organizational development

Apr 3, 2019

You Be You – And Become An Authentic Leader

5 Ways to Stop Talking and Start Being An Authentic Leader

Leadership is about setting direction and managing change. Leaders determine the goal that needs to be achieved (i.e., setting direction) and navigate the path to get there, defining ways to overcome any obstacles that spring up along the way (i.e., managing change). Set direction and manage change, be an authentic leader, that’s really all there is to it.

Leadership gurus like to complicate matters. However, if you’ve ever read this column, you know that I like to keep it real. The overarching theme of most of my articles is something that I preach to my kids: Don’t talk about it, just be about it. That said, let me share some ideas for how you can stop talking about leadership and start being a leader.

Here are five ideas to help you become the leader that you want to become:

1. Be honest.

Nothing kills a leader quicker than a reputation for being untrustworthy. Conversely, if you are unwaveringly honest all the time, you won’t run that risk.

Consider Richard Branson for a moment. He is widely recognized as an inspiring leader that consistently “walks the talk” and takes full responsibility for his decisions–the good, and the not-so-good. Anyone remember Virgin Digital? It was supposed to overtake iTunes. It didn’t. But Branson took full responsibility for his company’s foray into the space.

2. Talk straight.

Keep your communications simple and to the point. Convoluted messaging just leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Talk straight and your people will know exactly what you mean.

Think of the frustration that most Americans feel when listening to our political leaders. The doublespeak, so common in political circles, is so bad that a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center suggests that only 3 percent of Americans say that they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always.”

Don’t be the kind of leader who prefers rhetoric to simply stating the facts.

3. Be real.

Would you follow someone who is disingenuous? I wouldn’t!

Steven Jobs was seen as brash and conceited. But his people adored working for him. They knew that they were always going to get Steve being Steve. It was reliable and true. So be yourself.

You being you should be enough to inspire others to follow your lead.

4. Be decisive.

People want decisiveness in their leaders. Sure, take some time to gather insight and review the facts–then make the call. Your business will suffer if you delay.

In 1972, for example, Ford announced that all of its new cars would run on radials. Firestone, which sat atop the U.S. market at that time, didn’t have a radial tire when Ford made their announcement. Seeing the rise in radial tires’ popularity in Europe in the 1960s, Firestone was still contemplating whether they should make the necessary investment in this new kind of tire manufacturing. It was then that French company Michelin entered the U.S. market with their radial tires, and began to dominate the world market as a result.

Don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from making the call.

5. Be in it.

The best leaders work right alongside the people they’re leading.

Famously, Tesla CEO Elon Musk  (an authentic leader) has an undeniable work ethic, one that his people can only aspire to achieve. There are countless stories of him working so long and hard that he has to crawl into a corner somewhere in Tesla’s facility to catch a nap. He sets the example for his team.

Don’t be above doing the work. Be right in it with your people, and they will bust through brick walls for you.

To close, there’s no need to overthink leadership. Just be an authentic leader. It’s simple: set direction; manage change. That’s it. So stop talking about leadership and start being an exceptional leader.

NOTE: Main content of this piece was originally published by on March 18, 2019

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Oct 24, 2017

Free Advice For Uber’s New CEO

With board-level voting rights on equal footing, it’s time for it’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, to lead the firm to a new tomorrow

In June, under immense pressure from incensed investors who didn’t take kindly to Uber’s unrestrained “Bro” culture, Travis Kalanick stepped down as its CEO. Able to retain his seat on the firm’s 11-member board, Kalanick was able to maintain extra voting power granted him in the Company’s original by-laws. This extra voting power could have been used to help him to control the company’s future direction. But, last week Uber’s board voted to shred that extra voting power – putting every board member’s vote on an equal footing.

Clearly, the company isn’t out of the woods, yet. Just last month, London city officials said they would not renew the company’s license because of the Company’s lack of corporate responsibility. Clearly, Kalanick’s successor, Dara Khosrowshahi has his hands full as he charts a course for the future while working to overhaul Uber’s sad corporate reputation and internal company culture.

As a guy who has made his living for over 30 years helping executives to transform their company cultures, I am compelled to share some free advice with Uber’s new CEO. While the ideas are by no means earth shattering, they are fundamental to driving the kind of sea-level change needed at Uber:

  1. New Leaders need to create and share a vivid and compelling vision in order to engage and inspire their organizations.
  2. An outside-in perspective can inform what the “new normal” can and should be. Seeing the world from the viewpoint of those that an organization serves will enable break-through thinking and lead to the delivery of exceptional products and services.
  3. Communication is the key to engagement. Your people need to know where you are, what you want and how you expect them to get there.
  4. Be sure to put the right kinds of communication mechanisms in place to keep your staff properly informed. How can you expect solid communication, if you don’t enable it through the implementation of the necessary tools and devices?
  5. Being “in it together” is the only way to drive widespread transformation. People want to be part of something bigger than them. Make a “cause” out of your transformation effort by helping people understand what’s in it for them and they will pull together to make it happen.
  6. Measure results, not effort to change behavior. It doesn’t matter how much effort one expels to achieve success. It’s the success that matters. Measure outcomes and people will change their individual behaviors as necessary to achieve the results expected.
  7. Consider the next generation of employee as you imagine the future. You must take into account the values and expectations of the next generation of employee in order to ensure that you crafted a culture that will attract and retain the talent you need to achieve your vision. If you don’t someone else will!
  8. An active leadership style enables you to know when to “push” and when to step back and observe. You don’t always need to be in the front of the room – that kind of behavior can stifle the growth and maturity of your staff. Rather, be involved and understand exactly what your team needs from you in order for them to be successful.

To close, there’s no doubt that Mr. Khosrowshahi has quite a challenge ahead of him at Uber. But, by all accounts, he’s up for the task. But, of course, he doesn’t have to take the journey alone. There are people out there that can help (and would welcome the challenge of rolling up their sleeves, right beside him) to do the work needed to put Uber back on track. If you think that your company could use a company culture overhaul please reach out.

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Sep 6, 2017

The ROI of Culture Transformation

Answer these 8 simple questions about your business and you’ll discover the value in investing in Company Culture Transformation.

Culture transformation is a “hot” topic in boardrooms these days. But, leaders are unclear about how to measure its return on investment (ROI). Clearly, measuring the results of culture improvements, per se, is a bit sticky. This is so because your company culture underpins everything you do. From outward facing activities like product development and service delivery to internally facing processes including measurement and reward and hiring practices are a reflection of your company culture.

So, how do we measure the return on a culture transformation investment? While there’s no simple formula, here are some questions that can be asked to make the decision to invest in improving your company culture a whole lot easier:

  1. What’s The Value of Strategic Alignment? Getting your culture aligned with where you want to take your business is absolutely critical to achieving your vision for the future. After all, you won’t realize the vision if your company culture can’t support it.
  2. What’s The Value of Improved Teamwork? Getting your people to work as one is invaluable to the success of a business. Your culture must be set-up to do that. If it isn’t your performance will undoubtedly suffer.
  3. What’s The Value of a High Trust Work Setting? All good things are based on trust. If your culture is built on trust, your business is well positioned to overcome all of the obstacles that will confront it in its journey to strategic accomplishment.
  4. What’s The Value of Improved Communication? Communication is the centerpiece of every business. Outward communication drives prospective customers to your door and supports them once they’ve made the choice to become one. Internal communication keeps your people informed so that they can perform at their best. Your culture better support solid communication, if it doesn’t it may be time to invest in cultural transformation.
  5. What’s The Value of Improved Customer Intimacy? It’s tough to stay in business without satisfied customers! Your culture should be built around understanding their needs and wants, and then, delivering impeccable service so that you become the provider of choice.
  6. What’s The Value of High Resiliency? Running a successful business is a tough and tumble undertaking. Your company culture will determine its ability to withstand and overcome adversity.
  7. What’s The Value of Being a Talent Magnet? You want exceptional people? Build a company culture that makes you the employer of choice. Great cultures attract great talent. Be sure your culture is outstanding.
  8. What’s The Value of Greater Innovation? Your products and services best be amazing, if you intend to continue to grow your business. Here’s where innovation comes in. By creating a culture that continuously innovates you improve your ability to be amazing.

To close, company culture is the foundation of every business. If you optimize the culture and ensure its alignment with the achievement of your strategic objectives, your business performance will improve. Place a value on that and compare it to the cost of cultural transformation and you’ll have you ROI. It’s really that simple!

For more on culture transformation, please reach out to me directly. I look forward to our collaboration.

NOTE: This article was originally published by Inc. on 14 August 2017.

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Aug 20, 2017

How to Become a Leader’s Leader

Here’s a leadership self-assessment worth taking to discover where you sit as a leader

The 20 questions that comprise this diagnostic are organized across 4 unique dimensions – Personality, Proficiencies, People and Presence. I call it the “4Ps Leadership Snapshot.” The assessment is quite easy to administer. While this survey can be leveraged in a variety of ways, including within a “360-evaluation” format, by reporting-line manager to subordinates, or simply used as an interview script by a hiring manager / hiring committee, it’s worth taking on your own to identify your leadership strengths as well as to recognize some areas for improvement.

The scale that you use is up to you. High, Medium and Low works just fine. But, you can spruce it up to any way you like using a numbered and / or a weighted scale as you see fit. Regardless, take it and it will give you a snapshot of where you are as a leader and will provide a perspective on where you can work to do better.

The 4Ps Leadership Assessment Snapshot:

Personality – How you’re wired.

1. Inquisitiveness: Is curious and interested in new ways of “thinking” and “doing”

2. Resolve: Has a willingness to push against status quo and maintains convictions to drive needed change

3. Emotional Intellect: Makes time to know and truly care about other people and their concerns and aspirations

4. Vitality: Is energetic and passionate about business and its evolution

5. Initiative: Is sincerely interested in producing new content that shapes new ways of thinking and doing

Proficiencies – What you do well.

6. C-Suite Impact: Possesses advanced consulting & advisory skills that have influenced action at the senior client executive level

7. Market Expertise: Is knowledgeable and is current on industry trends, disruptions, needs and can translate that understanding into big ideas that create value

8. Value Proposition Positioning: Has the ability to demonstrate how to solve client challenges within a senior leadership setting.

9. Communication: Is an outstanding communicator, skilled at messaging in both verbal and written form.

10. Teaching: Can demystify complex concepts for improving client executive understanding of them

People – How you get the best out of others.

11. Relationship-Building: Is exceptional at developing new relationships based on trust and confidence

12. Team-Building: Actively develops the capabilities of their team by leveraging the strengths and aptitudes of its individual members

13. Community-Building: Fosters an environment for sharing and developing ideas among their teams that can be used to extend market reach and industry influence

14. Coaching and Feedback: Is committed to providing advice and feedback to team members that enables improvement in individual performance

15. Diplomacy: Able to achieve desired outcomes through negotiation and tact

Presence – Your ability to generate respect and project confidence.

16. Executive Authority: Has exhibited Board and C Suite executive presence and is comfortable leading at that level of an organization

17. Results Influencing: Demonstrated ability of translating big ideas into differentiated product and service offerings

18. Market Presence: Highly credible and influential within the industry

19. Business Building: Track record of driving new net business into their organizations

20. Talent Development: Has the ability to attract, develop, retain and leverage superstar talent.

To close, my firm’s use of this diagnostic indicates that there is a high correlation between the archetype leadership attributes brought forward in the 4P Leadership Snapshot and success as a leader. While self-assessments can be skewed (some people tend to grade themselves uncompromisingly, while others are more apt to be soft graders when it comes to evaluating one’s own performance), this tool should still be able to help you to see what you do well and where you need some work. As always, if you’d like to some assistance in bringing this type of diagnostic to your organization, please reach out. And I’ll work with you on How to Become a Leader’s Leader

NOTE: This piece was originally published by Inc. on June 19, 2017.

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Jun 2, 2017

How A Leadership Fable Makes You a Better Leader

Read a leadership fable if you don’t want to be overburdened with heavy business jargon and over-complicated management ideas

Can a leadership fable make you a better leader? The short answer is Yes! If you don’t want to be overburdened with heavy business jargon and advanced management concepts, a fable can make you a better leader. Consider these management fables:

The Servant

by James C. Hunter

Crafts a tale about a Monk and a businessman to help the reader learn how leadership is about serving those you lead.

Who Moved My Cheese

by Spencer Johnson with Kenneth Blanchard

Presents a story of mice in a maze to drive home the point that attitude matters most in times of great transition.

Our Iceberg Is Melting

by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Employs penguins on an iceberg as a device to suggest an approach to manage change.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

by Patrick Lencioni

Uses a fictitious CEO to help the reader learn how to overcome obstacles to success.

Each of these books offers great advice through vivid storytelling and easy-to-read and easy-to-relate-to narrative.

Indeed, fables can simplify what textbooks make complex. This style of storytelling can be particularly valuable for young professionals who are early in their leadership careers as well as everyday people who just want to be better leaders in their personal life.

That’s why I wrote, It’s Good To Be King.

I wanted to simplify the message so that leaders of all kinds — whether in business or in the community — can learn and become exceptional leaders. In fact, the book contains over 60 leadership tips which summarized for easy consumption and quick reference at the end of each chapter.

Here is a small sample of the kinds of tips that you’ll find in It’s Good To Be King:

1. New Leaders need to create and share a vivid and compelling vision in order to engage and inspire their people.

2. An “outside-in perspective” can inform what the “new normal” can and should be. Seeing the world from the viewpoint of those that an organization (or the group) serves will enable breakthrough thinking and lead to the delivery of exceptional results.

3. Communication is the key to engagement. Your people need to know where you are, what you want and how you expect them to get there. Be sure to put the right kinds of communication mechanisms in place to keep your group properly informed.

4. It’s almost never too late to right the ship. Even when the situation looks dire and the challenges insurmountable, there may be a path to success that can be discovered through creative thought and perseverance.

5. Taskmasters will devastate self-starters and those with the aspiration to contribute within a collaborative work setting.

6. Being “in it together” is the only way to drive widespread change. People want to be part of something bigger than them. Make a “cause” out of your transformation effort by helping people understand what’s in it for them and they will pull together to make it happen.

To close, regardless of the context in which you lead – at work, in the community, where you volunteer–a fable can make you a better leader. Pick one up, read it and you’ll surely agree!

 Note: This piece was originally published by Inc. on May 8, 2017.
Nov 1, 2016

What We’ve Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate: How to Create a Solid Communication Strategy

With all of the communication tools and technologies available today, why do so many businesses still have a communications problem? Here’s a simple 7 step process for building a solid communications program.

Many firms suffer from poor communications. It’s my theory is that too few firms have the necessary communications program in place to do it well. Take the following steps to develop an effective communications program plan:

1. Delineate your objectives – Determine what you expect to gain from your communications program. Objectives could range from enhancing service delivery and improving staff loyalty to gaining a bigger marketplace influence or upgrading relations with the media and regulatory entities.

2. Baseline your current communication practices – Once you know your objectives, perform a communications audit and evaluate how your business communicates. This characterization should involve: brainstorming with staff, interviewing senior leaders and surveying customers, suppliers and distributors with the sole purpose of discovering how, when, why and where your people communicate and message for, and about, your business.

3. Determine your key audiences – List all the audiences that the firm might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve. At a minimum, these will likely include customers, staff, industry groups, business partners, and the media.

4. Translate these audience sectors into specific projects and programs aimed at delivering information is the best ways possible to each group – You’ll need to consider your baseline results (as determined earlier) and map that against available human and financial resources, of course. But, by crafting initiatives for each group, you’ll be much better positioned to achieve your Communication Program’s objectives.

5. Establish a timeline for execution – With the initiatives (which comprise your Communications Program) identified, it’s time to craft a calendar grid that outlines when each effort will begin and be accomplished. Group the projects and programs into 18 month intervals (what I like to call “Implementation Plateaus”). This enables your organization to better understand what will be done when to improve its communications infrastructure.

6. Estimate costs at an implementation plateau-level – By “chunking” the work effort into 18 month intervals and giving an estimate of that total investment, you can shift dollars as needed among the initiatives that make up a given implementation plateau. This provides some wiggle room for your organization as it evolves its communications strategies over time.

7. Begin to execute and evaluate – Shape a method for measuring results into each project / program plan that you launch. Be sure to track project / program progress on a monthly basis and report it back to your senior management sponsors as you evolve each effort.

To close, a solid Communications Program plan requires about is 60-90 days to complete. Once in place, though, with the proper level of executive commitment and maintenance you will a communications asset that can be kept in sync with your organizational advancement for years to come. To learn more, just reach out to me and we can discuss it directly.

Note: This piece was originally published by Inc on October 31, 2016. If you like this article, please subscribe to my column and you’ll never miss another thought piece!

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Jun 15, 2016

8 Tips for ‘Keeping It Real’ During Your Cultural Transformation Effort

Driving cultural transformation is always a challenge. Here are 8 tips to smooth your journey and make landing at your destination a little easier.

Whenever I consider the pain and toil that goes into every deep, cultural transformation effort I recall the words of Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Indeed, transformation work is always challenging. You’re asking people to change and to move out of their comfort zones. Resistance, misunderstanding and confusion abound! But, managing through change doesn’t have to be an exercise in unbearable misery.

Here are 8 considerations worth bearing in mind when you undertake your organization’s next major cultural transformation:

1. Leadership Style: Whatever the prevailing leadership style is within the organization will certainly be called into question. Adjustments must be made that properly align with the future vision and strategic framework of the enterprise. Misalignment leads to misery as staff begin to recognize that they’re being asked to change, but, management is not willing or able.

2. Strategic Planning Practices: Regardless of how planning was done in the past, post-transformation direction-setting had better be formal, regular, transparent and communicated. Your staff will expect to be able to comprehend the strategic plan and understand what their role in helping you achieve it.

3. Communication Protocols: Nothing kills transformation quicker than a lack of communication. Whenever there is a communication vacuum, your staff will fill it with some form of “information”–sometimes accurate, but, usually incorrect. Work to put the communication mechanisms in place and use them keep your people informed on both the changes coming and the rationale for making those changes a reality.

4. Brand Proposition: Your brand must be aligned with you culture or your change efforts will fail. For example, consider discount airline carrier, their brand denotes low cost provider and their culture should be all about cost reduction. Trying to establish a rich service delivery will not work for them. The costs that come with delivering industry-leading service would run them out-of-business. Brand, product and service all must match culture and culture must support the delivery of of the brand promise.

5. Technology Integration: Can’t overemphasize the importance of supporting cultural change through the proper leverage of technology. Technology is an enabler. Let it enable your transformation by providing your people with the technical tools that they need to succeed.

6. Staff Preparedness: You have to be sure that your people are ready to perform. That said, all of your practices aimed at recruitment, retention, reward and engagement must be aimed at getting the right players in place to knock it out of the park. If your team is not prepared to do what must be done to transform the organization, it simply won’t happen.

7. Performance Measurement Alignment: Your measurement programs have to measure the “right” behaviors and reward the “right” outcomes. After all, people do what they’re measured on. So, failing to establish a program that perfectly allies with the guiding principles of your transformation is a recipe for failure.

8. Organizational Design: The organization design that you develop must support the culture that you’re promoting. Flatter is faster, as bureaucratic layers are replaced by a structural design that is more responsive and decisive. The only caveat, your front-line staff must be properly trained and educated to make the kind of informed decisions that your supervisors and managers would ordinarily make. Invest in your people and they will pay dividends.

In closing, “Yes,” there will be pain whenever you take on the hard work of driving cultural change within an organization. But, the suffering is up to you. By considering the 8 tips provided above, I hope that your suffering will be kept at bay, while your change effort runs smoothly and is lastingly effective.

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in Inc. magazine on May 16, 2016.  If you like this column, subscribe to email alerts and you’ll never miss an article.

Feb 8, 2016

Leadership Is All About Character

Often punctuated by bombast and complicated jargon, most leadership discussions make something simple seem so complex. This piece boils leadership down to its essence.

Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” I couldn’t agree more. Titles, pedigree or organization charts do not a leader make! Rather, leaders must possess the necessary character to inspire others to follow.

What does this mean? An exceptional leader must have the right combination of characteristics necessary to exude the confidence, radiate the passion and convey the trustworthiness required to motivate others to follow them.

Here’s why leadership is all about character:

  1. We want to be believe: People will follow someone in which they genuinely believe. That said, it is a leader’s perceived character that we subconsciously evaluate while deciding whether to follow or ignore them.
  2. Confidence demands attention: Confidence is an attractive quality as long as it doesn’t evolve into arrogance. A leader that projects confidence captures their people’s attention and demands their respect. It is part of the “secret sauce” that makes-up the character of most impressive leaders (think Steve Jobs, Jack Welch and Henry Ford).
  3. Passion is a turn-on: The most remarkable leaders possess, within their character, an ability to maintain a singular focus–even when confronted by realities that would serve to distract most others. This trait serves as quite a turn-on for many aspiring leaders and can encourage the self-sacrifice among them that leads to unparalleled achievement within a business.
  4. Consistency inspires trust: A leader that has the character necessary to repeatedly set a high standard for fairness, honesty and reliability will build trust with the people that they are charged with leading–making that leader indispensable within any organization of which they are part.
  5. It takes courage to curate a “Big Idea”: People look to their leaders for direction. They want their leaders to give them the “Big Idea” which will stir them to take action. But, this is no easy task. It takes tremendous courage and self-assurance to curate an idea strong enough for people to rally around. It is here where a great leader’s personal character separates them from the rest.

In a nutshell, extraordinary leaders possess the character to set direction and manage change. They have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes them distinctive and impossible to ignore. Indeed, they hold the necessary allure that inspires others to follow. Do you think that you have what it takes to be a special leader?

This article was originally published by, February 1, 2016

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Jan 8, 2016

Hurry! 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts About Visionary Leadership

Here are 10 New Inc. Magazine Playbook Video Shorts Based on My Column about Visionary Leadership:

How to Avoid Mediocrity and Build a Winning Business
3 Easy Ways to Boost Productivity at Work
3 Secrets Your IT Department Is Hiding From You
3 Things You Need to Know to Manage a Team of Superstars
3 Steps You Can Take Today to Be a Visionary Leader
3 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Best Workers
3 Ways to Save Your Business From the ‘Fog of War’
3 Ways to Inspire Your Employees to Greatness
3 Ways Leaders Can Set the Right Tone
3 Ways to Create a Transparent Work Setting

Be sure to reach out to me, if I can help your business with any of these concepts!

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth.  He is a consultant, organizational behaviorist, lecturer and Inc. columnist. He specializes in strategic planning, corporate transformation and organizational redesign. For over 25 years, Jim has forged a different type of consulting practice – one that does its engagements “with” its clients, instead of “to” them.

Whether helping larger organizations, like The Home Depot re-imagine its store operations, or advising smaller firms, like Blum Shapiro open up new markets, Jim has a reputation of making a difference.

A recognized thought leader , Jim continues to provide cutting edge solutions to his clients through a strong dedication to research and study. The Executive Checklist is Jim’s fourth business strategy book. His others include: The IRM Imperative (Wiley and Sons, 1989), Inside RAD (McGraw-Hill, 1991), and The Best Practices Enterprise (J. Ross Publishing, 2006). All are testaments to his commitment to helping leaders improve the ways in which they guide and shape their organizations.

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Sep 30, 2015

3 Strategic Planning Elements That Make Businesses Successful

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Copyright 2019 James M. Kerr       info@executive‑       800‑944‑4662