Leading is tough enough without ignoring these critical truths.
“I wish someone would have told me some of this before I started leading. Life would have been so much easier. I bet my team wishes I knew it too.”
We hear this sentiment after almost every leadership workshop or keynote speech we deliver. And we get it – we wish we had access to all these leadership tools and strategies earlier in our careers. That’s why we built them, and are so passionate about sharing.
But you know as well as we do, leading well isn’t JUST about mastering tools and techniques. It’s a mindset.
So today we bring you six leadership realities we wish we learned sooner.
6 Leadership Realities to Ground Your Leadership
1. Everyone is a volunteer.
Control is an illusion. You don’t control anyone or anything except for yourself. Everyone you work with chooses what they’ll do and how they’ll do it. Yes, your team is paid and if they choose not to perform at a certain level, they can lose their job – but that’s still their choice.
When you remember everyone is a volunteer you know that the effort you want your people to give is their choice. Sure, you get to influence that choice. When you recognize that everyone chooses what they do, it transforms their work into a gift, and that changes everything.
2. You’re in the hope business.
This is one of the most neglected truths about leading a team. Leadership is the belief that if we work together we can have a better tomorrow. Together we can do more, be more, and add more value to the world.
That’s a big deal. It might be the biggest deal of all.
And some of the time your team will be stressed and discouraged, your job is to help them find the hope.
Without hope, you’re done. When your team has hope, you have a chance.
3. Change isn’t a choice.
When you’re leading you’ll never have it handled.
There are moments of dazzling teamwork where everyone aligns and you achieve more than you ever thought possible. But next week, one of those team members moves away or technology changes or your competitor does something different that you can’t ignore. Now you’re working hard again to create the next future.
Leadership is a journey where are no final destinations. At some point, you will leave your team – hopefully, in the capable hands of leaders whom you’ve invested in and developed. In the meantime, whatever you did last week opened the door for the new challenges and change you will face this week.
4. Effective or right?
Many new leaders (and more than a few experienced leaders) get stuck because they cannot see past their own “rightness” and do the things that will help them achieve results and build relationships.
“Why should I have to tell them again…I said it once.”
Yes, you did – three months ago. People have many priorities competing for their attention. If it’s important, communicate it multiple times in multiple ways.
“Why should I encourage/thank them? they’re just doing their job.”
Yes, they are. Yet people are more engaged when they feel appreciated and are seen as a human being, not just a cog in a machine.
“Why should I hear opposing viewpoints? I’m an expert in this subject and I’ve looked at all the options.”
Yes, you are and we’re sure you did a thorough analysis, but if you want your team to be committed to the idea, their voices need to be heard. Besides, you might be surprised by someone else’s perspective.
If you want to achieve results and increase your influence, look for places where you’ve clung to being “right.” Then let it go…and choose to be effective.
5. Harder isn’t smarter.
“Work smarter, not harder” is a cliché for a reason. More effort isn’t always the answer. Twelve hour days filled with back-to-back meetings may feel busy, but they’re not healthy, strategic, or ultimately productive.
When you’re leading, creating time to think and get perspective will often be far more valuable than pouring in a few more minutes of sweat equity. Once you’ve got motivated people and clear shared expectations, the changes that will do the most good often aren’t more effort, but better systems.
6. You are not alone.
Too many leaders suffer in lonely silence. You don’t have to. In fact, leading by yourself will limit your career and influence.
Effective leaders connect with people. Connect with your colleagues and invest in one another’s success. Connect with your team and they’ll make you better. Connect with mentors or coaches to grow. Connect with a community of leaders for support and encouragement.
When you build on a strong foundation, leading is more rewarding and you’re more effective. Leave us a comment and share a foundational truth or mindset that has served you well.
Believe it or not, we’re actually now spending more time with coworkers than family; this is true of almost 80% of people who work thirty to fifty hours a week. So it’s probably not surprising that research indicates we’re increasingly viewing our coworkers as direct extensions of our family. Group dynamic researchers say the parallel should make intuitive sense considering that the first organization people ever belong to is their families, with parents the first bosses and siblings the first colleagues. “Our original notions of an institution, of an authority structure, of power and influence are all forged in the family,” says Warren Bennis, the late management guru.
So since we’re there already, why not take a closer look at the best (and worst) of family dynamics to create through-the-roof camaraderie?
It’s worth the pursuit. Studies show that top-rated places to work share a sense of camaraderie as a key ingredient in their success formula. And the “add-on” effects of camaraderie in the workplace are astounding; nearly 40 percent of survey respondents named their coworkers as the top reason they love working for their company, 66 percent said those positive relationships increased their productivity, and 55 percent said they helped mitigate their on-the-job stress levels.
Now, if you stop and think about the attributes of a happy family, you’ll soon realize the number of traits that would be applicable for creation of a close-knit group in the workplace. And while each unhappy corporate family is unhappy in its own way, happy corporate families are all alike. They:
Make heartfelt connections with one another, showing warmth and an interest to connect
Openly and honestly communicate (even over-communicate) with one another
Have a sense of watching one another’s back, and that “we’re all in this together”
Are fiercely committed to each other and put each other first
Share goals and values, uphold family codes
Enjoy each other
Have compassion and move towards rather than away from one another in crisis
Help each other grow and support each other
The idea is to keep the nuclear family metaphor front and center and to strive to embed family values into your own workplace culture. But as you do so, it’s important to be mindful of darker family theatrics that all too often play out at work. Research in workplace dynamics indeed confirms that people tend to recreate their own family dramas at the office. Do any of these situations seem familiar?
Over the top or desperate plays for approval from bosses
Backstabbing of and bickering with scene-stealing co-workers
Bickering in meetings like at the family dinner table
Shying away from authority figures
Harboring petty jealousies towards co-workers
Hypercritical judgment of subordinates or co-workers
The key is to bring all the best of a caring, family mindset to an organizational culture while leaving behind all the subconsciously engrained worst aspects. A failure to at least do the latter can lead to a substantive productivity drain. A two-year study by Seattle psychologist Brian DesRoches found that “family conflict” type dramas routinely waste 20 to 50 percent of workers’ time.
How might your behaviors change if you acted as if your co-workers were actually family? Would you exhibit the powerful “happy family” behaviors previously listed?
It’s a filter that can drastically change your day to day interactions with others and maximize meaning derived from your relationships in the process.
It happens on teams, it happens in training classes, it happens on dates. A rush to achieve without connection will backfire. It’s tempting to rush in, get started and get stuff done. Sure the out-of-the gate progress feels great at beginning, but if you don’t take time to create genuine connections and build relationships, somewhere down the line you’re going to derail.
Shelly (not her real name) was completely frustrated with her team’s call center results. She’d brought in extra training, introduced a clever incentive program, stack ranked and managed the outliers, implemented every best practice she could find, and even invited her boss in for a quick motivational talk.
Nothing worked.The team’s results still sucked.
“What can you tell me about the folks on your team?” I asked. Her response was filled with “attitude problems,” “absence issues,” and a smattering of stats.
I tried again, “what can you tell me about the human beings on your team? Are they married? Do they have kids? What do they do for fun? What do they enjoy most on the weekends? What did they do last weekend?”
I got a bit of a blank stare, and then “With results like these, I don’t have time to ask about all that. Plus, this is business, it’s not personal.”
“Which team leader is knocking it out of the park?” I asked. “Joe” (also not his real name). “Please go talk to Joe again. But this time, don’t ask him about best practices, ask him how he connects with his team.”
She came back with a laundry list: meeting each employee at the door as they came in; spending the first 2 hours of his day doing nothing but sitting side by side with his call center reps; starting each one-on-one talking about something personal; birthday cards; following up on “no big deal” stuff like how their kid did in the soccer game last week. She tried it. Yup, you guessed the outcome.
Business is always personal.
If you could use a starting point for connecting your team, you’re welcome to use this free worksheet (connectionsworksheet) I wouldn’t suggest pulling it out in front of your team members, but it can serve as a great trigger to remind you what to ask about and to jog your memory to inspire more meaningful connections. If you give it a try, please drop me a line and let me know how it goes.
About 2 years ago, I had the audacity (some should argue stupidity), to email Seth Godin my very first blog post. Let me be blunt, the post was terrible. But that’s not what he said when he wrote me back within a few hours of hitting send. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t say it was good, but he was full of encouragement. I had “shipped my art” as his books encourage us all to do. And as it turns out, that’s what mattered at that stage of the game. And so I kept writing.
I’ve got some big plans brewing for our LGL community (more to come April 1st), so when I received his invitation to attend his interactive “Impresario Workshop” in NYC, I signed up in minutes. I wanted to share my vision and get his perspective. More importantly, I wanted him to know how much his early note had meant to me. I’m a strong believer in ensuring people know the impact they’ve had on our development. The crazy part was that before I could thank him, he blew me away with more confidence-building observations. When I finally got to my “thank you part” I was busting with energy and even deeper gratitude. Real leaders light people up through genuine connection and intrapersonal inspiration.
Why Seth Godin Stopped Doing All the Talking
The real brilliance of the workshop was not what Seth Godin said from the stage. It came from who was in the room and how they connected. Unlike most workshops, the ratio of stage-to-audience content and audience-to-stage interaction (Through Q&A) was about 1:4. Seth Godin set the table for conversation, and then created a dialogue. His detailed responses made us all think more deeply.
It started by who he invited to the table. As part of the “application” process for early entry, we had to share what we were up to, including our websites and other social media presence. He knew his workshop would work because of who was in the room and what they were up to. He knew his job was to attract, connect and inspire. Of course, that’s entirely the point of being an “Impresario.” To change the culture by getting the right people in synch.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
The magic of the workshop came after it was over. We were invited to sign-up for optional dinners around the city, paired by areas of “common interests” as articulated in our applications. We didn’t know who we’d be meeting with until we showed up. My kindred spirits turned out to be a millennial gamer/game developer; an engineer turning into a consultant; an app developer preparing to launch a company overseas, and a PR consultant. Not a leadership thinker in sight…our conversation was on fire, and could have continued all night. Within 3 minutes we knew exactly why we were selected to be connected. We offered new angles and insights, and took away “action items” to continue the support.
Beyond the Usual Suspects
We tend to focus our networking efforts on folks with obvious common ground. Execs connect with execs. Leadership thinkers connect with other leadership thinkers. Bloggers with bloggers. Sales guys with sales guys. Call center experts with others in the same scene.
There’s risk in assuming you know who you’re looking for as you build your network.
What my dinner companions (and everyone I met throughout the day) had in common was not our day jobs.
Instead of chasing the usual suspects seek out humans who…
Are up to something amazing
Have a curious spirit
Are truly interested in other people
Have open minds
Are hungry for success
Have a propensity to connect
Engage in transparent and real conversations #meanit
Chip Bell shares The Leadership Echo. Innovative service goes viral when it is echoed from a leader who treats associates exactly the way customers should be treated. A powerful, compelling leadership echo happens when leaders connect with employees instead of cocooning in their office on meetings. Follow Chip @ChipRBell
Jon Mertz, Thin Difference shares Empathy: Making the Connection. Maybe with all the social media connections we are missing the real connections as real people pass us by almost unnoticed. Empathy connects us and we need to activate it. Follow Jon @ThinDifference
Chery Gegelman, Simply Understanding Blog shares Everything the Light Touches. When have you engaged or been engaged by a complete stranger? Did the day get a little brighter? Did the world get a little smaller? “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” -Ben Sweetland. Follow Chery @GianaConsulting
The Chatsworth Consulting Group shares Why Winnie the Pooh Leaves His Corner of the Forest. The post offers the wisdom of Pooh who reminds us that if we want to accomplish something, we must take responsibility and make an effort and get out of our comfort zone – our comfortable corner of the forest. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to model this behavior so that our teams (or families, or organizations, or selves) can step away from what they know, make a first attempt to connect with others, and not stay waiting in their corner of the Forest. Follow the group @ThoughtfulLdrs
Frank Sonnenberg, Frank Sonnenberg Online shares A Marriage Made in Heaven. What makes relationships last? How do you create a marriage made in heaven? This article examines the elements of successful relationships. Follow Frank @FSonnenberg
Tracy Shroyer, Beyond the Stone Wall: Leadership with Dr. Shroyer shares The Power of Self-Disclosure. In preparation to teach her Interpersonal Skills college course, Tracy took some time to reflect on self-disclosure, one of the topics for an upcoming week’s class. Is there someone who you share thoughts, feelings, and information with? How has that been a positive experience for you? Follow Tracy @TShroyer2
Aboodi Shabi, Aboodi Shabi and Company Limited shares The Available Leader. A large part of leadership has to do with your availability or unavailability as a leader. Discovering how you show up as a leader is a key part of your leadership development. Follow Aboodi @aboodishabi
David Spell, of David Spell: More Than Management shares A Thorn in Your Side. Often those that seem to be the cause of our greatest problems can be the source of our greatest growth. Look beyond the obvious to see what lessons those around you have to teach. Follow David @davidallenspell
Mary Jo Asmus, Aspire shares Being Grateful for All of Them. Even though this post on being grateful of others was published close to Thanksgiving, it’s a reminder that gratitude for others is important at any time of the year. Follow Mary @mjasmus
The Festival’s Connection Art comes from Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group, LLC (above right). Follow Joy @Joy_Guthrie
Connecting in Community
Bill Benoist, Leadership Heart Coaching shares Valentine’s Day Engagement. Although we strive for a balanced life, in reality home, work and school are all connected. When we are engaged, these connections allow us to fire on all cylinders. Follow Bill @leadershipheart
Chantal Bechervaise, Take it Personel-ly shares Your Choices Influence Others. Influence is a topic that Chantal find very interesting. When she searches twitter she finds two types of people; those who are angry or do nothing but complain and those that make the effort to engage and really go out of their way to “talk” with people. They make a connection, create positivity and genuinely seem interested in others. Follow Chantal @CBechervaise
Matt McWilliams shares How NOT to Network on LinkedIn. This is a humorous look at how not to use LinkedIn, using an example from my network. In your efforts to develop a network, please don’t make the mistakes this poor fellow made. Follow Matt @MattMcWilliams2
Subha Balagopal, From the Principal’s Pen shares I Didn’t Take This Job to Give Up On You. A leader’s job is about people and connecting with others often leads us to wrestle with what we believe in. Subha is an elementary principal and her post was inspired by a situation at school that caused him to grapple with the authenticity of his words and beliefs. Follow Subha @PrincipalsPen2
Unique Ways to Create Connections
Sal Silvester, 5.12 Solutions shares The 4-Step Feedback Process. Most leaders struggle with how to give team members feedback. Use this model to provide feedback in a way that will engender team member commitment. Follow Sal @512Solutions
Tom Eakin, BoomLife shares How to Become Powerfully Social and Socially Powerful. Success is getting what you want AND being the person you want to be. This article describes how GPS Theory can be used to help, and get help from, the people in your world to live your core values, because you can’t get what you want if you are not, first, the person you want to be. Follow Tom @goboomlife
Sean Glaze, Great Results Team Building shares How Low Tech Events Provide High Tech Results. When considering a corporate event to connect your team, the purpose is not only to enjoy the few hours of the event together. Your team should ALSO be able to refer back to the fun interactions and take way applicable insights that will positively impact your organization weeks or months or even years later. Follow Sean @leadyourteam
Lynette Avis and David Brown, Avis and Brown shares The Stars at Night. Connecting to the vast night sky brings about a greater awareness of self, others and the universe. Follow Lynette and David @avisandbrown
Thanks to Ben Evans, LGL intern, for his work on coordinating this month’s Festival.
March’s Frontline Festival will be part of the March “Mean It” Madness on Let’s Grow Leaders. The topic will be sincerity and meaning what you say. Submissions due March 7th, Festival will go live March 14th. Click here to submit. If you know others with a meaningful “mean it” story (no blogging necessary, just a story) , please encourage them to share it here.
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:
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.
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.
Collect and reflect – Dr. 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.
Suspend judgement – Empathy is not opinion. Your opinion may be needed, at some point. Start with understanding and connection.
Work on related EQ Skills – e.g. active listening, understanding non-verbals, questioning, thinking from another’s perspective.
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”
Leadership challenges us to anticipate what is happening in the hearts and minds of our people. This is particularly difficult when working with strong, self-directed human beings. Strong performers are self-critical by nature and when the going gets tough, the tough get going usually starting with beating up on themselves. Leaders can help by staying connected, and offering compassion.
I experienced this first hand, when I was the one struggling. I was the leader of a large retail sales team, and it was one of those big days with high expectations. I had started at 4am and was driving from store to store to rally and inspire the team. Each hour, the sales totals would flash on my phone via text message. They were disappointing. I felt more stressed with each incoming tone. And then the phone rang. It was my boss. “Oh great,” I thought. “He is freaking out too.”
“Where are you?” He said.
“I’ve been to 8 stores, headed South for more. Everyone is working really hard ” I wanted him to know I was “on it.”
“Please pull over now,” he said firmly.
And then continued, “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” Not the response I had expected.
“Look in the mirror. See that look on your face? Stop beating yourself up. I know that you planned well, the team is prepared, everyone is fully customer-focused, and you are executing on all cylinders, Aren’t you?”
Uhhh, “yes,” I said, still surprised by his reaction.
“The only mistake I see happening is the one you are about to make when you go into that next store. No matter what you say to the team, they are going to see that look of disappointment on your face. It is going to crush them because they care about pleasing you.
Powerful coaching. He was absolutely right He knew me. He knew my team That is exactly what was about to happen.
That was the best coaching he ever gave me.
I experienced this from the other side of the coaching fence as well. I was talking to a seasoned member of my HR team. She was really upset at how a project had turned. Then she sighed, “and on top of that I am being yelled at.”
I was startled. I had been making every effort to stay calm and offer support (even though I was really frustrated).
“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you, I know this was an honest oversight.”
“Oh, it’s not YOU who is yelling at me, it’s ME yelling at ME, and that’s far worse.”
Sometimes the best we can give our teams is empathetic connection.
This week has been real challenge for so many in the Northeast. Like many of my neighbors, and millions in the DC area, our power was out for several days. We were among the lucky ones that had a fairly quick recovery. As we were driving yesterday we saw a brigade of Gas and Electric trucks parading to their next mission. Work is still underway a week later. It is over 100 degrees.
What struck me most throughout this outage was how people everywhere were connecting with so much energy. Scenes where normally people would be just doing, they were doing and talking about it. At the Starbucks, long lines of un-showered, decaffeinated strangers were all talking about their situations and their scenes, “yeah, we all slept in the basement too”, “it’s great to see my kids reading books” “where are you on the grid?” “I have an elderly mom I am worried about.” “Do you need anything?”
Now, I have been to that Starbucks many times. Usually people are waiting silently in the line, looking straight ahead waiting for their name to be sharpied on to a plastic cup. It is only people who already know one another taking time to connect over coffee.
It was also all the people with their laptops plugged in to the walls lining my gym again all talking about what they were working on and how it needed to get out today. This brought up deeper conversations about what they did for a living and how that connected to the fires in Colorado, the school they were applying to, or the blog they were writing.
I wonder why it is so much harder to see the possibility for connection with the lights on?
“For those just connecting with my blog, on Saturdays I write a lighter post reflecting on life’s moments and observations that inspire my leadership, and then the week looks at leadership from many angles.
Thanks to all who became email subscribers this week. I look forward to connecting with you regularly. I migrated my site to a self-hosted version to provide a richer experience. Email following will be the most reliable way to find me for now.
Next week’s theme will be energy in leadership. I hope you will join the conversation.”