Ken Jacobs, PCC, CPC, Principal, Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, discusses the key role leadership plays in an organization’s success. He stresses the importance of building trust and fostering influence with your constituents as a leader. Ken also emphasizes the increased need to have an opportunity mindset.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: KEN JACOBS
DOUG: Ken, in your work you work with a lot of CEOs, and since the pandemic started, a major focus for you has been leadership. What are some of the things you’re seeing that are the difference between good leaders and not so good leaders that are exposed during this challenging time?
KEN: Yeah. mean, I’ve been focusing on leadership for, I think a good 13 years now, give or take, maybe 14, because I understand that I’ve realized the critical importance of leadership to an organization’s success. That said, when I look at the agency CEOs and owners and corporate communications leaders who are really leading powerfully and effectively during these times, what I’m seeing rise to the top is courage, because people are feeling, even with the light at the end of the tunnel, they are feeling uncertain. Some are feeling challenged. Some are feeling exhausted. And there’s nothing more energizing than a courageous leader. It really builds followership. Another is to let your people know that you trust them and maybe an equally, if not more important, that they can trust you, that you have their backs through everything.
DOUG: That’s a great point you make about trust. I used to say that six months of good treatment by a manager, that amount of goodwill, is equal to one less up like you do, and it gets wiped out completely. How has management gone about building trust? What are the keys as a leader to building that trust?
KEN: Well, maybe it’s obvious, but to act in a trustworthy manner and to do so consistently. As our mutual friend Patrice Tanaka says, do the right thing no matter the consequences consistently. And for me, leadership consistency is so important. I’ll admit that in my agency days, I think a few days a week, I was a great leader and a few days a week I was not a good leader. And one day of the week, my folks didn’t know what to expect. That’s not consistency. Looking back, if I had gone for consistently good rather than the ups and downs, I know my people would have trusted me a little bit more. So, that’s a lesson know leaders can take from today. And I think being willing to be a little bit vulnerable can be very, very powerful. I know some leaders resist it, but in reality, willingness to be vulnerable can build psychological safety, a feeling of psychological security among your followers. And so, I think we’d all agree that providing psychological safety right now is very compelling and again builds followership. So, that ability to say, and here’s where it all comes together, here’s the direction we’re going to go in, I need you in the boat with me, this is what I see for the way ahead, I don’t know with certainty will get there, but we’re smart, and we’ll do it, and if we do it together, and if we’re a little off, we’re smart people will course correct. So, I think that’s almost a combination of vulnerability and courage and a little bit of vision all to one.
DOUG: That sounds great. Now, one of the challenges, because you can think of leadership as being just the job of the CEO, but obviously, you know that’s not true. As a leader, how do you instill many layers of leadership throughout the organization? And forgive me if I’m guilty for using the same word too many times in my question and answer on that. But it is something that you really want to create an environment where other leaders can step up within the small pockets of influence that emerge within your organization.
KEN: Well, that’s really the word, I’ll use your word – influence. We have the potential to be leaders throughout an organization, throughout a career. I mean, in my experience, because I was in the business for 25+ years before making this shift, I saw executive vice presidents, big corner office, big salary, all that stuff, who couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag, who didn’t understand that leadership is a two-part choice. It’s a conscious choice to lead, and it’s their conscious choice to follow. Your followers have a conscious choice to follow. They may come in every day and do the work and take it off the to do list, but that’s not following. So, making that conscious choice to lead and to use your leadership energy and your leadership influence to create the outcomes that are best for our organization, for our clients, for our team, for our peers. So, when you define leadership that way, so many people have the opportunity to start to lead early in their careers, earlier than they may expect. And I think that very old model of the leadership of the leader like a moth to a flame with everyone following that leader is outdated, it’s unrealistic it doesn’t work. Leaders lead leaders who may be lead leaders in training, who lead followers. And if you and if you look for it, if you look in your organization, you’ll see those leaders or leaders in training. They’re there.
DOUG: And I’m going to follow your lead on that part of the discussion and move to the additional challenges, because obviously remote work for organizations that can get people can do their function remotely is here to stay in a different level than it was before the pandemic. What are the challenges, and what sort of best practice for communications internally within this environment and externally as well because obviously client conversations are handled differently, far less in person than they used to be?
KEN: Yeah, I think a couple of things. I think, one, leadership is about always learning and growing as a leader. And one thing we all need to do, whether we’re leaders, or communicators, or leaders in communications organizations, is to understand how to use these virtual applications and become good at it. Number one. Number two, dial up the empathy. Understand that all your people may be going through different things individually. Some are fine with these technologies and the notion of working at home. Some are still, many are still dealing with kids at home and learning virtually. Even as that’s changing, that may be with us for a while I think, depending on geography and numbers. And then as we look to the great return, whether it will be hybrid, whatever it will be, but we will be spending more time in person, understand that not everyone on your team is at the same level of desire for that and comfort for that. You’ve got a Zoom meeting of 10, or 20, or 50, and everybody’s raising their hands ready to come back, one, or two, or three, or eight might have some discomfort with that. And they’re not going to acknowledge that in a group setting. That’s why I think the one on ones, even if they’re brief, are so critical. So, if you haven’t been as proficient as one on ones with everyone who reports to you, and if your organization is small enough, with everyone on your team, jump into that, because that is so important, and that’s what your teams need from you in this environment.
DOUG: Great. And we just have a little bit of time left. But one of the things you often speak of that I’d like you to close by talking about it, is that leaders and others within an organization need to have an opportunity mindset. Can you explain what that is, and it seems it’s more important than ever?
KEN: Absolutely. The leader’s mindset has such a big impact, influence on the organization and all the team members. So, if you’ve been in this victim, oh woe is me, our business is down, our numbers are down, we’ve had to let people go, and those are all not good things, those are all negative things. But if that’s where you live, that’s where your team will live, if you feel challenged, they will feel challenged. If you come into the office environment, even via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and it’s with anger and conflict and what’s wrong and who’s to blame, you’re going to get that back in spades. I always say, it’s a true point, it’s a bad word choice, but energy is contagious. Whereas if you have broad or can bring this opportunity mindset, let’s pivot. Let’s change up some of the industries we serve. Let’s change some of the practice areas. That’s going to serve you well, and I’ve seen so many leaders and organizations pivot over the last, it’s been 13 or 14 months. it’s hard to keep track. And those who have looked for that opportunity and pivoted they see that in their followers and so, to go from sort of we’re challenged to maybe we’re uncertain to there’s opportunity out there, let’s look for it, let’s seek it in ourselves. We will morph, our organizations will morph, and we will come out better on that other side. So, as a leader, make sure you’re consistently seeing the opportunity ahead. And if you do that, so will your leaders under you, your leaders in training and your team.
DOUG: Ken, thanks for setting such a great example for those watching as you express vulnerability about some of the things you did. Great advice that people should latch on to and put into place immediately. Thanks again for joining us.
KEN: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it.