Posts

Linda Henman

Leadership Lessons from Zombies

Sometime in the past two years, perhaps while we were distracted by the vampire craze, zombies started presenting a more menacing presence. Scores of television programs, movies, and books have seemingly sprung from nowhere to teach us to survive a zombie attack. For example, Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, has dominated the best seller list with his Zombie Survival Guide, a must-have for every survival-conscious home.

But there’s another must-have for any professional library: A Zombie’s Guide to Getting A Head (sic) in Business. This book will help you take both your leadership and strategy formulation to new heights. No survival guide, this book offers concrete tips about how to excel in the hot seat by acting like a zombie. Using the author’s zombie expertise as a foundation, here’s what I suggest:

  • Stop dithering and start lurching forward. No one has to cajole a zombie to act, which clearly contrasts them to many leadership teams who dither rather than decide. These teams often opt for indecision, failing to recognize that not deciding is a decision – a decision to fall victim to the changing environment and other things you can’t control. You don’t write strategic objectives in stone; you put them in a Word file. When new information surfaces, you can change directions. But not having a clear direction and path for getting there will curse you to rest on your laurels and continue to settle for the success you’ve always had. Or maybe not. Maybe the economy has changed so drastically in your neck of the woods that what you’ve done to get here won’t get you anywhere else.
  • Crash trough the glass ceiling like a zombie breaking through the walls of a farm house. So many leaders embrace limiting ideas. They settle for what they’ve always done, the status quo, sunk costs, and every manner of excuse not to change. A very successful consultant who is in her early fifties recently told me she thinks she’s getting too old to do consulting work. I said, “Are you nuts? You’re barely old enough to do it! Clients value experience.” Her limiting idea is my motivating idea. What limiting ideas hold you back?
  • Turn your weaknesses into strengths – a missing arm or leg never stops a zombie. Some great company changes have started with a failure or weakness. Legend has it that a restaurant owner created fried ravioli, a St. Louis favorite, when he accidentally dropped the ravioli into the French fryer. What opportunities lurk in your organization? The 3M Company, formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation based in Minnesota. With over 80,000 employees, they produce more than 55,000 products, including: adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, dental products, electronic materials, medical products, car care products. But the company founders didn’t set out to give us Post-It-Notes and Scotch Tape. They originally planned to sell the mineral corundum to manufacturers in the East for making grinding wheels. However, innovation and a willingness to learn from mistakes allowed the company to morph into what it is today.
  • Trust your instincts. In the nocturnal hunt, or any hunt, the first impulse is usually the right one. If you suddenly get the feeling that a swath of swampland is mined against zombie attacks, it probably is. And if the whacky new product seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to your mission, vision, and values. These will help you force the tradeoffs that will help you avoid both implosion and explosion.
  • Ignore that which is already dead. An error that many executives make, that no zombie ever makes, is wasting valuable time on sunk costs and things that are no longer priorities. Check the egos at the door. When it comes to setting strategy, only the future counts.
  • ‘Bite once.’ A zombie’s bite transmits everything salient it has to contribute. It immediately ‘infects’ the other with zombie characteristics. No more need for follow-ups, emails, status reports, or ‘circling back.’ Bite and move on.

No matter where you want to go, and regardless of the daunting and difficult nature of the journey, a zombie has been through worse and ‘lived’ to tell about it. By incorporating the traits of a zombie, you too can become dynamic, brave, and unstoppable as any member of the legions of the living dead. Inside every zombie and effective executive reside core impulses to harness power. The first quarter of 2012 lies behind us, but the remaining three quarters remain. Arise from the grave of ineffectiveness and get ahead.


About the Author

Dr. Linda Henman, the catalyst for virtuoso organizations, is the author of Landing in the Executive Chair, among other works. She is an expert on setting strategy, planning succession, and developing talent. For more than 30 years she has helped executives and boards in Fortune 500 Companies and privately-held organizations dramatically grow their businesses. She was one of eight succession planning experts who worked directly with John Tyson after his company’s acquisition of International Beef Products. Some of her other clients include Emerson Electric, Avon, Kraft Foods, Edward Jones, and Boeing. She can be reached in St. Louis at www.henmanperformancegroup.com.

How to Prepare Yourself for the Executive Chair

Comedian Steve Martin once said that if you want to be a millionaire, the first thing you have to do is get a million dollars. Most advice for positioning yourself for executive positions mirrors Martin’s sentiments: If you want to land in the executive chair, the first thing you need to do is get executive experience. I’ll counter with my own observation: If you want to land in the executive chair, start planning to do so when you’re in high school.

Landing in the Executive Chair: How to Excel in the Hot Seat
by Linda Henman

 

In today’s fast-paced, unprecedented, and unpredictable economy, many executives simply don’t know what to do. Conventional methods-which many never entirely understood in the first place-often don’t work during economic upheaval. Executives, especially CEOs, need something better. They need a guide that identifies the roadblocks and points out the landmines. In her more than 30 years of working with hundreds of executives, Dr. Linda Henman has observed the critical elements of success, both for the new leader and the one who aspires to the next level of success. In Landing in the Executive Chair, you’ll learn how to:

  • Avoid the pitfalls and identify a clear plan for personal and organizational stress.
  • Leverage the first months in a new executive position- that time of transition that promises opportunity and challenge, but also brings a period of great vulnerability.
  • Create a competitive advantage, set the right tone, make effective decisions, keep talent inside your doors, and establish credibility-all while navigating unfamiliar and turbulent waters.

As organizations expand and grow, the skills that led to success often won’t sustain further development in a more complex, high-stakes environment. Present and future executives need more. They need Landing in the Executive Chair.

Too late? Then, start preparation now. These ideas will help:

  1. If you didn’t have the advantages of a stellar education, remedy that situation. Study history, literature, art, music, and foreign languages. Begin today to augment your liberal arts knowledge, because doing so will help you with creative problem solving, conversation, and life balance.
  2. Address the nuts and bolts of business too. If you don’t understand finance and accounting, enroll in a course immediately. With so many online options, there’s really no excuse to overlook this essential building block to your success.
  3. Read. Read the Wall Street Journal and your local paper every day. If your city has a weekly business journal, read that too. Read your leading-edge industry publications, Forbes, other finance journals, and popular business books. At any given time, you should have read at least two books on the best seller list. In addition to giving you valuable information, this reading will make you a more interesting person.
  4. Map out a path to the executive position you want. How did others get there? Position yourself for each rung on the ladder; take the requisite training; learn the relevant skills; and acquire the needed experience.
  5. If you don’t hold a finance or operations position, consider cross training. Will the CEO allow you to work in these arenas for a short time? You’ll need this sort of groundwork for upward mobility. You can read books about HR and marketing, but getting your head in and hands on the finances and operations will pay huge premiums later on.
  6. If you hold an HR position, get out as soon as you can. HR professionals tend to hit both glass walls and glass ceilings. They find that they can’t get promoted outside the HR function, and that road seldom leads to the executive chair.
  7. Look the part. Everything about you should scream ‘Success!’ Dress well. Get a good haircut. Surround yourself with quality objects: car, pen, shoes, brief case, etc. If you’re uncertain about points of etiquette, hire a coach. If you’re out of shape, get a trainer. In short, send the message that you’ll be 100% at home in the C-suite, boardroom, or country club.
  8. Get a mentor. The military, better than many civilian organizations I’ve worked with, understands the value of committing to high potentials – a commitment that turns those who may not have reached their potential into top performers. Many senior military officers begin mentoring future candidates when those would-be generals are still captains. Use this best practice for yourself. Find someone inside or outside your organization who has achieved what you aspire to do. Ask them to give you advice when you need it. Few will refuse to drink a cup of coffee with you while you pick their brains. Instead, they will feel flattered.
  9. Get a coach. In the world of professional athletics, no one questions the value of coaching top performers, yet in business, the stigma seems to linger that those who need coaching must be ‘at risk.’ I have built my entire business model on the opposite approach, however. As ‘the virtuoso coach,’ I only work with high potentials.
    Recently the St. Louis Cardinals added former Cardinal player John Mabry to their roster of batting coaches. Mark McGuire will continue to coach the right-handed batters, and Mabry will concentrate on the left-handers. This focused approach should serve as the gold standard for hiring business coaches too. High potentials should hire specialized business coaches who have built successful businesses themselves and who have developed a proven track record for helping others get promoted.
  10. Conduct your private life with uncompromising integrity. Unlike some of the aforementioned, you have 100% control over this. No one can rob you of your integrity, but you can give it away. I have seen so many high potentials derail themselves from a seemingly-sure path to success with bad decisions in their personal lives. Assume everything you do will make the front page, because some day it just might.

As the Baby Boomers leave executive positions in droves, others will need to ascend the corporate ladder, but too few have actively prepared themselves. No matter when you plan to climb the next rungs of the ladder, now is the time to start planning.


About the Author

Dr. Linda Henman, the catalyst for virtuoso organizations, is the author of Landing in the Executive Chair, among other works. She is an expert on setting strategy, planning succession, and developing talent. For more than 30 years she has helped executives and boards in Fortune 500 Companies and privately-held organizations dramatically grow their businesses. She was one of eight succession planning experts who worked directly with John Tyson after his company’s acquisition of International Beef Products. Some of her other clients include Emerson Electric, Avon, Kraft Foods, Edward Jones, and Boeing. She can be reached in St. Louis at www.henmanperformancegroup.com.

Five Ways to Land in the Executive Chair

Executives play in a bigger league; they play for higher stakes; and the game is for keeps. Doing the day-to-day, hands-on work doesn’t fit the job description of the executive; driving the strategy, developing the bench, and making high-caliber decisions have become the new coinage of the realm. When you understand who executives are, what they do, and how they do it, you stand a better chance of joining their ranks.

Landing in the Executive Chair: How to Excel in the Hot Seat
by Linda Henman

 

In today’s fast-paced, unprecedented, and unpredictable economy, many executives simply don’t know what to do. Conventional methods-which many never entirely understood in the first place-often don’t work during economic upheaval. Executives, especially CEOs, need something better. They need a guide that identifies the roadblocks and points out the landmines. In her more than 30 years of working with hundreds of executives, Dr. Linda Henman has observed the critical elements of success, both for the new leader and the one who aspires to the next level of success. In Landing in the Executive Chair, you’ll learn how to:

  • Avoid the pitfalls and identify a clear plan for personal and organizational stress.
  • Leverage the first months in a new executive position- that time of transition that promises opportunity and challenge, but also brings a period of great vulnerability.
  • Create a competitive advantage, set the right tone, make effective decisions, keep talent inside your doors, and establish credibility-all while navigating unfamiliar and turbulent waters.

As organizations expand and grow, the skills that led to success often won’t sustain further development in a more complex, high-stakes environment. Present and future executives need more. They need Landing in the Executive Chair.

Here are five suggestions for enlisting in this august body of leaders:

  1. Practice F2 Leader Leadership – What explains the differences between the leader who rises steadily through the ranks versus the one whose career mysteriously jumps the track short of an executive position? If people find the fast track in the first place, they probably know how to get the job done, have displayed integrity, and offer enough intellectual acumen to succeed. When a leader offers all these and still fails, flawed leadership style may be the culprit. F2 Leaders – firm but fair leaders whom others trust – commit themselves to both relationship behavior and task accomplishment.
  2. Move beyond Problem Solving to Innovative Decision Making – As you climbed the stairs to your current position, others called on you to solve problems. The status quo changed; you figured out the cause for the change; and you returned things to the way they were. But this process only restores the status quo. It doesn’t take the company into the future. Decision making, on the other hand, requires innovative thinking and separates those who land in the executive chair from those who don’t.
  3. Tie Strategy and Execution Together – A breakthrough product, dazzling service, or cutting-edge technology can put you in the game, but only rock-solid execution of a well-developed strategy can keep you there. Effective execution pushes you to decipher your broad-brush theoretical understanding of the strategy into intimate familiarity with how it will work, who will take charge of it, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and how it will affect the organization overall.
  4. Plan Succession – The previously perceived quiet crisis of succession is now sounding its siren, and smart companies are responding by creating disciplined approaches to managing their futures. These companies realize replacement planning isn’t enough. These leaders understand you need a systematic approach to talent development.

When people characterize those who land in the executive chair, they often offer ‘vision’ as their most important attribute. Without question, effective leadership requires a strategic focus. But remember. People in mental institutions have visions, too. Seeing into the future is not enough. Those who land in the executive chair and excel there understand they must outrun their competitors, all the while inspiring loyalty among those who follow them.


About the Author

For more than 30 years, Linda Henman has helped leaders in Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses, and military organizations define their direction and select the best people to put their strategies in motion.

Linda holds a Ph.D. in organizational systems, two Master of Arts degrees in interpersonal communication and organizational development, and a Bachelor of Science degree in communication. By combining her experience as an organizational consultant with her education in business, she offers her clients selection, coaching, and consulting solutions that are pragmatic in their approach and sound in their foundation.