Why are so many mediocre leaders running businesses today? And how can we transform these ineffective leaders into highly accountable, driven and inspirational powerhouses? We spoke to business strategist and CrossKnowledge faculty member Vince Molinaro about how his ‘Leadership Contract’ seeks to achieve this mission.
To begin, could you tell us where your passion and drive for good leadership comes from?
Early in my career I had the honour and privilege of working with a great leader, whose name was Zinta. She believed in me and gave me opportunities to grow and develop, despite being part of a toxic group of managers. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to leave the organisation to focus on her recovery.
While she was away, I began to see what she struggled with: no inspiration from managers and employees who showed up to work as zombies. These were good, decent people, but their managers weren’t creating a compelling work environment for them.
I visited Zinta one day at her home while she was undergoing treatment. She shared her experiences as a manager in that dreadful management culture and believed the disease she was fighting was a direct result of the stress she endured during her career in that organisation. Two weeks after my visit, I received a letter from Zinta, in which she challenged me to not be influenced by the forces around me.
Two weeks after I received Zinta’s letter, she passed away – and the organisation died along with her. After some soul searching, I decided I needed to leave the company to pursue my aspirations of working with great leaders. I was lucky to have worked with Zinta, to see what great leader make you feel like, the kind of team they build and the kind of culture they can create.
So I made leadership my passion and the focus of my life’s work. As Ronald Reagan once said: “In the end, it all comes down to leadership.” Great leaders that are truly accountable create great companies, while unaccountable, mediocre and bad leaders do the exact opposite.
When you ask most leaders how they first become leaders it’s surprising how many say ‘by accident’.
Why is it more important than ever to have strong leaders in businesses today?
It is a harder and more challenging world for leaders today – and as a result my global clients tell me that they need their leaders to be stronger than ever before – but they are not.
We need to look around the world and spot the signs of ineffective and mediocre leadership. There are scandals, corruption and bad behaviours demonstrated by many leaders today, which occur with far too much regularity.
Also if we look at the data on employee engagement over the past two decades, only 15–20% of employees are fully engaged, the rest are moderately engaged or completely disengaged. So something is not right here.
What would you say are some of the most common failings of leaders currently?
There are several failings:
The number of leaders behaving badly is happening with too much frequency. Just look at how pervasive sexual harassment and workplace bullying is – the #metoo movement put a big spotlight on the severity of this situation
Leaders today are struggling in their roles – look at Travis Kalanick (Uber’s former CEO), Elon Musk and his erratic tweets, and the Facebook fiasco
My work and research have revealed there is a global leadership accountability gap – 72% of companies surveyed say leadership accountability is critical, but only 31% are satisfied with the degree of accountability demonstrated by their leaders
My research also found that only 26% of organisations believe they have a strong leadership culture. This creates a significant risk for any company trying to win in a highly competitive world.
In your eBook on ‘Fulfilling the Leadership Contract’ it is argued that accountability is not taken seriously by those stepping up to the challenge of leading. Why is accountability so important yet largely ignored?
There are several issues taking place here. First off, when you ask most leaders how they first become leaders it’s surprising how many say ‘by accident’.
Research also shows that we tend to promote strong technical performers into leadership roles or those who have held long tenure. Whether they want a leadership role or are good at it doesn’t matter. Once they are in such a position, few are given development support – they are neither shown, nor taught, the capabilities they need to succeed with leading their teams.
Accountability breeds accountability. You can’t ask others to be accountable unless you are accountable yourself first.
Based on my research, consulting experience and through my own leadership experience, I’ve come to learn that the quickest way to improve one’s leadership is by focusing and leading with accountability first.
We tend to assume that because someone is in a leadership role, they will be accountable – but that’s one of the biggest mistakes a company can make. My work over the years has been pivotal in making this issue apparent.
The Leadership Contract outlines four terms and conditions to abide by. Could you tell us a bit more about this contract and how you formulated the idea?
We have high expectations of anyone in a leadership role, but this idea of a contract hasn’t been made explicit to leaders before. The Leadership Contract I created comes with four terms and conditions:
The first is that leadership is a decision and you must deliberately make it – this means defining yourself as a leader. You must commit to being the best leader you can be every day. And if you don’t believe you have the passion for the role – don’t take it.
The second states that leadership is an obligation and you need to step up every day to make your organisation stronger.
The third states that leadership is hard work and you have to be tough to tackle the challenges that come your way. Too many leaders only like doing the good stuff of leadership, but the role at times demands you to make unpopular decisions, give direct feedback to a colleague, call out unproductive behaviour – these things aren’t easy, but if we avoid them we weaken ourselves and our companies.
Finally, the fourth term states that leadership is a community and you need to connect with your fellow leaders. Too many leaders are isolated and disconnected from one another. Build relationships. Network. Lead in a community.
For those looking to take the next step with improving accountability, what guidance would you give?
In The Leadership Contract there is a dual-response that is required – an individual one and an organisational one.
At the individual level, you must embrace the ideas of the leadership contract and commit to being a truly accountable leader. The book, alongside the accompanying Leadership Contract Field Guide and CrossKnowledge programme, provides a road map that every leader can put in place..
All of this is based on the one law of accountability, which states that accountability breeds accountability. You can’t ask others to be accountable unless you are accountable yourself first. The flip side is also true: mediocrity breeds mediocrity.
Second, you need to help build accountability across your organisation, which is the focus on my next book:
You must hold your direct reports accountable
You must build a truly accountable team that works effectively with other teams in the organisation
Finally, as a leader, you must work to create a strong leadership culture in your organisation
About Becky Norman
Becky is Editor of HRZone and Trainingzone, global online communities of people working in the HR and L&D industries. Becky works closely with leading HR and L&D practitioners and decision makers to ensure the publications offer a rich source of real-world insight and fresh advice to their audience.
HR and L&D professionals today must adapt to a complex mix of challenges caused by ongoing business disruption, technological advancements, a changing political landscape, varied employee needs and more. Becky aspires to make HRZone and TrainingZone the destinations for professionals to seek guidance, analysis and opinion on how to tackle these challenges and continue to deliver value.