Finding The Perfect Gifts For Your Team: A Development Exercise

Jack gets very excited this time of year. He stumbles on a perfect gift that he knows EVERYONE on his list must have. It’s clever, and he finds it useful. Convinced his friends and family can no longer live without it, he buys a dozen or so.

Watching the excitement in his eyes, I know it’s not laziness. He’s convinced. The sad part comes when the reaction is not as he hoped. He begins “selling” to inspire excitement. As leaders it’s tempting to take such an approach to employee development. We offer the development that comes naturally.

“People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Development is most meaningful when we leverage our unique gifts with the areas the employee is looking to develop. We won’t be able to fulfill their entire developmental wishlist. That’s okay. Great leaders are developmental matchmakers.

Just the Right Gifts – An Exercise

An easy exercise helps match your gifts with your employee’s needs:

gifts

  • Step 1 – Consider your best leadership gifts. What are you in the best position to give this team member? Write them in the left hand column.
  • Step 2 – What’s on your team member’s developmental wish list? What do they want (or need) to work on most?
  • Step 3 – Identify where your strengths and their needs best align.

Interpreting The Results

  • Green a direct match you can coach (e.g. you’re great at speaking, they want to be a better speaker).
  • Yellow a nice synergy to partner> (e.g. your a good listener, they want to be a better speaker). Share how you use effective listening in speech preparation, delivery, and in Q&A)
  • Red, areas to look for additional support. They’ve got a need that you’re not in the best position to support. Work together to brainstorm and identify co-workers, mentors, or coaches who can help.

Call for Submissions: December Frontline Festival, is all about Gifts (widely interpreted).

Submissions due December 13th, post goes live December 20th.

People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.

Graphic by Joy & Tom Guthrie, Vizwerx

60 Reasons Leaders Stop Learning

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
~ Henry Ford

Competent, lazy leaders are dangerous.

  • “Why fix something that’s working?”
  • “I was promoted to this position for a reason.”
  • “I’ve seen this movie before.”

Beware of highly skilled, non-learning leaders.

I Already Know How To Swim

This summer my son, Sebastian, refused to take swimming lessons. Why? Because he “already knows how to swim.” Well, technically, I suppose that’s true. And if he were to fall off a dock, I’d want him to believe it.

REAL leaders inspire confidence while exposing growth opportunities

60 Reasons Leaders Stop Learning

This week, to kick off our last leg of the REAL model, Learning, I’ve been asking leaders across many contexts why leaders stop learning. Here’s the top 60. Don’t fall into these traps. Be deliberate in your learning. If you’re already a great leader, read more closely. Leadership is never handled.

Leaders stop learning when they…

LISTENING

  1. Stop listening (#1 by a landslide)
  2. Stop doing something with what they hear
  3. Have closed minds
  4. Allow talking to become more important than listening
  5. PURPOSE

  6. No longer connect with the purpose (#2 answer)
  7. Forget WHY they are doing
  8. Become complacent
  9. Think they’ve accomplished their goal
  10. EGO

  11. Get distracted by their own desires or success
  12. Have their own agenda
  13. Let ego get in the way
  14. Think they have all the answers
  15. Have only “past tense” conversations with themselves
  16. Have seen it all before
  17. Are not vulnerable
  18. Create an appearance of being omniscient
  19. Are insecure
  20. Assume they’ve learned everything there is to learn
  21. Stop focusing outward
  22. Believe they’re the accomplishment
  23. PASSION

  24. Lose their passion
  25. Lose their flow
  26. Become complacent
  27. No longer love what they do
  28. Lost sight of their dreams and goals
  29. Don’t feel energized and inspired
  30. Lose their passion to motivate and influence others
  31. Feel irrelevant
  32. Stop caring
  33. Lose interest
  34. Become disengaged
  35. FAILURE

  36. Are afraid to fail
  37. Seldom fail
  38. Stop failing
  39. Success becomes more important than growth (my personal favorite)
  40. Are afraid to develop new skills
  41. Are afraid to take risks
  42. Stop believing in their ability to grow
  43. STRESS

  44. Are stressed
  45. Are marginalized
  46. Are exhausted
  47. Are comfortable
  48. QUESTIONS

  49. Stop being inquisitive
  50. Stop asking “dumb” questions
  51. No longer encourage feedback and ideas
  52. CHALLENGE

  53. Fail to connect the dots between where they are and where they want to be
  54. Stop challenging themselves and their team
  55. Can’t measure progress
  56. CHANGE

  57. Stop being creative in their leadership approach
  58. Become resistant to change
  59. Assume they’ve learned everything there is to learn
  60. Aren’t open to possibility
  61. EMPOWERMENT

  62. Are disempowered
  63. Tasks become more important than people
  64. Believe success comes from control
  65. TEAMWORK

  66. Stop believing in teamwork
  67. Stop developing their team
  68. BONUS

  69. Are dead
  70. Stop breathing
  71. Your turn. Leaders stop learning when__________.

Never stop learning.

Real leadership

This post is the first in a series on the 4th branch of the REAL model. Join the conversation, enter your email address to join our interactive, growing leadership community.

Why Smart People Do Stupid Work

Despite my best efforts to encourage employees to think, question, and recommend change, on any given day, I know there are people on my team doing tasks they know are stupid.

Stupid work includes…

  • reinforcing policies without thinking
  • making decisions that lose customers
  • generating reports no one uses
  • focusing on trivial matters when the sky is falling around them
  • _______ I’ll stop here to let you fill in the blank.
  •  If you find that cathartic here’s a few more blanks___________, ___________.

Bottom line, If it feels stupid it probably is.

Forest Gump said “stupid is as stupid does.” But I know the truth. Stupid is as stupid leads.

Why Do People Do Stupid Work?

  • fear
  • politics
  • uncertainty
  • overload
  • indecision
  • it’s not their job
  • they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes
  • it’s always been done that way
  • they think I want it done that way
  • their boss thinks I want it done that way
  • their boss’s boss’s boss, thinks my boss wants it done that way.

And so the stupidity continues.

Lead for S.M.A.R.T.

Encourage your team to think beyond their silos, understand the big picture, and question the status quo. Help them to make S.M.A.R.T. choices.

Speak up

If something feels stupid, it probably is. Say something.

get More information

Ask questions. Understand the context. Reach across silos.

accept Accountability

Own the problem. Work to find a solution.

Reprioritize

Determine what’s important. Do that first.

and Try another approach.

Consider alternatives, ask for ideas, try something new.

Empowerment Run Amok: How One Bad Decision Leads To Another

You believe in servant leadership.

Empowerment is your middle name.

Results are strong.

The team is happy.

And then.

Someone makes a really bad decision.

The consequences are big.

Your boss is not happy.

How could YOU let that happen?

Why weren’t YOU more involved?
And you begin to wonder about the person who made the poor choice.

  • Why did he make such a bad decision?
  • Didn’t he understand the potential consequences?
  • Why didn’t he ask for help?
  • Why was I not informed sooner

It might be hard but stop, and think well before reacting.

If you are not careful, the next bad decision may be your own.

How you react now, matters. Everyone is watching your next move. Do you really believe in empowerment?

The decision you make next will have long-term implications on trust and the relationship with your entire team. People are talking, texting and instant messaging count on it.

3 Steps to Responding Well to a Bad Decision

1. Temper and Reflect

  • Have I carefully considered my approach to empowerment– Who to empower with what decisions and why?
  • Have I clearly communicated the big picture and long-term goals?
  • Have I taught effective decision-making?
  • Have I explained the importance of my involvement in certain kinds of decisions?
  • Am I approachable and available to support?
  • Have I been teaching enough about the political landscape and how to include and inform stakeholders?
  • … what would you add?

2. Take Accountability

  • Own the mistake, never blame
  • Roll up your sleeves and be involved in the fix
  • Involve the employee in the solution
  • Coach in private
  • Carefully consider the answers to the questions above, what do you need to adjust?
  • Communicate any changes without linking back to a specific employee’s mistake
  • … what would you add?

3. Teach

  • Ask questions for self-discovery
  • Share a story of when you screwed up and what you learned
  • Reassure the employee that this can be fixed most things can, even when they look grim
  • … what would you add?

 

How to Have a More Powerful Development Conversation

For a variety of reasons, many manager/employee relationships stay formal, cordial, and don’t realize their full potential. The conversation stays focused on the work at hand, and hopefully there is some discussion of strengths and development needs, along with a plan to improve on them. There is often real reluctance to go deeper.

Why?

Choices, fear, time, professional boundaries. I’ll give you a minute to complete the list____, ____, _____, _____. Real can be scary.

And yet, some relationships seem to bust past the normal conversational fare. The query goes deeper and the outcome is amazing. Real can be vital.

I have debated this with leaders from across a variety of organizations and contexts. My leadership choice is err on the side of going deeper, unless I pick up real signals to the contrary.

5 Real Conversations Worth Having

So you want to go deeper, but you don’t want to cross any inappropriate boundaries. Where do you start? Here are a few topics that open up the door for deeper trust and broader development.

My Big Dream

Most development conversations focus on potential next steps, or the 5 year plan. What other big dreams are your employees holding in their hearts? What do they want to become? What’s on their bucket list? Is there any way to build some related work or skills into their current job? It’s motivating to be working on your big dream, even in baby steps.

What Motivates Me

Just asking is a good start. However, you can also learn a lot through observation. Paying attention can give you insights that will serve as excellent fodder for a deeper dialogue. When do you see them “skipping to work?” A starter “you seem really excited about this project what aspects make it most meaningful for you?”

What Scares Me

This one’s more tricky. And, it’s not on the short list for new relationships. However, as your relationship deepens, getting underneath fear and uncertainty can go a long way in helping someone to grow. Facing fears leads to confidence and competence.

What I Really Need from You

An important one to ask from the beginning of a new relationship. The trick is to keep asking as the relationship matures.You will likely get a more real answer as the trust increases.

What Matters To Me More Than This Job?

Really? Yup. I wouldn’t ask it just that way but what do they care deeply about their children? their church? their hobbies? their aging parents? their health? Knowing what really matters is vital. A little knowledge can go a long way in making you a more supportive leader.

These conversations evolve over time and won’t work best in one sitting, but bringing them in gently as the relationship evolves can go a long way to building trust, development and inspiring best work.

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.
 

 

Open-Space Leadership: When Less is More

Sometimes leadership is just about creating an open-space and getting out-of-the-way.

I love using Open-Space Technology with a large group to generate ideas. It’s an amazing, high-energy, low-cost way to hold a powerful meeting. Participants essentially create their own agenda and self-organize into groups to discuss topics that matter to them. Although it’s useful to have a trained facilitator help with the effort, I have found it works just fine with the leader serving both as host and organizer.

“We have discovered, through countless pointed lessons, that there is precisely one way to mess up an Open-Space and only one way. And that is to think that you are in charge of what happens, or worse yet, to act that way. Truthfully, the facilitator has little if anything of a substantive nature to contribute. No fixes, no interventions or at least not of an obvious sort. For a brief time at the beginning, the facilitator holds center stage (literally), and then it is essential to get out-of-the-way.”
~ Harrison Owen, Founder of Open-Space Technology

Open Space in Action: One Example

Last week, I held an Open-Space Meeting with over 100 participants discussing the topic: How Can We Be More Influential Leaders?

We started in a big circle, set up the process and guiding principles and we were off (see resource links in the post for more how-tos). WIthin 15 minutes we had generated 18 fascinating topics to be discussed throughout the next 3 hours in concurrent sessions. Team members stepped up to own and facilitate topics. Participants could move freely from session to session. The conversation was robust. We then ended back in the circle where each participant-turned facilitator shared highlights from the conversation and next steps.

The topics were an interesting mix of leadership development, business-processes, how-tos, and best practice sharing. Some topics were inspired by challenges, others by success. Some chose to teach and share, while others chose to facilitate through lots of questions. We ended with many ideas and actionable next steps.

The spirit and the energy in the room was palpable. This was a group inspired to change things.

Why it Worked

I asked the team why it worked. Here’s some of the thinking:

  • I had a chance to think about the topic I would share in advance, and I came prepared with some ideas on how to facilitate the discussion
  • I chose a topic that I was passionate about it was cool to see how many others shared that same interest
  • We got to talk about exactly what we needed to, with the people we needed to
  • It was intriguing to see where the interest was which topics attracted the biggest following.
  • Now we know what matters most to our organization for future work
  • It was cool to see how many people in our remote group are all sharing the same experiences.
  • I found kindred spirits
  • I was heard
  • Some fantastic ideas were shared that I can take back and use immediately
  • Even though only a few people showed up to my session, we got started on some important work and I have already set up a follow-up conference call to build on our actions

A Leader’s Perspective

Our topic of “Influence” lent itself well to this technique. By stepping back as the leader and providing space for the conversation to emerge, I could model some of the most important parts of influence– listening and understanding. The team became the teachers. The spirit of this exercise can be translated in other ways as they go back to their daily work and provide influence in those environments.

We also set this up in advance as an important developmental opportunity for the team. Open-space sessions are a gentle and friendly way to practice facilitation and public speaking. I was delighted with the preparation and delivery of the team.

I was inspired by the opportunity to travel freely from session to session as a participant. It’s great to experience such inspired thought leadership from people at all levels and roles within the organization. If I had built the agenda myself, I would have overlooked some of the most popular topics.

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.

Mentoring in Circles

In my earlier post, Don’t Get a Mentor, I talked about my preference for finding a mentor organically rather than waiting for formal programs. On the other hand, throughout the years, my favorite formal programs have always been in the form of circles.

These are groups with a leader as guide and a small group of people learning together. I have experience with this in 2 contexts: (1) as a formal HR program and (2) as skip level development for my own teams. Both informal, with lots of options for customization.

HR Program

In this context we paired execs with cross-functional groups of leaders learning together. This structure helped to create a space for natural relationships to occur and if someone did not necessarily click with their mentor, they might develop a cool relationship with one or more of their peers. We did all this in-house, at very low-cost. We gave the groups tools, but also lots of latitude to do what worked for them. Each group was given an action learning project (a real problem to solve) which worked quite well.

My internet research shows that there are a lot of companies offering support for this online these days. I would love to hear comments from anyone using these programs and the success that they have had.

With My Own Team

Over the years, I have had a lot of fun running mentoring circles in my own teams. I do this as a skip level experience, giving me an opportunity to get to know 8-10 high potential managers by working together. I always start with teaching them about “elevator speeches”, and having them create one. Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.

We talk about the business and we all share the challenges we are having and share best practices. The fun begins when we take field trips to struggling areas of the business and offer support. We also do a project together to give back to the business. I have found that these circles (called various names, usually “academies” or “leagues”), are a great way for me and my team to share our vision, work on work, and really get to know the managers in a deeper way. An added win is having a direct report involved with this as part of their leadership experience. I have seen a good track record of successful promotions coming out of these scenes.

Of course, some would argue it’s not “mentoring” if it is your own chain of command. Perhaps.

Please share your stories of mentoring circles. I would love to learn more.

Won't You Be My Mentor?

So, you want a mentor. Now what?

Where? Who? How to approach?

First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).

Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.

If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.

Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.

Some questions to consider in your preparation:

  • Why are you here? Why them?
  • What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
  • What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
  • What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
  • What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
  • What worries you most open up a bit
  • Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?

Won’t You Be My Mentor?

So, you want a mentor. Now what?

Where? Who? How to approach?

First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).

Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.

If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.

Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.

Some questions to consider in your preparation:

  • Why are you here? Why them?
  • What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
  • What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
  • What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
  • What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
  • What worries you most open up a bit
  • Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?