Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


Leave a comment

Leading as a passenger

For many leaders who are accustomed to being in control in their lives and at work giving up the reigns can be extremely difficult.  I compare it to teaching your teenager how to drive.  When a new driver is practicing driving, you sit next to them as they take the steering wheel and brakes; they are in control and you are there to offer (hopefully calm) guidance and advice. I know it doesn’t always work that way.

Being a leader has a lot in common with the parent helping their teen to learn driving skills. Leadership is a hands-off activity that allows your team to take control of the daily work while you guide and coach from the passenger seat. It can sometimes be hard to respectfully refrain from trying to grab the steering wheel or putting the brakes on.

Letting go and allowing your team to take the steering wheel is not always comfortable. There will be mistakes made, but if you learn to pay attention without meddling while providing a light touch in guiding them, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have.

As a leader, you’ll be most successful when you don’t try to drive for others. Learning to sit in the passenger seat isn’t easy, but it can be a great ride when you:

Trust them. How do you know if your staff is capable if you don’t trust them to do the things they were hired to do? Trust that they are, and your advantage is that they will trust you back. If the level of work you give them has a mix of things that meet or exceed what they are capable of, chances are that you’ll be glad you allowed them to drive.

Lead with clarity. Be clear about your expectations and outcomes. Go ahead and tell them why you are requesting that they do the work you’re delegating. Make sure these initial conversations are two-way so that you can be assured that they understand what you are asking them to do. They will be most successful when you clearly dialog with them about the work they need to do.

Are available. Especially when your team members are learning new things, make sure that they know when you are available to talk through their dilemmas. Perhaps you might want to set up meetings with them more frequently than you have, or make sure you put time into your schedule to check in with them to ask if they have questions or need assistance without falling into the trap of solving all the problems for them.

Coach them along the way. You still need to be informed of the work your staff is doing, but you should do your best to refrain from telling them how to do it. And unless they ask for instruction or they are getting into trouble, lay off on the advice-giving and problem-solving. Instead, gently guide them with questions that help them to figure out the best way to proceed: “What’s your next step?” “How will you begin?” and “What do you need from me?” are great questions to ask.

Encourage, thank, and celebrate. These are the seemingly small things (to you) that are big things to your staff and the success of your organization. When they are on the right track, encourage them to go further. Thank them for what they do well. Celebrate success so that everyone can see great examples of work well done.

Leading from the passenger side isn’t easy, but when done well, it can be a rewarding experience for a leader to watch employees develop, learn their own ways of getting things done, and become an example for others.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Transitioning from peer to boss

Why, for most that enter it, does management present so many surprising hurdles and frustrate so many presumptions and expectations?

First, management is different from anything you’ve done before. Becoming an effective manager is difficult because of the great variance that separates the work of management from the work of individual contributor.

Many managers think at first that managing others will be an extension of managing themselves. They assume they will be doing what they did previously, except they will exercise more control over their work and the work of others. Instead, they find they must make a great leap into a new and strange universe unlike anything they’ve encountered before.

This is especially true if you’re a producing manager who must combine the roles of individual contributor and manager. At first, you naturally tend to think the managerial role is simply a broader version of managing yourself. Only with time and painful experience will you discover it’s totally different.  Becoming an effective manager requires that you not only acquire new skills and knowledge but also undergo difficult personal change.

Those who become managers must learn to see themselves and their work differently. They must develop new values, deeper self-awareness, increased emotional maturity, and the ability to exercise wise judgment.

Many managers, for example, are accused of being control freaks because they don’t delegate. But a desire for control often isn’t the problem.  Instead, it’s an issue of identity. They haven’t yet changed how they think about themselves and their contribution, the value they add as managers. They resist giving up the role of doer because they believe, if only unconsciously, that’s who they are. They have not learned to see themselves as the leader.

In fact, becoming a manager requires so much personal learning and change that it is truly a transformation, similar to the transformations required by such life events as leaving home, finishing school and beginning a career, getting married, or having a child.

Like these profound inflection points, becoming an effective manager will call on you to act, think, and feel in new ways; discover new sources of satisfaction; and relinquish old, comfortable, but now outmoded roles and self-perceptions. It requires you to consider anew the questions: Who am I? What do I want? What value do I add?  Take some time to answer these questions.

Progress will come more quickly and easily to those who understand the challenges they face.  I coach a lot of new managers and this post and several to follow is dedicated to their successful transition from employee to manager.

 


2 Comments

Civility At Work

Disagreements and anger are a reality in the workplace and in life in general. Various people react in different ways when under pressure. Some lose their cool completely and say things they instantly regret, while others launch into tormenting the perceived offender with the silent treatment. No matter the technique used to punish, all of these methods quickly become tiresome and, more importantly, adversely affect the workplace.

Too frequently in the work environment, many people just can’t suck it up and utter the two simple words, “I’m sorry,” even when they know they’re wrong. It’s not just a guy thing either.  I’ve seen women behaving just as unprofessional when they feel put upon.

What’s a manager to do when this stubbornness becomes problematic?  In a word: intervene. When not controlled, these unreasonable, obstinate antics can become time-consuming and disruptive. It could all start with an impetuous negative e-mail (can anyone say ALL CAPS) or a less-than-mature voice mail left in the heat of battle that cascades into a futile distraction, as otherwise effective and seemingly sensible employees act out as if they were back in the third grade rather than adults in the workplace.

The most expeditious method that works with either the protagonist or antagonist in an office drama is to call a spade a spade, so to speak, and get the feuding parties together and cut to the chase, making each person agree to bury the hatchet but preferably not in each other’s skull. If employees’ anger management issues are left to fester, they can easily result in other people in the same work environment taking sides, and in short order, you will find yourself in the midst of an all-out War.

The only thing guaranteed when this occurs is that there will be casualties. It is incumbent on the ruling manager to make sure that the company doesn’t wind up as the victim, incurring a loss of productivity and causing everyone around the two factions to feel as if they’re walking on pins and needles.

While many times it would be easier for the boss to ask one of the warring participants to approach the other to work out their differences, this tactic just takes too much time and the outcome can be iffy. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong but that the nonsense is stopped dead in its tracks. The best way to accomplish this is to make it more than abundantly clear that anger in the workplace is unacceptable and could be a career-inhibitor.

Allowing employees to exhibit a lack of civility will cause a domino effect that will lead to no good. Civility does not just apply to peers. Instead, it’s applicable to all who must work together, including superiors, subordinates and even fellow board members. And, don’t confuse civility with agreeing or disagreeing with someone. It also doesn’t mean one has to believe that someone is effective in his or her role. Instead, what must be required is that those within an organization, no matter what level, simply take the higher road and respect not necessarily the person but the role and make the assumption that everyone has a part in working toward shared goals, until it is proven otherwise.

Once everybody knows the rules of engagement, many times the negative engagement suddenly ends and it’s back to business as usual. When that doesn’t happen, it’s time for offenders to be forced to go to their respective corners so as not to do each other or the company any more harm.

To promote coexistence when no one wants to take the first step and say, “I’m sorry,” it’s up to the adult in the room — and that would be you, the boss — to step into the fray with your whistle to call a permanent timeout to these types of disruptive behaviors.

 


Leave a comment

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.

 


Leave a comment

Status quo requires no leadership

Leaders are in the business of change.  After all, if everything in your organization was perfect, there would be no need for leaders because there would be no new desired destination.  You or the organization would have reached the desired destination!

This means leaders must be students of change – how to create it, how to cultivate it, how to communicate it and how to champion it.

Change is defined by one critical component – the destination you are changing towards. This destination is often called the vision.

To start, everyone must understand that simply having a vision is not enough. You must create a compelling vision. To be compelling, your vision must be:

  • Positive – something others see as desired.
  • Personal – something that will benefit others personally or directly (not just abstractly or “it seems like a good idea”).
  • Possible – a destination people can see themselves reaching.
  • Visual – something people can see.
  • Vivid – crystal clear; the clearer the picture of the future, the better.

Now that you’ve created a compelling vision of a desired future, you need to communicate that vision. There several factors that will help you successfully communicate your vision for change.

When people own the vision it is more compelling. People are always excited about a change that they conceived and created. So, rather than creating a vision of a desired future for people let them co-create it. Yes, it might not look exactly as you intended, and, yes, it might take a little more time. However, while both of those things are true, it’s also true that you will achieve more change faster. Better to go a bit slower at the beginning and accelerate later, make sense?

The easiest way to communicate benefits is to ask them. Once the vision is created, ask questions like:

  • How will this change benefit you?
  • What about this vision excites you?
  • How will achieving this vision make your life easier, or better?

You may see benefits they don’t see, and you can certainly suggest those. And, your suggestions will be more powerful and accepted if they come after you ask them for their thoughts!  But you have to start by engaging people in a conversation about a desired future state!

Once you have these factors in your favor it is infinitely easier to communicate a vision – because it is now their vision. Now your task is to help clarify and refine it – and get more excited about it. Here are a couple of ways to do that:

Remove barriers – now and in the future. As a leader, through your actions, you can be the person who helps them see the vision is reachable, or possible. Your role is to encourage and help people see the future vision through successful change.

Maintain the conversation. That is right – you have to keep having the change conversation. Your work in communicating change doesn’t end, at least not until you reach the vision. Then it starts over towards a new destination. Keep people thinking about and talking about not just the change but that beautiful desired destination.

Obviously, there is more to this, nothing as complex as change or communicating change can be described or summarized so quickly.  However, using these ideas will make a difference in how successful you will be in creating real change.  If you don’t want the status quo, so it is time to lead.


Leave a comment

Constructive Feedback

The main purpose of constructive feedback is to help an employee understand where they stand in relation to the expected and/or productive job behavior.  This implies that expectations were established when the employee first obtained a given position.

The feedback is especially important during the first 90 days after the employee takes on a new position.  This early feedback is essential in preventing poor patterns of behavior from developing into permanently poor patterns of behavior and ultimately terminating an employee for something that may have been prevented with constructive feedback. 

The importance of feedback in an organization is crucial to its ongoing development and growth. In the competitive environment that businesses operate in constructive feedback is essential for continuous improvement.

Employers need to give effective, constructive feedback regularly, which is what most employees want. What employees look for in feedback from employers includes positive reinforcement and acknowledgment for a job well done as well as ideas or instructions on doing their jobs better.

Effective feedback is specific, not general. (Say, “The report you turned in yesterday was well-written, however, you failed to make your points about the need for expense reduction clear.”   Vs. The report you turned in yesterday was not a good report.)

  1. Successful feedback describes actions or behavior that the individual can control and change.
  2. All comments should be based upon observable behavior and not assumed motives or intents.
  3. Positive comments should be made first in order to give the employee confidence and gain his/her attention.
  4. Language should be descriptive of specific behaviors rather than general comments indicating value judgments.
  5. Feedback should emphasize the sharing of information. There should be opportunities for both parties to contribute.
  6. Feedback should not be so detailed and broad so as to “overload” the employee.
  7. Feedback requires the ability to tolerate a feeling of discomfort.