Counter Mentor Leadership | Book Review

Book of the year.

"You see, most companies believe that when you promote
an individual to the ranks of management, that person
miraculously becomes an amazing leader." (p. xiii) 

Kelly & Robby Riggs have created a well formatted, approachable and funny call to action for anyone seriously interested in improving decades of lousy leadership and engagement survey results in the workplace. On this stage (p. xiv), Kelly represents the BOSS (Boomer, Old-School Supervisor) and Robby the KIDS (Know-It-All-Digital Self-Promoters). Their more expanded generational categories are (pp. 33-34):

1. Greatest Generation (b. 1901-1924)
2. Traditionalist (b. 1925-1946) also called silent generation
3. Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964)
4. Generation X (b. 1961-1981)
5. Millennials (b. 1982-1997)

As we frequently discover in our Academy Leadership Creating a Motivational Environment workshops, the generationally divergent Riggs independently and repeatedly observed (p. xiv):

1. A shocking lack of leadership skills in the workplace.
2. The stunning, often unrecognized impact of technology on the workplace.
3. The culture-killing generational divide that is demolishing many companies.

In four sections the authors describe the leadership landscape, remind us that leadership is not easy, then introduce a contemporary Counter Mentor Leadership Model and Solution, respectively. At the core, the authors believe the key to success in the chaotic, four-generation workplace is completely dependent upon a change in leadership approach (p. 7). Bravo!

The Leadership Landscape

The Riggs observed, as did Stanley McChrystal in Team of Teams, Frederick Winslow Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management (p. 7):

1. Corporations are wildly inefficient in production processes.
2. The remedy for this inefficiency lies in systematic management rather than in searching for some unusual or extraordinary leader.
3. The best management is a true science, resting upon clearly defined laws, rules, and principles as a foundation.

Which still dominate organizational practices today. According to the Riggs, it is only because of a lack of education in leadership that we are STILL trying to employ the Taylorian Management model today (p. 9).

The authors define leadership as:

The art and science of getting things done
through other people
(p. 10).

Notice getting things done is a results oriented approach. Contrast that with our current generation tending to manage, track, and think about time as the metric for work (p. 22). There's a good chance you do too. Is that results or performance oriented? Millennials think differently, they are far more purpose-driven than prior generations. They want to change the world. They just need [us] to mentor and develop them (p. 38). One of the most important roles of a leader is to provide a vision, mission and purpose.

What happens instead? Well, most corporate managers (p. 43-44):

• Rarely encourage employee input or feedback.
• Are focused on the task far more than the employee.
• Can be stern, even harsh, and in many cases intimidating in an effort to get their way.
• May be given to excessive criticism.
• Tend to be impatient, and they may not listen very well (if at all).
• Often seek power or authority far more passionately than results.
• Believe every employee should have to endure what previous employees have endured.
• May dislike new ideas -- especially from younger employees (thus, it's not their idea).
• Have typically lagged behind (sometimes far behind) in technology adoption.
• Really don't understand "KIDS these days..."
• Struggle with the radical changes in workplace attitudes.

It's a major disconnect. Not surprisingly, a younger generation thirsty for a motivational, purpose-fulfilling experience usually encounters the opposite. And they'll quickly leave. To compound the leadership failure, a huge perception gap exists between managers and employees (p. 42):

• 89 percent of managers believe employees leave their jobs for more money.
• 88 percent of employees reported they left for reasons other than money.

Leadership is Freaking Hard

Matthew Lieberman offers a staggering finding in his article, "Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?," in regard to employee perceptions of leadership ability (p. 50):

• If a leader was considered strong in social skills, the person was seen as a great leader 12 percent of the time.
• If a leader was perceived to be strong in focusing on results, the number increased to 14 percent of the time.
• For leaders who were strong in both results and social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a strong leader skyrocketed to 72%

Take a moment to process that.

Almost all individuals who progress from individual
to leadership roles are promoted because
of their technical competence or skill at their previous job
(p. 51).

Whether you are a command and control (think green-red Energize2Lead profile colors) type leader or a social type leader (think dominant yellow Energize2Lead colors), have you developed the other trait? Research tells us almost nobody does this, yet the results if we do are astonishing.

• Less than 1% of leaders were rated high on both goal focus and social skills.

Like Mark Crowley (see Lead from the Heart), the Riggs explore, then define employee engagement as: The level of an employee's emotional commitment to the organization -- its purpose, vision, values, people, leadership, and goals (p. 57). Here's the truth when we ignore engagement:

People join companies, but they leave managers (p. 59).

Given this thirst for engagement, the price for mistaking management for leadership is high and likely increasing. Not surprisingly, ineffective leaders (pp. 61-64):

1. Hire the wrong people.
2. Don't create clarity for the team.
3. Don't train effectively.
4. Don't create a culture of accountability.

This is not a technology or process issue. The new knowledge gap (p. 72) is a people problem: connecting with your people, learning how they communicate, understanding their work preferences, and discovering what motivates them! By the way, this is precisely what we focus on the first two days of our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses.

Why is leadership then so hard? The authors reflect: "In our experience, the BOSS is often unwilling to adapt to the monumental changes that technology and the KIDS represent in the workplace (p. 105)."

COUNTER Mentor Leadership Model

This section is the heart of the book. Many of us are poor at delegation. Yet, consider the more you do FOR someone, the more dependent that person becomes (p. 125). What is the perception of us as leaders if we don't appear to extend trust? The Riggs offer four terrific values, which can be considered part of their Leadership Philosophy, to earn trust (p. 129):

• Loyalty
• Humility
• Service
• Gratitude

It's a bit fun, and certainly understandable, that the authors advocate an opposite (of a scientific Taylorian approach), or counter leadership approach. Counter Mentor Leaders:

• Are intentional about their time.
• Are emotionally intelligent.
• Are next-level communicators.
• Are great coaches.
• Are strategic thinkers.

The COUNTER acronym denotes these effective next-generation leaders, who:

• Communicate desired outcomes.
• Own the relationship.
• Understand the different perspectives.
• Negotiate the obstacles.
• Teach essential skills.
• Execute in the real world.
• Review results.

This is very different than the organization which refers to leadership as a position, or a noun. Rather, this type leadership is active and requires focused energy on others and on the organization. Want to improve engagement and retention? Then embrace that it's the leader's actions that influence the employee and directly impact the level of engagement (p. 148).

Do you waste time with annual performance reviews? The Riggs advocate the single most important thing that you can do to communicate effectively with your people is to invest your time in weekly, high-quality communication with your employees (p. 162). Such performance coaching properly renders the typical performance review a brief, administrative exercise.

A coaching, or development based leader owns the relationship by:

taking the necessary steps to provide clarity,
set clear expectations, and create a culture
that fully engages the employees (p. 181).

Recall the social skills mentioned earlier. Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills (p. 217). Most companies discount such development at their peril. Are you in an institution where most training is expendable, meaning that it's the first line item in the budget to be cut? Compounding this, few companies have specific training and development plans for individual employees (p. 223). There's a huge price to pay for not doing this.

According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey (p. 225), of great significance in the current survey results is the finding that 71% of those likely to leave in the next two years are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed -- fully 17 points higher than among those intending to stay beyond 2020.

Counter Mentor Leadership Solution

Many of us recall during our Academy Leadership workshops that 83% of organizations have accountability issues. The Riggs further delineate a twofold problem (p 255): The BOSS doesn't know how to create a culture of accountability; when there is an issue, the BOSS doesn't truly doesn't address the issue.

To address this, the authors visualize a useful construct, the Freedom Box (p. 260) with four primary boundaries:

• Company values and/or guiding principles.
• Expectations.
• Level of Authority.
• Performance standards and metrics.

Freedom Box.png

Which can be thought of as an agreed-upon area of autonomy.

Have you ever been in an organization which tolerates poor performers, or procrastinates addressing substandard behavior? What have we tolerated ourselves? Lack of accountability is easily the single most destructive leadership failure in the workplace: the unwillingness of managers, at every level, to deal with performance issues -- poor performance, nonperformance, missed commitments, or attitude problems (p. 270).

Great leaders are great coaches. Recall, we must separate coaching from evaluation (see Thanks for the Feedback) or criticism. Coaching is helpful, understanding, patient, teaching and caring. On the other hand, criticism is harsh, judgmental, impatient, tearing down and insensitive (p. 283).

It's useful to think of sports. We don't expect or imagine a professional sports coach stepping in for a player on the field. Yet many of us do this at work repeatedly. Gregg Popovich, of the San Antonio Spurs (p. 285) says it best:

"And if a player knows that you really care and believes that
you can make it better, you got the guy for life."

As coach-leader, we have a responsibility to convey purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (p. 309).


This is a book for a generation -- for anyone who cares about people, their organizations, or goodness.

Note: Kelly Riggs generously provided a copy of their book for review.

JE | February 2018