Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 Ways to be a Great Follower

A long time ago, when I was conducting one of my first management training classes, a crusty old general foreman snarled at me, “Hey kid, maybe you should be teaching my employees how to be better employees, instead of wasting my time”.

Since then, I’ve spent the last 20 + years trying to develop great leaders. There are thousands of books, articles, and courses on how to be better leaders. Yet, after all of this effort, we still seem to have a shortage of leaders and a lot of employees sure seem dissatisfied with their bosses. Sometimes it feels like we're just spitting in the wind.

Well, after all these years, I’m thinking old crusty may have been on to something there. Let’s face it; even the most powerful leaders have to answer to someone; so at some point, we all have to be followers. And great leaders can’t be great unless they have great followers. Heck, a team of great followers can even make the most average of managers a great leader.

So how about if I stop telling everyone they should be a leader and instead practice what it takes to be a great follower? Here are some things I love to see from my own employees, and have tried to practice with my managers.

1. Keep your manager informed.
Leaders throughout history have made bad decisions based on a lack of information or bad information. Great employees keep their managers abreast of key projects, even if they don’t ask. A manager can’t recognize and reward if they don’t know what their employees are doing. Managers also hate finding out about bad news from someone else. If something happens, like a dissatisfied client, give your manager a heads-up there may be trouble coming their way.

2. Always support your manager behind their backs.
That also means don’t criticize your manager behind their backs. For one thing, it’s unprofessional. It’s also a safe assumption that whatever you say, good or bad, will get back to them.

3. Be good. Damn good.
When an employee consistently delivers extraordinary results, most managers end up giving them more trust and latitude. And when a manager doesn’t have to waste their time cleaning up after mistakes or following up, they have more time to spend on vision, strategy, recognition, resource allocation, and other good things that benefit the entire team. Do what you say you’re going to do and do it well.

4. Admit your mistakes.
When you make a mistake, admit it. Be accountable; don’t make excuses, don’t point fingers, and don’t act like a victim. Tell your manager what happened, what you’re doing to fix it, and what you’ve learned so that it won’t happen again.

5. Be a great peer.
See post, “Would Your Peers Vote for You”. Be a team player; be an advocate for them behind their backs. Managers can’t stand back-stabbers, and they can sniff it out no matter how subtle you think you’re being.

6. Don’t bring problems to your manager, bring solutions.
OK, it’s a tired cliché, but it’s true. Don’t delegate upwards.

7. Prioritize your own work.
Great followers never have to ask their managers to help prioritize their work for them. New employees might need to do this – or average employees – but not the great ones. They always seem to know what’s important and urgent, and what can wait.

8. Be an optimist.
Everyone loves being around optimists – the positive attitude and energy is contagious. When you’re the person who always sees the glass as half-empty, you end up being a real buzz-kill for everyone around you.

9. Embrace change.
Everybody says the love change – as long as the change is their idea. A great follower can see the possibilities in someone else’s idea. Be the early adopter; don’t be the laggard.

10. Love what you do – or do something else.
If you don’t like what you do, it’ll show up in your work and attitude. You’re not doing yourself, your manager, or your co-workers any favors by hanging on to what you consider to be a lousy job. Life’s too short – find something that you can be passionate about.

Note: Thanks to reader Angie Chaplin for the topic idea, winner of a free book!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Having Fun at Work a Myth?

Guest post by funny guys Adrian Gostick & Scott Christopher, authors of the new book, The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up.


As a public speaker and trainer we’ve discovered over the past two decades that the most memorable presentations and the speakers with the highest evaluations have one thing in common: humor. Well, two things really: humor and fun. They’re not the same thing, though they spring from the same well: Levity. (That’s enough colons to open a proctology lab, btw.)

Levity, as defined by your average dictionary, smacks of negativity—“inappropriate,” “frivolous,” “flippant,” “trivial,” even “giddy.” Giddy?

With descriptors like those, levity’s workplace value ranks well below Communication, Trust and Teamwork and maybe just a molecule above Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and Embezzling.

Let’s face it, levity is misunderstood. After all, who wants a “goof off” to handle company finances, deal with an irate customer, or worse, pilot the company jet?

But the truth is, it pays to lighten up. And that’s the definition of levity that we like best—a lightness of manner. It has a more positive ring to it. In our definition of levity we add other image words: upbeat, patient, respectful, good-natured, joyous, and possibly witty, clever, even hilarious. And not just in the realm of public speaking and training.

You may think it’s hard to measure the return on investment of levity at work—whether a go-cart outing, online vacation photo contest, or a well-timed one liner—but we’ve found a bevy of successful leaders in companies such as Boeing, KPMG and Nike who attest that fun is an essential component of their people, business and innovation strategies.

Our book, “The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up,” is backed up by a one million-person research study and offers up lots of ways to make money while making merry. Here are a few quick ideas that paint the proper picture of Levity…

· If they’re laughing, they’re listening: Whether you’re about to make a presentation to senior management to get funding for your big idea (outsourcing to primates), pitching a sales prospect who could make your year, or trying to engage a troop of distracted Campfire Girls, great communicators know that a little humor goes a long way toward creating unforgettable messages.

· Comedy can coax creativity: The work world isn’t suffering from a dearth of tedious, stiff brainstorming sessions. Research shows you can boost creativity scores by exposing people to humor or play before you start a meeting.

· Laugh all the way to the bank: Managers who use more levity experience higher employee productivity, engagement and retention. People with a sense of humor climb the corporate ladder more quickly and earn more money than their peers. And executives hire and promote the humorous more often than the dour. Wouldn’t you?

· Put a spring in your voicemail: As soon as you get into the office today, lighten up your tired voicemail with some quick company trivia or at least a modicum of joy in your voice. That is, after all, how we greet people face to face.

· Send a better email: It’s easy to hide behind the impersonal nature of email: “It has come to our attention that if the current trend of not cleaning up after one’s self in the break room isn’t soon curtailed, it will be closed.” Instead, type messages as you would say them: “Folks, I’m sure the custodial staff is drawing up plans for a strike. We’ll have scabs crossing the picket lines, angry janitors swinging broomsticks, Molotov cocktails. If we pick up after ourselves in the cafeteria this needless violence can be averted. Thanks!”

Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher are authors of The Levity Effect. Learn more at levityeffect.com.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Create a Leadership Development Strategy

Have you been asked to create a leadership development strategy? Or is it about time you had one, even without being asked? Don't panic, it's a great opportunity, and it can be done!

Although every organization will have it's own nuances, the following general framework has always served me well.

1. Identify the business challenges and goals.

The difference between strategic leadership development and managing a bunch of programs and processes is the extent to which everything is tightly linked to the business strategy. It's a connect-the-dots exercise. Start with reading the annual report and any business strategy documentation you can get your hands on. Then, once you have a solid foundation, conduct a round of executive interviews. If possible, start with the CEO and talk to every member of the executive team. This could be done in groups to save time and promote discussion, but I prefer individual discussions. It's a good way to build credibility and relationships when you are new to an organization. Some of my favorite questions include:

- What's the biggest challenge facing this company in the next 3-5 years?

- What keeps you up at night? (although this question is starting to get a bit overused)

- Given these challenges, what new leadership & management competencies do you see as becoming more important? How would you assess our incumbent managers against these competencies?

This is not a simple training needs assessment. For that, you might want to send out a survey to all company leaders. I've seen training managers do a very good job with this, but then stop there and think they're done. The problem with this approach is that individuals are often not aware of the high level strategic changes that are coming, and would not be able to self-select the most important competencies. There's also a difference between giving employees what they want and what the company needs. Both are important - but if you want to be strategic, start at the top.

Given busy executive calenders, this process could take 4-8 weeks to complete.

2. Identify the implications for leadership development.

It's taken me a while to get good at this step, and I've become to appreciate how important and how hard it can be. It's a thinking exercise that is as much art as it is analysis. If you're managing a team, this is a great discussion to have with your team and other key stakeholders.

There's a lot of ways to get at this, but the fundamental question is - "How does business objective "A" influence how we need to go about developing our leaders? What new skills are required?" A simple example would be a company that is expected to double it's growth in the next five years by expanding product line "B" globally. Obvious implications for leadership development include the need to develop and implement global leadership development processes and develop new global leadership competencies for product line B's general managers. It's not always that easy, so that's where some healthy discussion and debate can help tease out the implications.

3. Create a leadership development vision and mission.

This step assumes you have a team that is responsible for leadership development. If not, you could skip to the next step.

A vision statement is an aspirational description of what the team would like to achieve or accomplish in the future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. Having a clear vision can give a team direction and inspiration, and be the foundation for goal setting and action planning.

A mission statement describes what you do, for who, and how. It puts a boundary around your team's activities and helps guide their day-to-day direction.

Here's an example: "Our vision is to have a leadership pipeline that is stuffed with "A" caliber leaders at every level of the organization. Our mission is to develop great leaders."

See recent post, "How to Develop a Shared Vision Statement" for more details on how to do this.

4. Create a list of 3-5 year leadership development goals.

This short, focused list of long term goals address the implications and goals identified in steps 1&2, and support the team's vision and mission. An example of a 3-5 year goal would be "Create a process to identify and develop global competencies in our product line B division's general managers".

5. Develop measures and action plans for each goal.

The creation and tracking of a handful of critical metrics is one of the most important and often neglected components of a leadership development strategy. It's hard, but not impossible. See "Six Ways to Measure the Impact of Leadership Development" for details on how to do this.

6. Create a leadership competency model.

The same process used to identity implications and goals can be used to create a strategic leadership competency model. This model can be used as a way to align all of your leadership development processes and programs. See "How to Develop a Leadership Competency Model" for details on how to do this.

7. Review with key stakeholders to verify and modify.

It's time for another round of executive meetings. This time, you are showing up about 3 months later with a draft document describing what you heard and how you propose responding. This is where you check for understanding, make modifications, and ask for commitment, involvement, and resources. I've often brought a second document that describes exactly what is needed from the CEO and each executive. It's a bold move, but if you're confidant and passionate in what you are proposing, it's OK to go in with an "assumptive close" prepared ahead of time.

Follow these steps and you'll ensure your work is strategic, relevant, and motivating. Who knows, you might even get to be a keynote speaker at next year's big leadership conference. (-:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Internal vs. External?

Here's a question from Mary Jo Asmus, my blogging friend from Intentional Leadership:

"Can you describe the balance between when it makes sense to do leadership development programs "in house", using internal facilitators vs. going outside and hiring consultants?"

Thanks for the idea, Mary Jo, and congratulations on your free book. Having been in positions that require "make or buy" decisions for leadership and training programs for a few companies, I think I can offer some guidelines.

5 Advantages of using internal resources for a leadership development program:

1. They are less expensive.
There's no out-of-pocket expense needed to use your own people. Yes, there's payroll and benefit costs associated with having full time trainers on staff. However, if fully utilized, the yearly cost of an internal trainer is generally less than if you used contractors and consultants for the same work. Subject matter experts are even less expensive. Experienced managers can be used to train newer managers, and functional experts (i.e., finance, marketing, HR) can be used to teach their areas of expertise.

2. They know the business and culture.
An internal trainer knows the culture, unwritten rules, and company-specific nuances that are a part of any organization. There's no "breaking-in" period required, or long (and sometimes costly) "tell me all about your business" process required to get started.

3. Empathy and credibility.
In some companies, especially successful ones, internal trainers carry more credibility because they have "walked in our shoes". It sort of ties back to #2, knowing the business, but it's also a feeling of "they are one of us, they get it". A new sales manager may be more likely to sit up and pay attention to an experienced sales manager that has made or exceeded quota for the past 10 years in a row.

4. Continuity and integration.
An internal trainer can be involved in other aspects of leadership development and HR, so they are in a position to make sure all of the pieces, messages, and processes are consistent and aligned.

5. Added development for your internal resources.
Teaching is a great way to learn and develop. Using a manager to train on the topic of coaching forces that manager to brush on up the topic. It also puts a little pressure on them to be a role model in that area, so they are seen as "walking the talk".

5 Advantages of using external resources for a leadership development program:

1. Internal expertise may be missing.
External resources are sometimes needed when the required expertise is missing or in short supply within a company.

2. Innovation.
An external resource can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas into a company.

3. Ability and willingness to take risks.
Some external trainers and consultants are more willing and able to challenge people and processes without fear of political consequences. In other words, they can sometimes "get away" with something that an internal trainer wouldn't dare try. Participants are often more comfortable opening up to an outsider.

4. Better use of internal resources.
There is a cost to using internal subject matter experts and senior leaders - their time. Taking one of your best sales managers out of the filed to train means less time spent coaching sales reps and meeting with customers.

5. External resources are easier to "fire".
Let's face it, if you're a trainer manager, and you somehow end up with a mediocre trainer, you're going to be spending a lot of time on coaching and performance management. It's much easier to replace an external resource.

BTW, some of the best leadership development programs I've designed or attended have used both internal and external resources, leveraging all ten benefits of both.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Master's in Leadership or an MBA?

Here's a guest post from Becky Robinson, who writes the LeaderTalk Blog. LeaderTalk was voted one of the 10 best leadership blogs of 2009. Becky's also one of my favorite bloggers and a friend of Great Leadership:

Earlier this year, I started working for Mountain State University, doing various freelance writing projects. For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s a fun one: I made the connection to Mountain State through a Facebook friend, someone I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years but remembered fondly from our days on the school newspaper staff.

The following piece is the very first one I wrote for Mountain State, the one that eventually became the post that launched the LeaderTalk blog. I am sharing it again in the hope that it will start a new conversation about the value of leadership education. When I wrote this piece, I was still learning about and researching Mountain State’s leadership programs. What strikes me now is that my more informed thoughts match my initial and intuitive assessment of the advantages of leadership degrees.

Our world needs leaders. Mountain State University trains leaders through a cohort method of study, encouraging students to immediately apply lessons learned to their life and work. Our cohorts are safe places for people to learn to understand themselves better, to foster understanding of others and their differences, and to practice teamwork while building lifelong relationships.

At LeaderTalk today, I am talking more about the advantages of a graduate degree in leadership. Why choose a Masters in Leadership instead of an MBA? I would love to here your comments, both here and there.

April 07, 2009Litmus Test for Leadership

My husband came home from work last night and shared a familiar story. After seven years in government work he has had seven bosses - some good, some bad. This night's episode had him telling the "Tale of the Atrocious Supervisor," wherein the Peter Principle had found its civil servant spokesperson.

If we're lucky, we've all had at least one boss whose keen leadership has propelled us to greater things. Unfortunately, we have all certainly had that boss whose shortcomings, whether in communication skills or ability to motivate a team, have left us wanting. But following a good leader is an intuitive act. Almost without you knowing it, a good leader inspires to a cause and motivates to action. Before long, those following take ownership of a common vision and are able to enlist others in the purpose as well. It is true in business, government, and education. It is true in family life, a non-profit organization, or the arts. Leaders with these skills and strength of character are the ones who are getting things done.

On the other hand, we have all experienced the aggravation of being forced to follow a person whose greatest impulse for leadership is their expertise in a particular field. While technical knowledge is certainly necessary for success, such a leader is not a leader at all, but a person with specialized know-how who happens to hold authority over others. Those following such a person are invariably frustrated at best. At worst they are stuck in a directionless and ineffective organization. A leader like this may seem to have all that is needed to achieve a task, but without the ability to move people, that leader will flounder, and so will those following.

Conventional thinking tries to sell an MBA as a magical passport to climb the career ladder en route to a bigger salary. While an MBA gives technical knowledge of current business practices and theory, it cannot teach leadership. And with our current economic crisis, its narrow focus is insufficient. A leadership degree offers training in those areas that will make a difference for success in today's climate: strategies for problem solving, direction in how to conceptualize goals and communicate them effectively, character building exercises to promote integrity and courage. A leadership degree has a wide appeal; not limited to business only, but paving the way for success in any field.
I can always tell when my husband has a good supervisor. The content of dinner time conversation changes from complaints about his boss to war stories about the work he and his team are accomplishing. Even without addressing the topic directly, he is telling me that quality leadership gets work done. At our dinner table, this appears to be the litmus test for what good leadership looks like: how seamlessly work is accomplished.

by Rebecca Robinson, Guest Author

Dan's footnote:
Here's a related post, one of my very first, written in 2007, on how to choose a non-degree executive education program. And here's my list of the best open enrollment non-degree executive education programs, according to Businessweek and FT.
Is there a place for formal education when it comes to leadership development? Absolutely! As long as it's not considered a replacement for experience, rather as an accelerator.
When it comes to a degree program, which is better, an MBA or a Leadership program? I'll ask you to comment on that after reading Becky's post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Coax Feedback out of a Reluctant Manager

A question from a reader:

"I want to know where I stand with my manager and what I need to do to grow in a company very different from the one I was laid off from three years ago. He's a very savvy manager - I really admire him - but feedback just isn't his thing. For the last two years, when it's come to evaluation time, he's said "other employees don't need to discuss it." So I can't "ask for feedback." If the question strikes your fancy, can you give me some tips for coaxing him into it without making it as repellent a task as he imagines?"

Feedback can be one of the most powerful ways to develop and improve performance. It doesn't cost anything. Most employees say they want it and yet they don't get enough of it. So why are many managers so hesitant to give it?

There's two reasons for this.

First of all, although most people will say they want feedback, most of us really don't respond very well to it. It's just human nature. When we hear about something that challenges our self-perception of who we are, a basic psychological "fight or flight" mechanism kicks in. In many cases, once we have a chance to process it it, we may benefit from it in the long run. But it's usually not our immediate reaction to fully embrace it.

Secondly, most people don't like to give feedback and are not very good at it. Again, it's basic behavioral modification. When we do something and get a negative response (like touch a hot stove), we tend to avoid those things.

We spend a lot of time trying to teach managers to give feedback. However, by the time we finish training them on all of the do's and dont's of giving performance feedback, they become so paralyzed with fear that they would rather just avoid it.

In fact, out of all of the basic leadership & management skills, giving feedback consistently ranks as one of the lowest scores in leadership development 360 degree assessments.

Speaking of 360s, that's one of the reasons these assessments are so popular and effective. It's a way of giving feedback in an easy, anonymous way, without having to deal with the person's reaction.

OK - so given all of these inherent challenges, just how can we coax feedback from a reluctant manager? Here's a few tips:

1. Practice the skills of receiving feedback.
See "18 Tips for Receiving Feedback". Who knew it could be so hard? (-:

2. Ask for "feedforward" instead of feedback.
Read this summary by Marshall Goldsmith. Feedforward overcomes many of the inherent barriers of feedback.

3. Make it safe, easy, and rewarding for your manager.
It's often easier to give caring, candid feedback in the context of an informal mentoring, or development planning session, instead of a formal performance review session.

When you are able to coax out some advice, make sure you follow-up with positive examples of how that feedback helped improve your performance or enhance your worklife. Even better - write a letter a few months later thanking the manager. This may help him get over his distaste for it.

Finally, here's an idea for all of us. Have you ever received "tough love" feedback from a manager that you didn't agree with and didn't respond very well to? Then, later on, you realized the manager was right and the advice was actually helpful? How about writing that manager a note and thanking them, letting them know what a difference they made in your life. I'll bet any manager would cherish that letter forever.

Note: will the reader who submitted this question please send me an email?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is Your Manager "Crazy"?

An email from a reader, titled "Crazy Manager":

I recently found your Great Leadership website and I really need some help. I work in a small independently owned retail shop. We only have 4 employees and we have all worked here for over 2 years. Due to seniority, one of the employees is the manager. Now, the difficulty comes from a few different areas. This woman has severe bi-polar tendencies. When she is in a bad mood, the world is ending. She also got her boyfriend a job at the store. Lets just call her Jane to make things easier. Jane will come into work and immediately begin accusing us of not getting our work done. She will not ask questions about why things didn't get accomplished, its just straight to the complaining. She also treats us like children, even her boyfriend at times, talking down to us. Her computer skills are lacking but she refuses to allow any of the other employees to help her. Jane will begin projects, get frustrated and then expect everyone to pick up after her. Her needs always come first, with no consideration to the rest of us. She is creating a poisonous work environment. She constantly complains about how no one respects her, but how can we when she acts this way? These issues have been brought up to the owner, but we don't know what to do. The owner will never fire her, and a demotion will only cause her to lash out at the rest of us. How do you resolve such big personality issues without someone loosing their job? None of us want to quit because we love this job, but we cannot continue as we are.

I hereby declare that this will be my last "help, my boss is crazy" post. Believe me, my heart truly goes out to you people, but I'm sorry, I can't help you. These managers need way more than I can provide -like an anonymous EAP referral. I'm in the business of helping current and aspiring leaders develop - the ones that want to.
I'm not a shrink, so if a manager has a mental health issue, they need to get professional medical help.

In the case above, "Jane" should never have been put in a leadership role. She's a disaster. Why in the world was she allowed to hire her boyfriend? And why is the owner OK with this nonsense, perhaps the business at risk?

I've responded to similar letters and written about crazy and bad managers here, here, here, here, and here. It seems there's a awful lot of them around. Here's one theory: maybe you have to be crazy to become a manager; and it you're not, being a manager can make you crazy.

Anyway, the options are always about the same:

1. Do what you can to make the situation better, i.e., help her become a better manager.
It sounds like you've tired to help Jane improve her computer skills, and she won't accept the help. Most of the leader's I've worked with are very open to constructive feedback and willing to change, but again, these are "normal", mature individuals. For this type of manager, here's a good post from SmartBlog on Workforce called 5 Ways to Manage Your Boss Better.

2. Go to the manager's manager, or HR, your union rep, or seek outside representation.
It sounds like you're taken the issue to the owner.... have others? Are customers complaining? If she really is that bad, it will catch up to her and she will eventually implode. You might just have to cope and wait it out.

3. Get out. Find another job.
From what you've described (a "poisonous" work environment), it's hard for me to understand how you and your co-workers could love this job.
Sometimes people fear change so much they are willing to put up with all kinds of abuse (just like in abusive relationships). Why not explore other opportunities? What is it about this job that you like so much? Use that for your criteria in finding another job. You have options, and you deserve better than this. There are lot's of excellent career websites and resources to help in your job search.

I wish you all the best!

Footnote:
The original post included a list of "Management Mental Illnesses", intended to be a humorous list of dysfunctional management behaviors labeled as mental diseases. It was in poor taste and I apologize if I offended anyone or did anything to perpetuate a negative stereotype. That's not my blogging style and I should have shown better judgement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Free Books to Help Solve My Blogger's Block

Readers, fellow-bloggers, I need your HELP!!

I am having a serious case of summertime, post-vacation, stuck-in-a-rut, blogger's block.

I usually keep a running list of ideas on leadership and leadership development and up until now I've never had a problem pumping out posts. Right now it's a scarce list.

I've started a few drafts, but can't seem to finish them.

Is is a lack of motivation? Inspiration? Or is it just too too nice outside?

Regis, I'd like to use my "Ask the audience" lifeline!

Readers, please leave a comment or send me an email on something you'd like me to write about. Anything leadership development, leadership, management, talent management, supervision, or any workplace, HR, or career issue. Most of my posts tend to be of the "how to" nature - and if I don't already know how, I'll research it. Heck, I'll at least make up a good answer. (-:

But I'm open to anything. Maybe I'm stuck in a format rut?

To make it worth you're while, I'll even give away a of couple leadership books for the first two ideas I end up using: Think Again; Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.
Thanks for your help!!

Leaders: Take a Break!

I loved this story in a recent edition of SmartBrief on Leadership:

Take a vacation -- for your team's sake
When the boss takes a vacation, it sends a signal that others in the company can too, which is essential for workers to be able to recharge, writes Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP. Leaders need to get vital work out of the way before they leave, have a top-notch team in place to handle day-to-day business and then limit e-mail contact as much as possible. When leaders learn to unplug and let go, it allows others to relax a little, he writes, which helps boost productivity in the long haul. WashingtonPost.com/On Leadership blog (8/11)

This story really hit home for me because I just returned from a week long vacation. I enjoyed every minute of it, felt energized, and had no regrets or major problems my first week back. In fact, I'm proud to say that I've never not used one of my vacation days and have taken a week long summer vacation ever since I've worked.

I commend Barry Salzberg for this kind of leadership, and having his priorities straight. Look, if an indiviual would rather spend all of their time at work, then that's up to them. But as a leader, you're setting an example and expectation that's messes with other people's lives. Then it's not OK.

At the risk of pushing my own personal values on others, you might also want to take a look at this advice from Marshall Goldsmith, where he says "You may work for a wonderful company and believe that your contribution is very important. But when you are 95 and you look around your death bed, very few of your fellow employees will be waving goodbye! Your friends and family will probably be the only people who care."

OK, what about the leader who really wants to take time off but just "can't"?

This isn't just about vacation, it's also about the hours you work. Are you a leader that routinely works 12-14 hour days, and every weekend including Sundays? It’s been my experience that many exceptional leaders are so good at what they do they are able to get their work done without having to do this. And, they still have time to spend with their families, do community work, serve on Boards, and maybe even sail or play a little golf. They can do this because they want to, and, they excel in the the skills of:

- Talent management
- Delegation
- Time management
- planning and organization

An executive I know recently really drove home this point for me. He’s one of the top performing of his peer group. He hardly ever works on weekends, finds the job to be pretty manageable is always looking for a new challenge and has a hearty appetite for leadership development. Yet many of his peers find the job overwhelming. When asked why, he said somewhat hesitantly, “maybe it’s a capacity issue”?

How about you? Are you getting home at 8:00pm every night? Do you work on Sundays? If yes, is it because “the company” is making you do it? Are you doing it because you want to? Or because you think you should (because everyone else does)? Do you brag about it like a badge of honor? Or complain about it like a victim?

Or is it because you need to develop in your role so you can do your job better, and in less time than anyone else?

Try looking at it this way: Remember taking those standardized tests in school? Do you really want to be the last person leaving the test room?

In summary, are the hours you’re working a “will” or “skill” issue? Either way, it may be time to make some changes that will benefit you, your loved ones, the people you lead, and your company.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A New Leader's Pocket Guide to Improving Performance

Sorry for the lack of posts, tweets, and support (comments and RTs) for my blogging friends. I was on a family vacation - here, here, and here. Good times.


Back to work, with a question from a reader:

I am looking for some tips and best practices that new leaders can use to boost performance in employees whose performance has plateaued. I have had a discussion with this leader about competency development using FYI, Good to Great, conducting effective 1x1’s, but am also looking to see if you have a list of tips that would be helpful; almost a back pocket resource that could be kept handy for leaders.
Thanks and keep up the great work!

I love questions like this one, because it’s so real and typical of what new (and old) leaders are asking for. They want pragmatic solutions to everyday challenges. They all don't have the time and inclination to read volumes of textbooks.

While we all know leadership & management can’t be distilled down to a pocket guide, there are probably only a limited number of proven ways to squeeze (err, “inspire”) more performance out of people.

So here you go, A new leader's pocket guide to boosting performance (you have to make your own laminated cards), with links, stories, exercises, and resources for more depth:

1. Review and clarify expectations
Here’s an abbreviated version of one of my favorite stories on the power of clarifying expectations (unfortunately, I don’t remember who I heard it from, so I can’t give credit):
A consultant was hired by a CEO to “fix” one of his managers who was about to be fired. The consultant asked the CEO to write down all of his expectations for this manager. When he met with the manager, the consultant gave him the list. A few months later, after the manager’s performance had dramatically improved, the CEO was congratulating the consultant for his brilliant work. “How did you do it?” he asked. “I gave him your list”, said the consultant. The CEO slammed his fist on the table and said, “I knew it – you cheated!”
Try using the same exercise with your employees. It’s even better if you both create your own lists, then get together to compare.

2. Agree on goals and measures
While clarifying expectations is a great way to improve performance, agreeing on specific goals and measures is even more powerful. Here’s a quote from Steve Kerr, courtesy of Derek Irvine: “If something isn’t measured, you can’t give people feedback about it, so they can’t improve. You can’t reward the people who are doing it well, and you can’t improve or admonish people who do it poorly. Measurement also signals that something is important; if no one is tracking it, it will take a backseat to things that are being scrutinized. … Things that aren’t measured can’t be rewarded and they very likely won’t get done.”

3. Discuss development needs and create an individual development plan
See “How to Write a Great Individual Development Plan”. A career discussion is part of this process.

4. Provide ongoing, authentic, constructive feedback (or feedforward)
We can’t get better if we don’t know how we’re doing. It’s especially important when we have behavioral “blind spots”, and no one has cared enough to point them out.

5. Provide ongoing coaching
There’s a reason the coaching field is hot. It works. Managers can learn to coach too.

6. Provide training opportunities
Another classic training story:
Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who was very busy cutting a tree with an axe. He seemed very tired and exhausted, the tree was big, but he was a great worker and not wasting a minute of his time was focused on his job of cutting the tree. Another wise woodcutter was passing by and he noticed this woodcutter at his work. He said "Hello there, good morning.. I see that you are working hard at your job, why don't you take a break for a while, sharpen your axe a little bit" To which the wood cutter said "I don't have time." and continued to work harder at cutting the tree.
Make sure you allow and encourage your employees to sharpen their tools.

7. Provide recognition and reward
Everybody wants - and deserves – a little praise now and then. Try asking everyone on your team to write down what kind of recognition and reward means the most to them. Then tailor your approach to each individual. There are over 1000 ways to do it, and almost as many excuses for not doing it.

8. Delegate and empower
Most people thrive when faced with a new challenge. However, make sure it’s true delegation, not dumping of some mundane task you don’t want to do.

9. Ask for input
It’s more of a short-term shot in the arm, but it’s energizing when your manager asks for your opinion on some high level issue or decision.

10. Provide a mentor or coach
A mentor or coach can provide a fresh perspective and help someone get over that hurdle that’s holding them back..

By the way, none of these options will be very effective if a person doesn’t really want to improve their performance. Does your employee think that maintaining the same level of performance is OK? Because it’s really not. In today’s rapidly changing and competitive world, not improving is not an option. As the bar continues to rise, performance needs to keep improving, or today’s acceptable performance can become tomorrow’s poor performance. It may be necessary to have this heart-to-heart talk first, and then follow-up with any or all of the above.

Readers: is there anything you would add to this pocket guide?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inspect What You Expect

Bill Clinton: On Running a Country:
So if you are having a problem with people you are not alone. President Clinton once said running a country is a lot like running a cemetery; you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening.— in a speech at Galesburg, III.

As a manager, Bill’s not alone when it comes to feeling like no one’s listening to you. One of the biggest myths about management is the fantasy that if you tell your employees to do something they will do it.

See if this scenario sounds familiar:

During one of your weekly staff meetings, your team discusses a major client issue and reaches a decision. Action plans are established to be completed in two weeks.
Later that morning, a problem is brought to your attention and you fire off an email to your team asking for ideas on how to solve it.
That afternoon, you receive a notice from headquarters regarding mandatory online training that needs to be completed by all employees within 30 days. You forward the note to your employees asking them to complete the training.
Sounds like a productive day of leading, right? You’re on fire, baby!

Fast forward 45 days. You get an angry call from the head of sales informing you that your major client is upset and will no longer do business with your company – due to the very same issue you thought you had solved!
At your manager’s staff meeting, you get called out for your team not being in compliance with the mandatory training.
And just because you’re a glutton for punishment, you check to see how many ideas were submitted on how to solve that other problem. Only two.

If you’re like me, the issue of people not doing what you tell them to do is one of the most mysterious and frustrating parts of being a manager. What makes it so mysterious is that I would never dream of not doing what my manager (or anyone, for that matter) has asked me to do. It’s a deeply held value for me, a part of being responsible and credible. You do what you say you’re going to do – especially if it’s for your boss!

By the way – how does it feel to show up to your manager’s meeting being one of the only ones that’s done their homework? So while you stayed an hour late the night before to be prepared, the rest of your co-workers get rewarded with an extra week to finish.

Do yourself a favor – just let go of this fantasy and expectation. And stop getting angry with your employees. Instead, start inspecting what you expect.

In any group of employees, there are some that you can depend on 100% of the time to do what you tell them to do. I’ve heard them referred to as “self-licking lollipops”.
Then there’s a group that has good intentions – but your request just gets lost in a sea of hundreds of other priorities. Sometimes they just forget. Sometimes, they make conscious decisions to prioritize. They figure if you’ve only asked once, and not followed up, it might not be that important. They play the percentage game, hoping that they can take a chance and it may go away. Then, there are others that are just outright lazy and irresponsible – but these are a very small percentage of people. And let’s be honest… we all have things we know we should be doing but we don’t (like losing that 10 pounds). That’s just a part of being human. You have to assume that most, if not ALL of your employees are in the first two categories, and accept that everyone can drop a ball now and then.

So, like it or not, when you ask (tell) your employees to do something, you’ll be helping them be successful and making one of your biggest sources of frustration go away by establishing a simple yet effective inspection system. If you say something is due in two weeks, send a reminder 2-3 days before it’s due. Then, on the due date, ask to actually see proof of what you’ve asked to have done. Use your Outlook calendar to set up task reminders to yourself and maintain checklists of what you’re asked people to do.

It’s not a matter of trust; it’s about establishing the expectation that what you have asked for is important – that it matters to you. For those employees who have done what they were supposed to do, it’s an opportunity to praise and reward. Others will appreciate the reminders, and may even learn to manage their own priorities a little better. And what about those chronic offenders? Make sure there are negative consequences that matter to them. The rest of your team will appreciate it.

Go ahead – set yourself free – stop expecting people to do what they are told to do, and instead, help them do what they need to do. Like it or now, that’s your job as a leader.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The August Leadership Development Carnival and the Best 2009 Leadership Blog

Mary Jo Asmus, from Intentional Leadership, is hosting the August Leadership Development Carnival. Check it out, there's the usual great collection of leadership blogs, and make sure you subscribe to Intentional Leadership and follow MJ on Twitter while you're at it.

Thanks, Mary Jo, for filling in so I could take a little R&R this week.

I want to congratulate Steve Roesler, from All Things Workplace, this years winner of the Best Leadership Blogs 2009 contest, which was hosted by Kevin Eikenberry. Steve won the competition last year too, and if you've never read his blog, take a look and you'll see why. Steve is a great writer, and has a ton of experience and wisdom to share. This one's a must to subscribe to. Might as well follow him on Twitter too while you're at it.