Thursday, December 13, 2018

Are You A Credible Leader

Despite all best intentions it's easy to send mixed messages to others when we allow stress or self-focused behaviors dominate our interactions with others. This month provides a quick checklist to see if your leadership credibility might be taking a hit.

Credibility Crushers
Consider the following behaviors that hurt employee engagement and motivation:

Forgetting conversations and instructions given; poor listening skills. Common employee complaint: "I have to take notes just to be sure I can prove later we had this conversation."

Not Understanding Employee's Jobs
Assuming credibility can be earned without understanding the inner workings of the team. Common employee complaint: "If they had any idea what we do they would make better decisions instead of making our jobs harder."

Fairweather Boss
A fan one minute, a critic the next. Common employee complaint: "You have her support until it becomes unpopular."

Solitary Decision Making
Making decisions that impact others without soliciting their feedback. Common employee complaint: "This directly affected my job but yet he didn't think I was important enough to be included until after the fact."

Talking Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth
Being hypocritical, contradictory or overly political. Common employee complaint: "Mixed messages."

Reactive crisis-management mentality, often adopting the overreactions of others. Common employee complaint: "We're headed in one direction today, we'll be headed in the opposite direction tomorrow."

Unrealistic or Assumed Expectations
Expecting others to possess the same work ethic or assuming unspoken expectations will be met. Common employee complaint: "I failed at something I didn't even know I was being evaluated on and never got the chance to discuss it"

Leadership behaviors that build credibility and employee engagement:  
  • Assuming the best and delaying judgment
  • Reliability in word and deed
  • Soliciting their input in brainstorming and problem solving
  • Challenging them to think outside their job description
  • Taking a genuine interest in employees as individuals
  • Delegating learning opportunities not just problems
  • Laughing at yourself and fessing up when you blow it
  • Encouraging creativity
  • Giving others the freedom to "fail forward"
  • Operating from a hope of success rather than a fear of failure
  • Asking "How am I doing?"
Just remember credibility takes years to establish and only a few bad behaviors to destroy. The first step is moving out of your comfort zone and asking for feedback on how others see you modeling these behaviors. Raising your self-awareness will increase your effectiveness and influence.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Month in a Minute

AICPA Breakout Session, NYC: Conference Atrium in the Grand Hyatt, NYC:
Steve and I making some last minute presentations tweaks in SLC:
Barnes Foundation

November included events in Philadelphia, Boston, NYC, and Salt Lake City. I was fortunate to present an EQ talk at a women's event at the Barnes Foundation, it started out as a private collection that has since been made available to the public. We had the museum all to ourselves at the evening event and the visiting exhibition is Berthe Morisot, she was the only female impressionist painter. She has quite a remarkable story, it's worth a visit if you are in the Philadelphia area.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

How Employers Measure Emotional Intelligence in Candidates

Kelly asked if I would contribute to her article for HigherEd Jobs.  She did a fantastic job!  To view the original article click here.  Thanks so much, Kelly!

Career News  |  by Kelly A. Cherwin
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Employers want to know you as a candidate. They not only want to determine if you have the technical aptitude and job specific expertise but if you will be a "fit" within their organizational culture. One way they can do this is by interviewing for emotional intelligence (EI) or sometimes referred to as the emotional quotient (EQ). As researchers Mayer and Salovey state, emotional intelligence is "the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions."

Jennifer Shirkani, CEO and president at Penumbra Group, a firm that provides Talent Management Solutions and a frequent speaker on the topic of emotional intelligence explains why EI is so relevant in today's workplace and important for employers to consider. "The emotional intelligence of employees is directly related to their coachability and often shows their willingness to adapt and be open-minded to feedback and change." Employers are looking for people willing to listen thoughtfully, work collaboratively, and get out of their comfort zone as well as people who make thorough decisions and are good role models. Candidates displaying these skills and abilities through high emotional intelligence are more likely to be viewed more favorably.

According to Shirkani, 46% of new hires fail within 18 months. The common reasons are: the inability to accept feedback, inability to understand/manage emotions, lack of motivation, or wrong temperament for job/work environment. Interviewing for emotional intelligence can potentially avoid these errors in hiring the wrong candidate. In fact, according to a survey, many hiring managers (71%) stated they valued EI in an employee over IQ and (59%) claim that they'd pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace consists of three R's says Shirkani:
  • Recognizing and being self-aware. The ability to know your strengths and weaknesses is key.
  • Reading your environment. Having the ability to be situationally aware of what is happening around you is crucial to strengthening your emotional intelligence.
  • Responding appropriately and exercising self-control. Managing your own emotions and trying to understand and respond to others emotions are critical.
As a job seeker, you may ask, "How do employers interview for emotional intelligence?" Shirkani says that employers "use the past to predict the future." This can be done through behavior-based interview questions. Shirkani states that "candidates with a high EQ are more comfortable sharing an experience and are ok with who they are."

How do job seekers highlight their EQ in these behavioral interviews? When an employer asks you a question based on a past experience or situation, think of your CAR. No, not the sports or luxury car that you are dreaming of sitting in your driveway, but instead respond by explaining the Circumstance of the event or situation, describe the Action you took to resolve or improve the circumstance, and then elaborate on the Result that was generated. For example, if you were asked to describe a time that you demonstrated problem-solving skills you could say, "Our office did not have a good system to keep track of invoices, receipts, and expenses. I instituted a filing system that allowed everyone to put receipts and invoices in specific folders which I would then electronically scan and cross check against our credit card system and then file in the appropriate digital dropbox. This process resulted in a reduction of late fees as well as a very satisfied supervisor." 

Other advice for candidates to succeed in an interview? Research the environment and company culture, know your strengths and weaknesses and be comfortable talking about them. People who are afraid to talk about their weaknesses could be a red flag to employers. Instead, discuss the weakness, but most importantly, what you learned from that weakness. And finally, as Shirkani adds, "Do not try to be someone you aren't." 

Good luck in your next interview.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Our Attitude is Gratitude

We at Penumbra Group want to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, which hopefully includes an emotionally intelligent family gathering this year.
We are counting our blessings, you among them. We are grateful for our circle of colleagues, wonderful clients, good health, and the opportunity to do the work we love. Thank you for your continued support.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

This Emotional Intelligence Test Was So Accurate It Was Creepy

I often get asked if emotional intelligence can be measured or tested, and the answer is yes!  There are many different types of assessments out there, but the one we use at Penumbra is called the EQi 2.0.  I came across this great article by Rich Bellis at Fast Company, and thought is a fun narrative about taking the assessment and interpreting the results.  If you would like to take the "creepy test" and receive a 1-hour personal coaching call, click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Interview with Jerry Cox: President of Brainier

My guest interview this month is with Jerry Cox, he is the President of Brainier and we met in September at their annual user conference. I was so impressed with his presence throughout the event and the growth of the company under his leadership, I thought he would be a great person to interview. He has some keen insights on connecting with users on a human level in a high tech environment, not an easy task. Welcome, Jerry!

JS: What kind of advice would you offer to other executives for maintaining resiliency in an industry that is constantly changing at a rapid pace? 

JC: A key component of resiliency is staying in touch with the person/group you are advocating for in the market. Having an open line of dialog to understand what challenges they face is crucial to developing solutions. It is so easy for companies to become complacent with success. A byproduct of that complacency being the focus stays on improvements to current products and services which solve yesterday’s problems and neglect the R&D to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. This habit of constantly listening to clients and prospects and, in turn, developing solutions for their changing needs, mixed with an adequate amount of humility will keep an organization responsive and leading the pack. A group lacking this quality is merely making bold and potentially expensive guesses.

JS: In today's world, where do EQ skills (recognize, read, respond) rank in an ideal leadership competency? 

JC: This ties in directly with every organization’s struggle for resiliency in the sense that utilizing these basic EQ qualities has the potential to keep the focus on the drivers of change in a business opportunity. The most desirable companies to work for often repeat the often-quoted Steve Jobs line about listening to employees: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." Brilliant as that is, that responsiveness and openness is only one side of the equation. I do not believe that a leader can be successful over time if they have not mastered the ability to read themselves and others and respond appropriately to a wide variety of issues and situations.

JS: What role does human connection play in user engagement? 

JC: The core of user engagement is “empathy.” A good developer will build a bulletproof platform or system for a user to navigate where they need to go. A great developer will map out the path through that platform using cues to lead the user to success. The difference is empathy. The most successful organizations in nearly every industry approach a new task with the focus on how the technology will empower a user to solve a problem as opposed to building a theoretically superior system.

Part of the customer support training we do internally at Brainier is founded on this empathetic approach. When a user requires a human connection to solve their issue, the least we could do is listen and be prepared as best we can.

This is our simple, yet effective Customer Care Checklist for every incoming call:

1. Make sure the caller takes away more USEFUL information than they brought.
2. Establish a path forward that includes Brainier.
3. Make sure the caller is satisfied with the answer.

It sounds very simple if we consider how many times that actually happens to us personally as consumers, it’s not often. I think EQ has a direct and profound impact on user engagement and the entire customer experience.

JS: How does that translate in a technology-based industry? 

JC: In a technology-based industry, using an empathetic approach is critical because the stakes are higher. Users are very impatient and have higher expectations all the time. At Brainier, the products we are compared to are generally updated monthly, if not sooner. We find that users have almost zero tolerance for products that look potentially out-of-touch to them. This continual dialog is what maintains our relevance with our clients and in the industry.

Jerry Cox, President - Brainier Solutions

Mr. Cox has more than 30 years of general management experience, having worked in several industries including distribution, software, and manufacturing. 

Since 2001, he has been the president of Brainier Solutions, a Minneapolis-based company, which provides technology-based Training and Development products to Corporations World-Wide. Mr. Cox has also held positions in technical sales, sales leadership and executive level leadership throughout his career.

He holds a BBA degree from Cleveland State University and has additional studies in electrical engineering and computer technology. In his spare time, he is an accomplished musician, an avid reader, and offers volunteer leadership on several boards and associations.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from top right: Upcoming AICPA Women's Global Leadership Summit in NYC; Team picture at the Escape Game, Austin; Wayne Powell, me and Cooper Vittitow of Civitas Senior Living; Coming soon to your fall Thursday night TV lineup...4 Is Enough, Penumbra's new sitcom; Rob Hendricks of Highgate Hotels and me
I am not sure how it is November 1st already, but here we are. October is always a fun month at Penumbra Group because almost the whole team has an October birthday so each year we do something together as a group to celebrate. This year we went to the great city of Austin. We stayed downtown at a cool hotel/residential rental called “The Guild," where we each had our own complete apartment with full kitchen and washer and dryer. We took the opportunity to be together to get some fresh headshots taken by Valerie Fremin and Sid Ceasar. They did a great job, check out Valerie's site here. And our original plan included a downtown Segway tour (something none of us has ever done), but the unusually cold and rainy weather thwarted our plans.

So, at the last minute, we booked an Escape Room. We found out that if you are looking for a special team to uncover the date, time and place of the next terror attack, we are NOT the ones to hire! It was our first time attempting an Escape Room and it was much harder than I thought it was going to be. We were given hints along the way, but much of it comprised of our observation skills as we searched for clues. It was sometimes hard to distinguish between what was an actual clue vs a prop and once we knew something had meaning, trying to determine how to make use of it. It was a fun teambuilding experience and I would recommend it to anyone in the area! Ask for Robert, he was incredible!

Wishing you a great Thanksgiving holiday ahead and hope to see you at one of our upcoming events in Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Salt Lake City or the Cayman Islands!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Interviewing for Coachability and EQ

It’s time to refocus back on interviewing, the stakes are high as hiring managers are confronted with the challenge of interviewing candidates that are savvier than ever. Applicants have educated themselves on the insider tips for winning the interviewing game. With the increasing difficulty in obtaining reference information and candidates who are well-rehearsed, interviewers are baffled at how to separate the style from the substance. This week we explore ways to uncover a critical skill needed for job success: coachability.

Maybe it’s the world we live in today or maybe it’s a generational thing, but employees seem to be very sensitive to feedback and are easily offended. For any of us to grow and thrive at work, we have to be willing to hear feedback and not only accept it but also make a behavioral change in order to improve. We call this coachability. How does someone interview a candidate and know they are coachable?

It’s important to know that coachability is learned. It is the result of several skills used in combination: self-awareness, flexibility, and optimism. You can ask questions to validate each and all of these skills in the context of being coachable.

We recommend using the behavior-based interview format and asking for a complete answer (circumstance, action, and result). For more information on this, check out our companion webinar which includes top interview questions broken-down by skill.  And, a handy template for an interviewing 3x2 grid.

1." Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were." 

This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate's Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word "unfairly" is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance feedback. In your opinion, does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? Do they take action to change their behavior as a result? Being coachable doesn’t mean we only change when we agree with the feedback, but also when we don’t.

2.“Tell me about a stretch assignment you were delegated that really challenged you.”

First off, you will find out if they have had any recent stretch assignments and their definition of “stretch” and “challenge”. I also like to follow up with questions about how the assignment came about – did they ask for it or was it required? I like to get a lot of details from them so I can also assess how they managed the stress of it and what they learned from the new experience. Coachable people are proactively willing to get out of their comfort zone and try something different.

3. “We’ve all had occasions when things at work don’t go our way. Think of a time when it happened to you and what the circumstances were.  Give me a specific example.”

A pessimist will say they have several examples of this situation they can share. An optimist believes that setbacks or failures are isolated and do not allow them to permanently damage their sense of hope. Optimists believe that positive change is possible in themselves and others, so even when you ask for details of a challenge you will likely hear that they learned something good from it and use that information for the future. Coachable people take all experiences and use them to improve.

Technical skills and experience are always easier to ask about and assess in a candidate. Although the emotional intelligence skills may seem more difficult to measure, by using a systematic approach and asking the right questions you will get much higher quality information. Coachability is a key functional skill for every role and often determines retention, employee engagement, and job satisfaction.  

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Being Blind to Your Downstream Impact

It can be easy to underestimate how much our behavior impacts the people around us. Sometimes, it can play out in the case of the "submarine boss," a leader who is silent for a period of time, then suddenly surfaces and makes requests that create chaos and knock every other boat out of the water.  Other times it's a case of having an "initiative du jour," when a leader directs the group to take on one pet project one day and then switches the group to another project the following day. It's important to be aware of the downstream impact we have on our teams and how much disruption we may unknowingly cause.

Being Blind to Your Downstream Impact

As a leader in any organization, it's easy to have a blind spot regarding your downstream impact: you may not have any advisors to give you feedback, and your direct reports may silently defer to you. Chances are that they will never let on, at least directly, to the disruptive effects of your decisions, initiatives, requests, and behavior. For the manager who regularly communicates the belief that "my priorities override everyone else's" problems may occur. Employees can start to feel disrespected and become disgruntled. The leader may become the butt of a few jokes around the office or, worse, set him or herself up to be undermined by others as they disengage and fail to alert the leader to possible trouble or even set the leader up for failure. No one wants to work for a dictator, even a benevolent one.

Every decision you make as a leader ripples through your organization in waves, and the amplitude can become more intense the farther "downstream" it flows. Too many managers forget that the choices they make, even seemingly small ones, can have far-reaching effects throughout the organization. Notoriously shifting priorities, feeling hot about a project one day and cold the next, making everything a priority at once so that nothing is prioritized-all of these behaviors, and others, can get in the way of sustaining the organization's long-term goals and cloud the company's vision. By clearly reading the potential effect your behaviors have on others-by exercising empathy-you can avoid the pitfalls of being blind to your downstream impact.

Some examples:
  • shift priorities on a whim or treat everything on their mind as a top priority
  • assign "simple" tasks that are actually time and resource-intensive
  • level jump, i.e., give assignments or directives to those further down the chain of command rather than to direct reports
  • assigning things without deadlines and then reacting with urgency or disappointment when they are not done on your timeline
The Battle of Ego vs. EQ

Ego says, "I have needs and my team will meet them." Ego says, "When I have an idea, I should have others implement it." Ego thinks about itself and doesn't notice the impact of its actions on everyone else. Ego doesn't pause either to reflect on how others might perceive its behaviors.

In contrast, EQ says, "My team has needs too and I will consider them when making my own known." EQ also signals the leader to consider the impact of making impulsive or last-minute requests on others in the group, recognizing that people have their own responsibilities to juggle. EQ reminds the leader too that treating employees with respect breeds return respect for the leader as opposed to trampling on others, which can lead to weakened support and loyalty.

If ego has the leader thinking in terms of "the team is here to serve me," then EQ has the leader thinking the converse: "I am here to serve the team." In practice, it is a blend of both of these approaches that helps to get things done in an organization, but the other-directed, EQ-related mindset can ensure that the leader never steps too far in the wrong direction.

The goal is to get good at recognizing when your ego is leading the way, causing you to instinctively make requests or engage in behaviors that have not been fully thought through in terms of possible downstream impact. If you have the urge to pitch a new strategy to your team, act on the latest business book, or hand out bonuses just because it feels right, notice this instinctive feeling and, instead of acting on it, pause and reflect on whether it is truly the right course of action-first, for yourself, and then for your team and organization.

Next, it's time to read the environment and exercise some empathy. How will your request or the big idea that you're thinking about acting on really affect your employees? Will it move the organization forward or disrupt workflow? Where would you rank your request or idea in terms of other organizational priorities? Is your ego leading the way or are you truly onto something important?

When you are ready to respond, keep your self-control at the ready. If after looking within and outside of you, you still feel justified to introduce your new idea, make requests, or engage in the desired behavior, do so with sensitivity to everyone else. This may mean calling a meeting with your executive team to get their input and perspectives before rolling out a new idea. Or it may mean your requests acknowledge the required time outlay and give others enough time to shift around priorities. Or maybe you simply ask, "How does that work for you?"

When you use EQ rather than allowing your ego to reflexively lead the way, you may abandon some ideas and initiatives; others will be rolled out with pacing and consideration. That's good news for everyone as you maximize workflow and your best ideas get implemented in a way that works for the whole team.

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, October 11, 2018

Delegating for Development

I frequently get asked what I think is the best way to teach new skills on the job.  My answer is often delegation.  There is a difference between delegating tasks with the intent of completion versus delegating tasks with the intent of learning and completion. Want to increase employee accountability and minimize the risk of failure? Check out these quick tips to make the most of your assignments.  

Development Activities vs. Job Duties
Small actions you take can provide you with a double benefit when delegating that maximize opportunities for employee learning while they work toward accomplishing job duties. 

Important things to consider:

  • 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 that has 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, no-resource 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.              
Most organizations today are relying on "on-the-job" (OTJ) training to develop employees to increasing levels of skill and competence. For OTJ to be effective, it requires a different approach to delegation and categorizing job tasks into development activities. This process aids learning, allows employee autonomy and accountability, and minimizes the risk of failure.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Month in a Minute

All photos from the Brainier User Conference.
Why did we crop the photo of the three of us?  Because, we
think it's pretty incredible just the way it is(we asked a 
passerby to snap a quick picture)

Wow, we made it to the 4th quarter. In September we had the opportunity to all get together to attend the Brainier User Conference in Minneapolis, it was a great event! With technology changing constantly it is always good to catch up on the latest trends and solutions in the learning management system world. The good news is that emotional intelligence skills are as in demand as ever and employees who demonstrate flexibility, self-control, stress tolerance and empathy are highly sought after and valued in the workplace in every industry. My keynote is being converted into an eLearning module that will be available on their platform so you can catch it if you happen to be a current customer of theirs.

At the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting their CEO, Jerry Cox. He gave the welcome message and then stayed at the event, sitting in the ballroom at a table with clients and employees. I was impressed. Too often the key executive will make some opening remarks and leave immediately after they are done to tend to more pressing issues. Not Jerry. Then, a few days later I got a handwritten note from him in the mail. That’s right, handwritten. Who does that? What a rarity in today’s world that a busy executive will take the time to write a personal thank you note. The impact was huge. It was a good reminder to me to send more handwritten notes, it’s a small thing that has big meaning.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Company Culture: Who Are You?

I have been writing and speaking about corporate culture for almost 20 years now. After seeing "under the hood" at hundreds of organizations in dozens of industries, each has a unique culture; one that has either come by design or by default. Consider your own company culture - what is it? Is it aligned with your stated company values? Is anyone responsible for its measurement and good health? This month's article provides details on the factors that go into a company culture so you can do your own analysis of how your organization stacks up.        
Culture Defined
The definition of corporate culture includes a common understanding of definitions and traditions, including the appropriate ways to behave. In short, it is the way things get done at your company.
A strong culture gives a business an edge in two major ways:

1) it empowers people to feel part of the fabric of the company building motivation and employee engagement.   

2) it builds a brand image as the customer experience is shaped consistently and reinforced with every interaction. 

Spend a few moments considering your company or department culture and how you can be more intentional about shaping it into the one you desire. What five words would you use to describe your culture today? Are you satisfied with those descriptors? By limiting yourself to just five words, you can hone in on specific traits about your culture. Now ask your employees to do the same exercise...are their words the same? You may find their perceptions extremely insightful. 

Questions to Consider

There are several factors that influence a culture: 

1. How does your atmosphere support your stated business goals and values?   Atmosphere includes how the office or retail location looks, smells, and sounds. This includes how employees dress and what titles people are given. 

2. Are your policies/practices directly supporting the behaviors you expect from your employees? Policies include what is and isn’t formally allowed. Practices are the way policies are demonstrated behaviorally.

3. Take a look at your performance reviews, do they measure behaviors along with results? 

4. Do employees receive formal and informal rewards not just for the results they get but how they get them?

5. When new employees start with the company, does the on-boarding experience consist of a review of paperwork and benefits with Human Resources in a conference room? 

6. Does the company encourage folklore as a way to keep traditions alive? Folklore includes powerful stories that get told about your company by your customers and employees. When I worked at Nordstrom in the 1980’s, there was much talk about their return policy and a popular story routinely circulated involving a customer returning a snow tire.

7. Does every member of senior management set the right tone to support the culture? Duplicity is toxic to credibility. When you say one thing and then have hidden rules, you force employees to behave in self-preserving ways; they learn the loopholes, workarounds, and can go underground. Most employees will follow the path of least resistance to meeting their goals. Remember that leadership will always have the most influence on your organization's culture. 

One way to know if your actual culture is aligned to your desired one is to read about your company online or by surveying your employees and customers to see if the picture painted is an accurate representation of the way things really are. Check out what people are saying.

As a manager, you cannot control every aspect of your corporate culture, but you do wield a great influence over it. By understanding and intentionally shaping your department’s culture, you can build more employee loyalty and engagement.

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.