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01 2012

Being Good

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

Holidays provide change and time to reflect whether one intends to or not. This season various reports seemed to reinforce just how complicated human differences are. No two of us are alike, so the task of coming up with strategies that work reliably in varied situations with any consistency could be difficult. The chief leadership puzzle also popped up again in conversation – not ‘what is leadership’ or ‘does effective leadership make a difference?’ We know the answers to those. What we don’t know is why so many leaders don’t adopt the proven keys that make one leader so much more effective than others. One answer seems to be that we find ‘nice guys’ not very leader-like, so we hesitate to emulate them. Instances to explore this question come to light constantly. A high profile example arrived in a newsletter pointing to an interview in Forbes of ING Direct CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann who has just written his second book of leadership wisdom called Rock, Then Roll: The Secrets of Culture-Driven Leadership, which Forbes says “gathers nuggets of information distributed to ING Direct’s employees over Kuhlmann’s ten years with ING Direct,” the second of his books to do so. Mr. Kuhlman is a fabulous Canadian success story not many know much about. An RBC VP at age 33 he took on the challenge of developing online banking for Dutch-owned bank and financial company ING and made the new venture amazingly successful, both in the Canada and the US and several other countries internationally. I happen to know what an uphill battle he must have had within ING from recent coaching with another Canadian sub of theirs which found them almost impossible to deal with – never allowing the sub to make decisions and delaying giving permission needed to operate, exactly opposite to Mr. Kuhlman’s style. As a result of these different approaches to leadership ING overall needed a $13 billion bail-out from the Dutch government, while one way to pay it back has been to sell Mr. Kuhlman and his super-successful ING Direct to Capital One for $9 billion. Those numbers make the value of effective leadership pretty clear. If you’re wondering whether ING head office will be reading Mr. Kuhlman’s books, I can guess almost certainly they will pay no attention to them despite his success versus their failure. Mr. Kuhlman, before anything else, promotes an empowerment culture and what he calls ‘culture-driven leadership.’ That means creating a culture in which everyone potentially leads and no one waits on the CEO or anyone else to lay out orders. It is also a great affirmation of the principle that an excellent leader can carve out a highly effective culture in his or her segment of a company that otherwise is downright hostile to it. But will an old-line bank move from command and control culture to this? Not likely in our lifetimes. The only hesitation I have recommending Kuhlman’s books is he hands out 302 leadership messages in them and another 46 since that latest one. From his interview I think the themes are likely pretty clear, but none of us is capable of digesting, let alone putting into practice, 348 bits of advice, especially when you recognize they fit a particular set of circumstances that you may never encounter again. Inspirational undoubtedly, but workable? Oddly, a more usable description of similar, but literally on-the-ground ‘nice guy’ leadership is an analysis of Denver Bronco’s quarterback Tim Tebow’s style (also in Forbes). The highly religious Mr. Tebow has become quite controversial as a result of his very public devotional behavior on the field, but he’s simply one more unique individual with unique style. It’s hard to argue with his practical success as a leader, which Kevin Kruse (author of the recent book, We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement helps us get a handle on. Without much of a stretch it seems clear these are examples of similar approaches especially in intent, albeit in very different situations where specific details inevitably have to vary. I tend to like Kruse’s descriptions better because they get at more directly what I believe are the five key core concepts without confusing them with too many specific examples – being positive with everyone, but dealing honestly with challenges, bringing the unique pieces together in balance (together meaning ‘we’ over ‘me’ just as Kuhlman insists in his culture-driven model), keeping focused on delivering results. Both promote starting small and persisting to build momentum. and both provide excellent, but very different examples of all this working effectively. Surface differences, similar principles. Bookmark and share this post More »

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