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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Caffeine™—The Inner Game of Leading

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

“This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, self-doubt and self condemnation.”

–Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis

Other than the missing obstacle of hubris, Gallwey might as well have been writing about the challenges in the mind of the leader in this mid-70’s and now classic coaching book.

Leadership is played on an open court in the workplace for all to see, yet, I submit that the game is won or lost in the mind of the individual as he/she pushes self-doubt and hubris back into their respective corners.

It’s in her mind where a great battle rages filled with conflicting demands over right, wrong, who, next, when and how. The noise from decision-choices on direction, talent, strategy, goals and targets can be deafening, and the daily drill resembles for many in leadership roles, a pell-mell race through obstacles seen and unseen. It takes remarkable mental strength and agility to filter the noise and concentrate on the right issue at the right time.

Some leaders cover the court with grace and speed, yet fail to win the game. Their firms struggle to escape from the shackles of past greatness or, they play somewhere in the middle of the pack with competitors, surviving on almost respectable outcomes…always with the promise of better, bigger, faster, stronger in sight, but never quite reaching those levels. These are often the poseurs as leaders who like the outward facing game…who revel in the roar of the crowd and the momentary accolades of adoring fans surrounding the court.

The ones who master the inner game move deliberately through their days leaving a wake of clarity in their trail. They give others confidence that the way path forward is the right one and that the journey will be difficult but achievable. Strategies are selected and the goals and actions embedded in the minds (and actions) of the broader organizational population. Critical decisions are vetted and made, with emphasis on the most difficult and painful of the decisions…talent choices…always tackled first. The noise of the crowd isn’t the objective and the leader who masters the inner game gives no concern for accolades. The emphasis is on helping others win the key points and games in what is a marathon, not a sprint.

These leaders who master the inner game fight their own demons…particularly self-doubt and hubris. Every successful leader I know has no qualms indicating there are moments where doubt about self…Am I up to this? and It’s possible we and I might fail, rent space in their minds. They recognize the sobering truth…they are no better, smarter or different than many others, yet they are charged with getting it right. Sometimes the self-doubt is so strong it is nearly crippling. Nearly, but not completely.

Leaders who master the inner game fight this demon of self-doubt at night, staring at the ceiling in lieu of sleeping. They fight it, and then they push it into a box and move forward. While painful and difficult to deal with, the presence of self-doubt underscores how much the individual cares. After all, more than the next quarter’s results are at stake. It’s about the lives, careers and well-being of the families of the people who trust them to lead.

Hubris is another distraction…a very distant cousin of self-doubt. Success opens the mind to momentarily letting down its defenses. It tells you, it’s working…you figured it out and you deserve to let it play out and let others do the heavy lifting. It’s wrong. 

Once hubris sneaks through the crack in the leader’s defenses, the outer game suffers…succumbing to the toxic temptations of this false inner voice that suggests he/she can do no wrong. Soon, the entire game is a mess. Athletes might call the outcome a slump. For a leader, the consequences are amplified by the impact on the constituents.

Effective leaders build strong defenses against hubris. They learn to take satisfaction in the success and joy of others, not their own accomplishments. And they learn to recognize and blunt the incessant machinations and manipulations of hubris as it attempts to gain entrance to the host.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Mastering the inner game of leading is a never-ending task to know oneself and to cultivate the discipline necessary to cut through the noise and to focus on what counts for everyone else and for the group at large. It’s the hardest work most of us will ever do. It starts with staring in the mirror and acknowledging the truth about yourself. Many are afraid to do just this. They shouldn’t lead.

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—Becoming Agile and Adaptable is THE Leadership Issue

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

What if everything that used to work for your business no longer did?

The business challenge of this era for long established firms is much about escaping the powerful pull of the past. Approaches that worked so well for so long are rendered impotent by shifting technologies, new forms of competition armed with different business models and disruptive offerings, and by customers whose needs are changing as they struggle with the same macro challenges you are.

Historically, we built our organizations for efficiency and our leadership and management approaches reflected this purpose. We built tall organizations with distinct silos surrounded by moats and supported by the defenses of the silo executive. While the vestiges of those castles and moats still survive in many organizations, they (and their senior leaders) are increasingly out of place…out of context with the realities of the day. They are organizational and leadership anachronisms.

Adaptability is key, yet many leaders struggle to understand what to do to create it. Their words say “speed and agility,” but their measurements and compensation systems scream “efficiency.

When cheerleading and half-baked attempts at styles that feel agile and adaptable fail, the poor outcomes are rationalized as reasons to revert to the old and “normal.” New investments in new markets that are held accountable to the same measures as the core business fail, because you cannot measure and manage new start-ups the same way as long established businesses in old markets. People and groups that operate with a well-baked set of logic about the business are leveraged to build a new set of logic. Failure is predictable. It is self-fulfilling.

Success in building the adaptable organization (e.g. McChrystal’s Team of Teams) is the obligation, responsibility and requirement of leadership. It’s not 50% a leadership challenge or 80% a leadership challenge. It’s THE leadership challenge. Yet too many in leadership sit in wide-eyed wonder as the world changes and their business decays, decrying the failure of the team to adapt. They fiddle while their businesses burn.

Success with this difficult dilemma requires senior leaders to re-think their points-of-view on everything, with emphasis on the role of the leader, the development of true teams and their viewpoint on navigating uncertainty and risk.

The nature of leadership hasn’t fundamentally changed, but the focus has and must. Today’s leader is demanding…of his/her team and of himself/herself, yet the focus is on forming and framing the environment for success. This leader exists to bring the team to life…and to allow team members to become their best…as individuals and as a group. This leader serves…more than commands.

Instead of efficiency, adaptability is the focal point. Learning to leverage new technologies…the weapons of business is essential. Enabling groups to sense and respond…to learn and refine…to experiment, fail and then succeed is the work of the leader. It’s about adaptability.

Risk and uncertainty are now invited to the party. Instead of resolving to the status quo in the face of uncertainty, there’s a need to run at the unknown and figure it out as you learn. Risk isn’t something to be avoided at all costs…it’s on your team and part of learning.

Teams offer remarkable potential, yet we all know that mostly, they fail in our organizations, not because the concept is flawed, but because we are flawed in our structure, support and leadership of these teams. Moving beyond the lipservice most leaders give about teams to enabling true team development is essential.

Once again, Walt Kelly was right. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While we are bombarded with facts about the obvious…that things are different today in our world, we’re stubborn in our willingness to let go of dated thinking and obsolete approaches to leading and managing. It’s time for all of us to re-think how to reapply the tools of management and leadership to a world that isn’t going to revert to what used to work. Let’s get on with it leaders!

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.