Step up, get tough, and commit to your decision to lead The Leadership Contract provides the manual that leaders around the world need. With only seven percent of employees feeling confident in senior leadership, the problem is evident: disappointing, and often disgraceful leaders. Employees deserve better than that; organizations need better than that--and this book provides a robust framework for stepping up and making the decision to lead. This new third edition has been updated, featuring a new foreword by Adecco CEO Alain Dehaze, new findings from the Global Leadership Accountability Study, and more insights to help you chart your own path to build strong leadership accountability at a personal and organizational level. Great leadership doesn't happen by accident. It's more than just being in charge; it's a decision, an obligation and potentially your legacy. Mediocre is no longer good enough--in today's business climate, organizations need stellar leadership. If you're not exceptional, step up or step aside -- this book helps you toughen up and put your commitment to great leadership in writing for yourself as much as everyone else. * Learn how a leadership contract is vital for truly accountable leadership * Discover the mindset and practices needed to be a deliberate and decisive leader * Communicate to inspire, motivate, and drive high performance * Become the leader your organization needs today and into the future Leadership is not a birthright, not an accident, and not for everyone. It is the only differentiator between an organization's success and failure, and it has been entrusted to you. Can you step up to the challenge? Can you execute strategy while inspiring peak performance, nurturing top talent, managing complexity, creating value, conquering uncertainty, and yes, developing new leaders? Put your name on the line--literally--by drawing up a contract for leadership accountability. The Leadership Contract provides a proven and practical framework used by companies and leaders around the world. Join them and take your leadership to next level.
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The Pressures Leaders Face Today
Redeﬁning How You Lead to Meet Ever-Increasing Expectations
The Leadership Contract
Why I Wrote the Third Edition of This Book
A Word of Warning
Chapter 1: My Personal Leadership Story
Is Leadership Worth Dying For?
Why Are Some Leaders Such Jerks?
Why Are Many Leaders So Lame?
Has Anyone Noticed That We've Stopped Talking about Our Values?
How Do You Create a Vibrant Culture?
How Do You Lead through Ambiguity?
How Do You Transform Your Leaders?
Reflecting on My Leadership Story
Chapter 2: What's Wrong with Leadership Today?
Leadership Is Disappointing
Leadership Is Disconnected
Leadership Is Disgraceful
How Did We Get Here?
We Need the Leadership Development Industry to Step Up and Be Accountable
It's Time We Stop Settling—and Start Expecting More
Chapter 3: The Leadership Accountability Gap
Understanding the Leadership Accountability Gap: Study Findings
The Satisfaction with Leadership Accountability by Level of Leader
The Relationship between Leadership Accountability and Company Performance
The Three Dimensions of Leadership Accountability: Behaviors, Organizational Practices, and Culture
The Behaviors of Truly Accountable Leaders
The Organizational Practices to Build Strong Leadership Accountability
The Attributes of Leadership Culture
Final Thoughts—Building Strong Leadership Accountability: The Road Ahead
Chapter 4: Why We Need a Leadership Contract
Do You Know What You've Signed Up For?
The Leadership Contract and Its Four Terms
Chapter 5: Leadership Is a Decision—Make It
Why Doesn't Anyone Want to Be a Leader Anymore?
Why You Need to Make the Leadership Decision
The Two Kinds of Leadership Decisions
Big D and small d Leadership Decisions—Clarity and Commitment
A Real Leadership Decision Is Visceral
Deciding Not to Lead Is an Important Leadership Decision
Chapter 6: Leadership Is an Obligation—Step Up
The Iron Ring Ceremony
What's It Going to Take?
The Five Core Obligations of Leadership
The Five Core Obligations in Action
Revisiting the Iron Ring Ceremony and What It Means for Leaders
Final Thoughts—Leadership Is an Obligation
Chapter 7: Leadership Is Hard Work—Get Tough
Do We Have Wimps or Leaders in Our Organizations?
The 10 Ways Leaders Make the Hard Work Harder
Final Thoughts—Leadership Is Hard Work
Chapter 8: Leadership Is a Community—Connect
The Missed Opportunity
We Are Wired for Community
A Rotting of Zombies
A League of Heroes
A Stable of Thoroughbreds
It's Time to Build a Community of Leaders
A Strong Community of Leaders—Clarity and Commitment
Has Everyone Noticed the Change in the Room?
Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Community Builder?
Final Thoughts—Leadership Is a Community
Chapter 9: Sign the Leadership Contract
It's Time to Sign the Leadership Contract
The One Thing You Cannot Do
Signing the Document
Final Thoughts—Signing the Leadership Contract
Chapter 10: The Turning Points of Leadership
Revisiting the Turning Points of Leadership
Final Thoughts—The Turning Points of Leadership
Chapter 11: Living the Four Terms of the Leadership Contract
The Four Foundational Practices for Living the Leadership Contract
Regular Practices for Living the Leadership Contract
Final Thoughts—Becoming a Truly Accountable Leader
Chapter 12: Embed the Leadership Contract in Your Organization
The Four Strategies to Drive Strong Leadership Accountability
Final Thoughts—Building Strong Leadership Accountability In Your Organization
The Future of Leadership Is You
About the Author
Commit to Great Leadership and Implement it Today
Bring The Leadership Contract into Your Organization to Build Strong Leadership Accountability
About The Adecco Group
About Lee Hecht Harrison
End User License Agreement
Table of Contents
Cover Design: Wiley
Cover Images: Pen image: © Gunnar Pippel/Shutterstock
Paper image: © mirojurin/Shutterstock
Copyright © 2018 by Vince Molinaro. All rights reserved
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey
Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Names: Molinaro, Vince, author.
Title: The leadership contract: the fine print to becoming an accountable leader / Vince Molinaro.
Description: Third edition. | Hoboken: Wiley, 2017. | Revised edition of the author's The leadership contract,  | Includes index. |
Identifiers: LCCN 2017033423 (print) | LCCN 2017036344 (ebook) | ISBN 9781119440611 (pdf) | ISBN 9781119440499 (epub) | ISBN 9781119440536 (hardback)
Subjects: LCSH: Leadership. | Organizational change. | BISAC: BUSINESS & ECONOMICS/Leadership.
Classification: LCC HD57.7 (ebook) | LCC HD57.7 .M635 2017 (print) | DDC 658.4/092–dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017033423
To my wife, Elizabeth—thank you for helping me be a better person, husband, and father.
To my children, Mateo, Tomas, and Alessia—for your daily inspiration and humor.
To my parents, Camillo and Maria—for always supporting me as I pursued my dreams and goals.
As chief executive officer of The Adecco Group, the world's leading workforce solutions provider, I see the profound changes that are transforming business and the world of work around the world. Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are dramatically altering business models, and the rise of the so-called “gig” economy is transforming workforces and working relationships. There has never been a more important time to build a strong culture of leadership in organizations.
Yet, while the world and its foremost corporations are crying out for strong and clear leadership, there are worrying signs of turmoil in both business and politics. Despite significant investment in leadership development, many companies believe the majority of their leaders don't have the skills they need to take their company into the future.
That is why it gives me great pleasure to write this foreword to the third edition of Vince's bestselling book The Leadership Contract. Many have written about leadership, its importance, and its challenges, but few have done so as convincingly and authoritatively as Vince—a position now acknowledged by this expanded and updated version of his best-known work.
The solution, as Vince shows, is that we need leaders to be truly accountable. The Leadership Contract offers compelling and practical ideas for leaders to embrace and organizations to implement. Such proposals have been put into practice with great effect in companies around the world, including within The Adecco Group itself.
With more than 20 years advising companies and executives, Vince Molinaro has carved out a commanding position as a strategic thinker. As global managing director of the leadership transformation practice at Lee Hecht Harrison—the Adecco Group's specialist talent development and career transition subsidiary—Vince is uniquely positioned to comment on leadership and its pitfalls, thanks to his work with leaders of some the world's most forward-thinking companies.
Alain DehazeChief Executive Officer, The Adecco Group
What does it mean to be a leader? It's the question I believe every single one of us in a leadership role needs to answer.
Why? Because what it means to be a leader today is very different than it was a generation ago. You know this to be true. The world in which you lead is more dynamic and complex.
But there's more. Since releasing the first edition of this book in 2013, I have continued to see signs that leadership is still in trouble. Consider some of the following examples:
A founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of a Silicon Valley company is publicly embarrassed when a video leaks of him berating and demeaning an employee in public. Many senior executives and employees leave based on the toxic corporate culture in the organization.
Millions of people take to the streets to protest bribery and corruption among prominent CEOs and political leaders. It leads to the impeachment of the country's president.
A former industry-leading innovator in the technology sector loses its market dominance in a matter of months and now struggles to survive.
The CEO of a retailer is forced to resign after having an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker. The founder and chair of the board of that same company is pushed out after it's revealed that he knew about the relationship and did nothing to inform the board.
No fewer than 18 executives connected with a major international organization are indicted for their participation in a culture of systematic, cynical, and constant corruption.
A global study by a major research firm finds that 51 percent of leaders have essentially checked out, which means they show up every day, caring very little about their jobs, their people, and their company.
Another research firm finds that close to two-thirds of the general population do not have confidence that current leaders can address their country's challenges. Furthermore the credibility of CEOs fell by 12 points in one year to only 37 percent.
What is going on?
Stories of ineffective leadership, corruption, and scandal are now so commonplace that we don't even react to them anymore. Our trust and confidence in senior leaders have been destroyed. Survey after survey finds employee engagement is chronically, cripplingly low. Managers say the new generation of workers is unmotivated and entitled, while many Millennials say they're simply not interested in rising through the ranks in the traditional way. They are looking for purpose, meaning, and inspiration. But they are not finding it. As Generation Z begins to enter the workplace, they will have even higher expectations of leaders. Meanwhile, you and your colleagues feel overworked and pulled in a dozen directions at once.
These aren't separate problems. I believe they're all part of one crisis, a crisis that companies worldwide are spending an estimated $65 billion trying to solve—and getting nowhere.
It's a crisis in leadership.
At a time when our world is more complicated than ever, is changing faster than ever, and is more radically transparent than ever, we desperately need our leaders to be stronger than ever. And they're not. They're failing us. They are unaccountable and untrustworthy. And we're becoming disillusioned.
In all the years I've been thinking and talking about leadership, I've come to realize that the desperate need for accountable leaders is the fundamental challenge organizations are facing today. It's at the heart of every other problem we face.
“Accountability is as important as the concept of leadership, and those who are granted power must be held accountable.” This observation came from John W. Gardner—former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson—in his book On Leadership, published by The Free Press in 1990. He clearly understood the connection between accountability and leadership almost thirty years ago. Yet it's clear as we see the crisis in leadership we face today, we must also realize that it's a crisis of accountability.
We have, quite simply, a significant leadership accountability gap, and it is a global problem in our society, in corporations, and in politics. Truly accountable leadership is the only way to build an organization that can not only survive in our increasingly complicated world, but also grow and thrive. And yet, based on my research, this is a challenge that few organizations are facing head-on.
I've been studying leadership for almost my entire career. As an employee, I've worked for some great leaders and some not-so-great ones. I know firsthand the effect leadership has on employee engagement and organizational performance. Through my academic studies and research, I have focused on learning what sets the few truly great leaders apart from the many mediocre ones. As a consultant, I've worked with hundreds of leaders and organizations worldwide. I've also held leadership roles myself—at the front-line, middle management, and C-suite level. I know at a personal level how challenging leadership can be if you want to do it well consistently. I also know how great it can be when you get it right.
Over the last few years, I've had the privilege to speak around the world to leaders like you. These conversations confirmed that leadership accountability is a critical business issue in almost all organizations.
A while back, I set up a Google Alert for the word accountability. It became immediately clear from the search results that the world is in dire need of real accountability. I read about cries for accountability in the banking sector, from a corporate governance perspective, in education, at all levels of government, in the military, in health care, in police forces, in the media—you get the picture. It doesn't matter what facet of our society you look at, real accountability is lacking. What is also clear is that there appears to be a lot of talk about the need for accountability but little action to make things better. I find the same dynamic inside organizations. Every CEO I work with wants to drive real accountability, but making it a reality is not easy.
I have also learned that we are paying a real price for bad leadership. I appeared on a radio talk show a while back. I was asked to share my thoughts about how and why so many people have lost trust and confidence in their leaders.
I was struck during the radio show to see just how deeply this problem affected everyday people. The host took calls from listeners, several of whom had very moving stories about how they had been personally let down by bad and ineffective leaders. Most were cynical and very disappointed with their experience of leadership.
One call came from a woman named Marian, who talked about how she had just quit her job to escape an awful leader. Her voice trembled as she described this painful decision. Her emotions were still raw. It was a courageous move—to leave her job—but in taking a stand, she demonstrated just how damaging poor leadership can be to an organization. Unfortunately, Marian felt she had no choice but to quit.
I believe that a generation ago a company could get by with bad leadership. Most workplaces were dominated by Baby Boomers, who were more likely to put up with bad and ineffective leaders. As difficult as it is to believe, tolerance for bad leadership was considered a badge of honor for them.
The business world is much different today. People expect more from leaders. They also demand much more accountability from them. The workforce is now also populated with a new generation of employees who, in general, won't put up with bad or mediocre leaders like the Boomers did. Like Marian, they'll just leave. The employees who choose to stay will simply become disengaged. Sure, they will show up at work, but they will do so with little real commitment.
I talk to leaders every day who recognize that the world has changed for them. Some feel they are not keeping up. Others believe there is something fundamentally wrong with how we have come to think about leadership. They know their organizations are struggling just to stay abreast of a changing world, and they know that in their desperation they're settling. When everything on your to-do list is urgent, things like inspiration and motivation seem like luxuries. You feel like the leadership parts of your role are just that: parts, something separate that you do from the corner of your desk.
But leadership is not a luxury. You can't settle or accept mediocrity in yourself or you risk becoming a lame leader. Your organization needs great leaders at all levels, now more than ever. You need to be the best leader you can possibly be.
The reason is clear—the world is more challenging and demanding. As a leader, you are now under more pressure than ever before. Let's look at a few of the big ones:
The Pressure to Differentiate:
Whether it's a private-sector company or a public-sector organization, every enterprise is trying to differentiate itself. All organizations have competitors, whether for market share or government funding, and that competition is fierce. Whatever competitive advantage you thought you had seems to have a shorter and shorter shelf life as rivals copy it almost overnight. You face unrelenting pressure to innovate and look for ways to stand out from the crowd.
The Pressure to Execute Strategy:
You face tremendous pressure to execute strategy. If you've been a leader for a while, you know how hard this can be. Success is hard to come by for many organizations. Research repeatedly shows that only 10 to 30 percent of organizations ever succeed at executing their strategy. I believe the reason is that many organizations don't fully appreciate the deep connection between strategy and leadership. It's leaders who create the strategy, and they need to work together to align the organization. Leaders need to ensure that everyone from the front line to the senior team understands the plan. If leaders fail to live up to this responsibility, there will be gaps in strategy execution.
The Pressure to Lead Transformational Change:
A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group called “A Leader's Guide to “Always-On” Transformation,”
states that leaders today often feel like they are running on a steep treadmill with the speed and incline set on their maximum levels. This idea of “always-on” transformation really captures what I hear from leaders I work with. They are working through some kind of complex transformation. Then something else comes along that now requires them to drive even more change. As one leader explained to me, “We aren't just leading one large transformation project; it feels like we are doing ten all at once.”
The Pressure to Create Enduring Value:
You are also under continuous pressure to deal with ever-increasing expectations from customers, boards, and shareholders. The scrutiny you are under is intense. Customers want value and will go wherever they must to get it. Their loyalty is fleeting. Boards and shareholders want a short-term increase in share price
long-term enterprise value—not an easy tension to manage for senior leaders.
The Pressure to Build Future Talent:
You also cannot focus solely on the present. You are being called upon to build the next generation of leaders. The challenge you face is that after years of shedding costs and people, organizations are now realizing there are significant gaps in their leadership pipelines and succession plans. It seems like everyone finally understands that leadership does matter. The problem is that we have a new generation of employees who aren't necessarily that keen on taking leadership roles. We have demographic trends working against us. Many of these younger employees want to work with leaders they admire and who create meaningful work opportunities.
If you are like the leaders I work with every day, you personally feel the impact of all these pressures. You feel the increased ambiguity of your business environment. You can feel the scrutiny you are under. You understand the high level of accountability you have for the success of your organization. You are keenly aware of the impact you need to have on customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
Take a moment and reflect on these five pressures. How are they affecting you in your leadership role?
Taking all of these pressures together, it's obvious that old models of leadership just won't cut it anymore. It's time to redefine leadership for the new world we're living in. What worked in the past isn't going to work in the future. All of us need to start demanding more from ourselves as leaders. What has become clear through all my client work is that expectations for all leaders are increasing—more is expected of each of us in leadership roles.
For example, since launching the first edition of this book back in 2013, my team and I have been running one-day Leadership Contract learning programs with thousands of leaders around the world.
We begin a session with a simple exercise—participants must answer the following question: What does it really mean to be a leader today? Now here's the catch. They must answer the question using only one word.
Here are the most common words that are shared: leaders today must be inspirational, trustworthy, courageous, agile, humble, transparent, decisive, collaborative, resilient, risk-takers, strategic, visionary, possess integrity, proactive, team players, confident, and accountable.
As these words are shared, the facilitator captures them on a flip chart. The participants are then encouraged to add to the list throughout the day as new ideas emerge. By the end of the day, the list that started with fifteen or twenty words expands to fifty, sixty, and at times even seventy words or more. This long list of words answers the question: What does it means to be a leader today?
When I have looked at those lists, I'm always surprised by a few trends. First, it's remarkable how consistent the words are globally. It doesn't seem to matter where in the world the program is delivered; we have a common way of thinking about what it means to be a leader today. Second, by the sheer volume of words generated, it's clear that we have very high expectations of leaders. Being a leader isn't easy. It is an extremely challenging role. The expectations are very high. Third, these expectations are for all leaders, regardless of their level in an organization. They aren't just for CEOs or executives. In fact, we recently surveyed hiring managers from around the world to quantify and rank their expectations across 21 different competencies for three levels of management: front-line, mid-management, and senior executives. The results showed that while senior leaders still carry the greatest expectations of all, leaders at other levels of an organization's hierarchy are not absolved of the responsibility of being good at their jobs—sometimes they are expected to be just as good as the most senior executives. We asked the question: “How important is each of these core leadership competencies when assessing managers?” Remarkably, the survey results showed that expectations around leadership competencies were incredibly consistent from the front line to the senior levels of an organization.
Now when I look at those lists and reflect on those great expectations, I often wonder: Can any one person be and do all those things consistently well, every day of the week, while they are leading?
At the end of the day, this is what you have to understand when you are in a leadership role, or want to move into one: The expectations are extremely high and you must commit to living up to them as a leader.
Based on my research over the years with organizations, I've seen this expanding set of expectations. We need our leaders to do more. To be more. As a leader, you will need to take accountability to:
Align and engage.
You need to understand your company's strategy and your role in executing it. You must then align and engage employees so they can effectively deploy the strategy in a way that ultimately delivers value to customers, shareholders, and society.
Take an enterprise-wide perspective.
You must define success at the company level. This means you will need to collaborate across silos and do what's right for customers and the entire organization. All leaders in your organization need to share this
In our interconnected and interdependent world, relationships matter more than ever. You have to invest time in getting to know internal and external stakeholders. You must also build relationships with a foundation of trust and transparency.
Today's increasingly complicated business environment creates a lot of challenging situations and risk. Many companies are attempting to transform. Your role as a leader is to create focus and help employees deal with ambiguity and the stress it brings, especially in a time of disruption.
Develop other leaders.
You must leave a legacy of strong leadership within your organization that goes beyond yourself. It's about making your leaders stronger so that they can make your organization stronger.
Model the values.
You cannot be focused exclusively on your own personal agenda or team goals. The organization's vision, values, and goals trump ego and self-interest. This means balancing strong self-confidence with humility. You need to set the bar high for yourself as a leader because mediocrity in leadership isn't acceptable anymore. It never was.
All leaders today are being called upon to redefine how they lead. This process starts with you, and it starts now. Are you ready?
Let's begin with an analogy. You know that experience you have when you're online planning to buy a product or a service? At some point in the transaction, an online contract appears. To complete the purchase, you have to click that Agree button. Almost everything you do online today requires you to click an Agree button, and when you do, you also know you are agreeing to pages of tiny single-spaced text outlining a set of complicated terms and conditions. You go ahead and click Agree. But do you actually read those terms and conditions? If you are like most people, you don't. You simply click away without really thinking about it.
Studies show that only 7 percent of people ever read those terms and conditions of online contracts.2 Yet with that simple click, you are agreeing to quite a lot. You have some sense that you have just agreed to a contract, but you don't know what it entails. You don't understand the fine print.
I believe something similar is happening in leadership today. A lot of leaders have clicked Agree to take on a leadership role without thinking through the terms that come with what I call the leadership contract.
You may have clicked Agree for a valid reason—to get the promotion, the higher salary, the perks, the power, or the opportunity to have a real impact—but if you don't fully appreciate what you have signed up for, you won't be effective in leading through the pressures of today's business environment.
Redefining leadership for the future begins with recognizing that there is in fact a leadership contract. It's not a legal or formal contract that you sign. It's a personal one. It represents the commitment you must personally make to be an accountable leader. It's a deep commitment to redefine how you lead and become the leader for the future. And when you sign the leadership contract, you are agreeing to a set of terms that you must live up to.
Here they are. Here's the fine print to becoming a truly accountable leader.
Every leader's story begins with a decision. I have heard lots of people describe a moment in their career when they made the conscious decision to be a leader, whether it was their first promotion or the day they stepped into the executive suite. These moments demand that we reflect on why we want to lead, whether we are ready for a new role, and how committed we are to becoming great leaders. This term of the leadership contract demands that you make the personal commitment to be the best leader you can be.
Once you decide to lead, you quickly learn you are going to be held to a higher standard of behavior. You also realize that you have obligations that go beyond yourself. It's not just about what is best for your career anymore. You are obligated to your customers and employees, your organization, and the communities in which you do business. This term of the leadership contract demands that you step up to your accountabilities and live up to your obligations as a leader.
Leadership is hard, and it's getting harder. We have to stop pretending that it is easy or that some quick-fix idea is going to make things better. You need to develop the resilience and determination to tackle the hard work of leadership. You need personal resolve and tenacity to rise above the daily pressures and lead your organization into the future. This term of the leadership contract demands that you get tough and do the hard work that you must do as a leader.
In our complex world, no one leader will have all the answers. The idea of the lone hero who can save us all was yesterday's model of leadership. Today, we need to build a strong community of leaders. Imagine if you and your colleagues were all fully committed to being great leaders and focused on supporting one another to be better—this would set your organization apart. This term of the leadership contract demands that you connect with others to create a strong community of leaders in your organization—a community where there is deep trust and support, where you know everyone has your back, and where all leaders share the collective aspiration to be truly accountable leaders.
In January of 1990, I left a stable and secure job with a public-sector organization to start my own consulting business. I was young and naïve, but full of optimism and enthusiasm.
Most of my initial work came from individuals who wanted career advice. They were trying to navigate their lives in turbulent times. The economy was struggling. Uncertainty was high.
What I quickly found was that many of my individual clients brought me into their organizations. They wanted me to help their employees deal with change. I then found much of that work focused on helping leaders develop the skills they needed to lead change at a personal, team, and organizational level.
As I reflect back on that period of time, it is fascinating how much the word “change” was part of the lexicon of companies and individuals. And yet, I can tell you that change was nothing compared to what companies are facing today.
There is something more fundamental going on in our economies and our workplaces. Whether it's fueled by all things digital, fundamental shifts in how we will work, or new competitors who are turning industries upside down, I can tell you that today's change isn't like what we saw in the 1990s. It's something more profound. Disruption is everywhere.
And how are companies responding?
Well, the ones who are quick and agile have already positioned themselves for success. Take the example of Cisco. In a recent interview conducted for McKinsey Insights, John Chambers, the chairman of the company, eloquently described what companies are facing today, but also talked about how Cisco has responded. He described the world in which leaders lead today as one of “brutal disruption,” where many companies will not even exist in ten to fifteen years.
He also argued in the interview that most companies will need to reinvent themselves. They will need to be fully digital in five years. And here's the real point—he believes most will fail.
Why? Because leading today is very different than leading was yesterday. Leaders need new skills that allow them to work more horizontally, across functions and departments. Cisco began its transformation by focusing on leaders with those crucial skills. What has been the impact of those organizational changes? In the McKinsey interview, Chambers shared that they changed 40 percent of their top leaders over the last couple of years. As he reflected on this, he said, “This isn't something I'm proud of, but it's something we had to do so we could disrupt, rather than be disrupted.”
I've seen more and more companies pursuing radical change like this, just since publishing the second edition of this book. Many of my clients now need my company's help and the expertise of my colleagues to successful transform their organizations. Like Cisco, these organizations understand that successfully transforming your company starts by transforming your leaders.
This is why I was driven to write the third edition of The Leadership Contract. Leaders and organizations around the world have found the ideas in this book extremely relevant and important as they begin to transform themselves.
And this is where things get personal for each one of us in a leadership role. Chances are, your organization is going through a transformation. Are you going to help lead that transformation, or will you be a casualty of it?
The ideas in this book will help you understand how to step up and be truly accountable to help your organization thrive in a time of change and disruption.
I believe leading an organization is one of the greatest honors and challenges that any individual can assume. But it's not a job for everyone. And there is only one way to ensure that you have what it takes to be a truly accountable leader—you have to make a conscious decision to lead, with full awareness of what that means.
So this book is going to ask a lot of you. It has to because leadership matters more than ever. Your organization needs you to be the best leader you can be, especially if your organization is transforming itself.
There may be times when you feel overwhelmed by the ideas in this book. You may feel they are completely unrealistic. But you'll also realize something else—these ideas are ones you've already thought about. Deep down, you know that we all must redefine how we are leading today. We all have to. It's not just you. We all need to be more accountable as leaders.
You will also have to think hard about whether you are ready to commit to accepting the four terms of the leadership contract and becoming a great leader, the kind of leader your company needs you to be. You can't be a good or average leader any longer. You can't make leadership just a part of your job, something you focus on only when you have a few minutes of spare time. You must make leadership your whole job. It's time to aspire to more. It's time for you to be a great leader. But this is going to take some serious work on your part.
To help you through this, you will find a section at the end of each chapter called “The Gut Check for Leaders.” Inspired by my weekly “Leadership Gut Check” blogs, I'll ask you a series of reflective questions based on the ideas in each chapter. They will be tough questions that I believe all of us in leadership roles need to think about. I believe it is critical to reflect on what it means to be a leader today and how you can transform yourself to be a truly accountable one. I encourage you to pause when you get to this section and think about your answers to the gut check questions.
If you want to take your leadership even further, then consider getting The Leadership Contract Field Guide (Wiley, 2018). It is full of practical activities to help you apply the leadership contract at a personal and organizational level.
Now if you're not ready to challenge yourself and hold yourself to account, you might want to put this book back on the shelf for a while. But if you believe, as I do, that we desperately need great and accountable leadership in the world today, then read on. If the ideas in this book speak to you, I hope you'll join others who share your passion at www.theleadershipcontract.com.
J. Hemerling, D. Dosik, and Rizvi Shaheer, A Leader's Guide to “Always-On” Transformation, The Boston Consulting Group, 2015.
Studies consistently show that the vast majority of us routinely click Agree or Accept buttons without reading the terms and conditions of online contracts: Rebecca Smithers, “Terms and Conditions: Not Reading the Small Print Can Mean Big Problems,”
, May 11,
Great leaders aren't born; they are made—made and shaped by their experiences. Gandhi's mother was very religious and influenced by Jainism, a religion founded on the idea of nonviolence toward all creatures. A village schoolteacher refused to teach a young Susan B. Anthony long division because she was a girl. Margaret Thatcher gained experience weathering criticism when, as education minister in the early 1970s, budget cuts earned her the nickname “milk snatcher.” When Richard Branson was about seven years old, his mother, Eve, left him three miles away from his home on the way back from school so he would be forced to figure out how to get home on his own. She did it to help him overcome his crippling shyness. It took him ten hours, but he did it; and it helped him become the person and the leader he is today.
Like Gandhi, Anthony, Thatcher, and Branson, every leader has a story. But most leaders aren't fully aware of how their experiences have shaped them to be the leaders they are now. I believe it's crucial for leaders to take time to think about their history and their own personal leadership stories.
Take a moment to think of the key experiences that have shaped you as a leader. I hope some stories are already coming to mind for you. Some will be stories of peak experiences when you had a significant impact—when you were at your best. Others will be more negative—moments when you struggled and your personal resolve was tested. Reflecting on all of these moments of leadership will give you a clearer vision of who you are as a leader and why you lead the way you do.
I have seen it hundreds of times in my work. In leadership development programs, my team and I take people through an exercise that helps them build a Personal Leadership Timeline: a list of the key experiences, both positive and negative, they believe have shaped them as leaders. These stories can come from childhood, school, work, or life in a community. This kind of personal reflection is easier for some people than for others, but everyone I have worked with has come away from this exercise with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and commitment for his or her leadership role.
My own leadership story is based on several key experiences. I'm going to share my story with you because it's important for you to understand where the ideas in this book come from and because I hope it will help you reflect on your own personal leadership story.
Most leaders don't ever have to ask themselves this question. I did very early in my career, soon after I started my first full-time job.
Do you remember how you felt when you first started your working life? If you were like me, you wanted to change the world, to really show the value you could bring to an organization. I got a job as a caseworker with a large public-sector organization that helped some of the neediest people in society, providing financial support and services to help people get back to school or find a job.
Most of my colleagues were nice people. They were very dedicated to their clients. But they weren't that dedicated to the organization. Most showed up at 8:30 AM and left at 4:30 PM sharp every single day. Maybe they had been turned off by the bland working environment. Everything in the office was beige—the walls, the floors, even the desks and chairs. Even the people seemed beige—or at least bland.
The supervisors and managers were decent individuals, too, but they weren't very inspiring. They did what they were told. They respected the hierarchy and their place in it. Senior management seemed distant. Few employees had direct access to them, and as far as I could tell, they didn't have much impact on the organization.
A month after I started, I was already wondering whether this was really the place for me.
I had done what I was supposed to do. I went to college, got good grades, and landed a solid full-time job. All I had to do now was be loyal, and the organization would take care of me until I retired. This was the old-fashioned concept known as job security. But I was soon realizing it wasn't enough to build a career on. I wanted not just to have an impact on my clients' lives but also to make a difference to the organization as a whole. This was the moment I learned how much the culture of an organization can undermine an employee's sense of engagement.
Things improved a little when I started a new role working as a career counselor. This role was better aligned with my own interests, not just in giving a handout as a caseworker but also in giving a hand up. I actually started to feel like I was running a new start-up within a large organization. I soon learned I had a strong entrepreneurial side. I was a builder—not a maintainer.
My work captured the attention of a senior manager named Zinta. She was a quiet and reserved person whom I had only known from a distance. She started coming by my office to talk about my work and the new programs I was building. In those discussions, I told her some of my ideas for improving our work environment. One day, she said, “We need someone like you in management. You're a big-picture thinker. You have a strategic mind and you know how to get things done. This would really help our management team.”
Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before. That conversation made me think about myself differently. I began reading books on management. I wanted to learn more about what Zinta saw in me.
A few weeks later, Zinta dropped by my office again. This time she shared an idea she had. She suspected that I wanted to have a greater impact on the organization, and I agreed. She then told me she was setting up a committee to find ways to make our work environment more positive. She asked whether I would be interested in helping her out, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Much to my surprise, as the work of our committee began to take effect, things actually started to improve. Employees became more enthusiastic. The organization was starting to feel more positive. Everyone was more engaged. You could feel the changes starting to happen in that place. While the walls, floors, and desks were still all beige, the workplace had more life and vitality. This was the moment I learned that the culture of an organization could be changed for the better, and that one person could make a difference.
Things were going pretty well for me. My job was fulfilling. The work environment was more positive and energizing. I was feeling like I was having a real impact. Then disaster struck. Zinta was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she had to leave immediately to start treatment.
She was gone for several months. As soon as she left, the changes we worked so hard to create began to slip away. Upper management disbanded the committee Zinta had started. They told those of us on Zinta's committee to focus on doing our own jobs and leave the organizational stuff to them. Those of us who worked with Zinta started to be passed up for promotions. I was told I didn't have what it took to be a manager. My engagement eroded even further. I was frustrated, but even more than that, I was confused. I couldn't understand why upper management wouldn't want us to create a better work environment. Plus, I was getting some seriously mixed messages about my future with the organization.
As the weeks continued to pass, I heard that things weren't looking good for Zinta, so I decided to visit her at home. As I approached her porch, I could see her waiting for me behind the screen door. I immediately saw that the disease was getting the best of her. My heart sank.
I had brought her a fruit basket and she thanked me. She offered me some tea. We sat down and started talking about her treatments. She seemed confident in her ability to fight her disease, but she quickly changed the subject. She wanted to know how I was doing. At first, I kept things superficial; after all, I was there to talk about her. But she kept pressing, so I opened up and shared my experiences, my frustration, and my confusion with my role.
Then she started talking. She told story after story of her experiences as a manager. She described at length the petty office politics, the discouraging atmosphere, and the lack of genuine trust among her fellow managers. She described her regular battles with upper management who resisted her every effort to make the organization better. I could feel her anguish. Then she said something that took me by surprise. She said, “You know, Vince, I've always taken care of my health. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, and I have no history of lung cancer in my family. I believe the disease I'm fighting today is a direct result of all the stress I have experienced being a manager in this organization.”
I was stunned. As I left Zinta's house, I grieved for her. I felt angry about why she had to endure what she did. As the days passed, I couldn't get Zinta's words out of my mind. I started to wonder what they meant to me and whether I would ever be prepared to pay the price she had paid.
Two weeks after my visit, I received an envelope in the mail from Zinta. When I opened it, I found a card thanking me for the visit and the fruit basket. There was also a letter folded inside, and here's what it said:
I understand you may have received a mixed message recently regarding your objectives. Success is a funny thing. Like physics, every action has a positive and negative reaction. On one hand, success has the effect of giving one a sense of achievement, pride in the accomplishment, affirmation of skills, and promotes a desire to expand to the next horizon.
The other side is the reaction from others. Some will rejoice in your achievements. Others, perhaps because of their own insecurities, will feel threatened. These people will inadvertently or purposefully make moves to discourage you, undercut the significance of your success, or redirect you to paths that are less threatening to them. Some people are jealous of others' success. (Why does he get all the “breaks”?) Little do they realize that opportunities exist for everyone.
The choice remains yours. Which of the above will influence you? I encourage you to always be the best you can be and take advantage of opportunities as you find them. You have everything to gain.
Hope this helps,
When I think about what it means to be a leader, I think about Zinta and her letter. In the midst of her struggle to survive, she took the time to reach out to a young colleague who needed some encouragement.
Zinta died two weeks after I received this letter, and the organization died along with her. That was the moment I learned that although one leader can make a difference, one leader can't sustain culture change on his or her own. Weeks and months after, I reflected on Zinta and her experience. I had many questions. Was her cancer really a result of the stress she endured in that organization? I don't know for sure. But she believed it was, so strongly that the stress must have had some negative effect on her health.
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