Focus on: leadership

Roxi Hewertson, Drake International

Leadership today is indeed different than it was decades ago. In his 1995 book, The Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership through the Ages, J. Thomas Wren presented a

“series of thoughtful essays on every aspect of leadership by some of the world’s greatest thinkers: from Aristotle, to Gandhi, to Leo Tolstoy, and others. Each essay seems indubitably to be the last word on leadership — at least, until you get to the next one.”

Wren continued: “Knowing more about leadership and how the process operates permits one to realize the real end of leadership: the achievement of mutual goals which are intended to enhance one’s group, organization, or society.” This is the common framework, regardless of the decade or century. Leadership will always be about achieving mutual goals. Leadership will always be about knowing how to lead, and lead well. 

In these volatile, uncertain, and often controversial times, effective leadership is critical. Dr. John P. Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, observes: “Leadership is very much related to change. As the pace of change accelerates, there is naturally a greater need for effective leadership.”

Today’s rapid pace of change, and the complexity of the environment, demands strong leadership at every level — from the top down and from the bottom up — if organizations are to be successful. Leaders need to know how to think strategically and have a vision. They need to understand the importance of having the right people in the right positions; how to motivate and engage; how to manage workforce levels; how to build teams; and how to drive performance, productivity, and bottom-line results from those they lead. It’s not easy.

Why do some leaders succeed, and others don’t? Dr. Clinton O. Longnecker, recently recognized by The Economist as one of the top 15 business professors worldwide, shares with us “Why Leaders Fail to Deliver: Voices from the Frontline” in a special article starting on page 22 of this Drake Business Review issue. His research study of 62 focus groups comprising 300 business leaders identified the top 10 factors that cause leadership failure. He provides key practices and asks key questions to get you thinking about leadership within your organization.

Successful leaders hire the right peopleAccording to a study by Leadership IQ, 46% of newly-hired employees fail within 18 months, while only 19% achieve unequivocal success. Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, tells us: “The typical job interview process fixates on ensuring that new hires are technically competent. But ‘coachability’, emotional intelligence, motivation, and temperament are much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure.”

Successful leaders use behavioural and personality profilesForward-thinking leaders and their teams use objective, science-based behavioural and personality profiles in the selection and hiring process. Understanding personal strengths, leadership style, decision-making style, energy level, motivational needs, and stress levels, lead to insights not usually learned through the application and interview process. Mark Murphy explains that these traits are “much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure”.

Successful leaders pay attention to turnover costsPredicting performance is key to minimizing turnover costs. A Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) study predicted that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs on average six to nine months’ salary. Leaders have to pay attention to not only the salary costs of turnover, but the “real” cost of losing an employee.

Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte outlined factors a business should consider in calculating the real cost of losing an employee:


  • cost of hiring a new employee, including advertising, interviewing, screening, and hiring;
  • cost of onboarding a new person, including training and management time;
  • lost productivity, as a new employee may take one to two years to reach the productivity of an existing one;
  • lost engagement, as other employees who see high turnover tend to disengage and lose productivity;
  • customer service errors, as new employees often take longer to and are less adept at solving problems;
  • training cost, as a business invests around 10 to 20% of an employee's salary in training over two to three years.

Successful leaders onboard properlyTurnover is expensive, and the most important objective for leaders is to successfully assimilate newcomers into the organizational culture so they feel like members of the team. Supporting new employees with comprehensive onboarding is a critical part of an effective talent-management strategy. An effective onboarding program can dramatically improve the performance and the productivity of every person who takes on a new role in your organization, as it:

  • integrates new hires into the corporate culture;
  • increases employee engagement;
  • reduces new hire turnover;
  • reduces time-to-productivity;
  • improves current employee morale;
  • reduces future spending on re-recruiting and retraining;
  • builds and sustains high-performing teams;
  • leads to sustained, organization-wide competitive advantage;
  • improves the bottom line.

The traits of a great leader

Leaders who lead well have a vision, courage, integrity, and the ability to innovate. They are also:

  1. results oriented
  2. customer focused
  3. trusted
  4. great communicators
  5. inspiring
  6. able to deal well with conflict
  7. effective at delegating
  8. decisive
  9. accountable
  10. strategically focused

Successful leaders engage and motivateKimberly Schaufenbuel, Program Director of Executive Development, University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, produced a whitepaper Powering Your Bottom Line through Employee Engagement, which stated that “the ‘people thread’ is what prepares an organization to compete and win. Employee engagement, the emotional commitment of employees — is a tremendous competitive advantage that impacts the bottom line when strategically managed.”

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace research report found that a staggering 87% of workers worldwide are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. In the US alone, 70% of employees are not engaged, costing the US $450 billion to $550 billion per year. How much is low engagement costing your organization, and what can you as a leader do to increase employee engagement?

Disengaged employees can be found throughout any organization. Regardless of who they report to, the key question is, why are they not engaged? Engagement surveys and exit interviews are key to helping you find out why employees leave and what current employees are saying about their work, their boss, and your company. These key data are essential to understand the issues so you can determine what to do.

The next steps may include an HR audit to look at your hiring, training, onboarding, and performance management processes. They may involve investing in leadership development with coaching, workshops, and individual and team assessments to improve communication and morale. Once you have a picture of how all employees are feeling through what they are saying, you can determine what needs to be done to turn the tide, and how to do it. Third-party guidance and support can be especially helpful and beneficial for objectivity, buy-in, and compliance.

Successful leaders empower othersLeadership needs to be about empowering, not overpowering. Are you delegating responsibilities? Are you micromanaging? Are you including others in the interviewing and hiring process? Are you monopolizing the discussions? If you are an overpowering leader, your team will lose respect, and your success will be on the line.

Conversely, leaders who encourage participation and self-reliance and who centre on others will grow that team and ultimately develop more leaders for the organization. Empowering leaders inspire, step back, and put the needs of their group first. Empowering others actually enhances the power of the leader who is in a position to make a real difference.

Successful leaders use workforce analyticsIf leaders hire well, onboard appropriately, engage, motivate, survey, and incorporate the right processes, what next? How do you know what is working well or not? How do you know if your people are productive and if you organization is running well? How do you know what is going to happen next?

“Data is the oil of the 21st century… and analytics is the engine,” said Dr. Boyce Byerly, Director of Predictive Analytics at Quintiles, and a professor at Bellevue University. What are analytics? The Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS) defines analytics as the scientific process of transforming data into insights for the purpose of making better decisions.

According to Harvard Business Review, 71% of CEOs surveyed believe that human capital is the top contributing factor to sustainable economic value. “Given the importance of human capital in our economy, HR must enter the big data game in order to make sure organizations remain competitive and that top talent is both acquired and retained,” said Cathy Missildine, co-Founder of Intellectual Capital Consulting.

You can answer many questions with workforce analytics, including:

  • What do we need to focus on to improve employee engagement?
  • What do we need to focus on to decrease regrettable turnover?
  • Why are our high potentials leaving at a faster rate than our other employees?
  • Which of our high performers are at risk of leaving?
  • What attributes should we be seeking when we hire new employees?
  • Does our performance rating system accurately reflect actual employee performance?
  • How successful is our employee onboarding and orientation program?
  • What characterizes our most successful managers?
  • Which of our talent gaps are the most critical to address?
  • What are the best actions we can take to better manage our remote employees?


There is an increasing pressure for a higher ROI on human capital. Workforce analytics can provide data to help improve productivity, reduce attrition, and cut costs. Being able to predict job satisfaction, better match candidates to job positions to boost performance rates, and uncover insights into what keeps an employee engaged and productive are some of the benefits of incorporating workforce analytics for better decision making and results. With workforce analytics, we are headed into HR’s future, not its past.

Big data also play a critical role in workforce planning by showing trends and patterns and forecasting future need. Leaders need to examine workforce planning information along with current staffing levels to pinpoint staffing peaks and adjust recruitment levels accordingly to better control staffing costs.

HR leadership needs to build a talent strategy founded on a detailed analysis of the organization’s people data so HR can be defined and valued for its strategic impact. HR may know what has happened, but they must know what will happen and stop the wrong outcome from occurring.

Deloitte’s 2015 global Human Capital Trends survey noted that: “people analytics presented the second largest overall 'capability gap' for organizations, trailing only the need to build better leadership.”

Castlight Health stated: “Data analytics has the power to inform organizational strategy and improve business outcomes, turning cost centers into strategic advantages.” What are some of today’s top HR leaders and business strategists saying about the implications of big data and the strategic use of data analytics? Castlight Health published the following quotes following an HR technology conference:

  • “Today, HR has a seat at the table, and in order to maintain that business partnership, you need to have an analytics framework.” Andy Kaslow, CHRO, Cerberus
  • “You need to know enough about your business and your HR data to understand how it impacts your business. You need to know the ‘why’.” Marc Howze, VP, Global Human Resources, Deere & Company
  • “I believe that the data will set you free. At the end of the day, it’s about how do you turn those pieces of information into insights that will improve business.” Steven Rice, Executive VP, Human Resources, Juniper Networks
  • “Find that individual story. There’s such a richness of data, and the longer that we work with that data, the quicker we’ll discover that richness.” Steven G. Cochrane, Managing Director, Moody’s Analytics
  • “Don’t rely solely on data to drive decisions; use it to help drive better leadership behaviors.” John W. Boudreau, PhD, Professor and Research Director, University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations


The last word on successful leadershipThose who lead people, regardless of the level, are faced with challenges every day. These can be external, coming from people and situations; internal, stemming from within the leader herself or himself; and those arising from the nature of the leadership role as we have discussed here. How you, as a leader, handle those challenges will define you, your effectiveness, and the ability of both you and your organization to succeed.

Since 1951, Drake International has been providing leaders with the talent management solutions they need to be productive, and for their organizations to be profitable. From workforce planning, behavioural assessments, managing turnover, onboarding and orientation solutions to exit interviews, HR audits, employee-wide surveys, workforce analytics, and more, Drake is where leaders go to obtain the solutions they need to make confident decisions.

How to Lead Like It Matters
Four ways managers, executives, and CEOs can create a positive ripple effect and make a real difference for success
Roxi Hewertson

Whether you’re a manager, executive, or CEO, your leadership style matters. If you’re running a large global firm, a small project team, or an entrepreneurial venture, it’s the way you communicate and connect to other people that will make or break your success. Make each and every connection count by developing and leveraging your skills and playing to your strengths.

Problems, pressures, and pain points plague managers at every level, but most of them are easy to solve. Understand that every leadership choice you make is critical to your success and has a ripple effect throughout your team and your organization at large. Leaders need to know how to ensure that the changes they make have the intended positive impact, whether it’s running meetings, handling conflicts, making confident decisions, or instituting changes in the workplace.

When leaders approach and execute effective leadership correctly, they often gain greater control of their organization’s future, build highly productive teams, and institute changes that stick.

What can you do to be a great leader? Focus on the following four tenets of leadership to ensure that your company experiences the desired ripple effect; they can revolutionize the way you lead and succeed.

    1. Personal mastery

It is imperative to discover exactly who you are as a leader — your purpose, values, and vision — and how you affect others, your style, preferences, strengths, and challenges. By knowing and growing the leader within, you can then draw on your strengths to influence others.

Begin by getting direct feedback from your boss and anonymous feedback from your direct reports, peers, and clients about your leadership style and impact. This will tell you how you are perceived in your role and discern what’s working for you and what’s not. Play to your strengths and work with trusted colleagues or a business coach to mitigate your blind spots and challenges.


2. Interpersonal mastery

Powerful leaders have excellent communication and management skills, which engage, motivate, and inspire employees. Such leaders know how to listen deeply and communicate effectively with others, how to constructively provide feedback (including to their boss), and how to manage conflict successfully.

Begin by practising deep listening. Most of us know how in theory — be mindful and tactically apply it. At the end of every conversation, ask the person talking to you if they felt you fully heard understood them and what made them feel that way. Practise demonstrating empathy in every conversation, no matter the subject.


    1. Team mastery

The most successful leaders harness the power of group dynamics to build stronger, more productive teams. Leaders who want to succeed need their teams to succeed, and teams are made up of individuals. The reality is that people and groups are messy. It takes awareness, attention, time, and skill to get the best out of your teams. It’s worth every ounce of investment when done well.

For new or existing teams, begin by taking the time to establish ground rules, which enable each team member to feel safe, be fully heard, believe that they belong, and feel that what they have to offer matters to the leader and the other team members.

Each team member possesses a skillset that has the potential to benefit the company greatly overall. With an established team, you might put this skillset topic on the agenda as a simple housekeeping line item. Employ whatever positioning works for you and your group. Then make sure the group maintains accountability to the ground rules for themselves and each other to ensure the effort you make is not in vain.


    1. Culture and systems mastery

Take the lead in assessing your organization, and make the changes you need to succeed. To understand leadership, you must understand the cultures operating around you. An organization’s espoused values may or may not reflect the real operating culture of the organization. You need to know what the culture really is and how it affects your people and overarching business results.

Begin by walking around the organization and really observing the lay of the land, as if you were in a foreign country. What language are they speaking? How are they dressed? What do their work locations look and feel like? How do different groups interact? Does there seem to be a lack of communication? Actively listen, delve deeper, and ask more questions. However, never ask questions if you are not prepared to hear the answers in an open manner or actually address issues brought to your attention.

When leaders excel at these four attributes of effective leadership, they reap quantifiable rewards, including increased employee engagement, reduced turnover, and enhanced productivity. No matter the decision at hand — whether it’s cutting wasteful meetings, addressing conflict, or better aligning decisions with tactical business needs — every choice a leader makes will have a ripple effect. It’s the leader’s approach, attitude, and skills that determine if the resultant ripple effects of seemingly singular choices will be helpful or a hindrance as each one travels through the system.

Reprinted with the permission of Roxi Hewertson, president & CEO of the Highland Consulting Group and author of Lead Like It Matters…Because It Does, and a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives, and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission-critical facets of business. Visit www.askroxi.com for additional information.


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