In this edition:
Marshall Goldsmith's Tribute to Peter Drucker
Patricia Wheeler on "The Downside for Knowledge Workers"
Marshall Goldsmith on "Have the Courage to Ask"
Tribute to Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005)
At one meeting of the Board of the Peter Drucker Foundation, I asked Peter, "You have written so much about mission - what is your mission?"
He laughed and replied, "My mission is to help other people achieve their goals - assuming that they are not immoral or unethical!"
This comment was so typical of Peter. Along with his obvious brilliance, he was a simple and humble man who wanted to help others achieve their goals.
Peter Drucker not only taught me about management - he taught me about life. Through his example he showed me the importance of loving what you do - and communicating this enthusiasm to others.
He loved his family, his friends, his work and his life. His zest for living was always there - even at the end.
I visited with Peter shortly before his death. Even though his health was failing, he took the time to have a lively discussion with me about the state of the world and the futre that we face. Even when nearing death, I was amazed at his sense of history, his deep insight, his passion and his caring.
Peter Drucker did not just teach by what he wrote - he taught by who he was.
The Downside for Knowledge Workers
By Patricia Wheeler
Time is money. Speed of execution drives competitive advantage. We hear these words constantly, across levels, across industries. Given the need for speed, what can we do to increase efficiency and execution in today's knowledge economy? When the economy was based on "hard" products, the solution was evident. Build machines that worked faster. Teach workers how to follow more efficient processes. It's different today. Today we live in a world of even more rapid change.
Peter Drucker, the foremost management guru of our time, was clear that in a knowledge economy, the quality of one's work output is at least as important as the quantity. Knowledge work, he said, requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker. But that's not all; he clarified that it requires that knowledge workers be continuous teachers of knowledge as well. More than anyone over the last century, Drucker was such a teacher.
With most of the executives I coach, changes come fast and furious. New technologies, new reporting structures, new business challenges abound. And those in leadership roles not only have to integrate these changes seamlessly into their own work product, but they have to teach this knowledge to others simultaneously.
Highly matrixed organizations add to the complexity. We no longer have one line of accountability and reporting within a silo. Working collaboratively up, down and across the organization is critical to success. And good communication is even more crucial. In fact, our primary work "engine" is likely to be how we use our own words.
Here's the downside for knowledge workers: we're never done. As we increase in effectiveness and grow as leaders, we have even more relationships and stakeholders with whom we need to be credible, clear and transparent. As Drucker infers, we are the filter through which our company's knowledge must pass.
This is both the good news and the bad news. On the positive side, we can increase our effectiveness and organizational power exponentially by learning how to communicate seamlessly with our stakeholders without adding interpersonal "static." The bad news is, this may seem simple but it's certainly not easy. And we tend to underrate its importance and the commitment involved. How many leaders ignore improving their clumsy, perhaps arrogant, interpersonal style and spend their development time and money focusing upon technical skills or strategy instead?
We know from both research and observation that executives lose their effectiveness or even derail, not because they aren't smart enough, but because they fail to connect with or understand their impact on the people around them.
In a recent webcast, Marshall Goldsmith said that the success of projects depends as much upon relationships as it does on strategy. In fact, our communication is our biggest point of leverage, bar none. Sixty per cent of mergers and acquisitions fail to produce return on investment due primarily to the difficulty in combining organizational cultures - a process that depends heavily on consistent communication and understanding the various frames of reference of all parties. It is yet another example of "the soft stuff driving the hard stuff."
What does this lost time and effectiveness look like? Imagine this scenario: a talented director is verbally assailed by her manager in a staff meeting. She returns to her office where a full calendar of work and meetings await her. How will her productivity be impacted that day? How, and in what ways will she be distracted? How free will she feel to honestly engage her boss? How alive and aligned will she be with her peers? And how clear will she be in communicating to her directs the critical messages of the organization?
Coach's tip: Ask yourself: how do you know how well you communicate? How clear are you about your impact on others? Ask your stakeholders for feedback and then for feedforward (suggestions for improvement) about what you do well and how to improve. Remember, your communication is a knowledge engine for your company! Finally, ask yourself - how would communicating even better benefit both me and my organization? What are the "hard" profits that will result from developing this "soft" competency?
Remember, as Peter Drucker points out, organizations are no longer built on force. They are increasingly built on trust. And trust has much to do with the quality and clarity of our communication as leaders.
Patricia Wheeler is an executive coach and consultant who helps smart people become better leaders. As Senior Partner in the Levin Group LLC, she has spent 15 years specializing in organizational systems dynamics and coaching senior leaders. A distance-learning expert, Patricia uses an action-oriented and results-based approach to coach teams within global organizations, leading to increased synergy and bottom-line results. She is also a member of the Alliance for Strategic Leadership, a global network of senior executive coaches and consultants founded by Marshall Goldsmith.
Have the Courage to Ask
By Marshall Goldsmith
Peter Drucker had a great way with words. He distilled meaningful concepts into short phrases more effectively than anyone I have ever met. I have had the privilege of being on the Board of the Drucker Foundation (and now the Leader to Leader Institute) for many years. At one of our early Board meetings, Peter observed, "The leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask."
Why is asking so important? Almost all of the leaders that I meet manage knowledge workers. Peter defined knowledge workers as people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does. It is hard to tell people what to do and how to do it - when they already know more than we do! In today's rapidly changing world, we need to ask, listen and learn from everyone around us. As Peter said, "Leaders need to be willing to start with asking the question, 'What needs to be done?'"
Asking works! This isn't just a theory. As research shows, it is a fact. My partner, Howard Morgan and I published a study on leadership development programs involving over 11 thousand leaders and 86,000 of their co-workers from eight major corporations. Our findings were very clear. Leaders that ask co-workers to provide suggestions for improvement, listen to their co-workers, learn from the people around them and consistently follow-up are seen as becoming more effective. Leaders that don't ask - don't get much better. A few years ago, Leader to Leader published a similar study with relationship customers and found very similar results. External customer satisfaction goes up when customer service representatives ask, listen, learn and follow-up.
In addition to being supported by research, asking just makes common sense. When people ask us for our input, listen to us, try to learn from us and follow-up to see if they are getting better - our relationship with them almost invariably improves.
I have only one question. This seems so simple and obvious. Why don't we do it?
I have reviewed summary 360 feedback involving thousands of leaders from over 50 major organizations. If the item "Asks people what he or she can do to improve" is included in the company's leadership inventory it is almost always near the bottom (if not in last place) in terms of employee satisfaction. As a rule - in spite of Peter Drucker's good suggestions - leaders don't ask!
One of the major reasons that we don't ask is our inflated ego. When I have asked over 50,000 leaders to "rate themselves" relative to their professional peers - the results are very consistent - and very amazing! About 60 percent of all leaders rank themselves in the "top 10 percent" of their professional peer group, almost 85 percent say they are in the "top 20 percent." Over 98 percent claim to be in the "top half"! The performance of the company has very little to do with the self-assessment of its leaders. I have done this exercise with leaders in four companies that were considered (at that time) as the "most admired" in America - the results were about the same. I have also done this exercise with leaders in two companies that were facing bankruptcy - the results were almost identical!
When we become successful we are often delusional about the reasons for our success. Successful people tend to attribute good results to our own motivation and ability. We tend to attribute poor results to environmental factors, bad luck or random chance.
When we over-rate our own performance and knowledge, we can easily justify not asking others for their input. After all, why should we ask others, when (in our own mind) we already know more than they do!
Although inflated ego is one important reason that we don't ask, it is not the biggest reason - the biggest reason is fear.
Recently I asked the VP of Customer Satisfaction in a major organization, "Should your employees be asking their key customers for feedback - listening - learning and following-up to ensure service keeps getting better?" "Of course!" he exclaimed.
"How important it this to your company?" I inquired - egging him on to be more enthusiastic. "It's damn important!" he cried out.
I then lowered my voice and asked, "Have you ever asked your wife for feedback on how you can become a better husband?" He stopped, thought for a second, and sighed "No."
My interrogation continued, "Who is more important - your company's customers or your wife?" "My wife - of course!" he sadly noted.
"If you believe in asking so much, why don't you do it at home?" I inquired. He ruefully admitted, "Because I am afraid of the answer."
Why don't most of us ask - even though we know we should? We don't ask because - deep down inside - we are afraid of the answers.
Let me give you a personal example. At 56 years of age, one type of input that I should be asking for every year is called a physical exam. I managed to avoid this input - not one year or two years - but for seven years! How did I successfully avoid a physical exam for seven years? What did I keep telling myself - for seven years? I will get that exam after I quit traveling so much. I will get that exam after I go on my "healthy foods" diet. I will get that exam after I get in shape!
Have you ever told yourself the same thing? Who are we kidding - the doctor - our families??? We are only kidding ourselves.
My suggestions are very simple:
As a leader, listen to Peter Drucker. Get in the habit of asking key co-workers for their ideas on "What needs to be done?" Thank them for their input, listen to them, learn as much as you can, incorporate the ideas that make the most sense and follow-up to ensure that real, positive change is occurring.
As a coach - encourage the people that you are coaching to ask, listen and learn from everyone around them. Be a great role model for learning - then ask the people you are coaching to learn in the same way that you are. As an executive coach, I find that my clients can learn a lot more from their key stakeholders than they ever learn from me!
As a friend and family member - ask the people that you love how you can be a better partner, friend, parent or child. Listen to their ideas. Don't get so busy with work that you forget that they may well be the most important people in your life.
Improving interpersonal relationships doesn't have to take a lot of our time. It does require having the courage to ask for important people's opinions and the discipline to follow-up and do something about what we learn.
As Peter Drucker suggested we need to ask, "What needs to be done?"
Who do you need to ask?
When are you going to start asking?
Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams. He has been named one of the top 50 leaders influencing the field of management over the last century (American Management Association), one of the five most respected executive coaches (Forbes) and among the top ten executive educators (Wall Street Journal). He is the founder of the Alliance for Strategic Leadership and Marshall Goldsmith Partners. Marshall invites you to visit his library (MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com) for articles and resources you can use. This article was originally published in Leader to Leader, 2005.