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Getting Your People on Board is Job #2 for a Leader

Insights From Kevin | April 4, 2018 

Most leaders got into the position they’re in by being competent managers, making things happen, solving problems, and getting the trains to run on time. However, simply managing the present is insufficient when one is a leader because a leader’s job really is to focus on the future and create a vision for the future that inspires their people to make it happen. Job #1 of a leader is to have a vision that is compelling, inspiring and achievable. Job #2 is to share that vision with their constituents in such a way that their people see that that future has their name on it, and that they not only want to be a part of it, but will also own it in such a way that it comes to fruition. People want to make a difference. They want to have their lives matter; quoting George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Creating the vision to engage others is tricky, because the vision needs to be articulated in such a way that people can hear it, identify with it, and want to participate in it. There are many examples of such leaders in the last decade ~ for example Steve Jobs at Apple declared there would be “an Apple on every desk”, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, whose originating mantra was “Get Big Fast”, and Elon Musk at Tesla is known for his vision of “Anywhere on earth in under one hour.”

Each of them has demonstrated the importance of this vital aspect of leadership by stepping way out into the future, creating a vision for their company for what’s possible, and then going after it with gangbusters. Part of this brilliance has to do with the way they are able to presence this vision for their employees such that it’s almost tangible and certainly doable. By doing this a leader is ensured that people in their company become a part of implementing the vision. Most people know that 70% of strategic initiatives fail in corporations. Getting your people to buy into the vision gives you a huge advantage for success.   

How do they do this?

They do it by walking people through the vision ~ what it will take, how it will unfold, and underlining the benefits and rewards. At Leadera Consulting we have a 9-point, step-by-step formula for this skill set in which we train leaders how to deliver a powerful leadership message focusing on the future. When leaders design a message using these 9 points (in order) they find that their people are able to connect with the vision, have it become tangible and want to participate in delivering it. 

The 9 points are:

  1. Background connection
  2. The vision
  3. Strategy
  4. Implications
  5. Actions needed
  6. Sense of urgency
  7. Benefits and rewards
  8. Hardball issues
  9. Appreciation and acknowledgement

It is important that the message be designed and delivered in this order. We have found that this particular order is consistent with the way people think. For more details on this step-by-step process please follow this link to our website ~ https://leaderacg.com/2018/03/28/the-power-of-your-leadership-message/

The bottom line is that successful leaders love to inspire their people. Getting your people to “buy in” to your message is what allows for the message to be fulfilled. When done well, inspiration leads others into action. But keep in mind that message and that inspiration has no shelf life on its own. A successful leader will build regular and consistent reminders into the workplace that reinforce the message. Inspiration must be shored up with actions. Consider designing how to get your people “on board” and how to keep them there.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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The Art of Story Telling ~ Access to Inspiring Others

Insights From Kevin | April 5, 2019  

Part of a leader’s job is to reach people with a powerful connection and ability to inspire them. Most leaders know the importance of this, but the really great ones know how to do it effectively and they make it their business to do so consistently. Emailing, texting, memos, and missives do not reach and inspire people. Those methods of communication simply transfer data and information, give orders and instructions, or make requests. They don’t reach into a person’s heart and soul and they don’t move people to action. Any good leader will tell you that one of the things that is essential in leading others successfully is to be able to use language in such a way that it touches and inspires people. That happens in speaking, in a conversation, and virtually every time it’s done well, it’s done in person ~ in face-to-face dialogue. Good story telling is an important skillset for any leader to have.

A few years back I worked with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He shared with me that the most significant thing he learned about the public’s perception of his company was that it depended on his ability to tell a good story. During the quarterly review calls with the analysts he needed to be able to tell a story that they would believe in. He said that the results and circumstances in the background, coupled with a good story that he believed in, would get people to view the future favorably and invest. He said the trick is to get them to buy the story because when they do, the perceived value will go up and so will the stock price. Executives and leaders need to develop this ability if they intend to engage and inspire their audience. It is a skill, an art, and it can be developed.

Unfortunately, most of us know that story telling is a dying art and skill set ~ mainly due to technology. It’s no secret that people have stopped having conversations and have begun to direct their attention to a little screen that they hold in their hands and seem to be captured by. Years ago, I was on a vacation in Ireland and visited the Aran Islands off the west coast. I took a quick jaunt on an ass-cart ride and learned about the old and treasured art of story-telling. The ass-cart is a small cart or carriage pulled by donkeys. The salty, local man driving the cart told about the story-telling that used to be such a strong part of that culture. If you went into anyone’s home, you’d hear amazing stories of leprechauns, fairies, and the lore of life from the past. People would tell stories, passing down the history of the families and the local culture. Life was handed down from the past. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore. When TV came into people’s homes, people stopped talking to each other. Story-telling is becoming a lost art form, slowly disappearing in our culture and society with the influx of technology, the internet, TV, and broadcast media. People no longer need dialogue to entertain. Stories are disappearing. The art of telling stories is almost gone.

How do you develop good story-telling? There are essentially 5 elements of a story.

1. Have a Central Theme

Have a central theme that runs throughout the entire story ~ what is the point you want to make? Have that theme grow as the story is told and weave it throughout the conversation.

2. Draw on Your Own Experience

Share real life experiences that make the point. People don’t want to know how great you are ~ they want to see how great, or human, they are. They want to know how this applies to them, or in other words, they want to see how great they are.

3. Paint a Picture

Give them details that allow them to call up a picture in their own mind. Show, don’t tell. You want the audience to see themselves in your story. Embellishing the story with your experiences makes the story more vivid and real for people.

4. Evoke Wonder

Engage people in the telling of the story. You want them wondering, “where is this going? How is it going to turn out?” Your audience will feel they have learned it for themselves. It becomes a personalized conversation.

5. Keep It Simple

The story should demonstrate one conflict, one lesson ~ it is one story.

Story telling is an invaluable tool for any leader, and while some have a natural ability, it is a skill that can be developed with a little bit of focus and work. It’s our experience that any good leader must find a way to inspire and move others through story telling.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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Five Reasons Why Most Strategic Initiatives Fail

Insights From Kevin | July 11, 2017 

Here’s the harsh reality: 70% of strategic initiatives fail in implementation. These are the large, “critically important” programs that leaders champion. They launch such campaigns to great fanfare, but most die a silent death, fading away with barely a mention (or sometimes crash).

According to Ram Charan, author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, “70% of strategic failures are due to poor execution… it’s rarely for lack of smarts or visions.” 

But five fundamental actions can turn this situation around. In our experience, 70-80% of such initiatives succeed when a company follows these principles:

1. Explain your vision until employees actually understand it

Most programs fail for the simple reason that employees don’t understand what their leaders are trying to do. Stating your vision is not the same as making sure employees understand and absorb it.

People need to fully comprehend the vision. You need to give others a picture, both literally and figuratively. Show them: this is where we are going, and this is how we are going to get there (many leaders skip the second part). For example, you might explain that “we are going to invest in our sales force, put in a much more robust CRM, and increase our marketing.”

Finally, explain why you are doing this and why there is a sense of urgency. Show all what you are asking them to do.

2. Get people aligned

Posters, speeches, and company-wide email blasts are not nearly enough. Connect with your people, face-to-face. Get them to see that this is possible, that together you can actually achieve or surpass your goals.

Together, address questions such as:

  • What would it look like if we were successful in this initiative? 
  • How would people act differently?  
  • What would each of us change?

For example, what does it look like when you raise the level of customer satisfaction? It looks like National car rental, where every employee asks, “How was your car? How was the service?” when you return it… and they actually listen to your answer. 

3. Explain their role in delivering the vision

Every person and department should understand the roles and responsibilities that they own. They also need to understand the plan through which they will deliver the promised results.

In the absence of clarity, people tend to make stuff up. When this happens, chaos and inconsistency seeps into your business. Your description needs to be specific and vivid.

The more general the explanation, the greater the odds that things will go south. Companies like to skip training and explanations, but this is where you can cut chaos and confusion off at the pass.

4. Have a scorecard

Walk into a well-run paper mill and you’ll see a sign that shows how many safe workdays that plant has operated in a row. It should also have daily and weekly production results on a whiteboard.

Well-run businesses are filled with employees who know how they are doing, both collectively as well as individually. 

For example, the old Continental Airlines once set out to improve customer satisfaction. They decided that achieving more on-time departures was the single best way to impact customer satisfaction. One way they did this was by installing countdown clocks at each airport gate to track how much time remained before the plane needed to pull away from the gate on time, and the clocks publicly documented how the gate crew was doing.

5. Hold people accountable

When things don’t happen as planned, you need to have a culture that figures out what happened and holds people accountable for the results, or lack thereof. This doesn’t mean being overly harsh; it simply means recognizing that a problem exists and fixing it.

In failed projects, accountability often slowly fades away. People just stop trying, until eventually everyone does.

Summary

When you apply these five principles, you will start making solid progress. But it’s not magic. It’s a product of taking effective and consistent effort. If you go to the gym every day and follow what the trainer tells you, in not much time you will gain muscle mass and lose weight. 

None of the above principles are a secret, but collectively they represent a healthy discipline.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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What I Learned on My Way to See Gorillas

Insights From Kevin | November 30, 2018 

From a very early age I was curious about the world and its places. Without a question my favorite subjects in school were history and geography because they revealed stories and mysteries about humanity and what had taken place from the very beginning of time. I recall reading about the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, which they referred to as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and about the Pharaohs. These stories left me in wonder. I dreamed of one day visiting these magical places, so it was bound to happen eventually. Recently I fulfilled this dream by traveling on an exciting adventure to Africa. On this trip I visited South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Egypt. If you’ve never been to Africa, I highly recommend it. It will change your life. As you can imagine, while in Tanzania we visited the Serengeti Plains and got to see all the animals you would imagine in their natural habitat. There are no words to describe how amazing this is to experience in person.

Next on the itinerary was the country of Rwanda, where I discovered something both profound and simple at the same time. As most people know, a horrible genocide took place there in 1994. Over two million people were murdered in the span of about three months basically over tribal categories assigned by the government. What happened there is chronicled in the award winning movie “Hotel Rwanda” ~ here’s the trailer to the film where you’ll learn what happened in 1994: 

https://youtu.be/akmfsOa_Ukc.

I was visiting Rwanda so that I could trek into the mountains to see the mountain gorillas. It was in these mountains that Dian Fossey did her famous research on behalf of these precious mountain gorillas. A film, “Gorillas in the Mist”, (https://youtu.be/-PPSIwe7sb8) depicts her journey and her commitment that ultimately cost her life. At the time she started her work in 1960, those gorillas were in grave danger of becoming extinct because of poaching. The population of these mountain gorillas had diminished to about 200. There are over 1000 gorillas today and poaching has been eliminated. 

Despite the tragedies in the 90’s Rwanda today is a thriving, building, and inspiring country. The President of that country, Paul Kagame, took over the country after the genocide and began to aggressively set the country back on the right track. He was able to eliminate corruption, and under his leadership he has inspired the citizens of Rwanda to rebuild and grow in a unique and extraordinary way. Kegame was able to institute some remarkable things. One of his commitments was to begin a practice of cleaning up the country and keeping it clean. He urged the citizens to take on being proud of their country and having their country be totally free of litter, garbage and waste. The citizens took this on and they instituted a practice. On every last Saturday of the month, the entire country spends the morning from 8 AM to Noon in an activity called “Cleaning Day” in which every citizen spends those 4 hours cleaning up the cities, streets, fields, and the forests. Everyone is required to do this, including the President. And if for some reason you are not participating on any given Saturday morning and are seen driving down the street, you would get pulled over and handed a shovel or a broom, along with a small fine for violating the sacred pact they have as citizens. 

When I arrived in Rwanda in the capital city of Kigali we had a three and half hour drive up to the staging hotel where we would stay before we went up to the mountain gorillas. After hearing about this cleanliness practice, I found it hard to believe so I made it my mission to find trash on the ground as we drove through the countryside. We traveled several hundred miles through the mountainous paths and brush. Now I really want you to imagine this ~ in three and a half hours over several hundred miles I could not find one piece of trash in that country. Not one piece. This was so unbelievable to me that I began wondering aloud what would happen if I did a little experiment and put a piece of trash on the road. Our driver and guide on the journey, Afrika, assured me that within 30 minutes whatever I put down would be cleaned up. He laughed at me ~ “You’d be wasting your time.” I wondered, “How do you know?” to which he replied, “Because I would pick it up!” “That’s just the way it is in our country.”

On the other hand, I would challenge anyone in the USA to conduct a similar experiment here. I think we can agree it wouldn’t go too far (we are not structured as a society or infrastructure to even seriously consider such a project. But I digress). It probably seems like a small thing, but I assure you that way of being has infiltrated the culture in many extraordinary ways, but first and foremost what’s apparent is the level of pride the citizens have. They take it very seriously. If you ever have a chance to visit the country, you will feel it immediately when you arrive. So what I learned on my way to see the gorillas is that real transformation is, indeed, possible in any circumstance or environment if you have a leader who takes a stand for the future, and provides the leadership required to bring that stand and vision to fruition.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com