Archives For Leadership

As those who have been reading this blog for a while know, my passion is global business. I love to travel and interact with different people from different places.  Everywhere I go (and I have lived, worked or traveled to over 90 countries), I truly enjoy observing distinct cultures and taking away lessons learned from each place and every culture I engage with.  In

Vienna

fact, a good deal of my life’s work is based on this very concept.

Recently, while attending Board Meetings in Vienna, I had the privilege of engaging with several colleagues – global executives and academic experts – to discuss some rather interesting views relating to the differences in business perspectives between Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.  It became interesting as the various views on doing business in different regions shifted… but today, Vienna:

Vienna is a beautiful city filled with exquisite buildings, powerful opera halls, sophisticated clothing and incredible art. The Viennese people themselves, without a doubt, embody “Culture” with a Capital C. From high art to street art, from music to theater, ballroom dance to interpretive movement, architecture to fashion – it’s all there…and it’s simply a way of life.

It is fascinating to find the city’s great landmarks are (literally) lived in, not just admired. While aesthetic and cultural traditions are highly respected, they have also grown and changed with the times. Just as Viennese youth still learn to waltz in preparation for Viennese Ball Season, moving in the same coordinated steps as the generations that came before, so too do they move through the city with a purpose that is determined to ensure Vienna becomes an economic powerhouse with unlimited business opportunities as they move into their future.

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Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, visiting Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick and a prayer, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

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As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! I have had the opportunity to return to Istanbul, Turkey for work on multiple occasions. I always feel as if I return to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I observe the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I often think about how there are unique leadership lessons inherent in every environment. If  we pay close attention, there is also learning inherent in each of these environments. It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and I sometimes think to myself, “What can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” I it sometimes hard to see. Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that there are important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and incorporate. In our western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings focused solely on getting to know one another better, I am reminded how Turkish people usually only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I visit the world famous Spice Bazaar, I am reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stop to chat with a shopkeeper and am invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chat for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchange contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

2.      One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to learn from those above and teach those below…

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My husband and I lead missions trips to Haiti. As I was observing (and serving) in the poorest country in the western hemisphere,  I began to think about how there are some leadership lessons inherent in the environment in Haiti that most of us could stand to think about more often. You may think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has 90% unemployment and a 70% illiteracy rate?” These statistics are correct… and there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how far people are willing to go to serve you.

Here are just a few of the things that come to mind:

  1. Understand, you can’t possibly understand…

Living and visiting third world countries on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I am more aware than most of cultural diversity and the impact it has within a single culture, much less a wider application. In Haiti, I was reminded that because I live within my own paradigms, I can never fully understand the plight of those outside of them. Despite seeing poverty in its most extreme, I have never been that poor….despite witnessing oppression at its worst, I have never really been oppressed…No matter how much, as global leaders we would like to think we understand, chances are we are just not equipped to comprehend the complexity and diversity that resides within our global organizations.  The myriad of cultural challenges our diverse global communities present, only serves to remind us that while we can certainly learn and understand general orientations and respect and value others worldviews, we can not fully understand individual people by observing from a physical or psychological level.  The diversity and complexity of those individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but by their life experiences and  the dozens of values, thousands of attitudes and tens of thousands of beliefs that continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As global leaders, where we can be effective is through active listening, understanding that there is more than one “best way”,  and having the capacity to facilitate the blending of the best of all cultural elements to make the whole more than the sum of the parts.

2.      One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to understand what’s important.

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Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 4.37.49 PMFor Every Action, There Is A Reaction: People, Process, Policy…

Sir Isaac Newton, my fellow alumni at University of Cambridge (admittedly, a few years ahead of me!)…

If only he knew the extent of application to his theories  – business operations in this instance. More about Newton’s Third Law shortly…

As we look forward, it is helpful to also look back and gain perspective. Today’s business operations are even more complex than two years ago… yet they are typically more aligned and proactive than they were five years ago. We are making progress, but there are still critical challenges to address.  Organizations are still not working at maximum capacity… experience tells me we can do better.

Typically, even though organizations may be consolidating for cost management and scalability purposes, the walls of the individual functions, channels and regions have become even thicker. As a direct result, it is harder for you, as a leader, to build end-to-end value chain functionality in ever-changing, complex organizations. It has become increasingly difficult to gain consensus and approval – both on specific, focused initiatives, as well as broader organizational change.

This is not a technology, process or policy problem – it is a people problem:

People make purchasing decisions…

People change processes…

People establish policies…

People change procedures…

People make budget decisions…

People decide to build and maintain organizational silos…

Although we tend to observe and react to events (or the fires they cause), it is critically important to really look at and assess the root cause of your problems. Go ahead, rip that band-aid off and look at what is really causing the infection –

Your “Core System” May Be Flawed

Recently I was speaking with a client in the SCM space. He was trying to understand why he could not consistently get the  business results he was looking for and wanted to discuss how he could drive change to achieve his objectives. What did we find upon examination?

Just as Newton predicted (yeah, that guy again) – For Every Action There Is A Reaction.

Organizations are designed as “systems” – a set of interrelated and interdependent elements and subsystems to form a cohesive whole. Bottom line: Many organizations are not designed for effective interaction and optimization – the “System” is often broken. Units within the system are not designed to function as single systems unto themselves.  Organizations are made up of many moving parts. If one part of the system is altered in any way, chances are it will affect other aspects of the business.   It is critical to organizational success that each business partner across the organization recognizes and optimizes as a part of the bigger whole. Instead of deploying processes, policies and technologies to leverage various forms of improvement across the wider organization, business units often do not consider the “ripple effect” that will occur when independent changes are made.

In addition, frequently there is a tendency to attempt to lay new tools and technologies on top of old policies and procedures that worked for a specific business purpose in the past – without the support of the people and other units that are affected. The reality is that time and effort must be invested to understand why old practices are failing, how any changes will impact the existing business and who it will affect outside of the immediate environment of the implementation.

Making the poor assumption that a new process or technology will fix the problem instead of understanding that no policy, process or technology change can be successful without recognizing the people component… and the system as a whole, is fruitless. As a result, my client was not realizing the potential value of interconnected organizational change.  Ultimately, we partnered to create a plan around “systems thinking” that incorporated not just his division, but the organization as a whole. He was able to leverage his new knowledge of “the system” to work across functions, channels and regions to get the very best from the system as a whole. As a result, he is now seeing strong, consistent results on a global basis… and the business is growing quarter on quarter.

Interacting With The System As A Whole Provides A Distinct Advantage.

My client is not unique in his challenge – the lack of a systems approach is pervasive in most organizations – just as sub-optimal business results are. Many leaders implement policies, procedures or technologies without ever looking at them in terms of the effects on the “system” and its people… and then wonder why they have not gotten the results they anticipated. Millions of dollars are wasted each year on failed projects for this very reason.

The reality is that today the average company has variant policies, procedures and technologies across the different functions and channels that preclude them from realizing exceptional results. Leaders typically focus only on their area of responsibility. Critically important, to be sure. However, the challenge in this approach is that your organization may have channels or functions that operate well in and of themselves, but they don’t integrate well together. Consequently, the organization suffers as a whole.

Progressive Leaders Are Recognizing How Important Aligning The Various Parts Of The Organization, And The Interrelations Of Those Parts, Is To Their Success.

As one of those leaders, you need to ensure your focus is on matters of ongoing organization and feedback. You need to diagnose problems, not by examining just your piece of the organization, but by recognizing the larger patterns of interactions between the parts of the integrated whole:

  • Focus on the outcomes you want from the organization in terms of the customer and your overall business results
  • Work backwards from your ultimate goal to determine what you need from the system to succeed
  • Understand that you are not an island and in order to be successful, you need to consider and integrate all the moving parts

While most of us like to consider our business as unique and different, the reality is that the more congruency you build into your organizational systems, the more you increase efficiency, visibility, innovation and knowledge management… and the more potential you have to maximize your business results. Think SLA’s, MOU’s, Partnerships – and systems.

Understand, at the end of the day, every action you take creates a reaction somewhere else in the system – people, process and policy. The bottom line of systems thinking is leverage – seeing where actions and changes can lead to significant, meaningful improvements – BUT understand those same actions and changes will have impacts on other structures and people throughout the system. Your overall success depends on the quality and quantity of the interactions within the system’s components.

While there may be functional or cultural differences across the spectrum, the more you can partner to translate and align, the more likely you are to succeed on a grand scale. Work hard to understand your counterparts and build consistent policies, procedures and technologies together. Each and every disparate instance adds to the challenge of building effective solutions that support holistic planning and deployment.

What do you have to gain in addition to the obvious? How about:

  • An Innovation Incubator
  • Connectivity That Breeds Efficiency
  • Cross-functional/Vertical Leverage
  • Improved Business Results Across The Board
  • Competitive Advantage Fueled By Solving Customer Issues Efficiently & Effectively

How Can You Contribute To Creating An Effective “System”?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how systems thinking can help you to exceed your potential. Need A Trusted Advisor to help you become the very best leader you can be while maximizing your organizational results? Contact me at SheriLMackey@gmail.com.

For better or worse… we are all extensions of the networks we have built – or the lack thereof. Those who are devoted to the intensive cultivation of the vine will prosper and grow, while those who do not, well, you can guess the outcome…

Ask any successful person which single skill has helped them to accelerate their career – an overwhelming majority will respond with one simple word… Networking.

We all know what makes the corporate world continue to expand and grow. It’s a giant social vine, with people dependent upon one another for success. Whether we like it (or care to acknowledge it) or not – we rely upon one another. We are very rarely solely responsible for our own achievements without the support and help of others.

That in mind, the single greatest skill you can develop is dynamic interdependence, which equates to NETWORKING. This is the most powerful marketing tactic you can employ to accelerate and sustain your own success! Few things will help you grow faster than a creating a strong network.

Dynamic Interdependence is about meeting people, developing contacts and exchanging information. It is about bearing fruit… and pruning, as necessary.

When cultivating vines, pruning is used to selectively remove unsuitable or extraneous shoots in your network, retaining the strong branches that are likely to bear fruit. This serves three functions:

1) to cultivate only high potential relationships for the current season of your career

2) to produce high potential contacts from which sustainable fruit can be selected for coming seasons and

3) to remove those shoots that will not grow into a valuable part of your network. You are a product of those you surround yourself with – It’s critical that you are prepared to nurture those high potential shoots, while at the same time willing to cut off those shoots you observe bearing no fruit – or worse, consistently producing bad fruit!

On the positive side, meeting and networking with the right people can lead to untold opportunities. Developing a network of dynamic interdependence translates into shared experiences, best-practices, and knowledge, culminating with shared professional development for everyone within the network! The reality is that you will not bear fruit yourself unless you remain tightly connected to the vine. The vine, your network, is the source and sustenance of your professional life – each and every shoot of your network relies on the vine in a dynamically interdependent way to survive and bear fruit.

Your pruning process will ultimately help you to bear more fruit. If there is no fruit on your vine, if there are no genuine connection points, you are in danger of falling off the vine. If you isolate yourself, you isolate your likelihood to succeed at the same time. Building a reliable network will increase your connectivity, your knowledge, your visibility, and most of all…your chance of success. Networking is about self-confidence, self-advocacy, and perhaps, self-discovery.

The old saying, “it isn’t what you know, but who you know” rings true. Statistics show that a staggering 70% of jobs are obtained through networking… Some believe that in this unstable economic climate, this statistic is considerably higher.  I see it over and over again: Many senior level individuals go far, but eventually find themselves at a loss because they just haven’t built the network they need to take them from being a respected professional… to recognized expert… to a formal leader … to a member of a Corporate or Not For Profit Board of Directors.

They have hit the proverbial “Bedrock” – their roots have stopped growing, their vine has stopped expanding… Why? Primarily because they failed to build a sustainable network – both inside of and outside of the organization!

Don’t be fooled – THE VINE IS CRITICAL TO YOUR SUCCESS!

Building a Network of Dynamic Interdependence provides the most productive, most proficient and most enduring tactic to build professional relationships. To succeed you need to continually connect with new people, cultivate emerging relationships and leverage your network.

Final Advice:

There are many “vines” out there…

  1. You will get out of your network only what you put into it. If you attend events and meetings on a passive level, at best your network will become a novel social forum. You risk losing the fundamental reasons why you should seek to extend your vine in the first place.
  2. Dynamic Interdependence is not about belonging to a formal group — it’s critical to network both within your work environment and outside of it (for obvious reasons).
  3. Finally, do not just hunker down and do good work and wait for the world to stop and notice (as most people do) – it just won’t happen!

The truth is, you make your own choices. As a successful businessperson, will you choose to make your way alone or seek Dynamic Interdependence?

How Will You Focus  On Extending Your Vine?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how networking has helped you to exceed your potential. Feel free to contact me at sherilmackey@gmail.com or by commenting below. Check back soon for the next post on Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.

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