BRAVE leadership is never easy and it becomes harder when you are under scrutiny and pressure from your managers, clients and team. We are often forced into leadership styles that aren't our own, but it takes confidence and credibility to drive your own leadership style. Mike Nefkens' story of surviving at HP by engaging in his own style of leadership, allowed his team and business to thrive. Bringing in your own style can help guide you through similar challenges by clarifying what matters and why, pausing to accelerate, and rallying the team around the cause.
The Nefkens Way
Nefkens thinking is fundamentally aligned with the BRAVE Leadership framework. He has demonstrated an ability to pause to accelerate, digging deeply into the context, aligning stakeholders around what matters and why, and clarify choices around how to win before moving on to build the team and deliver the right impact so all "cross the goal line together". He prides himself on "putting myself out there as an example", building great teams that are "smarter, different and more flexible and adaptable".
This approach flies in the face of managers who say "We need the financials improved now." They have no patience with taking the time to dig into the situation and converge before evolving the organization. Nefkens explained how HP's CEO Leo Apotheker "didn't understand" his approach and "didn't choose" him to do the job Meg Whitman later put him in because she did understand and believe in his approach. It's hard to earn the right to lead without having the space to do so. Part of this is leveraging the seven keys to adjusting to a new boss.
Overcoming the Challenge
Nefkens earned the right to lead by volunteering for assignments others didn't want. He joined HP in 2003 as an account executive on the Delphi business. "Everyone" thought Delphi's CIO was "a challenging client (put mildly)". Worse, she got a vote on who got the job and had interviewed 21 people who all looked and thought the same before HP sent over Nefkens. She needed a different solution than what she was receiving.
During eight months of learning about his new client and the business, Nefkens realized he had two major forces in which to contend: Delphi wanted more from HP and HP's management was unhappy with the financial returns on the account. Previous account executives had tried to improve HP's margins by cutting costs (and service). This had predictable results: downwardly spiraling client satisfaction.
So Nefkens rallied the team and his management around a different paradigm. Instead of "managing to the contract" they would "work together to solve business problems". Instead of leading with cost cutting, they would "get the service right and the client happy", and then "work on improving the returns".
The team rallied around the vision. They improved service levels, earning the client's confidence and trust and the right to provide additional services that improved everyone's productivity and returns. The team won account of the year, which meant extra bonuses and recognition for all.
Now Nefkens heads up all of HP's Enterprise Services. In talking about that group, Whitman recently noted that she can "feel the increased confidence from our customers."
Implications for you
- Be honest with yourself about what matters to you and why -- and what you're willing to give up to get it. Nefkens might have gotten promoted earlier if he'd bent to the prevailing HP way at the time. But he and his teams would not have been as successful over time.
- Pause to accelerate. This is one of the fundamental ideas in executive onboarding. It's applicable to people moving into new companies, taking on new roles within their existing company, and to people picking up new accounts or teams. This is a core part of Nefkens approach - and should be part of yours.
- Rally the team around the cause. We keep learning that leadership is not about you. It's about the cause. If you're a charismatic leader, people will follow you for a while. But they will devote themselves to a meaningful and rewarding cause over time - like Nefkens vision of being the "premier service provider, handling clients' most complex problems."