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Vision, Purpose, and Swimming with Dolphins

Leaders are supposed to provide vision, right? But if you’re in a senior manager role does that apply to you? You might say, “No, that’s the CEO’s job.”

I disagree. If you’ve been put in a leadership role, YOU, my friend, must cast the vision. Don’t wait on anyone else around you to do it.

For all the years I’ve been doing executive coaching, I still remain amazed at the frequency by which I find people with good job titles failing to have their own vision for things.

It’s Your Show

When you get selected or elected to a senior management role, the job is yours. With it comes the total responsibility for the success and outcome of your work team. People want vision. They need purpose.

It’s just not enough for people to show up to work each day. They come with questions about why. Specifically, why is my team here? What is this unit about? What does this department do? Can I get excited about our cause?

These questions become the leader’s responsibility to answer and answer well. If your team doubts any of this, they will refuse to buy-in. Their trust for you and the company will languish in the weeds. Soon they will start acting disenfranchised and unengaged with the work. They will just be going thru the motions.

On the other hand, if you can articulate a clear and concise story about the purpose for the team, then you’ll get much better buy-in. By casting a clear vision for the work and purpose, you will go much further to engage and inspire your team.

It’s not enough to say we’re here because…

You have to show them the landscape. Paint a beautiful picture of the possibilities and purpose. Give them their individual views.

Your vision becomes the rally point where the team can center their energy. Create a clear statement of the vision. Be sure the whole team knows what that might be. Don’t leave the understanding of the vision to chance.

Above all, don’t wait on leaders above you to cast the vision. Sure, you should take your vision and get alignment and approval from upper management, but don’t wait on that. Be bold!

The Entrepreneur’s Version

Small business needs the same inspiration from its owner/founder. It’s almost a given that a startup will have a vision. It makes perfect sense otherwise why startup?

Yet the original vision can suffer over time. As things progress, even owners can forget their original ideas. You get caught up in the day-to-day, making adjustments all the time. Then one day you wake up and the idea you had, the vision, is not there anymore. Your little baby has become something else.

If you own your business, take time to refresh and revisit your vision. Stuff does happen. You might have to adjust. But don’t lose sight of why you started what you started.

What do Dolphins Have to Do With This?

Nothing really. I just think they’re pretty cool.

Two dolphins happily swimming in the ocean. Digital illustration

Top 10 Essential Leadership Skills

leadership banner

It’s all about skills in the modern world. It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. Markets and entire industries are changing rapidly. For any leader to be successful, it’s important to have the proper skills.

There are thousands of books describing good leadership. You can find lists of skills and attributes in most of those books. But if you want to be a good leader, you need to find a solid list and get busy embracing what it says. Many of the names and terms are interchangeable. So find a good list and run with it.

Many of these skills are evergreen. For example, leaders will always need to be able to communicate well and delegate tasks. Some are table stakes. Take heart that your leadership skills will be valuable for a long time!

Here is a good list to start with.

Shore up these 10 leadership skills and protect your future:

The ability to motivate others. Great leaders are great motivators. Think about how you motivate yourself. It’s not that much different to motivate someone else.

Communication skills. Leaders must be excellent communicators. This includes public speaking, addressing small groups, and one-on-one. Remember to practice good listening skills. Fortunately, educational materials abound and there are plenty of willing victims to practice your skills upon.

Delegation skills. You can’t do it all alone. Many high-achievers have trouble letting go and giving up control. You must be able to trust others and use them in the most effective way possible. It’s not enough to just delegate, you must delegate assignments to the those who will excel in that particular task.

Create the proper culture. Leaders must create a culture that matches the industry and the employees. A Wall Street investment bank has a different culture than an elementary school or a pharmaceutical company. Even departments may have their own unique culture.

Adaptability. The challenges facing leaders change regularly. Industries change. Customers change. Economic conditions change. Technology is rapidly changing the way organizations do business. Leaders have to be able to evolve to meet the changing landscape.

Still more leadership skills to consider

Time management. Leaders are busy. There’s always more to do than there are hours in the day. Choosing the most important tasks and making the time to complete them is paramount. Time management skills are easily learned, but don’t come naturally to many people.

Relationship management. Great leaders have strong relationships with their direct reports, hourly employees, executives, and customers. The stronger your relationships, the more you can accomplish. During great challenges, your relationships can make you or break you.

Change management. Leading an organization or department through change is a valuable skill to develop. As companies add technology and reduce workforces, change comes more rapidly.

Be a good follower. Leaders have to follow, too. Leaders that don’t follow are considered dictators. Once you inspire a team, they become largely self-sufficient. It is then your job to follow and provide occasional guidance.

Poise. Leaders face challenges. Poise is a necessary trait for a leader to possess. Without poise, small challenges become bigger, and employees lose faith. When you’re stressed and panicked, your employees are uncomfortable. Build your poise if you want to excel as a leader.

How do your skills measure up?

You can try to predict your success as a manager from this list of skills.

Leaders are much more than Managers. Good managers run processes. Leaders inspire people.

Build your leadership skills and your long-term results will be enhanced. Even with all the big changes in modern businesses, leadership skills continue to be highly valued in the workplace. Great leaders are always in high demand.

If you need help working to understand these or any other leadership skills, I can help.

I offer a free, no-obligation, no upsell exploratory call so you can share your needs. Then we can talk about ways to help. Just click Https://DougThorpe.com/chat

More Than a Sales Trick – What is WIIFM?

sales pitch

Many sales training programs teach a principle called WIIFM. Have you heard it? Know what it means?

It stands for “what’s in it for me?” The concept says a good salesperson must be prepared to answer that question on behalf of the prospect.

In other words, if I am the salesperson, it’s not about ME. It’s about my prospect. I’m supposed to get out of my own story and think about their story.

The prospect will ALWAYS be asking what’s in it for me? They don’t care how slick, smooth or smart you might be. (That helps for sure, but is not enough to win the deal.) You have to answer their questions using their terms AND their story.

It’s not your story.

It also applies to Leadership

I have discovered there is a similar powerful application of the WWIFM idea when coaching leadership development. Clients often ask, how can I be better at engaging my stakeholders or being able to influence ‘up’ the organization.

The answer? WIIFM.

Think about what’s in it for them. Why should they be listening to you? It’s not enough to try to impress people with your skills and knowledge.

You have to approach them on their wavelength, their mindset, using their standards for communicating. Some might call this “know your audience.” I like that too.

If you engage others using the WIIFM mindset, you can become more effective at delivering the value proposition you are responsible for executing.

Delivering Value

You see, we all go to work to create and deliver value. It might be tangible goods, services, or more academic thinking, but it’s incremental value being added to the overall value chain of your business. Otherwise, why should you be there?

If you’re not delivering value in some form or another, you are expendable. The faster you figure out how to demonstrate that value-add to your business partners and stakeholders, the better you will be.

So stop trying to be the resident expert pushing the cart up the hill. Rather think first about what that stakeholder really needs. Get them to share with you the key questions in their mind. While these questions help resolve the WIIFM for your stakeholder, you also need to explore how they engage.

Recently a client was telling me about one stakeholder who never responds to their internal instant messaging system. I asked if anyone else experienced that pushback from the stakeholder. Sure enough, others also complained this person never responded to IM. That’s a clear signal they don’t like that tool. How about an old-fashioned face-to-face?

In the process of learning your audience, ask them how they prefer to engage. In today’s fast-paced world of slick tech tools, there are so many options.

Do they like internal messaging systems, emails, or periodic face-to-face meetings? Figure out the most desired medium for them to receive information. Then stick to that answer.

Senior Execs Need More

The more senior the person you need to engage, the more likely is their sense of WIIFM. They are making split-second decisions about how to spend their minutes each day. If they can’t see a quick and obvious WIFFM answer, they will cut you off and send you away. It doesn’t matter how slick your PowerPoint was going to be.

Plus you should never take that kind of rejection personally. It’s just their way of subtly saying, “…you didn’t answer my WIIFM. Get me a better answer for that and I’ll engage.”

I had a mentor who taught me the phrase “Be bright, be brief, be gone.” The better I perfected that technique the more often I was getting asked to the senior executive floor for consultation. It was obvious I was doing a better job of answering WIIFM.

You can too.

Characteristics the Brand Ambassador for Your Company Must Possess

company branding title

Most organizations and companies have discovered that having a brand ambassador is the winning formula that will help them build a strong brand identity and a consistent ability to reach out to customers. This formula helps to humanize brands and build a relationship between the business and consumer that would have otherwise been impossible to achieve through other strategies.

Your business may not be ready to create a position of brand ambassador, but there are services available. Wanting to employ a service like this for your company is a wise decision. However, not every brand ambassador company has all the attributes that will help push your company forward.

We believe you know this; hence, you need a reliable top brand ambassador company that will surely deliver. But, even if you choose from the myriads of these reliable companies, you will need to assess the agent assigned to you. Therefore, here are some of the characteristics that any good successful brand ambassador must possess.

Marketing Knowledge

Any brand ambassador worth their salt must have a keen understanding of several marketing strategies as well as core principles. This will help them display an original approach towards your customers.

The educational qualification of a brand ambassador is not necessarily something grand like a Master’s Degree. Experience will help here more than formal education. However, if your company requires something more, then you may as well look for someone with a higher educational qualification.

Passion

Great brand ambassadors should be able to display a genuine passion for the products or brand they are representing. Before anyone can succeed at branding, they need to effectively communicate their enthusiasm for the product or brand. It is this passion that will influence their followers and their purchasing patterns.

Also, if the ambassador has enough passion, he/she/they would be able to gather enough expertise that would enable him to advise the consumers accordingly. A healthy relationship between the business and the consumers can be better improved and made more effective by the ambassador’s passion.

Professionalism

Another characteristic someone representing your company must have is professionalism. This person is a representative of your business, and like it or not, people will believe that their behavior mirrors the behavior of the company. Therefore, you need to get someone that would positively represent the company.

Professionalism involves displaying a genuine concern for every individual’s feelings and ideas. It also means that the person would be able to maintain an effective networking strategy. You can read this article on how to become a solid networking expert. Your representative should also be able to maintain professionalism by engaging the customers with questions that will display authentic intentions and help gain their trust.

Trustworthiness

The person you choose to represent your business would need to create a solid and lasting relationship with your customers. They would have to ensure that the customer stays loyal to the brand because as we all know, the loyalty of the customer to a large extent determines sales.

Therefore, any person representing your business should not just only cause the consumers to feel loyal to the company, but they should also be loyal and trustworthy. People mostly give trust when they frist receive trust.

Creativity

This is what will help them increase sales when the business is not making enough sales. Consumers may at some point get interested in something else like a new competitor. How your representative can add a spark of freshness and newness will help maintain and even increase sales.

So, you have to be on the lookout for an ambassador that would not blend in but rather stand out; one that would be able to devise methods to make marketing unique and fun.

Online Presence

In our world today, online platforms and the internet are major vehicles that maintain and promote various products’ awareness. Therefore, your representative must have an online presence that would enable him to communicate the products to their many followers consistently.

You can visit https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/online-presence to learn how to build your online presence. A representative that can boast of an online presence would need to have gathered a large following on strategic online platforms. He or she must not only have a large following but must also be able to influence them positively in favor of the brand.

Types of Brand Ambassadors

Another thing you need to know is that there are various types of brand ambassadors. Below are the three major types:

Goodwill

These representatives are usually linked with non-profit or charitable organizations; hence the reason they are called Goodwill Ambassadors. The kind of representative aims to help spread the organization’s morals and message as well as raise awareness about the cause.

Celebrities

Every celebrity has a load of followers; therefore, it is normal that brands use them to boost their sales. These people do not just have large followings, but most of their fans are extremely loyal to them and would go the extra mile to prove it.

So, if a celebrity endorses your business or product, you will surely notice an increase in the popularity and sales of the product.

Promotional

This type of representative usually promotes a brand during specific occasions or events. Therefore, the branding is often a live experience.

Conclusion

Having a brand representative is a wonderful idea for any organization or company as it will go a long way in humanizing the company. However, for the efforts of the representative to be effective, he or she would need to possess some important characteristics. Some of these characteristics are an online presence, marketing knowledge, creativity, trustworthiness, and so much more which we have discussed in this article.

Building Trust at Work – Improving Team Results

building team trust

Trust is a critical element in our everyday lives. The relationships we enter are centered on trust. Whether we are going to work, shopping online, or meeting a stranger, trust becomes the yardstick for how far that relationship may go.

For those of you in a significant relationship with a life partner, trust means everything to that relationship. Break the trust and the relationship bond shrivels and dies.

Bob Burg is famous for coining the phrase “know, like and trust (KLT).” His teaching says we only do business with people we know, like and trust. It’s a progression of experience that gets us over the goal line. You visit each of the three stages before you are ready to make the bigger commitments.

The same is true at work. We spend most of our waking hours dedicated to work. Trust in the workplace should be a vital part of success and reward. Yet managers seldom focus on building trust to build a great team. Instead, they focus on the tasks at hand. They agonize over process and procedure to get things done.

Yet employees struggle to perform at the higher levels of success.

If I can’t trust my boss, why should I give much effort to the task? A low or no trust situation is like meeting the clerk at the convenience store. I don’t have much vested in that transaction. I give the clerk my money to buy my gas or pack of gum. If I watch them put the money in the cash register…end of relationship. It doesn’t require a high level of trust.

However, when I take a job, I expect a lot more in the way of trust from the boss. He/she needs to drive that train. They need to be the ones demonstrating how trust is going to work in that situation. Once I can determine the level of trust I am going to get (remember know, like, and trust), then I begin opening up my trust bank to give back.

By the way. The whole notion of trust is just like a bank account. Deposits must be made for funds to be available from which you can spend. I must get trust to give trust.

But as a leader, that model shifts in a big way. YOU must be the one making the deposits in your people. Show them trust and confidence, then they will begin to pay it back.

join our team graphic

The Trust Gap

Trust is never mentioned by my coaching clients as a ‘top of the list’ goal. Often, they have been introduced to leadership frameworks that are intended to build a certain leadership culture or change an old one. They engage me for helping direct those leadership development efforts.

With the focus on conceptual principles, leaders forget the value of simply building trust. When we start doing the coaching work, we inevitably run head-long into the issue of low trust.

They acknowledge a sense of no trust, yet they are stuck when challenged to think about ways to build better trust.

Talking about trust gives way to more frustration about how to get there. After all, think about how you chose your spouse (if you have one). Was there a specific, tangible set of criteria or did you just ‘know.’?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That is why I like the Team Trust Model as the answer for practical and tactical ways to build trust. Since the model is really a process of logical thought about the dynamics of how trust can be built, a leader can craft a methodical and measurable system for gaining better trust within the team.

team trust model

Building trust is a process to answer a list of key questions. The questions might be obvious or subtle, but they are questions, nonetheless.

When the leader effectively and systematically answers all of the questions his/her team may have, then trust begins to evolve. The process naturally fits the KLT method. As employees, the more we know about the work team, the better we are equipped to like what we’re about. If we like it, then we can begin trusting it.

At the Core

The Team Trust Model is here to promote trust at work. It does so by inspiring people to invest their discretionary effort. Every employee comes to work with a certain capacity to deliver. However, this overall capacity is divided into segments. The first, and most basic level, is the bare minimum. We agree to deliver our bare minimum effort to keep from getting fired.

It’s the lowest of effort expended. It keeps things moving at an acceptable pace. But it won’t set records.

Discretionary effort, on the other hand, is that extra effort; the 110%. Employees all have the ability to spend this extra. The question is whether they want to.

For leaders, the challenge is to inspire folks to do that on a regular basis. Come to work and give the extra all the time.

When the team setting is right, people never question the willingness to give it all.

A New Series

The preceding message is the start of a series of articles presenting the dynamics and power of the Team Trust Model. Over the next few weeks, I will be diving deeper into this approach for practical and tactical ways to improve your team’s performance while building a more rewarding work experience.

Position Yourself as a Leader in 20 Minutes or Less

Positioning yourself as a leader will make your work more meaningful and advance your career. You can gain influence based on your title, or on knowledge and skills you already possess.

While it could take years to climb the ladder up into senior management, tapping into your personal strengths is something you can start doing right now. Learn how to use your current assets to build up your clout in the workplace.

Using Your Knowledge to Position Yourself as a Leader

Read daily. Pick up books about business advice or any topic that interests you. The more you read, the better prepared you’ll be to contribute to any discussion. You’ll sound like a leader whether you’re engaging in small talk or critiquing a new logo.

Keep up with trends in your industry or around you. This is especially important in small business. Don’t let yourself get so small you miss opportunities that might be right at your door.

Sign up for training. Take advantage of programs your employer offers. Brush up on your high school Spanish or become proficient with a new software package. Don’t be afraid of new technologies. If you don’t know or understand something, there are thousands of opportunities to make the knowlledge gap shrink.

LinkedIn has begun archiving amazing videos and presentations in the Learning Center. It would be worth a few minutes to scan their offerings. And don’t miss the TEDTalk series of videos all over YouTube.

Browse during breaks. Those brief intervals you spend on hold or pausing between meetings can be put to good use. Break out your phone and search for industry news. You’ll stand out if you’re the first one to notice a major lawsuit or merger.

Take a course. Many adults juggle full time jobs while going back to school. Schedule an appointment at your local university to see what you need to complete your degree.

Consult an expert. Contact others in your network who would be willing to share their wisdom. Interview a colleague who has published a new book and promote her work on your personal blog. You’ll both benefit from increased information and publicity.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone you admire if they would provide you with some mentoring. You’ll be amazed at how willing those wise old souls may be.

Shadow a star employee. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a high performer may be pleased to show you the ropes. Let them know that you admire their style. Offer to assist them with specific tasks so you can learn from their example.

Using Your Skills to Position Yourself as a Leader

Take responsibility. Prove that you can be trusted to live up to your obligations. Develop a reputation for completing assignments and meeting deadlines.

Document your accomplishments. Make it a habit to write down your ideas and achievements. Looking over your victories will boost your confidence. Even the missteps will suggest adjustments you can make to do better next time.

My personal favorite tool for tracking these accomplishments is the Big 5 Process. Read about it here.

Express enthusiasm. Attitude is an important part of leadership. Speak kindly to your coworkers and care about their welfare. Find gratification in your work and how it serves the community.

Take initiative. Be willing to go the extra mile. Volunteer for tasks that fall outside of your job description even if they’re less than glamorous. Pitch in when the sales team needs a hand entering quarterly data.

Share feedback. Thank people for commenting on your performance and recommending steps you can take to further your professional growth. Offer constructive and tactful criticism that enables others to do the same.

Give generously. Above all, let your colleagues know that they can count on you when they need your time and expertise. Strive to be a valuable team member. Keep an eye out for anyone who’s struggling so you can create mutually beneficial relationships.

You don’t have to be sitting in a manger’s role or hold some big title to be a leader.

Transform yourself into the kind of leader other employees will want to follow. Your knowledge and skills are valuable resources that can help you to develop your talents and inspire others.

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Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

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Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

Many years ago, when I was a boy Scout, my Scoutmaster had a mantra. Wherever we went camping, we were supposed to leave the surroundings better than we found it. That meant that before we left the area, we had to do a thorough cleanup, pick-up, and canvas of the area.

If there were rocks lining the paths, every rock had to be properly in line whether we had disrupted them or not. If there were trash cans in the area, each one had to have the lid properly secured. Any litter that was found had to be picked up, again whether we had created or not. As we left, we even brushed the pathways behind us, erasing our footprints in the dirt. A little extreme? Perhaps. But the teaching stuck.

Later, as I apprenticed with a master woodworker/craftsman, he too had a similar mantra about borrowing tools and equipment. If he borrowed something from someone, it had to be returned in better condition than it was first received. That meant cleaned, lubricated, polished or dusted off. This too was a further reminder of the basic teaching. The mindset got fixed in my brain.

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

We don’t hear that principle shared much anymore these days. Yet there is so much that can be learned from it. The concept applies to leadership in its highest form.

If you are selected to lead a team or organization, why not leave it better than you received it? Leaders are supposed to accomplish things, right? But what about truly trying to leave things better off than they were before you started.

Before we get into more details, there’s one other key element here we should discuss. If you know you’re going to be doing a big clean-up at the end, you are more likely to take care of things during the stay rather than have to do a big bunch of work at the end.

The same is true about leadership dedicated to this kind of mantra. Do little things daily to create the end result that is better than before. That way you don’t have to make a big push at the end to accomplish the same result.

The Leadership Influence

Choosing to apply this ‘leave it better than before’ principle to your leadership mindset will build a lasting legacy with those around you. If you become the leader that strives to make everything better, you will create a memorable impression that won’t go away.

Sadly, the opposite is equally true. How many of us have worked for bosses who left scorched earth behind their reign? You were happy to see them leave.

But the boss or mentor who looked out for your well being and helped you grow in your career or skill set will long be remembered.

Ways to Leave It Better

What are the ways a leader can make things better? Here are a few I’ve benefitted from.

First, genuinely learn who your people are and what they know how to do. Get into the details of their experience and skill set. Let them know you care about their ability to contribute. If you see gaps, encourage them to grow. Give them tips and ideas on ways to expand their tool kit of abilities.

Be a mentor. Be ready and willing to come alongside your people to show them ways to grow.

Help people with networking inside and outside. This is a tricky one. In today’s complex business world, people are feeling overwhelmed with knowing they need to be able to network more, but they are either afraid of doing it or don’t know how.

Stop solving all the problems. Nurture the growth in your team by using key questions when they bring you problems. Encourage them to propose a solution to every problem before they merely lay the problem on your desk. Then share with them the logical process you use to get to a good answer.

Model the right behaviors. Whenever and wherever you show up as a leader, people are watching. Even the most subtle behaviors can become big influencers for those who are following you.

You likely will never win 100% of the time. Accept the 84% rule. A local Texas politician shared this one with me. He had won his election for Mayor by an 84% popular vote. While that is huge by today’s standard for electoral margin, he decided to not alienate the 16% that didn’t vote for him. Instead he started to earnestly reach out to them and include their views in decisions facing the city.

Give people some slack or you might call it grace. People will make mistakes. The way you as a leader respond to those moments is what will make the difference.

Decide to break old habits. If the bosses you worked for modeled bad habits, don’t let those be yours to keep. A company’s culture evolves in time. The patterns of employee/employer relationships are what really define a culture, not some poster on the wall.

Handing it down

The Conclusion

I once coached a senior executive who was responsible for a national network of high-dollar manufacturing facilities. There was big machinery operating under high pressure with potentially toxic environments. People could get hurt or killed. In the day when he was rising up the organization, being a site manager and having to report a problem to the big boss meant getting a chewing out before you got to talk about the details. It was automatic.

I asked this exec about that dynamic. He sheepishly admitted he tended to do the same thing to his people. I asked if it made any difference. He said no. He knew they felt bad and were already dealing with the disappointment. His adding to the dogpile didn’t help. So he agreed to stop doing that.

Things still happened in the plants, but the team culture changed. Site managers realized the big boss was there for them, not a voice to condemn what had happened. They needed his wisdom to orchestrate the resolution. He began focusing on administering those coaching and mentoring moments to help them grow rather than berating and belittling them.

His decision as a leader to show up differently, and make things better than before, broke a legacy of old-school management practice that had lived for decades. In one turn in the leader’s seat, he engrained a newer, more positive mindset in the hearts of the various site managers who would one day be the big boss themselves.

That, my friend, is how you can make a difference, leaving things better than they were before you got there.

Daniel Mueller on Leadership

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From time to time, anyone working as a manager needs to decide whether they really are a leader. Several years ago, I began an association with a long-time executive coach, Daniel Mueller. He’s a pioneer in the field of executive coaching having served senior executives across most of the Fortune 500 companies. Daniel has graciously shared some of his information with me. Here is a discussion about leadership.

Change Agents

A leader, by definition, is a change agent. Leaders have the ability to look beyond the status quo, determine the change needed, and introduce it in such a way that the organization successfully grows to the next level of effectiveness.

“Leadership . . . is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992).

Effective leaders are competent in gaining and maintaining followers. They communicate at an expert level, inspiring others to go in a certain direction while setting clear expectations of high-level roles and responsibilities. Leaders ensure that all employees understand the mission, vision, values, strategy, and overall direction of the company, along with their own area of responsibility.

They over-communicate, gain buy-in to key initiatives, and obtain strong commitment to achieving the organization’s mission. Developing and communicating the organization’s vision, philosophy, and values is an essential competency of effective leaders, who also model the right values by example, thereby gaining credibility and respect from others.

“Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986).

Developing Leadership Competentcy

Both nature and nurture play a role in developing excellent leadership competencies. It’s helpful, but not essential, to be born with the genetic predisposition toward leadership.

Nevertheless, leadership competencies can be cultivated and developed. Factors positively associated with the development of leaders include having at least one parent who is a leader; being the eldest child; taking opportunities to lead peers or siblings; having influential childhood role models (e.g., family members, coaches, mentors); holding leadership roles in high school, college, graduate school, or early in a career; taking leadership training programs; and undergoing leadership coaching.

It is useful for leaders to take regular behavioral assessments and to review their self-assessment reports with others who know them well. A spouse or significant other is a good place to start. This review may serve to further validate the report, as well as to remove blind spots that the leader may have.

Deciding on a Style

People tend to prefer their own styles, with a strong propensity to view the world through the filter of their behavioral styles, thus projecting those preferences onto others.

This tendency limits the ability to understand co-workers and others to the fullest extent possible. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration with others’ behavior, which leads in turn to difficulty in developing high-performance teams.

Through the process of understanding their own leadership styles and being able to identify and understand those of others, effective leaders become more accepting of others’ styles, and others become more accepting of theirs. Each leadership style is valuable in the workplace.

People with the same narrow behavioral style will approach a problem in the same way, usually with sub-optimal results. A leadership team that encompasses a diversity of styles provides a diversity of thought, which leads to peak team performance. Leaders who understand their own behavioral styles are much better able to identify others’ styles.

As leaders grow in their understanding of, and their ability to control, their own styles, they may become more willing and able to adapt their styles to meet the needs of others and of the organization.

Being Adaptable

Demonstrated adaptability is a powerful approach, resulting in increased influence over others. In order to reach full effectiveness, leaders need maximum adaptability. An inaccurate understanding of their own behavioral tendencies will weaken the ability of leaders to effectively adapt their styles to the needs of others.

Effective leaders are able to develop or improve positive relationships in much less time than would normally be needed. Most effective leaders are unconsciously or consciously adept at identifying and adapting their leadership styles to the behavioral styles of the people with whom they work. The leadership quadrant comprises anything related to influencing people.

Is Your Family Business Too Much Family and Not Enough Business?

A large majority of small business is in fact family business. The classic “Mom & Pop” structure. Mom or Dad get an idea and start a business. As the need for extra help grows, the easy answer is to hire other family members to help you get it going.

Often the thinking behind this involves the sense that you know these people, you can trust them and can rely on their help. But too often that logic fails. Your brother-in-law or nephew might be great guys to go have a beer with, but having them on the payroll can be a disaster.

Pretty soon you are facing too much family and not enough business.

Various Scenarios

I am familiar with several typical situations that introduce family ties to business. Let’s talk about those first, then we can discuss ways to avoid the traps or fix the problems these situations create.

The Husband and Wife Duo

Husbands and wives working together can be tricky at best. With the national divorce statistics telling us 50% of marriages fail, it is not hard to see why at least 50% of businesses started by husbands and wives would fail too.

Even if you are blessed with a ‘good’ marriage, compounding your relationship with the burdens of running a business can be dangerous. If you must partner at work, you have to establish strong role definitions. One needs to defer to the other depending on the areas you’ve declared as responsibility.

My wife and I actually ran such a business at one stage of our career. We did have a great marriage going in. And even though that business is long gone, we still have a great marriage.

When we owned the company we had clearly defined roles. She willingly deferred all executive decisions to me. She on the other hand, ran employee relations, logistics, and basic support functions for the company. While we discussed choices we needed to make, each one knew which area belonged to the other and we never varied from that.

Sibling Rivalries

Too often the family connections are strained when siblings inherit something from Mom or Dad. Multi-generational businesses subject to estate splits can be trouble.

There are also the situations where Dad expects Junior to take over the business, but junior has other plans. If the junior agrees and starts trying to take over the business, Dad can get in the way.

Generational cascades of influence and ownership can muddy the waters.

The Real Rub

Ultimately, there are three key factors to consider when looking at running a business with the family involved. First, there is the business itself. Look at the size and scope of things. What is happening, what’s the purpose?

Then there is the family unit. Who is participating and at what level? Define it then set the boundaries.

Lastly, there is the question of ownership; who owns what? Do you have investors and other outside entities involved? Or are you allowing employees to buy in?

Here’s a diagram to explain.

Every overlapping section should be explored and evaluated. If some of the areas do not apply, ok. But whenever you see an overlap, you have potential for unique and special circumstances that require careful handling.

The Owner’s Mindset

Notable family businesses that have stood the test of time have one thing in common. There is an “Owner’s Mindset.” The ownership frame of reference takes precedence.

In his Harvard Business Review article “What Makes Family Business Last“, writer John A. Davis says “What distinguishes these long-term adapters is their strong Owner’s Mindset among the owners and in their top boards. An Owner’s Mindset recognizes the importance of operational excellence, but insists on being in activities that create value (financial, social, relational, and reputational) according to the key values of the owners.”

You can see how having this mindset above all other competing matters helps guide and direct the business to operate on its own, unencumbered by petty disputes among family members.

Business coach and long-time family business guru, Rich Hall writes this about the pitfalls:

Let’s be honest, many times, family members are hired because they need the job and may not be the most qualified. If it happens too much, the business becomes burdened to the point that it struggles to survive.

Even worse, family issues can and do spread into the daily operations.

  • A child wants to do things their way and the parent (owner) refuses. 
  • Preferential treatment is shown toward family members and their close allies.
  • Special “bonuses” or gifts are provided to family creating financial stress.
  • Cliques are formed.
  • Non-family members are afraid to speak up due to the “Sunday dinner effect”.

Eventually, something must be done.

The Fix

If you must hire family, here are some simple things to consider.

First, define clear job roles, duties and responsibilities. Set clear expectations. In the company I referenced above that my wife and I owned, I did hire my 18 year old son for a time. I told him at work, I was boss and he was an employee. No special treatment. Within a few weeks he showed up late.

I put him on notice. He did it again, I put him on probation. He had 30 days to get it exactly right or he was gone. We never talked about it at home.

He did what he needed to do. He got serious and learned the business. Today, he is an AVP at a Dallas area bank, doing the core things we taught him at our company 13 years ago.

Next, don’t be afraid to let them go. I realize this is a tough one. But if a family member cannot carry their weight, it’s not fair to others who are not related. Some of the most serious employee relation matters you can ever face have to do with nepotism. Don’t lose a great employee because you are tolerating a mediocre family member’s performance.

Then, stay impartial. Make it known there are no favorites at work. If a family member lets other employees think they are getting special treatment, nip that in the bud.

Lastly, think long and hard before hiring a family member in the first place. Let work be work and home be home. Why would you want to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with your worst employee?

If you’ve already dug yourself a big hole here, an outside agent might be the solution. Hiring and interim COO or CEO can help resolve the difficult discussions you might need to have happen. Or hire an advisor to sit on an advisory board to consult on the whole picture. Let them be the reason you want to make some changes.