Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Criticism: Use it Sparingly

We’ve all been there, either directly or indirectly experienced a leader who was or is extremely critical. These leaders like to pull things apart, critique, and figure out what can and did go wrong. Even when things go well, they constantly nitpick, finding the errors and fixing, or anticipating fixing things. Criticism can help in that it’s how we learn and do better the next time.

It’s unfortunate that sometimes the things we want to fix can’t actually be fixed, especially when it comes to the people who report to us and surround us at work. A common refrain is (often said with sarcasm) “Work would be great if it weren’t for the people”.

I think in many cases leaders mean well and they want things to go well and be successful including their people.  But when was the last time you changed when you received a criticism? It’s generally not a great strategy to help others improve without some attention to what’s going right.

One of the most common things I hear from a leader’s staff is that they don’t feel the leader is giving enough praise and encouragement. It’s time to balance your criticisms with some positivity.

Notice: Your critical demeanor may have clouded you from seeing what’s good. I believe you can “practice” and train yourself to look for things that are going right by the people around you. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. And it can make a world of difference to your ability to lead others to do the “right things”. Start today. What if you spent the entire day looking for what’s right?

Let them know you’ve noticed: No matter how small the “right” thing you’ve noticed is, say it out loud to the person you’ve seen doing it. Put yourself in their shoes. A little bit of noticing and letting them know what you observe can go a long way, especially if you have a habit of being critical.

Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due, especially for the big triumphs. Make sure that those who matter (the rest of the team, the “higher ups”, your peers) know that you are cognizant of the fact that you can’t lead alone. It takes followers who are doing the right things for a leader to be successful. Call out these “right things” by name to others, and be specific.

Find ways to celebrate. We are all too serious and professional for celebration – or are we? What keeps you from having a little fun in honor of the right things? Most people enjoy recognition, and celebration is a great way to do so. Ask the people who are doing the “right things” what celebration might mean to them (within appropriate boundaries) ok that’s my HR background stepping in☺.

Even those with critical tendencies can find things that are going well with others so take a few moments to notice and compliment them out loud.

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Leading as a passenger

For many leaders who are accustomed to being in control in their lives and at work giving up the reigns can be extremely difficult.  I compare it to teaching your teenager how to drive.  When a new driver is practicing driving, you sit next to them as they take the steering wheel and brakes; they are in control and you are there to offer (hopefully calm) guidance and advice. I know it doesn’t always work that way.

Being a leader has a lot in common with the parent helping their teen to learn driving skills. Leadership is a hands-off activity that allows your team to take control of the daily work while you guide and coach from the passenger seat. It can sometimes be hard to respectfully refrain from trying to grab the steering wheel or putting the brakes on.

Letting go and allowing your team to take the steering wheel is not always comfortable. There will be mistakes made, but if you learn to pay attention without meddling while providing a light touch in guiding them, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have.

As a leader, you’ll be most successful when you don’t try to drive for others. Learning to sit in the passenger seat isn’t easy, but it can be a great ride when you:

Trust them. How do you know if your staff is capable if you don’t trust them to do the things they were hired to do? Trust that they are, and your advantage is that they will trust you back. If the level of work you give them has a mix of things that meet or exceed what they are capable of, chances are that you’ll be glad you allowed them to drive.

Lead with clarity. Be clear about your expectations and outcomes. Go ahead and tell them why you are requesting that they do the work you’re delegating. Make sure these initial conversations are two-way so that you can be assured that they understand what you are asking them to do. They will be most successful when you clearly dialog with them about the work they need to do.

Are available. Especially when your team members are learning new things, make sure that they know when you are available to talk through their dilemmas. Perhaps you might want to set up meetings with them more frequently than you have, or make sure you put time into your schedule to check in with them to ask if they have questions or need assistance without falling into the trap of solving all the problems for them.

Coach them along the way. You still need to be informed of the work your staff is doing, but you should do your best to refrain from telling them how to do it. And unless they ask for instruction or they are getting into trouble, lay off on the advice-giving and problem-solving. Instead, gently guide them with questions that help them to figure out the best way to proceed: “What’s your next step?” “How will you begin?” and “What do you need from me?” are great questions to ask.

Encourage, thank, and celebrate. These are the seemingly small things (to you) that are big things to your staff and the success of your organization. When they are on the right track, encourage them to go further. Thank them for what they do well. Celebrate success so that everyone can see great examples of work well done.

Leading from the passenger side isn’t easy, but when done well, it can be a rewarding experience for a leader to watch employees develop, learn their own ways of getting things done, and become an example for others.

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Encourage Others to Make a Difference

It’s a wonderful thing to go out in the world and make a contribution, to create something, to produce something that matters .
It’s just as important and maybe more so that we help others do the same.

If you think of your work as a contribution—great or small — then you can say you’ve made x amount of difference in making your organization—or maybe even the world—a better place. If you help 5 or 10 people make their contributions, you can say you’ve made perhaps 5x or 10x the amount of difference, And if, in doing so, you teach others to help other people create and produce and make contributions, you’ve just added an exponent to your contribution. Do the math to see the impact potential.  X squared, X to the power of 3 or 10 or whatever the number might be. OK, math isn’t my strong suit, but you can see the point: the amount of difference made at work or in the world not only multiplies, but keeps on multiplying beyond you.

Unfortunately, many people seem to have a problem with this concept. Instead, they spend their time tearing people down and intentionally getting in their way. They’re even jealous when someone else achieves an important goal or has any kind of success.

It’s important to break free of petty jealousy and meanness. When you learn to be happy for others—and count their success as an extension of yours if you’ve helped them out along the way—you’ll notice a big change in the culture of your workgroup or maybe even of the entire organization if the exponential factor is in place.
This is why coaching is so important. It sets the stage for exponential personal growth, individual performance, and a healthy organizational culture.

You don’t need some kind of “certification” in order to coach. You need the desire to help others and the willingness to invest time and energy to do it.
The results can end up impacting people who you may never meet. But you’ll know who they are because you’ll recognize a part of you in what they do and how they do it.

Who can you coach, even in some small way, in order to begin making a difference?