A participant in one of my sessions took me aside and said:
I totally agree with your concept. It’s the execution that’s hard. When I’m truly confident that my team can win, I’m able to calmly step back and humbly listen to their ideas. I know that sweet spot you’re talking about where the real magic happens. But it’s when I need that magic most, when my boss is breathing down my back, or I actually don’t know what to do, that I start acting like a jerk and barking orders. Intellectually, it makes no sense. I know that behavior sets me back, but I keep getting stuck in the same patterns.
Confident humility is not a fixed state. Most of us are either more confident or more humble in certain situations. In order to help you think through this, I’ve created a confident humility self assessment based on a frequency scale. Take a look and see how often you do these behaviors–and which circumstances inspire or hinder your ability to be the leader you strive to be.
I must admit it. I’m a sucker for valentines. I smile when I get one from a friend or loved one. But, I swoon when one comes unexpectedly from a total unlikely source. It always reminds me of getting a valentine in the fifth grade from the cute redhead on the back row. I did not know she knew I even existed. When I opened it and turned to look at her, she winked and smiled. I melted on the spot!! But, I am getting way ahead of myself.
Creating a Customer-Focused Culture
I had a mid-afternoon keynote in Alexandria, VA and strolled down the street from my hotel to find lunch at a local restaurant. The place where I settled was quiet, comfortable and with an interesting menu. But, mostly I noticed the upbeat attitude of everyone in the place.
I had finished my lunch and the waitress brought me my check…and, a valentine signed, “Susan.” When I opened it and turned to look at her, she winked and smiled.
The consultant inside me demanded I learn a bit more about the restaurant manager whose leadership no doubt contributed to her ingenuity and warmth. Now, I fully realize folks can be creative and friendly without the permission of some boss. I also know leaders can contribute to the capacity and commitment of frontline employees to deliver innovative service, not just good service. Good service is like a tasty cupcake; innovative service is like a great cupcake with sprinkles! Susan added sprinkles.
I cornered the manager-owner, Jim and asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee for ten minutes of his time. “Sure,” he said, “the place is in good hands with all my people.” I told him about the valentine and smile (the wink I considered just between Susan and me).
“That Susan is always coming up with whimsical ways to surprise our guests,” he told me. I was not chalking it up to just her personality. “What do you do to support your employees in helping them deliver surprising service?”
“First,” he said as he began his leadership lessons, “I don’t think of them as employees but as fellow-owners, partners you might say. That means the respect and consideration you would give a friend, especially a friend you depend on like I depend on them. People come here because we have great food. But, we want them to tell their friends. And, it is things like your Sandy valentine that makes them tell other people. They need the freedom to try silly things. One of our employees brought in leftover gourmet desserts from a family reunion so our guests would have a free dessert for a day.”
“Do you worry about them giving away the shop?” I probed. “For instance, it they got free desserts there would be no need to buy the dessert on your menu.” He smiled. “They make smart decisions when they are intimately familiar with our P&L. Everyone here knows what comes in, what goes out, and what everything costs. Remember, they are like owners. And, if we have a nice profit, they get free ballgame tickets or a case of wine or a night with their family in a nearby hotel. But, mainly, they get a kick out of watching people like you smile when something like a valentine comes with your check. That is the kind of people we try to hire.”
Leadership is about instilling pride, inspiring greatness, and supporting innovation. As I was getting up to leave, he offered one last lesson: “Take great care of your partners, they will take care of your guests, and your guests will take care of your growth and profits! And, the coffee is on me!”
My friend, Regina, says that she considers a kid’s book report a win if only one person ends up crying. I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth I put my parents through in the early years. And last night was one of those nights at the Hurt household. My husband, a firefighter, was on an overnight shift, so it was just me, Sebastian, a bucket of Swedish Fish and the promise of a very long night.
I imagine most parents are familiar with the “I didn’t start early enough, and now we need to go to the Walgreens for supplies, stay up half the night and get up early in the a.m., finish just in time to get to school with wet hair and no breakfast kind of loving feeling.”
What makes these nights so hard is that the parent holds the standards.
“Nope, that’s not what the rubric says. We have to follow the guidelines or you’ll lose points.”
“I know it’s late, but your handwriting is getting really sloppy. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to re-write that part.”
Cue the tears.
“Okay, you’ve done all the basics, now how are we going to make this really stand out?”
It be much easier to just get through the basics. After all, it’s JUST a book report.
The Powerful Side Effect
And then there’s the side effect. On the ride to school this morning, Sebastian was glowing. “I think this is the best report I’ve ever done.” “I’m sure this is going to be the very best one.” “I can’t imagine I won’t get an A.” “I can’t wait to show my teacher.” And my personal favorite, “Mom, you know you did a really good job too.” 😉
Pride. Confidence. Energy.
Too often I see managers back off their standards, letting their team just get by. After all it’s only a ______.
That’s not leadership.
Tough standards, gentle inspiration.
When you’re tempted to buy into “This is impossible,” consider the side effect.
The first time I heard this question I had just accepted a new position with a nice bump in salary, and responsibilities. I was expressing to a friend that I was nervous about meeting the expectations of my new manager.
The minute my friend asked, “Lisa, how good can you stand it?” I realized that the expectations I was most worried about were mine. I didn’t relax much at that moment, but knowing that I am the one who has the power to achieve as much as I want has helped me to have a rich and varied life.
Getting Past Zero-Sum
We tend to think that the business world is always a zero-sum environment, “If Steve gets that promotion, and then I will not be able to achieve my goals.” However there is always more—a different department or project, new products, new companies. Good things don’t always look exactly like we want them to, but they still add to our lives.
“Standing it good” is about having the courage to know what we want, and to go after it. Sometimes that means that we have to strive for years, and sometimes it’s as simple as asking for it in the moment; like asking for more responsibility, or declining an assignment that does not resonate with us.
This concept of “standing it good” is not the same as “win at any cost.” It means we stop selling ourselves short and we allow ourselves to strive for more. When we do this, others are inspired as well.
It Serves the Whole Company
When the individual team members believe that “more is always possible”, they have an expansive mindset, and so are inspired to be, and to do, more. This benefits the organization as well. Three of the benefits are:
Team members are more willing to work with others in new and different ways, so they accomplish more, with higher morale
Rather than manage, leaders are encouraged to lead because their teams are more proactive and pull them ahead.
Knowing that it’s okay, even encouraged, to diverge from the norm means that team members won’t stop before they have done everything they can to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.
Leading Your Team to “Stand it Good”
As leaders we can be especially influential in spreading this mindset. First we have to believe it for ourselves. It’s human nature to contract and to see the negative side of situations and events. I learned this concept decades ago and I still have to consciously open my mind at times. Actually doing the new and different is even more challenging!
Here are a few practices that can help you, and your teams, lean toward standing it good:
Make it okay to think, and act, outside the box. Once in awhile, get on top of the box. When brainstorming, encourage the team to get really radical and have fun. Implementation is when the practicalities will need to be considered carefully.
Watch out for negative or constricting language. There’s a difference between useful risk management and being a naysayer. Are you or team members says things like, “Yes, but…”, or “That’s interesting, but…”, or just plain, “That will never work…”?
Encourage yourself and others to do one thing each day that scares them. It may be as simple as speaking up in a meeting, or as complex as taking on a new role.
Leading the Change
Every teeny, tiny change is a victory upon which future growth is based. Yet even with small changes it can be hard to tell the difference between our discomfort that comes from trying something new and the uneasiness that tells us something is not right. Practice and celebrating the small changes are the best way to get to that state of knowing. A supportive leader and team makes practicing fun and easy, and the whole team benefits in a myriad of ways.
“Do you trust me?” What a loaded question. It’s tough, even with people we love. “Sure, I trust you to be faithful, but do I trust you’ll remember to pick up the dry cleaning?” Even small actions can build or diminish trust over time.
Defining the behaviors that breed trust can go a long way in encouraging more of the good stuff on teams. Let’s have some fun with this easy trust building exercise.
An Easy Team Trust Exercise
for the initial conversation
yellow sticky notes
a wall or white board
easel paper and markers
to make it last
an artist (if you don’t have one on your team, you can find one online for a reasonable price. Joy Guthrie does a nice job. Or you can find other creative help on Fiverr)
Ask each team member to write down what they consider their own most trustworthy characteristics, one per sticky note (e.g. set clear expectations, tell the truth, follow-through). They can come up with as many examples as they like. Don’t skip this step, introspection is an important part of the process.
Ask each person to share three of their trustworthy characteristics with the group. Some discussion may occur naturally here. Allow that to happen.
Have each team member place their sticky notes on the wall or white board, and begin to group them into similar clusters.
Identify the themes and write them on the easel paper.
Now the fun part: have the team design their ideal trusted team member. For now this can be just a stick figure with labels, but encourage the team to get creative (e.g. sincere eyes, strong arms for heavy lifting, transparent heart). Name this little guy, or gal (e.g, Trusted Tracy).
To keep the conversation going, have an artistic team member (or rent some help online) draw up the caricature of your ideal trusted team member (with labels highlighting the characteristics). Laminate the caricature (like your very own team Flat Stanley)
When your team comes together for team meetings or other events, find time to ask who wins the “Trusted Tracy” award? And why. This is a great way for people to nominate and highlight the trusted behaviors that are happening on the team. Team members can do a casual “vote” to select a winner, and that person gets to hold on to “Tracy” in his or her cube or office until the next time. This works for virtual teams as well, just take a pic and turn it into an email-able image.
Let’s have some fun ourselves! Send me your ideas for building our own Trusted Tracy, and we’ll turn it into pic. If there are artists out there who want to play, I’ll include them in the post as well. Let’s have a big LGL Friday virtual team builder Even if you’ve never commented before, this is an easy time to chime in.
Thanks for all your contributions! Here’s our composite (click to see a bigger version).
The hard sell is so old school. Your customers and employees have become conditioned to respond to any hard sell with a Google search to find out if what you’re saying is too good to be true. The minute the Google-search has begun, you’ve missed the opportunity to build trust and connection and outsourced your brand positioning to the vortex. Not to mention giving them a chance to take a second look at your competition.
And yet, the world continues to be filled with executives over-selling their vision, recruiters over-selling unrealistic lifestyles, and salespeople with a hard sell of features and benefits. More than ever, telling the whole truth has become a competitive advantage.
Outsmart the competition by being an explainer.
3 Ways to Outsmart the Competition by Being an Explainer
If you want to outsmart the competition, don’t sell, explain. If you want to engage your employees with your vision and aligned with your brand, be sure they can see themselves in the bigger picture.. They take time to explain your ideas, perspective, and values. Welcome the tough questions and be willing to risk a few slippery slopes. Embrace the tough conversations.
1. In Marketing: Teach Before Selling
So many people ask me why I give away so much content. I’ve been told “I don’t understand your model” more than once. But the companies who work with me get it.
My mission to grow leaders is vital. If you really can’t pay, you still need our Winning Well tools and techniques, and I will share for free. I also know that the best work I do is face-to-face, helping you and your team go deeper. The deeper magic happens when we explore your world together.
I encourage you to adopt a similar approach. No matter what your mission, be a teacher. Help people understand the industry and the competition. Give boldly. Important work will follow. If it doesn’t, improve your message.
2. In Recruiting: Give a Realistic Perspective
I was shocked to hear one of my MBA students come back disillusioned from a recent sales pitch of one of the big consulting firms. It was the exact same pitch I rejected 20 years ago. The story was “work-life balance.” The label I heard back then was “more nights home than away” (which I soon found out counted weekends, vacation, and holiday… essentially 4 nights of every workweek away.) Today, all it took was a few quick searches to hear the real message “We make it easy for you to hire people to raise your children, clean your house, say your prayers and do your gardening. You won’t have time.”
If you want to recruit the best talent away from your competition, work to be an attractive place to work.
3. In Engaging Commitment: Tell The Truth
For God’s sake (and everyone else’s), don’t BS. If you are in a conference room trying to spin an uncomfortable message and your heart is sagging, listen to the voice. Your team will see right through any spin you are weaving. Do your best o tell the truth with the best words you can muster. If there’s still stuff you can’t share, whatever you do don’t lie about the future. You will win hearts, minds, and engaged arms and legs by telling the truth at every juncture. I’ve made a career of telling bad news well. Nothing opens the door for true engagement better than that.
Getting there early is one of the simplest ways to get ahead of the competition. And yet this simple leadership tactic is often lost in the frenzy of overbooked schedules. Getting a fast start gets work done. Getting to the race before others positions you for a fast start. Getting to the show early gets the best seat.
When Early is the New Late
“I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
Sebastian (then 3) and I were waiting in the daycare parking lot for them to turn on the lights at 7 am. The big operations review was scheduled for 8 am in our headquarters building across the street. At 6:58, my phone rang. It was my bosses’ secretary whispering into the receiver. “Karin where ARE you? The corporate jet arrived early and everyone’s in their seats ready to start, but YOU. John asked me to call.”
“Doesn’t the meeting start at 8 am?” I asked wondering how in the world I could screw this up.
“Well, that’s what’s scheduled. But it starts when the C-levels arrive.”
I explained my situation, did the fastest “kiss and go” I could muster and bolted across the street. This was my first ops review in this organization, and clearly, I’d missed the memo.
Sure, technically I had done nothing wrong. After all, I was there in plenty of time. But the big guys were frustrated and I was embarrassed. It was a big wake-up call for the benefits of getting “there” early. It turns out “early” has some beautiful side effects.
3 Times It Makes Sense to Get There Early
1. To the Meeting
Arriving early to the meeting gives you time for casual conversation, build relationships, and to trial balloon your ideas. Yeah, an hour ahead of time is ridiculous in most scenes, but 10 minutes can go a long way in showing eagerness to engage. Plus it gives you time to show up calm and organized. Scrambling in out of breath to a meeting does nothing for your executive presence.
2. To the Conversation
Paying attention to the conversation at the idea stage of a new project or idea can position you well for deeper involvement. Also if you’re the leader and have a vision, it’s better to share your thoughts early than to come in late in the game and explain why it’s not what you wanted.
3. To the Office
Not necessarily always, but sometimes this sends a strong message that you’re “skipping to work” and ready to go. Plus, most execs I know get to work before the rest of the team. So if you’re there, and they’re there, chances are greater for a casual chat while pouring a cup of coffee. I’ve used this technique more than once in my career to casually “bump into” an exec I needed to talk to on the way into the building. Don’t be a stalker, but used every now and then, this approach can work to your advantage. I know such an early morning chat was a key factor in one of my most significant promotions.
A bit of strategic early can make a big difference in your career and your personal success.
If you have no idea what an action learning project is, Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of describing it.
Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results. The learning that results helps improve the problem-solving process as well as the solutions the team develops. The action learning process includes (1) a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex, (2) a diverse problem-solving team or “set,” (3) a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection, (4) a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and (5) a commitment to learning. In many, but not all, forms of action learning, a coach is included who is responsible for promoting and facilitating learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. In addition, the learning acquired by working on complex, critical, and urgent problems that have no currently acceptable solutions can be applied by individual, teams, and organizations to other situations.
But what Wikipedia can’t tell you is why this beautiful design so often fails. Having been involved with hundreds of action learning projects over the years, I’ve seen amazing, breakthrough work and also colossal train wrecks.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing an Action Learning Program
1. Lack of Project Sponsorship
Participants get REALLY excited about their project, and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics lurking beneath the surface. They didn’t have access to the right people or all the information. They spin their wheels, and these high-potential employees feel frustrated that they wasted their time, and become resentful of the experience. Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the game, but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.
2. Unclear Parameters
Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.
3. The Wrong Players
Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives. Not all exposure is good exposure. Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience. Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. I’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.
4. Lack of Supervisor Commitment
Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job. But it’s important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs. If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with the ALP team.
5. Lack of Implementation Resources
Typically such programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation. Be sure to secure the appropriate commitment. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your ALP will lose all credibility.
Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.
If you’re interested in creating or improving your leadership development program, or running an Action Learning Program for your company, please give me a call for a free consultation.
Join me tonight on Biz LockerRoom radio at 4pm EST for more details click here.
To wrap up 2014, I share the most popular posts of 2014 in case you missed them.
I’m looking forward to an amazing new year for our community. If you’ve not yet completed the short survey on what you’d like to see next year, please take a moment now by clicking here.
Eight Questions You Should Ask Your Boss A very practical list of questions you can use to get a deeper dialogue going with your boss. It also includes some great conversation starters if you’re the boss.
When Passive Aggressive Meets the Truth I must say, I’m glad this one got traction because it came from a really emotional place. A wonderful side effect of blogging is the cathartic feeling of helping others grow from my pain 😉
5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings Done well, skip level meetings can inspire, engage, motivate and inform the skipper, skipee, and even the skipped. On the other hand, poorly run skip level meetings inadvertently bring on “Diaper Genie” feedback and diminish trust. There’s not a lot out there on this subject. If you run skip level meetings, there are some important tips here.
Trickle Down Intimidation The same leaders who carefully craft inspiring messages for the frontline, may be undercutting their efforts by inadvertent trickle down intimidation. Fear is contagious. Leaders watch the level above them and take their cues on how to act and what to say.
Great leaders have a unique combination of confidence and humility coupled with the power to create real vision and connection. These forces work together to inspire a magnetic magic that leads to breakthrough results. I’m on a mission to inspire and develop these characteristics in leaders around the world. This philosophy is at the core of my message in my speaking, writing and consulting. I’m confident it’s a message worth sharing.
Today I’m sharing some free gifts to help get the word out. I encourage you to download and use with your teams.
I’d also love to talk with you about the possiblity of working with you and your team on a fast start to 2015 or speaking at your next event. Please contact me for a free consultation on how we can build something just right.
As a holiday gift to you, I’m sharing some easy exercises you can use with your team in the new year (see sidebar). If you’re already a subscriber, check your email for a download link. If you’re new here, we’d love to have you join our inspiring tribe.
More End of Year Fun
Our LGL tribe had some nice recognition, being honored as a Top 10 Leadership Sites of 2014 based on COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT. You did that! I am so grateful for your amazing interaction. Your comments are my favorite part of writing.
If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been teaching an MBA course on Managing Difficult Employees and gave these “students” (read that, really smart working millennials with big jobs in our nation’s capital) “homework” to developing an approach to manage their difficult employee and to journal about it. If you missed Monday’s post, best to start there.
I asked these “students” to share what they learned most from their experience. Their list is a powerful start. I’m excited for you to add your best thinking.
Don’t ignore it. I know, I know… this seems SO obvious, but I’ve got to tell you 97% of the stories started with that strategy. Be honest with yourself. What really difficult employees (up, down and sideways) are you ignoring, or staying away from in hopes that the problem will take care of itself?
Try something. I had to laugh at how many students shared, “and then you made me… and it worked!” Bottom line, no grades were given for action, just analysis. No “making” just “challenging.” Where do you need to be challenged to address the situation?
Look within. At the end of the day, the deepest discovery for many of the students was that they were part of the problem. I was impressed to see so many sharing “and then I became a difficult employee because…”
Understand their point of view. It’s amazing how the perspective changes from another person’s cube. Go there, listen and hang out a while.
Get to know them as human beings. No really. I mean it, even if they’re really jerky. This was one of the number one strategies and it changed the game.
Stand-up for what’s right. These guys and gals put bullies in their place, and had their bosses reconsider. Don’t take crap. People treat you how you let them.
If it’s really stupid get HR involved. Your boss can’t smack you, or demean you, or hide vital information. If it’s really stupid, write it down and get the right people involved. That works too.
The band had traveled 13 hours on 14 buses for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now slime was falling from the sky. The 500 piece band had planned to hold their final rehearsal on the fields of Newark airport. Now they were stuffed into the Marriott ballroom. It was raining, sleeting and blowing on their parade. David Starnes, the band’s director, stood on the makeshift podium– a pile of chairs– on the far edge of the ballroom and said,
“I know this is not ideal, but sometimes you have to make chicken salad. All eyes on me.”
As I experienced his leadership, “eyes” had little to do with it. Between songs and sets he wove in one of the best motivational locker room speeches I’ve ever heard.
How to Give a Motivational Pre-Game Speech
David Starnes on leadership (with admiration and apologies for paraphrasing).
1. Visualize Game Day
He set the scene with great detail. “Matt Lauer has just introduced us. The whistle blows. Ready stance. And we begin the NBC sequence (nice touch to call it so).” It was enough to make me want to stand at attention, and I was just there taking pictures.
2. Inspire Perfection
“I heard one early entrance and one delayed cut-off. We don’t want to be watching the tape at the banquet tomorrow night wondering– who was that?” Who would want to be “that guy?” I’m not sure if he really heard two lone stragglers or not, but the sentiment was brilliant. Everyone needed to be on their A game. No one could afford to get lost in the cacophony.
3. Invite Improvement
“Woodwinds, what ONE THING can you do tomorrow that would make your performance just a little bit better?” If I were leading he trumpet section you can bet your dingles, I’m asking that question too. Leaders inspire leaders.
4. Make it Personal
“I want this to be so awesome that Cynthia Jenkins (name changed) can’t speak because she’s so choked up.” When I asked my son who Cynthia was (assuming it was a long-time Dean dying of cancer or some such story) he shared, “Nope, just a clarinet section leader.” Everyone of these 500 music makers matters.
5. Express Pride
“I am so proud of you. You’ve got this. All those hours of practice have come down to this and you are ready.”