19, 739 Definitions of Leadership (or Baking a Cake with One Ingredient)

In the past 15 months, 19,739 people (and counting) have responded to a discussion forum on LinkedIn. The question posed was rather simple, “What is the single-most important quality for a leader to have?” Since that time I have discovered that while the question is simple, the answer is not!

Here was the gist of my reply (an approximation since I don’t have the time to scroll through 19,739 entries to find my response):

I believe you are asking the wrong question. This question is akin to asking’ what is the single most important ingredient when you make a cake?’ There isn’t one! A great cake is the result of the artful combination of several ingredients. In the same way, a leader is a composite of many ingredients and like cakes, no two are exactly the same. As there are different cakes for different occasions, there are also different leaders for different situations.  A good cake requires several important ingredients. Attempting to boil it down to just one ingredient means that your leadership cake is merely butter, sugar or flour.

Reductionism is a tempting exercise because it allows us to sort things (life) into neat little boxes. However, by themselves, those parts can never tell the whole story. So today’s blog has a simple message – it is a call to embrace the complexity of leadership. Effective leader are the result of a complex recipe. And like momma’s secret sauce, we cannot define exactly what makes it so great by attempting to find one magic ingredient.

Leadership is best defined by the sum of its’ parts. It requires a pound of passion. It requires a generous cup of concern for people. However, without a dollop of discipline, passion and people-skills simply become misguided efforts. As you think of the ingredients of good leadership, you will discover that the leadership system is interconnected and complex. And somewhat like a good cake, it is difficult to summarize in one word.

But despite this complexity, we somehow know when we encounter a good leader. Like a great cake, we just know that it’s good when we taste it. So one word? I don’t think so. But if you provide me with a few good ingredients, I’m in!


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

If you are curious about this LinkedIn forum you can find it by clicking here (membership required). If you do so, please help me feel important by scrolling through the 19, 739 responses and ‘liking’ my post!

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The Pichette Scale: Assessing Work/Life Balance

“After nearly seven years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family”.

This was how Patrick Pichette, one of America’s highest ranking executives, publicly announced his departure from Google a few weeks ago. In his full message on his Google+ page, he candidly spoke about the tough decision to leave a great job. One of the tipping points occurred during a trip to Africa with his wife. They were having such a great time that she asked him why they didn’t just extend their vacation. His reply was the one most of us would use – there just isn’t enough time…we have commitments…people are counting on me. She challenged him deeply when she asked, “So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time?” You can read the full letter here.

Pichette notes, “In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of tradeoffs, especially between business/professional endeavors and family/community”. His decision means that he felt that his balance needed to shift. Furthermore, he did something about the gap and made the difficult decision to resign.

The purpose of today’s blog is simple. I am asking you to consider three questions that only you can answer. Review the graphic below (I call it the ‘Pichette Scale‘) and answer the following:

  1. Place a dot on this line based on your life to date. Where do you sit on this spectrum? If you are brave, show your spouse or close friends to see if they agree.
  2. Where do you want your dot to sit when you turn ___ years of age (pick a number)? Today?
  3. What do you need to do about it?

Pichette Scale

I reside in a city full of retirees and snowbirds. It is not unusual to watch 70-somethings struggle to climb out of shiny new Corvette’s and Porsche’s. I cannot help but wonder if they moved the dot a bit late. Pichette made the bold move to move his dot at a time where many would say he is ‘in his prime’.

I cannot help but wonder if Patrick ever wishes he had moved the dot earlier! If you ever bump into him, why don’t you ask him for me!


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

When 60.2% Means Success: Coaching Excellence

Our business lives are full of rhetoric like ‘give 110%’, ‘be the best’ or ‘leave it all on the table’. However, often our best falls well short of perfection.

This truth struck me this week while enjoying my favorite season of the year – hockey playoffs! They announcers were analyzing centers and the average amount of face-offs that they won over the full season. The 2014-15 face-off leader was Patrice Bergeron who won 60.2% of the time. Since only two people take a face-off, the base odds are 50/50. Therefore, I was surprised that the league’s best was only 10.2% ahead of the median players in the league! He is highly coveted because of this difference, something that seems insignificant at first glance.

If you are more of a baseball fan, a look at 2014’s final statistics reveals a similar pattern. Last year’s hitting leader, Jose Altuve, batted an average of .341 over the season (that means he hit 341 out of 1000 times at bat). The league average was .250. Therefore, by being .091 better than the rest of the league, less than a 10% lead, Altuve won the batting championship!

Organizations also win or lose by narrow margins. So what can athletes teach us about our goal of excellence?

Perfection is unattainable (see Pobody’s Nerfect). The best does not mean 100%. While every job and occupation has different ways to measure excellence, we need to set a realistic bar. Some of you who read this are bosses who set an unrealistic bar. If this is the case, you need to evaluate this carefully. If your coach required you to make 100% of face-offs or bat .500 you would look to play elsewhere. What motivates you to create goals which will eventually demotivate your employees?

Success requires failure. The examples above embrace failure. It is said that the most successful companies have cultures which endorse failure. This is because if you are not failing, you are not trying anything new. How do you encourage your staff to fail well?

Narrow victories require exceptional effort. For the Bergeron’s and Altuva’s to win by gaps of less than 10%, they have put in exceptional amounts of work. While the victories are narrow, the amount of work to rise above average is not. Abolishing perfectionism and embracing failure does not give us permission to accept mediocrity.

Excellence is attainable but it has a demanding recipe:

It embraces imperfection.

It requires failure.

It always demands exceptional effort.


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Which Energy Company is Masquerading as an Automaker?

“Tesla isn’t a car company; it’s a battery company” (Montenegro).

Last summer I blogged about Tesla’s ground-breaking decision to make all their Tesla automobile patents public domain (see Open Source Life). Tesla stated that open source patents were a means to accelerate the electric car movement and limit harmful emissions. While this may be true, many believed this was part of a bigger plan to accelerate the public need for portable/modular batteries.

At that time Tesla was shopping for a State in which to build their battery factory. That deal is now sealed and Tesla has begun construction of a $5 billion facility in Nevada. This factory will be used to develop modular batteries which can store large amounts of energy for personal or business use. Last week Tesla announced the launch of their Powerwall scalable battery. With this announcement, Tesla is showing us that their core business is portable energy, not automobiles.

As we review this fascinating case study, here are three lessons we can learn from.

  1. Form vs. function. An organizational adage reminds us to not confuse form with function. Form, how a company runs and operates, should always serve its function, why the company exists. At their heart, Tesla wants to enhance environmental sustainability. It began with electric automobiles and has now extended to our homes and businesses. Tesla’s move from automobiles to batteries is a great example of how function should drive form.
  2. Claiming our preferred future. A foundational premise of my work in strategic foresight is that we each have the ability to shape our future. However, this is not a passive process. We must both identify the future change we desire and then take the risk to change.  Musk teaches us a lot about what the vision of innovators and disruptors can do when we are willing to change our model (in this case, a reliance on fossil-fuels). He and his leadership cadre may become the ‘Renaissance Men/Women’ of our time due to their vision and risk-taking abilities.
  3. Disruptive technology. This term is bandied about regularly. But in the next decade you will watch a textbook example of how modularized power is going to disrupt the power industry. I believe that many electricity monopolies are taking their last breaths. As Powerwall gains acceptance, neighborhoods will begin assembling microgrids of shared power (think of Uber or AirBnB concepts used for sharing excess power). Citizens will break the monopolistic power of electricity companies when they begin to purchase cheaper power during non-peak hours, store it, and resell it at a higher cost (think of it as the new form of ‘currency’ trading). In time, modular power will highlight the sweeping effects of disruptive technology.

It’s time to start saving for a $3,500 Powerwall! I don’t know how to do it, but it is definitely my preferred future!


 

Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

References

Robert Monenegro. Tesla’s worst kept secret has become Power Companie’s Nightmare.