Leading Others to Lead

There is a wealth of information available in popular business literature on how to lead others. What I’ve found is there’s a bit less information out there on how to lead leaders. And surprisingly little on how to lead others to lead.

Many of the articles, white papers and such on the topic of leading leaders still focus on the behaviors and competencies of the senior leader rather than the junior leader, or on the challenge that leaders as followers may present. But what do you as a leader need to develop in those below you on the organizational chart to help them on the path of becoming great leaders? 

Allow me to present three suggestions:

Facilitating effective team dynamics

Most leaders are tasked with leading a clearly identified team of people or a process or project which requires the engagement of people as a team even if they formally report elsewhere. Relatively few, however, are given any education on how to facilitate effective team dynamics. Which, if you think about it, is a shame. If they do happen to receive training or mentoring, it is often around how to lead other individuals effectively. Emphasis on the leader-team member interaction, not how to influence the team member-team member interaction. They are two different things altogether.

There is a something of a science and an art to leading a team to interact with each other in a way that leads to high performance. If you as a senior leader want to be able to focus on the big picture, make sure the leaders below you learn to facilitate effective team dynamics. If you’re not sure you know how to do this well enough to teach others, reach out to your HR or OD pro for help.

Translating orders from above

As leaders move up in the organization, they are often unaware of how the leaders below them are translating their messages to the masses. I most frequently see one of two issues related to this: either the senior leader’s message gets over-amplified when transmitted by the junior leader to the rank and file (too much impact) or it dissipates almost completely (too little impact.)

In the first case, when you have a senior leader that is emotionally reactive and a junior leader who doesn’t moderate the message or, worse, amplifies it further, you can end up with an over-emotional organization prone to knee-jerk actions and an atmosphere that is exhausting or even feels abusive to those in it.

In the second case, you may see a lack of action or a lack of consistency. If you have to ask why your directions don’t seem to be followed through at all levels or why no one is “getting it” you are almost certainly a victim of message dissipation. Either the junior leader is not communicating with clarity, or they may not be communicating at all. Ensuring your junior leaders know how to translate the message so that it results in action, but not panic or fear, will save you much heartache and headache down the line.

It’s a good idea to have some kind of feedback loop–skip-level meetings for example– where you can ask questions of those below your junior leaders about the information or direction they’re receiving. Then you can judge if your messages are getting translated effectively.

Leading up with courage

Senior leaders need junior leaders who are willing to share negative information, challenge assumptions and question conclusions. Why? Because senior leaders don’t know it all! They need to be able to tap into the wisdom of every person on their team. And the closer leaders are to the front-line employee or to the customer, the more likely they are to know how things “really work” in the organization. It is this knowledge that usually saves the organization from stepping on its tie.

The leader who encourages this is rare, though. An insecure or impatient senior leader doesn’t want to be questioned; they squash inquiry and recoil at dissent. They reward unquestioning action. Unfortunately, over time this leads to what I call a “yes, sir” culture and a whole lot of poor decisions. And, frankly, a whole lot of poor decision-makers.

A leader with confidence who values making good decisions welcomes questions from junior leaders. They see them as resources to vet ideas, as sources of information about what is happening on the ground,  as resources to help the organization make better decisions. No, junior leaders don’t have all the answers either. They may not see the big picture like senior leaders do but they are an important piece of the puzzle. And they’ll learn more about the big picture through their discussions with you. So ask yourself: what are your junior leaders learning about leading up with courage through their interactions with you?

These are three key skills to develop in all leaders. As a senior leader it is up to you to develop these in your junior leaders. Don’t wait. Start now. You’ll thank me later.

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Always Be Learning

Twenty-two days into 2018, I’ve finally come up with my theme for the year. I rarely make resolutions; instead, I pick a theme—sometimes a word, sometimes a phrase—to use as my North Star for one trip around the sun. Whatever the theme, it can’t be plucked out of a hat; It has to resonate deeply for me.

At the end of last year, I took time to introspect, to ask what really moves me right now? And the answer was: I don’t know. Sometimes life is like that—we’re in an “in-between” space.  I tried to introspect harder. A few good ideas came to mind but they didn’t stick. So I let go and trusted that it would come to me in its own time.

And  now…I’ve fixed upon one that kept creeping up in different forms and forums. I’m taking that old sales proverb “always be closing” and twisting it into what really drives me: learning.

My theme for 2018 is…Always be Learning.

It’s similar to the theme I chose the year I launched my consulting practice, which was to be uncomfortable as possible as often as possible. I knew I’d have to be to have a chance at making my business a success. It worked so well, I kept the same theme for the next four years. Years later, my business is thriving (no pun intended) so I can heartily recommend that one. I tried so many new things and had experiences I’m sure I wouldn’t have otherwise.

After a while, I got tired of failing soooo much and being really bad at things and I decided to focus a bit more and polish the stone. Again, I’m happy I did. It feels good to when you master things. This year’s theme blends the best of both of those, I think. Whether I’m trying something new or doing something I’ve done before, I want to be intentional about learning from the experience. I want to be intentional about learning certain things as well. So this year, I will make a few resolutions, both personal and professional, that focus my mind on what I want to learn this year.

I am finally—finally—excited about 2018, and I hope you are, too. Happy New Year!

 

Empathy: The Game Changer

Do you mirror others’ thoughts and feelings?

I recently wrote a post in support of empathy in the workplace. A new study by DDI proves I was on to something.

In their recent study, High Resolution Leadership, in which they synthesized the assessments of over 15,000 leaders and how they shape the business landscape, DDI (Development Dimensions International) found empathy had the greatest overall impact of ANY skill they assessed. Imagine that. One of the “softest” skills imaginable had the most measurable impact on performance. If you’re in the HR space, you’re already familiar with DDI and know that they are one of the most highly respected consultancies in the business. So, in my view, this study is huge. Simply put, greater empathy means higher performance.

You can read their online report by clicking on the link above or here. Of, if you want a quick read, this article from Inc.com sums it up nicely.

You want high performance, right? So what will you do to develop your own empathy skills or those of others in your organization?

What Really Encourages (and Discourages) Learning

Are you leading in a way that encourages or discourages learning? How open are you (really) to learning?

Mindset by Carol DweckI went to an offsite meeting for WOMEN Unlimited recently and was given a book that was absolutely the right book at the right time for me.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is not a new release so I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. It is truly transformational.  And it’s based on research, which I find refreshing. There are a lot of books out there based on upon little more than anecdotes and sound bites but Professor Dweck’s is based on decades of research. Her conclusions provide such clarity, you’ll say “So that’s why…”

In short, her research shows that we develop a mindset that falls somewhere on a continuum from “growth” to “fixed” and the impact that has on our willingness to grow and achieve over the long term is incredible. As a leader, what impact do you think the willingness of your team members to grow has on your organization? On their careers? On you?

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in how you can get out of your own way, and others, and reignite that spark of learning required to achieve long-term success.

To get a taste of what’s in Professor Dweck’s book, here’s a presentation she gave at Stanford: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isHM1rEd3GE

Enjoy!

Empathy in business: misplaced or irreplaceable?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about empathy. It’s fascinating to see how much impact such an ethereal thing can have on people.

But what about business? We want to measure everything and have numbers to support every decision. There’s no line on the balance sheet for “empathy”.  So should we bag it?

This article from The Atlantic outlines cognitive psychologist David Bloom’s arguments against empathy. He says we are more likely to make bad decisions when we are being empathetic, for example being swayed by a “small” issue because we can feel the other person’s pain, while ignoring “big” issues that may actually be more catastrophic.

And game theory shows us that when playing a zero-sum game, the player who consistently takes the “up” (win) position will win much more often than a player who sometimes takes the “down” (lose) position. In business, consistently taking the “down” position because you are empathetic to the other side can indeed result in losing. A lot. This suggests that we should always take the “up” position.

But what if business isn’t always a zero sum game? Indeed, I believe it usually is NOT. What if your “opponent” is within your company? If you win but they lose, have you really added value for your organization? What if your “opponent” is your customer? If you win but they lose, how long will they be a customer?  How long will you be in business? This is one of the reasons I suggest the premise that the only true aim of a business is to create profit is BULL. I won’t go into a long discussion of that, but in short, In order to create long-term value we must find the win-win. It’s true for what we offer to the market. It’s true for big negotiations but also day-to-day interactions. And, in order to find the win-win, understanding what is important to the other side is important. One might call this empathy.

There has been quite a bit of focus on EQ in addition to IQ since Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. At it’s heart (and with science behind it,) it suggests that the ability to read other’s emotions and manage them is critical to being a great leader. I agree 100% and I suggest that to do this well, we must not just read but truly honor their emotions even if we don’t hold the same ones. Reading and then ignoring their emotions does nothing.

We must not, however, forget our own aims. We must not forget reason. This is the danger of empathy–that we sacrifice our own needs completely. Bloom suggests that we can do good for others based on other things. To do good, he said, “we need an emotional push. But the push need not come from empathy. It can come from love, from caring, from compassion, from more distant emotions that don’t come from being swallowed up in the suffering of others.”

At the end of the day, I believe love, caring, compassion and even understanding your customer are only possible with empathy. So, I don’t think we should bag it. I think we need empathy as one of the critical tools in our leadership toolkit.

Stretch Your Rubber Band

One of the concepts I often share with my coaching clients is that of ‘stretching the rubber band.’ rubber band

You know how when you are going to use a rubber band, you stretch it first, making it bigger than it needs to be, before placing it where you actually need it? You can also use this concept when you are trying to develop new skills or stretch your existing skills. Before you are in a situation where you actually need that skill, practice stretching it way beyond where it needs to end up.

For example, let’s say you want to become more concise in your speaking habits. Rather than just trying to reduce a little (which is hard to measure), take a situation you commonly find yourself in, or that you know you have coming up, and think about what you would say if you could only say three words in that situation. Or, for one whole day, practice speaking to people only in sentences of no more than six words.

If you struggle with engaging with others, give yourself a day to run errands and commit that you will make eye contact and say hello to every person you pass on the street, or stand in line with at the grocery store.

If you want to be a better listener, use verbal mirroring all day for one day (you’ll be exhausted, trust me!) Verbal mirroring is repeating literally every single word the other person is saying, generally done silently in your head.

These all seem like silly examples but that is the point–they are extreme. By getting the feel of a behavior that is more extreme than what you actually desire in the long run, it provides perspective. When you later use the behavior you actually want to use, it won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable.

Think about it–what are you working on and how can you stretch that rubber band in a safe environment before you have to really perform? Now, get out there and try it.

How are you showing up?

640px-Lioness-in-the-Serengeti

“Lioness-in-the-Serengeti” by Charles J Sharp – Cannon EOS with 300mm zoom lens. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.

If you talk to twenty different people about how to “show up strong” you may get twenty different answers. This is because we all view strength through our own lens. There are, however, many studies that do show some statistically common responses to various behaviors. It’s good data, when interpreted correctly. Unfortunately, many people interpret it to sound as though we all have to be Ringmasters — performers with a booming voice, oozing charisma — to get anyone to follow us. Fortunately, this is not true. There are some great resources out there which suggest alternate paths, such as Quiet Leadership by David Rock, and some of the insights in Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins.

Here, I add my thoughts, based on my experience with leaders over the past 20+ years. If you want to show up with strong leadership presence, I’ll boil it down to four big things:

Clarity of Purpose

The most important thing you can do before going into a situation where you want to show up strong is to clarify your purpose. When you remember why you are on this project, or making this recommendation or believe in this effort, you will feel greater commitment, communicate more clearly and stand stronger in the face of opposition. Bottom line, you will come across as more confident as well as competent. Before any meeting, take a few minutes to center your thoughts and consider:

  • Why am I / are we doing this?
  • What impact can / will it have?

Big Picture Focus

If the batting coach only talks about batting 100% of the time, and never about the team as a whole, he or she will never be seen as someone who can be the head coach.

Remember that the higher up in any organization a person goes, the greater the scope of concerns. If you only focus on small details, the message you are sending is that your scope and understanding is very small. This is unlikely to impress or influence others with larger scope concerns. Always:

  • Take time to understand what the big picture goal is and how your piece of the puzzle connects to it.
  • Reference that big picture any time you are speaking or presenting.

This will reinforce the impression by your audience that you can play at a higher level (or already are.)

Self Awareness

Here is where the external self becomes an even bigger part of the equation. Pay attention to your physical habits. Do they say small, weak and unsure, or strong, open and confident?  Are you like a mouse, with quick, small, nervous-seeming movements? Or are you like a lion with big, deliberate movements?  This does not mean loud = strong. Birds can be loud, squawking all the time. A bunch of loud squawking does not say “powerful”. It says “annoying”. Lions do not roar all the time. But you always know they are there. And when they do vocalize, you listen.

The next time you are in a situation where you want to appear strong (or preferably before that, while you are preparing):

  • Envision a mirror in front of you. What body language do you see?
  • Also, listen to your choice of words and tone of voice. Are you using lots of wiggle words and phrases (maybe, I think, this might be stupid but…)
  • Ask a trusted colleague how you are showing up and what behaviors, words and vocal cues give that impression.

Remember that we are all sending messages of submission, power, understanding, focus, nervousness, confusion, and many other things continuously through our actions and our words. What do yours say about you?

Self Control

Self awareness, if we do nothing with it, is not worth much. Once you identify behaviors that are counter-productive, you must engage in some kind of behavior modification. This may be a quick and easy change or a long, difficult process which takes many, many times to practice until the new behavior feels more natural. Remember how long it took you to learn to walk? No, of course you don’t, but I’ll tell you it wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. But you did it.

Before you go into a situation where you want to show up differently:

  • Decide and practice in advance what behaviors you will use to replace the behaviors you don’t want.
  • Keep practicing until the new behaviors become ingrained.
  • Just before “performing”, do something physical. Get out the excess energy if you have too much with some jumping jacks or shake it out with your arms and shoulders like a boxer (where no one can see you!) Or, if you feel withdrawn and low energy, do some power poses and power breaths to feel bigger and stronger.
  • Envision success.
  • Only try to control what you can control — you!
  • Remember that you will survive no matter what. Seriously. Framing the situation properly can help to quell that fight or flight response in our brains that can send us back to our old habits.

The great thing about using strong behaviors is that it actually affects your brain chemistry and you feel stronger too, especially over time. Our minds and bodies have a pretty cool thing going on there.

Try these four tips and let me know how they help you to show up strong!

More on the topic of introverts in business

I’ve posted before about introverts, particularly when it comes to networking, and have even recommended the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. But I had never watched her TED talk. I’m facilitating a session this week on Networking for Introverts, so have been thinking about it a lot again, and just watched her talk.

Today, instead of a how-to blog post, I just want to share this link to Susan Cain’s TED talk, for your consumption. Yes, I know it’s the lazy way out of a post. But I also think it’s a great reminder that we all have value, no matter our personality type. And, it discusses the important distinction between being introverted and being shy.

Understanding these distinctions, learning to value what is at my core, and also learning new skills and behaviors which enable me to be effective at (and enjoy!) interacting with many, many people are the reason I grew from a child who was afraid to raise her hand in class to a woman who speaks in public for a living.

We all have gifts to offer. Let’s not forget that about each other, or about ourselves.

You Made a Difference

Coming home recently after spending time with some amazing people in my network, I felt particularly blessed. Somehow, I find myself at this point in my career surrounded by people I admire, respect and value. They have all contributed to my success and my happiness in different ways.  I want to acknowledge just a few of them, though anonomously for their privacy. They will know who they are.

One of the first, most important of these, is the first manager of my professional career. She believed in me when I didn’t have any experience in the field of HR. All I had was a bit of  education and part-time experience in the legal industry. She saw something in me, and took pride in bringing it out. Thanks to her, I learned a LOT, and gained confidence in my abilities. I also got promoted, based in part on her recommendation.  Working with her was the springboard for my career.

Second were my leaders at SunTrust. Without fail, they were leaders of the highest quality. Ethical, encouraging and always pushing me beyond my comfort zone, to my benefit.  Though they were my managers, they were also my mentors.

Another is a woman with whom I’ve crossed paths many times in many ways, first as a graduate student, then as a trusted network contact and confidante, then as a colleague and leader, and as a mentor.  She taught me the true nature of networking and allowed me to get my feet wet in business development. Her spirit and competitive zeal motivate me.

I am also thankful for those current and former colleagues who referred business to me as I was just getting started in my consulting practice.  All of my business has come from referrals, so what they did for me cannot be overstated.

Last but not least, my students who I taught or coached. It’s a joy to be involved in your journey. I am inspired by all of you.

Thank you again to all those named and not named who touched my career. You made a difference!

Now, who do you need to acknowledge and thank in your career?

 

Check Out My Inaugural Article on BIZCATALYST 360

My inaugural article Why Business Leaders Should Care About Research has just been published on BIZCATALYST 360!  I’m happy to be a Featured Contributor there, along with a number of other inspiring professionals, writing on a wide variety of business topics. Check out my article here. Thanks for your interest and support!

P.S. I also was profiled in the Central Florida Lifestyle magazine this week in an article about changing careers, both in the print and online editions. Fun week!