Help! I Don't Know What I'm Doing!

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Sometimes you have to unexpectedly lead in an area in which you are not an expert.  Maybe you are not even close to an expert.  Maybe you have no experience at all.  Situations will arise that you are not prepared for and when they do, you are still the leader and it is up to you to steward that role.  Take parenting for example, no one really knows how to do it.  But, guess what, you have to lead this tiny person into adulthood through unforeseen circumstances.  You figure it out, right?

However, most of the time it is other professional adults (some who may be gunning for your job), not children.   How will you accomplish this without those people figuring out that you don't know what you're actually doing?  There are a few ways to handle this, but what I've seen to be the most effective leadership style is not being afraid of the vulnerability.  OWN IT! 

You will need a bit of time to get yourself together and make a plan, but mostly you need to leverage the talent you already have in the people around you.  Don't be afraid to say, “I'm not quite sure what we should do with this part of it but I know that [Diane] has the skill set to take that on and be successful.”  That's leading!  Appreciating who is around you, being vulnerable enough to say, “I'm not quite sure about … but what I do know is this...”, and leading your team through the unknown.

Focusing on what you don't know and striving to find the “right” answer or way to do something will create an atmosphere of distrust.  When things get stressful, a person will tend to close themselves off from others or work themselves to the point of exhaustion in an effort to appear to have it all together.  The whole team notices that and, unless someone is bold enough to face and discuss it, distrust and rumors brew.  We must remember that we are often called to lead through something we have no experience with yet.  And that is OK!  Gather your team, share the situation before you, own that you are not sure about how to walk through it but that you will lead them through it.  I have not mastered parenting, but I am learning along the way and becoming better at it all the time.  Sometimes I have to talk to my older children in this way to let them know that I do have vulnerabilities but that I own my role as their leader and we will walk through this together.  That helps them to believe that they do not always have to have all of the answers to walk through something well.  In that way you will grow and your team will grow along with you. 

 

Try these steps when you don't know how to walk your team through a situation:

Get Clarity:  Are there questions you can ask, experienced people you can talk to, or resources you could scour to understand the situation more clearly?  

Focus on what you DO know:  You know you are the leader.  You know your team. You know that there will be an outcome on the other end of this. 

Decide what the desired outcome is and work towards it:  Is it success at all costs, or is it a team that will grow and learn together?  When mistakes happen or the result isn't good, will you cast blame, or will you be able to humbly take responsibility because you made the best choices you knew how to at the time?  Will you back your team or will you scramble toward self-preservation?  None of these are actually wrong, just different, choices one could make … just be sure you think about who you want to be as a leader as you make the choice.

Being secretive and not sharing a major project, change, or situation for too long could create distrust and paralyzing shock at just the time you need your people to step up and offer their loyalty, trust, and most thoughtful, creative work.  How will you approach your next difficult situation when you don't have experience in that particular area yet?  Here's to walking headlong into the unknown … but hopefully, not alone!

 

 

Why Employees Don't Trust Their Leaders

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According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, almost 1 in 3 employees don’t trust their employers. The Edelman survey also shows that the survey results show that the lower you go in the organization; the less trusting people are. 64 percent of executives said they trust the company they work for while only 51 percent of managers and 48 percent of rank-and-file employees said they did.

In addition to this, employers now have to reach the millennial generation. After graduating from college, on average, a millennial will change jobs four times before they are 32 years old. Many millennials do not feel empowered in their current jobs.

Front-line managers are organizational connecting rods. They have the most influence and can make their teams excellent if they choose to do so. They accomplish this by consistently demonstrating leadership qualities can inspire their teams to do great things.  According to Daniel Wang, founder of the Loopring Foundation here are the top eight qualities that make a great leader:

1. Show real enthusiasm

Real enthusiasm for a business, its products, and its mission cannot be faked. Employees can
recognize insincere cheerleading from a mile away. However, when leaders are sincerely enthusiastic and passionate, that’s contagious.

2. Integrity

Whether it’s giving proper credit for accomplishments, acknowledging mistakes, or putting quality first, great leaders exhibit integrity at all times. They do what’s right, even if that isn’t the best thing for the current work product.

3. Great communication skills

Leaders must motivate, instruct and inspire the people they are in charge of. They can accomplish none of these things if they aren’t very skilled communicators. Poor communication leads to poor outcomes. It’s also important to remember that listening is an integral part of communication.

4. Loyalty

The best leaders understand that true loyalty is reciprocal. Because of this, they express that loyalty in tangible ways that benefit the member of their teams. True loyalty is ensuring that all team members have the training and resources to do their jobs. It’s standing up for team members in crisis and conflict.

5. Decisiveness

A good leader isn’t simply empowered to make decisions due to their position. They are willing to take on the risk of decision making. Bosses who aren’t decisive are often ineffective. Too much effort working on consensus building can have a negative effect. Rather than simply making a decision, many leaders allow debate to continue, and then create a piecemeal decision that satisfies no one.

6. Managerial competence

Too many organizations try to create leaders from people who are technically good at their jobs. They understand company goals, processes, and procedures. Being good at one’s job doesn’t prove that they can inspire, motivate, mentor or direct.

7. Empowerment

A good leader has trust in their abilities of the employees under them. When employees are empowered, they are more likely to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. This is true, even if it means allowing workers flexibility top go “off script.”

8. Charisma

The best leaders are well-spoken, approachable and friendly. They show a sincere interest in others. They make it easy to follow their lead. They have a certain je ne sais quoi that sets them apart and everybody around them senses it.

Remember, the lower in the organization we go, the less trusting people became. Looks like a call to action for upper leadership to become more visible in a meaningful way. This might be via a town hall meeting or skype for remote workers. We can certainly do better than roughly half of all managers and workers not trusting their leaders.

How Change Efforts Succeed

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                  “I'll be here when you are ready, To roll with the changes” REO Speedwagon

Everything changes: technology, demographics, politics, economics, attitudes, language, customs, norms and expectations. What was thought of as impossible, landing a man on the moon, became passé fifty years ago. What the norm was five to ten years ago, isn’t any more.

What does the future hold? What guidance is there for navigating the inevitable? Below are some best practices for organizations to roll with the changes and set their workplace cultures up for success.

 

1. Establish and Maintain Sense of Urgency – Get on with it with one person driving. Management paralysis often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders. Many times executives become paralyzed by the downside possibilities. They worry that they will be blamed for creating a crisis vs taking action. Pick a leader who will refuse to allow bureaucracy to derail needed changes and support them.

2. Create a Powerful Guiding Coalition – Support the lead driver. Ask that they share the rationale
for their decisions and how best to communicate that message to all who can hear it. Lead, follow or get out of the way. If there isn’t sufficient cultural mass to create a chain reaction, not much change will be taking place.

3. Get the Right Vision Not Just A Vison – The right vision says something that clarifies the direction in which an organization needs to move, ie get the organization out of non-value-added activities. In failed transformation efforts, we often find lots of plans, directives and programs, but no vision. If we can’t communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less with understanding and interest, we do not have the right vison.

4. Walk the Vision – Leaders must “walk the talk” to drive major change. They intentionally
become a living symbol of the new corporate culture. During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?" "Well, Mr. President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." No matter our roles, we are contributing to the larger shared vision within our organizations.

5. Remove Obstacles to the New Vision - Sometimes the obstacle to successful change initiative is the organizational structure itself. Sometimes it makes people choose between the new vision and their own self-interest. Perhaps worst of all are bosses who refuse to change and who make demands that are inconsistent with the overall effort. it is important all be treated fairly but action is essential, both to empower others and to maintain the credibility of the change effort.

6. Plan to Create Short-Term Wins – Successful change comes in “baby steps.” When it becomes clear that major change will take a long time, urgency levels can drop. Commitments to produce short-term wins help keep urgency levels up and force analytical thinking that can clarify or revise visions.

7. Declare Victory at the Right Time - Until changes sink deeply into a company’s culture, a process that can take five to ten years, new approaches are fragile and subject to regression. Instead of declaring victory too soon, leaders of successful change efforts use the credibility gained by short-term wins to incrementally tackle even bigger problems. It’s in the striving, not the arriving.

8. Anchor Changes in the Culture - In the final analysis, change sticks when it becomes “the way we do things around here,” when it seeps into the bloodstream of the culture. Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.

 

Remember, successful change is a series of Unfreezing- Changing and Re-freezing. It may take quite a while to unthaw all the parts needed to pursue change, but it sure beats the heck out of freezer burn.

So, if you're tired of the same old story…. let's turn some pages!

360 Degree Thinking

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How do we effectively communicate with and develop promising leaders? This was on my mind in preparation mode for co-presenting at a major executive event in New Orleans. In all types of economic conditions, the answer to this question has big implications for business.

When times are challenging, development and succession are often the first things to get ignored under the false notion that nobody will dare look elsewhere during trying times. All this type of thinking does is guarantee bad turnover as talented people will be the first to bail out at the first signs of economic rebound. When business is good, competition for obtaining and retaining top talent compels leaders to engage in “360 Degree Thinking.”

360 Degree Thinking means leaders take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to their business and employee needs.

§  Hindsight – Experienced leaders apply lessons learned from their path forward. Very often we hear middle and upper management describe how they would have handled something in the old days, but now apply a very different method. To communicate with and grow promising leaders, share hindsight.
 

§  Foresight – Lessons learned, applied to help shape the future state. A forward-looking statement or safe harbor statement is a statement that cannot sustain itself as merely a historical fact, (hindsight). Forward-looking statements use future events as expectations or possibilities, (as in the case of growing leaders.)
 

§  Insight – The ability to synthesize hindsight and foresight into experiential critical thinking.
Yes, this is subjective, but how many of us have benefited from another leader who shared their insights with us? To grow promising leaders, it is wise to share insight. While they may or may not be able to grasp what is being shared at the time, chances are that it will happen sooner or later.

So, what is landing on the promising leaders in your sphere of influence? Are they aware that they are “well thought of” and possible candidates for advancement? Are they being communicated with in a validating / nurturing way?

Avoid too little – too late syndrome. This happens when the promising leader’s phone rings and they take the call. They turn over in their minds a new opportunity and then go back to their native culture to see if they are being paid attention to. Remember we said take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to your people needs. Wouldn't it be a shame to have top talent leave simply because this wasn't done?

Polarities, Polarities, Polarities-are everywhere?

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I know you are saying…I know this word, but what the heck is Jeff talking about! Let’s start with a definition and then we will dive into our regularly scheduled blog.

Dictionary.com define polarity in the following way—

Polarity--noun

1.Physics

a. the property or characteristic that produces unequal physical effects at different points in a body or system, as a magnet or storage battery. 

b. the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic, electric, or other field. 

2. the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies. 

3.Linguistics

a.(of words, phrases, or sentences) positive or negative character. 

b. polar opposition.

 

We will be discussing Polarities which are interdependent pairs that need each other over time to maintain and gain performance. Since polarities are unavoidable, they are present in every individual, team, and organization.

Here are some examples—

Inhale and Exhale

Rest and Activity

 

Notice, I say and not or. We need to rest or else we would end up stressed out and in the hospital due to exhaustion. However, if we only rested then we would stop learning and grow rather large! We need to be able to do both things. Let’s look at some polarities for you that might show up in the workplace.

 

Task and Relationship

Candor and Diplomacy

Encouragement and Analysis

Analysis and Intuition

Planning and Implementing

Coaching and Directing

 

Notice that each word is either positive or neutral. You do not want to frame one word as a negative because then you would not want to choose this word. Ex. Negative Feedback and Encouragement-who would want to pick negative feedback.

What words resonated with you? Did you find that you are attracted to one more than the other? This is natural. I will give you an example for me. I am more to encouragement than analysis. Thus, I can see the upside of encouragement (better morale, good ideas are developed, etc.) When I look at analysis, I tend to see the negatives (might take too long, might discourage brainstorming, etc.) However, when I am coaching people I ask them to look at the upside of both sides of the pole. Thus, I would ask me, what is the upside of using analysis for you? We might make fewer mistakes, we might choose better ideas, we could mitigate risks, spend our dollars appropriately, etc.

 

This also applies to teams and organizations. We often see teams that might desire to be:

Agile and Quality

Innovative and Stable

Encouraging and Challenging

 

Organizations might desire to be:

Centralized and Decentralized

Innovative and High Quality

Structured and Flexible

Okay, there is a lot to learn and understand about polarities. If you want to learn more, please listen to "Mastering Polarities to Achieve Greater Performance". Cara Wilson and I discussed polarities and how they impact the people and organizations we work with. I encourage you to start seeing the polarities in you life. Take time to notice which pole you are more attracted to. Who can help you see the upside of the other pole? What would happen if you challenged yourself to look at the downside of your preferred pole (too much encouragement might keep us from critically assessing ideas; might avoid conflict, etc.) Good luck and remember to look out for the polarities in the world.