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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.

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

Leadership Effectiveness Can Improve Using Simple Triggers

executive leadership coaching

You can improve your leadership effectiveness with some simple triggers.

As much as I love all the science, academia, and psychology of leadership development, and believe me I follow a lot of it, I often find the biggest achievements come from simple steps. I call these triggers.

I had a client recently who was tasked with improving his executive presence. He had developed a reputation as having a somewhat short fuse when it came to interactions in the field.

In his defense, he works in a labor-intensive industry, with much of the workforce being trade skills and blue-collar. Nothing wrong with that picture other than you must understand confrontations can be ‘lively.’

My client had a tendency to meet his folks on their level whenever prompted by conflict.

As we worked through his options for changing his style and approach, we discussed specific instances and role-played the scenarios. After we had explored his options, I asked him “How do you think you will be able to affect this behavior once you’re back in the field?”

He was stumped for a moment. He really couldn’t think of ways to make it work.

The choice was simple. Either react the old way or respond with the new framework and mindset.

The Trigger

I suggested he think of a trigger. It was going to be easy to know when a confrontation was about to begin.

I asked him if he thought he could decide between two simple choices; either “on” or “off”. What I meant was, decide whether the employee reactions were “on”, as in, “I don’t like this instruction, but…. I can see why I need to do that.” That is an “on” position.

If the employee is totally opposed and becoming agitated, then the matter is “off”.

He agreed that would be easy to process.

By knowing whether the moment was on or off, he could choose to use his new methods for dealing with “off” situations.

The central theme we had landed upon was “an executive must act as he should, not as he feels.”

When circumstances were looking like they were in the “off” position, he needed to be extra diligent to be MORE executive about the situation, refrain from responding in kind, and become the peacemaker rather than another combatant.

By not forcing himself to have to think too deeply about the situation, he could rely on simple on/off logic to know which response was appropriate.

It worked very well.

Common Sense

After all my years of business and community leadership, I firmly believe there is a great deal you can accomplish as a leader with good common sense. That’s why I refer to much of my work as “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”

Again, I love brain science, emotional intelligence, psychology, and all other facets of effective leadership study. Yet when you are in the heat of battle, you need simple, effective triggers to guide your response.

Question: What are some triggers you can use in your leadership to become a more effective leader? Leave a comment.

Also, if you are looking for ways to become a better manager, leader, or boss, check out my Best Boss Ever Challenge. I’ve pledged to connect with 10,000 business owners, managers, and leaders in 2022. Click the button below to learn more.

Leaders: Setting a New Standard

best boss

Be a Better Boss

Welcome to 2022. Yes, we have entered a new year. Like many of you, I have reviewed my accomplishments and plotted a course for this new trip around the sun.

As for me, I have chosen a noble task.

I want to help 10,000 business leaders and company owners become Better Bosses. Let’s start with WHY.

For a long time, there has been a saying among HR professionals. “People join companies but quit bosses.”

Have you ever felt that way? I know I have.

The individuals who get promoted into management jobs and/or start businesses rely on chance and circumstance for ways to figure out how to lead a team. Experience tells me that most fail in some way or another.

I think it’s time we seriously focus on making our bosses be accountable for better behavior.

It’s Tradition

First, let’s be real. In western commerce and so-called ‘big business’, we have this strange tradition of promoting the brightest bulb on the string to be a supervisor when a spot comes open. The logic goes something like this.

“Sally is our best producer. She would be the best one to lead this team.”

WRONG! Instead, we usually end up ruining the best producer and frustrating the team because Sally doesn’t do well leading people. (No knock on Sally. It could be a Bill or a George here too.)

In the case of the entrepreneur, this person has an idea for a product or service. So they start a company. The idea takes off. Pretty soon the owner knows they need a bigger team to keep things going. Hiring begins and the fun starts.

Like the promoted high-performer, most small business founders seldom know how to manage people.

In both cases, you can hope for a collection of positive experiences with prior bosses to model good habits, but guess what? Those folks had their own journey arriving where they were. So did you really get a good lesson?

Nature or Nurture?

Then there is another thought. In the halls of most business schools, you can find a raging debate among academicians about whether leadership is born or bred, nature vs nurture.

I’m not going to rehash the whole debate here. Instead, I will say this. I have met and worked with clients who clearly have more natural talent to be a leader. They have a sixth sense of reading people and making decisions. They are comfortable at the podium speaking to a team or a whole organization.

These individuals do shine in positions of leadership, running companies. And, like professional athletes, they get better with coaching to help them refine the natural-born skills they seem to have.

I wanted to play sports in school. But growing quickly to six feet tall before any notion of hand-eye coordination kicked in limited my future in athletics. Obviously, I was NOT a natural-born athlete. The few things I’ve tried since then, like golf or tennis, have required hard work.

On the other hand, I have worked with clients who did not start with “natural” leadership ability. Instead, they embraced the need to be a leader. They worked hard to learn concepts, principles, and values they could use to become better leaders and, hence, better bosses.

Therefore, my observation is simply this. Some people may be born to be leaders and get better with training. Others can learn to be better leaders with the right coaching, hard work, and commitment.

Back to Human Resources

I knew a global HR professional who boldly led a charge to redesign his company’s entire HR role. His premiss said, “If we trained better managers, our people problems would go away.”

While the company didn’t accept the theory outright, they did permit him to test it with a large global project he was assigned to support. The results were never empirically proven, but the overall success was positive based on exit reviews and employee feedback.

The idea is solid. Better bosses can make a difference in the way work teams view the company. More importantly, it impacts the quality and quantity of work contributed by employees.

Today’s Situation

Add to the above factors the rapidly changing world of work today in the face of COVID lockdowns, remote working, and workforce change.

Studies are beginning to emerge wherein labor pools are voicing one common theme. People are tired of toxic cultures created by bad bosses. Here are a few of these studies:

Management teams who have historically ignored employee feedback are being systemically voted out of office. No, I don’t mean literally, because there is no such vote. But symbolically, they are receiving a “no confidence” vote from people walking off the job. The “Great Resignation” it is being called.

In essence, the modern workforce is saying “Enough!”

Should You Be Surprised?

If you are in a management position, now is the time to take action. There is always time to review what you do with your team. You can make a change.

Want to be a better boss? Here are a few tips to help get the journey started.

First, disconnect from the tradition and legacy of your company’s “less than” culture. Take a serious inventory of the standards enforced by tradition. Does the culture rely on command and control leadership styles?

More specifically, does the culture rely on any aspect of interaction that serves to diminish an employee’s status? Is it customary to always talk down to the people below you by job grade?

When an employee brings bad news, are they subjected to ridicule and admonishment?

Break that chain. Treat people with respect. No one deserves to be subjected to harsh emotional lashings for trying to do their job.

Next, decide on an intentional change in the way you look at your responsibilities.

Shift your thinking. Can you do more to represent your team? Are there better ways to show your support for them?

Then, upgrade your communication ability. Are you the best communicator you can be?

Step outside your own box for a moment and get a read on the way your messaging lands. Ask for some 360 feedback about your communication style and effectiveness.

Just because you say it, doesn’t mean people get it.

Make your communication a true two-way exchange. State your issues, then ask for feedback on the spot. You can start with a simple ask from your people, “Please tell me what I said, in your own words.”

Communication is King

Also, don’t rehearse tragedies.

This is a line I picked up from the hit TV show “Blue Bloods.” It means don’t dwell on the bad stuff going on. If something fails, make a one-time review of why, learn from it, then move on. Don’t keep dredging up the negativity.

With this also, never use a team or individual fail to justify a ‘public execution.’ Good people fundamentally know if they made an error. You as the boss, don’t have to keep reminding them of it.

Finally, learn how to read the room.

Pay attention to what is going on around you. If people seem on edge about a problem that is in front of them, you have to handle the problem first. Then you can announce a new piece of guidance or instruction. You can’t teach a sailor to tie a knot when the ship is sinking.

The New Year

Turning the page on the calendar is a great way to reset your own focus. Please take a moment to think about how you manage and lead your team.

Can you be a Better Boss? We all can do something to up our leadership game. Why not join me in making 2022 the year of the Better Boss?

Positivity vs Negativity

As I sit down at my trusty old PC to write some thoughts on this, the week before Christmas, I was tempted to “mail it in” by digging into my archive and dusting off an oldie but goodie.

Yet as I pondered what to do, I started thinking about the early Christmas we just finished celebrating in my family. The wife and I like to alternate Christmas day each year to allow our married kids to swap with the in-laws. Spreading the wealth if you will. Not hogging ‘the day’, but rather willing to be flexible in alternating years.

So this was the year for early Christmas. The whole clan gathered for the day to meet, eat, swap gifts, and let the grandkids get the maximum benefit from our brand of family Christmas. It was simply great.

Thorpe family Christmas

The jolly crew is pictured above. BTW we do ‘themed’ celebrations. This year was a Camo-Christmas.

Anyway, one of the gifts the grandkids got (the boys, that is) was a set of building pieces based on a little STEM learning. The kits were to teach the basics of electronics. The parts would snap together to complete a circuit. There were buzzers, bells, motors, and gadgets to plug in-line to feed off a battery pack. The successful accomplishment was realized by a whole range of noises, beeps, buzzes, and whirrs.

I coached my 8-year-old on the principles. In no time, he was building pretty amazing layouts. The first, most basic concept he mastered was to follow the flow of the circuit, starting with the positive side of the batteries, winding thru the model, and ending on the negative side. Positive and negative.

There it is – the Muse for this Message

Thinking about the positive and negative made me start thinking about the world around my little family unit. Today, there is so much negativity. Seldom do we focus on the positives.

Speak with any colleague or friend and it won’t be long before something negative comes up. Maybe I’m writing an indictment on my circle of friends. However, I really don’t think so. Too many good people are getting beaten down by the negative rhetoric and the cynicism in the daily news.

I decided to take a quick poll, just within my own head. Here are the scientific results I just made up.

There is good in the world

My neighborhood goes all out decorating for Christmas. Yards are strung with all manner of “exterior illumination” man can buy (thank you Clark Griswald). Then beginning right after Thanksgiving, hayrides begin cruising the streets taking large groups on tours. It’s a fun, enjoyable human experience.

Last year my street started hosting what we call Candy Cane Lane. Our cul de sac turns into a unified theme park adorned with large 6′ lit candy canes. Every night, Santa appears in person along with several elf helpers to hand out candy canes to the hayrides. OK – yes, it’s taking things up a big notch, but the neighbors on our street love doing it.

Yes, that’s me and Susan, my wife

Being on the front line, looking at humanity from behind a fake Santa’s beard can be very cathartic. You should try it sometime. The little kids stare in amazement. Even the adults melt into memories of childhoods long ago. Times when things were not so complex or demanding. It’s easy to see.

It offers a brief break from the otherwise crazed world we live in. And people LOVE it.

By doing something positive, our little group is restoring joy and harmony.

Volunteerism is alive

I have the joy of working with several non-profits. The spirit of giving and serving is alive.

It’s not easy, nor are the finances bountiful, but dedicated souls to can identify with causes they love are still coming out in droves to help, serve, and give.

We all can make a difference

You’ve likely heard the story of the boy and the starfish. A small boy was walking on the beach. The high tide had washed hundreds of starfish onto the sand. An old man saw the boy bending over, picking up a starfish, and then throwing it into the sea.

As the man came up to the boy, he said “Young boy, what are you doing?”

The lad said, “I am saving the starfish.”

The old man said, “You’ll never make much difference.”

The young boy looked down at the starfish in his hand and said “I’ll make a difference for this one.”

We can spread positivity one person at a time.

Just show up

I thank a fellow coach, Mike Van Hoozer, for helping me learn the concept of focus in the moment. Every human endeavor is not really about the long journey, but rather the way we show up in the moment. Our legacies and reputations are built on moments not big projects or programs.

As an example, professional baseball players build careers after a long run of moments. Moments when they come to bat. Bottom of the 9th, ballgame tied, two outs, and two strikes. One pitch, one swing can make the moment. Strikeout, you might be forgotten. Hit a home run and you will forever be remembered.

The same is true for good managers and great leaders. You build the reputation as a good boss by the moment by moment steps that happen every day.

Good people show up in the moment. When your moment happens, you can choose to be positive or negative. Choose positive.

Please join me

For 2022, please join me in choosing to be positive. Let’s drown out negativity. Sure there can be differing opinions. But when it comes down to it, why not decide to be positive?

Lift people up, don’t tear them down. Even your so-called enemies. How hard will it be to at least hear them out?

Right now I am thinking of a few people I know who have sunk so low into the muck that it will be hard for them to read this. Heck, they’ve probably already scrolled past. That’s ok. But if I can get hold of them, I’m going to do all I can to be positive, encouraging, and helpful toward them.

There is a better way. Please join me in spreading a little positivity. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous New Year. Leave a comment or share with your tribe.

The Keys to Becoming a Great Leader

Today it seems everybody knows something about leadership. 

But when I taught strategic leadership courses to MBA students at the University of Houston, in the beginning, my first question to the students was “who wanted to be a leader and a great one at that?”

There was always this look of bewilderment on their faces not knowing how to answer. 

Leadership can be puzzling and seems like a lofty aspiration as many times leaders are put on a pedestal.

Leadership does make a significant difference in the performance of an organization. Jim Collins demonstrated that in his well-researched book Good to Great. 

Normally, when people begin to talk about leadership, they start rattling off a long list of characteristics.

Well, I am not going to tell you my top ten characteristics of being a great leader as many articles do. 

But in my opinion, listing attributes is coming from the wrong starting place.

If you begin with characteristics and try to figure out who is great, you enter into a mindset of rating one leader against another based on the characteristics they possess.

The focus is all on the leader trying to find that special one. It’s grading on the curve.  You are better than that guy, but this other bloke is better than you.

When the conversation begins with the leader and their characteristics, it leaves out the other half of the equation.

What is really fundamental about leadership is that there are followers. There is no leadership without followers. You can be a great solo performer, but that is not leadership. Leadership requires followers. 

Think of the Other Person First

But why do people follow? 

They follow you because their needs are being fulfilled in some meaningful way.

In effect, the leader must provide a value proposition that fulfills follower’s needs as discussed in my other leadership blogs. 

This is the first key to becoming a great leader, you must start with the needs of the follower by developing a value proposition that motivates them to follow you.

That is what a company does with customers.  It provides a value proposition that causes people to buy. 

You must have a value proposition that potential followers can buy into.

What about the natural-born leader? Don’t people just want to follow them naturally regardless?

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t rely on whether you got that special leadership gene. 

In fact, most serious leadership authors advocate that leadership can be learned and dismiss this great man theory from days of yore.

Develop the We Mindset

Unfortunately, we grow up being graded solely on ourselves.  It begins in grade school right on through to high school, and then on to college.  It is all about me.

When I worked for Shell, there was a lot of emphasis on the qualities the leader possessed. I always felt under the microscope to be this superhuman leader with all these wonderful characteristics. 

I knew an awful lot about leadership theories, but it wasn’t until my later years in senior management that the second key came to light. 

A lot of my conversation had too much I.

To be a great leader you must shift your mindset from me to “we”, which is the second key to becoming a great leader.

That requires going out talking to people finding out what really drives them. Thinking in a “we” mindset opens them up to describing their needs.  People truly love to talk about themselves.

Leadership and Planning Go Together

Leadership is not a random hit or miss process. How do you figure out a value proposition that motivates people to follow you? This requires planning. 

What big thing have you ever accomplished without a plan?  Planning sets a direction. 

Thus, the third key to leadership is planning and setting a motivating direction.

Execution is the Fourth Key

Planning by itself is not enough, even though it does set the stage. The plan must be executed achieving the desired results. People follow successful performance. 

Therefore, the way to measure a great leader is to look at the absolute results. 

If you want to be an effective leader, YOU must focus on results.

That is the mindset shift that makes all the difference. Look at the results, but what results are we talking about?

A leader has various stakeholders with different needs as set out in the first key. Targeting these needs means forming value propositions for each key stakeholder, and since every leader has multiple stakeholders, that means multiple value propositions. 

Great results come from satisfying these different value propositions that cause your stakeholders to follow you. 

Moreover, if you judge leadership on the basis of absolute results, it’s absolutely possible for everyone to become a great leader.  

Leadership Maturity develops a Situational Style

People have different needs; situations require different leadership, and things change over time. 

There is no cookie-cutter approach to being a great leader.

Thus, the fifth key is to recognize that leadership is situational depending on the world you and your followers face.

Look to Other’s Strengths

Next, you win by utilizing your and other’s strengths.

That is what companies do with their value propositions.  They capitalize on their strengths. 

 Great leadership is all about building a winning team, where people step up with their greatest strengths.  That is the sixth key.

You build a game plan that leverages and synergizes on these strengths.

Develop Specific Actions

Many plans fail for lack of execution as set out in the Fourth Key.

The plans must have executable components with specific actions and be constantly reviewed and revised as results dictate. 

Leadership is not about how many initiatives you can create.  It’s about how well did you deliver on your value propositions by taking well-defined actions. 

Thus, the seventh key to leadership is delivering on your value propositions with specific targeted actions.  

That creates authenticity.  Doing what you say you are going to do.

Those are my seven keys to becoming a great leader.

Develop your Leadership Plan

This is a prelude to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader that recognizes that your personal planning is the key catalyst for greatness.

Typically planning is done from the business perspective, at the corporate or business unit levels on what the company is going to do.

The leader needs to figure out how to integrate into these business plans with his or her leadership actions. Some of the leader’s value propositions to key stakeholders will be integral in the business plans. 

Other elements require the leader to formulate more specifically a leadership plan to fulfill those people’s value propositions. In developing these leadership plans, the focus can then turn to what strengths the leader needs to develop and what fatal flaws to correct. 

That requires the leader to fully assess his/her inner profile. 

What is your leadership style?  Which are your proficiencies, things you are really good at?  What are your values, beliefs, and character?  And fundamentally, what is your purpose in life? What legacy do you want to leave?

Weaving together the “outer” world of a leader’s work environment with their “inner” world of character, style, strength, and purpose brings a practical focus to leadership development efforts.

Inner Self

The leader can then reflect on those aspects of the inner self that more directly impact the outer world and pursue improvement in the areas that will make a significant performance difference, and much sooner.

In doing this, the chances of becoming a great leader go up significantly because there is a targeted focus on your actions and behaviors that will make a real difference in achieving great results.

That is the whole concept that led to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader. 

The quest for great results doesn’t end with one great achievement. It’s not one and done; it’s a marathon. 

People will follow the leader who consistently produces great results.  And when these great results occur, that is a great leader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was contributed by Lane Sloan, former CFO at Shell Oil. Lane is semi-retired but teaches, coaches and provides business advisory services to small and mid-cap business.

Trust at Work

The great Resignation is fully underway. Companies of all sizes are experiencing employee exits at all job levels. Owners and executives simply wonder why?

There are great theories about work-life balance value shifts, government intervention, and ‘disincentives’ among many other plausible ideas.

Yet one area remains a big contributor. That area is TRUST.

There is a basic loss of trust in the workplace. Employees are feeling disenfranchised. They watch as CEO pay and other external factors impact their way of working. Decisions get made by the bosses, but little if any trust is displayed in the worker.

Why should they be the ones expected to remain loyal? And now, with the pandemic opening of Pandoras’ box about work-life balance, employees are leaving corporate America by the millions. Yes, millions, not just thousands.

Employers need to ramp up the game when it comes to building trust at work. There are proven, tangible ways to increase the levels of trust across your work team, but it takes leadership focus and energy to get there.

However, rather than delve into that alone, why not find a blueprint? One that has been used for decades with great success.

The Program is Now

My colleague, Roger Ferguson, and I have teamed up to present you with the full program for building trust at work. In fact, our book is titled just that “Trust at Work.

buy the book
Trust at Work, the Book

In this book, we introduce you to the Team Trust Model, a six-step outline of key essentials for understanding where and how to address the main concerns your employees have. Face it. Employees show up every day with questions. Questions like ‘Do I even want to be here?’, ‘what’s the point?’, ‘What’s the plan?’ and many more.

In other words, Leaders who create clarity for each of these key questions will see trust building inside the team. More and more, employees will learn to trust the boss and the team.

It’s not easy, but it is achievable. Buy the book. Or subscribe to my newsletter. Better still, if you’d like to start immediately to explore ways your team can build trust, schedule a chat.

You can become a leader who builds trust.

trust at work

The Truth Is in the Middle

Conflict resolution is a natural part of running a business; any business. Conflicts happen with customers, colleagues, and employees. In your personal life, you see conflict popping up at home with your spouse or your kids. Family dynamics can be a big source of conflict. Simply said, conflict is eveywhere.

As a coach, I get asked about dealing with conflict on a regular basis. My first answer is an old saying I was taught many years ago.

“The truth is in the middle.”

Seldom are you perfectly right or wrong. It is not very often that you are completely spot on with a solution. Instead there are always other considerations to weigh.

When two opposing ideas collide, the moment can be emotionally charged. One side can feel indignant if the other has dared to oppose the idea. The situation becomes a fight to the death.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

Emotionally mature leaders learn to look at conflict more objectively. Rather than jump immediately to one side or the other, the smart leader hears the arguments, then weighs the merits of each before making a decision.

Really great leaders seek the truth in the middle first. But if a settlement is still not there, you can move to this next idea.

The Marriage Bed

No relationship in life can be more complex than the marriage of a couple. Two otherwise independent souls agree to join together to become one couple.

On one hand it’s the definition of compromise. I give something up and you give something up so we can be together. Said outloud it sounds very unworkable.

However, to better understand the ways to solve conflict at work, I am going to borrow a guide from the Gottman Institute, an organization dedicated to helping marriages and families.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman present this exercise will help partners to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. It requires compromise.

Therefore the real question is about how can we reach a compromise?

The Art of Compromise

Step 1: Consider an area of conflict where you and your partner are stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
  • What are your guiding feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your core needs?
  • What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?

Applying these principles to a business situation may take some other thinking.

From a career standpoint, compromise is something that one must become comfortable with, particularly in leadership roles. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract with a vendor, discussing a potential new business venture, resolving a complaint or trying to reach an important business decision, mastering the art of compromise is key.

Compromise 6

Here’s how to do so effectively without giving up too much or putting yourself in a bad position.

First understand what is at stake. Prioritize the key issues in your own mind. Evaluate the real significance of the issue first.

Next, determine the potential outcomes. What will ultimately happen if you give in or stand your ground? How much of an impact would compromising have on your business? In many cases, you’ll likely find that giving in won’t have many repercussions at all.

Draw a mental line in the sand. Know your limits, focus on what is key to your longer term goals and vision.

Next, Genuinely listen. Stephen R. Covey encouraged seeking the win-win position. You have to listen carefully to find the opportunities for the win for each party.

Then, give something worthwhile. Recognize that the other party is also going to need to compromise to some degree. To reach that middle ground, you’ll need to be willing to give your opponent something worthwhile.

Finally, always be professional. When it comes to compromise, there’s always going to be those situations in which the results aren’t as favorable as you’d have liked. Regardless of outcome, it’s imperative that you maintain the utmost professionalism at all times.

Leadership Values

Becoming a leader who is effective at managing conflict and achieving compromise is easier than you think. However, it takes intentional effort, focused on facts not emotions. Other articles in my blog address these topics too.

Be a leader who is dedicated to delivering value. Value your people. Provide them with value day by day. Enrich and influence the lives of those around you. Lead your people to overcome the conflicts. That will become your legacy as a leader.

Leading From the Front … or Not

Being an effective leader requires a keen awareness of the situation. One size never fits all. Among the many choices leaders have to make, a very pivotal one involves what leadership position to take. Therefore, today we explore the question of whether to lead from the front or lead from the rear.

To set our footing, let me define the two options.

Leading from the Front

This brand of leadership is the kind we see often depicted in movies. Mel Gibson, in The Patriot, grabs the flag and rallies the troops when there is a break in the front lines. He’s right up there, standing tall, waving the flag, yelling “follow me!!!”

The Patriot – Mel Gibson

In business, the follow-me style leadership is usually found in organizatinal cultures where there is a large dose of command and control thinking. Employees are programmed to wait for direction. There is very little empowerment. Seldom does anyone ‘step out’ to take a chance.

Often these cultures are found in large scale engineering or manufacturing environments. On one hand it makes sense. You wouldn’t want employees being creative at the controls of a refining process. Things need to be prescriptive for everything to operate smoothly and efficiently, not to mention safely. Plans and specs need to be followed or severe consequences may happen.

Leading from the Rear

This style of leadership is not really opposite in thinking, just different. Leading from the rear represents the situation where the workteam is fully capable, empowered, and somewhat autonomous in how things need to happen.

One exmaple might be a large regional sales force. Sales reps need to be out in the field making calls and meeting prospects and clients. They should know the guiderails, but are expected to operate with a degree of independence, only checking back in when a truly unique special request comes up.

The sales executive can lead from the rear, providing the guiderails and encouragment, but otherwise staying handsoff on the effort.

Where Things Get Tough

In larger companies, managers usually get assigned to lead roles. They get placed into teams that are already operating together. Sometimes there are company reorganizations where teams get scrambled, but even then, managers haven’t really picked their teams.

What this means is, you as the leader must evaluate what your team needs. Do you need to lead from the front or from the rear? Figuring out the best approach helps solidify your role and your effectiveness as the leader.

Executives who join a new company (new to them) must navigate this landscape too. Missing the mark can seriously delay your progress.

Here’s How It Plays Out

If your leadership style is to empower and naturally lead from behind, applying that to a team who craves leadership from the front can cause fear and doubt in your team. If they are waiting on being told what to do, your expectation that they figure it out only causes confusion.

The more you encourage them to choose their own path, the more likely they are to withdraw and shrink away from the work. If they want to do the right hing, but you’re not telling them what that might be via speciifc assigned tasks, they will freeze.

On the other hand, if you are more likely to opeprate with a command and control approach, leading from the front, independent thinkers and doers will balk at your authority. They will object to being told what to do.

It becomes a balancing act. Good leaders adjust their style to the situation. If your team needs speciifc direction (you leading from the front) but you’d prefer them to be more empowered, then you have to coach them there. You have to coax them into understanding being empowered.

There needs to be a demonstration of good permission and protection. The leader gives permission to try things new while offering protection if things don’t work out just right. That way, the employee is not penalized for agreeing to step out and try something foreign to them.

Choosing Right

In most cases the need to lead from the front or from the rear can be figured out by simply asking the team about how they like to operate. If however, the team is new (due to a reorg), they likely have not found their identity yet.

The leader can help cast that vision and purpose. Then the pieces may come together naturally. If however, it is not yet clear, then the leader must dig deeper into the talent they have around them. By having one on one sessions you can glean the best ideas for structuring the team, leveraging the expereince and motivation each member brings.

The core message here is to be nimble as the leader. Don’t force your will on the team either way. If you prefer leading one way, but they want something else, be agreeable to make that pivot. You can begin shaping them to go the other way in time. Take advantage of the growth opportunity in yourself.

Use the situation as a personal stretch goal. You might just realize you like the view.

trust at work

PS – My new book “Trust at Work” is available a popular retailers in print and online. In the book, Roger Ferguson (co-author) and I explore the Team Trust Model. We explain the model and share examples of when and how it can work. Plus there are over 30 tools manaegrs can use to help gain trust with your team.