Leading with Trust

10 Signs You’re Suffering From Rear-view Mirror Leadership

Rear View MirrorI was high on endorphins yesterday morning after I completed my usual Saturday bike ride. I had retreated to the San Diego coast to escape the heat of where I live inland, and I was feeling great after knocking off a crisp 40-mile ride.

As I drove home, the freeway transitioned into a city road and I eased up behind a gentleman in a black Mercedes. He immediately slowed down significantly below the speed limit in a not so subtle attempt to tell me he didn’t want me following too close behind. I slowed down, all the while observing him eyeballing me through his rear-view mirror. Still not satisfied with the distance between our cars, he continued to pump his brakes and slowed down even more, to the point of holding up traffic several cars deep. Continuing to drive significantly below the speed limit, the grumpy Mercedes driver kept his attention focused on the rear-view mirror instead of watching the road up ahead. I switched lanes to pass Mr. Grumpy Pants and watched him as I drove by. He never took his eyes off the rear-view mirror as he proceeded to do the same thing to the next driver who moved up behind him.

The grumpy Mercedes driver got me thinking about how easy it is to lead by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield. What I mean by that is we can get so focused on what’s happened behind us that we forget to look forward to the opportunities ahead of us. Here are 10 signs you may be suffering from rear-view mirror leadership:

1. Your natural response to change is “That’s not how we do it around here.” Change brings out interesting behaviors in people. I’ve found most people don’t mind change as long as it’s their idea, they’re in control of it, and it benefits them in some way. But most of the time, though, change is thrust upon us in one way or another and we have to deal with it. Rear-view mirror leaders usually fixate on what they’re going to lose as a result of a change and they expend all their effort in trying to prevent or minimize the impact. Forward-looking leaders search for the opportunities of growth and improvement that will result from change. It’s our choice as to how we respond.

2. Things are never as good as “back in the day.” I’m a nostalgic person by nature and am susceptible to this attitude or line of thinking. However, I’ve learned by experience that the past is a fun place to visit but it’s a bad place to live. Nothing new ever happens in the past. There’s no growth, improvement, or change. Our jobs, organizations, and industries are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We have to stay relevant with the times, personally and organizationally, or risk becoming relics of the past.

3. You’re pessimistic about the future. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic about the future, especially in today’s day and age. If your outlook on the future is dependent upon the performance of the stock market or the headline news, then you’re in trouble. The best leaders are dealers of hope. They maintain an optimistic view of the future, keeping focused on their purpose and core values, and putting forth a vision that encourages and energizes their team.

4. You’re focused on maintaining status quo. I’m not one to make a big stink about the difference between leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. But there is one key difference that I think is worth noting—leaders initiate change whereas managers focus on maintaining or improving the status quo. Status quo leadership is often about looking in the rear-view mirror, making sure everything occurred exactly as planned. Forward-looking leadership involves surveying the open road and charting a course to move the team to its next destination. There will be occasional wrong turns, rerouting the course, and asking for directions. It will get messy and chaotic at times. But it will never be status quo.

5. You micromanage. Micro-managers tend to not trust people. Since trust involves risk, micro-managers default to using controlling behaviors to minimize their dependency on others. They want to maintain power so they hoard information, don’t involve others, and make all decisions of any consequence. Micro-managers tend to believe they know what’s best and will act in ways to keep themselves in the center of any conversation, meeting, or activities in order to exert their influence.

6. You spend more time assigning blame and making excuses than focusing on what you can control. Rear-view leaders are consumed with what others are doing or not doing, and almost always believe their lack of success is a result of factors outside their control. “If only Marketing would have provided us with the right kind of collateral that appealed to our clients…,” or “If Operations hadn’t delayed in getting that order into production…,” and “Customer Service does a horrible job at client retention…” are the kinds of blaming statements or excuses you often hear from rear-view leaders. Proactive leaders understand there will always be factors outside their control, so they spend their energy focusing on what they can influence and trust their colleagues to do the same.

7. You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Failure to take initiative is a symptom of rear-view mirror leadership. Because rear-view mirror leaders are focused on the past, what others are doing or not doing, or focused on maintaining the status-quo, they are often caught watching from the sidelines when they should be actively involved in the game. Do you find yourself surprised by decisions that get made? Find yourself out of the information loop about what’s happening around you? If so, you might be sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Find a need, meet a need. See a problem, fix a problem. That’s what forward-thinking leaders do.

8. You have a graveyard of relationships that are “dead to you.” It’s easy to run over people when you’re not looking where you’re going. Precisely because they’ve been leading by looking in the rear-view mirror, these kinds of leaders have often neglected to invest in relationships across the organization. They have “written off” people for one reason or another, usually in an attempt to exert power and influence to preserve their position and authority.

9. A lack of possibility thinking. If your first response to new ideas is to find all the ways it won’t work, you’re a rear-view mirror leader. Critical thinking and risk mitigation is necessary when considering a new concept, but if the ideas that come your way never make it past the initial sniff test, then you may be shutting yourself off to new possibilities. Instead of shooting holes in the ideas your team brings to you, try responding with this question: “How could we make this work?” You may be surprised at how much energy and passion it unleashes in your team.

10. You have an “us vs. them” mentality. Do you say “we” or “they” when referring to your organization and its leadership? Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, rear-view mirror leaders tend to disassociate themselves from the decisions and actions of their fellow leaders. Being a leader, particularly a senior or high-level one, means you represent the entire organization, not just your particular team. You should own the decisions and strategies of your organization by phrasing statements like “We have decided…” rather than “They have decided…” because it shows your team that you are personally invested and committed to your organization’s plans.

The grumpy Mercedes driver couldn’t see he had a wide-open road ahead of him to enjoy because he was too focused on what others were doing behind him. Don’t make the same mistake as a leader. If any of these ten signs ring true, you may be spending more time leading by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield.

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

Try This One Simple Method to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

goalLet me go out on a limb here. You’re probably reading this article because you’re contemplating resolutions you’re going to set for the New Year, right? You don’t have much confidence in keeping your resolutions because you’ve failed repeatedly in the past (surveys show only 8% of people keep their resolutions), so you’re looking for some game-changing advice.

Or maybe you’re thinking about the goals you’ve set for your team or organization and you’re stressed out about how you’re going to actually achieve them. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ve set goals for the year only to look back twelve months later to realize what you accomplished bears little resemblance to what you set out to do. For most of us the challenge is not in setting goals. I mean, we’ve got a ton of projects and priorities on our plates. We’ve got goals aplenty! The difficulty lies in prioritizing goals and staying on track to get them accomplished.

There’s a better way to work toward achieving your goals and it’s called the Six by Six Plan – the six most important priorities you need to accomplish over the next six weeks. It’s a method of goal prioritization and execution I learned from Bill Hybels.

It starts with asking yourself one critically important and fundamental question: What is the greatest contribution I can make to my team/organization in the next six weeks?

In answering that question, consider the decisions, initiatives, or activities for which only you can provide the energy and direction. You will likely generate dozens of items on your list that will need to be whittled down to the six that require you to take the lead in order to deliver the most impact.

There is nothing magical in having six priorities over six weeks. What’s important is having a manageable number of goals to accomplish over a relatively short time period. It needs to be a few goals that allow you to keep your energy high and a short enough time period that creates a sense of urgency. Setting big, broad goals for the year is like running a marathon. It’s too tempting to get overwhelmed, distracted, or lose energy on goals that seem so distant. It’s much easier to run a series of sprints by focusing on just a few key priorities for a short amount of time.

I think it’s important to emphasize the 6×6 method is a helpful tool for goal prioritization and execution. It’s not a way to set goals, which is an art and science unto itself. Check out this YouTube video of Bill Hybels describing the Six by Six Plan. Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful as I did.

(I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.)

Too Many Priorities? 3 Tips to Focus on What Matters Most

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I took on an increased scope of responsibility this year, and as the year winds down and I reflect on how I invested my time and energy, I’ve realized my focus was diffused over too many competing priorities. It left me a bit unsatisfied with my level of effectiveness, so I want to enter 2017 with a renewed focus on channeling my efforts into the most important activities that will drive the highest levels of impact.

If you find yourself in the same boat as me, then maybe you can benefit from the following three steps I’m going to take to renew my focus in the coming year:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. Throughout the year you’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

5 Characteristics of All-Star Leaders and Managers

ASG 2016 Logo2Many of the world’s greatest baseball players will put their talent on display in America’s Finest City on Tuesday, July 12th, as my hometown San Diego hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. There are common traits and characteristics of the game’s best players. In baseball we call them “five-tool” players. That means they can hit for average, hit for power, run, play great defense, and have a great throwing arm. But having those tools alone doesn’t qualify someone to be an All-Star. They have to earn it through their performance on the field.

All-Star leaders and managers share common characteristics too. And just like baseball players, they have to earn their All-Star status through their performance at work over an extended period of time. Here are the “five tools” of All-Star leaders and managers:

1. They listen to learn and with the intent to be influenced — A common activity we do in our training classes is called the “Best Boss” exercise. We ask participants to write down the characteristics of the best boss they’ve ever had. Being a good listener is always near the top of the list. All-Star managers listen to learn and they have an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by others. Listening deeply and intently to others builds trust. It shows you value them and their opinion, and in that moment of time, you’re placing their needs and interests ahead of your own. Developing your listening skills is one of the quickest ways to move from being a so-so leader to an All-Star caliber leader.

2. They praise good performance — In training sessions I’ve conducted over the years I’ve asked hundreds upon hundreds of people this question: Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of all the praise your boss gives you. No one ever raises a hand. Why is that? Is there some unwritten code that says managers shouldn’t praise people because they might get too comfortable and stop performing? For whatever reason, many managers are as stingy with praises as they are with the last dollar in their wallet. Your people need to know that you notice and appreciate their efforts. They are seeking approval and acknowledgment for their achievements in the workplace, and if you can’t, or more accurately, won’t give it to them, they’ll eventually seek it out from another manager or organization.

3. They expect the best out their people — All-Star leaders expect the best out of themselves, and because they hold themselves to high-standards, it allows them to hold their people to them as well. The sequence is important, so don’t miss it. The leader goes first, sets the example, and then others follow. A leader who demands the best from his/her people yet doesn’t live up to those same standards is a fraud. Hold yourself to high standards and expect the same of your people. More often than not they will reward your faith in them.

4. They celebrate success — Leaders of winning teams know the importance of celebrating success, both on an individual level and team basis. Winning is so much more fun than losing, yet some leaders lose sight of that basic truth. They constantly push their team toward the next objective, never taking time to recognize accomplishments along the way. That style may work for achieving results in the short-term, but over the long-term it will burn people out and turn them away from you. Everyone has a need to have their accomplishments recognized and doing it periodically helps replenish their mental, emotional, and physical energy needed for their work.

5. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities — Even professional baseball players make mistakes. Have you seen how the vast majority of managers react when a player makes a mistake? Many times they don’t do anything. They know the player knows he made a mistake and there is little profit in reminding him of the fact. Sometimes the manager will discreetly sidle up to the player and have a quiet conversation about the play, and when they do, it’s almost always talking about what the player learned from the experience and what they’ll do differently in a similar situation in the future. You’ll rarely see a manager publicly chew out a player. So why do so many leaders in organizations think it’s OK to rant and rave at their people at work? You may think it allows you to look tough and display your authority. It doesn’t. It makes you look immature and unable to control your emotions. It also makes you a bully. No one arrives at work and says to himself “I think I’ll be a total failure today!” Mistakes happen. It’s part of being human. All-Star managers know their people are usually trying their best and they use mistakes as an opportunity to teach and grow their people; not as an opportunity to humiliate them.

Just like All-Star baseball players share common traits, so do All-Star managers and leaders at work. Listening with the intent to learn, praising good performance, holding their people to high standards, celebrating success, and treating mistakes as learning opportunities are all characteristics of All-Star leaders. How do you shape up? Would you qualify as an All-Star?

Elevate Your Leadership Focus and Enjoy These 4 Benefits

Manhattan SkylineSeveral years ago I was in a season of my leadership journey where I was consumed with addressing and solving day-to-day operational issues. Each day seemed to bring another problem to solve, a challenge to work through, or a fire to fight. The days became weeks and the weeks became months. My stress level kept rising, I kept working harder, and yet it seemed like I was running in place. After telling my sob story to my manager she made a simple, yet profound observation that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It sounds like you’re spending all of your time working in the business and not on the business.”

What she was encouraging me to do was to take a helicopter ride. Speaking metaphorically, I was spending all of my time furiously driving up and down the highways and byways of our business trying to get stuff done, but it caused me to spend a lot of time in traffic jams and the progress was slow. What I needed to do was periodically rise above the daily chaos and take a helicopter ride to gain a different perspective of our work.

Taking time to work on the business…taking a helicopter ride…has several key benefits that will accelerate your productivity and passion for your job.

  1. It provides perspective — A few years ago I was painting several rooms in our house and I noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it before because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level. Spending all of your time working in the business can lead to tunnel vision and you run the risk of losing sight of the end goal. We can easily get distracted with fire fighting and stop paying attention to higher level priorities and metrics that drive the success of our organization. An occasional helicopter ride snaps you out of the day-to-day routine and forces you to view your business at a macro-level.
  2. It relieves stress — Each of us has a different level for stress tolerance but we all have one thing in common—we will eventually crash and burn when our tank reaches empty. The daily grind of work can be stressful and it takes its toll. Studies have shown that workplace stress is far and away the number one stressor we face in life. It’s imperative for your health to find productive ways to relieve stress and taking the metaphorical helicopter ride is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Regardless of how you do it – devoting an hour a week to strategic planning, one day a month, or having a periodic retreat with your leadership team – the important thing is you do it. Helicopter rides allow you to clear your mind of pressing priorities and helps you re-calibrate your approach to work.
  3. It sparks creativity and problem solving — Many of my best ideas come to me when I’m away from the office. Whether I’m in the shower or cycling in the back country, the ideas flow when I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander. Helicopter rides afford you the opportunity to think in a different way, unencumbered by the routines and demands of the office. Constantly working in the business keeps your mind focused on the immediate and urgent problems, whereas working on the business allows you to creatively brainstorm new approaches to your challenges.
  4. It nourishes your soul — Leaders set the tempo for their teams. If you want a team that is engaged, energized, and committed to their work, then you need to model that behavior. That means you’re constantly pouring yourself out for others. If you aren’t replenishing your own energy you won’t have any left to give others. Sometimes helicopter rides mean getting away from work entirely by taking a vacation. Work can wear us down to the point where we develop an attitude of cynicism or a defeatist mentality. If you notice yourself going down that road then it’s a clear warning sign your soul needs some nourishment.

As leaders we are often motivated to always be on the go…get things done…make stuff happen. There’s a time and place for all that activity, but there is also a time and place for rising above the day-to-day and taking a helicopter ride to look at your business, and your leadership practices, in a new and fresh way.

Feel free to leave a comment about your own strategies for taking helicopter rides.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org under the title Leaders Should Take a Helicopter Ride Once in a While.

Leadership Development Carnival – June 2016

leadership_carnival logoIt’s my pleasure to host the June 2016 edition of the Leadership Development Carnival. This month’s collection of articles is a treasure trove of wisdom from many of the world’s premier leadership, management, and coaching thought leaders and practitioners. Enjoy!

Do Your Motivations Undermine Your Ability to Lead? by MarySchaefer — Certain leaders are disconnected from the motivations of the human beings who happen to be employees. Successful leaders are aware that when you make decisions that affect their lives, employees need to know you understand what keeps them engaged, or you risk compromising their trust.

The Power of Almost Perfect Practice by Jennifer V. Miller — Jennifer’s preteen daughter is learning to play the trumpet and that’s providing opportunity for how to encourage someone who’s learning a new skill. Read Jennifer’s thoughts on how to catch someone doing something (almost) right.

May The Force Be With You: An InPower Guide to Real Superpowers by Dana Theus — The reason media superheroes are so popular is because we all yearn to unlock our secret inner talents, the ones we instinctively know we have by virtue of being human. For most of us, navigating the trials and tribulations of a day at the office, a light saber seems like overkill. But the ability to steer someone’s thinking or read their true intent? Now that would come in handy!

Feel Unappreciated? Improve Your Working Relationships by Joel Garfinkle — I just don’t get it! I know I’m doing good work, but nobody seems to notice. I put in the hours, I bring in the clients, I get the job done. If you feel unappreciated, apply these three action steps to improve your working relationships.

How’s Cubicle Life Going for You? by Jim Taggart — In this post Jim looks at how the modern cubicle was initially created and its evolution in the ensuing years, noting the effects on people.

Bubbily Boo’ by Bill Treasurer — While on an epic vacation to Spain a few summers ago, Bill learned a valuable leadership lesson from his kids.It was the first time he realized that Dad Dad and Business Dad were two different people.

Tactical To-Dos for First-Time Leaders by Jon Mertz — Given the opportunity, how would you help someone prepare for their first leadership position? Jon Mertz shares five slices of advice to provide a solid foundation for anyone walking into a new leadership role.

Why You Need to Learn to Coach People by Mary Jo Asmus — There are lots of things that are called coaching, but aren’t. Real coaching uses a special type of two-way conversation that can help leaders to help others. This article describes what coaching isn’t and why it’s important for leaders to (really) coach others.

Give ‘Em Some Space (for Possibilities) by Julie Winkle Giuloni — There’s one  thing that best-in-class coaches do that frequently goes unnoticed to the casual observer. It’s invisible but perhaps the most invaluable contribution a coach can make: Exceptional coaches hold the space for possibilities.

The Problem With Motivating People by David M. Dye — A recent audience member asked David: When it comes to motivating people, are the carrot and stick dead? David suggests that they’re not dead, but they rarely get you what you want.

Deliver on the Promise of Servant Leadership by Chris Edmonds — Two friends – in completely different industries – were excited to join a vibrant boss & company. Within months the bubble burst – their great boss left due to values conflicts and worse. How can we help leaders serve others – not themselves? This post explains how.

3 Practices to Protect Your People from Toxic Stress and Burnout by Michael Stallard — Burnout is on the rise in healthcare and is taking its toll on healthcare workers. Michael Lee Stallard explains steps that leaders can take to protect their people from toxic stress and burnout.

Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self Doubt by Art Petty — The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a distinct shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence. This article offers six ideas to help you strengthen your support of these individuals on your team.

6 Tips for Becoming a Compelling Conversationalist by Willy Steiner — Willy shares why a good conversation is like playing catch and 6 things that a great conversationalist will do to make the dialogue good for both sides.

Make Communication Personal To Establish Greater Connection by Paul LaRue — With all a of our electronic communication – emails, texts, and even social media – we still have opportunities to connect and build personal engagement.

Talent Management Strategy Lessons Learned from T-Ball by Mary Ila Ward — If you have ever had a son or daughter play t-ball there is only one word that can describe it…chaos. In this guest post from Dave, Mary’s husband, he shares that a couple of weeks into the season he realized he would be utilizing many of the management skills he uses at work.

Managers and Musicians: Leading by Being Present by Marcella Bremer — Marcella says, “I attended a music workshop that helps leaders discover the ‘note you cannot hear’. What stood out for me is that action speaks louder than words, or better phrased: presence speaks louder than words.” Check out Marcella’s article to learn more.

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Paula Kiger — This post is a review of the book by the same title. The book encourages leaders (as well as employees throughout all layers of corporate hierarchy) to recognize and nurture “the power of everybody.”

Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort by John Hunter — If you don’t understand why you take action you will find yourself wasting effort. You must have a theory that you can test in order to test what is working and what changes actually lead to improvement and learning.

Turn Relentless Focus into Attentiveness by Jill Malleck — As leaders take on more responsibility they sometimes become adept at compartmentalizing to avoid distraction. This relentless focus may be seen by others as rigidity or disinterest. Here’s how to ensure an ability to focus remains a strength.

Developing Your Own Management Career Plan by Lexie Martin — Lexie says, “Proactively motivating and managing yourself, including your career development, is part of your responsibility as a manager.” This easy-to-follow guide provides simple steps to help you take control of your development, from identifying where you what to head as a leader to planning the actions you need to take to get there.

It’s Time to Take a Stand for a #TrueLeaderCreed by Jesse Lyn Stoner — Jesse’s post features the True Leader Creed, created by by Aspen BakerEileen McDargh, and Charlotte Ashlock as a vehicle to take a stand for positive leadership. Read the post and sign the creed!

Are You Giving The Right Message With Your Leadership? by Tanveer Naseer — When it comes to praise, it’s not just how often leaders give it, but also what kind. Discover how this difference can help to empower your employees.

Don’t Worry About Being Humble, Just Do It by Wally Bock — Humility is a virtue. You acquire it be acting humble. Here’s how to start.

Creativity’s Role in High-Performance Organizations by Neal Burgis — Being creative helps high-performance organizations stay ahead of the competition by doing things differently and they do it better. Most organizations don’t realize how to thrive, but here are some ways they can move forward.

Avoiding the Big Mistake New Leaders Make by Robyn McLeod — Robyn shares essential steps for avoiding the deadly traps organizations fall into when bringing in an external hire for a leadership role.

What to Do (and Not to Do!) to Get Your Presentation Off on the Right Foot by David Grossman — It’s not uncommon to hear leaders say they need to tell a joke to get the audience’s attention, but what many don’t know is it’s not a helpful strategy for the majority of us. It’s risky. Read on to get proven tips to ensure your presentation gets off to a strong start.

6 Weights Holding You Down From Becoming The Leader You Want To Be

Boat with BarnaclesAs a natural process of a ship being in the water for extended periods of time, barnacles and other marine life grow and attach themselves to the ship’s hull. If left unattended, the barnacles can increase drag up to 60%. This can decrease speed by 10% and result in the ship using 40% more fuel. In essence, the ship works harder, spends more energy, and performs worse over time.

The same principle applies in our leadership journey. Over the course of time we accumulate habits and practices that increase drag on our performance. Everything seems to take more time and energy than it should require. It builds up almost imperceptibly until one day we wake up and feel like we’re burned out. Just like ships are periodically removed from the water to have their hulls cleaned, leaders need to regularly remove the barnacles that are holding them back from performing at their best. Here are six common barnacles that weigh you down over time:

1. Meetings — Let’s face it, even though meetings are the bane of our existence, they serve a vital purpose in organizational life. It’s a primary way information is shared, relationships built, and work is accomplished. However, we too often let meetings run us instead of us running meetings. Review your calendar and examine each of your regular meetings. Are they still serving the purpose for which they were created? Do the meetings have specific agendas with desired outcomes identified? Are the right people involved to make decisions? Are there alternative ways to accomplish the goal of the meeting without bringing everyone together? Those are all valuable questions to ask. If the meetings aren’t providing the return on investment that makes them worth your time, cancel them or reshape them to be more productive.

2. Policies, Procedures, Processes — We institute policies, procedures, or processes to handle new activities that arise over the course of time. When money, staffing, and time isn’t an issue, we don’t give much thought to adding new work into the system. But when resources become scarce, it can prove very difficult to reduce or eliminate activities or services that have become the norm. It can be helpful to apply the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, to your leadership practices. What are the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results? Focus on the 20% and remove the 80% that are barnacles.

3. Committees — Collaboration is an important and valuable practice but sometimes we take it a bit too far by trying to do everything by committee. It slows down the process and frustrates everyone involved. If a committee is truly needed, make sure it has a clear purpose, goals, and clear decision-making authority. If you’re a member of a committee that doesn’t have a clear purpose and goals, reevaluate your membership. Maybe it’s time to remove this barnacle.

4. No-No People — Every organization has naysayers; it’s a fact of life. However, there is a big difference between people who express doubts or ask questions in a genuine effort to understand the proposed change and make the best decision possible, versus those who are No-No’s—their answer will always be “no,” no matter what. No-No’s are huge barnacles that cause tremendous drag on your leadership. They require enormous amounts of emotional and mental energy that distract you from more important priorities. Removing this barnacle will dramatically increase your productivity and personal satisfaction of being a leader.

5. No Vision or Goals — In a paradoxical sort of way, the lack of something, in this case vision and goals, can actually be something that weighs you down. A clear vision and specific goals help to focus your energy and streamline your efforts. When you know what you’re striving for, you can pare away all the non-essentials that get in your way. Without a clear vision or goals, your leadership energies are widely dispersed and less effective. If you feel like your days are consumed with fighting fires and you go to bed at night exhausted from chasing every squirrel that crosses your path, then chances are you don’t have a clear vision or goals driving your actions.

6. Seeking the Approval of Others — You will always be unfulfilled as a leader (or person) if your self-worth is determined by the approval of others. Striving to please all people in all circumstances is a barnacle that will slow you down to a crawl. Leaders sometimes have to make decisions that benefit one group of people over another and that inevitably leads to conflict. The best thing you can do as a leader to remove this barnacle is to act with integrity in all circumstances. Not every decision you make will be a popular one, but as long as you consistently live your values you will earn the respect and trust of your colleagues.

The buildup of these different leadership barnacles is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be final. Perform a regular cleansing to remove the barnacles and restore your leadership performance to its full potential.

Focus On The 7 Minutes, Not The 2 Seconds – 3 Leadership Lessons From Skydiving

skydiverBarbara was coming up on a milestone birthday and decided she wanted to do something adventurous and out of the norm to celebrate the occasion. So why not go skydiving? That certainly fits the bill. Her daughter Courtney, a manager on my team, went along and the two had a fantastic experience.

I knew from previous conversations with Courtney that she was unafraid of jumping out of a perfectly fine airplane. She doesn’t have much of a sense of fear. So when I had the chance recently to speak to Barbara, I was curious to learn her perspective. I asked her if she was afraid or nervous leading up to her skydiving adventure. Barbara said the only time she started to feel anxious was when she thought about actually jumping from the plane. Then she added what I thought was a profound insight: “So instead of focusing on the two seconds of fear of leaving the plane, I chose to focus on how fantastic it would feel to fly through the air for seven minutes.”

Thinking about Barbara’s insights has caused me to draw a few interesting parallels to leading in challenging or fearful circumstances.

1. Your focus determines your reality—Barbara intentionally kept her focus on the seven minutes of fun and joy she would experience as she floated to earth under a safe parachute rather than the fear and panic that arose inside of her when thinking about jumping from the airplane. The principle is the same for leaders facing situations that conjure up feelings of fear. We can choose where to place our focus: on what causes us fear or on what the benefits will be if we act with courage. When facing challenging situations, focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. Focusing on what you can’t control only leads to worry, anxiety, and fear, whereas focusing on what you can control makes you feel empowered and purposeful.

2. Acknowledge your fear but don’t let it rule you—Fear is a normal response. Sometimes it’s a helpful warning sign that assists us in making decisions to protect ourselves. Many times, however, we experience fear in anticipation of a particular situation or outcome and it causes us to stop dead in our tracks before we even get started. If Barbara had let the fear of jumping from the plane hold her back, she never would have experienced the thrill of skydiving. The next time you feel fear rearing its ugly head, step back and try to view it dispassionately. Step outside of yourself and acknowledge what you’re feeling but also look at it logically. Understand what needs to be learned from your fear but don’t give it more credit than what is due. Be prudent, be smart, think things through…but don’t let fear rule your life.

3. Approach challenges with openness and positivity—There are many factors that shape how we typically respond to challenges in life. Some of these factors are largely out of our control: personality, temperament, and early childhood experiences, just to name a few. However, there is one factor completely under our control: our attitude. We can choose what kind of attitude we have in the face of challenges. We can choose to be fearful and resistant, or we can choose to be open and positive. Approaching challenges with openness and positivity opens the door to learning and growth, both essential characteristics of successful leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a burning desire to jump out of an airplane and parachute back to earth. However, after talking with Barbara, I have a better picture of how I could get beyond my fear of skydiving if that was ever a challenge I wanted to tackle. But there are plenty of other challenges I face as a leader and I’ll be relying on these three principles to help me approach them in a more positive, empowering, and healthy way.

Do these principles ring true to you? Feel free to leave a comment and share your perspective.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s 4 Keys to Leadership Success

RudolphRudolph the red-nosed reindeer may be the most famous reindeer of all, but not too many people know the reasons behind his enormous success. Rudolph’s experience offers a number of lessons for leaders at all levels.

If you aren’t familiar with Rudolph’s story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Rudolph was a reindeer with a red nose. None of the other reindeer had red noses so Rudolph was frequently ridiculed and ostracized for being different. One foggy Christmas eve, Santa asked Rudolph if he could join the sleigh team and use his red nose to light the way through the fog. Rudolph took the challenge, was a big success, and became loved and admired by all the other reindeer.

Despite how it might sound when Bing Crosby croons about Rudolph’s achievement, that little red-nosed reindeer wasn’t an overnight success. He worked for years preparing himself for his opportunity, and when it came, he took advantage of it. Here’s four lessons we can learn from Rudolph:

1. Don’t let assumed constraints hold you back – Assumed constraints are the self-limiting beliefs we hold that prevent us from being our best. We tell ourselves things like, “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not creative,” “That job will be too hard,” or, “I’m not like all the other reindeer.” Well, maybe you don’t say that, but you get what I mean. Rudolph could have chosen to limit himself by believing his red nose would prevent him from being on Santa’s team, but instead, he chose to embrace his unique talents. Which leads to the second secret of Rudolph’s success…

2. Leverage your strengths – As illustrated in Marcus Buckingham’s ground-breaking work, we tend to spend most of our time and energy at work, and in life, trying to shore up our weaknesses. If we focus on building upon our strengths and minimizing the instances our weaknesses come into play, we tap into more joy, engagement, and success in our work. Rudolph had a strength no other reindeer possessed, a red nose, and found success because he discovered and leveraged that strength.

3. Prepare for your opportunity – The Roman philosopher Seneca famously said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Rudolph didn’t know if he would ever get the opportunity to be part of Santa’s sleigh team, but he prepared each day so he would be ready when his chance arose. When his opportunity came, he was ready. So much of success comes down to being in the right place at the right time, but that only helps if you’ve put in the right preparation to help you succeed.

4. Take a risk – Nothing ventured, nothing gained…at some point you have to take a risk if you want to succeed. You have to raise your hand, volunteer for the special project, offer an opinion, sign up for that class, ask the girl on a date, or any number of risky actions to move forward in your life and career. Rudolph could have offered Santa a number of excuses…”It’s too foggy,” “My nose isn’t that bright,” “It’s more comfortable here in the stable”…but he saw his chance and he took it! Preparation breeds confidence, and if you’ve put in the hard work to prepare yourself (see point #3), then you can step confidently into your future knowing you’ve done your best to set yourself up for success.

Rudolph transformed himself from a reindeer who lacked self-confidence to the leader of Santa’s sleigh team because he refused to let his assumed constraints hold him back, leveraged the unique strengths he possessed, prepared diligently, and took a risk when the opportunity presented itself. Outstanding lessons for all of us this holiday season.

6 Ways Workplace Optimism Creates Trust and Community

Thumbs Up GroupWe are in desperate need for a new model of leadership in organizations. The type of leadership we’ve seen the last several decades has produced record low levels of trust and engagement in the workforce, so clearly what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front doors of their workplace as they trudge through another day of work that lacks inspiration, purpose, and is disconnected from all other parts of theirs lives.We need a leadership philosophy grounded in the knowledge and belief that the most successful leaders and organizations are those that place an emphasis on fostering trust, community, and optimism. We need a new approach to leadership; we need people-centered leadership.

In his new book, The Optimistic Workplace: Creating An Environment That Energizes Everyone, Shawn Murphy, my friend and fellow advocate of human worth in the workplace, offers six straightforward strategies leaders can employ to develop a sense of community and belonging in workplaces that builds trust and collaboration.

1. Send employees to learn other parts of the business — Early in my career I worked in the funeral service business. Yes, I said funeral service, as in cemeteries and funeral homes. I worked in the corporate headquarters of the cemetery division, far removed from those on the “front lines.” In order to help everyone learn the business and build collaborative relationships with those who worked in the field, all new employees were sent to work at a cemetery or funeral home for three days. It was an experience that transformed me. I came away from it with greater understanding of the business, more appreciation for colleagues working with our customers, and an increased connection to the important service we were providing.

2. Inquire regularly into the team’s effectiveness — Peter Drucker said that nothing good ever happens in organizations by accident. It takes intentional planning and effort and that’s especially true when it comes to staying in touch with how your team members are feeling and performing. It’s easy to fall into the practice of “no news is good news.” An important way to foster trust is to have regular check-in meetings with your team members. We advocate 15-30 minute one-on-one meetings every 1-2 weeks. The agenda is driven by the team member and it can be anything on their mind: how they’re feeling, discussing how things are going at home, direction or support they need on a particular task, or just sharing an update with you about their recent accomplishments. Knowing what’s going on with your team members removes barriers that often derail collaboration.

The Optimistic Workplace3. Hire people with collaborative tendencies — In his book, Murphy shares an example of how Menlo Innovations tests job candidates for collaborative tendencies. Candidates are put into pairs, given a challenge to solve, and told that their goal is to make their partner look good. People with a tendency to collaborate make it to the next stage in the hiring process. Instead of asking your job candidates if they like to collaborate, devise some sort of exercise that allows them to demonstrate their skills. Murphy points out that collaboration is not merely an action, it’s also a mindset.

4. Develop routines that reinforce collaboration — You know those committees that get formed to plan holiday parties, team BBQ’s, or other group activities? They can be really frustrating, can’t they? But they serve an important purpose: they reinforce social and team norms that allow people to collaborate and bond with each other. Many of these practices seem out of date in today’s technology-enabled world. Who needs a committee when you can just create a Facebook event and invite everyone, right? Wrong. Leaders who foster high-trust and collaborative environments look for opportunities to bring people together.

5. Create spaces for random collisions — I love this recommendation! We all know that many times the most important decisions or creative breakthroughs happen in the hallway or lunch room conversations after the formal meeting. Murphy recommends we look for ways to structure our work environment that allow people to naturally and routinely “collide” with each other. When people collide in these natural ways, they feed off each others’ energy. It leads to deeper engagement between team members which results in more creative exploration of ideas and concepts. For some organizations the open work space concept works well, while for others it doesn’t fit their culture or business needs. Whatever approach you use, look for ways to help people interact in positive ways.

6. Make time for face to face meetings — Knowledge workers are increasingly isolated as we move to more people working virtually. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to congregate in the same location to get work done. Work is not a place you go; it’s something you do. In this environment it’s even more important to foster human connections. Webcams, Instant Messenger, and other technologies are good starts, but nothing replaces face to face interaction. It’s critically important to bring your team members together at regular intervals so they can deepen their relationships with one another. Trust and commitment to each other is built during these times and it’s the lubrication that keeps relationships working smoothly.

The climate of our organizations set the tone for how people “show up” on the job. Unfortunately, too many leaders are thermometers, reflecting the poor climate of their teams, rather than being thermostats, the climate controllers. Murphy’s book offers a wealth of tips on how leaders can take a proactive approach to being those “thermostats” that create more optimistic workplaces where people flourish.

4 Steps to Develop Your Personal Brand at Work

Brand Me...PleaseWhether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work, and if you don’t take charge of it, someone else will.

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues think of you, what is it that comes to their minds? If you can’t answer that question, then you have a problem. A brand image problem.

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes. It’s part of what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

If you’re not quite sure what your personal brand is, or how to go about creating a brand, here are four steps to get you started.

1. Identify your core values – Your values guide your beliefs and actions. A brand is a trusted promise which requires clarity on what motivates you from the core of your being. Consider popular brands like Apple or Nike. Apple’s brand conveys the values of being creative, passionate, and visionary. Nike’s brand of “Just do it” reflects the values of excellence and dedication. What values reflect the way you “show up” in the workplace? Mine are trust, authenticity, and respect.

2. Identify your strengths/personal attributes – A personal brand combines what you value with what you do well. What is it that you’re really good at? What unique personal attributes do you bring to the table? Maybe it’s courage, decisiveness, enthusiasm, patience, perseverance, or trustworthiness, just to name a few. There are a number of surveys you can take to help you identify your character strengths and attributes.

3. Assess your current brand image – One of the best ways to understand your current brand is to ask those you work with to describe your brand image. In addition to asking others, you can use the following sentence starters to help you analyze your brand:

          • Inside the company I am known for…
          • Three things I’m really good at are…
          • Something about myself that I feel proud about is…
          • Some “WOW” projects I’ve worked on are…

4. Develop your brand – What if there weren’t career ladders, only great projects? What if you were your own brand manager? How could your career growth be different if the leaders you worked with were brand loyalists that backed you no matter what? What if you approached your performance review as a “portfolio” review where you highlighted your project accomplishments over the past year? If you viewed your job performance through these lenses, you would need to change the way you go about things. Set the following goals to develop your brand image:

By this time next year…

          • I plan to be known for these projects…
          • I plan to be known for these skills…
          • I plan to have added these contacts to my network…

And…

          • My principal resume-enhancing activity over the next three months is…
          • My public visibility program is…

Gaining clarity on who you are, what you love, and what strengths you bring to the table will help you understand your brand identity, while continuing to master your craft and assembling a portfolio of successes will fulfill the promise of you being a trusted brand that others can rely upon.

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