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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.

Become a Better Leader: 4 Steps to Boost Your E.Q.

understanding eq

Most of us think of a leader as someone with a great deal of education and experience in a certain area. While knowledge and experience are important qualities, one’s ability to communicate and work well with others is just as important to being an effective leader.

A hot topic on the scene these days is Emotional Intelligence or E.Q. While research and numerous studies have proven the concept, understanding how to use it in your leadership toolkit is another story.

Having a high degree of emotional intelligence (E.Q.) allows you to be able to inspire and motivate others to co-operate with you to accomplish a shared objective and vision. There are several ways that you can strengthen your interpersonal skills.

Try these methods to dramatically raise your E.Q. and accomplish more together:

FIRST

Increase your self-awareness. Self-development is the foundation of excellence. Before you can lead and inspire others, you must first understand your own motivations and behavior.

  • Develop your vision by learning to listen to your inner values and dreams. Trust yourself. Try not to compromise your values to achieve a goal or for other temporary gain.
  • Embrace passion by learning to be motivated by your internal compass rather than external forces and situations.
  • Keep your energy fully recharged, so you can give your best effort. You can stay energized by taking the time to learn what activities re-energize you and which ones drain your energy.
  • Respect yourself. Know the limitations of your body, mind, and spirit and strive for balance between your responsibilities in all areas of your life.
  • Become aware of your flaws and limitations. Seek ways to improve yourself and be open to change.

Next

Strengthen your discipline and self-management. Learning to be responsible for your behavior, attitudes, and actions can raise your performance level as well as help you to build trust and authority with others. 

  • Seek the input of others. Ask how you can help them, or what you need to do differently to communicate more effectively and manage them better.
  • Hold yourself accountable for your actions and performance.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities and tasks. Be confident enough in yourself to surround yourself with talented, qualified people.

Then

Develop your social awareness. Be aware of your own attitudes and the power you have to motivate others.

  • Show genuine concern for others and learn how to actively listen. Doing so will create lasting bonds and a strong team that will work with you rather than against you.
  • Give others a reason to support you and your vision. Let others know when they have done a good job and look for ways to openly recognize and reward excellence.
  • Help others to buy into your vision by making them stakeholders in the attainment of your goals. Seek their advice when setting goals and making plans on how you’ll achieve them.
  • Help others to increase their abilities and fully utilize their talents by providing opportunities for training, scholarship, and self-development.

Finally

Emphasize greater relationship management. Learn how to bring out the best in yourself and others. Utilize everyone’s best qualities and minimize their limitations with effective assignment of tasks and delegation of responsibilities.

Regardless of your education or experience, you can achieve greater success by learning how to use your people skills to fully harness the talents and energy of others. These strategies will allow you to increase your E.Q and inspire others to fully enlist in your cause of their own free will.

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.

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.

Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

hire a coach
Hire a Coach

PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

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