Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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As companies grow, they may outgrow some key employees

So you have an employee or a few employees who have been with you for a long time. He or she has proven to be a great performer over the years. You’ve probably built significant rapport and loyalty with this person or person’s. Unfortunately employees don’t always grow with entrepreneurial companies.  This is one of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur or new executive.

As companies grow, they tend to outgrow some of their employees. That’s not surprising: it’s hard for fast-growing organizations to provide enough time and development for employees to keep up with ever evolving needs of the organization.

I’ve seen many examples of owners, entrepreneur’s, CEOs starting small businesses or division with 3 to 5 people. One or two people outshines everyone with their commitment, knowledge and execution.  The owner begins trusting an individual because they know the person can be relied upon to get things done.  And typically their strengths are very different from the owner’s core strengths, so the value to the owner is tremendous in growing the business.

As the business begins to grow, however, a different reality sets in.  Expanding into a company with 20, then 30, and then 40 employees may require a different skill set.  The company may need a different type of leader.  The employee who’s great with your 20, 30, or 40-employee Company will not necessarily be the person to run and operate a business with 300 employees.

Often, I think we can recognize this in our gut, but because of the loyalty we’ve built up, we have a hard time determining and actually deciding to take action.  We let the issue fester, then it only gets worse.

The best way to deal with this situation is by addressing it head-on.

As soon as you notice the issue, or have a gut feeling that you might have one, address it with the employee.  Talk with them about how roles change rapidly in a growing company and ask them how they are feeling about how they are keeping up.

You may find the conversation alone heads off the issue.  Perhaps the person simply hasn’t realized that what is required of them has changed.  This will call it out to them.

Perhaps they are truly struggling and don’t know how to deal with the issue themselves.  This will open up the dialogue necessary to help them get past it.

Perhaps they believe they can make the jump.  This will give you the opportunity to discuss expectations and put them squarely on the table.

In most cases, employees who are struggling with this issue are more uncomfortable than you are.  Putting the possibility on the table (in the right way) communicates your respect for them as a person and gives them the opportunity to dispel the myth or be part of the solution.

Discuss alternatives.

After your initial conversation, your hunch should be either quickly dispelled or rapidly confirmed.  Once it is confirmed, it’s time to discuss alternatives.  If the individual recognizes the issue, discuss alternatives.

Perhaps the role has grown large enough that it should be split into two.  Perhaps there is a new role that is more aligned with their skill-set.

Because you have addressed the issue proactively, you do not have a performance issue.  Instead, you have an organizational optimization issue.  Work together to overcome it.

Part ways, respectfully.

Unfortunately, in many cases an employee is unable to recognize that the company has grown beyond their capabilities in a certain role.  Still others recognize it but are unwilling to embrace change.  They want to hold on to the role that they feel is rightfully theirs.

In both of these situations, it is important that you part ways, respectfully.

I have found over and over again that dragging this process out is painful and detrimental to both the individual and the employee.  It is most often a relief to both your organization and the employee if you take swift action.  When you do, remember, this was your go-to employee.  Take care of them.  Offer them a nice package and celebrate their success as they move on to their next challenge.


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Leadership vs. Power

It is hard to deny the connection between leadership and power. Depending on your experience and perspective, one or more likely came to mind when you read those two words together. Leaders have and can create power, and they can do it in a variety of ways.

And yet power and leadership are unlikely companions.  Because depending on your feelings about power, and the type of power you are thinking about, you could have very different feelings about the leadership that is attached to that power. While the connections are many and the chance for commentary is vast, I want to highlight two ideas and contrast them.

I want you to reflect on what I am about to share and decide for yourself where that leaves you and what your next steps might be.  The time you spend reflecting on these ideas, and the actions you take might be the most important thing you could do as a leader right now.

Power Grabbed

When leaders think of their role as a noun, as a role or a title, they are often seduced into thinking that because of their leadership role, there is power available for the taking.

The best case scenario of this mind-set is one of a leader with good intention. This leader values the goals and mission of the team and because of their belief, wants others to see the value and be believers also. They feel that the most expedient way to move towards that valuable mission is by leading from their position, being highly directive and expecting others to follow because it makes sense.

I don’t need to give you the worst case scenario, you’ve already formed it in your head.

Whatever the intention, the result is an approach of trying to grab or gain power, and while this has its place (think a crisis situation), in the long-term the power grab results in compliance at best.  Followers by compliance will be less engaged and most easily willing to change their path and go in a different direction when the opportunity arises.

Power Granted

There is a different model of power that some leaders share. It is the idea that leadership isn’t a noun, but rather a verb, and that people follow not because of the role we play, but the way we play the role. Since people are more likely to willingly follow people that they know, like and trust, this leads to a different type of power – let’s call it power granted.

Power gained through belief, relationship, trust and confidence given leads to leadership by choice, not by compliance, and has a much better chance of lasting over the long haul.  This approach may seem more passive and less of a guarantee. After all if, I move people through compliance I seem to have more control, don’t I?

While it may seem that way, it is an illusion.  When power is granted, people are following because they want to, they have chosen to do so. In the end this power will be longer lasting and more valuable than any power ever grabbed or sought.

Now What?

As leaders we have a huge responsibility to help our teams achieve worthy, important and meaningful goals. Power is inherent in that responsibility. The question for today is which type of power are you striving for and achieving, and is it the type you want and need to reach those valuable goals?

If there is a mismatch between what you have and what you want, it’s time for you to get to work and make adjustments. Your team and your goals are worth the effort.

 


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Real Leaders Don’t Boss

Real leaders are rare in today’s fast-moving, financially driven world. In their place are fast-track wannabes and imposters, intent on instant gratification in the form of quick (and unsustainable) bottom-line results.  Real and effective leaders today—from the executive suite to the assembly line–quietly and consistently follow the seven principles of effective leadership “Real Leaders Don’t Boss” as written by Ritch Eich.

Eich observes, there are far too many bosses and not enough leaders. Bosses who are too narrowly focused, see employees as tools, respect positions and controls rather than empowering, and sets expectations for others that they wouldn’t wish on themselves.

Real leaders inspire others to lead wherever they find themselves in the organization. Eich identifies and then dedicates a chapter to each of eight essentials of effective leadership:

  1. Rea leaders don’t boss. They are calm in their style, yet have zero tolerance for bullies, who, in any capacity, undermine performance and morale.
  2. Real leaders have a central compass. They aspire to do what’s right and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  3. Real leaders communicate with clarity, honesty, and directness, and know how to listen.
  4. Real leaders have a unique make-up. Their passion translates into a strong corporate culture.
  5. Real leaders value and support everyone they lead, out front as well as behind the scenes.
  6. Real leaders know when to get out of the way.
  7. Real leaders are accessible. They are humble and easily approached.
  8. Real leaders know the difference between character and integrity, and why it takes both to succeed.

These eight essentials are about treating people right. They also reflect an extended range of responses to people and situations that “bosses” either don’t possess or exercise.

Leadership isn’t something you are necessarily born with; it is something that is thoughtfully developed throughout life.  Most real leaders aren’t born with some innate ability transforming them into magnets that attract others to follow them. They may have expectations placed on them to rise above their present situation or environment; they may even have an inborn strong desire to serve others and accomplish something unique. In most cases, however, leadership skills are developed and honed in the battlefield of life, where leaders discover their drive, passion, and wisdom.  It is these opportunities to rise above our present situation and environment that we should be seeking out and providing for our children—the next generation of leaders.


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Are you climbing the right wall?

We need both, but if you’re a manager you can strive to be a great leader through your actions.  If you’re a “leader” do you demonstrate your leadership through your actions.  Lots of people spend their lives climbing a ladder — and then they get to the top of the wrong wall. Most weak organizations are over-managed and under-led. Their managers accomplish the wrong things beautifully and efficiently. They climb the wrong wall.

Both a manager and a leader may know the business well. But the leader must know it better and in a different way.  He/She must grasp the essential facts and the underlying forces that determine the past and present trends in the business, so that he/she can generate a vision and a strategy to bring about its future. One telling sign of a good leader is an honest attitude towards the facts, towards objective truth. A subjective leader obscures the facts for the sake of narrow self-interest, biased interest or prejudice.

Effective leaders continually ask questions, probing all levels of the organization for information, testing their own perceptions, and rechecking the facts. They talk to their constituents. They want to know what is working and what is not. They keep an open mind for serendipity to bring them the knowledge they need to know what is true. An important source of information for this sort of leader is knowledge of the failures and mistakes that are being made in their organization.

To survive in the twenty-first century, we need a new generation of leaders — leaders, not managers. The distinction is an important one. Leaders conquer the context — the turbulent, ambiguous surroundings that sometimes seem to conspire against us and will surely suffocate us if we let them — while managers surrender to it.

Leaders investigate reality, taking in the pertinent factors and analyzing them carefully. On this basis they produce visions, concepts, plans, and programs. Managers adopt the truth from others and implement it without probing for the facts that reveal reality.

There is profound difference — a gap — between leaders and managers. A good manager does things right. A leader does the right things. Doing the right things implies a goal, a direction, an objective, a vision, a dream, a path, a reach and sometimes not very popular.

Managing is about efficiency. Leading is about effectiveness. Managing is about how. Leading is about what and why. Management is about systems, controls, procedures, policies, and structure. Leadership is about trust — about people.

Leadership is about innovating and initiating. Management is about copying, about managing the status quo. Leadership is creative, adaptive, and agile. Leadership looks at the horizon, not just the bottom line.

Leaders base their vision, their appeal to others, and their integrity on reality, on the facts, on a careful estimate of the forces at play, and on the trends and contradictions. They develop the means for changing the original balance of forces so that their vision can be realized.

 


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As a leader, are you stuck in the weeds?

I recently read an article on the importance of delegating authority written by Fred Koury, President and CEO of Smart Business. He uses
an airline pilot analogy that for me having served several years in the airline industry really hit home, so I thought I would share it with you.

Imagine for a moment that you are on a plane flying at 30,000 feet. As you cruise along, suddenly the door to the cockpit opens and
the pilot walks back into the passenger compartment and starts getting drinks ready for the passengers and then leaves to deal with an unruly person in row 23. What would you think? First, who is flying the plane? Second, why in the world is the pilot out dealing with things that are clearly the responsibilities of others?

There are two possibilities to this exaggerated example.  Either the pilot isn’t very good and can’t focus on the task at hand or the
people working with the pilot can’t get the job done on their own, so he has to come out and help. Either way, the plane doesn’t have anyone at the controls and the ramifications of that are very serious for everyone on board.

So as a leader, you can’t keep your business pointed in the right direction and navigate around hazards if you are distracted and forced to
deal with issues that really belong to someone else.  So if you’re dealing with issues and tasks that clearly belong to someone else either the problem is you or the people who work for you. Either case requires you to take action. If the problem is you, then your management style needs to change. The only way you are going to be successful is if you start piloting your plane and leave the details to the people you hired to do those jobs or tasks.
At some point, you have to trust that they will get it done — maybe not the same way you would have done it — but done nevertheless.

If you talk to any successful CEO about what his or her average day looks like, it typically is all about strategic planning, meeting
with investors, advisers or checking in with direct reports on key initiatives.  Successful CEOs will not normally mention things like going on sales calls, troubleshooting a minor project or game planning about how to improve workflow within a department.

Why don’t they mention these types of activities? Because they aren’t doing them.  If they were “down in the weeds,” dealing with details, who would be piloting the company from a strategic perspective? The moment they started getting lost in the details is the moment the company would start to drift off course, because no one was there to steer it.

If the problem is your people, then that’s another issue. If you’re trying to pilot the plane but you have no choice but to go back and
remind someone for the third time that you need some key piece of information or something else that should have long since been taken care of, then you may have a people problem. If you can’t trust the people below you to get the job done and they are doing poorly enough to where it’s a distraction to you, your only choice is to make a change.

That might mean training, it might mean moving someone to a different position better suited to his or her skills, or it might mean parting
ways. But you can’t jeopardize the business by walking out into the weeds while the strategy goes on autopilot.

Being CEO is never easy. It’s up to you to decide whether the problem is the pilot or the crew, but one thing is for sure, you are never
going to be able to pilot a plane if you are stuck in the weeds.


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Myth’s About Executives

They make a lot of money. They’ve got power and perks. They jet halfway around the world for a meeting and are back for dinner the next day. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Good work if you can get it, right? Well, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s got it’s benefits.

So why do some give it up? Well for good reasons.

The truth is that executive life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Much of the disparity between perception and reality comes from the fact that only a tiny percentage of executives work for big companies, while the vast majority work for much smaller firms. And that makes one huge difference in lifestyle.

All the compensation surveys you hear about and much of what the media covers is focused on the Fortune or S&P 500. To put this in perspective, there are roughly 9,000 publicly traded companies in the U.S., and perhaps ten times that number of privately held corporations. That means you’re only hearing about less than one percent of the total, and if we’re talking all senior execs versus CEOs, then it’s less than one tenth of that.

Not that we should feel sorry for these people; they’re responsible for the choices they make. I’m just trying to get people to look past the media coverage and the sound bites and understand what life is really like for most executives in the real world. It’s not a winning lottery ticket. It’s hard work, stress, and lot’s of dedication.

Myth #1: Executive pay is out of control

Sure, reading an annual salary survey of S&P 500 CEOs will either give you a heart attack or make you nauseous. But the truth is that most executives work for small and midsized firms where the compensation is much more reasonable and typically not huge multiples above the next level down.

For example, some senior executives, don’t make a lot more money than some managers and individual contributors in their organizations, even at public companies. The big-ticket is usually stock options, but they’re worth zero if the company fails to go public or the stock declines in value. I can attest to both.

Myth #2: Jetting around the world is a great life

Besides working long hours, many executives are away from home at least 25 percent of the time. And while some do get to go first class, that’s the exception, not the rule. Then there’s all the time away from the family, jet lag, sleep deprivation, and the added stress of a hectic, complex life.

So many of those million milers out there live out of a suitcase a majority of the time. And many miss out on the family they are working so hard for.

Myth #3: They don’t really work; they just sit in meetings all day

Sure, top executives spend a great deal of time managing their people and in meetings, but as senior marketing, finance, HR, sales, or any officer of the company, they’re also individual contributors. That’s what accounts for the long hours. I averaged about 60 hours a week, not counting all the travel time away from home. And no, you don’t get overtime.

Bottom line: Especially these days, most executives are on 24-7, sacrifice significant family time, and experience enormous stress. Their dedication is a big part of what’s great about America and free enterprise. Just wanted to provide a different perspective.


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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.