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.

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—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.