Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Lessons Learned

4 years ago I left the corporate world and started PeopleFirst. As I reflect back I’ve learned much about a lot of things and I wanted to share some of that reflection here with you. I share these today for your benefit, for these lessons, when applied, will help you lead better, learn better and live better.

Human beings are learning beings

We are built to learn, and at some level we all learn every day. What we don’t do enough is learn intentionally. From hundreds of conversations I have learned that people are at their best when they are learning. When we are learning we feel alive, we feel meaning, we feel purposeful. Learning quenches the human drive of curiosity and when we do this intentionally we feel better, and perform better too. One of the most powerful ways to learn is to do what I am doing in this document – reflecting. Everyone can do it and it costs nothing but some focus and a bit of time. Our lives are complicated and the challenges we face are significant – so to succeed and make a difference in this world we must be learning.

Understanding change changes everything

One of the most popular requests I get as a consultant is to help companies change. Why? Because it is all around us, it is complex and our lack of understanding of it causes consternation, frustration and much more. We experience change personally and organizationally. Change is a pervasive part of our world and life, and when we begin to understand how it happens, why it happens, and how we choose it, it makes us more proactive, more understanding, and better able to help others too. Time spent understanding how change happens and how we choose it will fundamentally change your understanding of and ability to succeed in the world.

The contradiction of personal accountability

Here is the contradiction – We control very little, but can influence all most everything. This is a fundamental truth in life that most of us at one time or another try to change, ignore or deny. When we take personal responsibility for what we can control – our choices, our reactions, our emotions, our actions – we are more effective people. When we deny our ability to influence our world and other people by the choices we make, we become victims. And when we live in the land of the victimized, we can’t grow, improve or get better results. The bottom line – while we can’t control anything but ourselves, that is plenty to work with, and when we live from that reality we will be happier, healthier, and more successful.

Development is development

Personal development or professional development, what is the difference? Not much in my mind. When we go to work, we bring our whole selves – and most things we learn at work transfer to application in the rest of our lives anyway. Sure, you may never need to use a specific procedure outside of work, but almost all of our work is about interaction with others, influence, communication and so much more. When we begin to think about every developmental opportunity as both professional and personal, we will become more successful in all areas of our lives faster.

Everything is about choices – and they all matter

We have choices on everything – and how we exercise that choice makes all the difference in our results. Some choices we have relegated to habit and our sub conscious, but all of those are still choices and could still be changed. We often think about the big choices, as well we should. But it is the smaller ones – the mindless TV instead of the book, the carrot cake instead of the carrot, and rolling out of bed after the snooze versus ten minutes of purposeful morning planning – that change our lives. Og Mandino, author of
“The Greatest Salesman in the World” wrote in one of his books, “use wisely your power of choice.” It is a power and the choices are ours to make – and they all make a difference.

These five lessons aren’t the only five I could have chosen – in fact I kept trying to add more as I was writing, but these five have made a huge impact for me. In reading them, I hope they provide you with a challenge to explore how these lessons can make a difference in your life and work.


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Leadership Development – Company Differentiator

One of the biggest differentiators of companies that excel in leadership development is the commitment and ownership of the CEO or top executive.  It’s easy for a CEO to just pay lip service to leadership development. All they need to do is show up at the annual talent review and nod their heads; stop by a few training programs to give a quick talk, approve the training budget, and read the script written for them by HR that tells them to say, “People are our more important assets” at every employee gathering.

You can tell what’s really important to them by taking a look at their calendar to see where they spend their time, the agenda items on their executive team meetings, and by what gets measured.

So when it comes to leadership development, what’s the difference between a CEO that is just “involved” and one that is really committed?

I for one think the following 7 things would give any CEO the best return on their time invested. The good news is that none of these involve spending much money, and you may already be doing many of them:

Focus on results and don’t let the process be the tail wagging the dog.

I’ve seen way too many organizations get caught up in the process and lose sight of the results. They create complicated processes and forms, thick binders, have long meetings, and put way too much importance on impressing their board of directors. Once the meeting is over, the binder gets set aside and nothing happens until the next year. VPs and senior managers soon catch on that it’s nothing but an exercise and focus on looking good instead of being good.  This doesn’t mean the annual CEO and board reviews are not important — it’s been my experience that if you don’t do this, then nothing happens. Events, like annual check-ups, force things to happen that otherwise get pushed aside because they are not urgent.

Have high expectations for the head of HR.

The CEO’s HR partner not only needs to know all of the best practices and processes, but they must have the ability to influence and be trusted by the executive team as well as be the CEO’s trusted adviser on talent. It’s a tough balance — they may be coaching a struggling VP one day and recommending to the CEO the same VP be replaced the next day. They have to be able to play match-maker and broker job changes, and manage all of the ego and politics involved.

Practice what you preach.

Committed CEOs publicly work on their own leadership development, then work on the development of their executive team. They coach them, give them feedback, and develop individual development plans with them. They support their development. A CEO’s behaviors are powerful — they set the expectations for the rest of the management team, creating a trickle-down effect of leadership development.

Be the Chief Talent Broker

While there are challenges to cross-functional movement of high potentials, somehow the companies best at leadership development figure out how to do it without damaging the business and ruining careers. They intentionally move their high potentials from job to job to get them ready for bigger jobs.

If it’s left up to each manager, it won’t happen. Why should they? It’s certainly not in their best interests to give up their best talent. The CEO is the only one (other than the HR vice president) looking at leadership development from a what’s best for the company, long-range perspective. Managers won’t do it — or even see value in it — unless the CEO establishes it as an expectation and encourages them to give up their top talent and be willing to accept (and develop) unlikely developmental candidates.

Spend time assessing talent.

Assessing talent is all about having regular talent reviews, conducting formal assessments, and spending time with high-potentials. Know what to look for, too — indicators of success in larger roles isn’t the same as performance in a current role. Astute CEOs know how to ask the questions, what behaviors to look for, and the difference between performance (results) and leadership potential.

Hold others accountable for assessing and developing future leaders.

All too often companies will conduct talent reviews and succession plan reviews and discuss development and then, a year later, nothing happens. A CEO needs to establish the vision, set meaningful goals, measure them, and hold people accountable. It takes time to change a culture, but a few public coronations and hangings help send the message that it’s important.

Take decisive action on underperformers

Entrenched underperformers block the development and advancement of an organization’s high potentials.  Leaders don’t always do a good job differentiating excellent performance for mediocre performance (everybody’s a B or A, and nobody’s a C), and they are too slow to take action.


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Showing Others How To Lead

When you move on to your next opportunity, who will you leave in your place? Will it be one successor who has been carefully groomed to fill your specific job title? Or will you depart having developed the capabilities of as many people as possible?

One definition of leading is “to show the way to by going in advance.” When you use this definition of leadership, you’ll see all sorts of opportunities to develop people, and far beyond just promoting them to a management title.

At some point in their lives, everyone has the chance to “show the way.” When you provide your team members with an opportunity to exercise their leadership muscles, you’re giving them a tremendous gift.

Leadership development is not just for those who aspire to an official job title. And, you don’t need to spend large amounts of money. The key is seeing leadership development opportunity in everyday situations.

Common workplace scenarios where development opportunities lie in wait:

Setbacks. Character is the foundation of leadership and nothing builds character like a project that fails. If you as the leader frame the failure as a learning opportunity, you will set in motion a powerful motivator to grow. I once led a high-visibility project that fell short of expectations. My leader adopted an approach of “get back up on that horse.” She expressed confidence that I could learn from my mistakes and that I would be a better leader on the next go-round. And I was.

Transition. Any time there is an imminent change, you have a prime opportunity to coach people to lean into leadership, either formally or informally. Possible opportunities: promotions, appointment to project leadership, department restructuring or procedural changes. Look for any situation that requires that others be “brought along” into a new territory. Then, identify someone on your team who has both the competence and enthusiasm about the change to act as a lead.

Technical expertise. Do you have a highly skilled “technician” on your staff — someone who excels in a particular skill that others would benefit learning about? Work with that individual to help him craft a series of “lunch and learns” for your team. You can also look for ways you can showcase your team members’ talents beyond your department — send them in your place to meetings or have them make presentations at all-company meetings.

Differing opinions. In the workplace, there’s an abundance of opinions. When those viewpoints clash, your team needs leadership to help bring the group to consensus. That person doesn’t always need to be you. When you help others in your team develop the skill of facilitating dialogue, there are multiple paybacks. Not only do your discussion leaders gain key business skills, but your team works together more smoothly.

Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” There are ample chances to grow leaders each and every day. When you know where to look, it’s surprising just how many “leadership development” opportunities there really are.

 


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Leaders Ethical Responsibility

We all make mistakes.  But as a leader of a major corporation, small business, national security, etc. those mistakes should be minimal.  The moment you accept the responsibility, the compensation, the perks, etc.  Your responsibility to ethics becomes so much more than it was when you were rank and file.  Ethical leadership should be practiced all the time by anyone in a leadership position – whether that position is formal or informal, intentional or unintentional. There are no times when it’s more appropriate than others, nor are there people for whom it is more appropriate than for others.

There are definitely times when ethical leadership is more difficult than not – when there are hard choices to make, or when the right choice is clear but unpleasant (confronting a nice person who’s simply not doing his job, and making everyone else’s harder as a result, for example, or acting against your own self-interest). In fact, the difficult times are when ethical leadership is most important, because the stakes are higher.

The stakes in ethical leadership may also vary widely, depending on the level and responsibilities of the leadership in question. Few leaders of business organizations find themselves faced with the kinds of life-and-death decisions that may be experienced by national leaders.  Yet their decisions can still have serious ethical and human consequences, even though those consequences may play out in a more limited sphere.

Ethical leadership is part – although by no means all – of the definition of good leadership. Being an ethical leader is a full-time job – it isn’t something you can put on and off at will. You either are or you aren’t, and if you are, you have to try to be one all the time.


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Transitioning from peer to boss – part II

The transition from peer to manager cannot occur overnight, even though the day after your promotion expectations change drastically. It takes a lot of time and effort, so it’s helpful to think of the transition as a journey. The changes require time to take root, usually years.  You may be lucky enough to have had great mentors along the way, but I find in many cases the opposite is true. That means it’s really up to you.  You make progress on your journey through trial and error.

Fortunately, most managers begin to make progress, but many fail to complete their journeys. They stop short of acquiring the necessary skills, knowledge, values, outlook, self-knowledge, judgment, and especially emotional competence.

Most new managers start out receptive to change and learning because of their initial discomfort in their new position. But as they begin to learn the ropes and no longer fear imminent failure, too often they grow complacent.

Every organization has its ways of doing things — rules of thumb, policies, standard practices, unspoken rules and guidelines — such as “promote by seniority,” “smooth over conflict,” and a host of others. Once learned, they are ways of getting along, and new managers use them to get by. Instead of confronting a performance problem, they fill out the obligatory annual performance appraisal and simply negotiate the wording with the person involved.

They do enough to meet the status quo because that’s all that’s required of them. Indeed, they stop thinking of what’s possible and focus on what’s expected.

They hire people who are just good enough. They progress to the point that management no longer feels new and strange. When they no longer fear imminent failure, they grow comfortable. They “manage,” in the worst sense of the word. That’s why years of experience are not necessarily an indication of effective management.

This surely accounts for the wide range of mastery among managers, even those with considerable experience. Based on what I have seen, most organizations have a few great managers, some good managers, a horde of mediocre managers, some poor managers, and some awful managers. Like most of us, you’ve probably had, at one time or another, a boss whose ineffectiveness made you wonder how could someone like this become or remain a manager?

With all the time commitment required, and the fact that most organizations fail to provide enough initial help and resources for inexperienced managers, it’s not surprising that so many stop short of completing their journey. Full mastery comes slowly, as with any serious skill, and requires steady progress in a world that keeps throwing up ever more complex challenges and opportunities.

I know highly competent managers that believe they are still learning even after years of experience. They have taken the initiative and time to challenge themselves to become better every day. They accept and look for criticism, so they can explore solutions.  In the end these type managers become future mentors.


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Courage in the workplace

A leader must have courage; a leader must act in a courageous manner and so on.

While this is true, it is only part of the story about courage and the workplace. As we shall see, the virtue of courage must run throughout an organization or company – from bottom to top – in order for it to function at the highest level. 

Courage defined

Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.Courage is further defined as: “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Again, we see the word spirit. 

Courage is foundational

Courage is associated with such words as fearlessness, grit and power. It is experiencing fear, yet pushing through it to achieve your desired result.  Some say courage is the thing that underlies every other human quality. Without it, we cannot rightly be honest, dependable, generous or trustworthy. Courage is the foundation upon which all other virtues are built.

Courage and fear of reprisal

Why is so little courage seen in so many companies these days? In my estimation, it is because the leaders of those companies have fostered a culture where dissenting voices are discouraged and opinions that threaten the status quo are thoroughly silenced. With this climate of possible retaliation before them, team members are fearful of speaking up, sharing their thoughts and voicing their values. Fear of being the first one out the door at the next downsizing has stopped many ideas dead in their tracks in the workplace.

Courage, vision and openness

The first step in harnessing your courage is to develop a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals. This is true for the executive, manager and employee in the workplace.  Development of a vision that all members of the team can buy into depends on the openness of a company or organization. An open-minded company allows for discussion, sharing, brainstorming and even dissenting views. An open leader sees the value of the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room, including managers and employees. The leaders’ openness allows for others to work from a place of courage. They can step up without fear and lend their thoughts to the discussion. The ability to have that courage becomes transformational, both for the person sharing and the company or organization.

Openness leads to the ability to shape and form a vision. It is a vision wrought in courage which gives it power. That vision, brought about by the courage of the people involved in its development, will be the driving force carrying the company forward into new and exciting areas.

Benefits of courage in the workplace

Some of the benefits derived from demonstrating courage in the workplace include: high morale; commitment to the group mission; ownership; responsibility; momentum; effective; and stronger sense of purpose.

Here’s few questions that all members of your team can ask themselves regarding courage. Use these questions to help you determine what you can do to step up, step out and find your courageous voice.

–          What is your vision for the business/group/department?
–          How, specifically, can you be more courageous in your role at work?
–          What communication skill would help you become more courageous?
–          What tangible benefits will arise from your courageous action?


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The Concept of Effective Leadership

The concept of effective leadership has changed over the years. The old-style concept of a leader being the directing chief at the top of a hierarchy is incomplete at best, harmful to the organization or company at worst. In today’s world, this view simply does not truly appreciate the very nature of true leadership.

Leadership is also misunderstood to mean directing and instructing people and making important decisions on behalf of an organization. Yes, leaders make decisions. Yes, leaders instruct and teach. However, effective leadership involves much more than these.

The very nature of effective leadership is seen in an understanding of the difference between “management” and “leadership.” They are often mistaken as one and the same, which they are not.

There are distinguishing differences:

  • Management is concerned with processes / Leadership is      concerned with behavior.
  • Management relies on measurable capabilities like systems, goals, planning and evaluation.
  • Leadership, while involving many management skills, relies on less tangible and measurable things like trust, inspiration, motivation and personal character.

While a bit simplified, we can boil down the main difference between management and leadership to be: Leadership is about leading people and influencing behavior. Management is about managing processes and securing results.

With this difference in mind, let’s look at five tips for effective leadership:

1. Become a servant. Effective leadership involves serving. Too many leaders go about this backwards. They see the role of their people as servants to them as the leader. Good leaders see themselves as a servant of the organization and the people within it.  Ineffective leadership takes. It sets itself up to garner favor or personal gain. Servant leadership is an opportunity to give and to give in such a way that fosters growth in people.

2. Understand that leadership is about people. While leadership does involve making decisions and taking action, it is centrally concerned with people and behavior.

Strong leaders are able to see and understand vital relationships even within large and complex networks of people. These leaders then focus on building those vital relationships in such a way that adds to the trust level between them and these networks. People follow leaders they trust. They also are drawn to leaders who possess positive qualities like:

Integrity, honesty, humility, courage, commitment, sincerity, confidence, positivity, compassion; just to name a few.

When it all comes down to it, effective leaders can express their humanity in such a way that fosters trust and builds commitment from those they seek to lead.

3. Be an engaging conversationalist. Smart leaders spend their time starting and advancing conversations within their organization, not running away and hiding from them.

It is nearly impossible to engender the necessary confidence, trust and loyalty a leader must possess without being fully engaged.  A leader spends as much time out of the confines of the office engaging in real conversation with people as they do in their office planning, decision-making and organizing. Whether in person, over the phone, via email, through the social web, or even by sending a good old fashion “thank you” note – be an engaging conversationalist.

4. Listen. This tip piggy backs off of the former one. As you are an engaging conversationalist, listen.  Great leaders realize that there is far more to be gained by surrendering control of the conversation than by dominating it. Being a leader doesn’t give license for you to talk just to hear your head rattle. Powerfully effective leaders realize the value of what can be gleaned from the minds of others. Know when it is time to stop talking and start listening. People want to be heard. They need their voice to be affirmed.

5. Lead yourself. It’s important that leaders have the ability to focus and motivate themselves as they motivate others. In fact, without this ability securely fastened in your own life, you cannot be a truly effective leader of others. I believe we really do lead by example.  It is vitally important that we have a handle on the leadership of ourselves so that we have a positive, strong and trustworthy example for those we lead. Leaders know that while some people can be considered “natural born leaders,” most have to learn the art. Therefore, effective leaders seek opportunities for personal growth. They seek out books to read, seminars they can attend or personal coaches to foster their growth.  Leaders never stop learning for their benefit and the benefit of those they serve. Leadership is an exciting thing. It can be the most joyous and personally fulfilling work you do. It is my hope that you find these tips helpful along your journey.