Archive for October, 2013

Setting the Leadership Bar

October 22, 2013

highbar

It’s the largest annual prize in the world.

And, the Foundation’s website is clear about selection criteria. You need to be a democratically elected African head of state that has left office in the last three years and demonstrated exceptional leadership. If chosen, you get a $5 million award, plus an annual pension of $200 thousand.

The Ibrahim Prize, established by Sudanese Celtel entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, has set some standards for leadership in Africa. Standards are specified levels of performance which define expectations.  Across the world, and in the US we have standards for safety, education, manufacturing and for food quality. Professional disciplines, like evaluation and engineering, cite standards as a reflection of their maturity. Leadership has standards, too.

This year, for the fourth time since its inception in 2007, the Ibrahim Prize was not distributed. The aim of the award is to provide a financial incentive to African leaders to shun corruption. But, the Committee was unable to find a winner from any of Africa’s 50-plus countries. Ibrahim said, “We need to really point the finger at where the responsibility lies…Let’s put the light there and let us seek heroes.”

Fareed  Zakaria, CNN host of Global Public Square (GPS), covered this story recently. His analysis: “Africa’s leaders are locked in a marathon to see who can reign longest… a crisis of governance.” He says, many African countries have had the same men in charge for more than 30 years. While these and other states are “nominal democracies” their citizens experience dictators. Their elections and day-to-day culture includes intimidation, fraud, graft and violence.

Despite poor governance, some of the world’s fastest growing economies are African. The continent, according to Ventures Africa has 55 billionaires. There are also advances in education, healthcare, and poverty reduction. So, what’s the new wrinkle?  Zakaria notes that China is now Africa’s biggest trade partner. In contrast to the history of NGOs and Western countries which have tied aid to standards, China is willing to sign trade deals with no strings. This upsets a system which previously valued transparency, democracy and peace.

We know inept leaders and toxic politics can destroy nations, organizations, communities, and individuals. What leadership standards do you set for yourself and the organizations you support? What are the attributes and behavior of people you respect and will follow?

Don’t confuse leadership with a job title. Be ready to withhold the prize if nobody meets the standards. Otherwise, anything goes.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Culture Counts

October 1, 2013

PopeFrancis

There’s no escaping an over weighted factor in organizations: culture. It drives and  limits the potency of any enterprise or community.

Culture reflects the prevailing norms and values of people. It’s that consistent vibe that permeates what people say and do. It can be authentic, cooperative, transparent, kind, innovative, and results-focused. Or, perhaps it is competitive, selfish, and false. Fostering culture is a leadership function.

Two examples of people in very different contexts offer some insights on this vital topic.

Ramon Nunez, CEO of LiveHive, a software maker identifies four principles he relies on in his company. First, trust. Second, interdependence. Third, integrity. Fourth, customer-focused value. His sequence of factors is important. He says, “If you can’t trust your team members, there’s something wrong…either the team has to change or how you work needs to change.” In a challenging performance context, Nunez intends to build strength and sustainability. He is one of 16 children in a Mexican family and migrated to the U.S. as a teen. His perspective and business success offer an exciting story.

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has garnered notice for his explicit cultural messages through his words and actions. Instead of imperious and self-promoting, he’s gentle and modest. In contrast to single-minded and certain, he suggests an open mind and naiveté. In his critical role as a spiritual and institutional leader, authority seems to originate from sincerity and humbleness. Frank Bruni’s recent editorial in the New York Times captures a rich portrait of Pope Francis and contrasts it with prevailing American culture. Instead of commanding, Pope Francis invites. Bruni calls this a “radical whisper.”

While culture is often set from the top – it’s possible for anyone to contribute. Your example, on a big factor, can influence your colleagues in important ways.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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