Leaders Must Impact the Networks Around Them

Spend any time at a particular company and you will find yourself part of an informal network. This network is above and beyond the boxes on the org chart.

Your ability to build and effectively manage the networks around you might just be the single biggest advantage you might have as a leader.

making the best of networking

Build the right networks and you will have a much easier time executing on your activity.

These networks form for many reasons

These networks spring up for many reasons; some intentional, others not so much.

You might build relationships with certain people based on the responsibilities you have. Because a particular project or work team has a unique set of objectives, you meet and deal with new people across the organization; people who can help you achieve those objectives.

Once your assignment is over, you retain those contacts in one degree or another. Sadly, many very successful relationships wither over time because the common goal has been accomplished and is no longer relevant. Rather than maintaining the working relationship, we merely “move on” to other things.

In popular terminology, we think of this relationship building as “networking”.

Networking is not so new

For many years, whole industries have relied upon networking to grow and expand businesses. Trade associations number in the thousands. Annual conventions are held to allow industry participants to gather and exchange ideas or meet new people. Networking on steroids.

networking huddle group

Professionals rely upon networking outside the company to find new job opportunities.

But knowing when and how to grow a network inside your company can be a challenge.

Neural Networks

The inner workings of a high-value network can be explained by some mind science.

Let’s take a minute to talk about neural networks. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

The principles of neural networking have formed the basis of artificial intelligence and machine learning. See the video link below to hear a basic explanation of neural networking.

The key takeaways here involve two important values. First, there is the value of the “node” or in the case of people, the person with whom you connect.

And there is the value of the connection itself. Think of the significance someone might add to your network if you are connected with them.

In simpler terms, a person might have great knowledge and experience to share, which is helpful. But it will be significantly more important to have them as a connection if their role is also of great value.

Applying the meaning of neural networks.

As you work to build and maintain your networks, think in terms of these two values.

Is the person of value to the effort? Ask yourself can I learn from them?

Is the role of important value? Can I gain from the influence this person might have at work?

Having said this, it all sounds a bit self-serving. But you too must provide value, both with you know and the role you play, in order to be a contributing member of a network.

Leaders learn how to deliver value for others first before asking for something in return. It’s similar to the old schoolyard adage about “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If you want a powerful network at work, become a powerful contributor to others.

A cautionary tale

There is one big caveat here. In addition to building strong, effective networks, you may need to rely on mentoring from those above you in the chain.

Senior leader mentoring younger employee

I’m not sure you specifically “network” with those who have seniority in the organization. You build connections for sure. But you may need some guidance and development from those above you.

While you may have plenty to offer others above you in terms of technical experience and knowledge, there may be more to learn than what you have to offer.

In that case, you need to find the right opportunity to explore the willingness of those more senior to mentor you. No need to fall on a sword about lack of something. Instead, present the idea as something of respect and admiration for their expertise.

Ask if they might be willing to become a mentor. A vast majority of senior grade employees I know love the idea of giving back by mentoring those elsewhere in the organization.

Trust in the Workplace

“My employer” was named by 75% of those surveyed worldwide as the most trusted institution in the recently released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. These findings from the annual report, now in its 19th year, reflect the significance of building and maintaining trust in the workplace.

workplace team in a meeting

As a manager, your role in leading your teams toward higher levels of trust is at a premium.

Modeling Behaviors

One of the most direct approaches to building trust in an organization is for the leader(s) to model the desired behaviors.

You need to be the one embracing and encouraging the shift in behavior if you want trust to grow.

All too often the simple “walk the talk” metaphor is ignored. If you stand up in a team meeting and deliver a beautiful speech about new goals and values, it means nothing if you turn right around and violate those principles.

I’ve seen companies who attempt to implement sweeping culture change yet allow individual executives to stay with old behaviors. The impact is significant.

When employees in lower levels of the organization see or hear about an executive violating the principles, the trust factor goes right out the window.

Setting and Managing Expectations

It’s really about defining and measuring expectations. If you say you want to build a high-trust workplace, then you need to paint the picture for what that might look like at your business.

Not all definitions apply to all companies equally. Yours needs to be tailored to your business.

There are, however, some common themes that can be used to improve your employees level of trust. I provide you with 6 key areas to explore.

Team trust model diagram

Each of the six topics is really a set of questions that each employee will ask. In order for them to feel a sense of trust, each set of questions must have a satisfactory answer.

For the highest level of team trust to emerge, the answer cannot be lukewarm. The employee must get wowed by the answers they receive to their questions.

More importantly, the leader must be able to clearly and reliably speak to each of the areas as they pertain to the team.

This model is an ever-present and on-going continuum of activity as the team evolves. Yet having the process in place to understand the effort toward greater trust, gives everyone a common language from which they can express doubts, fears, and concerns.

Back to Walking the Talk

Once the answers to the team trust questions have been shared, leaders must model their behavior accordingly.

If you say you want collaboration across teams, then be the one to start that process. As issues arise, suggest or direct collaborative effort with other teams.

As you describe team purpose, be proactive in enforcing that purpose with the decisions you make. When something comes up that is not aligned with your team’s purpose, either reject it outright or open the discussion about why it might not be a fit. Let others persuade you to change if a change is needed.

If you are the manager who needs to lead a team to higher levels of trust, look in the mirror. See if you are properly prepared to guide that effort.

If not, seek help in making the changes you need to make. A coach can always help.

Question: Are you modeling the behaviors that might increase trust in your employees?

Leaders – Where Are Your People?

Maslow helps us understand.

This question is not a literal one. You see your people daily. Rather it is a figurative idea.

If you manage and lead any part of a business, you likely have a team surrounding you. Regardless of them being co-workers, direct reports, peers, or superiors, they are fellow human beings.

They come to work, do their jobs, and go home to whatever personal life they have chosen.

During the “time on the clock” though, there is a state of mind that drives all of the potential within your team.

I challenge my coaching clients to become sensitive to this state of mind within their employees and peers.

Maslow’s Way of Saying It

Likely you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is loosely stated as there is a pyramid of human needs that progress from a very basic survival state all the way to enlightenment and self-actualization.

The stages are survival, security, belonging, importance, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow, we cannot operate at a higher level unless the lower levels are satisfied. Starting out with basic needs for food and shelter, you can not self-actualize if you are hungry and afraid.

We progress up the needs chain in the normal order of human existence.

Stephen R. Covey describes the hierarchy in more simple terms; live, love, learn, leave a legacy. Powerful.

Same Thing Happens at Work

I argue that this same principle applies to work. Each person comes to work operating somewhere within the same hierarchy of needs.

The shifts may not be too severe from day to day, but they do happen.

The person who has a big blow-up with their spouse right before leaving for work will approach the day in a different mindset than someone who left home with a warm hug and kisses.

Recently I shared this graphic across all of my social media platforms. I didn’t share any commentary, just the infographic.

Maslow applied to employee engagement

The reaction was widespread, near viral. So I thought we should explore it in more detail.

A person’s position on the hierarchy dictates their ability to engage at work. Plain and simple. As you move up or down the grid, you are either more or less likely to have the willingness to contribute any discretionary effort.

The lower you sit on the scale, the less likely is your voluntary contribution and connection at work. Conversely, the higher up the scale, the more likely you will be to engage and contribute “above and beyond.”

Question: Think about your own path at work. Are there days when you feel less engaged than others?

Consciously or Unconsciously – Live Well

The following is shared by permission from a dear friend, fellow coach, and down-right classy human being, David Norris.

I hope you find this to be of value to you today. David writes:

unconscious conscious

I recently posted this quote on several social media platforms and received a number of requests to translate and explain further.

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all driven to grow. We see a future that we want to live in, and we are either able to intentionally get there, or we cannot.

A major determinant of whether you will get there or not is simply that you actually believe that you can.

We carry around a huge amount of personal baggage from our past experiences that inform our attitudes about the future. In many cases, we develop a sense of learned helplessness that causes us to believe that we will never be able to get the future we want.

Self-Defeating Logic

FOCUS

This self-defeating logic is reinforced by our own inaction toward overcoming this baggage from our past. It becomes a pattern. We get used to not getting what we want. We come to believe that it’s normal and simply the way things are.

Before we can overcome these issues, we have to understand what they are. This is by no means an all-encompassing list of issues that characterize bad past experiences that can prevent you from realizing your own ability to move toward your desired future, but if you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to get to work.

  1. You have historically associated closely with, and strongly feel a part of a group of people who are not finding success in love, life or work.
  2. You have been so focused on simply getting by that you felt like you were unable to actually learn new ways to be better.
  3. You were brought up in a religious tradition or other circumstance that instilled you with strong feelings of guilt and shame but never focused on positive qualities like love, intimacy, vulnerability, and learning.
  4. All of your past relationships have caused tremendous pain and ended badly, leading you to believe that is simply an inherent quality of all relationships.
  5. You have plateaued when pursuing your goals, and you come to believe that you are simply not the kind of person who is capable of achieving the success you want, incapable of understanding why others are able to reach their goals.
  6. You have believed that you are just not trying hard enough when it comes to your goals, and later when you do try to commit stronger to achieving your goals with the same mindset and more effort, you expect things to turn out differently.
  7. You associate change primarily with things turning out badly. Therefore change is scary and something to be avoided. You may not be happy with the way things have been, but they could likely be much worse.

What these dilemmas all have in common is that they use the past as a basis for constructing the future.

They cause us to forget our own talents and abilities, to undermine our own skillfulness and resourcefulness. They squash our ambitions by prioritizing fear over risk and reward.

Universal Experiences

The experiences described above are universal. Every successful person has faced some variation or combination of these scenarios, and yet they have managed to get wherever it is that they were aiming at.

How does that happen? Is it that others simply have greater abilities or possess more potential? No. It is that they have not allowed the past to become a myopic lens for viewing the future. They have distilled experience into wisdom. They have recognized that failure and difficulty are necessary opportunities for stretching our abilities to enable growth.

The essential thing that you must do is to take the lessons you have learned from the past and put those lessons into practice by actually doing something. You will not overcome any one of these by letting the clock run out. There is no way forward in doing nothing.

Try Something Different

If what you have tried in the past has not worked, try something different. We are often drawn to work harder because we are choosing the more familiar path. That path is our default setting. It is often our first idea and the one we feel most comfortable setting forward with.

But growing is not about feeling comfortable, it is about moving forward through the thick grass toward foggy vistas and breaking through all of that to discover new territory.

The future does not live in the past unless you stay stuck where you are. The future is where you are going, not where you have been.

Wake up! Take control and consciously create your own fate. Live by design. Live today well!

Live today well!
David Norris

Breaking Through the Invisible Wall

There is an invisible wall in the business world.

People can spend an entire career and never break through that wall. The wall is not about equal opportunity, hiring practices, promotion or selection. Nor is it about gender or age.

No, this wall is about moving from management to leadership.

the invisible wall from management to leadership

The Entrepreneur’s Conundrum

The easiest way to explain this wall is to start with an entrepreneur. A solo-preneur; the person who thinks he/she has an idea and wants to start a business.

Let’s say our hero (the start-up entrepreneur) gets some funding and launches the business. In no time, the business starts to make sales and grow.

Pretty soon the owner needs to hire some people to help fill all the orders, make more widgets or whatever they are doing. They need more people.

Now they have a team running. The first experience is to manage the process. The owner has to show everyone how to do or make the things you meant to do in the business.

Your idea as the entrepreneur has to get communicated, trained and shared with others to let the business grow.

As the Manager, you track the numbers, bank the revenue, make the deposits and pay for expenses.

Things seem to be going OK. You survived the start-up phase.

New Opportunities

As the business grows, you have to grow with it. More resources, bigger payrolls, larger space, etc.

But the owner seldom thinks about growing their own ability to manage the business. The thinking goes something like this.

“What I did before got us here, I’ll do more of that, and we’ll be fine.”

That works for a little while longer, but the business still keeps growing.

Now it’s become a full-sized enterprise with layers of management, division of teams for specialized skills, and other expanding roles.

The Thirst for Leadership

Somewhere in between that expansion phase and the enterprise phase, the invisible wall takes shape. As the company grows, so does the wall.

What used to be decent management starts to have problems. The old ways to push people and materials don’t work anymore.

It’s not the people or the business, it’s the owner’s capacity to lead that is crumbling.

This new entity that is the company is hungry for leadership. Not more management; bona fide leadership.

Leadership has to step in and take over.

As Monte Pendleton, Silver Fox Advisor, and founding member states “There is no particular time table for these stages. But the ending of Stage 1 usually becomes apparent when the requisite managerial skills begin to change. The very personality, skills, and capabilities that allowed you to succeed as a Stage 1 entrepreneur or start-up owner/operator, now become detrimental to you in the latter stages.”

When the wall becomes apparent, you have some choices to consider.

First, you could decide to quit growing; stay the size you are, and keep doing the same things.

Or, you can choose to modify your management style and press on toward the next phase. Hire a coach or an advisor to guide you through the changes needed to break through the wall.

Lastly, you might choose to replace yourself with someone who has better leadership skills and experience, allowing you to revert to the core talent and gifts/specialties you started with.

If all else fails, sell the business at its then market value and go fishing. (I digress).

Bigger Enterprise

I dedicate my coaching practice to owners and executives who are right at the wall.

There are senior managers everywhere who still need to embrace the reality of the presence of the wall.

Believe it or not, a wall always exists between the stage of the business unit you run and your ability to lead.

a group of young people working in the office

I’ve said it many times before, a good manager can have a long and successful career never being more than a manager. Turn the screws, meet the deadlines, ship those deliverables and do it through strong management skills; these can be a nice career.

However, for the good of the growth of the enterprise, you need to become a leader. If you already know something about leadership, be a better leader.

Monte states “Leadership is the ability to cause others to take action even when the action is outside their comfort zone.”

Dave Guerra in his book “Superperforming” says “Management is about process and leadership is about people.”

I love that explanation. So true.

Think about your situation right now. It doesn’t matter whether you own the business or run a large team/division inside one. Ask yourself, “where is my wall?”

Question: Have you broken through the wall, realizing the need for leadership over management?

To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

This article was originally published on April 2, 2018 and has been updated.

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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We’ve All Been Ambushed at Work

bad email news picture

Let’s face it, it’s no fun when you get ambushed at work. Being trapped by surprise can come in several forms. A co-worker can steal the credit for something you did. Or a peer can undermine something you’ve been slaving away to make perfect.

The one I hate the most is when the boss does it. You know what I mean. You’re working along thinking things are going well. Maybe the boss even said something publicly about how happy they were with your effort.

Then BAM! You get pounced on. When you least expect it, you get an email saying you screwed something up or missed some deadline; basically failing on expectations.

Even more problematic is getting that email while you’re away on a planned (and approved) vacation. The email hints your absence is part of the problem. GEEZ people !!!!!

The employee is not the problem

Dealing with your co-workers is tough enough, but when the boss ambushes you, what are you supposed to do?

I’m convinced most employees start out with the intent to do a good job. Sure there are a few bad eggs who slip around, job hopping, doing very little, but thankfully they are in the minority.

Most workers try to do the right thing. So a boss who feels the need to ambush must be the one who is in the wrong. Generally, the employee is not a problem.

I read an article Gary Vaynerchuk posted saying poor performance is all on the manager. I like that idea. Here’s exactly what he said:

“Here are three steps to managing underperforming employees: 1. Take the blame yourself. 2. Start to communicate better. 3. Tell them they’re not executing at the level you’re hoping for. Then ask, “what can I do to help?” Then actually start helping.”

Bosses who are frustrated with perceived performance problems and feel the need to barf on someone’s parade, especially at weird times, must be harboring some ill feelings.

Great leaders provide adequate AND timely feedback to their team. Feedback should never be a toxic dose of bad news.

If things need the leader’s corrective action, he/she should give proper feedback and restate expectations. Yet hiding behind an email to deliver the message is a weak way to do so.

Woman getting bad email from her boss

What to do

If you are the leaders here are a few thoughts and recommendations to avoid ambushing your people.

First, find ways to share feedback in the right way. Give the employee the respect to tell them “bad news” face-to-face. I know with larger, perhaps global teams, the personal face time is hard. However, in those situations, video capabilities can afford each party the next best thing to face-to-face. Oh and never use email unless it is a last resort.

Think about the timing. I know you have a burning desire to fix things, but decide whether the fix is critical at just that moment. I like three questions I’ve coached for a long time:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Be objective about whatever the issue may be. Stephen R. Covey called it “seek first to understand.” Don’t pose the issue as a condemnation of behavior or results. Perhaps your source of information has slanted the matter. Present the details as observations, not final facts. (Hint: You will get embarrassed.)

Lastly, be graceful in your approach. Again, I believe most employees are there to do the right thing. Unless that employee is a proven screw-up, don’t assume the worst. Believe the best and work through the issues gracefully.

Using these steps you can avoid the hated ambush of your people at work.

Some People Are Just Haters

Angry person blowing steam

The life of a manager/business leader certainly has its benefits, but there are downsides to being a leader too. Not long ago, I received an email from someone who had served on a large project with me. Their recall of my leadership role was, let’s say, “less than flattering.”

The project in question was a large one. We started with a team of 457 professionals and grew it to over 700 before the project ended. I was the lead executive running the show.

The effort called for organizing 9 different work teams, handling 9 distinctly different focus topics and work plans. In the middle of it was a just-in-time software development project. That alone would have been a big enough challenge all by itself.

The work was spread coast to coast in 4 large work centers. To say we had occasional personnel problems would be an understatement.

My duty to lead and manage this group was a really big challenge. Thankfully, I had a close, but effective support staff with me. My deputy, second in command, became my traveling problem solver.

Back to the Email Message

This blog is about leadership. I share experience and learning from 30+ years in the trenches, on the front lines. So, yes, I try to be some type of sherpa.

The person who wrote me the email actually said I was a hypocrite for writing about management and leadership becasue he had a very clear recall of my role there.

He went on to call me one of those “stiffs” who sat in the glass offices and didn’t come out much. While some may say I fell short in a few areas during that project, getting out and around to the work teams was not one of the failings. In fact, my support crew saw me early in the morning then seldom saw me until late in the day.

Keeping on the Move

Why? Because I was moving from team to team, meeting to meeting, or training to training, dealing directly with the teams and their unit managers. I was as much cheerleader for the vision of the project as I was operator and executive.

Teamwork graphic

Frankly, I am proud of the project and the team we recruited. I met some amazing professionals who worked tirelessly to accomplish our goals, all under a tight time clock of deadlines and deliverables. The fact that some who were present either didn’t see it this way or have their own different opinions are just reality.

I am a Realist

If I’ve learned much of anything in my years as an executive, I’ve learned you have to be real about people’s expectations. You will never win them all. I am convinced that if you recruit three people to be on the same team, you will find one negative Ned or Nelly. Heck, this can even happen just hiring two people.

The Challenge as a Leader is Threefold

First, you must do the best you can at recruiting and selecting people for your team. For a small business, this can be the most difficult challenge an owner undertakes. It is certainly true in big business too. You will not win them all here either, but you can do things to make better selections through detailed screening, background checks, and by giving practical tests to applicants.

If you have specific skills you need to be performed, you have to test for those skills. The “soft stuff” like customer service can be a bigger challenge. After all, people have learned how to ace interviews and smile pretty. Yet, once they land, you can only wait to see whether they fit correctly into your roles and execute on the duties?

Equip to Win

Next, you must equip them to win. As a leader, you must impart the best information you can provide to help them understand the job, the requirements, and winning factors that work for the specific need you have them fill. That is on you as the leader to provide this understanding.

As soon as an employee demonstrates an unwillingness to embrace the framework and perform against the standards, you need to begin remediation actions. Whether that is retraining, reassignment, relocation, or removal, the manager must move swiftly to eliminate the lingering impact of an underachiever.

Lastly, there will still be those who hate your leadership. Regardless how much you work to win the hearts and minds of your team, you will have some who don’t get it. No leader anywhere should expect of themselves the ability to win everyone over. There are just enough personalities in this world to occasionally find the ones who won’t mesh well.

I like to say it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different. When you identify the difference, you have to accept it for what it is.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

On occasion when you get some really negative feedback from a former employee (or current one), take it with a  grain of salt. They pay you the proverbial big bucks to have the thick skin to take it.

Let the haters hate – It’s what they do.

Thoughtful person

If there is substance in the feedback, embrace it. Use the input to improve your leadership skills. However, when you know you gave it your best shot, proven by the feedback from those who mattered at the time (your client, your boss, and the team around you) forget about the Hater. Haters will hate. That’s what they do.

Be bold. Be strong. Don’t let one loud voice drown out your ability to make a difference for everyone else.

Oh, by the way. After over 30 years managing and directing thousands and a current day social media following of over 100,000, I’ve gotten two such letters in five years.

Not bad. Not bad at all. (President Whitmore –  Independence Day)

Leadership Lessons Learned in the Trenches

team leadership

In my consulting days, I used to manage teams of people who were contractors, assembled for specific projects, then released once the project was over. These talented people were “gig workers” before that was a thing.

The projects were often high intensity with very little cushion on the deadlines. As manager of these teams, I saw a lot of examples of hard work and true grit under pressure. The work required me to be a nimble manager with the ability to think on my feet.

The experiences in the field often served to remind me of business leadership principles I learned a long time ago, but have to revisit frequently if I choose to keep them fresh and effective.

Guiding Principles

Throughout my project assignments, my ‘master list’ of guiding principles was tested on several occasions. I wanted to share with you my thoughts and remind other leaders about the importance of staying centered on these valuable principles. Here they are.

If you claim to be a servant leader, have empathy and sympathy

On one assignment I ran into a team of folks who were new to me, but who had worked together for years before I arrived. They had just been informed that their workplace was undergoing a somewhat hostile takeover; hostile from the circumstances that caused the life-changing events.

Former management had been caught doing very wrong things. My team was to serve as interim managers to ‘right the ship’ so to speak.

I needed the full cooperation and dedication from the staff left behind. I was immediately reminded of the need to empathize by placing myself mentally and emotionally in their shoes.

I needed to sympathize with the things I was hearing. The old phrase came to mind, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Make the tough calls

I had to quickly start assessing the situation around me, digest facts and data, then make some quick decisions. I couldn’t wait on more data. That was not an option.

Knowing what I needed to know was important, but more critical was the willingness to take the intelligence/information I was being given and then make a decision.

business leader

Difficult people need to be corralled and managed

The impact of a ‘difficult’ personality in the workplace can have tremendous ripple effects.

On this project, the client stationed a senior manager with whom I was tasked to work. He proved to be a very difficult personality.

Fortunately, I was able to get a read on him early on in the project, identify the issues, and make plans for managing across the work team to minimize the influence of the more negative things that he occasionally dumped.

On one particularly challenging day, this individual had spewed a lot of venom across the office; foul language, abusive comments. When he went home, I gathered my troops for a sit-down meeting. I told them simply that “I, as their team leader, wanted to apologize to them on his behalf. The things said and done that day were not appropriate among professionals. I told them I hoped they could see that for what it was and not be deterred in their dedication to the mission by having endured this day.”

Rely on your team

Make team projects a true team event by admitting your own shortcomings and use the skills and abilities the team can bring. Do not ever act so big and proud that you have to know it all. People don’t like ‘that guy’.

Accountable

Inspire people by identifying their strong suits early, and then create applicable opportunities where the use of those individual skills can shine.

Also, share among the team who is doing what and how important the outcome can be. Spread the wealth evenly. Consider this as “know your people”. People respond very well when they know their self-worth is being used appropriately for key contributions to the effort.

Have a little fun

Every day does not have to be all starched and polished. Let your own hair down a little and find opportunities for a little innocent fun. Let the people’s personalities shine too.

By creating an environment for a little friendly banter among the crew, you can keep spirits light and fresh. But watch out for off color jokes and comments or anything that starts to sound cutting or personal. Keep it light. Help make people want to come back to work.

place a call

Maintain your own personal integrity

There are many ways to do this, but chief among them is making and keeping promises. Communicating clearly, openly, and fairly whenever possible.

Of course managers sometimes have to hold things close to the vest. But as soon as you can share with your team, do so.

CONCLUSION

Leaders must be clear on a set of guiding principles that fit their style and belief system. I hope my list helps you. Please comment below on these topics and share others you have used.

Leaders: Do You Have a YES Face?

Yes face picture

There is a story about Thomas Jefferson when he was President. He and a group of close advisors rode horseback across the countryside. They came upon a river swollen by recent rains.

On the bank was a man without a horse. He gazed at the river not knowing how he would get across. One by one the men on horseback started across. Each making it to the other side.

Finally, it was Jefferson’s turn. The man asked if he could jump on with Jefferson and ride across. Jefferson obliged.

Once everyone was across, one of the other riders asked the man why he chose Jefferson; asking if he knew Jefferson was the President.

The man said, “President? I didn’t know that. I just knew his face said YES while all you other guys’ face said NO.”

If you’re in a leadership position, do you have a YES face?

Think About It

Think about the times a senior executive presented a new plan or a new vision but had a stern, perhaps sour face; a NO face. How hard was it to believe in the plan?

Look at the picture below. Which people could you relate to the best?

Photo courtesy Unsplash.com

Executive leaders need to think about their face when they make announcements, hold discussions, and conduct meetings. The look you have says much more than the words you speak.

Tell Your Face

I had a coaching client who was sharing with me the great excitement of the new job he just got promoted into. He was gushing about the team and the opportunity. He was assuring me he had great admiration for the people and the purpose. Yet he shared this whole story with a stoic face; no grin, no emotion, just power words about the positive aspects of the opportunity.

When he was finished talking, I asked if he really believed all the things he just told me. He assured me YES!

I said, “Then tell your face.” He was stunned. He wasn’t sure what I meant. I explained.

His content was positive, but his context was wrong. The look on his face lied about the message.

Think about this the next time you need to talk with your team or your crew. Get your face in line with the message.

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If this makes sense, leave a comment. Tell us about a time when you had to get your “Yes face” on.