Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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If you’re not helping people develop, you’re not management material

Skilled managers have never been more critical to a company’s success as they are today.  Not because employees can’t function without direction, but because managers play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee relationship.  In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in many organizations.

Good managers attract candidates, drive performance, engagement and retention, and play a key role in maximizing employees’ contribution to the company. Poor managers, by contrast, are a drag on all of the above.  They cost your company a ton of money in turnover costs and missed opportunities for employee contributions, and they do more damage than you realize.

Job seekers from entry-level to executives are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job.  This makes perfect sense, since continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career.  The vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring.  Thus, employees’ direct managers are often their most important developers.  Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidate’s viewpoint, his or her prospective boss is the single most important individual in the company.

Managers also have a big impact on turnover and retention. The number one reason employees quit their jobs is because of a poor quality relationship with their direct manager.  No one wants to work for a boss who doesn’t take an interest in their development, doesn’t help them deepen their skills and learn new ones, and doesn’t validate their contributions.

This isn’t what departing employees tell HR during their exit interviews, of course.  After all, who wants to burn a bridge to a previous employer?

Instead, they say they’re leaving because of a better opportunity elsewhere.  And so what happens is that organizations remain in the dark regarding how much damage their inept managers are doing.

Regardless of what else you expect from your managers, facilitating employee learning and development should be a non-negotiable competency.  Becoming a great developer of employees requires managers to expand their focus from “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members?” to “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members while helping them grow?”  Savvy managers know that doing well on the second part of the last question helps to answer the first.

The best managers ask, “How can we harness employee strengths, interests and passions to create greater value for the firm?”  Systematically linking organizational performance and individual development goals in the search for learning opportunities and better ways to work is a hallmark of organizations where sustainable careers flourish.

 


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Managing And Developing Leaders

Happy New Year!  Start your new year with a plan to develop your management team to succeed!

Many HR leaders report that developing leadership talent is hard for them, and this goes back to coaching and development.

Google does this well. Using data from hundreds of surveys, feedback responses, performance reviews, etc. they were able to figure out what qualities make a great leader. You can do this for your organization too.

Going through all of this data and finding patterns among responses of what employees think make an excellent manager, you can use that data to develop your talent.

360-degree feedback is an excellent way to discover people’s strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan to improve.

What Google also does, which you can do too, is create a mentorship program, where the best managers help the lower performing or new managers. Once you’re able to discover what qualities make a good manager, and who has those qualities, create an environment for knowledge sharing.  Good Luck in 2015.


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Coaching for Personality Preferance

Not everyone is motivated by the same thing or in the same way. Personality preferences influence both the coach and the person being coached. For the coach, certain approaches and methods will come more naturally, depending on their personality. For example, if the coach is generally outgoing, he or she may be likely to expect the person being coached to be able to talk things through in the moment. Enough time may not be allotted for some who is introspective and needs to think about things. Conversely, if the coach has a preference for introversion, he or she may expect the person being coached to find great value in thinking through things ahead of time, rather than talking things out.

You can’t necessarily fulfill everyone’s wishes, but it’s crucial to understand what makes them tick.

I’m not saying either approach is wrong. It’s just a simple example of a complex topic.  A coach needs to be able to recognize his or her own personality preference as just that – a preference. And, the coach needs to approach each coaching situation with curiosity– to discover the style preferences of the person being coached – before determining the coaching methodology.  It means, do unto others as they would have you do unto them. It recognizes that you have to take yourself out of the situation and look at it as if you’re viewing other people playing your role. You have to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes and really empathize with them. But it’s also just as important to see yourself as others see you. If you can do that, it gives you a 360-degree view, and then you have more understanding. It doesn’t make a hard job easier, but it gives you a framework.


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Leadership Trait Often Overlooked

In succession planning the biggest question a committees asks is “who’s next?”  It’s a question that senior executives should consider with regularity. Amid the debate about who can succeed as a VP of sales or even who will become the next C-suite officer, one factor sometimes gets overlooked: Toughness!

I am not referring to what’s on the outside (gruff and ready), but rather what is inside the individual (character and resilience).

Toughness matters because you need a leader who has the wherewithal to stand up for what she/he believes in, as well as stand up to others to achieve team and organizational goals. More important, toughness matters when things are not going well, when the economy’s tanking, when the industry is struggling, or a brand-new competitor’s appeared on the horizon. Toughness also matters when heads are being counted and everyone is wondering if the next head to roll may be theirs. Tough times demand tough leadership. Some of the ways leaders demonstrate toughness:

They defuse tension. Performing under pressure is a prerequisite for leadership, but too much pressure can be a prescription for disaster. It falls to the leader to maintain the sense of urgency and momentum but also to give people some breathing room. This is not an excuse to slack off; it is an invitation to be careful and deliberate. Also, keep in mind that tension that comes from interpersonal conflicts is seldom positive; leaders need to eradicate it by making some hard decisions about who works with whom and why.

They get up off the floor. There’s no shame in getting knocked down; sports teaches that lesson very well. What matters is what you do next. Strategies will miss the mark; wrong skills will be applied; and projects will fail. Such is life in the organization. It’s a leader’s job to get back into the game and keep slogging. That requires resilience, an ability to flex with adversity as well as persevere when the going gets rough.

They let off some steam. If you are a team leader, and someone on your team makes a big mistake, one that he was obviously warned about, it’s natural to become annoyed. It is also acceptable to focus some heat on the person who made a mistake. The challenge is to focus your irritation on the action, not the person. He needs to know your displeasure; it may help him pay more attention the next time.

There is another aspect of toughness that sometimes seldom appears in a discussion of the topic. Humility. A leader who can admit he was mistaken is a leader who has the right kind of inner toughness. Owning up to failure is not a weakness; it’s a measure of strength. First, it demonstrates a willingness to accept consequences. Second, it demonstrates humanness; human beings make mistakes. It also creates opportunity to move forward. Rolling over in despair is not what leaders do; they acknowledge their misstep, learn from it and resolve to move forward. Toughness gives backbone to a leader’s purpose, and gives one the strength to continue.

 


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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.

 


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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.