Part 3 of 4
Geoff: Let’s shift a little bit and talk about culture. How would you define the culture of an organization? How important is it? And how is it created?
Tony: It’s the number one thing we should be looking at. It’s extremely important. Charles Koch defines culture this way: It’s stated values—everyone talks about their values or core values that are stated all over the place. But there’s another key component that people don’t often talk about: norms of behaviors. They’re often not stated or written down, but norms of behaviors.
I’ll give you a good example. If I go to an organization and they talk about customers using the “they” word. “They do this.” “They do that.” I can pretty much be assured that they are not doing a great job because they’re almost thinking like they are the enemy. If they talk about the customers like they are “mine” or “ours,” that means they care deeply and want to preserve and protect them.
So, culture means, what are the stated values and what are the norms of behavior? Norms of behavior can be things that are very good and they can be things that are not so good. We have to look at those things and understand what they are and whether they’re good or not. It’s extremely important because when you have a good culture, with good standards of values and norms of behavior, as a leader you don’t have to get involved in nearly as much and it’s a guide for how people make decisions. People can just look to those values and norms of behaviors and say “What decision should I make?” And most times people at all levels know what decisions to make because of that. It saves horrific amounts of time and energy and resources.
Secondly, particularly today when it’s so difficult to find people, you’re either going to have a culture where people can thrive and excel or they’re going somewhere else so that they do. Without a great culture, I think you’re going to have more and more difficulty attracting and retaining the kinds of great people you need to be successful when there’re other companies doing that. It should be number one, it should be very clear and articulated, and a great exercise is for a team to say, “So what are our norms of behavior that aren’t so hot? What impact are they having? And what do we need to do to change them?”
Also, to change your culture requires a significant amount of time and effort. It’s not going to happen in a year. Part of the mistake people make is that think if they change some values, they make some statements, they put them out in a newsletter, they talk about them once or twice, then they think they’re done. They haven’t even begun. Changing culture is very time consuming, it’s a lot of work, and it’s important. But if you’re not prepared to do that long haul, I think it’s actually worse than trying to make a change because people know you haven’t followed through.
Geoff: Tell me a little bit about how you think leaders should develop their personal competencies and fluency around leadership.
Tony: A couple things. First of all, I think it’s extremely valuable and very important to, on some kind of a regular basis, at least every two years, have someone independently of you do a 360 of you—with your people, your peers, maybe your board members–some outsiders. Without that it’s really hard, I think, for any of us to be aware of where any of those blind spots are. Whenever you do that, I have the same thing done about me. You’re going to be upset about that for maybe a day or two because there are going to be some things that people tell you you’re not so swift at that you perhaps thought you were. I think that’s very valuable because it usually is around some kind of a behavior thing and it’s holding you back and holding your people back. Without that feedback, you probably aren’t going to know about it. So, I think that’s very good.
Depending upon the challenge that my clients have, the next thing I recommend is having an executive coach, such as yourself. I’m not qualified to do some of those things. And to help with finding out where that’s coming from and why. And having some more realization about that and having somebody help you make those changes and hold you accountable. Anytime I want to change a behavior, it’s very difficult. Without some kind of an accountability process, I think it’s difficult. So there are clients where I will say, “I’m not the person for you; but you need a great executive coach, and they’re the ones to help you go through this and find out why you’re at where you’re at, at a deeper level and make those changes.”
I think there’s a couple other things. Peer groups: there are peer groups available to folks that you can work half a day a month with other leaders, whether it’s industry or a variety. So, I think peer groups can be very helpful where you can see people who are better than you at certain things and you can see how to improve your competencies based upon working with them.
I think reading is important. I’m a huge fan of The Harvard Business Review magazine. In retrospect I wish I would have started reading that twenty years before I did. I think those are the kinds of things that I think leaders ought to be doing to constantly be raising up their competencies.
Geoff: What would you say are the core skill sets that leaders need to develop? What are those key skills and abilities they need to have?
Tony: I think having a high level of emotional intelligence is a key skill set competency. The ability to be aware of who you are, who you’re not, the impact you’re having, and to see those blind spots and make adjustments. The ability to influence people in a very positive way and have them want to follow you. I think having those high levels of emotional intelligence is very important. I don’t mean “charisma” when I say that. Some of us have some natural charisma; I think that’s a great attribute. I don’t think it’s critical to be a great leader by having high levels of charisma. That’s not what this is about. I think it’s very different.
I think you also have to be customer-centric. I think you always have to have an eye on the customer or the client. You have to be engaged with those folks, you have to be aware of what’s going on, you have to be mindful and measuring what the customer experience is like. When you do The Net Promoter Score, most of us find out we’re not doing such a good job. It’s being very customer focused; very customer-centric.
I think another key attribute or skill set is being results-oriented. It’s not about activity, it’s not about actions, it’s about results. You’ve got to be results oriented and view everything through that lens of “Am I getting results?” If the answer is “no,” it doesn’t matter about the activity or actions, we’re not getting there. So, what are we doing about that? There’s probably ten or fifteen.
One other one, and this has been found through research with McKinsey. One of the highest competencies that shows up as a successful CEO is being supportive of your people. So, I think you have to be supportive of your people and they have to believe you’re supportive. Again, otherwise they’re not going to follow you.
Geoff: It doesn’t sound like you need an MBA or a doctorate from Harvard to do those things.
Tony: No. Those things are helpful, but I don’t think they’re necessary. There’s a lot of skill sets and technical competencies required in any organization. You can’t have them all, and you don’t need to have them all. But you need to make sure they’re there in the organization. And you have to know what “good” looks like. You may not understand a discipline, but you have to be able to understand the results of those things, what “good” looks like and know if you’re getting it or not. That’s the key. But you’re not going to have all those competencies. Obviously, the competencies you do have, then with your leadership team, you better have those folks know the competencies you need for the business. But where we as leaders come up short, somebody else better be good at that.
We’ll finish our interview with Tony in our next post, where Tony talks about the importance of community involvement, how he recommends dealing with stress, the most important thing he’s learned about leadership, and how he’d like to be remembered.
© Geoff Davis, 8/9/19