JMT Certified

GLN conversation – What does success look like?

Earlier this year I was approached to become a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK (GLN) and having accepted the appointment I had a “conversation by email” where we explored my background and some leadership related topics.  The discussion that ensued is reproduced here in an unedited format.  (Note that the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) is the flagship conference for the GLN which is held in Chicago in August each year.  This includes talks from Leaders around the world and is rebroadcast around the UK later in the year.)

Can you share any challenges you have faced along the way?  Any mistakes you’ve learned from?  What does success look like from here?

In his book, the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth John Maxwell writes about the Law of the Rubber Band, which says that Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.  It also stops when you stretch the rubber band so far that it snaps.  Genuine growth occurs between these two extremes.

I define the stretched rubber band as being where the Inspiration Zone is found.  When the rubber band is not stretched, that’s the Comfort Zone, and when the rubber band snaps, well that’s the Delusion Zone.  Knowing just how far you can stretch the rubber band is more of an art than a science, however, I have found that it can usually be stretched much further than we thought it could initially.  I have found that the most effective way to obtain the best from people is to increase the stretch gradually, rather as we do when performing stretches physically before and after exercise.  

Some challenges I’ve encountered:

Victim vs victor.  The response which says I’ve done everything I could, but THIS prevented me from achieving the objective.  I didn’t achieve my objective but It’s not my fault.  

Sometimes there is genuinely something that prevented an objective being achieved.  One client had an objective to implement a new financial management software solution, only to find that the product they had chosen was going “end of line”.  At the coaching conversation, it became clear that they had no way of knowing about the impending end of line, and that a change of direction was the wise course of action.  

Another client had a proposal to be submitted by a deadline, and the reason offered for missing the deadline was that someone else hadn’t provided some crucial information in time.  At the coaching conversation, it became clear that this client knew about the risk of the information being delayed but hadn’t done enough to address the risk of receiving the information later than necessary.  They could have done more and achieved the deadline, and they had accepted their failure too easily.  

Sandbagging.  This involves setting targets and objectives that are going to be easy to meet with little or no stretch involved.  Sometimes this is due to a lack of motivation or drive in the individual, and sometimes it is a cultural issue due to a fear of failure within the organisation caused by the experience of how failure has been dealt with in the past.  Some organisations are really averse to any kind of failure; however, I know one organisation who embraced the idea and had a “monthly failure meeting” where everyone was expected to bring along a stretch goal that they had tried and failed at.  

I had a conversation with a director of a small company which had recently been bought out by a larger rival, and she was describing the difference in corporate cultures.  The smaller company had a corporate culture that said “if we’re 80% sure of being able to achieve something, then we’ll do it”, whereas the larger company had a culture that said “if we’re 20% sure we could do it, then we’ll give it our best shot”.  

Estimating bias.  For several years I managed the proposals department for a sub-contract engineering firm.  When putting a price together we had teams of engineers who would have to estimate the work involved in completing the project.  I learned that some engineers would tend to overestimate the costs, and others would tend to underestimate.  In this world of tendering, if we were 15% too expensive, we would always lose the bid, yet if we were 15% too cheap, we would win the business and make a loss.  So, part of the proposals process involved applying a factor to each engineer’s estimates in order to take this into account.  

Mistakes I’ve discovered people doing involve imposing objectives or targets that the client doesn’t buy in to or accepting failure when success could have been achieved with a little more focus.  It’s really important that the client is stretched, but that they also buy into their own stretch goals.  It’s important to realise how far people can be stretched and still believe that they can achieve the result.  It’s also important that people realise that they are going to be challenged if their goals aren’t met so that they don’t let themselves off too easily, but they also have to understand that failure isn’t final.  

In leadership terms, success looks like achieving more while using the same resources.  Anyone can achieve ordinary results with ordinary people, many can achieve extra-ordinary results with extra-ordinary people, however, it takes a great leader to achieve extra-ordinary results with ordinary people.

When working with a team in this cycle of goal setting and achievement it’s particularly important to have their goals aligned with the organisational objectives and a great way to make this happen is to have a short term corporate thematic goal, which can be revised for each season of around 12 to 18 months.  

The overall objective of the business may be to make widgets profitably or to provide a great service and make a meaningful difference in some way for your clients.  To have a thematic goal makes it possible for the team to come together around a particular aspect of that objective for a season.  Here, successful leadership is about “intentional alignment in terms of results”.  We will focus the entire team on achieving a particular thematic goal. and each team member will apply one of their goals in each cycle to achieving that overall thematic goal.  

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.