Episode 10: The 11 Essentials of Leadership | Skill One: Three Teams


Dennis Brouwer
CEO, Leadership Enthusiast, and Award-winning Navy Tactician.
The Brouwer Group

Dennis Brouwer is the CEO of The Brouwer Group, a business analytics firm that helps companies become more competitive, agile and customer-focused. He has over two decades of experience as a senior leader in sales, marketing, and product development roles, including five years as an executive with P&L responsibility for a $300m global IT services business.

He began his career as a naval flight officer and mission commander searching for Soviet submarines while deployed aboard USS Ranger and USS Enterprise. For the past five years, he has applied his military and business experience to the challenges of creative leadership, peak performance, and business strategy. He holds the certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University and is the author of “The Return on Leadership”, which focuses on the Vision, Engagement, and Execution as the key building blocks used by highly effective leaders.

Connect on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dlbrouwer/
Visit the website: https://www.dlbrouwer.com/
Learn more about his book: https://www.dlbrouwer.com/book

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Dan Harris: [00:01:07] Welcome back everyone and thanks for tuning in. This week we're turning our focus to leadership in B2B organizations and businesses.

Dan Harris: [00:01:15] Leadership is a key to the success of any organization. Dennis Brouwer because a decorated Navy veteran professional innovator a dynamic keynote speaker in a best selling author. In today's episode Dennis will share with us how he has successfully navigated large complex B2B companies and the skill and action he used to win over his team's turnaround of business and elevate his career and become a leading authority. Best selling author and sought after speaker on the topic of leadership. Welcome to the podcast.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:01:48] All right thanks Dan always good to be here.

Dan Harris: [00:01:52] Let's jump right in.

Dan Harris: [00:01:53] Can you set the stage for us and tell us more about the first skill needed to be an effective leader OK.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:01:59] So [00:02:00] the first essential here really refers to the very first step in a leader's new jury. And I know that's and often used term but that's really one way to think about the psychology of the leader as we move through a new leadership role into a new position and through that role. So if you accept a new management role which many of us have at one point or another in our career we think about the new things that come with that right. We maybe have a new boss we might have you know new peers that we're working with who might have a new office might have the new paycheck we might have a new place to go to work might have a new commute might have a lot of new things but one of the things that sets very effective leaders apart from those who are are still striving to become very effective is that when they step into a management role they realize that on day one they have just joined three teams. Now that's something that a perspective that has some people scratching their heads. But let me explain. So the first team the easiest most obvious team to think about is your manager is the group of people that you refer to as my team. These are your direct reports and the people who work for your direct reports it could be two or three people it could be hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people I suppose and some embargoed large organizations.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:03:18] But when we think of where you use the phrase my team that's what we tend to refer to. Now the second team that you've joined is your boss's team right. Because we all have a boss even if you're the chief executive you've got a board of directors that you're reporting to so we all have a boss. And in that role I would suggest that we are followers now. Some people quibble with that. There's a bit of pride that goes around declaring yourself as a leader and being reluctant to refer to yourself as a follower. But the fact is we've just joined our bosses team and in that role you know we may be leading from below. But the fact is that we're a follower so that's team number two team number three is the one that's most often neglected and in my experience and in the data and the research that exists around creative leadership. In many cases this is the team that really sets a leader apart in terms of their ability to impact the organization to form a highly believable and worthy vision for the future. And to make that vision a reality. And that's the team of your peers. Now we may think about we have friends at work and they may tend to be at the same level that we are and they work in other organizations. But this is this is a little different. I had a bit of a taste of this when I was in the Navy because I flew in a crew of four people and when we were in the airplane the others the old phrase of theirs rank has its privileges.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:04:42] But there's also that there's no rank in the cockpit. So when we were in the airplane we were a team of peers and we worked very effectively the best results came from the best crews. So that was really my first flavor of that. The crew crew concept that goes around that but I also had a very vivid reminder of that when I moved into a product management role at Savas and that's where my new boss suggested to me actually directed me to conduct a monthly business review. And for me to do a monthly business review I needed to reach outside my organization because one of the noteworthy things about product management is that you have a tremendous amount of responsibility for things like innovation and revenue growth and customer satisfaction. But you have very little [00:05:30] authority because most of the function functional areas that you're working with virtually all of them are not under your control. So when I had to do in that setting was to create a third team and I had great support from management. I had peers who were very eager to get on board with helping to figure out what was going on at the business and create a path going forward. But what that third team turned into was a great forum for us to really air our differing opinions of what was going on with the business to have very detailed conversations about that where we worked out those differences and then a forum for collaboration and really really happened in three phases.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:06:10] There was the preparation for the monthly meeting in which we all had examined our parts of responsibility and create and study the metrics that we had to contribute to the rest of the team. There was the actual crucible the meeting two hours and I don't mean it was highly contentious or anything but it was a great open discussion right. It was a discussion [00:06:30] where there truly was no rank in the cockpit. And the third was we had a program manager who really was there to make sure we like to say to make the trains run on time but really what it's all about is to make sure that we follow through on the promises and commitments that we made in that meeting and what we found was that really one of the keys to turning around this business seems a pretty sizable business about 300 million dollars a little bit less in annual revenue. One of the keys to turning this around was first of all using that third team to develop a consistent view of what was actually happening in the business. What was good and what was bad and what was ugly. And once we once we agreed on that once we could be honest about that we really had a working forum to sort through those issues.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:07:19] Now I will tell you that we didn't agree on everything. We didn't get everything done that we wanted to do. And sometimes I'm not even sure we really liked each other all that much. But the great thing about a third team is that you don't necessarily have to like each other you don't have to be friends you just have to agree that we're going to come together to work on something that's bigger than any one of us or any one of our functions and and real progress just begins to happen. So joining three teams is all about the principle of pervasive engagement in that for highly effective highly creative leaders. They realize that by stepping into the middle of an organization if it's closer to the bottom or [00:08:00] closer to the top of the org chart doesn't really matter. If you step in in the middle that organization and you take this view of I'm a member of three teams that as I look down into my org chart I look up into my boss's org chart or I look across the org chart. I now become a point of strength in the organization. A point of consistency and I can now be that point. The organization from which I can broadcast a consistent set of values approaches and a mindful and thoughtful approach to the challenges that we face and follow through on the plans that we've collaboratively created and communicated.

Dan Harris: [00:08:36] You know I never really thought about three teams and the importance of engaging those teams strategically. In the example we shared with the three teams coming together and all moving the same direction makes a lot of sense.

Dan Harris: [00:08:49] It sounds like pervasive engagement seems very important but what happens when you don't have pervasive engagement?

Dennis Brouwer: [00:08:57] So that that principle of pervasive engagement is a really important one and I'll use an example of what happens when you don't have pervasive engagement as a leadership coach as well. I've stepped into organizations that are challenged right where typically they're not growing in the metrics that are important to them and quite often that's revenue profitability. You step into an organization that's kind of flat and maybe it's been flat for a while. What you tend to find is that there are two levels. There are two parallel conversations that are going on right. So you'll sit in a meeting where everybody's together. On the surface it's all very polite. People are nice and there's a little banter going back and forth. The discussion during the meeting tends to be again very polite. There are very few contentious issues that are raised and as a new person in that scenario whether you're an employee or whether you're a coach you go OK well this feels pretty civil now. The following conversations where you meet with individuals the first thing that you're told us hey can you close the door. And that's when you hear the other conversation and that's where people go Hey I know you're in there meeting the other day and everything seemed just great just hunky dory and everybody was really nice. But here's what's really going on. And that's when you hear the organizational issues and hear that's we're here all the Shakespearean stuff right about. Promises made promises broken funding we had funding that was yanked person who was here. The impact that they had how they laughed or a person that is in over their heads. You hear all that other stuff. But the problem is when it's done behind closed doors and it's only it's only you know somebody spills their guts to somebody who's an outsider who's going to guess what closer portfolio put their pain away and walk out the door in an hour or two or a week or a month.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:10:47] The problem is that those problems are typically well understood from a single person's perspective at a single point in time and there's no forum there to go back and hash that stuff out. So ultimately what it leads to is a culture where you have nice public meetings at which real issues are never surfaced much less discussed much less solved and you end up with an overall strategy that's just sort of drifting because the really essential things about questions like staffing and what are we going to work on tomorrow. What's the most important thing for us to get done today and next week and next month and by the end of this year you really you really can't do that because you really can't have those conversations because opinions are held behind closed doors but opinions are never forced to confront each other to determine opinions aside what are the facts in this case what are we actually dealing with. So if we can if we can genuinely develop these three teams and bring people together do you have open and honest discussions about not just their feelings not just their emotions and not just about things that happened in the past but where we're taking this organization and what we each need to do to make that a reality that that's where that principle of pervasive engagement engaging with my team my peers and my bosses team in a consistent and open way that's where that becomes just really tremendously powerful.

Dan Harris: [00:12:20] Sounds like to me in order to have pervasive engagement happen in an organization the people and the teams need to be aligned they need to be aligned to what's best for the business and the customer. Is that true or am I a face they do need to align.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:12:36] But I think the other key point there is that that alignment can't be trivial. Right. So we can't have meetings or people say hey we all want the best for the company all want the best for the customer. That's certainly true. But let's face it. I mean that's motherhood and apple pie. What we really have to be able to say is look we're aligned around getting to 6 percent revenue growth and what that means is that we have to align around the things that we're going to do to to shrink the number of customer losses that we have to shrink the number of product design stores that we have. And we have to improve our prospecting and our close rate. Now let's break that down into specific plans that we can agree on. So that alignment has to be deep. And that's why this this three levels if you think about it the three teams that you join engages three levels of the organization which automatically gives that kind of muscular and resilient depth to initiatives and meaning to the priorities that we set. That alignment has to be consistent across layers in the organization.

Dan Harris: [00:13:35] All right. You share with us that three teams exist yours your bosses and your peers. We've talked about what pervasive engagement should be and what happens when you don't have it. And the importance of alignment among teams and the organizations you'll lead. Are you able to share a real life story where you apply this principle in the first skill. And tell us about the results.

Dennis Brouwer: All right. So once upon a time I was hired to come in and run product management at a network services business that I was told during the interview this was had just completed a product launch and that the product launch for some mysterious reason had failed I was directed by my boss to dig into this by creating this cross-functional across the white space team that would you know that would work together to try to figure out what was going on in the business and we would sort things out from [00:14:30] there. Now there were not natural working relationships between various organizations. There was no formal authority that went along with with the charter right. So it's a classic case of you've got the responsibility and none of the authority as as it was said in Hollywood many decades ago you're going to rely on the kindness of strangers. And guess what. This doesn't work very well when you rely on the kindness of strangers. So what it really did require us to do is to come up with a common perspective on media on the business which you know that again that sounds like motherhood and apple pie. Can we just agree on where this thing's going but when the perspectives in this case the perspectives that at the front end of the challenge if you well were not that easily reconciled and you know it surfaced in a number of ways one was at a meeting of the top 100 managers in the company the CEO at that time challenged the top 100 managers to come up with the top three strategic things that they needed to do and the number one thing.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:15:30] Number two and a couple of cases but the number one thing for virtually every one of those 10 teams that they said was they wanted to sell my business at any cost. Get rid of this turkey cut this albatross around her neck throw the millstone away whatever her analogy is. We've got to get rid of this thing it's just like I was hired to actually get this thing growing again. So you know we had we started with a polar opposite perspective on where the business needed to go and what we finally [00:16:00] settled on was OK let's say we do want to sell it we can't sell it. The conditions it's in. So it's like selling a car with four flat tires and that's trailing smoke. If your strategy is really built around find the greater fool. Well that's really much of a strategy right. That's a that's a con game just like OK great let's say we are going to sell at some point the future. In the meantime we've got to fix this thing off right. We've got to stem the bleeding we've got to stem the losses we've got to deal with that and that then finally took us to the point where for us to begin to build that fabric of that team it came down to the essential action that flows from all of this.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:16:37] And it's it's really based on a human psychological principle called reciprocity and it was it became very popular after Dr. Robert B. Cialdini wrote a book called Influence science and practice and it basically says that if you do something for another person preferably a kind act or gesture that they feel inclined to respond  in kind. So the essential action here is as you're engaging with those other teams the temptation is to go in and be that you know to be a powerful leader. OK. Here's what I need from you and people go Yeah right. What's in it for me right. And then you're immediately immediately framed that discussion as a negative. I'm taking I'm taking I'm taking and the essential action is as you now begin to form a relationship with your peers because that's what this. This is a working relationship. Your approach should not be a demand. This is what I need from you. Your approach should be a question. What do you need from me. Now we know we've agreed that at least in the short term we've got to get this thing back on its feet.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:17:47] We know that's not going to happen without participation from all of our groups. I now as a product manager with a ton of responsibility and zero authority I need you on board. And [00:18:00] the easiest way for me to get you on board and doing what I want done is for me to understand what you need from me. Is it funding. Is it air cover with your boss. Is it for us to explained to you know some other part of your organization your organization is being set up to fail. What what is it. Let's have an open conversation about what you need from me. Now in the process I as the new leader in the organization I've just learned about what's actually going on in the organization which is great. I've learned how another function works and I've learned what that function is up against. Whether it's service delivery or operations or engineering or sales or marketing or legal or finance and those are all groups that we work with in that. But what I found is that once I gained an understanding of that other leaders perspective in the business needs of their organization it changed the question I would ask and it changed the things that I realized I needed from them. So that conversation that began with what do you need from  me turned into OK if that's what you need for me I can deliver that in return.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:19:06] Here's what I need from you. And it just changed the nature of that from a contentious negotiation to a collaborative working process. And you know this is a story that's in Chapter Six of my book The Return on leadership. But over the course of about two years we're able to turn turn around a business that had been shrinking at about 8 percent a year which I'm telling you in the service business feels like freefall is growing at 3 percent which was the same growth rate as AT&T and Verizon and the rest of the industry had in managed services at that point so if you just flow through this and you start with a mindset that says as I'm stepping into this role and joining three teams and thinking about those three teams deliberately allows me to apply that concept to that principle of pervasive engagement and really understanding my responsibility in each one of those roles. You think about that in settings where you don't have formal authority. You have a ton of responsibility but you don't have the authorities you can't just order people around which is a terrible way to do business anyway. And then you begin those relationships by sincerely asking and then listening to the response to a question what do you need from me.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:20:22] You're already miles down the path of becoming a net positive with the organization and maybe the organization's secret weapon. 

Dan Harris: [00:20:30] Dennis I learned a lot and I'm looking forward to becoming that secret weapon. So if others want to contact you learn more about your book coaching or speaking. How would you like them to look you up. OK.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:20:44] My book is called the return on leadership and it's available on Amazon all around the world. You can learn more about the return of leadership about the work that I do and about the 11 essentials which is what I'm speaking about return of leadership is actually one of the principles inside that by going to my Web site which is Dean L. hours they'll be r o u w VR dot com spelled it's the Dutch derivation so it's still just like on a bottle of Heineken or Amstel Light of course I'm out on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and happy to connect with anybody there but just Dennis that DL Brower dot com or DL Brouwer dot com.

Dennis Brouwer: [00:21:23] It has been a pleasure having you on this show and I look forward to learning so much more on future episodes on behalf of our listeners. Thank you so much.

Dan Harris: [00:21:34] So, this is where you come in if you have ideas for possible upset topics like to be on the guest the show or know someone that would be a great B2B teacher or coach makes sure to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find me by searching Danny D. Harris. You can also send me an email with the subject line minds on B2B idea or guest to Dan dot here on set minds on dot com. The more info we get from listeners more the listeners the better the podcast it's gonna be. So make sure to subscribe to our tunes for your favorite podcast player. And until next time this is dampers. Stay curious. Connect often and learn always.

John Sheeran: [00:22:10] Thanks for listening to today's minds on B2B podcast if you'd like what you heard today. Please subscribe. Also feel free to share this episode with your peers and colleagues so we can keep bringing you quality content from the best minds in B2B. Until next time from all of us it minds on have a great week.

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