Leadership/HR

"Look at me, Mommy!"

Cover of "Good to Great"Cover of Good to Great

Where's your attention as a leader? On yourself or on those you're leading? Though all of us need affirmation and acknowledgment to some extent -- to bolster our confidence and to let us know that we're on track -- some leaders are downright needy. Wasn't it the extreme need for attention and personal gain that put so many so-called corporate leaders behind bars within the last year or so?

The need for attention is one of the factors that Jim Collins found separated good leaders from great leaders in his Good to Great research. Remember the pattern that Collins discovered that he called The Window and the Mirror? Great leaders are inherently humble, Collins found, and they focus their attention...in other words, they look out the "window" (outside themselves)... to give credit for good things that happen. On the other hand, they switch their attention internally when things go poorly, taking responsibility themselves for what's happened.

Where's your attention as a leader? Do you see yourself as the center of your own story at work, or is your attention on those who are helping you make that story a reality, day-to-day? Supposedly Jack Welch said this about the people of GE, before becoming their CEO, "they spent too much time with their face to the boss and their ass to the customer." That's not good. To GE's credit, Welch got them to turn their attention in the right direction!

Where's your attention as a leader? Great leaders pay attention to those they serve and in the process, they learn how to better serve those they lead.

  • During the Civil War, the story goes that President Lincoln would often wander among the Union soldiers after a formal review, exchanging stories, listening to their concerns, expressing his appreciation for their valor and courage. He often worked late into the night so that during the day he could be accessible to the mothers and wives and average citizens who came to him to petition him with their personal tragedies.
  • Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad, tells how he decided to integrate off-hours game-playing into the training curriculum by paying attention to how the technicians were chatting and swapping repair tips on their own time. It wasn't about what interested Stephens; it was about paying attention to what interested his employees.

As leaders, we don't have to ask people to pay attention to us -- our employees, our customers, other stakeholders. They will pay attention to us as leaders -- and affirm and acknowledge what we're doing -- if we pay attention to their passions, interests, and needs.

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Here Be Dragons

It's said that often -- on the edges of medieval maps -- was penciled the warning: "Here be dragons." Do the edges of your "maps" hold the fear of dragons?

Probably. If we're honest, most of us will admit that the fear of stepping beyond the boundaries of theBlog known -- our comfort zone -- can be pretty frightening sometimes. We come by it honestly. The primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, equates change with the unknown. And then it reacts to the unknown with caution and fear. That's not all bad. It's helped us survive for eons.

However, as leaders, we have to be willing to step into uncharted waters, scared or not. To take risks. Even great leaders feel fear. Some are even brave enough to admit it.

Like Andy Grove, admired executive at Intel. When told, in the early lean and mean days of Intel, that he'd have to become director of operations when all he knew was engineering, he admitted, "I was scared to death. It was terrifying. I literally had nightmares."  Yikes! Sounds like "here be dragons" to me. By stepping off the edges of his engineer-map into the unknown realm of leadership, Grove faced the waiting dragons. And the rest is history.

A few of us were lucky enough to have early successes in finding our way into the unknown. It was thrust upon us and we became early believers. Richard Branson, for example, of Virgin Airlines. When he was four years old, his mom stopped the car a few miles from their house and told him to find his way home across the fields. He did. She made it a fun adventure and he relished the role of dragon-slayer.

Most of us have to be convinced, as leaders, that we can slay dragons. Consider Christopher Logue's poem. A dialogue between a leader and those being led:

    Come to the edge.

    We might fall.

    Come to the edge.

    It is too high.

    Come to the edge.

    And they came,

    and he pushed,

    and they flew.

Balance Optimism with Reality

Here's a question for you. "How do you maintain a positive, can-do spirit in your organization without ignoring uncomfortable facts - like profits are down, lay-offs are imminent and that long-awaited sales trip to Hawaii is toast?"

How you strike that balance is critical. It separates the good from the great. Literally. Just read Jim30456313 Collins' Good to Great. Remember the term "Stockdale Paradox" that Collins and his team of researchers coined to explain a trait that separated the great companies from the rest? Admiral Jim Stockdale, survivor of the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam explained the phenomenon this way:

The optimists...were the ones who said, "We're going to be out by Christmas." And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, "We're going to be out by Easter." And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Stockdale's example teaches that it's not the presence or absence of challenging times and circumstances that define our characters and our leadership strengths. We all experience trials. What's important is how we see those inevitable difficulties and if we are able to balance them the faith that we'll endure.

Being able to paint a clear and powerful picture for ourselves, our teams, or our whole organizations of our eventual success - that we shall prevail - is one important part of that picture. The other part is being in touch with reality, in sync with the markets and the people and the culture and the emerging trends AND not being afraid to talk openly and honestly about the way all of those things are coming together. Wicking up reality and talking about it. I think of it as keeping the hopeful "future" state alive alongside the objective (and sometimes frightening) "current" state. We shall prevail, but only by grappling openly with what is, not by denying what is.

I like the way that Jim Lobaito of The Performance Group talks about this same balance in his most recent issue of Sales Quick Coach: "Detach yourself from the specific outcome, but have total faith that ultimately your goal will be achieved....Understand that there are an indefinite number of possibilities between point A (today's reality) and point B (tomorrow's goals). If one opportunity does not materialize, another will."

It's a delicate balancing act but important for all of us, in leading others and in living our own personal lives.

Keep 'Em Playing on Your Street

"Who trains your people?" Robert Spector - author of The Nordstrom Way - once asked a member of the Nordstrom Board of Directors. The board member replied, "Their parents."

That's where motivation comes from? It has its beginning deep inside the employees themselves. They were born with some and their early upbringing hopefully added some more...and life experiences likely contributed along the way as well.

I know what you're thinking: "But what about incentives and reward programs? They're important too, right?" They ARE a helpful component to focus employee attention on what's most important to the organization, but they can easily backfire. Incentives tend to get employees to chase bonuses and short-term targets, skewing motivation toward "what's in it for me?" rather than doing the job well. The recent payout of bonuses at AIG is a perfect example of this.

If people are inspired and engaged and find meaning and pleasure in their work, they're motivated. Add bonuses and that's icing on the cake. But it ain't the cake. Create a workplace where employees feel like they belong, where they can contribute in a meaningful way, and they have fun...you'll touch them deeply and elicit a powerful response. It's called motivation.

The story is told of Charles Handy, a prolific and profound writer, suffering from writer's block one day. A30327096 bunch of kids came by and were playing outside his window. The sounds of their laughter and frolicking made his creative juices flow and the words tumbled onto the page. He went out and told them how delighted he was that they chose that spot to play, how it helped him write, and then he asked them to come back and play the next day.

They did. The same thing happened. He wrote fluently and asked them to return. They did. And at the end of the third day, he was so excited about how much work he'd gotten done with them playing outside his window that he ran out and cried, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a pound!" (the equivalent of about two bucks in U.S. dollars).

Next day: no kids. Handy goes looking for them and finds them playing one street over. "Why didn't you come back," he asked?

"For a pound it wasn't worth it," they replied with disdain.

Unwittingly, Handy had put a price on what the kids had innately enjoying doing...and they found the price lacking. They took their motivation one street over.

How do you use inspiration to light the fire of motivation that's already burning inside the people you work with? Are they playing on your street or have they moved one street over?

Think like an “Instapreneur”

You can sense it. The signs are everywhere. There’s a major shift occurring in the world’s economy. LookBlog around you on any given weekday morning at any Panera in town. Read back issues of Fast Company for the past couple of years. Listen to global economists talk about trends they’re seeing.

It wasn’t until I read the Avadon Group’s white paper entitled, “Convergence…an Emerging Revolution,” that it all sort of fell into place, the pieces began to make sense and I was both exhilarated and scared spit less at the same time.

Here’s Avadon Group’s thesis:  Baby boomers are retiring in droves. The resulting brain drain is fueling even more outsourcing and overseas growth in innovation and talent, especially in places like China and India. This shift of middle-class jobs overseas will reach a tipping point in 2012 and cause a new economic structure to occur. We need to embrace this new economic structure or, as a player on the world’s stage, we’re toast. The wheels are in motion. It can’t be stopped. We resist this emerging phenomenon at our peril.

What’s this mean for us…you and me and the rest of America’s workforce?

  • Slow is over! Our old, slow bureaucracies are going to be stressed to the max. Most won’t make it. The age of the employer and employee is almost over. Now understand, I’m not talking 2050. I’m talking a few years from now! Look at GM, Morgan Stanley, and K-Mart.
  • Brand yourself instantly…over and over! The pre-1912 model of individuals being their own businesses…independent contractors…providing the goods and services they have created themselves…will become the norm. These "instapreneurs" will form interlocking networks where they support each other and provide complementary services so each person can act as a complete company drawing on the network. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We already know people working this way. Get ready for millions more. Become one yourself.)
  • Borders? What borders? The power of connection through the Internet means business and communication without borders has arrived. By 2012, the Millennial generation – who already live without borders – will be in the workforce. With the baby boomers out of the picture, a new economy and a shift to a more fluid, borderless state will emerge big time.
  • It’s all about fluidity and agility. That’s the mind set it’s going to take to thrive in the decades ahead. The view that: “I’m not my job. I’m not a skill set. I’m a dynamic element that grows and reacts to change instantly and fits into the economy’s needs in the moment.” (Makes sense doesn’t it, when you think of all the blogging and twittering going on today and growing exponentially?)

Intrigued? If you answered no, and you’re not a baby boomer ready to check out in the next couple of years, you’re at risk.

Check out Norma Owen’s white paper (Avadon Group). Read Release Your Brilliance by Simon T. Bailey, who used his experiences at Disney to help millions become instapreneurs. And hold on! Because as business leaders – and citizens of planet earth -- we’re in for the ride of our lives!

Kill Chicken Little

Remember when your parents read to you the story of Chicken Little. He was hit on the head by an acorn 71989731 that fell from a tree and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the sky was falling. Then he rushed out to sound the alarm and spread the fear.

This type of behavior is known in psychological circles as catastrophizing or "awfulizing." Our minds leap to believe the worst. Disaster lies just ahead -- and there's nothing we can do.

We're often guilty of this as individuals; it shows up in our roles as leaders as well. Think about it. You open your mail box and there's a letter from the IRS. Is your first thought, "Oh, great! I must be entitled to a refund." Or is it, "Oh, no! I'm being audited."

Or your boss sends you an email saying she'd like to see you in her office in thirty minutes. Do you get that sinking feeling? You know, the one where your heart falls into your stomach, and your stomach falls into your knees? The next thirty minutes feel like thirty years as you try to think of why you should not be on the list of those being laid off. It turns out your boss wants you on the new project team to improve customer service. Your suffering was needless.

Getting a handle on this tendency to think the worst is critical, especially when there's so much fear in the marketplace already like there is today. Let fear immobilize you and you'll miss out on all kinds of opportunities -- to grow, achieve, win. And, if you're in a leadership role, it's even more imperative to recognize the internal conversation going on in your head and to combat these self-defeating thoughts.

1.) They can keep you from thinking clearly. 2.) They affect your mood -- and your mood impacts the morale of your team. 3.) They take a lot of the energy that should be directed toward your creative efforts.

To de-catastrophize:

First of all, become aware that you have made the leap to, "The sky is falling." Then put your brain to work. Analyze those Chicken Little thoughts. Ask, "What exactly do I mean by 'I'll die if that's an IRS audit!' " Putting your brain to work keeps the blood in your brain so you can think more clearly. It overrides the effect of the adrenaline that shot into your system when your stomach fell to your knees. And it calms you down. These are all good things. You might also try jotting down what you're saying to yourself, starting with the worst conclusion you've come to and working your way back. Just seeing the words in black and white can defuse them and put them into perspective. And finally, think about what you'd say to someone else if they were awfulizing about this same scenario. Then take your own advice.

Do these things and chances are, you won't have to kill Chicken Little. Chicken Little will expire on his own. Fear will subside, reason will return, and you're once again leading with confidence and skill.

Is Your Work Real Work?

You work hard. Real hard. You go into work early, stay late and then carry a briefcase of work homeBlog along with your Blackberry to stay in the loop on important projects. Is all of that work "real" work or is it "fake" work?

Brent Peterson and Gaylan Nielson, authors of the engaging 2009 book Fake Work, claims half of the work we do consumes valuable time without strengthening the short- or long-term survival of our organizations. That's fake work. It drains a company's resources without improving its bottom line. It steals commitment, care and morale from employees and leads to turnover, communication problems and low productivity.

We've all experienced fake work. We've done it, seen it done, or been a victim of it. We often joke that the endless meetings we sit through are "meaningless." In other words, fake. But meetings, e-mails and endless cell phone time are not necessarily the culprits. The work environment has changed so much in the last few years that identifying fake work is complex. In fact, sometimes real work and fake work can be exactly the same work, just under different circumstances.

Peterson and Nielson define fake work as "effort under the illusion of value" -- work not aligned with the goals and strategies of the company. Such work is clearly rampant when you consider the statistics that Peterson and Nielson's research uncovered :

  • 54 percent of all workers feel they have more creativity, resourcefulness, talent and intelligence than their job requires or allows.
  • 56 percent of workers don't clearly understand their company's most important goals.
  • 73 percent of workers don't think their company's goals are translated into specific work they can execute

Think about the work that's going on around you daily. Your own work, the work your team does, the work your senior leaders do and the work of your organization. Focusing just on your own work, how would you answer the following three questions:

  1. Are you sure you're doing real work (work that's critical and aligned to company goals and strategies)?
  2. Do you understand the importance of your work to the mission of your organization?
  3. Is your work critical? How critical? Why?

It's not easy to totally eliminate fake work and replace it with real work, but in order to do so, first you have to find it. Thomas Edison said, "Seeming to do is not doing." Fake work is the "seeming to do.

Now Hear This...

Our world is so full of chatter --in meetings, through media, with social networking-- it takes hard work to cut through it all and really hear what's being said. It seems like we have to almost "half-listen" sometimes, just to survive. That's a bad habit to fall into. Listening is a crucial skill for everyone, but it's especially critical for leaders.

When we really listen, we:Blog

  • know what others have said

  • know what they meant to say

  • and leave them feeling that they've had their say.

We tend to take listening for granted. "Oh, yeah, I'm a pretty good listener," most leaders will say. And then they'll mention their open door policy and how they try not to interrupt and to listen with empathy. What they don't mention is that --like all of us -- they listen well only when they want to, or have to. What's hard is how to listen when you don't want to.

Try this:

  1. Do you listen?
  2. Or, do you listen intently to some people, neutrally to others, and depending on how well you like them, not at all to others.

There's the rub, huh?

  • Listening starts with the heart...not the ears. We have to get our hearts right first. We have to consciously care and be intentional about hearing what the other person is saying. Focus. Be calm and patient. Remember to breath. And listen. Really listen for the next couple of minutes as if your life depended on it.
  • Listening takes keeping our mouths shut. When our mouths are open, our ears automatically shut down. When we hear something that we disagree with, boy it's hard to not want to refute what we've heard, isn't it? We can think faster than others can speak. So we're tempted to open our mouths and interrupt, suggest words when they hesitate or pause, and finish their sentences for them.
  • Listening requires asking lots of questions to get to a good understanding. Probing questions. Clarifying questions. Confirming questions: "Is that what you're saying?" People signal when they've been heard and then you'll know that you've really listened.

Calvin Coolidge said, "No man has ever listened himself out of a job." Truly, listening is one of those qualities that separates the mediocre from the great.
 

'Smart Power' is Smart, and Powerful

If you have power, you can always use it.

It's human nature to want to resort to powerPower sometimes...we saw that model a lot as kids. Parents use power because they're bigger, and they can. In the workplace, we're used to seeing managers resort to discipline way too early sometimes. We're even tempted ourselves to quickly bring down the power of the law on a neighbor who lets their dog use our yard to do its business.

Whether it's at home, work, our neighborhoods, nationally or internationally -- the secret is:  don't start with power.

At her confirmation hearing on Jan. 13, Sen. Clinton declared: “We must use what has been called 'smart power', the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural—picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation”.

David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law talks about Hillary Clinton's use of that term and the message it sends about the Obama administration's return to diplomacy. He credits Theodore Roosevelt with first using that phrase -- smart power -- taken from a West African proverb -- in one of his turn of the century speeches.

Clinton's use of that term seems to be saying, "We are a powerful nation. We can always use power. But we aren't going to start with power. We're going to consider all the tools in our toolbox when we run into a difficult or crisis situation. We're not going to automatically pull out the sledge hammer and start swinging."

That same kind of "smart power" mindset is critical if a manager to going to be successful in the workplace. Helping someone see the natural consequences of their behavior, performance, or results is much more likely to get them back on track and sustain their long-term commitment than threatening to dock their pay. Imposed consequences, like docking someone's pay:

  • damage trust and respect for the leader
  • motivate resistance
  • aren't sustainable, and
  • make the leader look mean-spirited and desperate

Can you relate to using "dumb power" in the heat of the moment and later saying to yourself, "What was I thinking? There must have been something I could have tried first, before resorting to that!"

Now, let's not be naive. Sometimes managers have to impose serious consequences when nothing else seems to work...and sometimes nations have to take military action.

Remember, there's a big difference between compliance and commitment. Smart power is about getting commitment; using force and punishment is about getting compliance.

What manager would not want his team's commitment rather than their obedience? It's just smart.

Make Time. Be Consistent.

As a new year gets underway, we're bombarded with blog posts, newspaper articles and emails tellingTime us how to -- this time-- for sure-- reach our goals for the new year.

  • Want to better balance work and home?

  • Want to exercise more?

  • Want to be more collaborative with peers?

  • Want to do a better job of delegating, and developing direct reports?

Do this. Try that. The "how-tos" are endless. And every suggestion is helpful in some way. To me, the challenge is not so much "what" to do to achieve the goals. It's how to keep doing whatever we decide to do. Do you agree?

You know the drill. You decide to exercise 30 minutes a day in your company's workout room starting Jan. 1. By Jan. 9, you're already overwhelmed with new tasks that piled up over the holidays. You feel like you don't have time to hit the gym that day.

This is a crucial moment. As you sit at your desk, deciding whether to:

(1.) get up and go workout over your lunch hour or

(2.) work through lunch at your desk,

you're determining -- in that moment-- the success of your long-term exercise goal. Right then and there. Successfully making changes that we care deeply about, personally or professionally, is about minute-by-minute choices, made consistently.

Lao Tzu, father of Taoism, said, "Time is a created thing. To say "I don't have time" is to say, "I don't want to." Sounds harsh doesn't it? And yet, deep down, if we're honest with ourselves, we know it's true. Each of us has the choice as to how we spend our time. This is not to say finding the time is easy. It may require sacrifice. It means being authentic. Yet, if we can carve out only fifteen minutes a day to exercise, or coach a direct report, or collaborate with a peer, that's 91 hours over the course of a year. 99 hours!

AA-type programs recognize that we "change one day at a time in a row." To go cold turkey and say "never" and "always" is just too darn hard. But today? Anyone can do today. One day at a time -- consistency-- is gentle enough to not set off the "big change coming" alarms but it does move us into action. We're doing it -- today. And we'll worry about signing on again tomorrow, when tomorrow become today. 

What do you think? What role do choices and consistency play in the leadership goals you've set for yourself this year?

Lessons from a Reluctant Entrepreneur

It's the holidays. You recognize the name Koeze. You know...those catalogs that come this time of year,Blog full of fancy glass jars with delicious-looking cashews, mixed nuts and candies for business gift giving. It's a business with $12 million in sales...certainly not peanuts.

December's issue of Inc. Magazine profiles the Koeze Co. and its CEO, Jeff Koeze. What a fascinating study in entrepreneurship and the art of learning to become a leader. When Koeze took the reins from his dad, Scott, 12 years ago, he knew almost nothing about running a business or being a leader. Talk about starting with a clean slate! And yet, Koeze has almost doubled sales, improved profit margins, introduced new products, modernized processes and systems, and enhanced the company's culture.

Admittedly it's been an overwhelming and trying -- but exhilarating -- 12-year ride for Koeze after taking up the reins from his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants father. The lessons he's learned are a handy guide, and an inspiring story, for any business leader. Two of those lessons are:

Perpetual learning is critical:

A former college professor, Koeze ignored his father's advice: "You can't learn to run a business by reading a book." Instead, as he'd done with all previous problems, Koeze "started with a stack of books 18 feet high." He sought advice everywhere...consultants, psychologists, clinical social workers, philosophy professors...and eventually, like Koeze himself, Koeze Co. became smarter. Employees have gone from being intellectually passive to intellectually curious. Three of the most important books from that 18-foot stack, according to Koeze are:

  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen (Penguin, 2001).
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
  • Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham (Portfolio, 2005). 

Free-wheeling discussion is essential:

Koeze sees himself as "blunt and transparent" in his speech. That's how he wanted Koeze Co. to operate as well -- no hidden agendas, no sneak attacks in meetings. But it didn't. Not at the beginning. And Koeze realized that he had to change his approach in order for his employees to change their approach. He had assumed, as he'd done with his colleagues at the University of North Carolina, that the best argument wins and thus, he would be able to argue people into doing things his way. Not so with the production staff at Koeze.

Jeff began to share his thoughts. He became more patient. Which began to put people at ease. And one of his greatest insights: "He realized he confused people by verbally debating with himself the very issue on which he was about to give an order." Do you know anyone who has the habit of thinking out loud? And they do it with their direct reports, which confuse the heck out of people as they strive to discern from the monologue, "What am I supposed to do?" Koeze quit doing that and became comfortable with various forms of decision making, even simply giving orders.

Koeze, the professor, became a nut man, and over the course of a dozen years, not only became smarter himself, but now runs one of the smartest companies around.

Reviews, With or Without Raises.

What's one of the most powerful tools for setting direction, getting results and developing employees, andBlog-photo -- at the same time -- often one of the most dreaded requirements of every manager's role?: Reviewing employee performance.

And at many organizations, the formal part of this process is an annual ritual about this time of year.

So if a company is eliminating merit increases, bonuses, and maybe even cost-of-living increases due to the dire economic forecast, does that mean they can forego, or abbreviate, the process of formal employee reviews this year? Absolutely not. In fact, holding those formal reviews is probably more critical this year than at any time in the past.

With layoffs and company closings making the news every day, employees want to know how well they're meeting expectations, even if they know they aren't getting a raise. We all like to measure ourselves against a standard, such as who can run the fastest, jump the highest, make the most sales, or produce the most widgets. We like to be measured by people we respect and who make a difference in our work lives and careers.

In a tough economy, it's critical to engage every member of a work team through mutual goal setting and frequent feedback, talking about things daily, as they happen, doing a summary informal review every quarter. So when the end of the year rolls around, you're gathering materials from the previous three quarterly reviews, adding the most recent results, and you're ready to sit down with each employee and hold that annual formal performance review; with no surprises and a lot of input on the part of both employee and manager.

Remember:

  • Make the meeting productive. Set aside 45-60 minutes for each employee review. Ensure that the employee has your undivided attention; eliminate all interruptions. Find a comfortable setting, preferably at a table rather than across your desk.
  • Talk about successes first, then talk about where further development is needed. Be honest when delivering difficult news. But remember, you can be honest without being negative. And since you've been talking consistently with each employee about what's working well and what's not, there should be nothing new or surprising during the annual review.
  • Be objective in your comments. Focus on specific behaviors and results that the employee clearly understands from your previous conversations.
  • Set goals and expectations for the coming year. Mutually decide how to build on this year's successes and how to overcome performance barriers.

When employees walk out of a performance review they should feel energized that their manager appreciates their strengths, values their contribution and sees their potential -- even if there's no raise in the picture this year.

Train 'em & Retain 'em?

Carl, a young professional I know, recently left his company; even though I know he was doing well, was well thought of, and was on the fast track to a higher level management position.

"What happened?" I asked him. "I thought you were part of their emerging leader program."

Now catch this, because his answer is a wake-up call for all of us who are concerned about keeping our best employees in these worst of times.26238516

"Sure, I got lots of training. It seemed like every other week I was going to a training program or doing something online. But it was all about the company. Nothing about developing who I am as a person. My supervisor wasn't big on talking about what I was best at or where I could improve. He praised a lot, but what he said, he could have said to anyone on the team. I honestly don't think they knew what I could have done for them."

So...Carl's been recruited away by a major company and is already being groomed for a leadership position there. He has an executive coach. A member of the executive team is mentoring him. He's scheduled to get some 360-degree feedback in six months.

Managers tell me they often struggle with how much time and money to budget for the training and development of employees like Carl. My response? If you have to ask whether you're doing enough, you probably aren't. It'd be hard to spend too much, especially of one-on-one time. Remember, Carl wasn't wanting more class time; he wanted attention paid to his aspirations, his struggles, his untapped potential.

Training and development are not the exclusive role of HR. As leaders, a big part of our role is to ensure that informal learning is happening every minute of every day. In team meetings. On sales calls. During project launches. This kind of spontaneous, one-on-one interaction is fast and easy and doesn't cost a time. And ironically enough, it's what Carl was looking for at his old company.

Ask yourself these questions and listen to your answers. Are you happy with them?

  • How many employees have you groomed and promoted under your leadership?
  • How many courses and workshops does your company offer? How many do you personally conduct?
  • How often do your employees get to learn from both inside and outside experts?
  • How easy it is for employees to access opportunities to learn in your organization?

As parents, we wouldn't think of ignoring our kids or firing them. We know we have to develop them, over time, day by day, in the small interactions we have with them. By applying that same wisdom to our employees, we'll have fewer of them -- like Carl-- feel ignored and leave.

Re-energize. Unplug.

In a recent article in The Des Moines Register, Dana Hunsinger referenced "the epidemic of  overwork, over-scheduling and time famine in America's workplaces." Think of how many business people you know -- including yourself, more than likely -- who routinely work 50-60 hours a week. Even when we're not at work, we're hard at work...on our cell phones, laptops and Blackberries. This is especially true during tough economic times when fear drives us to put in even more hours.

For decades, we've questioned the wisdom of being continually "plugged in." Remember30358407 Stephen Covey's analogy of "sharpening the saw," stopping periodically to renew physically, mentally, socially and spiritually? Without that renewal time, like a saw, we become dull and ineffective.

John deGraaf, Executive Director of Take Back Your Time, talks in the Register article about how essential time off is to our health. He says that men who don't take regular vacations are 32 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who do, and women are 50 percent more likely.

During the recent election, for the first time, both campaigns listed work+life issues as part of their economic agendas. President-elect Obama specifically sees work+life as a mainstream economic and social policy issue.

Ultimately it comes down to individual choices though, doesn't it? Maintaining a conscious balance between work and personal life so that one doesn't dominate the other. Balance does not mean 50/50. It's not about clock time.

Balance is about how we use the time we have. It's deciding, "What's a reasonable balance for me?"

  • Is it a few hours a week unencumbered by work worries? Unplugged physically from the Blackberry, emotionally from the to-do list? Plugged socially into family and friends, spiritually into the silent chambers of our souls?
  • Is it taking four breaks a day to walk around the block, to sit for a few minutes beside a sunny window, to read a few pages in a favorite magazine?
  • Is it some solitude every evening between dinner and bedtime?
  • Is it playing more with the kids?
  • Is it having a real conversation with your spouse, partner or friend each day?
  • Is it making time every week in your schedule for a sports, community or religious activity that you care deeply about? 

We have to consciously schedule "time off" into our lives, just like we schedule staff meetings into our calendars. Knowing when not to work is just as important as knowing when to.

Fiddling on the Roof

When I think of business leaders in these tough economic times, I'm reminded of the fiddler19215046 on the roof. The fiddler's true passion is making beautiful music. His only real problem is to avoid falling off the roof while he fiddles. Where does he need to focus his energies -- on making beautiful music or on clinging to the eaves? If 95 percent of his energy is devoted to holding on and not falling, it's doubtful that he'll be playing much music with the remaining five percent. However, if he can learn to steady himself, have confidence in his balance, and maybe even look out and survey the beauty of the world around him, he can live his passion and continue to make beautiful music.

What about you? Are you crouched down in a defensive mode, hoping at best to hold on, devoting 5 percent of your resources to new ideas, fresh approaches and bold initiatives? Or are you standing tall, scanning the horizon for new audiences, continually improving the quality and value of your products to keep them as memorable as ever?

Your answer says something about the role that fear plays in your psyche as a business leader. In the final analysis, fear is the only thing that can ever defeat us. We can more consistently achieve our potential -- and our organization's potential -- if we are not distracted or intimidated by the fear of falling/failing.

While others are worrying about falling/failing:

  • Seize the moment. Be even more aggressive in your selling efforts. Call on people you've never had the courage to call on before. Play your music for them with passion. Given the tough times, they're looking and listening for opportunities where they might not have considered looking before. That's where you come in.
  • Innovate. Package things differently. Offer new solutions. Give enticing incentives to an audience that didn't even know they liked your kind of music -- until you showed up fiddling. Let passion prevail.
  • Be persistent. If you know you're making beautiful music, never stop playing. Play with energy, drive and a need to finish. Get someone to help you if you need to be better organized, disciplined and focused. Do it now -- don't procrastinate.

I've heard it said, "Life is like a grinding wheel. It will sharpen you up or wear you down, depending on what you're made of." That metaphor is especially true in tough times. Use this dip in the economy to sharpen your skills as a business person and a leader...and to prove what you're made of.

Are you a cryptic informer? Or a hoarder?

Try this quiz:

  • Do you provide all the information that people need to know to do their jobs and to feel good about being a member of the team or a part of your organization?
  • Do you provide individuals with the information they need to make accurate decisions?
  • Are you timely with the information that you do provide?

It seems so obvious, doesn't it? How could you be in a leadership position--whether a team lead, a mid-level manager, or a C-level executive -- and answer anything other than "yes" to those three questions above?

Here's the rub. A lot of the executives I work with every day tell me they do these things. And I think they're sincere; they believe they do. But they don't. They might:Blog

  • Hoard information or not see sharing it as important
  • Tell too little (or too much...which is also damaging)
  • Tell too late
  • Be inconsistent, informing some people better than others
  • Use their favorite mode (email? oral?) all the time, appropriate or not

People want and need to understand what's going on around them. Obviously it's not possible --or necessary --for everyone to know everything. Ask yourself, "What do people need to know so they are well equipped to do their jobs well?" Do they know:

  1. As much as possible about their jobs? This is a no-brainer and applies to everyone on the payroll. You can't give people too much information about their own jobs.
  2. How their role fits within the team and the department and the organization?
  3. The overall vision for the enterprise? What's happening within the industry? The "big picture?"

Because it seems like a simple skill, we often take it for granted that we're doing it well. If you're not sure how well you do at "informing," ask some trusted team members and peers  (...who will be honest with you) to assess your performance on the eleven basic qualities and questions listed above. Then, when you do, accept that feedback as a valuable gift, because you've just been informed about your foundational status as a leader. Good luck!

The Power of Conscious Competence

Have you ever tried to squeeze your size 14 body into a size 12 suit? Doesn't work, does it? Oh, maybe you can get the pants on without ripping them out. The moment you go to sit down though, or eat more than one cup of soup, you're going to be outside your comfort zone. And maybe at risk for exposing the gap between "reality" and "desire."

There's nothing wrong with being a size 14. Celebrate it. Leverage all that being a size 14 means. But let go of being a size 12. Life is too short to not be able to comfortably sit down.

Those of us in business often do something similar when we try to fit into a job or a career that is not "the right size" for us. We try to squeeze ourselves into an account executive position at an ad agency when our strengths are better suited to teaching the arts in an elementary school. Peter Drucker said, "Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer."

In our work lives, if we can discern what our greatest strengths are -- when we are at ourBlog best, in the zone, performing in a way that is both excellent and exhilarating -- we can be consciously competent. We can sense what's working and how it's working and why it's working. And thus, we can replicate that performance and satisfaction over and over again, every day we engage in work that is right-sized for us and for our unique set of talents.

Tom Rath's best-selling book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a wonderful tool for getting started on that road to conscious competence. Inside each copy is a unique identification number that allows access to a StrengthsFinder Profile on the Internet, a revolutionary program to help readers identify their talents, build them into strengths and enjoy consistent, near-perfect performance.

It's well worth the time and study to identify what you're really good at, what makes your heart sing, what hardly seems like work at all. Listening to that inner voice guides you to take the next step that is in keeping with who we really are -- where your strengths reside -- rather than into a role or a position where the world...and employment managers...might be trying to squeeze you.

Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, used to tell this story. A very poor Greek once applied for a job as a janitor in a bank in Athens. "Can you write?" demanded the discriminating head of employment. "Only my name," said the fellow. He didn't get the job -- so he borrowed the required money to travel steerage to the United States, the "land of opportunity."

Many years later an important Greek businessman held a press conference in his beautiful Wall Street office. At the conclusion, an enterprising reporter said, "You should write your memoirs." The gentleman smiled. "Impossible," he said, "I cannot write." The reporter was astounded. "Just think," he remarked, "how much farther you would have gone if you could write." The Greek should his head and said, "If I could write, I'd be a janitor."

Obama, McCain and Behavioral Interviewing

Ask any HR professional who's been in the job longer than six months to finish the sentence, "Past behavior..." and they'll pipe up with, ..."predicts future behavior." If you're not in HR, it doesn't matter. As a leader, you still get this concept. You've built teams and thought about succession. Behavior in one situation usually predicts behavior in a similar situation at a later time. Business people know this to hold true.Blog

Historically, we've used past behavior to predict future behavior in all walks of life.

  • Banks lend money more readily to people who've proven over time that they pay back their loans.
  • Baseball pitchers feel much less confident facing a batter with a .333 batting average than one with a .220 average.
  • The fastest and most productive factory workers are the ones chosen for special projects requiring speed and accuracy.

As interviewers in the workplace, we can expect past behavior to be repeated, especially if there's a high overlap between a candidate's past performance situation and our open position. For instance, if an open position requires handing customer complaints, we'd ask the candidate for examples of their past experience in handling customer complaints or similar conflict situations with friends or co-workers. We'd say something like,

  • "Tell me about a time when you had to handle an angry customer's complaint. Describe the situation for me in detail."
  • "What specific actions did you take -or not take- in that situation? What exactly was your role?"
  • "What were the results or changes which occurred as a result of your actions?"

What if we're hiring for a sales position but, let's say, the applicant has never held a sales job. Any hope of assessing that person's sales ability? Sure. We'd just have to ask the applicant to tell us about situations in which they had to persuade others, sell their ideas to co-workers, or influence a group to do something. What was the scenario? What exactly did you do? What was the outcome?

It's ironic, isn't it, that we're about to "hire" a candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant position -- the most powerful position in the executive branch of our federal government, the leader of the free world -- and we don't use the same rigor in that interview process, when we know it's proven to produce better results over time.

Instead of asking presidential candidates to spontaneously answer the same type of behavioral questions we use for hiring commercial loan officers and graphic designers, we settle for the sound bites that their campaign committees carefully craft late at night in hotel rooms when the latest poll results roll in. 

What if we could ask presidential candidates these behavioral questions and they had to reply on the spot, the way our job applicants have to, every day:

  • "Tell me about a time when you demonstrated creativity in solving a problem. What was the situation? Your role? The result?"
  • "How do you relate with people who aren't like you and don't see the world the way you do? Give me a specific instance when that was true. What did you do? And the result?"
  • "The role of Commander-in-Chief requires sound judgment in times of crisis. Tell me about the biggest crisis you ever faced, when your back was against the wall and you had to act. What did you do? What was the outcome?"

Whether we're adding one more telemarketer to our call center team or replacing the President of the United States, having a dual focus in the interview process is what seems to consistently reap the greatest success...looking to the past to predict the future.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

How do those at the top of their game get there? Someone like Olympian gymnast Shawn Johnson. Or up-and-comer COO David Stark at Iowa Health-Des Moines. They practice. Perfectly.Practice

For most of us --most of the time--we reach our highest level of proficiency after about 50 hours of practicing something new, such as driving, golf, tennis, or keyboarding. Because it's working for us, we stop trying to get better and our development stalls out. Once you learned how to do a decent PowerPoint presentation on your laptop, did you tease out all the hundreds of options available, or did "good enough" become good enough? Usually it's the latter. And that's OK. The added effort it would take to become a presentation expert often isn't worth it.

But what about your level of proficiency as a manager? Or the technical aspects of your profession or career? As a manager, did your coaching, interviewing and delegating skills reach an acceptable level and then plateau? Studies show that many professionals --software engineers, teachers, brain surgeons, etc. --peak somewhere around five years after entering the profession. From then on, there's often little correlation between time in the profession and performance levels. That's not good.

Want to be the best of the best in your field? Then practice what Dr. Anders Ericsson calls "deliberate" practice. Here's what it looks like to practice perfectly:

1.) Concentrate hard on what you're doing: what's working, what isn't and why. Turn off the autopilot. Really focus.

2.) Get clear, frequent and rapid feedback about how you're doing. Stop thinking negatively about tests...how else will you know you're making progress?

3.) Set "mini" goals that are behavior-based, not outcome-based. Mastery will come when behaviors have been mastered.

4.) Prepare for setbacks. See them as "guides," not barriers.

Supposedly, Pablo Picasso was walking down the street in Paris one day when a woman recognized and approached him. After introducing herself and praising his work, she asked him if he would consider drawing her portrait and offered to pay him for the piece.

Picasso agreed and sat the woman down right there on the side of the street, brought out a sketchbook and pencil, and began to draw the woman. A small crowd of spectators gathered very quickly, but in only a handful of minutes Picasso had finished the drawing, and as he handed it to the woman said, "That will be five thousand francs." Surprised at the price, the woman objected saying, "But Mr. Picasso, it took you only a few minutes." Picasso smiled and replied, "No, my dear woman, you are mistaken; it took me a whole lifetime."

Picasso became the famed Picasso not because he practiced his whole life, but because he practiced perfectly.

Turn Around & Lead

It's been said, "No one leads the orchestra without turning his back on the crowd."Lead

Leading is many times standing alone. And standing alone is a whole lot riskier than following along in the midst of a crowd. It's easy to see why so few of us make the grade. It's lonely and scary out there on a limb, all by ourselves. You know the wisecrack: "Yeah, but that's why you get the big bucks!"

Sure. The big bucks -- even the consistent paycheck -- makes the buffeting that can come from staking out a tough position a little less traumatic. But we're talking bravery here. You'll know the degree to which you are authentically a leader at your very core, regardless of your leadership style, by:

  • how comfortable you are with the inherent conflict that comes with taking a stand.
  • how willing you are to speak against an idea when everyone else on the team is for it.
  • how confident you are with yourself, i.e. the strength of your self concept

Think about Obama and McCain. Any political figure really...mayor, governor, school board member. We may not agree with their stand many times, but you have to give them one thing. They are willing to take the heat for taking that stand. They're OK with being out front, in the spotlight, an easy target for the critics.

And there are always critics. You could be the most competent and beloved leader in your business unit or organization and trust me, some people will still find fault. Not everyone's going to like you. Or agree with you. Ever. So you may as well be true to yourself, to what you believe is right. Step up, state it, and accept the consequences. If it turns out you're wrong, admit it, and move on. (And like most politicians, run again!)

What's it take to be brave like that?

  • Be OK with being wrong. Successful managers often get promoted because they have the guts to stand alone, not because they are always right. (Studies show they're only right about 65% of the time.)
  • Know what it is you really want when difficult situations arise. I mean long term. Not this instant. Then keep that long-term goal in front of you as you work through the situation. Do this and you'll be amazed at the positive impact it has on your emotions, especially fear.
  • The more passionate you are about something, the easier it is to bravely take a stand, to be a champion for an idea. Pick your battles wisely.

Remember, life is not a popularity contest. Neither is being a leader. So turn around, face the orchestra and lead.

Leadership=Relationship

35308158 It's tough to be a great elementary school teacher if you're not interested in establishing a relationship with kids. Can you imagine being married for fifty years and having a miserable relationship with your spouse? Yikes!

The same holds true if you want to be a respected leader. You have to want to -- and be willing to take the time and make the effort -- to build a relationship with those you're leading.

If you're a leader today, there are countless ways to learn about connecting with others in the workplace:

  • many CEOs hire executive coaches
  • bookstores are full of self-help books that detail how to build and manage relationships on the way to the top
  • some find a mentor with the emotional intelligence to engage and inspire people

But, there isn't a lot of hard scientific evidence in those books and personal resources to show what makes or breaks work relationships. A lot of it seems to revolve around personal chemistry, which is almost magic-like. There is, however, a growing body of research to show what it takes to have successful relationships at home.

That's good news, especially if you believe -- as most psychologists do -- that the way someone manages their work relationships is a lot like the way they manage their personal ones. If you're distant with your loved ones, chances are you're distant at work. If you're engaged with your family, your employees will probably find you engage them as well. Abusive at home? That will show up somehow at work.

Here's someone leaders can learn from: relationship guru John M. Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle (...known as the "Love Lab").

He's been studying marriage and divorce for 35 years. He's screened, interviewed and tracked thousands of couples over time. With the help of heart monitors, biofeedback and video cameras, he measures what goes on when couples experience moments of conflict and closeness. By mathematically analyzing the data, Gottman has generated hard scientific data about what makes good relationships.

The way the couples treat each other during the videotaped conversations predicts who will stay married 94 percent of the time. Ninety-four percent!

Who do you know who can accurately predict 94 percent of any human behavior? And what's even more mind-boggling is that the researchers have to watch the couples for only 15 minutes to predict marital success.

What's the element that determines their long-term relational success?

Here's the nugget! Couples who demonstrated the ability to work through differences by stating their views honestly and respectfully stayed together.

Consider the workplace, where the same skill-set applies: if leaders can work through differences with others --direct reports, peers, and boss -- by stating their views honestly and respectfully, they'll stand apart as someone worthy of trust and respect...and thus, someone worthy of following. Sounds like a skill-set worth learning, huh?

  • Learn more about Gottman and his research in the December '07 Harvard Business Review.
  • Ask yourself, "Am I as eager to listen to others as I am to talk to them?" Then honestly listen to your answer. Ask other trusted individuals as well, those who will honestly and respectfully tell you the truth. (Recognize that characteristic?).
  • Envision a saltshaker full of yeses (as in, "Yes, that's a perspective I hadn't considered.") that you sprinkle throughout your interactions with others. That's the metaphor that Gottman says describes what a relationship is: looking for ways to accentuate the positive in others and in your relationship with them.

The result? The formula for success. Leadership=Relationship=Success.

Nudge Your Way to Success

Inertia Inertia is a killer! Just ask that diabetes patient on her deathbed who was going to get serious about eating right and taking her medicine -- next Monday. For the past five years.

Inertia is deadly for those of us in the work-world as well. If only we could get up the momentum to:

  • read one critical industry publication every week
  • give positive feedback to our star performers
  • keep our Outlook folders organized

But inertia works against us. In physics, inertia is an object's resistance to a change in its state. Remember Newton's words: "an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest." And oh, how we love to rest.

Two University of Chicago professors, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their new book, Nudge, ask this provocative question: "If you design a choice the right way, could a small nudge help people make better decisions?" According to their research, the answer seems to be "Yes!" Get inertia -- or should we call it laziness -- working for ya! Here are some examples:

  • In Germany, like the U.S., you have to opt in to become an organ donor. 12% of Germans opt in. In Austria, people are organ donors by default. They have the right to opt out at any time but guess what...they don't. 99% of Austrians are available as organ donors. The momentum of staying "in the program" is stronger than the initiative it takes to opt out. That's Austria's way of putting the "default option" to work.
  • Think of that book club or coffee club that keeps sending you books and coffee that you don't need ... and don't even want!... but having to DO something to get them stopped takes more effort than the inertia of accepting them. Can you see the default option at work here?
  • Was that 75 cents you paid for the USA Today outside your last hotel room door really what you'd have chosen to spend your money on? Probably not. But sticking the paper into your briefcase was easier than calling the front desk and going through the hassle of trying to get your 75 cents back, wasn't it? Do nothing, accept the paper and the default option is at work once again.

Here's your assignment:

Q.: What could you gently nudge yourself (or your employees) to do, that would get you going in the right direction and then, the momentum would keep you going?

Q.: What's a choice that you know you need to make? Now how could you design that choice so that doing nothing makes it happen? Over and over again.

Photo on flickr by hoobygroovy

Over-communicating is Under-rated

Overcommunicating

Don't over-eat. Try not to over-do it when you exercise. And for heaven's sake, don't over-extend your credit.

But when it comes to communication...well, that's another matter.

I was at a client's facility the other day and they had posters in every building that said, "Around here, we over-communicate." It's one of their values.

I have an executive coaching client who has "Over-communicate with my manager" as one of the tactics in his action plan. Why? Because his manager wants to be "in the know" on important things. Not to micro-manage or meddle, but to be in the loop, on top of things. No surprises.

George Bernard Shaw was picking up on the need for over-communication when he said, "The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place."

  • Leaders mistakenly think sometimes that if they've said something once, it's communicated. Employees heard it. They understood it. And they accepted it. In reality, they couldn't be more wrong. Until hearing something numerous times, most of us are clueless about what was even said, much less meant.

The more important the issue or topic of conversation, the more important it is to over-communicate. Keep these basic truths in mind:

  • Simplify your message. The key to effective communications is simplicity. Don't use five sentences if two will do. Make simplicity and clarity your friends.
  • Seek a response. The key to effective communication is dialogue, not a series of monologues. How will you know if your message is getting through if you don't watch and listen for the response to your words?  Listen with your heart.

Eliminate the scourge of assumptions. Over-communicate!

Photo on flickr by david samuel

Humility--the Great, Quiet Virtue

Humility "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way."

Remember that line from the Mac Davis song of the 70's? Given all the forces working on leaders today, it IS hard to be humble!

Think about it. Many of the leadership books lining the shelves in today's bookstores speak of charismatic personalities, undaunted courage, willingness to sacrifice everything, noble passions, and unwavering commitment to a cause. We're urged to stand out, tout our results, and polish our charisma. Nothing wrong with being seen, that's for sure.

There does seem to be a disconnect though between the advice to "stand out" by trying to stand out, and the reality of those who stand out because they lay back. Here's what I mean.

  • In the research for his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins found that the truly great leaders demonstrated personal humility. What does that look like in a person? A compelling modesty, a shunning of public adoration, never boastful, acting with quiet, calm determination, using inspired standards (not inspiring charisma) to motivate.
  • In the workshop I do based on the book, Crucial Conversations, I teach the concept of striking a balance between confidence and humility. Leaders have to be confident enough to contribute their ideas and to see those ideas as being valid and adding value. At the same time, they have to be sincerely humble enough that they wouldn't think of trying to convince and compel others that only their ideas are the "right" ideas. Instead, they influence through their humble and tentative and respectful approach to engaging others in dialogue.
  • Joseph Badaracco sees effective leadership as more a matter of character --who the leaders are -- rather than tactics -- what they do. In his book, Quiet Leadership, he refers to a trait like modesty as an unglamorous, everyday virtue -- not associated in any way with heroic leadership. Modest leaders are effective because they are realists and don't inflate the importance of their efforts or their likelihood of success. As one leader in his book says, "Look, all I'm trying to do is leave a trace on the beach." I like that. Rather than trying to build a castle on the sand, a humble leader is satisfied with leaving a trace on the beach, recognizing the reality of coming tides and winds.

So, really, how humble are you?

We're talking sincere humility, not false modesty. Would former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's comment apply to you? She said, "Don't be so humble, you aren't that great."

Photo on flickr by flygirljc

A Culture of Discipline

Discipline Discipline. Boy, that's a word that raises all kinds of angst even in the most got-it-to-together individuals. In our businesses, we value discipline. We want more of it. But developing it...there's the rub!

Remember in his book Good to Great , Jim Collins talks about how the great organizations display three forms of discipline:

  • disciplined people
  • disciplined thought
  • disciplined action

And what's so great about those three? With disciplined people, you don't need hierarchy. With disciplined thought, you don't need bureaucracy. And with disciplined action, Collins says you don't need excessive controls.

How free is your business of hierarchy, bureaucracy and excessive controls? Your answer is a reflection of your company's resolve (or discipline).

Whether it's personally or professionally, we pretty much already know what we need to do to achieve what it is we want to achieve, don't we? Think about it. If you want to lose weight, don't you already know what you NEED to do. But having the resolve to do it...there's the rub. The same thing applies to our businesses. If you're gaining lots of new clients but losing old ones, don't you already know what you NEED to do. But having the discipline and commitment to actually build client relationships...there's the rub.

In his book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, David Maister says, "We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don't do what's good for them." Guess what the subtitle to his book is. "Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy."

What's with that? I'm totally fascinated by this dilemma of having the will --or call it resolve, determination, or discipline--to actually do what it is we already want or need to do! I'm fascinated both personally and professionally.

I'm probably fascinated by this conundrum because the majority of my professional work comes down to helping business people solve this dilemma for themselves...to find their own breakthroughs in terms of strategy, leadership and relationships. To DO what they say they really want to do. To develop goals, implement accountabilities and celebrate successes.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Ah, but there's the rub!

Photo on flickr by that_yellagurl_keisha

Creative Interviewing and Manhole Covers

Manhole_cover Q. What's more important during an interview than the questions you ask?

A. How you listen. If you've ever had to live with a bad hire --and who hasn't if you've managed longer than six months! --you know what I'm talking about. Taking the time to interview and hire well is critical, especially when your organization is growing and the labor market is tight.

To find good people, you have to get creative. For example:

1.  Interview at a time that's most convenient for the kinds of applicants you're hiring. If it's tough for them to "slip away" from their jobs to come talk with you, why not make it possible for them to interview before or after normal work hours? Or on the weekend? Not only are you helping them keep their commitment to their current employer -- which says a lot about you -- but they'll also be less stressed because they're not sneaking away to interview at another company.

2. Interview in groups. (This strategy is unique, saves time, and gives you a comparative glimpse of who's in the pool of possibilities.) Invite all potential candidates for an open position to a "group meeting" where you:

  • Tell the whole group about your organization and what it's like to work here
  • Answer their initial questions
  • Watch for the dynamics among the players. Who speaks up? Who's late? Who is most courteous to the other contenders? Etc.
  • Then, have each candidate spend 5-10 structured minutes with a member of senior management. Only the strongest candidates are invited back for more in-depth interviews.

3. Interview -- and make your hiring decisions -- more quickly than others in your market. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying, "Rush the interviewing and hiring process." I am suggesting though that there's value in establishing a tight, but realistic, timeframe for the whole recruiting and hiring process ---and then sticking faithfully to it. You stay focused on who's who in your applicant pool and those in your applicant pool stay focused on you and your open position.

4. Interview using questions tailored specifically for your organization's culture. Is motivation a big deal? Ask about how someone knows they're doing a good job. Are you wanting to recruit the most creative minds? Ask why they make manhole covers round. (The answer: Because covers of any other simple geometric shape could fall through.)

Photo on flickr by ManHole.ca

When Good Employees Say "Good-bye"

Good_employee "Hey boss, I'm quitting."

Remember the last time you heard those words? Did you breathe a sigh of relief? And say to yourself, "Good. Now I don't have to fire her!" Or did your heart stop when you thought about the endless hours of interviewing and on-boarding that awaited you and the rest of the organization?  Your reaction probably depended on the role, longevity, and productivity of the person delivering that fateful message.

Firing employees is one thing. But when good performers say "I'm leaving," there are two things you'll want to do:

  • Find out why
  • Be gracious

Find out why. Of course you're going to ask the person why they're leaving. And they'll tell you things like:

  1. "My wife got a job in Seattle and I want to go with her."
  2. "I'm starting my own business."
  3. "Moxi Java is offering me more money."
  4. "I'm looking for something more in line with my skill set."

Many times those reasons are not totally true. Would the guy still have followed his wife to Seattle? Yeah. But would Mary have started her own business if she'd been totally satisfied at your company and her supervisor's leadership style? Maybe not. Will she tell you in an exit interview what really propelled her to make the decision to quit? Maybe not if she doesn't want to burn bridges or put references at risk.

But it IS important for you to know the real reasons why good people leave your company. Probe. What's the best way to do that?

  • Hold a basic exit interview -- but tell them that you're going to give them a call in six to eight months. Without exception, in that follow-up interview, your former-top-performer will be less fearful of reprisal, they'll have had some time to reflect and be more objective, and they've probably gotten some valuable perspective from their new surroundings.

Be gracious. Wish the person the best in whatever it is they're going to be doing. And mean it. Be sincere. Send them off on a high. Point them in the direction of on-line resources like Career Hub if they're not sure what they want to do or how to go about doing it. Career transition consultants like Billie Sucher offer workshops -- like her Between Jobs program -- to help individuals find that next place to plug in. Show your departing stars the respect they've earned as valuable contributors and chances are, at some point, you'll be saying "Hello!" to new stars they've sent your way  .

Photo on flickr by jdweinmann

I'm Not Weird; I'm Just Not You

2_faces

How we act and interact with the people around us at work each day depends upon our personality types

It's a fact. People are different from each other and no amount of getting after them is going to change them. Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good, not bad. People want different things. They have different values, motives, needs, drives and urges.

People believe different things.

They perceive, understand, conceptualize, and think differently.

So of course, people act differently, as a result of different wants and beliefs.

We get this. We accept it. And we talk a good game when it comes to being open, accepting others' differences, and looking for a diversity of individual styles on our work teams.

But accepting others' differences day-to-day, when one personality type rubs against the grain of another, is a difficult thing to do for even the most open-minded individual. We find ourselves putting labels on our co-workers as a way of coming to grips with, and thinking about, our differences.

  • He's a nit-picker.
  • She's a motor mouth.
  • He's a worry wart.

Ouch! What if we could talk openly about leveraging Bill's strengths as someone who's focused on the details --mitigating any analysis-paralysis-- rather than labeling Bill a nitpicker?

Or discuss the value of Sherry liking to talk more than Bruce does, without labeling her a motor mouth? Being analytical and verbal are not bad qualities but putting derogatory labels on them can make them seem so.

Personality profiling instruments -- like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index and scores of others -- help team members understand, talk about and learn to appreciate each other's differences. And this is important. Because if we aren't careful, we'll think about others' "different" behavior in terms of flaws or afflictions, and we find ourselves wanting to correct these flaws.

Our Pygmalion project then becomes to make all those near us just like us. You have never been guilty of trying to coerce a spouse or a child into being more like you, I assume. Yeah, right. The science of people differences and similarities is a fascinating one; there's always something new to learn and nuances to understand. And it's fun!

Think about the study of personality types and the US Presidential race that is shaping up. Politics is complex, and personality styles play an important role in our political decisions...whether we want to admit it or not. As a life-long student of leaders and their personality types, here's my take on the personality styles that win out when elections are fought out on TV over long periods of time:

  • Candidates whose preferences are for extroversion -- meaning they focus on external concerns and draw energy from connection and communication --have an advantage. Think Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton!
  • Candidates whose preferences are for feeling judgments -- meaning they make decisions based on empathic, circumstantial weighing of human-centered values, rather than logic and analysis -- have a leg up. Think George H. W. and George W. Bush!

Fun, huh, and a little weird.

photo on flickr by HeBeDeBe

Employee Problems and Problem Employees

Problem_employees No one's perfect. Not me. Not you. We can't expect our employees to be devoid of all the idiosyncrasies, attitudes, moods, and problems that each of us have.

People don't leave their problems at the door when they come to work; they bring them in with them. The challenge for leaders is to recognize and deal with the special needs, personalities, and problems of their staff so those issues don't impact productivity and morale.

What are some of the biggest people-problems you face day-to-day? Some of the most common ones are:

  • Absenteeism
  • Tardiness
  • Sensitive and negative co-workers

We can punish absenteeism. We can reward good attendance. Chances are we need to do some of both. But the current trend of offering paid-time-off (PTO) systems seems to work the best. Offering employees a "pool" of days to use for sickness, vacation or just personal time provides flexibility for them and reduces bureaucratic paperwork for us. It also treats adults like adults.

Getting to work on time is a struggle for some people. Unless being late is a standard you can live with, talk about it with a tardy employee as soon as it happens. Mention the importance of timeliness when orienting new employees and then enforce it. Be consistent. If flextime is an option, offer it. It works because it treats adults like adults.

Many managers have at least one staff member who makes life miserable for them -- or at least a constant challenge. They're what we call "high maintenance."

Overly sensitive people often have the expertise to do good work and make good decisions. But they need others' reassurance to help convert their thinking into action. Give them that reassurance. Often. It's a small price to pay for keeping a productive employee fully engaged.

Do you have someone on your team who is negative and always has a reason why what you want to accomplish can't be done? They resist change just for the sake of resisting. Listen to their objections. Ask them to express their ideas openly to the team. Genuinely acknowledge their concerns. Pledge to be on the lookout for evidence of their concerns AND, at the same time, ask them to get on-board with the team...and the change...until the team decides the change isn't working. In other words, treat these adults like adults, with the expectation that they will reciprocate by acting adult-like.

Photo on flickr by mio_pls

The Clueless Hold Clues

Clues You know that issue you're struggling with? There's another way of seeing it. In fact, there are dozens of other ways of seeing it.

One of the greatest gifts I give my executive coaching clients is another, totally different perspective. I owe it to them to jar them out of the rut they're in by making some pretty audacious observations sometimes.

Maybe you're in a rut somewhere with your business. You're stuck trying to get over or through a big issue that's looming down the road.

You've been carrying around this picture, this perspective, in your head about:

  • what it entails
  • why it's so big
  • when it started
  • who it impacts
  • where it's most prevalent

And the longer you carry it around, the more entrenched your perspective becomes.

I suggest you set it down in front of someone else and ask them to take a look. "Tell me what you see." Then listen really well. Especially for the subtleties.

Often that issue morphs into a totally different "animal" as you listen to that other person's perspective on your issue. And so often the way they see it provides an opening that you never noticed before. But inside that opening lies a new set of solutions.

Who to ask to take a look at your issue?

  1. Often we seek out the ones with the clues, the gurus, the gray haired sages who've been doing for eons what we're struggling to do this year. And that's okay. Their description of what they see will be heavy with decades of experience, perspectives, suggestions, and examples. And solutions.
  2. But also consider the accidental guru. The clueless. The guy at the dry cleaners that you say "thank you" to every week, but whose intellect you've never tapped. The woman who just happens to sit beside you on a plane, bus or coffee shop floor. Ask your teenager. Their description of what they see will be light with spontaneous insights, glimpses, clues and tweaks. And solutions.

Clueless-ness can result in unbridled objectivity...and entrepreneurial brilliance. I think about the shoe factory that years ago sent two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,

  • SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other scout writes back triumphantly,

  • GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES

Photo on flickr by rachel

Get a grip on your emotions.

Emotion Question #1. What was it that brought Howard Dean's political career to a screeching halt?

Question #2: What is one of the attributes that sets John McCain apart from his opponents?

Answer: Their emotions. Or more specifically, their capacity to control their emotions rather than being at the mercy of their emotions. (Undoubtedly, being a prisoner of war for five years has something to do with McCain's composure!)

We can't imagine a US President losing his cool, stomping his feet, or becoming unduly upset under stress and pressure. But having the "right stuff" is just as important for leaders at all levels within the for-profit and non-profit sectors. What IS that "right stuff?" 

Effective leaders everywhere are alike in one crucial way:  they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence, the capacity for recognizing their own feelings and those of others, for motivating themselves, and for managing emotions well in themselves and in their relationships. Daniel Goleman is the guru of EQ. He brought his research to the masses in the 90's with his book, Working With Emotional Intelligence

Check yourself. How do you stack up as a leader when it comes to the five components of emotional intelligence?

#1. How self-aware are you, with the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others?

#2. Can you control or redirect any disruptive impulses and moods, suspending judgment, thinking before acting?

#3. Are you motivated, with a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, and pursue goals with energy and persistence?

#4. Are you empathetic, with the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people?

#5. Are you proficient in managing relationships and building networks, finding common ground and building rapport?

How'd you do? Regardless of your honest self-assessment, the good news is that emotional intelligence (EQ) can be learned. Its elements can be identified, assessed and upgraded. These skills are no longer "nice to have:" they are ingredients that business leaders "need to have." They are the "right stuff."

photo on flickr by cayusa

Culture: the Glue for Business Building

CultureCulture is the glue that holds an organization together. It's "what it feels like to work  around here." It's "how we do things in this company." Culture helps employees understand what to do in a variety of situations where specific policies and practices may not exist.

Without a strong culture, inconsistency's the norm. And inconsistency leads to inefficiencies, or worst case scenario -- chaos. Human beings generally like to know what to expect, what the norms are...even if some people like to buck them at every turn! Culture helps define the norms. And it's norms that make one company feel good to us and another, a place we can't wait to exit.

As leaders, we strive to build a positive culture for our businesses. And yet, in spite of our best efforts, a culture is something that evolves. When a manager tells a new employee that "we start work here at 8:00, not 8:05" but the new employee notices in the first couple of weeks on the job that employees show up anywhere from 7:30 to 8:30, what time do you think the new employee thinks is "starting" time? Yea, right. Anytime before about 8:30 is starting time. I say about because if someone had a good enough excuse, chances are even 8:45 or 9:00 would be ok. That's culture.

The story goes that Walt Disney was walking through Disney World before its completion with a small group of his department heads. Suddenly he stopped, pointed to a specific area and said, "I want 10,000 fireflies over there!"

The head of construction asked, "When?"

Not, "But where could I possibly find 10,000 fireflies?" Or, "Wouldn't 5,000 do?"

In the culture that Disney was building, only perfection and top quality was acceptable. Everyone knew that. No second guessing. No debating. It's a value that was at the core of the culture and everyone bought in to it. Otherwise, they didn't stick around. 

How do we build that kind of culture? So that when someone takes a job in our company, they are signing on for what goes with it -- the norms, rules of behavior, preferred way of doing things, and values.

  • First of all, identify your own values as a leader. What's important to you?
  • Discover what important to those who are key to your company's future.
  • Define a mutual vision based on shared values.
  • Articulate "what's important around here" in order to live out your values and vision.

Do you want employees to stick with you through the ups and downs of business cycles? Invite them to help you build a culture that they can embrace and count on, one that they describe to others with pride and passion.

Photo on flickr by ashotaway

Get your hand in the air!

Creative_kids Do you know who Gordon MacKenzie was?

You know...the longtime creative guru at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. (He wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball.) I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon MacKenzie about 15 years ago when he spoke to employees in the magazine group at Meredith Corporation.

I'll never forget the classic-MacKenzie story he told.

He said he spoke to kids at lots of schools about his profession. He'd open each talk by telling the students that he was an artist. And then he'd stop and look around the classroom, notice the artwork on the walls, and wonder aloud who created the masterpieces.

He'd ask, "How many artists are there in the room? Raise your hands."

The same thing always happened he said.

  • In kindergarten and first-grade classes, every kid strained to raise their hand the highest.
  • In second-grade classes, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands, though not nearly as high and with as much conviction.
  • In third grade, only a few kids held up their hands at all.
  • And, you guessed it... by the sixth grade, often not a single hand went up. And the kids would look around to see if anybody was going to be foolish enough to admit they were that "weird."

Why did Gordon MacKenzie find sixth-graders looking to set apart, or label, a kid who saw herself as intuitive and creative?

Because there has been a strong tilt in our society, since the dawning of the Information Age, towards the kid -- or adult -- who is more logical than intuitive, more sequential than nonlinear, and whose reasoning is more computer-like and less holistic.

We've tended to prize left-brained thinking more than its counterpart, taking the logical approach more seriously, seeing the alternative as "nice-to-have," but secondary.

You're wondering what this has to do with leadership, right? Well, being logical and rational as a leader is no longer sufficient. Our success as leaders of thriving businesses in the emerging era of what Daniel Pink -- in A Whole New Mind --calls "high concept high touch," depends on having artists in the room.

Not necessarily cartoonists or people who paint in water colors, but people who have an "artistic sensibility." Who have the essential abilities to solve problems, see patterns, understand the subtleties of human interaction, empathize with others and appreciate the world around them. Can access the right side of their brain as well as the left. Can think in unique ways...and like to...and don't mind raising their hands, as high as they can get them, even if their hand is the only hand in the air.

photo on flickr by tamersalama

Hire Talent That Tests You

Interviews What do you look for when you need to fill an open position on your team?

  • Someone you're really comfortable with, who sees things like you do, whose career path mirrors yours?
  • Or, someone who does things and says things and sees things in ways that are sound --but different? You know, someone who leaves you curious and intrigued after an interview. Maybe not totally comfortable, but a little bit challenged.

Comfortable is good when we're talking about our Lazy Boys. Challenged is good when we're trying to build a bold, balanced and diverse team. After all, we need the best talent we can get to make our businesses purr and roar. But in order to do that, as hiring managers, we need to be comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who aren't like us. Complement us, yes. But not duplicate us.

There's almost an aura, an energy, that emanates from a group of talented people at work:

  • offering up unique perspectives to the same problem,
  • seeing solutions that others don't see,
  • and challenging each other with respectful push-backs.

Are you secure enough to invite the people who work for you to challenge your opinion?

  • We can't be afraid to select strong and bright and competitive people.
  • We can't afford clones of ourselves, as comfortable as that might be sometimes.
  • We need people on-board who have or will have -- with some specific development -- the ability to take our jobs.

Look at it this way: if we're honest, we already have team members who are better at some things than we are. Through the hiring and staffing process, we have the opportunity to enhance and leverage that fact even more.

Harold R. McAlindon said "The quality of an organization can never exceed the quality of the minds that make it up." Hire the best minds, the strongest talent, you can afford. And then let them test you.

Photo on flickr by Gelatomettista2

Standing Out? Or Fitting In?

Shared_vision

If you're a leader...whether you're leading a team of 10, a department of 100, or an organization of 1,000 or more, do you stand out? Or do you fit in?

It used to be...

...that you wanted to stand out. Everyone recognized you as the "go-to-person." Your effectiveness as a leader was dependent on what you brought to the role, your charisma, your intelligence, your ability to make quick decisions. Plus, whatever other personality traits and skill sets were deemed critical for the job. It was about you, out in front, yelling back, "Follow me!"

But not anymore.

Today's picture of an effective leader is someone who "fits in." Who works to understand the values and opinions of their teammates, department members, or company's employees. Why? In order to have a productive dialogue with them about what they believe in as a group, what they stand for, and therefore, what actions the team/department/company should take.

Leadership is now ...

  • the ability to help shape --not dictate -- what people already want --not have-- to do
  • helping people reach consensus on what matters to them
  • bonding with followers in a sense of shared identity that provides a blueprint for action
  • about representing a common "us"

It's no longer about forcing people to comply with what you (and maybe a group of six other "senior leaders") think an organization of 1,000+ employees ought to do.

Sounds good. But does anyone really lead this way? Sure. Lots of leaders do.

One of Iowa's shining examples is Ted Townsend, CEO of St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids. In the September 3-9 issue of the Corridor Business Journal, Mr. Townsend talks about his philosophy of employee engagement and sense of ownership...and how St. Luke's is a Top 100 hospital nationally, recognized in '07 as one of the nation's premier success stories for patient satisfaction.

Who does Mr. Townsend credit for those results? You got it. The nearly 3,000 associates of St. Luke's...the physicians, nurses, technicians, clerical and administrative staffs, and yes, the plumbers and carpenters. 

By fitting in, and representing a common "us," Ted Townsend is leading an organization that stands out within the healthcare industry.

Photo on flickr by Jason Botter 

Beware the Busy Manager Part II

Time_flies Have you ever noticed that some of the busiest people get the least results?  They are a flurry of activity, moving at a fast clip, multi-tasking like pros. I have felt like I was moving in slow motion when officing beside a "busy" manager.

But are these busy people really achieving all they could be achieving? And are they accomplishing the most important things?

Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

~ GOETHE

Managers who are focused and committed epitomize GOETHE's advice. They don't squander time. Their behaviors are purposeful, planful and reflective. Watching them in action is like watching a finely tuned piece of equipment operate at peak efficiency. No wasted motion. Every action has purpose. And most importantly, all actions produce results.

So what do focused and committed managers DO that sets them apart from their peers?

1. They concentrate where they can achieve outstanding results. They don't have dozens of goals on their annual performance plan. They don't take on projects just because someone thinks it'd be a good idea. (Usually less that 5-10 percent of what we do accounts for most of our results.)They are selective in what they commit to, but once they've committed, they own it. They will do whatever it takes to see the initiative through to success.

2. They maintain a steady pace. They don't hurry or rush around frantically. They have an easy pace, working with a certain rhythm that allows them to achieve vastly more than the average person. And they don't multi-task. A hallmark behavior of successful managers and entrepreneurs is that they do one thing at a time.

3. They do the most important thing that needs doing, and they stick with it until it's done, or until they've done all they can do at that moment. They make deliberate choices, over and over again, asking themselves such questions as:

  • "What is my major goal or objective right now?"
  • "Is what I'm doing contributing to the accomplishment of my most important goals and objectives?"
  • "Why am I on the payroll?"

4. And finally, they have the self-discipline to manage some of life's biggest time wasters, like telephone interruptions, email, unexpected visitors and meetings. Focused and committed managers control their external environment, rather than letting their environment dictate their actions.

  • How many goals/projects/long-term to-do's are on your plan for this year?
  • At work, are you calm or tense?
  • Are your work habits productive habits?
  • Or, are you too busy?

Photo on flickr by gaurang

Beware the Busy Manager Part I

Time You're busy. I'm busy. We're all busy. In fact, if you ask most business people what they want more of -- in both their personal and professional lives -- they'll likely tell you they want more time. And then they'll bemoan the fact that they have to:

  • rush between back-to-back meetings,
  • check their emails constantly to be sure they don't miss important happenings,
  • put out fire after fire, and
  • make endless phone calls from the road.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. What most business people don't tell you, and may not even realize, is that all of that busyness IS the problem. Being busy is NOT synonymous with being effective. It's deceiving though because we can't imagine being effective any other way.

But there is another way. A better way in fact. The characteristics of managers who are most effective are: Focus and Commitment. Not one or the other. Effective managers display both.

  • Managers who are NOT focused OR committed will carry out their routine responsibilities because that's how they see their role. But don't count on them to be strategic or come up with new solutions requiring change.
  • Managers who are focused but not committed tend to start projects but seldom have the energy to see them through to completion. Organizations can even discourage new managers from being committed by not rewarding their initiative or their curiosity and creative ideas.
  • Managers who are committed but not focused do a lot of things. Their to-do lists are long and they're members of numerous task forces and teams. But they become easily overwhelmed and burn out rather than achieve significant results.
  • Managers who are focused AND committed achieve a short list of critical long-term goals with a vigor that is unstoppable. They're effective and achieve results.

You don't hear a lot of busyness in that last description, do you? In "Beware the Busy Manager Part II," we'll explore the behaviors of focused and committed managers. We'll look at how they spend that most precious of resources -- time-- that makes all the difference for themselves and their organizations.

Photo on flickr by mazsola

It's Not About Charisma and Perks

Motivation When it comes to motivating others at work, it's not about relying on power or charisma or perks. Oh sure, you can always play the "power card" if you have to. You are the boss, afterall. Or the department head. Or the team lead. (And at home, you're the parent, right?)

But the secret is, don't start with power. There are so many other ways to get people to do what they're supposed to be doing -- what they signed on to do --and these other ways are much more effective. Try some of them first. Put the "power card" in your back pocket and only use it as a last resort. So what are some of those other ways?

1. Clarify natural consequences. In their book, Crucial Confrontations, the authors explain that what ultimately motivates people are consequences. Natural consequences.

  • Individuals anticipate the consequences that will result from a particular behavior.
  • They weigh those consequences out in their mind.
  • Then they choose how to act, or whether to act at all.

You and I do this too. It's human nature. So how do we motivate by clarifying natural consequences? We help the other person see what happens, or doesn't happen, as a natural result of their behavior.

For example, we might ask, "If you exclude the IT department from the planning team, what are the things that are likely to happen as a result?" If we help them think through those natural consequences, chances are they will see the wisdom, for themselves, of including the IT department. They will be motivated to do what needs to happen. But not because you told them they had to. And the "power card" never left your pocket!

2. Use goals to motivate. Most people like to measure themselves against a standard. They are turned on by reasonable goals. They like to know who can run the fastest, jump the highest and sell the most. And if they get to help set those goals...WOW! That's even more engaging. So work with them to set just-out-of-reach challenges and tasks that will be learning opportunities -- their first sales call, their first solo presentation to the Board, etc.

3. Identify people's hot buttons. What do they do first? What do they talk about all the time? What gets them excited? These are things we ought to know about the people who are working every day to help us be successful as leaders. Do what you can to provide what drives your team members. If you're not really sure what those drivers are, ask. They'll tell you.

Rupert Murdoch summed it up well. "In motivating people, you've got to engage their minds and their hearts. I motivate people, I hope, by example -- and perhaps by excitement, by having productive ideas to make others feel involved." Notice that Murdock says nothing about charisma or perks.

Photo on flickr by Erich J. Harvey

Delegate Everything Except Uniqueness

Uniqueness Executive coaching is a hugh force in the world of training & developement today. My coaching practice is bigger today than it's ever been. Having your very own sounding board, learning partner, executive coach is a perk that many managers and directors are insisting on from their leaders.

But when partnering up with a coach, what's often the tendency to focus on? Weaknesses. Flaws. What's wrong. This comes from our childhood training where we learned that the secret to success in life is to "get better at what we're not already good at." That's dead wrong. That forces us to be preoccupied with mediocre behavior, performance and results. It results in a perpetual sense of frustration, wasted potential, and missed opportunity.

What should be the focus? Talents. Strengths. Uniqueness.

Think about it. As human beings, we spend our lives in a number of different "zones" or situations.

  • Sometimes we're forced, or we mistakenly chose, to work in areas that do not play to who we really are, to our strengths. If we're right-handed, it's like having to do all of our work with our left hands. It's hard. No fun. And we'll never be at --or do--our best.
  • Most of the time we are fortunate enough to be able to operate in areas that we are competent in. We have strengths in. We enjoy most of the time.
  • But...who are the most successful and happy in their careers? As entrepreneurs AND intrapreneurs? Those who are blessed with being able to play to their uniqueness. To KNOW and to BE who they truly ARE.

Think about how different your life would be -- whether you are president of your own small business, a department head, or an individual contributor -- if you could spend your day doing those activities:

  1. that you absolutely love doing,
  2. that give you more energy than they consume, and
  3. that produce tremendous results in relation to the amount of time you invest.

You can. You can be a learner, be confident, and be creative. You can have a sense of simplicity, clarity and serenity. How? Identify what your unique strengths are (...see list of activities above!) and do only them. Delegate everything else on your desk --your to-do list--to individuals who have uniqueness where you do not. Who have strengths where you have weaknesses.

Pay others to do those things that they are uniquely gifted to do, that fall outside your uniqueness, and look at what happens. You benefit, they benefit, and your business prospers. What are you waiting for? See list of activities above.

Photo on flickr by http://www.flickr.com/photos/romanticidio/

Leadership Litmus Test

Followers It's all about influence. If you want to be a leader (not just a manager), you have to be influential. That means others willingly follow you, not because of your position, your power, your accomplishments. They follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

  1. The smartest people aren't necessarily leaders. We all know very bright people in high paying positions whom no one would willingly follow.
  2. The most progressive people aren't necessarily leaders. Being first doesn't make a person a leader -- unless others are intentionally following them, acting on their visions, as the individuals break new ground.

You're a leader if you make things happen. If you move people in a new direction.

Want to test your influence skills? Try leading a group of volunteers...people you can't fire, promote or punish. Oh, they can quit. But you don't really hold any power over volunteers in most cases.

So what are the qualities that separate those who have influence from those who don't?

Those with influence:

  • Sincerely care about people
  • Build strong, positive relationships
  • Actively listen
  • Are able to see things from others' perspectives
  • Balance humility with confidence
  • Demonstrate strong dialogue skills

We've all seen the quote: "He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk." If you can't influence others, they won't follow you. And if others won't follow you, you're not a leader. That's the litmus test.

Photo on flickr by http://www.flickr.com/photos/9424618@N05/

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