The FBI Way

THE Federal Bureau of Investigation is a respected American institution that had its beginnings in 1908. Its 100-plus years of exceptional performance, the former head of counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi says, is attributed to the organizational code that demanded internal excellence at all times, from everyone. He calls it the FBI Way.

In The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence, Figliuzzi organizes and explains that code and how it is maintained as The Seven C’s. These seven values are worth considering in any context.

1. Code

The code reflects the core values that are shared by everyone in the organization.

If you haven’t established basic behavioral benchmarks in your business, organization, team, or family, you should. They don’t have to be numerous; in fact, they shouldn’t be. Too many rules can very quickly turn into no rules at all. Determine what type of conduct so undermines whatever you or your group stands for that it poses an existential threat. Communicate those “danger zones” clearly and frequently.

The FBI, as an institution, enforces code and investigates deviations from that code—the U.S. Constitution and the criminal code. Living out their own code becomes critical to that process, especially in a political environment with really no code.

You can’t live by two codes at once. You also can’t spot and avoid the kinds of codes and conduct that threaten your values if you never even develop a strong sense of what it is that you value. You’ll never see the threat coming. We might not die from an absence of code, but regardless of who we are, our lives and livelihoods are enhanced when we know what we stand for.

2. Conservancy

The FBI is a conservancy. I like his terminology here. Like stewardship, conservancy is “a collective effort to preserve and protect the true worth of a place or thing. People in conservancy agree to become stewards accountable for sustaining an entity greater than themselves.”

Accountability is key here. And everyone in the FBI is accountable to someone, and the higher up you go, the more accountable you are.

He briefly mentions the missteps of Jim Comey in 2017. Comey cast doubt on the FBI when he allowed himself to be drug into the political drama of the time. It’s human, but Figliuzzi says it basically came down to the fact that he forgot who he was accountable to. It is hard not to become political, even when writing a book such as this, but it is critical to the FBI’s credibility that it is not seen as political. As Figliuzzi advises later in the book, “Sometimes taking a broader view of your mission can help you preserve your values.”

Figliuzzi notes that families need conservators too. And his wife filled that role.

3. Clarity

Clarity applies in a number of ways. Clarity includes “bright lines;” Those lines, that when crossed, get you fired. Clarity of code.

The need for clarity of information for decision making and the clarity to know when you have enough or all you are going to get. “You need to know when to demand clarity and when to just walk away.”

And there is the clarity of purpose and principle that help you to know when to say yes and when to walk away.

Too often, when organizations have their most important standards challenged, they engage in a cost-benefit analysis to decide whether to defend their core values. Those organizations don’t recognize that standards worth defining are standards worth defending.

4. Consequences

There should be no surprises when it comes to consequences. A code must have repercussions when it is violated, or it is just “window dressing.”

A code that’s not enforced quickly becomes a lie that undermines your entire operation. You can’t just wish a code into compliance; people need to understand that there’s a price to pay if they endanger the collective health of the larger team. Consequences put teeth in a code.A family, a company, or a country that’s shy about triggering established consequences can expect boundaries to be repeatedly pushed to the point of breaking.

5. Compassion

A code without compassion doesn’t work for long. Compassion and consequences go hand-in-hand. Sometimes compassion means looking in the mirror to see how you or a dysfunctional system lead to the poor judgment or wrong behavior.

Compassion provides the necessary balance to what could be an otherwise harsh and cold process. As sure as people need to know that their leaders have set bright lines on conduct, they also need to trust that those leaders will treat them as valued human beings. That’s why good leaders take a holistic approach to weighing consequences by assessing an employee’s total record, the context that led to their lapse, and that team member’s capacity to overcome their wrongdoing.

6. Credibility

Credibility is the bedrock of a values-based organization or group. And that applies both within the organization and about the organization. “People must believe in us and the values we represent. It is credibility that determines whether values survive beyond the personalities of individual leaders.”

Credible preservation of principles happens when the process is codified, objective, and comprehensive. Codification means the process must not only be in writing but also easily accessible, understandable, and taken seriously.
Credibility isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being trusted. Trusted to do the right thing even when it’s painful.

7. Consistency

Consistency is about intentionality. It helps to preserve what really matters.

There was a beauty and simplicity to establishing a rhythm that went beyond mere routine. I’m talking about developing a system in your life, your work, or your studies, and sticking with it if it works, or tweaking it if it doesn’t. A consistent system. Not just winging it.

But as Figliuzzi points out, that shouldn’t be confused with rigidity. Consistency may mean, at times, redefining “your entire approach in order to remain consistent with your values,” as they did after 9/11.

Change shouldn’t be something that happens “to” people, it should be something that happens “with” people. It’s crucial that everyone involved understand that adapting doesn’t mean an abandonment of values or mission. To the contrary, the proposed changes must reflect how those changes are not only consistent with your values but vital to preserving them.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, consistency and change are joined at the hip. To preserve our core values, we all inevitably must change, adapt, and transition to new ways of preserving and promoting what we hold dear.

He observes that the “FBI’s highest-profile mistakes happen primarily when its leaders act contrary to their own rules.” So build in systems that make it harder to fail.

Woven into the explanation of each of these qualities are stories of 9/11, interstate chases, Quantico, anthrax, espionage, counterterrorism, homicides, and much more to illustrate his point. The FBI Way is a very profitable and interesting read. And well worth your time for the principles that are applicable anywhere.

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What Makes a Great Leader?

Last week I had a thoughtful client ask me a question I don’t get asked very often – What makes a great leader? Since, as an executive coach, I’m usually the one asking the questions, she caught me off guard with hers. What followed next was a quick real-time distillation of long-held thoughts and observations on the nature of true leadership.

We had a really engaging conversation on the topic and, since I view this blog as a way to include you in the conversation, I want to share a recap of what we talked about. As we look back on a year when we’ve seen the impact of both stellar and dismal leadership take center stage this feels like a good time to step back and set our bearings for 2021.

Here, then, are my observations on what makes a great leader. It’s not an exhaustive list and is certainly open to debate. These are the conclusions I’ve come to after spending most of my life so far either leading others or advising, coaching, developing and observing leaders. I would love to hear your own observations in the comments on LinkedIn or through a personal note.

They’re non-heroic – With rare exception, the great leaders are not cut from heroic cloth. We are often presented with models of leadership that turn on heroic moments like Henry V’s “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” speech at Agincourt or George W. Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn in his hand. Moments like these are galvanizing for sure, but they’re moments nonetheless. I suspect that the total elapsed time of moments like that in a presidency or premiership or the tenure of a CEO are usually measured not in days or hours but in minutes. Some leaders are never even presented with the opportunity to act in such visibly heroic ways and end up being among the most effective. For those fortunate enough to be well-led, including team members in many of my client organizations, this year has happily shown the benefits of leaders who consistently do the work of non-heroic leadership.

They do the work – My own shift in moving away from the heroic model of leadership started in graduate school under the tutelage of two powerful mentors in my life, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linksy. Ron and Marty have done seminal work over the decades on what they call adaptive leadership. It’s the practice of leading a group in adapting to and addressing the impact of significant change. There has probably been no year in living memory that has called for adaptive leadership more than 2020. Sadly, the leadership failures this year have been historic but there have been others that are shining examples for the future. One of those would be the leadership of New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Early on in the pandemic, Arden defined the work for her “team of 5 million” as coming together to keep each other safe. As University of Auckland professor Siouxsie Wiles described it, Arden “never put us on a war footing. Everything was about collaboration, working together, positive language — rather than fear. ‘We’re a team of 5 million,’ I think it was very powerful.” One thing that Heifitz and Linsky drilled into me and the rest of their students is that the opposite of doing the work is work avoidance. In contrast to Arden and others, we’ve also seen the impact of leaders engaging in work avoidance this year that’s led to lost lives, lost jobs and lost opportunities to work together.

They’re long-haul grinders – Great leaders are not flash in the pan people; they’re long-haul grinders. They understand that, because the environment is always changing, leading a group or a team through change is a long-term process. That requires modulation and perspective on the part of the leader. Ron Heifetz compares leadership to a pressure cooker. He points out that using a pressure cooker requires attention and adjustments. If you don’t apply enough heat, the food doesn’t get cooked. If you apply too much, the pressure cooker explodes. Great leaders have learned that lesson. They take the longer view and pay attention to the amount of pressure they’re applying over time to themselves and others.

They define reality while offering hope – Great leadership requires the courage to call things as they actually are while leading the group along the path to a better future. Napoleon described it as defining reality, then offering hope. Practicing this approach to leadership is the reason Dr. Anthony Fauci polled with a 72 percent approval rating at the end of October. The head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been both relentless and undeterred this year in sounding the alarm about what’s been coming with COVID-19 while offering reality-based steps that everyone can take to create a better future for themselves, their families and their neighbors. He’s consistently done that in the face of a lack of support from the top and death threats against him and his family. That’s what great leadership looks like. It’s encouraging to know that the majority of people appreciate that.

They drive for results and build relationships – I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the best leaders are equally attentive to driving results and building relationships. They understand that, over the long-run, you can’t get the first without attending to the second. It’s a similar dynamic to what Good to Great author Jim Collins describes as Level 5 Leadership – the combination of fierce resolve and deep humility. There was a wonderful example of that results and relationships Level 5 approach in last weekend’s deeply reported Wall Street Journal article on how the U.S. pharma giant Pfizer and the much smaller German firm BioNTech partnered together to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine in under eleven months.  Recognizing that he needed a bigger partner to scale his mRNA vaccine technology, BioNTech CEO and co-founder, Ugur Sahin, called Pfizer’s head of vaccine research, Kathrin Jansen, on March 1 to ask for help and propose a partnership. Her response was immediate, “This is a disaster, and it’s getting worse. Happy to work with you.” The drive for results and the humility required to ask for help and give it when asked led us to where we are today with, as I write this, health care workers in the U.S. having the vaccine injected in their arms just ten and a half months after that phone call. A stunning timeline when the typical timeline for vaccine development has been ten years.

They’re the best boss you ever had – This last characteristic of great leaders is a summation of thousands of answers I’ve heard in response to a request I’ve made of my clients for many years now; think of the best boss you’ve ever had and then tell me the reason they were your best boss. Invariably, the answers add up to the perfect description of the kind of leader you’d love to be led by. They have your back. They support you. They provide direction. They celebrate your success. They stretch you in good ways. They give you latitude to act. They share what they know. The list goes on and on but you get the idea. Or, if you need more, think of your own best boss ever and list the reasons they were. If you really want to make a difference as a leader in 2021, go forth and be that kind of person.

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In times of crisis, complex decisions often have to be made
and implemented quickly. It can be challenging to coordinate and obtain buy-in
on those big decisions even when the stakeholders can get in a room together to
hash it all out. In the new “Work from Home” (WFH) era sparked by the COVID-19
pandemic, being in the same room isn’t an option. That can lead to some
predictable conflict-management problems that you can avoid with a little foresight
and creativity.

Think back to that distant time of February 2020 and
earlier. There were probably times when you found yourself in the middle of an
email flame war. You remember how those went. One or more participants poured
gas on the fire by sharing crazy assumptions or accusations without having all
the facts. If you’re like the best leaders I’ve coached, you calmed the conflict
by pulling the parties together to talk things out. Just the act of bringing the
players into the same room made things better because once people are together,
they connect more as human beings and not as faceless combatants sitting at
their keyboards.

Now that we’re all WFH, leaders need to be super intentional
and proactive about creating virtual spaces for human connection. For instance,
let’s say you’re finding yourself at odds with a colleague about how your teams
should coordinate and work together during the crisis. One option is to send
emails back and forth (and maybe CC’ing a few people in the process) so the two
of you can argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s not good for anybody
– your customers, your teams or either of you.

If you were in the pre-WFH days what would you do? I asked
that question of an executive coaching client a few days ago who was in the
middle of one of those virtual conflict loops. He immediately answered, “I’d
walk down to his office and say, ‘Let’s go get a beer and talk things over.’”
We concluded that that was still a good move, it would just have to be executed
a little differently. Later that day, he set up a FaceTime call with his colleague
and they each had a beer while they talked things over. The next day, they
co-led an online meeting of both of their teams so everyone was working from
the same playbook. The show of leadership unity that was engineered over a
virtual happy hour was a crucial component of getting things back on track.
(Thanks to my client for giving me the OK to share his story with you.)

We don’t realize how much our effectiveness as leaders and
colleagues depends on the little things like picking up on facial expressions
and body language while we’re relaxing together until our usual ways of doing
that are no longer available. Until they are again, we’re all going to have to
be more mindful of creating and calling for virtual alternatives. Our ability
to make complex decisions and get good things done without a lot of needless
friction depends on it.

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Are You Hearing or Listening?

One of the things I’ve said for a long-time as an executive coach is that if
you get colleague feedback that you need to be a better listener, take the
feedback and start working on it. The positive leadership ripple effects from
doing a better job of listening are enormous and wide-spread. Problem-solving,
team-engagement, relationships and results all improve when leaders listen

I was reminded of this again a few weeks ago when conducting
colleague feedback interviews for a new coaching client. (This is the time of
year when I usually take on a few new clients.) One of the colleagues made an
interesting distinction between hearing and listening as in, “I think he hears
me, but I’m not always sure he’s listening to me.” That distinction between
hearing and listening is a simple one but yields a big difference in outcomes.

Hearing is really just sound waves landing on your ear
drums. When it stops there, it’s what I call transient listening. You’re on
your way to someplace else – physically, mentally or both. You’re basically in
transit and not present. How do you know when you’re just hearing and not
really listening? Some of the warning signs include:

Your focus is on you.Your goal is to wrap up and move on.You feel distracted or impatient.You interrupt to tell your thoughts.

Listening, on the other hand, involves a lot more than your
ear drums. When you’re really listening, you’re engaging your brain and the
other party’s brain. That’s how you build both connection and value.

From my point of view, there are two basic styles of
value-added listening – transactional and transformational. You see a lot of
transactional listening at work because it’s the kind of listening that’s best
suited to solve a problem or identify a next step. Here are some of the
signs that you’re engaging in transactional listening:

Your focus is on the other party.Your goal is to move things forward.You feel purposeful and focused.You ask open-ended questions and clarify

In most organizations, you don’t see a lot of
transformational listening. That’s too bad, because it’s the kind of listening
that creates the most long-term value. Transformational listening not only
engages the brains in the conversation, it quite often engages the hearts. It’s
listening with the primary agenda to connect with the other person. Connection
builds trust and trust yields results. Here are some of the signs that
you’re engaging in transformational listening:

Your focus is on the connection between you and
the other party.Your goal is to learn more about the other party
– what they think, what they value and how they feel.You feel creative, connected and relaxed.You observe with your eyes and are comfortable
with silence and build on what’s said.

So, what do you think? Have you been hearing more or
listening more lately? If it’s more on the hearing side, I’d suggest you pick
one or two of the signs of transactional listening to focus on in your
conversations in the coming weeks. If you think you’re already doing a great
job on transactional listening, why not look for or create some opportunities
for transformational listening in the next few weeks? Based on what my clients
have told me over the years about what happens when they engage in
transformational listening, I can practically guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

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