Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leaders and communication

This week some extraordinary events in the Australian Federal Parliament highlight the fact that integrity (of which I wrote in my last blog), while essential for leadership, is nowhere near the whole picture.

The truth is that a leader is only as good as his or her communication.

My research that resulted in The Challenge of the Diamond and Leaders: diamonds or cubic zirconia? made that very clear. In my 8 facets of leadership, "integrity" is listed as #3 and, in #7 spot we find "communication". Unfortunately, as Dr Colin Rymer noted in his Doctoral Dissertation, most leadership researchers and writers seem to take "communication" as a given rather than drawing attention to its importance.

I have never met Malcolm Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition in the Australian Parliament, but there can be no doubt as to his integrity in relation to Emissions Trading. He was concerned about this when a Government Minister and he remained true to his beliefs when he announced that the Opposition would support passage of the ETS legislation currently before Parliament. His problems relate to communication. Listen to the media and some of his colleagues apparently see him as arrogant and out of touch: a person who does not listen to them and who is more concerned with his own agenda than anything else (all of which may or may not be true - as I say, I have never met him and I have no direct knowledge about him.)

Whatever is the truth, it is very clear that he has not taken all of his followers with him and he has not obtained their total commitment.

Leadership is all about creating an environment in which people can be successful. This requires the settting of a very clear vision, objectives, strategies, and goals. It also requires that the leader ensures his or her followers have the necessary competence and commitment for the vision to become a reality. When I was running the program Leadership in Senior Management at Macquarie Graduate School of Management, I used the shorthand L=V+C //C to remind people that leadership (L) requires a vision (V) that is communicated (C) in such a way as to bring about commitment (C). Mr Turnbull failed in this regard.

Of course, this then raises the issue of "style" versus "substance" in communication. I'll deal with this next blog.

In the interim, what does your communication say about you?

More information about Douglas G Long and how I may be able to help you at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Authentic Leadership

On Saturday November 21, The Australian newspaper ran an article by General (rtd) Peter Cosgrove entitled "Leaders know dream teams have an ethos". In this Cosgrove mentioned leaders who have had 'falls from grace' and stated: 'In the main the issues behind these falls could be grouped under a lack of competence, a lack of support from those they sought to lead and a lack or failure of integrity'.

During the early 1990's I conducted extensive research on leadership in the Asia-Pacific region (see The Challenge of the Diamond and/or Leaders: diamonds or cubic zirconia) and found that integrity featured as one of the absolute key requirements for effective leadership. In my books I made the point that one of the major issues we all have with so-called "leaders" is a disconnect between what they say and what they do - ie a failure to "walk the talk" is generally seen as a lack of integrity. All too often we find one standard being espoused for followers and another standard being used by leaders.

What concerns me today is an apparent lack of integrity in many quarters. There are myriad everyday small examples, but here are a few major ones drawn from various media reports:
  • A leader of a major investment bank, in justifying his salary and bonuses despite the gfc, claims that he is "doing God's s work".
  • World leaders claim to believe in democracy yet refuse to accept or negotiate with regimes that are acknowledged to have been democratically elected because the election results are different from what was predicted or hoped - and then go on to demonise the elected parties when they object!
  • Leaders claim to believe in the sanctity of human life yet justify the deaths of civilians as 'collateral damage' in wars they have initiated.
  • Leaders decry the War Crimes committed in places like Bosnia and correctly argue that the perpetrators deserve to be tried in appropriate Courts and, if found guilty, should receive appropriate penalties yet refuse either to investigate possible War Crimes committed by their own personnel or else argue that offences such as torture are simply 'enhanced interrogation techniques' and that they are therefore exempt.

A few years ago I was coaching a leader aged in the mid 40's. As we worked through some issues, there was a deep pause, and then my coachee made the statement: "I've just realised that I've never been truly authentic in my life. I have always done what was expected of me by other people. No wonder people are saying that I lack integrity!"

Today we need authentic leaders - leaders who are absolutely true to themselves and the people they serve. Cosgrove is right: authentic leadership requires integrity.

More information about Douglas Long and how I may be able to help you at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mentoring Works

A year or so before the global financial crisis I was approached by a local executive of a multi-national company. He was in his early 40's and had been in his role for about 3 years. Colin had all the trappings of success. He earned a high salary, had a nice home on Sydney's north shore, drove a top of the range car, his children went to private schools, and the family could holiday overseas whenever they wished. He saw himself as a future CEO. His friends thought he had it made.

But Colin was worried. He was responsible for Asia-Pacific aspects of the company. This entailed constant travel in the area as well as frequent visits to Europe for meetings at Head Office - he was travelling a little over 3 weeks out of 4. He had reached the point of considering changing jobs because he felt he was losing touch with his wife and children.

We discussed his situation and alternatives. He loved his job but was asking whether the rewards were worth the impact it was having on his family life. It was a question of life priorities. Was it possible to stay where he was and still fulfil his role as a husband and father in the way that he wanted to?

We worked through these issues over succeeding months and increasingly involved both his boss and his wife in the process.

As a result of these discussions it became clear to everyone that changes were necessary in the expectations and practices of all parties. It also became clear that Colin wasn't the only executive feeling stress over these issues and that resolving them could have a positive impact on the company as well as on the individuals. It wasn't easy but by the time the gfc hit we had in place changes that helped ensure stability and profitability.

We are now working on issues that will ensure continued growth. Stress levels caused by role conflict between job and family life have gone and the executives operate as a harmonious team. Staff turnover across the company has stabilised and employee satisfaction surveys show a positive workforce.

Last week Colin was promoted and his family is about to move to Europe for a few years. They're very excited.

In the company. mentoring has become an essential component of the development process at all levels.

More information about Douglas G Long, and how I can help you, at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Responsible leadership

Recently one of my golfing partners queried whether leadership being the process of creating an environment in which everyone can be successful meant that a leader should be "all things to all people" - in other words should a leader seek to be liked rather than to achieve results.

God forbid!

Over this past weekend, the Premier of New South Wales (Australia) made some changes to his Cabinet. This was not an automatic process - in order to do this he needed to first obtain authority from the NSW Labor Party Conference as, up till then, most of the real control was exercised by various party lobby/influence groups.

I am not commenting on the political rights and wrongs of any process of any party and neither am I seeking to make any political statement. However this action illustrates a key aspect of "leadership creates an environment in which everyone can be successful". Prior to this, no matter what the Premier may have wanted to do in order to maximise the probability of success, his hands were tied by a culture that needed change. Almost immediately after the Conference had agreed to the change in practice, he sought and obtained the resignations of at least two Ministers.

While it is true that a leader must work with the people who are in his or her organisation, the leader (and the leadership overall) have a prime responsibility to achieve desired results. In so doing they will have best chance of success if they can harness the energies of every person and have them all working together towards a common goal in which they all have a vested interest. However achieving desired results can require some very tough decisions up to and inclusive of the need sometimes to remove people who are perceived to be persistent non-performers or disruptive influences from either their role or from the organisation. A leader must not avoid such issues because failure to address them will have a debilitating impact on everyone else in the organisation as well as impacting on how the organisation is perceived to its customers/clients and other stakeholders.

The critical thing for a leader is not whether or not such speople should be moved or be dismissed: it is why it is done and how it is done. The implementation of such actions by pretext and/or "constructive dismissal" to justify one's own prejudices or discomfort at being held accountable or being challenged by alternative opinions is never warranted.

There are organisations whose current CEOs have career backgrounds that include working for someone who would not tolerate dissent or discussion that challenged his opinions - he was the "my mind's made up: don't confuse me with the facts" sort of person. These CEOs have been strongly influenced by this experience and they seem to operate in the same way. My observation is that such organisations experience high staff turnover (especially at senior levels) and the general feeling of people is that their CEO is manipulative and ineffective. There is a strong feeling that they mistake bullying and power for leadership.

Mentoring and coaching can help leaders become more effective and can facilitate their growth to effective people who genuinely create environments in which success is normal rather than being a random variable.

Fortunately here are a number of very good mentors and coaches available from a wide variety of sources. All you have to do is to contact them for an initial discussion.

More information about Douglas G Long at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Re-creating the organisation

Back in September 2007 The McKinsey Quarterly ran an article entitled "Anatomy of a healthy corporation." It argued that there were 5 key characteristics - resilience, execution, alignment, renewal, and complementarity. Since then, of course, we have had the global financial crisis. While all these are essential, I believe that there are times when they have a hierarchical relationship with certain characteristics being more important than others.

Resilience was clearly the key for the past couple of years. Corporations and other organisations that have survived the gfc to this point without relying on government bailouts or guarantees have certainly shown resilience. These organisations have battled through by making both strategic and tactical changes depending on what their environment was doing. I expect that most of these will now be able to move forward. I'm not so convinced about those that received government handouts and/or guarantees - from what I can see it is still "business as usual" for many of these (particularly in the financial sector) and I see no real indication that necessary changes have been made. Sadly this may mean that yesterday's mistakes may well occur again.

Today I believe that the key characteristic is renewal.

A key aspect of renewal is the ability to harness the energies of everyone in the organisation so that ideas can be generated and change can occur with the support of everyone involved. This requires leadership - but not the sort of leadership that is generally promulgated by the populist press. It needs true leadership - that which creates and sustains an environment for success (individual and organisational) for everyone involved. The starting point for that is a renewed vision of what the organisation can and should be.

What renewal is needed in your organisation?

What are you doing about it?

More information about Douglas Long at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mentoring: a tool for increased effectiveness

About 15 years ago I received a call from the Managing Director of a major Australian mining company. He was a very experienced CEO with a very high reputation but a person I had never met. He told me that he had heard about me from another CEO and that he was looking for a person with whom he could share his thoughts and "fly a kite" without any fear that what was said could end up in the media or be leaked to anyone else. We agreed to meet with a view to me providing him with mentoring.

At that meeting I asked him what he was looking for in a mentor. His reply was succinct and to the point:
  1. knowledge and experience in leadership and related issues
  2. someone who would stretch his thinking
  3. absolute confidentiality
  4. someone who was prepared to think "outside the box" - especially outside of mining!
  5. not a "yes man"
  6. total honesty - if I thought he was speaking bovine excrement, tell him!
  7. regular face-to-face meetings plus regular scheduled telephone contact
  8. unlimited access by phone or meeting when an urgent issue arose and relating to which he wanted outside opinion

We agreed to give it a try and my work as a mentor had suddenly started! Today that same man is a director of several public companies and Chairman of at least one. I still get phone calls from time to time.

These days "mentoring" has become a buzz word and there are myriad mentoring services available - some even in unexpected arenas such as the family (see, for example, which provides mentoring to parents of new born babies) - because the concept has proved itself as an extremely valuable aid in helping people learn, grow, and become more effective.

So what is mentoring?

I like the definition given by Bozeman Feeny in 2007: "mentoring is a process for transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protege)."

Back in the 1980's a writer named Christopher Meyer said: "a leader uses only one tool: him or herself. Like any other tool, the more we know the tool's potential and limitations, the more effectively we can use it. Leadership is therefore dependent on self-knowledge and awareness."

Do you constantly seek to know more about your potential and limitations? As Meyer says, in the long-term, you as a person are really the only tool you have.

Mentoring can help you become a better leader.

More information about Douglas Long at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mentoring For Re-creation

Harry Lubansky of Melbourne who sent me this photo taken a few months after Victoria's terrible bush fires last year, makes the point that sometimes Australian bush doesn't regenerate - the fire is so intense that the trees are totally destroyed. In these cases nothing can be done and regeneration is not possible. Those people I knew who committed suicide (blog: The Re-Creating Organisation) obviously felt that the devastation they had experienced made it impossible to go on - nothing short of a total tragedy for everyone involved including friends.
I have been working for several years with some of the CEO's and executives I mentor. Prior to the GFC our discussions centred on normal leadership issues relating to healthy organisations operating in a positive environment. As the GFC loomed and then hit, our discussions turned to understanding how these events would affect operations; to strategies for survival with minimum negative impact on all stakeholders; to "holding the line"; to moving forward. Like the bush that is now regenerating, these were healthy organisations with CEO's who knew they needed support and were prepared to use it.
In my experience, mentoring can help in the re-creation process only when those being mentored are willing to be totally open about the issues they are facing and, simultaneously, they have a belief that these issues can be dealt with. I believe it was John Saunders, founder of The Terrace Tower Group, who used to say: "He who has life has hope. He who has hope has everything."
Is re-creation needed where you are? What issues are you facing - both personally and in your organisation? Do you believe that these can be dealt with? What help are you getting as you seek to deal with them?
More information about Douglas Long at

Monday, November 2, 2009

Re-creating leaders and organisations - not a "phoenix"

A few weeks ago we lost our older and much loved Belgian Shepherd to cancer. It was the second time cancer has hit our family or pets. In talking with friends, virtually everyone I know has been affected by cancer in a family member or a pet or, like us, in both.

I am not an oncologist and I have no real knowledge of oncology but, from a recent TV documentary, I understand that at least some cancer cells are normal body cells that refuse to die when they should. Instead of allowing natural events to take their course, these are cells that become feral and so create problems.

Some people have asked me whether a re-created organisation is the same as a phoenix organisation. The answer is a resounding "NO!"

A phoenix organisation, at least in Australia, is one in which the owners have run the organisation in such a way that it eventually fails and, while the owners do very nicely, the organisation's creditors lose out totally. In the meantime the owners "laugh all the way to the bank". Once the washing up is completed, the owners start a new business in the same industry - very often from the same premises - and repeat the cycle. Only the name is different. To my mind this phoenix approach is malignant and akin to the cells that create cancer.

A re-created organisation is totally different.

Outside my window is a magnificent bougainvillea. Now, in the spring, it is bursting with colour but only a few weeks ago it was a barren cluster of grey-brown twigs and branches. it had been alive all winter but had nothing to show for any effort the plant may have been making - it was in survival mode.

This provides a metaphor for the re-created organisation.

A re-created organisation is a basically healthy organisation that needs to rethink what it is doing and how it does it. It is an organisation that has, in effect, been dormant for some time - lots of effort but no results - and is now seeking a new way forward.

What I love most about re-creating leaders and organisations is that I can bring them out of winter and into spring.

More information about Douglas Long at