Leading with Inspiration

Originally published to Korn Ferry Institute on September 24, 2017.  

In his book, “Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader in Life,” Senior Client Partner Kevin Cashman writes about how you have to grow yourself as a person in order to grow yourself as a leader. In this excerpt, Cashman explains how to use stories to inspire action. 

Stories elevate the mind and the heart to go beyond what is, to mobilize us and others to reach new possibilities. Annette Simmons, group process consultant, understood this dynamic when she wrote, “People do not want information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” Science has demonstrated that stories, especially stories that sustain our attention with a narrative arc and some tension, have the unique force to move us intellectually and emotionally at the same time.

In “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling,” Harvard Business Review, scientist Paul Zak explains that his lab discovered more than a decade ago that the neurochemical oxytocin is necessary for humans to feel safe. Zak says, “It does this by enhancing a sense of empathy.” Our brain produces more of it each time we experience kindness and trust.

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Do You Have Leadership Character Or Coping Character?

By Kevin Cashman, originally printed in BOSS Magazine, November 2017 issue. 

Leadership styles are abundant and there subtle differences between a great leader and a toxic one. There is also a balance that must be constantly maintained between a myriad of variables and personalities. Leading from a place of adventure rather than a place of fear has been the differentiator for many successful companies. Leadership character defines the bold leader and works to set an example of culture and beliefs.

Leadership character works to transform and open up possibilities and potential. When we are leading from character, we exude qualities of authenticity, courage, purpose, openness, trust, congruence, compassion, and service. We have the ability to transform circumstances, open up possibilities, and create lasting value for ourselves and for others. The character-driven leader tends to emphasize service over self.

Are You Simply Coping?
Coping protects us and helps us get through challenging circumstances. In this sense, it has value, and if used sparingly and appropriately, will serve very specific needs. Coping works like a muscle. We need to use it at times, but if we overuse it, the muscle will collapse.

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How to be Open Without Shutting People Down

Openness is so important to leadership that maybe we should stop calling people “leaders” and rename the most effective ones “openers.” Leaders open up or shut down opportunities in direct proportion to how open or shut down they are to themselves and to others.

We worked with a senior executive a while ago who sincerely believed in openness. What he didn’t realize was that his way of being direct and frank with people was actually shutting them down. He believed in openness and authenticity, but his approach was creating the opposite effect. It was a total mystery to him. He even rationalized it by saying that other people in his organization just weren’t as open. What was missing was openness to himself. He could be open and direct when it came to driving people to results or expressing criticism, but he could not be open about his fears, limitations, inadequacies, or vulnerabilities. As a result, his embodiment of “openness” was very limited.

Once he gained the inner strength and confidence to be more open about his real concerns and feelings, it came as a great surprise to him how other people opened up to him. He told me, “It was startling to me that people opened up and supported me as I opened up and shared my vulnerabilities. I built my career by being invulnerable. I was very open about the work, but very fearful about revealing myself. I didn’t understand that I was distancing people in the process. I now understand that more openness in the organization begins with me.”

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7 Clues You’re Unknowingly Sabotaging Your Strengths

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on Success.com on October 30, 2017

One of the most effective ways to take this journey to a more integrated, authentic understanding of ourselves is to explore our personal belief systems. Few psychological dynamics are as fundamental as our beliefs. Beliefs literally create our reality; they are the lenses or filters through which we interpret the world. Some of these lenses focus on new horizons; others dim our view and limit possibilities. Beliefs are transformational. Every belief we have transforms our life in either an enriching or limiting way. As Bruce Lipton wrote in The Biology of Belief, “Our beliefs control our bodies, our minds and our lives.” In a sense, beliefs are the software of leadership, our deeply personal operating system that runs the show on the surface.

One of the most dramatic examples of the transformational power of beliefs comes from heavyweight fighter George Foreman. In the 1970s, Foreman was renowned for being one of the toughest, nastiest human beings on the planet. Angry and antisocial, he often came across as a mean, uncommunicative person—not at all the person you see today. He was not known for social graces, self-awareness or his big smile. However, immediately following his surprising loss to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico, George went to his dressing room, laid down on the training table, and reportedly had an overwhelming spiritual experience. After that experience, George changed. He changed his entire life, everything: his personality, his relationships and his life purpose. He transformed them.

George peeled the onion of his personality, and the delightful, humorous, self-effacing George came forward. The important thing to note here is not whether George Foreman actually had a spiritual revelation. Many medical professionals say he suffered from severe heat exhaustion, and that’s what caused his experience. That’s not the point. The key principle is that George Foreman believed that he had a spiritual transformation, and that belief changed his life. What we believe, we become.

Through years of coaching people, we have consistently observed two distinct types of belief systems operating in people: Conscious Beliefs and Shadow Beliefs. Conscious Beliefs are the explicit, known beliefs we have. When asked what our beliefs are about ourselves, about other people or about life in general, we can articulate many of them. Although it might take some effort to access and clarify some of these beliefs, they are accessible to us on an everyday level.

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How To Help Your Senior Team Rediscover Its Core Purpose

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on ChiefExecutive.net on October 26, 2017. 

Research conducted by both Harvard and colleagues at Korn Ferry has demonstrated one unsettling fact: senior teams are often the worst performing teams in organizations. But why? There are many possible reasons, but one of the biggest is a lack of shared purpose.

I’ve lost track of the number of times an experienced CEO has approached me wondering, “Why isn’t our senior team more engaged with the new strategy? What we need to do and how to get there are crystal clear. But the more I push, the less motivated people seem to be. What’s missing?”

Senior teams face three big realities that have to be placed in meaningful relationship for our enterprises to thrive:

  • The big ‘what’ question (vision): What is possible for us to become?
  • The big ‘how’ question (strategy): How will we get there?
  • The big ‘why’ question (purpose): Why is it so important that we exist in the world?

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Leadership from the Inside Out Introduction to New Material

The new edition of Leadership from the Inside Out is now available!  Order your copy here.

Leadership from the Inside Out: Eight Pathways to Mastery

What does mastery of leadership mean to you? To many people it is mastery of something: mastery of the skill to be a dynamic influencer; mastery of strategic planning and visioning; mastery of consistent achievements and results.  Instead of being an ongoing, internal growth process, mastery is usually seen as mastery of something outside of ourselves. When you think about it, it’s no wonder our ideas about mastery and leadership tend to be externalized. Our training, development, and educational systems focus on learning about things, not the nature of things. We learn what to think, now how to think.  We learn what to do, now how to be.  We learn what to achieve, not how to achieve. We focus on what and rarely ask why. We fill up the container of knowledge but rarely consider comprehending it or applying it more effectively.

In organizations, this external pattern continues.  As leaders we receive recognition for our external mastery. Revenue, profit, new product breakthroughs, cost savings, and market share are only some of the measures of our external competencies.  Few would question the value of achieving and measuring external results.  This isn’t the real issue.  The core questions are:  Where do the external results come from?  Is focusing on external achievement the sole source of greater accomplishment?  Could it be that our single-minded focus on external results is causing us to miss the underlying dynamics supporting sustainable peak performance?

An Inside Out Leadership Definition
Our definitions of leadership also tend to be externalized.  Most descriptions of leadership focus on the outer manifestations (i.e., performance, achievement, power, drive, etc.) instead of getting to the foundational principles of leadership itself.  Leadership from the inside out takes a different view. We cannot split off the person from the leader. The leader and the person are one. We lead by virtue of who we are.

We decided to do a deep, comprehensive examination of the most effective leaders we had assessed, advised, and developed over last thirty years to discern leadership patterns.  Our research premise was, “What is foundational to the most effective, results-producing leaders?  What supports their various competencies or styles on the surface?”  Three essential patterns became clear …

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Mission Impossible: The New Age of Ambiguity

By Jonathan Dahl, originally published in Korn Ferry’s Briefings Magazine, Issue 32.  

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You’re the CEO of a UK-based international retailer that sells products for expectant mothers, with more than 1,300 stores and $650 million in revenue.  Two years ago, the board  brought you in to turn the retailer around – which is exactly what you have done, leading the firm to its first profit in years.

Then you wake up one June morning and the world has shifted.  And it’s no small shift.  Headlines are announcing the shocking Brexit vote, and nobody can say what that means exactly.  How will trade be affected?  Will EU workers have flexibility in the UK?  How much will the pound weaken?  Quickly, the questions – and the concerns – funnel down to your company.  All that seems certain now is that nothing is certain.

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A True Measure Of Leadership Success: Seven Guiding Principles

By Kevin Cashman, originally posted on his Forbes.com blog, Pause Point, on September 5, 2017. 

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Taking a true measure of our leadership success is no easy task. Do we measure net profit? Gross revenue? Customer satisfaction and loyalty? EBITDA? Quarterly results? Stock price? Social responsibility? While all these yardsticks are crucial, do they really get to the essence of what sustains leadership for the long run?

Recently, a 70-year-old CEO reflected with me, “In the end, the real measure of success will unlikely be our accomplishments or achievements. Rather, our most authentic measure will likely be the lasting impact we had on the lives of people.” I doubt many of us will lament in our final hour, “If only I had pushed for one more percentage point of profit in my last quarter!” Likely we will reflect on our key relationships, on the people we have impacted, loved, grown and been influenced by.

In the 75+ year Grant and Glueck study at Harvard, the longest continuous research study with four research leaders to date, there has been one consistent finding across the decades, across generations and across geographies:  that the true measure of success and satisfaction rests on one thing, relationships.

In a leadership context, relationships play out in a multitude of ways in teams, collegial connections, culture and customers. In many ways, all leadership is in relationship, a way to add enduring value with and for people. However, I posit that there is one fundamental measure to our leadership effectiveness:  how many leaders have you produced?

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Drive and Connection