Ideas for Professional Growth—Week of June 21, 2015

best practice on blackboardNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.

Do:

Identify the one tough discussion you’ve been avoiding and find a slot in your schedule this week (earlier is better) and make it happen. Unresolved issues…a tough feedback discussion, an apology owed to a colleague and all of the other difficult discussions we attempt to avoid, rent space in our minds and add to our background stress. It’s time to clear this issue out and move forward.

To ease your pre-discussion anxiety, take the time to sketch out key elements of your discussion.

  • Define the core issue in clear terms. If this is a feedback discussion, you have to isolate on the behavior and the business implication of the behavior.
  • Know your desired outcome.
  • Plan your opening sentence. Yes, script this one out. The opener sets the tone for the entire discussion.
  • Prepare your attitude. If you expect the issue to result in an emotional response, you need to plan your vocal tone and facial expression.
  • Find neutral ground to conduct the discussion.

Much like speaking in public, the thought of it is more stressful than the reality of delivering a speech. Get this locked on your calendar and don’t let this week wind to a close without moving forward on this lingering difficult discussion.

Experiment:

Add some life to your regular team meetings. Too many managers squander precious contact team with team members by defaulting to what I describe as the Around-the-Table Update March of Death. You know this meeting. The leader kicks off, shares a few updates on his/her activities and then one by one, everyone in the room does the same. At the end of this in a large group setting, people are drooling from the mind-numbing boredom and irrelevance of most of the updates.

Instead of defaulting to the Around-the-Table approach, mix things up from meeting to meeting. Assign a key, highly relevant topic and have everyone share their ideas or insights.

Examples include:

  • What are we doing great that we should be doing more of?
  • What are the most disturbing things our competitors are doing that we need to respond to?
  • Everyone talk with a salesperson or customer service representative before the next meeting and ask them one of: what they are hearing about how we’re doing/how our competitors are doing/what’s changing in their business, and come prepared to share.

If those don’t suit you, identify your own topics and question. Just vow to take advantage of the gray matter in the room and do something different than the default march of the updates.

Explore:

OK, this one is literally about exploring. Given the challenges, risks and complexity of the world we live and work in, it’s helpful to find inspiration in unusual places, and the age of polar exploration offered many incredible examples.

Read my post, 5 Priceless Lessons from Amundsen and Scott (and/or dig in and research the topic at a deeper level) and consider the challenges they navigated, the approaches of the two great explorers and ultimately what worked and what failed. How can you apply the lessons to your own world of team development, innovation and exploration?

OK, I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you. Have a great week as you Do/Experiment/Explore! -Art

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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.

Friday Leadership Ideas—2 to Help You Finish Strong for June 19, 2015

Sign indicating "Brand New and Fresh"Every week, I share a few ideas to help you finish strong. A great ending to your work week helps set the stage for success next Monday.

1. Assess What Worked, Not What You Failed to Complete

I love wrapping up on a high note, and let’s face it, not every week is a rousing success in knocking out our priorities. Sometimes the universe works against us with the urgent and important flaring up to overwhelm our attention.

Nonetheless, there were victories. Even surviving the running of the gauntlet of crises and extinguishing major flare-ups count as victories. What was it that you and/or your team members did that allowed you to succeed with those sudden initiatives? What repeatable behaviors can you draw upon in subsequent challenging situations?

We’re quick to identify what we did wrong and/or focus in on the constructive criticism. That’s fine and necessary, however, reinforcing great behaviors is equally important and worthy of contemplating as you head into the end of your work week.

2. Discuss with Your Team: Why will driverless cars lead to a demand for artificial hearts?

OK, the two items…driverless cars and artificial hearts aren’t related to your business, but that’s not the point. Or, actually, it is. The issue is for you to get better at assessing developments in our rapidly shape shifting external environment and then connecting them to downstream implications for us, our customers or, your entire industry. Ideally, you want to do this faster and more effectively than your competitors.

Plan a meeting with your team and spend 30 minutes once per week just talking about changes that all of you are observing in technologies, social trends and anything else that jumps out from our noisy world. Close out each development with a free form discussion around, “What this might mean for us/our customers is… .” Keep a log of these topics and their potential connections to your world. And if someone seizes upon a thread that merits exploration for potential innovation, go long.

Strengthening the ability of your team to connect noise in the environment to implications for your firm, your customers and your industry…and then doing something about it, offers a host of potential positive organizational health benefits.

Oh, and one of the leading sources of hearts for life-saving transplant operations comes from fatalities due to car crashes at intersections. In theory, there will be no more crashes at intersections if and once driverless cars become universal. The implication for a number of industries, including the demand for replacement hearts will be significant.

OK, that’s it for this week. Use the ideas in great health, finish strong, have an invigorating weekend and come back recharged and ready to change the world next week! -Art

 

Manage How You are Perceived or Someone Else Will

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!

Bob is one of those technical professionals born with an incredible ability to translate external noise…marketplace developments, customer needs and competitor moves into hit products and business ideas. He was in a role leading a small team and his team had produced a series of new hits for his firm.

Bob believed he could help his firm if he was given the opportunity to lead a larger group. However, for several years, Bob had fallen victim to the infamous open-faced “but” sandwich comments of another senior leader. He had been passed over for promotion on several occasions.  (The open-faced “but” sandwich is analogous to the feedback sandwich…positive, negative, positive. In this case, someone makes a positive statement followed by a lingering, negative but, but no positive statement to top things off.)

I know Bob has done a good job with his team, but…do we really think he’s ready to lead a bigger group?

That statement created enough doubt with the senior leaders to derail any discussion of promotion. The subtle assassin in this case was a senior manager who had his own designs on who should lead this expanding team. It wasn’t Bob.

While this very real situation might sound like sheer dirty politics, it was a situation that Bob actively fueled. Bob had presence issues.

He was one of those people who would walk down the hallway deep in contemplation with whatever was on the top of his shoes. He never met a day where smiling seemed to be worth the effort. And if you happened to call him on the telephone and he answered, you weren’t certain whether to run over and hand him a tissue or look around for sharp objects.

After commiserating with a trusted member of his team that he had been passed over for promotion again, related that he had reeived the lame comment of, “Bob, senior management thinks you need more time to develop as a leader,” and the equally lame suggestion of, “Let’s find a training course for you to attend,” his team member offered him a stark insight.

“Bob, this has happened several times. This has nothing to do with whether you are ready for leadership. Everyone on your team believes in you. People higher up don’t have faith in your ability to lead a team because you don’t carry yourself like a leader. Around here, that’s a problem.”

It hit Bob like a ton of bricks. He had spent his entire career assuming that good work always is rewarded and the fact that his physical presence might be a factor was upsetting. After thinking about it for awhile. Bob decided to seek help. He asked for coaching instead of training and through the feedback the coach collected, Bob learned that his presence problem was much larger than he had ever imagined.

He began the work of behavior change…and worked at it relentlessly. He continued to push out hit ideas from his team and the combination of his visible presence change and the continued great work earned him his long awaited promotion just six months later. He neutralized his competitor’s objections and today he is a senior technology executive with one of the world’s largest firms. His leadership and his natural gifts now help his firm on a much larger scale.

5 Lessons from Bob:

1. Don’t assume you understand how others perceive you. Our self-perception is often very different than the view others have of us. Get help from trusted contacts and ask how you are perceived.

2. Don’t forget to ask for help finding your superpower. It’s not just the weaknesses we struggle to see. In what is potentially more limiting, we don’t always see what it is that we do that leverages our skills at our best. When you are focused on work that ignores your true gifts, you know instinctively and this dissonance creates stress. Find and follow your superpower and you’ll be happier and I will wager a future paycheck, more successful.

3. If you don’t think someone will use your weaknesses against you, you are naïve. This is the way of the world. We all have competitors…for resources, for budget, for position and for compensation. Don’t give them ammunition.

4. People close to you typically appreciate you and accept you for the person you are…and that’s nice. However, it isn’t helpful. Some will open up and share honest perceptions and feedback, but you have to ask and to be genuine in your need for the real story.

5. Get a coach. Identifying poor behaviors isn’t so difficult Changing them is brutally hard. Most people fail most of the time at this. How’s that diet or fitness program going? But remember, the coach won’t do the work for you. Commitment comes from you.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s a sharp-elbowed world out there where rules of fair play are subjective. Don’t limit your own advancement and growth by believing that your great work will take care of itself. It won’t. Manage the perceptions about you or someone else will.

Leadership Caffeine™—Is Leadership Changing?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

There’s an interesting interview at McKinsey, with Heidreck & Struggles CEO, Tracy Wolstencroft, that explores what they describe as the changing nature of leadership in this era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The interview prompted my own consideration of some of the changing leadership behaviors I’m observing in firms who are succeeding in navigating the fog of these times.

Warren Bennis once suggested that “leaders manage the context,” and for those firms I’ve observed and have worked with, who are effectively reinventing themselves in this era of complexity, there are a number of emerging new themes in how leadership is practiced and deployed. They are indeed managing the context.

Command and control is giving way to a style that reflects more serve and support and form and frame. The serve component reflects an increased focus by those in leadership roles on answering the question for teams of, “What can I do to best help you succeed?” The form and frame perspective emphasizes the leader’s role in creating an environment where individuals and groups are both challenged and enabled to excel.

And while I use the word “serve” in the description, serve and support, don’t construe that to mean “soft.” The leaders  who have shifted their focus to helping find the answers versus dictating the approaches are anything but soft. They set expectations high and demand a great deal not only of their teams, but of themselves. They are fierce in pursuit of results through groups…and fierce in their support and defense of the work of their groups. There’s a mutual accountability and transparency between leaders and teams that is…refreshing and even invigorating.

Position in the hierarchy is less relevant, with emphasis placed on the ability of these leaders to span functional boundaries in pursuit of solving problems through temporary teams. The strongest, most effective leaders…people leading groups to get things done, are in my opinion, the emerging “integrator” leaders who span boundaries and operate without authority but with huge accountability for delivery. And thank goodness, because the work of navigating structural uncertainties in the marketplace isn’t the work of any one function, it is the work of people with diverse skills coming together to solve problems. (Might this mean that silo walls are finally coming down?)

Supporting the development of high performance teams is more of today’s focal point for leaders, as we begin to recognize the potential for groups to lead innovation and strategy execution. Most of the work that propels organizations into new markets with new strategies and technologies comes about via teams and today’s leaders are tired of the results described in headline grabbing studies on  how miserable we are at succeeding with these groups. They are committed to realizing the true potential from teams.

Leadership is much more of a temporary mantle, with individuals moving from a leadership role one day to a team member role on another initiative the next day. I like this…it reinforces the need to understand what it takes to be a great team member…critical context for learning to be a great team leader. Leader selection is more about who has the right skills for the situation and much less about title or seniority.

For those of us who grew up in a world where command and control was the style, much of how leadership is being deployed in some organizations looks and feels different. Yet, underlying the behavior and style differences are the foundations of effective leadership, which remain unchanged over the millennia. From setting direction to selecting talent to both earning and giving respect to motivating and inspiring and standing up and fighting for the group and the right issues, these attributes of leadership thankfully remain and are perhaps more important then ever.

And while I’ll stop short of suggesting a causal relationship between an organization embracing new styles of leadership and gaining financial and market success in today’s world, the differences are at least part of the answer. Conversely, firms I’m observing that struggle to navigate our world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, tend to be tethered to the hierarchical, command and control style of a bygone era, with the employees waiting to be told where to go.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It makes sense that the skills necessary to lead in today’s environment are different than those that were emphasized in quieter times. Leaders aren’t defined by title, they are defined by behavior, and the behaviors necessary for success in today’s world suggest that we best be supporting the development of emerging leaders at all levels and in all roles of our organizations.

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.

Ideas for Professional Growth—Week of June 14, 2015

One Inch at a TimeNote from Art: Every week, I provide a few simple (but not simplistic) ideas for you to Do/Experiment/Explore in support of your professional development. Use them in great professional health and personal gain.

Do:

Make the effort to align with your direct manager on her goals. One of the questions I ask coaching clients is, “What are your boss’s goals?” The most common answers include: “I don’t know,” or, “I haven’t asked,” or, “She hasn’t shared them with me.

While not every manager is forthcoming about their own goals…and in essence, how they are being evaluated, it is worth inquiring. Armed with insight and context for your manager’s priorities, you are better able to support her efforts, and ideally, align your own goals with hers.

Great team members understand the importance of helping their boss succeed and they intuitively get that reciprocity is a powerful tool for gaining support, particularly in the manager-employee relationship. Today’s boss is tomorrow’s sponsor for your next promotion and a future peer. Forge a great relationship from the beginning by understanding and seeking out opportunities to help your manager succeed.

Experiment:

De-personalize brainstorming. Brainstorming is something that almost every group engages in at some time and while the intent is noble, there are more than a few issues that detract from the effectiveness of this technique in practice. One idea is to use what researchers describe as nominal group techniques to minimize socialization challenges in groups. That’s a $5 label for something that simply means finding a way to draw out input by keeping the source of the ideas anonymous. From loudmouths who dominate discussion to the boss participating and everyone agreeing with him, to the reality that the best ideas may be lurking in the gray matter of the quietest attendees, it makes sense to change things up in search of more value.

Try sending out the brainstorming question a day or two before the event and asking people to generate a list of ideas and then returning them anonymously before the session. (You’ll have to create the means for anonymity, but it is worth the effort.) On the day of the meeting, pre-draft flip-charts or fill a whiteboard with the ideas. Mix them up. Don’t provide any attribution. In the live session, encourage people to read and build and jump on existing ideas as well as to add new ones.

Explore:

Edward DeBono’s “Six Thinking Hats” approach to strengthening group discussion quality. Most of our group discussions are messy swirls of opinions, facts, questionable facts, biases and even political agendas. DeBono helps us quit arguing our way forward through meetings by teaching us a simple but not simplistic approach to conducting group discussions and gaining the benefit of everyone thinking and talking in the same direction.

I reference this topic in workshops, keynotes and my writing. I’ve quit counting how many people have looped back and described their success with the technique. Buy and read the book and practice with the approach. It’s currently under $10 at Amazon, and you’ve got the world’s best laboratory to put this to the test in your workplace. I’ll wager your favorite coffee drink you’ll find this an improvement over current practices.

That’s it for this week’s idea prompters around Do/Experiment/Explore. Use them in good health, great productivity and in support of your own professional development. -Art

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.