Beginning Better: 9 Tips for Successful Starts

How you begin matters.

Prepare the team. Reinforce the vision. Energize the plans. Refresh the excitement.

Do you begin well?

“Let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed.”
~Muriel Rukeyser

A Sweet Story of Beginning Well

This Sunday, I watched our youth choir director warming up the kids by playing a game.

When she said “Ready” the kids all perfected their posture and looked at her with attentive eyes and big grins.

Then, “Not Ready” they got to be as silly as they wanted (they loved that).

Until she again said, “Ready” and they immediately assumed their sweet singing stance.

Brilliant.

She had them visualizing and embodying exactly she needed from them without telling, they were showing.

I asked one of the kids why this works, “Ms. Allison is great because she teaches us and we don’t even know it.”

Yes, she is a great teacher and leader who knows the importance of great beginnings.

Beginning for Grown-ups

Since church came next, I had lots of time to think about beginnings and the leaders I have known who have mastered the art of beginning well.

  • Call centers where every leader is visible on the floor for the first hour of each shift, greeting and inspiring and checking the temperature
  • Retail stores with pre-opening huddles to create energized focus and fantastic service
  • Leaders with remote teams calling and checking in with each team member at the beginning of the day
  • “You’ve got this” calls to team members headed into a big event, presentation or interview
  • Use of technology for virtual connection and early morning inspiration
  • Caffeine distribution yup, I have been known to drive from location to location with a trunk of Red Bull on important days
  • …???

Tips for Beginning Well

The art to beginning well can be learned. It requires a deliberate approach and focused energy. Here’s some tried and true techniques.

  • Start with big energy differentiate important days by making them feel like holidays
  • Reinforce the vision and goals
  • Explain why this day or project is vital to the bigger picture
  • Help the team visualize success “how will we know this day was amazing what will have happened?”
  • Set specific, individual goals
  • Establish celebration milestones throughout the day or project
  • Be visible and interact either face to face or virtually
  • Role model “ready”
  • Have them role model “ready”
  • ____what tips do you have?

Please share: What works best for you when beginning something new?

Team Chemistry: Leveraging Diversity to Drive Team Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunities to Build Team Diversity

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

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

Where Similarities can Help

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

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

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

Long Distance Leadership: Can Distance Drive Engagement and Results?

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

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

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

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

Why Long Distance Leadership Works

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

Behaviors that Support Long Distance Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste.

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

 

Is Fitness a Leadership Competency?

As a yogi, I believe in the connection between body, mind and spirit. I also know that my fitness routine is a vital aspect of who I am as a leader. For me, time spent on fitness is time to think, to clear my head and to become mentally and physically stronger. When I am exercising more and eating right, I feel better.

I lead better.

Would I go as far to say that fitness is a leadership competency?

I have been reluctant to write directly about this question.

Why?

Because I also see great leaders for whom this regimen does not seem necessary. Different leaders with different bodies, dispositions, ways of managing stress and processing techniques seem to be doing just fine–great actually.

And so, I share my recent thinking and writing to start the conversation. I invite your thinking and ask you to share your opinion.

Leader Athletes: Training For the Long Run (this week’s post on Lead Change Group). I am grateful to all the wonderful leader athletes who read, retweeted and offered their insights via their comments. I also amazed by the distances some of these leaders have gone in their athletic and leadership lives. It’s worth reading through the comments. I am also delighted with the support and friendship I am finding through The Lead Change Group. I am finding many kindred spirits.

Road Warrior Wisdom: 3 Ways to Health and Fitness on the Road (A recent post on 3 Plus International). A great group of women leaders mentoring and supporting one another.

And then I invite your thoughts on any of the following questions or other comments.

  • Do some need it more than others?
  • Is it important for you?
  • Why?

Please let me know your thoughts.

Leadership Magic: Key Actions That Inspire Results

“What’s your leadership magic?”

That’s my favorite question to ask really successful front line leaders. Clearly something is working for these folks, and I am always thirsty to understand just what.

If you are a leader growing leaders, it’s a great question to ask. I guarantee it will immediately bring out sparkles in eyes, great stories, and inspiring conversation.

It might also be worth asking yourself about your own leadership magic.

Across companies and contexts, the lists that come from these interactions are remarkably consistent.

And so, I offer the magic secret shared with me in conference rooms, recognition events, cars, and coffee bars from the best leadership magicians I have met across the country.

Leadership Magic Playbook

Begin well

  • Start each day with energy and enthusiasm
  • Connect with each person at the beginning of their shift–to inspire and check for distractions
  • Ensure each person has clear goals and a plan for the day

Know Your Craft

  • Understand the business and the work your team does
  • Get in and role-model the work from time to time (get on the phones, make the sale)
  • Be a teacher of specific best practices

Conjure up Confidence

  • Spend more time celebrating what is working than discussing what is not
  • Talk about what scares them
  • Help them master one skill at a time
  • Have them teach someone else

Make a Connection

  • Be really available
  • Be even more available– stay out of your office
  • Get to know your people as people
  • Understand what motivates them and individualize your approach
  • Learn about their families and what they like to do outside of work
  • Help them with their career goals

Razzle Dazzle Em

  • Make a fool of yourself (wear a costume, sing a song, have contests with you as a prize pie in the face, dunking booths, washing cars)
  • Encourage them to be silly too help them giggle
  • Create friendly and fun competitions with other teams
  • Talk smack

No Slight of Hand– Create Trust

  • Always do what you say you will
  • Tell the truth
  • Let people know where they stand
  • Help them understand the business

5 Ways Leaders Bust Confidence

Leaders work hard to build confidence in their teams.

They know that building confident teams and people is vital to success.

Confident team members are more creative, communicate more effectively,

and take more risks.

Plus, it’s easier to delegate to a confident person.

Sometimes the very actions leaders take to create confidence, can backfire. How does what was meant to be a confidence-builder become a confidence buster? It’s a matter of depth.

Here are a few ways well-intentioned leaders destroy confidence (from the follower’s point of view):

 1. Give me a new big task, because you believe in me

… but don’t give me enough support to succeed

2. Tell me I am doing great

…with no details as to what is working

3. Recognize what I do at work

… and ignore who I am and what I am accomplishing on the sidelines

4. View me as a specialist

… and overlook my creative ideas and what I could contribute to the bigger picture

5. Stay calm, cool, and collected

… and show no emotion around my big wins

The common thread through all of these well-intentioned actions is how much the leader invests. Building confidence requires exploring deeply with someone. Understanding what they are most proud of and building on that through specific opportunities, feedback and recognition.

It also involves getting into the muck, working a few levels below the obvious insecurity to understand what scares them, and helping them to overcome those fears one step at a time.

With subtle shifts in approach, leaders can build on their positive intentions, and work to create stronger, more-confident followers.

The Reluctant Leader: Why Confidence Matters

Sometimes people find themselves in positions of leadership before their self-confidence has caught up with them, and are reluctant to lead.

Helping reluctant leaders to see themselves as the leaders they are, can make them more powerful. Here’s a story of why confidence matters.

Yesterday I herded cattle.

Not by myself, but with an eclectic group of 7 other novice city slickers out to try something new.

As we began our journey, I overheard our reluctant young cowgirl guide tell her friend “you know this is just so hard for me, I am not a leader, I am much better at following.”

She then proceeded to guide us on a journey which involved the complex balancing act of leading horses, cows, annoyed bulls, and inexperienced, unconnected strangers. Everyone followed. She knew what she was doing and she taught us well.

Under her competent leadership, we all worked together and herded the cattle just where they needed to go— having fun along the way. When one of us would get mixed up in the middle of the mooing mass, she would shout “you’re a cow!” That was our signal to move to a more productive and safer space. She used everyone’s name, and constantly checked in with each person on their feelings and how they were connecting with their horse.

She was indeed a leader.

Except for one thing.

She lacked confidence which surfaced in the way she spoke of herself.

“Oh, I am not very good at getting people’s attention.” “I really talk too much, it’s not good sometimes I just can’t stop talking.”

I watched as people were leaving, and I am fairly certain this impacted her tips.

She was teaching people what to think about her.

As leaders, what we say about ourselves matters a lot.

How can we help young leaders to feel more confident in their abilities?

 

Everybody into the Pool: Influencing from the Inside

In almost any large organization, there are the folks doing the work that touches customers, and there are the supporting players influencing vital work to make that easier. Except when they don’t. Or, it’s perceived that way.

Today, as we stop the music, I am in a supporting role. Not long ago, I was leading a large line organization. Prior to that staff role, prior to that, line.

I have been talking to everyone I can find about what makes a great influencing player. My favorite metaphor, “get into the pool”.

“I am trying to run a tight synchronized swimming team here. You can’t shout direction from the pool deck. Get in the water. Feel the music first. See how it feels under the water. Try holding your breath while kicking hard. And then, once we are all equally exhausted, I am all ears.”

I love this one, because growing up, I actually was a competitive synchronized swimmer, and yup, my coaches got into the pool all the time.

The other main ideas:

Deeply understand my business

Support my vision and goals

Tell me the truth

Ask what you can do to help

Share what you can

Provide best practices

Lend your expertise

Offer tangible tools

Help me see the future

Ask me lots of questions

Don’t have checklist

Following the Leader? Stop, Notice How It Makes You Feel

There is much we can learn from following. We all find ourselves in positions to follow both great and horrible leaders from time to time. It helps to stop and really pay attention to how we feel during the process.

Pay Attention to Emotions

As leaders, we lead and follow with much intensity. Because we care, the range of emotions is powerful. When we are deeply invested, the wins are that much sweeter. At the same time, disappointments and frustrations can run deep as well. Paying attention to the emotions we experience as followers can help us become more empathetic leaders.

A Lesson from the Mat

I have a yoga instructor who will have us hold a very intense pose, and then say, “Stop. Notice how that makes you feel.” And then, we will go on to a very relaxing pose, and then the same request, “Stop, notice how that makes you feel.” This is useful in teaching us to reflect on the sensations in our bodies and minds–and their causes.

Transferable Feelings

I remember the first time I received some really significant recognition at work. The music blared, the spotlight shown on me. I was escorted onto the stage in front of thousands. Pictures were snapped with top brass… the adrenaline rush was fantastic. As I returned to my seat, my boss pulled me aside and got very serious:

“Never forget how that made you feel. Someday you will be in a decision-making role, and someone will ask you if the investment in these recognition programs is worth it. Today you have your answer.”

He was right. I am often in that decision-making role. I have my answer.

Taking the time to notice how we feel when we are followers, can inform our decisions as leaders. And we are always following someone, no matter whom we are leading.

How do we feel when…

  • someone takes the time to give us really candid feedback?
  • our risk-taking is supported?
  • someone makes a big investment in our careers?
  • someone takes credit for our work?
  • we really screw up?
  • we work really long hours and someone notices?
  • … and no one does?
  • we are talked to with dignity and respect?
  • … or we are not?

It is hard to step back and embrace the learning, particularly when emotions are high. And yet, that may be our biggest opportunity to learn.