Category Archives: Leadership Skills

Leadership Lessons from the Headlines

The past couple of weeks, there have been some significant leadership lessons that have emerged from the headlines.

Meme - Note to Self

Assume that every email written will become public.

Just imagine – as you drive into the office, your emails are being read during the top of the hour news.  I am sure there are a few executives that wished they had never pushed the send on that email.  (There of course are a couple of corollaries to this one – Assume the Mic is hot and that everything you say is being recorded and will end up on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter!)  – Yes, every email you have ever written is likely to come back to haunt in some form or fashion.  And contrary to with the IRS has claimed – someone is sure to find them somewhere when you least expect it.

You need to be aware of not only what is communicated, but how and context.  What may seem like an innocent comment may become a fire-able offense in the future.

Every interaction has the potential to have unimaginable repercussions. 

The “Butterfly Effect”, you never know how a brief encounter may change the world.  Thus, why not strive for positive and kind interactions?  Small acts of kindness may make the biggest differences.  Unfortunately,  we only tend to hear about how these little acts have changed lives during this time of year.  As leaders we need to strive to make these part of everyday life.

It is OK to admit that you are wrong.  

– The key is to make the change to make amends and improve. –

As leaders, it is our job to model behaviors that will improve the overall situation.  Leaders need to model the culture that we want, whether that be at home, school, the workplace or society.  As leaders, we need to take responsibility.   But, we also need to strive to improve.

Leaders should not incite negative behaviors.  Leaders should highlight positive actions.  Our actions are lenses to our values.  You do not correct a wrong by committing more wrongs – under the guise of “demonstrations” or “public discourse.”  It is important to address the wrongs – but focus on the root causes.  Maybe – just maybe – if we all follow the second bullet point, the means of making amends and improvement will happen naturally.

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How do you stay current? Or, preparing for the next breakthrough.

One of my all time favorite leadership quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

In our constant contact, fast paced, instant information world;  you know that it is a requirement to stay current.  But, the question is how?

Many professionals stay current by subscribing to some sort of digest service (my personal inbox gets over a dozen digests each day).  Your professional societies are also a great source of critical new information in your chosen field.  Then, there are a host of personal digesting services or apps out there.  But, this still does not solve the problem of how.  Because, it isn’t the technical side of getting the information that holds us back; it is the time to review, assess, and comprehend the information that is the trick.

As leaders, you know that it is important to stay current in your chosen field.  This is equivalent to the Queen’s running just to stay in place.  It is information from other areas or solutions applied in one industry that can be modified to apply in another.  So, not only do you have to deal with the information, you don’t have time for it now; but, you know to get to that next breakthrough, you have to “drink from the fire hose.”

So, what do you do?  Of course, there is the shut down response – do nothing and hide in the dark.  This won’t help, but may make you feel better temporarily.  Here are some more constructive approaches:

1) Keep an active read pile – both an electronic one and a physical one.  Instapaper is a great clipping service that can help you manage those internet or electronic articles you want to read.  It is accessible through any device which makes it very helpful.  You can use the same process, pulling out only those articles you want to read from your magazines and placing them in a folder which you can take with you to read over lunch.  (If nothing else this reduces the physical pile of magazines to a more manageable stack.)

2) Make some time to read – Give your self permission to stop and take time to read.  You might do it over your coffee break.  Or use an application like NaturalReader to convert the information into an audio file so you can listen to that article while running the treadmill.  This is one time where multitasking may be actually beneficial.

3) Relocate to a different place or office when it is time to read.  Don’t sit at your desk, if you do – you know what happens – you won’t dedicate the time that you need.  It gets swallowed up by other things.

Finally, make sure that you have something to write with or take notes on.  Those ideas that come to you while you are reading may just be the thing you need to make that next breakthrough!

 

Been thinking about the workplace…..

It is summer, a time when most of us take at least a couple of days to enjoy with family, friends and do something different than the usual day-to-day business of working.  It has gotten me to thinking about why we tend to hate work.  Additionally, there have been a large number of blogs, articles, and other surveys as to why we hate work.

The reasons that you tend to find are not what one might expect.  No we aren’t lazy.  No its not that we don’t care.  No it is not usually about salary or specific benefits.  It is something more basic – it is about respect, recognition, and growth.

All of us need to earn a wage in order to exist in our society, so salary and pay are part of the equation.  But, it isn’t always about the money.  Look at Lebron James – he is moving back to Cleveland at a lower salary and the reason he left in the first place wasn’t about salary – it was about the ring.  Recognition.

We get frustrated at our places of employment, when:

  •  A person is praised for something that they really didn’t do.
  • There are double standards that don’t appear justified – for example Joe comes in late and leaves early everyday, and doesn’t meet goals, while some one else is “punished” for occasionally doing the same thing but exceeds their goals.
  • The wrong types of performance is recognized – some one is praised for bring in one contract at a high dollar value, while the person sitting at the next desk brings in 30 contracts at incrementally small values – (but may actually exceed the big one).
  • Mediocrity is tolerated.
  • Stated goals don’t match what is rewarded – for example: meeting customers expectations is touted but ensuring that client pays is more important.
  • Rewards are the same or based on arbitrary criteria.
  • Not understanding the people nature of work – relationships are important.

I am sure that you can add to the list.  The bottom line is that while there are business drivers for decisions, you have to address the human side of business as well.  Everyone is going to make a mistake or maybe not make the best decision, how the situation is handled will impact your human capital side of the business to a great degree.

Your key players – the stars and the everyday loyal steady players – need care and attention.  These are ones that will shut down on the job and will be shopping their resume’s.  If they are unhappy, your profits, your innovations, and ultimately the overall success of the business goes out the window.

As a leader, you have to think about two things when you are dealing with people:

1) How is my action going to be taken by the person directly involved?

2) How is my action going to be perceived by other individuals in the organization?

Here is an example:  you have an employee that is not performing up to standard and you give them chance after chance after chance, even a raise here and there.  (We all know of situations like this – you may be keeping that person because of a historic relationship or due to a specific skill or because one client likes them.) You have other employees that are meeting expectations, putting in the extra effort, and are contributing on a regular basis.  How does it look to the organization, if you recognize the mediocre employee in front of a group trying to improve their performance, while in the same meeting ask one of your regular contributors why a project is not meeting expectations?

We see leaders do this all the time.  Part of the reason is that your regular contributors may understand what is going on – but junior staff may not.  If this a rare occurrence, there may be no harm done – but if it is frequent – watch out.

The nature of the workplace and the nature of work has changed.  There is no longer a loyalty of the employee to stay with a particular organization.  Think about it – how long have most of the individuals been with your organization?  You may begin to see a trend.  Understanding that trend, and understanding that individuals are the intellectual capital of the organization may be the difference in your next innovation and your ability to compete.

 

Random Leadership Orts

It is a Friday afternoon in July, which is a perfect time to jot down those strange little thoughts, mind orts.  These are just a few brief scraps of leadership knowledge/experience that have been floating around my desk for a while.  Not a single one of them is lengthy, but they have merit.

Recognize someone. It only takes seconds, but it can mean a great deal. Even a small thank you to the mail person, or to the parking attendant makes a huge difference for both of you.

Act.  Most of us have an idea that has been lingering, a job we don’t want to do, a task we have been putting off, or even a conversation that we have been dreading.  It gnaws on you.  It takes away from the present.  It erodes your energy.  It makes you grumpy.  It is time to act – do something about it.  It is counterproductive to let it continue to fester in its current state.

Pay it forward.  We have all seen the benefits.  We have had mentors.  We even know how it makes us feel.  Have you ever had a bad day, and when you go buy your cup of coffee – you don’t have the right change – but the person behind you says – here take this nickel?  How does it make you feel?  It changes your entire perspective.  We get into the habit of thinking that to make an impact, it has to be big.  It doesn’t.  Most of the times, it is the little things, like helping a mom pick up something she has dropped when the kids are pulling at her for attention.  Recognizing that your office mate’s coffee is empty and bringing back and extra cup.  Speaking to a young family with children at a restaurant when their children are well behaved.  Sitting with an elderly gentleman and letting them tell you about that time when….  Our society, workplaces, and homes have gotten so wrapped up in electronics, our daily tasks, and other stuff – we have forgotten simple acts of kindness.

Learning is necessary for survival and it isn’t easy.  If you don’t learn, you don’t progress.  Learning is hard work.  You have to be observant.  You have to be open.  You have to accept that you may not be perfect.

– Everyone has their own style, and it may not mesh with yours.  This is something to remember when dealing with others.  This little tidbit is responsible for more miscommunications, disagreements, misunderstandings, and conflicts.  People have always said that you need to see the others perspective or be able to put yourself in their shoes.  You need to understand that we don’t always see the same thing the same way.

– Take some time to reflect, refresh and rejuvenate. This leads to more productivity, fewer errors, and innovation.

A few scraps to get you to thinking before you start preparing for the next week.

What your boss will never tell you….

So, you are early in your career and you are trying to meet all of the expectations of your employer, trying to develop that “balance between work and life”, and are trying to figure out what next.  This is a big juggling act.  You finally feel confident enough in your current position to make contributions and are starting to gain that much needed credibility.  Yet, you have that nagging question – am I doing the right things?

How you answer that question depends on a number of different criteria:

  1. Your personal definition of success
  2. Your vision of your future
  3. The organization’s culture
  4. The organization’s values

If you are like most young professionals, you may not have a clear picture of your definition of success or a vision of your future.  But, by now you may have a clear picture of the jobs or positions you don’t want.  For example:  you may be in product development but you hate to do the marketing studies – may be your skill set is analyzing the data from the marketing studies and putting together a strategy to meet the needs identified.  Or, you may be in the finance department and find that you thoroughly enjoy the budgeting process complete with sales projections and supply sensitivities, but absolutely don’t like trying to figure out cost centers and internal book keeping.

Generally, when people think about their careers and where they want to go – it is easier for them to say what they don’t want to do.  Maybe CEO is not where you want to be with all of the issues surrounding liability, time at work, meetings, stock holder presentations, etc.  Or, maybe you know that you want to have a more conventional day position that allows you time off for the other things that you enjoy.  By knowing what you don’t like, you begin to form a picture of what you do want.    So, the first two criteria are really in your own court and you need to take some time to analyze these aspects.

The other two criteria are dependent upon your work environment – how does your employer measure success and what does your employer look for in its employees?  As human beings, we are designed to pick up on cultural clues.  Think about it – why did they used to call IBM Big Blue?  Or, have you ever looked at the professional “uniform”?  Take a look around your place of work and you can probably tell what department a person works in just by the clothes that they are wearing.  It is part of the culture.

Culture is also communicated through the review process.  Here you are supposed to have a discussion with your superior about how your performance has been during the past review period and what improvements you might be able to make in the future.  This is key to the skills that you are going to have to develop as your employer has value for these.  But, these are not the only skills that you have to have.  You know this because even if you meet all the expectations put down during the review process – there is something that is rewarded and valued that is the difference between you and your peers.  These are the things that your Boss never tells you or your Boss may even discourage you from doing.  Here are some key items:

Networking – both inside and outside your company.  Some individuals think that this is a waste of your time or an example of inefficiency.  Yet, networking provides you with the contacts that help you get things done.  Networking supports innovation, helps to promote communication, and may ultimately be your parachute if something goes wrong such as a buy out, or lay off.  Your network is important to building your skills and reputation.  Use your professional societies and community organizations to build your professional network.  Ironically, what is initially seen as a waste of time may become a rewarded asset.

Participating in professional or community organizations.  Some organizations this is highly encouraged, but in others you may get the question – “Why are you spending time on that, how is it going to benefit the organization?”  Here are the benefits even if the organization has nothing to do with your company’s business.  One – you can learn a number of different leadership skills in a safe environment.  If the project doesn’t quite work out within the community organization, say that fund raiser only raised half of what you expected, what are the consequences?  You get out and try something different.  Two – you get to interact with people, thus learning a number of different communication styles.  Individuals in companies tend to start having “like me syndrome”, they talk the same, they think the same, and they approach problems in the same manner.  You need to have a bit of spice, a different view point, a different way of thinking, and different perspectives to reach good solutions. And finally, working with in your professional or community organizations you improve your network and credibility.

Helping and mentoring others.  Everyone has something that they can do well.  You might be a whiz at creating spreadsheets or presentations.  You may know the short cuts on the phone system.  Or, you may have just the right reference at your finger tips to save a colleague hours and hours of searching.  Sharing these skills are essential to building team.  By sharing where you can, you are developing intangible skills that are also resulting in tangible results for the organization.  You help to promote efficiency and you are building credibility along the way.  Again your Boss may view it as inefficiency in the short run or a slight delay in getting your work accomplished.  But, down the road you will find that you have built a solid foundation for your future projects without being aware of it at the time.

These three activities aren’t measured.  They aren’t documented on a review or goal sheet.  But, without them you will not achieve your vision of where you want to be nor will you have a safety net in the event that something bad occurs.

Lessons learned – from unusual places

As a blogger, instructor, and just a generally curious person; I do a lot of reading from a variety of sources.  One of my favorites is from a public relations (PR) source (yes, you never know when those PR skills are going to come in handy).   Throughout my career, I have been involved in PR efforts more than I ever thought I would. It is truly one of those things they never taught you in school type of revelations.

So, today when I ran across this blog – “Clients are the best teachers: 3 lessons learned”, I clicked and read.  The three lessons were:

The time to act is now.

My company comes first, yours second.

When in doubt, trust your gut.

The writer of the blog was coming from the perspective of a PR consulting firm.  But, the examples that the author uses really hit home with me.  And, with a slight tweak, are three very valuable leadership lessons.

The Time to Act is Now – Or, Make a Decision and Follow-through

My grandfather always said make the decision or someone will make if for you, even if you have to flip a coin.  You have to act, if you don’t someone will act for you and it may not be in your best interest.  Procrastination is a means of not making the decision.  Procrastination or failure to act puts you behind and you are loosing ground to your competitors.  You are not making progress toward your goals.  You are essentially stuck or “dead”.

My company comes first, yours second – My Goals have Priority over Yours

In the consulting world, yes your clients company comes first; you are just a consultant.  But, this is not just in the Company/Client relationship.  Think about yourself as “You, Inc.” to use the phrase from Fast Track Magazine.  The goals of the company or even your boss have priority over yours.  And, these may not fit with your sense of how to do business or your priorities.  This may mean you have to take drastic steps like changing jobs within the organization or outside the organization.  But, the sooner you learn this valuable lesson the better prepared you are for a conflict at some point.

When in doubt, trust your gut – No modification needed.

A lot of times we intuitively know what the best course of action is.  Trust your gut.  There are a variety of reasons why that course of action is correct and you may or may not be able to articulate them at the instant you have that feeling but they are there.  Stand up for your belief.

As you can see – leadership lessons come from everywhere.  To be an effective leader we have to be constantly learning.  And, borrowing or learning from someone else’s lesson is better than making a similar mistake on your own.

Are you focused on the “right” things?

Each day we get up and go about our daily work, but are we really focused on the “right” things.  Or, those things that truly need to be done.  As leaders, we need to be focused on those “right” things and help our colleagues and employees focus on them as well.  But, do we really know what those things are?

Recently, there was a New York Times piece about “Why you hate work“.  This piece documented the results of a 2013 survey of white collar workers about what they felt was lacking in the workplace.  And, the results may surprise you at first but not when you stop and think for a moment.

If you follow the leadership and self help literature, you are likely to say that finding work-life balance, being able to disengage from work, and how to be successful would be right at the top of the list.  But, they aren’t.  In fact, the are close to the bottom of the list.  To be sure, these are still key concerns with over a 40% response rate, and we have to be aware of them.

The top concern listed was a lack of regular time for creative and strategic thinking.  This was closely followed by the ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Again, with a bit of reflection, these should not surprise.  What is this telling us as leaders?

I think it is telling us two very important things.  One, we feel that we are so busy and we are so focused on getting the tasks done, we don’t have the time to sit and think.  And, two, we aren’t focused on the right things because we don’t know what they are.

It is critical for leaders to take time to think, reflect, plan, and analyze.  You hear this in your leadership course under the terms: “Big Rocks” (Covey), set your daily priorities (most time management courses), develop a vision, etc.  But, even then it gets glossed over because most leadership courses are a day or two at most, because we “can’t afford the time away from work.”  Only when you take a longer program, those one to three week courses, do you really hear.  It is important to block out time each day for reflection and you need to have a two to three hour block each week that is yours.  One company referred to it as 10% time, ten percent time of your time should be focused on developing ideas and directions.

Through my career, I saw this 10% time get eroded and ultimately disappear.  Yet, it is probably the most critical time of the week.  You need that time to discern what the right things are.  Leaders have to be able to develop that strategy or direction.  Leaders have to be able to assess what is working and what is not.  With out this time, work doesn’t work.

I believe as leaders, it is time for us to fight to bring back the 10% time. We have to guard it.  We have to build it in to everyone schedules.  This will allow people a chance to focus on key tasks.  It will allow individuals the ability not to have to multitask.  And, it will probably give people a chance to improve how work gets done.  (Have you ever noticed we use inefficient tools because we don’t have the time to learn how to use a new tool that will help us?)

By bringing back the 10% time, I believe that we won’t feel so harried.  And, that some of the other things on the list will also be addressed like:  having the opportunity to do what is most enjoyed, having a level of meaning and significance, and having a connection to the company’s mission.

So, here is my recommendation, schedule an appointment with yourself.  And, don’t schedule it in your office.  Schedule a conference room, go to the library, or a guest office.  (If you stay in your office you are likely to get distracted and not use the time you have given yourself.) And, ask yourself, if I had a magic wand what would I change about how I perform my work?

You will probably discover that while you can’t change it instantly, you now have plan to change.  You can build action plans.  You can put words to what needs to be discussed.  Then next week, schedule that same appointment and reflect on what changed this past week and what needs to be done to continue the change.  Do it again.  I think you will find that after three or four weeks you will see a change and you will be focusing on the “right” things because you know what they are.