(250) 516-6432 rob@robertscooke.com

Are you an essential leader?

I got, got, got, got no time…  Randy Bachman wrote these lyrics for the Guess Who in 1969.  Today they take on new meaning. As a leadership advisor I work with leaders across multiple sectors: private, public, crown, municipal, financial services, resource and health care.  Every day I hear the same story repeated over and over, “I am too busy”, “I don’t have time to think about the future, I am barely dealing with the day to day challenges”, “we need to postpone our call for a week or two because I am swamped.” I had a recent conversation with a financial services executive who described to me two different kinds of leaders. The first kind of leader he considers the “good practitioner manager” while the second he considers the “essential leader”. He went on to describe to me how these two leaders are different. He said that good practitioner managers do a good job of managing the day-to-day challenges and issues that arise.  They respond quickly to client and stakeholder requests and provide timely advice and direction to their staff.  They move quickly from issue to issue and will tell you they are busy, busy, busy and have no free time.  Urgent issues take precedent over the need to refine longer term strategies and there is rarely time to get to it. When they head out of the office in the early evening they take home a briefcase full of items to read and review.  Staff like working for good practitioner managers. They get their questions answered and have a pretty clear idea of what is expected.  Senior...

Building an accountability and high-performance culture

As organizational leaders, we are often disappointed that our people are not delivering what is needed or required.  Sometimes people deliver what is wanted and expected and at other times we are disappointed that the work of our people is not up to standard or misses the mark. Through my advisory and leadership coaching work over the last thirty years I have concluded  that there are three simple foundations that must be in place for people to be willing and able to take ownership and succeed in accomplishing what is required.  I also have observed that if people are not delivering what is required it more than likely has a lot to do with the quality of the leadership they are getting.  Leaders need to take a careful look in the mirror and ask themselves how they are contributing to the quality of the work they are getting from their people. I am fully aware that there are greater more complex reasons for under-performance and this paper is not to be considered the entire answer.  I have learned, however, that if the three simple foundations are in place there will be substantial improvements in performance. This article will explore these three foundational elements and provide some suggestions for ensuring they are in place and that you are providing the best leadership possible. The three foundation elements can be summarized as: Clear definition and communication of expectations. Ensuring that people have the capability to do what is needed. Creating a motivational environment where people will want to do what is expected. Defining and Communicating Clear Expectations I have been working...

Creating clarity of organizational direction

Can you clearly state, in a way that everyone can understand and embrace, where you want your organization to be in 3, 5 and 10 years and how you plan to get there? Establishing and clearly communicating future direction is one of the most important roles of organizational leaders.  If executives cannot articulate their organization’s strategic direction in a simple, clear and consistent way then neither can anyone else. While there is no single, clear and consistent definition of strategy, or how to build one, I believe that the fundamental purpose of strategy is to define the concrete choices the organization needs to make about what to continue, what to stop and what new things need to be done.  A great deal of what will be done next year is the same as this year, however, there may be a need to increase the efficiency or effectiveness of these activities.  More important are what should be stopped as these things are no longer taking the organization to its’ desired future and what new things should be explored or started as will take the organization in a different direction. I have outlined below what I believe are some of the most concrete and valuable elements that most effectively create clarity of strategic direction and provide a foundation that will enable people across the organization to ensure their work is clearly aligned. Fundamental Core Purpose Purpose answers the question ‘why does the organization exist?’ and it should last for the long term. It defines how the organization contributes to a better world and defines the outcomes of the work the organization does. ...

Getting control of your time – Part 1

Maintaining Energy and Focus As a leadership advisor and strategist who works with executives from all sectors, I encounter leaders every day who work exceptionally long days with rarely a break, who are often are over-whelmed and stressed.  Some organizations pride themselves on their culture of busyness where being in the office late into the evening, working weekends, sending emails at 3:00 am, and answering smartphones during meetings is worn as a badge of honour. For most organizations, however, this is not a desirable state, but one which has evolved over time from staff cut-backs, the proliferation of technology, and increasing stakeholder demands.  This paper looks at two aspects of getting better control of your time.  Part I addresses how we manage ourselves and create energy and focus related to our work.  Part 2 looks at how to better manage and prioritize our work activities. The Myth of Multi-Tasking The processing capacity of our mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. This is the ‘speed limit’ for the information we can pay conscious attention to at any one time.  In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits per second.  This means you can barely understand two people talking to you are the same time.  Under most circumstances you will not be able to understand three people talking at the same time.  Attention is a limited capacity resource. There are finite limits to the number of things we can attend to at once. Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is the enemy of focused attention. Asking...

Getting control of your time – Part 2

Managing tasks and activities As a leadership advisor and strategist who works with executives from all sectors, I encounter leaders every day who work exceptionally long days with rarely a break, who are often are over-whelmed and stressed. Some organizations pride themselves on their culture of busy-ness where being in the office late into the evening, working weekends, sending emails at 3:00 am and answering smartphones during meetings is worn as a badge of honour. For most organizations, however, this is not a desirable state, but one which has evolved over time from staff cut-backs, the proliferation of technology and increasing stakeholder demands. This paper looks at two aspects of getting better control of your time.  Part I addresses how we manage ourselves and create energy and focus related to our work.  Part II looks at how to better manage and prioritize our work activities. Tracking Tasks and Activities A time-honoured tradition of time management is to write down the tasks that need to be accomplished. Utilizing systems of memory that are external to our brain is important.  While there are many advanced online and digital applications for doing this, a surprising number of leaders use low-tech simple solutions for keeping on top of things. It is recognized by many that carrying a pen and notepad for taking physical notes is more efficient and more satisfying than the electronic alternatives. Tracking tasks and ‘to do’s’ externally is about clearing the mind.  When we have something on our mind – especially a ‘to do’ item – we’re afraid we will forget it, so our brain rehearses it, tossing it around...

The benefits of booting the annual performance review ritual

For years I have watched organizations perform the annual performance review ritual.  Most managers complain about the amount of time it takes to complete all of the forms and employees are typically upset with their feedback.  Truly, I am unclear of the value of the exercise.  Performance review and feedback needs to be on-going process where people are continually aware of performance expectations and how well they are doing.  Leaders need to take responsibility for ensuring expectations are clear and for enabling people to be successful. Adobe, a software company best known for Photoshop and InDesign, recently abolished the yearly performance review. Since then they have been seeing the benefits of trading an out-dated practise for a system that empowers both managers and staff. The yearly performance assessment was replaced by informal “check-ins” that managers were invited at have at their own discretion. These more frequent conversations allowed managers and staff to discuss performance and other issues. The organization provided training for the managers in giving and receiving feedback, and the forms and formal reporting structure of the past was tossed.  Since this change Adobe has seen a number of benefits: Better Teams The statistics show that after the changes more people were fired, and fewer people quit. This means that because of the more frequent discussions between managers and staff Adobe was able to quickly let go of people who weren’t a good fit, as opposed to having to wait till next January. The fact that fewer people were quitting shows they got real benefits from abolishing the yearly review, and that the improved communication between them and...

Rethink executive leadership fundamentals

It might be the state of the economy or just the turbulent times we live in, but it seems that the dramatic pace of change is constantly eroding the impact of many traditional management practices. What traditional organizational solutions am I talking about? I mean the way we’ve tried to improve business over the last 25 years. Whether it’s the tired annual performance review or redundant strategic plans – we’ve held on to these things because they’re familiar. We are used to doing them even though we know they yield lackluster results we often ignore. While we would like to believe otherwise, what we have learned is that there are no ‘silver bullets’. The need for executives to develop new ways of leading in an environment of rapidly changing conditions is essential. In order for that to happen it’s time to take stock of the practices we’ve been doing for so long and get real with what they offer us. The practices I encourage us to rethink are: the strategic plan in its concept and execution, the annual review, and leadership and team development. 1. The Strategic Plan The first practice I ask us to reconsider is the strategic planning process. Leaders, often assisted by consultants, have been creating strategic plans for decades, and with every year that goes by they seem to further lose their relevance. This could be because of increasing business volatility and uncertainty.  Organization leaders used to develop 20-year strategic plans, then 10, then 5 and now it’s about next year. Do leadership teams create strategic plans for their own amusement? One might think so,...

What sets successful CEOs apart

HBR May-June 2017 by Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosendoetter, Stephen Kincaid and Dina Wang  This article identifies four key behaviours that successful CEOs, and executives who aspire to be CEOs, excel at. The conclusions are based on a 10-year study that assessed over 17,000 executives. The following are the key points from the article and the research.  I believe these are attributes of every successful executive. Overview There has been a visible disconnect between what many Boards think make for an ideal CEO and what actually leads to high performance. Boards often gravitate towards charismatic extroverts; however, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their Boards and investors. Educational pedigree (or lack thereof) in no way correlates to performance. High confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chance of being chosen as CEO but provides no advantage in performance on the job. Successful CEOs tend to demonstrate four specific behaviours identified below that prove critical to their performance. The Four Behaviours  1. Deciding with Speed and Conviction High performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather they stand out for being decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with great conviction. Low performing CEOs decide too little, too late. High performing CEOs understand that a wrong decision is often better than no decision at all. Decisive CEOs recognize that they can’t wait for perfect information. They frame decisions from two perspectives: what’s the impact if I get it wrong? How much will it hold other things up if I don’t move on this? Once a path is chosen, high performing...

Taking on the new executive position

Congratulations on your new appointment. This is a great opportunity and the actions you take during your first few months will have a major impact on your ultimate success in the new role. Transitions are pivotal times, in part because they are when everyone expects change to occur. They’re also times of great vulnerability, when new leaders lack established working relationships and detailed knowledge of their new roles. If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from then on. You may be coming into this role from elsewhere and have little knowledge of the function you have inherited.  You may have heard rumours, had some interaction or you may have been in another role within the Organization.  In most cases, you are being brought in to make changes whether to improve service quality and productivity or to deliver better outcomes. Regardless of where you have come from I would ask “do you really know enough to know where the greatest opportunities for change are or what the best solutions would be?” While your boss will have high expectations for you, it would be unrealistic for them to expect immediate results and they need to recognize that it will be more important for you to get it right.  You have a window of opportunity during which time you don’t own the current problems and performance and you should use the window to truly explore what you have inherited. Being new in the position you likely have limited knowledge and should exercise great caution as you strive to get your bearings. Because expectations for...

The future of leadership development

Every organization wants to maximize the potential of their leaders in order to achieve superior results and the need for leadership development has never been greater than it is today.  This paper outlines some principles for ensuring meaningful and impactful leadership development. What’s Broken? In my early days in leadership development we delivered two to three week off-site in-residence programs for organizational leaders. We delivered great content which included contemporary management processes and theories as well as case studies, simulations, and on-the-job applications. The trouble was that when program participants returned to their real work place world there was never really much change. Over the years I have been involved in or observed a multitude of leadership development programs in action. Sadly most programs just don’t come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders.  In many organizations leadership development is nothing more than a series of disconnected programs that are divorced from the current reality of business issues. Looking Ahead   There is a need for a new-era of leadership development – an era that will enable leaders to more effectively address and capitalize on the challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world.  Based on what I have read, seen and heard from my clients I have identified what I believe are essential elements and criteria for today’s leadership development programs. 1. Focused and Relevant Content There is an important set of foundational leadership models, processes and principles that every leader needs to understand. What makes leaders successful, however, isn’t the understanding of these models, processes and principles it is their practical...