Stephen Covey's self-help, principle-based leadership book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," has sold more than 20 million copies to date, and he has just written two new books: "Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times" and "Great Work, Great Career." His son, Stephen M.R. Covey, spent 15 years building the Covey image before realizing he had his own concept to talk about, culminating in his book, "The Speed of Trust."
Both Coveys have had a passion for leadership for years, although Stephen originally was expected to take over his family's hotel/motel business, Covey Enterprises, and Stephen M.R. wanted to be a pro football player when he was little but went into real estate development after graduating from business school. "I remember my father saying it's exciting to go back to, but do you want to build buildings or people and organizations?" Stephen M.R. says. "I realized I do want to make a significant difference and that our work affects leaders and the people who build buildings, organizations, and technologies."
The father-son duo will share their insights on leadership and motivation at a special keynote session at Training 2010 Conference and Expo in San Diego in February. They also granted Training magazine a nearly two-hour phone interview, answering questions posed by Training readers and editors. The questions pertained to topics ranging from achieving balanced renewal in tough economic times to the value of social networking and what makes a great leader. Underlying all of the Coveys' responses was the theme of trust. "There is no panacea," Stephen M.R. admits. "There are the realities of doing more with less and the challenges of today's economy. But a low trust environment is a drag. You need to increase trust, and while trust is not the only thing, it certainly will help change everything, and change it in dramatic ways."
Training: What is the biggest talent management challenge today, and what are some possible solutions?
SC: The biggest challenge is creating a culture around you that sees you as trustworthy, open, honest, and leading with moral authority—natural, timeless principles (fairness, kindness, integrity, respect, honesty, openness), so you speak a universal language through your behavior.
SMRC: I agree. It's so central because it affects everything else. The engagement gap can be bridged by creating that trust. Right now, there's a crisis of trust in the world, in our companies, in our institutions. It puts a premium on you as a leader to be able to create a culture of trust. There is a huge opportunity for leaders and companies to create trust both inside and outside. I think this will remain as a challenge and opportunity over time. Down the road, the challenges of the global workforce will be multiplied, and this will put a greater premium on building trust across cultures and people who have never met.
Training: How would you define a "great leader"? And what are some examples of great leaders today and yesterday?
SC: A great leader is one who has tremendous moral authority. They also may have informal authority, but they must have moral authority. Informal authority with no moral authority creates a disparate culture. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are good examples. I asked Mandela, "How did you get over the injustice of being imprisoned unfairly?" He said it took four years, and that's when he realized his wardens also were victims of the apartheid system. He came to realize it was important to bring together the victims and wardens so they could make reconciliation and move on. Good leaders live for principles, which makes their trust factor very high.
SMRC: I believe a great leader is one who gets results in a way that inspires trust. And how they go about doing so matters. The ability to get results the next time has gone up because they've gotten results already, and they've created trust. Otherwise, they have to resort to more formal authority.
Jim Burke Johnson, the former CEO of Johnson & Johnson, built a culture on trust—internally and externally. He led the company through the Tylenol disaster. He showed care and concern for the market and customer. J&J has been the No. 1 brand on the Wall Street Journal's Reputation Quotient Index list for years.
Another example is Campbell Soup CEO Douglas Conant, who believes the first job of a leader is to inspire trust. Al Carey at Frito Lay likewise creates trust with everyone he works with. And I love this story: Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct in Canada was appointed by the board. After one year, he sent an e-mail to all the company's employees. The e-mail said he was appointed by the board one year ago, so employees didn't have a say in the decision. He wrote, "I want to be your chosen leader, so I'm asking you anonymously, ‘Do you want me to stay?' If you don't, I will move on."
Some 97 percent of the employees said they wanted him to stay.
SC: When Anne Mulcahy took the reins as Xerox CEO, she called Warren Buffet and asked him what to do. He told her: Focus on your customer as if you life depended on it. He was right. Inspire trust. Clarify purpose. Align your systems so all serve that purpose. Unleash talent, so all can find their voice.
Training: What's a good strategy to "sell" leadership development to existing leaders? It seems that no matter how you try to make the case, the leaders agree that more development is needed for the level just below them. How do you help them understand that training initiatives are most successful when they permeate all levels of the organization?
SMRC: It's always vital to connect training programs and leadership development to the initiatives and strategies of the company. And the struggle you face is making that connection clear and explicit: for example, developing leaders, driving customer satisfaction or increasing employee engagement. That's Job 1. You have to make sure it's not seen as a side show but as a main tent activity, front and center. You have to stay relevant. The higher up you go, the leaders are even busier.
So that means you first must establish relevance. Second, connection. Third, help leaders see how they can model all of this, otherwise, there will be misalignment. In the end, it's all about building trust. If there is no buy-in at the top for the behavioral change, the initiative will backfire. We need the top people to get it. They often have the attitude: "It's not me. It's everyone else." We need to put the mirror up and make everyone responsible.
SC: It's Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. Leadership development needs to be tied to strategic goals and reflective of the awareness of the entire culture having to do with basic needs, concerns, and challenges. If strategic goals come out of it, people will relate to it and will make it relevant and needful.
Training: How can you successfully be a "virtual leader" with mobile employees stationed around the world?
SC: Development of culture and cultural norms and expectations is so important. That means creating a culture of openness, transparency, and clear expectations, so everyone adheres to it.
SMRC: Establish cultural norms in terms of the behaviors that build trust. Listen first (with intent to understand, not to reply), create transparency (especially when you're so distant), talk straight, clarify expectations. If counterfeit behaviors become the cultural norm, the result is spin, hidden agendas, blame, pointing fingers, guessing on expectations.
Training: How can one best be a servant-leader to employees whose job duties require them to be directed by their manager more than others?
SC: We have moved from the top-down Industrial Age to the Knowledge Worker Age where employees need to be empowered. There must be cultural commitment to high creativity throughout the entire organization. That's where the spirit of servant-leadership comes into it. You've eliminated much of the bureaucracy, so people become faces and are engaged and empowered. The attitude becomes more "How can I help you conceptualize what you want to accomplish?" This leads to developing a win-win performance agreement. You have to create a common set of goals and help people see the path. Then you are the servant-leader. Accountability is given to the creative culture, not to the boss. The wrong model is saying nice words, then stabbing the employee in the back, then saying more nice words and giving them a pat on the back. Light is the greatest disinfectant. We need sane strategic goals that empower employees to use their creativity.
SMRC: Servant-leadership is a paradigm shift—a shift from command and control. It's a different mentality. You need to create a win-win-agreement that clarifies expectations, with direction given but still offering leeway for people to focus on results, not just activities. You have to let people be accountable to the agreement and to mutually agreed-upon expectations.
Training: How do you identify high-potential employees in an organization, and what must the organization do to ensure they realize that potential?
SC: Learn to listen to these people. Overlap their passion for what they do well with what their conscience tells them to do and help them achieve their strategic goals. They then don't need supervision because they are doing what they love. I always say, "Find your voice, and inspire others to find theirs."
SMRC: I agree. I also would focus on the trust dimension. It won't solve all your problems, but if you can increase trust, that affects everything else, including the engagement of people. Studies show that 46 percent of disengaged employees don't trust their leaders.
Training: What advice would you give to Millennials who are looking to become leaders?
SC: Develop moral authority and trust, take a lot of initiative, anticipate what might be coming up, show you're proactive, take responsibility, and work with your circle of influence, which will expand.
SMRC: Run with your strengths, so you make your weaknesses less relevant. Create complementary teams.
SC: Millennials are naturally responsive to the knowledge worker mentality. They want to create value.
SMRC: Also recognize other leadership elements that have to happen, including the two-way process of listening and understanding. Don't be someone you're not but round yourself out.
SC: The biggest problem is the codependency of those raised in the Industrial Age. They say: "You make the big bucks. Why do I need to take responsibility for you and your actions?"
Training: How will more Baby Boomers staying in the workplace longer because of the economic collapse affect the workplace dynamic in the next few years, particularly as younger employees thought they would be moving up the career ladder into those positions?
SC: I'd get them involved in discussing these issues so they know you really care and want them to find their voice and help them find their complementary team.
SMRC: The principle is to involve people in the problem and then work out the solution together. Otherwise, you don't get the commitment. The reality of the economy is that things are changing. We can't bury our heads in the sand. How we confront these realities matters as much as what we do about them. Leaders still have to make tough choices, but it will help if employees are involved with those decisions and if leaders are transparent. At downsized companies, trust often goes out the window. One company I know of downsized, but it involved everyone and communicated openly and talked straight. As a result, they actually grew trust while having to confront a very difficult reality. How you do it is as important as what you do. The command-and-control model isn't sufficient for today's issues.
Training: In today's economy, existing workers are taking up the slack of laid-off workers, and laid-off workers are worried about finding work. So how can each worker get back on track toward balanced renewal in these stressful economic times?
SC: Imagine a three-pointed diagram:
1. Excellent Execution
2. High Trust Levels with All Stakeholders
3. Achieving More with Less
That leads to transforming fear into engagement. The three points should be central to leadership. Simplify to a few key strategic objectives. Transform fear of loss of their jobs to engagement through cultural involvement. What feeds these points is high trust levels with all stakeholders.
SMRC: There is no easy solution, no panacea. There are the realities of doing more with less and the challenges of today's economy. A low trust environment is a drag. You need to increase trust, and while trust is not the only thing, it certainly will help change everything, and change it in dramatic ways.
How? It's an inside-out process. You have to start with each person, and look at the waves of trust, including:
SC: Those who violate these principles will either have to shape up or ship out once the trust is created.
Training: If risk-taking is needed for innovation, how do organizations encourage employees to overcome their fear of being fired (particularly in today's tough economic times) if the risk doesn't pan out?
SMRC: On Tuesday, I was with a Fortune 50 company that connected innovation with trust, creating a culture of sharing information, not afraid of making mistakes or of taking risks. A PwC study found 10 characteristics of high innovating companies. No. 1 was trust.
Training: What can knowledge workers do to manage the exponential increase in information processing required in the workplace today (e.g., e-mails, policy and procedure changes, product line changes)?
SC: You need to develop a complementary team, so strengths are made productive, and you can rely on others' strengths to counteract your weaknesses. You have to understand who does what role in accomplishing the strategic good. This reinforces the sense of a complementary team spirit, making weaknesses less important. This concept of people relying on each other is a form of extending trust to each other.
SMRC: Keep the main thing the main thing. We can get drowned by information overload. The urgency dominates. The technology creates urgency. The expected response time to an e-mail or text message is so fast. Leaders need to step back and do weekly planning, reconnect with their messages, and focus on their life and work. Reconnect with what's important, not just what's urgent. Maybe it means you need to get people to help you answer e-mails, or at least clarify expectations about your response time in answering e-mails, etc.
SC: I ask people, "How much time do you spend on things that are urgent but not important?"
"At least half," most respond.
SMRC: It's extremely important to manage and clarify expectations. Let people know what you are going to do and why. For example, you may clarify to your team that you're not going to be answering e-mails today so you can review the quarterly report.
Training: What do you feel the real value of social networking (Twitter, Facebook on some level, etc.) is from a business standpoint?
SC: I feel social networking is vital, and when you have relationships with business partners, suppliers, and customers, and the open, transparent communication process is taking place, trust is in place. But it takes constant reinforcement for this culture to survive and thrive.
SMRC: There can be some value through social networking mediums. But we can get completely lost in them. It's easy to get caught up in "the thick of thin things" as my father would say. People often get trapped in minutiae. On the flip side, value can be extracted. It puts a greater premium on creating relationships of trust with your employees. If you engage them, they're your advocate when they're blogging, Tweeting, etc. Word-of-mouth marketing in this form can be tremendous. It can be seen as a PR thing if not an inside-out process in which trust is built from the inside. In the end, I think it's all about balance.
SC: Also, keep in mind that technology is a good servant but a bad master.
SMRC: I agree. Technology can perpetuate a sense of distrust. Companies worry that when people leave they won't be an advocate and will post unflattering things. Ultimately, you can't control it all. Social networking is here to stay, but the mediums will change. Look how quickly things have changed in the last two years. I hadn't even heard of Twitter two years ago. It's the idea of a connected world—not just technologically connected but human connection. Over time, it may more appropriately find its context.
Training: What is the most difficult question about employee training and/or motivation you've ever been asked, and how did you respond?
SMRC: "How do you create trust with a person who's completely untrustworthy and fundamentally dishonest? And the reality is that you have to work with this person. They may be competent, but they're not honest."
My response: Control what you can. You need to be a model of performance and results. Show you are credible. Show there's another alternative that works and is better. Frame trust matters in economic terms, not merely in social terms. In some cases, you just may not be able to change the situation. If the entire culture is that way, that's a tough challenge. Try to change it from the inside out. Ultimately, you may choose to leave, but that is not an easy decision to make in these tough times. But by modeling first and focusing on your own credibility, it gives you permission to make behavior-specific requests of others. And, who knows, in some cases your influence may help them make the very change you're requesting. What gives you the courage—and clout—to do this is that you're modeling it first.
SC: The toughest question I've been asked is: "How do you motivate people who have little interest in their work and are disengaged? They have a surly attitude toward management and just don't care."
That's a tough question because it deals with all that we've been talking about today. My response was to listen to them empathically. You have to make it safe so they feel authentic and real. Leaders' natural tendency is not to listen but to tell. So they don't get real answers and wonder why people aren't committed. Help your people find their voice and what they are good at. Ask them: "From your earliest memory, what did you like to do and do well?" Often, they'll tell you what they think you want to hear. Tell them you want to know what they want. Typically, people lose their identity because they are compared to other people. They've never really thought deeply about what they want to do. When man found the mirror, he began to lose his soul because he became too concerned with his external image.