Category Archives: Executive Visibility
It isn’t every day that the newly appointed CEO of a mega-company says “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long. And I will work throughout it.”
It’s great to see companies appointing leaders who aren’t middle-aged white males. And it is great to see a Board of Directors recognize that someone’s vision, talent and ability to lead are more important than the fact that she might have something in addition to work in her life…like a family. But I’m not so sure we should begin applauding this move as evidence that the glass ceiling has been shattered. There is a leadership lesson here, for sure. But is it a good one?
On some levels, Marissa Mayer is probably like every ambitious, driven woman I’ve ever known (other than the Twitter trending topic and the CEO thing, of course). She’s just like me, 18 years ago. Pregnant with a first child, women everywhere believe that having a baby is no big deal – just one more thing to juggle into the mix, a few more items on the to do list. I remember wondering what I would do ALL DAY on maternity leave. I even cried my last day of work before my daughter was born. The only day I cried harder was the day I came back, after 10 weeks that flew by in a spit-up clouded haze.
So maybe her statement is the understandable naiveté of a soon-to-be first time mother. Maybe she will regret that promise; maybe she will go from the delivery room straight to the board room. That is between her, her husband and the Yahoo Board of Directors, and it shouldn’t be used to add fuel to the fire in the never-ending Mommy Wars.
No one would care if a newly-appointed male CEO was expecting a baby…it wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation, much less a headline. And few women are CEOs before they sunset their child-bearing years. So what’s the fuss? Didn’t we settle this issue somewhere around the time that Diane Keaton starred in Baby Boom? Didn’t Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg establish the Working Mom 2.0 profile a few weeks ago when she told the world it was OK to leave work to be home for dinner?
It is hard to know if Marissa Mayer’s appointment despite her pregnancy is a victory for working women everywhere. Or if her commitment to working throughout her maternity leave sets an impossible standard that all women will feel pressured to emulate.
It is easy to chalk this one up to personal choice. But when you are talking about C-level leaders, their personal choices take on greater significance. Leadership is demonstrated, not discussed – what you do is more important than what you say. So Yahoo and Marissa Mayer can tell employees that they can, should or even must take their vacation, their parental leave or their sabbaticals. But will anyone believe her? Or will there be an unspoken pressure, at Yahoo, or among working women everywhere, to wear their shortened maternity leave or unused vacation days like a badge of honor?
Who do you think is right: Marissa Mayer, or Sheryl Sandberg? Let the debate begin.
Labor Unions Are Evolving…But Do They Still Matter?
November 22, 2011
When you think of labor leadership, what comes to mind? If you are thinking of the tough talking prototype portrayed in the movie Hoffa, think again. Labor unions and their members have massively changed in the past generation – 1/3 have college degrees, nearly half are women, and only 1 in 10 work in manufacturing. And their leadership is changing with it.
This NYT piece profiles three labor leaders who are women…that’s right, women. And they aren’t the heads of nurses or teachers unions.
Some would argue that this is simply a reflection of the changing demographic – but I think it is more than that. Today’s labor leaders live in an increasingly complex world, where the old style game of “chicken” that characterized negotiations may no longer be effective. As states entertain right-to-work policies, governors play hard ball with public employee unions and concessionary contracts become commonplace, the ability for a leader to create communities, build consensus and advance compromise as an acceptable, even successful outcome, has never been greater.
As I read about these women, there is a notable absence of “scorched earth” in their success stories, and an increased focus on being more broadly relevant to their communities at large – not just their immediate membership. This is a model that would serve leaders of all kinds well. Iconic leaders don’t just represent their own company, their own employees, or their own customers – they are the voice of an industry, or of the business at large. They stimulate conversation on broadly relevant issues. They lead.
Leadership Lesson: Trust Begins at Home
August 1, 2011
If you read this blog, you already know that I love the Sunday columns in the New York Times, especially “Corner Office.” This week’s column features the new CEO of Siemens, and reaffirmed many of the things I’ve long believed, advocated and practiced about CEO transitions….you begin by listening, trust is earned and the importance of diversity of thought and experience in the team that surrounds a CEO (A place where the “yes-men” phenomenon tends to thrive).
But what really caught my attention was the emphasis on trust…internally…as the foundation of great teams. At MWW Group, our POV is simple, and straightforward:
TRUST + RELEVANCE = ACTION
Typically, and particularly in our current environment, the discussion of trust centers largely around earning and preserving the trust of your stakeholders – mostly customers, investors and other external constituencies.
The notion that teams can’t function well…that leaders can’t effectively lead…unless there is trust inside the organization is an important one. Today, we are talking about it as an issue of effectiveness. But for those thinking beyond the immediate 10 percent unemployment reality, it is also the key to retaining talent. Great employees have job opportunities in any economy. And when the power shifts in the talent equation back to the employees, trust will be a key driver of whether your team sticks, or moves on.
How can a leader foster trust internally?
- Tell your own stories….share news (good or bad) before they hear it somewhere else.
- Share the credit…no one wants to worry that their boss (or their boss’ boss) is taking credit for their ideas, their work or their success.
- Review your actions….does what you DO match what you say? Do you claim to hate internal politics, yet reward the political operatives with plum assignments? Do employees who challenge conventional wisdom get rewarded? Or sent to career Siberia?
- Review your policies – do you restrict your team from use of social media, because you are afraid of what they will say? Do you have overly restrictive policies governing employee’s time?
Trust is a two way street. You have to give it, to get it.
Horrible Bosses….Are They Actually Horrible Leaders?
July 15, 2011
Believe me, I have a few of those stories myself – a boss who used to make a mess every Friday, then skip out early and leave me to clean it up. The guy who told me straight up that he hadn’t hired me, and was going to make me quit. (Apparently my first job manicure, Ann Taylor suit and earnest expression rubbed him the wrong way.)
Which begs the question, what makes a horrible boss? And is a horrible boss truly a horrible leader, or is there a disconnect between what employees think is important and what leaders think is important?
Check out this piece from Forbes, which describes the Body Language of horrible bosses. Some of these are so obvious, they are funny – like you shouldn’t practice your golf swing while a member of your team is pitching an idea. Or a male boss staring at a female employee’s chest. But there are some occupational hazards of modern day leadership that could put you in the bad boss category:
• Failing to acknowledge people in the hall – Has your organization grown rapidly? Are there interns in the corridor whose name you are embarrassed to admit you don’t know? There is only one boss – it’s easy for people to know your name. Ask for a chart of interns with names and photos. Smile and say hello.
• Multi-tasking – people want your full attention. Yet we live in a world where multi-tasking is a survival skill. E-mail has set expectations that people get instant gratification and response. We want to take notes while someone speaks, maybe on a laptop or an iPad. How is this impacting your effectiveness as a leader?
• Claiming an open door, then “glaring” at someone who stops by without an appointment – your busy day is not their problem. If you are too busy to be interrupted, close your door.
What Dream Team CEOs Know that You Don’t
May 31, 2011
Fortune Magazine is creating yet another list….the “Dream Team” CEOs – one that is sure to be my favorite! Today, this piece talked about what it takes to be a dream team caliber CEO. Among some expected, yet valid, observations about the need to be able to reinvent strategy, like Sam Palmisano and Jim Skinner, or to truly be a citizen of the world, not just talk global – there was an interesting tidbit.
Dream Team CEOs treat government as a line of business.
Entire businesses have been built using government as a key line of business and source of revenue. Highly regulated businesses can tell you in dollars and cents the impact of government on their Company. But the implications here are significant – even if you don’t do business with the government, and even if you aren’t a regulated company, government matters. A lot.
At MWW Group, more than two decades ago, we began advocating a strategy we’ve dubbed Government as a Marketing tool. And it is more relevant than ever today. In order to be viewed as a leader among your peers, to be the kind of company that is trusted, and relevant to your employees, stakeholders, investors and communities, you need to be engaged and active with government leaders and influencers. Not only to advocate for issues that impact your business, but to be a thought leader. An advisor. A go-to resource.
Being among the most admired CEOs requires a great track record, and a solid leadership reputation. And while the first can fuel the second, these two things don’t automatically go together. Government provides an unrivaled bully pulpit for establishing trust and relevance. It is a key part of every company’s “network.”
This is a philosophy that we don’t just preach – we practice it, too. For ourselves and for our clients. Do you?
The Real Value of the First 100 Days
April 12, 2011
It’s that time again….the end of the First 100 Days of the new Congress, of new Governors. Ever since FDR pioneered the concept and offered America the New Deal, the First 100 Days have become a benchmark used by leaders in both the public and the private sector. In today’s nano-second world, 100 days can feel like a lifetime…yet the complexities of leadership today can also make 100 days seem very short.
Which begs the question – is 100 days a meaningful metric, or is it just hype?
I think it depends on how you define success. The idea that 100 Days is the be all and end all – hype. The value of the first 100 days is that it is a “fresh start” period – one where your stakeholders are listening and paying attention – they are looking for direction and guidance. They want to be led. Lead and communicate effectively in the First 100 days, and the job of continual leadership gets much easier.
The First 100 Days can be an effective tool for building reputation and establishing leadership. Here are my 5 Golden Rules for effective 100 days programs, and sustainable leadership.
• Define success…and its interim benchmarks – this is a unique opportunity to change the yardstick by which you will be judged. Set goals, and tell stakeholders what the interim success steps will be. This is a tried and true strategy for IR/financial communications that is equally effective with multi-stakeholder programs.
• Listen Actively – leadership transitions always mean change – whether a moderate evolution or a dramatic revolution. Your stakeholders will be listening to what you say, but more importantly they will be watching what you do. Do you walk your talk? And do you really hear their concerns, suggestions and observations? Seek feedback. Encourage dialogue. Success today requires conversation, not just messaging.
• Establish and articulate priorities – it might be your vision for the Company. But if a leader is new to an organization after an abrupt transition, you may need to use that initial period to learn and formulate a plan. But even if a plan is underway, you can define the process for creating a plan, and articulate big picture goals for the organization. Don’t assume people know what is important….you need to tell them.
• Translate priorities into individual actions – It’s easy to say “We need to be a more customer centric organization.” But what does that mean to individuals in different departments? What do you want them to think about? And what do you want them to DO differently? Be clear about the “how” and the “why” as well as the “what” (the goal).
• Cultivate, recruit and engage your advocates and third party endorsers – To be successful, every leader needs ambassadors and embassies. The time to recruit and cultivate advocates and ambassadors, both within your organization and outside your Company, is now. And don’t confuse “yes men” with advocates. Often the most vocal and effective advocates will be the ones who have questions, or are skeptics…because once they buy in, they really believe. Their questions are good indicators of the issues that others may be thinking but not saying.
Can Leadership be Google-ized?
March 18, 2011
Google is an organization at a crossroads. Like most tech darlings, they began with a game-changing outward focus, grew exponentially, and suddenly found the world had changed due to the rise of a new darling. No longer trendy, Google quickly found itself as the tech version of a pashmina – you still love ‘em, and use ‘em, but you sort of take them for granted.
Google’s solution? Look inward. Take Google’s famous, analytical, algorithmed expertise inward in an effort to grow better managers, and create a culture that will work for the larger, more mature organization. They’ve identified the 8 qualities they need in their leaders, ranked them and implemented quarterly reviews to see how their managers are performing.
One great take-away – we often give our employees a long list of what is important, with no prioritization….faced with too many things to think about, they become paralyzed. This is why so many culture initiatives suffer from “organ rejection” in the organization. At Google, they were placing the greatest value for leaders on the quality that employees valued the least – technical, code-writing expertise. The moral of that story – even engineers want someone who will talk to them.
But can people be algorithmed? In an engineering-centric organization full of analytical thinkers like Google, the answer may be yes. And I think all leaders appreciate clarity around how they will be judged, and a road map to success. And leadership transitions are a good time to look at culture – you are presented with an opportunity to refresh the organization’s priorities and common goals.
Will it be enough to get Google out-innovating the market again, providing growth in its mature business? If Google had the algorithm for that, we wouldn’t be reading about their leadership initiatives…we’d be reading about their new, game changing innovations.