PFL and Heinz Marketing have teamed up to create
an exclusive, virtual book club just for CMOs!
For the third stop of our virtual book tour, we covered topics in Frances Frei and Anne Morris’ book: Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You.
We held a peer-to-peer discussion on how to lead with confidence in unstable economic times, how to personalize your leadership style based on each employee’s needs, the importance of promoting inclusion and authenticity, and much more.
If you missed the discussion or want a refresher on the book’s topics, check out our Q&A with Francis Frei below! Or jump down to 10 tips for becoming a better leader right away.
I really like the distinction between presence and absence as elements of leadership. Where did that distinction come from — your research, experience, a little of both?
Both, certainly. The germ of the idea was planted when we started writing about excellence in service organizations more than a decade ago, which we described as the product of design choices and culture choices. At some point, we described the idea that culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, and of the course the CEO isn’t in the room most of the time. As we spent more time on the idea, we concluded that leaders have more tools to influence discretionary behavior than culture. Culture is still the silent gorilla in the room, the biggest and most powerful of the organizational beasts, but there are some other creatures running around the forest, too. Strategy is one of them.
You don’t see a lot of business leadership books with an entire chapter devoted to love. Can you explain the context of love and its importance to leadership?
We originally named the chapter “tough love,” which explicitly captured the idea of combining high standards and deep devotion. In our experience, that’s the leadership context that enables someone to fully realize their capacity to contribute. As we developed the idea further, we realized that a better term for it might be “true love,” because setting high standards reveals you truly see another person and their full potential. Ultimately, “love” felt powerful enough on its own without weighing it down with additional modifiers.
I’ve been thinking about the standards/devotion matrix quite a bit. Can you describe that and why it’s such an important reflection of how others see us as leaders?
The pattern is clear that it’s the context that allows other people to truly thrive. Often, as leaders, we think — or, rather, we act as if — you have to pick one or the other, devotion or standards, but the best leaders set high standards and reveal deep devotion simultaneously. They reject the tradeoff and are unapologetic in offering their people both gifts. They are bighearted and demanding in equal doses.
The most powerful sections of the book for me were around absence. Why is it important for leaders to be proactive about how they are leading when they are NOT present?
It’s really about scaling your impact as a leader. We all have a choice. We can limit our influence to the people right in front of us or expand that influence to countless more, including the people we rarely see or may never even meet. The tools you use to lead people in your absence, however, are very different. This distinction is even more important in the middle of a pandemic, when some amount of distance has been forced on every relationship we have as leaders. A Zoom check-in only gets you so far, which means that culture and strategy become essential tools to set people up for success when you’re not there to influence their behavior directly.
What are some of the most powerful “look yourself in the mirror” moments you’ve seen that help accelerate leadership growth?
Among the most powerful catalysts for change we’ve witnessed are when well-intentioned leaders confront the unintended effects of their actions — or inaction — on the people who are coming to work for them every day. It’s just super humbling to learn that you’ve let down the people who are giving you their time and talent every day, often without any awareness that you’re doing it. Now to turn this realization into action, you have to be in a “growth mindset.” That mindset gets created by curiosity, humility, and commitment to excellence. Change happens in an instant, yes, but getting ready to change is usually an evolution, an accumulation of experiences over time.
This book was obviously written before the pandemic. What would you have said differently if you wrote it right now?
We would have certainly talked more about remote work as an important element of absence. But the pandemic has exposed so many fault lines of inequality in our communities and organizations, in addition to changing the way we work. The core messages would be the same, but I think we would have made an even stronger case for broad inclusion and for moving with urgency and doing right by your people, even without the context of an external shock like COVID-19.
10 Ways to Be a Better Leader Tomorrow
- Make it a team project. Create an inclusive team lead environment where, together, you can set project expectations, brainstorm ideas, and agree on deliverables.
- Vocalize praise. Do you have someone on your team who is crushing their goals? Give them a shout-out in a team huddle and include the specifics.
- Raise the bar for someone. Instead of waiting for someone to evolve, act like they have already done so. Give them a project to work on that only their better self can execute. They may surprise you.
- Create peer-to-peer mentorship. Ask your high performers to help you raise the standard by mentoring other teammates. Let them decide their own directive in ways that will inspire and energize each other.
- Schedule retrospectives. After a big project, set time aside to talk through what went well and what could have been better. This helps set the standard that the status quo isn’t all the team is capable of.
- Be specific with goals. Take the SMART approach and make sure the goals you are creating are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.
- Communicate your ambition. Be infectious with your sense of purpose. Vocalize what you’re trying to achieve and always articulate the “why”.
- Streamline a tedious process. Figure out what is draining your team’s time. Is there a way you can decrease their pain and create more efficient ways to complete tasks, pull reports, etc?
- Be bold. Move with purpose toward a personal or team goal and let others know. Ideally your objective should be something that has never been done.
- Set your own bar higher. If you want others on your team to adopt certain standards, be the model of those behaviors. Stay accountable and don’t accept your own mediocrity.
To listen to the CMO book club discussion on this book, click here for the on-demand recording.
About the CMO Book Club
The CMO Book Club is an invite-only marketing community, hosted by PFL and Heinz Marketing. Our main goal is to bring together CMOs (and aspiring CMOs) to talk about key topics and ideas from experts in business leadership.
Every couple months, we hand-select a book and host a virtual round table discussion with the author, so leaders can network and ask questions!
Want to be included in the next stop of our tour?