Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How CQ Drives Success – In the Best and Worst of Times

Guest post by Nance Guilmartin:

How do we find ways to lead people to be their best when they’re dealing with time, attention or trust deficits?

Let’s face it; regardless of the role we play, we’re often working at the short end of the stick these days whether it’s with customers, clients, colleagues or an array of stakeholders. So how do you manage, inspire and motivate people when the clock is ticking? The heat is on? A competitor becomes a collaborator? Or your industry is turned upside down in a day – presenting you with new challenges or extraordinary opportunities?

Two words: Communication Intelligence. I call it CQ. It’s an essential skill set and a mindset that enables you to have exceptional situational awareness through what you see, sense, and how you take responsibility for understanding others and being understood.

It’s not enough today to lead with your head, no matter how high your IQ. Emotional Intelligence will also only get you so far unless you also have the ability to communicate in ways that gain you insight into: (1) what’s left unsaid, (2) what’s been misunderstood, and (3) what’s between the lines of a conversation, an email, or other communication.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a senior officer in the U.S. Army. He taught me an important lesson in leadership. As I was working with him to design and facilitate a workshop for his top officers, I asked him why he was “intrigued” with the concept that a pause was powerful. In working with his team I learned that when you’re back is against the wall, performance expectations are high, lives are at stake there are “no excuses” for failure. The ability to pause to make the most of your time and resources is a paradigm shift that often only takes seconds. And that’s all it takes to spell the difference between success and failure.

The payoff of a high speed pause
Yes, in today’s no-time, high speed, excruciatingly competitive world, taking a time out, even for minutes, let alone an hour or a day – well, it’s counterintuitive. And, it is powerful because a well-timed pause saves time, builds trust and enriches your bottom line. Why? Because when you don’t think you have the time or even need to pause is when you have the most to gain. I’ve seen this demonstrated day by day whether I’m working with the Dean of a top ranked international business school, the “hit the ground running” president of a 40,000 student urban research university, the CEO of an award winning marketing/crisis communications company, or the founder of successful, paradigm-shifting bank.

Like most of us they live on deadlines and succeed by seizing the day. And they succeed in part by having the confidence to take a few moments to gain insight by asking, What don’t I know I don’t know?

This willingness to ramp up (and openly display) your humility as a leader provides your people with an on ramp to quickly and effectively be their best in the midst of uncertainty, change or new opportunities.

Humilty drives breakthroughs
Leaders who demonstrate that they know they don’t have the instant answer can motivate their people to collaborate to break new ground. Why? Because they aren’t driving decisions based on assumptions or instant reactions – even when they are sure they are right and others are wrong. They are making room for people up and down the line to stick their necks out and do what’s so easily lost in tight economic times – to take a chance on finding a new way to spot or solve or prevent a problem or launch a new idea.

The old leadership model of expecting leaders to have the answers, because they’ve “been there done that”, or they have the clout or the contacts – that model is outdated for today’s 24/7 world where change happens at the speed of a click.

Working with time and performance driven, resource-pressed Founders, CEO’s, COO’s, Government and Organizational leaders and Employees at all levels – I’ve found that people are more likely to trust you when – without hesitation – you:

(1) Have the humility to acknowledge what you don’t know you don’t know

(2) Commit to working side-by-side with your people to rethink the problem and possibilities

(3) Encourage them to lower their defenses and to take things less personally

(4) Appreciate that misunderstandings happen often in a high-speed, assumption driven world. They can be mined for gold if we develop the skills to understand someone’s intent – not just react to our interpretation of their words

(5) Are willing to take a measured pause to adopt a “Get Curious Not Furious™” mindset and suspend judgment long enough to see beyond your experience and point of view to literally stand in another’s shoes.

What if powerful leaders aren’t those who have the answers? What if instead, they are the people who have the courage to encourage the rest of us to listen past what we know to be true, to wonder what can be discovered – together?

Nance Guilmartin is an Emmy winning speaker, executive coach, educator and author of
The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World  (Wiley/2009). She is a
Fellow and adjunct instructor at Florida International University’s Center for Leadership where she challenges leaders to take the simple - yet not simplistic - steps to be their most effective.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to be a More Approachable, Sociable Leader

What!!?? How to be a more approachable, social leader? Who cares? What the hell does being warm and fuzzy have to be with being a great leader? And another thing… if it wasn’t for all these damn people we have to work with, we might actually get some work done.

Well, as it turns out, it does matter. While not a show stopper, or a derailer, if completely ignored, there could have negative consequences that impact your effectiveness as a leader.

I know this from personal experience. Yes, I have a confession to make. I’m a flaming introvert. I’m that guy at the social function counting down the minutes, looking for a side door to quietly slip out un-noticed. I’m naturally reserved, don’t show a lot of emotion, think before I speak, and hate making small talk with people I don’t know very well.

I’m only coming out of the closet like this as an example of someone that’s learned to adapt their behavior to meet the needs of my career, family, and to be a better leader and person. It's a development need for me, and something I'm working on to improve.

It’s also hard for an extrovert to give advice to an introvert on how to be more approachable and sociable. It’s such a natural thing, and what works for them doesn’t always work for someone that’s the complete opposite.

In this case, I’m extremely qualified to give advice on something I suck at.

So what are the potential behavioral, or leadership implications for someone who’s a natural introvert, and/or somewhat reserved? If you’re not careful, you could:

- Be seen as someone who doesn’t listen to other’s concerns
- Have trouble working as a part of a team
- Not develop the social networks needed to be manage your career
- Be seen as aloof, or even arrogant
- Be seen as unenthusiastic about people or projects
- Have trouble in front of groups, making presentations
- Be seen as hard to read, and hard to trust

Yikes, would would have known?

In order to avoid these potential problems, here are 7 tips for all of you engineers, scientists, accountants, programmers, and managers that want to up your sociability game:

1. Smile.
For me, this was a learned behavior. I didn’t realize the negative effect I was have having on people until someone pointed it out. Once I started doing it (and it hurt), it had amazing results. No, you don’t have to have to be wearing a dumb grin all the time – just do it when you greet someone or pass them in the hallway.
Interesting cultural note: In Rome, Italians do not smile at strangers. It took me a couple days to catch on to this, they must have thought I was some nut-case.

2. Personal disclosure.
Share more about yourself. I’m not talking about sharing your thoughts around your latest theory on leadership – I mean personal information. Doing so helps build trust and relationships – it’s a bonding ritual. Caution – don’t overdo it initially – you’ll freak people out. Start with sharing some vacation pictures, or a story about your kids, or your dog, etc… Work your way up to it, and people will then start sharing information in return.

3. Increase your daily, weekly, and monthly interactions.
Make sure you’re talking (not emailing) to at least 3 people each day, and 15 per week. The next time you’re tempted to send that email to the person who works around the corner from you, get up and go talk to them. Or, pick up the phone and call. Keep your door open.
Have coffee or lunch with at least one person a month just to network, inside or outside of work. Remember to smile at least once. (-: ouch.

4. Have regular one-on-ones and team meetings.
In your one on ones, build in a little time up front for casual conversation. It helps to break the ice and build rapport. In addition to these regular, planned interactions, schedule informal lunch hours and an occasional off-site meeting. If you can, host a meeting at your home.

5. Improve your presentation skills.
Presentation skills are a learned skill – we can all get better with instruction and hard work. I’ve written about this before – presentation skills are a MUST for any leader.

6. Improve your listening skills.
Reserved leaders may come across as uninterested, or not listening, because they don’t show a lot of emotion or provide many visual cues. Practice nodding your head, making eye contact, sit up straight, ask questions, and check for understanding. Checking for understanding is especially important for someone who doesn’t always “read between the lines” very well, or pick up on emotions or feelings. After a meeting, check with others to see if they had the same understanding that you did.

7. Read a book on improving your workplace social skills.
Improving your approachability and sociability is going to take time. This blog post is just meant to get someone started. There’s plenty of comprehensive help out there, written by experts who have more experience and wisdom than I do. Examples include:
- Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
- How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships
- Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership

When it comes to personalities, we all have our natural preferences. There’s no cookie-cutter mold that we need to turn into to become effective leaders. “Strong, silent type” leaders can be just as effective as charismatic leaders.

However, it’s important not to use “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse for not addressing behaviors that are limiting your leadership potential.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can Common Sense be Learned?

Can common sense be learned? Can you teach it to someone? Can you learn it from a course, book, coach, blog post, or some other method?

First of all, it might help to agree on what is meant by the term “common sense”. Mirriam-Webster defines it as:

Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.

Most of us can know it when we see it. Probably more so, most of us have no problem at all pointing it out when it’s missing. We usually do this by saying something like, “Harold, what the hell were you thinking?!”

Sure, we’ve all had a few of those moments. I know I sure have. I’m talking about the repeat offenders that for whatever reason, consistently seems to make errors in judgment that most reasonable people wouldn’t make.

We can excuse teenagers. I saw on Frontline that their brains that haven’t fully developed yet, so their judgment is naturally impaired. Even if that’s not true, as a parent, holding onto that belief helped me survive the teen years.

Elderly folks get a pass too. Cognitive ability starts to slow down, and unfortunately, a lot of creeps take advantage of this and make a living trying to con the elderly.

Sometimes “a lack of common sense”, or “errors in judgment” is used as an excuse for really bad behavior (Tiger, Ben, Eric, John). Sorry guys, but I don’t buy it. That kind of crappy behavior means a lack of a moral compass, not a lack of common sense.

I’m sure intelligence has some sort of relation to common sense, as well as experience. Sure, if you’re dumb as dirt, you could be expected to make dumb decisions. Although some very smart people seem to lack common sense.

If you’re brand new at something, you’re going to have to make a lot of mistakes before you can learn what not to repeat. Experience matters - just ask the passengers of flight 1549.

So, in the workplace, what we’re left with is the reasonably intelligent, experienced, well-meaning, 30-65 year old manager or co-worker that consistently makes the wrong call or says the wrong thing at the worst possible time.

As a leader, coach, trainer, teacher, parent, friend, or co-worker, is there ANYTHING we can do for this person?

I think the first step is to recognize there’s a problem. With consistent and caring feedback – and after getting burned repeatedly – someone might have enough self-awareness to step forward and declare “I’m lacking common sense, and I need help!”.

Without taking that first step, I’m afraid there’s no hope. Your manager, client, or co-worker is destined for a career full of boneheaded moves.

However – IF someone is willing to step up and seek help –  can we help them? Can you learn, or teach someone common sense?

I poured through my leadership development reference books and did a Google search, and along with a dose of my own “common sense”, here’s what I came up with for a development plan. I have no evidence that it will work, but I sure learned a lot and had fun researching it.

8 Steps to (maybe) Improve Your Common Sense:

1. Admit you have a problem.
Probably the hardest step of all.

2. Slow down.
Many errors in judgment are a result of impulsive, hasty decisions. If you know you’ve got a problem with common sense, you’ll need to sacrifice decision speed for decision quality. When in doubt, sleep on it. At least one night, maybe two. OK, maybe a week.

3. Bite your tongue.
If there is any doubt that what you’re thinking of saying might be taken the wrong way or get you in trouble, then don’t say it. Yes, you’ll be less talkative, less funny, and find yourself bleeding at the mouth a lot, but that’s a lot better than having your foot in your mouth all the time. At least I think it might be – actually, both sound pretty uncomfortable.

4. Get feedback from others.
Before you send that email, have that conversation, spend that money, or whatever other train you’re about to wreck, seek out the advice of others. Test the decision with your manager, peers, direct reports, or anyone else that can give you honest, constructive feedback. Then, make sure you listen to that feedback.

5. Take a personality assessment.
Take the MBTI, DISC, Hogan, or some other credible personality assessment in order to identify your natural tendencies and biases, and how those tendencies may be influencing your analysis, judgment and decision making. It’s even better, maybe even required, to have a professional help you interpret the data.

6. Get a coach.
In this case, I’d even go as far to say get a coach with a clinical background. Someone that can help you examine your thinking process, a sounding board to test pending decisions, and someone to slap you in the side of the head.

7. Find a role model.
Find someone you admire that always seems to make the right decisions and ask how he/she does it. Walk through a number of examples of decisions they’ve made, and ask them to explain their thought process.

8. Read a few books on judgment, decision making, problem solving, and/or critical thinking.

Will all of any of these work? I honestly don’t know, however, I don’t buy into the notion that anyone is “hardwired”. People can change if they want to and are willing to work at it.

I really want to hear from my colleagues in the people development biz. What do you think? Can common sense be learned or taught?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Poll: Employees Don't Trust Their Leaders

See press release from Maritz Research. Pretty sad state of affiars for leadership. Then again, it looks like we don't trust our co-workers either.

For some help is this area, see:

10 Ways to Inspire Trust as a Leader

Seven Ways to Build Trust as a Leader

Employees trust in senior management, direct supervisors and co-workers is dwindling across all industries

04.14.2010 – A new Maritz® Poll conducted by Maritz Research, a leader in employee satisfaction research, paints a dire outlook of American workforce attitudes toward employers. Employees’ trust toward their workplace has taken a severe hit, with employees across all industry segments citing a lack of trust in not only senior leaders, but direct managers and co-workers as well.

According to the poll, few (11 percent) employees strongly agree their managers show consistency between their words and actions. In addition, only seven percent of employees strongly agree they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interest, and only seven percent strongly agree they trust their co-workers to do so. Approximately one-fifth of respondents disagree that their company’s leader is completely honest and ethical, and one-quarter of respondents disagree that they trust management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty. While workplace trust has been dwindling since the Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco scandals of the earlier part of the decade, threats of layoffs and downsizing have only exacerbated the problem.

“In times like these, trust is an especially critical issue. Companies need their best people more than ever to be engaged and productive. But, often, this process starts at the top,” says Rick Garlick, Ph.D., senior director of consulting and strategic implementation, Hospitality Research Group, Maritz Research. “You’ve got to maintain credibility with your workforce as a means of getting them to totally buy in to the mission and vision of your company. Anything less fosters a disengaged workforce that puts self-interest at the top of its list of priorities.”

In cases where management trust was strong, the study found that employees were significantly more committed to working for their companies. More than half of respondents (58 percent) with strong trust in their management were completely satisfied with their job, while only four percent of respondents with weak trust in management cited they were completely satisfied with their job.

The study also revealed:

• Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents with strong trust in management would be happy to spend the rest of their career with their present company. This compares to only seven percent of respondents who have weak trust in management.

• More than half of those surveyed (51 percent) with strong management trust would invest money in their company if they could versus only six percent of those surveyed with weak management trust.

• Only three percent of respondents with weak management trust look forward to coming to work everyday. For those with strong management trust, 50 percent responded they look forward to coming to work everyday.

Which Industry Fares Well? Hospitality Employees and Its Customers
While the survey suggests there is room for improvement across all sectors, the hospitality industry seems to have some advantages over others. For example, hospitality employees (14 percent) are more likely than other industry segments (9 percent) to rate their company as a “fun place to work.” Hospitality sector employees also tend to rate their companies better on customer service-related issues and the impact they make:

• More than one-third (34 percent) completely understand how their work impacts customers’ experiences, compared to only 23 percent in other industries.

• Twenty percent believe they have the authority they need to respond promptly to customer problems and requests, versus just 15 percent of respondents in other industries.

Approximately one-fifth (21 percent) of hospitality respondents believe their customers would rate the service they deliver as excellent, compared to only 14 percent of respondents in other segments.

However, there is room for improvement. Only 15 percent of employees agree that their company has the policies, systems and procedures in place to deliver outstanding customer service.

“With the hospitality industry taking one of the biggest hits due to poor economic conditions and negative perceptions, it is promising that employees feel positive about the connection of their daily work to customer service issues. But, it is still not a rosy picture when it comes to engagement. The results show that a lack of trust runs rampant in this sector as well, which impacts employees’ perceived long term career development opportunities, co-worker relationships, and productivity levels,” says Garlick.

Don’t slash that recognition program
The weak economy forced companies to cut costs across the organization. And, unfortunately, formal recognition programs were frequently sacrificed. More than one-third of respondents (33 percent) cited their company scaled back or eliminated their recognition program in the past year. There is some data, at least from the employees’ perspective, to suggest these cuts have had an impact on the quality of service they deliver to customers. Among employees whose companies kept recognition programs intact, 25 percent strongly agreed their customers would rate their service as excellent. Among those whose companies cut back on their recognition programs or never had one, only 14 percent strongly agreed customers would rate their service as excellent.

“Recognition programs are critical to demonstrating to employees that they are valued and appreciated for the work they perform. It’s an important engagement tool, as it helps to reinforce messages about how people are making an impact,” says Garlick. “This is a wake-up call for management teams that consider employee recognition programs as expendable. Not only do recognition programs positively impact employee engagement levels, they ultimately lead to positive customer service perceptions, which impact the bottom line.”

About Maritz® Poll

Maritz® Poll is a copyrighted poll conducted since 1988 by Maritz Research. Maritz Poll comprises regular surveys on topics related to the automotive, financial services, hospitality, retail, technology, and telecommunications sectors as well as workplace issues. This poll was conducted March 1-5, 2010. The 2,004 respondents were people who were employed full time and drawn from a national e-mail panel. Sampling error for the overall poll is +/-3 percent. Results of the poll may be used in print or broadcast media, provided credit is given to the Maritz Poll and/or Maritz Research.

About Maritz Research
As one of the world’s largest marketing research firms, Maritz Research, a unit of Maritz, helps many of today’s most successful companies improve performance through an actionable understanding of their customers, employees, and channel partners. Founded in 1973, Maritz Research offers a range of strategic and tactical solutions concentrating primarily in the automotive, financial services, hospitality, telecommunications and technology and retail industries. Maritz Research projects are carried out in compliance with the International Standard: ISO 20252:2006 Market, Opinion, and Social Research Standard. Maritz Research is a member of CASRO and official sponsor of the American Marketing Association.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A No-Bulls%&$ Guide to Succession Planning and Development

After having written my 500th post for Great Leadership, I thought it was finally time to write something on how to do succession planning. After all, it’s where I probably spend 50% of my time, and have been doing it for over 20 years at three different companies (my goal to write an e-book on the topic some day).

It’s not that I haven’t written about many of the components – and I’ll try to link to as many as I can – it’s just that I’ve never written a single “how-to” guide on the topic. In some ways it’s harder to step back and look at it at the 10,000 foot level, because I’m so close to it – like an engineer writing a 1000 word post on how to do engineering.

I hope this hits the mark for most of my readers.

Here is a simple, practical, and effective (no b.s.) guide to succession planning & development:

Step 1: Have a damn good reason to do it.
For you PhDs out there, this step is often called “Link to business and HR strategy” or something like that. Most damn good reasons are usually pretty strategic, unless you’re doing it because the CEO, your boss, or some regulatory agency says you have to do it. Some examples of damn good reasons are:

- You’re anticipating a wave of retirements of a lot of very key talent
- You don’t have the talent to fill key positions – resulting in too many costly and risky external hires, or “over-promotions”
- You’re business is growing and/or changing, and you’re afraid you won’t have the talent needed to be successful

Identifying your damn good reasons will also help you stay focused and establish the foundation for measuring your progress. If you skip step one, beware – you’ll end up with a bureaucratic nightmare that everyone hates, and probably end up looking for something else to do to annoy people.

Step 2: Identify key positions and or “pools”.
In other words, who are you worried about finding and developing replacements for? Who would the Board of Directors, or an investor be concerned about if they left?

In most cases, there are only a few key positions that are critical enough to bother with position-based replacement planning. Usually those are C-level positions, or perhaps some rare scientist or programmer full of intellectual property. Otherwise, it makes more sense to identify key levels or functions, and then identify “pools” (groups) of talent that could potentially step into any position at a specific level of function. For example, you might have a “senior executive” ”, or a “management” pool. Large organizations often have many pools, one for each level.

Step 3: Data gathering.
This is where the process can take on a life of its own, and where I see companies get bogged down. Here’s a simple way to look it: Say you’re doing succession planning for a big fish position for a 1000 person company. You’ll want to somehow throw a net out there and haul in the handful of those 1000 little fish in the ocean that have the potential to be your next big fish. This data gathering usually takes the form of talent profiles, resumes, HR data, and assessments. You could also do a little “demand forecasting”, to figure out how much talent you need for key levels or functions. Software programs can help keep track of this information, as well as monitor and track progress and results.

The topic of assessing for potential is too big to cover in this summary post, but here are a few posts that go deeper into this topic:

- Guide to Leadership Assessments

- How to Identify Leadership Potential

- Gambling on Leadership Potential

Step 4: The Talent Review
This is that mysterious meeting where all the managers lock themselves in a room and talk about you. Well, actually, you hope they’re talking about you, if you have aspirations to advance. Seriously, having the senior team review the talent of an organization on a regular basis has a lot of benefits, including:

- Multiple inputs provide better assessment of performance and potential
- It encourages shared ownership of talent
- It makes everyone aware of high potential talent
- It promotes sharing of common and/or best practices
- It’s a forum for allocation of limited developmental resources

A common tool to facilitate dialog for this discussion is the use of a performance and potential matrix, otherwise known as “the nine box”.

In a perfect world, these conversations would take place all the time, and you wouldn’t need a formal review. The reality is, unless someone is pushing it and providing process and structure, it won’t happen. The day-to-day business issues will always take priority. The other advantage of having help and process is that it makes it a more efficient and effective use of a senior team’s time.

Step 5: Where the Rubber Hits the Road: Development
Unfortunately, many organizations spend most of their time on steps 1-4 and ignore the actual development of their high potentials. It’s as if once successors or talent pools are identified, they’re going to just magically become ready for new roles.

I’ve even heard of organizations that treat succession planning and leadership development as two separate activities, often having different functions responsible for them.

The best organizations and leaders don’t even pause for a breadth before they move right from identification of high potentials to development. Best practices for development include new jobs, stretch assignments, coaching, and formal programs. These plans are often documented, discussed, and tracked as a part of an individual development plan (IDP).

Step 6: Monitor and Measure Results
If you did a good job with step one, then you’ll have a good idea what to measure and track. There are two types of measures: results and activities. Results could include # of key positions filled by internal candidates and number of successors/pools and readiness (bench strength). Activities could include progress and completion of IDPs.

I hope this helps demystify succession planning and development and provides a roadmap to guide your efforts. For more, stay tuned for that e-book ($19.95, with a money-back satisfaction guarantee). (-:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Going Humble with the Amish

I love this guest post by Erik Wesner - a great leadership lesson! Looks like an interesting book too.

I recently gave the teenage son of an Amish friend a lift. Amish don’t drive of course, but generally have no problem accepting rides.

We had a big day planned: first stop was a carriage shop in the heart of the Lancaster County settlement, where “Elam” as we’ll call him, would order a new buggy. A younger brother was turning 16, which meant he’d inherit Elam’s vehicle, clearing the way for Elam to get a new one (the tab for a new buggy, in case you were wondering? Around $7-8000 or more, depending on the features—and there are more than you might think).
Next, we were meant to stop at a hardware store, where he had a $150 gift certificate to spend. The gift certificate was a present from his boss on the local carpentry crew where he’d worked a little under a year.

Curious, I asked Elam some more about the gift. It was a year-end bonus he had received as a thank-you for work well done. As he spoke about his boss, Elam nearly bubbled over, going on and on in warm tones. Something about the man had obviously moved him.

As he continued, I learned that on another occasion he’d received a titanium hammer, tough and light for a more efficient drive. Another nice plus, but I sensed the gifts weren’t the root of this young man’s affection.

I tried to dig deeper. “What exactly is it about him that makes him a good boss?” I asked.

After a few stops and starts, he explained as best he could that it was the fact that he didn’t “act” like a boss. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. From time to time he’d show up to work on jobs with his employees.

While there, he’d follow his own foreman’s instructions—essentially subjugating himself to one of his own employees, who, he was able to recognize, knew more of what was going on and was in a better position to make decisions on that particular job.

The Amishman realized that he didn’t know everything. He let the people he put in charge do the work he’d entrusted them with. He was a boss without being bossy. He was a humble leader.

Even at his young age, Elam could sense that his leader was special. Having listened to his explanation, I was hardly surprised. Among Amish businesses, humble leadership is nothing unusual.

Amish run 9,000 companies across North America, everything from roadside produce stands to large manufacturing firms and furniture makers producing upscale goods for national markets. Amish have shifted from agriculture into entrepreneurship over the past few decades, as large families and rising land prices have put farming, long considered the ideal occupation, out of reach for many.

Yet those firms have thrived, with a success rate measured at over 90%. One reason Amish have done well is the environment they foster in their businesses. Leadership by example is second nature in this community. Talk to an Amish businessperson about his on-the-job philosophy, and “I’d never ask you to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do” is an idea that comes up again and again.

One Amish manager, Jonas Lapp, shares his thoughts. You should pick up trash on the job, he explains. Jonas doesn’t do it all the time, but when he does, his men notice.

Amish builder Ezra Miller’s 18 employees have been with him for an average of 9 years. Ezra’s personal touch is evident in everything from the occasional on-the-clock breakfasts out, to his willingness to work with youth who may have struggled elsewhere.

And while the businesses Amish run are labor-intensive and craftsmanship-oriented, dictated by the 8th grade education level typical of the community, the principle remains the same whatever the business. “Doing the dirty work” translates to anything that shows humility (spending an hour in sales calling prospects, staying late so an employee can take off early for a daughter’s recital, tidying the lunch room, and so on).

Everything from the uniform clothing they wear to the messages they hear during the 3-hour Sunday service encourages the idea of humility in Amish society. So it may come as second nature. But it’s hardly an exclusively “Amish” trait.

It doesn’t have to be every day. But when you do come down off the perch, even the little things get noticed. And you certainly don’t have to drive a horse-and-buggy to practice humble leadership.

Erik Wesner is a former sales manager and nationally-recognized Amish researcher. His just-released book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive was recently profiled in Time magazine. Find out more at

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Rock as a Panelist

At some point in your career, you may be asked to be a part of a panel discussion. Leaders are often invited to be on panels as a part of a town hall, employee meeting, training program, or some other internal or external function. You might also be asked to be part of an expert panel consisting of specialists from your profession.

A panelist is kind of a middle ground between being a presenter and being an audience member. While you’re on the stage and expected to have something interesting to contribute, you’re part of a small group and don’t have to be the sole center of attention.

Because of this difference, it can be tempting to underestimate the impact you can have as a panelist, as well as the potential for embarrassing yourself.

For presentations, most of us have had some find of formal training and understand the need to prepare and practice. We all have a healthy fear of presenting. There are all kinds of courses, books, and articles dedicated to presentation skills.

I can’t recall ever seeing anything on how to be an effective panelist.

What would your reaction be if you went to a program and the keynote speaker dozed off a few times, acted like they just showed up with no preparation, or didn’t even speak?

You’d be appalled, right? Well, unfortunately, I’ve seen panelists commit all of these as well as:

- showing up late

- leaving early

- not paying attention to what their fellow panelists are saying

- acting bored

- not understanding a question before answering it with a rambling, irrelevant discourse

Don’t let this happen to you! If you’re asked to be a panelist, don’t get lulled into thinking you can just show up and wing it. It’s NOT as easy as it looks.

Here are some tips that will not only help you avoid these panelist blunders but help you stand out and shine:

1. Prepare for it the same as you would for a formal presentation.
You should be able to anticipate what your audience would be interested and what questions they are likely to ask. Do your homework. Come prepared with a few interesting stories about your background, lessons learned, important advice, or provocative opinions. It’s similar to the way politicians are prepared for a press conference – they know the answers to questions before they are asked, and many of their answers are quotable “sound bytes”.

2. Understand the question.
Make sure you understand what the moderator or audience member is asking. If you’re not sure, paraphrase the question and check for understanding. By repeating the question, you’ll make sure the rest of the audience hears it as well. It also gives you time to think about your answer.

3. Keep your answers short, succinct, and sweet.
Keep in mind that when someone asks a question, they usually don’t just want to hear one perspective. That’s the whole point of a panel, to get multiple perspectives. So if you take too much time, and then your fellow panelist do the same, you’ll bore your audience to death and not leave enough time for other questions. For example, if the moderator asks “tell us about your background”, keep it to a few interesting tidbits – don’t cover your entire resume.

4. Be a Team Player.
Pay attention to your fellow panelist’s comments and answers, don’t be an answer hog, and don’t diss a fellow panelist. On the other hand, if there’s an answer hog on your panel, you can respectfully assert yourself in order to ensure all panelists get a chance to be heard. A good moderator should take care of this for you, but not always. A good panelist not only shines, they have the leadership ability to make the entire panel shine. It’s OK to respectfully disagree with another panelist, kid around, and even ask your own questions.

5. Bring your A game.
Get some sleep the night before. If you have to, slam down a strong coffee or an energy drink – anything to keep you on your toes, awake, and energetic. Even if you’re not answering a question, probably half of the audience is still watching you. In fact, assume someone is taking your picture with a cell phone at any moment.

Answer questions with passion, enthusiasm, and conviction, and listen to others with genuine interest. Speak up so the back row can hear you and make eye contact with the audience.

6. Extend yourself to your audience.
Book an extra 15 minutes before and after the session to hang around and talk to audience members. If you’ve followed the tips above, you’ll always have a line of participants wanting to ask a follow-up question or just introduce themselves.

If you make a promise to follow-up on something (like an answer to a question), make sure you do. It’s an opportunity to reinforce your reputation as someone how does what they say they’re going to do.

How about you? Any panelist tips (or horror stories) that you can share?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Leaders, Be an “Undercover Customer”

Most of you have probably heard of the new reality show “UndercoverBoss”, where a CEO goes undercover within his own company and discovers what working conditions are like for the average employee. Most of the newfound insights are related to the employee experience, i.e.,: “Gee, I had no idea how hard my employees work”, and “Wow, we sure do serve a LOT of coffee at our stores.

Great concept. Sure, every leader should manage by walking around, do regular site visits, and have a good understanding of internal processes and the work environment.

However, what about the CUSTOMER experience? As a leader, have you actually purchased your own company’s product or service as a customer?

I’ve heard this concept called “eating your own dog food”, although I hate that phrase. I prefer “drinking your own champagne”.

While this idea may not apply to all situations (i.e., if you work at a cemetery, or sell million dollar yachts), it probably does for more than you might think.

I’ll tell you how this played out at a former company:

I worked at an imaging company that was making the transition from film to digital. We hired a new president of our consumer division.
He soon discovered than most members of his executive team did not understand the basics of digital photography. This didn’t surprise him…. it’s actually pretty common. It’s very easy to be so focused on your specific function – manufacturing, HR, purchasing, accounting, etc… and find yourself far removed from the actual consumer experience. It’s even more common if the products or services are changing.

He established a program called the “Digital Photography School”. Every executive (about 200) from around the world was required to purchase a digital camera, take pictures, print them, send them to a website for processing, email a picture, and a list of other typical things we were expecting our consumers to perform.

These experiences are very different than the usual pre-planned, sanitized executive experience. If they had a problem, they had to call out support center, and get the same service any other customer would get.

The results were dramatic. The program not only created a heightened awareness of our products and services, but helped create a worldwide sales force that championed our products based on personal experience. It also drove product and process improvements, improved customer service, and carried the political clout to cut through the red tape to get things fixed.

The purpose of a program like this is not to catch employees doing something wrong. It’s to improve processes and products. However, another side benefit is that it can produce a “Hawthorne Effect”, where service improves just because someone's paying attention to it.

You don’t need to have a formal program to be your own “undercover customer”. For example:

- Every senior leader should try calling their own customer service or technical support number.

- Every senior government official should try to apply for their own government service.

- Every senior college administrator should try applying to their own college, along with financial aid, and housing.

- Every airline executive should spend a week flying around the world in coach.

What do you think? Should every senior leader get out of the office and be required to experience their own product or service as a customer? Or would it do more harm than good? (-:

Note: Wow, this was my 500th post! I really had no idea.  I'm looking forward to the next 500.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Little Things Make a BIG Difference as a Leader - Part 5: A Pat on the Back

This is the last of a 5 part series about some of the little things you can start or stop doing that can make a BIG difference on how you are perceived as a leader.

The previous posts were:

Part 1: Show up on time
Part 2: Listen up!
Part 3: A little dose of humility
Part 4: 4 magic words

I have to tell you, this has been a much more challenging exercise than I thought it would be. I had a few things in mind when I came up with the idea, but after those, I really struggled to come up with 5. The problem is, leadership isn’t easy. The things that matter the most are often the hardest to learn.

Strategic thinking? Uh uh, waay too hard.

Leading change? Good luck with that one.

How about presentation skills? How hard that that be? While it may be one of the relatively easier leadership competencies to master, it still take a LOT of hard work, technique, and practice.

How about coaching? Nope, damn hard to learn.

Even the simple one’s I came up with can take a lot of effort to do consistently well.

I thought about stopping at 4 and hoping no one will notice. Instead, I accepted it as a leadership development puzzle to solve.

So last night I sat down with a pad and once gain asked myself – “What could I possibly teach someone in 15 minutes or less that if they did it, it would make a significant difference in how they are perceived as a leader?”

I actually came up with about a dozen more ideas. Things like “watch your language and tongue”, and “develop a good posture and handshake”… good stuff, but not very impactful.

I then looked at a few leadership 360 assessments questionnaires and competency models to see if any of my items were included.

And then I found it! The one that stood out the most?


It meets both criteria:
It sure is simple to learn. Try this: say “Thank-you”. Now try “Thanks a lot”. And then try “Nice job”. Easy, right?

Hey, we’re only two minutes into the lesson, so we still have time to learn some of the nuances of praise, like:

- Make sure it’s timely
- ….and specific
- ….and sincere

But let’s not overcomplicate it. Try taking baby steps. Set a goal to praise one person a day, either at work or home.  

2. It makes a BIG difference. I don’t care what generation you’re from, X, Y, Z, or whatever, or what culture, race, or gender, EVERYONE values recognition and praise. It’s a mega-motivator.

However, for some reason, it ‘s often rated as one of the lowest skills in leadership 360 assessments and employee surveys. I don’t get it – it doesn’t cost anything, there’s an unlimited supply, and people crave it like a drug.

Leaders, give it away like candy!! Some interesting things will begin to happen. People will start to respond to you in a more positive way.

But wait….. I’ve had managers say to me “what if I overdo it?” Yikes, that would be a disaster. Think there’s a chance of that happening? How many of you have ever been praised TOO MUCH my a manager? Right.

I hope you enjoyed the series. Not that I’m like, fishing for compliments or anything…. (-: