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Leadership Deliverables and How to Cook an Omelet

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Yesterday I gave a webinar organized by Quidam Global in Mexico.

The topic was the correlation between the practice of Direct Leadership™ and Employee Performance. The webinar was my first occasion to speak about how the deliverables defined in my model of day-to-day leadership will directly translate into what we desire to achieve among our employees.

Afterwards I thought about how to best describe the difference between deliverables and the more commonly addressed topics of culture, competencies or personalities.

I believe the answer is to take our eyes away from the infinite variety of competencies, cultural differences, personalities that makes every workplace and every team a unique place. Instead, we need to get up into the helicopter, rise above the trees of the forest and look at the bigger picture.

Only when we do so can we see the deliverables as the manifestation of all those other ingredients.

In a way you could compare it to cooking an omelet.

To make let’s say a mushroom omelet, you need eggs, milk, butter, salt, pepper and mushrooms. However, neither looking at the separate ingredients, nor tasting each of them will give you the same experience as tasting the end result.

Eggs, milk, butter, salt, pepper and mushrooms are comparable to cultures, competencies, and personalities. The finished omelet is the deliverable.

Let me be clear, I do not suggest ignoring culture, competencies and personalities.

However, I do urge you to understand that these are only means to produce the deliverables. Exactly like eggs, milk, butter and mushrooms are essential to produce a mushroom omelet, but not equal to an omelet.

The Direct Leadership™ Model describes and allows you to measure those very deliverables when it comes to day-to-day leadership.


Audio blogpost: Tune in at 2.05 pm this Sunday

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Danish Radio 24/7 brings an interview this Sunday at 2.05 pm, where I respond to the question: what does Direct Leadership have to offer in China.


If you use internet to listen, use this link: http://www.radio24syv.dk/programmer/globus-kina/

As leaders, who do we lead?

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This morning I read an article about leadership. In this case one about the challenges of western leaders working in China, but it had a characteristic in common with almost any article or book on the topic of leadership.

While professing to debate leadership in a generic sense, every example and every quote still referred only to situations relating to CEO’s and their interaction with their subordinate managers.

Somehow the top manager’s interaction with his executives is mistaken for being the essential aspect of leadership in an organisation. In this morning’s article one CEO was even quoted for saying that he knew that an altogether different management style was practised by his managers in relation to the staff without managerial responsibilities, but he saw no need to interfere with this.

This is not unusual. Most executives demonstrate little if at all any interest in the nature of the leadership practised throughout the organisation. It seems like there is a sort of territorial I-will-not-interfere-in-how-you-manage-on-your-turf going on. (And yet they wonder why change is so hard to achieve).

The truth is, that the real everyday leadership takes place between the managers and their non-managerial employees. Any executive who – consciously or not – ignores to pay attention to how the leader’s job is interpreted and carried out throughout his organisation is mismanaging his own responsibility.

Direct Leadership in a macro perspective

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Just back from China where I had a meeting that put my Direct Leadership model in a new perspective.

The meeting was with Professor Yuan Ren of the highly respected and equally high-ranking Fudan University in Shanghai. Yuan Ren is Vice Director of Research Office for Humanities and Social Sciences and associate professor in the Institute of Population Research at Fudan University. A mutual friend, Linda Zhou who is senior partner KPMG Global China Practice in Copenhagen, had recently introduced him and me.

After some introductions on both sides, Professor Ren talked about his work on population research. More precisely he explained some current research on the challenges facing the one-child-generations when they meet the labour market. Everywhere in the world, we see a gap between the young people who are coming into the labour market these years and all other generation in society. However, as it turns out, the one-child-policy in China combined with the rapid economic growth of the past 20-25 years and the Chinese school system, has made this gap bigger than elsewhere. The way this shows in the labour market is a very high employee turnover and an absence of collaborative skills.

I then explained how I had developed my model because I realized that we needed a new narrative of the leadership deliverables, since the old job perception of what leaders should ”deliver” to their direct subordinates had come out of synch with modern day realities. I then explained how I see that the absence of this new narrative of the leadership deliverables cause many other leadership development efforts to be wasted. Much like if you pour a fine wine or an exquisite Chinese tea to someone without ensuring that he or she has a suitable glass or cup to collect the precious drops and to drink them from.

I do not mind admitting that when I had finished describing this, even with the passion I feel for the problem and its consequences, I felt uncertain of whether this might be of interest to someone with Ren’s outlook. However, I soon learned otherwise. Not only did he completely follow my reasoning, he also declared that he believed that my particular take on how to change to the general perception of everyday leadership could be highly instrumental in an effort to deal with the serious demographic challenges he and his faculty colleagues were trying to tackle for their country.

Will you believe it if I tell you that I felt ten feet tall when I left his office?

PS! If anyone reading this is interested in hearing more about the work of Professor Ren and his colleagues, I know that he will be speaking at a conference entitled Seeking the Dynamics of China’s Development on April 15 in Copenhagen.

Do you carry intent … to lead?

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It really should go without saying, shouldn’t it?

Well, experience has taught me that very few things ”go without saying”. One thing that certainly needs to be spelled out is to that people who become promoted into leadership positions need to make certain mind-shifts starting with finding within themselves the intent to lead.

Before we reach managerial positions that involve leading others, we do well by carrying an intent to serve others. The better we serve others (superiors, organizations, society at large) the more successful and/or treasured we become.  This intent should always stay with us. No matter how far we go in our careers, the valued leaders are those who demonstrate that they are still in the business of serving.

However, having transitioned to become leaders – even if only for a handful of people – we must also find within ourselves an intent to lead.

Good everyday leadership as I define it consists of understanding an array of  7 leadership roles, mastering 4 essential leadership styles – and knowing that exercising leadership happens in “windows” that I call leadership opportunities. Instances that play out between you and your staff or among them, which call for mostly undramatic but intentional interventions from your side.

However behind all of the above the one thing, that must fuel your actions, is a clear intent.

If requires intent to learn to lead, to make yourself aware of your roles, to notice and take action when a leadership opportunities comes your way – and to select and demonstrate in which way you want to take action.

Only in this way can you be congruent and exercise your leadership with clarity and consistency and compassion.

And only to the degree that you do so will your employees in their hearts accept you as their leader.

Realtime Team Building

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At times, people like me who grew up in Scandinavia, studied in Europe and spent most of my adult life working with people of shared backgrounds think that just telling people to collaborate in solving a given task will make it happen. And end up wondering why it didn’t.

When my grandniece, Felicia, was about four, she and her grandmother (my sister) came to visit. Felicia knew there was a beach and she could go bathing in the sea. As it turned out the weather was cold so nobody else wanted to go. But Felicia was insistent, and eventually my sister and I went along down to the beach and watched while the girl tiptoed into the ice-cold water. Come on “throw yourself into the water” shouted my sister (so that we could get it over with and go home). But then the girl turned round and asked, “How does one throw oneself …?”

This morning I took part in a meeting that turned out to contain an inspiring example of doing day-to-day team building among a group of Chinese employees. However, while my discussion partner’s story was particularly interesting from the viewpoint of Scandinavians maneuvering in a Chinese workplace it is also a generic example of the fact that team building is a day-to-day responsibility that requires a long-term perspective.

My discussion partner – let’s call him Jon – used to lead a small staff, whose members were all quite reluctant to collaborate. Instead they would hold their cards close to their vests and not share any information with each other. Not an uncommon situation in China, where competitiveness and personal ambition often lead employees to put more emphasis into doing exactly what the superior wants than to collaborate to achieve the best solution.

Anyway, Jon was determined to demonstrate to a group of three people that there was value to be gained in collaborating, so he took a series of steps. At first, he asked two people to produce individual proposals on how to solve a particular task. Upon receiving the two proposals he held a meeting with both and asked them to identify the good ideas from the other person’s proposal that would improve their own proposal if added to it. Then, he invited a third person to join the party. First by making his own proposal, then by having the former two look at it and look for potential improvements and vice versa (let the third person look at what the two had made and select the things he himself could use to improve his own work.

Only now, when he had demonstrated to each of the three that there was value to be gained from adding more brains to the task than just one did he ask them to create a joint proposal, and eventually, when they had created their team proposal, he asked them to jointly assess if their proposal would meet the clients needs, and if not to adjust it accordingly.

The result?  A well thought out proposal and a staff who had experienced the value of teamwork. Not in a training session, building things out of bricks and wood, but in real-time in the real world.

Sometimes a little girl of 4 needs to be shown how to “throw herself into the water”, sometimes people who are used to work alone need to be shown how to collaborate.


Don’t mention the War!

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At first I thought I had not heard him, but when he repeated, I realised my mind had simply not been able to grasp what he said.

It was just a few weeks ago, so the year was 2012 and not 1952. I was on a plane back from the wedding party of some friends living abroad, and the man next to me and I had struck up a conversation, first over the books we each were reading, then over what kind of work we were each doing.

And as it so often happens when I say that my business is ”everyday leadership” the conversation turned to how my co-traveller experienced leadership at the state-owned research institution where he was working.

And then he told me. ”At our organisation, we recently had this employee satisfaction survey. But it was made quite clear that if we were critical when replying to the questions about our leaders, our replies would only be taken into consideration if we abandoned the anonymity that applied for the rest of the survey.” And he continued: ” To me this tells that leaders are not appointed according to their competencies, but because they are friends of the existing leaders.”

That was when the words of the headline (made immortal by John Cleese in the BBC sitcom Faulty Towers) came to my mind.

We want to measure employee satisfaction – but do not mention your leaders for anything but their virtues!

As I said, at first I could not believe that I actually heard this.
Second thought: ”they must not have any professionals involved”, so I checked if I were right.
But the reply was: ”Oh definitely, a well-known consulting company specialised in employee satisfaction was involved!”

I rest my case…


(oh, to see that particular episode of Fawlty Towers, click here http://www.youtube.com/BBCComedyGreats )

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