Succeeding at CEO Succession

Should she stay or should she go? Transitioning from one CEO to another is a task few companies do well and yet it is a decision for which the stakes could not be higher.

Chief Executive Officer is one of the few jobs that can make or break a company. Recent examples at Netflix, Hewlett Packard, and Apple illustrate the challenges and the consequences of good and bad transitions at the top. Should the Netflix board have replaced Reed Hastings when his pricing change blunders caused the stock to drop 75%? How could the HP board have made a better choice when replacing Carly Fiorina (or Mark Hurd for that matter)? Will Apple’s careful planning for the replacement of Steve Jobs pay off? Continue reading


Filed under Governance

Employee Feedback is Like Air: Leaders Can’t Do Without It

At varying points in time, all leaders are required to inspire, motivate, and challenge employees, colleagues, customers and stakeholders. At other times, leaders need to monitor performance, hold people accountable for results, and negotiate areas of conflict.

In all of these situations, leaders rely on feedback from other people to gauge their effectiveness. In particular, leaders need employee feedback. Without it they have little hope of inspiring or motivating.

Imagine, for example, you are speaking to a room of 200 people on a topic they should all be highly engaged in. Continue reading


Filed under Thoughts on Leadership

Power Cannot Be Taken. It Must Be Given.

It’s fascinating how many assumptions there are about leadership.

Even more fascinating is how many of them are flat-out wrong.Silhouette

Consider the image of the leader as dictatorial hero—the executive, general, or visionary who grabs the wheel and saves the day. The central assumption in this narrative is that a strong leader takes over a group and willfully exerts power over its members.

That idea of leadership is pure fiction. The only way for a leader to hold power over group members is for those members to give her power.

Sure, you can point to dictators who rocket to power and terrorize a citizenry into toeing the party line. But without exception, there comes a point when enough people are fed up and they change the power dynamic and choose a new leader. Continue reading

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Fixing What Isn’t Broken: How Effective Leaders Respond to Employee Feedback

Several weeks ago I observed something fascinating while meeting with an executive team to discuss their employee survey results. Over the course of two days, I presented the employee engagement results for the entire organization. Then I met individually with each executive to discuss their subgroup and help them plan a process improvement dialogue with their employees.

I was intrigued that the leaders who had the most positive survey results in their group were also the most motivated to use the data to improve. It would have been easy for those with the most positive survey results to simply pat themselves on the back and go focus on something else. Instead, when the leaders who had the most engaged employees looked at their survey results, they were laser-focused on the handful of items where even a small number of employees were not happy.  Even when it was something over which they had little control (like compensation), these top-performing leaders still wanted to find a way to talk with employees and see what could be done to improve their work life.

On the flip side, leaders whose results provided what the military refers to as a “target-rich environment” for improvement spent considerable time explaining away survey results. Continue reading

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Sometimes Just Showing Up is Enough

Ten years ago today I woke up at 6:15 a.m. and did something I never do in the morning.  For some unknown reason, I turned on the television.  Needless to say, what I saw was far more horrible than a typical morning of T.V. news.  Like most folks, I spent the next hour or so watching our world change forever in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.  After the planes seemed to stop crashing into buildings, I called a few clients to remind them that they needed to be at work to support their people.  And they needed to come to work the next day, and the next.  Continue reading


Filed under Thoughts on Leadership

My Boss is Crazy/My Employees are Lazy … mis-attributions are killing us!

“My boss is crazy.” “My employees are lazy!” We’ve all found ourselves expressing some form of those sentiments at one time or another. It’s funny: these conclusions can be reached, quite legitimately, about the same exact event, at the same exact time. It all depends on which chair you occupy.

Take this example: A leader knows that to be on time with a critical software patch, her team will have to work through the weekend. From her perspective, this isn’t optional if the team is going to get the job done for the release Monday morning. When her programmers moan about having to sacrifice their weekend, the leader says, “This isn’t how I want to spend my weekend either, but we have to get this done and whining about it won’t help.” The seemingly obvious conclusion she has reached in response to their complaints is, “My employees are lazy.”

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Strengths are overrated

The Tour de France has just finished, and bicycle enthusiasts all across the US are pumped up.  Since the race started on July 2nd we have been doing early morning rides everyday with visions of the yellow jersey motivating us up hills (the Tour coverage starts at 5am PDT most days).

For the uninitiated, bicycle races are structured around three specialist skills:  climbing, sprinting, and overall speed.  Each category has a winner based on who climbs over the most number of peaks first (climbing specialty), who crosses the finish line first the most (sprinters) and who has the lowest overall time after three weeks of hell on two wheels (overall).  The structure of the race means that each rider focuses on one strength to the exclusion of the others (a single rider almost can’t win more than one of the competitions).  So, for bicyclists it is essential to know what your strength is:  can you climb faster than most, sprint faster, or are you just able to endure more pain than anyone else? For a bicyclist, knowing your strengths is essential to winning.

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Filed under Thoughts on Leadership