Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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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.


Can Corporate Culture be Changed?

Organizations seek out my assistance in helping them make their organizations better. “Better” might mean more effective leadership, higher performance, improved employee retention, effective compensation plans, improving team performance or simply creating a more cooperative, positive work environment.

After a thorough assessment of a client’s current operation and needs assessment, I am in a better position to present solutions that will address their gaps. Some of those solutions involve  policy changes, process changes, some involve personal coaching, and some involve proactive culture refinement — culture change.

When considering culture change, many senior leaders believe that corporate culture cannot be changed. I’m not surprised at this belief.  In my experience most senior leaders, throughout their entire careers have not lived through successful culture change. Even fewer have led successful culture change.

But here’s the question: Can you change how an organization performs?  Absolutely! By changing how individuals perform, leaders can change how the organization performs.

Leaders can change the way individuals perform by:

  • Setting clear performance goals.
  • Directing, supporting, coaching and delegating where needed.
  • Measuring progress and accomplishment.
  • Celebrating progress and accomplishment.

These activities, done consistently with a service approach often lead to increased employee performance which almost always affects service quality and commitment which leads to happier customers and growing profits. This is the service profit chain at work.

Changing your organization’s culture is no different from changing how your organization performs. It requires intentional definition of, communication of and accountability for your company’s:

  • Purpose: The reason you are in business.
  • Deliverables: Your committment to high-quality products and services.
  • Culture: Values you stand for and live by daily with stakeholders, peers and customers.

Corporate culture is the most important driver of what happens in organizations, and senior leaders are the most important driver of their organization’s corporate culture.

To change an organization’s culture, leaders must change how they spend their time and what they communicate and reinforce on a daily basis. They have to change what they pay attention to.  Their focus shifts from great performance to great performance WITH great citizenship.

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Creating a Culture of Smarter Thinking

Innovation has always been a business necessity.  How many times have you worked with individuals or teams that work really hard, but not always in the most effective way.  I am sure you heard the mantra “work smarter, not harder”.  Art Markma, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and director of the Human Dimensions of Organizations program recently published a book “Smart Thinking”.  In the book he discusses several straightforward things leaders can do to help everyone in an organization think more effectively. The more you know about the way your mind works, the more that you can improve the thinking of the people around you. Here are some things you can do to get the ball rolling toward a smarter organization.

  • Stamp out multitasking. This is one that has been debated quite a bit and we are all guilty of it,   virtually everyone today does some type of multitasking.  Markma says “The human mind simply isn’t designed to do more than one kind of complex thinking at a time”. When people are working on complex material, give them permission to ignore the phone, shut off the e-mail and shut down instant messaging. When you bring everyone together for a big meeting, get them to “be here now.” Ban smartphones and Internet browsing during meetings.
  • Encourage openness. You never know where the next good idea is going to come from. So encourage people to try on new ideas for size before deciding whether to pursue them. Too often, people assume that the fiercest critic in the room is the one who looks smartest. But if you criticize before deeply understanding an idea, you won’t be able to use that knowledge later when you need it. Set an example by focusing first on the positive parts of a new proposal before finding potential flaws.
  • The company succeeds when “we” succeed. Our culture is one that prizes individualism. Ultimately, we reward people who make important contributions. Credit and publicity tend to go to particular individuals who make important contributions. History rewards great people, but rarely great groups. But an organization cannot succeed without a group contributing deeply to that success. Lead by promoting the value of group success and reward groups for their achievement. In the long run, that provides everyone with the incentive to learn and grow.
  • Create desirable difficulties. We use technology to make things easier for us. And, of course, there are lots of things that ought to be easy. It is wonderful that we can send documents across the globe in seconds and that we can get research papers with the click of a link. But technology cannot make learning easier. Gaining true understanding of complex situations requires effort. Don’t just provide summaries of key concepts to group members. If there is something that people need to understand, encourage everyone to dig in and work on it.
  • Support smart habits. There is a lot that we do mindlessly each day. We don’t have to think about where the light switch is in our office or how to find the gas and brake pedals in the car. Those habits are smart, because they allow us to focus our mental energy on more important matters. Similarly, don’t disrupt the habits of people in your organization without careful planning. Open workspaces, for example, don’t allow people to develop habits for where their desk supplies are and can cause disruption. Changes in internal websites and forms cause people to think about tasks that should be mindless. And remember change for the sake of change costs more time and mental effort than it is worth.

This book provides simple yet valuable advice that can be applicable to anyone and any situation. I would recommend it to anyone with a curiosity and desire for living a smarter and more efficient life.

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Leaders may need “timeout”

Too many companies are plagued by “sandbox leadership,” with executives behaving more like spoiled toddlers than responsible adults.  We’ve seen this attitude reflected in the halls of government and corporate boardrooms across the country.  Arrogance, pouting, tantrums, personal attacks, and betrayal of trust seem to be the order of the day.  The nation’s current problems, as vast and overwhelming as they are, appear secondary to the whims of spoiled children, unwilling to play well together. At a time when we need solid, grounded leadership more than ever, we seem to be in short supply of adults who act like, well…like adults. What makes this even worse is that employees at all levels mimic what they see in their leaders.

I realize this is not necessarily a new thing; it just seems to be more obvious lately. Sometimes in dealing with these less than “adult” individuals, I think
maybe I should work with children; at least I can put them in “timeout” and tell them to think about it for a while.  Decorum, self-control, compromise and honor are sorely lacking today. And to be fair, many leaders and employees alike— I would even say the majority — are honest, hard-working, dedicated individuals. But unfortunately the leadership that’s getting attention today in both the public and private sector is sending our potential leaders a very poor example.

To put it simply, we need more mature leaders — now.

Maturity is experience-driven perspective and awareness of your emotional patterns and triggers. It is the ability to suppress impulse and master emotional reactions. Many of our leaders today have other excellent leadership skills, but only a remarkable few are able to control their impulses and put others’ needs first.

The key is control. Every day, we are confronted with decisions that have short-and long-term implications. Mature adults can fend off short-term impulses by keeping the long-term in view; this is what helps them stay in control.  Similarly, the best leaders I have worked with are masters of their emotions. They rein them in when the situation demands it, or let loose when it will have maximum impact. At times, you need to be still and impenetrable; in other moments, you need to be able to pound your fist on the table. It is not whether you are typically a calm or intense person. It is your ability to gain mastery over your emotional tendencies and reactions. You must develop the ability to fit the emotion to the demands of the situation. Either way, you remain in control.

This isn’t easy, and executive maturity takes time to accrue — though we’ve seen it doesn’t always come with experience. Regardless, whether you are a current CEO or an aspiring one, there are ways to accelerate this ability intentionally.

Know your triggers. Leaders are sometimes consumed with so many day-to-day responsibilities that they rarely stop to reflect on how and what they react to. But understanding your own triggers and vulnerabilities is a must — you need to recognize the kinds of events that bring out the worst in you. Think about the times you’ve flown off the handle or lost control. What set you off? Think about the vices you have and the opportunities that would lead to indiscretion.  Be realistic. Then look for the subtle signals people give off in response to your behavior. If you don’t like what you see — you are at risk.

Assemble a “personal board of directors.” Everyone needs to vent. Find a person or group of people you can trust to share your feelings and experiences with honestly so that you don’t snap and get defensive under pressure — and publicly. If you can’t find these
people in your organization (and many leaders cannot), look elsewhere in your personal network for those who will both listen to your frustrations and give
you honest feedback about how you’re being perceived when you show your emotions.

Define your personal code. Maturity is expressed through your judgment — what you decide and how you react. One of the best things you can do to enhance your judgment is to define your personal code, or your fundamental beliefs about work and life. Take a moment to write down five things you believe in as a leader. Share your list with the people who report to you. Think about how powerful it would be for your people to understand what you believe in at your core, and what behavior is acceptable under your leadership.  Leaders who put their own gratification above the needs of others lack the ability to see the long-term consequences of their actions. This does not bode well for them, the economy, or our country. It’s time we start counting emotional maturity and control among the “must-haves” for leaders everywhere.

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Is speaking the truth in your best interest?

Hey, boss! Remember how you asked me what I really thought? Well, I thought about it and decided I really don’t think it’s in my best interests to tell you.  In my role it has always been critical for me to tell my boss the truth and it isn’t always pretty and I do provide suggestions, recommendations and solutions during these times.  However, I will admit it has sometimes been at my own peril.  Would I go back and change it?  Not on your life!

In a recent survey almost half the professionals surveyed (48%) indicated this is precisely the reason they keep from speaking their truth at the office much of the time. Note, this wasn’t a scientific survey, but 155 respondents’ gave pretty consistent answers that look like meaningful indicators as you plot how to manage your employee base to stellar business success.

And this data is consistent with a recent study by Corporate Executive Board with even scarier results.

  • Companies whose employees were afraid to speak up suffered 5.8% lower total shareholder return than those with cultures that encouraged open communications.
  • Where fear was more prevalent, fraud and misconduct were higher.
  • 59% of companies surveyed said that $1 million worth of harm would have to be at stake for employees to share honest negative feedback (29% said $10 million).

Why? You make my life miserable for weeks, that’s why.

Eighty-two percent of respondents to the first survey said at some point in their careers they’d been penalized for speaking their truth, penalties ranging from being passed over for promotion, pushed aside and fired. Get this, 70% said it was the boss’ fault because his/her ego got in the way. So even if you’re not a jerk, your employees are probably walking on eggshells around you anyway because their last jerk-boss made them wary.

Want scientific backup for this point? CEB found it was a “fear of retaliation” was the most important driver for employee discomfort in speaking up.

So what? I’m outta here, that’s what.

Many people report that being penalized for speaking their truth made them quit or seek employment elsewhere. Speaking truth isn’t just another career skill — like negotiating a salary package — it really hits people at their core and is related to feeling like they’re being true to themselves as human beings. Seventy-six percent said when they withheld their truth they regretted it later. So if almost half your employees aren’t comfortable speaking their truth to you, and the majority of them regret having to bite their tongues, it’s logical to think that this issue is contributing to the increased levels of job dissatisfaction and loyalty we see reported lately.

There was also some indication that women are rewarded less often for speaking their truth than men (68% and 82% respectively). Sure, there may be many reasons for that, but if you have a goal to reach the 30% tipping point of women in leadership at your organization so you can reap the market rewards, then you might want to look into whether this issue is driving some of your best women leaders away.

Sure, I’ll listen if you’ve got a plan.

We all know that plenty of people think they’re speaking their truth when they’re really not. Speaking truth to power – the skill that will help your employees tell you what’s really on their mind in a way that is productive and meaningful – is a career minefield judging by the high numbers of people who’ve experienced severe penalty (82%) and high reward (72%), but an important one if you want to make your employees feel valued and find out what they’re not telling you. For that matter, are YOU good at speaking truth to power? Your truth matters too and the CEO or the board should want to hear what you have to say just as much as you need to hear from those below you.

Speaking truth to power effectively means you have to resist buying into our cultural myths about truth-telling – that the truth that matters most is the first thing in our minds or hearts – no matter how deeply felt – and that the opposite of True is always False, for example. You and your employees need to learn to speak truth to power effectively and work to make it part of your corporate culture. Only by focusing on it will all the pains of past penalties be overcome in your workspace.

What do you think? What’s your personal experience with speaking truth to power? Have you been penalized? Rewarded? How does that factor into your willingness to speak your truth in your current situation? Come on – we all have a story!


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Is your organizational culture what you think it is?

In my role I have the opportunity to work with leaders at all levels of all kinds of organizations. About half of my work involves leadership skill building and team process effectiveness; culture for the most part makes up the other half.

It is impossible for me to go into an organization without subconsciously (maybe consciously) assessing the culture of their work environment. I observe and listen for how people are expected to behave, to perform, to treat each other and their customers.

I often hear about practices and philosophies from the leadership that clearly is not in practice within the organization.  And I can say that you need to use a lot of diplomacy to tell the CEO, “I know what you’re saying happens, but it doesn’t happen that way”.  It’s hard to hear that you have tried to build something a specific way and that way is not happening.

Whether an organization has intentionally created their culture or that culture evolved by default, it does have a culture that is tangible and observable. If your culture was created by default, it is likely that unintentional values or norms exist. If you consistently see conflicts,
blame, poor performance, and frustration, your culture is eroding employee morale with every passing minute! Let’s look at two very powerful systems which may reinforce undesirable valued behaviors in your organization.

Rewards and Incentives

Whether you have formalized values and valued behaviors or not, rewards and incentive systems can cause distinct behaviors, some good, some not good. For example, if you desire a team culture but your organization offers only individual compensation, you will likely see “I win, you lose” behaviors by team members.

A few years back a client described the following inappropriate, incentive-driven behaviors by a salesperson. The company paid a very low base; over 70% of sales staff compensation was in the form of commissions. One salesperson negotiated with a few of his big clients to sell
them product at the end of each quarter. The sales person enjoyed commissions on these sales. Then, one month into the new quarter, he would process returns of that product and refund the client’s money. He was generating commissions on “ghost” sales. This went on every quarter. Everyone – the salesperson, the client, the finance team of his company – knew what he was doing and tolerated this behavior. Eventually the company changed the rules about commissions on product returns, but the damage had been done.

 Recognition and Messaging

Every time you publicly celebrate someone for a behavior or action, you are reinforcing that behavior or action. If you recognize a player for goal accomplishment but everyone knows that they’ve taken inappropriate short cuts (for example) to reach that goal, you are reinforcing undesirable actions.

Even praising the RIGHT behavior can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. One client celebrated a staff member who learned the wrong materials had been shipped to a client. That person packed the right material and drove to the airport just in time for overnight shipment by UPS. Recovery was expensive but the materials arrived on time. The client celebrated this terrific proactive solution and such recoveries became more frequent. The client realized they needed to celebrate solving the “why do we ship the wrong materials?” problem more than celebrating the recovery!

You don’t have to be a CEO to create values clarity in your own workteam. If you experience unintentional values in your workplace, start setting values expectations now.

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The best way to motivate your team….

The simple answer to the age-old question of how to motivate depends on the organization’s culture, the leadership style of management and current circumstances, including the economic environment.

Does your company have a “take no prisoners” mentality when it comes to competition and winning? If so, the organization probably focuses more on the stick to motivate.  Typically, younger companies drive results this way because of the scarcity of money, the pressures on time, and the realization that mediocrity and too many misses can prove to be lethal.

In established organizations, a lighter collegial style is more common, as is the frequent use of the carrot. For example, call centers are noted for celebrating just about everything. A rep receives a relatively unremarkable compliment from a customer and bells go off and high fives fly. Everyone in this type of facility expects to get a carrot on a more regular basis. When infractions occur, the supervisor will have a conversation with the offender, though the talk will likely be punctuated with an abundance of positive reinforcement.

Many type-A personalities wouldn’t be productive nor enjoy a purely “carrot patch” workplace. Go-getters tend to get a high from the pressure always on them to produce. They covet the rush of the thrills and chills of getting the tough job done. Many do their best when they are under the gun, fearing that if they slip and fall they may not get up again. Fear of failure, is their hot button, as perverse as it may sound. Sure, the carrot does motivate, too, but it’s the challenge of the chase, having someone with a stick on their tail that pushes them into overdrive. Can a company thrive with only type-A employees? Absolutely not, because it’s probable that this would create a constant state of anarchy.

Every business needs plenty of the Steady Eddies who can be counted on to consistently do the job day in and day out. This type thrives on predictability and the gratification of periodic praise. If the boss was to approach him or her with a stick to make a point, it would scare the heck out of him or her.

In between the top and bottom rungs of your corporate ladder, there are dozens of iterations of what it takes to get people to do their best. The skill is in figuring out what size fits each individual category. Creating the appropriate environment for your type of business will set the tone as to how people will respond. A utopia for overachievers could become a living hell for those who prefer a setting in which they can do their jobs where the only excitement is watching paint dry and grass grow. It takes a variety of all types to build an organization, and when all are carefully mixed together in the proper proportions, the team will jell, and that’s what gives a company its unique personality that works.

As people grow and mature, what worked in the past may have to change and the formula may need to be reconfigured to fit a company’s evolving needs. Also, when economic circumstances outside of your personnel’s
control deteriorate, smart companies know it’s time to lighten up a bit and use more carrots, primarily because the stick can’t change the reality of a negative business environment. Much like beating that dead horse, it won’t do any good, and it will harm a company in the long run, as employees won’t forget how they were treated when the chips were down.

To most effectively craft your company’s motivation techniques, you must listen to what your employees are saying and then translate their words into what they really mean.  Learning when and with whom to dangle the carrot, use the stick, or add thrills and chills to the work environment will help drive your company’s sustained success.