Leadership Caffeine™—Don’t Back Off Leadership Development in a Crisis

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

When things break bad (even momentarily) in an organization, a number of predictable reflexes kick-in. Expenses are cut. Operations reviews evolve into extended, public proctology exams with everyone taking a long look searching for answers and blame. Time horizons shrink, the collective field of vision narrows to a pinhole and the lofty, noble ideals of developing leaders and teams that top management so passionately espoused during good times are reduced to echoes from a different era…when things were good.

Some of the responses are reasonable and expected. Expenses and forecasts merit exploration. Others are destructive. Suspending the work of developing your leaders and managers is destructive. Instead of letting your training budget dictate your team and leadership development efforts, try a return to the powerful and much needed full-contact work of coaching and teaching. Frankly, we should be doing this all of the time but too often we let external training substitute for our own heavy lifting around leadership development. Tight budgets are no excuse to back off. Instead, try these low-cost, high contact ideas to help support your efforts.

5 Ideas to Double Down on People Development when Things Break Bad

1-Get the Right Conversations Started. Encourage the managers and leaders to form their own reading/discussion groups. You buy the pizza, drinks and occasional reading materials and they talk and then act on making things better. Caution, no need to make this a corporate mandate or H.R. driven program. Sew the seeds…and support the efforts but don’t make it feel like work. You’re lighting or stoking the collective fire for individuals to find a new performance gear and you have to inspire not command involvement. My suggested starter book: the latest edition of The Leadership Advantage by Kouzes and Posner. The discussion and potential for idea generation present in Chapter 1 alone will make this one of your best professional development investments ever!

2-Increase Your Coaching Efforts. Because the time horizon is now perceived as short and the field of vision narrowed to a laser focus on the revenue and cost numbers, the soft but hard discussions are often left for some future date to be determined. They just don’t happen, which is counter-intuitive. Effective leaders redouble their efforts to remain attuned to their own managers and senior team leads and both offer coaching to support strengthening and to shore up morale. While there’s always an opportunity cost to your time investments, this one pays significant dividends. Focus on observing, coaching and supporting your people If your calendar doesn’t have the equivalent of 20% of your time on this per week, you’re not taking it seriously.

3-Mind the Gap on Big Decisions. While closely related to the coaching efforts, any process of recovery invites big decisions on people, projects, structure and investment priorities to the table. Big decisions are often decisions that end up stalling out while everyone’s rushing around putting out fires or simply avoiding the discomfort. Hold your key leaders accountable to moving forward on the decisions and commensurate action items. Coach them through the decision-process and ensure that they’re prepared for the critical next steps on people, structure and programs following the decisions. Nothing supports professional development like the ownership of a big decision and accountability for the actions and outcomes.

4-Pick, Prioritize and Projectize the Recovery Efforts. Develop the discipline to identify and prioritize the limited number of critical recovery priorities and then get teams working on them. In a crisis, there’s a tendency to drive a lot of activity with no vector. Instead, help the employees narrow their own efforts to the critical few activities and then provide support for these project teams. Be deliberate selecting team leaders. These recovery priorities are remarkable developmental opportunities for people you perceive are ready for a new and bigger challenge. Again, nothing supports leadership and professional development like team leadership, particularly when the stakes are high. Ensure that each team is aligned with a good sponsor who understands his/her role to support building an effective team environment, and then let the teams and leaders run hard.

5-Bring Your Firm’s Values to Life. Sometimes the best development tools and opportunities are right in front of you in the form of your firm’s values. All too often the values get lost in the noise…they’re present on the wall and in the employee handbook, but mostly invisible in the daily work of the organization. Home grow a program focusing on exploring the meaning and application of the values in the day-to-day work environment. Let your managers grow a grass roots program to recruit these powerful (and aspirational) behavior statements into the hard work of helping the firm navigate the storm. This work can be a game changer for strengthening your firm’s culture.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The best professional development always takes place with live fire activities. While budget cuts might kill the external training activities for a period of time, a crisis shouldn’t mean the end to the good work of leadership development. A crisis is a horrible thing to waste. Use it wisely and you’ll come out of it with a stronger team prepared to take your firm to new levels of success.

August 2011 Leadership Development Carnival

image of a collection of admission ticketsIt’s time for another installment of the Leadership Development Carnival! Thanks to Jason Seiden at his “Profersonal” Blog for managing the Midway and organizing some great posts from some remarkable leadership writers. Oh, and yes, Jason was kind enough to include one of mine as well!

If your new to blog Carnivals, these represent a collection of posts from a variety of writers, organized by major themes and presented for your professional and inspirational pleasure. Many thanks to Jason for hosting this month’s installment!

Leadership Caffeine™ Podcast: Dan McCarthy Interview

Cover art for Leadership Caffeine PodcastI’m excited to announce the launch of my new podcast series: The Leadership Caffeine Podcast, and I’m thrilled that Dan McCarthy, the proprietor of the Great Leadership blog, is here as my first guest.

Many of you know Dan through his 500 plus truly great posts on leadership and professional development, and now you have a chance to hear directly from this professional and gentleman.

If you’ve not met Dan before, his easy-going manner, infectious laugh and practical ideas on blogging, leadership and leadership development will underscore why I admire him so much and value him as a blogging colleague and friend.

Show Sound-Bites-Dan McCarthy:

The discussion with Dan is a fun walk through his world of leadership blogging mixed with some thoughts on his 20-plus years involved in organization and talent development.  Although Dan has publicly indicated his “newbie” status as a podcast interview subject, he does a great job in this easy-going discussion, sharing:

  • What it’s like to write and sustain a high level of performance as a leadership blogger for over 500+ posts.
  • Ideas for aspiring leadership bloggers to get started and stick with it.
  • Thoughts on the relevance of leadership fundamentals in this changing world.
  • Ideas for new leaders starting out on their journey.
  • A bit about his suggested reading list for new leaders
  • Some thoughts on his new career adventure and what might be in store for him at his truly great, Great Leadership blog.

Next Episode:

Kevin Oakes, CEO of The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and co-editor of The Executive Guide to Integrated Talent Management.

A Bit About My Plans for the Show:

The idea for this show/series has been rattling around in my mind for awhile. I’ve long wanted some method that would allow me to better connect with practitioners, executives, management thinkers and doers and just about anyone else with big ideas on talent, development and performance.  And here it is!

It’s refreshing, invigorating and convenient to be able to listen to great people share their thoughts on success and high performance, and to be able to do it on the road, on the run or sitting at your desk.

My very noble goal with what I expect to be a long-running and regular series, is to share practical, powerful ideas to help listeners improve their performance and the performance of their teams and organizations. I look forward to living up to those lofty words.

Practice, Great Help and Diving In:

I’ve practiced a bit with prior stand-alone podcasts, and worked with the tools and importantly, I’ve connected in the past 30 days with some remarkable people on interviews (see upcoming guests below), and it’s time to get this show started!

I’ve been fortunate as well to gain some technical help from some remarkable people and great friends…Bob Lindner at DigiSage on technical issues, Amber Wallor of Left Hand Marketing for the artwork, Chris Colbert and his radio voice for the intro and outro, and Eric Rodriguez for editing and support. Their work is much appreciated and any and all mistakes or issues are mine, not theirs.  Of course, for anything good, credit belongs to them!

Upcoming Guests:

I’m well-stocked with recorded interviews and adding to the list every week. Just a few coming attractions include:

  • Kevin Oakes, CEO of The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) on trends and best practices in integrated talent management.
  • John Baldoni, leadership expert and author and blogger extraordinare, shares some thoughts on his work and the leadership challenges of the upcoming generation.
  • Kevin Eikenberry, co-author of Bud to Boss, offers his expert perspectives and advice for professionals navigating that first-time leadership role.
  • Author Linda Finkle shares her expertise from her book, Finding a Fork in the Road, concerning that delicate balancing act of building partnerships that succeed.

Those are just a few of the great people and topics. Stay-tuned for more!

Have Some Big Ideas to Share?!

And of course, if you are interested in being considered as a guest here on The Leadership Caffeine Podcast, drop me a note via e-mail. I’m looking for professionals with big ideas who are passionate about developing others, driving great leadership practices and creating and supporting high performance.





Nine Key Professional Capabilities Required By Our Times

There’s no doubt we live in interesting times…a true Dickensian Best of Times, Worst of Times environment, filled with remarkable opportunities and equally remarkable personal, competitive, societal and global challenges.

Over the past few years and few thousand contacts with professionals on the topic(s) of developing as a professional and developing as a leader, a number of key “capabilities needed for success in these times” have emerged as recurring themes in discussions and group settings. Importantly, these themes or as I describe them, Capabilities, Attributes & Behaviors (CABs) are essential for success at both the individual and organizational levels.

Nine Key Professional Capabilities Required By Our Times:

1. Cultivate Your Authenticity-while arguably never out of fashion, like small collars and narrow lapels, authenticity is back in a big way, and it’s increasingly important for leaders that hope to win the trust of the teams and generations.

This has been a hard decade or so for cultivating trust in leaders, and with the odor of the Great Recession still wafting through our society, fear is all too present in the workplace. It’s more critical than ever to be able to build trust on teams, trust across cultures…and trust as a leader, and the best starting point is to be yourself, let people see your strengths and weaknesses and work hard to get to connect with and get to know those you work with and for.

2. Learn to Adjust Your Altitude-whether you are a solopreneur, an individual contributor or a corporate executive, you need to develop comfort in navigating and connecting the lofty issues of market-forces to the RGM (real green money) issues of serving customers, innovating and differentiating.

I encourage leaders and professionals of all levels to develop the discipline to regularly scan the market environment and to change the nature of the conversations on their teams, by drawing upon this powerful and simple question set:

What does this mean for us? Our competitors? Our customers?

3. Develop Strategies for Coping with Extreme Ambiguity-the scale and scope of global challenges and opportunities coupled with the pace of change all combine to create a remarkable level of ambiguity in our professional endeavors.

Unfortunately, ambiguity combines with fear to paralyze teams and individuals and exacerbate problems. A counter-measure is to first recognize that EVERYONE you know is struggling with the same unknowns. Your competitors don’t know for sure where things are going and your customers need help navigating through all of the noise.

Try flipping the fear of the unknowns around and instead of preoccupying on the risks, focus your energies and your team’s sights on the opportunities that ambiguity affords to create and innovate. Change the nature of the daily conversations and encourage constant use of the key questions outlined above.

Of course, once you’ve discussed questions, it’s time to promote action. That’s where the next attribute proves critical.

4. Improve Your Adaptability-building on the ambiguity theme above, and acknowledging that we tend not to like change (understatement for emphasis), it’s critical for leaders of all levels to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learning. Easy words, however, recognize that creating an adaptable environment takes time, focus and constant reinforcement.

Shoot one messenger or go off on one failed experimenter and people will revert to their prior fear-driven, hunker-down approach.  As an individual contributor, learn to appreciate the benefits and learning experiences of change. Better yet, learn to be the one promoting change.

5. Leaders: Commit to Creating High Performance Teams-a great place to start is by overhauling your project management practices (or lack thereof), building sponsors with teeth and putting everything you and your leadership counterparts can into helping teams succeed. Again, easy words that only work when backed by consistent, aggressive actions. Given the number of projects and strategies that fail for people and execution issues, we all have a long way to go on this one.

6. Cultivate Cultural Intelligence (CI)-there’s a good probability that your business will become increasingly intertwined with global suppliers, customers, partners, competitors and team members. Developing CI is an organizational initiative, and one that must be pursued in the planning or early phases of your global outreach. If you are increasingly involved in leading teams with contributors from around the globe, you are absolutely on the spot for advancing your Cultural Intelligence. Your results depend upon it.

7. Develop Leadership Adaptability…yours and others. This is my catch-category to remind you that strengthening your skills as a follower is as important as strengthening your skills as a leader. As functional and national boundaries dissolve or at least shrink, your ability to move seamlessly from leader of one initiative to committed follower for another is critical to your success. And your efforts here set an outstanding example for those around you.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Grow Your Power and Influence. Face it, others choose us to be successful, and there’s everything right with growing your professional network, seeking out important projects and opportunities and appropriately publicizing your successes.  It’s a mistake to think that you’re above the fray of politics and power.

9. Develop an Innovation Mentality-gone are the days when innovation was just for engineers. It’s an innovation-driven world, and the most compelling innovations are occurring in how we work, communicate, market and make money.

If you’re leading others, one of your Key Performance Indicators is how innovative your team is. Their innovation is a reflection of your leadership. If you’re working as an individual contributor, every team and every project needs great ideas. Learn to take risks and learn to sell hard and then prove your ideas.  Build a reputation as an innovative thinker and doer, and the world is yours!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve just offered a long list of really difficult things to do, without much specific direction.  Awareness is the first step. Audit yourself against the nine CABs above and then take action to strengthen the already strong and improve the weak.  Seek external feedback from those you trust to provide you the unvarnished truth about yourself.  And remember, while others often choose us for success, you own your career and your development.

Best of Leadership Caffeine™: A Leader’s Resolutions are Calendar Blind

Note from Art: I’m taking a few days off over the holidays to focus on family and recharge my writing batteries. I plan on completing the second round edits of my next book, aptly titled, Leadership Caffeine, and I’m preparing a few other blogging surprises for the new year. However, if you happen to be hungry for stimulating content, here’s a timely selection.

While it is natural for us to focus on resolutions as we approach the new year, the best leaders understand that improved performance requires an unrelenting, year-long focus on personal and professional development.

Instead of joining the masses in pursuit of a ridiculous list of soon-to-be forgotten resolutions (along with those fitness goals), consider this approach to continuous leadership improvement:

Leadership Caffeine: A Leader’s Resolutions are Calendar Blind