Leadership Caffeine—The Struggles Really Do Make Us Stronger

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 world of leadership development lost a giant at the end of July this past summer, when Warren Bennis passed away. In tribute, I’m including his classic article, “Crucibles of Leadership” (HBR, fee required) with Robert Thomas in one of my leadership courses this year. Revisiting this article is always inspirational both for myself and for the students who share their own crucible experiences including: personal loss, business and career struggles, and being on the receiving end of discrimination, sexism and racism. I’m humbled not only at the hardships these good professionals have endured, but at their remarkable attitudes about surviving and leveraging the experience for good in their lives.

In case you’re not familiar with how Bennis and Thomas applied the term crucible to professional development, consider: “…the crucible experience was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered to them. It required them to examine their values, questions their assumptions, hone their judgment.”

Almost to a person, the students in my courses describing their own crucible experiences look back at them as transformational in their careers. The strength it took to endure the hardship translated into resolve and commitment to persevere, to make right a wrong for others and to do good in their own lives.

In my own hiring practices, I look and listen for the challenges and struggles, more than the successes. While this doesn’t crop up in many articles on best practices in hiring, I’ve used it to good success.

Consider this very real crucible scenario I encountered a few years ago:

I traveled from my home city across the country to interview two very different candidates for an important strategic leadership position on my team. The first candidate boasted a nearly spotless record of achievement and accomplishments and his career progression looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, gaining responsibility and altitude with each passing year. His life story read like a storybook…the one we all wish we might enjoy.  He was indeed a solid professional and almost a no-brainer of a hire.

The other candidate’s record was good, however, there were several points in time when things appeared to have gone wrong. A start-up failure was the first red flag, followed by a few years of seeming under-employment. Strikes one and two in many books. As I probed a bit more, it was clear the individual quickly had established herself as a leader in her under-employed role. A definite positive. Finally, upon closer review of her background, it was clear there was a gap of about 7 months followed by still more under-employment, albeit, once again moving quickly to a position of responsibility in a struggling not-for-profit. The roller-coaster was confusing to me. However, since that time she had rebounded nicely, recently passing the three year mark in a role of significant responsibility with a well-regarded firm. And while my position was likely a stretch role for her, she was in the game, but not nearly as attractive on paper as the other candidate.

I always like to do my own reference checking (I know, H.R. professional everywhere are shuddering) and during the course of the discussion with one of her bosses from the under-employed phase of her career, he volunteered how much he admired her for her ability to navigate life’s challenges. I probed a bit and it turned out that she had spent several years living through a litany of crucible moments, including serving as the care-giver for a terminally ill parent and then navigating the loss of her spouse and her new role as a single parent. I was told that her start-up had fallen victim to an unscrupulous financial advisor, although according to her former boss, she viewed herself as 100% accountable for that employee and in fact had repaid all of her friends and family investors over the years.

I reached back to her and asked very generally for her to talk about the challenges she had encountered and what they had taught her. What I uncovered was an attitude in the face of adversity that was truly remarkable and humbling. I doubt I would have conducted myself as well as she did.

The first candidate was compelling for all of the right reasons.

I hired the second candidate without hesitation. There was no charity case here. Both candidates were qualified, although one was stronger on paper. Nonetheless, I was (and am) committed to fielding the absolute best talent to help our organization grow and an individual who had fought through hardship and evidenced the ability to survive and ultimately prevail, would bring a level of personal and leadership depth and hunger to succeed far beyond that of my more traditional and well-heeled candidate.

She was a great hire and continues to prosper in her career.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your struggles and even your failures are important elements of who you are as a leader.  A track-record of chronic failures is different than having encountered and survived a profound setback in your life. It’s the setbacks, the unexpected crises and your approach to surviving and persevering through these crucible moments that forge your character as a person and as a leader. Learn, live and lead. And as a hiring manager responsible for building your team’s and your organization’s leadership future, open your eyes to people who understand what it means to struggle, survive and ultimately succeed.

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.

 

It’s Your Career—When the Words, “Enjoy the Journey” Suddenly Make Sense

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 and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

Almost all of us have heard some variation of Remember to Enjoy the Journey at some point in our lives. Whether it was our parents or grandparents offering hard won advice to our younger selves or, an experienced manager sharing perspective on a tumultuous period at work, these words likely bounced around and then exited our brains at the time, with little thought to their truth and significance.

For most of us, the focus much of our careers is on the next step, the next rung and the next week or quarter. We’re myopic in pursuit of some form of so-called success—usually the next promotion and a bigger paycheck. And then you blink and you measure time in your career in decades and suddenly those words boomerang back and in a moment of clarity, you are your parents or grandparents and you understand exactly what they meant by Remember to Enjoy the Journey.

And you panic because you’re not sure you appreciated the people and the experiences together enough. Yet in hindsight, while the journey was tumultuous, the path often unpredictable and the obstacles unexpected, you know you had more fun than pain. In particular the people you fought together with in pursuit of those long forgotten goals are now the only memories worth anything to you.

Of course, Remember to Enjoy the Journey is guidance for our lives, not just our careers. When things happen you don’t expect, this is placed in painful perspective. You never fully appreciate a beloved parent quite as much as when they’re no longer there. The recent, sudden loss of a relative…a gentle giant and prince of a man in our family reminds me that I could have worked harder at appreciating him while he was here.

For the workplace, I’ll offer a few suggestions to help you keep your own journey in perspective. Even the most experienced of us can use a reminder to enjoy the ups and the downs, because together, they make up the journey. As you go about your business and navigate the politics and issues that seem so important, keep these thoughts in mind:

5 Ideas to Help You Enjoy the Journey Just a Bit More:

1. Stop trying to change people. You cannot. Appreciate your team members for who they are and what they do, not for who they are not and what they don’t or can’t do.

2. Take a new approach to disagreements in the workplace. Most dysfunctional workplace fights emerge because people are fighting over their respective positions (views) when in reality, it’s the interests (what people truly want to achieve…not how they want to achieve it) that count. Strive first to understand the interests of your counterparts and skip the fight over approaches. Build bridges by helping each other achieve interests.

3. Tackle the big problems with vigor and speed. No one who ever uttered the words, Remember to Enjoy the Journey, intended to say that the journey would always be enjoyable. It’s not. Recognize that the today’s biggest problems are the richest in opportunities to learn and grow.

4. Surround yourself with people who share your values and your joy in pursuit of building whatever it is you are building. There’s no substitute for great team members. They can be challenging, quirky, different and have very different world-views. Just make sure the values are aligned and the goals are the same. Great team members truly bring joy to the journey.

5. Say “Thank You” a great deal more. There’s nothing warmer for both the giver and receiver than a heart-felt “thank you.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Seriously, remember to enjoy your steps on the journey every day. You won’t repeat this day or pass this way again.

Have your own thoughts on keeping it all in perspective? Share them here. We’ll all benefit!

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—The Hard Work of Leading Effectively

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.

Note from Art: this content is excerpted from my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership—A Guidebook for Aspiring and Experienced Leaders.

If you’re new to the role of guiding others, here’s the preface to your real job description. Use it in good health and in pursuit of greatness!

At Least Nine Attributes of Great Leaders:

1. Great leaders realize that their role is less about themselves and more about what they can do to encourage and aid the development of the people around them.

2. Great leaders are driven every day to positively impact their business and their people.

3. Great leaders realize they are human and make mistakes. They understand that it is OK for everyone to see and learn from their own mistakes.

4. Great leaders understand that they are being constantly scrutinized to see if their actions match their words. The do of the leader must match the tell!

5. Great leaders are driven by a love of teaching and a passion for learning.

6. Great leaders understand the impact they have on the people around them and they keep this in mind when praising and criticizing.

7. Great leaders make decisions. They understand the power they wield to control progress through their decision-making.

8. Great leaders understand their primary role is to create the proper working environment necessary for success given the circumstances and talent at the time. They work at forming and framing this environment every day.

9. Great leaders understand that they need quality people to succeed. They constantly focus on the identification and development of these individuals.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Leading effectively is hard work. Slackers need not apply.

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.

Leadership Caffeine—Why Should Anyone Trust You to Lead?

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!

Seriously, why is it that someone or some group should trust you to lead?

Because of your title? Hardly. The most fleeting of all sources of a leader’s power is title. Sure, it confers authority, but leaders who depend solely upon authority as their source of power are effectively bankrupt. They may provoke grudging compliance, but they fail to inspire people to work at their creative best.

Because of your experience? Not really. People operate in the present with eyes on the future. Your past is some dusty old story that no one but you can relate to.

The real currency of a leader is trust conferred due to credibility earned.

I’ve encountered more than a few people in leadership roles over time who neglected to understand the hard work and personal commitment required to earn credibility in the eyes of their team members.

When Rich and I wrote Practical Lessons in Leadership, the issue of credibility was ever-present when interviewing people on what makes an effective leader.

In subsequent years working with thousands of professionals in workshops, courses and programs, the message is the same: trust is earned and the personal credibility of the leader is the gold standard required for us to give our trust to someone in a leadership role.

Distilled from the workshops and courses:

Five Big Credibility Killers:

1. Micromanaging. This destructive, suffocating tactic showcases your insecurities and announces for all the world to see that you don’t trust people.

2. Saying one thing and doing another. When the “do of the leader doesn’t match the tell,” credibility is thrown out the window.

3. Leading with double-standards. There is no ambiguity around the concept of accountability, but when you create multiple sets of rules, you shove accountability right out the door.

4. Putting yourself ahead of everyone else. We all see it and it is reprehensible. Leaders eat last.

5. Ignoring our needs for feedback and professional development support. Almost universally, people want to grow professionally, improve and chase aspirations. Ignore these needs and you are effectively devaluing people as professionals and as individuals who care.

The input on building credibility as a leader:

Five Big Credibility Builders:

1. Giving trust first. Instead of requiring your team members to earn your trust, treating people as if they are capable and trustworthy takes courage, but the payment in return is appreciation and mutual trust. Give us the room we need to make mistakes, to learn and ultimately to succeed, and we’ll repay your trust in kind.

2. Standing for something and living up to it. Values, principles, whatever you want to label them, people want to know what you stand for and they want you to prove it. Accountability starts at home and spreads across the team.

3. Placing the team before self. Show us that you’re working hard to help us succeed and we’ll reward you in kind with our commitment to your success.

4. Having the courage to help us. Your frank feedback and your support for our growth show us that you are worthy of our trust and commitment. And there are few acts that will engender loyalty more than helping us reach towards our goals.

5. Having the courage to protect us. There are a good number of reasons why it’s not in your best interest to stand strong in the face of adversity. Show that we come first and that you’re willing to take a corporate bullet for us and we’ll follow you anywhere.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The words on what makes a leader credible change from session to session, but the themes remain the same. Selflessness, serving, holding yourself and the rest of us accountable for our actions and performance and helping us grow as professionals, are all essential behaviors for any leader aspiring to be credible in the eyes of the team.

So, why should your team trust YOU to lead?

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.

 

It’s Your Career—Resolve to Conquer Your Fear of Speaking

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 and guidance on strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

A frighteningly few number of people genuinely relish the idea of getting up in front of an audience at work and talking.That’s too bad, because there are few skills that will take you further and help you more in your career than developing your speaking skills.

4 Big Benefits in the Workplace of Conquering Your Fear of Speaking:

1. You separate yourself from the herd. Your willingness to stand and engage coupled with the competence developed through practice puts you in a smaller group and helps you stand out to your senior managers, peers and colleagues across your organization. Of course, people are looking for more than hot air! Message quality, authenticity and supporting actions are essential!

2. You develop a platform for your ideas. In a culture where ideas to improve, fix, or do something new are potentially worth their weight in gold, you need influence and a platform to ensure your ideas are heard, explored and acted upon. There are few better ways to support developing influence and cultivating interest in our ideas, than being able to describe and advocate for them comfortably and competently in large group settings.

3. You are increasingly perceived as a leader. While there’s no connection between extroversion and effective leadership that I am aware of, people PERCEIVE that you have leadership qualities if you can confidently articulate your views. It’s OK to leverage this perception. And remember, there’s a reality in the workplace that you have to understand how you are perceived and manage this appropriately, developing comfort and confidence in your speaking skills will aid this cause. Again the health warning that no one loves a pontificating blowhard, so message quality and authenticity count!

4. You develop self-confidence that leads to strengthened self-esteem. And when that unexpected but much coveted invitation to present at the board meeting or executive offsite occurs, this self-confidence will be one of your best assets in surviving and succeeding in this new setting.

It’s time to confront your fear of speaking and make this critical skill a valuable part of who you are as a professional.

6 Tips for Cultivating Competence and Confidence in Your Speaking Skills:

1. Practice! Seek out some easy opportunities to practice. Departmental or team updates can be fairly non-threatening.  Alternatives include community events, classroom visits, or school committees. I teach a number of graduate management courses every year. Nothing forces one to up the game more than being accountable to an intelligent group of professionals for quality content delivery and facilitation.

2. Seek feedback. Ask your boss and peers for specific feedback on your speaking performance and effectiveness.  What should you do more of?  Where do you need to improve.  Don’t settle for, “that was great!”  No one gets better by being told they were great. Ask: What worked? What didn’t? How could that presentation been more effective?

3. Seek help. Search on “Toastmasters” and find a local chapter and join! These remarkable groups of professionals all understand the benefits that accrue from strengthening speaking skills and will become your best feedback and support network. In the rare chance you end up in a chapter that doesn’t work for you, don’t give up…just switch to another one. I’ve pushed more team members than I can count into Toastmasters and almost to a person they have prospered in part because of their growth in self-confidence.

4. Reference a good book or great blogs. My favorites: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy Koegel or the blog (Public Words) and books of Dr. Nick Morgan.

5. Engage a Coach. People use coaches for great reasons. They view us objectively and clinically and can offer the critical input we need to eliminate weaknesses, close gaps, and enhance strengths. Ask your manager if there’s an opportunity for your firm to bear the cost. If not, don’t let that slow you down. The cost is small when factored over the course of a career and evaluated against the potential benefits.

6. Volunteer. Yep, you heard me. After a lifetime of sitting in the back row dodging the teacher’s eyes, it’s time to stand up and assert your great ideas. Once you recover from the out-of-body experience from raising your hand for a speaking opportunity, you’ll find it exhilarating.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Don’t let a common and irrational fear of speaking in large groups stand in the way of your success. Developing the confidence to stand, deliver and engage is liberating and professionally profitable.

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.