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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Caffeine—3 Questions To Help You Cultivate Your Leadership Style

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!

I can tell you with absolute certainty that I didn’t think about my own leadership style for a large part of the first decade of my career.

I didn’t care at the time. It wasn’t relevant. Although in hindsight, I certainly had a style, it was more muscle than finesse.

My focus was on driving results through people and pushing, pushing, pushing. It was a simple formula. Drive results + make bosses happy = growth in responsibility and income. And it worked. The results were there, but the relationships were shallow…mostly transactional, and the work was less than rewarding. There was little consideration for the bigger picture of the people or environment I was creating.

I was managing, and as it turns out, and not very effectively. There certainly was no visible sign of leadership in my approach.

Fortunately, a wise senior manager took me aside and suggested I would be more effective over the long haul if I quit acting like a machine and started acting like a human who cared about people at least as much as he cared about results. He suggested that I was leaving, money, performance and the growth of people on the table, and he challenged me to think long and hard about the type of leader I wanted to be.

I am grateful to this day for that leadership wake-up call.

Over the months following the “machine” comment, he regularly challenged me with a number of provocative questions that ultimately shifted my focus from results at all costs to results through supporting and developing others. How will you answer these questions?

3 Leadership Questions to Help You Cultivate Your Leadership Style:

1. At the end of your career at your retirement party, how do you want people to describe the impact you had on them?

I remember laughing at this one. Retirement seemed a long way off then, and today, it just feels like a foreign concept. Nonetheless, this good question challenged me to consider the impact I was having on each individual versus thinking solely about the numbers and achievements. With a few more years under my belt and many remarkable accomplishments from my teams and for my firms, I care very little about the glories of great numbers…those are outcomes. However, I am fiercely proud of the great people who have developed on my watch and their many subsequent career and life successes. This question made me pivot in my thinking about my role.

2. Who are the leaders from history or in your life (not just business) that you most admire? Why? What was/is it about their approaches or actions that you find inspirational and instructive?

I still love this question and I use variations of it in my different programs and classes. I became (and remain) a student of history and a passionate observer of the effective and ineffective leaders in my firms and in my life. In particular, I’ve developed a long-term obsession to better understand how leaders facing great adversity dealt with their circumstances.

3. What type of environment do people need to prosper and do their best work, AND what is your role in creating this environment?

This compound question in particular has served as the foundation for my exploration of and experimentation with teams and approaches in pursuit of high performance. Ultimately, the leader sets the environment and issues of respect, trust, credibility and accountability are all wrapped up in forming and framing the environment for high performance. Most of us intuitively understand this at some level, but the question is are you living it every day?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Feedback that drives introspection supports growth. The comment that I was acting like a machine irked me. In hindsight, it was pivotal in my career. I’ve enjoyed myself more and I have a reasonable belief that I’ve helped people grow and have helped my firms and teams prosper because of my active cultivation of a style based on my answers to the questions above. Try spending some time thinking about the leadership style you want to cultivate, and then do it.

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—Prosper by Making Time Every Day to Just Think

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!

If your typical day resembles the one that most of us experience in the corporate environment, it’s a series of meetings interspersed with a series of transactional exchanges that might be better described as interruptions.

There’s little of that elusive and precious asset called “quality time” on our calendars or in our days. The steady drumbeat of deadlines is constantly playing in our minds and at times, it feels like there’s a fire to fight around every corner. When we’re given the opportunity to be creative, it’s often in forced marches through meetings with the labels of “planning” or “brainstorming.”

Our days are filled with what has been described as “unproductive busyness.” We sprint from meeting to meeting letting the Outlook calendar drive our days. And even when we’re supposed to be focusing, too many of us are obsessively checking our devices searching for something to stimulate our brains. After all, there must be something more important than this meeting going on in front of us.

Since when did meetings become excuses to catch up on email?

Chris Lowney, a former Jesuit priest turned Investment Banker (an interesting career path to say the least), writing in his book, “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads,” describes what happens when we don’t create the time for daily reflection: “And so we turn ourselves into hamsters on hamster wheels: spinning, but not necessarily moving forward.”

I see the long-term impact of no down-time…no thinking time in the form of worn-out mid-career managers and exhausted senior leaders who struggle through their days. They’ll describe in private that they no longer feel the same passion for the work they once loved, and they worry that they’ve lost their edge and will be unable to get it back. They are worried and frightened of what this state portends for the balance of their careers.

What we fail to do in our workdays is find time to think deeply. From unstructured conversations to reflective time on our own roles and our performance in the workplace, the time spent thinking and talking without a deadline is valuable processing time.

This isn’t down time, it’s different time. Instead of unproductive busyness, it’s productive un-busyness. It’s the root source of ideas and connections between ideas. It’s the time when we see our way forward through complex problems and toward solutions that have been otherwise elusive.

Productive un-busyness cannot be mandated, but it can be prioritized. The most successful leaders and managers I know have cultivated a mechanism that helps them recharge by creating thinking time and/or pushing themselves so far from the activities of work that the brain gets a momentary and much appreciated holiday. Lowney offers the Jesuit practice of Examen: a daily technique of prayerful reflection, as one approach for leaders and professionals struggling to jump off the hamster wheel.

From meditation and prayer to the lunchtime walk-about or workout to quiet reading time, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you make the time to shift gears and let your brain focus somewhere other than e-mail or the noise coming from yet another status meeting.

Every day.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

No program, no management fad, no short-list of the top ten things to do. Just a reminder that your brain and the brains of your team members will serve you best if you build in and/or encourage people to regularly tune out the drumbeat and turn off the updates. I’ve watched burned-out managers come back from the brink by recognizing the need to create time to think deeply, and then making it a habit. Whether it’s for your professional mental health or for the health of your team members, it’s important to find ways to momentarily reflect and place things in context.

 

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: Cultivating the Confidence to Act

Image of a coffee cupThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

For leaders at all levels, there’s much to gain from James D. Murphy’s excellent book, Courage to Execute: What Elite U.S. Military Units Can Teach Business About Leadership and Team Performance.

In particular, Mr. Murphy’s emphasis on helping us understand the hard, deliberate and very structured work that goes into training and cultivating a team of professionals who are committed to the mission and who trust each other with their lives, is worth the price of admission. (As a side-note, it is hard to not read this book and recognize how far we fall short of when it comes to ensuring the training and development necessary for high performance in our organizations.)

Of the many quotable and thought-provoking items in the book, one that jumps out at me is Mr. Murphy’s perspective on courage. His words: “…but remember, courage is not bravado. Courage is the confidence to act that comes from preparation.”

It’s the lack of confidence to act that I observe as a derailment factor for so many teams from senior levels to functional or project groups. From decisions on strategy (what to do/what not to do?) to approach (how?) to key talent issues (who’s on/who’s off?) to structural, and accountability issues, the lack of proper preparation results in leaders and teams flailing, floundering, bickering or, simply staring at the headlights on key issues.

Effective leaders recognize their role in preparing teams to act, to learn and ultimately to succeed.

5 Things You Can Do with Your Team to Cultivate the Confidence to Act:

1. Strive for crystal clarity for the mission. Whether you are leading the senior management team as CEO or leading a project team, the mission and parameters must be crystal clear. The fuzzy nature of most strategies and the inability of individuals and their work groups to clearly connect their priorities and deliverables to the pursuit of mission objectives is deadly. You cannot over-communicate and you cannot over invest in clarifying the mission to the point of common understanding on your team. Strive to reduce the lofty picture goals to a size that is digestible and actionable at the level of your team.

2. Distill the mission down to navigable, actionable size for your team and be certain that people can talk about it clearly. Knowing the goal is to win the war or move to a new market is one thing, but understanding your role and your team’s role in this goal is essential. In high performing organizations and on high performing teams, the conversation goes like this:

Our team is accountable for producing this portion of our new offering. This new offering is one component of how we are pursuing our strategy to move into this segment of this market for these customers. Our individual responsibilities as team members are… . Our internal customers are department x and y, and we are accountable for these measures of timing, performance and quality to those customers.

Anything short of this level of specificity is just so much baloney. People and teams perform when they can connect their efforts to specific audiences and required outcomes.

3. Teach your team to talk. The collegial talk between most group members on teams is poison for performance. It feels good because it’s non-threatening, however, it skirts the real issues of execution and accountability. Learning to trust each other enough to tackle the hard topics of mission clarity, roles, performance and accountability, is not something that comes easy for any group. It’s also essential for high performance.

Effective team leaders understand the connection between the ability of team members to conduct robust dialog and the courage to take action and they refuse to settle for the happy talk that bedevils most teams.

4. Teach and constantly strive to strengthen decision-making processes and decision quality. Decisions are the precursors to actions for individuals and organizations. Without a decision, nothing happens or nothing changes. Decisions promote movement and importantly, they promote learning and continuous improvement. Effective leaders help team members learn how to frame issues, evaluate options, assess risks and then decide. They also teach their team members to review the outcomes of their decisions in pursuit of learning and improvement.

5. Know that team development is an every day activity and pursue it vigorously. Successful teams are made through the careful and deliberate work of the team leader. From mission clarity to member selection to promoting core values for performance and accountability, team development is THE purpose of the leader. High performance teams are products of hard work, constant scrutiny, continuous coaching and training and the never-ending pursuit of improvement.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Achieving the confidence to act is an outcome of the hard work of team building. Clarity for the mission, confidence and trust between team members and the ability to talk through and evaluate different options and scenarios and then decide, are all key factors. None of these occur naturally in the workplace. How hard are you working at cultivating the courage to act on your team?

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 Art’s latest book: 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 and Management Lessons from Chris

A Horse's RearLiving in Illinois, I typically don’t throw stones at other states for the misfires of their politicians. After all, serving as Governor in Illinois is one of the most likely positions to insure some quality time behind bars. However, the Chris Christie bridge scandal offers a few too many leadership and management lessons to pass up without a few observations. (I’ve got no candidate or party in this fight…just interested in the lessons we can draw upon here. )

At Least 7 Leadership and Management Lessons from the Bridge Scandal:

1. If you’re in charge, you are responsible. End of story.

2. “I didn’t know” just sounds weak in any circumstances. Even if it’s true.

3. Taking accountability by firing your Chief of Staff and then running the bus over her repeatedly in the national press doesn’t feel like taking accountability.

4. Every team takes cues on standards of behavior from the boss. You set the values, and apparently, it was deemed acceptable behavior to use political power to punish even minor enemies while putting the interests and even lives of your customers in danger.

5. Your reputation as an effective, hardline manager is shot right in the rear as soon as you have to spend hours back-pedaling on how people you trusted lied to you and you didn’t know.

6. As a manager, if you’re too stupid to select people who won’t put your entire career at risk in the name of some misguided show of force, you deserve all the grief you get.

7. What type of an employee is deluded into thinking he/she can operate with impunity, particularly when their boss is an elected official and a potential presidential candidate? See also the points on behaviors, talent selection, management and accountability.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ll end where I started. If you are in charge, you are responsible. End of story.