Category Archives: leadership

Getting people to work together for a common cause

What It Takes to Be a Great Leader

Three things, apparently. Thoughts?

 

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Mistakes to Avoid: 5. Play Not to Lose

There is a difference between playing to win, and playing not to lose.

If you’re playing not to lose, you work hard to avoid making mistakes. You will also be less likely to admit mistakes (even to yourself), won’t ask for help or apologize for mistakes (because it makes you look weak), or try new things (it’s a risk).

If you’re playing to win, you’re more like to try new things (in small experiments), drop what doesn’t work (change tactics but stay focused on the goal), learn from your mistakes (even if it’s “Let’s never do that again.”), evolve and move on.

It’s about having the courage to set the example, not the cowardice of being perfect. It’s about modelling the behaviour you want from your team. Think about how you want them to behave, and think about how you creating the environment and example to make that happen.

 

*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the third.

The First Follower

“The first follower is an underappreciated form of leadership . . . that transforms a lone nut into a leader”

Mistakes to Avoid: 4. Ignore Your Commitments

Ever work on a team or in a partnership where the trust has been lost? Or there was never any trust to begin with? Yea, that. Not fun for anybody involved.

There are many ways to build trust – showing vulnerability, asking for help, including people, admitting mistakes – but the fastest way to lose it is to not keep your word. Not just about the big things, about all things.

Be very clear about what you can and cannot commit to, and once you’ve made a commitment, make every effort to live up to it. If you can’t, you make sure you are explicitly absolved from that commitment (not ignore it and hope it goes away), have an alternative to offer, or otherwise authentically show you’ve made your best effort.

Likewise, expect the same standard from the people you work with. Leaders who “go easy” on their people are respected less. Leaders who have high standards and push their team to do their best are respected more. You just have to have the courage to hold yourself to that same standard.

It’s called “setting the example”, aka “leadership”.

 

*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the third.

Mistakes to Avoid: 2. Pick the Right People

As opposed to picking the wrong ones. Duh.

BUT, if you’ve thought about, found, and can inspire others with your vision (BHAG, purpose, passion, goal, mission, or idea) ONLY THEN can you start attracting the right ones. And weeding out the wrongs ones.

AND do not tolerate poor performance, as measured by their alignment to your inspiring vision. The poorest performer in your organization (company, movement, effort, team) sets the standard of performance for everyone else. Think about that for a second.

If this though experiment scares you, what are you going to do about it?

 

*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the second.

Mistakes to Avoid: 1. Have a Vision

Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame, the first being:

Have a Vision (as opposed to drifting aimlessly)

Now I will be the first to quetch about how management consultants make up new words for old/obvious concepts and the try to either trade-mark them, write a book about them, or otherwise use puffery to make a feast out of a crumb. “Vision” (aka mission aka purpose aka BHAG aka passion) is one of those overloaded terms that shifts and slides depending on who is speaking in which context.

BUT, and this is a big but, you gotta know where you’re going. Take some time, quietly and without interruptions, to think about what success looks like for you, your company, you country, or whatever the appropriate scale of your endeavor is.

AND then be willing to share it, work on it, test your progress, hold yourself accountable to it, fulfill the promise of, and recruit a team (friends, family, company, movement) of people who want to work with you on that thing. If you don’t know what that thing is, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get there.

They’re Working Hard, You Just Don’t See It

The topic of the “Millennials” comes up with my clients once in a while. Usually the client is relating to me how hard they are to manage, that they’re entitled, and they aren’t willing to put in the work for the rewards they’re expecting.

I think it’s a mistake to group people, and if anything the young men and women I know are smart and hard-working. In fact, I think that one day they’re going to eat our lunch. They know how to collaborate and share and support each other in ways we haven’t yet imagined.

The challenge, then, is how do we step up as leaders and harness this power? But please don’t tell me they don’t know how to work hard.

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Your Ego Is Holding You Back

[this is  a fall re-post series re-post]

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 1

I do a little volunteer mentoring. Last year I helped a student group that had gotten stuck. They were working on a design for a community space, bringing together senior students from architecture, engineering, marketing, and business schools. Teams were formed for the weekend, with a juried presentation Sunday afternoon.

I met with them Saturday evening. Most of the other teams had already settled on a design, gotten community comments, done their costing, and were working on their presentations for the next day. A few had even knocked off early to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s presentation.

The group I worked with were still deciding which design to go with. The were tired, frustrated, and dispirited. After asking questions about their process up to that point, it was clear that there were three “strong personalities”. People who were pushing to get things done, and another four that just wanted to move forward but didn’t know how.

Super Chickens

It was a classic example of “super chickens”. Instead of working together as a team, they were unintentionally pecking at each other in earnest effort to push the group forward. As frustrating as it was for them, it wasn’t really surprising. They hadn’t learned to work in a team. They had, up to now, been rewarded for winning instead of for being helpful. Even if they had played on, say, a sports team, there is still an amazing emphasis on individual stars and personal achievement. Heros aren’t teams. Heros are people.

Leadership is about inspiring a bunch of people to do great things. Sometimes it’s about inspiring a team to do mundane, dirty, or dangerous work in a great way. It’s about taking turns. Contributing without bullying, Collaborating without wanting or needing the credit. It’s providing a service, not stroking your ego.

Yet consistently we seem to train men and women at all levels who believe that to be successful they have to compete and win at everything. And it’s not true. A different and better definition of success, I believe, is the success of the team. Not just the success of the people on the team.

The Hard Work

The hard work of changing our own behaviour, and therefore being able to influence other’s behaviour more effectively, is possible BUT it means making a long-term, consistent, commitment to learning and practising leadership. It means putting in the time and effort. It means adopting a “window and mirror” maturity. When things go well, it means pointing out the window to others and giving them the credit. When things don’t go well, it means looking in the mirror. It means being confident and humble at the same time.  

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 2 – Your Authority Is Meaningless

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

Have you ever worked with somebody you felt absolutely had your best interest at heart, even if it meant sacrificing their own?

Don’t Be A Super Chicken

[this is  a fall re-post series re-post]

This TED Talk resonated for me when I first saw it, because one of my early client success pivoted on recognizing that the best people for a particular client were the “helpful” ones. Margaret Heffernan puts her thumb on a sore spot  and pushes when she argues that individual achievement is actually counter-productive to achievement.

Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work

Forget the Pecking Order

How Often Should I Give Feedback?

[this is  a summer report series repost]

My Smart House Cat

Sometimes our cat thinks she’s a dog. I believe this because when we house-trained our dog, we hung bells from the back door knob and he learned to ring them with his nose when he needed to go out. Persephone (my daughter named the cat for the Queen of the Underworld, which says more about my daughter than the cat, but not by much) observed this for a while, and then started to ring the bells herself.

I dutifully ran to the back door and let her out before realizing what I’d done. In that instant I’d trained the cat to expect that when she rang the bells somebody would open the door for her. Action and reward.

It’s been cold here in Calgary for a while, so even when we know Persephone is just checking to make sure the weather is the same out the back door as it was out the front just five minutes ago, she’s learned to be quite persistent. Eventually somebody will come along and let her out. Listening to the jangling bells is too annoying. Behaviour and reinforcement. The dog passed away about six weeks ago. We really could take the bells down, but I just don’t have the heart.

Many Fat Happy Monkeys

Training animals and giving feedback have some things in common. No, people aren’t cats, and humans aren’t monkeys. Yet there’s something to learn here. If you want to train a monkey to ride a skateboard, you don’t slap it on the skateboard and then yell at it for not performing tricks. First you put the skateboard in the cage. The monkey doesn’t freak out at this new and strange object that’s invaded its space.* You give it a slice of peach when it stays calm when the skateboard appears.

Maybe the monkey moves towards the skateboard. Peach slice. Maybe then the monkey touches the skateboard. Peach. The monkey sits on the skateboard. Peach. The monkey allows the trainer to push the monkey. Peach. Pretty soon you have a fat, happy monkey doing kick-turns and axle stalls.

The Human Advantage

Giving feedback to people isn’t really much different. The biggest difference is that because if we use language properly we can accelerate the process. Every movement, behaviour, or action in the right direction gets noticed and praised. Immediately, specifically, and sincerely. Progress ensues. Many fat happy monkeys, er, staff.

So what happens when the monkey throws the skateboard at the trainer? Nothing. Any body language, tone of voice, or facial expression that gives away anger is a clue on how to control the trainer. Animal trainers know that reacting to bad behaviour (shouting, waving arms, angry faces) is only letting the animal know what they need to do to provoke you.

Again, people are not monkeys (at least most aren’t). Funny enough it works the same way with many people. Emotions leak through, and that affects how the message we’re trying to give is received. Even on a subconscious level. If you can give specific, sincere feedback and still smile, then go ahead and give the feedback. If you can’t smile, then wait until you can. Otherwise you risk doing more harm than good.

Your Actions

In the next week, look for opportunities to give positive, specific feedback (or just a thank-you even) for people who are moving in the right direction. When somebody is trying, they’re actually looking for approval and encouragement.  Even if you suspect they got lucky or did it accidentally, recognize and reward at as many opportunities as you get. Don’t hold out on the peaches!

I wonder what it would take to get the cat on a skateboard?

Previous Blogs on Feedback:

Everybody Wants Feedback – having the courage to give feedback pays off for you, them, and the company
We Owe Ourselves Feedback
– how do you react when somebody gives you feedback?
Why Feedback Doesn’t Work

Train Yourself to Give Better Feedback
– start by practising this everyday for a week
Getting Better at Giving Feedback
– from their behaviour to your reaction and back again. Knowing what going on underneath the surface.

*I can’t remember where I read this example. If you know the source please let me know in the comments so I can give proper credit. Thanks.