Leadership Caffeine—Humility and the Effective Leader

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

The most effective leaders I know are simultaneously courageous and humble in the face of ambiguity and adversity.

Courage as we all know is essential for facing and making the tough decisions demanded in difficult situations. I referenced this attribute in my recent post, Leading into the Fog.

A healthy grounding of humility serves as a powerful check and balance influence that helps effective leaders fight the pressure to make rash decisions in the drive to be perceived as omniscient.

There’s a very real…and very dangerous pressure in many organizations for those in charge to appear all-knowing and all-confident. This pressure is a catalyst to rash and poor decisions that exacerbate already difficult situations. After all, no CEO wants to appear weak in front of her board and no manager wants to appear as if he doesn’t know what to do in front of his team or boss. The pressure to avoid being perceived as weak or uncertain invites individuals to portray a false sense of confidence and to act around misguided quick-fix thinking.

There are no quick fixes in business. Not for a strategy problem, a revenue problem, a competitive problem, a quality problem or a talent problem. They are sticky, wicked, complicated issues where solutions emerge in iterative fashion of try, fail, learn, improve… . You have nothing to gain by suggesting you have all of the answers.

Please don’t confuse my use of the notion of humility as anything that suggests weakness. Rather, I view the trait of humility as an attribute of a strong leader. Humility allows the leader to clearly understand the situation and to have realistic context for the implications, risks and challenges. It also allows this leader to comfortably seek and accept help.

The effective leader is a realist who understands that he/she is responsible for the choices to move beyond the present circumstances. This leader draws upon the ideas, insights and approaches of the best minds on the team. It takes true inner strength to both acknowledge that you don’t have all of the answers and that you and the team will be better off if you seek and accept input from those around you.

Developing Your Own Leadership Style:

We all cultivate our own leadership styles and approaches over time and based on experience. With the benefit of age and experience, I’ve long concluded that I’m stronger and more effective by drawing upon and engaging others for the most vexing challenges. It’s difficult at times to resist asserting on an issue that seems straightforward or feels familiar. It’s easy to dictate..but it is most often right to hold back and support the discovery and learning of others. Often, the solution the team develops turns out to be superior to the one that worked historically.

At the end of the day, the art of leading and managing effectively is knowing which decisions you can outsource and which you and you alone must be accountable for. Don’t shirk your responsibility to make decisions that enable action. Just don’t confuse this with the need to make all of the decisions.

In situations where the pressure is on from above and below, it’s fine and necessary to portray a strong sense of confidence that you and your team will find the way forward. Those above you want to know that you’re moving forward and those around you want to be part of the work. Just resist the temptation to put it all on your shoulders. That’s not leading, it’s dumb.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Delusional leaders who have worked to convince everyone around them that they have all of the answers have a tendency to begin believing their own dogma. These individuals are dangerous to a firm’s health. Instead of feeling the pressure to act like a superman or superwoman in corporate clothing, try recognizing that the super people around you have the critical pieces to most business puzzles. All you need to do is invite them to get involved with developing the solution.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

The Importance of Owning Your Own Career

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Too many of us wait for someone else to create the circumstances that allow us to be happy in our work. Expecting someone else to lift us up from our current situation is a fool’s errand blended with a real life frustration dream. No matter how much we sulk or complain about our lot, the only person responsible for changing the situation is the one staring back at us in the mirror.

You own your career. Not your firm.

You own your professional development. Not your boss.

Ultimately, you own the task of finding and participating in work that leverages your superpower and feeds on your passion to do something.

Too many of us struggle with the internal knowledge that we have more to do…more to give, yet our daily work doesn’t leverage this drive to do or give more. Others move from role to role in pursuit of a paycheck and some sense of happiness, but fail to focus on and develop what I call their superpower… their unique, innate talent.

The business press talks about the high level of employees that describe themselves as “not engaged” in their work or their workplace. Instead of an engagement index, it’s more appropriately referenced as a misery index. From the latest report, it appears that there’s a bull market in professional misery.

Finding Inspiration:

In one part of my professional life, I teach. Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with a number of fine institutions from my community college to DePaul University in Chicago. I do this to give back…to serve and to ensure in part that I keep learning. (Yes, the teacher is often the beneficiary of ample wisdom and creativity from the students.) Whether the students are those just getting started or those starting over, I am consistently inspired by the many who are striving for something for themselves.

I am in awe of the single parents who hold down multiple jobs…days cleaning houses and evenings waiting tables, who enroll in online coursework to pursue a degree that will support their movement towards something they believe is more their calling. I would put some of these students up against the best of the more well-heeled classes. Their life experiences and common sense and passion for their coursework and for their advancement are remarkable and inspirational.

There are the military professionals in my courses across all institutions who are so passionate about and dedicated to their country that they deserve all of our thanks and respect. Often, I find them striving to gain the skills and knowledge to extend their service into something else that gives back. They teach us all to lead and think based on experiences that we as ordinary citizens cannot possibly relate to.

And there’s the mid-career professional returning to earn an MBA or other advanced degree. These people juggle demanding professional roles, travel and family in an exercise that is more about fortitude than intellectual challenge.

While education and training are important components of improving our situation, the moral to the story isn’t about going back to school, it’s about taking action to improve yourself. It’s about being accountable to yourself and not waiting for someone to come along and lift you up. Instead of wallowing in some state of unengaged misery, these people use their current situation as fuel to drive learning, improvement and change. They are accountable to themselves and they know that movement is required for change.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I love working with and teaching and yes, hiring people who understand the importance of taking ownership of their own careers and their own development. There’s something about this person with a value set that emphasizes personal accountability that makes me want to do everything I can to help them along on their journey.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Just One Thing—New Leadership Role? Try Warmth Over Strength

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!

Let’s face it, the new leadership role is a great testament to your prior success and the faith that your firm’s senior leaders place in your abilities to help build the future. You’ve gained their confidence and trust, but the hard work is still in front of you. You’ve got to earn the trust of your new team members.

The group of Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger writing in the July/August 2013 Influence themed issue of Harvard Business Review with their article, “Connect, Then Lead,” suggest that you choose your approach to engaging your new team members very carefully to optimize your start-up effectiveness. In particular, they suggest that you should fight your natural instinct to initially project your strength and competence and instead, focus on displaying warmth to support building trust.

For some of this, warmth approach is no easy task!

Focus on the Goal:

Remind yourself as you plan your start-up with your new team, that to be effective, you’ve got to be trusted. Trust breeds openness, engagement, support, creativity, communion and a host of other good environmental factors on a team and between a leader and a new team. The challenge for the new leader is how to earn trust as quickly as possible.

The authors in the HBR article cite evidence from behavioral scientists who suggest that when we judge others (in this case, the new boss), we look first at two characteristics: “how lovable they are” and “how fearsome they are.” While I doubt you think in terms of “lovable” or “fearsome” you are internally processing on your reaction to their verbal presentation and non-verbal cues and your perspective on their warmth impacts your perception of their trustworthiness. The over-emphasis on competence factors and an approach that suggests,  “I’m the new sheriff in town,” may raise the defenses and keep people from engaging with the new boss in a way that they need to begin creating an effective working environment.

The judgment on lovable or fearsome becomes important as we process on two key questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “Is he/she capable of acting on these intentions?”  Any answer that breeds caution or tentativeness fights the early establishment of trust and delays the ability of the new leader to truly tap into the true perspectives and best creativity of her team members.

Adding a bit of data to the mix, the authors cite a study of 51,836 leaders where only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness. By my math, that’s a poor outcome for those of us who take pride in our competence and effectiveness and prefer a no-nonsense approach to getting started.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

As always, Mom was right. The behavioral science is just getting around to concluding what she was telling us years ago. You get more cooperation with honey than vinegar.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

Art of Managing—The Quest to Sustain Success

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

The business and management equivalent of The Quest of mythology and story is the pursuit of the secret ingredients…the behaviors, actions and approaches that if adopted, will allow one firm to outperform (measured by one or more of: growth, profitability, share price, innovation, market capitalization) a peer group for an extended period of time.

Jim Collins has been looking for it since Good to Great and the McKinsey team in the study that culminated in the book, Beyond Performance, by Keller and Price purports to have cracked the genetic code of this vexing riddle.

As Jim Collins documented in subsequent works to Good to Great, there are ample reasons why many of the original great firms are no longer great, good…and some are gone. And while Keller and Price with help from thousands of McKinsey professionals appear to have mapped the genetic code of sustained performance, it’s not clear at all what portion of the details of the code (the levers and behaviors) must be manipulated or optimized in order to ensure ongoing success, particularly as external circumstances change. It depends.

And yes, external circumstances always change, introducing dragons and demons and foes bent on keeping our heroes (you and your colleagues) from achieving the over-arching goal of your quest.

Of Dragons and Demons and Foes in Pursuit of Sustained High Performance:

Every great quest has a series of foes that must be vanquished along the journey to success and business is no different.

  • Long-term success naturally breeds hubris and arrogance…or at least the laziness, that so easily catches management teams off guard as conditions change. In this world where even the concept of change is changing (speed, technology, location), disruption of existing industries, technologies and business models happens both quietly and noisily…and often quickly.
  • Another silent but deadly foe is the Dominant Logic described by Prahalad, where all situations, including those that arise based on a new set of forces are viewed through the knowledge and decision-making lenses formed based on prior experience. As the field changes…or at least as the rules change on that field, the lenses that offered so much clarity before introduce a type of strategic myopia that filters out new external forces and leads to decisions that worked yesterday but fail to hunt today or tomorrow.
  • And much like the Sirens of Titan who lured sailors to their deaths with their seductive song, business success created by a rising tide…secular growth seduces management teams into believing that their decisions are responsible for their results, more so than the market. When the rise slows or reverses, these teams are left floundering on the rocks.

7 Key Behaviors For Surviving and Thriving on the Quest to Sustain Success:

In great quest stories, there’s typically something that aids the hero and his or her compatriots. A talisman of some sort or a wise mentor. (Think Gandalf, Yoda, Obe Wan or Dumbledore in the quest stories of fantasy.) While we may have wise mentors in the form of senior leaders or board members, the quest for sustained success requires at a minimum a set of behaviors on the part of the firm’s leaders and managers that acknowledges the realities and risks…the perils of this journey.

Just a few of these incredibly helpful behaviors include:

1. Collective respect across the management team for the complexities and risks of translating what worked yesterday into something that works tomorrow. This is an absolute. It requires the collective confidence to move beyond old practices and strategies and to encourage and reward reinvention. This attitude is critical in combating the sin of hubris and for preventing arrogance from taking a firm hold in the management ranks. These dragons must be slain where and while they sleep!

2. Actively striving to diversify the experience base of the talent in the firm is critical to ensuring the view to the outside remains open and clear. One of GMs core tenets as it masterminded losing the world was that the management must always come from within. Nothing breeds contempt for change like perpetuating like-minded and like-kind managers.

3. The words or even the actions that suggest, “we’ve always done it this way” must be banished and replaced with ample quantities of new…new processes, new approaches, new experiments. “Because we’ve always done it this way” are evil words and destructive thoughts perpetuated by people fearful of what change might mean for them.

4. The speed of learning is a new performance metric, as is the speed to translating learning into new behaviors. Creating systems and opportunities across the culture that allow for easy, fast parsing of new insights and translation of these insights into actions is essential.

5. The hard work of exercising team decision-making muscle must be deliberately undertaken. Very few management or project teams ever decide how to decide, or, worse yet, they fail to take on the task of strengthening decision-making over time. Decision-making muscles must not be allowed to atrophy.

6. The attitude around failure must shift from one of shame and stigma to one of curiosity and opportunity. There is no learning without experimentation and most experiments fail…along the way to designing more informed experiments that ultimately succeed.

7. Teams must resist the Siren Song of the Rising Tide, where they mistakenly assume that good times accrue to them naturally as a right and due to their brilliance and enact the corporate equivalent of Odysseus who ordered his men to stuff their ears with wax and to lash him to the mast as a means of resisting the siren call.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

As humans, we love stories about great quests, and we love when our heroes survive and ultimately succeed. Our professional lives in our organizations…our corporations and churches and not-for-profits all enable us to participate in our own great quest in support of mission or market and like the stories we love so much, there are always foes to vanquish, trials to complete and new adventures just over the horizon. For the firms and teams who have enjoyed success, the most significant foes and demons are most often lurking inside their own walls.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

New Leader Tuesday—Learning to Adapt Your Approach to Individuals

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

This job of being responsible for the work of others would be easy if it weren’t for the people!

As a first-time supervisor, I recall cloaking myself in a no-nonsense, my way or the highway persona. I suppose it was a style that I thought was appropriate given my newly anointed role responsible for the survival of western civilization and the timely delivery of answers on the support lines for our firm selling electronic cash registers. After all, the cash registers must ring…or roll…or calculate, and nothing was going to keep MY team from delivering the best service in the industry. So help me… .

I was taught quickly by the patient but perplexed team members who had no intent of responding positively to the new dictator in charge, that I had to change or perish in this role.

In reality, my approach reflected a lack of style…and awareness…and emotional intelligence…and social intelligence…all issues that many of us struggle with when thrust into first-time management role without background training or real-time coaching and feedback.

First-time supervisor burnout or flame-out is an all-too-frequent outcome that is costly and destructive to individuals and teams. Training, coaching and feedback are critical…with two out of three of these free. If you’re not getting the support and feedback you need in your new role, ask for it, find a mentor at work or find someone who has experience in your network of friends and family and ask questions and learn from their wisdom!

I learned several valuable lessons from this uncomfortable first-time supervisor’s boot camp experience: 

  • It’s critical to be clear and universal in reinforcing the firm’s values and in setting expectations and ensuring fair and timely accountability across the team.
  • It’s not only OK to adapt my style to the needs and approaches of the individuals, it’s essential to support relationship development and begin building leadership credibility. Again, no compromising on values, expectations and accountability…but definitely customization of my approach. While this seems intuitive, it wasn’t a reflex action for me. It was a learned approach. The hard way.
  • The wonderful thing about working with and guiding and supervising a team is the diversity of approaches and styles. They are in and of themselves the ingredients of creativity and innovation and learning, and the sooner you as a first-time supervisor or manager recognizes and adapts to this reality, the faster you will begin building credibility and forming productive working relationships.

Learn to Recognize the Preferences of Your Team Members:

While there are many and varied styles and communication or interaction preferences, a few examples include:

  • Individuals who thrive on regular care, feeding and attention. They thrive when their work is visible and they have an opportunity to engage, ask questions, showcase their progress and generally maintain a steady level of contact with you.
  • Others take pride in their independence and will let you know only when they need help. While it is reasonable for you to check in from time-to-time, make it as non-intrusive as possible…just enough to ensure your obligation for awareness and quality.
  • Some shine in group settings…and others…those filled with brilliant ideas struggle to engage and share in those environments. Others simply would rather walk on hot coals than be thrust into a group initiative.

A Public Service Notice: No Micromanaging Styles…Ever.

It is never acceptable to adopt a micro-managing approach. If you feel forced to adopt this style, you have a performance problem that must be dealt with as such. Sadly, too many first-time and experienced managers miss this memo on micro-managing. It’s toxic, ineffective and just plain bad form on the manager’s part. Fix or remove the problem, but don’t reduce yourself to standing over someone’s shoulder.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You will cultivate a style over time…in large part by learning from trial and error. You can accelerate the learning process and improve your effectiveness by remembering to adapt your interaction style to the behaviors and preferences of others, while never compromising your commitment to fairness, your firm’s values or your obligation to drive results.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.