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Here’s a Great Mash-Up of Ideas for Better Leadership

leadership mash-up

In recent posts, I’ve explored two great themes that have received a lot of attention on social media. Leaders and managers can benefit from both ideas. Today, we’re going to do a mash-up of the two.

The first topic is Inspect What You Expect. It’s about an old piece of sage advice that often gets spoken but can be misunderstood. When you set goals or objectives for your team, you have to follow-up and check up on them.

The other topic is increasing accountability; your personal accountability as well as making those around you be accountable.

If we do the mash-up on these two principles of leadership, you’ll get a much better understanding of a powerful way to get the most from your team.

First, let’s review Expectation Inspection.

Inspect what you expect maybe a bit obvious, yet it is frequently ignored or forgotten by busy managers.

Once you explain your vision for your team and begin plotting the course for what success should look like, you will be tasking members of your team with their own duties and responsibilities.

If you then hide in your office and simply wait for results, you’re going to be disappointed.

You have to mingle within your team, making yourself available to answer clarifying questions, lead people through problem-solving, and guide the effort.

Periodically, you have to simply ask about progress. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Let people tell you whether they have roadblocks or not. Give them the chance to show you the progress they are making.

A few decades ago a popular management theory grew up called “management by walking around”. I still run into managers who were taught that as their primary leadership style.

It sounds great, but it’s too easily misapplied. Just walking the office floor or shop area isn’t enough. It’s what you do out there that makes a difference.

You have to engage with the team. Interact with everyone at all levels. Let them ask you questions.

Accountability

Good teams set goals and standards. Great teams are accountable for results. It all starts with the leader.

Becoming a better leader with accountability

Leaders need to clearly communicate the vision, plan, and expectations. There has to be an understanding of what a win should look like.

If your team is not clear on these basic terms, the leader must do more to provide clarity.

However, once the clarity is understood, everyone on the team, including the leader, must be held accountable for driving toward success.

To understand more about the reasons accountability is so important, refer to this article.

Hand In Hand

Applying both principles creates a big win. By setting the vision and creating standards you now have the measure of success.

But to get there, you have to inspect the very thing you expect. If adjustments are needed, that is the accountability piece.

leadership accountability

Holding others accountable, then re-inspecting what you expect assures greater success.

It’s really a cycle that needs to be administered daily if you really want to score high returns.

How to Avoid Having a Frozen Middle in Your Company

frozen middle image

Do you remember the last time you took something out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave? You were hoping for a tasty treat. But when the buzzer went off, you grabbed your food and stuck your fork in only to find a frozen middle.

The edges were hot and bubbly, but the center was just as cold as when you got it out of the fridge.

In today’s ever-increasing complexity of business, companies of all sizes are developing frozen middles.

What exactly does that mean?

Senior executives spend their days plotting vision and trying to get the workforce to execute on that vision. Yet the larger the corporation, the greater is the chance to suffer from the frozen middle.

Here’s how it happens.

Senior leaders set a course to deliver a new product or service. Junior executives distill the demands from the top and begin trying to communicate the details of a complex plan.

If the company has reverted to more of a matrix style reporting structure, i.e. people have dual reporting responsibilities, subordinate workers begin to suffer from command and control fatigue.

Signals get crossed and focus is lost. Rather than do something wrong, the folks in the middle freeze. They stop ‘doing’ for fear of doing it wrong. They will work, but the level of productivity lags simply because there is an unintended fear of doing something out of line or off the mark.

Creativity, collaboration, and even inclusion suffer.

Gifted and talented workers simply freeze in place.

What can Leaders do to thaw or avoid the frozen middle?

First, pay attention to your communication. The bigger the company, the greater is the flow of information. New policies, new procedures, new systems, etc. All of these serve to complicate the message(s) circulating through your offices and workshops.

You must strive for crystal clear clarity at every turn. Are your messages coherent and complementary to one another, or have you sent mixed signals?

Are your instructions consistent with the vision, mission, and goals you have launched?

Next, are your subordinate managers able to state the mission, values, and goals? Watch for simple parroting of the message; that is, repeating it back to you like a robot. Instead, they should each be able to state the purpose and vision for their teams in their own words. Yes, it should align with the greater good, but it has to come from their center of understanding, not some plaque on the wall.

Manager Challenges

Encourage your direct reports to work on this clarification of the message with their individual teams. Coach them through the process to create the message for their teams.

In addition, build trust in your circle of influence so that trust can be shared beyond just your inner circle. Model a trusting behavior for others to see so they can begin trusting you.

Speak empathetically. Embrace change.

Be patient. As change comes, not everyone aligns at exactly the same pace. Many will lag your understanding and enthusiasm. As a leader, you get an early preview of the changes that are needed.

Team success

Just because you “got it” and became excited about the change, not everyone else will immediately get it too. It is likely you needed your own time to process a pending change. Remember that. Allow your team their time to process change.

Finding Tools and Solutions

There is simply no better way to avoid the frozen middle than finding ways to keep your teams on the same page.

I’ve been coaching and advocating the Big 5 method of performance management for decades. In every situation where Big 5 has been adopted, work teams experience higher productivity, reduced stress, and greater team morale.

Tools and solutions like Big 5 go a long way to help. Big 5 is a way to get every employee to align with stated priorities for the next week or month. Then a simple, and short, review with the team lead/manager/supervisor can provide coaching and a checkpoint for keeping things aligned.

Leaders: If you Confuse, You Lose

There’s an old saying in the sales world. “The confused mind says NO.” Clearly that has big implications when trying to sell a product or service.

A prospect who gets confused by your sales pitch will revert to a NO answer all the time. On the other hand, a clear, concise explanation of the thing you are trying to sell will help close the deal.

The same is true of leadership responsibility. A confused mind says NO. If you confuse the people around you, the overall performance will be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

An employee’s willingness to perform is centered on their ability to clearly understand expectations and directions.

Clarity may be your best secret weapon to achieve better team performance.

It’s a Complicated World

There’s no denying the increased complexity in business these days. Whether you blame the exponential growth of technology or just the deeper understanding of things around us, it’s much harder to operate a business today than it once was.

Confused minds say NO

However, operating a highly specialized or technical business should not distract you from trying to make things simple for your team to comprehend.

Military people learned the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. When giving orders, it is the leader’s duty to make the instructions as simple to comprehend as possible. In combat, confused minds get people killed.

In business, the smartest guy in the room shouldn’t be rubbing that in, especially if they are the boss. Rather, if you think you truly are the smartest guy at the table, then you should be able to figure out ways to make directions and instructions easier to understand.

What To Do

Sometimes in figuring out what to do to make things more clear for your team, it is valuable to talk about what NOT to do. Here are a few big ideas to follow.

First, don’t be vague about directives. Masking your meaning immediately leads to confusion. The odds of your people going off in the wrong direction are far greater when you are unclear about your own expectations.

Think of 360 degrees on a compass (in a circle). The direction you need people to take is likely on one of a few degrees on that compass. If you are vague, your team has a minimum of 350+ other directions to go.

If you’re not exactly sure about the direction you want to take, invest the time and energy in getting your own clarity first.

Next, watch your communication style. In times of high stress and urgent deadlines, lookout for accelerating your own reactions to things going on around you. Create more measured responses.

Don’t react, respond instead. There is a big difference.

Lastly, remember the acronym FAST to increase your leadership effectiveness.

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach the desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around them.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Eliminate Confusion

Eliminating confusion can bring greater results. Remember, the confused mind says “NO” every time.

Question: When was the last time you experienced being confused by what the boss said? Were YOU the boss creating confusion?

Finding Focus Creates Clarity

focus image of camera lens

Discovering your Core Focus is an essential element of creating your company Vision. In my last article about becoming a FAST leader, the first part of the FAST acronym is FOCUS.

Core Focus has been called many things in the history of business strategy. Many people call it a Vision Statement. Stephen Covey calls it VoiceJim Collins calls it Hedgehog concept

My least favorite is the Mission Statement. These are usually eighteen sentence paragraphs that proclaim to the world all the things you think your customers want you to be – “We’re the best company with the best people and the best products and the best service and the best value and the best quality and the best delivery and the best . . . “ 

Usually, it is 90% aspirational and does nothing to define what the company stands for. Customers gloss past it, and employees shake their heads when they read it. Patrick Lencioni calls this “Blather” and said this about Mission Statements in his book, The Advantage

“Though I can’t be sure, I suspect that at some point about thirty years ago a cleverly sadistic and antibusiness consultant decided that the best way to really screw up companies was to convince them that what they needed was a convoluted, jargony, and all-encompassing declaration of intent. The more times those declarations used phrases like ‘world class,’ ‘shareholder value,’ and ‘adding value,’ the better. And if companies would actually print those declarations and hang them in their lobbies and break rooms for public viewing, well, that would be a real coup.”

Finding Purpose

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Lencioni on his take on Mission Statement. However, it is essential for a company to discover the reason they exist. Their purpose, cause or passion. The sweet spot for the organization. 

There is a reason every business owner took that leap of faith and accepted the risk to start their company. The reason they put in those 12-hour days and will do anything to make their company successful.   Moreover, it is rarely, if ever only about money.  Most Core Focus falls into one of four areas:

·       Solving problems

·       Helping others

·       Building a great company

·       Competition and winning

Shining Example – Simple

Starbucks states their purpose and vision in one simple sentence:

Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things: share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better. 

The purpose and passion are clear, simple, and direct. No one should be confused about what Starbucks stands for. Customers, employees, shareholders, and everyone else can read this and “get it.”

Once you clearly define this core focus, it becomes a compass, a guiding principle that you can use for all your strategic decisions. If your next choice does not support or enhance such a focus, you should seriously question the direction it may take you.

Note: Portions of this article were contributed by Jeff Bain of TeamTraction LLC, an EOS Implementer

BUSINESS LEADERSHIP – 5 STEPS TO HELP YOU DELEGATE AND ELEVATE

delegating-at-work

Is your time getting away from you? What would it look like if you only worked the hours you want to, but got everything done? Can you effectively delegate?

delegating-at-work

One of the surest ways to break through the ceiling and get to where you want to go is to delegate and elevate yourself to your God-given unique abilities.

If you’re like most business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders, you’re probably feeling a little stuck, with way too much on your plate. There are just not enough hours in the day. You may be feeling like you could and should be accomplishing a heck of a lot more than you are. If so, these five steps will take you to the next level:

Step 1: Define your 100% – Your 100% is your maximum number of hours per week you want to work and still remain balanced. For me, it’s around 60 hours a week, but this is different for everyone. You can’t move to the next step without answering this question. All progress begins here. The answer to this question represents your 100%.

Step 2: Determine if you’re over capacity – How much time will it take to do everything you need to do well? While this calculation is not entirely easy, it is vital. If your answer exceeds your 100%, it’s time to delegate and elevate. Therefore, move to step 3.

Step 3: List everything you do every day – It may seem daunting, but it’s worth 30 minutes and will save you hundreds of hours every year going forward. Literally list each and every activity, big and small, and then move on to step 4.

Step 4: Create your two columns – Take everything from the previous list in step 3 and put them in one of two columns. Column one is where you list everything you love and/or like to do and are great and/or good at. Column two is where you list everything remaining from the step 3 list. Once everything from step 3 is in one of the two columns, move to step 5.

Step 5: Delegate and elevate – Either stop doing or delegate the excess capacity items in the second column to the people around you until you’re comfortably within your 100%. You should also consider outsourcing the tasks that don’t fit on your perfect list. Get a virtual assistant, or find solutions where new partners can handle the workload on a contract basis. Don’t work below your pay grade.

Find the Sweet Spot

As a leader in your organization, you must operate in your sweet spot. By spending most of your time on “column 1” activities, you will. You owe it to yourself and your company. This makes you more valuable, gives you more energy, and makes you happier, which then leads to you being a much better leader for your people.

This piece was contributed by a good friend and colleague, Jeff Bain of Team Traction. Jeff is an EOS Implementer. If you want to know more about the EOS principles for growing and managing your business, contact Jeff at his website.

F-5 Framework for Leadership

Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail

Ever seen any purple unicorns? Pretty rare sightings, right? When we talk about leadership, often it seems like we are talking about something as vague and unique as purple unicorns. Leadership is in the eye of the beholder. Leadership is something you are born with. Leadership is a skill that can be taught. Leadership is the final answer. All of these are true and none of these are true.

Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail
Purple Unicorn courtesy BigThumbnail

For anyone facing a need to improve on leadership style or effectiveness, there are five core principles to master. Not 10, not 16, not 21. Yes, you can get granular, but as you first begin your journey to grow as a leader, stay centered on these five. I call this program the F-5 Framework for Leadership(TM).

  • Foundation
  • Fundamentals
  • Future Vision
  • Focus
  • Forward Motion

Let’s unpack each one.

Foundation

You have to begin somewhere. You cannot give what you don’t have. As a leader, you must establish your own foundation. The pilings must be driven deep in the ground underneath you until you reach a bedrock of guiding principles and disciplines.

These principles may have been instilled in you as a child. They might be faith based. Whatever values you bring to the moment will be tested. You must engage a full and deep understanding of who you are and what you want to be, so that you can withstand the test of trials as a leader. You will be needing to return to this foundation often.

Disciplines can be learned and sharpened to add to your foundation. Just like structures are girded for extra strength, so too can be your foundation. As challenges come to you, and they will, you must be able to stand firm on this foundation. It cannot waiver or sway. The foundation from which you operate will establish your reputation as a leader.

The foundation sets the tone for your overall leadership effectiveness. If the foundation is strong, you can take on more and greater responsibility. Your success will come.

Fundamentals

Here you add to the leadership toolkit. The Fundamentals are the attributes and skills that cover management requirements.

Management is about controlling quality, time, and money. You have to develop some mastery of being able to do that. Managers are not necessarily good leaders, but good leaders are good managers.

Fundamentals include your people skills; communication, delegation, direction, supervision, motivation, and performance. There may be technical fundamentals you bring to the table; a knowledge of subject matter. However, in the later stages of very senior management, the technical skills become less important. Instead the core principles of being an effective leader take on the greater value.

The best leaders I have known draw on their fundamentals, almost as a source of strength, from which they can prosper. Your proven experience in key areas will also be the source of some great stories you can share with an audience. Story telling is widely known as a secret weapon of effective leaders.

Future Vision

FURTURE VISION
FUTURE VISION

We say leaders are visionary or at least we admire “visionary leaders”. That is not a euphemism. It has merit. John Maxwell says that in every culture without regard for gender or age, the people identified as Leaders have these two traits:

[shareable cite=”John Maxwell”]They see more than the people around them and they see things before the people around them.[/shareable]

That is vision. You have to commit to perpetual growth as a leader in order to sustain the ability to see more and see before. Allowing yourself the opportunity to grow through coaching, reading, being mentored, or studying your leadership craft is the way to maintain this unique ability to have vision.

In today’s world we relate to the stories of Steve Jobs and his incredible vision to change the world through user interfaces with technology. He didn’t want to build hardware. He wanted hardware to be a tool for enhanced user connection to the world around them. That was vision.

Focus

Leaders maintain focus. As the world around them erupts with change and circumstance, the leader must stay focused on the destination that has been mapped. Yes, the course may take many turns.

FOCUS
FOCUS

I live near Houston. I can get to New York many ways. Yet if I intend to go to New York, I have to stay focused on that destination. The plane that was part of my original travel plan might get grounded, but if I want to be in New York, I have to find alternate ways to get there; train, bus, or car. I might even bike or walk part way, but I will get to New York nonetheless.

That’s an oversimplified example, but the principle is clear. Stay focused on the destination. The best leaders know the outcome they want to achieve. Stephen Covey called it “begin with the end in mind”. That’s a perfect summation of this point. Focus on the end game, then as the work begins, you can adjust your tactical execution to stay on course for achieving the goal.

Forward Motion

Last but not least, forward motion is required. Leadership is about bringing people along to achieve the goal. You don’t push people. Rather you bring them along. Just like the chain General Dwight Eisenhower used to test his subordinate commanders. If you push on the pile, you cannot predict where it will go. You must pull it with you toward the direction you intend. The direction of forward motion should be about your vision and your focus.

Forward motion includes teaching and training of your team or your staff. They need to grow under your leadership too. The real test of the influence of a leader is not what you accomplish, but what the other people who have followed you achieve. Their lives must demonstrate the positive impact of having served under your guidance. Are they different, in a good way, for having served with you? Or did you simply complete a project or reach a goal and there is no measurable result after all that?

Purple Unicorns?

No, understanding leadership is not about chasing purple unicorns. There are these five areas that, once mastered, can help you become a better leader. Let me repeat, Leadership requires growth. That is part of your forward motion. Commit to grow where you already are. Revisit each of these five areas to strengthen your effectiveness as a leader.

Regardless of which authors or speakers you follow on the topic of leadership development, I am certain you can plug each of their teachings into one or more of these five areas. I like to keep things simple. Think of F-5 Framework for Leadership(TM) as you embark on leadership growth.

[reminder]Let me know the ways you have tried growing your own leadership effectiveness.[/reminder]

The Biggest Struggle Managing People

Recently I was asked this question: What has been your biggest struggle managing people and how did you over come it?

Hands down, the biggest struggle has always been managing up the organization. I believe that managing my own team (those who report to me directly or indirectly) could always be influenced i.e. I had some control. Ah, but managing those above me, not so much.

Courtesy 123rf.com/ konstantynov
Courtesy 123rf.com/ konstantynov

Senior execs above me in the organization were always the bigger challenge. I’ve had my fair share of superiors who needed to be lead thru everything. Fortunately, I had a far greater share of great leaders from whom I could learn.

I’m Not Ok You’re Not OK

To give you some examples, I once had a boss who would never rate any of his people higher than he had been rated by his boss. Since he was not especially effective, the higher-ups often rated him modestly, if not poorly. Guess what? So went the ratings for me and my peers. Unbelievable, but a situation I endured for several cycles.

The first time it happened, I was stunned and attempted to have the ratings re-written (I knew for sure my contributions to the organization during that period had saved expenses, increased revenue, and reduced turnover; a kind of management trifecta). But my most stringent effort for reconsideration and re-evaluation fell on deaf ears.

The next cycle the pattern emerged. My peers and I banded together, but again, got no resolution. Finally, the guy got shipped out to another department and location. Yeah!

The Emperor Has No Clothes

In another instance, I had a very senior executive to whom I reported that would not accept any bad news whatsoever. It didn’t matter how brilliant my plan to fix the problem might have been, if anything was going wrong, this person just simply didn’t want to hear it. I soon figured out the chief reason for this behavior was fundamental fear of failure. I wasn’t afraid, they were.

My solution was to proceed to fix things my way, getting whatever buy-in I needed from as many stakeholders as possible without ever tipping my hand to the big boss. This normally would never be my go-to way of doing things, but, under this scenario, it worked. It was far easier to take the proverbial bull by the horns and fix a problem rather than fight the battle to tell the boss.

Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock
Source: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

There Are Ways to Manage Up

Here are several key ways I have found to be successful in trying to manage up the organization.

1. Never have a problem without a solution –  The person to whom you report doesn’t need more problems. They need results. It increases the higher up the organization you go. Taking a problem to your boss without having a recommendation for the fix, is a bad idea. After all, if you can’t fix things, why do they need you?

As soon as you recognize that something is going wrong, create the solution. Get answers. Build a strategy to implement the fix. Then you can report the problem along with the proposed solution.

Unlike my one story above, most senior managers do want to know when things are sliding. They will appreciate your initiative to have a recommendation rather than merely dumping the problem at their feet.

2. Do for them what you would want done to you –  OK none of us are qualified mind readers. Sometimes you have to guess at what the boss wants. The place to start is with your own value structure. What would you expect to be done in a particular situation?

Craft any ideas or solutions around your own expectations first. Once you present those to management, you can begin to adjust based on their response.

The upside for doing it this way allows you to stay true to yourself. If the boss likes it, bang! You are aligning in a good way. If they don’t like it, then you can easily adjust your approach and deliverables using your own value structure as the baseline.

Yes, sometimes you will learn that things will never align. That’s when it is time to dust off the resume and start looking for another job.

[callout]For more ways to enhance your leadership effectiveness, check out my new book
The Uncommon Commodity: The Common Sense Guide for New Managers“.[/callout]

3. Drive better communication – If you are sensing that you cannot understand what the boss above you wants, ask for clarity. I do not recommend asking in a needy sort of way. Rather I suggest using phrase structure like “this is what I am hearing, does that align with what you meant?” Give them feedback that covers the key elements of whatever assignment or expectation is in scope right then.

Work to gain clarity, even if it means offering a written summary for the boss to check off on before you go the wrong way.

4. Create your own tracking system –  Maintain control of your accomplishments and contributions to the work effort. A colleague of mine, Roger Ferguson, created a system he calls the “Big 5”. It’s ingenious yet so powerful. It simply involves writing out your top 5 accomplishments for the prior month. Add to that 5 goals for the new month. If you want, add a third section of 5 areas for growth and improvement.

Prepare this Big 5 report before the 5th  of each new month. Give a copy to your boss. It should be on one page. Ask for their feedback. This is a superior way for you and the boss to get on the same page (no pun intended).

Every time I have explained this to a coaching client, the feedback I get is stunning. Bosses that could never focus can now do it with ease. Communication syncs up and progress is made.

I might add that the other benefit of doing this is that at the end of your review period, you will have a library of meaningful information to share during the review process.

Conclusion

Managing up the organization is a tough task. Using these few ideas can make the climb much easier.

Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

 

5 Strategies to Make Employees More Productive and Engaged

This is a recent post by a good friend and fellow coach, Mike Lejeune. Mike is a senior HR professional who has coached and mentored hundreds of key officers across a wide variety of industries. He hosts his own blog called “Simple Leadership“. Here is his post.

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