Study The Top Leader’s Style Before Signing On

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 your professional pursuits. Use the ideas in great career health!

If you’re interested in gaining critical insights into how things work in a prospective employer, look to the style, values and priorities of a firm’s top leader.

When I meet senior leaders, I listen and look for indicators on clues to what makes them tick. I want to know what they stand for…what makes them breathe…what makes them do what they do.

As a prospective employee, it’s essential to know what you’re signing up for in terms of culture and values and environment. I’ve learned how important it is to go to work for leaders whose values and approaches align closely with my preferences. Get this right and you’ll flourish. Get it wrong and you’ll suffer. Like everything else I’ve ever learned, I had to screw this up once to figure out how to get it right.

Most leaders are fairly transparent about what they stand for, although they vary in depth a great deal.

Some are wired to drive results. They want to move the numbers in the right direction and they focus almost exclusively on the issues of growth. This focus predominates all decisions and metrics and rewards and sets the tone for your daily work.

Some are wired for innovation. Their emphasis is on new and different and they place a premium on surrounding themselves with the best and brightest and creating environments (from gentle to raucous) that they believe promote idea generation. Bring your big ideas, and if don’t love the creative game, you might just get run over.

And still others are simply wired for power. They like being in charge, they’re good at it and for them the focus is on calling the plays and surrounding themselves with people who are good at execution. The environment is command and control and your role is that of soldier. If you struggle to take orders, run the other way.

And then there are the leaders I personally prefer. They have depth. These are the ones who are on a mission to transform lives and firms and the world with their efforts. To them, growth and innovation are outcomes of bringing in other mission-driven professionals and letting them do what they’re great at.

These leaders are driven to transform something for someone and they project this mission in every encounter. You cannot help but understand what they stand for and as a result, what their organizations stand for. The mission is core to who they are and their leader’s soul is always on display. Their organizations run on the energy generated by passion for the mission. It helps to be a dreamer who believes in achieving the impossible in this environment.

There’s no one style that defines these mission-driven energizing leaders. Some of them are servant leaders. They propel people and teams to do their best in pursuit of something remarkable by elevating their team members and focusing all of their energies on enabling them to succeed. Others are visionaries who drive their organizations to remarkable heights almost by sheer force of will. Think Steve Jobs. For the people in these firms, the drive from the leader is rocket fuel.

I get the leaders above…the growth, innovation and power leaders. I love the mission and visionary leaders, but those are personal preferences. I’m most at home in a change-the-world situation. None of them are perfect and not all of them are right for you as a contributor.

The leaders I struggle and will caution you against are what I term the “plain vanilla” leaders. They’re not confident enough to show you their leadership soul, or, worse yet, they haven’t take the time to develop one. They have no discernible mission. They operate at the transaction level, flitting from issue to issue but never breathing life into anything beyond the next few minutes. There’s no substance or depth to these leaders, and to me, they are dull and uninteresting. Be cautious of these characters. Life is too short to spend time in their chaotic and plain environment.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The firm always reflects the leader(s). They establish the cadence and their styles define the environment during their tenure. Strive to understand what makes a firm’s senior leader tick and you’ll have great insight into what life is like this firm. Choose carefully, because a mismatch between your values and style preferences and those of the leader you go to work for is almost always a formula for trouble.

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.

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

New Leader Tuesday—Quit Walking on Eggshells around Boss Bullies

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsEvery Tuesday at the Management Excellence blog I share ideas to help those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

Almost every person who’s ever held a managerial position has spent time walking on eggshells around a deliberately difficult employee to avoid inciting a confrontation. I describe these individuals as “Boss Bullies.” They’re particularly fond of first-time managers because their tactics tend to work on these often overwhelmed professionals for a period of time.

These difficult characters are almost all the same. They aggressively assert their disdain for you as the new manager. They do everything possible to show their disapproval of your presence and they expect you to show deference. They know just the right buttons to push to get their way and make your life miserable.

I encountered my first one when I was promoted to a supervisory role after just a few months at my first post-college job. This particular individual made it clear through his words and actions that he wasn’t going to be managed or bothered by some newbie. It worked for him for awhile.

I wasn’t physically frightened of this bully, but I definitely allowed his bullying approach to push me off balance. I either avoided dealing with him directly or, if it was essential, I couched my comments and questions in niceties. I went out of my way to let him know that I wasn’t there to manage him, but that we needed his help. He was smart enough to help, but he definitely let me know every time that I owed him one.

Aside from developing a daily stomachache over having to deal with this character, my approach was visible to everyone on my team. It was a formula for failure on all fronts and it had to change. It did.

While I didn’t have a handy list of the ideas below for dealing with the situation, I very clumsily applied the principles and managed to change the nature of the relationship. In this case, the bully respected my assertion of power and became an acceptable…not exemplary, but acceptable citizen.

Instead of walking on eggshells, stomp on them and solve this problem.

Six Ideas for Clearing Away the Eggshells and Dealing with Boss Bullies:

1. Engage. Your instinct is to avoid and ignore. Do the opposite. You need to cultivate a formal boss-to-employee relationship with the individual in question. Without engaging fairly and professionally with the Boss Bully in question, you have no behavioral basis for feedback, coaching or ultimately, some form of discipline, including termination.

2. Clarify Accountability. The Boss Bully understands that his/her approach results in different standards for accountability compared to the broader population. You need to eliminate any opportunity for a double standard by clarifying the individual’s responsibility for results and ensuring that the accountability is upheld. One manager I coached used post-project performance evaluations from team members and the project manager to facilitate discussions on this difficult individual’s interpersonal approach, attitude and other dysfunctional The Boss Bully must understand what they are accountable for in terms of both results and workplace behaviors.

3. Observe Often, Reinforce Positives and Tackle Negatives Immediately. The best way to manage this situation is to observe the individual’s work with others as much as possible and offer clear, specific behavioral feedback. If the bully is a mostly an individual contributor without much team involvement, it’s all on your shoulders to engage often enough to offer feedback. Tackle performance issues immediately and provide positive feedback as long as it is merited.

4. Warning! Don’t Apologize or Attempt to Praise Your Way Forward. It takes time for some managers to overcome their fear of Boss Bullies, and those initial steps to engage are awkward and even frightening for some. Beware the tendency to engage by apologizing for your intrusion, and resist the urge to offer positive praise for behaviors that simply meet the standards that everyone else is accountable for. You weaken your case with the Boss Bully when he observes your visible discomfort and extraordinary efforts to placate him.

5. Build on Progress. Your goal should always be for a positive outcome. I’ve observed more than a few Boss Bullies respond positively to appropriate attention and clear feedback. While I’m practicing without a license on this one, I suspect that some behaviors are cries for attention and for respect. Your willingness to pay attention to someone is a powerful motivator.  As you observe positive progress, offer appropriate feedback and importantly, strengthen the relationship by extending your trust on workplace responsibilities. Assuming that your trust is rewarded with results, keep it going.

6. Know When to Cut Your Losses. If the attention and feedback don’t work, it’s time for the Boss Bully to go. Work with your manager and H.R. team. Remember that they’ll be looking for clear documentation and proof that you’ve been constructively tackling this issue over a reasonable period of time. Don’t do what so many managers do and that is ignore the topic until you can’t take it anymore and then ask for help. Insure that your boss and H.R. are attuned to the situation immediately and document the process over time.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Too many managers spend too much time walking on eggshells. They either avoid the Boss Bullies or, they deal with them in a manner that reinforces aberrant behaviors. Your only mistake here is to perpetuate the problem. Spend too much time walking on eggshells and you’ll inevitably crush some of them. Fail to resolve this problem and you may be crushing your future prospects with your firm.

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.

Choose to Work in a Culture that Brings Out the Best in You

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.

I’ve worked in cultures like those ascribed to Amazon.com in the recent and controversial New York Times article, “Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.”  These battle-zone firms exist and they can be very successful. And for the adrenaline junkie career climber, these cultures are perfect.

For the rest of us who like our excitement and adrenaline rushes to come from something other than eviscerating our co-workers over stupid ideas and stepping on heads and necks and hands on our way to the promised land of more restricted stock grants, these environments aren’t so great. They’re toxic to our souls.

I don’t find Amazon’s alleged “bruising” battle-zone culture either bad or good, it just is. It’s no longer my cup of tea, but it might have been at one point in my career.

I’m a recovering suffer-no-fools, take-no-prisoners and follow me-or-leave professional who managed to gain control of this personal Jekyll and Hyde battle a long time ago. I remember the game however, and I remember liking it. Ideas flowed, action was the order of the day and strength decided what got done. As long is it worked, your power grew.

While I don’t recall that the work as playground environments so often written about today, existed back then…think nerf gun fights, zip-lines in the office and tree house conference rooms, if they did, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of these ideas. I cared about stomping my competitors, serving my customers and clearing the dumb-asses and bumbling bureaucrats out of my way so that I could execute. (My heart is racing a bit as I type this. It was work as an adventure.) The idea of work as mere playtime would have been preposterous.

My conversion of sorts to the kinder, gentler side of work occurred after I misread the culture of a new employer and found myself immersed in a genteel environment engaged in a form of internecine war. It was a corporate Game of Thones and it was the wrong kind of war game for me. I was looking for something different…something that would win in the market while positively transforming people’s lives. I was looking for a culture that built people up, without having to break them down first.

It took me eighteen months to unwind that mistake, yet it was an important step on my path. While I didn’t find the promised land of great cultures, I found one where we worked hard to build a culture that brought out the best in people. We appreciated warriors on the front-lines but warfare in the workplace wasn’t how we got things done.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There is no perfect culture. Even the kinder, gentler kinds have some serious downsides. Think: passive-aggressive behavior, complacency born of comfort or widespread naivete on the realities of winning in the marketplace. Nonetheless, we are well served to match the cultures where we choose to invest our time with our own values and aspirations for ourselves as citizens of these organizations. Choose to go to work in a culture that brings out the best in you.

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.

 

New Leader Tuesday—Ideas to Help You Cure Feedback Fright

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsTuesdays at the Management Excellence blog are dedicated to those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

While the act of delivering constructive feedback doesn’t rank up there with the fear of public speaking (stage fright) or facing an IRS audit (just pure fear), too many managers…especially newly promoted first-timers avoid this activity because it makes them uncomfortable. Others use crutches like sandwiching or sugarcoating to calm their own fears, creating muddled messages in the process.

A good number of managers carry feedback fright with them throughout their careers, leaving a wake of under-developed, under-supported team members wondering what they might do better to strengthen their own performance and further their careers. When polling participants in workshops, one of the top wishes I hear is, “I wish my boss would give me more feedback.” Seriously. No one wishes for another IRS audit, but they want more feedback. Even the constructive (“you need to improve this”) kind.

It’s essential for you to learn to tame your emotions and control your feedback fright. Failure to overcome this issue will prove debilitating to your effectiveness as a manager. And frankly, it’s not so hard to resolve.

9 Ideas to Help Cure Yourself of Feedback Fright:

1. Remember, your team members are waiting for it. Read these words and believe them…after all, you read them on the internet: good people are hungry for feedback. Seriously. They’re waiting for it. They want input to help them raise their game.

2. Quit hesitating because you’re worried about the reaction you’re going to elicit. If properly constructed, delivered and managed, constructive feedback most often will elicit a positive response. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. I’ve lost count of the times someone has thanked me and offered some variation of, “I’ve never heard that before,” or “No one ever mentioned that to me.” And while not all of these discussions go swimmingly, if executed properly, the majority will. Hey, nothing’s perfect!

3. Deliver feedback on observed behaviors not hearsay. Don’t get caught up in the “he said/she said” traps. Get out with your team members and observe them in action and offer feedback in near real time. If someone is suggesting aberrant behavior outside of your eye-sight, redouble your efforts to observe.

4. Always link the behavior to the business. If you make it personal, you’ll lose. If you link the behavior to the business, you’re operating on the side of goodness.

5. Plan your feedback discussions. Nothing strengthens performance like proper planning. Take time to think about the behaviors and business impact and then jot down your opening sentence. Practice the opening sentence to yourself a few times and then put it to work.

6. Get it just right with time, tone and temperament. As you approach the discussion, spend a few moments focusing on your objectives: a clear, concise and unemotional discussion leading to an action plan to improve. Feedback is best served in Goldilocks fashion. If it’s too hot…too emotionally turbocharged, it will be destructive. If it’s too cold…too old, it will be ineffective.

7. Don’t inventory the issues. The closer to the observed behavior you address the situation, the better the outcome and the better you’ll feel about these discussions. The worst feedback habit is waiting for the annual performance review and then backing up the dump truck and unloading. This won’t go well for either party.

8. Create a discussion, don’t deliver a monologue. Know that your goal in the discussion is to engage the receiver in developing ideas that he/she can put into action to strengthen or change the behavior in question. You don’t have to have all of the answers…you simply have to create the situation to jointly develop the answers.

9. Remember how to get to Carnegie Hall. OK, old, lame joke with a point. Passenger: ”Cab driver, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Cabbie: “Practice, practice, practice.”

The Bottom-line for Now:

While there are a number of different and very important managerial tools to support behavior development and change, feedback is fundamental. Your feedback fright is best resolved by employing a number of good habits, starting with the recognition that your people are hungry for clear, meaningful and timely input on improving. By the way, so are you. Remember to be a great feedback receiver when it’s your turn.

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.

 

Leadership Caffeine™—When It Comes to Toxic Employees, Don’t Hesitate

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

A few of the most contentious (and job threatening) moments in my career have come when I’ve gone to the mat on dealing with toxic employees. For a number of reasons…none of which are worth much, too many leaders hesitate when it comes to purging these radioactive waste products from their teams. If you’ve been rationalizing retaining one of those characters that creates fallout with every encounter, it’s important to recognize what you’re doing to everyone else and then to take action.

The toxic employee has a “special” knack of destabilizing groups, destroying trust between coworkers and stifling conversation and creativity in nearly every situation. This person is offensive…with the double-entendre intended, in their approach and with their presence. They attempt to manipulate the agenda to suit their own needs and they strive to suppress voices contrary to theirs.

Everyone knows this toxic worker. They dread sitting in meetings with him and they’ll do anything to avoid having to call upon this person for input. The toxic worker sucks the oxygen out of a room and ensures that brains and jaws snap-shut.

From an exaggerated fear of reprisal (typically unfounded legal reprisal) to the lame excuse of specialized knowledge or the equally lame fear of what competition will learn if they glom on to your “special” employee, the excuses to not act are consistent and weak. If you allow your business to be held hostage by a toxic person, well, I’m not optimistic about your chances for future success. You destroy your credibility as a leader and you most definitely will struggle retaining talent and inspiring people to do their best work. Oh, and I can think of nothing more enjoyable than this person spreading her radioactivity at my competitor!

If this questionable character is under your direct responsibility, your biggest challenge is avoiding falling into the “rationalize” trap described above. Recognize the character of this person for what it is and take all legal and procedural actions necessary to purge your team of this person. A well-run H.R. department will guide your actions to ensure compliance and accelerate outcomes. A poorly run H.R. department will be a giant block on this issue and you’ll need help from others with the power to help.

My own noteworthy battles on this topic have come when the toxic co-worker is under another executive’s charge. Without hire/fire authority, it’s an issue of moral suasion and/or negotiation. It gets sticky when the toxic worker’s executive suggests, “I kind of like having a bulldog in my group. It keeps everyone else on edge.” That executive was and is an ass, and I moved the issue upstream to the broader executive group. At the end of the day, this group voiced all the fears described above and a few more, but agreed that the individual in question displayed behaviors so far out of a reasonable interpretation of the firm’s values, that she had to go.

As outlined in my post on my own hiring mistakes, I’ve misread a few people and their characters. They did an excellent job projecting the persona I and we wanted to see. Once we discovered the real character of the individual, I had no qualms about admitting my mistake and taking fast action.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In every circumstance where I’ve had to remove the toxic employee I used up valuable political capital. In hindsight, I cannot think of a better way to have put this capital to work. It’s an investment that paid back principal and interest many times over from the hearts and minds of my high-character colleagues. When it comes to the toxic person on your team, don’t hesitate. The costs of waiting are unacceptably high.

Subscribe to the Leadership Caffeine Newsletter with 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.

 

 

High Performance Management—Courage and Business Transformation

Graphic displaying terms relevant to high performance managementThe topic of transformation is a challenging one for all management teams. It’s not surprising that few muster the collective courage necessary to transform their organizations even in the face of sustained headwinds or looming crisis.

Certainly, there are different drivers behind the need for significant change. One very common and challenging situation arises when a firm comes face to face with its own impending irrelevance, often created by competitive disruption or technological obsolescence. Another scenario…the one I see most often in technology firms is the need to transform to support growth. Both offer their own unique challenges.

The first situation…impending obsolescence and a high probability of organizational death demands transformation on a major scale. The issues are fairly clear, and the adversary easily observed and studied. While some of the big decisions are obvious…shedding unprofitable endeavors, cutting costs etc. selecting the response or strategy that will postpone or eliminate impending doom is quite challenging. The art and science in this situation isn’t the financial management it’s the strategy and execution work.

In the second scenario, transforming to support scaling…to go from good to great or great to greater, the biggest adversary management teams face is overcoming the comfort of “incrementalism” and wrapping their brains and arms around the need to unite on and drive significant change. The overwhelming emotion for managers is to incrementally fix and tweak and tune what has been working versus taking action to reinvent. What’s needed are new functions, processes, systems and talent with a charter to go to new arenas, and what happens looks more like the duct-tape and flexi-hose repairs I use for sudden plumbing problems. I momentarily stem the crisis, but I don’t fix the systemic issue.

Having lived both of these scenarios in multiple technology businesses, I find the second situation, driving significant change while successful (albeit increasingly stymied by capacity, infrastructure and talent issues) to be the most vexing of the situations. There’s almost never a mandate to change and management teams solve small problems all the while the bigger machine begins to squeak and groan and then smoke. As efficiency and effectiveness decline and good opportunities in new markets or with new products go unrealized, management begins to flail and inevitably, the financials begin to move in the wrong direction.

Navigating and ideally, avoiding the squeaking, groaning and smoking phase takes incredibly strong senior leadership starting at the top with the CEO and carrying through the entire executive management team. In the circumstances where we got this right, the group was able to put ego and personal interest aside and focus collectively on what was right for the business over a longer horizon. The groups found a new performance gear, and while talk of risk and uncertainty dominated much of the dialog (and emotional atmosphere), the unrelenting focus on the need to help the business “Level-Up” defined the mission. There must be unanimity or talk of transformation remains just that.

Conversely, where the need was present but the work failed, these teams lacked the collective courage to consider the topic with anything more than lip-service. Talk of transformation in these cases is infused with politics, self-interest and the dialog if it even turns into that, is more an endless philosophical debate. Those seeking to derail this train are able to easily manipulate the agenda and a less-than-unified team lets it drop. In this case, the focus remains on tackling incremental issues versus systemic. It may work for awhile, but it eventually runs into the brick wall of reality.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you and your team have recognized the warning signs of your firm’s structural, capacity, strategic and human limitations, it’s important to begin framing and forming a discussion that looks beyond the symptoms to the underlying issues. The temptation is to attempt to reduce the symptoms with a variety of small fixes. The need is for the team to rethink what it needs to look and act like to ensure a profitable, healthy future. Don’t fight reality. Recognize that the inertial power of the status quo is strong. It takes extraordinary strength to move beyond how we do things today.

Subscribe to the Leadership Caffeine Newsletter with 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.

 

 

 

 

New Leader Tuesday—Learning from Your Communication Mistakes

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsTuesdays at the Management Excellence blog are dedicated to those just starting out on their leadership journeys.

You will make many communication mistakes in your formative role as someone responsible for the work of others. People are complex. The process of communicating with others is filled with opportunities for mistakes, misfires and misperceptions.  It takes time and more than a few mistakes to recognize your need to understand the communication preferences of your team members and to learn to tailor your approach.

4 Communication Lessons Learned the Hard Way:

1. Trying too Hard to Sound In-Charge. One first-time supervisor perceived that part of being in charge of the department meant showing strength with a commanding tone in all interactions. His brusque style was off-putting to a group that prided itself on team cohesion and a track record of great results. When apprised of the tension his style was creating he sat down with the group, apologized and adopted a more supportive and empathetic tone. He learned that being in charge didn’t mean that he had to sound in charge at all times.

2. Misjudging Communication Preferences of Your Team Members. Another common mistake is to misread the amount of communication interaction people desire from their supervisor. Ask an independent person too many questions on a regular basis and they will perceive you as micromanaging. Give another person ample space when they really desire regular contact and feedback, and you’ll be perceived as distant and uncaring. Pay attention to what works when communicating with your team members. Accelerate the process by asking about their preferences for contact and communication. They’ll be impressed that you cared enough to ask.

3. Abusing Feedback. Excessively sugar-coated or watered down feedback doesn’t help anyone. I see this problem regularly with new managers uncomfortable in delivering constructive feedback (i.e. the type that is driving for improvement). Instead of constructing a clear and crisp discussion that identifies the behavior, explains the implications of the behavior and invites a true discussion on how to improve it, they strive to make themselves comfortable by surrounding the message in praise and diluted terms. No one benefits from this type of feedback. (I am cringing as I write this, recalling a number of my early and awkward attempts at this process.)

If you are uncomfortable delivering constructive feedback, ask to attend a training course or seek out one of the many resources on feedback (including many posts at this blog) and practice making your positive and constructive feedback focused, specific and usable.

4. Unleashing a Torrent of Your Ideas. Another manager I coached was filled with ideas on how to improve departmental processes and work-flows and she was relentless in telling people how to change their work. She was quickly perceived as an overbearing micro-manager (no one loves this character) and people worked hard to avoid her. Once she became adept at asking team members for their ideas on how to streamline processes and asking “What if?” questions on her own ideas, the team began to respond with creativity and enthusiasm. She accomplished her desired results and gained team support and trust in the process with a simple shift from telling to asking.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

A mentor of mine once offered, “You’ll go far as you are able to communicate.” At the time, I thought it was an awkward phrase and I didn’t think much of it. Looking in the rear-view mirror of three decades of leading others, I wish I had tattooed it on my forearm the day he said it. Your ability to communicate with others…to appeal to their hearts and minds and engage their energy in pursuit of common goals is what your role is all about. Starting today and continuing everyday hereafter, focus on strengthening your ability to communicate with others. This critical skill will take you far.

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.

 

Leadership Caffeine™ Are You Making Time for the Big Topics?

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

When it comes to the forward-looking issues around talent, team and strategy development, the uncomfortable answer to the question in the post headline for just about all of us (myself included) is, “Not enough.”

From CEOs to front-line supervisors, there’s a gravitational pull to the daily urgent and urgent-unimportant that keeps us from the meaty and meaningful work of leading and planning.

Ask someone to shadow you for a day and then report on what they saw, and I suspect their description will focus on you flitting from one issue and brief encounter and meeting to another.

While there’s no doubt that the best leaders teach on-the-fly as they engage with team members, there are components of the role that require concentration and deeper thinking and dialog than the daily transactions. Coaching, feedback and professional development are the items most frequently sacrificed on the altar of time-pressures and they’re typically reserved for the annual performance evaluation…a poor substitute for regular, quality discussions. Taking time to work on strategy is also compartmentalized to a limited number of discussions, typically around the horrid annual offsite that tends to serve as the time for strategy.

In most of our days, there’s little time for us to think deeply about our work, our people or our business, and there’s little time for us to engage with individuals or teams in meaningful dialog about performance, growth and direction. And while we all get a strong vote in how we spend our time, there’s an almost addiction like quality to the pursuit of our more transactional activities.

A few years ago, I was engaged to coach a senior sales executive. His CEO was concerned about the lack of forward-planning for team, talent and strategy, and he asked me to shadow him for a few days.

After observing the sales executive in action, I asked him when he found time to focus on strategy and talent development for his team. His thoughtful and honest answer was, “I don’t. I enjoy the thrill of the daily hunt for business.”

I appreciated his honesty however, with that type of focus, it was clear he was the wrong person to be in a senior sales executive role. His priorities better fit the regional sales leader. We moved him to a role where he excelled in guiding the hunt for a smaller group and replaced him with someone focused on developing talent and refining and driving strategy execution at an organizational level.

My biggest gripe on the short-term preoccupation is reserved for the CEOs who are supposed to but mostly fail to model the right leadership behaviors as part of building their firm’s culture and future. We’re prone to mimicking the behaviors of those with power and influence and if the top boss doesn’t place a premium on either the developmental or forward looking strategy issues, than neither will her direct reports. It cascades downhill.

It’s Time to Make a Change:

Whether the deficit in your quality time with team members around development or planning is one of omission or commission, you can make changes in your approach and activities and move towards a better balance for everyone involved. Here are 4 ideas to support your effort to regain the high ground on the critical leadership and planning issues.

4 Ideas to Help You Increase Your Time Focused on the Big Topics of Developing Talent and Strategy:

1. Build the Time In to Your Calendar. While this is a bit of the “Captain Obvious,” it amazes me how few people actually block time in their calendars to allow for development and strategy work. The worst offenders are those who allow their calendars to be managed by others…either directly or indirectly through the endless scheduling of status meetings. Time is YOUR most valuable asset…act like you own your own schedule and set your priorities.

2. Measure Your Time Investment in Development and Planning Discussions. We all know that what gets measured gets done. One senior team established a time-target for development and strategy work and we’re evaluated on their performance versus the time targets. While there was no effective way to measure the quality of the time invested, the genuine accountability to report back on time and activities kept the issues front and center. To an executive, they did the same for their direct reports. It cascades downhill.

3. Let Your Team Members Own the Developmental Discussions. While slightly in contrast with my plea in #1 above to take control of your time, I observed a senior manager who shifted the accountability for regular scheduling of development discussions to her direct reports. In this case, it worked brilliantly. The direct reports developed a heightened sense of their own need to do the heavy lifting for their own professional development and would schedule time with the senior manager that turned out to be more mentoring than performance feedback. In this case, it worked.

4. Introduce “Future View” Discussions into Your Regular Meeting Routine. One CEO economized on his operations meeting agenda and added a “Future View” discussion to each monthly session. Participants were required to report back at the monthly session on issues, trends or ideas stimulated by customer input or observation or study of the broader bigger business landscape and market forces. She required every participant to come armed with one observation and to address it in the form of three questions:

  1. How might this issue/observation change everything for us, our industry and customers?
  2. Specifically, what does it mean for us?
  3. What if anything should we do about it.

The rich discussions blossomed into a separate quarterly strategy review where the firm’s strategy was vetted against the key trends and observations. They broke the back of talking about external factors once per year by introducing a simple, but not simplistic technique.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It takes effort to move beyond the issues immediately in front of us and focus on important, albeit more abstract topics like talent development and strategy. The mistake too many of us make is never pulling ourselves away from the urgent. The daily work is never done. However, the time invested in helping people grow and challenging and checking your assumptions about the external world is the time investment that pays real dividends for your efforts. Manufacture the time to talk about the big issues. You’ll be glad you did.

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.

 

Friday Leadership Ideas to Help You Finish the Week Strong for August 7, 2015

put it in contextEvery week I share a few ideas to help you finish strong. A great ending sets the stage for success next week.

1. Reinforce the Importance of Your Team’s Efforts to Corporate Strategies and Goals

People do their best work when they have context for the importance and impact of their efforts. In too many organizations, corporate and functional goals are discussed at the beginning of the year and rarely referenced other than in financial language during the balance of the year. Over time, people lose a sense of connectivity between their work priorities and the big picture, allowing the cadence to slow to a crawl and inviting less relevant side-initiatives to take root.

Sit down with your team members and review the firm’s updated strategy content. Be certain to showcase how your team’s efforts connect to the core strategies and key goals. Tie your group’s core metrics to the bigger corporate health metrics. Add an executive to the discussion to talk about the challenges the firm is running into with key strategies and encourage your team members to ask questions or offer ideas on how they can increase their support for the big picture.

2. Reach Out and Connect with Remote Colleagues

Having live and worked outside of the home city of my firm for many years, I am sensitive to the sense of creeping isolation that often comes with this set-up. Make time today to reach out by phone or video with a number of your far flung colleagues and find out what they’re thinking. If they operate in customer-facing roles…e.g. sales, services or support, pick their brains on what they are hearing from customers. Ask about how coordination and communication is working with corporate-based teams and colleagues and discuss and agree on opportunities to visit corporate or connect at regional meetings in the near future.

In my experience, most remote workers are incredibly dedicated to their work and they are hungry to engage and help the firm improve. A bit of extra effort to connect with these individuals will help you uncover their great ideas and remind them they are part of something bigger than the view from their home office window.

3. Weekend Reading:

Yes, weekends are for reading and thinking. What’s teed up on your nightstand or e-reader? Next up for me:

  • Humans are Underrated—What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, by Geoff Colvin
  • The New IT—How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, by Jill Dyché, foreword by Geoffrey Moore.

I’ll loop back and share my thoughts on these exciting new books in the next few weeks.

For some short and insightful leadership writing, check out the August, 2015 Leadership Development Carnival hosted by LeadChange Group. I’m honored to be included with some of the most inspiring and thoughtful leadership writers out there. Enjoy this great resource.

That’s it for now. Remember to finish strong and come back next week prepared to conquer the world! -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.

 

Cultivating A Constructive Response to Momentary Failure

Road sign with Succes in one direction and failure in the otherThe most successful people I’ve worked with are incredibly adept at navigating those moments of mental devastation we call failure.

For anyone striving to achieve something big, great or new, failure is an inevitable part of the process of striving for success. It’s part of learning and growing and while it hurts momentarily, successful professionals process the experience in a very different fashion than those who are more easily derailed.

Here are some of my own lessons learned from observing successful professionals navigate their own momentary failures.

5 Constructive Responses to Professional Failure:

1. Look inward at yourself instead of outward seeking to deflect responsibility. While many of us immediately point to external factors to blame for our failures, successful professionals tend to look inward at their own thinking. Instead of competition or the failure of others to execute or uncooperative customers, they take a more clinical approach with questions such as: What did I miss? What did I fail to consider? Where did my assumptions break down? Why was I wrong about the expected outcome?

2. Own the failure publicly. Closely related to number 1 above, stand up and say, “I failed.” While you might be disappointed in yourself for missing something, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit having failed. If it was a team effort and you were in charge of the team, it’s on you, not the team. Don’t attempt to dodge or deflect responsibility. You’ll destroy your credibility as a leader and as a professional.

3. Play the long game. View failure in the context of one step in a process, not a final outcome. Whether it’s misfire on a project or a failed strategy or a job that ended abruptly at the invitation of your employer, view the setback as temporary…as momentary. Process, adapt and keep moving, you’ve got a long way to run.

4. Don’t let a failed effort define who you are as a professional or a person. I can’t over-emphasize this point. Those who struggle with failure amplify the size, scope and importance of the event in their minds. They begin to equate failure with their self-view as professionals and as individuals. This is a toxic mental model…that like concrete, once it sets is difficult to remove. When you begin to lose self-confidence and operate more from fear than the drive to succeed, you’ve set yourself up for failure in the long game. Fight this negative self-talk.

5. Limit time spent licking wounds. One of the key behaviors of those who successfully navigate these uncomfortable career moments is a quick conversion of disappointment and frustration into positive action. Our natural inclination is to linger indefinitely in failure mode, yet the healthy response is to bury it, mourn it and then move on.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are few things more critical to your long-term professional success and mental health than learning to navigate through setbacks. While the behaviors suggested above are easy to write about and difficult to manifest in those awkward moments, they are learned behaviors that can be practiced and perfected. In a career focused on growing teams, learning to lead effectively and building businesses or striving to realize a mission, you will inevitably stumble. It’s what you do at that point in time that determines your future success.

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.