Vibons Blog Interview with Keith Merron: 'Leadership' - The Vibons Blog

Vibons Blog Interview with Keith Merron: 'Leadership'

By Team Vibons, Keith Merron   |    10 min read

Vibons Blog Interview with Keith Merron: 'Leadership'

By Team Vibons, Keith Merron
 10 min read

Alp: Hello everyone this is Alp Turkan and we are doing an interview today with Keith Merron. Keith Merron is a highly respected organizational consultant and leadership developer. He is also founder and managing partner of Leadership Pathways. Keith received his doctorate from Harvard University where he studies spanned the field of human and organizational development.

Hello Keith, thank you for the opportunity to interview you.

We had a chance to learn more about what Keith does.

We know that he is helping companies for the following three reasons:

1. Achieve sustainable high performance and industry leadership

2. Design and lead innovative leadership training

3. Building extraordinary organizational cultures

We want to find out more about how he helps the companies out using these three training methods.

Keith: Generally, the way I think about my work as wrapping my arms around the whole client system. It’s usually a whole business. And I’m looking to lift the quality of that organization higher and higher and terms of the way people within the company work together.

That primarily results in me focusing on the quality of the culture. The degree in which the organization is clear about its vision and strategy, the degree in which people are strategically aligned or aligned to that strategy.

I’m a leadership culture and strategy person.

Alp: How do you create alignment for a company?

Keith: My point a view is that for organizations to be successful in this day and age it required dynamically steering. It used to for 50-100 years ago that if you want to be strategically aligned the world around us was pretty stable and you could predict what was going to happen in the next 5 – 10 years. In such an environment strategic alignment would make sense.

Annually you would get a bunch of people together, do 5 -10 year plans and adjust them every year so but your weren’t dynamically steering you were focusing and getting everybody aligned around that direction.

Today and such a moving world, you probably heard of the word VUCA (Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous), organizations when they plan it was kind of like planning-ish. It’s not really firm plans. You plan, you set a direction, you get a bunch a people involved in that planning to be sure that everybody is clear about where things are going and then you revisit that plan quite a bit. Most companies don’t do more than 1-3 year planning and it more like 1-3 year aiming.

We might have plans for this quarter or this year with our 1-3 year aim and meet regularly as an organization to ask the question if the plan still applies and how we are doing relative to our plan and our intention.

So the essence of it is to get people together often, ask the same questions and redirect the plan along the way. The more you are inclusive in this process and the more people elevate their thinking into the direction of company and the more they are able to identify the strategy and with where the company is going to the more they are able to execute. Then execution becomes a far bigger differentiator of success than it used to be.

It used to be a good plan will get you far with some good execution now a good plan won’t get you that far but good execution will get you much farther.

Alp: What would you consider a good execution for companies?

Keith: Each company is different. There is this thing that I do with most of my clients called the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) drilldown. If the planning is down well, there will be a number of areas in the business that are key measures of whether or not your business is successful. Things like a balance score card, that Kaplan and Norton developed this concept over 30 years ago, that you want to have a strategy that is clear and focus and you want to have a way balanced way of measuring how your organization is doing towards that strategy. A balance score card would include measures related to the customer satisfaction, how well our culture’s doing and degree of engagement. It would have measure of he we are doing in our operations, financially. Etc. A well rounded picture of the organization’s health is the idea of a balance score card. And a KPI drilldown is once you are clear of the overall direction and strategy and your key measures for success, you identify the KPI that tell you if you are going to success around the score card.

I get executive teams together, say once a quarter but sometimes they may meet more often, they are looking at all of their KPI and balance score cards. They are looking at how we are doing. If we are doing well or what, we want to know why.

Alp: How do you establish the goals and trainings for the design and leadership training?

Keith: I hold a belief that the quality of an organization’s culture is a direct reflection of the consciousness of the leadership. Many leaders of organizations will come to me and say that they want their company culture to be better where people are fully engaged and I say that we need to look at the leadership. If a company doesn’t want to do that, then I can’t work with them because so much of the culture is a reflection of the leadership.

For most of the CEO and company heads that get it, we talk about what is the company’s direction, what is the kind of culture that you want to create, how will you get from here to there and what shifts needs happen in the leadership to be promote the kind of culture you want to create.

And that’s where we begin to talk about leadership training.

For leadership training, it starts with what kind of shift needs to be done. Sometime training is not the right strategy for leadership, sometimes the leaders need to be replaced with better ones.

For my training program, it’s a 3-5 day experience where the leaders go offsite. I start with what are our goals. It’s not skill training, its attitude training which tend to be quite deep.

Alp: Do you think leaders are made or are they born?

Keith: A little of both but far more made than most people realize. Some people who look natural as a leader might be born with the impulse of being top dog and extremely ambitious but you can imagine that someone with these traits will be learning and paying attention to the impact they have on others. They are going to be asking for feedback and they will learn over time how to be a better leader to the point where it looks natural but they have worked hard at it.

I’ve helped people for over 35 years and I think that it’s made for the most part.

Alp: What are some of the qualities and characteristics of great leadership?

Keith: Interestingly, one of my recent books that’s called “The Golden Flame” and I was asking that question but I wasn’t so much asking about the qualities and characteristics of great leadership, that part is easy. Great leaders have vision, think strategically, long term, tend to have compassion, emotionally intelligent and available, determined and driven, etc. They are a lot of books out there that talks about this characteristics and I also focus on them in my workshops.

However, the question I was asking in my book is what causes some leaders to bring those qualities forward and some not. Everyone knows, for the most part, about the features of leadership and most take workshops to try to improve or get the characteristics but only a small set embody those characteristics.

My book identifies three primary causes of great leadership:

1. A rock solid sense of self (high self-esteem)

2. A strong sense of professional purpose

3. High integrity. They don’t have their values, they are their values.

Alp: So what about the building extraordinary organizational cultures part?

Keith: Like anything that you want to shift or create it starts with a vision in which you need to have a clear image of the kind of culture you want to create. One of the ways in which most organizations go off of the rails is that they often start with saying “what are our values?” and almost always the values are universally the same - Excellence, determination, take responsibility and be creative. So the company starts to build a culture based on that but the problem is that they are not differentiating and setting themselves apart.

So I don’t think that values are the best starting point, I think it is the vision, the mission, or strategic philosophy. They should be thinking about what is different or unique about their company or our desired company that differentiates us from other that are offering similar products or services in a similar market.

My belief is that we have to create a culture consistent with the philosophy and it has to start with a clear image. Once we have a clear sense of the culture we want, we may ask at that point what kind of values best enable us to achieve the vision and philosophy.

So what creates a culture? The quality of the leadership, the processes and systems, how everyone interacts with each other, the meeting practices, the polices, how people are compensated and who are hired and their personalities all together shape a culture. If you want to change a culture, all of those variables will have to shift in some way. The order in which things needs matter, leadership is a good place to start.

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