Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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What does poor communication cost businesses?

Between reduced productivity, lost talent and other direct and indirect losses, a recent Unify survey indicates lackluster communication can cost businesses up to $5,000 per employee each year. Communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require thought and care.

A cornerstone of business communication is the feedback system, whether formal – by way of performance reviews, or informal – addressing an employee’s performance (good or bad) and outlining potential course corrections.

Feedback, especially among a leadership team, is critical to a business leader’s growth and decision-making. Frequently, however, the idea of feedback – what it really means – gets misconstrued. Sometimes those in leadership positions think they are providing proper feedback when they simply reprimand an employee as a result of a mistake or error.  And while it is important to address mistakes and errors, as C-Level leaders, feedback is often inefficient because there’s no plan in place for these types of communications. “Gotcha” leadership is no leadership at all.

Some of the common feedback mistakes include examples like an executive giving his/her opinion instead of stating facts, another making sarcastic and/or disparaging remarks about an employee’s error, and still another would be to berate an employee in such a way that it changes the very subject of the conversation – the employee’s performance, and shifted it to “what the heck did I do to deserve this?” then subsequently having a discussion that yields no positive outcome regarding individual growth.

In order to correct (or sustain) performance, we need to engage employees and improve the business enterprise, proper feedback needs to be helpful (first and foremost), as well as relevant and timely.

To be clear: feedback is information provided to another person to help him or her grow and improve. If a leader isn’t trying to help someone grow/improve, he or she isn’t providing feedback. Criticism, more than likely, but not feedback. A true leader finds ways to sincerely help subordinates, not use veiled criticism or overt tongue-lashings. Face it; it doesn’t take much skill to be a jerk.

In addition to being helpful to an individual employee, feedback in business should be helpful to the enterprise as a whole. Leaders must think beyond performance reviews and reactive feedback necessitated by a mistake or problem. Take a proactive approach to feedback by identifying and focusing on the desirable behaviors and making corrections as needed, but in a thoughtful manner. Feedback is most effective when leaders take the time and attention to outline a proactive communication plan, instead of relying on performance reviews during which the manager will feel obligated to restate old one-liners and stock company blurbs. Or worse, a software solution that fills in the wording automatically.

If feedback isn’t relevant and engaging, leaders are wasting their time. Non-specific feedback, at best, leaves the employee wondering how he or she can improve or avoid making the same error(s) in the future; at worst, non-specific feedback leaves the employee totally confused and unmotivated to improve performance. Vague communication at performance reviews leads to misunderstanding and often future meetings to better clarify the feedback given.

Relevant, engaging feedback is personal and tailored to ensure the employee can actually comprehend the message. Before a leader begins the dialog, he or she needs to begin with the end in mind. Determine if the goal is to simply win an argument, or if the goal is to act as a change agent for an employee (trying to change behavior). Hopefully, the desired outcome is to improve the employee’s performance, and the leader can dedicate a little time and heartfelt effort to preparing for the communication, to decrease the likelihood that the topic of the feedback will be subject matter next time around.

Leaders should also give feedback in a way and at a time that can be best received by the employee. Let’s say a marketing executive makes a boneheaded snafu in a press release by mistakenly using 2013 sales data instead of intended data from 2014 – the latter of which provides a year-to-year profit bump of 20 percent. If the CEO would rather string the EVP of Marketing up outside the window than speak in a helpful and relevant manner, then perhaps the CEO should wait a bit before talking with the marketing chief. That’s not to say that a reprimand be avoided, but only that feedback should be practical to the event, behavior or action that necessitated the discussion and provided at a time when its relevance can be best understood.

Certainly, threat of a severe reprimand may help prevent such an error from occurring in the future, but does it improve the EVP of Marketing? Does it benefit the whole enterprise, or merely lend credence to the longstanding belief that the head honcho tolerates no mistakes and, thus, can be impossible to work for? Timely, responsive feedback fosters awareness and understanding, creating an environment focused on personal and professional growth; growth that positively impacts the entire enterprise. The sooner employees recognize that and truly believe that is the environment in which they work, the better the organization will be.

Leadership success is established and developed through helpful, relevant and timely feedback. Feedback fosters trust, and trust is the currency of leadership. The more employees believe in their leaders, the more comfortable they will be providing feedback and helpful insight to their managers. Proper feedback – provided, accepted and acted upon – creates a system of learning after every mistake, making them, therefore, easier to swallow. Employees crave feedback that improves them professionally, and perhaps personally as well. Without it, leaders may only get what they pay for and not an ounce of effort more.  And perhaps as damaging – the organization may have a very difficult time retaining talent.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And in this case, an ounce of prevention may be worth $5,000 per employee per year.

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To Lead is to be all in

Most people like the idea of leadership but few count the cost.  To lead is to be all in, transparent and accessible, calm in the face of upset and even crisis, and always mindful that you are a steward of something bigger than yourself.  That’s not easy. To whom much is given much is required. That’s the part that easily trips us up.

In his book The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, Gary Burniso, CEO of Korn/Ferry International, explores the essential elements of leadership through conversations with some of the world’s most seasoned and accomplished leaders.   He offers a framework based on fundamental human truths and the essential elements of leadership. The “Absolutes” are building blocks that must be present regardless of your leadership style or approach. Here are the 12 Absolutes with Burnison’s thoughts on each:

  1. Lead.      Anchor yourself in Humility. Leadership is an all-in proposition. Never react; instead ask yourself: is this about me or about we? If it’s the former, forget it and rise above.
  2. Purpose.      The why. Purpose must have a long shadow, extending its influence over others.
  3. Strategy. Strategy starts with the results of today. Strategy, rooted in values and purpose, gives encouragement through times of ambiguity and uncertainty. Strategy without purpose and values is a short-term plan that is directed toward shallow goals.
  4. People.      When you’re the leader, it’s never about you, but it starts with you. The leader can’t be the star player, scoring all the points. (Although many try to do just that.) Set high expectations for your team members, and help them to see what they can achieve.
  5. Measure.      Don’t rely on what you believe to be true. Measure and monitor so you know if it’s true. Validate your data. Walk around. Talk to people. Listen.  Look into their eyes and see for yourself whether the strategy is really working.
  6. Empower.      The leader’s job is not to empower people, but rather to help them to empower themselves. It’s the difference between ordering people to do something and inspiring them to see what they can do.
  7. Reward.      Employees work harder for leaders who demonstrate respect for their work.  Authentic, purposeful praise is a power skill of the successful leader—everywhere.
  8. Anticipate.      As a leader, you must always have your focus on the horizon. Your first task is to hone your view of the present that you perceive around you and your organization. Grounded in this reality, you are able to raise your sights toward the horizon and beyond.
  9. Navigate.      Anticipation and navigation are complementary skills. It involves making decisions in real time that allow you to adjust, react, and outmaneuver the competition—always on the lookout for the unexpected.
  10. Communicate.      Communication is where leadership lives and breathes. That means more listening than talking. It’s not merely telling people what you think and what you know. It is a process in which you seek first to understand what others think.
  11. Listen.      Listen, learn, and then lead—in that order.
  12. Learn.      Knowledge is what you know. Wisdom is acknowledging what you don’t know.    Surround yourself with a handful of people who will be your corrective  lens, making sure that you focus and learn. Equally important, your inner circle should be made up of confidants who provide grounding and perspective, seeing you as a person rather than a function.

Burnison reminds us that leadership is about people. “To lead,” he writes, “is to make an emotional connection on a very real and human level in every interaction.”


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The need to create leaders

I was reading a survey that McKinsey and Company’s conducted in 2009 about the breakdown in leadership that affected so many companies in this recession.  I still think we have that problem today and we have to fix it before we can really grow to have lots of great organizations again.  The writer John Baldoni, wrote that the breakdown in leadership was primarily due to managers and executives who simply don’t understand what it means to lead.  I agree.

Many of you ask, well if they don’t know how to lead, how did they rise to their current positions? As unbelievable as it sounds, the survey results are clear and I’m not sure we should be all that surprised.

Who out there hasn’t worked under — either directly or further down the ladder — a manager or executive who wasn’t really leading? Think of the boss who seems to just “boss” you around or the micromanager. They aren’t really leading.

In his book, Lead by Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results John addresses the challenges all leaders face when seeking to bring people together around a common cause. It argues that leaders must create conditions for people to succeed.  He definitely has some ideas on how to get managers and executives where they need to be in terms of leadership. What do you think? Is your company taking steps to grow better leaders? I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas.


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Your Leadership Legacy

Cover of "Your Leadership Legacy: Why Loo...

Cover via Amazon

In the book “Your Leadership Legacy” authors Robert M. Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca  write about the kind of long-term impact you’ll have on your organization. Their message is that it is never too early to think about what people will think, say, or do, after your tenure as a leader has ended, as a result of having worked with you?

You might be your company’s biggest rainmaker. You might be a brilliant strategist. You might be hitting and exceeding performance goals for your unit, your division, your company – every quarter.

But if you jumped ship or disappeared today, what would you leave behind?

What would the people you’ve worked with do differently because they worked with you? What would they think about differently? Would they emulate your behaviors in any way? Or would they be saying “I’m never going to do that/be that/act that way?”

The way that people think, behave, approach work and life as a result of having worked with you – is your leadership legacy. And it has very little to do with your abilities, your measurable performance, your strategic savvy. It has everything to do with who you are, as a person, at work. It has everything to do with your natural role, (as opposed to your title and responsibilities).

The central idea is that one’s desired leadership legacy should be a catalyst for action rather than a result considered after the fact.  This book will make you think.