How To Be A Great Follower

If your house is on fire, you want to know there’s someone calling the shots. More importantly, you pray for a team of strong, skilled, and courageous followers. My husband’s a firefighter, he knows the life and death importance of following well.

My friend, a Battalion chief leading the City’s firefighters, shares great stories of hiring for, and developing, great followers. Sure, he has a succession plan and builds leadership at every level.

But when the city’s burning, the character and skills of the followers are just as vital. Great leaders nurture followership. Great leaders know how and when to follow.

6 Ways To Be a Better Follower

Great leaders grow other leaders. They also nurture followership. As I look back over the years to the best followers on my teams, 6 characteristics stand out.

F – Focus

Focused energy. Passionate drive. Great followers focus on results and outcomes. They care deeply about their craft. They focus on the details and doing the best work possible.

O – Open to feedback and new ideas

Great followers have open hearts and minds. They want to improve and seek out feedback. They are open to people, change, and new ideas.

L – Loyal

Strong followers are loyal to the cause and to the team. They rise above drama and gossip and give folks the benefit of the doubt. They offer feedback from a place of deep concern. They’ll take one for the team.

L – Learning

Learning is second nature for great followers. They learn from experience, failure and success, introspection, and other people. They read books and seek out mentors. Learning is exciting and fun.

O – Offer Solutions and take initiative

Great followers care and solve problems. They turn expertise into creative solutions. They speak up and tell the truth.

W – Work as “We”

Great followers work well with others. They share best practices, workload, credit and feedback. They have each other’s backs.

9 Good Intentions That Aggravate Your Team

I aggravate the teams I lead and the leaders I follow. You do too, even when you’re trying to help. Most aggravating leadership starts with good intentions.

9 Good Intentions that Aggravate Your Team

Beware of these easy traps:

  1. Just Trying To Help – Before you know it, your well-intentioned advice is over-bearing. Hanging around with your sleeves rolled up is ticking them off. Those “how’s it going” stop-ins, feel like “helicoptering.” They need space to try, grow and fail. Let them.
  2. Building Consensus – You want to build consensus. But that takes time, and people want to move. Resist the urge to over-stakeholder. Stop worrying about everyone’s feelings. Find the balance between consensus and action.
  3. Looking For The Best Solution – You want to get it right and there are so many ways to approach the problem. You keep searching, and encourage your team to find the best solution. At some point, enough is enough. Make a plan and move on.
  4. Asking For Input – You ask for input, but you have strong opinions. When you ask, but don’t listen. You really tick them off. Don’t ask if you plan to eventually to tell.
  5. Big New Ideas – Your team loves your energy and big ideas. But, sometimes you’re confusing. Be sure to link this new idea with the bigger strategy. Stop changing gears every time you have an energetic burst. Be sure you follow-through.
  6. Being Nice – Can lead to wimpy feedback. If it’s bad, say so. They want to know the truth.
  7. Team Building – You’re working hard to build a great team. Conflict is part of that. Stop avoiding controversial topics. Let them argue. Get uncomfortable. You will all emerge stronger.
  8. Grooming – You want them to learn from your mistakes. You know the best way to act in certain scenarios. But times are changing, and they’ve got other input as well. Be sure you leave room in the development process for them to become their best selves. (see also, Are We Over-Grooming Our Leaders)
  9. Note: So grateful for the crowd sourcing from the Lead With Giants, Lead Change, and Center For Creative Leadership Communities providing input on this post. Namaste.

    *Photo by Larry Kohlenstein

Shaken Not Stirred

The secret to moving and shaking is stirring. Anyone in power can shake and intimidate. Real leaders stir hearts and minds toward powerful possibility. Growing leaders long to be stirred, not shaken.

Shaken Not Stirred

Joe was visibly shaken as he left the readout with the senior team. His results were solid, and he was prepared to share his team’s story. He just hadn’t anticipated that line of questioning. He could feel the conversation going sideways, and then he choked. 

He’d seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. The questions turned to sarcasm mixed with a few “gotchas.”

He left humiliated, stressed, and worried about what to tell his team. Should he be transparent and expose his fumble? Or downplay it, and buffer the feedback?

The last thing on his mind was how to improve the actual work. Instead he vowed to study more, bring more data, and stay up a bit later to rehearse. He said a little prayer that his career was not too deeply damaged. Joe was shaken, not stirred.

Stirred Not Shaken

Mike was full of anxiety as he approached the leadership readout. Last time, he was caught off guard and he knows the career implications of screwing up twice. When the question came that he couldn’t answer, he instantly felt the blood drain from his face. He stuttered in his response.

The next comment surprised him. “Mike, we know you know your business better than any of us. We just want to help you improve. We are here to support you. Let me rephrase the question.”

What followed was a series of open-ended questions and exciting dialogue. Joe stopped searching for the “right” answer and spoke from his heart.

He shared his latest wild and crazy idea. Everyone chimed in on the pros and cons. He left with tangible feedback on next steps, and areas to improve. He quickly huddled with his team to share the experience and inspire next steps.

He looked forward to the next review to share the team’s progress. Mike was stirred, not shaken. Why do we still have so much shaken going on?

Impatience As A Leadership Virtue

“Patience is the support of weakness; impatience the ruin of strength”
~ Charles Caleb Colto

“Karin, we should be able to have this project done by the end of the year.” I listened impatiently as the team broke down the timeline, contingencies, and tasks. They were the experts, and the project involved heavy IT lift–never fun. I also knew they could do more.

My next words made us all cringe, “We just don’t have until the end of the year. What’s possible by October?” It turns out, quite a lot. They’ll nail it.

Impatience is seldom on the short list of leadership competencies. People don’t hire coaches to help them become more impatient. Patience is a virtue. Impatience gets more done. It’s my daily wrestling match.

Push Possibility, Inspire People

Impatience as a leadership virtue

Great leaders are impatient with…

  • possibility
  • the status quo
  • problems
  • stagnating results
  • naysayers
  • delays
  • time wasters
  • games
  • gossip
  • ?

4 Ways to Inspire Through Impatience

  1. Don’t be a jerk – Impatience only works combined with other important characteristics (e.g trust, humility, relationships). Understand the consequences of the pressure. Are you driving the team to extreme hours, or sloppy short-cuts? Roll up your sleeves and serve.
  2. Be patient when needed – Use impatience sparingly on what matters most. Inspire passionate urgency toward your vision. Cut some slack on the small stuff. Prioritize and back off other tasks as needed to make way for the sprint.
  3. Explain why – Urgency without explanation frustrates. Ensure the team understands how the urgency links to the bigger picture.
  4. Go slow to go fast – Take the time up front to think things through. Come out of the gate slow and involve the right players. Ask provocative questions.

Sure patience is a virtue; done well, so is impatience. Your thoughts?

6 Ways To Encourage Persistence (Without Crushing Your Team)

“Persist through CRAP.Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure.”

Persistence– the common denominator of success. Dissect the stories of highly successful people across any context: relentless commitment, radical hours, laser focus, tremendous sacrifice. I’m always inspired by the stories of those who’ve “made it.” Bottom line, highly successful people have an abnormal commitment to their vision (hear from Michael Phelps, Will Smith and others in this short video. Cliff’s notes: work your butt off and be relentlessly persistent.
You can’t expect your entire team to care that much or live like that. But, connecting your team to a powerful vision and encouraging desire to achieve it, is vital when developing your people.

Teach the power of persistence.

 6 Ways to Encourage Persistence

  1. Model Obsession – I’ve been called a “maniac” and “obsessed” more than once in my quest to develop great leaders and winning organizations.

    I get what Phelps and others say in the above video. There’s truth to Will Smith’s confession, “I’ve never seen myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is a ridiculously, sickening work ethic. The person that works the hardest wins.”

    Model persistence to your vision. Be a positive maniac for what you believe in. Your energy will inspire.

  2. Empathize to Energize – If they’re frustrated and disappointed chances are you are too. Many leaders pile on with additional pressure. I’ve NEVER seen that help.

    A better choice is to acknowledge your feelings, and work from there. “I know we both wanted this project to be successful, and it’s not going the way we want. I understand your frustration. I’m feeling it too. Let’s brainstorm the best solution from here.

  3. Leverage Success – When someone’s down it easy to remember all the other bad times. Help them to recall their prior successes.

    Mine past wins to inspire future solutions.

  4. Break Down Frustration – Frustrated feels overwhelming. There’s nothing more intimidating that a stack of against you odds. Help them break down the problem into attainable solutions. Celebrate the small wins.
  5. Outline Options – Stuck sucks. See beyond closed doors. Ask questions to identify options. Options empower and inspire perseverance.
  6. Encourage Relationships – Most frustration and failure involves relationship breakdowns. Encourage stakeholdering and communication. Help them identify potential supporters. If there’s a real jerk involved, work a squeeze play by surrounding him with supporters of your idea.

Fast Results: Accomplish More In Less Time

You’ve been asked to do the impossible. The clock’s ticking and there’s pressure to perform. Competing priorities complicate the scene. Pushing harder exacerbates stress. Stress leads to inaction. Time to move fast.

The FAST Model

F-Focus

To move results quickly, focus is key. Resist the urge to fix everything. Identify and communicate the biggest priorities and break the work into manageable tasks. Focus on what each team member needs for success.

Communication: Align on 2-3 key leadership messages to share in every context.  Communicate them to the point of obnoxious… then communicate more. Check for understanding. Communicate again. Test it, “what do you think I most want to talk about today? If they don’t shout out your priorities, you’re not clear.

Activity: Make big work small. It’s tempting to build action plans with lots of activity to show you are trying. Less is more. Too much action overwhelms and confuses. Identify 2-3 actions that will make the biggest impact and hit them hard. Reinforce with focused and consistent leadership messaging.

Outliers: Use data to get surgical in your approach. Know the outliers and give them focused recognition and support. Avoid broad-brush interventions. Focus just-in-time actions on those who need them. See Also: How to Break the 80/20 Rule

A-Acknowledge

Slow down early and listen to concerns. Stop to acknowledge progress.

Competing Priorities: New initiatives are almost always piled onto existing workload. Acknowledge conflicting goals and competing priorities. Listen carefully to concerns. Prioritize. Give permission to stop. Some balls must drop. Decide which ones.

Progress: When you’re moving fast, don’t forget to pause at progress. Acknowledge small wins. Celebrate new behaviors. Recognize breakthrough thinking (see also In Defense of Wow)

S-Stretch

Fast-paced change provides great growth opportunities. Stretch yourself and others.

People: Fast paced change provides stretch opportunities. Provide special projects and stretch assignments. Turn strong players into teachers. Ask everyone what they must do next to achieve.

Boundaries, Assumptions and Rules: Stretch people to try new behaviors. Stretch boundaries, assumptions, and rules. Spend time asking the question, “what have we never tried before…?” Engage unlikely thinkers from outside the team.

T-Think

Go slow enough to think about what you’re doing and who you’re involving.

Stop stupidity: Every fast-moving project contains elements of stupid (e.g. time wasting tasks, old processes and reports that no longer align with new vision). Empower everyone to say stop as needed. See Also: Give the Guy a Brake and Seth Godin’s Basting the Turkey)

Assess and Fine-tune: Carefully measure progress and fine-tune as needed. Watch for unintended consequences. Be ready to change course as needed.

Stakeholder: When moving fast it’s easy to exclude. Think about peripheral players that must understand your plan. Slowing down to include the right players early, leads to smoother acceleration.

Real leadershipThis is the third of three in my series on Results. The first branch of the REAL model. Tomorrow, will return to a regular post. Next week, we’ll pick up with the E branch of the model. “Energy.” If you’re not already subscribed, enter your email, so you don’t miss it. As always, thanks to all who are joining the conversation through their comments.

The Problem With Short-Cuts

I was her old boss, but it was more than that. She emailed, “I was offered a new job, I can’t decide.” I knew we needed to talk. I tried calling a few times that day. We’re both busy. Finally, I left an enthusiastic short-cut message with answers.

I shared my best “heartfelt, short-cut” response: 5 reasons she SHOULD take this job. Stretch. Professional Growth. Exposure and some stuff more personal. I ended with mutterings about taking this risk and to call me.

Big mistake.

No Short-Cuts without Questions

She called me. Thankfully before she followed any of that short-cut advice. Given the context, it was wrong.

Life is always more complicated than it appears.

People. Personalities. Dynamics. Stuff (for those so inclined, please feel free to substitute a stronger S word).

I listened. More. A few questions and then more listening.

The job clearly looked good on paper, but the personal stakes were high. At some point stakes matter more. As does timing.

“I hear your heart. You don’t want this job. Delete my voicemail,” I shared, trying to be as enthusiastic in my retraction as I was in the initial advice.

We both breathed a sigh of relief.

Begin With An Open Mind

It’s hard to argue with Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit “begin with the end in mind.” Wise wisdom. But. Heads down, full steam ahead comes with risks.

Chartered courses without open minds lead to missed opportunity.

Sir Captain Don’s Story

Last week I met Sir Captain Don Stewart on our vacation to Bonaire, in the Dutch Caribbean.

Captain Don.

  • Was named one of the world’s greatest explorers by Life Magazine
  • Was recognized with National Geographic Society’s highest award
  • Was knighted
  • Led conservation movements and policy creation, including the elimination of spear fishing in Bonaire
  • Led the transformation of the Bonaire economy by creating a viable tourism industry
  • Made 25 expeditions to the Antarctic, and was recognized when a National geographic feature “the Walsh spur” was named after his contributions
  • Was appointed by Presidents Carter and Reagan to the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere
  • Was aboard the bathyscaphe Trieste when it made a record maximum descent into the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960, the deepest point of the world’s oceans

BUT before all that Don.

  • Didn’t make it as a hollywood actor
  • Had his screenplay rejected
  • Survived cancer
  • Was broke
  • Patented a method that made it possible to fit screens into sliding glass doors
  • Developed a highly successful screening company
  • Floated the Mississippi on a raft
  • Taught himself to sail
  • Was a spear fisher
  • Collected exotic fish and sold them for aquariums
  • Sunk his sailboat

Captain Don began with an open mind. One thing led to another. His passion emerged. He shared that he was encouraged by a hollywood friend to, “live his script.”

Begin with an Open Mind

open mindDon’t get stopped by…

  • Good but not great
  • False starts
  • Success
  • Failures
  • Setbacks
7 Ways to Inspire Courage

7 Ways To Inspire Courage

You know they can do it. They’re scared. Their lack of courage is a downward spiral. Fear stops trying. Lack of trying creates doubt. Doubt affirms negative self-perceptions. It breaks my heart to watch highly qualified, talented people let scared stop them.

And yet, it’s hard for those born with a few extra confidence genes to build courage in others. Skills that come naturally are hardest to teach.

Courage Drowns at 60 Feet

Apparently, I needed a dose of scared.

During the last day of Scuba certification, 60 feet under the crystal blue oceans of Bonaire, I stopped breathing. Oh, air was flowing. But the pristine water suddenly turned dark, and crushed my lungs. Panicked, I signaled to Sven, our Scuba instructor. “UP!” He looked confused. Now I signaled more aggressively, “I NEED TO GO UP, NOW.”

He checked my equipment, looked at me curiously and gently signed “No.” Now more frantic, I started to kick powerfully and swim up. He grabbed my BCD, deflated his, and held me down. Surfacing too soon would create medical problems. He calmly signaled that we would go up, together, and slowly. My family watched curiously. Why was mom, a former lifeguard, competitive swimmer and triathlete freaking out?

7 Ways to Build Courage

Sven knew how he reacted to my panic mattered. He also knew that he couldn’t certify someone who could potentially lose it diving in a remote area of the Island. How he reacted below and above the surface made all the difference.

 Sven’s Approach to Courage

courage

  1. Stay calm
    Confidence inspires courage. Sven didn’t react to my reaction. He never looked worried.
  2. Establish partnership
    “I’ve got you.” “We’re going to do this together.” “I’m not going to let you drown.”
  3. Ask questions
    When we got safely to shore he asked lots of questions to understand the scene. “When had I started to feel uncomfortable?” What did it feel like? Were there signs of Nitrogen Narcosis?. Surely such an absurd reaction had an explanation.
  4. Reinforce competence
    Sven reassured in his Dutch accent that I was fully competent. “Karin, you’ve mastered all the skills and demonstrated them well.” “ You know all the standby skills.” You know what to do in any emergency.”
  5. Naming the fear
    “The biggest risk now is that you become afraid of your reaction to your fear. You weren’t afraid of going deep before, so there’s no reason you should again, unless you tell yourself you’re going to be afraid.
  6. Straight talk
    “I know you can do this, and want to certify you. If you panic again, I can’t.” There are consequences to low self-confidence. We can’t risk putting people in certain positions, for their safety and others.
  7. Encouragement
    “You’ve got this. Let’s try again.”

We did. The next dive led to certification. Certification led to a wonderful week of diving all over the Island, including remote areas. No fear, just fun.

3 Lessons Of The Expectant Leader

“Expectations” is one of my favorite topics. Today, please enjoy the lessons of expectant leaders, from leader and guest blogger Dave Bratcher.

Ever wonder why performance is not at the level you expected?

We often look through the rear view mirror to analyze our performance. Just as the mirror suggests, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” They are closer because the one who is responsible for setting them is the same person looking into the mirror.

Have you ever been perplexed as to why some team members are not performing at the level you expect? What about your own level of performance? Do you know what your boss or clients expect from you?

3 Lessons of the Expectant Leader

  1. People will rise to your level of expectationThere is something magical about people performing to the level of your expectation. As a former School Board member, this is seen in classrooms around the globe on a daily basis. When test scores are low, it is often the desire of school administration to lower standards in an attempt to close the gap between performance and expectations. This has been proven to be the absolute wrong approach to take. Raising expectations will raise performance. This is also true within a family, as Karin recently reflected about her Dad
  2. Expectations must be communicated early and often – I am reminded of an assignment in college in which I spent hours completing the project, only to find out the grading metrics were not in line with what I produced. The expectations were not disclosed at the beginning; rather they were only used to judge performance. Have you ever thought, “How am I doing?” At some point in our careers we have all wondered this. Guess what? Your team members are normal and they may be asking themselves the same questions. In Dave Ramsey’s book, Entreleadership, he talks about the importance of developing a Key Results Area document for each position on your team. It is a short document, including 4-5 bullet points, describing the expectations for any given position. This document is then used to monitor and assess performance throughout the year. Our team should ALWAYS know where they stand, and it’s our responsibility to tell them.
  3. Inspect what you expect – I don’t like clichés, but this phrase is memorable. Just because it is easy to remember doesn’t mean it is easy to implement. I am talking to myself on this one. This has been the area that I struggle with the most. What I have to do is put a reminder in my calendar, marked “Follow Up” as a way to make sure the inspection follows the expectation.

About Dave Bratcher

dave bratcher Dave Bratcher (@davebratcher on Twitter) is the founder of DaveBratcher.com devoted to leadership development. Subscribe for updates at www.DaveBratcher.com and receive Dave’s FREE ebook, A Picture Book Manifesto on Leadership.  He is a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach. Dave is also a writer and currently serves as the Vice President of Financial Services for his community foundation. He and his wife, of 8 years, have two children, ages 5 and 2.

5 Ways To Unblock Leadership Energy

I felt my energy drain as I drove toward the call center. The center’s results were stagnant– it was time to dig deeper. I was there to help, but also to deliver some tough messages. Necessary, not fun.

“Joe,” one of the managers, ran enthusiastically across the parking lot. Joe’s energy ignited mine. The day was looking up. As we walked toward the center together, Joe high-fived and encouraged each arriving rep. They responded in kind. More positive vibes.

We entered the building and the rest of the managers sat quietly at the conference room table nervously awaiting my (and now Joe’s) arrival. The difference in energy–palpable.

Joe’s results blew away the rest of the struggling center. While the other managers shared action plans, Joe excitedly articulated his leadership vision and robust examples of personal connection, challenges and growth.

When I met with the executive team offline I questioned, “How do we get more Joes?” They squirmed, “We can’t expect everyone to have that level of energy.”

Energetic Leaders are Born, Made, and Destroyed

Energy is union, with yourself, the vision, and the team. Energy isn’t extraversion. Don’t waste your time looking for “Joes.” Unblock the stuck energy on your team. It’s not that hard. Release their inner “Joe.”

Empowering low energy destroys potential.

5 Energy Pressure Points

Your leaders have innate energy yearning for release. Get them unstuck. Their energy will cascade, and pretty soon you’ll have an entire organization high on Qi (9 out of 10 studies show well running Qi beats energy drinks without that awful crash ;-).

  1. Missing Connection – Connection fuels fire. Teach the power of connecting, with you, peers, and their team. Model the way. 360 feedback and coaching helps. So can a good talk. Explore insecurities and fear preventing valuable connections.
  2. Faking it – Pretending exhausts. Leaders pretend to look the part, fit in, mask insecurities, hide secrets. Help your leaders uncover and use their mutant powers by using unique skills that stretch them beyond their current job.
  3. Blurry Vision – Fuzzy vision confuses. When leaders lack energy, it’s often that they don’t understand (or buy-into) the vision. It’s hard to act jazzed, when you don’t get it. Go slow. Help them understand the bigger picture. Encourage closed-door dissent and questions. “Ah ha” moments radiate energy. Then help craft and practice messages.
  4. No Options – Choices ignite. Challenge your team with exciting possibilities. Leaders lose energy when they’re stuck. Stuck in their career, in a role, in a project. Help them discover options and new challenges.
  5. Stress – Stress sabotages . When leaders are stressed from competing priorities or home concerns they lose the necessary energy to lead well. Help them balance their goals and energetic pursuits.

5 Ways To Stop Excuses And Inspire Results

Big goals. Frustrating roadblocks. Concerns grow into excuses. Venting fuels negativity.
Weak leaders excuse excuses.
Strong leaders reframe thinking.
Growing leaders inspire possibility.

A Few of My Favorites

  • “We would sell more, if the product line were different”
  • “Our attrition would be better, if our competitor wasn’t paying more”
  • “My quality results would be higher, if I wasn’t assigned to the late shift”
  • “The employees would be more engaged, if this wasn’t a union environment”
  • “Our stock would be doing better, if the economy were better”
  • ___________?

Take a minute to fill in your favorite excuses to your most significant business problems. The issues are real. Inspire beyond the excuses.

Inspire Beyond Excuses

  1. Acknowledge reality – Don’t defend or sugar coat. Share work underway by others. Brainstorm creative solutions, but then move on. Clearly articulate what is beyond the team’s scope. If it’s gravity acknowledge that too.
  2. “Sell the bananas on the truck.” – When my sales team complained that they needed a different product mix, I had one response, “sell the bananas on the truck.” If you have bananas, find the people who need bananas, and meet their needs. Drive to where the banana eaters live. Stop wishing you had mangos. Align on what’s within their control. Brainstorm a list. You can impact most of what matters. Encourage past frustration.
  3. Reinforce – vision and purpose. Empower contribution to the bigger picture. “When you win despite X7@#$%#$%, what will that mean to your team?.. our customers? the company? your career?”
  4. Recognize – those succeeding despite the obstacles. Someone always has their head down winning. Celebrate success. It’s hard to make excuses when others around you are knocking it out of the park under the same conditions. In my “bananas on the truck” role I created a “century club, for anyone that got to 100. That seemed crazy at the time, when 7 was a big win. We celebrated every Century Club member with passion (not a lot of $, just excitement and personal attention). Soon 100 felt easy.
  5. Show them the Data – Complaining magnifies concerns. Data grounds issues in reality. “The competition is causing our attrition” can be countered with, “2 of 40 have left to work for a competitor how could we have saved the other 38?”

*“Sell the bananas on the truck” I took this pic in Costa Rica… this guy was literally selling the banana on his truck. Inspiring.