Leadership Caffeine™—To Be Effective, Your Do Must Match Your Tell

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!

And no, I’m not talking about hairstyles. The phrase, your do must match your tell was offered up by an interview subject in response to a question focusing on developing credibility as a leader. It’s memorable, it’s quotable and it is spot on accurate.

No creature on the planet destroys credibility faster than a pontificating blow-hard of a boss who is great at turning oxygen into over-heated carbon dioxide, but not so great at overcoming the gravitational pull of his posterior to the chair and putting his own words into action.

Looking for some blunt advice? Here you go: Don’t be that person! If that’s not enough, here are 7 ideas you can put into action today to begin strengthening your credibility as a leader.

7 Tips to Help You Build Credibility as a Leader:

1. Model the Behaviors You Are Preaching: if it’s hard work and commitment to excellence, then you best cultivate an unimpeachable reputation for working hard and pursuing excellence. If it’s focus on the customer, then you need to be logging some significant quality time in front of your customers. Don’t demand it if you’re not living it.

2. There’s Only One Set of Rules: accountability for effort and outcomes must be applied evenly, without exception. It’s the exceptions you make (and that everyone sees) that kill your credibility.

3. The Big Issues Cannot Wait: there’s no getting away with, “that’s an important issue and we should talk about it at the right time.” It’s always the right time to tackle the tough ones.

4. Don’t Pollute the Environment with Dissonance: if you encourage people to make decisions, then let them make and learn from their decisions. The boss who laments that no one makes a decision and then metaphorically clubs anyone over the head who makes a decision without consulting her is polluting the environment with dissonance.

5. Run, Don’t Walk to Admit Your Mistakes: there are few better teaching moments when you as the leader take responsibility for a poor outcome. Admit it…share your lessons learned and how you will attack this type of an issue in the future and move on. Our instinct is to feign invincibility and omniscience when the right thing to do is admit that we are human and imperfect. Awkward…yes. The right thing to do: absolutely.

6. The Blame is Yours and the Praise is For Your Team: never put yourself in the spotlight, unless you are defending your team. When it works…it’s all them. When it doesn’t, it’s all you. No exceptions.

7. If You Want Someone to Trust You, Trust Them First. Too many shallow managers require that their charges earn their trust. Flip it around and offer your trust first. While someone will eventually abuse it, the many who thrive because of your upfront offer outweigh this risk.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Credibility is the leader’s currency. Without it, you’re effectively bankrupt. Making certain that your do matches your tell is a great place to start accumulating this precious asset.

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.

It’s Your Career—Priceless Perspectives of Experience

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!

During the past few years, I’ve talked to many 40 and 50-something professionals on how their perspectives and attitudes on personal and career issues have changed over time. Their insights are instructive and inspirational. Enjoy!

On Confidence:

  • The sky is not falling no matter how big the problem is we will find a way to deal with it.
  • I’m fearless on taking risks, because I know I’ll find a way to navigate through it and learn a great deal in the process.
  • While the world has changed, people haven’t. If you’re good in working with and through others, there’s no problem that cannot be solved, no matter how new and unique it is.

On Failing:

  • I’ve failed more times than I can count on my way to succeeding in my career. While it’s never the goal, it is a fact of life for anyone striving to achieve something.
  • I long ago learned not to sweat the small stuff that made me a raving lunatic of a manager when I was younger. It turns out that most of our issues are small stuff.

On Striving:

  • Success isn’t a solo sport. Others choose us to be successful and others help us along our journey to success.
  • It’s a lot more about the work and the impact of the work on others than it is about the pay or the title.
  • At the height of what I thought would be success…title and money, I was miserable. I had to learn to redefine success was for me, and it wasn’t title or money.

On Leadership:

  • It used to be about what I wanted. Now it’s about what they need.
  • To lead, I teach.
  • I take more chances on people I truly believe in, regardless of the conventional wisdom around me. The individual is my responsibility, not some other executive’s.
  • I give my trust instead of requiring people to earn it. It saves a great deal of time and eliminates the games.

 On Effectiveness:

  • I flail less, fail faster, teach more and help more and I’m more effective than I’ve ever been in my career.
  • My need to conquer the world in the next quarter has given way to the reality that people and teams evolve at their own pace, not the pace in my mind.
  • I used to be driven by fear. Fear of job loss. Fear of the boss lurking behind me. That stifled my creativity. I finally found my performance gear when I quit worrying about both of those things.

On the Future:

  • My best work is still ahead of me.
  • Every day is a great new adventure. Even the tough stuff feels more like fun than it used to.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you’ve got a few miles on you, take heart that you’ve earned the right to draw upon wisdom gained over time. If you’re just starting out, re-read these quotes and strive to realize them just a bit faster than the rest of us. You’ll be happy 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.

 

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management

TrippingNote to Readers: this column is rated “SM” for the representation of stupidity in management. Younger managers strongly cautioned.

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management:

1. He only lied when his lips were moving. The CEO announcing to all of a firm’s employees, “there will be no layoffs,” over a pizza lunch in the warehouse. Ten days later, there were layoffs.

2. Coordination is over-rated. An executive team who despised each other so much, they never met. What do you think happened to this business? You’re right.

3. It turns out, people have to want to change. The manager who early on in his career believed he could change a brilliant but difficult person into a brilliant and not so difficult person. (Crap, I was that manager.)

4. Rats, I should have picked the other door! The executive of the market leading firm who defiantly announced to his team, We will not play in the low end of this market. There are no margins there. We own the high end” It turns out that when the high-end disappears due to the disruptive competitor and you have no viable response, there are no margins when there are no sales.

5. Homer Simpson said it best: “Doh!” When the team cannot answer the question, “How many customers or prospective customers were consulted in the making of this strategy?” with anything greater than zero, you’ve got a problem.

6. How many monkeys with a typewriter do we need to recreate Shakespeare’s works? When the CEO brings 45 people together for a strategy offsite and proceeds to have that entire group wordsmith vision and values for the entire offsite, you shouldn’t expect greatness. Or coherence. Or lucidity. It was like the audience of a play simultaneously feeding the actors their lines…one by one by one… and then arguing with each other over which line or which nuance of a line was right.

7. Cats and Dogs Achieving Instant Karma. Every meeting that has ever been held anywhere between two different management teams suddenly thrust together due to merger or consolidation and charged with the task in the next two days of creating a unified vision and strategy. Yes, all of them. Every one.

8. Great Moments in Corporate Motivation. There was the corporate slogan author of this global firm who provided instructions to the printer that must have said something to the effect of, use the same slogan as last year. When the tube containing the new slogan was opened and the banner unrolled for the first time at the management meeting, guess what it said? Yep. “Same Slogan as Last Year.” Seriously.

9. “With a bit more time and money, we’ll get this right.” The team who convinced themselves that every failure put them closer to success. It turns out, that’s not always the case. Sometimes with a bit more time and money, you just waste more time and money.

10. “The inventory said, what?” The GM who very seriously accused his management team of not listening closely to the inventory. It turns out, the inventory had shared with the GM that it was ready to be sold.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The pursuit of effective management is a noble calling. It’s too bad that too many managers give it a bad name.

It’s Your Career—Strengthening Your Perceptual Acuity

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!

In my first post in this series, The Importance of Exercising Your Core-4 Professional Muscle Groups, I suggested that much like your physical core muscles there are 4 major professional skill sets that serve an analogous and important purpose in your life. Your leadership skills, your perceptual acuity, your operational acuity and your professional presence are all core skills that provide stability and support in growth, change or difficult circumstances, and like your physical core, these require on-going development and strengthening. This post offers some starter-suggestions for strengthening your perceptual acuity.

The ability to see around corners or, see over the horizon, are two phrases that relate directly to the idea of perceptual acuity. While we’re barred by physical faculties from literally achieving those feats of optical gymnastics, as professionals, we are accountable for attempting to translate the external noise from our customers, our competitors, the new developments in technology and the many other forces propelling our world and our industries and then making decisions to either exploit opportunities or mitigate risks.

Those who do this successfully…great strategists, product managers, management teams, entrepreneurs and innovators of all kinds, strive to see patterns and opportunities where the rest of us might see randomness. The emerging new products or services, winning strategies with positions in new or under-served markets or, new ways of more efficiently delivering on long-standing tasks, are all outcomes of being able to translate noise in the environment into insights and then actions. Of course, it’s hard work and it’s easy to be wrong. Risky yes, but essential for our organizations and for us in our careers.

Perceptual Acuity in Action:

One of the best product managers I’ve yet worked with was tremendous at integrating the insights he gained from customer input and competitor moves to propose and bring to market hit products. He was our competitive advantage in large part due to his remarkable perceptual acuity. When he left, we replaced him, but we never replaced the value he brought to us and to our customers. We continued to develop products, but they were either innovations for innovation’s sake (driven by technology) or, me-too type offerings in response to competitors. We lost our mojo.

Many of the innovations in our world…from Best Buy’s Geek Squad to car-sharing services like ZipCar to innovations in old, tired industries such as shoe retailing (think: Zappos), were conceived because someone or some group translated changing social, technological or consumer circumstances into a solution that customers discovered was incredibly helpful.

On a more personal level, we all face the challenging reality that the functions we perform and the tools we use will change dramatically over time. Estimates suggest that my children will change careers up to 7 times during their professional lives. I’m on career number 3 or 4 depending upon how you define career change. Our ability to tune our perceptual acuity to imminent changes will allow us to prepare and be proactive about our career changes, versus the uncomfortable reactive approach that too many have opted for by default.

5 Exercises to Help You Begin Strengthening Your Perceptual Acuity:

1. Become a Social Anthropologist—Start Scanning:

In my first post in this series, I suggested a short assignment as preparation for this topic. I encouraged you to spend some time just glancing through publications that you do not ordinarily encounter. I kept the list down to a few…Fast Company, INC, HBR blogs…the Management Innovation Exchange website etc., and I encouraged you to simply look for firms doing interesting things with new products or services…or even their own management practices. Read, observe and note.

I read far and wide every single day…now subscribing to a wide variety and significant volume of publications (all digital for easy portability during air or train travel) and I find one or two fascinating ideas worthy of potentially considering or adapting to my own environment or to a clients situation with every round of reading. From business practices to ideas to improve teamwork, or areas where my firm’s offerings might apply in solving a problem, this scanning work is essential and highly productive…not to mention profitable for my firms.

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing fame describes his habit of reading (or looking at) People Magazine as a means of tapping in to emerging social trends. And while you might not personally care who’s doing what to whom in Hollywood, John’s approach allows him to see emerging trends that he and his clients can connect to their own businesses. The insight gleaned in People might be a few degrees of separation from someone’s business, but remember, we’re looking for patterns in the noise. No one said there would be a map to winning new strategies or product innovations. (Remember, this is hard, creative work.)

Your Action: send your team off on an idea scavenger hunt in places different than your traditional stomping grounds of industry publications or tradeshows and challenge them to connect their observations to insights and possible actions.

2. Becoming a Social Anthropologist, Part 2: Observing:

One of the great habits of my very perceptive product manager described above was his approach to gaining customer insights. He was happy to talk with customers and ask questions, but most of his insights were gleaned from watching customers in their environment.

Our focus was on providing automation software and systems in production oriented retail environments (think: fast food) and this individual was incredibly insightful at translating the way people worked into ideas that could simplify and streamline processes, reduce costs and free-up labor to serve customers. He never would have gained the ideas for new products or systems simply by talking with clients.

Your Action: send your team out to your customers, but ensure that you gain ample time simply to observe. Again, you are looking for insights that translate to ideas and actions.

 3. Get Outside of the Jar:

My friend, Mike Maddock, Chairman of the innovation consulting firm, Maddock-Douglas, taught me to make certain to shift my view of the world from inside looking out. His constant reminder that you cannot see what’s on the label from inside the jar, has stimulated a wide-range of research work for my business, including calling upon experts of all varieties in dissimilar businesses who are dealing with or have solved similar challenges to those my firm is dealing with. While the feedback required a degree of analogic thinking and interpretation, the insights proved priceless.

Your Action: seek a trainer or practiced researcher for this one. (fyi, the team at Maddock Douglas is great at this.) Strive to identify individuals who deal with similar challenges but in very different industries. Let your researcher guide you through the process of gaining insights and feedback on how they view your problem and perhaps how they’ve solved it.

4. Starting Simple with Your Team—Use P.E.S.T.E.L.

This funny sounding acronym stands for: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal, and is a handy tool for teams taking their first steps in looking beyond their business and industry at what’s happening in the larger world that might impact them. One client leads the P.E.S.T.E.L. discussion with her team quarterly as part of their strategy review/refresh and asks the participants up to a month ahead of time to start scanning for trends and issues under each of those categories. During the live discussion, they review the items in detail and then focus very specifically on answering the question: What does this mean for us? (This is one of the most powerful, often unanswered questions you can introduce to your team.)

Your Action: introduce this simple technique into your team’s work. It doesn’t have to be part of a strategy process…it can simply serve as a tool to jump-start idea development.

5. Move Beyond Your Traditional Network(s) to Gain Insights:

Much like the theme of “getting out of the jar,” seeking opportunities to engage with professionals from very different industries (and cultures) is an excellent way to learn and to extend your thinking.

Theories of social networking suggest that the more diverse your networks are…and the better you are at connecting and engaging with these networks, the stronger you will be in gaining insights and access to know-how. Industry associations are important, but for this exercise, they’re less valuable than other professional settings. Ideally, you seek out groups where you can share issues and perceptions and have people do the same from their unique vantage points. CEOs do this frequently with networking groups that put them together with non-competitive CEOs…and the insights many report gleaning from these types of interactions are priceless.

Your Action: identify professional or networking organizations that are outside of your core industry and choose one or two to join. Ideally, search for a smaller group of professionals with similar challenges (e.g. product managers or marketing executives) or, a group of professionals who align around a desire to both give and gain (think: Mastermind group). Another action might be to enroll in an executive or professional education initiative where you come together with people from many different groups to focus on professional development. Remember to view these as opportunities to extend your network post session!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Strengthening your core professional skill of perceptual acuity is essential to helping you “see around corners” or “over the horizon” in your business and your career. Like physical exercise, it takes deliberate action. And much like physical exercise, it takes discipline to sustain the activity and leverage the outcomes. In a world where even change is changing, you must be looking, listening and translating the observations and insights by answering, “What does this mean for me/us?”

A great resource with a dedicated chapter on strengthening your perceptual acuity is Ram Charan’s, The Attacker’s Advantage.

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™ —The Inner Game of Leading

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!

A great deal of what’s written and spoken about leadership focuses on describing the actions most often associated with effective leaders. The actions are tangible…we can see them and observe their impact on people and we can mimic them in our own attempts at guiding, motivating and developing others. It’s good to mimic good behaviors. However, it’s important to remember that these actions of effective leaders are backed by a strong, personal belief in purpose.

The best leaders are guided by a deep and profound belief in what they are doing and why they are doing it. What propels them with energy and enthusiasm into every day and every situation is a well-formed, unyielding internal view on their role and the impact they have on others at every encounter.

The most effective leaders I’ve worked for or worked with are driven by something deeper than the pursuit of numbers or the results of a business scorecard. They view numbers as measures much like last quarter’s grades or barometric pressure or ambient temperature. They’re interesting…they’re indicative of something that happened and in some cases they foreshadow future changes, but they’re not the purpose. The numbers are not the drivers…they’re the mile markers.

Learning to lead effectively takes time and practice and ample failing. People who use roles responsible for leading others as stepping stones to personal reward treat others more like disposable supplies than the precious, remarkable works in process they truly are.

Alternatively, those who inspire us to reach and learn and eventually draw the best from ourselves are often driven by an inexhaustible fuel supplied through personal crisis.

In their classic article, “Crucibles of Leadership,” Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas offer, “the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.”

Yes!

For some of us, the personal crisis isn’t one calamitous event, but that moment in time when we begin to wonder about the bigger issues in life.

I frequently encounter experienced professionals striving to balance the tug-of-war between success and significance that engages so many of us during our middle years. They’re driven by a sense of time slipping away that only those of us who have lived awhile can appreciate. And they’re frustrated that whatever they thought they were looking for earlier in their careers has somehow eluded them thus far. They’re looking for “more” but not certain what “more” is.

Many have supervisory and managerial experience, but have spent little time thinking about or recognizing the reality of their ability to find both success and significance in the daily acts of leading. When awakened to the profound power and responsibility of their role to impact others positively, many have refocused and rededicated themselves to serving others as a means of achieving that sense of significance they found so elusive. Whether the individuals have been CEOs or as in one case, a supervisor in a hide rendering facility, their transformations into effective leaders has been remarkable and for them profoundly satisfying. The impact they’ve had on people around them…priceless.

These people shifted their mental models to focus on a definition of success and significance that eludes too many of us. They recognized the truth in the quote: “Be kind for everyone you meet is waging a great battle,” and they redefined as their goal to support others as they moved through their own crucible moments. And then they put this perspective to work through their actions.

These are indeed actions worth mimicking, particularly now that we understand the inner drivers behind the actions.

And don’t confuse this leading is serving perspective with softness. These people are fierce competitors in their markets and fair and effective at hiring, firing and developing. In many regards, their singular focus to make a difference for the people around them dramatically transforms the workplace environment and those numeric outcomes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The inner game of leading is profoundly personal and spiritual for each person. If you have the occasion to support the growth and development of others, recognize your ability to create the ripple effects that may well change the lives of people for the better. While not everyone will respond to you, it’s those who do that you are working for and serving. Now, it’s time to get your inner game of leading supporting your daily actions. After all, it’s the role of your lifetime.

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.

Leading the Project? Define Your Charter to Support High Performance

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

Effective leadership is a critical success factor for projects of all shapes and sizes.

And breathing is good for living.

It’s hard to argue with either of these statements, nonetheless, too many project managers deeply skilled in the mechanics of their vocation fall short on learning and practicing the soft-skills critical for high performance team development. When project fail…and too many do, there’s a safe bet that people-related issues are key contributors to the initiative’s demise.

Great project managers define their role beyond the project mechanics liberally. Working with team members at the front-end of the project to define the role and accountabilities of the project leader is a great practice that improves the odds of team success. The development of a Project Leader’s Charter is a simple, powerful technique that helps everyone involved gain a clear, consistent and comprehensive view of the leader’s role.

Great project leadership is both science and art. A large part of the role is about forming and framing the environment for your talented team members to do their best work in pursuit of meeting customer and stakeholder needs. Ensuring that you and the team define the values that drive acceptable behaviors to tackling the sticky issues of how decisions will be made to how the team will talk, work, decide, resolve and perform together are all captured in your Project Leader’s Charter.

Seven Simple Steps to Defining and Developing Your Own Project Leader’s Charter:

1. Start by Asking Questions: take the time to think deeply about what your role in creating success with this initiative should be. Meet individually and in groups to discuss the following:

  • What’s the nature of this project? Innovation? Implementation? New development?
  • How does the project connect to firm’s/customer’s strategic initiatives?
  • What are the critical success factors for this initiative to succeed?
  • What does this team need from project leadership to succeed?
  • The pre-post mortem, part 1: assume the project has concluded successfully, what might you imagine we would say about the project leader’s role and contributions to the success of this initiative?
  • The pre-post mortem, part 2: assume things went wrong and we failed to hit our objectives. Where did project leadership let us down?
  • You get a vote…ask and answer: what can I do to optimize our chances of success?

2. Write the Draft: armed with the input from your team members, write a draft of the charter. Start with, “My Charter as Project Leader is… .” Strive to minimize the cliché statements and use verb phrases that specifically describe what you will do and what you are accountable for with this initiative. Length isn’t incredibly relevant…from a few well developed sentences to a couple of paragraphs supported by bullets. Quality and clarity count more than length.

3. Review the Draft with Team Members and Solicit Feedback: the iterative nature of this activity ensures that team members buy-in to your role and clearly understand what to expect. An indirect benefit is that this will challenge them to think about their role as well. Revise and share the final draft.

(Best Practice Tip: one project manager I know has everyone on a team create and share their individual Charters with each other as a means of ensuring role clarity and visibility.)

4. Post the Charter: I love to see these shared in project documents as well as made visible and public for the duration of the project. Some Project Managers hang them in their offices or cubicles. Others grab wall space for project documents and ensure that this is visible in that public setting.

5. Live the Charter. Daily: the exercise of writing the Charter is healthy. Reading it daily and considering how to incorporate the key tenets in your day’s activities is priceless.

6. Remember the Charter When “It” Hits the Fan: something always go wrong at some point in time. The Charter is your guide to the right behaviors in the middle of whatever crisis is threatening your team. Return to it and develop your actions in concert with the behaviors and values outlined in the document.

7. Ask the Team to Evaluate Your Performance Using the Charter as a Guide. We learn by doing and feedback is part of the process of growing and improving. Ask your team members to evaluate your performance versus the key tenets and behaviors/activities identified in your Charter. Use this input as rocket fuel for improving with your next project adventure.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Striving for high performance should be the goal for every project manager on every project. It’s lofty, difficult and in some cases, the pursuit of high performance gets lost in the haste and pace to navigate the pitfalls and move the army forward. Let a carefully thought-through Charter serve as a guide to your True North during every project. Get your role right as project leader and the odds of success for the entire team, your firm and your customer improve dramatically.

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.

Just One Thing—Quit Playing Down to Their Level

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

Good competition raises the level of performance for all involved.

Whether in athletic endeavors or business, a skilled, aggressive competitor forces us to raise the quality of our own game. Strenuous competition with aggressive, skilled performers tests us physically and mentally and helps us find that extra gear needed to perform at our best.

Annoyingly, the opposite also seems to hold true. When the level of competition is low, we typically back off of our own best game.

In business, lack of aggressive competition or the lack of highly skilled performers results in a fat, dumb and happy cadence in the workplace. We lose our edge and we settle into a gear that minimizes stress and conserves fuel. Hunger disappears. The drive to innovate or to pursue excellence abates. Effectively, we play down to the level of the competition.

Great performers love to be around other great performers…whether on the same team or on opposing sides. Just the presence of highly skilled performers is enough to help us raise our performance expectations and levels. When confronted with the opposite, it’s awkward…less interesting and less motivating for them.

I see the negative form of this situation play out in the workplace in a number of different ways.

Good people with fresh ideas and new ways of approaching old problems find themselves swimming in a sea of toxic politics or suppressed by a crowd of collegial passive-aggressive types. Eventually, they grow tired of swimming against the tide and jump out in search of fresh challenges.

The brilliant individual contributor is hired to help lead the firm in a new direction and after the welcome messages fade, she finds herself in some form of alternate reality where heads nod in the right direction and people focus their energy in another. Some recognize this situation early in their tenure, and when solid efforts at coalition building yield little in the way of support, they leave…with most people failing to recognize the future of the business walking out the door.

The worst of all of these situations is a team of hard-working, capable people who are hungry to promote change but held back by poor leadership. In my experience, many of these people refuse to give in to the reality that the big changes they believe in and need to help the firm level-up are not forthcoming. They continue to raise the issues to little or no response and meanwhile, they execute their day jobs in good fashion, settling for any morsels of improvement they can drive. And slowly, over time, their expectations and their cry for “new” or “improved” reduces to an occasional whisper and they begin to accept the current state. This is when they’ve let the other players reduce the level of their game.

The gravitational pull of the status quo is strong. Moving from mediocrity towards excellence takes remarkable energy and great leadership. In the absence of great leadership, the acceptance of mediocrity across the culture wins.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

No business can thrive when key individuals or teams are playing down to a level that resembles mediocrity. No one can survive and thrive in their career by playing down a level. “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Either refuse to give up…find a way forward…or find a better team to play on.

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.

The Importance of Exercising Your Core-4 Professional Muscle Groups

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!

Our core body muscles groups…those muscles in your pelvis, lower back and abdomen all work in harmony to provide stability and to help propel us through our daily lives. A strong core is critical to long-term fitness health and stability, while a weak core leaves us susceptible to muscle injuries, lower back pain and other muscle-related maladies.

For the past seven months I’ve been involved in a rigorous physical regimen…a midlife makeover of sorts and for as much as I would gravitate to what my trainer calls the “mirror muscle” exercises, he has pushed me hard to balance my work and to ensure proper focus on my core muscles. The results for me have been transformational.

Much like our physical core, there’s a set of professional core muscles that require on-going exercise and development for optimum health.

Your Core-4 Professional Muscle Groups:

1. How we lead others…our leadership skills.

2. How effectively we translate noise and issues in the external world into patterns and then decisions and actions—our perceptual acuity.

3. How we present and handle ourselves in a variety of circumstances—our professional presence.

4. How well we’ve mastered the art and science of running our businesses—our operational acuity.

As we advance in our careers and strive for that next level of responsibility, our Core-4 professional muscles provide stability and support for our efforts and they help us propel through the issues in our businesses with confidence, character and energy.

For individuals living through what I term a Level-Up experience—a new role filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, the Core-4 professional muscles are what you will draw upon to navigate the new challenges in front of you.

When these Professional Muscles Atrophy, they Set Artificial Limits on Our Advancement:

I frequently encounter professionals who need help reviving or developing one or more of these professional muscle groupings as part of strengthening their own performance and/or striving to get to a new level of responsibility in their careers. In many cases, one or more of these under-developed professional skill sets serve as limiting factors in a person’s advancement.

  • A project manager had outstanding technical skills yet struggled to win the hearts and minds of her teams. The feedback on her was that she viewed people as resources to plug in where needed and her command and control style was off-putting to many. It was not viewed as a good day when someone was assigned to one of her projects. As she adapted her style to take on a more personal-professional approach, her team performance and post-project reviews both increased.
  • A great product manager striving for a promotion to vice-president was perceived by colleagues and senior managers as cold and aloof. While his business acumen and success in identifying offerings were undeniable, the presence factors worked against him at promotion time in a big way. Through video feedback he was able to see how others perceived him and coaching helped him strengthen his presence with staff and executive audiences. Once the presence improved, the barriers to promotion melted and he earned that VP slot.
  • A tactically excellent promotions manager was perceived as topped out because of his weakness in contributing to strategy work. A blend of education/training and strong coaching on looking externally and translating competitor and customer issues into ideas and opportunities for his firm helped strengthen his perceptual acuity and supported his rise to a new and broader opportunity.
  • A star on the factory floor was viewed as an excellent candidate to move into a broader operating role, however, his limited understanding of how other parts of the business functioned was viewed as a barrier. A blend of external education and internal assignment rotation helped round out his understanding of individual functions and how they connected, and several years later, he’s a star in a much more expansive operating role.

All of the individuals in these examples benefited from a great boss interested in helping them develop and grow. And all required development in one or more of the Core-4 professional muscle groups. While we’re not always fortunate enough to have that great boss…or in my case, that great physical trainer, every one of us is accountable to ourselves for spending time in our “professional gyms” and strengthening those critical components of our successful success.

Are You a Professional Couch Potato?

How hard are you working on developing your Core-4 professional muscle groups?

Much like the mid-life spread that too many of us fall victim to, it’s easy to let these muscles atrophy. When meeting prospective new coaching clients, I look and listen for how they spend their time developing themselves. What are they reading? What are they writing? Who do they engage with in social media? Are they pushing themselves by taking on new experiences in the workplace? Have they invested their own time and money on strengthening their skills?

It’s common for me to find mid-career professionals who have spent years metaphorically sitting on the couch doing nothing to exercise those critical muscle groups. Yes, work-life balance, children, family obligations are all facts of life for most of us as we move towards mid-career, however, ignoring the needs of your professional self for development is akin to ignoring the need to exercise and stay fit.

The next few “It’s Your Career” posts will offer you some practical guidance to help you assess your own Core-4 conditioning program and to identify and begin strengthening in those areas. And while having a trainer to guide your efforts, you still need to do all of the hard work.

Ready to hit the professional gym?

Here’s Your Warm-Up:

Our next post in this series will focus on one of the most overlooked of the Core 4…strengthening professional acuity. While the term is a bit odd, this focuses squarely on helping you improve your critical and strategic thinking. In preparation, invest some time scanning different business publications (FastCompany, INC, Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review) or their respective websites and look for examples of firms doing interesting things with technology, design or their business approaches. Take a few notes and we’ll put these to work in our next post.

 

Leadership Caffeine™—Uncertainty…Get Over It

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!

“Taking control of uncertainty is the fundamental leadership challenge of our time.” Ram Charan in the opening line of his latest book, The Attacker’s Advantage—Turning Uncertainty into Breakthrough Opportunities.

Frankly, this is a remarkable time to be in business and to be serving in a leadership role. The risks, fears of change, possibilities of disruption or the realities of creative destruction and non-destructive creation are all facts of our business lives and they create a remarkable backdrop for us to create…to innovate. But first, we’ve got to fight our natural tendencies when determining how to act in this environment.

3 Nearly Fatal Leadership Mistakes in this Era:

1. Waiting for Normal to Return.  Some leaders imagine a return to an environment that feels more like equilibrium. Newsflash…the new equilibrium is a constant state of disequilibrium. Quit waiting on this friend to return. She’s gone.

2. Fighting Unseen Dragons. Others have as their sworn duty the need to protect their firm against risks…known and unknown. This fear-driven response to the environment narrows the options and in some cases induces an organization-wide paralysis that nearly certainly leads to decline and death. If you’re not moving, you’re dying.

3. Striving to Control the Weather. Worse yet, some attempt to impose order on the big forces propelling ever faster change in our world. Whether it’s through traditional approaches to long-term strategic planning (oxymoronic) or expecting the customers and market to bend to the whims of leadership’s wishful thinking, the attempt to impose order on these forces is a lot like expecting you will succeed in making the weather respond to your bidding.

Welcome to The Leadership Blender:

For those of you comfortable being uncomfortable in what I describe as the leadership blender where speed and ambiguity are the order of the day, this is the best of times. As Charan suggests in his new book, the advantage goes to the attacker. Translation: the team that plays offense stands a greater chance of success than the firms striving to perfect their defense.

A great example of this in action was the software firm whose plans to merge with a larger, complementary firm were derailed in the immediate aftermath of that very bad day in September, 2001. Instead of hunkering down, the firm and the firm’s leaders bet it all on a new vision in the face of what was the most disorienting time in most of our lives. The competitors hunkered down…the attacker rewrote the rules of a market and won.

Open Season on Innovation:

For those leaders willing to emphasize action in the face of ambiguity, it’s open season on innovation with the most creative firms, entrepreneurs and leaders leveraging modern tools to reinvent old businesses in new ways…or to carve new markets from the unstated but insatiable needs of growing demand for things that help, amuse or simplify. Historically, we looked at these individuals and teams that took risks that seemed far-fetched and counter-intuitive as heroes. Today, these heroic qualities are essential for leaders.

While the traditional tools of effective leadership…respect, fairness, accountability, coaching, guiding…are timeless, there are a series of critical new skills that we must cultivate to succeed in this world of change.

5 Critical New Skill Sets for Today’s Leaders:

1. Leading Without Authority. In a world without traditional borders of time, geography and culture, the new leader must be capable of assembling and motivating temporary teams to seize opportunities. The goal is to bring the best resources available at the time to bear on a problem or an opportunity. A good number of the resources will have little formal accountability to the team leader, yet, they will be eminently accountable to the team for results.

Today’s role of Project Manager comes the closest to resembling tomorrow’s critical integrator leader…the individual who spans boundaries and disciplines and organizes resources to execute and then moves on to the next challenge. Sadly, this critical role is grossly under-positioned, narrowly defined, under-supported and under-developed in most organizations. In a world driven by projects around temporary and unique activities, building a strong project leadership culture and investing in growing great project managers is essential for survival and success.

2. It’s Leading AND Following. Smart teams will increasingly take responsibility for selecting their own leaders, with the sole criterion being the best person to enable success with the initiative at hand. Authority will come less from a title attempting to legitimize power and more from the belief that you are the absolute right person to enable us to succeed at this time with this initiative. An outcome of this “fitness for purpose” approach to team leader selection, will be the need for leaders to be comfortable and adaptable to a shifting role as leader one day and follower the next.

Our industrial revolution age style of hierarchical organizational structure and thinking fights this adaptive approach. Frankly, we need to adapt our thinking or risk obsolescence. Imagine your boss suggesting tomorrow that you relinquish your role and title of director or manager to someone else to play a role as an individual contributor on a strategic initiative. For many, it’s a horrifying…or at least uncomfortable thought that smacks of a demotion. In reality…to survive and succeed in this new reality, all of us will increasingly be asked to play a variety of different roles at different times. Your momentary title is not the issue. Your ability to lead today and support a project team tomorrow as a contributor with expertise and passion is what your firm needs to succeed.

3. Building Coalitions for Fun and Profit. Your success will increasingly be a function of your ability to tap talent, resources and knowledge in environments outside of your core function. Those who learn to connect disparate networks of resources will not only grow their personal power in an organization, but will be the ones tapped to lead the most mission critical, boundary spanning initiatives.

4. Learning to Exploit the Math (and the Data). The volume, access to and velocity of data represents one of the fundamental new forces and resources in our world. Charan in The Attacker’s Advantage, describes the need for organizations and leaders to become increasingly mathematical…to employ algorithmic approaches to vast quantities of data in pursuit of making decisions and adjusting direction. I agree. The ability to leverage data and the tools around data to select strategies, guide decisions and gauge and adapt to results will be table stakes for tomorrow’s leaders, yet too many of us operate blind to these tools or handicapped by organizations that missed this memo. Strive to develop your comfort and command of the tools of data and to incorporate them in the work of your teams. For many of us, first, we need to get our organizations on board with this mission critical task.

5. Actively Harnessing Diversity. Much like the accessibility to data described above, the access to resources of all ages, cultures and backgrounds offers remarkable opportunities for leaders. Learning to work across cultures and to build teams that blend backgrounds and generations is a critical job for anyone striving to lead in this world. Our technologies enable around-the-world collaboration, yet we must develop the cultural intelligence necessary not only to engage but to inspire blended groups to create something remarkable.

An additional opportunity in this category is the ability to blend the generations to leverage the experience of the oldest workers with the perspectives of the youngest. Much of the planet is aging quickly, and it’s reasonable to believe in many cultures that the older workers will remain involved in some form or fashion for years to come. Learning to blend and lead these mixed age teams is just another great opportunity for all of us.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are so many complex variables at work in our world today, that the level of predictability is almost nil. The days of long-range plans are dead, replaced by a mid-term vision and a series of short-term ideas and experiments. The practicing leader must be strategically and tactically nimble, able to quickly identify, select and execute upon opportunities in rapid succession…learning and adapting on the fly….but not hesitating. The old saying, “speed kills” is replaced with “without the right speed, we’re roadkill.”

The future is remarkably bright for those of you who thrive on change and that cultivate advanced interpersonal and political skills. Ultimately, you will succeed or struggle based on your ability to perform in an environment where the only constant is change.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Art of Managing—Helping Your Firm Navigate a Level-Up Situation

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

“85-percent of organizational problems are system related and only 15-percent are related to people.” –W. Edwards Deming

As managers, it’s our sacred responsibility to create and continuously improve an environment and system that allows our people to do their best work.

This system that Deming speaks of is an amalgam of the values, behaviors, processes and approaches in pursuit of the firm’s core mission that define the personality of an organization. The approaches and processes around decision-making, planning, developing talent and executing on projects and core operations are all part of the system. Innovation, creativity, employee and customer engagement and financial performance are critical outcomes of an effective system.

Few managers would disagree with their responsibility and accountability for creating this effective environment. Like breathing, it’s a good idea to invest time and energy in practices that promote a healthy, efficient and effective system. In reality, many firms do a good job of this in stable markets…the operative word being “stable.”

I’ve worked in and around many organizations where the firm’s leaders point proudly to a long string of successful years and effectively suggest that they’ve cracked the code of sustaining performance. Their organizations are well-tuned for the current state, the numbers are just good enough to keep stakeholders happy and employees have that swagger of consistent champions.

And Then “It” Happens:

“It” is most often some form of disruption…an unanticipated competitor move, a new market entrant, a disruptive technology innovation or some unexpected shock to society. Regardless of the source, change becomes the order of the day and the long-successful senior leaders react to the situation in a logical fashion and begin to talk about the firm moving down a new path with new strategies or approaches.

New initiatives and projects are born and the latest books consumed in search of answers or approaches that lead to answers. And when results aren’t immediately visible, energy and enthusiasm for experimentation and innovation wane and the pursuit of new consistently loses out to the gravitational pull of the old. From investment dollars and attention, the pursuit of new is often suffocated…for what seems like perfectly rational reasons chasing today’s problems. After a period of time, the wheels on the vehicle that is the effort to pursue new begin to wobble and parts start to fly off as the firm races towards an uncertain destination via an unknown path through uncharted terrain.

With apologies for mixed metaphors, the ride begins to resemble Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing and horrifying post-presidential journey deep into uncharted portions of the Amazon, as he and his colleagues navigated all manner of disasters and dangers as they followed the aptly named River of Doubt.

Once the dangers become visible and the wobble of the wheels sensed by everyone, the fun begins. That is if you find journeying through organizational and career hell some form of perverse fun.

The Level-Up Opportunity:

This moment in time when a firm faces the critical need to change is what I describe as a Level-Up opportunity.  Level-Up opportunities typically involve individuals, teams or entire firms learning to navigate situations of extreme ambiguity and potential peril. We face them as individuals in our careers as we take on new challenges and climb the ladder of responsibility. Organizations face Level-Up opportunities as they strive to do something new…develop and implement a new strategy, move to a new market, capture a new group of customers or pursue an innovation they perceive will leverage their strengths and enhance their fortunes.

It’s somewhere during the flailing phase at the front-end of of a Level-Up situation that people recognize that the old system doesn’t work for new needs. Sure, business the old way continues just fine, after all the system is optimized for the old. However, when it comes to new, the gears grind, the engine smokes, rpms rise and speed slows to a crawl.

It’s time to change the system.

The old ways don’t work for new markets, customers, technologies or business models. It’s also at this time where too many senior leaders choose the wrong paths and tactics. Like Roosevelt’s team attempting to descend a seemingly never-ending number of treacherous rapids and falls during their journey down the River of Doubt, what worked for us at the last rapid or fall results in us smashing our canoes to bits on the rocks in this new environment, endangering lives and squandering precious time and resources.

Beware the Siren Song of Two Powerful Actions:

There are two reflexive actions by senior managers that often exacerbate the wobble. The first is a creeping belief that the people that brought them this far aren’t the right people for the journey ahead. They begin to doubt the abilities of their people to learn, adapt and succeed.

The second mistake is to assume that the organization’s structure is at fault. It’s not. It’s the strategy and system.

While there are nuggets of truth in both of these reflexive thoughts, the actions must be filtered against a clear strategy and tempered appropriately or you risk making a difficult situation impossible.

Change is difficult. Ambiguity and complexity are powerful adversaries in the fight for successful change, and while no simple list of ideas offer the absolute right answers, these seven are intended to help you strive for clarity and simplicity while learning to deal step by step with ambiguity.

Seven Ideas to Help Your Firm Navigate a Level-Up Opportunity:

1. Senior Executives Must Link Arms on the New Strategy Direction. Easy words…damned difficult to achieve in practice. Most senior leaders struggle to show up in the same zip code on strategy much less end up on the same page in the same book in the same house. CEO leadership is essential here…with clarity as an absolute and once the direction is set, senior manager compliance essential. Fight it out with vigor and honor, but link arms and go forward aligned and resolute.

2. It’s Not a Strategy If No One in the Firm Understands It. The hard work of strategy begins after the boardroom brawling ends on this topic. Your job is to simplify the strategy and ensure that everyone not only gets it, but sees how they play a role in supporting it.

3. Remember, It’s Not Important to People Just Because You Said it Is. Don’t assume awareness equals either understanding or support. Your approach to strategy development and then execution task definition and implementation must get everyone involved in offering input and backing words with actions..

4. Bet on Your People First and then Acquire to Fill Key Gaps. There’s no doubt that anything new requires education, training and yes, some fresh perspectives from people immune to the firm’s dominant logic. Strive to objectively assess the skills needed for the new strategy and then focus on whether those skills can be learned, trained or whether they must be acquired. We’re too quick to assume acquisition is the answer…when the reality is that your good people are typically hungry for something big and new to do and willing to pour their hearts and souls into it. (For people who resist new learning and new directions, drop them off politely and professionally at the next rest stop. You’ve got no time to waste.)

5. Tune the Organization to Align Superpowers with Key Opportunities. Instead of assuming that a new structure is the solution….something that often emerges from these challenging and frequently political battles over change, use as your emphasis aligning the absolute best resources with the biggest opportunities. Strategy should highlight the best opportunities…now, plug in the people with the right superpowers to succeed for each key opportunity. More often than not, wholesale restructuring squanders precious time and creates confusion. The Superpower-to-Opportunity approach reduces resistance and accelerates the time to implementation so critical in this situation.

6. Use Formal Project Management Practices to Execute the Key Strategy Initiatives. Most strategies breakdown in the execution phase…not the idea phase. For your key initiatives, establish formal project teams complete with an executive sponsor, a clear charter and scope and a well define project team with priorities and targets. Then use this project-focus to provide visibility into progress and to capture lessons learned along the way.

7. Use Process Mapping Relentlessly to Support Building the New System. The work of mapping out key processes around selling, marketing, supporting, deciding, measuring etc. is priceless. Remember that the gravitational pull of “we’ve done it this way” is extremely powerful. Process Mapping helps identify opportunities for new approaches and of course, it highlights flaws, blind spots, inefficiencies and in general it supports cross-functional collaboration and learning.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Deming was once asked what he hoped his legacy would be. In the interview (I paraphrase), he responded quickly with, “I’ll doubt I’ll be remembered at all.” Then after thinking about it, he offered, “I would like to be remembered for trying to help (American) companies from committing suicide.”

The seven suggestions above are not foreign to most senior leaders. They reflect some good commonsense. However, their use in synchronization is way too rare. When striving to navigate a Level-Up opportunity and adapt your system to changing circumstances, using these ideas is like breathing…a really good idea. Anything else has a bad outcome. Now, breathe…

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.