Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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One of the hardest things for leaders (and all people, for that matter) to deal with is criticism. We all want to be right, do right and have others consistently agree with and admire us. But every leader who has been around for even a short while knows that criticism is part and parcel of the experience. There is simply no way of avoiding it.

Consider all of history’s greatest leaders. Regardless of their era and role, every person that we would associate with positively changing the course of history was censured during his or her lifetime, often in scathing, relentless terms. It makes no difference whether they were people of great character or not. Nor did it matter if they were on the winning side of the argument or struggle. If they stood for a cause, led a nation or advanced a noteworthy agenda, then they were at times discouraged, condemned and perhaps even physically impeded from achieving their goals and aspirations.

If fact, why would anyone want to assume a leadership position when the potential for constant critique and pushback looms large? Why would anyone want to risk affecting their relationships with friends, colleagues, co-workers and other associates in order to assume a leadership post?

The answer, of course, is that leaders want to make a difference. They recognize that change is not easy for people and that any efforts that demand of others will invariably draw criticism. But they push forward anyway as they deem appropriate, knowing that criticism is simply society’s way of saying that what you’re doing matters and deserves attention.

Of course, there are many things that leaders could and should do to gain support and buy-in, such as building equity, developing a values system, and communicating (and listening) well. Still, there is no leader worth his or her weight in salt that can expect to adequately fulfill their responsibilities without experiencing meaningful criticism and backlash at times.  Change initiatives are in many ways similar. They can be painful at present, affecting staffing levels, roles, reporting, workloads, work processes or similar things. But often these changes are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the organization.  Sure, leaders need to account for what they do, how they do it, and the impact that it may have on their constituents. But they must also possess the courage and drive to advance change that they believe is proper and necessary. The backlash that they will invariably receive is not necessarily the result of anything bad that they did. Quite the contrary — it may, in fact, be the best indicator that they are on the right path and are doing what is necessary to genuinely fulfill their leadership duties.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

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Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.

If I could teach only one value to live by, it would be this: Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose, so never allow yourself to ever do anything that would damage your integrity.

We live in a world where integrity isn’t talked about nearly enough. We live in a world where “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many. Sales people over promise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quota for the month. Applicants exaggerate in job interviews because they desperately need a job. CEOs overstate their projected earnings because they don’t want the board of directors to replace them.

Investors understate a company’s value in order to negotiate a lower valuation in a deal. Customer service representatives cover up a mistake they made because they are afraid the client will leave them. The list could go on and on, and in each case the person committing the act of dishonesty told themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity.

It may seem like people can gain power quickly and easily if they are willing to cut corners and act without the constraints of morality. Dishonesty may provide instant gratification in the moment but it will never last. I can think of several examples of people without integrity who are successful and who win without ever getting caught, which creates a false perception of the path to success that one should follow. After all, each person in the examples above could have gained the result they wanted in the moment, but unfortunately, that momentary result comes at an incredibly high price with far reaching consequences.  That person has lost their ability to be trusted as a person of integrity, which is the most valuable quality anyone can have in their life. Profit in dollars or power is temporary, but profit in a network of people who trust you as a person of integrity is forever.

Every one person who trusts you will spread the word of that trust to at least a few of their associates, and word of your character will spread like wildfire. The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured.  For entrepreneurs it means investors that are willing to trust them with their money. For employees it means a manager or a boss that is willing to trust them with additional responsibility and growth opportunities. For companies it means customers that trust giving them more and more business. For you it means having an army of people that are willing to go the extra mile to help you because they know that recommending you to others will never bring damage to their own reputation of integrity. Yes, the value of the trust others have in-you goes beyond anything that can be measured because it brings along with it limitless opportunities and endless possibilities.

Contrast that with the person who cannot be trusted as a person of integrity.  Warren Buffet, said it well: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”  A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may not be today, and it may not be for many years, but you can rest assured that at some point there will always be a reckoning.

A word of advice to those who are striving for a reputation of integrity: Avoid those who are not trustworthy. Do not do business with them. Do not associate with them. Do not make excuses for them.  Do not allow yourself to get enticed into believing that “while they may be dishonest with others, they would never be dishonest with me.” If someone is dishonest in any aspect of his life you can be guaranteed that he will be dishonest in many aspects of his life. You cannot dismiss even those little acts of dishonesty, such as the person who takes two newspapers from the stand when they paid for only one. After all, if a person cannot be trusted in the simplest matters of honesty then how can they possibly be trusted to uphold lengthy and complex business contracts?

It is important to realize that others pay attention to those you have chosen to associate with, and they will inevitably judge your character by the character of your friends. Inevitably we become more and more like the people we surround ourselves with day to day. If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll surely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity.

Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Remember, success will indeed come and go, but integrity is forever.


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Taking Responsibility

It’s inevitable, all leaders make bad decisions sometimes.  It doesn’t matter how much information you gather and what your advisers may suggest you do, you call the shot and its a bad one.  My biggest issue is not the bad decision, it’s the leader that doesn’t own up to his/her mistake.  They somehow try to justify or worse substantiate their bad decision.  When they do, they lose the respect of the masses. There is an old saying “Two wrongs don’t make a Right”.

Employees value a leader who can stick to his guns, yes. But self-justification and blind faith in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary can quickly push those leaders over the line into arrogance. As much as leaders worry about appearing strong and resolute, it is much more likely that they will err in the direction of looking delusional in their consistency. If you’ve crossed this line then you are at serious risk of losing all credibility and there is only one way to get it back: Admit you were wrong.

While admitting our mistakes may sound simple, our psychological wiring works against us. According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, the cognitive dissonance theory states that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes abnormal behavior.  In other words, our minds actively seek out confirming evidence to support our decisions and self-image. For most people, this confirmation bias is so strong that we often end up convincing ourselves of things that sound outrageous to more objective observers. What this means from a practical standpoint is that since you were the one who made the decision, your employees never reach your level of commitment. Therefore if the decision was wrong, your employees will almost always see the folly of your ways before you will. If the gap between when they see it and when you see it is too long, you will lose their faith and confidence.

Since confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are hard-wired into our minds, there isn’t much you can do about it except be aware that it exists. If you are aware of it, you can at least guard against it, invite alternative ideas and open yourself to accepting change when your current direction isn’t working. Have you been blinded by your resolve? Is it time to change? If you’re ready to admit you’ve made a mistake, then do it without excuses. It is so rare for leaders to accept responsibility without pointing to extenuating circumstances that when they do, it is greeted with amazement and praise. While consistency is an important leadership trait, the ability to admit mistakes and accept full responsibility far outweighs the appearance of resolve.

Unfortunately, deflecting attention away from our mistakes is so ingrained into our culture — both American culture and corporate culture — that getting people to fess up to their mistakes is no easy task. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, who explore cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in-depth in their book Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me, explain that because American culture rewards results without recognizing effort, we have been conditioned to view mistakes as purely negative. A mistake equals a failure to produce results and therefore mistakes cannot be tolerated. By ignoring the trial and error process required to achieve success, we encourage people to stay on the wrong course long after that course has shown itself to be flawed. As a leader, changing your culture to one that accepts mistakes will not only make it easier for people to admit their errors and change course when necessary, but it will foster a more open atmosphere of candor and feedback.

Whether from fear or from the confirmation bias, most managers are terrified that admitting their mistakes will show they are weak or stupid; because of this fear they will choose resolve even in the face of obvious failure. Ironically, this type of blind devotion to flawed strategies will make them look far worse than simply accepting responsibility, speaking with candor and showing the strength to change. The risk of looking foolish is miniscule compared to the goodwill earned from standing up and doing the right thing. Nobody likes a quitter, but at some point leaders need to know when to throw in the towel and stop throwing good money after bad.


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Move beyond your current circumstances

As an entrepreneur life can sometimes be a roller coaster with lots of uncertainty and chaos. When you’re struggling it can be tough to see a clear path to success, but it’s crucial to let your vision guide you and NOT your current circumstances. You must embrace those challenges, because that’s where your hunger for a better life is developed.  No one wants to be broke and certainly no one wants to struggle, but according to Peter Voogd the author of the best-selling book “6 Months to 6 Figures”, asking the right questions, and taking the right action while in the struggle is what can change everything. At Peter’s toughest spot he was dead broke, yet six months later he earned a six figure income.  Many successful people who I speak with today experienced similar desperate situations before they were able rise to success.

What it took to make the change is available to everyone. What he realized to make the changes necessary to succeed:

Absolute clarity. 

It’s easy to make decisions once you determine what your real values are.

Reflecting back on the lowest points of my life, I have realized I didn’t take responsibility for anything. I was playing the victim role. I was blaming the economy, my company, lack of resources and my location. I soon realized my focus was jaded and what I needed to change was myself. The moment I got clear on that, my life shifted from complexity to simplicity.

Clarity is the ultimate power, and if you want results you’ve never had you need to get 100 percent clear on what you want. Only when you take full responsibility for your current reality can you change it. Minimalism is a great way to run your business, and a great way to run your life. Get rid of the messes and noise in your head and figure out who you are, what you want and what you must give up to get there.

Your Confidence Account.

Insecurities will destroy you, while real confidence will take you to a level very few attain.

An interesting thing happens when you start to gain clarity. Your confidence follows. If you don’t have confidence, you will always find a way to lose. Everything you accomplish is based on the confidence you have in yourself and your ability to “make it happen.” The bigger the goals, the bigger the challenges.

You must realize the moment you go after your biggest goals, obstacles will show up. They are there to test your character and faith, and to see if you are serious about your goals. The person with the most confidence always wins. When I got clear on the actions needed to start thriving, I felt my motivation and energy elevate. These days, the only security you have is the confidence in yourself and your ability to make things happen.

Shifting your circle of influence.

There comes a point in your life when you realize who really matters, who never did and who always will.

Once you get clear on who you are and what you want, you must re-evaluate your Circle of Influence. Who you associate with is who you become. The term “role model” is not used enough in our society. It’s extremely important to have role models. A role model will raise your standards. A role model will not let you get complacent. Finding a role model or mentor will spark your mind because they are playing the game at a higher level than you are.

  • If you hang around five confident people, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five intelligent people, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five millionaires, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five idiots, you will be the sixth.
  • If you hang around five broke people, you will be the sixth.

It’s inevitable.

Such a simple concept, but what a difference it can make on your performance and business. There’s no faster way to advance into the top 5 percent of your industry than this. Yet, most people don’t do it. I challenge you to find those people, because you’ll become a lot like the people you spend the most time with. Their belief systems, their ways of being and their attitudes are contagious. Once you elevate your peer group, your standards will follow.

Crafting your ideal result rituals.

The amount of stress you have in your life is in direct correlation to the lack of rituals you have in place!

Without the right rituals and habits, your long-term growth will be stunted. Once I learned where my results were coming from, I created “result rituals” that moved my business forward. Intentional action is the only thing that will get you out of the struggle. I had been working 60 to 70 hours a week, but nothing seemed to change until I started asking myself what are the 20 percent of activities that I needed to focus on that created 80 percent of my results. Then I organized my schedule around those priorities.

The greatest wisdom of all time is in astutely choosing what not to do with your time. Say “no” more than you say ”yes”. Don’t be a slave to your phone. Design everything around the lifestyle you want, not for the convenience of other people.

There has never been a better time in the history of our economy to create your ideal life. Whether you’re in the midst of struggle or thriving, I encourage you to continue challenging yourself. When you make a definite decision on what kind of person you will be, on an everyday basis, you start to gain control of your financial destiny. If you continue to choose growth in the moment, and show up better than you were yesterday, you will astound yourself at what you can accomplish. You’re a lot closer to your success than you think.

 

 


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Corporate Vision – Does your team need one?

The only things more painful to read than most corporate mission statements are corporate vision statements.  Many vision statements are written by committee.  They start out direct, clear and compelling but as everyone involved has their turn at contributing their input those visions lose their luster.  The direct parts of the vision get watered down as not to offend, exclude or intimidate people.  Also, things are added to the vision because people want to ensure that their pet function or goal is included in the vision statement and this lengthens the document and makes it more confusing.

Eventually some vision statements come to look more like a bill that has moved through Congress, where everyone involved has tacked on their personal amendment, than they do a compelling articulation of what the organization will be in the future.

Before you go skipping forward with the defense that you do not write vision statements at the corporate level, you must realize you are responsible for setting direction for your team.  You as a leader must create a vision statement for your team when your team is large enough to warrant having one.  Any team that is responsible for a discrete organizational function should have a vision.  It doesn’t matter if that team is as small as five people or as large as five thousand.  You can write a powerful vision statement as long as all members of that team are focused on delivering the same goals in the same functional area.

Whatever your situation or your title happens to be, the simple fact remains – you need to articulate a vision for the future state of your organization or team.  We usually leave this up to the C-suite but writing a vision statement at any level is a powerful exercise.  Your people want to be excited to come to work.  They want to be part of something bigger than they are.  If you can paint a compelling future picture for them, they will be more excited to follow you to that destination.  If you do not paint that picture, they are likely following you out of laziness or just morbid curiosity to see what is going to happen.  The earlier in your career you learn how to create vision statements the more successful you will be at writing them as your responsibilities expand.

Writing a vision statement requires a great deal of thought and an ability to step outside of your daily grind and into a time beyond the foreseeable future.  When you write it you need to make it concise and it must clearly explain how your organization creates value.  This value creation component is easier to articulate than you might think.  Ask yourself “what will the business outcomes and results be if I achieve this component of my vision?”  Your vision should include several key phrases and you should be able to link each phrase to a desired business outcome.

To create your vision, look five years into the future and ask yourself what your organization should look like.  Using a five-year planning window will generally help you balance between being achievable but not too ambiguous.  This is because it is a short enough time frame for you and your team to have a measurable impact and feel like you have made progress, but it is far enough in the future that you can be aspirational in how you describe that vision without protests of “we’ll never achieve that goal in that short an amount of time!”  Conversely, visions set beyond five years into the future can lead your team to feel like the world will change so much over that period that the vision will be neither achievable nor relevant.

Below are some thought starters to assist you with tackling this big question. Do your best to answer as many of them as you can even if at first glance the question does not apply.

– How big will your organization be?  How will you define its scope?
– What new skills will your team members have?
– What new capabilities will you build over this time period?
– How will the way you work with other groups change?
– What should your customers, both internal and external, expect from you?
– What will set your team apart and distinguish it when it is compared to other teams?
– What is your future vision for your team?
– Will they be excited by it?
– What aspects of it will they find inspiring?

Once you have drafted a preliminary set of answers to these questions look at all the answers as pieces of a bigger puzzle.  Create the most powerful elements into the simplest statement you can.  Write down the statement that captures what your team is all about.  That is your first rough draft of a vision.  As you evaluate the resulting vision ask yourself:

– Is my vision clear on how my organization creates value?
– Is the vision ambitious but realistically possible?
– Is the vision worth pursuing and does it win people’s commitment?
– Does the vision explain how we differentiate ourselves from competitors?
– Is the vision concise and does it consist of only a few critical words?

How does the first draft of your vision stack up against these questions?  If you are not happy with your vision relative to these questions, continue to revise it until you are.

 


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Developing Others is Your Job

Nobody has told you that you need to spend time and effort developing others in your organization. It’s not part of your job description. You have too many other things to pay attention to, and besides, isn’t developing leaders the job of human resources?

If you are an organizational leader and this is how you think about developing others, you might want to rethink your position. Put simply, it’s your job. It should be one of the most important things you do, and for the best leaders (meaning those leaders who understand the importance of people to their organization), it is a pleasure to assist and watch others grow and develop.

There are lots of reasons to spend time developing leaders in your organization. Some of the most important reasons include:

Tapping potential: There is leadership potential in all of your employees that is lying fallow, just waiting to be set free by you. As you think about the upcoming Olympics, consider how many of those athletes had a coach or mentor who tapped into their unused potential to guide them to becoming world-class. The ability to become the best at their sport was there all along; it just needed someone to help it along. Look for those who are eager to be more, willing to work hard to become world-class leaders, and guide them to reach (or exceed) the potential within.

Performance: The best leaders know that their organizations can become so much more than they are currently; they see the future and they know that when everyone leads, organizational performance increases and innovation, creativity and output improve. Developing leaders makes possibility become reality, and studies have shown that investments in developing leaders can help the bottom line.

Talent attraction: It’s so much easier to recruit and hire when people actually want to work for your organization. Developing leaders attracts talent, period. When you become known as a leader who is willing to spend the time developing other leaders, high potential employees will beat a path to your door, because they want what you have to offer.

Culture of leadership: Imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like for your organization to have a culture of leadership: employees at all levels taking responsibility, accountable to the vision and mission, collaborating and leading to the future. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? It’s not an impossible dream. I’ve been privileged to know a few organizations with a culture of leadership, and in every instance there is a leader at the top who places emphasis on developing leaders.

Sustainability: I don’t mean to be too ominous, but if you get hit by a bus tomorrow – or, more likely, left the organization — who will step into your place? I can’t think of a better reason to develop leaders in your organization. You have an obligation to make sure that others are ready to take your spot.

Legacy: What better legacy to leave behind when you move on than the memory of yourself as a person who grew and stretched others? The managers I’ve worked with who believed in me enough to mentor, coach and stretch me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of are the ones I remember fondly, use as examples, and write about. They left a positive emotional legacy for those whom they invested time and effort in helping become the best leaders they could.

Regardless of whether it’s part of your job description, developing others is something you need to spend time and effort doing. So coach and mentor them, give them stretch assignments and allow them to take risks and sometimes fail. Your leadership and your organization can reach great heights when you put the effort and time into developing leaders.

 


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Leadership Primer

There are so many theories and philosophies of what makes a great leader. I have written about it for several years now. I’ve also had the opportunity to listen to and talk to many leaders about their challenges and frustrations, as well as their secrets of success.

One leader that has always stood out in my mind is Gen. Colin Powell, and I am always impressed by the confidence he maintains in his leadership views. When asked about the essence of leadership he has said, “Being a great leader means sometimes pissing people off.” Really blunt, but so true.

I actually keep a presentation which is called General Powell’s “Leadership Primer,” in which he offers 18 leadership lessons. I won’t go into all of them but the first one on the list is “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

Powell’s point is insightful and profound. Too many of us in leadership positions are too concerned with wanting people to like us and the decisions we make. That is simply not always possible nor preferable.

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity. You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.

Hope is not a plan, particularly for a good leader.

Powell is right. The irony is that when we don’t make the tough choices as leaders because we want to be “nice” to everyone all the time or treat them “equally,” regardless of their performance, we guarantee mediocrity. The fact is, being a great leader requires that sometimes you will make decisions that make people on your team angry. You will have to communicate directly without mincing words that someone’s performance is under par.

Here’s an example: “Steve, we need to talk specifically about how you are not getting the job done and we need to come up with a plan to turn it around quickly. If not, it isn’t going to be good for you or for our team.”

When you communicate with Steve in such a fashion, he is not going to walk out of your office singing your praises. In fact, there is a good chance he goes into his office and text or calls his wife to tell her what a jerk you are.

But what would happen if you, as a leader, didn’t have that conversation with Steve, knowing that his performance had been sub par for so long? What if you chose to communicate by doing nothing and just hoping things got better? Hope is not a plan, particularly for a good leader.

I’m not advocating that you “piss people off” just for the sake of it because you should or you can. That’s just arrogant and contentious. However, “pissing people off” goes with the territory if you are the kind of leader that deals directly and honestly with your people and the situations that must be confronted on a daily basis. The alternative is unacceptable and the outcome of such a passive approach will be much worse for you and for your team.