Category: Leadership

The Future of Leadership

"It was pure, raw, unmitigated fun." This is how Tom described his recent conversation with Tanveer Naseer and Jim Kouzes.

Tanveer interviewed Tom and Jim, who have known and respected one another since working together at Tom's consulting company in the '80s and '90s. Jim became a thought leader and educator, coauthoring The Leadership Challenge. Tanveer guides them through a discussion of the challenges leaders are facing today, including whether leaders should embrace hybrid work opportunities and the importance of extreme empathy.

This fun conversation even dips into the future of work and we hope you'll laugh as much as Tom, Jim, and Tanveer did.

Listen Now!

 

Interview with Johann Verheem of Parsons School of Design

On January 31st, 2022 Tom joined Professor Johann Verheem and the Strategic Design for Global Leadership masters students at Parsons School of Design. This is a very unique business graduate program that believes it exemplifies Tom's saying: "Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard." The small cohort says they are a co-created course by diverse students with various backgrounds and different opinions.

Tom says, "My life goal—and I'm going to stay healthy so I can make a couple more steps—is to humanize professional education. And my 3 particular targets—who are my worst-of-the-worst list—are MBAs, Med schools and engineering schools." Being able to speak with these students who are getting a less traditional, more humanized business degree brings Tom immense joy.

Watch the great discussion between Tom and this class below.

Course 6: Leadership with Urgency–OUT NOW!

Tom's final course is now out! WOW.

His series, Excellence: Now More Than Ever, The Excellence Dividend Online Experience, consists of six courses and offers a total of 99 Steps to Excellence, each followed by specific actions you can take NOW. The goal of this series is simple: to offer you and your organization a helping hand in implementing the products of decades of Tom’s research.

Course 6 is the culmination of Tom's course series. Leadership with Urgency will invite you to take a very close look at your daily leadership habits and start to make some immediate changes to improve how you're getting things done. They may sound simple, but as you'll read below, they're not exactly easy. Nothing worthwhile is, right?

Course 6: Leadership with Urgency

[Below is what Tom has written to introduce this course, beginning with a quote from Dov Frohman.]

Avoid busy-ness, free up your time, stay focused on what really matters. Let me put it bluntly: every leader should routinely keep a substantial portion of his or her time—I would say as much as 50 percent—unscheduled. . . .Only when you have substantial ‘slop’ in your schedule—unscheduled time—will you have the space to reflect on what you are doing, learn from experience, and recover from your inevitable mistakes. . . . It takes enormous effort on the part of the leader to keep free time for the truly important things.” Dov Frohman, Leadership the Hard Way

High-tech superstar Dov Frohman lays down an outrageous law: 50 percent UNSCHEDULED TIME.

Frankly, I don’t think many of us could pull this off—could even pull off 25 percent free time. Nonetheless, Frohman’s credentials from Intel and from reshaping Israel’s high-tech sector are impeccable. My goal is to have you reflect on the likes of Frohman’s outrageous command. I don’t think I could do it—but upon personal reflection I think he is absolutely positively on the money.

TYPICALLY FRENZIED LEADERSHIP IS NOT LEADERSHIP AT ALL.

How many of us have had a boss who is late to four out of every five meetings because he’s overscheduled? Well, count me as one who’s experienced it—and lost all respect for the boss as a result thereof. The late boss is disrespectful (and, I’d bet, an awful decision-maker). You can’t do “frenzy” and “thoughtful” at the same time. I’d bet his decision-making is as half-assed as his on-time record.

The goal of this course is to lay down some formidable leadership challenges. It’s meant to get you thinking and trying several of these ideas out. I’m going to push you, for instance, on your communication skills. I’m going to tell you that each of the 15 people who report to you is very different from the other 14. Which means you need 15 dramatically different communication strategies in order to move forward effectively—every top football coach knows that, and so does every superior third-grade teacher, but damn few bosses seem to get it. They blame a miscommunication on the recipient—when in fact it is the boss’s fault 100 percent of the time!

Twenty challenges are forthcoming. I hope they help you down the path to leadership excellence.

Good luck.
-Tom

Register for Course 6: Leadership with Urgency today.

Course 5: Leadership Excellence – OUT NOW!

Tom has done it again! Leadership Excellence is his second to last course and it provides ready-to-use strategies for every leader.

Tom says, "This is simply a series of tools guaranteed to make you a more effective leader. Guaranteed because I have seen each one work a jillion times." With Tom's leadership toolbox you can try a few tools today, then some more next week. Pick a half dozen of the tools on offer. Or try them all. You’ll have to stick with them, adapt them to your situation, and march on.

Read on to learn more about Course 5: Leadership Excellence and Tom's full course series, Excellence: Now More Than Ever.

Course Series

Excellence: Now More Than Ever, The Excellence Dividend Online Experience consists of six courses and offers a total of 99 Steps to Excellence, each followed by specific actions you can take NOW. The goal of this series is simple: to offer you and your organization—a 2-person accountancy, a 14-person training department, a 23-person non-profit staff, or a division of a giant company—a helping hand in implementing the products of decades of Tom’s research.

Course 5: Leadership Excellence

[Below is what Tom has written to introduce this course.]

The U.S. Navy paid my way through college. I paid them back with four years of service. The first 18 months were in Vietnam, where I was a Navy combat engineer (Seabee). I had two tours in Vietnam, two commanding officers (COs). I call them “Captain Day” and “Captain Night.” Together they taught me more about leadership—good and bad—than I could imagine. And the lessons stuck.

Captain Day, my first deployment boss, loved his sailors—not unlike how Dwight Eisenhower loved his Army troops and Herb Kelleher loved his team at Southwest Airlines (more on that coming up). He was a no-nonsense get-the-job-done-on-time guy, but he clearly gave a damn—A BIG DAMN—about each and every one of us. He also avoided the command tent and spent most of his day in the field. Ten years after Vietnam I learned what to call his style: MBWA (Managing By Wandering Around)—a Hewlett-Packard invention.

Deployment No. 2 brought “Captain Night.” He had a different style of “leadership” entirely. It’s often called “by the book.” He was a stickler for formalities. In fact, I sometimes thought he was more interested in typo-free reports of jobs not yet done than hell-and-highwater-completed construction with, perhaps, sketchy documentation. I had a crappy time, as did virtually all of us junior officers, and our track record in getting things done for our customers was less than sterling. For me, the quintessential event came when I was summoned to the CO’s office and lectured on the difference between “tangible” and “palpable” in a report I’d prepared that was going up the chain of command—to this day, over 50 years later, I have no idea what the difference is between the two words. But I damn well know the difference between “Day” and “Night”—and the yawning gap between leadership that fosters growth and pride-in-accomplishment versus leadership that does the opposite.

I went from Vietnam to the Pentagon, and got another “degree” in leadership—this time leadership in big bureaucracies. Some of my bosses could move mountains, some could not.

I don’t like fancy stuff, so I’ve boiled my leadership learning in this course to 24 tools. No theory, just 24 leadership tools that work. My goal, then, is to give you a big box of “stuff”—practical ideas you can apply as soon as you finish watching and reading.

-Tom

Register for Course 5: Leadership Excellence today.

 

HARD IS SOFT. SOFT IS HARD.

8.27.2018 revised 7.9.2021

Tom wants to remind us of the importance of Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard. Here's what he says:

(“Hard [plans, numbers, org charts] is soft [abstract, readily manipulable]. Soft [people, relationships, culture] is hard [bedrock, lasting].)”

My Life in Six Words

The terms ‘hard facts’ and ‘the soft stuff’ used in business imply that data are somehow real and strong while emotions are weak and less important.”George Kohlrieser, Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance

My life in six words: Hard is soft. Soft is hard.

Hard (numbers/plans/org charts) is soft: Plans are often fantasies; organizational charts have little to do with the way the organization actually works; and numbers are readily manipulated. Case in point: “quants” and ratings-agency staffers cleverly packaged and evaluated “derivatives” of valueless mortgages, thus spurring the multi-trillion dollar financial crash of 2007–2008 and beyond.

Soft (people/relationships/culture) is hard: The best “people practices” (caring, training, acknowledging) create the most wholesome, community-minded organizations—and win in the marketplace as well. Effective people practices, design that inspires, customers who are enthralled, vendors who bend over backwards to assist us are all byproducts of a supportive culture nurtured one day at a time.

This was the heart of In Search of Excellence. This is the heart of my work today. This has been the heart of every one of my books. “Hard is soft/soft is hard” has been taken up by some, but I’m afraid it’s not the norm. And as I write, we are beginning to emerge from the grip of COVID-19 and deep social and political unrest. Humane and thoughtful behavior is in fact more important than ever. Far more important!

Google Gets a [B-I-G] [SOFT] Surprise

Project Oxygen [data from founding in 1998 to 2013] shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Those traits sounds more like what gets as an English or theater major than as a programmer. …

“Project Aristotle [2017] further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams,. Google takes pride in it’s A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees that don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room. Project Aristotle shows that that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. …

“[Tech] billionaire venture capitalist and ‘Shark Tank’ TV personality Mark Cuban looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.”Source: Valerie Strauss, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees—and what it means for today’s students” (Washington Post)

Bonus: All Hail the Liberal Arts

AT GRADUATION: Business and professional degree holders in general [MBAs, engineers, lawyers, etc.] have higher interview and hire rates, and higher starting salaries, than new liberal arts grads.

YEAR 20: Liberal arts grads have risen farther than their biz-professional degree holder peers. At one giant tech firm, 43 percent of liberal arts grads had made it to upper-middle management compared to 32 percent of engineering grads. At one giant financial services firm, 60 percent of the worst managers, according to company evaluations, had MBAs, while 60 percent of the best had only BAs.

Source: Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, 

More/Sample among these:

The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, by Scott Hartley

You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, by George Anders

Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, by Christian Madsbjerg

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein

 

From Rich Karlgaard’s THE SOFT EDGE: WHERE GREAT COMPANIES FIND LASTING SUCCESS:

I believe the business world is at a crossroads, where hard-edged people are dominating the narrative and discussion. … The battle for attention and money boiling inside most companies and among most managers is that between the hard and soft edges. …

“Far too many companies invest too little time and money in their soft-edge excellence. … The this mistake has three main reasons:

    “1. The hard edge is easier to quantify. …
    “2. Successful hard-edge investment provides a faster return on investment. …
    “3. CEOs, CFOs, chief operating officers, boards of directors, and shareholders speak the language of finance. …

“Here's the case for investing time and money in your company’s soft edge:

    “1. Soft-edge strength leads to greater brand recognition, higher profit margins, … [It] is the ticket out of Commodityville.
    “2. Companies strong in the soft edge are better prepared to survive a big strategic mistake or cataclysmic disruption …
    “3. Hard-edge strength provides a fleeting advantage. [It] is easier to clone than the soft edge."

1982-2021: In Search of Excellence/Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism

Hard is soft. Soft is hard.

“Hard [plans, numbers, org charts] is soft.

“Soft [people, relationships, culture] is hard."

Q.E.D. (IMHO.)

AVOID MODERATION!

07.22.2021

David Ogilvy wrote in his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, that few copywriters are ambitious. “‘Raise your sights!’ I exhort them. ‘Blaze new trails! Hit the ball out of the park!! Compete with the immortals!!!”

That sends chills down my spine. Chills of delight.

This set of quotes is about looking for magic, stretching beyond comprehension. How about adopting this to your bailiwick? And not just into ads or new products. These sentiments apply to a new training course or business process as much as they do to a new product or service offering.
 

Kevin Roberts’ Credo:

1. Ready. Fire! Aim.
2. If it ain’t broke ... break it!
3. Hire crazies.
4. Ask dumb questions.
5. Pursue failure.
6. Lead, follow ... or get out of the way!
7. Spread confusion.
8. Ditch your office.
9. Read odd stuff.
10. Avoid moderation!"

(Mr. Roberts was most recently CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. His book Lovemarks is on my “best business books ever” short list.)
 

INSANELY GREAT” Steve Jobs’ new product standard

RADICALLY THRILLING” BMW, ad for a new model

ASTONISH ME” Sergei Diaghley, to a lead dancer

'What should I make?' Yokoi asked. Yamauchi said, 'Something great.'" David Sheff about former president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, in his book, Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World

Every project we undertake starts with the same question: ‘How can we do what has never been done before?’” Stuart Hornery, in "The Company Without Limits" Fast Company by Polly LaBarre

Let us create such a building that future generations will take us for lunatics.” The church hierarchs at Seville

You can’t behave in a calm, rational manner. You’ve got to be out there on the lunatic fringe.” Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, in “'Black Belts' Roam GE Plants To Weed Out Snafus, Cut Costs” Wall Street Journal by William M. Carley

We are crazy. We should only do something when people say it is ‘crazy.’ If people say something is ‘good,’ it means someone else is already doing it.” Hajime Mitarai, former CEO, Canon, in "Crazy is Praise for Us" Forbes by Gale Eisenstodt

We all agree your theory is crazy. The question, which divides us, is whether it is crazy enough...” Niels Bohr, to Wolfgang Pauli

There’s no use trying,’ said Alice. ‘One cannot believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

To hell with ‘well behaved’ … Recently a young mother asked for advice. What, she wanted to know, was she to do with a 7-year-old who was obstreperous, outspoken, and inconveniently willful? ‘Keep her,’ I replied. … The suffragettes refused to be polite in demanding what they wanted or grateful for getting what they deserved. Works for me.” Anna Quindlen, Newsweek

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman: The Revolutionists' Handbook.

The Moral Responsibility of Enterprise: Credo 2021

Most of us spend the best parts of our waking hours in a business with 1 to 100,001 fellow employees. Business, therefore, is not "part of the community." Business is the community. Hence, the "first order of business" for any enterprise is its ongoing moral responsibility to all of those who make its success possible: employees, in terms of their personal growth, and social equity as regards gender and race. This also includes the communities in which its employees lives as well as the larger communities where the enterprise does business: city, state, country, planet.

And as to output—what business delivers to its employees, its communities, and its customers—it holds a sacred obligation to create products and services that, as Jony Ive (Apple's former design leader), says, "serve humanity first."

Regarding traditional business goals, such as unwavering commitment to excellence and to people and community are the only repeatedly proven long-term drivers of exceptional growth and profitability. Looking down the road, developing the full potential of its people and providing products and services that inspire offer the best chance we have to continue to provide enlightened and humane contributions that the looming artificial intelligence tsunami cannot take away from us.

THE “YOU LIKE, I LIKE” FIFTY-TWO

His eminence, Peter Drucker, once said, “Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.” As for me, my Ph.D. dissertation was labeled by my committee as the “first [Stanford business school] dissertation on the topic of implementation.” My subsequent research at McKinsey & Co., which led to In Search of Excellence, was an out and out exaltation of execution/ implementation/people and culture first, and thence a frontal attack on McKinsey’s Holy Grail, developing scintillating strategies for clients—and letting the doing take care of itself, which, of course, rarely occurs. A number of the firm’s power players wanted me fired. They eventually got their way, but I got the last laugh: the rather significant sales of my book with Bob Waterman.

Given that history, you may understand why I started this brief “You like, I like” compendium with: “You like strategy. I like execution.” That one is followed by fifty-one additional—and mostly contrarian—pairings.

Enjoy. And I hope what follows provokes some thought. And, hey, it was fun to write. I will plug away on these issues—ever more important—until, more or less, my last breath.

YOU LIKE STRATEGY. I LIKE EXECUTION.

You like strategy.
I like execution.

You like big gestures.
I like small gestures.

You worry about disruption.
I worry about the next five minutes.

You like systems.
I like people.

You think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
I think the shortest distance between two points—when people are involved—is a twisting, turning path with hairpin turns and dead ends.

You like to “get to the point.”
I like kindness.

You like answers.
I like questions.

You like “sticking to the script.”
I like unbridled curiosity.

You think “we pay our taxes.”
I think our responsibility to the community is enormous—taxes are but a first step.

You think “we need to work on the gender issue.”
I think we must make a “hard commitment” to 50–50 gender balanced boards and executive teams within 36 months.

You think women can be good managers.
I think women on average are better managers than men—and better salespeople, negotiators, and investors.

You think sustainability and the war on climate change “is an issue.”
I think sustainability and the war on climate change is the issue.

You think “we gotta take more cost out.”
I think “we gotta put more value in.”

You say design is “prettification.”
I say design is nothing less than soul.

You say design is “the final touch.”
I say design is the starting premise and at the top of mind in every step in the product-and-service development process.

You want to “hammer the competition.”
I want us all to succeed by doing great work.

You think it’s a STEM world.
I think in the main, if true distinction is the goal, it’s a liberal arts world.

You like “Do it because it’s your job.”
I like “Thanks for the extra effort.”

You say, “Thank you” is fine—but “don’t overdo it.”
I say it is impossible to overdo it!

You like to “get down to business.”
I like to take the time to engage one and all in the issues at hand.

You say, “finish it up” and move on.
I say the “last five percent” makes all the difference—and takes lots (and lots) of time.

You like your office.
I like the shop floor.

You like people “who get to the point.”
I like people who think before they open their mouth.

You like the noisy ones.
I like the quiet ones.

You like the people in the first row who constantly raise their hands.
I like the people in the last row taking copious notes.

You like speed.
I like excellence.

You think culture is “important.”
I think culture is a flourishing garden which must be watered daily.

You think the development and maintenance of relationships is “not insignificant.”
I think the development and maintenance of relationships must be a “daily obsession.”

You want a technical group to be peopled with folks who have sterling technical backgrounds.
I want a technical group peppered with poets and musicians and artists and theater majors.

You like a resume with no gaps.
I like a resume with false starts and fresh starts, dead ends and detours.

You like people who read Forbes and Fortune.
I like people who read Dickens and Ishiguro.

You “try to find time” to read.
I follow the dictum of fanatic studenthood and read and read—and read some more.

You like those who “get it done on time” no matter what must be sacrificed.
I like those who settle for no less than excellence, regardless of the task or the timeframe.

You think excellence is “a hill to climb.”
I think excellence is the next five minutes.

You like “Let’s figure out who screwed this up.”
I like “I’m sorry.”

You like people who dream in spreadsheets and process maps.
I like people who dream about helping others accomplish things they never imagined possible.

You like org charts.
I laugh hysterically whenever I see an org chart.

You insist on putting the customer first.
I insist on putting the people who serve the customer first-er.

You are determined to fix what’s wrong, and therefore emphasize the negative.
I am determined to build upon what’s right, and thence emphasize and emphasize—and then re-emphasize—the positive.

You like “but” (“yes, but . . .”).
I like “and” (“great, and let’s keep going”).

You think training is an expense.
I think training is our Investment #1.

You have a fit when a well-trained person leaves.
I throw a party when someone good leaves to take an amazingly cool job.

You see the front-line boss as the keeper of law and order.
I see the cadre of front-line managers as Corporate Asset #1—the premier developers of people, and thence responsible for productivity, quality, innovation, and excellence itself.

You promote the ones with the best technical skills.
I promote the ones with the best people skills.

You say, “leave your personal issues at home.”
I say we benefit from a caring environment that celebrates and is enhanced by 100 percent of who you are.

You think management is about getting the most out of people.
I think management is helping people succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

You like generals and admirals.
I like privates and sailors.

You say follow the rules.
I say make new rules.

You say, “don’t waste time.”
I say most creativity and engagement and commitment comes from milling about and indirection.

You sprint through the day like a soldier on a forced march.
I leave gaps in my day (up to 50 percent according to one guru) to allow for reflection and chance occurrences.

You see failure as, well, failure.
I see failure as something to be celebrated—the signature and hallmark of rapid tries and thus all innovation.

You think the top priority of an enterprise is profitability.
I think enterprise profitability is a derivative—the top priorities of an effective business are moral behavior, developing people beyond their wildest dreams, being a sterling community member, and providing products and services that “make our world a little bit better.” (FYI: These priorities in fact underpin the demonstrably highest long-term growth and profitability.)

Over to you . . .

Inspired by my new book, Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism

Excellence Now Campaign

"What you are doing right now will be the hallmark of your entire career.”  That's what Tom is insisting about the critical nature of leadership in current conditions. These tumultuous times demand deep engagement, human connection, and, yes, EXCELLENCE. In response, Tom has started his Excellence Now Campaign, a trio of publications intended to be his final lessons in Excellence. Lessons which focus on these topics of surpassing importance; topics which are, in fact, more important now than ever.

Excellence Now: The Forty-Three Number Ones
Tom's latest eBook shares 43 powerful and actionable “true Number Ones,” extracted from his 43 years of leadership research.  Each idea stands on its own and cannot be relegated to the middle or bottom of a list. And each Number One contains a proven message that can be applied—starting today. For the Forty-Three Number Ones Summary please download here, and to read the full Forty-Three Number Ones eBook you can purchase it here.

Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism
In his upcoming book, Tom sets an even higher bar given the state of our very troubled and very fast moving world today. Tom will show how excellence that centers around the human being rather than the technology, that creates jobs rather than destroys them, that offers humanized services and products that bring no less than delight and joy to customers is achieved by day-to-day, hour-to-hour action. Pre-order for Kindle now.

Excellence: Now More Than Ever
This six-part training course, two years in the making, is based in part on Tom’s 2018 book, The Excellence Dividend. On top of the 99 videos, each emphasizing a Step to Excellence, there are actionable TTDNs (Things To Do Now) associated with each of the content pieces that you can customize to the needs of your organization. That's 99 Steps and more than 99 action items. Read more about all six courses here. The six courses are:

  1. The Power of Excellence
  2. People (Really) First
  3. Innovation
  4. Value-Added Strategies
  5. Leadership Excellence
  6. Leadership with Urgency

Excellence Now Campaign Highlights

Please find the full Excellence Now Campaign timeline below:

Video: Tom Gives His Favorite Drucker-ism

With The Excellence Dividend in stores, Tom's actively putting bits of wisdom from the book onto many media outlets. Here's a video on LinkedIn where he encourages leaders to pay attention to Peter Drucker.