Years ago I had a colleague who had a plaque on her desk that read, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me”. I found it vaguely irritating and dismissed it as pop psychology.
"As leaders, we’re wholly responsible for [our performance]."
Suzette Corr, Group GM Talent & Culture and GM Human Resources Australia at ANZ
Eventually we moved on, she to start her own firm, which she later sold to a serious investor for very serious money. She’s now in the Bahamas and I’m, err… not.
Still, every day I get to work with great people. They’re smart, well trained and have a wealth of experience. Very often I get to marvel at what they do and, sometimes, I know they could have done better.
When I’m in marvel mode, it is typically because I’ve seen a leader impact others in a way that will shift the organisation’s performance. When you watch people who do this, you can see they give energy and appear aligned, yet highly distinctive and even disciplined. They’ve performed in the true sense of the word, in a way that allowed others to join in and perform too.
The consequences of their impact can be far reaching. You generally know it as a leader and also as a follower - because you can feel it. But on some occasions, you’re oblivious, you have a blind spot, a nice bit of scar tissue built up over time that serves to protect your sense of self but doesn’t necessarily help you have the impact you might wish for on your team and your peers (or your boss!).
Earlier this year, I found myself attracted to a display of the latest New York Times bestsellers as I rushed through Los Angeles airport. A catchy title, ‘Winning from Within’, grabbed my attention, but my brain flicked on its bias against management waffle.
I forgot about it until two nights later, when I found myself dining with the book’s author, Erica Ariel Fox. (Let me just get this out of the way and we can keep moving: Erica is credible. She teaches negotiation at Harvard Law School - the serious stuff that helps prevent world conflicts - as part of the Getting to Yes team, is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, consults to private and public sector leaders globally and is a senior advisor to McKinsey Leadership Development. Phew!)
So what’s Erica actually on about? Well, she’s conceived a ground breaking approach with which to not just view your life’s purpose and journey, but to help you manage yourself to have the impact you want as a human. And as a human who connects with and leads others.
The framework is all her own, but in its development she respects the work of some of the greats, from Carl Gustav Jung to Daniel Goleman, Ronald Heifetz to Robert Kegan and of course Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Importantly, she shows that some of the toughest negotiations you’ll ever enter into are the ones you’ll have with yourself and she gives you the tools to take on your inner negotiators (think angels of our better nature - or maybe not so much!).
Erica visited Melbourne this month as keynote speaker for the National Mediation Conference, part of her commitment to advance the common good around the globe. We were fortunate to host her at ANZ.
I asked her what it was that had driven her quest to remake the way we approach developing leadership.
She told me “because my overwhelming observation of leadership programs is that people practise skills to learn behaviours they could never reproduce outside the training room… that skills alone without providing support for mindset shifts can’t and won’t produce new behaviours… and I became determined to identify ways to foster the critical mindset shifts that do enable people to behave differently and get better results”.
It’s said that the art of successful leadership, strategy and communication is to make the complex simple. That’s core to Erica’s approach. She wants to give you something simple but not simplistic.
Something that once you’ve seen it and used it, you think you’ve always known it but without it, you couldn’t have. It’s sophisticated in its level of integration, yet practical in its application and for all of that, powerfully transformational.
So if you’re interested in mastering yourself (let alone leading anyone else) , rearranging your default way of thinking and acting or just feel like reading a beautifully written work on the endeavour of being human, get a copy of Erica’s book and take your inner Dreamer (CEO), Thinker (CFO), Warrior (COO) and Lover (CHRO!!!) for a spin!
So about now, you’ll either have your interest sparked and want to know more, or be thinking that you might just check out and revisit your share-price performance and really, that’s enough pink and fluffy HR stuff. Because, haven’t you done lots of leadership development and haven’t you been a leader a long time?
But before you do, think about this: the reason this is important is not because it’s more intellectual HR stuff (frankly, I have enough of that in my life too!), it’s because it’s about closing performance gaps – specifically, your own, so you can better lead, have an impact and deliver results.
As leaders, most of the time we’re working with and through others, which takes us right back to that share-price performance or whatever measure is relevant to you.
Let me be bold: as leaders, we’re wholly responsible for that performance. Yes, there are plenty of forces that impact our organisations, whether it’s the economy and our competitors or carbon and globalisation, but let’s face it - they’ve been known to us since the last century – including technology, changing demographics and the rise of emerging markets. So enough with the excuses, what is it you’re going to do about it?
And that gets us to the key point of all of this. Leadership frameworks and toolkits are useful if you want to have a better impact on others than what you think you’ve had up until now. They help you lift your own performance, to be the best you can be.
But that’s all at your level. They become really powerful when they help you to shift your mindset and phenomenal when this helps you to harness the efforts of different groups of people and, more broadly, organisations. And that’s when the real leadership performance starts! So, who’s driving your leadership?
Suzette Corr is Group General Manager Talent & Culture and General Manager Human Resources Australia at ANZ
Winning from Within, Erica Ariel Fox(Harper Collins 2013)
For more great stories on leadership, read Susie Babani's BlueNotes contributions.