This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.
In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).
In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.
Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.
The Top 10 for 2020
If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.
10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.
9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.
8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.
7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.
6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.
5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.
4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.
3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.
2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.
1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.
Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.
The Leader’s Obligation
As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?
You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.
If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.
That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.
If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.
Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.
Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?
The following article is contributed by a dear friend and fellow Silver Fox Advisor, Dick Hendee. He captures some important thoughts about the holiday season that starts with November.
November is a month with many things going on. The month starts off with All Saints Day on the first day of the month, Election Day on the first Tuesday of the month, Veterans Day on November 11th, and of course, Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of the month followed by the very special day for all retailers, “Black Friday”.
This year probably more than most recent years, each one of those days has a very special meaning. Almost everyone knows someone who was lost to Covid 19, so All Saints Day is a time to remember those loved ones.
Election Day is always filled with excitement and anxiety, and this year that anxiety looks as if it may extend into 2021.
On Veterans Day we honor all the brave Americans who fought for our freedom and way of life. Thanksgiving will be different this year, and although we all have much to be thankful for, we may still be likely to question why we have had to endure this pandemic.
Finally, if you are a retailer, you undoubtedly will be hoping “Black Friday” does in fact put your business in the black for the year.
This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks for all the business owners who stepped up to the challenges they faced in 2020. They made the extremely tough decisions to cut their expenses, change how they delivered their products and services to their customers, and in many cases, to completely re-engineer their businesses.
We are all aware of what small businesses mean to America, and once again America’s small business owners rose to the challenge and demonstrated they can do anything and overcome any obstacles.
I am so proud of all the small business owners I have worked with this year, and I am so pleased and humbled that they allowed me the opportunity to be part of what they did and had to do to keep their doors open and the cash register ringing.
Some of these business owners took advantage of the assistance programs that were made available, but many of them chose to make it without any assistance. I applaud both options and must certainly give credit and support to the decision each owner made.
In closing, please let me offer a quote from Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. who said,
A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our very being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We look forward to continuing to provide the small business owners of the greater Houston area advice, consulting, and mentoring throughout the remainder of 2020 and in the new year ahead. I encourage you to visit our website at www.silverfox.org or www.silverfoxadvisors.com to learn more about the Silver Fox Advisors.
Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.
Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.
I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.
I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.
First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.
Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.
Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.
BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”
Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.
The Back Story
In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.
I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.
Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.
I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.
Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.
I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.
Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.
If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).
First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.
Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.
Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.
Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.
That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.
My wife said she wanted a new kitchen pantry for her birthday. I like doing what my wife asks. Fortunately for me, ripping out the old pantry and building a new one was something I enjoy doing.
When I was growing up, a neighbor friend was a master craftsman. He had an amazing woodshop that made me get so excited everytime he opened the doors. George was his name.
George took me under his wing and let me apprentice for him for several years. His specialty was building gorgeous custom cabinets that suited just about anything the buyer wanted to do.
Back then, music systems came in huge component pieces. Turntables, tape decks, amplifiers and tuners all needed a cabinet to fit into. Great speakers came in big boxes. George made amazing cabinets out of mahogany, maple and other exotic woods. The custom cabinets George built were features in various celebrity homes in the area; golfers, singers and other entertainers.
It was so much fun to go with George on a delivery. I never knew who I might meet.
He taught me how to work with all of the tools and build solid, dependable joints for cabinets. I learned his ways of measuring and designing very nice cabinets.
All of my adult life I’ve treasured the special tools I have found. I love having a project to do. It serves as my outlet for decompressing and restoring my spirit.
Every time I start a project and as I am working through it, I think of ‘George-isms’. While his teachings were specific to woodworking, they also represented great learning for leaders.
Under George’s tutoring he taught many many concepts. As I’ve gotten older and wiser (I hope), it strikes me that these sayings have a broader fit for life lessons and leadership theory too.
Here are some of the ones I like best.
Use the right tool for the right job. Per George, if you don’t you will either hurt the tool, hurt the material, or hurt yourself.
If you’ve ever tried home fix-it projects, it’s tempting to grab the screwdriver to pry something apart. Screwdrivers aren’t made to be pry bars. Usually, they bend first.
The pressure of the prying can warp the shaft of the screwdriver, making your next attempt to actually drive a screw next to impossible.
Leaders make mistakes by assigning tasks to the wrong people. Use the wrong person for a job and you will either hurt the project or hurt the person, maybe both.
You can set people up to fail. A leader needs to watch for moments when an unintentional decision can lead to unexpected damage.
Measure twice, cut once. This may be the most famous of all carpentry sayings. It was not a George original, but nonetheless one very important lesson. If the two measurements aren’t the same, you need a third one to verify.
In the woodshop, materials can be expensive. One wrong cut and you’ve ruined a piece of wood. There is no making a piece longer once it gets cut. On the other hand, cutting too long creates a waste of time.
Delivery of finished projects always had time constraints. Wasting time on extra cuts burned the schedule.
As a leader, you need to check your facts before making a decision. Get extra data just like the second or third measurement.
Save time in the long run by being more accurate with your information. Don’t waste people’s time and resources re-doing a process.
Don’t work tired. George had a day job. So his cabinetry happened during off-hours, nights, and weekends. On occasion, he would go into the shop to unwind. But if he was too tired or mentally fatigued from his day, it was not a good idea.
The inability to focus and pay good attention could cause problems like messing up materials or hurting yourself. Not to be too morose, but George was missing the last digit on one pinky finger. Years prior he admitted losing focus and allowing his hand to get too close to a saw blade.
He claimed to be thankful it wasn’t a more severe injury. But he used it to remind me of potential dangers if you don’t respect the work area.
Leaders getting too tired can lose focus also. Take care of yourself. Find rest. Stay healthy. You can hurt someone or hurt yourself.
Lastly, mind your temper. I saw George ‘lose it’ a few times. As much as I loved the man, he had his occasional moments of throwing his temper. Never at me mind you, but if something didn’t go right, he could have a fit.
A wood shop with a larger array of power-tools is not a good place to have a temper. (Not that anyplace is good to have a temper). Things have sharp edges and heavy weights. Slamming, throwing, or flinging things is just not cool.
George was remorseful at my witnessing such outbursts. And we would talk about the circumstances.
Leaders and business owners need to mind their temper at all times. Nothing is more demoralizing to a staff than seeing the boss lose it. In most business settings I’ve ever known, there is no clawing it back once it is unleashed.
Think about these 4 basic ideas. See how they fit into your leadership framework. If you’ve never considered one of them, try it out.
Oh, and here’s a bonus message I learned later. Not a George-ism but could be.
People talk about charismatic leaders having “big” personalities. Powerful leaders are often known as “Type A” personalities. We know about introverts and extroverts.
But how does personality really impact your effectiveness as a manager or owner of a business?
If we take away celebrity status from high paid CEOs and public figures, what else does personality have to do with how you run a business?
For starters, I will argue LOTS!
Anyone choosing to start a business or get promoted into management must face the challenge of influencing the people around them. Before you open your mouth the first time, your personality projects who and what you are.
Shy or timid personalities come into the room meek and mild. More bold personalities make an entrance. Either can be effective, depending on the circumstance.
I’ve worked with engineers who are famous for, let’s say, ‘not great personalities’. Yet very seniors leaders in the organization can be incredibly personable and engaging.
Then I’ve also known ‘creative’ types, arts and theater, who can be witty, bright and engaging, but very weak leaders.
In my humble opinion, your personality is simply one more tool in your leadership toolbox that can be used wisely or create disastrous results.
Here’s one way to think about it.
Your personality is a work in progress. Formed at an early age (some even believe you are born with it), your personality begins to define your look at the world.
While it is absolutely true that the way you engage with others is driven by your personality, the bigger question is perception.
How is your personality perceived by others?
This is the reason I love using the Hogan Assessment tools to help the leaders I coach. In Bob Hogan’s work, he discovered early on (like 1974) that understanding personality can be informative to one’s own leadership development.
But understanding the perception of your personality by others is an even greater force for shaping the change you may want as a leader.
Here’s the difference. If I test and study my own personality, I can learn that I demonstrate certain traits. Scales like Myers-Briggs MBTI, Berkman, or Karl Jung tag me for certain key elements in the makeup of my personality. They become broad generalizations that help explain why I look at and feel different ways about different situations.
Hogan takes it a step further. His assessment tools do the stratification of certain personality makeup, but he attaches the perception piece to it. In Hogan, you get a read-out of how others will perceive/react to your specific personality markers.
As a leader, learning about this aspect of personality can be very valuable. If you have engaged a coach to get you to a new level of effectiveness, learning about these perceptors will get you much further along in your development.
I won’t go into all the details of the mechanics of Hogan’s methodology (it is well documented) but the basis is centered on decades of actual testing, screening and analysis to correlate the personality markers with perception values; what others perceive.
In other words, your inward values will drive outward perceptions. To become a more effective leader, you must understand not just what makes up your personality, but how that makeup impacts those around you.
Hogan adds one more detail to a study. Based on your personality, you can also learn about potential “derailers” that might exist. In some cases these are things like ‘a strength used in excess can become a weakness.
Knowing and studying the derailers can help you become a far better leader at work, at home, and in the community. Once equipped with this knowledge, you can self-adjust more easily to the situations arising.
If you’re looking for a fun and FREE personality test, jump over to my friends at 16Personalities.com Their results will amaze you!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Let’s unpack each one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
Managing up the organization is a tough task. Using these few ideas can make the climb much easier.
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.
I went home still seething. Sleep did not happen. I made a plan.