Insights, Principles, and Strategies
for Unlocking Professional Potential
If you don’t get culture right, things tend to fall apart sooner or later. The disciplines of leadership and entrepreneurship are the key components of great culture. But left alone, the organization still falters under its weight. Like the third leg of a trustworthy old stool, the discipline of production is the final critical component that holds it all together.
The research has been really clear, that those companies, that even from their infancy, focus on people and that build the kind of proven skills and behaviors as part of their culture, are more successful over the long-term, explains Jared Bleak of Authentic Development.
Venture Capital looks very closely at young companies promoting a lot of great ideas, explains Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development. But the idea is only one part of it. Companies have their execution plans and they have their strategic initiatives. Ultimately, time and time again, it comes down to the way the teams execute and the quality of the individuals involved. So, a VC who’s thinking about putting $20 million into a new company looks really close at that management team, what the founder’s like, how they communicate. Do they have character? All of these things reflect the likelihood of success or the potential for failure.
“Leader” is not just a title for the CEO or the vice-president, or the director. Everybody leads. We are leading our own daily lives making the choices to get out of bed and to do good things on a daily basis.
Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development explains, “I’m leading if I go to a cubicle all by myself for 10 hours a day and work on coding. I lead that process, and so my decisions within that one-man process are no different than the broad scope that we often think of as it relates to leadership. So, everybody leads.”
We have to be clear in our message. We need to identify leaders and give them opportunities to grow within the organization even if, on their first impression, it may seem that they don’t have the toughness, maybe they don’t yet have some of the skills. Jeff Chavez teaches that it’s imperative to give people an opportunity by delegating things to them, challenging them, inspiring them through storytelling and the way that we lead in our daily actions.
We help our teams gain confidence by learning to not be afraid of things through the process of teaching.
With 365 days in the year, you can begin to layer into your organization immediately, a cultural shift based on some basic principles, some basic truths that when repeated and when demonstrated and practiced, your culture will begin to look much like the greatest agile organizations in the world.
You’ll need to model those who have done it well. There are no shortage of examples if you do homework and you want to find them. You can improve within your team through repetition and keeping this front and center through practice.
When Jeff Chavez of Authentic was in seventh or eighth grade he started freestyle wrestling. John Smith, at the time, had won gold medals for the U.S. in wrestling in 3 Olympics in a row and he was unbeaten in over 150 matches. He did that primarily with one perfectly executed move, the single leg takedown. He practiced and studied that single leg over and over and over again. Just one move, consistently. It led him to multiple gold medals. So there’s really something about that process of repetition and practice that can make a major impact and sustain major cultural shifts.
At Authentic, we focus on helping companies transition in their performance, especially around agility and innovation. We look at things that are common and we help companies understand how to make it something different. So we spend a lot of time teaching large companies, big bulky companies on how to be fast and how to be dynamic. We work with some of the largest companies in the world as well as managing an early stage investment fund. This is important because the things we do in our early-stage portfolio of companies are the entrepreneurial, agile principles that allow young companies to move at a fast pace and oftentimes outperform their larger competitors. So, we implement and teach these principles to large organizations and help them understand how to become entrepreneurial, how to move like an early-stage startup company.
As a leader handles crisis, one of the key things for that leader to remember is that moods are contagious. Emotions are contagious and a leader’s followers will align their emotions and their mood with that leader over time, and sometimes very quickly.
So, you can imagine a leader who reacts to pressure and crisis in a stressed-out way. Eventually, that’s exactly how his or her people will respond. They’ll react in the same way.
A leader who navigates through difficulties has to have enough emotional intelligence to realize that their mood and their emotions will catch on. We often call this the “leaders shadow”. It’s a really important notion when it comes to handling a crisis; to remember that they’re casting a shadow and that their people really watch, and will take cues. And the leader doesn’t even have to speak, they’ll take cues from body language. These are points of communication that never stop, they’re literally happening all the time.
Crisis is embedded in the natural course of doing business. Things don’t go right, deadlines are missed, industries change, and new competitors emerge. An organization that intends to survive has to be able to act in an agile way, reacting thoughtfully and purposefully. And those responses can only happen consistently when modeled by leaders and adopted by their teams.
How can you get the most out of your employees? It comes down to two things: One is the leader’s ability to create engagement among his or her people. Second, is to really capture their passion, to get them involved in a way that they will give the marginal time and energy that they would have given to social media, to Facebook, to Snapchat, whatever that might be, they’ll now give to the company instead.
A way to do that is through purpose, and especially with the millennial generation. These younger professionals really thrive off of feeling like they’re working towards a goal that’s bigger than just a salary or the bottom line. They want do something that will help the world. Defining purpose will drive engagement.
There’s a researcher at Harvard that says, “…meaning is the new money” and that meaning or purpose can be a huge motivational tool for any company. And so if you’re a leader who hasn’t thought really clearly about what your company is doing beyond just making money or beyond making a product, you’re not going to be able to create engagement and get the commitment, the ethic, the hard work, the passion that you need from your team.
“Within any organization, you can create an institute of expertise where you begin to create a system where knowledge is handed down through study, and teaching” says Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development. Through a process called the “everyone teaches cycle” you ask team members to teach the things that they’ve learned. At the end of a meeting that took 30 minutes, you can ask a counterpart to spontaneously summarize the content of the meeting in three minutes, and if everybody knows what’s going on and they know that those are the exercises for excellence, attention and comprehension skyrockets. The person who was asked to summarize it unexpectedly in three minutes leaves the room with an elevated level of expertise and the others gained a higher level of retention in the process. Jeff Chavez of Authentic explains, “Simply put, there’s power in the process of teaching each other.”
One of the leaders of Bain Capital, talked about the “power of the pause”, and he explained that he has gained more insight and truth with this simple technique. When asking a question in a room, and when silence fills the room as people wait for others to speak up, he refuses to say anything and lets the power of the pause surface up the answers through the discomfort of awkward silence. Somebody finally has to speak up. How long does that take for him to do? Only seconds, but he credits those seconds of the power of the pause to being a dynamic impact on their company. From Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development, “My challenge to you is to go back and figure out ways within your existing culture, within your industry, within your way of doing business, create dynamic methods to be practiced and to be ingrained within your team.”
We talk about “risk” in the professional world in a different context compared to how we think of the risk of an entrepreneur who has mortgaged his home to start a company. While a little different, Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development explains that it does require a real, tangible risk to be willing to go into the office of the CEO and say, “I have bad news,” or to say, “You know everybody in the meeting who told you that everything was going perfectly? Well, they’re just afraid to tell you the truth. It’s not going perfectly and we’re not gonna get any of the shipments out this week and we’re gonna have big problems.”
It’s a risky endeavor to decide to go and do that, but your people must come to understand why those are necessary risks, especially if they want to move forward as a professional.
In our companies we talk about what’s at the heart of entrepreneurship. We stress that it’s not about needing to be a creative genius. Because the greatest entrepreneurs, in fact, are not so creative as much as they are curious, always asking questions, always wanting to know how to figure things out, how to solve problems.
Jeff Chavez says, “In our companies we talk a lot about learning; constantly learning to do new things even if they’re difficult. So we’re continuously learning because that’s what entrepreneurs do in the very classic sense.”
“One of the first things that we try and do well within our organizations is to be good storytellers. And in telling stories, we teach with imagery and analogy and application so that it can be digested within the organization,” says Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development.
Using an image of J.J. Abrams who directed “Star Wars” as an illustration of the power of storytelling, we’re able to teach our teams in a more memorable way, a little bit about what it means to have vision, what it means to look down the path. We teach our teams how to paint pictures and explanations in a way that’s interesting, in a way that’s compelling. In fact, you can actually talk about boring stuff like Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations with a little bit of an interesting twist to them to take the mundane and the normalcy out of your day to day meetings.
If culture change is a primary challenge within organizations (and it is), then a genuine commitment must be made to cultural transformation and clear communication of the strategy.
Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development shared this example, “Some years ago I was with Time Warner Media out of New York. Time Warner Media oversaw their cable division, which, at the time, was one of the lowest consumer rated cable companies in the U.S….they were bleeding subscribers. At the same time, the CEO had issued a challenge that this division should move from 800 million to 2 billion within 2 years primarily through what they intended to be a digital transformation. And so they moved forward with their initiative.
“They created a digital marketing services company division in one part of the organization. Then they focused a new team on commercial production and then another one on creating CEO-led remote town hall meetings. They also focused on a product with desktops and analytics. There were a lot of moving parts and ultimately it did very little to transform the company. Why? Because they had no continuity. There was no real communication. There was a huge chasm between New York and the executive team and the thousands of people who were actually getting the work done in the field by driving trucks, installing cable, talking to families. One hand never really knew what the other was doing. They had a plan but they failed to communicate clearly.”
How do you view the impact of your role?
Regardless of what your title is, regardless of how many people report to you, regardless of anything negative that may have happened in the past, you have an opportunity to look at your role and own it in an entrepreneurial and dynamic way. You alone control the quality of execution and your scope of influence.
As you learn to take risks as an individual within the organization and you’re willing to speak up and you’re willing to say, “I think there might be a different way,” not only do you impact the organization as a whole, but you are improving your own opportunity to move forward as a professional, to move forward as a leader, and to move forward as somebody who influences the organization. Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development explains, “I can promise you that leaders of companies are looking for the people who are taking ownership of their role, those are the ones that they want to bring up and have more influence within the organization.”
One of the companies that we’re building is called Qualtronics. It’s a blockchain application that will be built within the energy sector with some very large energy companies. This is not a small endeavor and it’s a very complex business. That’s because Business Is Complex! The things that you’re doing within your companies and the strategies you’re trying to create, and how to close this deal, and which market should you enter first, which partners should you align, how do you implement new software, and how do you get a systems architect in place, and on and on.
Let’s let business be the end of the complex stuff. The people’s stuff, that is what we’re really talking about, can be implemented within your organizations with some very minor but consistent adjustments.
Usually, we as business operators or managers, we’re lured into the stuff that is obvious. What are our revenue numbers? What is our margin? How many people are we hiring? What is the position description? And we focus on these things that we can measure very, very easily, but it’s really within the counterintuitive stuff, the things that you might not think about doing, that is what your agile competitors, in fact, are focusing on more than just the top and bottom line, more than just the policy and the procedure.
When we think about Apple, we know the obvious products, the obvious innovations that they have brought about. When Steve Jobs came back to the company in 1997, the company was faltering terribly. They lost a ton of market share and they were in a terrible position. And what we know about is what has happened since that time…massive success.
What we don’t most people don’t know is that Steve Jobs did not come in and sit down and say, “Let’s create the iPod. Let’s create iTunes.” No, explains Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development. The very first thing that he did was to create discipline in their culture. Generally, people don’t know this about Steve Jobs because he’s portrayed as this dominant offensive leader who didn’t care what anybody thought. But in truth, he understood that the foundation for change within the company would have to come from a cultural shift.
It’s clearly evident that there are a certain set of traits that define the entrepreneurial mindset. And we have shifted from the notion that an entrepreneur is a founder of a company. Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development stresses that this title is not only limited to the founder of a company.
The title of entrepreneur can be assigned to anybody who’s in charge of any initiative, any plan, any project. So when we bring our data scientists into our work at Qualtronics, we help them understand from day one that as a data scientist in Qualtronics, they own like an entrepreneur their role. They have an opportunity to build it, to shape it, and to contribute to the whole as if it were their own, so entrepreneurship, a certain set of principles, traits.
So those who lead really in the top positions, our hands are a little bit tied within an organization to cause influence at that level because the leader has to have some level of a desire, some recognition that something’s off or something has to change.
If you happen to be in an organization where there is rigidity, abstinence, pride to the degree that nobody listens, I’d put my resume out and look for another place to go, explains Jeff Chavez of Authentic Development. But if you’re in a place where the leadership is open, helping them learn to be willing to step back and listen a whole lot more to listen to what the team is saying, to be open to what the team is saying, to acknowledge that they don’t and they can’t have all of the answers independently. So when leadership starts to take that approach where they’re listening more, where they are asking questions, where they are utilizing the power of pause, the shift will begin to occur.
So if there’s one fundamental stumbling block that we see over and over again with leaders is their own pride that gets in the way of allowing them the ability to learn, to learn from others, and to create a culture that allows for people to make a mistake that understands that that’s how we learn certain things. So this notion of…I think humility is the overarching principle that has the most impact on leaders and their ability to lead well and to create a culture that’s productive.
Serious companies want to be more innovative. They want their people to be creative. If they’re good, they’re doing all they can to create innovation within their organization, really free up their people’s best thinking. And, often times, the unintended actions of a leader who is so focused on the outcome or maybe the bottom line is that they will stifle innovation even when they ask for innovation, explains Jared Bleak of Authentic Development. This happens unintentionally by their response to people’s ideas or their response to failure, or their response to setbacks. And they will, by those responses, create a culture that’s actually risk-averse, that’s non-innovative, that takes the creativity out of their people all while they talk about it. But their behavior is so powerful that it will create that very negative outcome. And people realize that even though my leader talks about innovation, he or she doesn’t really want it.
On the other side is a leader who is well aligned, who realizes that the words they say, the actions they take, the experiences they create need to be aligned. And that goes day to day experiences, again, as I have said, are really powerful for people. So if they want an innovative culture, they have to respond to ideas in a way that will get the next idea from their people. They have to respond to failure in a way that will have their people want to keep experimenting, want to keep trying and learning, rather than shutting them down because they failed or the outcome wasn’t optimal. And they have to do that in a very consistent way. And then, they will create that innovative culture that they really want. And it will be done again on a daily basis over and over and over again through very little things that add up to big results.
What’s the biggest barrier to outstanding leadership?
The consistent, major weakness that most leaders fall into, and usually unintentionally, is pride.
As a leader it becomes difficult to step aside and remain humble, and to remain patient, and to be willing to listen to what the rest of the team has to say. It can be an honest challenge to remain open to ideas that may be different than something that the person in charge has in mind at the time.
It’s interesting, as we help professionals go through exercises to identify underlying pride that they might not realize was there. In almost every one of these situations, leaders at every level identify deep wells of pride that they hadn’t previously recognized and that it’s blocking their ability to be as effective as they can be as a professional.
Real leadership begins when humility is real and ever-present.