Business books fall into two categories: theory and impractical protocols. Both provide either ideas without applications or applications without proven theoretical frames. They are like concept cars that no one expects to drive to work.
The Leader Architect provides the bridge to proven solutions based on sound theory. These solutions are being used successfully by expert leaders at some of the best companies in the world, without the elaborate external systems and training teams required by many popular approaches.
The Leader Architect is a practical guide for leaders who want to build and grow a consistently powerful organization that delivers long-term success. You will take away fresh insights on topics such as the following:
- Myths we love that ruin our businesses
- Power of pairs (why 1+1 is greater than 5+5)
- Architecture of successful business organizations
- Leverage of relationships
- Resilience: A step beyond agility
In the daily flood of "shoulds" and "wants" that fill the lives of most executives, The Leader Architect is a fresh and simple guide to tactics and tools that have worked for others--and will work for you.
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About the Author
Jim Grew has run nine businesses and currently operates the Grew Company. As an executive advisor, he works with a select group of senior leaders to accelerate their impact. A strategist, coach, and leadership expert, Grew's unique mix of business experience and advanced psychology training is the catalyst that ignites dramatic shifts in business performance. Jim is a sought-after speaker and expert in the nuts and bolts of successful leadership. His work is based on his experience and his education at Stanford University and Stanford Graduate School of Business. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
The Myths that Ruin Our Businesses
The four Kerry Blue Terriers looked identical. All were out for a walk in an open field with their owner. Three of the dogs bounded joyously about, reveling in the moment. The fourth ran in circles, relentlessly. Why? The owner explained that when he acquired the fourth dog, it had been living in a cage. For years, its exercise was running in a circle limited by the cage. The cage was long gone, but the dog remained inside it, at least in its mind. That invisible, powerful story guided the dog's perception of reality, and its life. Myth, indeed!
As a leader, how do you change the behavior of the fourth dog on your team?
We are pattern-seekers from birth, making sense of our environment. Doubt it? Videos of days-old babies show pattern-seeking. Crying begins as a hunger reflex, but toddlers shift to crying on demand, having learned that crying produces food, cuddles, attention. Our brains sort billions of stimuli from outside, ignoring most and processing few. More important, what do we do with the things we sort? They become our personal myths!
What is the link from patterns to myths? When we take in a bit of data, we apply our own meaning based on our experience, genetic heritage, and what we learn from reading and other things. Our meanings become our myths.
Now, wait a minute. It doesn't really matter whether our myths are true or not. Truth is not the test, because "truth" is "out there." I see the sun moving from east to west every day, and in spite of knowing that our Earth moves, not the sun, I think (and feel) that the sun moves. Remarkably, that bit of error is a useful myth; it guides everything from which sides of the house require window shades to when we decide to put on sunscreen.
Myths are the guardrails on the paths of our lives. We put them there, often not realizing that we're letting them guide us. We all have myths that help us manage the peril and possibilities of the future.
Starting when I was ten years old, we spent our summers at a cabin in the woods in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington State. The woods were full of plants, bushes, bugs, frogs, and even bears (we found a bear print once and made a plaster of Paris casting of it for proof). We connected with other folks by boat or trail, usually trail, because our parents had first call on the boat. We ran the trail over and over every day, meeting our friends to play Kick the Can, go to the swim dock, play Hide and Seek, and other essential kid stuff. Finally, we found that we could walk the trail at night without a flashlight: signal achievement! We did it by feeling the trail with our feet because it was pitch black outside.
Here's how our myth was built:
1. Walk the trail hundreds of times.
2. Notice that we could feel the little holes, dips, roots, and rocks with our feet.
3. Try it in the dark with a flashlight.
4. Turn off the light and try it for a bit.
5. Eureka! We "saw" without a light.
Where's the myth? The belief that we could "see" the trail and find our way home in the darkest dark. We did find our way home (it worked), but we didn't "see" at all.
By now you're starting to see that you carry hundreds of myths with you through your life, adding and dropping them as your experience grows. Experience in our context includes both physical experience and mental experience, because both impact our myths and choices. Your memory of Nelson Mandela from a movie can generate strong feelings much later, perhaps while viewing news of a public riot in the United States. Your memory is a myth built by your mind as you experienced the story of Mandela — despite never meeting him in person.
Why do we hang on to myths?
[??] Powerful emotions are linked to them.
[??] We have a sense of control as we deal with frightening life setbacks.
[??] They are affirmations of important values in a struggle about what is right to do.
[??] They offer protection from confusion and dread as we look into an unclear future.
[??] They offer encouragement to try something new.
We believe in myths because we need them to live our lives. Let's just use the results of intensive brain and behavior study, especially the past fifty years, and call our perceptions "myths." These myths, and many like them, lubricate the gears of our life and are reinforced frequently, making them seem even truer. If you begin to observe your perceptions, you'll see the web that allows you to move through your life mostly efficiently: the connective tissue between your brain and the world. Otherwise, you'd get bogged down when you reach for the water faucet.
In our brains, the more a connection between synapses is used, the more we think it's true. "Knowledge" is synaptic connection in our heads. Sometimes it's scientifically verified by outside data, but other times, it's verified by our feelings.
Sisyphus, Greek king of Corinth (known then as Ephyra), was self-serving, crafty, and deceitful. Zeus, king of the gods, punished him by forcing him to roll a huge boulder to the top of a long hill. Exhausted, he watched helplessly as the boulder rolled back down the hill to the bottom, forcing a do-over. He could never quite make it to the top. Today, we refer to long, arduous tasks (like owning a midsize business) that seem never-ending as "Sisyphean" tasks.
The myth has lived on for thousands of years because it's a fitting metaphor for a common life experience. If you're the one doing the endless tough work, it can feel so familiar that it seems true. And for you, it is, conjuring up a picture about your life that's rich in detail and feelings.
Myths are superb tools to communicate complex ideas with others who know the myth. A myth is a metaphor on steroids, boosted because it describes an experience and the feelings that go with it.
Most Common and Dangerous Myths
The people in your organization, the folks that you rely on to make things work, are as full of myths as you are. And some of their myths are different from yours. And they aren't telling you any more about their myths than you tell them about your myths. And, in fact, most of their actions are driven by those invisible myths. This means that your leadership is mostly about guiding their myths and helping to create new myths in the process. The challenge, however, is that they — and you — carry myths that are both untrue and dangerous to your organization. Even more dangerous, they are seldom mentioned, let alone discussed or tested.
Here are some commonly held and dangerous myths. Each is wrong, and hazardous to your health and your business. Which of these are familiar to you?
Myth 1: Bosses Lie, and They Care Only About Themselves
This is true of some bosses, and smart people leave those bosses immediately. Most other bosses truly care about their organization's success, which helps their people make a living and learn new skills.
A company that I work with hit hard times in 2009, laying off most of its employees and draining the savings of the owners. The owner teared up as he described laying off fifteen-year employees. His face lit up as he described the joy of bringing them back to the company when sales improved. This story is about his face, not the employees. In fact, one of his prime concerns about his kids taking over the business is whether they have the same powerful empathy for their people (employees).
Myth 2: Process Improvement Beats Teamwork
The genius of process improvement is that process changes are independent of the people doing the work. Workers can be brought in from outside the process, and the process is available for them to implement.
The curse of process improvement is that it depends on the people to do the work the new and better way. Increased efficiency usually requires acute attention to detail, which comes either from years of experience or careful teaching. The reasons that process improvements don't stick are almost always about the people, not the process.
I worked at a loudspeaker manufacturing firm where the team lead turned the idea of process improvement into a game with his people. He played the game with me on my daily plant tour. I'd ask, "What's the improvement today?" He'd always have one. Always. More remarkably, most of the ideas came from his team, not engineers or outside analysts. I tell you this, not to push the tired meme that "the people know" (because just as often they don't), but because their leader turned their work into a game that gave them recognition every day. On the days where there was no improvement idea, he'd still ask about it, keeping it alive for the next day. Their work was way past following someone else's process rules; they loved the challenge of finding a better way. Oh, and their quality and efficiency rose to record levels!
Myth 3: Inputs Are More Important than Outputs
Activity untethered to results frequently produces frantic action but no change. The worst example of this was an otherwise skilled production manager growling, "I want to see all the machines going up and down for the whole shift." The result was that welders (the second step in the process) hiked all over the plant to find the next pallet of parts to assemble and weld. They were told that their slow welding was making the machines wait! Actually, what made the machines wait was a sloppy work schedule in the first production process in the plant. That process was laser cutting, and the guy leading the laser team grabbed the simplest job in the pile to do next, instead of choosing jobs to optimize plant throughput. When the schedule changed at the laser, the welders stopped walking and went back to welding, which they preferred. Both problem and solution were about the team lead's choice regarding work schedule. It was not about the process.
If people are rewarded for what they do, instead of for their results, it can produce a gauzy happiness with calls made, units produced, orders shipped, and so forth. An e-commerce client found customer call-backs rising, a sign of increasing customer dissatisfaction. Instead of scheduling more folks to handle the call-backs (more activity), the COO adjusted scheduling so that more people were available at peak call times. Callbacks dropped back into an acceptable range without adding people. More important, they took care of customers on time.
Myth 4: Analysis Beats Individual Behavior
Noise about benchmarking and big data obscures the reality that skilled sales people or internal leaders may find an 80 percent solution quickly, and delivering that solution produces progress and a sharper point on the next step to success. Most of the time, analysis feels good but doesn't speed the process of delivering real help to customers. It just reduces stress inside the company. Sometimes a beer is better.
Myth 5: Plans Before Execution Beats Execution to Build Plans
Although there are times that good plans beat execution, usually rapid execution will clarify needed adjustment to plans more quickly and precisely. This approach requires a sensitive balance of listening to customers and a willingness to adjust. It comes by watching customer results, not progress versus plans.
Myth 6: Metrics Provide Accountability
The power of good metrics is focus. Without commitment built on accountability, however, metrics soon lose their punch. A manufacturing company designed new metrics, carefully explained their sources, and posted them daily. One day, I asked the production manager what he thought of the metrics (they were aimed at him). He pointed to the executive conference room and said, "It's up to them!" His message confirmed that the correct data hadn't laid a glove on him, and he felt no accountability at all. As good as the numbers were, what was missing was the conversation with him about his role in moving the numbers and what it meant to the future of the company.
Myth 7: Exceeding Expectations Beats Meeting Goals
"Exceeding expectations" is lazy leadership, meant to substitute for crisp objectives about things that matter to employees, suppliers, and customers. The myth is that hefty promises pull top results with them. The reverse is usually the case, as explained by a veteran middle manager in a privately owned production firm: "We never had goals. The owner just said that he knew we could do better, as he called us to 'exceed our customer's expectations,' whatever that meant. What it meant to me was that we always fell short, no matter how hard we worked. It was a real downer."
Myth 8: If You Put the Right People in the Right Jobs and Leave Them Alone, They'll Excel
This error comes from the well-meaning leader who has successfully built a thriving business from scratch. With growth and complexity come an escalating requirement for blunt communication and teamwork.
Being an able leader doesn't translate to making the right decisions in the high-speed complexity that marks all successful firms. Instead, preplanned processes and connections help folks to work together to get the right stuff done.
Myth 9: A Strong Leader Is More Effective than Delegation to a Team
This is true when the organization is small enough for the leader to know what everyone is doing. It's also true in times of extreme change (high growth, slumping sales, or a merger with another organization) for a short time (months). If the strong leader devotes herself to building a strong team early, the momentum of change can be amplified with improving quality. The secret is in the leader shifting focus to team effectiveness, instead of business effectiveness. If the leader insists on leading himself, the capacity of the business to grow will be truncated. High-growth markets will hide the limits of a strong leader, but competition or the eventual shift to moderate growth will slow business growth.
Myth 10: Department Excellence Beats Teamwork Across Departments
The basic truth is that all departments should have a hand in company success, or they should be disbanded. When there are fewer than twenty employees or so, communication is common unless there's a catastrophic personal collision. Folks see each other daily, and it's easy to keep up with each other in the course of walking around. Beyond twenty people, misunderstandings spike, regardless of motivation, style, or skill. The culprit is the very department targets that led to excellence. Folks are trained to do the core work of the department before anything else. The flow of work, praise, and job security is a flood of department tasks, with occasional links to other teams floating in the river like debris. Doubt it? Look around your office at lunchtime. How many folks are eating at their desks? Their vote is to spend their time on those tasks, not on other people, even though talking with those people would likely make their jobs easier or their results better.
Unless there is a mechanism for regular communication, silo thinking sprouts, even in companies with a hundred employees. That communication mechanism has to be automatic, simple, and clearly useful, or good employees will ignore it. The mechanism seldom is money. Instead, recognition and structured work time can enable it.
Myth 11: Bonuses Should Be Individually Crafted to Fit Each Department
This crazy notion feeds on the idea that folks in each department need special skills, so their bonuses must be individualized. But it's wasteful: Incentives should be tied to clear results, not individual skills. This is the signing bonus gone awry. If extra skills or work don't benefit customers and the company goals, it is waste and should stop.
The truth is that because all departments (and people) are needed for success in the company, measuring individual contribution is necessary but insufficient for calculating incentive pay. Instead, incentives linked to total company performance will pull your best people into working together for both pride and profit. Such teamwork doesn't require paying everyone the same, although that's successfully done in some firms.
One successful way to do that is to build a company bonus pool as a percentage of earnings, then allocate the pool based upon a mix of individual factors including salary or performance against objectives. It's relatively easy to show that all employee compensation rises as the pool enlarges, and quarterly pool reporting and public formulas for calculating the pool each month enable employees to calculate their personal bonus fund's growth.
Counterintuitively, because most successful sales people are "coin-operated," their bonuses should be tied to their performance, calculated separately from the rest of the company, but paid from the company pool and reported (if not paid) quarterly or monthly.
How We Achieve Myth Relief
Why bother with myth relief? Myths can impact the present and the future, so like putting steering wheels on cars, we'd like to set aside the dangerous myths before a damaging collision occurs.
Remember the four dogs? Three dogs knew they were running in a field, and the fourth dog acted like it was still in its cage. The difference was in their myths, wasn't it? Imagine if 25 percent of your people thought that the goal was profit at all costs, customer be damned! Those 25 percent create a riptide that dangerously slows your whole operation, like a surfer trying mightily to get past the rip and out to where the riding waves are. By the time she gets there, she's out of energy, and the next rides are lousy. And no one wants to be in the 25 percent that's aiming the wrong way!
Yes, that fourth dog is neurotic. A neurosis is an unconscious false belief about the world that seems real to its user. A false belief lives and has power because it's useful and satisfying, and the more it's invoked, the stronger it becomes. It also blocks a clear view of reality, when reality and neurosis clash. You, dear reader, are participating in this discussion with the neurotic belief that you don't have neurotic beliefs. Of course you do, on a range of topics. Much of the time they do little damage; sometimes they help (little white lies, for example), and sometimes they send you down the road to failure — at least for the task at hand.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Leader Architect"
Copyright © 2018 Jim Grew.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Myths that Ruin Our Businesses 5
Chapter 2 The Power of Pairs 31
Chapter 3 Leadership Express 53
Chapter 4 The Architecture of the Business 79
Chapter 5 The Right Things at the Right Time 101
Chapter 6 The Power of Relationships 121
Chapter 7 No One Believes What They Read or Hear 143
Chapter 8 It's Not What Happens, It's What You Do About It 165
Chapter 9 The Talent Quest 189
Chapter 10 Resilience 213