First in a Series: Q&A Leaders On Leadership 

Hank Fieger, President, HFA, Barcelona Spain

Hank Fieger, President of international management consulting, training and coaching firm, HFA, based in Barcelona, Spain, has worked with many Fortune 100 companies in over 20 countries. His expertise is in Behavioral Executive Coaching, Team Building, Executive Presentation Skills and Leadership Communication Skills. Using a model of open and honest communication, Hank combines his knowledge of business and psychology to help others embody “people management” skills in leadership roles. Hank’s first book, “Behavior Change…A View From The Inside Out”, a handbook on the art of change, is available on Amazon.

Q&A (unedited) On Leadership

If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?

They have a clear vision for what’s possible.

They have the ability to communicate that vision to the hearts and minds of their followers.

They are in tune with what people are wanting.

As organizations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within your or your clients’ organizations?

I encourage creative thinking by reconnecting people to their core values? By understanding what is most important to them, they begin to see what’s possible.

In order of importance or weight, what do you feel is most important: mission, vision or core values?

I think core values are most important, followed by a vision. The mission is the working statement that captures the values and the vision.

How do leaders ensure their organizations activities are aligned with their own core values?

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

What is corporate culture and how is it crafted?

Corporate culture is the unspoken, and sometimes spoken rules about how things are done here. It’s crafted usually from the key individuals at the top of the corporation.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

I think that every true leader has a bit of a revolutionary in them. Most people resist change, and yet what leaders need to do is to help people and organizations to change and adapt to what is needed in order to be sustainable.

What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?  In your opinion, is it different for women leaders?

The one mistake I see is that leaders sometimes make decisions that they think will keep them in the role and keep them having power. I think that women leaders also fall into this trap and sometimes to prove themselves in a “man’s game,” they may even try harder. They also revert back to managing the transactional day to day business, rather than staying focused on the big picture.

What advice would you give someone going into leadership position for the first time?

Is your advice different if that person is a woman?

Be true to yourself and to your values. It’s a privilege to be in a leadership role, so go for it. My advice for a woman is no different. Don’t give your true power away in the attempt to be more like a man, or to succeed in what you may believe to be a man’s world.

What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

To sell out to what they believe people want from them, rather than being true to what is really needed.


Is Talent Enough?

I always introduce the young women I mentor as “brilliant and talented”. And they are. The point isn’t whether you are those things or not, it’s what you do with them. I have a smart friend in the psychology profession. She has a lot of initials after her name proving she’s been thorough in her training and qualified, not just because she says so, but because she has the sheepskins to prove it. Yet, she often disqualifies herself from the modern world of computing and business matters by saying, “I’m so bad at that stuff.” She thinks that excuses her – and while she practices her profession with a waiting room full of clients, I guess it’s okay. But if things change and the world has less need for what she does and more for those business-side skills. Then what? Can any of us afford to be just talented anymore?

In the “old days” I worked in advertising…big international agencies with big international clients. Yet, it was acceptable, in fact, even desirable, for each of us to do our job and no one else’s. Creative people created. Account managers managed. Clients manufactured and served customers. We all lived happily ever after.

Then, the paradigm shifted. We all had to learn desktop computing, then mobile computing, now cloud computing. God help the laggards.

Now, the way I see it, we can’t get by with just skills let alone just talent. We have to have skill sets. We can’t just do a job, stay for 30 years and get a pension when we retire. Most people consider 5 years a long time in a single position. In fact, if you’re not tracking an upward trajectory through job changes every few years, people wonder what the matter with you is…

Back then, when I was in television production, I went to a set or on location all the time with film crews comprised of “departments” of specifically skilled workers handling one job on the set and one job only. (you see the credits at the end of movies the way film crews function on a commercial production set) As an “agency producer” I was taught early that part of my job included knowing how to do everybody else’s job just in case “they got hit by a bus”. I was expected to pick up the art director’s or the writer’s function, and any other job that might be suddenly vacated, and just do it. That’s been my orientation ever since and probably what fed my entrepreneurial nature until I finally had my own business years later.

When my brilliant and talented mentor of many years ago rose head and shoulders above the “men’s club” mentality she faced on a daily basis at work, it wasn’t just because she was a great art director. It was because she could hold her own in a conference room of clients and agency directors commanding their complete respect and attention. She worked with her teams, yet she also firmly led them. She worked as hard or harder than anyone reporting to her. She was fearless and cared little about whether she was liked by everyone. She knew her own mind and broadcast her standards for all who came in contact with her. She was strict with those who reported to her yet they all felt supported and even championed. I know I did.

All in, the requirements for success haven’t changed much. The winning DNA: lead with integrity, consistency and reliability. Be accessible but not a push over. Stand behind your people but don’t coddle them. Make your standards clear to all and defend their right to uphold them.
Be ever curious and teachable. And for certain, especially during times like these, when talent is NOT enough, be willing to go outside your professional comfort zone.