Who's Your Leadership Pit Crew? A Saturday Salutation

Who most serves as your leadership pit crew? How have they made a difference in your leadership? When is the last time you really thanked them?

Support Makes A Difference

Last weekend, my friend Julie and I (along with our three, 6 year olds) had an opportunity to serve as cheering squad and pit crew for our husbands competing in the Wisconsin Ironman, 140.6 mile swim, bike and run.

It’s impressive to watch the endurance and perseverance of these athletes on this important day, after so many long hours of training. I have deep respect and salute all the finishers. Equally impressive was the long line of limping athletes waiting to sign up for next year’s competition.

What was also fascinating to watch were the serious hordes of volunteers and supporters for the race. There were over 3000 volunteers for this race, nearly one for every athlete. Many competitors had large fan clubs of friends and family members with matching tee-shirts, hand-made signs, silly hats, noise makers and carefully mapped out strategies for catching their athletes at strategic points along the race.

These supporters had as much energy after 12-15 hours as they did at the beginning, and there were still plenty of cheers when the last finisher crossed the line at midnight. I also know that preparing for a race like that requires additional behind-the-scenes help not celebrated with glitter and face paint.

I must admit, I don’t have much experience on that side of the racing bib. I am grateful for all the water handed to me one the years, and for my cheering children and those who have watched with them as they have grown up in the racing scene.

All these invested supporting players got me thinking about how vital it is for the leaders to have a strong pit crew. Leadership is emotionally, physically, and logistically challenging. Two career families make choices as they carefully balance the needs of all journeys.

Kids learn the importance of making the most of time we have together. Families make sacrifices, big brothers grow strong, relatives pitch in, friends offer support. I have had tremendous help over the years for which I am truly grateful. I have been handed lots of water from my crew.

As today’s Saturday Salutation I encourage you to reflect on, and thank those who have served on your leadership pit crew.

Your Leadership Pit Crew

Who has…

  • Listened intently as you struggled with leadership decisions
  • Encouraged you after disappointments and setbacks
  • Sacrificed something in their career to support yours
  • Learned to cook while you were on the road
  • Watched and influenced your children
  • Been available in an emergency
  • Understood when you were tired
  • Supported your risk taking
  • Given you perspective
  • Made you laugh
  • Understood

To all those in my life who have, and continue to, inspire and support my leadership journey. I thank you. Namaste.

Recognition Rodeo: More Insights From The Online Community

I have been delighted with the dialogue and debate spurred by last Saturday’s post on Recognition Power Words, also recognized on Wally Bock’s 3 Star Leadership Blog this week.

All week, people have continued to vigorously contribute and comment on the question and post on various LinkedIn groups. The debate is fantastic. People care about this topic. Perhaps it’s because it can be so personal. We all know what it feels like when recognition touches us, or when we are overlooked.

Simon Strong added to the conversation through commentary and video clips that showcase sincere and heartfelt recognition  (Babe – that’ll do pig) and Jerry Maguire – ambassador of Quan, as well as the impact of being ignored, Blues Brothers: fix the cigarette lighter.

Simon also says:

“Not only do we have to take into account the culture and needs of the person we are praising, but also that of the person giving praise. My mum, because of her role in my life and because of who she is will probably be ‘proud’ of me. My brother will tell me to stop showing off. Both are forms of praise that I would respond to very positively. Conversely, if my mum tells me to stop showing off I would be devastated, and if my brother was ‘proud’ of me I would punch him.”

And so, in order to spark additional conversation, I offer what some other bloggers are bringing to the conversation. Please join the conversation by commenting on this post.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

Most companies use behavior-based interviews for leadership jobs.

Many leaders are really bad at them.

I have seen many highly qualified candidates not get hired because of their inability to tell the right story in the right way.

In a Behavioral Based Interview, candidates are asked to describe a situation, share what happened, and communicate the results. In other words, to share a story.

Behavior-based questions work well because they require the candidate to draw on real experiences and communicate stories in an articulate way.

They can also backfire, when great candidates bomb the interview because of lack of preparation.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

  • Pick the wrong story, usually the first one that comes to mind
  • Select a story with a bad ending
  • Get carried away in your story-telling, sharing too much detail and going in circles
  • Leave out the detail, leaving too much to the imagination.
  • Forget to share the point of your story
  • Share a story in which you did not have a central role (sharing someone else’s success)
  • Over-use of the word “I” when you are describing an effort you led
  • Keep using the same job or example over and over (don’t laugh, this is one of the most common mistakes)
  • ???

How to Prepare for Success

  • Make a list of the competencies or skills most required for the job
  • Go back through your work experiences, and find the best examples (stories) that showcase your skills in these areas.
  • Develop a plan for which stories you plan to share
  • Build out your stories to include brief context, specific actions, and results
  • Practice telling them to a mentor or friend
  • ???

It is useful to keep a journal or archive of your best stories that you can call on as needed. Capture the details while the story is fresh so it will be easier to recall when the time is right. I am known for reminding my team to “remember this story” for their next interview or elevator speech, right after we have experienced a success.

Also, most leaders I know are more than willing to help their teams prepare for interviews and to consider the right stories to include. It is helpful to do a mock interview or two with a boss or mentor before you are even looking for the next opportunity.

Snap, Crackle, STOP– What’s Your Brand?

Have you ever thought of yourself as a brand?

Most people associate brands with companies, services or products– but don’t always stop to think about their personal brand let alone how to build it.

This is a guest post from Jonathan Green.

“Jonathan is a culture evangelist who focuses on leadership development behaviors and communications strategies. His expertise is service models that provide world-class experience. He has worked in a variety of verticals including Finance, Utilities, Tech, and Telecom. Green has spent the last seven years working for a large Telecom provider and thoroughly enjoys the fast paced and ever-changing environment. Check out his blog at monsterleaders.com

As individuals, we actually have much more at stake as our brand is being observed, assessed and judged on a regular basis. In my work with young leaders, I carve out time out to help them consider their brand and to be deliberate about enhancing promoting it. The key is simplicity. Break it down into manageable parts.

1 – Image

2 – Behaviors

3 – Attitude

I usually start by relating the personal branding process to one of two topics that most of us have dealt with at one time or another: dating and cereal.

Dating

Consider the following:

When you go on a first date, what are you looking to teach your date about you?

… that your baggage is not as severe as that of her last boyfriend/girlfriend?

… that your brain functions at a normal capacity?

… that your hygiene practices are in line with conventional societal norms?

… that you are the kind of person they would want to live with until the end of time?

Your BRAND is on the line, and you are selling it. Your image is a mix of who you actually are and who you want the other person to believe you are. You don’t start a conversation with the worst decisions you have made in your life as you do not want to be defined by those. However, those are part of who you are, they are the scars and stripes that you carry with you all the time. So is your image true to yourself? Do your behaviors match your desired outcome? And most important, you have a choice in what attitudes you bring to the table is your attitude one that others want to subject themselves to?

Now, Mix in Cereal

Another way to look at it is to think of yourself as a brand of cereal.

Is it good for you? (do others want to be around you?)

Do you like the taste (do others enjoy talking to you, learning from you, sharing experiences with you?)

Is it made by a company that is safe and reputable (can you be trusted, do your behaviors build relationships?)

Some Easy Steps to get started

1. Ask yourself some questions
– How do I want to be viewed?
– What words do I want others to use to describe me?
– What words best describe the ideal me: reliable? intelligent? upbeat?…?

2. Reverse engineer your brand
– what behaviors must I exhibit to be viewed in this way?
– with whom should I be involved?
– where should I hang out?

3. Check it
– Do my behaviors reinforce my desired brand?
– What words are being used to describe me?

4. Who is promoting your brand?
– who is selling your brand, to whom and where?
– recruit some “sales people”

Encouraging young leaders to consider these questions can help set the stage for important inner dialogue and external changes. I have found that this work leads to amazing development, growth and a future driven by behaviors that matter.

Snap, Crackle, STOP– What's Your Brand?

Have you ever thought of yourself as a brand?

Most people associate brands with companies, services or products– but don’t always stop to think about their personal brand let alone how to build it.

This is a guest post from Jonathan Green.

“Jonathan is a culture evangelist who focuses on leadership development behaviors and communications strategies. His expertise is service models that provide world-class experience. He has worked in a variety of verticals including Finance, Utilities, Tech, and Telecom. Green has spent the last seven years working for a large Telecom provider and thoroughly enjoys the fast paced and ever-changing environment. Check out his blog at monsterleaders.com

As individuals, we actually have much more at stake as our brand is being observed, assessed and judged on a regular basis. In my work with young leaders, I carve out time out to help them consider their brand and to be deliberate about enhancing promoting it. The key is simplicity. Break it down into manageable parts.

1 – Image

2 – Behaviors

3 – Attitude

I usually start by relating the personal branding process to one of two topics that most of us have dealt with at one time or another: dating and cereal.

Dating

Consider the following:

When you go on a first date, what are you looking to teach your date about you?

… that your baggage is not as severe as that of her last boyfriend/girlfriend?

… that your brain functions at a normal capacity?

… that your hygiene practices are in line with conventional societal norms?

… that you are the kind of person they would want to live with until the end of time?

Your BRAND is on the line, and you are selling it. Your image is a mix of who you actually are and who you want the other person to believe you are. You don’t start a conversation with the worst decisions you have made in your life as you do not want to be defined by those. However, those are part of who you are, they are the scars and stripes that you carry with you all the time. So is your image true to yourself? Do your behaviors match your desired outcome? And most important, you have a choice in what attitudes you bring to the table is your attitude one that others want to subject themselves to?

Now, Mix in Cereal

Another way to look at it is to think of yourself as a brand of cereal.

Is it good for you? (do others want to be around you?)

Do you like the taste (do others enjoy talking to you, learning from you, sharing experiences with you?)

Is it made by a company that is safe and reputable (can you be trusted, do your behaviors build relationships?)

Some Easy Steps to get started

1. Ask yourself some questions
– How do I want to be viewed?
– What words do I want others to use to describe me?
– What words best describe the ideal me: reliable? intelligent? upbeat?…?

2. Reverse engineer your brand
– what behaviors must I exhibit to be viewed in this way?
– with whom should I be involved?
– where should I hang out?

3. Check it
– Do my behaviors reinforce my desired brand?
– What words are being used to describe me?

4. Who is promoting your brand?
– who is selling your brand, to whom and where?
– recruit some “sales people”

Encouraging young leaders to consider these questions can help set the stage for important inner dialogue and external changes. I have found that this work leads to amazing development, growth and a future driven by behaviors that matter.

Team Chemistry: Leveraging Diversity to Drive Team Performance

There is much good research on the characteristics of high-performing teams. It is possible to structure teams in ways that maximize performance (e.g. small number, shared vision, complimentary skill sets). A great resource for this is
Katzenbach and Smith’s The Wisdom of Teams.

I have been on teams that are identical in these criteria, and yet there is an invisible factor that seems to drive performance– chemistry.
When I was in my early twenties, I played Sergeant Sarah Brown in a Community Theater production of Guys and Dolls. Young Sarah is a spunky Salvation Army worker with a logical list of characteristics she is looking for in a man. Sarah meets Sky Masterson, an attractive con artist and gambler, who laughs at her long list of desired traits and gives her his one-factor list, “chemistry.” Well, of course it’s a musical, chemistry wins, they fall in love and sing happily ever after.

The thing is, in both love and teams chemistry matters.

And yet, when we make hiring decisions, we often start with a list of desired competencies, backgrounds and skill sets at an individual level. Like Sarah, we work to attract the best talent for the individual roles, and then after the fact, work to pull them into a high performing team. Chemistry is even more vital when looking to select the leader of the team.

I am not suggesting hiring based exclusively on DiSC, MBTI or some other personality profile. However, all other things being equal, hiring for diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills and approaches can help to create some serious positive combustion.

I recently went through a DiSC workshop with my larger team. After the session, one of the women on my team came up to me and asked, “Did you do that on purpose?” She was referring to the very eclectic mix of personalities on both my direct report team and throughout the organization.

At first, my reaction was “no, I hadn’t even thought about DiSC.” But the truth is, having had a unique opportunity to build the team almost entirely from scratch, I had been very deliberate about hiring leaders with different backgrounds, experiences, expertise and styles. They in turn did the same. As a result, we have a team that works hard to leverage one another’s strengths and make up for gaps. They have each other’s backs. They have chemistry and results on are on fire.

Opportunities to Build Team Diversity

In addition to the more traditional views on diversity (race, age, gender), there are other important factors to consider when hiring for a high-performing team

  • Expertise, attracting unique skill sets helps to foster respect, creates interdependency and enables cross-training
  • Background, hiring people with diverse experiences helps to provide different perspectives to complex problems
  • Styles, not always comfortable, but hiring a team with different personality preferences can offer richer approaches and solutions
  • ??? what other factors do you find important?

Where Similarities can Help

I also find there are some characteristics were similarities are quite helpful. I find having a team unified by these factors helps them to work more effectively with their diversity.

  • Passion: I see teams come together best when they all share a common passion for a unified vision. They all care deeply about accomplishing something important. I look for passion from the moment they enter the job interview.
  • Gumption: This manifests itself in various ways in different people and personalities. But energetic commitment and strong work ethic matter. High-performing teams seem to operate on a similar gumption frequency.
  • Receptivity: Openness to feedback and change. High-performing teams have members who are able to adjust and learn from one another and the environment. They are hungry for feedback and willing to share.

Think about the teams that you have worked on with the best chemistry.

Recognition Power Words: The Phrases that Mean the Most

Twice this year someone has told me “I am proud of you.” Both times, I was surprised to find myself really choked up. My reaction was so strong that I got to thinking about why. I wanted to understand what it was about THIS recognition that made an impact, so I could do a better job of giving THAT kind of recognition to others.

“Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
~Rudyard Kipling

Who: In both circumstances, I had deep respect for the person who said it.

What: What I had accomplished was important to me, and it felt wonderful that others were noticing.

The Words: The words were powerful.

There is something about being recognized at just the right time, by just the right person, with just the right words. When done well, those words can stay with us forever.

And so, inspired by these moments, I reached out my on-line communities of leadership thinkers, coaches and writers and asked:

“What words make the biggest impact when providing recognition?”

I got lots of inspired and heart-felt responses from many people across multiple groups. There is real power in the on-line leadership thinking community. Several leaders weighed in that the most important part is the specific examples, acknowledging the details of the contribution. Others shared the value of a handwritten note that is “simple, timely, and personal.” Several rightfully warned that people are motivated by different things, and trying to project our preferences on others is a mistake.

The most dialogue came from the LinkedIn Organizational Development and Training Forum.

Sara Ting raised the consideration of culture and how that impacts how we want to be recognized, and how we approach recognizing others.

Marian Thier discussed the psychological impact of our words: for example, “I’m proud of you” could connote a parental approval relationship, while “well done” sounds more masculine and non-specific, “like an athletic coach.”

Dayrl Cowie provided possibilities for meaningful words based on personality types:

“Inspiring Personalities (e.g. sales people): “That was awesome”, “I really owe you one” (fun, give & take type words)
Commanding Personalities (e.g. directors): “Nice job” “That’s why you’re the man” (ego, self-esteem)
Supporting Personalities: “Wow everyone loved that” “I really like what you did for everyone” (Everybody loves you)
Analyzing Personalities:”That was brilliant” “How did you do that?” “Way to stand up for what you believe in” (How’d you do that? or, congratulations on moral grounds)”

All fantastic conversation and interesting points.

The majority weighed in with the words and phrases that have meant the most to them, or that they tend to rely on.

I conclude with these words as an offering for this week’s Saturday Salutation.

Recognition Power Phrases

  • I trust you
  • Great idea! Let’s go with it.
  • You have made a significant contribution to ___.
  • You really helped me out
  • You’re a difference maker
  • You are a gem
  • This is one of the best__I’ve seen
  • We could learn a lot from __ about this
  • We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for ___
  • ___ has set a new standard of excellence for us all to strive toward
  • Glad to have you as part of OUR team
  • You are doing exactly what you were meant to do in this life

Words That Stand Alone

  • Excellent
  • Outstanding
  • Inspirational
  • Exceptional
  • Extraordinary
  • Remarkable
  • Natural

How Personal Challenges Motivate Success: A Guest Post from Sara Parrish

Going through life we sometimes run into road blocks, challenges and uninvited detours. Bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, and serious illness are just the beginning of a long line of challenges that distract us from our career goals. These challenges can, and often do, create upheavals in our personal and professional life. As we build our image becoming spouses, parents, college graduates, and home owners, it is easy to let “things” define who we are instead of our talents. Our true nature as leaders can never be taken away. Natural leaders don’t sit on the sidelines long. They are naturally driven and motivated to get back in the game.

“Sara has been working in Telecom for the last 15 years. She holds a BA in Communications and Public Relations and an MBA in Global Management. She is extremely active in her community volunteering for HIV/AIDS, Hospice, American Lung Association, and Domestic Violence. She is a Leader Athlete and loves snowboarding, scuba diving and other outdoor adventures.”

We grow up with the images of happily ever after all around us. In most of the world’s greatest and most memorable stories there are some common factors:

  • There is always a hero
  • The hero is on a journey
  • The hero meets the villain
  • The hero overcomes the villain

These commonalities play out many times throughout our lives, as we are the hero of our journey. The “villain” encountered is often uncertainty, change, and unwillingness to be flexible. How we prepare and react to major life changing events and challenges determines our long-term potential for success. Detaching from the things that we can’t control and focusing on the things we can, help minimize the impact of negative cycles in our lives. As people sometimes say, “the times change and we change with them”.

I have been inspired by the role model of my father, who grew up underprivileged, and despite the obstacles and challenges went on to be a very successful executive. His story has led me to pay close attention to other success stories despite the obstacles and to look for patterns from which to learn and teach.

Some Role Models

One thing the following people have in common is they all encountered tremendous challenges and turned their unfortunate circumstances into true success stories.

Neale Donald Walsh (short video on facing fear) Neil went through years of hardships including divorce and a horrible car accident that left him homeless and unemployed. He lived in a tent city gathering cans to pay for his next meal. He later landed on the international best seller list with, Conversations with God. He openly discusses with audiences how he was inspired to write the series during his darkest days.

Wayne Dyer(short video on changing from within) Dr. Dyer started life off in an orphanage and is a fine example of a self-made man. He regularly talks about how events in his life motivated him to live to his full potential. Dr. Dyer teaches the importance of positive thinking to overcome challenges in life.

Louise Hay  (short video on positive affirmations) was diagnosed with cervical cancer and claims that treatment through self-forgiveness and combined therapies cured her. She is the successful author of “You Can Heal Your Life” and created Hay House publishing.

Having a small amount of ongoing stress keeps one focused and alert to subtle changes in the environment, allowing smarter and more creative reactions. In environments completely absent of stress it is easy to become unmotivated and complacent. We must avoid the temptation to feel defeated after a fail and try again. The key is understanding our limits, not embracing them.

How do life challenges affect your work life balance and what do you do to overcome them?

Long Distance Leadership: Can Distance Drive Engagement and Results?

I was intrigued by the recent article by Scott Edinger in HBR Blog Network, Why Remote Workers are More Engaged. He shares research that shows that remote workers are more engaged, and rate their leadership more highly. His article sparked a flurry of comments and debate, including questions of limited sample size and statistical significance. Despite the skeptics, I have not been able to get this conversation out of my brain. Why, Because my experience is that long distance leadership can be very engaging and achieve fantastic results.

I have been working in long distance leadership situations for almost 2 decades. I have led many highly dispersed teams. For most of my career I have not worked in the same state as my boss. Although Edinger’s research spoke to those working at home (I have also lead folks in that situation, and have worked from home at certain points in my career), I think the debate raises important conversation for any leader not working side-by-side with their teams on a daily basis.

In fact, in my current role, I am leading my most remote team ever. I am leading a team dispersed across the country in over 20 states and every time zone. It’s tricky. I spend much time on airplanes, and I am never “there” as much as I would like. And, I would argue this is one of my most engaged teams ever. They are on fire with results, are passionate about the work, and care deeply about one another.

And so, I offer my opinion on the “are remote workers more engaged” debate. No statistics. Just lots of personal experience and a track record of making long distance leadership work.

Why Long Distance Leadership Works

  • Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have
  • Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong
  • Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction
  • Teams feel more encouraged to take risks
  • It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder
  • When teams are together they work hard to create relationships, and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder– remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction
  • They make better use of tools and technology
  • They listen more closely because they are not distracted with the daily noise

Behaviors that Support Long Distance Leadership

  • Select a fantastic team, carefully with a track record of self-direction
  • Have a dramatic vision and crystal-clear goals
  • Communicate that vision and goals loudly in every medium you have available
  • Celebrate success loudly and frequently
  • Show up face to face, more than is practical
  • Be deliberate in helping the team to know you as a human being– distance can be scary, it helps if the team can see you as a real person
  • Be silly and fun remote teams need to laugh and know it is okay to have fun
  • Have a scheduled check-in pattern so no one gets left out
  • Get really good at situational leadership– understand who needs what and give it to them
  • Admit mistakes, it helps to encourage risk-taking and creativity

Are you a Long Distance Leader? Please share your comments. What have you found works best in managing remote teams?

I am delighted to be included in Dan McCarthy’s Leadership Carnival. I have enjoyed reading some fantastic posts included here from some insightful leadership bloggers. I encourage you to check it out.

My writing on Leader Athletes was also included John Bossong’s Top 10 Leadership and Sales Link Roundup. Another great collection of leadership posts worth checking out.

To all those on this wonderful leadership journey of reflecting, reading, writing, and collaborating.

Namaste.

If you enjoy reading my posts, I would love to have you as an email subscriber. I also encourage you to join the conversation with your comments.
 

 

Humility Matters: 9 Ways Confident Leaders Remain Humble

We want to follow people with confidence, charisma and a strong sense of direction. Confidence inspires, attracts, excites and ignites. We think, “they sure do seem to know what they’re doing” And yet, I have observed that confidence, without humility, can be dangerous. I have seen it significantly limit a leader’s effectiveness. They stay their course, but may miss important input. People may follow, but not with their full spirit. Truly confident leaders are secure enough to embrace and share their humility. In the long run, their humility makes them stronger.

“What the world needs now is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.”
~Oscar Levant

Michael Carroll describes the “talent of humility,” in his book The Mindful Leader. He shares that when leaders understand they are part of a much bigger scene that is not fully within their control, they are free to show up more human. It’s from that humility, that they can confidently show up to do the best work possible. They offer more of their whole selves to the moment.

“Humility is how we express our delight– how we appreciate the simple pleasures and great joys. And equally, humility is how we open to life’s inconveniences and devastating tragedies. When we are humble, no experience is beneath us, no colleague is unworthy, no moment does not merit our full attention. Because we are humble, we do not pick and chose– savoring only the tasty parts of life and leaving the rest for others. We are wiling to experience the entire situation directly and work with every detail.”

I have been observing the leaders I admire who seem to striving for confident humility. Here’s 9 things I’m picking up. Please share your thoughts on the 10th.

9 Ways Confident Leaders Express Humility

  1. Understand they don’t have all the answers– and search for more
  2. Attract those who will tell the truth– and be able to hear them
  3. Reflect on their own leadership– and seek out change as needed
  4. Read about other approaches– and adjust
  5. Seek out mentors– from all levels
  6. Share more about themselves and create connections
  7. Seek to learn about the people they work with– and see them as people
  8. Try out new behaviors and ask for feedback
  9. Take stands against the politically correct choice
  10. ??? (please share your thoughts)

Open-Space Leadership: When Less is More

Sometimes leadership is just about creating an open-space and getting out-of-the-way.

I love using Open-Space Technology with a large group to generate ideas. It’s an amazing, high-energy, low-cost way to hold a powerful meeting. Participants essentially create their own agenda and self-organize into groups to discuss topics that matter to them. Although it’s useful to have a trained facilitator help with the effort, I have found it works just fine with the leader serving both as host and organizer.

“We have discovered, through countless pointed lessons, that there is precisely one way to mess up an Open-Space and only one way. And that is to think that you are in charge of what happens, or worse yet, to act that way. Truthfully, the facilitator has little if anything of a substantive nature to contribute. No fixes, no interventions or at least not of an obvious sort. For a brief time at the beginning, the facilitator holds center stage (literally), and then it is essential to get out-of-the-way.”
~ Harrison Owen, Founder of Open-Space Technology

Open Space in Action: One Example

Last week, I held an Open-Space Meeting with over 100 participants discussing the topic: How Can We Be More Influential Leaders?

We started in a big circle, set up the process and guiding principles and we were off (see resource links in the post for more how-tos). WIthin 15 minutes we had generated 18 fascinating topics to be discussed throughout the next 3 hours in concurrent sessions. Team members stepped up to own and facilitate topics. Participants could move freely from session to session. The conversation was robust. We then ended back in the circle where each participant-turned facilitator shared highlights from the conversation and next steps.

The topics were an interesting mix of leadership development, business-processes, how-tos, and best practice sharing. Some topics were inspired by challenges, others by success. Some chose to teach and share, while others chose to facilitate through lots of questions. We ended with many ideas and actionable next steps.

The spirit and the energy in the room was palpable. This was a group inspired to change things.

Why it Worked

I asked the team why it worked. Here’s some of the thinking:

  • I had a chance to think about the topic I would share in advance, and I came prepared with some ideas on how to facilitate the discussion
  • I chose a topic that I was passionate about it was cool to see how many others shared that same interest
  • We got to talk about exactly what we needed to, with the people we needed to
  • It was intriguing to see where the interest was which topics attracted the biggest following.
  • Now we know what matters most to our organization for future work
  • It was cool to see how many people in our remote group are all sharing the same experiences.
  • I found kindred spirits
  • I was heard
  • Some fantastic ideas were shared that I can take back and use immediately
  • Even though only a few people showed up to my session, we got started on some important work and I have already set up a follow-up conference call to build on our actions

A Leader’s Perspective

Our topic of “Influence” lent itself well to this technique. By stepping back as the leader and providing space for the conversation to emerge, I could model some of the most important parts of influence– listening and understanding. The team became the teachers. The spirit of this exercise can be translated in other ways as they go back to their daily work and provide influence in those environments.

We also set this up in advance as an important developmental opportunity for the team. Open-space sessions are a gentle and friendly way to practice facilitation and public speaking. I was delighted with the preparation and delivery of the team.

I was inspired by the opportunity to travel freely from session to session as a participant. It’s great to experience such inspired thought leadership from people at all levels and roles within the organization. If I had built the agenda myself, I would have overlooked some of the most popular topics.

Labor Day Reflections: A Saturday Salutation

Labor Day was first organized in 1882 by labor unions as a celebration of the contributions of working class Americans. Although not a big union supporter, Grover Cleveland formalized it as a National Holiday in 1894. There is some good background here for those who want to know more Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

Labor Day has always seemed to me to be one of those unsung holidays where the meaning gets a bit lost. As a child I mostly remember it as the first day off school, and the day my mom made me stop wearing my white shoes to Sunday School. Teaching Your Kids About The Meaning of Labor Day.

What Does Labor Day Mean Today?

So where does that leave us today? For some, this holiday still carries much of its original meaning, and a good time to reflect on history and progress.

For the many of us, the idea of defined working hours and schedules has morphed not due to changing rules or regulations, but because of the nature of our work, the virtual connectivity of our remote teams and expanded real-time technology. Many leaders and vital contributors (myself included) are always connected, and even on labor day will have their phones by their sides available as needed.

Labor Day Reflections

And so, I offer this Labor Day exercise as an opportunity for reflection as you celebrate your work, and the work of your teams.

  • What brings you energy in your work?
  • What has been your most significant accomplishment this year?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Who are you most proud of on your team?
  • How do you rest?
  • Is it enough?
  • What’s next?

I would love to hear your insights on your labor day reflections through your comments.

Some upcoming topics: Leading and Following in Remote teams, Large Group Innovation, and Humility.

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