September 14, 2006
News & Opinion: Your Leadership Legacy: Why Looking Toward the Future Will Make You a Better Leader Today by Robert M. Galford, Regina Fazio Maruca
It's true that some people are born natural leaders. For the rest of us, we have to determine where our strengths lie and work from there. This particular excerpt from Your Leadership Legacy characterizes leaders into three categories to help them become better leaders and ultimately, create a worthwhile legacy.
Identifying Your Natural Roles
There are many good and valid ways to lead; three people, given the same job, can certainly succeed even if they have differing management styles and philosophies. Natural tendencies can also be influenced and accentuated, revealed or hiddena degree here, two degrees theredepending on the circumstances. But when you plan viable legacies, your goal is to align your intent with your instincts as closely as possible. As Mark Twain wrote, A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
In that spirit, consider all the environments in which youve held leadership positions, and define your roles in each one.The idea is to articulate clearly your natural roles, as distinct from your career path, your current position, or the condition of your company.
There is no template to follow; this isnt a formal exercise. Instead, it is a big-picture assignment whose goal is to distinguish between your roles and your titles, to identify the areas in which you derive the greatest satisfaction and possess natural strengths, and to home in on the areas in which you might want to focus your legacy planning.
In researching this book and asking a variety of leaders to identify their natural roles,we found that a few broad categories emerged.These are not mutually exclusive, nor do they apply to everyone.You might see yourself described to a T in one category; more likely, these descriptors offer a point of reference for your assessment.
Ambassadors instinctively know how to handle a variety of situations with grace. They tend to be the person who diffuses nasty situations, and they often get involved in conflicts on behalf of broad constituencies and not for their own benefit.
Following a long career as a consultant, Jon Younger became the chief people officer at National City Corporation, a large Midwestern bank. In his capacity as chief people officer,Younger introduced a host of people-assessment and development frameworks to an organization that previously had few such tools. Other organizations have had great difficulty introducing such frameworks, but at National City, the employees seemed to easily understand and accept the new order, and most of them point to Younger as the reason. He has the natural ability to break new ground without breaking glass.
Interestingly, Younger did not have home field advantage. Most of his colleagues at the bank were from the region, as were most of the employees, but Jon grew up in Brooklyn. Still, his ability to be persistent in a gentle wayto be persuasive and at the same time respectfulsaw him through.
If you think that you have ambassadorial tendencies, ask yourself, Do I like breaking new ground without breaking glass? Do I find myself acting as the go-between when a conflict arises? Am I an instinctive problem solver? Am I the one who bridges gaps at meetings? Am I the one who interprets and placates? Am I the diplomat in negotiations? Am I usually holding and pointing the spotlight rather than standing in its beam?
One executive we interviewed for this book, a highly regarded expert on post merger integration, cites Indra Nooyi and Steve Reinemund as good examples of natural ambassadors. Nooyi is president and COO, and Reinemund is CEO, of the merged entities of Pepsi and Quaker. These were thoughtful people who figured out how to deal with and integrate a whole host of complex issues, not the least of which were organizational, he said. If you consider the complexity of a merger of two such powerhouses, each with significant assets, brands, and histories, it is no mean feat to lead organizations through such a combination. It becomes a testament to those individuals, if not a legacy in and of itself, when executives can bring companies through that kind of change and still have a reservoir of goodwill remaining.
Advocates instinctively act as the spokesperson in a group.They tend to be articulate, rational, logical, and persuasive.They also tend to be relentless (in the positive sense of the word), championing ideas or strategic positions. Advocates often use both linear and nonlinear approaches when they argue a point.
Alice Milrod, for twenty years an investment management executive in Philadelphia and most recently a senior executive in the private client and investment management businesses of PNC Bank, thinks of herself as a natural advocate:
We did a big project recently.We introduced managed accounts for the bank. It was one year in the planning and nine months of execution leading up to the roll out; it involved more than one hundred people. I spent a lot of time telling people beforehand what the concept was all about; I explained in detail to people who really didnt have to know detail in order to get their work done. But I always want to make sure that people have an opportunity to contribute, and you cant contribute unless you fully understand what is going on, and you are encouraged to contribute.
I hope, as part of my legacy, people will know something more than they might have about harnessing the organizational skills to pull off such a large project . . . Id like to think that my natural strengths have to do with encouraging diversity as a concept, throughout the organization. I am passionate about that. Theres a tendency, when someone doesnt understand what another person is saying, to shut that other person out. I feel the burden is on me to figure out what they are trying to contribute; it may be incredibly valuable. Id like to be remembered as someone who facilitated diversity, and diversity of thought. And if I can set an example for anyone else to follow, thats where Id like to make an impression.1
George Colony of Forrester Research is an advocate at heart, although he is also someone who created a company. Colony believes fervently in the power of technology. He is passionate about using technology to improve the way companies do business. In retrospect, he says, he took on the role of builder, in large part, to create an arena in which he could excel as an advocate.
If the role of advocate is familiar to you, ask yourself, Do I tend to rally for a cause at work? Am I generally unhappy with the status quo? Do I have a passion for excellence? (On the downside, have I been called a perfectionist in a negative way?) Do I see the need for redress, and, when seeing the need, am I compelled to act?
Top managers who are natural ambassadors may do very well at navigating through rough waters. But for advocates, being in rough waters is part of the reason they revel in their work. (Many advocates tend to see things in black and white only. Ambassadors, on the other hand, can generally spot nuances in everything.Thats why advocates often need ambassadors on their senior management teamsto help them temper their messages and persuade employees to buy into their decisions.)
People movers are talent spotters and career builderspeople with parental, nurturing qualities.They instinctively take the lead in building teams, and theyre natural mentors.They usually have large contact lists; they are constantly introducing new people to new ideas and new paths.Theyre also mindful of their employees lives outside work; they view performance through the largerlens of potential.
Sally Green of the Boston Fed sees herself as a people mover. People might see me in a variety of roles, including ambassador and builder, she says.And I have to an extent participated as all of the above. But the most naturaland the most important for me is the role of people mover. Helping people build their own careers. I want to influence the vision and the culture of my organization, and I see the best way to do that is through the development of people to their full potential.2
If you think you are, at heart, a people mover, ask yourself, Is this the area where I get the most satisfaction? Do people continue to rely on me for career advice, even after they have left the company? There is a certain holiday-card joy that comes with being a people mover; when people continue to update you on their progress because they know youll care, even if you have nothing in common with them and are effectively out of touch with them, you know youre a people mover. Interestingly, advocates may find themselves in people mover roles, but the key distinction is that developing people is not where they reap their joy.
Think fairness, good judgment, a sense of equality, level-headedness, process orientation, scrupulous neutrality, and objectivity.The role of truth seeker is the only one for which there is a prerequisite: truth seekers are unfailingly competent in their field, and their competence is unquestioned.
Truth seekers instinctively level the playing field for those in need.They also help people understand new rules and policies. They act to preserve the integrity of processes, and they try to identify root-cause, or pivotal, issues.They also step in to ensure a just and fair outcome if the process has failed to yield it.
Successful individuals in the human resources function are usually naturals for this role.Truth seekers also tend to gravitate toward line-manager positions.
Jim Rossman, COO of a large advertising agency, cited Joanne Zaiac as an example of a truth seeker. Zaiac is the president of the firms New York office, which employs more than five hundred people; Rossman has been a member of her leadership team. Rossman explains why this executive is an example of a truth seeker:
Joanne solicits rounded, open feedback. She drives to outcomes but shows great flexibility by saying things like, If we dont have enough information to make a viable decision, well go out and get more. She always makes sure there is enough information. For example, when she was new to the job, she created a hundred-day plan . . . She set up a series of morning breakfasts and invited specific people across a broad spectrum of the office to attend, to gain their perspective. That approach in both shaping the office agenda and implementing it is characteristic of how she works, and its one of the aspects of her style that is rubbing off on her colleagues and on the people whowork for her.3
Tom Leppert, CEO of Turner Corporation, the parent of Turner Construction, offers another example: Turner executive vice president Stu Robinson. A substantial number of regions report to Robinson, and, as Leppert puts it, Stu is consistently highly objective.You can rely on that. He is not just analytical, but objective. He has a natural ability to figure out the essence of a situation.What are the two or three critical factors here? What is really important, versus what is clouding peoples perspective?4
In one instance, a dangerous set of conditions began to emerge on a projectconditions that, if mismanaged, could have had far-reaching implications.Stu stepped in, literally over a weekend, brought the parties together, and reinforced their common objectives, Leppert said. He was instrumental in guiding the various constituenciesthe owners, members of the community, the contractor, the subcontractorthrough a process that resolved the conflicts. I see general managers and other Turner people trying to emulate that quality.When theyre dealing with conflicts, theyre thinking,What would Stu do?5
Russ Lewis, retired CEO of the New York Times, essentially described the truth seeker role when talking with us about how he ultimately hoped to be thought of by colleagues and employees: I would like to think that someone might say, If I had to trust somebody with a judgment, Id like to see Russ up there in the jury box. He may not be a brain surgeon, but he tries to do whats fair. He never makes decisions based on politics. Id like to think that they might say, That guy was a mensch. When we needed someone to stand up for something, or make an unpopular decision, he didnt run away. If I thought I could have a significant influence on the people I work with, Id want to see that quality carrying forward.6
(Interestinglyand gratifyinglywhen we asked several of Lewiss colleagues to describe his legacy at the New York Times, and his effect on their own approach to work, their descriptions of him matched what he told us.)
Truth seekers keep people in the game; they keep people enfranchised, and, as a result, their employees are less likely to engage either in passive aggressive or openly adversarial behavior.
If you believe that being a truth seeker is your natural role, ask yourself, Do I have a strong sense of justice? At the same time, do I have great sympathy for the underdog (and do I act on my feelings)? Am I attuned to the importance of symbolic gestures? Am I good at spotting the root cause of a problem or conflict? Am I not satisfied unless I believe I have identified the root cause of a problem or conflict? Am I occasionally accused of being too rational too much of the time?
These individuals are visionaries and entrepreneurs, driven (and happiest) at the start of things.They instinctively see new opportunities for new products and new companies; spot niche markets; take ideas and make them real.Theyre often serial entrepreneurs over time, even if they remain in one leadership post.
Creative builders instinctively understand that building is not necessarily about invention but about the process of implementing an invention. Builders are constantly energized by new ideas, and yet they have the staying power to see them through to fruition.The issue is rarely simply the idea; builders arent Hey Mike, whats your latest scheme? people. Rather, builders are fascinated with implementation. Real estate developers are often creative builders in this way as well as literally; they feel most rewarded when a project gets under way or is newly completed.
Builders sometimes get into trouble if they remain in one place for too long.There are case studies, too numerous to mention, of entrepreneurs whose legacies are negative because they became enmeshed in the day-to-day operations of the companies they created and didnt know when it was time to leave. Builders can successfully remain in a single leadership position only if they figure out how to feed their own need for new projects. Rob Cosinuke, an executive at (and former president of ) Digitas, a Boston-based marketing services firm, is a good example of someone who understands that building is where he gets the most satisfaction: I guess I see parts of each role in myself. It would be an aspiration for me to be an experienced guide. But if you ask other people (and if I really ask myself), I am clearly a builder. I have ten projects going now; I always have ten projects going, at work and at home.Theres a new offering in the business; Im building shelves; Im forming an alumni association. Maybe its a form of antidepression to have so many things going; its definitely what I get my energy frombuilding new things, creating new things.7
Heres an equation to try on yourself if you identify with the role of builder:
Strength of belief in end result + Ability to tolerate the process = Creative builder
The term experienced guide conjures up an image of someone old and wrinkled, with the experience that comes with age. Thats not incorrect, but experienced guides dont have to be old, or even necessarily experienced.What they must have is an ability to listen and to put themselves in others shoes.They have a way of helping people think through their own problems; they are natural therapists. Often, they are seemingly bottomless wells of information on a diverse range of topics. Experienced guides are the people who can always be counted on to supply the right quotation or the right historical connection.
They are not necessarily mediators, and yet experienced guides often find themselves in the middle, with people on both sides of a conflict seeking advice.When a corporate meeting has been stressful or fraught with conflict, the post-meeting, closed door meeting often takes place in the experienced guides office.
Remember the family lawyer of old? The person outside the family who knew (and kept) all the family secrets, and was often sought for advice? The experienced guide role naturally lends itself to the position of minister, counselor, or trusted adviser.
Renato Tagiuri, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, noted that natural experienced guides are often found one level down from the top in organizations.They get their greatest satisfaction by helping others get through the day and helping others see the bigger picture.They empathize.
Excerpted from Your Leadership Legacy: Why Looking Toward the Future Will Make You a Better Leader Today by Robert M. Galford, Regina Fazio Maruca; Harvard Business School Press, September 2006.