blogging about DIRECT LEADERSHIP

OUCH! Touché!

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Last Thursday a trainer asked me “What about MOTIVATION?”

She wanted to know how the Direct Leadership model relates to the demand for managers to motivate their employees.

At first I did not even understand her question. What was she talking about? The question related to the Direct Leadership model, which is all about the leader’s job deliverables and as such all about motivation. So how could she possibly ask such a question?


However, since I was so puzzled, the question stuck with me until I found myself ”touché”. Hit by my own arrogance.

Just as I originally saw that we had mistakenly taken for granted that the majority of people – once given a group of direct reports to lead – would automatically know what the deliverables involved were. Now I had taken for granted that it was self-evident how my model as a whole would increase a leader’s ability to motivate.

Next question: how come it is not self-evident?

I think there are two reasons.

One is that ”motivation” and motivating others” are terms we use as if ”motivation” is in itself an end and not a means to an end.

The other is that we have become used to talking about leadership only in terms of competencies. In this context the ability to ”motivate others” can easily be seen as a competency that can stand alone.

However , when looking at the interaction between leaders and employees in terms of deliverables, then we automatically become more operational.

The Direct Leadership model teaches the operational, practical deliverables of leading others – what we want leaders to do/achieve when they interact with their employees.

Let us take a similar perspective on what we want leaders to motivate employees to do and experience.

I believe that largely spoken, we want leaders to ensure that their subordinates:

Meet their job responsibility:

  • carry out their particular job in accordance with short and long term goals, the organization and its processes ,with a basic understanding of the big picture

Communicate & Collaborate

  • communicate and collaborate with clients and co-workers with the aim of serving everybody and the entire organization

Feel appreciated

  • feel appreciated, because that makes them more loyal and productive

Utilize their competencies

  • utilize their competencies and their potential for the benefit of clients and colleagues as well as for their own satisfaction

Make sound operational decisions

  • make sound operational decisions within their field of expertise and responsibility

Are efficient & productive

  • we want employees to act productively and efficiently including contributing to continually improve their efficiency.

And let us now juxtapose the 7 roles with these 6 targets that we could call the “employee deliverables”:


Make sense to you?

It does to me …


Written by Karin Zastrow

October 7, 2014 at 08:08

Posted in Misc

Do you measure up to your leadership position?

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I currently live in a residential compound in Suzhou – one of China’s most modern and admired 2nd tier cities. The compound holds apartments for maybe 800 households.

Every morning (well almost every morning) I take a walk through the park-like courtyard of the compound and every time I notice something new. This morning what struck me was the sheer amount of building and/or maintenance activities that was taking place. Somewhere I heard a hammer or a drill, another place I saw the local maintenance people hurrying to a particular apartment where someone needs their help, over there the local crew of gardeners were weeding. And this happens every day. Not to mention the 3 times a day the entrance hall floors to every building gets a sweeping.

Just like a housing area needs to be built and subsequently maintained, so does a group of people.

To be a leader is a building and maintenance job.

Suggestion for the day:

Take a half-hour off from work. Take a 15 minute walk in whatever man-made environment you find yourself in. Look around as you walk and count what you see that is either being built, maintained or repaired.

Then go back to work and spend another 15 minutes to take a similar ”walk” through the part of the organization you have been given to lead. Keep the same perspective. I.e. you want to notice where something needs to be built, maintained or repaired.

Make a list and start doing something about it.

It is in the action of building, maintaining and making repairs that you measure up to your leadership position.


Written by Karin Zastrow

September 16, 2014 at 05:24

Posted in Misc

Edgar Schein: On the concept of helping

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I like to think that leaders need to help their employees do their work. In essence that is what the Direct Leadership model is all about.

However, leaders and employees travel on a two-way street. The leader is equally dependent on creating a trust-based working climate in which the employees freely offer their help and their observations. 

Which is why Direct Leadership does not only preach what the leader’s responsibilities are. We also stress that the LEADERSHIP DELIVERABLES are brought across the board in the style in which a leader interacts with his/her employees. In fact we do preach that two of the 4 leadership styles (CATCHER and COACH) are entirely dependent on the leader’s ability to make employees feel safe enough to share their thoughts and concerns freely. 

Now instead of personally elaborating this topic I will share with you a video.

It is a few years old, but puts it very well. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…. Dr. Schein

If the video does not appear in the blogpost, you may also try one of the below links:



PS!: James Høpner: Thank you for yet another inspiration that you freely share with me and others! 


Written by Karin Zastrow

September 2, 2014 at 08:03

Posted in Misc

Leadership deliverables in Horse Kingdom (and other places)

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Life is back to normal. Almost everybody here in China have now returned from their New Years holidays and the Year of the Horse 2014 is upon us, and to remind us here in our part of town this golden beauty now stands on a pedestal at the end of our road.


As I walked past the statue the other day I was thinking about leadership. Seeing the horse I went on to wonder was how can animals tell who is leading and what those leaders want? Is it all just a matter of BEING the individual with the hormonal and physical look and feel of a lead horse, or do lead horses actually show certain behaviors, produce certain deliverables by way of guiding their followers.

As it turns out, they do.

Inspired by Golden Beauty above, I checked with Wikipedia and found that there are indeed specific roles and specific behaviors as well as organizational patterns by which the lead horses in a herd exercise and communicate their leadership deliverables. Let me quote just a few excerpts:

…Once a dominance hierarchy is established, horses more often than not will travel in rank order… higher-ranked animals often will assume a role of exercising control and moderating aggressive behavior in the herd…

 the actual leader of a wild or feral herd is often the alpha or dominant mare She tends to lead when the herd travels, although not always, and determines the route when the herd moves between locations…

…Stallions tend to stay on the periphery … where they fight off both predators and other males… most of the time, the stallion is … “guarding” the herd by scent-marking ….to communicate his dominance as herd stallion…

… Horses communicate in various ways, including vocalizations…, touch,  mutual grooming or nuzzling; smell; and body language. Discipline is maintained in a horse herd first through body language and gestures, then, if needed, through physical contact …

Why is this interesting for us humans?

Because it shows us that leadership – even among animals – relies on deliverables. There are roles that must be observed, messages to be communicated, different behaviors that must be visible and noticeable to the followers.

Therefore…. if you are someone who still subscribes to the common fantasy, that leadership is an unspecific personality trait that you either have or do not have, then open a new document on your computer. Do it now as you are reading this. Copy this text:  “leadership relies on personality traits”, paste it to your new document, read it out loud, pause for a second and then push TRASH.

Now open a fresh document and copy/paste the below:



Then first push PRINT followed by SAVE.

Because this one you want to keep and place somewhere that helps you remember.

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions on December 31st?

If not – or if you forgot what they were – why don’t you consider making one here at the beginning of the Lunar New Year? My suggestion? To learn the leadership deliverables as they apply to people this year…

Happy New Year of the Horse 2014!


Written by Karin Zastrow

February 19, 2014 at 04:15

Posted in Misc

Taking leadership out of the closet!

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For years, the practices involved in delivering leadership have remained undefined and treated like a taboo.

We do not talk about each others’ way of leading, and we remain quiet about our concerns related to being leaders. Much in the same way most people avoid being open about their sexual preference. Whatever concerns or questions  we have had in handling our leadership responsibilities they have been locked away firmly in individual “leadership closets” and treated with a sort of territorial behavior. I do not cross the line to your turf, you do not cross the line to mine. 

For this reason, being a leader has often been a lonely job. Leaders struggle alone with the concerns and doubts for fear that doing otherwise they will be judged as incompetent or as having a personality unfit for the job. In particular he or she will not open the issue before his/her peers and bosses. However, this need not be so.

Lately my lectures on Direct Leadership have revolved around the advantages of focus on deliverables as opposed to competencies or personality traits. When  we can disconnect the discussion of relevant leadership measures from being a matter of competencies and personalities and change it to dealing with deliverables, then it is no longer stigmatizing to ask for help, it is simply a matter of taking care of business – the business of leading people.

Want to be part of the quest to “take leadership out of the closet”. Shift perspective and start focusing on leadership deliverables. The value of such a shift cannot be overestimated.

Written by Karin Zastrow

January 31, 2014 at 13:00

Posted in Misc

Direct Leadership – the global language of everyday leadership

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4 days ago I landed in Shanghai Pudong Airport.

2,5 years of frequent visits to China has now been replaced by a 6 month intensive stay here.

One of the things I hope to document during this stay is how a language that defines the direct leadership deliverables in an organisation will improve that organisation’s ability to implement its strategies and retain talented employees.

China’s growth in recent years combined with the demographic development and a strong emphasis that especially the younger generations are well-educated has put pressure on the need for managers to be truly competent in direct day-to-day leadership.

Not so long ago Chinese products were renowned for low price produced by a workforce of unskilled and low paid production workers. Now China is both developing and producing hi-tech and high quality products and labor is highly skilled and highly ambitious.

As a result, neither Chinese nor international corporations can afford the luxury of a relaxed approach to defining the leadership deliverables. Employees in the East are requiring not quite, but almost the same sort of leadership as employees in West – that is if they are to compete in the global hi-tech/hi-quality market.

In the past the probability of stumbling upon a good direct leader has been comparable to buying a lottery ticket. The chance of being lucky is there, but the likelihood of drawing a blank is infinitely higher.

My Direct Leadership model offers a remedy for this predicament. A simple model that focuses on deliverables as defined by a) a set of responsibilities, b) four essential 21st century leadership styles and c) the awareness of the opportunistic nature of being a leader: You have to catch the leadership opportunities when they appear!

Put the three ingredients together and you have a language for defining, measuring and developing the backbone of your organization – a well-defined set of leadership deliverables that may bridge both cultural and hierarchical divides.

This what I claim. I have seen it work in small scale trials with cross-cultural and cross-hierarchical groups.

If I am able to conduct some larger scale experiments during the coming six months (which I am confident will prove my points) my time here will be well spent.

Written by Karin Zastrow

January 7, 2014 at 15:54

Posted in Misc

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/

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