Why Is It So Hard For Leaders To Be Humble?

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I want to avoid adding to the fire of all that is being written this about the failure of responsible action on the part of leaders and the tragedy that has struck so many leaders at Penn State University. Instead I prefer to write about a key leadership skill that I think is the downfall of more leaders than not doing the right thing, which was at the heart of so many leaders failure at Penn State. I like to believe that not doing the right thing as a leader is a much smaller problem than not being humble as a leader. I recently consulted with a bright young leader who has a great team, a great business and tons of opportunity but I am truly concerned that his lack of humility may prevent him from realizing his personal or business objectives. We are working hard to overcome this issue and some of the discussions have created strong thoughts that I wanted to share in this blog.

First, I truly believe that humility enables an individual to be able to look objectively at yourself in terms of your strengths and weaknesses. For those of you who have read my book, Transformational Leadership-A Blueprint for Real Organizational Change, you will know that there was a period of time where I was not as humble a leader as I needed to be. I was running a manufacturing business in Mexico and I made a ton of leadership mistakes because my lack of humility caused me not to draw on the expertise around me and understand that I could not be a expert in everything. In other words, I was simply not admitting what “I did not know”(recall that blog subject a couple of weeks ago) and calling on the support and expertise of others to help me. In the book, you can find additional details about these failings and how it almost ruined my career early on in GE. The good news here is that I did learn from these failures in Mexico and was fortunate to turn it around and realize successes from the experience. As a current humble leader, I will remind you again that that I never learned nearly as much from my successful activities than from my failures. I believe that is what makes my book such valuable reading!

As you have probably realized at this point, I believe humility and failures are the grounds for real learning and success. I believe that to be true for three distinct reasons when it comes to humility. First, as I stated above you simply can not be an expert in everything. Some leaders are strong financially, others are great communicators and there are those who are excellent strategically. As a leader, decide what you are best at and be humble enough to hire great people and give them real authority to act in their areas of expertise. Second, humility draws out the help, opinions and acts to persuade others with whom you have chosen to lead. Always believing that you have all the answers and know what is good for all with soliciting their thoughts is the quickest way to build an empire of “yes” folks who will do little to correct the course of the business even if they know it is wrong. Last, it simply enables the leader to grow because as I said before what you don’t know as a leader always far exceeds what you do know!

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The One Thing That Maxmizes Organizational Results……Is Collaboration!

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When my son was in high school and playing on the baseball team, I volunteered to take on a significant leadership role in the Athletic Association for the entire high school. At the time, I was working for GE and had moved into a much bigger leadership role as well. In GE where I had hundreds of people reporting into my organization, it was easy to make things happen, because even if your hard work as influencing leader did not always work, you did still had the authority to drive consensus and get things done. However, in this athletic association there were hundreds of parents who all had good ideas and their own agendas depending upon the needs of the sport in which their child participated. So, not only was consensus impossible to drive because of lack of authority, it was also very difficult to drive because of so many conflicting opinions about the priorities for the funds raised by the association. The only real way to ever get anything done over the course of that year in that leadership role was by finding ways to drive collaboration among so many different people with so many different needs.

So, what is collaboration? Collaboration is the process of people thinking and working together to discover ways to solve problems and address complex issues/needs via the exploration of multiple options from various perspectives. Most of the obstacles to effective collaboration in business, public service or private functions are within the collaborators themselves. One of the most common issues is a negative or it can not be done attitude. I believe the second most common issue is the self-serving attitude found in various collllaborators. When we discussed fundraising in the association and pushed to think big, it was amazing how the same folks always were convinced that it could not be done long before we even started to achieve the goals. When we discussed the budgets for the association there was little regard from some folks as to what sports provided the most revenue to the budget. They wanted more than their fair share of the budget just because their child and their particular sport was more deserving in their opinion. These same attitudes exist in the business setting and sometimes even more pervasively. It is a much more effective way to impact the thinking of these few through the power of many positive people collarorating than just taking them on yourself as the leader of whatever organization you are driving forward

Collaboration is a way to energize people to work and think together and to have them see the value of broad engagement and experiences on various issues. Complex business issues that seem almost impossible to resolve in several businesses that I have lead were moved to a real breakthrough status by driving collaboration of a mix of business capabilities and divergent viewpoints on these major business issues. It is clear to me that finding solutions and a better way in today’s world of challenges is almost always much more than what one leader’s mind or a select group of leaders can handle. By pulling many in to the day to day process of collaboration as a business team, I think it drives better business speed, output, quality and ultimately profitability. My old adage has been to have the best business possible all your associates “must bring their brain to work and they must be allowed/encouraged to use it!”

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Preparing To Make Decisions Is Driven By A Couple Of Key Actions

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In my last blog, I wrote about the power of acting or making decisions in the day to day life of a business and I stated that I thought this was the most critical aspect of real leadership to force action versus ongoing debate on issues/opportunities. Then this past week I was participating in a meeting where I was not the one who had the authority to make the decision and another important attribute that drives this decision making process became so clear to me as I observed the leader in charge of this session. I truly felt bad for this leader because he was listening to some emotional input from a meeting participant that was real rubbish! Then it dawned on me that a leader has to ask TOUGH QUESTIONS to expose the facts versus weak opinions.

I believe the tougher the questions the more it will not only expose the real critical facts for decision making but it will motivate those attending a meeting or discussion on issues to come prepared with facts not just opinions. As I discussed last week, ongoing discussions and meetings without timely decisions can really hurt business performance, caused missed market opportunities and demoralize a team. However, a poor decision by a leader because they listened to someones opinion who dominated the conversation/meeting without asking tough questions to validate the inputs can cause an equal amount of damage if not more.

In every organization, the really strong people want to participate in the decision making process and they are willing to work hard to help that process. They want the leader to make a decision that is not only timely but that is responsible with clear direction and action on the issue/opportunity. As a leader you can not make that kind of decision and really utilize the best people if you fail to ask tough questions to drive preparation, separate opinions from real facts and separate the people who are focused on helping from those who just want to drive their own agenda.

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Significant Change Takes Lots Of Communication and Time

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I spent the majority of my day with the CEO and COO of a privately held business that has grown to well over $100 million in revenue with a market that could afford them tremendous growth beyond that point. The business has a very successful past but as is the case with many fast growing businesses, they sometimes get there in spite of themselves. In fact, these two leaders have been placed in the business within the past year because many of the weaknesses that did not surface in an easier growth period are now becoming much too visible. It is a story that is much too familiar to me given my own business assignments. The multitude of challenges that face them include better strategic planning, stronger customer service focus, additional technology and most importantly significant leadership changes in the two levels below them. We talked at length about the various personnel issues, the structure (too many layers) in the organization and their market needs. What I want to share with all of you is the most important aspect of how to get started with all this change and have it succeed.

As I know you have figured out from the tittle of this blog, I spent most of my time talking about the need to SELL the changes that they knew needed to happen. It was clear that they have some really good people and some people who simply do not belong in leadership roles in the future of the business. With that said, it is also very clear that because of lack of progressive leadership they also have an organization that has little communication from the top to the bottom. So, while I suspect many in the organization want change, change is still hard when you are changing things dramatically. Therefore, we talked about the need to drive strong communication that is frequent, transparent and structured such that the organization not only senses that things are going to be different but is being sold on how different it will be from the top and through all layers of the business.

You see like it or not, change takes time to successfully implement and communication to create buy-in versus fear for the road ahead. I agree and have always acted quickly to change the leadership that had to be changed to facilitate the new future. However, I also spent more time on communication prior to the changes and continued with significant ongoing communication post changes to drive longer term buy-in and success. The stronger the constant focus on communication the stronger the odds of success with major change!

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How Do You Get The Right People On Board Throughout The Organization?

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I recently blogged about the value of strategic planning but I also shared with all of you that the strategic plan is only as good as the great human resources that you have in place to execute
the plan. I had the opportunity to talk about that in even greater detail this week as I opened a question and answer session following a speech that I made to a local business forum and a
number of bright entrepreneurial business leaders earlier this week. The group was very attentive to the thought process that is a basic roadmap for any business which as I have stated is
defining business success factors (price, market share, asset leverage, etc), a strategy to get there and then the right people and processes to support/execute the strategy to close the gap
between the success factors and the strategy. As I closed the presentation and opened up the meeting to questions, one of the best questions was, “How long does it take to get the human
resources committed to your vision/plan and how do you get that to happen throughout the entire organization?”

What an insightful question that was! I addressed the first part of that question very openly and stated that through my experiences it takes an ongoing commitment to communications to both
get and maintain the organization’s commitment to the vision/plan. Of course, the effort required in the first 100 days as the new leader is very different than the effort required in year two or three. The
point is that you clearly have to do a lot in the first 90 days and first six months to move the organization’s beliefs and views as well as to get buy-in to where you are taking them. However, once you
get the organization going in the direction of the new vision/plan it must be maintained through a robust and continual communication plan to continue to feed, reward and drive the change
necessary to long term strategic success.

The second part of that question is even more interesting and I shared with the audience that you can not effect change without the entire organization buying in. This buy-in starts at the senior
team level so as CEO I had to get the right players reporting to me first then I had to get to know very well the next two levels of leaders in order to know they were on my side or not and to know
they too would drive the type of change that I was promising the organization. You get to know these next two levels of leaders by scheduling time with them in their organizations, by holding
skip level sessions with their employees, by conducting operating reviews with multiple levels of the organization involved, via ongoing Town Halls, by formal talent planning sessions and the list
goes on! In other words, if you want an organization that buys-in, supports and drives the business success, you MUST spend lots of time on this. I suggest 30 to 40% of your working time as a
business leader–no small task!

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Strategy is Critical, Not Casual, for Real Business Success!

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I was very fortunate to have lunch earlier this week with a bright and articulate Investment banker this week. As we talked about business development and the rebounding market, I was quite impressed by a couple of his thoughts and they rang so true to my beliefs that it made for a wonderful leadership dialogue with a guy that is much more than an investment banker. He shared with me that he has many existing clients and as of late even more potential new clients who come to him and his organization looking to add to their businesses via acquisitions, raise capital to expand their businesses and/or potentially market their businesses to sell. His statement to me was that many of these clients or potential clients were not positioned to execute on any of these fronts because their businesses had be much too “casual” in their approach to their go forward business strategy. This approach had left them with slow growth, poor market position, declining earnings or in some cases all of the above!

As we discussed this situation, we both agreed that strategy is a CRITICAL on going yearly process that must be afforded both time and resource to develop and execute. As I shared in my book, strategic reviews are a cornerstone of the basic General Electric operating process and every business spent considerable time every year, normally in the first half of the year, to understand their market, their competition in the market, a strong SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) relative to this data, a plan for growth built on this data and a plan on how to resource the strategic plans that are developed. I subsequently used this processes in every business I lead outside of GE and it was a real driver of our growth and business development plans with USIS, the private equity portfolio company where I was CEO. My activity on this front that I describe in the book and all the years that I participated in this strategic review process in GE are witness to how critical strategy is to both defining how your business will continually succeed and what needs to be done to close the gap to get there.

In the end, I could not have agreed more with my lunch guest and I was excited to see how much he valued strategic planning and was driving it into the hearts and souls of small to mid-size business owners. For he knows as well as I do that long term business success does not allow for a “causal” approach to day to day operations or a “casual” approach to planning your long term future of your business. Both are critical to sustained business success!

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Are You Born A Leader Or Do You Become A Leader Over Time?

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I had the great privilege to be a guest speaker at two college entrepreneurship classes over the past few weeks. One class was a group of college juniors and one class was a group of college seniors. it was so refreshing to be in the classroom and witness the vigor and enthusiasm that these young folks have for leadership and their future opportunities in the business world! I spoke for about thirty minutes to each group about transformational leadership and what I emphasized was the fundamentals of never quit, proactive communications, continual change and delivering results. The attentiveness of both groups was outstanding and their engagement in the insuing question and answer period was energizing for me. In fact, I took a couple of books and promoted strong questions by offering a free book to the student in each class with the best question.

In one of the classes, I recognized the winning question as the question that is the title of this blog, “Randy, were you born a leader or did you become one over time?” What a great question from an aspiring leader in his twenties and it helped me to address some thoughts to the class that were maybe the best moments in my time with them. My answer, which truly came without much thought, was as follows. I knew very early in my career (within the first year of leaving college) that I had the desire to lead. I do believe that desire has to be one that you are born with, especially if you are to succeed as a leader. Second, I shared with the class that I may have been born with the desire to be a leader but the path to being a leader is via the experiences, failures and learnings from other leaders that you have over time. In fact, no leader, regardless of how much he/she feels they are born with leadership skills, becomes an effective leader with coupling desire with the hard work of learning leadership over time.

I feel it is important to share in closing how impressed I was with these students this week. We hear so much bad about the uture but I am truly encouraged about the future leadership of the business world based on the interface I had with these seventy future leaders.

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In These Days Of Mediocre Service It Is Hard To Be A Committed Customer

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In my book I write about the fact that customers will never be blind to poor service, poor quality and poor relationships. While I think most business owners embrace this as true, I am amazed more every day how haphazardly the associates who work in various capacities so poorly represent any regard for great customer service! I suspect that it is some what related to training and lack of measurement on customer service in various businesses but I also believe there is a lack of real desire to listen to customer needs and discover a way to fill their needs which in turn is driven by organizations where empowerment is just not embraced. So, what you get is customer service similar to my latest two examples.

First, I had been using the same dry cleaners for more than a year since I moved to my new location. On more than one occasion I asked for the amount of starch to be lessened in my shirts. Each time I asked, I was told no problem we can change that. However, after four times requesting this same thing it had not changed. Finally, one day I said this is the last time I intend to ask about the starch and they apologized for the continuing issue and promised a change this time. As you have guessed by now, nothing changed but where I now take my laundry! My new cleaners completes the task as requested but they go the extra mile every time I go there. If a button is missing or a stain will not come out they make sure I know about the problem and do all they can to resolve it before I ever even ask or know about it. I am thrilled to have made the change and I am happy to pay on average 10% more for the same work because the quality and service exceed my expectation!

Second, I recently called my regular pest control service with a rodent problem which I had no idea if it was covered under my contract. I originally solicited there service when I moved to my current location (just like the cleaners) and I have been loyal to their continuing quarterly service. However, when I called with my current issue, I was told not only do we not cover that in your current contract. We do not perform that service. I said fine but can you help me with who I might contact to take care of the issue. They said no they did not have a contact but hoped I could find some resolution by finding that kind of service. They did not offer to help find a service nor did they offer any immediate suggestions to deal with the issue. So, like the cleaners, I intend to have a new pest control service in the near future.

I assume that my dollars of business will not be missed initially in either business but I do wonder how many customers they will lose before they lose their business all for the lack of customer service/attentiveness. It is really hard to be a committed customer these days but where I find committed service attitudes I will have great loyalty even at a premium!

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When Working Hard Is Just Not The Only Answer

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I have always believed that hard work is the key to getting ahead and I believe that the folks that really win do so because they commit themselves to do whatever is required to succeed. With that said, I have learned some hard lessons about believing that all my issues and opportunities could be resolved or realized just because I was willing to do whatever it would take to win. I am writing about this because I had the opportunity to talk to a very hardworking individual his week who is making his business a real success but he is working so hard that he does not have the time to reflect on how the business could be even stronger and more successful.

My friend has an “event based” business which means his revenue stream is dependent upon finding his next customer, closing the transaction, executing the service and collecting the payment. He believes that his hard work and oversight of each transaction is required to assure excellence in customer satisfaction and a referral base for new business. While I greatly respect his work ethic and his focus on customer satisfaction, I worry a lot that my friend will never be able to sustain his business success because he is working hard but not working hard enough to think about how to grow his business based on the success he has already established.

As we discussed his business, I asked him a couple of questions about all the customers he had already established and how much effort he was making to sell follow up services to what I call his “installed base”. In all sincerity, he said I will do whatever I need to do to help an existing customer when they call, but I am much too busy creating new business to do more than respond when an existing customer calls. We continued to talk and I shared a couple of thoughts about how to sell most of his existing customer base some follow up services on a regular every three year basis. In fact, I shared that if he was not comfortable doing this himself, it would be a great business expansion that would allow him to bring in the skills to do this, grow the business and perhaps see that the need to always work so hard could take a turn for the better in the near future.

As you have heard before, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Likewise, it is often hard to see anything but hard work ahead because we don’t stop and think about other solutions beyond hard work.

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Leadership Is Not Easy But It Is Powerful!

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As i shared with you in the last blog, my speaking engagements allow me to get real time feedback and questions about Transformational Leadership and some of the recent conversations have been eye-opening to say the least! It just never ceases to amaze me how many so called “leaders” believe that their associates work hard for their business during the week so they can do what they want to do on the weekend. I am blown away that they just don’t get that associates want a life that has challenge, reward and learning during their working hours. Without that opportunity to be challenged, the associates become bored, unhappy and dissatisfied which leads to poor quality, poor service and many human issues. So, how do we change the leadership environment ?

I assume you already knew that I would say it can only be changed with real leadership and you could not be more correct in your thinking. It may sound very simple but the more we get our associates feeling good about themselves, about the contribution their work makes and about their involvement in resolving issues/needs, the more you drive business success. The old, autocratic ways of a manager are done. The new ways of leading are begging to be utilized and sustained by confident and committed leaders!

This whole thought of leadership with a focus on the future needs of the organization is leadership with a commitment to improve and be better versus just showing up. Transformational Leadership at it’s very simple core is a person or associate centered leadership that once a leader gets started it is like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill in that it grows and can’t be stopped. While this is not necessarily easy to do because it takes focus versus just mindless management techniques, it is much more simple than many believe it is and it is the game changing and powerful way to create success beyond what many believed was achievable in any organization.

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Randy’s Blog

Good Leaders Do Not Manage Change……They Lead Change!

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have had several interesting consulting engagements recently and they have provided me some great experiences to … [Read More...]

Motivational Leadership Speaking Motivational Leadership SpeakingRandy continues to be an exciting motivational leadership speaker, which has been his passion for over 25 years. He honed his skill as a motivational speaker and business coach working at GE under the tutelage of Jack Welch. From line supervisor to President & CEO, Randy has successfully lead individuals through his specific motivational methods that produce tangible results. Randy is personable, authentic, and driven. He has a speaking ability that motivates and energizes individuals to achieve beyond their potential.
Executive Leadership Mentoring Executive Mentoring & Leadership ConsultingRandy Dobbs is a proven CEO with strong operational/execution skills who has demonstrated success in fix-it situations. Randy has been a mentor for over 30 years helping individuals, senior leaders, to CEO’s at GE, Phillips Medical, USIS and wcasportfolio companies. Randy was trained in mentoring while at GE and subsequently pushed to train all the top leaders in Philips and USIS while implementing mentor programs at both organizations.Randy mentors/coaches CEO’s and some of their direct reports today in his current role.
Buy Randy’s book “Transformational Leadership” Transformational Leadership

Sharing personal experience and practical business blueprints, Dobbs takes the reader on a journey through the transformational process. Leaders working in organizations of various sizes--and facing diverse challenges and opportunities--will find Dobbs' ideas transformative, personally as well as professionally. This is a book for persons who want to be change agents within their respective organizations. It is for all who want to make a difference for themselves and their coworkers.