Disorienting Situations – The Leader’s Response

As someone who works with business leaders in many different sectors, I’ve paused to reflect on exactly how I feel about the current state of affairs around us. Now, I feel it is important to share the outcome of this reflective pause.

A colleague shared the word “disorienting”. Recent events are very disorienting to everyone. Between COVID lock-downs, economic conditions, and now, civil unrest and rage over the death of George Floyd.

On one hand, the past several weeks have shown us that we have an intense undercurrent in the fabric of our country. That is an understatement. Leaders in many sectors have tried to speak up, taking a stand on the matter, only to be told that somehow, someway they were still wrong.

As strongly as some feel about “Black Lives Matter” anyone who whispers ‘all lives matter’ gets ridiculed for “being insensitive and not getting it.”

I hear business leaders saying we need to have more conversations. Haven’t the conversations been going on for decades? My Black colleagues agree, yes that’s the point. The conversations haven’t fixed anything.

The easy answer is to say our leaders have failed us. The U.S. political system has grown more and more galvanized over the past 20 years. We select candidates and elect ‘leaders’ who have the best story to tell us. I stopped being a ‘political party’ member a long time ago. I decided to do my research and place my votes for the person who, to me demonstrated the best, real leadership possibilities. Sadly, I am routinely disappointed. I don’t have a good answer for that.

I am deeply saddened by the senseless death of George Floyd. It was just plain wrong. Our system says even suspected criminals have rights. His rights were ignored and were fatally taken away. That is wrong. Just simply wrong.

However, did a flawed system kill him? I think not. A rouge, overzealous cop did it. One man perpetrating hatred and rage against another.

Sadly this same rage happens night after night in all of our cities. I don’t mean just cop versus citizen, black versus white. I mean one bad person raging against another unsuspecting human. An individual who wants something someone else has. This happens without regard to race and gender.

Leadership Duties

With everything being disoriented around us, what can a leader do?

Clearly the leader must first look inwardly. Do YOU harbor any hatred, bias, or ‘less than’ thinking about the people around you? You may think you have good reason to think as you do, but you must correct that thinking if you ever want to come anywhere close to inclusivity in the workplace.

One way or another, your own biases will be revealed. As a leader that cannot happen.

Unfortunately, the process by which we choose to deal with each other is full of natural bias. It is by no means limited to the color of one’s skin. Every time someone does something that runs either in favor of or opposite of the other person, a checkmark gets put on the list we all have in our brain.

The next time there is an encounter, that checklist gets reviewed and we sit waiting for the other person to ‘prove themselves’ as the friend or foe we expect them to be. That is no way to run effective conversations, clouded with bias.

By the way, as you read this you’re already judging me for what I am saying, right or wrong. It just proves my point.

Sensitivity

Strong leadership requires a keen ability to apply sensitivity. What do I mean by that? For me, it means being aware of the plight and condition of those around you.

I’ve spoken before about the ways every person who shows up for work has a personal process going on similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They move up and down that hierarchy on a daily basis. If they feel threatened at home or in the community where they live, they come to work feeling tired of the situation. They may even be afraid of you as the leader because you represent ‘power’ they may not want to see.

Where’s the Goal Post?

I am not yet convinced anyone has defined where the goal post may be. In terms of the COVID-19, many say we need the vaccine and then things will be safe again. But efforts are already underway to get back to business so that the economic conditions can stabilize. While basic business function can return, may of the activities we all counted as normal will likely not return for quite some time.

As an example, before COVID-19 did you go to a regular, recurring networking meeting? While all of those have tried going virtual, it just doesn’t have the same result. Yet we may not return to the full, in-person gathering like that for a long time.

The more important question is where is the goal post for answering the cries of Black Lives Matter? I don’t say that lightly. I am sympathetic. I can honestly say to my Black friends, I don’t yet know what I can do.

Unfunding police and funding a reparation program doesn’t make any sense because that is a one-time bandaid. When that money runs out, and it will, what do we do? We will have new generations of Black children growing up to what?

I am very willing to work on the exact ‘what’ question that can move us to better harmony.

Even when we get closer to equality, there will still be human nature to recognize we are all different. In my world, I love that diversity. That is what keeps things interesting and exciting.

PS – A good friend, West Point Grad, and fellow Veteran sent me this link, commemorating D-Day, which by the way was June 6. Nobody said much about that. If you still believe in America, this is worth the watch.

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.

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. [easyazon_link keywords=”Stephen Covey” locale=”US” tag=”thredoth-20″]Stephen Covey[/easyazon_link] 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

 

 

 

If the Big Boss is Not Giving You Respect Then You May Need to Make It Happen

In my early years of banking, I was a junior officer of the bank, managing a small operating unit. While in a meeting one day with a group of fairly senior department heads, I was verbally attacked by one of those guys. The man who jumped me was somewhat famous for such outbursts, but nonetheless, it really got to me.

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

I went home still seething. Sleep did not happen. I made a plan.

Read moreIf the Big Boss is Not Giving You Respect Then You May Need to Make It Happen

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.

people-apple-iphone-writing

Read more5 Strategies to Make Employees More Productive and Engaged