Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paradox of Letting Go



I continue to run into leaders with serious control issues. They work so hard to micro-manage every aspect of their business (including all the people in it) that they don't even realize the consequences it has on their overall results. No one wants to be caught by surprise and we all want the best possible outcomes from our decisions but how much control is too much?

Every leader struggles with trust; how much to delegate? How important should the tasks that are delegated be? How do we know when someone is "ready" for the next level of accountability? Is there a balance between micro-managing and complete autonomy?

This points to the differences between management and leadership. Consider, "the paradox of letting go" from Lao Tzu. This philosophy says, "when I let go of what I am I become what I might be."

We never intend to come across as controlling or distrusting, but when we insert ourselves in the middle of projects without being invited, it sends a message that, "the situation is clearly so out of control it deems my immediate attention". It forces people to take the defense, disrupts any momentum they may have, or causes them to check out completely and disengage from the project and from you. They think, "Why invest the time and energy if you are just going to take over and do it your way anyway?"

There is also some law of nature at play when it comes to control; sometimes the things you work the hardest to command just slip through your tightly grasped hands. Instead, the more relaxed and centered you are about outcomes the more positive energy is drawn to you. If you aren't getting the results you want, raise your self-awareness about the issues that you chronically attempt to control. Ask for feedback on the times when you get in the middle "trying to help". And trust in the people and process around you. You may find a calmer peace of mind to go with it. There is no greater self-imposed pressure than the need to control the entire universe around you.

Hint:    It isn't about you - let it go

There is a certain sense of serenity that comes with surrendering and accepting that unintended consequences aren't always terrible.

Think of the power of leadership over management:

  • When I give up trying to be in control (management), I have greater influence (leadership).

  • When I let go of my fear of failure (management), I am stronger (leadership).

  • When I stop dictating to my team (management), I allow them to show me their capabilities (leadership).

What I learn by trying to control others is that my team can follow instructions; what I never learn is the potential waiting inside them. Management is about power, leadership is about liberation. In the moments of greatest desire to control, consider letting go. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Optimizing Development Plans


The development planning process can be just another HR initiative that usurps precious time from your "business" activities. However, when you calculate the impact your employees have on the bottom line - both as an expense and a source of potential revenue - you can see the benefit of more strategically managing your one of your largest investments.

Consider this: A downturn in business presents an opportunity to retool and refocus your talent pool because when the market turns around you will be poised for dominance. Those who squander this chance to look inward risk lost revenue and market share as your competitors with better qualified talent surpass you. Therefore, as a part of your business planning process, you create a road map to refine your strengths, develop new skills or reach new markets, and mitigate your weaknesses.

Since company performance ultimately depends on the performance of each individual employee, you cannot afford for employee performance to remain stagnant year over year either.  This is where your development planning process plays an important role: the development plan is the business roadmap translated down to the employee level.

So how do you get started?

1) As a starting point, take your company and/or your team goals and have each employee identify 3-5 main objectives that align with those initiatives.
  •          Does the employee need to learn new skills to help them reach their objectives? Add that to the training plan.
  •          Does at least one of those objectives stretch and/or challenge the employee? If not, refine the list to include one.
  •          How will you know when the objective has been reached? Be sure to be specific enough that you can follow up on progress.


2) Additionally, choose at least one strength and evaluate how you as a supervisor can leverage that strength, while giving the employee more opportunities to stretch, grow, and refine.

3) Also, choose one development area and plan out how can the employee can improve. Think out of the box: shadowing, on the job training, formal training, research, mentoring, special project assignments.

4) Choose a time to discuss the plan with your employees. Remember this is a development discussion (proactive) not a corrective action discussion (reactive).

5) Write everything down. This ensures you have a visible reminder of your conversation.

6) Set a time to follow up. You might need to have formal monthly check-ins with the employee or informal conversations. Either is fine, but just remember to track progress and provide feedback regularly.


Remember, if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. Using a development road map helps ensure your employees and your company reach their maximum potential.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part II


Part I of this article can be found HERE.

Here are just a few ways to get started:

1. Developmental "play" - Take it apart and rebuild it

Some of the most effective developmental toys for children involve taking the toy completely apart so the child can learn to put it back together.  Many times there are several ways it can be done, allowing the freedom of experimentation without being restricted to one "right" way.

The beauty of applying this learning design to daily work is that every person will approach tasks in a new and different way. Because they have a unique vision of what they would do if they could completely reinvent something, this process of experimentation is rich with discovery. 

It is easy to find ourselves in a confidence rut because we live in a world of routine.  If you do things the same way every time, it is hard to feel the thrill of purposeful excitement that only comes from providing a unique contribution to a successful venture.

Leaders can encourage creativity, fearlessness, and independent thinking by assigning employees the task of taking apart certain routine procedures or projects and rebuilding it in a new way.  It may mean only a slight change, but giving them permission (and accountability) to rethink the familiar can have a big effect on their confidence and willingness to accept responsibility.  It can be fun too!

2. Make friends with your fear

The most courageous people are not immune to fear.  They just don't believe all its hype.  Contrary to popular belief, self-confidence is not the opposite of self-doubt.  They are, in fact, quite intertwined.

Genuine confidence is gained by having the courage to try something even when there is a risk of failure.  As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly put it, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face....You must do the thing which you think you cannot do". 

Pay attention to possible areas of fear or insecurity in your employees (i.e. avoidance behavior) and engage them in dialogue about it.  It is important to remember that people also avoid what doesn't interest them, so be sure to probe whether it is more a matter of a lack of motivation for the particular task.  Strategic division of labor is a major factor in high performance teams but is often overlooked as a means of improving employee's performance.

Ask permission to partner with them in overcoming this perceived obstacle.  For example, a leader noticed an insecurity one of their employees had in dealing with numbers and financial data.  After exploration and discussion of the employee's needs, she provided them with an instructional DVD set for basic accounting and financials that they could study in the privacy of their home. 

Remember, it is in our nature to avoid what we fear.  Instead of focusing on only their strengths or wishing they'd just "get over it", spend time understanding what holds them back.  Find ways to give them safe (and not too public) opportunities to stretch into the areas where fear holds them back.

3. Highlight the most "successful failures"

The best way to make someone feel safe to take risks around you is to prove that you understand and appreciate the value of failure.  Successes are obviously worth our attention, but our failures are often better teachers.  Instead of just broadcasting the wins, make it a point to highlight the losses that resulted in big learning gains. 

Start with your own and the habit will catch on.  Work toward freeing your employees of their failure inhibition and you'll be blown away at what they are capable of. 
The bottom line is this: 

You will not reach your performance goals without a confident, accountable, motivated team.

You have the power to create the team you desire.

Your belief in others should be based on a genuine desire to see THEM succeed, not in your terms but their own.  This is the difference between helping them soar on your confidence and freedom or watching them sink from your pressure.


YOU don't have to take on everything yourself.  Create a team just as courageous as you and imagine the possibilities.

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part I


Mary is a strong leader.  She approaches everything with confidence and determination.  She makes a point to lead by example by modeling a positive attitude and a zero tolerance for failure.  Mary's team sees that she has a high degree of self-esteem, enjoys being involved and thrives on taking risks and tackling challenges head on.

But Mary has a puzzling problem.  She is a courageous leader with a cautious team.  She struggles to make sense of their lack of enthusiasm and initiative.  How can she do anything more than what she is already doing by putting on display the kind of go-getter, confident achiever she expects them to be?

Mary is certainly not alone in this frustrating scenario.  An inability to rally their troops is a common complaint we hear from leaders.  They are dismayed at the amount of work they take on because their team appears to be asleep at the wheel, or rarely taking it out of first gear.

Mary wonders if the only solution is to lower her expectations and continue to rely only on herself to drive the team.  She is beginning to believe that stepping up when no one else will is what defines leadership. 

This line of self-questioning is a crucial crossroad for leaders.  The breakneck pace of business seems to imply that the path of quickest gain is the road best taken.  This flawed belief explains the widespread yet ineffective "done right, do it myself" leadership mentality.
These leaders are making a crucial mistake.

By merely expecting their own enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity to catch on via modeling, they've unwittingly done one of three things:

1) Enabled their team to become lazy and dependent by a lack of accountability.

2) Failed to get to the bottom of why their team lacks energy and purpose.  Often, we see talented employees languishing because they are assigned tasks within their skill level but outside their interests.  Just because we do something well doesn't mean we want to be doing it.

3) Sent an unspoken message to the team that they are a one man show and the rest of them are non-essential.  Team members begin to disengage simply because they cannot keep pace with their driving style or continually fail to measure up to unrealistic expectations. 

In their book, Primal Leadership, Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis defined this third leadership mistake as part of the downside of a "Pacesetting" leadership style.  "The phrase that best describes the operating mode of the pacesetting leader is "Do as I do, now."  One of the perks of the Pacesetting style is they are quick to get results.  On the other hand, they are just as quick to burn through people.

Employees are often overwhelmed by the speed and demands placed upon them, resulting in rapidly eroding morale.  "The pace under this leadership style is so quick that instructions may not even be clear. And to make matters worse, the leader has no patience for those that need to learn or are not picking up new work fast enough," says Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis.

While leading by example is indeed a crucial component of successful leadership, this method alone is not sufficient to ignite engagement or build the catalyst ingredients of star performance - CONFIDENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and MOTIVATION MATCHING.  We're going to focus on the confidence component.

Leaders often overlook the significant influence a sense of confidence has on the performance, or lack thereof, of their team members.  This cause and effect, confidence to performance relationship has been largely misunderstood.  Thought to be something yielded primarily from in born personality, observation or inspiration, leaders are often puzzled why their high drive and fearless attitude doesn't catch on. 

Paradoxically, some of the most hard-hitting, self-assured leaders produce the weakest teams.  They cast long shadows, a tempting place for their team to hide.  Certainly, confidence can be air-borne contagious, but merely being in the presence of a strong spirited leader produces only temporary esteem building effects.  Because at its core, self-assurance is a belief system, true confidence must be infused and internalized to have real, long lasting effects.  One cannot merely feel it, they must BELIEVE it. 

So what exactly is confidence?  Confidence is defined as self-assurance or a belief in one's ability to succeed.  A confident person is made, not born.  Our level of self-confidence is impacted daily by our actions and the response from those around us.  As such, it requires development and nourishment to realize its full potential.

Employees with a high degree of confidence demonstrate APPROACH instead of avoidance behavior with new tasks, consistently produce high quality work, and resist the urge to let failure define or restrict them.


Through a series of targeted, ongoing developmental exercises, leaders can build individual as well as team confidence.  You might just find yourself with a "new" team, without the hassle of costly staffing changes.

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