not tied to a destiny based on our history, but that we can take control of our own futures and shape it the way we want. He was the first member of his family going back several generations not to work down the coals mines, which was an impressive feat.

My next major influence, my mentor, was my Dan Corbett, who was my father-in-law at the time. He had started working in a supermarket stacking shelves and then 20 years later he was the Operations Director for one of the biggest chains in Ireland. He too showed me that with hard work and determination we could achieve much.

He also taught me a lot about leading and managing, about keeping things simple and getting people to focus on the right priorities. Too often people fail because they don’t understand the problem they are dealing with and they focus on unimportant things.
He taught me about commitment, making commitments and meeting them, as a way of building credibility and trust.

We used to talk a lot about business, finance, and P&L he used to try and get me to look at things from the business or customers perspective. To help me think about IT less as a technical discipline, but more of a service to the business.

He really helped round out my education.

To be honest from there on, most of my remaining development came from positive or negative influences that I experienced, or from coaching.

Positive influences came form the people who worked with, or for, me. Their feedback helped me understand some of my own strengths and weaknesses better, and also what worked well and what didn’t from a leadership point of view.

The negative influences mainly came from some of the bad bosses that I had, who showed me what bad management and bad leadership looked like, and showed me exactly what not to do as a leader. Seriously.

In the early 2000′s, one particularly bad boss, probably my worst, not only showed me how not to lead and manage, but also how not to do business too. This was a great learning opportunity, although a particularly stressful time.

Most recent significant influence was Julie Starr. Julie coached me during 2005 when I worked at DHL in Prague.

Julie taught me an awful lot about myself: about what I was capable of; about self limiting beliefs that were holding me back; about playing a bigger game & having more influence; and also about how to realise more of my potential.

Julie helped boost my self confidence which allowed me to go on and be a better manager, and more importantly, leader.

Question 2 – What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?

For this question I will ignore any of the direct work related decisions regarding daily operations as I see these more as management decisions and I will focus on what I think are the most important leadership decision.

Firstly, I think the most important decision is goal setting.

We need to set inspiring goals, that will set the organisation on the path towards success.

The goals need to be challenging, but achievable. Set them to high and people will be demotivated, make them too easy and they will not be inspiring at all, and we will not be able to drive the organisation forward.

When I set goals, I try to make them a ambitious but achievable, and then I also like to set a real stretch goal in addition too.  If you can get this right, and get the team to focus, you can often achieve both goals, or even surpass them easily, if you can build momentum.

Secondly, I think the other most important decision is on the organisation, you need to get the right people, in the right positions.

You need to appoint people who understand what you’re trying to achieve, have the right level of drive and leadership, in order to support you in your leadership role.

The more people sharing the leadership burden, the more success you will have.

For me these are the two most important decisions a leader must make.

Question 3 – As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

In my opinion Inspiring an organisation is one of the most important tasks for a leader.

I think the best way to do this is: to set clear bold goals, monitor these goals and report progress regularly against them.

These goals need to be: simple to understand;  challenging and aspirational; easy to communicate.

At my current firm, our CEO Kasper Rorsted, did a great job of doing this across the entire organisation of 47,000 staff.

We had 3 clear targets

14%     Ebit margin
3-5%   Organic growth
>10%  Earnings per share

These targets were communicated clearly, including the reasons behind them, progress was measured regularly, and reported back to the entire organisation on Quarterly basis.

There was also a consistency to them too. Kasper always repeated “the targets remain the targets”.

Everyone in the organisation knew the targets, understood why they were important and knew that the targets were not going to be changed.

This helped inspire an entire organisation.

In my opinion, I don’t think it’s the size of an organisation that dampens the inspiration, I think it is the quality of the leader of that organisation.

Good leaders inspire, it’s what they do best.

But often organisations don’t choose good leaders, and that’s where dampened inspiration comes from.

Question 4 – How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

I believe the best way to encourage creative thinking is to ask tough questions and to set ambitious goals or challenges.

Problems which are small, or unchallenging, can often be solved easily and do not require anything too creative to resolve them

Big challenges which cannot be resolved by just doing more of the same, by working harder, or by  conventional solutions require us to think outside of the box.

This is what leads us to be creative.

Also, we should remember that creativity can come from anywhere. Too often I have seen assumptions that creativity is limited to a single group, or just to senior managers.

I like to set the challenges and then leave the teams to come up with creative solutions, this empowerment encourages them to be creative.

We should also be non-critical of proposed solutions, no matter how bad, we can just reject them politely. Nothing kills creativity quicker than constant criticism.

Question 5 – Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

In my opinion ideas can come from anywhere within the organisation.

No one has cornered the market in good ideas, although some might like to think that they have.

Whilst working for a company in north America, I was given a task of running a project to reduce operational running costs.

I was told by some of the senior management that this was not possible, everything had been done to optimise costs.

But as I started with the project, and had some quick wins, and people could see I was committed to the project, people would come up to me secretly and tell me about ideas that they had had for saving money.

It was unbelievable how many ideas people had, and great ideas at that. Our mainframe operator, thought it would be possible to eliminate one of our three mainframes by sharing its load across this other two with just a small increase in their capacity. This increase would costs us $100k but save us $1m per annum.

When I asked him why we hadn’t done this before he said that his previous manager hadn’t wanted to listen. He clearly didn’t think anyone so low in the organisation could have a great idea.

Within a year, by implementing all of these ideas we achieved the saving $20m per annum.

The only idea I had was to set a bold target at $20m, all of the actual saving ideas came from within the organisation, from many different sources.

I always find it strange too, that we often have to bring in consultants to tell us what we already know, because we won’t listen to it from our own people.

This is what makes me believe that great ideas can come from anywhere, we just need to listen out for them.

Question 6 – Which is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision?

In my humble opinion Core Values are the most important for any organisation. Once you have these, then aligning Vision and Mission are fairly straight forward.

However, if you don’t really know what your Core Values are, then you can’t align the Vision and Mission with them, and anything which is not aligned to Core Values will fail.

Our Core Values are what drive us, they are aspirational and when our aspirations are not being satisfied, then we don’t give our best efforts.

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Questions 7 & 8
– How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”?
– How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?

Invariably  in most companies I have worked in, the “core values” have been very well communicated, either by big launches in case of new “core values”, or by poster campaigns, flyers, mugs and business cards, etc., etc,.

I think this is a good way of informing people what the ‘core values’ should be, but the best way to really communicate them is to live them.

We need to create the right example, be a role model for what the ‘core values’ are, what they mean and how they should be lived.

I also believe that we should encourage others in the organization to communicate them in exactly the same way, as role models who live the “core values”.

If we don’t do this, then we can have the ‘core values’ tattooed on the foreheads of all our staff, so that everyone can see them every day, but this will not make them lived or supported.

It’s walking the talk, which brings the talk to life, not talking the talk.

Question 9 – Do you set aside specific times to cast vision to your employees and other leaders?

Every year we have a strategy conference where we provide details on the vision, the targets associated with that vision, for the current year, and then discuss how we will achieve those targets, and what the challenges and opportunities are.

This meeting usually involves the next two levels of management, probably totalling around 60 staff or so, we hold it over 2-3 days and include team building and networking opportunities.

The messages are kept clear, simple and easy to understand, this is to ensure that there is no ambiguity, and that everyone knows what our focus is.

It’s then expected that the managers will transport the messages to their teams, so that we can try and communicate the vision throughout the entire organisation.

We then hold quarterly town hall meetings, where we share the vision & targets again and communicate the progress against them.

This continual communication of vision, targets and progress really helps to embed them within the organisation and help maintain the focus on the objectives.

Question 10 – How do you ensure your Organisation and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?

Easiest way to do this is to ensure that all objectives and targets align with your core values.

For instance,  if diversity is a core value, then there should be clear targets for diversity that are communicated, measured and reported on regularly, and ideally bonuses tied to achievement.

If diversity is one of the core values, and there are no associated targets, then this is clearly not a real core value its just lip service.

If there are targets, but they are not reported on, no one is accountable for them or they are not bonus relevant, then same again, this is just lip service, it’s not a lived value.

If you want to know what a companies ‘core values’ are then look at what they bonus and reward, and those will be their ‘core values’.

Question 11 -How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?

I usually try to recruit people who’s ‘core values’ are aligned with the companies ‘core values’. If you can do that, then the probability of them living the ‘core values’ will be much higher.

If their values are not the same, then expecting them to change is not really likely to happen, as our ‘core values’ are part of who we are they define us.

Question 12 – When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?

Easy to answer, it’s all about attitude. I will take the person with the best attitude every time, even if they are lesser qualified. If you get people with the right attitude you can provide them with the right skills and experience.

If you team has the right attitude then there is no limit to what you can achieve.

If you get the person with the wrong attitude, then there is very little you can do to change that attitude.

I like to understand peoples aspirations too, if I have someone who’s aspirations are aligned with what we are trying to do, and they have the right ‘core values’, then this can be a great recruit.

If people are both equal in terms of qualifications and attitude, then I would look at diversity, look to bring another perspective into the team.

Question 13 – What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

There are many characteristics that leaders should possess: honesty; integrity; vision; drive, energy; charisma; the list of desirable traits is long.

Integrity is very important, this is what allows a leader to build trust, and we all know how important trust is in a relationship.

However, if I had to pick the most important characteristic, I would say that humility is number 1.

Humility is the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.

In ‘Good to Great’ Jim Collins highlights humility as one of the key characteristics which differentiates Level 5 leaders from the rest. With Level 5 being the highest level of Leadership.

I think three great examples of leaders with Humility are Gandhi, Martin Luther King jr, and Nelson Mandela.

Question 14 – What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be communication and connectedness.

As we see the huge growth in social media and social networking, I think any leader who can leverage and master this will have a tremendous opportunity to significantly increase their influence, and consequently their leadership.

I already know of several leaders who shy away from social networking, either not participating completely, or only participating with their own peers in small exclusive communities.

I think that this will become a problem for them, as its not what people, especially their followers are looking for, and it will alienate them and highlight the distance between leader and follower, which is contradictory to the direction in which we are going.

This could lead to their followers looking to move to people, other leaders, that they can relate and connect too.

I would suggest to any aspiring leader that they master social networking tools as these will become more in demand and expected channels for leaders to use for communication.

Another challenge is the global economic crisis, I don’t think anybody believes that this is over, nor do they know where it will impact next, which makes planning for future very difficult. Leading in uncertain times is always difficult, and it’s a time when people look more to their leaders, which in turn increases the challenges.

Question 14 – What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be communication and connectedness.

As we see the huge growth in social media and social networking, I think any leader who can leverage and master this will have a tremendous opportunity to significantly increase their influence, and consequently their leadership.

I already know of several leaders who shy away from social networking, either not participating completely, or only participating with their own peers in small exclusive communities.

I think that this will become a problem for them, as its not what people, especially their followers are looking for, and it will alienate them and highlight the distance between leader and follower, which is contradictory to the direction in which we are going.

This could lead to their followers looking to move to people, other leaders, that they can relate and connect too.

I would suggest to any aspiring leader that they master social networking tools as these will become more in demand and expected channels for leaders to use for communication.

Another challenge is the global economic crisis, I don’t think anybody believes that this is over, nor do they know where it will impact next, which makes planning for future very difficult. Leading in uncertain times is always difficult, and it’s a time when people look more to their leaders, which in turn increases the challenges.

Having thought about it some more, I think I would answer it differently today, in a slightly more philosophical way.

That’s not to say that I think the challenges I wrote about yesterday on Communication, Connectedness and Inspiring people are not important challenges, it’s just that thinking about if from a different perspective, I have a different answer.

I think one of the biggest challenges leaders face is maintaining their own principles. The higher up the greasy pole we climb, the more our principles and ‘core values’ get questioned. We then have to maybe make trade offs and compromises.

That’s not to say that we sell out on our principles, but maybe that we need to prioritize them and focus on the ones that we believe are more important, and let some of the lesser ones go.

Imagine if you had the possibility to be the next Pope, according to Forbes Magazine, the Pope is the fifth most influential leadership position in the world.

This would give you tremendous opportunity to do good, to serve people, to maybe make some real changes in the world.

But imagine if you were very strong on fighting: sexual abuse in the church; for women priests; and say vatican corruption; but that the people who controlled the election told you there is no way you could be elected if you were to look to fight for all three.

That they could guarantee you would be Pope if you chose to  make a strong stand on sexual abuse, and woman priests, but stayed away from Vatican Corruption, and that the rest of your energy should be spent on making Catholicism relevant in the 21st century, and focus more on helping the poor and growing the church.

Would you accept, would you let your anti corruption principle go in order to achieve two of your goals?

Many leaders face similar dilemmas, I’m sure Barrack Obama has had to put many of the plans he would like to have implemented on hold.

I think this is the biggest challenge leaders face, maybe not in their current role, but if they want to go higher up the leadership ladder.

I have copied some of the dialogue from the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace is given the opportunity to sell out on his principles.

Princess Isabelle: The king desires peace.
William Wallace: Longshanks desires peace?
Princess Isabelle: He declares it to me, I swear it. He proposes that you withdraw your attack. In return he grants you title, estates, and this chest of gold which I am to pay to you personally.
William Wallace: A lordship and titles. Gold. That I should become Judas?

I think we would all like to think we would have principles as strong as William Wallace, but until we are truly put to the test we will never really know.

I am not suggesting that we would all become Judas, but we will definitely have to make compromises or prioritize our principles.

This is what I think is a leaders biggest challenge, especially if they wants to advance!

Question 15 – What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

Leaders are human, and like all humans, they make mistakes, I know I do, certainly more than I would like to admit.

I think that for this question, I will answer it slightly differently, looking at what I think are some of the bigger mistakes that leaders make, and the ones that I try to avoid.

Firstly, I think that as leaders that we always need to do, what we say we will do. This builds trust.

I often see leaders say one thing, and do another, or they don’t apply the rules in the same way to themselves, as they apply to them to their staff. We then compound this mistake, by assuming that our teams are too dumb to notice.

They’re not, and they do notice!

This then leads to a lack of trust, and when we lose trust, we lose our followers. I think this is probably the biggest makes I see leaders make.

Another big mistake I frequently see is, leaders taking as much of the credit for their teams success, as is possible.

Everyone knows what the leaders contribution was, and credit will always be given for it, there is no need to take it away from the team. Maybe this is a confidence issue.

With Manchester United, we know Alex Ferguson is the manager, we know he selected the team, the tactics and provided the motivation. Yet in the press interviews, he gives all of the credit to the players, it’s as if he wasn’t involved.

This gives great to motivation to team, as well reward, recognition and respect, and this leads to respect for the manager.

If the leader looks to take all of the credit, then effect is completely the opposite, but its amazing how often we see this happen. Nothing demotivates a team as much as the leader claiming it was all about them.

Question 16 – What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

I would say, without doubt, that the number one trait that I have seen derail the most leaders is, honesty.

This comes in many guises, such as not being honest about:

  • what was achievable, i.e. over committing, then under delivering;
  • the current status of the project, i.e. misleading people on the level of progress made;
  • costs:
  • the real reason for why actions were being taken;
  • personal interests

It could also be arrogance, in that they don’t think that their lies will be found out, but it all comes down to honesty.

Without honesty there is no trust.

This is why honesty is probably one of the most sought after quality in leaders.

Question 17 – Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?

From a personal point of view Social Networking has had a huge impact for me, and I do see this an major change and important topic for Leaders.

Social Networking allows us to connect so much more with our teams, it really does break down communication barriers, and closes the leadership gap somewhat which I think is really important – although not all Leaders agree with that.

Because of this closing of the gap, I get so much more feedback about what people like about my leadership, and also any areas of opportunity, and I think this feedback is invaluable as we strive to improve ourselves.

Also, it provide an informal communication channel which allows people to approach me, without having to go through an assistant, or arranging a meeting, or trying to find time in a busy schedule, and I have certainly benefited from things brought to my attention which I probably otherwise might not have found out about, which allowed me to deal with them earlier and successfully before they became bigger issues.

This communication channel is also excellent for global teams, I certainly have a lot of informal conversations with the colleagues out in Asia and the US, who are outside my time zones, and this really helps to bring us closer together.

I actually think that we are much more advanced on this in private life, than in professional life, although there is more and more overlap, and I think that the next generation of leaders will really leverage Social Networking to significantly improve their leadership and take it to the next level.

Question 18 – What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Rather than just limit my answer to just a few resources, I will tell you the approach that I take, and then tell you some of the resources that I would recommend.

My approach to my leadership:

  • I read extensively on Leadership, not just the well known authors but also some of the other lesser known ones, there are great ideas on leadership to be found everywhere, and not just from business leaders but also other areas such as politics, sports, military history etc.
  • I take a lot of on line assessments to better understand my own my own strengths, weaknesses, preferences, etc. We need to know and understand ourselves before we can understand others. Try this http://www.123test.com/disc-personality-test/
  • I try to understand different the leadership styles, which works best in which situation, and I try to understand what my style of leadership is.
  • Watch Leadership Videos on Youtube, there are plenty of them.

If I could only choose 3 authors, then the ones I like best are:

Ken Blanchard: Gung Ho, Raging Fans, One Minute Manager, etc

Jim Colling: Good to Great, Built to Last

Stephen Covey: 7 Habits of highly effective people, 8th Habit, etc.

I would finish by saying that Leadership is a journey, not a destination, we never stop learning.

Question 19 – What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

These are the thing I would recommend a first time leader to consider:

  • Be yourself, don’t try and be someone else. People respect and appreciate authenticity.
  • Set the example for what you want to see from your team.
  • Respect your team, just because you’re the boss it doesn’t make you better than them, and they will respect you  for it in return.
  • Be polite. Ask people to do things, don’t tell them. They know you’re the boss, they don’t need you to remind them.
  • Listen.  My grandma use to tell me, you have 2 ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that ratio. So listen more than you speak
  •  Create a positive ‘can do’ atmosphere.
  • Be clear and consistent in your communication.
  • Admit it when you make mistakes
  • Create some quick wins, get people used to be successful under your leadership
  • Provide positive feedback, even for the little things, get people used feeling good about what they do for you.
  • Be bold, set ambitious goals, not impossible goals, but goals that you will feel proud about, once you have achieved them.

I could add more, but I think this is a lot of tips to start with.

Ideally, I would hope that people aspiring to be leaders, had already developed some of the informal authority leadership skills prior to having the formal position.

We shouldn’t be looking to lead for the first time when we are offered a leadership position.

As Mark McGregor says, “Leadership is a choice, not a formal position”

Question 20 – What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Leadership is journey not a destination, so I am continuously learning. I read a lot of books on leadership, watch videos, anything where I can get a new perspective.

I have started writing, this really helps me understand my views on leadership, get feedback on them and see how I can adapt them to improve them.

I try to get a better understanding of my leadership style, it’s impact, and how I can tailor it for different situations.

I look to get feedback from my teams, to see what people feel is working, and what isn’t.

Finally, I look to get leadership coaching, get an outside view of what I am doing.

The more we learn, the better we understand, the better we understand, the better we can be!

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