A View From The Balcony
We asked Sandra Staehle, a former executive, with the Boeing Company to share her perspectives about leadership and mentoring after having spent 22 years on the dance floor. Staehle was Director of Finance and Business Management for the Apache Program and held previous positions as the Director of Operations, Director of International Business Support and as Counsel in the Law Department.
MM: What are some of the issues and challenges you see that organizational leaders are facing in 2012?
SS: More than ever before, leaders face the challenge of leading through uncertainty and perhaps even through chaos. We have faced and continue to face economic uncertainties and, in some cases, financial chaos. Leaders need to be prepared for the fact that there will always be unexpected barriers. Leaders need to be able to adapt to significant changes. With the demand for results, we need leaders who have the highest ethical standards and who are prepared to do business in a responsible manner. Compromise is not acceptable when we are talking about ethics. .
Communication is essential, but it needs to be a two-way process. The vision and common goals need to be communicated clearly. When you set a tone, it becomes contagious. If we are to have an inspired and engaged workforce, leaders need to truly respect diversity of thought and ensure that everyone is heard and included. There is power in diversity. People issues must come first. If the people issues, processes and strategies are not in place and are not respected and implemented, the business strategy becomes more difficult to achieve. Leaders need to enable others to act to maximize their capabilities and contributions while stepping in only to assist with removing major barriers.
MM: Are the issues and challenges similar/different than those leaders have faced in the past? In what ways?
SS: Most leaders would acknowledge that there are problems that cannot be solved immediately and that discussion is required. Technology has changed and we now have 24/7 connectivity and a generation that demands immediate responses. New entries into the workforce prefer to text rather than talk. We need to find new ways to engage and motivate, while incorporating new technology as part of the process. Communication remains critical, but we cannot underestimate the need for accessibility. It is too easy to sacrifice accessibility for connectivity. Accessibility contributes to creating an atmosphere of trust and respect, which in turn, leads to a more engaged workforce, creating higher productivity. Finding common ground and building rapport are key elements in motivating people toward a common goal.
MM: What about coaching and mentoring where do you see them fitting into the picture?
SS: Coaching and mentoring are great tools to develop people. Coach on the skill issues to drive improvement and mentor to provide insight into the endless possibilities available and to help people realize and attain their own potential. Setting high expectations and seeking out creative challenges are important. The bar is raised not only for the leader, but for everyone else. People cannot be managed into exceptional performance. To tackle the creative challenges and perform at the highest level, people must be empowered to act on their own. They must be allowed to experiment and take risks and learn from mistakes. Lifelong learning is important for everyone. It is disappointing that in 2012 we still have to talk about diversity and a culture of inclusiveness and still attend annual classes on the subject. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Meaningful measurement systems are required for accountability.
MM: What attributes should organizations be looking for in their future talent and what do leaders need to know to position them for success?
SS: Leaders have personal humility and a strong, unstoppable professional will. They understand the vision and strategy thereby delivering results, but they never lose sight of the importance of people and enabling them to perform at the highest levels. They work toward the greater good of the business.
Leaders are self-aware. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses makes failure less likely. It also leads to better people skills. There is a greater understanding of how the leader's style, goals and needs affect other people in the organization. This, in turn, contributes to creating that atmosphere of trust and respect that we strive for and helps to set the overall positive tone that allows for full and honest dialogue.
We need people who can deal with change and challenge in a rationale, reasoned approach. Leaders must be able to manage relationships so that the team can remain focused on the goals of the organization. They find the common ground to move people to implement the clearly communicated strategy.
Leaders need to be accessible. Networks and empowerment are critical; nothing gets done in a vacuum, and sometimes a leader just needs to get out of the way. A leader is not the focal point through which everything must go to get anything done. Leaders must be willing to take the time to coach and mentor because it is the best way to develop people, not because they are told it is a requirement. The leader must be committed to and truly believe in the process for people development. Lifelong learning is way of life for the true leader and that learning is encouraged throughout the organization.
MM: What advice would you offer to an organization seeking to develop its leaders?
SS: Make mentoring a key component in the day-to-day operation of the business to ensure that people are aware of the endless possibilities that are available and that they know they will be supported as they reach to attain them. Recognize that people will make mistakes and do not "shoot the messenger," but rather use a mistake as a real time learning opportunity. This in no way means accepting or tolerating unethical practices, for which there should be zero tolerance.
Create the atmosphere that truly allows for all ideas to be heard and to be treated with respect. Don't just talk about empowerment; take active steps to promote empowerment. Look at all of the processes in place and determine if any are barriers to empowerment. If the processes are not essential to maintain the integrity of the business, get rid of them. Encourage people to take part in lifelong learning. It's said repeatedly, but "walk the talk," and hold people accountable.
MM: What two books would you recommend that all leaders look to for inspiration and wisdom?
SS: The Leadership Challenge, Fourth Edition by Kouzes & Posner because it deals with leadership for everyone in terms of personal self-development and recognizes that we live and work in a global environment. Good to Great by Jim Collins because it encompasses every area of business strategy and practices, and it integrates leadership into the process of going beyond good and getting to great.