5 Top Leadership Articles Week of Sept 11, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 11, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

How to Be Tough When You Prefer Being Kind by Dan Rockwell

Stress increases when leaders can’t bring kind and tough together.

Kind without tough makes you a pushover.

Tough without kind makes you a jerk.

My Comment: Stress increases, yes – and both results and relationships suffer when you don’t combine kind and tough. Without a disciplined focus on results, people lose focus, infighting increases, and your top performers go somewhere where their performance is appreciated. Without healthy relationships, trust suffers, people burnout, they do the least they can to get by, and inefficiency prevails because people don’t come together to solve mutual problems.

Leaders who combine their focus on achieving breakthrough results with a focus on healthy professional relationships with the people they lead give themselves the best chance to achieve transformational results that last.

Employee Engagement: What Story Does the Data Tell Leadership? By Martie Moore

The first time I used the words “resilience” and “engagement” was with my leadership team at the time. I asked, “What can we do to advance engagement and help people to be more resilient?”

Suddenly, everyone around the table had important emails to read on their phone. In essence, this immediate phone reading signaled an uncomfortable discussion — and their avoidance level.

My Comment: While this article was written for leaders in the long-term care industry, the issues it identifies are typical of the reality faced by leaders across industries: constant connectivity, acute margin pressures, increased pace of change, and uncertain futures are challenges you can probably relate to. This article is the beginning of a series that will look at experience, science, and practical action can take for themselves and the people they serve. It looks promising.

Leading in large organizations is tough. It’s easy for people to lose their identity and humanity as decisions are made by spreadsheet. And yet, almost paradoxically, more humanity, more focus on relationships and results, improves that bottom line. It takes courage along with the specific management and leadership skills we share in Winning Well to meet this challenge and succeed.

A Leader’s Job Is Never Done by Jane Perdue

Given that our state was in the path of totality for the August 2017 solar eclipse, people in our neighborhood gathered to watch. The closer we were to the time of totality, the larger the crowd became.

Within five minutes of the awe-inspiring ninety seconds of darkness and coolness, the crowd had largely dispersed.

The lost interest and crowd thinning-out triggered thoughts in my mind of how we tend to think about many things, including leadership, mostly in terms of their headline-making moments.

My Comment: When I was young, a mentor would often share his perspective that you can’t be a hero in the big moments if you’re not a hero in the small ones. Perdue takes a look at many of the ways that leaders build their credibility, influence, and trust in some of the more mundane, less headline-worthy, common moments that you face throughout your day, week, and career. You’re constantly becoming who you will be tomorrow. With each of these moments, you choose who that will be.

How Can You Make Yourself Invincible at Work? by Wendy Marx

Quick question: How valuable are you at work? Hint: It has little to do with your place on an organizational chart.

The new truth is that grabbing a high rung in an organization’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re indispensable.

What clinches your value at work is what’s known as informal power — the ability to influence people and overcome resistance where you lack authority. It means being able to get someone to do your bidding where you have no formal authority.

Today you can’t lead simply by virtue of your title.

My Comment: While I’m not a fan of the notion of “getting someone to do your bidding” (it smacks of manipulation and a USER approach to leadership) Marx is right on with regard the role of influence. I won’t promote someone to a formal leadership position until they’ve demonstrated that they can get things done without that formal power. Power gives you the ability to deliver an “or else,” but that only gets a person’s minimum effort. Effective leaders cultivate an environment that releases a person’s strengths, talents, and skills toward the mission and the work.

Marx provides a good exercise you can use to assess how much value you are adding to the people around you and how you can address it if it’s out of balance.

Optimized or Maximized? By Seth Godin

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn’t optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It’s the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout.

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…

That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

My Comment: I loved this article. It gets at the heart of why so many managers can turn into jerks, even if they’re not naturally inclined that way. We call it “trickle down intimidation.” In the interest of short term “maximization,” leaders who lack any other tools turn to fear, power, and control to get things done. And it works, at least minimally. As I said in my comments on the second article this week: it takes courage and leadership skills to choose a different path. To, as Godin says, optimize your leadership, your team, and your company for the long run rather than fleeting and costly short-term gain. It takes courage and practice, but you can do it.

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite?

7 Ways to Lead Friends and Former Peers

Betrayed

Joe stomped into the meeting room, slammed the door shut, and yelled at me, “How could you let this happen?”

He had just been fired by the company president.

I snapped back, “Me?? I’m not the one who didn’t show up and let the team down over and over again!”

He was angry, but I was frustrated and felt betrayed too. I’d put my credibility on the line to help him, but in the end he’d gotten himself fired.

What made it worse: for the last year, we’d been friends.

That all changed when I was given responsibility to lead the team.

Problems When Leading Friends and Former Peers

When we ask a group of new leaders about their biggest problems, this is always one of the most common.

It’s one of the most difficult challenges for most emerging leaders. We’ve even watched experienced leaders stumble when asked to address or lead a team of their peers.

In fact, it’s a Shakespearian dilemma: Prince Hal faces this challenge when he ascends to the throne and becomes King Henry V. His old drinking pals feel ignored and betrayed.

There were several problems that kept me from being an effective leader for my friend. You will likely encounter the same problems as you lead friends and former peers:

1) You want to be liked and accepted

Positional leadership, even when you are an outstanding Winning Well leader, means taking responsibility for decisions that not every agrees with. It means holding people accountable and it means that the group who you naturally want to like and accept you won’t always feel that way.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting other people to think well of you and have a desire to belong – it’s a very normal, human, and healthy value so long as it doesn’t consume you.

However, when you choose to lead, it will come into conflict with other values.

2) Your loyalty to the team and the mission

This is one of those “ANDs” that is so important – your friends may feel you’ve abandoned them, but you haven’t. You’ve added an important loyalty: to the organization, your team, and the mission.

Learning to balance both takes some work, but to your friends who don’t understand this tension, it can feel like betrayal.

3) Inconsistent behavior

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, Prince Hal partied with the best of them – he drank with the renown lush, Falstaff, and nothing about his behavior said “leader.” Then he took the throne and treated his friends as if they were beneath his notice. He ignored them, tried to act “noble,” insulted them.How to lead friends and former peers - prince Hal

The problem was inconsistent behavior. The Prince wasn’t a leader when he hung out with friends. Once he became King and tried to act kingly, his friends were understandably hurt.

4) Unclear expectations

Conflicting and unclear expectations are the most common problem when leading friends and former peers. When you move from a peer role to a positional leadership role, some of your team may expect to get a “pass” on poor behavior, others may expect favors or special treatment, and YOU may be expecting your friends to work especially hard because of your friendship.

All of this leads to massive disappointment when you do hold team members accountable, you won’t do favors that would hurt the team, and your friends don’t show any special effort.

5) Not everyone can handle it

Some people are able to manage the tension between friendship and supervisor. In my experience, however, it is the exception, not the rule.

It takes a great deal of maturity for both people to be able do this.

Seven Ways to Lead Peers and Former Friends

My experience didn’t have to end the way it did. Early in my career, I didn’t know about the problem I’ve just described. The good news is that a few Winning Well leadership practices can help you manage the transition from peer to positional leader:

  1. Lead from where you are, before you’re promoted.

Leading from where you are, without a formal title, will often lead to you being asked to fill titled leadership positions.

It also helps to ease the transition. If your peers all know you as someone who:

  • Sets an example
  • Practices healthy friendship (where you hold one another accountable)
  • Empowers others, and
  • Already balances the mission with your role on the team,

then you won’t surprise them with radically different behavior when you change positions.

However, as a team member, if you are constantly critical of other people and your supervisor, it will be difficult for you to lead when you have a formal leadership role.

  1. Be clear about expectations.

This is the essential step in the transition to leading friends and former peers: have a “no diaper drama” conversation about the transition and your mutual expectations. In this conversation discuss these topics:

  • Your commitments to your team and to the organization.
  • Your management expectations.
  • Your leadership values.
  • Organizational mandates.
  • Ask your peers to be honest about their concerns or expectations of you.
  • Discern if there are where they feel you are being unjust.
  • Be realistic about the times you will have to make decisions that are in the team’s best interest even if it conflicts with what you personally would like.

You want to prevent surprises. Your team needs to know where you are coming from. Don’t let it be a ‘gotcha!’ moment later on.

(Use the Winning Well Expectations Matrix in the free Winning Well Toolkit to help you have these conversations about expectations.)

  1. Clearly identify which role you’re playing.

This is difficult for some people because it takes a greater level of maturity in your thinking and relationships, but is very helpful for avoiding misunderstandings.

When you’re talking with a friend or former peer, clearly identify the role you’re in. Are you speaking as a friend or as their team leader?

For example: “As a friend, I am so sorry. That stinks! How can I help?”

“As the team leader, I can give you tomorrow to take care of your problem and then we will need you back.”

  1. Be clear, not perfect.

Be very clear about expectations, goals, and desired behaviors. You will never be perfect; so don’t try to act as if you are.

Your friends and former peers all know the ‘real’ you, so don’t suddenly try to act as if you’re perfect in ways they know you’re not. It’s fake and your leadership credibility will suffer.

It’s okay to be you. Take responsibility, be as clear as you can, and then:

  1. Apologize as needed.

Leaders often struggle to apologize, but it’s even more pronounced when a former team member is leading the team. Don’t let your insecurity and desire to be liked keep you from owning your junk, apologizing, and moving on.

  1. Weed as needed.

There are times when it just won’t work. For example:

A former peer continued to take advantage of our relationship and, despite my best efforts to clarify expectations and help him correct the behavior, nothing changed.

I had to be clear about the situation: “I want the best for you and I know this is difficult, but if nothing changes this will affect your employment.” He eventually took advantage of a second friend and supervisor and was fired.

You can’t control another person. Your job is to be the best leader you can be and give everyone on the team every opportunity to succeed. When someone isn’t interested in their own success, care enough to move them off your team.

  1. Get a new peer group.

Build relationships with other leaders, find mentors, and get coaching. There is nothing like a group of people who understand the challenges you experience and can share meaningful wisdom.

You can’t get this from your team. Over time, I built my own personal Board of Directors–people outside the company who I could learn from, confide in, and be accountable to.

Your Turn

Leading a team of your friends and former peers can be hugely rewarding, but it’s your responsibility as a leader to set clear expectations and act fairly. Even experienced leaders can benefit from reviewing their relationships to make sure they are healthy.

Leave us a comment and let us know:

How do you maintain healthy relationships with your direct reports or your own leaders?

What other suggestions do you have to help lead friends and former peers?


Creative Commons Photo Credits:

Colors of Fall by regan76 and Birds by barloventomagico

5 Top Leadership Articles 09-04-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 4, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

On Being a Bad Manager by Jason Fried at Signal v Noise

A fellow I admire just asked me why it’s so easy to be a bad manager. G**damn, that’s a fantastic question. I made some bonehead moves myself yesterday, so I’m in the perfect position to answer this one.

Because I didn’t want to overthink my answer, I told him I’d write something up this afternoon and send him a link.

Here goes, stream of consciousness, unedited, and quick…

My Comment: This question has haunted me for many years. My version goes something like this: “We’ve been working together and leading one another for thousands of years. Why is there still so much bad management?”

Fried answers this succinctly: “We’re bad at most things by default.”

In other words: you have to learn how to lead effectively. Winning Well doesn’t just happen. If you want to be a great manager and effective leader, you’ve got to master specific skills. And yet…half or more of managers are placed in those roles, but receive no training in how to lead. No wonder it’s easy to be bad.

Fried digs a little deeper as well, noting that it takes time and practice to get good at something, but most managers don’t even start practicing until they’re actually in the role. (Imagine a pro athlete starting to practice their game once they’ve been put on the playing field.) We fall prey to common assumptions about people that just aren’t true and we often focus on doing the wrong things because they’re known and comfortable.

Note: this is a raw stream-of-conscious article and includes profanity.

Irresistible Is Rarely Easy or Rational by Seth Godin

There’s often a line out the door.

It’s not surprising. The ice cream is really good, the portions are enormous, and a waffle cone costs less than three Canadian dollars. And it’s served with a smile, almost a grin.

It’s irresistible.

Of course, once you finish the cone, you’ll stroll around, hang out by the water and maybe start to make plans about where to spend a week on next year’s vacation.

The Opinicon, a lovely little resort near Ottawa, could charge a lot more for an ice cream cone. A team of MBAs doing a market analysis and a P&L would probably pin the value at about $8. That’s where the ROI would be at its peak.

But they’re not in the business of selling ice cream cones. The ice cream cones are a symbol, a beacon, a chance to engage…

My Comment: Recently we worked with a team of leaders who do sophisticated analysis and planning. They had an incredible amount of data in their spreadsheets – but they didn’t have all the data. They were missing some of the intangibles, the effect on people, and how the numbers would be received and translated. Most of all, they hadn’t taken into account the critical factor Godin gets at in this article: desire. Why will people want what you offer?

I love a good spreadsheet and to keep things organized, but as Godin says: “If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you might end up with a rational plan, but the rational plan isn’t what creates energy or magic or memories.”

How can you make your team’s work irresistible?

Think Positively of Others by John Baldoni at SmartBrief

What’s the secret to a long-term relationship?

“Overlooking the negative and focusing on the positive,” says Helen Fisher, a best-selling author on relationships and a fellow at the Kinsey Institute.

Speaking on “The Diane Rehm Show,” Fisher says that brain scans of couples averaging 20 years revealed the parts of the brain that were active were those linked to empathy, self-control, and an ability to overlook negative, that is, “positive illusions.”

Maintaining “positive illusions” is an outlook that leaders can employ…

My Comment: In our leadership workshops I often share the principles that “you always make sense to you” and that “you are not the center of anyone else’s universe but yours.” When you keep these concepts in mind as you work with your people, it helps you maintain perspective and not get as easily upset when people don’t behave the way you would have expected.

Baldoni’s invitation to focus on the positive intentions can be extended to the assets that each employee brings to your team. Unless it’s negatively impacting the work or the team, don’t worry about the areas where they’re not as strong. Focus on what makes them excellent and on their contribution to the work and team. You’ll find what you look for – and, quite often, your expectations, perceptions, and positive outlook become reality.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore destructive or irresponsible behaviors. When those threaten an individual or team’s performance, you absolutely need to ditch the diaper drama and have the conversation.

What are the Best Employee Perks? 4 Questions to Ask First by Annamarie Mann at Gallup

Earlier this year, online craft marketplace Etsy came under public scrutiny after new investors balked at the long list of lavish perks offered at its Brooklyn headquarters.

Along with a community loom and crafting classes, the company had also renovated its office for $40 million, which included adding irrigated walls to grow plants, according to Quartz. Though these perks reinforce the cultural values of the organization, investors questioned if they distracted workers from achieving overall business success and outcomes….

But as companies begin to consider how they try to win over employees, it’s critical that they avoid racing after trends that may initially attract workers, but will ultimately fail to retain them. After all, these perks may be alluring at first, but companies need to make sure they’re not overlooking the fundamental benefits and perks for which most job seekers are actually looking.

My Comment: I once worked at a company that put in a gym with much fanfare. It sat unused, however, because the president thought anyone who tried to workout, even during their breaks or lunch could have been more productive.

When it comes to employee perks, I use the metaphor of frosting a cake. If you haven’t baked a good cake, you can’t decorate it. If you try to slap some frosting (perks) on a half-baked cake (poor employee experience), you end up with a mess.

Too many leaders try to solve morale problems with perks. People are never upset because there isn’t a ping pong table or weight set at work. They’re upset because of core issues: perhaps a systemic injustice, they’re no appreciated, or irrational competing priorities make success impossible. When you have these issues causing problems, don’t introduce perks – they’re insulting. Fix the issues.

Once you have a healthy core, then use the questions in Mann’s article to help you identify which perks make the most sense for your organization.

The Wrong Side of Right by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street

One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome.

People who are working to prove themselves right will work hard finding evidence for why they’re right. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to disagree with someone who has another idea. Everything becomes about their being right.

These otherwise well-intentioned people are making the same costly mistake that I did…

My Comment: This is one of the most important life lessons that some people never learn. My way of asking it is: “Do you want to be effective or do you want to be ‘right’?” The insistence on your own rightness (whether you are objectively right or not) does little to help you influence other people, get buy-in, and move people to action.

For leaders insisting on credit for yourself, or being right at the expense of others being wrong, or what you did vs what happened are certain to keep you from being effective. Focus instead on the outcomes. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to prove you had an idea first or do you want the team to implement and exceed expectations because they owned the idea themselves?

There’s a saying I learned as a child that may serve you as it has served me: “Someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”

In every situation, ask: “What does success look like?” Follow up by asking yourself what you can do to achieve that success. Rarely will the answer be “prove to everyone that I was right.”

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

Start Here to Inspire Your Team

“David, it’s a mess.” Barb ran her hand through her hair and sighed.

“I’ve been here 20 days and have met with people at every level and every department, asking what it’s going to take to turn things around.”

What a Mess

Barb had been appointed interim CEO by her Board of Directors after two executives in a row had resigned at the Board’s request. Employee retention had dropped to an all-time low in the history of the company, their finances were a wreck, and their institutional reputation was in jeopardy.

“One thing that keeps coming up.” She frowned. “Over and over again, I’ve heard these stories – about how people were told to do things with no explanation, how policies were set and then ignored by executives and those they favored, while everyone else was punished if they didn’t comply, and how no one saw or heard from their leaders apart from all-hands meetings or sudden, secretive disciplinary meetings.”

She shook her head, “These leaders were MIA and there’s no trust left anywhere.”

Can We Go Practice?

This conversation was fresh in my mind when Sebastian, our eleven-year-old budding magician asked if I would take him to a downtown street frequented by tourists so he could practice his magic skills.

If you’ve ever met Sebastian, he’s the epitome of “outgoing.” People frequently use the words “fearless” and “precocious” when talking about him. Nevertheless, when faced by the prospect of approaching strangers on the street (with me observing from a safe distance), he froze.

Stage fright set in. The fear of rejection paralyzed him and this normally outgoing kid turned into a shy wallflower.

I encouraged him to give it another try. I identified some likely prospects who looked like they wanted to be entertained, and I shared how success often is found on the other side of rejection.

 

Nothing worked.

Then he looked it at me and said, “If it’s so easy, you do it.”

Uh oh.

I tried redirecting.

No luck.

I protested, “I didn’t ask to come out here.”

He handed me the cards.

“I’ve already done this, I don’t need the practice.”

He folded his arms and tapped his foot expectantly.

I took the cards and scanned the crowd, searching for a friendly face, while fending off eleven-year-old heckling.

Finally, I found a likely prospect and proceeded to perform one of Sebastian’s tricks for a teenage boy, his mom, and his sister.

Ten minutes later Sebastian had earned a couple of dollars, lots of laughs, and was talking about how fun it was to perform for people.

The Fundamentals of Trust and Inspiration

As we walked home, I asked Sebastian what had changed for him that allowed him to go for it.

“I didn’t think I could do it, but…” he smiled, “when you did it, you showed me it was possible.”

Sebastian and Barb had identified two sides of the same leadership truth: your example sets the tone, builds trust, and makes the impossible possible.

Barb’s discovery of dysfunction was a vivid reminder of the importance of trust.

Can your people look at you and see you doing what you ask of them? Do you embody the “why” behind the “what” you ask of your team? Do you treat people consistently, justly, and transparently?

Most leaders we work with will say that they want to do these things.

They intend to live this way…but.

They get busy. They’ve got so much to do that they don’t take time to lead by example. They assume people will “just get it” or that someone else will make the connection and explain why this is important. Or they get impatient with the process, let their frustration get the best of them, and make poor employment decisions.

Your Turn

As Sebastian reminded me that afternoon as he shuffled his cards: you never outgrow the need to lead by example.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure that you lead by example, even when you’re busy and overwhelmed?

Be the leader you want your boss to be,

David