How many followers do you have?

Managers push  Leaders pull

Managers push
Leaders pull

It has been a hectic winter. Two assignments later, on different continents (not to mention Christmas and then Easter), I realized I have been neglecting my blog and I must apologize for that. Nevertheless, even though my assignments have been quite different a similar theme has emerged. That theme is the importance of leadership and the difference between managers and leaders.


Ok I know this is nothing knew and a lot has been written on this subject, but somehow I still run into this issue almost everywhere I go. I guess one of the biggest reasons for this is that true leaders tend to be controversial, they tend not follow orders like a manager would but to seek purpose and understanding; and that can get uncomfortable for senior management. Besides, in the business world, people will rarely get promoted for the leadership abilities but rather for their knowledge of the process. The sad reality is though: the higher you get, in an organization, the more leadership skills you need and the less important your management skills become. It is impossible for a CEO to control everything that goes on in his/her organization, they have to inspire trust and rely on their subordinates. The CEO, who tries to control everything, may run a tight ship but they will inevitably be weak on vision, strategy and direction as they will be too busy trying to control everything.

There is nothing worst for morale than employees doubting the capabilities of their senior management/leadership. They either don’t feel understood, or worst, they feel management just does not care about them. This is why, if nothing else, walking the shop floor is probably the easiest action that can be taken by managers/leaders to reinforce communications and inspire trust. By walking around the plant/area, not only do you make yourself visible and give people the opportunity to engage you in conversation; you can also observe how people work, how they maintain their area of responsibility or pick up on issues you can follow up with managers responsible for the area. However, a word of caution, you need to engage people during your tour, if all you do is walk around without talking to anyone, you are projecting the image of a spy and will be treated as such.

People generally look for role models to emulate. Your role as a leader is to be that role model. Your job is to create purpose for their work, enable them to contribute and provide feedback to help them grow. Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers; how many followers do you have?

The pecking order

It’s been a while since my last blog. In fact quite a number of things have changed since my last blog.  Back in April, a week or two after publishing my last article, my wife and I visited the local farmers market.  We were familiar with the vegetables and fruits section but we discovered they had a live animal section and decided to have a closer look. As we strolled through the isles full of chickens, turkeys, and ducks, of all ages and size, an idea struck us.: why not get our own chickens! We have enough space in the backyard and will get the benefits of eating fresh eggs.  As we neared the end of the isle, we spotted what has to be the picture perfect rooster and hen. We approached the man and inquired about his chickens. He told us they were an Italian breed of chickens. Awestruck by their beauty we bought them on the spot without too much thinking about it.  We told the man we did not have any experience with chickens and he helped us select the right feed for them, which luckily for us, was sold in another section of the market.  Normally we like to have lunch at the market for there is a place that serves delicious roasted suckling pig, but today, with our precious cargo, he headed straight home. On the way, my wife and I discussed various possible names for our new pets. And we settled on “Luigi & Luisa”.


Chicken Buffet – Breakfast is served!

Now I must admit that such an idea would not have flown in the past as I know absolutely nothing about raising chickens; but, the eggs from the store have been tasting like fish lately and I find that quite disgusting to be honest.  Besides, how hard can it be? When we got home, I started building a fence so our dog would not eat our chickens before we have had the time to taste the eggs. We used the old dog pen  (our new dog refuses to go in the old dog house) as it been sitting empty since we lost them.  However since the pen does not have a roof, Luigi escape to the neighbor’s garden and Luisa disappeared! Half an hour later, whilst I combed the neighborhood looking for Luisa, our neighbors caught him and brought him back.  As we brought him back in the pen I also found Luisa, she had been hiding the whole time in the Cedar tree.  I quickly proceeded to cover the pen with wire fencing to ensure they stayed where the belonged. Luigi and Luisa spent their first night in the pen perch on top of the doghouse.


Luigi & Luisa getting ready for bed!

However it did not take long to realize that, being a family of four, one hen would not be enough to feed everyone. We needed more hens if we were going to enjoy their eggs. During the following four weeks, my wife and I visited all the nearby farmers market and, each time, bought a pair of hens: Lily & Lola, Gertrude & Olga, Stefitza & Katitza,  Dora & Dara. We now have 9 hens and one rooster.


Gertrude – our first egg layer


Olga – our smallest but bravest hen

As the flock kept increasing I also realized that the old dog pen would not be sufficient for our new pets.  I researched how to raise and care for chickens on the Internet and found a very helpful websites: Backyard chickens dot com .   I learnt that hens need a quiet and darkened place to lay their eggs so I looked up the basics principles of making a chicken coop, and went to work on it. If we were going to raise chickens, then we might as well do it right! I also found out that our Luigi and Luisa where not Italian but rather an Icelandic breed.  I guess Gunnar and Guðrún might have been more appropriate names but “oh well” we decided to stick with Luigi and Luisa.


Katitza – the shy one


Stefitza -lays 2 yolk eggs

After having finished the coop, I realised I should have started with the floor. You see when we built the dog pen we laid down wood so it would not be to cold for the dogs, but now, years later, the floor is rotting.  I decided to pour some concrete, as it would make it easier to clean than wood.  This proved to take longer than I had anticipated. As the chickens were living there I had to subdivide the area into smaller square and tackle each one individually.


Lily on the left and Lola on the right

The upside of this process was that I had lots of time to observe the chickens.  I had heard of the pecking order, I even learnt about the pecking order financial theory; but never had the opportunity to observe it.  Since we introduced our chickens to our flock 2 at a time, every new introduction was an opportunity to observe first hand and here is what I have learnt:

1) The rooster is the leader and he takes his job seriously.  One would think he would be the first in line to eat, but as a true leader, he lets the top hens eat first. While they are eating he chases the lower rank hens around and thereby provides them cover so they can eat in peace.  The rooster is also vigilant. As dusk approaches he is constantly looking up at the sky and is the first one to settle in for the night. He leads by example.

2) Size does not always mean rank.  Rank is determined by productivity. We have introduced smaller hens to the flock that have immediately risen to the top because they laid eggs. (Although this might have to do with the fact that egg-laying hens let themselves be fertilized by our rooster ;-))

3) Once the pecking order is established, there is no need for violence. The chickens accept their rank and live by the rules.

4) Hens are proud of their work! Every time they lay an egg, they sing a song, as if to celebrate their accomplishment.

Are you using a leadership mirror?

Courtesy  of

Courtesy of

I recently read a McKinsey Quarterly article on “Why leadership-development programs fail”. The article highlights several factors that, while appearing obvious on the surface, are often misunderstood: overlooking context, decoupling reflection from real work, underestimating mind-sets and failing to measure results.

Since I have personal experience of some of these pitfalls, I thought I could enhance the lessons from the McKinsey article by sharing some of my observations; thus, enabling you to make the right decisions when it comes to developing leaders within your own organisation.

Let’s start with the first pitfall: overlooking context. The article points out that a brilliant leader in one situation may not perform well in another. Although this is not unusual, it makes you wonder whether that person was a real leader to start with. Real leaders are able to anticipate and adapt to any situation because they carry more than one arrow in their quiver. Just because a formula worked in the past does not mean it will work forever. Different situations demand different approaches and tools. Versatility is an important trait of good leadership. People who stick to the tried and proven approach often do so because they are comfortable with it or, even worse, because they don’t know what else to do – not exactly a sign of strong leadership.

But I guess this also proves the point that a generic approach to leadership development – the one size fits all attitude – is not appropriate. Everyone is different; someone’s strength is someone else’s weakness. This almost guarantees that in a classroom setting someone will be bored. This may also help explain why the article points out that adults retain just ten per cent of what they learn in the classroom. Personally, instead of trying to fight against this phenomenon, I prefer to use it to our advantage by pairing up executives who display the opposite strengths and weaknesses. For example, someone with great personal skills could be matched with someone who has difficulties with people but who is brilliant at strategic thinking. This not only helps individuals, it strengthens the leadership team by reinforcing the bonds between senior leaders. This approach also helps bridge the second pitfall – decoupling reflection from real work – because it provides leaders with time to reflect and analyse their own performance in a non-threatening setting. It also encourages growth and development because it allows leaders to monitor their progress – thereby addressing the last pitfall of failing to measure results.

The remaining pitfall – underestimating mind-sets – is more difficult to deal with. In most organisations, there exists a huge gap between the top floor and the shop floor. Leaders are so far removed from the day-to-day activities of the organisation that they have often lost their sense of reality. This misunderstanding frequently leads to suboptimal policies and plays to internal politics and infighting. Without understanding the real organisational dynamic behind undesirable behaviours, it is unlikely that sustainable behavioural change can be achieved. As the article points out, people’s actions are often derived from entrenched beliefs, which regularly go unquestioned simply because they are so obvious. This is where consultants – who are not tainted by years of “business as usual” – can add considerable value. They can provide an unbiased view of reality and identify the drivers of undesirable behaviours. Consultants provide leaders with a unique opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror and map out the shortest way to get results.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 20 January 2014