Leadership Barometer 55 Get Off Your Butt

June 18, 2020

My favorite saying is “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.” That is why my company is called “Leadergrow.”

Observation: There are too few outstanding leaders in this world because of the lack of great mentors to bring them along.

Top level leaders are so consumed with trying to optimize performance in a frantic and messy world, that often they do not take the time out to nurture the next generation of leaders. I believe that is a huge mistake.

Three examples of leaders who understand the value of teaching leadership while performing leadership tasks are:

Jack Welch (when he was at GE),

Warren Bennis (known as the Father of Leadership), and

Ed Betof, author of “Leaders as Teachers.”

These leaders are individuals who model the concept of having the senior leadership not just talk about developing people but actually spend their time in the classroom doing the teaching.

If more leaders understood the incredible payoff of this concept, we could multiply the number of excellent leaders in this world by a factor of 10 in a single generation.

Granted, not all CEOs have the skills required to perform well in the classroom, so this philosophy is not intended for 100% of leaders.

I maintain that a higher level of personal involvement by most leaders in teaching rather than just modeling or advocating good leadership would be a significant step forward.

The people in your organization who are the best teachers of leadership are not the development staff or the outside consultants. While there is a vital role for trainers and consultants, I believe it is the leaders themselves who are in the best position to train the next generation of leaders.

Too often they sit in musty budget meetings or downsizing briefings all day and never get the chance to actually pick up a marker and share their passion for leadership with their employees.

What a tragedy! I believe they are abdicating their responsibility, not only to their organization, but to the broader society as well.

There are many exceptions to this observation, and these leaders should be honored for their giving spirit and their foresight.

They have understood the opportunity and gotten off their butt to get out and teach rather than just perform the leadership function all day, every day, as if playing a Whack-a-mole game.

I will mention just three notable exceptions here for brevity, but there ought to be hundreds of thousands of exceptions like this, because the simple logic is so compelling.

Jack Welch got the idea a couple decades ago and built his Leadership University at Croton on Hudson.

Jack was known to say that the times he felt best about his job were when he was actually in the classroom (called The Pit) teaching the next generation of GE executives how to lead.

He devoted much time and energy to this effort, and it paid off huge rewards not only for the corporation but also for a whole generation of outstanding leaders who were fortunate enough to participate at GE during Jack’s tenure.

Ed Betof has written a book titled “Leaders as Teachers,” in which he describes the journey to this model of excellence in the Becton Dickinson Company, a manufacturer of medical supplies and syringes.

Ed was the CLO of BD working under the direction of CEO Ed Ludwig, who understood the value of having the top brass actually doing the instruction instead of relying exclusively on training professionals.

For a great video describing their program you can navigate to http://www.corpu.com/leadersasteachers/

Probably the most famous and long term practitioner of the notion of having executives roll up their sleeves was Warren Bennis, who taught leadership for over 60 years.

As a leader himself for much of that span, Warren spent a good chunk of his time actually facilitating classes on leadership. Warren died in 2014, and the world lost a great example of how to teach leadership.

He noted: “The single most important thing I’ve done at USC over the past 15 years is to co-create and co-teach a course on leadership with Steve Sample (the President of USC until 2010).”

So, if you are a highly paid executive working crazy hours doing the business of business, I humbly suggest you get off your butt and walk down the hall to where they are conducting the leadership classes for your upcoming generations of executives.

Roll up your sleeves, and start sharing your philosophy of leadership. The first thing that will happen is that you will shock the suspenders off everyone in the room.

Second, you will begin to realize this is a key part of your function as a leader.

Third, you will come to really enjoy this activity as the high point in your day or week. You will see the immense benefits and willingly carve out time on your calendar in the future.

Finally, after doing this for a while, not only will the profitability of your organization be substantially improved, but the morale of your executives will be greatly enhanced.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Leadership Barometer 29 Admitting Mistakes

December 16, 2019

One of the most powerful opportunities for any leader to build trust is to publicly admit mistakes.

The source of that power is that it is so rare for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say something like this:

“I called you here today to admit that I made a serious blunder yesterday. It was not intentional, as I will explain. Nevertheless, I failed to do the best thing for our group. I sincerely apologize for this and call on all of us to help mend the damage quickly. Without being defensive, let me just explain what happened…”

If you were in the audience listening to this leader, how would you react? Chances are your trust for the leader would be enhanced, simply by the straightforward approach and honesty of the statements.

Of course, it does depend on the nature of the mistake. Here are a few situations where an admission of a mistake would not produce higher trust:

• If the blunder was out of sheer stupidity.
• If this was the third time the leader had done essentially the same thing.
• If the leader is prone to making mistakes due to shooting before aiming.
• If the leader simply failed to get information that he should have had.
• If the leader was appeasing higher-ups inappropriately.

Assuming none of the above conditions is present and the mistake is an honest one, admitting it publicly is often the best strategy. There is an interesting twist to this approach that has often baffled me.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered 100 leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “If you had made a mistake, which of the following two actions would have the greater chance of increasing the level of respect people have for you?

(A) You call people together, admit your mistake, apologize, and ask people to help you correct the problem.

(B) You try to avoid the issue, blame the problem on someone else, downplay the significance, pretend it did not happen, or otherwise attempt to weasel out of responsibility.

Given those two choices, I am confident that at least 99 out of the 100 leaders would say action (A) has a much greater probability of increasing respect.

The reason I am confident is that I have run that experiment dozens of times when working with leaders in groups. The irony is that when an error is subsequently made, roughly 80% of the same leaders choose action more consistent with choice (B).

The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time and ask him why he chose (B) over (A), he would most likely say, “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that, in the classroom, all leaders know how to improve respect and trust, but many of them tend to forget that knowledge when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go.

I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake, but when you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence.

Early in my career, I made a mistake on a trip to Japan and left some confidential information where it might have been viewed by those who could have used it against my company. Upon returning home, I went immediately to my boss and said, “I have to share that I did a dumb thing while I was in Japan last week.” He said, “What did you do”?

I told him the story of what happened and that my lapse could have caused some jeopardy for us. His response was, “Well you know, you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did.” He said, “The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that point on, I knew that he trusted me completely over the next 25 years. It was because I blew myself in when I didn’t have to. He would never have known what happened if I did not tell him.

Intellectually, many leaders know the best route to improve trust is to admit a mistake, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk.

When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.