weLead Leadership Series
As part of their “weLEAD Leadership Series,” Greg Thomas conducted this exclusive interview with Jim Clemmer:
1. Jim, what can you tell us about The CLEMMER Group and its origins? What makes The CLEMMER Group truly unique?
The CLEMMER Group is a management consulting firm specializing in organization, team, and personal transformation. We provide strategic consulting services, supported by customized performance assessments, improvement and implementation planning, action-based learning workshops, and executive management coaching, to accelerate organization change. Our advisory, planning, and implementation consulting services integrate business strategies with day-to-day operations to create meaningful change and improvement. By leveraging the pragmatic, in-depth business management and professional experience of our consulting associates, we act as influential catalysts to help Clients achieve sustained performance improvement.
Our purpose simply stated: Transforming Organization, Team, and Personal Performance.
We believe in nurturing the power of the human spirit by blazing this PATH:
Passion — Joie de Vivre
The CLEMMER Group is brimming with joy of life. We are passionate and we have fun. We have a contagious positive outlook. We give and get deep meaning from our work. We experience life with an ever-increasing depth.
We nurture the hearts and spirits of each other and those we serve.
We celebrate our successes along the way. We cultivate the seemingly unnatural — but vital — skill and habit of appreciating and being thankful for what we have and what we’ve accomplished. We don’t just focus on the mountain of unattained goals yet to be climbed, we periodically stop to enjoy the view from the vantage points we’ve reached.
We believe that organizations, systems, processes, and technology serve people, not the other way around. We love and celebrate the richness of life and infinite human potential in the services we provide and the way we live.
Acting Upon Our Deep Desire to Make a Difference
We are a company of leaders. We believe that leadership is an action, not a position. Everyone needs to be a leader. This starts with inner self-leadership and moves outward to influence, guide, support, and lead others.
We are idealistic and fun rather than profit driven. Our overarching purpose is to make a difference in each other’s lives and in the lives of those we serve. We maintain a healthy bottom line to provide financial strength and stability, but money isn’t our primary focus. We know that if we serve our customers well and manage our business effectively, profits will be our reward.
We are community and environmental leaders. We look for numerous ways to help the disadvantaged and pay our civic or earthly rent.
Trust and Respect
We treat each other with respect and care. We face tough issues, give difficult feedback, and deal effectively with conflict. We know that not doing so leads to damaged relationships, hard feelings, and lower effectiveness. We value diversity and differences in styles and approaches. People who push or challenge our thinking help to clarify and improve it. We welcome and encourage different points of view.
We are exceptionally caring and responsive. We provide exemplary levels of service to our Clients, partners, and each other. Messages left by phone, fax, or paper/electronic correspondence are returned (or at least acknowledged) immediately. Out of a deep respect for each other’s time, meetings start and end on schedule, and all commitments are kept.
Our image will be understated elegance. If a product or service cannot be delivered in a manner that is consistent with our quality standards, it won’t be done.
High Growth and Development
We are insatiable learners on a steep continuous personal growth curve. We have a good balance of active and reflective learning. Active learning comes from exploring, searching, creating, and experimenting. Reflective learning comes from taking time out of daily operational pressures to review how well our personal, team, and organization improvement activities are working and to plan further changes. We are avid readers, researchers, and students in the fields of organization improvement, leadership development, and personal effectiveness.
We are highly innovative and very agile. We set short-term plans, but use strategic opportunism as we learn our way to new products and services. Our journey of discovery means we always have an abundance of trials, pilots, and experiments underway in our restless search for the pathways that will take us ever closer to our vision and purpose. We share what’s working, and what’s not, very openly with each other to advance our team and corporate knowledge and experience.
2. What is your own personal background in the study of leadership?
During the eighties I co-founded and lead The Achieve Group. It became Canada’s largest training and consulting company. After selling Achieve (now called Achieve Global) to California-based Zenger Miller, I founded my current company, The CLEMMER Group.
At Achieve, I began to give speeches at conferences and conventions and write articles on leadership, excellence (we were working with Tom Peters at the time), customer service, and quality improvement. This work evolved into my first of four international bestselling books, The VIP Strategy: Leadership Skill for Exceptional Performance. My second book, Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, is one of Canada’s all time bestselling management books and still selling well throughout the United States. I followed that with Pathways to Performance: A Guide to Transforming Yourself, Your Team and Your Organization, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career and Family Success, The Leader’s Digest: Timeless Principles for Team and Organization Success. My latest book is Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work.
Since 1975, I have given over 2,000 presentations. One of my goals, on my many business trips, is to have half as much fun as my family thinks I am having!
More of my personal background and information is available here.
3. What do you consider as the top two challenges facing organizations in today’s highly competitive environment?
Leadership, and change. Charles Darwin revolutionized the study of biology with his theory of evolution based on natural selection. His most famous works include Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. One of his key research findings was that, “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Learning and personal growth are at the heart of an organization or individual’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. The key question is “does our rate of internal growth exceed the rate of external change?”
We can’t control much of the world changing around us. But we can control how we respond. We can choose to anticipate and embrace changes or resist them. Resisting change is usually like trying to push water upstream. Generally we’re quick to point to others who resist change. It’s much harder to recognize or admit to our own change resistance.
If the rate of external change exceeds our rate of internal growth we’re eventually going to be changed. The “ghost of crisis yet to come,” similar to the third spirit that visited Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, is also as predictable. A core theme of my books and speaking engagements are that success comes from change, growth, and development. If I am a static person who hasn’t developed the habits of personal growth and continuous development, I may become a statistic. I will get caught and surprised by change.
4. Give us an overview of some of the potential solutions to these two challenges.
Change can’t be managed. Change can be ignored, resisted, responded to, capitalized on, and created. But it can’t be managed and made to march to some orderly step-by-step process. However, whether change is a threat or an opportunity depends on how prepared we are. Whether we become change victims or victors depends on our readiness for change.
One of the inspiring quotations I’ve used for my ongoing personal improvement quest came from Abraham Lincoln (his decade-long string of failures in business and politics before becoming one of America’s great presidents is inspiring itself). He once said, “I will prepare myself and my time must come.” That’s how change is managed.
We can’t cram in a few days for a presentation, program, or project, our career depends upon. We can’t quickly win back customers who’ve quietly slipped away because of neglect and poor service. We can’t suddenly turn our organization into an innovative powerhouse in six months because the market shifted. We can’t radically and quickly re-engineer years of sloppy habits and convoluted processes when revolutionary new technology appears.
When cost pressures build, we can’t dramatically flatten our organizations and suddenly empower everyone who’s had years of traditional command and control conditioning. These are long-term culture, system, habit, and skill changes. They need to be improved before they’re needed. In the words of an ancient Chinese proverb, “dig a well before you are thirsty.”
Problems that our team, our organization, or we may be having with change aren’t going to be improved by some “change management” theory. To effectively deal with change we don’t focus on change as some kind of manageable force. We need to deal with change by improving ourselves. Then our time must come. Successful change and continual improvement go hand in hand.
In his book, The Age of Unreason, London Business School professor and consultant, Charles Handy writes: “If changing is, as I have argued, only another word for learning, the theories of learning will also be the theories of changing. Those who are always learning are those who can ride the waves of change and who see a changing world as full of opportunities rather than of damage. They are the ones most likely to be the survivors in a time of discontinuity. They are also the enthusiasts and the architects of new ways and forms and ideas. If you want to change, start with learning — or more precisely, if you want to be in control of your change, take learning more seriously.”
Resistance to today’s change comes from failing to make yesterday’s preparations and improvements. When our teams, our organizations and we fail to learn, grow, and develop at the speed of change (or faster), then change is a very real threat. If change finds us unprepared, it can be deadly.
5. Among your many talents is also that of an author. Tell us about the new book you are writing. Why is it needed?
My previous book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success introduced The Clemmer Group’s “Leadership Wheel.” We use this wheel graphic to illustrate the timeless leadership principles for a few reasons. One reason is to emphasize that Focus and Context (Vision, Values, and Purpose) are at the very core of our being. Obviously a wheel’s weight bearing ability depends upon the strength of its hub. Likewise, the weight of the performance and change issues that our teams or organizations can carry is dependent upon their core or hub. The wheel also illustrates the circular nature of leadership – there is no beginning or end (for managers who are miscast in leadership roles, the ongoing people problems feel like an endless spinning of their wheels). Each of the supporting leadership principles around the outside of the Leadership Wheel are interdependent and interconnected. The roundness and size of the wheel we are producing in our team or organization depends upon how well rounded our leadership skills are.
With Focus and Context (vision, values, and purpose) at the hub or core, six interconnected and supporting areas form the wheel’s core:
- Responsibility for Choices: If It Is To Be, Its Up To Me
- Authenticity: Get Real
- Passion and Commitment: Beyond ‘Near-Life’ Experiences
- Spirit and Meaning: With All My Heart and Soul
- Growing and Developing: From Phase of Life to Way of Life
- Mobilizing and Energizing: Putting Emotions in Motion
A central theme of Growing the Distance is that leadership is action, not a position. We all need to be leaders regardless of our formal title or role. This starts with inner self leadership and moves outward to influence, guide, support, and lead others. Leadership ultimately shows itself in what we do “out there,” but it starts “in here.” My new book applies those same timeless principles. However, this book is written for anyone who is leading others in an organization. That would include supervisors, team leaders, managers, and executives.
There are as many different interpretations of “leadership” as there are people using the term. A recent Internet search of leadership book titles turned up over 10,000 books in print! There are a confusing multitude of leadership grids, charts, formulas, jargon, fads, and buzzwords. New ones seem to pop up every week like the latest entertainment craze.
In writing my new book, my goal is to cut to the core essence of leading others. Building on three decades of researching and writing on leadership and my experiences in training and consulting with hundreds of organizations, I have attempted to identify, illustrate, and show how to apply the timeless leadership principles found in The CLEMMER Group’s Leadership Wheel. I try to do that with both original and ageless fables or stories, existing situations, pithy quotations, current research, whimsical illustrations, personal examples, and how-to points.
Each of the seven main chapters in my new book is built around one of the principles in our Leadership Wheel. Like Growing the Distance, this book is also written as a “browser’s digest” in a magazine style format. That allows readers to browse through it and find the sections or approaches that are most meaningful to them. Some people, like me, are “quotaphiles” (that is legal) and appreciate the pithy wisdom found in a succinct quotation or turn of phrase. Others like to read the sidebars with stories, illustrations, or research. Some people like to follow along with logical text and then read the other areas.
6. Jim, many of the concepts and qualities of your organization resemble the “servant leadership” model. Is this simply a coincidence, and what are your personal feelings about servant-leadership?
I am a big believer in the concept of servant leadership. A big part of a manager’s role is to support the people on their teams or in their organizations. For example, when it comes to improving customer service, research shows a direct correlation between levels of external service and levels of internal service. The leaders in these organizations have a deeply ingrained ethic of “serving the servers.” As Yogi Berra might have once said, it’s not rocket surgery. Dissatisfied frontline servers or producers are highly unlikely to produce satisfied customers.
In the end, servant leadership is where a manager’s true values around dealing with people are most clearly visible. Managers who aren’t serving the servers believe that their place on the organization chart gives them power. They are in control. They are the boss! Their attitude seems to be “I am really easy to get along with once you learn to do as I say.”
Of course, a manager’s position gives him or her rank. But authority and true power to lead can’t be given or commanded. It can only be earned. As Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister once put it, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
A big reason for the poor performance of so many teams and organizations suffering under ineffective bosses is that for many years the “tough, take-charge boss” of command and control, and “running a tight ship” was the model of the ideal manager. Bullying, intimidation, and “riding staff hard” often got the job done in the days of deferring to authoritarian people or institutions. Generations of managers yelled their way to the top.
We don’t live in the world of might-is-right any more. More and more managers are realizing that these bossing approaches are like kicking a cow in the stomach to increase milk production. In today’s world, dictators are being overthrown. Experts don’t have as many answers as we once thought. We all have many more job or business options available to us. In today’s world, a management style of pushing people around often pushes the highest performers right out the door.
All organizations have access to many of the same resources. All organizations draw from the same pool of people in their markets or geographic areas. All organizations can learn about the latest tools and techniques. Yet not all organizations perform equally. There is a vast gap between high and low performing organizations. The factor that makes the huge difference is people. That’s why Peter Drucker declares “of all the decisions a manager makes, none are as important as the decisions about people, because they determine the performance capacity of the organization.” The big difference is leadership.
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