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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Modern Management

Modern management is all about removing roadblocks from the paths of employees in order to help them succeed.  This extends beyond managing people to empowering and engaging people.  The traditional idea of management was based on leading by fear and the notion of command and control.  Employees used to work hard to allow their managers to succeed and now it’s the managers turn to make sure their employees succeed.  As I’ve said many times, employees are the most valuable asset that any organization has.  In the past managers said “jump” and the employees said, “how high?”  Now, the managers are jumping with employees.

It used to be good enough for managers to say they supported something.  A manager would just need to approve the budget and say “go for it.”  When it comes to collaboration and the future of work that is no longer enough.  Managers need to commit to more than just funding collaboration.  They need to be the ones on the ground level using the same tools that the rest of the employees are using.  There is no way that employees can change and evolve (nor should they) unless they see their managers doing

Embrace vulnerability

This goes hand in hand with being open and transparent.  Our organizations were modeled after the military and if there’s one thing that a commander wasn’t, that was vulnerable.  However, times have changed and we aren’t running our organizations like the military anymore.  We go our whole lives learning how to be the opposite of vulnerable and we always have this “shield” up to keep people from seeing us when we are vulnerable.  However, Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly,” says that vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.  According to Brown, “Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity.  There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”  Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak it’s about being courageous; a key quality that every manager must have going forward.

Belief in sharing

Traditionally managers sat at the top of the organization and had access to all of the information required to make decisions. Managers would dole out the orders and the employees had to execute on those orders without asking any questions.  Today managers cannot believe in hoarding information but in sharing information and collective intelligence.  Managers need to make sure that the employees can connect to each other and to the information they need to get their jobs done, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.  Managers now rely on employees to help make decisions instead of isolating them from this process.

What other qualities do you think the modern manager should possess?


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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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Guiding Principles

So you have created a great company. You have the talent, you have the vision, you have the infrastructure, you know where you want to take the business in the coming years, but how do you take everything and allow it to become a self-sustaining machine that will allow your company to grow?

Developing core values can become the philosophical pillars upon which your company is built, but that won’t happen unless senior leaders set the example for everyone else in the company. It’s extremely important for a company’s leaders to “live it” when it comes to the guiding principles of your business.

The key to it is communicating what you are, what you’re doing and where you’re going.  This is a big challenge, no doubt about it.  You have to maintain a link to employees to make sure they’re aware of what is going on.  Just about everyone performs better if they know why they are being asked to perform a task, and that’s what makes communication so important.

If your business is to flourish, your job as a leader is to work tirelessly to communicate with your employees in many different forms.

Every successful leader I speak with understands the power of communication in an organization.  They understand that when employees identify with the core values and why business decisions are made, they feel part of the team and want to take the organization to the next level.

Creating a sense of belonging for employees is about more than just including them in the communication pipeline. Once employees feel involved, you need to take them to the next level, where they feel like they’re actually helping to steer the company.

Not only does it take living your core values each day, but finding different and creative ways to communicate them.  I don’t think e-mail is a preferred way of communicating, but because of the speed at which we e-mail, it is a tool.  Your values need to include how you communicate within that tool.  But remember without voice inflection or listening to how people respond, you might not pick up on whether they have an issue with something.

Company wide meetings with question-and-answer sessions are another good option.  Staying vigilant with regard to communicating your core values might seem like a lot of work with little immediate reward. But while you could be spending that time landing a major account or inventing the product that will put your business on the map, if you don’t pay attention to the basics, your company will begin to fall victim to an ambiguous sense of direction, and your growth could stall.


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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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The Damage of “Do as I say, not as I do”

There’s hardly anything worse for company morale than leaders who practice the “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy. You can typically see the loss of enthusiasm and goodwill among the staff instantly. It’s like watching the air go out of a balloon – and cynicism and disappointment usually take its place.

  • There’s the boss who tells everyone to be on time for meetings and yet always arrives late, or asks employees to stay late, and then leaves promptly at 4:45pm to go golfing.
  • There’s the supervisor who criticizes everyone for spending time on the Internet, but is discovered searching eBay for a new camera online in the middle of the afternoon; or
  • The CFO who recommends layoffs to end “unnecessary spending,” but then buys brand-new luxury office furniture for her office.

Do you know any of these people? Hopefully it’s not you……………………

No matter what the situation it’s a double standard.  Employees witnessing a leader say one thing, and then doing another.   For an employee it feels like and can be very destructive.

If this ever happened to you, you can probably remember the sense of disappointment and letdown. If you’re in a leadership position, then you know that you have a responsibility to your team. They look to you for guidance and strength; that’s part of what being a leader is. And a big part of your responsibility is to lead them with your own actions. So, why is it so important to lead by example; and what happens when you don’t?

Well there is an old saying about the difference between a manager and a leader: “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” (It’s best to be both a manager and a leader – they’re just different processes.) As a leader, part of your job is to inspire the people around you to push themselves to do better and in turn, the company to success. To do this, you must show them the way by doing it yourself.

Stop and think about the inspiring people who have changed the world with their examples.

When you lead by example, you create a picture of what’s possible. People can look at you and say, “Well, if he/she can do it, I can do it.” When you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you. One example is Jack Welch of General Electric. Welch knew that to push GE to new heights, he had to turn everything upside down. So that’s just what he did. He developed the whole idea of a “boundaryless organization.” This means that everyone is free to brainstorm and think of ideas – instead of waiting for someone “higher up” in the bureaucracy to think of them first. He wanted his team turned loose, and he promised to listen to ideas from anyone in the company. And he did. Everyone from the lowest line workers to senior managers got his attention – if they had something to say or a new idea that might make the company better. It wasn’t just talk, and it didn’t take his team long to figure that out. Welch stayed true to his passions and what he knew was right. As a result, GE became an incredibly successful company under his management. His team was always willing to follow his lead, because the people within it knew that he always kept his word. What does this mean for you? If you give yourself to your team and show them the way, then, most likely, they’ll follow you anywhere.

But, what happens when you don’t walk the talk?  I’ll give you my insight in my next blog.


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Speak Up and Take Action

In your leadership role have you ever witnessed a project or some other venture fail and thought “I knew this would happen”.  BUT, when the time came to speak up and give your opinion you shut down.  This was either because someone was adamant that this was right and it would work, or your manager was in the room and agreed or you simply didn’t want to make waves.  Well, as a leader taking action and communicating your ideas, thoughts and critique isn’t an option, it’s your responsibility.  Good leadership involves responsibility for the welfare of the organization or group.  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.  Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions simply ensure that the only people you wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.  It’s inevitable, if you’re principled, some people will get angry at some decisions you make or direction you take.

Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions.  One reason that even large organizations decline is that managers won’t challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things.  Real leaders understand that our jobs change daily as our business and customer needs change. The proper response is to change our activities to meet those changes before someone else does.  Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs.