River Currents

What We Want From Leaders - Safety

Posted by Angel Hu on Oct 18, 2017 10:29:05 AM

Leaders gain our admiration. Often it is because they give us direction and focus. Or because they give us meaning to our daily work. We look up to leaders who speak about their vision (example: Jeff Weiner on Compassionate Leadership) ; we watch movies about leader’s journeys (see example in Steve Jobs, The Founder, etc.); we place leaders under the microscope to learn about successes and failures (Uber CEO).

We are surrounded by proclamations of leadership. 

But, do we think enough about why we need a leader? 

When organizations choose leaders, as much as they are looking for someone with the right experiences and character, they also look, often without knowing it, for someone safe, reliable, and dependable to fill the role.

Why is this? Elliot Aronson, one of the most influential social psychologists of the 20th century, proposed that we are psychologically wired to look for group cohesion and interactions with others. Later, psychologists built on this idea to propose that people need a sense of psychological safety within groups, so that they are comfortable with being, and expressing, themselves.

What's more, when a group does not have a clearly defined task, the group’s survival is jeopardized. Think: What is an NBA team without the goal of playing in the Finals? What is Coca-Cola without its first product?

To ensure the group’s sustainability, we gravitate towards the need to establish psychological safety. The way we select a competent leader is one of our favorite ways to assure us that the group is protected and safe. In a sense, task competence of the leader is secondary to his/her representation as a source of safety to the group.

This phenomenon is especially apparent when the group faces a high level of ambiguity. From looking up to our parents as children, to internalizing motivation at work through the leader’s words, most of us are well-versed with the process of selecting a leader.

When we are uncertain about what we are supposed to do or what the group is expected to achieve, we turn to the task of selecting a leader to find familiarity.

Let’s look at an example of selecting a leader to provide a group with a sense of safety.

In December of 1955, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed to launch a one-day bus boycott in response to Rosa Parks’ resistance to bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the age of 26, was committed to his career as a minister, thus, not eager to be a leader of the boycott.

While other members of the MIA, who had been exposed to life-threatening events and arrests because of their political activism, King had no record of public offenses. King’s vocational journey epitomized the idea of safety. He was young and able. He was committed to his work as a minister, which was an honorable role that taught religious beliefs and led community services. He had not been involved in the social and political scene.

As the MIA was about to disrupt the socio-political landscape of America, the group elected Dr. King as a leader, manifesting an underlying need for safety. During the tumultuous time of American history, King became a seminal figure in America’s civil rights movement, representing the oppressed group’s desire for safety and reliability.

The idea of needing psychological safety in our leader speaks to an unspoken process of how groups behave. This is not to say that we shouldn’t care about the skills and experiences that the leader brings to the group, but it is to shine a light to an underlying, yet powerful, influence in our decision-making process when we choose a leader.

When we think about selecting our leaders, we should take a step back and look at the elements in our environment. Do we have a clear goal to achieve as a group? Do we feel safe to contribute our thoughts and feelings to the group? Are we selecting a leader just to make us feel more comfortable in a chaotic time? Does the group have a clear vision and mission to guide the process of leadership selection?


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The Importance of Redefining Values During Culture Change

Posted by Bani Mahindroo Kumar on Aug 29, 2017 7:20:54 AM

Bright and colorful posters with the values of the company displayed all over the office is not an unusual sight. More often than not- that is exactly what they are. Words on a poster. They stay there, employees are told the company values on their first day and that’s very often where it ends.

While getting into situations where we have had to analyze and diagnose culture change issues, it is more often than not, a misalignment of the values amongst leaders and employees. Over time, they are forgotten, not communicated often enough, or might simply have changed and need to be redefined as the company has grown.

We’ve spoken about the importance of communication during culture change (http://blog.trgglobal.com/conquer-culture-change-by-attacking-this-challenge). But what you are essentially doing is communicating and reinforcing the values through words and actions.

Many times things change significantly for the organizations- the strategic direction might change, there might be a merger, or a course correction that might need to be done in the organization’s journey. Along with this, your company values also need to be revisited.

Culture change is about behavior change. If behaviors that stem from the organizational values are not clearly defined, there is lack of alignment, lack of a common understanding and therefore display of different behaviors across the organization.

So how do you ensure there is a common understanding of the values to drive that culture change? Here are 5 things to get you started:

  1. Hear it from the employee themselves: Don’t assume the current state- understand it well. Conduct a qualitative and quantitative analysis to hear from leaders and employees what does each value mean to them. What do they understand of it now, and how do they see it in the future?
  2. Check for Alignment: Are employees saying what you want to hear? Is there alignment between the executive team and the organization, and the employees and organization?
  3. Understand the Gap: Understand the gap from different perspectives:                              
    • Between the executive team and organization values- If there is a gap here, there is a red flag. Employees follow behaviors they see at the top and if the leaders are not aligned to the organizational values, you have a big problem at hand.
    • Between the employees and the organization values- If there is a gap here, it is most likely a result of the gap with the leadership team. If you see alignment between leaders and not at the employee level, it is likely that the leaders are not communicating enough and cascading the right messages.                                                                                                                                                                                    In either scenario, executive teams play the largest role in believing, displaying and cascading the values and expected behaviors of the organization.
  1. Redefine/Define the values: Consider this an opportunity to define your values aligned to the culture change you are trying to drive. The executive team needs to be involved at this stage of design. What is the new culture you want to drive? What do you want to be- Innovative? Agile? High Integrity? These values need be redefined clearly into acceptable and not acceptable behaviors with very clear behavioral expectations. This standard understanding needs to be communicated, communicated again, and then some more.
  2. Incorporate them in everything you do: ACTION is what will eventually make that change.                                                                                                                                         
    • This is where the actual action is: Re-look at your people processes- recruitment, promotions, performance management, delegation, communication forums, and ask yourself: is your performance management reflecting regular conversations to drive a culture of candor? Is your delegation matrix reflecting a culture of empowerment? Do you have a process where employees have the space and opportunity to innovate?
    • Start looking at the high impact processes like performance management, and promotions- and see how you can change some of these processes to start reinforcing the behaviors. Positive behaviors are rewarded and negative behaviors are corrected and eliminated.
    • Leaders, especially, need to set a high benchmark of these values and remember that everyone is seeing them as the role models for these values. If your senior leaders aren’t representing these values- you need to rethink if you want them to be in your organization or not. Eventually this message will need to be cascaded across the organization and be applicable to everyone.

Realignment of values during a culture change is not easy- and can take up to 2-3 years. It is tough because you are expecting people to change their behaviors. Eventually people who are aligned with your new cultural expectations will continue in the organization and those who do not relate to it will leave. What you will have is a stronger team aligned with your new cultural values driving the organization forward towards it new strategic goals.


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5 Ways to Get the Most out of the CEO Evaluation Process

Posted by Michael Franklin on Jan 10, 2017 11:34:37 AM

On a high-level, the process for planning and evaluating CEO performance is relatively straight forward.

But what about the nuances that play a huge role in determining the value gained from the process?

How the performance expectations and evaluation criteria are set, assessment is completed, Board is engaged in discussing results, and how feedback is delivered and discussed with the CEO?

Here are five guiding principles for realizing the benefits of an effective CEO evaluation process.

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Topics: Advising CEOs

A “New Normal” for the C-Suite: Learning Agile Leaders

Posted by Peter Thies on Dec 6, 2016 11:38:08 AM

What are CEOs looking for in the next generation of C-Suite leaders?  

Let’s look at three real-world examples:

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Topics: Advising CEOs, Developing Leadership Teams

5 Reasons Your Performance Management Conversations May Fail

Posted by Katherine Stowe on Nov 17, 2016 11:23:46 AM

Every year organizations invest thousands of man-hours in the annual performance review. And yet, despite all this effort, all too often employees walk away dissatisfied and demotivated.

Why? One big reason is that, for an employee, performance management is often less about the process, the form, or the final ranking.

For each of them, it is more about the quality of the ongoing conversation between them and their boss. And unfortunately many managers are not good at having these conversations.


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Topics: Growing Leaders

How the Most Successful Sports Team of All Time Uses Shared Leadership

Posted by Gavin Fenn-Smith on Nov 10, 2016 12:14:48 PM

Are the All Blacks the most successful sports team in the history of sports? Any team, any sport, anywhere in the world? Some say so. The All Blacks (The New Zealand men's rugby team) are the best side to have ever played that sport; three times world champions, with a 77% win record stretching back 100 years. They have not lost on home soil since 2009.

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Topics: Developing Leadership Teams, Growing Leaders

Conquer Culture Change by Attacking This Challenge

Posted by Bani Mahindroo Kumar on Oct 25, 2016 10:50:29 AM

Few things are more daunting than your strategy having ‘Culture Change’ among the priorities for the year.

Communication is often undervalued when it comes to transforming a culture. We have often seen a direct correlation between deficient cultural values and poor organisational communication. Leaders don’t speak to employees often, stories aren’t shared, strategic and policy changes are made in the organisation without giving employees much information, and the list goes on.

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Topics: Transforming Organizations

How to Orchestrate a Successful Company Transformation

Posted by Michael Franklin on Oct 11, 2016 11:06:51 AM

At some point in their careers, nearly all CEOs face the challenge of dramatically changing their businesses and organizations in order to sustain the success of their companies.

You may be a new CEO who was brought in to improve performance of a stalled company. Or an incumbent CEO dealing with disruptive technologies that are driving changes in your business model. Or a founder CEO with a window of opportunity to drive hyper-growth.

Whatever the situation, you are the only leader in the organization with the perspective and scope of authority to strategically determine “what” about your company needs to change and “how” to bring about those changes in ways that lead to sustained success.

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Topics: Transforming Organizations

Grilled on the Hill: 3 Lessons from CEOs in the Hot Seat

Posted by Peter Thies on Sep 30, 2016 10:27:13 AM

The public grilling of CEOs on Capitol Hill that intensified last week came with the usual 24/7 media coverage. Media hosts and their guests evaluated the grilled CEOs on their performance in the hot seat. Opinionated pundits from all corners jumped on the bandwagon about heinous business practices and CEO greed. Consumer advocates, corporate governance experts, Washington insiders, business news stations and a growing cast of experts will no doubt continue to opine on what the CEOs did wrong.

I will not add to the grilling or apologize for the CEOs. Instead, I want to focus on what CEOs can learn from the high profile Capitol Hill Grillings of 2016: John Stumpf at Wells Fargo, Heather Bresch at Mylan, Michael Horn at Volkswagen of America, and Martin Shkreli at Turing Pharmaceuticals.

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Topics: Advising CEOs

Applying the KISS Principle to Executive Development

Posted by Peter Thies on Sep 13, 2016 4:10:37 PM

There’s an inherent paradox in the development of CEO succession candidates. On the one hand, the developmental degree of difficulty is high at the executive level. But at the same time, the capacity of top executives to invest in their professional development is inherently limited given the intense demands on their time. There are simply too many priorities, meetings, and initiatives to attend to.

So how do you help executives who can benefit from deep development insights, yet are trapped in the “ADD” world of today’s business climate?

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Topics: Advising CEOs, Growing Leaders