Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Effective Leadership Begins with a Strong Foundation

Guest post from Tabitha Laser:

What is leadership?  Since joining the workforce more than 25 years ago, and serving as a leader for numerous organizations, it’s apparent that leadership means very different things to different people.  Simply put, leadership is the art of inspiring, motivating, empowering, supporting, and assuring a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.  Unfortunately, the term is often confused with management, which can be defined as the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

Why, in our current environment, is there confusion around these two terms and does what makes a strong leader still exist? 

Part of the problem lies with our current misconception around how organizations are led.  A day doesn’t go by where I don’t read or hear the term “led from the top.” This is what I believe to be a ‘deadly practice’ because it creates unhealthy competition, acts as a barrier for growth, and limits an organization’s ability to achieve sustainable success.  Allow me to elaborate on that.

Imagine your organization as a building, where its leaders are at the roof of the building.  Now imagine the workforce, processes, and equipment as the walls, fixtures, and foundation of the organization below, and your customers, market factors, and environment as the external pressures being applied to your building. 

If your building is made of bricks, picture the three little pigs’ scenario. Your organization will be able to survive quite a beating.  If your building, on the other hand, is made of straw, then it’s likely your organization will succumb to the slightest pressure.  

Regardless of your building’s strength, when your leadership forms the roof of the organization, you are creating a situation where they are practically forced to take on more of a “management” role that one of “leadership,” making it extremely difficult for that organization to grow.  In some cases, there has been growth; however, it has been as a result of falsifying data, back-stabbing, and other counterintuitive behaviors. That’s not a sustainable way to grow any business.

So, how can we fix this conundrum?  

First, we need to flip the script, and start requiring leaders to lead from the basement.  Not just from the bottom up, but from the basement.  They need to be the ones who define success, illustrated by the location for the organization and the expectations necessary to achieve success, which form the foundation for the organization.  When organizations are led from the basement, the challenge to build around them to grow is eliminated, and the building is encouraged to innovate, experiment, and expand far beyond the organization’s expectations for success.  Only then leaders will be properly positioned to truly spearhead their organization and provide the inspiration, motivation, empowerment, support, and assurance necessary to sustainably grow without limitations.  In other words, 

“The sky is the limit for a roofless building built on a strong foundation.”

When organizations are led from the basement, management is ultimately unnecessary.  This is a difficult pill for most to swallow, but a necessary step every organization needs to consider if they want to survive and thrive long into the future!

Tabitha Laser is a multi-faceted professional with over 25 years of leadership experience in a wide variety of industries ranging from oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, agriculture, construction and many more. Her diverse background has provided her with numerous opportunities to work with government agencies and some of the world’s largest companies, including Fortune 500 companies like BP, 3M, and General Mills. 
Her experience and education have fueled her passion to help shape the next generation of leaders, especially millennials, to avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors and lead beyond best.  Tabitha is the author of the book, Organization Culture Killers.  This is the first in a series of leadership books she calls “The Deadly Practices.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

6 Ways to Just Say No to Stress

Guest post from Janelle Bruland:

There is a growing epidemic that is killing us as leaders, and it’s completely curable. Our culture is filled with more anxiety and stress than ever. None of us were built to handle what we are all dealing with on a daily basis. The average knowledge worker today is interrupted every 11 minutes by some form of communication. Many of us wake in the morning and immediately reach for our phones which we strategically placed on our bedside table the night before so that it will be the first thing we see each day. The people in our lives expect an answer to their messages in seconds, and they think we are ignoring them if we take even a few minutes more than that.

The result of all of this is chaos and chaos creates stress. Stress is a killer. It effects our health, causes confusion, and steals our joy. If it goes on long enough it might steal our time here on this planet and that would be even more tragic.

So, what can we do? My guess is that if you are reading this you have probably been overwhelmed recently. In fact, many of you live in a constant overwhelmed state.

I have learned firsthand that living this way is not sustainable. I have a successful business that I started in 1995. In a time of exponential growth and expansion, my husband got in the car and drove away leaving me with three young children to raise. If there was such a thing as a stress meter, I would have been afraid to know what the numbers were at the time. How in the world was I going to continue to lead my company and keep up with my duties at home (and anywhere else, for that matter)?

Sometimes challenges like these turn out to be a blessing because it forces us to figure out how to change things. I did just that. My heart was broken but there was no time to grieve. I had to get to work on a solution. I didn’t always do it perfectly, but I did discover transformational systems and practices that not only allowed me to survive, but to thrive in the most stressful time of my life.

I would like to share a few of them with you:

1. Write a list of things you are going to say no to. That’s right. Not a to-do list, but a not-going-to-do list. For example, I say no to the opportunities that come up that I am not completely passionate about.  When we choose to participate in something, we should be excited to be involved, not doing it out of guilt or obligation. I also say no to things that are not aligned with my core values and priorities.  To stay true to our values, our words, behavior, and actions must be in line with our beliefs. I decline requests that are not in my wheelhouse. Often, we are asked to do things that truly belong on someone else’s “to do” list. Be sure to pass on those, or delegate them to a more appropriate person.

I have learned to avoid those things that drain me of energy as often as I can.  Our time should be spent on activities that we enjoy and give us energy, not deplete it. And finally, I say no to relationships that are unhealthy. We will never be our best if we are constantly having to lift ourselves up from interactions with unsupportive or negative people. Eliminate these relationships.

2. Cut back on technology. I know. Easy to say. Hard to do. We are all afraid we might miss something, right? But it will be there when you come back to it. It’s not going anywhere. This is a tough one, but doable. At first you will literally have a physical reaction to leaving your cell phone behind or turning it off. But keep doing it and eventually you will experience the freedom that it brings to be unhooked and you will want to do it more often.

3.Train the people in your circle about how and when you will be responding. If you have just walked into the gym and get a call that you know is not a life or death matter, let it go to voice mail and don’t feel guilty.  Schedule a time in your day for phone calls and email. Pretty soon, people will know that you are not ignoring them. Do this one thing and you will begin to live a proactive life instead of a reactive one.

4.Take care of your health. We are no good to anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves first. Commit to self-care. Fuel your body with healthy food. Find an hour a day to walk or go to the gym. Most of us are too sedentary. We work at desk jobs. Get moving. Schedule it and then don’t let anything keep you from it.
Exercise release endorphins that give us euphoria and joy. Endorphins are stress killers!

5.  Be grateful. Most of us live better than 90 percent of the world. Our complaints are usually, as one person said, “First world problems.” You will drive to work today in a decent car. You most likely live in a safe and warm place. Remind yourself often about how good you have it. If something needs to be changed, change it. One practice I use is to write down three things I am grateful for every day. This activity shifts my mindset.

6.  Go to sleep. If you do all these de-stressing activities you will find that you also start doing perhaps the most important thing to help relieve stress and clear your mind: sleep. Most of do not get enough sleep and, when we do, we don’t sleep well. Sleep is vital to winning the war on stress and having the life we always dreamed of.

These 6 practices were life changing for me. Incorporate them and enjoy the positive effects when you just say no to stress.

Janelle Bruland is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and high-performance coach
who inspires others to live impactful and successful lives. She is Founder and CEO of Management Services Northwest, a company she started in her living room in 1995 and has grown into an industry leading company, named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies by Inc. magazine. The CPO of Microsoft, Mike Simms, describes her as a true pioneer in her field. Janelle is also the Co-Founder of Legacy Leader, a leadership development company that teaches business professionals how to build a legacy, transform their leadership, and love their life. She is the author of The Success Lie: 5 Simple Truths to Overcome Overwhelm and Achieve Peace of Mind.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Does Your Email Inbox Dictate Your Day — And Should It?

Guest post from Dianna Booher:

A reporter for Newsday called recently for a comment about his story on executive stress and the connection to email. As I shared stats from my organization’s recent survey, the reporter passed along comments from a CEO he’d just interviewed: “Email interrupts me all day long. I can’t focus on my core work. It’s 1:30. I have a project in front of me right now that should take me an hour and a half to finish. But because of the email distractions, it’ll take the rest of the afternoon to get it done.”

Do you feel this executive’s pain – the frustration of disruptions in focusing on your core work? The bad news: You’re not alone. The good news: There are simple solutions (not easy solutions, but simple ones).

My organization, Booher Research Institute, recently commissioned a survey of email habits and productivity from the Social Research Lab at the University of Northern Colorado. Here’s what a representative sampling of knowledge workers across multiple industries reported about their email habits:
  • 42 percent spend 3 hours or more per day reading and writing email
  • 55 percent check their email either hourly or multiple times per hour
  • 31 percent spend more than 20 minutes per day searching for information or files to include in responding to emails

Conclusion: If your inbox feels like an email monster, you’re not fighting it alone. Here are five proven strategies to getting through your inbox faster so you can focus on your core work and the important emails.

If you’ve ever tried to move your belongings into a closet or garage previously used by someone else, you understand this principle: Get rid of the items that served someone else’s purpose before you reload that space. You’ll typically sort the previous owner’s junk into piles: garbage, donate, sell.

Look at your email box the same way: Over the years, you may have let it become a collection of junk serving everyone’s purposes but yours. And your own purposes may have changed over time as your role has changed. Cutting your email clutter can be the easiest way to carve away a big chunk of wasted time.

In the earlier mentioned University of Northern Colorado (UNC) survey, a whopping 69 percent of the participants identified clutter as their biggest email problem.
Once you set your mind to the idea, decluttering goes quickly. Let’s get even more specific about how.…

Ask Team Members to Stop Hitting “REPLY ALL” and Stop Doing So Yourself
Instead, of using “REPLY ALL,” send congratulatory comments directly to the person who deserves kudos. Offer thanks directly to the person who helped you. Turn down an invitation only to the appropriate person. Why clog up seventeen other inboxes, only to have all seventeen recipients echo back?

A good rule of thumb on the REPLY ALL feature: Is your response helpful to all on the distribution list?  If not, fly solo. Granted, changing the culture can be difficult. But aim to set the example.

Cull Your Distribution Lists
Chances are great that you get copied on many emails you don’t need. Their usefulness to you has long since passed. But you’ve found it quicker just to delete those periodic emails than to take yourself off the distribution list permanently.

In fact, according to the UNC survey, knowledge workers report that fully 35 percent of the emails they receive are either irrelevant  (22 percent) or redundant (13 percent). (Irrelevant emails refer to those about topics that do not apply to you. Redundant emails are those with the same information sent by multiple people.)

That “quick and easy” decision is understandable when you’re dealing with just one email. But over time, that decision amounts to thousands of distractions.

You also may be surprised to discover that culling your distribution lists for emails you send may increase engagement with the interested parties on important projects. As with meetings, the larger the group, the lower the individual participation. When emailing for input, the same principle applies: When you copy a large list, people feel anonymous, and fewer feel it’s necessary to respond. If you need their input, cut the list and you’ll increase response.

Stop Responding on CCs Sent for Promotion or Pressure
Hidden agendas. Backhanded compliments. CYA attempts. Whatever the label, you recognize these tactics when you see them. When you respond to such CC emails about projects and issues not directly involving you, this encourages the sender to keep up the self-promotion and the pressure tactics on colleagues.

If you’re ever tempted to write such an email yourself, by all means, do so. Just don’t send it. This strategy in particular may demand a new mindset and a major emotional adjustment. An email cannot be both a productivity tool and a weapon. While it may motivate some, it will demoralize others.

Turn Off Email Alerts or Disable Automatic Retrieval
In the UNC survey, 55 percent of the participants said they keep their email open either always (37 percent) or most of the time (18 percent). That’s a major distraction from your work – unless your primary job is to read and respond to email!

Instead, handle emails only two or three times a day: ideally in the early morning, after lunch, and at the end of the day. Responding every time an email pops into your box breaks your concentration, wasting minutes and energy with each interruption. Productivity studies show there’s no such thing as multitasking – just rapid attention-switching. That in itself creates stress, increases the chance for error, and reduces overall efficiency.

How you handle email can often determine the trajectory of your career—whether you piddle away your time or focus on your core work. Master your emails—make them faster, fewer, better —and you’ll stand out as a leader who communicates clearly and delivers real results.

Dianna Booher’s latest books include Faster, Fewer, Better Emails; Communicate Like a Leader; What MORE Can I Say?; and Creating Personal Presence. She’s the bestselling author of 48 books, published in 61 foreign editions. Dianna helps organizations communicate clearly and leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence. For more information, please visit www.BooherResearch.com   

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Leadership and the Innovation Crisis

Guest post from Alf Rehn:
Some say we live in the golden age of innovation, an age ruled by transformation and revolution. They point to shiny startups and the seemingly unstoppable progress of technology, and proclaim that our age is on track to solve all problems and cure all ills. I say they are sorely mistaken.
Instead, I would argue that we live in the age of innovation crisis. What crisis, you may ask? A crisis of imagination, a crisis of ambition, a crisis of vision. A crisis where there has never been more talk about innovation – there’s no end to the books, blogs, LinkedIn-groups and Instagram-feeds dedicated to the same – yet we still struggle to solve some of the basic problems in society. We’ve never spent more on innovation, yet as many CEOs are starting to notice, the returns are diminishing, and the trend is down, not up.
This is an age where you can buy a pair of “smart” socks that can communicate with your phone and let you know how many times they’ve been washed, but where despite having an abundance of food we still have hunger, even in advanced societies. An age where a great deal of money pours to a limited set of people in a limited area of the world, for the solving of very limited problems, whilst many who reside outside of Palo Alto or other anointed “innovation hubs” see their livelihood eroding and their environments getting poisoned. An age with lots of talk of innovation, lots of resources for it, better conditions for it than ever – but also an age of shallow innovation and a lack of innovation leadership. This is an age where we, as a global society, spend a minimum of $3,000,000,000,000 (that’s three trillion dollars, and it is a very, very lowball estimate) on innovation every year, and where at the same time around 750,000 children will die of diarrhea – just this year.
This doesn’t mean innovation is dead. Far from it. We still create things, we still solve problems, we still design the most amazing technologies. The problem, however, is that much of this is a random walk down solution lane. That is, when it isn’t a case of solving trivial problems simply because that’s where the money is at. You see, the issue really isn’t that contemporary innovation doesn’t produce things. It does. It creates many products, many services, new processes, and a plethora of apps. Some of these even make money. What it doesn’t do is to direct and focus the potential power of innovation – with all the money and the knowledge and the skills and the technology at our disposal – to where it can do the most good.
Succinctly put, innovation has a leadership problem. There is innovation, but far too much of this is done without any deep, meaningful purpose. Instead, it goes where the money is, where the easy solutions are, following the path of least resistance. A true innovation leader would protest this, demand that innovation should have impact and purpose and a meaning beyond dollars and cents, but as we have a lack of such leaders, innovation focuses on shallow show-offs. Without true innovation leadership, we risk that the exponential technologies that could be harnessed to solve some of the most complex wicked problems of our age – an aging society, looming environmental disasters, ossified social structures, the coming water crisis, and so on – are instead focused on improving cheap entertainment and incremental improvements in food delivery system.
What our age needs, then, are new innovation leaders. For these, skills such as innovation management and design thinking will not be special but assumed by default, just as we today assume people can handle email and Excel. Besides such basics, tomorrow’s innovation leaders will need to build strong, inclusive innovation cultures – replete with psychological safety and a capacity to reflect on the most challenging, contrarian ideas. For them, emphasizing diversity in innovative organizations will be a given, and they will leverage this to crank up innovation ambition and foster deep discussions about the purpose of the same. They will realize that some innovations can be done quickly, and they will be comfortable experimenting, but in addition they will understand that some innovations can take years, even decades, to come to fruition and have the courage to engage with them despite this.
The next challenge for today’s leaders is to develop this kind of innovation leadership. We have the resources, and we have the problems. Do we also have the courage, the grit, and the fortitude to truly allow innovation to be all that it can be? Time will tell, but the organizations that are prepared to take up the challenge of innovation ambition and true innovation leadership will be the ones that define the decades to come. Will yours be one of them?
Alf Rehn, author of Innovation for the Fatigued:  How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity, is recognized as a global thought-leader in the field of innovation and creativity.  Rehn is Professor of Innovation, Design, and Management at the University of Southern Denmark, sits on numerous boards of directors, is a bestselling author, and serves as a strategic advisor for hot new startups to Fortune 500 companies. For more information, please visit https://www.koganpage.com/product/innovation-for-the-fatigued-9780749484088.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Leader’s Guide to Creating an Enduring Brand

Guest post by Lindsay Pedersen:

Show me a valuable business, and I’ll show you a leader who has had to make hard choices. They’ve had to look at 100 good ideas and take 99 of them off the table in favor of the excellent one.

That means they’ve also become proficient in prioritizing. Ruthless prioritization serves you—the CEO, the general manager, the team owner, the person on the hook for the P&L of your business. It buoys you from paralyzing overwhelm to empowerment.

Then you are truly leading your team, and your employees return in kind, with their own understanding, demonstration, and embodiment of the business.
Easy to grok. But how do you do this?

Everything you decide to do in and for your business—all those hard choices and prioritizing—either reinforces or erodes your brand. So you need to pay attention to it. Brand should be the North Star to guide you. Your brand—the thing you want to stand for in the mind of your customer—is the best way to filter your decision-making. From day-to-day decisions (Should I attend this conference? Should I reevaluate this idea?) to monumental ones (Should I partner with this company? Should I quadruple my spending on this promising investment?), brand shines so brightly that it makes visible the right decision without you needing to spend precious time and cognitive energy weighing choices.

Because brand is the lynchpin for a business with pricing power, loyalty, employee meaning, and enduring value creation, you making decisions that reinforce your brand meaning enables your business not only to survive but to thrive.

You still might not think brand is your area of expertise. In the past, you may have felt tempted to delegate brand to marketing or even to an outside agency. But to do so is to miss brand’s power. It’s to mistake brand for a single-pronged marketing angle, when it is really the North Star of your business. If you are delegating the brand strategy, then I’d suggest that it is not a brand strategy. It might be a neat marketing campaign, but if it doesn’t force hard choices across departments and over time, it’s not a brand strategy.

And here’s the thing: You, the leader, must be the one to choose the focus of the business. You, the leader, need to be the one to select a single brand promise for your customers.

In shining that light on one thing, you inherently cast all other things in shadow. You deselect bad but also good ideas so that there can be single-minded focus on one excellent idea. That focus is the very thing that makes brand strategy powerful.

For a brand to create value for a business, customers, and employees, it needs to be genuine and bracingly clear. That is the only way it will empower the leader and employees to make tough choices that amplify the brand. Value-creating brands are ones that force tough choices.

The truth is, it can be difficult, sometimes scary, to choose a focus, to make tough choices to choose a brand North Star. It takes courage and conviction to develop and follow one. Yet you cannot delegate courage and conviction.

Think of a brand that you love. What are the tough choices that this business makes to inspire that love? In order to offer what you appreciate from them, what can they not offer? 
In order to appeal to you, who might they not resonate with, and therefore not have a relationship with? Now, think how much leadership courage and conviction it takes to make those tough choices. How does a leader cultivate that courage and conviction? By creating a brand with intention, infusing the brand throughout the business, and modeling the importance of the brand.

When I hear a leader talking about the importance of brand, I am also watching to see whether this leader really means it. Has this person said no to something attractive in service of the brand? Behind closed doors, does the leader look to the brand as a guide in the same way the leader does publicly?

When employees see you owning brand, using brand to filter and to make trade-offs, demonstrating that you feel it in your bones, the employees will too. Employees need to see you believing in and modeling the brand when it’s easy but especially when it is hard—or there is zero percent chance that the employees will stick their necks out to follow that guiding star.

It matters to employees if you’re giving them air cover or not. Because that’s a leader’s ultimate job, to do that hard, strategic heavy-lifting—the heaviest lifting one might ever do. It takes moxie to create a brand strategy. The reward is pricing power, loyalty, and enduring pride among employees. The reward is a brand—and a business—that creates value and endures.

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach who views brand as a blend of science, intuition, behavioral economics, and ancient storytelling. She developed the Ironclad Method™ while building brands with companies such as Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, IMDb, and burgeoning startups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. Keep in touch with Lindsay through her website: www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Why Purpose, Mission, Vision and Values Really Do Matter

Guest post from Chris Griffiths:

Being able to define your purpose, mission, vision and values allows you to plan for your company’s future success. The Purpose/Mission/Vision/Values concept can apply to just about anybody in any business. Whether you’re an established company, an enthusiastic start-up or a remote worker, use this strategy to help define who you are and where you want to be. Although this way of thinking and working aids companies and their growth, it is highly underestimated. However, when these concepts are expressed clearly and concisely and relayed to the company, your business will be more focused on its future goals.

With the aid of the ‘Why We Exist’ Canvas, you’ll be able to assess business problems standing in the way of achieving your goals and map out the steps in order to reach them.

1.    Purpose: What is your reason for being?
If you were to ask your colleagues what the purpose of the company was, how many would answer correctly? If the answer is only a few, then they wouldn’t be alone. Did you know that people are more likely to thrive when their work has a clear purpose and meaning? Define the purpose of the company and share it with your team. With a purpose clearly defined, workers will be uplifted, resulting in an increase in their output. Once your purpose is defined, be sure to put it into action. Make it believable and ensure each individual in the company is committed to it. Give it a go and see how the process boosts productivity, loyalty and performance throughout the company.

Action: Use your Canvas to note down why you choose to exist as a company, beyond the financial gain. What are your strengths as a team/company? What is your thing that attracts the attention of others?

2.  Mission: What’s your core mission statement?
Although a business strategy is likely to change over time, the company’s mission will not. If you’re unfamiliar with mission statements, they define the business and its primary objectives. For example, a company mission may be to boost productivity for individuals and teams worldwide. Be bold and courageous with your goals and mission statement. After all, if your goal doesn’t scare you then it’s not big enough. Defining a clear mission statement allows you to be transparent with the team. Your team will know what to expect from you and what you expect from them. Champion a grand mission, rather than bland statements. Once defined, check your mission statement by asking yourself these essential four questions:

     What do we do?
     How do we do it?
     Whom do we do it for?
     What value are we bringing to others?

Action: Write an ambitious yet achievable position in your market or in your customers’ lives that recognizes your Purpose. Ensure your statement is concise and never underestimate the importance of your company’s mission.

3. Vision: Where is the future taking you?
We all have a vision for our goals. ‘Where do we want to be in three, five or ten years’ time?’, is the key question to ask yourself when thinking about the company vision. Your vision is also a powerful influencing factor for employee retention and engagement. When considering your vision and how it could impact your team, think about how you can make it sustainable and scalable. Analyze areas such as how to carry your business in the future and establish timeframes for when you’d like to reach certain milestones. An important point to remember is not to define a statement purely for the sake of it. Define your vision in order to live it.

Action: What’s the difference you’re aiming to make in your customers’ lives or society at large? Define it on your Canvas.

4. Values: What do you stand for?
Company values are closely linked with its mission. They represent choices connected with your mission and are the core DNA of your business. Think of values as your identity and what you stand for. Strong values lead to action and become a guiding force as your company grows. Your company values have the ability to influence others and welcome potential customers. Take some time to understand the real priorities of your business; you’ll then be able to determine the best direction for the company. Identifying and understanding your values is challenging, yet vital. By pinpointing your company values, you’ll be more aware of these factors when making future decisions.

Action: Now use your Canvas to define the principles and values that will accelerate your progress and success.

Inspire the people around you with your purpose, mission, vision and values to help cement business goals and take the company to the next level.

Chris Griffiths, author of The Creative Thinking Handbook:  Your Step-By-Step Guide To Problem Solving In Business, is founder and CEO of OpenGenius. Griffiths has helped thousands of people worldwide drive business growth using highly practical innovation processes, including teams and individuals from Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies, the United Nations, governments, the European Commission and Nobel Laureates. He is a pioneer in combining creative thinking strategies with technology to enhance productivity and is behind the iMindMap and DropTask apps, now utilized by over two million people worldwide.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Transform Your Team With This Innovative Approach

Guest post from Eric Coryell:

Accountability.  Good employees are accountable.  Good leaders hold their employees accountable.  Good organizations have accountable cultures. But what does it really mean to be accountable?  And what happens when someone isn’t accountable?  How leaders deal with non-accountable behavior goes a long way to defining the culture of an organization.

The generally accepted definition of being accountable is that “you do what you say you are going to do.”  Yet everyone will inevitably fail on this accord.  Does that mean they are not accountable?  I think it is when someone does not “do what they said they would do” that accountability is determined.  Someone who is non-accountable will tend to make excuses, point fingers, deny, deflect or refuse to change.  Accountable people will take responsibility for not delivering on the desired results and start doing something different until the desired results are achieved.

Wouldn’t life be great if everyone exhibited accountable behavior 100% of the time?  As great as that idea sounds it is not realistic and leaders must decide what to do when one of their reports is not acting accountably.  This action is generally known as holding someone accountable.  To effectively hold someone accountable the leaders sets the foundation by setting clear expectations, contracting, incentivizing, and putting feedback mechanisms in place.  If the employee does not deliver on the desired results and then doesn’t act accountably the leader has to step in and coach, reassess, train, or even (re)set consequences.  Continued non-accountable behavior can lead to disciplinary actions and even termination.

But who really has the accountability during this process?  Who is the one doing something different until the desired results are achieved?  The leader!  The whole notion of holding someone accountable is really a myth.  When a leader says they are holding someone accountable what they are really saying that they are taking the accountability away from the individual.  They are now the ones that are doing something different until the desired results are achieved.  And if they don’t achieve the desired results their leader is going to do the same thing to them.  This is called leader-led accountability and is the norm in most organizations.

There are two significant problems with this approach to managing accountability.  One is that not everyone is good at taking the accountability from their employees (formerly known as “holding them accountable”).  Some leaders are afraid of alienating their employees so they shy away from it or they convince themselves they can’t do that until they are perfectly accountable themselves.  The second problem is that it creates very upward looking organizations.  Employees are constantly looking up to their boss as they are the ones whose expectations they have to meet and they are the ones who will take their accountability away if they don’t meet them.

But there is another way a leader can manage accountability and that is by setting up their team to be accountable.  On accountable teams when someone fails to meet expectations and aren’t doing something different to get those results, the team members step in.  To many this sounds Pollyanna but more than likely you have been on accountable team at some point in your life.  Take a moment and think of the best team you have ever been a part of.  It might be your family, a high school sports team, volunteer organization, or a work team.  As you think about that team, I am confident it had the basics of all functional teams: (1) clear purpose, (2) some way of measuring whether you were achieving that purpose, (3) competent people, and (4) capable process.  But if it was a really good team than it probably had one more thing and that was a willingness and ability to deal with any issues that were getting in the way of the team achieving its purpose.  This meant when there were team members not upholding their end of the deal the other team members took the accountability and addressed the issue(s).

What made this all possible and what separates that team from most teams you have been on are two things.  First there was a real and meaningful shared fate on the team.  In other words, what happened to one, happened to all.  You either won together or you lost together.  This provided the motivation for the team members to take on the accountability issue.  The second thing your best team had was a real and meaningful level of trust amongst the team members.  This made it possible to deal with those real issues without damaging the team.

For today I want to focus on how to do the first step and that is to build a meaningful shared fate on the team.  Good coaches know how to do this (e.g. when someone is late for practice, everybody runs) as does the military – think boot camp.  In my experience I have come to realize that few business leaders do.  They typically look at their employees as having separate accountabilities (“John is accountable for sales, Mary is accountable for operations, etc.”) and then wonder why they aren’t functioning as a team.  Building a shared fate starts with the leader thinking of their team as a group of individuals who are responsible for achieving the team’s purpose and achieving the team’s metrics.  When the leader starts thinking in those term’s they start engaging in the behaviors necessary to build a shared fate on the team.  You can help build a shared fate by putting everyone’s desk in the same office, by making it hard to get on the team, by going through a difficult situation together, by sharing a common passion for the outcome, or even by creating a common enemy.  However, you choose to do it, leaders and coaches who want their team to become accountable must first focus on creating a real and meaningful shared fate for the team.  As that happens the accountability burden starts to become less for the leader.

ERIC CORYELL dedicates his time to helping organizations engage their employees through strategic alignment, leadership development, and the creation of functional and accountable teams. Eric’s new book is Revolutionize Teamwork, a quick read packed with valuable information that shows you how to create and lead accountable teams built on shared trust. Using the principles Eric outlines in this book leads to teams that are better able to make decisions and are motivated by group success.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Diversity and Inclusion – Two Very Different Concepts

Guest post from Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina:

To build an inclusive organisation, there are two main things you need
to do.  You need to de-bias the systems that run the organisation, such as recruitment, pay, procurement, talent management and marketing.  And you need to lead inclusively.  Whilst both are important, leadership is the cornerstone, without which all the diversity initiatives in the world will be in vain.

When we think about how to reduce unconscious bias in organisations,
we often think about systems and processes. We think about recruitment policies, or how we do performance evaluations, or flexible working arrangements. We anonymize CVs, do 360° evaluations, and make work flexibility the default. All of these techniques are extremely important in making the workplace more equitable. They help to level the playing field and reduce the risk that we are systematically favouring or penalising any particular group.

However, as important as these processes are, they are only one half of the solution.

Diversity and inclusion – despite that they are often discussed together – are actually two very different concepts.  Diversity is about the mix of people on your team or in your organisation.  Making sure you have the right policies in place really helps with this half of the equation.  It makes sure that a broad swathe of people apply, that marginalised groups are just as likely to make it through the application process as majority groups, and that everyone has equal opportunity for advancement.

Inclusion, however, is about making sure the mix of people we have works.  It’s about ensuring that no one, regardless of their background or identity, has to worry about hiding parts of themselves. In an inclusive workplace, everyone has equal opportunity and support to thrive.  While policies can help with this to some degree, the work of including people is mostly done through leadership.

The reason for this is that while policies can mandate the way we review applications, they can’t really mandate how we run a meeting, or how we create an organizational culture.  That culture is built through the behaviours exhibited by all who work there.  If people are making sexist or racist jokes or comments, whether in formal meeting settings or during casual conversations, that creates a less inclusive environment. It makes those people who are the butt of those jokes feel like they are misunderstood and that people will judge them based on stereotypes rather than for who they are as an individual and the work they do.

However, if employees and especially organizational leaders make a point of calling out these bad behaviours and holding offenders accountable for their actions, we begin to show members of marginalized groups that these jokes do not reflect the culture the firm is trying to create.

Calling out offensive behaviours is easy, though – it’s obvious and overtly discriminatory.  However, there are subtler behaviours that are key to creating an inclusive environment that leaders should embrace.  For example, we know that women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and other members of marginalized groups are more likely to be interrupted in meetings and have their ideas attributed to other people (usually middle-aged white men). If leaders make a point of ensuring that interruptions aren’t tolerated, or that when a good point is repeated that they give proper credit to the original person who made the point, it would go a long way to making sure that everyone feels welcome at work.

It goes beyond the traditional protected characteristics as well – introverts and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, for example, often experience subtle behaviours that exclude them from bringing their whole selves to work and being their best.

To increase psychological safety – the feeling that it’s safe to contradict your boss, make mistakes, and dissent with decisions – leaders might consider having a dedicated devil’s advocate in meetings or including “rotten tomatoes time” in meetings where the goal is to poke holes in decisions or ideas that have come up. This creates a culture where disagreement and debate is welcome, and guards against blind spots and groupthink.

If you notice that some of your staff don’t speak up much in meetings, you might consider rotating the chair of the meeting to increase the participation of introverts.  Alternatively, you could send out questions with agendas in advance so that those who would rather think more deeply about their answers have the time to do so rather than simply reacting instinctually during meetings.

Policies and systems definitely need to be in place to ensure a diverse workplace – they help with recruitment and promotion, and ensure equality as much as possible.  But for inclusion, it is critical that leaders behave inclusively.  And when leaders set the example, their employees will follow. This is what creates an inclusive environment, and ensures that good people – regardless of their identity – can thrive.  As a result, those businesses will thrive as well.

Stephen Frost is co-author of Building An Inclusive Organization: Leveraging the Power ofa Diverse Workforce, and the CEO of the leadership consultancy Frost Included specializing in diversity and inclusion.

Raafi-Karim Alidina is co-author of Building An Inclusive Organization: Leveraging the Power of a Diverse Workforce, and a consultant with Frost Included, working with clients to help create more inclusive workplace cultures.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Leadership Irony: To Accomplish More, Do Less

Guest post from Sara Canaday:

As leaders, we are, by definition, doers. We finish. We deliver. We get results. And we love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with crossing things off our “to-do” lists. The tougher the task, the better we like it. We revel in being that person people bring the undoable to and then conquer.  That’s how we got here, right? We became the go-to resource for those around us, and it fueled our rise through the ranks. No whining. Just do it.

But what if our bias for action, our quest for pushing harder, won’t work anymore? What if incessant doing keeps us from greatness? Is that possible?

Here is a story that illustrates what I mean. A few years ago, I was asked to facilitate a leadership retreat for a tech company. On the agenda, was a business simulation that was akin to an outdoor scavenger hunt. The participants were divided into small groups and each team was asked to spend a few hours strategizing and developing a plan that would lead to the best and fastest way to find items and “collect” associated winnings.  Without going into detail, I can tell you that the group I was assigned to observe and coach post-simulation was convinced their airtight plan would net them the ultimate prize. They were going to stay together as a group and use their collective brain power to solve the clues.

That was their thinking anyway.

But a funny thing happened when the simulation started. This very deliberate and intelligent group of leaders almost immediately abandoned their well-thought-out plan and let their instincts kick in. Instead of sticking together and relying on their identified roles, several individuals strayed from the group and started to “hunt” on their own. The rest of the team followed suit and began to scatter frantically.   

When we debriefed later, the discussion was fascinating. Humans are all hard-wired for action, and these leaders started to realize the implications of that reality. They could all see that their competitive adrenaline rush and the time pressure ignited their natural bias for action. In the heat of the moment, they felt compelled—even obligated—to do something. To dive in and make it happen. Forget the strategy. Ditch the plan.   

Here’s the rub. As leaders, we are being asked to both think more and do more. We need better ideas and more strategies, and we also need to keep moving. That’s an impossible tension. We can’t endlessly do both things at the same time. 

So, what’s the answer? It might surprise you.

Modern leaders who are achieving phenomenal success have figured out the solution. Instead of making action the default for every challenge, these leaders are pairing that alternative with an opposite response. It’s not about replacing action, which we know is a necessary leadership ingredient. We still need to reach our goals, meet deadlines, and produce results. This is different.

They think of it as developing a companion habit that celebrates BEING rather than DOING. It involves a strategic pause. A mental time-out. Space for their brains to percolate and process the mounds of the information they’ve been packing in.

Whatever we call it, this new habit requires consistently taking some time away from the chaos of business to let ourselves reflect and plan. To connect the dots between information in different ways and to look at challenges from a fresh angle. We can’t possibly do that when we are in constant motion.

No doubt about it, modern leaders have realized the extraordinary benefits of the strategic pause. They don’t mistake motion for meaning.

Neuroscientists at Washington University tested this theory by collecting brain-scan data from people who were busy doing mental tasks like math problems and word games. While the intense focus of these tasks caused spikes in some parts of the brain, it also caused declines in other parts.

These researchers ultimately found a background activity in the brain that, oddly enough, is much more active when people are sitting quietly in a room doing nothing. That’s a pivotal finding.

They discovered that the “resting brain” is actually quite busy with absorbing and evaluating information, but we curtail that function when we allow the “active brain” to hijack all the mental energy. If we want creativity to flourish, we need to deliberately pause on occasion and allow that background process to take priority.

As hard as it is for us doers to believe, all the evidence says that maximum effectiveness and innovation start with…STOPPING.  

Yes, it’s tough to do. I admit it. We’ve been taught to move forward, to finish, to be relentless. We have even been handsomely rewarded for it.

But I am here to tell you that this bias for action could be working against you. If you want your organization and your team to grow, incorporate the strategic pause. Proactively make an unbreakable appointment with yourself to think. To be. Give yourself time and space. Change the scenery. You, your team, and all your stakeholders will be glad you did.  

Keynote Speaker, LinkedIn Learning Instructor and Author SaraCanaday is a rare blend of analytical entrepreneur and perceptive warmth. That powerful combination has increasingly made her a go-to resource for helping leaders and high-potential professionals achieve their best. She is a sought-after leadership speaker and educator, serving diverse organizations around the world. In that capacity, Sara has gained a unique, front-line view of leadership and its fascinating evolution. She shares those observations with in-depth analysis in her second book, Leadership Unchained:  Defy conventional wisdom for breakthrough performance,”.