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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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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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Succession Planning

Succession planning shouldn’t be used just for executive positions.

Organizations should be developing replacements for anyone whose sudden departure could disrupt the business, a former executive turned consultant told HR professionals on Wednesday at a concurrent session at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Those employees could include sales account managers for top clients or operations managers.

Unfilled and unplanned vacancies cost companies about 50 percent more in lost revenue than the salary for the vacated job itself, according to a 2013 Mercer study.

“Succession planning protects the business from unexpected changes that could potentially hurt the business,” she said. It can also increase retention of top performers and drive deeper engagement of managers by “owning” talent development, she said.

Renz offered the following tips:

Start small and build up. Create a proposal including supporting data to show executives how the succession plan will work and how it will benefit the organization. Establish a pilot program; that will allow you to refine the program before it is rolled out to the whole organization, she said.

Make it an organization program, not an HR program. Your action plan should be visible, measurable and shared. Define the goal and the data that will be used in your talent program. Refresh formal data at least once a year. Share progress and challenges with leadership quarterly, she advised.

Assess employees’ competencies. These are the abilities and characteristics that the company identifies as key success factors of roles across the organization. Assess employees also for core values. Assessment tools can help measure competencies and behaviors, not just personality.

Identify “high-potential” employees. Some employers prefer to call those employees being developed for leadership positions the “acceleration pool,” because the term “high potential” can make other employees feel inferior, she said. She recommends labeling them “early career,” “mid-career” and “senior career” so you can plan development that better fits their specific needs.

Develop an action plan using the data collected. The information can help identify gaps and growth needs in your workforce so training programs can better support the development of the acceleration pool.

Create an individual-development action plan for each person in the acceleration pool. You might use a rotational program to help employees meet others in different departments. Pair them with a mentor to encourage knowledge sharing.

The succession plan will not only help you create a plan for recruiting and development, but it should increase retention of top performers with action plans and individual learning opportunities, she said. The action plan should be the foundation to help you decide where and how to spend your time and money.


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Poor Performance or Lack of Communication

Recently one of my clients shared his frustration with one of his employees over what he perceived as a consistent shortcoming on the employee’s part. My client felt that this employee’s consistent failure to perform one task in a particular manner was unacceptable and he wanted me to help with taking disciplinary action.

I asked my client if he ever communicated his expectation of the specific criteria he was looking for in this report, i.e. content, format, the importance of presenting it this way. My client said no, but he should know this stuff, its common sense, he’s been here a while.

I then gently advised my client that he was really at fault here. I explained that if we have not clearly communicated our expectations to someone, then we have no right whatsoever to be irritated when that someone falls short of those expectations. To expect an employee (co-worker, friend, off-spring or spouse for that matter!) to meet expectations that have never really been communicated is simply unrealistic and sets that person up for failure.

A key component of communication in leadership is the ability to set our team up for success, by clearly defining what is expected of them and the manner in which you visualize those expectations being met. Then, if they have a different vision for how this task can, or should be accomplished, they have an opportunity to bring their adaptation of ideas to you for input and/or approval. Otherwise, they may proceed with their own ideas and when those efforts are met with disapproval, it can be disheartening and dis-empowering.

Clearly, there are times when a leader needs to give their team wings to fly with their own ideas and their own processes. In those situations, the leader needs to praise the positive results and/or let their team deal with the consequences and fix the problem if those process doesn’t work out.

But in those situations when a specific expectation is an imperative, respectful leadership and respectful communication requires that those parameters are clearly established up front.


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A simple thank you

Think of the last time someone really thanked you for doing something. Especially if that something was normal to you and you certainly didn’t go out of your way. You felt good and probably wanted to do it better next time. You cannot underestimate the power of a simple thank you. A long and sometimes grueling workday can melt away when staff members know their efforts were appreciated. It’s amazing how the last interaction of the day can become the last thought and make employees look forward to coming in the next day, knowing that their contributions were noticed.

The most effective leaders I know work diligently to thank their people. The validation can come from end of day departures and acknowledging extra effort on the fly, to even just thanking them for doing their normal work, giving input, or being positive throughout the day. These leaders know the value of their people and their basic need of feeling important, the feeling that their top three needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) are being met.

Take every opportunity to find reason to thank as often as you can. That presentation didn’t go quite well? Thank them for the time and effort they put in to it anyway. The account dropped out to do business with a competitor? “You did a great job meeting their needs Marcie!” The 2nd shift comes in when your first shift leaves; thank them for working strong during the evening hours. Simple and genuine acknowledgement yields committed people and sustained performance.

Thanking your people for their everyday efforts is a simple and easy way to make a powerful lasting impression in your organization. Make every connection a reason to find and give thanks to your people.

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