5 Top Leadership Articles 10-30-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of October 30, 2017

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

4 Questions in 4 Days that Strengthen Teams and Elevate Performance by Dan Rockwell

Imagine little Freddy throwing a tantrum in the grocery story. Freddy’s mommy or daddy give him the candy bar he’s screaming for. What happens next time little Freddy goes to the grocery store?

You get what you honor. Freddy learns the value of throwing tantrums.

Celebrations, rewards, and honor tell people what matters

My Comment: This is the first in a series of four questions Rockwell asks. The question in this article is an important one: What small wins might you celebrate today? Celebration doesn’t require confetti every time. Micro-encouragement done specifically, quickly, and with intention is incredibly powerful in reinforcing behaviors. Remember: you get more of what you celebrate and encourage, less of what you criticize or ignore. What can you celebrate today?

Building a Collaborative Culture in Non-traditional Work Environments by Rachael Powell

Since its inception, the open-plan office has drawn its fair share of criticism. While initially conceived as a means to facilitate collaboration, some argue that the office layout style does nothing but cause distraction and dissatisfaction. Indeed, it’s fair to question whether there is such a thing as too much cross-pollination of ideas when employees are elbow-to-elbow.

But when it comes to your people, one size does not fit all. In answer to the loss of concentration many attribute to a noisy workplace, activity-based workplace design is growing in popularity among companies new and old. Organizations are establishing a variety of spaces to cater to a range of tasks, including nap pods, treadmill desks and even treehouse conference spaces. It’s possible to foster both productivity and collaboration in today’s non-traditional working environments.

My Comment: I’ve never seen a treehouse conference space, but it sounds like fun. I love the point that Powell is making: give your team what they need in order to be their best. That might be an open plan, it might be something creative, it might be energetic and full of ‘buzz’ or it might be quiet and focused. The mistake I see many leaders make is that they give their teams one of two things that don’t serve them. Either they create the environment that they personally prefer (in the erroneous belief that everyone is like them) or they follow the latest fad and copy what someone else is doing. Don’t try to be like ‘them’ – be the best version of who you and your team are.

The Hidden Barrier to Your Team’s Productivity by Jennifer V. Miller at SmartBrief

As a leader, you know that productive employees bring value to your team.

Recent findings from a white paper by consulting and training firm VitalSmarts highlight the magnitude of high performers’ productivity: they are 21 times less likely to experience tasks or responsibilities that “fall through the cracks.”

Moreover, the research found that these same employees were also 18 times less likely to feel overwhelmed than their less-productive peers. Somehow, these hard-working, productive employees have found a way to deliver results without sacrificing their mental health.

What’s their secret?

My Comment: The gist of Miller’s article is that high-performing employees are good at managing their time and they are good at navigating conversations with their colleagues. At a personal level, they have mastered achieving results and building relationships. If you want a more productive team, model the combined focus on results and relationships, train them in how to do it, and then celebrate their success and hold them accountable when it doesn’t go as well.

The Challenge of Frustration by Steve Keating

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss leadership with a group of mid-level managers. At the end of my presentation, I was approached by a significant number of the attendees who all had the same question.

The questions, while asked differently all had the same theme: What do I do when my “leader” isn’t a real leader at all?

The answer to that question is simple and complicated all at once. I’m assuming (I know that’s dangerous) that the people asking the question are truly leaders. That means they care about the people they lead, they understand that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead and that they get as much pleasure from their people’s success as they do their own.

If that is the case then the answer to the question is this: Lead Up.

My Comment: We are big believers in leading in 360 degrees – being a positive influence, building relationships, and achieving transformational results with everyone you work with. However, there are also differences leading your team vs “leading up.” One of the most common frustrations we encounter here is with supervisors who don’t follow through with their commitments and potentially prevent you from completing your work in the process.

With a direct report, you would have an INSPIRE conversation where you notice the behavior, ask them what is happening, and invite them to a solution. When having an INSPIRE conversation with someone you report to, make sure, as Keating suggests, that you’ve built a relationship where the other person can trust you and your motivations.

From there, you can still notice the behavior (eg “I noticed that you haven’t given me the data yet.”) From there, you’ll want to supply consequences. (eg: “As we discussed, I will be happy to get you what you need and it will take me three hours from when I have the data.”) You might also note other commitments you have (“I’ve promised finance that I will have their information to them by 5 tonight, so I can start on this first thing.”) That helps them understand the consequences of their actions, but in a ‘can do’ way.

Employee Engagement is the Essence of a Human Workforce by Diana Coker

The definition of workforce efficiency is very subjective in nature. This is because employees may be putting in long hours at work but there are times when this isn’t enough. With artificial intelligence taking over our lives, the sole reason why human workforce is still given importance is due to its individualistic intellect. You might think that your employee is working dedicatedly but it may so happen that the individual is doing it in a mechanical manner. If this is the case, then why hire humans when robots ensure absolutely reliable results? This makes it important for the company to encourage the practice of employee engagement.

My Comment: If you’re not going to cultivate an engaged workforce, why hire human beings in the first place? It’s a provocative question. I’m sure there are some managers out there who would prefer the robots. That frustration is a stop on the path to losing your leadership soul. People are messy and can be frustrating, but guess what – you’re a human being too. Cultivate an environment that helps people release their creativity, energy, and strength toward your mission, product, or service.

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.

Road trip

The Power of a Road Trip

I spent many years in a “trust but verify” culture. What this meant was that I, and every executive above me, was expected to constantly show up in the retail stores to experience what was happening as the customers would.

Is there a bird’s nest over the front entrance risking bird poop falling on a customer’s head? Are customers being serviced in a timely way? Does the store look inviting with all light bulbs on and phones charged? Are the employees up to speed on the latest products and services? Can the store managers articulate their key initiatives and what they could do to improve?

There’s no question that knowing an exec could stop in at any time, kept everyone on their toes. The stores undoubtedly were cleaner and the customer service better as a result.

Of course these visits were always stressful. The general sentiment was that there was “No such thing as a good visit, only not a bad one.”

Which is what made the technique I learned from my predecessor so brilliant.

Every summer, instead of the usual pop-in store visits, Chris and his right hand guy, Jimmy, would pack up a van, wrap it in some marketing bling, and hit the road for a month visiting over a hundred stores across a nine-hour radius.

The schedule was pre-announced and there was one big rule: only positive feedback, celebration and fun.

If something was wrong, he or Jimmy would just quietly fix it, and make a note to circle back at some later point to see if there was a chronic problem.

This tour was all about noticing what was right.

He would do his homework and came prepared with all kinds of recognition, along with a token of appreciation for every employee.

The store managers came up with all kinds of creative ways to add to the fun.  Jimmy took tons of pictures of every visit. Every evening, they would Photoshop them into creative collage, including names of those recognized and why, along with descriptions of best practices. This “postcard” was emailed to the entire region every evening.

The other store directors jokingly referred to the month as “Chris’ love tour,” but Chris didn’t care, he knew what worked.

The truth is, the employees loved the love.

Of course, results skyrocketed during that time. Everyone wanted to be on top of their game when the tour stopped by their store.

And as you can imagine, there was not a bird’s nest in sight. The phones all had charge, and the employees knew all about the latest products and services.

Trust your employees to rise to the occasion, and they will.

Sounds easy, right? But I know a lot of managers who fumble their managing by walking around (MBWA).

There’s real power in getting out with your people with a single intention– to uplift, recognize and celebrate.

Post-Mortem of Success: Questions that Drive Sustained Results

Most great project managers know that it’s important to do a post-mortem after any major undertaking. In my experience, a post-mortem is much more likely to occur when something went terribly wrong. I have heard (and said) in the heat of frustration, “we just need to get through this now, but afterwards we need a very careful post-mortem.”

In this funny and insightful post, Lee Cash, shares the challenges with a traditional post-mortem and how to overcome some of them, The postmortem: what it is and how to survive one.

Postmortem: noun:

  1. An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease
  2. Discussion of an event after it has occurred
  3. A blame fest where, if you’re not careful, you get attributed with everything that’s wrong in the world

In essence, post-mortems are an attempt to review a recent calamity that has befallen the business with the noble intention of isolating the offending causes and making sure they never happen again. The practice nearly always takes the format of a face-to-face meeting (if possible) and involves all of the key players who had a role in the “hiccup”, and hence why you’re all now sitting in a room waiting for the fireworks to happen.

The post-mortem seems less urgent after an over-whelming success. Most of us just celebrate, and then merrily race off to fight our next crises, or build our next remedial action plan.

Why Do a Post-Mortem of Success?

I recently had a celebratory conversation with a leader who was experiencing some fantastic results after months of challenges and struggling metrics. This was turnaround at it’s finest. I was delighted with the progress and wanted to recognize him. We did all that and then, I asked, “what is working and why?”
That’s where we got stumped.
He had theories, I had theories the truth is, so many action plans and efforts had been applied to the problem, we were unsure of which were contributing to the solution.
A bit scary was it the entire cocktail?
How do we isolate the variables?
How would we sustain the progress if we didn’t understand what had worked?
How could the lessons be applied to other areas of the business if we didn’t understand them?

How to Approach a Success Post-Mortem

We decided a deliberate approach was in order. Yup, I ended that celebratory meeting by giving the guy more work. Why, because I believe in the long-run it will save everyone time.

He’s spending time…

  • considering and discussing. what were the expected outcomes of the various interventions?
  • observing: what behaviors have actually changed?
  • measuring: doing deeper dives into the analytics to look for patterns of improvement
  • listening: to folks about what feels better now and why?

Taking the time to understand what is working may be even more vital than learning from our failures.