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Review: The Leadership Contract – The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader by Vince Molinaro

contractThis review first ran in the Dec. 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Leadership Contract: The Fine Print to Becoming an Accountable Leader

By Vince Molinaro



Even when doing nothing, disengaged leaders are doing a number on your organization.

Empty chair leadership breeds mediocrity. Problems persist. Projects derail. Morale sinks. High performers bolt and everyone else follows lame leaders in going through the motions.

Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract and an advisor to senior executives, says we’re suffering from a serious lack of leadership accountability and paying a steep price. Too many of the people getting tapped for leadership roles are woefully unprepared or taking the job for the pay, perks and power.

“We all know that stories of great leaders leading great companies act as beacons of hope but these stories are the minority,” says Molinaro. “More common are stories of empty chair leaders – those who are inept or motivated solely by personal ambition. When our experience of leadership is routinely disappointing, disconnected and disgraceful, we begin to lower our expectations.”

Accountable leaders raise those expectations and build highly engaged workforces by abiding by four terms of a personal leadership contract.

They make the decision to lead and consciously commit to being the best leader they can be.  “Too many theories about leadership just assume that everyone wants to be a leader. But this is a faulty assumption – one that we often don’t realize we are making.”

Accountable leaders make an obligation to serve the greater good, putting what’s best for the organization ahead of self-interest.  They rise to a new standard of behavior and uphold responsibilities to customers, co-workers and the community.

Accountable leaders commit to working hard. “Leadership can be easy if you’re satisfied with mediocrity,” says Molinaro. When you refuse to do hard work, you become a weak leader. Accountable leaders have resilience, resolve and determination.

And accountable leaders connect and build community with other leaders.  These networks and connections foster high levels of trust and mutual support and guard against getting overwhelmed. If another leader asks for help, accountable leaders give it without hesitation.

“These four terms go a long way to addressing the problems with leadership today,” says Molinaro. “We can overcome lame and unaccountable leadership in our organizations when leaders truly understand what it means to be a leader and sign up for the right reasons. It’s no longer good enough to be a complacent or ambivalent leader.”

Along with personal contracts, Molinaro recommends organizations introduce leadership accountability contracts to be signed every time someone moves into an emerging, frontline, mid-level and executive leadership role.

“You cannot stay in your role without signing the leadership contract,” says Molinaro. “If you do, you’ll end up leading in a mediocre way. You will do a disservice to your organization and the people you lead. You will do a disservice to yourself.”

Molinaro maps up daily, quarterly and annual actions for following through on the four terms of a personal leadership contract.

“I believe leading an organization is one of the greatest honours and challenge that any individual can assume. However, it’s not a job for everyone. And there is only one way to ensure that you have what it takes to be a truly accountable leader – you have to make a conscious decision to lead, with full awareness of what that means.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator and lives in Hamilton.





Review: Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement


This review was first published in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement

By Steven Goldstein

Greenleaf Book Group Press


If I was president of the Niagara Health System, I’d invite Edna out for lunch.

Edna was the best of a pretty remarkable group of nurses and health professionals who looked after my mom last week at the St. Catharines General Hospital.

Edna didn’t just provide exemplary care. She genuinely cared about my mom and provided real comfort to our family. While her Sunday shift ended at 7 p.m., Edna stuck around until my mom got out of surgery nearly two hours later. They were still talking when my brother-in-law and I called it a night.

And although she was caring for other patients on the ward three days later, Edna dropped by to offer some last minute encouragement as my mom headed home.

So if I was a senior executive wanting to make a great hospital even better for patients and families, I’d go to the frontlines and look to standout staff like Edna for ideas on what to start, stop and continue doing.

“Interacting with employees and customers on a regular basis is the key to success,” says Steven Goldstein, past chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?

“The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room. It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

Goldstein did exactly that while working for American Express in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That’s where he met John, a window washer who was ignored by every other executive in the building. Goldstein turned an impromptu 45-minute conversation with John into regular coffee breaks and end-of-day pints at a pub.

“I learned more in my first meeting with John than I could have ever learned reviewing reports or even talking to my team. He was extremely perceptive about what was going on in the business.”

So why aren’t leaders routinely connecting with frontline staff? Goldstein says it’s more a matter of will than skill. Yes, all senior executives are extremely busy with meetings. Some are introverts who aren’t blessed with the gift of gab. Others are insecure and believe they should already have all the answers. And more than a few leaders have developed over-inflated egos and take themselves a little too seriously.

Goldstein encourages senior executives to park their egos and venture alone and unannounced to the frontlines.  Don’t bring along an entourage or send in an advance team to stage manage a royal visit.

Take notes so the people you’re talking with know that you’re sincere and serious about their ideas and opinions. Report back to your team and make sure follow-up items are implemented.

“The best way to convince people that you are listening is for them to see clear changes resulting from their feedback. They will connect the dots.”

Be yourself and be natural in your conversations. Avoid being stiff, officious or contrived.

“Most important, have fun and enjoy this,” says Goldstein. “It is really great to get to know the people in your organization, especially the ones who really care about their customers and their jobs. Visit people and talk to them; make this a priority.”

Connecting with employees and customers is one of Goldstein’s five principles of engagement.  You also need to start looking at your organization with an outsider’s perspective, focus everyone’s attention on just two or three key metrics, be transparent with information and instill a bias for action. “Whatever speed you are going is too slow. Companies cannot assume they have endless time to evaluate, plan and launch new initiatives.”

When you have a highly engaged workforce, you don’t wind up doing dumb things like selling snowblowers at a Sears store in Miami. It’s one of many personal stories Goldstein tells from his 35-year career dedicated to helping leaders cure organizational dysfunction.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is grateful to the health care team at St. Catharines General Hospital.