Category Archives: leadership

Getting people to work together for a common cause

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.

Your Vision Means Nothing

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 5

Your vision and leadership mean nothing – not without the credibility and competence to get things done.

Lot’s of people have lots of ideas. Some of them are even likable enough to get other people interested in working with them on those ideas. But without the ability to support that vision with your own hard work it’s probably not going to happen. Nobody likes to be the only donkey pulling the cart, not even other hired donkeys.

Credibility means doing what you said you would do. Competence means the ability to deliver on those promises. So be careful about what you promise, but once you promise it, move heaven and earth to deliver. Then together with your vision (and the ability to authentically share it) you’ve got a chance.

The Hard Work: 

Making others look good, also known as the Canvas Strategy:

“The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.” – Ryan Holiday

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants To Hear Part 4: Your Competence Means Nothing

Changing What Can’t Be Changed

Fit2

This article I wrote for Results Canada a while ago recently got republished. Since I first wrote it the book “Influencer” has added to the tools and techniques we can bring to bear on getting people to change for the better, and if this is a challenge you face it’s a book that I can recommend.

Enjoy!

 

Three Keys to Innovation

I had the opportunity to chat with Google’s western Canada director at a tech pitch contest last month, and I asked her how Google manages to keep being so innovative even though they are now one of the largest and most recognized corporations in the world. Her answer made me think “it can’t really be that easy?”, a signal which I’ve learned to pay attention to.

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Inside Google they use Chat and Hangouts (text messaging and virtual meetings) to make all decisions, collaboration, and creation. Nobody sets up meetings for next week if they can help it. They just hop on the existing Google tools (and yes, there are others that do the same thing) and start talking to each other. The default behaviour is face-to-face, the default time is now, and the default ownership is none.

The on-line tools are allow everyone to mark up a project, document, spreadsheet, or slide show. Nobody controls it so everyone can contribute. Your idea may not win, and that’s okay. You may not be the best person to lead or execute that idea, and that’s okay too. But nobody slows down the elaboration, collaboration, or refinement of an innovation. Nobody waits for a meeting, or a mark-up, or a review if possible. It’s all done in real-time, now, and “in-person”.

Of course, because it’s a tech company, they also track how many meetings and how many people take part in those meetings, every day.

The Hard Work: 

Get up and talk to the person you need to talk to. Or dial them up on Skype/Zoom/Hangouts. Or call them. And share the work – give them the pen/whiteboard marker/credit.

I think that last one’s the hardest.

HBRs Tips for Running Virtual Meetings

Your Competence Means Nothing

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 4

John Spence talks about how lack of focus hurts companies. It’s true, and not just for companies. It’s also true for leaders of companies, leaders within companies, and individual contributors in companies.

To be clear: individual competence and credibility is necessary. But it’s not sufficient to “just” be competent in order to be anything more than a good manager.

And if you want to be a leader, you can’t just pull a vision/focus out of your hat. That’s backwards. Have a vision, then hire or build your team for that…

The Hard Work

Think deeply, honestly, and without reservation about your real strengths, weaknesses, assumptions, and goals. Be willing to commit to what you want, and be willing to change as necessary when confronted with real evidence.

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants To Hear Part 3: People Don’t Listen to What You Say

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

Your Authority is Meaningless

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 2

My old sergeant would argue he earned his rank, and I would have to agree with him. But that didn’t entitle him to anything. He still had to work hard as a Sergeant. Positional authority is the power you get by virtue of your rank, role, seniority, assignment. This is authority given you from some authority, generally recognized within that organization as being earned because of past performance.

Technical authority accrues when peers and co-workers recognize your subject matter expertise in a particular field. Peers consult you , ask your opinion, and often your opinion is the deciding factor in a decision in that domain. Think of any medical examiner in a TV crime show.

The Strongest Relations

These are weak forms of influence when compared to relational authority. Relational authority comes from the connection between people. Some people seem naturally gifted at making connections. Like being able to walk into a room or fifty strangers, and coming out with 50 new friends. Or being able to build long-term, deep, and reliable connections with people in their community, at work, or building a strong family.

Brothers

Photo Credit: Charlotta Wasteson

Think of the people in your organization or private life who persuade, interrupt, correct, or hold others accountable without fear, and even strengthening the bond between them and the other while doing so. Who have the competence, credibility, vision, and ability to inspire consistently, at all levels in a company both upwards and downwards.

Not an Accident

This didn’t happen for them by accident. They worked hard at it. They learned how to have those crucial conversations. They practiced their skills, studied, and observed others doing the same. They spent time identifying and developing key relationships in their organization, before they needed them. They did favours without expectation of future reward. They invested time in their network. They chose to value people at least as much as profits or goals.

Relational power is the strongest power by far. It is often what we mean we say “leadership”. Your authority, or ability, will only get you so far. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a store manager. If you don’t actually care about the people your work with, your rank will only get you so far. If you rely on fear, or bullying, pretty soon for most of us it will backfire. Getting the promotion and that position is only the start.

The Hard Work

Build real, meaningful relationships. Learn how to confront poor performance and bad behaviour without relying on your power over. Spend time with people, and thinking how your word and actions will affect others. Surround yourself with people who are able to tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear but should, and then listen to them even when you don’t agree with them. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 1 – Your Ego Is Holding You Back
Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants To Hear Part 3 – Forthcoming

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

Who do you know that has the most “natural” influence, and why?

Why, what, or how?

Sharing the why also helps, but definitely the what. Seldom the how, unless they need it.

Tell Me What Not How