"Leadership Mantra #1: It all depends." Tom Peters
Ron has helped individuals, teams, and organizations develop better leaders, create more innovation, forge better internal and external relationships, and inspire greater performance. Ron's interest in human behavior began while earning a Bachelor's in Electronics Engineering Technology. He has applied his lessons in the business world, both as a four-time entrepreneur and while holding sales and management positions at NCR and AT&T. His work for multinational companies has earned him over 5 million miles of travel to eighteen countries. He has been an organizational consultant and educator since 1985. Ron currently holds positions in the following companies: President, Ron Crossland & Associates, Chairman, Bluepoint Leadership Development, Inc., Managing Partner, Tom Peters Company, U.K. He is coauthor, with our beloved Boyd Clarke, of The Leader'™s Voice: How Your Communication Can Inspire Action and Get Results! It has received praise from the Harvard Communication Newsletter, Amazon'™s "top ten reviewer's" Robert Morris, and the Business Book Review. The second edition is slated for publication in the spring of 2008.
[Bio adapted from his website, roncrossland.com.—CM]
Coauthor: Gregg Thompson
As president of Bluepoint Leadership Development, Gregg leads a talented group of worldwide professionals who design and deliver challenging educational experiences that accelerate the natural development of leaders. As a leadership coach, he works with senior executives across North and South America, Europe and Asia. Gregg consistently wins the praise of clients for his wealth of experience and knowledge of business management, and his uncompromising dedication to achieving the highest standards of excellence in organization leadership. He's the author of Unleashed!: Expecting Greatness and other secrets of coaching for exceptional performance, based on the principles of the highly-experiential workshop, Leader as Coach.
[Bio adapted from bluepointleadership.com.—CM]
The Leadership Experience: From Individual Success to Organization Significance, coauthored by Ron Crossland and Gregg Thompson is the book that Erik discusses with Ron in this interview.
tompeters.com asks ...
Welcome, Ron. What are you trying to accomplish with this book?
RC: This book is a meta-model of leadership. You derive a meta-model by looking fanatically at lots of research—decades' worth—and coming up with the uber-idea.
This work grew out of some Pepperdine research that my late partner, Boyd Clarke, did, which I followed with about three years of research. I looked at 100 years of scholarly work in the field of leadership development. I tried to tease out the major tenets of leadership that consistently show up over a hundred-year period. Then my coauthor, Gregg Thompson and I spent another year testing these ideas against current leadership models, beliefs, and experiences.
We looked at the difference between what we call individual leadership and organizational leadership. The simplest way to describe the difference is that individual leadership is about my relationships with the people that I'm leading and organizational leadership is about my relationship with the institution. So the scale and nature of things is different.
There are certain things that people expect of leaders, regardless of their position. Whether you're a charismatic social movement leader, the CEO of a corporation, or the frontline leader of a project inside a big company, there are certain attributes we look for in individual leadership. The other side is organizational leadership. It has more to do with systems and structures than it does with people. We looked for unifying ideas around leadership that connect these two worlds.
The other big idea that the book addresses is why we keep looking for new leadership work. Every time someone researches leadership, they find exactly the same answers. In other words, investigating a hundred years yielded a lot of repetitive information.
I think we're living in an age where the mystery of leadership is no longer something that we should be focused on solving. What we should be focused on is how you actually develop this in people. How do you purposefully develop it at different levels? Everyone's talking about the next generation leader. People are focusing on developing leaders as they see Baby Boomers retiring and they anticipate the big social shift of workers.
People assume that because it's a new generation, new techniques are required. There are no studies that I can find to support that idea. We keep hoping that it's true because we'd like to think that we live in a new age. The reality is that what people expect in leadership and what leadership demands are probably timeless and ageless. What we need are better methodologies for developing it in people. That's really where the emphasis and research ought to be.
You propose to put a lot of people out of work. [Laughter]
RC: It's a shift of emphasis. How do you provide developmental experiences so that people can gain more strength? It's a little bit like athletics. Many ways of coaching people to compete at higher levels athletically are known. The best athletes use better technology against the things that are already known, rather than looking for the new herb.
You've looked at a lot of material. You have a chart that starts with transactional leadership in 1910, but I'm guessing your research goes back much earlier than 1910.
RC: Yes. The reason I started with 1910 is that it's a rough marker for when modern research into leadership starts happening. Not great minds philosophizing about it or people in what might be regarded as leadership positions making commentary about it, but actual behavioral, scientific, or psycho-dynamic investigation into the real nature of it.
The reason I go back to ancient Greeks is to point out that they didn't do leadership research. They had opinions about the virtues of leadership. I mention Sargon I. Most people don't know who that is. In fact, I didn't know who that was until I started researching the guy a little bit.
It sounds like a video game name.
RC: Exactly. It makes you think of the actor the Rock and one of his big muscle-bound escapades or something like that. When you look at how people felt about those leaders, at least what the writings say—and who knows how good their PR was back when they were writing stuff in stone—what they talked about isn't dissimilar at all to what we talk about today.
Every generation has a need to re-explore this for themselves and derive these truths. I'm not at issue with the fact that every generation needs to do that. My position is that you don't need to reinvent the periodic table of the elements. It's more about how to use it.
I'm making a similar argument with leadership development. Others say that this new electronic age requires a different dimension to leadership. Frankly, I don't believe that's true. It's not about leadership principles; it's about how to apply what we know about leadership to new conditions.
One of the issues is our market-driven economy. People want to keep selling books, so it's a non-starter to say, "Let's go back and review the material in an older book." Perhaps now that you've said, "Here's a huge body of work, let's evaluate it," others will follow and fine-tune what's already known.
RC: That's the central issue. Let's stop one type of investigation and start applying our talents towards other worthy pursuits in this field. Re-inventing the wheel is not a very good pastime for us.
We all hear about charismatic individual leaders. But what do these leaders do for their organization? I think you say that leaders who are capable of leading large organizations aren't being developed at the rate that they ought to be.
RC: Absolutely, that's one of my points. We're not developing them robustly enough. Starting in early 2000, when the whole downturn began, there was a sea change in emphasis in the consulting world. People stopped debating whether or not you should have a good leadership development program as part of your organizational emphasis. People agreed that it was a necessary thing.
Current research says about half of U.S. companies, just to take one region of the world, have pretty robust processes. The other half has weak or no processes. But the debate isn't about whether or not they're useful anymore.
Now it seems that everybody wants to invent a specialty norm about it. Take the big icon, GE, for example. Everybody wants to benchmark Crotonville. If you look at Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, or anybody else, you're getting the same leadership courses. They may use different titles, but fundamentally everyone's after the same thing.
The difference in the companies is the level of senior management involvement, and the seriousness with which they take these developmental challenges. That's the hallmark of who's going to win the talent war. GE prides itself on developing more candidates to take over the CEO spot at GE than will ever be able to have a shot at it. The people there know that they have a huge, strong frontline bench, all of whom could become CEO of GE eventually. GE does that purposefully. It's a net exporter of talent, if you will. If others were to benchmark that practice, how would they become net exporters of talent?
What's the benefit of being a net exporter of talent? If I'm in GE, and I'm trying to work my way up to be the top dog, it isn't a great place to be because there are too many people to fight.
RC: It actually works a little differently. To explain this, I'm going to remove the GE name and call it the Hansen Group. [Laughter]
What does the Hansen Group gain by having all this excess talent? First, you get huge bench strength, right? Now you may have a few headaches because you have to choose among several very good candidates. But they're internally grown, they know the system, they grew up in your culture. So you get a lot of fast benefits from that.
The benefit for the people who join the Hansen Group is the following. While they have a more limited shot than they might at other places, because of the fame that the Hansen Group has for developing strong leadership talent, they know that if they don't get the nod, they can get a CEO position somewhere else.
Right. It's the Nardelli effect.
RC: Very much the Nardelli effect. I'm not sure that's the most—
I say that wryly.
RC: So what does the Hansen Group get? Here's a fact that I use in the book. Currently, if you look at senior talent, in the age group of the mid-forties until the early sixties, 60 percent of people in senior management positions do not want the next advancement role because, frankly, financially, they're doing pretty well. They love the work they're doing, and they don't want the headaches. It has nothing to do with qualifications; it's all about work/life balance.
Think about it for the Hansen Group. You might develop your people to that senior level, and then they simply don't want to step up to the next one. So where does that leave you? If you were only developing enough talent to fill that senior rank, you won't have a good success rate.
Twenty years ago, 60 percent was 30 percent, right?
RC: Exactly. It's been a big shift.
Why? Due to the scrutiny that leaders come under? CEOs are now lambasted across the nightly news on a regular basis.
RC: I think that is one of several factors. It's now understood that if you take on a CEO role, you become a public figure. Take me, for example. That's enough to chill my blood.
I don't want somebody to start looking at my background. My God! [Laughter]
RC: Erik, from what I know about you, I think that's prudent on your part. [Laughter]
I am nothing if not prudent.
RC: I think another factor is work/life balance. Everyone is talking about how the younger generation has no loyalty, but the reality is that many people in their fifties are abandoning their careers. Now, I'm saying that tongue-in-cheek. They're not leaving the workforce. What they're saying is, "I put in my 20 years at GE after 20 with another company. I'm 55, I have another good ten years in me, but I don't want to do it at GE. I want to go do something with my work."
They quit to start smaller businesses, or become part of start-ups. They're not acting any differently than the twenty-somethings that are saying, "I want a series of cool experiences. I want to be in love with my work. It's not about whether or not I'm loyal to organizations."
Here's what the data also says to me. In prosperous economic times, that's what happens. If there's a sustained recession you'll see that behavior stopping. Why? There aren't jobs; people can't afford to do it.
Also, when younger people start having children that reach school age, the mobility factor reduces significantly. Job shifting evens out because family stability takes precedence.
I read that recently, but I don't think there's a lot of awareness about that.
RC: That was an eye-opener in my research. It's a lot more attention-getting to say that there's a big generational gap coming up and that there will be a dearth of talent. While some of that's true, I don't think it's due to the numbers. I think it's because we're not developing it sufficiently well.
But back to my point about the fifty-somethings; the Boomers are behaving more like the twenty-somethings now.
Which makes sense, given that 60 is the new 40. Sixty-five isn't old like it used to be, thank God. [Laughter]
RC: I'm sitting here at 56 saying, "Where's my third career?" And what's ironic is that when you have twenty-somethings still living with their parents, searching out their careers, and then their parents leave their big jobs and start searching out their careers.
Peter Drucker said in 2000 that the modern corporation will disappear within 25 years. Is this all just part of the decline of the larger organization?
We hear more and more about people working at home. We're in an information-based economy, so are we moving on to something beyond the traditional organization? Not only do we not have leaders coming in to replace current leaders, but maybe we don't actually need them. Or don't you want to think about that?
RC: No actually, I do want to think about it. I think there is some level of truth to what you're saying. First of all, I'm far too inadequate to ever challenge Drucker. He gave me a job; he's the guy that started management science. It would be hard for me to disagree with him.
However, while I think there's some truth in what he's saying—that the nature of organizations is changing—I also think that it's not happening at quite the rate that he thought.
Drucker was trying to point out that the world was going to go through this shift. What's interesting is that he never particularly said what it's going to look like. And no one else has been able to. Tom Peters probably does as good a job as anybody in describing it in terms of the Professional Service Firm idea.
I consult with the largest PSF in the world, Deloitte. You know what their number one issue is? Leadership. Deloitte is, by design, a very complex series of partnerships around the world that are governed by local customs and laws. How it all hangs together is very sticky, because we don't have the structural norms yet to allow these new emergent PSFs to operate in ways that we'd like them to.
Social policy's going to have to catch up with the innovations that the commercial world is offering us. That's one level of structural change. Another is that everyone has accepted the work/life balance; working at home or working in the office. I think that normative phase has ended. People are no longer stressed by that. I think we're still experimenting with the forms that it can take. But what we've learned is that the technology savior that we thought was going to be there isn't enough. I'm not talking about email, I'm talking about all the different technologies that allow us to have virtual relationships. They're insufficient for the social interrelationship needs that a PSF has.
Every group I work with says, "My biggest problem is managing people virtually, because none of us is very well equipped to do that." The problem, Erik, is that the technology doesn't allow us to experience each other in a way that engenders a satisfying relationship. Leadership is a relationship.
We should mention the four components of the book. We've talked about a lot of interesting ideas, but let's hit the big points.
RC: There are four leadership constants. We call them the Four Labors of Leadership. We use the term labors to borrow from the classical, as in the labors of Hercules. It's a deliberate attempt on our part to give it the air of timelessness, because that's how we see it.
The research shows that authenticity, navigation, architecture, and community are the four timeless dimensions of leadership. As far as we can see in the future, they are going to remain true. What's interesting about this is that you can actually link the responsibilities of individual leadership and organizational leadership to those four ideas. They just come in two different flavors. The easiest one to see is authenticity.
RC: It always has been, and it will remain. At the individual level, it means: Erik Hansen, are you credible? What is your personal brand identity? Can you be trusted? Are you competent?
These days we don't use the word charisma; we talk about social intelligence, emotional intelligence. It's interesting, if you go back to the 1950s, emotional intelligence was known as maturity. [Laughter]
I've always hated that word.
RC: Maturity meaning that you have wisdom. It's not about becoming old, but becoming deep; understanding human nature and how to influence it. In the book, we call it your individual marque. We resurrect the old-fashioned term, marque, from marquee.
I like that term.
RC: Bill George of Medtronic, Peter Georgescu of Young & Rubicam, and Pine and Gilmore talk about the idea of organizational authenticity. Are you trustworthy as an organization? Do we have good regard for you? Do you have a solid identity? These days, scrutiny of social sensitivity is heightened. Authenticity, organizational marque, is about distinction.
Internally, think about the tensions that exist for, say, a middle manager at the Hansen Group. Everybody knows that the head of the corporation, Erik Hansen, is the most authentic person in the world; we worship him because he's so authentic. But one of his lieutenants, who's running the Asian division of the Hansen Group, is involved in some nefarious, shady, not-quite-illegal deals. I'm a middle manager, and I find out about it. What do I do? That person doesn't report to me. Erik Hansen should take care of this. And yet, as a middle manager, what's my responsibility to the organization's identity? If I know things and I allow them to exist, how culpable am I, from an ethical posture?
Look at organizations that have been ruined by this kind of thing. Go back to Andersen. When Andersen collapsed because of two bad apples in the barrel, a lot of wonderful, high integrity people were injured. You could even say that of Enron. There were some good people at Enron that weren't involved, that were literally trying to develop a new business model, a new approach. We call them whistle blowers like they're bad people, when what they're doing is holding us responsible for the things that we say we're about.
I recently heard an interview on NPR by a professor at Harvard who said that the number one most-needed experience for next-generation leaders was to go through a case study analysis to find out what they'd do if their company faced XYZ ethical dilemma. Most people never get in that position, so they don't know how to handle it. He was explaining how useful it is to simulate these dilemmas, so that people have to face what they'd do.
At the Hansen Group, you're expecting organizational leadership from some of your frontline people. You're expecting them to think about new business models, experiment, and be novel. The reality is that we're not equipping people with these fundamental skills. There are methodologies for helping people gear up.
On the architecture side, it's about how to create an environment where people can do process improvement at the highest rate, so that we can have high performance work systems. A lot of people call this innovation. Innovation is one component of high performance work systems; it's a manifestation of it. Amazon has so perfected their processes that they now sell them to other companies, right?
Yeah, I just got an email from them yesterday; they want me to have a store.
RC: Exactly. They're selling processes to other people, because they've become so good at refining. They excel not just at the invention phase, but at continuous innovation as well.
Individual leadership responsibility is how you create a work environment where people can actually get that kind of stuff done. It's not about whether you are innovative; it's about whether you create an environment where the innovation of people naturally bubbles up.
With navigation, the individual focus is alignment. Regardless of where I am in the organization, can I align people to believe in—and inspire them to achieve—the goals and initiatives of the organization? That's alignment. Can I help my group get excited by them, so that the work becomes meaningful?
On the organizational side of navigation, it's no longer about alignment, it's about adaptation. There's a lot of interesting work being done right now about the adaptive organization. Adaptive is a bigger umbrella than simply strategic. It's taking the idea of strategy, contingency planning, and things that are very familiar, but perhaps a little bit old-fashioned, and determining how you adapt. At what rate do you adapt?
One of the great things I learned from Tom Peters was to borrow from biology. He quoted Carl Sagan in one of his lectures, saying how in rapidly changing times, organizations that are able to adapt rapidly survive. In less vigorous times, the organizations that can remain stable during stable times are more adaptive. So the challenge for an adaptive organization is knowing which one you're in.
In your industry, which one are you in? Well, we have the belief that everybody's in rapidly changing times. In some ecologies, in some industries in some parts of the world, that's not true. So you could actually mutate faster than your environment. You adapt lungs, but if, when you poked your head out of the water, it's not oxygen you're breathing, but carbon dioxide, the lungs aren't going to work, right? So you're ahead of your environment. That's adaptation.
With the last labor, community, for the individual, the big word is engagement. The book describes the three crucial components of engagement. Organizationally, the single issue is perpetuating leadership. How do we continually create an environment where leadership can emerge, be nurtured and trained? It's not just that we look for great athletes, but we also must figure out how to develop their natural talents.
A lot of people talk about legacy these days. Quite frankly, I don't think this is something that you look at when you're five years from retirement. I think this is something you start looking at when you're in your forties. The reality is, by the time you're 55, you're leaving and getting another job anyway. I think the idea of responsibility to the organization kicks in earlier in your career. Even if the duration of your career is short, can you point to anything that you did that said, "This organization will be better because I was here," rather than simply getting off of a sinking ship?
There's a shorter horizon. People are not staying at one company for 30 years the way they used to. Isn't it harder to think of your longterm effect if you suspect you'll be recruited out of there next week?
RC: That is a dilemma. We live in a robust marketplace where talented people have more choices than they used to. What's also true, though, is that not everybody's doing that. Or the rate at which people are doing that is different. Some people have seven or eight careers in their lifetime. For other people it's only three. The durations are different. The places where the duration of your tenure is higher tend to be places that develop leadership abilities better.
GE has a better track record of retaining top talent for longer periods of time. Why? Because they have a more robust look at how they do that. I hate to keep using GE, but it's the standard everyone recognizes. There are literally hundreds of companies around the world that are worthy of mentioning; I have just defaulted to GE for expediency.
RC: Ten years ago the number one problem in India was not enough educated talent. The number one problem in India today is not enough educated talent because they're all gone. Before, it was an education problem, now it's simply that they've proven that they are a contender in the commercial world.
We can't get enough talent from our own country. We're now having to import talent, because our talent has gone to many other places for additional opportunities. The commercial world is expanding its opportunities at a greater rate than we are developing leaders to fill those spots. The reason I believe that a crisis exists, is that we keep trying to decide what leadership is, rather than saying we know what it is, but how do we develop it. Our emphasis needs to shift.
There's certainly an issue; it's clear from the ghastly stories we see about companies. What's the next step for someone like you? You're in the leadership development business, so one would think that this would be a plea for someone to hire you. Knowing you, I'm sure that's not what this is about.
RC: I wrote the book because it's been burning in my soul for a long time. I've been doing research for a long time. I wanted this idea out in the world so that people could play with it.
Someone from Deloitte that was kind enough to give me a wonderful testimonial, also said, "You know, Ron, this is an ambitious and scary work. What you're saying is big idea stuff." Frankly, that's what I was intending to do, even if it stirs the debate.
I would say that my number one problem in dealing with organizations is getting senior leaders to become more personally involved in this issue, rather than saying that their job is to write a check to fund development. If that's all they do, they are abdicating their leadership responsibilities.
Tom had a slide that used a quote from a football general manager about being in the talent development business 53 weeks a year and 25 hours a day. We interviewed Ed Michaels a long time ago about the war for talent. He said that if you're serious about this, you're doing it all the time as a leader in an organization.
You throw out some scary possibilities of a lack of serious organizational leadership in the future.
RC: First of all, I think it already exists. The problem is, and I do recognize this, a lot of senior leaders are working their butts off keeping their organizations going as it is.
I don't want to minimize the demands on most executives these days; I think many of them work very hard at keeping things moving. The reality is that they need to relinquish some of those responsibilities to others so that they can take a truly more senior role in the organization.
I know Wall Street—Wall Street! [Laughter] Pick your stock market, okay? Calling it Wall Street is insufficient these days, you know? I know that the market puts a lot of pressure on these people, but I also know that there are any number of companies that refuse to allow the market to dictate how they progress their organizations. And those can wind up being pretty successful companies.
Erik, it's been great talking with you.
Thanks for your time, Ron. Keep us posted on your further adventures.
With coauthor Boyd Clarke, The Leader'™s Voice: How Your Communication Can Inspire Action and Get Results!
With coauthor Gregg Thompson, The Leadership Experience: From Individual Success to Organization Significance