Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for September, 2010

The Long View

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

I have been reading a ton about all of human history in anticipation of a new book I’m working on. It has provided me with a fresh perspective on life that has been an unexpected and welcome surprise. I notice that in so much of my life I see p

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atterns that appear to be quite clear and meaningful. The rise of poverty, pollution, and crime are but many of the trends today that give

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me pause for concern. In my lifetime, it feels like these trends are ever increasing and may never end. By reading about huge epochs in human history, I’ve come to learn that these trends have come and gone. They move up and down. There are long periods in major civilizations when a large group of people appears to be experiencing abundance and then equally long periods of decay. And the wealth shifts. We, in the United States, often have this sense of privilege compared to other countries. And yet our experience is just a blip on the screen—perhaps fleeting. Other countries may be on the rise, while others are on the decline. Such is the way of the world when viewed through the wide-angle lens of history. This wide-angle perspective for me does just that—it gives me perspective, and thanks to it I place less importance on momentary concerns in my life for they too come and go. Last year’s failure will be but a dim memory in the span of a lifetime.

While trends come and go, it is the trends that seem to endure through time that are most troubling to me—especially population growth, for there is a limit to what we can sustain on this

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At the Long Now Foundation, they are developing a 10,000 year clock that will measure time in far greater increments than we naturally do in our 24-hour clock. In so doing, they are encouraging a different view of life, much like the Native Americans encourage us to make choices that positively affect the world 7 generations down the road. With a longer perspective on life, I see and value things very differently. The whole concept of sustainability is based on a view that I find quite compelling and the more I take a sweeping view of human history, the more I see the experiences I have and that all of us have on this earth at this time as just a blip on the screen.

This larger, more encompassing perspective has everything to do with great leadership for the farther we see down the road in time and the more we care about what we see, the larger our perspective and the more we will make the kinds of choices that truly matter.

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Tuesday, September 7th, 2010



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The circus is back in town in Turkmenistan, a small republic, once a part of the USSR. The circus was banned a decade ago by the recently diseased Soviet dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who had also closed all movie theaters, libraries, opera, and ballet during his regime because he and other leaders believed they were contrary to Turkmen mentality.

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I am piqued by this interesting piece of information for its extreme way of controlling the population. It reminds me of the numerous ways so many leaders try to wrest control in the face of behavior they deem as contrary to their desires. So often the immediate approach to undesired actions and behaviors on the part of leaders is to legislate control. Through rules, consequences, and even removal of the violating party, leaders feel they must take actions to rectify undesired outcomes. Similarly to create desired effects, they also use rules, dictums, and controls to create desired effects. Such efforts have enormous and often unexamined consequences, including:

  • People feel controlled and powerless.
  • They react in rebellion.
  • People feel treated like children, perpetuating a parent/child relationship.
  • The need for constant surveillance takes resources away from

    other productive activities.

Control might work in the short run, but when you consider the relationship you create with those being controlled, it is not possible to create an extraordinary workplace with it. People give up a part of themselves when they feel controlled. Along with the giving up of choice comes the giving up of discretionary effort. Under control, people do the minimum, not the maximum. And the controller pays a price as well, the need to be constantly vigilant.

And if you are still not clear about the consequences of control, take a look at these pictures, seen recently on the blog, All That’s Interesting: http://all-thats-interesting.tumblr.com/post/627128467/go-on-mr-bear-youre-free. See picture below.

While the leader may get what they want in the short run, in the long run it is rarely worth it. If you try to control your adolescent child, what happens when the child finally leaves the roost? He or she will be ill-equipped to find the inner controls necessary to function well. It is no wonder so many kids in college act out when the controls are finally removed.
There are so many other ways a leader can produce desired behavior outcomes. Consider the following continuum. On the left is the extreme of gentleness and on the right the extreme of control:

Too often after making a recommendation, when we don’t get the desired effect, we shift our behavior quickly to the right of the continuum. The message we send is that it was never actually a recommendation, it was a requirement. In the interest of wishing to be perceived as “participative,” leaders will often make a strong suggestion but when faced with disagreement, they shift to a position of exerting control which leaves their employees feeling jerked around and controlled. Trust is broken, and, in my opinion, trust is the most important element of good leadership. It would be far better to be direct about a requirement than to bait and switch.

Controls never work in the long run except under extreme circumstances and they are rarely necessary. The best form of leadership is to lead by agreement and commitment and not by control. Leading by agreement means that the leader expresses what he/she would like to see, a dialogue ensues, and then an agreement forms based on mutual choice. This requires a deft touch on the part of leader as opposed to a blunt sword. It requires the leader take into account the needs, desires and views of others and navigate the in-between places. Once an agreement is formed, there is no need for control. Instead, encouragement, reinforcement, feedback

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and appreciation are needed. And this is sustainable. I foresee someday a world where leaders no longer race to the right of the continuum and all employees are treated like the adults they are, rather than the children or adolescents they once were.

Toyota’s Net Promoter Score Has Been Taking a Dive

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

A few years ago, Fred Reichheld wrote a book called The Ultimate Question. It is from this book that the world of business was first introduced to the idea that there is one question

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above all others that, if you knew the answer from your customers,

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would be a powerful determinant for your business and a predictor for its success. In his book he comes up with a formula that says, quite simply, the ratio between promoters of

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your business and detractors is the best indicator of whether you are running a sound and sustainable business. He calls this ratio the Net Promoter Score. It is a profound book and a profound concept.

In the book, Reichheld makes a distinction between good sales growth and bad sales growth. Good sales growth is hard won, born out of the delivery of a product or service that has the customer wanting to come back for more. Bad sales growth is created by the seller through pushy sales people, clever advertising, or perhaps relying on past brand success. Ultimately too many companies rely on short-term bad sales to fuel their economic engine, thereby eroding the brand. I am told that Toyota has cut corners of late in their manufacturing in order to save money, and that, above all else, may be the indirect cause of their problems. They have built a business based on hard won good sales growth and have recently caused a disturbance in their hard won pattern. They would be well served to return to an emphasis on value.

It appears that they are just beginning to do so, although it is difficult to separate the truth from the PR hype that they are portraying. They have certainly encouraged people to buy their cars through enormous incentives. But such incentives do not create enduring value. They just underscore how much value has been lost. They would be wise to look deeply at the choices they have made in the past few years that have eroded the value of their cars and their brand and return to their roots, trusting that they will stand out not from value gained through lower prices but from the quality of their cars, that which put them on the map in the first place.