Thursday, September 24, 2020

Playbook for a New Leader’s First 90 Days on the Job

Guest post from Kristin Harper:

The first 90 days of a leaders’ tenure set the foundation for their future success. Below are five time-tested approaches for new leaders to get off to a fast start.  I’ve written about these and other crucial tools for helping leaders improve relationships, gain executive presence and succeed in my new book, The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.

1) Focus on Learning and Listening

Prior to starting a new role, read as much as you can, for as far back as you can about the business, strategy, plans, performance, people, opportunities, and challenges. Meet with your predecessor and other stakeholders to ask questions that seek to understand and not judge. Forming conclusions and making decisions too early in your role can be disastrous. Marry your independent research with insightful conversations to accelerate your on-boarding and business mastery.

During your first 90 days, absorb as much information and insight as possible. Besides periodic questions aimed at deepening your understanding of the organization, business, people, and processes, most of your time should be spent listening. Capture your hypotheses, ideas, and observations in a journal. As you meet more people and learn about the business, validate or invalidate your hypotheses, which will become the basis of your future vision, strategies, and/or operational plans.

2) Establish Yourself as both a Person and Leader

Change of any magnitude naturally causes anxiety. Ease your new team’s worries by hosting a Day 1 meeting. This is your first opportunity to establish your personal brand. Demonstrate self-awareness and authenticity by sharing the following content, which will help build trust, establish expectations, and accelerate relationship development with your new colleagues:

A summary of who you are as a person and leader, what you believe, how those values and beliefs guide your actions, and how you operate

- Why you accepted this role

- What you are committed to for the team, business, organization, and culture

- Address questions and concerns

- Team introductions plus an interesting fact or icebreaker

- Paint a picture of the next few weeks

- Close with your optimism about working with this team

- Consider telling stories, which demonstrate vulnerability, emotional intelligence, and can help create connections that translate to a more motivated team.

3) Build Multiple Relationships

Within your first week on the job, host 1-hour on-boarding meetings with each of your direct reports. Within the first two months, host a 30-minute 1:1 meeting with team members across multiple levels in your organization plus cross-functional colleagues. In preparation for these meetings, review the organizational chart, form a cursory understanding of their roles and projects, and read their last performance review and résumé, if they’re on your team.

Onboarding meetings are one of few meetings without much two-way dialogue. Send the following questions as a preview, then listen and take notes as they share:

Tell me about your background.

2) What motivates you?

3) What are your professional goals?

4) What should we Start/Stop/Continue?

Be cautious not to rush to judgment about talent during 1:1 onboarding meetings. Give yourself 60-90 days to determine if you have the right mix of talent to achieve the goals and objectives.

4) Stay Connected

Engage with your team through impromptu conversations, team meetings with direct reports, 1:1s with direct reports, all-team meetings, annual skip-level meetings, quarterly development conversations and end-of-year performance reviews. Monthly all-team meetings help build camaraderie, and provide a forum for recognition, to discuss business performance and key projects. These meetings also provide an opportunity for your team to demonstrate their talent, and for you to demonstrate inspirational leadership.

5) Reflect and Envision

After 90 days, reflect on what you’ve learned, key observations, and early wins. Share this information with your manager as a head start to your performance review. Reflect on what changes could make the biggest differences in the outcomes, performance, and culture of the business and team. Then develop your vision, objectives, strategies, goals, measures, action plan, and solicit feedback from your direct reports, wise council, cross-functional colleagues, and manager.

Once you’ve secured buy-in, cascade the vision and measurable goals throughout the team. Be cautious about change fatigue. Changing too much at once could overwhelm your team, dilute the impact, and put them on the defense if not done thoughtfully.

Creating a culture of trust, open communication, accountability, recognition, and commitment to a common vision is the #1 job of a leader. These strategies and tactics will help you engage your team, develop healthy relationships, and build a healthy culture that delivers stronger results. 

Kristin Harper is CEO of Driven to Succeed, LLC, a leadership development company that provides brand strategy consulting, market research, and keynote speaking on leadership and emotional intelligence. She is also author of The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

5 Tips for Inspiring Leadership

Guest post from Karlin Sloan:

As a leadership development consultant, I have spent my career with people in business, NGOs, government, and not-for-profits who are focused, competent, talented and who have a
deep sense of their personal power to impact those around them.  Recently, those same people are having doubts. They doubt their ability to lead their companies through increasingly challenging times. They doubt their ability to protect their loved ones in a world experiencing ecological, health and social crises. And they doubt our collective human family’s ability to solve the problems facing us on a global scale. 

Our organizations, both large and small, are facing the need to adapt to rapid change that is not predictable or particularly controllable. If those who lead us are in doubt, then who can we turn to to inspire us, to calm our fears, and to build a path to a better future? How will we effectively address immense changes as individuals, groups, organizations, and as a world community? There is no more important time for inspiring leadership. 

Inspiring leaders are those who practice ‘alignment’.  They are leaders who cultivate personal and organizational openness, adaptability, and meaning. They are leaders who practice confidence in our ability to create a positive outcome no matter what the circumstance. They are the ones who will get us there.  They are capable of aligning themselves to their higher purpose and inspiration, aligning others to a shared goal, and to aligning resources to get the job done.

Here are five tips to create alignment in yourself and your organization, with the goal of being a truly inspiring leader:

Tip #1 - Accept Reality and Focus on the Future

Accepting reality and focusing on the future is sometimes easier said than done.  “Jamie” is a successful entrepreneur who I’ve known for many years.  During the first three months of the Covid-19 shutdown, she’s had to cope with some very difficult realities, including the fact that her booming events-based business was in deep trouble.

Tip #2 - View Challenges as Opportunities

Reframing is the capability to look at your reality from new frames of reference. If you viewed the challenges of present circumstances as an opportunity for the future, what would it look like? 

Tip #3 - Build Relationship and Community

The most inspiring leaders know that we all need each other, and that during times of stress and change we need to feel connected and part of something larger than ourselves. Despite social isolation we need to be ever more present to each other. Part of the leader’s role is to reach out individually and collectively to boost morale and allow people to express their concerns and their ideas. 

Tip #4 - Practice Physical and Mental Discipline

In order to cultivate peak performance we need discipline. Regular daily practices keep us grounded, focused, positive, and healthy. These may be as simple as taking a short morning walk, listening to music that inspires you, reading or working out. Anything that you can establish as a healthy ritual optimizes your performance in other areas of life. My favorite ritual I’ve heard this week - say no to doing something at least once per day. 

Tip#5 - Remember a Bigger Purpose

Every organization has a core purpose for being. Every brand that is driven by purpose has the capacity to connect directly to a customer need. As a leader, it’s your job to bring people back to why they are working in the first place. What is most important about the services or products you provide? What is important about each and every team member’s contribution? 

Times of change bring out the best and the worst, and inspiring leaders focus on the best of themselves and others.

Karlin Sloan is a global leadership & development coach, CEO of Sloan Group International and author of new book, Inspiring Leadership for Uncertain Times.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

What Makes a High-Performance Leader?

Guest post from Rob Hartnett:

“What is a high-performance leader?” a leader asked me in a Facebook Live session. One of the many I have done since Covid-19 as we pivot to new ways of working.

A high-performance leader is one who is intentional about their leadership. They are not a leader because their position entitles them to be; they see leadership as a verb, a skill to continue to develop and hone. High-performance leaders operate with a growth mindset and are great communicators. A growth mindset means they operate with:

1. Agility

2. Curiosity

3. Persistence

From my research and experience I have observed high-performance leaders look to instill these traits in their people as well. The reason they do this is high-performance leaders understand that their number one goal is to create more high-performance leaders so they can move up to their next position and create more value. They operate with an abundant, as opposed to a scarcity, mindset.

“Titled Leaders” operate from a scarcity mindset. They are only intentional about protecting their role, their title and see all others as a threat to their current role. When you have too many leaders like this you have a fixed mindset, scarcity culture and that is not good for anyone.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the words high-performance. High Performance does not mean they are demanding, relentless, egotistical or high “D” people if you are familiar with DISC behavioural styles. What it means is that a high-performance leader operates like anything that operates at a higher performance than the norm. 

I have grown up around high-performance sport. Motorsport in cars and motorcycles and more human powered endeavours in sailing and cycling. High-performance in the context of sport covers a process that goes like this. 

Practice – Event – Learning – Rest – Practice – Event – Learning – Rest and so on. Each time a Formula One race or MotoGP bike finishes a race the data is downloaded from both driver/rider and machine, learnings are gathered, the machine is then stripped down and rebuilt ready for the next round of practice and event with the new learnings included. The process is then repeated with the aim of improved performance and stronger results. It is the same in every sport where high-performance is the ticket to the dance. 

It is no different with leadership. One of the most important things you can do is create margin for yourself and margin for your team. Margin is the difference between what you can do and what you are doing. If they're exactly the same level you have no capacity, you are run off your feet, you're not going to think strategically. If you are doing more than you are capable of for too long this will result in burnout and no one benefits from a burned out leader.  How do you create margin? You must break your time into three sections. 

Section one – what you do on a daily basis with your people. BAU if you will. 

Section two – Time for you to do what leaders need to do and only leaders can do. Still BAU. 

Section three – Time for you and you only to think strategically, grow, invest and upskill. 

As a leader it is also important you model the way for your people and carve out the same regime for them as well. One highly successful global leader I know carves out 20% of his month for section three and holds his team accountable for the same splits.

High-performance leaders are also very strong on accountability and discipline (routine and process). 

Let’s now discuss a growth mindset. Despite Professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking book “Mindset” and numerous TED talks I still think most leaders don’t fully understand it. The most common misconception is that we are either growth or fixed mindset people. We are not. It is true that we have a leaning one way or the other but we can be growth, fixed or even mixed about different things. For example I have a growth mindset about my career but I have a fixed mindset about the upsides of parachuting from a perfectly flyable aeroplane! I also have a mixed mindset regarding certain economic strategies, meaning that I am fixed in my mindset but if the right circumstances presented themselves I would be willing to consider my fixed mindset approach. Overall, I am a growth mindset person however at times I do slip into fixed mindset until my growth mindset subconscious or an external coach snaps me out of it. This leads me to defining a growth mindset. My explanation is this – having a growth mindset means: 

I believe with the right strategy, effort, coaching and persistence I can achieve whatever is important to me. With a growth mindset I seek feedback as this accelerates my learning and I see not succeeding as experimenting and learning on my way to achieving my goal. 

A fixed mindset believes that no matter what strategy or effort I apply I won’t succeed, I will look like a failure and therefore it’s not worth trying. I was born in this circumstance and nothing can improve it. Feedback simply reinforces my view that I can’t do it. 

Mixed mindset says that I don’t believe I can do it, I don’t believe it is possible however if these factors changed or I was in this position I might be persuaded to try again. 

For those of you who believe you are growth mindset oriented through and through try this question on. Have you ever gone into a one-on-one review with one of your team, for whom you already had the opinion that they were not going to be successful? And you were only coaching them as you had a monthly KPI to do so? I think we have all done this. This means we had a fixed mindset about their potential. How might our coaching session go if we went in with a growth mindset? 

Coaching, mentoring and accelerated learning is all part of a growth mindset and it can achieve remarkable results. A recent example from Hollywood was the successful remake of “A Star is Born” driven and starring Bradley Cooper. Cooper not only starred in it, he also directed it and was a co-producer of that movie. Six months before they started filming, he couldn't play guitar, couldn't play piano and couldn't sing. However, working with experts in these fields such as Eddie Vedder, Lucas Nelson and Lady Gaga, combined with a solid routine of effort and persistence, resulted in an award-winning movie, a best song award at the Grammys and the best original score award at the BAFTAs. 

Microsoft has done probably the biggest shift in growth mindset at a global corporate level. Led by Satya Nadella, their CEO, they had to change the game, and change their culture quickly. Chris Capossela their CMO said "We went from a culture of know-it-alls to a culture of learn-it-alls." Which means they had to ask, "Who's doing stuff better than us? What programmers, coders, what businesses? Who do we need to partner with next?" This is a significant shift for an organisation that had been incredibly successful in the past by being inwardly focused. 

Don’t forget that high-performance leaders fundamentally need to inspire. Leadership gets the team going and management keeps it going. That's the difference. You need leaders and managers and sometimes that hat swaps many times during the day.

There is a saying that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, get a team”.  I disagree with this. I say if you want to go further and faster than your competition you will only do it with a team. 

Maybe my cycling has proven that to me. As a leader whether you are leading a Fortune 500 business, a new team, even your family you need to know how to inspire them and this comes from your ability to communicate. Every high-performance leader I know has excellent communication skills. The emphasis being on skills. People are not born communicators. It is a skill that can be developed and must be developed if you wish to cross the chasm from manager to leader. Great communication makes people feel something, it connects and it’s authentic.  For example, we all know it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said "I have a dream” in a powerful live speech. Please note he did not say “I have a dream and it’s in Slack with a 72 page PowerPoint deck you can read.” 

When you want to inspire someone, when you want to get them to do something different, three things you need to ask yourself are:

What do I want them to Feel?

How do I want them to Know?

What do I want them to Do? 

I believe we all have the capacity to be high-performance leaders. I believe leadership is a skill and therefore something that can be developed and continually enhanced. You may not be a high-performance leader yet… but with a growth mindset, agility and persistence it is well within our reach.  

Rob Hartnett has worked in senior management roles at global organizations such as Apple Computer, Publicis Mojo, Hewlett-Packard, and Miller Heiman Group. Hartnett is an independent Executive Director in Leadership with the John Maxwell Team as well as a Certified DISC Facilitator & Advisor. For more information, please visit

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Unwrapping and Managing Difficult Employees

Guest post from Beth Miller:

We’ve all been challenged with at least one difficult person at work. Why do they have to be so rude, dismissive, abrasive, etc.? Difficult employees aren’t the person who has a bad day and acts out in appropriately, they are the ones who have gained a reputation for being difficult.

And, if they are spreading their bad behavior to others and having a negative impact on the team, then they are more than difficult, they are toxic.

Why are they so difficult? This is the first question that you need to ask yourself. Experience has shown me that there is often an underlying reason for the person’s unwanted behavior. Schedule 1-1 time with the employee, as soon as you notice a pattern of bad behavior. Not addressing the behavior in a timely manner is just an initiation for more of the same thing.

Get curious first. Is it the job? Is it a personal issue? Are there team members that are causing stress? Or, is it just who they are?

If you find that there is a reason behind their behavior and not just their personality, then it’s time to help.


Once you understand the underlying reason for your employee’s bad behavior then it’s time to coach. Coaching your difficult employee to understand the impact they have on others and themselves is your first step to mitigating the problem behavior. The next step is getting them to commit to change and taking action.

Explore with them how their behavior is impacting them and their performance by asking these questions during a 1-1 meeting:

How do you think people react when you are __________ to them?

How can their reactions to you potentially impact you negatively?

How does this this behavior show up outside of work?

How does this behavior help you?

What triggers this behavior? A person, a task, a situation?

What do you think will happen if you continue to behave this way?

Once they agree that their behavior isn’t benefitting them or others around them, then it’s time for them to put a plan together to change. Ask these questions:

What steps can you take to decrease this behavior?

How would you know these steps are working?

When do you plan on resolving the situation?

How committed are you to changing on a scale of 1-10?

What would it take to increase your commitment by 1 point?

Communicate Clearly

For some individuals, asking questions to get them to self-reflect may not be enough. This is when you have to give your feedback to them. Give them concrete examples in a timely manner of what you’ve observed. A great technique to use is by starting with “Can I share an observation with you?” I have never had someone answer no to this question. And answering yes gives you permission to share your feedback.

Define for them what behavior is acceptable moving forward, what changes need to occur with measurable goals. Then jointly create a development plan with a specific timeline. I recommend a 30-60-90 day plan. You want to see some immediate small changes that will incrementally become larger over time. Be prepared to have additional 1-1 meetings with the person during this time.

Explain the Consequences

Once you have coached and provided then with direct feedback, they need to understand the consequences of not meeting their commitment. Generally, a loss is more of a motivator than a gain. Determine what will motivate them. Is it a loss of privileges to work remotely, an upcoming bonus, or rescinding a high-profile project?

There will be some people that either can’t or won’t change their bad behaviors and you need to be prepared to part ways with them. Make sure in these cases that you document all the conversations, so you have established a pattern of behavior and the steps taken to address the situation, and the employee’s failure to change.

And remember through all of this, that dealing with negative employees can distract you from more important issues. Don’t spend all your time and energy on the difficult person, just enough to know that you provided the person with the opportunity to make the needed changes. If you ultimately let the employee go, don’t look back.  Just learn from your experience.

Beth Miller is an accomplished author, speaker, and solution provider; her insight and expertise make her a sought-after leadership influencer. A serial entrepreneur and executive coach as well as a former Vistage Chair of 13 years, Beth is featured in numerous industry blogs and publications including Entrepreneur, Leadercast, and Her book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?,” compiles her best practices for business leaders.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Leadership Accountability

Guest post from Vince Molinaro:

Publilius Syrus was a Latin writer who lived from 85 to 43 B.C. He wrote, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” He got it right way back then. Anyone can lead when times are good, when the world is stable, and the sea is calm. It takes real and accountable leaders to lead in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

No truer words have ever been spoken and now in a world gripped by a global pandemic, all leaders will need to be stronger than they have ever been to lead us through the uncertainty and ambiguity we all face. In today’s complex world, leaders are being asked to step up in dynamic and unexpected ways.

But there is a problem. At a time when we need leaders to be stronger, they are not. Many leaders that I work with today tell me they are overwhelmed, disengaged, and underprepared for their roles and the challenges of these unprecedented times.

Unfortunately, many leaders are not equipped with the tools they need to lead under pressure. As a result, they fail to serve themselves and their employees effectively, and put the future of their entire organization at risk.

I conducted a LinkedIn poll a few weeks after the COVID-19 virus shut own the world.  I was curious to learn about the experiences that leaders in my network were having. The top two challenges that came out on the top of their list was dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and coming to the realization that they would have to make some difficult business decisions. Ones that would impact the lives and careers of their employees. As the weeks and months have gone by, it seems these two primary challenges remain for leaders.

So how do you lead when your world has been upended?

I believe that the way forward is to focus on leadership accountability. It is and will always be what sets the truly great leaders apart from the rest.

There is a dual response that will be required: individual and organizational.

At a personal level, you will need to embrace leadership accountability. This means you will need to step up and demonstrate personal ownership for your leadership role.  You will need to be deliberate and decisive in the way that you lead. You will also need to bring a sense of urgency, courage and resilience in how you lead every single day.

But there is more. You will need to go beyond yourself to hold others accountable for being leaders. You will need to build truly accountable teams. You will also need to play a role within and across your organization to build a strong leadership culture and community of leaders.

At an organizational level, you must work to make leadership accountability a priority within a company. Senior leaders will need to define clear leadership expectations for all their leaders. They must also do the hard work to sustain their momentum in building a both strong leadership culture.

Finally, they must invest the time to help leaders create a sense of community across the entire organization.

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) is Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc and is an author, speaker, leadership adviser and researcher. His most recent book, Accountable Leaders: Inspire a Culture Where Everyone Steps Up, Takes Ownership, and Delivers Results, came out in June. Molinaro has helped create one of the leading brands in the Human Capital industry, working in several key sectors including energy, pharmaceutical, professional services, technology, financial services, and the public sector. He is the author of four successful books, Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and the Leadership Contract Field Guide.  His work has been featured in many of the world’s leading business publications, including The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and The World EconomicForum.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

How To Ask Remarkably Better Questions To Encourage Great Ideas

Guest post from Karin Hurt and David Dye:

You’ve asked your team for their great ideas.

You have an open door.

You’re also committed to MBWA (or in today’s pandemic-constrained world, Management By Clicking Around- MBCA). But if you’re like most leaders in our Courageous Cultures research, you’re still not getting all the great ideas you need. 


In our research conducted in conjunction with the University of North Colorado, despite all the asking leaders think they’re doing, 49% of employees said the reason they’re not sharing their great ideas (to improve the customer experience, efficiency in a process, or employee engagement) is because no one asked.

Laura’s story

Laura, an IT Vice President at a mid-sized energy company, was excited to spend some time with her teams, hold a few skip level meetings, and see their new system in action. Her team had been holding user-experience calls every week and all the feedback had been positive. She hoped to collect some great stories to share with the CEO about how the new system was making things easier for the customer service reps and, ultimately, for their customers.

Before her first meeting, Laura sat down with a customer service rep and asked the rep “Can you show me your favorite part of the new system?”

The rep attempted to pull up the first screen. But after five minutes they were both still staring at an hourglass and waiting for the page to load. The rep looked apologetically at Laura and said, “I’m sorry to waste your time. This usually takes a while.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. The vendor had promised the new system would be seven times faster – not slower. “Can you show me another page,” she asked.

She sat through another slow load time. She turned to the rep, “Is it always like this?”

“Oh, yeah. We’re used to it at this point, but the system has some other nice features.”

Laura thanked the rep and hurried to a quiet conference room where she could call her team. After ten minutes of testing, they realized that the center’s server didn’t have the capacity to run the new system. Hundreds of reps had been suffering through a ridiculous wait that wasted their time and their customers’ time.

Week after week, supervisors had sat on user experience calls, fully aware of the issue, and hadn’t said a word. No one had ever raised the issue.

After replacing the server and ensuring everything was back on track, Laura went back to the reps on the user experience team and asked why they had never brought this up.

“Well, no one ever asked us about the speed. Our boss told us that we needed to be “change agents” and role model excitement for the new system – no matter what. Under no circumstances were we to be negative. So, we just smiled, sucked it up, and dealt with it.”

Laura’s situation is far too common. The “no one asked” reply might be frustrating, but it is one of the most frequent obstacles to a Courageous Culture.

How to Ask Your Team For Their Great Ideas

If you want your teams great ideas, you need to do more than ask questions. That helps, but it’s not just that you ask. In Courageous Cultures, leaders ask regularly and skillfully. You ask in ways that draw out people’s best thinking, new ideas, and customer-focused solutions. Everyone knows that when you ask, you sincerely want to know and are committed to taking action on what you learn. Three qualities distinguish how leaders ask questions in a Courageous Culture: they are intentional, vulnerable, and action-focused.


Cultivating Curiosity starts with intention: you must ask—a lot. Your leaders have to ask more than might seem reasonable. This kind of asking goes way beyond an open-door policy. In fact, most open-door policies are a passive leadership cop-out. “I’m approachable. I have an open door,” puts the responsibility on the team, not the leader. That’s a problem because most of the ideas you need will never walk through your open door. There’s too much friction to overcome: time away from their normal work, not knowing how their manager will respond, or not even realizing they have an idea to share.


Have you ever watched a leader ask for feedback and then defensively justify their decisions and shoot down objections? When you ask questions that assume something needs to improve, you are more likely to get an honest response.

“What’s one thing that’s ticking off our customers?”

“What’s one policy driving everyone crazy?”


We’ve sat through strategic planning sessions and focus groups where leaders asked questions and everyone in the room knew that the answers didn’t matter. Sometimes, even when the leaders had good intentions, they lacked the ability or willingness to act on what they heard.

Your employees need to know that you will act on what you learn. Action takes many forms. It might be that you implement the idea, that the feedback informs your decision, that you take it all in and then respond with next steps, or maybe it’s simply releasing the team to take action on their ideas.

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their
soul. They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm. They're the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let's Grow Leaders. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Call of “Not Knowing”– How Uncertainty is Still the Test of Leadership

Guest post by Randall P. White:

American leaders are rising to the occasion.

You just have to look a little deeper. There have been great examples of leadership in our multiple crises of the moment.

Mayors, governors, even some sheriffs and police officers, are showing how it’s done. People who are otherwise obscure on the national scene are now showing up in news feeds and quenching a yearning for sanity, direction and confidence.

Such as? Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta relating to us as a parent and an executive, saying enough is enough and here are things we’re doing about it. Sheriff Chris Swanson in Michigan who “protected and served” protesters, by joining their march. Dr. Anthony Fauci laying out both what he knows and what he doesn’t know. Even without a definitive answer, we know he has a process based on data and rationality with a goal of public safety and avoiding death.

In all of this, it’s not about being a better person. It’s about knowing how to be a conduit for solutions—and creating a safe space to listen to ideas and try the best one’s out—searching for viable solutions in an uncertain world.

Crisis leadership is a crucible and it’s natural for us to be inspired by what it can produce.

We are seeing that leadership is a calling and it’s often more geeky than macho and certainly not authoritarian. Well-developed leaders are piqued by “not knowing” and motivated by the challenge to find out. They enjoy learning and they don’t mind mistakes as long as the mistakes are the kind where we learn and grow and ultimately leapfrog us forward to a viable solution.

Then there are leaders who really are geeks: Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk. They’re lucky to have more of a sandbox than a crucible. Gates, Dorsey and Musk are like brainy action figures of leadership. Fascinating and fun to watch. Who doesn’t like seeing a reusable rocket back its way down to a landing pad for the first time?

Yet, Bottoms, Fauci and Swanson are a little more compelling right now, by being less preordained. Not nationally known. Less expected. And more attainable examples of leaders. Each rose to the occasion. Each has to rally followership—but they are believable and approachable and so, they are relatable in how they approach seemingly impossible situations in an ever-increasing complex environment of crisis atop crisis.

Real leaders, regardless how they come packaged–gender, ethnicity, nationality– aren’t afraid of what they don’t know. They run toward the danger and the unknown so that their people are energized to solve important problems, whether it’s racism in a police department or landing a first stage rocket on a stationary platform at sea. Each is very difficult.

They’re the people who come forward in a crisis that grab our imagination, like Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt rose to their wholly unknown occasions during World War II.

In contrast to the current president they are not caught up in themselves. They show up for the followers, knowing that they have a calling to represent the best of the followers and to help them be successful by creating a space where they can try their best to solve the problems at hand.

So we see in our tumult that leaders are okay with being uncertain. That’s what they signed on for. Leadership has always been about bringing people through “not knowing.”

Not knowing we’d be where we ended up six months later, I wrote a new chapter to Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty in September thinking it was time to re-release the title, after 19 years.

My now-retired colleague Philip Hodgson and I authored Relax as a field guide for leadership–the culmination of a decade studying how people manage ambiguity and its attendant uncertainty. This work also resulted in The Ambiguity Architect, a 360 to assess a person’s ability to tolerate or master uncertainty. The instrument has consistently suggested that high performers do well on this scale. And our experience suggests that dealing with uncertainty successfully can be learned and improved.

The basic lessons of Relax, first published as Y2K faded into the rear-view mirror, remain relevant and are taught in global business schools’ leadership curriculum.

They’re also demonstrated by our public sector rising stars.

With Covid-19 and mass civil disobedience we see leaders calling on traits like “being motivated by mysteries,” future scanning, simplifying and enthusiasm (to name half of the book’s eight Enablers for managing uncertainty).

We can observe this in new leaders to the fore like Bottoms, Fauci, and Swanson. They break complex, nuanced and sometimes abstract situations into simple statements we all can share: citizens don’t trust authority, we can’t overwhelm our health care system, and the chaos needs to stop for everyone. 

As a business professor, I have to ask how can business leaders learn as we watch these ascending leaders in society? Chaos, ambiguity and uncertainty bring opportunity for good leaders to not only emerge, but also invent new solutions, new competitive advantages. And a better workplace, in which learning is constant, inclusion is an advantage and imagination is allowed to thrive.

Randall P. White, PhD., is a social psychologist, executive coach and managing partner of the Executive Development Group. He is Co-head of Leadership at HEC Paris and author of Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Mastering your Inner Game of Leadership

Guest post from Ron Garonzik and Rick Lash:

In 1938 archeologists in Israel made a remarkable discovery – a cache of 2,500-year-old letters between officers and their commanders. They provide a unique window on the impact overly controlling, self-centered leadership styles can have on others: “Regarding the letter you sent, the heart of your servant is ill, when my lord said: Don’t you know how to read a letter?  As God lives, for every letter that comes to me, it is read.”  Even Moses had a reputation as a micromanager who couldn’t give up control or delegate; his father-in-law Jethro telling him “This thing you are doing is not good – you will surely wear away you and those who are with you”.  From ancient times to today’s boardrooms, overly controlling leaders who act to serve their own needs can create toxic work environments where decision making, creativity and engagement grinds to a halt.

What are the enduring qualities of great leadership?

Starting in the 1960s, the late Harvard psychologist David McClelland and a group of researchers wanted to understand great leadership and why it matters. They discovered that the highest performing leaders weren’t more achievement driven or more people focused.  Rather, they possessed a unique motivational profile - a very pronounced need for power or influence. But in the very best leaders McClelland discovered three critical characteristics that acted as controls on their use of power and control that made all the difference – greater emotional maturity, high self-management and a participative, coaching leadership style (think of great professional sports coaches).  McClelland called these qualities ‘socialized’ power.  These outstanding leaders were not in the game for themselves but for the good of the institutions they served.  They funneled their strong need for influencing others not to meet their own self-serving needs like higher status, greater control or being liked, but rather to make others more capable and to further the mission of their organization. 

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership, the authors note that as leader take on greater responsibility, they can become susceptible to ‘hubris syndrome’ – where power goes to their heads and the leader comes to see world as serving their own needs.  In our early careers a certain amount of ego is essential to drive success.  But an ego unmanaged can lead to self-centered behavior, coercive actions, a need for overcontrol and an inability to listen or appreciate other points of view – career derailers if unmanaged.  The good news is that socialized power can be developed, but rarely is it mentioned in preparing high potential leaders for senior leadership roles.  Little time is spent exploring why self-management is the first step in learning how to lead others or learning the basics of good team leadership - like creating clarity and setting performance standards so people know what good looks like – and how to recognize and coach others to succeed. 

Letting go of your ego

Most leadership development relies on what Hermina Ibarra, author of numerous leadership development books, calls the “plan-and-implement” model.  We identify a gap or skill we want to strengthen, then set a goal and plan for closing the gap.  That linear approach works well for developing competence, but for making deeper changes like increasing socialized power requires a different, more iterative tactic, what Ibarra refers to as “test-and-learn”.  We start with a new experience, try out a new behavior, reflect on it and then use the insights to change our assumptions and goals.  Test-and-learn leads to deeper growth in how we see ourselves and helps to make profound shifts in our mindset.  Here are a few test-and-learn ideas that can help build your socialized power and change your inner leadership game:

·         - Work on a project where you can’t count on your expertise to get you through.  Relying on others will help you develop an appreciation for what others have to offer and see the world from a different perspective.  Think of the valuable lessons learned from the show Undercover Boss where a CEO has to “flip hamburgers” and learns to appreciate the emotional, physical and personal challenges of her employees.

·         - Coach or mentor someone who has the potential to be a great leader.  Socialized power is all about gaining deep emotional satisfaction by serving others and enabling them to be successful.

·         - Make socialized power an important value in your life by reading about leaders who you deeply admire. Look for evidence of what they did, thought and felt that exemplifies socialized power. 

·         - What are the key experiences you have had in your career and life that exemplify your leadership values? Which are good examples where you demonstrated socialized power?  Which stories do you need to elevate and put more of a spotlight on? Which stories are no longer useful?  Practice telling those stories to others.

·        -  Consider expanding or changing your social network to include others who can see and reinforce the socialized power in you (rather than just the great achiever).

Great leadership is timeless.  Whether in ancient times or responding to a global crisis, the very best leaders act to make a positive difference and have learned to let go of their ego.  And they do it by developing their emotional maturity and self-control while actively engaging others.  Clearly these aren’t things one just learns in a leadership course of by reading leadership books (although these can help) but through stretching experiences, developing others, challenging deeply held beliefs and building new relationships, all of which help strengthen our desire to make a difference, serve others and in the process become better leaders. 

Ron Garonzik is an independent consultant with more than a quarter century of global leadership development experience supporting organizations large and small, public and private.

Rick Lash is an independent consultant and senior associate with Verity International and is a recognized leadership development expert and executive coach. For over 35 years he has worked with Fortune 500 organizations in Canada, the United States and internationally. His most recent work focuses on the power of leadership narrative for creating authentic leadership.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

More Automation is Coming! Bulletproof Your Career

Guest post from Edward D. Hess:

Everyone knows that jobs have been automated over the last 20 years. But the number of those automated jobs will be a small number compared to what is coming over the next 10 years. The continuing advancement and convergence of artificial intelligence, bio-technology, nanotechnology, virtual and augmented reality, quantum computing, and Big Data will automate millions of jobs in the United States. Not just manufacturing jobs but also service jobs, knowledge-worker jobs and professionals.

McKinsey predicts that by 2030, over 25 million jobs in the United States will be automated. Research from Oxford University predicted that within 15 years there is a high probability that 47% of U.S. jobs including professional jobs will be automated. How will you stay relevant in the workplace? What can you do to become bulletproof?

I believe we humans will need to excel at doing something valuable that the technology itself will not be able to do well. There are four uniquely human skills that currently meet that criteria:

1. Emotional Excellence: Being able to emotionally connect, relate, and collaborate with others in positive ways that can result in caring-trusting relationships that enable you to have high-quality making meaning conversations with others that create or deliver value will be a key human differentiator. Being able to manage one’s emotions; generate positive emotions; and be highly sensitive to the emotional state of others will be important human skills.

2. Thinking Excellence: Being adept at being able to think differently than the technology with the agility to move back and forth between those different ways of thinking: exploring the unknown and seeking novelty by being creative, imaginative, and innovative; engaging in higher-level critical thinking; making decisions in environments with lots of uncertainty and little data; and excelling at sense-making and emergent thinking.

3. Exploration Excellence: Excelling at having the courage to go into new areas – the unknown - and to explore and discover the new and the different by using low-risk iterative learning processes is the third key human skill. It requires overcoming the fear of making mistakes and in most cases effective collaboration with others and overcoming our reflexive habitual ways of thinking.

The science of adult learning shows that our brains and minds are generally wired to be efficient. We reflexively seek confirmation of what we expect to see, feel, or think; to protect our egos; and to strive for cohesiveness of our personal stories of how our world works. We are creatures of habit and operate much of the time on autopilot. All of that inhibits Exploration Excellence.

To stay relevant in the workplace we will need to “rewire” our brains in order to:

·        -  Seek out novelty not primarily confirmation, affirmation, and cohesiveness:
·         - Actively seek out disconfirming information that challenges our beliefs;
·        -  Ask questions that lead to exploration and discovery (e.g., Why? What if? Why not?);
·         - Defer judgments in order to further explore and discover;
·         - Embrace differences and to make meaning of differences;
·         - Embrace ambiguity by not rushing to the safety of making comfortable, speedy decisions; and
·        -  Excel at “not knowing” and Hyper-Learning: continuous learning, unlearning and relearning.

Those three skills are all enabled by the fourth skill:

4. Self Excellence: Excelling at managing how you think, how you listen, how you handle emotional stress and the challenge of needing to continuously adapt at the pace of change requires managing your ego, your mind and your emotions. The desired result is “Inner Peace”approaching others and the world with an internal quietness or stillness, which I define as being fully present in the moment with an open and non-judgmental mind and a lack of self-absorption with limited stress and fear. That helps you remove internal noise and distraction and helps you align your inner world—your mind, body, brain, and heart—so you can better engage with the outer world in the pursuit of excelling at the above three skills. That state of being enables Emotional Excellence, Thinking Excellence and Exploration Excellence.

We human beings will be in a continuous race in the workplace to stay ahead of the advancing technology.

Are you “Bulletproof?”

Edward D. Hess is Professor of Business Administration, Batten Fellow and Batten Executive-in -Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business and the author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change, which will be published by Berrett-Koehler in August, 2020.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Leading Into the Acceleration of Change

Guest by Marcia Reynolds:
The response to the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated economic and social trends. We are now shopping and buying meals more online, saving rental dollars on office space, holding more virtual business and personal meetings, and improving or seeking an end to our personal relationships as we spend more time together. 
As we transition to being more mobile, we won’t be “returning” so much as “evolving” to confront a new reality.
This is the perfect opportunity to reflect with colleagues on how best to work and what is possible for us in the future. Yet you can’t force people to think creatively, especially now. You have to ease them into the conversation, and then inspire them to think beyond the negative cloud overshadowing their views.
The role of the leader in times of uncertainty is to coach people to think differently, not tell them what to do. 

Enter the conversation with a coaching approach
Whether threats are real or not, forcing a conversation about the future is not productive. When we experience acute stress, our brains shut down in self-survival. We prepare to fight, flight, or freeze, not explore possibilities. Creativity is paralyzed. We believe doomsday stories more than the future leaders are inventing. 
The two key triggers of psychological stress are the perception that there is no control over present circumstances, and there is no way to predict what comes next. All indicators suggest uncertainty will not let up. So, how do you lead others to shift their perspective around control and predictability so they embrace, even capitalize on change? Try taking a coaching approach to your conversation.
People need to feel seen, heard, and reminded that their existence matters no matter what they are experiencing. They need to know their raging emotions are legitimate reactions to their current challenges. Let them know you understand why they are feeling the way they do. Share that you feel unsettled, too, so they know you are a fellow human being. This acceptance may help them feel safe enough to consider the possibility of expanding their perspective. 
To start, don't just ask, "How are you?" Ask something like, "How are you really doing with all these challenges?" Relax as they talk. You don’t need to make them feel better if you are genuinely listening. 
Once you feel their brains calming down, you can ask if they are ready to look at actions they can take. They may or may not be ready.

Clarify what they believe about today and assume about tomorrow
The less we know for sure, the more we believe the worst will happen. It’s difficult to sort the most likely truths from imagination, but using compassionate curiosity will help clarify the stories people are living.
When I coach clients, I listen for the beliefs they are holding about the present moment and the assumptions they are making about the future. I share statements like, “Sounds like you believe (this) is happening.” Or “You said you assume (this) is how your life and work will be affected. Can we sort out what we know for sure and then look at what else is possible?” I fill in (this) with specific phrases they shared, using their words so we can examine their thinking together. Acknowledging limiting beliefs and unsupported assumptions will soften the edges of their stories. 

Offer ways to embrace control and adapt predictions
Once you clarify their beliefs and assumptions, you can shift the conversation to explore what is in their control to do today and how these steps will help shape the future.
Control – Ask what routines they have created to manage their days. If they are struggling to uphold commitments, strategize what boundaries they could create and how to plan for taking just a few steps at a time. Ask how you can support them in feeling they are in more control of their days.
Predictability – Even if you have a vision of what business might look like in a few months, be open to new ideas so you can co-create the future together. Ask questions to create possible scenarios to work toward, knowing that you will adapt as the future unfolds. Executive coach Scott Eblin suggests asking specific “what if” questions that look at how our lives today might influence how we do our best work going forward. Here are a few examples adapted from his work:
  • What if we social distancing needs to be practiced for a year, how would we do business? 
  • What if we changed 50% of the things we’ve always done to better use our current resources and time?
  • What if we were starting our business today? 
  • What do we need to do to emerge better and stronger than we were? 
Accept and build on their ideas instead of judging them. People need to feel safe with you to speak what is on their mind. Once they trust you won’t make them wrong, they will be more open to change their minds. 
Also, let go of how you want the conversation to go. Don’t let your impatience sabotage the conversation. If they reach a dead-end in deciding what to do next, then you can offer suggestions for them to consider without taking their power away.
When you use a coaching approach instead of telling them what to do, you expand their mind and strengthen their will to move forward.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds is a world-renowned expert on inspiring change through conversations. She has delivered programs and coached leaders in 41 countries and reached thousands online. She has four best-selling books, including The Discomfort Zone; Wander Woman; Outsmart Your Brain; her latest, Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry gives tools, tips, and case studies to help you easily apply coaching skills to change minds and behaviors. Read more at .