leadership incorporated blog

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.

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June 19, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: None So Blind As Those Who Focus on Reality

A vice president in a health care organization sees the problems caused by upper management as unsolvable.

She thinks she is just being realistic. She feels powerless to make any changes and fears that she will lose her job if she speaks the truth. She is paralyzed and feels her only option is to tolerate or leave. She doesn’t even consider the potential opportunities that might become available to her in identifying and addressing these challenges head-on.

The president of a digital marketing company believes that “no one has money to spend right now.”  He can find plenty of evidence to support this reality, in the media and from his own personal experience in reaching out to companies for new business who have said “This is not the time.” This belief combined with his fear of rejection and failure is actually preventing him from being able to find and target companies who are growing and profitable and in need of her services.

The head of a PR agency focuses on the likelihood of losing a client if she asks for fair compensation in today’s recessed economy. Not wanting to fight reality, she charges less than she knows she needs and is struggling to make a living. She doesn’t see the potential of winning the client over by making a strong value proposition.

Every business (and life) situation has BOTH challenge and potential. When we focus exclusively on what’s lacking, what’s not working or what might go wrong, we miss the wealth of opportunities that surround us. When we focus too much on “reality” (meaning fear), we become blind to possibilities that could turn our situation around far faster than we could even imagine.

A critical leadership best practice is while remaining aware of the challenges,  keep your focus on the potential. Form a vision for a better way and let that guide your thinking, decisions and actions. Be a little (or a lot) unrealistic. Dare to believe that things could be much much better. And then put your focus on making it so.

Where are fear, frustration or lack keeping you from seeing the opportunities right in front of you?

Ask yourself if you’re being driven by wanting (it may feel like needing) control, safety, approval, separation or connection. Be brutally honest.

Get coaching support in shifting from reacting to these blinding wants to activating the creativity of what’s possible. Your success depends on it.

March 6, 2011

When leaders don’t know they don’t know.

One evening (about 15 years ago), my infant son who’d been playing quietly with building blocks suddenly began to scream. I looked up to see that he had grabbed a handful of his own hair and was pulling as hard as he could. The harder he pulled the louder he screamed. He couldn’t see the connection between what he was doing and the pain he was feeling.

I see this in business all the time.

This week, I coached the leader of an organization who thinks everyone around him is stabbing him in the back. He is suing one client. He has just terminated another. He’s fired one employee and thinks the rest of the staff are taking advantage. He recently stormed out of a professional association because he felt ripped off.

I see him entering new relationships already angry and expecting the worst. As a result, he doesn’t communicate well. He is so worried that he is not going to get his fair share, that he ensures he doesn’t get what he needs. At the first hint things aren’t going his way, he blows a gasket. He feels he’s given and given and he isn’t going to give anymore.

The best clients experience him as angry and demanding and back away from doing business with him. Retention of clients and staff is a problem.

He goes through his life and work screaming and screaming — not realizing that he has the power to change what he’s doing and get different results.

Before we judge him too harshly, let’s be honest. We’ve all had times when we’ve had a metaphorical fistful of our own hair in hand and haven’t made the connection that we are causing our own pain.

We are particularly vulnerable to this in stressful times, during change and even growth — when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, scared, frustrated, depleted, and low on resources.

Here are a bunch of TO DOs — and a few TO DON’Ts — that can turn it around:

TO DON’T: Ask “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?” This question tends to keep us stuck and feeling and acting like victims.

TO DO: Ask “What might I be doing to cause this?” And “What could I do differently to produce a different result?” It might seem subtle, but there is a huge difference!

TO DON’T: Blame others or yourself, even if wrongs have been done. Blame doesn’t get us anywhere.

TO DO: Take responsibility for creating the results you want and need to see.

TO DON’T: Give in to the urge to hyperbolize. Even though it may feel like it, it’s just not true that NOTHING is going right. Or that EVERYONE is against us.

TO DO: Turn your focus to what is working. See how you can leverage that.

TO DO: Remind yourself of your vision and purpose

TO DO: Prioritize

TO DO: Get your focus off yourself and onto being of service to others

TO DO: Find the opportunity in the crisis.

TO DO: Control what you can, let go of what you can’t.

TO DO: Laugh. At yourself. At the situation. Find the humor. Trust me, it’s always there. And finding it makes a real difference.

TO DO: Go outside, take a walk and clear your mind

TO DO: Remember what’s really important

TO DO: Breathe

TO DO: Delegate

TO DO: Ask for help

Finally, here’s an exercise that can help you to spot where you may be part of the problem. Simply answer the following questions:

  1. Identify the undesired results you are currently experiencing. Be specific.
  2. Do you truly want to change the results you are getting in this area?
  3. Are you willing to be completely honest with yourself?
  4. Flip it:  Imagine you WANT TO create these results, how would you go about it? Make a list. Go for volume. Have a sense of humor. Ask others.Brainstorm every possible way you could create the results you are currently getting.
  5. Now look to see what on this list you may be doing — intentionally or unintentionally.
  6. Now that you see your situation in a fresh way, turn it around and brainstorm ways to create the successful results you actually want.

Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Wishing you an inspired week.

October 4, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: 6 ways to get your innovation wheels turning

Recently I’ve had the great honor of working with a brilliant client who is the head of R&D in an organization that develops and manufactures medical devices. I’m supporting him in creating a culture of innovation in his company. So I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and thinking about innovation lately.

There are plenty of thought leaders out there who will tell you that innovation has become more essential than ever to the survival of every organization. All you have to do is look at the rate of change happening in virtually every field to know that if you aren’t riding the wave, you will be left behind. People’s needs are changing. Fast. And not only will your current competition be working hard to beat you to the solutions, new businesses will spring up with new ideas as well.

Change is the new status quo and innovation is the vehicle that allows you to ride that change.

Now, when most people talk about innovation they mean changes in their products or services. Innovation can also refer to your methods of delivering that product or service. Or your ways of getting and keeping business. Or the way you approach virtually any aspect of your business model. And innovations can be suggested by or inspired by anyone inside or outside your business…not just the “creative” people.

So the first thing to do to get your innovation wheels turning is open your mind, break through any limiting thoughts and broaden your description of what innovation might mean for you.

By the way, innovation is a relevant concept even if you’re in transition right now. Because the old ways of looking for work don’t work anymore. Those who are open to creating new approaches will prevail. (For more on this, visit http://www.layoffbounceback.com.)

Whether you are a solopreneur, or leading people in a global conglomerate that employs millions, the basic principles for encouraging innovation are the same:

1. Articulate your desire to innovate and your reasons why. Don’t just assume that anyone (including yourself) will automatically shift into a state of innovation without encouragement, reminders or connection to the vision. Put it in writing. Speak it frequently.

2. Create space. Innovation doesn’t like to be crowded. Schedule empty time for yourself and your people to allow the kind of thinking that leads to innovation.

3. Encourage failure. And then drop the word “failure” from your vocabulary. Failure = Learning. Learning leads to new approaches. New approaches lead to…you guessed it.

4. Reward new thinking, whether it moves forward or not. Don’t forget to reward yourself as well as others! Make new thinking synonymous with success and you will have many more new ideas to build success with.

5. Encourage play. Play is critical to innovation. It relaxes the mind and encourages new pathways for thought. Provide yourself and your people with the tools that encourage play. This might look like paper and markers, clay, building blocks. It might also look like a field trip to an art museum or other places where you can be inspired by the ways others have thought outside of their boxes.

Try something new this week and feel free to let me know how it goes.

August 30, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: : 9 Ways Smart Leaders Lose Peoples’ Respect and Loyalty

This week I observed as the leader of an organization in a team meeting made a series of common mistakes that are practically guaranteed to annoy, offend, alienate and otherwise reduce the likelihood of building loyalty in the team.

I can’t imagine that she had anything but the best of intentions. Yet, these common behaviors are likely to undermine her objectives.

Here are some guidelines that may help you to not make similar mistakes:

DON’T be deceptive about your purpose. When you lead people to expect one thing and deliver another you erode their trust.

DO think about how your words will land with others, what those words will lead people to expect. When in doubt, get feedback.

DON’T focus more positive attention on long-time members. This is just as true in a business as in a membership organization.  It’s easy to think that you want to honor your most valued team members first and most and that this will encourage others to get involved.  However, what this really does is create separation and often makes newcomers feel as if there is a closed circle to which they are not welcome.

DO welcome newcomers first. Make them feel special. Give them the opportunity to introduce themselves or share. Then when you honor those on the team, it feels inclusive and not exclusive.

DON’T make assumptions about the motivations and knowledge base of the team. People come to your business or organization with a wealth of experience and know-how. And they each come with their own motivations. When you assume and get it wrong, they will feel they don’t belong.

DO be aware of your assumptions. Check with the group to see what they know, what they want, what they have to offer.

DON’T bring limiting beliefs into the mix, if possible. Others may not share these beliefs. Nothing will alienate someone faster than a mismatched belief system.

DO work to become aware of your own limiting beliefs, especially in areas relevant to your organization.

DON’T hold yourself up as a role model. Even when you have accomplished miracles and it would benefit people to follow your lead, standing at the front of a room speaking about yourself as someone to emulate is a turn-off. This doesn’t mean you can’t share your experiences and knowledge.

DO be a role model. However, focus your attention and energy on your audience and not on yourself. Know that there are other possible paths to success than the one you followed.

DON’T hold yourself as separate from the team. This is closely related to the last point. When you hold yourself as a role model, you see yourself as being ahead of or better than those you are leading or hoping to lead. They will feel that separation and the best among them won’t follow.

DO see yourself as part of the team. Recognize the value others have to bring, and not just selective others, but each person present. When you acknowledge the possibilities in everyone, many more people will step forward to own and create those possibilities.

DON’T make a negative example of someone in the room. This makes everyone feel uncomfortable. And diminishes trust. If you do this to him today, you could do it to me tomorrow. It will make people hesitant to speak up.

DO make positive examples of people in the room. If a negative example needs to be made, fall on the sword yourself, telling a story from your past. Or generalize, making it clear that many people have made this mistake.

DON’T parent people. Forcing them unnecessarily into actions, not giving them choice and autonomy will do one of two things: It will send the independent thinkers running, it will encourage the rest into co-dependent relationship with you.

DO invite people to experiences. Create a safe space for them to learn and grow and participate. It may take some people longer to step forward than others. Or they may contribute in other ways. When you create the room for all kinds of people and all kinds of participation you will also create incredible respect, loyalty and new possibilities.

DON’T speak down to people. Don’t use your position, authority or celebrity to make them smaller. No one wants to feel small.

DO think the best of people. The excellent book The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (see link below) suggests that you “give people an A.” Assume the best and most of the time, you will both be better for it.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

June 3, 2009

Devastating Mistakes Businesses Make in This Economy: #3

Forgetting that current employees are the ones who will deliver future success. Studies show that after a reduction, there is a predictable and significant decrease in productivity. Errors and mistakes increase. Morale declines while conflict and tension rise. Customer service drops which leads directly to drops in client retention. Yet, most companies do little or nothing to support their retained employees — instead demanding more, and requiring they take on tasks and responsibilities for which they may have no training….and all for less reward. Hardly a recipe for motivation or corporate recovery.

Solution: Offer customized group workshops, individual coaching and other programs that value, empower and support employees through the transition. These may include but aren’t limited to: the opportunity to process feelings resulting from the layoff or current conditions, development of time and stress management skills, communication skills, and  specific customer service and sales training that solves the problems posed by current economic conditions.

June 2, 2009

Devastating Mistakes Businesses Make in This Economy: #2

Forgetting the impact exiting employees have on the well-being of the company. Businesses can’t afford NOT to transition exiting employees. Why? • Disgruntled ex-employees can do a lot of damage to current client relations and retention, not to mention undoing all the time and money spent on building a positive corporate image. • The cost of litigation will always far exceed the preventive investment in outplacement. • Productivity of the survivors is dramatically affected by an insensitive layoff. • In times like these, a business needs its retained employees to rebuild. An insensitive layoff can cause them to jump ship or undermine from within. • A relatively small investment in a smooth transition can prevent much greater costs.

Solution: Retain external offboarding support. In general, employees who are leaving do not want to have conversations about their futures with internal employees and will often not take advantage of internal programs.  While large outplacement firms may be better able to service large numbers of employees, smaller firms can deliver more personalized service for a significantly smaller investment.


June 1, 2009

Devastating mistakes businesses make in today’s economy: #1

Cutting with a blowtorch instead of a laser. In the epidemic rush to cut staff, it’s shortsighted to let essential talent go. As a result, over 50% of workforce adjustments do not achieve their intended objectives. Too often, the company finds itself without the resources to recover and build for the future.

Solution: Think before you cut. Don’t automatically assume that a layoff is the best way to reduce operating costs. And don’t offer incentives for leaving. The best people will go, knowing they can find other work. The weakest will remain.

Sharon Rich is the founder of Leadership Incorporated and Layoff BounceBack. Her companies offer coaching and training programs designed to empower organizations and individuals in transition to create successful futures.

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