5 Top Leadership Articles for the week of November 6, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of November 6, 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.

How to Handle Tough Performance Conversations by Wally Bock

For a couple of decades, I began every supervisory skills class by asking the participants what they wanted to learn most. “How to talk to team members about behavior and performance” was always at the top of the list. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do that part of your job well.

My Comment: This issue continues to be both one of the most sought-after leadership development skills as well as the hallmark of effective teams and organizations that succeed in their work. Bock does a great job laying out important aspects including the vital need to build a relationship with your team members long before you’ve got to have a tough performance conversation. I’d also call attention to what he calls “the really hard part:” being quiet. As we’ve shared the Winning Well INSPIRE model for holding coaching and accountability conversations, many organizations are reporting back that when they ask what’s going on and invite the other party to come up with solutions – and then be quiet – they are seeing tremendous results. The people involved come up with better solutions that they own and then implement.

The Secret to Employee Engagement Isn’t About Your Employees by Ryan Westwood

Creating a healthy company culture is my passion. It began with the development of my first technology company, PC Care Support, and it has continued throughout my work with Simplus. As I study the online performance reviews of competing businesses, I have noticed something interesting: while companies offer incredible benefits like personal budgets for employee development training, free doughnuts, and gym passes, the reviews for some of these companies are poor.

Studies show that companies spend about $270 million per year on employee engagement strategies. “But approximately 63 percent of U.S. employees aren’t fully engaged in their work,” says Forbes writer William Craig. Here’s what I’ve found: If you want a great culture and true employee engagement, provide benefits that positively impact not just your employees but, more importantly, those whom they love.

My Comment: No work perk will ever overcome poor leadership or a bad culture. If you really want good employee engagement, build a clear strategy that helps them to win, generate ongoing wins, and cultivate awesome leadership at every level. Westwood’s suggestions are strong ways to focus your benefits – his suggestions communicate to your employees that you see them as a human being, that you are aware they have a life beyond the workplace, and that you care about those things. That said, even those types of perks will only be valued when they’re offered from a foundation of good leadership and a positive workplace culture. Otherwise, great benefits can’t help engage people with their work.

Speaking of Leadership: Speak Your Words by Scott Mabry

That moment you realize that the words coming out of your mouth belong to someone else.

I remember one of those moments. I sat across a table from the new CEO. Just the two of us. His question felt like a fist to my stomach.

“What do you think about the new team?”

To be honest I don’t even remember all the details of the conversation. I just remember I didn’t speak the truth. Oh, I tried to toss out a few subtle hints but in the end, I bailed and told him what I thought he wanted to hear. I spoke his words, not mine.

This was mostly because I didn’t trust him. Many of new the team members were people he had handpicked and that worked with him at his prior companies. To say anything critical seemed dangerous.

My Comment: I think we’ve all been there. Perhaps because you were scared. Or you didn’t yet know what you thought. Or perhaps you were trying to manipulate the situation. Regardless, you can’t lead without owning your voice and having the confidence and skill to speak your truth. Speak the truth compassionately. It doesn’t always mean you’ll get your way, but your confidence and influence will grow, as will others’ respect for you.

The #1 Killer of Change by John Thurlbeck at Lead Change Group.

I recently had a great catch up with my younger brother and youngest sister over a meal in their favorite local restaurant. Our conversation was free-ranging, covering a multiplicity of subjects.

However, a part of that conversation with my brother struck the deepest chords and prompted my thoughts in this post.

He works for a large national, not-for-profit organization in the UK, and it is mired in yet another major restructuring process, driven, as ever, by dwindling funding. The current process has been on-going for months.

My brother has worked for this organization for many years, and it appears to me that ‘change’ for this organization is an ever-present, as it strives to find the ‘best’ solution to delivering on its agenda. However, the current change process must be at least the fifth or sixth such process in about the past eight or so years.

Why so much change with so little apparent effect?

My Comment: Early in my career I would watch, amazed, as people I knew to be decent human beings, who were fairly self-aware and understood on-the-ground realities, would get into leadership roles and seem to change into unaware user managers. As I share in Winning Well, I’ve also had employees come and point out to me that I had undergone the same transformation and was not acting in line with my own values. What happens that causes these changes?

There are several reasons, but among them is the issue Thurlbeck brings up: groupthink. It’s a failure of all members to think critically and independently analyze an issue. It’s human nature to think that ‘enough of us can’t be wrong,’ but it happens all the time. We invite you to Channel Challengers – to find your truth-tellers and intentionally introduce different opinions. To consciously ask yourselves to “Own the UGLY” and explore the silent places that may be eroding your effectiveness or the opportunities that are right in front of you, but invisible until you seek them out.

Practical Tips to Practice Empathy by Shubha Apte

I recently read the book Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella.

What stuck with me is the episode he narrates about a question that he was asked while interviewing with Microsoft.

Here is what the story says…

Satya Nadella was asked this question when he wanted to be part of Microsoft.

“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.

“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.

Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me, and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on a street crying, pick up the baby.”

It is interesting how a CEO of a large company like Microsoft talks about empathy and its importance.

Empathy is considered the most important skill to have in the corporate world. People at all levels in the corporate hierarchy need to have this skill. With so much technological disruptions taking place in the digital global world, the human quality, Empathy becomes crucial.

My Comment: There is all-too-human tendency to reduce people from full human beings deserving of dignity and respect to their function. They go from being “Susan”, who has two kids, an ailing mom, and loves Italian food, and “Chase”, who is engaged, flies drones on the weekends, and wants to make a difference in the world to being “the reps.”

When we reduce people from their humanity to their role, we lose the connection we need to be effective leaders. The antidote to this reduction is empathy. Connect, pay attention, reflect what you hear. It only takes a few moments to cultivate that connection and restore someone’s humanity.

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.

How to Build a More Customer-Centered, Empathetic Workforce

When you call customer service you want to know 2 things:  (1) Does the person who picked up your call care about you and your issue? and (2) Are they capable of fixing it?

You don’t have to be a customer service expert to know within 20 seconds whether the guy on the other end of the phone cares and is eager to help.

When we work with customer service departments, empathy is always identified as a top MIT (Most Important Thing). And yet it’s also one of the hardest set of behaviors to train.

A Best Practice For Training Empathy (Care About Real Lives)

I recently did a follow-up visit to a client who had invested in one of our Winning Well Operations Excellence Rallies. They had identified “Does the Customer Know How Much We Care?” as a top MIT, and set about isolating the behaviors and building a focus on empathy into their training, performance management, and recognition systems.

They built a confidence burst approach to encourage empathy. One day the representatives came in to find signs of a missing baby all over the office: a crocheted bootie, a pacifier, and some randomly scattered signs, “Has anyone seen baby Carl?” “What happened to baby Carl?” The representatives were intrigued. The entire center was talking about the baby Carl mystery during lunch breaks and between calls.

The managers had fun with this for a few days and then did what they call “the reveal.” They transferred the calls to another center for a few minutes and brought in “Baby Carl,” a carefully swaddled doll. “Remember how much you were worried about baby Carl? That’s how concerned we need to be about every customer’s issue. Every customer has real life concerns like small babies to take care of or sick friends and family.

Baby Carl represents our mission to show our customers how much we care. Every call should start with CARL–Care About Real Lives.”

As weeks went on, and a representative exhibited extraordinary empathy on a call– when they showed how much they CARLed (now a verb), they were awarded the Baby Carl recognition, had their picture take with Carl who stayed on their desk until someone was able to “steal” him back with a similarly empathetic call.

Every time someone won the Baby Carl award, the management team communicated exactly HOW the representative had shown empathy. Each selfie snapped with Baby Carl reinforced the behaviors they were looking to emulate. Representatives gained more confidence and competence as they showed up more consistently as someone who Cares About Real Lives.

One thing great leaders do is make the invisible, visible. Want your employees to show more empathy? Find ways to consistently make empathy visible, and celebrate the impact.

Feel And Grow Rich: 5 Ways To Learn Empathy

“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.”

Great leaders are empathetic. Tomorrows jobs will require even more empathy. Forbes writer, George Anders calls it the The Number 1 job skill in 2020 and The Soft Skill that Pays 100K +. So go get great at empathy. You’ll be a better leader, and make more money. Wait, how do you do that? There’s growing evidence empathy can be learned.

5 Ways to Get Better at Empathy

  1. Experience pain – No, I’m not saying go live a crappy life. But, when life sucks sit with that pain. Feel what’s happening, don’t ignore it. Work to process your reactions. Pay attention to who is helpful, and who is not. Discover what feels empathetic to you. When others share their stories, work to connect to common experiences in your life or in those closest to you.
  2. Collect and reflectDr. Paul Furey says, “Listening with empathy requires you to first pick up information about the other person: 1. How they feel, 2. What about, 3. Why they feel that way and then reflecting that back to them in a short sentence – a humble guess about ‘where they are’. e.g. “1.You’re annoyed 2. about me being late 3. and I had promised to be on time too!” This works great in a customer service environment. Tune in tomorrow for my podcast interview with Dr. Furey.
  3. Suspend judgement – Empathy is not opinion. Your opinion may be needed, at some point. Start with understanding and connection.
  4. Work on related EQ Skills – e.g. active listening, understanding non-verbals, questioning, thinking from another’s perspective.
  5. Practice – Harvard University is even piloting a game which teaches students to “walk in another person’s shoes.”  Approach situations with a deliberate focus on listening more deeply, reflecting back, understanding and connecting.

So, can we teach empathy? Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™ shares,
“The act of showing empathy is teachable. The signs to look for in others are teachable. The pace to feel others needs is teachable. The only thing that is not teachable is “desire” to do it. I can inspire it yet in the end others must want to do it”