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Understanding the New Normal for Leadership

For too many decades, the word leadership meant a title and a box on an org chart somewhere. Yes, there were people who truly understood leadership and exercised it effectively, but big business managers failed, for the most part, to operate with true leadership principles.

Before we move on, remember one thing – leading is about cultivating leadership within others, not just getting them to follow your lead. So, if you’re in it to tell people what to do, you’re missing the whole point.

COVID-19 brought everyone back to the ground and humanized leaders, forcing them to embrace vulnerability. No matter how powerful you are, you’re not invincible so, it’s okay to share with your team what you’re struggling with, ask for help, and be more open in your communication. Do that, and they will follow suit and collaborate to work more effectively and efficiently. We have a new normal for leadership.

Having endured the pandemic’s impacts, people have started re-evaluating their lives; the time they spend in different ways, and who they want to spend that precious time with. We have shifted from seeking work-life balance where things get juggled to accommodate one for the other. Rather we are driving to work-life harmony where everything operates as a whole.

That, in and of itself, is a radical challenge for leaders. The authority that may have come from your position fundamentally doesn’t matter anymore. Your power to hire and fire is no longer a threat to the newly empowered employee who has made a decision to be a different kind of employee. The decisions are about living life as a whole, not a segmented daily grind of commuting from home to work and back again.

Data from the pandemic shows business productivity, in general, went up, not down as a result of remote working. While some managers cringe at the effort it took to manage a remote team, the employees, for the most part, embraced the responsibility and thrived.

For all practical purposes, we have already returned to an equilibrium of the employment bell curve. In that way of thinking, we have some workers, maybe five to ten percent, who consistently excel vs the few who are tough to manage. And there is a large headcount in the middle who can reliably produce their work without too much management attention one way or the other.

In the Meantime

In the meantime, the expectation of leaders has shifted to be more ‘human’ for lack of a better word. Here are five ways that show up:

BE OPEN AND VULNERABLE
The modern workforce wants open-door policies with a fully accessible human sitting inside. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy, creating a crash course on modern leadership styles and forcing leaders to change how they navigate their operations. Self-disclosure, compassion, and consideration were terms almost unheard of in the corporate world. However, now, they’re the guiding principles of this emerging leadership trend.

FOSTER AN ENVIRONMENT OF LEADERSHIP
Being a leader is not necessarily about controlling everything. It’s also about delegating and assigning control, autonomy, or authority to others. To be successful, you’ll need the services and loyalty of others. Therefore, you’ll need to recruit members from your team to ensure you get where your organization needs to go.

Every organization has front-line soldiers ready to fight for them, and as an authentic leader, you need to scout, train, and nourish them in light of your culture. So, they have the attitude to do the same in the future. Elite teams have leaders at every organizational level whose job is not to serve as authoritative figures but to influence and inspire people into improving their productivity.

These leaders in the ranks are those fellow employees who always “have your back.” And everyone knows it. A leader at the top has to identify and nurture the others who can fill these unofficial roles.

BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK
Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you know everything. Therefore, you need to be open to feedback and accept the fact that your team can offer valuable insight and solve complex problems. A great leader will never be afraid to ask their team to evaluate their performance so they can grow further.

I coach my leaders to invite routine feedback about key areas they have individually chosen to strengthen in their own leadership toolkit. An example is to decide to be a more empathetic listener. Invite your team to give feedback when they feel you are not listening.

BE A RENAISSANCE MAN FOR YOUR TEAM
Great leaders are servants whose job is to facilitate their teams with everything they need to carry out their tasks, innovate, and transform. As a renaissance man, your job is to possess surface intelligence in different subject matters and steer the ship while your team focuses on their specific roles.

Knowing the scope of your work as well as the organization around you can help paint a bigger picture for your team to embrace. Sharing that picture in team meetings will give your team something to get excited about.

GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
The best way to lead is to lead from the front and not just give directions from the sidelines. For example, instead of sending your marketing team to local outlets for product promotion, you can accompany them and lead from the ground. Not only does this boost the overall team morale, but it also improves your brand reputation as your target audience sees a grounded individual, not a boss calling the shots from the 30th floor.

One caveat here. If your team is already highly motivated and experienced, you might be able to lead from the back, allowing them to run free within your prescribed boundaries.

SUMMARY

If you are in a management role and have not yet opened the door to leadership theory, now may be the best time to start. If you have already begun a leadership journey, you know that growth along the way involves new study, coaching, mentoring, and self-evaluation on a regular basis.

I like to say leadership is not a destination but a journey. There is always room to grow.

What Are You Waiting For?

waiting

There comes a time in life when you’ve done all the thinking, study, analysis, and planning you can do. You reach a decision point. Then it happens. You freeze. You cannot go forward. You’re stuck.

The question is then, what are you waiting for? What is it that holds you back, makes you balk? How can you make the call?

Leadership is about being able to avoid waiting. Making decisions is the big “so what” about being a leader. As the leader, your team is waiting for you to decide. Which way are we going, if at all? When? How?

While your ability to decide can make the difference, the timing of the decision is just as important.

First a story

I’ve often told the story of my banking experience during the implementation of ATM machines. The machines were new, unproven technology. Analysts agreed this was the next big thing. My bank had not yet entered the fight. The competition was running fast to adopt the technology.

We held a big executive summit with our senior leadership team. Case studies were prepared and presented. Our chairman and CEO, Ben Love, absorbed all of the information as only he could do. Then in the blink of an eye, he said “No, we’re going to wait this out. Let’s let the other guys get the arrows in their back.”

His analogy of course meant that pioneers were the ones who suffered the most when exploring new territory. We waited for a period, something like 18–24 months. Then we entered the market.

Not only did we avoid the high cost of early adoption failures (and there were many), but we dominated the space. We helped form the Pulse network which was the early version of the utility service that allowed all the machines to talk to each other and exchange transaction data. There was a cost to be on the network, a fee we profited from for quite some time.

In this case, Ben’s waiting was prudent, wise, and ultimately very profitable. However, too often the wait is a fail all its own.

The flip side

In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership to Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room.

We all know what happened next. Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 and Netflix is now a $28 billion-dollar company, about ten times what Blockbuster was worth. Today, Hastings is widely hailed as a genius, and Antioco is considered a fool. Yet that is far too unfair an explanation.

Antioco was, in fact, a very competent executive — many considered him a retail genius — with a long history of success. Yet for all his operational acumen, he failed to see that market forces were moving in a new direction.

Let’s make it personal

Waiting

Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of business case studies where CEOs failed to make the right call. But this issue is more personal.

Each of us with any leadership duty at all, whether at work, at home, or in the community, face the challenge to make decisions on behalf of our tribe.

When we freeze in place, we jeopardize everything we may have been working on. Here are three main reasons we wait before making the decision. And a little something to do about each one.

Fear

Fear is the obvious and easy answer to why we wait. When faced with an unknown about the future we have fear. As the reality settles in that our decision may have big consequences, fear rises up.

Fear can be overcome by determination. When I sense fear about making a decision, I look first at those who rely on me. I ask the question, will they be better off moving forward or staying stuck where we are.

If the consequences of my decision will not directly harm my tribe, I can move ahead with more determination.

Confidence

Confidence, or lack thereof, is a distant relative of fear. Building confidence as a leader is one of the most common expressions of concern I hear from my coaching clients. Lack of confidence causes us to wait.

There is not a good executive out there who hasn’t felt a little doubt from time to time, tugging at their confidence. Prior success only goes so far in helping to make new decisions with confidence. Yet building momentum as a leader can do more for confidence than anything else I know.

High achievers seldom celebrate wins in the day. Beating a deadline, making a delivery, and executing a difficult task, are all examples of wins you can and should be celebrating in your own way. I’m not talking about becoming arrogant. Rather I am talking about realizing the momentum that might be building on your team.

Celebrate that. Let it help build your confidence as a leader.

Procrastination

Yes, just old-fashioned procrastination can cause us to wait. Ironically, people with tendencies toward perfectionism are the biggest procrastinators I know.

The logic goes like this. I need this to be perfect, so I’ll wait for the right time, resources, or events to align so that the outcome will be perfect.

Perfect is the enemy of good. ~Voltaire

You don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. Success comes from action. Feel the urge to wait because of trying to be perfect? Decide first what good can look like. Then do it.

Question: What are you waiting for?

Four Stages of Effective Communication for Managers

Managers face a constant struggle to improve communication within their work teams. Besides being able to accurately articulate any technical aspects about the work (every industry has its key phrases, terms, and buzz words), business leaders have to be ever-mindful of some very basic principles of effective communication.

We usually think about communication as a two part/two person transaction. You speak, I speak, we hear and we act. This is the way most adults perceive the process of communication. When we need to talk to our teams, we usually just think about crafting a message as though it is being addressed to one person.

Courtesy 123rf.com / MyMakeOU
Courtesy 123rf.com / MyMakeOU

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Don’t Be a Squirrel When It Comes to Decision Making

Where I live we have a large population of squirrels. These are ferril critters who run, jump, dig in flower beds, and swing in the trees. Sadly, when you drive thru the neighborhoods, it is not uncommon to find dead squirrels on the road. Why?

Well, if you watch one of the spunky guys run in front of your car, you’ll see them start out, stop, turn around, re-evaluate the situation, then maybe do it all over again. Left, right? Up, down? Should I go or should I stay? They may go forward or they might put it in reverse.

They can’t seem to make up their mind about which way to go. The hesitation inevitably leads to their demise.

In most cases, had they run straight across at full speed, they would have made the transition with no problem. Yet by delaying, and second-guessing the choice, they end up making a fatal one.

Leaders can’t be squirrel-minded when making decisions.

WAIT!!!!!!!!!

The Right Framework

Now, this may sound a bit harsh, yet I see it happen in business in so many ways. Peter Drucker wrote in 1967 about six essential elements or steps that should be a part of making good decisions. Here are those six steps.

First, classify the problem. Is it generic? Is it exceptional and unique? Or is it the first manifestation of a new genus for which a rule has yet to be developed?

Next, define the problem. What are we dealing with?

Then specify the answer to the problem. What are the “boundary conditions”?

Further, decide what is “right,” rather than what is acceptable, in order to meet the boundary conditions.. What will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable?

Plus, build into the decision the action to carry it out. What does the action commitment have to be? Who has to know about it?

Finally, test the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events. How is the decision being carried out? Are the assumptions on which it is based appropriate or obsolete?

Using this simple, six-step framework can guide you to making better decisions. While doing these, be mindful of personality derailers that can undermine your own view of things.

Beware of Derailers

Avoid procrastination – action is required. You can analyze and think all you want to, but action is necessary.

Temper a tendency toward Perfectionism – perfection is the enemy of good. Too many new opportunities have been lost while gathering “more data” to land on the ‘best’ decision.

Don’t second guess – use your experience and the wisdom of those around you to craft the decision.

Be bold – good leaders are willing to stand up for what they believe is right. Deciding the next right thing is what people are expecting.

Using Drucker’s framework and avoiding the derailers can set you on the path toward solid, reliable decisions that won’t leave you stuck (figuratively) in the path of an oncoming car, like our squirrel friends.

If you need help with your decision-making process, why not talk to a coach? I’ve been helping business leaders improve their leadership effectiveness for the past 12 years. I’d be happy to meet you and talk through things with you.

PS – If you’re looking for some lighthearted viewing pleasure, check out Mark Rober’s Squirrel Maze video on Youtube. There’s a sequel too.

YouTube player

SWOT Yourself

swot analysis

There’s a popular business analysis tool known as S.W.O.T. It provides a method for looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

SWOT reviews are done for business issues of all kinds like competition, market position, product design, sales, and technology. As applied to a business, you can see the merit of doing this review periodically.

SWOT

However, it can be useful on a personal level as well. Managers and leaders should take time during annual reviews and goal setting to add this powerful view as well. Here’s how it can work.

Personal Review Using SWOT

A plan of action using a Personal SWOT Analysis can be developed for every aspect of development and execution because there are always three critical components in every chosen role you may serve. Whether you are husband, wife, father, mother, community leader, volunteer or other, you can SWOT your contribution to that effort.

Why? Because every role we serve has three key components.

Identity, Purpose, and Intention.

These three components form a process of right action. Without understanding who you are or what your business or organizational core competence is and what is the purpose you intend, you are always going to be guessing more than you have to.

In the following analysis, you are taken step by step through a proven process of creating clarity of the right action.

However, to do so we have to begin with a simple way of fleshing out the context within which you intend to work. It doesn’t matter what context or role you choose, each of them requires you to be clear.

In order to reach clarity we take some simple, yet critically important steps. The first steps begin with a SWOT Analysis.

You will focus on the following overriding questions:

  • Do you know your personal purpose?
  • What are your goals or objectives?
  • What are your values?
  • HOW Can YOU match your STRENGTHS to OPPORTUNITIES/Openings?
  • How can you reduce the impact of your WEAKNESSES and THREATS?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

Strengths

Trying to analyze one’s own strengths can be tricky. Throughout all of my coaching, I seldom see anyone who gets this exactly right the first time. Some might be modest and undervalue great strength in areas like collaboration, employee empowerment, decision making, or planning.

Others can be more boastful, seeming to know without a doubt they are great leaders who people should feel honored to serve; “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

Entrepreneurs can be especially blinded by the emotional connection to their idea. While the great new product or service has great potential, the business will fail because the founder doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.

Before isolating your own estimation of your strengths, seek some 360 feedback. Get input from others you value as trusted advisors. Do an informal ask session.

Then compile a list of the strengths that you can use to accomplish your goals and objectives.

Weaknesses

Just like your strengths, identifying “weaknesses” in your personal domain can be hard. Objectivity can be lacking. You may even be suffering blindspots where your weaknesses reside. Using 360 reviews and stakeholder feedback can help inform you of areas where there is an opportunity for improvement.

However, you may know exactly what areas or what issues give you the most trouble. Stating what these may be will help round out the SWOT analysis.

Opportunities

These are the things you can see as a new direction; changes that allow you to reach new goals. Taking a good look at the road in front of you can reveal opportunities for growth and change.

Listing them while doing this personal inventory helps bring motivation and inspiration to the plan.

Threats

Making a good assessment of personal threats is also tricky. I recommend starting with your mindset.

Do you hold any limiting thoughts about who you are and what you can do?

If you ever wondered about a limiting thought, they sound like this:

  • I’m too small
  • I’m too slow
  • I’m too ugly
  • I don’t have the right degree.
  • You failed at this the last time.

Any statement rumbling in your head that starts with or sounds like these needs to be eliminated first. Then you can deal with identifying true threats to your personal goals.

Performing a Periodic Personal Review

Just as every successful business invests time to perform SWOT analysis from time to time, you too should perform this review with your work life, home life, and career balance.

See what the data may tell you about the direction you are heading. Use the informed analysis to redirect your path, redefine goals, and set a new course.

Have a great and prosperous New Year!

If you want to know more about the ways I can help you or your business, click the button below.

Leaders Getting It Right

team manager talking to team

Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a manager guide his team through a very successful series of events and opportunities. The way he has mastered the leadership of his interesting group has just been amazing to me. I’ve watched them overcome great obstacles, some uncertainty, and definite challenges to create what you might call an undefeated season.

There were times when the outcome was very much in doubt but through some very obvious and intentional moves that this manager made, the team was able to rally and achieve great success.

I started looking back on the things that made this particular manager’s effort different. And it occurred to me that he has been a very effective model of some fundamental principles that leaders at all levels, in all kinds of organizations should be following.

Knowing the Fundamentals

It will be helpful to list some of these fundamentals. You can use them as your own gauge or checklist to see if you are also using these things to steer your team toward greater success and higher performance.

The first thing I observed in this manager’s skill set was a distinct ability to carefully evaluate each member of his team. He watched for key talents. He identified gaps. You might call them the weaknesses that each person demonstrated. From this careful analysis, he crafted the structure of his team. He carefully deployed each individual into a key role that set the individual up for success while establishing a firm foundation from which the whole team would operate.

He performed a good effective analysis of situations that were occurring around them. As circumstances changed, he would adjust the assignments that were given to each team member. He was leveraging the best skill at the best time. Sometimes there were team members that really didn’t have a task. They were sitting out so to speak.

Yet the circumstances were ever-changing therefore every teammate got the opportunity to perform. As situations changed, this manager had the foresight to allow team members who needed to develop new skills to get into a situation that would give them the opportunity to experience actual effort and impact while they were working on developing their skills.

The manager seemed willing to freely delegate authority and responsibility. Team members were allowed to make real-time decisions about responses they felt were appropriate in the moment. If that transaction turned out to be wrong, the manager did not get upset about it.

Rather he talked to the individual about what they did, how they did it, and what another choice could have been. If circumstances got too severe, this manager was quick to adjust the deployment so that the lesser performing personnel were not left dangling and exposed to possible failure.

He did create a system of accountability. Team members were held accountable for the actions coming their way and their response at the moment.

When each big moment came and went this manager would have a huddle with the whole team. He would talk through the elements of what had just happened. He would reinforce his vision of what they needed to be doing. Plus he would answer questions about the work effort.

He achieved great success without ever spending one moment of overtime. He never asked the team to commit unreasonable time to the effort. Instead, he saw to it that every moment they were together was spent with valuable instruction, positive reinforcement, and solid coaching.

One additional aspect of this manager’s great success was his seeming ability to stay several steps ahead of the game. He never seemed surprised by the circumstances that unfolded. He was calm in the face of tension. He was positive when disagreements happened. And he himself demonstrated high professionalism, great integrity, and solid vision.

Lastly, and by no means the least, he built an atmosphere of fun not work. He saw to it that every member of the team was having fun doing what they were there to do. He played music when there was a break. He told good, clean stories that people could laugh at.

So What?

All of the elements listed above make up attributes that leaders need to be pursuing for the benefit of growing a high-performing team. If you have not thought about some of these aspects you should be looking at your own view of your responsibility as a leader and determine whether or not you can make these kinds of changes with your team.

By the way, I watched leaders in other organizations go through this same period of time with far less success. As I observed those managers what I saw was a lack of understanding of the talent they had in their team. There was no apparent effort to create a roster of talent that could be used in applicable moments to maximize the outcome of every opportunity. Rather they seem to be simply passing the time trying to get through each challenge the best way they knew how. Some days they won some days they lost.

However, the manager I’m speaking about at this point in time is what you could call undefeated. He has a perfect win-loss record. His team enjoys the work they do. They seem to enjoy working with each other. And they are always ready to take on a new challenge.

If this is something you are interested in learning more about I would be happy to schedule a call with you to explore what is going on with your team in ways that you can be this kind of leader.

Oh by the way I failed to mention something. The manager I’m talking about is the coach of my 9-year-old grandson’s Little League team. Yes, they are undefeated going into the playoffs as the top seed in the tournament.

Author’s Note – Several days after this article first ran, the Rockies swept the league playoffs and won the tournament championship, making them a perfect 17-0 for the season.

The principles I described above work as well in any business as they do at the ballpark with young men and women (they had a girl on the team too! – just sayin…).

For more insights and routine tips on leadership, listen to the podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”

Ever Hear of the Tall Poppy Syndrome?

tall poppy

The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is something that has been spoken of for centuries. The picture is of a field of poppies. As you look out, there will be a few poppies growing inches above the others.

In society, we have tall poppies sprout up in every generation. These are the innovators, the visionaries, and the leaders who take big risks. Currently, think of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Formerly it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Individual industries have tall poppies too.

Enter the Cutter

Yet for all the disruption and success a tall poppy leader may build, there is an undercurrent. There are forces wanting to cut down the tall poppy. For ease of discussion, let’s call these forces the “cutters.”

When you dive deep into the story of a specific tall poppy there will always be cutters who appear. The cutter cannot condone the seeming success of the tall poppy, so they cause distractions, challenges, and outright accusations of wrongdoing so that the poppy is undermined.

Cutters are often driven by fear of change. They may not understand the direction the tall poppy is going so they doubt the vision. They begin working hard to be sure the plan fails. The more the tall poppy leader tries to explain the direction, the more the cutter digs in to cause a failure.

I’d venture a guess that if you are reading this and can identify a moment in your leadership journey where you became the tall poppy, you likely had cutters surprise you. Someone you thought was a peer and friend changes once you got that next promotion. Or a neighbor who you enjoyed spending time with suddenly turns on you when you describe a newfound success with your business.

What Can Leaders Do?

If you assert yourself into a significant role and become the tall poppy, beware of TPS. Cutters will emerge. It always happens. There is something in the human psyche that just snaps. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen with everyone, but it does happen with some.

As said above, cutters often operate from fear. Fear of change, fear of being left behind, or fear of being overcome and shut out in the end. Leaders need to identify those who may be showing signs of fear or pushback. Explore the situation. Ask good questions so the person who may be showing the objections can express their doubts.

Let the Haters Hate

Diving straight to the bottom line, I use a blunt but meaningful phrase; let the haters hate. If you stand into a leadership role, there will always be cutters; those who want you to fail. You have to let them do whatever they choose to do. Good leaders stand by their vision, convictions, and values. If those are solid, you can’t worry about the people who want to undermine your effort. Deal with it with grace, patience, and resolve. Let the rest know you are not wavering.

Attribution

I was introduced to this TPS concept by Doug Garland, M.D., a retired orthopedic surgeon from California. You can read more about him here www.DougGarland.com. He will be a guest on my podcast in the coming weeks.

podcast title page

You’re On Mute

It’s a familiar phrase that has rapidly risen to the top of our vocabulary while we attempt to engage and conduct business remotely. Zoom, Teams, Google Spaces, and Slack have risen to the top of the heap for connecting these days.

Yet often as the session opens up, someone has that little red “X” showing the mic off. They start talking. All others see are lips moving but no sound. People start yelling “You’re on mute” like the volume of their message can get thru the silence. It’s comical but ever-present.

I was thinking about this idea and landed on a few deeper thoughts we should consider.

“You’re on mute” can mean several other things in our fast-paced, all too busy world of commerce.

Cancel Culture

The emergence of cancel culture has placed many on mute. Not by their own action but by the action of others declaring a person should no longer be listened to. I don’t know how that happened, what with the freedom of speech and all, but it has.

I agree there has been a shift in the freedom people feel entitled to use to say just about anything., Perhaps it is true that the rise of social media is not really all that social. Users blast opinions and beliefs without regard to who might be listening.

Call me old school, but just because you have the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. With freedom comes responsibility, or at least that’s what I was taught many years ago.

The Boss’s Role

Anyone in management should take a serious look at their mindset about who, when, and how team members should be heard. Placing a “you’re on mute” button on every worker’s desk implies “I don’t trust you” or worse yet, “you’re not valued here.”

The Great Resignation is teaching us that the cultures we thought we had in our companies are not that great. Workers are voting with their feet to walk away from toxic environments. If you are scratching your head wondering why so many people have resigned from your company, you should take a hard look in the mirror first.

Have you either intentionally or accidentally put people on mute? The modern, post-pandemic worker is not going to suffer that any longer. There has to be a change.

Think about the Story

If you feel like others have put you on mute, think about the stories you are telling. Is your story old and tired, down and out, or upbeat and energizing?

On my podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense”, I interviewed Kurian M. Tharakan, the author of “The 7 Essential Stories Charismatic Leaders Tell.” He defines seven basic stories that help build a message. These stories apply to companies and brands in general, but they also apply to leaders who are set on motivating and inspiring those who follow them.

Without the right story, your message may just be noise in the minds of others. Stop the noise, offer clarity and purpose, then you’ll get taken off mute real fast.

Check out my Podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense” available on all major outlets.

SFT: A Simple Reminder for Leadership Performance

Dr. David L. Cook is a sports performance coach and business consultant who has made the phrase “SFT” famous. Leadership performance can be reduced to these three little ideas.

You might know Dr. Cook’s name from a little book titled “Seven Days in Utopia”. The book was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. The story is a fictional journey of a young aspiring golf superstar (Black) who has a colossal meltdown on the world stage of golf, suffering a series of bad choices and shots that take him to a score of 15 on the final hole of a big tournament.

Utopia

Angry and frustrated at the game that seems to have betrayed him, he wrecks his car while driving thru the scrub brush of the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. Destiny introduces him to an old cowboy (Duvall) who himself was once an aspiring golfer with a lot of growing up to do. For the next seven days, Duvall takes Black under his wing to teach him a few things about golf and, more importantly, life.

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The Unsung Role of Leadership

managing up the organization

It is time to dedicate some blog space to a segment of my audience that gets little direct attention. I am talking about females who serve in leadership roles. I always write with an open mind about the topics I share, and I seldom differentiate between male or female. I still believe “leadership is leadership”, regardless of gender.

Yet with all we’ve tried to implement in the modern workforce to enlighten ourselves, engage work teams, and inform new generations, I still see age-old trends emerging from time to time. In male-dominated organizations, the female role gets compromised.

I’m going to go out on a limb and address several of the most egregious ones I know.

First a Background Story

If you’ve followed my blog or heard me speak, you know I am the only son of a hard-working single Mom. So my familiarity with these topics started at the dinner table when I was a young boy. I watched as my own mother, who was a talented and capable business manager, come home most nights tired and weary from fighting battles; not just the usual battles, but the extra battles of defending her right to be in the room at work.

She had a hard plight. She worked for a home builder in an incredibly macho-man industry. As I got older I watched her go toe to toe on a job site with foremen twice her size. She worked closely with the architects so she knew what had to be done with a new build. Yet the foremen would often try to cut corners and expedite things, leaving out key design features she was trying to introduce into a stale market. Interestingly, Mom usually won.

She didn’t win by using her female charm which could have been easy at 5’5″ with a 16-inch waist and legs to die for (yes, I know I am talking about my Mom). Rather she chose to employ solid fact and logic with a great deal of technical detail that left most of those old grizzled hired hands’ heads spinning. She also knew how to effectively use the “help me help you” technique before that was a thing.

Her work was not isolated to office duties. She was Chief of Staff for the owner of a residential construction company. Her scuffles on the job sites became legendary among the various project leads and superintendents the company hired. In no time she had her own reputation for being tough but fair on making her demands come to life out in the field.

So please don’t tell me I cannot appreciate what women in the workforce are dealing with. I’ve heard a lot over the years. If you think “Me Too” is a new concept, try dialing back the clock to the 50’s and 60’s (think Madmen).

Now Onward

Here are the issues I run into from time to time. I list them in no particular order.

Dealing with Female Executives

First, there is “We don’t know what to do with ‘them’.” Yes, I’ve actually heard that from a group of male executives. My answer is “Really?” The obvious solution is to forget gender and deal with the matter in the same way you would deal with a male counterpart. Any mindset closely related to this is so incredibly naive and archaic. A senior manager who utters such nonsense is really not much of a leader.

I’m encouraged when I enter fairly high-intensity worksites and the female bosses get to act and behave in concert with their male peers. They can give and take with the best of them.

Type-A’s

Next, there is the conundrum of a Type-A, hard-driving male boss being called a ‘tough but effective leader’ while the same Type-A, hard-driving woman executive is just a B#*&H. Again, how sophomoric and low on the emotional intelligence scale. The mindset needs to be adjusted to view these same traits as equals. Yes, I know some female executives who are terrible bosses but painting all of them with one wide brush is very inappropriate. There is an equal if not greater percentage of male bosses who simply suck at what they do.

The PayScale

Yes, it’s a worn-out cry from the field, but sadly still true in many situations. The gender gap on the pay scale has closed in recent years with most publicly traded companies settling up, but small, privately owned businesses still suffer the curse here.

On this point, I double-checked my position with several female executive coaches I know who specialize in working with other female leaders. The unequal pay conundrum is still very much alive and well.

Work-Life Balance

The working Mom’s were the first to attempt to open the discussion about work-life balance. Why? Not because it was a nice cozy idea, but because it was a necessity. Juggling the load for being Mom and worker just didn’t always even out. Dropping kids at school and picking them up took its toll. And yes, there are some great “Mr. Moms” who have chosen to shoulder the kid management duties of the house to free the wife up for career pursuit, but the tug is still there.

Why shouldn’t we figure out a better balance of workload versus personal need? Seldom is everything a priority at work. I know companies who build a culture around jam-packed calendars and endless meetings but is that really necessary? If you run one of those companies, you can make adjustments and productivity might actually increase.

Mentorship

Creating succession plans is not limited to the bigger, publicly traded companies. Even entrepreneurial shops need good continuity planning. Allowing younger females equal opportunity for fast track and high potential program access should be a priority. Yet, for most of the reasons I’ve already covered above, there is a disparity that remains.

Providing effective mentorship and coaching for up and coming workers, regardless of gender, should be a priority.

THERE IT’S DONE

This is my list. If you know more examples, please share in the comments. This is a dialogue that should not be left unattended.

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