Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Showing Others How To Lead

When you move on to your next opportunity, who will you leave in your place? Will it be one successor who has been carefully groomed to fill your specific job title? Or will you depart having developed the capabilities of as many people as possible?

One definition of leading is “to show the way to by going in advance.” When you use this definition of leadership, you’ll see all sorts of opportunities to develop people, and far beyond just promoting them to a management title.

At some point in their lives, everyone has the chance to “show the way.” When you provide your team members with an opportunity to exercise their leadership muscles, you’re giving them a tremendous gift.

Leadership development is not just for those who aspire to an official job title. And, you don’t need to spend large amounts of money. The key is seeing leadership development opportunity in everyday situations.

Common workplace scenarios where development opportunities lie in wait:

Setbacks. Character is the foundation of leadership and nothing builds character like a project that fails. If you as the leader frame the failure as a learning opportunity, you will set in motion a powerful motivator to grow. I once led a high-visibility project that fell short of expectations. My leader adopted an approach of “get back up on that horse.” She expressed confidence that I could learn from my mistakes and that I would be a better leader on the next go-round. And I was.

Transition. Any time there is an imminent change, you have a prime opportunity to coach people to lean into leadership, either formally or informally. Possible opportunities: promotions, appointment to project leadership, department restructuring or procedural changes. Look for any situation that requires that others be “brought along” into a new territory. Then, identify someone on your team who has both the competence and enthusiasm about the change to act as a lead.

Technical expertise. Do you have a highly skilled “technician” on your staff — someone who excels in a particular skill that others would benefit learning about? Work with that individual to help him craft a series of “lunch and learns” for your team. You can also look for ways you can showcase your team members’ talents beyond your department — send them in your place to meetings or have them make presentations at all-company meetings.

Differing opinions. In the workplace, there’s an abundance of opinions. When those viewpoints clash, your team needs leadership to help bring the group to consensus. That person doesn’t always need to be you. When you help others in your team develop the skill of facilitating dialogue, there are multiple paybacks. Not only do your discussion leaders gain key business skills, but your team works together more smoothly.

Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” There are ample chances to grow leaders each and every day. When you know where to look, it’s surprising just how many “leadership development” opportunities there really are.


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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.

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Leaders need competent teams

 If you think of a leader as “the boss”, or “the commander“, standing alone at the head of an organization and running things, the training and development of others in the organization probably doesn’t occur to you as an important function of the leader. But that’s probably an outdated conception of leadership.

If you consider a leader as one who has to rely on the skills and abilities of his or her subordinates, and is responsible for maintaining organizational coherence and effectiveness over time, then it’s easier to see that the development of the team members or people below becomes much more important. Leaders don’t do all the work, or even much of the work in any organization, so their success relies heavily on the skills and abilities of others. An excellent leader in charge of incompetent followers simply can’t succeed.

Given that there are still many people who confuse leadership with commanding, it’s not surprising that many leaders don not pay adequate attention to building the skills and abilities of the people they are leading. In fact, in a study by The Blanchard Companies survey, 59% of respondents cited failure to train and develop staff as a major and common leadership mistake.

The prescriptions are clear. Leaders need to allocate some time to developing their immediate subordinates, and also to create opportunities for learning for others through mentoring, coaching, training, seminar attendance and highlighting best practices in the organization and outside of it. Obviously leaders are not trainers and don’t have a surplus of time, but they can both encourage and arrange for opportunities to learn.

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Hard To Find Skills

I was at a leadership meeting recently and we were talking about recruiting issues. Some individuals were mentioning that despite unemployment numbers, they still had a hard time finding the right people for some critical positions that were open. And it wasn’t a question of technique, or pay or anything along those lines. It’s a situation where they just couldn’t find the right skill set. On the job training was certainly an option, but who has time for that anymore.  Workers in general do more with less these days and many managers have their own jobs to do in addition to managing, mentoring and retaining their existing employees.

So let’s say you’ve got one of these positions where there are a very limited number of people qualified for the role. You’re spending millions of recruiting dollars and you’re still falling short. What’s the solution?

Some recruiters would say devote more budget and more energy into recruiting.  At some point this can turn into diminishing returns.

How about looking at the broader picture? Maybe it is time to do a lock down on your retention efforts. Every person you lose not only means another search; it means a person with institutional knowledge leaving the workplace.

We all know in tough times training and education seem to be the first to go.  I am of the philosophy that in tough times training and education are essential in keeping employees engaged and motivated.  A little time out to learn or refine a skill and share experiences with peers is an effective way for a company to demonstrate that skills are important and they want to keep their employee skills strong.

All employers have people interested in moving into new roles but they may not have the skills they need. You can make it as easy for them move up by offering training classes, and education incentives.

Maybe it’s time for those companies that can’t recruit the skill set they’re looking for to consider: external programs; working with colleges, scholarships, adult educators.  Some of the positions and jobs that existed a decade ago don’t exist today and vice versa, so why not partner with a local technical college or a university to develop skills sets need in the employees you have or those that have the ability and want to learn. 

I can think of many success stories but would love to hear how others are developing and strengthening skill sets in their organizations.

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Delegating for Growth

When my children were younger they often asked me what I did at work.  As my career advanced my answer changed.  This particular time it was my son asking and I explained that my job was to help set the company’s strategy, help make people the best they can be, and ensure that our organization had the right resources and skills sets to execute our business plan.   My son’s response was, “So, you don’t really do any actual work.”

After my husband stopped laughing, I assured my son that I worked very hard and the work I was doing was critical to the success of the business. But in a way, my son was picking up on something important: I had gotten to a point in my career where my contribution to the company was better served by teaching others, rather than doing it myself.

A lot of leaders can’t get to this point because they either don’t know how to or they’re afraid of delegating. Maybe they think it will take too long to train someone effectively, or if they delegate too much, they’ll have nothing left to do. And often the more competent they are, the harder it is to delegate. They’re afraid the work won’t get done at all, or more likely, it won’t be done according to their high standards. It’s difficult to give up control, especially when you won’t tolerate anything less than the perfectionism and the high-level of performance you expect of yourself.

Trust me, I know because I am definitely one of those control freaks.  I am trying to reform, but sometimes I slip.  However, I have learned that I can’t do everything myself. The only way your career – and your business – will grow is by assuming increasingly higher levels of responsibility; the only way you’ll have time to do that, without spending your life at work, is to delegate. You have to work on your business and let everyone else work in it.

Below are some tips that may help you delegate with more ease:

Create a culture where mistakes are tolerated. All senior leaders must understand that mistakes are acceptable — as long as people learn from them. No one will accept more responsibility, try new things, or risk making a mistake if they get yelled at or penalized. This is essential.

In formal reviews, include a specific rating for delegation. Do not just mention delegation in passing. It should merit a specific grade. Discuss with managers how they can delegate one-third of their job to one or more of their direct reports. Ask them to develop a specific timeline with the peoples’ names to which they’ll delegate.

Communicate to your staff that pay increases come only with increased value provided. Increased value comes not only with increased effort, but also with a higher-level responsibilities and duties — some of those duties that you might be doing now.

It’s so easy to solve others’ problems by giving quick solutions, but that makes people dependent on you. Tell all your direct reports, and have them tell theirs, that when people want to know how to solve something, they must come with suggested solutions. They should be ready to discuss the factors that should be considered, and provide reasons why one solution seems better than another. Pretty soon people will become more autonomous, feel more empowered, need less supervision, and get people in the habit of thinking critically. That’s good input for determining succession planning and promotions.

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Can you help your “bad” boss?

WOW! Monday’s blog created much reaction.  One of the most interesting comments was “He is so bad, he doesn’t even know he is a bad boss”.  It is very easy to be critical of our leaders.  This comment made me think of how sometimes it may be more about perception vs. someone actually being an ineffective (bad) boss/leader.   If you think about it from the manager’s point of view his/her experiences and background has led him/her to their current managing style.

So my challenge to you is have you ever made an attempt to tell your boss what you need, how he/she can be more effective with you.  I believe an employee/manager relationship regardless of the level is a two-way street.  If your boss doesn’t know how he/she may be affecting you, how can he/she adjust their behavior?  I am going to use he/him after this, but you get the idea.

I know you’re thinking, is she crazy, my boss doesn’t care what I think or that’s a quick way to lose a job.  But, you would be surprised at how many good leaders have developed after someone told them how lousy they were as a boss.  You do have to do it with much more tact. 

Think about it for a minute, everyone is different and therefore like to be managed different, so a  hands-off manager may not realize that his failure to provide any direction or feedback makes him a bad boss. He may think he’s empowering his staff.

A manager who provides too much direction and micromanages may feel insecure and uncertain about his own job. He may not realize his direction is insulting to a competent, secure, self-directed staff member.

Or, maybe the boss lacks training and is so overwhelmed with his job requirements that he can’t provide support for you. Perhaps he has been promoted too quickly or his reporting responsibilities have expanded beyond his reach. In these days of downsizing, responsibilities are often shared by fewer staff members than ever before.  If any of these ring a bell, think about:

Telling your manager what you need from him in terms of direction, feedback and support. Be polite and focus on your needs. Telling the boss he’s a bad boss is counterproductive and won’t help you meet your goals.

Ask your manager how you can help him reach his goals. Make sure you listen well and provide the needed assistance.

You may be surprised by the outcome and be part of developing leadership skills in your boss and yourself.