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Leaders Getting It Right

team manager talking to team

Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a manager guide his team through a very successful series of events and opportunities. The way he has mastered the leadership of his interesting group has just been amazing to me. I’ve watched them overcome great obstacles, some uncertainty, and definite challenges to create what you might call an undefeated season.

There were times when the outcome was very much in doubt but through some very obvious and intentional moves that this manager made, the team was able to rally and achieve great success.

I started looking back on the things that made this particular manager’s effort different. And it occurred to me that he has been a very effective model of some fundamental principles that leaders at all levels, in all kinds of organizations should be following.

Knowing the Fundamentals

It will be helpful to list some of these fundamentals. You can use them as your own gauge or checklist to see if you are also using these things to steer your team toward greater success and higher performance.

The first thing I observed in this manager’s skill set was a distinct ability to carefully evaluate each member of his team. He watched for key talents. He identified gaps. You might call them the weaknesses that each person demonstrated. From this careful analysis, he crafted the structure of his team. He carefully deployed each individual into a key role that set the individual up for success while establishing a firm foundation from which the whole team would operate.

He performed a good effective analysis of situations that were occurring around them. As circumstances changed, he would adjust the assignments that were given to each team member. He was leveraging the best skill at the best time. Sometimes there were team members that really didn’t have a task. They were sitting out so to speak.

Yet the circumstances were ever-changing therefore every teammate got the opportunity to perform. As situations changed, this manager had the foresight to allow team members who needed to develop new skills to get into a situation that would give them the opportunity to experience actual effort and impact while they were working on developing their skills.

The manager seemed willing to freely delegate authority and responsibility. Team members were allowed to make real-time decisions about responses they felt were appropriate in the moment. If that transaction turned out to be wrong, the manager did not get upset about it.

Rather he talked to the individual about what they did, how they did it, and what another choice could have been. If circumstances got too severe, this manager was quick to adjust the deployment so that the lesser performing personnel were not left dangling and exposed to possible failure.

He did create a system of accountability. Team members were held accountable for the actions coming their way and their response at the moment.

When each big moment came and went this manager would have a huddle with the whole team. He would talk through the elements of what had just happened. He would reinforce his vision of what they needed to be doing. Plus he would answer questions about the work effort.

He achieved great success without ever spending one moment of overtime. He never asked the team to commit unreasonable time to the effort. Instead, he saw to it that every moment they were together was spent with valuable instruction, positive reinforcement, and solid coaching.

One additional aspect of this manager’s great success was his seeming ability to stay several steps ahead of the game. He never seemed surprised by the circumstances that unfolded. He was calm in the face of tension. He was positive when disagreements happened. And he himself demonstrated high professionalism, great integrity, and solid vision.

Lastly, and by no means the least, he built an atmosphere of fun not work. He saw to it that every member of the team was having fun doing what they were there to do. He played music when there was a break. He told good, clean stories that people could laugh at.

So What?

All of the elements listed above make up attributes that leaders need to be pursuing for the benefit of growing a high-performing team. If you have not thought about some of these aspects you should be looking at your own view of your responsibility as a leader and determine whether or not you can make these kinds of changes with your team.

By the way, I watched leaders in other organizations go through this same period of time with far less success. As I observed those managers what I saw was a lack of understanding of the talent they had in their team. There was no apparent effort to create a roster of talent that could be used in applicable moments to maximize the outcome of every opportunity. Rather they seem to be simply passing the time trying to get through each challenge the best way they knew how. Some days they won some days they lost.

However, the manager I’m speaking about at this point in time is what you could call undefeated. He has a perfect win-loss record. His team enjoys the work they do. They seem to enjoy working with each other. And they are always ready to take on a new challenge.

If this is something you are interested in learning more about I would be happy to schedule a call with you to explore what is going on with your team in ways that you can be this kind of leader.

Oh by the way I failed to mention something. The manager I’m talking about is the coach of my 9-year-old grandson’s Little League team. Yes, they are undefeated going into the playoffs as the top seed in the tournament.

Author’s Note – Several days after this article first ran, the Rockies swept the league playoffs and won the tournament championship, making them a perfect 17-0 for the season.

The principles I described above work as well in any business as they do at the ballpark with young men and women (they had a girl on the team too! – just sayin…).

For more insights and routine tips on leadership, listen to the podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”

Ever Hear of the Tall Poppy Syndrome?

tall poppy

The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is something that has been spoken of for centuries. The picture is of a field of poppies. As you look out, there will be a few poppies growing inches above the others.

In society, we have tall poppies sprout up in every generation. These are the innovators, the visionaries, and the leaders who take big risks. Currently, think of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Formerly it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Individual industries have tall poppies too.

Enter the Cutter

Yet for all the disruption and success a tall poppy leader may build, there is an undercurrent. There are forces wanting to cut down the tall poppy. For ease of discussion, let’s call these forces the “cutters.”

When you dive deep into the story of a specific tall poppy there will always be cutters who appear. The cutter cannot condone the seeming success of the tall poppy, so they cause distractions, challenges, and outright accusations of wrongdoing so that the poppy is undermined.

Cutters are often driven by fear of change. They may not understand the direction the tall poppy is going so they doubt the vision. They begin working hard to be sure the plan fails. The more the tall poppy leader tries to explain the direction, the more the cutter digs in to cause a failure.

I’d venture a guess that if you are reading this and can identify a moment in your leadership journey where you became the tall poppy, you likely had cutters surprise you. Someone you thought was a peer and friend changes once you got that next promotion. Or a neighbor who you enjoyed spending time with suddenly turns on you when you describe a newfound success with your business.

What Can Leaders Do?

If you assert yourself into a significant role and become the tall poppy, beware of TPS. Cutters will emerge. It always happens. There is something in the human psyche that just snaps. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen with everyone, but it does happen with some.

As said above, cutters often operate from fear. Fear of change, fear of being left behind, or fear of being overcome and shut out in the end. Leaders need to identify those who may be showing signs of fear or pushback. Explore the situation. Ask good questions so the person who may be showing the objections can express their doubts.

Let the Haters Hate

Diving straight to the bottom line, I use a blunt but meaningful phrase; let the haters hate. If you stand into a leadership role, there will always be cutters; those who want you to fail. You have to let them do whatever they choose to do. Good leaders stand by their vision, convictions, and values. If those are solid, you can’t worry about the people who want to undermine your effort. Deal with it with grace, patience, and resolve. Let the rest know you are not wavering.

Attribution

I was introduced to this TPS concept by Doug Garland, M.D., a retired orthopedic surgeon from California. You can read more about him here www.DougGarland.com. He will be a guest on my podcast in the coming weeks.

podcast title page

You’re On Mute

It’s a familiar phrase that has rapidly risen to the top of our vocabulary while we attempt to engage and conduct business remotely. Zoom, Teams, Google Spaces, and Slack have risen to the top of the heap for connecting these days.

Yet often as the session opens up, someone has that little red “X” showing the mic off. They start talking. All others see are lips moving but no sound. People start yelling “You’re on mute” like the volume of their message can get thru the silence. It’s comical but ever-present.

I was thinking about this idea and landed on a few deeper thoughts we should consider.

“You’re on mute” can mean several other things in our fast-paced, all too busy world of commerce.

Cancel Culture

The emergence of cancel culture has placed many on mute. Not by their own action but by the action of others declaring a person should no longer be listened to. I don’t know how that happened, what with the freedom of speech and all, but it has.

I agree there has been a shift in the freedom people feel entitled to use to say just about anything., Perhaps it is true that the rise of social media is not really all that social. Users blast opinions and beliefs without regard to who might be listening.

Call me old school, but just because you have the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. With freedom comes responsibility, or at least that’s what I was taught many years ago.

The Boss’s Role

Anyone in management should take a serious look at their mindset about who, when, and how team members should be heard. Placing a “you’re on mute” button on every worker’s desk implies “I don’t trust you” or worse yet, “you’re not valued here.”

The Great Resignation is teaching us that the cultures we thought we had in our companies are not that great. Workers are voting with their feet to walk away from toxic environments. If you are scratching your head wondering why so many people have resigned from your company, you should take a hard look in the mirror first.

Have you either intentionally or accidentally put people on mute? The modern, post-pandemic worker is not going to suffer that any longer. There has to be a change.

Think about the Story

If you feel like others have put you on mute, think about the stories you are telling. Is your story old and tired, down and out, or upbeat and energizing?

On my podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense”, I interviewed Kurian M. Tharakan, the author of “The 7 Essential Stories Charismatic Leaders Tell.” He defines seven basic stories that help build a message. These stories apply to companies and brands in general, but they also apply to leaders who are set on motivating and inspiring those who follow them.

Without the right story, your message may just be noise in the minds of others. Stop the noise, offer clarity and purpose, then you’ll get taken off mute real fast.

Check out my Podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense” available on all major outlets.

Happy Easter 2022

Happy Easter

There was this man who claimed to be the Son of God. He taught a TOTALLY new way to live and introduced us to a concept called Heaven, a different afterlife than Judaism taught.

He taught us that God is our Father and resides in Heaven, preparing it for us. He said that God wants a relationship with us and wants us to join him in Heaven. He said that the only way for us to get there is to believe in him. He did lots of good works and performed miracles, proving his claims of divinity.

Per his predictions, he was tortured and killed by the religious leaders of the day for upsetting their value system and calling them out. He used words like hypocrite, blind guides, fools, and brood of vipers in describing their teachings and categorically discounted just about every piece of former doctrine including diet, the synagogue, cleanliness, the Sabbath, and so on.

He also mocked their claims to Abraham, THE central figure and cornerstone of their belief system. Probably fearing a rebellion against their beliefs or righteous indignation of being offended by his heretical teachings, they killed him.

Also as predicted, he came back to life three days after his death and spent the next 40 days showing himself to the general public, before departing for heaven himself.

Our choice today is simple. Believe that Jesus was who he said he was and follow his commands, teachings, and examples….

OR believe that Jesus was the greatest religious fraud of all time.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Christianity in less than 200 words. Love you guys.

Happy Easter

SFT: A Simple Reminder for Leadership Performance

Dr. David L. Cook is a sports performance coach and business consultant who has made the phrase “SFT” famous. Leadership performance can be reduced to these three little ideas.

You might know Dr. Cook’s name from a little book titled “Seven Days in Utopia”. The book was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. The story is a fictional journey of a young aspiring golf superstar (Black) who has a colossal meltdown on the world stage of golf, suffering a series of bad choices and shots that take him to a score of 15 on the final hole of a big tournament.

Utopia

Angry and frustrated at the game that seems to have betrayed him, he wrecks his car while driving thru the scrub brush of the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. Destiny introduces him to an old cowboy (Duvall) who himself was once an aspiring golfer with a lot of growing up to do. For the next seven days, Duvall takes Black under his wing to teach him a few things about golf and, more importantly, life.

Read more

Who Lights Your Fire?

This quote from W.B. Yeats is a great reminder for those of us in leadership roles. Let me repeat it :

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. ~W.B. Yeats

When we try to train our team or build a new product or service, education surrounding the details is not the ultimate “win.” No, our focus as leaders should be inspiring those we lead to take a personal vested interest in the success of what we set out to do.

You can teach, preach and educate all day long, but until you impress someone to buy in to the project, it really doesn’t matter how much they know about the subject.

There’s another saying “Harness the power of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection.” That sums it up.

When was the last time that you, as a leader, were properly focused on this kind of impact? Do you light people’s fire in their hearts and minds or do you simply teach them something new?

There is a big difference. In today’s high-tech world, information flows in an instant. Instead of competing with information at the fingertips, why not think about ways to inspire your team?

Here are a few powerful ideas you might try.

Show Them Why the Outcome Matters.

I once took responsibility for a new team. I decided to visit each person’s area, asking them a bit about what they did. At one desk, a lady who had been with the company for years sat quietly pushing paper from one stack to the next.

I watched this a few moments then asked, “Where does it go when you’re done?” She said “I’m not sure. So and so picks it up then I never see it again.”

I asked, “Where did the first pile come from?” She again said I don’t know.

So I made some notes then started doing my own research.

Know Your People

When you spend time with your employees, make it matter. Don’t just expect your time and title to inspire them. Employees want a leader that pays attention and genuinely cares about them.

Great leaders take the time to know the ingredients before they can create the best recipe for success. Employees are most inspired when a leader takes the time to know them and show that they have their best interests at heart.

Learning is Still Important

Employees do appreciate the opportunity to learn. Teaching new skills or sharing new information helps them feel appreciated and valued. However, the delivery of that information is important.

Don’t just lecture, but share. Create a space for open dialogue about new material you want to spread. Adults learn best when they have a chance to engage in a feedback cycle where they state in their own words what they just heard. This is your opportunity to fine-tune and/or affirm the message has been received.

There’s a Fine Line Between Success and Significance

We all want to feel significant about what we do and who we are. Jobs can actually provide that IF the boss allows it to happen. If the boss is too concerned about his own reputation and doesn’t care about the people on the team, no one gets any significance from the job. Heck, they even get very little sense of success.

However, if you as the enabled leader decide to share the significance with each team member, you can win much greater employee trust.

Ownership, Not Just Accountability

Enforcing accountability is a key component to sustaining performance momentum. However, when you can give your employees “ownership” in the process of defining how accountability is enforced – you inspire trust and a desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Giving your employees ownership means that you have shared and entrusted them with your authority. You are now allowing your employees to “call the shots” based on what they believe is in the best interest of the team and the organization.

For example, create a special project and allow an employee to take ownership of it. Outline your expectations for the end result, but allow him or her to take charge of the project. Agree to meet once a week and observe the change in attitude and desire to perform.

Respect, Not Just Recognition

Beyond appreciation and praise, show your respect and admiration for the work of your employees. While people want to know they are respected, you must establish the ground rules for how respect is earned.

There are too many recognition addicts in the workplace. In a world of fierce competition, we have come to believe we are our own best allies. We believe we must rely only on ourselves. We believe we can sell ourselves better than anyone else. But this attitude puts our long-term careers in danger.

Unfortunately, too many people want recognition because they forgot the significantly greater value of earning respect. Re-train your employees about the importance of respect and lead them in how to earn it. When they see the greater impact respect delivers, they will be inspired by your example.

The Unsung Role of Leadership

managing up the organization

It is time to dedicate some blog space to a segment of my audience that gets little direct attention. I am talking about females who serve in leadership roles. I always write with an open mind about the topics I share, and I seldom differentiate between male or female. I still believe “leadership is leadership”, regardless of gender.

Yet with all we’ve tried to implement in the modern workforce to enlighten ourselves, engage work teams, and inform new generations, I still see age-old trends emerging from time to time. In male-dominated organizations, the female role gets compromised.

I’m going to go out on a limb and address several of the most egregious ones I know.

First a Background Story

If you’ve followed my blog or heard me speak, you know I am the only son of a hard-working single Mom. So my familiarity with these topics started at the dinner table when I was a young boy. I watched as my own mother, who was a talented and capable business manager, come home most nights tired and weary from fighting battles; not just the usual battles, but the extra battles of defending her right to be in the room at work.

She had a hard plight. She worked for a home builder in an incredibly macho-man industry. As I got older I watched her go toe to toe on a job site with foremen twice her size. She worked closely with the architects so she knew what had to be done with a new build. Yet the foremen would often try to cut corners and expedite things, leaving out key design features she was trying to introduce into a stale market. Interestingly, Mom usually won.

She didn’t win by using her female charm which could have been easy at 5’5″ with a 16-inch waist and legs to die for (yes, I know I am talking about my Mom). Rather she chose to employ solid fact and logic with a great deal of technical detail that left most of those old grizzled hired hands’ heads spinning. She also knew how to effectively use the “help me help you” technique before that was a thing.

Her work was not isolated to office duties. She was Chief of Staff for the owner of a residential construction company. Her scuffles on the job sites became legendary among the various project leads and superintendents the company hired. In no time she had her own reputation for being tough but fair on making her demands come to life out in the field.

So please don’t tell me I cannot appreciate what women in the workforce are dealing with. I’ve heard a lot over the years. If you think “Me Too” is a new concept, try dialing back the clock to the 50’s and 60’s (think Madmen).

Now Onward

Here are the issues I run into from time to time. I list them in no particular order.

Dealing with Female Executives

First, there is “We don’t know what to do with ‘them’.” Yes, I’ve actually heard that from a group of male executives. My answer is “Really?” The obvious solution is to forget gender and deal with the matter in the same way you would deal with a male counterpart. Any mindset closely related to this is so incredibly naive and archaic. A senior manager who utters such nonsense is really not much of a leader.

I’m encouraged when I enter fairly high-intensity worksites and the female bosses get to act and behave in concert with their male peers. They can give and take with the best of them.

Type-A’s

Next, there is the conundrum of a Type-A, hard-driving male boss being called a ‘tough but effective leader’ while the same Type-A, hard-driving woman executive is just a B#*&H. Again, how sophomoric and low on the emotional intelligence scale. The mindset needs to be adjusted to view these same traits as equals. Yes, I know some female executives who are terrible bosses but painting all of them with one wide brush is very inappropriate. There is an equal if not greater percentage of male bosses who simply suck at what they do.

The PayScale

Yes, it’s a worn-out cry from the field, but sadly still true in many situations. The gender gap on the pay scale has closed in recent years with most publicly traded companies settling up, but small, privately owned businesses still suffer the curse here.

On this point, I double-checked my position with several female executive coaches I know who specialize in working with other female leaders. The unequal pay conundrum is still very much alive and well.

Work-Life Balance

The working Mom’s were the first to attempt to open the discussion about work-life balance. Why? Not because it was a nice cozy idea, but because it was a necessity. Juggling the load for being Mom and worker just didn’t always even out. Dropping kids at school and picking them up took its toll. And yes, there are some great “Mr. Moms” who have chosen to shoulder the kid management duties of the house to free the wife up for career pursuit, but the tug is still there.

Why shouldn’t we figure out a better balance of workload versus personal need? Seldom is everything a priority at work. I know companies who build a culture around jam-packed calendars and endless meetings but is that really necessary? If you run one of those companies, you can make adjustments and productivity might actually increase.

Mentorship

Creating succession plans is not limited to the bigger, publicly traded companies. Even entrepreneurial shops need good continuity planning. Allowing younger females equal opportunity for fast track and high potential program access should be a priority. Yet, for most of the reasons I’ve already covered above, there is a disparity that remains.

Providing effective mentorship and coaching for up and coming workers, regardless of gender, should be a priority.

THERE IT’S DONE

This is my list. If you know more examples, please share in the comments. This is a dialogue that should not be left unattended.

coaching call

Employers – Have You Been Ghosted?

The job market keeps getting weirder. Employers and hiring managers are now, more than ever, reporting ‘ghosting’ as the new normal.

What do we mean? In popular street slang, being ‘ghosted’ in a relationship means never hearing from him/her again. Texts, calls, and emails go unanswered. The other party becomes a ‘ghost.’ Even though you may have had a couple of dates, one person goes radio silent.

It’s now happening in the job market too. Candidates get several steps into the hiring process, then disappear. Never to be heard from again. They ghost you.

The Root Cause

Try as you might to understand the phenomenon, you’ll never get a good answer. Don’t waste sleep over it.

Experienced recruiters and placement executives are telling me “We’ve learned to do what they just did. If I have a candidate ghost me, I do it right back. Their resume goes in the file, never to be viewed again.” That means no follow-up and definitely no chasing.

Just chalk it up to pop culture moving us one step further down the road, away from old customs and norms.

As soon as you start griping, complaining, and losing sleep over it, the ghost has won. So stop that. Move the heck on.

Think About It

If someone ghosts you, why would you want to chase them? They already told you something big. They’re no longer interested in the relationship.

Whether it is about trust, taste, or choice, they’re done. Give it up. You have better use of time to move on.

On the other hand, if your hiring process moves too slow, maybe you got ghosted for good reason. The market is HOT. If you find a good candidate that looks like a good fit, you have to be ready to move quickly. Get your ducks lined up sooner rather than later.

Hiring by committee creates too much delay. Even if you like a panel interview process, make the decision the same day the interview is over. Better still, have a process to accumulate the ‘votes’ during the day while the interviews are wrapping up. Be ready to decide go or no-go right there.

Then let the candidate know right away.

High Demand

The latest reports tell us there are over 550,000 high-tech, high-paying jobs unfilled. Companies are fighting for the scarce candidates out there.

Some recent college grads are winning 6-figure jobs, just to fill the slots. Jobs that formerly started at $45k to $80K are now over the $100K entry point.

I shudder when I think of my first bank job after the Army when they offered me a whopping $17K to start, yes annually. That was 1979, but it was good money then. Plus the company was a rock star so my own rewards started mounting fast, making up any difference there might have been (but it wasn’t a big gap to fill).

Times HAVE changed. Stop thinking in an old mindset. Make your company decisions and be ready to dive in when and if you must hire new talent.

The Tables are Turning

According to Indeed.com, the global online job matchmaker, employers are ghosting too.

Ghosting seems to have grown in popularity amongst job seekers over the past year: 28% have ghosted an employer, up from only 18% in 2019. Meanwhile, 76% of employers have been ghosted in the same time frame, and 57% believe it’s even more common than before.

Some employers say candidates are cutting off communications early in the hiring process — after an initial phone screen or interview, for instance. But others take it further, with one-quarter of employers reporting new hires “no-showing” on their first day of work.

But ghosting isn’t just a job seeker behavior anymore: Nearly half (46%) of employers surveyed believe that employers are now ghosting job seekers more frequently than before.

A whopping 77% of job seekers say they’ve been ghosted by a prospective employer since the U.S. onset of the pandemic last March, with 10% reporting that an employer has ghosted them even after a verbal job offer was made.

Alarmingly, only 27% of employers say they haven’t ghosted a job seeker in the past year. It’s another sign that ghosting has become standard practice in the hiring process — even though it creates a terrible candidate experience and can threaten a company’s employer brand.

Ghosting is here to stay — here’s what you can do about it


The latest data highlights the evolution of ghosting, from its steady growth as a jobseeker practice to its emergence as a trend among employers, too. Reasons job seekers ghost employers still vary, while employer motivation is somewhat speculative given the paucity of last year’s data.

While it’s apparent that ghosting has become deeply rooted in the hiring process, employers can take steps to minimize the impact of ghosting. In addition to keeping more detailed records of candidates who ghost, think about how you can target the source of the behavior to prevent it altogether.

Remember that focusing on attentiveness and improved communications throughout every stage of the process is key to ensuring the candidate feels informed; research has shown that many job seekers ghost when they don’t feel their needs are being met and don’t know what else to do.

Secondarily, simply being transparent, empathetic, and authentic can go a long way in building more comfort and trust in your relationship with the candidate.

Use these insights to foster more successful candidate interactions — because nobody’s giving up the ghost anytime soon.

For further insights, check out this article, also from Indeed.

Also, check out my podcast, Leadership Powered by Common Sense, where we’re breaking down the fast, complex world of business, finding simple, easy-button ideas to make a difference.

Bold Leader Moves in the Current Market

bold leadership

What do you think is a bold move nowadays? How do you look at employee engagement? With the turmoil in the job market, what has your company or organization done to secure the team you have and attract new talent when the need arises?

On occasion, doing something bold is not limited to something NEW. Instead, you just might be surprised about ways to engage with and retain your talent team.

The current job market is simply too frenzied to allow your best people to walk out the door because YOU failed to do something you could have easily done to keep them happy and engaged.

Ezra’s Findings

For the past two years, I’ve had the good fortune to partner with the Ezra Coaching team. Ezra is a coaching platform that is exclusively virtual. Interestingly, it was conceived and under development long before the COVID pandemic hit. Ezra provides coaching on-demand, virtually.

Ezra is a global solution that, since its inception, has coached over 15,000 clients during the past two years. In addition to delivering world-class executive leadership development, Ezra tracks emerging trends in the employment environment.

In a recent survey. Ezra captured these five ideas about keeping top talent. The data was accumulated using a poll of the client companies Ezra supports.

A word in advance. Like I said previously, something bold does not have to be something new.

1. Listen to them

2. Encourage open communication

3. Work in ways that suit THEIR life

4. Invest in L&D (coaching is a great place to start)!

5. Prioritize their wellbeing

Task #1, Listen to Them

This is something leaders and managers have struggled with for decades (so do husbands and wives, but I digress). The art of effectively and engagingly listening is lost on the pace of business these days. I’ve talked to too many managers who say they simply don’t have time.

At the same time, I routinely hear from leaders that they feel frustrated because their bosses are not listening to them.

How do you respond? The popular phrase is “empathetic listening.” It involves truly listening to the employee without formulating your next statement. Give feedback like “So what I am hearing is…” Let the other person either agree or clarify.

Some might argue it’s a common courtesy to properly listen to someone else when spoken to. But again, the pace of business has adversely influenced the way managers and staff connect via listening.

Bold leaders in today’s work world are stepping up and changing the way they listen.

Task #2, Encourage Open Communication

Communication is actually a very complicated exchange requiring much more intentional effort than most organizations provide. For a leader to create truly open communication, there has to be a framework and accountability.

The framework needs to define methods, practices, and formats that contribute to communication. Thinking about this at the team level, Patrick Lencioni in his “Five Habits if Dysfunctional Teams” describes the need to develop a team charter and a team contract.

The charter defines who and why the team exists. It becomes the foundation of thinking and understanding about the team.

The contract applies a bit of structure. I’ve seen powerful team contracts that go so far as to explain how to reel in a team member in an open meeting who has run away with the agenda. I’ve written before about one approach called “ELMO” which is an acronym for ‘enough, let’s move on.’

The accountability part is where the manager or leader takes responsibility for dealing with bullies on the team or personalities who derail the team effort. Team members allowed to get away with belittling others’ opinions do too much damage to good communication.

Task #3, Work in Ways That Suit THEIR Life

This may be the one truly new, bold idea. It applies to finding ways to receive employee input about their lifestyle and expectations for work-life harmony (not balance, but harmony).

The ramifications of the pandemic lockdowns have reshaped everyone’s views of how to work. With only a few exceptions requiring ‘boots on the ground’ work situations (e.g. manufacturing, assembly lines, and heavy construction), many workers have reshaped their ideas about what makes a good job.

The old 9:00 to 5:00 is obsolete. The standard 40 hours in the office will not survive either. Studies tell us workers are asking for a hybrid office at the least or at best, fully remote.

Companies of all sizes are going to need to do some soul searching about the best way to respond to these expectations.

Task #4, Invest in L&D

Learning and development have historically fallen by the wayside when budgets get tightened. It’s often the first HR program to get slashed. Ironically, it’s the exact place companies should be focused.

Taking people off the street and getting them coached and trained to be ideal employees inside your company is a valuable commodity. You can try as you might to find perfect fits for every job, but usually, a good fit only gets you just so far. You still have to develop your people.

Providing ongoing development opportunities keeps people engaged and inspired. If they can see some kind of opportunity forward, they are more likely to stay with you.

Task #5 Prioritize Their Wellbeing

This is an all-encompassing idea. First, you must decide what ‘wellbeing’ involves. It’s no longer limited to compensation and benefits. Companies are having to do much more to answer questions about things like environmental, social, and governmental stands (ESG) or diversion and inclusion.

Recent news has highlighted cases, where 100-year brands have failed with certain ESG initiatives and the workforce, is not happy about it.

No doubt the new pressures on leadership teams continue to rise. In many cases 30 and 40-year veterans are simply choosing to retire rather than redirect their traditional methods of leadership. New, emerging leaders are making names for themselves by boldly taking on these challenges and guiding companies to new horizons.

The Last Question

The real question is, where do you, as a leader, stand? Are you even aware of what it might take to keep high performers satisfied? Do you care?

The management style of “My way or the highway” may be officially DEAD! I certainly hope so.

Ukraine Invaded by Madman Leader

A Leadership Fail

This past week, the world witnessed the senseless invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces led by madman Vladimir Putin. His deranged vision for seizing control of Ukraine was met with harsh criticism and strong tactical resistance. Global allies rallied to rebuke his moves.

The whole tragic affair, whose outcome is yet decided, highlights the extremes of leadership gone bad. Since this publication is never a political rant but a thesis on leadership, I’d like to break down the issues surrounding Putin’s latest colossal misstep of epic proportions.

First, let me say this. What Putin has chosen to do in the past several months has proven his shift from governmental chieftain to insane lunatic, neither of which deserves the mention of ‘leadership’ in the description.

Sidebar

Frequently, I see discussions and commentary on various social media channels that ask questions about dictators and oligarchs having leadership traits. I routinely respond to those saying “NO.” You can’t be what they really are and qualify as a leader.

Everything I have ever learned and experienced under true leaders results in people being lifted up, not beaten down. A leader builds consensus and collaboration. They find the “win-win.” The leader supports doing the right thing regardless of how difficult it may be. There is never any notion of being swayed by popular opinion.

What has been evidenced in the past few weeks coming from Putin himself, suggests none of the above. Rather, it screams spoiled child throwing a supreme tantrum. One that will cause fatal outcomes to hundreds if not thousands of lives, both on the Ukrainian side as well as his own Russian troops. The assault will destroy infrastructure, making conditions in Ukraine unlivable for generations to come. Senseless it is.

Rising to Power

The first step contributing to this situation is a rise to power. In any organization with a diagram explaining “who’s on top,” there are some boxes that indicate one person with authority over others. It is true in business and government. With the designated position comes a certain power. I call it simply the ‘Power of the Position.’

People get promoted, assigned, or elected to these positions. Anyone sitting in the role, who should be exercising true leadership, will have access to this positional power at all times. However, the use of that power should be limited for use as a last resort.

Example – I am your boss. We have exhausted all effort to get you to be a better employee. Now I must resort to giving you notice, you are fired.

Hiring and firing is a classic example of the Power of Position.

In the case of dictators and madmen, they manipulate systems to gain this power. They then use this power as their first choice. It is their sole purpose, to press this power onto the people they have under control. They rule with fear and intimidation.

Anyone opposing the head is treated with severe consequences. ‘Do as I say or go to jail or be executed.’

Putin is not without his own allegations of such cruel intimidation. Now he is putting it on display for the whole world to see.

His actions have already been called lunacy. Statesmen who have dealt with Putin in the past are admitting his recent behavior is way beyond his ‘usual self.’

How did we get here?

A common question I’ve heard about this growing problem is ‘how did we get here?’

I refer to my ‘Frog in the Pot’ analogy. The story says you put a frog in a pot of water, then slowly turn up the heat. Eventually, he boils to death. Yet if you boil the water, then drop him in, he jumps out immediately.

Authorities inside the Kremlin have no doubt been suffering the plight of the frog in the pot. Over the past decade, Putin has slowly amplified his rants and views of the West. The circle of governmental authorities elsewhere in the org chart have taken these orders and proceeded with compliance.

In my humble opinion, the key question right now is “Will anyone in Russian government circles be willing to challenge Putin?” Will the protests inside of Russia persuade him to stop?

Or has his ego gotten so big that, in his mind, there is no way to save face other than to destroy all of the Ukrainian countrysides?

While I certainly hope and pray that is not the case, it is seeming unlikely that such a coup is likely.

Will sanctions actually work?

Next, we turn to the possibility that government sanctions can deter or turn around the Russian attacks. The basic problem with sanctions is that the world’s economy is so tightly intertwined, taking one country out of the loop has unintended consequences for others.

Unlike the world’s economy of pre-war WWII, we now have complex networks of interdependent events, obligations, and currency swaps that drive the whole world. It’s the ultimate domino chain of events. COuntries and continents rely on energy and commerce to fuel currencies and sustain valuations across the globe. Once we start tinkering with bits and pieces, we may well adversely impact a wider segment of the world’s economy, not just Russia.

Leaders on all sides are carefully measuring the impact on their own countries. As they should.

Leadership Contrasts

The contrast between leadership examples is extreme. Inside Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been solid, resolute, and outright inspiring.

His now-famous response to President Biden’s appeal to help him evacuate shows exactly where Zelenskyy stands. “I don’t want a ride, I want ammunition.” was his response. That, my friend, is powerful, motivational leadership.

Putin on the other hand, issues daily rants and tweets about this and that, none of which is very coherent. Citizens inside their own country are protesting and questioning the initiatives.

Again, I’d argue that Putin’s action has done nothing to demonstrate real leadership. Rather, he’s shown himself a cruel dictator with no regard for human life. Zelenskyy rallies his people, delivering empowering messages, touching the hearts of the whole world.

The Outcome

The final outcome for this horrific siege will be resolved by solid leadership. Plain and simple. Whether it comes from a coalition of allies forcing Putin’s hand to stand down or from within the governmental org chart that is Communist Russia, we need leadership to prevail.

It is my prayer that the latter rises up and creates a more peaceful shut down of the invasion. And I hope it happens soon.