Leadership: The soft stuff is the hard stuff

March 23rd, 2014

“Wise is the man who realizes early in life that what he can do by himself is relatively small. A man’s success is determined, in large measure, by what he is able to get other people to do.”

  • Lee S. Bickmore, Chairman of the Board, Nabisco

Leadership. It’s an essential component of success.

Yet in this day and age when everyone calls him/her-self a leader or a visionary, few have actually mastered the art of leadership.

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish “management” from “leadership.” John P. Kotter, Emeritus Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, gives us these definitions:

  • Management: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
  • Leadership:  Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.
Colin Powell goes on to say, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

Leadership is about more than just having technical proficiency in various quantitative analytical methodologies and paradigms (the “hard” stuff). Those are important and necessary. But leadership is also about motivating and guiding people, and therefore involves relational, emotional and organizational dynamics (the “soft” stuff). And, in the final analysis, the soft stuff is always the hard (i.e. most difficult) stuff.

“You have to be a well-rounded leader… You have to be incredibly tough-minded about standards of performance, but you also have to be incredibly tenderhearted with the people you’re working with. They have to feel like you have their back. If they feel like a victim of your leadership, they’ll go elsewhere. The second principle is that the soft stuff is the hard stuff. Most people that derail as leaders in the corporate world, it’s not because they couldn’t do the math and calculate return on investment properly. The issues are communication and understanding. All of what typically would’ve been called the ‘soft stuff.’ You have to be authentic. You have to be dialed into the soft stuff. Your EQ [Emotional Quotient] has to keep up with your IQ.”

  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview of Douglas Conant, former chief executive of Campbell Soup (CPB).  When he became CEO of CPB, it was in trouble. Over the next decade, Conant reinvigorated both the corporate culture and the company’s iconic soups. Now Conant is author of Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments and is head of the new Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University’s management school.

“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

  • Roger Enrico, Vice Chairman, Pepsico

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

  • Dale Carnegie

“Sometimes in business people talk about being nice to people as a soft thing… and that you should not spend too much time doing this because you need to get on with the hard stuff of making more money, being more productive, getting the costs down, enforcing the rules, keeping the labor in line, keeping the place cleaned up, and all of that other so-called hard stuff in our business. Taking the time to be available for your team members might be classified as soft stuff, and it is kind of hard to measure what impact it has on the business anyway:

  • Making your team members feel special,
  • Treating them as individuals,
  • Showing complete and unconditional respect to them,
  • Spending time developing them and educating them…

“You could talk yourself into thinking that you don’t have time to do that soft stuff with all of the hard stuff you are faced with every day. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t do the so-called soft stuff exceptionally well, you will never achieve the potential payout in the hard-stuff category. At the end of the day I have learned—and it did take me a while to learn this—THE SOFT STUFF IS REALLY THE HARD STUFF.

“If we all spent more time figuring out how to do the so-called soft stuff really well:  We would not have much hard stuff to do… because when you do the soft stuff well, your team will take care of the hard stuff… because they know exactly how to do it, and they will do it if they want to do it… and they will want to do it if you do the SOFT stuff well.”

  • Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World® Resort. “As the Senior Operating Executive for ten years Lee led a team of 40,000 Cast Members and was responsible for the operations of 20 resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping & entertainment village and the ESPN sports and recreation complex in addition to the ancillary operations which supported the number one vacation destination in the world. One of Lee’s major and lasting legacies was the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies which was used to train and develop the 7,000 leaders at Walt Disney World. Lee has held various executive positions in the hospitality and entertainment business with Hilton Hotels for 8 years and the Marriott Corporation for 17 years before joining Disney in 1990 to open the Disneyland Paris project. Lee has served as Chairman of the Board of Heart of Florida United Way, the Board of Trustees for The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the board of the Production and Operations Management Society and the board of Reptilia, a Canadian attractions and entertainment company.

“Here’s a secret that gives competitive edge to any leader who understands it: ‘The really hard stuff is the soft stuff…it’s building a culture around the feelings of your customers and your employees.’

“I heard that for the first time a few years ago listening to Tom Asacker speak about building a brand. For me, it was one of these “aha” moments that helped put into focus the power of emotions when it comes to our behavior.  I heard another memorable quote along those lines not long ago: “You may not remember what someone says or does, but you’ll never forget about how they made you feel.”

  • Mac Anderson, Founder and CEO of McCord Travel, the largest travel company in the Midwest. Part owner/VP of sales and marketing for Orval Kent Food Company, the country’s largest manufacturer of prepared salads.  Founder of Simple Truths and Successories, Inc., the leader in designing and marketing products for motivation and recognition.

“In my 35-year corporate journey and my 60-year life journey, I have consistently found that the thorniest problems I face each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges. Inevitably, I have found myself needing to step back from the problem, listen more carefully, and frame the conflict more thoughtfully, while still finding a way to advance the corporate agenda empathetically.  Most of the time, interestingly, this has led to a more promising path forward and a better relationship, which in turn has made the next conflict easier to deal with.”

  • Douglas R. Conant, coauthor of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments, in his introduction to an excerpt from The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems, by Stephen R. Covey.

In your journey to becoming an excellent leader, take the time to master the soft stuff.  Proficiency in those skills will yield meaningful results.

[Image © LuxMaxArt;
used with permission: CC BY-SA 2.0]

Creating a “10A” Organization

November 9th, 2012

To meet the needs of constituents (“customers”), government entities would do well to ensure that they embody what I call the “10 A’s” in all audience-facing activities and projects:

  1. Any time
    1. Don’t limit the customer to interacting only during certain “business hours.”
  2. Any where
    1. Don’t limit the customer to interacting only at certain physical locations.
  3. Any device
    1. The customer should be able to interact with your organization using any device (desktop, laptop, mobile, tablet, etc).
    2. The user experience should be optimized for mobile and tablet devices (and released for mobile/tablets FIRST, if sequencing is necessary).
  4. Audience specific (…and FAST!)
    1. The customer does not care about (and is confused by) your internal organizational structures.  Don’t make them need to know your org chart.
    2. Present information and resources in language/formats which make sense to the customer, and which is structured around the customer’s needs.
    3. Ensure “no wrong door” (no matter how the customer begins their interaction with your organization, they will end up at the right place /resource).
    4. Turnaround times for transactions and inquiries should be FAST!
  5. Audience engaged
    1. Dialogue: Have two way conversations with your audience, not just a one-way broadcast (monologue) of information. (Hint: Effectively leverage social media.)
    2. Share status, updates, wins, setbacks, reasons for decisions and setbacks.
  6. All with “one voice”
    1. Minimize conflicting messages delivered to the customer from various internal organizations.
    2. Be aware (when appropriate) of the customer’s history of interactions, and leverage to shape current and future interactions with the customer.
    3. Strive for a 360-degree customer view; Leverage CRM (customer relationship management) systems when appropriate / legal.
  7. Apparent
    1. Make transactions / interactions obvious and SIMPLE.
    2. (Simplicity is the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done by the customer.)
  8. Agile
    1. Deliver the minimum viable product (MVP) quickly; then enhance and improve (leveraging customer feedback).
    2. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.”
    3. “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
  9. Alerts
    1. Allow push of (customer-selected) data to the customer’s preferred device/platform.
    2. Allow the customer to (easily) opt out when desired.
  10. Accessible and Open
    1. Be compatible with tools used by persons with disabilities.
    2. Provide multi-lingual resources.
    3. Data sets should be published and Open, to facilitate transparency, external use and innovation.

How is your entity working to become what I now call a “10A Organization?”  What government entities have you seen which are good examples of (or are movingly effectively to become) a “10A” Organization?

- Tony Parham

Government Innovation

August 4th, 2012

Although some would consider it an oxymoron, government innovation is beginning to blossom.  For example, Todd Park, a successful entrepreneur, recently became US CTO, reporting to President Obama.

Todd quickly launched the Presidential Innovation Fellowship Program to address several key initiatives.

It is important to note that Todd is not alone in this effort.  Forward-looking cities and states across the country and around the globe are appointing Innovation Officers to help make governments more effective in providing services to their constituents/customers.

Here is a video of the launch of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

- Tony Parham

What Are the Different Types of Innovation?

June 7th, 2012

My two previous blog entries described how to foster innovation, and described the evolution of web-based innovation. Today’s entry looks at the different types of innovations used.

Stevenson and Kaafarani describe 4 types of innovation:

  • Transformational : A revolutionary breakthrough which drastically changes society/industry
    • Example: The automobile, the lightbulb, the Internet
  • Category: A new application of ideas, products or services (rather than the creation of inventions)
    • Example: Automobile service stations, with manufacturing, virtual bookstores
  • Marketplace: Unique modifications of existing products and services and delivery methods
    • Example: Folding side view mirrors on cars, light bulb editing, PayPal
  • Operational: Finding efficiencies which save time, improve quality, increase productivity, improve work environments
    • Example: assembly-line automation, retail display racks, online inventory control

Clayton Christensen uses slightly different innovation descriptors:

  • Sustaining: Incremental innovations, turning good products into better ones.
    • Example: making a cleaning agent 10% stronger.
    • Categorized by results which are immediate, moderate — then taper off
  • Breakout: Significantly increase the level of play in an existing category.
    • Examples: Motorola RaZr became the best selling clamshell cell phone category through sleek, groundbreaking design
    • Results are rapid, strong, then quickly drop to a lower level
  • Disruptive: Renders existing solutions obsolete.
    • Example: The iPhone disrupted the smartphone market (in which Palm’s Treo had previously disrupted the clamshell market)
    • Results require a longer gestation period, but then leads to exponential growth

Christensen also describes the Innovator’s Dilemma: Listening to customers and investing in innovations to meet those customers’ articulated needs can sometimes lead to failure because customers typically only envision incremental (“sustaining”) innovations. And investors often do not have the patience for the long gestation period sometimes required to achieve disruptive innovations. (Leaders are rewarded for the quick, modest results and may be penalized for lack of short-term results).

The lesson: Be patient and disciplined.  Have a portfolio of innovations which includes quick wins and low hanging fruit. Recognize that innovative, disruptive thinking may not give your team immediate answers, but it gives you a common language and a common way to frame the problem so that you can reach consensus about a counter-intuitive course of action.

Tony Parham

The Evolution of Web-based Innovation

June 6th, 2012

Yesterday’s blog post talked about how to foster innovation in an organization. Of course, web-based technologies have been an excellent tool to foster innovation. And the advances are often evolutionary: The benefits achieved from a first-generation static website lay the foundation for further e-business innovations, allowing the business to eventually achieve full cross functional ebusiness process integration. [Click on below chart to enlarge.]

And then, all of the above web evolution was categorized as being “just” Web 1.0 … laying the foundation for Web 2.0 (social media). The evolution of social media then resulted in a spectrum of social apps (including country-specific versions).

In the private sector, B2B (business-to-business) firms can get innovative ideas from B2C (business consumer) firms – and vice versa! Likewise, in the government sector, web-based technologies can be leveraged in multiple ways to foster e-government, including G2C, G2E, G2B and G2G (government to citizen, government to employee, government to business and government to government). In each of these e-gov categories, activities will typically include pushing information, two-way communications,  conducting transactions and/or enabling governance. Analogous to the e-business evolutionary stages described in the above chart, e-government progresses through its own stages of maturation:

Although web-based innovation in the government sector has not always progressed as quickly as in the private sector, the proliferation of web, mobile, social and tablet technologies throughout the private sector have heightened the appetite for innovative evolution at all levels of government.  A more rapid pace of change is on the horizon. Indeed, a new Accenture e-government survey points out that the biggest challenge for government is not catching up with the private sector – it’s giving digital citizens what they want by using the “digital channel” to improve value delivered to the public.  To meet this goal, e-government needs to effectively:

  • Identify which channels are best for which types of interactions.
  • Address citizens’ concerns regarding privacy and security of their personal data and transactions.
  • Decrease the perception that the user experience for some digital interactions are too complex.
  • Cost-effectively make (non-digital) “human contact” available when appropriate.

Tomorrow’s blog post will look at the different types of innovations which organizations leverage.

Tony Parham

Propagating an Innovator’s DNA

June 5th, 2012

Innovation is the lifeblood of many organizations.  Mastery of the art of innovation can mean the difference between success or failure; relevance or obsolescence.

It is important to note that innovation is not reserved for geniuses or Mensa members. Any organization can foster a culture of innovation by applying key principles:

  • Create ways to recognize/reward innovators
    • Money is important, but it is not the only motivator. Provide recognition, informal praise, and a chance to make a difference.
    • Bring innovators together to acknowledge their accomplishments publicly and to foster creative interaction and stimulus.
  • Assess what your “world” will look like 2, 5, 10 or 10 years from now. Work backwards from there to define several areas of innovation / disruption which you can create now.
  • Provide leadership role modeling.
  • Allow experimentation and failure.
  • Propagate an Innovator’s DNA (the ability to make connections between seemingly unconnected things)
    • Example: A calligraphy class inspired Steve Jobs’ emphasis on typography in early Macintosh computers.
    • Here are some techniques to stimulate these connections.  (You can remember them with the acronym NOOQE, which I rhyme with “nuke.”):
      • Networking: Interact with people from different backgrounds and different ways of thinking .
      • One way to think outside the box is to talk to someone who plays in a different box.
      • Observing: Watching the world around you for surprising stimuli.
      • Questioning: Ask probing questions which impose or remove constraints.
      • Experimenting: Consciously try new things or go to new places.

Another key technique is to crowd-source innovation: Don’t rely on one person (or a small group of persons) to come up with the innovative ideas. Create (or leverage) mechanisms which will pull innovative ideas from large numbers of people.  Today’s various social media platforms give us a prefabricated set of tools to do this. A more elaborate example is found in Dell Computer’s IdeaStorm initiative which implemented a web-based methodology of gathering ideas, and then provided a voting mechanism which allowed the most impactful ideas to rise to the top. 17,000 ideas were gathered. Those ideas attracted 730,000 votes and 95,000 comments which helped Dell to identify which ideas were most useful. Those top 499 (representing 3% of the 17,000 submitted ideas) have subsequently been implemented.

In all of your innovative activity, it is helpful to remember that the process goes through a typical Innovation Lifecycle:


The most painful part of this lifecycle is often the Operational Gap (O-Gap): The pilot /prototype must be effectively operationalized to achieve the promised gains.

The lifecycle also reminds us that every innovation has a finite lifespan. After a number of optimization iterations, that innovation may have become the new status quo, and it may be time to obsolete or repeat the innovation process.  This means that the innovation process is never truly complete.  An  innovative organization is one which recognizes that it can never rest on its laurels.  Innovation must be an ongoing, lifetime commitment.

Tommorow’s blog post will look at the evolution of web-based innovation.

Tony Parham

[Photo: John Udovich]

It’s All About Leadership

March 25th, 2012

EVERY initiative, project, undertaking or achievement initially starts as a CONCEPT.  Anything of significance requires a TEAM to move from concept to reality.  To get a team to work together effectively requires mastery of the art of LEADERSHIP.

There are many different leadership styles.  There is a time and place for each leadership style, however in the long term, some styles are more effective than others.

John D. Halamka, MD emphasized 5 leadership characteristics in a blog post (which I have edited below).

  1. Informal authority – Build trust and mutual respect (vs. ruling by fiat).
  2. Loyalty – All for one and one for all
  3. Air cover – Be on the front line of the fight, not criticizing the troops from a distant hill.
  4. Good guys can finish first. (Work with integrity, honesty.   Don’t hurt your fellow humans to get ahead.)
  5. Ineffective emotion usually doesn’t work. (It diminishes you. Loudest is not right-est.)

It is also useful to think about MANAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP as being different constructs. Although we need to be proficient at both, the following definitions may help to distinguish between the two:

  • MANAGEMENT: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
    LEADERSHIP: Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.”
    - John P. Kotter, Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School
  • LEADERSHIP is the art of accomplishing more than the science of MANAGEMENT says is possible.”
    - Colin Powell

Mark Leslie (former CEO of Veritas Software) says, “…effective entrepreneurial leadership is the ability to create a workplace culture that enables the employees in the company to excel…  It is not about command-and-control.  You attract the best and the brightest people and create an environment where they can use their intelligence and judgment to act autonomously… You have to get great people. You have to respect them, give them freedom.  You have to provide the mission and vision: Who are we and where are we going?  Most important, you have to share the rewards.”

Getting great people (and avoiding Bozo’s) is vitally important. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg‘s stated approach is to hire smart people, independent of available job openings, and then help them identify their top talents. He also aspires to full transparency and communication across business and product organizations: Every Friday afternoon Zuckerberg (along with COO Sheryl Sandberg) chats with employees during an hour-long Q&A session.

Barbara Corcoran has indicated that her ability to create an enjoyable workplace is a keystone of her leadership style. “I found the more fun I created in the company, the more creative and innovative it became.  You got innovation.  You got loyalty.  You got people who would recruit for you.”

Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter and Square) says, “Everything we do is about getting people to be more open, more creative, more courageous.”

Paul Levy has championed the idea of leader as coach, a steward of purpose who secures collaboration and commitment through a culture of trust, who protects team members from organizational rain.  He also suggests that transparency trumps tribalism and that the blame game should be jettisoned in the quest for betterment.

Max Depree exemplified servant leadership during his CEO tenure at Herman Miller, and Laurie Beth Jones taught us that when people learn that a leader really cares about their well-being, they will follow that leader anywhere.

It is truly unfortunate that so many “leaders” don’t “get” these basic leadership tenets (resulting in high employee attrition rates and / or sub-optimal performance).   Even worse, some try to serve up an insincere counterfeit by parroting leadership truisms.   Mark Leslie again says, “Values are not what you write in a handbook. Values are expressed every day in the way the company makes decisions…  Authenticity is at the heart of a company’s culture.  If it’s inauthentic, if you say one set of things, but don’t feel and believe those things, it won’t work.”

What about you?  What do you see as the hallmarks of a great leader?

Tony Parham

Addendum:  See these 8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Leaders from Inc. Magazine.

(Image from lumaxart, Creative Commons License)

@tonyparham Twitter Digest (2012-03-18)

March 19th, 2012

@tonyparham Twitter Digest (2011-12-04)

December 5th, 2011

Steve Jobs Was a Failure!

September 5th, 2011

Much was written last month regarding Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple Computer.  Various articles chronicled the numerous contributions which Jobs made in technology, business, film and (global!) culture.

However, my favorite profile was penned by the Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray, who was quite vocal about the many failures which Jobs also experienced.  What was most enlightening about Bray’s profile was the way it pointed out that many of Jobs’ failures served as the foundation and starting point for future successes.  (Indeed, Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement ceremony speech had similar themes.)

Everyone who inspires to leave their mark on the world (and hopefully that is everyone), can learn valuable lessons regarding the inseparably intertwined roles of both success and failure as we strive to achieve our goals.

In fact, Google’s Don Dodge and others suggest that failure is a prerequisite for business success:

  • Walt Disney’s first animation company went bankrupt, and he endured numerous subsequent failures
  • Rovio produced 51 other games before hitting it big with Angry Birds
  • Harmonix had 9 failed games before succeeding with Guitar Hero
  • WD40 had 39 formulations which didn’t work
  • Formula 409 had 408 formulations which didn’t work
  • James Dyson needed 5,127 prototypes and 15 years of failure to launch his vacuums (now a $1B+ business)

So stay true to your vision / goals.  Persevere through (and learn from) your failures until your “success” finally arrives.

…and as you are setting goals, keep in mind, that — per Built to Last (affiliate link), which should be required reading for leaders in every sector — you should be targeting BHAG‘s.  Here are some thoughts about how to set good BHAG’s.

@tonyparham