Collaborator in Chief

November 11, 2016

The result of the recent presidential election means Donald Trump will become leader of the United States of America. However, I don’t recall him ever previously referred to as a business leader or any kind of leader for that matter.

While he is reportedly a successful businessman, he has absolutely no governing experience. Ironically, this was seen as an enormous strength rather than a weakness in this election. But business acumen doesn’t naturally translate into effective governing.

“Businesses tend to be dictatorships, where the edict of the CEO is carried out by an army of minions,” said Program Director A. G. Block of the University of California Center Sacramento. “Governance is a messy process where coalition-building is required and governors need to be good listeners willing to compromise. Goals also have social implications that business executives often do not consider when making business decisions. And their constituents in the business world—their stockholders—tend to be, for the most part, a homogenous group with one common goal: profits. As governor, the constituency is a varied mishmash with a variety of goals.”

The leader of the United States of America obviously cannot conduct himself like the CEO of a company. It is a unique leadership position that requires working collaboratively with others to protect and serve the citizens of the country. And our Founding Fathers ensured that the three branches of government provided the necessary checks and balances to keep a tyrant or dictator from taking over our democracy.

In a previous blog post I pointed out that Trump has demonstrated leadership qualities such as confidence, tenacity and negotiating skills. However, effective leaders also need to demonstrate integrity, humility, and the ability to inspire and motivate people. His performance in the presidential campaign provided few examples of integrity and humility.

His ability to inspire and motivate people certainly contributed to his success in bringing to the polls the disenfranchised voters who felt largely ignored by both parties. Yet it was his divisiveness that also brought out the worst in them rather than the best.

Though Trump can accomplish certain things without the help of Congress through Executive Actions, these can be easily overturned by his successor. This is exactly what he intends to do with many of President Obama’s Executive Actions. And this is no sustainable way to govern.

Important legislation can only be enacted with the help of Congress. And this requires collaboration. Though President Trump will have an easier time with an all-Republican Congress, he will no doubt face a great deal of opposition with many of the proposals he campaigned on from both Democrats and Republicans.

To be a successful President, he will need to collaborate with others rather than try to command and control them. He will need to learn the ability to compromise: to give a little in order to gain a little. Now that we are politically more divided as a country than ever before, this requires even greater collaboration skills.

It comes down to taking into account the importance of the tasks equally with the relationships. No one person in Washington will be able to accomplish big things without strong alliances with willing participants. And this requires the ability to collaborate successfully.

In their book Collaborative Leadership: How to succeed in an interconnected world, David Archer and Alex Cameron identified 10 key lessons for a successful collaborative leader.

1. Find the personal motive for collaborating
2. Find ways of simplifying complex situations for your people
3. Prepare for how you are going to handle conflict well in advance
4. Recognize that there are some people or organizations you just can’t partner with
5. Have the courage to act for the long term
6. Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships
7. Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels
8. Inject energy, passion and drive into your leadership style
9. Have the confidence to share the credit generously
10. Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

These lessons are just as important in running a country as they are in running a business. Reading over this list, I can’t help but think that many of these lessons do not necessarily come to mind with regard to Trump’s reputation as a businessman. If Donald Trump hopes to make progress on his campaign promises, he will need to find a way to collaborate effectively with the House and Senate.

Finally, leadership is not something one can be appointed to or elected to as it is something to be earned. True leaders are those who gain respect through their overall effectiveness combined with the way they lead their people. It is certainly about getting results, but it is also about the relationships that are inherently necessary in reaching those results. And those relationships require effective collaboration.

Trapped Chilean Miners & Emergent Leadership

October 12, 2011

Visionary leaders like the late Steve Jobs don’t come along all that often, but strong leadership qualities can emerge in any of us and at any time. Sometimes it just takes a crisis before we see these exemplary skills come forward.

Think of Sir Ernest Shakleton who, after failing to succeed at his original goal in becoming the first to walk across the Antarctic continent, maintained order and optimism in his crew for nearly two years under extremely difficult circumstances to save all 28 men.

And more recently, those who led the 33 Chilean miners to safety one year ago this week, including Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, mining minister Laurence Golborne and shift supervisor Luis Urzula. Each of them took risks and rose to the challenge of what it means to be a strong leader.

On August 5, 2010 a private mine in the Atacama desert collapsed trapping 33 miners more than 2000 feet below the surface. It was a full 17 days before anyone knew that the 33 were still alive, but that didn’t keep people from immediately taking responsibility and planning a rescue operation.

Chilean President Pinera announced that the priority was to attempt a rescue, yet he set no firm deadline or date. He set a vision, but left it to others to define the roadmap. He also celebrated small wins along the way in order to keep everyone inspired. This clarity of vision and celebration of incremental victories along the way helped lead the way for everyone involved.

Mining minister Golborne said he felt immediately empowered once Pinera committed to the world that they would find the miners. He created two teams: one at the site working inside the mine, doing the drilling and preparing for the rescue; and another team in Santiago looking at different technologies to design the rescue. It was also vital that they began three different options concurrently and ended up succeeding with Plan B.

Shift supervisor Urzula demonstrated both competence and compassion leading the men inside the mine through this 69 day ordeal. He defined and enforced how all 33 would spend their days, and switched off electric lights to simulate night. Urzula rationed two days worth of food to last the 17 days before they were discovered, which amounted to one teaspoon of tuna and a half-glass of milk each 48 hours. All the men were forced to eat together and at the same time to maintain fairness and inclusiveness. Urzula as their leader was also the last to leave the mine.

Mario Gomez, the 62-year-old cheerleader and spiritual guide of the group, said after being rescued, “Sometimes you need something to happen to really reflect that you only have one life. I am changed, I am a different man.”

The leadership skills demonstrated by these brave men of Chile include clarity of purpose, focus, celebration of small victories, competence, compassion, communication, creativity, discipline, and teamwork. This event gave a billion people around the world something to be proud of and celebrate as we witnessed the miners being rescued.

Most of us will never face the challenges of these miners or the people helping to rescue them because our work is not as dangerous. But there are many opportunities in our workplace for taking a risk, stepping out of our comfort zone, and rising to the challenge of leadership.

This could be taking an unpopular position on a project that may put you at odds with others. It may mean speaking up for someone when you believe that person was treated unfairly. Or it may mean taking responsibility for something no one else is willing to do.

Whatever it is, there will be risks of failure and the possibility that you make look like a fool. But as Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Leadership requires both courage and humility. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to fully embrace this.