leadership incorporated blog

May 6, 2012

Why CEOs Need To Become GPSs

Randy is the CEO of a Solar Energy company. Back in 2010, she and her senior team spent 3 months of executive team meetings developing promising 1-year, 3-year and 5-year visions for the company. When they shared their picture of success with the rest of the organization in early 2011, everyone was energized and excited. It was all they talked about — for a month.

There was some initial forward movement toward their objectives. But those first steps surfaced some unexpected challenges and uncertainty about how to proceed. When a huge project came in and demanded everyone’s time and attention, it was so much easier to put those growth goals aside “for the time-being.”

A year later, when people speak of the vision, it’s with cynicism.

This isn’t an unusual scenario. Many companies struggle with the challenge of keeping an organization on track towards growth goals while maintaining the current core business.

From point A, the path to your desired point B may seem clear. But once you move off point A, even a little bit, things can look very different and feel much less certain. Next steps can become less clear. And there’s nothing like the certainty of what you already do well to distract the team and send them racing back to the safety and security of point A.

One thing that can make a huge difference is for the CEO (and other leaders) to continue having planning meetings (Randy thought they were done when the vision was complete and presented!) and to continuously restate the vision for the team in the context of what is happening now.

It’s kind of like being a GPS device for your company, keeping everyone aware of where they are and continually rerouting based on what’s going on in the moment.

As projects came in, the team needed to hear from Randy: “OK. We have a big project that’s going to demand our time and attention, but this doesn’t mean we aren’t still moving toward our goals. Here’s how we’ll do that now…”

What goals do you have that have lost momentum because when you moved off your starting point the path became less clear?

Time to become the GPS and reroute.

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April 22, 2012

How You Make The Difficult People You Work With More Difficult

Who ruins your day? The VP who has to be right no matter what? The client who doesn’t listen? The direct report who undermines your authority? The CEO who has to belittle someone in every conversation? Your colleague who, after you’ve come to an agreement, does exactly the opposite? The weenie who takes credit for your work? The softie who can’t make a decision?

OK. The person you’re dealing with really is a grade A jerk. Difficult. Unjustifiable. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And you’re right. So what?  What does being right get you? You still have to deal with it. And you still have to deal with the consequences of your interactions.

Let me offer you what may be an uncomfortable take on this, which just may change your life:

There is no such thing as a difficult person.

Difficult people are just human beings (no matter how much they may be disguising that) behaving in ways that they believe work for them.

The perception that they are difficult belongs to you. You are part of a system with them. And just as their behavior contributes to the difficulty, so does yours.

The good news: you can change any system by changing any part of that system. You may not be able to change the other person. But you can change yourself. And when you change, the system changes and then that person has no choice but to change.

It all begins with doing something different from the way you’ve been doing it. Here’s a quick roadmap:

  1. Depersonalize the situation. It may help to assign different names to the players and pretend that you are an objective observer.
  2. Identify the problem behaviors and the problem responses. Chances are good that you have a go-to response.
  3. Identify the costs of the difficulty. Look at the big picture as well as the more immediate one. Who else is impacted by this interaction?
  4. Identify your desired outcome. What would work better than what’s happening now?
  5. Put your butt in their seat. Develop an appreciation for why they’re making the choices they are making—and an understanding of what they want to achieve.
  6. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want them to listen, you listen first. If you want them to do it your way, try theirs.
  7. Strategize. What other ways might you respond to their behavior? Consider some of the following options: Get more direct or give more direction.  Become more connected. Look at ways you might offer support. Provide information. Use humor. Push back. Don’t push back. Agree. Disagree. Try it their way. Offer other options. Ask a good question.
  8. Try it out. Put a different strategy into practice and observe the results. Expect the discomfort that comes along with changing a habit and remind yourself that your desired outcome is worth it.
  9. Learn. Fine tune. Try again. 

Don’t give up. You’ll just go back to the way things were. Instead, keep moving forward. Keep being willing to adjust your own behavior and see what happens.

March 12, 2012

How Not to Negotiate: 7 Essential To-Don’ts and To-Dos

Meet Julie, the leading biz dev rep in a privately held med tech company.

Julie had been underpaid in a biz dev support role for 6 years and pressing for more opportunity. In late ‘09, a regional rep quit abruptly and the company offered her the position with a small increase and the promise of a more substantial raise at her review.

After 2 years, Julie had brought in new business that exceeded $1.8 million. In January 2012, the company expanded Julie’s territory. Their proposed new comp package increased her pay by 25%. They seemed to think she would be thrilled.

Julie knew she should be grateful, but she was disappointed and felt undervalued. Because her salary was low to begin with, a 25% increase just didn’t amount to that much. She knew the company had experienced some significant losses in the economic downturn. She didn’t expect to be paid as much as the other top biz dev people in the company, but she did feel she deserved more.

She scheduled a conversation with the CFO and head of HR. She took in a prepared presentation focused on her tenure, her recent success, and what was fair given the increase in responsibility with an additional region to support.

They listened sympathetically but stood their ground: the company had just given her the largest percentage increase they’d ever offered and the budget wouldn’t allow them to do more at this time. Further, they said, the president was concerned that her current region might be depleted and she should be grateful for the additional territory. They would review it again in 12 months.

Julie left the meeting deflated and overwhelmed by her new workload, even as she questioned her own right to feel badly.

Recently, I’ve heard from people, at all levels of other organizations, who are being asked to do more than ever for less than they know they deserve, but who, like Julie, find themselves unable to negotiate a better deal.

Most of them make the same critical mistakes and miss the same powerful opportunities as Julie

7 Essential To-Don’ts and To-Do’s:

  1. Don’t make it about you. Instead, make a business case. Your needs, wants and what’s fair are irrelevant. A business has a fiduciary obligation to make decisions based on what’s best for the business. Figure out how what’s best for you is also best for the business and you’ll be in much better shape.
  2. Don’t negotiate with the wrong people. Get in front of the right decision makers. When you negotiate with people who are responsible only for the budget the conversation can only go so far. You want to talk to people who are responsible for the future.
  3. Don’t let them keep the focus of the conversation on budget and tradition. Control the direction of the conversation. Do this by asking questions that focus on the future, the value of the services you provide and the cost of missed opportunities, i.e., losing you.
  4. Don’t buy into their story of comparison to others or current limits. Have your own story. And make sure it is all about what you can create, the value you plan to bring, and the potential that can be achieved.
  5. Don’t make a one-way presentation. Make it an interactive conversation. Get them talking about what they want, need, fear and hope for. Listen deeply and respond thoughtfully with ways you can create their wants and hopes and reduce their needs and fears.
  6. Don’t focus on the past. Focus on the future from the perspective of the higher level that you want to attain. The past is done and paid for. The way to get more (often unlimited) money is to demonstrate who you can be for them in the future.
  7. Don’t be ignorant about your own value. Do your homework and know and quantify the value you provide. Make sure that the value you provide significantly exceeds the package you want. Get your employer to quantify it for themselves. If you can get them to do the math and see they come out ahead, it’s usually a no-brainer.

The key to effective negotiation is co-creation. Be creative. And, remember, salary isn’t the only negotiable. By the way, all of this applies whether you are negotiating for your career with your employer, for your company with a client or for yourself with your spouse or kids.

Good luck. I’d love to hear about it when you score that big win.

February 21, 2012

Too Much Talk, Too Little Action?

Frank is a member of a cross-functional team in a Midwest manufacturing plant that’s been assigned to work together to improve utilization of resources. The team has been meeting weekly for the past several months. Each week the discussion is vibrant and energized, yet they have little to show for it. Each discussion moves the conversation to new territory that surfaces new challenges and opportunities that are valid, but that keep the team from focusing on the original task or landing on specific actions.

Does this sound familiar?

Are there individuals or groups in your business that tend to have big ideas but little follow through?

Do you suffer from “mission creep” where as you talk and explore challenges without even noticing you’ve moved on to other challenges and lost sight of your original objectives?

Who do you know who tends to jump in enthusiastically, skipping over analysis of details and potential obstacles, and then stalls out when details and obstacles become reality?

Could you use a tool for getting and keeping things moving?

Even as we are all unique, we all also fit rather neatly into 8 basic styles of approach to work and life. We each tend to see the world and take action through our style, make decisions and choices that are consistent with our style, and are unaware of and/or put off by people with other styles.

By the way, each of these styles has important perspectives, skills and qualities to offer. And each has its own particular blind spots. We tend to gravitate toward others who share our style, and this can cause too much focus on our strengths and too little on the areas where we are least comfortable and then things can get a bit out of balance.

Most of the members on Frank’s team were of a similar style, best described as “Energizing.” Leaders and teams with this style bring essential passion and energy to projects. But they need balance from other styles in order to keep things moving forward, get the details right and follow through to completion.

When we gain understanding of our own style, the styles of others and the style of our teams and organizations, we can see clearly where style clashes or blind spots may be keeping us stuck and interfering with achieving our objectives.

Awareness of style allows us to define, articulate and address these challenges in new ways that can quickly and dramatically change the results we produce.

Once Frank made his team aware of how they were getting in their own way, they were able to change their pattern by making sure that each meeting ends with specific action steps and each subsequent meeting begins with a check in as to progress. They’re also establishing a “parking lot” for important ideas that surface in the discussion but that are off topic. This allows them to come back to the specific task while being able to decide based on priorities whether to address other issues in a different meeting immediately following or at a later date.

Where are you, your team or your organization stuck that understanding style might give you some tools to get moving in the right direction?

To learn more about leadership styles and how you might use this knowledge to turbocharge your results, contact me: sr@leadershipincorporated.com.

January 22, 2012

Leaders: Are you focused downstream or upstream?

A man walking along a river suddenly sees a local farmer being carried along in the current, struggling to keep his head above water. He heroically jumps in to the rescue. No sooner has he got the man to shore and caught his breath, but he sees another farmer bobbing up and down, screaming for help. Again he jumps in. But they just keep coming. He can’t pull them out fast enough. He starts to become angrier and angrier at these big, stupid farmers who kept falling in the river. He sees the Mayor walking by and calls out for help, but the Mayor runs away, making the man even more furious.

Does this sound like anything you are doing in your work?

Frank, the CEO of an ad agency,  is frustrated by the constant conflict between the creative and account teams, which results in a tremendous waste of time and money — not to mention the impact on client retention and company morale. The creative group complains that the account team doesn’t provide adequate input and sets unrealistic deadlines. The account team fires back that the creatives don’t address the input that’s given and over-create. Meanwhile, they continue to miss the target and have to do work over and over, job after job, month after month, year after year. What makes Frank the angriest is when the creative department starts demanding a presence in client meetings, not understanding how that undermines the account team or the cost of that duplication of effort to the company.

Jody, the head of a regional commercial bank, is trying to support Samantha, one of her VPs in solving a problem with team meetings. Team members aren’t engaged and when they aren’t specifically “on,” they are checking email and doing “who knows what else” on their smart phones. Important information needs to be repeated often. People who slipped out for calls need to be tracked down at critical moments. Meetings take at least twice as long as they should and waste company time and money. She has tried to outlaw smart phone use in meetings. She is outraged when team members have the nerve to complain about Samantha who is the one person Jody can count on to be focused and dealing with business issues.

Back to our man at the river.

Why were the man’s tireless efforts having no impact? It turns out that one mile upstream, on the path to the mill, there is a rickety wooden bridge with no guard rail. A section of supports are loose and as the farmers move across the bridge with their heavy loads, the slats dip and tip them right into the river.

And who discovered this? Why, the Mayor, who hadn’t been running away from the problem at all, but running upstream to find its cause.

If Frank were to look upstream, it would become obvious that his problem lay neither with the account execs nor the creatives but with agency protocol that has the account team as the sole point of client contact. From this perspective it might be easier to see that giving the creative team client contact is not duplicating effort, and is actually a solution to the problem.

Looking upstream, Jody might see that Samantha, her engaged team leader, was actually causing the problem, by using meetings to think out loud and presenting every bit of data before reaching her point or a conclusion. From here, it makes much more sense to solve the problem by coaching Samantha to prepare her thoughts in advance and communicate more succinctly.

When we’re in a downstream solution, it’s only natural to turn our anger on people looking upstream.

When looking downstream at a problem, it can feel quite compellingly that we stand to lose everything by shifting our attention away from the problem. But, that is often exactly what we must do. It’s all about perspective. And the cue to stop what we’re doing and look upstream is when we find ourselves continuing to pull metaphorical farmers out of the river — and becoming angry at the farmers for being there.

So, how about you? Where would looking upstream give you a different perspective on the problem at hand? Where are you trying to solve a business or personal problem downstream when an upstream solution could be a game changer?

Wishing you the inspiration to see your challenges with new eyes over the next few weeks.

January 10, 2012

Short-Term Relief versus Long-Term Success

Bernadette is the managing partner in the mid-west office of a national law firm.

They’ve done well over the last few years, thanks to three senior attorneys with large, high-profile, anchor clients that have kept the firm busy.

Even as these attorneys have been critical to the success of the firm, they are also a big problem. They see themselves as the stars and others in the firm as dead wood. They are condescending and at times abusive of the other attorneys and support staff. Although they are already highly compensated and there is a significant income gap between them and others in the firm, they continue to push to widen that gap further. They strongly oppose any business objectives that do not directly support their practices, effectively preventing other attorneys from rising within the firm. Their sole focus is what is best for them, regardless of what is best for the firm.

Bernadette lives in fear of losing any of these key players. She sees the cost of losing any of the core clients as unacceptable. She works hard to keep the three attorneys happy. Her intention is to retain them at all costs.

The challenge is that morale in the rest of the firm is quite low. The culture is one of fear and resentment. There is a lot of turnover. She can’t pursue any strategy that isn’t supported by the triangle. And 2 of the three major clients are businesses with aging ownership and product lines in danger of becoming obsolete over the next several years.

Bernadette knows they are headed for trouble, but feels completely stuck.

What would you do in this situation?

Would you let the short-term risks rule the day? Or would you take a look at the cost of allowing these attorneys to hijack the business’ future? Would you focus on what people would think if you lost one or more of your key players or on what people think seeing the current turnover in the rest of your firm?

We all have challenges like this which interfere with the forward movement of our businesses. For you, it might not be partners or employees. It could be a strategy or a process. It could be a vendor. Or a way of thinking.

What are you afraid of losing that is causing you to make short-term decisions that undermine your long-term growth?

As we begin 2012, try this on: Shift your focus from addressing short-term problems to making the best choices for the long-term and see what new possibilities might arise.

December 11, 2011

Go Like a Puppy

A high school freshman I know is failing two of his classes. The level of work that he used to get away with in middle school is no longer working. In the past, he could slide on the directions and still get a decent grade. That work is no longer acceptable at the high school level. 9th grade is a different animal than middle school. New skills and levels of detail are required — as are new levels of relationship and responsibility.

This student sees his new situation as a loss. He sees himself in a hostile environment, a no-win situation.

Sound familiar? For the last several years the business world has largely been in a mindset of loss. The rules have changed here, too. You might say that we’ve moved from a more forgiving “middle school experience” into a tougher “high school” environment. We’ve been plucked out of our safe spaces and thrust into unfamiliar territory in which we are no longer sure what’s expected. The stakes are higher, the consequences tougher. More is being asked.

And, like my student, many business leaders are still committed to seeing their situation from a perspective of loss: of clients, income, resources, people, security.

But what if we didn’t see it as a loss?

What if we saw this as an opportunity for personal and professional and organizational development? It’s more obvious in the student’s case, but in all situations, challenging change is an invitation. To be different. To expand. To see things from new perspectives. To ask more of ourselves. To grow. To seize different opportunities. To build new relationships. To drop outdated practices and replace them with new approaches that will support continued growth.

Of course, our losses are real and I don’t want to deny or diminish them. But, the loss is not the point. What we gained through the experience is the point. The point is where we are now and where we are going next.

What happens to us when we focus on the loss? We get stuck. Our attention remains backward-focused. We develop stories of ourselves and our environments that are no longer true. By focusing on what was, we miss what is.

And is it true that anything was actually lost? Could it be more true that whatever was, had its life and was only ever meant to last the time it did? What if what we see as lost was actually meant to give us the tools to face whatever is coming next?

Things come to go. Change is the way of life on planet earth. Resisting the change only gets in our way.

As my dear friend Lee said upon being diagnosed with one of the biggest challenging changes there is: terminal cancer, “I’m going into it like a puppy.”

By which she meant: with curiosity, openness and enthusiasm.

She was onto a profound truth that applies to every aspect of life, especially creating business. You can’t lose in moving forward if you follow these 5 simple steps:

1. Appreciate where you’ve been

2. Learn from it

3. Look for the opportunity ahead

4. Go like a puppy

5. Repeat

 

November 6, 2011

What goals have you amputated?

Filed under: Uncategorized — inspiredtosucceed @ 7:18 pm
Last week on Grey’s Anatomy, a sanitation worker comes in to the ER with half his right hand smashed into too many pieces to save. Callie, the orthopedic specialist, takes one look and says, “That hand’s gotta come off!” But as the patient is being prepped for surgery, Callie discovers that he is a skilled and inspired woodprint artist and that his art is his joy in life. She considers herself something of an artist, too. She sees clearly that saving his hand is a way of saving his life — and preserving something positive in the world. She changes her planned course of action and decides to rebuild the hand.
Watching this, it struck me that I know someone in a similar situation: Daryl is leading a division in a large medical technology products business. The conservative parent company has cut his budgets and staff and is declining his requests for resources needed to grow the business. Daryl’s response has been to do his best to put out his biggest fires and put his focus on polishing his résumé.
Do you see the similarity? Daryl thinks the hand can’t be saved. He’s given up.
What’s different between the two situations is that Daryl doesn’t have a reason to push through this first assessment. At least,not yet.
What if he did? What if Daryl saw that the purpose his organization could serve in the world is bigger than him? Bigger than his fears of failure or rocking the corporate boat or being disappointed or not being up to the task?  What if he believed as deeply as it is possible to believe anything that he could make a real difference in the lives of many people by overcoming his fears and going for the change he knows his company needs? What if he got that giving up on the company would equal giving up on himself?
Do you think that might get him to let go of the idea that his situation is hopeless? Do you think that could engage him in some creative problem solving and possibly some strategic risk taking with the parent org to get something different and better happening?
What we’re talking about here is engagement. Full engagement…you might also call it ownership…inspired by a sense of bigger purpose. When companies have this they perform miracles. This isn’t just in the movies. It happens in business all the time. Only not as often as it doesn’t happen!
So where in your work (or life) are you less than fully engaged? What goals have you given up on that were once energizing and exciting, that held true potential for you or your business?  What are you ready to amputate that isn’t truly done for?
What would happen if you took another look on a deeper level and saw what was really at stake? What if you took full ownership? What would it be like to take full responsibility for the consequences and costs of giving up — and allowed yourself to reconnect with the potential benefits and gains of taking a fresh look and really putting yourself on the line?
What would happen if you fully engaged as if someone’s life depended on it?
Maybe someone’s life does. Maybe it’s yours.

October 16, 2011

Want more downtime? You’ll have to make an appointment.

25 years ago, it wasn’t possible to work this hard.

Without fax, email, and Internet, you couldn’t connect to the information or people you needed “after hours.” Nothing left to do but go home and have a life.

All the blessings of technology have brought us the curse of the endless business day. We no longer have “normal business hours.” All hours are fair game. More and more business meetings happen at 7am and 11pm.

If we’re awake, we’re emailing.

I remember a client who used to say “if you don’t come in Saturday, don’t bother coming in Sunday.” At the time, it was funny and prideful to have these extreme work habits that separated them from the rest of their industry. Now we don’t even have to “come in” to work all weekend. We don’t even joke about it anymore. We barely even think it’s extreme.

And it keeps speeding up. The faster we can do things, the faster we demand things. The more time we can save, the less we have for ourselves.

We think we have so much on our plates that taking care of an email or a meeting in what used to be “our time” will mean we don’t have to take care of it during our already full day tomorrow. We think we have to get it “all” done.

We feel that this is temporary. Just for now. Just till business improves. Just till things calm down.

We believe that if we aren’t responsive around the clock, our clients or employers will replace us with someone who is.

So, how do we live with this? How do we “work to live” in this environment? How do we not work ourselves into heart attacks?

Here’s the deal: This is not temporary. It is not possible to get it all done. And we are not powerless.

We made an appointment to be here. And now we’re making an appointment for what our lives will be like half a year from now. Through our thoughts and actions we lay the groundwork for our future. Whatever we set up now, we’ll be doing harder and faster in 6 months. Whatever we’re doing now will continue to expand.

So if you want to work even longer and harder in 6 months, don’t set any boundaries and keep setting expectations (especially your own) that this is how you’ll continue to work.

The business world used to set our 9-5 appointment for work. The leadership opportunity here is to start making our own appointment for how we work in our future.

How do we do this? By being intentional. If you want more life in your life next year, if you want your work to grow in ways that are sustainable, take responsibility for setting that up now.

Schedule time. Workout time, family time, you time. Time to sleep. Time to work “on” and not just “in” your business.

And honor these appointments the same way you would your client meetings.Follow the same rules. Yes, there are times you’ll cancel with a client— and ways to do that. Follow these same rules for yourself. When you cancel on yourself, reschedule. It’s common courtesy, right?

If you want other people to value your time, you have to value it first.

Here’s the upside: If your best brain time is after dinner and you want to take afternoons off,  you may well be able to create that. You could work at the times that are best for you. And play at the times that are best for you. A blessing/curse of the 24/7 workday is flexibility. And that’s something else you couldn’t have done 25 years ago.

September 26, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: New Pecking Order

Simone L. just took over the leadership role in a mid-sized pharmaceutical contract manufacturing company. She had been with the organization for many years and was well-liked and respected by her peers. No one was surprised when she was chosen to succeed the retiring president.

Simone felt she had the support of her co-workers. So she was unprepared when those relationships changed as she assumed the presidency. All of a sudden people were talking behind her back. She got push back on changes that she thought everyone had wanted for some time. There was buzz that one of her co-workers was resentful, and thought he should have been selected for the position.

This isn’t unusual. Leadership both connects and separates you from those you lead. Change shifts the ground beneath your feet in relationships and increases uncertainty among those who used to be your peers. You may feel the same as ever, yet people see you as changed. Even as their respect may increase, so does the distance between you.

So what’s a new leader to do?

  1. Build confidence by having a clear vision and voicing that direction consistently so people know where the organization is heading.
  2. Build trust by always doing what you say you’ll do.
  3. Build certainty through structure. Structure is calming and safe.
  4. Build team by relying on people to do what they do best and making sure everyone understands their role in the big picture

Get used to being a little separated. Relationships will change. Expect it and stay calm and understanding. Above all, don’t take it personally. It goes with the territory.

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