A Conversation With: Robert Moran, President and chief executive officer, The Ancora Group

btmadmin//August 22, 2022

A Conversation With: Robert Moran, President and chief executive officer, The Ancora Group

btmadmin//August 22, 2022

How has your diverse career shaped your approach to leadership training and development? 

In 2003 we decided to call our company Ancora Imparo (Latin translation: “I am still learning”). The overarching message in our approach (is) never stop learning, stay curious and focus on becoming the leader you want to be, that aligns with your values and aspirations, and ideally allows you to capitalize on your strengths and personal style. 

When I think about my career and how it has influenced my work, several themes come to mind. The first is the importance of people and how organizational taglines like “people are our most important asset” actually play out in the workplace. I had a professor in grad school whose research focused on the glaring gap between a company’s idealized “brochure version” and how things actually worked. To bring them into alignment is a leader’s challenge. The second theme is communication. What we say, how we say it, and most importantly how it is heard and acted upon, determine an organization’s success or failure. The third, which is crucial, is the human side of a leader. It is a leader’s capacity to be self aware, to self govern, manage relationships and engage with others in a manner that produces a multitude of win-wins. This is the essence of leadership development. Finally, teams and their importance in collaboratively performing and producing results are back. COVID forced teams and team leaders to assume greater responsibility and initiative and it worked. We are in a fascinating moment in the development of quality leaders. The demand is great and the timing is perfect. 

How can executives and leaders prepare for the unexpected – “calling audibles,” to use the sports reference? 

When dealing with the unexpected, pay close attention, assume nothing, and ask questions that will inform you about the unexpected. Also, and this might sound heretical, accept you are not in total control and give yourself room for not knowing. Leaders are taught they have magical skills and thus confuse what others think they could or should do with what is realistic and in the ultimate best interest. Stay grounded and tap into a little self compassion. 

When a team comes on the field of play, they observe and assess their opponent and share that information to strategize and plan. The communication that surrounds this effort should be succinct and understandable, seek clarity and provide guidance. Talk among yourselves and make sure to inform those who are involved in any response. Practice fire drills. Since we live in times of exponential change and great uncertainty, formulaic answers won’t work. You might want to stay slightly on edge and accept there are surprises ahead. Give it your best, learn from it and move on. 

How has leadership development shifted with the challenges of the past few years, and where do you see it going from here? 

The past two years have been an accelerator in a massive transition — maybe transformation — in how organizations are designed and function, how the work gets done and the best way to lead in this environment. In tandem with organizational change is an evolution in the workforce. I think we are currently combining the widest range of age cohorts in history. What we are experiencing in today’s workforce, primarily driven by the pandemic, is a profound redefinition. The questions: why do we work, where is work done, but on a deeper level, what is our purpose, where do I get meaning, and what is my contribution?  

Personal and professional development, belonging and creating a climate of psychological safety are becoming differentiators in considering new job opportunities. Leaders are now being invited to be transparent and vulnerable and to skillfully convey empathy in their interactions. Research is documenting a troubling lack of worker engagement. Remote and hybrid work is ushering in discussions of trust and surveillance culture, both potent topics that need to be skillfully addressed. A leader may well find themselves in a town hall meeting touching on these issues with rapt attention being paid to content and nuance. What was once clearly segmented as “out of bounds” — questions about the kids, child care, vaccines — have become routine. How to navigate this tricky territory falls to leaders and their colleagues.  

I just introduced colleagues as part of a solution. Giving it due recognition, teams are emerging as the leadership model for a new day. Think about words and phrases that are moving around business and organizations today — collaboration, co-creating, shared leadership, agility, systems thinking and accountability. They are showing up during team conversations. To prepare for this, I have spent the past two years (mostly on Zoom from London) learning about teams specifically from a systemic perspective. As a result, I no longer work with individuals; I have all the players in the same room representing the root of the problem and the owners of the solution.  

There is another, perhaps unforeseen, impact of these shifts. Expectations will be re-thought and the role and persona of leaders will be more in line with reality. This fine tuning will go a long way in enabling leaders to focus on the right work and reduce the outsized responsibility they currently bear for outcomes and culture creation. The heroic, mythical figure is fading. Leaders will still be pivotal contributors, with great value, who guide our organizations brilliantly. The change will show up in the way the team plays a part, shares responsibility and is able to demonstrate their cumulative impact is greater than the sum of their parts. 

Who are your favorite leaders in history? 

From my perspective, leaders pursue a vision, care deeply about something, speak truth, display courage and take risks. They work through adversity, positively influence those around them and go the extra mile. My list (includes) Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Peggy Noonan (Reagan’s speechwriter and columnist), and most recently President Zalensky of the Ukraine and Larry Hogan, the retiring governor of Maryland, who spent his career working across the aisle and connecting people. 

About Robert Moran 

Robert Moran founded The Ancora Group 20 years ago, drawing on the experiences of a career that began as a drug counselor in Baltimore and later moved into roles with the National Institute of Drug Abuse, with a national traveling assistance team, and with a small private psychiatric hospital. He later held executive roles, including CEO, with various associations in fields from human services to aviation.  

Moran has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland, an MBA from Marymount (Va.) University, and a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School. He also holds certifications from Georgetown University’s leadership coaching program, the International Coaching Federation and the Center for Creative Leadership, and as a team coaching practitioner by the European Consortium of Mentoring, Coaching and Consulting.