From the perspective of the individual, collaboration is both an intellectual and an emotional act: it implies the realization that knowledge is a social construct (rather than a privilege of a few) and a mindset shift from entitlement to vulnerability.
From the perspective of the organization, collaboration is the only path forward to ensure a deep understanding of what needs to be solved to effectively evolve. The collective resources of a diverse group are required to design solutions that matter to clients, and the necessary community support to do what was not done before but needs to be done.
How may an organization start to change gears towards collaboration?
Leverage meetings to discuss client pain-points rather than use them as show-and-tell venues
Make sure your lay-out allows employees to see each other and prompts them to hold conversations rather than encourage communication only through emails ccing too many people and
Ask customer-facing employees their opinions and suggestions rather than trying to design solutions from the ivory tower.
In summary, in the long run collaboration is the chance for organizations to meaningfully sustain and increase relevance for clients, employees and investors.
Five words that make up the most thoughtless, irritating and generic way to ask for advice — and any person who is a rock star in their industry has heard it more than a dozen times.
The phrase, while well-intentioned, is overused, vague and way too open-ended. When conversations start this way, there’s no telling where it’ll go or how long it’ll take.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for giving — and receiving — advice. Offering advice is a sign of good leadership, and asking for advice is a sign of intelligence. If the exchange goes well, both parties benefit.
But the process can derail in many ways. It can quickly lead to “frustration, decision gridlock, subpar solutions, frayed relationships and thwarted personal development,” according to Margolis and Garvin.
To avoid those consequences, here’s some guidance on how to ask for advice without annoying the other person:
Start with a positive tone
The way you initiate the conversation is everything. Instead of starting with, “Can I pick your brain,” shift the language to a more positive tone.
When in doubt, I recommend: “I’d love your advice.” No-frills, friendly and simple.
Identify the type of advice you’re seeking
Immediately after your opening line, address the topic of your problem in the form a question.
In order to craft a question with great precision, ask yourself: What type of advice am I seeking? What does my problem involve? What are my desired outcomes?
Below are the four general types of advice, according to Garvin and Margolis’ research:
Type of advice: Discrete What it involves: Exploring options for a single decision Desired outcomes: Recommendations in favor of or against specific options Example question: “Where should we build the new factory — in China, Brazil or Eastern Europe?”
Type of advice: Counsel What it involves: Providing guidance on how to approach a complex or unfamiliar situation Desired outcomes: A framework or process for navigating the situation Example question: “How should I handle my domineering supervisor?”
Type of advice: Coaching What it involves: Enhancing skills, self-awareness and self-management Desired outcomes: Task proficiency; personal and professional development Example question: “How can I work more collaboratively with my peers?”
Type of advice: Mentoring What it involves: Providing opportunities, guidance and protection to aid career success Desire outcomes: A relationship dedicated to building and sustaining professional and personal effectiveness and to career advancement Example question: “How can I get more exposure for my project?”
Just the other day, someone approached me for guidance, and her execution was perfect: “I’d love your advice. My company is asking me to relocate. There are several factors to consider and I’m not sure if I should do it. Do you have 45 minutes to chat?”
Forty-five minutes is a lot, I know, but I appreciated the fact that she acknowledged it would be a longer conversation. I happily blocked off some time on my calendar and we ended up talking for an hour.
Come prepared with specific details
As you move further into the conversation, it’s important to clearly define the problem. Otherwise, you’re doing what I like to call a “bait-and-switch.”
(This is another reason why you should never ask to pick someone’s brain; it makes the other person assume that the exchange will only take a few minutes. But more often than not, it ends up being a deep dive.)
According to Margolis and Garvin, when you don’t come prepared with specific details about your problem, you’re more likely to end up “telling a lengthy, blow-by-blow story” that might cause the advice giver to tune out, lose focus or misidentify the core problem that needs solving.
Simply put, don’t come into the conversation empty-handed. Put realistic guardrails on the conversation and include any essential background information that your advisor might not be familiar with. Providing specific details also keeps the conversation pleasant and interesting.
“Though friendship, accessibility and non-threatening personalities all impart high levels of comfort and trust, they might have no relation to the quality or thoughtfulness of the advice,” Margolis and Garvin wrote. This is especially true if you’re seeking career-related advice.
Think creatively about the expertise you need. Who will bring in the most valuable insight? Who has the most knowledge that’s relevant to your problem?
For example, if you’re asking a seasoned CEO for advice involving your personal life, don’t expect to have lunch with Yoda. Your advisor is offering up valuable time to listen and provide professional feedback, not to hear you vent for an hour.
The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.
So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.
From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:
1. They blame external factors for their problems.
When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.
When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.
One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.
Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.
Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.
2. You can’t get on their calendar.
Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.
Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.
A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.
After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.
HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.
3. They focus too much on tips and tactics.
Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.
The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)
Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.
One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.
However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.
To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.
4. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”
To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.
Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.
Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.
When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable
After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.
Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment.
The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organizations
To build and lead an agile organization, it’s crucial that senior leaders develop new mind-sets and capabilities to transform themselves, their teams, and the organization.
For many organizations, surviving and thriving in today’s environment depends on making a fundamental transformation to become more agile. Those making the transition successfully are achieving substantive performance and health improvements: enhanced growth, profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.
The agile story
Before we dive deep, it’s useful to take a broader view of agile, and particularly what sets agile organizations apart from traditional ones.
Characteristics of traditional and agile organizations
Simply put, the dominant traditional organization model evolved primarily for stability in a well-known environment. It is based on the idea of an organization as a machine, with a static, siloed, structural hierarchy that operates through linear planning and control to execute one or very few business models.
The term “agile” as applied to a way of working that originated in 2001 with a new approach to software development. As organizations increasingly sought to become more agile—that is, faster and more flexible—they recognized that principles of agile software development could be applied much more broadly to organizations as a whole. organizations, viewed as living systems, have evolved to thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment. These organizations are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers, fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and non-hierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. Such organizations, we believe, are far better equipped than traditional ones for the future. While there are many different forms of enterprise agility, they share some common trademarks.
Leadership in agile organizations
This new kind of agile organization requires a fundamentally different kind of leadership. Recent research confirms that leadership and how leadership shapes culture are the biggest barriers to—and the biggest enablers of—successful agile transformations.
Leaders need three new sets of capabilities for agile transformations. First, they must transform themselves to evolve new personal mind-sets and behaviors. Second, they need to transform their teams to work in new ways. Third, it’s essential to build the capabilities to transform the organization by building agility into the design and culture of the whole enterprise.
To fully transform yourself, several shifts will be necessary—and leaders will need to make these changes in a disciplined way.
Shifting from reactive to creative mind-sets
Changing our mind-set—or adjusting it to the new context—is no easy task, but developing this “inner agility” is essential in releasing our potential to lead an agile transformation.
Reactive, or socialized, mind-sets are an outside-in way of experiencing the world based on reacting to circumstances and other people. Creative, or self-authoring, mind-sets are an inside-out way of experiencing the world based on creating our reality through tapping into our authentic selves, our core passion and purpose.Research shows that most adults spend most time “in the reactive,” particularly when challenged, and as a result, traditional organizations are designed to run on the reactive.
To build and lead agile organizations, however, leaders must make a personal shift to run primarily “in the creative.”There are three fundamental reactive-to-creative mind-set shifts we have found critical to foster the culture of innovation, collaboration, and value creation at the heart of agile organizations:
From certainty to discovery: fostering innovation. A reactive mind-set of certainty is about playing not to lose, being in control, and replicating the past. Today, leaders need to shift to a creative mind-set of discovery, which is about playing to win, seeking diversity of thought, fostering creative collision, embracing risk, and experimenting.
From authority to partnership: fostering collaboration.Traditional organization design tends towards siloed hierarchies based on a reactive mind-set of authority. The relationship between leaders and teams is one of superior to subordinate. Designed for collaboration, agile organizations employ networks of autonomous teams. This requires an underlying creative mind-set of partnership, of managing by agreement based on freedom, trust, and accountability.
From scarcity to abundance: fostering value creation. In stable markets, companies maximize their shares at the expense of others. This win–lose approach reflects a reactive mind-set of scarcity, based on an assumption of limited opportunities and resources. Today’s markets, however, evolve continually and rapidly. To deliver results, leaders must view markets with a creative mind-set of abundance, which recognizes the unlimited resources and potential available to their organizations and enables customer-centricity, entrepreneurship, inclusion, and co-creation.
A disciplined approach
While these mind-set shifts might be new and require a significant “letting go” of old beliefs and paradigms, collectively, they form a very disciplined approach to leadership. And because of inherent autonomy and freedom, leadership in agile organizations comes from a self-disciplined approach—leading not in fear of punishment or sanction but in service of purpose and passion.
Transforming your teams
Next, it’s important to learn how to help teams work in new and more effective ways.
Help teams work in agile ways
How might leaders help teams work in new and more agile ways? And what does this new way of working require of leaders? There are three essential leadership requirements that follow from all agile ways of working.
First, leaders must learn to build teams that are small, diverse, empowered, and connected. Second, leaders must allow and encourage agile teams to work in rapid cycles to enable them to deliver greater value more efficiently and more quickly. Third, leaders must keep agile teams focused on the external or internal customer and on creating value for customers, by understanding and addressing their unmet, and potentially even unrecognized, needs.
Embrace design thinking and business-model innovation
We have found that in addition to being able to lead in this new agile way of working, it is important for leaders to understand the key elements of two other relatively new disciplines: design thinking and business-model innovation.
Originating in industrial and other forms of design, design thinking is a powerful approach to developing innovative customer solutions, business models, and other types of systems. This begins with understanding the entire customer experience at each stage of the customer journey.
In organizations that are agile, each team is viewed as a value-creating unit, or as a “business.” These teams pursue business-model innovation at every opportunity, seeking new ways to meet the needs of their internal or external customers and deliver more value to employees, investors, partners, and other stakeholders.
Transforming your organization
Here, leaders must learn how to cocreate an agile organization purpose, design, and culture.
Purpose: Find the north star
The first distinctive organization-level skill leaders need to develop is the ability to distill a clear, shared, and compelling purpose—a north star—for their organization. Rather than the traditional executive-team exercise, in agile organizations, leaders must learn to sense and draw out the organization’s purpose in conversation with people across the enterprise.
Design: Apply the principles and practices of agile organization design
The second organization-level skill leaders need to develop is the ability to design the strategy and operating model of the organization based on agile-organization principles and practices. Most senior leaders of traditional companies have a well-honed skill set in this area that reflects traditional organization design as a relatively concentrated, static system: one or a very limited number of major businesses, each with a long-established business model, typically coexisting somewhat uneasily with a set of corporate functions.
To design and build an agile organization, leaders need a different set of skills based on a different understanding of organizations. They must learn to design their organization as a distributed, continually evolving system.
Such an organization comprises a network of smaller empowered units, with fewer layers, greater transparency, and leaner governance than a traditional model. More specifically, leaders must learn how to disaggregate existing large businesses into a more granular portfolio; transform corporate functions into a lean, enabling backbone; and attract a wide range of partners into a powerful ecosystem.
Culture: Shape an agile organizational culture
The third organization-level skill leaders need to develop is the ability to shape a new culture across the organization, based on the creative mind-sets of discovery, partnership, and abundance and their associated behaviors.
Given the openness and freedom people experience in an agile organization, culture arguably plays an even more important role here than in traditional organizations. To shape this culture, leaders must learn how to undertake a multifaceted culture-transformation effort that centers on their own capabilities and behaviors. This includes the following steps:
role modeling new mind-sets and behaviors authentically
fostering understanding and conviction in a highly interactive way, through sharing stories and being inspired by the energy and ideas of frontline teams
building new mind-sets and capabilities across the organization, including among those who do not formally manage people, and weaving learning into the fabric of daily activity to become true learning organizations
implementing reinforcement mechanisms in the agile organization design
An agile approach to developing leaders
Many organizations start their agile pilots in discrete pockets. Initially, at least, they can build agile-leadership capabilities there. But to scale agility through an organization successfully, top leaders must embrace its precepts and be willing to enhance their own capabilities significantly.
Eventually, a full agile transformation will need to encompass building the mind-sets and capabilities of the entire senior leadership across the enterprise. To do this in an agile way, five elements are essential:
Build a cadre of enterprise agility coaches, a new kind of deeply experienced expert able to help leaders navigate the journey, supported by a leadership-transformation team.
Get the top team engaged in developing its own capabilitiesearly on, as all senior leaders will take their cue from the executive team.
Create an immersive leadership experience (anything from a concentrated effort over three or four days to a learning journey over several months) to introduce the new mind-sets and capabilities, and roll it out to all senior leaders.
Invite leaders to apply their learnings in practice, both in agile-transformation initiatives already under way and through launching new organizational experiments.
Roll out the leadership capability building at an agile tempo, with quarterly pauses to review the leadership experiences, experiments, and culture shifts over the past 90 days, and then finalize plans and priorities for the next 90 days.
Agile transformation is a high priority for an increasing number of organizations. More than any other factor, the key enabler to a successful agile transformation is to help leaders, particularly senior leaders, develop new mind-sets and capabilities.
Doing so in an agile way will enable the organization to move faster, drive innovation, and both adapt to and shape its changing environment.
About the author(s)
Aaron De Smet is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Houston office, Michael Lurie is a senior expert in the Southern California office, and Andrew St George is an adviser to the firm and associate fellow of Said Business School, Oxford University.
Curated Thoughts for Founders & CEOs | By Helena M. Herrero L.
Article by Kate Brodock.
When I took over Women 2.0 in August 2016, the company had been around for 10 years, but we were straight back to startup mode, with a slim team to start (two people!) and an almost completely new business model. We had an intense focus on riding the fine line between revenues and mission that many for-profit, for-good companies often have.
Despite having the same limited resources that all startups have, one of my first and most immediate goals was to get to the point where I could hire an executive coach.
This isn’t a very common goal for most startup CEOs, but in my opinion, this is a mistake.
Why should you get a Coach?
When you optimize your performance, it directly impacts the performance of your startup
When you are at your best – in mind, body and spirit – you perform well in every aspect of your life. What you bring to work every day matters. A lot.
If you’re successful enough to have received investor money to grow your company, your own capabilities as a company leader now impact other stakeholders.
So how can you do your absolute best to make sure the company performs at optimal levels? You have to be at your optimal level.
If you’re not sleeping, getting overly stressed, or getting sick a lot — and generally not taking care of yourself — it does not bode well for the company (or your investors).
Optimizing your performance requires prioritizing self-care and committing to positive, healthy habits. Coaches will review your daily professional and personal routine and schedule, and work with you to develop a peak performance plan (and hold you to it).
Understanding how we’re motivated, how we work and want to work, how our work impacts our life and vice versa is all crucial to making sure we’re our best selves.
You’re growing a company, but you’re also growing yourself
It’s the Double-Track of Learning. Yes, you are hustling to raise capital, build a team, find office space, perfect your product, grow revenue, etc. But all the while, you are also growing yourself — as a leader and a CEO.
No one is born knowing how to be CEO of a company. Becoming a good one, and a good leader in general, requires a growth mindset and a commitment to stretching yourself.
Remember: You can’t take a company further than you’ve taken yourself.
Developing and executing 3-5 goals for growing your business and 3-5 goals for growing yourself is no easy task. Having a coach as a partner makes it much easier.
Realizing the importance of having 3-5 goals gives you ultra focus, makes decisions easier across the board, helps identify when things are wrong or right more quickly, and helps your team get on the same page and taking actions to move the ship forward.
Your brain’s limbic system is the back part of the brain, which has been with us forever (it controls our flight-or-fight response). This is the part of the brain that controls your stress, emotions, behavior, and motivation. And it can be trained (yes, trained). The limbic system learns best through feedback, extensive practice, and outside motivation.
Coaching provides exactly that: Critical feedback (the honest kind that doesn’t avoid the hard stuff), actionable tools and frameworks, and motivation (the kind you might not be able to give yourself in the morning).
With a coach, you can put together a practical development plan for growing into the best leader you can be.
As Founders, we all work our brains extensively all day long… but it’s often unstructured, high-energy, fast-action thinking that’s usually meant to get our company’s full plates less full by the end of the day.
Our brains, when put through structured thought processes, benefit in the long term.
When you’re a better human, you’re a better leader
This goes all the way back to Socrates, who taught the principle of “Know Thyself.” Many modern day leadership gurus, like Warren Bennis, believe that knowing thyself is the first rule for becoming an effective leader.
By developing a deep understanding and awareness of yourself, and committing to constant evolution as a person, you are also opening yourself up to truly grow as a leader.
Self-examination is hard and flawed, and easy to put off when you are running a company.
A Coach can walk you through an assessment process and offer up questions and exercises that help uncover your strengths, weaknesses, motivators, limiting beliefs, fears, etc.
Kate’s Note: With over-working comes a natural deprioritizing of self. We’re so busy setting business priorities and moving the companyforward that we neglect ourselves. Being able to effectively incorporate our personal lives – especially if you have things like families and children (!!) – makes hitting your desk every morning not only more productive, but more enjoyable.
There’s a difference between building a product and building a company.
While you may be a great engineer or product mind that thrives in the early days with a small team executing an MVP, scaling a team and a culture is a totally different ballgame.
A Coach can help you troubleshoot issues and see situations differently by asking quality questions. She can also help you identify and implement necessary changes to your behaviors or skills.
Lastly, if you need more convincing, Google launched data-driven Project Oxygen to figure out what their most successful managers do so well. As it turns out, being a good coach ranked first among eight qualities of great managers.
So, if you learn what coaching is all about, you’ll have the power to go forth and be a good coach to your own team. Think of it as a virtuous baton-pass — you learn to be a great leader and then pass it on.