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December 2008

The Twelve Days of ChristmasLeadership in Challenging Times

As we approach the 12 days of Christmas here are some thoughts for you to ponder as you begin to wind down for the much needed holiday break……

There is nothing like a crisis to bring excessive leadership behaviors to the forefront. The current climate of uncertainty and potential decline is creating a long awaited opportunity to highlight those pernicious and dysfunctional leadership practices that can survive and even prosper in times of free-wheeling plenty and excess.

As such run amok ‘good times’ are clearly coming to an end and we transition into slightly more sobering, or taken another way, invigoratingly challenging times, the good news is that we have areal motivation and indeed urgency to take on and tackle these dysfunctional leadership practices decisively.

The festive season is a traditional time to reflect, take stock and refuel our energies for the year ahead. It is also a great time to consider how you are going to lead at this time.

What will you communicate? How will you instill confidence? What kind of a leadership team do you need to be? What are the real ‘big hits’ over this period? How will you look after and support each other? How will you make sure unhelpful factionalism is put away? How will you build rather than erode customer loyalty over this period?

As this unusual year draws to a close, and a new uncertain one is poised to dawn, many of our client leadership teams are asking us to help them step back and plan proactively to choose the best response to changing circumstances and volatility.

They ask: How do we figure out what it takes to survive now, what may happen next, what our response should be under different scenarios, and what new opportunities to thrive may be right in front of us that we are not yet seeing? Also, how do we deal with our own emotions and the emotions likely being felt by our key players, by our customers, by other key stakeholders? How do we best communicate? How do we protect confidence and energy? In summary, how do we redefine “winning” at this critical time?

We invite you to invest two days in the New Year with Sensei, specialists in helping senior leaders and their teams engage together to deliver powerful business impact through the human dimensions of performance and their strategic alliance partners, Katzenbach Partners, experts in helping top teams craft their strategies, organizational and leadership approaches to achieve breakthrough performance. Our aim is to help you bring your team together to pilot an effective and successful way forward and to energize them for the year ahead.

If this idea appeals please let us know we will be delighted to help. Have a great Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

432 Park Avenue South
4th Floor
NY, NY 10016
TEL: 212-295-2191

FAX: 212-295-2121


On the first day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘You are being watched and your behavior counts…..

Leadership is not about ‘talk, talk’ it is all about ‘walk, walk’. Leaders have to serve as avatars of the behavior they are seeking in others. ‘Do as I say not as I do’ is all too often abundantly practiced and has to be transcended if we wish to catalyze productive action not overflowing cynicism.

On the second day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Beware of teams ? spontaneous combustion rarely works.’

Team building is often mindlessly sought. We need to identify where focused individual efforts are just fine, as distinct from areas where disciplined groups directed by a leader are ideal. We also need to preserve our ‘adaptive’ energy for where real teams are actually needed to add the multiplier benefit of real collaboration. For the latter, ‘structure’ by itself won’t do it; genuine authentic relationships have to be built.

On the third day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Get out of the bunkers – you have a limited view in there.’

Silos headed by powerful people defending turf effects the value chain and some fiefdoms are getting more entrenched as pressure to perform builds. Be careful, your functionally biased performance measures will not help you here; they almost institutionalize unhelpful friction and conflict.

On the fourth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Beware ‘Solutions’ looking for ‘Problems’.’

“Problem solving” is often prized over innovation. “Black belt nine delta” nonsense can take over people’s minds like a bad science fiction movie from the 50s. Statistical fidgeting to the ‘nth degree’ becomes a new bureaucracy and ‘Six Sigma’ chain gangs (or the new fad?du?jour equivalent) are on patrol to put violators into organizational gulags.

On the fifth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Department alert: who is stopping you doing a great job?’

All staff functions exist to serve internal customers who in turn provide value to real customers and stakeholders. All too often we blame ‘them’ for not letting us do a great job, but who is ‘them’? ‘Them’ is all of us and in truth there is sometimes too much staff static, interference and shuttle-cocking of responsibility instead of genuine support; frequent offenders include HR; Finance; IT; and Legal.

On the sixth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Stop dissipating precious time and energy.’

There are too many meetings that take too long and are overwhelmingly focused on sharing information, the worst possible reason to have a meeting. The organization’s talent and energy are squandered internally instead of applied externally. Burn out happens as in these meetings the same issues are brought up in different verbal camouflage, without being decisively tackled and confronted.

On the seventh day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Listen carefully…your business health depends on it.’

The customer’s perceptions of the organization’s products, services, and relationships are different from the organization’s perception. Rather than becoming an avid and zealous student of this mismatch, (which mined properly could be a great impetus for continuous OR discontinuous improvement), we deny a difference exists and shoot messengers who bring these insights to the fore.

On the eighth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Get your talent focused you will need it next year more than ever.’

In too many organizations the reward and feedback systems are not aligned with strategy and are not encouraging and discouraging the appropriate behaviors. The best people are busy shopping their CV’s, the mediocre are getting the plum jobs by corporate ‘gamesmanship’ and then practicing the corporate equivalent of inbreeding by hiring even more inept acolytes.

On the ninth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Planning isn’t strategy no matter what the bureaucrats say.’

Strategy and planning are often mistaken for each other. The strategic ‘plan’ is 80/20 weighted towards planning and has all the strategic insight and visionary inspiration of a pre?budget statement or a national tax code.

On the tenth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Your job is to produce leaders…not just more followers.’

Career development and succession planning are rarely wedded, in some organizations they are not even in a relationship! As goes a leadership pipe?line, to a large extent, so goes the company. Are your leaders developing, seeding, mentoring and proactively preparing other leaders? Use this as a measure to forecast sustainability in growth and results and the real health of the organization becomes clear.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Make it easier to do smart things, not harder…’

Einstein famously said’ it takes real genius to make things simple.’ Systems and processes are too often stultifying and require an ‘insiders’ view and knowledge to get things done. What nonsense do your systems ‘make’ you do? Leaders should attack with vigor any process that saps energy and focus and detracts from customer value, life is too short!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my Leader said to me‘Take a real break you deserve it….’

It’s a holiday season. Make sure you have a real break, reconnect with what is really important in life and come back refreshed and reinvigorated for the challenges that lie ahead. Grateful people are invariably successful people because they appreciate (increase the value of) all the things that are important in their lives. If we can through our engagement, energy, attention, empathy and openness to enjoyment, increase the value of our human and interpersonal assets (the gifts of loved ones, family and friends) over this time period, if we can give some of that which we hope to get, we’ll return renewed. We may even find ourselves revitalized enough to locate the capacity to be a transformational variable in our working lives, for our business, our customers and our teams.