Leadership Caffeine—In Challenging Times, Keep Fear and Failure Outside Looking In

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!

Every organization and every team runs into challenging spots. Life and business don’t always work as planned. “Man plans and God laughs,” as my former CEO would recite.

It’s the rough patches that teach you and require you to cultivate your leadership character, and part of this is keeping fear at bay and the specter of failure out of mind and out of the vocabulary of your team.

Every manager and senior leader looks like a genius when the tide is rising and business is good. All too often however, the rising tide masks the real issues of performance and the gaps in strategy and execution that become painfully visible as the rising tide slows and begins to recede.

The tendency at the initial sign of challenge….a missed quarter or two, or a blown forecast, losing ground to a competitor is to flail. While we don’t set out to flail, a series of knee jerk reactions around cutting costs and killing programs or adopting a series of “short-term” fixes, shout FLAIL to everyone around us.

Once the flailing starts, fear and failure sensing a weakness in the defenses, begin to insert and assert themselves in the minds of your team members. Needless to say, nothing good happens when a team or organization suddenly falls victim to fear.

Deming’s point #8 paraphrased: managers must strike fear out of the organization.

6 Ideas to Keep Fear and Failure On the Outside Looking In:

1. Be open and transparent with your team about the challenges. Nothing invites fear and failure to the party like keeping bad news from people. Everyone knows when things aren’t going right, but what they don’t know is whether it’s bad or really bad.

2. Invite your team to be part of the solution. More than a few leaders have fallen victim to the “I am in charge, I have to come up with the solution” trap. Effective leaders understand the power of harnessing the team’s collective gray matter around key problems.

3. Resist the urge to substitute a well-developed long-term strategy with temporary, short-term compromises. It takes leadership courage to stay the course in the face of short-term headaches…this courage is something that is all too lacking in many organizations.

4. Do recheck the core assumptions around your strategy. While I don’t want you to sacrifice the long-term for short-term, I don’t want you to blindly grasp to something that isn’t as well baked as you might have thought. It’s a good time to review your strategic thinking and then to assess whether the execution approach is serving you well.

5. Redouble your efforts to celebrate victories…even the small ones. Success begets success, and it does nothing but help when you single out the successes during a challenging period.

6. Don’t stop the talent machine. Keep supporting the development and growth of your team members and don’t stop working to get the right people on the bus and those who don’t fit, off the bus. No timeouts on talent allowed!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your greatest successes will come from navigating challenging situations. It’s the hard times that require you to operate at your professional best and it’s during these times when you learn what it means to truly lead. Although it might seem odd to suggest it, enjoy the challenges, as you will not pass this way again and you will not find a better teacher.

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.

Leadership Caffeine—The Struggles Really Do Make Us Stronger

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom-Line for Now:

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

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

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

 

Leadership Caffeine—Why Should Anyone Trust You to Lead?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distilled from the workshops and courses:

Five Big Credibility Killers:

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

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

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

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

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

The input on building credibility as a leader:

Five Big Credibility Builders:

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom-Line for Now:

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

So, why should your team trust YOU to lead?

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

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

 

Leadership Caffeine—Ideas to Help You Adjust Your Attitude and Improve Performance

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!

While Woody Allen offered, “80 percent of success is just showing up,” I might politely suggest the phrase is missing a key ingredient: attitude.

There’s a profound difference between showing up and showing up with the right attitude.

Our attitude is visible on our faces, discernible in our words and palpable in our body language. If you’re having a bad attitude day, month or lifetime, you can be certain that everybody you come in contact with knows it and feels it. When you walk into a room with a lousy attitude, it’s like a storm front approaching. Everyone sees it and wonders how bad it’s going to get.

The impact of a lousy attitude extends quietly outward, systematically poisoning the working environment.

Think of managers you’ve worked for that projected a pissed-off, mad at being born and madder at having to deal with you and your colleagues, demeanor. What did that feel like?  How did people react to this person? How effective was this leader?   (And while you would like to believe that these characters don’t end up in leadership roles, inexplicably, they do.)

Alternatively, think of managers and leaders you’ve encountered that projected a pragmatically positive perspective, even in the darkest of times and most troubled of situations. Their impact creates a ripple effect that promotes progress, problem solving and innovation. Positive leaders beget a positive environment.

Of course, even genuinely positive people have bad moments as well. I found myself recently in a setting where I couldn’t find a single positive reason why I was there and it took every ounce of energy to attempt to remain engaged and interested. I suspect I failed. For others, the speeding ticket on the way to work, troubles on the home-front, the shadow of a family member’s illness or any one of a number of life’s issues can put pressure on the best of attitudes.

Regardless of circumstances, when you hit the office, it’s best to mentally shift gears and focus on your bigger purpose.

Preparing Your Attitude is a Daily Ritual:

I love the daily ritual for “preparing her attitude,” shared by one manager in a workshop.  “Every morning, after arriving at work, I sit in my car for a few minutes and think about how I will measure success today. I focus on the impact that I want to have on people around me, and I remind myself that I’m in my role as a leader at the discretion of those I serve. This act of focusing helps me push out all of life’s and the morning’s stress points.”

Priceless advice for success! I’ve suggested this to a great number of coaching clients and they’ve applied it to success. So, if you walk past a colleague sitting in her car in the parking lot, lost in thought, know that she’s simply adjusting her attitude for success in the upcoming work day. Perhaps you should give it a try, you and your colleagues might be pleased with the results!

In case you are in need of a little attitude adjustment, consider the following ideas:

5 Ideas to Help Prepare and Sustain a Positive Attitude:

1. Vow to measure success by progress made, not distance left to travel. Instead of focusing on the magnitude of workplace problems, consider how important it is for you and your team members to take positive steps towards resolving them. Turn your attention to identifying obstacles that you can clear away and plan on valuing your daily success by how far you’ve helped team members travel.

2. Shift your view on the workplace as battleground. Nothing poisons an attitude more than viewing the workplace as a battleground filled with adversaries or enemies. Every meeting isn’t a fight…it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas and develop approaches. The person arguing with you likely has an underlying interest that he/she has not disclosed and yet you seem to be fighting over positions. Strive to understand by asking questions and then strive for agreement on positions. If you’ve burned bridges across the workplace, resolve to invest time every day in repairing at least one relationship. If necessary, be the bigger person and apologize. And then move forward.

3. Rethink and reset your daily priorities. What are the most important items you must make progress on today? Chances are they don’t involve clearing your e-mail in-box, rearranging your office or sitting in seven status update meetings. Too many managers navigate their days without making serious headway on the issues that will move the performance indicator for the firm and the team. Mentally reorder your priority list and put the people and problem issues you’ve been avoiding at the top of the list.

4. Plan to quality-check yourself in real-time. Ask yourself after every encounter: “Did I live up to my commitment to help?” If the answer is, “no,” retrace your steps and fix the problem immediately.

5. Remind yourself: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  Whether it’s the speeding ticket, family challenges, self-esteem issues or career frustration, every person you encounter is waging some internal battle. Respect the person and impact them positively and you will be easing that burden just a bit. Empathy is a virtue in leaders.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You choose your attitude every-day and for every encounter. Spend a few minutes today reminding yourself of the responsibility you have to serve and help others, and prepare your positive attitude before you walk in the door. And when you end your day, remember to measure your successes instead of dwelling on your failures.

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.

 

 

Leadership Caffeine—In Praise of Mistakes Made for the Right Reasons

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

The true test of your leadership character isn’t measured by the absence of mistakes, but rather by the mistakes made in pursuit of growth and learning AND how you conduct yourself once you’ve made a mistake.

Show me a mistake-free leader, and I’ll show you someone hiding from the real issues confronting the business: people and strategy.

People:

People are complicated. In spite of the myriad of assessment tools at our disposal, selection is still a judgement call with all of the inherent risks and biases of human decision-making. And the challenge of aligning skills and experiences with tasks while searching for that spark that stimulates people to work at their creative best is truly much more art than science.

You will make mistakes on people. Make them for the right reasons. Taking a chance on good people for the right reasons is worth the risk every day.

Remember, character always gets a positive vote. After a certain age, character is formed and nothing you can do will alter someone’s core character. You cannot change someone. Assess character carefully. Look for behavioral examples around values, and if the view is dissonant, it’s a non-starter.

Passion and desire are powerful reasons to take a chance on someone, even if others around you suggest this person isn’t right for a role. I like betting on the underdog if I’ve done my homework on the individual. Taking chances on people who show that extra spark is part of the essence of leadership. Much like character, you cannot teach passion, you can only help it emerge.

The greatest rewards I’ve enjoyed as a leader come from those people I selected against popular wisdom because I saw something. Of course, “something” is hard to codify and I’ve been wrong here as well. It doesn’t mean I will stop taking chances.

Strategy:

Much like the challenge of selecting and inspiring people to apply their talents, strategy is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. Choosing what to do and importantly, what not to do is a core management task, yet human judgement in all its brilliance and all of its flaws is once again at the center of strategic decision-making.

Even in our data-driven world, selecting and then executing a strategy is like walking through a minefield on a fresh lava-flow blindfolded. There’s a high probability that somewhere between choice of path and the journey down that path, you will misstep with painful results. Assuming the essence of the strategy is sound, often, you can recover, adapt and proceed from execution missteps. These non-fatal errors are powerful learning experiences, teaching you and everyone around you how to spot gaps, fill in blind-spots and redouble efforts to get execution right.

While many view strategy as an event, with an outcome that is carved in granite and the granite set in concrete, in reality, it is effectively a testable hypothesis backed by a series of experiments. In a military metaphor, you engage in a series of skirmishes designed to test defenses and learn terrain, and then you push to conquer the ground. These skirmishes are the teaching experiences and your mistakes here are part of the process of figuring out how to get it right. The only mistake is not to decide to take action.

The best leaders I’ve worked around understand the need for the missteps. No one actively seeks them out, but they are an inevitable part of the pursuit of success.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The least interesting professionals to me are those who cannot articulate a litany of mistakes on their way to their successes. The absence of mistakes…or, the unwillingness to admit prior mistakes is a character flaw and as mentioned above, there are no compromises when it comes to character. There’s no guarantee that some of your own mistakes won’t have painful consequences. Nonetheless, the mistakes made for the right reasons…in favor of great people and in pursuit of business success, are simply tickets to admission. Pay the price, take your lumps, learn and keep moving.

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.