Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Serious Kindness

The best advice I can give to a new manager is to be kind and caring and make the world a better place for your employees. This does not mean that you should be a pushover or a patsy. You still need to get your work done, be a star performer, etc. but serious kindness gets you serious results.

It’s not always easy to be kind. It’s hard when you have to tell people with no talent for what they are doing that they are in the wrong field or when you have to terminate someone and tell them this will help them find what they are good at. Equally hard is when you have to tell a person who has lots of talent and skill that their co-workers really don’t like them because of their communication style, sarcasm, negativity, oh and let’s not forget “body odor” and that if they don’t improve (correct) they may not succeed in their role.  This is difficult news to pass on, and managers who don’t care ignore the problem or shuffle the person off to a new, unsuspecting manager. A kind boss helps a person find a new path, and sometimes that means termination.

Many times in my role I have to help people see why their current job is not a good fit for them. As a manager, you are a counselor, helping people to see their highest potential be it with you or at another type of position or another type of company.

As a manager you are in a position to make peoples’ lives better. You can give them more interesting work, better coaching, more flexibility, as well as other things that you have always wanted in a job, and you should do that.

But, don’t go overboard. The company comes first. And your job is to be the best for your company. Which is everyone’s job. You get an opportunity to manage people because you are going to make things better for the company. The company wants happy workers, but not at the expense of effective workers.

So here’s another piece of advice for new managers: Success is about balance. A good manager balances the needs of his/her company and the needs of his/her employees, and after that, a good manager uses his/her power over peoples’ lives to make the world a better place.

The cynics of the world will say, “That’s not realistic. I never got that.” But don’t ask yourself if you ever got that. Ask yourself if you ever gave it. It is possible to go through your life doing good deeds and just trusting that they’ll come back to you, in some way. Management is the power to make a difference. Do that, without wondering what you’ll get in return.

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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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Comparing Leadership to Driving – Interesting

I read an article a few days ago comparing leadership to driving.  As I read the article it began to make some sense.  In leadership you start out with a need, a purpose, or a mission.  Well in driving you also need purpose or mission.  You need to go to the store, work, or to visit friends.  Sometimes you’ve got to catch a flight or be at an appointment right on time.  If you pull out of your driveway with no sense of purpose, odds are you’re going to get lost and frustrated on your drive.

Leading your team is no different.  When you take on the mantle of leadership, you need to understand your purpose for doing so.  Are you there to improve a broken team?  To take a group of high performers to the next level?  Do you need to grow the business?  Stabilize it?  Sell it?  Are you leading a downsizing?  If you’re not clear on your purpose as a leader, you’ll be just as frustrated as you would be driving around town not knowing where you’re going.

Second, your vehicle must be prepared to drive.  You need gas, air in your tires, wiper fluid, and all your mechanical and electrical systems need to be in working order.

Are you personally prepared to lead?  Are you taking care of yourself physically?  Mentally?  Do you have all the resources your team needs to be successful (budget, time, tools, etc.)?  Your job as a leader is to ensure your team is ready to tackle the challenges it faces each day.

So what kind of driver (leader) are you?

There are all kinds of drivers out there.  Which one do you most closely resemble as a leader?

The shortsighted rusher: You know this guy – the one who zooms past you only to get held up by cars that were clearly slowed up in his lane.  And then another opening appears, he zooms off, and again you cruise past him at the same speed you were doing before.

Do you lead like this?  Chasing after the nearest opportunity to improve but not seeing the bigger picture of where things are headed?  It feels like you make a lot of progress at times but you never seem to get ahead.  If this is you, try some patience and take a longer view of things.  Observe what’s going on around you and try to thing two, three, or four moves ahead so you don’t burn so much energy and get so little reward.

The overconfident (reckless) speeder: ZOOM! This guy blows by you like you’re standing still.  He cuts across three lanes at a time cutting through traffic with apparent ease and nerves of steel.  He’s getting where he’s going and he’s doing it fast.  No one is going to catch him – except the cops.  He doesn’t see the chaos he leaving behind until it’s too late.

Leaders like this guy push themselves and their teams at an incredible pace.  They never seem to let up.  Invariably though, they anger others around them because they’re taking so many risks or just making other people look bad because it’s all about them.  At some point, the team will crash or the authorities (senior management) will pull this guy over and fix his behavior.  If you’re pushing too fast and getting feedback that you’re too selfish or focused on your own advancement, take your foot off the accelerator.

The slow and steady: This guy is the “perfect” driver.  Obeys all posted signs.  Never goes above the speed limit.  He actually resents others who break the rules and sometimes even tries to enforce the rules on his own (like doing 65 MPH in the left lane so faster cars can’t break the speed limit).  Sure, he’ll get there eventually but it’s uninspiring and somewhat stifling.

Do you always follow the rules?  Do you tell on others when they break the rules?  Are you more focused on the rules than the results?  If so, you might want to check your team’s morale.  I’d venture to guess they’re not having much fun and might be looking for another ride.  I’m not saying to break the rules – just question them.  Sure there are ones that must be obeyed but others are more guidelines than anything else and part of a leader’s job is to take risks.

The road rager: Screaming and obscene gestures are a way of life for this guy.  No matter what anyone around him does, it’s wrong and it gets him bent out of shape.  He screams and curses and cuts off other people without regard for their safety (let alone their feelings).

If people aren’t hanging out with you and if the staff cowers in fear when you walk down the hall, you might be the office equivalent of the road rager.  People aren’t following you – they’re complying out of fear.  If you find you yell (at all), get red-faced with anger, and that people generally shy away from you, you might consider some anger management strategies because in today’s workplace, road rage leadership is rarely tolerated for long.

So do any of these driver types resemble your leadership style?  Be honest with yourself and ask how you can improve your driving (leadership) style so you get to your destination quickly, safely, and do so in a way that everyone enjoys the ride.

 


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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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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.

 


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Trust Gap

Despite the fact that employees who trust the decisions of their boss are more loyal and engaged, leaders often fail to cultivate employee trust. A recent survey found we have a deep trust gap: while 90 percent of leaders and employees say that it’s important for employees to trust their leaders, 65 percent of employees rate their level of trust in their leaders as moderate; 37 percent of employees say that they trust leaders less today; and 47 percent of leaders say that their employees trust them less. Only 8 percent of employees say they trust their leaders to a great extent.

Leaders should place a premium on trust since we see a strong correlation between trust in leaders and employee engagement. Employees with a low-level of trust are not nearly as engaged as those with high trust in their leaders.

What erodes trust? Bosses not owning up to their mistakes is a huge factor: 89 percent of leaders say that they either always or often apologize for their mistakes, but only 19 percent of employees agree.

43 percent of employees surveyed say that their leaders rarely or never apologize for their errors. The main reason that bosses don’t apologize is that they’re afraid of looking weak and incompetent, but fear of tarnishing their image sacrifices employee trust and loyalty. Employees also named other boss behaviors that erode trust, including:

  • lying,
  • taking credit for others’ ideas,
  • blaming employees unfairly,
  • gossiping, lack of clarity,
  • poor communication.

 Trust is bolstered (and the trust gap narrowed) when leaders take these four steps:

  1. listening to employees and understanding their concerns;
  2. walking the talk—leaders doing as they say;
  3. following through on commitments;
  4. encouraging employees to offers ideas and suggestions and then LISTENING and TAKING ACTION!

Often leaders ask for ideas, suggestions and feedback, but then don’t take any action or even acknowledge the information.  This is worse than not asking at all.  So if you ask, listen and acknowledge, even if the suggestion is not one you can use, take the time to explain why.


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Four Steps of Coaching

When employees slowdown in their work, your business operations will also slow down. We can blame that to a lot of factors, like slow sales cycles or non-delivery of important equipment, but one of the most commonly overlooked (as well as the most damaging) could be as simple as a change in marketing strategies or processes.

As a business owner or senior manager, we all want to employ the latest tools or innovations in the sales process in order to make a profit. But with our desire to change quickly, we often forget to prepare our own people for it. For this reason they end up in the dark and have a hard time meeting your demands through your new parameters.

You should have coached them in the first place. But since you have most likely implemented the change already, you might as well prepare your marketing team throughout the process. And that means coaching them at times when their performance goes down.

To do that, you need to remember the four steps of effective coaching:

  1. Explanation – when implementing a change in your marketing process, you need to first      explain why you are doing it in the first place. You need to give meaning to what you are doing. You need to share with them your strategies, your plans in reaching your goals, the contribution of each member, as well as the rewards for a successful completion of the task.
  2. Clarification – after the explanations, you need to ask your employees if they got what you are saying. Never move to the next step unless you and your team are clear already on what you want to achieve in your marketing campaign. In case of problems with performance, it is best that you choose the right time for a quick discussion, like employee breaks or something similar. Do      not judge them until they have explained their reason for weak performance.
  3. Participation – for performance issues, get the on board in problem-solving and strategies. Tell them clearly what you need done and help them come up with solutions that they can work on. Try to figure out the root cause of the problem (is it the new business process you implemented, personal issues, employee interactions, etc.). Usually, they can provide you details that can help you nail down the cause and resolve it to the satisfaction of both sides.
  4. Appreciation – as a manager, you should be able to recognize success in whatever endeavor that your prospects can do. Monitor their performance. If you see anything that is worth your praise, then do so. Show them your appreciation, considering their actions based on who they are, not just on what they are doing.

As a business owner or senior manager, you should know how to guide or coach your employees well. With the way business and marketing evolves rapidly, you should also be up to the task of preparing them for the changes. This is for the sake of your continued success in business.