Leadership On the Edge

Leadership Gaps Put Companies in Limbo

A culture that identifies and cultivates leaders is essential to firms that cannot afford leadership gaps that arise from unforeseen circumstances. Creating this type of culture is a challenge.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, Sudden Leaders Loss Leaves Firms in Limbo,  “Many managers don’t think their companies have a sufficiently strong leadership pipeline. About 39% said that their own company’s leadership pipeline is inadequate, versus 10% that said it was ‘robust.’ About 47% said their pipeline was adequate.”

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The Leadership Debate Beneath the Oil Slick: Obama vs. Hillary Again

Organizational leadership is a question of balance, focus, and consistency. Leaders in organizations have to sustain the consistency of a perpetual campaign while keeping an eye on the ball, as well as constituents, agendas, allies, resistors, strategies, and tactics.

There is one critical point in which leaders sometimes stumble and from which it is often difficult to recover. It is the trip-wire that lies between the drama of rallying people to your side and the pragmatics of execution.

Leaders rally others to their position with dramaturgical language, by a sense of commitment, and are often exhausted by their own drama so they begin to allocate the responsibility of execution to others. In the case of President Obama that is what almost tripped him up with health care. In the case of George W. Bush that’s what tripped him up with the promises he made at the World Trade Center and his foreign policy agenda.

A classic example of a president who was able to sustain momentum for the short period of time he was with us was John F. Kennedy. In a specific case, he promised to get America to the moon before the end of the decade and he did. He successfully coupled the sense of urgency with resource commitment.

There are times that leaders must become managers. They must not only become managers, but micro-managers. They must understand that they have not just moral responsibility, not just ideological responsibility, but the micro-responsibility of execution.

The micro-analysis is the true test of a leader’s competency. The problem is that some issues needs micro-management more than other issues. President Obama yesterday delivered a $20-billion dollar promise from BP. He was able to rally people around the idea and use political muscle to get what he wanted. The core of the $20-billion promise demanded a different talent than what is needed to clean up the oil spill. Cleaning up the gulf will demand micro-management. It will demand not simply drama, but the translation of drama into the skills of execution.

During the election there was a great distinction made between Hillary Clinton as a manager and Obama as a leader. There was never a question of Obama’s vision; he was haunted by questions of his managerial capacity. Constantly we heard the distinction between Obama as a visionary and Hillary as a person who could get things done. Those questions have now come to the surface again as we hear more and more nostalgia and a bit of lament among the Hillary supporters. Obama faces the trip-wire that all visionary leaders face sooner or later. Can they deliver? Can they manage under crisis? In a real sense visionary leaders have to learn how to translate promise into execution and translate hope into realization.

Pragmatic and proactive leaders have to deal with the micro-issues of resource allocation, accountability, human resource management, and get into the details of the game. In a time of crisis, as we’ve learned from such leaders as Eisenhower, logistical nuts-and-bolts involvement is the final test of leadership. When you lead you can’t just deal in promises, but you must jump into the nitty-gritty business of everyday action.

Picture Credit: Mega Beth

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The First Step of Employee Engagement is in Your Head

workerThe other day a colleague of mine who is a HR VP told me that employee engagement was “hot.” The way he stated it leads one to believe that employee engagement is a new concern, a new concept, a new philosophy, or, if you will, a new mantra.

I was a bit astonished if not perplexed. It never dawned on me that the notion of employee engagement had been on some invisible back burner and was suddenly emerging as a popular management tool since it has been and integral concern of organizational and management theory for decades. Indeed, a disproportionate amount of the literature in the fields of organizational psychology and organizational behavior is sharply focused on employee engagement. The terminology may be different and the variables augmented, but the same concepts are explored.

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Proactive Leaders In the Kitchen: Cutting Costs and Maintaining Brand

The era of the celebrity chef is currently being overshadowed by the global economic crisis. Restaurant owners, managers, and chefs are realizing that survival hinges on the ability to save money, run an efficient kitchen, and cut excessive spending. They need to be proactive

Business leaders in all industries: take note.

Today’s Wall Street Journal article, Reality Check; Please, shows us another victim of the economic downturn: Fine dining…and it’s causing celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay to tighten their proverbial waist-bands.

Chef Ramsay, best recognized by his sharply worded TV shows and surprising British cooking prowess, is now “hemorrhaging” money since he owns over 17 high-end restaurants internationally. Tourism and business expense accounts are dwindling–leading to half empty dining rooms and tight-lipped dinners.

So What’s a Chef To Do?

Chef Ramsay, long extolling the virtues of task-master-leadership on his reality TV shows, is now listening to his own advice. According to the article, he cut 15% of his staff, designed prix-fixe menus, abolished expensive products, and encouraged his chefs to use economical ingredients. Chef Ramsey reports that his new strategy is working–but barely.

A top of the line restaurant, the article mentions, costs nearly $2 million dollars to outfit, design, and stock and that’s not including staff. The fine dining industry isn’t known for it’s fraugality. However, when a high-end restaurant begins to spend less on high end ingredients (like asparagus, caviar, and rib-eye steak) the quality of the food becomes harder to control and the reputation and the brand of the restaurant is held over a dangerous cliff.

…And What’s A Business Leader Going To Do?

The same principle applies to any organization. Cutting your marketing departments costs will mean your team won’t be able to reliably produce great material. Limiting your budget will make it harder to get certain things done. You can likely think of more examples from personal experience.

However, like in a restaurant, the ability to make a smaller budget and low quality supplies work requires talent and know-how. As Chef Ramsay points out–his restaurants’ success requires a great chef that can still turn lesser ingredients into 3 Michelin Star food. A good manager will be able to stretch a small budget over a long period of time, keep people happy, and save money.

Looking to the food & beverage industry for lessons in leadership is worthwhile. Chefs, in every kitchen, need to not only have the business ability to know what to buy and where to buy it, but they also require a specific skill which allows them to turn boring products into attractive dishes. Leaders sometimes needs to be passionate chefs–concerned about quality, reputation, and fresh ingredients.