This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 999
Originally published 3/18/2013
The pillars of a successful company can be distilled into two words.
A client recently asked me to make a short presentation to his senior team about leadership. Since I had done a series of one-day programs for ZweigWhite around the country in 2011, I certainly had put some thought into the matter. How to distill the essence of such a complex subject? Now, that’s more challenging. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said (although one scholar attributes it to Blaise Pascal), “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”
Well, I had some time on my hands and accepted the challenge. As I thought about leadership, it seemed that the precious essence could be found in two words:
True leadership only happens when the place you’re driving toward is, for you, a true passion; or as a fortune cookie that I received checking into a hotel a few days prior had said, “Great thoughts come from the heart.” So you can only lead to places you Aspire to be. And aspirations are very different from ideas. Aspirations are what you believe in; they’re things that have significance – to you and the world around you. They’re ideas that have staying power for you. You’re relentless and committed to making them happen. They’re not a passing fancy.
In our session, I asked each of the participants to talk about the thing(s) they aspire to; that they’re personally committed to; that go way beyond an assignment that someone made or something they think they “ought” to do. It turned out to be a great exercise. There were some wonderful surprises that brought forth sincere admiration among the group as they learned about each other’s individual passions.
This brings me to the second word, Inspire. For you to achieve what you aspire to – things that are truly worthy, that will change your firm, the profession, or the whole world, that are really big ideas worthy of your energy and passion, you’re going to need a lot of help. And the only way you’re going to get it is by inspiring those around you; to bring them into your vision; and, having inspired them, to learn how to ask for their help. As we discussed this, some offers of help already began to be offered for several ideas put forth in the previous discussion.
I then suggested refining their aspirations a bit, asking that they focus on being more specific about what they were leading. In other words, what part of your professional life and work does your leadership impact? It was time to begin to bring focus to those aspirations.
· The firm itself
· The team you work with in your firm
· Your client relationships
· Projects and the collaborative atmosphere that you foster among all participants
· An area of expertise within which you are becoming a thought leader for your clients, in your firm and in the profession
I then asked them to consider what outcomes they expect to derive as a result of their leadership. Here are some examples showing you how to refine your objectives. Your aspirations will only be realized and you’ll only be able to gauge your success if you can establish and measure results. You need hard metrics.
· Community benefit – In what specific ways are you making the world a better place?
· Client benefit – Are you achieving repeat and referral business? Can you measure and report improved business performance for your client’s enterprise?
· Organizational benefit – Can you demonstrate that your team members are engaged and collaborative? Do people fight to be part of the teams you’re leading? Is this creating a recruiting pipeline for your firm, constantly filled with applicants wanting to work with you?
· Quality benefit – Is your work being recognized through publications, awards, and other recognition for the benefits it delivers to your clients and the community? Is your research and innovation being published? Are you asked to speak about it?
Finally, I asked the group to define the personal role each of them would take to help make their firm more successful. Here is a list of roles that must be filled for a firm to run well, for the benefit of all stakeholders:
· Lead client relationships for sales, for referrals and for client satisfaction
· Create an atmosphere where people want to work collaboratively with you and each other to do work that makes your clients successful
· Contract for services and manage their delivery in a way that generates profits
· Lead innovation through thought leadership, knowledge dissemination and management
· Create a collaborative atmosphere with all project stakeholders so they bring their best and brightest resources and work effort to bear on your clients’ matters
My client firm enjoyed the conversation. Then someone mentioned that they had been wrestling with their annual evaluation program and noted, “None of us like doing employee evaluations and our staff seems as excited about this annual event as they are about visiting the dentist. Why don’t we get past employee evaluations and make this into a format for a career development program?”
And that’s exactly what they’re going to do. The senior team felt they’d enjoy the process much more and that their staff would as well. I’ll let you know in a future post how it is working out.
Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with ZweigWhite and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.