A Leader is Always Under the Microscope: 2 Lessons From Super Bowl 50

under the microscopeThe Super Bowl post-game actions and comments of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, quarterbacks of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers respectively, reminded me of how important it is for leaders to remember they are always under the microscope. It doesn’t matter if the occasion is the Super Bowl and you’re being watched by over 100 million people, or if it’s a staff meeting and you’re surrounded by a half-dozen team members, your every move is being watched…and remembered…by those around you.

Two specific incidents stood out to me from yesterday’s contest. The first was Peyton Manning’s post-game comments. Fresh off the thrill of winning his second Super Bowl championship and likely playing in his last professional football game, Manning graciously shared the credit for the victory with his teammates. This past season was Manning’s worst from a personal performance perspective, yet he put the needs of the team ahead of his own and the result was magic. Relying on the team’s defense and playing within himself, Manning helped the Broncos win the title. A great example of the power of teamwork.

But Manning isn’t perfect, and like all leaders, sometimes we say or do stupid things. Twice he stated he was going to “drink a lot of beer” after the game and gave Budweiser two unpaid, ringing endorsements (worth over $3 million in free advertising according to experts). For a league so concerned with its public image, and for a guy who has been a class act for most of his career, his comments were crass, careless and thoughtless.

The second example came from Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton. His mandatory obligation for a three minute post-game interview was a display of petulant, sulking behavior. Obviously upset over his most crushing loss as a football player, Newton fumbled the opportunity to show how much he has matured as a leader. Newton has rarely experienced such failure as a football player, having won a junior college national championship, the national college football championship with Auburn, winning the Heisman trophy, and being named the NFL MVP this season. Newton displayed significant growth as a leader this past season but a leader’s true character is measured in how he handles defeat, not victory. This will likely be a blip on the radar of Newton’s evolution as a leader, but it was a notable missed opportunity to raise his leadership brand to a higher level.

Remember, leaders, we are always on stage. The light is always shining on us and people are watching to see how we handle failure as well as success. Our words and actions carry great weight with those around us and we need to be responsible and thoughtful in the way we carry ourselves.

Posted in Communication, Leadership, Professionalism | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Fire an Employee or Give Him Another Chance? Consider These 9 Factors

You're FiredAny leader who has let an employee go knows how excruciating it can be to make that decision. It’s one of the most difficult decisions a leader must make. Given the gravity of the decision, it’s not surprising that most leaders put it off to the bitter end. We like to hold out hope that with a little more discussion, time, or effort the employee can turn things around.

Sometimes our hope isn’t based in reality. It’s based in our desire of what we hope will happen, says Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings. Cloud points out leaders need to have objective reasons to hold out hope that the future performance of an employee is going to be better than the past. No matter how many times the employee says “I’ll do better next time,” or “I’m sorry,” or “I am committed this time,” hard evidence is needed to suggest something will change in his performance. Cloud encourages leaders to have a “reason to believe” an employee can or will improve and he offers the nine objective reasons listed below. I found them extremely helpful and think you will too:

  1. Verifiable Involvement in a Proven Change Process – If the employee is willing to commit to coaching, mentoring, or some other proven process that could help change his behavior, then there is reason to hope his performance has a chance of improving. Many times all it takes is an objective third-party to help a poor performer see what he can’t see for himself.
  2. Additional Structure – By and large, Cloud says, people don’t change without some sort of structure. It’s hard to rewrite old patterns in our brain and we need a detailed structure to help us create new brain patterns. What new structure would you put in place to ensure the employee’s behavior or performance changes?
  3. Monitoring Systems – You know the old saying: “What gets measured gets managed.” To have objective hope that someone is going to improve, it’s necessary to have a monitoring system in place to evaluate their progress over time.
  4. New Experiences and Skills – Sometimes a person’s performance is suffering because he lacks the skills necessary to succeed in the role. The leader needs to determine if the employee is capable of learning the new skills, and if so, give the employee the chance to improve. If the employee has been given all the training necessary and still isn’t performing, then it would be foolish to expect more is going to help.
  5. Self-sustaining Motivation – In case you haven’t yet learned, you really can’t motivate anyone. You can work to create an environment where a person’s motivation can flourish, but at the end of the day, the person has to be self-motivated. Cloud suggests leaders look at how much they have to drive the process. If you’re doing all the work to get the employee to improve and he’s just along for the ride, then it’s clear who has the problem. It’s not the employee; it’s you.
  6. Admission of Need – When you address performance problems with the employee, does he recognize and admit the need for improvement, or is there always an excuse or someone to blame? It’s virtually impossible to help someone improve his performance if he doesn’t recognize the need.
  7. The Presence of Support – It’s essential that a person is given support during a change process. A person who is committed to working on improving his performance would benefit from being surrounded by other high performers who model the behavior the struggling employee is desiring to achieve.
  8. Skilled Help – For there to be real hope for the future, Cloud points out there must be someone in the circle of help who knows what he is doing. Coaching, mentoring, or peer-to-peer help can be great, but the people providing the help need to be qualified and have a solid track record of success.
  9. Some Success – Change takes time and leaders need to have patience while the employee works to improve his performance. But there also has to be movement forward. The leader needs to see the employee making positive strides in the right direction. Only the leader can determine the right amount of time to give a person to show signs of success, but there should be some sort of definitive timeline to the development plan.

It’s hard for leaders to give up hope an employee can improve. But if our hope isn’t based on the reality of the employee’s performance, we end up doing ourselves and the employee a disservice by not addressing the truth. These nine factors provide an objective way for leaders to decide whether they need to let a poor performer go or if there is hope for improvement.

Posted in Change, Decision-Making, Leadership, Management | 2 Comments

Which of These 4 “Weather Conditions” Describe Your Leadership?

weatherSearching for safe cover, fearing damage and destruction, and expecting the worst…is that a description of East Coast residents preparing for this weekend’s immense blizzard or does it describe the way your team members react to your leadership style?

Your style of leadership – the way you speak, act, and relate to your people – can either build or erode trust. While this is a gross oversimplification that undoubtedly leaves out many leadership styles and patterns, which of these weather conditions describes your predominant style of leadership?

The Hurricane Leader

“I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain. I’m coming on like a hurricane.”
Hells Bells ~ AC/DC 

Hurricane Leaders leave a path of destruction in their wake. Team members duck and cover when the boss approaches and hope they survive the storm without any personal damage. The company grapevine serves as an early warning system – “Watch out! The Boss is on his way!” Hurricane Leaders aren’t too concerned with employee morale, engagement, or career development. Their primary concern is whether or not the work is getting done regardless of the human cost. This type of leadership may produce short-term results, but like any hurricane, its power will diminish over time and cease to be effective.

Employees have low trust with Hurricane Leaders because their behavior is often mercurial and unpredictable. Employees are also hesitant to be vulnerable with Hurricane Leaders because they aren’t sure if the leader has their best interests in mind. Hurricane Leaders can build trust by establishing consistent patterns of behavior and dialing down their gale force winds.

The Rainy Day Leader

“That woman of mine she ain’t happy,
unless she finds something wrong and someone to blame.
If ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.”
Rainy Day Woman ~ Waylon Jennings 

Rainy Day Leaders perpetually sees the glass as half-empty. Either through ignorance, apathy, or being constantly beat-down by organizational dynamics, these leaders have surrendered their power and given up hope of a better future. People are not inspired by Rainy Day Leaders. Team members want and need a leader who sets a compelling vision of the future and rallies the team to achieve that vision.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Rosey Grier, the All-Pro NFL football player and member of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line in the 1960’s. He was speaking about his work in leadership development with inner-city youth and he made the comment that “leaders are dealers of hope, not dope.” That phrase has stuck with me and serves as a reminder that a primary role of leadership is to serve as a beacon of hope, especially during the dark and dreary rainy days.

The Sunshine Leader

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry. Sunshine on the water looks so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me high.”
Sunshine On My Shoulders ~ John Denver

Sunshine Leaders are so pie-in-the-sky optimistic about everything that team members find it hard to completely trust them. Perhaps in an effort to constantly boost team morale, Sunshine Leaders can go overboard by not making realistic assessments of difficult situations around them and just “hoping” everything works out for the best. Team members want leaders with positive outlooks, but they also want leaders who acknowledge reality, admit when conditions are bad, and work to make things better.

Sunshine leaders can build trust by surrounding themselves with trusted advisers that are given permission to “speak truth” to the leader and hold him/her accountable to addressing the unpleasant issues of leadership.

A Leader for All Seasons

“To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”
Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) ~ The Byrds

Leaders for all seasons recognize there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to leadership. The first step to being a trustworthy leader is to be true to yourself by having a deep understanding of your values, purpose, gifts, and abilities as a leader, and blending them together to create your leadership persona. People trust and follow authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and live with a clear and purposeful mission.

All Season Leaders know they have to meet each of their followers at their own level, and then partner with them to reach higher levels of performance. These leaders flexibly use different amounts of direction and support to provide the right leadership style that helps their direct reports develop the competence and commitment needed to succeed in their roles. This investment in the growth and development of your people builds trust and identifies you as a Leader for All Seasons.

Posted in Leadership, Management, Relationships, Toxic Leadership | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The 1 Thing That Reveals Your Leadership Priorities

CalendarIs there a leader out there who isn’t busy? Is there anyone who is a little bored at work and is looking for more to do? Um, I don’t think so! I don’t know about you, but I’ve got plenty on my plate. Formulating plans and strategies for the year ahead, working on team members’ performance reviews, putting out the inevitable daily fires that erupt, and attending meeting, meetings, and more meetings. Sound familiar? There’s no shortage of priorities calling for our attention.

As a leader, what should the most important priority be? I’d argue it’s your people. And how can you tell if your people are your top priority? It’s simple: look at your calendar.

Leading people takes time. There’s no two ways about it. Your calendar is a brutal reality check about your priorities. Where you spend your time is where your priorities are. Is your calendar full of meetings and activities related to the development and support of your people, or is it filled with other activities, that although likely important, may not be as impactful as investing in helping your people accomplish their goals (and hence the goals of the organization)?

Here are three simple ways to leverage the power of your calendar to build trust, improve morale, and increase engagement with your team members.

1. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your employees – You can’t develop relationships without the investment of time. Having regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with each team member will provide the structure you need to spend focused time with each other. These don’t have to take a lot of time. Thirty minute meetings every two weeks will usually do the job. Check out this post for more helpful advice about one-on-one meetings.

2. Preserve white space on your calendar – Block out 1-3 hour chunks of time on your calendar where you can wander the halls and connect with team members, be available for drop-in meetings, or use the time for whatever you want. Many leaders tend to over-schedule themselves and wonder why they go home at the end of the day feeling like they didn’t ever really connect with their team members.

3. Eat lunch with your team – Sharing a meal together is one of the best ways to build trust and develop deeper relationships with your team members. It allows your team to interact with you in a less formal, more relaxed setting where they get to relate to you on a personal level and not just as “the boss.”

For some leaders their busy calendar is a badge of honor. They mistakenly think that being busy all hours of the day means they are important and needed. However, leadership is about people, and our priorities—and calendars—should reflect that importance.

Posted in Leadership, Management, Performance Management, Relationships | Tagged , | 4 Comments

6 Myths and 1 Must-Have Ingredient for Leading Organizational Change

changeLeading organizational change efforts is often a messy, challenging, time-consuming, and emotionally draining process for leaders that end in failure up to 70% of the time. We often blame the usual culprits for failed change efforts: too much change too fast, the top leaders didn’t support it, or not everyone in the organization understood the change and bought into it. However, the reasons we commonly think change efforts fail may be more fiction than fact. More myth than reality.

Accenture Strategy recently released a report that shared six common myths about implementing change efforts in business. Their research covered 250 major change initiatives in more than 150 organizations with data collected from over 850,000 employees in the last 15 years.

Myth #1: Too Much Change Too Fast Is Destructive

Accenture found that the highest performing organizations accepted change as a cultural norm. Rather than getting stymied by change efforts, these organizations actually thrived because the tempo of regular change and growth was expected. The research showed that the top performing organizations implemented change at rates up to 30%-50% more than their lower performing counterparts.

Myth #2: Change Causes Organizations To Go Off-Track

Change initiatives don’t usually fail as a result of the change itself. They typically fail because of underlying leadership, culture, or process issues that are already present. Many of these pre-existing conditions are only brought to light when the change effort gets underway. Accenture’s research indicated that 85% of organizations run into trouble because of these underlying issues, but in organizations where there is a solid foundation of trust and confidence in leadership at all levels, change efforts are much less likely to go off-track.

Myth #3: Performance Will Dip During The Early Stages Of Change

Most traditional models of change dictate that performance will decline while people overcome the initial resistance to the change effort. In high performing organizations, performance around cost management, customer service, and effectiveness actually rises consistently from the start of the change through the end.

Myth #4: People Need To Understand Changes Before Committing To Them

This is true…for low performing organizations. But for high performing organizations the reverse is actually true. Because trust is so high in leadership, people are willing to jump on board the change effort in faith without fully knowing where it’s headed. They will invest emotionally and will be happy to figure out the destination as they move forward. The high trust bestowed on these leaders allows them to begin implementing and accelerating change efforts without having to spend inordinate amount of time educating people about the change.

Myth #5: Change Is Usually Top-Down And Meets Resistance From Managers

Effective change usually radiates out from the middle of the organization rather than coming down from the top. According to this research, it’s the managers below the unit leaders who play the biggest part in successfully implementing change. It’s the “heart of the house,” that middle layer of management, that carries the most weight and influence throughout the organization.

Myth #6: Emotions Don’t Matter

Emotions have a tremendous impact on the success of change efforts. This study found that high levels of fear and frustration can negatively reduce business outcomes by 20%, while positive emotions like passion, drive, and trust can boost them by up to 50%.

The Must-Have Ingredient For Successful Organizational Change

I’ve been involved in a fair amount of organizational change efforts during my career. I can identify with these myths, having chalked up the failure of more than one failed change effort to some or all of them. As I read through this report and reflected on my own experience, it’s clear to me that trust is the one must-have ingredient for a successful change effort. Leaders who have the trust of their people can implement change faster, work through resistance easier, build stronger commitment to the change, and drive organizational results. High trust won’t necessarily guarantee the success of a change effort, but you can bet that low trust will almost certainly derail even the best change initiatives.

Posted in Change, Leadership, Trust | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments