Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don’t Tolerate Dysfunctional Teams

Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:

Two key indicators of a healthy team are that they are productive (getting tasks done to standards, on budget and on time) and effective (working together with a minimum of drama.)

A 2013 University of Phoenix survey revealed that nearly 7 in 10 American workers have served on dysfunctional teams. Though 95% reported that teams serve an important function in organizations, less than 24% of respondents prefer to work on teams.

Further details reveal common issues in teams:

·         40% have witnessed a verbal confrontation

·         15% have seen confrontations turn physical

·         40% reported a team member blaming another member for problems

·         32% observed a team member start a rumor about another member

Sadly, left to ourselves, we humans don't always behave well with others. We often give into the temptation to leverage information and power to benefit ourselves, which creates an “I win, you lose” culture.

Self-Serving Team Members
Where do we learn to be selfish? Although it can be innate “wired” behavior, it is often likely that it is “acquired” behavior, learned through watching the dynamics in the family, school, sports, or the community.  We observe and practice behaviors that are modeled or tolerated by leaders and peers.

I believe many of us have been blessed to have served on a productive and effective team at least once in our lives. However, the research suggests that too often, teams are not productive AND effective.  This is not only frustrating for team members but can cost real money.  A 2009 study of New Zealand businesses found that one unproductive team can cost a company $140,000 a year.

Most of the senior leadership teams I work with are teams in name only. They do not have a common purpose or shared values and goals. They’re not partnered with a requirement that they work together. Instead, they are simply a group of people who meet regularly to fight each other for resources (funds, people, etc.) every day.

I engage to help these “groups” create a shared servant purpose and identify their values, strategies, and goals. We create agreements to help each member align their behaviors with those stated values. We develop clear expectations. Without these in place, team members can quickly resort to actions that serve their own interests, which severely affects the team’s overall productivity and effectiveness.

It doesn’t take much to identify a dysfunctional team. Don’t tolerate it. Step in and intentionally guide the team to clarify why they exist, and what they can expect from one another as they work together to fulfill their purpose.  You are likely to start seeing your teams thrive.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What's the Secret to Becoming a Great Leader?

Guest post from Kene Erike:

That is not a question reserved for the gated playgrounds of MBA students or empty suits struggling to justify big paychecks. The concept of "Leadership" is a fixture in our daily lives that dictates the experiences we share with others.

Let's start by defining terms....

Leadership: The ability to encourage others to accept an idea. 

That's what leadership is, in plain terms. I'm all about challenging orthodoxy, so you won't find any platitudes and buzzwords here.

You may not realize it, but the impact of leadership is evident in every corner of your life, no matter what your background. It's how you spend free time with friends and family; How you convince your boss to give you a raise; the reason why you watch certain televisions shows and flip away from others; it’s all there, peeking from beneath the covers of your daily existence.

So, what's the secret to becoming an effective leader, a (wo)man who enjoys support and fulfillment in one's social and professional life?

The secret to great leadership is Empathy.

A willingness and ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. A sensitivity to the needs of others and the skill to address them.

Like a great point guard, good leaders have mastered the game within the game and know how to position each player so they can shine. They take care of their people and make sure everybody gets fed.

Successful leadership assumes many forms. Great businesses have already mastered this, weaving carefully-crafted messages that draw in target audiences. They go beyond identifying market needs and demographics, establishing rallying points around issues that touch the lives of millions.

Take Planet Fitness, for example. 

On its face, Planet Fitness offers a simple proposition: Gym membership for a low monthly fee.

But let's look a little deeper.

We're all moved by basic motivations, emotions like the desire for acceptance and a desire to raise a family. Those motivations dictate our life choices and purchase decisions.

Women don't buy a particular dress because it's made by a noted designer. They purchase that dress because they want to be the envy of every other woman in the room when they go to their high school reunion.

Take a little time to consider the desires, interests, and fears of the people you want to lead and you'll start making headway.

That's where we find the genius in Planet Fitness' leadership model.

To many Americans, gym membership is just a means for assuaging guilt. Signing up allows a person to feel like they're doing something right, striving for an ideal and dedicating themselves to good health practices. Whether they actually break a sweat when they step in to the facility is of secondary importance.

It's like people who buy Priuses just so they can say they're environmentally-conscious; whether they're actually advancing the cause is of little consequence.

Planet Fitness knows their market and has a perfect pitch for their customers: Come here, check off the "workout" box, and go home. 

They maintain a relaxed atmosphere, even hosting regular pizza and bagel days, where members can indulge in the very foods that pack on pounds in a hurry.

(Pizza and treadmills? An unholy alliance, if we've ever heard one, but Planet Fitness is riding it to the bank.)

Cultivating the right membership base is a priority for Planet Fitness as well. They actively-alienate members who exhibit too much workout intensity, outfitting their gyms with "Lunk Alarms" that sound when a lifter makes too much noise and revoking memberships of anyone who appears even the least bit intimidating.

Planet Fitness is the bane of serious workout warriors everywhere, but you can't knock their results.

Leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all exercise, with one right answer to the question. There are multiple styles that can get the job done. Brandishing an iron fist never falls out of flavor and history is replete with autocrats who effected change through fear and intimidation; they held a firm grasp of human nature.

Not to say that their effectiveness is attributable to emotional intelligence. Historical figures were savvy politicians who know certain levers light a fire under all of us. They did an end-run around empathy, but got the job done just the same.

As long as you hone in on the base motivations lurking below the surface, you're walking down the right path. What's the driving force behind a decision and what do you have to offer them?

Again, you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

You can reverse engineer the process by starting with the end in mind. Consider what the people around you would want, what they need to get them moving in your direction. And then, deliver it.

Instead of whining that friends aren't listening to you or leering at the new guy in your office who has caught the eye of management, look inward. Is there more you can do to encourage others to align with your way of thinking? A commitment to self-development is a best practice in everything you do and a reputation for effective leadership pays big dividends.

A few here-and-now examples you can put in to practice:

--Want your emails answered? Send short emails with descriptive headers instead of tomes that go nowhere.

--Tired of how you spend your Saturday nights with friends? Take the lead and give everyone two specific options to choose from, which will guide the group towards choices you're comfortable with.
You'll get a less-frustrating experience than asking, "What does everybody want to do tonight?"

The overarching idea is that great leaders solve problems without planting new roadblocks for constituents to leap over. Effective leaders make it easy for people to do what they want them to do.

The world doesn't revolve around you.

Drill this in to your head and you'll be able to adapt to any environment you're thrown in to. Effective leadership is all about speaking to your fellow man in his language. Master that skill and the rest falls in to place.

Kene Erike is an entrepreneur and author specializing in human behavior. His book,"No" Doesn't Always Mean No, is a guide to developing stronger relationships, making more money, and becoming leaders people actually want to follow. Click here to learn more about leadership and connecting with people. You'll receive a free guide on reading body language as well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How to Prevent Redundant Performance Improvement Conversations

Guest Post from Karin Hurt:

Performance improvement conversations aren’t enjoyable -- for you or for them. To make sure you don’t have to have the same uncomfortable conversation twice, take a hard look at your approach.

The most effective performance improvement conversations are built using four components: Clarity, Conflicts, Confidence, and Conviction. Ask yourself, as you read each of the questions below, are you equipping your employees to answer in the affirmative? Are you setting them up to actually do what you need them to do?

Clarity: "I know exactly what to do."
You think you’ve communicated what needs to change. But, have you really? Almost every time I work with managers to improve their coaching, there’s a disconnect between what they think they’ve communicated and what’s actually been understood. What they’ve often missed is isolating the very specific behaviors that must change for the employee to be successful. What exactly do you want your employee to do? How will they (and you) know your expectations are being met? "A positive attitude," "More customer focus" and "Being more strategic" aren’t specific enough. Isolate and breakdown the behaviors you need to see shifted before success can be declared.

Conflicts: "I have your support to solve my underlying problems."
Yes, your primary objective in this conversation is to inspire behavioral change. Do you know the best way to do that? Discover why the undesirable behaviors are occurring. Listen. Closely. It's easy to discount the "reasons" why they can't improve: competing priorities; overload; mixed messages; customer angst. Go after the insight you need about what’s getting in the way of optimal performance. Chances are good that underlying issue is also undermining your high-performers and frustrating your customers.

Confidence: "I have no doubt that I do this."
I’ll be straight with you. If your employees leave these conversations with the feeling that you don’t think they can make positive change, they won’t. Your doubt will undermine them. Ask yourself, are you giving them the benefit of the doubt? Do you believe they’re able to do what you’re asking them to do? If not, cross your t's and dot your i's on your performance documentation. But, if you are coming from a place of belief, show them why. Talk about how they’ve been successful in the past. Teach them that you have confidence in their ability to break down the goal into bite size behaviors they can celebrate.

Conviction: "I'm committed to doing it."
If engagement is the issue, begin your conversation by asking questions. Why do they choose to work here? At the end of the day, what makes them feel accomplished? Link what you’re asking them to do with what matters most to them -- not just professionally, but personally.

You may not roll out a successful performance improvement conversation on your first try. Keep at it. It’s a skill you can refine, and it’s a skill that will serve you well. No one wants to work for a boss who sets them up to fail, even it’s unintentional.

About the Author
Karin Hurt is a keynote speaker, top leadership consultant, and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and Human Resources. The author of Winning Well and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, Hurt has been named to Inc.'s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers, AMA's 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, and a Top Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Birthing a Baby Unicorn: The Anatomy of a Successful Startup Launch

Guest post by Carol Broadbent and Tom Hogan:

Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they have a theory on how to launch a startup. Most of them revolve around the role of marketing. Those who doubt the value or efficacy of marketing cite the success of such startups as Slack, Atlassian and WhatsApp, which launched with limited investment in marketing. But the other 95 need marketing to grow their enterprise—click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.

Having launched 45 startups, we’re often asked what are the “best practices” in launching a company.  So much depends on the market the startup is in as well as the company’s focus (B2B vs. B2C), but there are still some guidelines that apply across the spectrum:

1.  Launch with a cross-functional team. According to a feature in the latest Harvard Business Review, 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because at the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team.

2.   CEOs need to be on the team, but as players, not coaches.  If you want your launch to happen fast and well, put your CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. Otherwise you’ll spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions than getting things done. But make it clear to the CEO and everyone else:  the CEO is a member of the team, not the leader. That role is reserved for marketing—specifically, an individual designated as “The Launchmeister”, to whom everyone, including the CEO, reports. The CEO’s job is to reinforce the goals, deadlines and accountability of the launch.  When tough decisions need to be made, it’s the team’s job to make them and the CEO’s job to support and implement them.   

3.   Banish pixel polishing.  Part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous/infamous attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details; and while this pursuit of perfection may be admirable in established companies, it can be fatal to a startup. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “Done is good.”

4.  Beware nomadic board members. In a successful launch, board members should be heeded but not seen.  Getting their input offline is both good business and good politics; but when we see board members “dropping in” to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag, a signal that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.

5.  Bring PR to the table early.  There are two types of PR firms:  “upstream” strategic firms that have a seat at the big table in developing positioning and messaging, and “downstream” implementation firms. Startups should hire only upstream firms, then use their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Encourage your team to challenge assumptions, build and test their message, and advocate their point of view at the table.

6.  Build content early and often.  Once positioning and messaging are established, get to work on the content. Launches are often delayed—once, even twice—due to product issues or customer feedback; but they should never be delayed because of lack of supporting content. You can never have enough content, so start developing—and reviewing—it the moment your positioning is finalized. Since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.

7.  Website UX trumps brand.  If the founder starts going into the weeds – opining about favorite brand colors and fonts – get back on track quickly. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.

8.  Anticipate—and prepare for—the trough.  Before you launch, be sure to have a post-launch PR plan, as well as two months of demand gen programs defined, funded, and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all the visibility, brand awareness, and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, use smart planning to avoid the post-launch trough.

According to a CBInsights article from May 2015, your startup has a 1.2 percent chance of becoming a unicorn (a private company valued at $1 billion or more). Even so, there are a record number of unicorns roaming the Valley today. Success in unicorn-land has a lot to do with vision, team and timing, but it also depends upon strong marketing and a great launch.

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for start-ups, in 2008.  They are also co-authors of THE ULTIMATE START-UP GUIDE:  Marketing Lessons, War Stories, And Hard-Won Advice From Leading Venture Capitalists And Angel Investors.  For more information please visit or @CrowdedOcean.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Ways a ‘Noble Goal’ Makes You a Significantly Better Leader

Guest post from Brandon Black and Shayne Hughes:

Being a truly great and inspiring leader, who is both effective and respected, is no easy task. Though the job certainly comes with a measure of prestige, every seasoned leader will tell you — it also comes with endless hard work, harsh criticism, and significant stress.

What fuels you to push forward when the pressure is on?

If you’re like the majority of the Western world, you’re probably motivated by greater and greater personal financial success, the yardstick most leaders use to assess their value. Year after year, you work longer hours, pushing yourself to even-higher heights — the next promotion, broader recognition, or another impressive leap in income — only to discover that the “high” of reaching that next level disappears in mere minutes or days.

But our individual success is not what we care most about.

Each of us has a powerful need to positively affect the people and world around us. This need and inspiration is called our “noble goal.” In its simplest form, our noble goal is our personal response to the question: What context, atmosphere, or environment do I want to create for myself and others?

When we remain in the narrow, scarcity mindset of self-focus and self-promotion, we lose our care for others and the broader perspective. When our motivation is exclusively centered on elevating our own “success,” we create an environment of distrust, competition, animosity, and separation.

But, when we connect to a noble goal, it’s clarity inspires us and guides us toward what we really care to bring about in the world, in all domains of our lives – our families, our workplace, our communities, and our society. It is our North Star, and it has the power to guide both our long-term direction as well as our moment-by-moment choices.

At Encore Capital Group, a debt collection company, CEO Brandon Black and his employees decided that “restoring dignity and creating a path toward financial independence” for their customers was a core tenet of their noble goal. To breathe life into that goal, they created a Consumer Bill of Rights that began shaping the essential why in how they interacted with their customers and the very way they thought about their business.  

“People at Encore were passionate about The Consumer Bill of Rights,” says Black. “It gave employees a sense of pride about our company. I never saw that level of enthusiasm for quarterly results or a new strategy.”

And embracing a shared noble goal ultimately delivered positive business returns. As Encore’s team approached their daily work through this new lens, morale increased and collections continued to grow.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. A noble goal inspires you to blaze new trails
Focusing intently on a larger purpose helps inspire you to explore new ideas or try new approaches. It gives you the courage to take risks you might not otherwise dare to.

When Black and his team created the Consumer Bill of Rights, it felt scary and risky to break the mold in an industry known for less than warm and friendly debt collection practices. But ultimately, employees felt inspired and empowered to act from a space of caring. They began humanizing their customers. Instead of acting like adversaries, Encore employees became customer allies, listening to their stories and helping customers rise out of the financial burden (and personal shame) of excessive debt.

As you begin to prioritize caring and empathy over your own personal discomfort, your mental faculties focus on what really matters and how to do it to the utmost of your ability.

2. You look for ways to unleash other people’s potential, not just your own
Early in his role of CEO, Black admits he competed to be the smartest person in the room, to be the one in the spotlight. He thought that was how you led people – how one gained recognition and success. But after identifying his own noble goal, Black developed a new way to lead.

“I learned to value transparency, empathy, and vulnerability as much as business intellect,” said Black. “Today, I’m able to be present with my colleagues, family, and friends; see different possibilities; and create a collective agenda instead of one dominated by my opinions. I believe Encore’s runaway success was directly tied to this shift in management philosophy and culture. I wish I had learned this lesson way back when I started leading people!”

When leaders center on a noble goal, the positive shift is contagious. The collective energy of the team also shifts from self-preservation to focusing on growth, connecting to one another, and co-creating something larger. Every person who steps up creates positive ripples throughout the organization – and, the more senior you are, the more impactful your behavior.

3. You’re able to face criticism with confidence and courage
When the collections industry later came under fire, Encore felt confident they had nothing to hide about how they operate. It didn’t mean they were perfect, but their noble goal helped rouse a solid sense of courage because failing, being judged, or feeling hurt seemed less threatening. They felt secure enough to say to their detractors, “Come take a look and tell us what you find.”

If there were flaws in their system, they wanted to learn about them because it accelerated their ability to fulfill their mission. Criticism never feels good—because it threatens our ego’s desire to be competent, perfect and successful. But when that feedback can help you and your team achieve your noble goal more effectively, the sting of a critique is lessened.

Good news: It’s never too late to embark on this important work.

So, what’s your noble goal?

Below the surface, every leader brims with this incredible generosity, creativity and motivation. You are wholly capable of putting aside your ego’s ambitions to reach for a higher calling. You no longer have to build your life and career at the expense of others or at the expense of genuine personal fulfillment.

The desire to serve a noble goal is in your DNA, and the energy you will feel when you act on this instinct will elevate your focus, increase your enthusiasm, and amplify the impact of your leadership in profound and powerful ways.

Brandon Black retired as CEO and Director of Encore Capital Group in 2013.  He holds an MBA from the University of Richmond and a bachelor’s of business administration from The College of William and Mary.  He is co-author, with Shayne Hughes, of EGO FREE LEADERSHIP:  Ending The Unconscious Habits That Hijack Your Business. 

Shayne Hughes is President and Culture Change Partners of Learning as Leadership, a San Francisco-based management consultancy, where he specializes in creating corporate cultures of open communication and collaboration.  He is co-author, with Brandon Black, of EGO FREE LEADERSHIP:  Ending The Unconscious Habits That Hijack Your Business.

For more information, please visit

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Improvisational Leadership: Use Improv to Avoid Leadership Pitfalls

Guest post from Bob Kulhan:

Most of us aspire to be great leaders—passionate, inspiring, thoughtful and productive. But we all know people in the business world who do a terrible job in leadership positions: awful bosses, disengaged department heads, ineffective team managers, and otherwise bad bigwigs in nice offices who make the work environment an unpleasant one.

So if we all have the potential to be great leaders, where do some go wrong? Perhaps some leaders have developed bad habits; some lack an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader; and some feel they’re leading well simply because they’re focused on their intention to lead, not the results of their leadership. I specialize in bringing improvisational skills to the workplace, and one of the key elements of improvisational thinking is the ‘self-audit’—the ability to be aware in real time of how you’re doing your job and how your actions and leadership style are impacting those around you.   

A regular self-audit can keep you from slipping into one or more of the following leadership categories. If you find that some of your language, actions or habits are on this list, don’t worry—some simple improvisational techniques can help you fix them.

YES, BUT(’ers)
Yes, but(’ers) miss a key truth: how you frame language can make an enormous difference in sharing ideas, brainstorming, relationship building, and creating culture and influence. If people know one thing about improvisational thinking, it’s the concept of “Yes, and…” in which you invite open communication by responding directly to and striving to build upon the other person’s ideas. In contrast, “Yes, but…’ devalues, undermines, redirects, and (to the person hearing it) even negates everything that came before it.

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Be mindful of your team and your role by specifically using “Yes, and…”. Make it clear that you respect what team members have to say and value their input. A great leader creates an atmosphere in which all members can flourish, and using the “Yes, and…” improv technique can help you create a culture of acceptance.

Some leaders assume that every party needs a pooper, and that a leader should point out flaws in others’ work—or say ‘No’ to others’ ideas. Their guiding principle seems to be negativism, and if something does turn out right, they feel compelled to point out that it could have been done better. Few things demotivate and demoralize a team faster.

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Understand the difference between Divergent thinking (generating as many ideas as you can) and Convergent thinking (winnowing them down to one or two killer ideas). During divergent thinking, take off the “critical thinking” hat so you and your team can fully explore the possibility and potential of ideas before shooting them down. Then reapply the critical thinking skills in a separate convergent thinking phase, as you drive toward a productive outcome.

For these leaders, there has never been a good idea that couldn’t be dismissed in favor of their ‘better’ idea. These people judge the decisions of others without collaborating or contributing to the team in any meaningful way. They are much more interested in highlighting their own achievements, accolades, status and rank.        

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Set the ego aside. Make sure that your subordinates and colleagues perceive your own goal as a leader to be the achievement of positive team results, not personal gain. If you’ve created a strong, improvisational team and a ‘Yes and’ environment, everyone will help each other succeed; team success is personal success. A good leader will make a good team look great, and a great team will make a good leader look amazing.

This approach to leadership is thoughtless, passionless, and lacking in energy. These leaders say they prize creativity, innovation and change but demand that the same old things be done in the same old way they’ve always be done. They talk a lot about ‘motivation’ without ever doing anything to motivate.           

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Constantly take action. Make initiations and declarations. A leader needs to keep the energy of a team focused and driven. Change is a constant. You can lead change, follow change, or get dragged along behind it. Which do you prefer?

This leader may be well-liked and has gotten successful results in the past but has fallen into the trap of demanding 100% perfection 100% of the time. This leadership dynamic is based in micromanagement, rooted in a fear of failure.          

IMPROV CORRECTIVE: Go ahead, be vulnerable and open to strategic failure. Improv is by nature about failure and evolution. An improvisational leader should experiment and innovate when possible and constantly seek out potential ways to improve performance. Create periods of time in which it’s okay to take chances and fail.  Avoid analysis paralysis; remember that only approximately 10% of decisions have to be 100% correct—the remaining 90% of decisions just need to be made, and there’s plenty of room to improvise, adapt and succeed. Avoid micromanaging by using improv techniques to create a team culture based in open communication and trust.

A Leader in Name Only, these people provide no guidance or support and barely show any leadership presence. Though not present for the day-to-day grind, they take all the credit for success and no responsibility (or accountability) for struggles, challenges or failures.  

IMPROV CORRECTIVE:  Lead by example, not with empty declarations. That means being available when guidance is needed and aware that struggles could be great opportunities for mentorship and team growth. Moreover, own the failures. This is a simple matter of integrity and accountability. The buck does indeed stop with you. A great leader credits the team when there is a success, and shoulders the responsibility when there is a failure. Any team’s chances of achieving desired results increase when a leader allows team members to be invested in success, appreciated when they achieve it, and free of a fear of failure when they don’t.

Great leaders (or bad ones) don’t emerge through just a few decisions or actions. Leadership traits—good and bad—develop over time, and the most enlightened leaders make personal leadership development part of their overall strategy for success. The more honest you are about how you are truly perceived as a leader, the better equipped you’ll be to avoid leadership pitfalls and influence your team in a positive way.   

About the Author:

Bob Kulhan is the author of GETTING TO “YES, AND”: The Art of Business Improv (Stanford University Press; January 24, 2017). He is President, CEO, and Founder of Business Improv, an innovative consultancy that specializes in experiential learning and serves an international roster of blue-chip firms. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. A performer with over 20 years of stage credits, he has trained with a long list of legendary talents, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. An actor and former core faculty member in Chicago’s famed Second City and a member of the resident company at the iO Theater, Kulhan is a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Baby Wants Candy improv troupe. His work has been featured by such outlets as Big Think, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, the Financial Times, NPR, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Why Great Leadership Requires the Courage to Accept Pain

Guest post from Angela Sebaly:

As a leadership coach, I’ve spent decades observing hundreds of people who have strikingly different backgrounds and equally diverse approaches to leadership. Despite the differences, there has been one quality that has separated the good managers from the exceptional leaders: the willingness to step up to the plate and face any challenge rather than avoid it. That means making difficult decisions or implementing unpopular changes. It also means taking a stand or holding an emotionally charged conversation. Even giving and receiving feedback can be challenging - yet it’s a challenge that absolutely must be faced.

Thus, being a great leader means turning towards the problem and tackling it head-on rather than running from tension. Not just every now and then, but regularly.  This may sound like par for the course, but in fact, it’s more complicated than it sounds and is often shirked because with challenges, comes pain.

Most of us have already experienced this somehow. After all, isn’t it easier to find a workaround in a tricky situation than to risk a confrontation - even if that confrontation might open the door to a lasting solution? This is just one example among many.

Instead of trying to erase or evade the potential for pain in the midst of challenges, I advise leaders to lean into the experience. This begins with acknowledging that pain will inevitably arise  - whether you’re holding a touchy conversation with an employee who has been an hour late for a week straight, or making the decision to cut back on departmental funding or personnel.

Pain can be a tricky thing. We humans experience pain differently. Our threshold for pain is entirely subjective. Pain is a stimulus, and how we perceive that stimulus differs based on our individual propensity to sense it and tolerate it. One person might faint at breaking a bone while another doesn’t realize it’s broken for days, if not weeks. To be an effective leader, you have to understand your relationship with pain and learn to endure it.  It is, quite simply, part of the process of effective leadership.  Leaders must be mentally prepared for this fact that pain and have a toolkit at their fingertips for rising to meet challenges instead of shirking them in favor of stability and comfort.

This, in turn, requires courage. John Wayne once said that courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. This definition is one I’ve held onto in my work, because I believe courage partly comes from a leader’s ability to face fear and potential pain.

The good news is, no matter how pain-averse you are, you can develop the courage and strength to rise to challenges and work through pain. Everyone can. Leaders falsely believe they are required to be the Navy Seals of the workplace -- unemotional, unwavering, strong -- to be considered courageous, but in reality, we all have the power to tap into courage.

That’s because courage is not something we are born with.  It is not a definitive characteristic like the color of your eyes or your height. Rather, courage is a mindset that requires only grit and determination. To be courageous means to keep working at something even if it is tough or uncomfortable. It takes practice and dedication, but once it’s developed it is a priceless skill that can be applied to all varieties of leadership, whether in the workplace, in the community or at home.

Angela Sebaly, author of The Courageous Leader (Wiley, spring 2017), is co-founder and CEO of the firm Personify Leadership, a training provider. Formerly the Vice President of Leadership Development for a global oil, gas and chemicals inspection company, Angela also serves as principle consultant for the firm Invested Leadership. An entrepreneur developing a global presence,  Angela has been coaching, facilitating and leading teams and organizations for over two decades. Education, communication and courage are the pillars of her life’s work.  She lives with her family in Fort Lauderdale.