#1 Lesson for Leaders From the Academy Awards

It will undoubtedly be Hollywood’s most famous unscripted moment ever. In front of a worldwide audience of close to 33 million people, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and presented the award for Best Picture to “La La Land” at the Academy Awards.

Except that movie wasn’t actually the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award, as we all now know. A partner with PricewaterhouseCooper had handed the stars the wrong envelope, a mistake that will follow him the rest of his life.

academy-awards

Jordan Horowitz demonstrating leadership when he stepped up to the microphone to correct the mistake at the Academy Awards.

In the midst of emotional acceptance speeches, producer of “La La Land” Jordan Horowitz learned of the mistake. He immediately stepped right up to the microphone and said, “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.” He stayed on stage during the resulting chaos and graciously said, “I’m gonna be really proud to hand this to my friends from ‘Moonlight.’”

The young producer is being heralded for his grace under pressure. He did what a good leader does under a stressful situation: he took charge and handled the problem.

In TV interviews afterwards, Jordan said, “My heart was a little broken, but it’s one of those things that just gets thrown at you. You can choose to lean into it or break away from it.”

In my career in the turnaround industry, I often deal with leaders in a crisis situation. Things do get thrown at them. They lost their number 2, their biggest customer went to a competitor, they can’t make their loan payments. Whatever it is, a business is going to face tough times.

I’ve seen a full range of responses from leaders in these situations. They may choose to be dishonest with their lenders, they may put their heads in the sand or they may continue blindly down the same path that put them in that position, hoping for a miracle.

The first step these leaders have to take is to face reality. They have to take a good luck at what the situation is so they can deal with it. Then a good leader has to take charge.

As Jordan said, “It happened really fast. Listen, I’m a producer. I gather things together and I change directions and I march things forward.”

In a nutshell, that’s what happens with CEOs. They gather the information they need, make decisions and march forward. Luckily, most leaders don’t have to do so on live TV in front of tens of millions of people.

Another company trying to march things forward right now is PricewaterhouseCooper, the second largest accounting firm in the world. The New York City-based company has overseen the Oscars balloting and presentation for 83 years, an association it takes great pride in and leverages with new and existing clients.

Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner, was in the audience at the Academy Awards when the incident happened – that moment when two members of his firm came out of the wings and his business would soon move into the spotlight.

“I knew something was up,” he said in an article in the New York Times discussing the moment when he saw the two PwC employees interrupting the best picture acceptance speeches. “It’s not their job to come out on stage.”

The reviews for PwC’s performance that night came in and they were not good. Many people had comments along the lines of “You had one job.” Les Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, said “If they were my accountant, I would fire them.”

PwC apologized for the error and took full responsibility. Monday night, 24 hours after the mistake, PwC issued a statement that read in part, “For the past 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the Academy.”

(Soon after, the firm placed the blame on partner Brian Cullinan, U.S. board chairman and managing partner for PwC’s Southern California practice. I was surprised that they singled out one of their employees so quickly, which shows a lack of support for a partner of their firm.)

What happens to Brian’s career, PwC’s reputation and whether they are around for year 84 of the Oscars remains to be seen.  Both leaders stepped forward to take charge. But while Jordan handled the crisis perfectly, Tim took responsibility for the mistake, but in doing so threw his partner under the bus – which is not the way to handle a crisis.

Funny, But True: Lipstick, Vacations and The Pope

In November 2015 Tesla lowered its delivery goal from 35,000 cars to 33,000 cars. While it did meet production goals for the quarter, they weren’t able to deliver all the cars to buyers. In a letter to shareholders, one of the excuses the car company gave included that “customers were on vacation.” I guess they had forgotten to call Tesla to put a vacation stop on their car, right after calling the newspaper.

Macy’s once missed its fourth-quarter earnings, and claimed it was due to competition from off-price stores. According to CFO Karen Hoguet, “We did some consumer research, and the customer said she likes going to the off-price retailers because she doesn’t have to put lipstick on.”

I had not known that women divided the world into two categories: places where lipstick is needed, and places where it is not.

When the restaurant chain Cosi’s stock fell in 2015, they had an answer. It was the pope’s fault.

whats-your-excuse“Business interruptions resulting from the pope’s visit on Sept. 22–26, 2015, negatively impacted 30 percent of our company-owned restaurants,” the company said in a release. It seems when Pope Francis visited DC, Philadelphia and New York, his followers stayed away from purchasing items from their restaurants. I would have advised them to follow the lead of a restaurant in DC. Just prior to the pope’s visit, Rumors created a sandwich called “The Pope’s Favorite Sandwich.” Or Cosi’s could have created “The Pope’s Daily Bread.”

Leaders can always find excuses when things are not going well with their companies. Admitting mistakes or acknowledging that sales goals or quarterly earnings were not met can be seen as something shameful, so leaders try to hide the facts. Or get creative in explaining what happened.

The same thing goes when criminals are caught, which actually is shameful. In a previous blog, “Excuses for Fraud: Now We’ve Heard It All,” I wrote about some of these folks who got caught and tried to explain their actions.

One of my favorites was the evil twin excuse, most likely from a guy who had watched too many soap operas. A man from Glasgow was accused of identity and benefit fraud. He claimed the authorities were really looking for his evil twin brother, who also had children born on the same days with the same names as his listed on his passport. Talk about coincidence!

Read more outlandish excuses in the blog, including the guy who gave himself the raise he thought was denied – stealing exactly that amount of money every month. For 20 years.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

3 Ways to Discover Your Super Powers and Your Kryptonite

 

If leaders want to succeed they need to be self aware, a topic I covered in the recent blog, “What to Grow as a Leader? Become This.” A study I referenced found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

As Anthony Tjan wrote, “In my experience — and in the research my co-authors and I did for our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

To grow as leaders, we need to know what our strengths and weaknesses are, or as Tjan puts it, your super powers versus your kryptonite. So how do you go about becoming more self-aware?

  1. Feedback Analysis

In his popular book “Managing Oneself,” management consultant Peter Drucker recommended the process of Feedback Analysis as the only way to identify your strengths. Write down your expected outcomes for key decisions, then compare that with the results 9-12 months later.

This method will show you within a few years where your strengths are, which is the most important thing to discover about yourself. For example, he wrote, “The feedback analysis showed me, for instance—and to my great surprise—that I have an intuitive understanding of technical people, whether they are engineers or accountants or market researchers.”

  1. Assessment Instruments

Tjan recommends you take personality tests to learn more about yourself. Think about it – many businesses use assessment tools to test potential employees. But what about testing yourself and your senior managers? Here are three he mentions.

  • The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. This simple test is designed to determine your four core behavioral drives: dominance, extraversion, patience and formality. You can then identify patterns of behavior and motivations.
  • Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies basic preferences in four areas. Are you more introverted or extraverted? (E or I) Do you prefer to look at logic first or interpret facts and add meaning? (S or N). When making decisions, do you look at logic or take into account people and special circumstances? (T or F) And lastly, do you prefer to make decisions or leave your options open? (J or P) Answers to the questions will determine which of 16 personality types you are with a four-letter code, such as INFP, ENTP or ESFJ. (A friend once told me she thought she was an ESPN. I told her to take the test again.)
  • Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (E.A.T.) Tjan developed this test that measures the four key drivers for entrepreneurial success he wrote about in his book: heart, smarts, guts and luck. This brief survey measures your HSGL distribution with a graph showing the percentage of each trait.
  1. Ask for feedback from co-workers

This method can be a bit trickier than just taking a test or assessing yourself. People, especially those who work for you, can be reluctant to be honest in their feedback.

In the article “How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss,” James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management recommends constantly asking for feedback with requests for specific examples. If someone recommends you communicate more with employees, ask them for a suggestion on how to do that.

Or turn to a few trusted co-workers with this question, recommended by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: “How can I do better?”

And when you get the feedback, listen without interruption. Ask for clarification where needed and thank them for their comments at the end of the discussion. Responding gracefully to their feedback can encourage them to continue to offer it. And putting their suggestions into action when advisable sets a good example to them of a leader working to grow and improve.

You can also enlist professional help in this area, especially as anonymous feedback is generally more honest.  Hiring a qualified professional counselor or coach can help you elicit feedback by sending out anonymous evaluations and compiling the answers for you.

With all this information, you can learn which are your super powers and what is your kryptonite.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Funny, But True: Shaking My Pom-Poms

I never fantasized about being a cheerleader. But there I was, in a court of law, waving my pom-poms wildly with the rest of the courtroom.

I’ve done a lot of things in my career I never would have predicted. Handing out pom-poms to a judge and to everyone in attendance in a courtroom ranks high on the list of unforeseen events.

Cheerleader Supply was a $65 million a year revenue business, selling cheerleading supplies and uniforms. When the company’s financial situation was in dire straits, I was brought in for a Chapter 11 restructuring. That was early in my career and I learned a lot from working with that company.

It was a tough fourth quarter at the Super Bowl for Atlanta Falcons fans. But those Falcons cheerleaders never stopped yelling and waving their pom-poms.

It was a tough fourth quarter at the Super Bowl for Atlanta Falcons fans. But those Falcons cheerleaders never stopped yelling and waving their pom-poms. (Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

One of those early lessons is no matter how bad things are at your office, as CEO, it’s your job to be a cheerleader for your team. You have to keep up the morale of your team, no matter how bad things look. Your team members will be looking to you for inspiration during the fight to keep your company growing and thriving.

With Cheerleader Supply, my job as leader was made easier by the fact that everyone involved wanted to see the company succeed – the judge, lawyers and bankers were all on board with my restructuring plan. It was a lot of hard work, but we made it. On the day we emerged from bankruptcy, I gave everyone in the courtroom and the judge pom-poms to celebrate our win after coming back from so far behind. I still have that pom-pom in my office as a reminder that no matter how tough things get, one of my major roles in working with companies is that of cheerleader.

Dr. Robert Gerwig, who writes the Lead Strategic blog, wrote, “Great leaders are cheerleaders. If you’re not one, start today. You don’t have to be an extrovert to provide encouragement, support, recognition and inspiration. Do it your way, do it authentically, but become a great cheerleader. You’ll be amazed at the results and long-lasting benefits.”

I was recently looking at the bio of the leader of a company and saw this: “John serves as CEO and Cheer­leader for his busi­ness.” That’s a line that should be in every CEO’s bio.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Want to Grow as a Leader? Become This

I was speaking with a friend about our experiences with interviewing and hiring. He once interviewed a woman and asked her what mistakes she had made and what she had learned from them, a fairly common interview question. “I haven’t made a mistake,” she responded.

That would be the end of any interview for me. That woman demonstrated she wasn’t self-aware enough to know what mistakes she had made, much less learned anything from them.

We all have unique strengths and weaknesses, and if you want to grow as a leader, you need a firm grasp on what yours are. The single best way to grow as a leader is to be truly self-aware. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Observe all men: thy self most.”

Self-awarenessOnce you know your own strengths and weaknesses you can leverage and maximize your strengths to the best of your ability. As for your weaknesses, identify the ones you can improve on and take steps to improve those skills. Then hire people who excel in those areas you have identified as weak for you.

I’ve written about the Disney brothers before in Famous Sibling Partnerships That Worked. Walt Disney, the more famous of the two, was the visionary. The creator of Mickey Mouse, the most famous mouse in history. But his vision would never have become a reality without his co-founder, his brother Roy, who was the money guy and the one who made Walt’s visions a reality.

The results of a study done by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 2010 emphasized the quality of self-awareness and its importance for a leader. The study examined 72 executives at companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion.

One of its findings? “Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness,’ which should actually be a top criterion.  Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”

Erika Anderson is a business coach and writer and says when people with low self-awareness want to grow, “it’s like someone who wants to travel to New York and he thinks he’s starting in Philadelphia – but he’s actually in Botswana.  The steps he would take to get to New York, thinking that he’s in Philly, will definitely not work for him (that pesky ocean is going to be a big shock).”

It’s only by being brutally honest with yourself about your own weaknesses that you are able to find people to fill in those gaps to help your company grow. I have an entire section in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me” on leveraging the talents of others to your advantage. It’s critical when growing a business, which is why you hear that interview question about strengths and weaknesses so often.

Focuses on our weaknesses may not be fun. Author Aldous Huxley said, “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” But those pleasures of illusion do nothing to help you grow as a leader.

Knowing herself even helped a World No. 1 professional tennis player.  “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion,” said Billie Jean King.

Coming soon: How leaders can become more self-aware, and how high self-awareness affects team performance

Funny, But True: Give a Second Thought to That Second Chance

You have an employee who makes a big mistake, but comes to you to admit it and offers a solution. So, you forgive him and move on. We all mess up sometimes, and this employee handled it correctly. You give him a second chance.

As Warren Buffett said, “I make plenty of mistakes and I’ll make plenty more mistakes, too. You’ve just got to make sure that the right things overcome the wrong ones.”

But some mistakes aren’t forgivable and employees who make them don’t deserve a second chance.

publishing-scamI once worked with a company whose sales manager was running a scheme. He would sell their widgets to a customer who was a partner in his crime. After the sale, the sales manager would issue a credit, reducing the price of each widget by $1 to that customer. The sales manager and the customer split the extra $1.

The scheme went undetected and over time amassed both the sales manager and the accounts receivable manager a lot of money.

The fraud was only detected because the sales manager accidentally sent a credit to the wrong company, which reported the error. The fraud was uncovered and both managers were fired. But they were not prosecuted for their crimes. (I always advise business owners to prosecute thieves. Read more about that in “Why You Should Always Prosecute Fraud”)

And it turns out the sales manager was actually really good at sales, and once he left, sales declined 25 percent. The CEO couldn’t find a suitable replacement in the following year, so what did he do? He hired back the thieving sales manager.

The CEO’s explanation? While the sales manager never paid any of the money back, he said he was sorry. During that past year, he had found God, repented his sins and begged for forgiveness as a friend and long-term employee.

He lasted six months, until he moved. To jail. Where he was sent for stealing again.

Beyond the obvious lessons of prosecuting fraud and not rehiring people who steal, the other lesson is that some people deserve a second chance and some don’t. As a business owner/CEO you need to know the difference.

 

 

 

Great Leaders: Born or Made?

It’s one of the most debated topics in leadership. Are leaders born or made? Judging from the millions of articles and thousands of books written on how to be a good leader, we must all believe on some level good leaders can be made. A Google search on “leadership skills” turns up 491 million results.

Business leader and author Erika Andersen has been interviewed many times about business and said she is asked that question every time. And she says the interviewers already have made up their mind, generally coming down on the side of believing leaders are born. “They assume that some people come into this world with a natural capacity to lead, and everybody else doesn’t, and there’s not much you can do about it,” she said in the article “Are Leaders Born or Made?”

This concept is in line with a leadership theory called The Great Man Theory, which first became popular in the 19th century, spurred by Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. People believed leaders like Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander the Great were born to become great leaders.

katzLater that theory declined in popularity, led by the famous European intellectual Herbert Spencer, known for coining the expression “survival of the fittest.” He wrote, “You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown …. Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

Then we have football coach Vince Lombardi, who knows a thing or two about winning. After all, his Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships, including two Super Bowls. (But I’m not rooting for them this Sunday. Go Falcons!)

He comes down on the side of leaders being made: “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

An article in Inc.com that lists 20 traits of born leaders claims that leadership is a skill anyone can develop, but being born with these 20 traits, which include being extroverted, confident and decisive, makes developing that skill a lot easier.

Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D, discusses the topic in the article “Leaders: Born or Made” in Psychology Today. His answer? “To cut to the chase, the answer is: ‘mostly made.’ The best estimates offered by research is that leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made.”

Past studies have shown that effective leadership is about 30 percent genetic and 70 percent developed. Those percentages were the premise of a study done at University of Illinois by professors Kari Keating, David Rosch, and Lisa Burgoon. They used a scientific approach to teaching leadership in a 15-week introductory course. They claim students made significant gains in their ability to lead, skill levels and motivation to lead. They tracked 165 students and found their progression followed a specific path, based on their being “ready, willing and able.”

“It’s a three-legged stool,” said David Rosch, one of the professors involved with the study. “Students first become ready to learn about being a leader; then they become willing to learn the skills necessary to practice leadership; and finally they’re able to lead because they have the skills and the motivation to do it. You can’t really move on to the other legs of the stool until you’ve achieved a certain amount of this readiness.”

This is all good news for anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills. Maybe you were born with many of the innate skills of a natural leader. But even if you weren’t, research shows you still have 70 percent to work on in becoming a better leader. Sounds like pretty good percentages to me.