Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are You a Generous Leader?

I'm remembering an HBR article I read a few years back on successful team collaboration and it mentioned something about creating a "gift culture" and it got me thinking about how many leaders would be surprised to know that the word "stingy" could accurately describe their management approach? Want to know if you would be considered to be a generous leader? Take this quick, very non-scientific quiz and find out!

Generous or Stingy?

Robert Greenleaf wrote an amazing leaflet, originally published in 1970 called "The Servant as Leader" and revolutionized the idea of leading from within, by supporting your team, instead of directing from on top. The benefits of being a leader who is in service and who gives to others generously tend to drive engagement (low maintenance) vs. obedience (high oversight). What they generously provide is coaching, time, responsiveness, freedom to fail, sharing credit and decision-making authority. They draw people in versus pushing them along. They have a healthy sense of humility because they put their followers first and see their job is to remove obstacles for the team, using their influence (as well as getting their hands dirty and owning tasks both low and high level as needed) to make life better for their team vs themselves. They operate from EQ versus EGO. 

Take this self-assessment to determine whether your team would more likely associate you with a generous leader or stingy leader:

1. Do I routinely ask for feedback on how I can help them be more effective both day-to-day and in meeting their larger goals?

Generous leaders keep a pulse on the obstacles to team performance and spend diligent time cutting through bureaucracy to get resources or eliminate unnecessary steps that impede productivity. They see their job as a facilitator of work, not just visionary in the corner office. Generous leaders show the team that they are heeding their advice and continually proving to them that they have a voice within the organization.

2. How often do I defend my team when they need me?

Generous leaders protect their employees from gossip and rumors. They assume everyone's best intentions and take steps to fully understand issues before reaching conclusions or rushing to judgment. They remain loyal to the absent. They speak up in meetings where their team is being attacked and run interference.

3.  When was the last time I gave someone else credit for something good I did?

Generous leaders share the spotlight. They are not threatened by others' receiving attention for accomplishing the work of the team and are able to share successes with their followers. Taking an abundance theory when it comes to praising, acknowledgment and recognition earn deep respect from followers. And it is important to note that the way generous leaders share the spotlight is not just indiscriminately across the board, rather they find out how members of their team like to be recognized.  Some appreciate large scale spotlight while others just appreciate a quick, private bask in the sun between them and their leader.

4. How often do I dominate a meeting?

Generous leaders do not need to be the smartest person in the room. They do more listening than talking. They listen to others for understanding, instead of judging. They guide critical thinking via questions versus stating opinions. The most generous leaders are best at asking dialogue enriching questions.  Instead of just the facts, generous leaders deepen interactions between themselves and their teams by being a catalyst for deriving meaning from flat data and getting people to communicate in a way where genuine understanding and connections take place.

5. Would my team say that I get more than I give?

Generous leaders always attempt to give more than they get. They put the needs of others first, instead of expecting everyone else to keep them comfortable. They respect the deadlines of peers and direct reports and don't constantly change priorities on them or operate in chronic crisis mode. Generous leaders respond to messages from their team before the boss or client.

6. What values and expectations do I unconsciously communicate through my behavior?

Every leader should evaluate what message they are sending when they are emailing at 2am or asking for things from their people on the weekends.  Even if they say it's not important for the employee to respond and send it anyway, the damage is done.  The expectation is set for what is acceptable and tells others that no matter how much you say you value them as people, your actions don't show it.  And chances are they won't feel entitled to honor and protect that work/life balance if you don't.  People don't feel safe when leaders contradict themselves.  Check your leadership for contradictions.  It's the number one saboteur of generous leadership.

Although generous leaders appear flexible and supportive, they are not weak. They do not let people walk all over them or take advantage of their philosophy on leadership. They set direction, drive outcomes and hold people accountable: by utilizing a giving approach versus a getting approach.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Surrounding Yourself with More of You

When it comes to the challenges of building an executive team, nearly every CEO or business owner will say to me: "I'm a really good judge of character, so I go with my gut." Too often, as a result, these leaders shortcut a thorough interview, and that perfect person turns out to be a terrible technical or motivational fit, resulting in more turnover or worse, an employee who stays and makes everyone else miserable. This week's blog points out the importance of having a team with mixed background, race, gender, age, strengths, values and mindsets.

Surrounding Yourself with More of You

Surrounding yourself with people you "click with" because they share your same strengths, values, and ways of thinking are exactly the people least likely to challenge your decisions or catch the balls you drop. That's a risky game to play in a competitive marketplace where diversity of thought and creative offerings are what keep organizations alive. When you surround yourself with more of "you," you set up-or, worse, institutionalize-blind spots that can prevent you from seeing oncoming challenges.

When you hire others who live on your wavelength, you unintentionally create a support system of people who are not equipped to challenge you, to question your thinking, or to offer you a different perspective and direction. You essentially become trapped in a self-made bubble, missing opportunities to hear valid dissent, better approaches, or alternative ideas. Consequences range from stagnation and disengagement to monotony or rigidity. Putting your emotional intelligence to work in the hiring and promoting process can help prevent these blind spots from occurring and give you a new way to think about what makes for the "perfect" hire. 

It's perfectly natural to be drawn to someone who understands you. You may finish each other's sentences and bristle at the same annoyances. I know it's tempting in the interview to think, "Wouldn't it be great to work with that person?" Regardless of the type of similarities, as an interviewer, you must be aware of any temptation to give priority to hiring or promoting someone who is similar to you, rather than consciously seeking out individuals who are able to bring a unique approach or mindset to the team or to offer a special skill set that's needed for success. Surrounding yourself with more of you is a sinister trap, because it lures you with a mirror that reflects your strengths, your style, and your language, while silently multiplying your (admittedly few and relatively minor) shortcomings. I know, a "mini-me" is as much fun to be around as you are. But wouldn't it be even better to surround yourself with skills complementary but not identical to yours? People who would thrive in areas you would rather hand off anyway? 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Month in a Minute

Top: Group shot of the ISA Emerging Leaders Conference in Chicago, Bottom Left: Leading the discussion at ISA, 
Bottom Right: Steve and me with Dana Jones of Thornburg Investments in Santa Fe

Me and David on my birthday
I am always sad when summer is over and the holidays start to loom. Although this year my winter will be much better in Arizona versus New Hampshire, it is still hard to say goodbye to my favorite season of sun, vacation and water activities. This year, my August was particularly meaningful since I turned 50. To celebrate, I treated myself to a trip to Turks and Caicos and spent the week doing my favorite thing: snorkeling for hours every day. One perk of being underwater was there was no way to bring my phone, and I really tried to unplug and stay off email all week (full disclosure: I caved in a few times). The island was so relaxing and beautiful, it was a place I had never been but can’t wait to return.

With Karen Sommers from City Wide in Boston
We also had a few great business trips last month, one was to Chicago to participate in the Industrial Supply Association Emerging Leaders Conference and the other was to Santa Fe NM to provide an EQ workshop. As we look toward the last quarter of the year, we hope to see you along the way. We still have some availability in October and a couple of days in November if you have budget left to spend and want to increase the EQ of your workforce, let me know!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Risks of Not Letting Go of Control

Micromanager. It's a term we've all heard before, and not without at least a little disdain. As Harvard Business Review blogger Ron Ashkenas reminds us, many people complain about a micromanager, but none of us will ever actually admit to being one. Why would we? The micromanager is seen as meddling, untrusting, and counterproductive. The micromanager may even be thought of -ahem, as a control freak. This week's blog provides some strategies for staying informed without staying too involved.

The Risks of Not Letting Go of Control

At the heart of micromanagement is an ego-based failure to let go of control. Ironically, in some cases, micromanaging leaders may see themselves as low-ego, ultimate "servant leaders." They may think: "Look at me, I am rolling up my sleeves and working side-by-side with the troops." In reality, what may look like helping, though, isn't helping at all since the group doesn't often need another operator. They need a leader. In most cases, the leader's need to be involved often slows down the work of the group, as other things sit and wait for the leader to review or approve them. This is the most common complaint I hear from employees who work for leaders caught in this trap.

Inc. magazine makes an interesting distinction between control and leadership that may help highlight the differences:

"Control is about making sure orders and work requirements are carried out by following management's plans and directions. Leadership, on the other hand, is based on setting clear objectives, delegating authority, relinquishing control, and trusting staff."

Only with the self-awareness, empathy, and self-control that comes with EQ can leaders have the understanding and discipline needed to cede control to the team so they can meet organizational objectives by exercising their own power and agency. The bottom line is it doesn't matter whether a leader refuses to give up control due to a strong personality or a passion for operations, the leader makes decisions and behaves in ways that make them feel comfortable at the expense of others' comfort.

The Battle of Ego vs. EQ

If you should discover that staying out of operations and letting go of control is a challenge for you, begin by looking within. Ask yourself questions like,
  • "Is this something I should be this involved with?"
  • "Have I delegated this to someone else but am I still too far in?"
  • "Is my involvement slowing everything down?"
  • "Am I just gathering information, or am I now in the middle of something, telling people what to do?"
  • "What would happen if I took my hands off the wheel? What does that tell me about how well I have prepared my next-tier leaders for running the business?"

Then, exercise your self-awareness and work to recognize when you're stepping too far into the weeds. You may feel that the visibility on the assignment is too high, you may realize that you distrust the team's competence, or you may recognize an excitement or overzealousness to be involved yourself in a given project. Rather than let these emotions dictate how you proceed-by jumping into operations-step back and consider what the environment needs from you. That's where empathy and reading come in.

With a good read on your team and insight into your own temptations, you'll have the information you need to respond appropriately and consciously.  If you feel uncertain of a team member's competence, take the leap of faith to let the person try and run with a starter project on his or her own. A major part of any leader's job is to develop a bench of capable talent. You'll only know how the person operates if you let her try. Lastly, don't be afraid of mistakes; they are sure to happen. They happened to you in the past and probably serve today as some of your best learning experiences.  The same goes for your team.

In most cases, there is a certain sense of serenity that comes with surrendering and accepting that unintended consequences aren't always terrible. If not, the worst that will happen is that some of your fears will come true but that you will have a new lens with which to view the situation.  You will see the gaps, learning needs, job misfits, and assumptions that you failed to see before from your controlling mindset.  These are invaluable tools you can now use to target where you want to improve the organization, focusing your passions and energy on something with much greater significance and impact.

In the end, you as a leader have to define for yourself when it is appropriate to get involved in a situation. Along these lines, it can be helpful to come up with some clear thresholds to guide you on when to get involved in projects and decisions and when it's better to stay out of the fray. By developing clearer guidelines for when to let go of control, inviting others to hold you accountable, and accepting that it may always feel uncomfortable to trust, you will develop a strong toolset to avoid the urge to micromanage.

This article is a summary excerpt from Ego vs EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps Using Emotional Intelligence. Click here to order a copy of the book, or here for companion webinar.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Don't Let Employees Get Too Comfortable

It's a constant challenge to know how to be the right kind of leader each employee needs us to be to keep them at their best. And although it may be tempting to allow employees to find their groove and just coast, it eventually leads to trouble. Read on to find out why.

Don't Let Employees Get Too Comfortable
As leaders, we are working hard to keep our employees productive and engaged in their work and organization. Followers of the strengths-based philosophy focus on delegating work that is only in an employee's sweet spot. Leaders of millennials may find themselves forced to bias the workload to the tasks the employee finds interesting and motivating because it makes giving positive feedback easier. Although this arrangement may make the leader popular and the employee happier, it comes with some sinister risks.

Active Disservice
This is a tricky trap because many leaders feel quite accomplished if they possess an intimate knowledge of what their people are good at and then provide those opportunities accordingly. Others may also feel a sense of loyalty or protectiveness when assigning work to their people, purposely avoiding things they've sensed makes the person feel uncomfortable or unqualified.

But by allowing employees to become too comfortable and reliant on their signature strengths, keeping themselves safely tucked away in their pockets of expertise, leaders are not actually rewarding them. They are in fact delivering to them an active disservice - enabling them to stay in the comfort zone nest, never stretching beyond their own (often self-imposed) limitations.

80% Strength / 20% Stretch
Although rewarding employees with specific projects that will draw from their strengths and involve duties they enjoy doing is still a smart idea, it should not become the norm all of the time. There is an ideal ratio of 80% strength/20% stretch. Employees who are left 100% comfortable may later face their own set of unpleasant eventualities, often struggling when circumstances change, limiting their own opportunities for advancement, slowly fall behind in meeting the minimum job requirements, and may risk burnout or disengagement as monotony sets in.

Start with a Conversation
Leaders can break the comfort zone handicap by looking more closely at any patterns of avoidance and assess what performance areas bring out signs of resistance or insecurity in their people. They then need to start an open dialogue with the person to find out what resources, training, understanding, or big picture may the person be missing that would help make a challenging assignment easier to complete. This also gives the leader an opportunity to clarify or reset any incorrect or exaggerated perceptions this employee may have had about what they deem as "success" in the particular task or job facet. Odds are you already know what they enjoy doing, this conversation can help you better understand what they avoid doing and why. Leaders must be careful to listen closely for the barriers employees face and actively work to remove them.

Delegate for Development

Acknowledge the discomfort, empathize with the anxiety it may create and don't give in. Helping employees see that a stretch assignment's only purpose is not to stress them out, but actually help them achieve their own goals is a good place to start. Then keep these three tips in mind when delegating:
  • Development activities should come with added levels of support. As the employee learns, they will have questions. Pre-plan whom they should go to first and what sources are available to them. You may also suggest some "hands off" sources if you know there is a risk of them learning bad habits first. You will need to make yourself available on a predictable schedule so the employee has access to you as they learn.
  • Development activities must allow room for failure. Don't assign a super-sensitive, high visibility project to your employee as a stretch assignment. Pick something that has a long deadline that you may have time to review and finalize before it goes public or something with a minor risk if it isn't "perfect." Think about how to paint a picture of success so they know what to strive for. And then be ready to accept less than perfect.
  • Development activities need a post-mortem. In today's rush-around world we complete projects, check them off the list and move on to the next thing. After a development activity is assigned, schedule a formal meeting to discuss process, roadblocks, successes and key learnings. It can be as simple as "what worked/what didn't work". Use it as an opportunity to springboard to the next assignment. Assess your employee to see if they are continuously incorporating new skills into their daily work; this is a way to measure their learning agility.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Too
One of the most important questions a leader should continually ask themselves is - are my people growing? And are my people growing because of me, in spite of me, or without me?

To gain the necessary credibility required to create a climate of safety where employees feel safe to open up to their boss about tough topics like insecurities, deficiencies, shortcomings, fear, failure, and confusion a leader must have first demonstrated that they too are seeking out growth opportunities that stretch them in unfamiliar areas. Being a leader who doesn't allow comfort zone handicaps to hurt their team requires that they first (or at the same time) make intentional efforts to get uncomfortable too. Maintaining a healthy level of challenge and struggle is what makes the most powerful teams. This is how a leader builds a team who is qualified and prepared to meet the demands of a thriving enterprise.