leadership incorporated blog

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.

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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.

August 14, 2011

Inspired to Succeed: Leading superstars (and others) behaving like idiots.

Ridiculously common leadership challenge:

That rising star you promoted into a management role, what a mistake! He’s throwing his weight around. She’s behaving unprofessionally. He’s demoralizing the staff. She’s creating conflict. He’s just not getting the job done.

So what do you do?

Traditionally, if we don’t ignore the situation or promote the person (which happens more often than you might think), we confront. We yell. We threaten. We paper the file. We discipline. We demote. We fire. We have that difficult conversation. That’s what accountability is, right?

Not necessarily.

Accountability is us taking responsibility. Us, being accountable.

Every day companies take people who are excellent at what they do and promote them into roles that require they do something more. They assume that people will naturally be as good at the new role as they were at the old one, without recognizing that the new job requires completely different skills and perspectives.

Bad management behavior is a sign of someone who’s drowning — and may not even know that swimming is required, much less how to do it.

As their supervision, their failure belongs to us. It is our job to lead even our leaders.

Should they know better? Maybe. But if they don’t, you are just fighting reality.

Is it understandable and even justified, to discipline these rogue managers? Maybe. It’s just not effective.

Let’s look at how traditional discipline works. We’ve all been there. How do you respond when you are slapped down? Do you push back? Become defensive? Resentful? Do you go underground? Does your confidence take the hit?

Even when people are open to feedback and want to do better, traditional discipline creates an extra layer of fear, defensiveness, and judgment that ultimately gets in the way of performance.

As leaders, what we had better want, even though we may lose touch with it in the moment, is for our people to truly succeed so that our organizations will succeed along with them.

Business is a team sport. If we want to grow, we need to develop and support our players.

Here’s a more effective approach to creating true and sustainable accountability in managers (and others) who disappoint:

1. Take responsibility. Don’t just push people into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim. Supervise and fine tune and guide and coach. Let them struggle — that’s how they learn — but don’t let them go under and certainly don’t let them drown anyone else to save themselves.

2. Align with the person you’re disappointed in. It’s counter-intuitive. We believe we need to confront. Yet, frontal attacks are always met with resistance. So instead of initiating a losing battle, create alignment.

This does not mean making unacceptable behavior okay. It simply means playing on the same team. Instead of standing in front of an employee and pushing them backwards; metaphorically, come around behind them and support their forward movement.

3. Direct their vision to the future. Speak to what is needed. Speak to what’s possible for this person in this role. Speak to their ability and your commitment their success. Be clear about what success looks like in this position in this organization, so they know what’s expected.

4. Build on what’s working. Focusing on what’s wrong keeps you stuck in what’s wrong. Cutting people down doesn’t build them up. Start from what is going well and focus on adding what’s needed. Ask them what support they need.

5. Do not do the work for them. If the support they request removes their responsibility or opportunity for learning, firmly decline and refocus. Empowering and facilitating is the shortest path to growing a stronger company.

6. Have them evaluate their own progress. You evaluate their evaluation. True accountability is helping a person hold him or herself accountable.

7. If you can’t do this, one of you needs to go. That’s right. If they can’t achieve the clear expectations with this kind of support, more often than not, they’ll leave on their own.

On the other hand if you can’t be this kind of leader, what hope is there for your organization?

Make the time. It’s worth it.


May 22, 2011

Ever get frustrated that people aren’t following your instructions?

Here’s a story of frustration I’ve been hearing variations on lately:

“I told my (fill in the blank) ___________ employee/vendor (kids) how I wanted it done, but they just aren’t getting it!”Frustrated?

Can you relate? Have you ever felt that frustration when you keep telling someone what you want and they just can’t get there?

Which of the following is your go-to solution in these situations?

  1. Do it yourself. It’s the only way if you want it done right.
  2. Put it on hold, officially or unofficially. Plan to deal with it later.
  3. Give it up entirely.
  4. Fire or take the employee/vendor (kid) off the project and get someone else to do it. (And someone else. And someone else.)
  5. Yell a lot.

A better question: What would happen if instead of getting frustrated with your _______employee/vendor (kid), you took the responsibility for their not knowing how to meet your needs? What might you do differently?

Here’s the Leadership Incorporated approach: Get engaged in the process. Show them how you want it done. Let them do the work while you give supportive feedback. Coach them through it step by step.

My brilliant manufacturing client does just this. And while other divisions in his company are spending all their time trying to figure out why they have such high failure rates, his team is just getting the job done.

But won’t that take me more precious time than just doing it myself?

You already know how shortsighted that objection is! The logical answer is yes, it takes more time the first time, but it will save time in the long run. Right?

Wrong.

It actually doesn’t take more time at all. Because in truth your project isn’t moving forward, your needs aren’t getting met and it’s taking tons of time! Watch the trap of comparing the time it takes to lead-by-coaching with an idyllic fantasy of mind-reading vendors and staff (and kids) that by definition doesn’t currently exist.  It takes far less time to get into the solution than to stay in frustration and blame.

True leadership means taking full responsibility for producing the desired outcome. Keep in mind that your desired outcome is NOT that you do it all.

When you spend the time to be a true leader you’ll end up with people who know what you want and how to get there — and you’ll have greater confidence in their ability to deliver.

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

August 22, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Why New Hires Fail 46% of the Time

An associate of mine was meeting with a business owner whose business was struggling.

He mentioned how onboarding principles might help her. She paused for a second, gave him a strange look, and asked, “Does it really work?”. He replied emphatically that it does. She then asked, “Do you use it with all the employees?” He responded that he requires onboarding of everyone in the company now, and they love it! “They do???” she asked, seemingly stunned.

At this point my associate looked at her right hand man who had his head down and was shaking it back and forth. He said, “Eric, she thought you said water boarding.”

She wasn’t alone in not understanding the meaning of the term onboarding. I often find that people who have years of business experience have never heard of this practice of supporting a hire or promotion in making a successful transition into their new position.

So, it’s not surprising that 46% of new hires fail within 18 months. Only 19%  achieve unequivocal success. The training most people receive upon starting a new position tends to focus on procedures and technical skills. But only 11% of people are let go because they lack technical skills. Competence doesn’t even make the top 8 list of reasons people fail.

How about you?

In your career, have you ever been let go less than 18 months into a job?

Have you ever been in a position without quite fitting in or figuring it all out?

Or perhaps you’ve been the one who hired a disappointment, but you put up with the situation anyway, perhaps for years?

What was the cost to you? To others? To the organization?

  • Financially?
  • Emotionally?
  • In lost productivity?
  • In lost opportunity?

Onboarding makes a significant difference in helping people avoid the main causes of failure: (note many new hires fail for more than one of the reasons below)

  • 75% of new hires fail because they don’t fit in with the organizational culture
  • 52% of new hires fail because they are unable to build a support team around themselves
  • 33% of new hires fail because they don’t understand expectations and prioritize accordingly
  • 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback
  • 25% fail because they lack political savvy
  • 23% of new hires fail because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions
  • 17% of new hires fail because they lack the necessary motivation to excel
  • 15% of new hires fail because they have the wrong temperament for the job

Most people don’t just naturally know how to manage change and transitions well. And most managers don’t know how to help others transition effectively, either. Many companies have no process in place for the successful assimilation of employees into the company.

Onboarding is about shortening the learning curve. Being brought onboard to an organization (or any new situation, really) in a deliberate and thoughtful way. Onboarding takes into account all aspects of the experience ahead. It supports both organization and individual by planning for success and anticipating breakdowns. It addresses the building of emotional intelligence, communication skills, relationship development and early and consistent wins, to name just a few of the areas generally overlooked in hiring.

And it compares very favorably with waterboarding as a tool for leading change.

*Statistics come from: 1) a Leadership IQ study of 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private,
business and healthcare organizations. Collectively these managers hired more than 20,000 employees
during the study period. 2) a Manchester Inc. Study of executives in Fortune 1000 companies

August 2, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Do you recognize resistance when you see it?

So, I’m trying to lose some weight. And I notice that the days that I declare to myself, “No sugar today,” I end up eating sugar earlier than ever. I actually forget that I have even made myself this promise…usually until just a moment after the sugar is melting from my tongue.

Can you relate? Maybe not in this area, but we all have places where we do not keep promises to ourselves. Where do you do this?

Not following through on commitments is a form of resistance. You can probably see clearly how this resistance might sabotage my efforts toward my goal.

My resistance is brilliant. It continually takes new and different forms and is quite good at disguising itself and finding new ways to outsmart me. Your resistance is brilliant, too.

Resistance will keep us from achieving what we want and need. Worse than that, resistance has the power to sending us and our businesses careening in exactly the opposite direction.

Whether you are a leader in an organization or in your own life, anytime you find yourself in a change situation, you will find resistance. If you don’t, you are not looking hard enough. It is the way of things. You will resist. Your staff will resist. Your boss will resist. Your clients will resist.  Potential employers will resist. Your family will resist. The higher the stakes, the more resistance you will find.

If we are not aware that resistance is at work, resistance wins. But only 100% of the time.

Your only hope of overcoming resistance is to expect it. But even that isn’t enough. You also have to value it and embrace it. You have to work with your resistance, not against it.

You have to get intimate with resistance. And that starts with recognizing it. Here’s what you want to look for:

Obvious resistance is  easy to spot:

  • Refusal
  • Arguing
  • Disruptive behavior

The most powerful forms of resistance are usually much more subtle:

  • Not being available
  • Not getting started
  • Getting distracted and not completing
  • Offering misleading information
  • Bringing up other issues
  • Becoming very busy with something else
  • Getting sick
  • Anger
  • Irritation
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Criticism
  • Silence
  • Feigning acceptance, without asking necessary questions or working out the details
  • Finding reasons to be removed from the task
  • Surfing the web
  • Compulsively checking your BlackBerry or iPhone

Oh yeah, and forgetting.

Which of these do you do? Which do you see the people you work with doing? Which do you see in your clients? Start noticing the signs of resistance in you and the people around you.

Remember resistance is very creative.

Next week, we’ll talk about a few ways to work with your resistance.

April 19, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Postponing a difficult conversation?

Ever had to give an employee a negative performance review? Or tell a direct report  you’re letting them go? Have to tell a boss that his way of doing business is causing problems? Need to confront a friend about asking too much without giving back? Been on the receiving end of a confrontation?

I’m hearing from a lot of leaders this week about difficult conversations they’re having…or not having. After all, most of us, when confronted with a difficult conversation procrastinate, hoping the situation will fix itself or that someone else will deal with it. Meanwhile, we get angrier and more frustrated while our opponent gets more and more set in their ways.

Then we tell ourselves stories about what we know will happen if we do face the person, until the conversation attains epic proportions in our minds. And we become even more paralyzed.

Of course, sometimes situations do resolve themselves, and we, of course, do want to give people a chance to address challenges on their own. However, if acute situations don’t resolve themselves immediately , they quickly become chronic and often worsen. The ripple effect of an intolerable situation intensifies until you have a crisis on your hands.

How are your difficult conversation skills? Can you navigate difficult conversations gracefully while creating the most positive possible outcome?

There are the obvious things to remember: prepare, know your purpose and intended outcome, don’t have a difficult conversation in an emotional moment,  know the law if you represent the company, etc., etc.

Here are 5 useful less-obvious perspectives for difficult conversations:

1.    Develop an attitude of service. Regardless of the topic, be there to help the other person. Do not make the conversation all about you. Don’t expect or need to be taken care of or for the other person to see the situation your way

2.    Check your assumptions. Some people want to be let go. Sometimes the person does not intend for their words to be interpreted as you heard them. Some people want to be confronted. Be as curious and open-minded as possible.

3.    Find a positive mindset. Do whatever internal work you need, to go into the conversation very clear that this conversation will address a situation that needs resolving and that this is what is best for all in the long run. Look forward to achieving resolution and it will be more likely to go well. If you dread the conversation, it will be more likely to be dreadful.

4.    Set your own pace. You control what you say and when you say it. Resist the urge to jump in defensively or let the other person’s pace determine your own.

5.    Listen. Say what needs saying and then shut up. Listen to the other person. Listen for what’s not being said as well as for what is. Reflect what you hear and engage the other person in finding their own solutions.

Remember that it’s better to have a conversation when the degree of difficulty is at 3 than to wait until it hits 8. 9 or 10. And if you have the conversation early there are often more options available than later when your hand is forced.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to let me know how it goes…

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.

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