Author Archives: R. Douglas Williamson

Leadership Lesson from my Family – Success and Motivation

I’ve decided to write a more personal post, on a lesson I’ve learned from my own family and life experience. After all, you’d be hard pressed to convince me that everything worth learning can be taught in a classroom, or read about in a book or article. And, as I reflect on almost 50 years in business, I am more convinced than ever that, even without a formal education, you can be a great business leader – if you are smart enough to learn from what is around you, fully understand people and how they work, and, most importantly, try to understand your own strengths, weaknesses, and impact on others.

This is a photograph my 86 year old father e-mailed me last week. He even beat me to the punch on getting it posted on Instagram because, at 86 years old, he is a life lesson in himself, epitomizing the notion that it is never ever too late to learn new things, and grow as a human being. If isolation and loneliness are concerns for our older generation, my dad combats it daily by interacting on social media, travelling the world, and working out at his local gym. He even walked into a tattoo parlour by himself last year to knock “getting a tattoo” off his bucket list.

But, this blog post is not so much about my dad, as it is about my facial expression. Look at me. I am 4 years old and, according to my dad, have just successfully caught a football for the very first time. What would it be like to capture that feeling of sheer joy and accomplishment, and feel it every single day. While I can’t recall the actual moment myself, from my own experiences as a parent I can almost guarantee it was followed up with the words “again dad, again”, and then, over time, “why don’t you stand a little further back, dad” or “let’s see if I can catch 10 in a row now.”

That is the addictive quality of achievement and success. Feeling successful feels great, and so we want to feel that again and again and again.

Which then begs the question, why do so many managers and leaders focus on where employees are falling short, instead of regularly pointing out their accomplishments, and building on their strengths? I believe it is a fact of basic human nature that when you feel successful, you want to feel it again, and feel it more, and feel it in different ways. When you feel like a failure, though, the tendency is to resign, stop trying, hide away and hope no one notices you’re not succeeding.

So, Lesson 1 of Leadership Lessons from my Family is about Success and Motivation. If you want to be a great manager, leader, parent, or even just a great human being, find ways to make the people around you feel successful, as often and in as many different ways as you can.

But wait, perhaps you are thinking, isn’t this what we’ve been doing with our parenting over the past 30 years? And isn’t it going horribly wrong as we tell our kids how wonderful they are over and over, to the point that they think they don’t have to try or work hard, because everything they do is so great and so perfect just as it is? And aren’t these kids going off to university unprepared? And entering jobs thinking they are so special, only to realize that in the real world they are not, in fact, entitled to a six figure salary out of university, or gushing praise from their boss over every report they produce?

To clarify, my point is not to blindly tell employees they are doing amazing things when they are not, or to walk around the office giving high fives and saying “great job” to everyone on a daily basis. If you want to be a truly great leader, then your task is actually far more complex than that. Your job as a leader is to find ways to make your employees be successful, feel successful, and own and be motivated by that success as their own. If you can create an environment in which your people are set up to have and feel success, then you will create a culture in which every team member is striving to catch that next football, to catch it from further away, and to catch it more times without dropping it, than they ever have before.

Taking a Chance on New Ideas

If you are being very truthful with yourself, would you say it is possible that you could use some refreshed, and very common sense, pointers for setting strategy? Or making critical business decisions? Or solving any of the challenging problems that come your way?

I thought so, and that is why I feel quite sure you will enjoy “Strategy and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. This is a short, but excellent article from McKinsey & Company that offers seven wonderful lessons which each become useful tips that every leader can benefit from.

To put yourself in the best mindset for really internalizing these useful suggestions, however, a quote from the end of the article is worth considering first. The author, Chris Bradley, notes that his mid-life push into motorcycling took him out of his comfort zone. He says, “There is something about becoming a novice again that … builds a great sense of renewal”.

It’s about opening yourself up to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Life is a journey, and business is too. Enjoy the ride!

To read the full article, you can go to Read More Here

True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation


“Humility in the service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with unknowns”.

So argues Fast Company cofounder William C. Taylor, in this concise but thought-provoking piece posted on HBR.org.

Taylor, author of Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways, chips away at some common misperceptions of leadership, including the idea that leadership means giving direction rather than taking it, and the notion that having ambition precludes exercising humility.

He believes the most effective leaders are ones who successfully create a culture in which individuals are not only willing to express dissenting opinions, but feel obliged to. This requires both self-assurance and a whole hearted belief in the value and positive potential of encouraging thoughtful dissention.

We teach our children to speak up and speak out, not to follow the crowd blindly, and to take a stand when it matters. So why shouldn’t we want and expect the same of our employees?

Read More Here

Stop Trying to Sound Smart When You’re Writing

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“Great writing for the sake of great writing is best left to poets and novelists. Great business writing should deliver its content without getting in the way. Invest your energy in choosing words that will inspire the actions you’re looking for and strip away anything that will detract from your core message.” – Liane Davey, Harvard Business Review, October 2016.

Here are some practical business writing tips from Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and a coauthor of Leadership Solutions: The Pathway to Bridge the Leadership Gap.

My favourite is “Eliminate fancy-pants words.” Couldn’t agree more!
Read More Here

Speed – A Critical Competency

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Speed is the ultimate weapon in business. It is the defining characteristic that separates the truly few who are competitive from the much larger mass of the bland and mediocre. Do you believe this? Do you believe speed in decision making and speed in execution are vital? Is speed a key component of your organizational DNA? What are you doing to increase the speed and metabolism of your organization?

Things are happening faster and faster all the time. That’s not going to change. Speed and agility are the twins you need on your side in order to succeed. Dave Girouard, CEO of Upstart, and former President of Google Enterprise Apps, has it right when he says, “All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win. Speed is a defining characteristic – if not the defining characteristic – of the leader in virtually every industry you look at”.

In his article entitled “Speed as a Habit”, Girouard shares what he calls the building blocks of speed. He then goes on to present his views on developing speed as an organizational habit, making it part of your culture and leadership brand. In our view, Girouard is right on the mark, but it certainly challenges much of what we have been led to believe. As a result, it requires leaders to consider how they may need to change their habits in light of a changing world and an increasingly hypercompetitive landscape.

To read the full article, you can go to Read More Here
But … don’t put it off till tomorrow. Speed matters.

Why you should know how much your coworkers get paid

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From time to time, I come across a TED talk that is notable in terms of challenging traditionally-held views, and widely-spread conventional business practices.

David Burkus’ TED talk on salary openness and total pay transparency is one such talk.

Think about it.

If I were to give a TED talk on how teams should work better together, how managers should listen to their employees more, how important innovation is to organizational success, few people would resist the message or openly disagree. Putting those ideas into practice might be a more difficult task, but conceptually I would have virtually all of my audience on board from the outset.

If, however, I were to give a TED talk on how every employee in an organization should know what every other employee earns… excuse me? You’re joking, right? This is a concept that challenges even the most progressive of us, and would immediately be met with open resistance by many.
And yet, this is exactly what Burkus’ TED Talk recommends.

Even more remarkably, he explains how this model can benefit, and not hurt, organizations as a whole. Pay secrecy leads individuals to assume they are underpaid, or paid less than their colleagues, even when they are not. Remove the secrecy, Burkus contends, and organizations provide an increased sense of fairness and collaboration inside the company. He claims this makes happier more motivated employees, contrary to the assumption that such a practice might cause jealousy and discord.

From the employee’s perspective, removing pay secrecy and information asymmetry allows parties to negotiate in better faith, and not feel taken advantage of. It may, in fact, prove to be the easiest way to eliminate the gender wage gap, and other arbitrary, real or imagined, pay disparities in the workplace.

This is definitely a thought-provoking TED talk worth watching.

Read More Here

Strategy and Leadership – A Union that Matters

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Does inspired strategy or masterful leadership contribute more to your organization’s success? In the business context, this could be a debate as fundamental as nature versus nurture. Do you have a view?

I have just read an article on Wharton’s online site, knowledge@wharton, that I think is a real goldmine. It is entitled “Management 101: The Marriage of Strategy and Leadership” and is actually an interview with two Wharton professors, Harbir Singh and Mike Useem. After many years of teaching, Singh and Useem have determined that the best leaders must excel in both leadership and strategy, and that is the basis of their book “The Strategic Leaders’ Road Map: Six Steps for Integrating Leadership and Strategy”.

With numerous examples, such as P&G’s acquisition of Gillette and the Renault Nissan Alliance, the authors make their case for the equal importance of strategy and leadership. They also illuminate the downfalls of allowing your organization to emphasize one over the other.

I really think this is a must read, and know you will find it thought provoking if you can put aside a few minutes to take it in.

To read the full interview (or watch the video), you can go to Read More Here

Strengthening Your Leadership Pipeline

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We have all been hearing about the importance of the leadership pipeline for many years now. Do you have a leadership pipeline? Is it as strong as it should be? If you could have five quick tips for making it stronger, would that be useful to you?

Harvard Business Review has just published a great article entitled “The 5 Elements of a Strong Leadership Pipeline”. The author, Josh Bersin, quotes a 2016 study of 7,000 organizations in which 89% of executives rated “strengthening the leadership pipeline” an urgent issue. Unfortunately, in an effort to do this, many of them grab onto the latest fad or gimmick in training and, not surprisingly, they have little to show for it.

To study this issue, Bersin and his research colleagues looked at the impact of different management practices on overall business performance, rather than focusing specifically on leadership development. When looking at companies with strong leadership pipelines, and strong financial performance, they found five key traits which are presented in this article.

The findings offered here really resonated with us, and I think they will do the same for you.

Read More Here

Why Strategy Execution Unravels and What to do About It

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Above innovation, above geopolitical instability, and even more than top-line growth, global CEOs describe strategy execution as being their single most significant organizational concern. Common myths around the execution of organizational strategy, however, can actually work against your chances of achieving organizational strategic success.

The following HBR video identifies some important myths around strategy execution-myths that when adhered to can lead organizations to waste time and resources on the wrong issues, while overlooking the right ones. Organizations then find themselves fixated on enhancing and improving strategy execution, while their actions and organizational culture are, in fact, hindering it.

I have listed the 5 myths below, however, this video is a must watch for anyone wishing to better understand the context and pitfalls of common sense strategy myths in play at many organizations today.

Myth #1 – Execution Equals Alignment

Myth #2 – Execution Means Sticking to the Plan

Myth #3 – Communication Equals Understanding

Myth #4 – A Performance Culture Drives Execution

Myth #5 – Execution Should Be Driven from the Top

Read More Here

Managing Mental Models

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We are in a time of information overload and things are not going to slow down. Do you have a process that allows you to access the information you need, process it, build on it and, ultimately, put yourself in a position to make the best decisions possible?

It might be time for a quick read of an excellent summary on this issue just published in The Farnham Street Blog entitled “Creating a Latticework of Mental Models”. In a concise and easily digested format, this article presents the need for creating what they call a latticework of your mental models.

The latticework “puts them in a useable form to analyze a wide variety of situations and enables you to make better decisions.” It points out we all need to have multiple mental models to ensure we don’t narrow the field to early and twist our arguments to fit our biases.

I hope you might find a few minutes to look it over.

To read the full article, you can go to Read More Here