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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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How Nice Leaders Can Destroy Your Company

In my business I see this a lot, people in leadership positions who’s desire to be liked overrides their ability to be competent leaders. Although the boss-employee relationship is of critical importance, when relationships become misaligned with organizational goals, team problems shortly follow. A pattern that’s easy to miss: A faltering team that belongs to a likeable leader.

Overly “nice” leaders often create unintended and unnecessary team drama because their overriding priority is to be liked and to avoid conflict.  There are three styles that nice leaders often use to unintentionally create team drama.

The Best friend

New leaders often have not developed the leadership identity they need to set boundaries, initiate difficult conversations and separate their feelings from the facts of their job. They often thrive at first during the honey-moon period when everyone gets along, but falter when reality sets in. Reality begins when Jane complains about Tom. The best friend leader is more invested in making sure no one gets their feelings hurt than giving honest feedback and guidance. Instead of coaching Jane and Tom to work out their differences, the best friend listens, offers explanations and short-term tactics to create harmony. If push comes to shove, the best friend leader takes sides to protect his own turf, thus creating trust violations.

Here is a list of some best-friend behaviors to look out for:

  • Gossiping with employees about other employees
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Being inauthentic about the real problems
  • Blaming upper management for decisions
  • Listening to hear-say

The best friend leader cares more about being liked and making employees feel good than he/she does about aligning with the mission of the organization.

The hero

The hero  is the boss who loves to help. The hero does well at first with a new team that lacks skills or confidence. The problem is that heroes never seem to shove the baby birds out of the nest. These leaders create unhealthy codependence and do not understand the difference between helping and rescuing. Helping is teaching a man to fish, while rescuing is giving the man a fish — over and over. 

The hero leader has certain qualities that can be identified:

  • Inability to ask for what he/she wants
  • Taking credit instead of giving credit
  • An addictive desire to fix everyone else’s problems
  • The open door has become a revolving door
  • Overly dependent employees

When a leader tells you he/she has had to compensate for a brilliant yet somewhat incompetent employee, don’t look at the employee as incompetent, but instead to look at the leader as one who needs to be the hero. The reason the incompetence exists is because it has been allowed in the first place. There is always a secondary gain the hero gets from other people’s incompetency.

The hands-off leader

It sounds great at first to hear that the leader is “hands-off.”  You’ll hear statements like, “I trust everyone to do their job,” “I provide a lot of autonomy,” “I’m a “hands-off delegator,” or “I’m always here if people need me, otherwise I just stay out of their way.” This method works until it doesn’t. If the team is having trouble don’t look first at team dynamics, look to see if there’s a hands-off leader who is avoiding. Look for signs of a hands-off philosophy when you find complaints that have not been addressed, or if team squabbles and turf wars are hampering productivity.

Some signs of hands-off leadership include:

  • Brushing complaints under the carpet
  • Changing the structure before talking to the individuals
  • Failure to assist lower-level leaders when problems occur
  • Not seeing the drama until it has gotten out of control
  • Inability to see the role leaders play in the team’s drama

Sometimes a hands-off leader helps create autonomy and more responsibility and sometimes “Hands off” translates to disengaged leader. Use wisdom to discern that distinction.

The paradox of likability is this: The very qualities that makes a leader likeable can also become the obstacle to growth and the root cause of costly mistakes. When you notice team drama, the natural response is to look at personalities, but when you dig deeper you find a hidden root: A leader that is simply too nice. While likeability can be an advantage, the disadvantage of unbalanced likeability is unintended team-drama and lowered productivity.

 

 


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Improving your effectiveness in todays complex world.

It takes courage to be a leader in today’s workplace. Leaders live in an ever-changing world made more complex by the quantity data, social media, consumerism, workforce diversity and enhanced technology.

Gone are the days when the leader was an all-knowing manager with unwavering confidence, a resolute sense of direction and a keen ability to determine the right solutions.

These huge shifts have created a more complex workplace for leaders than in the past. This complexity poses land mines for leaders, particularly because:

  • Root causes to problems might be unknown or not easily discernible
  • A single solution might not exist
  • No one person has the solution to the problem

In these circumstances, leaders are far less effective when they address symptoms of the

problem, assert only their opinion or point of view, fail to capture multiple perspectives to solve the problem or focus on only one solution.

Leading successfully through the never-ending maze of complexity requires a bold, new approach to identify, implement and sustain effective solutions:

  • Begin with listening, versus acting. Identify compelling questions that spark dialogue among diverse stakeholders who are closest to the problem or situation. For example: What key events led up to this situation? What does the data suggest? What are the problems, barriers and/or challenges that the team is experiencing? How do these challenges affect the team’s or organization’s ability to produce intended outcomes?
  • Demonstrate curiosity.  Explore themes and patterns that begin to emerge from dialogue with stakeholders. For example, what factors seem to contribute most to the situation: failed processes, inadequate technology, human error, etc.? Are there critical intersections in the work process where problems seem to form, grow, and mature? From these themes, seek ideas from stakeholders on interventions that could resolve the situation, whether in whole or in part.
  • Take a paced, thoughtful approach toward the solution. Even if a clear solution hasn’t emerged, consider tests of change to study the effects of different interventions. Ensure that each test of change has an objective and baseline data. Once the test has been shown, determine whether the objective was met and if improvement was both measured and experienced.
  • Champion learning. From the tests of change, determine what was learned and which solutions should be implemented on a fuller scale to address the situation.

To evolve their leadership approach in complex situations, leaders can advance their self-awareness by asking;

  • How do I foster a safe environment where diverse, honest perspectives and recommendations can be shared?
  • Do I tend to listen and learn, or tell and act?
  • How do I encourage opposing views and creative deviance from the norm?
  • How will I make the time to experiment, potentially fail, and extract lessons learned when pursuing the right solution to a complex situation?
  • How can I cultivate a work environment where solutions emerge and failure is a natural occurrence on the road to success?

 


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If you’re not helping people develop, you’re not management material

Skilled managers have never been more critical to a company’s success as they are today.  Not because employees can’t function without direction, but because managers play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee relationship.  In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in many organizations.

Good managers attract candidates, drive performance, engagement and retention, and play a key role in maximizing employees’ contribution to the company. Poor managers, by contrast, are a drag on all of the above.  They cost your company a ton of money in turnover costs and missed opportunities for employee contributions, and they do more damage than you realize.

Job seekers from entry-level to executives are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job.  This makes perfect sense, since continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career.  The vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring.  Thus, employees’ direct managers are often their most important developers.  Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidate’s viewpoint, his or her prospective boss is the single most important individual in the company.

Managers also have a big impact on turnover and retention. The number one reason employees quit their jobs is because of a poor quality relationship with their direct manager.  No one wants to work for a boss who doesn’t take an interest in their development, doesn’t help them deepen their skills and learn new ones, and doesn’t validate their contributions.

This isn’t what departing employees tell HR during their exit interviews, of course.  After all, who wants to burn a bridge to a previous employer?

Instead, they say they’re leaving because of a better opportunity elsewhere.  And so what happens is that organizations remain in the dark regarding how much damage their inept managers are doing.

Regardless of what else you expect from your managers, facilitating employee learning and development should be a non-negotiable competency.  Becoming a great developer of employees requires managers to expand their focus from “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members?” to “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members while helping them grow?”  Savvy managers know that doing well on the second part of the last question helps to answer the first.

The best managers ask, “How can we harness employee strengths, interests and passions to create greater value for the firm?”  Systematically linking organizational performance and individual development goals in the search for learning opportunities and better ways to work is a hallmark of organizations where sustainable careers flourish.

 


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Try Servant Leadership

When you’re a leader you are merely overhead unless you’re bringing out the best in your employees. Unfortunately, many leaders lose sight of this.  Power can cause leaders to become overly obsessed with outcomes and control, and, therefore, treat their employees as means to an end.  There is fear of not hitting targets, fear of losing bonuses, fear of failing and, therefore people stop feeling positive emotions and their drive to experiment and learn is suppressed.

Take for example a Company I worked with a few years ago.   The engagement of its employees, who manufactured car parts, was dropping while management was becoming increasingly metric-driven in an effort to reduce costs and improve production times. Each week, managers held weekly performance debriefs with employees and went through a list of problems, complaints, and errors with a clipboard and pen. This was not inspiring on any level, to either party. And, eventually, the employees, many of whom had worked for the company for decades, became resentful.

This type of top-down leadership is outdated, and, more importantly, counterproductive. By focusing too much on control and end goals, and not enough on their people, leaders are making it more difficult to achieve their own desired outcomes.  The key, then, is to help people feel purposeful, motivated, and energized so they can bring their best selves to work.

There are several ways to do this, and many books written about the subject. But one of the best ways is to adopt the humble mind-set of a servant leader. Servant leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so.

To put it bluntly, servant-leaders have the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees that they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning, and an atmosphere that encourages employees to become the very best they can.

Humility and/or servant leadership does not imply that leaders have low self-esteem or take on an attitude of servility. Instead, servant leadership emphasizes that the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of employees and encourage them to think for themselves and try out their own ideas.

It sounds deceivingly simple, but rather than telling employees how to do their jobs better, start by asking them how you can help them do their jobs better. The effects of this approach can be powerful.

Consider the manufacturing business I mentioned previously. Once its traditional model was disrupted by a competitor taking their employees, the management team decided that things needed to change. The company needed to compete on product quality, but in order to do so, they needed the support of their employees who built the product. And, they needed ideas that could make the company more competitive.

After meeting with an outside consultant and some training, the management team tried a new format for its weekly performance meetings with the employees.

Instead of nit-picking problems, each manager was trained to simply ask their employees, “How can I help you do your job to the best of your ability?” There was huge skepticism at the beginning, as you can imagine. Employees dislike of managers was high, and trust was low. But as managers kept asking “How can I help you do your job to the best of your ability?” some employees started to offer suggestions.

Small changes created a virtuous cycle. As the employees received credit for their ideas and saw them put into place, they grew more willing to offer more ideas, which made the managers more impressed and more respectful, which increased the employee’s willingness to give ideas, and so on. Managers learned that some of the so-called “mistakes” that employees were making were innovations they had created to streamline processes and produce quality products. These innovations helped the company deliver quality products within the production schedule.

What it comes down to is this: employees who do the actual work of your organization often know better than you how to do a great job. Respecting their ideas and encouraging them to try new approaches to improve work, encourages employees to bring more of themselves to work.


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Are you an Effective Coach?

Ask 150 people if they have good common sense, and more than 95% will tell you they do. Ask them if they are good coaches, and almost as many will say yes. Executives we talk to assume that if they’re good managers, then being a good coach is instinctive.

This would be good news, if it were so, since more and more Companies are expecting managers to coach their subordinates.

What’s more, employee surveys conducted over the past decade show that subordinates want coaching. My own experience demonstrates that effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.

Unfortunately, coaching is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Nor is it a skill that is automatically acquired in the course of learning to manage. And done poorly, it can cause a lot of harm.

What’s more, before they can be taught coaching skills, leaders need to possess some fundamental attributes, many of which are not common managerial strengths. Indeed, some run counter to the behaviors and attributes that get people promoted to managerial positions in the first place. Here are a few of the attributes that can be measured to determine what might predict who would make the most effective coaches. You’ll quickly see the conflict between traditional management practices and good coaching traits:

Being directive versus being collaborative. Good managers give direction to the groups they manage, of course, and the willingness to exert leadership is often why they get promoted. But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.

A desire to give advice or to aid in discovery. Subordinates frequently ask managers questions about how they should handle various issues or resolve specific problems. And managers are often promoted to their positions because they are exceptionally good at solving problems. So no one should be surprised to find that many are quick to give advice, rather than taking time to help colleagues or subordinates discover the best solution from within themselves. The best coaches do a little of both.

An inclination to act as the expert or as an equal. We’ve all seen instances when the person with the most technical expertise has been promoted to a supervisory or managerial position. Organizations want leaders to understand their technology. So, naturally, when coaching others, some managers behave as if they possess far greater wisdom than the person being coached. But in assuming the role of guru, the well-meaning manager may treat the person being coached as a novice, or even a child. Still, the excellent coach does not behave as a complete equal, with no special role, valued perspective, or responsibility in the conversation.

Leaders can learn to be more collaborative as opposed to always being directive. They can learn the skill of helping people to discover solutions rather than always first offering advice. They can learn how satisfying it is to treat others with consummate respect and raise employee commitment through two way collaborative communication.


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The 5 Most Important Traits of a True Leader

  1. Consistently Strong Work Ethic; Set the Standard

Actions are stronger than words, and this is personified by the respected leader. Great leaders despise false promises and people that create lots of unnecessary noise to get attention. There are many leaders that play the part on the outside but have very little substance on the inside. Respected leaders are those who consistently prove through their work ethic that they are reliable and trustworthy on the inside and out.

These leaders set the tone and are great role models. The tangible and measurable results of their consistent work ethic influence new best practices and cultivate innovation. Ultimately, their leadership defines the performance culture for the organization. They set the standard and leave behind an indelible impact.

  1. Not Afraid to Take Risks; Admit Wrong Doing

Respected leaders are those who are not afraid to take risks. They are bold enough to change the conversation and seamlessly challenge the status quo for the betterment of the organization and their competitive advantage. They can anticipate when a paradigm shift is in order and are courageous enough to act on it.

The other side of this admirable quality is the ability to admit wrong doing. Respected leaders do not hesitate to make the most difficult decisions and will put themselves out on the frontline to lead by example. They gravitate towards what many view as a “leap of faith” and willingly accept the challenge – knowing very well that the odds may not be in their favor given the personalities and inherent obstacles that surround them.

  1. Sponsor High-Potential Employees; Serve Others Rightly

Respected leaders think about making others better. They don’t leach, they lead. They are mindful of those that give a 100% effort to their responsibilities. Respected leaders find ways to discover the best in people and enable their full potential. When they detect high-potential talent they impart upon them their wisdom and provide a path for long-term success.

Leaders that “sponsor” their employees put their own reputation at risk for the betterment of the individuals they are serving. This is an admirable quality and one that is highly respected amongst a leader’s peers. For example, my career was shaped and defined by one of my bosses in the early stages of my professional development. He witnessed my raw talent and saw that it needed refinement. He wasn’t afraid to take risks and exposed me to environments in the workplace that were too advanced for my experience to-date.

This challenged me to make decisions and tested my ability to think and use my instincts. He lifted me up and guided me rightly each time I failed along the way. My boss taught me all his tricks and trusted me to use them in ways that represented my personality, natural style and approach. Others noticed and didn’t always think that I was worthy of his sponsorship – but in the end I proved the doubters wrong and eventually became their supervisor.

My boss earned a lot of respect from the organization and other leaders began to model his sponsorship approach. Five years later, I became the youngest senior executive in the company’s 100+ year history.

  1. Powerful Executive Presence; Long-Lasting Impact

The most respected leaders are the most authentic people. Their executive presence is genuine and true. They make those around them feel that they matter, and they welcome constructive dialogue regardless of hierarchy or rank. Respected leaders trust themselves enough to live their personal brand and serve as powerful role models to others. Their presence creates long-lasting impact that leaves a positive mark on the organization and the people they serve.

Respected leaders are passionate, impact-driven people. Their presence is felt when they walk into the room; their reputation and their track-record precede them.

  1. Have Their Employees’ Backs; Deflect Their Own Recognition

Too many leaders are recognition addicts and want all of the credit. They spend too much time breaking-down rather than building-up their teams. They don’t take the time to genuinely learn about other’s needs. Leadership is ultimately about knowing the people you serve and giving them the guidance, inspiration and navigational tools to make their lives better and enable more opportunities.

Leaders earn respect when they reward and recognize their employees and colleagues. They take the time to appreciate and understand the unique ways they each think, act and innovate – and are always on the lookout to enable their talent. They are trusted, admired and respected because they make it more about the advancement of others, rather than themselves. They share the harvest of the momentum they build with others.

Earning respect is a journey and requires leaders to focus on how they can “deliver beyond what is expected” of their role and responsibilities. It’s about always being on the look-out for ways to step up your game and being mindful of ways to make the workplace better and the organization and its people more competitive and relevant.

What will you do as a leader today that you haven’t done in the past to be more respected?

 


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Respected Leaders

Consistently Strong Work Ethic; Set the Standard

Actions are stronger than words, and this is personified by the respected leader. Great leaders despise false promises and people who create lots of unnecessary noise to get attention. There are many leaders that play the part on the outside but have very little substance on the inside. Respected leaders are those who consistently prove through their work ethic that they are reliable and trustworthy on the inside and out.

These leaders set the tone and are great role models. The tangible and measurable results of their consistent work ethic influence new best practices and cultivate innovation. Ultimately, their leadership defines the performance culture for the organization. They set the standard and leave behind an indelible impact.

Not Afraid to Take Risks; Admit Wrong Doing

Respected leaders are those who are not afraid to take risks. They are bold enough to change the conversation and seamlessly challenge the status quo for the betterment of the organization and their competitive advantage. They can anticipate when a paradigm shift is in order and are courageous enough to act on it.

The other side of this admirable quality is the ability to admit wrong doing. Respected leaders do not hesitate to make the most difficult decisions and will put themselves out on the frontline to lead by example. They gravitate towards what many view as a “leap of faith” and willingly accept the challenge – knowing very well that the odds may not be in their favor given the personalities and inherent obstacles that surround them.

Sponsor High-Potential Employees; Serve Others Rightly

Respected leaders think about making others better. They don’t leach, they lead. They are mindful of those that give a 100% effort to their responsibilities. Respected leaders find ways to discover the best in people and enable their full potential. When they detect high-potential talent they impart upon them their wisdom and provide a path for long-term success.

Leaders that “sponsor” their employees put their own reputation at risk for the betterment of the individuals they are serving. This is an admirable quality and one that is highly respected amongst a leader’s peers. For example, my career was shaped and defined by one of my bosses in the early stages of my professional development. She witnessed my raw talent and saw that it needed refinement. Sh took an interest and exposed me to complex problems far beyond my skills at the time.

This challenged me to make decisions and tested my ability to think and use my instincts. She lifted me up and guided me rightly each time I failed along the way. My boss taught me all his tricks and trusted me to use them in ways that represented my personality, natural style and approach. Others noticed and didn’t always think that I was worthy of her sponsorship – but in the end I proved my abilities.

My boss earned a lot of respect from the organization and other leaders began to model her sponsorship approach.

Powerful Executive Presence; Long-Lasting Impact

The most respected leaders are the most authentic people. Their executive presence is genuine and true. They make those around them feel that they matter, and they welcome constructive dialogue regardless of hierarchy or rank. Respected leaders trust themselves enough to live their personal brand and serve as powerful role models to others. Their presence creates long-lasting impact that leaves a positive mark on the organization and the people they serve.

Respected leaders are passionate, impact-driven people. Their presence is felt when they walk into the room; their reputation and their track-record precede them.

Have Their Employees’ Backs; Deflect Their Own Recognition

Too many leaders are recognition addicts and want all of the credit. They spend too much time breaking-down rather than building-up their teams. They don’t take the time to genuinely learn about other’s needs. Leadership is ultimately about knowing the people you serve and giving them the guidance, inspiration and navigational tools to make their lives better and enable more opportunities.

Leaders earn respect when they reward and recognize their employees and colleagues. They take the time to appreciate and understand the unique ways they each think, act and innovate – and are always on the lookout to enable their talent. They are trusted, admired and respected because they make it more about the advancement of others, rather than themselves. They share the harvest of the momentum they build with others.

Earning respect is a journey and requires leaders to focus on how they can “deliver beyond what is expected” of their role and responsibilities. It’s about always being on the look-out for ways to step up your game and being mindful of ways to make the workplace better and the organization and its people more competitive and relevant.

What will you do as a leader today that you haven’t done in the past to be more respected?