3 Character Traits That Make You a Better Leader

A guest post from Greg Marcus.

Being a better person is easy in theory – do less of the negative stuff, and more of the positive stuff. The same holds true for leadership. The problem comes in when we either don’t know what we should do, or we do know but can’t help ourselves and do the negative anyway. When I was in the corporate world, I was very good at my job, and very, very arrogant. It held me back in a very, very, very, big way. I so wish I had practiced Mussar back then.

Mussar is a 1000-year-old Jewish mindfulness practice that teaches us how to find those things inside that cause us to get stuck making the same mistakes again and again. And, Mussar offers a step-by-step way to bring those things towards balance and healing. On a personal level, Mussar is a daily practice that helps one become a Mensch, a person of outstanding character. On a professional level, Mussar can be the key to unlocking your full leadership potential.

Mussar offers a different perspective than many other wisdom practices, in that having too much of the trait is just as bad as having not enough. The way we change is to first identify where we are on the spectrum from too much to too little for a given trait, and then to take action to bring ourselves towards balance.

3 Character Traits That Make You a Better Leader

Here are three character traits that we should balance in order to be a great leader.

Humility  -Mussar humility is not the classic definition of humility that we have grown up with – it is much closer to Karin’s definition of Confident Humility. Humility is the proper balance between being arrogant and a doormat. Or put another way, it is learning to occupy the proper amount of space in the world. Leadership often requires that we occupy a lot of space. We have to make hard decisions and follow through on them. A leader must be willing to put it out there, and make the difficult call. At the same time, many leaders occupy too much space, and micromanage those around them. One simple way to change is to monitor how much you speak in meetings. If you are the type of person who speaks early and often, try remaining quiet and letting someone else ask the first question. If you are the kind of person who stays quiet, try asking a question earlier in the meeting. Or if you are really nervous about speaking out, ask your question 1:1 after the meeting.

Patience – too little patience makes us angry, frustrated, and hard to work for. I once worked for a failing company that had a re-org every six months. The re-orgs started before we were failing. They helped torpedo the ship because just as we were starting to get somewhere, the direction changed. This wasn’t just bad strategy or leadership – it was an outgrowth of a character flaw. The same leaders who could not stick with a strategic plan were impatient in everyday life. They had knee jerk overreactions to small situations.

By working to cultivate patience, they would have been better leaders. I have a student who was a cut-you off, curse at everyone driver. To balance her patience, she started letting every car merge in front of her. She was transformed into the calmest, happiest commuter in California. And that fortitude, the ability to bear the burden of the unpleasant traffic situation, helped her be a better marketing VP at work as well.

We should remember that too much patience can lead us to stay in a bad job, or to allow a failing project to continue for too long.

Order – it may surprise you to see order as a character trait. But if you think about it, there is a spectrum of people who may be totally disorganized on the one hand, with a chaotic desk and inability to complete projects on time, to the obsessively controlling micro-manager on the other. Both extremes are bad for business.

To balance order, pick one small change towards the middle. For example, if you are a procrastinator, try starting your day with just 20 minutes of focused work on an important deliverable due in the future. If you have too much order, you will find yourself excessively planning, trying to account for and control every contingency. You can practice letting go by setting a strict limit on the amount of time you prepare, and then trust yourself to be able to handle things as they come up. Or, you might want to try an unscripted check in with a colleague. Focus on listening, and see what you can learn when you don’t control the agenda.

In a Mussar practice, we focus on one of these traits for two weeks at a time. By repeatedly making small changes in how we show up on the world, we actually rewire our soul/nervous system, and begin to change long-standing habits that we may not have been aware of.

SpirOrder, humility and patience are three of thirteen soul traits covered in my latest book The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions: Finding Balance Through the Soul Traits of Mussar. If you’d like to see where you sit on the spectrum for humility, patience, order and the other ten traits, you are heartily invited to take this quick quiz on AmericanMussar.com.

Does Your Customer Feel Like a Commodity?

Once your product becomes a commodity, you’re hosed. Even your once loyal customers start looking around for where they can get your offering cheaper, faster, or with less hassle. Most companies get this and take deliberate steps to differentiate their products.

Sadly, as companies work to scale, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that they begin to de-personalize the customer experience in the name of efficiency. 

The Biggest Reasons Your Customer Feels Like a Commodity

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. If you’re not sure if you wandering into dangerous territory, watch for these symptoms of commodity-feeling behaviors.

You’re Force Feeding Processes for Your Convenience

Have you ever said, “We just have to train our customers to do it this way. They’ll get used to it?”

If how you’re “training” them is really in their best interest, they might see the value in changing the way you work together. But if your new process is clearly all about your own efficiency or to make things easier internally, customers will wonder why they’re the ones who have to do things your way.

I see this all the time when start-ups work to scale. They begin informing their loyal customers who’ve been with them from the start the new rules of the game. It’s quite possible they took a chance on you from the beginning, because you were creative, flexible, and involved them in the process. If they start to smell bureaucracy and overhead, they’re likely to start looking around to regain that “I’m special” feeling.

I’ve left several of the suppliers I used early in building my business for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone.

You’re Reading From a Script

If you can’t trust your employees to have a real conversation, then you’re hiring the wrong people or not training them well. Nothing says “You’re just not that important to us” more than a script.

They Know More About Your Product or Policies than the Person Who Answers Your Phone

By the time a customer picks up the phone, they’re looking for an expert. Be sure the person they reach is both confident and competent.

You Under-Appreciate Their Tenure

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employees quibbling over five bucks with a customer who has spent thousands over their tenure because some “policy” told them to.

You Make an Exception, But Offer a Lecture

I was at the hairdresser the other day when a woman came in to buy some shampoo with an expired gift certificate. The owner cited that their policy was quite clear to the person who had bought it. When the customer asked if there was anything that could be done, she cited the policy twice more and then gave in. After the owner honored it, she then gave the customer a lecture about expiration dates and how it’s really just better to give people Visa gift cards.

That customer bolted for the door as soon as she had her shampoo in hand. The owner lost twice. She was out the cost of the bottle of shampoo, and she had a detractor poised to tell the world about how she was made to feel.

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. Be sure you keep people feeling special as your business grows. 

Winning Well Bootcamp

Fun at work

Frontline Festival: Leaders Share about Having Fun

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is all about having fun.  Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about giving thanks.  Submit your ideas here!

Chip Bell of the Chip Bell Group finds fun in his surroundings such as a happy office with great music, quirky artifacts, awesome pictures, a gazillion books, and a cat that sleeps on the copier nearby.  The panoramic view of the lake 75 feet away also helps! Follow Chip

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited treats herself each week by making sure her weekend starts no later than 1:00pm on Fridays (her commitment to a regular bowling league also helps). She offers this fun puzzle game for teams who work at an office together.  Follow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership observes that when people say that work is “fun” they usually don’t mean it’s a party or a game. They’re talking about grown-up fun. Follow Wally.

Even though you are growing up, you should never stop having fun.
~ Nina Dobrev

Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC  advises that in today’s stressful work environment, fun must be baked into our workflow to offer comic relief. Leaders must encourage humor and positive expression to slice through the thick veil of cynicism and stress. Follow Michelle.

David Dye of Trailblaze advises we start by finding the fun in the everyday. Build from there – as a team leader, I scheduled regular (and sometimes surprise) opportunities for people to let their hair down and have fun. We would go bowling, I would personally cook everyone a holiday breakfast, or I’d put together fun team-focused city-wide scavenger hunts. (Note: do these things when people are being paid – it usually doesn’t work to ask them to leave their family to have ‘fun’).  Follow David.

Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture shares, “As a solopreneur, I can easily find myself writing, consulting with clients, etc. eight hours a day (or ten)! I’ve learned to schedule time for exercise (walking at 8400 feet is a treat – even in 2′ of snow), trap shooting down the hill in Denver (my daughter still beats me), regular lunches with my #DenverTweeps colleagues, and learning new music for upcoming Brian Raine band gigs @BrianRaineBand). Diversity of experiences is a must! Follow Chris.

Life is too important to be taken seriously.
~ Oscar Wilde

Lisa Kohn from Thoughtful Leaders Blog reminds us that in order to help your team, or family or anyone, have fun, you have to make fun a priority. You have to look for reasons to smile and to laugh, to maybe have a few toys or games hanging around for moments of levity, and to schedule “light time” and breaks especially in times of the most intensity and stress. Follow Lisa.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader, says that being able to cook and serve his teams has been a huge blessing to them and to him. Nothing says thank you more than taking the time to make a breakfast or lunch out of a busy schedule for the team. They truly appreciate it and it always puts a smile on his face too!  Follow Paul.

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer muses, To rise and leave a desk. To walk outside and down to the bluff overlooking the beach. To play with a dog. To feed the birds. Nature nurtures. Follow Eileen

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates gives thought to what to do when our brain wilts. Learning to recognize the signs and counteract with refreshing space for yourself (and your team) is important.  Follow Shelley

 
Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.
~ Dr. Seuss

Next month’s question: What are three things you are thankful for when it comes to your business? Submit your ideas here!

Quote source: Brainyquote

 

 

7 Things Your High-Performing Employees Long To Hear You Say

These are all real statements I’ve heard in the last few weeks:

“Oh we don’t worry about observing our high-performing call center reps. We just focus on the ones who are struggling.”

“John doesn’t really need a training and development plan like everyone else, he’s got his job nailed.”

“Well, he’s a bit a rough around the edges, but we don’t say anything. He’s so good at his job, we’re afraid to tick him off.”

“Oh Sally’s good. She loves what she does. Thank God for her. She just likes to be left alone to do her thing.”

I get it. Your high-performing employees never seem like the MIT. (Most Important Thing). They’ve got it. You can count on them. They don’t appear to want your help. They don’t complain. You’ve got other fish to fry.

But the truth is, when I meet with such high-performers and ask what they need, here’s what they tell me they long for from their boss.

What Your High Performing Employees Long to Hear You Say

  1. Wow! Thank you.
    “Wow” is a highly under-used word in corporate America. It’s okay to be impressed. No one’s going to slack off because you were wowed.  A big “Wow” followed by a genuine and heartfelt “Thank You” from someone a high-performer respects will trump almost any token of appreciation you can offer.
  2. I know what you’re doing isn’t easy. I’d love to hear more.
    No matter how easy they make it look, it’s not. Your high-performing employees are dealing with all kinds of crap that they’re not bothering you with (and may even think you don’t understand). They would love to tell you some stories. And the stories are worth hearing. Pull up a chair and listen.
  3. Can you show me how you did that?
    Think about the last time you figured something out that you were wildly proud of. What did you long for most? For me, I know it’s someone to share it with. Ask for details and if you’re amazed, show that. Side benefit: this is a remarkable way to uncover best practices. Some of the biggest turnarounds I’ve been a part of began by asking a few high-performers what they were up to.
  4. What could we be doing to better serve our customers?
    They know. If you truly care about the customer experience ask this question, listen and do what you can to take action on the response. 
  5. What’s getting in your way?
    Just because they’re low maintenance, doesn’t mean they don’t have a list. Every time I’ve asked this question I’ve been surprised about some of the easy asks. No, you can’t fix everything. But if you can fix a few small things getting in the way of your highest performers, can you imagine the ROI?
  6. What do you want to do next?
    High-performers want to know you care about them as much (or more than) the work. Make that clear.
  7. I want to help you do even better.
    Challenge them. Help them grow. Even when they think they’re done… ask deeper questions. True high-performers almost always want to achieve more. Inspire them to get past the tired.

Not every high-performer is looking to be promoted. And that’s fine. You need rock stars in every role. But every high-performer is human and longs for appreciation, connection, and wants to be heard. It’s so easy to direct our attention to the folks who need our help the most. Be sure to pay attention to your top 20% as well.

The Performance Potential Matrix Demystified: 5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

You know your boss is headed into the talent review meeting. You’ve updated your resume, had the heart-to-heart, and said your prayers. And then… the response, “It went fine… just keep up the good work… oh, and be patient.”

If that’s ever happened to you, it’s probably because of a “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type oath amongst the execs having the conversation. And rightfully so, the most important part of any talent review conversation is candor. And no exec wants to tick off a hi-po by being the naysayer–even when it’s true. Because, you never know who you will work for next. 

But as the holder of the marker, leading hundreds of succession planning conversations inside Verizon  and with many clients since then… I’ll tell you right now, yes– candor is key– and so is feedback.

I will also share that every single time someone in my organization asked where they fell on the grid I told them, and why. Not who said what, of course. But the only fighting chance someone has to get better is to know how they’re being perceived. Candor is rare. And valuable.

5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

When I lead these discussions, I don’t accept “There’s just something about her style.” Or “He’s just not that strategic.” Such generalities are BS. And so we drill further. When we get to the real issue, there are 5 issues that come up again and again. So if you’re not where you want to be on the grid, or you’ve been sitting in a square… “ready now” but getting passed over again and again, consider if you fall into any of these behavioral traps.

  1. Your Performance is Sketchy
    The performance part of the talent review is pretty clear-cut. If you’re not knocking it out of the park, no matter how brilliant or talented you are… results matter. If you’ve taken over a bad scene that’s not your fault, even better… fix it.That will be great fodder for the next performance-potential discussion.
  2. You’re Always Talking About Your Career
    If you have 37 mentors, and are seeking advice from everyone with a title who will listen… chill out. In my keynotes, I call that woman “Carol Career Path,” who’s more focused on the job she wants, than the job she has. “Carol” always gets laughter and many “I know this woman (or man)” nods. Carol is everywhere. Don’t be Carol.
  3. You’re the Loudest One in the Room
    Either literally or metaphorically. Either way it drives folks crazy. Meetings take twice as long when you’re in town. If you find that you’re doing most of the talking, instead of wondering why everyone else is so quiet, try changing half of your sentences to questions, and then be quiet. Really listen. High-potential leaders get others talking. 
  4. You’re Overly Competitive
    This one’s tricky, particularly in a stack-ranked world. And, I’m quite sure it kept me out of box 9 early in my career. It took me a minute to understand that peers are your lifeline. Yes, your team’s performance matters. Yes, yes, you’re more likely to get into box 9 if you’re sitting at the top of the stack rank. But keep the bigger picture in mind. The company needs EVERYONE knocking it out of the park. High potential leaders look around and see who else they can help get the results they neeed.
  5. You’re Rude
    Yes, rude. It comes up in nearly every discussion. Some rock star thinks they’re above the need to treat people with dignity and respect. To say “good morning” and “please” and “thank you.” If there’s any chance you’re treating your boss with more manners than you are your assistant, you may need some more work in this arena.

ww-winning-well-sidebar-impact-live-dec2016-370x370taglineYou’re working too hard and care too much to sabotage your career with these behaviors. If you’re not where you want to be in your career, I encourage you to ask those you trust for candid feedback about what might be getting in the way. 

Join Us For a Live Winning Well Event

If you’re looking for to get your team off to a fast start to 2017, I’m pleased to announce our public Winning Well Impact Live event. Click on the image to the left to learn more.

You may also enjoy this article we wrote in Fast Company: 10 Common Excuses that Silently Damage Managers’ Careers

 

Teachable Moments: Learning to Win Well the Hard Way

When I told “John” what I did for a living, he chuckled. “Oh, I learned how to be a good leader the hard way.” 

Don’t we all. 

It’s often our most klutsy moves that teach us how to Win Well.

John’s Story

Here is “John’s” story. I hope you’ll share yours with our LGL community in the comments below.

I was the VP of well-known hotel chain. We’d been preparing for a month for Bob, our COO’s,  annual visit to our region.  This was our moment to shine. 

I’d staffed that day with our top-notch managers who were all on point to be sure every guest was getting white glove treatment. I’d personally done the rounds to ensure we were prepared. I checked everything from the lightbulbs to the kitchen inventory.  I even had the staff practicing their elevator pitches for any skip level meetings, to ensure they could discuss their results in just the right way.

 I’d left nothing to chance. Or so I thought.

The day of the visit, he asked to walk around unescorted. I wasn’t worried, my staff was ready to show him all our best practices.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he pulled out his Moleskin on the way back to the airport with a long list of problems he’d uncovered. The brakes were squeaking in one of the shuttle vans.  One hotel was consistently running out of shampoo. One manager was having terrible trouble recruiting maid staff. The list went on and on.

Embarrassed, I looked at Bob and asked how he’d possibly uncovered so many issues in such a short period of time.

Bob said matter of factly, “I just asked every employee I met if there was anything they needed to create a better customer experience.  And they told me. Simple as that.”

“When’s the last time YOU asked?”

That was a critical turning point in my leadership journey. 

I’d been so busy working to tell people what needed to be done, I’d completely overlooked the obvious point. They were the ones with the answers. I needed to ask, not tell.

I’ve found that’s the answer to almost every real management challenge. Ask more questions. Listen. And respond.