Leadership Caffeine™—Resist the Urge to Shield Your Team from Bad News

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

In difficult situations, reality tinged with optimism and backed by encouragement serves as a more effective motivator than a saccharine-sweet message of false praise and manufactured positivity.

The fact is, we’re not always fine. Strategies don’t always work. Mistakes happen. Competitors confound our best attempts and deals delay or derail. Stuff happens, and your attempt to reinforce a false reality will confuse people who expect and need honesty and transparency from you.

I see this dissonant messaging in action when I’m called upon to work with struggling firms or teams. The leader…often the CEO, is concerned about demoralizing the group and instead of shooting straight, obfuscates the reality of the situation with an overdose of praise and ginned up optimism. Unfortunately, this approach generates confusion (people are adept at sensing reality) and fails to do the one thing most critical to navigating the problems…draw people into the good and hard work of finding the solutions.

The Positive Side of Shooting Straight:

I observed a manufacturer navigate a complex quality problem by shooting straight with employees and customers as soon as the problem surfaced, and then making heroic efforts to remedy the problems. This was a potential lawsuit inducing, firm-killing issue and while navigating it was expensive and uncomfortable, the clear, transparent communication galvanized employees to act and actually strengthened the firm’s relationship with a number of key customers.

Another firm was failing to gain traction with a new strategy. The approach would push this firm into new arenas and the gravitational pull of the past resulted in half-measures and  halfhearted enthusiasm for the new direction. The top management took this issue to the employee population by both explaining the strategic rationale and importantly, educating everyone on the declining number of opportunities in legacy markets. The presentation was supported by a company wide review of key financial indicators and trends and a lot of discussion on what it really meant to move to this new market. Armed with new knowledge and clear on the very real need to succeed, the firm’s employees pulled together and not only succeeded in the new market, they became more adept at managing costs and selectively pursuing profitable opportunities in legacy markets.

Both of these very real cases required senior leaders to get out in front of the message. Without broad employee awareness and support, there was no hope.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While the need to remain positive in dire circumstances is understandable and indeed very human, keeping your employees in the dark will work against you. You’re not protecting them… you are keeping them from getting involved. Resist the urge to shield your employees from reality. Share the facts, offer your assessment and insure that everyone has the opportunity to ask questions and offer ideas. You want to get people in front of the real issues holding you back and give them a voice in finding and implementing solutions.

 

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—Be Careful About Labeling Your Employees

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.

There’s an interesting article at Harvard Business Review, entitled, “How to Manage a Team of B Players,” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. I appreciate the author’s attempt at describing the leadership challenge and approach to molding a group of “ordinary” individuals into a high performance team. He offers some compelling guidance. I am however, uncomfortable with his easy use of the term, “B-Players.”

And while I am absolutely guilty in the past of using the A, B, C, designation to characterize individuals and their level of skill/capability/potential, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the cavalier assignment of people to these categories. It’s a crutch that I gave up. In my experience, the labels are often misused or abused to mask managerial laziness. Now, when I see it in print, I flinch.

As mentioned in the article, Jack Welch popularized this designation during his tenure as Chairman and CEO of GE, with the notion of turning B-players into A-players, moving C players to B and letting the A-players stretch and run. And while Welch might have had some rigor in his assessment and categorization approaches (along with his forced ranking system), for the rest of us, the cavalier use of these labels is lazy and potentially destructive.

And yes, I get that every person comes to us with different skills, aptitudes and perspectives. I love challenging those ready to navigate big, hairy, ambiguous situations and I love watching others grow into their own by leveraging their skills and capabilities and inner drive. What I truly dislike however, is a categorization Back to Schoolsystem that in very simple fashion draws upon our lifetime of school grading (A=excellent, B=Very Good, C=Average) and mostly assigns people in an arbitrary manner to a particular group, thus altering their options, opportunities and futures. It’s just lazy management and in many cases, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those being labeled.

Labeling a person a C-player is effectively sealing their fate on your team or in your organization. The connotation is some combination of not smart/not motivated/lousy attitude and managers are quick to write these people off instead of focusing on coaching behavior changes, providing training or varying assignments to better match the real skills of the individuals. Give someone the label of C-player, and you’re capitulating on your responsibility to manage and develop. It’s a way to fast-track a perceived “problem” out of your daily life.

The B designation is even trickier. When polling managers on what they interpret when they hear that someone is a B-player, I hear words such as solid, dependable, journeyman, along with some qualifiers that justify a label other than A or C. Again, this categorization paints a scarlet letter on the forehead of the individuals and dictates a certain, limited level of attention and support. In looping back with managers who had classified a number of their employees as B-players, I’ve rarely encountered a change in label, particularly from B to A. Once the view of someone is locked in as second-tier or second-class or B, it’s difficult for the individual to shake that label.

Every one of us is a work in process. There are indeed circumstances where someone’s combined attributes don’t fit our needs. There are mismatches between the environment and people. There are situations where you have to choose to invest more or cut. Just don’t take the easy way out by lumping someone in a category and then leaving them there to grow old. Your first job is to get the right people in the right roles. And yes, sometimes it takes creativity and effort.

Put your so-called B-player into the right role or a different environment and they may very well swim circles around your designated superheroes. Find the right combination of coaching and challenge and support and watch your so-called C player blossom into a remarkable performer.

And yes, I get that what I’m describing was the intent of the author in the article. His intent is positive. I simply rankled at the focus he placed on the label. It opens up too much potential for misuse and abuse.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Beware the easy and cavalier assignment of labels. It’s not that simple.

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™—Running Uphill Against the Wind

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

The oft-cited and disturbingly dismal numbers reported about employee engagement tell an interesting story about leadership effectiveness…or the lack thereof.

In my own experience, professionals and workers who are engaged have a number of very common characteristics. They care deeply about their work. It’s a reflection in part of who they are as human beings and they have a fierce desire to not only strive and succeed, but to help their coworkers and their organizations succeed. They see the flaws in the workplace and genuinely strive to be part of the solution. They have an emotional attachment to their work and their workplace that transcends the pay for hours provided.

And they respect their firm’s leaders. They feel supported, challenged and safe.

There’s another group…perhaps the largest group in aggregate. These are individuals who WANT to care deeply about their work, however, something is fundamentally wrong in the working environment, pushing them to operate mostly in “safe” mode as a survival mechanism. They have no emotional attachment to their workplace and they most definitely don’t feel good about their bosses.

Sadly, this latter group is sizable, and likely contributes mightily to the disturbing size of the “we’re not engaged” numbers. The root cause of this situation isn’t a flaw in the people, it’s a flaw in the system of management in these firms, and particularly, it reflects fatally flawed leadership.

When I’ve surveyed or interviewed individuals in this latter group, the input is consistent. There’s some combination of not being treated with respect, being micro-managed, being verbally abused, not being challenged and supported to grow that combine to create these very dysfunctional environments.

All of these behaviors are easily identified, and while often not curable across the firm and up and down the organizational ladder, they are curable by YOU in your immediate environment.

We have an interesting tendency to mimic the behaviors of those around us, and in organizations, the behaviors modeled by those in senior leadership roles tend to be the behaviors adopted by everyone in managerial or supervisory positions. However, you don’t have to fall into this vicious failure trap.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already likely self-selected yourself into the group of “I care.” Now, take the time to look hard at your own behaviors. Are you creating an environment with your team that is safe, free from toxicity and genuinely focused on helping people strive and grow? If not, you’ve got some work to do, or you’re at risk of being part of the problem.

 The Bottom-Line for Now:

An early mentor of mine impressed upon me the reality that even in a sea of aberrant organizational behaviors and lousy leaders, I should always strive to create a calm zone where people valued their work and felt respected and appreciated. He was right. It’s hard work…you’re running uphill and against the wind. But it’s the good work you’ll be proud of when you look in the mirror. Don’t accept dysfunction and lack of engagement as inevitable. It’s time to start running uphill.

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 Alchemy of Great Leadership

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

Alchemy, according to Malouin in the Encyclopedia of Diderot, is the chemistry of the subtlest kind which allows one to observe extraordinary chemical operations at a more rapid pace-ones that require a long time for nature to produce.

Newsflash, there are no shortcuts to great leadership. Much like the failure to change nature’s principles in search of longevity or turning lead into gold, one’s ability lead develops slowly over time and with much strain.

10 Lessons Learned in Search of Success as a Leader:

 1. You’re always an apprentice. If you think you’ve mastered this, you’re failing. Approach each day eager to learn another lesson, and you will. Approach each day assuming you’ve got this role licked, and you’ll get clobbered when you least expect it.

2. Great leaders require great missions. It’s the humdrum of the mundane of the status quo that squashes the spirits of leaders and the people around them. If you’re not on a mission, create one. If you’re leading others, know that your job is to define the mission. Not the mission statement…the mission.

 3. The only job harder than leading is likely being a mother. Scratch that…mothers are the original leaders.

 4. What you did yesterday doesn’t count. What you’ll do tomorrow doesn’t count. Lead today…it’s the only day that counts.

5. You’re supposed to be uncomfortable. That’s the job. Get over it. Get used to it. Revel in it. Or, get another job.

6. No one does anything for you…they do it for themselves.

7. Sometimes you have to push the ones with the greatest potential out of the nest. Your instinct says to do everything possible to retain them. The right thing to do is to help them find the best opportunities to grow. Even if that means shoving them on their way.

 8. Enjoy the burn. It’s the tough days and tough issues, especially your failures that mold you into a better leader.

9. Hire people who’ve struggled and persevered. I’ll take the person who held down three jobs to pay for college while caring for the sick relative any day of the week.

10. Pedigree is interesting, but character counts. When hiring, hire for character first and the rest will follow.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning to lead effectively. Get on with it, you’ve got some mistakes to make…just make them faster to succeed sooner.

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 Strong for June 26, 2015

Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster!

Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster!

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

1. Reboot professional development discussions with your team members.

Too many of us leave the topic of professional development for our team members to annual review timing. That’s a mistake. Motivated employees are interested in identifying opportunities to gain new experiences and further their careers all of the time, not once per year. You owe it to them to bring this discussion to the table at least quarterly.

For today, reach out to your team members individually and let them know that their professional development is on your mind. Schedule some one on one time in the next two weeks to catch-up on the plans for the year established during the annual review, or make a commitment to work together to identify a series of on-going developmental experiences. While training might be a part of the program, don’t default to this catch-all category. Your team member may well benefit more from a new assignment or opportunity to lead a project team rather than sitting behind a table in a classroom.

If you need a little incentive, know that supporting a team member’s professional development by investing time and defining and supporting them in learning opportunities and new challenges is a tremendous way to show that you respect them and to build loyalty.

Schedule the discussions and commit to making this a regular part of your management routine.

2. Stimulate discussion on topics that count.

Interested in stimulating ideas on ways to strengthen your team, your leadership or your activities with your customers?  Take time with your team to watch a Ted Talk. And then discuss it. I’ve long been a fan of any activity that exposes people to the ideas of others. The gravitational pull of the urgent in our jobs keeps most of us staring out at the same view to the parking lot day after day. Change the view and leverage books, articles, or in a group setting, one of the great Ted Talks available on demand and at no charge.

A quick search on the topic, “Top Ted Talks for Leaders” serves up a variety of lists of some remarkable presentations certain to stimulate discussion and idea generation. As an alternative, go crazy and expand your search beyond business or leadership and challenge your team members to connect how the ideas in the video might be meaningful to your firm or your customers.

One manager I know does this weekly, complete with popcorn and beverages and it’s become a much anticipated ritual on Friday afternoons. Of course, remember, the goal is to find ideas that can be put into action, so some gentle facilitation of the post viewing discussion will support linking it back to improving something in your workplace. The simplest of all facilitation questions are often the most valuable. Try, “what does this mean for us?” and see what the group has to say.

OK, that’s it for this week. Congratulations on finishing strong! Enjoy the weekend and come back on Monday ready to conquer the world. -Art