Why Leadership is Difficult & Why Leaders are Failing

Why Leadership is Difficult & Why Leaders are Failing

Roles of Leadership

  • In spite of technology, communication is regressing
  • Diseconomies of scale place extraordinary burdens on the organization and front-line managers
  • Leaders are not present (locked behind a door and captive to email)
  • Little or no investments in training and development, cannot afford it, don’t support it, don’t know what to do.
  • No handbook (like parenting) (in spite of all the effort, there is still no certification or accreditation in management or leadership)
  • Few useful feedback mechanisms (at best, although some progress is being made at Google and GE, among others)
  • Insufficient numbers of bona fide and qualified role models
  • Little or no supervision and mentoring
  • A weakened HR function; need power like a Chief Quality Officer…break the glass and pull the handle
  • Weak boards focusing on the wrong things
  • No transparency. So many examples but one notable one:

“The Talent Strategy Group surveyed 200 companies
in 2014 and found that 73% of companies have
decided that lying to their employees about their
potential to advance is the right choice.” Leadership
BS by Jeff Pfeffer, page 123

  • Positional authority that destroys the notion of


Going Forward, What Will We Need?

  • Audacious and tenacious leadership. What do we work for? IMPACT
  • Boldness
  • Coalition building: matrixed organizations and
  • Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck)
  • Customer intimacy and centricity: products and
    services; accepted and relevant messages or they will
    get it somewhere else
  • Our economy is based on connections: need
    coordination, trust, and permission…connections are
    an asset
  • What impact will automation have on your

Get Back to Basics:

  • Leaders light the fire within, not the fire beneath
  • Everything is in a constant state of change, businesses have to change
    and leaders have to change!
  • Power and authority will increasingly be given to the employees
    (and/or teams), not the managers
  • New management skills will be needed as tasks are becoming
    exceedingly complex
  • How do you manage the autonomous souls (cell phones) into
    collaborative souls?
  • Transparency (Google and EPIC)
  • Stand Up…Speak Up…Stand Out…Walk Around…Be Visible…Be
    Present…Disconnect and Re-connect
  • Train, Mentor, Teach, Coach, Advise
  • Do What is Right



Leadership Lessons from Warren Bennis

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 6.19.03 PM

From my perspective, one of the truly great modern writers about leadership is Warren Bennis.  Warren Bennis (March 8, 1925 – July 31, 2014) was an American scholar, organizational consultant, and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies. Bennis was University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

Excerpted from Wikipedia;

“His work at MIT in the 1960s on group behavior foreshadowed — and helped bring about — today’s headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, private and public,” management expert Tom Peters wrote in 1993 in the foreword to Bennis’ An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change.

“Management expert James O’Toole observed that Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that humanistic, democratic-style leaders are better suited to dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the leadership environment.

“The Wall Street Journal named him as one of the top ten most sought speakers on management in 1993; Forbes magazine referred to him as the “dean of leadership gurus” in 1996. The Financial Times referred to him in 2000 as “the professor who established leadership as a respectable academic field.” In August 2007, Business Week ranked him as one of the top ten thought leaders in business.

“His work On Becoming a Leader, originally published in 1989, lays the foundation that a leader must be authentic, i.e. the author of one’s own creation; a combination of experience, self-knowledge, and personal ethics. This need for an effective leader to remain true to their self-invention would be further expanded upon by others into what has become known as the Authentic Leadership approach.”

And that is the focus of my note this week, reflections from perhaps what is my favorite book on leadership, Warren’s “On Becoming a Leader” which I first read about a year after it came out for publication in 1989.  Since that time, I have read this book several other times over the past 25 years.

Some of the notable quotes from this book:

“Leadership is synonymous with becoming yourself.  It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.”

“The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision.”

“The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion.”

“The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity.”

“Two more basic ingredients of leadership are curiosity and daring.”

“Leadership courses can only teach skills.  They cannot teach character or vision…”

“What is true for leaders is, for better or worse, true for each of us:  we are our own raw material.”

“To become a leader, then you must know yourself, become the maker of your own life, don’t let ambition get in the way of your intellectual growth”

There are lots of other gems in this book….but I will close with one more:

“So the point is not to become a leader.  The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all of your skills, gifts, and energies – in order to make your vision manifest.  You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and enjoy the process of becoming.”

In August of 2011, I had the great pleasure of spending several hours with Warren at his home in Santa Monica, California.


Maintain Integrity


Integrity is the currency of business. It takes a lifetime to develop and can be lost in a
nanosecond. Once it’s gone… it’s gone. Nobody can take integrity away from you. Only you can lose it or give it away. Don’t ever do anything that puts you in a situation where you feel compromised— just don’t do it.



Coach John Robinson is a former American football player and coach best known for his two stints as head coach of the University of Southern California (USC) football team (1976–1982, 1993–1997) and for his tenure as head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams (1983–1991). Robinson’s USC teams won four Rose Bowls and captured a share of the national championship in the 1978 season. Robinson is one of the few college football head coaches to have non-consecutive tenure at the same school. In 2009, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He is a Board Member for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, and is awarded annually to college football’s Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year.

Coach Robinson has become a good friend.  I had the pleasure of getting to know him almost 10 years ago when I asked him to present at a Molnlycke Health Care national sales meeting.  Coach Robinson was the head football coach when I was at USC. So, while I knew of him, I had not met him before he came to speak to us at Molnlycke.

Coach had a number of key points about coaching and leadership that he made at the national sales meeting:

  • Understand what (as a team) we do well.
  • Teams often get distracted from their core when times are good.
  • Great teams know their strengths and stick with them….the 49ers were a great passing team under Coach Bill Walsh.
  • The Rams under Coach Robinson were primarily a running team.  (The same is true about the USC Trojans during his tenure.)
  • The Rams eventually lost focus and began to become a passing team…in the end, they were mediocre at both passing and running.
  • Great organizations know who they are and they tell people who they are (they live their mission and values).
  • Focus on the positive in all you do…remember the sales call where you really made it….not the ones where you failed…..the same is true about sports, focus on the positives.
  • There is no substitute for practice:  Kobe Bryant uses a number of drills to stay at the top of his game.


My younger son, Matt, and I were able to attend Coach Robinson’s 80 birthday celebration in Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 6.58.17 PM



Leadership Lessons from Coach Robinson

What Do Authentic & Grounded Leaders Want?

leadership word cloud

Several years ago, when I was reading Sheryl Sanberg’s book, “Lean In”, I saw a reference to one of Sheryl’s favorite books, “Might Be Our Powers” by Leymah Gwobee. I picked up that book right after I finished “Lean In”. It is a powerful story of Leymah’s work as a peace activist responsible for leading a women’s peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Her efforts to end the war, along with her collaborator Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped usher in a period of peace and enabled a free election in 2005 that Sirleaf won. She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Leymah’s work and determination are an amazing and unfortunately brutal story of an
important peace movement; she is a strong person who was willing to always go way beyond what most of us could imagine. One of the quotes that are attributed to Leymah is:

“The one thing I have never been afraid of is standing before important people and speaking my mind. I represent women who may never have the opportunity to go to the UN or meet with a president. I’m never afraid to speak truth to power.”

Although the context was diametrically opposed to what we face every day in our
work/business lives, the message still holds for us…we have to be willing and free to speak our minds and to say what is right. At the end of the day, most authentic and grounded leaders want the truth, not something short of that.



True Wisdom is Knowing What You Do Not Know

WISDOM -   3D stock image of Red text on white background

“True Wisdom is Knowing What You Do Not Know.” – Confucius

Over the years, I have been most fortunate to have worked with many great leaders and managers and well as consulted with some great companies. I have seen that great leaders know what they do not know. It is one of the key ingredients to managerial success. Credibility and respect come to those who admit what they do not know. More than ever, in today’s complex information-rich environment, specialization is more important in a number of areas so it simply is not possible to have great depth and breadth. It is, as we know, the smart leader who surrounds himself or herself with people more talented than he or she; however, this necessitates an understanding and appreciation of personal weakness and gaps that need to be compensated and reinforced. The good news is that with a variety of analytical tools and assessments such as 360-degree reviews, there is no excuse for not understanding what you do not know.


Always Compete

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 6.55.07 PM

I have had the great pleasure of meeting Pete Carroll on a few occasions and watching him both from the stands as well as the field during football games at the University of Southern California (USC).  My wife, Nancy, and I were on the team plane heading to South Bend one year when we hit rough weather right before the landing in South Bend. Here is a note of coverage from USA Today:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The plane carrying USC’s football team to South Bend plummeted during a severe thunderstorm, forcing the pilot to abort his first landing attempt.

There were about 125 people, including 82 players, on the chartered flight Thursday night for the cross-country trip for Saturday’s game.

“That was terrifying,” fullback Stanley Havili told the Los Angeles Times. “I thought I was going to die.”

Some passengers were thrown from their seats by turbulence as lightning crackled around the storm-tossed plane, USC sports information director Tim Tessalone told The Associated Press on Friday. Safety Taylor Mays was screaming.

“It was a little bit of a roller coaster drop there for a minute,” Tessalone said. “We had some people fly out of some seats. Everybody is fine, but it was a frightening little dip there.”

The pilot aborted the approach and circled around the storm before landing without incident about 20 minutes later to the relief of the shaken team and the spouses of some staff members also on the flight, Tessalone said.

Having watched a number of USC coaches over the years from the stands (John McKay, John Robinson, Ted Tollner, Larry Smith, Paul Hackett, Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, and Ed Orgeron), I have seen some great coaches in action.  The things that Pete Carroll did as coach that I found most inspiring were that he was always “In” the game; he paid very close attention. His enthusiasm and positive attitude were infectious and it was always great to see how he greeted a player at the sideline once the player had done something really great on the field.  Pete lives the adage, praise in public.

As many of you know, Pete has written a book, “Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion”.  One of the great sayings from Pete is, “Always Compete”. Pete dedicates a short chapter to the topic and here is the opening paragraph:

“Lots of people talk about competition, especially those who seek to achieve high performance no matter what the profession.  In my experience, however, the real essence of competing is often misunderstood. Competition to me is not about beating your competition.  It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive advantage in everything you do.”

Early in the book Coach Carroll talks about the influence on him of the work of Abraham Maslow.  Pete writes:

“What I learned from Maslow’s insights challenged me to start asking:  What if my job as coach isn’t so much to force or coerce performance as it is to create situations where players develop the confidence to set their talents free and pursue their potential to its full extent?  What if my job as coach is really to prove to these kids how good they already are, how good they could possibly become, and that they are truly capable of high level performance?”

At my alma mater, USC, Coach Carroll introduced the three rules:

Rule 1: Always Protect the Team, Rule 2: No Whining, No Complaining and No Excuses, And Rule 3: Be Early.”






Have I Gotten Everything I Can Get Out of My Current Role?

Leadership Development

Early in my career with Abbott Laboratories (1990/1991), I met with the head of Human
Resources for the Hospital Products Division (HPD), which is now known as Hospira (Pfizer), to discuss how to advance at Abbott.  Tim Ring was the head of H.R. at the time and among other things he gave me the book, “The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job.” That book changed my life and taught me the true lessons of experience….seek out diverse, challenging and turn around (risky) situations, opportunities and experiences.

Linda McCauley, a good friend and the current Dean of the Nursing School at Emory University once said in a meeting: “You cannot fast track experience and exposure.”

In many instances, the question one should be asking is not where and how do I get promoted from where I am today but rather what experiences do I have and what experiences do I lack and how can I get those experiences so one day I will be ready to do more. And, one should also ask, have I gotten everything I can get out of my current role?
By the way, Tim Ring went on to be the General Manager of an international operation at
Abbott which led him to an international position with C.R. Bard…..where he was CEO there for some 14 years.