A Better Way to START your SMART GOAL process

If you’re really stuck in the creative process, your heart is telling you something. Listen to it. I did, and found myself backward mapping my entrepreneurial journey and found the START before SMART goal process.

The Start of START

I was recently asked to give a workshop for the National Speakers Association on SMART goals to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses. This is an important audience whom I care about deeply and wanted to help. But as I went to craft the talk, I found myself just staring at my computer, hopping on Twitter, and finally finding time to take that run… as Steven Pressfield would say, I was deep into the resistance phase of the creativity process.

Sure I could talk SMART goals–almost every leadership development person can. And possibly, this would not feel as old news to this crowd as it did to me, but I wasn’t certain. More awkwardly, the truth is that I can’t attribute any of my early success to S.M.A.R.T. goals.  I really resisted all the advice that well-meaning supporters gave me as I launched my business. “Set a specific revenue goal and break down which markets your income will come from.” “Set a measurable goal for the number of subscribers you’ll have by when.” “Identify a concrete strategy to monetize your blog.” “Contact 20 people a week and ask for the business.”

The truth is, my heart wasn’t ready for SMART goals at that stage of the game.

For me there needed to be a period of focused, deliberate, intense, long hours of what can no better be described as “mucking about.”

I needed to write, to speak, to explore, to connect, to knock on doors, to have doors open, to have doors close, to love, to get ticked off, to learn, to get rejected, to get accepted, to get supported, to support, to get burned, to invest wisely, to waste some dough… mostly to figure out who I really was as this new brand and what my unique contribution could be to the world.

I worked really hard.  But, I’ll admit, I didn’t write down a single goal.

I kept assuring my husband I was planting bulbs. Thank goodness he believed me.

And one by one the bulbs began to blossom and bloom in the most unusual places. I stayed open and the seeds began to spread.

And so today, I share with you an alternative to jumping right into your SMART goal planning: S.T.A.R.T. before S.M.A.R.T.

The S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T. Goals Process

1. S-  Sankalpa: Based in the yogic tradition well outlined in Rod Stryker’s latest book, spend the reflective time needed to truly identify what you most want.

Ask yourself:  What results would truly fill my heart’s desire?

2. T- Transformation: Identify who or what will be transformed as a result of your efforts.

Ask yourself:  What does success look like?

 3. A- Authenticity: Identify your values, operating principles and define your brand.

Ask yourself: What do I most value?

4. R- Relationships: Invest in building deep relationships based on trust and mutual support. Be deliberate with whom you spend your time.

Ask yourself: How will I enrich my relationships?

5. T- Timing: Prioritize your time. Develop a renewal strategy.

Ask yourself: How must I invest my time?

S.M.A.R.T. goals are vital. Everyone needs them. But sometimes it’s useful to head back to the beginning and S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T.

How to Give So They Will Receive

As the old adage goes, it’s better to give than to receive. And, the best networking advice I’ve ever given (or received) is to give first and then give some more. With all that giving going on, it’s also important to know how and when it’s time to receive.

I recently asked a group of managers, “Is it more difficult for you to give or to receive?” and “What percentage of your time is spent giving versus receiving?” The overwhelming consensus was that it’s harder to receive than to give, and most felt that they give far more than they receive.

“RECEIVING–until recently I was very uncomfortable asking for help and letting others see my vulnerabilities.”

“Probably it is more difficult to receive. Sometimes I expect that a person would do something for me since I would do the same thing for him/her if asked, but often it does not happen.”

“At work, I always feel the need to prove myself so I always give, give give (85% give, 15% receive).”

“When someone does something nice for me, I feel like I need to immediately pay back that debt and feel uncomfortable when I have received more than I have given.”

Part of the gift of giving is to give in a way that supports receiving.

4 Ways to Give So They Will Receive

1. Give and Forget

In 20 Ways to Give Without Expectations, Lori Deschene lists great examples of how to give help and support with no expectations in return. Such self-less giving can go a long way in opening hearts to receiving.

2. Model it

“Giving opens the way for receiving.” -Florence Scovel Shinn

If you’re an over-giver, lead by example. Be willing to ask for and receive support.

3. Respond Enthusiastically

If someone asks for help, know that it’s likely not easy for them to do so. Say “yes” or “no,” but don’t say “yes” after listing the litany of reasons why it’s hard for you. That just adds to the guilt. Words such as “I’d be honored,” “Happy to,” or “Sure, glad I can support you” don’t make the task you’re doing any more difficult.

4. Ask What Will Be Most Helpful

Just jumping in and giving can be a waste of time at best and potentially do more harm than good. Ask what you can give that will be most helpful.

The truth is the world functions best when we know how to (and are willing to) both give and receive. Where can you be giving or receiving more?

Managing the Strong, Arrogant, Obnoxious Type

They come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s talk dark and handsome, with an extra dose of charisma, and two espresso shots of attitude. Or blonde, with a great purse, an MBA from a top 25, and a sarcastic streak that makes everyone in her wake feel like crap. Or the balding dude from finance who can out-gun anyone with a spreadsheet at twenty paces, who won’t even hear your argument for more funding unless you can outwit his wittiness. Or, the been-there-done-that guy who’s “just about done” with all the rookies.

You didn’t select them, but here they are on your team. They’re annoying everyone, but driving results– with implications.  They’re on the fast track, so coaching feels tricky. But deep in your heart you know they’ve got career stalling flaws. What next?

Door Number 1:  Ignore the issues, leverage the strengths, and pray they move on soon.

OR

Door Number 2:  Be the brave leader who has the tough conversation which changes the game, and helps them truly realize their potential.

Sadly, I see so many “leaders” grit their teeth, complain to their spouse, and slip quietly through door number 1, praying the “right” people notice and the “wrong” people (meaning the truly high potential) miss your oversight this time. And that the next leader who manages this guy will have more courage.

Why?

  • “After all, this guy’s clearly high-potential.” (Read that: “I’m worried I’ll work for him some day and don’t want to burn any bridges.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m as smart as him. I’d better shut up and listen.” (Read that: “I’m insecure.”)
  • “Sure, she’s obnoxious, but she gets damn good results, and goodness knows we need that right now.”  (Read that: “Why not? Everyone else does.”)
  • “Sure she’s ticking off all her peers, but… maybe she’ll raise the bar.” (Read that: “Crap, maybe this confident humility stuff is all bunk, time to unsubscribe from LGL.”)

How to Address Arrogance:  What To Do Behind Door #2

If you want to change the game, you’ve got to deal with door number 2.

1. Show Concern

Start with. “You’re smart, creative, and highly productive.  But I’m deeply concerned that the way you’re showing up is going to derail your career. Would you be open to some exploration around this issue?”

2. Show Her the Data

If you’re the boss, your opinion will matter a bit, but not if they see you as a temporary stepping stone to tolerate. Do a 360 degree assessment. Have him do it himself, or there are some inexpensive ways to administer a more confidential customized survey (not formally endorsing, but stumbled upon and thought it was cool.)

She’s going to need to hear about specific incidences. I’ll never forget the time my boss said to me. “Your peer had a great idea in the last meeting. How hard would it have been to take out a pen and write that down?”  Yikes.  Amen.

3. Offer Help

When you’re passionate and great at what you do, it’s tricky to see how annoying you are. Ask for permission to point it out the next time. Invent a secret signal if needed.

4. Set A Goal

Get her focused on promoting an idea or person beyond herself. Teach her techniques to get folks to truly listen, even when they don’t want to hear. If she’s really high-potential, she’ll read between the lines and get the sub-text.

Build Your Own Competency Model- A Team Exercise

When’s the last time you looked at the competency model for your job or for the members of your team? Do you leave such things to the HR department and get on with your work? Or perhaps you work on your own or in a small company that just doesn’t have time for such formalities?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for formal, validated competency modeling processes. Competency models are extremely useful for staffing and selection processes, building training curriculum, compensation modeling and other contexts. I’ve spearheaded many such initiatives over the years, including the modeling of all the leadership jobs that were used in merger selection of the executive team.

But, when it comes to running the daily business, I don’t see too many leaders referencing competency models in their developmental conversations.

5 Easy Steps to Building Your Own Competency Model

What if, in the spirit of development, you worked with the team to build your own? Beginning with one simple question:

When a person in this role is at the top of the game, what skills do they do best?

Such an exercise gets people really thinking about what it takes to be successful in their role. They use their own words and describe the real deal. The debate and prioritization are worth the time, even if you never do much more with the model. Of course, the further you take it, the more impactful the exercise becomes.

1. Gather a group of people holding a similar role or function (e.g. call center directors, team leaders).  You can have them work on their own role, or the role of the people they supervise.

2. Provide each participant with five index cards.  Ask each person to envision the highest performers in the role and privately write down their thoughts on the following, putting one competency on each card.

  • What skills are most central to their success?
  • Considering where the organization is heading in the next three years, what skills will be most vital in this role?

3. If a formal model exists, use that for additional input and invite participants to update their cards if desired.

  • Which of the competencies listed feel most relevant to the role today?
  • Which are vital toward accomplishing your goals for the future?
  • What’s missing?
  • Which of these competencies has the biggest impact on actual results?

4.  Have each participant share their competency deck, and sort the competencies of the group into similar skill sets.

5. Then prioritize, discuss and debate the ones you most agree to. Refine the words into easy to understand language that feels real and actionable to the team. Have the team pick their five favorites.

6. The next steps are limitless. Some possibilities include:

  • Turning the tool into a self assessment, describing what behaviors look like at a high, medium or developing level
  • Having each team member pick one competency they really want to work on this year and create an action plan around it
  • Partnering up team members as peer support to help one another

An Example

Here’s what such an informal competency could look like in the call center director world.

1. A Wildly Passionate Commitment to the Customer Experience

Helps the team understand, and believe in, what great customer service looks like and why it matters. Holds high-standards and takes any breach of great service as if it had just happened to his mother… no, make that his grandmother. His energy toward great service serves as a charismatic contagious vortex that inspires daily action.

2. A Beacon of Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Is not easily rattled. When the systems crash, the calls back up, the customer starts screaming, s/he takes a deep breath and moves into action. Can diffuse the negative energy in a crises and channel it into productive action. Is highly responsive, but has the ability to consider implications before reacting.

3. An “I’m in It With You” Attitude

Is seldom behind closed doors, but is on the floor, listening, observing and supporting. Won’t hesitate to hop on a call to deescalate a tough customer situation. Is an artful coach and works to draw out the best solutions from the team. Is not a blamer, but consistently works to bring the right people together to resolve the problem.

4. A Legacy Mindset

Balances day-to-day operations with a longer term view.  Is constantly encouraging innovation and new ways to make the work more effective and efficient. Invests deeply in developing her leadership team. Knows that a true sign of success is what happens in the center when s/he’s not there.

5. A Penchant For Process

Understands that center leadership is a constant balancing between quality, efficiency, employee experience and financials. Is constantly considering cause and effect and the downstream impact of decisions. Approaches problems in a systematic way and explores alternative solutions before making decisions.

The most important part of any competency model is that it propels people forward.  Worry less about whether it’s perfect, and be glad they’re talking and working to improve their leadership.

Experts Chime in on Bold and Innovative Leadership: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our September Festival is all about Bold and Innovative Leadership. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

Self Leadership  

“Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

No one has the words “Bold” or “Innovative” printed on their business cards; but Bill Benoist of Leadership Heart Coaching shares that when you look, these leaders are all around us. Follow Bill.

More often than not, “Leadership Failure” is simply a “Failure to Lead.” Bernie Nagle of Altrupreneur discusses how one must be bold enough to embrace vulnerability, in order to step into the role of Leader.  Follow Bernie.  

If your leadership is all about you, it ends when you come to an end. But if your leadership isn’t all about you, it will live beyond you. Ryan Jenkins of Next Generation Catalyst shares his take here. Follow Ryan.

Lisa Kohn of Thoughtful Leaders presents Do what Lewis Carroll did Before Breakfast to visualize a different opportunity or outcome. Follow Lisa.

Tanveer Naseer of Tanveer Naseer Leadership helps us Discover four reasons why leaders need to rely on the power of “and” to ensure their organization’s ability to succeed and thrive. Follow Tanveer.

Skip Prichard of Leadership Insights shows that Leading YOURSELF, then Leading OTHERS, then Leading the GAME will make you a winning and bold leader. Take your game up a notch. Follow Skip.

Bob Whipple of The Trust Ambassador encourages us to try this very different method of erasing executive stress. It really works, but few executives can see the wisdom in it. Too bad – they are more stressed than they need to be. Follow Bob.

Bold leaders think outside the box…or a hand of cards. Beth Beutler of HOPE Unlimited shares what she learned from a badly played hand. Follow Beth.

Barbara Kimmell of Trust Across America shares The VIP Model of Trustworthy Leadership: VISION & VALUES+INTEGRITY+PROMISES KEPT. Follow Barbara.

Team Development  

“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek

Michelle Cubas of Business Influences! says that Leadership can be contagious. That’s the secret sauce! Multi-Dimensional Leaders head smooth running, self-directed organizations. Follow Michelle.

Martin Webster of Leadership Thoughts gives three areas you need to focus on to improve team performance.    Follow Martin.

Dan Rockwell of Leadership Freak exhorts that calling for boldness without the foundation of hope is a frustrating waste of time. Learn four ways to build boldness and ten ways to build hope. Follow Dan Rockwell.     

Julie Winkle Giulioni shares that employees who are not developing are actively lagging behind. Leaders need to deliver a bold message: Grow or go home! Follow Julie.

You’ve heard it a zillion times before: the importance in taking the time and effort to develop your employees. So why aren’t you? asks Dan McCarthy of About.com Management & Leadership Follow Dan.

Matt McWilliams observes that leaders who are positive and encouraging have more productive (31% more productive!) teams in this post  . Follow Matt.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame acknowledges that there are always barriers to adoption when it comes to innovation. Leaders at all levels should assess progress in six key areas to ensure success. Follow Alli.

Jim Canterruci of the New Leadership Normal blog says that the new leadership normal uses a fundamental equation – 9/10 – 60/40. The Secret Leadership Key explains this equation that unlocks the barrier to sustainable growth and a championship culture. Follow Jim.

Change  

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

Leadership Coach Julie Pierce of Empowered by Pierce shares how taking a risk and trying something new makes us better, bolder leaders. Follow Julie.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference shares that in a world filled with complicated leadership theories and sophisticated philosophies, sometimes the most innovative thing a leader can do is keep it simple. Follow Jon.

Leadership power manifested in organizations is shifting. Be ready! There is a new definition of power to embrace! Thanks Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services. Follow Mary Jo. 

Many of us think things are getting worse…don’t we? In this blog post, Jeff Miller of The Faithful Pacesetters uses Paul from Bible as example of a leader who was able to prepare people for change. Follow Jeff Miller.

The assumption that organizational change has to start at the top is wrong. Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center relays how to initiate change no matter where you reside the official org. chart. Follow Jesse.

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog shares how Leadership is tested when results are bad. So many abandon leadership and resort to blame and latching onto any change just to show they are reacting. Follow John.

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context observes that strategies that may have worked in ethics five years ago will not help us now. To succeed, we need to broaden our worldview and expand the scope of what we consider to be “ethical territory.” Follow Linda.

Chery Gegleman of Simply Understanding asks, “Are you getting the right information, in the right form, to the right person, at the right time? If not prepared to be inspired to keep communicating!” Follow Chery.

Michelle Pallas of Lead On challenges us to have an opinion, but don’t judge. Don’t be afraid to change your thinking. Changing your mind is not a show of weakness; it is a bold act of courage that shows others you’re listening. Follow Michelle.

Call for Submissions. October’s Frontline Festival is about Achieving Breakthrough Results. New participants welcome.  Click here to submit your link.

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity

Dealing with ambiguity is a competency quickly pushing its way up on the list of most wanted executive competencies, while simultaneously working its way down as a vital survival skill down the organization chart. Acting with incomplete information, adapting to change, working without complete direction, imagining what’s possible in an uncertain future–these are skills no longer reserved for the executive floor. Every manager and team member will be more effective with greater skill in this arena.

It’s not easy. But, tackling the topic head on will save a lot of wasted time and emotional energy for you and your team, and you’ll prepare your team members for larger roles in the process.

7 Ways to Help Your Team Deal With Ambiguity

“Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things.” – Julian Baggini

1. Understand your Own Tolerance and Reactions

Start with you. If times of uncertainty don’t lead to your shining moments of leadership brilliance, acknowledge that. Find a trusted advisor (it could even be a team member) who finds change and ambiguity exhilarating to help you with your plan. Do your freaking-out in private. In uncertain times, nothing will calm and inspire your team more than your “game on” attitude.

2. Be Crystal Clear on What is Clear

It’s easy to feel like everything is uncertain in times of uncertainty. That’s never true. Be crystal clear on what you do know, what’s not changing, and what your team can count on.

3. Know What You Collectively Know and What You Don’t

Chances are that you and your team, when you put your heads together, know more than you think. Taking time to do this exercise as a team matters. Resist the urge to focus only on what everyone already knows. Write that down, but then add to the list of what each person knows or suspects based on their area of expertise. Then write down what you don’t know, and brainstorm ways to gather more information in that arena.

4. Don’t Waffle

When you make decisions, stop second-guessing them out loud. If you need to change course, do it boldly with strong communication and explanation. Otherwise, keep your boat sailing swiftly in the announced direction.

5. Encourage Risk Taking

Even if you’ve reacted poorly to mistakes before, admit that, and promise support in taking calculated risks. Put in place whatever parameters and checkpoints you need to feel comfortable in your world, but allow space for creativity and brilliant thinking. You need every single brain cell operating on full cylinder at times like these, not censored with fear of making mistakes.

6. Envision Alternative Scenarios

When the future is uncertain, it’s easy to think that “anything could happen.” That’s seldom true. More often the most probable scenarios can be boiled down to two or three. Brainstorm those possibilities and develop contingency plans. This exercise goes a long way in calming minds and spirits, while generating creative possibilities that could actually work across scenarios.

7. Engage Other People and Perspectives

The more people you engage in the solution, the less frightening the problem becomes. Enlist unusual suspects to weigh-in.  Engage some cross-functional collaboration. Benchmark externally. Ask your children (hey, you never know).

Most importantly keep your cool and focus on the possible.

How to Help Managers Become More Strategic

John’s frustration had turned to exacerbation.  He’d done everything he could to position himself for the next promotion. His results were amazing. He’d taken on several cross-functional projects and nailed those, too.

He was delegating more and growing the competence of his team. He’d become far more open to feedback and had truly become a team player, even navigating the tricky inter-departmental dynamics. This time, the “I’m sorry, we’ve given the position to someone else” call ended with “We’re concerned about your ability to be strategic.” When he probed deeper for specifics, he didn’t get much of an answer.

John’s not alone. I’ve seen some great talent hit a wall with this “competency deficit.”

There’s no doubt that strategic thinking is vital. There’s strong evidence to support that strategic thinking is one of the most important executive competencies.  In a recent HBR article,  Robert Kabacoff shares his research of 60,000 managers in 40 countries.

We found that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors. (This doesn’t mean that tactical behaviors aren’t important, but they don’t differentiate the highly effective leaders from everyone else.)

But it’s a mistake to view strategic thinking like handedness–you’re either born a lefty or a righty, and it’s really tough to change. Managers can learn to be more strategic through understanding, exposure and challenge. Resist the urge to label and box your talent and move on. Instead invest in your highly talente managers and teach them the art of strategy. It’s a win-win. The more people you have thinking strategically, even at the frontlines, the more innovative and dynamic your company will be.

How Help a Manager Become More Strategic

1. Define It

Help them visualize what you’re talking about. An easy to articulate definition comes from the Lominger Institute:

Can think and talk strategy with the best; intrigued and challenged by the complexity of the future; likes to run multiple “what if” scenarios; very broad perspective; counsels others on strategic issues; can juggle a lot of mental balls; isn’t afraid to engage in wild speculations about the future; can bring several unrelated streams of information together to form a compelling vision; good at meaning making; produces distinctive and winning strategies.

And then customize the definition for your industry.

For example, being able to think strategically in the high-tech industry involves a nuanced understanding of strategy topics such as network effects, platforms, and standards. In the utilities sector, it involves mastery of the economic implications of (and room for strategic maneuvers afforded by) the regulatory regime. In mining, leaders must understand the strategic implications of cost curves, game theory, and real-options valuation; further, they must know and be sensitive to the stakeholders in their regulatory and societal environment, many of whom can directly influence their opportunities to create value. Becoming More Strategic:  3 Tips for Any Executives

2. Provide Opportunities For Broad Exposure

It’s frustrating when I hear executives complaining about the lack of strategic thinkers in their organization, and yet they hold all the long-term vision close to the vest. Strategic thinking requires context. Do whatever you can to explain not only the vision and the direction, but why those decisions are being made. A side effect that goes beyond more future leaders: stronger engagement and better decision-making down the line.

One of my favorite developmental activities is “bring a friend staff meetings,” where my direct reports could bring one high-potential manager to the table to experience the thought process. If you’re meetings are strategic, this is a real eye-opener. Oh yeah, and be sure to give the “friends” a few strategic action items for follow-up.

3. Move Them Around

Move your people around, particularly from line to staff and back.  Sure, many high-potential folks hate lateral moves. It feels slow. Share the wisdom of going slow to go fast. Nothing beats building strategic mindset more than looking at the problem from multiple perspectives. Don’t limit it to the hi-po crowd, you may be amazed at what blossoms in a different role.

4. Think Out Loud

It’s easy, and perhaps even tempting, to take all the input, make the decision, look wise, and move on. That doesn’t build strategic thinkers. Slow down enough to explain your thought process as you make decisions. Use each major decision to catalyze strategic confidence and competence.

You can help your managers to be more strategic. Let’s share best practice and tackle this challenge together.

Who’s Influencing Your Leadership?

Pleased to welcome this guest post from Bruce Harpham.

In the world of music, composers and performers are influenced by each other every day. I was recently reminded of this tendency when I enjoyed a performance by pianist Richard Rubin. He showed how Andrew Lloyd Weber, the Broadway composer behind The Phantom of the Opera and other works, liberally borrowed from musical works. In some cases, it is clear who influenced Weber’s work.

Scientists are also heavily influenced by their peers. Ground-breaking scientist Isaac Newton observed, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is a powerful idea for all leaders to consider. However independent minded you are, others influence your leadership approach.

Choose your leadership influences carefully.

The Rule of Five: Understanding Your Influences

If you take pride in your independence, this section may be hard. As a leader, you are constantly influenced by those you lead, fellow executives and others. Influences are inescapable.

In our complex world, it is challenging to imagine all the influences that impact you. The country you live in, your education, your age, and your leisure pursuits are some of the influences that leave lasting traces.

The most important influence on your leadership is the people all around you. Answering the question “Which five people do I spend the most time with?” is the easiest way to understand your influences. Don’t worry if you don’t like the answer! That discontent gives you the fuel to make a change.

Tip: Start small by changing your focus. Use the final section of this article to find one new person to provide positive leadership influence.

Growth Is Not Automatic: Harness Helpful Influences To Grow

John C. Maxwell’s excellent book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth emphasizes the importance of growth. Maxwell points out that growth happens naturally in childhood. In adulthood, growth is not automatic (except around the waistline!)

You may grow occasionally when a new obstacle comes your way. Accidental growth is not reliable. Would you buy a car that only worked “on occasion?” Not if you valued your time. In order to grow your skills to reach new goals, you must grow intentionally.

With the right influences, greater growth will come fast and furious. Mentors, coaches, sponsors and others can bring new perspectives, questions and resources.

With the wrong influences, your leadership will never grow. Even worse, the constant doubts and negativity will undermine whatever leadership qualities you have.

Accessing New Influences

By this point, you’re convinced about the importance of influence. Even more, you understand that the right influence can push you toward your goals. Read on for ideas to cultivate positive influences.

Books (Hint: Go Beyond The Business Section!)

For years, I have accessed new influences, ideas and opportunities through books. I often find myself browsing through the business section at my bookstore. For growing leaders, that is only the beginning. I also strongly encourage you to read widely – consider Ryan Holiday’s recommendations for Moral Biographies for example.

Here are two book suggestions to bring new influences into your leadership thinking.

  • Tribes by Seth Godin

Godin is best known for his expertise in marketing and the Internet. Tribes is Godin’s contribution to leadership. He points out that today’s tool makes it easier to build a tribe of followers behind your ideas. The only barrier is you. Do you have the skills and commitment to lead?

  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

Known to many for his studies in electricity, Franklin has much to teach us. Franklin regularly changed his occupation: from entrepreneur publisher, to diplomat and American statesman. For those interested in personal development, I also encourage you to read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – Franklin’s desire to better himself through self-education, study and moral discipline is well worth studying.

Consulting and Coaching

Once upon a time, accessing consulting was out of reach for most people. That is starting to change. Today, you can hire coaches and consultants for reasonable rates. For less than $500 using a website like Clarity FM, you can obtain helpful, customized recommendations to help you reach your goals.
For the best results, prepare and send out a written agenda for your first meeting. Bring several written questions that you can reference. Now is not the time for an unfocused conversation. For the best results, I recommend bringing a paper notebook (I prefer Moleskine notebooks for their durability and easy-to-handle size) and pen rather than an electronic device.

Follow these seven steps to get the most out of your time working with a coach. I recommend having at least two coaching sessions, with an interval of one to four weeks in between.

  1. Decide on a single goal to pursue, preferably with a clear measure (e.g. “to sell 1,000 copies of my book” or “to land my first executive management role in the financial industry”).
  2. Study your coach’s materials before you contact them. (e.g. visit the person’s website and read multiple articles. If they strike you as promising, I suggest buying and reading one of their books next). Take notes as you study their material. If they cannot clearly communicate their abilities, I suggest you move on.  Tip: Search for coaches and consultants on Google by searching for “keyword coach” or “keyword consultant” (e.g. “project management consultant” or “productivity coach”)
  3. Based on steps 1 and 2, decide whether this coach can help you in your current quest. If yes, continue to the next step. Otherwise, return to step two to review another person.
  4. Prepare for your first meeting with the coach. Complete any forms or questionnaires. Make a list of your goals and questions in writing.
  5. Attend the first meeting with your coach. State your goals clearly and ask for specific homework – vague suggestions such as “work harder” need to be refined and made specific (e.g. improve your ability to give feedback to staff).
  6. Work on your homework from the first session. Make notes on what you achieve and what you want to discuss next time.
  7. Attend the second meeting with your coach. Review your first meeting, homework completed and discuss your next challenge.

Learm more about Bruce here.

Who's Influencing Your Leadership?

Pleased to welcome this guest post from Bruce Harpham.

In the world of music, composers and performers are influenced by each other every day. I was recently reminded of this tendency when I enjoyed a performance by pianist Richard Rubin. He showed how Andrew Lloyd Weber, the Broadway composer behind The Phantom of the Opera and other works, liberally borrowed from musical works. In some cases, it is clear who influenced Weber’s work.

Scientists are also heavily influenced by their peers. Ground-breaking scientist Isaac Newton observed, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is a powerful idea for all leaders to consider. However independent minded you are, others influence your leadership approach.

Choose your leadership influences carefully.

The Rule of Five: Understanding Your Influences

If you take pride in your independence, this section may be hard. As a leader, you are constantly influenced by those you lead, fellow executives and others. Influences are inescapable.

In our complex world, it is challenging to imagine all the influences that impact you. The country you live in, your education, your age, and your leisure pursuits are some of the influences that leave lasting traces.

The most important influence on your leadership is the people all around you. Answering the question “Which five people do I spend the most time with?” is the easiest way to understand your influences. Don’t worry if you don’t like the answer! That discontent gives you the fuel to make a change.

Tip: Start small by changing your focus. Use the final section of this article to find one new person to provide positive leadership influence.

Growth Is Not Automatic: Harness Helpful Influences To Grow

John C. Maxwell’s excellent book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth emphasizes the importance of growth. Maxwell points out that growth happens naturally in childhood. In adulthood, growth is not automatic (except around the waistline!)

You may grow occasionally when a new obstacle comes your way. Accidental growth is not reliable. Would you buy a car that only worked “on occasion?” Not if you valued your time. In order to grow your skills to reach new goals, you must grow intentionally.

With the right influences, greater growth will come fast and furious. Mentors, coaches, sponsors and others can bring new perspectives, questions and resources.

With the wrong influences, your leadership will never grow. Even worse, the constant doubts and negativity will undermine whatever leadership qualities you have.

Accessing New Influences

By this point, you’re convinced about the importance of influence. Even more, you understand that the right influence can push you toward your goals. Read on for ideas to cultivate positive influences.

Books (Hint: Go Beyond The Business Section!)

For years, I have accessed new influences, ideas and opportunities through books. I often find myself browsing through the business section at my bookstore. For growing leaders, that is only the beginning. I also strongly encourage you to read widely – consider Ryan Holiday’s recommendations for Moral Biographies for example.

Here are two book suggestions to bring new influences into your leadership thinking.

  • Tribes by Seth Godin

Godin is best known for his expertise in marketing and the Internet. Tribes is Godin’s contribution to leadership. He points out that today’s tool makes it easier to build a tribe of followers behind your ideas. The only barrier is you. Do you have the skills and commitment to lead?

  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

Known to many for his studies in electricity, Franklin has much to teach us. Franklin regularly changed his occupation: from entrepreneur publisher, to diplomat and American statesman. For those interested in personal development, I also encourage you to read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – Franklin’s desire to better himself through self-education, study and moral discipline is well worth studying.

Consulting and Coaching

Once upon a time, accessing consulting was out of reach for most people. That is starting to change. Today, you can hire coaches and consultants for reasonable rates. For less than $500 using a website like Clarity FM, you can obtain helpful, customized recommendations to help you reach your goals.
For the best results, prepare and send out a written agenda for your first meeting. Bring several written questions that you can reference. Now is not the time for an unfocused conversation. For the best results, I recommend bringing a paper notebook (I prefer Moleskine notebooks for their durability and easy-to-handle size) and pen rather than an electronic device.

Follow these seven steps to get the most out of your time working with a coach. I recommend having at least two coaching sessions, with an interval of one to four weeks in between.

  1. Decide on a single goal to pursue, preferably with a clear measure (e.g. “to sell 1,000 copies of my book” or “to land my first executive management role in the financial industry”).
  2. Study your coach’s materials before you contact them. (e.g. visit the person’s website and read multiple articles. If they strike you as promising, I suggest buying and reading one of their books next). Take notes as you study their material. If they cannot clearly communicate their abilities, I suggest you move on.  Tip: Search for coaches and consultants on Google by searching for “keyword coach” or “keyword consultant” (e.g. “project management consultant” or “productivity coach”)
  3. Based on steps 1 and 2, decide whether this coach can help you in your current quest. If yes, continue to the next step. Otherwise, return to step two to review another person.
  4. Prepare for your first meeting with the coach. Complete any forms or questionnaires. Make a list of your goals and questions in writing.
  5. Attend the first meeting with your coach. State your goals clearly and ask for specific homework – vague suggestions such as “work harder” need to be refined and made specific (e.g. improve your ability to give feedback to staff).
  6. Work on your homework from the first session. Make notes on what you achieve and what you want to discuss next time.
  7. Attend the second meeting with your coach. Review your first meeting, homework completed and discuss your next challenge.

Learm more about Bruce here.

What Everyone is Saying About Intimidation

I’m not often intimidated by questions from my MBA students, but this one was a stumper. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with most of my career.

“Why do so many execs choose to take stances of fear and intimidation?”

Why Do So Many Execs Try to Intimidate Their Followers?

It started with our discussion of Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on how your non-verbals can impact your confidence. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a powerful story. She conducts an experiment where interviewers try to be as intimidating as possible, with a stoic, non-emotional expression. Fresh out of a season of interviews, this behavior struck close to home for many of the extremely bright, promising leaders, which led to discussions of where else such intimidation tactics are used by leaders in business each day. And they asked the ultimate question: “Just why do they do that?”

My theories:

Someone Intimidated Them

Not just one someone, lots of them. Intimidation has become the norm in some cultures. So if they want to be an exec they learn to intimidate too, without considering the impact. I remember being coached shortly after my promotion to the executive ranks that it was time “to smile less.” I frowned at the demand, thanked her for the feedback, went back and smiled at my team, and kept on smiling at the strong results they produced.

Intimidation Gets Short-Term Results

After all, in a fast-paced environment, short-term results are sexy. If you’re in a hurry for results, just follow Ask Men’s “How To,” advice, including “let them fear your eyes, never be nice, and use your Brando voice.” It will work–for a minute.

They’re Scared

Act tough, and scare enough other people–no one will notice your fear.

Intimidation Is So Much Easier Than Leading Well

“Those people” are so hard to engage and motivate. Best just to scare them into doing what you need.

How to Respond to Intimidation

“I tried to go out for theater or theater arts, but I was too scared or too intimidated. But I had a lot of friends on the cross-country team that had great senses of humor.”Dana Carvey

This part is easy. Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Rise above the game. Be better than their silly intimidation tactics.

And most important: REMEMBER HOW IT FEELS.

I’m not sure why being intimidating results in amnesia. Intimidation sucks. Remember that feeling. Don’t pass it down the line.

How did you feel early in your career? What’s your stance now? How do we prevent the intimidation contagion from spreading?

How to Get Bigger Results from Small Talk

The truth is I HATE small, small talk. But you can’t get to big talk with strangers without some form of this connection cocktail.

Strangers don’t grow into acquaintances, acquaintances don’t grow into connections, connections don’t grow into friends–without a bit of early light banter. I’m not advocating for talk that remains small. Nothing makes me more crazy than when a relationship gets stuck in the “talk about the weather” phase. Consider small talk as a light knock on the door of bigger possibilities.

Why Small Talk Stays Small

Urban Dictionary shares the following definitions of “small talk.”

“Useless and unnecessary conversation attempted to fill the silence in an awkward situation. Commonly backfires into feelings of loneliness and social discomfort.”

“When you come across that person you haven’t seen in a while, but you really have no close connection with them anyways. But you know… you don’t want to be rude and just walk right past them… so then it turns to a complete BSing session between you and this acquaintance.”

“The act of supplying a person with irrelevant information about oneself in an attempt to appear friendly and normal to a person one is meeting for the first time. This practice is particularly important to extroverts (people who take pleasure in spewing random bits of their life stories at anybody who will listen…)”

A Bigger Approach to Small Talk

In their book We Dare You: How Handshakes Can Change the World, Mattson, Williams, and Orendi share three practical categories for starting more meaningful conversations.

Conversation Starters

  • How’s your day been so far?
  • Do you understand this stuff?
  • What’s the deal with that?
  • Would it be okay if I complimented you on something?
  • Could I get your opinion?

Fun Zone Questions

  • What celebrity do you most want to punch in the face?
  • What did you get in trouble for when you were a kid?
  • What was your favorite musical group when you were in middle school?
  • What was your worst date like? (oh boy, do I have a fun answer for this one 😉
  • What was your first job? Worst job?

Deep Zone Questions (to be used a bit further down the connection line)

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, What, you too? I thought I was the only one.” -C.S. Lewis

  • What is the most vivid memory from your childhood?
  • If you had to verbalize a slogan for your life what would that be?
  • What is your crowning achievement at this point in your life?
  • What’s the nicest thing someone ever said to you?
  • What are you really about?

When we take a bigger approach to small talk, we open important pathways to future connection. I challenge you to go bigger with your small talk this week, and let us know how it goes.

3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Program Isn’t Working

In conference rooms all over the world, well-meaning HR types are sitting down with well-meaning managers and possibly a well-meaning consultant or two to talk about how to fix employee engagement.

  • “How do we get these millennials to be deeply committed to their work?”
  • “The staff is so tenured, it’s hard to get them excited about something new. We need something fun to make it fresh again.”
  • “The changes are hard, and everyone’s tired. We need to have a program that will give every one a shot in the arm.”
  • “We’re all working so hard, we’ve just got to find a way to make the work more fun.”

And before you know it, they’ve talked themselves into a well-intentioned program. They come up with a cute program name, glossy posters, and a roll-out strategy.

Cue the HR VP or perhaps the Sales Director who reminds everyone,  “We’ve got to be sure they understand this is NOT the flavor of the month. THIS program is different, this is real culture change.” All heads nod. They’ve all seen programs like this come and go. Everyone truly hopes this one will be different. Trust me, if you have to tell your team it’s not the flavor of the month, it is.

Programs don’t motivate people.

People don’t motivate people.

People are inspired in conditions where they can best motivate themselves.

Reasons Employee Engagement Programs Don’t Work

1. They Come from Outside the Team

Many such programs have the sense of being imposed on the team from HR or headquarters. They’re necessarily generic so they fit across departments. They need to be “communicated” and possibly “trained” as part of a “roll-out.” All of which makes the frontline leaders and teams feel like something is being done TO them more than FOR them or even better WITH them.

Tip 1: Employees know best what their teams need to feel more connected to, and inspired by, their mission and their work. Use the budget instead to give people the latitude to create something that will fit for their team and their work at hand.

2.They Create More Work for the Frontline Leader

Many such programs involve meetings, action plans, tracking spreadsheets, and other additional work for the Frontline Leader. Without proper support and perspective, this all just feels like more work taking the leader away from their biggest priority, supporting the team.

Tip 2: Ensure any programs and tools are directly tied into the core mission and goals of the team. You can’t inspire engagement as an overlay.

3. They Don’t Address the Root Cause

The number one predictor of job satisfaction is the relationship with the manager. Another key factor is the extent to which employees see real meaning in the work that they do and feel connected to a bigger vision. It’s difficult to box that into a step-by-step guide.

Tip 3:  For a more engaged workforce, invest deeply in the leadership skills of your frontline leaders. Give them tools that they can use to create deeper connection with the team and the work that they do. Help them to be better communicators.

A strong front-line team will do more for employee engagement than any program or broad-reaching employee engagement strategy.