How to Lead When You're Not in Charge
For all of the books (thousands) written on leadership, individuals (millions) who have participated in leadership seminars and dollars (billions) invested in leadership development, too many leadership experts still fail to distinguish between the practice of leadership and the exercise of bureaucratic power.
In order to engage in a conversation about leadership, you have to assume you have no power — that you aren’t “in charge” of anything and that you can’t sanction those who are unwilling to do your bidding. If, given this starting point, you can mobilize others and accomplish amazing things, then you’re a leader. If you can’t, well then, you’re a bureaucrat.
To gain a true leadership advantage, organizations must be filled with individuals who understand how to maximize their own ratio of “accomplishment over authority.” They must believe it’s possible to do something big with a little dab of power. Think, for example, of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, the world’s largest compendium of knowledge. None of the thousands of individuals who’ve contributed to Wikipedia report to Wales, and yet, as a “social architect,” he built a platform that energized and organized an extraordinary amount of human effort.
What, then, are the attributes of individuals who can inspire others and multiply their impact?
They are seers — individuals who are living in the future, who possess a compelling vision of “what could be.” As human beings, we’re constantly looking forward, and we love to sign on with individuals who are already working on “the next big thing.”
They are contrarians — free of the shackles of conventional wisdom and eager to help others stage a jailbreak. It’s exciting to be around these free-spirited thinkers who liberate us from the status quo and open our minds to new possibilities.
They are architects — adept at building systems that elicit contribution and facilitate collaboration. They leverage social technologies in ways that amplify dissident voices, coalesce communities of passion and unleash the forces of change.
They are mentors — rather than hoarding power, they give it away. Like Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century management pioneer, they believe the primary job of a leader is to create more leaders. To this end, they coach, tutor, challenge and encourage.
They are connectors — with a gift for spotting the “combinational chemistry” between ideas and individuals. They help others achieve their dreams by connecting them with sponsors, like-minded peers, and complementary resources.
They are bushwhackers — they clear the trail for new ideas and initiatives by chopping away at the undergrowth of bureaucracy. They’re more committed to doing the right thing than to doing things right.
They are guardians — vigilant defenders of core values and enemies of expediency. Their unflinching commitment to a higher purpose inspires others and encourages them to stand tall for their beliefs.
They are citizens — true activists, their courage to challenge the status quo comes from their abiding commitment to doing as much good as possible for as many as possible. They are other-centered, not self-centered.
Critically, all these roles are rooted in the most potent and admirable human qualities — passion, curiosity, compassion, daring, generosity, accountability and grit. These are the qualities that attract allies and amplify accomplishments. These are the DNA strands of 21st-century leadership. Only by strengthening them can we fully unleash the latent leadership talents that reside in every organization.
That’s why we have launched the Leaders Everywhere Challenge in partnership with HBR and McKinsey & Company. Tell us what your organization is doing to encourage leadership everywhere. How is it working to escape the limits of top-down power structures? What is it doing to equip and energize individuals to exercise their leadership gifts, wherever they are in the organization? How is it nurturing the sort of leaders whom others will want to follow in a post-bureaucratic world? Learn more here.
A.G. Lafley on Strategy's Tough Choices
Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley explains why strategy has to be more than an aspiration. For more, see Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin, or, from the HBR archive, his 2009 article, What Only the CEO Can Do.
Four Lean Advertising Campaigns That Went Viral
In my research, I use eye-tracking technology, facial-expression analysis, and lab experiments to better understand why people choose to view online videos, what narrative techniques keep them watching, and what features prompt them to share videos with friends. Since writing about this work in HBR last year, I’ve received a steady stream of requests from companies asking: How can we put that research to use?
As a result, I’ve been studying how companies create and distribute online video advertisements, and I’ve examined some of the new firms that specialize in helping them do so. I’ve found many examples of companies that have produced effective campaigns for 10% or even 1% of what they would have spent on traditional ad agencies and paid mass media. The ways of doing this are via a DIY approach or an outsourcing approach.
Here are four successful examples I’ve come across that span both techniques; the first two incorporate a DIY technique, while the latter two use oursourcing. Read my full analysis in this month’s issue of HBR (registration required).
In 2009, DC Shoes began shooting videos featuring its cofounder Ken Block driving a tricked-out racecar around closed-off airports, theme parks, and even the port of San Francisco. Instead of buying expensive TV time, DC Shoes uploads the videos to YouTube. Over the past four years they have gotten more than 180 million views — and in 2011 alone, sales jumped 15%. One was YouTube’s most-shared video of 2011; another garnered a million views in its first 24 hours. Paying online media for this type of exposure would cost upward of $5 million.
In 2007 the kitchen appliance company Blendtec created a series of videos in which the founder, Tom Dickson, demonstrated the power of its products by blending such items as marbles, a rake handle, hockey pucks, and iPods. The videos went viral on YouTube, landing Dickson on the Tonight Show and the Today Show, and sales took off. The Blendtec videos have been viewed nearly 240 million times to date. But the odds of replicating that success are low: Just 3% of YouTube films are viewed more than 25,000 times.
Many companies have turned to Tongal, a four-year-old firm that, for a fee, posts specs for a project and matches it with freelance creative talent willing to work for relatively low pay. Companies generally use the ads online, but some go further: Speed Stick paid $17,000 for a Tongal-produced ad and laid out $4 million to air it during the 2013 Super Bowl, whose viewers ranked it higher than conventionally produced ads for Coke, Pepsi, Subway, Lincoln, and Anheuser-Busch.
Companies seeking more-aggressive distribution often look to social media syndication firms such as the San Francisco-based agency Mekanism. For a campaign for Golden Grahams aimed at recent college graduates, it posted a series of animated videos about job interviews gone comically awry. It then solicited viewers’ own stories via Twitter, turning more than 50 of them into online videos. Together the videos got more than 2.5 million views (60% of which were the direct result of influencers’ actions).
This post contains excerpts from Thales Teixeira’s June 2013 article “How to Profit From Lean Advertising.”
An Encore at P&G (Standing Ovation TBD)
A.G Lafley is back as the CEO of P&G (nothing like the day before an American holiday weekend to announce a leadership change at a major company). There’s a lot we don’t know about this evolving story, but we wanted to give you a few insights. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Justin Bachman points out that one investor in particular has been increasingly irritated by the company’s performance relative to its earning abilities. His colleague Diane Brady notes the very different consumer landscape than the one Lafley presided over four years ago. The Economist positions Lafley’s return against the mixed records of other CEO comebacks, ranging from Howard Shultz’s to Michael Dell’s. Against this background of uncertainty, there’s also a lot we do know about how Lafley thinks about strategy and leadership. A just-published article in Strategy+Business by Lafley outlines the importance he places on intellectual integrity. And our own Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains why brand extensions aren’t Lafley’s challenges this time around.
Hear ye, young entrepreneurs: Stop chasing dumb ideas that don’t solve actual problems. This is the message from C.Z. Nnaemeka, who argues that most start-ups have “shifted the malpractice from feeding the money machine to making inane, self-centric apps.” After outlining the many economic problems of what she deems the “unexotic underclass” (e.g. single mothers, veterans whose benefits are blocked by systemic backlog, she says entrepreneurs should be focusing on these groups because, frankly, no one else is. To get things moving in the right direction, we also need a mind-set change from VCs and investors, a shift in focus from the likes of Y Combinator and instructors at top-tier engineering universities, and reform in Washington. Piece of cake, yes?
The two most common jobs in America are salesperson and cashier. Should we worry that those jobs are going away? In this month’s Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that we should. Maybe. There are two prevailing economic theories about low-wage work. The first is that, in a perfect world, these types of jobs grow on trees – we should be more nervous about middle-class employment. The other is a bit scarier: If there are fewer low-wage jobs, a working life is completely out of reach for a larger segment of society. Meanwhile, retailers have responded to changes in their industry by choosing one of two store strategies: Some keep retail employment up (and cater to a higher-paying clientele); others are in “a race to the price bottom” (and cater to people looking for a bargain).
John Steinbeck empathized with migrants but saw their potential to rip apart the social fabric. So does Thomas Friedman, who shows that the roots of Syria’s civil war lie in a migration of small farmers off the land and into towns, where, just like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, they scrounge for work. Now China is facing a continuing mass migration: 160 million people are working outside of the villages where they were born, constituting 22% of China’s urban population. To keep them from growing restive, government agencies will need to spend $32.5 billion per year until 2020 on services. That’s about 15% of the government’s total annual budget. The children of migrants are often left behind in the countryside and don’t have access to quality education, raising the prospect that an educational gap will feed growing inequality, according to China Economic Review. —Andy O’Connell
There must be better ways to make billions of dollars to prove yourself a worthy member of the upper echelons of business. But Rajat Gupta, McKinsey’s ex-managing director and a former board member at Goldman Sachs and P&G, went an unfortunate route: insider trading. As he seeks a retrial on his conviction, it’s worth a look back on how a smart and powerful businessman got caught up in one of the biggest insider-trading cases in history. Anita Raghavan, in this excerpt from her upcoming book, traces the relationship between Gupta and the Galleon Group’s Raj Rajaratnam focusing largely on how Rajaratnam was able to get close to Gupta using two key lures: a common Indian heritage (even though Rajaratnam is from Sri Lanka) and the promise of lots and lots of money. Gupta, it seems, fell for both.
The Most Overlooked Leadership Skill
Even before I released the disc, I knew it was a long shot. And, unfortunately, it was a clumsy one too.
We were playing Ultimate Frisbee, a game similar to U.S. football, and we were tied 14-14 with a time cap. The next point would win the game.
I watched the disc fly over the heads of both teams. Everyone but me ran down the field. I cringed, helplessly, as the disc wobbled and listed left. Still, I had hope it could go our way.
Sam was on my team.
Sam broke free from the other runners and bolted to the end zone. But the disc was too far ahead of him. He would never make it.
At the very last moment, he leapt. Completely horizontal, Sam moved through the air, his arms outstretched. Time slowed as he closed in on the disc.
The field was silent as he slid across the end zone, shrouded in a cloud of dust. A second later he rose, Frisbee in hand. Our team erupted in cheer.
Sam’s catch won us the tournament.
It also taught me a great lesson: Never underestimate the value of a talented receiver.
I was reminded of Sam’s catch recently after broaching a sensitive topic with Alma*, a client. The conversation was about some concerns I had about an upcoming meeting she was leading as well as my own insecurity about how I could help.
Before I spoke with her, I was hesitant and worried. Was I overstepping my bounds? Was I exposing myself? Would she reject my thoughts? Would she reject me?
I entered the conversation awkwardly, apologizing, and offering too much context. Even once I broached the issue, I felt tentative, unclear. I cringed as I felt my words hang in the air.
Thankfully, though, Alma turned out to be a Sam-level receiver.
Alma listened without a trace of annoyance. She asked questions — not to defend herself or refute my thoughts — but to understand my perspective more clearly. She was gracious, skilled, and accepting.
Her ability to receive me, and my opinions, led to a deep and valuable conversation about her performance, my role, and the needs of her team. A few weeks later, she showed up powerfully and led a remarkable meeting.
Typically, we choose our leaders for their skill at conveying messages clearly and powerfully. But, in my experience, it’s their ability to receive messages that distinguishes the best leaders from the rest.
That’s because the better you are at receiving, the more likely people will talk to you. And that’s precisely what every one of us needs: to be surrounded by people who are willing to speak the unspoken.
So how do you become a great receiver?
1. Be courageous. We often attribute courage to the speaker, but what about the receiver? I may have been scared broaching topics with Alma, but I had the advantage of time and preparation. I could control what I said and how I said it. I was able to think about it beforehand, write down a few notes, and test my thoughts with someone else. The receiver has no such advantage. Like Sam, he has to receive my throw, however, whenever, and wherever it lands. He has to be willing to listen to something that might make him feel afraid or insecure or defensive. And if he is a great receiver, he will take in the information or message thoughtfully, even if the delivery is awkward or the message jarring. That takes tremendous courage.
2. Don’t judge. Receiving is as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do. Resist the temptation — blatantly or subtly — to be critical of the speaker or what the speaker is saying. Don’t argue with her, poke fun at her, shame her, act aggressively, turn on her, become defensive, or act cold toward her.
3. Be open. In order to receive a pass in any sport — and at work and in life — you need to be free, open, and unguarded. Yet we often guard ourselves. Powerful feelings like fear, anger, sadness, and insecurity do their best to block our ability to receive a pass. If you want to be a talented receiver, your task is to feel your feelings without letting them block or control you or your response. Breathe. Acknowledge what you’re feeling to yourself — maybe even to the other person — without dwelling on it. Reiterate what you’re hearing, ask questions, be curious. Not curious in an “I-will-find-out-enough-information-so-I-can-prove-you-wrong” way. Curious to understand what the person is saying and to understand what’s underneath what they’re saying.
If you can be courageous, avoid judging, and stay open — even if the toss is awkward and the message unsettling — then, like Sam, like Alba, you’ll be able to catch pretty much anything.
And when you’re skilled at that, you’ll be a most valuable player of any team you’re on.
*Names and some details changed
What A.G. Lafley's Return Means for P&G
With former CEO A.G. Lafley returning to the helm of Procter & Gamble, I asked Rosabeth Moss Kanter for her analysis. She holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School. She’s an expert on strategy, innovation, and leading change. She is also Chair and Director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative. She is a regular contributor to HBR and HBR.org. She’s on twitter @RosabethKanter.
In her latest book, SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, she analyzed how P&G (among other companies) achieved long-term performance. She wrote the HBS cases on the P&G/Gillette merger, and when she teaches those cases, frequently invites P&G executives to her class.
Why is P&G making this move, now? P&G is in the midst of a major restructuring, and has laid off thousands of people. Why switch horses midstream?
P&G’s board has been under a great deal of pressure from an activist investor who has made his views on the pace of the restructuring clear and vocal. Regardless of the merits, that begins to wear everyone down. If the current CEO is under attack, that becomes a distraction for the company and makes it harder to execute or gain credibility with certain stakeholders. Even if the performance improvement plan is on a good path, that noise becomes a distraction (and psychologically, it leads to dreams of escape or wishes for a bold dramatic move). Appointing a new CEO buys everyone time, and thus quiets the noise for a while. But note how P&G did it. Asking A.G. Lafley to return is a sign of how much the company values continuity and company knowledge.
Any time a former CEO returns to run the company after a brief absence, you have to ask about succession planning. Does this move suggest that P&G needs a better succession strategy?
The absence wasn’t so brief. Lafley has been out of P&G for 4 years, which in this age of rapid change can include several waves of volatile external change — economic, geopolitcal, technological (social media) etc. But it’s also important to note that A.G. Lafley and Bob McDonald worked as a team during the 2000s; when Lafley scored his major successes, McDonald was by his side as vice chairman and then COO. McDonald was intimately involved with the Gillette acquisition and oversaw a model merger integration process. The P&G culture was also important to Lafley’s success, and he emphasized the PVP (purpose, values, and principles) as a management guide at the same time that he pushed product innovation, accelerated growth in emerging markets, and used the Gillette merger (with McDonald’s full involvement and leadership) as a change catalyst, to adopt some faster Gillette processes. But with the culture still a bedrock of P&G’s success and endurance, it always seemed inevitable back then that the CEO successor would be an insider.
Lafley won’t just be the CEO, he’ll be the President and the Chairman of the Board. That’s been a hot topic this week. Will having one person in those three roles make P&G more agile? Or run the risk of them not having independent board oversight?
Among other things, if a turnaround is needed, then the new CEO also needs full support and authority — and probably wouldn’t take the job without it. It wouldn’t send a great signal if Lafley returned but had one hand tied behind his back. Since he previously held all three roles successfully, why restrict him now? Also, I would hazard a guess that the Lafley return is an effort to accelerate progress on things already underway in McDonald’s plan, although Lafley could certainly add creative twists, and that Lafley won’t stay very long, just long enough to ensure investor and customer confidence, strategic priorities, and a good succession plan.
McDonald became CEO in the 2009 recession, a time when the middle class continued to shrink. That proved challenging to all the major consumer goods companies, but some (like Unilever) adapted by introducing lower-priced products. How should P&G adapt to a shrinking middle class in the US?
P&G began a portfolio of lower-priced but high-quality products in emerging markets and brought some of the concepts to the U.S., e.g., a laundry variety. It might have been slower than Unilever but wasn’t asleep at the switch. The challenge has been not in brand extensions, whether lower price points or additional features. The challenge has been creating new categories entirely. Under Lafley, there were category innovations such as Swiffer and Febreeze, and the addition of men’s shaving via the Gillette acquisition. McDonald did shift the portfolio, e.g., sell Pringles and emphasize beauty which is a growth category that is less price-sensitive. But new products or categories that might be in the pipeline don’t spring up overnight. The categories introduced under Lafley built on earlier R&D. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lafley again gets credit for products underway under McDonald. Also, social media have come on strong since Lafley handed the reins to McDonald, causing shifts in marketing strategies from TV to other media; Lafley will need to be on top of that.
There’s also the issue of emerging markets — some have accused McDonald of being overly aggressive in expanding there. Do you think Lafley will need to alter their approach?
It’s ironic. Lafley was credited with opening emerging markets as a virtue, but when McDonald built on this, he has been accused of expanding too aggressively. Of course a company should never neglect its largest developed markets. But with Europe as a drag, it seemed wise at the time to invest where there was still growth potential. Brazil has been a major success.
There are clearly no shortage of challenges on Lafley’s plate. How can he get people to take creative risks in a climate of turbulence and uncertainty? And what’s the number one priority for him right now?
Lafley will have to explain this to the executive team and the company in a way that ensures them that the path they’ve been on can be productive, especially if they accelerate innovation. He should scrutinize the entire portfolio and product/country mix to identify the most and least profitable and promising for growth, and then to make any needed people changes or adjust investments, such as marketing or product extensions. That’s immediate, along with any financial quick fixes. It’s not a bad idea to stress accountability. Maybe some of the improvement plan underway was happening too slowly because one area or unit or part of the world dragged their feet and made changes too slowly.
If Lafley accelerates progress on the operational and financial improvements underway, and people see success as reflected in profitability and stock price, then he can look for the creative ideas for innovation, large and small. Also, he can then look at the balance between Cincinnati-centricity and the recent distribution of brand global functions out to the regions, such as beauty in Singapore.
A strategic challenge is not only getting the product and category mix right, but also attracting talent (one reason for moving these brand HQs out of Cincinnati) while also integrating people across the portfolio as “one enterprise” that can find synergies and leverage learning, resources, and talent mobility. When Lafley first became CEO, P&G was struggling with how to become a more global and globally-integrated company; that is still a challenge.