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Leadership in challenging times

/ 05:03 AM November 05, 2018

This week we yield our column to Jun Famatigan, ex-CEO of Maybank, and our new resource person on leadership.

True leadership has never been easy and it has become even more challenging given the pressures leaders face today: the pressure to differentiate, execute strategy, create enduring value, lead transformational change and build future talent. All while enduring disruptive market forces. Indeed, the expectations on leaders are extremely high. In a US study a few years ago, three out of four employees reported that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job and that 65 percent of employees said they’d take a new boss over a pay raise. Interestingly, often it is not what bosses do that makes them bad; it’s what they don’t do. In a study of 30,000 managers, employees cited the top five flaws of leaders again and again:

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1. Fails to inspire

2. Accepts mediocrity

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3. Lacks clear vision and direction

4. Fails to collaborate and be a team player

5. Fails to walk the talk

So what should leaders do in the face of all these pressures and formidable challenges?

Leaders must:

1. Have clarity of vision and make sure the organization has bought into it. This is the starting point. There should be no daylight between senior leadership and the rest of the organization on two questions, “why do we do what we do?” and “where are we going?”

The organization must go back to these questions all the time but more so in the face of confusion, change and disruption.

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2. Focus on just a few set of priorities, preferably no more than five. This takes a meaningful amount of thought and reflection because the needed amount of time and resources to do them are finite. Having, say, over 10 priorities is like having no priorities. Frankly, a long list means you’re not making the tough choices. Key priorities identify the specific steps that you must perform superbly to make your vision come to life. They deserve a disproportionate share of your time and effort.

3. Communicate and overcommunicate. Human nature usually dictates that we communicate less in times of uncertainty. But it is exactly then that we need to overcommunicate to our team what we expect them to be doing consistent with our vision and priorities. As one former Wall Street CEO said, in times of severe change, multiply your frequency of communication. Employees need not just to know but feel that their senior leadership remains confident, understands the issues and is on top of things.

4. Be confident of the level of commitment across the organization. Do people know their roles and have they embraced them? More importantly, do you have the right people doing the most critical jobs? Remember, the WHO is more important than the WHAT. Be on the lookout for what I call a false sense of harmony and passive agreement. Mine for conflict and by that I mean surface unresolved issues, get people to weigh in, practice what Ray Dalio calls “thoughtful disagreement” and then decide. Goldman Sachs calls it “debate freely, decide quickly.” Intel calls the practice, “disagree and commit.”

5. Own the results and learn from them. Failure is usually the best teacher; success could mask mistakes. When we succeed we tend to give too much credit to our talents and our strategy and too little to external factors. Success can make us so overconfident possibly blinding us to the need to change anything. We have the tendency not to investigate the causes of good performance. So, yes, celebrate success but examine it, as well.

Famatigan will conduct a course titled “Leadership Excellence in Challenging Times: Future-proofing your Organization” on Dec. 14.

The Inquirer Academy is at 4168 Don Chino Roces Ave. corner Ponte St., Makati City. For more information about the workshops or if you would like to add your input on the article, you may e-mail ask@inquireracademy.com, call (632) 834-1557 or 771-2715 and look for Jerald Miguel.

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