I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

The conversational thread following my post last week on Email as a Reflective Practice led me to a fantastic post from Germane Consulting group, Dear Leader:  Do We Have a Deal?

They imagine a letter written by an employee to a CEO, looking for all they need spiritually and developmentally from the relationship.

Here are a  few key points from the letter in the Germane post:

  • Trust me to do the things you brought me here to do, and then some.
  • Know, I mean really know in your heart and mind, I am a rich (not in dollars) human being with a multidimensional life, and please take that into account
  • Time and space to play with others, because that’s another way I learn and come up with really good ideas

What if my employees wrote me such a letter?  What would it say?

Asking folks to write such a letter would be a fantastic way to start a new job… both as reflection for the team, but as vital input to set the cultural stage and norms.

I may just do that in my next role.

But what can I do now?   I just did an open-ended employee survey (and received lots of great candid insights), and I have my team doing the “mid year, end of year letter” I talked about in the Email as Reflective Practice post.  So asking my team for more writing at this stage of the game, is not in the cards.

So, as a reflective practice, I am writing myself a letter.  A composite of the hopes and asks I have heard from my teams over the years.  An aspirational list I use to guide my actions… sometimes more effectively than others. Not yet written down until this rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Letter To Myself

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said– nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on–trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process, let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team–let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow– continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks– be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up– maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback (but sugar coat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved, that’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved, we’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance– be interested in, and support us in our outside lives
“I am grateful for all the teaching my teams have done through the years to guide my development as a leader.”

Namaste.
Karin

Self-Directed Meets Connected: Gentle When Needed

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.”

Indeed.

Sometimes the best we can give our teams is empathetic connection.


confidence bursts: interval training for leaders

Confidence Bursts: Interval Training To Drive Results

I have run many, many miles. I’ve had the injuries, experienced the chaff, my toenails have turned black and then fallen off. I have also experienced the exhilaration and confidence that comes from training hard and long. Marathons build confidence.

Yet, lately I’ve learned that it’s possible to achieve similar fitness levels, in much less time, through carefully organized interval training. Bursts of work, versus many long miles.

Apparently, it’s not the grueling hours, but the constant pushing on limits and stretching of competence levels (followed by “active recovery”) that leads to growth.

As a leader, I have also experienced the value of teaching and celebrating new skills intervals or “confidence bursts.”

Confidence Bursts During Times of Change

When leading large-scale change, some of the most important work involves giving people the confidence and competence to be successful. Even when people have the skills, if they don’t feel confident and excited about their ability to be successful in the new arena, they will be reluctant to try.

Leaders can build more confidence and competence on their teams by training them in intervals, or short confidence bursts.

The idea is to create a full court press on a given behavior during a finite period of time (usually one day) to prove what is possible at an individual and organizational level. Scaffold people with lots of extra attention, skill building, fun, recognition and celebration. The risk is low it’s just one day, it doesn’t feel like a big commitment to change. Once people experience success with the behavior, their confidence improves and the ceiling of what they perceive as possible moves a little higher.

Every time I have done this, the results have been head-turning and remarkable. The best part comes in the after-glow discussion if you (and we) can make this much magic on this day, why not every day?

How To Build Confidence In Bursts

  • Pick one or two tangible skills to work on
  • Schedule the “special day” and create anticipation
  • Begin the day with energy and fun, make it feel like a holiday
  • Set specific, measurable goals that can be achieved that day
  • Hold training and focused skill building throughout the day
  • Have your “experts” work side by side with those still learning
  • Celebrate every little success in a big, public way
  • Communicate specific success stories including the “how” behind them
  • Celebrate and debrief at the end of the day on “what worked” differently on this day and what was learned
  • Begin the next day with a reminder of key learnings

I find a few sets of these intervals (usually a month a part) in the context of a larger change management strategy can lead to remarkable and lasting change. I also know that the change has sunk in when the impact of such days begins to dwindle but the overall results stay up. The behaviors have become so frequent that the extrinsic motivation is no longer necessary. The value in the behaviors has become an inherent choice.

Change is a marathon. And sometimes, finding opportunities to train in intervals small bursts of confidence can be a good part of the plan.

See also my article in Success Magazine: 7 Ways to Build Your Employee’s Confidence

Got Charisma? An Invitation to Experiment

“Are leaders born or made?” I’ve always hated that question– way too simplistic for real life.

However, I have been intrigued with the “can charisma be taught” conversation gaining momentum. Lots of good research swirling on that one, with some potential useful application. The next question “and is that good?” is also important but a subject of a later post.

Olivia Fox Cabane goes deep into the charisma question in her recent book, The Charisma Myth.

Cabane articulates 3 underlying powers of charisma: presence, power, and warmth, as well as the inherent obstacles to effectiveness. Her main idea, charisma is not about how we act it is about how we make others feel. True charisma requires deep authenticity.

She then identifies 4 practical and accessible charismatic styles:

  • Focus: achieved through presence and good listening
  • Visionary: requiring a bold vision and conviction
  • Kindness: coming from warmth and acceptance
  • Authority: through projection of power and status

 My charisma leanings lie in the “visionary” and “focus” realms, with some opportunities in the “kindness” category and a personal disdain for charisma points based on “authority.” In terms of natural competence, I do love a microphone, but I hate continental breakfast with roaming seas of name tags. With all that said, Cabane offers insights on how to mix a beautiful charismatic cocktail to help address difficult scenes.

 

The best part is the totally pragmatic tips on how to develop in each of these areas. I am talking really basic here like “stop nodding” so much. So today, before I committed to finishing this post, I decided to try out just one all day. It worked ridiculously well. You see, Cabane’s main point is that charisma is all about making other people feel genuinely great about hearing them for what they need to be heard for. It’s about finding ways to ensure people feel “got.” Amen. Her techniques offer ways to draw that out.
So, in the spirit of learning, blogging and adventure, I am going to pick 3 of her specific techniques to try out for one month. I am in for co-adventurers of all ages who would like to also read her work and try out a technique or two (let’s talk, I can offer a few easy suggestions). I am wide open to disclosed or anonymous sharing (which can be decided based on how you feel later).

If you want to play, please send me a note at letsgrowleaders@gmail.com and we can work on this experiment together.

I will write a follow-up post in late August. Hope you will be part of the conversation.

My “Energy Project”

As I have been doing more writing, I have been paying a lot of attention to which leaders I find most inspiring–and why. For me, energy is a big factor in both whom I want to follow, and who I want on my team.

Leaders with strong, positive, engaging energy inspire others towards great results. It is much harder for the team to run out of steam when the leader keeps showing up strong.

When building teams, I always look for those with an engaged heart and spirit who are fired up with positive intensity. A lot of the other key skills can be taught if a person is wired that way. People have come to understand that this is how I roll, so it is getting easier to attract people who want to live in a fast paced, intense environment. Energy attracts energy.

So with all that outward focused energy, why do I get so tired?

In preparing for this week’s writing, I looked to what others are saying on the subject. My friends at Chatsworth (Chatsworth on Forget About Managing Your Time, Manage Your Energy Instead),  have good thinking on managing energy versus time and using those patterns. That work then turned me on to Energy Project.

 

The Energy Project hones in on four key areas which drive our energy: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. They offer a free “energy audit” for people to self assess how they are doing in each of these key areas, and then email the results with recommendations. The cool part is that they also offer a sliding energy tool that provides suggestions based on the importance each of those factors has to you.

Take the Energy Audit Here

My results from the audit showed strong energy on the mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions, but that I was on the cusp of “an imminent energy crises” on the emotional front. Suggestions include “taking more time for activities I deeply enjoy” and “having more quality time with family and friends.”Consistent with what my husband said to me just this morning, “I think you need to go do some more yoga, not by yourself, with your friends.” Turns out he is a good energy barometer as well.

So, this weekend I did some yoga, had dinner with my husband, bowled with Sebastian, and paddle boarded with Ben. And now from a calmer emotional heart, I head into a vital week at work and explore energetic leadership on my blog each day. Hope you will join the conversation.


Kermit the Frog as Leader? It's Not Easy Leading Green

Growing Leaders of All Ages:

Part of my mission for this blog is engaging leaders of all ages in the leadership conversation.  Today, I present a guest post from Jared Herr, age 12.  If you are a leader of any age, interested in collaborating on a guest post on leadership, let’s talk more.

Kermit is a strong leader in many ways:

  • He works to make the muppets the best that they can be
  • He is inspiring because he always tries his hardest
  • He brings misfit animals together and makes them a team
  • He always has a plan
  • He is a collaborative decision maker 
  • He is self-reflective 

What are Kermit’s leadership challenges?

  • He takes things too personally
  • He has trouble giving tough feedback
  • He needs more work-life balance

Jared’s advice to Kermie

You are a caring amphibian and always try to make others the best they can be. You put the muppets in roles where you know the can succeed.  You are a role model of hard work, and get all of those crazy animals pulling together as a team.  You inspire them to care about one another.

Kermit, one of your greatest strengths as a leader, self-reflection, is also your challenge.  You may want to check out Karin’s post (is strength your weakness).  For example,  you will double and triple check yourself to make sure every muppet is in a part of the show. But when things go wrong, you take it out on yourself. You always point out things you messed up with or things you should have done. I think you feel a lot of pressure being a leader.

I wish you could have more confidence in your decisions.  Once when you fired Miss Piggy (she deserved it), you ended up face down on the floor (of course, that may have something to do with dysfunctional love, but that’s another post).

You are so nice.  I worry sometimes you have trouble confronting or giving the tough coaching messages.  You always lead to victory in the end.  You might save some time if you could give more direct coaching along the way.

Kermit, you sure seem to face a lot of pressure as leader of the muppets.

I worry that you feel like as their leader, you need to be with them 24/7, and you don’t get much personal time.

All said, it is not easy leading green.  And you have a nice track record of results.  Keep up the great work.  I know you will continue to grow into an amazing leader.

Kermit the Frog as Leader? It’s Not Easy Leading Green

Growing Leaders of All Ages:

Part of my mission for this blog is engaging leaders of all ages in the leadership conversation.  Today, I present a guest post from Jared Herr, age 12.  If you are a leader of any age, interested in collaborating on a guest post on leadership, let’s talk more.

Kermit is a strong leader in many ways:

  • He works to make the muppets the best that they can be
  • He is inspiring because he always tries his hardest
  • He brings misfit animals together and makes them a team
  • He always has a plan
  • He is a collaborative decision maker 
  • He is self-reflective 

What are Kermit’s leadership challenges?

  • He takes things too personally
  • He has trouble giving tough feedback
  • He needs more work-life balance

Jared’s advice to Kermie

You are a caring amphibian and always try to make others the best they can be. You put the muppets in roles where you know the can succeed.  You are a role model of hard work, and get all of those crazy animals pulling together as a team.  You inspire them to care about one another.

Kermit, one of your greatest strengths as a leader, self-reflection, is also your challenge.  You may want to check out Karin’s post (is strength your weakness).  For example,  you will double and triple check yourself to make sure every muppet is in a part of the show. But when things go wrong, you take it out on yourself. You always point out things you messed up with or things you should have done. I think you feel a lot of pressure being a leader.

I wish you could have more confidence in your decisions.  Once when you fired Miss Piggy (she deserved it), you ended up face down on the floor (of course, that may have something to do with dysfunctional love, but that’s another post).

You are so nice.  I worry sometimes you have trouble confronting or giving the tough coaching messages.  You always lead to victory in the end.  You might save some time if you could give more direct coaching along the way.

Kermit, you sure seem to face a lot of pressure as leader of the muppets.

I worry that you feel like as their leader, you need to be with them 24/7, and you don’t get much personal time.

All said, it is not easy leading green.  And you have a nice track record of results.  Keep up the great work.  I know you will continue to grow into an amazing leader.

Leadership Lessons from the Andy Griffith Show

What Would Andy Do?

Like so many Americans, I am feeling a bit of sadness and a touch of nostalgia at the news of Andy Griffith’s death today. His most famous role as Mayberry’s old-fashioned leader, makes us think of (or long for) a simpler time (although we all know no time is really simple).

“Do a good day’s work and act like somebody”
~ Andy Griffith

So, I dedicate this post to Andy Griffith, and some tidbits I may have picked up on leadership from watching his show:

  • Take time to understand the whole situation before reacting
  • When your partner is freaking out, get even calmer
  • With careful words, you don’t need a gun
  • Go slow and explain things
  • Empower others to do the right thing (even Otis would self-regulate under his leadership)
  • Have a really strong support team (I am still in search of an Aunt Bee)
  • It’s okay to take your kids to work now and then, let them understand what you do
  • And sometimes, your best bet is to say a prayer.

One Person at a Time

My favorite work as a leader is the time spent one on one, digging deep, helping to bring out the best in someone. The other fun part is motivating large teams toward a vision and strategy to get something important done. And then there is the in-between.

What I find most difficult as I have assumed larger roles with bigger teams is the strong desire to connect one on one, and the almost impossible task of getting to know everyone in a large organization to the depth that I would like. I do my best to be as fully present as I can in each encounter, but it can be tough to do this well. Intimacy is hard to scale.

One Person at a Time

This challenge hit me in the face this week.

Intimacy is hard to scale

I was talking to an extended member of my team who does important work in my organization hundreds of miles away and a few levels down the org chart. I had not seen him in about 6 months. He said to me, “Karin, I think about what you said to me every day.” Oh boy, I smiled and waited. It turns out that once he reminded me of the challenge I had given him, I recalled the entire conversation, including exactly where we had been standing at the time. However, if I had been really on my game, I would have had immediate recall and perhaps have even been the first to bring it up.

I was so pleased that the conversation had helped him, and so disappointed in myself for the lack of proactive follow-through.

Time Well Spent

As timing would have it, the next day I walked into my office to find the very large stack of books I had ordered to give away at an upcoming summit I was hosting for some of my team. My intention was to inscribe them with a personal messages for each team member. That seemed like a good idea weeks ago, but now with literal wildfires burning in the West, and other emergencies that were consuming my day, it seemed like a daunting task.

That evening, I dove in and was surprised to find that what had felt like a difficult time-consuming exercise turned into a calming and useful experience. Somehow, moving deliberately through the team, one person at a time thinking about each person very specifically and the gifts they were giving, felt magical to me. Time melted away in a peaceful meditation. I left that night feeling tremendous gratitude for the people in my organization and their contributions to the work and to one another. It also became obvious to me that I knew some folks much better than others, and had much work ahead of me to be an effective leader for them.

Can intimacy scale? Tough question. There are certainly ways to be completely present in our relationships even in a large team setting. And, of course ways to do better with follow-up. I also found value in thinking quietly about each person one at a time, and seeing what surfaces.

Would love your comments and ideas