Art’s Writing and Week in Review for February 6, 2016

what is next?Yes, I Remember the  21st of September!

I suspect I am speaking for more than just myself when I say that I’m looking forward to a week this year where we don’t lose another icon from the world of music. The sounds of the 70’s faded a bit more with the passing of Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind and Fire. I still recall ripping out the a.m. radio in my ’71 Oldsmobile Cutlass and replacing it with an AM/FM stereo radio and 8-track player, and driving around with the windows down and EWF blaring from the speakers.

The political scene entertained with Cruz edging Trump and Rubio while Hillary and Bernie were almost too close to call. Our time-until-retirement continues to elongate with the declining stock market, while gasoline spurred on by a glut of crude oil and slowing global industrial demand edges dangerously and deliciously closer to 1970’s era pricing. Time to plan a summer road-trip?!

In the world of leadership and management writing last week, I once again cast a wide-net with topics ranging from opening communication lines with your team to warning people about the realities and headaches of managing others.

Here’s the quick recap:

In Other News from the World of Leadership Caffeine:

  • I kicked-off a new, subscriber-only publication: the Mid-Week Leadership Caffeine e-news. It’s 5, quick shots of leadership espresso to help you sustain and succeed during the rest of your week. I would love to include you on the distribution!
  • My “Jump-Start” coaching programs are just about filled and I expect to close the doors to new enrollment by the end of next week. If you’re below the executive level but aspire to moving in that direction, check out this very limited run opportunity at a great price. Just don’t wait too long.
  • The Leadership Caffeine Facebook page is growing quickly, and I would love to see you there. I offer daily updates, quotes and love to share ideas with my readers. Stop by and please show some love with a “like!”

That’s it for now. Have a great weekend. May your team win in the big game!

Yours in great leadership and career health,

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leadership Caffeine™—How to Get Your Team to Open Up to You

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It’s impossible to lead effectively if you don’t have an open line of communication with your team members.

From ample experience gained through coaching executives and soon-to-be executives, I’ve learned that many leaders talk about their “open door policy” and willingness to receive frank feedback, while their actions and body language say something completely different.

Here’s some of the feedback I receive on bosses with alleged “open door” policies:

Her door is open. The last person to walk thru it had their head handed to them on a platter. We just walk on by these days.

Every time I raise a suggestion, he gets defensive and ends up trying to convince me of his point of view.

His words tell me that he appreciates feedback on how he can improve. His facial reactions told me otherwise.

When I offer her ideas, she tells me immediately what’s wrong with them.

Our CEO made a point at the company meeting of encouraging more input on what was working and what wasn’t. He seemed genuinely interested in my ideas, but I have no idea what happened to them.

All of the managers above are stifling the free-flow of communication on their teams with their poor and almost but not quite involuntary habits. What’s a manager to do?

6 Ideas to Help Your Team Open Up to You:

1. Assess: am I giving my team members ample reasons to trust me. The absence of trust shuts down the flow of communication. If you’re new to leading the team, your team members may not have enough evidence to form a strong opinion about your trustworthiness. While earning credibility and trust is a long-term activity, daily focus on the following actions will help jump-start the process:

  • Give trust to get trust. Instead of making people walk on hot coals to earn your trust, try extending it first. Most people will climb mountains and ford fast-moving streams to show that your trust in them is well placed.
  • Back your words with actions. The do must match the tell. Every day.
  • Show that you care about your team members. Offering coaching and providing access to professional development opportunities are great ways to show that you care.
  • Never compromise on treating people with respect no matter how challenging the circumstances.

2. Admit: I need frank feedback and the best ideas and insights of my team members to succeed at my job. While it sounds a bit cliché the first step is for you to genuinely believe it.

3. Get help, because you’re going to fail to model the behaviors necessary to open the flow of communication. Find a “feedback buddy” who will observe you in action and provide quick, frank and actionable commentary on your performance as a communicator (giver and receiver). Ask him/her to monitor both your verbal and non-verbal responses as well as to observe how your team members react to you. None of us are unbiased judges of our own communication effectiveness. A great “feedback buddy” is priceless.

4. Align your behaviors with your stated intent. It’s difficult in some situations to resist critiquing the ideas of your team members. Instead of suggesting what’s wrong with their ideas, ask questions that encourage them to think through and around the entire issue. If you advocate an open-door policy, when someone walks thru your door, push away from the keyboard and focus all of your attention on the individual. Give up your need to occupy all of the air-time or prove you are the smartest person in every meeting. All of these are credibility killers that suppress open communication.

5. Don’t hide your weaknesses. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you’re working on strengthening your coaching skills, share this with your team. Your willingness to open up about your own challenges and growth activities will help relax the tension on other challenging topics.

6. Do something. People grow tired of sharing ideas or offering feedback if the input doesn’t go anywhere. Ask clarifying questions and try one of the following variations of the same question to move things forward. Ask: “How do you propose I tackle this issue?” Or, “How do you propose to tackle this issue?” If you make a commitment to do something, live up to this commitment. If you are empowering your team member to tackle the issue, offer your support but let them run with it.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Speed of learning and agility to adapt are essential for survival and success in our fast-changing world. It takes timely input and an open flow of communication on the tough issues—including your performance—to generate learning and to succeed with innovation. If the communication isn’t flowing your way, or, what you are hearing is mostly saccharine sweet, chances are the problem is staring back at you in the mirror.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leadership Caffeine™—Leading Your Peers

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveMost of us don’t think about leadership and leading in the context of our peers. After all, by definition, there’s no hierarchical relationship between group members. Conventional thinking suggests our peers are our teammates, our colleagues and our fellow managers or executives, not people we’re supposed to lead.

That thinking is nice, but naïve, if you’re intent on doing more for your firm while bolstering your career prospects.

Consider:

  • Groups of peers are not groups of equals in terms of power, political savviness, capabilities or aggressiveness. They’re a collection of heterogeneous personalities with diverse and often divergent interests.
  • Peer groups are headless. In an effort to remain collegial and respectful, few but the bravest of souls venture into the realm of assuming leadership for these teams. Push too far and too fast and your peers will momentarily unite to push back at you. “Who are you to suggest what WE should do?” On the other hand, these groups are ripe for “benevolent” and issue-focused leadership.
  • Peer groups of managers are typically not highly functional or contributory entities in most organizations. Management “teams” are simply a team in name only. Your fellow managers likely share information and updates at operations reviews and provide input in strategy sessions, but they don’t do much together that creates tangible value.
  • The opportunity for improved collaboration between peers is very real. The potential for these groups to create value around the right issues—strategy execution or problem solving in what I term the “gray-zone” between functions, is incredible. The operative word is, “potential.”

7 Steps to Help You Assert as a Leader with Your Peers:

1. Know that “trust” is your currency in-trade. If you’ve cultivated solid relationships based on showing respect, offering your trust and delivering on commitments, you’re starting from a good position. Friendly advice: if you’ve engendered something other than trust across your relationships, stop reading now and give up on this idea of asserting your leadership with your peers. If you need to strength your currency reserves of trust, focus on number 2, reciprocity.

2. Grow your accounts receivable balance for reciprocity. Reciprocity is second in value only to trust. The essence of reciprocity in an organization setting is: If I help you, you have an unspoken obligation to help me at some time. Give first to get later.

3. Focus your peer-group leadership efforts on gray-zone issues. The problems in the gray-zone are those process inefficiencies or bottlenecks that no one department or function owns. They exist between functions. Identify one of those items and build the case for cross group collaboration to solve it.

4. Create heroes out of your group members. Keep the spotlight on the contributions of your peers and their teams, even if you were the one to organize the problem-solving effort. Remember, you’re playing the long-game and you will benefit from shining the light brightly on others.

5. Practice shuttle diplomacy. Most of us interact with peers more by exception than design. Make certain to build time into your schedule to check-in, share ideas or offer your help.

6. After some victories solving gray-zone issues, raise the stakes by focusing on strategy execution. The gap in most firms between the ideas of strategy and the coordination of strategy execution is Grand Canyon-esque. This is a great place to direct the energy and gray-matter of a peer group that has recently cultivated a track-record for solving problems together…with your guidance and yes, your leadership. Focus the group on the issues of coordination and communication essential to implement new programs and monitor results.

7. Assert as a peace broker for border skirmishes. Armed with ample trust and a strong accounts receivable balance of reciprocity, pay attention to and help your team members navigate differences. By your de facto leadership of the group around key business initiatives, you’ve created the basis for shared interests between members. Appealing to and leveraging those interests is a powerful tactic for resolving differences of opinion or approach.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

For anyone waiting for the guidance on the “Frank Underwood” (House of Cards) power-play in this post, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Leading your peers isn’t about collecting power to feed your ego. Rather, it’s about tapping into the potential of your colleagues to solve problems and move the performance measures in the right direction. After all, the best leaders have something larger in mind than their own personal interests. And yes, get this right and you will be noticed and you will benefit.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Leadership Caffeine™—Refueling as a Leader

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThis would be easy if it weren’t for the people. -from my first book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership.

From about the six-month mark out of college and for all but eighteen months of the next twenty-two years, I supervised, managed and cultivated my leadership skills in a variety of different technology and software firms. While I loved and still do love the challenge and responsibility for guiding and developing others, the work (including the actual running of the business) was and is demanding and draining. I learned over time that I could only be at my best for others if I took care of my own refueling needs first.

Leaders might eat last, but care and feeding of the leader’s spirit must come first or everyone suffers.

9 Ideas to Help You Refuel Your Leadership Spirit:

1. Tune-in to the real purpose of your role. Like the radios I grew up listening to, the signal on why we lead occasionally drifts. In my case, it took a long time to gain any real clarity around my actual purpose in the role. As it was described, I was like an automaton, watching, pushing, driving and likely annoying everyone in my wake. I suspect I was the classic “Type A” manager with a hint of the micro-manager mixed in for bad measure. I was also exhausting myself and I am sure, everyone around me. Once I refocused on just three items: talent, professional development and working environment, I found more energy and interestingly, so did everyone else. And you never forget when your boss says, “It’s great to show everyone that you’re not just a machine.”

2. Develop a daily refueling habit. Mine is reading for 15-minutes before things kick into gear. Every single morning, I learn one item or generate one new idea because of the reading. I keep a log in Evernote and draw upon the ideas as needed. Today’s buzzword is mindfulness, which seems an awful like focus and meditation. If it works for you, the label doesn’t matter. Whatever you have to do, find a way to give yourself a daily jolt of context about what’s really important.

3. Improve your physical fitness. The mind and body are inextricably linked. Too many of us sacrifice our physical conditioning and development on the altar of work. Fortunately, many organizations are starting to recognize the hard and soft benefits of a fit workforce and helping out with this challenge. The mental dividends from physical exertion are priceless, and you’ll look great too!

4. Attend a course. As I advanced in my career, I started to hang out in Executive Education programs at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I’ve never left a short or long program without my brain boiling over with ideas and inspiration and my energy level for my work as a leader and manager locked on high. Find your equivalent education refueling station, whether it’s an online course, something at the community college or a professional development program that interests you. Rinse and repeat.

5. Pursue a hobby. There’s some great feedback on the benefits of immersing yourself in something completely unrelated to your work. The shift in focus gives your brain a chance to recover and open up new connections in the process.

6. Spend more time with your team members. I learned over time that the one-on-one or group time was energizing. From development and coaching discussions to participating in idea generation and problem-solving, this very real work stimulates the gray matter and turbocharges the spirit. Of course, there can be complications from the boss diving in with the team, so be careful.

7. Connect disparate networks in your life. Develop as a network broker. Long before the studies on social networks began emerging, I had learned the potential benefits of connecting different people from different groups in pursuit of generating ideas or solving problems. I became a defacto network broker, and the benefits of connecting smart people from different spheres of business and life paid tremendous dividends in the form of innovation and creative problem-solving.

8. Ask your team how you’re doing. Better yet, ask them, “At the end of my time with you, what will you say that I did?” While this might best be handled in a way to insure anonymity, the feedback will either exhilarate you to do more of the same or encourage you to refocus your efforts.

9. Take an extended leadership break. Navigate your way into a role that emphasizes your individual contributions. If you love the freedom and solo focus of your daily work, great, make it permanent. If you’re like me, you’ll recognize how much you truly love leading, not for the glory (there is none), but for the psychic rewards of helping others achieve their goals.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

During the twenty-some years I served as a manager and executive, I took one 18-month leadership break and served as a staff member to the CEO of a big industrial firm. While the environment and work were great, I was miserable. That little break served as rocket fuel for what became the most productive and exhilarating part of my leadership life. Nonetheless, I had to take care of myself first before I could focus on the good work of guiding and developing others.

How’s your energy level for the work ahead? Is it time for you to refuel?

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Leadership Caffeine™—5 Signs You’re Heading for a Meltdown

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveMost senior leaders lack any form of an honest, effective and timely feedback loop, and when they succumb to the pressures of the role and begin to flail, things can go bad in a hurry. While I’m a huge fan of adapting the “Swim Buddy” technique used by Navy SEALS to ensure someone is always there to save your skin, you should be on the lookout for these five warning signs suggesting that it’s time to hit the pause button before you suffer a leadership meltdown.

5 Warning Signs that You’re Approaching a Leadership Meltdown:

1. When you’re feeling isolated. There are times when leading others is one of the loneliest jobs in the world, however, when you’re beginning to feel like it’s you against the world, you’re on the brink of some bad moves. You might be on the hook for the final call on tough decisions, but it’s essential to draw people in to the dialog and gain their help with the vexing issues in front of the firm. Resist succumbing to a siege mentality or withdrawing to your bunker.

2. When you quit trusting your team members. The sense that you can no longer trust your key people often contributes to the creeping sense of isolation referenced above. Poor numbers, some negative surprises or project disasters can make you question the people you’ve tapped for leadership roles. Your instinct says, “I can’t trust him (or them) anymore.” Reality is that unless something deeply unethical or offensive has happened to genuinely tear a hole in the trust you’ve established with others, a one-time surprise or even a major misfire are not reasons to suddenly distrust. Repeated misfires are another issue.

The proper question is: do you trust yourself to have put the right people in roles around you? Don’t let your sudden doubt poison the well of trust on your team.

3. When you keep changing your mind on key decisions. Decisions are the fuel for actions, and when the senior leader flails and frequently reverses course on major decisions—the firm is in danger of crashing. Your inability to stick to a decision broadcasts that you aren’t sure what to do, inviting frustration and fear into the broader environment.

4. When you feel compelled to mislead your employees. I’ve observed this one on multiple occasions and the only one being fooled when the senior leader pumps sunshine or denies troubles is the senior leader.

5. When your primary emotion is anger. Stress and frustration manifest in different ways for all of us, however, it’s common for senior leaders under fire to respond like tyrants, barking commands, shooting messengers and railing at the incompetence they see in front of them. If you find yourself navigating your days with a growing sense of anger and frustration with everyone and everything around you, watch out.

An Ounce of Self-Reflection is Worth a Pound of Cure:

If we ignore the symptoms that tell us something is wrong physically, we jeopardize our long-term health and even short-term survival. The same goes for a leader who ignores the warning signs outlined above.

It’s difficult to get honest feedback when you’re in charge. While I encourage you to ask and survey others about your performance, the person looking back at you in the mirror is the last line of defense against a meltdown.

I’ve coached a number of senior leaders and executives back from the brink by helping them introduce a daily period of personal reflection on their performance and their impact on others.

Armed with a journal (analog or digital), these leaders jot down notes about their daily interactions and the outcomes from those interactions. A few minutes at the end of the day to review the notes and roll-up one or two key “commitments to improve” tomorrow helps plant the seeds for near-future strengthening. Spending a few moments chronicling victories or what-worked serves to cap off the day on a positive note. A quick review of the positives and commitments the next morning helps the leader enter the day in the right frame of mind to navigate the challenges. Rinse and repeat.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s easy for stressful circumstances to send a leader’s attitude careening towards the rocks. While it’s great to believe you have people who will tell you you’re acting like a jerk, you cannot count on it. Instead, build in the discipline and presence of mind to review your own performance daily and identify those activities and behaviors that must be strengthened or eliminated. While you need feedback to grow, you’re your own last line of defense against disaster.

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See more posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.