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September 2010

The meaning of the CEO

We all know what CEO stands for, don’t we? The Chief Executive Officer. Wow, what power - executive: it’s all about making decisions, and on decisions all our destinies hang. But recently I read a great piece by Tony Schwartz who proposed a new meaning for CEO and one which I prefer, and which ought to become common currency. What about the CEO as The Chief Energy Officer? Yes, now that I like!

Following his theme, Tony reckoned that the “fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilise, inspire, focus, direct, and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.” Absolutely - this is another way of saying what we have been banging on about for ages: a core responsibility of the leader is to motivate staff. And what is good about what Tony is recognising is that this is not a one-off sort of activity - like a decision might be - ‘refuelling’ is precisely what staff need from time to time.

He goes on to give the most ten common adjectives that describe the ‘best boss’ you (a sample of thousands over a decade) have ever had: encouraging, inspiring, kind, positive, calm, supportive, fair, decisive, smart, and visionary. Some two thirds of these adjectives are emotional qualities, not intellectual or analytical skills. Put another way, what people most value in a leader are their emotional and energetic attributes - the touchy-feely stuff rather than the hardcore clever stuff.

Further, Tony cites research by Bruce Avolio and Fred Luthans that finds in reviewing over 200 leadership studies only one quality among leaders “consistently had a positive impact on ... employees”. And this quality was the capacity to “recognise potentials that the employees didn’t yet fully see in themselves”. Or, “best leaders used their own positive energy to bolster their employees’ faith in their own abilities”.

In short, leaders - the best - grow people: we water them with our energy and our belief in them. Thus it is an imperative for all leaders to become masters of energy - and the motivation that feeds it.

How we deal with failure

Failure can certainly be a salutary experience, but not one most of us want to encounter just for the ‘salutary’ bit. By which I mean: we certainly see how people are - really are - when they fail. After all, everyone tends to have a wonderful personality when things go well; it’s when adversity kicks in that we discover who has gumption, resilience, perseverance and other indispensable qualities. As somebody once said: Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

But we still like to ask the question, how do we deal with failure? What ‘trick’ is there for helping us cope with it? Many leaders find this difficult to deal with, and as for advice, the standard piece is: failure doesn’t exist so long as you learn from it. Hmm. This reminds me of the sort of advice that went out of fashion forty years ago, and was parodied twenty years ago, as the person broke down in a crumpled heap and some well meaning person says: Pull yourself together!

So, I would like to add my take on this question: which is to question seeing failure as a 'doing' thing. The action we have taken fails, so how do we respond to that? In essence, what do we do? This seems right and proper, but at another level failure is a 'being' state. The doing - the failed doing - is a consequence of the imperfect being. At its most chronic, self-esteem is depleted, is negative, and so any kind of success is impossible.

At a more moderate level we all perceive that other people have gifts and strengths that we do not - how we respond to that (emulation, envy, indifference, etc?) has a huge impact on the quality of our lives and our capacity to succeed. And at the profoundest spiritual level virtually all religious traditions have to accommodate the notion that mankind was involved in some aboriginal calamity early in its gestation, which accounts for the everyday condition of pain, suffering and uncertainty we find most of us in most of the time.

Thus how we deal with failure goes to the root of our belief system - and what we are going to become, or not. Our self-concept is our root belief about ourself. If we are going to deal with failure, then, ‘doing’ learning and not repeating mistakes is good. But better is addressing our core self-beliefs and asking ourselves the question: what do I believe about myself that is creating blocks in my life?



Resilient leadership

There is a good article in the current edition of The Director by Cary Cooper on hard times calling for resilient leaders. He paints a vivid picture of the stresses the economy is about to undergo and suspects the SME sector in particular will get severely hit. The changes coming will no longer be optional but inevitable, so embracing change becomes the mantra. To do this we need what he calls ‘resilient leaders’ and elsewhere ‘real leadership’.

I guess I am not being merely pedantic when I say that all leadership is ‘real’ enough, certainly for those experiencing it; and resilience may not be a quality we want in certain types of leaders: the case of Hitler springs to mind - who was incredibly ‘resilient’. If only he hadn’t been.

What the words ‘real’ and ‘resilient’ are actually disguising is a sort of adjectival tautology: what we want are leaders who lead. Er... what we want are - to use the Jim Collins’ terms - good and great leaders. There, I have said it. ‘Real’ and ‘resilient’ give the impression that we are talking about something objective, that we can empirically conjure up and control in some way; ‘good’ and ‘great’ are just so purely subjective that they seem all froth. We end up knowing we have great leaders only after the event - which is useless when we want to appoint them in advance As Cooper says, “Britain needs them by the hundreds and thousands, if it is to prosper”.

Interestingly, the activities that these ‘real’ types undertake, according to Cooper, are allowing staff ownership of the business problems, increasing their decision making, listening and supporting. In short, less command and control, more empathy, sensitivity and openness. In short, more personal qualities that require ‘real’ character - the ability to engage with another human being without rushing to tell them what to do and how to do it.

This is a tall order even in undemanding times - with the pressure of the economy weighing down on business owners, how likely is it that they are going to opt for character over control, faced with spiralling loss of revenue?

What is really needed I think are new ways of approaching how staff and teams work - and specifically of tapping into the motivational core of performance. We should try this because it is quite clear the alternative - what we are currently doing - doesn’t work.

Beyond Motivation 2

As we said before: most organisations do not buy ‘motivation’ because this is seen largely as a feature of performance, not a benefit. It is only when motivation goes acutely bad and usually either staff starts leaving in droves and there is an operational problem, or customer service becomes so lousy it impacts the bottom line, that the ‘benefit’ of addressing the motivational issue becomes self-evidently a benefit.

Thus we touched last time on the solution that most organisations want: namely, performance management systems that work, and at the core of that is the actual appraisal system. What are, then, the other three major areas where motivation features in the core solution – benefit – for the client? In my view they are: team building, leadership and change management. Let’s briefly look at these one by one.

Team building is one of the essential skills of the leader; the reason for this is obvious, but needs re-stating: T.E.A.M = Together Each Achieves More. This simple fact – the synergy that is created by a team to exponentially increase productivity and performance – is at the heart of efforts to build strong teams. Whereas most team building now is of one of two sorts: the ‘military’ flavour – the external environment, ‘bonding’ approach; or the more cerebral – fit the skills and personality to the correct role by an analytical process often involving various forms of psychometric testing.

What all these methods overlook is the primary motivations of the team members and how these motivations either help or hinder the individual in their role, and – and even more critically – how they help or hinder the internal dynamics of the group. There is an even greater issue too: are the dominant motivators of the team aligned with the mission? These are profound questions because they affect the energy of the team and the individual – whatever may apparently ‘fit’.

Second, motivation is a core aspect of leadership. The world needs more leaders and fewer managers. Leaders, of course, initiate our third area, Change, but this is a topic in its own right. At least 40% of a leaders’ work is about motivation: either on individuals or through developing teams. When people talk about working on the business versus working in the business they are making an important distinction: it is when the leader is working ‘in’ the business that they need to have plan for staff motivation and not just rely on charisma or business as usual.

Finally, motivation is core to change management and for a very simple reason: without energy there is no change – there is instead a superficial, cosmetic attempt to patch an ailing organisation. Real change requires a renewal and re-direction of energies and this can only be done by feeding people’s motivators. Most – even successful - change management programmes do this by assuming start want some basic motivators, and then build this into the programme: eg. Every body wants ‘recognition’. This is far too simple – and inexcusable, now that we have Motivational Maps which can tell us exactly what they do want.

Beyond motivation, then, are solutions and benefits that organisations are crying out to find – and at the heart of these solutions is staff motivation.

Beyond motivation

Motivational Maps Ltd has a phenomenal product in the Motivational Map. Time and again Practitioners who use it with clients get an overwhelmingly positive response. Perhaps the most common expression used is ‘uncannily accurate’.  The strange paradox occurs in which the client on the one hand confirms the truth of the report and yet simultaneously learns something new about him or her self. How can you confirm what you didn’t know before? Yet such is the power of the Map.


But for some Practitioners of Map technology this very accuracy is possibly a reason for not achieving the full success they want. What do I mean? I mean that perhaps the savvy coach or consultant who uses Maps needs to go beyond motivation! For the reality is: most organisations do not buy motivation – they buy the benefit or the outcome that removes their pain. Further, motivation is unfortunately a corrupt word; it is too associated with Ra-Ra, pumping up, fire-walking and all manner of other touchy-feely-non-real activities as insubstantial as gossamer. That the Maps have objectivity – a science – a language and a measurement – is difficult to explain, much less convince. So the solution is not to sell motivation.


What then is the package – the solution - that replaces motivation in the affections of the client? I think there are four main applications (as well as some other niche areas) which are critical.


First, motivation is intrinsic to high levels of performance. What, then, is the core mechanism that delivers – or should deliver – high staff performance? Answer: appraisal. Again, this may be considered a corrupted word – we may want to call it Performance Management or some other term. But in essence this is the mechanism delivering performance that doesn’t work! As Deming put it: ‘It takes the average American six months to recover from Performance Appraisal’ and given that they happen every six months, this means that the average American never fully recovers!


Thus the opportunity is huge: most appraisal systems don’t work. Most appraisal systems do not build motivating staff into the process as integral, or even make motivating staff a specific objective of the process. The Map technology built into the appraisal process is a new and powerful way to get more bangs from the organisational bucks. The Map Practitioner needs to address three problems: first, addressing the issue of the appraisal system (to improve it); second, up-skilling the managers with the relevant appraisal skills to deliver (there are five: listening, target-setting, handling the discussion, motivating, negotiating); and finally, implementing the Maps as core to the process.


This is what organisations want and understand because they see how it will benefit them immediately – it is also track-able. In my next blog I will cover the other three major areas.