Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Passing On Beliefs, Ideas, Practices

“To be a leader is to make others believe; in challenging times to convey that “everything will be okay,” and that together the team will find a way forward. As a leader, you must have confidence in your own ability, but most important in your team. Leadership is humbling, knowing that it is never about you, as the leader. Leadership is all about what others achieve.”

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn/Ferry International, the world’s largest executive recruiting firm and a leader in talent management and author of the New York Times bestseller "No Fear of Failure" (2011) and  the bestselling "The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership" (2012). 

“Every company touts their people as their greatest asset but very few actually believe it. Or act like it. Most spend the majority of their effort designing processes, tools, and methodology they hope are foolproof and then scale their operations by hiring poorly trained people to follow their flawless system. That creates mediocre results at best. It’s not flawless processes & tools that create powerful solutions. People do. Experts do. Experts who know how to apply their knowledge do.”
Peter Bregman, strategic advisor to CEO’s and their leadership teams, author, and regular contributor to HBR Bog Network.

“The best problem solvers see a complex problem through multiple lenses.” Authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and John Austin list 4 critical thinking skills in their article on www.inc.com.:
1.   Slow down. Insist on multiple problem definitions before moving towards a choice.

2.   Break from the pack. Actively work to buck conventional wisdom when facing new challenges or slowly deteriorating situations. Don’t settle for incremental thinking.

3.   Encourage disagreement. Debate can foster insight, provided the conflict is among ideas and not among people.

4.   Engage with mavericks. Find credible mavericks, those lonely voices in the wilderness who many dismiss, and then engage with them. It is not enough to simply be comfortable with disagreement when it happens to occur. Critical thinkers seek out those who truly see the world differently and try hard to understand why.

Exactly my line of thinking as regular readers of this blog will know. Seek out non-like minded thinkers and seek to understand them. And use constructive disagreement and conflict to the benefit of your challenge or dilemma.

I highly recommend the complete article by Schoemaker and Austin, as I do many of the other writings on www.inc.com.

Just a reminder

With all the talk about leadership on this blog and so many other media, just a few simple reminders about leadership, whether you’re in an official leadership position or not.

à Leadership is about being around, being visible, literally as well as in respect to what you stand for.

à The next step is being available, not just around. Being fully present, with all your attention.

à This implies real listening and true questions so that people elaborate, share, and converse with you.

à For such a conversation to be effective requires you to be aware of your own state of being right there and then, of the connection of that moment, of emotions and the dynamics in the here-and-now.

à Leadership, among many other things, is being available and walking the talk. And if you’re not, it includes honesty about your distractions, blind spots, and distortions.

à Leadership starts and ends with true connections, the first and founding connection being the one with yourself.

I agree with Tom Peters: “The best leaders don’t create followers - they create more leaders.” Of course, followers might make you feel better, but in most situations they don’t help you, your team, nor your organization perform much better. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Micromanagement of a different kind

Who wants to be called a micro-manager? I sure don’t. This label carries mostly negative connotations, implying you have a hard time trusting your people and letting them handle things themselves. It includes having difficulty providing your people with the necessary degrees of freedom in which to exceed and experiment while allowing mistakes to learn from. Most people know it is debilitating if you fail in this area, but too many still don’t know the difference between being effectively in control and micromanaging.
I appreciate the distinction made by Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review Blog on May 23rd, 2012 in his post If You're Not Micromanaging, You're Not Leading. Schrage talks about the difference between being a control freak and wanting to know and experience the raw data, where “leaders want to see — and feel — what's going on with their own eyes and gut; they want to draw upon their own experiences and expertise” as opposed to the micromanagers who want a “greater command of detail in order to tell people what to do”. Merely telling people what to do and how to do it on a detailed level hardly ever works out well as most of us have experienced at one point in our careers.
Schrage goes on to say that “The best micromanagers go to the source, so they can see, listen, and understand better; the control freaks do it to remind people that they run the whole show”. The latter is hardly what you want to accomplish, since it’s not about you or any one person to run the show, but about the show to be run in the best possible way – and as the old Taoist saying goes: When the work is done, the people can say “We did it all ourselves”.
The kind of micromanaging where you want to run the whole show and be in control of every detail is disempowering to say the least. You don’t want to take perfectly positive attributes such as an attention to detail and a hands-on attitude to the extreme. If you do, you’re likely obsessed with control or you might feel driven to push everyone around you to success, either way likely ruining confidence and accountability, hurting performance, and frustrating people to the point where they might quit.
You might ask yourself: Where is the line between being an involved, informed, and engaged supervisor, manager, or leader and an over-involved, stifling one who's driving his team mad? If you recognize any of the following than you’re in the danger zone:
1. Difficulty delegating tasks.
2. Overseeing the projects of others by immersing yourself in them.
3. Discouraging people from making decisions without consulting you.
4. Taking back delegated work upon the slightest sign of a mistake.
5. Correcting details at the expense of guarding the bigger picture.
6. Preventing employees from making their own decisions and from taking responsibility for those decisions.
Micromanagement restricts the ability of micromanaged people to develop and grow and it limits what the team can achieve. Don’t let this be your legacy. Yes, great chefs visit the farms and markets that source their restaurants, because they know that raw ingredients are critical to success. But they don't tell the farmers where and how to farm. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Suggestion: The Truth About Leadership

Reading is one of my longstanding passions. Among other topics I love to read about organizational development, personal effectiveness, and effective leadership and, practical as I am, apply it when working with organizations to increase employee, team, and organizational effectiveness. Two of the many authors that I enjoy reading are James Kouzes and Barry Posner e.g. A Leader’s Legacy (2006). I enjoy their practical approach grounded in multiple theories and frameworks.

The most recent book by Kouzes and Posner that I’ve read is called The Truth About Leadership (2010). Their main premise is that the circumstances surrounding leadership have changed greatly in the thirty years that they’ve been interviewing leaders and researching leadership. The content of leadership, however, has not changed much according to the authors. I agree that core beliefs, values, and practices regarding leadership are minimally affected by circumstances and developments, even though I do feel the urge to stress inter-cultural smartness, the ability to inspire and work with multiple generations, and a thorough understanding and use of social media as just a few of the changes within leadership practice and effectiveness that I do see in the past decades.

Having said this, I applaud Kouzes and Posner for emphasizing the constants in leadership effectiveness. Constants that you can count on in this ever and rapidly changing world. The authors list ten truths about leadership that I want to share with you:

1. You make a difference.
2. Credibility is the foundation of leadership.
3. Values drive commitment.
4. Focusing on the future sets leaders apart.
5. You can’t do it alone.
6. Trust rules.
7. Challenge is the crucible for greatness.
8. You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.
9. The best leaders are the best learners.
10.  Leadership is an affair of the heart.

I see these truths active and effective (or not) in business and in personal life/leadership. They form the backbone and the foundation of (leadership) effectiveness, whether in the context of a small family run business or start-up or of a longstanding multinational business, whether in a profit or non-profit organization, whether in the west or in the east, whether in the service industry or in manufacturing.

I recommend you read this down-to-earth and easy to read book with universal truths. Concepts that get you thinking about (and better: acting upon) your personal and leadership effectiveness – that is, if you are open to truly questioning yourself,  your beliefs, and your practices. You better!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Managing expectations with unpleasant feedback

Are you avoidant, a sandwich lover, brutally direct and confrontational, somewhat direct, or plain nervous and clumsy when it comes to providing unpleasant feedback? It makes you totally human if you recognize any of the above. Providing someone with unpleasant feedback is often literally unpleasant, despite all the talk about feedback being a gift. You and I know that in a way it is a gift, because you provide someone with additional insight into the person, the behaviors, and the result, and hopefully into how to be more effective. But when you’re on the receiving side of unpleasant feedback, it generally doesn’t feel like a gift. At least not at first.

When you provide someone with feedback that is likely to be considered unpleasant, you don’t want to offend the person, you don’t want to raise the receiver’s defenses, you don’t want to be wrong, and you certainly don’t want to worry about being ‘un-liked’ as the provider of feedback. This is all possible and sometimes even likely to happen, but with the right intentions, approach, and above all with the right expectations, feedback conversations can be a lot more effective and less stressful.  

I’ll share with you some advice that I’ve been providing my coaching clients for over twenty years, especially managers and leaders, on how to prepare for and proceed with unpleasant feedback:

-       Manage your own expectations when providing feedback. No matter how well you prepare and execute, I’ve never seen anyone jump up and down with joy and appreciation when receiving unpleasant feedback. Prepare yourself for possible denial, defense, withdrawal, or plain frustration or sadness. These are normal first responses for someone who is hearing unpleasant feedback, so be prepared for these possible emotions and reactions, accept them as first responses, and be mindful not to get sucked into the natural dynamics of the emotion, such as: defense triggers offense or withdrawal triggers the desire to pull or push the person out of isolation.  Don’t expect the impossible or unlikely. In some cases, with very strong emotions and responses, it might be wise to reschedule the meeting rather than to continue against all odds.

-       Manage expectations of the receiver of unpleasant feedback. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t use the sandwich technique i.e. packing the criticism between two layers of compliments as if the person wouldn’t sense what is about to happen. Be open, honest, and direct immediately and make sure you are clear about what is unwanted and about what you want to see differently in the future and how.

-       To elaborate on the previous, don’t just talk about what went wrong in the past, but discuss what can be done differently in the future and how it will benefit the person, the team, the customer etc. With “feedforward”, as I’d like to call it, you can help your coworker or employee (but also your teenager or friend, of course) focus on hearing the suggestions without becoming overly defensive or worrying about their reply. It’s so much nicer discussing something that you can still act on rather than feeling condemned for something that has already happened and cannot be changed anymore. Certainly, mistakes or unwanted behaviors and choices can serve as good examples and a framework, but don’t make the past the main focus of your conversation.  To give credit where it belongs, the term feedforward in the world of coaching, leadership, and management was, as far as I know, introduced by the great management thinker and influential leadership development practitioner Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. He created FeedForward, a tool to provide individuals, teams, and organizations with suggestions for the future and to help them achieve a positive change in their behavior.

-       Listen, ask clarifying questions, help the receiver of the feedback explore, reflect, and rethink and solicit suggestions for improvement – these are all essential elements of providing effective feedback.

-       Last, important feedback should never be a surprise during performance review meetings. Make sure to discuss concerns as soon as you notice that expectations and objectives do not match outcomes in order for the person to reflect and work on improvements (or a change of plans).

Providing direct, clear, specific, and actionable feedback is often a critical job for any parent, employee, manager, and leader. Make it a habit to add value with your “feedforward” and to manage expectations on both ends of the conversation.
For my previous post on feedback with more of the usual practical tips regarding feedback go to:

Wishing you honest, open, and constructive feedback conversations, whether in business or in private settings, whether provider or receiver of feedback. Manage those expectations before unmanaged expectations control the conversation.